Skeptical reporter @ 2012-12-07

Skeptical Reporter for December 7th, 2012

Announcement: The Chinese language version of Skeptoid has been launched. The producers hope that this move will help promote the appreciation of science and scientific skepticism to the world’s largest market. Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena is an award-winning weekly science podcast. According to their website, Skeptoid has been fighting the good fight against the overwhelming majority of noise in the media, since 2006, supporting useless alternative medicine systems, psychics preying upon the vulnerable, the erosion of science education in the classroom, xenophobia of advanced energy and food production methods, and generally anything that distracts attention and public funding from scientific advancement.

And now for some skeptical news

The winner of the Australian Skeptics' Bent Spoon Award, that is given every year to the most deserving promoters of pseudoscience, has been announced. This year, the standout winner of the Australian Skeptics' Bent Spoon Award for ''the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle'' went to Fran Sheffield from Homeopathy Plus. The New South Wales-based organization, which promotes natural remedies for a variety of ailments, was gonged for claims made for homeopathy and whooping cough treatment and vaccine. Last week, the Australian Academy of Science released a booklet aimed at dispelling the myths about the dangers of vaccination and at reversing the falling trend of childhood vaccinations in Australia. About one in 12 Australian babies is not fully immunized. Awarded at a dinner in Melbourne, the Bent Spoon Award came with a trophy made from a spoon that had been ''psychically bent'' and mounted on a plinth of wood ''from Noah's Ark''.  Also honored at the dinner, which caps the group's national convention, was the lobby group Friends of Science in Medicine, which won the 2012 Skeptic of the Year Award. The group was recognized for challenging those Australian universities running courses in areas the Australian Skeptics consider ''unproven and over-hyped'' medical treatments. This includes areas such as chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture and reflexology.

TED is a very popular web site that features premier speakers to talk about their “ideas worth spreading” and also a well known event designed to open minds and help with information sharing. Even though TED events themselves feature quality speeches, the affiliated TEDx events don’t always meet the standards. The organizers of TED have been forced to write a letter to those in charge of affiliated events explaining what “good science” is, after several promoters of dubious topics have managed to take the stage in Spain and other countries. This is what the letter had to say: “It is your job, before any speaker is booked, to check them out, and to reject bad science, pseudoscience and health hoaxes. Vetting your speakers is hard work, and can lead to uncomfortable moments. But as TEDx organizers, your audience’s trust is your top priority, over and above any other personal or business relationship that may have brought this speaker to your attention. It is not your audience’s job to figure out if a speaker is offering legitimate science or not. It is your job. The consequence of bad science and health hoaxes are not trivial”. You can read the entire letter, that includes sections on what are the marks of good and bad science and what should raise some red flags, by clicking the first link below this episode.

The day after a federal judge cast doubt on a new state law banning sexual-orientation therapy for minors, a second judge issued a ruling upholding it. According to Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general, the ban on sexual-orientation therapy will take effect January 1st as scheduled for everyone except two therapists and an aspiring therapist who sued to keep the ban from taking effect. In the ruling, in a case brought by opponents asserting that the law violates free-speech, religious and parental rights, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller said the Legislature and governor had enough grounds to enact such a law, given that multiple mental health groups, including the American Psychological Association, have discredited the therapy. State Senator Ted Lieu, author of the law, said he expects the first case to be decided in favor of it. "On behalf of the untold number of children who can expect to be spared the psychological abuse imposed by reparative therapy, I’m thrilled that today’s ruling by Judge Mueller will continue to protect our children from serious harm”, Lieu said in a statement.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has a resolution discouraging homeopathy for animals on its agenda for the January 5th regular winter session of the House of Delegates. The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association submitted a resolution for HOD consideration that would discourage the use of homeopathy as ineffective. The resolution is as follows: Homeopathy Has Been Identified as an Ineffective Practice and Its Use Is Discouraged. The American Veterinary Medical Association affirms that safety and efficacy of veterinary therapies should be determined by scientific investigation. When sound and widely accepted scientific evidence demonstrates a given practice as ineffective or that it poses risks greater than its possible benefits, such ineffective or unsafe philosophies and therapies should be discarded.

The annual cost to industry of illegal copies of branded products is estimated at a staggering 650 billion U.S. dollars worldwide, and German machine tool manufacturers are becoming an increasingly popular target for pirating operations, but they are finding new ways of fighting back. Around one third of all companies have seen their business eroded by cheap imitations of their products, especially manufacturers of textile machines, compressors and plastics processing equipment. "Most companies have absolutely no idea just how easily their products can be copied," says Bartol Filipovic, head of the Product Protection department at the Fraunhofer Research Institution AISEC in Garching. The AISEC advises companies on how best to protect their products and IT services from unlawful attacks on their proprietary rights. One option is to install cryptographic devices that encrypt the data stored within the machine. These devices generate the corresponding decryption key based on the duration of electrical signals on the microchip. The signals emitted by other chips, even those from the same production batch, will be of a slightly different duration, rendering the key unusable. Companies that have implemented AISEC recommendations enjoy at least five to ten years relief from attacks by product counterfeiters. This time lead is crucial for companies to protect their expensive investments.

Drones could soon be helping protect rhinos, tigers and elephants in Africa and Asia, thanks to cash from Google. Controlled via a tablet computer, the small autonomous aircraft will photograph poachers and track animals via smart radio tags. The World Wildlife Fund used the 5 million dollars grant received from Google to fund software that could map where poachers strike. And it was developing a mobile DNA sampling kit to match body parts with animals. The WWF said poaching and trafficking of body parts was having a devastating effect on the wild populations of some species, setting back decades long conservation efforts. The past 12 months have seen a significant rise in attacks on some animals, such as rhinos. In five years the number of rhinos killed in South Africa has risen from 13 to 588, according to statistics from Traffic, which monitors the trade in endangered animal parts. Google gave the WWF the cash as part of its Global Impact Award programme. The first round of these awards handed out 23 million dollars to seven separate organizations.

Scientists say they have pinpointed genetic changes that allow some Ethiopians to live and work more than a mile and a half above sea level without getting altitude sickness. The specific genes differ from those reported previously for high-altitude Tibetans, even though both groups cope with low-oxygen in similar physiological ways, the researchers report. If confirmed, the results may help scientists understand why some people are more vulnerable to low blood oxygen levels caused by factors other than altitude -- such as asthma, sleep apnea, heart problems or anemia -- and point to new ways to treat them, the researchers say. Research over the last four decades has revealed that people born and raised in mountainous regions cope with altitude in different ways. Native highlanders in Tibet and some in Ethiopia, for example, are able to maintain relatively low blood hemoglobin concentrations at high altitude compared to their counterparts in the Andes, a trait that makes them less susceptible to chronic mountain sickness.

A baby star's mass has been measured for the first time. The star, called L1527 IRS, is only one-fifth the mass of the sun, and is expected to keep growing as the swirling disk of matter surrounding it falls into its surface. Astronomers estimated the star formed around the same time that Neanderthals evolved on Earth: just 300,000 years ago. In fact, if L1527 had grown in mass just a bit more quickly in its earlier years, it could be as young as 150,000 years old. Either way, the star is among the youngest discovered in the universe, said lead researcher John Tobin. "There's five times more material surrounding it that could be incorporated in [the star]," said Tobin, a Hubble fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia. "There is still a lot of room to grow, so to say." L1527 lies in the constellation Taurus, about 450 light-years from Earth. Its close distance makes it easier to resolve fine features in the disk. "There is a rotationally supported disk around this protostar," said Tobin, adding it's a "key element" in building planets. But it's far too early in L1527's evolution to talk about protoplanets, he added. In the scale of stellar evolution, the star is at Stage 0. By comparison, Earth's sun is a middle-aged matron, at 4.6 billion years of age.

And in local news from Romania we learn that

A Romanian thinks he can predict the correct date for the Apocalypse and it’s not this year. According to calculations by the Romanian, Gheorghe Gherasim, a former accountant, the Apocalypse will occur 100 years from now, on the 21st of December 2112. Based on numerology and a “revelation” regarding the apocalypse, the man is convinced that he has the correct answer to the date when the annihilation of the planet will occur.

The TED letter on good and bad science.

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