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Skeptical reporter @ 2013-07-12

Skeptical Reporter for July 12th, 2013

Hollywood actor Charlie Sheen is planning a trip to Scotland, to hunt for the Loch Ness monster. The Anger Management star, 47, is convinced he can solve the mystery of what lurks in the loch. He revealed his plan on Twitter, posing for a snap in what he called his “hunting gear”, a bronze battle helmet, along with friend Brian Peck. Sheen was soon flooded with encouraging messages from fans all over the world wishing him the best of luck with the mission. Many expeditions have been launched in an effort to solve the mystery of Loch Ness, with some hunters speculating that a colony of plesiosaurs has somehow survived and flourished. But just this week geologist Luigi Piccardi said Nessie sightings were caused by bubbles from a “large and very active” fault line under the lake. Sheen, who has battled crack and cocaine addiction, is no stranger to off-the-wall ideas. He has previously claimed to be a “warlock” and a “rock star from Mars” who can cure diseases with his mind. He was sacked from sitcom Two And A Half Men after a meltdown in 2011.

In Australia, hundreds lined up for hours to hear the Californian-based teacher, author and healing evangelist Bill Johnson speak at a Brisbane church. Many in the 1750-strong crowd were young people attracted to the fifth generation pastor's teachings about 'encountering God' for themselves - and having the faith to pray for healing others. An inherent part of Johnson's teaching is 'treasure hunting' where people go through a town or shopping centre and ask God to show them people who may need encouragement or healing. The practice has already made headlines in Brisbane and drew following on YouTube with postings of people speaking of 'liquid love', a warm sensation, and healing experience. After the service, dozens of people claimed they had been healed after being prayed for. Others were not healed but Johnson said some did not receive their healing straight away but days later.

A Chinese magician has conjured up a personal fortune after setting up an online "spell" emporium that is reportedly earning him more than one million yuan ($180,000) each month. Luo Shun from Hunan province, started his internet business last October and has since been swamped with customers seeking paranormal solutions to their distinctly terrestrial problems. Luo is now reportedly making one million yuan each month from clients who hoped to find love, atone for sins or improve relations with their mothers-in-law. "Writing spells is a sacred thing. [You must] calm your heart, shower and change clothes [and] be guided by the Holy Spirit", he said. Last month the online shop sold 2,825 spells, the most popular a $53 love charm.

The Daily Mail reporters demonstrated once more that they don’t hold particularly good relations with science. They picked up a satirical blog post by doctor Dean Burnett and turned it into serious news. Burnett wrote the blog post on The Guardian website in order to ridicule those who lack an understanding of science and how evolution works. In the post he talks about the possible evolution of human beings in the modern environment and “predicts” that Homo Sapiens could grow flexible skeletons, tentacles, selective hearing, wings and even colour-changing skin. The Daily Mail reporters considered this to be serious news coming from a respectable scientist and wrote about it in very serious terms. They failed to read the last part of the entry which said: “I once spoke with someone who said he didn’t believe in evolution. When asked why, his main argument was that people don’t have wings. While this is definitely the case, I asked how this relates to evolution. His response was that “evolution is survival of the fittest, and wings are the best”. So there’s that. I don’t know how much research this person had done to arrive at this conclusion, so I’m putting it here just in case. Even if it is based on some half-baked observations and a very limited understanding of how evolution works, it’ll fit right in”.

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

Today's 90-year-olds are surviving into very old age with better mental performance than ever before, Danish research suggests. People born in 1915 scored higher in cognitive tests in their 90s compared with those born a decade earlier, according to a study in The Lancet. Better living standards and intellectual stimulation may be key factors, experts say. The number of people reaching very old age is on the rise globally. In the US, for example, the number of people aged 90 or above has more than doubled in 30 years. However, there has been little research on the quality of life that people reaching such an old age can look forward to. The investigations of the Danish research team will be repeated in those born a decade later, giving the chance to see if the findings apply in other populations.

Fragments of two ancient stone axes found in China could display some of the world's earliest primitive writing, Chinese archaeologists say. The markings on the axes, unearthed near Shanghai, could date back at least 5.000 years. But Chinese scholars are divided on whether the markings are proper writing or a less sophisticated stream of symbols. The world's oldest writing is thought to be from Mesopotamia from 3,300 BC. The stone fragments are part of a large trove of artifacts discovered between 2003 and 2006 at a site just south of Shanghai. But it has taken years for archaeologists to examine their discoveries and release their findings. If proven, the stone axes will be older than the earliest proven Chinese writing found on animal bones, which dates back 3,300 years.

Stretchable electronics may start appearing in the near future, after researchers created liquid metal structures on a 3D printer. A team at North Carolina State University used an alloy of two metals - gallium and indium - that are liquid at room temperature but form a "skin" when exposed to air. When printed, the shapes can be stretched without reverting to blobs. The technology could be used for micro-circuits and wearable electronics. "The metal forms a very thin layer of oxide and because of it, you can actually shape it into interesting shapes that would not be possible with normal liquids like water," said the lead author, Michael Dickey. He explained that the printer used a syringe to stack the droplets on top of one another. The droplets retained their shape without merging into a single big droplet, which allowed the scientists to then shape the metal. Gadget makers could potentially use the technique to make connections between electronic components that would not break if their device was pulled or twisted. Flexible electronics are starting to emerge, with companies such as Samsung, LG and Nokia experimenting with bendy displays for phones and televisions.

The rover the US space agency (NASA) sends to Mars in 2020 will look for signs of past life. It will carry a suite of instruments that will attempt to detect the traces left in rocks by ancient biology. The mission is a subtle step on from the current Curiosity rover, designed to establish if the planet has ever had habitable environments in its history. But the 2020 mission will still not be an explicit hunt for present-day life on Mars. The Science Definition Team commissioned by NASA to scope the new rover says such a search would be extremely difficult given what we know about the harsh surface conditions on the planet, and the state of current technologies. The science definition team says the robot should be capable of visual, chemical and mineralogical analysis down to microscopic scale.

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

The Dracula project to promote Transylvania as a tourist destination represents the most profitable strategy that can be found for the development of the tourism in the region, according to a release of the Romanian Federation of Tourism and Service Employers.

“Finally, the local authorities in Transylvania understood that the Dracula myth represents an unrivaled vehicle for promoting tourism in this region. Building on this should be spectacular and uninhibited by such preconceptions that kept hidden in a drawer until now the most valuable country brand of Romania”, said Dan Matei Agathon, the FPTS President.


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