Watching the World

Brain Overload?

Some researchers say that “doing too many things at once is hard on the brain,” reports Canada’s Toronto Star newspaper. Studies suggest that multitasking results in lowered efficiency, errors, and even sickness. It may be, for instance, that it “compromises memory, causes back pain, can leave one susceptible to the flu and indigestion and it even hurts teeth and gums.” Studies by the U.S. National Institutes of Health show that when people perform certain tasks, different parts of the brain are activated. But when they try to do two or more things at once, such as talking on a cellular phone while driving a car, “the brain actually begins to shut down,” says Dr. John Sladky, an Emory University neurologist. “The brain not only can’t do it, it refuses to do it.” According to researchers, people have to slow down and accept the fact that their brain cannot do all that they are asking it to do.

 New Fish Species Found

Scientists studying Venezuela’s Caura River basin recently announced “the discovery of ten new species of fish.” These include a tiny fish “with a blood-red tail,” a “catfish with a crest of tentacles,” and “a piranha that eats fruit as well as meat,” says Venezuela’s newspaper El Universal. This area of almost untouched tropical forests and waterways has been described as one of the richest and most biologically diverse places on the planet. Scientists are pleading with the government to protect the area, which is threatened by agriculture, fishing, housing projects, mining, and possible hydroelectric projects.

Stress in the Waiting Room

“German patients have to wait an average of 48 minutes in the waiting room before they are called in to see the doctor. Some wait much longer,” says the magazine Psychologie Heute. A recent study of the practices of 610 doctors by the Institute for Business-Management Analyses, Consultation, and Strategic Development revealed “just how unhappy patients are with the situation.” Where doctors did nothing to alleviate the problem, “regular patients diminished by 19 percent within one year,” says the report. Stress levels in overcrowded practices were much higher for both doctors and assistants than in other offices, and work efficiency was one third lower. Moreover, assistants made twice as many errors.

Confused About Right and Wrong

“Nearly one in four Australians admitted to stealing stationery from their work,” says The Sun-Herald of Sydney. A survey of more than 2,000 office workers revealed that common workplace practices also included accessing personal information about their colleagues, using the Internet for personal reasons on company time, downloading unauthorized software onto work computers, and using office software at home. “There are many people who are clearly confused about what’s right and what is wrong,” said Garie Dooley, who supervised the survey.

Pet Funerals​—To Tax or Not to Tax?

Claiming that the income it receives from pet funerals, cremation, and ash storage should be tax exempt, a Buddhist temple in Japan recently filed suit against tax authorities, explains Japan’s newspaper IHT Asahi Shimbun. The tax office argued that cremation and religious services for pets constitute “contractual business” and that the storage of ashes puts the temple in the “warehousing business.” The temple, on the other hand, claims that “a memorial service is a religious act, which aims to heal the sorrows of bereaved pet owners and to console the soul of animals,” without a view to profits.

Air Crashes Decline

The number of air crashes worldwide in 2003 was the lowest since the 1950’s, when records began, reports Flight International magazine. The death toll of 702 was the lowest since 1990, despite a 40 percent increase in air traffic since then. London’s Daily Telegraph says that one reason given “for the overall improvement in safety was a fall in incidents where navigational error caused the aircraft to hit high ground. New ground awareness warning systems are said to have played a part, but the technology is described as ‘not infallible.’” Many older planes are not equipped with such systems.

Epsom Salts Saves Pregnant Women

A simple, inexpensive therapy using hydrated magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) can halve the chances of women developing a potentially fatal complication of pregnancy, explains The Times of London. Eclampsia, a dangerous form of high blood pressure that causes convulsions, annually kills over 50,000 women and their unborn children worldwide. Although a drip or injections containing magnesium sulfate have been used for years in the United States to treat preeclampsia, which can develop into eclampsia if untreated, the therapy has not caught on in most other countries. Hence, an international team of doctors at the Institute for Health Sciences in Oxford, England, “decided to test the benefits of the salts by conducting a trial on 10,000 women in 33 countries,” says The Times. “After three years the . . . trial was stopped early when it became apparent how effective the treatment was: using magnesium sulphate on women with pre-eclampsia reduced their risk of having a fit by 58 per cent. It reduced their risk of dying by 45 per cent.” The treatment “costs only £3 [$4.50] per woman, making it . . . accessible to women in developing countries.”

Teenage Eating Habits

“A disturbing number of teenage schoolgirls are skipping meals because of anxiety about their body shapes and a desire to emulate fashion models and pop stars,” says London’s Daily Telegraph. A study of the eating habits of 300,000 pupils by Britain’s Schools Health Education Unit revealed that over 40 percent of girls aged 14 and 15 “went to school without eating breakfast. Compared with similar data compiled in 1984, the number leaving home without eating has nearly doubled.” The number of those skipping lunch also increased, from 2 percent in 1984 to 18 percent in 2001. Because of the heightened risk that students may develop eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, head teachers of girls’ schools are being called on to monitor the weight of their students. Boys are also showing more interest in dieting. Among them, 31 percent of 12- and 13-year-olds and 25 percent of 14- and 15-year-olds want to lose weight, up from 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.