- DIY Botox Seller Busted by Texas Attorney General
- Pacific Northwest Earthquakes Could Strike Closer to Home
- The Gruesome Power of Raptor Talons
- 3-D Renderings Bring Ancient Hominids to Life
- 3-D Solar Tsunami Video Shows the Extreme Waves Are Real
- Reborn Coma Man’s Words May Be Bogus
- Video: Saturn’s Spectacular Aurora in Action
Posted: 25 Nov 2009 11:47 AM PST
The Texas attorney general filed charges Monday against Laurie D'Alleva for allegedly selling prescription drugs like Botox from websites she owned, including discountmedspa.com.
Agents descended on her Mansfield, Texas home and carried out boxes, computers, and other possible evidence for the case, according to local news reports.
The lawsuit comes after Wired.com first reported on D'Alleva's business practices. An Oct. 27 story detailed her website's claims to offer prescription drugs including Renova and Dysport, the botulinum toxin-variant, as well as lip-filling gels.
Videos embedded on the site and posted to YouTube showed D'Alleva injecting Dysport, which the site calls "The Freeze," into her own face. The videos have since been taken down, but Wired.com downloaded a copy of the video, which is posted here.
D'Alleva faces civil penalties of $25,000 per violation per day for each time she broke the rules for selling prescription drugs under the Texas Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. In a post to the website, she claimed to have more than 2,000 customers.
Allison Lowery, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said her agency referred the case to state attorney general, after completing their own investigation.
According to the lawsuit filed by the Attorney General, an investigator ordered D'Alleva's "newbie kit" on Nov. 9, two weeks after the Wired.com report. Four days later, it arrived, containing "Restylane, one fifty unit Freeze product containing purified neurotoxin complex, two empty syringes, two syringe needles" and instructions for use.
The attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A physicians' association has also responded to Wired.com's report. The International Association of Physicians for Aesthetic Medicine released a set of safety tips for consumers, which warns against injecting yourself with botox
"Recently, there have been several reports regarding DIY "botox-like" injectables, which can be purchased through the internet," the IAPAM safety tips read. "A woman in Texas offered consumers a botox-like product called "Freeze," complete with a "How-To" video, so consumers could administer the botulinum toxin themselves."
Posted: 25 Nov 2009 10:32 AM PST
Major earthquakes occurring along the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington state could strike closer to the state's urban areas than some models have suggested, a new study notes.
GPS data gathered at dozens of sites throughout western Washington hint that slippage along the interface between the North American and Juan de Fuca tectonic plates could occur as deep as 25 kilometers below the Earth's surface, says Timothy I. Melbourne, a geodesist at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. That depth, in turn, would place the epicenters of quakes triggered along that portion of the subduction zone — some of which could exceed magnitude 9 —more than 60 kilometers inland, he and CWU colleague James Chapman report online and in the November 28 Geophysical Research Letters.
Seafloor spreading is shoving the eastern edge of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, which runs from northern California to southern British Columbia, eastward beneath the North American plate. Long-term observations indicate that the plates are converging at an average rate of between 3 and 4 centimeters each year, says Melbourne. "With GPS, you can see plate tectonics happening on a week-to-week basis," he notes.
At shallow depths, where Earth's crust is relatively cool, the tectonic interface is locked, and seismic stress builds up there until it is released during a quake. But deep beneath western Washington, at depths between 25 and 45 kilometers, the two tectonic plates slide past each other for a few days each 18 months or so. These slippage episodes are sometimes described as "silent earthquakes" (SN: 4/27/02, p. 260) but actually do register on seismometers, says Melbourne. "They're like a magnitude-1 quake but they go on for a couple of weeks," he notes. The total energy release in each slippage episode, if let loose all at once, would equal that in a quake with a magnitude between 6.3 and 6.7.
The long-term GPS data provide information about where slippage is occurring and how the plates are deforming. For instance, while average plate convergence rates offshore are greater than 3 centimeters per year, those along the coast are about 2.5 cm/yr. Convergence inland, near Seattle, only adds up to about 0.5 cm/yr, says Melbourne. These trends, when combined with previous seismic data, hint that stress is accumulating along the tectonic interface at depths less than 25 kilometers, where the tectonic interface is locked.
GPS data are a more direct way of telling where tectonic slippage is occurring and where it isn't, says John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. "That data from both GPS and seismic instruments are pointing in the same direction is comforting," he adds.
A major quake rupturing the 300-kilometer length of the Cascadia subduction zone that runs along the Washington coast would measure magnitude 8.9, Melbourne and Chapman estimate. If the entire 1,100-kilometer subduction zone slipped at once, the quake would be a magnitude-9.2 whopper rivaling the tsunami-spawning quake that slammed Indonesia in December 2004 (SN: 1/8/05, p. 19). Field studies suggest that quakes of such magnitude happen along the Cascadia subduction zone once every 550 years, on average. The last one struck the region in January of 1700 (SN: 11/29/97, p. 348).
Quake hazard analyses for the region, based partially on seismic data, already account for possible tectonic slippage at depths of 25 kilometers, says Garry Rogers, an earthquake scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada in Sidney, British Columbia. Nevertheless, he notes, the new findings provide "more precise measurements than we've had before…. This study confirms a lot of what we've known about."
Posted: 25 Nov 2009 09:52 AM PST
The most thorough study to date of raptor talons reveals their feet to be extraordinarily specialized hunting tools, perfectly suited to their gruesomely amazing killing strategies.
"Despite the ubiquity of raptors in terrestrial ecosystems, many aspects of their predatory behavior remain poorly understood," wrote ornithologists in a paper published Wednesday in PLoS ONE. "Surprisingly little is known about the morphology of raptor talons and how they are employed during feeding behavior."
To get a better understanding, the researchers took detailed measurements of the talons from 24 bird of prey species, and linked them to literature on raptor hunting and 170 videos of attacks.
They describe how accipitrids, which include hawks and eagles, have two giant talons on their first and second toes. These give them a secure grip on struggling game that they like to eat alive, "so long as it does not protest too vigorously. In this prolonged and bloody scenario, prey eventually succumb to massive blood loss or organ failure, incurred during dismemberment."
Meanwhile, the talons of owls, which don't usually land a killing blow as they strike, are relatively short but strong, and one toe actually swivels backwards. That lets owls crush wounded quarry between two pairs of opposable talons. The animal is then swallowed whole.
Falcons are so skilled at disabling prey with a mid-air, high-speed strike that their talons are smaller than those of other raptors. They just don't need them as much. Once they've landed, falcons "will quickly pluck the neck area and attempt to kill prey swiftly by breaking the neck with a bite attack."
Osprey have large, curved talons, almost like fishhooks — which is appropriate because they specialize in catching fish, swooping down and hitting them just below the water's surface.
In addition to expanding understanding of these much-loved birds, the findings could help researchers understand the birds' dinosaur ancestors. The researchers are now studying how dinosaur claws reflected their hunting and feeding habits.
Image: (A) goshawk (B) red-tailed hawk (C) peregrine falcon (D) great grey owl (E) osprey./PLoS ONE
Citation: "Predatory Functional Morphology in Raptors: Interdigital Variation in Talon Size Is Related to Prey Restraint and Immobilisation Technique." By Denver W. Fowler, Elizabeth A. Freedman, John B. Scannella. PLoS ONE, November 25, 2009.
Posted: 25 Nov 2009 09:29 AM PST
For decades, paleoartists have told the story of human evolution through sculpture and drawing. Now their tools have evolved, too.
Computers allow a level of detail and control that isn't possible with other media. Their creations can come closer than ever to bringing our ancestors to life.
"What's driven my work has always been, 'I want to see that thing alive. I want to see that world," said paleoartist Viktor Deak, who provided the reconstructions used in the Becoming Human documentaries, which aired in November on PBS. "Computer graphics is developing to the point where, in movies like "Benjamin Button," you don't know what parts are not digital."
Deak still begins his reconstructions in traditional fashion, sculpting bodies from clay. Like other paleoartists, he doesn't know what his fossil interpretation will look like when complete, but comes to an understanding of anatomic nuances, of tissue and muscle thickness and how it might have linked to ancient bone, while working with his hands in three dimensions.
Once he's done, he converts the work to digital format. For a 78-foot-long mural now traveling with Lucy's Legacy, a touring exhibition featuring the famous 3.2 million year old fossils, he photographed his sculptures and imported them to Photoshop. There he added hundreds of layers of texture and light, tweaking them for maximum combinatorial realism.
That was the old way. For Becoming Human, he worked with ZBrush, a 3-D modeling program that lets him work with the sculpture in even greater detail. "The nuances of the skin, the way light scatters underneath it, they figured all that out," he said of the program's naturalism. "There's no limitation on what you can do, as long as your machine can handle it." He poses his sculptures in desired position, then renders it with different materials and lighting. The renderings are then sent to Photoshop, layered and tweaked for maximum realism.
"They look realer to me," said Deak. "For a couple seconds, people might say, 'What's that a photo of? Where'd you get that picture? There's that moment of belief when they're not looking at it as a painting or sculpture, but as a living thing."
"He does wonderful stuff," said Rick Potts, curator of anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Potts described the digital transition as something that many artists have greeted reluctantly if at all, but is necessary.
"I'm excited about it, because it means you're not just dealing with static appearance," he said. "One of the great challenges of science communication is taking dead, dusty things we find in the ground, and helping people understand that these were part of a living world. Our ancestors were living and dying, just as we do. Bringing things to life in the digital world can really help."
The ultimate form of resurrection is as animation, which was done in Becoming Human by mapping Deak's models onto the motion recordings of suited human actors. But no human can ever move quite like a creature with a different skeleton, and relying on other people to realize his ideas of how ancient hominids moved adds an extra layer of separation.
"Learning animation is my goal right now. That would cross out any ambiguity between the science and the final depiction of it. Once I get the software down, then I can do the whole thing and create the vision of human evolution I have banging around in my brain," said Deak.
Of course, whatever the tool, the task is still poised at what Potts called "the edge of science and art." Even for scientists, fossils are heavily interpreted — Lucy, the most complete ancient hominid skeleton, is only 40 percent complete — and Deak immerses himself in the field's literature, taking in every new find and revision.
"I'm an anthropologist who happens to do art. I don't write that well and would get bored doing 30-page papers on mandible synthesis," said Deak. "In my mind I have a tree of skulls that I'm always repositioning and thinking about. As much thinking and analysis as possible goes into each work. I've taken it upon myself to be a voice for these fossils."
Images: 1) A finished Homo ergaster, from Becoming Human. 2) Detail from the mural for Lucy's Legacy. 3) Early- and late-stage renderings of Homo heidelbergensis. 4) Viktor Deak in his studio.
Posted: 25 Nov 2009 07:00 AM PST
A60,000-mile-high wave of super-hot plasma blazing across the sun's surface at 560,000 mph? Yep.
"Now we know. Solar tsunamis are real," said John Gurman of the Solar Physics Lab at the Goddard Space Flight Center, in a press release Tuesday.
NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory has confirmed that the crazy circular bursts on the surface of the sun, rising higher than the Earth is wide, aren't just optical illusions.
STEREO consists of two spacecraft pointing at the sun, one ahead of Earth in its orbit and one behind, that acquire stereoscopic images of the sun to give a sort of three-dimensional view, similar to the way our two eyes do.
Though these solar tsunamis, technically known as fast-mode magnetohydrodynamical waves,were firstseen by the SOHO mission more than a decade ago, the single spacecraft couldn't determine if the wave was real or the shadow of a coronal mass ejection. But in February the STEREO twins were perfectly poisedtocatch the eruption of a sunspot that spawned a wave, seen in themovie above.
"It was definitely a wave,"George Mason University scientistSpiros Patsourakos, lead author of a paper on the solar tsunamisin Augustin The Astrophysical Research Journal Letters, said in a press release. "Not a wave of water," he adds, "but a giant wave of hot plasma and magnetism."
The spacecraft have alsospotted waves crashing into other solar structures.
"We've seen the waves reflected by coronal holes. And there is a wonderful movie (at right) of a solar prominence oscillating after it gets hit by a wave (near the top of the image)," co-author Angelos Vourdilas of the Naval Research Labin Washington, D.C., said in a press release. "We call it a dancing prominence."
Watching the waves interact with other things can reveal new information about the sun's atmosphere, and help forecast when a coronal mass ejection or radiation storm will impact Earth.
Citation: "'Extreme Ultraviolet Waves' are Waves: First Quadrature Observations of an Extreme Ultraviolet Wave from STEREO." by Spiros Patsourakos and Angelos Vourlidas, Astrophysical Research Journal Letters, vol. 700, August 1, 2009.
Posted: 24 Nov 2009 02:31 PM PST
The statements of a Belgian man believed to be in a coma for 23 years, but recently discovered to be conscious, are poignant, but experts say they may not be his words at all.
Rom Houben's account of his ordeal, repeated in scores of news stories since appearing Saturday in Der Spiegel, appears to be delivered with assistance from an aide who helps guide his finger to letters on a flat computer keyboard. Called "facilitated communication," that technique has been widely discredited, and is not considered scientifically valid.
"If facilitated communication is part of this, and it appears to be, then I don't trust it," said Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. "I'm not saying the whole thing is a hoax, but somebody ought to be checking this in greater detail. Any time facilitated communication of any sort is involved, red flags fly."
Facilitated communication came to prominence in the late 1970s after an Australian teacher reportedly used it to communicate with 12 children rendered speechless by cerebral palsy and other disorders. Over the next two decades, it gained some adherents in patient and medical communities, but failed to produce consistent results in controlled, scientific settings.
Researchers said that facilitators were unconsciously or consciously guiding patients' hands. Multiple professional organizations, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the American Academy of Pediatrics, say that facilitated communication is not credible.
Far more credible, however, is emerging research on patients thought to be in vegetative states, but revealed by brain-scanning technology to be at least minimally conscious, and even aware of what is happening around them. These two strains of research have collided in the figure of Houben. In 2006, a full 23 years after a horrific car accident left him paralyzed and apparently unconscious, tests run by the University of Liege's Coma Science Group showed that Houben's brain was active, and almost normal. He wasn't a vegetable, but aware, and trapped silently in the prison of his ruined body.
Houben has since proven able to answer yes-or-no questions with slight movements of his foot. It's a tremendous accomplishment, and raises the chilling possibility that, as estimated by Coma Science Group leader Steven Laureys in a Monday New York Times story, as many as four in 10 people considered utterly comatose may be misdiagnosed. But the legitimacy of interviews given by Houben and his facilitator to Der Spiegel, and shown on video by the BBC, may not be as certain.
"I believe that he is sentient. They've shown that with MRI scans," said James Randi, a prominent skeptic who during the 1990s investigated the use of facilitated communication for autistic children. But in the video, "You see this woman who's not only holding his hand, but what she's doing is directing his fingers and looking directly at the keyboard. She's pressing down on the keyboard, pressing messages for him. He has nothing to do with it."
According to Randi, facilitated communication could only be considered credible if the facilitator didn't look at the keyboard or screen while supporting Houben's hand, and helped him type messages in response to questions she had not heard, thus ensuring that Houben's responses are entirely his own.
The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a million-dollar prize to a valid demonstration of facilitated communication, and Randi invited Houben to participate. "Our prize is still there," he said.
In the Der Spiegel interview, Houben and his facilitator recounted his ordeal. "I would scream, but no sound would come out," they wrote. "I became the witness to my own suffering, as doctors and nurses tried to speak to me and eventually gave up." Of the correct diagnosis, they wrote, "I will never forget the day they finally discovered what was wrong — it was my second birth."
According to Caplan, Houben's apparent lucidity after spending more than two decades in complete isolation — circumstances known to be psychologically and cognitively damaging — is hard to believe.
"You're going to lie for 23 years in a hospital bed with almost no stimuli, and then sound completely coherent and cogent?" he said. "Something is wrong with that picture. The messages are almost poetic. It sounds too lucid, like someone prepared these things to say. I'm not saying it's all a fraud, but I want to hear a lot more."
Whatever the final verdict on Houben's facilitated communication, however, it does not alter the fact of his misdiagnosis. Laureys could not be reached for comment, but said in an Agence France Presse story that "every patient should be tested at least 10 times before they are categorically defined as 'vegetative.'"
Image: Yves Logghe/AP
Posted: 24 Nov 2009 12:07 PM PST
How can you not love Cassini? The latest treat NASA's spacecraft has provided us is the first ever movie of Saturn's incredible aruroras.
The high-resolution video was assembled from 472 still images, spaced over 81 hours in October, that show the phenomenon in three dimensions. The lights can be seen as a rippling, vertical sheet up to 750 miles high above Saturn's northern hemisphere.
"The auroras have put on a dazzling show, shape-shifting rapidly and exposing curtains that we suspected were there, but hadn't seen on Saturn before," Cal Tech scientist Andrew Ingersoll, a member of the Cassini imaging team that processed the new video, said in a press release. "Seeing these things on another planet helps us understand them a little better when we see them on Earth."
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has returned many truly amazing images of Titan, Saturn and Enceladus, but the aurora video is one of the more spectacular views yet seen of another planet.
Each image has a 2 to 3 minute exposure time, and together they reveal that Saturn's auroras are rapidly changing, as on Earth. But because of Saturn's lighter, primarily hydrogen atmosphere, the lights reach much higher than in Earth's heavier oxygen and nitrogen atmosphere.
Though Cassini has spied the alien auroras in ultraviolet and infrared light before, this time the phenomenon was captured in the visible spectrum. The imaging team added false color to the black and white images to highlight the aurora. Scientists are still trying to figure out what color the lights really are.
Video: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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