News this Week

Science  03 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6243, pp. 8
  1. This week's section

    Protesters arrested trying to halt telescope's construction

    A Thirty Meter Telescope protester chants during his 24 June arrest on Hawaii's Mauna Kea.

    PHOTO: TRIBUNE-HERALD/HOLLY JOHNSON/AP

    An attempt to restart construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), intended to be one of the world's largest telescopes, was stalled on 24 June after state authorities escorting construction vehicles clashed with protesters blockading the road to the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano. The protesters, who have said the $1.4 billion TMT would desecrate sacred land, blockaded the road, culminating in the arrests of 11 men and women, including several protest organizers. Officers from Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources and construction workers turned back from the summit shortly after noon after finding the road obstructed by boulders. Hours after posting bail, the protesters headed back to Mauna Kea with plans to continue their blockade. In a statement calling the arrests “unfortunate,” Mike McCartney, chief of staff to Hawaii Governor David Ige (D), said that the boulders in the roadway represent “a serious and significant safety hazard and could put people at risk.” He said the construction would be on hold while teams cleared the roadway and the state reassesses how to proceed. http://scim.ag/TMTarrests

    Acidification hurts freshwater fish

    Pink salmon in the Campbell River in British Columbia.

    PHOTO: © MICHAEL PATRICK O'NEILL/ALAMY

    Rising CO2 in the world's waters isn't just a threat to saltwater fish: Pink salmon raised in water infused with elevated CO2 showed stunted growth, became more fearless in dangerous situations, and had a diminished sense of smell, scientists reported 29 July in Nature Climate Change. Scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, observed the differences after raising pink salmon in tanks with water containing the equivalent of 450 parts per million of CO2 (a little more than current atmospheric levels), 1000 parts per million, or 2000 parts per million. The study is the first to identify these effects in a freshwater species, and the results “sound a warning,” wrote ecologist Philip Munday of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Townsville, Australia, in a commentary accompanying the study. Munday has previously found similar effects on ocean fish. Approximately 40% of all fish species spend at least part of their lives in fresh water. http://scim.ag/FWfishacid

    Dutch court orders government to cut more CO2

    Urgenda's lawyers celebrate after the ruling.

    PHOTO: URGENDA/CHANTAL BEKKER

    A court has ordered the Dutch government to dramatically intensify its fight against climate change. Ruling in a civil case brought against the government by environmental group Urgenda, the district court in The Hague ruled that by 2020, the Netherlands must cut CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels. Current government policies would lead to a 17% reduction. The case framed global warming as a human rights violation that the Dutch government must do more to prevent. Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a legal landmark that could inspire similar action elsewhere. But the court didn't specify which measures the government must take to meet the target, and the verdict immediately triggered discussions about whether a 25% reduction in 5 years is feasible and whether it might hurt the Dutch economy. The government, which was also ordered to pay Urgenda's legal bills, estimated at €13,522, has not said whether it will appeal. http://scim.ag/Dutchclimch

    “This is a tough day. This isn't where I wanted to be on a Sunday afternoon.”

    NASA Associate Administrator of Human Exploration Bill Gerstenmaier after an unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying International Space Station (ISS) supplies exploded after launch, the third ISS resupply mission to fail in a year.

    By the Numbers

    70—Total number of impact craters larger than 6 kilometers in diameter anywhere on Earth (Earth and Planetary Science Letters).

    35%—Amount of marine protected areas exposed to light pollution from ships and coastal development in 2012 (Conservation Letters).

    42%—Average increase in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) across the United States on the evening of 4 July relative to days before and after (Atmospheric Environment).

    Around the world

    Monrovia

    Ebola back in Liberia

    More than 7 weeks after being declared free of Ebola, Liberia has reported a new infection with the virus, raising worries about a resurgence. The body of a 17-year-old boy who died at home on 28 June tested positive for the deadly virus, Liberian deputy minister of health Tolbert Nyenswah announced on 29 June. The boy had been ill for a few days; his body was buried using appropriate safety precautions, Nyenswah said. His contacts are being monitored, and Nedowian, the village where he lived, has been put under quarantine. It's unclear how the patient got infected. Nedowian is close to Liberia's capital, Monrovia, and far from the borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea, where Ebola still occurs. The outbreak in West Africa has sickened more than 27,000 people and killed more than 11,000, according to the World Health Organization.

    Washington, D.C.

    Conflict of interest overhaul

    The Smithsonian Institution is overhauling its ethics policies in the wake of a controversy surrounding one of its researchers. This past February, environmental advocates revealed that aerospace engineer Willie Wei-Hock Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an outspoken critic of mainstream climate science, had not revealed to several journals that he had received funding from a major energy company. Smithsonian officials launched two reviews, and on 26 June announced four reforms. They include creating new processes that will allow officials to review all funding agreements for potential conflicts, as well as to collect financial disclosure statements from some 150 researchers not covered by existing policies. The institution also will require all of its researchers to disclose funding sources to journals, regardless of journal policies.

    Washington, D.C.

    Supreme Court axes mercury regs

    PHOTO: © IMAGEBROKER/ALAMY

    U.S. government efforts to reduce the health risks posed by mercury from U.S. coal power plants will have to wait a bit longer. On 29 June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 2011 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation—decades in the making—that aimed to reduce emissions of the toxin. On a 5 to 4 vote, the justices ruled that EPA had erred by failing to fully consider the costs of the rule early in its regulatory process. The agency had argued that it didn't need to consider all the costs and benefits until later, when it set specific standards. EPA said in a statement that it is disappointed with the ruling, but noted that most U.S. coal plants “are already well on their way to making emissions reductions.” http://scim.ag/suprmerc

    Washington, D.C.

    Bill would limit embryo editing

    A spending bill in the U.S. House of Representatives could restrict research on making heritable genetic changes to human embryos. The draft bill, released on 17 June, includes language that would bar the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from reviewing such research, which can include mitochondrial replacement therapy to prevent rare inherited diseases or using genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 on embryos. The amendment is “the simplest way to slow down the FDA on this so everyone has a chance to review the ethics,” says Representative Andy Harris (R-MD). But some scientists argue that the measure is excessive and that local Institutional Review Boards already provide ethical oversight. Preventing FDA from reviewing clinical trial proposals to evaluate potential cures for genetic diseases “would set a new standard for congressional stupidity and inhumanity,” says Henry Miller, a physician and molecular biologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The committee is expected to vote on the bill in July.

    Newsmakers

    Misconduct report disputed

    Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has responded to a May report that concluded he was guilty of scientific misconduct as part of his clinical testing of artificial tracheas. The report, conducted by an independent investigator and requested by the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institute after whistleblowers lodged complaints, concluded that papers Macchiarini and his colleagues published did not accurately describe the condition of patients (Science, 29 May, p. 954). In his 23-page response, Macchiarini says that he has gathered additional clinical records that corroborate his description of the patients. The additional records are not public, however, because of patient confidentiality. Thirty people, including other researchers involved in the work as well as those who originally brought the misconduct allegations, have filed responses; a Karolinska spokesperson says the submissions total nearly 1000 pages. Karolinska's vice chancellor will assess the responses and decide how to respond to the report. http://scim.ag/Maccresp

    Findings

    Ancient bobcat had human burial

    Ancient Native Americans buried these bone pendants and shell beads together with the bobcat.

    PHOTO: KEN FARNSWORTH

    About 2000 years ago, a group of Native American traders and hunter-gatherers buried something unusual in a sacred place. In the outer edge of a large mound of dirt in what is today southern Illinois, these Hopewell people interred the body of a young bobcat. Just a few months old and wearing a necklace of bear teeth and marine shells, the bobkitten is the only animal ever found in these funeral mounds, which were normally reserved for humans. Its burial is also the only known ceremonial burial of a wild cat in the archaeological record, researchers contend this month in the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology. They say the villagers may have brought the animal in from the wild and tamed it, transforming it into a member of their own society. If so, the find could shed light on how cats, dogs, and other creatures were domesticated.

    Still looking for Amelia

    On 2 July 1937, aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan vanished over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to fly around the world. Partial skeletal remains found in 1940 on Gardner (or Nikumaroro) Island in Kiribati were suspected to be Earhart's until an investigation by British officials that year concluded the bones belonged to a middle-aged male. In 1998, a private historic group had the British analysis re-evaluated and discredited. But last month in The Journal of Archaeological Science, Sydney University in Australia anthropologist Richard Wright and biological anthropologist Pamela Cross of Bradford University in the United Kingdom reaffirmed the original findings, noting that the historic group had “shamefully denigrated” the expertise of David Hoodless, who conducted the key 1940 analysis, Wright says. Furthermore, they found, the 1998 authors had merely used four cranial measurements—not sufficient to determine ancestry.

    Correction (2 July 2015): The credit for the photo in “Dutch court orders government to cut more CO2” is URGENDA/CHANTAL BEKKER and the credit for the photo in “Ancient bobcat had human burial” is KEN FARNSWORTH.

Log in to view full text