Skeptical Reporter @ 2013-09-13

Skeptical Reporter for September 13th, 2013

Would you board flight 666 to HEL on Friday the 13th? For superstitious travelers, that might be tempting fate. But Finnair passengers on AY666 to Helsinki – which has the 3 letter designation HEL – don't seem too bothered. Friday's flight is almost full. "It has been quite a joke among the pilots", said veteran Finnair pilot Juha-Pekka Keidasto, who will fly the Airbus from Copenhagen to Helsinki. "I'm not a superstitious man. It's only a coincidence for me." The daily flight AY666 from Copenhagen to Helsinki falls on Friday the 13th twice in 2013. Friday the 13th is considered bad luck in many countries and the number 666 also has strong negative biblical associations. Some airlines, like Scandinavian Airlines, take these fears seriously and don't have a row 13 on board. However, the negative connotations are a relatively new phenomenon for northern Europeans, and Finnair and other regional carriers like Norwegian and Estonian Air keep row 13. "Less than 100 years ago, the number 13 did not have this sinister meaning; it's quite recent in the north," said Ulo Valk, professor of comparative folklore at the University of Tartu in Estonia.

This year is on track to be the worst for measles in more than a decade, according to new numbers released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And people who refuse to vaccinate their children are behind the increasing number of outbreaks, health officials say. There were 159 cases of measles in the United States from January 1 through August 24, according to the CDC. If that trend continues, there will be more cases in 2013 than in any year since 1996, when some 500 cases were reported. Measles cases in the United States numbered in the hundreds of thousands before the advent of vaccination, and dropped dramatically throughout the 1960s. The disease was thought to have been eradicated in 2000, but the numbers have recently crept back up, largely because of visitors from countries where measles is common and because of vaccine objectors within the United States. Nearly two-thirds of the reported cases happened in three outbreaks in communities where many people don't vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons. "This is very bad. This is horrible. The complications of measles are not to be toyed with, and they're not altogether rare", said Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

On September 11, 2013, Kentucky's governor Steve Beshear announced that he "plans to implement the new Kentucky Next Generation Standards under his own authority". The announcement follows on the heels of the Kentucky legislature's subcommittee vote that the standards are deficient. The adoption of the standards was recommended by the state department of education and the state board of education, as well as Kentuckians for Science Education, the Kentucky Paleontological Society, the Kentucky Academy of Sciences, and the Kentucky Science Teachers Association. A deputy press secretary for the governor explained that Beshear "views these standards as a critical component in preparing Kentuckians for college and the workforce. Therefore, as provided by law, he will implement the regulations notwithstanding the finding of deficiency". NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, who taught physical anthropology at the University of Kentucky applauded Beshear's decision. "It's a good day for science education in the Bluegrass State," she said. "There's no doubt that the Next Generation Science Standards are a tremendous improvement on Kentucky's existing state science standards, especially when it comes to evolution and climate change. Kentucky's schoolchildren deserve to learn about these topics in a way consistent with the consensus of the scientific community".

Friends and family of the late Sara Niethe are outraged by a psychic's claim she solved the case of her murder. It is ten years since Ms Niethe went missing, but her ex-boyfriend Mark Pakenham didn't admit to killing her until seven months ago. The case featured on TV programme Sensing Murder and one of the show's psychics, Sue Nicholson, declared it was the one case she solved. Ms Niethe's family and friends were astounded by the claim. "We were really shocked and horrified. The case isn't solved and really Sue didn't do anything to help. I mean if she can't pronounce her name right, how the heck is she going to contact her", Rachel Mains, one of Sara’s friends declared. The comment was made days after the family was devastated to learn Mark Pakenham, the killer, is coming up for parole. Since then the psychic’s Facebook page has been inundated by people both supporting and attacking her. She didn't respond to requests for a second interview, but posted a message saying she had been misrepresented through editing.

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

Scientists say that they have discovered the single largest volcano in the world, a dead colossus deep beneath the Pacific waves. The team says the 310,000 sq km Tamu Massif is comparable in size to Mars' vast Olympus Mons volcano - the largest in the Solar System. The structure topples the previous largest on Earth, Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The massif lies some 2km below the sea. It is located on an underwater plateau about 1.600 km east of Japan. It was formed about 145 million years ago when massive lava flows erupted from the centre of the volcano to form a broad, shield-like feature. The researchers doubted the submerged volcano's peak ever rose above sea level during its lifetime and say it is unlikely to erupt again.

A huge water source has been discovered in the arid Turkana region of northern Kenya which could supply the country for 70 years, the government says. The discovery of two aquifers brings hope to the drought-hit region. They were found in the Turkana Basin and Lotikipi Basin using satellites and radar. Last year, scientists released a map detailing the vast reservoirs which lie under much of Africa. Turkana is one of the hottest, driest and poorest parts of Kenya and was hit by a devastating drought last year. Many of the region's inhabitants are nomadic herders, who are especially vulnerable to a lack of rain. Test drilling confirmed there was water under the ground.

The living tissue inside an animal has been regressed back into an embryonic state for the first time, Spanish researchers say. They believe it could lead to new ways of repairing the body, for example after a heart attack. However, the study published in the journal Nature, showed the technique led to tumours forming in mice. Stem cell experts said it was a "cool" study, but would need to be much more controlled before leading to therapies. When an egg is first fertilised, it has the potential to develop into every tissue in the human body, from brain cells to skin. That flexibility is lost as an embryo develops. However, transforming adult tissues back into an embryonic-like state may lead to treatments that can regenerate a weakened heart, or the light-sensing cells in the eye or even the brain after a stroke. The transformation has been done in a laboratory, by treating skin samples with a mix of chemicals or genetic modification. "It is a surprising result, this was not expected, most of us thought that it would be impossible," lead researcher Professor Manuel Serrano explained.

A new snail species with a beautifully translucent shell was recently discovered more than 914 meters underground in a Croatian cave. A team of cavers and biologists with the Croatian Biospeleological Society discovered Zospeum tholussum in the Lukina Jama-Trojama cave systems of western Croatia. The system of caves is one of the 20 deepest in the world. The team collected all animal specimens found along the way, since deep cave crevices are often promising places to find new species, and happened upon one live sample of the new snail, along with eight empty shells. The team presented the elegant snail to taxonomist Alexander Weigand at Goethe-University in Frankfurt, Germany, for help in identification. Weigand determined that this particular species had never before been found, but that it is related to other known species.

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

Four Romanian universities are no longer holding their positions in the top best universities in the world. While in the previous classification all four institutions were amongst the 700 best study centers in the world, they have now fallen by almost 100 places. "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University in Iaşi, "Babeş-Bolyai" University from Cluj-Napoca, The University of Bucharest and WestUniversity in Timişoara have not been able to keep their good scores.

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