Tag Archives: Health

The Mystery of People Who Speak Dozens of Languages

Last May, Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia, a doctoral candidate at the Max
Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen,
flew to Malta for a week to learn Maltese. He had a hefty grammar book
in his backpack, but he didn’t plan to open it unless he had to. “We’ll
do this as I would in the Amazon,” he told me, referring to his
fieldwork as a linguist. Our plan was for me to observe how he went
about learning a new language, starting with “hello” and “thank you.”

is a twenty-seven-year-old Peruvian with a baby face and spiky dark
hair. A friend had given him a new pair of earrings, which he wore on
Malta with funky tank tops and a chain necklace. He looked like any
other laid-back young tourist, except for the intense focus—all senses
cocked—with which he takes in a new environment. Linguistics is a
formidably cerebral discipline. At a conference in Nijmegen that had
preceded our trip to Malta, there were papers on “the anatomical
similarities in the phonatory apparati of humans and harbor seals” and
“hippocampal-dependent declarative memory,” along with a
neuropsychological analysis of speech and sound processing in the brains
of beatboxers. Rojas-Berscia’s Ph.D. research, with the Shawi people of
the Peruvian rain forest, doesn’t involve fMRI data or computer
modelling, but it is still arcane to a layperson. “I’m developing a
theory of language change called the Flux Approach,” he explained one
evening, at a country inn outside the city, over the delicious pannenkoeken
(pancakes) that are a local specialty. “A flux is a dynamism that
involves a social fact and an impact, either functionally or formally,
in linguistic competence.”

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Posted by on August 13, 2019 in Reportages


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Can CBD Really Do All That?

When Catherine Jacobson first heard about the promise of cannabis, she was at wits’ end. Her 3-year-old son, Ben, had suffered from epileptic seizures since he was 3 months old, a result of a brain malformation called polymicrogyria. Over the years, Jacobson and her husband, Aaron, have tried giving him at least 16 different drugs, but none provided lasting relief. They lived with the grim prognosis that their son — whose cognitive abilities never advanced beyond those of a 1-year-old — would likely continue to endure seizures until the cumulative brain injuries led to his death.

In early 2012, when Jacobson learned about cannabis at a conference organized by the Epilepsy Therapy Project, she felt a flicker of hope. The meeting, in downtown San Francisco, was unlike others she had attended, which were usually geared toward lab scientists and not directly focused on helping patients. This gathering aimed to get new treatments into patients’ hands as quickly as possible. Attendees weren’t just scientists and people from the pharmaceutical industry. They also included, on one day of the event, families of patients with epilepsy.


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Posted by on August 9, 2019 in North America, Reportages


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Why Didn’t Chernobyl Kill All the Plants?

Chernobyl has become a byword for catastrophe. The 1986 nuclear disaster, recently brought back into the public eye by the hugely popular TV show of the same name, caused thousands of cancers, turned a once populous area into a ghost city, and resulted in the setting up of an exclusion zone 2600km² in size.

But Chernobyl’s exclusion zone isn’t devoid of life. Wolves, boars and bears have returned to the lush forests surrounding the old nuclear plant. And when it comes to vegetation, all but the most vulnerable and exposed plant life never died in the first place, and even in the most radioactive areas of the zone, vegetation was recovering within three years.

Humans and other mammals and birds would have been killed many times over by the radiation that plants in the most contaminated areas received. So why is plant life so resilient to radiation and nuclear disaster?

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Posted by on August 8, 2019 in Uncategorized


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The other opioid crisis

Dr M. R. Rajagopal has been called the “father of palliative care in
India”. He has spent more than two decades doing clinical work and
advocacy to improve care for the dying and those suffering from
life-threatening illnesses. The use of opioids for pain relief is
crucial to this work. Yet he has had to fight to prescribe them,
including amending the country’s legislation. “Only a tiny, tiny
minority of people in India have access to pain relief,” he says. “We
have people travelling as far as 300km to get their refill of morphine
prescriptions. There are many states where it is totally unavailable.”
According to Human Rights Watch, 96 per cent of needy patients in India
can’t access opioids. Now Rajagopal is worried that the dependency
crisis in the US will harm the slow progress being made in India.

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Posted by on August 7, 2019 in Asia, Reportages


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Something is wrong on the internet

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Posted by on August 6, 2019 in Reportages


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The prison inside: Japan’s hikikomori lack relationships, not physical spaces

Fifty-three-year-old Kenji Yamase doesn’t fit the traditional image of a hikikomori, but then perceptions of Japan’s social recluses are changing.

“People think of hikikomori as being lazy young people with
personality problems who stay in their rooms all the time playing video
games,” says Yamase, who lives with his 87-year-old mother and has been a
recluse on and off for the past 30 years.

“But the reality is that most hikikomori are people who can’t get
back into society after straying off the path at some point,” he says.
“They have been forced into withdrawal. It isn’t that they’re shutting
themselves away — it’s more like they’re being forced to shut themselves

A hikikomori is defined by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry
as someone who has remained isolated at home for at least six
consecutive months without going to school or work, and rarely interacts
with people from outside their own immediate family.

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Posted by on August 3, 2019 in Asia


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How can we help the hikikomori to leave their rooms?

Hikikomori is a Japanese term that describes people who stay holed up in their homes, or even just their bedrooms, isolated from everyone except their family, for many months or years. The phenomenon has captured the popular imagination, with many articles appearing in the mainstream media in Japan and beyond in recent years, but surprisingly it isn’t well-understood by psychologists.

While the condition was first described in Japan, cases have since been reported in countries as far apart as Oman, India, the United States and Brazil. No one knows how many hikikomori exist (the term refers both to the condition and to the people with it), but surveys suggest that 1.79 per cent of Japanese people aged 15-39 meet the criteria. However, while some assumptions about risk factors have been made, based largely on reports of specific cases, there has been a lack of population-based research. A new study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, plugs some of the knowledge gaps.

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Posted by on July 31, 2019 in Asia


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Un pianeta senz’acqua

A Bangalore, cuore della Silicon valley indiana, gli uffici e i complessi residenziali sono cresciuti più rapidamente della rete idrica, tanto che le condutture trasportano appena il 60 per cento del fabbisogno quotidiano di acqua.

La gran parte del restante 40 per cento è prelevata dai pozzi e consegnata alle case e agli uffici da una flotta di autocisterne private che affollano le strade della metropoli, che ha 12 milioni di abitanti.

Il problema è che i pozzi di Bangalore si stanno prosciugando. Nel 2018 uno studio commissionato dal governo ha previsto che la città – come altri centri urbani indiani, a cominciare da New Delhi – potrebbe restare senz’acqua già nel 2020 a causa dell’esaurimento delle falde. Secondo il rapporto, entro il 2030 metà della popolazione dell’India (ovvero circa settecento milioni di persone) potrebbe non avere acqua potabile a sufficienza.

L’acqua sta diventando una risorsa pericolosamente rara in tutto il mondo, e questa situazione alimenta la corsa per assicurarsi una fornitura stabile e i timori per l’aumento delle vittime nei conflitti legati alla carenza idrica.

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Posted by on July 18, 2019 in Reportages


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Man’s stressed friend: how your mental health can affect your dog

If you think your dog looks stressed out, it might be your own stress levels that are affecting your pet pooch.

A study published on Thursday in Nature’s Scientific Reports shows pet dogs may synchronise their stress levels with those of their owners.

More than just being “man’s best friend”, it appears our pet dogs may be mirroring our mental state too, and that can be bad for their health.

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Posted by on July 12, 2019 in Uncategorized


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Blame US Trade Policy for Sky-High Drug Prices

Sharp price increases for essential and life-saving medicines have generated a political backlash against the pharmaceutical industry in the United States. In February, the US Senate Committee on Finance scolded industry representatives for pursuing policies that are “morally repugnant.” Since then, 44 US state governments have filed a lawsuit against Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals and 19 other companies, alleging conspiracy to stifle competition for generic drugs and illegal profiteering from over 100 different medicines.


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