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Skeptical reporter @ 2013-03-01

Skeptical Reporter for March 1st, 2013

Universal Pictures has won a bidding battle for movie rights to Proof Of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into The Afterlife, the runaway bestselling non-fiction book about a man who glimpsed the afterlife during a near death health crisis. It was a six figures deal and three studios chased the book. Proof of Heaven has topped The New York Times bestseller list since it was published in late October by Simon & Schuster. It is a first person account by Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who taught at HarvardMedicalSchool and other universities, embracing science over faith. Despite being a Christian, he did not embrace religious theories of the afterlife. That was until he contracted a rare bacterial meningitis that penetrated his cerebro-spinal fluid and attacked his brain. He lay near death, comatose for seven days in 2008. He awoke with a clear recollection of what he described as a journey to heaven. Several studios went after a book for its huge appeal to a faith-based readership.

Scientists are skeptical about a device that claims it can 'remotely detects hepatitis C', called C-Fast. The developers say C-Fast – developed from bomb detection technology – will revolutionize diagnosis of other diseases, being able to “scan” the body for hepatitis. The prototype operates like a mechanical divining rod – though there are digital versions. It appears to swing towards people who suffer from hepatitis C, remaining motionless in the presence of those who don't. One of the developers claimed the movement of the rod was sparked by the presence of a specific electromagnetic frequency that emanates from a certain strain of hepatitis C.  The device's scientific basis has been strongly contested by physicists. A Nobel prize-winner has said that it "simply does not have sufficient scientific foundation".

In the United States, two bills in Arizona and Oklahoma that might have hindered the teaching of science have not passed the respective Senates. Arizona's Senate Bill 1213 died on February 22, when the deadline for Senate bills to be heard in their Senate committees passed. A typical instance of the "academic freedom" strategy for undermining the integrity of science education, the bill targeted "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning" as supposedly controversial.  Senate Bill 758, the so-called Oklahoma Science Education Act, which would have undermined the integrity of science education has also failed to pass. February 25, 2013, was the deadline for Senate bills to pass their committees, but the Senate Education Committee adjourned its February 25, 2013, meeting without considering it. If enacted, SB 758 would have required state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies" and permitted teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

In South Africa, a woman claiming to be a psychic, who has requested to address the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on the "mental state" of athlete Oscar Pistorius who is accused of murder, has approached the Constitutional Court. The woman, who identified herself as Annamarie said she was contacted in a dream by Pistorius's late mother Sheila, who told her to make sure Pistorius was sent for psychiatric evaluation. After being rebuffed by the magistrate, she approached the High Court with her request to halt the bail application, but this court also rejected her application. Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The athlete has had bail set at 1 million Rand or more than 100.000 dollars. Annamarie claims to be the ex-wife of Dr Gerald Versfeld, who amputated Pistorius's legs when he was a child. She believed Pistorius had had a mental breakdown.

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

The way cancers make a chaotic mess of their genetic code in order to thrive has been explained by UK researchers. Cancer cells can differ hugely within a tumour which helps them develop ways to resist drugs and spread round the body. A study in the journal Nature showed cells that used up their raw materials became "stressed" and made mistakes copying their genetic code. Scientists said supplying the cancer with more fuel to grow may actually make it less dangerous. Scientists at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute and the University College London Cancer Institute have been trying to find out how cancers become so diverse in the first place. Their study showed the problem came from making copies of the cancer's genetic code. Cancers are driven to make copies of themselves, however, if cancerous cells run out of the building blocks of their DNA they develop "DNA replication stress". The study showed the stress led to errors and tumour diversity. It helped to prove that replication stress was the problem and now new tools could be developed to tackle it.

Two X-ray space observatories have teamed up to measure definitively, for the first time, the spin rate of a black hole with a mass 2 million times that of our sun. The supermassive black hole lies at the dust- and gas-filled heart of a galaxy called NGC 1365, and it is spinning almost as fast as Einstein's theory of gravity will allow. The findings, which appear in a new study in the journal Nature, resolve a long-standing debate about similar measurements in other black holes and will lead to a better understanding of how black holes and galaxies evolve. "This is hugely important to the field of black hole science," said Lou Kaluzienski, a NuSTAR program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The observations also are a powerful test of Einstein's theory of general relativity, which says gravity can bend space-time, the fabric that shapes our universe, and the light that travels through it.

A smartphone has been blasted into orbit from India by a team of researchers from the University of Surrey. They hope to use a purpose-built app to test the theory, immortalized in the film Alien, that "in space no-one can hear you scream". The phone will play out several of the screams submitted by people online. The test will monitor the durability of standard commercial components in space. It will also test two new innovative propulsion systems. The first - named Warp Drive uses the ejection of a water-alcohol mixture to provide thrust. The second technology is pulsed plasma thrusters. These use an electric current to heat and evaporate a material, producing a charged gas that can then be accelerated in one direction in a magnetic field to push the satellite in the other direction. The mission will see the so-called "smartphone-sat" - a world first - orbit the Earth for six months.

In an experiment that sounds straight out of a science fiction movie, a Duke neuroscientist has connected the brains of two rats in such a way that when one moves to press a lever, the other one does, too — most of the time. The neuroscientist, Miguel Nicolelis, known for successfully demonstrating brain-machine connections said this was the first time one animal’s brain had been linked to another.  Much of Dr. Nicolelis’s work is directed toward creating a full exoskeleton that a paralyzed person could operate with brain signals. Although this experiment is not directly related, he said, it helps refine the ability to read and translate brain signals, an important part of all prosthetic devices connected to the brain, and an area in which brain science is making great advances. He also speculated about the future possibility of a biological computer, in which numerous brains are connected, and views this as a small step in that direction.

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

The makers of Colon Help, a colon cleansing product, who had sued WordPress in order to silence a Romanian blogger who had pointed out that they were making unsubstantiated claims, have lost the trial. After initially demanding the blogger pay 100,000 Euros for damage to their reputation and not managing to convince him to take the articles down, Zenith Pharmaceuticals, who produce Colon Help, sued WordPress. They lost two separate actions in court, but still have the right to appeal the decision.

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3 thoughts on “Skeptical reporter @ 2013-03-01

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