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Hank CampbellRSS Feed of this column.

I'm the President of the American Council on Science and Health and founded Science 2.0® in 2006.

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In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori described what he called the "uncanny valley", which was a graph showing our affinity for a machine to its likeness of humans.   As robots look and act more human-like, our fondness for them increases, but when machines reach a point where they look so much like us that we can barely tell they're different, we feel repulsed instead of affectionate. 

uncanny valley
I often joke, in reference to a black person, woman or gay complaining about some reference or joke in society or in the media about them, that I am all five groups every one of them jokes about, stereotypes and ridicules without any liberal guilt at all; a white, Catholic (not so much these days but you get the idea), Republican (66% of the time), male who was raised in the South.   Seriously, when is the last time anyone felt bad ridiculing any of those?
50 years ago today, Alan Shepard journeyed into the Final Frontier and became the first American in space, following USSR cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by a period of weeks.

Here is a look at some of details from that period and, when you are done, you can see our interview with Arthur Cohen, one of the lead engineers for the Mercury Program from 1959-1963.

project mercury ballistic capsule
Here, I present for you a snippet from the Western Electric document Introduction to Project Mercury and Site Handbook on one of the most important aspects of a space program that barely existed; ground control and monitoring.   You know, the part where they actually know what the astronaut and his capsule are doing and decide whether or to send him into space and bring him back down, a wholly unnatural act.

a.  Direct the entire flight in respect to the mission;
b.  Monitor the flight in respect to aeromedical and capsule systems;
c.  Keep the astronaut and range stations informed of mission progress;
What draws people to communal rituals has long been a topic of interest to sociologists and anthropologists.  What draws people to a communal ritual like walking on hot coals is a topic of interest for, well, everyone.   We all are fascinated by it but few want to do it, yet it has been going on (that we know of) since 1200 B.C.
With Osama Bin Laden dead, conspiracy theorists will find a way to say it isn't him at all.   Sure, a 6'4" thin guy can be replaced by decoys rather easily but science has come a long way since the September 11th, 2001 attacks that took Bin Laden from being a famous terrorist to being infamous - though given recent developments in the middle East and Africa, Bin Laden has ironically done more to promote democracy in the region than anyone, since the establishment of two democracies in retaliation for regional support for Bin Laden has had a domino effect.

Visual identification by a SEAL team (not seeing his face but actual facial recognition technology), and confirmation by a local is good, but not always enough to satisfy everyone.