Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2021

SciTech Talk: Smallpox, self-control & ancient coins

By MICHAEL YAMAKAWA | March 14, 2013

Precautionary measures against smallpox: The last natural case of smallpox was recorded on Oct. 26, 1977 in Somalia. Since the WHO and the CDC put forth vast efforts for international vaccination programs, this day is celebrated as an anniversary of the virus’ eradication.

However, while natural cases of the pox are no longer a threat, the United States government is taking precautionary measures to prevent any potential spread of smallpox following a bioterrorist attack.

In fact, the U.S. just purchased enough smallpox medication for two million people, heating up a debate about the exorbitant costs at which the country is taking measures against potential terrorism. While there have been rumors about renegade stocks of smallpox that can be engineered in genetics labs, the U.S. is spending $200 per treatment on medication that may never be used. Opinions on investing in solutions for unpredictable events vary; some feel that the U.S. should not make such lucrative contracts and others, including many scientists, believe bioterrorism is a very real threat.

Is self-control a human ability?: Self-control is a paradoxical biological ability. For one thing, it directly defies our natural instincts to succumb to immediate satisfaction.

A personal example for many is eating instead of exercising. People with strong self-control, however, are able to set aside their biological urge to eat to stay healthy in the long run.

Recent studies at the University of Vienna have found that this ability is interestingly not specific to humans. Researchers found that cockatoos, an Australasian bird species, will actually return food as long as they are rewarded with better or more food in the future.

The researchers found that these inclinations were not random decisions, but well thought-out processes. The birds consistently chose to disregard their natural urge to take available food when the food was later exchanged for something of higher value. Perhaps humans should behave in a similar manner!

Afro-asian relations root back to 1400s: Current relations between China and Africa are reaching an economic and political climax as trade between the two countries increased by 700 percent in the 1990s, and China recently became Africa’s biggest trading partner. While trading history beyond the contemporary period was unclear, recent evidence shows that the countries’ trading days go all the way back to the 1400s. An ancient coin called “Yongle Tongbao” issued by Emperor Yongle was found in a Kenyan island, providing evidence that there were some interactions between the two regions. It is postulated that Zheng He, the Christopher Columbus of China, went to Kenya on a political and trade mission. The finding not only evidenced the political nature of his visit to Africa, but also opens up discussions about African-Asian relationships during this period.

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