Skeptical Reporter for April 26th, 2013
Jim McCormick has been found guilty of a multi-million-pound fraud involving the sale of fake bomb detectors to Iraq and around the world. A jury found McCormick guilty on three counts of fraud over a scam that included the sale of £55 million of devices based on a novelty golf ball finder to Iraq. They were installed at checkpoints in Baghdad through which car bombs and suicide bombers passed, killing hundreds of civilians. Last month they remained in use at checkpoints across the Iraqi capital. McCormick, who faces up to eight years in jail when he is sentenced next month, also sold the detectors to Niger, Syria, Mexico and other countries including Lebanon where a United Nations agency was a client. He claimed they could detect explosives at long range, deep underground, through lead-lined rooms and multiple buildings. In fact, the handheld devices were useless. Their antennae, which purported to detect explosives, and in other cases narcotics, were not connected to anything, they had no power source and one of the devices was simply the golf ball finder with a different sticker on it. "Both civilians and armed forces personnel were put at significant risk in relying upon this equipment," said Detective Inspector Ed Heath, who led Avon and Somerset police's three-year investigation.
In a recently published study, Korean researchers evaluated whether CAM-use influenced the survival and health-related quality of life of terminal cancer patients. From July 2005 to October 2006, they prospectively studied a cohort study of 481 cancer patients. Their multivariate analyses of these data showed that, compared with non-users, CAM-users did not have better survival. Using mind-body interventions or prayer was even associated with significantly worse survival. CAM users reported significantly worse cognitive functioning and more fatigue than nonusers. In sub-group analyses, users of alternative medical treatments, prayer, vitamin supplements, mushrooms, or rice and cereal reported significantly worse health related quality of life. The authors conclude that “CAM did not provide any definite survival benefit, CAM users reported clinically significant worse health related quality of lives.” Similar data have been reported before. For instance, a Norwegian study from 2003 examined the association between CAM-use and cancer survival. Death rates were higher in CAM-users (79%) than in those who did not use CAM (65%).
The 'cinnamon challenge' went viral online and still has takers, but can result in choking, aspiration and lung damage. The decades-old stunt in which thrill-seeking teens swallow a tablespoon of dry cinnamon with no water, gag and spew out a cloud of orange dust went viral in 2012, resulting in more than 50,000 YouTube video clips of young people attempting the so-called "cinnamon challenge." Although the immediate physical effects -- coughing, choking and burning of the mouth, nose, and throat -- are temporary in most cases, attempts to swallow a large quantity of the dry spice may result in "long-lasting lesions, scarring and inflammation of the airway" or even lung damage, says a new research paper examining the dare. Nationwide in the US, at least 30 cases last year stemming from the challenge required medical attention, including ventilator support for some teens who suffered collapsed lungs, says the paper. The American Association of Poison Control Centers, which issued a March 2012 alert about the dare, reported 222 cinnamon-related exposures in 2012, up from 51 in 2011. So far this year, 20 exposures were reported from between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31.
During the armed confrontations following the Boston bombings, a post on Twitter from ”The Astrology Show” announced that astrology had predicted the death of a campus officer at MIT. The response from other users was not a welcoming one and the ”Heresy Club” blog commented on the statement: ”Sometime around all this mess, some genius had the foresight, and I do mean that with as much snark as I can possibly muster, to post this onto their Twitter feed: The shooting at the MIT in Boston is a tragedy that astrology predicted, almost to the day, one month ago. Words escape me to express the middling levels of idiocy needed to get onto your social media pedestal to take credit for predicting an ONGOING tragedy that left a man dead. This should go without saying, but where the hell were you guys in Waco, TX? Or, I don’t know, about five days ago in the same fricking state!? Let’s not forget the typical wishy-washy language of the actual prediction. Strange as it might seem, the world is susceptible to aggressive military action or civilian shootings generally about 365 days a year”.
And now let’s look at some news in science.
Scientists have made a step forward in their ability to mimic the sense of touch. A team from the US and China made an experimental array that can sense pressure in the same range as the human fingertip. The advance could speed the development of smarter artificial skin capable of "feeling" activity on the surface. The sensors, which are described in Science magazine, could also help give robots a more adaptive sense of touch. Using bundles of vertical zinc oxide nanowires, the researchers built arrays consisting of about 8,000 transistors. Each of the transistors can independently produce an electronic signal when placed under mechanical strain. The touch-sensitive transistors - dubbed taxels - have sensitivity comparable to that of a human fingertip.
The voice of Alexander Graham Bell has been identified for the first time, in a recording from 1885. On the wax-disc recording, the telephone inventor says: "Hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell." The recording is among the earliest held by the Smithsonian Institution, which runs the National Museum of American History. Bell's voice was recorded on to the disc on the 15th of April 1885 at his Volta laboratory in Washington. As well as saying his name, he also recites a series of numbers and lines from several Shakespeare plays. "Identifying the voice of Alexander Graham Bell, the man who brought us everyone else's voice, is a major moment in the study of history," said museum director John Gray. The disc was too fragile to play using a needle so the museum, along with researchers at the US Library of Congress and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, developed an alternative play-back system that used light and a 3D camera to turn its bumps and grooves into sounds. Also identified was the voice of Alexander Melville Bell, the inventor's father, in a recording from 1881.
Some 72,000 ladybugs have found a home within the Mall of America. The mall managers have released the insects inside the fully enclosed shopping and entertainment complex. The Bloomington, Minnesota, mall is enormous and has more than 30.000 live plants, including about 400 trees, which act as natural air purifiers for the indoor mall. But aphids — the pesky insects that feed on plants — thrive inside the Mall of America's many landscaped areas. Aphids, however, have a natural enemy: Ladybugs, which are valued by gardeners for their habit of eating pests like aphids. "Ladybugs are what I like to call, sort of a biological defense system," Lydell Newby, the Mall of America's senior manager of environmental services explained. The mall has released ladybugs in the past as an alternative to commercial pesticides, the International Business Times reports. Though some shoppers have complained that the ladybugs might fly onto food, a mall spokesperson noted that the insects tend to spend their lives on plants, not human food. The Mall of America has other green initiatives: It converts its restaurants' fryer fat into biodiesel fuel for the mall's security vehicles. And though it's located in the Twin Cities area (known for brutal winter weather), the complex has no central heating system. Instead, it uses passive solar heat from its 2 kilometers of skylights to warm the space.
Earth's internal engine is running about 1,000 degrees Celsius hotter than previously measured, providing a better explanation for how the planet generates a magnetic field, a new study has found. A team of scientists has measured the melting point of iron at high precision in a laboratory. Then they drew from that result to calculate the temperature at the boundary of Earth's inner and outer core. It is now estimated at 6.000 degrees C. That's as hot as the surface of the sun. The Earth has a solid inner core surrounded by a liquid outer core, which, in turn, has the solid, but flowing, mantle above it. There needs to be a 1.500 degrees C difference between the inner core and the mantle to spur "thermal movements" that — along with Earth's spin — create the magnetic field. The previously measured core temperature didn't demonstrate enough of a differential, puzzling researchers for two decades.
And, now, in local news from Romania, we learn that
A glorious full moon rose on the 25th of April and marked the pink moon event of this year. Romanians got to see the first full eclipse of the moon this year which was visible in most of Europe, central Asia, and Africa. The event has earned the colorful name “Pink Moon,” but not for its appearance. “This name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring”, writes the Farmers’ Almanac. It was the third shortest partial lunar eclipse this century, according to EarthSky.