Skeptical reporter @ 2013-08-09

Skeptical Reporter for August 9th, 2013

In Australia, chiropractors will be forced to stop making anti-vaccination and other misleading claims in a crackdown on operators from the profession's governing board. Earlier this year some chiropractors were revealed to have received government-mandated training by anti-vaccination clinicians who believe diet and ''keeping the spine in line'' will prevent deadly diseases such as polio. The chairman of the Chiropractic Board of Australia said it had removed some courses from its approved training schedule and would be randomly auditing practitioners to ensure they were not making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of chiropractic. It also announced all registered chiropractors would be required to remove anti-vaccination claims from their websites.

A new study has examined the relationship between belief in precognition and sense of control. They found that belief in psychics, clairvoyance, fortune telling, is one way people may compensate for feeling a lack of control in life. And, that this actually works to provide a greater sense of control. In an abstract from the paper the issue is explained: ”We argue that believing the future is predictable increases one’s own perceived ability to exert control over future events. As a result, belief in precognition should be particularly strong when people most desire control–that is, when they lack it. Prediction therefore acts as a compensatory mechanism in times of low control. The present research provides new insights into the psychological functions of seemingly irrational beliefs, like belief in psychic abilities”.

Plants of the Aristolochia genus have for centuries been used in Chinese herbal remedies, but they contain a naturally carcinogenic compound that causes mutations in the cells of people who consume them, according to two studies recently published. The papers reveal that the compound, called aristolochic acid, causes more mutations than two of the best-known environmental carcinogens: tobacco smoke and UV light. “A lot of people in the lay public assume that if something is herbal or natural that it is necessarily healthy, But this work very clearly shows that this natural plant product is extremely genotoxic and carcinogenic,” said Marc Ladanyi, an investigator in the human oncology and pathogenesis program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who was not involved in the studies. Despite the long history of Aristolochia use in herbal remedies, evidence of the plants’ inherent danger emerged only recently. Aristolochic acid has been banned in most countries since 2003. But there are a lot of countries in Asia, like India, that still use it as part of their traditional herbal medicines. And even though it is banned in places like China, it is still readily available.

Demons can be sexually transmitted, say three young exorcists, and when it happens, it can be a real menace. The girls, who hail from Phoenix, Arizona, are featured in a new documentary by film Vice.com. They travel all over the world, meeting with people who have been afflicted with what they say are sexually transmitted demons, and commanding those demons to leave the person alone. The ringleader is Brynn Larson who was raised by televangelist Bob Larson, who claims he recently cured a man of a homosexual curse and the demon inside him. The elder Larson believes that about 50% of the entire world’s population is possessed by demons.

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

Several vaccines for malaria have been developed over the past few decades, but none offer complete protection. Now, for the first time, US researchers have developed a vaccine that protects 100 percent of those given five doses of the vaccine, albeit in a very small trial. Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. It affects more than 200 million people annually and, according to the World Health Organisation, it killed 660,000 people in 2010, most of them children. The new vaccine, dubbed PfSPZ, has been developed by Sanaria, a US biotech firm, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This was only a proof-of-principle study, although a very important one, and the experiment will need to be repeated on a larger number of subjects before it can be taken into field trials in malaria endemic areas.

The sun is gearing up for a major solar flip, NASA says. In an event that occurs once every 11 years, the magnetic field of the sun will change its polarity in a matter of months, according to new observations. The flipping of the sun's magnetic field marks the peak of the star's 11-year solar cycle and the halfway point in the sun's "solar maximum" — the peak of its solar weather cycle. NASA released a new video describing the sun's magnetic flip. As the field shifts, the "current sheet" — a surface that radiates billions of kilometers outward from the sun's equator — becomes very wavy, NASA officials said. Earth orbits the sun, dipping in and out of the waves of the current sheet. The transition from a wave to a dip can create stormy space weather around Earth, NASA officials said. While the polarity shift can stir up some stormy weather, it also provides extra shielding from dangerous cosmic rays.

South Korea has switched on a road which can recharge electric vehicles as they drive over it. The project's developer says the 12 kilometers route is the first of its kind in the world. It means vehicles fitted with compatible equipment do not need to stop to recharge and can also be fitted with smaller than normal batteries. Two public buses are already using the technology and there are plans to add 10 more by 2015. "It's quite remarkable that we succeeded with the OLEV [online electric vehicle] project so that buses are offering public transportation services to passengers," said Dong-Ho Cho, who led the team behind the scheme at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Because the vehicles do not need to stock up on energy before making their journey, the batteries involved can be three times smaller than would otherwise be needed. This reduces the weight of the vehicles helping reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when generating the power required. However, the cost of installing such a system are currently very high.

Researchers have reconstructed the structure of 4-billion-year-old proteins. The primeval proteins could reveal new insights about the origin of life, said study co-author José Manuel Sanchez Ruíz, a physical chemist at the University of Granada in Spain. Exactly how life emerged on Earth more than 3 billion years ago is a mystery. But it's difficult to recreate events that happened so far in the distant past. Sanchez Ruiz and his colleagues decided to study a class of proteins called thioredoxins, which perform dozens of cellular functions in organisms across all three domains of life: Archaea, Eukaryotes and Bacteria. The proteins' broad functionality and presence in all life forms suggests they have primordial roots, the researchers said. The team analyzed all the differences between the versions of the proteins found in organisms in each domain, and mapped those differences to the dates when the organisms are believed to have diverged. Using that information, they determined the likely amino acid sequence of the ancient thioredoxin proteins, which spawned all other versions and existed in the most primitive life. They then recreated the protein in the lab. The "fossil" protein was incredibly stable, bound to many different chemicals and functioned well in a highly acidic environment.

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

A study on consumers revealed that 7 in 10 Romanians read the labels of products they purchase and more than half of those interviewed are concerned with the existence of food additives in products. Unfortunately, it was also revealed that Romanians can’t tell the difference between additives that may be harmful to their health and those that have no negative effects.

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