News this Week

Science  29 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6029, pp. 518
  1. Around the World

    1 - Svalbard, Norway
    Exploring the Darkening Arctic
    2 - Fukushima, Japan
    U.S. Scientists Map First-Year Radiation Risks
    3 - Gulf of Mexico
    Scientists Look to Gulf's Future
    4 - Lower Mekong River, Laos
    Planned Dam Put on Hold
    5 - Rome
    Nuclear Power Stalls in Italy

    Svalbard, Norway

    Exploring the Darkening Arctic

    Thirty scientists from the United States, Norway, Germany, Italy, Russia, and China have completed the first phase of a 2-month expedition to understand the origin and effects of soot on the Arctic's changing climate. Modeling suggests that, by darkening the usually white landscape, soot could be responsible for as much as 75% of warming there.

    From an outpost on the Svalbard archipelago off Norway, the team is deploying remotely operated aircraft to take air samples and solar radiation measurements. The first phase tracked soot's effects over land; now the drones are exploring sea ice. But unexpected movements of ice—perhaps due to warming or winds—have forced the scientists ground-truthing the data to change the areas they target. “Normally the fjord has melted a lot less than it did this year,” says team member Timothy Bates, an atmospheric chemist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The snowmobiles that we use for the ground truthing can no longer get to these sites.” They plan to present results by December.

    Fukushima, Japan

    U.S. Scientists Map First-Year Radiation Risks

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has sketched out the radiation risks over the next year to people living near Japan's ailing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    CREDIT: ADAPTED FROM DOE/NNSA

    DOE-sponsored aerial surveys began measuring radiation around the plant about 1 week after the reactor was hit by a tsunami on 11 March. Now DOE has projected the first-year radiation dose within 80 kilometers. A map released last week (pictured) shows a hot zone out to 50 kilometers northwest of the plant where weather deposited a lot of fallout. There, potential exposures exceed 2000 millirems per year, the level at which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would consider relocating the public. Japan has already advised that residents leave some towns outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone.

    Although 2000 millirems over 1 year isn't an immediate health threat, it's enough to cause roughly one extra cancer case in 500 young adults, says Owen Hoffman, a radiation risk expert with SENES Oak Ridge Inc. in Tennessee. Still, there are parts of the world where natural background radiation levels are even higher.

    http://scim.ag/future-rad

    Gulf of Mexico

    Scientists Look to Gulf's Future

    One year since oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's Macondo well, officials have reached key milestones for boosting science and the environment.

    On 25 April, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) announced its first request for proposals (RFP). BP set up GRI to provide $500 million over 10 years for independent research on topics from ecological impacts to cleanup technology. Scientists have been waiting for the RFP since BP distributed an initial $50 million last year. GRI's board of scientists plans to fund between four and eight collaborations, but won't start until late August, leaving some scientists concerned about a funding gap.

    CREDIT: CHRISTOPHER BERKEY/CORBIS

    Meanwhile, BP has agreed to pay $1 billion for restoration projects, to be selected by the five gulf states and two federal agencies. A down payment on the eventual settlement under the government's Natural Resource Damage Assessment, the money will jumpstart activities such as rebuilding wetlands. “You need to begin these things sooner rather than later,” says Donald Boesch, a marine biologist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge. The proposals will be available for public comment and subject to federal environmental review, but not scientific vetting—and that's unfortunate, Boesch says. http://scim.ag/bp-funds

    Lower Mekong River, Laos

    Planned Dam Put on Hold

    Citing environmental concerns, Southeast Asian nations last week halted plans for a 1260 megawatt hydropower dam on the Mekong River in northern Laos. “It's a real victory for science,” says Zeb Hogan, a fisheries biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno.

    The $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam would be the first of 11 dams planned for the Lower Mekong. Proponents say the sale of electricity, primarily to Thailand, would boost Laos's economy and that environmental consequences would be mitigated. But opponents worry that the dam would affect the world's most productive fishery, in which migratory fish are 40% to 70% of the catch. “As it's currently conceived, the new dam could have disastrous effects on biodiversity,” asserts Hogan, director of the National Geographic Society Megafishes Project. It would impede migration, he says, and possibly drive to extinction the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish and the dog-eating catfish, both of which can reach 3 meters in length.

    At a 19 April meeting in Vientiane of the Mekong River Commission, Vietnam called for a 10-year moratorium on hydropower projects on the mainstream Lower Mekong. Ministers from the four commission members—Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam—will meet again in October to reconsider the project.

    Rome

    Nuclear Power Stalls in Italy

    Plans to build new nuclear reactors in Italy have stalled following March's accident at the Fukushima plant in Japan.

    In 2008, Italy's government announced it wanted to construct four nuclear plants by 2013 to reduce its dependence on imported energy. That would reverse a ban on nuclear energy set after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. But the Japanese accident led Italy to put a 1-year moratorium on its nuclear program, and, last week, to delay the creation of new plants indefinitely.

    Davide Tabarelli, head of Italian energy consultants Nomisma Energia, says the move is no surprise. He points out that the nuclear program has encountered delays and opposition from regional governments unwilling to host new plants. Opposition politicians are accusing the government of introducing the moratorium to avoid a June referendum on the return of nuclear power that it looked set to lose.

    Economic minister Paolo Romani said the government will present a new energy strategy after the summer. Such a plan is long overdue, Tabarelli says, but he is skeptical it will accomplish Italy's renewable energy goals. http://scim.ag/italy-nuclear

  2. Random Sample

    Jurassic Spider Not So Itsy Bitsy

    CREDIT: SELDEN ET AL., BIOLOGY LETTERS (2011)

    A new fossil discovered in the Daohugou Beds of northeastern China shows that a modern group of spiders, called golden orb-weavers or Nephila, were on Earth during the Jurassic period about 165 million years ago. The fossil, Nephila jurassica, is a female, and if modern spiders are any guide, was probably much larger than her male counterpart. With a 15-centimeter-plus leg span, she's the largest fossilized spider ever found, lead author Paul Selden of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and colleagues report online in Biology Letters. She appears to be closely related to the modern web-weaving Nephila spiders of the same size. Well-preserved spinnerets on the fossil's abdomen suggest that it, too, spun large, permanent webs: a weapon in an arms race that could have influenced the evolution of insects and small birds that got caught in them.

    By the Numbers

    4.67 × 1032 — The intensity, in protons per square centimeter per second, of the Large Hadron Collider's intersecting proton beams as of last week. That “luminosity” surpasses the Tevatron's record.

    $56 million — Amount that Detroit developer A. Alfred Taubman donated last week to the University of Michigan to fund stem cell research, the school's largest gift. Taubman has donated a total of $142 million to the university.

    Art Imitating Life—The Synthetic Kind

    CREDIT: COURTESY BIO:FICTION SCIENCE, ART & FILM FESTIVAL; TUUR VAN BALEN

    A handful of artists are taking on a truly avant-garde new medium: synthetic biology, the melding of engineering and biology to build living systems.

    Only 17% of Europeans have even heard of synthetic biology, according to a 2010 study conducted for the European Commission, yet its implications for the future are enormous. So to get the public more involved, biosafety scientist Markus Schmidt has organized Bio:Fiction, the world's first synthetic biology film festival, to be held at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna from 13 to 14 May. Bio:Fiction will feature 52 films—130 were submitted—ranging in length from 59 seconds to 59 minutes and running the gamut from explanatory nonfiction to abstract works. (One is a love story about protocells.) Five films, including the one that gets the most online votes (http://bio-fiction.com/videos/), will share $13,000 in prize money.

    An accompanying art show, Synth-ethic, will have a lablike feel. One piece is a replica of a famous experiment on the origin of life, complete with periodic lightning bolts inside a flask. Another uses electrical currents to arrange gel-bound DNA fragments into images (top). A pigeon-feeder installed in an open window represents an art-science collaboration's efforts to engineer soap-producing bacteria for pigeon feed: Hello, clean windshields. “More and more artists are appropriating the tools of biology to express themselves,” Schmidt says.

  3. Newsmakers

    Three Q's

    CREDIT: MARK VALESELLA

    In the Chauvet Cave system in southern France, a prehistoric art gallery holds stunning paintings of animals and humans dating from 32,000 years ago (Science, 15 August 2008, p. 904). At one point the entrance caved in, preserving the paintings until their discovery in 1994. German filmmaker Werner Herzog gained exclusive access to the cave. His 3D documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which opens today in theaters, tours the cave and chronicles scientists' efforts to unearth its secrets.

    Q:Why was it important to film this cave?

    It's a totally unique discovery, possibly one of the greatest discoveries in the history of human culture. … What makes it so extraordinary is the unbelievable quality of the paintings and the age of them. [In getting permission to film, I found that] the French can be territorial when it comes to “le patrimoine,” but I explained that this is the patrimony of the entire human race.

    Q:What was it like when you stepped into the cave?

    I was totally surprised by the beauty of the cave: stalactites and stalagmites, crystal cathedrals, that's the first you see. Then, all of a sudden, bones, bones, bones: skeleton remains, cave bear, hyena, the full skeleton of a golden eagle, the footprints of a wolf. … What you can't really transport into the movie is the amount of silence. When you hold your breath, you can hear your heartbeat.

    Q:What surprised you about the paintings and their painters?

    How fresh they are, that's stunning. As if you were disturbing people right in the middle of their work. … The most intense is the panel of lions. They're in there stalking. Every single eye is focused on one point and you don't know: What do they see? What do they stalk? It has such suspense, such drama.

  4. Animal Cognition

    Are Dolphins Too Smart for Captivity?

    1. David Grimm

    A new movement seeks to end all dolphin research in zoos and aquariums, but critics say that could kill a productive field and hurt these animals in the wild.

    Early show.

    Some of the first work on dolphin cognition took place at Florida's Marine Studios, now Marineland.

    CREDIT: © LUIS MARDEN/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY/CORBIS

    Tab and Presley were your typical show dolphins. They spent their days at Brooklyn's New York Aquarium gliding through the turquoise water of their large outdoor pool, rocketing into the air for cheering spectators, and being ogled through thick windows of Plexiglas. But in 1998, they had the chance to participate in a revolutionary science experiment.

    Working in the morning before shows, cognitive psychologist Diana Reiss scribbled a few black triangles and circles on Tab's and Presley's foreheads, backs, and flippers—all places the bottlenose dolphins couldn't see. Then, while biopsychologist Lori Marino watched from afar, Reiss put a mirror in the tank. The two dolphins swam to it and immediately began checking out their new tattoos, twisting their bodies so they could make out every mark.

    Though it seemed a simple behavior, Tab and Presley had just done something extraordinary. They had shown that they could recognize their own reflections—a test of self-awareness that only chimpanzees and humans had passed at the time.

    The finding was a breakthrough in dolphin research and a milestone in the field of animal cognition. But it also sowed an uncomfortable seed in Marino's mind. If dolphins were as self-aware as people, she recalls thinking, how can we keep them locked up in concrete pens?

    Marino tried to repress the thought. The science, she told herself, had to come first. But when she and Reiss attempted to continue the mirror studies a couple of years later, they learned that Tab and Presley had been transferred to other aquariums where both had died of infections at about 20 years of age, half a dolphin's normal life span in the wild.

    The deaths affected Marino profoundly. In the following years, she abandoned her aquarium work, severed her relationship with Reiss, and launched a crusade to free all dolphins from captivity.

    Marino is swimming upstream, however. Although her colleagues are concerned about the welfare of dolphins, most have concluded that captive research is both the best way to learn about the intelligence of these creatures and the best way to protect them in the wild. “There are always ethical issues with working with animals in captivity,” says Richard Connor, an animal behaviorist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who studies wild dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia. “But what Marino is proposing would completely kill the field of dolphin cognition.”

    Flipper's brain

    Tab and Presley may have proved that dolphins have brains to be reckoned with, but their predecessors were a black box to early researchers. The first serious studies of dolphin intelligence took place at a decidedly nonserious location: Marine Studios, an aquarium on Florida's northeast coast that served as the backdrop for B movies such as 1954's Creature from the Black Lagoon. (Its name was later changed to Marineland.)

    During a visit to the park in 1955, a pioneering brain researcher named John Lilly became fascinated with its bottlenoses and set up a research lab there. His early experiments were crude. He hammered electrodes into the skulls of live dolphins, for example. But he also performed less invasive studies, analyzing the animals' chirps, whistles, and other sounds. Lilly's work convinced him that dolphins were highly intelligent and possessed a complex vocabulary—findings that enticed a new breed of researcher to study them.

    By the 1960s, the U.S. Navy had invested heavily in dolphin research. Its primary interest was militaristic, training some of its first dolphins to recover practice rockets and mines from the sea floor. Working in large, open-water pens, the Navy also made major advances in understanding dolphin physiology and echolocation. (Using a focused beam of clicks, dolphins can find a fish buried in the sand from several meters away.).

    Meanwhile, Lilly had begun to wander off the deep end. Although his work had captured the public's imagination—inspiring movies like 1963's Flipper and helping foster the rise of marine parks—he began making increasingly fantastic claims, arguing, for example, that dolphins held the key to communicating with extraterrestrials. He also gave some dolphins LSD in an attempt to talk to them. Lilly's behavior threatened to torpedo the entire field.

    But dolphin research found a savior in Lou Herman, a former Air Force intelligence officer who founded a research-only dolphin facility in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1970. Working in former shark tanks, Herman showed that dolphins could understand two artificial languages—one based on electronic sounds, and the other on a trainer's hand gestures—and that they grasped grammar and syntax. They could even create their own novel behaviors on command and comprehend human pointing, a skill that eludes chimpanzees.

    By the time Herman closed his lab in 2004, he had seeded the field with countless researchers, many of whom continue to demonstrate additional signs of dolphin intelligence, including tool use and cultural traditions. When Marino had her epiphany at the New York Aquarium, it wasn't just the deaths of Tab and Presley that moved her. It was the mounting weight of decades of this research suggesting that the dolphin brain isn't that much different from our own.

    Deep thoughts.

    Lori Marino's work on dolphin brains helped convince her that the animals were too sentient for captivity.

    CREDIT: JACK KEARSE/EMORY UNIVERSITY

    The crusade against captivity

    In late January of 2006, a young bottlenose dolphin named Harley jumped out of his tank at the Minnesota Zoo and smacked his head on the surrounding concrete. His trainers, assuming nothing was wrong, returned him to the water, where he soon stopped coming up for air. By the time divers reached him, Harley had died, the victim of a fractured skull.

    Marino, now at Emory University in Atlanta, says such incidents illustrate the ills of captivity. Dolphin tanks are chemically treated, bereft of other marine life, and just a tiny fraction of the hundred-square-kilometer ranges these animals are used to, she says. In these bland and sterile environments, Marino says, it's no wonder that intelligent, social dolphins swim in circles and jump out of their pools, and that these stresses contribute to their premature deaths from gastroenteritis, fungal infections, and other ailments: “You can't replicate the natural settings for these animals.”

    A 2009 report sponsored by The Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection of Animals came to a similar conclusion. Citing figures from marine parks and aquariums, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, and longitudinal studies of wild dolphins, The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity found that between 5.6% and 7.4% of dolphins die each year in captivity versus 3.9% in the wild. The numbers for orca whales are even more dramatic: 6.2% to 7% mortality rates in captivity versus 2.3% in the wild. “The totality of the captive experience for marine mammals is so contrary to their natural experience that it should be rejected outright,” the report concludes.

    After Tab and Presley died, Marino began refusing offers to work in aquariums and studied only dolphins that had already died. Conducting MRI and CT scans on stranded wild dolphins, she found that—adjusted for body size—the animals sported the second biggest brains on the planet, larger than chimps' and just below humans'. She also discovered that dolphins have a very complex neocortex, which has been linked to problem solving, self-awareness, and processing emotions in people (Science, 26 February 2010, p. 1070).

    Armed with these data, “I couldn't in good conscience continue to support captive research,” Marino says. She now calls herself a “scholar advocate” and has gathered allies, such as Denise Herzing, a psychologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, who works only in the wild. Other dolphin researchers have objected to captivity, Herzing says, but like her they simply moved their studies outdoors. What's different about Marino is that she's trying to foment a revolution.

    Marino has also teamed with advocacy groups like TerraMar Research, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, Washington, dedicated to protecting marine wildlife. TerraMar's director, Toni Frohoff, argues that if dolphins are as self-aware as people, they deserve the same basic rights. “The more sentient we see dolphins to be,” she says, “the greater our ethical obligation to them. We can't study them like goldfish or lab rats.”

    Taking a cue from the Great Ape Project, a collection of scientists and advocates who have argued that chimps and their relatives deserve basic legal rights (Science, 1 April, p. 28), Marino banded together with other scientists, activists, and philosophers to draft a “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans” in 2010. It states that no cetaceans—a group that includes whales and dolphins—“should be held in captivity … or removed from their natural environment.” Instead, live cetaceans should only be studied in the wild. Marino and her allies have gathered more than 3200 signatures and hope eventually to bring the declaration before the United Nations. “We want to use this as a jumping-off point for changing policy,” Marino says. “We need to move the science to a place that doesn't compromise our ethics.”

    Counterattack

    Stan Kuczaj hadn't even heard of Marino's fledgling movement when, in 2010, he commissioned a barrage of articles on marine animals for the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, which he edits. His target was the 2009 Humane Society report, and over the course of two issues and 600 pages, some of the biggest names in the field argued that captive research was critical to understanding dolphins and other marine mammals and to protecting them in the wild.

    Kuczaj, a psychologist at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg who studies dolphin behavior and communication in captivity and the wild, also feels that the papers are an effective rebuttal to Marino and her allies. “I don't think there are unequivocal data to support some of the claims that they make,” he says. He agrees that dolphins are smart, for example, but says there's no evidence that they're comparable to people. “We suck at being able to validly measure intelligence in humans. We're even worse when we try to compare species,” he says. Marino and her allies are “trying to push their personal opinion on the field.”

    Herman agrees. The godfather of research on dolphin cognition and a contributor to the journal package, he says that the evidence for higher dolphin mortality in captivity versus in the wild is “very, very questionable,” adding that a recent study based on National Marine Fisheries Service data showed no significant difference. “The mortality is horrific in the wild. Fifty percent of wild dolphins bear shark scars—and those are the ones that are still alive.” Marino, he says, reminds him of John Lilly, who eventually railed against captivity as a concentration camp: “Once you mix politics with science, you lose objectivity.”

    Finned soldier.

    Navy research has revealed much about the physiology of dolphins.

    CREDIT: U.S. NAVY/BRIEN AHO

    Herman says he, too, has struggled with the ethics of keeping dolphins in captivity. But he notes that Marino is basing many of her ethical arguments on understanding gained from captive research. “That's the irony of it. How do they know dolphins are intelligent? Because of the captive studies. And now they don't want us to do that research.” Herman says he never could have made his cognitive breakthroughs in the wild. Researchers have to train animals, collect baseline readings, and follow individuals for months or years, he notes: “Science demands controls and replication. What they're proposing is a fantasy.”

    Getting the message.

    Lou Herman's work in a Hawaii facility has shown that dolphins grasp grammar and syntax.

    CREDIT: ED KASHI/GETTY IMAGES

    And are dolphins really unhappy in captivity? Dorian Houser, director of biological research at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, California, doesn't think so. “Humans have forgotten what it's like to forage for their own food and be the prey item of another animal,” says Houser, who has worked with Navy dolphins. “These animals get three square meals a day and regular medical care that's probably better than most people have.” In San Diego Bay, the only thing that separates the Navy's open-water pens from the rest of the ocean is a small walkway, he says, which the dolphins could easily jump over—but don't.

    Plus, says Houser, information gleaned from captive studies has helped scientists understand dolphins' sensitivity to noise, pollution, and other dangers—all of which have helped the Navy draft better conservation guidelines—while decades of research on dolphin physiology has helped rescuers save stranded animals. Captive research, he notes, is also heavily regulated by a variety of government agencies, a position echoed by Marilee Menard, the executive director of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, which represents 55 facilities around the globe. “These animals are stress-free, they're reproducing fabulously,” she says. “What other standards do you want?”

    The biggest concern among those who study dolphins in captivity, however, is that removing the animals from zoos and aquariums would destroy the field of dolphin cognition. In the past decade, researchers have made astounding cognitive discoveries in other animals, showing, for example, that jays can plan ahead and dogs understand inequity. “Well, dammit, we need to have that looked at in dolphins,” says Connor of the University of Massachusetts. “We've just scratched the surface of figuring out what these animals are capable of,” he says. “You can't just say, ‘Hey, a dolphin recognizes itself in the mirror,’ and go home.”

    Marine lab.

    Denise Herzing studies dolphins in the Bahamas, where the animals come and go as they choose.

    CREDIT: WILD DOLPHIN PROJECT

    Still, Connor says he is open to exploring ways of studying cognition in the wild: “If they can do these studies in free-ranging dolphins, great. But the burden of proof is on them.”

    A new paradigm

    Marino and her crew plan to spend the next several years overcoming that burden. But even in the wild, they want ethics to be paramount. That means working only with whales and dolphins that have “decided” to interact with humans—either because they're curious or because they've become used to people—a controversial approach Marino and Frohoff call “collaborative research.”

    Their model is the work of Florida Atlantic University's Herzing. For more than 2 decades, Herzing and her colleagues have been hanging out on a catamaran in the Bahamas, about 65 kilometers from shore. The water is shallow and clear, and two communities of dolphins come and go as they please. The researchers have been there so long that the dolphins ignore them, as habituated great apes and elephants ignore human observers in the wild. Snorkeling nearby, Herzing and her colleagues use cameras and hydrophones to record behaviors and sounds, and collect genetic data from feces, all without interfering with the animals. In 2008, her team showed that mothers teach calves how to fish, considered the highest form of social learning and usually thought restricted to primates. “We want to get scientists thinking about new tools and new techniques,” Herzing says. Kuczaj says she has been “living the goal” of doing good cognitive work in the wild.

    Marino herself is working on adapting several captive-research protocols to the wild. She'd like to see, for example, if she can replicate her mirror studies in the open ocean by modifying the techniques she and Reiss used at the New York Aquarium.

    While Marino and her allies work out the details, they're also developing an ambitious plan to phase out all whale and dolphin captivity in the United States. They hope their efforts will sway public sentiment against the 30 U.S. marine parks and aquariums, forcing them to close their dolphin and whale exhibits, which house about 400 animals. Herzing dreams of creating some sort of “retirement center,” such as a lagoon where these animals could live with other members of their species until they died, similar to chimp and elephant sanctuaries.

    Marino says her ultimate goal is to convince the next generation of dolphin researchers that they don't need to work in captivity. She wants them to go straight to the wild, without having to endure a Tab and Presley moment first.

    Reiss, who continues to work with dolphins in captivity—a position that drove Marino to stop speaking to her in 2009—doesn't support Marino's movement, arguing that there's still value in captive research. But Reiss does think dolphin researchers can find common ground. Now at Hunter College in New York City, she is spearheading a campaign to stop the bloody dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan, for example. Marino joined this effort, as did scientists on both sides of the captivity debate. Reiss and others who support captive research also believe that many zoos and aquariums should improve their dolphin facilities. Everyone wants the best for these animals, Reiss says: “To me, the biggest thing is to keep the knowledge coming, whether they're in captivity or in the wild.”

    The issue reaches far beyond dolphins, says Karen McComb, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Sussex in the U.K. who has chosen to study elephant cognition in the wild rather than in zoos. The more we learn about the intelligence of other animals, she says, the more we're forced to consider the ethical implications of studying them. “Everyone is coming to a point where it's relevant to stand back and reconsider these issues,” she says. “It's a really important debate.”

  5. Social Psychology

    Using the Psychology of Evil To Do Good

    1. Greg Miller

    Forty years after the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, Phil Zimbardo thinks he can apply its lessons to teach ordinary people to be heroes.

    Expert and witness.

    Phil Zimbardo talks about the psychology of evil at Stanford University in 2007.

    CREDIT: PAUL SAKUMA/AP PHOTO

    When the disturbing photos of American soldiers mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq began leaking out 7 years ago this week, they jolted Philip Zimbardo with a sickening sense of déjà vu. The nakedness of the prisoners and the bags over their heads, the shamelessness and perverse creativity of the captors—he'd seen much of this before. In 1971, as a psychology professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Zimbardo presided over one of the best-known experiments in the history of social psychology. He sequestered 24 student volunteers in a boarded-up corridor in the basement of Jordan Hall, randomly assigning half to be guards and half to be prisoners. Six days into an experiment that was supposed to run for 2 weeks, Zimbardo had to call it off because the prisoner abuse had gotten so bad.

    By 2004, Zimbardo had put the Stanford Prison Experiment behind him. But as the Abu Ghraib story unfolded, he slowly became a part of it, first through media interviews on prison psychology, and then as an expert witness in the trial of staff sergeant Ivan “Chip” Frederick, the highest ranking soldier charged for the abuse. The experience caused him to reexamine the prison experiment and question his own role in it.

    It also gave Zimbardo inspiration for his next big experiment. At age 78, he has reinvented himself as a social entrepreneur, leading a new project that will attempt to turn the Stanford Prison Experiment and other studies of the dark side of the human psyche into a force for good. Last year, Zimbardo founded the Heroic Imagination Project, which operates out of a former Army post in San Francisco's Presidio park. Its goal is to use lessons learned from social psychology research to teach ordinary people—from high school students to office workers—to recognize the influences that can make people stand idly by when they see a person in need and embolden them to commit what Zimbardo calls acts of everyday heroism. The organization has plans for teaching, research, and public outreach that are just getting off the ground. “Our ambition is to seed the world with heroes,” Zimbardo says.

    Taking prisoners

    To mark the 40th anniversary of the Stanford Prison Experiment this summer, the American Psychological Association will host a symposium on the legacy of the experiment at its annual meeting. The original goal was to investigate what happens when good people find themselves in a bad situation. “We went to great lengths to put good apples in a bad barrel,” Zimbardo says. All the guards (and prisoners) were healthy young men with no history of psychological problems, drug abuse, or run-ins with the law. The question was: “Does the goodness of the apples dominate, or does the badness of the barrel corrupt?”

    The first day passed without incident. But on the second day the prisoners rebelled, taking off their numbers and barricading themselves in a cell. The guards called in reinforcements, conducted strip searches, and put the ringleaders in solitary confinement. The guards' treatment grew harsher in the following days as they forced prisoners to do pushups, limited their access to the toilet, and used psychological tactics to break down solidarity. Thirty-six hours into the experiment, one prisoner suffered a breakdown, crying, screaming, and cursing. Zimbardo suspected he was faking but sent him home.

    Over the following days, Zimbardo says at least 50 people came to see what was going on in the basement of Jordan Hall, including colleagues in the psychology department and parents and friends of the prisoners. Most didn't see the worst of the abuses, but few raised questions about the experiment and none suggested it be stopped. A Catholic priest who had been a prison chaplain met with the prisoners; afterward he congratulated Zimbardo on the realistic prison environment he'd created. The lines between role-playing and reality were becoming blurred to say the least. When Zimbardo looks back at video of the experiment, he sees himself pacing the corridor with his arms stiff behind his back, like a general reviewing his troops. “I started out being the principal investigator of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and over time I became the superintendent of the Stanford Prison,” he says.

    He didn't realize the change that had overcome him until Friday night, almost halfway through the scheduled 2 weeks. He'd invited his new girlfriend, Christina Maslach, who'd just finished her Ph.D. at Stanford, to come see the experiment and go out to a late dinner. Maslach arrived around 10 p.m. as the guards were leading the chained and hooded prisoners on their final toilet break of the day. She was stunned to see one of the guards, with whom she'd chatted amiably on her way in, bullying the prisoners. She ran out in tears.

    When Zimbardo caught up with her outside the building, he chided her for getting so emotional. She was incredulous. “How can you not see what I see?” he remembers her asking. “Those are not prisoners, those are not guards—those are boys who are suffering and you're responsible,” Maslach told Zimbardo. “She said, ‘I'm not sure I can continue dating you,’” Zimbardo says. After a long argument, he realized she was right, and he ended the experiment the next morning. Zimbardo and Maslach got married a year later, and they're still married today.

    An unwelcome flashback

    By 2004, Zimbardo's research interests had turned to shyness, time perception, and other topics. He'd written a widely used introductory psychology textbook and narrated an award-winning public television series on psychology. “It wasn't until Abu Ghraib that the whole thing came up again.”

    As he watched the news, Zimbardo was appalled to hear military leaders insist that the abuse was the work of a few bad apples. “They couldn't have known that,” he says. For one, right after the first incidents came to light there hadn't been time to determine how widespread the abuse had been. For another, Zimbardo knew that even good apples can be corrupted by a bad barrel. And Abu Ghraib was a bad barrel if there ever was one, he says.

    Zimbardo tried to explain this, via video link, to a military court in Baghdad as an expert witness for the defense in Frederick's trial in the fall of 2004. An Army reservist with a previously laudable military record, including more than a dozen medals and other awards, Frederick shipped out for Iraq in October 2003 and soon found himself supervising about a dozen military police and dozens more Iraqi police responsible for guarding more than 1000 Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The prisoner population had recently tripled, creating a chaotic environment in which standard procedures and oversight broke down. The language barrier made prisoners seem anonymous, Zimbardo says, and many prisoners were forced to go naked, further dehumanizing them and creating a sexually charged atmosphere. Guards worked daily 12-hour shifts for weeks on end. Fear of a revolt—or an attack from outside—mixed with boredom and exhaustion to create a volatile brew.

    Tough tactics.

    Guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment used blindfolds, forced nakedness, and roll calls to assert their authority and control over the prisoners.

    CREDITS: PHILIP G. ZIMBARDO INC.

    In a deal with prosecutors, Frederick pleaded guilty to five charges of abuse and dereliction of duty. Zimbardo testified that the situation Frederick was placed in, without remotely adequate training, was a powerful influence on his behavior and should be considered a mitigating factor. He doesn't think the message got through. The Army stripped Frederick of his medals and pension, gave him a dishonorable discharge, and sentenced him to 8 years in prison. The heavy sentence and the fact that Frederick, a relatively lowly staff sergeant, was the highest ranking officer charged in the entire scandal still rankles Zimbardo. “He clearly got scapegoated,” he says.

    Psychology for the people

    In his 2007 book, The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo recounts his investigation into Frederick's case and his reexamination of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Reviewing the tapes of the experiment, Zimbardo saw how his own passive role enabled the abuse. That pained him. But it also forced him to contemplate how he might use his knowledge and expertise to do something good.

    The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) is the result. The grandiose name is matched by an ambitious slate of projects in various stages of development. The basic idea behind all of them is that anyone can be a hero. In Zimbardo's view, people too often think of heroes as celebrities or exceptional people in exceptional circumstances, like the firefighters who rushed into the burning towers on 9/11 or the pilot who safely landed his hobbled plane in the Hudson River. He insists on a different definition: any ordinary person who takes action to help somebody in need (or in support of a moral cause), at some risk to himself and with no expectation of personal gain. One of his favorite examples is Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who in 1971 leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the press, making public for the first time damaging revelations about U.S. government conduct during the Vietnam War.

    Applied psychology.

    Civics teacher Devin Carberry talks about the bystander effect in relation to the Holocaust with his high school class in Oakland, California.

    CREDIT: G. MILLER/SCIENCE

    Taking this message to young people is a major aim of the project. One semester-long pilot program is just coming to an end at ARISE High School in Oakland, California. There, HIP's director of education, former high school principal Clint Wilkins, is working with ARISE civics teacher Devin Carberry to weave some social psychology into his class on the Holocaust. The goal is to help students understand what happened in Nazi Germany and recognize the influences, for better or worse, they face in their own lives.

    Students have watched clips on classic findings in social psychology. In one, Zimbardo explains Stanley Milgram's infamous experiment on obedience to authority. In 1962, Milgram (coincidentally, a former high school classmate of Zimbardo's) told volunteers at Yale University they were participating in a study on learning. The volunteers were assigned to be the “teacher” and instructed by a researcher in a lab coat to flip various switches to shock the “learner”—visible through a window in an adjacent room—to punish incorrect answers on a memory test. They did not know that the learner was a confederate and not hooked up to live wires. As the experiment progressed, nearly two-thirds of the volunteers followed orders and delivered the maximum shock, despite screams of apparent pain from the learner. The result is a chilling demonstration of the power of a situation to corrupt ordinary people, and it lent support to Milgram's fear that the Holocaust could happen again. The first step to becoming a hero, Zimbardo says, is recognizing the social pressures at work in a given situation.

    On a recent afternoon, Wilkins stood in front Carberry's class, reminding the students of another video they'd watched about Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old New York City woman stabbed to death near her home while her neighbors looked on. Genovese's murder, in 1964, spurred dozens of psychological studies on what became known as the bystander effect, when people who see someone in need of help are less likely to intervene if others are nearby, partly because they assume someone else will. “We have a fancy name for that, we call it the diffusion of responsibility,” Wilkins says.

    Carberry wants the students to relate this to the Holocaust. They've just read Night, Elie Wiesel's book based on his family's experience in the concentration camps, and a girl with low bangs and hoop earrings mentions a scene in which a child is hanged in front of the prisoners. “That's right,” Carberry says, “there was a child there on the block, and how many onlookers were there?” A collective murmur goes up from the class. “Hella.” (California-speak for “a lot.”) They debate whether it would have done any good for any one of them to intervene.

    Wilkins asks the class whether knowing about the bystander effect would make them more likely to act if they saw an attack. It's not an outlandish scenario. Most of the students live in inner-city neighborhoods that see more than their share of violence. The morning after Wilkins's visit, the owner of a popular Mexican restaurant a few blocks from the school was shot and killed as he opened his restaurant. “If there were a knife fight in the plaza out here in front of the school, would you be more likely to get involved?” Wilkins asks. “Hell no!” someone blurts out. “Okay, that's probably smart,” Wilkins says, “but what could you do without putting yourself in danger?” The discussion continues. It's not clear what lessons the students will take with them, but Carberry says the added dose of psychology seems to have kept them more engaged. “The kids really seem to dig it,” he says.

    Back at the Presidio, Zimbardo enthusiastically reels off a seemingly endless list of projects in the works. HIP has just finished its first study, a collaboration with researchers at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands on the psychology of whistle-blowing. In a contrived setup in which volunteers had a chance to notify the university's committee on human subjects of an unethical experiment, only 6% blew the whistle. Now the team is investigating what personality traits and motivations distinguish the whistleblowers. “There's almost no research on any of these questions,” Zimbardo says. HIP is also developing corporate training programs and a host of Web sites to encourage people to post stories about their own personal heroes and take on “hero projects” like getting a friend to quit smoking or helping an elderly person learn to use a computer.

    Zimbardo brushes off the suggestion that it all seems a bit scattershot. “This is my new mission in life,” he says. He chipped in $30,000 of his own money to start the project and has since raised nearly $250,000 more from other donors. He's considering auctioning off some of his art and wine collections. “I grew up in abject poverty in the South Bronx,” Zimbardo says. Now that he has nice things, he says he's willing to give them up if that's what it takes. Zimbardo seems to have thrown himself wholeheartedly into the challenges of his grand new experiment—and the shot at redemption. “It's rescued my career from being Dr. Evil to being Dr. Good,” he says.

  6. Newsmaker Interview

    Jeremy Berg: An Independent Scientist Departs NIH's Ranks

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    The outgoing director of the basic research institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health has won scientists' hearts and minds by championing transparency.

    Jeremy Berg has a knack for making his life complicated. Soon after he took the helm of the U.S. National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) basic science institute in 2003, Berg questioned why the winners of a prestigious new award for creative research were all well-known male scientists. So NIH asked him to run the program. When scientists devoured data he shared on how his institute awards grants, he found himself launching NIH's first director-written blog. Last December, as a member of a high-level advisory board, he cast the only vote against creating a new NIH institute to bolster drug development. Berg's concern: Forming the new institute would likely mean dissolving another NIH center that's treasured by biomedical researchers. It provides resources like large instruments and animal models.

    Berg rushed from the room after the 12-1 vote, visibly upset. “I was really fairly stunned that there would be so little discussion,” says the director of NIH's $2 billion National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). But “as an army of one, I wasn't going to get very far. I was just trying to digest the whole thing.”

    Berg's ongoing battle to defend NIH's National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) has burnished his image among many scientists who were already fans. “I admire his courage. I think he was absolutely correct,” says cell biologist Keith Yamamoto of the University of California, San Francisco, who calls NIH Director Francis Collins's decision to abolish NCRR without input from his advisers “pretty distressing.”

    In June, Berg, age 53, will leave NIGMS for the University of Pittsburgh to follow his wife, breast imaging researcher Wendie Berg. He will run a biochemistry lab half-time and serve as “associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning in the health sciences.” (Details are still being worked out, he says.) Last month, in his small office crammed with family photos and dangling metal models of proteins, Berg reflected on his time at NIH.

    After a junior faculty position at Johns Hopkins University, Berg became a biophysics department chair at just 32. He “had done some beautiful work” on the structure of zinc finger proteins and had “leadership written all over him,” says then–cell biology chair Thomas Pollard, now dean of arts and sciences at Yale University. Berg, who served in several administrative posts at Johns Hopkins, says he enjoyed making organizations more effective and “reveling in other people's success.” When Johns Hopkins scientist Elias Zerhouni became director of NIH, he recruited Berg to head NIGMS.

    Dissenter.

    Berg questioned the NIH director's abrupt decision to abolish an institute.

    CREDIT: WENDIE BERG

    The institute was in good shape—its budget had nearly doubled in 5 years—but Berg saw a need to clear up “confusion” about how NIGMS decides which peer-reviewed grant proposals to fund. Scientific quality scores aren't the only factor; the institute also considers how a proposal fits its programmatic goals. Berg began e-mailing NIGMS grantees each year's funding curve—bar graphs showing that while the best-scoring grants are usually funded, some lower-rated ones are, too. “It's information people have a right to know, ” Berg says. The newsletter became a popular blog; it inspired NIH extramural research chief Sally Rockey to launch her own blog this year on funding policies.

    Last fall, Berg examined how lab size relates to productivity. He found that the average scientist's output of papers peaks at roughly $700,000 a year in costs, or about three research grants. Although NIGMS already had a policy of spreading the wealth and not automatically awarding grants to already well-funded scientists, the analysis gave this policy “a strong factual foundation,” Berg says. Stanford University's Suzanne Pfeffer, who as president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology bestowed an award on Berg last year, praises him for “making sure that the little guys get paid.”

    Berg was drawn into broader NIH matters after he pointed out that the winners of the first round of Pioneer Awards, a new grant program for high-risk research, were mostly “the usual suspects,” Berg says. He made small changes to the nomination process and the roster of reviewers that resulted in “a better balance of age groups and gender,” Berg says. He helped lead other NIH-wide tasks, such as an overhaul of peer review. “Jeremy has been an extraordinarily good citizen, willing to take on complicated and politically sensitive issues. And he's done a spectacular job,” says Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

    Berg's role switched from model citizen to dissident, however, when Collins and other NIH leaders decided to abolish NCRR. They reasoned that because NCRR's large clinical program was moving to the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the rest of NCRR should be parceled out to other institutes. What irks Berg is the process: Collins did not consult with the scientific community through his Scientific Management Review Board in advance. “This is the first time in the history of NIH that a center has been abolished, and to do it in this manner is a very bad precedent. … If this is representative of a leadership style, it is going to impair the effectiveness of the organization,” Berg says.

    Berg wants to finish a few things before he leaves, including a review of NIGMS's training programs. It could require that institutions certify that they're paying attention to young scientists' career plans (Science, 4 February, p. 525). He's also taking a look at how well peer-review scores predict performance, comparing them with an investigator's productivity. It's a task he clearly enjoys. “I'm fundamentally a data person,” he says. The results “are rich and complicated,” says Berg, who plans to submit them to a journal.

  7. PALEOANTHROPOLOGY SOCIETY & AMERICAN ASSOC. OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGISTS

    A New Ancestor for Homo?

    South African researchers announced in talks at the Paleoanthropology Society and American Association of Physical Anthropologists meetings that they had found bones and teeth from at least four individuals of a new species of early human, Australopithecus sediba.

    Hall of fame.

    Lee Berger showed off casts of Au. sediba's bones in the hallway at the meeting.

    CREDIT: A. GIBBONS

    Finding one partial skeleton of an ancient member of the human family is the rarest of rare discoveries in human evolution. So paleoanthropologists in the audience murmured in surprise when South African researchers announced at a talk that they had found bones and teeth from at least four individuals of a new species of early human, Australopithecus sediba. The discoverers say this species shows some surprisingly modern traits and may even be an ancestor of our own genus. “We really have found something very, very odd and very unexpected,” says discovery team leader Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in South Africa. But other paleoanthropologists are waiting for more detailed analyses of the unpublished fossils before they agree on its identity or place in the human family tree.

    New face.

    The skull of Au. sediba shows some surprisingly modern features.

    CREDIT: PHOTO BY BRETT ELOFF COURTESY OF LEE BERGER AND THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND, JOHANNESBURG

    The four hominin individuals died when they fell into a “death trap” in a cave at Malapa, South Africa, 1.977 million years ago, according to new dates reported by Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M University in College Station in his talk. In addition to the articulated partial skeletons of a youth and an older female unveiled last year (Science, 9 April 2010, p. 154), the team members also reported the discovery of an 18-month-old infant and at least one other adult. This means they are getting a good look at Au. sediba's development from infancy to old age.

    In five separate talks, Berger and members of his team sketched a quick portrait of Au. sediba, who lived at the mysterious time right after the emergence of our genus, Homo, between 2 million and 3 million years ago. Researchers have long wondered which of several species of Australopithecus gave rise to Homo, with Lucy's species, Au. afarensis, as the leading candidate.

    The trove of well-preserved bones includes clavicles, shoulder blades, and ribs as well as a largely complete skull, hand, foot, and two pelvises. The team calls the hominin an australopithecine because it had a small brain and “overall body plan” like that of an australopithecine, team member de Ruiter said in his talk.

    But the fossils also show some surprisingly modern traits usually found only in members of our genus, Berger said. The two pelvises, in particular, are capacious and elongated, resembling those of Homo. In his talk, Berger ticked off a list of other modern traits, including smaller teeth, short hands, and an elongated thumb. In a separate talk at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society, Kristian Carlson of Indiana University in Bloomington described the endocast—the impression left inside the skull by the brain—and suggested that the forebrain might be reorganized in a modern way. If so, Au. sediba's brain and pelvis both would have begun to evolve into more modern shapes before the brain expanded, countering the view that a big brain drove the evolutionary remodeling of the pelvis and brain.

    Members of our genus were already living when these hominins fell into the pit at Malapa, so these particular individuals aren't our ancestors. But de Ruiter said they might be late members of a species that previously gave rise to Homo, or a close relative.

    Other researchers, who examined casts of the fossils at the meeting, agreed that on first glance they represent an unusual mix of primitive and more modern traits. But most thought it important to compare Au. sediba directly with other ancient hominins in more detail. “The pelvis does look more modern,” says paleoanthropologist Christopher Ruff of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “But that doesn't mean it looks exactly like a modern human's or that it gave rise to early Homo.”

    Even if Au. sediba is an evolutionary dead end, says William Kimbel of Arizona State University, Tempe, “it does still shed light on the evolution of early Homo, because we know nothing about the time period a half-million to three-quarter million years before Au. sediba.”

  8. PALEOANTHROPOLOGY SOCIETY & AMERICAN ASSOC. OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGISTS

    Ancient Footprints Tell Tales of Travel

    1. Ann Gibbons

    By scrutinizing a 120,000-year-old trail of footprints, researchers have gotten their first snapshot of what a traveling group of archaic humans looked like, according to paleoanthropologists reporting at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting.

    About 120,000 years ago, some three dozen men, women, and children stepped across wet volcanic ash on the ancient shores of Lake Natron in Tanzania. By scrutinizing their well-preserved trail, researchers have gotten their first snapshot of what a traveling group of archaic humans looked like, down to the size of the group and the ratio of men to women with children, according to paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “What's really exciting is we're getting a glimpse of actual behavior preserved in the fossil record,” he said in his talk.

    The local Maasai people have long known about the trail of footprints at Engare Sero on the southern shore of Lake Natron, in the shadow of Oldoinyo Lengai volcano, which is still active. But researchers didn't learn about the footprints—which are incredibly rare in the fossil record—until 2008. Since then, Richmond, geologist Cynthia Liutkus of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and their colleagues have uncovered 350 tracks made by anatomically modern humans (as shown by their arched feet), over an area of 150 square meters. They noticed immediately that there are two sets of trails headed in opposite directions: one toward the northeast and another to the southwest. Preliminary radiometric dating on the volcanic ash below the prints puts them at about 120,000 years old. Because the footprints were made in wet ash, they must have been made in a matter of hours or days by “people living in a landscape at one place at one time,” Richmond said in his talk.

    Fancy footwork.

    Footprints in Tanzania reveal ancient travelers' behavior.

    CREDIT: BRIAN RICHMOND

    By scanning the footprints using photogrammetry, the researchers reconstructed a three-dimensional image of the site and used this image to measure precisely the length of each of the feet, which ranged from 14 to 29 centimeters. By counting how many different foot lengths were there, they estimated that more than 30 individuals laid down the tracks. Then they compared a couple of dozen of the foot lengths with those of more than 2000 African Americans to estimate the age and sex of each individual. They found, for example, that a large group of more than a dozen women and children with only one clearly identifiable adult male walked together from northeast to southwest. But the tracks that headed in the opposite direction (southwest to northeast) were made by several individuals who were not traveling together, and there were more males. The tracks fit a scenario like this: A few men, women, and adolescents traveled in one direction. A short time later, a group of women and children and a man walked as a group in the opposite direction.

    To test that idea, Richmond and his colleagues ran experiments examining the footprints left by local people who seldom wear shoes, as they walked and ran at various speeds. They concluded that people in the large group were all walking at the same speed, as if they all were adjusting their speed to travel together. But the people heading in the opposite direction were moving at different speeds, ranging from walking to running, suggesting that they were not moving together. The footprints provide “an extraordinary vignette of a moment in the lives of our ancestors,” says paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. And the prints freeze behavior. “Fossil bones have dominated interpretations of hominin locomotion,” says paleoanthropologist Richard Potts of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “Now footprints are beginning to offer the real imprint of behavior.”

  9. PALEOANTHROPOLOGY SOCIETY & AMERICAN ASSOC. OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGISTS

    Snapshots From the Meeting

    1. Ann Gibbons

    Snapshots from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting include a piece of a thighbone that fits perfectly on top of a broken bone found 29 years earlier and three new wrist bones from a second individual of the diminutive "Hobbit" from the Indonesian island of Flores.

    Finding Homo's hips. What are the odds that fossil hunters would find a piece of a thighbone that fit perfectly on top of a broken bone found 29 years earlier? This is precisely what happened in 2009 at Koobi Fora on the east side of Lake Turkana in Kenya, where the famed Leakey family's teams have worked for decades: Researchers from the Koobi Fora Research Project fit the top of a newly found femur onto the shaft of the same individual's thighbone, which had been found back in 1980. In a talk, paleoanthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri, Columbia, described the new thighbone and a pelvis found with it, which belonged to an early member of our genus that lived 1.88 million years ago.

    The other hand.

    These bones in the hobbit's wrist (drawn onto a chimpanzee hand) are different from those of modern humans.

    CREDIT: ORR AND TOCHERI

    The head of the femur is big and its neck is broad, and those features, plus others in the pelvis, reveal the fossil's owner as a member of Homo. But the shape of the femoral shaft shows it is not a member of H. erectus, a species known from Koobi Fora at this time. Finds of skulls and teeth had suggested that as many as three Homo species—H. erectus, H. habilis, and H. rudolfensis—coexisted at Koobi Fora from 1.8 million to 2 million years ago, but this is the first convincing evidence that those different Homo species had different postcranial morphology. “This gets us thinking about the diversity of creatures running around Koobi Fora nearly 2 million years ago,” Ward says.

    All in the wrist. Three new wrist bones from a second individual of the diminutive “Hobbit” from the Indonesian island of Flores confirm that the hand was too primitive to belong to a member of our species, Homo sapiens, according to a poster by paleoanthropologist Caley Orr of Stony Brook University in New York and his colleagues.

    They described three wrist bones found by Matthew Tocheri of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History among the unidentified bone remains of the hobbit, H. floresiensis; all the bones were discovered in Liang Bua cave on Flores. The wrist bones are smaller than those from the first H. floresiensis individual, but they show a nearly identical pattern of unusual three-dimensional shape (Science, 21 September 2007, p. 1743). Both hands lacked features in a complex of bones, including the hamate and capitate, that mesh together to absorb stress in the hands of modern humans and Neandertals. This suggests that the hand bones of H. floresiensis did not distribute force away from the base of the thumb and across the wrist as efficiently as in modern humans.

    Having the same features in two individuals' wrists makes it highly unlikely that their unusual shape was caused by disease in a modern human, as some researchers have claimed. “This is normal anatomy for H. floresiensis,” Orr says. “It's consistent with the hypothesis that this is a distinct species.”

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