Science: Theoretically ... Soybean scuffle/ Grim times for astronomy/ N oah's Ark dispute/ `Nature' wins out

Click to follow
Forgotten about genetically-modified soybeans? Greenpeace hasn't. Six activists boarded a ship at the port of Sao Francisco do Sul in Brazil over the weekend and blocked it from unloading genetically-modified soybeans from the US. At least one person was injured when a scuffle broke out between reporters covering the protest and port workers and the ship's crew. The ship is carrying 34,000 tonnes of soybeans from the US for industrial processing: Brazil is the world's second biggest soybean producer, after the US, and in October its government authorised the import of 1.5 million tonnes of American soybeans for industrial processing. The Brazilian government decided then that there was no basic difference between conventional soybeans and the genetically-modified variety, which carry a gene giving them resistance to a commercial pesticide - made by Monsanto, the same company that markets the beans.

It seems there's no second chance for Cambridge's astronomers. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) last week turned down plans by the management of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) to convert it into a private company rather than close down. The closure was decided by the industry minister John Battle last summer, in one of his first decisions in government. The RGO management had proposed a plan where half its contract work would be with PPARC and the rest between UK and foreign government agencies. The RGO's managers said they were "naturally very disappointed", but will now actively seek sponsorship or support.

Ian Plimer, the Australian geologist who had a five-year court battle against Allen Roberts, a preacher who claimed in a number of lectures to have discovered the remains of Noah's Ark, may have to file for bankruptcy after failing to overturn a judgement made against him in June. The judge said then that while Roberts had made misleading statements in lectures, this wasn't an aspect of "trade or commerce" - the ground on which Plimer sued. But the show goes on: Roberts intends to sue Plimer for defamation, a case that was delayed until the first one had been settled.

It ain't what you say, it's the place where you say it. Sort of. According to a study by Johannes Stegmann of the University of Berlin, getting your research published in Nature is 27 times more likely to lead to it being cited compared to a basket of other scientific journals such as Advances in Neurology or the American Journal of Dentistry. The "Comparative Impact Factor", or CIF, of a journal is found by examining the number of citations in year X to papers published in the journal in the two years before X, divided by the number of counted articles. Of course, we wouldn't have noticed his letter at all if it hadn't appeared in Nature.

The most visited Web address all year has to be Nasa's Mars Pathfinder site (at There were hundreds of millions of hits on the site, and the "mirrors" set up around the world as people looked for images and news from our nearest planetary neighbour. In the course of Pathfinder's 121 operational days on the Red Planet it sent back megabytes of data which have transformed our knowledge about the planet.

And the image that we didn't get from 1997, but would like to? Seeing exactly what happened when the Progress cargo ship crashed into the Mir space station, on the morning of 25 June.