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Skeptical reporter @ 2013-05-31

Skeptical Reporter for May 31st, 2013

David Colquhoun (UCL) and Steven Novella (Yale) have written an article on why acupuncture doesn't work. The journal “Anesthesia & Analgesia” has published the article: “Acupuncture is a theatrical placebo” together with another article written by supporters of acupuncture as a form of alternative therapy.  On his blog, Colquhoun wrote about his reasons for writing the article: “Acupuncture is an interesting case, because it seems to have achieved greater credibility than other forms of alternative medicine, despite its basis being just as bizarre as all the others. As a consequence, a lot more research has been done on acupuncture than on any other form of alternative medicine, and some of it has been of quite high quality. The outcome of all this research is that acupuncture has no effects that are big enough to be of noticeable benefit to patients, and it is, in all probability, just a theatrical placebo. After more than 3000 trials, there is no need for yet more. Acupuncture is dead”.

One former conspiracy theorist, Charlie Veitch, has opened up about the consequences of him changing his mind. After years of promoting the idea that the September 11 terrorist attack in the United States was just a controlled demolition, Veitch posted a video on his YouTube channel announcing that he had been wrong. Veitch had expected a few spiteful comments from the so-called “Truth Movement”. What he had not expected was the size or the sheer force of the attack. In the days after he uploaded his video, entitled “No Emotional Attachment to 9/11 Theories”, Veitch was disowned by his friends, issued with death threats and falsely accused of child abuse in an email sent to 15,000 of his followers. “I went from being Jesus to the devil,” he says now. “It was relentless. A guy in Manchester set up a YouTube channel called ‘Kill Charlie Veitch’. It said, ‘Charlie, I hope you know I’m going to come and kill you. Enjoy your last few days. Goodbye.’ So many hate videos were posted – my face superimposed on a pig and someone’s killing the pig.” Another message featured images of his sister’s young children incorporated within a video of child pornography. Alex Jones posted a film in which he claimed he’d known “all along”, and that Veitch had “psychopath, sociopath eyes”. His mother called, devastated, believing the pedophilia “confession” which she’d been emailed, along with 15,000 others, was real. Looking back, he describes the conspiracy community as an “evil-worshiping paranoia. As someone who’s been deep in it, and seen the hatred and the insanity, I think big terrorist attacks will come from conspiracy theorists.”

A man claiming to be Jesus is gaining followers and causing concern among cult experts in Australia. Former IT specialist Alan John Miller, or AJ as he prefers to be known, runs a religious movement known as the Divine Truth from his home near the small town of Kingaroy. Miller claims that not only is he Christ, but his partner, Australian Mary Luck, is in fact Mary Magdalene, who according to the Bible was present at the crucifixion. He told Sky News: “I have very clear memories of the crucifixion, but it wasn't as harrowing for me as it was for others like Mary who was present. When you are one with God you are not in a state of fear, and you have quite good control over your body's sensations and the level of pain that you absorb from your body”. He holds seminars near his home and also travels around the world teaching people how to have a personal relationship with God, often by delving deep into their emotions. Dozens of his followers are understood to have bought properties in the area to be closer to him.  After his crucifixion the Australian claims he entered the spirit world where he met Plato, Socrates, popes and presidents. Whilst critics dismiss his claims the seminars attract large groups of people, up to 150 a time.

In New South Wales, Australia, an anti-vaccination group is encouraging parents to circumvent government's crackdown on unvaccinated children by joining a "dubious" religious organization. The Australian Anti-Vaccination Network is telling supporters to join the Church of Conscious Living to get their children into preschool. "The tenets of this church absolutely oppose forced medication including vaccination," the AVN says on its website. NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson has questioned the credentials of the church. "The credentials of the Church of Conscious Living as a genuine religious organization are completely dubious - yet its members will be able to use it to gain an exemption," he said. Unvaccinated children will be banned from childcare and childcare centre operators will face fines of $4,000 if inspectors discover they are caring for children who don't have proof of vaccination, under new state laws.

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

Scientists have discovered that about one in thirteen people have flexible ape-like feet. A team studied the feet of 398 visitors to the Boston Museum of Science. The results show differences in foot bone structure similar to those seen in fossils of a member of the human lineage from two million years ago. Apes like the chimpanzee spend a lot of their time in trees, so their flexible feet are essential to grip branches and allow them to move around quickly - but how most of us ended up with more rigid feet remains unclear. Jeremy DeSilva from Boston University and a colleague asked the museum visitors to walk barefoot and observed how they walked by using a mechanized carpet that was able to analyze several components of the foot. Most of us have very rigid feet, helpful for stability, with stiff ligaments holding the bones in the foot together. When primates lift their heels off the ground, however, they have a floppy foot with nothing holding their bones together. This is known as a midtarsal break and is similar to what the Boston team identified in some of their participants. Most with this flexibility did not realize they had it and there was no observable difference in the speed of their stride.

Germany's national railway company, Deutsche Bahn, plans to test small drones to try to reduce the amount of graffiti being sprayed on its property. The idea is to use airborne infrared cameras to collect evidence, which could then be used to prosecute vandals who deface property at night. A company spokesman said drones would be tested at rail depots soon. Graffiti is reported to cost Deutsche Bahn about 10 million dollars a year. German media report that each drone will cost about 60,000 euros and fly almost silently, up to 150m above ground.

A British Medical Journal report into non-emergency operations in England, suggests the overall risk of death from such planned procedures remains low. But it shows "unacceptable" variation in survival rates through the week, a leading body of UK surgeons says. Researchers from Imperial College London gathered data from all non-emergency surgery undertaken by the NHS in England in 2008-11. Looking at some 4 million operations they found more than 27,000 deaths within a month of surgery, putting the average risk of death at 0.67%. The researchers say they are concerned about the significant variation over the week, with the risk lowest for surgery carried out on Monday and then increasing with each subsequent day to peak at the weekend. The paper shows people who have their operations on Friday are 44% more likely to die than those who have a procedure on Monday. Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England announced that a forum had been set up to discuss the issue.

Eye and face-tracking technology that aims to prevent accidents caused by fatigue is being rolled out by the world's biggest mining equipment maker. Caterpillar is to sell a package of sensors, alarms and software which detect when a truck driver is about to fall asleep. BHP Billiton and gold producer Newmont Mining have already carried out trials. The firms believe it out-performs earlier systems that needed workers to wear special equipment. Driver Safety Solution (DSS) also benefits from the fact it does not need to be re-calibrated when one worker swaps shift with another. DSS uses a camera to detect a driver's pupil size, how frequently they blink, and how long they keep their eyes shut. In addition it tracks where the user's mouth is in order to work out when the workers are not looking at the road. If the computer's software detects behavior that indicates the driver is sleepy it triggers an audio alarm and vibrates a motor built into the driver's seat to rouse them.

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

The president of the Iași District Council, Cristian Adomniţei, has declared that the project for the Măgurele laser will have great value for Romania. "When finished, this project will be worth a couple of percents of the Romanian GDB. I am not talking about the value of the investment, I am talking about the value of its output”, he declared. In Măgurele, Romania is building the most powerful laser in the world, at the Extreme Light Infrastructure - Nuclear Physics (ELI-NP) ScientificResearchCenter.


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