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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Will Holding a Gun Make You Think Others Are Too? New Research Says Yes.


James Bond Holding a Gun
I'm pretty sure he's holding a gun. Wielding a gun increases a person's bias to see guns in the hands of others, new research from the University of Notre Dame shows.

Research from the University of Notre Dame that shows a person’s bias to see guns in the hands of others is increased when the subject is holding a gun. The research, which will be published in the soon-to-be released issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance showed that subjects holding a toy gun were more likely to perceive the image of a person they were looking at to be holding a gun as opposed to another type of object.  The research was performed by Notre Dame Associate Professor of Psychology James Brockmole along with an unnamed colleague from Purdue University.

In five experiments, subjects were shown multiple images of people on a computer screen and determined whether the person was holding a gun or a neutral object such as a soda can or cell phone. Subjects did this while holding either a toy gun or a neutral object such as a foam ball.

The researchers varied the situation in each experiment — such as having the people in the images sometimes wear ski masks, changing the race of the person in the image or changing the reaction subjects were to have when they perceived the person in the image to hold a gun. Regardless of the situation the observers found themselves in, the study showed that responding with a gun biased observers to report “gun present” more than did responding with a ball. Thus, by virtue of affording the subject the opportunity to use a gun, he or she was more likely to classify objects in a scene as a gun and, as a result, to engage in threat-induced behavior, such as raising a firearm to shoot.

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Our April 14th Get Together Is All About Hitch

The great Bearded Hitch
The Great Bearded Hitch. Photographed in the wild.

This Month is going to be our tribute to Christopher Hitchens. As you remember, we were supposed to do this in January but had to do something different because the venue closed down at the last minute. So, as April is his birth month, we are going to pay tribute to him today.

We will be watching the IQ2 debate where where he and Stephan Fry eviscerate the Catholic church. We may also watch a debate from Brazil. But most importantly we will be watching the Thank Hitch video we put together and sent off to Hitchens himself. Only a few people have seen it including Hitch himself.

Come and join us for lively discussion, drinks, dinner and debate! This is a good event for Skeptics of Michigan to come together and discuss local, national, worldwide items affecting skeptics. All are welcome to listen and participate.

We also have special guests and speakers that contribute to the conversation and/or debate.

Please be sure to RSVP so I know how many are coming. That way I can modify the reservation if necessary.

Also make sure to join our Meetup Group for future Get Togethers and other great events.

I hope to see you all there!

New Evidence Knocks Down Daryl Bems Claim of Psychic Proof


crystal ball
The results were clear. "We found nothing," Ritchie said.

LiveScience is reporting on experiments done by researchers at three universities trying to replicate Daryl Bem‘s 2010 claim that he had found scientific proof of psychic ability. The researchers Stuart Ritchie of the University of Edinburgh, University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman and University of London psychologist Christopher French all conducted the experiment separately at their respective universities with 50 participants each.

 The researchers chose the strongest of the eight positive findings that Bem originally published. In the experiment, Bem’s participants seemed to reverse the usual cause-effect sequence of time. They saw a list of 48 words flashed onto a computer screen and were then treated to a surprise memory test in which they were asked to type in as many of the words as they remembered.

Next, a random sample of 24 of the previous 48 words was presented again. The participants did some practice exercises with these words, and then the experiment ended. Analyzing the memory-test results, Bem and his colleagues found that the students were more likely to recall the words that they’d soon see again than the words that were not on the later exercise list, as if they could see the future.

“It’s almost as if you study for an exam, you do the exam and then you study for it afterwards and then you get a better mark,” Ritchie told LiveScience. “So you can see why we were kind of surprised by that.”

Bem encouraged replication of his results, and he put the computer program he used in his experiment online so other researchers could use it.

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Great Lakes Ice Coverage Down 71 Percent Since 1973

Coast Guard Cutter Katmai Bay
Coast Guard Cutter Katmai Bay breaks ice for freighters navigating through the St. Mary's River in the Great Lakes. During winter, paths must be made in the ice for freighters to continue shipping goods. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class William B. Mitchell.

The American Meteorological Society says that the amount of ice covering the Great Lakes has decreased over 71% in the past 40 years. A drop that the author of the report attributes to climate change, El Nino and La Nina. The report published last month said only about 5 percent of the Great Lakes surface froze over this year.

Researchers determined ice coverage by scanning U.S. Coast Guard reports and satellite images taken from 1973 to 2010. They found that ice coverage was down 88 percent on Lake Ontario and fell 79 percent on Lake Superior. However, the ice in Lake St. Clair, which is between Lakes Erie and Huron, diminished just 37 percent.

The study doesn’t include the current winter, but satellite photos show that only about 5 percent of the Great Lakes surface froze over this winter. That’s a steep drop from years such as 1979, when there was as much as 94 percent ice coverage. On average, about 40 percent of the surfaces freeze over.

The results are consistent with other studies that have found higher surface water temperatures on Lake Superior in recent years.

Jia Wang of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Ann Arbor, Mi, the lead author of the publication states that  that diminished ice can accelerate wintertime evaporation, causing water levels to fall. The lack of ice could also lead to earlier and increased algae blooms that can damage water quality, and could speed up erosion by exposing more shoreline to waves.

Even Lake Superior’s protected Chequamegon Bay, just north of Ashland, Wis., has been remarkably free of ice. It usually freezes enough for trucks to drive on it, but the ice was never thick enough. That forced the local Madeline Island ferry to operate all season, which has only happened once before.


Debate: Is Christianity Good For American Politics?

CFI Michigan is hosting a debate between two prominent authors and political commentators, Dinesh D’Souza and Susan Jacoby. The topic for the debate is going to be “Is Christiantity Good for American Politics?”

When: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Where: Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain NE, Grand Rapids, MI

Cost: TBD

Join us for a debate featuring two prominent authors and political commentators, Dinesh D’Souza and Susan Jacoby on the topic “Is Christiantity Good for American Politics?” This event is co-sponsored by ISI, Center for Inquiry–Michigan and the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University.

About the Debaters

Dinesh D’Souza

Dinesh D’Souza has a distinguished 25 year career as a writer, scholar and intellectual. A former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, D’Souza also served as an Olin Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute as well as a Rishwain Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

Called one of the “top young public-policy makers in the country” by Investor’s Business Daily , D’Souza quickly became a major influence on public policy through his writings.Illiberal Education , his first book publicized the phenomenon of political correctness in America’s colleges and universities and was on the best seller list for 15 weeks. Subsequent best sellers, include Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader , The Virtue of Prosperity, Finding Values in an Age of Techno Affluence, What’s So Great About America, Letters to a Young Conservative, What’s So Great About Christianity, and The Roots of Obama’s Rage . His latest work, Godforsaken , responds to the problem of evil.

A prolific, writer, persuasive debater, D’Souza has been named one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers by the New York Times. In the fall of 2010 Dinesh D’Souza was named the President of The King’s College, a Christian College located in the Empire State Building in New York City. The mission of The King’s College is to transform society by preparing students for careers in which they help to shape and eventually to lead strategic public and private institutions.

Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby is the author of ten books, a frequent contributor to national magazines and newspapers, and the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2001 appointment as a fellow of the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers.

An outspoken advocate of reason, she writes “The Spirited Atheist” column for On Faith at The Washington Post. Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age is Susan Jacoby’s tenth nonfiction book. Her most recent books include the New York Times bestseller, The Age of American Unreason (2008) and Alger Hiss and The Battle for History (2009).

Susan Jacoby has been the recipient of many grants and awards, from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Ford Foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2001-2002, she was named a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She is also a member of the advisory boards of the Secular Coalition for America and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Susan Jacoby lives in New York City.

Contact: Jennifer Beahan, [email protected], 616-698-2342

The Facts Behind The Kony 2012 Video

Kony 2012 Banner
For $30, The Action kit includes a t-shirt, bumper sticker, bracelet and become an "Advocate of Awesome"

Last week Invisible Children, a non-profit organization founded and head by film maker Jason Russell, released a 30 minute documentary video called “Kony 2012“. The documentary details a Ugandan warlord/rebel named Joseph Kony and the crimes he has committed against civilians and children.  The documentary video went viral in a few days with over 37 million views.

Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) a militant group that is an offshoot of an armed resistance in Northern Uganda called the Holy Spirit Movement. The Holy Spirit Movement was formed by Alice Auma in 1987 as a resistance army protected by the holy spirit.

The Holy Spirit Movement fought as a regular army – taking and controlling territory, as well as holding pitched battles with NRA forces – but had a number of practices that outsiders found bizarre. Spiritual “controllers” were integrated into each unit. Along with duties such as tending to Alice Auma while she was possessed, they smeared blessed oil on combatants that was supposed to stop bullets if the combatant’s soul was pure. [via Wikipedia]

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Announcing: Cafe Inquiry (sponsored by Center for Inquiry)

Beginning on Sunday, March 25th, and regularly occuring on the fourth Sunday of each month, there will be a Cafe Inquiry (sponsored by Center For Inquiry).  It will be held at CJ’s Brewing Company, 14900 Beck Rd., Plymouth, MI, from 1:00 – 3:00pm.

A Cafe Inquiry get-together consists of everyone participating in a discussion about several predetermined topics in a casual, thought-provoking way.  You can find out more about the event over at CFI’s website.  Jennifer Keller Baker is the organizer.  Hope to see some of you there!

Are Computers Better Than People At Detecting When People Lie?

Lie to Me Logo
Lie to Me on FOX

Can computer software detect lies at a better rate than people? Scientific American reports that researchers at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York claim that their software, which analyzes eye movement can determine a lie with 82.5% accuracy. Their work, which is as of yet unpublished, consisted of 40 interviews with subjects that were given a punishment/reward scenario. If they were to successfully lie and get away with it, they would be given a cash reward plus a group they support will be given a donation. If they were caught lying, a group they oppose were given money.

Obviously, a 40 subject study is hardly a thorough  study but they have bigger plans for their research.

The researchers, who first presented their (still unpublished) results at the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition a year ago, believe they have laid the foundation for a more extensive study that will include a larger sample and take into account body language in addition to eye movement to determine whether new technologies can help interrogators in their search for the truth.

The study is based off of work of Paul Ekman, a Professor Emeritus psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. Ekman studied emotions and their relation to facial expressions. The study’s co-author, Mark Frank, worked for Ekman U.C. San Francisco’s psychiatry department previously.

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Is Thorium a Suitable Alternative Nuclear Fuel?

Map of Thorium Concentrations (most of USA and some of Canada) from USGS
Map of Thorium Concentrations (most of USA and some of Canada) from USGS

Our Get Together this Saturday, March 10th will feature Dr. Ron Fleming, Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Fleming will be talking to us about Nuclear Science. The current technology involved in nuclear power generation along with new and different ideas. One of the ideas he will be speaking about is Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR). Many of you probably have heard about them, there has been a small buzz on the Internet about them. We brought The good doctor in to educate us about LFTR technology and to counter the rumors going around.

What is a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR)?

A LFTR reactor is a type of a breeder reactor that uses Thorium as the fuel source. The fuel is in a fluoride-based molten salt mixture to power the reaction. Breeder reactors are much more efficient than the light-water reactors in use today, extracting as much as 100% of  a fuel’s energy versus 1%. Also since they operate at atmospheric pressures there is no chance of the reactor vessel exploding.

Wikipedia has a large list of advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few of the advantages:

  • LFTRs can be designed to be inherently safe: They can have passive nuclear safety, strong negative temperature coefficient of reactivity and operate at atmospheric pressures. (i.e., since the core is not pressurized, it cannot explode)
  • MSFRs can include a freeze plug at the bottom that has to be actively cooled, usually by a small electric fan. If the cooling fails, say because of a power failure, the fan stops, the plug melts, and the fuel drains to a subcritical easily cooled storage facility. This not only stops the reactor, also the storage tank can more easily shed the decay heat from the short-lived radioactive decay of irradiated nuclear fuels.
  • Since the LFTR fuel is liquid, relatively small, simple equipment can continuously remove transmutation products. This immensely simplifies the reactor’s behavior, i.e. it is more predictable, thus more easily controlled and safer than a conventional LWR (light-water reactor).

There have been several TED talks on the subject. Here is one:


Prepare your questions for Dr. Fleming. I expect this to be a very informative Get Together!

The Sad State of NASA’s Information and Cyber Security

 NASA Office of the Inspector General Badge
NASA Office of the Inspector General Agent's Badge

Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Investigations and OversightHouse Committee on Science, Space, and Technology by Paul K. Martin, Inspector General for NASA revealed the ongoing issues with NASA’s Security efforts. He highlighted five issues of main concern:

• Lack of full awareness of Agency-wide IT security posture;
• Shortcomings in implementing a continuous monitoring approach to IT security;
• Slow pace of encryption for NASA laptop computers and other mobile devices;
• Ability to combat sophisticated cyber attacks; and
• Transition to cloud computing.

 NASA’s Office of Inspector General reported 5,408 computer security incidents for 2010 and 2011, an average of 7.4 a day. These are the intrusions that made it in, and either implanted malware or extracted data. They range from script kiddies testing if they can do it to foreign entities attempting to steal sensitive data. Continue reading

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