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Article Released Wed-5th-July-2006 17:20 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Conservation by numbers, Faking it for physicists, Top five scientists’ blogs

Tiger conservationists are trying a more business-like approach to saving the threatened species. In a “faking it” style test, a social scientist has fooled a panel of physicist judges into believing that he is an experienced gravitational wave physicist. Weblogs written by scientists are relatively rare, but some of them are proving popular.

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Conservation by numbers

Tiger conservationists are trying a more business-like approach to saving the threatened species – focusing not on collecting money but on performance standards.

According to an exclusive News story in Nature this week, biologists at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York want to increase the number of tigers at the society’s research sites in Asia by 50% over the next decade. WCS director for science, Alan Rabinowitz, says the plan, which launches this week and is called ‘Tigers Forever’, will differ from previous conservation attempts because the society has set targets by which its success can be judged.

“This is not a fundraising exercise,” says Rabinowitz. “We’re putting our ass on the line.”

That philosophy seems to be attracting donors. Michael Cline, a New York businessman and WCS board member, has contributed to the US$10 million already pledged. “More organizations should set goals like this,” he says. “As a venture capitalist, I believe in fact-based judgements based on likelihood of success.”

From the forests of the Asian subcontinent to the steppes of Russia, poaching, illegal hunting and habitat loss have reduced tiger numbers dramatically in past decades. The situation is most critical in the jungles of southeast-Asian nations, and the WCS will begin by concentrating on selected reserves there. One of the principal goals is to increase tiger prey. The WCS is encouraging local agencies and governments to set up a variety of actions, including paying informers to expose illegal hunting and paying bonuses for diligent rangers.

Contact for background information
Rex Dalton (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +1 858 342 3029; E-mail: rexdalton@aol.com

Faking it for physicists

In a “faking it” style test, a social scientist has fooled a panel of physicist judges into believing that he is an experienced gravitational wave physicist. But far from being a demonstration of good bluffing, social scientist Harry Collins believes the test proves that outsiders – such as social scientists, peer reviewers or science journalists – can gain “interactional expertise” in a subject, even if they have never studied it formally and can’t actually practice it themselves.

This week, an exclusive News story in Nature describes how Collins, who has spent more than 30 years studying the community of physicists who work on gravity waves, answered 7 questions about gravity waves, set by an expert in the subject. His replies, together with those from a gravitational physicist, were sent to nine researchers in the field. Asked to spot the real physicist, seven were unsure and two chose Collins. The study will be published this December in Studies in the History of Philosophy of Science.

“The results show that outsiders can develop a kind of expertise in a scientific field,” says Collins.

The demonstration is a response to the science wars of the 1990s, when sociologists launched what scientists saw as attacks on the very nature of science, and in return some scientists claimed angrily that the sociologists did not understand the disciplines involved, in part because they did not practice them. In one infamous episode, Alan Sokal, a physicist at New York University, authored a spoof science-studies paper that was accepted by Social Text, a cultural research journal.

Contact for background information
Jim Giles (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +44 7932 081405; E-mail: jdgiles@gmail.com

Top five scientists’ blogs

Weblogs written by scientists are relatively rare, but some of them are proving popular. The blog search engine Technorati ranks more than 45 million blogs by measuring the number of sites linking to them in the past six months. Nature gave Technorati a list of scientists’ blogs, and asked them to give each one a rank. An exclusive News story this week in Nature reports that at least five scientists’ blogs make it into the top 3,500, and asks the winners about the reasons for their success.

There is little agreement about how to rank blogs – no method is perfect, given the huge number of them, there will no doubt be omissions – so this exercise is best viewed as a rough snapshot. But the results demonstrate the rapid increase in popularity of scientists’ blogs, and reveal several lessons for science bloggers hoping to get noticed.

An extended version of this story, with a top 50 list of scientists’ blogs, and a top 5 list of science, is available online.

179th Pharyngula http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula

1,647th The Panda’s Thumb www.pandasthumb.org

1,884th RealClimate www.realclimate.org

2,174th Cosmic Variance http://cosmicvariance.com

3,429th The Scientific Activist http://scienceblogs.com/scientificactivist

Contact for background information
Declan Butler (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +33 1 43 36 59 90; E-mail: d.butler@nature-france.com

Media contact
Ruth Francis, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail r.francis@nature.com

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