NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 October 2001

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Thursday, October 04, 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 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 - October 3, 2001

from The Boston Globe

Wanted: a few good venture capitalists, with a couple hundred million uncommitted dollars, a strong interest in life sciences, and an extremely long investment horizon.

When President Bush unveiled his long-awaited stem cell policy in August, the world of stem cell research was quickly divided into the haves and the have-nots. Researchers working on government-approved lines of embryonic stem cells would have access to millions in federal funding, most from the National Institutes of Health. Those working on nonapproved stem cell research - that involving the destruction of human embryos - were left out in the cold, it was thought. That could stall their research or force them to pay big fees for access to samples from the approved stem-cell lines.

But private funding could be coming sooner than anticipated, many now predict, and in volumes sufficient to offset the absence of federal funding and make wider embryonic stem cell research viable after all.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Researchers are planning human trials next year on a newly developed molecule that attacks cancer in mice and even produces more of the cancer-fighting molecules to join in the attack. A pair of Yale University researchers developed the molecule, called icon.

In tests on mice that had human forms of prostate cancer and melanoma, icon eliminated the disease by destroying the blood vessels that fed the tumors. In recent years drugs that inhibit growth of the blood vessels in tumors have received wide attention, though early results reported last spring showed less promise than had been hoped for.

The new therapy, developed by Alan Garen and Zhiwei Hu, takes a different approach. Instead of seeking to limit growth of these blood vessels, it directly attacks the cells lining the blood vessels.

The findings are reported in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Scientists are still unable to determine if there is a link between a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines and disorders such as autism in children, the National Academy of Sciences said Monday.

The ingredient, thimerosal, has been removed from most vaccines and the academy said that, despite the lack of proof that it is a hazard, prudence dictates that steps be taken to further reduce its use.

Safe Minds, an advocacy group working to reduce children's exposure to mercury, welcomed the report but contended it didn't go far enough.

Safe Minds president Sallie Bernard said the group is pleased the report acknowledges the possibility of the preservative being linked to health problems. But she said the group is renewing its call for removal of all childhood vaccines containing thimerosal.


from The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. - A coalition of law firms went to court across the nation Tuesday, in a bid to force the pharmaceutical industry to study whether vaccines containing a trace of mercury cause autism and other brain damage in young children.

The lawsuits were filed as class actions and led by an Oregon woman who says her 3-year-old son, William, became autistic after getting vaccinations containing mercury in a preservative, thimerosal.

"We had a happy, healthy little boy until that last set of shots," Tory Mead said. "It's been devastating. Our lives have been shattered."

Michael Williams, the lead attorney, said drug companies did not tell doctors how much mercury was contained in the vaccines until Congress ordered the Food and Drug Administration to find out in 1997.


from Reuters

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian and U.S. scientists say they have proof the world's biggest fresh water system, the Great Lakes straddling Canada and the United States, are cleansing themselves of pollutants, and they are planning tests to see if the same is true in the Arctic.

The unusual phenomenon was discovered by the bi-national Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN), which says tests since 1992 show that significant quantities of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and pesticides were being released into the atmosphere by the five Great Lakes -- Erie, Superior, Ontario, Michigan and Huron.

The combined surface area of the lakes, which hold about 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water, is about 94,250 square miles.

Dr. Keith Puckett, Environment Canada's manager of the IADN, likened the process to giant lungs that have been sucking in polluted air for the past 50 years. Now that the atmospheric levels of many of these pollutants have dropped, the lakes have started breathing out the pollutants again.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Engineers examining the fragmentary evidence left from the destruction of the World Trade Center believe that the technology exists to make future high-rise buildings more resistant to attack than anything on today's American urban landscape.

But the costs, they acknowledge, might be so high that few tenants could afford to pay their rents. And some even wonder whether the age of the high- rise is over - gone with the twisted steel and concrete remains from the deadly attack on New York's twin towers.

"People will be hesitant even to enter such buildings, no matter how much we assure them that they can't topple," said Ziyad Duron, an engineering professor at Harvey Mudd College. "That will always remain a human and a political aspect weighing on future construction projects."

Still, America's monumental high-rises - San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid, Chicago's Sears Tower, and New York's Empire State Building, among many others - serve as symbols of the country's financial and industrial power.


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Weird World
with Nick Pope


Welcome to the October 2001 round-up of news, views and gossip from the world of ufology, the paranormal, the weird and the wonderful.

UFO Magazine Conference

UFO Magazine's annual conference took place in Leeds on 21, 22 and 23 September and was a complete sell out (715 seats) on each of the two main days. This makes it the most successful British UFO conference of all time. The material presented certainly lived up to everyone's expectations, and the feedback from attendees was very positive. Saturday was pretty much devoted to abductions, with presentations from Budd Hopkins and John Mack, widely regarded as the leading experts in this area of ufology. Budd presented some new material on the Linda Cortile case, concerning Linda's meetings with the late Cardinal O'Connor of New York, and the interest shown by the Catholic Church in Linda's experiences and the phenomenon more generally. John Mack views the alien contact phenomenon in a different way to Budd, and his presentation put the case for a more spiritual interpretation of what's happening. Georgina Bruni was the only Saturday speaker not dealing with abduction, though her talk threw up some intriguing clues that some of the USAF witnesses did experience some missing time. Georgina also offered the audience some new information on the involvement of General Gordon Williams and General Charles Gabriel, and showed a series of USAF and MOD documents, drawings and photographs. I gave a presentation with Brigitte Grant, an abductee who I've been working with for several years. Brigitte gave an overview of the various strange experiences that she's had, focusing on a few specific UFO and abduction experiences. For an audience more used to hearing from the abduction researchers, it was refreshing to hear about experiences first hand, from an abductee, and aside from being fascinated by her story, the audience very much appreciated Brigitte's courage for speaking out about her encounters in so public a forum. The Sunday speakers were equally impressive. Ted Roe gave a fascinating insight into the work that NARCAP is doing with pilots who report UFOs, while Santiago Garza showed some truly extraordinary film footage of some sightings in Mexico which appear to show humanoid figures flying in an upright position, as if they were walking in the air. These so-called ÒFlying Little MenÓ sightings are something that I'm sure we'll be hearing more of in the future. There were also powerful presentations from Graham Birdsall and Russel Callaghan, the latter of whom showed some recent British video footage of UFO sightings. It was also great to hear from Martyn Stubbs, always a popular figure at Leeds. A full report on the conference, complete with photographs, will appear in the bumper November/December edition of UFO Magazine, which goes on sale on 25 October. Meanwhile check out www.ufomag.co.uk for the latest ufological news and views.

Brain-scans can defeat terrorism, InfoSeek founder claims

By Thomas C Greene in Washington
Posted: 03/10/2001 at 20:56 GMT


Just when you thought crowd surveillance with facial recognition gear was the sickest idea circulating, some naive do-gooder comes along with 'brain fingerprinting' to detect evil memories, loudly urging its use as a public security measure in the wake of the 11 September tragedies.

Steve Kirsch, founder of InfoSeek and current CEO of data management outfit Propel Software, reckons that the relevant technology companies could deliver a working system of brain fingerprinting databases and a companion retina scanning system for (supposedly anonymous) identification reference in something like ninety days' time. And this will "infallibly" defeat terrorists, he fervently believes.

Sadly, an Honest Creationist

by Richard Dawkins

Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 21, Number 4.


Creation "scientists" have more need than most of us to parade their degrees and qualifications, but it pays to look closely at the institutions that awarded them and the subjects in which they were taken. Those vaunted Ph.D.s tend to be in subjects such as marine engineering or gas kinetics rather than in relevant disciplines like zoology or geology. And often they are earned not at real universities, but at little-known Bible colleges deep in Bush country.

There are, however, a few shining exceptions. Kurt Wise now makes his living at Bryan College (motto "Christ Above All") located in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famed Scopes trial. And yet, he originally obtained an authentic degree in geophysics from the University of Chicago, followed by a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard, no less, where he studied under (the name is milked for all it is worth in creationist propaganda) Stephen Jay Gould.

Kurt Wise is a contributor to In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, a compendium edited by John F. Ashton (Ph.D., of course). I recommend this book. It is a revelation. I would not have believed such wishful thinking and self-deception possible. At least some of the authors seem to be sincere, and they don't water down their beliefs. Much of their fire is aimed at weaker brethren who think God works through evolution, or who clutch at the feeble hope that one "day" in Genesis might mean not twenty-four hours but a hundred million years. These are hard-core "young earth creationists" who believe that the universe and all of life came into existence within one week, less than 10,000 years ago. And Wise-flying valiantly in the face of reason, evidence, and education-is among them. If there were a prize for Virtuoso Believing (it is surely only a matter of time before the Templeton Foundation awards one) Kurt Wise, B.A. (Chicago), Ph.D. (Harvard), would have to be a prime candidate.

Wise stands out among young earth creationists not only for his impeccable education, but because he displays a modicum of scientific honesty and integrity. I have seen a published letter in which he comments on alleged "human bones" in Carboniferous coal deposits. If authenticated as human, these "bones" would blow the theory of evolution out of the water (incidentally giving lie to the canard that evolution is unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific: J. B. S. Haldane, asked by an overzealous Popperian what empirical finding might falsify evolution, famously growled, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!"). Most creationists would not go out of their way to debunk a promising story of human remains in the Pennsylvanian Coal Measures. Yet Wise patiently and seriously examined the specimens as a trained paleontologist, and concluded unequivocally that they were "inorganically precipitated iron siderite nodules and not fossil material at all." Unusually among the motley denizens of the "big tent" of creationism and intelligent design, he seems to accept that God needs no help from false witness.

All the more interesting, then, to read his personal testimony in In Six Days. It is actually quite moving, in a pathetic kind of way. He begins with his childhood ambition. Where other boys wanted to be astronauts or firemen, the young Kurt touchingly dreamed of getting a Ph.D. from Harvard and teaching science at a major university. He achieved the first part of his goal, but became increasingly uneasy as his scientific learning conflicted with his religious faith. When he could bear the strain no longer, he clinched the matter with a Bible and a pair of scissors. He went right through from Genesis 1 to Revelations 22, literally cutting out every verse that would have to go if the scientific worldview were true. At the end of this exercise, there was so little left of his Bible that

"...try as I might, and even with the benefit of intact margins throughout the pages of Scripture, I found it impossible to pick up the Bible without it being rent in two. I had to make a decision between evolution and Scripture. Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible. . . . It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science."

See what I mean about pathetic? Most revealing of all is Wise's concluding paragraph:

Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.

See what I mean about honest? Understandably enough, creationists who aspire to be taken seriously as scientists don't go out of their way to admit that Scripture--a local origin myth of a tribe of Middle-Eastern camel-herders--trumps evidence. The great evolutionist John Maynard Smith, who once publicly wiped the floor with Duane P. Gish (up until then a highly regarded creationist debater), did it by going on the offensive right from the outset and challenging him directly: "Do you seriously mean to tell me you believe that all life was created within one week?"

Kurt Wise doesn't need the challenge; he volunteers that, even if all the evidence in the universe flatly contradicted Scripture, and even if he had reached the point of admitting this to himself, he would still take his stand on Scripture and deny the evidence. This leaves me, as a scientist, speechless. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a mind capable of such doublethink. It reminds me of Winston Smith in 1984 struggling to believe that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said so. But that was fiction and, anyway, Winston was tortured into submission. Kurt Wise-and presumably others like him who are less candid-has suffered no such physical coercion. But, as I hinted at the end of my previous column, I do wonder whether childhood indoctrination could wreak a sufficiently powerful brainwashing effect to account for this bizarre phenomenon.

Whatever the underlying explanation, this example suggests a fascinating, if pessimistic, conclusion about human psychology. It implies that there is no sensible limit to what the human mind is capable of believing, against any amount of contrary evidence. Depending upon how many Kurt Wises are out there, it could mean that we are completely wasting our time arguing the case and presenting the evidence for evolution. We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism's most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.

Can you imagine believing that and at the same time accepting a salary, month after month, to teach science? Even at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee? I'm not sure that I could live with myself. And I think I would curse my God for leading me to such a pass.

We're more nuts than you.

This is a post from a CNN message board: Orion Ramsey - Friday,
09/21/01, 2:35:00pm (#58980 of 58989)

To those extremists that perpetrated this crime against our nation, I have a warning for you. There are those of us who look at your actions as irrational, twisted, and completely inhuman. By all measures, what you have done can only be seen as insane. I have news for you. We're more nuts than you, and it should scare you s***less.

You may think that when you die for your cause, you go to Paradise with 72 virgins, can leave reservations for 70 members of your family, all your sins are forgiven, and you sit at the side of Allah. Big deal. We had 39 guys who rented a Beverly Hills [actually, Rancho Santa Fe, about 150 miles south of Beverly Hills, ed.] mansion, cut off their nuts, built a web site, and proceeded to poison themselves to death to hitch a ride with aliens out on the Hale-Bopp comet.

You shoot guns into the sky to celebrate victories over enemies, and people are killed by the bullets raining down on them. We not only do this for New Year's Eve in some cities, but we burn houses down, tear up streets, loot and sack our stores, and beat ourselves senseless when our sports teams win championships.

Sports teams! We made a sequel to Police Academy 5. We gave an award for singing to two guys who never even sang. We put little sweaters on dogs. We shot John Lennon six times and didn't even aim for Yoko Ono. We think Elvis is still alive. We put Braille on drive-up automatic teller machines. We think that a simple button on a web site that says "Do not click if you're under 21" will do anything but cause a person under 21 to click on it. We take a large chunk of the island on which those buildings you destroyed sat and pretend that it isn't a part of our country after all, let people fly into our airports that we want to kill, drive them in limousines to speak against us on this "pretend territory" land, let them drive back to our airport, and let them fly them back home without a scratch. We sell hot dogs in packages of ten and the buns in packages of eight. We can't even decide if pitchers should have to bat for themselves or not. All those baseball fields we've got. And none of them are even remotely the same size.

We gave millions of dollars to a guy that told us that God was going to kill him if he didn't raise enough money. When he didn't get enough money, he didn't die. So we gave him more money in celebration of the fact that God didn't make him die. We've managed to keep the formulas for Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken secret for decades, we encrypt the most banal communications on our Information Superhighway, and yet we given away our most important nuclear secrets to the Chinese and Russians at the drop of a hat. And yet, with all this on the A-1 Psycho balance sheet, you still think you're more nuts than us that this won't result in your complete and utter annihilation? One way or another, your way of life will be over, period.

Freedom's kind of a crazy, kooky, nutty thing when you look really close at it and all the bizarre and loony things that can result from it, but it's better than any other ideas anybody else has come up with. It's been that way since 1776, and built to last no matter how insanely we try to screw it up on a daily basis. We are even so nuts and ruthless enough as a nation to start insanely tearing at those of ourselves that even remotely resemble you in such rancorous, deplorable, and angry ways that will make you wonder if Allah has enough glue to piece enough of you back together for a flesh paperweight in Paradise.

We may not know where you are now, but when we do I guarantee you that the majority of our high school children will still have no idea where on the globe where you are or where you will end up being buried. But we will send them anyway, and we will allow those of them that went into the armed services because they didn't manage to get into college still rain down Hell and fire on your worthless hides. It will all come down on you, because we're nuts enough to give all four of our branches of military services extremely powerful and deadly aircraft even though only one of them is actually called the Air Force. Picking a fight with the most insane nation on Earth with the hope that your message and influence will spread throughout the world, well, that's just downright stupid.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

'Magnetic man' pulls car 20 metres

From Ananova at


A Malaysian man claims to have pulled a car 20 metres using only magnetic forces inside his body.

The pensioner, dubbed The Magnetic Man, says he used an iron chain hooked on an iron plate, which was placed by his stomach to move the vehicle.

He says he discovered he had a magnetic body about 10 years ago after reading an article about a Taiwanese family with the same skill.

Liew Thow Lin, from Gunung Rapat, performed the feat at a hospital in Tanjung Rambutan. It is the first time he's tried to pull a vehicle.

"I plan to have the feat recorded in the Malaysian Book of Records and also the Guinness Book of World Records," the 70-year-old told The Star.

"After reading the article, I took several iron objects and put them at my abdomen. To my surprise, all the objects including an iron, stuck on my skin and did not fall down," he said.

He says the gift is also present in three of his sons and two grandchildren.

However, he noted that the magnetic power did not attract iron objects unless they were brought near his body.

New Age Cherie sports 'acupuncture ear-needle'

From Ananova at


Cherie Blair (wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair) has appeared at the Labour Party conference in Brighton sporting what looked like an acupuncture needle in her ear.

It would not be the first time Mrs Blair has experimented with acupuncture. In March she agreed to have a tiny needle inserted into her ear when she opened a drug addiction centre in Derby.

Three years ago, Mrs Blair paid £239 for a crystal pendant said to counter negativity and deflect electromagnetic radiation.

Mike O'Farrell, chief executive of the British Acupuncture Council, said: "There are many different points that can be used for a variety of different complaints.

"For example, acupuncture can be used to treat addiction, stress, or even injuries in different parts of the body."

Story filed: 19:35 Monday 1st October 2001

Prayer May Influence In Vitro Fertilization Success; Blinded And Randomized International Study Reveals Surprising Results



Columbia University College Of Physicians And Surgeons

Date: Posted 10/2/2001

New York, NY -- Prayer seems to almost double the success rate of in vitro fertilization procedures that lead to pregnancy, according to surprising results from a study carefully designed to eliminate bias.

The controversial findings, published in the September issue of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, reveal that a group of women who had people praying for them had a 50 percent pregnancy rate compared to a 26 percent rate in the group of women who did not have people praying for them. None of the women undergoing the IVF procedures knew about the praying.

The researchers acknowledge the results seem incredible and say unknown biological factors may be playing a role in the difference between the two groups. But they decided to go public with the results in the hope that other scientists may carry out studies to determine if the findings are reproducible and, if so, what factors might be responsible for the improved success rate in the group of women who had people praying for them.

"We could have ignored the findings, but that would not help to advance the field," says Dr. Rogerio Lobo, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and lead author of the study.

"We are putting the results out there hoping to provoke discussion and see if anything can be learned from it. We would like to understand the biological or other phenomena that led to this almost doubling of the pregnancy rate."

The study, which had several safeguards in place to eliminate bias, involved 199 women planning in vitro fertilization and embryo transfers at the Cha Hospital in Seoul, Korea, between December 1998 and March 1999. A statistician randomly assigned the prospective mothers to either a prayer group (100 women) or a non-prayer group (99). Besides the women, the physicians and medical personnel caring for the women did not know a study of prayer was ongoing.

The people praying for the women lived in the United States, Canada, and Australia and were incapable of knowing or contacting the women undergoing the procedures. Which women were in which group was not revealed until the pregnancy data became available at the completion of the study. The people praying were from Christian denominations and were separated into three groups. One group received pictures of the women and prayed for an increase in their pregnancy rate. Another group prayed to improve the effectiveness of the first group. A third group prayed for the two other groups. Anecdotal evidence from other prayer research has found this method to be most effective. The three groups began to pray within five days of the initial hormone treatment that stimulates egg development and continued to pray for three weeks.

Besides finding a higher pregnancy rate among the women who had a group praying for them, the researchers found older women seemed to benefit more from prayer. For women between 30 and 39, the pregnancy rate for the prayer group was 51 percent, compared with 23 percent for the non-prayer group.

The researchers analyzed their data several ways to see if they could find other variables that would have accounted for the differences between the two groups. However, no adjustments altered the results. The group will continue to study whether its findings are genuine and, if so, what mechanisms might be at work.

Other studies have shown that prayer seems to exert a benefit for heart patients. The researchers believe theirs is the first study looking at prayer and infertility.

None of the researchers are employed by religious organizations and were not asked by religious groups to perform the study. Dr. Kwang Y. Cha, director of the Cha Hospital and an associate research scientist at OB/GYN at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, funded the research through his hospital.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Columbia University College Of Physicians And Surgeons for journalists and other members of the public. If you wish to quote from any part of this story, please credit Columbia University College Of Physicians And Surgeons as the original source. You may also wish to include the following link in any citation:

Copyright © 1995-2001 ScienceDaily Magazine | Email: editor@sciencedaily.com

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Court Passes on Scientology Libel Case


The Associated Press
Monday, Oct. 1, 2001; 11:40 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON--Ten years after Time magazine ran an award-winning article portraying the Church of Scientology as a greedy cult, the Supreme Court refused Monday to consider reinstating the church's libel case.

Time Warner Inc. had steadfastly defended the 10-page article and said it refused to be "intimidated by the church's apparently limitless legal resources."

The church contended that the writer was biased and only interviewed critics.

Scientology, founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, requires members to take classes and counseling that can cost thousands of dollars.


The case is Church of Scientology International v. Time Warner Inc.,

On the Net:
U.S. Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov

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 - October 2, 2001

from The New York Times

Federal agencies and Congress are racing to check the security of everything from soybeans to municipal water supplies to nuclear reactors to whole cities. Last week, concern rose with the disclosure that the suspected jet hijackers had investigated crop-dusters - and thus, conceivably, the possibility of spreading deadly germs or chemicals.

"Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today," Attorney General John Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee a week ago. On Sunday, Mr. Ashcroft renewed the alert, saying American retaliatory strikes might cause the already sizable risk of terrorism to rise.

But some private and public experts, including Congressional investigators who examined secret federal data, say American intelligence officials, for example, have at times exaggerated the risk posed by terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, which by definition can maim or kill tens of thousands or even millions of people. They say there are daunting obstacles to making and deploying these germ, chemical or radiological weapons.

That is not to say they dismiss chances of serious terrorist attack. But they regard more mundane instruments - firearms, car bombs or even hijacked truckloads of hazardous wastes - as more credible threats.


from The Boston Globe

They have toiled for years with little public notice, studying the way the anthrax bacterium manufactures poison, destroying human cells so efficiently that victims often die gasping for breath.

When Harvard biologists William F. Dietrich and John Collier dedicated their careers to anthrax research, the possibility that the disease would become a terrorist weapon seemed remote. Even a few months ago, when the two published scientific papers on anthrax, few besides fellow researchers even noticed.

But suddenly, three weeks after terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the science of bioterrorism is hot. The Harvard Medical School researchers were deluged with media calls yesterday about their work: Dietrich's research team has identified a gene that makes mice resistant to anthrax while Collier's has created a synthetic molecule that keeps the toxin from entering mouse cells.

The two discoveries, published today and last Friday in scientific journals, could lead to treatments or diagnostic tools, though it will be years before either development directly benefits humans.


from The Boston Globe

As part of the investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, at least 100 colleges and universities nationwide have been asked to turn over student records that are normally considered confidential, a college official said yesterday.

''The FBI has been doing most of the asking, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service has done a fair amount and in West Virginia, the State Police made a request,'' said Barmak Nassirian, an official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Much of the information concerned students enrolled in flight schools, and those from the Middle East.

Northeastern University last week gave the FBI and INS records on a handful of current and former international students, said NU spokesman Ed Klotzbier. The records included student transcripts, admissions applications, and financial aid forms. ''They came in with a few names and asked to see whatever we had on them,'' he said.


from The Chicago Tribune

The Shedd Aquarium announced Monday it would lay off 44 full-time employees--16 percent of its staff of 267--because of declining attendance, a months-long trend that worsened after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

"Shedd's leadership was concerned about financial trends before the events of Sept. 11 and had counted on a strong fall season to bolster the budget," said a news release issued by the aquarium Monday.

In the two weeks following the attacks, visitorship at the Shedd, the world's largest indoor aquarium, was only 65 percent of the same period last year.

The falloff in business was "the last straw" triggering layoffs, said a spokesman.

Though no other cultural institutions contacted by the Tribune said they are planning layoffs at this time, almost all are experiencing revenue and attendance drops due to the economy and the attacks in New York and Washington.


from The New York Times

In the world of pro wrestling, half the battle (at least) is in the bellicose talk that occurs before a single flying leg drop is delivered.

But for a hook-tip moth larva, it seems, trash talk is everything. With a birch or alder leaf as its arena, this caterpillar will chase off another simply by making noise.

That is the finding of a biologist from Carleton University in Ottawa and colleagues who, for the first time, have provided detailed evidence of intraspecies acoustic communication among caterpillars.

"The interesting thing about this is that not too long ago, caterpillars were just considered feeding machines," said the biologist, Dr. Jayne E. Yack, who is currently a visiting researcher at Cornell. "But we're now learning that caterpillars are quite interesting from a social point of view."


from The New York Times

New fossil discoveries in Pakistan appear to have answered a longstanding question about the ancestry of whales, establishing that animals like the hippopotamus may be their closest living relatives.

Two teams of paleontologists, in separate reports last month, said the fossils showed that whales, porpoises and dolphins, all cetaceans, are more closely related to some of the oldest known even-toed ungulates - a group of hoofed mammals that today includes cows, camels, pigs and hippos - than to any other mammals.

A group of paleontologists led by Dr. J. G. M. Thewissen, an anatomist at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, described the skeletons of two early whales that lived 50 million years ago. They were fully terrestrial mammals, capable of efficient running on their four slender limbs. They had the ankle bones of even- toed ungulates, or artiodactyls, and bones in their ears that are unique to cetaceans.


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Problem solved!

From Ananova at


Beatles' guru to create yogic flier defence shield

The Beatles' guru is hoping to use transcendental meditation for world peace.

The Indian mystic says all he needs are some "American billionaires" to build his antidote to global terrorism.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is summoning 40,000 yogis in India, trained in meditation and yogic flying to create a spiritual force field.

He taught The Beatles and Mick Jagger about transcendental meditation 30 years ago.

In his first public statement for seven years, he said the "peace-loving billionaires" would donate $1 billion to build housing for the group and pay their expenses while they meditate for harmony and world peace.

He said: "Today, I'm challenging America. If I had the support of money, I have all that is needed to ... completely stop all this violence."

The Yogi believes that if enough people gather to meditate and 'fly' - hopping in a seated, lotus position - they will create a force field that can repel hatred and spread happiness in the world's collective consciousness.

Such concepts originated in the ancient Vedic religion, which was practised in India until about 1500 BC before giving way to Hinduism.

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Major Tim Blair, told The Record in New Jersey that the Maharishi's campaign was "a noble effort".

More magnetic skeptic stories

From Ananova at


After Magnetic Man, now Magnetic Boy

An 11-year-old boy claims he has strange magnetic powers because metal objects stick to him.

Kin Seng is the grandson of 'Magnetic Man' Liew Thow Lin. Liew says all his family from Malaysia possess the gift.

He claims metal objects such as hammers, forks and knives stick to their skin. Liew claims to have pulled a car 20 metres using only magnetic forces inside his body.

The boy said: "I don't have to concentrate hard, they (the metal objects) just stick on me."

"My friends don't even know I have this ability," he told The Star, Malaysia.

"I don't feel anything when light things like spoons stick to my skin, but objects like an iron feels heavy." Women scared of curse vote for first time in 50 years From Ananova at


Women in Bangladesh who feared they'd be cursed if they voted have taken part in elections for the first time in half a century.

Officials say they haven't voted since a cyclone killed a large number of women and children in Surat one polling day.

Men have also discouraged the women from voting as a result.

According to the Bengali language daily Jagruti, 80% of 3,737 female voters in twelve villages cast their votes in recent elections after being persuaded by student bodies and non-governmental organisations.

Social activist Mehrunissa Siddiqui said: "We had to tell the women there was no basis for such superstition and they were merely being prevented from exercising their franchise by vested interests.

It was not an easy task because we were literally turning them against their men. They seemed to be happy that nothing went wrong after they had voted."

Science, semi-science and nonsense

A professional skeptic talks about what's real science (evolution, the Big Bang), what's balderdash (ESP, Creationism) and what lies between (hypnotism, superstring theory).


By Suzy Hansen

Aug. 27, 2001 | Michael Shermer, editor in chief of Skeptic magazine and author of "Why People Believe Weird Things," spends much of his time casting Holocaust revisionism, UFOology, creationism and astrology out of the realm of possibility and into the intellectual netherworld of "nonscience." Yet there are ideas being floated around that, while falling short of fully proven, aren't quite as kooky as the belief in alien abductions. Shermer dubs these "borderlands" sciences, theories that -- for now, and in his eyes -- land somewhere between firm-footed disciplines (evolution, quantum mechanics) and faddish bunk (Freudian psychoanalytic theory).

Monday, October 01, 2001

Articles of Note

Big Round of Thanks Again to Joe Littrell.

Dirty digger comes clean on more faked sites
Mainchi Daily News


"A disgraced archaeologist has reportedly confessed from hospital that he planted fake Paleolithic-period stone tools in more than 20 sites nationwide, an admission bumping up the number of shady locations by at least 19."

Police Use Black Magic Against Law


"Police in a western Venezuelan state who are accused of dozens of unlawful killings used witchcraft to try to ward off an investigation by state prosecutors, authorities said on Thursday."

Rumors of killer sponges part of hysteria in wake of terror attacks
Pottstown Mercury


"A hoax that sponges inside letters are carrying a droplet of anthrax or some other form of biological terror is just one example of an urban legend that has put local residents on edge in the wake of recent terrorist attacks."

Conspiracy theories say Israel did it Muslims blame Sharon, Mossad
By James Cox


"In their quest to solve what one Arab newspaper called ''the Great Whodunnit,'' Muslims the world over are pointing an accusing finger at their archenemy: Israel."

Tijuana Wants 666 Area Code Changed


"Business leaders in Tijuana have asked the federal government to change their new area code, concerned the number 666 will worsen the border city's reputation for violence."

Pakistanis Buy Into the Conspiracy Theories


"In this city's Saddr Bazaar, a place of uneven sidewalks, cheap hotels and chockablock shops, the restaurants offer skewers of spicy chicken finished off with sweet, milky tea and served with talk about the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks."

On Sept. 11, God Played No Favorites
Salt Lake Tribune


"Now seems like a good time to confess the part I played in the World Trade Center attack. I am guilty. Come and get me."

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 - October 1, 2001

from Reuters

BRUSSELS - Under-investment by the private sector in research and development is holding Europe back from its goal of overtaking the United States and Japan in scientific innovation, an EU study to be published on Monday says.

The European Commission's first "innovation scoreboard" gives a snapshot of strengths and weaknesses in science and technology following the EU's pledge last year to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based society by 2010.

Hi-tech friendly Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland fared better than the rest of the European Union, while the whole Mediterranean area was struggling to keep up with the pace, it showed.

"Rapid increases in business R&D in Japan and the United States since 1994 have increased the gap with Europe," the EU executive said in a draft of the report obtained by Reuters.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says the nation is prepared to take care of any kind of biological attack, but much of the public is not convinced.

In an interview broadcast on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Thompson said: "We've got to make sure that people understand that they're safe. And that we're prepared to take care of any contingency, any consequence that develops from any kind of bioterrorism attack."

Thompson said eight staging areas around America are each stocked with 50 tons of medical supplies - including vaccines, antibiotics, gas masks and ventilators - that can be moved within hours to the site of any bioterrorist attack. The secretary also said that 7,000 medical personnel are ready to respond to any crisis, anywhere in the country.


from The Washington Post

Tens of thousands of people whose chronic physical pain is usually kept in check have suffered setbacks since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, according to pain management specialists across the nation.

Those who regularly treat pain say that since Sept. 11 they have been inundated with complaints of worsening pain from patients who suffer from cancer, back problems, arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, chronic headaches and other ailments.

At Washington Hospital Center, pain management specialists said complaints about flare-ups have been five times greater than usual. In Houston, specialists reported that pain complaints from cancer patients are up 33 percent, and in Buffalo, they have doubled.

The widespread reaction, they said, was clearly triggered by stress over the attacks, fear of more terrorism and concern for what the future will bring their children.


from The New York Times

Archaeologists have found evidence that appears to support the theory that a catastrophic flood struck the Black Sea region more than 7,000 years ago, turning the sea saline, submerging surrounding plains and possibly inspiring the flood legends of Mesopotamia and the Bible.

In their first scientific report, the expedition leaders said that a sonar survey in the sea off Sinop, a city on the northern coast of Turkey, conducted in the summer of 2000, revealed the first distinct traces of the preflood shoreline, now about 500 feet underwater.

At one site, the sonar detected more than 30 stone blocks on a gently sloping but otherwise featureless bottom. Further investigation with remote controlled cameras revealed pieces of wood and other objects, possibly ceramics.

The site "appeared uniquely rectangular" in the sonar image, and the stone blocks did not appear to be part of a natural geological formation, expedition scientists reported in today's issue of The American Journal of Archaeology. Analysis of core samples yielded chemical evidence that archaeologists said were consistent with the interpretation that the site was once occupied by people.


from The Los Angeles Times

White abalone are so rare that the federal government lists them as in danger of extinction. They are so stressed that they haven't been found breeding in the wild for years.

So biologists who started a captive breeding program to save the species faced a formidable challenge: how to get the white abalone in the mood.

Call it chemistry. Call it lucky in love. But expert abalone handlers figured it out. Start by gently scrubbing the shells with a soft-bristle brush. Then dim the lights. Next, a bath in clean, chilled water. And, finally, pour in a special potion researchers call an abalone aphrodisiac.

Success was achieved on the second try. One male and two females spawned at the same time. The progeny--6 million baby mollusks.


Commentary from The Los Angeles Times

Science seeks, above all things, a pure, elegant simplicity.

Or so I've written in this column, more than once.

In fairness, I should confess that a chemist friend tells me I've been brainwashed by the theoretical physicists. True, the fundamental laws may be simple, he says, but everything interesting is complicated: the frenzied nerve firings that allow you to make sense of these words, or pick up a pen to write a nasty letter to the editor; the patchwork of continental plates whose scraping and shifting creates the ground on which you sit; the brew of chemical elixirs that churn up emotions; the dozens of molecules it takes to make up the aroma of chocolate. Rain, music, rocks, puppy dogs, sand dunes, fire--all unspeakably complicated things.

Even atoms, if truth be told, are complicated. We like to think of them as neat little planetary systems, electrons orbiting a hard, sedentary center. Nothing could be further from the truth. At heart, they are a froth of restless uncertainty.


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Saturday, September 29, 2001

Liquid gold


They have lured hundreds of followers with their claims to treat cancer, cure drug addiction, break drought and perform other miracles. Ben Hills reports on Australia's fastest-growing cult.

The Ghost in the Universe
God in Light of Modern Science


Prometheus New Releases - March 2002
Taner Edis

Is there a God, or a spiritual reality beyond nature? Physicist Taner Edis takes a fresh look at this age-old question, focusing on what we have learned about our world rather than on traditional metaphysical disputes. Emphasizing the results of natural science, Edis presents a universe where complexity, intelligence, and even the sublime heights of religious experience emerge from what is ultimately material and random. Sympathetically criticizing Muslim and New Age perspectives, as well as contemporary Jewish and Christian arguments, he argues that a thoroughgoing naturalism leads to a much better explanation of our world. While making it clear that spiritual views have a genuine intellectual appeal, Edis systematically critiques such arguments, contrasting them with stronger naturalistic explanations. Science is central to this naturalistic picture; modern physics, evolutionary biology, and critical history, as well as contemporary psychology and brain sciences, all cast doubt on any spiritual reality.

Rumor trackers are busier than ever


By Janet Kornblum

Within three hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, David Emery -- one of a handful of writers, editors, volunteers and computer professionals who track Net rumors -- was reading his first attack-related e-mail. He never imagined the flood that was to follow.



Extraterrestrial Search "Going Just Fine" Without Extraterrestrial Interference

Berkeley, Cal. (SatireWire.com) — Scientists for SETI@home, the worldwide project that uses millions of personal computers to aid in the search for extraterrestrial life, said today they have recently rejected several offers of technical assistance from aliens, arguing that bringing in outside help would be cheating.

Friday, September 28, 2001

Saving Us from Darwin

By Frederick C. Crews


It is no secret that science and religion, once allied in homage to divinely crafted harmonies, have long been growing apart. As the scientific worldview has become more authoritative and self-sufficient, it has loosed a cascade of appalling fears: that the human soul, insofar as it can be said to exist, may be a mortal and broadly comprehensible product of material forces; that the immanent, caring God of the Western monotheisms may never have been more than a fiction devised by members of a species that self-indulgently denies its continuity with the rest of nature; and that our universe may lack any discernible purpose, moral character, or special relation to ourselves. But as those intimations have spread, the retrenchment known as creationism has also gained in strength and has widened its appeal, acquiring recruits and sympathizers among intellectual sophisticates, hard-headed pragmatists, and even some scientists. And so formidable a political influence is this wave of resistance that some Darwinian thinkers who stand quite apart from it nevertheless feel obliged to placate it with tactful sophistries, lest the cause of evolutionism itself be swept away.

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 - September 28, 2001

from The Houston Chronicle

A Houston surgical team removed a man's dying heart and replaced it with a mechanical one in a six-hour procedure Wednesday, marking the first such operation in Texas and the third in the world.

"It couldn't have gone better," said Dr. O.H. Frazier, who spent more than a decade helping develop the AbioCor replacement heart at the Texas Heart Institute and St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, where the surgery was performed. "Everything looks stable now. He's not having any problems. We have some hope for him."

The completely internal pump, an engineering marvel made of plastic and titanium and weighing less than 2 pounds, is powered through the skin by an external battery pack.

The hospital did not identify the patient by name or give his age. Officials said a news briefing will be held Friday.



Health officials in Boston claim their bioterrorism detection system would respond quickly...

from The Boston Globe

For more than two weeks, since just minutes after the destruction of the World Trade Center, Boston has been on heightened alert for bioterrorist attacks - with health officials now constantly scouring the area for signs that deadly bugs or chemicals have been unleashed.

Unlike the fiery Sept. 11 jetliner attacks in New York and Washington, a bioterrorist assault would most likely unfold silently, becoming apparent only after patients started to fill emergency rooms. Without early detection, infectious viruses could spread quickly, and fatalities could grow.

Boston health officals said yesterday that the city's bioterrorism detection system, initiated in 1999, can detect a chemical or biological assault within 24 hours.



...but the federal government is set to release a report casting doubt on the ability of hospitals, in Boston and nationwide, to handle a large-scale attack.

from The Boston Herald

Already-crowded Boston hospitals responding to a large-scale bioterrorism attack would be too overwhelmed to treat infected patients and might not get medical reinforcements for up to 72 hours, a new government study shows.

The report by the General Accounting Office - due to be officially released next week - paints a disturbing picture of the inability of hospitals locally and nationwide to handle the flood of victims from a major bioterrorism attack.

``Emergency rooms in major metropolitan areas such as Boston are routinely filled and unable to accept patients in need of urgent care,'' the draft study by the General Accounting Office reports.

The GAO said interviews with local officials indicate that ``cities would probably be on their own for the first 24 to 72 hours (after a bio-attack) and the number of medical workers that could arrive even in that time frame might fall far short of what would be needed.''


from The Associated Press

TOKYO - The government promised on Friday to help to struggling cattle ranchers and tried to reassure consumers that Japanese meat and dairy products are safe following the discovery of Asia's first case of mad cow disease last week.

Tokyo will provide subsidies and low-interest loans to ranchers and meat processors to compensate them for late deliveries and the possible slaughter of animals suspected of coming in contact with the disease, Agriculture Ministry officials said.

Japanese authorities announced last Saturday that a Holstein dairy cow in central Japan was confirmed to have the brain-wasting illness. It's not known how the cow contracted the disease, though investigators are focusing on animal feed as the likely cause. The cow was slaughtered in August.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- In a nesting area once used by hundreds of generations of dinosaurs, researchers have found a clutch of unhatched babies that come from the last and most massive family of long-necked, plant-eating sauropods.

Luis Chiappe, first author of a study appearing Friday in the journal Science, said the baby dinosaurs drowned in their eggs just before hatching when a river flooded some 80 million years ago in what is now the Patagonia region of Argentina.

Chiappe, chairman of the department of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said the dinosaur nesting area was discovered in 1997, but researchers only now have identified the types of animals that used it as a nursery. He said the embryos are from a sauropod type of dinosaur in a family group known as titanosaurs.


from The New York Times

NEW DELHI, Sept. 27 - Here in the nation's capital, more than four million people are bracing for a possible Supreme Court decision Friday to banish from the roads thousands of diesel buses they ride daily - buses that belch foul exhaust into the blighted air.

More than two years ago, the court - India's main catalyst of environmental reform - ordered authorities to replace Delhi's entire diesel fleet with 10,000 buses that run on cleaner compressed natural gas. A rococo bureaucracy and a lackadaisical political establishment simply have not done it. The deadline is Sunday.

Like other sprawling megalopolises in the developing world, Delhi, a state of 13.7 million people that includes the capital, is grappling with how to clean up its unhealthy atmosphere.

The problem is acute not only here, but in rapidly growing cities across the country. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 100,000 Indians die each year because of air pollution.


from The New York Times

THESE rescuers are unaffected by the carnage, dust and smoke that envelop the remains of the World Trade Center. They are immune to the fatigue and heartbreak that hang in the air. They are, literally, robots: small, mobile machines that whir, blink and burrow alongside the emergency workers and rescue dogs, combing the debris.

In one of the first uses of robots in an urban search and rescue operation, about a dozen remote-controlled machines have been employed at the disaster site. Ranging from the size of a shoe box to that of a medium-size suitcase, they crawl in, under and around the twisted steel and crushed concrete, guided by human operators on the surface. Using lights, video cameras and sensors, they search for victims in places where human rescuers cannot or dare not go.

The robots are a motley crew, rushed to New York by military and federal disaster units, private companies and a university. They are not sleek, Star Wars-style androids, but short, squat and decidedly utilitarian in appearance. Many resemble miniature tanks, right down to the caterpillar treads that allow them to climb over all kinds of rough surfaces.


from The New York Times

WORLD Trade Center Building 4 still stands amid the devastation of the twin towers in Lower Manhattan. But the building, a smoke- blackened, nine-story structure at the corner of Liberty and Church streets, was heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and vehicles hauling debris from the disaster site could trigger its collapse, endangering rescue workers.

To warn of such a danger, a scientist and his team are using a laser system to bounce beams off the building, taking readings every half-second that are precise enough to measure tiny shifts in the building's motion.

So far, said the scientist, Dr. James Sabatier, the instrument is showing a movement of about 100 microns - about a tenth of a millimeter, or one-250th of an inch. A shift that is 100 times greater - a full centimeter, or about two-fifths of an inch - would probably blow out the window frames of a typical building, Dr. Sabatier said. "But we've only seen a tiny fraction of that - meaning, so far, so good."

A physics professor at the University of Mississippi, Dr. Sabatier is on a sabbatical and is working at the Army Night Vision Electronics Sensors Laboratory, in Fort Belvoir, Va. The Army flew him from Fort Belvoir in a helicopter, depositing him and his device, called a laser Doppler velocimeter, late on the evening of Sept. 11 at Battery Park City, south of the disaster site. He set up his equipment on Church Street, about 50 yards from Building 4. Since then he has been working 12-hour shifts monitoring the equipment, which is powered by a gasoline generator. He is expecting more help soon.


from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Patent officials for the University of Wisconsin on Monday expanded a federal lawsuit they filed last month against the company that financed much of the early stem cell research at UW-Madison.

The new move challenges the biotechnology firm's claim of rights to research products that might be developed from stem cells, such as a test or product that drug companies could use to screen potential new pharmaceuticals.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation originally sued Geron Corp. in U.S. District Court in Madison on Aug. 13, asking the court to prevent Geron from interfering with the foundation's ability to contract with other firms to further develop stem cell technology.


from The Los Angeles Times

Archaeologists say crude stone tools indicate that humans lived in north China as early as 1.36 million years ago.

The tools found buried in the artifact-rich Nihewan Basin of north-central China represent the earliest known occupation in east Asia as far north as 40 degrees latitude, the same as present-day Beijing.

The study by archaeologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as the Smithsonian Institution and California Polytechnic State University, appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature.


from The Christian Science Monitor

Wringing water out of the Martian atmosphere to make rocket propellant for a return voyage to Earth may sound like the stuff of a Grimm Brothers fairy tale.

However, like the dwarf who helped the miller's daughter become queen by spinning straw into gold, scientists are conducting research that someday may make space-refueling stations, and the possibility of interplanetary travel, a reality for all of us.

Using a technology known as in situ resource utilization, or ISRU, researchers are studying ways to mine natural resources on other planets. Their efforts could greatly reduce the cost to visit, and eventually live in, space. Current projects include efforts to produce rocket propellants from water in the air, and to mine aluminum for a special antenna that could collect solar energy and convert it into electricity for manufacturing on another planet.

ISRU technology has been around for several decades, but in recent years it got a boost from the Mars and other longterm missions.


from The Christian Science Monitor

If you really want to motivate an athlete, forget the million-dollar salaries and endorsement deals. The Mesoamerican Ballgame, played some 3500 years ago, had a serious player incentive - winning team gets to live.

A Flash 5 presentation of the Mint Museum of Art (Charlotte, NC), the Mesoamerican Ballgame explores the history and culture (and what little is known of the rules) of history's first team sport. After an animated intro (which coincidentally demonstrates how well Mesoamerican art is suited to Flash animations) Ballgame presents the visitor with four sections, beginning with Explore World- a survey of the historic and geographic context of the game, presented through an engaging combination map/timeline. Click on one of the nine cultures listed, (from the Olmec to the Spanish Conquest) and the chosen peoples' 'sphere of influence' is displayed on the map, while a floating menu offers details on the civilization's culture, artwork, links to the game, and structures and cities that have survived to the present day. (The locations of these sites are also displayed on the map). An interactive timeline at the bottom of the page -- running from 1500 B.C to the 16th century -- places the game's development in a global context, tracking such concurrent events as the completion of Stonehenge, and the Israelites settling in Egypt. [Editor's note: The Israelites did not settle in Egypt.]


To proceed directly to the Mint Museum's interactive, educational Web site on the game and its important place in Mesoamerican culture, click on this link:


The introductory page will let you know whether or not you posess the software (Flash 5 plug-in) needed to experience this fine exhibit and, if you're without, it provides a link for quick and easy (and free) installation.

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Articles of Note

Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks to Joe Littrell and Steve Berthiaume

Man arrested for alleged act of voodoo
By Eve Sullivan
Stamford Advocate


STAMFORD - A city man was arrested Sunday for allegedly setting fire to a teddy bear as part of a voodoo ritual at his East Side home.

Nostradamus Suffers From New Doomsday Fad - Museum
By Jean-Francois Rosnoblet


"French doomsday astrologer Nostradamus is topping Internet search lists after the deadly attacks in the United States and wild prophecies based on his musings are flooding the web."

Man attacked in 'oily man' case
The Star [Malaysia]


"Villagers in Kuala Kedah near here beat up a man yesterday after he allegedly tried to seize a talisman from a woman bomoh who had apparently "caught" an orang minyak (oily man)."

Rumors are only making the healing process harder
by Jim Boren
Scripps McClatchy Western Service


"It was a rumor that the public was only too willing to believe even if it didn't happen: Foreign students at California State University, Fresno, were celebrating the terrorists attacks on the United States. The story zipped around the San Joaquin Valley and then across the Internet."

Rumor trackers are busier than ever
By Janet Kornblum
USA Today


"Within three hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, David Emery -- one of a handful of writers, editors, volunteers and computer professionals who track Net rumors -- was reading his first attack-related e-mail. He never imagined the flood that was to follow."

As Thick as the Ash, Myths are Swirling
New York Times


"Did you hear?"

Darwin's Sanitized Idea
By Chris Mooney


"Evolution, the glitzy seven-part PBS miniseries airing Sept. 24-27, is surely the most comprehensive presentation of Darwin's theory yet offered by the American mass media. Its motto may be best expressed by Chris Schneider, a Boston University biologist interviewed while collecting specimens in the Ecuadorean rain forest: "Darwin really got it right!" And in its exploration of topics like the role of natural selection in battling HIV and the importance of sex to genetic diversity, Evolution repeatedly demonstrates the wide applicability of Darwin's theory."

And the Banned Play On
by Douglas Wolk
Village Voice


"If you've been keeping tabs on your e-mail, perhaps you've gotten word of some disturbing questions the mass media haven't addressed about the fallout from the recent terrorist attacks. Is it true, for instance, that Osama bin Laden profits directly from sales of gum arabic, a food additive? Or that radio DJs are forbidden to play more than 150 popular songs now? Or that employees of the National Council of Compensation Insurance are banned from displaying American flags? Or perhaps that 4000 Jews were warned in advance to stay home from their World Trade Center jobs on September 11?"

Sympathy For The Devil
by Tony Ortega
New Times Los Angeles


"Last year, Church of Scientology operatives received an alarming tip: During the upcoming 2000 MTV Movie Awards scheduled for June 8, a short South Park film parodying Battlefield Earth would feature the character Cartman wiping his ass with a copy of L. Ron Hubbard's sacred text, Dianetics."

Alien Culture
By Silke Tudor
SF Weekly


"In light of the horrible events that occurred on Tuesday, I think it's even more important and urgent that we open up communication with extraterrestrials on a global scale," says Arizona music instructor Pinchemel Luz, one of the 900 people who made it to the third annual Bay Area UFO Expo, in spite of airport closures. "If we had access to alien technology, we'd have an endless power source, and we wouldn't have to meddle in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries. This whole thing could have been avoided if the government would just come clean with what they already know. We don't need oil. Our government knows that. They've known it for years.""

Willamette Week


"Every morning when she opens her eyes, Patricia Leedy, a Hillsboro antique dealer, rolls out of bed, pulls back the blinds and scans the sky. She's not worried about the terrorists. She's worried about jet contrails."

Educator quits over reprimand for teaching evolution alternative
Evansville Courier & Press


"He stated his beliefs in 95 theses that he nailed to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany -- the town where he lived in 1517."

Thursday, September 27, 2001

Articles of Note

Nostradamus called it!
By Janelle Brown


"The kooks are coming out of the woodwork. On Friday, four days after the attacks on New York and Washington, the bestselling book on Amazon.com was "Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies." Books about the 16th century prophet also placed at 4, 5, 11, 12 and 25 on the list."

Urban legends pop up in attack's wake
By Michael Hill
Associated Press


"Did you hear about the police officer who miraculously "surfed" debris down a collapsing World Trade Center tower? How about Satan's face revealed in smoke billowing from the doomed buildings?"

Nonreligious grieve without prayer
By Kara G. Morrison
Detroit News


"These days, retired GM worker Bob Brooks flies Old Glory at half-staff at his Madison Heights home. He pins a ribbon on his chest to commemorate the thousands of lives lost in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, and he has donated money to the relief effort."

Rumors fueling fears in already stressful times
San Jose Mercury News


"They came pouring in immediately after the terrorist attacks:"

The Search for Intelligent Life on the Internet
New York Times


"AT a moment when the world's need for information has never been greater, the Internet's role as the ultimate source of unmediated news has been matched only by its notorious ability to breed rumors, conspiracy theories and urban legends. "

Mythical beasts lurk in 5 Utah lakes
By Lynn Arave
Deseret News


"Forget "Nessie," the fabled -- and still sought-after -- Loch Ness monster in Scotland:"

Some See 'Ghost' of Towers at Night
By Mae M. Cheng


"For many New Yorkers, the Twin Towers are legendary. But for some, there is now talk about the buildings, the kind that sometimes spurs urban legends. Some residents of the Lower East Side, who for decades have had an unobstructed view of the majestic 110-story towers simply by glancing down East Broadway or Madison Street, say they see the outlines of the two destroyed buildings."

Nostradamus prediction has no link to terrorism
By Rowena Coetsee
Contra Costa Times


"The medieval prophecy that has swept the country by e-mail like a malevolent virus certainly sounded ominous."

Rush to cite Nostradamus too predictable
by Eric Zorn
Chicago Tribune


"If Nostradamus really had predicted last week's terrorist attacks on America as the widespread rumor went, it would have marked a noteworthy moment in the career of the 16th century astrologer and physician: his first accurate forecast."

Psychic vultures are gathering


Prophet of doom
By Kieran Howlett

A Lancashire mum made a chilling TV prediction of the World Trade Centre slaughter three months ago.

Psychic Valerie Clarke made the forecast on BBC TV's Kilroy Show.

Today, Mrs Clarke, of Old Bridge Way, Chorley, was back in the studios to tell the nation how she was first haunted by the catastrophic images years ago. The show is being recorded and will be broadcast later this week.

Three months ago Mrs Clarke told presenter Robert Kilroy Silk that she had a vision of a massive explosion caused by a plane crashing into the second tower in Manhattan.

TV bosses - stunned that her prediction has now come true - have invited her back. Before travelling to London today, she told the Evening Post how she was haunted by the images which have rocked the world.

She said: "I had this dream a while ago and I thought it was a bombing at the World Trade Centre.

"But I saw this plane going past and I must have been dreaming about the disaster. It's only now that it has come to light and I was obviously very shocked."

The 30-year-old said her "blood turned cold" as she saw her horrific nightmare become reality when the famous landmark was targeted by terrorists last week.

"I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach - but it wasn't a shock.

"I can't explain it - it was as if I was expecting it My blood turned cold," said Mrs Clarke, who has a seven-month-old daughter, Lola.

During her first Kilroy appearance, she told the audience: "In my dream I was at the World Trade Centre wandering the streets - I was in some sort of barricade when the building blew up.

"At the same time this plane went down behind it. In my dream I was not sure if the plane had gone into the building."

Preston-based psychic and medium Lee Watson believes Valerie's nightmare might have been an ominous forecast about the carnage which caused the twin towers to collapse.

Lee, who has worked as a professional psychic for seven years, says sceptics should not rule out the strength of messages from mediums and psychic predictions.

She said: "It seems to me that if she's got the facts right there's a lot more to it. It's possibly a coincidence - but I do believe it's definitely possible."

Disturbance in the Force

Boundary Institute


The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have deeply shocked the entire world. But perhaps their influence propagates even more deeply than we imagine, even into the fabric of reality itself, perhaps even into events prior to their occurrence. In popular culture, this might be called a "disturbance in the Force", but new and innovative science may have something much more serious to say about the matter.

Since 1998, the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University has been monitoring the outputs of up to 40 random number generators (RNGs) around the world. Each of these RNGs sends 200 bits of randomly generated data every second to a server at the GCP in Princeton. The generators are based on physical devices considered fundamentally random, not merely deterministic computer algorithms.

Preposterous though it may sound, significant deviations have been noted in the randomness of data from these RNGs around times of major events in the world.

Roger Nelson, Director of the GCP, and Dean Radin at the Institute of Noetic Sciences have analyzed data from the RNG network on and around September 11. They found striking anomalies, one of which is shown below. Note that the significant deviation from randomness began several hours before the events in New York and Washington. See the GCP web site http://noosphere.princeton.edu/ for complete information and extensive statistical analyses of the data before, during, and after these events.

Randomness and Causality

Why is this of interest to us at the Boundary Institute? Because our theoretical and experimental work have focused specifically and significantly on the concepts of randomness and causality in physics. Our theoretical work strongly suggests, and we have been saying for some time, that certain random physical processes (such as the mysterious "collapse" of the wave function in quantum mechanics) are not what they seem, and in fact may be dependent on other factors and thus influenceable at a fundamental level. And contrary to common assumption, these phenomena and new theory are not in major conflict with existing physics. A great deal of experimental evidence tends to support the hypothesis as well. Now far more significant events seem to have registered in random devices all over the globe.

We do not know whether the effect shown in these analyses will hold up under further scrutiny. We do not necessarily subscribe to the hypotheses which the GCP or anyone else has put forth to explain them. In any case, anecdotal one-time occurrences, no matter how dramatic, are no substitute for careful scientific investigation and experimental replication. However, at the very least, this apparent deviation in the randomness of physical devices under certain conditions needs to be analyzed further and studied closely by science.

In a similar vein, claims that the number of passengers on the hijacked planes on September 11 was exceptionally low (even for a Tuesday after Labor Day, during an economic downturn, etc.) need careful examination. This may be a simple statistical fluke, or it may be that passengers somehow precognitively avoided the doomed flights.

If the randomness of fundamental physical processes can be influenced by global events, the implications for both science and society could be very large indeed. As just one example (highly speculative to be sure), if these effects are real, it might be possible to predict some large-scale calamities in advance by careful observation of random devices such as the generators of the GCP.

Such speculations are easy to make, of course. But only by looking hard at this data and bringing to bear the full power of science will we eventually find out what really happened to the random number generators on September 11.

If you have any scientific comment, observation, or premonition to share with us on this subject, please email randomness@boundaryinstitute.org. We will keep confidential any such communication, but cannot promise to respond to every email.


Dry weather reveals fossil bonanza - Ananova Alerting

A drought has led to the discovery of hundreds of fossilised dinosaur footprints in Spain.

Palaeontologists spotted them on a rocky slope in the mountainous north of the country.

The prints, left by several different species, became exposed after a long drought which killed nearly all the grass in the area.

The 155 million-year-old footprints were found at a site in the Rioja region, which stretches for more than 100 metres.

Professor José Luis Sanz, the dig's project leader, said: "We've found traces of dinosaurs but also primitive birds, tortoises and flying reptiles."

The fossil bed was probably once a river or lake where animals came to drink, reports Gazet van Antwerpen.

*Natural world story sent by Ananova

See this story on the web at


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