Theoretically...

Should scientists, like MPs, have to declare their financial interests in research? A study in Science and Engineering Ethics found that 34 per cent of the lead authors of 789 papers drawn from a range of journals had a financial interest in research being described. For example, the writers may have been listed as an inventor in a patent application, or as a shareholder of a company with commercial interests. But Nature reports critics saying that papers should be judged on the merits of the science they describe, not by authors' "alleged biases".

Students who learn through the Internet can get better results than those taught in a classroom, according to a Californian study reported in New Scientist. A class of 33 sociology students were divided into two groups for a statistics course; the online ones scored 20 per cent better in the exam, and had collaborated more in coursework.

More success for gene-hunters, who have now found a gene that causes glaucoma, one of the most common causes of blindness. Glaucoma affects up to two per cent of people over 40, and is actually a group of eye diseases that gradually damage the optic nerve, usually through raised internal pressure caused by excess fluid inside the eye. Mutations in the gene, called TIGR, cause a rare but potentially devastating juvenile form of glaucoma, said a team from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, reporting in the journal Science. TIGR also seems to be responsible for about three per cent of adult cases, with other, unidentified genes contributing to the rest.

That's a relief. An Ariane-4 rocket lifted off successfully from Kourou last Thursday and placed American and Argentine satellites into orbit. But the commercial future of the more powerful Ariane-5 rockets - the first of which blew up carrying scientific experiments just 37 seconds into its maiden flight - is in doubt. A second experimental launch will not happen until July at the earliest.

An Indian heart surgeon who tried unsuccessfully to transplant a pig's heart into a human is in jail in Guwahati, Assam. The patient died soon after the operation, performed in December. Unlike the "xenotransplants" planned by a number of Western companies, the pig had no human genes, meaning the transplant would cause a massive immune rejection. The surgeon, Dhaniram Baruah, is charged with violating India's 1994 Organ Transplant Act. If guilty, he faces a fine of up to 10,000 rupees and five years in jail.

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