The Medical Power of Ritual
Harvard researcher Ted Kaptchuk trained for five years in traditional Chinese medicine, but then became one of the leading researchers into the placebo effect. In his hands, the fact that patients with some kinds of illnesses get better with dummy pills is a gateway into the ways that other aspects of medicine, including the capacity of doctors to generate feelings of hope, are overlooked in our technology-obsessed health care system.
This morning, Kaptchuk is out with his latest salvo in this research: a study that showed that patients with irritable bowel syndrome improved more if they were given inert sugar pills – even though they were told the pills had no active ingredients and the bottles were labeled “placebo.” Fifty-nine percent of patients who got the obviously fake pill got adequate symptom relief, compared to 35% of those who got nothing. In a press release put out by the Public Library of Science, the medical journal that published the study, Kaptchuk’s co-author, fellow Harvard professor Anthony Lembo, says: “I didn’t think it would work. I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.” Read full story from forbes.com
An atheist view of December
“Christians don’t deserve a monopoly on holiday cheer,” reads a simple yet loaded statement on the American Atheists’ website.
But how could Christians monopolize a holiday that is based on their beliefs?
It turns out that traditions associated with Christmas have morphed into social norms adopted even among nonbelievers.
Everywhere you turn there are decorations, cookies, and music. But for many of the 5% of Americans who say they don’t believe in God, December is not that different from what it’s like for those affiliated with a Christian religion. Those who don’t believe in the reason behind the holiday still celebrate the season’s concentration on values, family, and kindness. Read full story from cnn.com
Colossal pliosaur fossil secrets revealed by CT scanner
The innermost secrets of a colossal “sea monster” skull are being revealed by one of the UK’s most powerful CT scanners.
The X-rays are helping to build up a 3D picture of this ferocious predator, called a pliosaur, which terrorized the oceans 150m years ago.
The 2.4m-long (7.9ft) fossil skull was recently unearthed along the UK’s Jurassic coast, and is thought to belong to one of the biggest pliosaurs ever found.
The scans could establish if the giant is a species that is new to science.
Pliosaurs are aquatic reptiles belonging to the plesiosaur family. Paddle-like limbs would have powered their huge bulky bodies through the water, and they had enormous crocodile-like heads, packed full of razor-sharp teeth. Read full story from bbc.co.uk
French village threatens to call in army amid flood of doomsday survivalists
Residents of a tiny French village say it is being overwhelmed by outsiders who are intrigued by reports of aliens in the area and believe that the peak looming above may be a sacred mountain that will be a shelter at the end of human civilization.
Villagers in Bugarach, population 189, told The Daily Telegraph these visitors believe that the end of the world corresponds with the conclusion of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, and that the Pic de Bugarach, highest mountain in the Corbieres wine region, could provide some sort of sanctuary. Read full story from msnbc.msn.com
Do Supernova Explosions Impact Earth Every Few Hundred Million Years?
A University of Kansas research team is exploring the energy of cosmic rays and a possible link to massive prehistoric extinction events. Fossils and cosmic rays appear to have nothing in common. But Adrian Melott, a professor at the University of Kansas, is doing work with high energy cosmic rays to investigate the possibility that one may be linked to the other.
“There are a lot of things that can happen to the Earth that would cause it to get hit by more high-energy cosmic rays,” says Melott. “A supernova fairly nearby (within about 30 light-years) is an obvious one. Another one would be a gamma ray burst in our galaxy that’s pointed at us. And some people think that as we move up and down in the disc of the galaxy, when we get to the top we would get hit by more high-energy cosmic rays. So we don’t know. We have a general idea of the effects on the atmosphere, but people haven’t modeled it very much. Normally they don’t matter, because most of the cosmic rays that hit us are medium and low energy.” Read full story from dailygalaxy.com
Genome of Mystery Human Relative Revealed by 30,000 Year-Old Fossil
A 30,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in southern Siberia came from a young girl who was neither an early modern human nor a Neanderthal, but belonged to a previously unknown group of human relatives, called “Denisovans” after the cave where the fossils were found, who may have lived throughout much of Asia during the late Pleistocene epoch.
Although the fossil evidence consists of just a bone fragment and one tooth, DNA extracted from the bone has yielded a draft genome sequence, enabling scientists to reach some startling conclusions about this extinct branch of the human family tree. Read full story from dailygalaxy.com
Slideshow: Winter Solstice, lunar eclipse met by Druids at Stonehenge (photos)
The winter solstice, lunar eclipse combination may have been a wonder to some, but for Druids at Stonehenge it was a significant spiritual experience. The winter solstice occurs when the Earth’s axis is tilted the furthest from the sun and marks the first official day of winter. The day is often referred to as midwinter and the winter solstice is marked by being the shortest day and longest night. Winter solstice 2010 occurred on December 21, 2010 at 6:38 pm ET. The lunar eclipse of 2010 ushered in the solstice as the eclipse was completed by approximately 5:00 am, December 21, 2010. Read full story from examiner.com
‘Christmas is evil’: Muslim group launches poster campaign against festive period
Fanatics from a banned Islamic hate group have launched a nationwide poster campaign denouncing Christmas as evil.
Organisers plan to put up thousands of placards around the UK claiming the season of goodwill is responsible for rape, teenage pregnancies, abortion, promiscuity, crime and paedophilia.
They hope the campaign will help ‘destroy Christmas’ in this country and lead to Britons converting to Islam instead. Read full story from dailymail.com