NTS LogoSkeptical News for 31 December 2001

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, December 31, 2001

IT'S THE END OF THE WOR... never mind.

From: Garrison Hilliard garrison@efn.org

(Note: This is a pre-2000 list, so there's no millenium madness)

So, for all of those folks who have requested it, a top 10 list of Doomsday Predictions... (Anton, a drum roll please)...

#10: 31 December, 999 * In the Apocrypha it was prophesied that the world would end a thousand years after Christs birth. Hordes of folk headed to the Promised Land from Europe, with thousands dying along the way... many people gave away everything they owned, and just left their farms, towns, and cities vacant. Those that survived the travel climbed to the top of Mt. Zion where, on the fated morn of 1/1/00, nothing spectacularly happened. The pilgrims began going home to be invaded by the Huns later in the year 1000, who found starving foes in neglected cities not much of a challenge.

#9: 13 October, 1736 * William Whiston, English mathematician and seer, announced the worlds end would begin with the destuction of London by flood. Swarms of of Londoners made for the high ground where, when the flood didnt make its appearance, the believers rejoiced whilest the pickpockets amongst the crowd rejoiced also.

#8: 1806 A hen laid an egg inscribed with the words CHRIST IS COMING in a small village outside of Leeds, England. Religious folk all over the country prepared for the end by converting thousands and holding massive prayer meetings. A doctor who examined the egg then found that inscription had been made on the shell by a corrosive ink, and the egg then cruelly shoved back into the bird. And you thought you had it rough...

#7: 3 April, 1843 * After studying the biblical books of Daniel and Revelations, former atheist William Miller had published his prophecy that the world would end by fire on April 3rd in the New York Herald. After the spectacular comet of 1843, some of the Millerites (who believed that the dead had first pick in Heaven) commited suicide. At the end of the day, by which time nothing had happened, Miller fell back on a reasonable solution... he moved the scheduled date of Armageddon up to 7 July.

#6: 7 July, 1843 * Millerites prepared for the end by buying ascension robes (ever sothoughtfully sold by Miller) and waiting in predug family plots. Nothing happened, and the ever resourceful Miller moved the date up to 21 March, 1844.

#5: 21 March, 1844 * Showing true Christian faith and perseverence, thousands of Millerites prepared for doom, many choosing to await by sitting in graveyards so that they'd get to see the restoration and assumption of the dead prior to the Millerites' own demise. At the appointed hour, a thunderstorm began, and the expectant Millerites were jubilant that this time they were right, and that they were "going home". Unfortunately, it was just a quick summer shower that left a lot of sopping Millerites in its wake... who were all too happy to purchase new assumption robes to replace the ones ruined by the rain.

#4: 22 October 1844 * Miller's faithful once again gathered for the ascension, one well-prepared believer bringing along his ascension-robed cows, claiming "It's a very long trip, and the kids will want milk." Keeping his batting average consistent, Miller's prophecy went unfulfilled and, this time, the faithful deserted him and split into several sects, of which the most important survives as the modern Seventh-Day Adventists. Personally, Miller kept plugging along, giving over 3,200 invited speeches on the coming end of the world and selling ascension robes.

#3: 1881 * According to the pyramid-power prophets after careful study of the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu), the world was to end this year, an apocalypse date confirmed by the 15th century prophet/alchemist Mother Shipton. It didn't.

#2: 1936 * With revised, high-tech studies, the pyramid people claimed the world would end this year for sure. It didn't. (and the #1 apocalypse prophecy is... get ready to cover me, Paul...)

#1: 1953 The pyramid people said this was it for certain, gave away all their stuff, and awaited the inevitable. It happened... a bunch of penniless, self-deluded disciples were left feeling miserable when the world didn't end.



Please believe me. Everything you read is true and is important. Now people do not have to age anymore.

According to Alex Chiu, based on testimonies, facts, and proofs, people are believed to be able to stay physically young forever by using his new inventions "The Eternal Life Rings" and "The Eternal Life Foot Braces". The Eternal Life Rings are to be worn on both small fingers of a user during sleep. The Eternal Life Foot Braces are to be worn on all toes of both feet during sleep. Both devices consist of rare earth or ceramic magnets and plastic braces which hold magnets onto the fingers of the user. The inventor explained that the fingers and toes are the negative (-) and positive (+) terminals of your body.

When placing the magnetic devices, the magnetic pole on the right side of the human body is opposite to the left side. With a opposite pole on each side of the human body, blood circulation and electric current of the body are enhanced. The enhanced blood circulation and electric current increase metabolism in order to fight the aging process.

The Eternal Life Rings and The Eternal Life Foot Braces invented by Alex Chiu are believed to allow humans to stay physically young forever or turn humans physically younger, (Our lawyer told us to use the word "believe") and cure various diseases and handicaps as long as you wear the rings or foot braces every night during sleep.

Justice Scalia and Weeping Statues

From Mary Page News


Belief in miracles should not be regarded as irrational or unsophisticated, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told several hundred parishioners from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at a brunch October 14, the Associated Press said the following day. Scalia said mainstream American intellectual thought wrongly assigns the story of Christ's resurrection, reports of weeping statues and visions of the Virgin Mary to the realm of fantasy. He spoke at a convention center after joining other public figures who were honored at the cathedral's annual Red Mass, a centuries-old Catholic tradition. Judges, lawyers and political leaders were invited to Mass to draw divine inspiration in their daily lives.

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."

Sunday, December 30, 2001

BPA says funding well is dry for Yakama rain dances

[Here is an old one we must have missed.]


Local News : Tuesday, May 22, 2001

By The Associated Press

TOPPENISH, Yakima County - The federal agency in charge of selling electricity from Columbia River dams is refusing to pay the Yakama Indian Nation for performing ritual rain ceremonies aimed at ending the Northwest's drought.

The tribe sent a bill for $32,000 to the Bonneville Power Administration to cover the costs of two traditional ceremonies designed to bring rain to the parched Northwest.

"It was pretty much a blow to me to hear from the BPA administrator that he couldn't find the funds ... to assist in this," said Randy Settler, a tribal council member, told The Tri-City Herald newspaper.

The tribe believes the ceremonies, performed in March, were beneficial. At the Yakima airport, 1.86 inches of precipitation has been recorded since the first of the year, with more than half of that, 0.98 inches, occurring since March 1. The year-to-date total is 1.47 inches below normal, while the amount since March 1 is 0.40 inches less than normal.

"We've had more rain since those events," Settler said. "We've had a lot of rain."

That's not good enough for the BPA. The tribe's bill was "pretty vague" about what the $32,000 was for, said Mike Hansen, BPA spokesman. "We're not paying even though it was well-intended," he said.

Hung over? Try taking some volcanic dust

By Lorraine Fraser and Jenny Jarvie
(Filed: 30/12/2001)


VOLCANIC dust used for destroying the odour from cat litter hardly sounds an appetizing prospect for hangover sufferers but it is being touted as the latest tonic for alcoholic excess.

Launched in time for the festive season, the substance is being sold in tablet form under the name Zetox. The product is designed to "remove the effects of overindulgence", surely the answer to every partygoer's prayer.

So, in preparation for tomorrow's annual binge, The Telegraph assembled a team of revellers willing to test a product that is supposed to work where raw eggs, Alka-Seltzer or a "hair of the dog" have failed.

Zetox tablets are a mixture of vitamins, flavourings and clinoptilolite, a substance derived from a volcanic mineral. According to the manufacturer, the West Sussex-based firm Global Health Products, the mineral's porous properties absorb the toxins from alcohol that cause hangovers.

In other applications, it has been used to filter drinking water, purify animal feed and even to treat victims of contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Drinkers are advised to take up to six of the pills (which cost £19.95 for 60) before a night out.

For The Telegraph experiment, six volunteers spent an evening drinking Sancerre Mellot white wine at the Windows cocktail bar at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, London. Three took Zetox with their wine while the rest accepted inevitable hangovers by acting as the control group.

The volunteers were not impressed with the taste of the large, grey tablets, which have the texture of chalk and rock salt. Jenny Suggitt, a 26-year-old projects manager at a publishing house, said: "I feel as if I'm chomping dirt." Leah Panos, a 27-year-old film student, said: "I might as well be eating a worming tablet. Ugh. It is impossible to dislodge this grit from my teeth."

As the team finished a seventh bottle, there was some early enthusiasm. Ms Panos said: "I feel as if I haven't touched a drop. I am exceptionally alert and lucid. The pills are working. I don't think that I am going to have a hangover in the morning. I'll be bright and sparkly."

Dawn Cowie, a 24-year-old business magazine journalist, who drank five glasses of wine along with her Zetox, was less convinced. "I am drunk. I don't think I feel that different to how I normally feel when drunk," she said.

Ms Panos continued the evening with a visit to a nightclub, finally falling asleep on the last Underground train home and missing her stop. The following morning, she said: "I'm not feeling too bad at all. I don't have a headache. I'm about to go out for lunch and start all over again."

The others who had taken Zetox were less impressed. Ms Cowie said: "I don't have a headache but I've been feeling very sluggish. I can't say that I know whether the pills worked."

Ms Suggitt felt even less bright and sparkly than her boyfriend, who had been in the control group and drank without pills. She groaned: "Not only did the pills taste filthy, but they didn't work. I have a bitch of a headache and I'm all shivery."

Paul King, one of the founders of Global Health Products, was disappointed with the findings of our test but said the company was still refining the product. He said: "To be honest, the tablets aren't the best way to take Zetox. We will be launching a capsule form in January, which will be a lot easier to take."

Saturday, December 29, 2001

A book list for today's renaissance human

From Amara Graps

Many months ago, I pulled together a list of books that I thought might be a good start to help a person to think/be more like a renaissance human, but in today's world: so some 'basics' plus more ideas to expand one's vision of the universe.

This list is totally subjective of course, and yes, this list is lacking a number of areas (I would next add more philosophy, probably starting with Aristotle)

happy holidays,

Feynman Lectures on Physics

National Geographic Atlas of the World

Atlas of the Heavens by A. Becvar

Modern Mathematical Analysis by M. Protter

Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler

Goedel, Escher, Bach by Hofstadter

The Illiad by Homer (Lattimer)

The Divine Comedy : Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso by Dante Alighieri (Mandelbaum)

History of Art by H.W. Janson

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne

The Rubaiyat of Omar

Koka Shastra (Comfort)

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (Hofstadter)

The World According to Wavelets by Barbara Hubbard

Chaos by James Gleick

Paradigms Lost by John Casti

Fractal Geometry of Nature by Benoit Mandelbrot

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte

The Color of Nature by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty

The Artful Universe by John Barrow

Paddling My Own Canoe by by Audrey Sutherland

Meetings with Remarkable Men by G.I. Gurdjieff

A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge

Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne


[from American Atheists News, 28 December]

Studies and other claims linking religious faith and physical well being proliferate throughout popular culture. Health professional and writer Kevin Courcey examines the role of the Templeton Foundation in many of these "studies."

by Kevin Courcey, RN

The Templeton Foundation has been busy, once again funding "research" which they hope will entice (or force) people to "reintegrate faith" into their lives.

In a recent report entitled "So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality," Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) simultaneously claims that non-believers abuse substances at significantly higher rates, and that preachers should be trained to treat them. The report was co-sponsored by the Templeton Foundation and the Bodman Foundation, a conservative, religiously oriented foundation known for funding religious homeless programs, school voice/voucher research, sexual abstinence-only programs, welfare-to-work reform, and faith-based solutions to drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and youth violence. It was at the request of the Bodman Foundation that this research was undertaken.

While the report uses a variety of techniques to skew their results (See: "The Devil Made Me Do It" in the upcoming issue of The American Atheist Magazine), the primary problem was in overestimating the religiosity of the American public. The authors use Gallup poll figures for religious belief, notoriously unreliable and skewed to increase the apparent numbers of believers, as it states that 95% of the American people believe in God and 91% of us are affiliated with a specific faith or denomination. Fortunately, City University of New York just completed its American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) for 2001, which gives significantly more reliable figures. The percentage of American adults who self-identify with a specific religion has dropped to 81%. Of those who DO claim a religious affiliation, an amazing 40% stated that neither they nor their family members attend services. The ARIS survey also found that over 14% of those polled chose "no religion." This means that a substantial majority of the adults in this country either profess no religion, or have so little interest in organized religion that neither they nor their family members go to services. This completely undercuts the CASA assertion that pastors, rabbis and priests should be trained to combat substance abuse. Their conclusion merely reflects Templeton's goal to reintegrate faith into American life by using religious clerics in substance abuse programs. It would seem that appropriately treating substance abuse is not nearly as important as bringing the wayward sheep back into the "faithful" fold. This also plays into the drive to allocate taxpayer funds for "faith-based" treatment programs. Two other research ventures have also made the news recently. The first was a study done in a Korean pregnancy clinic which claimed miraculous results for women who were prayed for. The researchers said that women in the prayed-for group had a 50% pregnancy rate, while those who were not prayed for had only a 26% pregnancy rate.

There are several aspects of this study that are suspect.

First, the study used a two-tier prayer system. The first tier prayed for individual women (they had pictures and first names), and the second tier prayed for the prayers of the first tier to be heard. The researchers did not explain why they felt their God was getting hard of hearing and in need of such amplification.

Second, the overall rate of success at the clinic remained essentially normal during this study. So if prayer accomplished anything, it simply distributed the usual clinic success rate into the prayed for and non-prayed for groups. This means that the non-prayed for clients were robbed of a chance to get pregnant merely by agreeing to participate in this study. This seems unethical, even for a God.

To top it off, in two subgroups (those under 30 and those who received a specific type of treatment) the non-prayed for group actually had better success rates. The non-prayed for patients under 30 had a 25% better pregnancy rate than those who were the objects of prayer. This is exactly the type of random outcome one would expect for a non-efficacious treatment.

The final study that is generating press these days is one where patients undergoing cardiac catheterization (the threading of an IV catheter near the heart) were offered prayer, "healing touch," relaxation exercises, or guided imagery to lower their anxiety about the procedure and prevent complications. Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University is a co-author of this study, and sits on Templeton's Board. He is also a member of the Templeton faculty. The authors are claiming in the press that the prayed-for group had better outcomes than any of the other groups. To quote the summary of the study as published in the American Hearth Journal, however, "Results were not statistically significant for any outcomes comparison. While this study will get press coverage, and already has been showcased on WebMD, the truth is that the headline should have read: "Prayer found clinically insignificant in yet another study."

For further information:

("Trying to make a case for Faith Healing," by Kevin Courcey)

("Touched by a Feeling and High on Believing," by Kevin Courcey)

(Survey indicates more Americans 'without faith,' " 11/22/01)

("Researchers challenge claims linking religious faith, health," 2/24/99)

Friday, December 28, 2001

Low probability of ice collapse

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1731000/1731163.stm Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 20:16 GMT
By Christine McGourty, science correspondent, in the Antarctic

Scientists think there is just a one in 20 chance that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) will collapse in the next 200 years.

The integrity of the WAIS is crucial to future sea levels; if all the ice melts in this region of the White Continent, it could raise the oceans by several metres.

The 5% probability of disintegration has been worked out by researchers commissioned by the British Government. Their work will be published in the journal Climate Change next month.

It is the first time a risk assessment of a WAIS collapse has been attempted.

'Health warning'

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains about 13% of all the ice in Antarctica, and scientists believe it has melted in the past - about 120,000 years ago when temperatures were 7-10 degrees Celsius warmer than they are today.

In parts of the West Antarctic, temperatures are now rising much faster than in the rest of the world, and the researchers involved in the UK study have concluded there is now a one in 20 chance in the next two centuries of the ice sheet once again collapsing.

Lead scientist Dr David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey, said: "Although this study shows the probability of ice sheet collapse is reasonably low, there's a huge health warning attached.

"The potential impacts of a major change in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are severe - fantastically expensive for developed nations with coastal cities, and just dire for poor populations in low-lying coastal areas.

'Managed retreat'

"This is the first time a risk assessment of ice sheet collapse has been attempted and it is the best estimate we can make based on the current information. More data on the ice sheet is urgently required to be more certain about the future of the ice sheet and possible future sea-level rises."

The research, carried out for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), concluded that these rises would be spread out over at least several centuries and probably much longer. It would be at most a one-metre rise per century, which is about five times the current rate of sea-level rise.

It said: "If this occurred, it would be slow enough for a managed retreat from low-lying coastal areas, and a progressive raising of flood defences around populated areas.

"However, this would be expensive. Economists estimated a cost of 0.1% of gross domestic product for many nations such as the UK, but it would be much higher for smaller island states."

Pyramid as a water pump

Sorry. This came while I was out of town.

From: Steven Myers admin@thepump.org

Steven Myers, who is the world's expert on the pyramid as a water pump and has a great website at www.thepump.org, will be on the Brad Walton show on Dec 16 at 1am CST. Remember this is late Saturday night into Sunday morning so set your alarms to hear the show. You can go directly to WCCO radio web site at www.wccoradio.com.

The number people should call is 1.800.327.8255 or 612.989.9226

Steven Myers
Pharaoh's Pump Foundation

UFOs From A to Z. [Part 2 of 3]

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

This part talks about some science fiction movies that deal with alien space ships.


Better saucer flicks were forthcoming. To make sense of what followed, it helps to remember just how paranoid things were at that time - and not just because of flying saucers. The McCarthy era was in bloom and Cold War jitters spilled over into saucer cinema. In 1951, two sci-fi classics helped to trigger the decade's science fiction movie boom while marking the opposite poles of a distinctly ambivalent attitude toward alien visitors.

April 1951 brought Howard Hawk's "The Thing from Another World," the story of an Arctic military base under siege by an intelligent and hostile alien. "Classic" isn't too strong a label for this claustrophobic and genuinely scary movie, in which the hard- headed Average Joes of the Air F-rce successfully battle the beast despite the misguided notions of the base's head scientist, who thinks any spacefaring creature must be susceptible to sweet reason. Robert Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still," released in September, argues the opposite case with a conviction and forcefulness that seems fairly astonishing considering the nation's mood. "The Day" concerns Klaatu, a wise, saintly alien emissary who lands his saucer in the middle of Washington DC - every saucerhead's dream during the 50s - and warns us that nuc-ear weaponry and our own natural aggression may lead to our extinction.

The philosophies expressed in "The Thing" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" can be found at w-r throughout the era's saucer movies. Sometimes the viewpoints are embodied in opposing characters, often, as in 1959's "The Cosmic Man," a scientist and a hot-headed mil-tary officer. In terms of sheer volume, though, 1950s saucer cinema comes down firmly on the side of paranoia. In film after film, otherworldly life is simply a menace to be battled and stamped out.

Sometimes the aliens arrive in force, like the flying-saucer fleet that ravages Washington in Ray Harryhausen's "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers" (1956). More often, though, they infiltrate quietly as commie-style fifth-columnists and saboteurs, as in Gene Fowler's excellent "I Married a Monster From Outer Space". Movies weighing in on Klaatu's side were relatively rare during the 1950s. Space Brotherists weren't a big population segment, after all, and it just wasn't a trusting era. The mistreated alien in Edgar G. Ulmer's "The Man From Planet X" (1951) and the benign interplanetary castaways of "It Came From Outer Space" (1953) were exceptions to a rule of de facto antagonism between Us and Them.

Saucer World!

As the Populuxe years of the 50s and early 60s progressed, UFO sightings continued to pour in from around the world. On August 13, 1956, for instance, a flight of objects buzzed the joint RAF/US-F base at Bentwaters in Suffolk, England and were tracked by three different ground-based radar stations at speeds of up to 4,000 mph. The UFO phenomenon began to seep into society's subconscious in a number of ways. The saucerist movement even mounted a bid for saucers became totems, an enigmatic addition to the celebration of conventional speed and technology embodied in the era's atom symbols and tail-fins. You can see saucers everywhere in the era's landscape, if you pause to look, from the glorious one atop Seattle's Space Needle to those astonishing lamps that sell for way too much in chic junk stores. (The last rental house my wife and I occupied had not one but two fab early-60s hanging saucer lamps, and like id-ots we didn't st-al them.) Roadside architecture borrowed from UFO imagery, and many cities are lucky enough to have at least one or two saucerish hamburger stands left.

Inevitably, people began to consider the notion of building our own saucer-shaped flying craft. The December 1950 Science and Mechanics speculated that enormous prop-driven saucers might serve as public transport; "Will 'Flying Saucer' Buses Lick Traffic Congestion?" its cover asked (answer, as you may have noticed: no). In the late 1950s, the Air F-rce developed the Avro air 'Flying car, a piloted flying disc lifted by large fans. Despite various hints that the Avro might be behind some saucer sightings, the thing could scarcely get off the ground. With a few tweaks, the Avro could have been the first hovercraft instead of a really large paperweight. In recent years, the Air For-e has developed successful saucer-shaped drones, which may explain some recent sightings; but as far as we know, man-piloted saucers have remained in the realm of fiction, like the elegant star cruiser of "Forbidden Planet" and the Robinson's sturdy Jupiter-2 from "Lost In Space." (JW It is my belief that we of this Earth now have flying saucers of our own.)

Illegal Aliens...

While a lot of people clearly were enjoying the UFO phenomenon, in their different ways, gov-rnments seem to have regarded it as a migraine.

The 1952 flap prompted the Air Fo-ce to revive its UFO investigation. The new effort, Project Blue Book, began in March 1952 under the guidance of Captain Edward Ruppelt. Blue Book seems to have begun as a serious investigation, and by the time Ruppelt left the project in 1954, he was personally convinced that UFOs were extraterrestrial craft. The program he left behind, however, quickly degenerated into a public relations exercise whose "explanations" became a byword for id-ocy among students of the subject. A typical case was one in which an Air For-e wing commander was guided by radar to intercept a UFO over Japan. The official account ascribed the incident to the planet Jupiter, an object not often tracked by ground radar.

As Blue Book began, other efforts were going on behind the scenes. In 1953, the Central Int-lligence Agency convened a se-ret scientific advisory body, the Robertson Panel, to examine the UFO question. The panel didn't break much new ground in researching the subject; a participant, astronomer J. Allen Hynek, later characterized the effort as cursory and close-minded. More interesting were the panel's conclusions about the effects of UFO belief. They took a dim d-mn view of saucer-heads, recommending that all UFO sightings be debunked to preserve public peace of mind, and suggesting that UFO groups be monitored by the gov-rnment as potentially subversive elements. Subsequent events made it clear that Washington and some other national go-ernments took this advice to heart. A cozy silence settled over the topic, at least on the official level.

Sri Lankan astrologers cover all the bases

From the 13 December Far East Economic Review:

STARCROSSED ENEMIES: Stargazers in Sri Lanka fell out when their interpretations of the stars predicted wins for different politicians. Vijayasri Jayasinghe, senior editor of astrology magazine Sun and Moon, claimed to have discovered that the alignments of the planets favoured the main opposition party. But his colleague, Priyantha Ratnayake, claimed the same stars clearly showed that the ruling party would win. Jayasinghe resigned, claiming that Ratnayake was politically biased. "My credibility is at stake. That is why I am resigning," he told the press.

His claim gathered a considerable amount of credence when his rival soothsayer Ratnayake was revealed to have accepted an offer from the ruling party to hold a lucrative state position, the Agence France Presse news agency reported.

But Ratnayake fought back by claiming that Jayasinghe had received a bribe from the opposition party. Editorialists at The Island newspaper wrung their hands with embarrassment over the affair, which they said would make outsiders think Sri Lanka had "loony politics."

What's the origin of "pumpernickel"?

From: Leonard R. Cleavelin

Since it seems to be de rigeur to report sigtings of references to snopes on list here....

If you follow "Cecil's Mailbag", the collected works of The Straight Dope Science Advisory Board at http://www.straightdope.com, you can find snopes once again being cited to put the lie to yet another folk etymology.



Dial a Psychic

By Reginald V. Finley


On Sunday morning the 15th of August, I was looking in the classifieds section of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. As I was searching for a new career I came across an ad in the counseling section which was recruiting for psychics. I couldn't believe it. "Counseling, I can do that," I thought to myself. I called the number advertised and spoke to a gentleman who informed me to meet with him at a Shoney's restaurant in the northwest end of town (Cobb Pkwy, Marietta, GA). When I arrived there a conference room in the back was already filled with eager people waiting to learn the particulars of psychic-hood. I apologized for being late and humorously informed them that if I were psychic I would have found the place. They all chuckled. The ringleader was a warm and friendly Caucasian female around 30ish. She began to explain the hours involved, paper work, commission structure, tricks of the trade, and so on. The concept seemed sound enough. The longer you keep the caller on the line the more you get paid. So, if you are consistently receiving calls you can make a fortune. A computer program calculates everyone's averages and distributes calls based on your averages.

I decided to give it a try. A "ring master" line was added in my home and in two days the calls came rolling in. I was taken aback on how amazingly gullible and ignorant these people were. I received calls ranging from the curious to the suicidal, from the depressed to the malign, from young to old. No one seemed immune. Over 75% of callers were female and 50% of those were over the age of 55. It gets worse. A startling 95% of my callers made insinuations, and some overtly, that they believe in a god. My first thought, " Then why are you calling me? The Bible explicitly forbids this behavior." Also, over 95% of my callers truly believed that I was psychic. Some even made reference to God giving me this ability as a gift, and that I should use it often. Of course the truth is that the callers had given me plenty information about themselves. Even them not speaking gave subtle clues that any observant person would pick up on. Breathing, background noise, pauses, interjections, tone of voice. All these factors play a role. I guessed rather easily whether someone had children, were married, dying, or ill. Even the sex of their children I guessed. (Hey, you've only got a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right, so what did I have to lose?) No special powers here though. It was all done utilizing reason, probability, and luck. Is it by chance that I guessed that a man was dating a woman who's name begun with an "M"? Not at all. He told me. Part of his reading went as follows . . .

Psychic: "I don't know why, but I see someone in your life."

Gullible 1: "Really, what do you see?"

Psychic: "I see someone whose name starts with an "M" in your life."

Gullible 1: "Wow," (clue #1) "Uhhh, where did that come from?"

Psychic: (Utilizing clue #1 to suppress doubt) "I don't know, I'm certain (now I am) that someone whose name starts with an "M" will be an important factor in your life."

Gullible 1: "That's amazing! I'm dating a woman named Martha."

At this point I could have told him anything, true or false. It doesn't matter what I say at this point because hey, I'm psychic. Did I simply make a good guess? Darn right I did, but a very ambiguous one at that. He could have easily applied the letter "M" to anything. He began to assist me in trying to discover what the significance of the letter "M" was. Even if the "M" didn't pertain to his past or present, I could have easily transferred it to his future. Either way, I win. I'm psychic remember?

Another reading went as follows . . .

Fooled again: "Are my boyfriend and I going to stay together?" (Kind of obvious there's a problem if she's asking)

Psychic: "I sense troubling waters up ahead. I hear arguments…." (pause…..) Fooled again: "Well, yeah (surprised) we've been arguing a lot lately." (No….really???)

Psychic: "I see some children here."

Fooled again: "Yeah, we have a daughter." (I later discovered that her boyfriend has a son that visits from time to time. This added more credibility.)

Psychic: "I sense some infidelity here……"(long pause) Fooled again: "(chuckling) "Really…" (pause again)…..(quivering) "Hmmmm…."

A long pause generally denotes personal reflection. She obviously was wondering whether I knew if it was her or not. If she were guilt free she would have quickly responded with: "Who is he cheating on me with?" "Do I know her?" However, she didn't, so I saw the hole and went for it.

Psychic: (concerned) "You've cheated on him haven't you?"

Fooled again: "Oh, my god!!!! How did you know that?"

I so badly wanted to say, "I didn't, you just told me idiot!" Needless to say that at this point she was convinced. She stayed on the phone with me for a complete hour. Let's see, $4.99 a minute times 60 is, well, you do the math. Eventually, I began to feel awful perpetuating such an obvious fraud, especially since mysticism goes against everything I support. So as a result I quit. I regret that I didn't tell these people after the reading that it was all trickery and psychological games. Money, silenced me. I'm elated that I can now tell this story and be an opponent of mysticism.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

"Science and Consciousness" Conference

From: John Chalmers At the Post Office today I picked up (literally) a flyer about the upcoming "Fourth International Conference on Science and Consciousness" in Albuquerque NM. Featured speakers include Elizabeth Targ, Fritjof Capra,Rupert Sheldrake, William Tiller and many I've never heard of. The comedian "Swami Beyondananda" aka Steve Bhaerman is also on the program. Previous speakers have included Joe Firmage.

Bizspirit seems to specialize in conferences like "The International Conferences on Business and Consciousness," "Business from Fullness," "The International Conferences on Altered States of Consciousnes," and publishes "Business Spirit Journal Online: Bringing Consciousness to Business."

For details see the URL http://www.bizspirit.com/science/index.html. Like most commercial conferences these days, it's pricey



From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

See photos on website. - Steve

The Nessie Hunters
(Dr. Robert Rines)

The 1970's were a very busy time on Loch Ness for 'Nessie Hunters'. One of these hunters was Dr Robert Rines, who in 1970 used sonar on Loch Ness which provided more proof that large objects inhabit the Loch.Dr Rines, President of the Academy of Applied Science, Boston, Massechusetts, led a team which was to put their sonar equipment to such good use, that on the 20th of September that year it detected objects intruding into its beam at the same time as fish were seen to be disturbed. During the summer of 1972 Dr. Rines returned to the Loch bringing with them an Edgerton underwater stroboscopic camera and more sonar equipment.

On August 8th a crew made up of Loch Ness Investigation Bureau and Academy members were operating this equipment from vessels in Urquhart Bay. In the early hours of that morning their Raytheon sonar detected in its sound beam the presence of large moving objects from which shoals of fish were taking evasive action. It tracked one object as it passed about 20ft from the underwater camera, which was at a depth of 45ft and was set to flash every 15 seconds. The picture obtained, although indistinct due to the murkiness of the water, show the offside hind quarter, flipper and part of the tail of a large animal with a rough textured skin of a greeny-brown colour. Experts estimated the flipper to be from 6 to 8 ft in length. American Smithsonian Institution, one of several top bodies approached for comment stated that the tail structure resembled the shape of the tail of newts. The New England Aquarium stated that the flipper-like structure certainly did not appear to resemble the structure of any known mammilian creature. The British Natural History Museum, while acknowledging that the photograph were genuine found that 'the sequence appears to show the passage of a large object'. The sonar chart which recorded the passage of the objects was subsequently analysed by several independent experts, whose composite verdict found that there are large animals in Loch Ness which are at least 20 to 30ft long with 'several segments, body sections or projections such as humps'.

For the next few years ther team had very little success which had a lot to do with malfunctions in the underwater camera rigs. In 1975 the biggest breakthrough for Dr. Rines and his team came when a set of close-up underwater photographs were taken which when released in December of that year caused a worldwide sensation. The pictures which show the head and body of one of the creatures in remarkable detail, were taken with the Edgerton strobe camera during the expedition the previous June. For several months the pictures were examined in secret in zoological centres in Britain, America, Canada and Europe. It was planned to release them in early December at a scientific symposium in Edinburgh to be attended by zoologists from all over the world under the chairmanship of the famous British naturalist and painter Sir Peter Scott. News of the pictures leaked out at the end of November, before the study of them was complete and caused such excitement that the sponsors of the symposium, who included the prestigious Royal Society, felt it would be impossible to conduct a proper scientific discussion in such an atmosphere. Consequently the symposium, at which the whole Loch Ness controversy would have been debated at length and hopefully resolved, had to be cancelled. In its place a meeting was held in the Grand Committee Room at the Houses of Parliament at the instigation of David James, the MP who had led the Investigation Bureau. Before a large audience of members of both houses of Government, scientists and journalists, the Academy team presented the results of their research, including the new underwater photographs, together with supporting statements from eminent zoologists who had been examining the material. Dr. George Zug, the Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the renowned Smithsonian Institution in Washington said in his personal statement : "I believe these data indicate the presence of large animals in Loch Ness, but are insufficient to indentify them".

A picture of Monster's head, 1975 and an artist's sketch showing more detail.

One of the world's foremost experts on dinosaurs, Dr. Chris McGowan of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, giving his personal view, said : "I am satisfied that there is a sufficient weight of evidence to support that there is an unexplained phenomenon of considerable interest in Loch Ness; the evidence suggests the presence of large aquatic animals."

Another of the worlds most eminent zoologists, Professor A. W. Crompton, Director of the Harvard University Museum of Camparative Zoology said : "I personally find them (the underwater photographs) extremely intriging and sufficiently suggestive of a large aquatic animal to both urge and recommend that, in the future, most intensive investigations be undertaken in the Loch." Sir Peter Scott who, among his many responsibilities, was Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund, said the underwater pictures, in conjunction with the earlier film records, left no further doubt in his mind that large animals exist in Loch Ness. The only group of zoologists who had studied the material but who concluded that it contained no evidence of large unknown animals in the Loch was a group from the British Museum of Natural History. As in 1972 the British Museum acknowledged that the new pictures were entirely authentic but concluded that they did not constitute "acceptable evidence" of the existence of an unidentified species in Loch Ness.

Meanwhile, the animals were given a scientific name "Nessiteras rhombopteryx" by Sir Peter Scott so that they could be added to Britains schedule of officially protected wildlife. The name, translated from the Greek, means "The wonder of Ness with the diamond shaped fin", a reference to the flipper photographed by Dr Rines in 1972. N.B It was discovered that if you re-arranged the letters of Nessiteras rhombopteryx it could read "Monster hoax by Sir Peter S" or as Dr Rines found it could also read " Yes, both pix are Monsters R."

Also see these sites. - Steve


Robert H. Rines interview, 27/9/00

New expedition

Debunkers claim 'hoax'

Rines defends against debunkers' hoax claims and many more sites


Does anyone know why these incredible photos have dropped off the radar screen of cryptozoological discussion?

There are several stills and a six or eight second movie film from this expedition.All were reproduced in the National Geographic issue on Nessie. The film of the rhomboid fin and body of the beast is possibly the single most impressive film of Nessie that I have seen. All were taken by robot cameras designed by EE. "Doc" Eggerton Prof. Emeritus of MIT and founder of EG&G a high powered Engineering firm out of Massachusetts. I think all are also in "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" by the late lamented "Ted" Holiday; one of the few truely good books on Nessie.



Visit http://www.network54.com/hide/forum/124153

New photo of Nessie?

New Mexico church plans Harry Potter book burning


Thursday December 27, 8:25 AM

ALAMOGORDO, New Mexico (Reuters) - A New Mexico church plans to burn Harry Potter books because they are "an abomination to God," the church pastor said on Wednesday.

Pastor Jack Brock said he would have a "holy bonfire" on Sunday at the Christ Community Church in Alamogordo in southern New Mexico to torch books about the fictional teen-age wizard who is wildly popular with young people.

"These books encourage our youth to learn more about witches, warlocks, and sorcerers, and those things are an abomination to God and to me," Brock, 74, told Reuters.

"Harry Potter books are going to destroy the lives of many young people."

The books, written by British author J.K. Rowling, have been runaway bestsellers and a movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," is currently a blockbuster hit.

Brock, whose said his Christmas Eve sermon was titled "The Baby Jesus or Harry Potter?," described the book burning as part of an effort to encourage Christians to remove everything from their homes that prevents them from communicating with God.

The books have come under fire in a few U.S communities for supposedly encouraging devilish thoughts among the young, but Rowling in an earlier statement issued by her publisher Bloomsbury called the criticisms absurd.

"I have met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, 'Ms. Rowling, I'm so glad I've read these books because now I want to be a witch,'" she said.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Items Of Interest

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

From CSICOP Friend Massimo Pigliucci:

Hi all,

on December 29 at 2pm I will debate creationist Kent Hovind ("Dr. Dino") on a radio show hosted by a fellow that identifies himself only as "Pastor Dan." The show will be broadcasted over the Internet at www.wtma.com and there will be the possibility of calling in.

Rationally yours,

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, Assoc. Professor
Department of Botany
University of Tennessee

From CSICOP Fellow Eugenie Scott:

Please pass this to those who might be interested in it. If you receive multiple copies, please accept my apologies. Thank you.

Santorum Amendment Stripped from Education Bill

The Elementary and Secondary Education Authorization Act which is headed for the President's signature does not contain the antievolution "Santorum amendment", though there is brief mention of the topic of evolution in explanatory materials appended to the law. The good news for teachers is that they will not have to teach evolution any differently as a result of the new legislation.


Since the summer of 2001, a joint Senate-House conference committee has attempted to resolve the House and Senate versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Authorization Act (the "Education Bill"). The Senate had added a "sense of the Senate" amendment proposed by Pennsylvania's Senator Rick Santorum that singled out evolution as a controversial idea. (See http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2001/US/321_senate_passes_antievolution_re_6_13_2001.asp)

The original Santorum amendment said:

"It is the sense of the Senate that:

(1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and

(2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject."

This language, because it singled out evolution as a controversial theory, caused the officers of almost one hundred scientific societies â€" representing over 100,000 scientists â€" to call upon the conference committee chairs to drop the Santorum amendment. (See http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolutionletter_update0801.html) In December 2001,the joint committee finished its work, and submitted the compromise bill to Congress, which passed the bill and sent it to President Bush for his signature.

The Good News

The good news is that the Santorum amendment has disappeared from the bill, appearing only in altered form in the Conference Report, buried deep in the "Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference" in Title I, Part A, as item 78. (See http://edworkforce.house.gov/issues/107th/education/nclb/conference/stateofman/title1pa.htm

Item 78 says:

"The conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

The Joint Explanatory Statement is not part of the bill itself, but an explanation of how the conference committee brought together the various provisions of the House and Senate bills. The law itself does not mention "evolution", nor does it include any sentiments reflecting the Santorum amendment. Teachers do not have to alter how they teach evolution as a result of the Education Bill.

More good news is that the obscure two-sentence distillation of the Santorum amendment reflects the conference committee's wish to keep "religious and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science" out of the science classroom, a position that NCSE has always supported. Creation science, intelligent design theory, and philosophical materialism qualify as "religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science" and thus teachers are discouraged from presenting them.

The Sort-of Bad News

The bad news is that evolution is again singled out â€" but even here creationists got less than they wanted. Whereas evolution was the only controversial scientific topic in the original Santorum amendment, Item 78 includes evolution as a parenthetical example of a controversial issue.

It appears as if the conference committee largely heeded the call of the officers of the scientific societies. The scientists requested the Senate and House conference committee chairs to drop the Santorum amendment â€" which they did. The inclusion of a modified and watered-down form of the amendment with no force of law, buried deep in explanatory material, was probably intended to appease religiously conservative constituents, politics being after all the art of compromise. But, to reiterate: teachers do not have to alter how they teach evolution as a result of the Education Bill.

Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.
Executive Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Ste. 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
fax: 510-601-7204

From Skeptical News Hound Joe Littrell:

Evolutionary Road
by Edward J. Larson
Washington Post


"Alfred Russel Wallace is hot. With six new books about his life or work appearing within the past five years, including these two published this year, Wallace has reemerged from Charles Darwin's long shadow to regain some measure of the public recognition that he once enjoyed for his independent role in formulating the theory of organic evolution by natural selection. Like Darwin, Wallace was fairly well known in Britain even before the announcement of their grand theory in 1858. Although the two men differed in background and temperament, they built their initial reputations in similar manners and hit upon the idea of natural selection in nearly the same way."

Blair baby 'has had' MMR jab
by Kamal Ahmed and Gaby Hinsliff
The Observer [UK]


"Leo Blair has been given the controversial triple vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella, The Observer can reveal. Sources close to Tony Blair gave the clearest indication possible last night that the 19-month-old child has had the MMR inoculation after demands that the family 'come clean' on the issue."

Study Links Superstitious Fear to Fatal Heart Attacks
by Kate Wong
Scientific American


"In work that illustrates the negative influence that mind can wield over body, a new study provides perhaps the strongest evidence yet that psychological stress can increase the risk of cardiac death. A report describing this so-called Baskerville effectâ€"named for the fate of a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles who succumbs to a stress-induced heart attackâ€"appears in the current issue of the British Medical Journal."

see also:


Phony doctor imprisoned for running cancer scam
Bradenton Herald


"After persuading ailing patients or their relatives to dole out thousands of dollars for fraudulent cancer treatments, John Paul Dyke has been sentenced to nine years in prison, more than twice the time sentencing guidelines recommend for fraud."

Popular Myth Says Suicides Increase During Holidays, Facts Prove Contrary
Press Release
National Mental Health Awareness Campaign


"Contrary to widespread media reports that suicide rates are highest during the holiday season, facts show the percentage of suicides among adults and teens occurring in December is below the monthly average. In the United States, April is usually the peak month of suicide incidence and December is the lowest.(1) In fact, November and December rank the lowest in daily rates of suicide.(2) An analysis done last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, found that two out of three newspaper stories incorrectly link suicides to the holidays or create a direct relationship between the holidays and suicides."

Vatican denies rumors the Third Secret of Fatima foretold terrorist attacks
Associated Press


"The Vatican tried Thursday to end speculation that the so-called Third Secret of Fatima foretold the Sept. 11 suicide hijacking attacks in the United States."

Ball lightning baffles scientists
BBC News


"This picture of the freak weather phenomenon of ball lightning was taken by a wildlife ranger in Queensland, Australia, in 1987."

Former unbelievers now seeking advice in psychic realm
By Amie Parnes


"Sept. 11. It was a clear, sunny day and Mars was in Capricorn."

From ghosts to Jesus, apparition tradition continues in Atlantic Canada
Canadian Press


"In Atlantic Canada, coffee shops, covered bridges, bedroom walls and even knotholes have a curious commonality. Over the years, they've all been home to apparitions - and 2001 was no exception."

No fooling: the 10 worst Internet hoaxes
By Scott Spanbauer


"Communicating by e-mail seems safe and clean compared to the real world -- no bad breath, no cauliflower ear, and no anthrax. But e-mail doesn't escape the clutches of con artists. Just because an e-mail message looks legitimate and plays upon our deeply felt hopes and fears doesn't mean it's true. Here's our top ten list of some of the most devious hoaxes and outright scams in Internet history. Don't be surprised to see some of them appear (and mutate into new forms) again and again."

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.

He sees the museum as a long-overdue offensive against the scientific establishment - and against the many Christians who maintain that they can be true to their religion without taking every word of the Bible as fact.

"This is a cultural war," Ham said. "It's heating up. They need to know: We're coming."

Answers in Genesis has plenty of experience developing catchy packages to promote creationism. With an annual budget of $7 million, the ministry puts out a "faith-strengthening" family magazine, a technical journal exploring what they call the science of creation, a radio program broadcast on 400 U.S. stations and pamphlets translated for audiences around the world on topics including: "Where did the races come from?"

The publications are glossy and engaging. Ham expects the museum to be equally slick. He even hired the designer of the King Kong attraction at Florida's Universal Studios to come up with exhibits that he vows will rival Disneyland's in quality.

There is only one other American museum dedicated to creation science - a 3,500-square-foot "journey through time" at the Institute for Creation Research near San Diego. The Answers in Genesis facility is far more ambitious: It will boast 50,000 square feet of exhibit space plus 47 acres of outdoor trails and displays (including, perhaps, a full-size replica ark) just five minutes from the Cincinnati airport. If donations keep coming in on pace, the museum should open by the summer of 2003.

Ham has filled several warehouses with potential exhibits, some purchased from a defunct science museum in Baltimore. There are walk-through replicas of a human cell and a sea bass, as well as extensive displays on DNA. Then there are the dinosaurs, dozens of them, snarling, scowling, astoundingly real. As Mark Looy, a ministry spokesman, proudly noted: "This is not papier-mache junk from a miniature golf course."

Critics see the Creation Museum as a sham, sermon disguised as science. But if the disguise is good enough, they fear, visitors to the museum will be snookered.

"The authoritative presentation of this information is likely to confuse people into thinking these are scientifically valid views," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education.

The vast majority of scientists dismiss the biblical creation account as a fairy tale. They hold instead that all life evolved from bits of genetic material that appeared on Earth 3.9 billion years ago.

Although it's termed a theory, evolution generally is accepted as fact among the scientific establishment.

The public, however, is not convinced. Polls consistently show that just 10 percent of Americans believe in evolution unaided by external force. In contrast, 45 percent accept the biblical account that God created mankind within the last 10,000 years. Most others blend the two stories of mankind's origins, holding that God guided a process of evolution that lasted millions of years.

December 10, 2001

The Geek Syndrome

Autism - and its milder cousin Asperger's syndrome - is surging among the children of Silicon Valley. Are math-and-tech genes to blame?

By Steve Silberman

Nick is building a universe on his computer. He's already mapped out his first planet: an anvil-shaped world called Denthaim that is home to gnomes and gods, along with a three-gendered race known as kiman. As he tells me about his universe, Nick looks up at the ceiling, humming fragments of a melody over and over. "I'm thinking of making magic a form of quantum physics, but I haven't decided yet, actually," he explains. The music of his speech is pitched high, alternately poetic and pedantic - as if the soul of an Oxford don has been awkwardly reincarnated in the body of a chubby, rosy-cheeked boy from Silicon Valley. Nick is 11 years old.

Nick's father is a software engineer, and his mother is a computer programmer. They've known that Nick was an unusual child for a long time. He's infatuated with fantasy novels, but he has a hard time reading people. Clearly bright and imaginative, he has no friends his own age. His inability to pick up on hidden agendas makes him easy prey to certain cruelties, as when some kids paid him a few dollars to wear a ridiculous outfit to school.

One therapist suggested that Nick was suffering from an anxiety disorder. Another said he had a speech impediment. Then his mother read a book called Asperger's Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. In it, psychologist Tony Attwood describes children who lack basic social and motor skills, seem unable to decode body language and sense the feelings of others, avoid eye contact, and frequently launch into monologues about narrowly defined - and often highly technical - interests. Even when very young, these children become obsessed with order, arranging their toys in a regimented fashion on the floor and flying into tantrums when their routines are disturbed. As teenagers, they're prone to getting into trouble with teachers and other figures of authority, partly because the subtle cues that define societal hierarchies are invisible to them.


Religion's misguided missiles


Promise a young man that death is not the end and he will willingly cause disaster.

Special report: terrorism in the US

Richard Dawkins
Saturday September 15, 2001
The Guardian

A guided missile corrects its trajectory as it flies, homing in, say, on the heat of a jet plane's exhaust. A great improvement on a simple ballistic shell, it still cannot discriminate particular targets. It could not zero in on a designated New York skyscraper if launched from as far away as Boston.

That is precisely what a modern "smart missile" can do. Computer miniaturisation has advanced to the point where one of today's smart missiles could be programmed with an image of the Manhattan skyline together with instructions to home in on the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Smart missiles of this sophistication are possessed by the United States, as we learned in the Gulf war, but they are economically beyond ordinary terrorists and scientifically beyond theocratic governments. Might there be a cheaper and easier alternative?

In the second world war, before electronics became cheap and miniature, the psychologist BF Skinner did some research on pigeon-guided missiles. The pigeon was to sit in a tiny cockpit, having previously been trained to peck keys in such a way as to keep a designated target in the centre of a screen. In the missile, the target would be for real.

The principle worked, although it was never put into practice by the US authorities. Even factoring in the costs of training them, pigeons are cheaper and lighter than computers of comparable effectiveness. Their feats in Skinner's boxes suggest that a pigeon, after a regimen of training with colour slides, really could guide a missile to a distinctive landmark at the southern end of Manhattan island. The pigeon has no idea that it is guiding a missile. It just keeps on pecking at those two tall rectangles on the screen, from time to time a food reward drops out of the dispenser, and this goes on until... oblivion.

Pigeons may be cheap and disposable as on-board guidance systems, but there's no escaping the cost of the missile itself. And no such missile large enough to do much damage could penetrate US air space without being intercepted. What is needed is a missile that is not recognised for what it is until too late. Something like a large civilian airliner, carrying the innocuous markings of a well-known carrier and a great deal of fuel. That's the easy part. But how do you smuggle on board the necessary guidance system? You can hardly expect the pilots to surrender the left-hand seat to a pigeon or a computer.

How about using humans as on-board guidance systems, instead of pigeons? Humans are at least as numerous as pigeons, their brains are not significantly costlier than pigeon brains, and for many tasks they are actually superior. Humans have a proven track record in taking over planes by the use of threats, which work because the legitimate pilots value their own lives and those of their passengers.

The natural assumption that the hijacker ultimately values his own life too, and will act rationally to preserve it, leads air crews and ground staff to make calculated decisions that would not work with guidance modules lacking a sense of self-preservation. If your plane is being hijacked by an armed man who, though prepared to take risks, presumably wants to go on living, there is room for bargaining. A rational pilot complies with the hijacker's wishes, gets the plane down on the ground, has hot food sent in for the passengers and leaves the negotiations to people trained to negotiate.

The problem with the human guidance system is precisely this. Unlike the pigeon version, it knows that a successful mission culminates in its own destruction. Could we develop a biological guidance system with the compliance and dispensability of a pigeon but with a man's resourcefulness and ability to infiltrate plausibly? What we need, in a nutshell, is a human who doesn't mind being blown up. He'd make the perfect on-board guidance system. But suicide enthusiasts are hard to find. Even terminal cancer patients might lose their nerve when the crash was actually looming.

Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? If only! Nobody is that stupid, but how about this - it's a long shot, but it just might work. Given that they are certainly going to die, couldn't we sucker them into believing that they are going to come to life again afterwards? Don't be daft! No, listen, it might work. Offer them a fast track to a Great Oasis in the Sky, cooled by everlasting fountains. Harps and wings wouldn't appeal to the sort of young men we need, so tell them there's a special martyr's reward of 72 virgin brides, guaranteed eager and exclusive.

Would they fall for it? Yes, testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next. It's a tall story, but worth a try. You'd have to get them young, though. Feed them a complete and self-consistent background mythology to make the big lie sound plausible when it comes. Give them a holy book and make them learn it by heart. Do you know, I really think it might work. As luck would have it, we have just the thing to hand: a ready-made system of mind-control which has been honed over centuries, handed down through generations. Millions of people have been brought up in it. It is called religion and, for reasons which one day we may understand, most people fall for it (nowhere more so than America itself, though the irony passes unnoticed). Now all we need is to round up a few of these faith-heads and give them flying lessons.

Facetious? Trivialising an unspeakable evil? That is the exact opposite of my intention, which is deadly serious and prompted by deep grief and fierce anger. I am trying to call attention to the elephant in the room that everybody is too polite - or too devout - to notice: religion, and specifically the devaluing effect that religion has on human life. I don't mean devaluing the life of others (though it can do that too), but devaluing one's own life. Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.

If death is final, a rational agent can be expected to value his life highly and be reluctant to risk it. This makes the world a safer place, just as a plane is safer if its hijacker wants to survive. At the other extreme, if a significant number of people convince themselves, or are convinced by their priests, that a martyr's death is equivalent to pressing the hyperspace button and zooming through a wormhole to another universe, it can make the world a very dangerous place. Especially if they also believe that that other universe is a paradisical escape from the tribulations of the real world. Top it off with sincerely believed, if ludicrous and degrading to women, sexual promises, and is it any wonder that naive and frustrated young men are clamouring to be selected for suicide missions?

There is no doubt that the afterlife-obsessed suicidal brain really is a weapon of immense power and danger. It is comparable to a smart missile, and its guidance system is in many respects superior to the most sophisticated electronic brain that money can buy. Yet to a cynical government, organisation, or priesthood, it is very very cheap.

Our leaders have described the recent atrocity with the customary cliche: mindless cowardice. "Mindless" may be a suitable word for the vandalising of a telephone box. It is not helpful for understanding what hit New York on September 11. Those people were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards. On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from.

It came from religion. Religion is also, of course, the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place. But that is another story and not my concern here. My concern here is with the weapon itself. To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.

Richard Dawkins is professor of the public understanding of science, University of Oxford, and author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Unweaving the Rainbow.

God Gave U.S. 'What We Deserve,' Falwell Says

By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2001; Page C03


Television evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two of the most prominent voices of the religious right, said liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, homosexuals and abortion rights supporters bear partial responsibility for Tuesday's terrorist attacks because their actions have turned God's anger against America.

"God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve," said Falwell, appearing yesterday on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club," hosted by Robertson.

"Jerry, that's my feeling," Robertson responded. "I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to the major population." Falwell said the American Civil Liberties Union has "got to take a lot of blame for this," again winning Robertson's agreement: "Well, yes."

EEOC Backs 'Cold Fusion' Devotee

Here's an old one. Hey, it's Christmas.
See Robert Park's comments (click the link).

COPIED FROM: WSHINGTON POST.COM - Wednesday, August 23, 2000; Page A23


By Curt Suplee
Washington Post Staff Writer

Belief in radically unconventional scientific notions, such as "cold fusion" or cryptic messages from extraterrestrials, may merit the same workplace protections as freedom of religion, according to a ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a job-discrimination case.

The July 7 EEOC decision came in response to a complaint by maverick Alexandria astronomer and erstwhile patent examiner Paul A. LaViolette, who was fired in April 1999 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

LaViolette, 52, claimed the action was taken because he believes in the validity of a highly controversial energy-generation idea called "cold fusion," along with other unorthodox matters, and protested the decision to the PTO.

His Web site, www.etheric.com, details his "proof" of the existence of alien radio communication, his theory that the zodiac is a "time capsule message" warning of emanations from the galactic center and his views on the Sphinx, the Tarot and Atlantis, along with his considerable accomplishments in mainstream science.

Balancing Bibical Faith and Archaeological Facts

[Another old one]


William G. Dever has done extensive archaeological work in Israel and is the author, most recently, of "What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?"(William B. Eerdmans Publishing). Gustav Niebuhr spoke with him.

What was biblical archaeology and why did it die?

Biblical archaeology wasn't really a subbranch of archaeology; it was a subbranch of theological studies. Most of the practitioners were seminary professors, and some were clergy. It was an attempt to use archaeology in an amateur way. The money came out of seminaries and church circles. The questions being raised were questions of faith and history. The movement collapsed somewhere in the 70's for a variety of reasons. It never proved the history of the patriarchs, for example. The movement failed to reach its agenda. Basically, the field became more professionalized and more secularized. No serious archaeologist today would attempt to prove the Bible in the old-fashioned sense.

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 17, 2001

from The San Francisco Chronicle

A 30-year-old legacy from the Cold War has surfaced on a remote Alaskan island, where scientists and Aleutian natives are concerned that radiation from the largest nuclear weapons blast ever conducted in America could now be leaking into the marine environment.

At precisely 11 a.m. on Nov. 6, 1971, weapons specialists from the Atomic Energy Commission exploded a 5-megaton bomb -- a prototype for a ballistic missile warhead -- inside a mile-deep shaft drilled beneath Amchitka Island only 87 miles from Petropavlovsk, Russia's Siberian naval base.

The thermonuclear blast was almost 400 times more powerful than the weapon that destroyed Hiroshima. Code-named Cannikin, the weapon shattered the shaft's walls and blasted a huge cavern lined with glasslike molten rock. It triggered a rockfall of jagged boulders from a nearby cliff, created a mile- wide crater atop ground zero that filled with water now known as Cannikin Lake, uplifted a mile of the nearby ground by 20 feet, and vented groundwater through cracks and old seismic faults throughout the site.


from The Associated Press

Al Stiller admits his discovery is at the outer limits of what some already consider a fringe science. He can't even fully explain why it works.

But chicken manure, he insists, makes good fuel.

Liquefied, cooked and sterilized by heat and intense pressure, it can be blended with diesel to power an engine with no significant difference in performance.

And that, says the West Virginia University chemical engineering professor, has global implications: If it were to catch on, a blend that's 65 percent diesel and 35 percent liquid waste would reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and solve a nagging environmental problem for the poultry industry.


from The New York Times

SYDNEY, Australia, Dec. 16 - "Throw another roo rib on the barbie" may lack the sales appeal of the grilled-shrimp slogan that Australia once used to attract American tourists.

But harvesting Australia's 25 million-strong kangaroo population to sell the meat around the world is a central element in a new land care strategy being promoted here by scientists, ranchers, environmentalists and government officials.

The kangaroo, unique to Australia, is among the world's most numerous large mammals, a pest in some areas that competes with cattle and sheep for grasslands, and, for some, a low-fat delicacy.

Despite the kangaroo's symbolic status, about two million are killed each year to control the population, and most of those end up as pet food. The kangaroo's value and treatment are now the subjects of renewed debate here.


from Scripps Howard News Service

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Think of it as an earthquake in slow motion.

The ground beneath Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla has spent the past three years slipping about half an inch toward Seattle, a discovery that has baffled scientists.

"This event was completely unexpected," said geophysicist Jeff Freymueller of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "We had no idea that the earth could do such a thing."

In 1998, scientists taking annual global positioning system measurements discovered that sites spread over about 5,800 square miles of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna area had begun easing south-southeast. The movement was swiftest that year, gradually slowed and appeared to have stopped by summer 2001.


from The Boston Globe

Doctors increasingly worry that haphazard use this winter of the antianthrax drug Cipro could breed bacteria impervious to even the most potent antibiotics.

One particularly nasty bacterium, Haemophilius influenzae, behind thousands of lung infections, already displays early signs of Cipro resistance, according to a study released today. Doctors also fear several other common bugs, including food-borne E. coli and dangerous streptococcus pneumonia, might gain resistance to the Cipro family of antibiotics.

That could spell calamity: The drugs are considered the last line of defense against pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, intestinal infections, and sudden hospital infections.

''When bacteria becomes drug resistant, we usually find out too late,'' said Dr. Stuart Levy, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, who authored the study along with several major pharmaceutical companies.


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