Study finds homeopathy effective for 0 out of 68 illnesses.

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Study finds homeopathy effective for 0 out of 68 illnesses.

A leading scientist has declared homeopathy a “therapeutic dead-end” after a systematic review concluded the controversial treatment was no more effective than placebo drugs.

Professor Paul Glasziou, a leading academic in evidence based medicine at Bond University, was the chair of a working party by the National Health and Medical Research Council which was tasked with reviewing the evidence of 176 trials of homeopathy to establish if the treatment is valid.

A total of 57 systematic reviews, containing the 176 individual studies, focused on 68 different health conditions – and found there to be no evidence homeopathy was more effective than placebo on any.

Homeopathy is an alternative medicine based on the idea of diluting a substance in water. According to the NHS: “Practitioners believe that the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater its power to treat symptoms. Many homeopathic remedies consist of substances that have been diluted many times in water until there is none or almost none of the original substance left.”

The review found “no discernible convincing effects beyond placebo” and concluded “there was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered”.

Writing in a blog for the British Medical Journal, Professor Glasziou states: “As chair of the working party which produced the report I was simply relieved that the arduous journey of sifting and synthesising the evidence was at an end. I had begun the journey with an ‘I don’t know attitude’, curious about whether this unlikely treatment could ever work… but I lost interest after looking at the 57 systematic reviews which contained 176 individual studies and finding no discernible convincing effects beyond placebo.”

He continues: “I can well understand why Samuel Hahnemann- the founder of homeopathy- was dissatisfied with the state of 18th century medicine’s practices, such as blood-letting and purging and tried to find a better alternative.

“But I would guess he would be disappointed by the collective failure of homeopathy to carry on his innovative investigations, but instead continue to pursue a therapeutic dead-end.”

In the UK, two NHS hospitals provide homeopathy, as well as a number of GP practices.



Obama cuts all funding for Christian-based ‘Abstinence Only’ sex-ed programs.

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Obama cuts all funding for Christian-based ‘Abstinence Only’ sex-ed programs.

President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal has removed a $10 million annual grant that goes towards funding “abstinence-only” sexual education classes in public schools. By eliminating the grant, Obama would end the financial incentive for states to continue teaching the debunked sex-ed program.

“Abstinence Only” is a sex education course that refuses to teach about condoms or other forms of birth control in favor of encouraging teens to abstain. The outdated and ineffective curriculum is favored by many Christian sects, and is supported by many Republican lawmakers.

The program often skips information about anatomy, puberty, sexual health and orientation. In addition, it’s been theorized that the courses can create a hostile environment for same-sex couples, couples that have premarital sex, or other people who don’t fit in with the image of sexuality described in the class.

Jessica Boyer, CEO of The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), said in a statement that she is “grateful for President Obama’s leadership in seeking to end abstinence-only-until-marriage funding once and for all.

After three decades and nearly $2 billion in federal spending wasted on this failed approach, the President’s proposed budget increases support for programs and efforts that seek to equip young people with the skills they need to ensure their lifelong sexual health and well-being.

Congress has until October 1, the end of the fiscal year, to debate the budget. With Obama entering the final year of his presidency, the Republican Congress is sure to fight him on nearly every platform.


Nike Drops Manny Pacquiao Following Anti-Gay Comments.

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Nike ended their longtime partnership with boxer Manny Pacquiao on Wednesday, just two days after the boxer caused international outrage by saying gay people were “worse than animals”

In a statement, Nike called Pacquiao’s comments “abhorrent” and said the company “strongly oppose[s] discrimination of any kind.”

The 37-year-old has faced loud backlash since he made the controversial statement in an interview with a Filipino television station on Monday.

“Will you see any animals where male is to male and female is to female? The animals are better,” Pacquiao said in the interview, according to CNN. “They know how to distinguish male from female. If we approve [of] male on male, female on female, then man is worse than animals.”

On Tuesday, Pacquiao offered an apology on Instagram, but reasserted that he does not believe in same-sex marriage.

“I’m sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those I’ve hurt” the Instagram caption read. “I still stand on my belief that I’m against same sex marriage because of what the Bible says, but I’m not condemning LGBT.”

Nike and Pacquiao have been in partnership since at least 2006. The boxer is scheduled to fight his last match against Timothy Bradley Jr. in April.



Saudi Arabia and Russia agree to freeze oil production (and what it means for the world)

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Saudi Arabia and Russia agree to freeze oil production (and what it means for the world)

Saudi Arabia and Russia have agreed to freeze oil output in a meeting in Qatar. Ali al-Naimi, the Saudi Arabian oil minister met with Alexander Novakin Doha, his Russian counterpart, and representatives from Venezuela and Qatar in Doha on Tuesday where they agreed a freeze in the oil production at January levels.

“Freezing now at the January level is adequate for the market,” said Saudi Arabian Oil Minister, Ali al-Naimi.

“We don’t want significant gyrations in prices, we want to meet demand. We want a stable oil price.”

The agreement fell short of cutting production to shore up oil prices.


The price of brent crude surged 6 per cent on Tuesday to trade at $35.22 a barrel in anticipation of an agreement.

It slipped back from earlier gains after the announcement was made, reflecting disappointment that production would not be reduced. Many oil producers are already pumping at full capacity.

Oil has lost more than 70 per cent of its value in 18 months, wreaking havoc on the oil-dependent economies such as Saudi Arabia, which has been forced to make sweeping welfare cuts.

The kingdom insisted it wouldn’t curb production unless other producers in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to co-operate.

Saudi Arabia has one of the most oil reliant economies in the world, as shown by the above Statista infographic. King Salman said in a speech that the kingdom would seek to diversify its revenues in 2016.

Venezuela has been hit hardest from low oil prices. It had lobbied exporters including Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia to arrange a meeting with OPEC to try and reach an agreement.

The deal is a huge turnaround from OPEC’s last meeting in December, when members were said to be hardly talking to one another.

It now depends on the agreement of Iran and Iraq.

The nations will meet for further talks on Wednesday, but analysts suspect Iran will be reluctant to freeze production because it has only just returned to the market following the lifting of sanctions.


DEVELOPING NEWS: Richard Dawkins has suffered a stroke.

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DEVELOPING NEWS: Richard Dawkins has suffered a stroke. 

Richard Dawkins has had a stroke on the eve of his tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Management for the 74-year-old author of The God Delusion said he had suffered a “minor stroke” in the UK on Saturday but had already returned home from hospital.

But the health scare has caused him to postpone his tour, his management said in a message passed on to ticket holders on Friday.

“On Saturday night Richard suffered a minor stroke, however he is expected in time to make a full or near full recovery,” the statement said. “He is already at home recuperating.

“This unfortunately means Richard will be unable to make his planned Australian and New Zealand tour. He is very disappointed that he is unable to do so but looks forward to renewing his plans in the not too distant future.”

By Thursday he had recovered enough to use Twitter, plugging a book called God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, for which he had written the foreword.

The events were to be centred around his recently published second memoir, Brief Candle in the Dark. It’s his 13th book. His first, The Selfish Gene, published in 1976, has sold more than a million copies. The God Delusion, the 2006 book for which he is now best known, has sold more than three million.

A steadfast critic of religion, who nevertheless recently criticised leading UK cinema chains for refusing to screen an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer, Dawkins has regularly been named one of Britain’s top public intellectuals.

He also coined the term “meme”, in described in rather loftier tones than its current manifestation as an infinite cascade of sad frogs named Pepe, as a self-replicating unit that transmitted cultural ideas.

Memes, Dawkins told The Guardian in 2013, are “cultural replicators, the cultural equivalent of a gene, the cultural equivalent of DNA,” adding “the internet is a first-class ecology for memes to spread.”


Bernie Sanders talks about religion (and some atheists aren’t happy)

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Bernie Sanders talks about religion (and some atheists aren’t happy)

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders dashed the hopes of some atheists when he declared he had “very strong religious and spiritual feelings” at a Democratic town hall.

“It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely, it is,” Sanders said Wednesday (Feb. 3) when a New Hampshire voter asked him about his faith. “Everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States, if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings.”

The statement came a week after the Vermont senator told The Washington Post he is “not active in any organized religion” but believes in God. That statement prompted a number of pundits — atheist and otherwise —  to describe Sanders as the first “none” to run for president, referring to people who have no religious preference.

“Sanders defines God in a very different way than the way most Americans do, and in fact, a way that would be compatible with nontheistic humanists,” Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, told The Huffington Post after Sanders’ interview with The Washington Post appeared.

Lauren Nelson, writing on the popular blog Friendly Atheist one day after the town hall, described Sanders’ response as a “punch to the gut.”

“Here was a candidate who, throughout decades of public service, had always been a staunch advocate for keeping religion out of politics, and he was saying that religion was the reason he was running?!” Nelson wrote. “Sanders, who has in the past indicated that his Judaism was a function of culture instead of belief?! HOW COULD HE BETRAY US?!”

Nelson eventually concluded Sanders’ religion is “empathy” and said she could support that. Other viewers seemed to be equally forgiving, at least on social media.

“Shame that you can’t openly come out as an atheist and still have a chance to get elected,” @bensouthard tweeted during the town hall.

And @MBrothers22 tweeted, “This (is) what an atheist says when they don’t want to offend anyone.”


Saudi Arabia is on the verge of a political and economic crisis.

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Saudi Arabia is on the verge of a political and economic crisis.

Are the Saudis nervous? Very. The royal family feels threats from within the country and without, as the price of oil plunges, the predominantly young population grows restless, and Saudi Arabia’s bitter rival, Shiite Iran, seeks to expand its influence throughout the region. The Saudis were also deeply alarmed by the Arab Spring, which saw long-established regimes crumble; the U.S.’s nuclear deal with Iran; and the rise of ISIS.

Since King Salman took the throne a year ago, Saudi authorities have intensified government repression to a severe degree. New counterterrorism legislation, enacted shortly before he took power, defines terrorism as any act with criminal intent that undermines public order, as well as any “deviant thought” that questions Wahhabism, the fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam that dominates all aspects of Saudi life.

What is the impact of this law?

Any form of dissent is being prosecuted as a crime. Executions are at a two-decade high, with more than 150 public beheadings in 2015 and 47 in just the first week of this year — including the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric (see below), an act that led Iran to sever diplomatic ties. For urging Saudi society to be more liberal and secular, prominent blogger Raif Badawi was flogged, and his lawyer was jailed for defending him. When the lawyer’s wife complained on Twitter about his arrest, she was jailed, too.

Who’s pushing this crackdown?

A new group of leaders. The House of Saud has been led by elderly sons of modern Saudi Arabia’s founder, Ibn Saud, for many decades. But King Salman, 80, has chosen not to name one of his younger half-brothers as his likely successor. Instead, he appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, 30, as deputy crown prince and defense minister — and Mohammed is clearly the real power behind the throne. Unlike the older, U.S.-educated generation, Mohammed went to a Saudi university, has had little exposure to Western culture, and has “a reputation for arrogance and ruthlessness,” says Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution.

What has Mohammed done?

The young prince plunged straight into a war in Yemen. “The previous, cautious diplomatic stance of older leaders within the royal family is being replaced by a new, impulsive policy of intervention,” said a report from the German foreign intelligence service BND. Saudi Arabia is locked in a struggle with Iran for primacy in the Middle East. The rise of a Shiite government in Iraq brought that country firmly into the Iranian camp, and Lebanon was already there. The conflict in Syria has become a proxy war between the Assad regime, backed by Iran, and militias funded by the Saudis. So when Shiite Houthi militants toppled the Yemeni government, Mohammed moved in swiftly to prevent his country from being bookended by Shiite powers. Saudi airstrikes have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, but the prince has been undeterred.

What about domestic policy?

Mohammed says he plans sweeping, market-based economic reforms. For 80 years, the Saudi economy has been based almost entirely on oil revenue. High oil prices brought in enormous wealth, which enables the government to fund a generous welfare state without levying any income tax. Most actual work is done by foreigners — a vast army of nearly nine million immigrants from South Asia and the Middle East who serve some 18 million Saudis. Saudis are employed largely in the bloated public sector, many of them drawing fat salaries for little work. But this model is becoming unsustainable. People under 25 make up more than half the population, and there aren’t enough jobs for them as they reach working age. Worse, the collapse in oil prices — from $115 a barrel in 2014 to under $35 now — means there isn’t enough money flowing in to sustain benefits at such generous levels.

Why not?

In the past, when oil prices have fallen, the Saudis have cut production to raise them. But this time, they’ve kept pumping with abandon. The goal is to preserve Saudi market share by driving higher-cost oil producers — notably the U.S. fracking industry — out of business. But the sharp drop in revenue requires painful cuts to the subsidies and expense accounts that so many Saudis rely on.

How will Saudis react to those cuts?

That’s one of the things worrying the royal family. The Saudi people have long had a tacit agreement with their rulers: In return for a cushy life and generous benefits, they put up with an almost total lack of political freedom or say in their own government. Many Saudis are rich enough to skip off to Bahrain or Dubai for the weekend, where they can drink alcohol and the women can shed their burqas. Most, though, are middle-class, and around one-fifth are actually poor, and if Mohammed makes good on his pledge to replace the free health care with an insurance-based system and partially privatize education, they will suffer. “With a decline in social spending and a reduction in subsidies,” says analyst Alberto Gallo, “comes the risk of rising domestic turmoil.”

The oppressed Shiite minority

The Saudi regime said it executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr for terrorism, but critics said the real reason was his activism in organizing the Shiite minority and denouncing the House of Saud. Shiites make up 15 percent of the population in Saudi Arabia, and they are strongly discriminated against. They are excluded from the cushy government jobs, and Saudi television and Saudi clerics routinely spread anti-Shiite propaganda. For three years, activists in the oil-rich eastern province of al-Ahsa, abutting Shiite-majority Bahrain, have been protesting, sometimes violently. “You are now standing on top of oil fields that feed the whole world,” Shiite activist Fathil Al Safwani told the BBC. “But we see nothing of it. Poverty, hunger, no honor, no political freedom, we have nothing.” By executing Nimr, the House of Saud sent a clear signal that nothing will change; indeed, even complaining about anti-Shiite discrimination will get you beheaded.