Right Stuff Yogurt

And other news from academe.

High Culture

The British Broadcasting Corp. reports that microbiologists at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow have developed a special yogurt made from bacteria culled from the saliva and guts of Russian cosmonauts. Originally developed to help space travelers maintain healthy levels of bacteria in their intestines, the yogurt has become so popular with the cosmonauts that the institute is marketing it commercially, along with new varieties of cottage cheese and traditional Russian cheese products made with the same cultures. Who knows what NASA may be up to, but one American microbiologist has remarked that there is no evidence that the out-of-this-world yogurt is really better than any other yogurt product.

Fungi Man

A five-year study by 200 plant scientists has produced a “family tree” of the plant world that details the relations of the world’s million species of photosynthesizers. Findings include: There is not one plant kingdom but three; a rare tropical flower is the closest living relative of the Earth’s first flowering plant; and many plant families appear to have evolved from a single “Eve,” whose close relatives survive in some of today’s more pristine lakes. The study also confirmed the theory that fungi are more closely related to humans than to plants.

Not a Shroud of Doubt?

New research by botany professor Avinoam Danin (Hebrew National University in Jerusalem) lends credence to the theory that the Shroud of Turin is Jesus Christ’s burial cloth. Based on his analysis of pollen grains and plant images (imprints of flowers and other plant parts) taken from the shroud, Danin says the cloth existed in the eighth century, and maybe even before. He presented his findings at the 16th International Botanical Congress in St. Louis this month and also offered evidence that the shroud originated in or near Jerusalem, the International Herald Tribune reports. Continuing to dispute the theory that the shroud wrapped Jesus’ body are scientists at the University of Arizona, who reiterate the results of their 1988 carbon dating of the cloth: The cloth is no more than 600 years old, they say. “It’s not the burial cloth of Jesus,” physics professor Douglas Donahue told the Associated Press.

Quality Control for Legal Pundits

Legal pundits: Boon or bane? Both, say law professors Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of Southern California and Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School. TV and radio legal pundits both educate and mislead the public about legal proceedings, Chemerinsky told the AP. The two professors say the remedy for out-of-control commentators is a set of voluntary guidelines (outlined here), which will “raise the professional quality of behavior” of legal commentators and the media outlets that broadcast them. The guidelines suggest that pundits “1) comment only on subjects that the commentator knows first hand, by watching the trial or reading trial transcripts; 2) speak as neutral experts whenever possible, and disclose potential conflicts of interest and biases; and 3) refrain from scoring trials like sports events or predicting jury verdicts.” Two nationwide voluntary lawyers’ groups–the American College of Trial Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers–have adopted similar codes for their members in response to the proposal, which has been outlined in recent law review articles.

Professor Full Monty

A Florida State University law school professor is returning to work after a year off following a sexual harassment charge. Sixty-five-year-old William McHugh was placed on paid leave (read the letter from FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte to McHugh) after dropping his shorts to show a female student his hernia scar–a move that also exposed his genitals. The student filed a sexual harassment complaint against McHugh, who admitted to showing his hernia scar but insisted that the full Monty was accidental. According to the TampaTribune, a panel of FSU professors concluded a five-month investigation recently and found that McHugh had, indeed, suffered from accidental exposure.

They’re Here

A group of gay intellectuals has launched the Independent Gay Forum, which declares itself independent of left-right politics. Its libertarian-minded associates include Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution, Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute, and the Cato Institute’s David Boaz.

Boomeranging Diploma

MIT has revoked for five years the diploma of 1998 graduate Charles Yoo for his role in the death of freshman Scott Krueger, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. As “pledge trainer” at the Phi Gamma Delta house, Yoo supplied beer and whiskey to Krueger and other pledging freshmen, instructing them in how to become a Phi Gamma Delta “brother.” After Krueger drank the beer and whiskey, he consumed some spiced rum provided by another brother and fell into a coma, suffocating on his own vomit. A year after Krueger’s death, a grand jury indicted the fraternity chapter as an organization for manslaughter and hazing. (The case was never tried because the fraternity chapter had disbanded by the time of arraignment; click here for a list of news items from MIT on the subject.) MIT’s Committee on Discipline revoked Yoo’s diploma after reviewing a dean’s official investigation of Krueger’s death. Although it isn’t unusual for colleges to suspend degrees for cheating or plagiarizing, Yoo’s punishment marks what may be the first time a degree has been revoked for a violation of student disciplinary code.

Information Wants To Be Free?

The academic community is protesting a new law that will require all recipients of federal research grants to make their research data public through the Freedom of Information Act. Researchers fret that corporate and political interests will use the FOIA powers to stifle research on controversial subjects by bombarding them with information requests. Confidentiality agreements will also suffer, they worry. The law would also require the disclosure of what has traditionally been confidential–from medical histories of research subjects to scientists’ e-mail addresses and notebooks. The Clinton administration has proposed a regulatory fix that would limit the definition of what information researchers must make public, as well as the “reasonable fees” that federal agencies can charge for obtaining requested data. The budget office intends to publish its final regulations by Sept. 30.

The Doctor Is Out

The Massachusetts Medical Society has ousted Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer, editor of the society-owned New England Journal of Medicine, citing differences of opinion concerning “administrative and publishing issues.” More specifically, reports the Boston Globe, Kassirer opposed “branding”–using the journal’s prestige to sell other MMS-owned products and publications, such as journals HealthNews and Heart Watch, whose quality and accuracy editors at the Journal do not control. Additionally, over the past year the society has been striking deals, such as a partnership with, and upgrading its online services–activities that strike Journal editors as too commercial. Executive Editor Marcia Angell assumed the interim editor position on the condition that the medical society not use the name “New England Journal” in the title of new society-run publications.

Egghead Updates

Last month, “Egghead” reported the student boycott at Obafemi Awolow University in Nigeria. The students’ demand–that a top university administrator be fired for failing to confront issues of campus cult violence–has been embraced by the Nigerian government. Africa News reports that the government has ordered universities to eradicate the cults and established a commission to investigate cult activity and the inaction by universities. Mexico’s National Autonomous University student strike is stretching into its fifth month. The protest over increased tuition–from 2 cents a year to about $150–has evolved into a fight for the future of the university. The administration has consented to a revocation of the tuition hike, reports National Public Radio, but now the students and many professors are insisting on a more active say in how the university is run. The strike may be losing steam, though: Students who want to return to school are holding demonstrations against the strikers.