Broadcast: June 3, 2003
I’m Bob Doughty with Steve Ember, and this is the VOA Special English program, SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
Today -- a call for moviemakers to get cigarettes out of their films ... tobacco companies win a legal victory in the United States ... a change in the campaign against polio ... and, researchers find something in common between stock markets and earthquakes.
Have you seen a movie recently? How many people in that movie were smoking? And how many of those smokers were heroes in the movie? The World Health Organization says young people are sixteen times more likely to think smoking is a good thing if they see actors smoke. The W-H-O estimates that tobacco kills five-million people a year, and that number grows. The W-H-O says companies that make cigarettes use movies to sell more tobacco, especially to young people.
In many countries, including India and the United States, it is illegal to try to sell tobacco on television. But it is legal to show smoking and cigarettes in the movies. The W-H-O studied tobacco use in movies made in India.
The study says Indian movies are seen by two-hundred-fifty million young people in India. Indian movies are also seen outside India on satellite television. Shahrukh Khan, Ajay Devgan and Sanjay Dutt are three of the most popular Indian actors today. They are often seen smoking on the screen and in their personal lives.
The W-H-0 study says tobacco companies have found a friend in Indian movies. It says tobacco companies even give famous actors a free lifetime supply of cigarettes. These actors often have good-looking bodies. The study says that makes young people think smoking will be good for their health.
For this year’s World No Tobacco Day on May thirty-first, the W-H-O urged moviemakers all over the world -- as well as clothing marketers in the fashion industry -- to stop making tobacco look like such a good thing. The W-H-O says it wants moviemakers to stop permitting movies to be used as what it calls “vehicles of death and disease.”
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The largest tobacco companies in the United States recently won a victory in a major legal case. An appeals court dismissed a huge judgment against them in the southern state of Florida. In two-thousand a jury had ordered the tobacco companies to pay cigarette smokers one-hundred-forty-five-thousand-million dollars. It was the largest damage award in American history.
Jury members found the tobacco companies responsible for the sicknesses of as many as seven-hundred-thousand people in Florida. The jury said the tobacco companies lied to the public about the health dangers of smoking. The trial lasted almost two years.
The tobacco companies appealed. They said the smokers and their problems were too different to be included in one claim, called a class action. Three judges of a Florida appeals court agreed. The judges said each of the smokers had a different experience and each one will require separate legal action. The appeals court also said the judgment violated state law because the amount of money awarded would ruin the companies. The judges called what happened at the trial level unfair.
The smokers have other ways to appeal the loss of the jury award. Lawyers also have the right to separate the legal claims and bring them as individual cases.
Tobacco company officials praised the Florida ruling as the best legal development for the industry in the past ten years. And they say they hope it will help them defeat other legal actions they currently face in other states.
For example, in March, a judge ordered cigarette maker Philip Morris to pay a ten-thousand-million dollar judgment in the state of Illinois. The judge found that the company tricked smokers to believe that so-called "light" cigarettes are less harmful than others. Philip Morris has appealed the ruling.
World health leaders have changed the way they are going to fight polio this year and next. The changes are part of the effort to end new cases of the disease by two-thousand-five.
Polio is caused by a bacteria that is spread in human waste. The disease can make victims unable to move their arms and legs. Some people die. The disease can spread quickly within communities.
The World Health Organization says the spread of polio has already been stopped in ninety-three countries. It says campaigns to vaccinate children will now only target thirteen countries where polio remains a threat. These include India, Nigeria and Pakistan. These three countries have ninety-nine percent of the world’s polio cases. Polio is also found in Egypt, Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia.
Experts consider six other countries at high risk of re-infection because of the threat nearby. The countries are Angola, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal and Sudan.
Health officials plan fifty-one polio vaccination campaigns in the thirteen countries this year. During such campaigns, thousands of health workers travel all over the country to give vaccine to children under the age of five. There was a reduction in the number of special vaccination days in India last year. Experts note that polio cases increased sharply in the north and spread to other areas after that.
Polio cannot be cured, but it can be prevented. Health experts say children need to get the polio vaccine several times to receive full protection against the disease.
Large movements in the stock market appear to have something in common with earthquakes. Researchers have found a mathematical similarity. They believe their finding could help financial experts estimate the chances of a big drop in stock prices -- a market crash.
The study appears in the British publication Nature. Researchers in the United States did the study. Xavier Gabaix is an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He worked with physicists from Boston University. The team studied about one-hundred-million sales and purchases on world financial markets between nineteen-nine-four and nineteen-ninety-six.
The researchers found a mathematical system in the information. They identified patterns known as "power laws." These power laws describe mathematical relationships between the rate of large and small events. One such law is used to estimate the chances that a powerful earthquake will strike. The researchers found that financial markets follow a pattern similar to one found in nature.
The study demonstrated that the number of stocks traded each day, the number of trades and the changes in price follow power laws. The team observed this for the market as a whole and for individual stocks.
For example, the number of days when the price of a stock moves by one percent will be eight times the number of days when it moves by two percent. The number of days when the stock price moves by two percent will be eight times the number of days when it moves by four percent.
This, in turn, will be eight times the number of days when the price moves by eight percent. And the pattern continues. The researchers say the actions of large traders in the market produce this power law when they trade stock under pressure.
Xavier Gabaix says the findings do not mean experts will be able to say for sure when a change will happen, or which direction the change will go. In any case, the researchers say there is little way to prevent a market crash. Mister Gabaix says the forces that create the power laws in the stock market are extremely strong.
Eugene Stanley of Boston University notes that the Japanese design buildings that can survive earthquakes. "We need to do the same thing in economics," he says.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Karen Leggett, Nancy Steinbach and George Grow. Our producer was 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.