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A little Viagra for women in labour

Q.  Who or what are WEIRDos, and why are some psychologists turning elsewhere for future study?

A.  They’re people from WEIRD societies — western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — who are relied on to “an alarming rate” in psychology studies but who may be outliers in some traits, says Kai Kupferschmidt in “Science” magazine.  In fact, one research team argued they may “represent the worst population on which to base our understanding of Homo sapiens.”  Developmental psychologist Daniel Haun, new director at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, hopes to help change that.

For example, in the former hunter-gatherer community of #Akhoe Hai//om in Namibia, “everything that is shareable in principle belongs as much to you as it belongs to me,” Haun explains.  Fairness norms would be different here than, say, in Germany:  Two people go to the beach looking for shells; one finds a lot but the other, lying on the beach, finds little.  German children would say the one who did most of the work should get most of the shells, but the Namibian children “distribute the goods equally most of the time no matter who contributed how much.”

Worldwide, Haun plans to set up five cross-cultural stations starting with one among the #Akhoe Hai//om and another on Vanuatu, a South Pacific Island state with a population of a quarter million who speak more than 100 languages. 

Q.  How well do you know the world’s mountains and their colloquial meaning: “Everest,” “Olympian,” “balkanize” and “Areopagus”?

A.  Everest, as you no doubt know, is the highest mountain (8,848 meters) on Earth (above sea level) in the Himalayas, named after George Everest, India’s Surveyor General, says Anu Garg on his “A.Word.A.Day” website.  The word, then, means “the highest point of achievement, ambition, challenge.”  As the highest mountain in Greece, Mt. Olympus was known as the home of the gods; thus, an Olympian is a person of great achievement or position, and an Olympian feat is lofty, surpassing others.

To “balkanize” is to “divide a region, group, etc. into small, often hostile entities,” alluding to the breakup of the Balkan Peninsula after the decline of the Ottoman Empire.  The peninsula is named after Balkan Mountains, “balkan” being the Turkish word for “mountain.”

Finally, “Areopagus” derives from Greek “Areios pagos,” the hill of Ares, the Greek god of war.  In ancient Greece, Areios pagos was the meeting place of the highest governmental council and now means a high court.

As Garg explains, though we think of mountains as ancient, compared to the Earth’s age of 4.5 billion years, they are relatively young.  Consider that if the Earth were a human, the Himalayas would be a one-year-old baby.

Q.  Viagra may be a wonder drug for men but how might it also help women in labor and their distressed fetuses?

A.  A clinical trial has found that “taking Viagra during the very first hours of labor halves the need for an emergency caesarian,” says Alice Klein in “New Scientist” magazine.  The drug sildenafil (Viagra) works by widening the blood vessels.  Because some babies don’t get enough oxygen when labor contractions reduce blood flow to the placenta, Sailesh Kumar at the University of Queensland, Australia, and his colleagues wondered if the drug could also help increase blood flow to a fetus.

To test this, researchers gave sildenafil to 150 women going into labor while another 150 women in early labor were given placebo pills.  Result: “In the sildenafil group, 51% fewer emergency caesarians were needed and there were 43% fewer cases of irregular heart rate — a sign that a fetus is in distress (“American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology”).  A further trial is planned involving 3,000 women in 16 Australian hospitals.    

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