Wetenschap - 21 maart 2002

English summary

The article in the Wisp'r of 7 March on stereotypical behaviour of polar bears in captivity continues to provoke reactions.

This week Wb received a letter (P.7) from Michiel Kotterman, researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research, in which he questions whether keeping large mammals such as polar bears in zoos can be defended on the grounds that it is contributing to conservation of a threatened species. 'Is Ouwehand going to breed polar bears to return them to the wild at the North Pole while the greatest threat to them is their polluted biotope?' He suggests the main reason polar bears are found in zoos is because they attract customers.

Not only the polar bears have caused reactions, but also the short article on possible drawbacks to the protective nutrient quercetin, also published in Wb 8 on the English page.

The article was placed on a website of the supplements industry NutraIngredients.com, and caused a flurry of reactions. Quercetin, which occurs naturally in a number of foods including tea, fruit and vegetables can neutralise aggressive substances in the body. However, this can change quercetin itself into an aggressive substance, which may damage DNA, as Hanem Awad discovered during her PhD research. This appears to have touched a sensitive spot of the supplements industry that earns a lot of money from preparations containing quercetin that are marketed as helping people suffering from prostate cancer or arthritis. The NutraIngredients editors defended their placement of the article, and Awad's supervisor Ivonne Rietjens declared herself 'mildly amused' by the commotion.

Myriame Bollen a teacher at the Dutch Royal Military Academy will receive her PhD on 22 March from Wageningen University for her research on ways to improve cooperation between the military and civil humanitarian relief organisations (abbreviated to cimic). Since the end of the Cold War humanitarian operations have formed the bulk of the activities of the Dutch military, providing support to civilian aid organisations working in areas that have experienced war. Bollen argues that the military should play a secondary and supporting role to the humanitarian and UN organisations which are often first on the ground in an area, and usually have better contacts with the local population. She cites the Dutch military presence in Albania in 1999 as a good example. The Dutch military commander there decided to house his troops in an office belonging to the aid workers there and not behind barbed wire in a separate camp. Daily contact meant that the aid workers could pass on information quickly to the military on where and what help was needed most.

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