Skeptical reporter @ 2013-02-08

Skeptical Reporter for February 8th, 2013

A self proclaimed faith-healer from Canada has been charged with sexual assault. Claude Provencher believes he has a God-given gift to heal people with a touch of his hands. But his clients have accused him of trying to do more than just heal them. On January 21st, Provencher was convicted of six counts of sexual assault and 22 counts of breach of recognizance and probation at the Superior Court in Haileybury. He will be sentenced May 27th. It's not the first time the self-described faith healer has been convicted of sexually abusing his clients. In late 2012, Provencher served more than a month in jail for two sexual assault charges that dated back to 2007. He inappropriately touched a female patient during a session in his Sudbury office. He was sentenced to six months in jail, but had already served more than four months for a breach of probation in 2011. Provencher was also given a 10-year weapons prohibition and had to register to the sexual offender registry for 20 years. His probation order prevented him from being alone with patients for any spiritual sessions. He has defended himself, stating that the 22 charges for breach of probation were due to an error of interpretation. Following his conviction in Sudbury, Provencher was forbidden to be alone with his patients for spiritual sessions, but he explained that the sessions were not spiritual in nature, but merely healing sessions. Provencher does not have any health-related certification.

In the United States, OhioUniversity students showed up in hordes to take a peek into their futures. Several psychics sat down in the Baker Ballroom for a Psychic Fair organized by the CampusInvolvementCenter, while winding lines of students waited to be seen. Everything from rune stone and fingerprint reading to palm reading and tarot cards was available. Many students seemed satisfied with their readings, and in some cases, even astounded by their accuracy. "I expected it to be like a tarot reading, but it was a more of an affirmation of, 'This is what your personality can be; take that and apply it to a goal in life'", said OU student Drew Sanders, who had just left the numerology table. Though a number of students were deterred by the wait time, many stayed until the cutoff time, strictly enforced by workers of the CampusInvolvementCenter. Cynthia McGinnis, who ran the biorhythm and horoscope station, noted that although the readings can appear to be accurate, the fair and many of the psychics' endeavors are simply for entertainment.

Nine female polio vaccinators have been killed in two shootings at health centres in northern Nigeria. In the first attack in Kano the polio vaccinators were shot dead by gunmen who drove up on a motor tricycle. Thirty minutes later gunmen targeted a clinic outside Kano city as the vaccinators prepared to start work. Some Nigerian Muslim leaders have previously opposed polio vaccinations, claiming they could cause infertility. Recently, a controversial Islamic cleric spoke out against the polio vaccination campaign, telling people that new cases of polio were caused by contaminated medicine. Such opposition is a major reason why Nigeria is one of just three countries where polio is still endemic. But this is believed to be the first time polio vaccinators have been attacked in the country. A health official confirmed that those killed in the second attack in Hotoro were female health workers. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there were 121 cases of polio in Nigeria last year, compared to 58 in Pakistan and 37 in Afghanistan. In the past month, polio workers have also been targeted in Pakistan.

Notorious Manhattan psychic, Sylvia Mitchell, aged 38, has been caught by the police after scamming a client. The woman is known for having run her con game in New York City, Connecticut and Florida, and was busted once again for swindling a woman out of more than $120,000, police sources said. From October 2007 to April 2009, Mitchell promised that she would rid Singapore-native Lee Choong of her “bad spirits” during fortune telling sessions at her Greenwich Village shop, Psychic Zena. But, instead of “cleansing” Choong, Mitchell actually wiped her out financially, stealing 128,000 dollars in return for her bogus advice, sources said. She also allegedly swiped Choong’s furniture, clothing and rent checks. Detectives tracked down Mitchell and hauled her into the 6th Precinct where she was charged with fortune telling and grand larceny. Mitchell is no stranger to the authorities. In 2011, she was accused of taking $27,000 from another person in Florida in a similar scheme.

And now let’s look at some news in science

An astronaut and a rock singer recorded an original song together and released it on February 8th as the first music duet performed simultaneously in space and on the ground. A rocket launch and the beauty of planet Earth are the subjects of the song, performed in space by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, while accompanied by Canadian singer Ed Robertson of the band Barenaked Ladies, and others on Earth. The song's lyrics, called "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)", focuses on the experience of a person in space missing his loved ones on the Earth below: "If you could see our nation from the International Space Station, you'd know why I want to get back soon". Hadfield and Robertson began co-writing the song when Hadfield was still in training in Russia for his five-month mission on the International Space Station. Next month, Hadfield will be the first Canadian commander on the orbiting complex when the Expedition 35 mission begins.

The nearest habitable, Earth-sized planet could be just 13 light-years away, research suggests. An analysis of small, dim "red dwarf" stars - which make up a majority of stars in our galaxy - shows that 6% of them host such a planet. Study co-author David Charbonneau of HarvardUniversity said the findings had implications for the search for life elsewhere. "We now know the rate of occurrence of habitable planets around the most common stars in our galaxy. That rate implies that it will be significantly easier to search for life beyond the solar system than we previously thought", said the professor. The hunt for exoplanets has reached a pace that is difficult to keep up with. A catalogue run by US space agency NASA lists more than 800 "exoplanets", most of them spotted using the transit method. That is just the tip of the planetary iceberg, however. On the basis of results from other methods, it has been estimated that on average, there are 1.6 planets around every star in the night sky.

Scientists say they have invented spectacle lenses that cure red-green colour blindness, which affects some women and one in every 10 men. The Oxy-Iso lenses were designed by an American research institute to allow medics to spot bruising and veins that are difficult to see. Tests suggest they can also help to enhance reds and greens in the colour-blind. But they could not be worn by drivers, because they reduce the ability to perceive yellows and blues. Theoretical neurobiologist Mark Changizi, who developed the glasses with Oxy-Iso lenses, believes human colour vision "evolved above and beyond that found in other mammals... allowing us to sense colour-signals on the skin, including blushes, blanches, as well as sensing health. So the Oxy-Iso filter concentrates its enhancement exactly where red-green colour-blind folk are deficient”.

For the first time, scientists report, they have found bacteria living in the cold and dark deep under the Antarctic ice, a discovery that might advance knowledge of how life could survive on other planets or moons and that offers the first glimpse of a vast ecosystem of microscopic life in underground lakes in Antarctica. A network of hundreds of lakes lies between the continent’s land and the ice that covers it, and scientists had thought that it could harbor life. The discovery is the first confirmation. After drilling into LakeWhillans, the expedition scientists recovered water and sediment samples that showed clear signs of life. They saw cells under a microscope, and chemical tests showed that the cells were alive and metabolizing energy. The scientists have explained that every precaution had been taken to prevent contamination of the lake with bacteria from the surface or the overlying ice. The concentrations of life were higher in the lake than in the borehole, and there were signs of life in the lake bottom’s sediment, which would be sealed off from contamination. Much more study, including DNA analysis, is needed to determine what kinds of bacteria have been found and how they live, in a place where there is no sunlight.

And in local news from Romania we learn that

Cezar El-Nazli, a student at the NationalCollege in Iaşi, is one of the 20 winners in the Google Code-In 2012 competition, an event dedicated to those with a passion for programming and computer science. The competition is at its third edition and focuses on students aged 13 to 17. 334 students from 36 countries participated this year and each week they had to solve different problems with open source programs. The winners will get to visit the Google headquarters’ in Mountain View, California.

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