NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 September 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, September 02, 2001

Location of visual consciousness

Public release date: 29-Aug-2001
Vanderbilt University


Experiment provides new clues to the location of visual consciousness

A new test that measures what people see when viewing discordant images in the right and left eyes has produced important new clues about the location of some of the brain activity underlying visual consciousness.

The procedure, described in the Aug. 30 issue of the journal Nature, depends on a phenomenon called binocular rivalry first described in 1838 by Sir Charles Wheatstone. Using a device that he invented, Wheatstone discovered that when people are presented with dissimilar images in each eye, they report seeing first one image and then the other with the two images alternating unpredictably.

"Since this breakdown in binocular vision was discovered, it has been the subject of scientific interest because it involves the switching of visual consciousness without conscious control," says Randolph Blake, professor of psychology at Vanderbilt. He, Hugh R. Wilson, a mathematician from York University in Toronto, and Vanderbilt graduate student Sang-Hun Lee devised the new test.

In normal binocular vision, sensory information from the two eyes is fused into a single, three-dimensional visual impression. Stereopsis, the ability to fuse two, two-dimensional images into a three-dimensional image, is the flip-side of binocular rivalry. Individuals with misaligned eyes can suffer from binocular rivalry. They generally cope with this condition in one of two ways. They either rely on the view from a single eye or they use each eye for a different purpose, such as close and far vision.

The question of which neurons are responsible for this effect is a matter of scientific controversy. Visual information from the eyes is routed to the back of the brain to an area called the primary visual cortex.

From there it is processed in an elaborate hierarchy that works its way forward in the brain through the temporal, parietal and frontal lobes. Some vision researchers argue that binocular rivalry must be handled at a low level in the brain's visual processing hierarchy, while others maintain that it must be handled at higher levels. Results from the new test lend weight to the argument that the effect occurs at a low level in the visual cortex.

The procedure that Blake and his colleagues devised allowed them to measure the time that it takes for one monocular image to replace the other in the visual field. Using pairs of different patterns within the same-sized annulus, they determined that one pattern does not instantaneously replace the other.

Instead, the suppressed pattern breaks through at a specific location and then spreads in a wavelike fashion until it totally replaces the other pattern. The researchers found a way to trigger the alteration at a specific location on the ring and then measure the time that it takes the change-wave to reach a fixed point at the bottom of the annulus.

"The fact that the transition between the two images spreads gradually is an indication that binocular rivalry occurs at a lower level," Blake says. "If it were handled at a higher level you would expect the change to be instantaneous."

Another result that points toward the primary visual cortex is the trio's observation that the rate at which the transition zone spreads increases with the size of the annular ring. This relationship is consistent with the way in which the eye and visual cortex are wired.

In the fovea, the portion of the retina at the center of the eye, the density of nerve connections is much higher than it is at the periphery. As a result, a signal traveling a given distance in the fovea stimulates more nerves than a signal traveling the same distance in the periphery. In the test, the person looks at the center of the ring. So, as the diameter of the ring increases, it stimulates nerves located further out on the periphery of the retina.

Therefore, if the alteration of images takes place in the visual cortex, a signal traveling halfway around a small ring must pass through a larger number of neurons than a signal traveling halfway around a large ring. The time it takes for a signal to propagate from neuron to neuron is roughly constant. So it makes sense that a signal which must pass through fewer neurons will travel faster than one which must pass through a larger number of neurons.

The final result implicating the primary visual cortex is the observation that when the suppressed pattern consists of concentric rings it spreads faster than when it is a radial pattern. Previous studies indicate that the primary visual cortex is specially wired to pick out continuous lines and curves. "This makes evolutionary sense because most of our visual environment consists of continuous features," says Blake. So the observation that the alteration between the two images proceeds faster when the suppressed pattern is made up of continuous, concentric lines than it does with discontinuous, radial lines is also consistent with an origin in the primary visual cortex.

In the past decade, cognitive psychology has joined forces with neuroscience to address the question of the nature of conscious awareness. The new results are an important step in the process of discovering which neuronal processes go with consciousness, and which do not.

This research was funded by a grant from the Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

For an overview of research on binocular rivalry, including examples of the test patterns used in the Nature article, go to Prof. Blake's website:

City puts astrologers to the test


Applicants must pass a 20-question exam for a license to dispense advice based on the stars

Monday, August 27, 2001
Doug Caruso
Dispatch City Hall Reporter

Ginger-lyn Summer is a licensed astrologer. The city of Columbus says so.

She took a test, filed the names of three references with the city and read the astrological chart of an employee of the city's license bureau.

Applicants must get at least 16 of the 20 true-or-false questions correct to pass. A sample:

The second house and its rulers is where you look for information about brothers, sisters, neighbors, papers and short trips.

"It was actually rather involved, which was surprising to me,'' said Summer, who was first licensed in 1984 and does not have to retake the test to renew her license each year.

"I've talked to some Libertarians who think this is a bizarre idea,'' she said. "But I think it's a good idea to make sure people know what you're doing.''

Summer, one of seven licensed astrologers in Columbus, said she mentions the city license in her advertisements.

The city has licensed astrologers, who read people's futures based on star charts and significant dates, since at least 1930, according to old Columbus City Code books.

But Columbus doesn't license tarot- card readers, palm readers, psychics or others who purport to predict the future.

Summer said that might be because other forms of prediction are more intuitive, while astrology has hard, fast rules.

Toledo has a law requiring any "predictor,'' including astrologers, to pay $25 per year for a license and pass a police background check. "We're not in the business of determining whether they're qualified,'' said a clerk in Toledo's business-license office. She was amazed to hear that Columbus requires a test.

"They should know all the answers before you give the questions,'' she said.

The Columbus license used to cost $25 per year, but in 1988 the license section did away with the fee. Still, anyone practicing astrology without a license could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, fined $500 and sent to jail for up to six months. That, apparently, has never happened.

Kimberlee Malone, the city's license manager, said she has received a test reading once in her 11 years at the city's licensing office. The astrologer passed, she said, though she acknowledged that she doesn't believe in astrology and is not an expert on the subject.

"They said good things,'' Malone said. "You always want to hear good things about yourself: 'You're a wonderful person, you love everybody.' ''

Malone thinks that the written test was designed by an Ohio State University professor in the 1980s.

"That's what I've been told,'' she said.

But, like the origins of the astrologer-licensing law, the name of the professor is shrouded in the mists of time.

Though astrologers can consult their books during the test, don't ask for an advance peek.

"That's top-secret stuff,'' Malone said. "If it gets out, it's like the taxi test. We can't distribute it because it gives people a study aid.''

The test -- and the license -- are worthless, said Robert Peters, an astrologer and psychologist who works out of a shop on N. High Street.

The city came to him in the 1960s with a partial test and asked him to add "yes-or-no'' questions to finish it, he said.

"It's a stupid test. Anyone off the street could pass that test.''

Peters does not have a city license and says he doesn't need one because he is licensed by the American Psychological Association. He said the city shouldn't license astrologers, especially because no one in the license section knows anything about astrology.

Both Peters and Summer knew the answer to the sample question. The second house, they said, controls money and income, not brothers, sisters, neighbors, papers and short trips.

"That's the third house,'' Summer said. "If you can't tell that, you shouldn't be reading anybody else's chart.''

Saturday, September 01, 2001

MoD bows to pressure to release UFO file


August 30, 2001 14:00

VITAL evidence indicating a top-level investigation was ordered into claims from American servicemen that they saw a UFO near their Suffolk air base has been released.

The Ministry of Defence has bowed to sustained pressure and finally opened the official file on the world famous Rendlesham Forest UFO.

The file has been made public nine years early after the Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton demanded answers in the House of Lords to issues raised by author Georgina Bruni in her book, You Can't Tell The People, billed as the definitive account of the unidentified flying object mystery.

The mystery arose after a memo written after Christmas 1980 by Colonel Halt, deputy commander at Bentwaters air base, detailed the sighting of ''unusual lights''.

Two patrolmen who investigated saw a metallic triangular object hovering or on legs with a pulsing red light on top and a bank of blue lights underneath. It disappeared through the forest and animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy.

After the Government file was opened on Tuesday Ms Bruni said: ''The official view has always been that the US Air Force and MoD did not take the UFOs seriously and that they were of no defence significance.

"For 21 years the Ministry of Defence has claimed that the only report in their file was Colonel Halt's memorandum, that the incident was of no defence significance and that no UFOs were tracked on radar.''

David Clarke, a researcher at Sheffield University who is writing a book on UFOs, has asked for five more files to be released.

They are being withheld on the grounds that they contain confidential briefings to ministers, relate to national security, or affect Britain's relations with the United States.

Lord Hill-Norton has been campaigning for several years to persuade the Ministry of Defence to give more details on the object which was supposedly seen by Americans near the east gate of Woodbridge air base after Christmas 1980.

FWD (IUFO) the largest asteroid to date discovered

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

ESO has published a joint Press Release about observations of what has turned out to be the largest known asteroid in the solar system. See the photos and read the details at:


Information from the European Southern Observatory

ESO Press Photos 27a-b/01

23 August 2001

For immediate release

Virtual Telescope Observes Record-Breaking Asteroid [1]

New Data Show that "2001 KX76" Is Larger than Ceres


Ceres, the first asteroid (minor planet) to be discovered in the Solar System, has held the record as the largest known object of its kind for two centuries.

However, recent observations at the European Southern Observatory with the world's first operational virtual telescope 'Astrovirtel' have determined that the newly discovered distant asteroid "2001 KX76" is significantly larger, with a diameter of 1200 km, possibly even 1400 km.

Star Wars & Science

From: Tim Tulley

Looks like a typical Star Wars fan page. Now check out the Creationism vs Science link, go to the I Want you for the Galactic Empire link and check out the Science button on the left of the page.


Pregnant women are told to avoid herbal cures

Daily Mail, Thursday August 30, 2001:

Naturally dangerous

by James Chapman j.chapman@dailymail.co.uk
Science Correspondent

Pregnant women or those trying for a baby should not take herbal remedies because of the risk of dangerous side effects, an expert warned yesterday.

Edzard Ernst, Britain's only professor of complementary medicine, spoke out as scientists said one of the most popular herbal supplements on the market - gingko biloba - could contain a toxin known to damage the unborn.

Professor Ernst said it was intolerable that many patients use herbal remedies even though they escape regulation because they are sold as food supplements.

'It's a disaster waiting to happen,' he declared. 'We could see another catastrophe like thalidomide.

'The recommendation has to be quite simply - stay clear of all herbal remedies during pregnancy.'

The findings of research on gingko biloba - an ancient Chinese plant remedy taken to improve memory and concentration - are published today in the magazine New Scientist and the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

The substance, derived from the nuts and leaves of the gingko biloba tree, has long been used in Asia as a pick-me-up and is gaining popularity in the West.

But researchers have discovered high levels of the toxin colchicine in one brand and warn the problem could extend to other herbal medicines.

During routine tests of placental blood taken from 24 pregnant women, Dr Howard Petty and his colleagues at Wayne State University in Detroit were surprised to find colchicine in five of them.

The levels were high enough to have harmful effects and were 'entirely unanticipated'.

Colchicine, found naturally in many plants, is some- times used to treat gout. But it interferes with cell division and can be fatal at high doses.

At lower levels, experts say, it can pass through the placental barrier during pregnancy and cause 'severe damage' to the foetus. Mothers are also advised to avoid it while breast-feeding since the drug may be passed to a child through their milk.

Dr Petty and his team were baffled by the presence of the toxin in the blood samples until they realised that the women with the chemical in their blood had all been taking herbal supplements.

When the researchers tested a popular herbal supplement containing gingko biloba bought at a local pharmacy they found that it contained colchicine.

The researchers only tested one sample of gingko biloba, though they refused to say which brand. But Dr Petty warned that the problem could apply to other herbal medicines.

'Such supplements should be avoided by women who are pregnant or trying to conceive,' the researchers say.

Professor Monique Simmonds, a phytochemist at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, suspects, however, that other ingredients in the supplement were responsible for the toxic effects.

'I would expect it to be found in extracts of lily, which are also used for memory, rather than gingko,' she said last night. 'It could be that this particular supplement was a mixture.'

She added: 'As the popularity of these supplements increases, we need to ensure the right plants are being grown and the right concentrations are being used.'

Professor Ernst, who works in Exeter University's department of complementary medicine, said many women turned to herbal products during pregnancy or while trying to conceive because they were nervous about the side effects of standard drugs.

Although there was evidence that some herbal supplements were effective remedies, he was not convinced that the benefits outweighed the risks.

'People think that anything that's green must be safe,' he said. 'This latest research is more evidence showing that it isn't We have virtually no positive safety data for any of the popular supplements.'

In two recent cases in Britain, women developed kidney failure after taking Chinese herbal remedies to combat eczema.

There is also evidence that herbs can interact with conventional medicines. Ginseng, for instance, has few serious side effects, but when combined with warfarin it can increase the medication's blood- thinning effect.

Last year, women using the contraceptive pill were advised to stop using St John's Wort. Used to treat mild depression, it has been found to interfere with many prescription medicines.

A spokesman for the Royal College of Midwives said: 'It should never be assumed that because a therapy is "traditional" or "natural" it must be safe.'

Friday, August 31, 2001

Paul Kurtz Upcoming Radio Interviews & Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

CSICOP Chairman Paul Kurtz will be on the radio discussing his new book "Skeptical Odysseys." Check him out on the following stations:

There are several more pending/to be scheduled, but these are booked so far:

-KTSA-AM/San Antonio TX
"Cybercity" Sat. Sept,. 1 10:05-10:50 PM

-"The Source with Paul Anderson"/Amarillo, TX
Christian Radio show w/ 3 state coverage & internet audience. Sun. Sept. 2, 9:15-10 PM

-"Louisiana Live" out of Baton Rouge
Airs on 15 stations Sept. 4, 4-4:30 PM

-WDWS/Champaign, IL Sept. 4 5:10-5:50 PM

-KFIZ-AM/Fond du Lac, WI "Backstage Live" Sept. 12 11:10-11:50 AM

Skeptical Inquirer superstition bash photo essay featured on the Comdey
Channel website: http://www.comedycentral.com/timewasters/kc/bash01.jhtml

Articles of Note
Thanks to David Vanderschel, Joe Littrell, Eric Krieg

Psychic show's past makes its future easy to see
By Jennifer Weiner


John Edward paces the stage, words tumbling out of his mouth, eyes squinched shut. "There's a 'J,' a 'J' name. Jim, James, Jack . . .."

The Times
Suicide, sex and the guru


The reputation of Sai Baba, a holy man to the rich and famous, has been tarnished by mysterious deaths and allegations of sexual abuse

Sometimes, scientists' overexcited imaginations supersede the facts
Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer Monday, August 27, 2001


Now you see them, now you don't: subatomic "particles" and "forces" that mysteriously appear in scientific experiments, then disappear. The frequent reason: They never existed in the first place. Like sightings of spooks, UFOs and the Loch Ness monster, they're often the product of a bright but overexcited physicist's imagination.

Spokane WA Spokesman-Review Tuesday, August 28, 2001
Judge blocks 'free electricity' offer

Attorney general says man seeking investors is charlatan
Kevin Blocker - Staff writer


A judge has stopped Spokane investments into a device being touted as a source of free electricity.

Hypnosis: No Truth Serum
By Jeff Carpenter


"Hypnosis that attempts to retrieve the truth may actually help convince you of something false, a new study says."

Children seduced by forces of Satanism on the Internet
The Times


"INCREASING numbers of children are spending hours alone browsing the Internet in search of satanic websites."

Teenagers jump to their deaths
The Times


"THE suicides of three teenagers who leapt together to their death from a bridge, their bodies daubed with pentangle symbols, have increased concern among officials in Germany about the spread of Devil-worship among disaffected, often unemployed, young people."

Carloads hunted monster in Grant County
by Jim Reis
Kentucky Post


"Not all the monsters are four-legged."

Entering a new dimension in the channeling of spirits
By David O'Reilly


"As church suppers go, the potluck at Pebble Hill Church in Doylestown was thoroughly traditional: Folks at picnic tables ate chicken, barbecued ribs, baked beans, and peach-blueberry pie."

The Rael World Comes to New York
by Rebecca Segall
Village Voice


(Sidebars to this story include
Close Encounter of the Raelian Kind -
http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0135/segall2.php and
The Raelian Account of Creation -
http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0135/segall3.php )

"The first Raelian has just moved to Manhattan, and she's on a mission to multiply. She is hosting her first "sensual meditation" class next week, spreading the extraterrestrial good news on the Upper West Sideā€"and bringing the group's controversial stance on cloning to New York."

Dream Academy
Willamette Week


"Even over the phone, Arnold Mindell is beguiling. Though we've never met, never even spoken before, he calls me by my first name 20 times in as many minutes. He sounds as though he's in the middle of many important and exciting projects, but has managed to put me at the top of his list. Quick to laugh, he is impressed by my questions, by the depth of understanding they convey; before hanging up, he tells me that he feels very encouraging toward me, that I should probably be writing books. And though I suspect that Arny would rather I were writing books than asking indelicate questions about his curious graduate school on Northwest Hoyt Street, I can't help but feel flattered."

Ghost Bust
by David Jasper
Weekly Planet


""This house is protective," says Bernie Middendorf, sitting in the bungalow he and former girlfriend Tara Schroeder share in the Seminole Heights area of Tampa. "There's no other way to describe it. This house is very protective.""

It's spooky, but all our ghosts are vanishing
The Times


"The ospreys are coming back to the West Highlands, along with the otters. The beaver is being reintroduced and the salmon may b recovering slowly. But there is one local species, amazingly numerous until quite recently, that seems to have gone for ever: Scotland's ghosts are all but extinct."

Astrology School
All Things Considered


"The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology has granted accreditation to the Arizona-based Astrological Institute. Students following their stars and hoping for a career in astrology will now be eligible for federal grants -- and a little respect. Astrological Institute founder and president Joyce Jensen joins Robert Siegel to discuss what the accreditation means to the school and its field of study."

Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks to Kenneth Kirksey, Ken Berry, Steve Berthiaume

Christianity Today, September 3, 2001
By Agnieszka Tennant


Possessed or Obsessed?
Many Christians say they are in need of deliverance but some may be giving demons more than their due.

Exorcism Therapy
An interview with Michael W. Cuneo, author of American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty.


Alter Possession
Some 'demons' are better left unexorcised.


Scottsdale astrology school gets accredited
It is first of its kind to win recognition
By Giovanna Dell'orto


Joyce Jensen will use the federally recognized accreditation to seek U.S. approval for astrology student grants and loans.

City puts astrologers to the test
Applicants must pass a 20-question exam for a license to dispense advice based on the stars
Monday, August 27, 2001
Doug Caruso
Columbus Dispatch City Hall Reporter


Ginger-lyn Summer, right, does an astrology reading for Sydney Poole to see what the next six months have in store. Summer, who has been licensed by the city since 1984, applauds the practice and uses it in her advertisements.

Ginger-lyn Summer is a licensed astrologer. The city of Columbus says so.

Federally Accredited Occultist Bunk


Tuesday, August 28, 2001 1:43 p.m. EDT

The Astrological Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz., wins accreditation from the federally recognized Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, paving the way for Education Department approval of federal grants and loans for its students, the Associated Press reports:

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.
Maybe the institute can give honorary degrees to Fox News Channel's Judith Regan and Paula Zahn. Lest you think America is the only country in the world to give credence to such nonsense, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports (25th item) that "Interior Ministry officials have concluded that Russian law enforcement does not have sufficient resources to defeat crime by normal means. . . . As a result, the ministry has asked specialists in parapsychology and extrasensory techniques to help out."

The RFE/RL report, picked up from the Russian journal Vek, notes that Col. Alexei Skrypnikov acknowledges that "the results from this effort have been uneven: Occasionally, paranormal specialists are 100 percent correct, but sometimes they are totally wrong."

Increasing Number of Pet Owners Look to Acupuncture Treatment for Animals

By Adam Gorlick
Associated Press Writer

GRAFTON, Mass. (AP) - An increasing number of pet owners think they have pinpointed the right treatment for their dogs' and cats' aches and pains: acupuncture.

They are turning to the ancient Chinese therapy for such pet ailments as allergies, arthritis and chronic pain.

"They find it useful for themselves, so they want the same treatment for their pets," says Mary Rose Paradis, an associate professor at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, which held an animal acupuncture course for veterinarians this summer.

The course is the second such program to be taught at a veterinary school. Colorado State University first offered the course three years ago.

"Of all the animals that come to me with problems, I'm able to make a difference in a visible and meaningful way in about 85 percent of them," says Dr. Narda Robinson, a physician and veterinarian who designed the CSU course.

In the last few years, pet owners have begun spending more and more money on expensive and complex medical procedures for their animals, from MRIs and CAT scans to bone grafts and asthma treatments. A growing number of companies are even offering health insurance for employees' pets.

In animal acupuncture, pet owners usually pay about $45 for half-hour treatments.

The same principles used in humans are applied to animals. Needles about the width of a horse's hair and less than 2 inches long gently prick the skin to target pressure points that can relieve chronic pain, ease stress and, some say, promote healing of internal organs.

Leslie Grinnell's 8-year-old Doberman pinscher was immobilized by protruding discs in the dog's spine. "She came downstairs one day and just stuck to the kitchen floor," Grinnell says. "She couldn't raise her head and her legs were spasming."

The Greenfield woman didn't think her dog would survive the trauma of surgery. So Grinnell, who had undergone acupuncture herself for treatment of depression, figured it might help her dog. After about a month of treatments, the dog was able to stand again, she says.

"The amazing thing about using acupuncture on an animal is that they don't know it's supposed to work," she says. "There's no placebo effect - you just see it help them."

Despite many success stories, the American Veterinary Medical Association says there are not enough scientific studies to determine whether animal acupuncture really works.

Craig Smith, an AMVA staff consultant, says the treatment can be used under a veterinarian's supervision if the doctor feels it will help.

"If I got one call a week asking about acupuncture seven years ago, that was a lot," Smith says. "Now I get about three calls a week."

[See also http://www.ntskeptics.org/cartoons/porcupine.gif, Ed.]

Women banned over 'jealous mountain goddess'

From Ananova at


Thirty women have been banned from inspecting a tunnel on a Japanese construction site in case they upset the mountain's goddess.

One hundred residents in Haruna had been inivited to visit the site where work on a 945-metre tunnel was being carried out.

But superstitious workers feared the women would make the goddess jealous if they went into the tunnel.

The Mainichi Daily News says workers reportedly believed that could lead to an accident.

While male visitors went into the tunnel, the women were shown drainage equipment and outdoor construction work.

The paper says a construction official reportedly said: "The goddess of the mountain ... would get jealous if any women went in. We would prefer that women don't enter."

An official of the local government, which contracted out the construction work, said the workers' claim was shrouded in fear of the irrational, but he could understand their stance.

"It's an unfounded superstition, but the workers face dangers every day, and I can understand they could get superstitious," he said.

The company contracted to carry out the work said no complaints had been received from any of the women refused entry.

All it takes is a little faith

From: Dean A. Batha


"Helena Steiner-Hornsteyn is known for her work throughout the world. She was born with the gift of X-ray vision and at an early age discovered that she could 'see inside people.' She also found that all living beings create and exude their very individual energy-waves."


"I work on the principal that we are energy and that everything around us is energy. When you are ill, 'off balance', low energy etc. you are hosting unwell energies."



"Do you know the Meaning of Life? Is there Life after Death? Is there a secret to good luck? Or good health? Are there miracles? Why do things happen a certain way? Is there a heaven? What is God? What is my potential? Can I believe in reincarnation? Is my life predestined? How do I turn my life around? Can I help myself? How can I attract success? Or love? What about time travel?"


Dean A. Batha

Darwinism in denial?


Philip Gold

Fifteen years or so ago, "nuclear winter" -- the theory that the soot and ash of World War III could end human life by darkening the atmosphere and lowering global temperatures -- enjoyed its moment in the shade. As science, nuclear winter contained more errors than my last high school chemistry test, but that didn't deter its supporters.

Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton wrote that, even if wrong, nuclear winter "serves us well" as an "idea." Opined physicist Freeman Dyson: "Nuclear winter is not just a theory. It is also a political statement with profound moral implications. Survival is more important than accuracy." And so it has gone, and goes, in field after field: ecology, psychology, public health, fill in your own favorite here. Over and over, scientists ignore, distort or suborn the truth for the sake of their personal, political and professional agendas. And now it's happening again, in the battle between Darwinian materialism and the burgeoning Intelligent Design (ID) movement.

At this point, we stop for three brief announcements. First, much of the ID movement's best work is done under the auspices of my own think tank, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Second, I'm no creationist.

Third, if you are, especially if you're a creationist of the "Tell Me What I Want to Hear the Way I Want to Hear It" persuasion, now might be a good time to stop reading.

That said, we proceed. This new struggle has less to do with "Inherit the Wind" stereotypes and cliches -- crusading scientists and liberals vs. Bible-thumping buffoons -- than with the future of scientific inquiry, indeed the very nature of knowledge itself. Yes, many of the movement's researchers commit Christianity on a regular basis. Some are politically conservative. But ID's significance extends far beyond the preferences of its practitioners. To adapt a Clinton-era formulation, "It's the universe, stupid."

As science, ID holds that it's possible to seek and study evidence of intelligent design in the physical and biological worlds without positing either the identity or intent of the designer. So far, much of the work has centered on Darwinian materialism, which is not exactly the same thing as evolution. No serious scientist or informed layperson denies the fact of evolution, in the sense that species come, go and change over time. There's a fossil record of infuriating gaps, wondrous complexity and endless surprises to ponder. The problem with Darwinian materialism is that, as a matter of faith, it holds that all this happened at random . . . and that, as a matter of dogma, no other explanations may even be considered.

ID considers other explanations. In "Darwin's Black Box," Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe shows that the "irreducible complexity" of even a single cell argues against random evolution within the few billion years allotted by geology and cosmology. Baylor University mathematician William Dembski works on what he calls "specified complexity" -- discerning design via mathematical analysis. His first major work, "The Design Inference," was published by Cambridge University Press, not exactly a bunch of creationist hooters. Last year, biologist Jonathan Wells published "Icons of Evolution," showing that many of the standard textbook "proofs" were ambiguous, misleading and in at least one case, openly fraudulent. The movement has also received fair and serious Page One Sunday coverage in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, as well as in publications ranging from "First Things" to Seattle and San Francisco city papers. There was even a conference at Yale.

The response of the Darwinian fundamentalists has been, to say the least, vicious. Leave aside Darwinian Richard Dawkins' generic sneer that anybody who questions the materialist gospel must be "ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Mr. Behe has been savaged by his peers. Mr. Dembski was removed from his position as director of Baylor's Polanyi Center -- an act described by Baylor President Robert B. Sloan as "related to matters of internal relationships and not to his academic work." Mr. Wells has been virtually excommunicated from the scientific establishment, even though no one has refuted a single statement in his book and many Darwinians have admitted they knew about the fakery all along.

Why the denials? Why the rage? Well, scientists are human. They don't like being told they might be wrong, or that their life's work can be questioned. Some can't get beyond viewing ID as back-door creationism; give in here today and the Inquisition will be stoking the fires tomorrow. But the most basic resistance, I suspect, involves a fear that dares not speak its name -- the foreboding that science itself may someday demonstrate that science is neither the sole nor final source of verifiable truth concerning the universe and that portion of it known as us.

For scientists who cannot bear the thought, survival may indeed be more important than accuracy. Philip Gold is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute in Seattle and president of Aretea, a cultural affairs center.

UFO Experience Support Association

UFOESA is a non-profit association formed in the pursuit of the truth in relation to UFOs and Abductions by aliens. UFOESA is dedicated to helping witnesses and experiencees of UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) events to cope with and understand their encounters. Ordinary everyday people who experience UFO events regardless of the encounter, are regularly subjected to ridicule and isolation. Experiencees hesitate in telling their family, let alone close friends, of their mysterious, unusual and often traumatic encounters.


Thursday, August 30, 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 30, 2001

from The Los Angeles Times

In a surprising collaboration, the Bush administration and some of the nation's most litigious environmentalists announced an agreement Wednesday to expedite protection of 29 of the most imperiled plants and animals around the country.

Including rare mammals, birds, fish, snails and butterflies, the species' homes range from the Pacific Northwest to south Florida, some of them in areas where such protection has sparked bitter battles.

The pact startled some conservationists and development groups since it was drawn up by parties who normally meet in courtrooms, not at a negotiating table. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, who announced the pact, has been viewed with suspicion by environmentalists who believe she supports efforts by property-rights groups and industry to weaken the Endangered Species Act. By contrast, the four environmental groups who helped craft the pact have repeatedly sued to force the federal government to enforce the act.


from The New York Times

If its bill looks like a duck's and it may eat like a duck, is it a duck? No, in this case it is a dinosaur with a long neck and legs like an ostrich that lived more than 75 million years ago.

Paleontologists have found rare soft tissue of such dinosaurs in Canada and the Gobi desert of Mongolia. The animal from the Gobi had a comblike plate in its jaw, something that has never been seen before in a dinosaur and is strikingly similar to the filter-feeding structure in a duck's bill.

Both skulls also had traces of the beaks. They appeared to be made of keratin, the material in bird beaks and human hair and fingernails. Such a substance is seldom preserved in fossils.

The surprising findings, reported today in the journal Nature, suggested that fast-running dinosaurs known as ornithomimids, which means "bird mimics," might have eaten by straining invertebrates like tiny shrimp and other food particles from water and sediment. This type of behavior has never been detected in a dinosaur, and certainly not in ones as large as ornithomimids, some of which were 7 feet tall and 15 feet long.


from The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists are watching the dark side of the moon for clues about climate change on Earth.

New Jersey Institute of Technology physics professor Philip Goode has teamed up with Caltech physicist and Provost Steven Koonin to establish a global network to monitor "earthshine" from the moon's dark side. The goal is to track changes in the solar radiation that Earth reflects back to space.

The fraction of sunlight reflected spaceward, known as Earth's albedo, is a key indicator of how much solar radiation the planet is retaining to drive its climate system. The researchers say measuring earthshine is an inexpensive way to augment satellite-based albedo measurements.

"Studies of climate change require well calibrated, long-term measurements of large regions of the globe," Dr. Koonin says. "Earthshine observations are ideally suited for this."



ST. LOUIS - The world has never tasted US Patent 6,072,105 - a genetically engineered eggplant - and probably never will. Scratch biotech potatoes from the menu. And hold the genetically modified sweet corn.

Farming's biotechnology revolution is changing course.

After a decade of promises to transform agriculture and tens of millions of dollars in research and development, biotech firms and seed companies are scaling back their horizons. Instead of spreading their know-how to new farm products, they're narrowing their focus to a few major crops, such as corn and soybeans. The reason: Deepening consumer skepticism and tighter regulation worldwide are boosting costs and increasing the business risk of bringing bioengineered food to market.

Unless something changes, biotech proponents say only mega-crops pushed forward by mega-corporations will move from the lab to farmers' fields. Skeptics, meanwhile, are breathing sighs of relief. This much both sides can agree on: The once-vaunted biotech revolution is bypassing an increasing number of crops in a bold, perhaps risky, bid to survive.


from Newsday

A woman lies anesthetized on the operating table. Bright primary colors dominate the room: the brilliant yellow of iodine-scrubbed skin, the red of blood, the green of surgical scrubs worn by all. Medical students flank a far wall, the Greek chorus of the surgical theater. From a CD player in the corner, the Beatles croon softly, "I wanna hold your haaand."

This looks like any operating room, but this surgery -- a heart-valve repair -- will be anything but typical. The surgeon, sitting at a console that resembles a virtual-reality game console, will use a robot to operate from across the room.

Doctors hope the robotic Da Vinci Surgical System will make open-heart surgery a lot less open and a lot easier on the heart. Rather than cracking the sternum to allow the surgeon's hands access to the heart, the largest incision doctors make is an opening, 4 centimeters square, between the ribs. Two smaller incisions give the robot's two working arms access to the heart.


'How it Works,' from The New York Times

AMERICA'S transportation system of the future is here. Today, travelers can ride in virtually silent mass transit, experience extraordinary acceleration and reach high speeds - if they love roller coasters.

Governments continue to debate the practicality of magnetic-levitation transportation systems - wheel-less trains that hover above the tracks and use magnetic propulsion systems called linear induction motors. But the nation's amusement parks have already embraced some of this technology to create rides designed for the hardy of heart.

Adventurers looking for a Speedy Gonzales-like experience can get it from what is billed as the world's fastest coaster, Six Flags Magic Mountain's Superman: the Escape, in Valencia, Calif. Linear synchronous motors push riders forward, and then up a vertical track to a height of 41 stories. People riding this sledlike device accelerate to 100 miles per hour in an almost surreal seven seconds, are subjected to a force more than four times that of gravity and then freefall briefly on the way down.


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'New Age' Hospital

From: Jerry Goodenough j.goodenough@uea.ac.uk

This story contains some priceless quotes...

Dr. Jerry Goodenough
School of Economic & Social Studies
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ
Tel: 01603-593406

by Zoe Brennan & Nicholas Hellen
The Sunday Times (London) 26/08/2001

Prince Charles is working on a personal remedy for the ills of the NHS, with plans to help build a model hospital that would tap into the power of alternative therapy.

It will train doctors to combine conventional medicine and alternative treatments, such as homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture, and will have up to 100 beds.

The prince's intervention marks the culmination of years of campaigning by him for the NHS to assign a greater role to alternative medicine. In a recent speech he urged the NHS not to dismiss it as a "woolly cul-de-sac".

Groups interested in alternative medicine are delighted at the news. Tessa Hale, founder of the Hale Clinic in London, said: "Twenty-five years ago people said we were quacks. Now several branches, including homeopathy, acupuncture and osteopathy, have gained official recognition."

The proposed hospital, which is due to open in London in 2003 or early 2004, is to be overseen by Mosaraf Ali, who runs the Integrated Medical Centre (IMC) in London. He is also responsible for raising finance for its construction.

Ali's clients are said to include the prince and celebrities such as Geri Halliwell and Kate Moss. Earlier this year Ali, who trained as a doctor in Delhi and Moscow, accompanied Camilla Parker Bowles on a trek to the Himalayas to "re-energise" her spirits and encourage her to give up smoking.

The prince has held exploratory talks with Ali over the past six months about giving official royal support to the hospital. This weekend Ali was in India and unavailable for comment, but Eleanor Stoikov, his clinical manager, said; "The prince is giving support, but not in a financial way."

A spokesman for St James's Palace said: "It is an interesting proposition and they have had private discussions on the matter. The prince has argued for some time for a greater role for integrated medicine."

He added that the prince had set up the Foundation for Integrated Medicine in 1996, and provided it with £2million of funding. It is thought that the prince's foundation, based in east London, is providing advice to Ali.

Alternative therapy tends to be more expensive than conventional medicine. Critics have pointed to its failure to cure serious diseases and to match the leaps in clinical techniques.

The late John Diamond, the writer who died of cancer, stated: "More and more people [are] discovering the true secret of alternative medicine; it doesn't work." He added: "How many herbalists came up with a cure for a single form of cancer? You can count them on the fingers of one foot."

Ali's methods of diagnosis are unconventional. He inspects patients' tongues and believes ears reveal whether someone is suffering from any inflammation. Ali has described ears as "upside-down embryos".

The prince was introduced to the holistic approach to life by the late Laurens van der Post, and began a campaign in 1982 to persuade the medical establishment to form closer links to complementary medicine. He was aware of public ridicule, asking one official: "Do people think I am a crank?" after he meditated in public.

He has taken advantage of alternative therapies to ameliorate the effects of a series of injuries from polo and skiing and a recurrent disc problem. Since 1988 the prince has enlisted Sarah Key, an Australian physiotherapist and osteopath, who detects back pain through her heels, to help soothe his polo injuries.

An eclectic group of healers, fixers and gurus has long surrounded other members of the royal family. The queen is said to carry homeopathic remedies with her at all times, and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, made use of yoga, reflexology and massage.

The country's 36,000 GPs [general practitioner doctors JG] are now outnumbered by the estimated 50,000 complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners.

There are signs that mainstream practice is moving closer to the prince's wishes. Earlier this year the NHS executive approved an £18.4million scheme to renovate the Royal London homeopathic hospital (RLHH), its principal complementary medicine provider.

Amazing UFO Music Video

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

From a British band called Travis.
The track is called Side.
You can view it there if you have the latest version of Quicktime installed.


Otherwise it is being aired on Much TV, MTV & MTV 2.

The effects are done as to imitate real UFO footage recorded by video cameras, except for the last few minutes when the video emulates the ending of CE3K.

The interesting thing is that the director of the video, I don't have enough details yet, so I don't know his name, really knows his stuff, because he created fake "real" UFO footage that will forever blur the fine line between special FX and what we have come to trust as genuine [???] footage.

Check it out!
Remy C.

Remy Chevalier
Environmental Library Fund
25 Newtown Turnpike
Weston, CT 06883
Tel: 203-227-2065

Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

The Doors Of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything
By Tim O'Shea


Aldous Huxley's inspired 1956 essay detailed the vivid, mind-expanding, multisensory insights of his mescaline adventures. By altering his brain chemistry with natural psychotropics, Huxley tapped into a rich and fluid world of shimmering, indescribable beauty and power. With his neurosensory input thus triggered, Huxley was able to enter that parallel universe described by every mystic and space captain in recorded history. Whether by hallucination or epiphany, Huxley sought to remove all controls, all filters, all cultural conditioning from his perceptions and to confront Nature or the World or Reality first-hand - in its unpasteurized, unedited, unretouched, infinite rawness.

Those bonds are much harder to break today, half a century later. We are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known. Not only are our thoughts and attitudes continually being shaped and molded; our very awareness of the whole design seems like it is being subtly and inexorably erased. The doors of our perception are carefully and precisely regulated. Who cares, right?

It is an exhausting and endless task to keep explaining to people how most issues of conventional wisdom are scientifically implanted in the public consciousness by a thousand media clips per day. In an effort to save time, I would like to provide just a little background on the handling of information in this country. Once the basic principles are illustrated about how our current system of media control arose historically, the reader might be more apt to question any given popular opinion.

If everybody believes something, it's probably wrong. We call that Conventional Wisdom.

In America, conventional wisdom that has mass acceptance is usually contrived: somebody paid for it.


* Pharmaceuticals restore health
* Vaccination brings immunity
* The cure for cancer is just around the corner
* Menopause is a disease condition
* When a child is sick, he needs immediate antibiotics
* When a child has a fever he needs Tylenol
* Hospitals are safe and clean.
* America has the best health care in the world.
* Americans have the best health in the world.
* Milk is a good source of calcium.
* You never outgrow your need for milk.
* Vitamin C is ascorbic acid.
* Aspirin prevents heart attacks.
* Heart drugs improve the heart.
* Back and neck pain are the only reasons for spinal adjustment.
* No child can get into school without being vaccinated.
* The FDA thoroughly tests all drugs before they go on the market.
* Back and neck pain are the only reason for spinal adjustment.
* Pregnancy is a serious medical condition
* Chemotherapy and radiation are effective cures for cancer
* When your child is diagnosed with an ear infection, antibiotics should be given immediately 'just in case'
* Ear tubes are for the good of the child.
* Estrogen drugs prevent osteoporosis after menopause.
* Pediatricians are the most highly trained of al medical specialists.
* The purpose of the health care industry is health.
* HIV is the cause of AIDS.
* AZT is the cure.
* Without vaccines, infectious diseases will return
* Fluoride in the city water protects your teeth
* Flu shots prevent the flu.
* Vaccines are thoroughly tested before being placed on the Mandated Schedule.
* Doctors are certain that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any possible risks.
* There is a power shortage in California.
* There is a meningitis epidemic in California.
* The NASDAQ is a natural market controlled only by supply and demand.
* Chronic pain is a natural consequence of aging.
* Soy is your healthiest source of protein.
* Insulin shots cure diabetes.
* After we take out your gall bladder you can eat anything you want
* Allergy medicine will cure allergies.

Goats spared sacrifice on good behaviour

From Ananova at


Villagers in southern India have spared two goats from sacrifice because of their exemplary behaviour at funerals.

The goats were to be used in a sacrifice to a local goddess in Naganahalli, near Mysore.

However, because they walked the full length of the funeral procession and did not eat grass on the way, they were spared. Other goats have now taken their place.

Other goats usually stop and chew something on the way but the saved pair did not eat anything for the whole day, reports The Indian Express.

According to tradition, if the animals are not sacrificed, a curse will be invoked. Faced with the dilemma, however, village elders provided substitutes.

The newspaper reports that a former Mayor of Mysore donated the replacements.

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.


Today's Headlines - August 28, 2001

from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials Monday identified the owners of 64 sets of stem cells from human embryos that can be used in government-funded experiments, an important step for researchers who want to obtain the scarce cells and use them in the hunt for new cures for diseases.

After scouring the international research community, the National Institutes of Health announced that it had found 10 laboratories in five countries that had taken stem cells from embryos before a cutoff date imposed by President Bush.

However, some scientists and advocates for patients questioned whether the 64 sets were numerous enough, and of high enough quality, for researchers to explore the full promise of stem cells in medicine. One San Diego company identified by the government said it was months away from being able to release its cells to other researchers.

In the Senate, lawmakers are preparing for hearings that could lead to legislation making more cells available to federally funded researchers.

from The Washington Post

At least one-third of the 64 embryonic stem cell colonies approved for funding under a new Bush administration policy are so young and fragile it remains unclear whether they will ever prove useful to scientists, several researchers working on the cells said yesterday.

In fact, at least 16 of those colonies have been subject to so little research that the Swedish scientists working on them are unwilling to claim they are embryonic stem cells capable of becoming any kind of human tissue.

When President Bush announced Aug. 9 that he was willing to fund research only on existing stem cell colonies, or "lines," he and his top health adviser said more than 60 lines existed worldwide -- more than enough, they said, to launch a new and vibrant era of medical research. The existing lines, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said at the time, "are diverse, they're robust and they're viable for research."

But interviews with several scientists whose cell lines were identified yesterday by the National Institutes of Health as meeting the Bush criteria raised questions about whether many will live up to that advance billing.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Control over the stem cells derived at the University of California at San Francisco will remain at the university even after the scientist who created them has left the country, campus officials said yesterday.

Two colonies of human embryonic stem cells derived by UCSF researcher Roger Pederson are on a list of 64 stem cell lines, or self-perpetuating colonies, eligible for federal research grants. Pederson is moving to Britain in part because of restrictions on stem cell research in this country.

The National Institutes of Health issued the list yesterday, the first step in implementing new research guidelines outlined Aug. 9 by President Bush.

from The Boston Globe

A handful of genes - and not necessarily clean living - may be the driving force behind people who live into their 90s and 100s, Boston researchers reported yesterday.

The Harvard team vowed to find the genes and use them to design drugs that would fight old-age ills, from heart failure to Alzheimer's disease, and possibly even act as a ''booster rocket'' to lengthen life.

The finding surprised some in the field of old-age research, where scientists have generally believed that, because humans are so complex, longevity must depend on thousands of genes.

Studying groups of siblings who lived into their mid-90s and beyond, a few in spite of consuming fatty foods and smoking, the researchers narrowed down the location of what they believe to be a gene or genes that extend life. They now plan to search an area on chromosome 4, one of the 23 chains of DNA embedded in each of our cells that carry the genetic code.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Now you see them, now you don't: subatomic "particles" and "forces" that mysteriously appear in scientific experiments, then disappear.

The frequent reason: They never existed in the first place. Like sightings of spooks, UFOs and the Loch Ness monster, they're often the product of a bright but overexcited physicist's imagination.

Physicists have been embarrassed many times before, but this summer has brought a bumper crop of challenges to purported scientific "discoveries." In recent weeks, scientists have questioned earlier reports of:

-- The "discovery" of the 118th element in the periodic table. In 1999, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory claimed they had generated the element and its decay product, Element 116, using the lab's 88-inch cyclotron.

from The New York Times

In March 1912, two months after reaching the South Pole, Capt. Robert F. Scott froze to death in a tent just 11 miles from a depot of food and heating oil. His arrival at the pole, with four of his men, had been a bitter disappointment, for they were not the first to make it there. A Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had beaten them by a month.

Scott set out to return to base camp on Antarctica's coast, but the 900-mile journey proved too harsh for him and the other men, Lt. Henry Bowers, Seaman Edgar Evans, Capt. Lawrence Oates and Dr. Edward Wilson.

When word of their deaths reached England, Scott was hailed as a hero, an exemplar of English gentlemanly pluck in the face of dire adversity. In recent decades, however, history's view has turned to less flattering second-guessing.

In a new book, Dr. Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., revisits Scott's unfortunate expedition, looking for insights that modern climate data can offer on what went wrong and why.

from The New York Times

ASPEN, Colo. - They like to call it their Circle of Serenity, but sometimes it isn't so serene.

On a recent morning, as Dr. Robbert Dijkgraaf, a physics professor from the University of Amsterdam, stepped to the blackboard on a shady patio at the Aspen Center for Physics here to discuss some advanced notions in particle physics, the trill of violins rehearsing for the evening's concert drifted softly across the meadows from the Aspen Music Festival tent a couple hundred yards away.

That was O.K. Music and physics have often resonated together. It was still fine when the violins were joined by a chorus of magpies.

But when a raucus buzz suddenly ripped across the patio, Dr. Amanda Peet, a University of Toronto physicist who had helped organize this gathering, leaped from her seat and went into a nearby building to consult with the authorities, only to come back frowning. Three trips later, she came back smiling; weed whackers, working at the Aspen Institute next door, had agreed to postpone their labors until the afternoon. It was, she thought, her "polite tone that got results."

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MARSBUGS: The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter
Volume 8, Number 32, 27 August 2001.

Editors: Dr. David J. Thomas, Science Division, Lyon College,
Batesville, AR
72503-2317, USA. dthomas@lyon.edu Dr. Julian A. Hiscox, School of Animal and Microbial Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AJ, United Kingdom. J.A.Hiscox@reading.ac.uk

Marsbugs is published on a weekly to monthly basis as warranted by the number of articles and announcements. Copyright of this compilation exists with the editors, except for specific articles, in which instance copyright exists with the author/authors. While we cannot copyright our mailing list, our readers would appreciate it if others would not send unsolicited e-mail using the Marsbugs mailing list. The editors do not condone "spamming" of our subscribers. Persons who have information that may be of interest to subscribers of Marsbugs should send that information to the editors.

E-mail subscriptions are free, and may be obtained by contacting either of the editors. Article contributions are welcome, and should be submitted to either of the two editors. Contributions should include a short biographical statement about the author(s) along with the author(s)' correspondence address. Subscribers are advised to make appropriate inquiries before joining societies, ordering goods etc. Back issues and Adobe Acrobat PDF files suitable for printing may be obtained from the official Marsbugs web page at

The purpose of this newsletter is to provide a channel of information for scientists, educators and other persons interested in exobiology and related fields. This newsletter is not intended to replace peer- reviewed journals, but to supplement them. We, the editors, envision Marsbugs as a medium in which people can informally present ideas for investigation, questions about exobiology, and announcements of upcoming events.

Astrobiology is still a relatively young field, and new ideas may come from the most unexpected places. Subjects may include, but are not limited to: exobiology and astrobiology (life on other planets), the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), ecopoeisis and terraformation, Earth from space, the biology of terrestrial extreme environments, planetary biology, primordial evolution, space physiology, biological life support systems, and human habitation of space and other planets.







5) GUERRERO NEGRO By Henry Bortman







Monkey Man 'resurfaces' in India

From Ananova at


The Monkey Man has reportedly resurfaced in India and been blamed for several attacks.

A creature is claimed to have attacked 10 people in Rupas village, near Patna.

Sangeeta Devi says she was attacked by a two-legged creature with a monkey's face during the night, leaving scratches on her neck and ear.

She told India's Star TV: "Someone was standing near me, a tall creature. We were all very scared and ran. As we ran he attacked us from behind, leaving scratch marks."

Villagers have formed night patrol teams to catch the attacker. A few people venturing out at night have also been attacked by the villagers, who mistook them for the creature.

"We don't sleep because of the fear. We do not sleep on the terrace anymore. Everyone is very scared," one of the villagers said.

Police say they have not been able to trace evidence of the Monkey Man and have not registered any complaints.

The reports of a Monkey Man caused public panic in New Delhi but ended two months ago.

'Ghost' robber arrested in Kashmir

From Ananova at


Police in Kashmir have arrested a man for allegedly posing as a ghost to rob people of their belongings.

Tanveer Ahmed Salay is accused of donning a mask, black robe and gloves embedded with five-inch iron claws to terrorise traders in Baramulla.

The unemployed man is said to have been caught after appearing at the house of a Muslim priest, brandishing a sword and claiming he was a ghost.

Newspaper Aaj Kal reports a 'robber ghost' has caused terror after striking in the past month in several Kashmir villages, robbing people in dark alleyways.

One resident in Kupwara who tried to capture the 'ghost' suffered wounds which required 10 stitches.

Another man is reported to have had a heart attack after seeing a masked man tearing up a window's wire mesh.

'White witch' to carry out boat ride exorcism

From Ananova at


A self-proclaimed white witch has been called to Edinburgh Dungeon to exorcise a ghost said to be haunting the attraction's boat ride.

There have been a number of problems with the boat since the dungeon opened on Friday April 13th and it has broken down numerous times, including nine times in August alone.

Kevin Carlyon is also going to Scotland to lift the curse on Shakespeare's play Macbeth by summoning the spirit of the real King Macbeth of Scotland, who ruled from 1040 until 1057.

Kevin, from St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, said: "I will have to set up an altar and perform a series of powerful incantations using a force which I prefer to call 'earth magic', in order to rid the Dungeon of any malevolent spirits.

"My guess is that the choice of Friday 13th for their opening day really did unleash a malign presence."

Emma Ross, dungeon boss, said: "We've still got engineers and technicians working overtime on our boat ride but their remedies have thus far all proved temporary."

She said that, although the problem appears to have been fixed, they have still asked Kevin to carry out the exorcism tomorrow as 'extra insurance'.

While in the city, Kevin also intends to go to Edinburgh Castle where he will call upon the spirits to determine whether the Stone of Scone or Stone of Destiny is really a fake or not.

Controversy has surrounded the Stone, which was returned to Scotland from England on St Andrew's Day 1996, with claims it is a fake.

Wednesday, August 29, 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.

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

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Today's Headlines - August 29, 2001

from The New York Times

GOTEBORG, Sweden, Aug. 28 - The Lab That Shot to the Top of the Charts, turning out to have more embryonic stem cells than anyone else, is actually a warm little closet in Building 9A of Sahlgrenska University Hospital here.

Inside a room that is roughly 10 feet long and 7 feet wide, Ulf Dahl spends up to two days each week hunched over a microscope with his remarkably steady fingertips and the tiny glass knives he makes over a hot flame. Slicing up each sample crosswise, like a Sicilian pizza, into clumps of a mere 30 or so cells, he picks out and keeps the squares that do not seem to be metamorphosing into anything particular.

These clumps of human cells - not yet shifting toward life as a liver or a spinal column, nor degenerating into a tumor - are a sort of family tree, one made more precious by President Bush's Aug. 9 announcement that only lines already created will be eligible for federal research funds.


from The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON - After winning the support of both the Clinton and Bush administrations, federal funding for research on bioterrorism is projected to double over two years, the biggest jump in funding for major programs supported by the National Institutes of Health, a Globe review has found.

The increase - from $43 million in 2000 to an estimated $92.7 million in 2002 - has proved a boon to companies and institutes involved in the work in Massachusetts and elsewhere, addressing what bioterrorism specialists see as a dangerous lack of preparedness in everything from vaccines for smallpox and anthrax to diagnostic equipment that can capitalize on advances in genetic sequencing.

But critics have questioned such a substantial investment in a public health threat that poses one of the most alarming scenarios today but remains, by most accounts, highly unlikely.

''There's no question the NIH needs additional resources. It needs far more resources than it's now getting. But to have bioterrorism lead the list is a travesty,'' said Dr. Victor Sidel, a professor of social medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Sidel is a former president of the American Public Health Association.


from The Chicago Tribune

Forestry scientists in Scotland announced Tuesday that they have created the first elm trees genetically modified to resist Dutch elm disease. The advance, if borne out, could lead to the reintroduction of the beloved tree known as "the lady of the forest," which served as a backdrop to American history and once formed arching canopies that shaded so many city streets, back yards and university campuses.

The announcement marks one of several recent breakthroughs in genetic engineering that indicate the science is spreading beyond its early agribusiness roots to show some of the promise scientists had touted, leading to a rice that has added vitamins and tomatoes that can grow in salty soil--and now bringing shade to suburban streets.

"This work is friendly to the environment. There's no need for controversy," said Kevan Gartland, head of the Division of Molecular and Life Sciences at Dundee's University of Abertay, leader of the research team.


from The New York Times

Nine months ago, a British Egyptologist reported that she had probably solved the puzzle of how the ancient Egyptians had aligned the pyramids of Giza to true north and approximately when they did it.

But two specialists in the observational techniques and history of astronomy now say she got it wrong. They exposed an important mathematical error in the Egyptologist's published calculations. She has conceded the mistake, but contends that this does not invalidate the method she proposed to explain how the pyramids were aligned.

In her original report in the journal Nature, the Egyptologist, Dr. Kate Spence of the University of Cambridge, said the pyramid builders could have used two stars, Kochab in the Little Dipper and Mizar in the Big Dipper, to find the North Pole.


from The New York Times

MURRIETA, Calif. - The bobcat looked stunned, as if it had been caught in the glare of headlights. It had just been startled by a research camera's flash, triggered by an infrared sensor, as it traveled through the Tenaja corridor, one of the tenuous natural stretches connecting wildlife habitats in California.

Conservation biologists say bobcats have been figuratively caught in the headlights of suburban traffic, along with long-tailed weasels, mountain lions, badgers, coyotes and other animals photographed as they have traversed the Tenaja corridor.

The biologists predicted that if such corridors were overrun by freeways, subdivisions, streets and shopping malls, the fragmented islands of natural habitat that remained would lose species, with the biggest carnivores - mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes - the first to go.

If such keystone species are lost, biologists say, the rest of the ecosystem can begin to unravel.


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Crop circles - something else the Chinese had first

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

The Independent:


Crop circles - something else the Chinese had first
By Calum McLeod in Urumqi, Xinjiang

26 August 2001

Is it a teardrop, a beard, the sun or the moon? And why do alien visitors to Earth leave these mysterious signs in our fields? Some answers may lie in the wilds of north-west China. There is no Chinese equivalent for "croppies" yet, but the global army of crop-circle enthusiasts just gained a key convert the their cause, virgin lands ripe for speculation, and a great leap backwards into antiquity.

Close to the Mongolian border, a Chinese explorer has discovered a series of stone circles and other shapes he claims are the 2,500-year-old prototypes of crop patterns found in recent years everywhere from Wiltshire to Western Australia. More than 70 countries worldwide, embracing each continent, have reported ever more bizarre examples appearing in corn and wheat fields, or grass, flowerbeds and even snow.

China was among the last major nations to resist a phenomenon so intriguing it has spawned its own science - cereology - and survived the pranks of confessed circle-makers. In the past year, Chinese man of mystery Zhang Hui, research fellow at the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi, has harvested more than 20 patterns that appear to match examples found in other countries, but may pre-date them by up to 3,000 years. While croppies in the West debate which circles are genuine mysteries and which the "agrarian graffiti" of hoaxers, the Chinese finds are clearly man-made.

"The primitive peoples who lived there were inspired by the crop circles they saw," said Zhang, whose quest for the truth has taken him to the farthest reaches of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an expanse of Central Asian desert, mountain and grassland seven times larger than the UK. "They thought the circles were a way of communicating with the gods, and so placed rocks in the shape of the circles."

Zhang found several circles in the grasslands of Qinghe county beside the Sino-Mongolian border, ranging from simple circles to more elaborate teardrop and other shapes. Bemused by their geometrical sophistication, he went to Beijing to consult Chinese translations of reference works by British croppies. "I was amazed by the similarities," he said. "Both sets show characteristics of modern, industrial civilisations, as you would need modern instruments to make such perfect circles, yet these could be the oldest records of crop circles world-wide. They show that the phenomenon is much older than people thought."

Zhang published his findings in the latest edition of a Chinese magazine, Western, which is devoted not to gunslingers but the vast and under-populated provinces of west China. The region is home to many non-Chinese ethnic minorities, including most of China's Muslims. Several of Zhang's stone patterns surround vast piles of stones gathered to commemorate not ancient Chinese but warrior nomads known as the Scythians, an Indo-Iranian people with Caucasian features.

The Scythian connection will fuel fevered croppie speculation, since their conquests were so extensive that Western historians have identified cultural interaction with the ancient Celts, whose religious sites have been among the leading locations for crop circles. Zhang suggests links to places such as Stonehenge, for luminaries such as John Haddington of the UK's Centre of Crop Circle Studies have noted that circles often appear close to the sacred sites of Celts, Australian Aborigines and Native Americans. Based in a region at the heart of the old Silk Road, Zhang is keen to explore these tenuous links between East and West.

The first publicly recorded crop circle. in 1678 in Stirlingshire, Scotland, came to be known as the "Devil's Circle". Zhang noted a similar reaction to a pattern in Qinghe, encircling a stone pile and tombstone with a deer engraving. "The nomads call it the 'magic circle', and believe whoever dares to touch the tombstone will offend the gods and be punished." He himself would have been punished if he had pursued such research two decades ago. For years, Chairman Mao waged war on "superstitious" beliefs he saw holding back his attempts to modernise China. "During the Cultural Revolution, a group of Red Guards in north-east China saw a crop circle appear in a field in a very short time," Zhang recalled from a rare eyewitness account of a formation actually in progress, published much later. "They were stunned, but at the time, nobody was allowed to believe in such 'superstition'."

In these more liberal times, 30-year-old Zhang has spent six years specialising in China's "mysterious culture". Other fans of the unexplained run China's booming UFO Society, with regional meetings and a newsletter of regular sightings. So does Zhang agree with some Western croppies that extra-terrestrial powers are creating these fields of dreams, and not bored border guards, wind vortexes, electromagnetic fields, or even hedgehogs as one theory goes?

"It's too early too say for sure," was his sensible reply, "but there is a definite connection with the cosmos. It could be a supernatural force, or even an alien civilisation." The truth is still out there.

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