NTS LogoSkeptical News for 19 April 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, April 19, 2001

ET Raped Me!

From IIECA at:


Each year, more and more Americans are being abducted by extraterresterial beings. Most scientists are unwilling, one might even say afraid, to investigate the myriad of documented cases of alien abduction and molestation. We at IIECA encourage you to explore our site and learn more about this [sic] phenomena.


"More than any other species, Homo sapien sapiens are the most likely to be sexually violated by extraterresteial beings...' - Prof. Myron O'Reilly,
Assistant Research Administrator of IIECA

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Demmbski and Scott debate intelligent design.

Listen in RealAudio

Articles of Note

Article compiling services provided by Skeptic Newshound Joe Littrell.

Smugglers Say Virgin Mary Gave Them Cash


"A family nabbed with $1 million in cash stuffed in baggage and babies' diapers told Colombian customs authorities that the money had suddenly appeared along with an apparition of the Virgin Mary."

Popularity of herbal medicine increasing, students skeptical
By Justin Paine
Daily Trojan


"Mention the phrase "herbal remedies" to most University of Southern California students and you'll typically be met with suppressed laughter or a knowing wink."

Veterinarians clash over alternative methods
By Meredith Carey
Columbia News Service


"Dr. Marcie Fallek treats animals with terminally ill diseases. For dogs with cancer, she often uses what she calls a "pure energy" concoction. Pressed to describe the contents, she said it was an extract of mineral, plant or animal -- she would not further describe the content -- that she mixes with water and uses as a coating for sugar tablets. Dogs eat it and their lives are extended by as much as three years, she said."
Can Acupuncture Help High Blood Pressure?


"A new study will examine whether acupuncture might be an effective treatment for high blood pressure."

Mass. General To Study Acupuncture Treatment For High Blood Pressure


"Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the New England Research Institute have received a multimillion dollar cooperative agreement from the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to look at the efficacy of acupuncture in treating high blood pressure. The study, Stop Hypertension with the Acupuncture Research Program (SHARP), is a 180 person pilot study which may convert to a larger Phase III trial if initial results are promising."

Take Five
by Tim Cuprisin
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


"Spooky Art Bell is the king of overnight radio, talking about UFOs and crop circles and anything else that might scare insomniac listeners. Before Bell "retired" from radio twice because of personal problems, his tally of 8.75 million weekly listeners was beaten only by Laura Schlessinger, Rush Limbaugh and Joy Browne, according to Talkers Magazine. But Bell returned to the airwaves a few months back, and he just moved to a new radio home on Milwaukee's radio dial, WISN-AM (1130), where he airs weeknights from midnight to 5 a.m. Between naps, he spoke with Journal Sentinel TV-Radio columnist Tim Cuprisin."

Copycat hoaxes bedevil local schools and police
by Rebecca Ray
Silicon Valley Metro


"A recent spate of hoaxes and other empty threats throughout the state has not spared local schools."

Activist tells Northern Illinois U. about dairy health risks
By Janna Smallwood
Northern Star


"Milk does a body bad. That was the message author and consumer activist Robert Cohen gave in a lecture at Northern Illinois University on Saturday hosted by the Vegetarian Education Group. The presentation was titled, "Milk: Debunking the Myth of the Perfect Food.""

Oh, rats! Another e-mail scare
By Aline McKenzie
Dallas Morning News


"The latest e-mail scare comes with the heading "Not a Joke," and a scary warning to wash your grocery cans or die like a hapless stockroom clerk in Hawaii."

In Radio Feud, a Higher Kind of Superpower Irks Italy
New York Times


"Italians have rarely displayed much faith in institutions, whether the post office, the tax police or health inspectors. Now the country is experiencing an epidemic of mistrust, and its epicenter is in Cesano, a small north Rome suburb where many residents say that radiation from the Vatican's nearby radio transmitters causes cancer."

Family Believes Prayer Helped Son


"The family of a young Taunton boy said that the power of prayer helped the boy recover from a devastating accident."

Religious Images Reported In Brookline Home
Image Of Virgin Mary Seen On Wooden Door


PITTSBURGH, 8:18 a.m. EDT April 13, 2001 -- About 1,500 people flocked to a house in the city's Brookline neighborhood Thursday evening after hearing reports that a vision of the Virgin Mary has appeared inside the home at night.

Straight from the horse's mouth
by Mary Ann Grossmann
St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press


"Colleen Nicholson's communications with animals have led to a book that will comfort anyone who has loved and lost a beloved companion. To those who hire her to contact the animals they care about, she is, quite simply, the cat's meow. All of us who love animals know the poem "The Rainbow Bridge," which tells of that wonderful moment when an animal in paradise is finally joined by the human who loved her."

Dr. Weil: Chemo OK, but other treatments needed


"Chemotherapy remains the best option for treating certain cancers despite its potentially damaging side effects, integrative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil said Thursday."

Debate is shroud's steady companion
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


"Is the Shroud of Turin really the cloth in which Jesus was buried, or is it an astonishingly clever forgery?"

Facts (?) Behind Friday The 13th
by Larry D. Hatfield
San Francisco Chronicle


"Triskaidekaphobia is a powerful thing."

Secret of the Indian rope trick is finally revealed: it's a hoax
By David Brown
The Independent


"The secret of the Indian rope-trick, which has intrigued generations of scientists and magicians, has been uncovered by a Scottish academic after a five-year investigation."

Ghostbusters Probe Phantom Menaces
By Ed Cropley


"Phantom pipers, headless drummers and ghostly hounds have lured visitors to Edinburgh's ancient alleyways for decades, but scientists now believe they could be more than figments of the tourist board's imagination."

St. John's Wort Ineffective on Depression


"The popular herbal supplement St. John's wort is no better than a sugar pill in treating depression, a new study says."

OK, we'll bite: Is cannibalism pitch for real?
by Don Bauder
San Diego Union-Tribune


"What's the difference between Spam and human meat fit for a cannibal?"

St. John's wort's benefits questioned

From MSNBC at:


U.S. study finds popular herb ineffective in treating major depression

April 17 St. John's wort, the popular herbal remedy touted as a natural mood-booster, doesn't benefit people with major depression, researchers said Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 17, 2001

'Rebirthing Therapy' Banned in Colo.

DENVER (AP) With the tearful grandmother of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker by his side, Gov. Bill Owens signed a law Tuesday to outlaw the ``rebirthing therapy'' that resulted in the girl's death last year.

Go to the AP link.

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design on NPR Wed Morning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

The Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio

10:00am est - Evolution vs. Intelligent Design The theory of evolution has been challenged by people who believe for religious reasons that the creatures of the earth were made, not evolved. Today another group is challenging evolutionary science. They say evolution isn't a scientifically sound theory, and propose an intelligent design "force" has been at work. Two experts discuss these theories and their implications. William Dembski, associate research professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (and a CSICOP Fellow)

Join the conversation during The Diane Rehm Show by calling 1-800-433-8850.

For more information:

Homeopathy in the comics


The "New" Creationsim

From Slate at


Monday, April 16, 2001

Soul-searching doctors find life after death

By Jonathan Petre

From the Electronic Telegraph at:

THE first scientific study of "near-death" experiences has found new evidence to suggest that consciousness or the "soul" can continue to exist after the brain has ceased to function.

The findings by two eminent doctors, based on a year-long study of heart attack survivors, could provoke fresh controversy over that most profound of questions: is there life after death?

Reports of "near-death" experiences, in which people close to death have vivid encounters with bright lights and heavenly beings, date back centuries, but the phenomenon has been treated with scepticism by most academics.

The new study concludes, however, that a number of people have almost certainly had these experiences after they were pronounced clinically dead. This would suggest that the mind or consciousness can survive the death of the brain - a conclusion that was hailed by clerics last night as supporting religious faith.

Bishop Stephen Sykes, the professor of theology at Durham University and chairman of the Church of England's Doctrine Commission, said the findings were "absolutely fascinating". He added: "I do not find them surprising, however, as I believe life is much more mysterious than we usually think it is. For theologians, the soul is far more than consciousness or the mind. But these findings challenge the crude idea that when a person's brain dies, that, as far as the person's existence is concerned, is that."

The Bishop of Basingstoke, the Rt Rev Geoffrey Rowell, another commission member, said: "These near-death experiences counter the materialist view that we are nothing more than computers made of meat." Based on interviews with survivors of heart attacks at Southampton General Hospital's cardiac unit, the new study is to be published in the respected medical journal Resuscitation next year.

The study's authors, Dr Peter Fenwick, a consultant neuropsychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Dr Sam Parnia, a clinical research fellow and registrar at Southampton hospital, stress that more research is needed.

Dr Parnia said: "These people were having these experiences when we wouldn't expect them to happen, when the brain shouldn't be able to sustain lucid processes or allow them to form memories that would last. So it might hold an answer to the question of whether mind or consciousness is actually produced by the brain or whether the brain is a kind of intermediary for the mind, which exists independently."

Dr Fenwick said: "If the mind and brain can be independent, then that raises questions about the continuation of consciousness after death. It also raises the question about a spiritual component to humans and about a meaningful universe with a purpose rather than a random universe."

During the study period, 63 cardiac arrest patients survived and were interviewed within a week. Of those, 56 had no recollection of their period of unconsciousness, a result that might have been expected in all cases.

Seven survivors, however, had memories, although only four passed the Grayson scale, the strict medical criteria for assessing near-death experiences.

These four recounted feelings of peace and joy, time speeded up, heightened senses, lost awareness of body, seeing a bright light, entering another world, encountering a mystical being and coming to a "point of no return". Three of them described themselves as non-practising Anglicans while the fourth was a lapsed Roman Catholic.

By examining medical records, the researchers said the contention of many critics that near-death experiences were the result of a collapse of brain functions caused by lack of oxygen were highly unlikely. None of those who underwent the experiences had low levels of oxygen.

Researchers were also able to rule out claims that unusual combinations of drugs were to blame because the resuscitation procedure in the hospital unit was the same in every case.

Dr Parnia, who was trained at the Guys and St Thomas' medical school, University of London, said: "I started off as a sceptic but, having weighed up all the evidence, I now think that there is something going on. Essentially, it comes back to the question of whether the mind or consciousness is produced from the brain. If we can prove that the mind is produced by the brain, I don't think there is anything after we die because essentially we are conscious beings.

"If, on the contrary, the brain is like an intermediary which manifests the mind, like a television will act as an intermediary to manifest waves in the air into a picture or a sound, we can show that the mind is still there after the brain is dead. And that is what I think these near-death experiences indicate."

Christopher French, a reader in psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, said he had not seen the new study but remained sceptical. "Near-death experiences could be pointing towards the soul or the mind leaving the body, but they could just be the brain trying to make sense of what is a very unusual event," he said.

Sunday, April 15, 2001

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Magic study scientists disappear to Las Vegas

Roger Highfield


TWO British scientists are to fly to Las Vegas to investigate magicians' use of psychology. Dr Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire and Peter Lamont of Edinburgh University believe that magicians exploit subtle details of how the brain perceives the world to mount elaborate deceptions. Magicians are notoriously secretive about the methods they use to create illusions but probably do not understand how those methods work, according to the two scientists.

Dr Wiseman, a member of the Magic Circle, and Mr Lamont, a former president of the Magic Circle in Edinburgh, believe that an understanding of academic psychology may help develop new tricks. They have already conducted initial studies of how magicians use psychological techniques to deceive an audience and will now travel to a magic convention in Las Vegas in August to undertake the unique project with some of the world's greatest practitioners of sleight of hand.

The research is being funded with 10,000 from the SciArt charity, a consortium including the Arts Council of England, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and the Wellcome Trust, which enables collaborations between scientists and artists.

The magicians, who include Lance Burton and Max Maven, will be videoed. A specialised eye tracker will then be used to investigate how they manage to distract the attention of their audience with pacing, eye contact and deliberate gestures. Dr Wiseman said: "This is their greatest skill - attention manipulation. Close-up magicians doing coin and card tricks are superb at making us look where they want us to."

They will also study the magicians' talent for lying to investigate if they have better control over the subtle cues that we use to detect deception. Dr Wiseman said that it was once thought that sleight of hand was all about speed of movement. But it turns out that magicians do not rely on the hand being faster than the eye, but on using slower - and less obvious - strategies.

These are related to visual illusions, which occur when there is a breakdown in the rules used by the brain to create a seamless 3D picture of the world from the 2D information received by the eyes. The relationships between attention, awareness and vision have yet to be clarified by scientists. Because we have a less than complete picture of the world at any one time, there is the potential for distortion that can be exploited by magicians.

Magic tricks exploit various effects such as the Poggendorf illusion, when the brain "fills in" between two disconnected lines; or the persistence of vision, when a flash from a coin leaves an after-image on the retina that allows a fraction of a second to make it disappear. Last night, Mr Lamont was unravelling the secret of the Indian rope trick at Edinburgh's International Science Festival. Mr Lamont, 37, from Edinburgh University's Koestler Parapsychology Unit, argues that it is merely a myth.

"The Indian rope trick became one of the most famous of Indian miracles here, but until recently nobody had heard of it in India. It was a legend which the West constructed, perhaps unconsciously, through hoax stories, exaggeration, fake photography and through lots of witnesses who claimed to have seen it."

New evidence casts doubt on global warming

A report from a conservative think tank organization at


Claims are "based on false data," international team of scientists says
by Robert Matthews

Fresh doubt has been cast on evidence for global warming following the discovery that a key method of measuring temperature change has exaggerated the warming rate by almost 40 percent.

Studies of temperature records dating back more than a century have seemed to indicate a rise in global temperature of around 0.5C, with much of it occurring since the late 1970s. This has led many scientists to conclude global warming is under way, with the finger of blame usually pointed at man-made emissions of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide.

Now an international team of scientists, including researchers from the Met Office in Bracknell, Berkshire, United Kingdom, has found serious discrepancies in the temperature measurements, suggesting that the amount of global warming is much less than previously believed.

Measuring water, not air

The concern focuses on the temperature of the atmosphere over the oceans, which cover almost three-quarters of the Earth's surface. While scientists use standard weather station instruments to detect warming on land, they have been forced to rely on the crews of ships to make measurements over the vast ocean regions.

Crews have taken the temperature by dipping buckets into the sea or using water flowing into the engine intakes. Scientists have assumed there is a simple link between the temperature of seawater and that of the air above it.

However, after analyzing years of data from scientific buoys in the Pacific that measure sea and air temperatures simultaneously, the team has found no evidence of a simple link. Instead, the seawater measurements have exaggerated the amount of global warming over the seas, with the real temperature having risen less than half as fast during the 1970s than the standard measurements suggest.

Reporting their findings in the influential journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists say the exact cause of the discrepancy is not known. One possibility is that the atmosphere responded faster than the sea to cooling events such as volcanic eruptions.

A big cut

The findings have major implications for the climate change debate because sea temperature measurements are a key part of global warming calculations. According to the team, replacing the standard seawater data with the appropriate air data produces a big cut in the overall global warming rate during the last 20 years, from around 0.18C per decade to 0.13C.

This suggests that the widely quoted global warming figure used to persuade governments to take action on greenhouse gas emissions exaggerates the true warming rate by almost 40 percent. The team is now calling for climate experts to switch from seawater data to sea-air temperature measurements.

One member of the team, David Parker, of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research at the Met Office, said the discovery of the discrepancy "shows we don't understand everything, and that we need better observations--all branches of science are like that." Yet according to Parker, the new results do not undermine the case for global warming: "It is raising questions about the interpretation of the sea-surface data."

Even so, the findings will be seized on by skeptics as more evidence that scientists have little idea about the current rate of global warming, let alone its future rate. Climate experts are still trying to explain why satellites measuring the temperature of the Earth have detected little sign of global warming, despite taking measurements during supposedly the warmest period on record.

Some researchers suspect the fault may again lie with the ground-based temperature measurements. They say many of the data come from stations surrounded by growing urban sprawl, whose warmth could give a misleading figure. A study of data taken around Vienna, Austria, between 1951 and 1996 found that the air temperature rose by anything from zero to 0.6C, depending on precisely where the measurements were made.

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Scientists study mountain with 'magical healing powers'

From Ananova at

Geologists in Romania claim they've discovered a mountain with almost magical healing powers.

Part of the Bucegi Mountains in central Transylvania can reportedly lower blood pressure and stop the pain from arthritis.

Scientists believe the mountain's power comes from an unusual configuration of magnetic fields.

Research is set to continue in June, but in the meantime tourists have been flocking to the area to enjoy the benefits of the "magic mountain".

Geologist Dumitru Stanica said: "We noticed that even after climbing up the mountains we felt full of energy and our exhaustion disappeared so we realised that something special was happening here."

But doctors have warned that staying in the area too long can produce harmful results.

"We believe that long-term exposure to the rays can cause cancer," said Dr Nicolae Constantinescu, the medical advisor on the project.

1,500 flock to see Virgin Mary at Pittsburgh home

From Ananova at

Around 1,500 people have flocked to a Pittsburgh home where the Virgin Mary has been allegedly appearing at night.

Homeowner Michael Semplice says he first saw the vision in a wooden door on April 10, and that it reappeared the following night along with other religious images.

And Mr Semplice's neighbour Rich Tuchnowski has denied claims that the apparitions are a trick of light.

He said: "If someone's faith is shallow all someone has to do is see this image and they will definitely be closer to God."

The Pittsburgh Channel says visitors to the home includes City Council President Bob O'Connor.

Saturday, April 14, 2001

Articles of Interest

From ace news hound Joe Littrell (with thanks to others)

Conspiracy theory turns to moonshine


Fuelled by a willing media, America's thirst for paranoiac conjecture is reaching new heights of lunacy, according to Julian Borger

The doctor is In(ternet)
by Bev Wake
Ottawa Citizen


"When Ayala Ravek learned she had reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a rare syndrome that causes acute and lasting pain, she turned to the Internet for information."

Fingerprint Evidence Faces Hurdles
Associated Press


"For nearly a century, fingerprints have been superstars in American courtrooms. If an expert said a fingerprint at the crime scene matched yours, you had some explaining to do. Who could doubt a match?"

The Majestic Matrix
by Kelly Zito
San Francisco Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/04/09/BU3732.DTL

"The message light on your phone is blinking." All saint
by Patsy McGarry
Irish Times


"It was in the mid-1980s during yet another winter of disbelief. A popular colleague was losing her mother to cancer. Slowly, and with that merciless inevitability which is its style, it sipped at her mother's existence as though it were a cocktail. Her only comfort through this casual savagery was St Thirhse of Lisieux. She prayed to the saint constantly."

Man Beaten to Death for Sorcery


"An elderly man accused of witchcraft was beaten to death after he claimed to have caused a road accident in southern Tanzania in which 32 people died, police said." Suspected Witch Killed, Linked to Ghastly Road Accident
Tomric News Agency


"A 63-year-old woman, one Sola Jongolo, a resident of Maili Tano village in Mbeya region southern Tanzania, where a fatal accident occurred last Saturday killing about 32 people, has been beaten to death after been suspected of being a witch linked to the accident."

Coca Cola controversy a non-starter
Times of India


"Coca-Cola authorities claim that they have a letter of authority from a senior cleric of Cairo, giving the soft drink giant a clean chit in the controversy over the Coke logo being allegedly anti-Islamic, if seen in the mirror."

Evolutionists Battle Intelligent Design


Evolutionists find themselves arrayed not against creationism, with its roots in the Bible, but against the intelligent design theory: that the Earth must be the work of a cosmic life force.

From the New York Times at

Scientists Claim Yeti DNA Evidence

By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

April 6 British scientists in search of the yeti have found the best evidence yet for the existence of the legendary creature a strand of hair, the DNA of which has proved impossible to identify.

The tall, nocturnal, hairy creature who many say dwells around the forests and mountains of the Himalayas supposedly inhabits the hollow of a cedar tree in the Kingdom of Bhutan, on the eastern side of the Himalayas.

Working on a documentary for Channel 4, the British expedition team found a long black hair on the tree bark after Sonam Dhendup, the King of Bhutan's official yeti hunter for the past 12 years, led them into a forest where locals claimed to have discovered a piece of a mysterious skin.

The results of DNA analysis on the hair follicle have surprised even skeptical researchers. "It's not a human, it's not a bear, nor anything else that we've so far been able to identify," Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford, told New Scientist. In the documentary, one eyewitness a former royal guard called Druk Sherrik described his encounter with the Migyur, as the Buthanese call the yeti. "It was huge. It must have been nine feet tall. The arms were enormous and hairy. The face was red with a nose like a chimpanzee." In the past, traces of hair and footprints believed to be from the yeti were in fact from bears, langur monkeys, himalayan goats and pigs. But the British finding raise the possibility that the sample belongs to an unknown species.

"We have never encountered any DNA that we couldn't recognize before," said Sykes, a pioneer of DNA identification as the first genetist to extract DNA from archaeological bone specimens.

Inside the cedar tree, Rob McCall, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Oxford, found scratch marks resembling claw. Nearby, he saw odd footprints just a couple of hours old. They showed a short print with a narrow heel and toe pads.

"Yeti was an official protected species in the Kingdom of Nepal until the mid late 1950's, so someone obviously believes in them," says Lama Surya Das, one of the foremost American Lamas in the Buddhist tradition and author of Wisdom Tales from Tibet.

"I've also seen scalps at monasteries high in the Himalayas, but I think they belonged to species of Himalayan red bear. I personally believe that the Yeti, like the Native American's legendary Susquatch (Bigfoot) are mostly figments of the imagination."


Robert L. Park
Friday, 13 Apr 01
Washington, DC

We conclude from a story in the Indianapolis Star last Sunday that the Army and the Navy are capable of spotting any soft spots in missile defense proposals. At a Heritage Foundation conference in Colorado Springs, the Army expert began by listing all the shortcomings of a proposed sea-based system using the Navy's Aegis cruisers: Aegis radars don't work in space; the missiles used by the Navy are too slow; the Navy will not dedicate enough missiles to have a shield 365 days a year; they couldn't deploy the system before 2010; and besides, it would cost too much. The analysis seemed to be right on -- but then it was the Navy guy's turn. Hold on, the Navy expert said, no system is perfect. The army's land-based missile defense is not multilayered. "A sea- based plan would enable shots at the missiles while they're still in the boost phase as well as mid course." And Aegis cruisers could be moved anywhere in the world where it might be "raining" missiles--assuming, I suppose, they could get there in time. The final word came from Gregg Canavan of Los Alamos: "the biggest threat to NMD is probably us." WN concludes that both the Army and the Navy are right, when talking about each other's plans.

As WN noted (WN 23 Mar 01), Vatican Radio, which broadcasts papal speeches in 40 languages, is under fire from environmentalists, who insist its high-powered transmissions contribute to a cancer cluster around the tower. To appease its critics, who are close to having the station shut down under Italy's radiation laws, VR has offered to cut the time devoted to broadcasting papal speeches in half. But it's not clear whether VR would do this by cutting the number of speeches or the number of translations.

This still won't end the debate, but the new results, released on Wednesday, report strong evidence that the oceans are warming, and human activity is a major cause. In both studies, published this week in Science, groups from the National Oceanographic Data Center and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found a direct connection between emissions of greenhouse gases and warming of the oceans. One of the study leaders commented that, "the signal is so bold and big that you don't have do any fancy statistics to beat it out of the data." At least, the models used to predict future warming succeeded in getting past ocean warming right, over a 50 year period. Not many studies have passed such a test. The new results come only weeks after the controversial decision by President Bush to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto accord.

THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY (Note: Opinions are the author's, and are not necessarily shared by the APS, but they should be.)

Mini-AIR Review

Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2001 11:26:34 -0400 (EDT)
From: Marc Abrahams
Subject: mini-AIR April 2001 - Science of G. Bush, Egghead Bimbos, etc.
Sender: mini-air@chem.harvard.edu
To: Multiple recipients of list MINI-AIR

mini-Annals of Improbable Research ("mini-AIR")
Issue Number 2001-04
April, 2001
ISSN 1076-500X
Key words: improbable research, science humor, Ig Nobel, AIR, the
A free newsletter of tidbits too tiny to fit in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), the journal of inflated research and personalities


2001-04-01 Table of Contents
2001-04-02 What's New in the Magazine
2001-04-03 Delightful Death Challenge
2001-04-04 The Science of G. Bush
2001-04-05 Celebrity Nutritionist Research
2001-04-06 McGurk Aftershock
2001-04-07 Finger-Pointing: Hans Brinker Mixup
2001-04-08 Math Awareness Muddle
2001-04-09 Moniker Reversal (1) -- M.M.M. Mystery
2001-04-10 Moniker Reversal (2) -- S. Shalaby
2001-04-11 Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club Expands
2001-04-12 AIR VENTS: Softness and Persistence
2001-04-13 Egghead Intellectual Bimbos
2001-04-14 Last Month's Coded Message
2001-04-15 Cavalcade of HotAIR: Egg, Usher, Etcetera
2001-04-16 Project AIRhead 2000 Verdict
2001-04-17 Prohibitive Parks
2001-04-18 RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Well-Heeled Medicos
2001-04-19 MAY WE RECOMMEND: Steps, Salutes, Torture, Lines
2001-04-20 AIRhead Events
2001-04-21 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)
2001-04-22 Our Address (*)
2001-04-23 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)
2001-04-24 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

Items marked (*) are reprinted in every issue.

mini-AIR is a free monthly *e-supplement* to AIR, the print magazine

2001-04-02 What's New in the Magazine

AIR 7:2 (Mar/Apr 2001) is a special YAVIS ("Young, Attractive, Verbal, Intelligent, and Successful") Psychology issue. Here are some of its articles in addition to those listed here last month:

The lead article, "It's Good to Be a YAVIS," can be read at

..and much, much more.

See the cover and full table of contents at

(What you are reading at this moment is mini-AIR, a monthly e-mail small supplement to the print magazine.)

2001-04-03 Delightful Death Challenge

You (and we) have been issued a delicious challenge. Investigator Samantha-Yvette Sandoval writes:

"I challenge your readers to top this. It's a medical report,

"Fatal Hot Coffee Scald of the Larynx. Case Report," P.F. Mellen, M.F. Golle, and J.E. Smialek, American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, vol. 16, no. 2, June 1995, pp. 117-9.
"The case took place in Baltimore in the US. I challenge your readers to come up with medical reports of fatalities caused by supposedly relaxing beverages or snack foods. Or, for that matter, by heath foods."

We hope, dear readers, that you will rise to the challenge.

2001-04-04 The Science of G. Bush

As a service for our readers and for the general public, the Annals of Improbable Research is now maintaining a list of scientific research reports authored or co-authored by G. Bush. It is located at

2001-04-05 Celebrity Nutritionist Research

What is the nature of celebrity nutritionism? Investigator T.C. Anathema writes:

"I am intrigued by the adventures of celebrity nutritionist Don Lemon, his attractive wife Nadia Alterio-Lemmon, and their mutual friend and fitness celebrity Michelle Ralabate, as described in their correspondence to you, which you have kindly published on your web site. As a consequence, I find myself pondering some basic questions.

"(1) What, exactly, is a celebrity nutritionist? Is it a nutritionist who is a celebrity? Is it someone who studies celebrity nutrition, whatever that is? Is someone who counsels celebrities about nutrition? (2) Do celebrities have different nutritional needs and characteristics than non-celebrities? I intend to study these matters."

We will keep you apprised of Investigator Anathema's progress, if any, on these questions.

2001-04-06 McGurk Aftershock

Last month's report about recent Seattle earthquake caused one reader to vibrate. Investigator Rita McGurk takes affront at Angela Close's claim that "I was in the middle of a lecture to 200+ students when it struck. I realised something was going on when they began to dive under the desks - this is unusual behaviour even for Archaeology 105."

McGurk squawks that:
"So now I am expected to believe that there are actually 200+ students in Seattle who wish to study archaeology? I find it even harder to believe that there are 200+ students at University of Washington who can even spell it. But perhaps that's the midterm. Now the diving under the desks part, that I can believe."

2001-04-07 Finger-Pointing: Hans Brinker Mixup

Hans Brinker scholars flooded our switchboard with e-vitriol concerning the article "On the Anatomy of Hans Brinker," by Cindy van den Boom, Matthew de Roode, and Alex Sieval, which appears in the March/April issue of the magazine. The article presents forensic evidence that Hans Brinker had a hypertrophied index finger, with which he was able to plug a hole in a dike and save Holland. Typical is this quibble from investigator Jim Shields:

"I regret to tell you that Hans Brinker has no connection with plugging the leaky dike, but is associated with the Silver Skates."

2001-04-08 Math Awareness Muddle

April is said to be Math Awareness Month. Thank you to everyone who took part in our Math Awareness Survey, which asked

Are you aware of math? [YES/NO]
The results are now in:
Eighty-four percent (48%) of respondents say they are aware of math.
Further details, or at least copious comments, can be ingested at

2001-04-09 Moniker Reversal (1) -- M.M.M. Mystery

Questions, questions, questions have come in concerning last month's entry in our growing collection of names that are especially susceptible to moniker reversal, Professor Makhlouf M. Makhlouf http://me.wpi.edu/Makhlouf.htm. All of them were essentially the same question, posed here by investigator Rick Godin:

"What does the M. in Professor Makhlouf M. Makhlouf's name represent? "

We do not know. But perhaps some enterprising researcher will tackle this problem.

2001-04-10 Moniker Reversal (2) -- S. Shalaby

This month's new moniker reversal scientist-celebrity was submitted by investigator David L. Elliott, who wrote:

"As to reversible names-- the best known such scientist probably is polymer chemist Dr. Shalaby W. Shalaby, sometime Sigma Xi officer who worked at... Johnson and Johnson. A web search will turn up many hits for his books, company (PolyMed) and research.
For example:

2001-04-11 Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club Expands

Like the luxuriant, flowing hair of its members, the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists is growing nicely. New member Riccardo DeSalvo of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) Project typifies the enthusiasm of the new crop of members:

"My hair has a large dynamic range."
Admire for yourself DeSalvo and the other new members, all of whom are listed on the club's web site:

2001-04-12 AIR VENTS: Softness and Persistence

Here are some recent effusions from readers:

"Your new feature 'Soft is Hard,' which "presents evidence why the "soft" sciences are the hardest to do well" got me thinking. Social Science... Political Science... My friend has a saying: 'Any field of study that uses the word "science" in its own description isn't science.'"
--Robert J. Bendesky

"I have now submitted thirty-seven different articles for publication in the Annals of Improbable Research. You have seen fit to reject all of them. Don't think that this will discourage me. I can be unbelievably persistent."
--Todd Cannella, M.D.

2001-04-13 Egghead Intellectual Bimbos

We have received a complaint alleging the involvement of "egghead intellectual bimbos" with AIR and with the Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies. The accusation confuses and delights us. We would be mildly interested to hear from anyone who can shed light on the matter.

2001-04-14 Last Month's Coded Message

There was an error in last month's unbreakably coded message. It was incorrectly given as:

Xvpoa a rekrek fd h dofihoah ohohoiahs sadjas
asjsdafjkafjasfkjfsajsadfljsdfjsadfj rekrek
afjksdfjkaf af rekrek jjsauj pdjngjojaohj.
It should have been:
77777 7 777777 77 7 77777777 777777777 777777
777777777777777777777777777777777777 777777
77777777777 77 777777 777777 7777777777777,
We apologize for any frustration this may have caused.

2001-04-15 Cavalcade of HotAIR: Egg, Usher, Etcetera

Here are concise, incomplete, flighty mentions of some of the features we've posted on HotAIR since last month's mini-AIR came out. You can get to all of them by clicking on "WHAT'S NEW" at the web site, or by going to:



YOU GO GIRL -- a research project that invites your participation

HOW TO DATE: Some recipes for scientists who yearn to date.


AN AIR QUASI-CLASSIC -- Cogno-Intellectualism, Rhetorical Logic, and the Craske-Trump Theorem (from AIR 6:5)




2001-04-16 Project AIRhead 2000 Verdict

Opinions were plentiful and strong about the future of Project AIRhead 2000, our immense collection of items that inexplicably include "2000" in their names. The vast majority wish the project to take a vacation, perhaps a 2000-year vacation. However, nearly six people desire otherwise. Here is a sampling of their opinions:

"Project AIRhead 2000 should not be halted, simply because the item submitted by myself (relatively long ago, on POLLENA 2000 washing powder) has not yet been published. Therefore, it should be continued at least until this item has appeared in mini-AIR."
--Zdzislav Szczerbinski

"Sirio 2000 is a brand of oranges made by 'ditta Salvatore Brancato' from Palagonia, Sicily. Phone ++39 095 7952564. This of course is also a vote in the Project AIRead 2000 Opinion poll: a strong YES!"
--Alberto Notarbartolo

"No! Project Airhead 2000 should *not* be halted! The poignancy of the items only increases as the year 2000 recedes further into the past! Please note! My views on this are strong! You can tell from the punctuation!"
--Roy Freborg

The vote is thus deemed to be a tie. Hereafter be not surprised if, from time to time, a 2000 item or two appears in this space...

2001-04-17 Prohibitive Parks

Nay-saying municipalities have launched themselves (with some help form mini-AIR readers) heartily into the Park Prohibitions Contest that was announced here last month. The competition asks:

In all the world, which public park
has the longest list of prohibitions?
Some of the best early entries are posted at

2001-04-18 RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Well-Heeled Medicos

Each month we select for your special attention a research report that seems especially worth a close read. This month's selection:

"A History of Medical Scientists on High Heels," M. Linder and C.L. Saltzman, International Journal of Health Services, vol. 28, no. 2, 1998, pp. 201-25. (Thanks to Julia Yamashita for bringing this to our attention.)

2001-04-19 MAY WE RECOMMEND: Steps, Salutes, Torture, Lines

Here is a further selection of items that merit a trip to the library.

"Strategies for the Avoidance of Faeces by Grazing Sheep," Jane Cooper, Iain J. Gordon, and Alan W. Pike, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 69, no. 1, August 1,2000, pp. 15-33. (Thanks to Wang Zhong for bringing this to our attention.) The authors are at Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, and at the University of Aberdeen.

"Is Military Incompetence Adaptive?" Richard Wrangham, Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 20, no. 1, 1999, pp. 3-18. (Thanks to Talia Durban for bringing this to our attention.)

"Control and Attention During Exposure Influence Arousal and Fear Among Insect Phobics," F.D. McGlynn, M.P. Rose, and A. Lazarte, Behavior Modification, vol. 18, no. 4, October 1994. Pp. 371-88. The authors, who are at Auburn University, describe their work:

Heart beats, skin conductance, and subjective fear levels were recorded among eight pairs of DSM-III-R spider-phobic subjects (Experiment 1) and among eight pairs of DSM-III-R cockroach-phobic subjects (Experiment 2) who were exposed simultaneously to an approaching specimen during eight 4-minute trials.
"Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books," H.J. Jackson, 2001, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Thanks to T.L. Bose for bringing this to our attention.)

For additional, quite extensive lists of citations, subscribe to the magazine.

2001-04-20 AIRhead Events


1:30 pm. For NSF staff and guests.

INFO: Mary Hanson/Kate Hofherr 703-292-8070

Midnight. AIR editor MARC ABRAHAMS will be the guest.

Society of Applied Spectroscopy and the American Chemical Society special joint event. AIR editor MARC ABRAHAMS will describe and demonstrate the latest findings in improbable research and the Ig Nobel Prizes. Details TBA.
INFO: Gary Ritchie

Sanders Theatre, Harvard University



2001-04-21 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)

Here's how to subscribe to the magnificent bi-monthly print journal The Annals of Improbable Research (the real thing, not just the little bits of overflow material you have been reading here in mini-AIR).
City and State:
Zip or postal code:
Phone: FAX: E-mail:
SUBSCRIPTIONS (6 issues per year):
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BACK ISSUES are available, too:
First issue: $8 USA, $11 Canada/Mex, $16 overseas Add'l issues
purchased at same time: $6 each
Send payment (US bank check, or international money order, or
Visa, Mastercard or Discover info) to:

Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
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2001-04-22 Our Address (*)

Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927

EDITORIAL: marca@chem2.harvard.edu
WEB SITE: http://www.improbable.com

2001-04-23 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)

Please distribute copies of mini-AIR (or excerpts!) wherever appropriate. The only limitations are: A) Please indicate that the material comes from mini-AIR. B) You may NOT distribute mini-AIR for commercial purposes.

------------- mini-AIRheads -------------
EDITOR: Marc Abrahams ()
MINI-PROOFREADER AND PICKER OF NITS (before we introduce the last few at the last moment): Wendy Mattson
COMMUTATIVE EDITOR: Stanley Eigen (eigen@neu.edu)
CO-CONSPIRATORS: Gary Dryfoos, Ernest Ersatz, Craig Haggart, Nicki Rohloff
AUTHORITY FIGURES: Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, Sheldon Glashow, William Lipscomb, Richard Roberts

(c) copyright 2001, Annals of Improbable Research

2001-04-24 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

What you are reading right now is mini-AIR. Mini-AIR is a (free!) tiny monthly supplement to the bi-monthly print magazine. To subscribe, send a brief E-mail message to:

The body of your message should contain ONLY the words
(You may substitute your own name for that of Madame Curie.)

Who Haunts These Castle Walls?

From Wired.com today


If you're going to search for ghosts, it's probably best to do it where the ghosts are. That's why a psychology professor chose the International Science Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, as his stage for the "world's most comprehensive scientific investigation" for ghosts.

And the soul-searching, they say, is not for the faint-hearted.

Homeopathy newsletter from Jacques Benveniste

DigiBio - NewsLetter 2001.2

Our main latest news:

1. How to get trapped in one's own trap


The British daily 'The Guardian' recounts the work of a team of European researchers who, wishing to prove once and for all that JB was wrong, finally found the same effects of high dilutions as he did. (See: http://www.digibio.com/cgi-bin/node.pl?nd=n9)

2. The video of our "coagulation" experiment

This video is available from our site. It shows the sequence of an automated experiment on the inhibition by digital heparin of plasma coagulation.

(View or download it from http://www.digibio.com/cgi-bin/node.pl?nd=n8)

Main changes on our web site

Besides the Guardian article and the video, we have added a report on all the biological systems we have used since the beginning of the story.

(See http://www.digibio.com/cgi-bin/node.pl?nd=n7)

Yours truly,

J. Benveniste
D. Guillonnet

**The past newsletters are available at

Friday, April 13, 2001


Posted on the Skeptics List

Filer's Files #15 -- 2000, MUFON Skywatch Investigations
George A. Filer, Director, Mutual UFO Network Eastern
April 10, 2001, Sponsored by Electronic Arts;
Webmaster Chuck Warren http://www.filersfiles.com

Zecharia Sitchin writes, "In whose image was The Adam - the prototype of modern humans, Homo sapiens - created?" The Bible asserts that the Elohim said: "Let us fashion Adam in our image and after our likeness." But if one is to accept a tentative explanation for enigmatic genes that humans possess, offered when the deciphering of the human genome was announced in mid-February, the feat was decided upon by a group of bacteria! "Humbling" was the prevalent adjective used by the scientific teams and the media to describe the principal finding -- that the human genome contains not the anticipated 100,000 - 140,000 genes (the stretches of DNA that direct the production of amino-acids and proteins) but only some 30,000+ -- little more than double the 13,601 genes of a fruit fly and barely fifty percent more than the roundworm's 19,098. What a comedown from the pinnacle of the genomic Tree of Life! Moreover, there was hardly any uniqueness to the human genes. They are comparative to 99 percent of the chimpanzees, and 70 percent of the mouse. Human genes, with the same functions, were found to be identical to genes of other vertebrates, as well as invertebrates, plants, fungi, even yeast. The findings not only confirmed that there was one source of DNA for all life on Earth, but also enabled the scientists to trace the evolutionary process -- how more complex organisms evolved, genetically, from simpler ones, adopting at each stage the genes of a lower life form to create a more complex higher life form -- culminating with Homo sapiens. The "Head-scratching" Discovery It was here, in tracing the vertical evolutionary record contained in the human and the other analyzed genomes, that the scientists ran into an enigma.

The "head-scratching discovery by the public consortium," as Science termed it, was that the human genome contains 223 genes that do not have the required predecessors on the genomic evolutionary tree. How did Man acquire such a bunch of enigmatic genes? In the evolutionary progression from bacteria to invertebrates (such as the lineages of yeast, worms, flies or mustard weed -- which have been deciphered) to vertebrates (mice, chimpanzees) and finally modern humans, these 223 genes are completely missing in the invertebrate phase. Therefore, the scientists can explain their presence in the human genome by a "rather recent" (in evolutionary time scales) "probable horizontal transfer from bacteria." In other words: At a relatively recent time as Evolution goes, modern humans acquired an extra 223 genes not through gradual evolution, not vertically on the Tree of Life, but horizontally, as a sideways insertion of genetic material from bacteria... An Immense Difference Now, at first glance it would seem that 223 genes is no big deal. In fact, while every single gene makes a great difference to every individual, 223 genes make an immense difference to a species such as ours. The human genome is made up of about three billion neucleotides (the "letters" A-C-G-T which stand for the initials of the four nucleic acids that spell out all life on Earth); of them, just a little more than one percent are grouped into functioning genes (each gene consists of thousands of "letters").

The difference between one individual person and another amounts to about one "letter" in a thousand in the DNA "alphabet." The difference between Man and Chimpanzee is less than one percent as genes go; and one percent of 30,000 genes is 300. So, 223 genes is more than two-thirds of the difference between me, you and a chimpanzee! An analysis of the functions of these genes through the proteins that they spell out, conducted by the Public Consortium team and published in the journal Nature, shows that they include not only proteins involved in important physiological but also psychiatric functions. Moreover, they are responsible for important neurological enzymes that stem only from the mitochondrial portion of the DNA - the so-called "Eve" DNA that humankind inherited only through the mother-line, all the way back to a single "Eve." That finding alone raises doubt regarding that the "bacterial insertion" explanation.

Zecharia Sitchin states, "The Role of the Anunnaki Readers of my books must be smiling by now, for they know the answer." They know that the biblical verses dealing with the fashioning of The Adam are condensed renderings of much much more detailed Sumerian and Akkadian texts, found inscribed on clay tablets, in which the role of the Elohim in "Genesis" is performed by the Anunnaki - "Those Who From Heaven to Earth Came." As detailed in my books, beginning with The 12th Planet (1976) and even more so in Genesis Revisited and The Cosmic Code, the Anunnaki came to Earth some 450,000 years ago from the planet Nibiru - a member of our own solar system whose great orbit brings it to our part of the heavens once every 3,600 years. They came here in need of gold, with which to protect their dwindling atmosphere. Exhausted and in need of help in mining the gold, their chief scientist Enki suggested that they use their genetic knowledge to create the needed Primitive Workers. When the other leaders of the Anunnaki asked: How can you create a new being? He answered: "The being that we need already exists; all that we have to do is put our mark on it." The time was some 300,000 years ago. What he had in mind was to upgrade genetically the existing hominids, who were already on Earth through Evolution, by adding some of the genes of the more advanced Anunnaki. That the Anunnaki, who could already travel in space 450,000 years ago, possessed the genomic science (whose threshold we have now reached) is clear not only from the actual texts but also from numerous depictions in which the double-helix of the DNA is rendered as Entwined Serpents and often depicted in Sumarian drawings (a symbol still used for medicine and healing)

When the leaders of the Anunnaki approved the project (as echoed in the biblical "Let us fashion the Adam"), Enki with the help of Ninharsag, the Chief Medical Officer of the Anunnaki, embarked on a process of genetic engineering, by adding and combining genes of the Anunnaki with those of the already-existing hominids. When, after much trial and error breathtakingly described and recorded in antiquity, a "perfect model" was attained, Ninharsag held him up and shouted: "My hands have made it!" An ancient artist depicted the scene on a cylinder sea. And that, I suggest, is how we had come to possess the unique extra genes. It was in the image of the Anunnaki, not of bacteria, that Adam and Eve were fashioned. A Matter of Extreme Significance Unless further scientific research can establish, beyond any doubt, that the only possible source of the extra genes are indeed bacteria, and unless it is then also determined that the infection ("horizontal transfer") went from bacteria to Man and not from Man to bacteria, the only other available solution will be that offered by the Sumerian texts millennia ago. Until then, the enigmatic 223 alien genes will remain as an alternative - and as a corroboration by modern science of the Anunnaki and their genetic feats on Earth. Thanks to ZECHARIA SITCHIN (c) Z.
Sitchin Reprinted with permission.