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Healing talk

Bruce Bower described efforts to bring mental health services to the poor in developing nations, especially in times of war, in “Heal thy neighbor” (SN: 12/14/13, p. 22).

“We will have to come forward and join hands to help these people,” Dee Baig said on the Science News website. “The idea that the famous poet Saadi described in the following lines more than 700 years ago is as relevant today as it was then: ‘If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.’ ”

Putting it all in perspective

Readers have lately taken us to task for not indicating the sizes of objects in photographs and diagrams.

One reader’s letter summed up the problem nicely: “One of the greatest challenges to popular science education is conveying a sense of scale,” Paul H. Smith e-mailed. “Our culture poorly grasps the relationship of human-scale objects to those normally designated astronomical. It is difficult to find opportunities to highlight such relationships with the illustrations and graphic designs generally found in publications such as Science News. I therefore urge SN editors to watch carefully for such occasions, and offer a recent example to make this point. “Science Visualized” on Page 32 of your November 30 issue provides such an opportunity. What an impact this spectacular photo of a solar explosion would make if it included an image of planet Earth to scale. Of course a designer would have a bit of work to do to create the “box” necessary to showcase the tiny object, but I am sure a little experimenting would yield results. And I also urge that someone on your staff routinely screen SN illustrations for similar opportunities.”

We have heard from other readers about the scale of objects we have displayed, large and small, from a canyon on Mars to fly embryos. In some cases, detailed scale information is not available from the original scientific sources, and we don’t want to imply a level of precision that we cannot justify. But your concerns are noted and we are making every effort to include a sense of size, whether as a scale bar or a mention in the text, whenever possible.

Man’s most contentious friendship

In “Modern dogs originated in Europe” (SN: 12/14/13, p. 6), Tina Hesman Saey reported on new genetic research suggesting that hunter-gatherers domesticated dogs from European wolves between about 18,000 and 32,000 years ago. How and when dogs were domesticated has been hotly debated, as editor in chief Eva Emerson discussed in her editor’s note in the same issue. Getting to the bottom of the story will take “all the clues we have, plus a healthy dose of imagination,” Emerson wrote.

Some readers, like Victoria Ava on Facebook, suggested that there is room for more than one answer to the question of where and when dogs originated. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were domesticated in various areas at various times,” she wrote. Or maybe it’s all half-truth, suggested bf1x in an online comment: “What this really demonstrates is that certain areas of science are riven with speculation and storytelling. The popular stories become the accepted “truth” until someone else spins a
better story.”

As for dogs’ current relationship with wolves, Steve Raith e-mailed to challenge a question Emerson raised in her editor’s note: “How different are [dogs] from their fiercer canine relatives, the wolves?” That question makes the presumption that wolves are in fact fiercer than dogs, Raith writes. “Is there a study giving actual evidence that wolves are fiercer? There seem to be many more dog attacks on humans than wolf attacks. In addition, neighborhood dogs act in packs, chasing down and killing deer and also attack livestock. Is this [mind-set] a carryover from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ ?”

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