Random Samples

Science  04 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5958, pp. 1327

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  1. Where Did All the Food Go?

    After the biggest meal of the year, Americans might reflect on the fate of those moldering Thanksgiving leftovers.

    Here's a data point to start with: At least one-third of the United States food supply goes to waste, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

    Usually, waste is estimated through consumer interviews or garbage inspections. Physiologist Kevin Hall and mathematician Carson Chow of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases tried another approach: modeling metabolism. They estimated how much American adults eat per capita (2300 calories) from their average weight (80 kg), then compared the figure with the food available for U.S. consumers, as reported to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    The difference between calories produced and consumed, they say, is food wasted. That was about 900 calories a day in 1974, rising to 1400 by 2003—up to 40% of the food supply and far more than the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate of just over 25%. “We called it the missing mass of American food,” Chow says.

    The researchers, reporting in November in PLoS ONE, hope to expand their analysis to other countries, including Japan, which has the reputation of being more frugal.

  2. Treasure Map


    More than peace hinges on Israeli-Palestinian border talks; the fate of the Holy Land's archaeological heritage is at stake, too. Now negotiators at least know where that heritage lies. About 7000 archaeological sites, some kept secret for decades by the Israeli military, are revealed in an online map at http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/wbarc.

    The data, covering many West Bank sites that critics say Israelis excavated in violation of international law, were released in response to a lawsuit by Israeli archaeologists (Science, 18 April 2008, p. 302). “The scale of work conducted in the West Bank during the occupation”—15% of the sites on the map—“is now transparent,” says David Ilan, director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology in Jerusalem. Sites particularly important to Israel include Battir, “sort of a Custer's Last Stand place, where a great rebellion against Rome was crushed,” says Lynn Dodd, an archaeologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “This map will probably make people focus on the fact that [such] sites may pass out of [Israel's] control” unless Israel negotiates for them.

    The map is designed to inform peace talks, but many archaeologists are keen to use it. “Because it includes a range of other data, like occupation periods, site type, and finds, the map is also an excellent research tool,” says Ran Boytner, an archaeologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

  3. Infant Fossil


    A living baby coelacanth was captured on video, probably for the first time anywhere, by Japanese researchers off Indonesia in early October. Known as “living fossils,” coelacanths plied the Devonian waters 365 million years ago. With their lobe-shaped, limblike fins, they are seen as close evolutionary kin to four-limbed land animals. Scientists thought that they had gone extinct with the dinosaurs until a coelacanth was netted off South Africa in 1938. In the past decade, several have been spotted off Indonesia and the east coast of Africa.

    This baby was found swimming in deep water off Sulawesi Island by researchers from Aquamarine Fukushima, a sea museum in Iwaki, northeast of Tokyo. It was about 31.5 centimeters long, as scaled by laser beams flashed from a remotely operated vehicle. It will grow to about 150 centimeters, judging by the six adults the team has spotted over the past 4 years.

  4. Doom Didn't Make Me Do It


    Oceans of studies—laboratory, longitudinal, and brain-imaging—haven't settled the question of whether violent TV programs and video games cause people to be violent. Now Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, has weighed in with a graph showing that as video game sales have soared, youth violence has declined. Ferguson contends that lab-based experiments on “aggression” bear little relationship to actual violence. Psychologist L. Rowell Huesmann of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says the graph is a “red herring” and that early viewing of violence has repeatedly been shown to influence later behavior.