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  • Once this Viking warrior was revealed to be a woman, some began to question her battle bona fides

    1889 sketch of a female Viking’s gravesite with weapons, armor, and horses she was buried with.

    This 1889 sketch of a female Viking’s gravesite shows the weapons, armor, and horses she was buried with.

    C. Hedenstierna-Jonson et al., American Journal of Physical Anthropology (8 September 2017) © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    Last week, archaeologists reported that a Viking buried with a sword, ax, spear, and two shields—first discovered in the 1880s and long thought to be a man—was, in fact, a woman, making her the first known high-ranking female Viking warrior. Yet some Viking scholars have expressed doubt about whether the woman was actually a Valkyrie-like, battle-hardened fighter, or whether she had just been buried with a warrior’s accoutrement.

    Science spoke with the team’s lead author, archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson of Uppsala University in Sweden, about what archaeologists can infer about the Viking woman in question, and the double standards that crop up when female remains defy historical stereotypes. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

     

  • The islanders of New Guinea are some of the most diverse people in the world. Here’s why

    Members of Papua New Guinea's Kaluli tribe dig up potatoes

    Papua New Guinea highlanders from the Kaluli tribe still cultivate crops such as potatoes.

    HEMIS/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

    If you travel the meandering Sepik River of New Guinea, it quickly becomes apparent that from one bend to the next the people along the banks speak distinct languages. The island's remarkable linguistic diversity reflects real genetic differences, a research team reports this week in Science. More unexpected, the team concludes that this genetic variation dates back just 10,000 to 20,000 years, rather than to 50,000 years ago or so, when humans first arrived.

    The island's independent invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago did not wipe out the genetic differences, as it did in Europe or parts of Asia. "With agriculture, you tend to get genetically homogenized societies," says team member Anders Bergström, a graduate student at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K. In Europe, farmers from Anatolia replaced local hunter-gatherers and erased much of their genetic contribution. That this did not happen on New Guinea "is a big surprise," says Sanger geneticist Chris Tyler-Smith, who led the team.

    The researchers analyzed variation among 1.7 million DNA markers across the genomes of 381 Papua New Guinea (PNG) residents, and they also compared the complete genomes of another 39. They concluded that the people of New Guinea were isolated from Asians for most of prehistory, and that highland and lowland dwellers separated from each other 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. In the highlands, people split into three very distinct clusters of social groups within the past 10,000 years, soon after they began cultivating plants. In the lowlands, two main clusters arose in the north and south.

  • Updated: Researchers rally around science advocate convicted in Egypt

    Ismail Serageldin

    Ismail Serageldin

    D.shennawy/Wikimedia Commons

    *Update, 13 September, 5:15 p.m.: A new letter of support for Serageldin includes 90 Nobel Prize winners, 20 heads of state, and some 150 scholars. More information can be found here. The court will hear his appeal next week. Here is our original story from 11 August:

    Scientists, engineers, and others are hoping an Egyptian court will reconsider a prison sentence given to one of the nation’s most prominent science advocates. Last week, in a surprising outcome, an Egyptian judge sentenced Ismail Serageldin, founding director of Egypt's Library of Alexandria, to 3.5 years in prison for financial misdemeanors. Serageldin has appealed the 31 July verdict, and this week more than 180 scientists, engineers, physicians, and public figures issued a declaration of support (in Arabic) on his behalf.

    Serageldin directed the library, also known as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and its 14 affiliated research institutes and museums, from 2001 until he retired this year. Previously, he worked as an economist at the World Bank and chaired the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, which helps steer a global network of research facilities.

    After the 2011 revolution in Egypt, several employees at the library accused Serageldin and three colleagues of misusing public funds. Of 118 charges, the judge dismissed all but three: not giving some employees enough work, improperly canceling life insurance policies, and improperly renting out cafeterias at the library. Supporters of Serageldin expected the Court of Misdemeanors in Alexandria to also toss out those charges. But the judge instead sentenced Serageldin to prison; his colleagues received 6- to 18-month terms.

  • New study finds link between flu vaccine and miscarriage. But is it real?

    woman receiving flu vaccination

    Many countries recommend that pregnant women receive the flu vaccine.

    Patrick ALLARD/REA/Redux

    News Staff Writer Jon Cohen wrote the 2005 book Coming to Term: Uncovering the Truth About Miscarriage, so ScienceInsider asked him for his perspective on one of today’s hot stories.

    Splashed across the web today were headlines connecting the flu vaccine to miscarriage. The “hint of a possible link” in a new study would likely lead to questions about the safety of the vaccine, The Washington Post wrote. Edward Belongia, the last author of the paper, is a widely respected influenza researcher at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin, who sits on the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. And the study’s place of publication, Vaccine, is a top-notch specialty journal.

    But the small-scale study, which found a slightly higher chance of miscarriage in women who received a flu vaccine 2 years in a row that included a specific strain of the virus, is littered with “possible,” “may,” and “could.” And the researchers themselves stress the “important” limitations of the new work. Among them, in the authors’ own words:

  • NIH quietly shelves gun research program

    Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. where a gunman murdered 20 children and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012.

    Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman murdered 20 children and six educators on 14  December, 2012.

    AP Photo/Jessica Hill

    Four years after then-President Barack Obama responded to the shooting deaths of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, by ordering U.S. health agencies to sponsor gun research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has let lapse a funding program probing firearm violence and how to prevent it, Science has learned. Renewal of the program, which has funded 22 projects for $18 million over the past 3 years, "is still under consideration" a NIH spokesperson said on 6 September, although the agency stopped accepting proposals in January and the last new awards are now being launched.

    NIH told Science that scientists may still apply to do firearm research outside the program. Gun researchers say that's not enough, noting that thematic funding programs signal NIH priorities to scientists. They can also help tilt grant decisions toward those in the highlighted area over others that are equally good, but outside it. "It's really critically important to renew that program if we want more firearms research," says Rina Das Eiden, a developmental psychologist at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

    Das Eiden and several collaborators won an award to study whether violence exposure and substance use raise the odds of gun violence in high-risk adolescents. "It would have been much harder for us to get funding for this research without that specific program announcement on firearm violence," she says.

  • Plan for new medical preprint server receives a mixed response

    Technician uses a light therapy treatment on a patient

    Medical researchers are talking about starting an online archive where they could post unreviewed results from clinical trials, such as one that tested this light therapy for cancer patients.

    NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Medical scientists may get their own place to post unpublished studies. Researchers at Yale University and Yale School of Medicine are preparing to launch a preprint server, called MedArXiv, which would specialize in publishing the results of clinical research.

    But the plan, presented here this morning at the Eighth International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication by Yale cardiologist Harlan Krumholz, has received a mixed reception. Many in the medical community aren’t sure that posting preprints on the web is such a great idea; the general fear is that such papers might sway clinical practice, or prompt patients to try treatments on their own, before reviewers can vet the findings. “It would be helpful to be sure we don’t do harm,” Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), said after Krumholz had finished his talk.

    Physicists have posted their preprints on arXiv for more than 2 decades, and the number of papers on bioRxiv, a repository for the life sciences launched in 2013, is growing exponentially. Krumholz argued that it’s time for the medical community to hop on the bandwagon; it would speed up research, he said. And data from clinical studies already get out before they’re published, for instance in press releases and at medical meetings, Krumholz said; why not make the full results public?

  • Who is starting all those wildfires? We are

    two fire fighters silhouetted by burning trees

    Firefighters confront the boundary fire on the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona earlier this year. Started by a lightning strike, it burned some 7000 hectares.

    Brandon Oberhardt/U.S. Forest Service (CC BY SA 2.0)

    As parts of the western United States choke on smoke from wildfires scorching more than 660,000 hectares, renewed attention is falling on the role that people have played in starting some of these blazes. An Oregon fire that has consumed 13,000 hectares, for instance, is thought to have been started by teens tossing firecrackers.

    Jennifer Balch, a wildfire ecologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, has examined just how big a role people are playing in starting wildfires in the United States. Nationwide, humans are responsible for starting 84% of wildfires, according to a paper co-authored by Balch, published this past March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In California, the eastern United States, and the coastal Northwest, people are behind more than 90% of wildfires. And, by starting so many fires, humans are essentially lengthening the fire season, into times of the year when natural causes—such as lightning—don’t play a major role.

    ScienceInsider spoke with Balch about those numbers, and their implications. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

  • Pay up or retract? Survey creator's demands for money rile some health researchers

    Pills in an elderly woman's hands

    A questionnaire that examines patients’ adherence to recommended drug regimens has stirred controversy.

    Creative-Family/iStockphoto

    Last June, a health care researcher in the United States was clearing out her email when she came across a message that looked like spam. She was about to delete it when a name in the subject line gave her pause: Dr. Morisky.

    The message concerned an abstract that the researcher and two colleagues had published in a journal just days before. It asked whether the researchers had obtained a license for a copyrighted questionnaire, called the Eight-Item Morisky Medication Adherence Scale (MMAS-8), that they’d used in the study. The scale helps predict how likely patients are to adhere to a drug regimen—an important issue, because a lack of adherence can worsen health and is estimated to cost $300 billion a year in the United States.

    The researcher, then a graduate student, says she had contacted the scale’s author, public health specialist Donald Morisky of the University of California, Los Angeles, for permission to use the tool. She never heard back. Now, Morisky and a colleague, Steve Trubow, were demanding $6500 for its use. Stunned, the researcher replied that she couldn’t afford that, but offered $200. The reply came about 3 hours later: “Unfortunately … we can’t reduce the fees. … We will turn this case over to our lawyer.”

  • U.K. expands kill zone for badgers in fight against bovine TB, sparking controversy

    a European badger in the forest

    More European badgers (Meles meles) will be in the crosshairs this year.

    DamianKuzdak/iStockphoto

    The United Kingdom will triple the number of badgers killed in its campaign to eradicate a strain of tuberculosis (TB) that strikes cattle. As many as 33,841 badgers could be shot over the next year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced yesterday. Wildlife advocates are upset at the increased slaughter, and scientists are skeptical about the chances of success. “It is deeply disappointing,” said Rosie Woodroffe, an ecologist with the Zoological Society of London.

    Bovine TB has been spreading for 2 decades in the United Kingdom, and England has the highest incidence in Europe. There is no threat to human health, because pasteurization kills the bacteria in milk. Cattle herds are regularly checked for the disease, and when infections are detected, the herd must be slaughtered. Last year the toll reached 29,000 animals. The disease enters herds through the shipping of undiagnosed cattle, and from badgers, which are the main reservoir of the disease in wildlife.

    The government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB relies on restricting transport of cattle from disease hot spots and vaccinating or killing badgers. Badger culls began in 2013 in Somerset and Gloucestershire, and now cover 10 areas. Eleven more areas are being added now, each covering an average of 489 square kilometers. A preliminary analysis of the first 2 years of culling, reported last month in Ecology and Evolution, cautioned that the data were limited and it would be “unwise” to generalize about how effective the policy has been so far.

  • Hurricane Irma update: On ravaged Barbuda, an archaeology center tries to pick up the pieces

    Hurricane Irma seen from above

    Hurricane Irma passes the eastern end of Cuba on the morning of 8 September.

    NOAA/CIRA

    Deadly Hurricane Irma has subsided after tearing across the Caribbean and Florida. Millions are still without power, and officials are still assessing casualties.

    Prior to the storm's arrival in Florida, The Scientist reported that many researchers were racing to stormproof their equipment and back up data and experimental material that could be damaged. Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory was lashed hard by the hurricane this past Wednesday but came through apparently unscathed, Space.com reports. The U.S. Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry, headquartered at Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, posted poststorm images on Twitter, revealing only light damage and no injuries to staff.

    ScienceInsider is continuing to track how Irma is affecting researchers, so email dmalakof@aaas.org and let us know your story.

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