Skeptical reporter @ 2013-03-15

Skeptical Reporter for March 15th, 2013

The majority of homeschooled children in America belong to evangelical Christian families, but some parents are dismayed by the textbooks they can use to teach their children. For many evangelical families, the rationale for homeschooling has nothing to do with a belief in Young Earth Creationism or a rejection of evolutionary theory. Now, evangelical families who embrace modern science are becoming more vocal about it -- and are facing the inevitable criticism that comes with that choice. At least one publisher, Christian Schools International in Grand Rapids, Michigan has noted the demand and produced textbooks that promote Christian values and modern science. "Most science textbooks that attempt to present the content from a Christian perspective also attempt to discredit the theory of evolution," says Ken Bergwerff, a science curriculum specialist at Christian Schools International. "Some do it discreetly; others are quite blatant. The CSI science curriculum clearly presents science from a Christian perspective, but does not attempt to discredit the theory of evolution. The content presents God as the author of all of creation, no matter how he did it or when he did it."

Following six years of preparations, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) school in the Canadian province of British Columbia has applied to local educational authorities to become the first institute in the country to offer a TCM curriculum at university-degree level. PCU College of Holistic Medicine in Burnaby wants to launch a five-year degree program in TCM this September. Currently, the college offers three-year diploma programs in both acupuncture and Chinese medicine. With some 1,400 TCM practitioners and 400 students currently registered in the western Canadian province, PCU College Dean Dr. John Yang exaplined in a recent interview that he hopes this move will offer a greater public acceptance of the practice. He also supports the idea that TCM shouldn't be taken in tandem with western medicines.

In Australia a new study has revealed that sickness being attributed to wind turbines is more likely to have been caused by people getting alarmed at the health warnings circulated by activists. Complaints of illness were far more prevalent in communities targeted by anti-windfarm groups, said the report's author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University. His report concludes that illnesses being blamed on windfarms are more than likely caused by the psychological effect of suggestions that the turbines make people ill, rather than by the turbines themselves. "If windfarms were intrinsically unhealthy or dangerous in some way, we would expect to see complaints applying to all of them, but in fact there is a large number where there have been no complaints at all," Chapman said. The report, which is the first study of the history of complaints about windfarms in Australia, found that 63% had never been subject to noise or health complaints. In the state of Western Australia, where there are 13 windfarms, there have been no complaints. The study shows that the majority of complaints (68%) have come from residents near five windfarms that have been heavily targeted by opponent groups. The report says more than 80% of complaints about health and noise began after 2009 when the groups "began to add health concerns to their wider opposition".

In Malawi, a traditional healer has been sentenced to eight years imprisoned with hard labour for wounding two 10-month-old babies when he was cleansing them from witchcraft. Frank Josamu was arrested on February 21st for wounding the children in a witchcraft cleansing ritual which ended in the babies sustaining second degree burns that covered 18 percent of their total body surface. Police Prosecutor, Inspector Lloyd Kachotsa told the court that the accused deserved the harsh sentence due to the permanent scars inflicted on the unsuspecting children and for not adhering  to messages promoted by advocacy groups regarding the issue of witchcraft. However, Josamu who pleaded guilty to the offence told the court to be lenient with him claiming he did not choose to cleanse people, but was forced to because they insisted and explained that he looks after orphans and his children who will suffer if he is imprisoned.

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

Rapid treatment after HIV infection may be enough to "functionally cure" about a 10th of those diagnosed early, say researchers in France. They have been analysing 14 people who stopped therapy, but have since shown no signs of the virus resurging. However, most people infected with HIV do not find out until the virus has fully infiltrated the body. The group of patients, known as the Visconti cohort, all started treatment within 10 weeks of being infected. The patients were caught early as they turned up in hospital with other conditions and HIV was found in their blood. They stuck to a course of antiretroviral drugs for three years, on average, but then stopped. The drugs keep the virus only in check, they cannot eradicate it from its hiding places inside the immune system. Normally, when the drugs stop, the virus bounces back. This has not happened in the Visconti patients. Some have been able to control HIV levels for a decade. This suggests that by hitting the virus hard when it first infects the body, it might be possible to live for years without needing treatment - a functional cure. The hope is that by investigating how patients treated early, and a group of people who are genetically resistant to HIV, can combat the virus - it will give scientists clues for developing cures for everyone else.

Dentists may one day be able to replace missing teeth with ones newly grown from gum cells, say UK researchers. The team from King's College London took cells from adult human gum tissue and combined them with another type of cell from mice to grow a tooth. They say using a readily available source of cells pushes the technology a step nearer to being available to patients. But it is still likely to be many years before dentists can use the method. In the latest study they took human epithelial cells from the gums of human patients, grew more of them in the lab and mixed them with mesenchyme cells from mice. The mesenchyme cells were cultured to be "inducing" - they instruct the epithelial cells to start growing into a tooth. Transplanting the cell combination into mice, researchers were able to grow hybrid human/mouse teeth that had viable roots. The next step will be to get an easily accessible source of human mesenchyme cells and grow enough of them for it to be a useful technique in the clinic.

Researchers have conducted a remote reconnaissance of a distant planetary system with a new telescope imaging system that sifts through the blinding light of stars. Using a suite of high-tech instrumentation and software called Project 1640, the scientists collected the first chemical fingerprints, or spectra, of this system's four red exoplanets, which orbit the HR 8799 star, 128 light years away from Earth. "An image is worth a thousand words, but a spectrum is worth a million," said lead author Ben R. Oppenheimer, associate curator and chair of the Astrophysics Department at the AmericanMuseum of Natural History. The planets surrounding the star of this study, HR 8799, have been imaged in the past. But except for a partial measurement of the outermost planet in the system, the star's bright light overwhelmed previous attempts to study the planets with spectroscopy, a technique that splits the light from an object into its component colors. Because every chemical, such as carbon dioxide, methane, or water, has a unique light signature in the spectrum, this technique is able to reveal the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere. With this system, the researchers are the first to determine the spectra of all four planets surrounding HR 8799.

A complete ban on the sale of cosmetics developed through animal testing has taken effect in the EU. The ban applies to all new cosmetics and their ingredients sold in the EU, regardless of where in the world testing on animals was carried out. The 27 EU countries have had a ban on such tests in place since 2009. But the EU Commission is now asking the EU's trading partners to do the same. The anti-vivisection group BUAV and the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE) said they had spent more than 20 years campaigning on the issue and had enlisted celebrities including Sir Paul McCartney, Morrissey and Sienna Miller to their cause. They congratulated the EU Commission for putting the ban into effect. The EU Commission says it is working with industry to develop more alternatives to animal testing, and that it allocated 238 million euros in 2007-2011 for such research.

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

Students at the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science in Cluj have presented the robots they have been working on for months. The robots were a success with the public present at the UBBots challenge and promise to help people in various tasks. Some of the most appreciated robots were “Bad dog Nicuşor” who will protect the owner’s home, Dronică, the robot that will do your dishes and the automated bartender.

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