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Skeptical reporter @ 2013-03-08

Skeptical Reporter for March 8th, 2013

Continuing their raid on quacks and faith healers, health officials in India nabbed as many as 36 persons this week. The officials said a self-proclaimed doctor they cayght had more medicines than food items in his kitchen. The quack was identified as M K Singh who fled from the spot when he saw the team arriving. His neighbours told the health team that Singh retired as a sweeper from a central public sector undertaking. Chief medical offices Dr Yadav said, "These so-called doctors are playing with the health of the rural people. The quacks not only fleece them, they spoil their medical condition. In many cases, the quacks are to be blamed for the death of patients." He revealed that his teams had to face resistance at three different places. In Kakori, the superintendent of the community health centre heading the team was held hostage by the employees of Seher nursing home. Officials in the health team revealed that the quacks were well connected. In many places, the moment the health team cracked down, cell phones of the team leaders started ringing. "Politicians and their aides used all sorts of measures to deter us. Block pramukhs and government officials also pleaded for certain quacks," said a deputy chief medical officer who preferred to remain anonymous.

The tsunami that engulfed northeastern Japan two years ago has left some survivors believing they are seeing ghosts. But in a society like Japan’s, where people are wary of admitting to mental problems, many are turning to exorcists for help. Tales of spectral figures lined up at shops where now there is only rubble are what psychiatrists say is a reaction to fear after the March 11, 2011, disaster in which nearly 19,000 people were killed. "The places where people say they see ghosts are largely those areas completely swept away by the tsunami," said Keizo Hara, a psychiatrist in the city of Ishinomaki, one of the areas worst-hit by the waves. In some places destroyed by the tsunami, people have reported seeing ghostly apparitions queuing outside supermarkets which are now only rubble. Taxi drivers said they avoided the worst-hit districts for fear of picking up phantom passengers.

An analysis of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America has revealed how the centers manage to promise survival rates better than national averages after turning away patients. CTCA is not unique in turning away patients. A lot of doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers in the United States decline to treat people who can't pay, or have inadequate insurance, among other reasons. What sets CTCA apart is that rejecting certain patients and, even more, culling some of its patients from its survival data lets the company tout in ads and post on its website patient outcomes that look dramatically better than they would if the company treated all comers. CTCA reports on its website that the percentage of its patients who are alive after six months, a year, 18 months and longer regularly tops national figures. For instance, 60 percent of its non-small-cell lung cancer patients are alive at six months, CTCA says, compared to 38 percent nationally. And 64 percent of its prostate cancer patients are alive at three years, versus 38 percent nationally. Such claims are misleading, according to nine experts in cancer and medical statistics who were asked to review CTCA's survival numbers and its statistical methodology. The experts were unanimous that CTCA's patients are different from other patients, in a way that skews their survival data. It has relatively few elderly patients, even though cancer is a disease of the aged. It has almost none who are uninsured or covered by Medicaid - patients who tend to die sooner if they develop cancer and who are comparatively numerous in national statistics. Accepting only selected patients and calculating survival outcomes from only some of them "is a huge bias and gives an enormous advantage to CTCA," said biostatistician Donald Berry of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The company defends its practices. Spokeswoman Pamela Browner White said CTCA's survival data are in "no way misleading, nor do they deviate from best practices in statistical collection and analysis."

Travelers to Indonesia beware: smuggling drugs will still earn you jail time but, if an official draft of the country's new criminal code becomes law, witches and people practicing "black magic", even adulterers and those living together outside wedlock, may also be locked away. The new draft law is meant to modernize Indonesia's 1918 Criminal Code, which was last updated in 1958, but some of its proposals constitute a big step back to the Middle Ages. In a country where many people earnestly believe that they could be killed, injured or robbed by a sorcerer using black magic, that crime will, for the first time, become part of the criminal law. People guilty of using black magic to cause "someone's illness, death, mental or physical suffering", face up to five years in jail or a consistent sum in fines. Even claiming to have the power to cast dark spells would become a criminal offence, and if the magic was performed for financial gain, the penalty would increase by one-third. "White" magic would remain legal.

And now let’s look at some news in science

Doctors announced that a baby had been cured of an HIV infection for the first time, a startling development that could change how infected newborns are treated and sharply reduce the number of children living with the virus that causes AIDS. The baby, born in rural Mississippi, was treated aggressively with antiretroviral drugs starting around 30 hours after birth, something that is not usually done. If further study shows this works in other babies, it will almost certainly be recommended globally. The United Nations estimates that 330,000 babies were newly infected in 2011, the most recent year for which there is data, and that more than three million children globally are living with HIV. If the report is confirmed, the child born in Mississippi would be only the second well-documented case of a cure in the world. That could give a lift to research aimed at a cure, something that only a few years ago was thought to be virtually impossible, though some experts said the findings in the baby would probably not be relevant to adults.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has been put into "safe mode" after a computer glitch caused by corrupted files. The robot, which is analyzing rock samples on the Red Planet, is now running from a back-up computer. NASA engineers are looking into possible causes for the files on the robot's flash memory being damaged. The fault means the rover's work has been put on temporary hold while the back-up computer is reconfigured so it can take full control. "We're still early on in the process," said project manager Richard Cook, in an interview. "We have probably several days, maybe a week, of activities to get everything back and reconfigured." The corrupted files may have been caused by stray cosmic rays.

Neuroscientists are pushing for a major project that would map the activity of the brain, potentially illuminating the causes of depression, schizophrenia and other major mental health disorders. The Brain Activity Map (BAM) project, as it is called, has been in the planning stages for some time. In the June 2012 issue of the journal Neuron, six scientists outlined broad proposals for developing non-invasive sensors and methods to experiment on single cells in neural networks. This February, President Barack Obama made a vague reference to the project in his State of the Union address, mentioning that it could "unlock the answers to Alzheimer's." This week, the project's visionaries outlined their final goals in the journal Science. They call for an extended effort, lasting several years, to develop tools for monitoring up to a million neurons at a time. The end goal is to understand how brain networks function.

The surface of the planet Mercury has been completely mapped for the first time in history, scientists say. The closest planet to the sun hasn't received as much scientific attention as some of its more flashy solar system neighbors, such as Mars, but NASA's Messenger spacecraft is helping to close the gap. The probe has been in orbit around Mercury since March 2011, and its team announced that the spacecraft had finished mapping the planet's surface. "We can now say we have imaged every square meter of Mercury's surface from orbit," said Messenger principal investigator Sean Solomon of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. "Admittedly, some regions are in permanent shadow, but we're actually peering into those shadows with our imaging systems." In addition to photographing the unseen parts of Mercury, the spacecraft substantially improved on the resolution of existing maps.

And in local news from Romania we learn that

An 18-year-old student from Botosani who invented a bionic hand has impressed NASA specialists and won first place in the TechSchool competition. He wants to use the prize money, 7.000 euros to develop an improved version of the prototype. „Robo Hand”, the project for a bionic hand developed by Constantin Voiniciuc has also won the student a trip to NASA. The invention can imitate hand gestures and can be used in extreme precision tasks.

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