NTS LogoSkeptical News for 16 June 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, June 16, 2001

Corn Scare Gets Popped

There wasn't even a kernal of truth to the biotech scare.

Saturday, June 16, 2001 12:01 a.m. EDT

The StarLink biotech bugaboo has been slain.

A government report released this week confirms what bioengineers and agricultural scientists already know to be true, and what political opponents of biotechnology refuse to admit: The frenzy last fall over human consumption of genetically modified corn products was unwarranted. The products are safe.

On Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study undertaken in the wake of the big StarLink allergy scare, and it concluded that biotech corn did not cause the allergic reaction that some 58 people reported after finding out about the grain.

"Although the study participants may have experienced allergic reactions," said the CDC, "we cannot conclude that a reported illness was a [biotech-corn-related] allergic reaction." The CDC researchers added that an independent study of the same data had confirmed these results.

http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=95000631


Friday, June 15, 2001

Chinese Cookie Torture

Why don't fortune cookies tell our fortunes anymore?

By Dave Faries

...

This week's Burning Question examines another aspect of our wistful desire to tap into eastern knowledge, the fortune cookie. In years past, these crisp Styrofoam confections--or rather, the slender sheet of paper inside--revealed all kinds of things about our futures. The fortunes said things like "You will discover true happiness" or "A generous spirit will bring you great fortune" or "The MSG alone will kill you within five years." Now, however, a snapped cookie delivers only statements, proverbs or even compliments. Our fortunes have fallen flat.

...

http://www.dallasobserver.com/issues/2001-06-14/burning.html?src=newsletter


Thursday, June 14, 2001

Out of This World

ONE UFO EXPERT SAYS THAT ALIENS DON'T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE.

BUT WHAT IF THAT'S JUST WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK?

BY STEVE MIRSKY

http://www.sciam.com/2001/0701issue/0701antimatter.html

UFO buff becomes multi-lingual to talk to aliens

A UFO buff claims he's learned 18 languages so he can speak to any extra-terrestrial aliens when they arrive to visit Earth.

Gyorgy Mandics, 58, from Timisoara in Romania, says he's sure many words are the same throughout the universe.

By learning languages including Greek, Danish and Russian he will have a better chance of talking to the visitors.

"I'm sure that aliens exist and I will be one of the few people able to communicate with them when they arrive", Mr Mandics claims.

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_326796.html?menu=


'Britney Dead' Hoax causes Panic

Two American DJs caused panic when they falsely reported that Britney Spears and boyfriend Justin Timberlake had been killed in a Los Angeles car crash.

Kramer & Twitch broadcast the news on Dallas rock station KEGL-FM. Hundreds of listeners and distraught fans jammed police and fire service numbers and local hospitals.

The LA Fire Department had to put a telephone voice message on their answerphone saying they had "no knowledge of a well-known singer and her boyfriend" being involved in an accident.

Representatives of Spears, 19, and Timberlake, 20, a singer with the band 'N Sync, could not be contacted and the station refused to comment.

Jason Lee, of the LA Police Department, said he got 50 to 75 calls in a matter of hours. Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Fire Department, received more than 100 calls from all over the globe.

The California Highway Patrol and local hospitals also received calls, reports the LA Times.

The Addicted to Britney Spears Support Group website carried messages from distraught fans.

One said, "I heard here on a Dallas, Texas, radio station that Britney Spears died in a car accident. Anyone else hear anything?"

It is not the first time Kramer and Twitch have been involved in a controversial report. In a hoax involving Britney last June, radio stations said she would appear in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

See this story on the web at http://www.ananova.com/entertainment/story/sm_325528.html


Thais ignore warnings against drinking urine

An increasing number of Thais are believed to be drinking their own urine, despite warnings that it's a health risk.

People suffering from deadly diseases say drinking urine has helped them feel better, while some beauty queens say it can improve their looks.

A Thai health official warned that use of urine could be harmful.

Kittikool Saorunee, 47, has suffered from severe allergies and liver tumours for years and started drinking his own urine two years ago.

He said: "Urine is an amazing medicine. Now I drink my urine every morning. I also use it to clean my nasal orifice to help with the allergy."

Kanitha Sorirab, 26, a runner-up in the Miss Internet 1998 competition, recommends urine as a beauty aid, The Nation reports.

See this story on the web at http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_325407.html


Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Red planet sparks UFO frenzy

By SIMON BENSON

13jun01

AT midnight tonight, the silly season officially begins.

Mars begins its rush toward earth - about 10km a second - and the UFO sightings will start to mount. Luckily it only lasts about a week.

The reality of the cosmic event, which begins this week, is that Mars comes the closest to Earth it has been in more than 12 years - about 67.6 million km to be precise.

The result is that the planet will appear as a bright red disc just above the horizon in the eastern sky after 7pm.

But the only side effect of such an encounter is the growing number of UFO sightings - which, according to the experts, have already begun.

Cathy Clarke from UFO Research NSW claimed that the calls had been steadily growing in the past couple of months.

"It has been very active over the past three months ... more than normal," said Ms Clarke, who takes calls from distressed people who claim to have either seen UFOs or had alien abduction experiences.

"I am sure that events like this do have an impact. People are not well versed about what goes on cosmologically."

Stargazers would have already noticed our closest planetary neighbour growing in size for the past few weeks.

Tonight is when Mars will be exactly opposite the sun with the Earth in between.

On June 22, Mars' elliptic orbit will reach its closest point to earth since 1988, when it came to 57.5 million km.

An even more spectacular view of Mars will occur in August 2003. Then, the planet will be closer to the Earth than it has been for about 6000 years - a distance of just 56 million km.

Then, according to US researchers, "they will really begin to come out of the woodwork".

Previous close approaches by Mars have been marked by a big increase in UFO sightings.

Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: "If you're driving in a car and see Mars above the tree tops, it can appear to be following you. People wonder what on earth it is and think they've seen a UFO."

Nick Lomb from Sydney Observatory said the best time to see Mars would be in the early evening looking toward the east.

With the naked eye, it would appear as a big red star.

But a telescope with a magnification of 40 or 50 is enough to reveal the planet's major features, including polar ice caps and possibly even clouds.

The planet appears red because of its rusty dust, caused by large amounts of iron in its soil.

"The next few months will be a great time to look at Mars," said NASA astronomy professor George Lebo.

"You won't need a telescope to see it.

"By early June Mars will outshine everything except Venus, the Moon, and the sun itself."

The European Mars Express mission is due to be launched in 2003.

It will carry the mainly British Beagle II probe, which will land on the planet to search for signs of life.

http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,2110559%255E11610,00.html


Caveat Lector

"The news" is not necessarily true.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR associate editor

June 13, 2001 10:25 a.m.

David Murray is the director of the Statistical Assessment Service and author, with Joel Schwartz and S. Robert Lichter, of It Ain't Necessarily So: How Media Make and Unmake the Scientific Picture of Reality.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: No child has ever been harmed by strangers contaminating candy on Halloween? Even if no kid ever got hurt, does it hurt to have the warnings, and to have hospitals voluntarily checking candy every Oct. 31?

David Murray: A study of national criminal data back to 1958 found only 76 reports of any kind of tampering, almost all of which were fraudulent or mistaken. There have been three reported cases of children dying from tainted candy. The first case involved parents trying to cover up after their child ate the father's stash of heroin. The second case involved a father intentionally poisoning his son then blaming it on tainted candy. The third case involved a child who suffered a fatal seizure while trick-or-treating. She suffered from a congenital heart condition and no evidence of tampering was ever found. Although her parents immediately notified the authorities about their daughter's heart condition, the media ran shocking news reports of yet another incident of poisoned Halloween candy.

In protecting children from an unproven threat, parents may not just be taking some of the fun out of childhood but also raising children in an unhealthy atmosphere of paranoia. Besides, repeating myths like these every year may ultimately elicit a "copycat" effect, inspiring deranged individuals to carry out previously non-existent crimes.

Lopez: "Every 12 seconds another woman is beaten." Bill Clinton said that in a radio address. Then it was taken back by his staff. Then he used it again. But if that were true, the total number of beatings would exceed the total number of all violent crimes. How does that happen? Should people be skeptical of all numbers? Even when they come from the White House?

Murray: In areas like crime there are all sorts of numbers out there. One of the problems with crime specifically is that not all crimes are recorded by the police, so the FBI figures don't tell the whole story. In order to find out what the true level of crime is, we have to conduct surveys, which are very like opinion polls. But, as with opinion polls, the wording of the question makes all the difference when people give their answers. And when pressure groups that want to highlight what they perceive as social ills are asking the questions, the results can be driven by those prejudices. So, in the case of domestic violence, there have been surveys that have included people shouting at their partners or even "stomping off" in their definition of violence. It's from those surveys that the number of "every twelve seconds a woman is a victim" comes from. But that's a very different thing from a woman being "beaten" that often. More reliable surveys indicate a woman is seriously attacked by an intimate once every 2 minutes and 20 seconds - less than one-tenth the president's figure.

Now because there are so many figures out there, the nuances and differences between them tend to get confused as they are transmitted from the academics and experts who compile them to senior figures like the president - they go through more and more "filters" of simplification to satisfy the demands of very busy people who simply cannot be experts on every subject. Some figures are simple enough to be understood easily and get through successfully. Others get conflated or have important provisos dropped. Generally, therefore, the more a figure a politician delivers feels like a "soundbite," the more people should be skeptical of it. Perhaps especially so if it comes from somewhere as busy as the White House - whoever is in charge.

We do have our suspicions about this particular incident, though. The figures quoted and language used in 2000 were virtually identical to the case in 1995. It sounded suspiciously like someone had found an old briefing document and simply dusted it off before handing it to the president - the figures were well out-of-date as well as not adding up. Now that's not malicious, it's just lazy.

Lopez: So, too, with breast cancer. In the book, you report that the risk of breast cancer, which is popularly accepted as one in eight or one in nine women, is actually much lower. Do people - like women who are needlessly exposed to radiation or who spend more money than they have to on mammograms - get hurt in the process?

Murray: Women face far greater health risk from heart disease than they do from breast cancer (about ten times as many women die each year from cardiac causes), yet women fear breast cancer far more, and elevate it to the top of their health-care concerns. The primary reason is that media, egged on by well-meaning advocates, have failed to provide the complete picture. What follows are calls for political action to address the problem, which brings forth disproportionate funding by the federal research centers (relative to other, more pressing health needs) because politicians need to show that "they care," all of which then leads to the inevitable search for villains who must be responsible and who need to be put in a media stockade. Witness the current crusade against the so-called Long Island Cancer Cluster. It's great activism, but it does not lead to great public health, because we have a tendency to misdiagnose our real health risks, and hence, misallocate efforts that might actually make things better. Attacking media-enhanced but imaginary dragons, we miss the opportunity to dispatch some very real lizards that are actually more dangerous.

Lopez: Are there topics that the media is more likely to misrepresent or hype than others?

Murray: The most serious and regular misrepresentation takes place whenever a particular science claim either gets explicitly politicized (global warming, stem-cell research) or becomes captive of one position or another in the so-called culture wars (AIDS, day care, illegitimacy). In that case, one's position with regards to the science begins to be treated symbolically, as though there were a referendum being held on some moral or cultural problem. The science then becomes treated as a proxy for your moral posture. Needless to say, once that happens it becomes almost impossible to conduct rational debate based on the evidence.

Lopez: Can you say that in most cases the media is just out of their league, so they reply by deferring to someone's press release? Or are they toeing a particular ideological line that sways their reporting?

Murray: It varies, of course. Sometimes simple ignorance or carelessness end up shaping a bad story; sometimes a desire to "help the cause," whatever it might be, overrides good judgment. Very often, journalists under pressure take the "path of least resistance," which is to simply repeat a story line offered to them by people that they have judged to be reliable and reasonable in the past. That is, journalists are often insufficiently skeptical of those to whom they assign "white hats." That said, it is possible to arrange media coverage by ideological leanings, but there is only a limited value in so doing. There are stories (and emphases) that liberals pursue, just as there are counterpart stories and differential selections stressed by conservatives. By and large, however, most ideological problems in the press are not due to conscious decisions or agendas, but rather slip by as unconscious presuppositions, the sort of cultural assumptions about what is normal and proper and what needs explaining. Noticing manifest political difference can be useful, but it really only tells us how media can be different. What may be more instructive is to discover how they are the same, even given the ideological pressures. That is, both the liberal and the conservative press are in many regards equally vulnerable to certain kinds of problems and misunderstandings that turn out to be inherent in the nature of the media. The weaknesses and blind spots are shared in many instances, and examining that fact was one of our most important contributions in the book. What emerges is the realization that the principles of science and research are oftentimes incompatible with the underlying principles that drive media as an enterprise, regardless of who signs the paychecks.

Lopez: You have a monthly newsletter that routinely exposes many of these frauds. Is it your experience that generally people tend to be discriminating when watching or reading the news?

Murray: Not sufficiently. They can be lulled by familiar expectations, and too often turn off their skeptical radar. Much depends upon the "framing" of the news story. If offered by a celebrity or in conjunction with apparent scientific authority, people are more willing to accept claims at face value. If warned that something is considered "contentious" or "fraught with peril," they naturally perk up and evaluate. Of course, it is by using such "framing" devices selectively that a news reporter can condition our likely reaction for or against a particular claim. Most problematic are those claims that are so deeply "backgrounded" in the presentation that they are seen as just "given" and natural. In fact, a lot of very dubious claims about our world sneak into our received opinion because they were presented as narrative dramas and soap operas, rather than as research reports. Those who condition conventional wisdom know this well, and oftentimes achieve their best effect by giving us story lines, such as Erin Brockovich, rather than propositional arguments against which we might offer defense. But people can be trained to become better and more discriminating consumers of news if they acquire just a few tools of common sense and remember to activate them. Keep your guard up; read several different news accounts of the same thing and compare the coverage. Watch for editorial and "staging" effects that shape our reception. In short, to borrow a barbarous term from contemporary university lit-crit, learn to "interrogate" your daily news before you swallow it whole. A good watchword phrase is, caveat lector; that is, "let the reader beware."

http://www.nationalreview.com/interrogatory/interrogatory061301.shtml


[from Science in the News, 12 June]

BUSH VOICES DOUBTS ON GLOBAL WARMING CAUSES

from The Washington Post

President Bush declared yesterday that substantial doubts remain about the causes and severity of global warming as he set off on his maiden presidential trip to Europe with promises of more studies but few specific proposals on how to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Bush, addressing an issue that will be a prominent subject of his talks with European leaders, said he was determined to take "a leadership role on the issue of climate change" by sponsoring increased scientific inquiry and "partnerships within our hemisphere and beyond to monitor and measure and mitigate emissions."

But the president struck a defiant tone in the face of widespread criticism by U.S. allies in Europe and Asia that he is failing to recognize the seriousness of global warming. He offered a detailed critique of the Kyoto global warming treaty that he renounced in March and gave his most expansive explanation yet of his doubts about studies that blame the planet's rising temperatures largely on man's activities.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53386-2001Jun11.html


More evidence of water on Mars has been found.

Strange geological formations suggest water ice existed on the red planet millions of years ago.

High-resolution images of an area the size of Canada taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera reveal 'rootless cones' poking out from the surface.

The same geological formations are found on Earth where molten lava has flowed over waterlogged ground.

The images show vast fields of the objects, which can measure between 20 and 300 metres across at the base.

But unlike ordinary Martian volcanoes, the cones are not associated with rock fissures.

Rootless cones are so called because they are not produced by lava erupting through cracks in surface rock.

On Earth, they form when hot lava flows over damp ground causing the water beneath to boil. The water flashes to steam very quickly fuelling an explosive release of lava upwards, which builds a cone.

The cones on Mars occur in an area that was flooded by lava within the past 10 million years and where there are channels hinting at the presence of water before then. This suggests that water was present when the lava flowed across.

"Although 10 million years ago sounds like a long time," says Peter Lanagan of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona.

"For people studying Mars that's recent," he told Nature science journal.

See this story on the web at http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_324596.html


Invention May Bend Rules Of Physics

Is it possible? Could someone with no practical scientific training make a machine that solves the energy crisis?

Skeptics would say no, but NewsChannel 5's Nick Beres spoke with two men who say they've developed a new engine that defies the law of physics.

Carl Tilley and Robert Kibbey say they've developed a new power source.

"We are generating more electricity than we're using," Kibbey said about their invention.

Skeptics will tell you that's impossible, but Tilley and Kibbey said the engine uses no gas, propane, diesel, wind or solar energy, and can generate 30-thousand watts of electricity an hour.

"We're bending the laws of physics. We're just more efficient recycling energy that disappears into the air," Kibbey said.

NewsChannel 5 invited Rellon Maxwell, an electrical engineer, to join us for the demonstration of the invention.

Batteries kick start the engine. They send out 16 amps.

The engine then powers two television sets plus a big generator.

The engine sends 20 amps back to the batteries.

It should be less power--not more.

Maxwell said he's never seen anything like it in his 40 years in the business.

Tilley and Kibbey are not trained scientists. They said that helped them think outside the box.

"Edison, Einstein didn't finish high school and Goodyear got vulcanized rubber by burning it," Kibbey said.

They've kept their invention a secret until now.

Other scientists will certainly want to see the engine.

Tilley and Kibbey welcome the scrutiny.

They say their invention works and has the power to change the world.

Tilley and Kibbey said their invention can power a house, or even a car without an external source of energy.

Both men said more testing is needed.

But, if what they says is true, the engine would save consumers thousands and thousands of dollars.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has already inquired about the invention.

http://www.newschannel5.com/news/0106/12/invent.html


Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Bush to Insist on Ethanol Use in California

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE

WASHINGTON, June 11 ~W The Bush administration has decided to force California to use ethanol as an antipollution fuel additive, a move that the critics say could result in an increase of at least 5 cents a gallon at the pump this summer in that state.

California had asked the federal government to be exempted from a Clean Air Act requirement to use fuel additives like ethanol to cleanse its gasoline, arguing that cheaper technologies were available.

Administration officials said today that the government would issue a decision on Tuesday denying the request.

Last Friday, in a speech in Iowa, Mr. Bush hinted at the decision, saying he supported the use of ethanol "not only to reduce dependency on foreign sources of energy but secondly as a way to clean the air."

Several Democratic senators from farm states, including Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the new majority leader, and Tom Harkin of Iowa, the new chairman of the Agriculture Committee, saw a favorable decision as a huge boon to their states' economies and had urged Mr. Bush to deny California the waiver.

It was Mr. Daschle ~W and former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas ~W who began the push for ethanol a decade ago by inserting in the Clean Air Act an amendment that required 2 percent of cleaner-burning gasoline to contain oxygenates like ethanol.

The act required that it be sold in cities with the worst smog: Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Hartford, Houston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Sacramento and San Diego.

Some California fuel has oxygenates throughout the year, but in most Northeastern states the additives are used only in the winter months to reduce emissions of carbon monoxide.

The decision opens up the biggest market in the country to corn producers and, in particular, could benefit the Archer Daniels Midland agribusiness, a major Republican contributor, because it is one of the few ethanol producers able to transport ethanol to the West and East Coasts.

But environmentalists say there are now less expensive, less complex ways to reduce such pollution than adding ethanol.

And they contend that Mr. Bush's decision is intended to solidify his support in the farm states that he won in the last election and help him make an important overture to Iowa, which he lost.

Several Northeast states were waiting to see whether California received its waiver before applying for their own, but a spokesman for a consortium of those states said today that they would not apply and without it would expect to see an increase in gasoline prices.

Gov. Gray Davis of California, who has already clashed with the White House over its energy policy and its refusal to place price caps on electricity, said the decision could cost Californians, who already pay the highest gas prices in the nation, an additional 6 cents per gallon, or about $450 million a year for the estimated 580 million gallons of ethanol that will be needed annually.

Janet Hathaway, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, with a specialty in fuels and vehicles, said the decision "means that the whole country has to use ethanol in every gallon of reformulated gas, which means suddenly a lot of demand has to chase a limited supply, which always means prices go up."

Ms. Hathaway added, "It's not necessary to use ethanol to achieve the same environmental results."

There are basically two widely available additives, or oxygenates, that help cleanse gasoline ~W ethanol and M.T.B.E. (methyl tertiary butyl ether). But M.T.B.E. has been found to contaminate drinking water and is being phased out in 11 states, including California and much of the Northeast.

The administration's expected decision would force those states instead to use ethanol, an alcohol made by the fermentation of sugars from corn, which last year constituted two-thirds of 1 percent of the gasoline produced in this country.

California argued two years ago to the Environmental Protection Agency that it wanted a waiver from such a mandate because refiners had other ways to blend gasoline that were cheaper and cleaner.

The agency under the Clinton administration decided to grant the waiver, concluding that it would reduce emissions, but President Bill Clinton never completed action on the matter.

David Uchic, a spokesman for the National Corn Growers Association, said he doubted California's claim of cheaper, cleaner blends.

"If you want to tell us you can refine a gas that meets the Clean Air standards and is cheaper than ethanol-added enhanced gas, go ahead," Mr. Uchic said. "Let's see the numbers."

In addition, he said the Bush decision was a flat-out victory for his industry, which hopes to triple ethanol production over the next decade.

"This will spur new investment in ethanol plants and in expanding existing facilities, and we just see production going up, up, up," Mr. Uchic said.

Jason Grumet, executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a consortium of state agencies, said the administration's decision was ill- conceived and potentially harmful. "We will be paying more money for higher-polluting gasoline," Mr. Grumet said. "This is a decision that will profoundly benefit a couple of multinational agribusinesses at the expense of the environment, drivers and the small farmer."

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/12/national/12ETHA.html?ex=993338396&ei=1&en=4664bce1cca397e3

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company


Florida enacts a pro-quackery bill.

Florida has enacted a Health Care/Alternative Treatment Act (S 1324), which states that licensed health-care practitioners can recommend any mode of treatment (including alternative or complementary treatments) they believe is in the patient's best interest. The bill was reportedly introduced on behalf of a powerful Republican Party supporter and moved quickly toward passage with minimal public notice. Only one legislator voted against it. A second bill, the Access to Medical Treatment Act (S 1128), was passed unanimously but vetoed by Governor Jeb Bush. S 1128 would authorize licensed medical and osteopathic physicians to treat any life-threatening illness, disease, or condition by means of any investigational medical treatment provided that, "when used as directed, there is no reasonable basis to conclude poses an unreasonable and significant risk of danger to the individual." Both bills include consent procedures that, if followed, might protect the practitioner from being charged with unprofessional conduct. The bills also state that they do not change the scope or standards of care, including the prohibition of fraud and exploitation. Because these provisions are vague and conflicting, the actually effect of such legislation is difficult to predict. The bills can be viewed at

http://www.leg.state.fl.us/cgi-bin/view_page.pl?Tab=session&Submenu=1&FT=D&File=sb1324er.html&Directory=session/2001/Senate/bills/billtext/html/ and http://www.leg.state.fl.us/cgi-bin/view_page.pl?Tab=session&Submenu=1&FT=D&File=sb1128er.html&Directory=session/2001/Senate/bills/billtext/html/

from Consumer Health Digest


Nessie hunter sets sights on Selma

The man who led a recent hunt for the Loch Ness monster is to mount an expedition to find a giant eel-like creature reputed to live in an Irish lake.

The search will be concentrated on Lough Ree, one of Ireland's largest and most popular fishing lakes, said to be the home of 'Selma'.

It is being led by Swedish monster-hunter Jan Sundberg, who mounted an unsuccessful hunt for Nessie in Scotland earlier this year.

He has been attracted to Ireland by indications that the Lough Ree monster could be related to a 9ft eel-like creature hooked, but then lost, by a fishermen in Co Cork.

Experts, however, say Selma could prove to be as elusive as its Celtic cousin.

A Dublin's University College spokesman said: "Research tells us that this is a culturally-based phenomenon rather than one based on scientific evidence."

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_324852.html


THE POLITICS OF 'SCIENCE'

By PATRICK J. MICHAELS

June 10, 2001 -- NO one should be surprised that a National Academy of Sciences panel concluded that global warming is an important problem and the planet will warm somewhere between 1.4 and 5.8 C by the end of this century. That's the same range projected by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a report to be released with great fanfare some 60 days from now. The same people produced both reports, and with the same process: groupthink.

Here's how it works: To produce whatever you want, all you have to do is select the right people, but include a few dissenters who can then be listed as participants even as they are ignored by the dynamics of the larger group.

I know because I have been in similar meetings with many of the same people on this NAS panel. The one I recall was requested by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich). The meeting was chaired by Eric Barron, from Penn State, a member of the NAS panel. There were about 15 participants, the same number involved in this most recent report. And what "we" said seven years ago looks a lot like what the cademy said last week.

The other dissenter was MIT's Richard Lindzen. For several hours, we raised a number of objections concerning facts and uncertainties about climate change. Finally Barron announced that if we didn't stop objecting he was going to stop the meeting.

This is how legitimate scientific dissent was handled!

Did similar things happen with the new report? The two likely dissenters were Lindzen and John Wallace, who chairs the Atmospheric Science Department at the University of Washington. Wallace personally believes we should lower our use of fossil fuels, but scientifically agrees that warming may well be overestimated.

Want proof that groupthink smothered inconvenient dissent? Here are four glaring examples:

1. Lindzen recently published a bombshell paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society demonstrating there is a huge tropical "thermostat" that regulates planetary warming. This reduces the likely warming in the next century to, at most around 1.6C - the low end of the NAS' range. I find no mention of this paper in the new report.

2. The first sentence of the report talks about how changes in the Earth's greenhouse effect are "causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise." How much future warming does this imply? When the observed rise in ocean temperatures is coupled to a predictive climate model, the warming for the next 100 years again comes out at the low end, around 1.4C.

3. Almost all of our climate models predict that once human warming starts, it takes place at a constant rate - not an ever-increasing one. Therefore, the warming rate that has been established in recent decades should be the most likely one for the next 100 years, unless all those climate models are wrong. Again, it works out to 1.4C.

4. The physics of the greenhouse effect requires that warming begins to damp off if the increase in a greenhouse compound is constant. So the only way that the computer models can predict a constant warming rate for the next 100 years is to assume that the greenhouse gases go in at ever-increasing (exponential) rates.

They are not doing this. Despite the prior beliefs of every atmospheric scientist on the NAS panel, the increase in the last 25 years has been constant, not exponential.

This will tend to reduce, rather than maintain warming in coming decades. A non-exponential increase in greenhouse gases will drive the warming right down to its bottom, or 1.4C in this century.

Is there a pattern here? You bet. By far the most consistent interpretation of the facts is that warming is destined to be modest. Further, the atmosphere has already told us that two-thirds of this will take place in the winter, with three-quarters of that in the dead of Siberia, northwestern Canada and Alaska.

The logical question to ask is why the academy didn't put all of these obvious things together. The answer is simple: The people who put this and the U.N. reports together have been touting big warming for nearly two decades.

Reversing course, and saying anything else would have been self-destructive to the public's somewhat misplaced faith in science.

Patrick J. Michaels is professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, a past president of the National Association of State Climatologists, and senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute (www.cato.org).

http://www.nypost.com/06102001/postopinion/opedcolumnists/32124.htm


Monday, June 11, 2001

Study Finds Heart Regenerates Cells

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN

Medical dogma holds that damage to the heart is irreversible and that the body cannot grow new cells to replace those that die from a heart attack or other heart ailment.

But new findings to be published today in the New England Journal of Medicine provide what experts said was the strongest evidence reported that some human heart muscle cells did regenerate after a heart attack, though generally too few to repair all the damage.

Using a high-resolution microscope and a new laboratory technique, a team led by Dr. Piero Anversa of the New York Medical College in Valhalla has found evidence that the human heart did grow new muscle cells after a heart attack.

The next stage of research is to find ways to tap the heart's growth reserve to better repair damage from a heart attack and many other heart conditions, Dr. Anversa said in a telephone interview from Naples, Italy, where he lectured on his findings yesterday.

Heart-cell regeneration research has been controversial. Because researchers had never found evidence of heart-cell regeneration before, they came to believe that it did not occur. Scarring that followed heart attacks suggested that the heart was unable to make new cells.

But Dr. Anversa had support for his views from some leading experts not involved with his research who called the report "a landmark study." The experts said that the findings have important implications for treating heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death.

"This is a breakthrough, at least for a new way of thinking about the heart's recuperative power and ways to repair a damaged heart," said Dr. Valentin Fuster, a former president of the American Heart Association.

With years of more research "you might have a new therapeutic weapon" for heart disease and "the implications are incredible," said Dr. Fuster, who is chief of cardiology at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

Dr. Claude J. Lenfant, the director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md., said that Dr. Anversa's findings "provide the most dramatic and clear-cut demonstration to date of heart-cell regeneration after cardiac injury."

The findings, Dr. Lenfant said, add to those from studies on animals that show the dogma that the heart cannot regenerate "is no longer true."

The institute, a federal agency, helped pay for the research by Dr. Anversa's group in Valhalla and at the University of Udine and the University of Trieste in Italy.

Dr. Lenfant said the findings eventually could have "enormous public health value" if they led to new therapies that delayed the onset of heart failure and prolonged life. Dr. Lenfant also said he believed the research held greater hope for heart disease than gene therapy, which many experts consider a highly promising route to new therapies. But, he warned, the therapies were "not going to be here tomorrow."

Dr. Anversa said he never believed that the heart was an exception to the rule that cell regeneration was essential to life. Nor did he believe, as the dogma held, that scarring after heart attacks was evidence against the heart's ability to make new cells. Other organs, like the skin, constantly grow new cells to replace old and damaged ones and still leave scars, Dr. Anversa said.

He added that "it made no sense" to him that humans were born with a set number of heart cells "that were able to contract 70 times a minute for more than 100 years without the capacity for regeneration."

Until recently, medical dogma also held that the brain could not grow new cells. But recent research activity has upset that belief.

New research by his and other teams shows that, with respect to its ability to make new cells, "the heart is no different than any other organ," Dr. Anversa said. "The paradigm has to change."

Dr. Anversa began this line of research 20 years ago. In its latest version, his team compared muscle cells in the hearts of 13 patients who died 4 to 12 days after a large heart attack with those in the hearts of 10 patients who died from other causes. Dr. Anversa's team focused on two areas ~W the zone of tissue bordering the site of a heart attack and a more distant area of the heart.

Dr. Anversa attributed his success chiefly to use of an old tool and a new technique. The old tool is the use of a high-resolution confocal microscope that can provide resolution for up to 0.5 micrometers ~W less than 1200,000 of an inch. The new technique involves measuring the activity of a protein, known as Ki-67, that is present in the nucleus of cells and is essential for cell division.

Using the two methods and other standard ones like fluorescence staining, Dr. Anversa's team found that the number of muscle cells, or myocytes, multiplying in diseased hearts was 4 percent in the border areas and 1 percent in distant areas, much higher than in normal hearts.

The technique is "solid," Dr. Fuster of Mount Sinai said.

Further calculations suggest that rapid growth of even a small number of new heart cells could regenerate a large number of cells in three weeks.

The findings still leave researchers seeking answers to a number of crucial questions about the origin of the new heart muscle cells Dr. Anversa identified. Were they cells in the heart that had been awakened after sleeping for years, even decades, only by the crisis of a heart attack? Or were the cells recruited from another site in the body in response to the heart attack?

Dr. Anversa said that his team had a good idea of where the new cells came from because it had identified "pockets" of primitive cells with the characteristics of stem cells in the heart. But he declined to disclose their precise location because he has not published the findings.

"We want to use what is in the heart to repair the heart" by promoting migration of large numbers of new cells to repair the damaged tissue before it dies, Dr. Anversa said.

Such repair could extend beyond damage from heart attacks to that resulting from other chronic conditions like untreated high blood pressure or cardiomyopathy, he said.

Dr. David Finkelstein, who directs basic heart research at the National Institute of Aging, which helped pay for the research, said the new findings "may begin to clarify how hearts respond to the normal insults of aging through previously undetected repair mechanisms."

Dr. Anversa added that "We have new hope to intervene in heart disease and repair what was considered an irreparable problem ~W but I don't know how close we are to that."

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/07/health/07HEAR.html?ex=992977368&ei=1&en=b0f58a8f134f9f47

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company


Testing Links Potato Famine to an Origin in the Andes

By NICHOLAS WADE

A delicate piece of detective work in the collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has started to cast light on the origins of the blight that caused the Irish potato famines a century and a half ago.

Analysis of DNA from stricken potato leaves has confirmed that the pathogen was a fungus known as Phytophthora infestans, but suggests that it did not originate in the Toluca Valley of Mexico, a hot spot of different strains of the blight that has been proposed as the most likely source. Instead, researchers theorize, it may have arisen in the ancestral home of the potato in the Andean highlands of South America.

The Irish potato famines lasted from 1845 to 1860, during which about a million of Ireland's 8 million people starved to death and 1.5 million emigrated, mostly to the United States.

Diseased leaves deposited at the time in botanical collections have been analyzed by Dr. Jean B. Ristaino, a plant pathologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

She and colleagues report in the current issue of Nature that they were able to extract DNA from samples collected in Ireland, Britain and France between 1845 and 1847. In the right conditions, DNA can survive for many years after the death of the living cells that make it.

The samples lack the genetic signature of a widespread strain of the fungus, US-1, which has been assumed from its worldwide distribution to have descended from the 19th- century blight that struck Ireland and much of Europe. The US-1 strain is thought to have originated in Mexico because that is where the known diversity of blight strains is highest.

Because the potato famine samples differ from the US-1 strain, Dr. Ristaino and her colleagues suggest that it is likely to have come from the Andean highlands. It is a well known phenomenon in biology for a pathogen and its host to evolve together.

A South American source was proposed by several people who studied the blight in the 19th century, including Charles Darwin.

He had collected potato tubers from Chile in 1835 during the voyage of the Beagle that led him to propose his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin was very concerned about the blight, Dr. Ristaino said, and gave Irish potato breeders 100 of his own money to support efforts to develop resistant strains.

He also hoped that the tubers from Chile might be naturally resistant to the blight and asked his cousin, William Darwin Fox, to grow them. But they all succumbed to the blight, which was endemic in England as well as Ireland, Dr. Ristaino said.

There were many hints available at the time pointing to South America as a possible source of the blight, she said: European potato crops had been wiped out earlier in the century by a different disease, caused by a fungus called Fusarium, and were replaced with varieties from Peru.

There was also a vigorous trade in bat guano fertilizer between Peru and Ireland, and that material could have transported the blight.

Dr. Ristaino said more strains of the blight needed to be sampled worldwide to help pinpoint the origin of the one she had found in the herbarium samples.

"There's a real treasure trove of materials over there," she said, referring to the Kew herbarium collections outside London.

"There are many other pathogens hidden away on the shelves. You can capture a whole window into past epidemics."

In a commentary in Nature, Dr. Nicholas P. Money, a botanist at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, described Dr. Ristaino's analysis as "a remarkable piece of molecular detective work."

Dr. Stephen B. Goodwin, one of the biologists who discovered that the US-1 strain of blight now dominates the globe, said his theory of its being the cause of the Irish potato famine now seemed incorrect.

"Too bad it wasn't true," he said, "but that's the way it goes sometime. It was a great hypothesis."

Dr. Goodwin, a Department of Agriculture plant pathologist who teaches at Purdue University, said that the potato family had two centers of diversity, one in Mexico and one in Peru, but that the blight itself is far more diverse in the Mexican center and is likely to have evolved there.

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/07/world/07BLIG.html?ex=992974791&ei=1&en=ca2f6c1c153944a4

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company


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Magnetic Immortality

"Probably thirty years later, a large part of human population still do not believe in eternal life, and simply choose to die for their lack of hope in science, and lack of trust in Alex Chiu's sympathy. That explains why a judgement day for the humans is necessary. Not because God loves to torture, but some people just refuse to be helped!" --Alex Chiu, Inventor

http://www.alexchiu.com/



Environmentalists preaching 'phantom problems'

Planet is healthy, Greenpeace exile argues in new book

Mary Vallis

National Post

Nearly every grim prediction environmentalists have made about the Earth's future is wrong, asserts a respected university professor and former member of Greenpeace. The environment is actually improving, Bjorn Lomborg says in his new book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Canada's temperate forests are expanding. The air in London is the cleanest it has been since the Middle Ages. The world's species are not disappearing at the alarming rates that animal welfare groups would have you believe, writes Mr. Lomborg, professor of statistics at Denmark's University of Aarhus.

"Acid rain does not kill the forests, and the air and water around us are becoming less and less polluted," he says.

"Mankind's lot has improved in terms of practically every measurable indicator."

Mr. Lomborg's book, which is bolstered by statistics from internationally recognized research institutes and 2,500 footnotes, is a direct attack on what he says are environmental organizations selectively twisting scientific evidence and statistics to cultivate public support for their causes.

He says such tactics convince people to invest resources and attention to help solve "phantom problems" that never materialize while they ignore more pressing concerns.

The Skeptical Environmentalist met with a swell of protest when it was originally published in Scandinavia and it is already attracting media attention in Britain, where Cambridge University Press is to release it in August. Also in August, the book is to be available from Amazon.com.

The intense interest has overwhelmed Mr. Lomborg. Reached in Denmark yesterday, he declined to discuss it in detail.

"It is really important that things that get in the press are the ones that are correct and correctly portraying the book, to give it fair hearing, so it doesn't come off as somebody just saying, 'They're all wrong or stupid,' " he said.

Mr. Lomborg stressed he is working to help find solutions to global warming, whose existence he does not deny.

A warning has already appeared in the English press that the book could be the most dangerous tool in a backlash against the green agenda, especially in light of Mr. Lomborg's reputation as a left-wing environmentalist who once dedicated time to the movement

Canadian environmentalists are equally concerned and insist their work is based on concrete figures and science.

"We do not invent crises or invent things in order to raise money," John Bennett, director of atmosphere and energy for the Sierra Club of Canada, said in an interview. "Nothing can destroy your credibility faster than to say things that aren't true ... We're very familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf."

The Skeptical Environmentalist seems to celebrate the environmental movement by highlighting its many successes, but it sends the wrong message if it convinces environmentalists not to persevere, Mr. Bennett said.

"One of the things he notes are the improvements in air pollution. Well, that is true. But still, between 5,000 and 16,000 Canadians die every year as a result of air pollution," he said.

"I managed to make my first trip to India this past February. I've seen rivers full of coal ash. I've been people pushing bikes barefoot down broken pavement roads carrying 500 pounds of coal on a bicycle. I've seen kids drawing their drinking water out of a river full of coal ash. We have severe problems around the world and no matter how much we've improved, we have a long way to go, baby."

http://www.nationalpost.com/home/story.html?f=/stories/20010611/588153.html


Why you should never believe what you read in the news. And I read the news for a living, so I can confirm that.

Pat

GLOBAL WARMING

The Press Gets It Wrong

Our report doesn't support the Kyoto treaty.

BY RICHARD S. LINDZEN

Opinion Journal

Monday, June 11, 2001 12:01 a.m. EDT

Mr. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at MIT, was a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel on climate change.

Last week the National Academy of Sciences released a report on climate change, prepared in response to a request from the White House, that was depicted in the press as an implicit endorsement of the Kyoto Protocol. CNN's Michelle Mitchell was typical of the coverage when she declared that the report represented "a unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man. There is no wiggle room."

As one of 11 scientists who prepared the report, I can state that this is simply untrue. For starters, the NAS never asks that all participants agree to all elements of a report, but rather that the report represent the span of views. This the full report did, making clear that there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends and what causes them.

As usual, far too much public attention was paid to the hastily prepared summary rather than to the body of the report. The summary began with a zinger--that greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise, etc., before following with the necessary qualifications. For example, the full text noted that 20 years was too short a period for estimating long-term trends, but the summary forgot to mention this.

Our primary conclusion was that despite some knowledge and agreement, the science is by no means settled. We are quite confident (1) that global mean temperature is about 0.5 degrees Celsius higher than it was a century ago; (2) that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have risen over the past two centuries; and (3) that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas whose increase is likely to warm the earth (one of many, the most important being water vapor and clouds).

But--and I cannot stress this enough--we are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future. That is to say, contrary to media impressions, agreement with the three basic statements tells us almost nothing relevant to policy discussions.

One reason for this uncertainty is that, as the report states, the climate is always changing; change is the norm. Two centuries ago, much of the Northern Hemisphere was emerging from a little ice age. A millennium ago, during the Middle Ages, the same region was in a warm period. Thirty years ago, we were concerned with global cooling.

Distinguishing the small recent changes in global mean temperature from the natural variability, which is unknown, is not a trivial task. All attempts so far make the assumption that existing computer climate models simulate natural variability, but I doubt that anyone really believes this assumption.

We simply do not know what relation, if any, exists between global climate changes and water vapor, clouds, storms, hurricanes, and other factors, including regional climate changes, which are generally much larger than global changes and not correlated with them. Nor do we know how to predict changes in greenhouse gases. This is because we cannot forecast economic and technological change over the next century, and also because there are many man-made substances whose properties and levels are not well known, but which could be comparable in importance to carbon dioxide.

What we do is know that a doubling of carbon dioxide by itself would produce only a modest temperature increase of one degree Celsius. Larger projected increases depend on "amplification" of the carbon dioxide by more important, but poorly modeled, greenhouse gases, clouds and water vapor.

The press has frequently tied the existence of climate change to a need for Kyoto. The NAS panel did not address this question. My own view, consistent with the panel's work, is that the Kyoto Protocol would not result in a substantial reduction in global warming. Given the difficulties in significantly limiting levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a more effective policy might well focus on other greenhouse substances whose potential for reducing global warming in a short time may be greater.

The panel was finally asked to evaluate the work of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, focusing on the Summary for Policymakers, the only part ever read or quoted. The Summary for Policymakers, which is seen as endorsing Kyoto, is commonly presented as the consensus of thousands of the world's foremost climate scientists. Within the confines of professional courtesy, the NAS panel essentially concluded that the IPCC's Summary for Policymakers does not provide suitable guidance for the U.S. government.

The full IPCC report is an admirable description of research activities in climate science, but it is not specifically directed at policy. The Summary for Policymakers is, but it is also a very different document. It represents a consensus of government representatives (many of whom are also their nations' Kyoto representatives), rather than of scientists. The resulting document has a strong tendency to disguise uncertainty, and conjures up some scary scenarios for which there is no evidence.

Science, in the public arena, is commonly used as a source of authority with which to bludgeon political opponents and propagandize uninformed citizens. This is what has been done with both the reports of the IPCC and the NAS. It is a reprehensible practice that corrodes our ability to make rational decisions. A fairer view of the science will show that there is still a vast amount of uncertainty--far more than advocates of Kyoto would like to acknowledge--and that the NAS report has hardly ended the debate. Nor was it meant to.

http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=95000606


Kyoto climate treaty is a waste of money, environmentalist says

The Times (UK)

JUNE 11 2001

Author: MARK HENDERSON

THE Kyoto climate change treaty is an ill-judged response to global warming that will cost millions of lives and do the developing world more harm than good, according to a book due out this summer. The cost of limiting carbon dioxide emissions far outweighs the damage that global warming will eventually do to the world and merely postpones the problem for six years, Bjorn Lomborg, an environmental statistician, has calculated. As a result, he argues, trillions of pounds that might otherwise be spent on fighting poverty and malnutrition and improving infrastructure in developing countries will be wasted. In The Sceptical Environmentalist, to be published in August, he says that millions of lives will be lost that could otherwise be saved and the eventual impact of climate change on the Third World will be much worse as countries will be less equipped to adapt. The findings are based on a four-year audit of a massive set of official environmental indicators by Dr Lomborg, associate professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, who is also an environmentalist and a former member of Greenpeace. Details of the research have been made public as President Bush prepares for his first summit meeting with the EU in Sweden this week. Mr Bush will come under renewed pressure there over his decision to reject the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which aims to cut the developed world's carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels. Renewed international talks on climate change control are also due to begin in Bonn next month, after the collapse of last year's summit on the issue at The Hague. Although Dr Lomborg accepts that human-induced global warming is a reality, he is critical of the treaty because independent scientific models suggest that it will have little impact on the scale of global warming and offers very poor value for money. "What happens with the Kyoto protocol, according to the most-accepted model, is that by 2100, global temperatures will rise by 1.9C rather than by 2.1C if nothing is done," Dr Lomborg says. "Another way of looking at it is that a temperature rise of 2C, which would otherwise have been reached in 2094, is postponed to 2100." Instead of wasting money on implementing Kyoto, he says, the world would do better to invest much more than at present in research into renewable forms of energy, such as solar power and nuclear fusion. Should solar power become an economic way of generating energy by the middle of the century, carbon dioxide emissions would decline very steeply.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,3-2001194599,00.html


Arthur C. Clarke Stands By His Belief in Life on Mars

By Leonard David Senior Space Writer

posted: 12:25 pm ET 07 June 2001

WASHINGTON -- Noted space visionary and writer, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, believes that new images of Mars clearly show the red planet dotted with patches of vegetation, including trees. Such a find may help spark a far grander space program more aligned with the adventure and exploration portrayed in the epic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey - the collaborative work of both Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick.

Clarke spoke last night, June 6, via phone from his home in Sri Lanka as key speaker in the Wernher von Braun Memorial Lecture series held here at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Pouring over images on his home computer taken by the now-orbiting Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), Clarke said that there are signs of vegetation evident in the photos.

"I'm quite serious when I say have a really good look at these new Mars images," Clarke said. "Something is actually moving and changing with the seasons that suggests, at least, vegetation," he said.

Clarke repeated several times that he was serious about his observations, pointing out that he sees something akin to Banyan trees in some MGS photos.

Science met its match

Joining Clarke in last night's lecture was a panel of space authorities, Apollo 17 moonwalker, Eugene Cernan, science fiction writer, Ben Bova, and space historian Fred Ordway.

Cernan said that he has concluded there's little difference between science fiction and science fact. He said that the only difference is time, a dimension we know so little about.

"Standing on the surface of the Moon in sunlight, you are surrounded by the blackest black that you can allow your mind to conceive. Not darkness, but blackness," Cernan said. That view affords a person a face-to-face look at the endlessness of time and the endlessness of space, with Earth moving through that blackness. What you see is infinity, he said.

"I have looked and focused as far as I can focus on infinity. I can tell you that it literally does exist," Cernan said.

Awestruck by the vista from his trek to the Moon, now over a quarter of a century ago, Cernan said that he came to a point "where science did not have an explanation" for what he saw. "It was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. Science met its match," he said.

The other things

Cernan decried the fact that the country's space exploration agenda today rings hollow compared to the past.

"What's it going to take to get people to dream again, to realize they can once again do the impossible?" Cernan asked. "John F. Kennedy said that we plan to go the Moon 'and do those other things'...we haven't done the other things yet," he said.

Ben Bova said that NASA's program is driven by politics. If there's no political push and no political will, then "I think it's going to have to come from the private sector," he said.

How to reactivate America's space program to do bold things "is the $64 trillion question," Clarke responded by phone. Space tourism may act as a trigger, he said, as could some major discovery, such as new findings on Mars.

Ordway said that 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the vision it portrays, came at a time "when space was on everybody's agenda," he said.

Old and new worlds

"I think there's a real possibility there may be a propulsion breakthrough," Clarke said. "The rocket is going to play the same role in space as the balloon did in aviation. It will be superseded by something much better," he said.

Cernan said he remains optimistic about the future of space exploration.

In the future, people will not only be living on Mars, "they are going to be coming back to see where their forefathers grew up," Cernan said. "I think someday they will be talking about the Old World and the New World, and we're going to co-exist together. That's science fiction today, but give us time," he said.

Clarke said however, that such a scenario has one problem.

"I'm afraid the great, great grandchildren won't be very happy back here on Earth at three times normal gravity," Clarke said.

ANOMALOUS IMAGES http://www.anomalous-images.com


Sunday, June 10, 2001

Nasa aims to move Earth

Scientists' answer to global warming: nudge the planet farther from Sun

Special report: global warming

Robin McKie, science editor

Sunday June 10, 2001

The Observer

Scientists have found an unusual way to prevent our planet overheating: move it to a cooler spot. All you have to do is hurtle a few comets at Earth, and its orbit will be altered. Our world will then be sent spinning into a safer, colder part of the solar system.

This startling idea of improving our interplanetary neighbourhood is the brainchild of a group of Nasa engineers and American astronomers who say their plan could add another six billion years to the useful lifetime of our planet - effectively doubling its working life.

'The technology is not at all far-fetched,' said Dr Greg Laughlin, of the Nasa Ames Research Center in California. 'It involves the same techniques that people now suggest could be used to deflect asteroids or comets heading towards Earth. We don't need raw power to move Earth, we just require delicacy of planning and manoeuvring.'

The plan put forward by Dr Laughlin, and his colleagues Don Korycansky and Fred Adams, involves carefully directing a comet or asteroid so that it sweeps close past our planet and transfers some of its gravitational energy to Earth.

'Earth's orbital speed would increase as a result and we would move to a higher orbit away from the Sun,' Laughlin said.

Engineers would then direct their comet so that it passed close to Jupiter or Saturn, where the reverse process would occur. It would pick up energy from one of these giant planets. Later its orbit would bring it back to Earth, and the process would be repeated.

In the short term, the plan provides an ideal solution to global warming, although the team was actually concerned with a more drastic danger. The sun is destined to heat up in about a billion years and so 'seriously compromise' our biosphere - by frying us.

Hence the group's decision to try to save Earth. 'All you have to do is strap a chemical rocket to an asteroid or comet and fire it at just the right time,' added Laughlin. 'It is basic rocket science.'

The plan has one or two worrying aspects, however. For a start, space engineers would have to be very careful about how they directed their asteroid or comet towards Earth. The slightest miscalculation in orbit could fire it straight at Earth - with devastating consequences.

It is a point acknowledged by the group. 'The collision of a 100-kilometre diameter object with the Earth at cosmic velocity would sterilise the biosphere most effectively, at least to the level of bacteria,' they state in a paper in Astrophysics and Space Science. 'The danger cannot be overemphasised.'

There is also the vexed question of the Moon. As the current issue of Scientific American points out, if Earth was pushed out of its current position it is 'most likely the Moon would be stripped away from Earth,' it states, radically upsetting out planet's climate.

These criticisms are accepted by the scientists. 'Our investigation has shown just how delicately Earth is poised within the solar system,' Laughlin admitted. 'Nevertheless, our work has practical implications. Our calculations show that to get Earth to a safer, distant orbit, it would have to pass through unstable zones and would need careful nurturing and nudging. Any alien astronomers observing our solar system would know that something odd had occurred, and would realise an intelligent lifeform was responsible.

'And the same goes for us. When we look at other solar systems, and detect planets around other suns - which we are now beginning to do - we may see that planet-moving has occurred. It will give us our first evidence of the handiwork of extraterrestrial beings.'

http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,504486,00.html


Mind Games

When 19-year-old UNT student Kelli Cox vanished, her desperate parents turned to a Florida "psychic" as their last hope. Hope was all he gave them.

By Charles Siderius

...

By this time Bynum was understandably desperate and willing to try just about anything. A couple of months after Cox vanished, someone at the police station gave her Monti's name, she says. Bynum says she is religious and her faith is strong, but she doesn't usually "go in" for palm readings and that sort of thing. She called Monti's home in Florida. She was about to become a believer.

Though often called upon as a last resort to help families like the Bynums, psychic investigators such as Monti have yet to prove they've helped police with the Cox case or any case anywhere, says Gary Posner, a critic of those who claim to have special psychic or magical abilities. Posner, who has appeared on television news programs and written many articles debunking supposed miracles of the supernatural, wholly discounts the "powers" of those who claim to possess some psychic ability. Psychics cast a net of clues wide enough to capture any evidence that eventually surfaces through real police work or tips based on fact. Then, Posner says, even though their visions were of no real use to an investigation, the psychic finds a way to take credit.

"As is typical of all of the so-called psychic detectives, it appears Monti's 'clues' are generally not only of no value to helping find anyone, they result in the police and other officials going on wild goose chases and wasting a lot of time, money, manpower for no good purpose," Posner says.

Nevertheless, Monti is a familiar figure in high-profile missing persons cases. In 1993, he was featured as a family's "psychic advisor" in People magazine when the abducted 10-year-old Katie Beers was found sexually abused but alive, imprisoned in a secretly built dungeon in Long Island, New York. News accounts credit police investigators--not Monti--with finding the girl.

In 1996, he was in Bushnell, Florida, looking for 17-year-old Cheryl Barnes, who disappeared after visiting a shopping mall. Monti was blasted by a local reverend as being "satanic" for saying he had a "strong feeling" about storage sheds near the mall and their possible relationship to the girl's disappearance. Monti worked with television news reporters, going up in a news helicopter to search for the girl. Monti wasn't credited with anything in the widely publicized case because Barnes turned up unharmed in New York. She had run away from home.

Monti was also involved in the fruitless search for Tiffany Sessions, a 20-year-old University of Florida student who disappeared without a trace in 1989. A few months after the search for Sessions started, Monti was encouraged by a television station to go to the Gainesville campus to find clues to the disappearance. Tiffany's mother, Hilary Sessions, a resident of Valrico, Florida, (where Tiffany's room is just as she left it in 1989) says in no uncertain terms that Monti has no special powers and that he found nothing.

"He [demanded] $2,000 in cash from me, and it had to be green dollar bills, $20 bills or nothing at all. I had to pay him that, plus I had to pick up his expenses on top of that," she says. "We sat down and he gave me enough to get me interested, and then basically he said I've got you interested, I've got you hooked. Now, fork over the money."

...

Neither Monti nor any of his kind has ever proven to be useful to police, at least not in terms of "powers," and typically, Posner says, when the media goes away usually so do the psychics.

"I've never seen any convincing evidence nor have any of my hundreds or thousands of colleagues around the world. Having spent decades searching, none of us has found any convincing evidence that any psychic, whether a psychic detective or someone claiming psychokinesis or clairvoyance...or whatever kind of psychic powers alleged, none of us have ever found any convincing evidence that any sort of psychic power exists," Posner says. "So, it's not like we're singling out John Monti, whereas there are dozens of other successful psychic detectives and Monti just doesn't happen to be one of them. His record is probably as fine as any, which is absolute zero."

Monti says police were at a dead end in the Cox investigation, and they didn't want it to appear that they allowed something to happen to a young woman right next door to the police station. His arrival to the investigation gave police someone else to blame for failure.

...

http://www.dallasobserver.com/issues/2001-06-07/feature2.html/page1.html


Americans 'becoming more superstitious'

A Gallup poll has revealed that more Americans now believe in phenomena than they did 11 years ago.

It found that more people now believe in haunted houses, ghosts and witches. The only phenomena to have seen a decrease in belief is devil possession which went from 49% in 1990 to 41%.

The Gallup website reports that half or more of all those questioned believed in two of the issues - psychic or spiritual healing and extrasensory perception (ESP).

A third or more believed in such things as haunted houses, possession by the devil, ghosts, telepathy, extraterrestrial beings who have visited earth and clairvoyance.

A list of 13 experiences was drawn together and ranged from Halloween and occult-orientated phenomena, such as ghosts and witches, to mental experiences such as ESP, clairvoyance and psychic or spiritual healing.

Of all phenomena tested, belief in haunted houses, ghosts and witches, communicating with the dead, psychic or spiritual healing, aliens and clairvoyance all increased by more than 5% when compared with 10 years ago.

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_321742.html


Worshippers and exorcists plague Egyptian museum

An Egyptian museum in Swansea says it is being inundated with visitors who are worshipping mummies and exorcising relics to free trapped spirits.

One regular is convinced he is possessed by an Egyptian dog-god, while a female visitor claims to be the mother of a 2,000-year-old mummified baby.

Another woman performed an exorcism ceremony on a rack of 'ancient' death masks before staff pointed out they were only made a few weeks ago by local schoolchildren.

The Egypt Centre is housed in Swansea's University of Wales. Exhibits include a mummified crocodile, 100,000-year-old weapons and ornate coffins.

Assistant curator Wendy Goodridge said: "Some of our temporary staff have been so frightened by the activities of some of these strange people they have packed up and left.

"We want to welcome as many visitors as possible, but the behaviour of certain people leaves us with no choice but to ask some of them to go - or at least stop what they are doing."

She told the Western Mail interest in the centre had increased since the release of the films The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_321008.html?menu=


Thursday, June 07, 2001

CREATIONISM DEBATE REPORT AND MORE AMMO FOR EVOLUTIONISTS

The Shermer-Gish debate was held Friday night, June 1, in Phoenix, Arizona. Since it was held at a church it is no surprise that the fundamentalists were out in force. There were about 600 people total present, with a small contingent of about 30-40 skeptics and humanists that came as an organized block to support me, which I deeply appreciated so I would have some people to look at occasionally for a nod while the rest were shouting out their "read the Bible" and "Amen" and "Jesus is the answer" etc. (And special thanks to Jim Lippard and company who, during the break, provided me with many important points to make in my rebuttals.) So, of course, Gish's presentation was well received, which it would have been the case had he only gotten up and said "praise the Lord" and sat back down. (This was Gish's final debate as his wife has ALS, which he announced publicly at the debate, and she needs special attention from him. I said at the beginning of my presentation that we all wish him and his wife the best in this hard time.)

Overall I was well treated by the church staff in charge. The evening was very professionally organized, and most of the people were exceptionally polite (and in an odd way TOO polite, as if they don't trust themselves), although it did make me a little nervous when one church official told me after the debate when a big crowd of people surrounded me that he had assigned me a body guard (some big guy was standing there next to me) "just in case." Just in case WHAT? I thought Christians were suppose to be exceptionally tolerant. Well, in any case, I guess I was grateful for the gesture, "just in case." Actually the people standing there were VERY friendly, most of them offering to pray for me. Then a spontaneous debate broke out among them as to whether I would still be saved during the second coming, since I had once been a born again Christian in my youth (recounted in "How We Believe"). Since I had fallen away the question is whether when Jesus comes I'll be thrown into the lake of fire or if I might get to go to some way station for a second chance. Gish said during the debate that since I am an "atheist-evolutionist" (his favorite term) I was NEVER a born-again Christian because once you are born again you are always saved. I assured him that at the time I was, and was quite serious about it (I drove my family nuts with the constant preaching and I used to "witness" to strangers, which is sort of Amway with bibles), and therefore if I'm wrong now I'm still in there and will be saved. He didn't seem to agree.

Why do such debates? My hope is that for the kids, teenagers, and young folks in the audience (and that was about half the people) I was able to plant a meme of tolerance for other belief systems, and a basic understanding of how science really works (contrary to how Gish says it works). I did this a number of ways, some of which I shall post below from my notes. The material here is only a small supplement to what I have already written in rebuttal to the creationists in my books "Why People Believe Weird Things" and "How We Believe" (see also Ken Miller's splendid book "Finding Darwin's God" and Robert Pennock's "Tower of Babel.") These quotes from Gish, Morris, et al. are self-explanatory in their non-scientific approach to science:

"God used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe. This is why we refer to divine creation as special creation. We cannot discover by scientific investigation anything about the creative processes used by God."
--Duane Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Say No, p. 42
"As a missionary organization, ICR is funded by God's people. We believe God has raised up ICR to spearhead Biblical Christianity's defense against the godless dogma of evolutionary humanism. Only by showing the scientific bankruptcy of evolution, while exalting Christ and the Bible, will Christians be successful in 'the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exaltheth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ' (II
Corinthians 10:4,5)." --ICR Webpage
"The only way we can determine the true age of the earth is for God to tell us what it is. And since he has told us, very plainly, in the Holy Scriptures that it is several thousand years of age, and no more, that ought to settle all basic questions of terrestrial chronology."
--Henry Morris, Remarkable Birth, p. 94
You could not find a less scientific statement that Morris' above. I hammered this one home pretty hard.

For me the highlight of the evening was when I polled the audience as to how many agreed with Gish that the creation story should be taught in public schools. A veritable phalanx of hands shot up. I then went through a series of slides of different creation stories from around the world, asking for a show of hands as to how many think that this creation story or that creation story should be taught in public schools. Of course, no one raised their hands because they think all these other creation stories are silly myths. These are from the chapter in my book Why People Believe Weird Things on how to debate a creationist:

--No Creation Story from India, where "The world has always existed as it is now, unchanging from eternity."

--The Slain Monster Creation Story from Sumeria-Babylonia, where "The world was created from the parts of a slain monster."

--The Primordial Parents Creation Stories from the Zuni Indians, Cook Islanders, and Egyptians, where "The world was created by the interaction of primordial parents."

--The Cosmic Egg Creation Stories from Japan, Samoa, Persia, and China, where "The world was generated from an egg."

--The Sea Creation Stories from the Burmese, Choctaw Indians, and Icelanders, where "The world was created from out of the sea."

--The Spoken Edict Creation Stories from the Mayans, the Egyptians, and the Hebrews, where "The world sprang into being at the command of a god."

When I got to this last slide no one raised their hand, so I left if up and said, "Uh, are you SURE you don't want this last one taught, because THIS creation story is YOURS." Slowly it dawned on them what I was doing. Some hands started to go up, but the rest didn't want to be trapped any further. I then drove home the point that to insist that the government force public school children to learn one religious creation story to the exclusion of all others is not only in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause, it is religious bigotry. Since they didn't seem to be getting my point, I went over the top and yelled out "Shame on you. SHAME ON YOU. This is bigotry. It is racism. And it is wrong."

Well, THAT got their attention and really made some of them mad. In what has to be one of the most telling encounters of all the public addresses I have made, one woman in the Q & A admonished me for "playing the race card" and that she was offended that I called them all racists. I acknowledged that this WAS over the top, that I was sorry because, technically, this was not racism but bigotry, and more specifically, religious bigotry. She then sort of "ahrumphed" in triumph that she had scored one on me since I retracted the charge of racism, seemingly completely missing the point! So creationists are bigots but not racists. Yeah, THAT'S okay. And in case you think I'm exaggerating, here's an e-mail I received just this morning on this very point. I post the entire letter as I think this readership will find interesting his other points, especially considering this guy is a professor at Arizona State University where Donald Johanson, discoverer of the Australopithecine "Lucy," now works (he is praying for Don's salvation):
---------
"I attended the debate between you and Dr. Gish in Phoenix last night. I was appalled that you accused us of bigotry and racism. When questioned about the racism charge, you said, "I was just going off." This is a pretty weak excuse for such an outrageous, unprofessional charge. How about an "I'm sorry. I was wrong." That would have commanded forgiveness and respect. I forgive you anyway.

Why is it that when liberals are losing arguments, they pull out the race card? As a conservative Christian who works at Arizona State University, I debate liberals regularly, quite often students who write liberal columns in the student newspaper. They frequently allege racism (where racism does not exist) when the debate goes against them and they get desperate. It's a pattern I've seen repeatedly. I'm highly skeptical of these unsubstantiated racist charges.

As for your charge of bigotry regarding whether or not we would advocate the teaching of those bizarre stories in public schools: Of course it would be ridiculous to teach nonsensical things to students, either in science or literature classes, when it is quite obvious that the stories (at least the examples you used) are without merit. Why waste the students' time? Why damage the cause of intellectualism any further than the public schools and many public universities have already done. In fact, your Skeptics organization ought to expose Ivy League schools and other universities that offer sham curriculum that does little to prepare graduates for the workplace.

I was interested in hearing Donald Johanson's name come up last night. For the past few months, I have been praying daily for his salvation. If the Lord elects to reel him in, Johanson would be an incredible ally for Jesus. It is a sham that millions and millions of tax dollars go to government-funded research for people conducting research in the name of evolution. If the Earth is billions of years old and if man has been around 40,000 to 90,000 years, surely evolution could have been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt by now. Carbon dating is totally unreliable about the aging of things. And archaeology continues to substantiate the claims of the Bible. Man has been given no reason to doubt anything in the Bible.

Have you read Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Faith? It answers some of the questions you raised last night, particularly the one about God destroying the Canaanites, who were very evil people. If the Canaanites were around today, we might compare them to the Nazi's and no one would complain about subduing them. Strobel points out how physics and astronomy professors are very supportive of creation, and this is true at ASU.

Walter Bradley, retired engineering professor at Texas A&M, has shot holes through evolution that this hoax can never recover from. He is also featured in Strobel's book.

Throughout the debate last night, you made inconsistent remarks about your belief/lack of belief in God that severely damaged your debating effectiveness. And I was under the impression that agnostics do believe in God but they choose not to be obedient to God. That is not the definition of agnosticism I heard from you last night.

I don't buy your argument on vestigial (you used "vestigital" a couple times) organs either. Even the human appendix serves a useful purpose.

The Bible contains some 2,500 prophecies, of which about 2,000 have already come true. I'd say that is a pretty darn good track record. Those who believe in the Bible are using sound reasoning.

I know some people who allege to be Christians but also believe in evolution. You were right when you ridiculed them. They have compromised with the culture.

Finally, I was wondering if you wore black last night to figuratively give a finger to the church. Maybe that's a reach on my part, but the thought certainly entered my mind. Was it a conscious thing on your part?

It took guts to argue your point as the "visiting team" in a church, but at least it got you into church for an evening!"
----------
HERE ARE A FEW ADDITIONAL NOTES I MADE JUST BEFORE THE DEBATE THAT YOU MIGHT FIND USEFUL:

"Human embryos have pharyngeal pouches, a tail and six aortic arches--all features found in embryonic fish. But our pouches become glands and ducts instead of gill slits, our tail disappears, and our aortic arches (which remain six in some fish) either disappear or are transformed into carotid, systemic and pulmonary arteries. In our first trimester we develope the lanugo, a coat of hair that is shed before birth. Are these patterns mere whims of the Intelligent Designer, or evidence or our common ancestry with fish and furry primates? Embryos of whales and some snakes develop hindlimb buds that regress before birth; embryos of baleen whales possess teeth that later disappear; and horse embryos have three well-developed toes, with the outer two shrinking to leave the singl-digit hoof."
--Jerry Coyne, Nature, April 12, 2001, 745 More embryonic examples: ELEPHANTS --modern elephants have two tusks growing from the maxilla, or upper jaw. But during the development of an elephant fetus, it grows not only these two but also a pair in the lower jaw, or mandible. The mandibular tusks are reabsorbed before birth and only the maxillary tusts remain. --22 new species of elephants in the last 4 million years, and sure enough there in the first couple of million years were elephants with four tusks!

VESTIGIAL ORGANS
Cave fish have vestigial, useless eyes, which evolved from sighted fish of non-cave habitats. Why would God do this? Was this part of the "fall" and original sin by cave fish?

PELVIC GIRDLE
Good for attaching your legs to your body, but lots of animals with no legs still have a pelvic girdle: whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals, and some snakes. Why would God do this?

ORIGIN OF NEW SPECIES OBSERVED: ROCK WALLABIES GO TO HAWAII
1916 a collector imported 3 rock wallabies from Australia to Oahu, HI. Two escaped after an attack by dogs, established a wild populations that numbers about 250 individuals living in the steep dry cliffs of Kalihi Valley. Since then they have gotten smaller, lighter-colored, proteins have changted, evolved a new liver enzyme enabling them to feed on Hawaiian plants that are toxic to the Australian rock wallaby, and they do not and cannot interbreed with the original ancestral Australian species. By definition, this makes them a new species!

No flowering plants are found deeper than Cretaceous rock, but ferns go all the way back to the Carboniferous, and algae far into the Precambrian. According to creationists, the geological column and fossil sequence was all layed down during the flood according to "hydrodynamic sorting" where the smartest animals ran to the hills during the rain and thus died in higher strata. Are we to believe that plants are smarter than ferns, and ferns smarter than algae? And how did they "run" for the hills, anyway?

ARCHAEOPTERYX
Gish says it just a bird because it has feathers. Actually there are 23 anatomical features in this fossil, some reptile-like, some bird-like. We now think that there are only 3 bird-like features and that this was mostly a reptile. In any case, it certainly was not a bird.

Transitional fossils: misnomer. Organisms are not "on their way" to becoming something else. Evolution does not work this way. Organisms are simply well-adapted to their local environment. An archaeopteryx is neither bird nor reptile. It is its own kind.
--------------------------
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.

MORE ON GISH, CREATIONISM, RELIGION

An important clarification from the last e-Skeptic in the letter where the guy wrote: "I know some people who allege to be Christians but also believe in evolution. You were right when you ridiculed them. They have compromised with the culture."

No, no. That was GISH who ridiculed them. I initially brought up the point in noting the demographic stats showing that 45% of Americans are strict creationists, 45% fully accept evolution but believe it was God's way of creating life, and 10% are evolutionists who leave God out of the formula. My point was that apparently it is quite possible to believe both since tens of millions of Americans do. When Gish got up to speak he immediately pounced on that statistic, saying that the second 45% were compromising their Christian values and had been wrongly influenced by the liberal culture.

In general I wish to make it clear that when I hammer hard on the creationists I am NOT saying that all Christians are in that cohort. The small "l" libertarian in me (by temperment) prefers the live and let live philosophy, but it's a two way street. So when people get in my face with their beliefs, then the gloves are coming off and no holds are barred, particularly when science is being attacked.

Before the Giary theory and totally reject creationism. To wit:

"I'm a Christian who can't attend, but if I could, it wouldn't be to support Gish. We Christians are a motley bunch. Granted, many of us are Gish-types, but many of us are not. Keep doing what you're doing; a lot of us are on your side."

And:

"It's unfortunate that the "old earth creationist" viewpoint was apparently not represented. As you probably know, the "thousands of years old" interpretation of Genesis has not traditionally been the consensus of Christian thought through the ages. Perhaps the most vocal in recent years, thanks to our friends at ICR, but certainly not the consensus."

And:

"I consider myself an open-minded Christian, and generally enjoy your newsletters. While I believe in God and Christ, I don't deny evolution at all. I believe the Bible can be used as a spiritual and moral guide, but I don't believe everything in it can or should be taken literally and applied blindly to today's society, and in light of today's scientific understanding."

And:

"I enjoy your writings and find them very thought provoking and challenging. I will say up front that I am a believer in God and would consider myself an 'evangelical' Christian, but I think it is appropriate that I consider all the evidence on both sides so that I don't blindly go through life like so many other 'Christians', or even atheists or agnostics. (I don't think any religious or non-religious group has a monopoly on stupidity.) After reading The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (by Mark A. Noll) a few months ago, I am more ashamed than ever of the anti-intellectual attitude of many of today's Christians. Your comments about the audience in this debate are too true and really disgusting to me. I wish there were some way I could apologize for this and make these people listen and think critically. The ICR folks are particularly amazing in their determined refusal to even consider scientific data and theories that do not mesh with their 'spritually revealed correct' views."

And finally:

"I am a born-again Christian. I believe in special creation, and also evolution. I don't have a problem with either side. You said that you "used to be" a Christian. Does that mean you aren't now? Do you think Christianity and science are incompatible? Why?"
-------
I am not now a Christian. I am a skeptic, a "thoughtful inquirer" in its original Greek meaning. Christianity and science are not incompatible, as long as you are not claiming that God intervenes in any measurable way. If He/She/It does intervene, and a claim is being made that somehow science can measure this and therefore there is scientific evidence in support of God's existence, then it is fair for scientists to look into the matter, question the claim like we would question any claim, test it, experiment on it, etc. (e.g., prayer and healing). I have a long discussion of this in How We Believe, particularly in the new paperback edition in which I added a new Introduction to clarify this very point because it is a touchy one.

A good example can be found in the writings of Phillip Johnson, who apparently read my e-Skeptic about the debate, and wrote to someone (who forwarded it to me via God {or whomever} only knows how many channels: "Shermer's reports always have a self-congratulatory tone, but he does provide a lot of detail. As a debater, he seems more interested in playing to his own crowd rather than winning over any persuadables." - Phil

Unlike Gish? In any case, Phil, if you get this here is my question for you: unlike most scientists (or so you claim) who will not let you introduce the supernatural into the game of science, I am more than happy to allow it. Go ahead, introduce the supernatural into a scientific paper. What would that look like? For the life of me I cannot imagine how it could be anything other than "God did it" or "ID did it" or "aliens did it" or "a mysterious force is operating here" or as Sidney Harris showed it so brilliantly in his cartoon of the two scientists at a blackboard filled with equations with "THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS" smack in the middle, the one says "I think you should be more explicit here in step two." Phil, could you please be more explicit in your desire to overturn naturalism and explain what it is you would replace it with, or add to it? And let's say that you did go in search of the supernatural mechanism by which ID created the parts of the allegedly irreducibly complex flagellum (or the eye or whatever). If you discover that ID used the electromagnetic force, or the weak nuclear force, or gravity, or telekinesis, or whatever, now you are back in our camp of naturalism. I.e., "supernaturalism" is just a word meaning "beats the hell out of me, I give up and will just say 'and then a miracle occurs.'" Those must be short days at the laboratory.

On the point of reaching young folks, I did get this nice letter in support from a reader who brought his sons to the debate:

"If your goal was to reach some young minds, I think you succeeded. My two teenaged sons were with me at the debate. They were both fascinated by the debate and in the ride home discussed a lot of the points that you had made. I think they came away with a better understanding of both sides of the issue, a better understanding about science and the scientific method, and strong doubt about using the Bible for answers to scientific questions. Though Gish was an interesting speaker, and they might like to have him as the pastor at their church, they wouldn't want him as their science teacher."

Another friend wrote me this interesting take on the debate I referenced about whether I would go to hell or not (because I was once saved):

"Michael, in your e-mail recounting the reaction of the debate audience, where they got together debating whether "once saved, always saved" and whether you are Hell bound for changing your mind...I was reminded of a rather obscure fundagelical doctrine...NOT shared by all fundagelicals. This is called "The Doctrine of Eternal Security." Do you know of it? It seems your audience was divided on it. Those who thought you "remain saved" base their views on 1 John, 3:9 "Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." There's another verse, too...can't find it this afternoon in my concordance..."He that cometh unto me I shall in no wise cast out."

The literal consequences of this are that Michael Shermer is bound for Heaven despite anything he may say, or do, since he became "born again." Apply this to Hitler and Schweitzer...Hitler may have been "born again" in his youth. No one knows, but for the sake of argument, let's say he was. Schweitzer, however, despite devoting his life to "good works," wrote extensively that he did not regard Jesus as part of the God head. A Missionary Society in London or some awful place refused to bankroll his first trips to Lambarame (sp?) because of this serious lapse in doctrine. So...Hitler goes to Heaven, Schweitzer goes to Hell."
----------
Finally, there is this nice letter from a reader with a slightly different take:

"I do sincerely admire your bravery in going up against so many zealous Christians. I share a similar "spiritual history" with you, as I too was a very serious, born again Christian in my youth (from approximately age 16 - 25). It was my first spiritual experience and actually I am very grateful for those years now because it helped me through a difficult adolescence (family alcoholism, my parents divorce, etc.). But, like you, I eventually lost my childlike faith in Christianity-- and then went through a few "difficult years" (call it a delayed adolescence), which led me to my present state of blessed agnosticism/humanism, with some Joseph Campbell, Buddhism/Taoism, Emmet Fox, Ken Wilbur, Carl Sagan, etc. It's an exciting journey!

Regarding debating evolution/creation, I've got a different take on it. As I still have many cherished friends who remain serious Christians (as well as a few Mormons, etc.), I have no desire to start a theological debate with them. My reasoning is simple -- if Christianity is "working" for them, i.e., it gives them hope and a reason for living, then why would I want to "talk them out of it."? Unlike Christians, I have no "Great Commission" which I must adhere to in order to be a good humanist. Of course, should anyone come to me and ask me sincerely for details about my spiritual path, then of course I will share it with them. But to force it down the throats of serious Christians (whom, as you know, if they are SERIOUS Christians, then the spiritual journey has officially ENDED the minute they accept Jesus into their heart -- the have "FOUND IT." The journey is over for them. For me my journey has only just begun. But they could never understand that. All they know is I will spend an eternity burning in hell. And as I was in their place in the past, I completely understand them. I've been there, as you have.) -- well, to share my innermost spiritual beliefs with their closed minds (to steal from the Holy Bible), that would be akin to "...casting pearls to swine."

Anyway, you do good work. Thanks Michael!

Astrology hoax
But I repeat myself.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=005175210011525&rtmo=gGrnZlbu&atmo=rrrrrrrq&pg=/et/01/6/6/wnep206.html

A NEPALESE Royal Astrologer confessed yesterday that the massacre of the royal family in a hail of bullets had been "unforeseen".

Mangal Raj Joshi: family has worked for Nepal's Shah kings for more than 20 generations Mangal Raj Joshi, the court astrologer, said yesterday: "No one expected it. I am not able to explain what happened but it is terrible." The 81-year-old astrologer was sitting cross-legged in a dingy room in a suburb of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, surrounded by astrological charts, horoscopes and faded pictures of the murdered King Birendra and Queen Aishwaraya.

He added: "Heavenly planets control the situation on the ground and sometimes we are unable to explain them adequately." Joshi, whose family has worked for Nepal's Shah kings for more than 20 generations, continues as the new King Gyanendra's astrologer and as head of the National Calendar Committee. His first task for the new monarch is to determine the most auspicious time for his crowning on Monday morning.

Nepal's royals, like the rest of the country, are dependent on astrologers, palmists and soothsayers. They rely heavily on their star-reading skills and ability to "manage" planets to help them navigate their private and public lives. Joshi said he had not consulted with the two other royal soothsayers after last week's killings because the 10 deaths had "numbed" them all.

He claimed no knowledge, other than from newspaper accounts, of the astrological prediction that cautioned King Birendra's son and heir Dipendra from marrying before he was 35 years old, as that would spell the end of the Shah dynasty. The prince is believed to have gunned down his parents and seven relatives after a row over his choice of bride.

However, Joshi confessed to having lost King Birendra's horoscope, a complex symbol of geometrical diagrams and Sanskrit symbols, prepared on the basis of the exact time and place of his birth. The chart would have mapped out the dead king's life in detail.

But the court soothsayer, who also teaches astrology at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University, admits that determining any person's date of death requires "deep and intense study". Joshi also taught Crown Prince Dipendra geography in his MA besides giving him "celestial" advice. Joshi, a valued aide, was awarded the coveted Right Hand of the Gorkha medal by the dead king.

His duties at court include deciding the date and time for all major royal events and presiding over the monarch's birthday celebrations.

'Tiny flying alien' spotted in Turkey

From Ananova at:

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_316229.html?menu=news.latestheadlines

A field in Turkey has been sealed off by police after a villager claimed he saw a 2ft tall flying alien in a yellow suit.

Fevzi Cam, his wife and another woman said they spotted the alien on Monday morning as they rode on a tractor to a tobacco field.

Mr Cam said he threw stones at the creature, which was wearing a shiny, yellow-grey outfit with a yellow light on the front.

Regional governor Ayhan Cevik ordered police to protect the field near Narli in Usak province, despite having doubts about the claim.

He said: "We have more important matters to deal with but we have no other choice. The area is being protected, we are waiting for the scientists."

A team from Sirius, a Turkish UFO research group, is on its way to the scene. It will check radiation levels and analyse the soil.

Two other villagers claim to have seen lights in the area at the same time as Mr Cam saw the alien. He described it as just over two feet tall with a wide, round head and wide eyes.

He said: "It didn't have wings or a propeller but it could fly upward."

TV company pays 20,000 for Derbyshire UFO video

From Ananova at:

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_311943.html

A US television company has paid a Derbyshire woman 20,000 for a video of an apparent UFO shot near her home.

Kiviat Productions paid Sharon Rowlands for the six-minute tape of what appeared to be a three-mile wide saucer. Nasa are also said to be interested in viewing the tape she made last October.

The craft is said to have resembled a disc covered with yellow, orange and blue lights. It had a dark centre and sent out light pulses.

There have been at least 20 apparent UFO sightings in the Bonsall area in recent months, many involving "enormous" craft, according to witnesses. The California company are said to have called the video one of "the top five pieces of UFO footage ever".

Ms Rowlands, 44, said: "I was a complete disbeliever but this has made me think twice. The thing was huge and through the lens it looked like it was going to hit me. I just couldn't believe it."

It is reported Nasa believe the craft was similar to one spotted by their cameras during a space-shuttle mission.

Robert Kiviat, of the TV company, said: "The film will shock people."

Flying saucer videoed

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=000631269538671&rtmo=V1juP1xx&atmo=rrrrrrrq&pg=/et/01/6/1/nbul01.html

A HOUSEWIFE who believes she has video-taped a flying saucer hovering over her home is hoping the six-and-a-half minute sequence will earn her a substantial sum from syndication rights. Sharon Rowlands, 44, from the village of Bonsall in the Derbyshire Dales, has sent the tape to an American producer specialising in UFO footage. It shows what appears to be a large craft that emits pulses of red, yellow, orange and blue lights. After flipping over, it disappears in a red flash.


Tuesday, June 05, 2001

FWD (IUFO) Re: ET found on Egyptian Tomb Mural

From: Terry W. Colvin

Matthew Hurley has an excellent page devoted to this type of imagery located at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/m.hurley/index2.html

FWD (IUFO) ET found on Egyptian Tomb Mural!

From: Terry W. Colvin

Now we see "ET" added to the other misidentified helicopter, submarine, plane and hovercraft symbols.

Terry

-----
Dear Group.
Whilst recently searching a few websites on Egyptology I came across an amazing picture that was taken inside the Tomb of Ptah-Hotep at Saqqara in Egypt. An alien 'Grey' can clearly be seen in a scene depicted on one of the tomb walls. The picture is supposed to represent the servants of Ptah-Hotep making offerings of food.

I have managed to track down 3 different pictures of this mural and you can view them at:

http://www.darkstar1.co.uk/cosmicegypt.html

The discovery of such a picture dating back to the 5th Dynasty period obviously has huge implications and also ties in well with the recent discovery of the 'Nefertiti' anomalie on Mars.

New database lets you research alternative medicine questions

Some Alternative Answers

By Jennifer Thomas
HealthScoutNews Reporter

SATURDAY, May 26 (HealthScoutNews) -- Can meditation really lower your blood pressure? Does magnesium ease asthma?

In laboratories across the nation, researchers are constantly asking such questions while conducting medical studies to determine whether complementary or alternative medicines can really do you any good.

Now, you can see the latest results for yourself.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Library of Medicine recently launched a new Internet database that lets you freely access more than 200,000 medical journal articles on alternative or complementary medicine, which includes hundreds of herbs, supplements, treatments and techniques. The articles deal with topics that range from homeopathy to hypnosis, chelation therapy to chiropractic.

Called CAM, the new database is part of PubMed, a free system that gives the public access to 11 million citations from medical journal articles.

The database "represents a major step in mainstreaming CAM research information," says Dr. Stephen E. Straus, the director of NCCAM, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

And Dr. David Spiegel, medical director of Stanford University Health System's Complementary Medicine Clinic, calls the new database a valuable tool for patients and medical professionals.

"What NCCAM is trying to do is bring science to the practice of alternative medicine," Spiegel says. "Some of these treatments work, some don't. The goal is to integrate what is good about complementary and mainstream medicine to inform practitioners and patients."

Spiegel has one caveat, however. Because the articles in the database are written for scientists and doctors, patients could perhaps misinterpret the results, he says. So before starting a new supplement or treatment, you should consult with your doctor. Because some alternative medicines are so potent, you need to make sure there won't be any side-effects or interactions with other medicines you're taking, he adds.

"Patients are becoming a major force in educating physicians," Spiegel also notes. "They download something off the Internet, take it to [their] doctor's office and say, 'Why aren't you giving me this?' Sometimes doctors have a very good reason for it; sometimes it's new to them. It keeps everyone on their toes."

The CAM database was established in response to the increase in popularity of alternative medicine, Straus says.

Between 1990 and 1997, the number of Americans using an alternative therapy rose from about 33 percent to more than 42 percent, according to a 1998 survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And according to a 1998 study, 75 of the nation's 125 medical schools were offering courses that cover topics like acupuncture, herbal medicine or therapeutic massage.

Getting respect from traditional doctors "has been a long process," says Donald Rosenthal, the president of the American Alternative Medicine Association who is a chiropractor in Gilmer, Texas.

"People with back pain don't want to spend their lives on painkillers. People with osteoporosis want a natural supplement instead of prescription medicines," Gilmer says. "They are finding traditional medicine has not worked for them, and they are looking elsewhere."

And traditional medicine has also been informed by alternative medicine, Spiegel says, adding that, Digitalis, for example, a drug prescribed to treat heart arrhythmias, is a derivative of the foxglove plant, which has been used as a herbal treatment for years.

"Who knows where the next medical advance will come from?" he says.

What To Do

To learn more about magnet therapy, acupuncture, homeopathy or dozens of other alternative treatments, check out the CAM database on PubMed ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=PubMed&orig_db=PubMed&cmd_current=Limits&pmfilter_Subsets=Complementary+Medicine).

Searching the site is easy. Just type in a subject, author name or article title to retrieve a list of related articles. [But if you access the PubMed site directly, not using the url above, click on limits and make sure "Complementary" shows in the dropdown box at the far right.]

The Hawaii Medical Library's Consumer Health Information Network also has extensive links to other alternative medicine sites.
(http://hml.org/CHIS/comp.html}

Or check out these other HealthScoutNews stories on alternative medicine.

http://www.healthscout.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/Af.woa?search=alternative%20medicine

SOURCES: Interviews with David Spiegel, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, Calif.;
Stephen E. Straus, M.D., director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Silver Spring, Md.; Donald Rosenthal, president of the American Alternative Medicine Association


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