125mo anniversario della rivista Science

Buone notizie per i ricercatori nel sito web di Science. Ci sono importanti problemi da risolvere … e li troviamo elencati in un numero speciale di Science in occasione del 25 al top e poi What is the Biological Basis of Consciousness? To What Extent Are Genetic Variation and Personal Health Linked Are We Alone in the Universe? What Determines

Buone notizie per i ricercatori nel sito web di Science. Ci sono importanti problemi da risolvere … e li troviamo elencati in un numero speciale di Science in occasione del 125′ anniversario. Possiamo quindi leggere quali sono le principali domande (le 25 al top e poi le altre 100) a cui si dovrebbe cercare di rispondere nei prossimi anni. Molto lavoro (e molto interessante) per chi abbia voglia di scoprire i misteri della natura. Ovviamente (era prevedibile) molte delle domande a cui i ricercatori dovranno rispondere riguardano la biologia o le scienze naturali in generale. Non risulta immediatamente chiaro quanto sia importante trovare una risposta e se ci sia un limite di tempo entro il quale una risposta debba essere trovata (e magari anche un limite di tempo per applicare questa riposta alla realtà). Se rimaniamo nel settore dell’Antropologia e dell’Evoluzione umana possiamo trovare tanti problemi già nelle prime 25 domande “facing science over the next quarter-century”: What is the Biological Basis of Consciousness? Why Do Humans Have So Few Genes? To What Extent Are Genetic Variation and Personal Health Linked How Much Can Human Life Span Be Extended? Are We Alone in the Universe? How and Where Did Life on Earth Arise? What Determines Species Diversity? What Genetic Changes Made Us Uniquely Human? How Did Cooperative Behavior Evolve? How Will Big Pictures Emerge from a Sea of Biological Data? How Hot Will the Greenhouse World Be? Will Malthus Continue to Be Wrong? Ma molto si trova anche fra le successive 100 domande: Science, 1 luglio 2005. More big questions facing science over the next quarter-century. 1. What triggers puberty? Nutrition–including that received in utero–seems to help set this mysterious biological clock, but no one knows exactly what forces childhood to end. 2. What synchronizes an organism’s circadian clocks? Circadian clock genes have popped up in all types of creatures and in many parts of the body. Now the challenge is figuring out how all the gears fit together and what keeps the clocks set to the same time. 3. How do migrating organisms find their way? Birds, butterflies, and whales make annual journeys of thousands of kilometers. They rely on cues such as stars and magnetic fields, but the details remain unclear. 4. Why are there critical periods for language learning? Monitoring brain activity in young children–including infants–may shed light on why children pick up languages with ease while adults often struggle to learn train station basics in a foreign tongue. 5. Do pheromones influence human behavior? Many animals use airborne chemicals to communicate, particularly when mating. Controversial studies have hinted that humans too use pheromones. Identifying them will be key to assessing their sway on our social lives. 6. Is morality hardwired into the brain? That question has long puzzled philosophers; now some neuroscientists think brain imaging will reveal circuits involved in reasoning. 7. What are the limits of learning by machines? Computers can already beat the world’s best chess players, and they have a wealth of information on the Web to draw on. But abstract reasoning is still beyond any machine. 8. How much of personality is genetic? Aspects of personality are influenced by genes; environment modifies the genetic effects. The relative contributions remain under debate. 9. What is the biological root of sexual orientation? Much of the “environmental” contribution to homosexuality may occur before birth in the form of prenatal hormones, so answering this question will require more than just the hunt for “gay genes.” 10. Will there ever be a tree of life that systematists can agree on? Despite better morphological, molecular, and statistical methods, researchers’ trees don’t agree. Expect greater, but not complete, consensus. 11. How many species are there on Earth? Count all the stars in the sky? Impossible. Count all the species on Earth? Ditto. But the biodiversity crisis demands that we try. 12. What is a species? A “simple” concept that’s been muddied by evolutionary data; a clear definition may be a long time in coming. 13. Who was LUCA (the last universal common ancestor)? Ideas about the origin of the 1.5-billion-year-old “mother” of all complex organisms abound. The continued discovery of primitive microbes, along with comparative genomics, should help resolve life’s deep past. 14. How did flowers evolve? Darwin called this question an “abominable mystery.” Flowers arose in the cycads and conifers, but the details of their evolution remain obscure. 15. What caused mass extinctions? A huge impact did in the dinosaurs, but the search for other catastrophic triggers of extinction has had no luck so far. If more subtle or stealthy culprits are to blame, they will take considerably longer to find. 16. Can we prevent extinction? Finding cost-effective and politically feasible ways to save many endangered species requires creative thinking. 17. Why were some dinosaurs so large? Dinosaurs reached almost unimaginable sizes, some in less than 20 years. But how did the long-necked sauropods, for instance, eat enough to pack on up to 100 tons without denuding their world? 18. How will ecosystems respond to global warming? To anticipate the effects of the intensifying greenhouse, climate modelers will have to focus on regional changes and ecologists on the right combination of environmental changes. 19. How many kinds of humans coexisted in the recent past, and how did they relate? The new dwarf human species fossil from Indonesia suggests that at least four kinds of humans thrived in the past 100,000 years. Better dates and additional material will help confirm or revise this picture. 20. What gave rise to modern human behavior? Did Homo sapiens acquire abstract thought, language, and art gradually or in a cultural “big bang,” which in Europe occurred about 40,000 years ago? Data from Africa, where our species arose, may hold the key to the answer. 21. What are the roots of human culture? No animal comes close to having humans’ ability to build on previous discoveries and pass the improvements on. What determines those differences could help us understand how human culture evolved. 22. What are the evolutionary roots of language and music? Neuroscientists exploring how we speak and make music are just beginning to find clues as to how these prized abilities arose. 23. What are human races, and how did they develop? Anthropologists have long argued that race lacks biological reality. But our genetic makeup does vary with geographic origin and as such raises political and ethical as well as scientific questions. Fa un po’ rabbia (e invidia) accedere (dalla stessa pagina web) al sito web Science Next Wave che chiarisce come negli USA si stanno attrezzando per dare risposte a queste domande. Negli USA stanno infatti utilizzando (e valorizzando) i migliori ricercatori un po’ da tutto il mondo, e se ne vantano. Si parla ad esempio (oltre che di ricercatori spagnoli e indiani) anche di una fisica 33enne di Padova a cui un paio di università USA hanno gia’ offerto posti di ruolo. E tutto questo avviene mentre in Italia (lo dice perfino, con l’appoggio di tutte le altre università, la CRUI) si starebbe cercando di distruggere l’università e si fa credere che la migliore ricerca si ottenga pagando poco i ricercatori e tenendoli per anni in una situazione precaria, come prevede un pasticciato progetto di legge. Potrebbe essere un’opinione rispettabile e discutibile, se non fosse facile scoprire che nello stesso tempo hanno invece successo a livello governativo le università private (che vengono premiate equiparandole a quelle pubbliche nonostante – lo si legge in molte valutazioni del CNVSU – gravissime carenze e assenza di ricerca) e perfino titoli accademici pseudo-USA di nessun valore in Italia e nel mondo, che vengono distribuiti nei palazzi del parlamento e addirittura nelle ambasciate italiane, con l’appoggio di ministri italiani gia’ precedentemente omaggiati (e ringraziano) di questi titoli fasulli. A cura di Daniele Formenti