Letters from the January 12, 2008, issue of Science News

Shades of meaning

In “Going Coastal: Sea cave yields ancient signs of modern behavior” (SN: 10/20/07, p. 243), researcher Curtis Marean refers to Stone Age people using a reddish pigment for “body coloring or other symbolic acts.” What reason is there for jumping to this conclusion? As with cave painting and figurines, there seems to be an undue emphasis on symbolism and a supposition that everything has to have “meaning,” particularly a religious or protoreligious significance. But may people not have used body coloring just for fun? We ourselves often do not know why we do certain things, or do not wish to acknowledge our trivial intentions, and therefore overlay them with deeper significance.

Stephen E. Silver
Santa Fe, N.M.

Hedge fund

“Eastern farms have native-bee insurance” (SN: 11/24/07, p. 333) says that patches of uncultivated land provide a haven for native bees that can help with pollination. Flowering hedgerows, as used in England instead of fences, would also ensure a source of wild bees as well as a refuge for wild bird populations.

Roger W. Otto
San Mateo, Calif.

Word of pain

“‘Knuckle fever’ reaches Italy” (SN: 10/27/07, p. 270) says that chikungunya means “stooped over in pain” in an African dialect. But which one? Africa has a thousand languages, many of which have more than one dialect.

Pol Shwingk
Carlisle, Iowa

The word comes from the language of the Makonde people of eastern Africa, although it has sometimes been labeled erroneously as Swahili.—N. Seppa

Postfix for a prefix

As a biochemist and a type 1 diabetic of 24 years, I enjoyed your article on beta cell research (“The Long Road to Beta Cells,” SN: 12/15/07, p. 378). However it contained one serious error: After the majority of insulin-secreting beta cells are destroyed, HYPERglycemia (not HYPOglycemia) results.

Allison B. Moore
Wilmington, Del.

The reader is correct. Untreated diabetes leads to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar levels. We regret the error.—Editors

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