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Our World transcript - 20 Nov. 2004


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MUSIC (Minidisc): Establish :12 and under

Straight ahead on "Our World" … a new jet speed record ... thinking positively to live longer ... and an evolutionary look at running...

DALET: TEASE (Lieberman) (:08)
"Humans have these huge Achilles tendons and various other tendons in our legs. They have no role whatsoever in walking. But they are crucial when you run."

Those stories, plus MoMA! on our Website of the Week. I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."

MUSIC: Up to button

Some of the country's leading policy analysts and academicians have been speaking out in a new book about the urgent energy and environmental issues facing the second Bush administration and Congress. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.

Resources for the Future is the independent research group behind the book, New Approaches on Energy and the Environment: Policy Advice for the President. Each of the 25 essays in the book was written before the 2004 election.

Co-editor and Resources for the Future President Paul Portney says the purpose was to present policy options rather than ideology.

He says the essays might be thought of as short memos to the President of the United States.

AUDIO-1 PAUL PORNEY
Literally ranging from A to Z with A being antibiotic resistance and air pollution and Z being zoning the oceans. So it is a fairly comprehensive list of recommendations across a wide variety of areas.

TEXT: Other issues tackled in the book include expanding the role for renewable energy, imposing a carbon tax on fuels to reduce the budget deficit, and a pay-as-you-go car insurance that would encourage motorists to drive less.

Greg Easterbrook is visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. He says Congress and the White House are more likely to adopt carbon emissions trading if its modeled after a successful program like the one thats now helpingto control acid rain in the northeastern United States.

AUDIO-2 GREG EASTERBROOK
I can imagine some sort of carbon trading regime coming into existence even under the Bush administration, maybe as a pilot program at five dollars a ton as the low level. But I can see the Bush people willing to do that. And I can see that going through Congress if it is a gradual program, initially modest that is designed to have safeguards, I can see it happening. By far the most important proposal in this book is the carbon trading proposal.

TEXT: Democrat Jim Cooper is a one-time Board member for Resources for the Future and now a member of Congress from Tennessee.. He says the book proposes common sense ideas that are likely to become law.

AUDIO-3 JIM COOPER
I think that you are seeing a progressive business community on a number of these issues and I think that will help persuade large groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers and others to not be locked in to their traditional positions. I also think that you are seeing a president who doesnt need to be re-elected [again]. He doesnt need to please the [political] base anymore, and can indeed craft a legacy that his children and grandchildren will be proud of. And I am hopeful that what [president] Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our natures will be predominant.

TEXT: Iain Murray is a senior on International Policy with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He expects Congress - having picked up more republican members in the election to shift further to the right.

AUDIO-4 IAIN MURRAY
And, I think that the prospect [exists] for finally getting some sort of comprehensive energy legislation through Congress. And it also means things like the McCain Leiberman Climate Stewardship Act, which attempts to increase taxes to combat global warming are less likely to get through.

TEXT: Positions on the environment or energy did not appear to sway most voters in the 2004 election. However as the essays in this new political anthology suggest these issues will have an enormous impact on the quality of life and public health in the United States. The publisher hopes the essays will help decision-makers and the general public identify both the problems and their solutions..


Not transcribed: conversation with VOA Science Correspondent David McAlary on X-43 scramjet test, European SMART-1 ion engine lunar explorer and Swift gamma ray observatory.


MUSIC: Telstar (Dennis Scott)

As rocket scientists work on advanced propulsion systems, for the rest of us sometimes the basics can be a little hard to grasp. We see that this week in the Our World mailbag.

Albert Mwangi Mugo, a listener in Nairobi, Kenya, writes with a question about rocket propulsion.

Cars move when their tires push roll along the pavement, and ships move by propelling along the water. But, Mr. Mugo wonders, how do rockets go in the vacuum of space, when there's nothing to push against.

Good question. For the answer, we turn to Glenn Mason, a physics professor at the University of Maryland.

MASON (:15)
"It's a common question, and it comes from the fact that our daily experience is based always using friction. If you want to run fast, you use shoes with nice sticky soles. And so from analogy, you'd think that a rocket must somehow work the same way, but it doesn't."

Prof. Mason -- who has done a lot of work with the space agency NASA -- says the idea behind rocket thrust can be illustrated with a gunshot and a principle known as "conservation of momentum."

MASON (:34)
"And it says that if I have objects that are at rest and I take a part of the object, like the rifle shell and shoot it out at high velocity, at the same time I will get a push in the other direction that has equal momentum. This is part of Newton's laws. And as a result, if you're ever on frictionless surfaces, you will find out this happens. Now perhaps the listener in Kenya would not have ever sat on ice skates or things like that, but you know if you're on a frictionless surface, if you throw something like a shot put, it'll go one way and you'll head the other. And it has nothing to do with the air; that would happen in a vacuum just as well."

Most rockets burn a solid or liquid fuel, and direct the resulting gas out a nozzle in the back, which sends the rocket forward. But Prof. Mason says it doesn't have to be the product of combustion.

MASON (:30)
"Any compressed gas will do. You know, there are toy rocket motors that use CO2 cylinders that just have compressed gas in them. You know, you puncture the diaphram at the end of the cylinder. There's no chemical reaction involved, but it flows out at high speed and it'll produce thrust." CHIMES: You don't have to get that exotic, just an ordinary child's balloon works the same way. MASON: "A balloon is a perfectly good example. Any mechanism of that kind -- throwing a shot put, the shotgun, a balloon -- those are all examples of the same kind of propulsion."

There is one important difference in the vacuum of space -- there's no oxygen to support combustion. Fuel won't burn in a vacuum, so an oxydizer -- like liquid oxygen -- has to be carried along when chemical rockets go into space.

Well, Mr. Mugo, I hope that answers your question. If you've got a question on science, health, technology or the environment, please send it in. We can't answer every question we get, but if we use your question we'll send you a very nice VOA gift as our way of saying thank you. You can email us -- ourworld@voanews.com -- or listen for our postal address at the end of the show.

MUSIC: Born to Run (David West)

You're listening to VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.


On America's sidewalks and trails it sometimes seems that everyone is running. Jogging is a popular form of exercise that many people find enjoyable, and now there's evidence that endurance running may have contributed to the evolution of modern humans. We asked VOA's Jessica Berman to run with the story:
Most anthropologists studying early humans have tended to focus their attention on the time when prehistoric man began to walk upright. They think this ability, between four and six-million years ago, separated prehistoric humans from other species.

Biological anthropologist Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University in Massachusetts also subscribed to the notion that prehistoric humans were probably not good short-distance runners because modern humans are not.

/// LIEBERMAN ACT ///

"After all we are very slow and we are very awkward and we fall down easily, and it costs us a lot of energy to run."

/// END ACT ///

Professor Lieberman and a colleague then wondered about endurance running. After studying the fossil record, they concluded that ancient humans were probably excellent endurance runners.

Unlike walking, Professor Lieberman says running requires physical characteristics, such as spring-like tendons. There is no evidence that such characteristics evolved from prehistoric primates and their two-legged descendants.

/// LIEBERMAN ACT ///

"If you look at the legs of a chimpanzee, there are no springs in the leg. They are all muscles. The tendons are just a centimeter or so long. But humans have these huge Achilles tendons and various other tendons in our legs. They have no role whatsoever in walking. But they are crucial when you run."

/// END ACT ///

Since it is easier for humans to outrun most animals for long stretches, Professor Lieberman thinks ancient humans may have developed the capability of long-distance running to elude predators or to exhaust prey to get close enough to kill them with rocks.

Daniel Lieberman says there may be another reason why long distance running was an evolutionary trait.

/// LIEBERMAN ACT ///

"It also feels good. People who run really like to run. And the reason why it feels good is that we have bodies that are well-designed to do so."

/// END ACT ///

The article on endurance running as an evolutionary trait is published in the journal "Nature."

Earlier this month, researchers in the Netherlands published the results of a nine-year study which found that people who described themselves as highly optimistic were less likely to die prematurely than people who were less optimistic.

Dr. Erik Giltay (gil-TAY) and colleagues at Psychiatric Center GGZ Delfland started with a group of about 1,000 subjects in their 60s, 70s and 80s. They were given a questionnaire and asked to agree or disagree with a variety of statements aimed at gauging how optimistically they view life.

GILTAY (:08)
"One of the statements is, 'I often feel that life is full of promises.' Another one is, 'I still have positive expectations concerning my future.'"

Based on their answers, they were divided into several groups - from least optimistic to most optimistic, and the researchers were able to correlate the level of optimism with the risk of death.

GILTAY (:07)
"We found that a higher level of optimism reduces the chances to die and reduces the chance also of cardiovascular death."

The statistical difference was quite striking - with 55 percent lower risk of death during the nine-year study period for the most optimistic people studied.

Dr. Giltay stressed that this is a statistical association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Still, I asked him to suggest why optimistic people might have been less likely to die during the nine years of the study

GILTAY (:15)
"One possible mechanism is that people are better in coping with difficult things that occur in their lives, such as diseases, and so when people are optimistic, they tend to be more actively seeking help. So, optimistic people are better at coping."

Dr. Giltay says that he and his colleagues did not study possible biological causes for the lower risk of death among these optimistic people, such as endorphins or hormones -- those were beyond the scope of their research. But they did control for other risk factors, such as socioeconomic status, age and smoking.

MUSIC: When You're Smiling (Hot Lips Page)

New York's Museum of Modern Art -- known affectionately as MoMA -- is one of the world's premier centers of contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, design, and film. The museum returns to expanded facilities in Midtown Manahttan this weekend after more than two years in a temporary home. But it's online home remains the same -- MoMA.org -- and it's Our World's Website of the Week.

Creative Manager Allegra Burnette explains how MoMA.org extends the reach of the museum's facility in New York.

BURNETTE (:19)
"The website allows us to reach a much larger audience, an international audience, and it allows us to reach that audience at any time of the day or night. So for people who are not able to come to New York, we hope that they can get at least a sense of both the collection and the educational programs that we have available."

Not everything on display in the museum can be seen online at MoMA.org, but a broad sampling of it is. In some cases there are essays on particular works of art -- such as a Picasso painting or a Man Ray photograph -- and many of the museum's special exhibitions have online counterparts, like one on filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Putting the museum's collection online, says Allegra Burnette, is an ongoing project.

BURNETTE (:20)
"We are in fact putting the finishing touches on an online collection project, which will allow us to keep adding to a database of information about the collecion, so we are launching in December-January with about 3,000 works, and that will be added to continuously over time."

Another important part of MoMA.org is an extension of the Museum of Modern Art's educational programs.

BURNETTE (:13)
"We've created a website for children to allow them to learn about and explore art and the museum. We are also intereted in making more resources available to teachers online as well."


MoMA.org even has its own online radio station. One recent schedule included a program of Hungarian folk music, interviews with filmmakers and artists, and an archival recording of Tennessee Williams reading his 1975 play "Outcry." So for art that's more than something to hang on a wall, surf on over to MoMA.org, or get the link from our site, voanews.com/ourworld.

MINIDISC: Closing theme

That's our show for this week. If you've got a question about science, technology, health or the environment, we'd like to answer it. And we've got a VOA gift for you -- IF we use your question on the program. Email us at ourworld@voanews.com. Ourworld is all one word. Or write us at -

Our World
Voice of America
Washington, DC 20237 USA.

Our World is edited by Rob Sivak. Our technical director is Eva Nenicka. And this is Art Chimes, inviting you to join us online at voanews.com/ourworld or on your radio next Saturday and Sunday as we check out the latest in science and technology...in Our World.


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