Random Samples

Science  17 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5938, pp. 249

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  1. Norway's Summer Skies


    Astrophysicist Donald Olson and colleagues at Texas State University, San Marcos, have been finding lots to study in the paintings of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Their latest accomplishment: identifying the celestial objects in three canvases Munch painted in Åsgårdstrand, Norway. After locating a memoir that placed Munch in Åsgårdstrand in August 1893, the researchers traveled to Norway to find the exact sites of the paintings.

    In Starry Night (right), scholars in the past have identified the bright star as Venus. But Venus was out of sight then, the Texans say. A photo (left) they took from the same perspective shows it had to be Jupiter. They also figured out, with the help of 19th century photos of the town, that the vertical white line in the trees, which some have identified as a hidden moon and its reflection, was in fact a flag pole with a ball on top.

  2. Rupture and Reunion

    Marie Csete, chief scientific officer at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), will depart at the end of July after only 15 months on the job. Csete won't disclose specific reasons for leaving, but it has been reported that she wasn't able to get CIRM Director Alan Trounson and board chair Robert Klein to listen to her.

    Q:Before coming to CIRM, you divorced your husband, John Doyle, a math professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Is it true you got divorced in order to take this job?

    M.C.:It's really true. I really turned my life upside down to do this. I think when they passed all these fair political practices laws in California, they were never meant for scientific conflicts of interest; they were really meant for politicians. I fully expected that if I took the job and Caltech came up, I would just walk out of the room [to avoid a possible conflict of interest should Caltech apply for CIRM money]. But that wasn't good enough for the lawyers. [The divorce] didn't change our relationship, which was still a commute. [Csete moved from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, to San Francisco; Doyle lives in Los Angeles.] It actually got worse because by law, he wasn't allowed to take a salary from Caltech for a year. So he had to retire for a year with no salary.

    Q:How did your husband feel about this?

    M.C.:He thought it was worth the sacrifice; he thought I was the right person for the job.

    Q:Can you say anything about why you're leaving?

    M.C.:There are principles very important to me that I knew after trying that I could not change from within. The only way was to step away and talk to people on the way out.

    Q:What were your major accomplishments?

    M.C.:I've established very strong relationships between the science office and grantees, … allowing scientists to be doing some real science rather than just writing RFAs [requests for applications] all the time.


    Q:A lot of people think it's a shame you're leaving.

    M.C.:I've gotten a lot of e-mails—more than 100—from people. Some of them I'm afraid to open because it made me cry. … Very sad e-mails.

    Q:Future plans?

    M.C.:I don't know. I want to look for a place where I can make a real difference. I would prefer to be close to my husband. We'll get remarried soon.

  3. Losing Battle in Britain

    With the highest teen birth rate in Europe, the United Kingdom is anxiously seeking ways to stem the tide. But researchers say a program to reduce pregnancies among teens seems to have had the opposite effect.

    Scientists led by Meg Wiggins at the University of London studied how the Young People's Development Programme, which ran at 27 locations in England from 2004 to 2007, affected more than 2300 “at risk” 13- to 15-year-old boys and girls. They compared data on sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use, and school suspensions with statistics for students from 27 comparable areas.

    The after-school program offered 6 to 10 hours a week of tutoring, sex education, health services, art classes, and career counseling over a year. The results, reported last week in the British Medical Journal, showed “significantly” more pregnancies in the intervention group than in the comparison group: 16% versus 6%. Girls in the program also had sex earlier and were more likely to expect to be mothers by the age of 20. The program had no discernible effect on boys.

    The researchers suggest that girls might have been influenced by exposure to risky peers or even just by being labeled “at risk.” Curbing teen fertility is an uphill struggle, says evolutionary psychologist David Buss of the University of Texas, Austin: “Teen women today are simply doing what their maternal ancestors did over human evolutionary history.”