Watching the World

Misguided Help?

Some efforts to preserve the Japanese loggerhead turtle from extinction have been called into question, notes The Daily Yomiuri. Digging up turtle eggs, incubating them, and releasing them into the sea may actually hamper the turtles’ inborn navigational abilities. Naturally hatched turtles “detect the earth’s magnetism while toddling across the sand, thereby developing an instinct for direction,” the newspaper reports. “Artificial hatching involves keeping baby turtles in a confined area before placing [them] in the natural ocean environment, which keeps them from developing their innate sense of orientation and ability to navigate the ocean on their own.”

 That All-Important Smile

“A simple smile is the best way to win friends and influence people,” reports The Times of London. A national survey conducted for the Royal Mail reveals that the first thing most people notice about someone is his or her smile. Nearly half of those surveyed said that they would not do business with anyone who looked unfriendly. Women managers in particular are more likely to promote employees who smile. Says Brian Bates, coauthor of The Human Face: “This research shows how important smiling is in society. We would often rather share our confidences, hopes and money with smilers.” Smiling increases the body’s production of painkilling endorphins, he adds, and people who smile spontaneously “have a more successful life in personal and career terms.”

Most Precise Timekeeper

A team of U.S. scientists has developed a mercury-ion clock that is “precise to a single femtosecond​—the smallest unit of time commonly used in science,” reports The Times of London. It is said to be “about 1,000 times more accurate than the atomic clocks used to keep Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC), the worldwide timekeeping standard.” Physicist Scott Diddams explains: “The most immediate applications will be in fundamental physics, to gain a much finer-grained understanding of the universe.” In time, telephone networks and navigation satellites will also benefit. While Diddams claims that the timekeeping device is “the world’s most stable clock,” he says that there is potential to make it even better.

“Most Accurate Census”?

The U.S. population survey of 2000 has been called “the most accurate census in history,” states The Wall Street Journal. However, “the 2000 total includes 5.77 million people the Census Bureau believes exist but didn’t actually count.” The newspaper explains: “When it received no answers from what it believed were occupied addresses, the bureau simply directed its computers to ‘impute’ people, based on various clues, including how their neighbors responded.” This was done even when officials were not sure that there was a home at the address. Guesses could include how many people lived there, their age, sex, race, and marital status. It is deemed accurate, an official stated, “because similar people do tend to live close to each other.” In some states, imputed Americans made up over 3 percent of the total, and imputation was used to fill in the race category of over 11 million people.

Deadly Trees?

A battle is being waged in France to determine the fate of some 400,000 trees that line the country’s roads. Roadside trees are increasingly being blamed for deaths in motor accidents. Of the 7,643 road deaths in the year 2000, 799 involved hitting a tree, reports the French magazine L’Express. Some claim, though, that the real cause of the deaths is, not the trees, but alcohol and excessive speed. Nevertheless, between 10,000 and 20,000 trees that stand less than seven feet [2 m] from the edge of the road are scheduled to be cut down. Referring to an editorial in The Wall Street Journal on the matter, the French magazine article noted that the trees appear to have committed “the serious crime of not moving out of the way of drunk drivers.”

Chinese Writing​—A Dying Art?

“Chinese characters, painfully memorised by generations of Chinese children, are facing their gravest peril yet​—from the computer,” states The Daily Telegraph of London. “Members of China’s educated elite, who always prided themselves on knowing the 6,000 characters by heart, are forgetting how to write. They can still read, but take away their computers and many find their minds go blank.” The syndrome is called “‘ti bi wang zi’​—or forgetting the character as you lift the pen.” Until the 1980’s, almost everything was handwritten, but since then, advanced software has allowed Chinese characters to be entered on an ordinary keyboard. As a result, the art of writing handsome characters by hand, a highly prized skill said to reveal the inner person, is dying out and is “causing alarm among linguists, psychologists and parents.”

Youthful Dieting

A recent survey of 1,739 Canadian girls aged 12 to 18 revealed that 27 percent display symptoms of eating disorders, says the Globe and Mail newspaper. Participants from urban, suburban, and rural populations completed a questionnaire that examined eating attitudes and body dissatisfaction. Data revealed that some as young as 12 engaged in binge eating and purging (self-induced vomiting) or used diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics to lose weight. According to Dr. Jennifer Jones, a research scientist with Toronto’s University Health Network, girls in particular “need to develop healthy attitudes toward food and exercise. They need to learn about their bodies and that the bodies they are seeing on billboards, in magazines and in rock videos are not normal.” The Globe adds that “many teenaged girls are not aware that it is normal to accumulate fat during puberty, and that doing so is important to normal development.”

Pills in the Classroom

More and more children are taking pills to cope with mounting pressure in school, reports Germany’s Südwest Presse. One in 5 elementary school children is said to take tranquilizers or performance-enhancing drugs. In high school, 1 student in 3 does. However, Albin Dannhäuser, president of the Bavarian Teachers Association, claims that taking medication to manage stress or to improve one’s results is a poor choice, since it does nothing to help children solve their problems. He advises parents not to demand too much of their child but to “have his physical and mental health in mind as well as the development of a stable personality.”

Pest Weeds Put to Use

“Weeds like the water hyacinth, the lantana and parthenium have driven developers to despair with their resilience,” states India Today. Brought to India by the British in 1941 for use as a hedge, Lantana camara has taken over more than 200,000 acres [nearly 100,000 hectares] of land and has proved almost impossible to eradicate​—manually, chemically, or biologically. The toxic effects of the weed prevent the growth of other plants, and whole villages have had to be shifted after an invasion. However, to the villagers of Lachhiwala, the weed has proved economically valuable. Lantana is used together with mud to erect houses and chicken coops. Stripped of its bark, the pest- and insect-resistant weed makes excellent furniture and baskets. Lantana leaves are used for mosquito repellent and for incense sticks. Powdered, the plant’s roots are used to combat dental infections.

Effect of Hopelessness

“Why do some people die while others, who may be no less ill, continue to live?” asks Dr. Stephen L. Stern of the department of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. “One answer to this question may lie in the presence or absence of hope.” A study of 800 elderly Americans has suggested that hopelessness often leads to an earlier death. The researchers, however, point out that the effects of hopelessness often vary among individuals, depending on such factors as childhood experiences, depression, cultural background, and economic security.