Health & Science
Doctors’ political views affect their advice
Doctors are supposed to base their medical advice on test results, physical exams, and other empirical evidence. But new research suggests that when it comes to certain hot-button health issues, such as abortion and firearms safety, they may also be strongly influenced by their political beliefs. Researchers at Yale University selected more than 200 physicians—half of them Democrats, half Republicans—and asked them individually to examine fictional accounts of patient encounters. For the scenarios linked to politically neutral issues, such as alcohol abuse and obesity, there was little divergence of opinion among the doctors on both the seriousness of the problem and how it should be treated. But on more sensitive topics, their reactions differed substantially. Republican doctors were particularly concerned about the scenarios involving cannabis use and abortion: They were more likely to tell patients about the dangers of weed use and to advise women against having an abortion, warning that they might regret it and suffer depression . Democrats, on the other hand, were more likely to encourage patients not to store guns at home, especially if they had children. “Doctors need to think through these kinds of issues, because if they are dealing with politically sensitive issues, this [bias] is unavoidable,” study author Eitan Hersh tells The Guardian (U.K.). “As a patient, it’s useful to ask, ‘Is my doctor telling me this because it’s what the medical evidence says, or is it because of their worldview?’”
Enormous dinosaur footprint
Paleontologists have unearthed one of the largest dinosaur footprints ever recorded. Found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, the print measures 42 inches long and 30 inches wide—a 104 in U.S. shoe sizes. It is believed to have been made by a member of the titanosaur family, a group of fourlegged, long-necked herbivores that roamed the Earth during the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million to 90 million years ago. Researchers cannot determine the dinosaur’s exact size, but estimate it was nearly 70 feet tall and 100 feet long. While there is no shortage of dinosaur tracks scattered across the Earth—more than 20,000 have been discovered in the Gobi alone—this one is particularly large and well preserved. “It shows us the posture of the dinosaur— that it has a broad trackway,” Shinobu Ishigaki, one of the paleontologists who found the print, tells BBC.com. “If we continue to excavate more, we’ll be able to find out more about its walking style.” Three prints belonging to a different dinosaur species were also found nearby—a discovery that could help researchers understand the titanosaur’s social behavior.
Roman coins found in Japan
Ancient Roman coins have been discovered in the ruins of a medieval Japanese castle—and no one knows how they got there. Engraved with a portrait of the 4th-century Roman emperor Constantine the Great, the five copper coins were found in Katsuren Castle, which was built on Okinawa in the 13th century. Archaeologists don’t believe there was any direct link between the Roman Empire and the kingdoms that controlled Okinawa, reports The New York Times. They speculate that the coins were brought to the island in the 14th or 15th century, when the Kingdom of Ryukyu had bustling maritime trade with other Asian nations—many of which had once had contact with the Roman Empire. An Ottoman coin was also found at the site, with inscriptions that dated it to 1687. “I couldn’t believe they’d found coins from the Roman Empire in Katsuren Castle,” says archaeologist Hiroyuki Miyagi. “I thought they were replicas that had been dropped there by tourists.”
Caffeine curbs dementia risk
Coffee lovers probably don’t need any more encouragement to indulge in a cup of joe. But a new study suggests caffeine may help stave off dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment among older women, reports HuffingtonPost.com. Researchers tracked the brain function and caffeine consumption of 6,467 women ages 65 and older, for 10 years. After considering other risk factors—including depression, smoking, heart disease, and alcohol intake—they found the women who drank the caffeine equivalent of about three 8-ounce cups of coffee a day reduced their risk for dementia by 36 percent. The findings don’t establish a causeand-effect relationship, and it remains unclear how caffeine might help— the stimulant may block certain chemical receptors in the brain that could malfunction and impair learning and memory as people age. But Ira Driscoll, the study’s author, was nevertheless encouraged by the results. “The mounting evidence of caffeine consumption as a potentially protective factor against cognitive impairment is exciting,” she says. “Caffeine is an easily modifiable dietary factor.” An estimated 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s; one in three seniors dies with some form of dementia.
Health scare of the week
NSAIDs boost heart risks
Evidence is mounting that common painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen may be tied to greater risk for heart problems, reports The Independent (U.K.). Doctors have long been concerned that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may play a role in heart failure, because they reduce the body’s ability to metabolize salt. To investigate that link, researchers in Italy examined the health records of 7.6 million people who had recently been treated with NSAIDs, and compared them with data on 8.2 million people who didn’t use the drugs. They found that with the exception of celecoxib (Celebrex), NSAIDs raised the relative risk of heart failure by 19 percent. The higher the dosage of these drugs, the greater the risk. The researchers said the fact that these drugs could be bought over the counter fueled the misconception that they were harmless in high doses. Peter Weissberg, from the British Heart Foundation, said the study “serves as a reminder to doctors to consider carefully how they prescribe NSAIDs, and to patients that they should only take the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.”