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Skeptical Reporter @ 2012-11-30

Skeptical Reporter for November 30th, 2012

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes that one of the NBA's marketing deals is "a scam". He said that he banned the Power Balance product from the team's locker room. Cuban made his opinion clear in a video he posted on YouTube last week in which he criticized Power Balance bracelets before throwing the display case that was in the Mavericks' locker room in the garbage.The rubber bracelets have a distinctive hologram that is "based on Eastern philosophies of health and wellness", according to the company's website. Power Balance bracelets featuring NBA team logos in the hologram are available for $32.99 on the league's official website. However, Cuban said that he will not allow the product in the Mavericks' locker room. In November 2011, Power Balance LLC reportedly agreed to a $57 million settlement to a class action false-advertising lawsuit by some customers who alleged that the company intentionally exaggerated its products' ability to improve balance, flexibility and strength. Cuban hastily dismissed a similar product when watches with holograms were pitched on "Shark Tank", the ABC entrepreneurial reality show on which he stars. "No, I'm allergic to scams", Cuban said on the episode of "Shark Tank" that aired in February. "Seriously, this is not new. It's been disproven. What you saw is the placebo effect. There's athletes that wear it. It's a joke. It's a scam. It's not real".

MMR vaccine coverage has reached its highest level in 14 years in young children in the United Kingdom, says the Health and Social Care Information Centre. 91% of children under the age of two received the first dose of the jab between 2011 and 2012, a rise of 2.1% on the previous year. But this is still short of the 95% that experts believe is required to stop the spread of measles. Measles outbreaks were seen in Sussex and Merseyside earlier this year. Tim Straughan, chief executive from HSCIC, said: "Today's report marks a significant point in the continued rise of MMR coverage since it hit a low in 2003-04 - as for the first time in 14 years, nine out of 10 children in England have had the MMR vaccine before they turn two". This is the first time coverage in England has passed 90% since 1997-98, when immunisation fell due to the controversial claims against the vaccine that were completely without foundation. The first dose of the MMR vaccine should ideally be given to children between 12 to 13 months of age. They are given the second dose before they start school, usually between three and five years of age, although it can be given three months after the firsteasles can cause serious illness and can, in some cases, be fatal. Complications can include meningitis and encephalitis - inflammation of the lining of the brain. Rarer disorders of the eye, heart and nervous system can also develop.

For the people in a tiny Serbian village there is nothing sexy or romantic about a vampire. In fact, they are terrified that one of the most feared vampires of the area has been roused back to life. Rather than 'Twilight's' Edward, the people of Zorazje fear that Sava Savanovic is lurking in their forested mountains of western Serbia. They believe that he is on the move because the home he occupied for so long, a former water mill, recently collapsed. Savanovic is believed to be looking for a new home. "People are very worried. Everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people," said Miodrag Vujetic, local municipal assembly member. He added that villagers "are all taking precautions by having holy crosses and icons placed above the entrance to the house, rubbing our hands with garlic, and having a hawthorn stake or thorn. I understand that people who live elsewhere in Serbia are laughing at our fears, but here most people have no doubt that vampires exist".

The British government is taking the groundbreaking step of officially warning cancer patients and their families against substandard clinics – often abroad – that offer unproven treatments, following a Guardian investigation. The move follows coverage of the plight of children with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer diagnosed in babies that has a very poor survival rate. Distressed families, who are desperate to do anything they can to help their child survive, have been travelling as far as Mexico and China for treatments that clinics claim on websites can cure their children or relieve pain. The Guardian featured the case of seven-year-old Olivia Downie from Fraserburgh, who travelled with her family to a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, for "sono-photodynamic therapy". But the treatment did nothing to help and Olivia died a few days after returning to Scotland. The warning on NHS Choices points out that photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a genuine, licensed and useful treatment for some cancers but it "should not be confused with the unproven, unlicensed versions of PDT sold by some private clinics in the UK and overseas". "If you or your child are seriously ill with cancer, it is understandable to feel desperate and want to try every available treatment that might help," says NHS Choices., "however, if you opt for NGPDT or SDT rather than going with NHS advice or treatment, you could be putting your life at risk. Your condition may deteriorate further and you may experience unknown adverse effects from the therapy".

And now let's look at some news in science

Fifty-nine years after James Watson and Francis Crick deduced the double-helix structure of DNA, a scientist has captured the first direct photograph of the twisted ladder that props up life. Enzo Di Fabrizio, a physics professor at the Magna Graecia University in Catanzaro, Italy, snapped the picture using an electron microscope. Previously, scientists had only seen DNA's structure indirectly. The double-corkscrew form was first discovered using a technique called X-ray crystallography, in which a material's shape is reconstructed based on how X-rays bounce after they collide with it. But Di Fabrizio and his colleagues developed a plan to bring DNA out of hiding. They built a nanoscopic landscape of extremely water-repellant silicon pillars. When they added a solution that contained strands of DNA into this scene, the water quickly evaporated and left behind cords of bare DNA that they could see.

Botswana will ban commercial hunting from January 2014 over growing concerns about the sharp decline in wildlife species, officials have announced. "The shooting of wild game for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve local fauna", the environment ministry said. As much as a third of the global elephant population lives in Botswana. Recent estimates place the number at about 130,000. The ban, set to come into place on the 1st of January, could turn out to be controversial as it may pose a threat to local communities, in particular bushmen, for whom hunting is a means to survive. Furthermore, selling hunting licences to wealthy Westerners is an extremely lucrative business. Hunting concessions currently exist in the northern Okavango Delta and the parks of the Kalahari region, famous for its upmarket safari lodges. According to the environment ministry's official statement, the government will continue to issue special game licences "for traditional hunting by some local communities within designated wildlife management areas". Designated hunting zones will be turned into "photographic areas".

More than 20 polar research teams have combined forces to produce estimates of the state of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica in a paper in Science. Until now different measurement means have produced a wide range of estimates with large uncertainties. But sea-level rise is now among the most pressing questions of our time. The new estimate shows that polar melting contributed about one-fifth of the overall global sea level rise since 1992; other factors include warming that causes the seawater to expand. Supported by US and European space agencies Nasa and Esa, the research brought together data from satellites measuring the surface altitude, the flow of the glaciers and the gravitational effect of the ice mass to produce the first joint assessment of how the ice sheets are changing. The results show that the largest ice sheet - that of East Antarctica - has gained mass over the study period of 1992-2011 as increased snowfall added to its volume. However, Greenland, West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula were all found to be losing mass - and on a scale that more than compensates for East Antarctica's gain. The study's headline conclusion is that the polar ice sheets have overall contributed 11.1mm to sea level rise but with a "give or take" uncertainty of 3.8mm - meaning the contribution could be as little as 7.3mm or as much as 14.9mm.

The galaxy NGC 1277, just a quarter the size of our own Milky Way, hosts a black hole 4,000 times larger than the one at the Milky Way's centre. A report in Nature shows it has a mass some 17 billion times that of our Sun. The surprise finding is hard to reconcile with existing models of black hole growth, which hold that they evolve in tandem with host galaxies. Getting to grips with just how large black holes are is a tricky business - after all, since they swallow light in their vicinities, they cannot be seen. Instead, astronomers measure the black holes' "sphere of influence" - the gravitational effects they have on surrounding gas and stars. On a hunt for the Universe's largest black holes, astronomers using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in the US state of Texas undertook a survey that brought in a haul of nearly 900 host galaxies. The researchers were surprised to find that some of the largest black holes were to be found in small galaxies. NGC 1277 in particular was quite strange. "This galaxy seems to be very old. So somehow this black hole grew very quickly a long time ago, but since then that galaxy has been sitting there not forming any new stars or anything else. We're trying to figure out how this happens, and we don't have an answer for that yet", one of the researchers has explained.

And in local news from Romania we learn that

Four asteroids, on the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, that had been discovered by Romanian professional and amateur astronomers have been named after four other Romanians that are passionate about astronomy. Arpadpal, Alexescu, Anestin and Boico are the first asterois discovered by Romanians and that have officially received Romanian names. The large chunks of rock were discovered by the "European Near Earth Asteroid Research" (EURONEAR) team , a project initiated by Ovidiu Vaduvescu and Mirel Bîrlan. EURONEAR studies asteroids that have an orbit close to that of the Earth and has so far discovered over 1.500 asteroids. Asteroid Arpadpal received the name of one of the most famous romanian astronomers, prof. dr. Arpad Pal. Asteroid Alexescu was named after prolific sky-watcher Matei Alexescu, member of the British Astronomical Association and the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers in the US. Asteroid Anestin was named after Victor Anestin one of the very first Romanian science journalists to promote astronmy. Asteroid Boico received the name of amateur astronomer and engineer Vladimir Boico, who was president of the Bucharest Astroclub between 1991 and 1998.

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