Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Survey: Americans don’t know much about religion

Posted in News by Skepdude on September 28, 2010


A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish.

The survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but faith leaders and educators have long lamented that Americans still know relatively little about religion.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.

Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15.


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Acupuncture Not Effective in Stroke Recovery, Study Finds

Posted in News by Skepdude on September 28, 2010


Acupuncture does not appear to aid in stroke recovery, according to a new study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Acupuncture is often used to supplement traditional stroke rehabilitation, although its effectiveness is uncertain. It is necessary to have evidence of effectiveness from rigorous randomized clinical trials to recommend routine therapeutic use.

This study, perhaps the most comprehensive to date as it includes trials published in English language and Asian journals, was a systematic review conducted by researchers in South Korea and the United Kingdom. They included 10 studies (out of a potential 664) with a total of 711 patients who had had strokes.

“Few randomized, sham-controlled trials have tested the effectiveness of acupuncture during stroke rehabilitation,” writes Dr. Edzard Ernst, Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, England with coauthors. “The majority of the existing studies do not suggest that acupuncture is effective.” They note that the only two studies showing positive effect were highly biased and had poor reporting which made them less reliable that the others included.

The authors conclude that “the evidence from rigorous studies testing the effectiveness of acupuncture during stroke rehabilitation is negative.”


Read the full study for yourself

Interpretation: Our meta-analyses of data from rigorous randomized sham-controlled trials did not show a positive effect of acupuncture as a treatment for functional recovery after stroke.

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Alternative therapies don’t help kids’ cancer stress

Posted in News by Skepdude on July 13, 2010


(Reuters Health) – Massage, humor therapy and relaxation don’t seem to make life much easier for children with cancer who go through stressful bone marrow transplants, disappointed researchers said Monday.

Earlier studies, while not clear-cut, had suggested alternative treatment might benefit some adult cancer survivors. Doing yoga, for instance, helped women sleep better and have more energy after breast cancer treatment. (See Reuters Health story of May 21, 2010)

“We believed that we had a therapy that was helpful,” said psychologist Sean Phipps, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, who led the government- and foundation-funded study.

But, he said, even state-of-the-art alternative treatment didn’t trump standard supportive care, which includes drugs for nausea and pain as well as psychosocial support for both child and parent.

Phipps said stem cell transplants, from the bone marrow or blood, are some of the toughest treatments for children with cancer. He said they often experience pain, have restricted diets, and are kept largely isolated due to a high risk of infections. “It’s not a picnic,” he said.

To test whether alternative treatment could take the edge off the stress, Phipps and colleagues randomly assigned 178 children to one of three groups. One group received only standard care; another also had massages and humor therapy; in the third group, parents also got massages and were taught how to be more relaxed around their kids.

Using a common measure of quality of life in patients undergoing aggressive treatments, the researchers then tested how the kids fared in each group.

“We failed to demonstrate that our interventions changed those outcomes,” said Phipps. One possible explanation is that standard care was already doing a good job of helping the children, he added, stressing that more research is needed.


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Alleging blasphemy, fanatics hack lecturer’s hand

Posted in News by Skepdude on July 6, 2010


In a horrific instance of Talibanism, Muslim fanatics in Kerala on Sunday chopped off the right hand of a college lecturer, accusing him of setting a question paper with a derogatory reference to the Prophet.

Lecturer T J Joseph was returning home from church with his mother and sister around 8.30 am in Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district when he was accosted by the attackers. “We had just got into our car when a van pulled up in front. Around eight people armed with swords and knives emerged and pulled out Joseph after smashing the windscreen.
They then chopped off his right hand and stabbed him in the left thigh,” said Joseph’s sister, Mary Stella, a nun.

“When we tried to prevent them, they attacked me and and our mother before exploding bombs and fleeing.”

A police team recovered the severed hand from the compound of a house about 200m away. The 52-year-old lecturer was rushed to a private hospital where his condition is serious.


Fair Lawn parents plead guilty in child endangerment

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 4, 2010


A Fair Lawn couple admitted on Monday that they failed to take their two-year-old daughter to the hospital as she died from a ruptured appendix.

Raymond and Nicole Ahles, with her attorney, Arthur Zucker, right, said that their daughter, Ocean, was six weeks shy of her third birthday when she became sick in April 2006.


Raymond and Nicole Ahles, with her attorney, Arthur Zucker, right, said that their daughter, Ocean, was six weeks shy of her third birthday when she became sick in April 2006.

Raymond Ahles, an acupuncturist, and his wife, Nicole, said in Superior Court in Hackensack that their daughter, Ocean, was six weeks shy of her third birthday when she became sick in April 2006.

They said they took the child to a Fort Lee acupuncturist, who advised them to take the girl to the hospital.

“But based on your self-diagnosis, did you knowingly decide not to seek medical care?” defense attorney Paul Brickfield asked Raymond Ahles.

“Yes,” Ahles replied.

Brickfield and Nicole Ahles’ attorney, Arthur Zucker, said the couple thought the girl was suffering from a routine stomach bug.

“Appendicitis in such young children is misdiagnosed by the medical profession 70 percent of the time,” they said in a written statement.

The couple’s other daughter was also diagnosed with appendicitis last year at the age of two, and that she fully recovered after surgery, the attorneys said.


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Study: Shark Cartilage No Help for Cancer

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 26, 2010


Drug Derived From Shark Cartilage Did Not Extend Lives of Lung Cancer Patients

May 26, 2010 — Hopes that shark cartilage would prove to be a useful treatment for cancer were not borne out in one of the most rigorously designed and executed studies of an alternative therapy ever conducted.

Adding a drug derived from shark cartilage to standard cancer treatments did not improve survival among patients with late-stage lung cancer in the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

Shark cartilage has been touted as a potential alternative or complementary cancer treatment for several decades. Dozens of shark cartilage products are sold as dietary supplements, but almost none have been studied in humans.

Testing the Usefulness of Shark Cartilage

The trial examined a carefully formulated and regulated liquid shark cartilage product developed as a drug, rather than one of the commercially available, but unregulated, supplements.

Researchers from multiple academic and community cancer centers in the U.S. and Canada enrolled almost 400 patients with inoperable non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in the study.

Half received standard chemotherapy and radiation, and half received standard treatment and the shark cartilage drug, known as AE-941.

No difference was seen in overall survival, progression-free survival, time-to-disease progression, and tumor response rates between the two groups.

Patients who got the shark cartilage treatment lived for an average of 14.4 months, which was a month less than the average survival of patients who did not take shark cartilage.

The study was published online today and it will appear in the June 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“It is clear from these findings that this pharmaceutical-grade shark cartilage extract is not an effective treatment for this cancer,” study researcher Charles Lu, MD, tells WebMD.


Organic foods may not really be healthier

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 24, 2010


No strong evidence shows more nutritional benefits than conventional foods

NEW YORK – Consumers who opt for organic foods often believe they are improving their health, but there is currently no strong evidence that organics bring nutrition-related health benefits, a new research review finds.

A “disappointingly small” number of well-designed studies have looked at whether organic foods may have health benefits beyond their conventional counterparts’, according to the review, by researchers with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health in the UK.

Moreover, they found, what studies have been done have largely focused on short-term effects of organic eating — mainly antioxidant activity in the body — rather than longer-term health outcomes. And most of the antioxidant studies failed to find differences between organic and conventional diets.

The review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adds to findings reported last year by the same research team.

In that study, the researchers combed through 162 articles published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, and found no evidence that organic and conventional foods differ significantly in their nutrient content.

For the current review, the researchers were able to find only 12 published studies that met their criteria for evaluating the health effects of organic foods.

“A surprising and important finding of this review is the extremely limited nature of the evidence base on this subject, both in terms of the number and quality of studies,” write Dr. Alan D. Dangour and his colleagues.

Research in the area does appear to be increasing, Dangour’s team notes; 4 of the 12 studies they reviewed were published in 2008 or 2009.

But in the future, the researchers add, studies — both in humans and animals — need to be better-designed.

Of the 12 studies the researchers identified, 6 were short-term clinical trials that looked at whether specific organic foods changed markers of antioxidant activity in participants’ blood.

Those trials showed no strong evidence that organic eating boosted antioxidant activity, but the studies were also very limited in scope: they were small — with the largest including 43 men — and lasted no longer than a few weeks.


MMR doctor struck from register

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 24, 2010


The doctor who first suggested a link between MMR vaccinations and autism is to be struck off the medical register.

Dr Andrew Wakefield

Dr Wakefield still stands by his research

The General Medical Council found Dr Andrew Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct over the way he carried out his controversial research.

It follows a GMC ruling earlier this year that he had acted unethically.

Dr Wakefield, who is now based in the US, has consistently claimed the allegations are unfair. He now says he will appeal against the verdict.

His 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles – but the findings were later discredited.

The GMC ruled in January Dr Wakefield had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in conducting his research, but under its procedures the sanctions are made at a later date.

The case did not investigate whether Dr Wakefield’s findings were right or wrong, instead it focused on the methods of research.

During the two-and-a-half-year case, the longest in GMC history, he was accused of carrying out invasive tests on vulnerable children which were against their best interests.

The GMC also said Dr Wakefield, who was working at London’s Royal Free Hospital as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or relevant qualifications for such tests.

And the panel hearing the case took exception with the way he gathered blood samples. Dr Wakefield paid children £5 for the samples at his son’s birthday party.

It also said Dr Wakefield should have disclosed the fact that he had been paid to advise solicitors acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR.

Serious misconduct


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Study finds no brain cancer link to mobile phone use

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 17, 2010


PARIS (AFP) – The largest study to date of the safety of mobile phones has found no clear link to brain cancer, although it said further study is merited given their increasingly intensive use.

“The study doesn’t reveal an increased risk, but we can’t conclude that there is no risk because there are enough findings that suggest a possible risk,” the study’s chief author, Elisabeth Cardis, told AFP.

The results of the Interphone study, which included 2,708 cases of glioma tumours and 2,409 meningioma tumours in 13 countries over a 10-year period, is due to be published on Tuesday in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

It found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma tumours after 10 years of using a mobile phone, although it found “suggestions of higher risk” for the heavyest users.

The heavyest users who reported using their phones on the same side of their heads had a 40 percent higher risk for gliomas and 15 percent for meningiomas, but the researchers said “biases and errors” prevent making a causal link.

Given that the heavyest users in the study talked an average of half an hour per day on their mobile phones, a figure which is not heavy by today’s standards, the researchers recommended further research.

They also cited the need for the study of the impact of mobile phone use among young people, who have rapidly become intenstive users, and who were not included in the Interphone study.


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Study: Megadoses of Vitamin D Offer No Benefit

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 17, 2010


Sometimes too much of a good thing can be … not such a good thing. That’s the conclusion of the largest study to date of the effects of giving superdoses of vitamin D. The supplement helps bodies build bone and muscle, but the new study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), finds that megaquantities of the vitamin – a year’s supply given in an single dose, for instance – do not appear to reduce the risk of falling or suffering fractures in elderly women.

Most adults in developed nations, including the U.S., are vitamin D deficient, in large part because of lack of sun exposure. While the body naturally produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, concerns about skin cancer and the heavy use of sunscreens have contributed to a worrying deficiency in large populations. That’s why researchers continue to study the most effective dosing regimen for vitamin D supplementation, particularly in the elderly who are at increased risk for falls and fractures, which are a major cause of death. (See the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2009.)

Encouraged by previous studies showing that 500,000 IU of vitamin D, given over multiple doses over a short period of time, and a single injection of 300,000 IU improved balance and strength and reduced fractures, Australian scientists at the University of Melbourne expected that a walloping single oral dose of 500,000 IU would also be effective. The study, led by Geoffrey Nicholson and Kerrie Sanders, involved 2,256 women, ages 70 years or older, who were considered to be at high risk of fracture. They were randomly assigned to receive 500,000 IU of cholecalciferol (a form of vitamin D) or placebo once a year for up to 5 years.

To the researchers’ surprise, women who received vitamin D actually suffered more falls and fractures than women who got the placebo pill. The trial participants experienced a total of 5,404 falls over the course of the study; compared with the placebo group, women taking the vitamin D megadose experienced 15% more falls and 26% more fractures.

Although women in the treatment group did have higher blood levels of vitamin D throughout the year than their placebo-taking counterparts, the added vitamin offered no protection again broken bones. “People have been exploring what is the upper limit of dosing that can be given,” says Nicholson, head of the department of clinical and biomedical sciences at the University of Melbourne. “And I think we inadvertently exceeded it. I think the take home message is that megadoses are not safe; that’s certainly going to be our approach until we have evidence to the contrary.”


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