NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 December 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

This is something that's been bugging me, and I keep putting notes about it on bulletin boards: when Muslims who refuse to believe the Osama bin Laden videotape are called "skeptics." As I keep pointing out, skeptics are people who demand hard evidence before believing outrageous claims. They are NOT people who refuse to accept hard evidence because it might undermine their irrationational beliefs in outrageous claims, such as the pure, sweet innocence of Osama bin Laden.

Pat Reeder

The Left blinds itself to the truth about bin Laden

By Robert Harris

(Filed: 18/12/2001)

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW went to Russia in 1931 with his mind made up. Soviet Communism was a wonderful thing and nothing would convince him otherwise.

When a junior British diplomat, Reader Bullard, made "some disparaging remark" about one of Stalin's show trials, he later noted in his diary how "Shaw grew quite indignant and said: 'But they confessed.'

"I replied: 'Yes, one of them confessed that he lunched with Colonel Lawrence at the Savoy in London on a date when we know he was in India,' but Shaw waved the argument away."

At a subsequent banquet in Moscow, "Shaw waved his hand at the excellent food and said 'Russia short of food? Look at this!' "

I thought of Shaw the other day when I read some of the reactions to the latest incriminating videotape of Osama bin Laden, gleefully reliving the collapse of the World Trade Centre.

"It is impossible not to think that something about it is a put-up job," declared an editorial in the Guardian. "It provokes all kinds of sceptical questions It should not be taken wholly at face value."

This disbelief was duly reflected the following day, both on the news pages ("Bin Laden video: as Muslim doubts grow over authenticity, special effects experts say fake would be relatively easy to make") and, inevitably, in the readers' letters ("May I be the first to nominate for an Oscar the actor who played bin Laden?").

Well, let us concede at once, it is possible that the bin Laden tape is a fake; that America, on the very brink of victory in Afghanistan, should somehow feel so unsure of its case against bin Laden that it would take the seemingly insane risk of hiring actors and technicians, and then release a fabrication for world scrutiny.

Yes: it's possible. But is it likely? And the answer, of course, is no, just as no one seriously could have believed that the hapless Communist tried in Moscow in 1931 really had had lunch at the Savoy with an officer of British intelligence (in a top hat, no doubt) who was, in any case, in India on the date mentioned.

But Shaw, a brilliant man, did believe it. Or, at any rate, he brushed away the arguments of those who didn't. He wanted to be convinced. And this syndrome - this stubborn refusal to accept what is plainly obvious - has, it strikes me, been the hallmark of many Left-wing intellectuals over the past three months.

Anyone who ever wondered about the extraordinary blindness of clever people towards the Soviet Union 70 years ago - all those Shaws, and Wellses, and Webbs, and G D H Coleses; all those subscribers to the Left Book Club - anyone, indeed, who thought we would never see such naivety again, has been able to enjoy a little trip down memory lane since September 11.

This syndrome has nothing to do with scepticism, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "a disposition to doubt or incredulity". On the contrary: it is scepticism's antithesis.

The Left made fools of themselves in the 1930s precisely because they weren't sceptical. They reasoned on the basis of their emotions: they wanted to believe in Stalin, therefore they convinced themselves that Stalin was worth believing in.

What we have seen this autumn has been a variant on the same theme: a desire that a villainous America should come a cropper in Afghanistan has led to a series of false predictions that a villainous America would indeed come a cropper. It has been founded on wishful thinking, not scepticism.

We all make mistakes, so let us spare those concerned the embarrassment of reciting here in detail the solemn prophecies that were made at various times - of the imminent collapse of the Pakistan regime, of the impossibility of capturing Kabul, of the uselessness of the Northern Alliance as fighters, of the historic inability of the various factions to agree on an interim government, of the invulnerability of the Tora Bora cave complex with the "fearsome Afghan winter" coming on - and observe only that they all stemmed from the same root: the fatal assumption that, because the writer wanted it to be so, it would be so.

And just as the old Left intellectuals were led by the remorselessness of this syndrome to defend the indefensible - the Stalinist show trials, the purges, the mass deportations - so, in a minor key, we have lately seen a repeat of the same old sophistry: the feminist who proclaims that the burqa is "a liberation" and who equates the lot of a woman under the Taliban with her Western sister who has to put up with page three girls; or the rationalist agnostic who defends the existence of a repressive, medieval theocracy (under which he would never dream of living), contrasting it favourably with the materialistic values of global capitalism.

Nothing changes. Back in 1931, having tried to put Shaw right about the show trials, the admirably persistent Mr Bullard then raised "the propaganda that is pumped into the children" by the Soviet regime. What did Shaw say to that?

"He said that was the same in England, where children at church schools are taught the Apostles' Creed - as likely as not by people who don't believe it themselves. I said there is this difference. That when English children grow up, they can meet people with other beliefs and read books etc of opposing tendencies, whereas in this country there is no alternative to communist propaganda, but he waved that away, too."

Substitute Islamic fundamentalism for Soviet Communism and you will hear exactly the same argument being made today - with this one difference. At least Shaw and the Western sympathisers for Stalin believed in something: for all their folly, they had a kind of intellectual grandeur about them, a coherent philosophy to defend.

Today, the Left doesn't even offer an alternative - just endless nit-picking raised to the level of an ideology.



THE only surprise about NBC's decision to again run liquor ads is that CBS chief Mel Karmazin didn't think of it first. Some concerned staffers say Karmazin is so determined to protect his company's bottom line that advertising standards, particularly in the radio division, have been all but abandoned.

"Stations like News Radio 880 are sounding like traveling medicine shows, selling snake oil to the rubes," gripes one CBS veteran journalist. "And to make things worse, they're using on-air personalities to read these spots. It cheapens everyone."

Indeed, if you listen to News Radio 880 these days, you'd think every one of nature's ills has been corrected. I've heard a succession of ads that promise natural hair growth, increased brain power, perfect vision without surgery, perfect teeth, unlimited weight loss, the sex drive of a 20-year-old and instant pain relief.

For one campaign, they roped in a station ad saleswoman to attest to the miraculous benefits of a French wrinkle-removing cream. In another, someone called Woody Johnson (are we supposed to assume this is the Jets owner and Johnson & Johnson heir?) gave a spiel for a product that promises to take pounds off while you sleep.

A few months ago, the station was occasionally airing the odd disclaimer stating that such-and-such a product hadn't been government tested. But the snake-oil guys apparently objected, and now the ads run without any qualification. They've even got the respected Charlie Osgood shilling for diet pills.

"It's not good for a station's image to have its personalities endorsing dubious products," one of Madison Avenue's most respected figures tells me. "It's even worse for a news station, where credibility is crucial."


Monday, December 17, 2001

Rare lynx hairs found in forests exposed as hoax

By Audrey Hudson


Federal and state wildlife biologists planted false evidence of a rare cat species in two national forests, officials told The Washington Times. Had the deception not been discovered, the government likely would have banned many forms of recreation and use of natural resources in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state.

The previously unreported Forest Service investigation found that the science of the habitat study had been skewed by seven government officials: three Forest Service employees, two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials and two employees of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The officials planted three separate samples of Canadian lynx hair on rubbing posts used to identify existence of the creatures in the two national forests.

DNA testing of two of the samples matched that of a lynx living inside an animal preserve. The third DNA sample matched that of an escaped pet lynx being held in a federal office until its owner retrieved it, federal officials said.

After the falsified samples were exposed by a Forest Service colleague, the employees said they were not trying to manipulate or expand the lynx habitat, but instead were testing the lab's ability to identify the cat species through DNA analysis, said Joel Holtrop, a Forest Service official.

"Even if that is the case, it was inappropriate," Mr. Holtrop said.

Forestry officials, conservationists and retired federal officials said they were outraged that the data were tampered with and said they are skeptical it was an attempt to test the lab.

"I would find the evil-twin argument more plausible," said Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute.

"That would be like bank robbers taking money from a bank and saying they were just testing the security of a bank, they weren't really stealing the money. That's beautiful, but I don't think it will fly," Mr. Gordon said.

Retired Fish and Wildlife Service biologist James M. Beers called the false sampling amazing but not surprising.

"I'm convinced that there is a lot of that going on for so-called higher purposes," Mr. Beers said.

The employees have been counseled for their actions and banned from participating in the three-year survey of the lynx, listed as a threatened animal under the Endangered Species Act. Federal officials would not name the offending employees, citing privacy concerns.

The lynx listing and habitat study began in 1999 during the Clinton administration and concludes this year. It was criticized by Westerners as a political move to impose restrictions on public lands.

Radical environmental groups felt the restrictions didn't go far enough.

To protect the habitat of the felines, roads would have to be closed to vehicles, and off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, skis and snowshoes would have been banned. Livestock grazing and tree thinning also would have been banned.

"It was rigged from the word go; it was full of bad biology and bad politics," Mr. Beers said. "It gave them [the federal government] carte blanche to go after ski resorts, stop road building and go after ranchers and tree cutters."

When the Vail Ski Resort announced an expansion of trails into possible lynx habitat, the radical animal-rights group Earth Liberation Front (ELF) torched five buildings and four ski lifts in protest. The Oct. 18, 1998, fire caused $12 million in damage and was the largest act of eco-terrorism in the United States. No arrests were made, and the statute of limitations expired in October.

This past summer, ELF planted spikes in hundreds of trees to sabotage a timber sale and protect the lynx and spotted owls in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest — one of the forests where the false samples were planted.

This isn't the first time forestry officials have encountered questionable studies to identify the presence of lynx in the Northwest.

In 1999, a scientist hired by the federal government submitted lynx hair samples supposedly found in the Oregon Cascades, farther south than where the animals were thought to exist, said Chris West, spokesman for the American Forest Resource Council.

Federal officials spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars trying to duplicate the finding but found no evidence of the creatures.

The hairs were never validated, the samples were thrown out, and the contractor was never paid, Mr. West said.

"These are cases of rogue biologists trying to influence natural-resources policy," Mr. West said.

"There has clearly been some shenanigans going on here," he said of the false sampling in Washington.

Forest Service officials say this year's errant sampling was caught and therefore did not affect the integrity of the sample survey.

"We have looked at it carefully and feel the overall integrity of the sampling effort is in place, and the ongoing results will have valid scientific and sound results," said Heidi Valetkevitch, Forest Service spokeswoman.

However, the incident has damaged the integrity of the federal agencies within their own ranks and in the communities they serve.

"It destroys the credibility of the hard work we are trying to do to track these animals," said one retired Forest Service employee.

Mr. Gordon said the false sampling aggravates an already distrustful relationship between Westerners and the federal government.

"This revelation makes all the projects these offices and individuals were involved in suspect, and may merit review," Mr. Gordon said.


Museum selling creationism

Founder claims teaching of evolution is brainwashing'

By STEPHINE SIMON Los Angeles Times

FLORENCE, Ky. - There is no mention of Noah's Ark in most science museums. No mention of the Tower of Babel, or the Garden of Eden, either.

Instead, you get dinosaur replicas, fossils, models of spiraling DNA. And informational text promoting what millions of Americans regard as drivel: the idea that all life on Earth evolved over 4 billion years from genetic scraps.

It's tantamount to brainwashing. Or so Ken Ham believes.

Ham directs the global ministry Answers in Genesis. And he is building a $14-million answer to evolution here in far northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

The Creation Museum & Family Discovery Center will offer all the classic science museum exhibits, but with a twist. Each one will be interpreted as proof of the biblical account that God created the Earth and all that's in it over six days, just 6,000 years ago.

The huge double-helix of DNA will be used to argue that living beings are so complex, there's no way they could have evolved by random mutation from an undifferentiated blob. Fossils will be used to make the point that old bones don't come with a date stamped on them - and to argue that scientific methods such as carbon dating are wildly inaccurate.

Life-size dinosaurs will illustrate the theory that Adam and Eve lived alongside T. rex in a blissful Eden, free from violence. An informational placard might identify a dinosaur model this way: "Thescelosaurus. Means wonderful lizard. Height: 4 feet. Length: 11 feet. Created on: Day 6."

Critics worry the Creation Museum will legitimize an account of Earth's history that they see as a fable. But Ham, brusque and passionate, insists it's evolution that's the fraud. And he's determined to expose it. For the rest of the story click on the link below.


Is Stuart an atheist? -PG

Church Welcomes an Atheist as Teacher


Stuart Bechman-Besamo hasn't believed in God for years. Yet here he is, spending most Sundays at the Simi Valley United Church of Christ, teaching the parish's young people about religion.

An atheist at Sunday school may seem like a wolf in sheep's clothing or the setup to a bad joke. But Bechman-Besamo is not here to persuade his teenage charges to abandon their church. He is here to challenge them, to encourage tolerance and perhaps, church leaders hope, to bolster the faith of others.

Only an open-minded church would attract a couple like Bechman-Besamo, who left the Methodist church in high school, and his wife, Jeanie Mortensen-Besamo, an ex-Mormon. The 100-member congregation, formed in a 1994 merger of two churches, proclaims in its mission statement: "For us the Bible is a record of faith journeys to be taken seriously, but not always literally. . . . Our church seeks to be multicultural, respecting and learning from traditions which differ from our own." Stuart and Jeanie first encountered the Simi Valley church in early 2000, while working with its members to fight Proposition 22, a successful ballot measure aimed at banning recognition of same-sex marriage in California. (The couple added the word "Besamo"--a combination of their and Jeanie's daughter's last names--to their surnames when they married two years ago.)

For the rest of the story click on the link below.


Saturday, December 15, 2001



December 14, 2001 -- TV is turning into a psychic battlefield. Acclaimed medium and best-selling author James Van Praagh is getting his own daily TV show next fall - joining another medium, John Edward, who has become a phenomenon in the last few years.

Both say they can talk to dead people. Edward, 31, and his syndicated show "Crossing Over" (which airs weekdays on Ch. 2 at 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. on SCI FI) was the most successful new talk series this year. With an average of about 2.4 million homes tuning in to watch every day (tied for the sixth most-watched syndicated talk show with "Rosie O'Donnell"), Edward is spawning other talks shows that will feature ghosts as guests.

"Beyond With James Van Praagh" is expected to air on WPIX/Ch. 11 in the afternoons, although its still to early to say for sure what time, or what the format will be. "Beyond" producers at Tribune Entertainment, were not available for comment yesterday at press time. Van Praagh, from Bayside, Queens, is the author of "Talking to Heaven : A Medium's Message of Life After Death" - a surprise best-seller of the early '90s about his contact with the deceased. He is also a highly-paid lecturer.

TV has been trying to exploit Van Praagh's popular appeal for several years now. ABC bought the rights to his book and was trying to develop a series out of it. Van Praagh earned a lot of publicity a few years ago as the man who "channeled" the spirit of O.J. Simpson's murdered wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, on behalf of her sister, Denise Brown, during an episode of "The Roseanne Show."

Besides Edward other psychic mediums are highly visible on TV. A famous psychic named Sylvia Brown appears regularly on her own pay-per-view shows and next Tuesday, ABC will devote and hour of primetime (8 p.m.) to George Anderson, a psychic medium who will attempt to talk to the deceased relatives of celebrities like Vanna White.

"Beyond" has been in the works since before "Crossing Over" became a hit, but execs at Tribune Entertainment were waiting to see how well Edward would be received by TV audiences before going forward, said Media Week's TV industry expert Marc Berman.


Hawking places £70 bet on 'God particle'

Stephen Hawking has put money on the "God particle" that is crucial to standard theories of physics not existing. The author of A Brief History of Time, who is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, has placed the bet with an American physicist. Professor Gordon Kane of the University of Michigan is convinced that the Higgs boson is real and will soon be discovered. But Hawking bet him $100 (about £70) that he is wrong, The Times says. The two scientists agreed on the bet at a recent conference in Korea, before either was aware of results presented this week claiming to show that the Higgs is probably a phantom. The Higgs boson, proposed by Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University in 1964, is essential to the Standard Model of physics, and is widely considered to give matter its mass. But its existence remains unproven. Professor Kane says he's confident of winning the $100, because of a wealth of experimental data indicating that it has to be out there. "The global evidence - the long-term data we have already from other accelerators - could not be as consistent as it is if there is no Higgs boson," Professor Kane said.

Story filed: 13:19 Saturday 8th December 2001


Friday, December 14, 2001

Predicting 9-11

Chris Wright, Boston Phoenix

December 13, 2001

When the first plane struck the World Trade Center at 8:48 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, President Bush was in Florida, lecturing a classroom of second-graders about the importance of reading skills. What was meant to be a run-of-the-mill photo op produced one of the more telling photographs of that awful day.

In it, White House chief of staff Andrew Card is bending down to deliver the news that a second plane had thundered into the second tower. You can see the shock, the dread, on Bush's face. And who can blame him? America had just been wrenched from a sunny weekday morning into a cataclysmic war, and it seemed no one was prepared for such an event -- not the CIA, not the FBI, not the State Department, and certainly not the president himself.

"I'm trying to absorb that knowledge," Bush said, recalling the moment in a recent Newsweek interview. "I'm the commander in chief, and the country has just come under attack."

Not everybody, however, was as flabbergasted by the news as the president. In fact, there were a few Americans who responded to the terrorist attacks with a resounding "Told you so."

In June 2000, Lynne Palmer, a 69-year-old Las Vegas resident, published her Astrological Almanac for 2001 (Star Bright Publishers). On page 95 of the book, buried among advice on the best days to go to the movies and worst days to lend people money, Palmer had written, in an odd combination of the obvious and the prophetic: "Avoid terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001."

Palmer wasn't the only astrologer to see trouble brewing in the fall of 2001. Apparently, the sky has been heaving with a confluence of terrible portents lately -- a Perfect Storm of clashing, menacing astrological signs. But no one had divined upcoming events with the acuity of the Dolly Parton–haired author of Is Your Name Lucky for You? (Star Bright Publishers, 1999) and Astro-Guide to Nutrition and Vitamins (American Federation of Astrologers, 1993). "Only one person predicted the date of the attacks, and that was Lynne Palmer," says veteran astrologer Robert Hand, a relatively highbrow practitioner of the art. "I don't know how she did it. Things looked chaotic, but I could not have foreseen September 11. I looked and looked and I don't know how anyone could have predicted it to the day."

Palmer, meanwhile, remains unfazed by her astrological coup. "There are certain planets that rule certain things," she says, "and those planets were in alignment." In fact, Palmer didn't even know the attacks had occurred until a friend told her. "I don't look at the news much," she says. "My friend called me. I looked in my [2001] almanac and I had it. I make all sorts of predictions and I forget about them. But I had 'Watch for danger falling from above,' 'Avoid fire.' It was eerie."

Eerie, yes, but not unique. Following September 11, stargazers all over the country pored through their prior predictions to see if they, too, had foreseen America's so-called New War. Hand was one of the astrologers who came up trumps. In an article posted in the August edition of the Mountain Astrologer online magazine, Hand wrote a long, lyrical essay foretelling "restrictions on our freedom of movement," the "ruthless energy of change," and "unrest in the Middle East."

Though Hand's dates were not as specific as Palmer's -- he saw strife occurring between August 5, 2001, and May 26, 2002 -- his predictions were nonetheless chillingly prescient: "Things pass away and then something new comes into being. We have times when things seem to reach a period of stability and permanence; then there is a period of decay, when they begin to break down and go wrong.... It is as though we were driving down a well-defined road with a clear objective, and either something we did not anticipate is forcing us onto another road or the road itself is being transformed."

In April 2001, on the same site, astrologer Jim Shawvan wrote of "something sudden" about to occur, "a surprise attack, a terrorist bombing." He continued, "Civil wars and conflicts in the Third World often build up slowly, with many warning signs; however, when the only remaining superpower is attacked, the preferred approach seems to be terrorist action with no warning." Shawvan also wrote that "[Bush] may judge it necessary to threaten or even use force in Afghanistan or Pakistan or both."



from The Christian Science Monitor

SAN FRANCISCO - Thomas Cahill has a warning for Northern Hemisphere residents. Cleaning up polluters in your own part of the world won't guarantee you have clean air, he says. Nasty stuff can drift in from sources half way around the world - for example, the highest levels of arsenic in Nevada come from Mongolia. Dr. Cahill, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Davis, is part of an international team that has finally had a good look at what's in the Asian dust plumes that cross the Pacific, spread over North America, and drift out over the Atlantic. They're finding that toxic metals and other man-made pollutants are hitching rides on the desert dust, making the plumes an effective long-distance pollution transport system. In recent years, scientists have become increasingly concerned about the large-scale environmental effects of aerosols - particles suspended in air. Some aerosols can cause cooling by reflecting incoming sunlight back into space. Others absorb sunlight and warm up the air. This can offset or enhance the regional effects of carbon dioxide-driven global warming.



from Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - With Earth's power consumption forecast to rocket to new highs in coming decades, one scientist is proposing a suitably far-out solution to the likely energy crunch -- power plants on the moon. Prof. David Criswell of the University of Houston's Institute for Space Systems said that lunar power plants that capture the sun's rays and send them on to Earth as concentrated microwave beams could provide inexpensive, abundant and stable energy for the Earth's growing population. "This would be energy on a global scale," Criswell said in a briefing at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting here. Criswell's idea might seem loopy, but he insists that it would be achievable if the U.S. government would commit to spending the money -- estimated at roughly three times the $19 billion budget of the Apollo space program.



from The New York Times

An expert in fire protection who is helping lead a federally financed inquiry into the collapse of the World Trade Center towers said yesterday that inadequate or faulty fireproofing that had gone unrepaired for years may have played a role in the failure of the two 110-story buildings. The expert, Frederick W. Mowrer, an associate professor in the fire protection engineering department at the University of Maryland, said he had been shown extensive evidence, including an archive of photographs, that indicated that the fireproofing applied to everything from structural columns to floor trusses to bolted connections had peeled off or been inadequately installed over extensive parts of the buildings. But like others involved in the study of the buildings, Dr. Mowrer was careful to say that an exact cause of the collapses is far from determined, and that whether any building could have withstood the damage inflicted by the two 767's that slammed into them remains an open question. He said the role of the fireproofing was only one of a range of issues, including the part played by the jet fuel, that needed continued scrutiny.



from The Washington Post

An Army biological and chemical warfare facility in Utah has been quietly developing a virulent, weapons-grade formulation of anthrax spores since at least 1992, and samples of the bacteria were shipped back and forth between that facility and Fort Detrick, Md., on several occasions in the past several years, according to government officials and shipping records. The Utah spores, grown and processed at the 800,000-acre Dugway Proving Ground about 80 miles from Salt Lake City, belong to the Ames strain -- the same strain used in the deadly letters sent to media outlets and two senators in September and October. No other nation is known to have made weapons-grade Ames. And although it is legal to make small quantities of such agents under the provisions of an international treaty the United States has signed, experts said yesterday they were surprised by the revelation that a U.S. lab was producing such lethal material. "It comes as a bit of a shock," said Jonathan Tucker, a former member of the U.N. team that inspected Iraq's bioweapons stocks after the Persian Gulf War and now director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies' Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program in Washington.


Comet May Be the Darkest Object Yet Seen


SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 13 — A comet visited by the spacecraft Deep Space 1 in September may be the darkest object yet seen in the solar system, scientists reported today. Comets are generally very dark, not unlike charcoal briquettes. Only when they swing near the Sun, where solar radiation boils off gas and dust, do comets light up. Halley's comet, for example, reflects only 4 percent of the sunlight that hits it. Click on the link below for the rest of the story.


Drastic Shifts in Climate Are Likely, Experts Warn


The vast reshaping of the environment by modern civilization raises the chances of sudden and drastic upheavals in the climate, a panel of experts warns. In a report released yesterday in Washington by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a panel of 11 scientists examined the possibility of abrupt climate change, in which small events can bring on rapid and great consequences. Dr. Richard B. Alley, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and chairman of the committee, compared abrupt climate change to a light switch, while gradual climate — what most climatologists study — is like a light dimmer. Press upward on a dimmer, and the light brightens a little. Press more, and the light brightens more. With a switch, press lightly and nothing happens. Press hard enough, and the light abruptly turns on. "What the research shows is that there are switches as well as dimmers in Earth's system," Dr. Alley said. The scientists do not foresee any imminent changes, and the report advises that the public "not be fatalistic about the threats." The panel recommends further research to understand the mechanisms that can cause the sudden changes. Most of the report focuses on abrupt changes that occurred naturally, long before humans dominated the landscape. One prominent example is a period 12,800 years ago known as the Younger Dryas cold interval. The climate had almost completely recovered from the last ice age, but then average temperatures dropped 10 degrees or more and remained cold for more than 1,000 years. Then the Earth abruptly warmed again, perhaps 15 degrees in a decade. By contrast, the warming of the Earth in the last century was 1 degree. Click on the link below for the rest of the story.


Thursday, December 13, 2001


When Pennsylvania State University evolutionary biologist Blair Hedges is rooting around in dead leaves on his hands and knees, hunting for the tiniest animals alive, he grabs for any flash of movement he sees. Most recently, his labors earned him a dime-size Caribbean gecko--the world's smallest creature among reptiles, birds and mammals.



The FBI has confirmed that it has under development a technology that could use the Internet to plant Trojan Horse software in a criminal or terrorist suspect's PC that would capture passwords to access the suspect's e-mail and other documents. An FBI official said, "Like all technology projects or tools deployed by the FBI it would be used pursuant to the appropriate legal process." (Reuters/Yahoo 12 Dec 2001)


Santa is a truck driver

Americans believe Santa Claus is most likely to drive a pickup truck when he's not riding a sleigh. A survey also revealed they think he'd work as a motivational speaker when he's not delivering presents, and would relax with easy-listening and classical music. The results were from a poll of 1,043 Santa believers carried out by Zogby International earlier this month. Spokesman Alan Crockett said: "People have this image of what this legendary character is like. What we wanted to do was find out who they think this person would be aside from what he does on the big day." Twenty seven per cent of those surveyed thought Santa would drive a pickup truck, 25% said a 4x4, while 4% thought he'd get around in a sports car. As a person interested in helping others, 24% said he'd work as a motivational speaker, while 19% said his workshop experience would qualify him as a manufacturing manager. Twenty nine per cent said he'd prefer easy-listening music while 28% said he'd opt for classical. Only 2% thought he would listen to New Age tunes.

Story filed: 13:19 Thursday 13th December 2001



Buffy actor says his house is haunted

Buffy The Vampire Slayer star Anthony Head claims his house is haunted. The actor says the spirit of a young girl haunts his 19th century house in Bristol. But he says he's happy to carry on living there because the ghost is so gentle. Anthony, who plays Rupert Giles in the series, told Teletext: "The house has the spirit of a young girl. We saw some photos taken in the 1900s and there she was. Two people have seen her and we've heard her. "Several visitors have seen her and she is not frightening at all. It's really quite lovely because she is gentle. He adds: "She got a bit stirred up when we first moved in. She doesn't suffer fools gladly. We've had some builders in who have taken the mickey and she has made life difficult for them by ruining their measurements."

Army confirms making anthrax in recent years

Military laboratory in Utah says powder is all accounted for

By Scott Shane, Sun Staff, Originally published December 13, 2001

The U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground confirmed last night that it has produced dry anthrax powder in recent years but said the anthrax has been "well-protected" and is all accounted for. The Dugway statement was issued in response to an article in The Sun yesterday revealing that the Army facility in the Utah desert has produced weapons-grade anthrax identical in important respects to the anthrax used in the postal attacks. (For the rest of the story click on the link below.)


Following from "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm



from The New York Times

The vast reshaping of the environment by modern civilization raises the chances of sudden and drastic upheavals in the climate, a panel of experts warns. In a report released yesterday in Washington by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a panel of 11 scientists examined the possibility of abrupt climate change, in which small events can bring on rapid and great consequences. Dr. Richard B. Alley, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and chairman of the committee, compared abrupt climate change to a light switch, while gradual climate - what most climatologists study - is like a light dimmer. Press upward on a dimmer, and the light brightens a little. Press more, and the light brightens more. With a switch, press lightly and nothing happens. Press hard enough, and the light abruptly turns on. "What the research shows is that there are switches as well as dimmers in Earth's system," Dr. Alley said.



from The San Francisco Chronicle

An intensive effort to record and analyze last month's Leonid meteor shower is paying off in some unexpected ways, scientists said yesterday, including a much-improved ability to forecast future spectacles. In a replay of one of the most thrilling celestial events in recent memory, professional meteor trackers gave a meeting of scientists in San Francisco a close-up view of just what was happening as thousands of comet specks flared across Earth's atmosphere. "We are really getting a handle on meteor showers as an astronomical phenomenon, so meteor showers have gone from anecdotal events seen by few to a space-weather phenomenon that you can confidently predict," said Peter Jenniskens, principal investigator for a NASA airborne laboratory that watched the Leonids from above cloud cover. Another Leonid show is expected to peak during the early morning hours next Nov. 19 -- and now promises to be just about as awesome a display as this year's, billed as the best of a generation.



from The Associate Press

SAN FRANCISCO - NASA has begun giving scientists access to portions of extraordinarily accurate 3-D maps of Earth's surface that were placed under a security embargo following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania. The agency allowed scientists to begin downloading data for U.S. sites on Friday, but it is withholding maps of foreign territories. Scientists are prohibited from making the information public. The digital maps are being processed from data gathered during the February 2000 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which made 1 trillion measurements. Scientists had planned to present the first large maps Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting here. Instead, scientists displayed only one map - a digital mosaic of California.



from The Washington Post

DECATUR, Ga. -- People in the Senate office where a letter containing anthrax spores was opened in October may have been exposed to concentrations of the bacteria that were tens, and possibly hundreds, of times higher than the normally fatal dose. If that is the case, then immediate antibiotic treatment probably saved their lives -- and will be imperative for other targets of mail-borne anthrax attacks. Those are among the conclusions suggested by experiments done by Canadian military researchers months before the events in the office of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.). "There was a very great risk of someone getting massive concentrations of spores from just opening a letter," said Bill Kournikakis, a scientist at a laboratory in Alberta, who described his findings to about 100 epidemiologists, toxicologists, physicians and veterinarians meeting here to plan bioterror research.



from The Boston Globe

CAMBRIDGE -- For years, Julian Adams had labored on a drug known as LDP-341. He had watched it rid mice and monkeys of all signs of cancer without the devastating side effects of conventional treatments. He believed it could be a breakthrough drug, one that mounted an entirely new type of attack on the deadly disease. But convincing the outside world had proved difficult especially as the company he founded changed hands twice in a span of six months. For a time, he feared his could be one of the promising drugs that slipped through the cracks in the system. Then, in August 2000, came a moment Adams will never forget. In an early-stage clinical test, the drug erased all signs of cancer from a 42-year-old woman who months before was in the advanced stages of multiple myeloma, an often fatal blood-borne form of cancer. "She would not be alive today" if not for the drug, Adams said. "She's been off treatment for 15 months now, and she's still alive. That was a eureka moment."



from The Boston Globe

Luck rarely seems to shine on the people of Burkina Faso. They live in a landlocked African country with a per-capita income of less than a dollar a day, barren land, and warring neighbors. Formerly called Upper Volta, military strongman Thomas Sankara renamed the country in 1984 to a phrase meaning land of the good-natured people. Not long thereafter, Sankara was murdered by his close friend, Blaise Compaore, the country's current dictator. But, amid the turmoil and poverty, the people of Burkina Faso may have something that the rest of the world wants and desperately needs - a gene that thwarts malaria. One out of every 10 people in Burkina Faso has a gene that significantly reduces the risk of dying from the mosquito-borne blood disorder, according to a team of Italian researchers led by David Modiano of the University of Rome La Sapienza. The discovery might help scientists make a vaccine that could potentially save millions of lives a year: Just last year, the 2 million to 3 million Africans who lost their lives to malaria exceeded, by a factor of four, the total number of Americans killed abroad in combat in this country's history.


Wednesday, December 12, 2001




December 12, 2001 -- A psychic phone service is about to get hit with a class-action lawsuit claiming it ripped off a heartsick Manhattan woman. Enraged customer Mary Padilla says she filed suit in Manhattan federal court against the "Miss Cleo" psychic reading service. "For the sake of consumers in New York and elsewhere, I'm going to use all the state and federal laws to bust Miss Cleo's crystal balls," Padilla's lawyer, Susan Chana Lask, told The Post. Padilla, 44, said she called Miss Cleo about two months ago, while she was having trouble with a relationship and after she got a letter from Miss Cleo's company saying they knew someone was talking behind her back. "I called up, they transferred me to two different people, asked my name three times," said Padilla. "I told him he was wasting my time, and he hung up on me." Padilla said she was suddenly besieged by high-pressure sales pitches. "They were calling me almost every morning," she said. "They e-mailed me at home. Now I'm even getting e-mails at my work office. I don't know how they got that." Several states filed fraud lawsuits against the company in the past year, charging it pitches "free" psychic readings only to switch callers to a high-priced $5-a-minute line. Besides looking to get even in court, Padilla wants more immediate satisfaction. "Leave me the hell alone and stop calling!" she said.


from The New York Times Four years ago, Dr. Tanja Dominko went to a laboratory in Oregon with high hopes that she would soon be cloning monkeys. The lab was generously financed with federal grants, there were plenty of monkeys to work with and most experts thought that since Dolly the sheep had just been created by cloning, monkeys would not be far behind.

She left a year ago, with a cloning portfolio that she calls her gallery of horrors. After three years, and about 300 attempts, the best she got was a placenta with no fetus. Most of the time, she saw grotesquely abnormal embryos containing cells without chromosomes, where the cell's DNA resides; or cells with three or four nuclei and one time even nine; or cells that looked more like cancer cells than the cells of a healthy animal.

So Dr. Dominko joined a long line of cloning researchers unable to create clones. And the story she tells, she says, is a seldom-heard cautionary tale.



from Reuters

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon has cordoned off a remote forest village to stop an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus thought to have killed at least 10 people in the central African country, health authorities said Monday.

In the nearby Democratic Republic of Congo, officials investigating the mysterious deaths of 17 people said they could probably rule out Ebola -- which bleeds its victims to death and has no known cure.

The World Health Organization had confirmed during the weekend that at least one of those killed by hemorrhagic fever in Gabon had died of Ebola. "The zone is completely cordoned off," Gabon's assistant health director, Obame Edou, told Reuters. "A team has left for the area today and the government will not delay in releasing news on the epidemic."


Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Supreme Court Will Not Reconsider Case Allowing Student-Led Prayer atGraduations

WASHINGTON (AP) - Student-led graduation messages, which opponents call official school prayer in thin disguise, may continue in Jacksonville, Fla., high schools. The Supreme Court said Monday it will not review a lower court's ruling that found the policy constitutionally sound . . .


From: robhardy@ayrix.net

To: skeptic@listproc.hcf.jhu.edu

  Date: 12/10/01 7:39:18 PM

Subject: The President's Skepticism

Skeptics may only infrequently agree with the religious views of President

George W. Bush, but tonight we may find agreement.  Mr. Bush was speaking

about the videotape which reputedly shows Osama Bin Laden gloating over

_his_ success of the World Trade Center attacks, demonstrating his


The President explained, in a spot shown on the news this evening, that

the videotape proves that Osama Bin Laden has no soul.  I, too, believe that

Osama Bin Laden has no soul, and while the President and I seem to have

used different reasoning, we have reached the same conclusion.


Student solves biological clock mystery

By William J. Cromie

Gazette Staff


A 23-year-old student has gone a long way toward solving one of the big mysteries of biology - how biological clocks are set. His findings could make life easier for shift workers, astronauts, jet-lag victims, and other insomniacs.

Security guards for 'nowhere' strike for contract, higher pay



A group of 70 security guards known as the "camo dudes" walked off their jobs Monday in Las Vegas and at the covert military installation known as Area 51, a place they said they can't talk about. "Use your imagination," union President Vernell Hall said when asked where he worked as he and more than a dozen other striking security officers displayed "On Strike" signs on Haven Street near McCarran International Airport. That is where nondescript passenger jets, known as Janet planes, routinely take the guards and other workers to the installation on the dry bed of Groom Lake, 90 miles north of Las Vegas, a place they referred to only as "nowhere" and "out of town." Hall, leader of the Security Police Association of Nevada, an in-house collective bargaining unit, said the association's members decided to go on strike after three months of negotiations for a new contract with their employer, EG&G Technical Services Inc., ended in a stalemate. Hall said the issues include lack of adequate wages and benefits. "There's been too much overtime since Sept. 11. Overtime on top of overtime," Hall said. Greg Rentchler, security manager for EG&G, confirmed that about 70 guards went on strike early Monday at the company's Grier Drive offices and at "remote locations." "They work at remote test locations. They support the Nellis (Air Force) ranges," Rentchler said. "We have a close relationship with these guys, and they are in negotiations as we speak," he said. Rentchler said supervisors are manning the posts vacated by the striking guards. He said the guards previously held a contract with another company, EG&G Special Projects, until a new one was signed in 1996 with EG&G Technical Services Inc. He said EG&G Technical Services Inc. holds a contract with the federal government to provide services for the Department of Defense, including a security guard force. Although Rentchler would not give details about his reference to "remote locations," a source familiar with the guard force said last week that the guards would strike at 3 a.m. Monday. The source said many of the guards had been assigned to Area 51, the much-publicized, 38,400-acre Groom Lake installation where high-tech U.S. aircraft are tested. It is the same place where former workers at the installation have charged that coatings for radar-evading stealth fighter jets were burned in open trenches, sending toxic clouds into the air that made them ill. Glenn Campbell, who operates the Internet bookstore Aliens on Earth and formerly directed an Area 51 watchdog group, said he received an anonymous call Monday from a man who said "the camo dudes are on strike." Campbell often has referred to the guards as "camo dudes" because of the camouflaged uniforms they wear while patrolling places where public lands border restricted areas around the Groom Lake installation. While pickets paraded outside the ramp for Janet planes at McCarran, another group sat in lawn chairs outside EG&G Technical Services offices a few miles away on Grier Drive. One striking security officer at that location, Bill Hull, said he wants "fair and equitable treatment from our company." A 17-year employee, Hull said he hasn't received a pay raise in "14 or 15 years" and said he lost at least 25 percent of his pay when the contract was switched to EG&G Technical Services in 1996. Hull, wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with a U.S. flag flanked by two alien-face pins, said he is paid $15.05 per hour but should be making at least $16.03 per hour. He said the guards work 12-hour shifts, staying four days "out of town," before flying back to Las Vegas and getting three days off. "We don't get break periods," he said.


Random answers win illiterate man top university place

An illiterate butcher has been offered a place at Brazil's top university after giving random answers in a multiple choice admission test. Severino Da Silva, from Nova Iguaçu, has passed the test for the law course at the Estacio De Sa University in Rio De Janeiro. He ranked 9th among more than 1,000 hopefuls. Mr Da Silva, who is 27, pretended to be ill when it came to the written test. He still managed to be admitted to the course thanks to his "stunning performance" in the multiple choice section. His admission has provoked outrage at Brazil's education ministry, O Globo newspaper reports. He was put up to applying for a place at Brazil's most prestigious private university by journalist Carlos Palhano. Mr Palhano said: "I started thinking these admission questionaires don't really test the candidates' culture." The director of the University, Gilberto de Oliveira Castro, said: "Severino won't be admitted until he presents his secondary grade studies diploma."


Harry Potter 'lures youngsters into witchcraft'

An Australian MP has blamed Harry Potter for sparking a resurgence of witchcraft. Reverend Fred Nile says witches are seizing on the craze to lure new recruits. The New South Wales MP says organisers of a Brisbane witchcraft festival had linked the Harry Potter craze to the renewed interest. "The Harry Potter film and books are being used by witches to recruit young people into witchcraft," said the Christian Democratic representative, reports news.com.


Humming noise forces couple to leave house

A couple say they have been forced to move from their home of 25 years because of a mysterious humming noise. Douglas and Adele Farquharson have failed to locate the source of the noise in their home in Banffshire, Scotland. They were told they could be sensitive to electro-magnetic energy or could be suffering from electro-stress. Scientific readings showed they were picking up intense low-frequency sound, but no-one could explain why. After finding brief respite in hotels, caravans and tents, the couple decided to leave. They have now moved to a new home at nearby Turriff, reports The Daily Record. Adele said: "I sometimes think we've been zapped by something because sometimes we can still hear the noise, despite moving. We have been told we could be sensitive to electro-magnetic energy. We may even have something called electro-stress, which is caused by electro-energy in the home but the medical profession don't know much about it." Douglas, who teaches at Banff Academy, suspects the couple pick up low-frequency noise from telecommunications masts. He said: "The noise in the old house was terrible. In the end I couldn't cope with it." Local MSP Stewart Stevenson said: "The local council have now accepted there is a definite noise. I will do what I can for the couple but it is difficult when you don't know the source."

Monday, December 10, 2001

Supreme Court Will Not Reconsider Case Allowing Student-Led Prayer at Graduations
WASHINGTON (AP) - Student-led graduation messages, which opponents call
official school prayer in thin disguise, may continue in Jacksonville,
Fla., high schools. The Supreme Court said Monday it will not review a
lower court's ruling that found the policy constitutionally sound . . .


Ebola in Gabon
GENEVA, Switzerland -- The World Health Organisation says there had been at least one case of the deadly Ebola virus in

The confirmation follows reports that 10 people had died of a mystery illness in the Central African country.

A WHO official said in the Gabon capital Libreville on Friday that 10 people, including a nurse, had died in Gabon from a disease it was
feared could be Ebola.

The WHO told Reuters from its Geneva headquarters on Saturday at least one case of Ebola had been reported from Gabon.

At least 66 people died from Ebola in the same area of Gabon in 1996.




December 8, 2001 -- IN his stage show at the Duke theater, Marc Salem - a
world renowned "mentalist" - tries to keep it light.
In "Mind Games, Too," Salem astonishes audiences (and critics) with his
inexplicable ability to guess what's on their minds - from numbers to
memories of events past.
He offers $100,000 to anyone who can prove he uses plants, electronic
devices or any other form of trickery.
The problem for Salem, 48, is that he can't turn off his perceptions when
the show's over - and there are some things he just doesn't want to know.
At the start of his career, Salem got considerable attention for accurately
predicting the date on which Elvis Presley would die, but has since given
up foreboding deaths.
"It's morbid," he says.
Salem, an Upper West Sider, is convinced he inherited his abilities from
his rabbi father and that one reason his father died so young - of a heart
attack at age 41 - was that he so acutely felt the emotional pain of those
around him.
"He was prescient," Salem says.
After Salem's father died suddenly, Marc's cousin went into the rabbi's
study and found on his desk a book. A bookmark directed him to a page,
where a sentence was underlined: "After death, life must go on."
Salem's own abilities surfaced early, and innocently enough.
He was just 9 years old, he says, when he accurately told his brothers -
though he had no idea how he knew it - that his parents were planning a
surprise family vacation.
As a young man, Salem studied theater, psychology and non-verbal
communication - how people speak through their eyes, body motions and other
cues - and took his talents on stage.
When Salem met his future wife, Tova, he wouldn't let her see his show for
the first six months they were dating, for fear he'd scare her off.
Now she accepts that he's a bit, well, unusual.
"Things happen in our lives that really amaze me. If I send him shopping
and forget to write down on the list something I really want, he'll buy it
anyway," Tova Salem told The Post.
"He's very sensitive. I was home recovering from surgery, and,
unexpectedly, got really sick. He suddenly showed up; he'd rushed home from
the office. He just knew I wasn't feeling well.
"When we moved, I packed everything in boxes, but didn't mark them. I was
wondering where a certain hat of mine could be. He said, 'It's in that
box.' It was there.
"After being married to him for 11 years, I'm used to this."
Salem has learned to keep some things to himself.
At a recent show, he received "terrible imagery" from one audience member
and later found out the man had survived a Nazi concentration camp.
Another night, he began happily describing a vacation an audience member
had taken, but as the picture became clearer in Salem's mind, he quickly
changed subjects - it turns out the man had taken the trip with a
girlfriend, not the wife seated beside him.
And when Salem announced that an audience member was carrying stolen
property, the man fled the theater.
The moral? Says Salem: "Don't bring stolen goods to my show!"

Christian convert cuts 'sinful' penis off with machete - Your News from Ananova

A Filipino man cut off his penis with a machete because he thought it was
leading him to sin.

The Christian convert is recovering in hospital and claims he has no
regrets about maiming himself.

His brother-in-law says his family have been unable to find his detached penis.


Friday, December 07, 2001


Town pays for magician to keep New Year's day sunny

An Italian council has hired a magician to make sure the weather will be
good on New Year's Day.

The council of Jesolo has given Giovanni Boscolo the task of spreading away
the clouds during the festive holiday.

The resort town has hired Boscolo for the last four years for the same task
- and has enjoyed fair weather each time.

They will only pay the magician if he succeeds in keeping the weather fine.

Boscolo, also known as Panzin, claims he has developed a scientific method
to attract or spread away the clouds using "the magnetic power of earth and
water", La Nuova Venezia newspaper reports.

He is reportedly already working in a laboratory on his technique, which
has not been revealed in further detail.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have directly detected
the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system that lies more than
150 light-years away. The discovery of the element sodium in the planet's
atmosphere, NASA scientists say, is the first step in measuring more
complex chemical compositions of planetary atmospheres far from Earth.

Deaf people use the region of the brain associated with hearing to sense
vibrations, a new study shows. Because vibrations and sound have similar
features, the researchers note, it makes sense that the brain can adapt
to replace one with the other in a processing region. What's more, it may
be helpful to expose deaf children to music and vibrations converted from
speech sounds early in life while their brains are developing.

Wednesday, December 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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Today's Headlines - December 5, 2001

from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the biotechnology firm that reported recent breakthroughs in human cloning said on Tuesday that his team was making swift progress toward achieving new human therapies within six months and urged Congress not to interfere.

Michael West, president of the Massachusetts company Advanced Cell Technologies, which said last month that it had cloned a human embryo, told a Senate panel he would be disappointed if his team could not make major scientific advances within six months -- creating longer-lived embryos and extracting stem cells and turning them into human tissue such as heart muscle or neurons.

West, who is also a scientist and member of the company's cloning research team, said that if Congress delayed or banned his research, it would be tantamount to depriving 3,000 people a day of potential treatments for degenerative disease.


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Technologies that hold the promise of personally tailored medical treatments -- a new heart grown from a tiny plug of skin, for instance -- sound good but are too experimental to invest in yet, a venture capitalist said on Tuesday.

Besides the technological hurdles, which remain huge, there are tricky issues of patents and politics to get by, Michael Lytton of Oxford Bioscience Partners told a conference.

"I do not see venture companies rushing to fund them and, I would argue, for legitimate reasons, Lytton told a conference on regenerative medicine being held in Washington.

"Frankly, we are waiting to see a business model that makes sense in terms of using stem cells for therapy."


from The Washington Post

Finding enough radioactive material to make a "dirty bomb" might be relatively easy, experts say, but the effects of such a weapon could never remotely approach those of a nuclear explosion.

"The nuclear device is a weapon of mass destruction," said nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Dirty bombs are weapons of mass disruption, in terms of frightening people, the cleanup and the potential economic consequences."

Interest in dirty bombs has deepened recently among U.S. intelligence officials because of mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network may be developing expertise in building them.

But Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said yesterday that U.S. authorities had no information that bin Laden had made such a weapon. Ridge added that the Bush administration's latest anti-terrorist alert had nothing to do with the threat of a dirty bomb. Sources have told The Washington Post that concerns about al Qaeda's nuclear capabilities had played a role in the alert.


from The New York Times

In its efforts to clear ground zero with as little disruption as possible to the surrounding area in Lower Manhattan, the city is exploring the use of ground-penetrating radar to map the tangle of underground utilities without digging them up first, a spokesman for the Department of Design and Construction said yesterday.

The project, which will be aided by a contribution of about $145,000 from a regional government in Sweden, where some of the technology was developed, could allow the city to speed the cleanup and reconstruction and cut through the confusion and danger often created by old maps of underground electrical lines, phone lines, gas pipes and even submerged trolley tracks.

The radar could also be used to identify the undiscovered damage to underground utilities caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. That is because the technique was used last summer to do some experimental mapping of the area around the World Trade Center, and a comparison of before-and-after pictures could reveal changes.


from The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - After another delay in the launch of space shuttle Endeavour, NASA fueled the ship again Wednesday for a launch to begin a mission to ferry a fresh crew to the international space station.

Rain clouds over the launch pad scuttled Tuesday evening's attempt to send Endeavour and seven astronauts on their way. NASA waited as long as possible before halting the countdown, conducted amid unprecedented security. Similar weather was expected Wednesday afternoon.

"God's in control of the weather; we'll wait for him," commander Dominic Gorie said before crawling out of the shuttle cockpit.

On Wednesday morning, NASA began filling Endeavour's external tank with more than 500,000 gallons of fuel as forecasters expressed growing concern for high wind, rain and clouds at launch time, right before sunset.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

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Spanish Court Acquits Scientology Members Accused of Conspiracy

MADRID, Spain (AP) - A Spanish court on Monday acquitted 15 members and employees of the Church of Scientology on charges of criminal conspiracy, closing a case dating back to 1984 . . .


UFO Research Guide

From: Leonard R. Cleavelin leonard@cleavelin.net

Just for the novelty value, I decided to post an on topic post for a change.

While mucking about the Naval Historical Center Website, looking up some information relevant to a thread in another mailing list I belong to, I saw a link (under the FAQ section) to an "Unidentified Flying Object Research Guide". Why there would be such a thing in the NAVAL Historical Center webspace I don't know, but for any of you who are interested, I thought I'd pass along the URL:


Best regards,

Len Cleavelin

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Science In the News

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

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

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - December 4, 2001

from The Los Angeles Times

WORCESTER, Mass. -- As a young evangelical Christian, Michael D. West would protest outside abortion clinics, urging women to consider the value of life growing within them. Today, he will tell a Senate panel why he is now a leading advocate for a far different proposition: cloning humans as a way to cure disease, even if it means destroying human embryos.

West is chief executive of Advanced Cell Technology Inc., the Massachusetts company that touched off a worldwide debate last week by announcing that it had created the first human embryos through cloning. President Bush called the work "morally wrong" for creating life only to destroy it. The Vatican offered "unequivocal condemnation."

On Monday, Senate Republicans unsuccessfully tried to force a vote on a six-month moratorium on human cloning, with jail terms for violators. The House passed a permanent ban in July, and Senate leaders have promised to debate the issue next year. Now, West has become a man with an additional mission: to persuade Congress, before it outlaws much of his work, that cloning might one day help doctors replace the failing tissues that cause diseases.


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An expert from a U.S. firm that announced it had cloned human embryos offered reassurance on Monday to members of Congress and others worried that a human being might be cloned any moment, saying it is far too hard to do.

Work with monkeys shows there is something about primates -- the class of animals that includes humans, monkeys and other higher animals -- that makes them difficult to clone, Tanja Diminko of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) told a medical conference.

Diminko said her own colleagues at the Massachusetts-based company, who announced last week that they had cloned human embryos, may not actually have succeeded.

"It might be that you just can't make humans this way," Diminko told a conference. "It is something unique about primates," she added in remarks to reporters later.


from The Boston Globe

For years, the buzzword in the treatment of depression has been serotonin, the brain chemical that helps regulate moods. Wildly popular antidepressants such as Prozac were designed to keep serotonin in the bloodstream, often providing impressive relief for many of the 19 million Americans diagnosed with depression.

But researchers are discovering that the serotonin fixation may have been oversimplified. Depression now appears to be the result of a malfunction in the connections between different regions of the brain - the ''emotional'' brain, the ''thinking'' brain, and the more primitive brain stem and hypothalamus, which control basic functions such as sleep, appetite and libido. Sometimes those malfunctions are chemical, but that's only part of the story.

At the University of Toronto, for instance, scientists have identified a region in the limbic system - the emotional brain - that seems to determine whether antidepressants will work or not. If this so-called ''area 24a'' is overactive, depressed people improve with drug therapy; if it's not, they won't.


from The New York Times

In science's great chain of being, the particle physicists place themselves with the angels, looking down from the heavenly spheres on the chemists, biologists, geologists, meteorologists - those who are applying, not discovering, nature's most fundamental laws. Everything, after all, is made from subatomic particles. Once you have a concise theory explaining how they work, the rest should just be filigree.

Even the kindred discipline of solid-state physics, which is concerned with the mass behavior of particles - what metals, crystals, semiconductors, whole lumps of matter do - is often considered a lesser pursuit. "Squalid state physics," Murray Gell-Mann, discoverer of the quark, dubbed it. Others dismiss it as "dirt physics."

Recently there have been rumblings from the muck. In a clash of scientific cultures, some prominent squalid-staters have been challenging the particle purists as arbiters of ultimate truth.

"The stakes here are very high," said Dr. Robert B. Laughlin, a Stanford University theorist who shared a Nobel Prize in 1998 for discoveries in solid-state physics. "At issue is a deep epistemological matter having to do with what physics is."


"Conversation" from The New York Times

Dr. Oliver Sacks is never still.

He is running to retrieve a lump of wolframite ("a good, dense, black African mineral"), a small tablet of gold, a bar of tungsten, a snippet of gallium, a goblet of uranium glass. ("It doesn't register on my Geiger counter, but it's sufficient to give this lovely, greenish yellow shimmer.")

He is off to the hall closet, shining an ultraviolet light into a cardboard box to reveal a magical garden of fluorescent rocks, orange-red, bright green, blue.

When he began work on his new book, "Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood," he said: "As soon as I started writing about things, I wanted to have them around. So when I wrote about my uncle and his fluorescent minerals, then I wanted fluorescent minerals myself."


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Monday, December 03, 2001

New Saucer Smear up

Finally, the new "issue" (Nov. 1) of Saucer Smear is up for your entertainment.



Science In the News

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

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

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - December 3, 2001

from Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Scientists who created a furor by cloning human embryos said Sunday they had made monkey eggs grow into embryos without the benefit of sperm, in a process known as parthenogenesis.

They said their experiments showed the potential for using the therapy to provide tailored medical treatments for women, or perhaps to use eggs donated by women to treat close relatives. They also opened new avenues of understanding basic biology.

Michael West, chief executive of Advanced Cell Technology Inc., said his company hopes to use such experiments to find ways to rejuvenate human tissues and to treat diseases. "This whole field is so new. That is why we need all opportunities to be open," he told a conference on regenerative medicine. West and other scientists at the conference called on the U.S. government to keep their research legal and to provide funding.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Scientists will open the anthrax-laden letter sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy whenever they feel confident they can recover all of the anthrax in the envelope, the FBI said Saturday.

"No one wants to go forward until additional equipment is in place and has been tested in trial runs," said FBI spokesman John Collingwood, who did not put a time frame on the process.

Scientists want to use the equipment to ensure that the anthrax is free of any electrostatic charge when the envelope is opened, said Collingwood. Otherwise, anthrax spores could fly out of the envelope and be lost to investigators, a problem which occurred when scientists were trying to recover anthrax from a similar letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

The goal is to de-ionize the anthrax particles without harming them, Collingwood added.


from The New York Times

It is not a hovercraft, a helicopter backpack or a teleportation pod.

The mystery transportation device being developed by the award-winning inventor Dean Kamen - the subject of continuous fevered speculation since provocative clues and predictions surfaced in media reports last January - is not hydrogen- powered, a favored theory in Internet discussions. Nor does it run on a superefficient Stirling engine (yet).

But if the public's collective yearning for Jetsonian travel technology must remain unrequited this week, at least the speculators will have their curiosity satisfied.

Mr. Kamen plans to demonstrate today a two-wheeled battery-powered device designed for a single standing rider. Its chief novelty lies in the uncanny effect, produced by a finely tuned gyroscopic balancing mechanism, of intuiting where its rider wants to go - and going there.


from The New York Times

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are known for their ambitious pranks. At the 1982 Harvard-Yale football game, a hidden weather balloon emblazoned with the letters M.I.T. sprang from an explosion of talcum powder on the field. In 1998, students hacked the university's Web site, replacing its home page with an image of Mickey Mouse and the headline "Disney to Acquire MIT for $6.9 Billion."

Now, a parody Web site devised by a student at M.I.T.'s Media Laboratory sends up the offbeat research and famously inflated jargon of that program.

On the parody site, which mimics the design of a legitimate M.I.T. Web page, the Erotic Computation Group (ecg.media.mit.edu) claims to study "the implications of modern technology on human eroticism in its myriad forms" as well as ways to "broaden the range of human amative expression." (That may not sound too far afield from real Media Lab programs like Pet Projects, an actual research group that on the real Media Lab Web site describes itself as using "computer-based tools to enhance pet-human interactions and the lives of pet animals.")


from The Los Angeles Times

Robert Ballard has spent a major portion of his life undersea, participating in 115 expeditions with both manned and unmanned submersibles. He is most famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic, but he also discovered hydrothermal vents in the depths of the oceans and a host of ships, including the Lusitania and the Bismarck.

He spoke recently with The Times about his experiences and goals. Q: How did you start using robotic submersibles? Ballard: Around 1979, I began to question the utility of manned submarines and felt that we should shift to robotics. I took a sabbatical to Stanford and I began to design the Argo-Jason system--that was the first tele-operated robotic system. Ironically, my first test expedition was the Titanic. . . . Quite honestly, the Titanic was a cover for classified military purposes: to go inside the Thresher [a lost U.S. nuclear-powered submarine] and find the nuclear weapons that were on it. Little Jason Jr., which went inside the Titanic, was really designed to go inside the forward torpedo room of the Scorpion [another lost U.S. submarine], but they kept it under wraps.


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Teacher banned for not lying to children.


Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes

The Women's Quarterly Summer 2001

Rael Jean Isaac explains why we've been so willing to believe fantastic tales of sexual abuse

Full story at:


Candidate for Darwin Award?

Scam costs bouncer limb and life

Rory Carroll in Rome
Monday December 3, 2001
The Guardian

There was a flaw in Andreas Plack's plan to con money from insurance companies by mutilating his leg with a chainsaw. His cousin and apparent collaborator, Cristian Kleon, lacked medical knowledge.

According to the Rome daily La Repubblica, Plack, 23, a club bouncer, intended to phone the emergency services on his mobile after the phony attack in woodland near Bolzano in northern Italy. Then he would claim compensation to the tune of 500,000 euros (£310,000) and a disability pension. Kleon, 29, was to get a share.

Kleon, it is alleged, duly cut the left leg below the knee and drove off as planned to dump the newly purchased chainsaw in the river Adige. But he had severed a major artery. The operator who took Plack's call last Tuesday heard only incomprehensible words followed by a death rattle.

Bolzano feared a serial killer was on the loose. But, police say, after initial denials Kleon confessed. He is now in a jail cell facing charges of homicide and aggravated fraud.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Articles/Items of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks to Joe Littrell, James Oberg, Eric Eckman

Town sees mass meditation as way to world peace
By Julie Deardorff
Chicago Tribune


"Even before terrorist attacks stunned the nation, the people in this town were diligently working for world peace. Here, every new home sprouting from former corn and soybean fields faces east for enlightenment and harmony. Every resident practices transcendental meditation for inner serenity and "unbounded awareness.""

Mavericks claim creation of many cloned human embryos
by Andy Coghlan
New Scientist


"Mavericks aiming to produce the first cloned person have claimed they are already a step or two ahead of Advanced Cell Technology, the Massachusetts-based company that announced on Sunday it had created cloned human embryos."

Harry Potter banned in some school districts
By Eric Bradley
Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers


"It comes as a surprise to local teachers that Harry Potter, a character who has encouraged thousands of area children to read, is one of the most hated figures in recent literary history."

Unearthed: the 1936 film that first launched Nessie mania
Scotland on Sunday


"THE grainy black and white images of a dark blob moving slowly across grey water was hailed in cinemas across Britain as final 'proof' of the Loch Ness monster's existence and sparked nationwide Nessie mania that has continued until this day."

Camp for Nude Witches Fights Closing


"A Kansas retreat that caters to witches and pagan rituals is fighting for survival amid community talk that naked witches may be weaving magical spells in the moonlight."

Blaming Jews For 9/11 Must Stop
New York Daily News


"Conspiracy theories about Sept. 11 abound in Arab and Muslim nations. The pernicious lie that continues to resonate, one that has been gaining ground among some Muslims in the United States, is that Israel somehow was directly involved."

Exhuming the Truth
New Times L.A.


"For years the Self-Realization Fellowship wanted to disinter the body of its founder, Eastern holy man Paramahansa Yogananda, from a crypt at Forest Lawn Glendale and place it in a shrine to be built at the religion's headquarters atop Mount Washington."

Peace, Love, and Misunderstandings
SF Weekly


"The last two months haven't been easy for Faustin Bray. Bray is a self-proclaimed "profound seeker," and she's recently lost her guide."

Benin alert over 'penis theft' panic
BBC News


"The authorities in Benin have ordered security forces to curb violence in the commercial capital, Cotonou, following the deaths of five people by vigilantes."

'Witchcraft' Murders Cast A Gruesome Spell
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post


"In his mind's eye, the image of what Jose Antonio Serra saw in a burned patch of jungle on the Amazon's edge is still chillingly fresh -- not because the murder happened just seven weeks ago, but because there are some things a father can never forget."

From James Oberg:

I just had my attention drawn to Joel Carpenter's hoax theory research re the McMinnville photo. Interesting!


Cleveland Clinic now cozying up to alternative medicine - really
Roger Mezger, Plain Dealer Reporter

Headlines guaranteed to make you say, "Yeah, right":

Pope marries

Bin Laden wins Nobel Peace Prize

Cleveland Clinic embraces alternative medicine.

The pope is still single, and Osama isn't winning any awards. But the Clinic, a monument to mainstream Western medicine and high-tech procedures, really is setting up a Center for Alternative Medicine. The Clinic is beginning to introduce its doctors to established nontraditional treatments such as meditation, dance therapy and tai chi. Down the road, if a government grant comes through, the Clinic hopes to study energy healing, a spiritual theory that a "life force" within us affects our physical well-being. "This is not bizarre anymore," said Joan Fox, the new center's director.


Witch doc says angel gave her miracle recipe in dream

From Ananova at


A Bangkok witch doctor is treating 1,000 people a day with a potion she claims an angel described to her in a dream.

Tim Krong-ngern's recipe is made from boiled pig's tails and palm sugar.

Worried health officials say the former noodle seller's medicine is weird.

Her neighbour Nipa Sakpetch says a dying Aids victim has been cured.

"That boy was her first patient. Once he was bed-ridden, now he can go anywhere he wants," she told the Bangkok Post.

Ranong health chief Sirichai Pattaranuthaporn says: "She does not use any medicine, only the pig tail. This is weird."

Story filed: 15:07 Saturday 1st December 2001

Saturday, December 01, 2001

"New Age" Dissertation At OU

In 1999, the University of Oklahoma anthropology department achieved a new depth marker for academia's descent into the quagmire of postmodernist irrationality by accepting a PhD dissertation which actually embraces the mystical notion that we are entering an astrological "New Age."

I invite you to read my criticism of it and to send email voicing your denunciation to the OU and Oklahoma educational officials whose addresses are at the website:


-- Michael Wright
Norman, Oklahoma

Friday, November 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.


Today's Headlines - November 30, 2001

from The New York Times

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Space shuttle Endeavour's flight to the international space station is off until next week because of a Russian cargo ship that is hanging from the orbiting complex without a firm grip.

Shuttle managers canceled Thursday's liftoff of Endeavour because of danger from the unmanned supply ship and later ruled out Friday, too.

In a series of meetings Friday morning, they decided to aim for a launch Tuesday, following a spacewalk by a pair of cosmonauts at the space station to fix the problem. The outing is set for Monday.


from The Washington Post

Since the mid-1980s, the U.S. Army laboratory that is the main custodian of the virulent strain of anthrax used in the recent terrorist attacks distributed the bacteria to just five labs in the United States, Canada and England, according to government documents and interviews.

Two of the labs -- both in the private sector -- received the strain this spring, only a few months before letters tainted with anthrax spores were mailed to New York and Washington, the records show.

The documents, obtained by The Washington Post, offer the first official accounting of how the microbes, known as the Ames strain, were originally disseminated. They show that the distribution of Ames was much narrower than recently thought, and a top anthrax researcher said the strain may be limited to a dozen labs.

The five original labs also provide a starting point for investigators trying to determine how the Ames strain fell into the hands of a terrorist or terrorists.


from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Women are more likely than men to suffer brain cell damage from long-term use of the party drug ecstasy but the harm can sometimes be reversed if they stop taking the drug, Dutch scientists said on Friday.

Studies have shown that the popular all-night dance drug, known chemically as MDMA, can damage nerve endings that release serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood, memory, sleep and sex.

The drug also appears to damage brain cells that transmit nerve signals.

In a report in The Lancet medical journal, scientists at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam have shown that women are more vulnerable to the brain cell damage.


Media commentary from The Buffalo News

The story was filled with visions of cloning factories, potential Frankensteins.

It started Sunday when Advanced Cell Technology, a small, media-savvy company, announced it had taken steps to create human embryos through cloning.

The news broke in the morning and before you could say Mary Shelley, Dr. Michael West, president of the Worcester, Mass., firm, was rapping with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." That day, West made the rounds of TV talk shows and newspaper front pages....

...There was only one problem: Advanced Cell Technology's bold statement was more hype than reality. Also, the few embryonic cells it had created had died. The methods used had already been done in animals, and some scientists insisted it wasn't cloning at all. However, the mainstream media outlets didn't pick up on that for a couple of days.

But for those first few days of the neverending news cycle, the media willingly obliged to create a worldwide firestorm over the controversial topic of human cloning.


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New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Cold Fusion)

From: Taner Edis edis@truman.edu


Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed
Charles G. Beaudette
2000, Oak Grove Press; 360p.
free-energy:defense, paraphysics:defense

Analysis of the controversy about Pons and Fleischmann's "cold fusion," strongly criticizing mainstream science for rejecting cold fusion -- or, to use the words of the "Infinite Energy" website: "an investigative report prepared to explain how the most extraordinary claim of the twentieth century was mistakingly dismissed through errors of scientific protocol."

[ Reviewed by Markus Poessel, mpoessel@aei.mpg.de ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Thursday, November 29, 2001

Science In the News

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

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

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - November 29, 2001

from The Los Angeles Times

The Massachusetts company condemned by the Bush administration for its efforts to clone a human embryo received a federal grant last month to conduct biotechnology research.

Advanced Cell Technology's human cloning experiments set off a national controversy this week that is renewing demands that Congress ban all cloning of human cells.

But before the cloning experiment was disclosed, the company was awarded $1.8 million under a Commerce Department program intended to accelerate research and development in private companies, said Michael Baum, a Commerce Department spokesman. The company said Wednesday that the grant would not be used for any human cloning research. Rather, the money is to fund experiments into reprogramming adult human cells in an effort to develop therapies for diseases.


from The Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency has evaluated the safety of some pesticides using data from studies that involved testing the chemicals on human volunteers in an apparent shift from the agency's previously stated policy.

While a formal policy on how -- and whether -- to use the controversial trials is still being evaluated, the agency did consider four such studies when it reviewed pesticides earlier this year, officials acknowledged.

The use of such studies in EPA evaluations, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, has long been advocated by the pesticide industry. Human studies can help companies persuade the EPA to reevaluate the riskiness of pesticides. Lower estimates of risk could lead to larger markets for the chemicals.

The pesticide trials have a complicated history at the EPA, with the agency's stated goals sometimes being out of step with actual policy. For instance, some trials involving human volunteers were used occasionally during the Clinton administration to help make regulatory decisions, even though the agency had said that it had rejected their use.


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deep below the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean, scientists aboard a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker discovered a searing caldron of activity, including numerous underwater volcanoes and deep-sea hot springs that may harbor previously unknown marine organisms.

The findings about the hot times under the polar ice cap were presented on Wednesday by scientists who participated in the nine-week Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge Expedition funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The scientists mapped and studied the Gakkel Ridge, which runs for 1,100 miles from north of Greenland to Siberia beneath the Arctic ice cap. It is the deepest and most remote portion of the global mid-ocean ridge system.

Ocean ridges represent great gashes in the Earth, running tens of thousands of miles on ocean basins, where the titanic tectonic plates of the Earth are pulled apart, forcing molten rock from deep within the planet's interior to rise up between them and produce strings of volcanoes.


from Reuters

ZURICH (Reuters) - Researchers studying Iceland's isolated genetic pool have found a gene linked to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that could help treat the debilitating joint disease, the two companies running the project said on Thursday.

Mapping the gene was the latest discovery by Iceland's deCODE genetics and Swiss group Roche Holding AG.

In a joint statement, the two firms, who entered into a partnership in 1998 to turn deeper understanding of the human genome into new drugs and diagnostic tools, said deCODE would receive milestone payments for its work.

"This marks a large step toward the development of molecular diagnostic tools that will improve the diagnosis of RA as well as help recognize predisposition to the disease and enable the development of novel prevention regimes.


from The Christian Science Monitor

RALEIGH, N.C. - Even physicists still entertain the idea that Augustus Stradivarius, the semiliterate 17th-century violinmaker, had an angel on his shoulder as he worked in his Cremora, Italy, studio.

After 200 years of knocking on its wood to figure out its secret, many scientists say they're no closer to solving the mysteries of the Stradivarius violin: How did the master carver do it? And why can't the extraordinary beauty of its sound be replicated today?

To be sure, God may have given Stradivarius great talent. But in the end, he may not have had much to do with the otherworldly charm of the tones and baritones of the some 700 Strads still around. In fact, the answer to the world's oldest-running physics experiment may be more akin to a recipe for a Cajun chef's secret sauce than to the woodcarving genius of a Renaissance luthier.

According to Joseph Nagyvary, a chemist at Texas A&M University in College Station and a native Hungarian whose heavy accent is the European equivalent of a Texas drawl, the Strad's empathic tone comes as much from the corner chemist as from the angelic artisan.


from The Christian Science Monitor

PASADENA CA - Nothing beats black holes for audience entertainment. I use them shamelessly myself. Whenever a lecture feels like it's going stale, I bring up black holes. Everyone has heard of black holes, and even grade-school kids have their own theories and fantasies about how these mysterious objects work, or what might happen if you fell into one.

In all honesty, I can't think of anything more dramatic than bottomless pits of gravity that rip holes in the fabric of time and space, swallowing up entire stars, even light, never to be seen again. Black holes are especially intriguing to us because we don't yet understand the physics of what goes on inside them (just how can a black hole swallow a million stars and pack them all into no space at all?).

But for a long time now we've at least had a good grasp on how and why black holes form. In the 1930's an Indian astrophysicist named Subramanian Chandrasekhar did some startlingly simple calculations, and found out that there is a limit to how much gravity 'matter,' at least as we know it, can support. And while nothing on the surface of the earth comes close to exceeding this matter-gravity limit, some of the more dramatic objects in the universe indeed do.


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Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Thanks to Joe Littrell and Paul Jaffe

Pagans Advised: Be Careful With Fire
Hartford Courant


"Pagans conducting rituals that involve fire are being advised to use caution now that local firefighters have had to extinguish a second Wicca-related fire since August."

New site to search for life in space
by Michael McCabe
San Francisco Chronicle


"Silicon Valley, constantly on the lookout for the Next Big Thing, is getting serious in its search for new life -- the extraterrestrial kind."

Mt. Adams UFOs are Still a Mystery


"The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to the UFO phenomenon. For years, Mount Adams, in south central Washington, has been a hub for UFO activity."

Astrologers refute rumours
Times of India


"The rumour that festivals or auspicious rituals, including marriages, would not be organised in the year 2002 not only astonished the local panchang (Hindu calender) makers and astrologers but also caused them some worry."

by John Rutter
Edinburgh Evening News


"IT was plucked from the obscurity of a Grassmarket second-hand shop to help bring a historic display to life at Edinburgh Castle."

Exam Shows US Children Are Weak In Science
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer


Tuesday, November 20, 2001 An alarming number of American school children have a weak grasp of science, with 82 percent of the nation's high school seniors scoring below proficient on the subject, according to the results of a national exam released today.

Life on Mars claims disputed
by Dr. David Whitehouse
BBC News


"Fresh doubts have been cast on claims that fossils of primitive life have been found in a meteorite from Mars."

FTC targets Web sites selling unproven anthrax, smallpox treatments
Associated Press


"The government is warning dozens of online retailers to stop touting unproven treatments for anthrax, smallpox and other infectious agents that could be used for bioterrorism."

Chiropractors seek primary care status at Veterans Affairs Dept.
By Jay Greene
American Medical News


"Under provisions of a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last month, chiropractors would be designated as primary care providers in the Dept. of Veterans Affairs health care system. Physicians also would receive training on the benefits of referring patients for chiropractic services."

Douglas Adams' final 'Hitchhiker's Guide' found


"The final unfinished novel by cult British author Douglas Adams is to be published next year on the anniversary of his death, his agent says."

South Africans protest baby rapes


"Thousands of South African men, women and children took to the city’s streets Sunday to protest an apparent surge in baby rapes. The crime-weary nation was still reeling from the alleged rape of a nine-month-old girl by six men earlier this month, when it was shocked by reports this weekend of the rape of another eight-month-old baby."

'Pyramidiot' earning new accolades
By Dana Bartholomew
Daily News Los Angeles


"A business consultant deemed a "pyramidiot" by Egyptologists for suggesting the world's pyramids were built by wind power has won worldwide recognition."

Psychics accused of conning customers
Associated Press


"A family of psychic shop operators is accused of swindling thousands of dollars from customers hoping to better their luck."

Out in the wilderness, the legends are growing
by Tom Stienstra
San Francisco Chronicle


"Two of the biggest outdoors stories of the year likely will never be broken open. A code of silence has been sworn by those who could verify the accounts."

South London spiritualists say US bombs just missed bin Laden

From Ananova at


Two South London spiritualists say Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan but is in pain and has nearly been killed.

Angela Bayley and Elizabeth Collis claim he's in the town of Wazi Khwa, 80 miles from where he was reportedly seen last week.

They say he has a doctor with him and is planning to escape to Pakistan as soon as possible.

Downing Street says it will investigate the claims.

The women say they dangled an Islamic charm over a map of Afghanistan and felt a strong pull towards Wazi Khwa after holding a newspaper cutting from September 11, 1974.

Miss Collis says: "His health is bad at the moment. His feet are hurting him and he has had a near miss. The Americans nearly hit him and he has had to move. He is stubborn and did not want to move, but he has had to. He has been staying in a blacked out house with his family but has had to leave there. Movement is uncomfortable for him. He is in constant pain."

The women have been spiritualists for eight years.

They normally advise people in their home area of Hither Green on family matters.

A Downing Street spokesman told This Is Local London: "We will look at this and see whether there is anything in it."

New cold reading book

From: Dave Palmer

"The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading" by Ian Rowland was favorably reviewed in the latest Magic magazine.

The reviewer said: "the book is designed to protect people from 'psychics,' but the information presented will certainly teach you how to do cold readings."

Maybe they should pass out copies to the gulls flocking to a John Edward taping.

The book is available at the author's website:


I also note that Rowland has a forthcoming book on spoon bending. 

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