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Skeptical reporter @ 2013-05-10

Skeptical Reporter for May 10th, 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.

After three women were freed in Cleveland, a decade after they disappeared, it was revealed that psychic Sylvia Browne declared that one of them, Amanda Berry, was dead. Amanda Berry’s mother traveled to New York to tell her story to psychic Sylvia Browne on the Montel Williams Show. Amanda Berry’s mother wanted to know if her daughter was still alive. “Can you tell me…Is she out there?” Berry’s mother Louwana Miller asked. “I hate when they’re in the water,” Browne said. “She’s not alive honey.” “It hurts my mind but it eases it; now I know,” Miller explained after hearing the prediction by the world-renowned psychic. Years later, Amanda Berry was found alive, together with two other women who had been held captive for a decade. Unfortunately, Amanda’s mother passed away and never got to see her daughter again.

The long-running saga of San Francisco's proposed cell phone warning labels appears to finally be coming to a close. The law would have required cell phone makers to place labels on their devices that detail the typical energy they transfer to the human body. According to Reuters, the city government has now settled the lawsuit by accepting that the law will never come into effect, after an injunction  The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which sued the city, argued that the law was a bit of a mess. The Federal Communications Commission has established a safety level for wireless radiation exposure, and no phones sold in the US are allowed to exceed it. The ordinance was forcing companies to disclose numbers that were all below the legal limit. Complicating matters further, the exact dose users receive would vary depending on the wireless network the device was on and the manner in which it was being used. More generally, there are no clear indications that wireless hardware creates any health risks in the first place, which raises questions of what, exactly, the legislation was supposed to accomplish. Although a number of small, preliminary studies have suggested potential dangers, larger, more comprehensive works indicate that any potential risks take decades to be felt, and cell phones simply haven't been in use long enough for us to know for sure.

Childcare centers should have the right to ban unvaccinated kids from childcare centers and preschools under a "no jab, no play" policy proposed in Australia. The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Telegraph launched a campaign to stop the rise in the number of children succumbing to preventable diseases because parents are failing to have them fully immunized  Although only 1.5 per cent of parents are "vaccine refusers" or conscientious objectors, many parents are forgetful, leaving areas of New South Wales with vaccination rates below 85 per cent - despite the inarguable scientific proof that the vaccination program has saved thousands of lives and eradicated diseases that crippled children just a generation ago, including polio. Despite effective vaccines, Australia has been unable to eradicate diseases such as whooping cough because some parents do not immunize  leaving small babies and children with cancer and other immune-compromising conditions vulnerable. The Australian Medical Association believes tougher measures - potentially including bans for non-immunized children - should be introduced to make life harder for "free-riding" parents who refuse or forget to vaccinate.

Belief that the "Second Coming" of Jesus is nigh may be preventing climate change action, according to a study published in the Political Science Quarterly. The research examined data from the 2007 Cooperative Congressional Election Study to discover that belief in the "end times" reduced a person’s probability of strongly supporting government action on climate change by 12 percent, when controlling for demographic and cultural factors. Furthermore, when the effects of party affiliation, political ideology and media distrust were removed, this number increased by almost 20 percent. “It stands to reason that most non-believers would support preserving the Earth for future generations, but that end-times believers would rationally perceive such efforts to be ultimately futile, and hence ill-advised,” the authors of the study said. A similar study released in December 2012 found that roughly 36 percent of those living in the U.S. pointed to the severity of recent natural disasters, including super-storm Sandy, as evidence that the “end times” predicted in the Bible were near.

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

Much to the consternation of scientists, the cylindrical platinum-iridium artifacts that represent the kilogram have been gradually packing on extra weight due to surface contamination. Since that unit of measure is the last to be based on an artifact and not a physical constant of nature it means that scientists no longer know exactly how much a kilogram is. That makes experiments requiring extreme precision more difficult, so researchers from Mettler Toledo, CERN and the EPFL have been working for the last 15 years on a so-called Watt balance. This would rely on the principle of electromagnetic force restoration. The team managed to created a "load cell" that's much more accurate than the current standard. This means that the goal of replacing a hunk of metal from 1878 with something more “solid” is within reach by the 2015 target date.

Astronomers are calling for volunteers to help them search for "space warps," rare and distant galaxies that bend light around them like enormous lenses. Citizen scientists participating in the Space Warps project, which was launched on the 8th of May, could help shed light on the mysterious dark matter pervading the universe and aid research into a number of other cosmic phenomena, organizers said. "Not only do space warps act like lenses, magnifying the distant galaxies behind them, but we can also use the light they distort to weigh them, helping us to figure out how much dark matter they contain and how it’s distributed," Phil Marshall, a physicist at Oxford University in England and one of Space Warps' leaders, said in a statement. The Space Warps project asks armchair astronomers to spot gravitational lenses in hundreds of thousands of deep-sky images. The human brain is better than computers at picking out patterns, and amateurs can do it about as well as professional astronomers can. Participants don't have to spend hours peering at their computers to make a meaningful contribution. "Even if individual visitors only spend a few minutes glancing over 40 or so images each, that’s really helpful to our research — we only need a handful of people to spot something in an image for us to say that it’s worth investigating," Oxford's Aprajita Verma, another of Space Warps' principal investigators, said in a statement.

London Zoo is appealing to fish keepers to try to find a mate for a critically endangered, tropical species. The Mangarahara cichlid is extinct in the wild but the three in captivity are all male. Described as "gorgeously ugly", the Zoo is hoping to start a conservation programme if a fit female can be found for the captive males. And with two of the males now 12 years old, the quest is said to be extremely urgent. These cichlids were named after the river in Madagascar where they were first found. The construction of dams on the river caused the streams they lived in to dry up and the fish is now believed to be extinct in its natural habitat. There are two males in captivity at London Zoo and another in Berlin. There had been a female in captivity at the German zoo but attempts to breed ended in disaster when the male killed her. The hope is that the much sought after female cichlid will be found in a private collection somewhere around the world. London Zoo is asking anyone with information about female cichlids to email the team at

A particle storage ring spanning 15 meters in diameter is set to go on a long cruise this summer, from New York to Illinois, where it will get a new life capturing ultra-rare particles in a magnetic field. The huge electromagnet, made of steel and aluminum, is the centerpiece of a machine built at Long Island's Brookhaven National Laboratory in the 1990s. Now it's needed at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside of Chicago for a study on muons, exotic subatomic particles that exist for just 2.2 millionths of a second. While most parts of the machine can be broken down and shipped halfway across the country in parts, the huge but delicate ring needs to go in one piece. One wrong tilt or twist could irreparably damage the complex wiring inside. The ring will travel the roads only at night and at speeds of just 16 km/h when it goes from lab to port and then port to lab. "It costs about 10 times less to move the magnet from Brookhaven to Illinois than it would to build a new one," Lee Roberts of Boston University said in a statement. "So that's what we're going to do. It's an enormous effort from all sides, but it will be worth it." The Muon g-2 experiment will start in 2016 and will involve 26 institutions around the world.

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

Renowned academician Solomon Marcus expressed his disappointment in the poor financing of research in the European country. He explained that the doctoral title had become a trivial matter, with many who are unworthy gaining one without making the effort such a title should impose. He explained that doctoral titles should more easily be revoked if the work done to acquire one is not satisfactory.


You can become a citizen scientist at:

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

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