NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 November 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, November 02, 2001

Homeopathy has preventive remedy for anthrax



Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Indian homeopathic practitioners say that homeopathy, a traditional alternative system of medicine, has a magic pill that can prevent anthrax infecting human beings.

Fears of germ warfare have spread worldwide since last month's attacks on New York and Washington as an outbreak of anthrax has spread in the United States through tainted mail.

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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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 - November 2, 2001

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - When you are asleep, your mind uses dream time to process information for use when you are awake. Or, maybe not.

New research papers from sleep scientists, featured in the November issue of Science magazine, reach opposite conclusions.

Robert Stickgold, a professor at the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, produced research he believes provides compelling evidence that the mind works hard at night.

"The brain is taking information and helping us put it into a form that we can understand," Stickgold said. "Understanding the complexity of the world is one of our brain's most difficult tasks. It needs more than our hours of awake time to get the job done."


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers withdrew controversial proposals on stem cell research and cloning Thursday after the measures threatened to gridlock a Senate rushing to complete must-pass spending bills.

Moderate Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter had included language in a labor and health spending bill that would have bent President Bush's new policy on stem cell research to allow couples to donate unused embryos from fertility clinics.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. and an ardent abortion foe, rejected the stem cell language because "it goes further than the president's position." Brownback said he would counter the proposal with several amendments, including one on the contentious issue of banning human cloning.

The complicated health issues could have tied the chamber in knots as it rushes to finish business for the year.


from The Washington Post

Federal scientists have begun testing an unproven fumigation technique that they hope will be effective in decontaminating the Hart Senate Office Building and perhaps other buildings tainted by anthrax spores.

The Environmental Protection Agency is pumping chlorine dioxide gas into a sealed trailer at the Brentwood postal facility in Northeast Washington at concentrations many times higher than those considered dangerous to humans in an effort to "scope" the gas's effectiveness, said EPA mid-Atlantic regional spokesman Patrick Boyle.

"This has never been used in a large application," Boyle said. "They know it will kill spores, but no one has tried to apply it to a room. There are issues of temperature and humidity, of whether we should do it in stages, or all at once."


from The Associated Press

Doctors have a new clue to help sort out whether people with coughs and aches have the ominous first signs of inhaled anthrax or ordinary colds and flu: Anthrax victims don't have runny noses.

In general, the first symptoms of inhaled anthrax are the same as the flu and other wintertime viruses - fever, ache, cough, no energy. As a result, some worry that doctors will prescribe lots of anthrax-killing antibiotics - which do nothing for colds and flu - just to make sure they don't miss a case of anthrax in its early, treatable stage.

Symptoms of nasal congestion or runny nose have not been reported in the inhaled anthrax cases so far. Those symptoms, of course, are common in flu and many other viruses that cause wintertime respiratory ills. So asking about it can help doctors rule out anthrax.

The possible overuse of antibiotics worries officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Thursday offered some guidance for doctors who wonder how to tell which is which.


from The Washington Post

Sometime this weekend, as a cold front sweeps through New England, weather forecasters there will measure the temperature and wind velocity, plug the numbers into the equation, WC(°F)=35.74+0.6215T-35.75(V{+0}{+.} {+1}{+6})+0.4275T(V{+0}{+.}{+1}{+6}), and begin a new era in meteorology.

Henceforth, that angst-producing winter weather phenomenon known as wind chill will be calculated differently, with the result that wind chill numbers will be generally higher than in the past, the National Weather Service announced yesterday.

The new equation, which replaces the now obsolete Twc=0.0817(3.71V{+0}{+.}{+5}+5.81-0.25V)(T-91.4)+91.4, is the fruit of a year's worth of research and field testing, at times with human guinea pigs, designed to come up with a more accurate measure of how wind and cold feel on the skin, the Weather Service said.

For example, if the thermometer dips to 35 and the winds blow at 20 mph, which the Weather Service said is likely this weekend in New England, the new wind chill figure would be 24 degrees, versus the old of 11 degrees


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Website that'll improve your computer's performance

From: Gregory H. Aicklen

I've recently been informed of what must, truly, be the most helpful website on the entire WWW. In this age of alternative medical treatments someone has finally come up with a host of holistic computer helps! If you're afraid that you might have given your computer too many anti-viral injections, thereby compromising its immune system, here's a site that will tell you about homeopathic cures for common viruses. Worried about the tainted electrons which scurry into your computer each time you plug it into a wall socket? This site will show how provide your machine with healthful, natural power. And there's even some tips on using crystal power to prevent bad vibes from seeping into your computer from the internet! This one is DEFINITELY worth a close look.


Homing dogs and cats....

Cecil Adams, in this week's "The Straight Dope", tackles the question of the legendary homing instincts of dogs and cats.


See professional kook Rupert Sheldrake's take on this at


Arrested Pakistani Nuclear Scientist

Full article at the New York Times:


Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a nuclear engineer who was one of three Pakistani scientists arrested last week because of their suspected connections with the Taliban, is an expert on nuclear weapons production, but also a fundamentalist Muslim with unorthodox scientific views, scientists familiar with the Pakistani scientific circles said today.During more than 30 years in Pakistan's nuclear program, he pioneered construction of plants to produce enriched uranium and plutonium for Pakistan's small but growing arsenal of atomic weapons. But as a subscriber to a brand of what is known to practitioners as "Islamic science," which holds that the Koran is a fount of scientific knowledge, Mr. Bashiruddin Mahmood has published papers concerning djinni, which are described in the Koran as beings made of fire. He has proposed that these entities could be tapped to solve the energy crisis, and he has written on how to understand the mechanics of life after death.

Researchers claim ancient link between China and Mexico



Song Baozhong is a member of a community of amateur and professional historians who have set out to prove America's pre-Colombian cultures were fertilized by Chinese travelers. Funeral practice, in both China and Mexico, put pieces of jade colored with red cinnabar in the mouths of the deceased.

Aliens are out there!

From the Hendon Times By Sarah Warden

Beckenham, October 31st: A Beckenham author claims to have answered one of the major questions troubling humanity. We are not alone.


And the truth from out there was brought to Bromley when Timothy Good, of The Avenue, Beckenham, visited The Glades to discuss his research, which shows aliens are here on Earth already, with bases beneath the sea and on land.

The 59-year-old's interest in aliens was sparked from a childhood desire to be a pilot which made him think about UFOs.

Since then the ex-violinist has spent years travelling the world to find out more.

His expertise has been displayed in lectures all over the world and he was invited to the Pentagon for discussions in 1998.

America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy were all research sites for the latest book.

But he claims aliens can be found closer to home, too, and believes he saw a UFO hovering over Orpington back in December 1980.

He has gleaned much of his information from high-ranking military sources and sees his work as a battle against scepticism.

Mr Good said: ³I certainly don't enjoy preaching to the converted. I want people to learn the truth about what is going on. From what I have learnt, I know there are alien bases under the sea and underground in various points of the world. Contact has been made between aliens and military forces.

I don't believe all of these aliens are hostile, I think we have different races on Earth and they have different intentions.

One thing which might give a ray of hope is they seem to have some sort of vested interest in the Earth and I certainly don't think they would stand by and let us blow the planet to smithereens.

I think governments have a calculated campaign of disinformation to make sure people don't get too interested.²

The Glades marketing executive Andy McLean was at Mr Good's talk in Ottakar's book shop.

He said: ³The talk was stirring stuff and the audience was gripped from start to finish. His theories are very convincing and, as conspiracy theories go, this one takes some beating.²

The new book, called Unearthly Disclosure, is currently out in paperback.

Osama Palm-reading


Infamous Sponsor of International Terrorism

Born in 1957 to a Syrian mother and a Yemeni laborer (who went on to establish a huge and enormously successful construction company in Saudi Arabia) Osama (Ussamah) bin Laden is the 7th of more than 50 children his father had sired from numerous wives. Osama bin Laden married his first wife, a Syrian girl, when only 17.

His upbringing is said to have been strict, subject from his infancy to his father's very rigid religious and social codes. His formal education from primary school through university was in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. Islamic studies were compulsory throughout his years at school, and his biographers write of his assumption of Islamic responsibilities at an early age.

Osama bin Laden has never been to any Western country. The Islamic countries in the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Pakistan Afghanistan and Sudan are the only countries he is familiar with.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

Miss Cleo's Company Accused of Violating New York Telemarketing Law

By Joel Stashenko
Associated Press Writer

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The marketers behind television psychic Miss Cleo were accused Wednesday of violating New York's "Do Not Call" telemarketing law more than 100 times in the past seven months.

C. Adrienne Rhodes, the executive director of the Consumer Protection Board, said Access Resource Services - also called the Psychic Readers Network (PRN) - may be subject to as much as $224,000 in fines.

According to the agency, Access-PRN misleads customers into thinking they can get a free psychic reading. But Rhodes said the "psychics" employed by Access-PRN can only be reached by dialing a 900 number at $3.99 a minute.

She also said the psychics seem more interested in keeping people on telephone than in giving them a reading.

"This so-called 'psychic' service appears to be a scam to keep people on the telephone for as long as possible," Rhodes said.

Calls to Access-PRN were referred Wednesday to attorney Joel Dichter, who didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Under the April 1 telemarketing law, New Yorkers sign up on a registry that prohibits unsolicited calls from marketers at certain hours and companies from making aggressive, confusing sales pitches over the telephone. More than 2 million people have signed up.

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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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 - November 1, 2001

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 - A much- anticipated registry of human embryonic stem cells that could be used for federally financed research should be available to scientists and the public within a week, a government health official said today.

The official, Dr. Wendy Baldwin of the National Institutes of Health, which is coordinating federally sponsored research in the promising but controversial area, said at a Senate subcommittee hearing that the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry was almost ready for posting on the Internet after several delays.

The panel's chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who is a strong supporter of stem cell research, pressed Dr. Baldwin to set a date, finally asking if it could be done "within a week."

Dr. Baldwin replied, "I think that is a reasonable expectation."


from The Boston Globe

Dr. Jeffrey Isner was making a comeback.

A year and a half after federal regulators shut down his pioneering heart disease research citing safety concerns, the Boston cardiologist was back, armed with a new $10 million grant to expand on his idea of using gene therapy to grow new blood vessels for weak hearts.

Yesterday morning, the 53-year-old Isner died suddenly of a heart attack, sending shock waves through his hospital and the community of gene therapy researchers who recognized him as one of the most creative minds in their emerging field.

''Jeffrey is an outstanding visionary scientist who ... generated a lot of excitement,'' said Dr. Savio L.C. Woo, past president of the American Society for Gene Therapy. ''If this field succeeds in the future, it will be his legacy.''


from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration announced Wednesday that it will require an 80% reduction in the amount of arsenic in drinking water, implementing the same Clinton administration standard that it blocked eight months ago.

By making her decision Wednesday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman likely was seizing the last opportunity to set her own standard. A conference committee of Senate and House members was expected to decide as early as today whether to pass legislation requiring the EPA to set a standard no higher than 10 parts per billion, the standard Whitman put in place.

The current standard for arsenic is 50 parts per billion. Arsenic can cause cancer. Whitman, unveiling her decision in a letter to the members of the conference committee, said: "This standard will improve the safety of drinking water for millions of Americans and better protect against the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

Congressional and outside observers of the political maneuvering over the arsenic standard said it was obvious that the administration saw this as its last chance to act on its own.


from The Christian Science Monitor

The Odyssey spacecraft, now settling into orbit around Mars, will be hunting for water - the key nutrient for past or present life. But the spacecraft can neither see nor smell its quarry.

How will Odyssey scientists know when they have found it?

This part of the mission is an exercise in indirect detection. Instead of looking for water itself, a suite of instruments will look for gamma rays and neutrons emitted by hydrogen. The Odyssey team assumes that hydrogen at or near the Martian surface probably will be locked in water molecules. It's the "H" in "H2O."

Some elements are naturally radioactive. For others, such as hydrogen, cosmic rays from space slam into atomic nuclei and kick off neutrons. Some of these can reach the spacecraft. Neutrons also interact with nuclei to stimulate emission of gamma rays, which are electromagnetic radiation more energetic even than X-rays.


from The Christian Science Monitor

PASADENA CA - What exactly do we mean when we say something is cold? In fact, what do we actually mean by the word "temperature?" These concepts seem obvious to our human senses, but in reality, there are some much deeper issues involved. This year, the Nobel Prize in physics was given to a team of people who investigated how matter behaves at extremely cold temperatures. How cold is cold? Try 20 billionths of a degree above absolute zero. There's a reasonably firm guarantee that nothing in the universe, ever, has been that cold before.

I remember being surprised as a physics student to learn that there is such a thing as absolute zero. There's a temperature, -459.69 F to be exact, that is the absolute lowest limit of cold. It is impossible for anything to be even a fraction of a degree colder. Why? That's where the question of what "temperature" is comes in.

What we perceive of as heat is actually something a bit abstract: the random motion of atoms or molecules. All matter is made up of atoms, or collections of atoms bonded together called molecules. The air in your room, for example, is made up of molecules of Oxygen, Nitrogen, and Carbon Dioxide, among other things.


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Ex-Czech defence minister condemned over Bush prediction - Ananova Alerting

A former Czech defence minister is facing criticism for predicting George W Bush will die in the next two years.

Antonin Baudys says the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter mean Bush faces a "critical situation" until the middle or end of 2003

Czech astro-physicist Jiri Grygar told Ananova the claims are "ridiculous".

Read the full story at


Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Science In the News

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

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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 31, 2001

from Newsday

Washington - The FBI has been using subpoenas from a Florida grand jury to obtain information from universities and research institutions, including Long Island's Brookhaven National Laboratory, as part of its search for possible sources of contraband anthrax or people with the expertise to make it.

While investigators still do not know the origin of the pure, fine-grained anthrax mailed to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), some experts have said it could be the work of a competent, doctorate-level microbiologist.

At least two laboratories that continue to do active research on anthrax said they have received subpoenas and others likely have been issued. The FBI also has been contacting many of the nation's more than 100 laboratories that handle hazardous biological agents.

At Brookhaven, the subpoena from the U.S. District Court in Miami was delivered to Nora Volkow, the laboratory's associate director for life sciences, according to Mona Rowe, a Brookhaven spokeswoman. Rowe said Brookhaven has done structural studies in the past on the DNA of the anthrax bacterium but does not possess the organism or its dormant spore form.


from The Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey took its first picture of Mars on Tuesday, one week after the spacecraft safely began orbiting the Red Planet.

The test image, slated for release later this week, shows a 1,300-mile-wide swath of the planet's south pole, including portions of its frozen cap of water and carbon dioxide ice, scientists said.

"We haven't had much time to think about what it means scientifically, we have been so busy saying how cool it looks," said Philip Christensen of Arizona State University at Tempe. Christensen is the scientist in charge of the instrument, the thermal emission imaging spectrometer - or THEMIS - that captured the image.

The thermal infrared picture shows varying temperatures on Mars' surface, with sharp differences between areas warmed by the sun and those plunged into frigid darkness.


from Reuters

CANBERRA, Australia (Reuters) - The world's first test flight of a hypersonic "scramjet" engine, which some believe may one day fly people at eight times the speed of sound, failed because the rocket flew off course, scientists said on Wednesday.

A rocket with the scramjet attached was launched from a military site at Woomera in South Australia state Tuesday but results showed the world's first air-breathing supersonic test flight was thwarted and further testing has been put on hold.

Test project leader Allan Paull from the University of Queensland, which developed the prototype engine, said despite planned tests being delayed until flight path glitches were fixed, all was not lost.

"Although we didn't achieve all that we set out to achieve, we succeeded in gathering valuable data, and we are encouraged by the fact that the payload survived one hell of a ride," Paull said in a statement.


from Newsday

GENETICISTS hoping to trace the human species all the way back to its evolutionary roots are mounting a campaign to find, identify and analyze genes from all of Africa's many populations.

A genetic survey of Africans would be valuable because the variation in genes seen in Africa far outpaces the diversity seen anywhere else in the world. And Africans represent the foundation - the very ground from which all modern people arose.

The idea for a survey of African genes arose among geneticists a year ago, and momentum accelerated recently here at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. Specialists in population genetics and evolution analyzed what it would take to explore the genetic backgrounds of Africa's many distinct population groups.

They'll also be digging into the inherited diseases that still afflict humanity, many of which originated deep in the past, when Homo sapiens was still confined to Africa. Many infectious diseases also began afflicting humans before they ever left Africa, and studying their interactions with genes will be useful.


from Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An experimental drug designed to deliver to tumors the active ingredient in the chemotherapy drug Taxol results in fewer side effects and better cancer-fighting activity, according to preliminary results from two early-stage clinical trials.

Researchers presented data from two Phase I/II trials of the drug, known as PG-TXL, at meeting on Wednesday of the American Association for Cancer Research in Miami.

PG-TXL, which is being developed by Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics Inc., links paclitaxel, the generic name for Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Taxol, to a naturally-occurring polymer called polyglutamate, which is relatively inactive in the bloodstream, but binds to tumors.

"The polymer contains enzymes that are digested by the tumor. The chemotherapy passes through tumor blood vessels and the amount of free paclitaxel is 100-fold less than it is for an approved dose of Taxol," James Bianco, chief executive of Cell Therapeutics, told Reuters.


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Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Big Thanks to Joe Littrell (and we are glad you are feeling better)

Here is one that should scare the hell out of you this Halloween: Alternative Remedies for Anthrax
by Kate Garsombke
Utne Reader


"With the number of reported anthrax cases increasing every day, fears of infection are prompting some Americans to take prevention into their own hands by stocking up on gas masks and the antibiotic Cipro. But Dana Ullman has a different idea for preventing widespread infection of the life-threatening disease."

Skeptics and psychics duel in Toronto
by Jeet Heer
National Post


"Believers in the supernatural have often had to deal with challenges from skeptics. But now the two groups are taking their intellectual battle to the market place."

Calling Houdini's Ghost
By Buck Wolf
ABC News


"If there's a way to cheat death, Harry Houdini vowed he'd send a message from the Great Beyond. This Halloween, loyal followers of the famed magician will try once again to summon his spirit."

Speaker spins ghostly yarns
By James Mayse
Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer


"In Kentucky, history and legend bleed together to form ghost stories."

Anthrax From Rabbit Livers Swallowed As 'Vaccine'
Associated Press


"Sales of a homeopathic remedy made from diluted anthrax from a rabbit's liver have skyrocketed in recent weeks, despite a lack of evidence the compound will prevent the disease."

Tower of London ghosts hunted
BBC News


"The spectral presence of Sir Walter Raleigh is among a host of celebrated phantoms being sought by ghost hunters at the Tower of London in the run up to Halloween."

State sues firm over psychic hot line
Chicago Tribune


"A telephone service best known from television commercials promoting psychic readings by "Miss Cleo" is facing allegations of consumer fraud in a suit filed Tuesday by the Illinois attorney general's office."

Using hands to heal
By Susan Scott Schmidt
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


"Nancy Murray worked in the intensive care unit at the former Montefiore University Hospital in 1997. As a physical therapist assistant, she watched patients struggle on respirators, machines that breathed for them."

UFOs And The Great Outdoors
Popular Mechanics


"Forget bear attacks, avalanches and giant ants. The real danger in trekking around the great outdoors is abduction. That's right, abduction by aliens is probably the leading cause of outdoors people disappearing from off the face of the planet. But since abducted humans seldom leave a trace, this problem has gone largely unreported."

Many foresee supernatural end to Earth


"Forty percent of Americans believe supernatural intervention will bring an end to human history, according to a recent poll."

Dispelling the myths about witchcraft
By Laura Holmes
Portsmouth Herald


"Debra Wiley says she cringes every time someone asks her, "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" "I don't walk around asking people, 'Are you a good Christian or a bad Christian?'" says Wiley, a self-proclaimed Wiccan witch from Dover."

Jesus Is Back, and She's Chinese


"Sister Hong's brainwashing session began when her Bible class ended. Five peasant women had led the Catholic nun to a house in a distant village in Henan province two years ago so that she could teach the life of Jesus. Suddenly, the women vanished and a man entered. For the next five days he refused to let her leave and forced her to debate the Bible. He said the day of judgment is nigh. Jesus has returned. Chinaâ€"the Great Red Dragon from the Book of Revelationsâ€"faces destruction. By the end, "I was dizzy. I was confused. He knew the Bible so well," says Sister Hong. Her pleading, plus promises to return, finally won her release. Lightning had struck again."

Home Page: Written In The Stars?


"A battle is raging in India. Earlier this year, the government introduced Hindu Vedic astrology into the country's university curriculum. The decision sparked a heated war of words between rationalists and astrologers. A group of scientists presented a petition to the Supreme Court in an effort to reverse the government's action; they condemned the move as "a giant leap backward" that undermines "whatever scientific credibility the country has achieved so far." The astrologers responded with their own petition to the Court, claiming that there was nothing unscientific about basing predictions on the movement of celestial bodies. "It is now understood how the unseen can be seen with the help of Vedic astrology," they asserted."

Giving bundle to fortune-teller brings bad luck
by Nurith C. Aizenman
Washington Post


"One by one, Senora Guadalupe's clients gathered on her doorstep in the drenching afternoon downpour. They did not meet each other's eyes."

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Science In the News

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

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 30, 2001

from The Boston Globe

...For 4,000 years, Afghanistan has been at the center of the world. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Indian King Ashoka - all ruled here. The Spice Road, carrying riches and ideas from Britain to Southeast Asia, wove through Afghanistan. Archeologists say Afghanistan holds some of the most important and least explored sites in the world. But, since 1979, when the Soviets invaded, fighting and looting across the country has been erasing world history, entire chapters at a time.

''We don't know what has been looted or lost,'' said Norman Hammond, a professor of archeology at Boston University. ''But we do know the losses have been both immense and tragic.''

When scholars like Hammond hear Pentagon briefings in the news, detailing the latest turns in the air war against terrorism, they hear jarring echoes of ancient times. The name of the city of Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold, is derived from ''Alexander,'' as in Alexander the Great. Herat, where an errant bomb hit a hospital, was a major city in the Timurid empire more than 500 years ago, and majestic mosques from the time still stand there. Begram, on the Northern Alliance's front lines, was a major trading center of the ancient world, where archeologists have found painted glass from the Mediterranean, ivories from India and lacquers from China.


from The New York Times

...Commanded by the Koran to seek knowledge and read nature for signs of the Creator, and inspired by a treasure trove of ancient Greek learning, Muslims created a society that in the Middle Ages was the scientific center of the world. The Arabic language was synonymous with learning and science for 500 hundred years, a golden age that can count among its credits the precursors to modern universities, algebra, the names of the stars and even the notion of science as an empirical inquiry.

"Nothing in Europe could hold a candle to what was going on in the Islamic world until about 1600," said Dr. Jamil Ragep, a professor of the history of science at the University of Oklahoma.

It was the infusion of this knowledge into Western Europe, historians say, that fueled the Renaissance and the scientific revolution.

"Civilizations don't just clash," said Dr. Abdelhamid Sabra, a retired professor of the history of Arabic science who taught at Harvard. "They can learn from each other. Islam is a good example of that." The intellectual meeting of Arabia and Greece was one of the greatest events in history, he said. "Its scale and consequences are enormous, not just for Islam but for Europe and the world."


from The New York Times

The investigation of the terrorist attacks on the United States is drawing new attention to a stealthy method of sending messages through the Internet. The method, called steganography, can hide messages in digital photographs or in music files but leave no outward trace that the files were altered.

Intelligence officials have not revealed many details about whether, or how often, terrorists are using steganography. But a former French defense ministry official said that it was used by recently apprehended terrorists who were planning to blow up the United States embassy in Paris.

The terrorists were instructed that all their communications were to be made through pictures posted on the Internet, the defense official said.

The leader of that terrorist plot, Jamal Beghal, told French intelligence officals that he trained in Afganistan and that before leaving that country for France, he met with an associate of Osama bin Laden. The plan was for a suicide bomber to drive a minivan full of explosives through the embassy gates.

The idea of steganography is to take advantage of the fact that digital files, like photographs or music files, can be slightly altered and still look the same to the human eye or sound the same to the human ear.


from The New York Times

On a warm recent afternoon, the conservative author and social critic Dr. John H. McWhorter, 36, was sitting in a New York sushi parlor, discussing his other profession: linguistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley with an expertise in language change and evolution.

Dr. McWhorter had come to New York from his home base in Oakland, Calif., to attend a meeting at the Manhattan Institute and to put the final touches on his sixth book, a meditation on the natural history of language. The work, "The Power of Babel," is to be issued in January.

"Languages have been a passion since I was a small child," he said. "I used to teach them to myself as a hobby. I speak three and a bit of Japanese, and can read seven."

In graduate school at Stanford, Dr. McWhorter became fascinated with the evolution of languages, particularly with the Creole tongues, because he wondered how a phenomenon like Haitian Creole "could start out as Latin" and "become something so different in structure."


from The Boston Globe

Couch potatoes who aspire to intellectual greatness may have some hope: A new study shows a person can focus on one thing - say TV - and soak up other information on the side without even trying.

Whether they can pick up something as complex as Shakespeare or a foreign language awaits more study. Still, a Boston University researcher this week found that people absorb information in their peripheral vision - they can even acquire a low-level skill - while focused entirely on something else.

The findings, which appeared in Nature magazine this week, go further than previous research in showing just what the human brain can learn without consciously trying.

''Even when our mind is not paying attention to extraneous information, it ends up processing it,'' said Takeo Watanabe, a researcher in the Boston University psychology department.


from The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The world's first recipient of a self-contained artificial heart might be able to celebrate Christmas at home, his doctor said Monday.

Robert Tools, 59, of Franklin, Ky., has been gaining strength in the nearly four months since the titanium-and-plastic pump was implanted in his chest at Jewish Hospital, but he needs to put on more weight, Dr. Robert Dowling said.

Tools wants to spend Thanksgiving at home, but that may be a bit soon, Dowling said. "My guess is, he's probably going to be out having Thanksgiving dinner somewhere other than the hospital," Dowling said. "But if we can get him home for the Christmas holiday, that would be wonderful. Is it a possibility? Yes. Is it a likelihood? I can't speculate."


from The Associated Press

YORK, Pa. - Scientists examining the recently exhumed remains of the suspected Boston Strangler are promising "blockbuster" findings.

Albert DeSalvo confessed to murdering 11 Boston women between 1962 and 1964, but was stabbed to death in prison, while serving a sentence for rape, without ever being charged in the killings. He recanted his confession before he died.

His body arrived Saturday at York College, where scientists hope modern technology, including DNA typing, can help them identify DeSalvo's murderer and shed more light on whether or not he was the strangler.

A few investigators and the DeSalvo family, which requested the new study, are convinced that DeSalvo's confession was bogus and that he was not the real Boston Strangler.


"Science Musings" from The Boston Globe

Honk time. One of those late fall mornings when the sky turns a Maxfield Parrish blue just before sunrise. One, two, three ragged files of Canada geese skim the treetops above my head, preceded and followed by their honking chorus, a noise of ram's horns and shouts that would have toppled the walls of Jericho.

I freeze in my tracks to watch them pass. They are heading south with feathers ruffed by the last warm breezes of the season. When their honks have faded into silence, there's a chill in the air. The spinning planet has leaned into its winter curve, away from the sun.

And then, just when I think the racket had passed, I hear another barely audible chorus of honks, high in the air. I look up to see a long, asymmetrical vee of perhaps a hundred geese, moving south at high altitude, catching the first direct rays of a sun that has not yet broken the horizon.

These are the moments that define a day, define a life. And it's not just the beauty, not just the hundred geese spilled like gold doubloons across the sky. Something else is at work here, some hint of mystery, a mystery deeper than our knowing.

Why the vee?

Scientists have tried to find the reason, not yet successfully. There are two theories on the table - aerodynamic efficiency and ease of communication.


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The Wolf Files: Calling Houdini's Ghost


By Buck Wolf ABCNEWS.com

Followers of the great escape artist Houdini will try to summon his spirit from the dead this Halloween, on the 75th anniversary of his death.

If there's a way to cheat death, Harry Houdini vowed he'd send a message from the Great Beyond. This Halloween, loyal followers of the famed magician will try once again to summon his spirit.

Don't be confused by cheap imitators, folks. If the world-famous Houdini is going to grace us with his ghostly presence, it's going to be at the Official Houdini Séance. It's even trademarked. "I think the chances to make a connection this time are excellent. We have friends and family of Houdini who will join the séance and they will create the necessary spiritual vibrations," says Rev. Raymond Fraser, 56, of Canton, Mich.

"I have spoken to many spirits. I have a 70 percent success rate." Training at the Spiritualist Correspondence School Houdini was a famous debunker of table-levitating spiritualists and often exposed them as flimflam artists who used simple parlor tricks to exploit the gullible.

Fraser, who was ordained through a correspondence course by the National Association of Spiritual Churches, says Houdini's low opinion of clairvoyants like himself doesn't matter. "Folks like that are only non-believers when they are alive," he says. "When they are dead they know that we are all spirits who can exist outside the body."

Through séance, Fraser says he's helped dozens of people make contact with dead relatives. The communication can occur in many ways, he says. Sometimes it's a materialization — a milky white haze of the departed spirit hovers over the room. Sometimes it's a disembodied voice. Sometimes the spirit will speak through the body of a séance participant. "In 1978, I was a salesman for IBM," Fraser says. "I went to a séance, a frail old woman went into a trance, and the spirit of a man spoke through her body. That's when I knew there was something here." Yet Fraser admits there are fakes in his field. Beware those who claim they've spoken to famous people. "You hear all these claims that someone made contact with the spirit of Abraham Lincoln," he says. "Those people are full of crap."

Secret Code from the Netherworld

Leave it to the great showman Houdini to die on Halloween. This year marks the 75th anniversary of his passing. Perhaps now — with psychics preparing a séance in Detroit — the great escape artist will speak, as he promised his wife he would.

Houdini became obsessed with the occult after his mother died. He consulted with psychics to contact her, a common practice in his day, and found they were using the same sleight-of-hand and stage magic that he was using.

The magician made headlines going from town to town, daring psychics to prove their powers onstage. In 1922, Houdini even joined a panel, sponsored by Scientific American , that offered a $2,500 cash prize to any medium able to produce a true physical manifestation. Several mediums came forward, but none could pass the panel's test.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes character, was a great admirer of Houdini. But Doyle was a true believer in the occult, and the two often clashed on the subject. "My opinion of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is that he is a menace to mankind," Houdini once wrote.

But as an escape artist, Houdini couldn't resist the challenge of coming back from the dead. This is a man who risked being chained to a wooden crate and dumped in New York's East River to thrill audiences. In his most famous stunt, the water torture cell, he'd hang by his ankles, locked in chains, as he was lowered headfirst into a glass tank. As the clock ticked, the audience could see Houdini's eyes bulge as he seemed to run out of breath. He was, at the time of his death, one of the most famous performers in the world.

In anticipation of his own death, he and his wife Bess even worked out a special code so that she wouldn't be fooled by a fraud.

'10 Years Is Enough to Wait for Any Man'

Bess honored his request. For 10 years, she held séances, the last one in 1936, broadcast over radio from London. She finally stopped, she told friends, because "10 years is enough to wait for any man."

A protégé of Houdini's brother — a lesser-known escape artist known as "Hardeen" — picked up the tradition. Sidney Radner, now 82, of Holyoke, Mass., has been holding the séances since 1940.

Many of Houdini's greatest magic props sat in Radner's garage for more than 40 years. "Hardeen gave me some," Radner says. "But I'm a fan. I bought some, too."

Radner wouldn't describe himself as a believer. "We're open minded. We're honoring a tradition," he says. "But some spooky things have happened at these things.

At a séance in Niagara Falls in the 1970s, when a medium called on Houdini to make his presence known, there was suddenly a crashing sound, Radner recalls. Heads turned to a bookshelf. A flowerpot and a book on Houdini's life had suddenly fallen to the ground. "It was spooky," Radner says. "The book fell open to a page where Houdini asks, 'Do the dead return?"

But was the dead magician sending that long-awaited signal? Radner says he wasn't convinced.

The Ghost Who Couldn't Spell

A sure hoax came at New York séance one Halloween in the 1980s, conducted in Houdini's Manhattan residence on 113th St., when a medium began channeling the spirit of the great escape artist. Unfortunately, the ghost of Houdini, couldn't spell his own brother's name.

"You'd expect a little more from the world's most famous magician," Radner said.

There's a better test, Radner says. This year, he's bringing turn-of-the-century handcuffs that Houdini used in his act. "If they suddenly open, we'll know something supernatural is happening," he says.

But the bigger test, Radner says, might be getting the cuffs to Detroit.

"With all the security concerns," he says, "who knows if they'll let me take them on the airplane. Just getting them there might require a Houdini act."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list .

Police to investigate increase in black magic attacks

From Ananova at


The Cambodian government is calling on police to investigate cases of black magic revenge.

The Interior Ministry says villagers are brutally attacking neighbours accused of cursing friends and family.

Such attacks are on the rise and in one incident two people were shot to death.

Chea Bunthol, of the Penal Police Department, said: "In the past two years, cases have been increasing. People need to pay attention."

Police say a few high-profile cases of alleged black magic has brought the tradition into the spotlight and helped feed suspicion in rural areas.

In one incident, two potential election candidate was shot to death by gunmen armed with AK-47s in Siem Reap and Kompong Speu, the South China Morning Post reports.

It was initially thought the shootings were politically motivated, but police say villagers thought one of them was a sorcerer.

Authorities say ignorance is to blame for the attacks and have launched education campaigns in some of the villages.

Monday, October 29, 2001

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - October 29, 2001

from The Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA has slowed the process of bringing the Mars Odyssey into a tighter orbit around Mars, delaying the unmanned probe's first snapshots of the Red Planet.

Odyssey had been expected to take its first image of Mars on Sunday but that was pushed back to Tuesday because the initial atmosphere-skimming maneuver was being extended.

"We're just being conservative," said mission manager David Spencer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We've added a couple steps ... and are going at it more slowly."

Despite the delay, the $297 million mission "couldn't be going better," Spencer said.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Before anthrax-tainted letters left a trail of life-threatening infections on the East Coast, the nation looked to the biotechnology industry to cure complex diseases like cancer or tenacious ills embedded in our genes.

Now biotech researchers are part of an urgent drive to mount defenses against the intentional spread of ancient pathogens once seen as conquered enemies of a remote past -- like anthrax, smallpox and bubonic plague.

Many expect that the anthrax attacks -- which drove Congress from its chambers and killed three people so far -- will unleash a flood of government spending for biotech, the international industry born in the Bay Area 25 years ago.

A survey by the Biotechnology Industry Organization found its member companies are working on everything from fruits and vegetables, genetically engineered to deliver vaccines, to nasal coatings that could keep germs from penetrating into the bloodstream.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Phillip Sharp was a young biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976 when an East Coast venture capitalist asked him to visit California to evaluate a new company.

Sharp eventually found himself listening to scientist Herbert Boyer and financier Bob Swanson outline plans for a company that would splice human genes into bacteria, and then multiply these bacteria to produce medicinal proteins such as insulin.

"It turned out to be Genentech," said Sharp, who was so inspired that, upon his return to MIT, he began rounding up co-founders and funding for the company that became Biogen.

"The idea was that Genentech had the West Coast and we were starting an organization that would involve the East Coast and Europe," Sharp said, adding, "there's no question in my mind that Genentech started this industry."


from The Los Angeles Times

As anthrax exposures continue and the specter of smallpox has loomed on the horizon, many officials have begun discussing widespread vaccination against the two diseases in an effort to reduce public concern about terrorist threats.

But the vaccines now in use present a number of problems--ranging from lack of manufacturing capacity to side effects--that render large-scale vaccination programs problematic.

Medical researchers have been working on efforts to produce safer vaccines. But until now, drug companies have put relatively little money into what has been considered a low-margin, low-priority part of the business. For both anthrax and smallpox, the side effects of the vaccines are serious enough that widespread vaccination could cause more damage than the diseases themselves unless the vaccines are used only after a major outbreak has begun.


from The New York Times

Dr. Vasily P. Mishin, who helped preside over the Soviet Union's failed effort to beat the United States to the Moon, died on Oct. 10 in Moscow. He was 84.

The death was reported by the Russian news media. He is survived by his wife, Nina Andreyevna Mishina, and three daughters. Dr. Mishin became the chief designer of the Soviets' lunar program in 1966 after the unexpected death of Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, who had already succeeded at sending the first person into space and striking the Moon with an unoccupied rocket.

Dr. Mishin, Mr. Korolev's deputy, was an accomplished scientist in his own right. But he lacked his predecessor's legendary genius for working the Soviet bureaucracy to get the resources he needed. A 1999 article in The New York Times Magazine, recounting the space race, described him as "a solid engineer utterly lacking in his boss's charisma or political gifts."

Unfortunately for Dr. Mishin, those gifts were very much in demand for the task at hand.


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Is it global consciousness or mere coincidence?

Thanks to:
For the source of this story


COPIED FROM: Austin American-Statesman
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

By Bill Bishop

American-Statesman Staff

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Roger Nelson analyzed the data collected in a Princeton, N.J., computer and the results, he concluded, were "unequivocal." "We do not know if there is such a thing as a global consciousness," Nelson wrote, "but if there is, it was moved by the events of Sept. 11, 2001."

Nelson is an experimental psychologist at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory. In his spare time, he and an ad hoc band of psychologists and scientists operate what they call the Global Consciousness Project. Their aim is to discover whether, as one participant puts it, "there is some unknown, strange connection between mind and matter."

A significant, if unexpected, experiment in that search took place the day terrorists hijacked planes that crashed into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field.

There is a long history of attempts to document and quantify the connection between mind and matter. More than half a century ago researchers tested gamblers who claimed they could affect the roll of dice. Over the years, parapsychologists became more sophisticated in their attempts to measure the link between human consciousness and the physical world.

Many of these experiments showed "small, but very highly significant" effects of mind on matter, according to Richard S. Broughton, the former director of the Institute for Parapsychology in Durham, N.C. The problem with the research, Broughton said, was that the effects were small and the experiments were not fully protected from either conscious or unconscious human manipulation.

Meanwhile, the question of whether there was a connection between mind and matter wasn't limited to science-fiction tales of telekinesis. It also lay at the heart of quantum physics, or the study of very small particles. Physicists have theorized that there is an "observer effect" on physical phenomena, that the act of watching or measuring the physical world changed it. The parapsychologists agreed in a sense with the physicists. Their experiments with dice, after all, were based on a theory that human intent or attention could have some small impact on matter.

Almost 30 years ago, Broughton said, physicists and psychologists began experimenting with machines that produced pure random numbers. They first asked individuals to concentrate on a machine, to determine whether human intention could affect the randomness of the data the machine was generating. Eventually, they began taking the machines to places where large groups concentrated on a single event.

One experiment, for example, placed a random-number generator with a crowd watching the Academy Awards show. Number generators were observed during the jury verdict at the O.J. Simpson trial and the funeral of Princess Diana. Dean Radin, a psychologist, said there are now more than 150 such experiments "and there's no doubt that when you bring a random generator in the vicinity of a group that is coherent in some way, the numbers become less random."

Radin and others surmise that the attention of the group and the change in the behavior of the random-number generator are somehow related.

Mainstream psychologists, of course, consider such experiments, at best, a distraction. Michael Domjan, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas, said, "I'm pretty skeptical about this sort of thing, and if the effects are there, who cares?"

The acid test

The Global Consciousness Project is the latest, and perhaps most sophisticated, in this line of research. Two and a half years ago, Nelson and others began placing random-number generators around the world, including machines in San Antonio and Austin. There are now 38 machines that, every second, produce a string of random data and then send that data to Nelson's computer in Princeton, N.J. (Princeton University, it should be noted, is not a sponsor of this project.)

Nelson and Radin predicted that during particularly powerful world events, the machines would be affected. The data these machines produced would become less than random. Over the past few years, as hurricanes struck and a president was impeached, the project found, at times, that the machines did fall away from their random pattern in conjunction with these significant world events. (To see the results, go to: http://noosphere.princeton.edu/)

Then came Sept. 11.

"This was the acid test," said Rick Berger, a psychologist and Web site designer who operates the random-number generator in San Antonio. "If there was no response to this event, it really would have shaken my confidence."

When Nelson and Radin examined the data from Sept. 11, there was supposed to be nothing but random data -- a kind of incoherent static of numbers. Instead, Nelson found "stark patterns." The odds of these patterns appearing by chance at 10:12 a.m. EDT on Sept. 11, 2001, were extremely long, Nelson figured, approximately once in every 2.4 years of seconds.

The machines stayed less than random for three days. The odds against this, Nelson wrote, were 1,000 to 1.

What nobody knows, however, is what this means.

UT's Domjan laughed when told of the project's results. "As a scientist, you can't put a great deal of stock in kinds of things that seem supernatural," he said. "Your basic assumption is that the world is basically orderly and you can discover and understand its orderliness." Domjan said you don't need "hocus-pocus" to explain the anomalies found in the number generators. "What makes more sense to me is to look at the things that affect computers."

Domjan doesn't see the connection between the generators and world events. Nor does Radin. He said that there is no known "causal connection" between mind and matter. That "missing link between physics and psychology" is what the Global Consciousness Project is attempting to discover.

"What does it mean?" Radin asked. "We don't really know. It is still basically a giant experiment. It points in the direction of some connection between mind and matter, but we don't really know."

Broughton, who has a random-number generator at his home in Durham, said the project is accused by skeptics of "data scrounging," of mining the results for the numbers that will support the global consciousness theory. And, for physicists, these kinds of experiments still have not rinsed themselves of the "observer effect." The nonrandom results could still be produced by the observation of Nelson or Radin.

"There are alternative explanations of the data," Broughton said. "One leads to the new age and other leads to, well, Roger Nelson has an interesting effect" on random-number generators.

"We are basically dealing with some fundamental processes that remain unexplained, the interaction between consciousness and quantum processes," Broughton said.

"I don't dispute the numbers, but I am far from convinced that this is tapping any global consciousness," he continued, chuckling. "Seems to me that too much of the world is unconscious most of the time."

Meanwhile, Radin is quick to say that other events -- maybe increased cell phone traffic -- could have caused the generators to change their behavior. He says the project's numbers are available from its Web site for anyone to see. "We don't have an agenda here," Radin said, "except, isn't this an interesting possibility?"

You may reach Bill Bishop at bbishop@statesman.com or at 445-3634.

Sunday, October 28, 2001


From: skeptix@fortnet.com (Michael Shermer)


INTRODUCTION: The following essay compliments David Morrison's article on the Velikovsky controversy fifty years out in the current issue of Skeptic magazine by describing (a) the reaction of Velikovskians since 1985 to the negative evidence in the Greenland ice cores mentioned by Morrison and (b) the major centers of interest in Velikovsky today:

A Velikovsky Update

Leroy Ellenberger
ONE MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT THAT THE Velikovsky movement would have ended with the "crucial test" of the Greenland ice cores (Kronos 10:1, 1984), first proposed by R.G.A. Dolby in 1977. A visible layer of debris in the ice caused by Velikovsky's planet-juggling catastrophes, especially from the 40 years of darkness at the Exodus, was never found. In 1986-7, Lynn Rose, a Velikovsky devotee (and then philosophy professor at SUNY-Buffalo) writing in Kronos, suggested Velikovsky's signal is the ice in the so-called "brittle" zones of deep cores, deposited between Venus and Mars episodes, when supposedly Earth's axis had no tilt. Assuming Velikovsky correct, Rose discounted the fact that the dates of the brittle zones did not match Velikovsky's dates and ignored the concordance of tree rings and ocean sediments with ice cores. This, of course, makes a mockery of the "interdisciplinary synthesis" heralded by Velikovskians. In 1994 Charles Ginenthal, writing in The Velikovskian, suggested the bulk of the Greenland ice was deposited almost overnight. With Kronos defunct, Sean Mewhinney refuted Rose in 1990 with "Ice Cores & Common Sense" in Catastrophism & Ancient History and Ginenthal in 1998 with "Minds in Ablation" at (http://www.pibburns.com/smmia.htm), exposing their absurdities in exhaustive detail. This denial of the clear message from the ice cores is an example of "invincible ignorance," reminiscent of the flat earthers' rejection in 1870 of Alfred Russel Wallace's proof of the Earth's curvature, tested on the Old Bedford Canal.

Most Velikovskians in America have also spurned the modern catastrophist alternative to Velikovsky's scenario proposed by British astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier starting with The Cosmic Serpent (1982). These "neo-catastrophists" use myth to inform our understanding of the ancient sky, but reject Velikovsky's colliding planets. For them, humanity's archetypal fear of comets and the origin of sky-combat myths result from Earth's intermittent, energetic interaction during the past 10,000 years with the then young Taurid meteor stream, radiating from near the Pleiades (http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/velidelu.html#ST). Although not accepted by most astronomers, at least this hypothesis does not contradict the laws of physics. The growing list of scientists and scholars who are favorably disposed towards Clube and Napier's work includes astronomers Mark Bailey and Duncan Steel, physicists Fred Hoyle and Gerrit Verschuur, geographer Richard Huggett, and dendrochronologist Mike Baillie, whose 1999 book Exodus to Arthur makes the case for a cosmic vector associated with several major global climate crises in the past 5000 years. Regardless, Velikovskians reject it because they (1) have blindly accepted Velikovsky's false premise that planets were the first gods, when planets were only relatively recently associated with deities whose earlier origin had nothing to do with planets, and (2) believe Venus really was once a comet, when it is too massive ever to have had a visible tail as real comets do.

Most surviving Velikovskians now see Worlds in Collision and Ages in Chaos as seriously flawed, if not completely wrong. Many instead propose that the real interplanetary catastrophes occurred earlier than Velikovsky thought. Adopting the "Saturn theory," inspired by an unpublished Velikovsky manuscript alluding to the ancient Sun-Saturn polarity (http://www.catastrophism.com/texts/sun-and-saturn/), they claim that, during the "Golden Age" ruled by the god Saturn/Kronos, Earth was part of a "polar configuration" that orbited the Sun near Earth's present location so that a nearby Saturn loomed continuously over the north pole as a rotating crescent. Situated between Earth and Saturn were Venus and Mars with Jupiter hidden behind Saturn! Saturnists believe (1) mythology preserves the record of that alignment and transition to the present Solar System by 2000 B.C.E. and (2) their novel interpretation of ancient myth and sacred symbol (which redefines such terms as "ocean," "sky," and "earth") gives results superior to those of modern science. Scholars consider this a naive re-imaging of the Greek divine succession myth: Ouranos- Kronos- Zeus- Ares. The claimed "historical" basis for the "Saturn theory" is greatly exaggerated.

Significantly, the ice core evidence also disproves the "polar configuration," not to mention the conservation laws of energy and angular momentum. Having failed to make a prima facie case, the Saturnists shift the burden-of-proof by inviting "scholarly critics" to disprove their model by identifying "a single recurring mythical theme not predicted by the model." They simply do not believe that their coherent, internally consistent narrative, based solely on mythological exegesis, can be wrong. Their leading theorist remarked in 1987, at a time when he did not appreciate the difference between zenith and pole, "it is not possible that a simply-stated theory could predict all mythical archetypes but be false." To the contrary, systems of thought can be internally consistent yet bear no resemblance to physical reality. Coherence is no guarantor of truth.

Interestingly, in 1987 an essay by independent scholar and Sanskrit specialist Roger Ashton, "The Bedrock of Myth", was accepted for publication in the then fledgling "Saturnist" journal Aeon. Drawing on the contents of the Hindu Rgveda, Ashton showed that the "polar configuration" imagery can be explained without recourse to planets. Although Aeon subsequently suppressed this paper, it is now being posted on the WWW: (http://www.saturnian.org/bedrock.htm).

Since conventional physics precludes any such arrangement, Velikovskians have adopted the plasma- theoretic "electric universe" model, propounded in the 1970s by civil engineer Ralph Juergens, as a deus ex machina. Supposedly the Sun is an electric discharge powered by an influx of galactic electrons. Based largely on various analogies, this "theory" has no quantitative basis and, despite all the hand waving, is disproved by everything known about the Sun's behavior; see (http://www.geocities.com/Tim_J_Thompson/electric-sun.html). Juergens' work is carried on by the "Holoscience" project (http://www.holoscience.com), organized by Wal Thornhill, a retired computer systems engineer who now bills himself as an "Australian physicist" on the basis of his 1964 B.S. degree.

What of Velikovsky's revision of ancient history? Chronology revisionists exist today in two schools: modest and drastic. The modest revisionists shorten Egyptian chronology less drastically than Velikovsky's 500 year compression, eliminating only a century or two by various schemata, e.g., (http://www.centuries.co.uk). The drastic revisionists claim, in essence, that the second millennium B.C.E. is a fiction that duplicates the first millennium; see (http://www.knowledge.co.uk/sis/ancient.htm).

Today, interest in Velikovskian studies resides primarily with four groups: (1) Saturnists are the most visible with the journal Aeon (http://www.aeonjournal.com/) and Kronia Group (http://www.kronia.com) {founded in 1987 by Dave Talbott, author of The Saturn Myth (1980), whose efforts as publisher of Pensee arguably led to the 1974 AAAS Symposium where Carl Sagan and Velikovsky clashed}, which publishes the electronic newsletter Thoth, produces the Mythscape video series, and runs the moderated kroniatalk listserve. Their alternative-science conferences include invited speakers with bona fide scientific credentials, such as plasma physicist Anthony Peratt and astronomer Halton Arp, who provide a veneer of scholarly respectability, with the Intersect2001 world conference held July 2001 at Laughlin, NV, (http://www.kronia.com/intersect2.html); (2) Charles Ginenthal founded The Velikovskian in 1992 (http://www.knowledge.co.uk/velikovskian/index.htm) and has produced several books and sponsored annual conferences, recently with Cosmos & Chronos, the original Velikovsky discussion group founded in 1965 by geologist H.H. Hess at Princeton University and now headed by C.J. Ransom in Texas; (3) The Society for Interdisciplinary Studies in Great Britain, established in 1974 (http://www.knowledge.co.uk/sis/), publishes Chronology & Catastrophism Review and, while it is nominally interested in catastrophism and ancient chronology and its leadership embraces the work of Clube and Napier, a large portion of the membership has a strong affection for Velikovsky and an indiscriminate interest in the work of other distinctly fringe writers; and (4) The Velikovsky Archive is a web resource (http://www.varchive.org) containing many manuscripts, lectures, correspondence, and the 1972 Canadian television documentary "Velikovsky: The Bonds of the Past."

Velikovsky continues to be revered especially by those who, for a variety of reasons, distrust mainstream science and scholarship, believing they are, in good part, socially constructed consensus mythologies, and believe he was correct on three points: (1) the present order of the Solar System is recent, (2) electromagnetism plays a more important role in the cosmos than generally appreciated, and (3) the chronology of ancient Egypt is seriously flawed. The resistance of Velikovsky's successors to all the contradictory physical evidence mounting since 1977 indicates they are demonstrably incapable of changing their core belief, namely, recent interplanetary catastrophism. Velikovskian believers have often subordinated their judgment to that of a charismatic authority figure and, as with other "true believers," secular no less than religious, no amount of evidence is going to change their minds. As Carol Tavris incisively noted in 1984 regarding Freud, "One of the sturdiest findings in the slushy social sciences is that when such a belief system meets contrary evidence -- when faith meets facts -- the facts are sacrificed." By contrast, the revolutionary terminal Cretaceous impact 65 million years ago was accepted during this time by most scientists within a decade.

Leroy Ellenberger is a chemical engineer with graduate degrees in finance and operations research. He was "Executive Secretary & Senior Editor" for the Velikovsky journal Kronos, "devil's advocate" for Aeon, and a one-time confidant to Velikovsky. His "An Antidote to Velikovskian Delusions" appeared in Skeptic, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1995 (http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/velidelu.html) and his "A lesson from Velikovsky," in Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1986 (http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/vlesson.html). His e-mail address is (c.leroy@rocketmail.com).
Michael Shermeris the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptics Society (www.skeptic.com), host of the Skeptics Science Lecture Series at Caltech, columnist for Scientific American (www.sciam.com), and author of Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and The Borderlands of Science.

Mothman flap?

When the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released on November 16, 1977, UFO experts predicted a big flap would occur. It never materialized. Instead, people felt the movie explained everything for them. Something a little different is going to happen with Mark Pellington's 2002 motion picture.

With the new movie, K-PAX, in theaters now, the trailer for The Mothman Prophecies is being shown. Will this Mothman movie, however, cause a new wave of sightings or flaps? The movie is a psychologically complex movie, a large budget journey for Richard Gere, which will leave many questions, rightfully, unanswered. Besides movie goers buying Keel's book, they now have some other choices. My new book, while mostly concentrating on Mothman, in one form or another, also contains words on the criticism of Keel, the human being that is Keel, and the cultlike following that his work has created. Mothman and Other Curious Encounters looks at the space-time window of Point Pleasant, 1966-1967, as well as the historical framework of other flying wonders and weird creatures that haunt the Fortean and cryptozoological worlds. Many movie-goers in the general public are unaware of this context. Are we truly prepared for what awaits us when the movie is released? Loren Cover art ad by Bill Rebsamen at

The Haunted Tracks


In a rural area outside the city limits of San Antonio, Texas, there is a railroad crossing near a small subdivision. Legend has it that, over 60 years ago, a school bus full of children was struck by a speeding train, and all aboard the bus were killed. Almost immediately, stories began to circulate regarding mysterious "helpers" who would push stalled cars off the tracks.

There have been numerous "debunkers" who have claimed that there's actually a grade to the road which causes cars to roll across the tracks. However, no one can explain why, occasionally, a vehicle will roll to the tracks and stop ON them. Ghostly laughter has been heard, and there are reports of child-sized handprints showing up in talcum powder scattered on the truck lids of cars "pushed" across the tracks. Reeder

Saturday, October 27, 2001

"Psychic" plans WTC victims show


Broadcasting & Cable
10/25/01 9:00:00 PM

Studios USA's 'Crossing Over with John Edward' will attempt to communicate with victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in several episodes planned for the November sweeps for the syndicated and, perhaps, cable runs of the show.

Steve Rosenberg, the studio's domestic syndication president, anticipating concerns by viewers, says the shows 'will be done tastefully…and won't be exploitative,' and notes that the idea grew after relatives of victims first approached Edward, not the other way around.

The show, that airs on WCBS-TV New York and other stations nationwide, as well as on the Sci-Fi cable channel, is premised on Edward's purported ability to communicate with the dead.

Rosenberg says that 'Crossing Over' producers started talking about having Edward deal with the tragedy after they received several phone calls from surviving family members asking to speak with him.

After awhile, said Rosenberg, any worries that it might be too emotional for people went away, and 'it seemed wrong not to do it.'

A hit on Sci Fi for a couple of seasons now, 'Crossing Over' just launched into syndication this fall.

The rookie, scoring a 1.8 Nielsen rating in the most recent national syndication rankings, isn't a break-out hit yet on stations.

However, extended news coverage due to Sept. 11 events has bumped the show to different time periods on stations, likely confusing viewers.

WCBS-TV didn't air the show for a couple of weeks because of an added afternoon newscast.

Plus, KCAL-TV Los Angeles debated whether or not they wanted to air 'Crossing Over' as its 4 p.m. news lead-in, believing some people would be uncomfortable watching Edward try speak to the dead immediately preceding news reports about people dying. KCAL-TV now airs it at 11 a.m.

'Crossing Over' does top all other freshmen talk efforts, including the high-profile 'The Ananda Lewis Show,' 'The Other Half,' and 'Iyanla.' - Susanne Ault

John Edward scraps terrorist victims seance plan


Broadcasting & Cable
10/25/01 6:45:00 PM

The one thing John Edward definitely crossed over was the line and the 'psychic' has shelved plans for a series of Crossing Over With John Edward episodes focusing on people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Studios USA Domestic Television said Thursday that it is retreating from the plan to air the segment on broadcast syndication and cable's Sci Fi Channel.

Citing 'a reaction that none of us expected,' the company's president, Steve Rosenberg, said that while some segments for the shows have already been taped, they will not be broadcast.

The shows, tentatively scheduled for November sweeps, would have featured psychic John Edward purporting to communicate the messages of victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks to their surviving family members.

After the story broke in Broadcasting & Cable Wednesday night, Edwards got a new vision, one of reporters flooding Studios USA with inquiries.

All the attention, 'seemed a little crazy,' says Rosenberg, 'But we have too good a show to do something that might offend people.'

Rosenberg said there had never been a firm decision on how or when the segments would air. He reiterated that victims' families were the ones asking to get the shows made.

In fact, he said, many families affected by the tragedy have gone to see Edward privately for readings.

Rosenberg cited one woman who said it was the happiest she'd been since Sept. 11.

Several CBS stations carrying the show, including WCBS-TV New York, apparently knew the WTC-themed shows were being developed.

But industry executive said they didn't realize Studios USA might be close to committing to them.

Insiders say CBS station executives contacted Studios USA Thursday about the series.

But CBS station executives contacted for this story say that it was ultimately Studios USA's decision to pull the plug.

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