Random Samples

Science  29 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5965, pp. 507
  1. Loading Springs

    Village in Uttarakhand; (inset) dam collects rainwater.


    Springs are a major source of water in Himalayan villages. But spring water has become scarcer, even drying up in summers because of deforestation and changes in rainfall. Harvesting rainwater can help, but convoluted mountain topography often hides the recharge areas where precipitation goes underground to feed the springs below.

    To find those areas, scientists are turning to radioisotopes. A team headed by physicist K. Shivanna of the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) took samples of rainwater and spring water from various locations. The isotopic composition of rainwater varies by season, latitude, altitude, and distance from the coast; the differences leave their mark on water flowing from springs.

    In a 2-year pilot project, the researchers and a local group, the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO), compared water samples in the Alaknanda River Basin in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in India. From isotope signatures of the rainwater in the upper reaches and the water in the various springs, the BARC team identified possible recharge zones for the springs in the three valleys. “This made it possible to accurately locate dams, trenches, and underground dikes to give rainwater time to seep into the springs below,” says HESCO founder Anil Joshi. As a result, the discharge rate of existing springs almost doubled and two new springs appeared. Shivanna says there are now plans for similar projects in seven other Himalayan regions.

  2. Hormesis Who?


    Many biologists have noticed that when they feed a plant or animal a tiny amount of a poison, the result is the opposite of what they see at higher doses—the plant grows faster, for example, or the mouse develops fewer tumors than it normally would. That “biphasic” phenomenon is known, among other terms, as hormesis. Mainstream scientists have mostly ignored such observations (Science, 17 October 2003, p. 376). But lately, hormesis has been gaining ground, especially in Asia. A search of the Web of Science database finds that citations of papers using the term “hormesis” or “hormetic” have soared from about 200 in 1999 to more than 2400 in 2009. Toxicologist Edward Calabrese of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who did the search, predicts that citations “will profoundly grow” as people realize the implications of hormesis in areas such as finding new anticancer drugs.

  3. Baby Einstein Goes to Court

    The co-founder of the company that introduced the popular Baby Einstein videos has sued to obtain the records of researchers whose work cast doubt on the value of the series.

    William Clark, who founded The Baby Einstein Co. with his wife in 1996, sued the University of Washington this month for access to materials held by UW pediatric researchers Dimitri Christakis and Frederick Zimmerman. The pair wrote two widely publicized studies in 2004 and 2007: One suggested that TV-immersed toddlers may be at risk for later attention problems; the other linked watching baby videos with delays in language development (Science, 24 August 2007, p. 1015).

    “Given that other research studies have not shown the same outcomes, we would like the raw data and analytical methods from the Washington studies so we can audit their methodology,” Clark said in an 11 January statement. The Clarks sold their business to Disney in 2001.

    Both papers were influential in deflating educational claims used to market baby videos, says Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which in 2006 complained to the Federal Trade Commission about Baby Einstein. Disney has since toned down its claims. And last September, facing the threat of a class-action suit, the company announced that it would give refunds to dissatisfied parents. “It's a brand trying to save itself,” Golin says.

  4. Old Man of the Sea


    Oceanographer Walter Munk, 92, has won the 2010 Crafoord Prize for planet-spanning work explaining everything from why Earth wobbles to how the wind moves ocean waters. The prize, with a $555,000 award, comes 10 years after he won the Kyoto Prize, the other major honor billed as a Nobel equivalent. “I'm so delighted about both,” he says. “I thought I was beyond that.”

    Not many scientists have authored papers “still cited 70 years later,” says fellow physical oceanographer Carl Wunsch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “He has a knack of getting to the heart of one subject after another.” Munk, who still drives to his office at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, almost daily, is now working on a neglected sort of wave that he thinks is vital to driving ocean currents. Then there's a sort of 3D x-ray of the ocean he wants to apply to addressing sea-level rise. But that, he says, “is a hope for the future.”

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