Science News Digest
This is Bob Doughty. And this is Steve Ember with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about a mysterious creature called the Loch Ness monster. We tell about an operation for childbirth. And we tell about a way for developing countries to get medical information from the Internet computer system.
Many groups of people have ancient stories about huge frightening creatures called monsters. However, the existence of such animals has never been proven scientifically. One of the most well-known mystery animals is the Loch Ness monster. It is said to live in a lake in Scotland called Loch Ness. For years, people have searched and studied the lake. But they have never found any unusual creature.
Now, an Italian scientist may have finally discovered what makes the Loch Ness monster seem to appear. Luigi Piccardi says earthquakes under the lake cause the waters to roll and shake strongly. This makes people believe there is a huge powerful animal in the water.
Mr. Piccardi presented his study of the Loch Ness monster at a geology conference in Edinburgh, Scotland recently. He studies the origin, history and structure of the Earth. Mr. Piccardi uses the science of geology to help explain ancient traditional stories.
The scientist says the first known writing about the Loch Ness monster was in the seventh century. The document described a terrible animal that arrived "with a strong shaking" and left "shaking herself." Mr. Piccardi explains that Loch Ness is directly over an active fault line. This line is the division between two pieces of the Earth. An earthquake happens when these pieces move against each other. The quake happens along the fault line. These movements of the Earth cause loud noises. The quakes also cause the water to shake strongly. Mr. Piccardi says this may be why ancient people said there was a monster under the water.
An American scientist disagrees. Robert Rines is the head of the Academy of Applied Science in Concord, New Hampshire. He says Mr. Piccardi's theory does not explain every sighting of the Loch Ness monster. Mr. Rines says that in Nineteen-Seventy-Two, he saw an animal in the Scottish lake that looked like the back of an elephant. The scientist led a team to study the lake in Nineteen-Ninety-Seven. They used sound waves to search Loch Ness. Mr. Rines says they recorded something in the water. He began another larger study of Loch Ness with expert underwater scientists last month. He says they are using the most modern underwater equipment in the world.
Other scientists have used strong lights and underwater cameras to search for the Loch Ness monster. But they have found no strong evidence of the creature.
Some scientists agreed that earthquakes are the most believable explanation of the Loch Ness monster mystery. They say geology has been used to explain other ancient stories. For example, the Jewish and Christian holy book, the Bible, includes a story of a flood that covered the whole Earth. A man named Noah was one of the few people who survived. Scientists say there was a real flood in the Black Sea area that explains that ancient story.
Mr. Piccardi also has studied ancient religious places around the Mediterranean Sea. He says similar stories of monsters are linked to places where earthquakes and other earth movements have happened. This scientific explanation may end the mystery that has interested people for such a long time.
You are listening to the Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS on VOA. This is Bob Doughty with Steve Ember in Washington.
A new study suggests that women who have given birth by a medical operation called a cesarean section may want to use that method in later pregnancies.
A cesarean section is also called a c-section. It is an operation to remove the baby through a cut in the woman's abdomen. A doctor may perform a c-section when the baby is not in the right position to come through the vagina. A woman may also have a c-section if she is not progressing fast enough in the childbirth process. Or a doctor may perform a c-section if there are signs that the health of the baby or mother is in danger.
The New England Journal of Medicine published the new study about cesarean sections. Scientists examined the hospital records of about twenty-thousand women in the state of Washington. The records were from Nineteen-Eighty-Seven to Nineteen-Ninety-Six. All the women had given birth to their first child by a cesarean section. The women also had a second child during the same time period.
The study said women who attempted a vaginal birth after a c-section were three times as likely to suffer a tear in their uterus as those who had a second c-section. The rate was fifteen times as high among women who were given hormones to help ready the uterus for labor.
For many years, doctors believed that women who had c-sections should always repeat the operation for later pregnancies. Doctors thought the healed cut from the first operation would weaken the uterus. They believed that the labor of childbirth could cause the uterus to tear. This condition is rare but extremely dangerous. It can kill the mother, the child, or both.
However, in the Nineteen-Eighties, support grew for attempting a vaginal birth after a c-section. Studies then suggested that women could safely have a vaginal birth after having an earlier c-section.
Six major publishers have announced an agreement to provide developing countries with medical publications on the Internet computer system. The agreement includes about one-thousand of the top medical publications in the world. Some of the six publishers also plan to place medical books on the Internet in a similar way.
The World Health Organization asked the publishers to take the action so doctors and researchers in poor countries could improve health care in their nations. The agreement is expected to help at least six-hundred institutions in one-hundred developing countries. These include universities, medical schools, hospitals and research centers. The program also includes teaching people how to find the medical information using a computer. It will go into effect in January.
Scientific magazines have published medical research for more than fifty years. But many medical schools in developing countries cannot get the publications. One W-H-O official says most American medical schools get one-thousand or more publications. Most medical schools in developing countries get fewer than one-hundred.
One reason is cost. Most scientific publications cost between two-hundred and one-thousand-five-hundred dollars a year. Some cost even more. An extreme example is the magazine "Brain Research." It costs seventeen-thousand dollars a year. It is among the publications included under the new agreement.More than sixty of the poorest countries will receive the publications on the Internet for free. More than thirty other countries will pay a reduced cost for the scientific magazines.
The publications will be on the Internet in a special place being created by the W-H-O. It will guarantee security and provide search tools. The W-H-O also is concerned that some countries still will not be able to get the information because they do not have computers.
Officials say they are working on a plan to solve that problem. They plan to ask technology companies for help in providing more computers for researchers in developing countries.
W-H-O director Gro Harlem Brundtland says the agreement is the biggest step ever taken to equalize health information among rich and poor countries.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Doreen Baingana, Caty Weaver and Nancy Steinbach. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bob Doughty. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.