NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 March 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Thursday, March 29, 2001

'Piltdown' bird forgery explained

From the BBC at:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1248000/1248079.stm

By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

High-tech scans of a forged fossil once hailed as a "missing link" between birds and dinosaurs have shed light on its murky origins.

Scientists believe that the fake, known as Archaeoraptor, is a mosaic built from at least two, and possibly five, separate specimens.

Two significant fossils were almost lost to science altogether in the process, says an international team from the United States, Canada and China.

Archaeoraptor captured the attention of the scientific world when unveiled by the National Geographic Society, US, in October 1999.

It reportedly came from a site in China's Liaoning Province that has yielded a host of exquisitely preserved early birds.

With its mix of dinosaur and bird-like features, many palaeontologists believed that Archaeoraptor captured the moment in evolution when dinosaurs were experimenting with flight.

But it later emerged that the tail had been glued on to increase the fossil's commercial value before being sold to a dealer. The tail turned out to be from a new type of bird-like feathered dinosaur - Microraptor - the smallest, adult dinosaur yet discovered.

New bird fossil

Computed Tomography (CT), a technique more common in medical examination, was used to investigate the nature and extent of the forgery, and how it was built.

The scans were carried out at the University of Texas at Austin, US, in collaboration with experts in China and Canada.

The results suggest that the fossil was built from the front part of the skeleton of an ancient bird, the first of its kind ever seen, cemented on to a slab.

What appear to be random bone fragments of unrelated fossils were stuck on to "complete" the skeleton, making a mosaic that fooled the scientific world.

"Sadly, parts of at least two significant new specimens were combined in favour of the higher commercial value of the forgery, and both were nearly lost to science," the researchers write in the scientific journal Nature.

"Palaeontology was also badly damaged by the Piltdown forgery and the 'lying stones' of Johann Beringer, and many fossils have been unwittingly or deliberately subjected to misleading reconstruction."

A growing array of forensic techniques are now available, they say, which can be critical to the proper evaluation and scientific interpretation of fossils.


Wednesday, March 28, 2001

FWD [fort] Darwinism vs. Creationism: A Checkered History, A Doubtful Future

Forgive the long history lesson, but its worth staying with for the conclusion! Makes kind of sense to me anyway!

[This essay is 5000 words (10 pages) long. It is a serious, comprehensive piece of journalism written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee. It may be transmitted without restriction via the internet, but requires my permission for copying into printed mediums like newsletters or magazines.]

DARWINISM vs. CREATIONISM

A Checkered History, A Doubtful Future

Copyright Lloyd Pye 2000

Starting with the Sumerians, the first great culture 6,000 years ago, through the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, everyone accepted that some form of heavenly beings had created all of life and, as a crowning achievement, topped it off with humans. Now, consider that for a moment. Today the CEO of a medium-sized corporation can verbally issue an instruction to be carried out company-wide and have no hope it will reach the lower echelons intact. So the fact that most historical cultures, from first to most recent (our own), believed essentially the same creation story is astonishing in its consistency.

Naturally, such long-term consistency made it extremely difficult to challenge when the accumulation of scientific evidence could no longer be ignored. Charles Darwin is usually credited with issuing the first call for a rational examination of divine creation as the belief system regarding the origins of life and humanity. However, in his 1859 classic, The Origin Of Species, he skirted both issues in an attempt to placate his era's dominant power structure-organized religion. Though he used the word "origin" in the title, he was careful to discuss only how species developed from each other, not how life originated. And he simply avoided discussing humanity's origins.

Ultimately, pressure from both supporters and critics forced him to tackle that thorny issue in 1871's The Descent Of Man; but Charles Darwin was never comfortable at the cutting edge of the social debate he helped engineer.

The true roots of the challenge to divine creation extend 65 years prior to Darwin, back to 1795, when two men-a naturalist and a geologist-published stunning works. The naturalist was Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's grandfather, a brilliant intellectual in his own right. In The Laws Of Organic Life he suggested that population numbers drove competition for resources, that such competition was a possible agent of physical change, that humans were closely related to monkeys and apes, and that sexual selection could have an effect on species modification. In short, he dealt with nearly all of the important topics his grandson would later expand upon, except natural selection.

The geologist was a Scotsman, James Hutton, whose Theory Of The Earth suggested for the first time that Earth might be much older than 6,000 years, then the universally accepted time frame established a century earlier by Anglican Bishop James Ussher. (Many if not most of today's mainstream Christians are convinced that the creation date of 6,000 years ago is Holy Writ, even though mortal Bishop Ussher arrived at it by the mundane method of calculating the who begat whoms listed in the Bible.)

Hutton studied the layering of soils in geological strata and concluded that rain washed soil off the continents and into the seas; at the bottom of the seas heat from inside the planet turned soil into rock; over great stretches of time the new rocks were elevated to continent level and slowly pushed up to form mountains; then in turn those mountains were weathered away to form new layers of soil. This unending cycle meant two things: Earth was not a static body changed only superficially at the surface by volcanoes and earthquakes; and each layering cycle required vast amounts of time to complete.

The significance of Hutton's insight, to which he gave the jawbreaker name of uniformitarianism, cannot be overstated. However, he couldn't challenge Ussher's 6,000 year dogma because he provided no alternative to it. He was certain that 6,000 years was much too short a time span for any weathering cycle to be completed, but in the late 18th century there was no way to accurately measure geological eras. That would have to wait another thirty-five years until Sir Charles Lyell, a far more methodical British analyst and researcher, could firmly establish uniformitarianism as the basis of modern geology.

Lyell took Hutton's work and ran with it, creating a three-volume series called Principles Of Geology (1830-1833) that convincingly provided the time lines and time frames Hutton lacked. Bishop Ussher's 6,000 year dogma still held complete sway with ecclesiastics everywhere, but the world's burgeoning ranks of scientists could see that Hutton and now Lyell were correct; the earth had to be millions of years old rather than 6,000. But how to convince the still largely uneducated masses of Ussher's fallacy? Like Hutton before him, Lyell and his supporters could not break through the dense wall of ignorance being perpetuated by religious dogma. However, they had knocked several gaping cracks in it, so when Charles Darwin came along in another thirty years (1859), the wall was ready to begin crumbling with an echo that reverberates to this day.

Darwin was strongly influenced by Lyell, who published the first of his geology tomes while Darwin was at Cambridge completing his last year of theological training (he only studied nature as an avocation). He took the first volume of the trilogy on his fateful voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle and devoured it along the way. Masterfully written and persuasively argued, it made such an impression on the 22-year-old that in later life he said, "I really think my books come half out of Lyell's brain. I see through his eyes." So between Lyell's genius and his grandfather Erasmus' unconventional views about nature instilled during his childhood, young Charles set sail toward his destiny with a blueprint of his revolutionary theory in mind and a tool to build it in his hands.

Without saying it outright, Darwin's bottom line was that life's myriad forms managed their own existence from start to finish without divine help. This did not take God entirely out of the equation, but it did remove His influence on a day-to-day basis. The irony is that Charles Darwin did his work reluctantly, being a devout man who had trained to become a minister. Nonetheless, the schism he created between evolution (a term he never used; his choice was natural selection) and God was the battering ram that breached the forbidding wall of dogmatic ignorance that had stood for thousands of years.

Though breached, that wall did not come down entirely. Instead, an ideological war erupted on both sides of what remained of it, pitting Darwinists against Creationists in intellectual bloodletting that eventually forced some of the wounded to seek relief in compromise. Both sides might be content, they suggested, if God could be acknowledged as the initiator of all life, followed by a "hands-off" policy thereafter to let nature take its evolutionary course. All well and good. But instead, both sides adopted a winner-take-all strategy, unwilling to make even marginal concessions to the other side's point of view.

Allowing no room for compromise left both sides open to continuous attack, and the salvos they exchanged were fierce and relentless. James Hutton and Charles Lyell had proven beyond reasonable doubt that the earth was immensely older than 6,000 years, yet they and their supporters had been overwhelmed by the oppressive power of ecclesiastic influence. Now, however, Darwin's arguments supporting gradual changes over equally vast amounts of time tipped the scales in favor of science. Public opinion began to shift. The uniform rejection of old became tentative acceptance at an ever-increasing rate.

This alarming turn of events forced all but the most ardent Creationists to seek ways to appease their critics, to put themselves back in the driver's seat of public opinion. Bishop Ussher's unyielding time line of 6,000 years was gradually coming to symbolize their willful disdain of reality, like a chain draped around their necks, drowning them as the tide of understanding shifted the sand beneath their feet. They began to modify their insistence that God had created everything in the universe exactly as recounted in the Bible. They could suddenly see the wisdom of granting Him the latitude to accomplish His miracles in six eras of unspecified length rather than in six literal days.

Of course, Creationists did more than hit the reverse pedal on their sputtering juggernaut. The brightest of them dug deep into Darwin's emerging theory to discover holes nearly equal to the ones scientists were exposing in religious dogma. In 1873, only fourteen years after The Origin Of Species, geologist J.W. Dawson, chancellor of McGill University in Montreal, published The Story Of The Earth And Man, which was every bit as well written and as carefully argued as Darwin's masterpiece. In it Dawson pointed out that Darwin and his followers were promoting a theory based on three fallacious "gaps" in reasoning that could not be reconciled with the knowledge of their era. What is so telling about Dawson's three fallacies is that they remain unchanged to this day.

The first fallacy is that life can spontaneously animate from organic material. In 1873 Dawson complained that "the men who evolve all things from physical forces do not yet know how these forces can produce the phenomenon of life even in its humblest forms." He added that "in every case heretofore, the effort (to create animate life) has proved vain." After 127 years of heavily subsidized effort by scientists all over the world to create even the most basic rudiments of life, they are still batting an embarrassing zero. In any other scientific endeavor, reason would dictate it is time to call in the dogs and water down the fire. But when it comes to Darwinian logic, as Dawson noted in 1873, "here also we are required to admit as a general principle what is contrary to experience."

Dawson's second fallacy was the gap that separates vegetable and animal life. "These are necessarily the converse of each other, the one deoxidizes and accumulates, the other oxidizes and expends. Only in reproduction or decay does the plant simulate the action of the animal, and the animal never in its simplest forms assumes the functions of the plant. This gap can, I believe, be filled up only by an appeal to our ignorance." And thus it remains today. If life did evolve as Darwinists claim, it would have had to bridge the gap between plant and animal life at least once, and more likely innumerable times. Lacking one undeniable example of this bridging, science is again batting zero.

The third gap in the knowledge of 1873 was "that between any species of animal or plant and any other species. It is this gap, and this only, which Darwin undertook to fill up by his great work on the origin of species; but, notwithstanding the immense amount of material thus expended, it yawns as wide as ever, since it must be admitted that no case has been ascertained inwhich individuals of one species have transgressed the limits between it and other species." Here, too, despite a ceaseless din of scientific protests to the contrary, there remains not a single unquestioned example of one species evolving entirely-not just partially-into another distinct and separate species.

To be fair, some of today's best-known geneticists and naturalists have broken ranks and acknowledged that what Dawson complained about in 1873 remains true today. Thomas H. Morgan, who won a Nobel Prize for work on heredity, wrote that "Within the period of human history, we do not know of a single instance of the transformation of one species into another if we apply the most rigid and extreme tests used to distinguish wild species." Colin Patterson, director of the British Museum of Natural History, has stated that "No one has ever produced a species by mechanisms of natural selection. No one has gotten near it." And these are by no means extraordinary disclosures. Every scientist in related fields is well aware of it, but shamefully few have the nerve to address it openly.

By the time Darwin died, in 1882, one of his most zealous supporters, German zoologist Ernst Haeckel, had produced a series of drawings that showed the developing embryos of various mammals (rabbit, pig, chimp, man) were virtually identical until well into their gestation. This had been a great comfort to Darwin in his old age, but by 1915 it was clear that Haeckel had forged the drawings. Nonetheless, they served Darwinists so well that Haeckel's forgery conviction at the University of Jena, where he taught, was conveniently overlooked, and his drawings can still be found in modern texts supporting evolution. In fact, any reader of this article who was taught evolution in school will very likely have seen Haeckel's drawings in textbooks and been assured they were legitimate.

A more widely known fraudulent attempt to support Darwin's flagging theory was England's famous Piltdown Man hoax of 1912, which was an ancient human skull found in conjunction with a modern orangutan's lower jaw that had been doctored (its teeth filed down to look more human) and aged to match the look of the skull. This was much more important than Haeckel's fraud because it provided the desperately sought "missing link" between humans and their proposed ape-like ancestors.

Nearly all of England's evolutionary top guns swung in behind the fraud, and their colleagues worldwide joined them with such zeal that it took 40 years to expose it for what it was. However, the damage it caused to the search for truth had already been done. The world became so convinced that Darwinian evolution was true and correct, it was just a matter of time before Creationists would draw a line in the dirt and call for a last great battle to decide the issue once and for all. That battle did come, to an obscure American hamlet called Dayton, Tennessee, 75 years ago (July, 1925).

The "Monkey Trial," as H.L. Mencken dubbed it, revolved around John Scopes, a 24-year-old gym teacher and football coach who once substituted for the regular biology teacher in Dayton's high school. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chose him as its point man because he vocally disagreed with a new Tennessee law that banned the teaching of evolution instead of, or alongside, the Biblical account of creation. He also was unmarried, incurring no risk to a family by allowing himself to be prosecuted.

Though now one of many so-called "trials of the century," this one drew 200 reporters from 2,000 newspapers across the country and the world. It has since generated hundreds of books, plays, television movies, and feature films. In October, 1999, George magazine chose it the fourth most important event of the 20th century. Yet historian Garry Wills has astutely called it "a nontrial over a nonlaw with a nondefendant backed by nonsupporters. Its most profound moment involved nontestimony by a nonexpert, followed by a nondefeat." Without question it can stand alongside the O.J. Simpson debacle as a world-class black eye for the American legal system.

All during the trial Clarence Darrow, a staunch Darwinist and Scopes' lawyer, tangled with William Jennings Bryan, an equally staunch Creationist who represented the State of Tennessee. Both were outstanding advocates and renowned orators, and each was certain he could outtalk the other and convince the world of the rightness of his vision of creation. However, Darrow's rapier wit shredded Bryan's assertions that the Bible was a literal record of God's sacrosanct word. Bryan won from a legal standpoint because the issue in question was whether Scopes had defied his state's law, which he admitted all along in order to get the trial arranged in the first place. Scopes was convicted and fined $100, which was later overturned on a technicality, so in the end he was vindicated.

More than anything else, the Monkey Trial was staged to settle the Darwinism-Creationism debate once and for all by pitting the most eloquent defender of each in a mouth-to-mouth duel on a world stage that no one could ignore. And when the dust had settled it was clear the rolling tide of history would not be turned. The mounting support for Darwinism crested in a tsunami of doubt-and even ridicule-that crashed down on Creationists everywhere, sweeping them from the dominant positions they had enjoyed for centuries, into the social and political backwaters they endured for decades.

Though clearly knocked down by the Darrow/Scopes haymaker, the Creationists were far from out. They lowered their profile and became relatively inactive through the Depression and the years of World War II, waiting until society stabilized in the 1950's. Then they rallied their troops and resumed attacking educational systems, where young minds were being indoctrinated with Darwinist dogma. And this time they did it right. Instead of wasting effort and money lobbying state legislatures, they moved out into the heartland and focused on local school boards, insisting belief in evolution was costing America its faith in God and religion, and destroying morality and traditional family life.

When the social eruptions of the 1960's appeared, Creationists were quick to say "We told you so!" They blamed the teaching of "Godless evolution" as a primary cause, demanding that religion be put back in schools as a quick way to return to "the good old days." At the same time, they hit upon their most brilliant tactic yet: formally changing their basic tenet from "Biblical Creationism" to "Creation Science." Then, in an equally brilliant stroke, they shifted from lobbying school boards to getting themselves elected to them. Predictably, they enjoyed great success in the Bible Belt girdling the Deep South.

Apart from making most real scientists gag every time they hear it, "Creation Science" provided Creationists with the cachet of authority they had been seeking-and needing-since Darwin so thoroughly sandbagged them. And, it has been remarkably effective in shifting public opinion away from the scientific position. Gallup Polls taken in 1982, 1993, 1997, and 1999 show the percentage of Americans who believed "God created human beings in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years" was 44%, 47%, 44%, and 47% respectively. In a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll asking people what they thought about human origins, 15% said they accepted Darwinian evolution, 50% believed the Biblical account, and 26% felt there was truth on both sides. The most perceptive group might well have been the 9% who said they were not sure.

One could argue that those numbers are more of a comment on America's failing educational system than on the effectiveness of Creationist strategies. But in any case, the Creationist cacophony reached a fever pitch in August of last year, when the Kansas State Board of Education voted by a 6 to 4 margin to eliminate from the state's high school curricula the teaching of not only biological evolution, which received virtually all media focus, but also of geology's "Old Earth" theories, and of cosmology's "Big Bang" of universal creation. The Kansas School Board went after science across the board.

That vote has been by far the high point of the modern Creationist offensive, but courts are still loath to accept any comparison between so-called "Creation" science and what is considered "real" science. In 1981 Arkansas and Louisiana passed laws requiring that Creationism be taught in public schools. In 1982 a U.S. District Court declared the Arkansas law unconstitutional. In 1987 the Louisiana case made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled Creationism was essentially a religious explanation of life's origins and therefore favored one religion (Christianity) over others (Islam, Hindu, etc.).

As usual, after the 1987 defeat the Creationists went back to the drawing board and devised yet another shrewd strategy, which has carried them through the 1990's and into this new millennium. They have transformed "Creation Science" into theories they call "Sudden Appearance" outside the Bible Belt, or "Intelligent Design" within it. Both versions carefully avoid referring to God by name or to specific aspects of religion, but they strongly focus on the Achilles heel of Darwinism, which is that all species thus far discovered in the fossil record appear suddenly, whole and complete, males and females, leaving no plausible way they could have evolved by Darwinian gradualism.

Fortunately for Darwinists, the legal protection provided by the Supreme Court currently trumps the Achilles heel their rivals keep pointing out. But that tide is running and running strong. Eventually it will turn on them the way the tide of ignorance turned on Creationists when Darwin appeared, and then again at the Monkey Trial. But as long as its legal protection remains intact, Darwinist dogma is in no imminent danger of being confronted with Creationist dogma in the nation's classrooms. In fact, all this could soon be moot because many school districts have responded to the pressures being applied to them by refusing to teach either viewpoint, which will leave a large and serious hole in the educational background of our next generation of students.

Despite the extreme volatility of these issues, and the immediate rancor received after aligning with the "wrong" side in someone else's view, any objective analysis will conclude that both Darwinists and Creationists are wrong to a significant degree. Indeed, how could it be otherwise when each can shoot such gaping holes in the other? If either side was as correct as, say, Einstein's general theory of relativity, which-apart from occasional dissonance with quantum mechanics-has faced no serious challenge since Einstein revealed it to an awestruck world in 1915, there would be no issues to debate: one side would be declared right, the other would be wrong, and that would be that.

We all know "right" when we see it, just as we all should know "wrong." Anyone without a vested interest should be willing to accept that the earth is vastly older than 6,000 years. Likewise, despite widespread proof of the noticeable changes in body parts called for by microevolution, there is no clearly definitive evidence for the innumerable species-into-higher-species transformations required by macroevolution. If Charles Darwin were alive today and could be presented with the facts that have accumulated since his death, even he would have to admit his theory has turned out wrong.

Let us make the assertion, then, that both Darwinists and Creationists are wrong to such a degree that their respective theories are ripe for overthrow. It is simply a matter of time and circumstance before one or another piece of evidence appears that is so clear in its particulars and so overwhelming in its validity, both sides will have no choice but to lay down their bullhorns and laptops and slink off into history's dustbin, where so many other similarly bankrupt theories have gone before them. But until that happens, what about those who would choose to explore more objective and possibly more accurate scenarios for the creation of life itself and human life in particular?

Because of their all-out, do-or-die strategies, Darwinists and Creationists stand at opposite ends of a very wide intellectual spectrum, which leaves a huge swath of middle ground available to anyone with the courage to explore it. Moreover, the signposts along that middle ground are numerous and surprisingly easy to negotiate. All that's required is a willingness to see with open eyes and to perceive with an open mind.

The basic Darwinist position regarding how life began is called "spontaneous animation," which J.W. Dawson complained about back in 1873. It is the idea that life somehow springs into existence suddenly, all by itself, when proper mixtures of organic and inorganic compounds are placed into proximity and allowed to percolate their way across the immensely deep chasm between non-life and life. Based on everything known about the technical aspects of that process-from 1873 until now-it is quite safe to say spontaneous animation doesn't have the proverbial snowball's chance of enduring.

Ignore the howls of protest echoing from far off to our right. Here on the middle ground reality rules, and reality says there is simply no way even the simplest life form-say, a sub-virus-sized microbe utilizing only a handful of RNA/DNA components-could have pulled itself together from any conceivable brew of chemical compounds and started functioning as a living entity. To cite just one reason, no laboratory has ever found a way to coax lipids into forming themselves into a functional cell membrane, which is essential for encasing any living microbe. Then there is permeability, which would also have to be a part of the mix so nutrients could be taken into the cell and wastes could be expelled.

Fred Hoyle, a brilliant English astronomer and mathematician, once offered what has become the most cogent analogy for this process. He said it would be comparable to "a tornado striking a junkyard and assembling a jetliner from the materials therein." This is because the complexity evident at even the tiniest level of life is mind boggling beyond belief. In short, it could not and did not happen, and anyone insisting otherwise is simply wrong, misguided, or terrified of dealing with what its loss means to their world view.

So, if spontaneous animation is simply not possible, how does life come into existence? How can it be? Here we must call on an old friend, Sherlock Holmes, who was fond of saying that in any quest for truth one should first eliminate whatever is flatly impossible. Whatever remains, however unlikely, will be the truth. With spontaneous animation eliminated, that leaves only one other viable alternative: intervention at some level by some entity or entities. (Ignore the rousing cheers erupting far to our left.)

Before anyone in our group of middle-ground explorers goes jogging off toward those would-be winners, understand that "entity or entities" does not mean "God" in the anthropomorphic sense espoused by Creationists. It means some aspect or aspects of our present reality that we do not officially acknowledge-yet-but which nonetheless exist and act on us, and interact with us, in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

As of today, all human beings are bound by three dimensions. We are born into them, we live in them, and we die in them. During our lives we struggle to fit all of our personal experiences into them. Some of us, however, undergo experiences or receive insights which indicate other levels of reality might exist. These don't manifest in our usual corporeal (body) sense, but in purely ethereal forms that nonetheless have enough substance to make them perceivable by those locked into the three known dimensions.

For as woo-woo metaphysical as that might seem at first glimpse, please take a closer look. There is a slowly emerging branch of "new" science which deals with these other dimensions. Called hyperdimensional physics, it concerns itself with devising and executing experiments that-however briefly-provide glimpses into these other realms of reality. It is not greatly different from the earliest days of Einstein's time-and-motion studies, when he was trying to break the 200-year-old academic straitjacket imposed by Newtonian physics. Now Einstein's revolutionary physics has become the straitjacket, and hyperdimensional physics will eventually become the means to break out of it and move humanity to a much higher level of awareness and understanding of true reality.

Detailing these experiments is grist for another mill, but suffice to say that string theorists are leading the charge. (Their subatomic "theory of everything" requires ten or more new dimensions in order to be considered valid.) In due course they and others will progress from the barest glimpses being obtained at present to fully opening the doors to those other dimensions. When they do, they are likely to find them populated by the kind of entity or entities discussed earlier, beings who are not necessarily "God" with a capital "G," but rather "gods" with small "g's." Perhaps, even, the same plural "gods" mentioned in Genesis ("Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.") But that, too, is grist for another mill. However, it does lead into an analysis of how humanity came to be as it is.

The problem is simple: nobody in any conceivable position of power wants to confront the truth about human origins. No scientist, no politician, no clergyman could hope to preserve his or her authority-at whatever level-after actively coming forward with the truth about this incendiary subject. They have all seen colleagues "disappeared" from their ranks for stepping out of line, so they know retribution is swift and sure.

As noted above, Creationists insist that God (a singular male now, reduced from the genderless plurals of original Biblical text) created man in His own image, after His own likeness. Well, if that's true, He must have been having a heck of a bad day, because we humans are a poorly designed species. True, we do have highly capable brains, but for some reason we are only allowed to use a relatively small portion of them. (Now we will hear frantic howls of protest from the scientists off to our right, but ignore them. If 100 idiot savants can access 100 different portions of their brains to perform their astounding intellectual feats, then those same portions must be in our brains, too, but our normalcy keeps us from being able to access them. Period.)

Morally we are a terrible mishmash of capacities, capable of evil incarnate at one moment and love incarnate the next, while covering every range of emotion in between. Physically we carry more than 4,000 genetic disorders, with each of us averaging about 50 (some carry many more, some many less). New ones are found on a regular basis. No other species has more than a handful of serious ones, and none which kill 100% of carriers before they can reach maturity and reproduce. We have dozens of those. So how did they get into us? Better yet, how do they stay in us? If they are 100% fatal before reproduction is possible, how could they possibly spread through our entire gene pool?

If we assume God was at His best the day He decided to create us, functioning in His usual infallible mode, that gives Him no legitimate excuse for designing us so poorly. Surely He could have given us no more physical disorders than, say, our nearest genetic relatives, gorillas and chimps. A little albinism never hurt any species, not those two or ours or dozens of others that carry it, so why couldn't He just leave it at that? What could have been the point of making us much less genetically robust than all the other species we are supposed to be masters of?

There is no point to it, which is my point. It simply didn't happen that way.

Now, let's examine the Darwinist dogma that humans descended from primates (chimps and gorillas) by gradually transitioning through a four-million-year-long series of prehumans known as Australopithecines (Lucy, etc.) and early Homos (Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, etc.). Even though Australopithecines undoubtedly walked upright (their kind would have left the famous pair of bipedal tracks at Laetoli, Tanzania, 3.5 million years ago), their skulls are so ape-like as to be ineligible as a possible human ancestor. But let's assume that somehow they bridged the evolutionary gap between themselves and early Homos, which indeed are in the ballpark of physical comparison with humans.

Notice that in any series of photos showing the skulls of the Homo prehumans, little changes over time except the size of their brains, which increase by leaps of roughly 200 cubic centimeters between species. Every bone in those skulls is much denser and heavier than in humans; they all had missing foreheads; huge brow ridges; large, round eye sockets holding nocturnal (night) vision eyes; wide cheekbones; broad nasal passages beneath noses that had to splay flat across their faces (no uplift of bone to support an off-the-face nose); mouths that extend outward in the prognathous fashion; and no chins.

Each of those features is classic higher primate, and they predominate in the fossil record until only 120,000 years ago, when genuinely human-looking creatures-the Cro-Magnons-appear literally "overnight" (in geological terms), with absolutely everything about them starkly different from their predecessors. In fact, the list of those differences is so lengthy, it is safe to say humans are not even primates! (More howls of outrage from off to our right, but please keep to the middle ground and consider the evidence.)

According to our mitochondrial DNA, humans have existed as a distinct species for only about 200,000 years, give or take several thousand. This creates quite a problem for Darwinists because they contend we are part of the sequence extending back through the Australopithecines at four million years ago. Furthermore, we should follow directly after the Neanderthals, which followed Homo Erectus. But now the Neanderthals, which existed for about 300,000 years and overlapped Cro-Magnons by about 100,000 of those, have provided mitochondrial samples which indicate they are not related closely enough to humans to be direct ancestors. This compounds yet another serious transition problem because human brains are on average 100 cubic centimeters smaller than Neanderthal brains! How might that have happened if we are on a direct ancestral line with them?

Anthropologists are now left with only Homo Erectus as a possible direct ancestor for humans, and Erectus supposedly went extinct 300,000 years ago-100,000 before we appeared. Obviously, something had to give here, and-as in war-truth has been the first casualty. Recently anthropologists started reevaluating Homo Erectus fossils from Indonesia and guess what? They are now finding possible dates as early as 30,000 years ago, well beneath the 120,000 years ago Cro-Magnons first appeared in the fossil record. Such a surprise! However, scientists still have to account for our "sudden" appearance and our wide array of new traits never before seen among primates.

Understand this: humans are not primates! Yes, we do fit the technical definition of having flexible hands and feet with five digits, but beyond that there is no reasonable comparison to make. We don't have primate bone density (theirs is far more robust than ours) or muscular strength (pound for pound they are 5 to 10 times stronger than we are); but we do have foreheads; minimal brow ridges; small, rectangular-shaped eye sockets holding poor night-vision eyes; narrow nasal passages with noses that protrude off our faces; mouths that are flat rather than prognathous; we have chins; and we are bipedal.

Apart from those skeletal differences, we don't have primate brains (that is an understatement!), throats (we can't eat or drink and breathe at the same time; they can); voices (they can make loud calls, but we can modulate them into the tiny pieces of sound that make up words); body covering (they all have pelts of hair from head to toe, thick on the back and lighter on the front; we have no pelt and our thickness pattern is reversed); we cool ourselves by sweating profusely (they tend to pant, though some sweat lightly); we shed tears of emotion (no other primate does); we do not regulate our salt intake (all other primates do); we have a layer of fat of varying thickness attached to the underside of our skin, which primates do not have; that fat layer prevents wounds to our skin from healing as easily as wounds to primate skin; human females have no estrus cycle, as do all primates; but the number one difference between humans and primates is that humans have only 46 chromosomes while all higher primates have 48!

This last fact is the clincher. You can't lose two entire chromosomes (think how much DNA that is!) from your supposedly "parent" species and somehow end up better. And not just better, a light year better! It defies logic to the point where any reasonable person should be willing to concede that something "special" happened in the case of humans, something well beyond the ordinary processes of life on Earth. And it did. The "missing" chromosomes, it turns out, are not actually missing. The second and third chromosomes in higher primates have somehow been spliced together (there is no other term for it) by an utterly inexplicable-some might call it "miraculous"- technique.

Once again, the only plausible explanation seems to be intervention. But by whom? The same hyperdimensional entity or entities that might have created life in the first place? Not necessarily. Certainly that would have to be considered as a possibility, but humans were probably a breeze to create relative to initiating life and engineering all subsequent forms. That leaves room for three-dimensional assistance. In other words, we could have been created as we are by other three-dimensional beings who for reasons of their own decided to make us "in their own image, after their own likeness."

Accepting such a heretical explanation would certainly go a long way toward resolving these anomalies about humanity: (1) our many inexplicable differences from primates; (2) our all-too-sudden appearance in the fossil record; (3) our much-too-recent speciation; (4) our lack of a clear ancestor species; (5) our astounding number of genetic flaws; and (6) the unmistakable splicing done to our second and third chromosomes. The last two are, not surprisingly, hallmarks of hybridization and genetic manipulation, which is exactly how human origins were accounted for by-get this-the ancient Sumerians! We began this essay with them, and now we will end it with them.

As was noted at the beginning, the Sumerians were Earth's first great culture, emerging fully-formed from the Stone Age around 6,000 years ago (shades of Bishop Ussher!). They utilized over 100 of the "firsts" we now attribute to a high civilization, among them the first writing (cuneiform), which they inscribed on clay tablets that were fired in kilns (another first) into stone. Thousands of those tablets have survived, and in many of them the Sumerians describe a period wherein hundreds of three-dimensional "gods" (with a small "g") came to Earth from another planet orbiting in a long clockwise ellipse around the Sun rather than in a counterclockwise circle like the other planets.

While on Earth, those vastly superior beings decided to create for themselves a group of slaves and servants they would call Adamu. It was written in stone over 4,000 years ago (1,500 years before the Old Testament) that those "gods" agreed to "make the Adamu in our own image, after our own likeness." They did it by processes that sound remarkably like genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization, and hybridization. Perhaps most remarkable of all, they said they did it around 200,000 years ago, precisely when our mitochondrial DNA-against all expectations-says we originate as a species!

When the task of creating the Adamu was complete, the first of them were put to work in the Lower World of deep, hot mineshafts in southern Africa, where-not to put too fine a point on it-nearly every modern authority agrees that humankind originated. Eventually a surplus of slaves and servants became available, so that group was sent to work in the lush Upper World home of our alleged creators, which they called the E.Din ("home of the righteous ones") located in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley of modern Iraq.

All went well until the end of the last Ice Age, around 15,000 years ago, when the gods realized the immense icecap covering Antarctica was rapidly melting, and at some point in the future its massive edges would drop into the surrounding oceans and cause gigantic tidal waves to sweep across Earth' s lowlands, where their cities were. Because all Adamu could not be saved, several of the best were chosen to survive in a specially constructed boat able to withstand the immense tsunamis that were certain to strike.

When the time came, the gods boarded their spacecraft and lifted off into the heavens, from where they watched the devastation below and were shocked by the level of destruction. But when the waters receded enough for them to come down and land in the Zagros Mountain highlands, above the now mud- and sludge-covered E.Din valley, they joined the surviving Adamu to begin rebuilding their decimated civilization.

Again, not to put too fine a point on it, but most scholars now agree that modern civilization (settlements, farming, etc.) inexplicably began around 12,000 years ago in the Zagros Mountain highlands, where settlements would be extraordinarily difficult to build and maintain, and where terrace farming in poorly watered, sparse mountain soil (not to mention arid weather) would be vastly more demanding than in any fertile, well-watered lowlands. Yet the same scholars do not accept that there was any kind of worldwide flood event which may have caused a prior civilization to have to reboot itself in dry highlands.

In general, modern scholars scoff at all similar correlations to the Sumerian texts, considering them nothing more than an extended series of coincidences. They insist the Sumerians were merely being "overly creative" while forming incredibly sophisticated, richly detailed "myths." After all, the myriad wondrous things they described over four thousand years ago simply could not be an accurate record of their "primitive" reality.

Or could it?

Shark cartilage extract promising

From MSNBC at:

http://www.msnbc.com/news/550167.asp

Experimental agent starves tumors' lifelines, study suggests

New Age crystal power is all in the mind

By David Derbyshire and Celia Hall

From the Electronic Telegraph at

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=000631269538671&rtmo=VkF5P5Fx&atmo=rrrrrrrq&pg=/et/01/3/29/npsy129.html

Ghostbuster blows out Hampton Court theories

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_258288.html

Draughty air currents may be responsible for spine-chilling sensations in Hampton Court's famous Haunted Gallery, according to a psychologist ghostbuster.

The gallery is said to be haunted by the ghost of Henry VIII's fifth wife Catherine Howard, who was dragged through it to her execution in 1540.

In May last year, palace authorities invited a team of psychologists to investigate the reports of screams and apparitions and discover whether they could be explained by anything other than a tormented spirit.

Dr Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, led the study, in which more than 400 members of the public were taken to visit the gallery.

At least half reported spooky experiences, mostly involving sudden drops in temperature and sensations of "a presence".

However, "ghost-catching" equipment, including thermal cameras and air movement detectors, indicated that earthly rather than supernatural forces may be at work in the Haunted Gallery.

At the British Psychological Society's centenary meeting in Glasgow, Dr Wiseman said: "The Haunted Gallery has a lot of concealed doors, which cause a lot of thermal patterns in the air.

"You do, literally, walk into a column of cold air sometimes. It's possible that people are misattributing normal phenomena.

"If you suddenly feel cold, and you're in a haunted place, that might bring on a sense of fear and a more scary experience."

Two particular cold spots were found, where temperatures dropped by one or two degrees Celsius. People who believed in ghosts reported far more experiences than non-believers, said Dr Wiseman.

Witchcraft takes on science in race to find Nessie

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_250023.html

A white witch and a Swedish scientist are going head to head in a bid to find the Loch Ness monster.

Their contest is being dubbed the "battle of the broomsticks".

The pair are both planning to arrive at the loch within days of each other at the end of April.

Kevin Carlyon, a High Priest in the British Coven of White Witches, is planning to sail out on to the loch and cast a protective spell on the illusive creature to the sound of bagpipes.

Meanwhile Jan Sunberg, a member of the Global Underwater Search Team, is making final preparations for an expedition to the loch during which he hopes to trap the monster and take samples of its DNA.

Both are predicting a showdown with Mr Carlyon, from Hastings, East Sussex, warning he may sabotage Mr Sunberg's mission. Mr Sunberg claims he will continue regardless of Mr Carlyon's activities.

Mr Carlyon, who has only recently recovered after he broke his leg falling over his pet black cat, said: "We basically plan to go out on to the loch and cast a spell on Nessie that will hopefully prevent her ever being caught. "

He added: "If Jan Sunberg turns up we may just have to circle his boat and put a spell on him too. It will be a battle of the broomsticks."

Mr Sunberg is taking his trip to Scotland far more seriously. His four-man expedition team will set a huge trap in a shallow area of the lake in an ambitious bid to snare the ancient monster of the deep.

Speaking from Sweden, he said: "This is a serious business... We will lay the trap and then when the monster is trapped we will study it and take DNA samples. We will then release it back into the loch. We are aware of the cynics but we don't care what they say."

EDWARD: DEAD SILENCE

Wednesday,March 28,2001

http://www.nypostonline.com/entertainment/27548.htm

By DON KAPLAN

JOHN Edward, The SCIFI Channel's red-hot psychic who talks to dead people, wants the live people in his studio audience to clam-up.

CULTIVATING THE CIVIC SCIENTIST

BY KATHARINE S. MILLER

Fewer than one-third of all Americans understand the term "DNA." Fewer than 15 percent understand the term "molecule." Only about 50 percent know that humans didn't live at the time of the dinosaurs. - Science & Engineering Indicators 2000, published by the National Science Foundation

To reduce scientific illiteracy, scientists need to write and teach about science whenever and however they can, be connected to the news media and advise policy makers when an important scientific question arises, say two Stanford faculty members.

Michael Riordan, a particle physicist, spoke as part of a Feb. 16 panel called "Cultivating the Civic Scientist" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Microbiologist Lucy Shapiro was scheduled to appear on that panel as well but, at the last minute, was unable to attend. She spoke in a recent interview.

Scientists need to speak out, Shapiro said, because without scientific understanding, people fear things they don't understand, the press legitimizes erroneous pseudoscience and the government promulgates wrongheaded and dangerous public policies.

According to Riordan, "A civic scientist is one who is willing to engage in a dialogue about the nature of science, the future of science and its potential impacts on society. The highest expression of the term 'civic scientist' refers to a scientist who disinterestedly makes his expertise available to further the welfare of the country."

On issues from missile defense to antibiotic resistance and breast cancer policies, the government needs the advice that only scientists can provide. Riordan and Shapiro both fulfill that civic obligation, but also educate the public through their writing and speaking.

"People are hungry to hear this stuff," Shapiro said, referring to the public's appetite for clear explanations of science. "Newspeople consistently underestimate the curiosity of a typical TV audience and their tolerance for learning something." About 15 years ago, Shapiro decided she had to do something about it. "I lecture whenever I can because I'm a clear speaker," Shapiro said. "Not everyone can do it, but those who can should."

Riordan agrees that the popular press isn't capable of covering the more difficult science. That's one reason he has written four popular books, with a fifth on the way. "The more complex stories may have to be written by scientists themselves," he said.

The civic physicist

Riordan was part of the team that discovered the so-called "top" quark at Stanford's Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in the early 1970s. But his career has taken a different path in the last 15 to 20 years: He writes books for the general public about science, the history of science and science policy.

He also gets calls from the press on a regular basis and often is quoted in newspapers and magazines. His own stories for the New York Times and New Scientist and Science magazines have covered such topics as the discovery of neutrinos, the search for the Higgs boson and the need for an American quark-busting machine.

During his career, Riordan has worked closely with a number of people he considers great civic scientists. He points to SLAC's Wolfgang Panofsky and Sidney Drell, whose contributions to nuclear arms control are widely known.

Riordan himself helped formulate the American Physical Society's recently published official position on the technical viability of a national missile defense system, urging the United States not to deploy such a system unless it is proven effective against anticipated countermeasures.

But Riordan says scientists don't have to be bigshots to play important roles in public life. "To become a scientist involved in policy, you must spend time on committees getting to know the policy issues and the policy makers," he said. Federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Science Foundation all need science advisers.

Scientists also play an important role in civic life when they interact with the press. Unfortunately, Riordan said, many scientists are leery of the press. "They see that the press doesn't always get things right and it leaves out complexities and qualifiers scientists feel are necessary to explain their work."

Nevertheless, scientists have to overcome their fears and distrusts and learn to tell the public, through the news media, why it's important to do what they do, he said: "The press is the conduit to a large and influential audience."

The civic biologist

Lucy Shapiro, the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor in the departments of Developmental Biology and Genetics, is a laboratory scientist, first and foremost. But about 15 years ago she decided she could also be a civic scientist. It's hard to do both in early stages of a scientific career, she said. When she was an assistant and then associate professor, she was too busy getting grants, running a lab and starting a family.

"But there comes a time in your career when you can do more," Shapiro said. She could have written a textbook or started a company, but making science accessible to the public was the best fit for Shapiro's strength: public speaking.

"I'm just a run-of-the-mill scientist trying to make people less frightened about technology," she said. "To make intelligent decisions, there's no substitute for real information."

The talks she gives to the public often reach only a few people, but on occasion she speaks to policy makers. At one point, Shapiro was invited to the White House along with several other scientists to speak to President Clinton and his Cabinet about the risks biologically altered pathogens pose to national security and the food supply.

After several hours of scripted presentation, the Cabinet members were getting sleepy. When she stood up to speak, Shapiro went off-script.

"Do you know what genetic engineering is?" she asked.

"Why don't you tell us," Clinton said.

As she spoke, Clinton shooed away aides, who were peeved because Shapiro had made him late for other appointments.

So Shapiro taught the Cabinet members that genetic engineering goes on in nature all the time: Bacteria can pick up genetic material from other bacteria and add it to their own, all without human intervention. In fact, she said, nature added a toxin gene to the E. coli that made killers out of Jack in the Box hamburgers in 1993. And it is nature that encourages the evolution of bacteria into antibiotic-resistant forms. The lesson: We have more to fear from nature than from international terrorists.

During a videotaped talk to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Shapiro delivered the same message. The tape is one of the most commonly requested in the NAS collection.

Before she began speaking to the public, Shapiro "worked very hard to do it right." Early on, she practiced her speeches on her physicist husband, who had to stop her "every two seconds to ask what a word meant." She eventually learned that she need not use complicated lingo to get the information across.

Though her research involves bacteria, Shapiro also speaks about other scientific subjects. A few years ago she decided to address people's fears about breast cancer. She made it her business to learn everything she could about breast cancer, and she started speaking to groups of women about it. "This is what is real," she told the women. "Only 5 percent of breast cancer is inherited."

Katharine S. Miller is a science writing intern with the Stanford News Service.

Skeptic story

From: Charles P. Reeder

{In the same interview, they credited the career-planning methods of Scientology for all their recent successes. These would include "Battlefield Earth," which just last Saturday picked up a record-tying 7 Razzie Awards for the worst in Cinema, including Worst Movie, Worst Actor (Travolta) and Worst Supporting Acrtress (Kelly Preston).}

http://www.imdb.com/PeopleNews/

Kelly Preston: Scientology Stopped My Drug Habit

Celebrity Scientologists John Travolta and Kelly Preston say the controversial cult has changed their lives. In a TV interview with Barbara Walters, Preston revealed that she actually stopped abusing drugs because of Scientology. She says, "I used to take drugs, I'm off drugs completely and never gone back. It does so much to you as an individual. It can help you map out your career step by step." When asked to define the aims of the organization - whose members include Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley - Travolta who was raised a Roman Catholic took a long pause before telling Walters, "All I can tell you is what I observe to be true. It's a group of people who really have the goals and intentions of no war, no criminality and no insanity and that's a broad stroke. The techniques of trying to get there are difference but it doesn't interfere with what you grew up with."

The couple dismissed Walters's comments about the regular controversy that surrounds Scientology by telling her that they never read or listen to rumours, they're too busy "enjoying life and having fun". Preston added, "No one is forced into Scientology. If they see evidence that it works for them, they see it, if they don't they don't."

Sex with me can chase off spirit, noodle girl told

Julie Chu, Hong Kong iMail

at
http://203.80.2.2/inews/public/article_v.cfm?articleid=19382&intcatid=1

I tried this in high school, guys. Didn't work for me.

jb


Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Charles Johnson "Mr. Flat Earth" -Dead

Charles K. Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society since 1972 died several days ago at his home in Lancaster California at the age of 76. Johnson steadfastly insisted that the Earth is flat and those who believe otherwise have been tricked.

Johnson's secretary, Jill Fear says she will try to carry on with the promotion of the view that the world is actually a flat disk floating on primordial waters, and not a big ball spinning through space.

Johnson looked upon scientists with the same regard as witch doctors who are advancing this "round Earth" hoax in order to replace religion with science, and based his own beliefs on Old Testament references to a flat Earth.

In 1984, Mr. Johnson told Newsweek Magazine, "If Earth were a ball spinning in space, there would be no up or down."

He said that people should trust their own eyes; "Reasonable, intelligent people have always recognized that the Earth is flat."

Producing quarterly newsletters, Johnson would have an answer for all doubters. Sunrises and sunsets are an optical illusion. The moon landing was an elaborate hoax, staged in Arizona, and scripted by Arthur C. Clarke. Eclipses are not even worth considering as he told the New York Times in 1979 because "The Bible tells us the heavens are a mystery."

Johnson was frequently interviewed and asked to speak and once did a commercial for Dreyer's Ice Cream.

International Flat Earth Research Society
http://holysmoke.org/hs00/flaterth.htm

Earth Orbits? Moon Landings? A Fraud! Says This Prophet
http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/fe-scidi.htm

Fact : In 1994, a Washington Post poll found that 9% of Americans thought the moon landing was faked.

Source : The New York Times
http://www.newyorktimes.com/

The Moon Landing was a hoax...not!
http://www.redzero.demon.co.uk/moonhoax/

Skeptical Inquirer Electronic Digest, March 27, 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 mcn23@cornell.edu and Barry Karr at .

In this week's edition of SI DIGEST:

--ABCNEWS.COM: Evidence for a Second Kennedy Shooter?
--PBS NEWS HOUR: Foot and Mouth Disease
--NPR SCIENCE FRIDAY: Science & Technology Policy for the Bush Administration
--NY TIMES: Farmers Supporting State Legislation Against GM Crops
--NY TIMES: Chemistry Industry Spin
--PBS BILL MOYERS SPECIAL: Trade Secrets

--ABCNEWS.COM: EVIDENCE FOR A SECOND KENNEDY SHOOTER?

More Evidence of 'Grassy Knoll' Sniper To read the full article, go to

http://abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/DailyNews/grassyknoll010326.html

Government studies have concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But a new acoustical analysis claims there was a second gunman.

--PBS NEWS HOUR: FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE

PBS has an interactive text, real audio, and real video site devoted to the on-going foot and mouth situation.

Go to http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/foot_mouth.html

The site includes:

Livestock Plague
UPDATE: Ireland confirms cases of foot-and-mouth disease. (3/22/01) REALAUDIO: Thousands of animals have been slaughtered in an attempt to contain the disease, reports Independent Television News. (3/15/01)
Two experts discuss what's being done to contain the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. (3/14/01)

What is Foot and Mouth Disease?
Information on foot-and-mouth disease and the recent outbreak.

Outside Web Links
British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food European Commission
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Office International des Epizooties

--NPR SCIENCE FRIDAY: SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

March 23, 2001
TALK OF THE NATION

HOST: IRA FLATOW
To listen to the full program in real audio, go to

http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?PrgDate=03/23/2001&PrgID=5

HOUR ONE: Science and Technology Policy for the Bush Administration
(14.4 | 28.8)

Guests:

Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)
Chairman, Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives
New Hartford, New York

Rita Colwell
Director, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia

Donald Kennedy
Former Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(1977-1979)
President Emeritus and Bing Professor of Environmental Science, Stanford University
Editor-in-Chief, Science, Washington, DC

It's three months into George W. Bush's presidency, and many top science posts remain vacant. The president recently reversed a campaign promise to seek cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, and some science agencies face significant funding cuts under his proposed budget. This hour, we'll take a look at the science and technology policy decisions facing this Administration.

--NY TIMES: FARMERS JOINING STATE EFFORTS TO BAN GM CROPS

By ANDREW POLLACK
FROM SATURDAY'S TIMES

To read the full article, go to
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/24/health/24DAKO.html

North Dakota is weighing a bill that would make it the first state to ban planting of a genetically modified crop, reflecting a surge of concern about such crops in legislatures around the country.

--NY TIMES: CHEMISTRY INDUSTRY SPIN

By JOHN H. CUSHMAN Jr.

To read the full article, go to
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/26/national/26CHEM.html

WASHINGTON, March 25: The year was 1963, the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" had just opened the modern environmental movement, and the chemical industry reckoned it had a public relations emergency on its hands.

--PBS BILL MOYERS SPECIAL: TRADE SECRETS

Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report
Examine the effects that the chemical revolution of the past 50 years has had on the public's health and safety with this companion site to the revealing documentary. Explore issues raised in the report, browse the confidential papers on which this program is based, and hear from representatives of the chemical industry, environmental organizations and public health experts. Plus, learn about the possibly dangerous chemicals we are exposed to every day.

Go to http://pbs.org/tradesecrets/

-------------------------------

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.

To subscribe for free to the SI DIGEST, go to: http://www.csicop.org/list/

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To subscribe at the $18.95 introductory Internet price, go to:
http://www.csicop.org/si/subscribe/

'Noah's Ark beads' on sale in Malaysia

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_255061.html

A Malaysian art gallery owner is selling rosary beads he claims were made with wood from Noah's Ark.

Syed Hussein Al-Junid who is displaying the beads in Johor Baharu gallery is charging 1,500 per strand.

He claims he bought them at a border town in Russia.

According to Malaysian newspaper The Star, he said: "This is a rare item which will attract collectors. I only managed to buy 10 and have already sold a few."

Last updated: 11:55 Monday 26th March 2001

But is it all a con?

COPIED FROM: THE TIMES (LONDON-UK)
THURSDAY MARCH 22 2001

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,7-102789,00.html

reportage
BY BARRY WIGMORE

DURING one of his presentations, Professor Schwartz mocked a professional sceptic, the former magician James Randi. Some years ago Granada Television ran a series, James Randi: Psychic Investigator. Through his Educational Foundation based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Randi has offered $1 million to anyone who can prove scientifically that mediums talk to the dead. After five years, no one has claimed the prize. Randi knows Schwartz and Russek and their work. They visited him a year ago, and he advised them on the sort of tests he considers scientific.Randi was invited to the Celebrate the Living Soul Conference but stayed away, he says, because I knew it was going to be just a bunch of mediums scratching one another's backs.

Is there anyone there?

COPIED FROM: THE TIMES (LONDON - UK)
THURSDAY MARCH 22, 2001

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,7-102790,00.html

reportage
BY BARRY WIGMORE

Two leading scientists say their research shows that mediums really are in touch with the spirit world. Our correspondent tested their theory

See Randi's take on Schwartz at

http://www.randi.org/

Enlisting Science to Find the Fingerprints of a Creator Education: Believers in 'intelligent design' try to redirect evolution disputes along intellectual lines.

By TERESA WATANABE, Times Religion Writer

http://www.latimes.com/news/state/20010325/t000025850.html

BURLINGTON, Wash.--In this rural farming community, a high school biology teacher named Roger DeHart set out to question Darwin's theories of evolution. He never mentioned God.

Them wacky Texicans

From: Dave Palmer

Got back in from Dallas Saturday, spent two fun-filled days sitting through a training course on high-speed digital design. One of the very first things the instructor (name of Howard Johnson, but not of hotel fame) said renewed my skepticism that ultra-long-term spaceflight is feasible, but that's another story.

We were ensconced in a meeting room at the Airport Marriott (whose guest rooms all contain not only a Gideon Bible, but a Book of Mormon AND an inspiring work by the founder of the hotel chain), and a couple hours into the first day, we realized that we weren't gonna have an easy time of it. In the room next door, they cranked up the theme from "Rocky." Loud. REAL loud. Well, that was over soon. But a few hours later, they were back with some yee-haw music, even louder. It was loud in our room, musta been unbearable in the other room. We asked them to keep it down, and they essentially suggested an anatomically improbable sexual act. But they were fairly quiet for the rest of the day.

But the second day, they started up again. "Rocky" again, just in case we'd forgotten. Then, more music, screaming, shouting, weird animal noises...sounded like they were doing an exorcism in there. By this time, we'd begun to find out who they were. They were Choices Seminars International ( http://www.choicesintl.com/home.htm ), apparently one of those pop-psychology self-help things, where you pay them $1000, they tell you you're scum, you cry a lot, admit you're scum, everybody group hugs, and you're cured. No muss, no fuss, and all on schedule.

During breaks, we saw seminar participants walking around with nametags that apparently described the person's particular problem. I saw "Ice Princess," "Just Passing Thru," and "Walking, Breathing Dead." I peeked into their room a few times, and they always seemed to be standing in circles or group-hugging.

When we complained again the second day, they told us that things were actually gonna get WORSE by 4:30, because that's when the schedule called for everybody to be cured, and they were gonna go wild over their new-found lives. There was apparently a major epiphany point in the afternoon, when they blasted Carly Simon's "Haven't Got Time for the Pain." Of course! How simple! Who needs years of professional therapy when you've got cheesy 80's music?

Well, we managed to finish up before then, and I didn't feel like being in the path of "Ice Princess" after she melted, so I cut out to Pappadeaux, a nice little Cajun restaurant run (oddly enough) by a Greek family. Had me a big ole plate a' shrimp etoufee y'all, and some PEEcan sweet patata pah.

Another day, I navigated deep in the heart of Ft Worth to find a barbecue joint that had been recommended. It was wayyyy on the wrong side of the tracks, in a seedy section of town. Fortunately, for barbecue, that's usually where you find the best places. This was a real redneck white-trash kinda joint, with the walls covered with the heads (and various other body parts) of just about every animal you could shoot, hook, or trap. The BBQ plate came with a decent helping of ribs, potato salad AND cole slaw (for those who can't decide), beans, and two slices of white Wonder Bread. Yee haw. It was decent BBQ, not the best I've had, but good. They say that cattle are in the blood of a Texan, but some of the people hanging out at this place...it looked like it was perhaps literally true.

On another note, the Thursday edition of the Dallas Morning News had a technology section that featured a column on hot new techno-toys. One of the items mentioned was "SafeTShield," another one of those cel phone "radiation shields" that fits over the earphone. They have an important-looking webpage at http://www.safetshield.com/ Note the photo of the Actual Scientist With a Beard and Lab Coat, which proves the thing is scientific. Where all these people came up with the idea that most of the EM radiation in a cel phone emanates from the earpiece, I don't know.

The other dubious product was +PlusGuard (so nice, they named it twice...), http://www.theplusguard.com/ This Wonder Gadget claims to detect audio or video bugs...actually, a valid concern in these days of teensy pinhole video cameras and websites dedicated to publishing voyeur pix shot of unsuspecting people. But I'm somewhat skeptical of its accuracy. It seems to just register on any old RF radiation in the neighborhood, and you'd be hard-pressed to find yourself in a spot that isn't bathed in a whole spectrum of frequencies. Indeed, once you start reading the fine print on their web page, you'll find that even they admit that it triggers on cel phones, microwave ovens, and 1001 other common devices. It looks to me like the only way you'd ever actually find a bug with this thing is by sheer luck. AND of course, it only works on wireless bugs.

And as long as I'm kvetching here, just what in tarnation IS IT with Texans and road signs? Are they against state law or something? It seems like you're just expected to KNOW that turning right down this street leads you to the freeway. On my way out, I was halfway to Oklahoma before I realized that there just were NOT gonna be any signs pointing to the airport. Even when I finally stumbled onto the Texas-sized airport grounds, I only found the way to the passenger terminal by sheer luck.

And my one-and-only Oscar comment is: what the ***HELL*** was that thing with Bjork? Was it some sort of satire, or were they serious? Is she like that ALL the time?

Articles of Note for Skeptics

From Ace Compiler Joe Littrell

One in a Trillion
ABC News

http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/DailyNews/spacejunk_survivor_010322.html

"Scientists reckon the odds of being hit by a piece of falling space junk are around one in a trillion. Tulsa resident Lottie Williams was that unlucky one."

Rural myths catch military connection in their net
by John Vidal and Paul Brown
The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,460962,00.html

"Rumours, conspiracy theories, urban myths and allegations about foot and mouth are now spreading through Britain even faster than the disease itself. Most are immediately dismissible, several impossible to check, and at least one is being investigated seriously by the authorities."

SATANISTS MAY ENDANGER RUSSIA'S SECURITY
Pravda

http://english.pravda.ru/main/2001/03/19/3045.html

"According to Russia's secret services, including FSB, there are about 15 Satanist sects in the city of Moscow alone."

Fake Fans, Fake Buzz, Real Bucks
By DANA CALVO
Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com/news/front/20010320/t000024226.html

"The 34-year-old computer whiz in Silver Lake got a phone call from the friend of a friend--the head of publicity for a movie studio. The offer was $10,000 a week for an Internet "project."

Herdsmen warned of media folklore
by VIC ROBERTSON
The Herald

http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/archive/8-3-19101-0-3-43.html

"BROADCAST journalists are causing concern among farmers with repeated warnings that those hit by foot-and-mouth disease may have to wait up to six months before re-stocking."

Mir Crashes; Wreckage on eBay
Wired

http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,42594,00.html?tw=wn20010323

"Either somebody's got really fast footwork, or else P.T. Barnum was right."

FBI To Give Polygraphs to Employees
By GINA HOLLAND
Associated Press

http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010324/pl/fbi_lie_detector_2.html

"About 500 FBI (news - web sites) employees with access to confidential data, from assistant directors to clerks, will begin taking lie-detector tests Monday, a security response to a veteran agent's arrest on espionage charges."

Physicist says those who see UFOs aren't 'wackos' in U. New Mexico speech
By Alma Olaechea
Daily Lobo

http://news.excite.com:80/news/uw/010321/university-education-40

"Nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman told tales of alien abductions, showed slides of flying saucers and complained about blacked out military documents during his presentation, "Flying saucers are Real," on Monday at the University of New Mexico."

Sci-Fi psychic at CSU today
By MARK DAWIDZIAK
CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

http://www.cleveland.com:80/entertainment/index.ssf?/entertainment/pd/e24tv.html

"Executives at the Sci-Fi Channel didn't need a psychic to tell them that John Edward had a future in television. Bonnie Hammer, the cable channel's executive vice president and general manager, had made up her mind after watching Edward, a psychic and medium, in action on a CNN's talk show."

Mir Landing Not Unique Event
By MIRANDA LEITSINGER
Associated Press

http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010323/sc/mir_space_junk_4.html

"The Russian space station Mir's plunge to Earth became a highly watched international phenomenon, but the orbiter is just one of hundreds of manmade objects that fall to Earth every year."

House Sets the Stage for Debate on the Cloning of Humans
By AARON ZITNER
Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com:80/news/nation/20010325/t000025866.html

"The leader of a religious group devoted to UFOs and an American fertility specialist are scheduled to testify before a congressional panel this week about their efforts to clone people, in what is likely to be a step toward legislation banning the practice."

Charles Johnson; Longtime Leader of Flat Earth Society
By MYRNA OLIVER
Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com:80/news/state/20010325/t000025955.html

""We have studied the Earth," he assured anybody who would listen, "and found it flat.""

Maya Landmark on Route 66 Became Haunt of Actors, Ghosts
By CECILIA RASMUSSEN
Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com:80/news/state/20010325/t000025948.html

"During Prohibition, tourists came here to get their kicks on the brand-new Route 66. In the Great Depression, it was a landmark for those seeking the promise of California. In the 1960s and '70s, flower children and druggies flocked here, looking for harmony. Today, the landmark Aztec Hotel is being spruced up and restored to the landmark it once was."

Pokemon is too Jewish, says top Saudi cleric
The Independent (South Africa)

http://www.iol.co.za/html/frame_news.php?click_id=79&art_id=qw985519502191B231&set_id=1

"Saudi Arabia's mufti, the highest religious authority in the conservative Muslim state, has banned the popular children's game of Pokemon for being too much like gambling and suspiciously Jewish, a newspaper reported on Sunday."


Monday, March 26, 2001

Daily Telegraph: That old black magic

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=000631269538671&rtmo=kC7xxqkp&atmo=rrrrrrrq&pg=/et/01/3/26/nwhe26.html

FOR a man who had been cursed by a witch doctor's spell, Charlie Whelan was in remarkably good spirits yesterday.

"I'm enjoying my life and everything is going very well, thank you very much. Maybe he needs a new voodoo doctor," said the former Labour spin doctor of his arch rival, Peter Mandelson, after reports that a friend of the former Northern Ireland Secretary had apparently sought the assistance of a Brazilian wizard to cast a spell on him.