Skeptical Reporter @ 2012-09-21

Skeptical Reporter for September 21st, 2012

When hormone replacement therapy was found to cause an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, many went in search of safer treatments to decrease their symptoms. In the ensuing decade black cohosh has won out as an overwhelming consumer favorite, now reaping millions of dollars in sales each year. But controlled trials of this supplement have seen mixed results, some case reports even suggesting that it can be toxic, damaging the liver. Damon Little, a bioinformaticist at The New York Botanical Garden and his colleagues an idea: to use DNA bar-coding to see if patients were actually taking pure black cohosh or some other related species. They were able to determine that one quarter of commercially available "black cohosh" pills were not the herb at all. Unlike drugs supplements are not required to be tested for safety or efficacy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before they hit the market. And testing to make sure the contents match the label are much more lax than it is for pharmaceuticals, opening the opportunity for mislabeling, whether it is accidental or intentional.

Childhood vaccines do not cause autism. Barack Obama was born in the United States. Global warming is confirmed by science. And yet, many people believe claims to the contrary. Psychological scientist Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia and colleagues highlight the cognitive factors that make certain pieces of misinformation so "sticky" and identify some techniques that may be effective in debunking or counteracting erroneous beliefs. The main reason that misinformation is sticky, according to the researchers, is that rejecting information actually requires cognitive effort. Weighing the plausibility and the source of a message is cognitively more difficult than simply accepting that the message is true. If the topic isn't very important to you or you have other things on your mind, misinformation is more likely to take hold. Even worse, efforts to retract misinformation often backfire, paradoxically amplifying the effect of the erroneous belief. In their report, Lewandowsky and colleagues offer some strategies for setting the record straight. Provide people with a narrative that replaces the gap left by false information. Focus on the facts you want to highlight, rather than the myths. Make sure that the information you want people to take away is simple and brief. Consider your audience and the beliefs they are likely to hold. Strengthen your message through repetition.

If you are not one to go for end of the world prophecies, but do like the idea of the Mayan calendar giving us hints for the future, then you can take part in a concert/party/sound healing event in Great Britain, in December. This is what the organizers of the party explain about the event: "December 2012 is being looked upon as the time of a significant spiritual shift in the collective consciousness of the planet into this new Golden Age. That’s why 12,000 people will be assembling in Wembley Arena on 12.12.12 to experience The Big Om mass sound healing event – an event with the power at a quantum level to shift the vibration of the planet – which will be live-streamed around the world. The Big Om is a five hour shamanic journey lead by metaphysical guru and sound healer Barefoot Doctor, starring Basement Jaxx plus introducing some of today’s leading electronic dance music acts/DJ’s plus a variety of gurus talking over the beats".

Apparently feng shui isn't really good for anything, not even for justifying hateful behavior. The owner of a small chain of Asian restaurants — two in Greenwich Village, of all places — canceled a same-sex wedding party after saying gay and feng shui don’t go together, a lawsuit charges. Newlyweds Barrett Greene and Thomas Eng say the owner violated their civil rights. The owner of Amber West Village is being sued by Barrett Greene and Thomas Eng after their planned wedding reception and rehearsal dinner was canceled. Despite the early hitch, their love story had a happy ending. The couple, who registered at Tiffany’s, got married in a rooftop ceremony at the Midtown Loft and Terrace on 29th St. on June 9. Their wedding website doesn’t say anything about that venue’s feng shui, though it does note that the teak lattice flooring might “pose some difficulty for women in very slender heels".

And now let's look at some news in science

Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain. This is shown by researchers from Uppsala University in a new study. The findings may represent a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. Thomas Ågren, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology has shown, that it is possible to erase newly formed emotional memories from the human brain. When a person learns something, a lasting long-term memory is created with the aid of a process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins. When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then re-stabilized by another consolidation process. By disrupting the re-consolidation process that follows upon remembering, we can affect the content of memory. "These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks," says Thomas Ågren.

Researchers have developed a new "video" game for blind people that can help them learn about a new space using only audio cues. The system, developed by a team led by Lotfi Merabet of Harvard Medical School and Jaime Sánchez of the University of Chile, is called the Audiobased Environment Simulator and uses only audio-based cues to allow blind users to learn about the layout of a previously unfamiliar building. After playing the game, participants were better able to navigate a real-world version of the space explored in the virtual reality environment, confirming that the spatial information learned in the game was accurate and transferable. "Learning through such interactive games represents an innovative and motivating way to improve crucial skills that allow blind individuals to remain functionally independent," says Merabet.

With the combined power of NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes as well as a cosmic magnification effect, a team of astronomers led by Wei Zheng of The Johns Hopkins University has spotted what could be the most distant galaxy ever detected. Light from the young galaxy captured by the orbiting observatories shone forth when the 13.7-billion-year-old universe was just 500 million years old. The far-off galaxy existed within an important era when the universe began to transit from the so-called "Dark Ages." During this period, the universe went from a dark, starless expanse to a recognizable cosmos full of galaxies. The discovery of the faint, small galaxy opens up a window into the deepest, remotest times of cosmic history.

More than 2 million consumers got to gloat about their shrewdness in procuring an iPhone 5, with its larger screen and 200 additional features through its new operating system. But once the novelty wears off, will they still enjoy their purchase? It depends on why they bought it, says new research from a marketing professor at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Across five studies and four product domains, Joseph Goodman, assistant professor of marketing, found that consumers fail to estimate their feature usage rate before purchasing multifunctional products, which negatively affects product satisfaction. "When they do actually elaborate on usage, then they tend to buy lowered featured products, and they tend to be more satisfied with their purchase, regardless of whether they buy a high or low feature product", Goodman says.

And now, in local news from Romania we learn that

 Romania will finally get its Magurele project of building a laser and the laboratories for the "Extreme Light Infrastructure – Nuclear Physics ELI-NP". Financing has been approved by the European Union for the large project that will involve 40 academic institutions from 13 member states of the EU. The project will give a boost to Romanian research and will help with numerous studies in the fields of nuclear physics, astrophysics, materials science and many others. Currently Romania puts away only 0.5% of its Gross Internal Product for research and development.

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