NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 August 2001

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Tuesday, August 28, 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 27, 2001

from The Washington Post

The National Institutes of Health plans to release today a widely anticipated list of 10 companies and research laboratories that have colonies of human embryonic stem cells that President Bush said are eligible for research with federal funds.

The list, compiled by NIH officials and kept secret since Bush's Aug. 9 announcement, includes some well-known research entities in the United States and abroad, and also some whose names are new to many in the field.

Together, they have 64 self-renewing colonies, or "lines," of stem cells available and at various stages of development and readiness for study, according to the NIH list.

Scientists familiar with the cell lines said some were well established and bore all the molecular hallmarks of true embryonic stem cells, which can morph into virtually every kind of human tissue. Scientists hope to harness them to help patients in need of replacement tissues.


from The New York Times (Saturday)

Administration officials took pains yesterday to emphasize the wide opening given by President Bush for government-financed research on human embryonic stem cells, and to quell the fears emerging among scientists of various obstacles in their path.

Mr. Bush said on Aug. 9 that the research could go ahead, but only with cell lines - self-perpetuating colonies - that had already been established in laboratories. Yesterday, in Crawford, Tex., the president said in response to a question that existing stem cell lines "are ample to be able to determine whether or not embryonic stem cell research can yield the results to save lives."

Use of the human cells could lead to methods for regenerating the tissues lost in many kinds of disease, but is ethically problematic because it requires the destruction of some human embryos left over from in vitro fertility treatments.


from The New York Times

In another step toward post-silicon computers, I.B.M. scientists have built a computer circuit out of a single strand of carbon.

The I.B.M. circuit performs only a single, simple operation - flipping a "true" to "false" and vice versa - but it marks the first time that a device made of carbon strands known as nanotubes has been able to carry out any sort of logic. It is also the first logic circuit made of a single molecule.

At least another year or two of research is needed before I.B.M. can even evaluate whether a practical computer chip can be manufactured from nanotubes, said Dr. Phaedon Avouris, manager of nanoscale science at IBM Research and the lead scientist on the project.

But the fact that the researchers were able to build the circuit raises hopes that nanotubes could eventually be used for computer processors that pack up to 10,000 times more transistors in the same amount of space.


from The Chicago Tribune

A University of Illinois program to create more high-tech companies is back to square one after a year of planning and about $400,000 spent on staff that has resigned.

The program, announced last fall after years of drumbeating about the need for more venture capital in Illinois, aimed to provide money and services for start-ups based on university research. It evolved into a statewide venture capital fund that never got off the ground because of objections by a politically powerful university trustee.

The U. of I. agreed early this month to pay $299,000 in severance to four employees hired to manage its ill-fated fund, which was to be led by a university subsidiary called Illinois Ventures LLC. The four had already been paid an estimated $100,000 from late April through July.

The four resigned voluntarily, effective July 31, in exchange for payments due under employment agreements they signed in April, May and June, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act.


Profile from The Los Angeles Times

DEL MAR, Calif. -- Dr. Eric Altschuler is doing serious damage to a jumbo helping of French toast and explaining the thrill of intellectual discovery. Think about the guy in the overflowing bathtub, he explains, a reference to Archimedes, who exuberantly cried "Eureka" when he seized upon his theorem about displacement and density.

"When you find one of these things, it's an incredible moment of epiphany," says Altschuler in a rising voice that startles fellow diners at a seaside cafe here.

As an indefatigable seeker of epiphany, Altschuler, with science degrees from Harvard, UC Davis and UC San Diego, has accumulated 60-plus published writings in a remarkably short span of time. In an era of specialization, this 33-year-old New Yorker--who loves baseball and Bach, is fluent in Greek and Latin, and craves a good debate about proteins and peptides--refuses to trim his scholarly sails. Most of his published works are on topics that only a science wonk could love (or understand), with such titles as "Polyglutamine aggregates: a possible component of eosinophilic intranuclear inclusions in the hippocampal pyramidal neurons of a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?"

But every so often, Altschuler decides to aim some brain cells at an off-kilter topic. He likes to dabble with such non-burning questions as: Did Samson have antisocial personality disorder? Did Johann Sebastian Bach write the trumpet flourish credited to Gottfried Reiche? Who is the real author of the Bible's Book of Ruth? Was it an earthquake that toppled the Tower of Babel?


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Crop circle psyops

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

The crop-circle psyop is accelerating, with the latest so-called "alien message":


The glyphs are most likely created from a high-altitude, stabilized, hovering plane, helicopter, or balloon by firing a precision aerial military microwave maser, laser, or possibly a pulsed plasma beam under computer graphics control. See
http://www.ovnis.atfreeweb.com/5_crop_circles.htm for support for this. The remote high-power microwave and laser technology has already been developed for Star Wars/Ballistic Missile Defense programs under the military's Joint Vision 2020 doctrine.

Possible military objectives include proof-of-concept technology tests, capability demonstrations to the enemy, and psyops (psychological operations) to increase belief in extraterrestrials and UFOs to serve as a diversionary cover story for space-war operations while providing additional cover for mind control operations disguised as alien abductions.

See my chapter, "The Electronic Second Coming," in Apocalypse Culture II, Feral House, 2000 for further analysis of such psyops:


Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks Again to Skeptic Newshound Joe Littrell.

Disbelief That HIV Leads to AIDS.


"Christine Maggiore is HIV positive, and experts say there's at least a one-in-four chance that her son and unborn daughter are, too. But she doesn't believe HIV can harm them."

Ever increasing circles
by John Vidal
The Guardian


"With 400 different-sized rings in spiralling formations over a field almost a kilometre square, the latest crop circle formation looks pretty impressive. From the air it has an eerie geometric beauty, as if the circles just dropped quietly on to the field at Alton Barnes in Hampshire last week. From the ground, the wheat seems to have been swept downwards by a benign force, as if water has been poured over the crop."

Learning with the stars
Seattle Weekly


"This week, in a central Seattle classroom, several dozen students and teachers are reviving an academic subject that's been scorned, vilified, and banned from universities for the past four hundred years or so. Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences is now in session."

I have captured a "langsuirâ", says bomoh New Straits Times


"A bomoh from Sabak Bernam, Selangor, claims he has caught what he believes is a langsuir or vampire near a cotton tree two days ago."

Have You Heard the One About Crazy Rumors?


"It is not often that the world witnesses an urban legend in the making, that we can actually pinpoint its birth, tracking the electric convergence of truth, rumor, fear and hype that are the sparks of life to a tall tale."

Half-truths, true lies:
Rumour bushfires crackle through city’s psyche


"Only two Rs can bring Mumbai to its knees--rain and rumour. Last week, even as the monsoon began to pack its bags and beat a sodden retreat, a gale of rumours swept through the city. Chhota Shakeel had been shot dead in Karachi. Dawood had been khalased by the ISI. Mumbai was on the brink of a gang war. The Special Task Force had been called in anticipation of violence. To use Doordarshan parlance, Mumbai was tense and threatening to get out of control. Or so the rumours said."

Bushland worship site mystery
Sunday Herald Sun


"A SINISTER satanic cult site has been discovered in bushland in central Victoria." Amway fights back in court against soap rival
By Pete Waldmeir
Detroit News


"If it were a movie, they'd call it Soap Wars III: The Empire Strikes Back."

The Sci Fi Channel Seeks New Life Beyond Its Niche
New York Times


"It seems fitting that in the year 2001, the Sci Fi Channel is finally getting it right. And it didn't need a black monolith to point it in the proper direction."

Astrology School in Arizona Believed to Be the First to Be Nationally Accredited

By Giovanna Dell'orto
Associated Press Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - The stars were favorably aligned this month for the Astrological Institute, says founder Joyce Jensen, whose students learn to write horoscopes and give advice about the future.

The modest school in suburban Phoenix won accreditation from a federally recognized body, in what's believed to be a first for a school of astrology. Now the institute can seek approval from the U.S. Education Department for its students to get federal grants and loans.

From her observation of the celestial array, Jensen said she now sees that "this was a very good time" for her school. But Jensen - a 60-year-old Scorpio - also noted she's been seeking accreditation for years, and wouldn't have stopped no matter what the stars indicated.

Her institute, where courses include a "master class on the asteroid goddesses" and "how to write an astrological column," offers one program: a diploma in astrology and psychology.

The institute received accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology after demonstrating that its teachers are qualified and that its graduates can be placed in jobs, said Elise Scanlon, head of the Arlington, Va.-based commission.

Scanlon and other officials in her field knew of no other accredited astrology schools.

Judith Eaton, head of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation in Washington, said the accreditation doesn't validate astrology, but only recognizes that the school fulfills what it promises its students.

The institute occupies part of a former elementary school. Inside its orange front door, painted with a fiery sun, the school is sparsely decorated. Its two classrooms contain little more than folding tables and chairs; a few Indian rugs on the walls lend a Southwestern flavor.

Tuition is $5,300, with classes offered in the day and evening. Full-time students can earn a diploma in 12 months. But a majority of the 32 students now enrolled come at night, after working day jobs.

To earn a diploma, they must pass six required courses: three each in astrology and psychology, plus at least four electives. Besides learning astrology, Jensen said, "if you're going to be an astrologer, you really need the skills of counseling people."

Graduates usually set up private practice, though some get hired in holistic healing centers, spas and cruise ships, Jensen said. She hopes eventually to offer an associate degree, which would require further accreditation.

With the respectability of accreditation and the possibility of financial aid, Jensen, an astrologer herself, hopes to draw younger people more interested in astrology as a profession than a know-thyself pursuit. Many of the students now are in their 30s.

"We haven't had young people for a long time" because they lack the money to pay for the program, Jensen said.

Astrology claims a person's character and fate are directed at birth by the position of the Sun, Moon, and planets. This is charted in a horoscope, which is often done these days with the help of computer software.

Scientists scoff at the pursuit.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who heads the Hayden Planetarium in New York, noted astrology was discredited 600 years ago with the birth of modern science. "To teach it as though you are contributing to the fundamental knowledge of an informed electorate is astonishing in this, the 21st century," he said.

Education should be about knowing how to think, Tyson said. "And part of knowing how to think is knowing how the laws of nature shape the world around us. Without that knowledge, without that capacity to think, you can easily become a victim of people who seek to take advantage of you."

Jensen is familiar with such criticism. "It's quite obvious that he hasn't studied the subject," she said.

Woman is 'carrying Devil baby'

From Ananova at


An Ecuadorian woman's husband believes she's carrying Satan's child.

He says the seven-month-old foetus 'looked nothing like a human baby' on a recent medical scan.

He claims his wife has suffered a series of fits during which she gains superhuman strength and shouts 'Let me out, let me out' in an otherworldly, deep voice.

Vicente Suárez and his neighbours in Jipijapa told the Extra daily paper Digna, 17, is bearing Satan's child.

The neighbours say she goes into a trance during which she praises the Devil. She apparently cannot bear the presence of children or of religious images.

"When the Devil is in possession of her body, she spits at anyone who approaches. She kicks out and she drinks urine as if it were water," her husband said.

Digna's family and friends say, until her pregnancy, she was a shy, home-loving girl. They believe Satan took control of her body during a ouija board session.

Residents are raising money to pay for a medical examination which will be followed by an exorcism if doctors say it's necessary.

Military UFO Records Released: The Spanish Experience*

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

Final Declassification!

Military UFO Records Released: The Spanish Experience*

by Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos

Investigation in Spain is inevitably associated with Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos, who, alone or with collaborators, has authored a series of outstanding books which reflect more than twenty years of dedicated work. His 1987 Enciclopedia de los encuentros cercanos con ovnis (with Juan Fernández Peris) is probably the best-documented collection of close encounter cases in print. Ballester Olmos's attention remains chiefly directed at strongly evidenced UFO sightings, as opposed to abductions, where every local case he has investigated proved to be either a hoax or capable of some alternative explanation.

During recent years his main activity has been co-operating with the Spanish government in the release of official documents. In 1995 he published a book containing his findings to date, Expedientes Insólitos, and here he presents some notable cases from the military archives.

Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos can be contacted at Aptdo. de Correos 12140, 46080 Valencia, Spain (phone: +34 96 179 627, fax: +34 96 179 2600)

In the history of UFO research in Spain from 1947 to 1997, one event is of out-standing importance: the release by the Spanish Ministry of Defence of previously secret Air Force UFO archives, a process which started in 1992. I was privileged to play a part throughout this process which has made the official files literally an open book which anyone may read.

No Secret Lasts Forever

Friday, 8 November 1996. 13.30 hours.Torrejón Air Force Base, near Madrid. Lieutenant Colonel Enrique Rocamora walks briskly along the corndors of the Aerial Operative Command (MOA) heading for the commander-in-chief's bureau. This is no routine dispatch: he carries with him the proposal for declassification of the last UFO file waiting for release.

It was during 1990-1991 that I started to induce the Air Force to review the classified matter policy applied in 1979 to UFO information (before that it has been considered Confidential). Step by step I watched the process proceed. In May 1991 the Air Safety Section, responsible for matters concerning UFOs and custodian of the UFO files, submitted a memo proposing to declassify the archives. In March 1992 the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to downgrade the classification level imposed on UFO documents, leaving to the Air Force Chief of Staff the authority to fully declassify them.

The documents transferred to MOA comprised 62 files of UFO reports covering the period 1962 to 1991; procedures and memos shaping official Air Force policy on UFOs, 1968 to 1991; and UFO information requests from civilians addressed to the Air Force over the same period.

MOA's Intelligence Section took on the declassification task. The actual workload was handed to Lieutenant Colonel Angel Bastida. An open-minded individual and the prototype of the 21st century military man, Bastida formulated a new procedure detailing the involvement and investigation of UFO reports by the Air Force, and an analysis of all available historical information with arguments favouring full disclosure of existing and future UFO files. Incidentally~ Bastida also authored the best paper ever written by the military on the Air Force and the UFO problem

In September 1992, the first files were declassified. They were cases from 1962, 1967 and 1968. By the time Bastida moved to another military post he had declassified 22 files. His successor, Lieutenant Colonel Enrique Rocamora - a strong and sharp staff officer - declassified a further 53 files. The process was carried out as speedily as possible, given the fact that declassifying secret UFO files was only one part of these officers' work.

Sightings: Strange and Less Strange

The military UFO reports contain descriptions of several different kinds of seemingly anomalous phenomena. They include examples of lights or uncorrelated radar echoes which seem to defy a rational explanation. My colleagues and I are painstakingly analysing all pieces of information to determine if these cases can be solved, or whether they become true UFOs. The entire files are available to who-ever may contribute his/her know-how to this endeavour.

In the majority of cases, investigation, whether by the Air Force or by independent civilian ufologists, has revealed a misinterpretation of some kind. These cases show us, on the one hand, what kinds of anomalous features may occur; and on the other, how easily people, puzzled by the sighting of unexpected luminous phenomena in the sky, can jump to erroneous conclusions.

24 November 1974: Alarm in a Radar Squadron

Grand Canary is one of the seven Spanish islands in the Atlantic Ocean which form the Canary archipelago. At about 19.30 hours on 24 November 1974, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel E.L. and his daughter were driving by the North Freeway, when they saw a bright white light in the sky leaving a short trail, travelling at great speed and disappearing a few seconds later. His statement described it as a meteorite or bolide flying horizontally in a northwest direction at some 1,000 metres.

Fifteen minutes later, at 19.45, an Iberia Fokker-27 took off from Tenerife airport en route to Las Palmas (Grand Canary Islands). On a clear night, it was flying over a stratus cloud layer to its flight level of 2,000 metres and turning northwest when the pilots sighted a powerful lightjust in front of them, in a flight corridor typically used by regular air traffic from Las Palmas to Tenerife. Iberia captain Saura called Canary Flight Control to tell them they were passing 'traffic proceeding from Las Palmas'. By now the light had descended to 1,800 metres, the standard flight level for airplanes. Captain Saura was surpnsed to be told there was no reported flight at that position. He insisted that he had it in sight, well silhouetted against the stratus layer, at a range of some 25 km, and he asked for a check from the military radar.

The radar operator on Grand Canary duly reported that he had only the Fokker's echo on screen: he saw no other traffic. At this point, the airliner's crew realised to their amazement that the light had been stationary at 'three o'clock' for more than a minute: any normal aircraft should have sailed past by now. Full of curiosity, the Fokker's pilot started to change course in the direction of the light. As he did so, the light seemed to shift rapidly away from the aircraft, emitting intermittent orange and yellow flashes as it vanished.

By now, the radar station had been placed in 'alert' situation, and their personnel started to scrutinise the skies with special care and attention. At 20.20 hours an echo was detected at 20º (NNE), 56 km distant, approaching directly towards the radar site at 500 knots; they were unable to determine its altitude.

The trace disappeared when it entered the 'blind cone' (vertical) of the antennae, and did not reappear. Out of doors, a light of more than 1st magnitude was sighted, fixed in the firmament (according to one witness), slowly moving around the site (according to another), while a third declared it to be nothing more than a star.

At 20.30 hours, radar detected a trace at radial 356º (north), 58 km away, which correlated with Iberia flight 281 Madrid to Tenerife. At the same time, it recorded an uncorrelated track at 326º (northwest), 74 km away, heading south. After changing direction, it remained stationary unhl passed by IB-281, where-upon it suddenly vanished. No other traffic was scheduled at that time and location.

Taken together, these observations seem to indicate that a mysterious luminous object was hanging above two of the Canary Islands for more than an hour. However, it is also legitimate to divide the complex series of events into several individual occurrences: (1) a meteor-like sighting of brief duration, (2) a light in the clouds which a nearby military radar system did not recognise, but which disappeared as soon as the pilot altered his angle of vision, (3) in an excited environment (radar operators were requested to search for UFOs with extreme care), they detected a first echo which mysteriously disappeared without a trace, another trace in the proximity of a commercial aircraft (not seen opncally by the aircrew), and finally a fixed light in the celestial vault not different from a star. In summary: a case offering radar traces which are not confirmed visually, and visual sightings which are not confirmed by radar.

No final conclusion has been adopted to date by the research team.

23 December 1985: a UFO in the Log Book

The merchant vessel Manuel Soto, owned by Transmediterránea Co., was sailing on December 23, 1985 from Las Palmas (Grand Canary island) to Arrecife (Lanzarote Island). At 03.10 hours, the third officer on duty observed in the horizon by the bow what seemed to be the rising of a heavenly body. He identified it as the star Antares. Checked ten minutes later, however, the light's position did not correspond either with Antares or any other star or planet. The officer took measurements of the altitude and azimuth of the light, which remained stationary until 03.25 when it suddenly began to move quickly. Other members of the crew came to see what was happening.

The light approached the ship, passing directly over the vessel two minutes later. As it did, all the witnesses could perceive the object's profile, which did not resemble that of a typical aeroplane or helicopter. The object had a very intense white light on its central part, a weaker red light near it, and another white light - not as strong - set apart. The separation between the lights made the witnesses think the object was flying low, but they could hear no sound.

The shipping company passed the log book entry to the Spanish Navy. The Navy Staff submitted it to the Air Force, but Canary Islands Air Command reported that their investigations showed no UFO observed on that date. No further investigation was made.

And so this second sighting from the Canary Islands also remains unidentified. Sadly, nothing was reported about how the object was lost out of sight. In prinaple, the behaviour of the object - approaching from the horizon, flying at a constant altitude and speed - is consistent with that of an aircraft. Nevertheless, lack of additional detail - including the actual silhouette of the craft - prevents us from developing any specific hypothesis.

8 December 1980: Aircraft on Fire?

A brief file reports - just two telephone messages - received in the Cádiz Maritime Captaincy General from merchant vessel Conquistador and fishing ship Besugo. At 20.50 hours on December 8, 1980 the first ship was navigating 35º27'N/ 7º50' W bearing northeast, when it reported a disintegrating object over the vessel at some 20º altitude which was sighted by the captain and the radio operator.

Additionally, at 20.45 hours, personnel from the second ship, sailing in position 33º 52' N/ 8º 55' W, observed a fiery phenomenon in a north direction at sea level. Their impression was that it might be a passenger plane with a fire on its left engine.

In isolation, those two incidents off the Morocco coast might never have received an explanation. However, consulting our files we discovered that a significant flap of 'UFO sightings' originated at that time in southwest Spain. Thousands witnessed a series of incandescent objects flying in a group passing slowly overhead. The general trajectory of the luminous trail was southwest to northeast.

As described, the phenomenon is absolutely compatible with a meteor shower or a space junk re-entry: the second alternative can be discarded as no decay is known to have occurred at that date, so meteors seem the preferred explanation.

25 December 1980 Jet Propulsion UFO

On 25 December 1980, at 22.05 hours, an Air Force captain was driving along the Tudela-Arguedas road when he saw an unknown flying object with a large central body with a 'powerful jet propulsion system'. In addition, he saw a few more tiny luminous objects manoeuvring in formation with the large one. He estimated their altitude at some 1,000 metres, course 20º (north-northeast): the speed was similar to a commercial airplane. He saw it disappear behind the mountains, leaving a smoke trail much wider than that of a plane.

In the absence of any supplementary information, this would have been simply another unidentified. But there was a thick dossier in my archives to put this event into its proper perspective. That night, a giant, fiery phenomenon was sighted over Spain and other European countries a few minutes past 21.00 GMT (one hour later in Spain) skyrocketing on a rough south-to-north course.

North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) reported the re-entry into the atmosphere of the rocket used in the launch of Soviet satellite Cosmos 749. It was travelling from southwest to northeast on an arc that would have taken it over Portugal, Spain, France and southern England. There is little doubt that this is what the officer witnessed.

19 August 1982: a Rotating Flying Saucer

A civilian witness reported an unusual experience on 19 August 1982, at 22.30 hours, seen from an apartment block faang the sea in the summer resort village of Blanes (Gerona). He was with seven other people, who also watched the aerial show in astonishment. The first witness was on the terrace when he heard the sound of an aircraft and just above him he saw a circle of lights blinking regularly. Through binoculars he distinguished the shape of a 'cylindrical disc' which was rotating clockwise: he estimated its size as twice that of a DC-4 airplane. Speed and altitude were constant, then it made a turn so he could see it both from underneath and from the top. It had seven or eight illuminated 'windows'. The sighting lasted around three minutes. Then and there he made some drawings of what he thought he had seen and some days later he sent a letter to Air Force Headquarters with a full description of the events and some impressive sketches.

The official report presents no conclusion at all as no investigation was ever conducted. However, a review of newspapers for August and September 1982 disclosed similar sightings in many towns of eastern and northern Spain. Not only that, the press, confirmed by Barcelona Air Control, reported that advertising aircraft carrying luminous publicity panels were active during that summer in such locations, giving rise to surprise observations and misinterpretations with UFOs. Again, we may be confident that this was what the witness saw at Blanes.

Facts and Figures The Spanish declassification process imposes no restriction as to date. Over the years, several current incidents, whether reported to the Air Force by civilian witnesses or by military personnel, were declassified immediately after investigation - an example which other countries would do well to follow.

Since 1992, a number of UFO observations have been added to the MOA archives, both old and new, so that the original 62 files have now become 75. They amount to 1,900 pages, which anyone can read (and copy) in the Library of the Air Force Headquarters in Madrid.

The files cover a total of 97 separate events between the years 1962 to 1995, which averages about three cases per year. But we find that certain years - 1968 (23),1969 (7), 1975 (7),1977 (6), 1978 (8), 1979 (9) and 1980 (7) - seem to deviate markedly from the mean. However, examination often reveals simple down-to-earth explanations. The 1968-69 wave was clearly due to a press release by the Ministry of Air asking the public to report UFO sightings, combined with the highly visible night-time appearance of the planet Venus, plus giant meteorological balloons carried by wind from France. 1975 is conspicuous only because one file includes several cases originating with a single and unreliable informant. A 1977 file, likewise, describes a succession of contactee-type stories allegedly expenenced during a three-month period. The 1978 peak is due to a photographic fraud which involved several dates. 1979 contains some good cases, but we notice that half of them occurred in November: for this we can look to the media impact of the incident of 11 November when the crew of a Supercaravelle reported strange lights. Finally, 1980 shows a chance accumulation of varied events, totally unrelated to one another. In short, none of the fluctuations constitutes a real 'wave' of true UFOs.

The reports reveal 20 radar detections, 15 scrambles or launches of jet interceptors, 10 close encounters, 13 instances where photographic material exists, and 28 civilian pilot witnesses (figures not mutually exclusive). Apart from the Air Force, other official bodies making reports included the Navy (9 reports), the Civil Guard (7), the Army (5) and the Police (3).

If we look at time of day data, the following table appears:

12-18 Hrs 18-24 Hrs 00-06 Hrs 6-12 Hrs Not Known
IFOs 11% 57% 17% 12% 3%
UFOs 6% 50% 31% 13%

It is somewhat dismaying to find that, contrary to what we might expect, UFOs follow the same time-of-day distribution as IFOs.

As soon as files were declassified, a multidisciplinary team of experts, coordinated by myself, rushed to analyse the information. The research is not finished, as some reports present complex problems which make analysis difficult. The absence of inquiry at the time, the absence of corroboration, and insufficient information add to the complications. Nonetheless, our investigative efforts proved fruitful and we have been able to draw an array of general conclusions.

IFOs comprise 85% of the total. They break down to:

Astronomical explanations - the most frequent error stimulus: four out of ten observational mistakes involve Venus, other planets and stars, meteors and fireballs, or even the Moon. Hoaxes explain two out of ten reports. Meteorological balloons emerge as misperception culprits in one in ten cases (mostly from the French CNES programmes of 1967-1970). The Miscellaneous cluster includes a variety of reasons for misinterpretation: three of every ten IFO cases are due to rockets and missiles, aircraft, reflections and temperature inversions, space junk re-entries, false radar echoes, fireworks or light projectors.

These proportions are consistent with those found in other samples, for example by Allan Hendry in 7he UFO Handbook. This suggests a world-wide pattern. Nevertheless, 15% of the reports released by the Air Force remain to be resolved. One case (January 1,1975, Burgos) defies every explanation and anses as a true anomaly. Nine others present outstanding abnormal features and they are tunder further study. Finally, five cases have insufficient data to be evaluated.


My role in this process has had two well-defined stages. During 1990 and 1991 my task was to meet with the Air Force's Public Relations commanding officer and with the Colonel in charge of the Air Safety Section, seeking to convince them that UFO information poses no threat to National Security; that keeping UFO reports secret gives a false image that the State is concealing 'special knowledge'; that restriction of access to UFO files from students is hardly compatible with a truly democratic nation. I pointed out parallels such as the US precedent in freeing the Blue Book files, the initiative of the Australian Air Force, and GEPAN/SEPRA in France.

One of my objectives was to get all official UFO reports to a centralised location before declassification began, and in 1991 I persuaded Colonel Álvaro Fernández Rodas - an intelligent, well prepared officer - to ask all Air Regions to submit any UFO information they had on file. By this means the archives grew from 55 to 62 files.

That was a useful start: but what was the next step? One day in June 1992 I was approached by Lieutenant Colonel Bastida. It happened by chance while I was visiting a General in the Air Force Headquarters, and that evening I had my first meeting with the man from MOA.

I found that he was aware of my UFO work and I could feel he respected it. In fact, he had used my books as a guideline for designing case summaries, procedures and methodology involving statistics and a computer catalogue of UFO cases. This meeting was the first in a long series: mutual communication between civilian and military 'ufology' became a reality.

This relationship continued with Rocamora, Bastida's successor. Frequent visits and other contacts permitted me to:

- Closely monitor the declassification process, including incoming new material, and ensure that any information on record was made public totally uncensored (except for witness names).

- Stimulate an official search by Air Force bases, radar stations, etc. for both past and recent cases: this led to more than 25 additional case sources (to be released shortly).

- Obtain the declassification of policy documents, directives and instruction texts prepared by the Air Force over the twenty-five year period. For myself, as a civilian investigator, the achieving of these goals has been a dream come true. It would not have been possible, however, without a progressive attitude within the Air Force, and the determination of a group of military men to achieve one of the major targets of the ufological community in any country: to have the 'secret' stamps removed from the Air Force's UFO reports.

Acknowledgements: The author wishes to recognise the able assistance and cooperation of Mr. Joan Plana, Vice-president CEI (Barcelona) and expert in deffence issues, and the author's co-worker since 1988. Thanks also to Sra. Carmen Romero Asensio, for a professional word-processing of a difficult hand-written text.


* Article from UFOs 1947-1997, by Hillary Evans & Dennis Stacy (eds.), John Brown Publishing Co., London, 1997

Geological Record in Australia

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

A contribution from "Down Under"

My ramblings through Australia, from Darwin east to the Kakadu national Park in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and then west and south to the Kimberley Plateau, and the Pilbara Ranges further south, has tended to confirm my belief that the area contains ample evidence of the separation of India and Australia in the geologically recent past. This was part of a world-wide movement that has left a record of the event in the numerous sedimentary deposits in deltas and estuaries, in river flats and flood plains, laid down in the Recent Era, that is, within the last 10,000 years.

The ages for these sedimentary deposits are reasonably reliably established through cross reference with other disciplines, such as archaeology and anthropology, dealing with the recent history of people and their interaction. This did not support the extended time scale required by geologists, nor the evolutionists, who also required almost unlimited time.

Their cause was saved by the acceptance of radioisotope dating as a reliable measure of time. Libby's radiocarbon dating has been an embarrassment to geologists because of its support of its recent dating of known historical events. Evidence from Egypt's past was cited by Velikovsky in support of his theory. Regardless of Libby's warning that his method was increasing unreliable beyond 7,000 years BP, the method was used to establish dates up to 30,000 past. The increasing error has tended to bridge the gap between the two methods in an effort to establish the authority of the fossil evidence in the sedimentary record. This has led to the latest ploy to of the uniformitarianists, to discredit the carbon dating by drawing attention to the embarrassing discrepancy that has been developing, a situation brought to the fore by the contents of this posting..

Perhaps the Uniformitarians are beginning to crack after following the false trail initiated by Lyell when he rejected catastrophism and mythology 170 years ago as having no relevance to the historical record in his opposition to the Mosaic Chronology of the scriptural record.

The historical past is not really that far behind us.

According to the Gagudju people of the Kakadu (a corruption of their name) the world always existed. But long, long ago before the Dreamtime, *before time could be counted*, it had no shape. The land was featureless, without rivers or mountains and in neither the sea nor the land was there any life. [Seas were a recent feature of the 'southern' hemisphere, the antipode of the sub-Saturnian point, but not the northern hemisphere, the sub-Saturnian point, an equatorial position before Earth was separated from its position as a satellite of Saturn and toppled through approx 90 deg. as it gained a degree of rotational velocity when it became a planet in its own right at the time of the Deluge.

Geologists and Anthropologists have attempted to corrupt this record by introducing migration from Southeast Asia to account for the separation of their race from Austroloids in Peninsula India, in spite of the unequivocal evidence of separation and the intrusion of the East Indies into the vacated space.

[A new chapter to be added to my Web Page will explain the geomorphology of the Southwest Pacific Ocean crust, explaining the origin of the vast expanse of sedimentary deposits, Australia's separation from Antarctica, the later formation of the mountainous regions of the northwest that are so rich in mineral wealth, and the uplift, at the time of the Flood, from beneath the sea of the large eroded area that goes to make up a large part of Australia - all the result of recent geological events.]

Yours catastrophically,


Visit my Web Page at:


Re: FWD (?) Geological Record in Australia

From: Barry Williams skeptics@mail.kasm.com.au

Rambling is right. However one doesn't have to rely on Gordon's fantasies, because a far better description of the geological history of Oz (as well as the rest of the world) is contained in a new book A Short History of Planet Earth, by Ian Plimer (ABC Books; ISBN 0 7333 1004 4)), has just been released in Australia. Ian Plimer has a couple of advantages over Gordon in that he is a geologist (Professor at Melbourne Uni) and he knows what he is talking about.

Better known for his exposure of the crackpot nature of creation "science", in this book Plimer has some harsh things to say about extremist doom cryers in the environment movement. Particularly about claims made about atmospheric CO^2 levels now and in the past.

A great read.

Barry Williams
the Skeptic of Oz

Monday, August 27, 2001

Carbon Dating

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

The short summary
The theory
Are there things that can't be carbon-dated?
Can we prove that carbon dates are accurate?
Are there inaccurate carbon dates?
For more information

The Short Summary

Carbon dating can be used on material which was living in the last few tens of thousands of years, and which got its carbon from the air. The method has become more accurate in the last few decades.

The Theory

Carbon 14 is a radioactive isotope of carbon. It is produced in the upper atmosphere by radiation from the sun. (Specifically, neutrons hit nitrogen-14 atoms and transmute them to carbon.)

[Previous statement probabily not accurate: Ed.]

Land plants, such as trees, get their carbon from carbon dioxide in the air. So, some fraction of their carbon is C14. The same is true of any creature that gets its carbon by eating such plants. We can measure this in living things today.

Suppose such a creature dies, and the body is preserved. The C14 will undergo radioactive decay, and after 5730 years, half of it will be gone. Eventually, all of it will be gone. So, if we find such a body, the amount of C14 in it will tell us how long ago it was alive.

Are There Things That Can't Be Carbon-Dated?

Yes. The method doesn't work on things which didn't get their carbon from the air. This leaves out aquatic creatures, since their carbon might (for example) come from dissolved carbonate rock. That causes a dating problem with any animal that eats seafood.

We can't date things that are too old. After about ten half-lives, there's very little C14 left. So, anything more than about 50,000 years old probably can't be dated at all. If you hear of a carbon dating up in the millions of years, you're hearing a confused report.

We can't date oil paints, because their oil is "old" carbon from petroleum.

We can't date fossils, for three reasons. First, they are almost always too old. Second, they rarely contain any of the original carbon. And third, it is common to soak new-found fossils in a preservative, such as shellac. It is also standard to coat fossils during their extraction and transport. Acetone is sometimes used while extracting fossils, because it dissolves dirt. In short, unless you have evidence to the contrary, you should assume that most of the carbon in a fossil is from contamination, and is not originally part of the fossil.

We also can't date things that are too young. The nuclear tests of the 1950's created a lot of C14. Also, humans are now burning large amounts of "fossil fuel". As the name suggests, fossil fuel is old, and no longer contains C14. Both of these man-made changes are a nuisance to carbon dating.

If you hear of a living tree being dated as a thousand years old, that is not necessarily an example of an incorrect dating. Trees only grow on the outside. Wood taken from the innermost ring really is as old as the tree.

Can We Prove That Carbon Dates Are Accurate?

There are two ways to do this. We can date things for which historians know a "right answer". And, we can date things that have been dated by some other method.

Historians don't have "right answers" for really old things. However, carbon dating has done well on young material like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Minoan ruins, and acacia wood from the tomb of the pharoah Zoser.

Some corals can be carbon dated, and also dated by another radioactive material, Thorium-230. Pollen found in the Greenland icecap has been carbon dated, and also dated by counting ice layers. The three methods confirm each other.

Trees grow a thick ring in a good year, and grow a thin ring in a bad year. It is sometimes possible to match up tree-ring patterns between different trees. When enough suitable trees are found, living or dead, the matching is completely accurate. Then, we have wood for which we know the right answer.

So, carbon dating has been calibrated against the rings of California bristlecone pines, and Irish bog oaks, and the like. When this was first done, it turned out that carbon dating had been giving too-young dates for early civilizations. Apparently, the production of C14 by the Sun has changed by several percent across the last 10,000 years. We know (from other measurements) that the Sun hasn't fluctuated by more than 10 percent in the last million years. However, even this small an adjustment was a bit of a shock. For example, Stonehenge suddenly became older than the Pyramids, instead of younger.

Since then, several other calibrations have been done, which confirm and extend the tree-ring one. Some were done by finding lakes with atmospherically derived carbon in their annual layers of silt (called varves). In those particular lakes, the varves can be counted, and the varves can also be carbon dated. See below for details about the 45,000 annual varves in Lake Suigetsu.

Are There Inaccurate Carbon Dates?

Yes. There are three kinds.

The first kind are datings of things that should't be carbon dated. For example, polar bears that eat seals aren't getting their carbon from an atmospheric source.

The second kind are datings on contaminated samples, or on samples which are a mixture. Old samples contain much less C14, so the measured date of older samples is strongly affected by even small amounts of contamination.

The third kind are dates which were measured before the 1970's. In the 70's much better measurement equipment was introduced. the tree-ring calibration eliminated the assumption about the Sun being constant. procedures for avoiding and recognizing contamination were established.

In short, all carbon datings published in the 1950's and 1960's are suspect.

For More Information

If this sort of thing interests you, you should find the journal Radiocarbon and read (for instance) volume 35 #1. That entire issue is devoted to calibration.

On the Web, you could visit a dating laboratory, visit a dating service, read an encyclopedia entry or read a critique.

The Lake Suigetsu varve calibration was reported by ABC News and was published:

Atmospheric Radiocarbon Calibration to 45,000 yr B.P.: Late Glacial Fluctuations and Cosmogenic Isotope Production, Kitagawa and van der Plicht, Science 1998 February 20; 279: 1187-1190 NOTE: free registration is required by Science Online.

Hypnosis does not help accurate memory recall, says study

By Celia Hall, Medical Editor
(Filed: 27/08/2001)


HYPNOSIS does not help people recall events more accurately, but does make them hold to inaccurate memories more stubbornly, researchers say today.

The study has implications for police forces that use hypnosis to try to aid the memory of witnesses and for therapists who use it to help patients recall traumatic childhood events. A study of nearly 100 students at Ohio State University found that those who were hypnotised were no more accurate in giving correct dates in a memory test of past events than students who were not hypnotised.

When they were told that they were wrong, the hypnotised students were much more reluctant to correct the date than the other students. Joseph Green, associate professor of psychology, told the meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco that nine out of 10 people believed that hypnosis could help people to remember something they could not otherwise recall.

"Clearly myths and misconceptions about hypnosis abound. While hypnosis does not enhance the reliability of memory there is evidence that it leads to increased confidence in memories," he said. "The bottom line is that memories recovered through hypnosis or any other technique need to be corroborated through other means before they are accepted as true."

In the study students were either hypnotised or given a relaxation exercise, then asked to estimate the dates of events that took place in the previous 11 years such as the beginning of the Gulf war.

Shermer Interview

From: Shaun Cronin

For those not afraid of the word skepti....sorry wrong list.

Anyway, there is a good interview with arch skeptic Michale Shermer at



Scholar claims Indian men got pregnant

From Ananova at


A scholar claims to have evidence that men got pregnant in ancient India. Sanskrit teacher Professor Vinod Purani says an ancient Hindu scripture contains references to male conception. And he says references to a man's stomach being cut open to allow a male child to be delivered could refer to the first caesarian. Prof Purani from Baroda presented his paper, Medical Adventures in Shrimad Bhagavadam, at a recent conference. According to the Indian Express, he recounted the story of how King Yovanasya "got pregnant'' after drinking charmed water during rituals to conceive children.

The king's abdomen had to to be cut open to allow a male child to be born. Prof Purani's paper also has references to sex changes and artificial insemination, as recorded in the Bhagavad Purana scripture. "It may seem improbable at first, but viewed in the light of genetic engineering, sex conversion techniques and fertility methods, such happenings can't be ruled out," he said.

Medicine man 'captures vampire'

From Ananova at


A Malaysian medicine man claims to have trapped a shape-changing vampire in a jar.

He says he caught the vampire near a cotton tree at Sabak Bernam in Selangor. It is reported to be the size of two tennis balls and resembles a big wad of cotton with a small face. Spiritual healer Hairul Hambali has been appearing on television to talk about his find. According to the The Straits Times, he says he took about an hour to catch the creature, whose body was covered with what looked like cotton. He also claims the vampire is capable of changing shape. He says it will eventually be thrown into the sea to stop it harassing people.

Mystery of rock formation is solved

From Ananova at


A Canadian rock formation believed to have been the remain of ancient native cairns or a burial site was actually built by a man trying to get over a broken marriage. Mystery had surrounded the formation in the South Saskatechewan River until now.

The revelation was made by a woman who phoned a local newspaper and said her father had created the mounds. "That's not an ancient Indian burial site. That's my dad," Sara Burd told the National Post. "He did them because my mother left him and he had a broken heart. He wanted to do something and that's why he went down there and did this."

The hundreds of stacked stones were revealed after water levels fell and were noticed by the Medicine Hat fire department. Fire chief Garry Mauch had been told the rocks could have had a spiritual meaning for native cultures.

Cows Mutilated? Who Ya Gonna Call?


Kate Silver, Las Vegas Weekly
August 21, 2001

There's a town in middle America that just breathes "sleepy." With a population of about 6,400, the farming community of Conrad, Mont., has always been proud of its major annual activity: Whoop-Up Trail Days, a two-day rodeo event.

Then came the cattle mutilations.

And then the invitation for Las Vegas' National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) to help figure out what's going on. Suddenly, Conrad ain't so sleepy anymore.

Since mid-June, there have been four mysterious deaths, according to Pondera County Deputy Sheriff Dan Campbell. Two have been confirmed by the county, one lies in a different county, and the fourth remains unconfirmed. "There's not enough left to do anything with," he says of the mutilated carcass.

But the two that the county has confirmed shared many characteristics. "They're missing the left side of their faces, missing their tongues, part of the udder, and on one, all the tail-end section's gone. Pretty similar to the '70s," Campbell says, referring to a slew of killings that crossed five Montana counties and left more than 60 cows mutilated.

"Can you fax me the police report?" I ask.

"I would, if I'd written it up," he replies.

Ah, small towns. And so they called on the big city folk to step in. Where else, but Las Vegas?

NIDS to the rescue

The National Institute for Discovery Science was founded in 1995 by Robert Bigelow, a local UFO aficionado who owns the Budget Suites chain and started the Bigelow Consciousness Studies program, devoted to studying parapsychology, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The institute consists of scientists and retired cops who use the scientific method to explore such topics as UFOs, cattle mutilation, consciousness and other controversial topics.

It ain't always the most glamorous job in the world.

"The biggest drawback is getting to the animal in time to do forensic analysis," says Dr. Colm Kelleher, deputy administrator for NIDS. "It's not possible after three to four days sitting in 90-degree heat. The organs start to liquefy after 48 hours. That means the analysis becomes very suspect. If you start interpreting a five-day old animal, you start making very shaky interpretations."

Fortunately, the authorities in Montana called them within a reasonable amount of time, and samples were extracted for the institute.

"We're working on the tissues of one of the animals now. It's much too early to say anything," says Kelleher. But he goes into details of how the cow was found: "The cow that we're dealing with now, the left side of its jaw, tissue and hide, were gone. The tongue was partially removed, the left eye and ear are gone, the rear end removed, the reproductive and excretory apparatus were removed.

"Whoever's doing it is very organized and probably very well equipped. Some of the cuts have been very skillful, someone has a reasonable background in surgery."

History has shown that the fleshy parts removed from this particular cow are among the most common ones removed-but no one's actually figured out why. Kelleher admits that he hasn't.

"These are standard parts to remove. Nobody knows why. It's kind of a waste of time to speculate," he says. "The perpetrators know, but we certainly don't."

In the '70s, and even now, blame is often aimed at Satanic cults and ritual sacrifices. Kelleher doesn't buy that.

"One of the first things we did was investigate cult activity but were never able to nail it down," he says. "Traditional cults tend to use smaller animals like chicken and goats. Tackling a 2,000-pound bull is not the kind of things cults are known for."

The aliens

Further adding to the mystery: In animal mutilations, there are usually no tracks and footprints, no evidence, and often little or no blood, Kelleher says. That leaves ample opportunity for people to speculate about aliens, government conspiracies, and, well, almost anything.

Speculation aside, Kelleher says there is a correlation between animal mutilations and UFO sightings. NIDS reported that from 1974 to 1977, in the area surrounding Montana's Malstrom Air Force Base, there were 62 animal mutilations, and investigations of 192 UFO and unknown helicopter sightings. The increase also corresponded with similar anomalous incidents occurring in 1975 at Loring Air Force Base in Maine; Wurdsmith Air Force Base in Michigan; Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota; and at the Canadian Air Force Base at Falconbridge, Ontario.

"We're not trying to add anything mysterious to this," Kelleher says. "The bottom line is we're not going to draw a cause and effect between UFOs and animal mutilation."

They'll leave that to the die-hard conspiracists and alien abductees.

Since Kelleher wouldn't elaborate about any perceived connection between the sightings and the mutilations, I took the question to Alan Gudaitis, director for Nevada's Mutual UFO Network Inc. (MUFON). Though he was unwilling to draw any connections between aliens and animal mutilation, he made it clear that whatever was going on wasn't natural-these weren't predators attacking the cattle. But like everyone else involved in this issue, Gudaitis just doesn't get it.

"I have no idea," he says. "First, we'd have to prove aliens existed. And then, would they do something like this?"

Don Emory, manager of Area 51 Research Center, a trailer out in Rachel, Nev., known for its research on military, UFO and aerospace topics, is also befuddled.

"Supposedly, that people start making the connection that this was alien mostly derives from farmers seeing strange lights in the field the night before," he says. "There's also the connection that maybe this wasn't alien, it was actually some kind of military testing."

Basically, Emory says, the correlation depends on your beliefs. "The UFO people think that its UFOs, conspiracy people think it's the government," he says. "Myself, I just don't know."

Where's the beef?


BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - A Web site claiming to offer "exceptionally high quality" human meat is leaving city leaders with a bad aftertaste.

The Web site, www.ManBeef.com, purports to represent a company that it claims was founded in Binghamton 19 years ago and has spread nationwide with its gourmet Homo sapiens samplings.

It's not exactly the image Binghamton wants to extend, and the city is exploring whether it has any legal recourse to force the Web site to quit using the city's name, a city official said Tuesday.

"It's not that it's been a nuisance. We've had some calls. Our main concern is the stigma we see associated with it," said Richard David, the city's director of community relations.

Police Capt. Roger Shaller said investigators have determined the company does not exist and the Web site is a hoax.

"It's only a crime if they were actually selling it. It's just a spoof -- although it's a pretty elaborate site for whoever went to the trouble," Shaller said.

For several months, neat red lettering and detailed graphics have lured Internet surfers to an attractive site where "the sophisticated human meat consumer" can allegedly order cuts of "100 percent human meat, no fillers."

The site offers more than 100 recipes, such as "Mom's manbeef stew," "barbecued manbeef sandwiches," "beans and manburger bake," and "Oriental manbeef and rice."

There also is an explanation of ManBeef's "processing system," which notes that the company ensures high quality by only using bodies less than 40 years old. It says the company obtains its bodies from cadaver vending and organ donation companies.

Shaller said police investigated the company but found it listed a nonexistent address on an existing street in Binghamton. The only phone number was a North Carolina number, and that was not working, he said.

Shaller said police had several people send e-mails to the listed owner, Joseph Christopherson. However, no one has been able to order any meat from the company, nor has it provided ordering information and a company video to those who have sought them, Shaller said.

The Web site administrator is registered as 16-year-old Joseph Mallett of Apex, N.C., said Shaller.

Mallett told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin that he registered the domain page for the ManBeef owner through a company he started, Net Gold Technologies. Mallett did not reveal the owner's identity.

The teen told the newspaper he had no other involvement with the Web site. He said he shut off his telephone because of harassing phone calls about the site and has gotten out of the web hosting business because of the problems it has caused him.

Tuesday was the first day Kevin Tinajero had heard about the Web site. It was worth a good laugh, he said.

"It's creepy, and I can see why the city doesn't what to be associated, but it doesn't surprise me, considering everything else you can find on the Internet these days," said Tinajero, a furniture store salesman who had just returned from a pizza lunch.

Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising that ManBeef listed its hometown as Binghamton -- the hometown of Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.

In one classic episode entitled "To Serve Man," a book left behind by aliens who promise to use their technology to aid mankind turns out to be a cookbook -- with humans as the main course.

Sunday, August 26, 2001


Some old news

Bad science takes a kicking


Saturday, July 1, 2000

VOODOO SCIENCE: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
By Robert Park
Oxford University Press
240 pages, $37.25

Certainly you have a perfect right to believe anything you please. Unfortunately, if you choose to believe something nature doesn't agree with, she can rise up and clobber you severely. We would be prudent not to embark promiscuously on outlandish beliefs which may produce untoward results.

Dr. Johnson, when he improvised his kick-the-stone reality test, understood that nature kicks back. We all know what happened when Boswell challenged Johnson to refute Bishop Berkeley's idealist doctrine that everything exists only in the mind. As Boswell wrote: "I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- 'I refute it thus.' "

The whole of modern science is an elaborate form of the kick-the-stone reality test. In his book Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud,Robert L. Park, professor of physics at the University of Maryland, presents entertaining examples of expensive and despicable nonsense lately emitted by people who should have known better. Nonetheless, some supposedly well informed personages have endorsed their claims enthusiastically.

The most egregious example of voodoo, or just plain incompetent, science was the cold-fusion affair, which began in 1989 in Salt Lake City, Utah. This involved the alleged fusion of deuterium atoms in palladium electrodes at room temperature, along with the production of excess energy. To many people, including this reviewer, at first it sounded plausible. After all, who knows what goes on in the hearts of palladium electrodes?

It was taken up with glee by the TV and print media, and Park comments, "The story wasn't news, and it certainly wasn't science. It was entertainment." Many scientists tried to perform the trick themselves, but it didn't work. After much prevarication and delay by the deluded professors, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, almost everyone else decided cold fusion was bunkum. Exactly one year later, The Globe and Mail ran the story headlined News Report May Put Disputed Theory of So-Called 'Cold Fusion' on Ice, by Stephen Strauss.

The misguided professors have now vanished from the scene. But a simple Web search shows that cold fusion lingers on even today in the minds of true believers. Good fairy tales never die, for the temptation to defeat the Law of Conservation of Energy is almost irresistible. Park devotes much of his book to the sad stories of inventors, often confidence tricksters, who hope their perpetual-motion gizmos will evade the energy conservation rule.

Another exponent of questionable physics, Deepak Chopra, MD, published a widely read book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind,in which he tells us that a proper understanding of quantum mechanics, as applied in the Maharishi's ayurvedic medicine, will help us delay or even banish disease processes and aging. Park says of the learned doctor: "We cannot help but notice, however, that the author of Ageless Body shows unmistakable signs of growing old along with the rest of us."

Park takes a dim view of many other voodoo procedures, including astrology, homeopathy, extra-sensory perception and economically viable space travel; but still they do not go away. You are free to believe in them, but don't forget to call a real doctor when you fall ill. According to Park, all these are examples of what chemist Irving Langmuir called "pathological science -- the science of things that aren't so."

One of the signs of pathological science, according to Langmuir, is that the alleged effect, such as telepathy, always appears at the very limit of detectability. What's more, the effect never seems to increase or decrease in power, whether the source is nearby or far away. Lang- muir also notes that voodoo scientists rely on the so-called Texas sharpshooter's effect. "The sharpshooter empties his revolver into the side of a barn -- and then walks over and draws a bullseye." Langmuir listed another symptom of pathological science: "The evidence never gets any stronger. Decades pass, and there is never a clear photograph of the Loch Ness Monster." Nor, may I add, is there any reliable confirmation of cold fusion.

To those of us who wish to exercise our undoubted right to believe whatever we please, Park decries some supposed sciences as mere entertainment, and pathological entertainment at that. However, entertainment and displays of make-believe are also a legitimate, and even a necessary, pleasure in life. Where do we draw the line? Surely we should not deprive ourselves of all the benefits of fairy tales on account of the puritanical and gleefully sadistic truths so clearly provided for our pleasure by Park. Richard Lubbock is a Toronto science writer who often hesitates to kick the stone.


The Genius of Science: A Portrait Gallery of Twentieth-Century Physicists, by Abraham Pais, Oxford University Press, 356 pages, $48

Portraits of 16 physicists who have changed our view of the cosmos, from the famous (Niels Bohr, Einstein) to the lesser-known (Res Jost, Eugene Wigner), with many others making appearances. Pais, himself an eminent U.S. theoretical physicist, has written important biographies of Einstein and Bohr, and knew many of the people he writes about. The non-scientist should not be daunted by this highly anecdotal and very en- gaging book about the lives and labs of scientists.
Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition
by Stuart A. Vyse,
Oxford University Press, 257 pages, $19.95

Vyse is vunderfully entertaining in this smart and patient look at the psychology of superstition: how it works in the individual, its provenance, what we can do to avoid it (train in critical thinking, for one thing). The book by the U.S. psychology professor, originally published in 1997, won the William James Award for psychological writing.



Perpetual-motion machines: In 1618, London physician Robert Fludd suggested that water wheels could drive a pump as well as grind flour. The water that had turned the wheel would be pumped back up into a reservoir that fed the millrace. The reservoir could run the mill indefinitely.


Health racket: Robert Park attacked media attention given to mysterious Vitamin O -- "oxygen-enhanced bottled water" -- which turned out to be salt water. Park has also spent time debunking possible health hazards caused by electromagnetic radiation from power lines.


In his 1957 book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, dedicated debunker Martin Gardner reported on mid-20th-century cranks with a straight face: "Alfred William Lawson, Supreme Head and First Knowlegian of the University of Lawsonomy, at Des Moines, Iowa, is in his own opinion the greatest scientific genius living today. He was, after all, the mastermind of Zig-Zag-and-Swirl, a theory whose exact details need not detain us here."

Victor Stenger, physics professor at the University of Hawaii, criticized mystical interpretations of modern physics in 1995's The Unconscious Quantum.

Intrasound: expensive dirt

From: John Byers

Thanks for posting the item I submitted on "Sonic Silver" in the Monday, June 18, 2001 NTS Skeptical News Listings.

Here's more info about Intrasound products, referred to in that same news item. These products were formerly distributed by TriStar, which is now apparently going by the company name StarMax.

I obtained one of their products from a friend -- a 3oz. container of Intrasound Powder, which retails for $100 ($68 if you become a representative / "distributor"). The only listed ingredient is "pure USP Ingestible Grade Kaolin Clay", which the distributor claims, "has proven to hold a charge." I also found the following information on their website:

Q: How does Intrasound work?

A: These products have been resonated (charged) with a high frequency sound wave (signal), approximately 10 to the 43rd power. Intrasound products hold this signal indefinitely and when this signal is introduced into the field of energy around the body it brings balance and order which, by design, enables the body to better heal itself.

Yeah, right. Sounds more like a marketing scheme to sell "clean dirt" for over $500 per pound! I've found that Kaolin Clay, USP is commercially available in 50-pound amounts for less than $2 per pound. Its primary uses are in making porcelain and paint pigments. It is also found as an ingredient in antidiarrheal solutions, such as Kaopectate.

I called TriStar and inquired about the source of their Kaolin Clay, which the Intrasound Powder product label indicates is "Activated and engineered by Wave Form, Inc., P.O. Box 1079, Depoe Bay, OR 97341." I asked about the "10 to the 43rd power" claim, assuming they were referring to "charging" frequency. I told them that I was confused since the highest known frequencies (gamma rays) are only on the order of 10 to the 21st power. They declined to give me contact information for their supplier, and responded to my query by saying they would check the accuracy of the information on the website. Interestingly, I noticed that, within a few days of my call, they edited this particular Q&A item to remove the "approximately 10 to the 43rd power" notation.

The Intrasound Powder product label states "We make no claims", however the TriStar website is full of testimonials about seemingly miraculous results for everything from gum disease (for their dental products) and weight loss, to "transformational effects" on pets and slowing down the aging process in humans. See this website:

An interesting side note -- I found this contradictory bit of info on another website, dedicated to fanatical "health-related issues including cancer," warning about the dangers of "Kaolin: A fine white clay used in making porcelain and also is found in facial powders and masks.....kaolin smothers and weakens the skin."

Another item of interest is this 1999 article, Eating Chalk - A Culture-Bound Syndrome:


Eating kaolin -- also known as chalk or white dirt -- in the central Piedmont area of Georgia may be a culture-bound syndrome, according to an article in the February issue of Southern Medical Journal.

Within the culture, eating kaolin is thought to be a remedy for cravings during pregnancy. Unfortunately, kaolin can actually be quite harmful. In cases where pregnant women said they eat kaolin, the habit often caused anemia and constipation. For that reason, Dr. Grigsby says primary care doctors need to be aware of this culture-bound syndrome.

(End Quote)

Another item of interest is this 1999 article, Cupmarks, Kaolin, and Native American Medicine:

More magnetic woo-woo'ism

Here's an oldie:

Date: Sun, 02 Jul 2000

Offered without comment:

From "Getting Started in Magnetic Healing" by Buryl Payne, Ph. D (1998).:

[begin quote]

Magnets provide wonderful first aid for toothaches, headaches, backaches, stomach upset, strains, and most of the odd aches and pains that mysteriously appear now and then in our wonderfully healthy and complex bodies. Magnets can help broken bones heal twice as fast and their use can hasten wound healing and reduce the formation of scar tissue. Magnets can also help the body heal chronic ailments such as arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.


War appears to be a form of mass psychosis induced by changed in the geomagnetic field generated, in turn, by solar activity....The odds against battle consistently occurring within two years of sunspot peaks are more than ten thousand to one! Yet they did, which suggest that solar/geomagnetic activity is a larger factor in triggering warring behavior than social, political, economic or ethnic factors.

When the sun's activity changes, more particles from the sun stream to earth and juggle it's protective magnetic field. When this increases about every 11 years or so, humans, mostly men, become far more aggressive.

Just as PMS overwhelms some women every month, related to the Moon's cycles, MMS (Male Macho Syndrome) drives some men to warring behavior every 11 years, in phase with solar cycles. The common mechanism may be magnetic changes, or something presently unknown, that is associated with magnetic changes. It is well known that the Moon plays a part in these lunatic behaviors too, especially when it is new or full and in line with the stream of particles radiating from the Sun.


Fortunately for us, not all magnetic changes are irritating, or incite all of us to violence. some types of magnetic activity stimulate humans to greater creativity...


Study Indicates Alternative Medicine Here to Stay

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Used By Broad Age, Demographic Groups

BOSTON, MA--Will the demand for complementary and alternative medicine fade or is it here to stay? While U.S. medical schools are developing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) course work, and managed care organizations are providing some coverage for CAM therapies, little data existed to answer this question. Until now. A new study by Harvard Medical School researchers, looking at trends over the past half-century, suggests that CAM is indeed here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The study, which appears in the August 21 Annals of Internal Medicine, examined trends in the use of 20 different CAMs, covering everything from acupuncture to yoga, among representative sociodemographic groups across the continental U.S. "The findings really dispel two ideas, namely that complementary and alternative medicine is just a passing fad, and that it is used by one particular segment of society," said Ronald Kessler, Harvard Medical School professor of health care policy, who authored the study through the Harvard Medical School Division of Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

full story at

Saturday, August 25, 2001

Science in the news

"Science In the News" is a daily digest of science stories appearing in the mainstream press. Sigma Xi does not endorse the items that appear in "Science In the News," nor the science they report.

For directions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to a Listserv version of this page, click here. In the News

Today's Headlines - August 23, 2001

from The Washington Post

Most or all of the human embryonic stem cell colonies approved for research funding under a new Bush administration policy have been mixed in the laboratory with mouse cells, which may create substantial hurdles for scientists trying to turn the colonies into treatments for Parkinson's disease, spinal-cord injuries and other ailments.

The cell colonies, or "lines," were created for early-stage research with no thought that they would become the only embryonic cells eligible for federal money. But that is the status President Bush conferred on them in his first prime-time address to the nation on Aug. 9.

The standard technique for creating human embryonic stem cell lines has been to extract cells from inside a microscopic embryo, then grow them atop embryonic mouse cells, known as "feeder" cells. The latter excrete some unknown nutritional or growth factor that helps the human cells stay healthy. Because they have been in close contact with mouse cells, the human cells pose a small but real risk of transferring potentially deadly animal viruses to people.

Because of that, under guidelines the Food and Drug Administration has been developing for several years, it would be difficult, though not impossible, to use the cells in human clinical tests.

from The Boston Globe

The nation's largest fertility clinic will begin providing leftover embryos to Harvard University scientists for stem cell research, a deal that could make the Cambridge campus one of the world's top suppliers of embryonic stem cells.

In a field dominated by corporations and secretive research, the open arrangement is the first major effort to create supplies of the coveted cells since President Bush's speech two weeks ago announcing limited US funding for stem cell research.

Boston IVF, an organization of fertility clinics based in Waltham, said it has thousands of frozen embryos that could provide stem cells. It plans to begin contacting donor couples soon for permission to use their embryos so Harvard scientists can extract stem cells.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

It came as a big surprise last winter when researchers revealed that the human genome contains only about 30,000 genes, far fewer than most observers expected and only a handful more than the average rodent.

Now, there's a new surprise: Some scientists suggest that humans probably have more genes after all. How many is a matter of conjecture, they said, and it may take several years to get an accurate list.

The new analysis, summarized in a brief letter published today in the journal Cell, compared the results of two separate genome-sequencing efforts, both of which reached what appeared to be a similar gene count last year when the historic "first draft" of the human genome was revealed.

from The Washington Post

BEIJING, Aug. 23 -- Breaking a long public silence, a senior Chinese health official said today the nation is facing an AIDS epidemic that may be spreading twice as fast as previously reported. He added that efforts to control the disease have failed in part because local leaders refused to take it seriously.

Signaling a new willingness to confront the AIDS problem, at least by the Health Ministry in Beijing, the government also acknowledged for the first time that many Chinese have contracted HIV through unsafe methods used to sell their blood, often to companies with ties to local officials or the Chinese military.

"Like many other countries in the world, China is also faced with a very serious epidemic of HIV/AIDS," said Yin Dakui, the deputy health minister, announcing the establishment of a $12 million fund to fight the disease. "In some particular regions, some leaders and also the general public have not fully realized the hidden dangers of a full-scale epidemic of HIV/AIDS."

from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Citing the $10-million-a-year operating costs, NASA has decided to pull the plug on a satellite that has measured the ozone hole for the past decade.

NASA said the 6 1/2-ton, 35-foot satellite will either be plucked from orbit by the space shuttle or allowed to crash back to Earth sometime between 2016 and 2027.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite mission is being cut at a time when NASA faces overruns on a number of projects, including the international space station.

"Scientists are screaming, 'How can NASA turn off a satellite?'" NASA spokesman David Steitz said. "Sorry guys, but it's over. We can't afford to continue to feed it and we have other priorities with new technologies."


Although his unorthodox approach hasn't yet granted him a wide academic audience, John Dobson's tireless efforts at bringing amateur astronomy to the masses won him an appreciative audience yesterday at Vanderbilt Planetarium in Centerport.

Dobson, 85, eschews the generally well-accepted big bang theory, which explains the early moments and subsequent expansion of the universe. But the free-spirited former monk has won widespread acclaim for launching a grassroots movement in the 1950s and 1960s to involve the public in amateur astronomy.

"We sidewalk astronomers keep the kids on the streets," joked the cheerfully irreverent Dobson during a question-and-answer session with about 50 children, reporters and other guests at the planetarium.

The Sidewalk Astronomers - a group he co-founded in San Francisco in 1967 that has expanded to other cities - takes homemade telescopes onto busy street corners and other urban areas on clear nights to let people peer up at the wonders of the universe. The group also sponsors trips to national parks, where the decreased light pollution allows people to see stars they never knew existed - and some uncommon views of more familiar objects.

Previous sites featured in "Site of the Week."

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Voxx Insolitus

Reporting on the Imminent Revelation of Alien Life
by Mike Corthell

Dr. Steven Greer, "I can honestly say that we have the physical evidence, photographic evidence, government documents, and more than 100 top-secret military and intelligence witnesses — which, if they could be put together and presented to the public, would constitute a definitive and unambiguous disclosure on this subject (alien life)."


Noah's ark & satellites

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 — Military and private satellite snapshots of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey reveal an anomaly that researchers say might be the remains of Noah's Ark. A soon-to-be-launched commercial spacecraft will focus powerful cameras on the mysterious mountainside oddity to help unravel its true nature.

...Complete story at URL below...

"Kevin P. France" wrote:

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

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