Skeptical Reporter @ 2013-09-20

Skeptical Reporter for September 20th, 2013

People who take antioxidant supplements don't live any longer than those who don't, and some antioxidants may even cut life short, a new review suggests. Danish researchers report that people who took three antioxidants — beta carotene, vitamin E and high doses of vitamin A — tended to have an increased risk of death. "This study confirms what we already know — that antioxidant supplements are not effective in saving lives or making people healthier," said Dr. Pieter Cohen, an expert on the safety of dietary supplements and an internal medicine specialist at Cambridge Health Alliance. The general idea behind taking antioxidant supplements is that they are thought to help rid the body of unstable, free radical molecules that can damage cells and lead to heart disease, cancer or other conditions. In the review, researchers compared the mortality rates of people who took at least one of five different antioxidant supplements — beta carotene, vitamins A, C and E, and the mineral selenium — with people who received a placebo, or took nothing at all.

Nigeria’s This Day newspaper has published an article about a graduate university student who claims he’s “used science to prove that gay marriage is improper”. The newspaper reports that University of Lagos post graduate student Chibuihem Amalaha has made “many discoveries and inventions” in science and technology. Now, he’s turning his efforts to the issue of gay marriage. “In recent time I found that gay marriage, which is homosexuality and lesbianism, is eating deep into the fabric of our human nature all over the world and this was why nations of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God because they were into gay practice”, says Amalaha. He explains that “God gave me the wisdom to use science as a scientist to prove gay marriage wrong”. Amalaha says that his ‘groundbreaking’ experiments have shown that the north and south poles of two magnets are attracted to each other while same poles repel each other. He concludes that this “means that man cannot attract another man because they are the same, and a woman should not attract a woman because they are the same. That is how I used physics to prove gay marriage wrong”. His other high-school standard experiments include showing that negative ions are attracted to positive ones in the process of electrolysis. Despite massive evidence that homosexuality is all too common in nature, Amalaha further insists that biology also indicates that same-sex attraction is unnatural.

Despite its purported cleansing properties, holy water could actually be more harmful than healing, according to a new Austrian study on "holy" springs. Researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna tested water from 21 springs in Austria and 18 fonts in Vienna and found samples contained up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water, none of it safe to drink. Tests indicated 86 percent of the holy water, commonly used in baptism ceremonies and to wet congregants' lips, was infected with common bacteria found in fecal matter such as E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter, which can lead to diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever. Nitrates, commonly found in fertilizer from farms, were also identified in the water. If ingested, water containing nitrates over the maximum contaminant level could cause serious illness, especially in infants younger than 6 months, which could lead to death if untreated. "We need to warn people against drinking from these sources," said Dr Alexander Kirschner, study researcher and microbiologist at the Medical University of Vienna. The study, published in the Journal of Water and Health, also found that all church and hospital chapel fonts contained bacteria -- the busier the church, the higher the bacterial count.

Copper bracelets and magnet wrist straps have no real effect on pain, swelling, or disease progression in rheumatoid arthritis, according to new findings from a study conducted at the University of York. In the first randomized controlled trial to study the effects of copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps on rheumatoid arthritis, 70 patients with active symptoms each wore four different devices over a five-month period, reporting on their pain, disability, and medication use throughout the study. Participants also provided blood samples, after wearing each device for five weeks, in order to monitor changes in inflammation. The research shows that both the standard magnetic wrist strap and the copper bracelet provided no meaningful therapeutic effects beyond those of a placebo, which was not magnetic and did not contain copper. Dr Stewart Richmond, a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at York, who led the study, said: "It's a shame that these devices don't seem to have any genuine benefit. They're so simple and generally safe to use. But what these findings do tell us is that people who suffer with rheumatoid arthritis may be better off saving their money."

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

Google Maps just expanded its Street View to include the exotic Galapagos Islands, adding to the growing repertoire of remote and fascinating locales visible from any Internet user's armchair. Charles Darwin's famous trip to the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s was a heroic feat of science and human willpower, with many months spent making detailed observations of uncharted territory that would ultimately help form the basis of modern evolutionary biology. Members of the Google Maps team, in partnership with the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, took their orb-like 360-degree camera to 30 different locations across the islands, capturing the famous giant tortoises, sea lions frolicking underwater among fish-filled coral reefs, blue-footed boobies waddling on a dry, bushy landscape, and other unique sites. Through a site called Darwin for a Day – created by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the citizen science website iNaturalist – users can submit observations about the plants and animals that they see during their Internet trek through the new images, including details as simple as "plant" or as specific as a genus and species name, if they know it.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that is difficult to treat, and can be spread around hospitals and nursing homes by doctors, nurses and other staff. But a new study brings some positive news: the number of "invasive" MRSA cases— severe infections that typically require hospitalization, and can be fatal — has declined significantly in the United States. In 2011, there were more than 30,000 fewer invasive cases than in 2005. That's a 31 percent reduction in the rate of infection (per 100,000 people). The drop was seen primarily in MRSA infections acquired at hospitals and nursing homes, where most cases are picked up, said Dr. Raymund Dantes, a physician and researcher at Emory University in Atlanta. These cases are called health-care-associated MRSA, and often involve pneumonia and infections of the bloodstream and surgical sites. MRSA can also be spread outside hospitals in the community, in cases that typically involve skin infections. These MRSA infections can be spread by skin-to-skin contact in sports like wrestling, for example, and have been a problem in jails and homeless shelters or wherever people live in crowded, unsanitary conditions. The number of community-associated MRSA cases has declined by 5 percent since 2005, according to the study. The decline of MRSA is likely due to hospital programs that encourage hand washing, and the wider use of sterile techniques to keep catheters and intravenous lines clean

People who can keep a rhythm well have more consistent brain responses to speech, a new study finds. The ability of adolescents to keep a beat was mirrored in their brain activity while they were hearing spoken sounds. The findings hint that musical training could improve mental skills involved in language. Rhythm is a critical feature in both music and speech, said study researcher Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University. Grooving to a beat requires coordination between hearing and movement areas in the brain. Previous research has shown that language skills such as reading are linked to both rhythmic ability and to the brain's response to sound. In earlier studies, Kraus' team found that musicians' brains are better at encoding speech than non-musicians' brains. In particular, musicians are better at hearing speech in noisy environments. Musical training also improves rhythmic ability, which is important for reading skills.

With anesthetics properly given, very few patients wake up during surgery. However, new findings point to the possibility of a state of mind in which a patient is neither fully conscious nor unconscious, experts say. This possible third state of consciousness, may be a state in which patients can respond to a command, but are not disturbed by pain or the surgery, according to Dr. Jaideep Pandit, anesthetist at St John's College in England, who discussed the idea today at The Annual Congress of the Association of Anesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland. Pandit dubbed this state dysanesthesia, and said the evidence that it exists comes partly from a recent study, in which 34 surgical patients were anesthetized, and had their whole body paralyzed except for their forearm, allowing them to move their fingers in response to commands or to signify if they are awake or in pain during surgery. One-third of patients in the study moved their finger if they were asked to, even though they were under what seemed to be adequate anesthesia, according to the study. "What's more remarkable is that they only move their fingers if they are asked. None of the patients spontaneously responded to the surgery. They are presumably not in pain," said Pandit.

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

Romania may soon welcome some digital changes in its education. According to the new school regulations, soon to be finished, students will be allowed to learn off of tablet computers in school. The aim is to also digitize all of the manuals that students require in the classroom and to develop more educational software. After the learning materials have been created, the classrooms will be equipped with tablet computers that are connected to the teacher’s computer and each student will have one.

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