Disabled get tech savvy at Stellenbosch Universty

Stellenbosch University has been plagued by questionable placement of ramps and road alterations for the disabled. Some say these resources have gone to waste.

Technology is changing the way disabled people function in our society and could lead to more efficient use of resources as well as a more fulfilled life.

Shot and edited by myself and Jaco du Plessis.


The death of universities?

A radio feature concerning MOOC’s and free online courses.

Khan Academy, Edx, Harvard, MIT and the BBC all contribute to this new model of online education.

Could this new model make Universities redundant?



More than 1 metric ton of Dagga confiscated in Gauteng

The drug watch initiative in Gauteng has confiscated thousands of drugs off the streets since its commencement in June.

An estimated 1220 kg of Dagga has been confiscated followed by 330 kg of Nyaope, also known as whoonga, the potentially lethal drug combining multiple substances such as crushed ARVs and rat poison.

Whoonga, the potentially lethal drug found on some streets of South Africa. Image at Blogspot

The majority of the arrests were made in Orlando, totaling 1020, followed closely by Sebokeng and Benoni with 857 and 820 arrests respectively.

The head of Crime Line, Yusuf Abramjee, praised the public and the police for “making it uncomfortable for drug dealers and manufacturers to continue holding the public at ransom.”

Other than making arrests and confiscations, Drug Watch is supporting drug affected families to rehabilitative programs with the hope of the culprits to be reintegrated into society.


Rhodes is safest student town for murder in country

According to recent crime stats, the number of cases reported in 2013 has shown evidence of Rhodes University having the lowest rates of murder out of the other major student towns in South Africa.

Stellenbosch, though lowest on attempted murders, had the highest number of murders per 10,000.

  Murders per 10,000 Attempted Murder per 10,000 Assaults per 10,000
Stellenbosch 6.7 17 89
Potchefstroom 4.5 27.5 130
Rhodes 4.2 22 42
Alice 6.5 25 30

Potchefstroom lead the way in assaults at 130 cases per 10,000 people. It also took number one spot for attempted murder at 27 per 10,000.

Alice showed a high murder rate with 6.5 per 10,000 but the lowest assualts out of the four towns researched.

The dark days of ghost parts and horse placenta

Diego Costa

Diego Costa

A mysterious woman in Belgrade, Serbia, massages ‘fresh’ horse placenta on sport stars injuries in her small apartment on the second floor. The treatment, rumored to cost thousands of Euros, is believed to accelerate the healing time.

Footballers such as Dutch striker Rob van Persie and Athletico Madrid’s Diego Costa have flown thousands of kilometers to attend Mariana Kovacevic’s practice.

Pseudoscience practices are prevalent around the world.

In Massimo Pigliucci’s book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk”, Pigliucci discusses the blinding effects of pseudoscience and the lengths people will go to implement their beliefs.

In 2000, AIDS denialists from around the world were invited to Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS advisory panel. The consensus of the former president of South Africa’s panel deemed AIDS and HIV to be nothing more than a harmless passenger virus.

The panel decided, despite irrefutable scientific evidence, that this passenger virus required no anti-retroviral (ARV) medication. Instead herbal medicines and beetroot treatments were endorsed by the Minister of Health, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

This would be similar to telling a cancer patient that they actually didn’t have cancer; they just needed more fruit.


This frightening and misguided decision doomed an estimated 330 000 people to an untimely death.

Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley was an integral part of Mbeki’s decision to shun Anti-retroviral medication. He himself was an AIDS denialist.

Pseudoscience, such as AIDS denialism, is any subject that “fails to meet the three criteria of naturalism, theory and empiricism. Yet even when all three of these checks fail, its supporters still insist there is no problem”, states Pigliucci.

Why did a respected scientist such as Duesberg play a role in this travesty of pseudoscience? Why did he not take into account the overwhelming scientific evidence?

Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, states that “it is all too easy to find at least some ‘experts’ who will defend almost any sort of nonsense”.

This is pseudoscience at its worst.

In 2006, thanks to ongoing petitions of civic groups and 81 leading scientists, Mbeki implemented ARV treatment in South Africa.

The Human Services Research Council (HSRC) survey showed that over 2 million people were on ARV treatment by mid-2012 in South Africa.

Pseudoscience in education

The Dover School Board in Pennsylvania attempted to implement their religious beliefs into the school’s curriculum in 2006. Intelligent design (ID) was to be installed into the curriculum and taught as a science.

Intelligent design is a pseudoscientific view that believes there is an intelligent or guiding hand that created the universe. It is a form of creationism, which, in 1987, was ruled by the Supreme Court to be a belief system and not a science.


“A field does not belong to science unless there are reasonable ways to test its theories against data,” states Pigliucci. In the case of ID, there is no way to test its theories therefore, it falls under pseudoscience.

The United States Constitution states that religion is not allowed to be taught in American public schools.

Against all odds, the Dover school board, fronted by Alan Bonsell, decided to push for the teaching of ID as a science. To promote their case, Bonsell recruited the help of the Discovery Institute, “a Seattle-based ‘think tank’ devoted to the promotion of intelligent design in public schools”, according to Pigliucci.

The Discovery Institute sent Bonsell an explanatory video that was “arranged to be shown to the teachers to ‘educate’ them about the real nature of ID”.

Bonsell and the Dover school board members were then taken to court. Judge Jones ordered the removal of ID from the science curriculum. The school board’s attempt to force their ideologies into education was denied due to laws protecting science from bunk. Judge Jones said, “To assert a secular purpose against this backdrop would be ludicrous”.

Ideological views tend to influence judgment and responsibility as was seen in the Dover case. Think tanks like the Discovery Institute have also become breeding grounds for bias.

Think tanks refer to “a specific kind of organization, namely, a private group, usually but not always privately funded, producing arguments and data aimed at influencing specific sectors of public policy”. Pigliucci goes on to say, “too often their political, ideological, and financial biases are not disclosed to the public, which gives them the misleading aura of being neutral, third-party experts.”

These factors make separating science from bunk that much more difficult.

Albino’s plight

In Tanzania, people from all walks of life pay large sums of money for Albino body parts, believing them to hold magical powers that will bring good fortune.

There is a common belief that “albinos are ghosts who are cursed but whose body parts can ward off bad luck and bring wealth and success”, according to the National Geographic.

Witch doctors sell Albino body parts as talismans to miners who “bury them where they’re drilling for gold and fishermen who weave albino hair into their nets”. This witchcraft in Tanzania kills thousands of innocent albinos, resulting in hundreds of albino children having to live under protection in guarded camps.

Albino camp in Tanzania. Photo: National Geographic

Albino camp in Tanzania. Photo: National Geographic

The title of astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark seems more apt than ever in Tanzania.

Sagan and Pigliucci both encourage people to learn critical or skeptical thinking to prevent pseudoscience tragedies such as these from happening.

Compared to the albino’s plight in Tanzania, the horse placenta treatment caused no serious harm to the footballers, except for their dignity. Diego Costa could only play for 7 minutes before having to come off after the ‘miraculous treatment’. On his departure from the field, one tweet read, “Horse placenta. Foal’s gold.”

Yet there are many who still swear by the treatment. There are even more who believe in dangerous, inhumane pseudoscience as mentioned in this article. Jumping on the band wagon is not an option and neither is sitting back. We should take inspiration from the truth seekers such as Pigliucci and Sagan, and remember the famous writer, Anatole France, who said, “If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

Anthony Molyneaux is a post-graduate journalism student and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

Karoo at the forefront of future space travel navigation

The Karoo’s vast expanse of desert will introduce 3000 radio telescopes as part of an initiative by Square Kilometer Array to discover new planets, stars and possibly extraterrestrial life.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a world renowned radio astronomer, presented a talk as part of the SKA science conference yesterday evening at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study (STIAS) building in Stellenbosch. The presentation ranged from pulsating radio stars, also known as pulsars, to the unique possibilities that these special stars may offer the global community.

Burnell, an Irish astrophysicist is known for her work in the discovery of pulsars. Experts like Burnell believe that these stars have the potential to aid in navigation through galaxies, acting as beacons or lighthouses for space ships of the future. Burnell has not ruled out the possibility of finding life on other planets and the study of these pulsars could play a large role in this discovery.

“We believe life can be sustained when water is in its liquid form. The chances of a planet in our universe having liquid water are extremely high. The question is not if there is life on other planets but what we will do with this information once it arrives,” states Burnell.

Dr. Adrian Tiplady, the SKA Site Bid Manager spoke of the plans for the Karoo and its leap into space study, “The project kicks off in March 2014 and by 2022 we will see the last telescope erected.”

The first phase of the SKA project is the introduction of the radio telescope dubbed MeerKAT. MeerKAT will be the largest centimeter wavelength telescope in the Southern Hemisphere once completed.

“There will be a couple hundred dishes, or little radio telescopes, scattered around the Karoo and used to pick up radio waves from distant galaxies,” states Burnell. “The Square Kilometer Array will enable us to see all the pulsars in our galaxy that point our way, which will be about 10 times the amount of what we know at the moment.”

The Karoo was chosen as the location for SKA as it has a low inhabitation of people and low radio interference. Mobile phones emit large interference which is why a large, open, uninhabited area was chosen.

“South Africa in the near future is going to play a special part in radio astronomy,” states Bell.

A pulsar is the shrunken core of an exploded star. This relatively small, extremely dense star rotates at incredible speeds around its own axis. This rotation produces the sound which radio telescopes can gather and in this way, locate pulsars all over the universe.

The life and times of now

By Anthony Molyneaux

On the 17th of March 2014, scientists and radio astronomers made a spectacular breakthrough. The big bang made a giant leap toward unquestionable evidence of its existence, lending itself toward our existence. Radio astronomers detected ripples in the fabric of space-time. These ripples are called gravitational waves and show proof of a catastrophic event happening 13.8 billion years ago which created our universe.

Debates over the Earth’s age and how it was formed have undergone many changes over the past 200 years due to scientific discoveries and works by scientists. Questions of how long human beings have been on Earth and how we came about have also been discussed.

On the 24th November 1859, Charles Darwin’s book called “On the Origin of Species” was published. This publication spoke of natural selection and was the one of the biggest players in evolutionary biology.

People’s ideas of time and the universe have grossly changed since the mid-19th century due to findings and scientific studies such as these. With science came change as the proof of something measurable was paramount against the theories and teachings of some churches and leaders. Our perceptions of time and the importance of the Earth in the make-up of the universe have altered immensely.

We now know that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. Our solar system is probably 4-5 billion years old and that Earth is definitely not at the centre of the universe. So how did the concept of time change? And what has it done for our societies?

A simple example given to us as the life span of Earth and humans relative to the big bang exists in University of Rochester’s detailed Department of Physics and Astronomy website.

“If we compress the time since the Big Bang into one year, and make the time of the Big Bang January 1, then the Earth was formed in mid-September. The mammals would arrive just after Christmas (25 December) and all of human prehistory (from the first known stone tools) and current history have occurred in the last 1/2 hour of New Year’s Eve.”

Creationists have fought hard against the big bang theory and evolution – They have taught that the Earth is 6000 years old, that Earth is at the centre of the universe and man was created by the power of God. Throughout time there have been many ideas and beliefs over the creation of the cosmos. Creation stories all have similar backgrounds. The Hebrews, for example, believed the universe was created by God in 6 days, beginning from a formless void.

In the twenty-first century things have changed. The research from ‘Opinions on evolution from ten countries July 2nd, 2009, National Center for Science Education’ and the BBC’s Survey, “On The Origins Of Life” recorded figures in areas such as Canada, India, Norway and the U.K. 48% and above of the population believe in evolution and the big bang theory.

According to a 2007 Gallup poll, about 43% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

Time, being a human construct, is a difficult thing to define, yet it provides us with a framework to live by. In 2014 we know now that we as a species have been in existence for a frightfully short period of time in the bigger scale of things.

Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”, also made his feelings known about creationists. He stated that he believed the creationist view “threaten science education and innovations in The United States.” Schools have undergone changes due to the discoveries of science. People for the American Way polled 1500 North Americans about the teaching of evolution and creation in 1999. The results showed that 29% believed that creationism can be discussed in class as a belief, not a scientific theory. Twenty percent believed only evolution should be taught in public schools.

Humans were seen as the superior being across the galaxies, a chosen people, just a few hundred years ago. Times are changing; excuse the pun, yet our importance shouldn’t be underestimated due to further knowledge, says the famous astrophysicist Dr Neil Degrasse Tyson. He speaks of our worthiness in our universe,

“When I look up at the night sky, I know that we are a part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps most important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us. Many people look up and feel small as the universe is so big. Yet, I feel big because my atoms came from those stars. There is a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want from life, you want to feel connected. You want to feel relevant. That’s precisely what you are, just by being alive.”