MARCH 2, 2019
In “Shingles’ sneak attack” (SN: 3/2/19,
p. 22), Aimee Cunningham described the
experience of Nora Fox, a woman whose
bout with shingles nearly 15 years ago
left her with a painful condition called
postherpetic neuralgia. Fox hadn’t found
any reliable treatments, Cunningham
Fox praised Science News for our portrayal of shingles-related pain. “The
cover is excellent and looks just like I
felt,” she wrote.
As the story went to press, Fox had
a surgery during which doctors placed
electrodes under the skin near sites of
pain. A device lets Fox control when
stimulation is delivered to those areas.
But the treatment, called peripheral
nerve stimulation, may not work for all
patients with postherpetic neuralgia.
There are reports in scientific journals
of individual patients experiencing
relief from their neuropathic pain after
the procedure, Cunningham says.
Fox’s husband, Denver C. Fox, sent
Science News an update on her pain
since the procedure: “There [has] been
a significant change to the unbearable pain my wife has endured EVERY
afternoon and evening for 14 years,
despite trying every possible treatment the MDs knew of.” Shortly after
the procedure, “her pain is greatly and
Stone Age throwback
Tests with replicas of a 300,000-year-old
wooden spear suggest that Neandertals
could have hunted from a distance, Bruce
Bower reported in “Athletes hurl ancient
spears for science” (SN: 3/2/19, p. 14).
Reader Brenda Gray suggested that
Neandertals’ spears could have been
used for fighting instead of hunting.
The ancient spear found in Germany,
on which the spear replicas were based,
came from sediment that also contained
stone tools and thousands of animal
bones displaying marks made by stone
tools, Bower says. “Such evidence
indicates that the spears were used as
hunting weapons. Neandertals could
have used wooden spears in different
ways, but there is no evidence that I
know of for Neandertals using spears in
warfare,” he says.
Young and restless
Earth’s inner core began hardening sometime after 565 million years ago, Carolyn
Gramling reported in “Earth’s inner core
is relatively young” (SN: 3/2/19, p. 13).
The core may have solidified just in time
to strengthen the planet’s magnetic field,
saving it from collapse.
Reader John Bunch thought that the
timing of the inner core’s solidification
“lines up nicely” with the Cambrian
explosion, when life rapidly diversi-
fied about 542 million years ago. “It
leads me to wonder if there may be
some cause and effect or some other
relationship between the two that’s
going on here.”
That extremely low-intensity
magnetic field actually roughly lines up
with the Avalon explosion, an earlier
proliferation of new life forms called
the Ediacaran biota, between about
575 million and 542 million years ago,
Gramling says. It’s an intriguing coin-
cidence that researchers noted.
Earth’s magnetic field helps protect
the planet from radiation. So a weak
magnetic field might somehow be linked
with the Avalon explosion. One idea
is that increased radiation reaching
Earth’s surface hundreds of millions of
years ago might have increased organisms’ mutation rates, Gramling says.
But there just isn’t any evidence to support a causal link at the moment.
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Did you hear that?
A new laser technique can send
audible messages directly to a
listener’s ear, Emily Conover
reported in “Lasers dispatch audio
messages” (SN: 3/2/19, p. 12).
Reddit user UniversalQuasar
joked about how humans’
technological aspirations might
play out: “2019: I bet in the future,
we’ll have human colonization in
space. 2050: Apple LaserPods.”