Broadcast: July 1, 2003
I’m Sarah Long with Bob Doughty, and this is the VOA Special English program, SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
This week -- an update about a reported link between an ancient stone box and Jesus. A look at some technologies in the search for landmines. Also, we tell about a campaign to fight measles in children. And we examine the long history of one of the measures used to control SARS.
Israeli investigators have disputed claims made last year that a stone box provides the oldest historical evidence of Jesus. The words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" are written on the side of the box. The words are in Aramaic, a language spoken in the Middle East two-thousand years ago.
The box is called an ossuary [OSH-oo-ar-y]. Two-thousand years ago, Jews used ossuaries to hold the remains of their dead. This box measures about fifty by thirty centimeters. It now belongs to a private collector in Israel. He said he purchased it from a dealer who told him it was found in an ancient burial area in Jerusalem.
Recently, the Antiquities Authority in Israel completed an investigation of the limestone box. The government agency says the ossuary is ancient. However, it says the writing appears new.
The Antiquities Authority asked a number of archeological experts to study the box. The experts say the writing cut through material that had built up on the ossuary since it was made. Gideon Avri was the chairman of the investigating committee. He says all of the members agreed with the findings.
The box became famous late last year. The Biblical Archeology Review published a study by a French expert on ancient languages. Andre Lemaire said he had found nothing to dispute the idea that the box may have held the bones of Jesus’ brother.
The New Testament, the Christian holy book, calls James a brother of Jesus. Jesus was a Jewish religious teacher. His life and the story of his return from death form the basis of Christianity. Christians believe Jesus is the son of God.
Landmines kill or injure as many as twenty-thousand people a year, by recent estimates of international groups. Millions of bombs are buried in at least ninety countries around the world. They remain long after conflicts have ended. Efforts are being made to clear them. However, the process is slow. Experts say that is mainly because of the technology being used.
Rand, a research organization in the United States, released a study earlier this year of the different methods to find landmines.
Currently, metal-sensing devices are widely used to search for landmines. This technology is old, however -- dating back to World War Two. It is still effective. But experts say landmine clearing is slowed because the equipment senses all kinds of metal, not just buried bombs. Also, some mines are made of plastic.
There are newer methods to discover landmines. For example, an American-based company working to clear landmines in Afghanistan uses specially trained dogs. Dogs are able to smell chemical gases given off by explosives. But some experts say the animals cost too much. Raising and training just one dog can cost up to twenty-five-thousand dollars.
Landmine removal experts have discovered that bees may also be able to detect explosives through the presence of gases. But the Rand report says the use of what it calls biological technology, such as dogs and bees, in this way is limited to dry environments.
Experts are also using light and chemical techniques to test for gases released by landmines. And they are using such things as underground radar and X-ray equipment to aid their search.
Some technologies are established. Others need additional research. The Rand report says no single method can sense all the kinds of mines in the different environments where they are buried.
The group Human Rights Watch estimates that a single landmine costs between three and thirty dollars to make. Yet, removing that landmine can cost up to one-thousand dollars. Improved detection technology could help reduce this cost.
Rand suggests a fifty-million-dollar program to research and test new landmine removal equipment. The program would last up to eight years. Any resulting device would likely combine several detection techniques.
The Rand report says that without improved methods, it could take up to five-hundred years to clear the Earth of all the landmines that currently exist.
You are listening to the VOA Special English program Science in the News. I'm Sarah Long with Bob Doughty in Washington.
The World Health Organization says efforts to control the spread of SARS in China have succeeded, for now at least. The W-H-O ended its last travel warnings last week. Beijing was the only area in the world where this advice was still in effect. SARS is severe acute respiratory syndrome. The virus has sickened more than eight-thousand people and killed more than eight-hundred of them. Most of the cases have been in China, where the disease began last year.
One of the steps taken in China and other countries to control SARS has been the use of quarantine. Quarantine is the restriction of movement in an effort to stop the spread of infection. There is a long history to the use of quarantine to protect public health. It began in the fourteenth century as a way to protect against diseases that sailors could spread as they traveled the world.
Ships that arrived in Venice, Italy, from areas infected with bubonic plague had to stay outside the port for forty days. This separation was called quarantine, from a word in Latin that means forty.
Officials in France and Italy at that time also created a system that separated the general population from people thought to be infected. European officials used quarantines to stop the spread of tuberculosis and cholera in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Victims were taken to special hospitals built outside cities.
American officials have also used quarantines. One example was in eighteen-ninety-three when smallpox infected many people in the city of Muncie, Indiana. Armed guards stood outside quarantine areas. No one was permitted to leave or enter. Violators were jailed. Another example was exiling people with leprosy to the Hawaiian island of Molokai. About eight-thousand people were sent there until legislation banned this kind of separation in nineteen-sixty-nine.
The power to quarantine an area in the United States was left to local officials until the late eighteen-hundreds. The federal government became involved when cholera and yellow fever struck large numbers of people. Congress approved the first Federal Quarantine Legislation in eighteen-seventy-eight.
Today, the responsibility for establishing quarantines is held by a government agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The United States Public Health Service has the power to examine people or animals suspected of carrying diseases that can be spread to others. There is a list of diseases that can result in quarantine. These include cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, and viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola. In April, President Bush added a new disease to that list -- SARS.
The World Health Organization has asked nations for an extra two-hundred-million dollars to fight measles in developing countries. The W-H-O says each year almost seven-hundred-fifty-thousand children die from measles. That is out of more than thirty million cases. Yet, it can be prevented with a vaccine medicine given early in life.
Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It attacks the skin surface and the body’s defense system. The disease can spread through liquid from the nose and throat of an infected person. People can also become sick by breathing infected particles in the air.
The W-H-O and the United Nations Children’s Fund say they plan to use the requested money over the next three years to fight measles in forty-five countries. Most are in Africa.
The W-H-O says that of all health interventions, measles vaccination carries one of the highest health returns for the money spent.
Science in the News was written by George Grow, Jill Moss and Nancy Steinbach. Our producer was Cynthia Kirk, with audio assistance from Dwayne Collins. This is Sarah Long.
And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.