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Not-So-Intelligent Design

By | March 4, 2002

Some members of the Ohio State Board of Education are maneuvering to have "intelligent design" (ID) taught to Ohio students as an alternative to teaching them about biological evolution.1 These board members were pursuing the inclusion of ID in the biology curriculum despite unambiguous opposition from the relevant science advisory committee. One board member apparently regards this development as a chance for Ohio "to be on the cutting edge." Unfortunately, this cutting edge will only serve to

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Life Sentences: Hunters and Gatherers

By | February 18, 2002

After a year's break as a columnist (erstwhile for Current Biology), I had decided to resume writing several months ago, but my natural tendency to procrastinate and the difficulty in choosing a title for the column have delayed me until now. The title had to reflect interests in reading, writing, and biology. An early choice, The Fifth Column, was rejected on the grounds that it had nothing to do with the purposes of the column and also, as somebody was quick to point out, it was only the third

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Intimidation and bewilderment are but two feelings scientists often confront when facing the ever-expanding published scientific literature. With the birth of any hypothesis, all fantasies of a one-way freeway for a scientific endeavor evaporate when the journey abruptly confronts a forked-road dilemma. One direction, what is known and what was known, leads back in time. A twisted, rutted, convoluted course, it can reveal how, and from where, pioneers from other, unrelated journeys arrived at th

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Finish the Space Station, Head for Mars

By | February 4, 2002

There has never been an international civil engineering fiasco quite like the International Space Station (ISS). Its estimated total cost of $95 billion is almost 10 times what it would take to build the Panama Canal today, yet its end is nowhere in sight. The ISS was scheduled to be completed by 2000, but its projected completion has slipped to 2006 and may slip further. NASA friends and foes alike are asking: What will it take to finish the project? The scientists who can make the best use of

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A Smallpox Shot in the Dark

By | January 21, 2002

Sixty percent of Americans would opt for smallpox immunization if the vaccine were available, according to a recent poll, and U.S. health officials have just negotiated the purchase of enough vaccine for everyone in the United States. Those two facts may be a prescription for bad medicine. Medically and epidemiologically, smallpox is the most feared and potentially devastating of all infectious agents. It spreads from person to person, primarily via droplets coughed up by infected persons, via d

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A Cloning Emergency in Britain?

By | January 7, 2002

Since the beginning of 2001--Jan. 22 to be exact--it seemed that one country, the United Kingdom, had unambiguously--and literally--gotten its act together on cloning. On that day the House of Lords passed regulations, adopted by the House of Commons one month before, that not only allowed embryonic stem cell research to develop therapies for devastating and intractable diseases, but also situated cloning squarely within the framework of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990. Or so

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A Piece of the Action

By | January 7, 2002

We lost another one last week. A bright young assistant professor in his first few years as an independent faculty member at a university E-mailed me to say that he was leaving academic science. He wasn't leaving because he wanted a bigger salary, or because he hated his job--quite the contrary; this is a man who loved what he was doing passionately. He was leaving because he had been unable to get funding for his research. This happens, of course, to people with bad ideas, or no ideas, but I do

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The Disregard Syndrome: A Menace to Honest Science?

By | December 10, 2001

We are witnessing the continuation of an accelerated, unprecedented explosion of scientific information that might make the life of a serious investigator unbearably complicated. Unlike our pioneering investigators, however, we are fortunate to have access to modern information-retrieving pools such as Medline, Biological Abstracts, and more recently selected electronic journals. These allow us, at the press of a key, to choose desired scientific citations. A search for articles in the medical

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Why We Say It With Flowers

By | November 26, 2001

Like everybody else, I blanched at the horror of Sept. 11. But ever since, I've been asking myself what might seem like a trite question in light of the tragedy. In a way I guess I'm trying to extract my own brand of meaning from the rubble. Here goes: Why did so many people reach out to firefighters and their lost comrades following the Twin Towers disaster, by solemnly laying blossoms at the firehouse door? For that matter, why did the British heap flowers in front of Buckingham Palace when a

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Attack of the Anthrax 'Virus'

By | November 12, 2001

Americans are getting a crash course in microbiology. The delivery of anthrax spores with the daily mail took the U.S. populace completely by surprise. But anyone who has read Ken Alibek's Biohazard, an account of bioweaponry in the former Soviet Union,1 or Richard Preston's fictional The Cobra Event,2 or followed periodic updates on bioterrorism here in The Scientist or in other journals, could have predicted an attempt to subvert biology into weaponry in the wake of Sept. 11. The government k

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