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Straight ahead on "Our World" … the truth about brain scans to detect lies ... a census of marine life ... and a warning on World AIDS Day
TEASE (Piot) (:12) "The situation we face in China, in India, in Russia and the countries surrounding it bears alarming similarities to the situation we faced 20 years ago in Africa."
Those stories, plus the latest electronic gadgets. I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."
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Wednesday was World AIDS Day, an annual observance since 1988 aimed at focusing attention on the fight against HIV/AIDS.
This year, with a theme centered on women and girls, the United Nations' AIDS program known as UN AIDS, reports that the percentage of females infected with HIV is increasing. In Africa and the Caribbean, they make up 50-percent or more of the HIV-positive population. Women are at greater risk in areas where the virus is commonly spread through sex between men and women. In Russia, where sex and injected drugs have been spreading HIV and AIDS, women surged from 24 percent of those infected to 38 percent in just two years.
Russia is one of several areas of particular concern to Dr. Peter Piot, who heads UN AIDS. Speaking in Washington this week, he noted that the response over the years to AIDS in Africa has sometimes been inadequate.
PIOT: "Today we have another chance to prove ourselves. The situation we face in China, in India, in Russia and the countries surrounding it bears alarming similarities to the situation we faced 20 years ago in Africa. HIV, the virus, in these populous countries, is perilously close to a tipping point. If it reaches that point, it could transition from a series of concentrated outbreaks in subpopulations in these countries and from these hotspots into a generalized explosion across the entire population, spreading like a wildfire from here. And if it reaches a prevalence rate, HIV, even a small percentage of what is seen in some nations in Africa, it would mean at least tens of millions of people newly infected."
CHIMES: Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Dr. Piot drew parallels between the emergence of AIDS in those areas and the course of the epidemic in Africa, stressing that a focus on China, Russia and India now would ensure that resources remain available to places like Africa, which is still hard-hit.
PIOT: "By focusing on China, India and Russia, I'm not remotely minimizing the importance of the hardest-hit regions, or a role in controlling and reversing the epidemic there. But I'm calling for intensified attention on these next-wave countries, not at the expense of Africa, but also on behalf of Africa. Becuase if the epidemic gains a foothold in even a few states or provoinces of China or India and spreads there as it has in some African countries, the global resources now available for Africa could easily diminish, perhaps even vanish. And if we hope to have the resources to treat the epidemic in the hardest-hit countries, we must prevent major epidemics in the most populous countries."
CHIMES: According to the United Nations, about 40 million people have HIV/AIDS, about 5 million of them infected this year. The number of AIDS deaths this year is estimated at 3 million.
A new brain imaging study shows that people use different parts of their brains when they tell the truth, than when they lie. Scientists are exploiting these brain changes to develop an imaging technique as a more accurate replacement for polygraphs, or lie detectors. VOA science correspondent David McAlary reports.
McALARY: Apparently lying requires more work of the brain than telling the truth.
FARO: "Deception and truth telling are very complicated. There are multiple areas in the brain that are involved."
McALARY: Temple University physician Scott Faro says more brain regions are involved in lying than truth telling, based on studies of people using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging. This is a non-invasive method that visually detects increases in blood flow to active parts of the brain.
FARO: "When we look at the differences, there were areas that were unique to the lie condition, and we found that there were actually five areas that were unique. We found in the truth condition, there were two areas that were unique."
McALARY: Dr. Faro says that when a person answers a question with a lie, not only does the person's brain have to hear and understand the question, but it must also inhibit a truthful response and then deal with the subsequent emotional consequences of lying: guilt, apprehension, fear, and anxiety.
Dr. Faro bases his conclusions on a test of 11 volunteers. Six were asked to fire a toy gun loaded with blank bullets and lie about doing it. The five other non-shooters were asked to tell the truth about the situation. All were connected to standard lie detectors as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging apparatus. In all cases, both techniques distinguished truthful responses from deceptive ones.
Dr. Faro told the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago Monday that discovering what brain regions were active in the experiment means functional magnetic resonance imaging might someday be used to detect lying in place of the polygraph.
FARO: "It has tremendous potential application in a time of increased terrorism, in a time of corporate corruption being at a maximum. I think the use of this test as a possible forensic test would be very helpful."
McALARY: The traditional polygraph measures breathing, sweating, heart rate, and blood pressure. But because these physiological responses can vary among individuals and can be controlled in some cases, the polygraph is not considered completely reliable. It is inadmissible as evidence in courts in many U.S. jurisdictions.
Dr. Faro says it is too early to determine if people can fool functional magnetic resonance imaging, too but he says his preliminary results were promising because they suggest a consistency in brain patterns that might be beyond conscious control.
FARO: "The polygraph has problems. It has subjectivity to looking at (It requires the interpretation of) the physiologic data, which is the end of the chain. We need to look at the beginning of the chain and at the central areas of that brain that are causing this behavior. So I think it will be more accurate."
McALARY: Dr. Faro says functional magnetic resonance imaging must be refined in tests of hundreds more people before becoming a standard for determining deception. (SIGNED)
CHIMES: Researchers at the University of California this week reported on a link between psychological stress and aging. For a high-stress group, they recruited mothers of chronically-ill children and compared them with mothers with healthy children.
In a study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that the more years mothers cared for a sick child -- and presumably were under more stress -- the more cellular damage they suffered. For example, higher levels of stress were linked to deterioration in pieces of DNA called telomeres, which protect the ends of each chromosome and promote genetic stability. Women who reported the most stress suffered telomere damage equivalent to 10 years of aging.
And expectant mothers -- particularly those with high-risk pregancies -- may have repeated ultrasounds to see how the baby is doing. Ten years ago, a study in Australia found that babies who had been exposed to repeated ultrasound before they were born, were smaller than babies with only one ultrasound exam.
About 2700 children from that original study have been followed over the years and the reassuring news, published this week in The Lancet, is that there were no signficant differences reported in the babies' size after age one.
Time again for Our World's Website of the Week, and our choice this time is a site that is both international in scope and intensely local at the same time. Think of Craigslist.org as a giant bulletin board, where users buy and sell stuff, hunt for jobs, look for mates and just exchange views -- with individual listings in more than 70 cities worldwide -- a number that's doubled in just the past year or so.
Craig Newmark founded Craigslist in San Francisco in 1995, and he sees the site as being about more than just commerce.
NEWMARK (:19) "From another point of view it sends a message that, well, our values are about helping people out. You know, about simple things like being fair to other people and giving the other person a break. And maybe that's the deeper message, in terms of what we do, it is a statement about the values that pretty much everyone in the world shares."
CHIMES: On the Paris site, one ad seeks a rock-climbing partner. In Chicago, a band needs a bass player. In Bangalore, someone is advertising for an office assistant. A man in Miami is looking for a date for New Year's Eve.
CEO Jim Buckmaster says 6 million people use Craigslist.org every month.
BUCKMASTER (:12) "The most popular is jobs, followed by housing, followed by for-sale, and then by personals. But there's not a huge difference between those top four. And I should say it varies quite a bit from the city.
CHIMES: Perhaps the most amazing thing about Craigslist is the financing. For the vast majority of users, it's completely free.
BUCKMASTER (:09) "We do charge for job listings in three cities now -- San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. Everything else is free."
CHIMES: To keep costs down, Craigslist.org is run with just 14 employees. But then again, since there's no advertising, you don't need a sales or marketing department; and with no fancy graphics, you don't need expensive designers. But there is content, plenty of it, and -- as maybe you can tell listening to the guy whose name is on the site -- a sense of community. And because it's all-text, it's speedy even on a slow, dial-up line. Even if there's no site in your area -- yet -- you'll find many of the ads entertaining, and the concept worth getting to know at Craiglist.org, or get the link from our site, voanews.com/ourworld.
MUSIC: "Love for Sale" (Joe Augustine, from the album Cool Today, Jazz Tonight)
CHIMES: You're listening to VOA's science and technology magazine Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.
Scientists involved in an unprecedented global effort to identify and catalog life in the world's oceans offered a progress report earlier this week at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, through a growing Internet database, a picture is emerging of a little-known underwater world.
SKIRBLE: This is the first Census of Marine Life. The ten-year plan now in its 4th year involves hundreds of scientists from more than 70 countries.
The Census database contains 5.2 million records. The red dots on the computerized Census map represent the location of 38,000 marine species, everything from microscopic plankton to large whales. Large patches of blue are shown where no samples at any depth have been recorded.
Jesse Ausubel is a program director with the Census of Marine Life for the Sloan Foundation, a leading sponsor of the computerized marine research network. He says the purpose of the project is twofold.
AUSUBEL: "One is assembling the known. So it is trying to collate and collect and digitize all the information about marine biology that has been collected over many decades and centuries. At the same time the Census has these field projects that are working in the Atlantic and on the abyssal plains to collect new information."
SKIRBLE: The Census of Marine Life has already added information on 13,000 marine varieties, including, in the past year alone, the identification of 106 new fish species and the sighting of vast, current-shaped concentrations of marine life along the ocean floor.
AUSUBEL: "So, for example the discovery in the middle of the North Atlantic - the seas which European and North American seafarers have traversed daily for 1,000 years, the fact that we would discover these deep donuts of life, 10 kilometers in diameter, 1000s of meters below us. We would find on the order of 50 new species."
SKIRBLE: That voyage involved 60 scientists from 13 countries aboard the G.O. Sars, a Norwegian vessel. Fred Grassle of Rutgers University, who chairs the Census of Marine Life International Scientific Steering Committee, says the 2-month journey deployed high-tech equipment that explored the under water mountain range that divides the North American and Eurasian plates.
AUDIO-3: FRED GRASSLE: "The ship was equipped with acoustic survey equipment which enabled them to look at all the layers of life in the ocean throughout the water column and take trawl samples of the organisms found there. And, those acoustic records themselves have revealed very unusual hydrographic features thousands of meters deep that relate to the distribution of the plankton in one particular layer. But also the collections are going to yield quite a number of new species of life, particularly the cephalopods."
SKIRBLE: ... or members of the squid or octopus family.
The Census of Marine Life database is a work in progress. Its near-surface records account for 95 percent of all existing observations of ocean life. But since microorganisms account for more than 90 percent of the ocean biomass, the Census has just initiated a project to catalog the ocean's single-celled residents.
Jesse Ausubel expects exponential growth of what he calls the information seaway.
AUSUBEL: "All the different groups, whether it is marine worms, nematodes, sponges or jellies (jellyfish), they all have a place in the census. And all the realms the abyssal plains, the trenches, the margins - we won't only look at near shore and near the surface. Of course it is a pioneering attempt and a sampling, but I think that the Census can set a precedent and a framework (it may be) every ten years attempts that would be ever more complete."
SKIRBLE: That research could bring unexpected results. As it did this year, thanks to acoustic tags designed to follow the migration patterns in young salmon. The tags opened up listening lines on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and coincidentally picked up a tagged green sturgeon from Northern California 1,000 kilometers north of its habitat.
Researchers say the finding could prompt new protection strategies for the endangered fish, known to spawn in only a few western U.S. states.
For a closer look at the undersea world in cyberspace log on to www.coml.org.
CHIMES: Finally, today - All over America, the holiday shopping season has begun in force. As has been increasingly the case in recent years, electronic gadgets are high on many shopping lists. In fact, this year, for the first time, personal electronics are expected to outsell clothing as gifts of choice. So we asked VOA's Adam Phillips to find out more about some of the gadgets that everyone seems to want this year.
PHILLIPS: Every year, reporter Michel Marriott tests out the coolest new electronic gadgets and then reviews them in The New York Times. This year however, Mr. Marriott was especially impressed by the variety and quality of new products.
AUDIO 2: MARRIOTT (:14) "[Its been] a real good year for consumers. I think the watchword is choice. There is more choice and even innovation this year than even last year. People are really starting to understand the design question. Making things small but making things small and useful not small and useless."
PHILLIPS: We spoke at the Virgin Mega-store in Times Square -- a consumer paradise of the latest electronic goodies. Mobile phones which Americans call cell phones - are a great example: a high technology product that's become indispensable to many New Yorkers, just as it is in many other parts of the world. But today, mobile phones that merely allow one to converse at a distance are passé. For general use, Mr. Marriott recommends the Motorola Razor.
AUDIO 3: MARRIOTT/PHILLIPS (:32)
MM: "Its small where it counts. Its very thin. When you close it, its slightly bigger than few credit cards, perhaps. And when you open it, it looks like The Future. It has this etched keypad that is held together basically by silicon, and glows blue but its really effective and has great sound.… And it has all the bells and whistles youve come to expect in terms of a camera and games and that sort of thing."
AP: "Does it make you have better conversations?"
MM: "No. Unfortunately not! That still comes under the old technology whats between your ears. But if youve got something really good to say, someone can really hear you on this phone."
PHILLIPS: When it comes the sounds of music, the Apple I-Pod a portable music player about the size of a package of cigarettes that can download and play back thousands of songs is still the most popular product of its kind…
AUDIO 4: MARRIOTT (:21) "But then there are other players are ipod-like, that carry that much fewer songs. Instead of 5000 songs, they carry 1500 songs. There are some that will carry maybe just a couple hundred songs. But they are really ideal for going to the gym or jogging, where you really dont need a play list that goes on for hour upon hour, but [just for] an hour or so."
PHILLIPS: The ipod can store thousands of songs on its up to 40 gigabyte hard drive. Michel Marriott was particularly impressed by another music player: Creative's Zen Micro.
AUDIO 5: MARRIOTT "Its very colorful, very interesting to use. and it also has an FM tuner something Id like to see the ipod do. iPods do not have FM tuners. Its only 250 dollars as opposed to 400 or 500 dollars for an I-pod. Its very sharp and its going to be really hot this year."
PHILLIPS: Mr. Marriott is always on the lookout for creative new product categories, and this year, he found one called a Media Center.
AUDIO 6: MARRIOTT (:16) "Not only can you put music on them, but you can download films, digital movies, music videos and carry them with you. Its like a Walkman with a screen. And these work very very well when you link them to your computer, go online [and] download a video."
PHILLIPS: It gets even better with a Media Center P-C.
AUDIO 7: MARRIOTT (:14) … Which looks like a regular computer, [and] acts like a regular computer, but is configured so you can connect it to your television. Anything you see on your television, you can capture it in this computer. And once you capture it, you can move it into these little devices and take them anywhere you want.
PHILLIPS: Some of this years new technology would make James Bond proud. Consider the Eyetop, a video player connected to a pair of eyeglasses.
AUDIO 8: MARRIOTT/PHILLIPS (:31)
MM: "So that when youre on a plane, instead of having a screen or the video player in front of you, youre looking through a glass [lens] that actually projects the screen onto the glass. So its like private viewing. No one can tell what youre watching and you can watch all day long. Its even configured so you can walk around with it, and as you walk, one glass I clear so you can see where youre going. The other glass will be playing a movie."
AP: "Have you tried it?"
MM: "Oh yes. Ive tried it quite a bit. I have to say: I like my job. I wonder sometimes why they pay me to do this!"
PHILLIPS: Michel Marriott is a technology and consumer products reporter for the New York Times newspaper and a very lucky man. For Our World, this is Adam Phillips.
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CHIMES: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Ourworld is all one word. Or write us at -
Voice of America
Washington, DC 20237 USA.
Our World is edited this week by Faith Lapidus. 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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