NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 October 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, October 10, 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.

****** Special bulletin for Sigma Xi members and members of the media ******

2001 Sigma Xi Forum: Science, the Arts and the Humanities: Connections and Collisions

Click on the link below to view a detailed program of events, read about the featured presentation of the play "Oxygen," and register to attend.




Today's Headlines - October 10, 2001

from The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Two Americans and a Japanese scientist shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for showing how to better control chemical reactions. Their research paved the way for medicines including a now-standard treatment for Parkinson's disease.

William S. Knowles, 84, of St. Louis, Mo. and Ryoji Noyori, 63, of Nagoya University in Japan shared half of the $943,000 award. K. Barry Sharpless, 60, of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., won the other half.

Their research deals with the fact that many molecules appear in two forms that are mirror images of each other, just like the left and right hands.

Cells generally respond correctly to only one of these forms, while the other form might be harmful. Drugs often use such mirror-image molecules, and the difference between the two forms can be a matter of life and death.


from The New York Times

Three scientists at American research institutions were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday for producing a bizarre state of matter in which atoms merge into a single wavelike entity that is much like a beam of laser light.

The material the scientists produced, a Bose-Einstein condensate, does not exist in nature, but its existence was predicted in the 1920's by Einstein and by the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. In one of the quintessential eureka moments of physics, two of the scientists who won the prize, Dr. Carl E. Wieman of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Dr. Eric A. Cornell of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology in Boulder, first produced the substance on June 5, 1995.

A few months later, Dr. Wolfgang Ketterle, a German physicist at M.I.T. who is the other winner of this year's prize, reproduced the finding and later performed new experiments that clinched the case that the substance had been produced. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the physics prize, announced that the prize money of about $950,000 would be shared equally among the three scientists.

Scientists first began trying to test the prediction of Einstein and Bose around 1980, and eventually the M.I.T. and Colorado groups were engaged in what Dr. Ketterle, 43, described as "the race of my life." On that day in 1995, Dr. Wieman, 50, and Dr. Cornell, 39, crossed the finish line first when what turned out to be a speck of condensate, consisting of about 2,000 supercold atoms of rubidium, produced a tiny, dark shadow that was captured by a digital camera.


from The Miami Herald

Federal investigators believe they have traced ``unique characteristics'' of the anthrax that killed a Lantana man to a strain harvested at an Iowa facility in the 1950s, according to law enforcement sources.

But the sources caution that final results of tests to confirm the match are not yet finished.

``That's where we are headed, but the tests are not conclusive. We want to be sure,'' said a federal law enforcement official involved in the investigation.

Meanwhile, investigators confirmed that two hijackers who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had subscriptions to tabloid newspapers published in the Boca Raton headquarters of American Media Inc., where photo editor Robert Stevens is believed to have contracted the fatal disease.


from The Miami Herald

If the Boca Raton anthrax outbreak was indeed a deliberate criminal act, investigators must find where the criminals got their hands on the deadly bacteria, and how. As authorities chase that trail, following leads in the United States, terrorism experts are also looking abroad.

They say it's possible the anthrax that killed one tabloid worker and possibly infected another initially originated in foreign countries armed with biological weapons -- but shaky security nets.

Terrorists with ample funds and medical and biological know-how could obtain the strains in the less restrictive international market -- then ``weaponize'' the culture in the United States, some experts say.

It's also possible terrorists or others illegally tapped the U.S. market, which is small and tightly regulated after well-publicized security lapses. Indeed, authorities are scouring that market now in the wake of the Boca Raton cases, examining whether the anthrax that killed Sun photo editor Robert Stevens is linked to a strain from an Iowa facility.


from The Los Angeles Times

It's hard to catch anthrax. Even when people are exposed to the bacterium, conditions must be just right for infection to take hold.

In part because of that, public health officials say people have little reason to worry that they will catch the infection, despite the current investigation in Florida of two cases of anthrax exposure.

"Right now, with two cases, I wouldn't be pushing the panic button," said Raymond Zilinskas, a senior scientist at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Doctors say more than 2,500 anthrax spores must be inhaled to actually cause the illness. The second case in Florida turned up when doctors did a test swab on a man in his 70s who was hospitalized for pneumonia and found anthrax spores in his nose. That man, Ernesto Blanco, does not have the disease, officials say.

Exposing large numbers of people to enough spores to cause illness would be difficult, experts say. It is relatively easy to find anthrax bacteria in infected animals and grow them in a laboratory. But anthrax is not contagious; individuals must be exposed to the bacteria firsthand to be infected. Sickening large numbers of people would require spraying the bacteria into the air in a carefully controlled manner--technically difficult, experts say.


from The Washington Post

Steve Hiner doesn't believe in what he calls the Chicken Little syndrome. He doesn't think hollering that the sky is falling does any good -- unless the sky really is falling.

But with repeated government warnings that a biochemical terrorist attack could be imminent, Hiner is weighing the pros and cons of purchasing gas masks for his family of five. He's also wondering why government officials seem dead-set against people getting them.

Since terrorism blindsided the country a month ago, Americans have been buying gas masks like there's no tomorrow without them. Older masks that used to be sold as military collectibles or Halloween get-ups sold out at Army-Navy surplus stores nationwide within days. Retailers of new "respirators," as the industry prefers to call gas masks, are struggling to fill mounting back orders. On eBay, the online auction site, masks fetch bids three to five times their pre-attack price.

But experts in biochemical warfare and protective equipment say the gas-mask issue isn't nearly as tidy an answer as desperate buyers think it is -- or as simple as government officials make it out to be.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Osama bin Laden and his followers may be hiding inside some of the innumerable hidden caves that pockmark Afghanistan's forbidding terrain. But which caves? That question may haunt U.S. troops, for the science of "cave detection" is pretty iffy.

Techniques for detecting caves, tunnels and other underground cavities range from the high-tech to the folkloric -- from, say, mapping the ground with high-frequency radar waves and seismometers to scanning the terrain for vapors seeping from caves.

No technique is anywhere near 100 percent trustworthy. "It's actually very easy to detect metal objects underground, but detecting a cavity, a hole, is really a very difficult thing to do," observes Anthony Fraser-Smith, a noted Stanford geophysicist.

Geophysicists map the interior of the Earth -- the onion-like layers of the terrestrial crust, mantle and core -- by tracking seismic waves through the planet. Seismic waves generated by earthquakes and nuclear explosions enabled them, in effect, to "CAT scan" the planet. They can map features that are hundreds of miles across and thousands of miles deep.


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Gonzo Science

Debunking the Skeptics

A Column by Jim Richardson and Allen Richardson

From The Anomalist at http://www.anomalist.com/gonzoscience/debunk.html

The keepers of the scientific faith are the professional skeptics, represented by the unfortunately named organization CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal) and other groups. They fancy themselves the most rational rationalists, the most mechanical mechanists, and the most reductive reductionists. Their mission is to save us from the kook, the crank, the crackpot, and the pseudoscientist. But in their zeal to defend the mundane, they've developed a pathological aversion to the anomalous.

Armed with a cognitive toolbox containing strict criteria of adequacy, and on the lookout for logical pitfalls, these grumpy skeptics go around tilting any windmill which doesn't add up. The criteria of adequacy are used to distinguish good ideas from bad. These criteria are testability, fruitfulness, scope, simplicity, and conservatism. This gets tricky right around the conservatism part.

Tuesday, October 09, 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.

****** Special bulletin for Sigma Xi members and members of the media ******

2001 Sigma Xi Forum: Science, the Arts and the Humanities: Connections and Collisions

Click on the link below to view a detailed program of events, read about the featured presentation of the play "Oxygen," and register to attend.




Today's Headlines - October 9, 2001

(A note about coverage of the Nobels: Throughout this week, "Science In the News" will run two stories about each Nobel Prize awarded. As in years past, we will include a relatively brief story about each announcement -- due to its timing, that will be all that is available on the morning of each announcement -- to be followed up by a more in-depth story the next day.)

from The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Two Americans and a German-born scientist shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for creating a new state of matter: an ultra-cold gas that could speed the development of super-small machines.

Eric A. Cornell, 39, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo.; Carl E. Wieman, 50, of the University of Colorado; and German-born Wolfgang Ketterle, 43, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will share the $943,000 prize.

Cornell and Wieman also work for JILA, a research institute in Boulder, Colo.

The three men's joint discovery of the Bose-Einstein condensate is "going to bring revolutionary applications in such fields as precision measurement and nanotechnology," or micro-machines, according to the citation by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.


from The New York Times

An American and two Britons won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine yesterday for discovering key molecules that regulate how cells multiply in living things, from yeasts to plants to humans.

The winners, who will share the $943,000 award, were Leland H. Hartwell, 61, director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle; R. Timothy Hunt, 58, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in Hertfordshire, England; and Sir Paul M. Nurse, 52, director general of the fund in London.

Findings from their research are about to be applied to the development of tests for cancer and may lead to new cancer therapies, according to the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which selected the winners.

The three used different approaches to pinpoint the mechanisms by which the billions of cells in each individual constantly divide and precisely duplicate their chromosomes into daughter cells, a process known as the cell cycle. The two British scientists built on Dr. Hartwell's pioneering research on the cycle to provide clues for explaining how cancerous cells can reproduce wildly.


(Special Package on "Anthrax")

from The Miami Herald

Investigators are examining whether anthrax found in two workers at a Boca Raton publishing company may have been ``biologically engineered,'' which would make it unlikely that the men -- one of whom died last week -- were exposed to the bacteria by accident.

Teams of specially trained FBI agents from all over the country descended Monday on the offices of supermarket tabloid publisher American Media Inc. to look for clues why a photo editor died from anthrax Friday and a mailroom employee tested positive for spores in his nasal passage on Sunday.

The mailroom employee, Ernesto Blanco, 73, has not contracted the disease but discovery of anthrax in his nasal passages heightened U.S. concern over a possible bioterrorism threat and turned what had been a medical mystery into a criminal investigation led by the FBI.

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida's senior senator and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said federal health officials told him at a briefing Monday that ``human intervention'' had to be involved in the anthrax cases.


from The Washington Post

...The anthrax bacterium lives in soil and can infect cattle, goats and sheep. In the past it has caused human disease in hide handlers and wool sorters, but in those cases, it has typically caused a version that affects the skin and is relatively benign. By contrast, inhaled anthrax kills four out of five of its victims. Symptoms can strike from a few days to two months after exposure, and antibiotics are relatively useless once those flu-like symptoms arise.

One encouraging detail was confirmed by officials yesterday: The anthrax bacteria found in the two men is fully susceptible to treatment with penicillin. Some strains of the bacteria developed by the Soviet Union decades ago were selected or designed to withstand penicillin, requiring treatment with more potent drugs such as ciprofloxacin. "Wild-type" strains from soil and most of the strains developed by Iraq for biological weapons are susceptible to penicillin.

Scientists hope that with time they will be able to conduct DNA "fingerprinting" studies on the microbes and compare the fingerprints to those from other strains collected from around the world, to help trace the origins of the Florida bugs. CDC investigators did exactly that two years ago after West Nile virus arrived in North America for the first time. They were able to show that the virus almost certainly came over accidentally from Israel or a nearby Middle Eastern country in a single event -- probably inside an imported infected bird.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists analyzing the anthrax bacteria that killed a Florida newspaper photo editor may be able to pinpoint just where on the globe the deadly bugs may have originated.

"If that strain turns out to come from Iraq or is a former Soviet Union strain, all hell is going to break loose," said medical anthropologist Jeanne Guillemin, author of "Anthrax, the Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak."

Bob Stevens, 63, died Friday from inhalational anthrax, a disease so rare that its appearance at any time is cause for serious concern that terrorists could have unleashed it.

Using the tools of biotechnology, researchers can determine the precise genetic sequence of the killer anthrax strains and compare them to a library of anthrax types stored in computers at two Southwestern laboratories.


from The New York Times

An oily mixture resembling salad dressing that can blow up anthrax bacteria. A toxin detector made of a slice of living rat brain on an electronic chip. A drug that would kill all bacteria and another that would boost a person's immune system to withstand any pathogen.

These are all ideas, some far off and some surprisingly close at hand, that are being pursued in what could become the nation's newest medical battle - the war against bioterrorism.

Since Sept. 11, the government has been stepping up efforts to improve the nation's ability to respond to a germ attack. Much of the focus has been on improving the public health system's ability to spot an outbreak, quarantine the infected and deliver medicines. Another focus has been to accelerate production of vaccines for anthrax and smallpox.

But experts say it is also necessary to develop much better technology to detect, diagnose and treat biological agents. That is partly because there are dozens of pathogens that might conceivably be used in an attack, including some unnatural ones made by genetic engineering, and it would be impractical to develop vaccines for all of them. A Pentagon advisory panel estimated it would cost up to $3.2 billion to develop just eight vaccines. So new approaches beyond vaccines are needed that can address a wide range of possible agents.

(End of special package.)

from The New York Times

It's not "Star Trek," but physicists in Denmark have demonstrated a step that could lead to a primitive form of instantaneous teleportation.

Even if follow-up experiments succeed, all that will be teleported is a magnetic field from one bunch of atoms to another. But that advance could eventually be used for encryption techniques that are fundamentally impossible to break and for building computers that employ quantum mechanical principles to dash through their calculations.

For physicists, teleportation means the creation of a replica of an object, at least some aspect of it, some distance away. And the act of teleporting always destroys the original - not entirely unlike the transporters of the "Star Trek" television shows and movies - so one could not make an infinite number of copies.


from The New York Times

Underneath the remains of the World Trade Center, waiting silently in the gloom and dust as if for a boarding call that will never come, sits an empty PATH train nearly and neatly cut in half. Four of its cars are intact, but three more are squashed under debris from the collapse of the trade center's south tower.

After almost three weeks of exploration, engineers have completed the first survey of the seven-story, 16- acre basement under the ruined trade center complex and have found a varied pattern of destruction. Some areas are nothing but rubble; others seem almost undamaged. To the relief of the engineers, there is no evidence that the 70-foot-deep retaining wall around the basements has been damaged or breached, although the collapse of the towers left one section perilously unsupported.

The floors under the United States Customs House in the northwest corner of the complex, despite a gaping hole, are mostly intact and could be repaired and used again, some engineers say, while the basement floors directly under the two collapsed towers are simply rubble.


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Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks to Joe Littrell and Daniel Reinders

Rumors, Legends Swirl as U.S. Looks for Meaning
By Jill Serjeant


"It started with the story about a Nostradamus prophecy on the fall of "two brothers'' predicting the start of World War Three, and was quickly followed by the face of Satan ``revealed'' in the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center."

Amway Loses Court Appeal With P&G
Associated Press


"Amway Corp. lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday in its six-year fight with rival Procter & Gamble Co. over rumors that P&G was linked to devil worship."

Court Passes on Scientology Libel Case
Associated Press


"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."

Why we need conspiracy theories
by Charlotte Parsons
BBC News


"The moon landing was faked, Princess Diana was murdered and JFK was the victim of an elaborate CIA assassination plot."

Scholars Find Further Signs of Big Flood Evoking Noah
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 Bible."

Scam Alert: New pyramid scheme warning
By Edgar Sanchez
Sacramento Bee


"Seduced by promises of "financial freedom," some area residents are investing in a new pyramid scheme that could empty their wallets, authorities said."

Guru proposes 'yogic flying' to battle terrorism


"The Indian guru who brought transcendental meditation to America says he has the antidote to global terrorism."

Terror rumors, hoaxes flood Internet
By B.J. Reyes
Honolulu Star-Bulletin


"With no shortage of rumors, hoaxes, urban legends and other tales circulating online since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Internet user Eric Barbut has a simple way of sorting fact from fiction."

Did You Hear About...


"Please pass this on to as many people as possible. The Klingerman virus, the Muslim day of terror, Nostradamus' prophecy, the poisoned water supply, the 4,000 Jews who stayed home on Sept. 11 and the 70-year-old man who surfed the debris down 80 flights to safety--all of these are fiction. They were made up, misheard or misconstrued--sometimes out of malice, sometimes not--and circulated with haste across the world's e-mail servers in an attempt to make sense of, or assign blame for, the World Trade Center disaster."

Student may face charges in hoax
by Lisa Chiu
Arizona Republic


"Arizona State University junior Ahmad Saad Nasim told a gruesome tale: He was attacked from behind, beaten and pelted with eggs while his assailants uttered racial epithets."

Skyscraper Is Plagued by Rumors
New York Times


"Another day, another false alarm."

FBI denies account of Sears Tower attack plot
By Rudolph Bush and Matt O'Connor
Chicago Tribune


"Even though the FBI in Chicago on Monday labeled "absolutely false" a news account claiming agents had broken up a terrorist cell that may have plotted an attack on the Sears Tower, workers in the nation's tallest building remained fearful."

Name of Pilot Who Roused Passengers Still a Mystery
New York Times


"Federal agents are now reasonably certain who piloted the four jets hijacked on Sept. 11. But despite a much happier outcome, United Airlines is still not sure who was in the cockpit of Flight 564, which took off safely four days later from Denver and landed without incident at Dulles Airport near Washington."

Columbia University College Of Physicians And Surgeons

Date: Posted 10/2/2001


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

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.

Pastor thought tortured girl was possessed


(Filed: 09/10/2001)
Eletronic Telegraph

A PREACHER said he was convinced that Victoria Climbie, killed in one of Britain's worst child abuse cases, was possessed by evil spirits after seeing her abuse and torture injuries.

Pastor Pascal Orome said he was drawn to the wounded and malnourished girl the first time that Marie Therese Kouao, her great-aunt and one of her eventual killers, took her to his church in Borough, south-east London, in August 1999.

Without speaking to Victoria, Mr Pascal knew she was coping with hardship, he told the inquiry into the eight-year-old's death in February of last year.

After the service at the Mission Ensemble Pour Christ church he went over to Victoria and said a prayer, telling her: "You are delivered from witchcraft or wicked spirits."

Kouao responded by praising him as a "man of God" because he had been able to recognise that she was afflicted with a spiritual burden.

Mr Pascal saw that Victoria had raw wounds on her head and that her hands were "black with scars" but he did not tell Kouao to visit the doctor because he was "too busy" with other parishioners, he told the inquiry.

His concern was to deal with spiritual problems through prayer. His church had no guidelines for dealing with child abuse. Mr Orome, who has been preaching for two years, said Victoria was "the first time I see such a problem of evil spirits in a child of seven or eight".

Kouao also told him that Victoria, whom she claimed was her daughter and was called Anna, was incontinent, putting excrement into food, burning herself and making a mess at home - all things which provided evidence that she was possessed, he said.

He did not believe that Kouao was abusing Victoria, although he did think it was strange that Victoria was always poorly dressed in comparison with the smartly attired Kouao.

In a statement given to the inquiry, Pastor Orome said he did not believe Kouao's boyfriend, Carl Manning, was sexually abusing Victoria, whom he called Anna. Giving his reasons, he said: "Anna is not a very attractive girl or likely to instil lust."

Victoria died after enduring months of agony at the hands of Kouao, 44, and Manning, 28. They were given life sentences for murder in January. Victoria weighed just 3st 10lb and had 128 separate injuries when she died of hypothermia.

School for wizards starts new term


Harry Potter fans in Austria are preparing to attend a real-life 'Hogwarts' witches' school.

Students on the six-term course at Hexenschule, or witches' school, learn how to cast spells and mix potions.

Successful students at the school in Klagenfurt receive a sorcerer's diploma.

The school's director Andreas Sdarchelb teachers want to pass on ancestral wizardry which is gradually being forgotten.

Three classes of pupils study Celtic and Druidic practice, nature studies, astrology, astronomy, meditation and divination.

Mr Sdarchelb, known as the Wizard Dakaneth, says: "Wizardry is very close to nature and it is in no way a religion. The aim is to restore contact with nature, which has been lost by our society."

The school, which opened two years ago, begins the new term on October 15.

Astrologer claims symbol blights political party


An Indian astrologer and palmist says the country's oldest political party is blighted by its symbol.

He claims the hand has destroyed the lives of many promising leaders in the Congress party.

He says the lack of a sun line on the hand has brought the party bad luck.

The Congress, currently India's political opposition, chose the hand as its symbol in 1978.

Rakesh Chandra Mishra, from Kanpur, claims the party has been plagued with tragedies ever since, losing key leaders like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and most recently Madhavrao Scindia who died in a plane crash this week.

He says the lines shown on the palm of the party symbol were "fatally arranged".

"The lifeline on the palm is extremely short which explains why emerging leaders in the age group of 50 to 58 years are dying," he told The Asian Age.

Mr Misra believes the reproduction of the "defective" hand on party posters and flags has had a negative impact during elections.

He has now advised Congress President Sonia Gandhi to restore the party's former symbol of a cow and calf.

Monday, October 08, 2001

Amicus brief

From: The Textbook League ttl@textbookleague.org

About fifteen years ago I made a (decidedly small) contribution to the composition of a document that eventually became: "_AMICUS CURIAE_ BRIEF OF 72 NOBEL LAUREATES, 17 STATE ACADEMIES OF SCIENCE, AND 7 OTHER SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATIONS, IN SUPPORT OF APPELLEES" in the case Edwards v. Aguillard -- the big "creation-science" case that was decided by the Supreme Court in August 1986.

The full text of the brief is available on the Web (at www.talkorigins.org/faqs/edwards-v-aguillard/amicus1.html). If anyone wants a copy of the actual brief -- which measures about 6 inches by 9 inches and has a green cover -- please let me know. I am purging my file cabinets, and I've found that I have several surplus copies of the brief.

Bill Bennetta

Assorted Items of Interest

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

1) Computer Holistic Medicine
2) Articles of Note
3) Skeptics in the Pub

From Skeptical Inquirer Reader Charles Bennett

In a message dated 10/6/01 7:29:47 AM Eastern Daylight Time, bennetc@watson.ibm.com writes:


As a subscriber and reader of the Skeptical Inquirer, I think other readers (print or online) might enjoy the website "Institute of Holistic Computer Wellness"


This site offers alternative medical treatments for computer problems, including homeopathic ant-virus software, astrological systems compatibility analysis, and a quartz crystal filter to block bad vibes from passing through your modem cable. Reinhard Werner and I set up the site as a parody of rampant holism in other fields.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Bennett

Articles of Note (thanks to Joe Littrell)

Burger King Workers Burn Feet
Associated Press


"About a dozen Burger King marketing-department workers burned their feet when they walked over white-hot coals at a meeting intended to promote bonding."

Brain-scans can defeat terrorism, InfoSeek founder claims
By Thomas C Greene
The Register


"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."

Don't worry, be happy
Seattle Weekly


"WILL THE BATTLE over evolution ever end? After 150 years, it doesn't look likely. Darwinians constantly find new applications for evolutionary thinking; opponents dismiss each as flawed until its explanatory power becomes indisputable, then fall back to the next line of defense (currently the idea that molecular systems within each cell are too complex to have evolved "by chance")."

Mind Games
by Merrill Markoe
LA Weekly


"Before I moved to Los Angeles I had never met anyone who had been to a psychic. But now, after living here for more than a decade, I can say unequivocally that every smart woman and gay-male friend I currently have has been to at least a couple."

4,000 Jews, 1 Lie
By Bryan Curtis


"It is an article of faith in many Muslim countries that Israel was behind the attack on the World Trade Center, with many citing as their evidence a "news report" that 4,000 Israelis called in sick from their jobs at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. The allegation has now appeared on scores of Web sites and bulletin boards, has been reproduced in e-mails too numerous to count, and has run as fact in newspapers and news broadcasts in the Middle East. Where did this charge originate, and what path did it take around the world?"

'Penis' found floating in bottle was mold, police say
By Tillie Fong
Rocky Mountain News


"Commerce City police said Wednesday that an object found in a fruit drink last week is not a human penis as they previously said, but mold or bacteria."

Grief fills psychics' waiting rooms
By Brian MacQuarrie
Boston Globe


"Seated on a leopard-spot sofa, in a dimly lit room where grinning gargoyles and Egyptian busts create an otherworldly aura, psychic Gabe Frattalone considers the future 1 mile from ground zero."

Seminar Marks 'World Angel Day'


"Marty Rawson is convinced there are angels among us."

A walk on the dark side
by Phil Baker
The Guardian


"Never mind the blurb or the contents page: it's the index that really gives you the feel of a book, and you soon know where you are with this one. Under the entry for "Babies", for example, we find "beheaded ... cooked... cremated... crosses cut into... crucified..." and so on, all in neatly alphabetical order. And yet on the relevant pages it almost invariably turns out that nothing really happened, outside of someone's fevered imagination. Satanism, as traced through history by the London-based pagan scholar Gareth Medway, is a nearly non-existent phenomenon. But the fabrications, persecutions and witch-hunts that pullulate around it are all too real."

The devil rides: urban myths and apocryphal stories set the world's imagination on fire
by A A Gill
The Sunday Times


"I'd feel dreadful if I didn't pass this on. It's probably nothing, but you never know and I'd rather you laughed at me than, well . . ."

3) Skeptics in the Pub

This is your reminder for the OCTOBER 2001 'Skeptics in the Pub' meeting.

DATE - Wednesday, October 17th, 2001.
TIME - 19:30
PLACE- Upstairs in the Florence Nightingale pub, 199 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1, U.K. (On the junction with York Road, on the roundabout, near Waterloo station.)
Entry fee is £2.
Detailed directions and a map of how to get to the pub can be found at http://www.skeptic.org.uk/pub.

This month's speaker is Dr Vic Tandy (University of Coventry).
Topic: "A Sound Approach to Ghost Hunting".

Vic's day job is developing technologically enhanced teaching systems, but his research focuses on the strange effects of low frequency sound on people. He believes certain frequencies, combined with an appropriate context, can cause people to feel a presence or in extreme see what they believe to be a ghost.

International interest in his work has been significant; for example, La Stampa describes him as a world famous physicist who risked his life to discover this effect. Vic says, "Who am I to argue with such well informed journalism?" Some of his papers and press comments can be found on his web page:

A welcome is extended to anyone interested in, or skeptical about, conspiracy theories, the paranormal, alternative medicine, psychic powers, pseudo-science, UFOs, alien abductions, creationism, Fortean phenomena, cult religions, water-divining, lost civilisations, etc.

The evening will be an informal one, in a relaxed and friendly pub atmosphere, with plenty of time for questions. Real ales and food available. Non-skeptics are welcome and you can turn up at any time during the night.

Planned meeting dates to November are as follows: Dr Stephen Clark (Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Melbourne University/Charles Sturt University).
Topic: Conspiracy Theories
Wednesday November 21.

Thanks to CSICOP/The Skeptical Inquirer, The Skeptic and ASKE for their support.

E-mail me for more information, or to recommend a speaker (perhaps yourself), or to remove yourself from this list. Scott Campbell scott.campbell@nottingham.ac.uk

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 - October 8, 2001

from The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- An American and two British researchers won the 2001 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for basic discoveries in cell development that are expected to lead to new cancer treatments.

Leland H. Hartwell, 61, director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, R. Timothy Hunt, 58, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in Hertfordshire, England, and Paul M. Nurse, 52, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London will share the $943,000 award.

The scientists were honored for discovering key regulators of the cell cycle, which is the process cells go through to divide. Cells must grow, duplicate their chromosomes -- the tiny DNA segments that contain genes -- and divide the chromosomes to be distributed precisely to the cells that result from the cell division.

The discoveries are important to understanding how chromosome defects arise in cancer cells, the Nobel committee said. These alterations probably arise from defects in the control of the cell cycle, the committee said.


from The Associated Press

BOCA RATON, Fla. - A co-worker of the man who died last week from anthrax also has tested positive for the disease. In addition, the building where both worked was closed after the bacterium was detected there.

The latest case, a man whose name was not immediately made public, was in stable condition Monday at an unidentified hospital, according to both the Florida and North Carolina health departments.

A nasal swab from the patient tested positive for the anthrax bacterium, said Tim O'Conner, regional spokesman for Florida's health department. It was not yet clear if anthrax had only infiltrated his nose, spread to his lungs or if he had a full-blown case of the disease.

The man's co-worker, Bob Stevens, died Friday, the first person in 25 years in the United States to have died from a rare inhaled form of anthrax.


from The New York Times

The $25 billion biotechnology sector is riding a wave of innovation focused primarily on health products, traditionally one of the most recession-resistant sectors of the economy.

But smaller biotechnology start- ups are struggling right now, judging from the fervent pitches that scores of them presented to venture capitalists last week at a two-day meeting in Washington, held by the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Tech Council of Maryland.

The start-ups were the segment of the industry hit hardest when biotechnology's financial pulse slowed along with the rest of the economy this year and then skipped a beat or two after Sept. 11. There is no appetite for new stock offerings, and the limited crowd of biotechnology venture capitalists, who invested a total of $2.78 billion last year, gave three of every four dollars to the more mature start-ups with products nearer to market, according to a report released last week by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young.


from The Los Angeles Times

Warning: This article could be hazardous to your sanity. It contains discussions of songs so diabolically annoying that merely reading their titles--"It's a Small World," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," "My Sharona"--can cause them to get stuck in your head. Proceed at your own risk.

For years, humans have been tortured by Stuck Tune Syndrome, in which a seemingly innocuous piece of music lodges in the brain and won't leave. So far, no reliable cure exists, but a University of Cincinnati professor hopes to change that. James Kellaris has embarked on a study to figure out why songs sometimes commandeer people's thoughts.

Kellaris, a marketing teacher who moonlights as a bouzouki player in a Greek band, theorizes that certain types of music operate like mental mosquito bites. They create a "cognitive itch" that can only be scratched by replaying the tune in the mind. The more the brain scratches, the worse the itch gets. The syndrome is triggered when "the brain detects an incongruity or something 'exceptional' in the musical stimulus," he explained in a report made earlier this year to the Society for Consumer Psychology. To help determine which factors cause songs to stick, Kellaris surveyed 1,000 students at four universities.


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Sunday, October 07, 2001

Where in the world is Pam Coronado?
Just when you thought there weren't enough loonies to go around.)


Hi, I'm Pam Coronado, intuitive investigator and child safety specialist. If you need help with a case or just want a personal reading please go to the readings page. Now you can test your own psychic skills with our new game. Check it out! You can also share your own psychic experiences on the message board. If you have questions regarding your own or your child's personal safety please email me, as I will answer a new question every week on the Smart Hearts page. Welcome!

Should Christians Use the Ouija Board?

From: The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute

Frequently Asked Questions:

The December 1994 Consumer Reports published the results of a survey among 17,000 young people ages 10 to 14. They answered a query concerning what games they played with and which they enjoyed the most. Out of 83 games listed, Monopoly was no. 1 and the Ouija Board was no. 2!

The Ouija board is an alphabet board with a pointer used for various forms of divination and/or spirit contact. Like the other methods discussed, its usage is ancient:

Precursors to the Ouija date back to ancient times. In China before the birth of Confucius (c. 551 B.C.), similar instruments were used to communicate with the dead. In Greece during the time of Pythagoras (c. 540 B.C.) divination was done with a table that moved on wheels to point to signs, which were interpreted as revelations from the "unseen world." The rolling table was used through the nineteenth century. Other such devices were used by the ancient Romans as early as the third century A.D., and in the thirteenth century by the Mongols. Some Native Americans used "squdilatc boards" to find missing objects and persons, and obtain spiritual information. In 1853 the planchette came into use in Europe. . . .The Ouija enjoyed enormous popularity during and after World War I, when many people were desperate to communicate with loved ones killed in the war and Spiritualism was in a revival. (1526:40)
Gruss and others document the modern occult origin of this "parlor game" which is specifically designed to contact the spirit world. Its recent development began with prominent French spiritualist, M. Planchette in 1853 and, in 1899 was bought by William Fuld, an inventor interested in spiritism (1129:24-25). (Fuld had bought the patent in 1899 from Elijah J. Bond, the American who invented the Ouija board's current form in 1892.) In 1966 Fuld, often considered the modern "father" of the Ouija board, sold his patent to Parker Brothers.

Although Parker Brothers keeps sales figures confidential, the board has now sold perhaps 20-25 million sets (1129:25-26, 1994 ed.). Yet in spite of its vast influence, few critical books have been written exposing its dangers. We could find only two. Professor Edmond Gruss' The Ouija Board: Doorway to the Occult (1129) is the best and documents the ancestry of related forms, its modern history and variations, its consequences and hazards--including numerous cases of Ouija board related tragedies. Another text is Stoker Hunt, Ouija: The Most Dangerous Game (2684) which contains two chapters instructing people in use of the board.

Not surprisingly, the board is often associated with mediumism, spiritism and spirit possession; as a result it should be considered anything but a game. Nevertheless it continues to be marketed as as game, no doubt because of lucrative profits.

Many famous mediums began their trade by experimentation with the Ouija board, e.g., Mrs. Pearl Lenore Curran who became the recipient through the board (and later via automatic writing) of the famous "Patience Worth" material. In 1919 Stewart Edward White and his wife, Betty were introduced to entities called "Invisibles" who inspired several books including The Betty Book and The Unobstructed Universe. Jane Roberts, famous for her dozen plus "Seth" books is another example. (See A Course in Miracles.) In all three cases, the spiritistic contacts were begun casually and were unexpected.

Dangers of Spirit Possession and Other Consequences

Nevertheless, even seasoned occultists and psychic researchers warn against using the Ouija board. Medium Edgar Cayce himself called it "dangerous" (1526:419). Edmund Gruss refers to medium Donald Page, an "exorcist" of the "Christian" Spiritualist Church, who asserts that "the majority of possession cases" result from involvement with the Ouija board. Page believes it is one of the quickest and easiest ways there is to become possessed (1129:52, cf., 1994 ed., p. 84).

Discussing the relation of Ouija boards to automatic writing, psychic researcher Martin Ebon also alleges that possession is a frequent occurence:

It is common that people who get into this sort of game think of themselves as having been "chosen" for a special task. The ouija board will often say so, either directly or by implication. It may speak of "tests" that the sitters must undergo to show that they are "worthy" of this otherworldly attention. I have not been able to figure out why this is so, but quite often the ouija turns vulgar, abusive or threatening. It grows demanding and hostile, and sitters may find themselves using the board or automatic writing compulsively, as if "possessed" by a spirit, or hearing voices that control and command them. This is no longer rare. I'd say it is now so frequent as to be common. (148:IX)
The Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach was founded by medium Edgar Cayce. According to his son, Hugh Lynn Cayce, the ARE receives "countless letters from a great many who are having serious difficulties as a result of trying Ouija boards and automatic writing" (1129:73). Professor Gruss reveals that, "Reading several dozen letters in the A.R.E. files made it obvious that the patterns of development and entrapment were very similar. Hugh Lynn Cayce wrote that in 1956 there were 274 people who wrote to him that were in trouble because of automatic writing or ouija board use" (1129:67).

Psychic Alan Vaughan also points out the following information, "It is significant, however, that the greatest outcry against the use of Ouijas has come from the Spiritualists not the parapsychologists. In England, Spiritualist groups are petitioning to ban the sale of Ouijas as toys for children--not because of vague dangers of 'unhealthy effects on naive, suggestible persons'--but because they fear that the children will become possessed" (1500:164).

Psychic/spiritist Harold Sherman, president of ESP Research Associates Foundation in Little Rock, Arkansas, agrees: "The majority who have become involved with possessive and other entities came by this experience through the ouija board" (1501).

The irony however, is that, despite the warnings, most people continue to view the Ouija board as a harmless pastime:

Spiritualists, psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, theologians, and other informed persons have all given warnings on the hazards of using the ouija board and similar devices. In spite of all they have said, it is evident that many persons are still ignorant that dangers exist.

Those who know little or nothing about the occult and ouija board experiences do not understand these warnings concerning the "innocent" use of the board. One who speaks of physical, mental, spiritual, or other problems which might relate to ouija use is often viewed as an extremist, obsessed with groundless fears. How could the use of so simple a device result in anything detrimental to the user? This is often the attitude until, through personal involvement, the reality of the dangers is experienced, and the warnings are then remembered. Often by this time permanent damage has occurred. (1129:72-73)

Indeed, the dangers of the ouija board have been noted long before our modern revival of the occult. Almost seventy years ago, the medium Carl Wickland, M.D. referred to his own encounters when he wrote of "the cases of several persons whose seemingly harmless experiences with automatic writing and the ouija board resulted in such wild insanity that commitment to asylums was necessitated. . . .Many other disastrous results which followed the use of the supposedly innocent ouija board came to my notice" (1502:28-29).

Edmond Gruss refers to a clipping from the files of the famous magician Houdini concerning a Dr. Curry, a medical director of the State Insane Asylum of New Jersey, who stated the Ouija board was a "dangerous factor" in unbalancing the mind and predicted that insane asylums would be flooded with patients if interest in them did not wane (1129:75).

Noted psychic researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren refer to one instance where the Ouija board was used "as little more than a joke"--and yet it led to the house becoming "infested" with evil spirits (2407:1). Noted occultist Manly P. Hall founder of the Philosophical Research Society is considered as one of the leading authorities on the occult in this century. In Horizon magazine for October-December 1944, pages 76-77 he recalls, "During the last 20-5 years I have had considerable personal experience with persons who have complicated their lives through dabbling with the Ouija board. Out of every hundred such cases, at least 95 are worse off for the experience. . . .I know of broken homes, estranged families, and even suicides that can be traced directly to this source" (2424:78-79).

Another authority on the Ouija board, Ed and Lorrain Warren, who we cited above, state in their book Graveyard (p. 137-38): "Ouija boards are just as dangerous as drugs. They're not to be played with. . . .just as parents are responsible for other aspects of the children's lives, they should take equal care to keep the tools of the devil from their children. . .especially in an error when satanic cults are on the rise. Remember: Seances and Ouija boards and other occult paraphernalia are dangerous because evil spirits often disguise themselves as your loved ones--and take over your life" (2424:79).

Dr. Thelma Moss, a parapsychologist on the staff of UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute prefaced her discussion of the Ouija board in The Probability of the Impossible with: "Warning! For certain persons, the Ouija board is no game and can cause serious dissociations of personality" (2628:237).

Some incidents of Ouija board use are bizarre, but they have been documented; for example, Ouija board related vampirism. Vampirism is not total fiction; there are many accounts in the psychiatric literature. Skeptic William Seabrooke, in his Witchcraft, refers to one female vampire he actually let suck his own blood in a moment of perverse fascination. Psychic researcher Raymond VanOver refers to a man who was quite serious about his need to drink human blood, particularly that of young girls (148:108).

Blood, of course, has long been used in occultism for any number of purposes. Blood may be drunk in ritual (sometimes at the spirits' request, 583:307-308), offered on altars, used in pacts with the devil or as a means to materialize spirits, etc. In Occult Science in India and Among the Ancients, Chief Justice Louis Jacolliot refers to one formula of magical incantation: "The flowers that he offers to the spirits evoked by him should be colored with the blood of a young virgin, or a child, in case he proposes to cause death" (1485:141).

Given this frequent use of blood and the perverted nature of occult practice, it is hardly surprising some people might become "vampires" and feel the need to drink it.

In some cases, use of the Ouija board--like astrology--leads to actual involvement with witchcraft and Satanism. On more than one occasion, the spirits themselves--claiming the participants are now "ready" for more serious occult work--have suggested the players "graduate" to such practices. Carl Johnson started dabbling with the Ouija board after occasional earlier brushes with occultism:

The "voices" and other eerie stuff began when he and his sister started playing around with a Ouija board a few years ago, he recalls. This led to nightmares, creeping depression, and a suicide attempt--which Carl says left him revitalized and thirsty for blood. So he delicately pricked the leg of his sleeping sister and slaked his thirst. Then, compulsively, he took to sucking blood from slices he made in the arm of a pliant homosexual pal--a practice shared by other young friends when he organized a satanic coven. . . .

Lilith, too, became a vampiric Devil worshipper. She describes ceremonies under full moons in which her teenaged coven would get zonked out on dope and drink blood mixed with wine. Ultimately, she knew things were getting out of hand when one of the cultists proposed kidnapping her own father and offering him up as a ritual sacrifice. (1504; cf., 1503:21)

Thankfully, it also appears true that many people do not seem to be harmed by the Ouija board; they may have innocently played with it as a child or for fun at a party, and suffered no discernible ill effects. The problem is that no one can tell the outcome in advance. There are also hundreds of cases of innocent or naive occult involvement leading to spirit-possession, insanity, financial ruin, adultery and divorce, criminal acts (even murder) and other tragedies--as the books by Edmond Gruss, Stoker Hunt and the literature of occultism and parapsychology proves beyond doubt (1069).

Ouija boards should never be played with, especially for entertainment. Parents should never give the board to their children as a gift. Perhaps one day Parker Brothers will no longer deny the ruin this "game" has brought to thousands of people, live up to its corporate responsibility and, retaining the copyright, refuse to ever market this "game" again.

But if the Ouija board is an example of a method that is purposely intended to foster occult contacts, there are many others which serve as more subtle introductions to the occult. Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy role playing (FRP) games are among them.


526. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1991.

1129. Edmond Gruss, The Ouija Board: Doorway to the Occult, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1975, reprinted and expanded in 1995.

1129. Ibid.

2684. Stoker Hunt, Ouija: The Most Dangerous Game, New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

148. Martin Ebon, ed., The Satan Trap: Dangers of the Occult, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.

1500. Alan Vaughan, "Phantoms Stalked the Room..." in ref. 148.

1502. Carl A. Wickland, Thirty Years Among the Dead, Newcastle, 1974, rpt.

2424. Edmond Gruss, The Ouija Board: A Doorway to the Occult, Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994, galley copy.

2628. Thelma Moss, The Probability of the Impossible, Los Angeles, CA: J.P. Tarcher, 1974.

1504. The National Observer, June 1, 1974.

[For more detailed information, see our Resource Catalog for "The Facts on the Occult" and Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs.]

Saturday, October 06, 2001

Turning energy into healing


Loveland woman tries to help patients, doctors by 'reading' fields of physical and emotional pain
By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Christine Celek knew she was different when she looked around the classroom and realized none of the other 6-year-olds was drawing energy fields around their stick figures.

"That's when I realized that not everyone saw what I see," she says.

The 41-year-old Loveland woman still sees energy fields — and uses them to help the clients and doctors she works with pinpoint a number of physical and emotional ailments and treatments.

Mrs. Celek is a medical intuitive at the Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine in Sycamore Township. She "reads" changes, fluctuations and leaks in a client's energy field, or aura, to help diagnose illnesses and determine whether a treatment is working.

Friday, October 05, 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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****** Special bulletin for Sigma Xi members and members of the media ******

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Click on the link below to view a detailed program of events, read about the featured presentation of the play "Oxygen," and register to attend.




Today's Headlines - October 4, 2001

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 - Federal health officials said today that they were accelerating production of a new smallpox vaccine, and taking other steps to strengthen the nation's biodefenses.

Speaking before a Senate panel, Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said his agency had arranged for the vaccine's manufacturer, Acambis P.L.C., to deliver 40 million doses of the smallpox vaccine by the end of next summer - two to three years earlier than originally planned.

But the vaccine will not be used to immunize Americans against smallpox, a disease that was essentially eradicated worldwide in 1977.

Instead, doses will be kept in government stockpiles, for use if terrorists use smallpox as a weapon.


from The Washington Post

Scientists have for the first time identified a gene that plays a crucial role in human language and speech. The finding sheds light on what scientists suspect is one of several inherited elements of language ability, which in combination with key social and environmental cues have allowed the human species to talk, gab, gossip and schmooze its way to global dominance.

The new work does not reveal the extent to which linguistic ability is "hard-wired" into the brain as opposed to learned; nor does it answer longstanding questions about other animals' potential to learn grammar and syntax. Indeed, the study focuses entirely on a rare speech disorder known to affect only 16 people worldwide, 15 of them in a single family.

But scientists said the genetic information gleaned from the new work offers an exciting entree into an area of human behavior that until now has been largely inaccessible to DNA probing. If related genetic studies advance apace, they said, the molecular basis of language may in the next decade or so come largely into focus.


from The New York Times

Biologists have decoded the full DNA, or genome, of the bacterium that causes plague, a disease that has caused three world epidemics in recorded history and killed some 200 million people.

The decoding of the genome is widely expected to help devise better vaccines against the bacterium, which is endemic in some parts of the world, including the western United States. Plague is also a possible agent of biological warfare, because the bacterium, when caught by inhalation, is almost always fatal within days.

The genome was decoded by scientists at the Sanger Center near Cambridge, England, who describe their work in the issue of Nature released today. Decoding is the spelling out of the sequence of units in DNA, the chemical that encodes an organism's genetic information.

From the genome, the biologists have been able to identify many of the genes that underlie the bacterium's complex life cycle and its ability to infect different species like rats, fleas and people.


from The Christian Science Monitor

One of the most famous felines of the 20th century is slowly opening the door to discoveries that could revolutionize communications, and computers - and spawn ever more rigorous tests of the very foundations of physics itself.

The cat is the potentially tragic hero(ine) in a quantum-physics paradox penned by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. The cat finds itself enclosed in a box with an atom. When the atom decays, the cat will die.

In quantum physics, the cat and atom exist in both states - alive and dead, decayed and undecayed - until someone opens the box and checks. Regardless of what the observer sees inside the box, the states of the cat and the atom are inextricably interlinked.

Among the notions Schrödinger tried to illumine with his paradox is a property he dubbed entanglement. In effect, the state of the cat "knows" the state of the atom - even at a distance. Thus, if an experimenter measures the state of one, he or she will know the state of the other without making the additional measurement - the relationship between their two states remains constant.


from The Christian Science Monitor

Like nature, real estate developers abhor a vacuum.

The assault on the World Trade Center has knocked out nearly 20 percent of the lower Manhattan office market, according to a report by Salomon Smith Barney. The clean-up job is at least half a year away from completion, but the site is already the eye of a collective brainstorm generated by architects, urban planners, and developers.

That the land will be developed is beyond question, according to Gary Boston, a real estate analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, who foresees "some sort of complex that probably includes some offices, maybe includes retail and housing and some sort of public memorial. It's not a clean slate, but it opens of a lot of possibilities of what the place could look like."

In the wake of the attack, Larry Silverstein, the Manhattan real estate magnate who owns a 99-year lease on the World Trade Center, toyed with the idea of replicating the twin towers as a show of defiance in the face of terror, an idea that had an in-your-face appeal to many feisty New Yorkers.


from The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. - When Carol Nadeau was born with a rare bone disease, her parents were horrified by suggestions that they put her in an institution. Fifty-two years later, Nadeau is equally horrified by a bioethicist who thinks parents should be able to euthanize severely disabled infants - but she wants people to be able to hear him anyway.

"I feel his philosophy is totally flawed, but I'd like people with disabilities and the general public to take a look at this person's views, and, at the same time, look at their own views," Nadeau said.

Princeton University's Peter Singer, whose views have enraged many, is one of the panelists invited to attend a conference Friday organized by the Governor's Commission on Disability, where Nadeau works.

Singer first detailed his views on euthanasia in his 1979 book, "Practical Ethics." He wrote that children less than a month old have no human consciousness and that parents should be allowed to kill a severely disabled infant to end its suffering and to increase the family's happiness.


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Ignobel Awards

Ig Nobel Winners List

A list of Ig Nobel Prize winners by category, and a description of their work:

-Medicine: Peter Barss, McGill University. For the report ``Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts,'' published in The Journal of Trauma in 1984.

-Physics: David Schmidt, the University of Massachusetts. For his partial solution to the question of why shower curtains billow inwards.

-Biology: Buck Weimer, Pueblo, Colo. For inventing Under-Ease, airtight underwear with a replaceable charcoal filter that removes bad-smelling gases.

-Economics: Joel Slemrod, of the University of Michigan Business School, and Wojciech Kopczuk, of University of British Columbia. For their conclusion that people find a way to postpone their deaths if that qualifies them for a lower inheritance tax rate.

-Literature: John Richards, Boston, England, founder of The Apostrophe Protection Society. For his efforts to protect, promote, and defend the differences between plural and possessive.

-Psychology: Lawrence W. Sherman, Miami University, Ohio. For his influential research report ``An Ecological Study of Glee in Small Groups of Preschool Children.''

-Astrophysics: Dr. Jack and Rexella Van Impe, Jack Van Impe Ministries, Rochester Hills, Michigan. For their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell.

-Peace: Viliumas Malinauskas of Grutas, Lithuania, for creating the amusement park known as ``Stalin World.''

-Technology: Awarded jointly to John Keogh of Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia, for patenting the wheel in the year 2001, and to the Australian Patent Office for granting him Innovation Patent 2001100012.

-Public Health: Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, India. For the discovery that nose picking is common among adolescents.

Smallpox Attack Exaggerated


Concern over the possibility of terrorist attacks involving biological agents--especially the smallpox virus--is developing into full-fledged hysteria. Sen. Bill Frist claimed last week that a smallpox attack could kill 40 million Americans.

But a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, slated to appear in the November-December issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases and detailed here for the first time, should provide some relief to a worry-worn public.

Bible-Code Riddles


Was the day and hour, the location, the type of buildings, the attacker, and the result of the attack
---along with encoded pictures---
in a bible-code riddle posted on the Net weeks before the event happened?

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.

****Special bulletin for Sigma Xi members and members of the media*****

2001 Sigma Xi Forum: Science, the Arts and the Humanities: Connections and Collisions

Click on the link below to view a detailed program of events, read about the featured presentation of the play "Oxygen," and register to attend.




Today's Headlines - October 5, 2001

from The Miami Herald

A Palm Beach County man was critically ill late Thursday with an inhaled form of anthrax, an extremely obscure and deadly strain of a rare disease that some nations are believed to store for use as a weapon.

With the nation on alert for the threat of biological attacks, federal officials Thursday quickly moved to play down any link between terrorists and the first diagnosed case of anthrax in Florida in 28 years, but nevertheless said there would be ``a very intense investigation'' of the case.

The patient, Robert Stevens, 63, is a photo editor at The Sun, a tabloid published in Boca Raton. It was unclear late Thursday how Stevens contracted the typically animal-borne disease, and a team of state and federal epidemiologists was tracing his steps.

U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson took to a lectern at the White House to stress there was no indication of terrorism.


from Newsday

Scientists have identified a mouse gene that confers immunity to anthrax infection, and they believe a similar disease-preventing gene exists in humans. Geneticists at Harvard Medical School describe the discovery in a paper reported this week in the journal Current Biology.

In a recent interview, the team's lead investigator said that delineating the biological intricacies of an anthrax-thwarting gene may prove vital as efforts intensify to defend people in the event of an anthrax attack.

Anthrax is a disease caused by deadly soil bacteria, which if manufactured in vast quantities has the potential, intelligence sources say, to be a poor man's atom bomb.

"Our enemies have determination and ingenuity," said Dr. William Dietrich, assistant professor of genetics and the study's senior author, "but the good news in all of this is that we also have determination and ingenuity."


from The Christian Science Monitor

PARIS - The fear of imminent chemical or biological attack by terrorists that is gripping millions of Americans is unfounded. But the chances that someone is planning something of the sort are high enough to warrant defensive measures, and America is ill-prepared.

That appears to be the consensus among experts and politicians as Americans grapple with the possibility that the Sept. 11 attacks were only the beginning of a terrorist campaign that could see much worse.

"The threat of bio-terrorism has been blown out of proportion," says Raymond Zilinskas, an expert at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute for International Studies. "There may be a threat, but it is fairly distant."

"You can't put a number on it, but you have to say there's a real enough chance that you have to do whatever is necessary to prevent it in the first place, and to deal with it effectively if it happens," adds Michael Moodie, director of the Chemical and Biological Arms Institute in Washington.


from The Associated Press

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. - Geologists exploring the rugged Continental Divide say they found more than 100 additional glaciers here in a single summer, a surprising discovery since glaciers around the world are shrinking in warmer temperatures.

The results dramatically change the map of one of the nation's oldest and best-known national parks, along with the knowledge of weather and water cycles at high elevations.

Previously, officials believed the park 60 miles northwest of Denver included 20 permanent ice and snow features, including six named glaciers.

The new survey by geologist Jonathan Achuff shows there are as many as 120 features. Most are located in cold, north-facing pockets on the east side of the Divide at elevations above 12,000 feet.


from Space.com

WASHINGTON - NASA selected today the builder of a Mars orbiter equipped to snap super-close-up pictures of the red planet's enigmatic surface.

Lockheed Martin has been green-lighted to construct the spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), to be launched in August 2005. The craft is to return the highest resolution images of the Martian surface ever taken by Mars-circling orbiter.

Objects as small as the size of beach balls will be resolved through the lens of the orbiter's camera system, said Jim Graf, the MRO project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. JPL will manage the mission that will operate for five-and-a-half years.


Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Articles of Note/American Institute of Biological Sciences

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks to Joe Litrell and Greg Martinez and Dave Thomas

The mystery cure
By Janelle Brown


A simple approach to treating trauma has had spectacular results in the wake of tragedies in Oklahoma, Bosnia and Littleton. Will EMDR help in New York?

Oct. 4, 2001 | Dr. Uri Bergmann has heard some horrific stories lately. Several of his therapy patients had worked for the Port Authority, on the 69th floor of World Trade Center 1, and their memories of Sept. 11 are gruesome.

Funds to Preserve Dinosaur Footprints
Associated Press


"Fossilized dinosaur footprints, tail draggings and skin imprints found last year in Utah would be preserved under a bill passed Tuesday by the House."

Manila Blames Virus Report on 'Afghan Hysteria'


"Hundreds of Philippine students reported sick on Tuesday, a Manila school fumigated its rooms while parents, fearing a chemical attack, dragged children home in a panic blamed by officials on hysteria over Afghanistan."

Simple flu outbreak in schools triggers panic in Metro Manila
By Agnes Donato, Rocky Nazareno, Martin P. Marfil and Cynthia D. Balana
Philippine Daily Inquirer


"THERE was chaos Tuesday in several private schools in Pasig, Mandaluyong and San Juan--northeast suburbs of Manila. Mothers were pulling their children out of schools. The text messages got wilder. At no time were there so many students--more than 500 in one school aloneâ€"suddenly downed by "flu-like" symptoms all at the same time."

St. John opens special center to blend in alternative healing
Detroit News


"For people who want to try meditation or nutritional counseling but worry whether they could trust the practitioner or whether it would blend with the traditional medical system, St. John Health System has an answer."

Sit still, close your eyes, and think peace
by Jim Stingl
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


"If we can close our eyes and visualize whirled peas, maybe we can meditate our way to a world free of terrorism."

Giuliani: Beware con artists


"In an attempt to keep con artists from defrauding the families of victims in the World Trade Center disaster, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday each family will be given a wooden urn containing soil from the site."

New York Post


"Heartless, greedy ghouls are peddling phony soil and ash from the World Trade Center to families mourning loved ones still buried in the rubble, Mayor Giuliani warned yesterday.


Here's an urgent message from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). - Dave Thomas

Ellen Paul
AIBS Public Policy Representative
epaul@aibs.org (202)628-1500, x250

Faxed letters are needed immediately to the following members of Congress, who are the conferees for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This bill is one of the few that Congress expects to complete this session and the conference committee has nearly completed the process of resolving differences between the House and Senate versions. Unfortunately, despite the persistent efforts of scientific societies such as the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Geological Institute, and the American Geophysical Union, the Santorum Sense of the Senate amendment has yet to be stricken from the bill. This amendment - the handiwork of intelligent design/anti-evolution leader Philip Johnson - opens the door to the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in science classrooms. For a good write-up of the Santorum amendment, please visit AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolution_update0601.html.

Constituent letters to the conferees could make the difference, so please take the time to fax a letter today if you are a constituent of:

Sen. Edward Kennedy (MA) (202) 224-2417
Sen. Susan Collins (ME) (202) 224-2693
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (MD) (202) 224-8858
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (NM) (202) 224-2852
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) (202) 228-0282
Sen. Evan Bayh (IN) (202) 228-1377
Sen. John Edwards (NC) (202) 228-1374
Sen. Patty Murray (WA) (202) 224-0238
Sen. Jack Reed (RI) (202) 224-4680
Sen. Paul Wellstone (MN) (202) 224-8438
Sen. Pat Roberts (KS) (202) 224-3514
Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT) (202) 224-9750
Sen. Harry Reid (NV) (202) 224-7327
Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) (202) 224-3479
Sen. Christopher Dodd (CT) (202) 224-1083
Sen. Jim Jeffords (VT) (202) 228-0776
Sen. Kit Bond (MO) (202) 224-8149
Sen. Bill Frist (TN) (202) 228-1264
Sen. Michael Enzi (WY) (202) 228-0359
Sen. Tim Hutchinson (AR) (202) 228-3973
Sen. John Warner (VA) (202) 224-6295
Sen. Mike DeWine (OH) (202) 224-6519
Sen. Wayne Allard (CO) (202) 224-6471
Sen. John Ensign (NV) (202) 228-2193

Rep. Robert Andrews (1st Cong. Dist., NJ) (202) 225-6583
Rep. Patsy Mink (2d Cong. Dist., HI) (202) 225-4987
Rep. Major Owens (11th Cong. Dist., NY) (202) 226-0112
Rep. Dale Kildee (9th Cong. Dist., MI) (202) 225-6393
Rep. Rush Holt (12th Cong. Dist., NJ) (202) 225-6025
Rep. Tim Roemer (3d Cong. Dist., IN) (202) 225-3915

If you are unsure of your congressional district, go to http://www.house.gov/writerep/ and enter your zip code. However, DO NOT send e-mail to your representative. It is unlikely to be read and counted in a timely manner, even if you state that you are a constituent and even if you include your full address and zip code.

Short letters simply asking that the Santorum sense of the Senate amendment (Amendment 799) regarding science education be dropped are perfectly adequate. There is no need for a long explanation of your objections to the amendment.


Please be sure to share this message with faculty members and graduate students.
PS from Dave Thomas
The letter sent by the American Geological Institute, now with 95 science and education groups endorsing, is on the web at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolutionletter.html

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