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U.S. Experts Bemoan Nation's Loss of Stature in the World of Science

from the Washington Post

Some of the nation's leading scientists, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top science adviser, [Wednesday] sharply criticized the diminished role of science in the United States and the shortage of federal funding for research, even as science becomes increasingly important to combating problems such as climate change and the global food shortage.

Speaking at a science summit that opens this week's first World Science Festival, the expert panel of scientists, and audience members, agreed that the United States is losing stature because of a perceived high-level disdain for science.

They cited U.S. officials and others questioning scientific evidence of climate change, the reluctance to federally fund stem cell research, and some U.S. officials casting doubt on evolution as examples that have damaged America's international standing.

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Does Aging Mission Manzanita Lack a Bear Necessity for Survival?

from the San Diego Union-Tribune

Under a warming sun, biologist Rick Halsey climbs a hillside once blanketed by mission manzanita. Until the Witch fire last year, this stand of manzanita was possibly the oldest of its type in the county, a century or more in age.

But flames, leaping across Interstate 15 just north of Lake Hodges at the Via Rancho Parkway exit, reduced the tall, thick canopy of dark-green foliage to ash, leaving behind only a skeletal army of blackened trunks and branches.

... Fire, though, is not what worries Halsey, who directs the California Chaparral Institute in Escondido. Not today. He has come to this stand of mission manzanita - one of four mature patches he's studying - to look for something he has never seen: a seedling in the wild. Mission manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor) is one of approximately 50 species of manzanita, a major component of chaparral ...

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Finding Order: Jane Richardson

from Scientific American

Like many young people growing up in the 1950's, Jane Richardson veered into science in part because of Sputnik - though in her case, the connection was quite direct. Deeply interested in astronomy, she and her friends in Teaneck, N.J., used to stake out spots in a field in the days after the Soviets launched their satellite.

They recorded where in the stars the light had passed; Sputnik wasn't hard to find. "These days there are lots of satellites, but there was only one at that point," she says.

She managed to spot the satellite two days in a row, and the slight difference in positioning allowed her to calculate the orbit. She wrote up her findings, entered them in the 1958 Westinghouse Science Talent Search, and was named a finalist.

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Was Mars Too Salty for Life?

from New Scientist

If life ever got going on Mars, it may have been exterminated 4 billion years ago by a buildup of salt. Evidence that the planet is poisonously salty comes from a study of minerals near the Martian surface. While exploring Mars's Meridiani plain, the rover Opportunity discovered ancient deposits of magnesium sulphate that appear to have been left behind by salty water.

Nicholas Tosca of Harvard University ... and colleagues have calculated the likely salt content of that water .... They use a fairly abstruse measure of saltiness called "water activity," which decreases as you add salt to water.

Tosca and his group found that the waters flowing across the Meridiani plain had an activity of at most 0.86. That value would rule out most forms of Earthly life, and the team's analysis suggests that the water activity was probably even lower, perhaps below the survival thresholds of any salt- resistant organisms known on Earth.

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Delisting of Wolves Raises Hackles

from the Christian Science Monitor

Ever since humankind first huddled around a fire, the eerie howl and piercing amber eyes of wolves have been both fascinating and fearsome.

Today, some of those primal emotions are at play as ranchers and politicians, bureaucrats and environmental activists work out the future of Canis lupus in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Like many contested issues involving wildlife, this one is in federal court. Federal agencies, affected state governments, and ranching and hunting interests say there are so many gray wolves in the Rockies now that it's time to remove them from the list of endangered species. Wolf advocates say it's too soon to do that, and later this week a federal judge in Missoula, Mont., will decide how the case should proceed.

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Ancient "Snowball Earth" Melted Fast Due to Methane

from National Geographic News

A massive release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, may have triggered rapid melting of the last "snowball Earth" about 635 million years ago, a new study suggests. According to the snowball theory, ancient Earth experienced periods of global glaciation when ice sheets extended all the way to the Equator.

Methane ice forms and stabilizes beneath glaciers under certain temperatures and pressures, noted lead study author Martin Kennedy, a geologist at the University of California, Riverside.

But ice sheets are inherently unstable. Once they reach a certain size, they begin to fall apart. The collapse of ancient ice sheets at the Equator would have unleashed trapped methane deposits and pushed global temperatures higher.

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Stonehenge 'a Long-Term Cemetery'

from BBC News Online

Stonehenge served as a burial ground for much longer than had previously been believed, new research suggests. The site was used as a cemetery for 500 years, from the point of its inception.

Archaeologists have said the cremation burials found at the site might represent a single elite family and its descendents - perhaps a ruling dynasty. One clue to this idea is that there are few burials in the earliest phase, but that the number grows larger in later centuries, as offspring multiplied.

Under the traditional view, cremation burials were dug at the site between 2,700 BC and 2,600 BC, about a century before the large stones - known as sarsens - were put in place.

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FDA Takes Another Look at Prescription Warnings

 from the Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - Federal health officials proposed yesterday streamlining prescription drug warnings for women who are pregnant or nursing, to make it easier for physicians and patients to determine whether it's safe to take the medicines.

The Food and Drug Administration wants to replace confusing language in warnings with concise statements about the potential risks a drug poses if taken during pregnancy or while nursing.

"What we are looking for is to provide information in a way that is most useful and effective," said Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, commissioner of the FDA. The agency has been pushing to simplify drug warnings to reduce medication errors.

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