NTS LogoSkeptical News for 24 August 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, August 24, 2001

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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Today's Headlines - August 15, 2001

from The New York Times

An international team of astrophysicists has discovered that the basic laws of nature as understood today may be changing slightly as the universe ages, a surprising finding that could rewrite physics textbooks and challenge fundamental assumptions about the workings of the cosmos.

The researchers used the world's largest single telescope to study the behavior of metallic atoms in gas clouds as far away from Earth as 12 billion light years. The observations revealed patterns of light absorption that the team could not explain without assuming a change in a basic constant of nature involving the strength of the attraction between electrically charged particles.

If confirmed, the finding could mean that other constants regarded as immutable, like the speed of light, might also have changed over the history of the cosmos.

The work was conducted by scientists in the United States, Australia and Britain and was led by Dr. John K. Webb of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. It is to be published on Aug. 27 in the field's most prestigious journal, Physical Review Letters.

from The Associated Press

LONDON - New research suggests that it may be safer to clone people than sheep because humans don't have a genetic defect implicated in producing oversized offspring.

However, cloning experts cautioned that the finding, published in Wednesday's issue of the journal Human Molecular Genetics, does not mean cloning would necessarily be easier in humans.

Scientists don't know all the factors that determine whether cloning succeeds or fails, or how important each factor is.

The gene, insulin-like growth factor II receptor (IGF2R), is a suspect in some of the problems in cloned animals, but it is not the only one, said Ian Wilmut, a professor at the Roslin Institute, the home of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult.

from The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. - The University of Wisconsin's patent agency is suing a California company that funded pioneering stem cell research, an effort university officials hope will ensure more firms have access to the work.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation asked the U.S. District Court in Madison to stop Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., from trying to limit the foundation's ability to work with other researchers to develop new stem cell types.

"This action will ensure that future research is conducted in the public interest by preserving the broadest access to these original stem cell lines," UW Chancellor John Wiley said in a statement Monday.

from The New York Times

When does a human life begin? Scientists' desire to study human embryonic stem cells has raised this ancient question to new prominence.

The Catholic Church says that life begins at fertilization, when egg and sperm unite and that the embryo created from this union has the same rights due any person. Because embryos must be destroyed to generate embryonic stem cells, opponents of the research say it is morally unacceptable.

But embryos have been destroyed routinely at fertility clinics for decades, long before the prospect of stem cell research came along.

For some reason, perhaps the relatively recent origin of the human species, many human embryos are imperfect and fail to develop or implant properly in the wall of the uterus. Fertility clinics typically generate eight or nine embryos per pregnancy, of which only the healthiest looking are implanted. The rest are stored, and ultimately, most are destroyed.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

An obscure drug once widely used against malaria is showing such early promise against the brain-killing particles that cause mad cow disease that San Francisco doctors are already trying the drug on the first desperately ill patients.

Experimenting with an unproven drug in humans is usually considered unethical before clinical trials have even started. But doctors said this is no usual case: The patients have no other options, and the malaria remedy, called quinacrine, has been on the market for decades.

Disclosure of what could be the first drugs to fight the infectious particles prompted a flurry of excitement in Great Britain, where a reported 105 people have contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow disease, after consuming infected beef.

Dr. Bruce Martin, a neurologist at the University of California at San Francisco, confirmed yesterday that the first two patients, both suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, had been started on quinacrine in late July.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Ken Lajoie will never forget the day in 1998 he watched the side of the cliff overlooking the ocean in Pacifica with those cute little houses on top, begin to crumble just as he knew it would sooner or later.

The full fury of El Nino' storms had hit Esplanade Drive residents several days earlier, leaving several Esplanade houses teetering on the edge and residents terrified.

"I dropped all my other research then and concentrated on this," he said.

The white-bearded geologist is on a one-man crusade to educate people about the coast and the ocean and how they interact. His simple but blunt message for homeowners, developers and government planners is twofold:

-- Tamper with the coast at your own peril.
-- Living right on its edge often begs catastrophe.

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Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks again to Joe Littrell

Forum seeks space aliens
Miami Herald


"Are you a witness?"

Men Bought Skull to Be Millionaires


"Three men hoping to be millionaires were arrested in southwestern Nigeria for possessing a human skull that they planned to use in money-making rituals, police said Tuesday."

Liverite Maker Settles FTC Charge
Associated Press


"The maker of Liverite dietary supplements is settling federal charges that it falsely claimed its products could work wonders, from preventing serious liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis to curing hangovers."

JAMA Editors Say They Were Duped
Associated Press


"The distinguished Journal of the American Medical Association says it got duped into publishing a medical student's phony account of an elderly Alaskan villager walking out onto the frozen Arctic Ocean to commit suicide."

There is something fishy in Vermont
by Bram Eisentha
National Post


"Lake Champlain is placid, calm and generally quiet, save for the boat motors of summer enthusiasts, the plunking of fisherman's lines into the murky depths and the sightseeing cruises of the Spirit of the Ethan Allan II."

Going Bananas
by Pete Thomas
Los Angeles Times


"They're sweet, nutritious, and might even help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of strokes."

Past Notes
by Jonathan Sale
The Guardian


"Anniversary of the week: Angels of Mons.

"On August 26 1914, the British army was, as so often during the first world war, engaged in a highly skilful retreat, in this instance from 160,000 Germans advancing on its untenable position at Mons, in Belgium."

Syndicated psychic TV-channels the dead
By Brian Lowry
Los Angeles Times (reprinted in Seattle Times)


"A memorable episode of "The X-Files" featured a serial killer who preyed on psychics and fortune tellers. "You really should have seen this coming," he says, almost apologetically, as he descends on one of his victims."

PS: The story is there - but there may be trouble with the links. If you get the error message, click on the search engine and search on "psychic." It is the first story the engine will return.

The "Red-Light Therapy"

From: gj bart bronco@olagrande.net

Has anyone seen or heard of this before?..the "Red Light Therapy?"

URL: http://www.healnet.com/bdrlite.htm

Description: "Red Light Therapy / The Relief Light"...[it is used for many different conditions, exclaiming to be beneficial, including accupuncture, and accupressure...BUT in it's "applications" descriptions, it also makes note: "The Relief-Light/518 should be considered as an educational and experimental device and not a medical instrument. The following application examples should be considered as basic protocols for learning how the technology works and for experimentation only. At no time should the Relief-Light/518 be used to replace proper medical treatment, or be considered as a replacement for proper physician care"]

go figure...I am STILL tired of all this Alternative "medicine" double-talk, whether the above person herds goats, or sells "Red Lights, or sticks candles in their orifices!"...::blowing a raspberry to ALL goat herding Natual Menopause medicine women, red-light sellers, and ear candler advocates::...Donna

[healthfraud] astrology (fwd)

From: gj bart bronco@olagrande.net


August 20, 2001

Today's Stories:


3. Astrology in Universities
Source: The Sunday Times

UNITED KINGDOM, June 17, 2001: Several British institutions are to make the study of astrology mainstream again. Southampton University has formed a research group for the critical study of astrology and three students are to investigate links between the planets and various aspects of human behavior.

Researchers from universities in Manchester and Plymouth are testing data in other projects for astrological "truth." By the end of this year, two more British universities hope to start astrological research. Academic astrology is now available in the United States, too. According to Dr. Christopher French, who investigates the psychology of the paranormal at Goldsmiths College in London, about 75% of people read horoscopes. Nancy Reagan brought back the idea of a court consultant and is said to have rescheduled important meetings according to the stars. The late Princess Diana also had her own personal astrologer. Some big businesses, too, take astrology seriously enough to spend money on it, believing that astrology can be an invaluable guide to trends.

Beware of Electrosmog

Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com


FarShores News

Posted Aug 21 2001

Beware of Electrosmog
[Original headline: Beware of electrosmog ]

Salzgitter (Germany): You cannot see it or smell it, but many experts fear that electrosmog could be damaging our health.

Despite its misleading name, electrosmog has nothing to do with the kind of pollution that fills many cities each summer. It is the possible effect on health from electric, magnetic or electromagnetic fields from electronic devices, explained Olaf Schulz of the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection here in northern Germany.

The experts said there are two forms of this radiation: low frequency electric and magnetic fields given off by washing machines, vacuum cleaners and dish washers, and high frequency electro-magnetic fields that radiate from mobile phones.

Joachim Gertenbach of the German Federal Association Against Electrosmog, based in Wuppertal, claims: devices create electro-magnetic fields which can result in headaches, lack of concentration, allergies or immune weakness in people who are electro-sensitive.

He warns of possible long-term damaging effects of electro-magnetic radiation. Some experts believe it can cause cancer, although there is no scientific proof for this.

But Schulz said there is enough existing scientific uncertainty to exercise caution, and he recommends avoiding unnecessary high fields. dpa

Story originally published by:
The Star, Petaling Jaya / Malaysia - Aug 21 2001

Earthquake prediction

From: Matt Ledgerwood

Don't you just hate it when this sort of thing happens?

On 17 Aug


And then on 22 Aug


Oddly enough there has been little mention in the news here about the accurate prediction, I would have thought they would have jumped on it. Maybe they deserve more credit than I thought.

Matt Ledgerwood.

Noah's ark & satellites

From: Kevin P. France


Commercial high-resolution satellite cameras are looking for the ark now.

Hoyle versus Archaeopteryx, evolution, the universe

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

From the obit in the Telegraph -


PROFESSOR SIR FRED HOYLE, who has died aged 86, was Britain's best-known astronomer and (until Stephen Hawking's work became generally known) physicist, as well as a much-admired writer of science fiction; he was also an outrageous mischief-maker who took a delight in enraging his academic colleagues.

He and his close associate, Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe, head of mathematics at University College, Wales, used to make other scientists so angry that some even wrote a special sub-program for their word processors which, by pressing a single key, caused the words "Contrary to the views of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe . . . " to appear on the screen.

The H & W keys were pressed liberally in January 1990, when the two men published an article in the journal Nature claiming that sunspots caused 'flu epidemics. Their conclusion, which infuriated medical scientists, was based on their rigidly held belief that space is full of viruses that cause not only 'flu but Aids and Legionnaire's disease as well.

Storms on the Sun's surface (indicated by sunspots) were supposed to drive these viruses into the Earth's atmosphere, whereupon diseases spread.

Still greater fury arose from their claim that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was wrong, and that evolution occurred because mutating life forms continually fall from space. Nor, Hoyle thought, was this an accident. It was deliberately arranged long ago by a super-intelligent civilisation who wished to "seed" our planet. To establish this case, they made claims that outraged their critics still further. The accusation that caused the most anger was that Archaeopteryx, one of the most significant pieces of evidence for natural selection, was a fake.

Archaeopteryx was a creature, half reptile, half bird, that lived about 60 million years ago. The fossil of this feathered reptile, one of the prides of the British Museum, showed that the creature was in the process of evolving from one species to another. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe rejected this inconvenient evidence by claiming that its feathers were actually made of concrete and were surreptitiously put there in 1861 by its discoverer, Carl Haeberlein.

Their book Archaeopteryx, the Primordial Bird: A Case of Fossil Forgery (1986) was reviewed with unprecedented savagery in the New Scientist by the Reading University zoologist Beverly Halstead: "This book is couched in such intemperate language and contains such demonstrable falsehoods, as well as hardly imaginable calumnies of persons unable to defend themselves, that it is exceedingly difficult not to fall into the trap of exploding into an emotional tirade. Its main thesis is patently ludicrous and can be proved to be false . . . We must ask the question: what is this all about? This is the unsavoury aspect, which makes this one of the most despicable pieces of writing it has been my misfortune ever to read.

"It displays utter contempt for minimal standards of scholarship - the book seems to portray a hatred of Charles Darwin and a most involved and twisted mentality towards zoologists. This libellous nonsense will remain for a long time a stain on the reputations of both authors." Dr Tom Kemp, curator of the University Museum at Oxford, added: "Certainly the claim that Archaeopteryx is a fake should be investigated.

But the investigation should be done by those who actually understand fossils, not a couple of people who exhibit nothing more than a Gargantuan conceit that they are clever enough to solve other people's problems for them, when they do not even begin to recognise their nature and complexity." Hoyle himself denied writing anything objectionable, but conceded: "We may have included a few mild sarcasms."


There's also an obit by Bernard Lovell in the Guardian -


- which makes much of his exclusion from the Nobel awarded to Fowler -


Although Hoyle was most widely known for this cosmological theory, there is little doubt that his most lasting and significant contribution to science concerns the origin of the elements. This theory of nucleogenesis (the build-up of the elements in the hot interiors of stars) was an outstanding scientific landmark of the 1950s. In the development of this theory Hoyle collaborated with WA Fowler of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and with Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge.


The paper, published in an American journal in 1957, has been described as monumental, and the theory has had a cardinal influence on astrophysics. Although there were four authors, it is widely known that the Burbidges contributed the data from their stellar observations and that the core and essence of the paper was the work of Fowler and Hoyle. Fowler was awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 1983, and why Hoyle was not included in this award remains a mystery hidden in the confidential documents of the Royal Swedish Academy. The editor of the scientific journal Nature suggested that the academy did not wish to be associated with any endorsement of another idea then being promulgated by Hoyle.

This was linked to Hoyle's belief that life must be of frequent occurrence in the universe. He argued that the primeval molecules from which life evolved on Earth had been transported from elsewhere in the universe.


Although personally I think his finest tribute comes from the biog in an early edition of 'The Black Cloud' - "Fred Hoyle, who expresses himself at the same time with the precision of a scientist and the bluntness of a Yorkshireman..."


Take That, NASA

From: Rob Hardy

A convincing series of NASA photographs along with a well-argued case for each one to show how the moon landings were faked:



Thursday, August 23, 2001

Men Bought Skull to Be Millionaires

LAGOS (Reuters) - Three men hoping to be millionaires were arrested in southwestern Nigeria for possessing a human skull that they planned to use in money-making rituals, police said Tuesday.

"We arrested the three suspects last week at Ota," a police spokesman told Reuters. "One of them was in possession of a fresh human skull, which he said he bought for 500 naira ($4.50)."

The skull was to be used in witchcraft which the suspects believed would make them instant millionaires, the police said.

"The ritualist who allegedly sold the human skull is now at large," the spokesman said.

Ritual killing is common in some parts of Africa's most populous country, where people believe witchcraft involving the use of vital human organs such as genitals, eyes, tongues and skulls can make their fortunes.

In July, a teenage girl confessed to taking part in the ritual killing of 48 people in the last seven years after being initiated into a secret cult.

The 13-year-old told police in the northeastern city of Maiduguri that the body parts of victims, who included a two-year-old boy, were usually removed and sent to the cult headquarters in Nigeria's commercial center of Lagos.

New book with chapter on CSICOP

From: George Hansen gphansen2001@yahoo.com

I have recently published a book that may be of interest to you. It has a full chapter on CSICOP and a 15-page section on Martin Gardner.

The Trickster and the Paranormal (564 pages), is available for sale via the web.

My own site, describing the book is:


The site has a page specifically addressing skeptics--


Hard cover
Soft cover

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Even the sceptics salute this field of flying saucers

Daily Mail Monday August 20 2001:

by Paul Kendall p.kendall@dailymail.co.uk Technology Correspondent

One crop circle is often explained away by experts as a prank or the result of a wind flurry.

But 400 or so, perfectly aligned in a mammoth 'psychedelic swirl' 1,500ft across, present a challenge to the most sceptical observer.

The enormous design, which almost fills a wheat field in Wiltshire, is one of the biggest crop circles ever seen.

Some enthusiasts regard it as proof that aliens have landed.

And even if it was made by pranksters, their handiwork and mastery of geometry have to be admired.

The individual circles range from just a few feet to some about 70ft in diameter.

John Lundberg, artist and self-confessed circlemaker, said: 'If this formation is man-made, allowing time to get into and out of the field under cover of darkness, the construction time should be around four hours. Given that there are 400 circles, some of which span 70ft, that would mean that one of those circles would need to be created every 30 seconds and that's not even allowing time for the surveying, purely for flattening.

'This formation pushes the envelope. And that's a massive understatement.'

Karen Douglas, 31, a crop circle expert from Gosport, Hampshire, added: 'This is very, very exciting.

'Even the people who usually debunk the formations think this one is incredible. It is the sheer size and complexity that sets it apart. There have been big formations before but never as many circles. People are really astounded by it.'

It is not the first time circles have cropped up in the field, which is on farmland at Milk Hill, Alton Barnes.

The land has been the home of the mysterious patterns for more than a decade.

In fact, a number of businesses in Wiltshire depend on the annual 'alien visitations'.

One company, Fast Helicopters, lays on tours to give visitors and film crews an aerial view. The tours last up to an hour and cost #550 for four people. Operator Rovert Power says the origin of the circles - which appear in early July and last until the farmers cut the fields in mid-September - is a mystery.

'It certainly wouldn't be in our best interests to say they were man-made,' he said.

In 1991, two Southampton pensioners, Doug Bower and David Chorley, confessed they had been making patterns in fields since the Seventies.

But although they claimed to have hung up their 'stompers' - the wooden planks they said they used to flatten the crops - the circles have continued to appear. The shapes have grown more complex, ranging from representations of the DNA spiral to intricate mathematical figures.

They appear in fields of everything from oil seed rape to rye.

Some meteorologists believe that all but the simplest circle shapes are hoaxes.

The single circles, of which there are records dating back centuries, could be caused by whirlwinds.

Photo at http://www.manx2.demon.co.uk/secret/CC200801.jpg

Another obituary

From: Scott White

In case anyone is interrested, this morning's (22 aug) Los Angeles Times has an obituary of Oxford's E.T. Hall, a specialist in carbon dating, whose work helped expose the Piltdown Man and the Shroud of Turin hoaxes. Best,

Downturn Enough to Bring Tears to a Clown

By Ian Driscoll

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It looks like few clowns will be smiling in New York this Christmas.

Corporate America has got so preoccupied with issuing pink slips and taking other cost-cutting measures to ride out the economic downturn that it has been putting plans for year-end parties on ice.

That's bad news for clowns and other entertainers.

"Most regular accounts are saying 'We haven't even started thinking about that yet,"' said Stan Wiest of A. Wiest Entertainment, an entertainment-booking agency whose repertoire includes clowns, a performing dog and ventriloquists.

Wiest, who has been in the business more than 20 years, said he has never seen such a sudden or steep shortfall in holiday season bookings. "Companies are saying it's not appropriate to do these things when they are giving out pink slips," he said.

By now, Wiest would normally expect to have had a diary crammed full of bookings for Christmas parties and other seasonal bashes, but he has plenty of performers still prepared to sing for their supper.

Mr. Lucky, the performing dog whose credits include Saturday Night Live and The Letterman Show and who is usually charged out a $900 per hour, has suffered a 30 percent decline in his pre-Christmas bookings.

Polka-Dots, a New York-based clown with a once lucrative sideline in singing-telegrams, traces the decline back to the technology sector crash that started last year.

She used to do singing telegrams about eight times a week, dressed as either a French Maid, Playboy Bunny, Chicken or Gorilla. "Now I'm down to just two a week," she said.

Daisy Doodle, a children's clown whose adult alter-ego is Delilah, the belly, hula and sometime flamenco dancer, said her summer bookings are down 40 percent on earlier years. Nor is she optimistic about the holiday season. "This is the slowest year since I've been keeping records, and I haven't received any Christmas bookings yet."

Still, it is not bleak across the board. Several large companies, perhaps keen to secure a clearer view of the future -- many have been complaining about lack of visibility for everything from the economy to new orders and profits -- have been booking those who say they can see into the future.

Psychic and tarot card reader Sebastian Black said his bookings are higher than a year ago.

Trepannation--The hole story (Salon Magazine)

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

The hole story

Drilling your skull: Is it the way to bliss or just extremely dangerous?

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Jon Bowen

Feeling depressed? Lethargic? Shell-shocked by life's little bombardments? You could try meditation. Or yoga. Or color therapy. Or herbal remedies. Or, if you prefer drastic measures, you could drill a hole in your head.

The practice of making a hole in the skull, known as trepanation, has been around since the Stone Age. Along with circumcision it's one of our oldest surgical procedures -- archaeologists have found trepanned skulls dating back to 3000 B.C. Hippocrates, in his classic medical text "On Injuries of the Head," endorsed trepanation for the treatment of head wounds. During medieval times, the procedure was thought to liberate demons from the heads of the possessed and, later on, Europeans did it to cure a hodgepodge of maladies ranging from meningitis to epilepsy.

The procedure, from a technical standpoint, is simplicity's model. An instrument called a trepan is used to make the hole. Throughout history, the trepanning tool has developed dramatically, evolving from a crude hunk of sharpened flint in prehistoric times to a hand-cranked auger in the first century to, nowadays, an electric drill. Anyway, the trepan goes into your skull and a chunk of bone is extracted. You bandage yourself up and eventually the skin heals over, leaving only a small indentation to show for the hole in your head.

But why -- with all of today's sophisticated therapies -- go for the hole? The idea is to pump up your "brainbloodvolume," a term coined by Dutchman Bart Huges, the guru of modern-day trepanation. Back in the psychedelic '60s, at the height of the age of mind expansion, Huges decided to expand -- literally -- his own brain. Your level of consciousness, goes Huges' theory, is directly related to the volume of blood in your brain. Babies have naturally high brainbloodvolume, being born with a soft spot at the top of their heads -- the fontanel -- that gives the brain room to pulse. (When you look at a baby's head, you can actually see the pliant tissue at the fontanel throbbing with the baby's heartbeat, pumping oxygen through the brain.) Within the first year, though, that soft tissue hardens into bone.

And therein, says Huges, lies the problem. Once the fontanel seals off, your brain has no proper vent through which to breathe. To make matters worse, the upright stance you adopt as a toddler allows gravity to pull blood away from your head -- the beginning of a lifelong drain. Pulsation decreases. Brainbloodvolume plummets. You get lethargic, estranged, depressed. What can you do?

You can dabble in one or all of modernity's modest remedies, or you can do like Bart Huges and get yourself trepanned. By opening up that hole -- a sort of do-it-yourself fontanel -- you reverse nature's wayward development and return your skull to its original condition. As a result, trepanners say, you'll be happier, more energetic and less prone to crippling bouts of ennui. You'll ascend to the child's plane of acute consciousness from which you disembarked to enter the lowly malaise of adulthood. Basically, you'll feel like a kid again.

Just listen to Pete Halvorson, a Huges disciple who now directs the International Trepanation Advocacy Group (ITAG): "With trepanation, you can willfully and deliberately accelerate your brain metabolism. You have a higher level of consciousness. You're optimistic and upbeat. You look at problems as a source of entertainment. You'll feel good your whole life."

Sounds dreamy, but Halvorson wasn't always so blissed out. In his early 20s he experienced a period of deep, dark depression. ("The door slammed shut on me," is how he puts it.) He tried psychotherapy, he tried various medications. Nothing worked. Then he met Huges, got wise to the brainbloodvolume theory and, in 1972 in Amsterdam, he trepanned himself, making an 8 mm hole in his head with an electric power drill.

Now 52 and running a tree farm in Pennsylvania, Halvorson gives a fairly detached account of the procedure, but all the gory details can be found in "Bore Hole," a book written by Englishman Joseph Mellen about his self-trepanation. Mellen describes drilling into his head with a hand trepan, and then: "After some time there was an ominous sounding schlurp and the sound of bubbling. I drew the trepan out and the gurgling continued. It sounded like air bubbles running under the skull as they were pressed out. I looked at the trepan and there was a bit of bone in it. At last!" The ensuing state of mind, according to Halvorson, is unmitigated bliss. "When I first trepanned myself, I thought -- and I know this sounds selfish -- but I thought, 'Only a few people deserve this.'"

Halvorson no longer endorses self-trepanation "because we're so close to being in the hands of competent surgeons." But competent surgeons disagree. The medical community collectively refuses to recognize trepanation as a legitimate therapeutic practice. Dr. William Landau, a neurologist in St. Louis, sums it up this way: "There is no scientific basis for this at all. It's quackery."

Dr. Robert Daroff's response is even more concise. "Horseshit," he says. "Absolute, unequivocal bullshit." Daroff is a professor of neurology at University Hospitals of Cleveland and editor in chief emeritus of the journal Neurology. "This is a crackpot notion that's not worthy of my time. And not only that -- it's dangerous. You expose your precious brain, you remove God's covering, there's a risk of infection and all sorts of other problems."

Brain doctors seem to view this invasion of the cranium's hallowed realm as a violation of some universal taboo. More to the point, they don't approve of amateurs like Halvorson dipping their fingers into the neurochemical soup. But they readily agree on one point: a hole is the starting point for all neurosurgical procedures. Trepanation is performed, for example, to evacuate hemorrhages and to relieve pressure in the cranial cavity caused by cerebral ulcers. But, for neurosurgeons, the hole is a means to an end, and they put the bone back in place. Daroff says, "It's just to gain access."

So there's no benefit to having a hole for the hole's sake? The proof, for Dr. Bruce Kaufman, is in the neurological pudding. "Organized neurosurgery would approach it from a scientific basis. Are there case reports to show that this is a beneficial procedure? Not that I'm aware of."

Kaufman, an associate professor of neurological surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, says that over the past couple of decades neurosurgeons have experimented with a therapeutic procedure similar to trepanation. They tried making holes in the skull to treat slit ventrical syndrome, a brain malady brought on when shunts inserted to drain excess fluid end up robbing the brain of its natural buffer. "The brain is stuck in this tight little box," Kaufman says. "We tried bilateral decompression to give the brain more room." Bottom line? "It didn't work. The procedure was abandoned."

Giving the trepanners momentary benefit of the doubt, Kaufman says, "Let's assume there's something to their theory. You create a hole in the skull. The scalp scars down to the tissue that covers the brain. This tissue is called the dura, and it has the consistency, basically, of a shirt." So, after trepanation, the only thing protecting your brain is a shirt? "It's dangerous," Kaufman says.

But Halvorson thinks there's an ulterior motive for the pharma-psycho-medical complex's stand against trepanation. "Trepanation restores you to a youthful state where you're happy and upbeat, and that diverts attention away from Prozac and protracted psychotherapy." In other words, if you're a shrink or a peddler of feel-good drugs, universal bliss is bad for business. "I don't have a problem with pharmaceutical companies making money. What I don't like is something that's beneficial, like trepanation, being excluded."

The consequence of that exclusion struck Halvorson hard last year, when his wife was suffering from multiple sclerosis. "She was emotionally destroyed by her downward progression. We hoped trepanation would slow the process. I wanted her to experience the state of great relief that trepanation brings." But despite repeated requests from Halvorson and his wife, her doctors refused to perform the procedure. They didn't want to get involved in such a non-standard process, Halvorson says. Last March, his wife died.

Nowadays Halvorson is a tireless crusader for trepanation. He uses the [8]ITAG Web site as a pulpit from which to preach the gospel according to Bart Huges, and last April, to bring trepanation before a wider audience, he subjected himself to an appearance on the Howard Stern show. ("Actually, it was a lot of fun," Halvorson says. "Howard was quite intrigued. Afterwards he said, 'Come back with more people with holes in their heads.'")

And more people will be getting holes if Halvorson gets his way; he and his ITAG cohorts -- about 60 trepanned people worldwide -- are lobbying to make trepanation available from surgeons on demand. "We're interested in getting the American Medical Association to make a public statement. They won't go on record. They don't want to jeopardize their reputation," by condemning trepanation when the procedure might turn out to be beneficial.

"I have no problem taking ridicule from the general public," Halvorson says. "But I expect doctors to act as scientists. They have a professional responsibility to respond to this from an academic viewpoint. In the back of their minds they know that something good happens when you open the skull. Eventually they'll come around."

So, while Halvorson and the brain doctors duke it out, we're left to ponder the uncertainties. Is trepanation the final solution to the riddle of the mind-body dichotomy? Or is it a load of medieval hooey hauled into the '90s by new age outlaws? Is trepanation, to use Howard Stern's words, "a cry for help"? Or are we, the solid-skulled majority, just one hole away from nirvana?

If the neurologists are right, seven orifices in your head is plenty. If Halvorson is right, the kingdom of eternal contentment is waiting to be entered through a hole in your skull. And now, according to Halvorson, getting that hole is about to become a lot easier.

"We've located a surgeon in the Western Hemisphere," he says, "who is willing to trepan anyone over the age of 18 who signs a consent form. Right now there are a dozen people in the U.S. chomping at the bit. Within six months, a few dozen will be trepanned."

When that happens, Halvorson will make his triumphant return to the Stern show, with a troop of the freshly trepanned in tow. And when America tunes in for its daily dose of Stern's loudmouthed potty sass, they'll hear instead the soft, pacific voice of Halvorson as he extols, one by one, the blessings of trepanation.

Perhaps Mellen said it best in "The Great Brain Robbery," his ode to trepanation: "All your prayers won't save your soul/Adults, you need a hole."

salon.com | April 29, 1999

The buzz


KARLSRUHE, Germany, Aug 22 (AFP) - Hundreds of people in Germany's southwest are being driven to distraction by a mysterious nocturnal buzzing noise -- seriously enough for the local authorities to decide to investigate the matter scientifically.

Many have been complaining of racing pulse and fatigue along with a sense of excitation and uncontrollable muscle quivering during their resulting insomnia.

"Often at night I feel as if my bed were electrically charged. The pillow, the mattress and my whole body vibrate, and the only thing you want to do is to be able to turn off that sound," said one of the sufferers, Carmen Mischke.

From Lake Constance to Heidelberg, the environment department of the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government has been hearing similar stories from people over nearly 24 months.

Now the authorities have commissioned the physicist Henriche Menges to take a closer look at ten out of 300 homes which have reported the phenomenon.

If one were to believe the authors of the German website www.raum-und-zeit.de, the source of the mysterious buzzing sound in the ears of afflicted citizens is a US military project named HAARP based in Alaska.

There the US military are supposed to have built a kind of giant energy accelerator whose electro-magnetic waves could be used as a super-weapon to "make a nation dance on one leg" or drive a whole city of people insane.

Menges has no time right now for such fantastic-sounding theories. "We are starting off with the likelier explanations and leaving the more speculative ones aside," he answered politely when asked what he thought about that particular idea.

The scientist is tracking down the buzzing equipped with a microphone and sensors able to detect low-frequency vibrations.

He said that such deep buzzing sounds could come from diesel motors, aircraft, waterfalls or compressors as used in refrigerators and air-conditioning equipment. But wind blowing over chimneys could also act as a giant organ pipe, he said.

The human ear can detect sounds as low as 20-40 hertz, and the microphone Menges and his team are using can detect sounds as low as eight hertz, while the vibration sensors are sensitive to as low as three hertz.

This is important because human internal organs are sensitive to vibrations as low as between six to 12 hertz and can detect them.

Menges believes that the buzzing or booming is due to sound waves because of the sensitivity of people's ears and abdomens to them. He has ruled out electromagnetic waves such as those emitted by portable telephones because they are nothing like enough intense enough.

Low-frequency sound waves on the other hand can be propagated over a distance of kilometres (miles) and can even pass through thick concrete, making identification of the source difficult.

Work in Germany on measuring the phenomenon is expected to continue into the autumn.

Whether the mystery will be elucidated is uncertain, even for Menges. A similar one in the small town of Taos in the US state of New Mexico was investigated in the early 1990s without result, he pointed out.

A "Working Group for Investigation of the Buzzing Sound", which says people in the Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia regions of western Germany have had similar experiences, reckons that the cause is likely due to low-frequency sound vibrations.

However it says that a "very long-frequency electro-magnetic field" of between 0.5 to 50 hertz has also been measured in the region and could point to an explanation.

The working group has a website with the address

CSICOP In the News

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

CSICOP In The News
JULY 2001
August 22, 2001

Kevin Christopher, PR Director, CSICOP

The verdict is in for the month of July 2001: If quantity counts for anything, the previous month was perhaps the best single month for print PR that CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer magazine have yet had. We appeared in over nearly 40 newspapers, newsletters, and magazines--large and small--across the United States and Canada. We received a lot of exposure from the Friday 13th Superstition Bash, which, though itself a not-so-serious event, brought CSICOP and SI to the attention of people around the U.S. Papers that latched onto the story were universally favorable.

In addition to the news clips I mentioned for July in my last "CSICOP In the News" announcement, we have the following clips to report:

July 3, 2001
Winnipeg Sun (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)
"North End Nightmare"
Staff Reporter, Doug Lunney

Lunney describes a history of poltergeist events in the home of a local family, quotes Skeptical Inquirer's Joe Nickell on earthly reasons for the seemingly otherworldy events.

July 4, 2001
McDowell News (Marion, NC)
"Despite advances in science, we still seek out paranormal"
Marty Queen

While he holds out hope for the possibility of proof for paranormal phenomena, he cites Skeptical Inquirer as a hard-nosed journal of rationality whose writers are "lined up to shoot holes in any theory you advance."

July 8, 2001
Press (Ashbury Park, NJ)
"And now a word from beyond"
Greg Barrett (Gannett News Service)

Syndicated reprint of Barrett story on mediumship and spiritualism; quotes Paul Kurtz on the "nincompoopery" of such claims.

July 8, 2001
Citizen's Weekly (Sunday magazine of the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario)
"The Crucifixion of Lilian Bernas"
Bev Wake

Wake reports on the case of alleged stigmatic Lilian Bernas of Ottawa. Quotes Joe Nickell extensively on his research into stigmata, and the tricks he and others have uncovered when investigating stigmatics.

July 10, 2001
Chronicle (Augusta, GA)
"Spiritual medium takes messages to prime time"
Ylan Q. Mui (Washington Post)

Syndicated reprint of Mui's Post article, citing CSICOP's critcism of Edward.

July 10, 2001
Citizen (Urbana, OH)
"Some will taunt bad luck and superstition on Friday the 13th"

Pick up of CSICOP Fri 13 press release.

July 10, 2001
McDowell News (Marion, NC)
"There's no real reason to fear Friday the 13th"

Pick up of CSICOP Fri 13 press release

July 11, 2001
News (Ennis, TX, Dallas-Ft. Worth Metro)
"Annual bash brings light to superstitions"
Jennifer Gruber

Gruber cites CSICOP Fri 13 release and gives her own thought on superstition and skepticism.

July 11, 2001
Gazette (Sterling, IL)
Spencer Shein

Pick up of CSICOP Fri 13 press release.

July 12, 2001
Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, FL)
"Channeling John Edward: A spirit guide or a seer for suckers?"
Ylan Q. Mui

Syndicated reprint of Mui's Post article, citing CSICOP's critcism of Edward.

July 12, 2001
Press (Johnson City, TN)
"As luck would have it, Friday the 13th looms"
Staff writer, Gregg Powers

Pick up of CSICOP Fri 13 press release.

July 13, 2001
Time (Greenwich, CT)
"Luck is what you make it, unless you're superstitious"
Nathaniel Freiberg

Reports on CSICOP's Fri 13 Superstition Bash.

July 13, 2001
Tonawanda News (North Tonawanda, NY)
"Local group embraces Friday the 13th"
Kevin Christopher

Publication of CSICOP Friday 13th press release.

July 13, 2001
Clifton Record (Clifton, TX)
"Onward through the fog: What's all this 'Friday the 13th' Nonsense?"
David Anderson

Anderson has some fun with his report on Friday 13th bad luck and glitchs, if I understand the glaring typos correctly as being intentional.

July 13, 2001
Press-Telegram (Los Angeles; Long Beach, CA)
"What's Up: It's the 13th; what could go wrong?"
Tim Grobaty

Pick up of CSICOP Friday 13th press release.

July 13, 2001
Star-Democrat (Easton, MD)
"6th 'Superstition Bash is today"

Pick up of CSICOP Friday 13th press release.

July 13, 2001
Southerner (Tarboro, NC)
"Friday the 13th"
Asst. Editor, Tom Mayer

Pick up of CSICOP Friday 13th press release and Joe Nickell editorial.

July 13, 2001
Journal (Middletown, OH)
"Are you scared? It's Friday the 13th"
Dave Wasinger

Pick up of CSICOP Friday 13th release.

July 13, 2001
Mirror (Altoona, PA)
"Fear this! Superstitions survive -- just in case"
Linda Hudkins

Hudkins pick up CSICOP release, gets an interesting quote from Otis elevator company spokesman verifying that to this day, you won't find hotels with 13th floors--"especially in casinos."

July 16th, 2001
CounterPunch (Washington, DC)
"Condit in the Headlights: Lie Detector Lies"
Alexander Cockburn

Cockburn, the editor of the self-described "muck-raking" political newsletter, and frequent contributor to The Nation, sounds off on the pseudoscience behind the polygraph and cites Alan Zelicoff and his article in the July/August 2001 issue of Skeptical Inquirer.

July 21, 2001
Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
Samuel Sass

Sass includes a lengthy synopsis of Alan Zelicoff's criticisms of the polygraph in his article for the July/Aug 2001 issue of Skeptical Inquirer.

July 23, 2001
Times (St. Petersburgh, FL)
"Polygraph test proves only itself to be a liar"
Alexander Cockburn

Syndication of Cockburn's CounterPunch piece.

July 24, 2001
Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario)
"Why our city's ghosts will never fade"
Melanie Brooks

Last of a series of credulous stories for the Citizen. Brooks saw them as entertainment pieces not meant to be taken seriously, yet with the credibility of the Citizen behind these strange tales, the question is how many readers will indeed take what they see in print seriously. Yours truly quoted for CSICOP, but only my most innocuous remarks.

July 27, 2001
Isthmus (Madison, WI)
"Lies, damn lies, and lie detectors"
Alexander Cockburn

Syndication of Cockburn's CounterPunch piece.

July 29, 2001
New York Times Magazine (New York, NY)
"Oprah of the Other Side"
Chris Ballard

Chris Ballard writes on the new psychic media (no typo) juggernaut, John Edward. Ballard piece is, unfortunately, mostly uncritical of John Edward. Buried deep in the middle of the article are some skeptical comments from CSICOP's Ray Hyman, and Joe Nickell. "John Edward's good at what he does, but he's not a medium, just a confidence man." Hyman goes on to describe cold reading techniques.

July 31, 2001
Free Press (Detroit, MI)
"Magazine rack"
Ellen Creager

Creager quotes research out of Skeptical Inquirer popping the bubble of the Full Moon myth.

Sir Fred Hoyle

The English astronomer who coined the term "Big Bang" to describe an academic theory on the creation of the cosmos, has died at the age of 86.

Articles of Note

Thanks to skeptical news hound Joe Littrell

More Americans Believe in Ghosts


"In "The Others," the new movie about a haunted Victorian mansion, an elderly household servant tries to explain the presence of ghostly apparitions to Nicole Kidman."

Study Links Spiritual Struggle With Death Risk


"Older patients wrestling with religious beliefs during an illness may have an increased risk of dying, according to a new study."

Dispelling the Curse
Boston Phoenix


"Last week in these pages, we reported on a pair of local psychics who held a ritual at Fenway Park complete with effigies and burning incense designed to lift the so-called Curse of the Bambino (see " Sweet Spell of Success, " TJI, August 10). The day that story went to press, the Sox began a four-game losing streak."

Targeted for U.N. takeover?
Creative Loafing Atlanta


"A hundred miles north of Atlanta, the Soque River is little more than a stream, nearly hidden from view by overhanging trees along Goshen Creek Road. It was along this quiet stretch of water on a June afternoon that Kristin Costley found herself caught in a rising flood of acrimony that has washed this picturesque mountain region with suspicion and fear."

Site catalogs famous hoaxes . . . or does it?
By A.S. Berman


"Visitors to cyberspace, the home of custom-shaped ''Bonsai kittens'' and the potato-powered Web site, know a thing or two about hoaxes."

Witch-Hunt Mounted to Tackle Macbeth Jinx


"A British medium launched an international hunt for witches in a bid to contact the ancient Scottish king Macbeth and lift the jinx which is said to overhang Shakespeare's gory tragedy."

Gangster still haunts St. Paul
St. Paul Pioneer Press


"It was Kimberly and Joseph Arrigoni's special day, and there the wedding party was, assembled on the grand staircase of Landmark Center for the official bridal photo."

The true story behind that giant mutant cat


"It's a picture e-mailed around the world: a smiling, bearded man in his living room, holding, as the headline says, a giant mutant cat."

Sasquatch: Just an abominable snow job?
Dallas Morning News


"Cue the spooky music. Good morning, Bigfoot. You're probably a longtime subscriber and a big fan of Hints from Heloise, Peanuts and SportsDay."

Disease brings poor crop of circles
BBC News


"Foot-and-mouth disease seems to have affected the number of mysterious crop circles appearing through the summer, according to a Wiltshire farmer."

Spooky tale empties haunt for picnickers
By Raslan Baharom
The Star (Malaysia)


"The public is shunning Ulu Kenas, a popular waterfall area here, after a picture which showed a "ghost" posing beside a picknicker was distributed here."

Stop rumours on "ghost picture", says police
By Lionel Vytialingam
New Straits Times


"Police today warned the public not to spread rumours as it was an offence and could cause panic among the people."

Lies, damned lies and a new way to detect them
By Deborah Hill Cone
National Business Review [New Zealand]


"Employers concerned about staff theft now have the option of asking staff to take a voice lie-detector test - new technology said to have replaced the old-fashioned polygraph."

Not mixing up astronomy with astrology, says Joshi
The Hindu


"The Union minister for Human Resource and Development, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, today stressed his government's commitment to pursue astronomical research in India."

Moon shines on crime
By Pat Reavy
Deseret News


"The full moon is sometimes blamed even by police for weird, even criminal behavior that cannot be otherwise explained."

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Response from Florsheim

Old news from last year

From: K.Daskawicz daskawicz@prodigy.net

Below, is the response I got from Florsheim. I e-mailed them in support of CSISOP's open letter refuting the therapeutic effects of magnets.

Hmmmm, they mention studies at Vanderbilt University, my alma mater. Does anyone know which studies they are allegedly referring to?

-K. Daskawicz

Thank you for inquiring about our MagneForce footwear. The unipolar magnets permanently constructed into these shoes have been tested by Tectonic and verified to generate a magnetic field from their edge which encircles the foot and penetrates to a depth of two inches. As numerous clinical tests conducted at such institutions as Vanderbilt University, New York University and Baylor University have documented, the application of a magnetic field to the body stimulates blood circulation and has been shown to reduce pain and increase natural healing in many people.

While it is our understanding from these clinical tests that approximately 25% of the population is not sensitive to magnetic therapy, most people experience the above benefits. In fact, many physical therapists and sports medicine practitioners recommend magnetic therapy because they have witnessed the rapid healing and relief it seems to bring their patients.

Magnetic insoles in footwear were not invented by Florsheim; however we are the first shoemaker to permanently construct them into the shoe. Florsheim first introduced this technology in its golf shoes in 1999. Very shortly thereafter, the unsolicited response from golf customers was overwhelmingly positive. These gentlemen reported reduction in foot, leg and back fatigue; an increase in their range of motion; reduced leg, hip and back pain; and resulting greater energy levels. They expressed the thought that because they felt better physically, they played a better game. Because the golfers asked for this technology in a street shoe, we developed and introduced in February 2000 our MagneForce casual line. To expand our customers' street shoe options, we will introduce dress shoe patterns this fall and business casual patterns for Spring 2001.

Early customer reaction to the MagneForce casuals has been equally as positive as that from the golfers. Diabetics and others with circulation and other physical problems are reporting high satisfaction with these shoes. Individuals who are on their feet a great deal, such as retail and service workers, ticket agents, hair dressers, commuters and so forth are also communicating their very positive results.

We recognize that magnetic therapy is somewhat controversial within the scientific community; however, our role is not to debate this topic. Rather, our customers are encouraging us to provide MagneForce footwear based on their own experiences, and we are delighted to be able to offer fine quality footwear they feel has merit and delivers real benefits. Our marketing materials make no claims not already authorized by the FDA and have been reviewed by our legal counsel to ensure compliance.

If you will provide your mailing address, we will send you a brochure explaining MagneForce technology, along with a short summary of magnetic therapy and a bibliography. Again, we appreciate your interest in MagneForce footwear. Please feel free to contact us if you have additional questions.

Karen McKenzie
Vice President, Marketing
Florsheim Group Inc.

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.

In the News

Today's Headlines - August 21, 2001

from The Washington Post

MIAMI, Aug. 20 -- The waters off crowded New Smyrna Beach, near Daytona, were alive with sharks this past weekend, their dark fins slicing through the white foam as a surfing competition was held in a spot world famous for its waves.

By Sunday afternoon, six people, including four surfers, had been bitten -- a development that raised new questions about whether sharks are targeting humans in what some media are calling the "Summer of the Shark."

But shark experts, who have been busy after several high-profile attacks in recent months, said today that, in fact, there have been only an average number of shark attacks this year. And, they insist, the creatures are not suddenly out to get us.

from The Associated Press

Washington - Nearly two weeks after a popular cholesterol-lowering drug was pulled off the market for causing deadly muscle destruction, a consumer group charged yesterday that five similar medications have killed an additional 81 people.

Public Citizen petitioned the government to force manufacturers to give special warning brochures to the millions of Americans who take those medicines - statins, which dramatically lower cholesterol and reduce patients' risk of heart attacks.

"Serious muscle and kidney damage, and potentially death, may be averted only if the patients taking statins stop the drugs at the first sign of muscle pain or weakness," Dr. Sidney Wolfe, of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, wrote the Food and Drug Administration yesterday.

The FDA disputed Wolfe's death count, saying its own investigation last year uncovered 18 deaths that could be linked to the five statins on the U.S. market - Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor and Lescol. But the agency will consider Wolfe's request for stiffer warnings.


from Newsday

AFTER NEARLY two full years of intensive surveillance, trial by fire and fledgling research projects, researchers are gaining some answers to the West Nile virus outbreak, many of them emerging from the battle-weary confines of New York State.

"We were the first living laboratory for West Nile in the Western Hemisphere, here in New York," says state health department spokeswoman Kristine Smith. "So if two seasons constitutes history, we have a lot of history here."

Other states are just starting their own history lessons. The virus has claimed new territory in Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana this year, and health officials in states as far west as California and Arizona have begun testing their bird and mosquito populations.

In translating the history lessons of the West Nile virus into successful strategies, researchers are still finding themselves in a steep learning curve.

from The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON - This could be the moment medical ethicists have hoped for.

With all the attention on stem-cell research, they say, now is the time for a harder look at the hundreds of in vitro fertilization clinics where those cells originate.

Largely unregulated, the clinics are an exception in medicine. In them, scientific application goes directly from animal testing to widespread human use - skipping the human trial and oversight phases. This not only raises questions of medical risk, but also profound ethical issues - such as what happens to "surplus" human embryos that are never implanted in a woman.

The lack of oversight is "unprecedented anywhere else in medicine," says Jeffrey Kahn of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "Why do we have 200,000 spare embryos frozen in clinics all over the world? Partly, it's because no one's paying attention."

from The New York Times

Electronic devices like radios and computers work by shuttling around the electric charge of electrons. Hence, the "electron" in "electronics."

But besides their electric charge, electrons also have a less exploited property: "spin," an angular momentum that makes electrons act like tiny bar magnets. Researchers are beginning to tap into electrons' magnetic side as part of an emerging field known as spintronics.

Already, spintronics has yielded a couple of uses and may eventually provide the underpinning for computers that employ quantum mechanical efforts to perform calculations.

"If you can manipulate the spin, it gives you another parameter to play with," said Dr. Mark Johnson, a research scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

from The New York Times

When Dr. Michael Dugan took his first postdoctoral research appointment in 1985, he considered it a steppingstone to a permanent theoretical physics post on a college faculty.

But after three years at the University of California at Berkeley, the postdoctoral stints went on and on: two years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, four years at Harvard and one year at Boston University.

While he was a finalist for a faculty job a few times, he never managed to be the one left standing when the music stopped.

"I stuck it out longer than I should have," Dr. Dugan said. Six years ago, he quit looking. And earlier this year, Dr. Dugan, now 43, joined two other former physics postdocs at Pine Mountain Capital Management, a small financial management firm in Newton, Mass.

As the annual number of doctorates awarded in science nationwide has greatly outpaced the growth in the number of faculty jobs over the last 20 years, scientists like Dr. Dugan are finding that their postdoctoral years are stretching out for a discouragingly long time.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Long Valley, Mono County, Calif. -- This eastern Sierra valley looks utterly serene now - a spacious concavity lying between pine-clad peaks, silent save for the chittering of an occasional ground squirrel or the cry of a golden eagle.

But about 760,000 years ago, Long Valley had a very bad day. It exploded in one of the most spectacular eruptions of recent geologic time, throwing 600 cubic kilometers of magma and rock into the atmosphere.

The plume from the explosion went so high that deposits of ash have been found in Nebraska, and traces have been discovered in the eastern Pacific. Gigantic molten flows deposited massive windrows of lava and ash scores miles long to the south.

After the explosion, the Earth subsided into the magma chamber, creating a depression measuring 10 by 20 miles - the current Long Valley. Nothing so cataclysmic has happened here since - which isn't to say things will always remain tranquil. In fact, the contrary seems assured.

from The Los Angeles Times

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK -- When the volcano here blew, it obliterated a mountain range, felled herds of prehistoric camels hundreds of miles away and left a smoking hole in the ground the size of the Los Angeles Basin.

Modern Yellowstone doesn't dwell on its cataclysmic past or its potential for another monster eruption. Rangers tell people to keep their distance from bison and steaming geysers. But there are no signs, aside from nature's own bubbling mud pots and geysers, telling visitors that they are wandering through the caldera of one of the largest active volcanoes in the world.

"This is a geologic park, and not many know it," said Robert Smith, a geophysicist at the University of Utah who has spent his career piecing together the story of the Yellowstone volcano. "It's not a bison park. Not an elk park. It's a geologic park." New sensors have allowed researchers to confirm a suspicion that Smith has held for a long time--that the ancient volcano scientists dub "the beast" is still a living force. The instruments record a continuing pattern of heaving and bulging and act as an early warning system.

Previous sites featured in "Site of the Week."

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Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks to Joe Litrell, Rob Beeston, Ken Frazier.

Reasonable Doubters
Skeptics group in Iowa seeks scientific proof
Register Staff Writer


Really, the skeptics say, they aren't out to "get" anybody. They don't want to act superior to all those who believe in psychics, channelers, unproven herbal treatments or free energy machines, UFOs and urine therapy.

Unlocking the Gong
by Rose Farley
Dallas Observer


'At 5 o'clock in the morning, a van pulls into the deserted parking lot outside the Richardson public library. Ordinarily at this time, a group of Falun Gong practitioners would be gathering for their morning exercises, but today they have a more urgent mission. They will spend the next week inside this van, touring the Deep South before surfacing at a public rally outside the U.S. Capitol."

The Other Medicine
by Colleen Dougher


"Seven years ago, Rei Luzardo of Miami began to get sick. What started as mild pain in his right index finger eventually took over his whole body."

The Tabloid Habit
by Caitlin Flanagan
Atlantic Monthly


"It takes about a quarter of an hour to read a copy of The National Enquirer if you skip, as I do, the medical-breakthrough stories and the regular feature called "Next Week on Your Favorite Soaps" and zero in on the celebrity gossipā€"and I have never found this time to be wasted."

Newfoundland Nessie a monster of a mystery
by Ryan Cleary and Barb Sweet
Evening Telegram


"A headless furry white "sea monster" has people around Newfoundland's Fortune Bay puzzled."

Mysterious 'sea monster' likely basking shark
by Joanne Laucius
Ottawa Citizen


"Even veteran fishermen who thought they had seen everything from the depths of the ocean were calling it the "sea monster."

Mystery Snake Invades Village, Kills 7


"A single snake has been blamed for the deaths of at least seven women in a village near the northern Nigerian city of Kano, prompting residents to ask snake-charmers for help in a climate of superstition and fear."

Research: Online 'Urban Legends' Cost Customers and Revenue
By Kimberly Hill
CRM Daily


"Millions of us have received those e-mail rumors: So-and-so software company will pay us thousands of dollars for forwarding messages as part of an e-mail test. That household-name antivirus program actually will destroy all of the files on our hard drives."

Doctor in Lisa McPherson case suspended
St. Petersburg Times


"Florida's Board of Medicine has sternly sanctioned Clearwater physician David I. Minkoff, finding he improperly prescribed medicine for a patient he had never seen -- Scientologist Lisa McPherson."

A Credit Card 'Protection' Caveat
By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post


"Scanning the Federal Trade Commission's recent legal actions against crooks, scammers and companies operating outside the law is like putting an ear to the railroad track to detect an oncoming train. For every consumer rip-off and bad business practice the FTC derails, a multitude of similarly engineered schemes to deceive and defraud consumers is headed around the bend. Here's a roundup of some of the agency's cases over the past month:"

Effort to Clone Dead Boy Dropped
Associated Press


"A West Virginia lawyer says he has withdrawn his support for a controversial French researcher who had offered to clone his dead son, the Sunday Gazette-Mail reported."

Parapsychology Foundation Honored
Associated Press


"If you're doing intensive research on clairvoyant dreams or a house being spooked by a poltergeist, and you need financial support or academic resources, who ya gonna call?"

Monday, August 20, 2001

Therapeutic Touch

From John Stone

I notice at the bottom of his page there is an "educational index". On a scale of one to ten this rates about a minus 75.

This is a part of "academic nursing curricula" in about 75 colleges and Universities now ... sadly including my own local ones. It is the perfect example of academic nurses, who can not possibly justify thier own fields, or salaries, carving out a whole new field for themselves -- one that the rest of us die laughing at .... "Academic Nursing" has about as much validity as a typical Art Bell Radio Show.

Of couse, the main problem with TT is that there is no "human energy field". See Vic Stenger's page at http://spot.colorado.edu/~vstenger/ on "The Pseudophysics of Therapeutic Touch".

Since there may be members of this list who are not aware of the really nifty work by Emily Rosa let me give the story in a nutshell.

Emily was a 10 year old fourth grader who needed a grammer school science fair project. So she asked her mother, a nurse, why she couldn't proove that all these idiot nurses were wrong. From then on the idea was pretty mcuh hers, and she really bristles at the idea that the adults were controlling her project.

Her mother found 20 or so people who self-claimed to be able to detect a "human energy field"

The experiment was set up thusly:

A screen (very high tech -- it was a carboard box) was placed between Emily and the subject. There were a couple of holes in the bottom of the screen for the subject to poke her arms through (no I am not being sexist -- they were all women).

Emily then flipped a coin to choose whether she would place her right or left had over the subjects at a distance of about 6 inches. The subvject would then announce which hand had detected the "field". chance alone would be a 50/50 accuracy. In somewhere around 400 attempts the accuracy rate for the self-proclaimed TT'ers was about 44%.

At that point Emily published her findings ... not in the school newspaper ... but the the Journal of the American Medical Association .. becomming the youngest author ever of a major paper in a peer reviewed Journal. (She had some help with the stastics, which were a little beyond a fourth grader)

You should hear the TT'ers squall and scream about this one ... it was one of the simplest, most beautiful experiments I have ever seen.


-----Original Message----- From Edward Frederick Block IV, Ph.D.

Sensitives to the Aura, the Subtle Energies and Fields of the human body, feel them through various portion of their bodies (usually the hands) and characterize these energies and fields according to their own personal experience. Healthy people have an abundance of vital force while sick persons have depleted stores. Sensitives are able to feel and /or see disruptions and areas of local depletion in a persons aura and energy field. Energy from a healthy person may be given to one who is ill or depleted. This is the basis of the technique usually called "the-laying-on-of-hands". You may wish to cultivate this ancient and healing form of energy transference. In order to cultivate this ancient "art" of healing, you do not need to be able to actually see the aura of another person. However, it does indeed help immensely if you are able to "feel" the quality of the aura in the person being worked upon. This may be by actually feeling the energy flows, the ideal, or through your own intuitively developed sense. Practice meditative techniques such as those in the "Exercises and Techniques" located in the Meditational Section to further enhance your "feeling" abilities. Concomitantly practice upon a close , intimate friend your feeling and stroking techniques. These methods may certainly be incorporated into a massage practice. The text below gives my particular methods for your evaluation and usage. Have fun and enjoy!


This technique is not to be entered into lightly or with impunity.

You can severely disrupt your energy balance and that of others if you are not mindful.

The best way to start is to practice being still and tuning in to your own energies and fields first.

The more practiced and sensitive to your own energy/fields, the better to tune into that of anotherLearning some form of meditation helps considerably.

Check out the Exercises and Techniques in the Waikiki Network/Educational index.

How To Do It!-Therapeutic Touch involves a four-step process:

1. Centering

This step is the most important since the mind, thoughts and emotions must all be calm and focused on the task at hand This is where your meditative skill will be useful.

Go to that place inside of you from which springs forth all your energy.

Ground yourself to the molten core of the earth and let the energy there blend with yours Feel yourself calm and energized, prepared for the next step.

2. Assessment

Place your hands (palms open and facing their body) close to the receiving person (2 to 4 inches) and "scan" their entire body.

You will "feel" differences in the energy field which surrounds them.

You are particularly seeking any areas which appear unbalanced, cool, hot, rough, empty, tingling, pulsing, etcetera.

These are the areas where blocked or disturbed energy flows are present.

3. Smoothing or Unruffling

This stage of the process is one of active energy field manipulation.

The healer willfully concentrates their energies into their hands and makes sweeping or circular motions over the affected area (s).

Sometimes it is necessary to hold the hands over an area and inject just the right amount of energy into the affected area.

The purpose is to smooth disrupted areas and drag negative energies from the body of the ill person.

As water is a negative energy sink, always rinse the hands in water after a session.

You may also sling any negative energy which sticks to you by slinging it off into a non-occupied area nearby.

Smooth from head to hand or foot and not in the reverse direction unless a specific reason requires you to do so.

Surface smoothing takes less time to accomplish than the smoothing of deeply affected areas within the body.

4. Modulation

The last phase requires you to be able to closely monitor the affect of your energy balancing and smoothing.

You will need to learn how much energy to inject into an affected area as your hands hover over the depletionYou need also to be able to gage the affect of your unruffling passes.

Just enough to smooth the area and keep it balanced but not so much as to unbalance another area by overstimulating energy flow.

Until you become skilled, you may need to use your hands to lessen energy flow or stimulate it until the balance point is reached.

When you feel that all is right, take a few seconds to let your work settle in.

Then monitor your efforts to make sure that all is well before finishing.

If no adjustment need to be made, disengage and tend to yourself by riding any sticky negative energies.

The entire process requires that you develop a sense of intuitive feeling about what you are doing. It will come with time as you practice and gain experience. We all have this ability, some more than others. It is a natural state of being that may be harnessed to accomplish much assistance. Learning to use ones energy compassionately and wisely is a challenge.

Edward Frederick Block IV, Ph.D.


From: John Stone

This is a link to an article by Dawkins which argues that if we, as scientists, try to accomodate religion as "separate but equal" magasteria, as Gould suggests they are, then we are domed to lose science.

I think Dawkins point of non-retreat must be heeded.


More on the miracle


Mother Teresa's 'miracle'

A 34,000-page report is proposing sainthood but examination of just one 'cure' throws up doubts

Luke Harding in Raiganj and Philip Willan in Rome
Sunday August 19, 2001
The Observer

Until recently she was not even a Christian, let alone a Catholic. She cannot read, does not know her precise age, and comes from one of India's most backward, miserable and downtrodden communities. But Monika Besra - a tribal woman from West Bengal and mother of five - is about to play a starring role in the most compelling posthumous inquiry to hit the Vatican in decades, if not centuries. This week a tribunal of Vatican theologians will begin to consider whether Mother Teresa should be made a saint. Pope John Paul II has already put the Albanian nun, who died in September 1997, on a 'fast track' to canonisation.

Two years ago the diocesan church in Calcutta began the onerous task of gathering evidence that would support her claim to sainthood. Next week the 34,000 pages of material collected by investigators will be sent by air freight to Rome.

The investigators were especially keen to authenticate a miracle performed by Mother Teresa after her death - a necessary first step for her beatification. And in Mrs Besra, they appear to have found one. In May 1998 Mrs Besra was suffering from a painful, gigantic tumour in her uterus.

Leaving her husband and five children behind in her village, she hobbled into the home for the destitute run by the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's order, in the West Bengal town of Patiram. 'For two months I had severe pain, terrible pain, and I was crying. I was not able to sleep; I could lay only on the left side and I couldn't stand straight,' she said, in a statement obtained by The Observer which will shortly be sent to the Pope.

'The sisters gave me medicine but the pain was still there. I was always praying to Mother Teresa whose picture was on the wall just opposite my bed.'

After several unproductive trips to hospital, two of the nuns caring for Mrs Besra - sisters Bartholomea and Ann Sevika - decided to take matters into their own hands. On 5 September 1998 - the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death - the nuns tied a silver oval-shaped medallion to Mrs Besra's stomach using a piece of black thread.

The medallion had been placed on Mother Teresa's body after her own death. Mrs Besra then fell asleep while the sisters prayed - and wept - holding her stomach. When she woke up the next morning the tumour had miraculously disappeared. 'My stomach became smaller and smaller,' Mrs Besra recalled.

'In three days it was completely all right. I am sure that Mother Teresa made me all right.' She became well enough to start helping in the garden, and eventually went back to her village.

Diocesan investigators subsequently interviewed Mrs Besra - and talked to a series of doctors who confirmed that the tumour had indeed disappeared. 'The probe found the miracle to have met the essential requisites of being organic, immediate, permanent and intercessionary in nature,' the Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry D'Souza said last week.

But the excessive secrecy deployed by Mother Teresa's order, and her successor Sister Nirmala, in Mrs Besra's case last night raised more questions than answers. All of the nuns involved in her treatment have refused to discuss publicly what happened.

And Mrs Besra's name has never previously been revealed - in fact, the Missionaries of Charity have gone out of their way to prevent it from coming out.

When The Observer turned up outside the Missionaries of Charity home for the destitute in the town of Raiganj yesterday, close to where Mrs Besra was treated, the nuns refused to emerge.

'They have been given strict orders not to talk about it,' Raiganj's Bishop Alphonsus D'Souza said yesterday. 'Obviously what happened is an objective-miracle. But the sisters don't want to give different versions as that would spoil things.'

The witness statements given by the sisters also reveal several inconsistencies. Mrs Besra, who is about 30, claims she was being given medicine only for pain relief, but the sisters confirm she was also treated for TB. Before the 'miracle', Mrs Besra was taken to no fewer than five doctors - an extraordinary number for a poor resident of a Missionaries of Charity home.

Once 'cured', the nuns encouraged Monika's sister Kanchan to write to Mother House in Calcutta, the order's HQ, informing them of the miracle. Kanchan refused and so the nuns reluctantly put pen to paper themselves.

Mrs Besra's statement - she is illiterate, and speaks only a tribal language and a smattering of Bengali - has clearly been drafted by another hand.

'It isn't possible for someone with a tumour to be cured like that,' one local doctor, Mainul Islam, said last night. But there are many who believe that Mother Teresa was a saint and deserves official recognition. The Vatican's chief investigator, Brian Kolodiejchuk, who headed the diocesan probe, last week said he had been overwhelmed by the findings, which included several hundred miracles attributed to Mother Teresa.

He also admitted some of the material sent to the Vatican included criticism. Before her death aged 87, her order was accused of financial mismanagement - and of accepting donations from crooks (Robert Maxwell) and the Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Confirmation of a miracle is required for beatification, while a second miracle is required for full-blown sainthood.

But Father Brian is confident. His 34,000 pages of testimony will be sent to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. 'I don't think there will be any obstacles,' he said recently.

US investigates biochemist's cloning claim - Ananova Alerting

A biochemist in the US is being investigated for allegedly defrauding investors by promising to bring their loved ones back to life.

Federal investigators said Dr Brigitte Boisselier, scientific director for biotech firm Clonaid, was years away from cloning humans.

One man said he spent up to £350,000 leasing a laboratory and buying equipment after saying she could clone his dead son.

A grand jury in Syracuse, New York, is said to be considering fraud charges against Dr Boisselier, who is a member of a cult believing in UFOs.

Lawyer Mark Hunt has withdrawn his support for her after paying out the money in the hope his dead son could be cloned.

Dr Boisselier, who wants to create eternal life, was one of three scientists who caused uproar in Washington last week with their proposals for human cloning, reports The Daily Telegraph.

The website for her Clonaid company states for $50,000 (£36,000) she will "provide the sampling and safe storage of cells from a living child or from a beloved person in order to create a clone if the child dies".

According to the Clonaid website, Dr Boisselier is a "bishop" in the Raelian movement founded in 1997 by a French racing driver.

See this story on the web at

Peanut brings two years of good luck to baseball team

From Ananova at:


An Indiana baseball team has won every game for two years when a supporter has carried a lucky peanut in his pocket.

Gary Dowell, whose son plays in the Browsburg junior baseball team, carries the peanut in his shirt pocket.

On the two occasions he forgot to carry it, the team has lost.

"I'm not really sure how I got it, but I've had it since we played at Hagerstown in the state tournament two years ago," said Mr Dowell, father of team member Brody.

The team has now reached the semi-finals of the 2001 Little League World Series, The Indianapolis Star reports.

Robert J White and the "Frankenstein Factor"

From: Paul W Harrison / interEnglish

The late July issue of "Seura," a topical weekly Finnish-language magazine, has an interesting article on "brilliant" brain surgeon Robert J White, a dedicated Catholic and confidant to the Pope who also intends to perform the first transfer of what he calls the human "soul" from one body to another -- quite literally. With a team of neurosurgeons, the article states that he plans to transfer the head of one human being, quadraplegic Craig Vetovitz, 50, to the younger body of another (evidently the healthy body of another who, brain-dead, is being kept physically alive by machine). Even if the operation succeeds, however, Vetovitz will not regain the use of his limbs.

The venue has already been chosen, a neurological hospital in the Ukraine, and according to the story the National Institute of Health as well as the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation are providing the funding, among others.

Evidently White actually succeeded in transplanting the heads of apes to others as early as 1973. "We were dancing in the laboratory when the first monkey woke up and we saw it looking around the room. Some people were even crying," recalls the surgeon. The monkeys, however, had to be euthanized soon after because they were "quite unhappy when they discovered they couldn't move," reports Dr. White.

Two years ago, White, then head of neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, announced: "The Frankenstein legend, in which an entire human being is constructed by sewing various parts together, will become a reality early in the 21st century."

The human head transplant would be conducted in a special operating room large enough for two surgical teams. One would separate the donor's head from his body. The other team would do the same with the recipient.

Dr. White and his colleagues have developed the technology to lower the brain's temperature from 37 to 10 degrees Celsius, thereby slowing its metabolism so it can be cut off from its blood supply without cell damage for up to an hour while surgeons re-attach it to another body. The greatest hurdle appears to be rejection by the head (or the body). "It is unclear," notes the neurosurgeon, "whether the drugs used to prevent rejection following transplantation of organs will work for an entire body."

Dr. White's work may sound bizarre and even perverse to many people, but he is no mad scientist. "Of course it sounds spooky and 'Brave New World'-ish," he says. But he notes that heart transplants were once considered ghoulish too, and in retrospect that attitude seems quaint and superstitious. "We don't rush down and light candles every time there's a kidney transplant."

The normalization of heart transplants made people think differently about their bodies, according to Dr. White. It convinced them that the only organ that really defined them as people was their brain. "If you consider, as I do, that the human brain is the repository of the mind and the soul, [head transplants] should pose no new ethical problems," he adds. "I look at it simply as saving a life."

As with many developments in the explosive world of biotechnology, it seems the scientific answers are coming faster than the ethical ones. Head transplant pioneer White is convinced, however, that the first head transplant from one human being to another is just around the corner -- perhaps only weeks or months away.

[This posting also includes material taken directly from
http://albertareport.com/volume26/990920/story3.html ]

-- Paul Harrison

*interEnglish* (Finland)
Paul W Harrison, TESL

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