Random Samples

Science  04 Jan 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5552, pp. 41

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  1. Yanomamö Wars Continue

    Chagnon with Yanomamö.

    Last fall, journalist Patrick Tierney reignited a long-standing dispute about scientists' treatment of the Yanomamö Indians with Darkness in El Dorado, a book charging anthropologist Napoleon A. Chagnon of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the late geneticist James V. Neel, and others with exploitation and destructive practices, including possibly exacerbating a fatal 1968 measles epidemic (Science, 19 January 2001, p. 416). In the ensuing uproar, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) launched an inquiry to examine the issues.

    In late November, the six-member task force posted a preliminary report on the Web that largely rejected Tierney's claims. Neel's team “did the best that they possibly could” with the epidemic, it ruled. And it only gives Chagnon a light tap on the wrist for collecting “secret” Yanomamö names and aiding a tribal raiding party. The report urges anthropologists to “open a new dialogue” to ensure that anthropologists are acting in line with today's heightened cultural sensitivities.

    “There's nothing substantial proving that either Neel or Chagnon did anything wrong,” says Chagnon defender William Irons of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. “The original charges … have been downgraded to almost nothing.”

    But if the AAA hoped to put an end to the Yanomamö wars, it failed. Indeed, the report—posted before two task force members had seen it—was quickly denounced as “one- sided” and “sanitized” by Terence Turner of Cornell, a Chagnon critic. Task force member Janet Chernela of Florida International University in Miami says there were major omissions, including her interviews with Yanomami about blood samples taken by Neel. In response to criticism, the AAA pulled the report down (but not before evolutionary psychologists reposted it at groups.yahoo.com/group/evolutionary-psychology/files/aaa.html).

    Although Irons thinks the task force did a “fair job,” Chagnon is still bitter about the mauling he took from Tierney. “I'm absolutely amazed that the AAA takes this book seriously enough to have mounted an all-out investigation,” he says. He predicts that the task force, bowing to political pressure, will issue a more “hostile” final report “that will excoriate me more thoroughly.”

  2. Euro-Women in Science

    Vague concerns that women are underrepresented in Europe's scientific workforce are being backed up by some hard facts. A recent study by the Helsinki Group, a European Union research group that promotes women in science, concludes that few countries have made science hospitable to women. Although the university student population in many fields shows gender balance, women are massively underrepresented on science and engineering faculties, according to the study, released in November at the meeting “Gender and Research” in Brussels. “Even in societies such as Finland, where laws on gender equality have been in place since before World War II, there is no gender equality in the scientific system,” claims Helsinki Group director Brigitte Degen.

    Portugal came out looking better than any other country in terms of female representation in university science: close to half of researchers. “Yes, we are really happy with the development here,” says science ministry researcher Lígia Silva, who ascribes the rosy picture to the fact that the country has experienced 10% annual growth in its research budget and commensurate growth in science Ph.D.s since 1995.

    At the bottom of the list is the Netherlands. Despite extensive career development and mentoring programs, “women [still] opt out of science in secondary school when given the option,” says Ilja Mottier, a researcher at the Dutch education ministry. The Helsinki study offers new approaches to the problems, says Mottier: for example, making technology programs more interdisciplinary so they are more attractive to females.

    View this table:
  3. Freedom of Speech at Livermore

    Taking advantage of a 1985 court ruling ordering Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California to set aside space for “alternative viewpoints,” three public-interest groups have unfurled two giant posters in the visitors center inviting the public to ponder the perils of the lab's mission. One, of a bomb in a skull (above), advises: “Your health is a terrible thing to waste. Livermore Lab has released a million curies of radiation locally.” The other skull depicts the target chamber of the controversial National Ignition Facility, a giant laser, and warns: “Nuclear Weapons Science. Your mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Marylia Kelley of Tri-Valley CAREs, one of the sponsoring groups, says she hopes the displays “will encourage more scientists to leave the project.”