Skeptical Reporter @ 2012-11-09

Skeptical Reporter for November 9th, 2012

Interactions between prescription drugs and herbal or dietary supplements can cause complications including heart problems, chest and abdominal pain and headache, according to a review of existing evidence. Remedies and supplements including ingredients like St John's wort, magnesium, calcium, iron and ginkgo caused the greatest issues, researchers reported in the International Journal of Clinical Practice. Experts from the China Medical School in Taiwan studied data from 54 review articles and 31 independent studies involving 213 herbal and dietary supplements and 509 prescribed drugs. A total of 882 linked effects were observed, with warfarin, insulin and aspirin digoxin among the drugs which were most affected. In almost half of all cases, the drug interactions happened when ingredients in the supplements altered the way in which the prescribed drugs were absorbed and spread around the body, metabolized, and later removed from the system.

The largest, randomized, double-blind trial to date has confirmed what smaller studies have suggested and what many physicians have long believed: a daily multivitamin does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.  If fact, they might be detrimental to preventing such health problems. "Individuals who believe they are deriving benefits from supplements may be less likely to engage in other preventive health behaviors, and chronic use of daily supplements poses a financial burden, with annual vitamin-supplement sales in the billions of US dollars," Dr Howard Sesso and colleagues write. The investigators acknowledge that multivitamin supplementation may play a role in populations with nutritional deficiencies, and their study results do not extend to such groups. In an accompanying editorial, Dr Eva Lonn notes that over one-third of the US population takes some kind of daily multivitamin, swelling sales of dietary supplements to almost $24 billion in 2008.

The U.S. FDA has sent a letter to the Burzynski Research Institute demanding that they stop promoting their products, antineoplastons, which they claim can treat brain tumors, as being safe and effective. In the document, FDA officials explained that they have reviewed a number of materials promoting the use of the Burzynski products and have found them to be in violation of the law. This is what the officials explain in the letter: “The totality of these claims suggest that Antineoplastons, investigational new drugs, are safe and/or effective for the treatment of the various types of brain tumors indicated above, when they have not been approved for these uses. Since Antineoplastons are investigational new drugs, the products’ indication(s), warnings, precautions, adverse reactions, and dosage and administration have not been established and are unknown at this time”.

The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, created quite an uproar in 2007 when it opened with exhibits showing early humans co-existing with dinosaurs. Five years later, the public fascination with that baseless take on paleoanthropology seems to be fading. This week, the museum explained that the number of visitors for the year dropped by 10% and it's the museum’s fourth straight year of declining attendance and its lowest annual attendance yet. The $27 million museum drew 404,000 visitors in its first year. To ensure its financial health, the Creation Museum raised admission prices on the 1st of July, to $29.95 for adults, up from $24.95.

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

The British psychiatrist Simon Wessely and the Chinese science writer Shi-min Fang are the two inaugural winners of the John Maddox Prize. The prize rewards individuals who have promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, with an emphasis on those who have faced difficulty or opposition in doing so. Sponsored by Nature and the Kohn Foundation, and stimulated and organized by the UK-based charity Sense About Science, the prize commemorates a former Editor of Nature, John Maddox. John was distinguished for his championing of robust science. In this inaugural year, the judges were able to make two awards, each of 2.000 pounds. Shi-min Fang is controversial for his campaign against academic fraud.[1] Founder of New Threads, a publication and website that targets the overseas Chinese audience, he even challenged official support of traditional Chinese medicine. In the summer of 2010, thugs hired by a urologist attacked Fang with a hammer and, according to Fang, tried to kill him. Simon Wessely is a psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, who has specialized in two areas above all — the mental health of military personnel and veterans, and chronic fatigue syndrome. He carried out a massive and ambitious study to test the link between common viral infections and later fatigue, and found that there is no simple causal association. All along the way Wessely has had to suffer continued abuse and obstruction from a powerful minority of people who, under the guise of self-help organizations, have sought to promote an extreme and narrow version of the disorder. Hostile letters, e-mails and even death threats have been directed at Professor Wessely over two decades.

A new super-Earth planet that may have an Earth-like climate and be just right to support life has been discovered around a nearby star by an international team of astronomers, led by Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire, and Guillem Anglada-Escude, from University of Goettingen. The new super-Earth planet exists in the habitable zone of a nearby star and is part of a six-planet system. The system was previously thought to contain three planets in orbits too close to the star to support liquid water. By avoiding fake signals caused by stellar activity, the researchers have identified three new super-Earth planet candidates also in orbit. But they were most excited by the planet with the outermost orbit from the star. With a mass at least seven times that of the Earth, it orbits around the host star at about the same distance that Earth orbits the Sun. Also, the planet is likely to be rotating on its own axis as it orbits around the star creating a daytime and night-time effect on the planet which would be better at creating an Earth-like environment.

The simple act of turning a page has begun to look outdated with tablets replacing books and manuals for many working professionals. But an augmented reality display similar to Google Glasses frees up wearers' hands by allowing them to turn virtual pages using their eyes alone. Such a display comes in the form of futuristic glasses that allow wearers to see virtual maps, drawings or other images — up to 1 meter in size — projected in front of their eyes. A chip smaller than half the size of a postage stamp can detect the wearer's eye movements so that they just need to glance at an arrow key to turn a page in a virtual instruction manual or book. "The data glasses allow us to see the real world in the normal way, while at the same time registering our eye movements with the camera," said Rigo Herold, project manager at the Fraunhofer Center for Organics, Materials and Electronic Devices Dresden in Germany. Such eye movement control frees up the hands of the glasses wearers entirely so that they can focus on their real-world work .

A team of researchers from the Netherlands and Italy has succeeded in making sharp pictures of objects hidden behind an opaque screen. Materials such as skin, paper and ground glass appear opaque because they scatter light. In such materials light does not move in a straight line, but travels along an unpredictable and erratic path. To date it has not been possible to resolve an image from light that has been completely scattered. A team from the MESA+ Institute for nanotechnology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands has now succeeded in doing just this. The researchers were not able to form an image of the object directly, but the information needed to create that image still existed, just in a scrambled form. The two young scientists who are the first authors of this paper had the brilliant idea to find out whether that scrambled information is sufficient to reconstruct the image -- and they found a way to do so. They succeeded in making an image of a hidden fluorescent object just 50 micrometers across -- the size of a typical cell.

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

Plagiarism scandals are still plaguing the country, this time involving the minister of Education, Ecaterina Andronescu. Nature magazine has published an article that criticizes the supervision process in Romanian research. The article reveals that minister Andronescu has backed a financing request for half a million euros for research based on plagiarism. Ecaterina Andronescu is also accused of having delayed investigation in a number of cases involving plagiarism, including that of prime minister Victor Ponta.  Education minister Andronescu declared that the scandal is just misinformation.

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