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 24 May 2015

EM Drive Tested By NASA: Lets Not Get Too Excited Just Yet

May 6th, 2015

A big news story has been making the rounds about a new and potentially game changing space propulsion technology, which was recently tested by NASA scientists in a vacuum chamber at the Manned Space Flight Center in Houston Texas.  The system, called the EM Drive, is based on microwaves bouncing around a specially shaped cavity.  These aledgedly create thrust, thus making it possible for the EM drive to be used as a propulsion system, if attached to a spacecraft.

What  makes the EM drive so much different than any previous propulsion technology is that it does so without expelling any propellant.  All existing rocket engines use some kind of material, known as reaction mass, in order to produce thrust.  Even highly efficient ion engines require a gas of some sort to be used as the reactionary mass.  The need for propellant is a major limiting factor in spaceflight.  It means that propellant must be launched with the spacecraft, often constituting a large percentage of the spacecraft’s mass.  It also limits the duration of the spaceflight.  Eventually the propellant runs out.  However, the EM drive uses only energy, which can be provided almost without limits by solar panels or a nuclear power source, which could provide energy for decades.emdrive

The only problem with this is that the whole concept seems to violate the law of conservation of momentum.  Our current understanding of physics would seem to indicate that this is impossible.  You can’t add momentum to something without pushing off of something else.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and that’s why rockets need to shoot propellant in one direction to go in the other.

Via IO9:

New Test Suggests NASA’s “Impossible” EM Drive Will Work In Space
[T]he EM Drive’s thrust was due to the Quantum Vacuum (the quantum state with the lowest possible energy) behaving like propellant ions behave in a MagnetoHydroDynamics drive (a method electrifying propellant and then directing it with magnetic fields to push a spacecraft in the opposite direction) for spacecraft propulsion.
Last year, NASA’s advanced propulsion research wing made headlines by announcing the successful test of a physics-defying electromagnetic drive, or EM drive. Now, this futuristic engine, which could in theory propel objects to near-relativistic speeds, has been shown to work inside a space-like vacuum.

NASA Eagleworks made the announcement quite unassumingly via NASASpaceFlight.com. There’s also a major discussion going on about the engine and the physics that drives it at the site’s forum.


The EM drive is controversial in that it appears to violate conventional physics and the law of conservation of momentum; the engine, invented by British scientist Roger Sawyer, converts electric power to thrust without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves within a closed container. So, with no expulsion of propellant, there’s nothing to balance the change in the spacecraft’s momentum during acceleration. Hence the skepticism. But as stated by NASA Eagleworks scientist Harold White:

The trouble with this theory, however, is that it might not work in a closed vacuum. After last year’s tests of the engine, which weren’t performed in a vacuum, skeptics argued that the measured thrust was attributable to environmental conditions external to the drive, such as natural thermal convection currents arising from microwave heating.

The recent experiment, however, addressed this concern head-on, while also demonstrating the engine’s potential to work in space. (Image: NASA Eagleworks.)

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Posted in Bad Science, Good Science, Misc, Space

Natural Cancer Cure Guru Lied About Having Cancer

April 22nd, 2015

Not long ago, Jessica Ainscough died from lack of treatment for her cancer.  For the past few years, she had been promoting various ‘alternative’ cancer treatments, which, she claimed, would cure the cancer she had as well as others.   It didn’t, and, predictably, she died.  However, it’s hard not to have some sympathy for her.  After all, she clearly believed the garbage she was spouting, because she had enough faith in it to let it kill her.

What would be truly revolting would be if someone had gone around making similar claims and raking in money for it, but lied about having cancer the whole time.

Well, that just happened.

Via News.com.au:

Belle Gibson: ‘No, None of it is true’

DISGRACED wellness blogger Belle Gibson has admitted she deceived her followers, friends and family about having cancer and curing her illness with healthy eating and natural therapies.

The 23-year-old was accused of fabricating her terminal brain cancer and making a profit from her story via her wellness app, The Whole Pantry.

Last month it was revealed Gibson failed to donate $300,000 from the sales of her app to charity as promised and her friends had started to question the legitimacy of her diagnosis. Earlier this month, Victoria Police said they would not pursue criminal charges against Gibson.

Speaking out about the controversy in an exclusive interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly, Gibson was asked outright if she has, or has ever had cancer.

“No. None of it’s true,” she confessed.

“I am still jumping between what I think I know and what is reality. I have lived it and I’m not really there yet,” she said.

The Weekly speculates that Gibson suffers from a psychological condition called factitious disorder or Munchausen syndrome (see below for an explainer) — where sufferers feign disease or illness to gain attention.

Gibson fails to explain in detail how and why she lied about her condition.

“I think my life has just got so many complexities around it and within it, that it’s just easier to assume [I’m lying],” she said.

“If I don’t have an answer, then I will sort of theorise it myself and come up with one. I think that’s an easy thing to often revert to if you don’t know what the answer is.”

Gibson believes her “troubled” childhood may have led her to lie about her condition.

The young mother — she has a 4-year-old son called Olivier — claims she was forced to take care of herself from the age of five.

“When I started school, my mum went, ‘My daughter is grown up now’. All of a sudden I was walking to school on my own, making school lunches and cleaning the house every day.

“It was my responsibility to do grocery shopping, do the washing, arrange medical appointments and pick up my brother. I didn’t have any toys.” Gibson is now estranged from her mother and would not provide The Weekly with her first name or contact details.

Gibson is still with her partner Clive Rothwell, who declined to be interviewed by The Weekly. She says Rothwell is “supportive, but obviously very devastated” by her betrayal.

“He’s been very stern, along the lines of, ‘I just want you to acknowledge where you’ve f***ed up and try not to smooth over that,” she said.

The recent controversy has put Gibson in a difficult financial position. Penguin Australia has stopped supplying her book and Apple have dropped her app.

She has returned her rental car and will soon move out of her beachside home. Accountants have been instructed to give any leftover funds to the charities Gibson pledged money to.

Gibson says the public backlash against her has been “horrible”.

“In the last two years I have worked every single day living and raising up an online community of people who supported each other … I understand the confusion and the suspicion, but I also know that people need to draw a line in the sand where they still treat someone with some level of respect or humility — and I have not been receiving that.”

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Posted in Bad Science, media, Misc, Quackery

Yet another study proves vaccines do not cause autism

April 21st, 2015

Vaccines don’t cause autism.  We know that.  We’ve known it for a while.  There has never been a shred of evidence that they do.  There have been studies done that conclusively show they do not.

Now a new study has come out showing that there is zero increase in the risk of autism in children who are given the MMR vaccine, even in those who are already at high risk for autism.  This refutes the claim made by some that vaccines contribute to autism or are a factor that exacerbates it.

Via CBS News:

Will latest study on vaccines and autism change minds?

Yet another study finds no evidence that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine raises the risk of autism — even among children who are at increased genetic risk.

Experts said the findings, reported in the April 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, should be reassuring to parents, particularly those who already have a child with autism.

The theory that MMR vaccination raises the risk of autism has its roots in a small study done in 1998 — one that was later found to be fraudulent. Since then, numerous international studies have found no evidence that vaccines help trigger autism.

Still, some parents remain worried. And those who already have a child with autism seem even more concerned.

“Research has shown that parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders are more likely to delay vaccinating their younger children,” said Dr. Bryan King, an autism researcher at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

“Basically, they wait until the developmental dust has settled, and it looks like their child will be unaffected (by autism),” said King, who wrote an editorial published with the study.

But delaying recommended vaccinations puts children at risk of potentially serious infections, said Dr. Anjali Jain, the study leader and a researcher at the Lewin Group, a healthcare consulting firm in Falls Church, Va.

It’s known that genes make certain children more vulnerable to autism — that’s why kids with an affected older sibling are at higher-than-average risk. But environmental factors also have to play a role, experts believe.

One theory, King said, is that it takes a “triple hit” — genes, plus an environmental trigger that strikes during a particular time window in brain development.

But based on years of research, the MMR vaccine is not that trigger, according to health experts. “Every study that’s looked at this, through every strategy they’ve used, has found no signal,” King said.

The increase in autism is most likely the result of increased screening and a broadening of the diagnostic criteria for the condition.

This study may put some pressure on certain groups, such as Generation Rescue or Autism Speaks, who are trying to put a legitimate face on the lies they tell, even despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Sadly, it is unlikely to do much for the average anti-vaxxer. Such individuals are not interested in science and not persuaded by data. If they were, this would have been over a long time ago.

It may also help in convincing those who are sitting on the fence or who are generally ignorant of the issue and are facing the decision of whether or not to vaccinate their first child. In such circumstances, every chance to get such information in the general media should be seen as a victory.

The topic of why otherwise intelligent people subscribe to discredited ideas like vaccines causing autism is another discussion onto itself. It involves a complex mix of cognitive dissonance, being heavily invested in something, persecution complexes, and a near-religious conviction in the idea. Thus, this will not change any minds that have already been made up.


Posted in Bad Science, Good Science, media, Quackery

How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is Funded

April 18th, 2015

Of all the modern anti-science movements out there, few are more dangerous or harmful than the anti-vaccine movement. Yes, it has killed people. It will continue to kill people. It has also resulted in huge amounts of money and resources being devoted to combating public health problems that should have (and in some cases were) eliminated years ago.

One thing that is very noteworthy about the movement is just how well funded it seems to be.  Obviously some of the funding comes from the fact that it often is a business and money is invested directly to make a return.  Many of the dishonest doctors who have spoken out against vaccines do so to make money directly.  In such cases, it is a self-funded enterprise, promoted like any other venture and funded by the sales of books, lecture tickets and various “detoxification” products and a like.

The alternative medicine world is very lucrative and has a great deal of interest in the anti-vaccine movement.  Many of the promoters are either directly or indirectly profiting from it.  Some may simply be pushing the message of homeopathy or other areas of quackery and the message against vaccines is simply part and parcel of the medical philosophy they choose to sell.

There are also true “grass roots” activists out there (read idiots).  They work on their own time and may even contribute their own money to efforts to stop the progress of vaccines in combating infectious disease.  However, these efforts are usually very amateurish in their style.

A few organizations stand out, however, as having a very professional and credible image which has clearly come from a well-funded effort targeted directly at discrediting vaccines.  Chief among them is the National Vaccine Information Center.  It is a non-profit that has paid for billboards and media campaigns against vaccines and runs one of the most visited websites on the topic.  What makes it stand out is how professional and well managed the effort seems to be.  The website is well designed and looks credible.  The information provided is also deceptively well worded.  They stay away from the more outlandish claims of things like chemtrails and Illuminati plots, but drive home a seemingly plausible story of deaths and injuries from vaccines.

Like many such efforts, they are hiding behind the false notion of “personal choice” in a matter which really only has one rational choice.  There is no valid scientific reason to oppose vaccines (unless you just hate humans and love pathogens.)   But the slick campaign and message makes it clear that there are deep pockets behind the effort.

Similar efforts have funded everything from advertisements in magazines to “independent” documentary movies on the topic.

It turns out that there are, in fact, some very wealthy individuals who are behind this. Their motive seems to be a genuine belief that vaccines cause harm. Clearly, you can be rich and still very stupid.

This video from CNN just scratches the surface of the issue:

 

(click here if your browser does not support embedded video)Unfortunately, it will be hard to take down these well-funded foundations. If these were rich individuals who were making money in a certain business sector, the
logical thing to do would be to destroy their companies through boycotts. Yet these foundations seem to be mostly founded by individuals with a lot of acquired wealth, which is not going anywhere. The Dwoskins do make money from a current property management group, but it would be hard to boycott such a company, since they have a limited number of clients, many of whom are locked into leases. Barry Segal is retired and just has a lot of money burning a hole in his pocket so little can be done there.

None the less, it is important not to become completely discouraged. This is not a grass-roots movement. It’s both a business sector and a campaign by some very twisted rich people. That should be all the more reason to get the message out and fight back.  Just getting out that message alone can do much to undermine the image the movement has worked to craft.


Posted in Bad Science, Quackery

A wonderful and inspirational Facebook page

April 1st, 2015

A happy April first to all!

As I promised, I have not abandoned this blog.  After a hiatus, I will be back in the near future with many more posts.

In the mean time, I suggest this Facebook Page, where you can gain your share of daily wisdom and inspiration on things like natural health and organics!


Posted in Announcements, Humor, Links, Website

No, the site is not dead. Yes, there will be new content

March 9th, 2015

Just a quick announcement:  Many have pointed out that new content for this site has been a bit lacking recently.  I totally understand this and the concern that the twilight of Depleted Cranium might be looming.   However, I have every intent of keeping up the blog.

Right now, I have a number of personal and professional obligations converging.  As a result, I will be on more or less of a hiatus from new posts until April.

I realize that blogs thrive on new content and taking some time off will likely mean diminished traffic and page ranks.  Unfortunately, I just have too much going on.
Thanks,
Steve Packard


Posted in Announcements, personal, Website

The Best Late Night Bit Ever (on Vaccines)

February 28th, 2015

Rarely do I create a post just to show off a video, much less a comedy video from a late night television show.  However, this bit from Jimmy Kimmel Live is great.  It’s about vaccines and it’s funny and on point.

I think my favorite thing about this is that the message to vaccinate kids and opposition to the anti-vaccine movement is making such a strong showing in the mainstream media.  While late night talk shows aren’t exactly the best place to get information, they are a good reflection on cultural trends.  Putting out the pro-vaccine message on science blogs and even in the news media is great and should be encouraged.  However, it is a huge step when it starts to enter more of our culture and media.

Ridicule is also a important weapon in opposing anti-science rhetoric and quackery.  There is nothing wrong with calling an idea stupid when it is, in fact, stupid, and sometimes putting it in its place with appropriate ridicule is the best way of driving the point home.  There’s also good reason why humor is used in so many advertisements.  Humor gets people’s attention and helps make the message memorable.

Here’s the clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live.  It’s fantastic.


(Click here if your browser does not support embedded video)


Posted in Bad Science, Culture, Good Science, Humor

As Predicted, Jessica Ainscough Has Died Of Her Untreated Cancer

February 27th, 2015

Jessicadead

 

I take no pleasure in saying this.  However, it has come to my attention that Jessica Ainscough, the woman who I predicted would die of untreated cancer has passed away.

She was 30 years.  She spent seven of those years with a slowly progressing cancer that would ultimately kill her.

It was 2012 when I predicted this outcome, noting that the slow moving cancer would likely take a few more years to kill her.  It took about three.   To be perfectly honest, that’s roughly what I had expected, based on what doctors had told me and some research on the progression of the condition.

It is surely a sad day for her friends and family.  It’s terrible to lose a life at such an age, especially when it could have been prevented.  However, I believe this needs to be publicized and used as an example of how deadly cancer quackery can be.  She spent much of her life encouraging others to go down the path of fake treatments and quackery.  The ultimate result should be proof to any others who face the difficult decision of how to treat their cancer.

More info can be found here.


Posted in Announcements, Bad Science, Quackery

Congratulations Anti-Vaxers, You Killed a Baby!

February 24th, 2015

Measles is a very contagious disease.  It’s usually something that people get over, without permanent damage, although complications are not all that uncommon.  Deaths are relatively rare, but they do happen.   At one time, a country like the United States would expect to experience a few dozen deaths from measles, mostly in children, per year.

That began to change when an effective vaccine was developed in 1968.  It took some time for the vaccine to proliferate across the industrial world, and measles outbreaks continued into the 1980′s.  However by the late 1990′s, measles had become an uncommon condition in most of the developed world.  It did not go away completely, but by the turn of the 21st century, most public health officials considered measles to be a problem of the past and efforts on further eradication focused on third world countries, where low vaccine rates allowed it to flourish.

CanadameaslesThat began to change, however, as more parents started to buy into the propaganda of an increasingly well funded and vocal anti-vaccine movement.  It started with claims that vaccine caused autism.  Then they began to talk about all manner of “vaccine injury,” which, in most cases, was a complete fabrication.  Yet the fear of vaccines took hold enough for many parents to leave their children unvaccinated.  Many became so sold on the idea they would work to spread the message to others.

What happened is exactly what you would expect to happen.  A disease as contagious as measles once again had a population capable of sustaining an outbreak and that’s what happened.  In the United States, a single incident, where a number of persons were exposed in Disneyland resulted in a multi-state outbreak that has now spread to several states.  The numbers keep climbing and are now well over one hundred and fifty, although its likely that far more have not been reported.

Measels2Of course, the US is not alone.  Similar outbreaks and increases in rate of measles have swept the industrial world.  Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany have also faced the prospect of decreasing vaccine rates leading to measles outbreaks.  Other outbreaks have happened in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Italy, Singapore and New Zealand.

In many places, vaccine refusal has just begun to reach the critical number necessary for full scale outbreaks to be sustained in the population.  This has resulted in some very dramatic upticks in the rate of the diseases.  For example, Turkey reported 7,132 cases in 2014, up from 700 in 2013.  In New Zealand, 2014 saw 281 cases reported, while only 8 cases had been reported in 2013.

Up until now, no lives had been lost to the outbreaks.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that vaccines are still reasonably common and therefore, the outbreaks have been small compared to those of decades ago.  Another reason is that, when someone gets measles, every effort is made to prevent them from dying.

Serious complications, complications that could even cause death, are not uncommon from measles.  But when they do happen, the health system springs into action and usually manages to save the lives of those infected.  For example, about 15% of those infected in the recent US outbreak ended up in the hospital.  When this happens, they are monitored, fluids and fever reducers are given, antibiotics are called for if there are secondary infections and doctors monitor their recovery.  Some will develop pneumonia and require breathing assistance, such as supplemental oxygen.  Vitamin A may be given by IV, as there is some evidence of decreased mortality when high vitamin A levels are maintained.

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Posted in Bad Science, Quackery

Why do a few doctors come out against vaccines?

February 7th, 2015

Vaccines represent one of the greatest achievements in public health.  They have saved millions of lives and have the ability to completely eradicate some infectious diseases.  They’re also extremely safe.  Serious reactions to vaccines are extremely rare and deaths are even more rare.  They certainly do not suppress the immune system, make people less healthy or cause autism.

The anti-vaccine movement is a false controversy, predicated on ignorance and lies.  It exploits fallacies, like the belief that “natural” things are always good or that any foreign substance must be harmful to the body, if it is put there by human intervention.  It is also based on fear, especially the natural instinct of parents to protect their children and not harm them.  Considering the number of websites and organizations that support these lies, it’s not surprising that many people have fallen for it.

The vast majority of those who run these organizations and campaign against vaccines have no medical or scientific background at all.  Some are garden variety conspiracy theorists.  Others are celebrities, who became famous because they posed in men’s magazines or for acting or music.  They seem to believe that its their duty to use their fame to promote something that they believe, even despite their lack of actual authority on the matter.

The overwhelming majority of competent doctors and scientists in the field will tell you that vaccines are very safe and quite effective.  Even doctors whose field is not immunology generally have enough basic training in general medicine and biology to understand this undeniable fact.  Those who are well versed in the real data, whether they are doctors, public health officials or just science advocates are in almost universal agreement in support of vaccines.

…almost.

While it isn’t surprising that most doctors and experts do support vaccines, it is a little surprising that there are some who do not.  They are few and far between.  In fact, there seem to be only a handful of them worldwide, but they do exist.

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Posted in Bad Science, Quackery