Fun_People Archive
9 Jun
Excerpted: SCIENCE-WEEK May 29, 1997

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon,  9 Jun 97 22:42:58 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: Excerpted: SCIENCE-WEEK May 29, 1997

Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <>
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As the story goes, in the 1920s and 1930s, in order to finance further
research, and before the existence of restrictive laws, an Italian
paleoanthropologist named Frederic Zambelli Hosmer sold a trove of hominid
fossils, said fossils eventually winding up in the hands of an Italian
archeologist, who in turn, also to finance research, sold them to an
anonymous European dealer, who in turn is now wholesaling them (perhaps on
consignment) to one Jim Wyatt of Garland, Texas, who runs a website called
Fossilnet, where it is purported one can purchase an entire T.  Rex for $10
million.  People at the Smithsonian, and at various university
paleoanthropology departments, call the traffic outrageous. For the curious,
or for those who may indeed want a mount of T. Rex in their garden, the URL
of Fossilnet is Apparently,
one can also obtain a Cro-Magnon skull complete with 14 teeth for $28,000.
(Science 23 May)

There is evidently a deep chasm existing in the community of
paleobiologists.  One group, the "fundamentalists", believes that all
aspects of evolution can be explained by Darwinian natural selection theory.
John Maynard Smith (Emeritus, University of Sussex, UK) is perhaps the key
figure in that group. The biologists in the other group, who call themselves
"Darwinian Pluralists", believe that many aspects of evolution can indeed
be explained by natural selection, but that other aspects required other
modes of evolutionary impetus. Perhaps the key figure in the latter group
is Stephen Jay Gould. In the current issue of the The New York Review of
Books, in the first part of a two-part essay, Gould details the conflict,
criticizes Smith for ad hominem attacks on himself, and states that the
Darwinian fundamentalists, like all fundamentalists, generally try to
stigmatize their opponents by depicting them as apostates from the one true
way. The controversy is further and poignantly personalized by the fact that
in the 1980s John Maynard Smith sounded accolades for the much younger
Stephen Jay Gould in Smith's British scientific community. (New York Review
12 June)

In the midst of a detailed account of present-day cosmological theory,
Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate physicist (University of Texas, Austin TX
US) does battle with his multiculturalist colleagues in the Humanities and
Social Sciences. Weinberg summarizes the multiculturalist position as
follows: "They don't so much disagree with the standard cosmological theory
as avoid the question of its objective truth. They see modern science as an
expression of our Western civilization; [they say] it works for us, but the
belief that the Milky Way is a river in the sky worked for the Mayans, and
the belief that the Milky Way is a great canoe rowed by a one-legged paddler
worked for the early peoples of the Amazon basin, so who can say that one
belief is better than another?" I can, Weinberg says. He then points out
that modern cosmology received important contributions from Egypt, Babylon,
Persia, and the Arabs, and that modern astronomy and physics are pursued in
the same way in all countries. He emphasizes that no scientifically based
Western as opposed to non-Western cosmology exists. (New York Review 12

In 1986, Mark Bogart and two colleagues at the University of California San
Diego (US) discovered a statistical correlation between elevated levels of
the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the blood of pregnant
women and Down syndrome in the fetus, the latter a neurological condition
which results in varying degrees of mental retardation. HCG was a well-known
hormone, and the test to determine its levels in the blood was a standard
pregnancy test and had been widely used for many years.  Thus Bogart did
not discover the hormone, and he did not invent the test for it. What he
discovered was a correlation between the results of the test and the
presence (or absence) of Down syndrome in the fetus. He filed for a patent
on the use of the standard test as a determinant of fetal Down syndrome,
and the patent was awarded in 1988. At that time the test had too many false
positives in connection with Down syndrome to be clinically useful. Several
years later, however, clinical laboratories found that if they used the test
in conjunction with two other tests, the results were indeed clinically
useful.  The trio of tests became a standard procedure. Now Mark Bogart,
presently head of Biomedical Patent Management Corporation, has demanded
that all laboratories stop using the HCG test for Down syndrome in pregnant
women unless they pay him royalties of $9 per test. Since this royalty
exceeds the fee that many laboratories receive for the Down syndrome test,
and since U.S.  patent law favors the patent holder, it appears likely this
Down syndrome test will be withdrawn from use in the U.S. At the present
time, there is no substitute blood test that can be used in the clinics to
detect fetal Down syndrome in pregnant women.  (New York Times 23 May)

The water on the Earth has always been thought of as here from the
beginning, a result of the process of planetary cooling, the seas produced
by condensation of water vapor originating from the Earth itself. Today came
the startling news of evidence that the Earth is being constantly showered
with miniature comet ice balls of 20 to 40 tons in mass at the astonishing
rate of over 40,000 per day. The evidence is provided by the NASA Polar
orbiting spacecraft, the research team led by Louis A. Frank (University of
Iowa, US), who in fact first suggested this bombardment 11 years ago to
explain markings in photographs received by NASA's Dynamics Explorer I. At
that time, Frank was heavily criticized by his colleagues and his idea
called outlandish. At this moment Frank has apparently been vindicated, his
report presented in a crowded hall yesterday at a meeting of the American
Geophysical Union convention. Calculations show that the incoming water
could account for the oceans on Earth, and if the assessment continues to
be supported, it opens new possibilities for the understanding of early
conditions on the planet. (New York Times 29 May)

Last week, at a meeting on AIDS vaccine development held at the National
Insitutes of Health (Bethesda, MD US), a stir was caused by the report that
infection with a goat virus might protect humans from HIV. Angeline Douvas
(University of California Los Angeles, US) reported that people infected
with caprine arthritis-encephalitis virus, a distant HIV relative common in
Mexico that appears harmless to humans, make antibodies that react with HIV.
The audience was electrified when someone rose to suggest this might be a
natural accidental vaccine for HIV, in the same way that cowpox was the
natural accidental vaccine that worked for smallpox. Douvas replied that
she hopes to test this in a future epidemiological study.  (Science 23 May)

Staphylococcus aureus is a common pathogenic bacterium in hospitals, and
causes thousands of often fatal infections each year. Vancomycin is an
antibiotic of last resort, which is used when all other antibiotics fail.
Now the first case has appeared in Japan of a 4 year old boy infected with
a strain of Staphylococcus aureus resistant to vancomycin. Health experts
say it is only a matter of time before the pathogen reaches U.S.  hospitals.
Fred Tenover, laboratory chief of the U.S. Center for Disease Control
Hospital Infections Branch says, "The strain is marching up the ladder of
resistance... It is not a cause for panic, but it is a cause for concern."
(UPI 28 May)

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