Sunday, 2 November 2014

Entertainment stuff from the week 27/10 - 2/11/14

Hiya cannibals,

So, Hallowe'en has been and gone. Or, Samhain (pronounced saw-hin) as it used to be known.

Maybe that's where the stage trick of samhain a woman in half comes from? :-P

The SGU's 'Truth or Fiction' round was excellent, this week, with extra-special guest Richard Saunders (yes, this one) in the guest seat:

SGU#486 (skip to 58" in, for the quiz)

Theme: Archaeological Horror

#1) In the El Sidron cave in Spain, archaeologists found the remains of 12 Neanderthals, three children, three teenagers, and six adults. All 12 were killed, butchered, and eaten raw by other humans. 

#2) Italian Egyptologist Girolamo Segato discovered a method for preserving flesh by turning it into stone. His process of petrification from almost 200 years ago remains a mystery and has never been duplicated.

#3) Archaeologists examining the prehistoric remains of dozens of butchered adults in the Sacred Ridge region of Colorado have concluded that the butchers were all children, indicating that they wiped out the adults of their village in a single orgy of blood, perhaps as revenge for the practice of child sacrifice. 

#4) Scientists examining the fully articulated and deliberately buried remains of a 3,000 year old Scottish man and woman discovered that they were actually reassembled from the remains of 6 unrelated people.

So there's something to ponder, before/while you read on...

Next up: a disaster ... well, two!

On Tuesday, the 28th of October, Orbital Sciences lost a supplies rocket - Antares - which was a crucial part of their $2 billion deal to resupply the International Space Station, in place of the public sector.

On Wednesday, the Russian State project picked up the tab, and delivered 3 tons of food, fuel and other items to the ISS.

As expected, there was much speculation about the effect of this disaster. Could a private company weather the storm of such huge infrastrcture losses? How would the shareholders react? Orbital Sciences' share price lost 15% of value in the wake of the event.

And what did this say about the safety of space flight? With an 8% failure rate, how would Space X and other companies comply with their self-serving interests to engage in commercial space tourism, if 8% of customers won't come back? An accident like this, but causing deaths, could really throw a spanner in their works.

On Friday, the 31st of October, Space X's space plane exploded, killing one of the pilots, and with the other escaping by parachute. More than 500 people have already reserved seats—and paid a deposit on the $250,000 ticket price for a minutes-long suborbital flight on SpaceShipTwo, which can carry six passengers.

Due to this rapid succession of events, the speculation just got even more exuberant. "The developments reignited the debate about the role of business in space and whether it is or will ever be safe enough for everyday people looking for an expensive 50-mile (80-kilometer)-high thrill ride."

Personally, i just don't think private companies can cut it, in space exploration, because of the way they're funded and run. Cheap joyrides above the atmosphere are one thing; but any more than that has huge overheads, which simply can't be covered by a profit-motivated organisation. They're too short-sighted to cope with the long-term investment necessary. All of the contenders, including Space X and Orbital Sciences, have been vying for decades, by drawing huge amounts of wealth from public purses, and their huge mother-organisations. But they still haven't got their own products working properly; and certainly not in a self-sustaining way.

Space exploration, as far as i'm concerned, will always be a loss leader. A brilliant, exciting, dangerous, inspiring, scientil loss leader; but still an economic loser.

And now from that macabre double-disaster, to another kind of double-disaster. But this time, a good one:

'Lessons from the dubious rise and inevitable fall of green coffee beans' (GCB)

"Plucked from obscurity and then subjected to bogus research, it’s now clear that the only people that actually benefited from GCB were those that profited from its sale. GCB had some powerful boosters, too. Once it became one of Dr. Oz’s “miracle” weight loss cures, sales exploded following two hype-filled episodes."

I take it you know of and about Dr. Mehmet Oz, right? Well, you will in a few inches time. Here's my abbreviated form of Scott Gavura's article. But please do read the whole thing.

"Oz’s promotion of GCB was so breathless and detached from the actual evidence that his actions were subsequently eviscerated by Senator Clair McCaskill during televised hearings on weight loss scams. It’s a long, sordid, ugly and yet entirely predictable story."

"Given how widespread obesity is, and how difficult it is to fix permanently, it’s not surprising that weight loss cures are fodder to those that want to sell magical cures."

"The story of GCB can’t be told without describing the pivotal role played by Dr. Mehmet Oz." "There is no other show that can top The Dr. Oz Show for the sheer magnitude of bad health advice it consistently offers, all while giving everything a veneer of credibility. That’s because Dr. Oz is a real physician – he just doesn’t play one on television. That might surprise you given his show’s content. He’s promoted homeopathy and faith healing. He’s hosted supplement marketer Joe Mercola to promote unproven supplements, and the notorious “Health Ranger”, antivaccinationist and conspiracy theorist Mike Adams. Oz has promoted ridiculous diet plans, and he gives bad advice to diabetics. Then add the long list of “miracle” foods like red palm oil, or manufactured public health scares like cell phones causing breast cancer. “The Dr. Oz Effect” was coined to describe how Oz drives product sales, but it more accurately describes how Oz’s advice wastes the time and finances of consumers that actually follow the advice he offers."

"Dr. Oz’s first episode on GCB looked at the Vinson trial" which was dodgy for a number of outlined reasons. Including being industry funded - the same company that would be marketing the product; poor publishing standards; the authors did not work in pharmacology; the trial was small and short; huge swathes of methodological data was missing, which makes replication impossible; the trial was not blinded, yet it was described as blinded!

"GCB had all the features of a bogus weight loss product. It was implausible, and backed by flimsy evidence with some serious methodological issues. Even before we knew it was fraudulent, it was clear this trial should not be used to guide treatment decisions."

"None of this was an obstacle to Oz, who declared it to be the newest panacea for weight loss, using words like “magic”, “staggering”, “unprecedented”, “cure” and “miracle pill”. He concluded his episode with an absurd “trial” in two audience members who took the supplement for five days. One reported a two pound loss, the other, a six pound loss. In doing so he illustrated one of the worst ways to evaluate a weight loss supplement: short duration of use and informed by anecdotes. It served as nothing more than an extended advertisement for the product."

"AFS subsequently sold 500,000 bottles, apparently at $50 each. And that’s how a chemist and psychologist in Pennsylvania came to be the authors of a bogus clinical trial of green coffee bean, driving millions of dollars in sales for AFS."

This is not just academic - people are putting their health on the line, for the sake of these products.

"In a hamfisted attempt to address the criticism of Oz’s first episode on GCB, Dr. Oz revisited the topic in a follow-up episode, which he called The Green Coffee Bean Project... Based on the Vinson study, Oz designed and conducted a clinical trial of green coffee bean on his studio audience... Oz didn’t obtain ethical approval to conduct the trial... Daytime TV trumps research ethics."

Oz has prior experience of doing research, and yet he's quite willing to churn out this shit. That says something about his ethics, doesn't it.

"When Dr. Oz arrived to speak at Senate hearing into weight loss scams in hearings led by Senator Clair McCaskill, he probably wasn’t expecting to be verbally disemboweled on television."

"If you haven’t watched the hearings yet, the best and smartest summary on Oz and supplements in general came from John Oliver."

"In May of this year, the FTC announced it was suing a Florida-based company (Applied Food Sciences) for its promotion of green coffee bean... Not only was the advertising misleading, but the trial itself was fraudulent" due to known data-corrupting techniques, and outright lies.

"In an amazing display of handwaving and fingerpointing, the two hired “authors” are now blaming the sponsor for the validity of the data. No apologies for the serious ethical lapse of pasting their names on research they didn’t even conduct. And yet they blame the sponsor, who was the manufacturer, who should be last group with any involvement in the data collection and analysis."

They were willfully complicit in research fraud (and yes, it really  is that) and yet they think they can pass the buck. Yes, AFS were responsible for the bullshit data, but they were responsible for making it look good, and thereby making it publishable.

"Yet there seems to be no stopping Dr. Oz. The miracles continue, even after his Senate smackdown. I’m heartened by medical students like Benjamin Mazer, who is determined to go after Dr. Oz by asking his medical regulator to take action against him. Is the Dr. Oz strong enough to deflect a regulator? Time will tell."

"So how does one avoid the next miracle cure? It’s what Dr. Oz actually admitted to under Senate questioning: There are no miracle pills that replace a proper diet that includes calorie restriction. The facts of weight loss aren’t catchy, but they are based in reality, not hype."

Eat a healthy, balanced diet; and burn as many calories as you consume. There's no other way.

Or go all vegan-zombie and just eat 'grains, grains, grains...' :-D

And here's another interesting thing from Science Based Medicine. Go on, read it yourself... :-P

'Mirror Neurons and the Pitfalls of Brain Research'


The 28th of October 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of Jonas Salk's birth. He was every bit the stereotypical scientist - a dark-haired, bespectacled, white lab-coat-wearing, pale-skinned man - everything feminists hate! As creator of the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), Salk seemed a miracle-worker to people of the 1950s - more than 3000 people had died, and 20000 people paralysed, in a poliomyelitis (polio) outbreak in 1952, 3 years before his vaccine became available. Most of the victims were children. A century on, and epidemiologists are seriously considering global eradication of the disease. His area - vaccination - takes the 'prevention is better than cure' mantra and makes it reality. Truly, a hero of our age.

The 23rd of July marked the 15th anniversary of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory's launch into outer space. And this beautiful, purple picture had its 15th anniversary on the 30th of October: 6 hours of the Hydra A galaxy cluster

In other news:

Autists have indistinguishably different neuroanatomy to non-autists, according to a meta-analysis pooling information from 18 different neuroimaging studies. It's most powerful message, was that the 'accuracy' of the component analyses could be increased by lowering the sample size! This is not a good thing. usually, you see more, the harder you look - not less. This study suggests that  previous reports of highly accurate ASD ‘diagnosis’ on the basis of brain structure, were false positives caused by small sample sizes. There are hundreds of tiny studies declaring anatomical differences, which are contradicted by this study, but remember that anatomical differences are not functional differences (a point raised in my last mini-essay on brain types) and functional differences are clearly present (and indeed the defining features) in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Anti-corruption investigators in China have taken a haul of 200m yuan (£20m) from the home of the deputy chief of the National Energy Administration's coal department. There has been a big drive, in China, to counter intra-government corruption, and the State has sentenced more than 13,000 officials for corruption and bribery in the first nine months of 2014 alone. President Xi has warned that his campaign against corruption will target both "tigers" and "flies", indicating that no-one, not even senior party members, are exempt from the crackdown. China might have more to deal with; but isn't it interesting that so-called 'western' nations seem perfectly happy to tolerate corruption; especially via the revolving door between the public and private sector.

Misleading article title of the week's 'in other news'es: 'How often is 'antifreeze' added to food and drink?' Propylene glycol has been found at above-regulation limits in Fireball Whisky (a very nice, spicy-ginger-flavoured whisky) in the EU, where accepted limits are slightly lower than in the US - the place of manufacture. Propylene glycol is not antifreeze - it's an ingredient in it - and one that is widely used to improve the flavour of various ingestibles. As Paracelsus attributedly said, 'the dose makes the poison' and the amount at which it's found in food and drink is rarely anything to worry about. Regulators set their limits way below safe limits, anyway, so don't worry about it. Besides, the alcohol content's far more dangerous than the propylene glycol, and people deliberately buy drinks with alcohol in!

Pope Frank says evolution is a thing - and it's not just a thing - it's mandated by gawwwwwwwd. Interestingly, evolution denial (and science in general, for that matter) has been more of a Protestant thing than a Catholic one. The idea of the Big Bang (a Universal beginning) was actually officialised by an RC priest. Protestants insisted in a steady-state Universe, made perfect and unchanging, and are still, contemporarily, the leading denialists of abiogenesis, in order to displace it with the mythology of Adam-and-Eve-Creationism. So there you go. All Frankie's decree demonstrates, is that bigotry is arbitrary: "You must believe that evolution is a lie, condemned by God" / "You must believe that evolution is a fact, driven by God". It's wrong, either way.

Do you remember the puppy-sized spider story? You know - that species of spider that's 30cm in legspan and weighs up to 170g, which is apparently about the same as some puppies? Well, the guy who discovered it has received death threats for researching it! Why? Because it's impossible to find out how individuals and entire ecosystems work, without dissection, and DNA analysis, which requires ground down muscle mass. But insects can't feel pain. They have no pain mechanism. So if it's not animal abuse to do this research, then why did people feel death threats were justified? Well, i think it's because the intitial story compared the spider to a puppy, which triggered people's knee-jerk doe-eyed-sympathy responses. See a spider, and people stand on chairs shouting "kill it, kill it, kill it!"; see a puppy, and the same people will kill you for patting it too hard :-P

Parthenogenesis! From a huge spider, to a huge snake. Thelma - an 11-year-old, 6-metre, 90-Kg reticulated python - has given birth to six snakelets, without ever having encountered a male of her species. Because there's been no mixing of DNA, her young are clones of herself, and so must be female (like Jesus, who similarly had no male DNA) and must also be quite inbred. This means that progeny by parthenogenisis are usually less healthy, and expected to live shorter lives, than those from sexual reproduction. Scientists already knew about 10 species of snake, four species of shark, several monitor lizards, including the Komodo dragon, and two birds – zebra finch and Chinese painted quail - reproducing parthenogenetically. The term 'parthenogenesis' refers to the birth of Athena, in the mythology of the Ancient Greek Religion. She was birthed, whole, from the head of Zeus (and so should have been male too) and it is after her that the Parthenon is named - the virgin goddess.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Hendo Hoverboard: BUSTED'
$400,000 for a $70 toy? Puh-lease! 'Believe'. No - don't - do some skeptical investigation first.

'John and Kevin's Sunday Papers - October 2014'

This edition is hilarious :-D

'Tinchy Stryder & The Chuckle Brothers | To Me, To You (Bruv) [Music Video]: SBTV'

'Jay Foreman - Happy Halloween'

'Queen - Love Kills - the ballad - (Montage Video)' (official)

'Brian May and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra - One Night In Hell - Official Music Video'

In case you didn't know: Brian May is hugely enthusiastic about stereoscopes (see description box) So now you do ;-)

'Kitchenette (Lucien Maine / Valentin Vincent)'

Macabre prank parody. Well, it is Hallowe'en... was.

'World beard champion crowned'

'Man Proposes to Girlfriend With 1,001 Hot Dogs! ft. David So'

'Carretilla extrema' (extreme wheelbarrow)

'Cellphone use tracks holiday population shifts'
Web activity last week, and phone activity this week :-)

'Floating touchscreen lets you feel virtual objects'

'This is Not a Rainbow'

'Ghost Metal (Chemistry Trick) - Version 2'

'Levitating pumpkins! Halloween science'

'Orbital's Antares rocket explodes on launch'
This was a private sector venture. But  who do you think's going to pick up the tab?

'The Chaser's Media Circus - Season 1 Episode 3'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: prig -- a person who shows an inordinately zealous approach to matters of form and propriety. They see little need to consider the feelings or intentions of others, relying instead on established order and rigid rules to resolve all questions.

Etymology Of The Week: timorous -- meaning 'fearful'; comes from latin 'timere' meaning 'to fear, be afraid, dread'. In 15th century English, confused with 'temerous' which referred to rashsness; from latin 'temere' meaning 'by chance, at random; indiscreetly' and itself coming from proto-indo-european 'teme-' meaning 'dark' and being used to imply lack of knowledge/foresight.

Quote Of The Week: "Herbal medicine: giving patients an unknown dose of an ill-defined drug, of unknown effectiveness and unknown safety." - Prof. David Colquhoun

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

Nothing is non-contemporary, this week. Just do the SGU's quiz again :-P

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