Skeptical Reporter @ 2013-09-27

Skeptical Reporter for September 27th, 2013

The man who shot to Internet fame several years ago after appearing on Today to discuss a condition that permanently turned his skin a deep blue has died. Paul Karason was 62 when he passed away in a Washington hospital, where he was admitted last week after suffering a heart attack. He also had pneumonia and later suffered a severe stroke, his estranged wife, Jo Anna Karason, explained. Karason started turning blue about 15 years ago after he began using a special silver-based preparation to treat a skin condition. He also had been drinking colloidal silver, a product consisting of silver particles suspended in liquid. In 2008, Karason emerged from his reclusive life to discuss his condition, known as argyria, which is caused by the use of dietary supplements. Karason began using a silver preparation to treat a bad case of dermatitis that had broken out on his face. He took the silver in colloidal form that he produced himself, using electrolysis. Silver has antibacterial properties and has been used to fight infection for thousands of years. But it went out of use when the far more effective penicillin was developed in the 1930s. It continued to be used in some over-the-counter medicines until 1999, when the FDA banned it because it causes argyria, which is a result of the silver reacting with light the same way it does in photography. The silver collects in the skin and other organs and does not dissipate.

Venezuela's beauty culture has prompted a surge in dangerous silicone injections. Astrid de la Rosa was left bedridden for two years after her liquid silicone buttock injections migrated into her spine, paralyzing the supporting muscles. Now she is trying to educate Venezuelan girls early on about the dangers of these procedures. “We have to get to them early, as parents tend to offer these injections as 15th birthday presents”. In Venezuela, 17 women have died in the past 12 months as a result of liquid silicone buttock injections. According to Jesus Pereira, the president of the Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association, an estimated 30 percent of Venezuelan women aged 18 to 50 have undergone the procedure in an attempt to achieve a figure thought to be more attractive to Venezuelan men. While the death toll resulting from these injections has risen since they became widely available in 2008, it has done little to curb the trend of Venezuelans seeking a quick-fix solution to what they perceive as physical inadequacies. Despite being illegal in Venezuela (sale of silicone carries a two-year prison sentence) the country’s Association of Cosmetic Surgeons estimates that 2,000 women every month are receiving injections of this bio-polymer, either at home or illegally at unlicensed businesses.

The latest issue of Frontline – India’s National Magazine – features several stories of interest in the theme “Superstition Industry”. One of the articles discusses Sanal Edamaruku’s unmasking of a so-called miracle that saw him forced to leave to country after being accused of breaking the country’s blasphemy laws. On the 5th of March 2012, a woman passing by a roadside crucifix saw water dripping from the feet of Jesus Christ’s image. A non-Christian, she spread the word and soon the site was thronged by people who thought it was a miracle. The crucifix was across the road from Our Lady of Velankanni Church in the Mumbai suburb of Irla. A television channel covering the incident brought Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, to the site. He debunked the miracle theory and said it was water flowing from some damaged plumbing. Members of a group called the Association of Concerned Catholics challenged Edamaruku, and a battle of words began which culminated in a television studio debate between Edamaruku and Bishop Agnelo of the Archdiocese of Bombay. A report was filed by the Association of Concerned Catholics against Edamaruku under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, concerning blasphemy. The case was popularly referred to as Sanal Edamaruku versus the Catholic Church.

Health Canada is cracking down on the sale of so-called homeopathic vaccines that are falsely promoted by some naturopaths and homeopaths as safer and more effective than traditional vaccines. The department has altered the document that outlines how homeopathic vaccines should be used, saying they must now contain the following warning: “This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination.” The document, called a product monograph, was updated June 24, one month after The Globe and Mail published a story outlining the concerns with homeopathic vaccines. “We’re very glad they've taken this step,” said Jamie Williams, executive director of Bad Science Watch, a Canadian advocacy organization that led a campaign against homeopathic vaccines. “We feel that it will be a help to consumers who might not have been getting the full information to make a more informed health choice before this.”

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

Scientists say they have made a significant leap towards creating a vaccine that would protect against every form of flu. The influenza virus is a constantly shifting target so seasonal flu vaccines rapidly become useless and new ones are needed each year. A team at Imperial College London says they have made a "blueprint" for a universal flu vaccine. Influenza is able to change the proteins that protrude from the surface of the virus as readily as people change outfits. However, the material on the inside is common to many strains of flu. Vaccine researchers believe targeting the core of the virus may be the way to develop a universal vaccine. A specific part of the immune system, called T-cells, is thought to be able to recognize proteins in the core. A team at Imperial used the 2009 swine flu pandemic to test the theory. "It's going to be a long journey from this sort of paper to translating it into a vaccine that works", said Prof John Oxford, of Queen Mary University of London.

In order to move up the world's financial rankings, emerging economies need to prioritize green growth, a US expert on the topic says. New York University's Jerry Hultin lists 10 "green future" priorities - such as green energy and innovation - as key areas to ensure future growth. He also wants to see a system to accelerate the time it takes for ideas to appear in the marketplace. Mr Hultin outlined his priorities at a high level forum in San Francisco. "Young people are very excited about the chance to make the world a better place," explained Mr Hultin, who was under-secretary of the US Navy during Bill Clinton's presidency. "The clock is ticking as far as population growth, consumption and so on is concerned. We need to come up with solutions”, he explained. Mr Hultin's 10 priorities include: supporting green energy development and policies, providing "cradle-to-career" education opportunities, enabling university researchers "to exit the system, run businesses, and return", creating a "culture of national networking for innovation" and investing in "long-term, game-changing breakthrough research".

There is a surprising amount of water bound up in the soil of Mars, according to an analysis done on-board the US space agency's (NASA) Curiosity rover. When it heated a small pinch of dirt scooped up from the ground, the most abundant vapor detected was H2O. Curiosity researcher Laurie Leshin and colleagues explained that Mars' dusty red covering holds about 2% by weight of water. This could be a useful resource for future astronauts, they say. "If you take about a cubic foot of this dirt and you just heat it a little bit - a few hundred degrees - you'll actually get off about two pints of water - like two water bottles you'd take to the gym. And this dirt on Mars is interesting because it seems to be about the same everywhere you go. If you are a human explorer, this is really good news because you can quite easily extract water from almost anywhere", Dr Leshin explained.  The revelation about the amount of water chemically bound into the fine-grained particles of the soil is just one nugget of information to come from a series of five papers describing the early exploits of the rover.

A landmark report says scientists are 95% certain that humans are the "dominant cause" of global warming since the 1950s. The report by the UN's climate panel details the physical evidence behind climate change. On the ground, in the air, in the oceans, global warming is "unequivocal", it explained. It adds that a pause in warming over the past 15 years is too short to reflect long-term trends. The panel warns that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all aspects of the climate system. To contain these changes will require "substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions".

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

Porn star Ron Jeremy, Max Weber and Michael Jackson are three names that appear in the list of references for a recent hoax paper by a group of Serbian academics who scammed a Romanian scientific magazine by publishing a completely fabricated article. The academics were fed up with the poor state of their country’s research output. The paper is full of obvious gimmicks, had anyone been paying attention. It includes a reference to the scholarship of Jackson, Weber, Jeremy and citations to new studies by Bernoulli and Laplace, both dead more than 180 years. They also throw in references to the “Journal of Modern Illogical Studies”, and to a researcher named, dubiously, “A.S. Hole.”  The paper, “Evaluation of transformative hermeneutic heuristics for processing random data,” by Dragan Djuric, Boris Delibasic and Stevica Radisic, appeared in the magazine Metalurgia International. The authors, from the University of Belgrade and the Health Center ‘Stari Grad’, appear on the manuscript in false wigs and mustaches. According to In Serbia, the Romanian magazine which is otherwise full of Serbian authors, published it in its entirety, without a single correction.

 

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