NTS LogoSkeptical News for 7 May 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, May 07, 2001

Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr

From Skeptic Newshound Joe Littrell

Evolution one of the most controversial topics in the Bible Belt
By Sarah Cavanah
Oklahoma Daily


"You wouldn't think teaching Introduction to Botany would be a controversial job."

Harvard med school to study alternative medicine
By Jonathan H. Esensten
Harvard Crimson


"The study of herbs and non-traditional therapies such as acupuncture got a shot in the arm Monday as Harvard Medical School (HMS) announced a $10-million gift to study non-traditional medicine."

Massage may effectively treat chronic lower back pain
Washington Post


"THE STUDY AND RESULTS Researchers in Massachusetts and Washington investigated the effectiveness of two alternative medicine therapies for treating chronic lower back pain. They randomly assigned 262 patients into three groups, whose members received traditional Chinese medical acupuncture, therapeutic massage or self-care educational materials that included exercise books and videos."

Why Your Pharmacist Wants to Know About Your Herbs
Washington Post


"If you take herbal medicines and prescription drugs, your pharmacist has some questions for you."

Much 'bark' about nothing
By T. Lalith Singh
The Hindu


"It survived the vagaries of nature for nearly five centuries. But it could face a bleak future as human superstition is out to chip away its very existence. The massive tree in the Naya Quila area of Golconda fort, popularly known as `Hathiyon ka jhad (Tree of elephants)', these days is fast turning out to be an ill-conceived destination for people in search of `good health', `strength' and `virility.' Kicking up more `excitement' than its shade!"

Programs: The real virus threat
By Gene Emery


"Dear Anti-Virus Software Companies: You've spent years protecting us from computer viruses that pose serious threats, which, fortunately, most of us never see. Now it's time to start protecting us from a serious virus problem computer owners confront all the time -- virus hoaxes."

Conservative vs Orthodox: Did Exodus happen?
By Melissa Radler
Jerusalem Post


"Did Moses really lead the children of Israel out of slavery from Egypt? More than 3,300 years after the Bible says the Exodus occurred, rabbis in Los Angeles are battling it out in the pages of the local press over what, if anything, happened to the Jews in the land of the Pharaohs."

Show me the mummy!
By Chris Colin


"Nothing really changed for Bob Brier when he pulled the brain out through the dead man's nose. The brain, as it happened, had proven too viscous, so Brier, a logical sort, stuck his metal hook up the corpse's nose and stirred the brain into a consistency that would easily exit the head. Sure enough, when he rolled the body over, out poured the brains. It ain't gruesome, it's anatomy, Brier says."

Geller pitches in for stadium roof
BBC News


"Paranormal expert Uri Geller has attempted to save the FA Cup Final in a mind-bending experiment."

McVeigh factor destroys militias
by Mark Shaffer
Arizona Republic


"Eric Frizzell fondly remembers the heady days of the Yavapai Militia."

Putting the fun back into fundamentalism
Irish Times


"Are you tired of people's gods fighting with each other? Do you get fed up with the repetitive sermons at your place of worship? And do you believe - truly believe - you could do a better job of running the universe? If so, you too can join the multitude of online alternative religions, evangelists and self-styled gods and goddesses."

Police, experts deny that Dumka doctor stole kidney
Times of India News Service


"Medical experts here find no truth in the rumours that Dr B Hansda, who runs a small nursing home in Dumka, has removed the kidney of a patient." Masked man or monkey, it's a menace
By Parmindar Singh
Times of India News Service


"Some say the assaults are by a monkey, others believe a masked man is responsible. But whatever it is, it has spread panic in Ghaziabad."

U.S. TV networks stalk region for monster cat
by Jennifer Campbell
Ottawa Citizen


"Chalk River showed up last week on the radar of several American television networks."

'Cloud Coaxer' Had a Stormy Career in Parched Deserts
Los Angeles Times


"A starchy Quaker sewing machine salesman who billed himself as a "Moisture Accelerator" owns a unique place in Southern California history, somewhere between meteorology and jurisprudence."


By now most of you will have read or heard about the Louisiana leptons who on May 4 voted 9-5 (in the House Education Committee) that Darwin's evil doctrine of evolution has led to racist ideologies. To wit, Louisiana state Rep. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, who sponsored the resolution said it would "shine a light on the history of racism." "Be it resolved that the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby deplore all instances and ideologies of racism, and does hereby reject the core concepts of Darwinist ideology that certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others." Broome told the Baton Rouge Advocate that Darwin "teaches that some humans have evolved further than others" and that Darwin "holds that people of color are 'savages'" and in so doing he has "provided the main rationale for modern racism." It will soon go before the full House.

I will write a more formal response for Scientific American and Skeptic, but let me make a few quick off-the-cuff observations and demonstrate how it is creationism that is the basis of racist ideology, not the theory of evolution:

1. Darwin as a person was light-years ahead of most of his colleagues in his anti-racist and anti-slavery sentiments, particularly hardened in his travels in South America where he witness many abuses that sickened him. (Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of Natural Selection, was also ahead of his time in championing women's suffrage and the rights of the poor and marginalized in society). Darwin deplored the mistreatment of other groups, made all the more remarkable considering his privileged status as a landed aristocrat. So it is ironic that the theory is being labeled as racist when the two founders of the theory were exceptional for their anti-racist stances.

2. Even if the theory of evolution could be directly linked to racist ideologies, we could not tag Darwin with the label, since the creator of a theory and the theory itself are two different entities.

3. Blaming Darwin and the theory of evolution for racism and racist ideologies is a little like blaming Gutenberg for creating the machine that would eventually print Mein Kampf. The creator of something cannot be held responsible for how others use that creation. Of course, social Darwinism was used to justify all sorts of political ideologies, ranging from pure free-market capitalism to socialism and even communism. So clearly the theory itself is value-neutral.

4. More specifically, did the Nazis use Darwinian evolution to justify their ideologies? Yes and no. This is a very complex story. I wrote a paper in graduate school on this (never published) in which I tried to make a solid connection between 19th-century social Darwinism and Hitler, but, frankly, it's a bit of a reach even when you try mightly to find one (as graduate students are wont to do when trying to impress their professors). Actually Darwin isn't even in the story. You have to begin with Ernst Haeckle and follow his philosophy of monism and its various mutations in the early 20th century, some strands of which were picked up by some Nazis, where a tiny bit might have trickled down to AH himself, but more strongly to Himmler and his cronies in the SS. In my book Denying History I have a whole chapter on this (where I finally found a home for some of the research in my originally unpublished paper) in connection to the Wannsee Conference protocols in which one finds the following passages:

"Under appropriate direction the Jews are to be utilized for work in the East in an expedient manner in the course of the final solution. In large (labor) columns, with the sexes separated, Jews capable of work will be moved into these areas as they build roads, during which a large proportion will no doubt drop out through natural reduction. The remnant that eventually remains will require suitable treatment; because it will without doubt represent the most resistant part, it consists of a natural selection [naturliche Auslese] that could, on its release, become the germ-cell of a new Jewish revival. (Witness the experience of history.)"

What's going on here is that the Nazis were making every use they could of their slave labor, and having them die out due to overwork, starvation, and disease was fine, but it was not enough to achieve a final solution. By January 20, 1942, when 15 high-ranking Nazi leaders met at a beautiful home owned by Reinhard Heydrich overlooking a lake in the suburbs of Berlin (located at 56-58 Am Grossen Wannsee--you can still go there and take a tour of the place, which is now a museum), it was clear that the final solution could not be achieved through these means and that "another solution" had to be implemented. Why? Because if even a small "remnant" remains there could be a "natural selection" that would lead to a "Jewish revival." In other words, every last one had to be exterminated.

Now, this is not a direct link to Darwin or the theory of evolution, but it is a clear use of the concepts of selection and extinction. But as I pointed out, you can read equally potent misuses of evolutionary theory among capitalists and socialists of the early 20th century (and even still today).

5. Most importantly, and ironically, the theory of evolution is ANTI-racist, and the creationist doctrine that it replaced is a far superior system for creating an intellectual basis for racism. The creationist model is based on the Platonic essentialism that said all things are created as particular "kinds" that cannot be changed. Of course, all pre-Darwinian naturalists recognized that species varied, and they even recognized that there were mechanisms in nature that curbed varieties and kept them from varying too far from their original "essence." It was Darwin's and Wallace's particular genius to stand this system on its head and show that this mechanism, instead of winnowing away the extreme edges of a species' varieties, gradually changed these varieties into new species. (Thus, when one reads so-called Darwinian precursors, such as Lyell, who described this mechanism, one is really reading about this system that kept all essences pure.)

This Platonic essentialism, when wedded to the great chain of being (see Owen Lovejoy's classic book of that title), allowed intellectuals to rank essences from lowly stones to lofted angels, with humans between the apes and angels, and within the human essences, blacks closest to apes, European white males closest to the angels. This is creationism pure and simple, and it is racist to the core. The theory of evolution, in replacing the creationist doctrine, also replaced the racist ideology embedded within it.

In other words, the Louisiana leptons have got the story precisely bass akwards.
Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptics Society, host of the Skeptics Science Lecture Series at Caltech, columnist for Scientific American, and author of Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and The Borderlands of Science.

E.T. phone W


Taking advantage of renewed interest in "Star Wars," the space-based missile-defense shield supported by President Bush, more than 20 military, government and scientific witnesses will come forward at the National Press Club Wednesday to establish the reality of UFOs and the presence of extraterrestrial life.

"The weight of this firsthand testimony, along with supporting government documentation and other evidence, will establish without a doubt the reality of these phenomena," says Steven M. Greer, director of the host Disclosure Project.

The nonprofit research organization is calling for open congressional hearings on UFOs, last held in 1968 by the House Science and Astronautics Committee -- titled a "Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects."

Apart from witness testimony, which includes retired officials from most branches of the military and the Federal Aviation Administration, former astronauts Edgar Mitchell and Gordon Cooper will appear via video, both claiming to have firsthand knowledge of UFOs.

Mr. Mitchell flew on Apollo 14 and was the sixth man to walk on the moon. In his testimony, he´ll claim extraterrestrial beings have not only landed on Earth, but the United States has recovered crashed alien craft and bodies.

So they´ve been here among us?

"Yes," says the former astronaut, "there have been E.T. visitations."

Sunday, May 06, 2001

And now a word from CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
The Amazing Disappearing, Reappearing Artic Ice Cap

Published: 05/07/2001
Robert Tracinski


"Danger lies not in what we don't know, but in what we think we know that just ain't so." So reads the e-mail signature of Greg Holloway, a scientist with the Institute of Ocean Sciences in British Columbia. The quote, from Mark Twain, is appropriate. On April 24, Holloway presented a paper to an international gathering of Arctic scientists in which he argued that the Arctic ice cap is not melting.

Why is this important? Because reporters -- and a few alarmist scientists -- have spent the past few years telling us that the Arctic is melting. According to an oft-quoted statistic, the ice cap has already shrunk by as much as 43 percent. This is a crucial warning -- a "clarion call," as one New York Times op-ed put it -- that global warming is real and will dunk the globe under a flood of melted water.

But what the reporters say they know, it appears, just ain't so.

The claims of Arctic thinning are based on thin evidence. Satellite observations from 1978 forward show a decrease in the total area of the Arctic ice cap -- but area alone doesn't mean anything. It's the volume of ice that matters, and to figure that out, scientists need to know how thick the ice is. American submarines have made measurements of ice thickness since 1958, but to be useful these measurements have to be made at exactly the same place, at exactly the same time of year, over a period of many years. At best, there are only 29 locations -- throughout the entire Arctic -- where useful comparisons can be made. These few locations are the whole basis for the claim that the ice caps are melting.

And that's where Holloway's research comes in. The problem, he says, is that the Arctic ice is constantly moving, pushed along by Arctic winds. But there is natural fluctuation in the pattern and intensity of these winds. Sometimes they push the ice outward from the North Pole, causing it to jam up mostly against Northern Canada. At other times, the ice stays closer to the pole. This, Holloway argues, is the most likely cause for the apparent thinning. The submarine measurements, he says, were taken at just those spots mostly likely to be thinned by changing Arctic wind patterns. But the ice didn't disappear -- it just moved somewhere else. The total Arctic ice loss, Holloway estimates, is closer to 12 percent, of which maybe 3 percent can be attributed to warmer global temperatures. His conclusion: This small reduction is well within the range of natural variability and may have nothing to do with global warming.

Holloway is not, I should mention, a committed global warming skeptic. Like many conscientious scientists I have talked to, he tries to shy away from political issues. He talks about being "sensible" and "responsible" and recognizing the limits of current scientific knowledge.

But the issue is unavoidably political. The global warming hysteria is the basis for the United Nations-backed Kyoto Accord, which would require the United States to slash its energy use by as much as 25 percent over the next decade. That means a massive, self-inflicted energy crisis that would make California's blackouts look trivial.

Objective science reporting has become a casualty of the Kyoto crusade. Last August, for example, the New York Times hastened its slide from respected news source to leftist propaganda rag, by screaming from its front page that "The North Pole is melting." The story was based, not on scientific data or even computer models, but on the claims of a single scientist -- an apparatchik in the UN global warming bureaucracy -- who attended a summertime tourist cruise to the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker. The tourists arrived at the pole, the Times breathlessly reported, and saw open water. "The last time scientists can be certain the pole was awash in water," the reporter declared, "was more than 50 million years ago."

Real scientists reminded the Times that stretches of open water in the Arctic are a normal summertime event, caused by shifts in the ice, and the paper was forced to publish an embarrassing retraction. But as recently as a few weeks ago, the Times still reported that changes in Arctic ice "match computer predictions" -- i.e., the same old 43 percent figure.

The Times, you may be interested to know, has yet to report on Holloway's research.

Remember that next time the newspapers push the latest scare story. What you're told we know, in many cases, just ain't so.

Silencing scientists didn't stop with Galileo

Critics are still trying to squash researchers they don't like
Vancouver Sun

Two recent incidents cause us to worry about the state of scientific inquiry in Canada, and the freedom of scientists to pursue their research.

To put our concerns in context, we go back in history to the 17th century when a man with boundless curiosity and an inventive mind challenged conventional thought.

The belief of the time, endorsed by the powers that be, was that the Earth was the centre of the universe and that the Sun rotated around it.

Then Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei made a soul-shattering discovery: that, in fact, the world revolved around the Sun.

Powerful religious authorities didn't like Galileo's findings, and they went to great lengths to shut him up. He was eventually tried by the Inquisition in Rome, and he spent the last years of his life under house arrest.

In his scientific pursuits, Galileo left a marvellous legacy for all who came after. His discoveries remain important in modern day-to-day life, being key to our ability to track time accurately and profoundly important in our understanding of astronomy.

We'll never know what more Galileo could have done had his work not been curtailed by a censorious church. But we do know what lesson we should take from the shameful way he was treated: freedom of thought is necessary for progress, and scientific inquiry should not be shackled.

The force of censorship takes many shapes.

In Galileo's time, it materialized as a cadre of self-important men wearing the vestments of religious authority.

Today, censorship may appear in the form of a corporate entity, a budget-conscious administrator or lobbyists whose agenda would stifle other people's freedoms.

Retired Vancouver scientist Theodore Sterling is learning a little about the latter form of censorship. This year, Simon Fraser University plans to award him an honorary degree for a lifetime of scientific inquiry, which included establishment of the university's computing science program. But part of Dr. Sterling's research career included work on the dangers of secondhand smoke, which his findings appeared to minimize.

Anti-smoking activists are strongly critical of his work on secondhand smoke -- which is fair enough -- but they go too far when they demand that SFU reverse its decision to give him a degree. And they go entirely overboard by exerting pressure on another degree recipient, Betty Fox, mother of cancer crusader Terry Fox, to join their opposition to Dr. Sterling's degree.

We're not going to debate the value of Dr. Sterling's research. His work will stand or fall on its own merits. But we do demand that his critics accord him the right to pursue scientific inquiry free from persecution.

The other case that concerns us is that of David Healy, a world-renowned drug researcher at the University of Wales. He was offered a job with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, but the job offer was withdrawn.

The reasons the centre revoked the job offer haven't been made public, but an obvious possibility is censorship, which should worry everyone who cares about freedom of expression and sound science.

Dr. Healy has been outspoken about his concerns that the anti-depressant drug Prozac can trigger suicide in some patients. It happens that Prozac's manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has made large donations to his would-be employer. Suspicions that Eli Lilly's stake in the reputation of Prozac could harm Dr. Healy's career must be cleared up.

It should not take our society centuries of experience to learn that stifling freedom of thought and suppressing scientific inquiry is wrong.

Pilot encounters with UFOs: Study challenges secrecy (and denial)


5.3.2001 00:05


IN JANUARY, Agence France Presse reported that a Siberian airport was shut for 11/2 hours while a luminescent unidentified flying object hovered above its runway. Although it's hard to imagine such an event taking place in the industrialized United States, a compelling October 2000 study by a retired aerospace scientist from NASA-Ames Research Center shows that similar incidents have occurred in American skies over the last 50 years. "Aviation Safety in America -- A Previously Neglected Factor" presents more than 100 pilot and crew reports of encounters with unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) that appear to have compromised aviation safety.

Author Richard F. Haines, formerly NASA's chief of the Space Human Factors Office and a Raytheon contract scientist, is chief scientist for the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), a research organization founded last year. In stunning detail, pilots and crew describe a range of geometric forms and lights inconsistent with known aircraft or natural phenomena. Bizarre objects paced aircraft at relatively near distances, sometimes disabling cockpit instruments, interrupting ground communications, or distracting the crew.

The data include 56 near-misses. Impulsive responses by pilots to an approaching high-speed object can be hazardous; in a few cases, such violent evasive reactions injured passengers and flight attendants. However, Haines states that there is no threat of a collision caused directly by UAPs "because of the reported high degree of maneuverability shown by the UAP." While flying over Lake Michigan in 1981, TWA Capt. Phil Schultz saw a "large, round, silver metal object" with dark portholes equally spaced around the circumference that "descended into the atmosphere from above," according to his hand-written report. Schultz and his first officer braced themselves for a mid-air collision; the object suddenly made a high-speed turn and departed.

Veteran Japan Airlines 747 Capt. Kenju Terauchi reported a spectacular prolonged encounter over Alaska in 1986. "Most unexpectedly, two space ships stopped in front of our face, shooting off lights," he said. "The inside cockpit shined brightly and I felt warm in the face." Despite the Federal Aviation Administration's determination that he and his crew were stable, competent and professional, he was grounded for speaking out.

In 1997, a Swissair Boeing 747 over Long Island just missed a glowing, white, cylindrical object speeding toward the plane. According to an FAA Civil Aviation Security Office memorandum, pilot Philip Bobet said that "if the object was any lower, it may have hit the right wing." Ground-systems operators have also been affected by UAP. "The element of surprise means a decrease in safety because it diverts the attention of air-traffic controllers that should be focused on landing planes. That is a danger," says Jim McClenahen, a recently retired FAA air-traffic-control specialist and NARCAP technical adviser. "Aviation Safety in America" does not attempt to explain the origin of these mysterious objects. But Haines writes that hundreds of reports, some dating back to the 1940s, "suggest that they [UAPs] are associated with a very high degree of intelligence, deliberate flight control, and advanced energy management."

In the 1950s, pilots and crews reported seeing flying discs, cigar-shaped craft with portholes, and gyrating lights, all with extraordinary technical capabilities. Documents show the unexplained objects were considered a national security concern. By order of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commercial pilots were required to report sightings and the unauthorized release of a UFO report could cost them 10 years in prison or a $10,000 fine.

To keep this information from the public, officials ridiculed and debunked legitimate sightings, angering some pilots. According to the Newark Star Ledger in 1958, more than 50 commercial pilots who had reported sightings, each with at least 15 years of major airline experience, blasted the policy of censorship and denial as "bordering on the absolutely ridiculous."

These pilots said they were interrogated by the Air Force, sometimes all night long, and then "treated like incompetents and told to keep quiet," according to one pilot. "The Air Force tells you that the thing that paced your plane for 15 minutes was a mirage or a bolt of lightening," he told the Star-Ledger. "Nuts to that. Who needs it?" As a result, many pilots "forget" to report their sightings at all, one pilot said.

According to a 1952 Air Force Status Report on UFOs for the Air Technical Intelligence Center, pilots were so humiliated that one told investigators, "If a space ship flew wing-tip to wing-tip formation with me, I would not report it." The vast majority of sightings by American pilots are still not reported. The media perpetuate the censorship and ridicule, handicapping the collection of valuable data. In contrast, other countries are openly investigating the impact of UAP on aviation safety. A 1999 French study by retired generals from the French Institute of Higher Studies for National Defense and a government agency with the National Center for Space Studies examined hundreds of well-documented pilot reports from around the world. The study could not explain a 1994 Air France viewing of a UAP that instantaneously disappeared as confirmed by radar and a 1995 Aerolineas Argentinas Boeing 727 encounter with a luminous object that extinguished airport lights as the plane attempted to land. "Aeronautic personnel must be sensitized and prepared to deal with the situation," the report states. They must first "accept the possibility of the presence of extraterrestrial craft in our sky." Then, "it is necessary to overcome the fear of ridicule."

In 1997, the Chilean government formed the Committee for the Study of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena (CEFAA) following publicly acknowledged observations of unidentified flying objects at a remote Chilean airport. Both the French group and Gen. Ricardo Bermudez Sanhuesa, president of the CEFAA, have made overtures to the U.S. government for cooperation on this issue, with no response. General Bermudez, and Air Force Gen. Denis Letty, chairman of the French group, said in recent interviews that the Haines study has international significance and should be taken seriously.

Brian E. Smith, current head of the Aviation Safety Program at NASA-Ames, agrees. "There is objective evidence in pilot reports of unexplained events that may affect the safety of the aircraft, " he says. "Yet getting people to take an objective look at this subject is sometimes like pulling teeth." Indeed, the Airline Pilots Association, our largest pilots union, and the Flight Safety Foundation, describing itself as "offering an objective view of aviation safety developments," ignored NARCAP requests for a response to the study. In recent phone interviews with this reporter, representatives dismissed the report out of hand after glancing at the executive summary. However, such dismissals may soon lose ground. Next Wednesday, John Callahan, former division chief of the Accidents and Investigations Branch of the FAA, will disclose FAA documentation and subsequent CIA suppression of the Terauchi encounter over Alaska. Callahan will be joined by more than 20 other government and military witnesses, and dozens more on videotape, at a National Press Club briefing to challenge official secrecy about this subject.

Retired United Airlines Capt. Neil Daniels, whose DC-10 was forced into a left turn because of magnetic interference of cockpit compasses by a brilliant UAP, is among the many who want change. "The energies out there are absolutely profound," he says. "I think we need to know what they are."

Leslie Kean is a journalist and author in the San Francisco Bay area.
( )

Saturday, May 05, 2001


San Jose, California
May 18-20, 2001
"Scientific Illiteracy and
How It Fosters Paranormal
and Supernatural Beliefs"
Doubletree Inn San Jose
2050 Gateway Place
San Jose CA 95110

Though we live in times marked by the greatest and fastest-changing scientific developments in human history, most of the public - and an embarrassing number of our social and political leaders - cling to baseless claims and false hopes rooted in paranormal and supernatural beliefs. (Witness the explosion in "psychics", tarot card readers, alternative pseudotherapies and "medicines", the political power of the Religious Right in the new administration, and the prominence of aggressively-orthodox office-holders at all levels of government.) More and more, science is falsely perceived as just another personal philosophy, no better than blind intuition or the headlines in the latest supermarket tabloids. How has the American public fallen so far behind the other developed countries? Why are there not more prominent outcries from scientists and rationalists in positions of influence? What can be done to stem this tide of ignorance?


Dr. Barry Beyerstein is a psychology professor with the Brain Behaviour Laboratory at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. In addition to being a prominent researcher and teacher of the biophysiological mechanisms of human perception and consciousness, he has also conducted scientific investigations into so-called "alternative medicine," both in North America and the Peoples' Republic of China. Dr. Beyerstein is a leading scholar with the Center for Inquiry's Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), serves on the prestigious U.S. Council for Scientific Medicine, and is one of the most authoritative, effective and enjoyable speakers on scientific topics today.

Dr. Jere Lipps is Professor of Integrative Biology and Curator of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of hundreds of scholarly publications and journal articles in the areas of marine biology and geology and paleontology, is a strong contributor to the skeptical and humanistic literature on scientific topics (including the book Beyond Reason: Science and the Mass Media, 1999), and has conducted scientific research projects in Asia, Africa, and North and South America. Dr. Lipps is a Fellow with both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Oxford University - among others - and always brings an insightful and impressive perspective to his presentations.

Dr. Reid Johnson is a semi-retired psychologist and higher educator who also serves as Dean of the Center for Inquiry Institute (CFII). He spent most of his first professional career as a School Psychologist - specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of learning and behavioral problems in children, a Graduate Psychology Program Director - training professional psychologists to work with schools and families, and an Institutional Effectiveness expert - giving over 100 presentations and consulting with over 50 colleges and universities across the country on defining and measuring quality in higher education. Since 1998, Dr. Johnson has concentrated on improving the quality and utility of humanistic higher education, and is an increasingly popular and effective contributor to the humanist movement, particularly on education- and psychology-related topics.

Overnight accommodations are available at the Doubletree Inn for $89 per night. You must contact the hotel directly and make your own room reservations by May 11th, 2001 to secure the special rate. Please mention "Center for Inquiry" when making your reservation to receive this rate.

For more information contact:

Barry Karr
CSICOP/Skeptical Inquirer
PO Box 703
Amherst, NY 14226
716 636 1425 ext 217

From Skeptical News Hound Joe Littrell

Govt turns to ghosts for protecting forests
by Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times


"THE STATE governments in the insurgency-ravaged North East have discovered that the best way to save the region's fast depleting natural reserves is to scare people with ghost stories."

Panic over monkey man in Ghaziabad
Hindustan Times


"THE KOTWALI police was beseiged by phone calls from people claiming that they had seen a 'monkey-man' in their locality on Wednesday. But police search for the strange creature in Kaila Bhatta, Islamn gar, Thakurdwara Balika School and Chanderpuri locality, was in vain."

Ghosts keep watch on retired aircraft carrier
Associated Press


"There have been so many reports of spirits aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet that some folks wonder if it's time to call Ghostbusters."

[Scientologist] Co-Founder of EarthLink Is Accused of Investor Fraud
Los Angeles Times


"Investors are accusing Reed E. Slatkin, a co-founder of the giant Internet service provider EarthLink Inc., of operating a Ponzi scheme that may have resulted in the loss of least $35 million of their funds." Aspartame will not turn you into a toad
Tulsa World


"Recently I heard, repeatedly, that using products with aspartame is dangerous, that it contains formaldehyde and that it will cause brain damage resembling Alzheimer's as well as creating other health problems."

A Nuclear Catastrophe in Paleoindian Times?

Science Frontiers, No. 135, May-Jun, 2001, pp. 1 & 2


Introduction. We introduce here a remarkable theory of terrestrial catastrophism that seems to be supported by evidence that is equally remarkable. One of the authors of this theory (RBF) is identified as a nuclear scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Nuclear Laboratory. The second author (WT) is a consultant. The authors' credentials seem so good that we must take a close look at their extraordinary claims concerning a natural phenomenon that they believe reset radiocarbon clocks in north-central North America and---potentially---elsewhere on the planet. We will be most interested in the reception accorded these claims by the scientific community.

The claims. In the authors' words:

Our research indicates that the entire Great Lakes region (and beyond) was subjected to particle bombardment and a catastrophic nuclear irradiation that produced secondary thermal neutrons from cosmic ray interactions. The neutrons produced unusually large quantities of ^239 Pu and substantially altered the natural uranium abundances (^235 U/^238 U) in artifacts and in other exposed materials including cherts, sediments, and the entire landscape. These neutrons necessarily transmuted residual nitrogen (^ N) in the dated charcoals to radiocarbon, thus explaining anomalous dates.
Some North American dates may in consequence be as much as 10,000 years too young. So, we are not dealing with a trivial phenomenon!

Supporting evidence. Four main categories of supporting evidence are claimed and presented in varying degrees of detail.

#Anomalously young radiocarbon dates in north-central North America. Example: the Gainey site in Michigan. [Other map sites include Thedford & Zander, Ont.; Potts, NY; Shoop, Penn.; Alton, Ind.; Taylor, Il.; Butler & Leavitt, Mich.; and far to the north Grant Lake, Nunavut; and in the far southwest Baker, N.M. - TWC]

#Physical evidence of particle bombardment. Example: chert artifacts with high densities of particle-entrance wounds.

#Anomalous uranium and plutonium abundance ratios in the affected area.

#Tree-ring and marine sediment data.

The authors claim that the burst of radiation from a nearby supernova, circa 12,500 years ago, not only reset radiocarbon clocks but also heated the planet's atmosphere, melted ice sheets, and led to biological extinctions.

If verified, the claimed phenomenon would also "reset" archeological models of the settlement of North and South America. To illustrate, we may have to add as many as 10,000 years to site dates in much of North America!

(Firestone, Richard B., and Topping, William; "Terrestrial Evidence of a Nuclear Catastrophe in Paleoindian Times," *The Mammoth Trumpet*, 16:9, March 2001. Cr. C. Davant III. This off-mainstream journal is published by the Center for the Study of the First Americans, 355 Weniger Hall, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-6510.)

Comment. Thus we add another potential cause of an often-hypothesized 12,500-BP catastrophe that is said to have changed the world's history. Competing theories involve asteroid impact, volcanism, a Venusian side-swipe, etc.

Oil Deposits and Rotary Phenomena

Science Frontiers, No. 135, May-Jun, 2001, p. 3


Sometimes obscure and unlikely correlations lead to new insights. In this context, we are obliged to mention a most improbable connection proposed by chemical engineer S. Mori in a paper presented at the Spring 2000 meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Mori suspects that oil and gas deposits are linked to the origin of tornadoes!

In his paper, Mori said that positively charged oil deposits underground establish polarity with negatively charged oxygen ions at the surface. When a thunderstorm passes over the oil field, he thinks this subsurface polarity links up with the electric polarity established between clouds and ground, creating the vacuum that spawns the tornado.

Over the years, Mori said he's [sic] built a data base of about 8,000 tornado hits in the United States for comparison with the location of known oil and gas deposits. He said that studies in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas found a high correlation.

(Lore, David; "Underground Oil One Twist in Tornado Theory," Charleston *Dispatch*, June 8, 2000. Cr. J. Dotson.)

Comments. There have been numerous reports of electrical and burning phenomena associated with tornadoes. See GWT1 & GWT2 in *Tornados, Dark Days*.

The oil-sodden lands of the Persian Gulf can be correlated with another sort of rotary phenomena: the strange phosphorescent wheels of light that have been seen many times swirling in the shallow waters of the Gulf. See GLW in *Lightning, Auroras*.

Friday, May 04, 2001

Crank physics

I'm just putting up the links. You check them out (ed.)


Louisiana calls Darwin a racist

Posted by Dean A. Batha

From Salon at:


The state Legislature casts him in the same league as Hitler. A science educator says it's going to be a rough year for evolutionists.

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

By Fiona Morgan

May 4, 2001 | According to a measure approved by the Louisiana Legislature on Tuesday, the father of modern science is also responsible for the racist ideologies of the late 19th century and for Adolf Hitler's persecution of Jews. Louisiana state Rep. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, who sponsored the resolution condemning Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, said it would shine a light on the history of racism.

"Be it resolved that the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby deplore all instances and ideologies of racism, and does hereby reject the core concepts of Darwinist ideology that certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others," reads the Legislature's statement, which was approved 9-5 by the state's House Education Committee.

Among Broome's pet peeves, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate, are that Darwin "teaches that some humans have evolved further than others." That he "holds that people of color are 'savages,'" and that in doing so he has "provided the main rationale for modern racism."

The resolution, which does not rise to the level of law and would not necessarily change the curriculum of public schools, nonetheless urges the state's education system "to address the commonalties of people groups and the weaknesses of Darwinian racism." Sponsors say their next step will be to press for evolution disclaimers in textbooks.

Critics say the race card is only another ploy by creationists to remove evolution from public education and replace it with the religious concept of divine creation.

Joseph Graves, a professor of African-American studies and evolutionary biology at Arizona State University, criticizes Broome's interpretation of Darwin's writings, arguing that history has shown the scientist to be "one of the good guys, not one of the bad guys." He also warns that the measure would open up the state to ridicule. "This type of thing would never happen in the Northeast," he says.

Yet Louisiana is not alone. Since the beginning of the year, a handful of states -- including Montana, Washington, Georgia and Michigan -- have proposed legislation and other measures against the teaching of evolution, using tactics that have taken a number of twists and turns.

The National Center for Science Education is a nonprofit organization that has fought to keep the teaching of evolution science in public classrooms. Executive director Eugenie Scott spoke with Salon about the latest efforts of creationists to make it more difficult to teach the theory of evolution.

Is this the first time that people have used the racist label to argue against the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution?

Anti-evolutionists have played the race card, shall we say, for a long time. Unfortunately this perspective, that Darwin equals evolution equals racism, is one that is surprisingly prevalent in the black community. Every time I do a radio show on a station with a predominantly black listenership, someone invariably calls in and asks, "Well, why should our kids learn evolution? Evolution is just the source of racism."

Where does that idea come from?

That comes from confusing turn-of-the-century eugenics with evolution. Partly it's because you're judged by the company you keep, and at the turn of the century there were a number of individuals who glommed on to evolution for rather nefarious purposes. The eugenicists, the free-market capitalists, then later on in the 20th century, Marx and Hitler.

Now if you think about this, there's something fishy here. A single scientific idea cannot simultaneously be the inspiration for laissez-faire capitalism and Marxism, and then you toss in Nazism and you really have different systems, all claiming to grow from evolution. What you have here is a very powerful intellectual idea that is being seized upon by ideologues for their own purposes.

In what other states has this idea of Darwin as progenitor of racism come up?

It's unusual to have state-level legislation, but the idea itself is pervasive both in the anti-evolution literature from the creationists and also, unfortunately, in the black community.

I've only known of one previous situation in Tennessee in the early 1990s, legislation introduced by a black legislator there, anti-evolution legislation based on the idea that evolution is racist.

What impact will this have in Louisiana?

The really sad thing is that, by passing the resolution, they make it less likely that evolution is going to be taught in Louisiana, because any time you make evolution controversial, teachers just quietly stop teaching it.

If evolution is taught less frequently, you really are taking away one of the greatest weapons you have against racism. If people understand modern biology, and the modern genetically based theory of evolution, racism becomes impossible -- or at least scientifically indefensible. Given what we know about heredity, about population structure, about the way genes pass from one group to another group -- which is essential to understanding the process of evolution -- we know that there are no human populations that are older than others or more advanced than others, that are superior or inferior to others. That whole notion of being able to rank races goes out the window if you understand genetics and evolution.

I read that the next thing the proponents of this resolution want to do in Louisiana is put disclaimers in textbooks. What effect does that have on teaching?

A disclaimer in textbooks is a very intimidating gesture. Teachers don't like controversy. They just want to do their jobs. They like kids; they want them to learn.

That's the worst thing about them, and it just makes it more likely that evolution won't be taught, which of course is the goal. The second thing is that they really confuse the kids about what is science and what is religion, and they further confuse kids about the soundness of evolution as a science. Because only evolution is singled out among all scientific theories in these disclaimers.

Louisiana has a short memory, because there was a community in Louisiana, a parish called Tangipahoa, which was the site of a recent district court decision against the disclaimer. The Tangipahoa parish required teachers to read a disclaimer before they mentioned the "e" word, or showed a movie or assigned a reading or anything else. The disclaimer was struck down in district court and also lost in appeals court.

What do the disclaimers usually say?

Most use "just a theory" kind of language, which is very confusing as to the nature of science and how we use the word "theory" in science. But they also take the form of, we don't know everything there is to know about evolution and scientists are still trying to decide aspects of evolution, and we should therefore just teach it as a theory. Of course you could say the same thing about atomic theory or heliocentrism -- I mean there's always more that scientists can discover about a theory. But evolution happens to be the only scientific theory they single out like this. So clearly this is an effort to go after evolution, rather than just improve the general science education of students.

I read that there is similar legislation being considered in Arkansas.

The good news is that the Arkansas legislation did die; it was voted down, which we're very happy about. The Arkansas legislation was an anti-textbook legislation -- actually there's another bit of legislation under consideration in Louisiana that may be shadowing that. It was a very strangely worded piece, that said textbooks had to be "factually accurate" and because evolution, they said, was poorly supported in science, therefore you couldn't use textbooks that contained this whole laundry list of topics that are classic evolutionary topics.

Is this a new or an old tactic?

In the old days they used to say [that] if you teach evolution you have to teach creation science to balance it out. More recently because creation science equal-time laws were struck down by the Supreme Court, they've now repackaged this general idea. In the Montana bill, they've argued, if you teach evolution, you have to teach the evidence against evolution. And of course, there isn't any.

What other states are considering measures like this? I know the Kansas school board made big news last year.

Well, that's the success story. They voted the rascals out in Kansas and went back to a really solid science-standards document.

We've had problems in Montana, Washington, Georgia, Michigan -- that's still going on. Somehow or another since the first of the year, we've had all of these state legislative problems. Ordinarily the largest number of problems we have are with creationism at the local school board level or the classroom level.

I think there may be a climate being generated for working religion into society. From Washington we're hearing this faith-based charities message. And the religious right is starting to flex its muscles, realizing it has friends in high places. And so even though the federal government has hardly anything to do with education at the local level, I think there's just a climate of opinion out there that, hey, we can really start pushing this stuff now.

We've never had so many pieces of legislation -- it's only been four months, and we've had seven states pushing this kind of legislation. I really hate to see it. There's a trickle-down effect when these things get publicized; the tendency is for local school boards to look into this issue as well. It's going to be a busy year.

Question for Skeptics - 2 ["radionic" devices]

Back in the 1920s and 1930s skeptical scientists agreed to test the so-called radio-diagnostic and radio-therapeutic "radionic" devices of Dr. Albert Abrams and Ruth B. Brown. The protocols called for the testers to send Abrams and/or Drown human blood samples on blotters. Attempts would then be made to diagnose diseases by running the blood samples throught the various gizmos.

But the samples sent actually contained 1. chicken blood and 2. red ink.

Excuse me, but didn't so violently and clandestinely altering the variables automatically so queer the experiments that they proved absolutely nothing about the machines in question?

The purpose of the tests was NEVER to see whether the various apparati could distinguish human blood from chicken. Nor was it to see whather they could differentiate blood (human or otherwise) from ink.

Yet these "tests" are STILL quoted as the heavily artillery "proofs" that the Abrams/Drown devices simply did not work.

Once again, I am NOT for a moment championing these ersatz "medical" devices. I ALSO believe that they were nothing more than the most arrant quackery, or at the very kindest woeful self- delusion. But I most emphantically do NOT know that because of these "scientific" tests!

So, once again, must only "believers" follow the rules of evidence?

George Wagner

Question for Skeptics - 1 [Blondot's "N-Rays"]

Posted by George Wagner

Skeptics keep telling me that genuine "proof" can never be had from 1. anecdotal evidence and/or 2. unreplicated (or unreplicable) experiments.

So how do skeptics "know" that Professor Blondot's "N-Rays" don't exist?

Well, you see, one scientist performed an ad hoc experiment, never replicated (nor even genuinely co-witnessed), in Blondot's laboratory, and then included the resultant atory as an anecdote in his autobiography.

The above is NOT intended as a defense of N-Rays, which I don't believe exist either. But it DOES call into serious question whether skeptics have some type of exemption from practicing what they preach. Or are only "believers" required to follow the rules of scientific evidence?

George Wagner

Apollo 15 Landing Site Spotted in Images


By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer, SPACE.com

WASHINGTON – Put aside those absurd claims the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. Two scientists pouring over photos taken by a lunar orbiting spacecraft have eyed evidence for a touchdown.

New research led by Misha Kreslavsky, a space scientist in the department of geological sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, has found anomalies in the moon's surface in the vicinity of the Apollo 15 landing site.

Apollo 15's lunar module, the Falcon, touched down at the Hadley-Apennine region near the Apennine Mountains on July 30, 1971. Falcon was the first of the piloted landers to carry enlarged fuel tanks, as well as tote along a moon rover.

Moonwalkers David Scott and James Irwin scuffed up the lunar surface during more than 3 days of stay. Using an electric-powered car, the twosome wheeled their way back and forth over the crater dotted terrain for a total of 17 miles (27.4 kilometers).

Lunar properties
Kreslavsky, along with research colleague Yuri Shkuratov of the Kharkov Astronomical Observatory in the Ukraine, made use of images taken by the U.S. Defense Department's high-tech Clementine lunar orbiter.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's faster-better-cheaper Clementine probe circled the moon in 1994, making use of a camera that snapped well over a million images in the ultraviolet/visible range.

A set of Clementine images in the vicinity of the Apollo 15 landing site were intensively studied by Kreslavsky and Shkuratov. Their work was dedicated to help discern fresh impacts on the moon, or to search for sites of recent seismic activity in the lunar crust. The work and the techniques utilized not only proved useful in studying the lunar surface, but also yielded a bonus find.

Picture this
A small dark spot found in the Clementine images is not associated with any fresh crater, but exactly coincides with the Apollo 15 landing site, Kreslavsky told SPACE.com. "This is a result of my processing 52 images taken by the Clementine spacecraft through a red filter, while the spacecraft went over the scene from the southern horizon through zenith to the northern horizon," Kreslavsky said. A diffuse dark spot can be seen exactly at the landing site, he said.

The new research adds to earlier work published in 1972 by space scientists Noel Hinners and Farouk El-Baz.

In an Apollo 15 preliminary science report, Hinners and El-Baz studied two high-resolution photographs of the landing site vicinity. One picture was taken from the Falcon lunar lander during descent. The other image, snapped by astronaut Alfred Worden, was taken from the Apollo Command Service Module, Endeavor, a few hours after Scott and Irwin had landed. "Some brightening of the immediate vicinity of the landing point is seen on the second photo," Kreslavsky said.

Rocket blast
Using Clementine photos taken of the Apollo 15 touchdown zone, several anomalies can be seen. "All of them but one are related to small fresh impact craters. The only one not related to any crater, exactly coincides with the landing site," Kreslavsky said. The disruption in the structure of the lunar regolith is caused by the landing, Kreslavsky said. He contends that the alteration has been created by the lunar module's engine during touchdown. The anomaly is within a 164 feet (50 meters) to 492 feet (150 meters) radius around the landing site, Kreslavsky said. "Unfortunately, the Clementine data do not allow similar studies for any other landing sites."

Mammoths and Dinosaurs and Baugh, oh my!!

Posted by Barbara Meissner

On a Texas archaeology list to which I belong there is news that mammoth bones are currently being excavated outside Colorado City at the Champion Creek Reservoir in Mitchell County, Texas. The excavator is described as Mr. Joe Taylor, an avocational "paleontologist," who is a friend and compatriot of Rev. Carl Baugh of Glenn Rose, Texas and Mr. ("Dr.") Don Patton. Apparently he has been quoted by an Austin TV station as having said that the mammoth was being removed from strata associated with dinosaurs, so therefore, that "disproved the theories of evolution."

During the discussion of this situation, one of the list members told the following story, which I am quoting with his permission:

"In the 70's, I was visiting a most devout (and fundamentalist) fellow who lives just outside Glen Rose. At the time I was a [an officer of the Texas Archeological Society], so he invited me to see the "earthshaking discovery" he (with his backhoe) had helped "a World-Renowned Visiting Archaeologist" to uncover on the Paluxy river.

Seems this visiting "Doctor or Archaeology" (mercifully, I don't recall his name...) had come to Glen Rose to

"*Prove* That Ancient Man Walked The Earth Along Side The Dinosaurs" (thus "proving" that the earth was only a little over four thousand years old -- as "revealed" in Genesis).

So "firm" was his 'hypothesis' that he arrived already equipped with a *cast bronze plaque* that said,

"FootPrints of *Humanus Giganticus* [sic] in the Same Strata [sic] as Tyranniosaurus [sic] Rex Tracks".

Sure enough, there, where my guide had lifted and shoved back an overlying layer of limestone, were two huge "Humanoid" footprints -- and the plaque, already epoxied to a nearby boulder. One track, atop the exposed limestone surface, was filled with muddy water (although the environs were dry). The other track (covered with plastic) was in a layer of what looked to my infidel eye like plain old mud.

My host's belief and confidence in the "Doctor" remained firm -- even when I scooped out the water and revealed fresh chisel marks in the "Footprint" in the limestone. And when I pointed out that the toe marks in the "soft strata" [sic] print were exactly vertical and looked carved to me, the "Doctor" asserted that that was merely where he had "cleaned out" the fill... But, when I pointed out the absence of the ridges where the "ancient mud" should have squirted up between the toes, my host (an old farm boy with lots of muddy barefoot experience) began to show the first quivers of doubt.

The "Eminent Doctor" countered that the ridges had obviously been "washed away by the Flood of Genesis".

Since, by then, I had gotten some of the Doctor's "soft strata" under my fingernails, I asked to borrow my host's pocketknife -- which I promptly stabbed into the bottom of the "Footprint" -- to the full length of the blade. You could almost hear the belief draining from my host like air from a balloon...

It didn't take much longer for the good Doctor's pseudoscientific blatherings and shouts of "sacrilege!" to erode my last vestiges of patience; whereupon I extracted the knife and proceeded to 'desecrate' the "Artifact" with a big, deep "X" -- right across the middle. ... and so we departed...

I understand that the Doctor had a video crew out the next day, and, by that time a 'miraculous' healing of the 'wound' had occurred."

I know that the chisel marks in the "human footprints" at Glenn Rose have been discussed here before, so I thought the list would enjoy hearing this.

'Monkey man' rumours rock Indian cities

From Ananova at


Indian police have been inundated with reports about a 'monkey man' attacking people with 'iron claws'. Ghaziabad, near Delhi, has been rocked by 'monkey man' rumours after similar tales circulated in the city of Vijaynagar. There are also reports of people wearing monkey masks to scare others. The Hindustan Times reports residents have been losing sleep and even firing shots in the air to scare off the rumoured beast.

Indian officials tell ghost stories to protect endangered habitats

From Ananova at


State Governments in North-East India are telling ghost stories to keep hunters and loggers away from threatened areas.

The Governments say by popularising ghost stories they're conserving the natural habitat.

Locals have been slashing forests and slaughtering wildlife for money.

Arunachal Pradesh Education Minister Dera Natung said: "We are publishing booklets to dissuade people from fishing in Bek Senyik or disturbing the forests."

The stories they are publicising include one playing on the Nishi tribe's fear of ghostly eels.

They've also labelled the Bek Senyik, a marshy lake that sustains a key bio diversity zone in East Kameng district, as officially haunted, the Hindustan Times reports.

The Disclosure Project

It's at

Important Editorial Notice

Beginning in 1993, I started an effort that was designed to identify firsthand military and government witnesses to UFO events and projects, as well as other evidence to be used in a public disclosure. From 1993, we spent considerable time and resources briefing the Clinton Administration, including CIA Director James Woolsey, senior military officials at the Pentagon, and select members of Congress, among others. In April of 1997, more than a dozen such government and military witnesses were assembled in Washington DC for briefings with Congressmen, Pentagon officials and others. There, we specifically requested open Congressional Hearings on the subject. None were forthcoming.




Online edition of India's National Newspaper on indiaserver.com
Thursday, April 19, 2001

'UGC chief must quit'

By Our Science Correspondent

BANGALORE, APRIL 18. More than a hundred scientists from some of the leading scientific institutions in the country have signed a statement demanding the resignation of the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Prof. Hari Gautam, in view of his support for astrology, his defaming the memory of one of India's greatest scientists and his inability to distinguish between science and non-science.

In a speech at Hyderabad recently, Prof. Hari Gautam had defended the UGC's decision to introduce astrology courses in universities, saying that the Nobel Laureate C.V. Raman had called astrology a science. Prof. S. Ramaseshan, himself a scientist of repute, who was C.V. Raman's nephew, his student and close associate for several decades, categorically told The Hindu here today that Raman did not believe in astrology at all and considered it an irrational subject.

The statement released today points out that the biography of C.V. Raman published by the Indian Academy of Sciences clearly documented the fact that he was not at all superstitious and despised ritual.

The statement noted: ``It is clear that Prof. Hari Gautam's claims are factually entirely unfounded. It is also clear that C.V. Raman would have been severely critical of the UGC Chairman's project that includes not only the introduction of astrology as a course, but also the teaching of other mumbo- jumbo, to use Raman's phrase, like Vaastu Shastra, Vedic rituals etc. as a regular course in universities to be treated on a par with other sciences with students being awarded degrees in these ``disciplines''. It is worth pointing out here that in 1975, 186 scientists from all over the world, including 19 Nobel Laureates that had amongst them India's own S. Chandrasekhar, issued a statement against the propagation of astrology that ended by stating that the ``time has come to challenge directly and forcefully, the pretentious claims of astrological charlatans.''

The statement went on to add: ``By the very act of promoting astrology as a so-called `science', Prof. Gautam has lost all credibility to function as Chairman of the UGC. His false assertions about the beliefs of one of India's great scientists further demonstrates his unsuitability as the titular head of higher education in a modern, secular and democratic state. It is our considered view that Prof. Gautam's continuation as Chairman of the UGC is unacceptable and that he should forthwith resign.''

The statement has been signed by scientists from the Institute of Mathematical Sciences at Chennai, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Madras Institute of Development Studies, the Chennai Mathematical Institute, IIT Chennai, Harish Chandra Research Institute at Allahabad, IIT Mumbai, the Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Astrophysics at Bangalore, the Institute of Physics at Bhubaneswar, the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics at Kolkata, the Indian Statistical Institute at Delhi, the Jawaharlal Nehru University as well as some Indian scientists abroad.

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Online edition of India's National Newspaper on indiaserver.com
Friday, April 20, 2001

'Approach astrology with an open mind'

Ms. Gayatri Devi Vasudev, Editor, The Astrological Magazine, Bangalore writes:

This refers to your Science Correspondent's report (April 19) about some scientists being unnecessarily worked up over Prof. Hari Gautam's statement that Sir C.V. Raman had referred to astrology as science and Prof. S. Ramaseshan, nephew of Sir C.V. Raman, saying that the Nobel laureate ``did not believe in astrology at all and considered it an irrational subject.'' I would like to issue a clarification on both points.

With due deference to Sir C.V. Raman's so-called lack of belief, one should differentiate opinions from facts. The scientist was entitled to his personal opinion on astrology or any other subject under the Sun and it is nobody's business. That Sir Raman did not believe in astrology, as claimed by his nephew, is no argument against it if he had not made a study of jyotisha systematically.

The nephew in question may have been a close associate but that does not necessarily imply that he was privy to every single personal detail of Sir Raman's private life. Nor can the nephew's statement that the scientist's ``biography published by the Indian Academy of Sciences clearly documented the fact that he was not at all superstitious and despised ritual'' be connected with astrology and its scientific nature. Almost everyone knows that biographies are many times sanitised versions of the lives of the men they seek to portray in a particular mould and therefore, many details that may not conform to the portrait they want to paint, are ruthlessly scissored.

Srinivasa Ramanujan's biography published in India has cleverly omitted mention of the mathematician's reverence for the Goddess of Namakkal how many of formulae were revealed to him by Her in his dreams. These details are recounted in detail in his biography published from England.

Likewise, Nehru's Letters to His Sister published by Faber and Faber, London, carries his clear instructions for getting Rajiv Gandhi's horoscope, taking extra care to emphasise that the war time difference should be noted. But this same book published by the Publications Division, Government of India, omits the letter dated 29-8-1944, in its anxiety to preserve Nehru's ``secular'' image.

It should interest your readers to learn that Mrs. C.V. Raman was a regular visitor of my own revered father, the late Dr. B.V. Raman, whose name today is synonymous with jyotisha or astrology not only in our own country but the world over, and would consult him on Sir Raman's chart on his behalf. I shall quote from Dr. B.V. Raman's autobiography ``My Experiences in Astrology'', page 315, published by UBS Publishers' Distributors Ltd. when he describes how the lady first came to him in the 1930s escorted by Mr. A.S.P. Ayyar, a well-known author, legal luminary and judicial figure of those days.

``I had a surprising experience one day at my office, which was situated a few yards away from my residence. A middle-aged person dressed in a three-piece suit, accompanied by an elderly lady walked into my room. The gentleman had a distinguished appearance. Introducing himself the gentleman said: `I am A.S.P. Ayyar, District Judge, Ramnad, and the lady is Mrs. Lokasundari Raman, wife of Sir C.V. Raman. I have heard much about you. I am also a reader of your magazine and some of the predictions you have made on the war are amazing. I had my own reservations about astrology and had often thought that it encouraged inactivity and sapped one's urge to work. The lady has some problems pertaining to her family.'

``Taking leave of me, he said, `Lokasundari Raman has some domestic problems and she will see you again shortly.'.''

It was not just once that the lady consulted Dr. B.V. Raman on the horoscope of her husband. The nephew should be a little more restrained and check on his facts in future.

The statement signed by the scientists demanding that the UGC Chairman must quit for his support to astrology smacks of authoritarianism and feudal thinking. My simple question, having been a student of jyotisha for nearly 30 years working under Dr. B.V. Raman, to these scientists is: have they studied astrology to be in a position to dismiss it? Why have they put their scientific temper to sleep in attacking astrology hysterically, behaving like fanatic fundamentalists instead of approaching the subject with an open mind? No one who has not studied astrology can arrogate to himself the role of judge, as these ``scientists'' of India are doing.

It is deplorable and pathetic that these men of ``science'' are behaving like the Nazi scientists who branded Einstein's theories as Jewish physics and made a bonfire of his papers simply because their experimental physics could not accommodate Einstein's theories of relativity. We can only paraphrase what Einstein said then: ``were astrology wrong, one professor would have been quite enough!''

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Online edition of India's National Newspaper on indiaserver.com
Saturday, April 21, 2001

Astrology is unscientific

Mr. T. Jayaraman, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, CIT Campus, Chennai, writes:

I would like to make the following points regarding the intemperate letter of Ms. Gayatri Vasudev in support of astrology (April 20).

First of all, Sir C.V. Raman's views on astrology are very much everyone's business when someone in a position of power and responsibility, like the Chairman of the UGC, erroneously states that the distinguished scientist's personal stance is ``pro- astrology'' (when, in fact, his opinion was diametrically opposite), and attempts to use this ``belief'' in support of his own manifestly pro-astrology stand.

Ms. Vasudev is completely wrong in assuming that scientists are unaware of the possible differences of opinion between Sir Raman and his wife, Lokasundari Raman, on various matters. Prof. S. Ramaseshan's biographical note in the volume titled C.V. Raman: A Pictorial Biography, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore in 1988, states clearly on page 13: ``Unlike most Indians, he (Sir Raman) was not at all superstitious and he despised rituals. On the night of his death, his wife asked him to take the name of God. He was dying but he said, `I believe only in the spirit of man' and talked of the Mahatma, the Christ and the Buddha and then made a request. `Just a clean and simple cremation for me, no mumbo-jumbo please'.''

It is evident from this that ``the nephew'', as Ms. Vasudev slightingly refers to Prof. Ramaseshan, is entirely aware of the possibility that Sir Raman and his wife differed in their opinions on these matters. The above quotation was reproduced in entirety in the scientist's statement referred to in the article on April 19. The point made in the statement was about Sir Raman's views. Ms. Vasudev's account of a purported visit by Lokasundari Raman to the astrologer, Dr. B.V. Raman, is thus completely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

The parallel drawn by Ms. Vasudev between the scientific criticism of astrology and the Nazi attacks on Einstein and his theories does not merit the dignity of a rebuttal. But here too one may clarify the well-known historical record. Einstein's theories were tested experimentally well before the era of Nazism, though many of its implications were still unclear and under investigation. Those Nazi scientists who attacked Einstein did so not because of any conflict between their work and that of Einstein but purely through the motivations of anti-Semitism.

Ms. Vasudev's statement that scientists have not studied astrology in detail is besides the point. No one needs to study astrology in all its detail for an extended period to come to the conclusion that it is unscientific. The fundamental premise of astrology is that heavenly bodies exert influences on the daily lives and behaviour of human beings on Earth. This is simply not true and the evidence of such a connection is completely lacking. Whether they are earthquakes, floods, other natural calamities, great political events, events in the lives of individuals or other such phenomena, there is no evidence of any systematic connection between these and the motion, position or other characteristics associated with any heavenly body. All the phenomena listed above are actually coherently explained to varying degrees of accuracy by a variety of sciences ranging from the natural sciences to the social sciences and related disciplines like psychology. Where the level of accuracy is not extremely high, the phenomena continue to be the subject of ongoing investigations.

There are to be sure accidental conjunctions between events on Earth in the lives of human beings and events associated with heavenly bodies. But there is no evidence at all of any systematic mechanism of interaction that would produce such conjunctions. Without evidence of such a systematic mechanism, the claims of astrology to be a science are unfounded. Science is not merely a listing of the conjunctions between different phenomena. It is also the study and uncovering of the mechanisms and interactions that produce such conjunctions. For instance, the fact that a `roti' left in the open becomes mouldy is no evidence that the `roti' produces the mould. Systematic investigation reveals that it is the spores in the air that settle on the `roti' and reproduce there to produce the mould.

Indeed given the state of scientific knowledge for the last several centuries we can assert that there can be no such interaction between heavenly bodies and human beings that would provide a foundation to astrology. The heavenly bodies exert no force that can affect individual behaviour. Nor is there any likelihood that future developments in science will discover such a force. The existing fundamental laws of nature are too well tested to be modified in the way they need to be if astrology has to have a scientific basis. Any modification of these laws of nature will be in situations that are largely irrelevant to human behaviour.

Scientists must have minds that are open to new ideas. That is the sine qua non of their profession. But they must not have minds that, as the witticism goes, are so open that their brains fall out! Astrology is very much a case in point.

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