Skeptical reporter @ 2013-06-21

Skeptical Reporter for June 21st, 2013

Announcement:

A new petition has been launched that aims at banning Creationism and Intelligent Design in the science classroom by federal law. The petition states: “Even after 150 years after the establishment of evolution, some schools across the US are "teaching the controversy," including Creationism and Intelligent Design. Both of these so-called "theories" have no basis in scientific fact, and have absolutely zero evidence pointing towards these conjectures. These types of loopholes in our education are partially to blame for our dangerously low student performances in math and science. Therefore, we petition the Obama Administration to ban the teachings of these conjectures that contradict Evolution”. You can find the petition and sign it at petitions.whitehouse.gov.

And now, let’s look at the news in skepticism.

Naveena Shine, the Eastside woman testing whether she could live just on sunshine, gave up her experiment on day 47 of not eating, after losing 20 percent of her body weight. She explained that she had to end her experiment with the New Age spiritual idea of “breatharianism” because her money has run out and she doesn’t want to encourage others to try it without having their “belief systems lined up”. “I was just asking a question, but there was just so much negative response that that means the question can’t even be asked,” she said about her experiment. She also says that she didn’t want to be responsible for others trying “Living on Light”. Shine declared she simply wanted to know if “breatharianism,” a New Age belief that sunshine can substitute for food, was possible. She posted about her experiment on Facebook, YouTube and her Living on Light website. Doctors have warned that it is not possible for humans to photosynthesize, and four deaths have been linked to people who apparently had tried.

In the UK, a labor politician has defended his beliefs in extra-terrestrial life - after claiming to have fathered a child with an alien. Married father-of-three Simon Parkes, who represents Stakesby on Whitby Town Council, said his wife had rowed with him after revealing he had a child called Zarka with an alien he refers to as the Cat Queen. The 53-year-old driving instructor said he has sexual relations with the alien about four times a year. Councillor Parkes, who also claims his "real mother" is a green alien with eight fingers, said people only claim he is mad because they have not shared his experiences and that the encounters don't affect his work on behalf of Whitby residents.

Doctors were shocked by the case of a 12-year-old girl who was diagnosed  with acute pancreatitis, from the toxic side effects of more than 80 dietary supplements, which the girl's mother carried in a shopping bag. The girl's mother had been treating her with the supplements and other therapies for four years to treat the girl's "chronic Lyme disease," a condition that, experts say, doesn't actually exist. Doctors were able to control the girl's illness with standard therapies and although her story was unforgettable, it wasn't unusual. Parents now "routinely" bring children to her hospital with a variety of alternative remedies, hoping that nurses will administer them during a child's stay. There are more than 54,000 varieties sold in stores and the Internet, according to the Food and Drug Administration. About 50% of Americans use alternative medicine, and 10% use it on their children, notes Paul Offit, Children's Hospital's chief of infectious disease. He has published a book: “Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine” is which he paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market. "It's a big business," says Offit, best known for developing a vaccine against rotavirus, a diarrheal illness that killed 2,000 people each day, mostly children in the developing world. In the best cases, Offit says, alternative remedies are ineffective but relatively harmless, functioning as expensive placebos that may appear to relieve symptoms such as pain, largely because people expect them to. In the worst cases, scam artists masquerading as healers push bogus cures on desperate, vulnerable people, charging prices that patients can't afford.

In Japan, the health ministry decided to withdraw its recommendation for a vaccination to protect girls against cervical cancer after registering hundreds complained about possible side effects, including long-term pain and numbness.  The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is not suspending the use of the vaccination, but it has instructed local governments not to promote the use of the medicine while studies are conducted on the matter. It is rare for the ministry to withdraw a recommendation for a vaccine that is used regularly by local governments and is spelled out in a law. Girls can still receive the vaccination for free, although medical institutions must now inform them beforehand that the ministry does not recommend it. The risk of cervical cancer increases in women in their 20s or 30s. About 9,000 people contract the disease every year in Japan, and about 2,700 die annually. The World Health Organization recommends the vaccination, which is used in various countries.

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

A China-based supercomputer has taken the title of world's most powerful system. Tianhe-2, developed by the government-run National University of Defence Technology, topped the latest list of the fastest 500 supercomputers, by a team of international researchers. They said the news was a "surprise" since the system had not been expected to be ready until 2015. China last held the top rank between November 2010 and June 2011. According to the list, the US has the world's second and third fastest supercomputers, Titan and Sequoia, while Japan's K computer drops to fourth spot.

The world's population could reach 11 billion by the year 2100, according to a new statistical analysis. That represents 800 million more people than was forecast in 2011. Most of that increase comes because birth rates in Africa haven't dropped as fast as projected. "The fertility decline in Africa has slowed down or stalled to a larger extent than we previously predicted, and as a result the African population will go up," said study co-author Adrian Raftery, a statistician at the University of Washington, in a statement. The United Nations reported that the population hit 7 billion in October 2011. That's an amazing increase from the mere 5 million people who lived on the planet in 8000 B.C. or the 1 billion who were alive in 1805. Right now, Africa's population stands at 1.1 billion, but that is expected to increase four-fold, to 4.2 billion, by 2100. The rest of the world is unlikely to see big changes from the past estimate.

Raising awareness of organ donation on social media websites can help boost donation rates, according to a new study. Facebook began allowing users to make their status as organ donors visible in their profiles in May 2012, and on the first day of the change, about 13,000 people in the U.S. registered to become organ donors —20 times more than the average number of daily registrations. The effect of the social media initiative on its first day varied across states, ranging from a seven-fold increase in registrations in Michigan, to 100-fold increase in Georgia, the results showed. The findings mean that social media might be an effective tool for encouraging organ donation, as well as tackling other public health problems in which communication and education are essential, the researchers said.

Seasonal flu shots have prevented about 13.6 million cases of illness over the last six years, according to new estimates from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The researchers analyzed information from each flu season between 2006 and 2011, including the number of flu illnesses and flu hospitalizations, as well as how well the vaccine worked and the total number of people who were vaccinated each year. The analysis also revealed that flu vaccines prevented an estimated 5.8 million doctors' visits and 112,900 flu-related hospitalizations. While flu vaccination has had a substantial health benefit, even more flu cases could be prevented if more people — particularly young and middle-aged adults — were vaccinated, the researchers said.

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

The Romanian medical system may be in big trouble as union representatives have announced major strikes across the country and threaten that many doctors may quit their jobs. They require salary raises for doctors, but the Health Ministry declared there are are no funds available for such raises.

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