Skeptical reporter @ 2013-05-24

Skeptical Reporter for May 24th, 2013

In the United States, Ball State University has agreed to investigate complaints that a course taught by a physics and astronomy professor has crossed a line from being about science to being about Christianity. Science blogs have been discussing the course for a few weeks now. Ball State received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation charging that the course -- "The Boundaries of Science" -- is being used "to proselytize students and advance Christianity." The letter states that the course's description makes it seem "to be an honest objective investigation regarding the intersection of science and religion." But the letter notes that the syllabus and reading list includes creationists and "Christian apologists who lack any scientific credentials whatsoever," while leading proponents of the idea that evolution is true (embraced by a wide scientific consensus) are not represented.

The founder of a controversial anti-immunization group has been accused of using apprehended violence orders to gag her critics. Former Australian Vaccination Network president Meryl Dorey has applied for AVOs against three of her most vocal opponents. As a special condition of the AVOs, she wanted the men banned from making online comments about her in "any derogatory manner". She took out an AVO against Daniel Raffaele, who helped start the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network group, claiming he made threatening calls to her. Raffaele, who denied making any threatening calls, said he eventually agreed to the order because he was "sick of dealing with it", although he made sure her "gag order" was struck out. "The only thing I was never going to agree to was being silenced on the internet. The information (the AVN) spread is dangerous and it's not based on anything other than lies - and it costs lives", Raffaele said. Western Australia-based Dan Buzzard, another AVN opponent, said Ms Dorey probably saw taking out the AVOs as a "quick and easy" way to silence her critics. Ms Dorey refused to comment on the applications but denied using the AVOs to shut up her opponents. She said she had received anonymous death threats and had only taken the AVOs out at the suggestion of police.

Two Philadelphia faith-healing churches have a long history of the youngest members of their congregation dying because parents refused medical care. Families who attend Faith Tabernacle Congregation in North Philadelphia and First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park have lost more than two dozen children to illness since 1971, according to non-profit Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. Both churches believe in the power of prayer over modern medicine. Two members, Herbert and Catherine Schaible stand charged with third-degree murder and other crimes after their 7-month-old son Brandon died from bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and a group B streptococcus infection on April 18. The Schaibles are members of the First Century Gospel Church. At least 22 children from the congregations have died from illnesses. In 1991, Faith Tabernacle lost five children to the measles after an outbreak. One child from First Century Gospel also died.

For the fourth time since 1956, voters in Portland, defeated a plan to add fluoride to the public water supply. For weeks, residents have been debating fluoridation, the addition of fluoride to tap water for the purpose of reducing cavities and tooth decay. About 60 percent of voters cast their ballots against fluoridation. "The measure lost even with my own 'yes' vote," Portland's mayor Charlie Hales said in a statement. "Disappointing, but I accept the will of the voters." More than $1 million dollars was spent on the campaign, which is a considerable sum for a Portland-only election issue. In the period before the vote, proponents of fluoridation outspent anti-fluoridation groups by a 3-to-1 margin, public records show. Pro-fluoride groups say that fluoridation will help reduce cavities among poor children who don't have access to dental care. Those in the opposing camp object to fluoridation's possible negative health effects, like impaired brain development and function, and say the practice amounts to forced medication of the populace without consent. Fluoridation is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association and the CDC, which lists it as one of the top 10 most important public health measures of the 20th century.

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

Excavations at an archaeological site in Bahrain are shedding light on one of the oldest trading civilizations. Despite its antiquity, comparatively little is known about the advanced culture represented at Saar. The site in Bahrain is thought to be the location of the enigmatic Dilmun civilization. The belief system here has a lot in common with those of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt”. According to Salman al-Mahari, the Bahraini archaeologist in charge, the Saar settlement divides into two: a residential zone and, at a small distance, the cemetery where the inhabitants buried their dead. Dilmun, one of most important ancient civilisations of the region and said to date to the third millennium BC, was a hub on a major trading route between Mesopotamia - the world's oldest civilisation - and the Indus Valley in South Asia. It is also believed that Dilmun had commercial ties with ancient sites at Elam in Oman, Alba in Syria and Haittan in Turkey.

The United Kingdom's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has come up with a printed circuit board that falls apart when immersed in hot water. The organization has developed circuit boards made out of what they're calling "unzippable polymeric layers" built to withstand the heat stressing and long-term thermal cycling. The layers easily come apart, however, when they come into contact with water of sufficient temperature for several seconds. The resistors, capacitors and integrated circuits, which don't have to be changed or adapted from their current formats in any way, are mounted on the boards. But after the contact with hot water, they can simply be scraped off, ready to be harvested and reused in other devices. The NPL says the technology can be applied to three-dimensional structures and flexible electronics as well as rigid circuit boards. Lab tests showed that 90 percent of the components can be reused, compared with the 2 percent that can be salvaged from current boards.

A new breed of flu vaccine is being developed that provides better and broader protection than commercially available ones — at least in animal tests. Current flu vaccines use inactivated whole viruses and must be regularly remade to target the strains most likely to cause illness in the coming year. But the nanoparticles in the new vaccine would require fewer updates because they induce the production of antibodies that neutralize a wider range of flu strains. They could even protect against varieties of flu that have not yet emerged. “This is taking us on the road to a universal vaccine,” says Gary Nabel, now at the biotechnology firm Sanofi, who led the work in his former lab at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. The self-assembling nanoparticles can be made in the lab without having to grow real viruses in eggs or cell cultures, a time-consuming step of commercial vaccine preparation. “In theory, a new version could be produced quickly once a new pandemic virus had been identified, or a new seasonal variant started to circulate,” says Sarah Gilbert, a vaccine researcher at the University of Oxford, UK, who was not involved in the work.

On the 17th of March, an object the size of a small boulder slammed into the lunar surface, creating a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything scientists had ever seen. NASA's lunar monitoring program has detected hundreds of meteoroid impacts. For the past eight years, NASA astronomers have been monitoring the Moon for signs of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the lunar surface. "Lunar meteor showers" have turned out to be more common than anyone expected, with hundreds of detectable impacts occurring every year. But they just got to see the biggest one yet. "On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. Anyone looking at the Moon at the moment of impact could have seen the explosion--no telescope required.  For about one second, the impact site was glowing like a 4th magnitude star. Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the first to notice the impact in a digital video recorded by one of the monitoring program's 14-inch telescopes. "It jumped right out at me, it was so bright," he recalls. The explosion caused by the impact was similar to one caused by 5 tons of TNT.

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

The winner of the famous INTEL science contest has returned home, to Romania. Ionuţ Budişteanu has won not only international recognition, but also a check for 75.000 dollars. The 19 year old student from Râmnicu Vâlcea won the contest with his self-driving automobile.


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