Skeptical Reporter @ 2012-10-05

Skeptical Reporter for October 5th, 2012

California has become the first state in the nation to ban therapy that tries to turn gay teens straight. Governor Jerry Brown announced that he has signed a Senate Bill, which prohibits children under age 18 from undergoing “sexual orientation change efforts”.  The law, which goes into effect on the 1st of January, prohibits state-licensed therapists from engaging in these practices with minors. "Governor Brown today reaffirmed what medical and mental health organizations have made clear: efforts to change minors' sexual orientation are not therapy, they are the relics of prejudice and abuse that have inflicted untold harm on young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians", Clarissa Filgioun, board president of Equality California, said in a press release. The bill was sponsored by Senator Ted Lieu who said bogus and unethical practices by mental-health providers to try to change a young person’s sexual orientation have resulted in irreparable psychological and emotional harm to patients.

Dozens of weight loss and immune system supplements on the market are illegally labeled and lack the recommended scientific evidence to back up their purported health claims, government investigators warn in a new review of the $20 billion supplement industry. The report, released by the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general, found that 20 percent of the 127 weight loss and immune-boosting supplements investigators purchased online and in retail stores across the country carried labels that made illegal claims to cure or treat disease. Some products went so far as to state that the supplements could cure or prevent diabetes or cancer, or that they could help people with HIV or AIDS, which is strictly prohibited under federal law. Consumers may not just be wasting their money on pills or tablets, but they could be endangering their health if they take a supplement in place of a drug thinking it will have the same effect, the report concluded. Federal regulations do not require the Food & Drug Administration to review supplement companies' scientific evidence for most of their products' purported health benefits before they hit the market. The Office of Inspector General found that in numerous cases, when companies did submit evidence to back up their health claims, it fell far short of government recommendations. One company submitted a 30-year-old handwritten college term paper to substantiate its claim, while others included news releases, advertisements and links to Wikipedia or an online dictionary, according to the report.

A chiropractor forged the signature of an Edmonton woman on a patient consent form, after she suffered a massive stroke that her family blamed on a neck adjustment. In early September 2007, Sandra Nette was left in so-called “locked in syndrome,” meaning she was so severely disabled that she was unable to walk and barely able to speak or swallow. Tests appeared to show tears in the arteries at the back of her neck. Nette and her husband, David, explained that she suffered the injuries after a neck adjustment by chiropractor Gregory John Stiles, from whom she had received treatment for years. The couple said Nette was not properly warned of the risks of the neck adjustment, and filed a $5 million lawsuit. And another man has revealed his health struggles after visiting a chiropractor. Richard Rossert of Nashotah suffered a vertebral artery dissection, or the tearing of an artery that supplies blood to the brain, that caused a stroke. This happened after the man returned from a visit to his chiropractor. “It happens a lot more than you realize,” said Attorney Karl Gebhard, who has worked on three of these types of cases so far.

Famous skeptic, science writer and libel reform campaigner Simon Singh has been threatened with legal action for criticizing a health magazine. Earlier this week, Singh took to the social media network Twitter to denounce a magazine called What Doctors Don't Tell You. Described by its editor, Lynne McTaggart, as being aimed at "intelligent women between 35-55" the magazine claims to provide information about what works and what does not work in both conventional and alternative medicines. Coverlines on the current issue include "sunbathe your diabetes away" and "how I avoided my hysterectomy through diet". Writing on Facebook, McTaggart called on the magazine's supporters to fight the actions of "bully boys" who wanted to push it off newsagents' shelves. Singh confirmed that he had contacted Comag, the distributors of WDDTY, to say that in his opinion the magazine was largely unscientific and was promoting advice that could potentially harm readers. "Also, many of the adverts appear to make pseudoscientific and unsubstantiated claims," he said. "I even offered to meet with Comag and introduce them to medical experts, but they have not accepted this invitation".

And now let’s look at some news in science.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover checked in on Mars using the mobile application Foursquare. This marks the first check-in on another planet. Users on Foursquare can keep up with Curiosity as the rover checks in at key locations and posts photos and tips, all while exploring the Red Planet. "NASA is using Foursquare as a tool to share the rover's new locations while exploring Mars," said David Weaver, associate administrator for communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This will help to involve the public with the mission and give them a sense of the rover's travels through Gale Crater." Back here on Earth, Foursquare users will be able to earn a Curiosity-themed badge on the social media platform for check-ins at locations that generate an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This partnership, launched with astronaut Doug Wheelock's first-ever check-in from the International Space Station, has allowed users to connect with NASA and enabled them to explore the universe and re-discover Earth.

In the first study of its kind, researchers have found that numbers of women in the science, technology and innovation fields are alarmingly low in the world's leading economies, and are actually on the decline in others, including the United States. The study maps the opportunities and obstacles faced by women in science across the US, EU, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea and Indonesia. It was conducted by experts in international gender, science and technology issues from Women in Global Science & Technology and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World. Despite efforts by many of these countries to give women greater access to science and technology education, research shows negative results, particularly in the areas of engineering, physics and computer science. Women remain severely under-represented in degree programs for these fields-less than 30% in most countries. In addition, the numbers of women actually working in these fields are declining across the board. Even in countries where the numbers of women studying science and technology have increased, it has not translated into more women in the workplace.

You may never have to worry about losing all the money in your account. A team of physicists is developing a scheme for noise tolerant and yet safely encrypted quantum tokens. Giving away the numbers of your card, your bank account and so on always holds the risk that the information may be duplicated and you will wake up penniless. Nature provides ways to prevent forging: it is, for example, impossible to clone quantum information which is stored on a qubit. But although safe, devices that use quantum information are generally quite challenged by noise, decoherence and operational imperfections. Therefore it is necessary to lower the requirements on the authentication process. A team of physicists at Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics, Harvard University, and California Institute of Technology has demonstrated that such protocols can be made tolerant to noise while ensuring rigorous security at the same time.

At a time when the value of gold has reached an all-time high, Michigan State University researchers have discovered a bacterium’s ability to withstand incredible amounts of toxicity in order to create 24-karat gold. “Microbial alchemy is what we’re doing – transforming gold from something that has no value into a solid, precious metal that’s valuable,” said Kazem Kashefi, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. He and Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and inter-media, found the metal-tolerant bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on massive concentrations of gold chloride – or liquid gold, a toxic chemical compound found in nature. In fact, the bacteria are at least 25 times stronger than previously reported among scientists, the researchers determined in their art installation, “The Great Work of the Metal Lover,” which uses a combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-karat gold. The artwork contains a portable laboratory made of 24-karat gold-plated hardware, a glass bio-reactor and the bacteria, a combination that produces gold in front of an audience.

And, now, in local news from Romania, we learn that

Due to abnormally high temperatures this month, apple trees in Sibiu district have blossomed. According to local people this phenomena is extremely rare, some stating that they have never seen such an odd thing in their entire lives. Expert horticulturist Ioan Anghel explains: "It's a rare event. There are some years when the autumn is long and because of high temperatures, apple trees blossom. Luckily this poses no problem and will not affect next year's harvest". The district of Sibiu has seen temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius in the past few weeks, 10 degrees higher than the season's average.

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