NTS LogoSkeptical News for 11 January 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, January 11, 2002

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 - January 11, 2002

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 - The universe, by definition, holds everything imaginable and then some. It has stars and planets and moons, life here and possibly there, red giants and white dwarfs and - the ogres to top all ogres - big, bad black holes.

It even has color, astronomers have concluded. If it were possible to see the universe as a whole, from afar, it would appear pale green, between aquamarine and turquoise.

That is the conclusion of two astronomers from Johns Hopkins University, who mixed the varied hues in visible light of 200,000 galaxies on their palettes and saw green. They announced the results here today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

"From one perspective, it's surprising that it turns out green, because there are no greenish stars," said Dr. Karl Glazebrook of Johns Hopkins. "But it's the large numbers of old red stars and young blue stars in the universe that gives us the green."


from The Los Angeles Times

The very modern human traits of complex and abstract thinking may have evolved in Africa 77,000 years ago--almost twice as early as previously believed--according to a team of anthropologists who unearthed intricate geometric carvings on bits of rock from a South African cave.

The finding, if verified, could overturn much current thinking in anthropology. But the sweeping claim is already generating controversy among experts in the field.

The discovery suggests that modern human behavior evolved in Africa rather than Europe. The artifacts, pieces of red rock etched with geometric shapes, are more than 40,000 years older than another milepost of complex behavior: the dazzling paintings of animals and humans on the walls of French caves. "In light of this new evidence it seems that, at least in southern Africa, Homo sapiens was behaviorally modern about 77,000 years ago," wrote Christopher S. Henshilwood, the anthropologist who led the research. His findings are being published online today in the journal Science. The etchings, he said, "may have been constructed with symbolic intent."


from The Christian Science Monitor

BOZEMAN, MONT. - A few strands of hair - lynx hair, to be precise - have touched off a political catfight that is being heard from the vast evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest to the halls of Congress.

The spitting and hissing began last month, with the revelation that five federal wildlife biologists planted fur from a Canadian lynx - an officially "threatened" species - in the Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchott national forests in Washington. On the issue of placing lynx hair on rubbing posts, the researchers plead mea culpa.

What has everyone in an uproar is speculation about why they did it - and what their actions may imply about the reliability of scientific data used both to manage federal lands and to protect certain animals named under the Endangered Species Act.

"The discovery of this problem underscores a long-standing concern I've had over these Endangered Species Act studies," says James V. Hansen, chairman of the House Resources Committee and a vocal critic of the Endangered Species Act. "To me, this revelation calls into question all studies that have been done over the past eight years."


from Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California scientists have found a better way to make glowing mice -- and rats, too.

Nobel Prize-winning biologist David Baltimore and a team of researchers said on Thursday that they have found a new way to introduce foreign DNA into animals, such as mice, by using a crippled offshoot of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS in humans.

In an experiment, the researchers at Pasadena, California-based California Institute of Technology were able to use the virus to deposit a jellyfish gene into single-cell mouse embryos.

Most of the mice that were born from those embryos carried a special protein derived from jellyfish throughout their bodies that caused them to glow green under a fluorescent light, the scientists said.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

A state-appointed advisory panel is expected to urge California lawmakers to permit the cloning of human embryonic stem cells for medical research but to permanently ban cloning to make babies.

The recommendations of the panel, whose findings will be reviewed by state senators Tuesday, could put California legislators on a collision course with national lawmakers, who are trying to push a total cloning ban through Congress.

State officials have not yet officially released the advisory panel's report, but a draft copy obtained by The Chronicle reveals that the panel, composed of 12 scientists, ethicists and legal scholars, made both controversial recommendations unanimously.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Skeptics in Venezuela and Items of Interest

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

We received the following note from our skeptical friends in Venezuela. I invite you to check them out on the web at:

Dear Mr. Karr:

I just read Dr. Kurtz's message with the skeptical achievements of the year 2001 in the US Your balance is certainly positive. Congratulations!

For us skeptics in Latin America things are much harder. We are very few (in Venezuela, active skeptics can be counted with two hands' fingers...) and lack support from Academia or other institutions. We are still invisible. And when we become visible are usually considered eccentric, extravagant, even unrespectful. Worst of all, we also have to fight against a deluge of paranormal American TV!

Our group, Asociacion Racional Esceptica de Venezuela (AREV), was founded in February 2001. Despite our limitations, we have published several articles and letters in the press. Last month we released the first issue of our electronic newsletter (attached).

We feel that we have a great responsibility: planting the seeds of skepticism and critical thinking in our country. We have enthusiasm, and receive moral support from other Latin American groups that suffer the same limitations. We know time is in our favor (...or we can make it to be!)

Happy New, Skeptical Year!
Sami Rozenbaum (sami_rozenbaum@yahoo.com)
Caracas, Venezuela

PD: I can also mention as an achievement my college thesis, the first skeptical one in this country, which as you may remember was awarded two prizes and was published. As part of one of the prizes, this year I'll begin a Master in Philosophy of Science.

Spiked-Health 3 January 2002
Watered-down science by Howard Fienberg


Researchers sometimes embellish the importance of their work to get a journalist's attention. But, as the New Scientist demonstrated on 10 November 2001, sometimes they don't need to bother.

New Scientist reported on a team of South Korean chemists who have discovered an interesting effect in the dissolution of molecules. Rather than dissolved molecules spreading 'further and further apart as a solution is diluted', they discovered that some molecules clump together in 'clusters'. Interesting to chemists, but surely of little import for the public? Not so, said New Scientist, claiming that it 'could provide the first scientific insight into how some homeopathic remedies work'.



There are now 14 essays on my Web site:
1) Let's Search for the Missing Link (published in IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, Sep/Oct 2001)
2) Entangled Physicists
3) Of Big Bangs and Small Fizzes
4) Mars Explorers Abandoned to a Certain Death
5) Unidentified Flying Interstellar Nonsense
6) Shut Off That Heater (or Air Conditioning) Unit!
7) EMF Cancer Scares: Epidemiology Versus Body Power
8) The Ether IS the Universe
9) How to Acquire a Magnetic Personality
10) The Case for Large-Size Mutations
11) That Nefarious Word, "Somehow"
12) Black Holes May Rejuvenate the Universe
13) Times Have Changed, and With Them the Speed of Light
14) Are You Conscious, and Can You Prove It? It would be nice, of course, to get feedback from you.
Sid D.

Why psychics don't have a higher success rate


What is a "God wink?"


"In SQuire Rushnell's ground-breaking book, he provides hope for every one of us with his simple thesis that coincidences happen for a reason and that reason is good. He reassures us that as we pick up a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and utter "I don't get it! Where do I fit?" that the whole picture does makes sense, when seen from above." - WMBI Radio

During the days and weeks following the national tragedy of terrorist attacks on America, look for coincidence stories in the news. They are certain to be there as evidence that our lives are not random, that you are never alone.

Coincidences always appear in times of crisis. Look for them. Recognize them as signs of reassurance that no matter how terrible we feel or how uncertain things seem to be that the only real certainty is our belief in God. Coincidences are concrete signs of confirmation that we are not alone, that our lives are not random, and that when seen from above the jigsaw puzzle of life all makes sense.

[Apparently God does not like Catholic priests. Ed.]

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Scientists Validate Near-Death Experiences


ABCNEWS' Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson says this study lends more credibility to the possibility that these near-death accounts are ccurate because the researchers conducted the interviews soon after the experiences occurred. The study does not provide a way to scientifically measure whether or not there is life after death, however.

The study reported in Lancet looked at 344 patients in the Netherlands ho were successfully resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest in 10 Dutch hospitals.

Rather than using data from people reporting past near-death experiences, researchers talked to patients within a week after they had suffered clinical deaths and been resuscitated. (Clincical death was defined as a period of unconsciousness caused by insufficient blood supply to the brain.)

Judge Nixes Faith-Based Funding

'the program was "drenched with religion."'


Associated Press Writer
January 8 2002, 6:34 PM PST

MADISON, Wis. -- A federal judge Tuesday ordered the state's Department of Workforce Development to stop funding a faith-based Milwaukee program that helps troubled fathers with drug treatment, job training and placement.

The order from U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which opposed money going to the Milwaukee program Faith Works.

The program receives grants from the DWD and has a contract with the state Department of Corrections to operate a halfway house providing 24-hour supervised residential care.

President Bush visited the program during his presidential campaign.

Crabb said in her ruling Tuesday that the DWD grants were unconstitutional because they constitute "unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination." She ordered a trial to determine whether the Department of Corrections contract with Faith Works is constitutional.

The DWD gave Faith Works $150,000 in grants in fiscal year 1998 and $450,000 in fiscal year 1999, according to court records.

Anne Nicol Gaylor, president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said the program was "drenched with religion."

"For a private program to operate that way is fine. Go right ahead, but don't expect public taxpayers to proselytize for you, to line up converts," she said.

Faith Works attorney Daniel Kelly said the state has funded several groups as part of welfare reform efforts, and that it was unfair to eliminate one because it is faith-based.

DWD spokeswoman Rachel Biittner said Tuesday she could not comment until agency officials were able to study Crabb's ruling.


On the Net:

U.S. District Court, Western Wisconsin: http://www.wiw.uscourts.gov

Articles of Note

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

City debates devilish mascot
By Geoffrey Fattah
Deseret News


"Folks in Springville are having a devil of a time trying to settle a fiery debate over the name of the city high school's mascot."

Harry Potter and the sermon of fire
by Sarah Hall
The Guardian [UK]


"He has bewitched 124m readers, vanquished the forces of evil and transformed his creator into Britain's highest-paid woman."

Church group burns Harry Potter books
Associated Press


"As hundreds protested nearby, a New Mexico church group burned Harry Potter and other books."

Astrologers Forecast For 2002: Respect, Recognition
Naples Daily News


"If you've lost faith in theologians and politicians for answers to what happened Sept. 11 " and to what the new year will hold " look skyward."

FDA looking at safety of kava
By Rita Rubin
USA Today


"The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether popular dietary supplements containing the herb kava " know locally as 'awa " promoted for relief of stress and anxiety, could cause serious liver problems."

Survey: Astrology, religion sites draw surfers


"Astrology and religion Web sites attracted more than 1.6 million surfers logging on to the Internet at-home, as the category grew 22 percent during the week ending December 16, according to Internet audience measurement service Nielsen//NetRatings."

Alternative therapies 'backed by ministers'
BBC News


"So-called alternative therapies could become far more easily available on the NHS, says the government."

Traditions and superstitions are common
By Jacqueline J. Holness
News Daily [Jonesboro, GA]


"A woman can't be the first person to walk into Denise Shepard's house on New Year's Day."

666 fear gets worker a reprimand
Kathimerini [Athens]


"A God-fearing civil servant who refused to clock in at her office for four months in order to defeat a satanist conspiracy should only be punished for being regularly late at work, Greece's supreme administrative court has ruled."

BBC News. 1 January, 2002
Asteroid impact centre site selected

Britain's new centre to analyse the risk of an asteroid impact on Earth and inform the public will be at the National Space Science Centre in Leicester, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury has announced.


Call Me Now! ...And Pay Me Later
New Times Broward-Palm Beach


"You can't hide from Miss Cleo. The self-proclaimed television psychic's grinning, beturbaned head pops up everywhere, urging viewers to call her now for free foreknowledge of romance, jobs, family matters, and health, all delivered in a vaguely Caribbean accent. Mass e-mails breathlessly urge recipients to listen to her visions and dreams, which she promises will change their lives. Her Websites ominously warn, "Miss Cleo is waiting!""

Toddler says he saw angels
Halifax Daily News


"As Gage Gabriel spent Christmas Eve shivering on a beach near his dead mother's body, two angels floating above the waters of the Bay of Fundy smiled at him and kept him company, the toddler says."

Whispers of Witchcraft
By Maureen O'Hagan
Washington Post


"For years, there were rumors."

Ear Acupuncture No Cure for Cocaine Addict-Study


"Treating cocaine abusers with acupuncture needles inserted in their ears, a technique growing in popularity, was no more effective in conquering addiction than relaxation therapy, a study said on Tuesday."

Kennewick crop circle reportedly in new film
By Dori O'Neal
Tri-City Herald

http://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/2001/1225/story5.html "Crop circles have been mystifying people for decades."

A Priest Not Intimidated by Satan or by Harry Potter
New York Times


"The Roman Catholic Church's best-known exorcist led the way down a long hallway that was dark but not particularly spooky, dim in a way that evoked only thrift, to the small office where he performs his rite."

Feds warn of bogus bioterror cure sites


"U.S. officials said on Wednesday they warned 71 Web sites selling products that claim to protect against biowarfare agents to remove any claims they cannot support with scientific evidence or risk legal action."

Towns get wrapped up in `gift' schemes
By E.A. Torriero
Chicago Tribune


"For more than two weeks, day and night, neighbors and relatives hurried to Doug and Susan Manock's house with $2,000 in hand."

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 - January 10, 2002

from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The newly appointed chief of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has inherited a financial quagmire at the space agency, which is facing massive cost overruns that may even prevent it from sending a full crew to the space station to carry out scientific research.

With a reputation as a longtime Republican budget cutter and the first NASA administrator with a predominantly financial background, Sean O'Keefe has sparked outright fear among the scientists, academics and space policy analysts. They worry that the Bush administration is using the cost overruns to make wholesale cuts in the storied agency.

In his first comments to the media just days after taking office, O'Keefe said Tuesday that no program or center was immune from cuts or closures, providing the starkest warning yet of another major overhaul of the troubled agency. "It's all on the table," said O'Keefe, a former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. "I don't have any preset solution of what the answer ought to be for any dimension of what we do here. It's an opportunity to think fresh about a variety of things."

His remarks are likely to intensify anxiety among NASA supporters who fear that cuts could dramatically diminish the nation's preeminent science and research institution, which had already undergone a decade of downsizing. The number of NASA employees has been cut by a third, from about 24,000 to 18,000.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

In a development that should allow more companies to develop therapies using human embryonic stem cells, Menlo Park's Geron Corp. said yesterday it has settled a licensing dispute with the University of Wisconsin.

Under the settlement, Geron retains an exclusive license to create stem- cell therapies for heart disease, diabetes and nerve disorders, while relinquishing claims to control many other potential uses.

Andy Cohn, a spokesman for the university, which holds key patents on stem- cell technology, said the settlement "will help move the science forward more quickly" because it will let other companies enter the field.

Stem cells taken from human embryos are thought to hold the key to developing replacement tissues to repair the damage caused by strokes and other disorders.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

The revelation that California's redwoods could be falling prey to the fast-spreading disease decimating oak trees had state forestry experts rushing for information yesterday to determine what they might have to do next.

The plague is threatening to wipe out much of California's oak woodlands, and the suggestion that the planet's tallest trees might suffer the same fate is making resource experts shudder.

Scientists are waiting for results of experiments on redwood seedlings to determine conclusively that the disease -- phytophthora ramorum, commonly known as sudden oak death -- infects the redwoods. But DNA tests of dying redwood sprouts found in Big Sur and on the University of California at Berkeley campus showed ramorum spores apparently colonizing the tissue.

Recognizing the potential for economic disruption, scientists, state forestry officials and timber executives urged calm yesterday.


from The Washington Post

The National Academy of Sciences warned yesterday that the Missouri River and its ecosystem will continue to deteriorate unless its natural flow is significantly restored, calling for "immediate and decisive management actions" to shatter a 14-year political stalemate.

The academy's report is the latest milestone in a controversy that has taken nearly as many twists as the original Big Muddy itself. The report mostly echoed long-standing proposals by environmentalists and recreational interests that the channelized river be allowed to rise and fall and meander more freely, proposals bitterly opposed by farmers and the barge industry.

"This report is an affirmation of everything we've been saying," said Chad Smith, Missouri River coordinator for the group American Rivers.


from The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON AND ST. LOUIS - It's a vision that seems almost too good to be true: Electric cars that wouldn't ever need a plug-in recharge.

Yet such is the promise of fuel-cell technology. Proponents have long held that these futuristic sort-of-battery devices are the world's best hope for replacing the noisy, inefficient, dirty internal combustion engine.

The Bush administration, in fact, has decided that US government support for the development of environmentally friendly vehicles should now focus much more on fuel-cell work. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced the shift yesterday during a speech at the auto show in Detroit.

In doing so, the administration has opted to back the green technology with the highest payoff - and perhaps the highest risk.


from The New York Times

NO one owns it. And no one in particular actually runs it. Yet more than half a billion people rely on it as they do a light switch.

The Internet is a network whose many incarnations - as obscure academic playpen, information superhighway, vast marketplace, sci- fi-inspired matrix - have seen it through more than three decades of ceaseless evolution.

In the mid-1990's, a handful of doomsayers predicted that the Internet would melt down under the strain of increased volume. They proved to be false prophets, yet now, as it enters its 33rd year, the Net faces other challenges.

The demands and dangers - sudden, news- driven traffic, security holes, and a clamor for high-speed access to homes - are concerns that bear no resemblance to those that preoccupied the Internet's creators. For all their genius, they failed to see what the Net would become once it left the confines of the university and entered the free market.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Cemetery villagers suffering erotic nightmares

From Ananova at


Chilean villagers claim they are having erotic nightmares because their homes are built on an old cemetery.

Residents of Lautaro are calling on exorcists to help them.

They say demons possess them when they are asleep and cause them to have strange erotic dreams.

They blame the phenomenon on the fact their district was built on the site of an old graveyard.

One woman, Olga Venegas, says she has been gripped by the nightmares for more than eight years.

She told newspaper La Cuarta that if the exorcism didn't work she would consider moving house. Her husband says he is also desperate for a good night's sleep.

The residents recently held a day of prayer in the hope of persuading the demons to leave them alone. When this failed, they decided to call in the exorcists.

Sufferers say the wild erotic dreams usually begin some time after midnight and often last all night.

A few people have suggested the dreams may not be caused by demons. One sceptic has called on his fellow residents to see a psychiatrist or a sex therapist.

Fortean Books for free on the Net

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

Regarding Gould & Pyle "Anomalies & Curiosities of Medicine" it is also available to download in various formats from

This site is the cause of my rapidly expanding electronic library. this site also features "The Book of The Damned", "The Roswell Testimony", "Malleus Maleficarum"and Aubrey's "Miscellanies" among others.Look under esoteric for BOD.

They also have virtually the entire Doc Savage collection under pulps as well as lots of excellent spooky stuff by the likes of HP Lovecraft,F.Marion Crawford and M.R.James.

Incidentally anyone know if E.F.Benson's ghost stuff is available on the net?


Booze, God and 12 Steps


R.V. Scheide, Sacramento News and Review
January 7, 2002

So you've decided to quit drinking.

Wednesday, January 09, 2002


[Here is an old one from last year.]

From: Taner Edis edis@truman.edu

I just got back from a trip to California where, among other things, I visited IONS -- the Institute of Noetic Sciences. As with my visit to the Institute for Creation Research last spring, this was to gather material and ideas for the "Weird Science" course I've designed, and to find out how people in the fringes of science would like me to present their point of view.

I picked IONS because I was going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area anyway, and because I'd been running across mentions of it, as a sort of hub of New Age and parapsychological activity. I got in touch with Marilyn Schlitz, a parapsychologist and their Director of Research, and she was kind enough to invite me to a mini-symposium they were having on the "rainbow body" in Tibetan Buddhism, where the master at the end of his life vanishes in a burst of light.

I arrived, and sat through talks promoting parapsychology and reincarnation, and then a Catholic priest who is apparently an expert on Tibetan Buddhism talked to defend that tradition, and its parallels with Catholicism -- especially the more magical aspects. Then a New Age author who seems to have spent a good part of his life in ashrams and so forth summed things up.

The audience numbered about 20-30, almost all affluent Californians who were IONS members and donors. The general attitude was interesting. In contrast to the rather brittle insistence on well-defined doctrine I found at the ICR, the IONS people were flexible, even slippery. If one miracle story or psi experiment failed -- and they allowed for that, even though their standards for success seemed pretty weak -- there was always another. Taking a broad view of the "phenomena" and various spiritual traditions, it was clear to them that there had to be some spiritual reality beyond material existence. They could, of course, disagree on details: I saw a friendly dispute on the implications of reincarnation for personal survival, and speakers and commenters from the audience kept emphasizing that theirs was an enterprise of exploration, of learning at the frontiers of science.

Another striking, if not unexpected, aspect of the symposium was the New Age way of plundering religious traditions for their magical beliefs. It reminded me of the way wide-eyed Americans will occasionally come and sit at the feet of Sufi masters in Turkey. Many Turkish natives (not just secularists but also orthodox Muslims) see Sufi shaikhs in a rather negative light -- as archaisms, minor frauds, or political nuisances. We're too familiar with them to be so immediately impressed. But here I was in a whole room of wide-eyed Americans searching for gurus. There was a depressing deficit of cynicism at IONS.

I was able to speak to Schlitz at some length (Dean Radin was there too, but I didn't get much of a chance to talk to him), particularly about parapsychology. She didn't tell me anything I didn't know about the current state of play in psi evidence, but then I wasn't there for that. What struck me most was her confidence that parapsychology was entering the mainstream of science. And the strongest indication of that was that they had become major players in the usual scientific scene of chasing federal funding and so forth. The Office of Alternative Medicine at NIH, with a budget approaching $100 million, was the major reason. Parapsychologists now have a large pot of money to aim at, as well as their usual laboratory and meta-analytic studies. So they've begun to put a lot more emphasis on alternative medicine as applied psi.

So I guess with ICR and IONS, I saw two rather different religious attitudes in action. One rigid, backward-looking, defensive, and the other eclectic (even syncretistic), emphasizing openness, self-confident. ICR seemed to doctrinaire, too unwilling to discard failures to be able to operate in science. IONS exhibited an opposite problem: an unwillingness to be critical, a tendency to get enamored of spiritual rhetoric and distance themselves from solid reality checks.

Anyway, the IONS web site is


if you want to take a look for yourself. For myself, I just have to remark on what a long and strange trip it was...

Taner Edis -- http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/

More "free electricity" news from Kentucky

From: Thomas J. Wheeler

Last fall I reported that "free electricity" promoter Dennis Lee had been arrested in Kentucky. Here is some more news from the Jan. 4 Louisville Courier-Journal:

Suit targets prospect of free electricity Attorney general claims companies defraud consumers

By Gregory A. Hall
The Courier-Journal

Kentucky's attorney general has filed a lawsuit to keep a group of companies and their owner from promoting a generator that would offer customers free electricity -- if it's developed.

The lawsuit seeks to block Dennis Lee and his New Jersey companies from holding seminars in Kentucky promoting the free-electricity device. At least two seminars have been held in Louisville.

The lawsuit cites advertisements for the seminars that promise demonstrations of technology proving that water can ''flow up hill without using a pump,'' and that one can ''burn pure water to cut through thick steel.''

Another advertising claim: ''We will mix up a fuel consisting of equal parts of pickle juice, soda pop, water, sugar, crude oil, gas, soy sauce, even human urine . . . and shake it up and run an internal combustion engine using that as fuel,'' the suit says.

The lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Ben Chandler, claims that Lee and the companies are defrauding consumers because they don't disclose that the device does not exist and is ''based on unproven scientific theory.''

Full story at:


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 - January 9, 2002

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 - In the most distant observations yet by the Hubble Space Telescope, some astronomers think they are seeing evidence that the universe emerged from its initial darkness in a Kiplingesque dawn of light.

The dawn came up like thunder across the cosmos.

The light of the first stars apparently did not wink on gradually here and there, like a drowsy village coming awake. That had been the accepted thinking. Instead, in the new and surprising view, the first starlight burst forth in spectacular profusion, a fireworks of creation. If this proves to be true, many theories of the early history and evolution of the universe may have to be revised.

The new interpretation of the dawn of cosmic light - the first generation of stars and galaxies just a few hundred million years after the start of the universe itself - was reported here today at a news conference at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The research was described by Dr. Kenneth M. Lanzetta, an astrophysicist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A newly discovered hot halo, a cosmic fountain and ghostly bubbles produced by an ancient explosion could change the way scientists look at galaxies, including our own Milky Way, astronomers reported on Tuesday.

All three findings pointed to dynamic movement in galaxies and in monstrous galactic clusters, the largest stable structures in the universe. The discovery should enable astronomers to better identify phenomena as they look at new galaxies or take a new look at already known ones.

In the case of the Milky Way, astronomers detected a huge, hot gas halo, or corona, that could be as much as 100,000 light-years across, much bigger than earlier scientists theorized. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

This halo could extend all the way to the Milky Way's nearest neighboring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, scientists said.


from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - An asteroid large enough to demolish France hurtled past the Earth at a distance of a half-million miles just days after scientists spotted it.

The asteroid, dubbed 2001 YB5, came within 520,000 miles of Earth on Monday, approximately twice the distance to the moon.

Dozens of asteroids pass close by the Earth each year, though 2001 YB5 was closer than most. On Friday, for instance, an asteroid known as 2001 UU92 will pass with 11 million miles of Earth.

Asteroid 2001 YB5, estimated to be 1,000 feet across, was traveling about 68,000 mph relative to the Earth when it zipped past.


from The Associated Press

Although committed to a continued moratorium on underground nuclear weapons testing, the Bush administration says the country should reduce the time it will take to resume such tests should they be needed.

Nuclear nonproliferation advocates see the declaration, part of the administration's latest strategic nuclear plan, as evidence of a growing division within the administration over whether bomb testing is needed to assure the reliability of a dwindling number of warheads.

Members of Congress were briefed Tuesday on the latest, highly classified Nuclear Posture Review. The Defense Department was to provide an unclassified summary of the document Wednesday.

The review takes into account plans for deep cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next decade as promised by President Bush in November, according to congressional sources who attended the briefing.


from The Washington Post

The number of people being treated for depression has increased dramatically in the United States in the past decade, marking a profound shift in how Americans cope with the common emotional disorder, the most comprehensive study to date shows.

Drugs such as Prozac have become the mainstay for the vast majority of those being treated, even as doctors spend less time with patients and offer comparatively less psychotherapy, researchers said yesterday in reporting the results of the study.

The sea change probably does not stem from an actual increase in depression, experts said. Instead, it is most likely connected to the destigmatization of mental health problems in general and depression in particular, the rise of managed-care insurance plans, and the arrival of powerful drugs including Prozac, accompanied by multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns.


from The Associated Press

TOKYO -- Japan is planning to launch a satellite that will use global-positioning technology to track the migration patterns of whales.

University and space officials said Wednesday that the satellite was designed and built by a private Japanese university as part of a $2.72 million research project and will be launched around October by the nation's space agency.

The Japanese government has been widely criticized by the international community and environmental groups for hunting hundreds of whales every year for what it says are research purposes. Critics argue that the program is merely a cover for supplying restaurants with whale meat, a delicacy in Japan.

The university behind the Whale Ecology Observation Satellite said that it was intended to test new applications of global-positioning technology and was unrelated to the controversial hunts.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Man Wants $10 Million For Strange Object


WKMG via Yahoo News, January 7 2002

James Hughes has an item for sale he says came off a UFO 45 years ago.

Eccentric insures himself against alien abduction for 1m

From Ananova at


A contender for the British Eccentric 2001 award has insured himself for 1 million against alien abduction.

Barry Bean has has taken out the policy with London-based insurance company Goodfellows Group.

Mr Bean - who changed his name to Captain Beany due to his love of baked beans - says he is now insured against alien abduction, impregnation or consumption.

The policy cost him 260.

Mr Bean currently leads the New Millennium Bean Party and says he is from the planet Beanus.

Return of religion in war bodes ill for peace


Chicago Tribune
By Ron Grossman
Tribune staff reporter

January 6, 2002

Half a century ago, Josef Stalin confidently pronounced religion an anachronism. During a Kremlin discussion of the balance of military forces in Cold War Europe, the Soviet dictator was asked about the pope's role.

"The pope?" he replied. "How many divisions has he got?"

At the time, the quip seemed apt political analysis. The 20th Century was the great age of secularism. Wars of religion were a half-forgotten chapter in history textbooks.

Yet the first years of the 21st Century have proved religion's death notices highly premature. And nowhere does it seem more alive than on the field of battle.

In the Middle East and Afghanistan, barricades and checkpoints are marked by religious symbols. In the standoff along the border between India and Pakistan, age-old antagonisms between Hindus and Muslims carry an unprecedented burden of danger: Both sides now have nuclear weapons.

Such conflicts have other sources as well, from economic and political rivalries to tribal conflicts and clashes of culture. Even if religion were not a factor, they might well inspire bloodshed. But religious fervor complicates and inflames existing tensions, undercutting traditional diplomacy and dimming hopes for a world at peace.

"It would have been difficult to predict this revival of a link between religion and war," said Jacques Barzun, professor emeritus at Columbia University and author of "From Dawn to Decadence," a history of the Western world over the last 500 years. "In the West, for centuries, partisans of an active, proselytizing religion have been balanced off by an opposing force--atheists, agnostics, deists, the religiously indifferent--who have fought the idea of an established church. We forgot to take notice that life as we experience it in the West is not the same as life as it is lived in the East."

Now, in a shrinking world, Western and Eastern cultures are colliding. And people who feel threatened are increasingly turning to religion, backed by the force of arms, for a sense of certainty.

The reawakening of militant fundamentalism, Barzun notes, does not bode well for hopes for world peace that inspired the birth of the United Nations. History shows that when chariots or tanks fly crosses, crescents and other flags of faith, wars are particularly bitter and bloody.

Martin Marty, a University of Chicago historian of religion who has made a special study of fundamentalism, observes that religious conflicts, precisely because they stem from deeply held convictions, are not easily resolvable by diplomatic means. "If both sides think they are doing the work of God, you can't say to them: `Why don't you folks sit down and work out a compromise?'" he said.

Americans have shown they, too, can be quick to draw on religion when their way of life seems under attack. Witness the response to Sept. 11.

In his early reaction, President Bush reached back into the vocabulary of an earlier, militant Christianity to proclaim the U.S. counterterrorism campaign a "crusade." Similar responses among other citizens left even some clergy concerned that the nation was blurring the line separating church and state, one of the fundamental conditions of a pluralistic American society.

"A lot of ministers were nervous about all those `God Bless America' signs," Marty said. "They didn't want flags being brought into the sanctuary."

In fact, Marty notes, religion perennially has had an ambivalent attitude toward war. On the one hand, most religious communities announce their commitment to peace in their greetings to friends and strangers. They say: "Peace be with you," or its Hebrew and Arabic equivalents, "Sholom aleichem" and "Salaam aleikum." The medieval Christian church campaigned to eliminate the crossbow, the weapon of ultimate destruction of its day. It sponsored the peace movement of the era, the Truce of God, an attempt to limit seasons of warfare.

On the other hand, war is deeply written into the history of most faiths. The Old Testament alternates moral precepts with accounts of the ancient Israelites' military campaigns. Charlemagne, the medieval Christian emperor, was determined to convert the then-pagan Germans with the sword no less than with Scripture. Within a few years of Muhammad's death, his armed followers had conquered the Persian Empire plus the southern half of the Roman Empire.

"Clergy on both sides bless the cannons," Marty said. "But they're not the shooters of cannons."

Early on, even that wasn't always observed. The famed Bayeux Tapestry shows a Christian bishop armed with a cudgel participating in the campaign of William the Conqueror against the English. Medieval popes led armies into battle against Muslim invaders of Italy.

In Europe, the link between religion and war reached its apogee in the 16th Century Wars of Religion between Protestants and Catholics. In the 17th Century, Germany was torn apart by the Thirty Years War, which originated in a similar religious struggle, then escalated into the first general European war.

Established on the morrow of that bitter experience, the American colonies were self-consciously set off as a kind of religious-war-free zone. "Early on, there was a bloody encounter between Catholics and Protestants off the coast of Florida," Marty said. "That taught people that holy war wasn't going to work on this continent."

So firmly was that principle established that by the 1930s, when historian William Hardy McNeill was going to school, professors downplayed the role of religion in history. Science, not faith, was proclaimed the engine of progress, the foundation stone of modern society.

"We were taught that old hostilities would fade out, that secular values and respect for differences were on the way in," said McNeill, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and author of the National Book Award-winning "The Rise of the West." "That was the liberal, intellectual consensus."

Events have since proved the limits of that consensus. Recent conflicts have sometimes reversed the pattern of the Thirty Years War--originating in secular struggles and then getting a religious overlay.

"In Chechnya, the separatist movement began in a very secularized Muslim society," Marty said. "Now, the militants tie green flags, the emblem of Islam, to their rifles."

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has followed a similar trajectory, he added. The founders of Israel were not aiming at a theocracy, a religious state. Their guiding principles were socialism and nationalism. Palestinian nationalism similarly began on a largely non-religious basis.

Now, some militant West Bank settlers are convinced that God gave the Jewish people title to all the lands between the rivers--meaning, they argue, the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates. That would eliminate not only a Palestinian state but Jordan and Iraq as well. Palestinian suicide bombers, meanwhile, are equally convinced their acts serve Allah.

McNeill thinks Americans would be shortsighted to assume that the elimination of Al Qaeda and the Taliban would protect them from being dragged into a similar religious war. The phenomenon, he predicts, will be with us for some time. By his analysis, it is tied to a painful transformation through which much of the world is currently passing.

Through much of Africa and Asia, rural societies are being uprooted. Urbanization is proceeding apace--and with it comes psychological shock. "Looking for work, young men go to live in the bewildering new environment of an impersonal city," McNeill said. "The ways of life, the moral rules their fathers and grandfathers taught them don't seem to apply."

In the West, the same phenomenon took place over a much longer span, allowing newly urbanized populations to gradually regain their moral bearings. In the Third World, urbanization is taking place so fast that demoralized young men are ripe for preachers of a militant religious credo who can tell them what life is all about.

"One way to regain a sense of belonging is to hate someone else," McNeill said, "to be holier than the next fellow and to know that he is going to hell."

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

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 - January 8, 2002

from The Washington Post

NEW YORK -- There was something about the air. For a while after Sept. 11, George Tabb and his wife tried to stick it out in their apartment just north of the World Trade Center, tried to ignore his twice-nightly asthma attacks and her pounding headaches.

Eventually, they moved in with Tabb's stepfather. But Tabb still goes home to pick up his mail, and within 20 minutes the metallic taste returns to his mouth, and the wheezing.

"All of a sudden, boom, I've got a nosebleed, the asthma, a headache," he said.

Recently Tabb received evidence that the air in his apartment may be as dangerous as he suspects. Independent tests -- results of which are disputed by the city -- found that dust taken from an air vent in his apartment building's hallway contained 555 times the suggested acceptable level for asbestos. Samples from a bathroom vent show dangerous levels of fiberglass.


from The Associated Press

Astronomers have captured a direct image of a massive, planet-like object called a brown dwarf in close orbit of a distant star very much like the sun.

Michael Liu, a University of Hawaii astronomer, said the brown dwarf orbits around its parent star at slightly less than the distance between the sun and the planet Uranus. The new discovery orbits closer to its parent star than any other brown dwarf yet discovered, said Liu.

Using new technology that sharpens the view of ground-based telescopes, astronomers found the brown dwarf orbiting about 1.3 billion miles from the star known as 15 Sge in the constellation Sagitta, located about 58 light years from Earth. Uranus orbits the sun at about 1.7 billion miles. A light year is the distance light will travel in a year, about 6 trillion miles.

"This discovery implies that brown dwarf companions to average, sun-like stars exist at a separation comparable to the distance between the sun and the outer planets in our solar system," Liu said. He announced his discovery Monday at the national meeting of the American Astronomical Society.


from The New York Times

Sometimes, defying its wont, science makes the cosmos look a little simpler. Recently it seems as if astronomers have been sprung from a long cosmological nightmare. Last month a consortium of astronomers announced that an analysis of some 130,000 galaxies showed that the the universe, at least on large scales, is structured pretty much the way it looks.

That might sound unremarkable, but it didn't have to come out that way.

"It was not a mad idea that galaxies don't trace the matter," said Dr. Licia Verde, an astronomer at Rutgers and Princeton Universities, who was the lead author of a paper submitted last month to the journal Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society.

The reason is something called dark matter.


from The Boston Globe

Opening arguments are expected today in a Suffolk Superior Court lawsuit alleging Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Boston Globe defamed former Dana-Farber oncologist Lois Ayash in connection with the December 1994 death of Globe health columnist Betsy A. Lehman.

Jury selection began yesterday before Judge Catherine White. The jury will decide Ayash's case against Dana-Farber, and will set damages in her case against the Globe, in which a judge has already ruled.

Ayash chaired a research program at Dana-Farber that was attempting to treat breast cancer with high doses of chemotherapy. Lehman, 39, who had been in the program for three months, died unexpectedly from what was later discovered to be a fourfold overdose of a powerful anticancer drug. Another patient, Maureen Bateman, also received an overdose and suffered heart damage; she lived for two more years.


"Conversation with a scientist" from The New York Times

The desk that dominates Dr. Michael J. Novacek's fifth-floor office at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan broadcasts all the contradictions of his daily life. On the table's surface are computers, budgetary papers, administrative notices and the skeleton of a shrewlike creature that went extinct 15 million years ago.

For Dr. Novacek, 53, paleontologist and senior vice president of the museum, life is a constant pull between the indoor duties of a museum administrator and the outdoor pleasures of roaming the world searching for the bones of extinct animals.

In 1993, Dr. Novacek made history when he took a team into Mongolia's Gobi Desert, where they fell upon one of the richest dinosaur fields on earth. The tale of that expedition and of Dr. Novacek's extended travels to places like Yemen and Chile are recounted in his new memoir, "Time Traveler," about to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

"I often feel this typical wanderlust thing," he said. "When I get back from the field, I say, `I'm not going anywhere for the next 10 years.' But then the months go on and you find yourself jumping, ready to go. Again."


from The Boston Globe

More than 70 years ago, Orval Cunningham thought he had found an answer to many of life's ills, from cancer to baldness: Expose patients to oxygen at high pressure. So, Cunningham erected a five-story ball of a hospital - a completely pressurized sphere - to promulgate this treatment, called hyperbaric medicine.

Cunningham's overexuberant vision earned him little more than a spot in the annals of medical quackery. Within a decade, the Cleveland hospital closed, its impressive shell transformed into scrap metal for war efforts.

Today, Cunningham would be delighted to see how far the idea has been absorbed into the medical mainstream. Hyperbaric treatment is used in more than 500 hospitals, including the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, to treat patients with smoke inhalation, decompression sickness, and persistent wounds. The American College of Hyperbaric Medicine, a professional group, has grown from 80 members to 300 in the past five years.

But the spectacle of ''Cunningham's folly,'' as his spherical hospital became known, continues to haunt the field. Some free-standing clinics still stretch the scientific evidence with claims that hyperbarics can stall aging or increase pep. And, as the field struggles to gain widespread acceptance, advocates say insurance coverage is lagging behind what hyperbaric medicine can really do.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Fortune teller can predict future through sex

From Ananova at


A woman in Japan is claiming to be able to tell a man's fortune by having sex with him.

The woman known only as Kaho is based in a brothel in Nagoya. She claims to be able to tell a man his future by performing sexual services.

Japan already has a soothsayer who divines the future by breast-reading and another who give predictions based on mobile phones.

Kaho claims to have read the fortunes of about 1,000 men in the past year by performing oral sex, reports Shukan Taishu news magazine.

She says she has foreseen life events for many men - helping one to win a vast amount of money at a racecourse, and advised a doubting groom to marry his bride.

Kaho says he is still a regular visitor, though.

Villagers flock for consultation with exhumed faith healer

From Ananova at


A Filipino husband has had his faith healer wife's body exhumed after claiming she visited him in a dream.

Guillermo Anselmo says his wife Marcelina de Leon told him her mission on Earth was still unfinished.

Now her body has been exhumed villagers are once again flocking to her house to be treated.

Bai Marcing, as she was known, used to treat people using water, betel nut and palay in Bugallon, Pangasinan.

Now her body has been exhumed, it lies in a specially built room at the back of her house and her son and grandchild treat the sick by consulting her body and rubbing tap water on the ailing part of the patient's body.

Her family was surprised to find her body still soft and not cold, reports The Philippine Star.

Mr Anselmo has told the authorities he will rebury his wife's remains if the body emits a foul odour and when she tells him in a dream to do so.

Villagers threaten to leave over evil spirit

From Ananova at


Hundreds of families are threatening to abandon an Indian village they claim is haunted by an evil spirit.

Residents of Gudur in Andhra Pradesh say the spirit is responsible for mysterious deaths and odd happenings in the village.

They have demanded government action to banish the spirit. A police team has now been stationed in the village to reassure locals.

The presence of dead animals and odd symbols written in vermilion powder on practically every doorstep has led residents to believe they are destined to die if they don't leave, reports the newspaper Patrike.

Village headman Kanakagiri Rao says his daughter, Shravani, a vegetarian, had suddenly developed a liking for raw flesh.

Farmer Gundla Srisailam says his wife and daughter died on the same day under mysterious circumstances.

"They were hale and hearty but their bodies suddenly turned yellow. We thought it was jaundice but both of them dying in one day is too much of a coincidence. The village is under the spell of a evil spirit," he said.

Local administrators have visited the village to persuade the residents to stay on say, but say they have a difficult task ahead.

"For all you know some robbers or land grabbers may be trying to drive them away from their homes, but the villagers have already decided that evil spirits are to blame for their problems. We are not equipped to handle imaginary enemies," said Ravinder Reddy, a senior district official.

Dose of bad medicine The museum of medical quackery is donating its collection to the Science Museum.

Note - Bob McCoy is also president of Minnesota Skeptics. -- Beth


BY BEN CHANCO Pioneer Press

One of the smallest museums in Minnesota is closing, but it won't disappear.

"It's going to a big place that has a good sense of humor,'' said Bob McCoy, 74, of Golden Valley.

He was referring to his Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minneapolis, which has entertained visitors since 1983. McCoy, who is retiring, is closing Jan. 27 and donating the 325 pieces in his museum to the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul, which has 1.75 million artifacts.

Some of the questionable medical devices include a phrenology machine that supposedly reads a person's personality from bumps on the head; a hip reducer with giant rolling pins to remove fat from thighs and hips; a fish-house-sized box called an energy accumulator to make a person powerful, healthy and sexy; ear candles to clear out wax; a prostate gland warmer to excite a man; a breast enlarger pump; and a magnetic pinkie ring that promises eternal life, with a money-back guarantee.

"I could have sold them all to collectors, but there is value in turning them over to the Science Museum," McCoy said.

Anne Hornickel, head of Science Museum programs, said McCoy's collection will fit well with the St. Paul museum.

"When visitors come to the Science Museum, they look for learning and entertainment together," she said.

"That's what makes this new collection so neat for us. It's science, it's learning and it's entertainment all rolled into one."

The Science Museum will allow hands-on use for some of the items once the exhibit is in place. McCoy said he originally was going to call his collection the Museum of Quackery, but he was advised not to use such a harsh name.

"Some of the devices have a grain of truth in them,'' he said. "Massage, for example, may help in losing weight. But the promises were outlandish.''

McCoy said visitors are surprised that some of the devices aren't all that old.

"They think these things happened in the 1890s,'' he said. "But the eternal life ring with magnets came in the mail in December 2001.''

He said many of his devices came from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association and the St. Louis Science Center, and they are pleased with the move to the Science Museum, where the pieces can continue to educate people.

McCoy said he is closing his museum with sadness.

"I loved it,'' he said.

"I put so much into it. I hope I saved some people from these devices.''

Hornickel said some of the favorite pieces from McCoy's museum, like the phrenology machine, the energy accumulator and the foot X-ray machine, will be on exhibit at the Science Museum by late March. She said a traveling exhibit from McCoy's collection also is a possibility.

"It will be a beloved icon in our museum in no time,'' she said. "People will be asking, "Where is that foot X-ray machine?' "

School prevails in evolution lawsuit


High court won't hear Minnesota evolution case

BY GINA HOLLAND Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court declined Monday to be drawn into a debate over the teaching of evolution in America's public schools.

The refusal is a victory for schools that require teachers to instruct on the subject even if the teacher disagrees with the scientific theory.

It's a loss for a Christian biology teacher in Faribault, Minn., who was reassigned amid questions about his views on evolution. Justices declined without comment to review Rodney LeVake's case.

"This case presents the court with an opportunity to reaffirm that public high school teachers are not First Amendment orphans," LeVake's attorney, Wayne B. Holstad, wrote in court filings.

LeVake briefly instructed his Minnesota high school students on the subject, but told a colleague that he had scientific doubts about Charles Darwin's view of species' gradual change. Evolution describes development of life on Earth from single-celled organisms over about 3.5 billion years.

When confronted by school leaders in 1998, he proposed offering students "an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory without turning my class into a religious one."

LeVake, who is a Christian, believes that God created the world in six days, known as creationism.

He was reassigned to a ninth-grade teaching job in Faribault, about 50 miles south of the Twin Cities and home to about 20,000 residents.

His case presented the Supreme Court an opportunity to revisit the debate over public school instruction on the origin of humans. In 1987, justices struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited the teaching of evolution without equal time for creationism.

The school district argues that LeVake wants permission to teach his own views.

"This court has never held that under the First Amendment, schools are the mere instruments of the advancement of the individual agendas of its teachers," Kay Nord Hunt wrote in court filings for the school.

LeVake, who has a master's degree in biology education, contends that his reassignment violated his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

Holstad told justices that LeVake "was silenced, not for anything he said in the classroom, but merely for holding a contrary viewpoint and expressing a desire to say certain things which the school district deemed out of step with its officially imposed orthodoxy."

A judge had dismissed a lawsuit LeVake filed against the Faribault School District, and Minnesota appeals courts upheld the dismissal. LeVake appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case is LeVake vs. Independent School District No. 656, 01-665.

Monday, January 07, 2002

Dead child worshipped as incarnation of Hindu god


Thousands are descending on an Indian village to worship the body of a child they believe is the reincarnation of a Hindu god

The corpse has been kept for public viewing at Pati Madhuban in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh for 45 days.

People have drawn comparisons with the god Shiva because the child was born with six fingers and toes and a mound of matted hair on its head. It died shortly after birth.

Villagers believe the god has come visiting in the form of the child and have refused to carry out the final rites, reports the newspaper Navyug.

The baby's father Lakhoo, a blacksmith, claims he saw a blinding flash of light around the baby at the time of its birth. The light dimmed after the newborn died.

"Our house has been blessed with god's presence," the father said.

Shops selling souvenirs and items of worship have sprouted up in the village since the body went on display.

The villagers are now planning to construct a Shiva temple with donations collected from visitors.

But local school teacher Lalit Mishra said: "People should be treating this as one more case of infant mortality, but their level of ignorance is simply amazing. Even god must be laughing at them."

As religions collide, world needs dose of skepticism

Crispin Sartwell


Published Jan 6 2002

The other day my wife attended a funeral of an acquaintance who had committed suicide. The minister who preached the funeral sermon recounted the story of a period of despair in her own life when she had thought about killing herself. But God intervened, she said, and saved her.

I suppose the man she was burying wasn't good enough to be saved by God, or perhaps it just wasn't God's whim to stop him from blowing his brains out.

As the various interpreters of God's will appear and crash airliners into buildings, or on the contrary assert that God frowns on people crashing airliners into buildings, or that God will help our blessed nation in its quest for Osama bin Laden, or that God will help Bin Laden to escape, one might ask again an epochal question: Huh?

Back when the Aztecs were immolating virgins atop pyramids so that God would bless the people, there was a little guy sitting at the bottom shaking his head and remarking to himself that folks will believe anything. Even as Homer sang of Zeus becoming a swan and mating with Leda, there was a dude in the back of the audience with a cocked eyebrow.

When, on the subcontinent, the elephant god of eight arms was being adored, there was a woman with her head in her hands wondering what they'd think of next. When the followers of Jesus reported that after his death he hung out for a meal or two, there was a sad, faithless cynic listening and going: Say what? And when Mohammed said that God was giving him dictation again and it turned out that he, Mohammed, was supposed to be in charge, there was a Bedouin who retreated to his yurt before he started snickering.

We won't hear about these blasphemers because it's the believers who end up writing the histories. And actually, if you mumble your skepticism a bit too loudly, those same believers will make sure your voice is lost to history by silencing you eternally.

Even today in a relatively secular society like ours, it's rare to hear someone point out in the clearest way that systems of religious belief are more or less baldly arbitrary and obviously ridiculous.

I guess maybe I'm just a long way from a religious point of view, but my question isn't which one is right but how anyone can possibly believe any of them? It's as if you decided that Harry Potter were inerrant or that the film version of "The Lord of the Rings" was a documentary.

The operation of religious belief in history has of course been unbelievably complex: war and peace, oppression and liberation, love and pain. Trying to sort out where we'd be without it is bootless. So I'm not out here asserting that religion has been a disaster. But I am out here asserting that the stuff is just a wee bit cracked.

One of the most annoying arguments I've ever heard from believers is that actually, deep inside, everyone really does believe in God. And so back-at-cha: No one really "can" believe it. Deep in your heart, you know it's false.

The great philosopher Soren Kierkegaard asserted that Christianity was the best religion because it was the craziest religion. "The eternal God has appeared in time and died." It's not that that's unlikely, as Kierkegaard pointed out. It simply cannot be true. It's an absolute paradox. So the only way you're going to believe it is to let go of your experience of the world and your rationality utterly and simply leap into the abyss.

I can respect that position because it at least acknowledges the basic bizarreness of the belief system. What I can't get ahold of is the idea that this stuff makes sense.

And maybe, just maybe, a dose of skepticism would be helpful to a world where the clash of belief systems is a continual killing.

The world just doesn't eyeball to me like the creation of an all-powerful and perfectly good being who saves ministers from suicide and condemns family men to utter despair and self-destruction and their children to live through it.

If you believe that, more power to you. But why should you?

-- Crispin Sartwell is chairman of humanities and sciences at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

Sussex University experts claim the Earth will not be obliterated when the Sun dies.

The astro-physicists say an accepted wisdom that the planet will be dragged into the dying star is flawed.

They believe the theory misses out the loss of mass by the Sun as it expands to become a gigantic red star and its gravity weakens.

Full story: http://www.ananova.com/yournews/story/sm_488465.html


from American Atheist News, Sunday, January 6, 2002


A joint study conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio State University reveals that substantial numbers of Americans believe in supernatural entities which visit earth.

The survey asked 1,127 adult about their attitudes concerning angels. "Belief in angelic beings cuts across almost all ranges of education, income and lifestyle," noted Scripps Howard reporter Thomas Hargrove. "Women and young people are slightly more likely to believe than are men or older Americans, but a majority of almost every demographic group has faith in these supernatural beings."

* Surprisingly, education did not seem to make a substantial difference in terms of willingness to believe. High school graduates were slightly more willing to believe in angels than their non-graduate counterparts (80% to 77% respectively). Those who attended "some college" were even more likely to accept the proposition that heavenly beings visit earth (82%), with college graduates slightly less credulous at 74%. In the education cohorts, only 63% of students engaged in post graduate studies believed.

Respondents were asked, "Do you believe angels, that is, some kind of heavenly beings who visit Earth, in fact exist?" Seventy-seven percent nationwide answered in the affirmative, with 81% of women answering "yes" and 72% of men responding positively.

* Church attendance and denominational affiliation were factors, with 90% of those who attended church "recently" saying that they believed in angelic visitations. "Born again" Christians were the most likely group to believe at 92%. Protestants and Roman Catholics displayed comparable rates of belief (83% and 82% respectively), with Jews less likely to answer in the affirmative, at 32%. The "No religious preference" cohort stood at 47%.

* Income was another factor affecting responses. Eighty-three percent of those earning below $25,000 per year believed in angelic beings, while those earning over $80,000 were less likely (64%) to do so.

* Slight geographic differences emerged as well. Previous studies of religion in the United States such as the ARIS or American Religious Identification Survey reveal that religious fever zones such as the Bible Belt still exist, due partly to a preponderance of Protestant Evangelicals. The Scripps-Howard poll revealed that the South had the highest rates of belief in angelic visitations (83%), followed by the Midwest (77%), West (73%) and Northeast (71%).

Less significant was the type of community respondents lived in. Seventy-eight percent of those living in a "major city" responded affirmatively -- as did those living in a "smaller" metro area -- with a 75% rating for suburbs, and 76% response from those in a rural area.

* Somewhat larger differences emerged when marital status was taken into account. Seventy-three percent of single persons with no children believed in angels, with 82% of single with children answering "yes" to the question. Those married with no children rated at 70%, and 78% of married respondents with children said they believed in angelic beings.

* Not only do large numbers of Americans believe in the existence of angels from some spiritual realm, but one out of every five believe that he or she has had a visual sighting, or knows someone who has. The accounts range from the outrageously prosaic to the truly incredible.

"Yes, I absolutely believe in angels. I met one," said Catherine Forbes of Kansas. She told Scripps Howard News that her encounter happened in 1953 while getting lost in the Dallas airport. "All of a sudden, the nicest voice I ever heard said, 'May I help you.' I turned around and saw a clean-cut young man, just the most handsome, beautiful man. He picked up my luggage and showed me where to go and which people I was to be traveling with. I turned around to thank him, and he had absolutely disappeared.

"I know some people will think I'm off my rocker, but I know what I saw," Forbes insisted.

"This is not specifically about Christianity, but rather a more general interest in spirituality," says Robert W. Graves, author of the book "The Gospel According to Angels." "I believe interest in angels is healthy in the sense that if offers an opportunity to discuss spiritual matters

"Have I seen an angel? I'd have to answer 'no' if describing an angel as a shining, brilliant being," Graves cautions. "But I very well may have seen an angel. I believe angels come in human forms. I would expect them to come when people are going through the valleys of their lives when experiencing stressful times."

Angel faddism is reinforced by much of popular culture. Programs like "Touched by an Angel" or "Highway to Heaven" portray these ethereal visitors as kind and benevolent helpers. The film "Michael," starring Scientologist John Travolta who plays a beer-guzzling and even folksy angel, makes such a belief more accessible and comprehensible to many.

Angels are also a component of a broader mythopoetic fabric in our lives, argues writer Keith Thompson in his 1991 work "Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination." Indeed, historical and present day accounts of flying saucers and visitors from space have a striking resemblance to stories about angelic apparitions. Like the aliens, angels come from a sky-realm, perhaps another "plane" of existence, and are capable of marvelous deeds. They give wisdom --often warnings of impending calamity -- and leave the recipient in a transformed state of consciousness. In contemporary UFO lore, even Biblical accounts such as Ezechiel's tale of supernatural encounter, could be explained by the presence of aliens.

* Here are the questions and poll results:

-- "The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both describe that the birth of Jesus was announced by angels. Do you believe angels, that is, some kind of heavenly beings who visit Earth, in fact exist?"

-- YES     77 percent
-- NO       17 percent
-- DON'T KNOW    6 percent

"Do you believe angels come into the world even in these modern days?"

-- YES      73 percent
-- NO        19 percent
-- DON'T KNOW     8 percent

"Have you ever seen an angel or know anyone who has?"

-- YES     21 percent
-- NO       75 percent
-- DON'T KNOW     4 percent

For further information:

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

("Nearly half of Americans accept biblical creationism," 8/20/99)

Duck & Cover

A 300-meter asteroid is passing just 830,000 km from Earth today. It was only discovered in December, which means if it HAD been on a collision course, there's diddly we could have done about it.

An asteroid this size would pretty well toast a medium-sized country if it hit.


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 - January 7, 2002

from The Los Angeles Times

Warning: Suburban living may be killing you.

So say top environmental health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suburbanites don't burn the calories others do walking or biking places, the theory goes, because poor urban design forces them to sit in their cars to go anywhere.

There's far from universal agreement on the study. Other analysts at the CDC have reported that there is no better place to live than the suburbs if you want to be healthy. But the study's conclusions have certainly struck a nerve.

"Calling this 'junk science' is too complimentary," said Laer Pearce, a Laguna Hills-based spokesman for the Southern California Building Industry Assn. "It is just junk."


from The Wall Street Journal

With all the whining in Silicon Valley about how tough it is to keep a start-up going in these difficult times, it might be a good idea to consider what Swain Porter has been going through over the past year.

While he has had to deal with the normal litany of challenges faced by any tech entrepreneur -- constantly looking for solid funding, new clients and crack programmers -- there were other less ordinary problems, such as the recent matter of the water buffalo that got stuck in the trench where his new company's fiber-optic lines were about to be laid. Eventually, it took more than a dozen people to pull what had become a very heavy and very dead mud-covered beast out of the muck.

But even that incident pales in comparison with other issues: a variety of cobras, a $26,000 goat shed, constant power outages and the twin seasonal dangers of torrential rains and 107-degree temperatures.

It's all been part of an unusual venture to build a self-sustaining software-making community in the desolate hills of southern India. That's where Catalytic Software, a small United States company founded in 1999 by a group of former Microsoft executives led by Mr. Porter, has been scratching its way into existence. The grand vision: creating high-quality, just-in-time software for bargain prices by combining cheaper Indian programming talent with stricter United States standards.


from The New York Times

With speakers of Pashto, Afghanistan's most commonly used language, in demand in diplomatic and military circles, a linguistics professor has devised a Pashto primer that teaches the language by phone and computer.

Its inventor, Steven Donahue, a professor at Miami-Dade Community College in Florida, sent free software and workbooks to United States senators, State Department staff members, officials at the Defense Department and military intelligence specialists. He thought they could use the lessons to pave the way in missions in Afghanistan, where about half the population speaks Pashto.

"Even if you know a couple of words, it opens doors," Professor Donahue said. "It gets you out of that category of being an ugly American."

For soldiers, who have their own training program on his Web site (www.1usa1.info), words learned could include battlefield (dagar), flag (bayragh), prisoner (bandi) or bullet (gwaley).


from The San Francisco Chronicle

They're hyped as a long-term savior of the Earth's atmosphere, a technological godsend that will create pollution-free cars and liberate Americans from importing petroleum from unstable countries.

Way down the road, some predict, this energy source could become so compact that a family could power its home by hooking it up to a car sitting in the driveway.

Yet for now, the commercialization of fuel cell engines remains a hydrogen- filled dream, possible only with major government subsidies to pay for an expensive new energy infrastructure. Some wonder if fuel cell technology -- which mixes hydrogen and oxygen to generate pollution-free electricity -- can ever be mass-produced in a vehicle.

Still, its potential is so enchanting that it has inspired automakers, oil companies and the federal government to invest billions into an engine that is 50 percent more efficient than the gasoline-powered internal combustion model it is hoping to replace.


from The Boston Globe

Beth Israel Deaconess researchers have uncovered the intricate biological mechanism behind a tumor-fighting protein in the body, increasing the likelihood it may one day be harnessed to treat cancer patients.

The protein, tumstatin, helps stanch the blood flow to tumors, starving them to death. But the deadliest cancers can overwhelm the body's natural tumstatin supply. The paper, in today's issue of the journal Science, could help scientists find a way to augment that supply.

The findings are the latest development in angiogenesis science, an arm of biology pioneered by Harvard's Dr. Judah Folkman that has become a major front in the war on cancer.

Several similar tumor-starving proteins have been discovered by Folkman's lab, converted into drugs, and are already being tested in humans. In fact, tumstatin itself was identified two years ago. But in most cases, scientists have little clue how the proteins jam up the blood supply to tumors.


from Reuters

PISA, Italy (Reuters) - Science may rewrite history if bones found under an Italian church prove to be those of "Cannibal Count Ugolino," one of the darkest historical figures to make an appearance in Dante's "Inferno."

An Italian paleontologist says his work will show that Ugolino was not slowly starved and driven to eat the flesh of his own dead sons as Dante wrote, but killed by a blow to the head after five months in prison.

Professor Francesco Mallegni found five skeletons buried in a crypt under a church in the central Italian city of Pisa last year along with a scroll saying they were the bones of the Ugolino clan.

Initial bone and soil studies led him to believe that the skeletons do indeed belong to the count and his family, but Mallegni is awaiting the results of DNA testing early this year before announcing a final conclusion.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,




October 07, 2001

Trentonian file photos The sight of a pair of shoes walking up stairs with no body attached has been witnessed at The Union Hotel in Flemington. INSET: Lynda Lee Macken, author of "Ghosts of the Garden State."

Sounds of constant moaning and heavy chains echo through the dark, stone hallways and out the windows masked by black iron bars. Cigarettes are seen floating in mid-air with no one in sight.

Communicating with Mars


The Experiments of Tesla & Hodowanec
by Robert A. Nelson

Nikola Tesla

While Nikola Tesla was conducting experiments with his Magnifying Transmitter at Colorado Springs in 1899, he detected coherent signals which he determined had originated on Mars. Tesla was widely criticized for his astounding claims, yet no one could seriously dispute him; he was a solo pioneer without peer. No one since then has reported constructing a Magnifying Transmitter or otherwise replicated his experiments; the issue remains unresolved and the mystery unsolved. Tesla revealed no technical details in his pronouncements and publications of that period (other than the pertinent patents). His Colorado Notebooks were published in the 1980s, but they make no mention of his alleged contact with Mars.

Tesla elaborated on the subject of "Talking With the Planets" in Collier's Weekly (March 1901):

"As I was improving my machines for the production of intense electrical actions, I was also perfecting the means for observing feeble efforts. One of the most interesting results, and also one of great practical importance, was the development of certain contrivances for indicating at a distance of many hundred miles an approaching storm, its direction, speed and distance traveled....

"It was in carrying on this work that for the first time I discovered those mysterious effects which have elicited such unusual interest. I had perfected the apparatus referred to so far that from my laboratory in the Colorado mountains I could feel the pulse of the globe, as it were, noting every electrical change that occurred within a radius of eleven hundred miles.



GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. We've all seen it, even though most of us hate to admit it. By setting its inane shenanigans on an island peopled by stranded archetypes, it plugs into mythic resonances that cannot avoid how compelling they are even as they wallow in the Just Plain Stupid.

But why are we so fascinated? Can it be that part of recognizes the story behind the story? Can it be that part of us knows it's not just the idiotic sitcom it seems to be -- but a fiendishly plotted crime drama so subtle in execution that we don't see the evil conspiracy at play? Operate from that opening assumption, and the rest falls into place almost immediately.

A Brief History of the Apocalypse

From: gj bart

All of them, that is:




and survival tips:


"According to a site poll, 36% would resort to cannibalism 'only as utterly needed' but 38% got pretty excited about it, saying 'Yes, and enough to stay healthy.'"

as reported in the LA Times "Tech Times 1/3/02.


Contacting the North Texas Skeptics
The North Texas Skeptics
P. O. Box 111794
Carrollton, TX 75011-1794
214-335-9248 Skeptics Hotline (current information)

Current News  News Back Issues

What's New | Search | Newsletter | Fact Sheets
NTS Home Page
Copyright (C) 1987 - 2008 by the North Texas Skeptics.