News this Week

Science  06 May 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6030, pp. 646

You are currently viewing the .

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

  1. Around the World

    1 - Arctic Ocean
    Scientists Urge Greater Protection For Arctic as Ice Recedes
    2 - Rwanda
    Africa's First Cervical Cancer Prevention Program Launched
    3 - Mauritania, Mali, and Niger
    French Researchers Balk At Limits on African Travel
    4 - Western and Central Pacific Ocean
    Fishery Certification Boosts Tuna Conservation
    5 - Tokyo, Japan
    Radiation Standards Draw Protests

    Arctic Ocean

    Scientists Urge Greater Protection For Arctic as Ice Recedes

    Conservationists are hurrying to protect Arctic regions, such as Canada's Lancaster Sound, as global warming opens them up to industry.


    Scientists and representatives of indigenous Arctic communities have identified areas around the Arctic Ocean that they say should be protected as sea ice recedes, opening the way for industry. The report, released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, maps out 77 areas, 13 of which they identify as high priority regions. These range from the Bering Strait to perennial gaps in the ice off the coasts of Russia and Greenland.

    The predictable retreat of Arctic sea ice under global warming presents one last opportunity to adopt effective marine management practices before industry gets going, says Lisa Speer of NRDC in New York City, who co-authored the workshop report. Once development starts, “it becomes much more difficult to protect key ecosystems,” she says. “Now we have a short window of opportunity to do it right.”

    That will require cooperation among the eight Arctic nations, which include the United States and Russia. Foreign ministers of the Arctic Eight meet next week in Nuuk, Greenland, where the agenda will include management practices in the melting Arctic.


    Africa's First Cervical Cancer Prevention Program Launched

    The Rwandan government, in collaboration with two companies, launched the first national cervical cancer prevention program in Africa on 25 April. The companies, Merck and Qiagen, will make substantial donations to help vaccinate girls against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, and screen adult women for infection with the virus.

    Many countries in the western world have implemented HPV vaccination programs. But the vaccines' cost—more than $300 for three doses—has been a major obstacle to their use in developing countries. Under the deal, Merck will donate more than 2 million doses of its vaccine, Gardasil, for the first 3 years of a nationwide program targeting girls 12 to 15 years old. Qiagen will contribute 250,000 of its DNA-based HPV screening tests, which are easier to administer than traditional Pap smears, for women ages 35 to 45.

    After 3 years, Rwanda will pay for the products at discounted prices that have yet to be revealed. The companies say they are talking to other poor countries about similar programs.

    Mauritania, Mali, and Niger

    French Researchers Balk At Limits on African Travel

    French scientists are up in arms about a freeze on field work in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger, triggered by the deteriorating security situation in those countries. French citizens in the region have become frequent targets of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—the terrorist group believed to be behind last week's bomb attack in Marrakesh—leading the French government to issue a travel warning for the three countries in January. In response, universities and research agencies such as the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Institute for Research for Development have told their scientists to stay home indefinitely.

    The freeze is a severe blow to research and is isolating local scientists, says Sébastien Boulay, an anthropologist at the University of Paris Descartes. Boulay, who works in Mauritania, started an online petition to relax the measures; it has drawn more than 650 signatures, including many from African scientists.

    CNRS security expert Joseph Illand says that his agency can't ignore government advisories but that exceptions are possible if scientists justify the importance of their mission and have detailed security plans. “The death of Osama bin Laden won't contribute to pacification in the short term,” Illand predicts.

    Western and Central Pacific Ocean

    Fishery Certification Boosts Tuna Conservation

    A purse seiner offloads its frozen catch of skipjack onto a refrigerator ship in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, a member of PNA.


    A group of Pacific Ocean island states known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) have scored a victory in their battle with distant fishing nations to preserve the world's last major stocks of tuna. Last week, the London-based Marine Stewardship Council announced its intention to certify as sustainable about half the skipjack tuna caught by purse-seine vessels in waters surrounding the eight member nations, which include Papua New Guinea and Kiribati. The certification, a first among purse-seine fisheries, recognizes PNA's aggressive efforts to limit tuna fishing in its waters.

    Skipjack, the most abundant of the tunas, is sold mostly for canning. The certification will apply only to the half of skipjack caught in free-swimming schools. The other half is caught with floating devices that attract other species as well, notably the prized bigeye tuna, whose numbers have dwindled so much that scientists who monitor the fishery have called for a 30% reduction in the take. The certification dovetails with PNA's decision last month to extend a ban on the floating devices from 3 months a year this year to 6 months next year. PNA plans eventually to ban them entirely, and has already prohibited nearly all purse-seining in an area the size of India.

    Tokyo, Japan

    Radiation Standards Draw Protests

    Toshiso Kosako, a radiation safety expert at the University of Tokyo, resigned his governmental advisory post last week in protest over what he calls “inexcusable” standards for schoolchildren exposed to radiation from the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

    On 19 April, the ministry of education announced a “provisional idea” for contaminated schoolyards. It cited a recommendation by the International Commission on Radiological Protection that exposure be kept at the lower end of a range between 1 and 20 millisieverts (mSv) per year for individuals living long-term in contaminated areas. The education ministry figured that children could spend 8 hours a day in a schoolyard with as much as 3.8 microsieverts per hour of radiation and then 16 hours a day inside a building with 1.52 microsieverts per hour and stay within a 20 mSv per year limit.

    Some 800 groups and 3400 individuals have signed a petition, presented to the government 2 May, demanding the proposal's withdrawal. Kosako's resignation is expected to put additional pressure on the government to rethink its decision.

  2. Random Sample


    >Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, will begin a new Ph.D. program in stem cell science in 2012. Officials there say it will be the first such program in the nation, if not the world. Prospective students can apply this fall for three to six spots in the inaugural class.

    Biomedical Research's Shaky Ladder


    A new analysis puts in stark relief the widening imbalance between men and women biomedical researchers as they move up the career ladder. National Institutes of Health (NIH) staff members examined women's share in 2008 of 19 types of training grants and research awards arranged by career stage (see graph). Women held about half of the training grants. But they received only 27% of R01s, NIH's basic independent research grants, and only 17% of all P30s, which are large center grants.

    The numbers are a snapshot of a single year and say nothing about the progression of a particular cohort. The data come from a paper published online 20 April in Academic Medicine that also explores success rates for men and women. For the most part, they are the same. But experienced male scientists submit more R01 applications, and they are more successful at renewing these grants than women.

    A Tree Expert in Your Back Pocket


    As spring unfolds and leaves unfurl, it's time to take the iPhone for a walk in the woods. Just as there are mobile applications for identifying constellations, there's now Leafsnap, a free electronic field guide to trees. Point and shoot at a leaf, and the iPhone—and soon the iPad and phones running Android—will compare the image to a central database of 8000 leaves, providing the closest matches using face recognition software. The answer comes with facts about the species as well as pictures of the leaf, flower, bark, and fruit. The application also sends the image, identity, and location to another database that scientists can use to track how the numbers and ranges of trees are changing through time.

    Leafsnap currently includes 191 tree species in Washington, D.C., and New York City. By the year's end, the app's 50-plus creators from Columbia University; the University of Maryland, College Park; and the Smithsonian Institution expect to have the 250 species needed to identify trees throughout the northeastern United States. Covering the continental United States needs more funding and 2 to 3 years to complete.

    By the Numbers

    2511 — Artifacts, including prototype helmets from NASA's early shuttle research, in Syracuse University's Plastics Collection, most of which is now perusable at

    >1000 — Entries submitted to the European Commission's contest to name its next science and technology funding program. The current program, called Framework 7, ends in 2013. The contest closes 10 May.

    88% — Percentage of respondents to the U.K.'s Public Attitudes to Science 2011 survey who agreed that “scientists make a valuable contribution to society.” Fifty-four percent, however, agreed that “rules will not stop scientists doing what they want behind closed doors.”

    Young, But How Innocent?


    Decked with colorful poster boards and potted lima bean plants, school science fairs are a rite of passage for budding researchers. But a new survey by two Kentucky teenagers suggests the events might also be cradles of scientific misconduct.

    Michael Moorin and Tyler Smith, both 17, of duPont Manual High School in Louisville found that more than half of science fair competitors at their school cheated. The results have propelled the pair to next week's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.

    One hundred students—about one-third of the participants in Manual's science fair—answered Moorin and Smith's anonymous online questionnaire. Sixty percent admitted to some form of scientific misconduct. Most had falsified data (55% of respondents), while others had changed hypotheses to fit results or had lied on fair entry forms. Fifteen percent of respondents acknowledged doing all three, and seven students admitted to cheating on Intel competition projects.

    With nearly $4 million in awards at stake, Intel fair entries are rigorously scrutinized, says Michele Glidden, director of science education programs for the Society for Science & the Public in Washington, D.C., which oversees the Intel competitions. Still, she called the survey results “disturbing.”

    Moorin and Smith's findings have prompted Manual to add an ethics component to courses next year. But Bruce Shore, an education researcher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who has published his own paper on science fair cheating, says what students really need is more instruction on how to conduct the projects. “High-performing students cheat less,” Shore says. “Part of the reason is they've learned to learn.”

  3. Newsmakers

    The $23 Million Textbook


    The Making of a Fly, by Peter Lawrence of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, is a classic in the field of developmental biology. But is a single copy really worth $23,698,655, the price one seller was asking last month on

    University of California, Berkeley, evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen noticed the skyrocketing price when a postdoc in his lab wanted to order an extra copy. The book, written in 1992, is out of print, but third-party sellers on Amazon still had 17 copies in stock. When Eisen looked, one copy was being hawked for $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).

    The culprit? An algorithm used by two competing sellers to automatically adjust their prices depending on the other's offer, which had created an upward spiral. The price peaked on 18 April before a human being intervened and the prices came back to Earth. (As Science went to press, however, the price had sneaked back up to $10,000.00.)

    “It's funny, isn't it,” Lawrence says. “I was hoping it would go up to a billion.”

    He says Eisen's desire to order a copy of the 1992 textbook suggests that he succeeded in his intention to “write a book that lasts.”

    USDA Research Leader Departs


    Roger Beachy, the top scientist for extramural research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is leaving his post this month after serving less than 2 years. A pioneer in the genetic engineering of plants at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), Beachy was recruited to increase the profile and success of agricultural research.

    Congress had already boosted USDA's budget for competitive research grants by 30% in FY 2010, to $260 million. Beachy put roughly half those funds into larger, multidisciplinary grants focused on “grand challenges,” such as dealing with the impact of climate change. The number of grant applications rose significantly and included researchers beyond the department's traditional constituency of land-grant universities. “I feel pretty good that we've been able to do as much as we have,” Beachey told Science.

    This year's pot for competitive grants is down by about 1%. But Beachy says his decision to leave on 20 May is “strictly for personal reasons”—a desire to be with his family, which has remained in St. Louis. He will return to WUSTL as a professor in the biology department.

  4. Literary Criticism

    Red in Tooth and Claw Among the Literati

    1. Sam Kean

    Upset by the isolation of their field, some critics are trying to bring Darwin's ideas and recent science to the study of literature. They haven't been popular.


    In the early 1990s Joseph Carroll, an English professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, presented a paper on the possibility of studying literature through the lens of Darwinian evolution. Not long afterward, he heard from a colleague that the paper had generated lots of discussion, though not for the most flattering reason. “People didn't think that anyone in literary studies cared about such things,” Carroll recalls. “There was an argument over whether it was a hoax.”

    Carroll was indeed serious. For 2 decades prior, Freudianism, Marxism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and other fashionable “isms” had dominated the academic study of literature. These schools dismissed the idea that evolutionary pressures have shaped human nature, attributing all human nature to culture instead. Frustrated by this thinking, which he has grumbled is “unable to contribute in any useful way to the serious world of adult knowledge,” Carroll rebelled. In 1994, he helped found a new field by publishing his self-described “big, baggy monster,” Evolution and Literary Theory, a 536-page book promoting an approach to literature based on evolution science.

    Carroll wasn't alone in his despondency. Other literary scholars have described their field as “a backwater” and “embarrassingly out of step” with science. Following Carroll, some began incorporating neuroscience, cognitive science, anthropology, and—most prominently and controversially—evolutionary psychology into their work.

    Some of that work reads like traditional, pre-1970s English scholarship: discussions of tone, style, context, and theme. But it also explores how evolution might have shaped aspects of literature. On a deeper level, writers investigate the potential adaptive benefits of storytelling for our Pleistocene ancestors and the mystery of why humans spend so much time immersed in it. (By one measure, we spend 4 hours per day consuming, discussing, and creating stories, and 4 minutes per day having sex.)

    Most scientific lit scholars incorporate at least some evolution into their work because evolution provides a framework for understanding human behavior. And many focus on evolutionary psychology because it explores the origins of mental phenomena, including narratives and aesthetics, and can bridge evolutionary biology and the humanities. Some recent evopsychology also emphasizes the plasticity of the human mind, which helps explain how universal human behaviors (such as storytelling) can exist but can nevertheless be expressed in different ways in different cultures.

    Straddling multiple fields, this analysis has earned a mixed response. Carroll says most scientists encourage his work: Supporters include evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker and biologist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University and biologist David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University in New York state. In contrast, applying evolutionary thought to the human mind has never been popular in the humanities, and scientific lit crit has met with bemusement and occasional hostility. (Three scholars who used scientific ideas in their analyses were denounced as “protofascists” at a prominent academic meeting for literary scholars in the 1990s by a critic who admitted he hadn't read their work.)

    But since 2007, the number of books and articles incorporating Darwinian and other scientific thought into literary studies has more than doubled, Carroll says. Carroll himself released a new book in March, Reading Human Nature, which summarizes the accomplishments of evolutionary criticism and anticipates where it might be headed. It's not a unified field; some of its members in fact distance themselves from Carroll. But these scholars are united in one sense: They're convinced not only that evolutionary thought can improve literary research but also that literature can teach scientists a thing or two about human evolution.

    Out with Freud, in with Darwin

    Humanities scholars have criticized scientific lit crit as too general or too reductive to say anything meaningful about individual works. Pinker makes a similar argument, saying that although the approach may help us identify how our craving for fiction evolved, he's not convinced it will enrich our understanding of specific texts.

    In his new book, Carroll contests these claims, saying that science can offer insight into even the most pored-over works in the canon. In a chapter devoted to Hamlet, he explores the neuroscience of depression, among other topics. Carroll also cites the work of Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, a cognitive scientist at the University of Oregon, Eugene, who reinterpreted the Oedipus tragedies. Standard commentary has been dominated by Freudian theories about people's repressed desires to have sex with their parents, but she argues that, in light of widespread anthropological evidence of cultural taboos against incest, that reading simply isn't tenable.

    Another examination of the classics is The Rape of Troy by Jonathan Gottschall, an English professor at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, who completed his Ph.D. thesis under the aegis of David Sloan Wilson. The book examines The Iliad and The Odyssey and employs anthropological work on warfare and evolutionary work on polygyny to show, Gottschall argues, that “patterns of violence in Homeric society are tantalizingly consistent with … acute shortages of available young women relative to young men.” In this reading, whatever reasons the Greek mythic heroes invoked for waging war—status, money, honor—they were fundamentally fighting for marriages and their evolutionary legacy.

    Gottschall has also looked outside the Western canon, by studying hundreds of ancient fairy tales worldwide. Although the tales differed in some ways, Gottschall concluded that the same basic underlying characters—handsome young males, pretty maidens, and shrewish older women—appear pervasively in all cultures. This counters, he says, the popular feminist argument that such stereotypes appear only in the fairy tales of Western societies and merely reinforce Western patriarchy.

    Carroll and Gottschall have examined more modern fiction as well. In a paper they wrote with psychologists John A. Johnson and Daniel Kruger, they asked hundreds of literary experts to rate their attitudes toward antagonists and protagonists in 201 Victorian novels and then tabulated the numbers. They found that experts rated antagonists as overtly dominant and selfish, whereas protagonists displayed altruistic and selfless behavior. In one sense this is trivial: Good guys are good, bad guys bad. But the authors argue that experts overwhelmingly perceived consistent “prosocial” behavior among characters that people root for.

    Carroll and his colleagues then drew on anthropological research to argue why this behavior appeals. In our fraught hunter-gatherer days, when humans roamed about in small bands, people had to sacrifice selfish interests and work together, or they'd perish. In contrast, self-aggrandizing or dominant behavior threatened group survival. Victorian novels, in this view, merely dress up these ancient, evolved preferences in crinolines and top hats.

    Most humanities scholarship today is “unable to contribute in any useful way to the serious world of adult knowledge.”


    If fiction does reinforce cooperative and egalitarian behavior, and if that behavior did ensure the survival of hunter-gatherers, then perhaps the ability to create and understand literature gave our ancestors a survival advantage; it is what evolutionary scientists call adaptive. It's an appealing theory—it makes literature essential to life—but it has proved contentious.

    First, most scholars distinguish between modern, written literature and more fundamental forms, such as oral stories. And stories can indeed be adaptive in human culture because they work “like a flight simulator” for social life, says Brian Boyd, a Nabokov scholar at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His 2009 book, On the Origin of Stories, examines works as diverse as Horton Hears a Who! and The Iliad. Boyd argues that animals often chase, frisk, and play-fight, and in a similar way, humans “refine their most important cognitive skills through art.” In fiction, “we learn to understand events and shift perspectives at a faster clip than usual, to enjoy simulations of a wide range of social situations, and to generate a wider range of options.”

    Storytelling could also have an evolutionary benefit by bringing societies, especially oral societies, closer together and fostering cohesion. Ellen Dissanayake, a professor of music at the University of Washington, Seattle, has argued that all the arts generally fulfill this purpose and are therefore adaptive.

    Evolutionary biologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, has argued instead that literature and other arts arose through sexual selection. In brief, in his view, a talent for storytelling provided evidence of a big brain and language skills, which make someone a more attractive mate. Literature was our peacock tail.

    Boyd sees some truth in both the social-cohesion and sexual-selection models, though he's less keen on the latter. Sexual selection usually results in divergent behavior between the sexes, and both males and females (despite some differences in taste) indulge just as readily in fiction. Boyd calls sexual selection “another gear, but not the engine” that drove the evolution of storytelling.

    Although receptive to the idea, Boyd and other scholars don't necessarily believe that literature itself (in contrast to simple storytelling) is adaptive. Their case is subtle.

    William Flesch, a professor of comparative literature at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, distances himself from “literary Darwinists” like Carroll. But the finding that self-aggrandizers are villains in Victorian fiction meshes with Flesch's own work on evolutionary game theory and literature, in which rogues are generally punished. Game theory (the prisoner's dilemma is the classic scenario) explores how people cooperate with or screw each other over in various situations, and how they respond to later interactions with the same people. Flesch focuses on “altruistic punishment”: situations in which bystanders will punish a rogue, even if the rogue never hurt them personally.

    “There has to be a reward for altruistic punishment,” Flesch says; otherwise human cooperation can't evolve. And he argues that the ability to grasp narratives and keep track of people's reputations probably helped to distribute punishments and rewards and therefore proved adaptive. What's more, if there were conflicting interests among people, he says, those who crafted persuasive narratives—perhaps by fictionalizing them—would have gained advantages as well. But even if certain components of literature are adaptive, Flesch says, it doesn't follow that the ability to create or understand literature itself—the full, flowery, emotionally charged production—is adaptive. Flesch instead calls literature a mental spandrel, an epiphenomenon of various evolved traits that happen to work well together.

    This resembles the “cheesecake” analogy put forth by Pinker in How the Mind Works. Evolution gave us cravings for the concentrated calories in fats and sugars, and cheesecake happens to deliver fats and sugars in concentrated doses. Similarly, we might crave ingredients of literature for sound evolutionary reasons, and novels might simply mainline those components to our minds. Pornography is another example.

    Still, arguments like that haven't dissuaded some literary Darwinists. Carroll still believes literature (or at least its oral predecessors) had adaptive value. So does Gottschall, although he admits he lacks sufficient data to prove this: “Right now all I can do is tell a just-so story.” But instead of arguing, he wants to import methods from the sciences to frame this hypothesis and test it. “We need help from experimentalists,” he says, “expertise beyond what most of us [literary scholars] have.”

    “Evolutionary psychology has concentrated on lurid and fraught aspects of human nature … all the juicy stuff that dominates people's lives” and makes for lively fiction.



    What science can learn

    Pinker has criticized Darwinian lit crit for focusing so heavily on evolutionary psychology and neglecting general psychology, linguistics, and other disciplines. But he says the focus makes sense. “Evolutionary psychology has concentrated on lurid and fraught aspects of human nature,” he says, including sex, beauty, jealousy, dominance, status—“all the juicy stuff that dominates people's lives” and makes for lively fiction.

    But evolutionary literary scholars have criticized evolutionary psychology as well—especially what they call “narrow” or “orthodox” evolutionary psychology. In fact, they feel their work can bend back and improve evolutionary psychology's understanding of the human mind.

    Carroll and Gottschall point out that textbooks of evolutionary psychology often omit art and other aspects of imagination. “Survival, mating, parenting, kin networks, and adaptations for social interactions within groups—[those books] think that that pretty much covers it” for human nature, Carroll says. “What they're missing is that art, religion, and ideology regulate and direct behavior,” he adds. “Those imaginative features regulate people's birthing systems and kinship networks, or whether they practice polygamy or monogamy.” Without those nuances, “you're just missing the subject, you're not talking about human beings.”

    Blakey Vermeule, a professor of English at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, approaches literature more from a cognitive science than an evolutionary perspective, but she argues that literature can still illuminate how the mind evolved. For instance, we impose narrative patterns on the world, which reveals how our minds work. Children and Alzheimer's victims both tend to find deep, ultimate causes in random events: They tend to say things like, “Clouds are really ‘for’ raining.” Stories offer an entry point for understanding how these narrative tendencies emerge, Vermeule says: “Literature is a massive database people can look at and figure out what questions to ask” about human cognition.

    “We need help from experimentalists, expertise beyond what most of us [literary scholars] have.”



    Literary criticism might even inform biology generally by showing how the mind can open up new avenues for evolution. For example, Flesch says studying literature might help explain how altruistic behavior can develop among nonkin. “The emotions that good stories are particularly effective at eliciting, outrage and indignation” over unfair treatment, he says, are exactly the responses that lead to altruistic punishment and cooperation.

    Still, although literature might illustrate the roots of cooperation, many literary scholars themselves remain wary of cooperating with evolutionary literary critics. A few months ago, Critical Inquiry, a leading journal for literary theory, published a 33-page article with the blunt title “Against Literary Darwinism.” And although Carroll and Gottschall have a book-length manuscript on their Victorian novels study (titled Graphing Jane Austen), they've had difficulty finding a publisher.

    Gottschall says the resistance to Darwinian lit crit among literary scholars reminds him of resistance among religious groups to evolution itself. “There's the fear that if you were able to explain the arts and their power scientifically, you'd explain them away,” he says. “Humanities are the last bastion of magic.”

    Yet ideas have emerged recently that might help reconcile the divergent worldviews of scientific and traditional literary studies. Edward O. Wilson and others now argue that human beings might have evolved not only specific mental skills—like language—but also a general tendency for mental flexibility. Our minds, in other words, evolved to be plastic. Carroll and others have taken up the idea and argue that literature has adaptive value precisely because it promotes and enhances this plasticity.

    If that's true, the notion may someday provide a bridge between the two cultures. “I try to stress that evolution has shaped human minds to be reshapable more than other minds,” Boyd says. “It's really not so far from things said for a long time in some areas of the humanities.”

  5. Profile: Jin Huiqing

    Car-Crash Epidemiologist Pushes Systemic Attack on Bad Driving

    1. Richard Stone

    China, burdened with traffic casualties, is trying a "three-line defense": screening drivers for accident-proneness; training drivers to correct poor driving habits; and monitoring roads for dangerous conditions.

    JINAN, CHINA—As he mulled over topics for a master's dissertation in the mid-1980s, Jin Huiqing made a fateful decision. He had studied medicine at Anhui Medical College in Hefei and saw in graphic detail how car crashes can wreck lives. It dawned on Jin that insights into why some drivers are accident-prone could have a huge impact on society. He floated the idea past his thesis adviser, who tried to dissuade him from the seemingly quixotic quest. “He told me that I may not be able to finish the degree. No one supported me,” Jin says.

    Jin proved his professor wrong and went on to pioneer a new field in China: traffic-accident epidemiology. A quarter-century later, the fruits of that research are ripening. Based on Jin's findings, the U.N. Global Compact Cities Programme in 2006 anointed Jinan, capital of Shandong Province, a traffic safety pilot city. The $70 million project is due for a 5-year review, and the statistics are tilting in favor of its chief scientist and mastermind: On Jinan's roads, the rates of traffic accidents and fatalities have declined steadily. “Jin's ideas have had a powerful effect in Jinan,” says Frederick Dubee, a former auto-industry captain and executive director of the MBA Center and Global Management Education Institute at Shanghai University. Experts have called for extending the safety program to other cities.

    Jin has a track record of venturing into uncharted territory—and beating the odds. At his base in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province, Jin in 1990 opened the Sanlian Accident Prevention Institute, one of the earliest private R&D centers in China. He expanded his road-safety empire 9 years later when he founded Anhui Sanlian College, which launched the country's first degree program on traffic-accident prevention. “It's a rare example of a good private college in China,” says Zhu Qingshi, former president of Hefei's University of Science and Technology of China.

    More daringly, Jin, 54, is now fishing for genes associated with accident-prone behavior. At his disposal is a unique resource that he has amassed: thousands of blood samples and psychological profiles of safe and accident-prone Chinese drivers.

    After being banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, Jin enrolled at Anhui Medical University in the late 1970s and began thinking about how to reduce the incidence of noncommunicable diseases. “I thought, ‘Why not view traffic accidents as a disease,’” he says. Car crashes are a major cause of preventable deaths. Worldwide each year, approximately 1.2 million people die and 50 million are injured on the roads. China has more casualties than any other country.

    At the time, Jin says, China's public security bureaus “were unwilling to disclose data about traffic accidents.” And academics were not inclined to pursue such data. “No one cared about the human factors of accidents,” Jin says. He persisted and befriended several security commanders. From data on 17,124 registered drivers, Jin gleaned that 6% to 8% were repeat offenders, causing around 40% of crashes involving more than one car. Compared with safe drivers, he found that levels of two neurotransmitters—dopamine and serotonin—were significantly lower in accident-prone drivers, defined as those causing three accidents or more within 5 years. In a case-control study, Jin found that they scored much worse than safe drivers on a battery of tests measuring everything from depth perception and night vision to attitude toward risk taking.

    “I thought, ‘Why not view traffic accidents as a disease.’”



    These findings led Jin to develop what he calls “Three Lines of Defense” against traffic accidents: using written tests and physical exams of, for example, visual acuity and mental alertness, to screen truck drivers and other professional drivers for accident-proneness; using simulators and other methods to train drivers and correct poor driving habits; and installing cameras to monitor dangerous intersections and road conditions for driver behavior and road safety. “Three Lines of Defense is a powerful concept. It looks at accident prevention in a holistic way,” says Dubee, a 35-year veteran of the auto industry who ran Porsche's operations in Canada. Jin has collaborated with scientists at the University of Kansas, and in 2005 he was a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

    At the Traffic Command Center here in Jinan, the third of Jin's three defense lines occupies an entire wall of a two-story room, displaying video feeds from intersections and computers alongside a map of the city's road network lit to indicate traffic flow. Traffic police carry GPS receivers so the officer nearest an accident scene can be dispatched without delay. Jinan may be the safest place in China to hit the road. Even as the number of private cars in the city rose from 929,000 in 2006 to more than 1.2 million in 2010, the death toll from traffic accidents in that period fell from 343 to 263. Although Jinan averages more than 100 traffic accidents each day, it is the only major Chinese city that hasn't had a single traffic accident in the past 5 years with more than one fatality, says Lu Dehe, commander of the Jinan Municipal Traffic Police Department, who credits Jin's methodology for making Jinan safer.

    Jin is now writing a second dissertation, on Daoism, for a Ph.D. in philosophy. And his latest accident-prevention research is more exploratory. In a genomewide association study, he has found tentative links between three genes and accident-prone driving. The preliminary work is “very interesting,” says Yang Huanming, director of BGI, China's genomics institute in Shenzhen, who notes that unraveling susceptibility to behaviors is fraught with challenges. Genetic studies “will offer a solution to the mystery of why some drivers are accident-prone,” predicts Jin, clearly relishing the possibility of blazing another new trail.

  6. Profile: Zenobia Jacobs and Richard Roberts

    Dating Duo Illuminates Modern Humans' Journey

    1. Michael Balter

    By improving a powerful dating technique, a professional and personal couple fills in the blanks of human evolution.

    Double daters.

    Zenobia Jacobs and Richard Roberts work together.


    WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA—When University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Harold Dibble was reopening excavations at the Grotte des Contrebandiers (Smuggler's Cave) in Morocco a few years ago, he looked for experts to help him figure out when prehistoric humans had occupied the cave, which is a key site for understanding the spread of Homo sapiens. Dibble knew our species had been there more than 50,000 years ago—beyond the practical limit of radiocarbon dating. So he recruited two dating aces from the University of Wollongong in Australia, Zenobia Jacobs and Richard Roberts, experts in the technique of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. That method determines how long buried sand grains have been hidden from sunlight and can peer back 200,000 or more years in time.

    Dibble had never met Roberts and Jacobs, but he invited them to Contrebandiers. In contrast to radiocarbon dating labs that simply process samples taken by others, the pair spent 2 weeks at the site, discussing the stratigraphy and the research questions, and working at night so their samples wouldn't be spoiled by exposure to sunlight. “I was impressed with how totally professional they were,” Dibble says. They were so professional that more than a week passed before Dibble spotted Roberts with his arm around Jacobs and realized that they were romantically involved.

    Jacobs and Roberts, who married last December—“You can call us the double daters,” Roberts says—eventually dated a skull at Contrebandiers to an impressive 100,000 years ago (Science, 7 January, p. 20). Today they, and the powerful method they wield (see sidebar), are much in demand to help settle a wide range of questions in archaeology. “[Their] laboratory is widely acknowledged to be the world's premier [OSL dating] facility,” says dating expert Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

    Radiocarbon has long been the leading dating method in archaeology, but it requires organic material such as charcoal or bone. And many of today's hottest research questions center on events that took place more than 50,000 years ago: When did modern humans begin to use symbols? When, and along what routes, did they leave Africa? Jacobs and Roberts are putting time stamps on some of these key events in modern human evolution, whose dates have long been uncertain. In the process, they are “transforming our understanding of the evolution of modern human behavior and the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa,” says Oxford archaeologist Michael Petraglia, who is working with them on sites in India and Arabia (Science, 5 March 2010, p. 1187).

    Africa to Australia.

    Jacobs and Roberts have dated sites all along the human journey (some dots represent multiple sites).


    Coming together

    Although the pair now work as a team, Jacobs, 34, and Roberts, 51, come from very different backgrounds and followed divergent career paths. And yet they sometimes ended up at the same place at different times.

    Roberts, universally called Bert and known for his sense of humor, is a lanky Englishman who now also has Australian nationality. He grew up in the suburbs of London amid the traces of Roman forts, “surrounded by old things,” he says. But before turning to archaeology, he began as a geologist.

    While doing his Ph.D. work at the University of Wollongong on the effects of uranium mining on a creek in the Northern Territories of Australia, Roberts turned to thermoluminescence (TL) dating to find out how quickly the landscape near the mine was changing. Buried sediments absorb energy from background radiation until they are exposed to heat or light. TL dating uses heat to release that stored energy, which provides a measure of how long the sediments have been buried. Roberts soon realized that TL could date archaeological sites too old for radiocarbon dating. With colleagues, he roamed across Australia, for the first time applying both TL and the then-new OSL technique—which uses laser light instead of heat to release the stored energy—to ancient human sites. “It was my first introduction to archaeology, and I've never dug my way out of it since,” he says.

    Roberts began to work to improve the OSL method with Andrew Murray, now director of the Nordic Centre for Luminescence Research in Roskilde, Denmark. Rather than taking the measure of an entire sample and so averaging the grains within it, Roberts and Murray focused on determining when single grains had last been exposed to light.

    With the single-grain method, Roberts demonstrated that Australia had first been occupied by modern humans between 45,000 and 50,000 years ago, in contrast to earlier claims of up to 60,000 years ago. These dates, which could not have been achieved using radiocarbon, also suggest that humans were largely responsible for the extinction of Australia's giant birds and supersized kangaroos, which disappeared about 40,000 years ago (Science, 22 January 2010, p. 420).

    While Roberts was working to improve OSL dating, Jacobs was a student in South Africa just discovering the technique. She grew up speaking Afrikaans, the daughter of a minister in a small mining town in Kruger National Park. As a child, Jacobs says, “life was all about nature.” She explored early iron smelting furnaces that dotted the landscape. “That made me quite curious about how old things were and where things came from,” she says.

    Jacobs, who spoke no English until she spent a year in Australia on an exchange program at age 17, was taught by leading archaeologists and dating experts. She says she “fell in love with archaeology from the first class” in South Africa. As an undergraduate, Jacobs began exploring several methods to date the South African site of Blombos, famed for its ancient beads and etched ochre, possibly the earliest known art. For her Ph.D. work on Blombos and other sites, she teamed up with OSL pioneer Ann Wintle of Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom, where Roberts had been an undergraduate many years earlier. Jacobs “doesn't suffer fools gladly and has very high standards that she applies to herself and to other people,” Wintle says.

    Jacobs found herself grappling with a key question in human evolution: when symbolic behavior began. Some researchers had argued that symbolism, such as art and jewelry, made its first appearance in Europe 50,000 years ago or later. But others countered that symbolism had its roots much earlier in Africa. Jacobs used OSL to date the layers containing ochre and beads at Blombos, using both single and multigrain techniques. She found that these apparently symbolic objects were created at least 75,000 years ago (Science, 11 January 2002, p. 247), settling the debate for a majority of researchers. Her widely cited study “revolutionized our understanding,” says archaeologist Curtis Marean of Arizona State University, Tempe.

    Jacobs and Roberts first learned about each other through their research. Roberts had reviewed her papers; she knew him from afar as an OSL dating pioneer. Soon after they finally met, in 2004, Roberts began recruiting her to the University of Wollongong, where he had moved permanently in 2001. In 2006, Jacobs came to Wollongong, and not long afterward the daters began to date. Jacobs and Roberts are each other's “perfect partners,” Higham says.

    Doing it themselves.

    Both Roberts (top) and Jacobs venture into the field to take their own samples for OSL dating.


    More than technicians

    Jacobs and Roberts now work as a close-knit team from their lab in Wollongong. One of them usually does the fieldwork for a given project—Roberts in Australia, India, and Arabia; Jacobs in Africa and Europe—but lab analysis is a fully joint operation. Jacobs has taken the lead in projects designed to improve OSL, for example in decisions about which grains are best for single-grain dating and which should be rejected because they may give erroneous results. She also serves as the lab's manager, leaving her imprint with sternly worded signs at each workstation spelling out the dos and don'ts.

    Not content to be dating technicians, the pair is pursuing their own research agenda and often offers to date sites with their own funding. They have received more than $7 million from the Australian Research Council in the past decade. “Right from the research design stage, we had discussions about how new dating results would be integrated into our project,” says Petraglia, whose team is tracing human migrations from Africa into southern Asia.

    For example, in a key 2008 Science paper (31 October 2008, p. 733), the pair pinpointed dates for two innovative stone tool technologies found across southern Africa. Known as the Still Bay and the Howieson's Poort, these advanced toolkits, including tools hafted to spears or arrows, were thought to be associated with symbolic behavior. But researchers weren't sure about how long each lasted, the relationship between them, or why they seemed to give way to less sophisticated stone tools soon afterward.

    In a paper Higham calls “hugely important,” the pair was able to get very tight time resolution on these tools, showing that modern humans were simultaneously engaging in similar behavior across vast territorial expanses. This work also demonstrated one of the key advantages of single-grain OSL dating. “We can see if things are contemporaneous, or relatively older or younger,” Dibble says. “That is just as important as knowing their actual ages.”

    Jacobs and Roberts showed that the Still Bay was extremely limited in time, between 71,000 and 72,000 years ago, while the Howieson's Port lasted from 60,000 to 65,000 years ago. Thus the technologies did not overlap, and their appearances were not correlated with climate change, as some had thought. “OSL is key to our understanding of behavior” in this critical period, says archaeologist Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in South Africa. “Previously, we didn't even know whether the Still Bay definitely came before the Howieson's Poort.”

    Roberts and Jacobs's work so far has focused mostly on Africa, Asia, and Australia, but they have more plans for Europe, where limited OSL dating has been done. Working beyond radiocarbon's limits, the pair will use the single-grain technique at both Neandertal and modern human sites in an attempt to pinpoint when sophisticated behaviors arose in each group. “They will get a resolution that otherwise would not be possible,” Dibble says.

    Says Petraglia: “I feel fortunate to be associated with them. … Luminescence dating has the potential to transform our understanding of human evolution in these places, and Bert and Zenobia are at center stage in this work.”

  7. Profile: Zenobia Jacobs and Richard Roberts

    New Light on Ancient Samples

    1. Michael Balter

    Optically stimulated luminescence dating, which measures the time since grains of either quartz or feldspar were exposed to light, is the only method that can be used to date the actual sediments in which archaeological materials are found, back to at least 200,000 years ago.

    WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA—When you walk into the lab run by Zenobia Jacobs and Bert Roberts at the University of Wollongong, you will have a hard time seeing anything at all: The lab is illuminated only by dim red lights. But as your eyes get used to the dark, the shapes of computer-operated instruments fitted with lasers and light detectors come into view, along with large revolving metal plates that carry disks on which tiny sand grains are mounted.

    This sophisticated equipment lets Roberts and Jacobs look far back into the past. The pair are pioneers in the technique of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, a method that measures the time since grains of either quartz or feldspar were exposed to light. The equipment measures the energy of electrons trapped in the grain's crystal lattices. If the lab lights were any brighter, they would prematurely kick out the extra energy of those electrons and spoil the samples.

    Roberts and Jacobs's joint lab is in high demand these days (see main text), as is OSL dating itself. The reason? “Unlike any other technique,” says dating expert Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, “OSL is able to date the actual sediments in which archaeological materials are found.” Radiocarbon dating, which can be used only for samples up to about 50,000 years old, is normally used to date pieces of bone or charcoal, which can move up and down in sediments. Electron spin resonance spectroscopy is used to date teeth, which can also easily shift position in archaeological layers; and uranium series dating, often used to date cave formations, frequently leads to debates over the stratigraphic relationship between those formations and artifacts.

    OSL can be used to date the sediments themselves, in caves or now-buried open-air sites, back to at least 200,000 years ago. And a series of OSL dates can reveal whether sediments at a site have been mixed or perturbed. That's crucial for archaeologists, geologists, and paleoecologists—anyone studying ancient worlds, Higham says.

    The principle behind OSL dating is fairly simple. The quartz grains serve as natural clocks, because the longer they are buried the more natural radiation they absorb from their surroundings. The energy of this radiation is stored in electrons in the quartz crystals and released again in the form of a detectable light signal when a laser shines on the grains.

    OSL dating got its start in the mid-1980s and took some time to become accepted, although by now dating experts have successfully checked its reliability against dates obtained using other techniques. But until the late 1990s, the accuracy of OSL dating was limited by the fact that researchers dated hundreds or thousands of sand grains in one sample. The OSL signal was thus an average of all of those grains, which might not give the same result because of differences in their crystal structures or because they came from archaeological sediments that had been mixed. Then in 1997, Roberts and dating expert Andrew Murray, now director of the Nordic Laboratory for Luminescence Dating in Roskilde, Denmark, published the first attempts to date single grains of quartz.

    Seeing the light.

    Wollongong's lab dates single grains of sand.


    “This was a fundamental contribution,” says OSL dating pioneer Ann Wintle of Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom, “even if in the early days Bert had to mount them by hand, grain by grain, onto metal disks.” Today, OSL daters can mount 100 grains onto small aluminum disks, expose them to laser light, and record the resulting signals automatically.

    And researchers keep improving the method. Jacobs has developed techniques that allow the pair to reject quartz grains that are not likely to give an accurate age signal; she chooses grains that are easily “bleached” of their stored radiation and thus give the most reproducible results. Higham notes that the single-grain technique not only gives an age for a site but also reveals the degree to which its sediments “are potentially mixed, which in many ways is just as important.”

    But some dating experts have reservations. Jean-Luc Schwenninger of Oxford praises Roberts and Jacobs as a “formidable team” but says that the single-grain method is best used where sediments are suspected to have been mixed or exposed to light before they could be dated. “A large majority of grains, often more than 95%, are removed from the analyses on the basis of various rejection criteria,” Schwenninger notes, adding that the “obsessive search for perfectly behaved grains” might result in “involuntary bias.” Schwenninger also says that OSL dating is currently limited by difficulties in determining how much radiation a quartz grain was originally exposed to during a set period of time, a parameter often gathered by directly measuring radiation at sites.

    Roberts agrees that single-grain dating is “not a panacea” and adds that “unlike radiocarbon dating, where you send your sample to a lab and pay your money, OSL is not a one-stop shop.” Nevertheless, for many researchers studying the past, OSL dating, and particularly the single-grain approach, represents a major step forward.

    The method succeeds, says Curtis Marean, director of excavations at 165,000-year-old Pinnacle Point in South Africa, “where so many other techniques fail.”

Stay Connected to Science