Category: News

The Flu Shot Is More Effective Than We Thought This Year

By Rachael Rettner

It’s been a bad flu season, but this year’s vaccine does offer some protection against the nasty bug, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC researchers estimate that this year’s flu shot reduced people’s risk of going to the doctor for flu-related visits by 36 percent overall. The shot was 25-percent effective against H3N2, the main strain of flu circulating this year, according to the report, which was published today (Feb. 15).

This year, the flu shot has been most effective for young children ages 6 months to 8 years; in this group, it has reduced the risk of going to the doctor because of the flu by 59 percent overall. (The researchers measured the vaccine’s effectiveness by looking at people who went to the doctor for the flu, and examining whether or not they had been vaccinated.) The shot has also been 33-percent effective for those ages 18 to 49. However, for people in other age groups, including those over age 65 who are at particularly high risk for flu complications, the shot has not significantly lowered the risk of flu.

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Ocean tides could have driven ancient fish to walk

By Alexandra Witze

Tides that left fish high and dry hundreds of millions of years ago could have kick-started the evolution of land-walking vertebrates.

New calculations suggest that, around 400 million years ago, many coastlines experienced two-week tidal cycles that varied in height by four metres or more. Such a huge range could have stranded fish in tidal pools for a couple of weeks. Only the ones with fins strong enough to muscle themselves out would have been able to journey back into the ocean and survive. Fossil evidence for the earliest known land vertebrates comes from places that had such wide tidal ranges.

Hannah Byrne, who led the work while at Bangor University, UK, and is now a doctoral student at Uppsala University in Sweden, reported the findings on 15 February at the Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, Oregon.

The idea that the first land-walking animals could have evolved from those stranded in tide pools is generally well accepted and dates back decades. “What we’re suggesting is the actual driver of why the pools formed and why they were drying out,” says team member Mattias Green, an oceanographer at Bangor University.

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Iowa religious liberty bill is a neon ‘unwelcome’ sign

By Kathie Obradovich

Conservative state senators took a novel approach this week to promote their bill on religious liberty:  They argued that former President Bill Clinton and the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy were champions of the idea.

Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, even read part of a speech that Clinton gave when he signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in 1993:

“What this law basically says is that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion,” Clinton said in 1993. “This judgment is shared by the people of the United States as well as by the Congress. We believe strongly that we can never, we can never be too vigilant in this work.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, states that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it shows a compelling interest. The government would also have to show that it is using the least restrictive means possible.

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SC Rep.: If You Take Prayer Out of School, “You Replace It With Metal Detectors”

By Hemant Mehta

During a public forum last night at the Savannah Grove Baptist Church in South Carolina, several state representatives brought up a still-not-dead bill they sponsored that would allow public school teachers to pray with students. It’s an act that’s already been declared unconstitutional because it’s a form of religious coercion, but that hasn’t stopped these religious opportunists from pleasuring the Religious Right.

H. 3345 was first proposed in December of 2016, but it still resides in the Education and Public Works committee, where it’s been for more than a year. The text is pretty straightforward:

A teacher employed by a public school district may express a religious viewpoint, and also may conduct or participate in any student-led prayer or student-organized prayer groups, religious clubs, or other religious gatherings organized by students of a public school

To put it another way, a football coach could have a pre-game prayer to Jesus Christ. A math teacher could lead the class in prayer before a big exam. And overt proselytizing in the classroom wouldn’t be punished.

It would just be government-sponsored Christian indoctrination.

And that’s why South Carolina Republicans love it.

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TX School District That Hosted Events at Megachurch Will Finally Obey the Law

By Hemant Mehta

The man in the center of the picture below isn’t a pastor. He’s Superintendent Rick McDaniel of the McKinney Independent School District in Texas, and he was leading a prayer inside Prestonwood Baptist Church during a mandatory beginning-of-the-year convocation for staffers.

When the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to the District to warn them about the violation of church/state separation, they were told the church was the only place in town that could hold all 3,000 staffers. That didn’t resolve the fact that the superintendent was leading the staff in prayer behind a podium with a cross on it… but FFRF was told the event would likely move to a secular convention center that would be opening up very soon.

It wasn’t just the staff-only event. Graduations were also held at this church for years. If they kept doing that, the District could have been hit with a lawsuit because it was clear Christianity was a part of all of these gatherings.

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Satan Strikes A Blow for Choice

By Adam Lee

The Satanic Temple has done it again, turning one of the religious right’s best weapons against them.

As you may know, the Satanic Temple is a non-theistic religion which believes in Satan as a metaphor for independence and freedom of thought, not a literal supernatural being. They hold as one of their tenets that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” Whenever Christians are demanding special rights, they can be counted on to show up and ask for the same privilege.

I wrote about the Satanic Temple in 2014, when they announced that they were seeking to overturn abortion restrictions using the Hobby Lobby ruling as precedent. In 2015, they found their test case in Missouri.

Missouri has an exceptionally harsh set of restrictions on abortion, including a three-day waiting period, the longest in the nation, with no exception for rape or incest. The law also has an ultrasound provision and requires the woman to certify receipt of a booklet, written by the state, which says “the life of each human being begins at conception.”

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Private school vouchers are a threat to religious freedom

By Maggie Garrett

(RNS) — In his newly released federal budget, President Trump calls for funneling $1 billion in taxpayer funds into private school voucher programs. It’s a bad idea for several reasons.

First, public money should fund public schools, which serve 90 percent of American students. Public schools are a unifying factor in our diverse country and their doors are open to all students, regardless of their religion. Private schools, however, serve only a few, select students.

Vouchers also don’t work. Numerous studies have shown that students attending private schools with vouchers don’t do better academically — and sometimes do worse — than their peers. Voucher programs also often fund unaccredited, poor-quality schools that take in a lot of taxpayer money but offer little education in return. In some cases, voucher schools — most frequently it is the lowest-quality schools — are almost entirely funded by taxpayer-funded vouchers.

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Omarosa on Mike Pence: ‘He thinks Jesus tells him to say things’

By Helena Andrews-Dyer

Former reality star turned White House aide turned reality star Omarosa Manigault is still going strong — and spilling tea — as a contestant on “Celebrity Big Brother.”

Omarosa, who previously declared on the show that she wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump again “in a million years,” said during Monday night’s episode that a Mike Pence administration would actually be worse.

“As bad as y’all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence,” she said. “So everybody that’s wishing for impeachment might want to reconsider their lives. We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became president.”

Why?

“He’s extreme,” Omarosa said of the vice president. “I’m Christian. I love Jesus. But he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. I’m like, ‘Jesus ain’t saying that.’ ” (In addition to being a “reality legend” Omarosa is an ordained minister.)

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Decoding the Overlap Between Autism and ADHD

By Ricki Rusting

Every morning, Avigael Wodinsky sets a timer to keep her 12-year-old son, Naftali, on track while he gets dressed for school. “Otherwise,” she says, “he’ll find 57 other things to do on the way to the bathroom.”

Wodinsky says she knew something was different about Naftali from the time he was born, long before his autism diagnosis at 15 months. He lagged behind his twin sister in hitting developmental milestones, and he seemed distant. “When he was an infant and he was feeding, he wouldn’t cry if you took the bottle away from him,” she says. He often sat facing the corner, turning the pages of a picture book over and over again. Although he has above-average intelligence, he did not speak much until he was 4, and even then his speech was often ‘scripted:’ He would repeat phrases and sentences he had heard on television.

Naftali’s trouble with maintaining focus became apparent in preschool—and problematic in kindergarten. He would stare out the window or wander around the classroom. “He was doing everything except what he was supposed to be doing,” Wodinsky recalls. At first, his psychiatrist credited these behaviors to his autism and recommended he drink coffee for its mild stimulant effect. The psychiatrist also suggested anxiety drugs. Neither treatment helped. A doctor then prescribed a series of drugs used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), even though Naftali’s hyperactivity was still considered a part of his autism; those medications also failed or caused intolerable side effects.

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On the Battlefield, Ants Treat Each Other’s War Wounds

By Stephanie Pappas

A species of warmongering sub-Saharan ant not only rescues its battle-wounded soldiers but also treats their injuries.

This strikingly unusual behavior raises the survival rate for injured ants from a mere 20 percent to 90 percent, according to new research published Feb. 13 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

These same ants, a species called Megaponera analis, were observed last year bringing their injured back to the nest, but no one knew what happened to the wounded ants after that, said study leader Erik Frank, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Now, it’s clear that the ants get extra TLC after being saved from the battlefield. 

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