Skeptical reporter @ 2013-05-03

Skeptical Reporter for May 3rd, 2013


Romania will host the first international humanist conference in Eastern Europe, on the 25th of May. The conference „Education, Science and Human Rights” is hosted by the Romanian Humanist Association in partnership with the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the European Humanist Federation. The event will take place at the Parliament Palace and has speakers such as PZ Meyers and Richard Wiseman. So, if interested, don’t hesitate to purchase a ticket now.

In most of the world, the use of graphology in recruitment is marginal. But in France - despite an appreciable decline of writing in recent years thanks to computers - the technique is proving remarkably resilient. Reliable figures are hard to come by. Graphologists themselves say that between 50% and 75% of companies make some use of hand-writing analysis, even if it is only occasional. The last independent study was in 1991, and it found that a massive 91% of public and private organisations in France were then making use of handwriting analysis. According to psychology professor Laurent Begue, there is no scientific basis for the use of graphology: "Lots of studies over the years have shown that it is all a load of rubbish, and not fit for use in any professional setting. If you ask a group of graphologists to study the same piece of handwriting, they all come out with different interpretations. It's no different from astrology or numerology." According to Begue, most graphologists are able to pull off the trick because they use the content of candidates' letters - the detail about their lives, motivation and so on - to draw up a psychological profile.

Former Senator Mike Gravel has stated that the White House helped keep the truth about the “extraterrestrial influence that is investigating our planet” from the public. “It goes right to the White House, and of course, once the White House takes a position, ‘well there's nothing going on’ just goes down the chain of command, everyone stands toe,” Gravel declared. He is one of six former congress representatives who were paid $20,000 by the UFO advocacy group Paradigm Research to participate in a Congressional-style Citizen Hearing on Disclosure in Washington, where witness after witness has presented first-hand accounts of UFO sightings and extraterrestrial visits. Gravel says the strongest accounts of alien encounters are from former military officers, such as retired Air Force Captain Robert Salas, who testified that UFOs temporarily disabled nuclear weapons on his watch. Gravel says the media has aided what he sees as a government cover-up by not taking reports of ET encounters seriously.

Nobody knows what exploded over Siberia in 1908, but the discovery of the first fragments could finally solve the mystery. The Tunguska impact event is one of the great mysteries of modern history. On 30 June 1908, a vast and powerful explosion engulfed an isolated region of Siberia near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River. The blast was 1000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, registered 5 on the Richter scale and is thought to have knocked down some 80 million trees over an area of 2000 square kilometers  The region is so isolated, however, that historians recorded only one death and just handful of eyewitness reports from nearby. But the most mysterious aspect of this explosion is that it left no crater and scientists have long argued over what could have caused it. The generally accepted theory is that the explosion was the result of a meteorite or comet exploding in the Earth’s atmosphere. That could have caused an explosion of this magnitude without leaving a crater. Andrei Zlobin from the Russian Academy of Sciences has announced that he found three rocks from the Tunguska region with the telltale characteristics of meteorites. If he is right, these rocks could finally help solve once and for all what kind of object struck Earth in 1908. The rocks will be analysed further in order to determine their origin.

A new article discusses the teaching of evolution in the United States. Despite the curriculum requirements, most teachers continue to promote creationism. “The ill-kept secret about public school biology classrooms nationwide is that evolution often isn't taught robustly, if at all. Faith-based belief in creationism and intelligent design continues to be discussed and even openly taught in public school classrooms, despite state curriculum standards”, the investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reveals. The Gazette distributed a questionnaire to school teachers statewide and drew 106 responses from science teachers. It asked them to choose one or more answers to a question of what they believe in: evolution, creationism, intelligent design or not sure/other. Ninety percent chose evolution; 19 percent said they believe in creationism, not defined in the questionnaire; 13 percent said they believe in intelligent design; and another 5 percent answered "not sure/other." “The clear conclusion is that while most do, not all science teachers espouse evolution, with a notable minority speaking up in favor of creationism”, the article concludes.

And now let’s look at some news in science.

Researchers at IBM have created the world's smallest movie by manipulating single atoms on a copper surface. The stop-motion animation uses a few dozen carbon atoms, moved around with the tiny tip of what is called a scanning tunneling microscope. It would take about 1,000 of the frames of the film laid side by side to span a single human hair. The extraordinary feat of atomic precision has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. It is a showpiece for IBM's efforts to design next-generation data storage solutions based on single atoms. The new movie, titled A Boy and His Atom, has 242 frames and lasts 90 seconds. It depicts a boy playing with a "ball" made of a single atom, dancing, and jumping on a trampoline. The effort, detailed in a number of YouTube videos, took four scientists two weeks of 18-hour days to pull off.

A high-tech NASA telescope in orbit escaped a potentially disastrous collision with a Soviet-era Russian spy satellite last year in a close call that highlights the growing threat of orbital debris around Earth.  NASA's $690 million Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope — which studies the most powerful explosions in the universe — narrowly avoided a direct hit with the defunct 1.5-ton Russian reconnaissance satellite Cosmos 1805 on April 3, 2012, space agency officials announced this week. The potential space collision was avoided when engineers commanded Fermi to fire its thrusters in a critical dodging maneuver to move out of harm's way. If the Russian satellite had smashed into the space telescope the explosion of the two spacecraft would have released "as much energy as two and a half tons of explosives," NASA officials said. The two spacecraft ultimately missed each other by 9 kilometers when they passed one another. NASA tracks 17,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters across in orbit above the Earth every day. Only 7 percent of the objects tracked are currently active satellites.

US scientists have developed a way to embed radio frequency identification chips on to paper that they say is quicker, cheaper and offers wider applications than current methods. The technique could be used to prevent fraud as well as provide a new meaning to the term 'paper trail'. The process uses lasers to transfer and assemble the chips on paper. Such smart paper could be used for banknotes, legal documents, tickets and smart labels, the team said. Some RFID-enabled paper is already on the market but the chips are much thicker, resulting in either bulky paper or a bump on the surface that would mean such paper could not be printed. The process developed by the researchers at North Dakota State University is known as Laser Enabled Advanced Packaging or Leap. The team is currently looking for commercial partners.

A team at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) has launched a project to re-create the first web page. The aim is to preserve the original hardware and software associated with the birth of the web. The world wide web was developed by Prof Sir Tim Berners-Lee while working at Cern. The initiative coincides with the 20th anniversary of the research centre giving the web to the world. According to Dan Noyes, the web manager for Cern's communication group, re-creation of the world's first website will enable future generations to explore, examine and think about how the web is changing modern life. "I want my children to be able to understand the significance of this point in time: the web is already so ubiquitous - so, well, normal - that one risks failing to see how fundamentally it has changed," he explained. The hope is that the restoration of the first web page and web site will serve as a reminder and inspiration of the web's fundamental values. At the heart of the original web is technology to decentralize control and make access to information freely available to all.

And, now, in local news from Romania, we learn that

The Babes Bolyai University is confronted with a plagiarism scandal. Professor Gheorghe Popescu, from the Economical Sciences Faculty is accused by a former doctoral student that he plagiarized her entire paper. Former doctoral student Valeria Gîdiu explained that she will file a complaint against her former professor. Faced with the accusations the professor declared that he sees no problem with what he did, since he plagiarized from his own student.



You can purchase your ticket for the “Education, Science and Human Rights” Humanist conference at:

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