The Amazing Meeting 2014

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JREF Swift Blog
Swift, named for Jonathan Swift, is the JREF's daily blog, featuring content from James Randi, the JREF staff, and other featured authors.

The Politics of Abolishing Witch Camps in Ghana PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Leo Igwe   

The government of Ghana has announced plans to close down the ‘witch’ camps in the northern part of the country. The Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur stated this recently while inaugurating a committee with a mandate to eradicate witchcraft in the northern region. The minister pledged to support victims of witchcraft accusation through the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) and get them to register with the state health insurance scheme. The Minister stated that the support and empowerment scheme would enable victims to “flee(sic) their minds from the act.”. Nana Oye Lithur did not really explain what she meant by “the act”.

This is not the first time the government of Ghana has proposed closing the witch camps as a measure to eradicate witchcraft-related abuse in the country. In 2011, the Deputy Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba announced plans to close down the camps and reintegrate the victims with their families. She described the existence and operation of a witch camp as ‘an indictment on the conscience of the society’. These declarations are not unconnected with pressures on state authorities.

 
What’s The Scoop on Brain Training? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Steve Novella   

There is now a proliferation of products and services promising to “train your brain.” In the past we used to call this, “learning.” The term “brain training” has a certain connotation that implies something more is happening.

For example, on the website brainmetrix.com they claim:

“You will find some brain fitness workouts that can help your mind process information more quickly, and more efficiently, as well as the ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time.”

The implication, if not explicit claim, is that brain training is somehow more than just practicing a particular task in order to become better at that task. Lumosity, for example, promises “scientifically designed training” with a “personalized training program.” The advertising is very clever – they say, “discover what your brain can do,” instead of simply, “discover what you can do.”

 
New Year’s Resolutions PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

On January 1, 2013, my local gym was packed with people, including many new faces. I commented on this to the manager Brandon, who said, “Yep. This is the New Year’s resolution crowd, but most of them will be gone by March!” Surely enough, within a few weeks the crowd had thinned, and by March only the usual muscle heads and regulars remained.

On January 1, 2014, many people will resolve to get fit, quit smoking, lose weight, eat healthier food, take up a new hobby, get out of debt, or find a better job. Folk singer Woody Guthrie’s list of New Year’s resolutions for 1934 are currently doing the rounds of the Internet. These “Rulin’s” included, “Drink Very Scant If Any”, “Listen to Radio A Lot”, and, “Help Win War – Beat Fascism”.

 
Of animal attacks and cheesy symbolism: This week in Doubtful News for December 31, 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Sharon Hill   

Here is a rundown of the anomalous and credulous stories of the week courtesy of Doubtful News.

Strange news is a little light in the last two weeks of the year but there was no lack of interesting things to think about that  came our of the media feed. We saw several curious natural phenomena explained. 

There was a Christmas ice quake in the Toronto area. Cryoseisms are real things! Check it out. 

What made those tiny picket fence and tower structures on trees in the Amazon? We sort of know now but don't know why…   

Red rain deposited dust over south Texas spawning some very alien speculation. A meteorologist figures it out. 

 
Last Week In Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Harriet Hall   

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

An experiment in paying through the nose for “unnecessary care” (David Gorski)  http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/an-experiment-in-paying-through-the-nose-for-unnecessary-care/ To control the cost of medical care we must find ways to discourage the use of unnecessary procedures. In “value-based insurance,” if patients insist on medical procedures that science shows to be ineffective or unnecessary, they have to pay for it. The American Board of Internal Medicine’s “Choosing Wisely” program is another initiative that hits doctors and patients over the head with data indicating which treatments are not supported by evidence.

Garcinia Probably Works But Is Far From a Weight Loss Miracle (Harriet Hall)  http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/garcinia-probably-works-but-is-far-from-a-weight-loss-miracle/ Garcinia cambogia is the latest in a series of “weight loss miracles” hyped by Dr. Oz. The scientific evidence is conflicting as to whether it works at all; and studies showing that it does work show only a small effect that is of questionable clinical relevance.

 
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