Random Samples

Science  14 Apr 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5771, pp. 171

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    Although the name of Woo Suk Hwang is fading fast in the public mind, die-hard supporters of the disgraced South Korean stem cell researcher are busier than ever with activities from one-person vigils to mass demonstrations. Pro-Hwang rallies involving several thousand people have taken place almost every weekend in downtown Seoul, some accompanied by performances, fundraising bazaars, and lit candles.

    Now, Hwang followers have taken up a fresh cause: pressuring the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) to screen a TV program that defends Hwang's science and accuses collaborators of having deceived him. On recent weekends, more than 1000 people—many of them members of an online community called “I Love Hwang Woo Suk”—have gathered in front of the broadcaster's offices. On 3 April, police arrested 65 who were camping out near KBS. (They were released the next day.) The station announced on 4 April that it would not run the program; the producer vowed to put it on the Internet.

    Demonstrations have by no means all been peaceful. Last week, a man drove his car into the Seoul National University administration building; a month earlier, several women swore at and pulled the hair of the spokesperson of the investigative panel that accused Hwang of fraud. Others conducted mock funerals of the school's president and dove under his car. In February, a man burned himself to death, saying Hwang should be allowed to resume his research.

    KBS has reported that Hwang, dismissed from his university post last month, has received job offers from two research institutes abroad.



    One of the more ominous results of global warming may be the inundation of rice-growing areas in Asia. Responding to this threat, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines is setting up a consortium to study the impact of global warming on the world's largest food crop.

    Flooding is not the only concern. Higher temperatures threaten to harm yields and nutritional value. They will also worsen water shortages and complicate weed and pest management. A plan outlined last month calls for the establishment of three rice-growing supersites, about 20 hectares each, in the Philippines, southern China and northern India. There, scientists will experiment with crop combinations and test new cultivars for tolerance to heat, drought, ozone, and other pollutants. “When we find those tolerance genes in rice, we'll be able to make them available to other crops as well,” says ecologist John Sheehy of IRRI, which is fronting $2 million toward the consortium.



    The habitat dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, created during the diorama heyday of the 1920s through the 1950s, star in a new book, Windows on Nature. “This was an early form of virtual reality to recreate nature within walls,” said author Stephen Quinn, the museum's diorama guru, at a reception last week. At right is Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, looking toward the Northern Lights at 3 a.m. on 7 December 1941—Pearl Harbor Day—as shown in the placement of Polaris and the Big Dipper. The taxidermist studied animal locomotion extensively before posing the wolves. An imaginary moon shines over the scene, picking out the tracks of the wolves and of their fleeing prey, a white-tailed deer. The diorama's lights are too diffuse to cast shadows, so the foreground artist added his own by sprinkling pigment in the mica-and-marble-dust snow.


    1. Aubrey de Grey

    A scientific competition between Jason Pontin, editor in chief of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) Technology Review, and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge University in the U.K. is heating up with the announcement last month of the panel of judges.

    Pontin is challenging de Grey's prescription for extending the useful human life span by hundreds of years by treating aging as an engineering problem susceptible to damage control. Pontin calls the theory, known as SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), “outrageous and unverifiable.” Frustrated by scientists' reluctance to criticize it in public, he proposed a contest last July. The $20,000 prize will go to the submission that best demonstrates SENS “so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate,” says Pontin. Entries can be sent to Jason.pontin{at}technologyreview.com. The five-person panel includes Rodney Brooks, director of MIT's artificial intelligence lab, and genome sequencer J. Craig Venter. The winner will be announced at http://www.technologyreview.com/ on 11 July. The original prize fund of $10,000 donated by the magazine doubled when The Methuselah Foundation, de Grey's organization, tossed in an additional $10,000.