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HOST:  Straight ahead on "Our World," the top science stories of 2004 and those to watch for in the year ahead?a review of some hot new web sites that can boost your surf power in the New Year?and the downside of marketing Nature:

?Tourism is an industry just like any other industry, and there are many people out there who are in it simply to make a profit.?

TEXT: The high price of ecotourism on the environment.  That and a radio soap opera in the western Pacific that is making waves about environmental and health issues.  

Hi! I'm Rosanne Skirble sitting in for Art Chimes.   Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World.

HOST:  The discovery of water on Mars topped the list of 2004?s biggest scientific stories, according to the annual list in Science magazine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  In 2004 the twin NASA robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity became the first geological field workers on Mars.  Science magazine editor Donald Kennedy says the slow moving duo positioned on opposite sides of the planet captured the imagination of millions of earthlings.

?They landed successfully.  They bounced.  They came to rest, and they began exploring.  And, what they discovered has added considerably to what we had already believed, namely that there was at an earlier time large amounts of water on Mars forming shallow seas that laid down salt as they evaporated.  That enough water was retained in this surface ash on Mars to create iron compounds, little blueberries of iron-rich material.  Then of course what is exciting about that is that it suggests a real possibility that life might have originated there, although we can find no evidence of it now.?

TEXT:  The discovery of a previously unknown ? and remarkably small -- human ancestor ranked second on the Science magazine list.  A team of Australian and Indonesian anthropologists unearthed a skull and bones of several primitive individuals on the Indonesian island of Flores.  

?That apparently were isolated on this island of Flores, and like many animals that are isolated on islands, gradually evolve into smaller and smaller sizes.  These are truly tiny humans.  They are only about a meter high and have very small brains.  But they were found in association with some tools and it was obvious that they hunted very big pray.  These were very recent fossils.   They are only 18,000 years old, which in the span of geological time is just an eye blink.?
TEXT:  Another headline in 2004 announced that South Korean researchers had cloned a human embryo, the first evidence that this reproductive technique could work with human cells.  Science magazine editor Donald Kennedy says the goal was NOT to clone a human being.

?Their objective was to get a source of stem cells that could be used in various therapeutic applications, which has interested everybody in the stem cell business for several years now.?

TEXT:  Including the state of California, which in a state-wide election passed a ballot initiative that will fund stem cell research even though the U.S. government had made a decision earlier in the year not to make new stem cell lines available.

  During 2004, scientists also gathered more evidence of the continuing decline of many plant and animal species around the world.  World Conservation Union data found 30 percent of all known amphibians to be threatened with extinction.

  A compilation of ecological studies showed another alarming trend.  Warming temperatures had pushed plants to flower earlier and birds and animals to move or migrate into new habitats.  Donald Kennedy says this movement radically alters ecosystems and their inhabitants.

?There is a real concern about that because of course biological diversity contributes to the very valuable ecosystem services that come provided without charge to human populations, and we are likely to lose those services if the fall in biological diversity continues.?

TEXT:  2004 was a good year for genetic research.  Scientists found that so-called junk DNA - the stretches of DNA found between the gene and a gene?s protein coating - is essential to help the genes turn on at the right time and in the right place.

  In other experiments researchers worked on a new way to identify life forms too small or too remote to see with the naked eye.  Sequencing the genes in water from the ocean and from deep underground scientists revealed new genes and genomes.

  On the political front, the relationship between the White House and the scientific community was strained.  Before the presidential election, sixty Nobel laureates accused the Bush administration of favoring ideology over science. 

  The scientists strongly disagreed with the Administration?s stem cell research and global warming policies.  They were not alone.  Scientists in Europe also staged rallies to protest government policies.

  Despite this tension, public-private partnerships emerged as a formidable force for the development and delivery of medicines to third-world countries.  Joint ventures by foundations, drug companies, academics and others were behind several major initiatives including a malaria trial and efforts to provide anti-HIV drugs.

  Science editor Donald Kennedy was especially encouraged by the extent of international scientific collaboration.

?A really large percentage that we publish in Science magazine come from some other pair or trio of countries that have found a way to collaborate and get their work done over those distances.?

TEXT:  Donald Kennedy worries that increasing complexity of the visa process in the United States could make this kind of cooperation more difficult.

  Looking ahead, Mr. Kennedy predicts that anti-obesity drugs, insights into the genetic roots of human disease and close-up investigations of Saturn?s moon, Titan, will be the hot scientific topics in 2005. 


HOST:  The Internet continued to grow in 2004 at an exponential pace, with some estimates reporting more than 50 million websites now on line ? a gain of 10 million websites in just one year.   Scattered throughout this increasingly crowded virtual community was a handful of stand-out new websites that added real value ? and ease -- to the Internet experience:

   Jonathan Dube spends his working day in cyberspace.  He is managing producer for and publisher of  Mr. Dube also writes an on-line column for   That?s the website for the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, future journalists, and teachers of journalists.

  In a recent column he lists a number of sites launched in 2004 that he expects will have staying power in the new year. 

  For the news-obsessed among us, he recommends a site called 

?The site offers news headlines for more than 9,000 online sources.  They are sorted geographically and by thousands of categories.?

TEXT:   In addition to headlines, lists 38,000 towns, 5,000 public companies and industries, 48,000 celebrities and musicians and 1,500 sports teams. 

  Before the widespread use of the Internet, the Lexis-Nexis database was a valuable search tool.  Jonathan Dube says in 2004, the company introduced a new public version called Lexis-Nexis a la Carte. 

?This is the equivalent of searching every major magazine and transcripts from television shows in the nation at once.  We are talking about more than 3.8 billion documents from over 20 thousand sources.?

TEXT:  The site is located on the Internet at

  For consumer information, Jonathan Dube suggests

?The site offers this huge collection of consumer-oriented columns and links and they are all written by everyday people not by journalists.?

TEXT:  Jonathan Dube says two valuable newcomers are tied to the search engine Google.  The first,, taps into Goodle?s most advanced features. 

JD: ?You can do mathematical calculations. You can do language translations.  You can look up definitions.  You can use Google as a phone book.  You can use Google to search by location, name or even phone number.  So there is really a ton of things that most people are not aware of and this site makes it really easy to use.?

RS: ?How is that different from just entering something into the search engine Google

JD: ?If you just enter something into the search engine Google, you are going to come up with a long list of websites related to your search term.  If you go to you can do dozens of things related to that.?

RS:  ?You said that there was a second site related to that.?

JD:  ?Yes, the second thing that I wanted to mention that was related to Google was the ?Google tool bar,? which many people are not aware of.   The latest version, which was released in the past year, includes a browse- by-name feature.  So, if you have the toolbar installed in your browser, you can basically enter words in your address bar and the relevant webpage will just pop right up without doing a web search directly.?

TEXT:  Thanks to Jonathan Dube at for pointing out some of the cool new web sites that made their debut in 2004. If you?d like to explore any further, you?ll find all the web tips on the Our World website at


INTRO: Ecotourism was one of the world?s leading growth industries in 2004.   According to the World Tourism Organization, more and more vacationers are heading into the jungle, or onto the savannah, to get ?close to nature.?   The $20-billion a year industry accounts for 20 percent of all international travel.   But as Cathy Duchamp reports from the northwest state of Washington, there are growing concerns about our ability to learn about wildlife, without harming it.

TEXT: We're floating on a raft down the Skagit River, where it flows out of the Cascade Mountains of Washington State.  The eco-tourist attraction -- the majestic bald eagle.  Not just one.  Hundreds. 

CUT 1: BUTTON (:07)
 ?All we charge you guys is a dollar an eagle. So make sure you keep a good count.? (laugh)

TEXT: Dave Button runs a company called Pacific Northwest Float Trips.  His six passengers are here to admire a creature that was once on the verge of extinction because of the now-banned pesticide DDT.

TEXT: Today, the bald eagles are back.  This is one of their largest winter-feeding grounds.  The eagles gorge on dead chum salmon and will return to Canada and Alaska in the spring.  Before that, thousands of nature lovers like Barbie DeCarlo will come to see the birds.

CUT 3: DICARLO   (:18)
?I'm just mesmerized by the eagle.  And you know in a lot of traditions the eagle represents illumination. And it represents being aligned with creator energy.  In a lot of mythical stories the eagle was the one who could get closest to God.  You know, that high.?

TEXT: But there are questions about whether people are getting too close to the eagles.  That's why U-S government officials imposed limits on when commercial raft operators like Mr. Button can float down the river.

CUT 4: BUTTON   (:23)
?Federal agencies. They did a lot of studies and they found the eagles are most vulnerable when they were feeding. [Their] energy level is affected if they fly too much. And it?s cold in the winter so they didn't want to jeopardize their existence by scaring the eagles prematurely. So the big enforcement on the river is we don't start [un]til 11 o'clock [in the morning] when the eagles generally aren't feeding.?

TEXT: Mr. Button accepts the regulations in large part because the eagles are his livelihood.  But in other parts of the world, tour operators are not so benign.

 CUT 5: GUTIERREZ    (:09)
?Tourism is an industry just like any other industry and there are many people out there who are in it simply to make a profit.?
TEXT: Eileen Gutierrez is Ecotourism manager of Conservation International.  The Washington, DC-based non-profit organization helps communities around the globe set up effective ecotourism operations.  Ms. Gutierrez says she's seen lots of bad examples that put animals in harm?s way. 

CUT 6: GUTIERREZ   (:23)
?We've got projects that are out there that are damaging reefs.  In rainforest areas you can seem some of the worst manipulations of wildlife: feeding and having sort of little petting zoos and animals in cages, and the inappropriate clearing of forest in order to build facilities that just don't harmonize with the environment.?

TEXT: Ms. Gutierrez says the solution is a combination of government regulation and industry guidelines.  Ecotourism operators should have respect for wildlife, and improve the well-being of local communities, she says.  Ms. Gutierrez supports efforts by the International Ecotourism Society and the World Tourism Organization to create an accreditation program for the industry. 

  Back on the banks of the Skagit River, there aren't any efforts to make that happen.  Instead, a strong grass roots effort helps minimize people's impact on the bald eagles:

CUT 7: BURLEY   (:04)
 ?Right now we have a couple scopes set up along the Skagit River here...?

TEXT: Todd Burley is a volunteer with the Eagle Watchers Program, organized by the North Cascades Institute.  Mr. Burley keeps people from harassing the eagles by providing a close up view through telescopes:

CUT 7: BURLEY  (:16)
?If we look over it just flew down from a tree where it was perched at and is tearing apart a horribly disgusting salmon that's just falling apart.?

TEXT: The Eagle Watchers talk to visitors on the shore.  Raft operators like Dave Button take them down the river.  There's also an interpretive center.  And an annual Bald Eagle festival.  Mr. Burley says this mosaic of educational adventures is the basis for ecotourism and  the foundation for building respect for nature:

CUT 8: BURLEY   (:21)
?I mean, you see this with children when they get into the outdoor setting if they've never had a chance to get out in the woods, 'oh wow!'  they just come into a new element. And being able to be out there and actually seeing what they're learning about and experiencing it really brings that wonder out to light.  And that wonder is what gets people to take a personal stake in what you're learning about.?

TEXT: In this case, the eagles, the salmon, and the importance of conserving both.   For Our World, I'm Cathy Duchamp On the Skagit River.

HOST: Managed properly, ecotourism tourism can generate income and protect the environment.   As we?ve heard, education is a key to raising awareness about this complex issue.   Radio producers are dramatizing that message in a popular radio soap opera heard from Palau to Guam.   

  When people in the western Pacific turn on their radios, they are likely to hear a soap opera called ?Changing Tides.? 

  Early on? Tara, a singer in a local bar, confronts Rose, a doctor in a community hospital.  Both are in love with the same man. 

Rose: ?If you don?t calm down right now, I will take him away from you!?
Tara:  ?You can?t! What will happen to me? I love him.?
Rose:  Are you really pregnant with his child, Tara
Tara: ?Yes.  I wish I wasn?t, but I am.  I don?t know what I am going to do if Marco leaves me!?
Rose: ?Hush!? What is this
Tara: ?What
Rose: ?These bruises on your arms.
Tara: ?Marco of course!?
Rose: ?What he did that? When he knew you were pregnant

TEXT:  Tara and Rose are characters in an evolving radio drama produced by Rare, a Virginia-based international conservation group. 

  Producers in Palau, working with local environmental and health officials, create stories that deal with issues that affect the social and economic fabric of western Pacific communities.  

  Senior director Alleyne (PRON: Ah-leen) Regis says the initiative began with research in the region. 

?We did focus group meetings, questionnaire surveys.  We brought together representatives from all of the jurisdictions that are involved and they came with their issues as well.  We identified what were the important things and how we would deal with them.  The participants identified who the characters were ? the positive, the negative and the transitional characters were ? named them and built the characters together as a group.   

TEXT:  Alleyne Regis says the topics ? from family planning and AIDS to sea turtle poaching and habitat loss ? are woven together in a convoluted but entertaining plot. 

?One of our characters is a tour guide and he has been taking tourists out to the mangrove, which is the same mangrove where Marco Franklin wants to build his hotel.  What Marco Franklin does is to send someone to burn down this guy?s shop because he saw it as a threat and perhaps this man is blocking the permits he needs to build his hotel.?

TEXT:  That same Marco Franklin is the love interest for Rose and Tara and the father of Tara?s unborn child.

  Over the last two years, ?Changing Tides? has produced 160 15-minute episodes heard by 200,000 people in the Marianas, Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau.  Research consultant Peter Vaughn says the programs are a big hit in a region where radio commands a captive audience.

?The tracking results have been very, very favorable.  The regularity of listenership   - we rank them as either sometimes listening or regularly listening ? which means they are listening to almost every program - ranges from about 53 percent in Palau, which is our lowest level up to 84 percent, which is the highest we have in any country.?

TEXT:  Surveys show that between 83 to 91 percent of listeners say they have learned more about health issues from the program.  When asked to name those issues, the responses corresponded to the ?Changing Tides? plot line. 

  ///OPT///Questions about the environment provide similar results.

?They range a little lower from 62 percent of listeners saying that they learned something about environmental issues in one country up to eighty five percent.  And the issues that they mention are the importance of protected areas, invasive species is the second most mentioned and that has been one of the (program?s) main themes and an important problem throughout the Pacific.? ///END OPT///

TEXT:  Word of mouth is powerful.  Mr. Vaughn says ?Changing Tides? sets a framework to talk about important problems.
?What happens when they listen to these programs is that they see a role model of how a woman might adopt a family planning program within the context of their own particular social setting and that might provide a model of how she might raise it in her own circumstances. You know that it makes it seem like other people are having these discussions and that you are not violating a cultural taboo by initiating a discussion like this.  It makes it seem like it would be an acceptable thing to do within your own context.? 

TEXT:     Senior director Alleyne Regis says the soap opera has moved beyond fiction into the reality of daily life.

?We have people tuning in every day not to hear an actor playing a role of somebody.  It is listening for listening to those people. And, for us (they) are very, very important. So for us it is real and far more than entertainment.?

TEXT:  Alleyne Regis has headed up this effort for Rare for two years ? and soon plans to turn the program reins over to the local community.  He says the conservation group has been asked to go back on air in the Eastern Caribbean and is now seeking funding to do so.

HOST:  And, that?s our show for this week. 

  We?d love to hear from you.  You can write to us at, or send your letters to Our World, Voice of America, Washington DC 20237 USA.  

  Rob Sivak edits the program.  Our technical director is Eva Nenicka.  I?m Rosanne Skirble wishing you a joyous and healthy New Year.  Join us online at or on your radio next Saturday with Art Chimes as we explore the latest in science and technology on ?Our World.?