Skeptical reporter @ 2013-07-19

Skeptical Reporter for July 19th, 2013

Skechers is finally paying back the customers it's accused of deceiving with the false promise that its athletic shoes would magically tone their booties like TV stars. The Federal Trade Commission is mailing more than half a million refund checks to purchasers of Shape-ups and other so-called toning shoes from Skechers after the company agreed to pay a $40 million settlement. The FTC said that Skechers (SKX) was paying the price for having "deceptively advertised its toning shoes, including making unfounded claims that its Shape-ups shoes would help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles". Skechers recruited celebrities to tout the shoe's claims, like Brooke Burke of "Dancing with the Stars" and Kim Kardashian. Skechers isn't the only shoe company to pay the price of false booty-shaping claims. Reebok had to pay the FTC $25 million in 2011 for "deceptively" advertising the buttock-toning abilities of EasyTone shoes.

A group of skeptics has offered to help a Tasmanian ghost hunting organisation as it investigates paranormal activity. Evidence presented by the Tasmanian Ghost hunting Society has been criticized by the Launceston Skeptics group. Last week, the ABC was invited to join the society as it investigated the historic Franklin House in Launceston. The group says it recorded shapes and sounds in the 200-year-old house that defy explanation. But the Launceston Skeptics group has criticized the evidence which has been posted online, as spokesman David Tyler says the observations were not compelling. "It has to be good, if it's an extraordinary claim, that is that there are ghosts there it needs very solid evidence," he said. Despite their doubts, the skeptics have raised the possibility of helping the ghost hunters observe future investigations. The Ghost Hunting society says it is open to the idea, provided it is approached in the right spirit.

Unlucky in life and love? If you are used to having things in the palm of your hands, here's a lifeline. For the Koreans, those lovers of all things beautiful and cosmetic surgeons, have now turned the scalpel, the electric scalpel that is, to the palms to alter those lines on them that dictate destiny. All that is needed is 10 to 15 minutes out of one's existence to alter between five and 10 lines, and that stage of life is history. Cosmetic surgeons in Japan are increasing their income with this type of intervention. Takaaki Matsuoka, who has performed 20 such operations at Shonan Beauty Clinic's Shinjuku branch in Tokyo, gave one woman a wedding line and soon after she wrote to him saying she had married. Two others are said to have struck the lottery, with the luckier one winning 2.9 million yen.

In the UK, pregnant women with morning sickness have been told to visit their GP by public health experts, after a nutritional supplement marketed to reduce symptoms was found to contain high levels of heavy metals. The warning from Public Health England comes after they received reports pregnant women in Asian and African communities in London were using ‘calabash chalk’ to treat their morning sickness. The treatment - also known as Argile, La Craie, Mabele, Nzu or Shiley - was recently seized by environmental health officers and was shown to have elevated levels of the metals lead and arsenic. Dr Yvonne Doyle, regional director for PHE London, said: ‘It is of great concern to us that pregnant women may be taking these chalk products as a nutritional supplement during pregnancy. We strongly advise against taking any medicinal or “remedy” product while pregnant without talking to your GP or health visitor about the health risk’.

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

An "intelligent" knife that can sniff out tumours to improve cancer surgery has been developed by scientists. The Imperial College London team hope to overcome the dangerous and common problem of leaving bits of the tumour in a patient, which can then regrow. Early results showed the "iKnife" could accurately identify cancerous tissue on the spot. It is now being tested in clinical trials to see if it saves lives. To avoid leaving cancerous tissue behind, surgeons also remove surrounding tissue. Yet one in five patients who have a breast lump removed still need a second operation to clear their tumour. For lung cancer the figure is about one in 10. The team at Imperial College London modified a surgical knife that uses heat to cut through tissue. It is already used in hospitals around the world, but the surgeons can now analyze the smoke given off when the hot blade burns through tissue. The smoke is sucked into a hi-tech "nose" called a mass spectrometer. It detects the subtle differences between the smoke of cancerous and healthy tissue. Tests on 91 patients showed that the knife could accurately tell what type of tissue it was cutting and if it was cancerous.

The Hubble space telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting Neptune, Nasa has confirmed. Designated S/2004 N 1, this is the 14th known moon to circle the giant planet. It also appears to be the smallest moon in the Neptunian system, measuring just 20 km across, completing one revolution around Neptune every 23 hours. US astronomer Mark Showalter spotted the tiny dot while studying segments of rings around Neptune. Nasa said the moon was roughly 100 million times dimmer than the faintest star visible to the naked eye. It is so small that the Voyager spacecraft failed to spot it in 1989 when it passed close by Neptune and surveyed the planet's system of moons and rings.

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the world's oldest lunar "calendar" in an Aberdeenshire field. Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months. A team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago. The pit alignment was first excavated in 2004. The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post. The Mesolithic "calendar" is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.

After 69 years, one of the longest-running laboratory investigations in the world has finally captured the fall of a drop of tar pitch on camera for the first time. A similar, better-known and older experiment in Australia missed filming its latest drop in 2000 because the camera was offline at the time. The Dublin pitch-drop experiment was set up in 1944 at Trinity College Dublin to demonstrate the high viscosity or low fluidity of pitch — also known as bitumen or asphalt — a material that appears to be solid at room temperature, but is in fact flowing, albeit extremely slowly.

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

Romanian students took the first spot for Europe ]n the International Physics Olympiad after winning two gold medals and three silver medals. The students also came in fifth place internationally. The gold medals were won by Cristian Frunză (a tenth grader) and  Cristian Andronic (an eleventh grade student). The winners of the silver medals were Tudor Ciobanu, Denis Turcu and Sebastian Dumitru.

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