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Skeptic News: Owen Paterson confirmed as new Environment Secretary

From: Business insider

Downing Street has confirmed Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson is to replace Caroline Spelman as Environment Secretary, fuelling concerns amongst green groups about the future direction of the government’s environment policy.

Paterson will take over from Spelman, who looks set to leave the cabinet after a series of high profile U-turns at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Paterson is widely seen as being on the right of the Conservative Party and green groups were quick to highlight his previous hostility to environmental campaigns.

Most notably, the influential ConservativeHome website reported back in May that Paterson made an intervention in cabinet demanding an end to all energy subsidies, an immediate fast-tracking of shale gas projects, and an urgent review of airport policy with a view to increasing capacity.

His stance on shale gas is particularly significant as Defra is responsible for the Environment Agency, which has been tasked with regulating and policing shale gas projects. It also provides Chancellor George Osborne with another ally in an influential position as he prepares to escalate his battle with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to shift the UK’s energy policy landscape in favour of gas.

As MP for North Shropshire he has also campaigned against National Grid’s plans for pylons that would run through his constituency connecting proposed wind farms in mid-Wales to the midlands, while during his time as Shadow Environment Secretary he supported controversial plans for a badger culling programme.

Owen Pattersons brother in law is Matt Ridley, former chairman of Northen Rock, has expressed strong criticism of the science of climate change and its conclusions. Though Patterson himself is listed on the Public Whip as having voted in favour of policies to stop climate change 77% of the time. It seems likely he will support the expansion of Heathrow but his stance on other environmental issues seems less clear.

Skeptic News: Woman accused of witchcraft killed

From: UPI.com

A woman from northwestern Colombia was beaten to death and set on fire after she was accused of being a witch, officials said.

The woman was found dead in her home in a rural area about 10 miles from Medellin, police said.

Investigators said her killers beat her to death, then poured gasoline on her body and set it afire, Colombia Reports said Sunday.

The mayor of a community in the area condemned the killing and spoke out against an “abhorrent intolerance that resembles the days of the inquisition.”

Residents said the woman was accused of casting a spell on a local boy, but police said a search of her home Friday found no indication she practiced witchcraft, Colombia Reports said.

The mayor said another woman was killed in the village six years ago after she was accused of being a witch.

While it may seem like something out of the middle ages killings based on accusations of witchcraft are still sadly common around the world.

Skeptic News: Heavy Metal Satanists

From: The Sacramento Bee

A heavy metal concert has prompted a police investigation after an Islamist lawyer claimed it was attended by Satanists at a well-known cultural center in Egypt’s capital Cairo.

A security official says Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Ismail el-Washahi filed a suit accusing the El-Sawy Culture Wheel of hosting people wearing black t-shirts, carrying Satanists’ drawings and accessories while dancing at the concert. The suit claims “Satanist rituals were held.”

The center denied the claims, saying some violations of its rules, like smoking, occurred but were dealt with. An investigation began Monday, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

The allegations recall a high-profile case 15 years ago when state security cracked down “Satan worshippers,” arresting some 100 heavy metal fans.

The association between heavy metal and Satanism feels… well a little bit 80’s to be honest…

Skeptic News: Leeds fraudster jailed for ‘call a psychic’ phone scam

From: Yorkshire evening post

A fraudster has been jailed for his part in a phone scam which saw him paid thousands of pounds commission for calls made on premium rate numbers to five psychics who turned out to be completely bogus.

Paul James Jones not only pocketed the commission money from his crimes but left phone companies more than £30,000 out of pocket after failing to pay the bills on the phone accounts he used to make the calls requesting “readings” from the psychics.

Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday he was caught after inquiries were made into the unpaid landline accounts in various names at his home in Leeds and it was discovered he had run up thousands of pounds making calls himself to the five psychics.

The company behind the prime rate numbers would pay a legitimate commission for each contact made to an individual psychic and they had not realised until the inquiry began that money for the five was going to the same accounts and that they were bogus names. The commission was traced to bank accounts used by Jones.

David Dixon, prosecuting, said as a result more than £37,000 in commission was paid into accounts accessed by Jones over the months concerned while he had left two phone companies with unpaid bills totalling £32,000 in the process.

Initially he had arranged four landlines using false names with Phone Co-op at his home, running up £5,000 in calls in the first two months. He subsequently arranged 12 modem phone accounts with TalkTalk from his address in Leeds and another in Blackpool.

Jones, 31, of Compton Place, Harehills, Leeds was jailed for 28 months after he admitted three charges of fraud.

An odd case of the psychics being wholly invented as opposed to their psychic powers.

Skeptic News: UK health minister supports homeopathy

From: Telegraph

The man put in charge of the nation’s health policy is on record as supporting spending public money on magic water to cure disease. Here’s the text of an Early Day Motion he signed in 2007:

That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets.

And here’s the letter Mr Hunt sent to a concerned constituent who pointed out that homeopathy doesn’t work:

Dear Mr Ellis,

Thank you very much for your letter regarding EDM 1240 in support of Homeopathic Hospitals. I appreciate that you are disappointed that I added my name to this motion, and read your comments on this issue with interest.

I understand that it is your view that homeopathy is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is “patient-led” it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient.

I am grateful to you for taking the time to write with your concerns. I realise that my answer will be a disappointing one for you, but I hope that the letter helps to clarify my view.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed)

Jeremy Hunt Member of Parliament South West Surrey

The only possible worst choice for health minister would perhaps have been hDavid Tredinnick!

Skeptic News: Organic food no better for you

From: The Guardian

Organic produce and meat typically is no better for you than conventional food when it comes to vitamin and nutrient content, although it does generally reduce exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a US study.

Crystal Smith-Spangler, who led a team of researchers from Stanford University and Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care, reviewed more than 200 studies that compared either the health of people who ate organic or conventional foods or, more commonly, nutrient and contaminant levels in the foods themselves.

The foods included organic and non-organic fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry eggs and milk.

According to US department of agriculture standards, organic farms have to avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. Organic livestock must also have access to pastures during grazing season.

However, many of the studies used did not specify their standards for what constituted “organic” food, which can cost as much as twice as conventional food, the researchers wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Smith-Spangler and her colleagues found there was no difference in the amount of vitamins in plant or animal products produced organically and conventionally – and the only nutrient difference was slightly more phosphorous in the organic products.

Given that studies suggest organic produce may also be harmful to the environment we wonder if the justifications for this dietary choice  hold up to scrutiny.

The paper can be found here.

Skeptic News: Robbie Williams to turn Californian island into UFO spotting base

From: NME

Robbie Williams is reportedly set to buy White Rock Island, California, with plans to turn it into a base for spotting UFOs.

The former Take That singer is apparently planning to build a luxury private resort on the 1.3 acre island – which is currently owned by Hollywood movie director Michael Caffrey – so he and his wife Ayda can stay there and spot UFOs, reports Examiner.com.

Williams first visited White Rock Island last year and found it to be a perfect location for UFO spotting, with minimal light pollution and a clear, unobstructed view of the night sky.

The singer has said that he has seen UFOs before, and is reportedly willing to pay $659,000 (£414,778) for White Rock Island.

Skeptic News: Haunting threats to extort money from elderly

From: ABC News

Police say they are searching for three Mandarin-speaking women who are using stories about “evil spirits” to defraud members of Sydney’s Chinese community. In the latest incident, a 60-year-old woman handed over jewellery and cash in central Cabramatta last Thursday. The con artists have told their victims that evil spirits will bring bad luck to their family unless they hand over money and other items.

Chief Inspector Arthur Aleksandrowicz says detectives are looking at similar incidents elsewhere in Sydney. ”Police believe that the scam has been developed to take advantage of the superstitious element within the Chinese community and particularly targeting the elderly,” he said.

"Police are looking also at two similar incidents at Chatswood and Haymarket and they believe there are also likely to be other victims across Sydney who have not yet come forward."

Although there may be many individuals who believe in evil spirits and hauntings sincerely it seems there is no shortage of those who would use this belief to their own advanta

Skeptic News: Jedward Power Bracelets

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UPDATE: The price of the bands was previously erroneously reported as £37.40 this has now been corrected.
It is also worth noting that Jedward offer this disclaimer on their website.

Despite this the company who manufacturers the bands still promotes unproven claims and these claims are reproduced in a .pdf available from the Jedward site.

The infamous Irish pop duo, Jedward, are branching out and selling JedPower Bracelets from their online store.

Available for the small sum of 11 euros the bracelets come in an array of colours (one for each day and a multicoloured “everyday” bracelet).

On jedwards Just a Sec website no claims of any benefits to wearing the bands are made on the page they are for sale. However the site also hosts a document from “negative ions performance technology” which makes all manner of health claims related to wearing the Jedpower bracelets.

Among these are at the bands can help improve asthma, depression, stress and stimulate the bodies “natural healing process”. No evidence for this is presented in the document.

The bands themselves are somewhat notorious in Skeptical circles and have been roundly debunked.

These claims were the topic of a 2003 injunction by the American Federal Trade Commission and later a high-profile court ruling in 2006. A major factor in these rulings was a November 2002 study by Mayo Clinic that demonstrated no significant effect by the Q-Ray bracelet on muscle pain relative to the placebo effect.

The court was unable to find any basis for QT Inc.’s claims related to traditional Chinese medicine, concluding that it was “part of a scheme devised by [QT Inc.] to defraud [its] consumers”.

These bracelets are supposed to “work” in the same way as those studied by the Mayo clinic. Using a secret ionisation process rather than being ionised themselves.

While it may seem appropriate, on some levels, to see Jedward promoting and selling what is essentially just plastic tat. It is disheartening to think by doing so they are helping to fund quackery.