Science briefs

Diggers, or ‘looters?’
The Society for American Archaeology (SAA), an international organization dedicated to archaeological research in the Americas, has expressed concerns about two new reality television shows that “glorify the looting . . . of archaeological sites.”

American Digger, set to premiere March 20 on Spike TV, follows former professional wrestler “Heavy Metal” Ric Savage and his team as they look for valuable relics “in hopes of striking it rich.” Diggers, a National Geographic show, which premiered Feb. 28, has a similar premise.

The shows are unethical, destructive, and possibly illegal, wrote SAA president William F. Limp in letters to the heads of the two networks. In response to Limp’s letter, National Geographic agreed to add disclaimers to the show warning viewers that there are laws in place protecting historical sites. Spike TV has not yet responded to the letters as of March 12.

A spokesperson for Spike TV told Science that American Digger “is shot on private property,” and “they’re getting artifacts that are otherwise rotting in the ground.” Digging on private property is legal so long as the landowner gives permission.

But archaeologists remain concerned with the lack of rigour in the handling and recording of objects. John Doershuk, the State Archaeologist of Iowa, said, “[Historical sites] are non-renewable sources. There’s only so many of them from these time periods.”

Wax and wane no more
“Broadband Cloaking in Stratified Seas,” a paper published in Physical Review Letters, demonstrates how a simple principle of fluid mechanics could be used to protect ships and offshore structures from waves.

The concept, devised by Mohammad-Reza Alam of the University of California, Berkeley, involves placing carefully tuned ripple formations on the sea floor that would cause incoming surface waves to be transformed into underwater waves.

Alam’s paper explains that water in the ocean or sea tends to stratify into two layers, a less dense one near the surface and a denser one beneath. It is possible for “internal waves” to pass along the thermocline, the relatively thin boundary between the two layers.

He shows that a series of undulations along the bottom of the sea would effectively transfer the energy from a surface wave to the thermocline. Another set of undulations on the other side of the protected object could then convert the internal wave back to a surface wave.

“This is great fun and a brilliant idea,” said Ulf Leonhardt, a physicist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Publication of bird flu study questioned by us lawmaker
For the first time, in the months long back and forth over a pair of controversial bird flu studies, a member of the American House of Representatives has spoken up. Jim Sensenbrenner, vice-chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, sent a letter to White House science advisor John Holdren questioning the wisdom of funding the research, which may have shown how to make the deadly virus transmissible between humans. He also criticized the U.S. government’s response to the research, saying it “appeared ad hoc, delayed, and inadequate.”

In 2005, when researchers recreated the 1918 Spanish flu virus in a laboratory, the work was criticized by several. members of the United States Congress, who attempted to pass a resolution opposing publication of the research. In contrast, this is the first time an American lawmaker has weighed in on the recent bird flu studies despite the controversy among scientists and security experts.

After a U.S. scientific advisory board recommended that details be omitted from the research when it is eventually published, a meeting convened by the World Health Organization came to the opposite consensus. Now the advisory board has been told to take a second look at revised versions of the reports, though members of the committee have expressed doubt that the changes will reverse their decision.