Letters from the February 11, 2006, issue of Science News

Preventive measure?

Regarding “Rare but Fatal Outcome: Four deaths may trace to abortion pill” (SN: 12/3/05, p. 358), would it be possible for an antibiotic to be included with the RU-486 package to prevent a Clostridium sordellii infection? Like millions of other people, I have to take an antibiotic prior to dental procedures to prevent the very rare possibility of an infection in my heart, and it would seem the same kind of preventive measure could be used with RU-486 (mifepristone).

Gillian Mello
San Leandro, Calif.

A Food and Drug Administration Web site states: “At this time FDA does not have sufficient information to recommend the use of preventive antibiotics for all women undergoing [RU-486] abortion. . . .Preventive antibiotic use carries its own risk of serious adverse events such as severe or fatal allergic reactions [and] the growth of ‘superbugs,’ bacteria resistant to everyday antibiotics.” Researcher Marc Fisher adds that “there is no evidence at this time that antibiotics would be effective in preventing potential C. sordellii infections following [RU-486] abortion.”—N. Seppa

Words unspoken

The lack of the linguistic device “recursion” in the Pirahã language might be more subtle than investigator Dan Everett suspects (“The Pirahã Challenge,” SN: 12/10/05, p. 376). I’ve heard examples of the sentence given as recursion—”When I finish eating, I want to speak to you”—rendered as a run-on sentence by speakers new to English and by lifelong speakers as well: “I finish eating I speak to you.” The “when,” which determines the timing of the second part of the run-on, is implied. Perhaps something similar occurs in Pirahã.

William Britton
North Port, Fla.

Pirahã seem to be using words and other noises as signs rather than symbols. Symbols routinely refer to absent abstractions, whereas signs merely direct attention to potential objects of experience. We shouldn’t be surprised that a grammar of signs like those of the Pirahã might differ from a grammar of symbols.

Richard Lind
Tulsa, Okla.

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