Archive for the ‘science’ Tag

That Mitchell and Webb Look: Homeopathic A&E

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Scientologists in France go on trial for fraud

Scientologists in France go on trial for fraud

PARIS (Reuters) – The Church of Scientology in France went on trial on Monday on charges of organised fraud.

Registered as a religion in the United States, with celebrity members such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology enjoys no such legal protection in France and has faced repeated accusations of being a money-making cult.

The group’s Paris headquarters and bookshop are defendants in the case. If found guilty, they could be fined 5 million euros ($7 million) and ordered to halt their activities in France.

Seven leading French Scientology members are also in the dock. Some are charged with illegally practising as pharmacists and face up to 10 years in prison and hefty fines.

The case centres on a complaint made in 1998 by a woman who said she was enrolled into Scientology after members approached her in the street and persuaded her to do a personality test.

In the following months, she paid more than 21,000 euros for books, “purification packs” of vitamins, sauna sessions and an “e-meter” to measure her spiritual progress, she said.

Other complaints then surfaced. The five original plaintiffs — three of whom withdrew after reaching a financial settlement with the Church of Scientology — said they spent up to hundreds of thousands of euros on similar tests and cures.

They told investigators that Scientology members harassed them with phone calls and nightly visits to cajole them into paying their bills or taking out bank loans. The plaintiffs were described as “vulnerable” by psychological experts in the case.

BBC video report.

Psychic Patricia Putts to be tested today for the JREF prize

Psychic Patricia Putts to be tested today for the JREF prize

Patricia Putts, a woman who thinks that she can find out personal details about people by simply being near them and listening to their voices will do a preliminary test which may lead to her winning the coveted 1 million dollar JREF prize.

The idea for the JREF prize comes from the brain of world-renowned magician and paranormal investigator James Randi, a Toronto native who lives in Florida. This prize is awarded:

to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.

The idea behind the prize is a simple one. A large number of people believe in paranormal powers. Scientists have tried to find these powers for decades now and they have all been disillusioned. Yet, many people continue to believe in them. By making the amount so high, these tests -which do usually not interest the general public- becoming more exciting, leading to more publicity and a larger audience. This ensures that more people will learn of the success or failure of these tests, leading to a better educated, wider public.

Patricia Putt, a well-known psychic, had contacted the James Randi Educational Foundation a while ago in order to be tested for the million dollar prize.

Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate

Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

Texas board comes down on 2 sides of creationism debate

Texas board comes down on 2 sides of creationism debate

(CNN) — Dueling theories of how the universe was created got a split decision Friday night from the Texas Board of Education, which required examination of “all sides of scientific evidence” in new science standards, but rejected language requiring teachers to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories.

The debate pitted proponents of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution against supporters of religion-based theories of intelligent design, or creationism.

“Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this,” board chairman Don McLeroy, a creationist, told the Dallas Morning News.

A final 13-2 vote approved language that will be printed in textbooks beginning in 2011 and remain there for 10 years, CNN affiliate KPRC-TV in Houston reported:

“In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students.”

Earlier, the board rejected two sections written by McLeroy on identical 8-7 votes, the Dallas Morning News said.

One section required teachers to “analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information,” and the other required high school students to study the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of key principles of evolution.

Science: ur doin it wrong.

Texas Rep. Leo Berman: let the Institute for Creation Research grant masters degrees

Texas State Representative Leo Berman has proposed a bill which would allow the Institute for Creation Research – a creationist think tank – to issue academic qualifications:

A Texas legislator is waging a war of biblical proportions against the science and education communities in the Lone Star State as he fights for a bill that would allow a private school that teaches creationism to grant a Master of Science degree in the subject.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) proposed House Bill 2800 when he learned that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a private institution that specializes in the education and research of biblical creationism, was not able to receive a certificate of authority from Texas’ Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science degrees.

Berman’s bill would allow private, non-profit educational institutions to be exempt from the board’s authority.

“If you don’t take any federal funds, if you don’t take any state funds, you can do a lot more than some business that does take state funding or federal funding,” Berman says. “Why should you be regulated if you don’t take any state or federal funding?”

HB 2800 does not specifically name ICR; it would allow any institution that meets its criteria to be exempt from the board’s authority. But Berman says ICR was the inspiration for the bill because he feels creationism is as scientific as evolution and should be granted equal weight in the educational community.

“I don’t believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago,” Berman told FOXNews.com. “I do believe in creationism. I do believe there are gaps in evolution.

The bill in question can be found here.

See Bad Astronomy for more info.

A top Finnish expert: Let us not allow the 20th century asbestos catastrophe to be followed by a nano catastrophe

A top Finnish expert: Let us not allow the 20th century asbestos catastrophe to be followed by a nano catastrophe

In the shops there are over 600 products based on nanotechnology, such as socks, tooth paste, sun cream and bed sheets. It has been forecast that annual sales will grow from the present EUR100 billion to EUR2,500 billion.

The possibilities are enormous but we know barely anything about the risks, says Kai Savolainen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. And he is the right person to speak about risks, as he is the Institute’s director of the nanotechnology safety research and acts also as the coordinator of European research projects on nanotechnology health risks. Recently SAK’s magazine Palkkatyöläinen published his insights, presented in a trade union seminar, on nanotechnology risks.

We were far too late in taking the health risks of asbestos seriously, Savolainen reminds us. In spite of the risks, the use of asbestos went on for decades, and there are still countries where its use has not yet been banned. When the economic expectations are big, one tends to ignore the health risks, Savolainen explains. In this he sees a similarity between asbestos and nanotechnology.

Pharmaceutical Marketing, Capitalism, and Medicine: A Primer

Pharmaceutical Marketing, Capitalism, and Medicine: A Primer

Most industries have moved toward the realization that the most profitable resource to be extracted even from poor countries is not raw materials or labor, but the readiness to consume. To capitalize on this potential, firms take two allied approaches. First, they seek to influence exchange environments (distribution channels, treatment guidelines, reimbursement policies) to enhance the flow and profitability of their drugs. Second, they invest in doctor and consumer awareness campaigns, referred to as “education,” to stimulate demand directly. Here I’ll point out a few features of demand stimulation in pharmaceuticals.

Medicines were traditionally thought to be “inelastic goods”, meaning that promotion (or lowering prices) wouldn’t lead to an appreciable expansion of consumption. No one who doesn’t have high blood pressure, for instance, will start taking antihypertensive medicine because of a billboard advertisement, nor will people who already take it increase their dosage. Doctors prescribe these drugs to patients who require it, and we assume that doctors are informed by scientific studies, not advertisements.

Regrettably, this is often not true. Each link on the entire medical information chain—from research funding, to scientific journal publications, to FDA approval, to public health therapy guidelines, to product labeling, to the scientific programming at medical conferences, to medical education in medical schools and in the clinic—is the focus of concerted persuasion campaigns. If this sounds improbable, consider such representative datum as that there is a full-time drug rep for every seven doctors in the US or that the marketing budget for Pfizer’s Lipitor in 2002 alone was $1.3 billion—roughly the equivalent of the National Institute of Health (NIH) budget for research into Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, autism, epilepsy, influenza, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell disease, and spinal chord injury combined.

Of MEART and Men

Today, via Cracked’s 9 real life mad scientists (one of the people involved came in at number four), I became aware for the first time of MEART.

In brief: MEART consists of a collection of rat neurons wired up to circuits in Atlanta. These are connected via the internet to a robotic arm in Australia. The arm is capable of drawing, and sends feedback to the neurons.

The creators put it like this:

MEART is suggesting future scenarios where humans will create/grow/manufacture intuitive and creative “thinking entities” that could be intelligent and unpredictable beings. They may be created by humans for anthropocentric use, but as they will be creative and unpredictable they might not necessarily stay the way they were originally intended.

We refer to the wetware/software/hardware hybrid we have created as a Semi-Living artist as it is made of both living and artificial components; part grown – part constructed. While the artistic values of the outcomes of the process (the marks on paper left by the drawing arm) are still in the eye of the beholder, the questions regarding the possibilities are real. What will happen when such a system starts to express qualities that are considered uniquely human aptitudes such as art? Its identity extends beyond our cultural comprehension of living systems. Made from living biological matter, mechanics and electronics simultaneously, it questions the viewer’s perceptions of the concept of sentience.

MEART has a technologically created identity. It is an identity created as a result of the progression and combination of various technologies. Its “brain” is growing in Atlanta and its “body” (or multi bodies) could be anywhere in the world thus highlighting the ubiquitous nature of its existence and identity.

I think my brain just melted.

Belfast museum faces legal battle over Darwin exhibition

Belfast museum faces legal battle over Darwin exhibition

The Ulster Museum in Belfast faces a legal challenge unless it stages a creationist exhibition as a counter to its forthcoming series on Charles Darwin, a Democratic Unionist member of the Northern Ireland assembly warned today.

Forty-eight hours after the DUP’s Northern Ireland environment minister, Sammy Wilson, railed against the idea that climate change is man-made, his party colleague Mervyn Storey has threatened legal action against the museum over its promotion of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The North Antrim DUP assembly member called this morning for an “alternative exhibition” promoting creationism to be staged alongside one planned for the Ulster Museum in Belfast this year.

Storey, a born-again Christian advocate of creationism and so-called intelligent design, said that as the museum in Belfast’s university district was publicly funded it should be subject to the province’s equality legislation.