R.F.I.D. Technology and Privacy Concerns / Doctors Study Mental Health of U.S. Soldiers Back from War / Test Finds Young Children Remember Better than College Students

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. Coming up this week: businesses signal their interest in a technology known by the letters R.F.I.D.

Researchers study the mental health of American soldiers just back from war.

And, find out the results of a memory test between college students and … five year olds.

Many business leaders are excited about a technology known as radio frequency identification. R.F.I.D. technology sends information to a central computer about the location of products in factories, stores and other places.

The system uses radio signals to communicate between a tiny electronic device and a reader. The device is a microchip only a few millimeters in size. The chip stores information. The reader can collect the information from up to ten meters away or, with some systems, from much farther.

Radio frequency identification has existed for years. But recent improvements make it much less costly. Business leaders say they expect R.F.I.D. systems to be in general use around the world within five to ten years.

The recent improvements are largely the result of efforts by the huge American company Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart officials wanted to improve the way the company follows its products to its thousands of stores. So, as their first step, they told their top one-hundred suppliers to start using R.F.I.D. devices by January of next year.

The United States Defense Department also wants its suppliers to use R.F.I.D systems. Reports say the Wal-Mart and Defense Department decisions will together affect more than fifty-thousand suppliers.

The European Union is considering the use of such systems in money to help prevent illegal copying of euros. And interest grows. Libraries place radio frequency identification devices in books. Hospitals put chips on medicine bottles.

Animal owners place the devices under the skin of pets to help locate them in case of trouble. Some humans have chips under their skin for the same reason.

The attorney general of Mexico, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, announced last month that he has a chip in his arm. He said other people in his office are also equipped with the devices. One reason is security. The chip will permit them to enter a new center with a secure computer system for crime investigators in Mexico. Also, Mr. Macedo said the chip could be used to locate someone who is attacked or kidnapped.

New and different uses are being found for radio frequency identification chips. Some people are concerned. They worry that the increasing use of this technology will threaten a person's right to privacy.

Chips can be used to follow the movements of individual products or shipments. The devices can also warn a business if someone tries to steal. But critics say the technology might be used to collect information on people who buy the products. Also, employers could use the technology to record the movements of workers who wear identification with a chip inside.

Makers of R.F.I.D. systems say they recognize that the technology could be used to violate people's rights. These companies say privacy is their biggest area of research. They say they are working to make sure their technology is not a threat to people.

The most common technology now to identify goods uses a bar code. Each product is marked with a series of lines called a Universal Product Code. It must pass in front of a laser scanner to be read.

The first product ever scanned for sale was a pack of chewing gum. The event took place at a market in Troy, Ohio, on June twenty-sixth, nineteen-seventy-four.

Sharon Buchanan was the worker who scanned it. This June, she was back at the market to cut a cake in honor of the thirtieth anniversary.

A study has examined rates of mental health problems in some American soldiers after they returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. The military study says disorders appear more common among those who fought in the war in Iraq.

Researchers from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research did the study. They collected information from more than six-thousand soldiers and Marines. The New England Journal of Medicine published the findings. Doctors say this is the first large study of psychological problems in soldiers during a continuing conflict.

The report says almost seventeen percent of the soldiers who served in Iraq reported signs of severe depression or some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. The rate found in soldiers who served in Afghanistan was about eleven percent.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause the sudden return of bad memories. It can lead to such things as uncontrollable crying, an inability to sleep and problems with social situations.

Doctor Charles Hoge led the study. He is chief of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Walter Reed institute. His team asked soldiers to answer a series of questions before they went to war and a few months after they returned. The report offers several reasons for the higher number of disorders found among the soldiers back from Iraq.

For example, the study says almost ninety percent of soldiers were attacked or trapped by enemy forces during their duty in Iraq. This was true of less than sixty percent of those who served in Afghanistan. The study also reports that more than ninety percent of the Iraq veterans said they were shot at. That compared to sixty-six percent of those sent to Afghanistan.

And, the study says almost half who served in Iraq said they were responsible for the death of an enemy fighter. That was true of twelve percent of those sent to Afghanistan as part of the American-led war against terrorism.

The Army researchers also compared the soldiers to Vietnam veterans. The report says rates of stress disorders were higher among those who fought in Vietnam. That war ended in nineteen-seventy-five. But Doctor Hoge notes that Vietnam veterans were not studied until years later. Those studies led to the recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder as a disorder. Also, it has been noted that many soldiers who returned from Vietnam were treated poorly by their country.

Research has also been done on the mental health of soldiers who fought in the first Persian Gulf War. One expert on post-traumatic stress disorder says the research found that cases increased in the two years after soldiers returned home.

In the new study, many soldiers said they worried that they would be seen as weak if they sought treatment. But the Defense Department says it is making much more intensive efforts than in the past to help soldiers deal with mental health problems.

Children often think they know more than their parents. Well, it appears that children may at least remember more than adults.

Researchers did a study at Ohio State University, in the American Midwest. They asked children and adults to identify pictures they had seen earlier. Researchers Vladimir Sloutsky [pronounced slutskee] and Anna Fisher wrote a report on their findings for the journal Psychological Science.

It is traditional to think that memory increases as a child grows older and has more to remember. But the findings of the Ohio State team dispute that idea.

The team used a group of seventy-seven children. Their average age was five years old. Seventy-one college students were in a second group. The researchers had both groups look at pictures of cats, bears and birds.

In one test, the researchers showed them twenty-eight pictures. Both groups were asked if they had seen each picture earlier. The children recognized about four times as many pictures as the adults. The adults answered correctly only seven percent of the time.

Vladimir Sloutsky says the children did better because they studied the pictures for similarities. The children looked carefully to see if an animal looked like an animal they had seen earlier. The adults, however, used a different thought process.

The researcher says this kind of reasoning blocks out unconnected information. For example, the adults looked at a picture of a cat. As soon as they recognized the object as a cat, they stopped looking. They did not study the details. So most of their answers were wrong.

SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach, Caty Weaver and Jerilyn Watson. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. This is Bob Doughty. And this is Sarah Long.. Join us again next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America.

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