NTS LogoSkeptical News for 27 February 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

When a Tale is Too Bad to Be True
Wild claims of moral decline take root in fear


By Susan Church
HealthScout Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthScout) -- The next time some media hypester says our country is going to heck in a handbasket, you might want to switch channels.

That's because exaggerated claims about a nation's declining morality have more to do with fear than fact, says University of Arkansas anthropologist Ted Swedenburg.

When a country's traditional values are threatened, Swedenburg says, the press and politicians heap blame on scapegoats, making exaggerated claims of their supposed evil influence.

To underscore his point, the pop culture professor looked at a recent episode of moral panic in Egypt, combing through hundreds of newspaper accounts and finding parallels with similar incidents in the United States.

It started, he says, with the birth of the heavy-metal scene in Egypt in the 1990s. By 1996, Egyptian newspapers and magazines were denouncing rock concerts and clubs, claiming they were havens for devil worshippers engaging in despicable horrors, Swedenburg says. The press warned parents how to spot Satanists by their clothing, and carried lurid stories of ritualistic group sex and animal sacrifice. Egyptian politicians jumped on the sensationalist bandwagon, denouncing rock music as the devil's instrument luring Egyptian youth to their moral doom.

"The kids were wearing black clothing and going to rock concerts, and some guys wore ponytails and the girls wore black lipstick," Swedenburg says. "Not really weird from an American perspective, but odd from an Egyptian perspective."

Then early in 1997, he says, the Egyptian state police rounded up 80 young people from a rock concert and jailed them on charges of Satanism and contempt for religion -- a serious crime in a Muslim nation, where apostasy, or abandoning your faith, carries a death sentence.

"They were just kids, really, but the media went nuts," Swedenburg says. "There was a frenzy of reports about Satanism."

Six weeks later, the police released the teens, acknowledging the charges were groundless. But the country's heavy metal scene -- which had been depicted as an evil Western influence corrupting Egyptian youth -- died in the resulting frenzy.

"Moral panics are motivated by the sense that the old order is passing away," Swedenburg notes. "There are analogous anxieties in the USA, where we periodically get the sense that young people are violent and out of control, that they watch too much TV or listen to too much rap music."

"We had all those stories of school violence after the Columbine High School massacre, when really the deeper anxiety is that America has lost its sense of traditional values," he says. Swedenburg presented his views in a recent talk at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

One of the most costly moral panics in the United States occurred in the 1980s when the McMartin Preschool scandal touched off a rash of exaggerated claims about satanic ritual abuse in a Southern California day-care center.

The resulting trial cost millions and, experts say, deflected attention from the real fear -- how parents felt about spending time at work, away from their kids -- and the real setting of most child abuse, which is the home.

But rumors are no accident, according to Frederick Koenig, a social psychology professor at Tulane University and the author of Rumor in the Marketplace.

"Rumors give legitimacy to a point of view of people who are very conservative," Koenig says. "The stories are almost welcome because they have a 'Hey, I told you so' quality. So, for example, fundamentalist Christians are particularly sensitive to Satanism rumors because it fits into their philosophy that the devil is alive and well and corrupting our society."

Monday, February 26, 2001

Life on Mars

February 26, 2001
Catherine E. Watson
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

Release: J01-17


Researchers have found magnetic material in a 4.5-billion-year-old Martian meteorite that could only have been produced by bacteria. This new data strongly supports the primitive life on Mars hypothesis of David McKay and co-authors in 1996.

"There are no known reports of any organic process that could produce such magnetites," said Kathie Thomas-Keprta, an astrobiologist at NASA's Johnson Space Center and the lead researcher on the study. The Martian magnetites are identical to those found in a bacteria strain on Earth called MV-1. "This group of magnetite deeply embedded in the Mars meteorite is so similar to the ones produced by the Earth bacteria that they cannot be told apart by any known measurement," said David McKay, a geologist at JSC and a co-author on the paper. "We considered that perhaps earth bacteria or earth magnetite had gotten into the Mars meteorite," McKay continued, "but extensive examination and testing by both our team and many other investigators eliminated that possibility."

Scientists generally agree that ALH84001 is a member of the group of 16 meteorites found on Earth that originated on Mars. The potato-sized igneous rock is the oldest of them – about 4.5 billion years. It lay in Antarctic ice for more than 13,000 years. But the biogenic-type magnetite crystals are embedded in 3.9-billion-year-old carbonates within ALH84001. Previous work by co-author Chris Romanek, of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory has shown that these carbonates formed on Mars; thus the magnetite crystals must also have formed on Mars.

Using electron microscopy, team members examined the Martian magnetites still embedded in the carbonate and also removed about 600 crystals and examined the individual particles to determine their chemical composition and crystal geometry. "These crystals are so tiny, ranging from 10 to 200 nanometers, that nearly a billion of them would fit on the head of a pin," said Thomas-Keprta.

The authors found that about a quarter of the Martian magnetites from ALH84001 are identical to magnetites produced on Earth by the magnetotactic bacteria strain MV-1, which has been extensively studied by co-author Dennis Bazylinski, a geobiologist and microbiologist at Iowa State University who has developed many ways of culturing these difficult to grow microorganisms. No one has found terrestrial inorganic magnetites, produced either naturally or in the laboratory, that mimic all the properties displayed by biogenic magnetites. "There is currently no known inorganic chemical means of producing these magnetite crystals with their unique morphologies," he said.

Magnetite (Fe3O4) is produced inorganically on Earth. But the magnetite crystals produced by magnetotactic bacteria are different – they are chemically pure and defect-free. Their size and shape is distinct. Magnetotactic bacteria arrange these magnetite crystals in chains within their cells. These characteristics make the magnetite crystals very efficient compasses, which are essential to the survival behavior of the bacteria by helping them locate sources of food and energy. "Mars is smaller than Earth and it developed faster," co-author Simon Clemett of Lockheed-Martin at JSC noted. "Consequently, bacteria able to produce tiny magnets could have evolved much earlier on Mars."

"The process of evolution has driven these bacteria to make perfect little bar magnets, which differ strikingly from anything found outside of biology," added, Joe Kirschvink, a geobiologist at Caltech and a co-author of the paper. "In fact, an entire industry devoted to making small magnetic particles for magnetic tapes and computer disk drives has tried and failed for the past 50 years to find a way to make similar particles. A good fossil is something that is difficult to make inorganically, and these magnetosomes are very good fossils."

Mars has long been understood to provide sources of light energy and chemical energy sufficient to support life. Early Mars, the authors note, may have had even more chemical energy produced by active volcanism and hydrothermal activity. Also, when the team asserted in 1996 that Martian meteorite ALH84001 showed signs of life existing on Mars, that planet was not known to have ever had a strong magnetic field. But since then, the Mars Global Surveyor has observed magnetized stripes in the crust of Mars that show a strong magnetic field existed early in the planet’s history, about the same time as the carbonate containing the unique magnetites was formed. Surface features also suggest that early Mars had large oceans and lakes. These attributes, coupled with a CO2-rich atmosphere, provided the necessary environment for the evolution of microbes similar to the fossils found in ALH84001.

A team of 10 researchers collaborated on the four-year study, which was published Feb. 27 in a special Astrobiology issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The team, led by Thomas-Keprta of Lockheed Martin at Johnson Space Center, was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Co-authors of the study are Simon Clemett and Susan Wentworth of Lockheed Martin at the JSC; Dennis Bazylinski of Iowa State University (funded by the National Science Foundation); Joseph Kirschvink of the California Institute of Technology; David McKay, Everett Gibson and Mary Fae McKay of JSC; and Christopher Romanek of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

For a more technical discussion of this paper please see the following Web site:


The Influence of "Junk Science" and the Role of Science Education

Posted by Terry Colvin

Because Ideas Have Consequences
February 2001, Volume 30, Number 2
(over 1 Million Readers)
A monthly publication of Hillsdale College
Free: 1-800-437-2268; http://www.hillsdale.edu

Lee Ann Fisher Baron
Savona Professor of Natural Sciences, Hillsdale College

Lee Ann Fisher Baron is the Vincent and Anneliese Savona Professor of Natural Sciences at Hillsdale College, where she has taught since 1989.
On September 10-14, 2000, the Hillsdale College Center for Constructive Alternatives held a seminar on "Junk Science: The Political Abuse of Research." Participants discussed the unfounded scientific claims and theories that are employed today for political purposes, and in particular for justifying more intrusive regulation of private and economic life. From persistent doomsday scenarios like global warning to the latest ergonomic arguments for near-total regulation of the American workplace, this abuse of science represents not only an economic threat, but a threat to freedom as well.

This threat can succeed only if Americans become gullible to the point of failing to distinguish solid science from "junk science." In the following presentation, Dr. Baron discussed the increase of such gullibility in our nation today and one of its root causes: declining standards in science education.

Science is exciting partly because single discoveries can change the course of history. Think of the effects on human health and longevity of the discovery of antibiotics, the multi-faceted impact on our lives of the discovery of polymers, or the far-reaching importance of the Human Genome Project. Unfortunately, however, most of the "revolutionary discoveries" made throughout history have turned out to be wrong.

Error is a regular part of science. That is why reports of new findings or discoveries, no matter where or how widely they are reported, should be regarded with healthy skepticism. The proper scientific approach to such claims involves a set of procedures called the scientific method. This method requires the design of tests or experiments that can be repeated with the same results by anyone. These tests must also contain controls to ensure that the results are statistically significant.

Let me illustrate the importance of controls by describing briefly an experiment in which my daughter participated as a subject some years ago at the University of Michigan Medical School. Its purpose was to determine whether the vaccine for tuberculosis could lengthen the interval during which newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetics do not experience severe high or low blood sugar. The subjects were divided into a group of those who received the vaccine and a control group of those who received a placebo. The subjects did not know who got the vaccine and, just as importantly, neither did the researchers -- a type of control referred to as a "double-blind." By using two groups, the researchers were able to measure the "placebo effect" -- a phenomenon in which patients improve because they falsely believe that they are receiving medicine. And by keeping themselves ignorant of the breakdown of the groups, the researchers were prevented from reading their hypotheses into the results.

"Junk Science"

Most erroneous conclusions by scientists are discovered during the process of publishing their research. Other scientists review submitted articles, often repeating any relevant tests or experiments and always evaluating the conclusions that have been drawn from them. So-called "junk science" bypasses this system of peer review. Presented directly to the public by people variously described as "experts" or "activists," often with little or no supporting evidence, this "junk science" undermines the ability of elected representatives, jurists, and others -- including everyday consumers -- to make rational decisions.

An example of "junk science" I like to use with my students is the myth of "fat-free foods" invented by the food industry with the help of federal regulators. By regulatory definition, these foods may contain monoglycerides and diglycerides, but not triglycerides. From the point of view of solid science this definition makes no practical sense, given that the body metabolizes mono-, di- and triglycerides in essentially the same way. Meanwhile unwary consumers take the "fat-free" label as a license to eat these foods to excess, and Americans are more obese now than ever before.

A more amusing example is "Vitamin O," a wonder supplement advertised to "maximize your nutrients, purify your blood stream, and eliminate toxins and poisons -- in other words, [to supply] all the processes necessary to prevent disease and promote health." It was described on its label as "stabilized oxygen molecules in a solution of distilled water and sodium chloride."

In other words, the 60,000 consumers purchasing "Vitamin O" -- to the tune of $20 a month -- were taking salt water! Although this product was legally exempted from certain FDA requirements by virtue of its status as a "natural" diet supplement, the FTC was able to file a complaint against it in 1999, based on false claims by its promoters that it was being used by NASA astronauts. Otherwise "Vitamin O" would still be one of the world's best-selling placebos.

The potential lasting power of "junk science" is demonstrated by the story of German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who took quinine back in 1776 to investigate its use against malaria. After taking the quinine he experienced chills and fever, which are the symptoms of malaria. From this he concluded, wrongly, that "likes cure likes," i.e., that diseases should be treated with medicines that produce similar symptoms to the diseases. In the course of testing this theory with other herbal remedies, Hahnemann discovered that many "natural" herbs are toxic and made his patients worse. To reduce the toxic effects, he diluted the remedies until they seemed to be working. On that basis he formulated a "law of infinitesimals" stating that higher dilutions of herbal cures increase their medicinal benefits. To be fair, Hahnemann conducted these experiments more than 70 years before scientists understood that a dilution weaker than one part in 6.02 X 10^23 may not contain even a single molecule of the dissolved substance. Thus he did not realize that upon administering to his patients 30X preparations -- dilutions of one part herb to 10^30 parts water -- the placebo effect was all that was really left to measure.

Incredibly, homeopathic medicine today still relies on Hahnemann's theories. Not only does it often come in 30X preparations, it comes in 200c dilutions -- solutions of one part herb to 100 parts of water 200 times, resulting in one molecule of the herb per 10^400 molecules of water! Modern homeopathists obviously can't deny that such preparations are beyond the dilution limit, but they insist that the dilutions still work because their water or alcohol/water mixtures somehow "remember" the herbs. Despite this preposterous claim, the market for these remedies is enormous.

Just as many homeopathic preparations are diluted to the point that they are nothing but water, many "natural" herbs on the market contain drugs and chemicals which interact with the human body like prescription drugs. For example, Echinacea stimulates the immune system, which could prove harmful to people with type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune diseases. It is therefore unwise -- to put it gently -- to take herbal remedies or supplements of any kind without consulting a doctor and/or the _Physician's Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines_. But many Americans do so, equating "natural" with "harmless" and "good."

Cause and Solution
I have addressed here the corrupting influence of "junk science" in the area of consumer foods, vitamins and diet supplements. The same dynamic increasingly affects other aspects of our individual and collective lies as well. But I believe the root cause is the same: Americans are losing the common-sense skepticism toward scientific claims that animates the scientific method itself. And one of the reasons for this is a slow but steady degradation of our educational system. In short, as Charles J. Sykes explains in _Dumbing Down Our Kids_, theories such as "outcome-based education," "cooperative learning," and "maximization of self-esteem" are fast replacing reading, writing, and arithmetic as the goals of education.

Anecdotal evidence of this trend is vast and compelling. For instance, when average SAT math scores fell from 500 to 424, the College Board responded by allowing the use of calculators. When that didn't work, they "recentered" the test by adding approximately 20 points to the math scores (while also adding 80 points on the verbal side, for a total of 100), regardless of achievement. At the state level, many high school competency exams are written at an eighth-grade level. And coloring for credit in elementary-level math classes is now fairly common. Is it any wonder that so many of the kids we now graduate from high school enter the workforce unable to add in their heads or make correct change, or arrive at college incapable of solving the simplest equations?

The situation is no better in the sciences. Students at a Seattle middle school spend two weeks studying the eating habits of birds by trying to pick up Cheerios with tongue depressors, toothpicks, spoons, and clothespins between their teeth. "Educationalists" call this creative and engaging. But it doesn't create useful or important knowledge. And surely it is not true that such activity is more engaging than learning about Newton's Laws or DNA.

A popular high school chemistry book moves from "Supplying Our Water Needs," which includes a discussion of acid rain, to "Chemistry and the Atmosphere," which addresses the ozone layer. This approach would not be all bad if the chemistry behind these issues was rigorously taught and if important topics unrelated to social controversies were also included. Unfortunately they are not. When I called the American Chemical Society -- which, sadly, produced this textbook -- one of those responsible justified its approach by pointing out that most high school graduates don't pursue science in college. Furthermore, he said, students introduced to chemistry in this way enjoy it more and find it easier to handle, resulting in higher self-esteem. I asked if it had occurred to him that perhaps students don't pursue college science because they don't obtain the requisite skills or knowledge in high school. Regardless, when the American Chemical Society endorses a high school science text that doesn't even list the scientific method in its index, we shouldn't be surprised that so many Americans gorge themselves on "fat-free foods," throw their money at "Vitamin O," or risk their health by taking "natural" herbs without investigating their effects.

The solution to the problem I have outlined is easy to see, and is by no means impossible to accomplish. Individually, we must be careful to take our bearings from the scientific method when confronted with scientific claims, employing healthy skepticism and asking questions before believing what we hear or read. Together, we must work diligently to revive real standards in primary and secondary science education.

Sunday, February 25, 2001

Club Lard Investigative Reports
"The Lunar Landing Hoax"


Club Lard investigators have scoured the internet to uncover a boat load of evidence that the lunar landings in the late 60s through early 70s were staged. It is the conclusion of this investigation that Neil Armstrong wasn't any closer to the moon than Captain Kangaroo was. This elaborate stage play put on by NASA, was well done but not without some subtle mess ups. This page will take you through a select few.

On the Nature of Cryptozoology and Science

Ben S. Roesch

From Fortean Times at


Is cryptozoology a science? This question that has long been debated between cryptozoologists and mainstream scientists. Unsurprisingly, cryptozoology is usually held to be scientific by its practitioners, including some scientists. Other scientists, however, have found it difficult to call cryptozoology a science, often with good reason – much of cryptozoology is rife with credulous thinking and illogical conclusions. Unfortunately, I find that some of these critics are overly biased in their treatment of cryptozoology, often taking stances and presenting arguments that remind me more of the very people they are criticizing than of true scientists. There are, however, some good reasons for stating that cryptozoology is not a science, or at best a very weak one. In Fortean Times 128, Loren Coleman criticized some of my arguments to this regard. I would like to take this opportunity to expound on these arguments, and respond to some of Coleman's criticisms.

Saturday, February 24, 2001

Tempelhoff on Alter, Darwin and Historical Linguistics

Published by (January, 2001)

Stephen G. Alter, Darwinism and the Linguistic Image: Language,
Race and Natural Theology in the Nineteenth Century.

Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. xii + 193 pp.
Illustrations, notes, bibliographical essay, and index. $39.00
(cloth), ISBN 0-8018-5882-8.

Reviewed for H-Ideas by Johann W. N. Tempelhoff
, School of Basic Sciences, Vaal Triangle Faculty, Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, South Africa.

Darwin and Historical Linguistics

The theory of evolution as expounded by Charles Darwin has been one of the most persistent themes for debate amongst scientists in the humanities and the natural sciences since the nineteenth century. It is an all-embracing theory and tends to fit in effortlessly (and with considerable controversy), with numerous perceptions of the self, society and science. Understandably the major themes up for discussion have been the compati- bility between natural history theory of humankind and certain moral tenets subscribed to by people of strong religious convictions. In the natural sciences numerous investigations have added new perspectives to our understanding of Darwinism. In the humanities the need for similar investigations have been of a somewhat more inhibited nature.

In his work, Darwin and the Linguistic Image: Language, Race and Natural Theology in the Nineteenth Century, Stephen G. Alter explains from the perspective of historical linguistics how Darwinist theory thrived on the contemporary culture of imagery in nineteenth-century scientific thought. Such imagery was beneficial for the theory of natural selection. Scholars are well aware of the impact of evolutionary theory on contemporary biological science. Alter claims this theory had an even greater impact on the study of linguistics. In short, fundamental change was the order of the day in scientific thinking across a broad spectrum of disciplines. Alter's study in particular deals with Darwin's intellectual influence on contemporary scientists and language scholars. Moreover, it deals with the intellectual investment the generation of the 1860's made in the image of evolution and the debates it generated (p. xi).

Alter identifies five stages of development. First, he considers linguistics in Europe prior to the period of Darwin. He then goes on to look at similar figures (of speech/language) appearing in the works of Darwin's contemporaries. The third phase deals with the subtle form of polemic in which authors were involved when they dealt with evolutionary theory, primarily from a linguistic perspective. Alter then describes the response the debate had on Darwin in his subsequent publications. In the final section the concept of genealogy is explored as an integrative idea in both the biological and human sciences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (pp. xi-xii). The author, as a result of the comprehensive focus of the work and the disparate nature of investigation, is able to deal with these themes with varying degrees of success.

At the end of the eighteenth century the Enlightenment had a marked effect on the reception of academic endeavors in scientific discourse. This was particularly the case in Germany. It was an era when idealism and nomothetic scientific investigation prevailed. The trend was usurped later with the emergence of romanticism that dismantled, in an ideographic manner, much of the certainty with which scholars had formulated "laws" operating in a compatible fashion between the human and the natural sciences. The sense of certainty and confidence of natural science was called into question by theories of language. The discipline of Philology featured prominently in this context. Starting with Schleiermacher in the German tradition, language became one of the most dynamic fields of investigation for the study of cultural transformation and hermeneutical understanding.

Alter explains that Philology "was the most common English label for the linguistic field as a whole throughout the nineteenth century." (p. xii) What he does not point out is that a whole scientific movement of thought, especially in the humanities, hinged on this approach. It was Dilthey who would later make the major contribution towards our comprehension of the humanities and social sciences in respect of their relationship to the biological and natural sciences. The author's objective, however, is not to look at the evolution of the humanities and the central role of philology in nineteenth century Germany. Rather, he aims at focusing on the Anglo- Saxon (also the Anglo-American) linguistic environment that flourished at the time when Darwin was an influential thinker. It thus stands to reason that his focus would be somewhat different from most conventional studies in the field. As Alter states, "Certainly in Britain, at least, the philologist and the antiquary were related from the start," (p. 2.), thus suggesting that the principles of historicism were a vital force in dealing with matters historical and linguistic. Moreover, Alter argues that geologists and paleontologists were also collaborating with antiquarians and philologists.

From the outset Alter brings in a very particular narrative. He introduces the concept of genealogy, "the new discipline that was built around the idea of branching descent from a common ancestor" (p. 2). Genealogy might have been a new approach in the natural sciences. It was, however, an old discipline in terms of historical studies. In fact, it was a condensed and symbolic form of image transmission with the objective of introducing a hidden and almost invisible narrative discourse to secure the political hegemony of most monarchies in post-Napoleonic Europe. It is interesting that this form of abstraction was absorbed into scientific thinking to account for the creation of a hierarchy of natural origins. Biologically it makes sense. The structured images interact smoothly with the emergence of the idea of the national state. It helps in seeking identities of race in ethnological investigation. It was also aimed at locating root languages.

Alter argues in a convincing manner that "Charles Darwin was not acting as an isolated thinker when he came up with analogies to illustrate his species theory. Rather, he participated in a close-knit discursive world, whose shared theoretical concerns and rhetorical usages were already promoting a sense of philology's natural resonance with other scientific fields" (p. 14). It is not easy to come in an outright manner to this conclusion. As a result of the focus of the work one of the primary problems was, according to the author, that a distinction had to be drawn between the language-species analogy and speculation, at the time of the actual origin of language (p. 3). Alter, however, aims to get to the essential elements of what he describes as "comparative philology", based on the groundbreaking researches of Friedrich Schlegel, who himself was of the opinion that there was a basis for comparison between the Indian language and wisdom. Schlegel however preferred the terminology of a "comparative grammar" (p. 9.) The new trends in philology, particularly comparative philology as practiced by Frans Bopp (1791-1867) and Jacob Grimm 1785-1863), started seeping into Britain from Germany in the 1830's.

An interesting history of ideas starts unfolding when Alter explains that it was Darwin's cousin, Hensleigh Wedgwood (1803-91), an etymologist for the first New English Dictionary, who first put the evolutionist on to philological theory. Darwin found in linguistics indications of the gradual evolution of language as phenomenon. It opened up vistas much wider than merely the phenomenon of language. He was able to perceive in the "tree of life" (a symbol of significance for genealogy), a symbol for the family tree of language (p. 20). Apart from the similarities between related languages, Darwin also noted there were some dissimilarities, such as the English word "bishop," which in French was "evequ." Both were derived from the Greek "episkopos" (p. 21). The cultural rootedness of language made it possible for the idea of ethnicity and the sense of national identity to permeate the evolutionary theorization of Darwin in the period leading up to the publication of The Origin of the Species in 1859.

Darwin's work had a profound impact on evolutionary thinking in many disciplines. Charles Lyell, who published _Principles of Geology_ in 1831-3, could see thirty years later that for the first time progress was being made in the field of transmutation. For Lyell language increasingly represented "the embodiment of divine intelligence through the course of organic history" (p. 46). The critics of Darwinian theory were articulate. The Swiss zoologist, Louis Agassiz, working in the United States, constructed substantial arguments in opposition to Darwin. These were considered quixotic and consequently ridiculed by those within the Darwinian circle. More substantial criticism came from F. Max Muller, who partially in response to The Origin of the Species, started research into the origins of speech.

In the narrative leading up to the publication of Darwin's The Descent of Man (1871), Alter explains how evolutionary theory permeated German science circles. August Schleicher, a leading comparative linguist, and the young zoologist, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1920), became the leading spokespersons for the theory in the German language. So convinced was Haeckel that he forced "Darwinismus" into regions of biological and philosophical theorizing that Darwin himself tried to avoid (p. 73). Schleicher in turn would go on to draw up a genealogy of the Indo-European languages in his Die Darwinsche Theorie und die Sprachwissenschaft (1863). In Britain the theologian and language scholar, F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), was tolerant towards the theory of natural selection. It was he who would promote a debate on the way in which language was analogous to the evolutionary biological processes. Increasingly, moves were afoot to elevate the discipline of philology as one of the major fields of scientific endeavor (also in the natural sciences) (p. 87). In this section of the work Alter comes up with sound historical scholarship. By consulting Darwin's original notes, texts and relevant contemporary articles in journals he opens up to the reader Darwin's perceptions on language and racial descent. The strength of the work as a whole is situated in this part of the work.

The penultimate chapter deals with the divergence of scientific thought along the lines of evolutionary theory. Alter goes into slightly more detail on the effect of Schleicher and Haeckel. A comparison between illustrations of zoological and linguistic genealogies strikingly illustrates the convergence of ideas. It was now possible for naturalists, working from The Descent of Man to draw analogies more confidently than before (p. 121). Branching evolution (symbolized by a tree with profuse branches) opened up the way for theorizing in comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, systematics, and biogeography. For the human sciences the most marked effect of evolutionary theory was in biblical scholarship, where comparative linguistics made it possible for Julius Wellhausen (1814-1918) to provide a comparative genealogy for the sources of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (p. 140). Other disciplinary developments were comparative jurisprudence, comparative mythology (a field pioneered by F. Max Muller in an 1856 lecture), and linguistic paleontology.

Darwin and the Linguistic Image is by no means an easy read. There are numerous gaps in the narrative due to the fact that Alter fails to consider the full impact of Darwin's theories in less prominent disciplines. The author could also have noted the impact of historicism on scientific thought in nineteenth-century Germany. Consideration of these subjects would have made German responses and researches more comprehensible. The work, however, is a compass in a growing sea of intellectual thought on Darwinist theory. Alter is neutral and aims at narrating a discourse on the historical development of theoretical thought and the impact it had on the thinking of people in a number of disciplines. The fact that Darwin inspired many scientists to look beyond the sharp distinction between human and natural science is itself an exemplary act of scientific endeavor. For the discipline of linguistics it evidently proved to be a fertile landscape of historical discovery and creativity.

Copyright (c) 2001 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work
may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit
is given to the author and the list. For other permission,
please contact .


The Electric Warrior : News February 21, 2001

From: Scott Corrales
Institute of Hispanic Ufology (IHU)

Source: Agence France Presse
Date: Sunday, February 18, 2001 10:48 PM

Santiago, Feb 18 (AFP-NA)-- The Chilean Air Force (FACH) turned over secret information regarding UFO sightings to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) according to statements issued in Santiago on Sunday by Ovnivision, an organization composed of researchers of this phenomenon.

Documents declassified by the DIA include sightings recorded in Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta and Charanal in northern Chile, as well as the area of Mininco in the south and the Chilean Antarctic, according to the organization's web page.

The United States, according to Ovnivision, possesses documents with similar cases in other Latin American countries.

The reports were prepared by USAF Colonel Hubert Brandon and cover a 30 year period beginning in 1950 and, according to the source, it cannot be ruled that a similar exchange of information continues "at the present time."

"The Chilean Air Force has repeatedly stated, to the point of exhaustion, that there are no UFO files," adds the electronic publication, recalling the words of Gen. Ricardo Bermudez, president of the Comité de Estudio de Fenómenos Aéreos Anómalos, during the last International Air and Space Fair (FIDAE) held in Santiago in March 2000



Chilean Ufologists Request Declassification of Government Documents

The so-called La Serena Communiqué asks Ricardo Lagos, President of the Nation, to arrange for the declassification of official documents regarding the UFO phenomenon.

February 21, 2001
Silicon Valley, CA


Friday, February 23, 2001

"Murray, I believe we have a winner."

Darwin Contender

From Pat Reeder

It's only February, and I think we've already found the winner of the 2001 Darwin Award:

Prankster killed by irate tiger

A YOUNG zoo keeper in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan was mauled to death by a tiger after apparently defecating on it in a prank which went badly wrong.

Evidence at the scene, including lavatory paper, excrement and a loosened trouser belt, suggested that Xu Xiaodong, 18, had climbed on the tiger cage at the animal park where he worked and relieved himself over four Bengal tigers. Officials believe that he either slipped or was dragged in by an angry tiger.

Skeptic TV news


Friday,February 23,2001


Apollo creed: Fox to re-air 'Conspiracy'

Fox will repeat "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" because it's received a "record number" of 2,500-plus e-mails from viewers asking to see the show again.

While "Conspiracy Theory" was not a ratings winner, it did generate a lot of watercooler buzz in theorizing that NASA faked the 1969 moon landing. A Fox spokeswoman says the network has received over 500 e-mails a day since the show aired Feb. 15.

The special pointed out, among other "evidence," that stars were missing from the lunar skies in astronaut-snapped photos and that a waving American flag planted in moon soil by Edwin Aldrin and Neil Armstrong couldn't have been waving - since there's no air on the moon.

Thursday, February 22, 2001

Darwin vindicated!

From MSNBC at:


Cracking of human genome confirms theory of evolution

By Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.

Feb. 21 — The media flubbed the headline for the biggest news event in the past 50 years of science. The reporters and TV talking heads who crammed the Washington, D.C., press conference on Feb. 12 did understand that the details they were hearing about the human genome offered the story of a lifetime. But, they missed the real headline. Their stories should have simply said, Darwin vindicated!

AiG "Answers Alert"

posted by Barry Williams

The following was posted on the Australian based "Answers in Genesis" site by their US sales manager, Ken Ham. It will become apparent that this tripe is aimed at a US audience and would be pretty meaningless to Oz subscribers to the Oz based site, but it will give you an idea of the sort of disingenuous rhetoric these ratbags use to suck in the faithful.

"Dear AiG friend,

Wouldn't you just love to know that your tax money is going to be used o aggressively 'combat the creationist movement?'

On the 'eve' of the March 17 groundbreaking of our Creation Museum near Cincinnati, some very alarming matters have surfaced in this nation--some using your tax dollars:

* The 'Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology' has applied for a $500,000 grant (your tax money) from the government (through the NSF) to promote evolution teaching in schools.

* A secular humanist camp called 'Camp Quest' has received a grant from 'The Institute for Humanist Studies' to expand its humanist youth camps across the USA!

* 'Dream Works' will be releasing a new movie entitled 'Evolution.' And PBS television-supported by government funding-has just aired a new evolution series, 'Triumph of Life.'

* The 'American Association for the Advancement of Science'-an organization partly funded by government grants-is part of a group that is undertaking a project to support the teaching of evolution in the schools and combat efforts to teach creationism.'

And, of course, think also of tax-supported schools that teach evolution as fact.

We need God's people to support the various Bible-upholding outreaches of AiG to enable us to counter such anti-Biblical propaganda. Thank you.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Ken Ham
Executive Director".

Barry Williams
the Skeptic of Oz

Skeptic News From Ananova


Holidaymakers sip pina coladas and contact the dead

US holidaymakers can contact their dead loved ones on a special psychic cruise.

The seven-day cruise is designed for people who want to relax in luxury and speak to the dead at the same time.

Psychic healers will help passengers contact the dead as they sail from Miami to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Andrea Martone of organisers Intuitive Vision told the Orlando Sentinel: "Americans ... want to have fun and sip pina coladas, but they also want to speak to their dearly beloved relatives to make sure they're okay."


Breast-sucking healer said he could cure all

A healer in Ethiopia has been arrested after claiming he could cure women by sucking their breasts.

The healer, who was based in Addis Ababa, prescribed the treatment to cure any illness brought before him.

He persuaded three woman to pay to have the therapy and even convinced one husband to let him lick his belly.

Authorities say three women paid the healer 150 birr (about £13) for the privilege, reports The Daily Monitor.


Bingo seat gets eight women pregnant

Women workers in a Bristol bingo hall are refusing to sit in a seat which appears to have made a quarter of the workforce pregnant.

Eight women have become pregnant after sitting on the chair at the Gala Bingo Hall in Bristol.

But others have pledged not to rest their bums there for fear the story is true.

Gala press officer Helen Hutt told Ananova: "We've had some customers asking to sit in the seat just because they think it's lucky, but as yet we've had no one wanting to sit in it because they're desperate to get pregnant.

"One or two of the staff have said 'I'm definitely not sitting there' because they don't want to end up getting pregnant."

She added: "About one in four of the staff have become pregnant, so it's quite a high percentage."

Last updated: 15:49 Tuesday 20th February 2001


Naked women arrested after mountain-top ritual

Five naked women were among 40 people arrested for carrying out a spiritual ritual on a Malaysian mountain.

The group, led by a shaman, prayed to mountain spirits.

The people were arrested by Islamic religious enforcement officers and questioned for indulging in deviationist teachings.

They had carried out the ritual on the mountain of Gunung Ledang.

Mohd Asari Tibek, from the Religious Department, said the people were aged between 20 and 40.

"Such beliefs are against Islamic teachings and the department had to arrest them," he told The Star.

He said the shaman had entered a trance, begun speaking in a woman's voice and claimed to be a witch.

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Colorado Children's Deaths Rekindle Debate on Religion

From the New York Times



DENVER, Feb. 20 — The deaths over the last two years of three Colorado children whose parents denied them medical treatment on religious grounds has fueled support for state legislation that would prevent parents from using their religion as a defense against prosecution.

The parents of all three children belong to the General Assembly and Church of the First Born, a small denomination that believes in prayer, rather than medical treatment, to cure illnesses and disabilities.

Largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Church of Christ, Scientist, which also favors prayer over medicine, Colorado and 45 other states have statutes that allow parents to use their religious beliefs as a defense against prosecution for withholding medical treatment from their children. The exceptions are Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska and North Carolina.

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

"Houston, I think we've found the problem."


Talk about being behind the times: Get a load of the books sitting on Sen. Jack Reed's nightstand. Over the past several months, the Rhode Island Democrat has pulled more than 100 books off of school library shelves across the country, each volume to illustrate the sad state of the nation's public-school system. Take "Rockets Into Space," copyright 1959, which informs students "there is a way to get to the moon," but the trip would have to be made in two stages: earth to space station, space station to the moon.

"This book was checked out of a Los Angeles school library 13 times since 1995," notes the senator.

Another book from a library shelf in his own state of Rhode Island, copyright 1968, is about "Understanding Some Characteristics of the Arabs."

Characteristic No. 1: "Leisure, tending to resignation."

"Needless to say," says Mr. Reed, the book "proceeds to describe characteristics of Arab people in derogatory terms."

Students in Philadelphia, meanwhile, are checking out "Colonial Life in America," copyright 1962, describing life on a Southern plantation (slaves included) as idyllic and village-like.

"Women at Work," copyright 1959 and discovered on a library shelf in Tarzana, Calif., discusses seven occupations open to young women: librarian, ballet dancer, airline stewardess, practical nurse, piano teacher, beautician and author.

As for politics and civics, several books contain profiles of all the U.S. presidents, ending with the current occupant of the White House: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson.

Over the past 30 years, Mr. Reed complains, federal funding for school libraries has plummeted. He hopes to change that with legislation he introduced last week with Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, providing $500 million to school libraries for new books.

NASA's Big Moon Secret

From WWN



WASHINGTON -- U.S. astronauts found a grave and tombstone on the moon during the historic Apollo 15 mission in 1971 and a top-secret photograph proves it!

The stark, black and white picture clearly shows astronauts David Scott and James Irwin inspecting the lunar grave site, which is marked with a simple stone cross and apparently remains in place to this day. Exactly who -- or what -- is buried on the moon remains a closely guarded, eyes-only secret.

But NASA sources have confirmed that astronauts found the "perfectly preserved remains of an alien life-form" under the stone cross, which intriguingly, bore a single, undeciphered symbol that resembled the letter "Y."

"This is bigger than a bombshell -- this is cataclysmic," declared Marge Crendell, author of the explosive new book, The Man We Met on the Moon, which is slated for a spring release.

"The discovery of an alien life-form on the moon simply staggers the imagination. And this wasn't just any life-form -- it was an intelligent life-form.

"We know this for two reasons. For one thing, it traveled tot he moon from some other place. For another thing, it was buried under a stone cross, which only an intelligent life-form could make.

"It was imperative to keep this secret because mankind wasn't prepared to accept this sort of news back in 1971.

"But today we are much better prepared to face the fact that we are not alone in the universe, that God, in His wisdom, has allowed life to flourish in places other than Earth.

"And yet, NASA still prefers to keep this information secret. Fortunately, sources who disagree with the space agency's policy of 'silence at any cost' decided to leak the photograph.

"We can only hope that this will force NASA to release the entire file and tell the whole truth about Apollo 15."

NASA declined to comment on the expert's report and in a move that is almost certainly without precedent, proceeded to classify thousands of formerly public documents and reports generated by the Apollo 15 space shot.

As expected, the astronauts themselves declined all interview requests.

"The challenge facing us now, of course, is to bring pressure to bear on NASA, pressure to make the agency fully disclose what happened when Apollo 15 astronauts were exploring the surface of the moon," said Mrs. Crendell.

"Remember: Those astronauts saw the life-form. And what it looked like is of primary importance to anyone who is interested in life in space.

"Was the creature humanoid? Was it human? Was it male or female?

"These are questions the world deserves answers to.

"Let's just hope that NASA decides to lift the veil of secrecy and come clean. Their old excuse -- fear of creating world panic -- just doesn't hold water anymore.

"People aren't afraid of extraterrestrials. They are dying to meet them. This isn't 1971. It is, in fact, a different world."

Monday, February 19, 2001

Skepticism melts with glaciers

Glacier Loss Seen as Clear Sign of Human Role in Global Warming



The icecap atop Mount Kilimanjaro, which for thousands of years has floated like a cool beacon over the shimmering plain of Tanzania, is retreating at such a pace that it will disappear in less than 15 years, according to new studies.

The vanishing of the seemingly perpetual snows of Kilimanjaro that inspired Ernest Hemingway, echoed by similar trends on ice-capped peaks from Peru to Tibet, is one of the clearest signs that a global warming trend in the last 50 years may have exceeded typical climate shifts and is at least partly caused by gases released by human activities, a variety of scientists say.

Hell and other awful sounds

posted by Jerry Goodenough

Remember that WWN story about the miners who broke through into hell and heard the screams of the damned that was on the list a while back? Well, here's a fundy webpage that takes the tale seriously:

In fact they even claim to have what might be a recording of the noise that hell makes, though it is such a slow download that I haven't been able to hear it yet, and must now abandon the attempt to go off and earn a living. I'd be interested to know if anyone else can hear it.

But if hell doesn't depress your Monday morning enough, try this site
dedicated to recording the voices of the dead out of a cloud of artificially-generated white noises. Sound clips (much smaller ones) supplied. Though for some reason _these_ dead people don't explain why they aren't in hell with the other dead people on the other site....

Saturday, February 17, 2001

Poof! You're a Skeptic: The Amazing Randi's Vanishing Humbug

From today's New York Times

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — James Randi was standing at the front of Florida Atlantic University's sloping auditorium here before his lecture when a couple walked over to ask for an autograph. In turn, he had a favor to ask. Would they run down the street to the Eckerd drugstore and buy him a box of sleeping pills? He gave the man $5 and a slip of paper on which he'd drawn a picture of the box.


Mr. Randi is sitting in the small library of his foundation in Fort Lauderdale. He is wearing a blue checked shirt, chinos and work boots. On the shelves are books about skeptics and believers and stacks of newsletters like North Texas Skeptic, The Rocky Mountain Skeptic, The Pseudoscience Monitor and Norwegian Skepsis.

For a copy of the complete article send e-mail to .

'Reincarnated' man on Welsh treasure hunt

From Ananova at

A New York businessman is in Wales searching for treasure he thinks he buried in a previous life.

Jim Bethe plans to dig up a small patch of park in Swansea where he claims the chest was hidden 150 years ago.

He thinks he was once an adventurer named John Seaman.

Mr Bethe remembers stealing the jewels from the Sultan of Tippoo in India in 1799, reports The Western Mail and Echo.

He says Seaman returned to Wales from India and was tortured by Swansea customs men who wanted to know where the jewels were hidden - but he never told them.

The local council is allowing Mr Bethe to dig at the park in May.

He is not worried about other treasure hunters finding the site before him. He said: "I would be surprised if anyone found it by accident. I believe it's well hidden."

Church group 'gets gold dust from God'

From Ananova at

Christians in Dorset claim they have been showered with gold dust by God.

Members of The Lantern Church say they were dusted after a visit from a group which gets regular golden blessings itself.

The congregation say they have never been showered at church but claim individuals have experienced it at home.

Members of the church, in Merley, believe God is blessing them, reports Bournemouth's Daily Echo.

Rector of Corfe Mullen, Rev Peter Lawrence, said: "Some might be sceptical but there does seem to be growing evidence on this blessing from God and, as a church, we are open to whatever God is doing."

Julian Hewitt, press officer for the Salisbury diocese, said: "When the Bishop of Salisbury returns from a trip to the Sudan, no doubt he will want to look into the matter very carefully."

Friday, February 16, 2001

Moon loonies


15 February 2001: Fox Airs "Moon Conspiracy" Here's how Fox promoted their show:


NASA put a man on the moon for the first time in 1969 -- or did it? Could the entire moon program have been an elaborate deception staged to fool the public? The conspiracy theories are investigated in the all-new one-hour special"

Editor's rant: I can't even begin to find the right sentences to describe this TV show - but I will try. Individual words such as "idiotic", "ridiculous", "scandalous", "irresponsible", "stupid", "fraudulent", "sloppy", and just plain "wrong" come to mind.

Among the most ridiculous claims in this program was that astronauts were killed (by NASA) to keep them silent "because they knew too much" and that the Apollo landings on the moon were faked. The only counterpoint to these baseless claims presented on-air were several short clips featuring the late Brian Welch from NASA PAO. This was all packaged together and promoted as a serious inquiry into a possible conspiracy on the part of NASA.

Congratulations Fox. Now millions of school-aged children have been exposed to your nonsense - and it is going to take the hard work of their parents (whom you've also misinformed) and their teachers to fix the damage.

If Fox executives had any sense of fairness and civic responsibility they'd offer an hour of prime time to representatives from NASA and the scientific community to refute this one hour collection of rumors, unsubstantiated innuendo, and wanton conspiracy mongering - and undo the damage that has been done.

You can send your comments to Fox TV at

Update: this post from the MSNBC Space Bulletin Board is from a school teacher I know in the midwest.

"Some of the teachers in my school are going nuts with kids talking about this dumb FOX special on the "Moon Landing Hoax". Does anyone know of any good, skeptical web sites to which I can refer my colleagues so that they can have some ammunition to refute the claims of these conspiracy theorists."


Skeptic story - Moon Landing Fake


Astronomers mock Fox show about moon fakery
By Dan Vergano

A Fox television shot at the moon landing, suggesting NASA faked the Apollo missions, has some astronomers ready to blast off.

Scheduled for tonight, Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? (Fox, 9 p.m. ET/PT), features interpretation from various ''conspiracy theorists'' of moon landing photos and film that suggest the space agency filmed the moon landings on a soundstage in the Nevada desert.

''It's fascinating, whether you believe the conspiracy or not,'' says Craig Tipley of Hollywood's Nash Entertainment, the company that made the show for Fox. During the program, conspiracy theorists such as Bill Kaysing, author of We Never Went to the Moon (Health Research, $14.50), suggest moon photos fail to show stars, contain shadows that hint at stage lighting, and fail to display a crater mark at the landing site.

''The images on the show are all real images, but the interpretations are pure fantasy,'' says astronomer Philip Plait of Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., who is working on a book called Bad Astronomy, a look at myths and misconceptions in astronomy (he has a Web site, www.badastronomy .com). He particularly mocked the show for relying on the producer of Capricorn One, a movie about a faked Mars landing filmed nearly a decade after Neil Armstrong's first lunar steps, to comment on the supposed conspiracy.

After watching an advance copy of the show, Plait suggested that the conspiracy aficionados fail to take into account photographic effects that occur when three-dimensional images appear as two-dimensional photographs, which can distort scale, shadows and images, as well as failing to note that astronauts walked on the moon during the lunar daytime, when its bright surface glows and when stars are naturally hidden. The landing site lacked a large crater because astronauts had throttled the engines down for a soft landing, Plait says. Further, he called the show's presentation ''one-sided,'' noting that none of these ''well-known and obvious explanations'' were presented.

''In some ways, to debate (conspiracy theorists) is an insult'' to the thousands of engineers, scientists and workers who labored for more than a decade on the Apollo program and its precursors, says NASA spokeswoman Sarah Keegan. Other than confirming the moon landings occurred, she declined to comment further on the show.

Others aren't so retiring.

''Conspiracy theorists don't live on the same flat Earth as the rest of us,'' says astronomer Stephen Maran of the American Astronomical Society.

''The whole point was to beat the Russians,'' Plait adds. ''Why weren't the Soviets screaming about a hoax if we faked it? They had a pretty good propaganda machine going back then. You think they might have mentioned it.''

Conspiracy theorists believe that President Nixon arranged wheat sales on unusually generous terms as a payoff for the Russians' silence, Tipley says.

One sad part of the show for astronomers involves the production's use of Brian Welch, a well-liked NASA spokesman, who died unexpectedly in November at age 42. Welch rebuts some of the coverup allegations. Show producers confessed total ignorance of his death. ''Don't hate us. We're just entertainers,'' Tipley says.

More at


Thursday, February 15, 2001

The Myakka "Skunk Ape" Photographs

Check it out at


Exorcists in demand to purge Mexico's demons


Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Thursday February 15, 2001
The Guardian

The exorcist and his helpers began to relax, convinced they had beaten back the demons attacking Arturo Sanchez who looked on vacantly, too weak to move. Then suddenly Arturo leapt into the air, his body contorted and eyeballs rolled back, and the struggle for his soul resumed. "In the name of Jesus Christ get out, you have no business here!" ordered Pastor Hugo Alvarez. Amid broken phrases of Hebrew he sat astride the writhing 25-year-old salesman who responded with a low-pitched inhuman howl.

Two helpers held down Arturo's legs, while others moved around the church hall shooing away the evil spirits they saw massing in the corners, in the lights that flickered and went out, and behind Arturo's distressed wife who looked on in horror.

Gradually the exorcist regained control, the lights came back on, Arturo vomited and was declared "liberated" - for the time being at least.

"That was a tough one," Pastor Alvarez said after their three-hour sweat-drenched spiritual battle. "I'm going to lose a lot of weight with you," he said smiling at Arturo.

Pastor Alvarez is one of Mexico's foremost exorcists, claiming to have chased the devil from over 5,000 people since taking charge of the Divine Saviour Ministry of Liberation in a working class area of Mexico City 18 years ago.

He says demonic presence is on the increase and his services are in ever more demand.

But this jeans-wearing pastor with his roll-up-your-sleeves, get-down-to-business approach to Satan is only one option for the tormented in Mexico, who may prefer a more traditional exorcism from a Roman Catholic priest.

"I don't do exorcisms just like that," said Father Alberto Alvarez, one of eight priests named by the bishop of Mexico City to serve as the capital's official exorcists. "I need to check out each case, and I need to prepare myself."

Father Alberto said he saw about a dozen disturbed people every week, but most were not genuine cases of possession.

"Each case is a matter for investigation and diagnosis, and if the person is not possessed I tell them straight out that they have a different problem," he said. But once he has dispelled any doubts, Father Alberto said he takes the whole affair "very very seriously".

"It is a beautiful rite, a very solemn and serious celebration," he said.

A new translation of the Latin exorcism liturgy issued by the Vatican last year changes little of the 16th century original, although it does authorise exorcism of places and objects as well as people, and extends the scope of the ritual to include demonic influence as well as possession. It also expressly bans the curious public from the ceremony.

Things do go wrong, however. Last year in central Mexico a priest was accused of torturing a young girl during a non-authorised exorcism in which she received candle wax burns.

And a completely non-institutional exorcism carried out by a shaman left seven people dead, apparently suffocated by incense that filled the sealed room where the ritual was performed.

Psychic Parrot

Posted by Barry Karr of CSICOP

The Monday, February 12, 2001, edition of USA Today featured a story on page 9D about a Congo African gray parrot named N'kisi. The parrot's owner, Aimee Morgana, and British parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake both claim that the bird is demonstrating psychic abilities.

According to the USA Today article, Morgana first suspected N'kisi's alleged abilities while she was admiring an "explicit" picture in the Village Voice personal ads. From the cage across the room, N'kisi crowed "Oh, look at the pretty naked body." This incident led her to believe that there was something much more unusual about the parrot than its mere appreciation of the human form.

Morgana, a 42-year-old production designer who lives in Manhattan, read Sheldrake's 1999 book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, which convinced her to contact the author about her talented pet.

As a result, Sheldrake collaborated with Morgana in a "double-blind" test of N'kisi. The British researcher's web site (http://www.sheldrake.org) has a special "N'kisi Project" section devoted to this investigation, described as "... a series of controlled experiments and ongoing research in interspecies communication and telepathy, conducted by Aimee Morgana and her language-using parrot. With the collaboration and support of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake."

On the web site Sheldrake states that "The experiments were conducted at N'kisi's home over 6 weeks, and consisted of Aimee looking at photographs depicting items from N'kisi's unedited keyword vocabulary that had been prepared, sealed in envelopes, and randomized by a third party. This was filmed as it took place in an enclosed room on a different floor, with no possible line of sight for any 'cueing', while a separate time-synchronized camera automatically filmed N'kisi in her cage to record her [vocal] reactions."

A total of 78 images were viewed in 26 test sessions. Sheldrake claims "hits" ("vocalization of target keywords or accurate descriptive phrases") for 32 images in these sessions. The other of images elicited "few" misses, which Sheldrake distinguishes from "no scorable response." Sheldrake also states that there were "[c]omments omitted in editing these segments for time [that] consisted of attempts at contact and other mundane remarks irrelevant for scoring purposes." Both in the USA Today article and on his site Sheldrake is cited making the assertion that the probability is one in a BILLION of their results were due to chance.

I have inquired about obtaining a video of these trials (preferably unedited) or a transcript. We are eagerly anticipating a response.

The USA Today story was disappointing, even disturbing. It was an uncritical and unbalanced report on Rupert Sheldrake's claims about psychic abilities in pets. The article states that Sheldrake's work "has been met with skepticism among some scientists" (italics mine). This statement leads CSICOP to wonder exactly which scientists comprise the assumed majority actually convinced by Sheldrake's claims. Totally lacking in the article is any recognition that mainstream scientists aren't merely disputing Sheldrake's results because they're controversial. The fact is that other researchers can't seem to replicate them. Conspicuously absent from the story was Sheldrake's previous psychic pet research-namely, his 1994 experiments in England videotaping the behavior of a terrier named "Jaytee" for Austrian television. He concluded that the dog could sense when his owner was coming home through a psychic "connection." Specifically, Sheldrake speculated that animals are guided by "morphic fields" and telepathic influences from their owners. However, Richard Wiseman, Senior Research Fellow in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England, tried to reproduce Sheldrake's results by setting up his own videotaped trials of Jaytee. Wiseman, whose findings were published in the British Journal of Psychology (1998), failed to find any evidence that Jaytee had an extrasensory ability to predict his owner's return.

Contary to the rhetoric floating around, the field of parapsychology is getting a fair hearing from psychologists like Richard Wiseman and Susan Blackmore in England, and Ray Hyman in the United States. The fact is that despite the hype this field of research continually fails to produce reliable, repeatable results. I've sent a letter to the editors of USA Today stressing these points and hope they'll see fit to publish it.

Kevin Christopher
Public Relations Director, Skeptical Inquirer

Best Kept Secrets

University of Pittsburgh Physics Instructor, David Willey writes to tell us that he will be featured on the Learning Channel Program "Best Kept Secrets" (see schedule below).The show was taped here at CSICOP headquarters and will feature amazing demonstrations and firewalking. For more information on these demonstrations see the CSICOP website articles:


"Best Kept Secrets of the Paranormal," will air on The Learning Channel (TLC) on the following dates:

Sunday, 2/18 at 10:00 PM
Monday, 2/19 at 1:00 AM
Saturday, 2/24 at 7:00 PM

Realize that these dates and times can change, but these dates reflect the latest schedule from TLC.

Marrs attacks again...

Posted by Jerry Goodenough

Details of a new book out by Jim Marrs, whose 'Crossfire' was a major impetus for Olly Stone's JFK movie. Now it turns out that all along it was an international psi/alien conspiracy behind JFK's death and much else. (Though there is no mention here of Marrs withdrawing his previous JFK book as being totally inaccurate and incomplete...) Review from the snazzy AlienZoo site at http://www.alienzoo.com/

I particularly like the description of Marrs as a freethinker with a critical mind, something that I didn't notice to be in evidence when I ploughed through 'Crossfire'. And I am, of course, quite taken with the splendidly-named Mount Baldy Institute for Resonant Viewing, of Boulder CO.

Jerry Goodenough

Previously suppressed 'Psi Spies' now available in exclusive paperback edition

Jim Marrs reveals the truth behind military use of ESP

by AlienZoo Editor - 11/22/2000
Best-selling author Jim Marrs unravels the mystery behind the psychic phenomena remote viewing in this limited print edition of Psi Spies, released by AlienZoo Publishing. With a lean journalistic style, Marrs uncovers the military program that turned soldiers into psychic spies, and reveals what happens when psychic soldiers use their abilities to unlock the mysteries behind UFOs, time travel, the Kennedy assassination, and the Soviet plot to kill Ronald Reagan.

"In 1992, following the success of my book Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, I began to look for other dark secrets being hidden away by the federal government," says Marrs. "What I found was to lead me into an incredible journey through time, space, ESP, UFOs, censorship, and disinformation."

But getting this information out to the public became a difficult process. According to Marrs, "This book became one of the casualties in the ongoing conflict between science and ESP, military secrecy and the public's right to know, as well as the never-ending intramural competition between government agencies and power-seeking individuals."

Marrs says that the book was suppressed in the summer of 1995, "just four months before the existence of government-sponsored remote viewing was publicly revealed during a CIA press conference."

"This is the book that was blocked at publishing and shelved for three years," he says. "This is the book that was thought to be just a rumor, the book that uncovers military intelligence programs that will blow your mind." Each copy of the limited edition will be signed by Marrs and will include a certificate of authenticity.

"Jim Marrs has given us an original and comprehensive journalist's view of the inside of one of the more fascinating episodes of our government' s history. Readers should expect to have their belief systems challenged, to leave the comfortable box of their ordinary experience, and the limited ideas that many of us hold untested and unexamined." – Simeon Hein, Ph.D., Director, Mount Baldy Institute for Resonant Viewing, Boulder, Colorado

The paperbook edition of the book is available exclusively through AlienZoo Publishing. CLICK HERE TO ORDER ONLINE ($17.95 plus shipping and handling).

Also available as a downloadable eBook.


About the author: Jim Marrs is author of Alien Agenda: The Extraterrestrial Presence Among Us (Harper Collins, 1997) and Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy (Carroll & Graf, 1989, which became basis for Oliver Stone's Academy Award winning movie "JFK").

A respected journalist, Marrs is a freethinker who looks at the most controversial of current events with a critical eye and a mindset that cuts to the core of what mainstream news outlets report is taking place. Marrs reads between the lines. He writes between the lines. He sees through the spin. Read Jim Marrs weekly column, "The View from Marrs," on the AlienZoo website.

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Kansas restores evolution standards

From CNN at

TOPEKA, Kansas (CNN) -- Reversing a controversial 1999 move, the Kansas Board of Education voted Wednesday to restore the theory of evolution to state school standards.

The 7-3 decision came after November elections that saw three board members ousted after voting to remove Charles Darwin's theory of mankind's origin from public school science standards and allowing alternative theories to be taught.

"There is no doubt that we are strengthening science by our action," said board member Sue Gamble, one of those elected last year.

The 1999 vote never banned the teaching of evolution nor required the teaching of the Biblical story of creation. But it dropped Darwin's theory from standardized tests taken by Kansas students.

Board members who favored keeping the 1999 standards argued that Wednesday's vote discounted valid, scientific doubts about evolution.

"These standards are too restrictive in allowing only one view of man's origin to be taught," board member John Bacon said.

Kansas Gov. Bill Graves called the 1999 vote an "embarrassment" to the state, and it contributed to the defeat of three of its supporters on the state board. State school districts were not bound by the decision, and most ignored it, board members said -- with some stepping up their efforts to teach evolution in protest.

While much scientific evidence supports evolution, "A lot of it does not support it," said Steve Abrams, the only anti-evolution board member to be re-elected last fall. "And for us to say that we can't understand it, that we can't believe it, that we have to rely on the so-called experts, that's passing the buck."

But several among the board's majority said alternative theories of mankind's origin fell under the purview of religion, not science.

"We actually restored the basic definition of what science did," Gamble said. "It is the investigation of the natural world. It is not the investigation of the supernatural world."

Added board member Janet Waugh: "I don't want my children's biology teacher talking about religion."

The controversy is unlikely to die anytime soon. At a public forum in Topeka on Tuesday, more than a dozen people came forward to speak against evolution and the new science standards.

Bacon predicted after the vote that the issue would end up in court, but Abrams said he thought the matter was settled -- at least for four years, when Kansas takes up its education standards again.

"I think I will be borne out. When that occurs, I won't expect groveling -- but a simple apology will be all right," he joked after the vote."

Skeptical Inquirer Electronic Digest, February 13, 2001

Visit the CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer Magazine website at http://www.csicop.org. Receiving over 200,000 hits per year, the CSICOP site was rated one of the top ten science sites by HOMEPC magazine. Send comments regarding SI DIGEST to editors Matt Nisbet at and Barry Karr at .

In this edition of SI Digest:

--NEW TIMES: CFI-West Skeptics Put Psychic Dog to Test
--FOX TV to Air Moon Conspiracy Special, Feb. 15
--TIME COVER STORY: Human Cloning
--TIME/CNN POLL: Public Attitudes Towards Cloning
--NPR TALK OF THE NATION: Who Owns the Human Genome?
-- CHICAGO TRIBUNE: the battle between veterinarians over Alternative Medicine


The New Times recently ran a feature on the skeptics investigation unit at the Center for Inquiry-West in Los Angeles, the West coast bureau for Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Read the full text of the feature at


Can't believe that Fox Television continues to sell mystery mongering to the American public? Tune-in to Thursday night's "Moon Conspiracy" special, and then email your feedback to the network at askfox@foxinc.com .


(9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) In Stereo-CC


NASA put a man on the moon for the first time in 1969 -- or did it? Could the entire moon program have been an elaborate deception staged to fool the public? The conspiracy theories are investigated in the all-new one-hour special CONSPIRACY THEORY: DID WE LAND ON THE MOON Thursday, Feb. 15 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT). (SP-0139) (TV-PG)


Baby, It's You! And You, And You...
February 19, 2001

To read the full story, go to

Renegade scientists say they are ready to start applying the technology of cloning to human beings. Can they really do it, and how scary would that be?


Monday, February 12, 2001
To view the full poll results, go to

TIME/CNN Poll Cloning
The results concerning cloning of the latest TIME/CNN poll conducted February 7-8, 2001 reveal that an overwhelming majority of American oppose human cloning, most on religious grounds.


To listen to the full audio, go to http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?PrgDate=02/12/2001&PrgID=5

Monday, February 12, 2001

HOUR ONE: Who Owns the Human Genome?
(14.4 | 28.8)
Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School
Author of several articles which have appeared in Science, Nature Genetics and Trends in Genetics

CEO and Founder, Incyte Genomics, Stanford, CA For the past three years, an international consortium and Celera, a private company have been scrambling to catalog all human genes. They've done it, and now the mad dash continues because businesses want to claim exclusive rights to the information. Owning the patents could mean lots of money but many feel this information should be available free to the public. Join Juan Williams and guests for a discussion about who owns the human genome.

-- CHICAGO TRIBUNE: the battle between veterinarians over Alternative Medicine

Fur flies as more veterinarians employ aromatherapy, acupuncture

By Richard Wronski
Tribune Staff Writer
February 12, 2001

Jake the police dog made a low, menacing sound as veterinarian Dr. Laurie McCauley slipped several needles through his thick, black coat into his massive neck.

"I know he's better because he's growling," said McHenry County Deputy Sheriff Andrew Zinke, a true believer in acupuncture for Jake's sore back.

But alternative medicine is raising more ominous rumbles these days among the 65,000 members of the Schaumburg-based American Veterinary Medical Association.

A feud is brewing between conventional animal doctors and those who think their furry patients benefit by alternative practices, from chiropractic adjustments to aromatherapy.

For full story go to: http://www.chicago.tribune.com/news/metro/chicago/article/0,2669,ART-49835,F%20F.html

SI Electronic Digest is the biweekly e-mail news update of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP.)

Visit http://www.csicop.org/. Rated one of the Top Ten Science sites on the Web by HOMEPC magazine.

The Digest is written and edited by Matt Nisbet and Barry Karr. SI Digest is distributed directly via e-mail to over 4000 readers worldwide, and is sent from CSICOP headquarters at the Center for Inquiry-International, Amherst NY, USA.

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Ouija board told woman to kill son-in-law, police say

From Ananova at

A US woman allegedly stabbed her son-in-law to death after a ouija board told her to do it.

Carol Sue Elvaker has been charged with murder after Brian Roach was found dead at his Oklahoma home.

Investigators say the 53-year-old, her daughter and two grandaughters were playing with a ouija board when she attacked the victim while he slept.

Brett Burns, one of the prosecutors, told The Oklahoman that Elvaker is also suspected of trying to kill Roach's 10-year-old daughter.

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Brain research is enticing but easily misapplied


By Sue Goetinck Ambrose / The Dallas Morning News

Second of two parts

Tell the kids to pull on their earlobes, the speaker advised, to rev up their brains' auditory cortex for a day of learning. It was a well-meaning suggestion, offered by a teacher at a conference for educators last year in Boston. Neuroscientists, however, scoff. Sounds entering the ear, and not tugs on the earlobe, tickle the part of the brain responsible for hearing. But educators eager to help children learn better can be easily misled by pseudoscience disguised as solid brain research.

Ricky Martin warned against haunted house

From Ananova

Ricky Martin is reported to be on the verge of buying a haunted house in Miami.

The pop singer is expected to close a deal on the mansion, despite a former owner warning people not to live there.

Micky Wolfson claims he hired an exorcist three times to remove the spirit of a "vindictive old maidish sort of figure."

But Coldwell Banker Realtor Kent Karlock says: "I've been in that house many times and I'm not aware of anything."

Wolfson says the house was built by the parents of a woman, who was killed on the way to her wedding in the late 1930s, to house her spirit.

Mark Hampton a former architect for the house said the woman's spirit often pulled panels from the ceiling and left radios on.

While Karlock said the furnished 1937 estate would sell for $6.5 million, which is around £4.5 million, below the asking price of $7.5 million, which is around £5 million, he claimed it was due to there being so many luxury homes in the area.

The seven-bedroom, ocean front property is now owned by Andrew Hartnagle and Wayne Stork, who the Miami Herald say were unavailable for comment.

Monday, February 12, 2001

More than just a fairy story

Thanks to:
For the source of this story


Kingston, Febuary 12th, 2001

From the Kingston Guardian

Kingston, Febuary 12th: Imagine a warm summers evening in a living room in Kingston filled with students chatting and sharing coffee between studies.
A motley bunch, from all different walks of life, in reality, these 15 or so students don't have all that much in common. Except for when the fairies come.

When the fairies arrive, the students find their connection.

Through the window they pour, hundreds and hundreds of blue fairies. Standing about three inches high, they frolic amongst the students, sliding down legs, laughing and giggling.

There is a collective gasp when one of the more adventurous little fellows leaps over someone's leg.

More than half the room saw the courageous hurdle, while the rest sat in silent envy at having missed it.

Its obvious what you are all thinking.

Students? Fairies? Have another puff of the wacky baccy, why dont you.

But there's not a glazed eye in sight, in fact everyone in the room appears completely straight and entirely focused.

Living in Richmond, Twickenham, Worcester Park, Wimbledon, Cobham and Kingston, the group, ranging in age from 20 to 74, includes a lawyer, accounts manager, yoga teacher and a petrol pump attendant.

As far as normality goes, this group seem positively ordinary.

It's just that when they meet at the Kingston School of Psychic Studies, the most extraordinary things happen.

Founded in 1997 by Molly-Ann Fairlie, the school, run in partnership with Heidi Sawyer, teaches psychic development for both beginners and advanced, meditation, tarot, auras and angels.

And the fairies? Apparently, they were a bonus one evening for a group of students craving proof of their own psychic awareness.

They needed proof of the psychic energy in the room and the fairies materialised, said Heidi.

Self-doubt amongst beginners is an enormous issue, according to Heidi.

And she should know, shes been through it.

"Everyone is naturally psychic, it's just a question of recognising and developing it.

"I realise now I was psychic as a child, but I just thought that was normal and that everyone had this ability.

"When I realised they didn't I became confused and pushed it to one side not knowing how to deal with it.

"It wasn't until I saw my grandmother when I was about 24, that I realised I had to do something about it. "

But it wasn't advice Heidi sought from her grandmother, it was an explanation.

Her grandmother had been dead five years when she saw her.

The experience led her to Molly-Ann, who in contrast, hadn't realised her psychic potential until eight years ago at the age of 45.

"Discovering this late in life has actually helped me to teach because I know that it can be developed. Intuition is the first sign. You've then got to learn to use it and trust it."

And when the fairies came?

"We were in awe," Molly-Ann said. "Yes, we are aware that people will think were crazy. But more than half the class saw them, and when one of them jumped over someones legs they all went wow at the same time."

Carol Doyle, an intensive care nurse and mother of four from Worcester Park, has completed various courses at the school and believes she owes her sanity to it.

All her life, Carol has had an irrational fear of being beheaded. "I have always had images of people or myself being beheaded.

"For a long time I was obsessed with the Tudors and the French Revolution and have lived all my life in fear.

"Molly-Ann and Heidi made me understand there was a more psychic angle to it all, in that I had obviously been beheaded in past lives. It has made sense of what was going on."

A major milestone for Carol has been to watch the film Gladiator without starting to tremble when people are decapitated.

"The first time I saw it I shook uncontrollably during those scenes, but I have seen it four times now, and I can just about tolerate it when the heads come off."

Both Molly-Ann and Heidi are reluctant to concede spiritual and psychic awareness is taking over from religion as a source of comfort, but they admit a lot more people are turning to psychic powers for healing, both in a physical and emotional sense.

"It is becoming noticeably more acceptable," said Heidi.

"I think one of my most interesting experiences was when I gave a reading to a Catholic priest.

"I was more surprised when he contacted us than he was. "

Enrolling for courses is not simply a question of paying your money and turning up.

Molly-Ann and Heidi have rejected people if they think they are unsuitable.

"We are working with very sensitive people who exude a lot of psychic energy, and if someone shouldn't be there it will be picked up on straight away," Molly-Ann said.

Heidi adds: "We are psychic after all there is no hiding place. Not even for the fairies."

The Kingston School of Psychic Studies can be contacted on 020 8974 6792

'Psychic' parrot expected to ruffle some scientific feathers


Page 9D

Owner says pet bird comments from afar on what she sees

By Tara McKelvey

N'Kisi may look like an ordinary Congo African gray parrot, but she's the subject of a series of telepathy experiments by a former Cambridge University researcher who says the results are ''astounding.''

Back on the air diet...


Dear Citizens of the Earth,

When I was born on this planet some 63 years ago I was given the name Wiley Cecil Brooks and I remember even to this very day so clearly my very first conscious shock as a kid when I first saw beings (people) putting things into their mouths. Later on I learned that this practice was called eating and that everybody did it and in fact had to do it to stay alive. From that moment on I knew I would never know any peace in my life until the question that immediately crystallized in my mind was answered. Why did Gods have to eat to live ? I did not know at the time that people were no longer known as the Gods they were.

After many years of searching for the answer to this perplexing question, which seemed to have eluded all the great minds of the time, I decided to go backpacking for a few weeks into the High Sierra mountains, to a place called Alta peak, nestled at 11,200 feet above sea level near the town of Visalia, CA.

Feeling totally frustrated and abandoned by the entire world, I now realize (some 30 years later), that perhaps I was really just trying to escape the pursuit of even a newer and more insane idea that had surfaced in my mind to join the army of ideas and questions that were plaguing me at the time. In this idea I find myself incessantly repeating the following paragraph, and I quote,

"I could have sworn on a stack of bibles that I once lived in a place where all beings (people) were known as Gods (unlimited Creators). A place where it was a common occurrences to expect all people to shower each other with an abundance of love and respect just as the people of today are expected to shower love and respect on the special people in their lives. A place where all people were accepted as equals and their differences were applauded and honored, not judged and criticized. A place where one would find it impossible to even imagine a circumstance or situation in which any Hu (God)-Man ( being) could possibly think, speak or act in any way that would warrant loving them less."

Was this just another pipe dream to chase just to keep my triple Aries ego busy, I thought? And what does this have to do with having to eat anyway? Well I finally got a break. And do mean a doosey of a break. One so big I dare to even think about describing it here. I can only say that the explosion that occurred within me on that mountain top that day led to the finding and possessing what Jesus of the Bible called the 'KEY OF LIFE'. The Key I had been lead to believe that would answer all my haunting questions about the Gods. And this my friends, I can truly say, it did beyond my wildest dreams.

For years I have tried to give these KEYS away for FREE but was frightfully unsuccessful. The Universal laws that regulate matters of the 'KEYS' states that the current owner or possessor of this KEY can make a limited number of duplicate KEYS which He or She may disperse in any way They deem appropriate. Since I have been such a failure at giving them away for nothing I have decided to sell them. I found, after many years of trail and error, that selling things of value to Hu-mans (God-beings) who eat; worked much better than the giving approach, so beginning this summer of1999 I am giving a series of seminars on the secret use of these keys. I will give the first GOD INITIATIONS SEMINARS in the world to be offered to the general public. Those who attend these very special seminars will learn the secrets of "THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH" and "HOW TO OBTAIN EVER LASTING LIFE AND LIVE FROM NOW ON, FOREVER'. I guarantee it!

Only 100 KEYS will be available at the first Seminars.

The cost for attending these very special gatherings is $425.00 US in advance.

There will be no refunds unless the Seminar is canceled. Pre-registration is necessary. "Have I not said that Ye are all GODS".

Jesus of Nazareth

To all of you reading this letter; know in your heart of hearts that You never have, or could You ever have, thought a thought, spoke a word, or done an act, in any way, that could possibly stop, not for even a nano-second, my never-ending love for You.

I Love you with all my Heart.

Wiley, the Breatharian

Psychic Parties Break On Through To Other Side.

Fox News
Author: David Koeppel


It's not your typical family reunion. Most of the guests aren't even alive.

They've moved onto the spirit world, only to be summoned back to earth so they can impart their omniscient wisdom to receptive relatives.

Sunday, February 11, 2001

A touchy subject


Advocates and opponents of healing touch have been squaring off over whether the unconventional treatment really does anything. Now two new studies seek to find out.


Depending on which side of the energy field you sit, healing touch is either the therapy of the future or complete quackery.

Two hospitals in St. Paul -- United and St. Joseph's -- are conducting separate studies to try to determine which it is. Both projects are sure to garner national attention, especially the one being done by St. Joseph's, because it might be the largest such effort ever, aiming to study 402 heart surgery patients.

Scientist Jill Tarter is certain that her team will soon be making Contact with aliens

-from Daily Express, 24(th) April 1999.

Flying Saucer Review, Volume 45/4, Winter 2000, p. 7

In a laboratory high in the rainforest of Puerto Rico is a refrigerator -empty save for a bottle of champagne which has been there for more than two decades. The only event that will see it uncorked will be earth-shattering. It will be the day humankind learns that we are not alone.

A rather embarrassed NASA coughed up the funds for SETI -the project to Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence -leaving a dedicated band of scientists to go it alone in their quest to detect a radio signal produced by aliens.

But SETI has had a string of recent discoveries which, says its chief scientist, Jill Tarter, indicate the champagne may well be opened rather sooner than anyone had expected.

Jill is the real-life model for Ellie Arroway, the alien-chasing boffin played by Jodie Foster in Contact, a recent movie based on the late Carl Sagan's novel; the two were good friends.

At a conference in Washington last week on the origins of the universe, she spoke exclusively to the Express.

Jill, 55, is as glamorous as her Hollywood counterpart -tall ("Jodie, who I got to know really well, comes up to my shoulder"), blond and very elegant. She got into the "bug-eyed monster" business by accident.

"I was approached back in the seventies -I was the only person who knew how to program the old computers they were using," she says. "I got hooked on the idea that astronomers and engineers could do experiments that would answer questions that, up to then, had only been tackled by philosophers."

She adds: "My eight-year-old daughter, asked in school what her mother did, said 'Look for little green men!'"

But SETI is not about searching for alien visitors or UFOs. Two huge radio telescopes at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, and Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, scan the skies searching for a "narrow-band" radio signal.

So far SETI has searched about 400 nearby stars for intelligent signals. It works on the assumption that aliens would put a message in "code" understandable by any intelligent life form -say a "language" based on the atomic spectrum of hydrogen -the most common element in the universe.

We cannot guess what aliens might want to say to us but it is possible that we would feel compelled to reply. But we may not want to broadcast our presence to possibly predatory species. Strict international protocol is in place to govern the nature and timing of any reply.

Jill says that several dozen interesting signals have so far been discovered, though none have been confirmed as alien signals. They could be radio blasts from natural objects such as pulsars or black holes, or possibly from satellites.

Many scientists outside SETI have been sceptical, but a string of exciting discoveries show that the chances of us being alone are very small. Many researchers now believe there is a good chance that life evolved on Mars. Even if Martians turn out to be bugs, the fact is that a kind of life has turned up on the first planet where we went looking for it.

As Jill says: "Finding a second genesis in our solar system will greatly increase the chances of life being ubiquitous in the universe.

Indeed, last Thursday, it was revealed that another entire solar system had been found, 44 light years away. Three planets orbit a sun-like star called Upsilon Andromedae.

Finding a solar system so close, after so little searching, shows that planets orbiting stars must be the norm -and many astronomers believe that planets around most stars in the galaxy equals billions of potential homes for life.

Even if only one per cent of those have advanced technology, that is still 100,000 advanced civilisations in the Milky Way alone.

Jill Tarter believes that computers will finally make SETI pay off. "Our new system is five times as good as the old one. In six years we will be able to search 100,000 stars."

With similar technology, an alien civilisation 10 light years away could detect our radio broadcasts with ease. But these advances, impressive as they are, used current telescopes; what SETI wants is its own dishes in the California desert that could listen to a million stars a decade.

"Bill Gates said no to helping us, for the time being," says Jill, although she is confident that with the fast-improving technology at her disposal (the current search is a trillion times more sensitive than when SETI began) champagne corks may be popping long before she retires.

"A signal would make us realise that the differences between us and this other species were vast. I would hope that this knowledge would trivilise the differences between us humans."

The Curious Utterances of the Vatican's Monsignor Corrado Balducci
by Gordon Creighton

Flying Saucer Review, Volume 45/4, Winter 2000, pp. 24-25

This important Catholic prelate was already well known for his previous statement, some time ago, that he believed in the presence of alien intelligences interacting with planet Earth.

What is probably much less well known however is the fact that he is the Vatican's senior Exorcist and Demonologist - and this makes some of his latest remarks and observations surprising - to say the very least!

At the Second Ancona Ufological Congress, on April 17, 2000, the theme for discussion was "ALIEN CIVILIZATION: BETWEEN DOUBT AND REASON", and he gave an extensive interview there, expressing his opinions very clearly.

He stated emphatically that of course the Aliens and their vessels do quite definitely exist. On a number of occasions he had already voiced the highly intelligent view that, in between Man and Angels, there absolutely must also exist a considerable gamut - a great HIERARCHY of various other grades or levels of beings - and these might well be the "Aliens" now under discussion. From the theological point of view, he emphasised, there could be no doubt about that.

[Let us not forget either that in the Old Testament and other Jewish religious texts the talk is not merely of "Angels" (Malakheem, but also of other categories of celestial beings - such as Cherubeem and Serapheem. With my limited knowledge of Hebrew I have so far managed to find out very little indeed about these or any other categories of celestial beings in the old Hebrew Pantheon, and if anyone can help me on my way to learn more I would indeed be most grateful. I suspect that the old scholars and sages may have recognised even more than just these three grades of "Celestials". G.C.]

As regards acceptance of the general idea of life elsewhere in the Cosmos, the Monsignor pointed out that the saintly Italian priest Padre Pio, who was famous for his stigmata and for his miraculous healing of the sick, and who died only a few years ago, had always taken the existence of extraterrestrials for granted.

And, long before him, there had been - to quote just a few examples - such clerics as Cardinal Niccolo Cusano (1401-1464) who accepted the "alien" and "E.T." concepts and wrote about them. And also there had been the early Jesuit astronomer Father Angelo Secchi (1818-1899) who wrote: "It is absurd to think that the other worlds around us are uninhabited deserts".

And of course there had also been Giordano Bruno who had died at the stake for harbouring such beliefs.

When asked whether his investigation of the UFO Phenomenon was purely personal or had been based on official Vatican promptings, Monsignor Balducci - (not surprisingly) - hastened to emphasise that it all had been purely personal and that there was nothing "official" about it [which can hardly be true, as we at FSR have heard, for years past, that the Vatican possesses an active department devoted to the UFO Phenomenon. Indeed - how could it possibly be otherwise! G.C.

As already mentioned, this high-ranking Vatican dignitary, Monsignor Balducci, is himself recognized as the Vatican's No. One Demonologist. And yet it seems that there is not a single word in anything that he has ever said or written to indicate any knowledge whatsover of such matters as alien rape; crossbreeding; hybridization; removal of sperm and ova; implants, or the widespread harassment of humans by UFO entities, widespread mutilations of terrestrial animals, and ghastly human mutilations too.

The good Monsignor cannot possibly be unaware of these aspects of the matter. So I conclude that we are obliged to attribute scant value to his statements, which look like a piece of wild window-dressing. Or worse.

He has blandly told us that any other intelligences are more or less certain to be higher and purer and more evolved than we are - bizarre views from a professional exorcist surely!

One interesting assertion by Monsignor relates to the Fatima Apparitions of 1917 and other "Marian Phenomena". He sharply rejects the view (held by quite a lot of "ufologists" - all Catholics - in both Spain and Portugal) that the Marian Appearances might themselves be part of the entire UFO Phenomenon. "Most certainly not!" he says. "Our Lady can do whatever she wants and she has no need for UFOs!"

Responding to other questions about the chief dangers today threatening mankind, Monsignor Balducci made it clear that he sees the principal danger as a nuclear war against the West, some time before the year 2030 - an attack on the United States, by either the Chinese or the Arabs. [On which I agree with him 100%. -G.C.]

The second greatest danger, he agreed, was the impact on the Earth of a large asteroid or meteorite, which most astronomers will tell you quite frankly is probably rather over-due on Earth's time-scale.

As for the effect of these statements, I feel obliged to say that the discrepancy between the Monsignor's utterances and the perceived realities of our situation as we know it after half a century of study, can only be very unfortunate, for he is helping to lull the public into a passive and trance-like acceptance of the Demons who are currently our Lords and Masters, just as all of our media are already zealously doing.

So it looks to me like a very dishonest picture that we are being given, and it seems evident that the Vatican has no more intention than any Government has to come clean, and to tell the truth about the enormous problems which loom for our species.

Does all this not indicate that, within the Christian edifice of the Vatican there might lurk agents of another Force possessed of very, very different motivation and objectives? There are numerous disturbing indications that such might well be the case. One of these days I may decide to give an account of the amazing experiences of one of my friends which, alas, point in that direction. The details which I have given above are taken from Monsignor Balducci's statement, released earlier this summer [2000], about the Ancona Congress.

I am indebted to Mr. Neil Cunningham of Edinburgh and to Paola Harris for the following further information that he has been authorised to pass to us by Dr. Steven Greer MD, Director of CSETI.

Together with the researcher/journalist Paola Harris and his own cameraman Peter Sorenson, Dr. Steven Greer was invited to meet Monsignor Balducci in his home in Rome on September 23(rd), the purpose being for the Monsignor to give an interview and to discuss with Dr. Greer the latter's plans for a major worldwide disclosure project regarding the UFO situation.

This ambitious project will include the filming of large numbers of military witnesses, intelligence officials, commercial pilots, scientists, and even astronauts (both American and Soviet).

These plans, which are already being put into operation will include such witnesses from Italy as well as all the other main countries involved. Dr. Greer had just come to Italy from Britain where he has filmed various people including myself.

Enlarging further on his views, Monsignor Balducci made some further altogether sensible remarks to the party, such as:

"Of course there must be something else between us and the Angels. And if there are such other beings, they are surely more evolved than we are." "We are" says Balducci, "at the bottom of the ladder for our ability to 'see good but do evil'. It is illogical and a bit arrogant to believe that we are the only beings in God's creation. Since all of Christianity is based on witness-testimony, we must realize how important testimony is. It would be a tragedy if we began to be suspicious of all the people who report that they have experienced something unusual, like seeing craft in the sky, because there *are* some very credible witnesses who have seen these and who have come forward".

The only criticism that I personally (G.C.) have every voiced about Dr. Steven Greer has been because I often felt that he too seemed to be largely unaware of the dark side of the UFO Phenomenon, so I am delighted to see that this time he did not fail to put to Monsignor Balducci the all-important question of "whether the work of the Devil was included in the UFO Phenomenon?" But I was astounded once again to see Monsignor Balducci's reply to him which was:

"The Devil does not need UFOs to manifest. Nor are most witnesses suffering from illusions, as they have no reason to invent such things". He concluded by saying that it was both logical and desirable that "they" -the "Others"- should exist, since all that God creates gives glory to God the Creator".

Well - I have to say that I still find it all highly unsatisfactory. Monsignor Balducci has totally failed to face up to the cardinal and central problem - namely the fact that we have such abundant evidence that so much of the UFO activity is evil and malignant by any standards that we can conceive of. He seems to think that, just because - as we can see - there are aliens who have marvellous technology, they must ipso facto also all be more advanced than we are, morally and spiritually!

What balderdash from Balducci! Didn't both Nazi Germany and Commie Russia have plenty of first-rate scientists - and "technology" to match!