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Skeptical Reporter for October 12th, 2012
Some Australian homeopaths claim they can treat anything from autism to deadly infections to violence, including domestic violence. Sydney clinic Homeopathy Plus, for example, promotes the use of homeopathy for potentially fatal anaphylactic shock and post-childbirth infections and director Fran Sheffield said homeopathy can treat “excesses of human behavior” including domestic violence. The Homeopathy Plus website links to an article that claims homeopathy is “a safe and effective way to treat the victims as well as the culprits of domestic violence” and contains a list of remedies for both victims and perpetrators. Asked whether she really believed homeopathy could treat domestic violence, Fran Sheffield explained that “uncontrollable rage and anger” were symptoms of an imbalance that homeopathy could fix. Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton said homeopathy was not even “biologically plausible” and that it was dangerous to pretend it could work, and called for sanctions against “outrageous claims”. The NHMRC, Australia’s leading health expertise body, has formed a Homeopathy Working Committee to develop a position statement on homeopathy. A draft statement found it was unethical to use homeopathy because it doesn't work, and that it could be risky if using it caused someone to delay real, effective treatment.
Police are investigating a beauty clinic in Hong Kong after four women were hospitalized with septic shock after receiving a treatment experts say is usually only administered to cancer patients. Two women, aged 46 and 60, remain in a critical condition after being admitted soon after undergoing the procedure at the DR beauty clinic, according to a statement from the Hong Kong Department of Health. In a statement from the health department, which is investigating the matter, a spokesman said patients had received what's called a DC-CIK treatment, a procedure that involves, "concentration and processing of blood taken from the person, and subsequent infusion of the mixture back into the patient. According to the investigation, the treatment was provided by registered medical practitioner." Dr. Ho Pak-leung, President of the University of Hong Kong's Center for Infection declared that he had not heard of any scientific evidence that DC-CIK treatment was useful for cosmetic purposes. "I have serious doubts about the medical and scientific basis of the treatment," he said.
After eBay took a step in the right direction and banned the sale of magical objects and potions, the people selling such items found themselves in quite the unprofitable situation. So they promptly created their own auction website to make sure devoted clients of paranormal products could get their fix. This is what a statement by Carlos Portales, of the newly formed Magickals, said: "The 10th of September 2012, eBay ban directed at the Metaphysical Community has begun. The former eBay Metaphysical Community has been left in the dark to fend for themselves. Well no longer, a ray of light is being shown by a group of former eBay buyers, whom have banded together, to help out the industry they know, and love. They have come together, and created the new auction website, known as Magickals.com". The statement also explained that many sellers in the metaphysical community were devastated by the ban: "The most tragic situation this event has caused is, causing some former sellers to decide to outright retire. It has been a truly sad and abrupt, disbanding of a wonderful community that most of the mainstream public is unaware of".
In Great Britain the National Health Service has taken a look at the latest research in the use of Echinacea that made headlines. Newspapers reported that Echinacea could prevent colds after the results of the largest clinical study into the use of the herb were published. The NHS experts took a look at the study and found there were a number of problems with it. "What was not widely reported in the news was that the study also reported finding no significant difference between the groups when they looked at the number of colds each group caught. So, the difference seems to have been related to how long a cold lasted, rather than the frequency of cold. This randomized control trial was well designed and had a good sample size (755 participants), however, there are a number of oddities in the reporting of the study findings that cast a shadow of doubt over the results, such as: no declaration of funding and only partial disclosure of conflict of interests, no results table, limited reporting of unpleasant side effects, no estimates of error around the results reported, selective reporting of results and the applicability of the results to the general population. This news story should stand as a warning to journalists of the dangers of taking research at face value without bringing any critical faculties to bear".
And now lets look at some news in science
Orbiting a star that is visible to the naked eye, astronomers have discovered a planet twice the size of our own made largely out of diamond. The rocky planet, called '55 Cancri e', orbits a sun-like star in the constellation of Cancer and is moving so fast that a year there lasts a mere 18 hours. Discovered by a U.S.-France research team, its radius is twice that of Earth's with a mass eight times greater. That would give it the same density as Earth, although previously observed diamond planets are reckoned to be a lot more dense. It is also incredibly hot, with temperatures on its surface reaching 1,600 degrees Celsius. "The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite," said Nikku Madhusudhan, a Yale researcher. The study, in collaboration with Olivier Mousis at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France, estimates that at least a third of the planet's mass, the equivalent of about three Earth masses, could be diamond. Diamond planets have been spotted before but this is the first time one has been seen orbiting a sun-like star and studied in such detail. "This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth," Madhusudhan said, adding that the discovery of the carbon-rich planet meant distant rocky planets could no longer be assumed to have chemical constituents, interiors, atmospheres, or biologies similar to Earth.
Astronauts plucked a commercial cargo ship from orbit on Wednesday and attached it to the International Space Station, marking the reopening of a U.S. supply line to the orbital outpost following the space shuttles' retirement last year. After a two and a half day trip, Space Exploration Technologies' Dragon cargo ship positioned itself 33 feet away from the orbital research complex, a project of 15 countries, which has been dependent on Russian, European and Japanese freighters for supplies. Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide then used the space station's almost 18 meters long robotic arm to grab hold of the capsule. "Looks like we tamed the Dragon," commander Sunita Williams radioed to Mission Control in Houston. The Dragon's cargo includes a freezer to ferry science samples back and forth between the station and Earth. For the flight up, it was packed with chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream, a rare treat for an orbiting crew. The capsule is expected to remain docked to the station for about 18 days while the crew unloads its 400 kilograms of cargo and fills it with science experiments and equipment no longer needed on the outpost.
The unexpected survival of embryonic neurons transplanted into the brains of newborn mice in a series of experiments at the University of California, San Francisco raises hope for the possibility of using neuronal transplantation to treat diseases like Alzheimer's, epilepsy, Huntington's, Parkinson's and schizophrenia. The experiments, described this week in the journal Nature, were not designed to test whether embryonic neuron transplants could effectively treat any specific disease. But they provide a proof-of-principle that GABA-secreting interneurons, a type of brain cell linked to many different neurological disorders, can be added in significant numbers into the brain and can survive without affecting the population of endogenous interneurons. The survival of these cells after transplantation in numbers far greater than expected came as a shock to the team. The prevailing theory held that the survival of developing neurons is something like a game of musical chairs. The brain has limited capacity for these cells, forcing them to compete with each other for the few available slots. Only those that find a place to "sit" will survive when the music stops. The rest die a withering death. But what the research team found was very different: regardless of how many neurons they transplanted, a consistent percentage always survived.
Studying fruit flies has revealed strong evidence in favor of natural selection. Known as Drosophila Melanogaster, fruit flies left Africa tens of thousands of years ago, when humans migrated. Now the fruit flies, widely used for genetics research, are returning to Africa and establishing new populations alongside flies that never left, offering new insights into the forces that shape genetic variation. That's one of the findings from two new papers of researchers at the University of California, Davis, and their colleagues that describe the genomes of almost 200 strains of the tiny flies. The work reveals strong evidence of pervasive natural selection throughout the Drosophila Melanogaster genome, said Charles Langley, professor of genetics in the Department of Evolution and Ecology. That is in striking contrast with what is known of the human genome, which shows comparatively little evidence of adaptation over the last 100,000 years. The overall aim of the research is to better understand the forces that shape genetic variation, Langley said.
And in local news from Romania we learn that
A local skeptical blogger has come under fire after writing articles that prove a colon cleaning product, known as ColonHelp, does not work. After being threatened with lawsuits and warned to take down any articles in which the name of the product appears, the blogger was notified that the company that produces ColonHelp, Zenith Pharmaceuticals, has sued WordPress. The company is trying to remove all criticism related to its product, but provides no evidence that its product is effective. Their defense rests in "it's a really popular product". This is what the blogger at Insula Îndoielii had to say about the issue: "Right now I simply want it to be known that a company is trying to shut down a well-regarded blog for simply stating facts. Or let’s put it another way, fact-based opinions. Screw people having the right to express their opinions! They are claiming that I have affected their sales and brand image even though hundreds of thousands of people have used their products due to massive advertising campaigns. They have made 7 Million $ revenue in one year (as per documents submitted to the court). I want people to know that colon cleanses are a baseless, fact-less, silly product that is marginally helpful in limited cases and potentially dangerous if instructions are not followed".
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