Skeptical reporter @ 2013-03-29

Skeptical Reporter for March 29th, 2013

Professor Edzard Ernst, a researcher specializing in the study of complementary and alternative medicine, was fired from the journal “Homeopathy”, by the editor in chief. He has published part of the letter in which he was informed of the decision: “This is to inform you that you have been removed from the Editorial Board of Homeopathy.  The reason for this is the statement you published on your blog on Holocaust Memorial Day 2013 in which you smeared homeopathy and other forms of complementary medicine with a ‘guilt by association’ argument, associating them with the Nazis”. Edzard Ernst who has explained that he was merely recounting historical facts disagrees that he used a fallacy in the text on his blog: “My article and my motives for writing it could have been thoroughly misunderstood – in my view, this is unlikely because I explained my motives in some detail both in the article and in the comments that follow the article. Another explanation could be that Dr Fisher, who also is the Queen’s homeopath, lacks sufficient skills of critical thinking to understand the article and its purpose. Alternatively, he has been waiting for an occasion to fire me ever since I became more openly critical of homeopathy about five years ago”.

Parents may be growing increasingly reluctant to immunize their teenage daughters with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, a new study suggests. In 2008, almost 40 percent of parents surveyed said they did not intend to vaccinate their daughters against HPV, according to the study. But that number rose to nearly 44 percent by 2010, even as more parents said their pediatricians recommended the series of three shots. "Our study is the first to look at the reasons parents report for not getting their children immunized over time, and it's one of the few studies to look at this in a national sample," said study author Paul Darden, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Safety concerns about the HPV vaccine and worries about its side effects grew dramatically among parents over the study period. But the most common reason parents gave for not immunizing their children was parents' belief that this vaccine was not needed. Darden said that the rate of acceptance for the HPV vaccine is rising much more slowly than for other teen immunizations, and he suspects parents' fears are tied to sex.

The future of reality TV could be kids who think they've had past lives. A Los Angeles production company is currently holding a nationwide casting call for children who claim to have, or have had, past life memories. The casting is held for a new reality series, "Ghost Inside My Child," scheduled to air on the Bio Channel later this year. A pilot episode of the series aired a few months ago, with three kids who had gone through various steps of recovering memories of their alleged past lives. Now, producers Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina -- who are married to each other -- are looking for other families with kids who, as the request states, "have inexplicable memories and experiences of another life." The producers want to eliminate stories that are fabricated or kids whose tales of past life seem obviously prepped. There is another criteria to which the reincarnated rugrats will have their alleged past lives explored: access to documentation. Parents should make sure to analyze possible sources of information that may have inspired a child's "past existence."

A California creationist is offering a $10,000 challenge to anyone who can prove in front of a judge that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. Joseph Mastropaolo, who says he has set up the contest, the Literal Genesis Trial, in the hope of improving the quality of arguments between creationists and evolutionists, has pledged to put his own money into an escrow account before the debate. His competitor would be expected to do the same. The winner would take the $20,000 balance. The argument would not be made in a formal court, but under an alternative dispute resolution model known as a minitrial. Mastropaolo said he would present the argument in favor of a literal interpretation of the creation story once he had found a willing scientist to argue that a non-literal interpretation of Genesis is more scientific.

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

British scientists have developed a new method to create an entirely synthetic vaccine which doesn't rely on using live infectious virus, meaning it is much safer. What's more the prototype vaccine they have created, for the animal disease foot-and-mouth, has been engineered to make it more stable. That means it can be kept out of the fridge for many hours before returning to a cold area, overcoming one of the major hurdles in administering vaccines in the developing world. "What we have achieved here is close to the holy grail of foot-and-mouth vaccines. Unlike traditional vaccines, there is no chance that the empty shell vaccine could revert to an infectious form," said Dave Stuart, Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford. "This work will have a broad and enduring impact on vaccine development, and the technology should be transferable to other viruses from the same family, such as poliovirus and hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a human virus which is currently endemic in South-East Asia", he added.

Europe's Planck telescope, which last week showed us a picture of the oldest light streaming across the Universe, has another trick up its sleeve. It has also mapped the distribution of all the matter in the cosmos. This was done by analysing the subtle distortions in the ancient light introduced as it passed by the matter. The effect is a direct consequence of Einstein's theory of general relativity which tells us that space is warped by the presence of mass. Professor Simon White likens it to the way light is bent as it passes through the lumpiness of an old glass window pane. "There have been 'gravitational lensing' detections before, over small areas, but this is the first time we've been able to do this kind of thing over the whole sky," he explained. The telescope has produced a new contents list for the Universe: 4.9% normal matter - atoms, the stuff from which we are all made, 26.8% dark matter - the unseen material holding galaxies together, 68.3% dark energy - the mysterious component accelerating cosmic expansion. The number for dark energy is lower than previously estimated.

The skeletal remains of an individual living in northern Italy 40.000-30.000 years ago are believed to be that of a human/Neanderthal hybrid, according to a paper in PLoS ONE. If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal. “From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” co-author Silvana Condemi, an anthropologist, explained. The genetic analysis shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA is Neanderthal. Since this DNA is transmitted from a mother to her child, the researchers conclude that it was a “female Neanderthal who mated with male Homo sapiens.”

More than 80 new genetic markers linked with an increased risk of breast, prostate and ovarian cancer have been identified, according to the results of a dozen new studies published this week. Together, the studies involved more than 250,000 people around the world. In five of the studies, to be published in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers analyzed genetic information from 100,000 patients with breast, ovarian or prostate cancer and 100,000 healthy people in the general population. The researchers looked for spots in the genetic code (known as markers) where the two groups differed. They found 49 genetic markers that increased the risk of breast cancer, 26 that increased the risk of prostate cancer and eight that increased the risk of ovarian cancer. Some of these markers were shared among the three cancers, which is not unexpected given that these cancers are all hormone-related, the researchers noted. Currently, there's no cancer screening test available that incorporates these new markers. "We definitely believe that the results of these studies will be used in clinical practice," said study researcher Dr. Per Hall, a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

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

Several ads for nutritional supplements have been banned from airing on television, in Romania. The National Audiovisiual Council of Romania decided that the ads for Artrostop, ArtroStop rapid, UrinalAkut and Zeolit do not respect national laws. These nutritional supplements promised to cure certain diseases or contribute in curing certain medical conditions, something which is forbidden by the audiovisual law.

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