NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 February 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, February 18, 2002

Alabama Supreme Court case followup

from AMERICAN ATHEISTS NEWS, Monday, February 18


Civil rights groups are calling for the resignation of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, a luminary in the fight on behalf of public religion and display of the Ten Commandments.

On Friday, Moore concurred with a unanimous decision by the court denying custody of three teenage children to their homosexual mother. The controversial jurist declared, "common law designates homosexuality as an inherent evil, and if a person openly engages in such a practice, that fact alone would render him or her an unfit parent."

Moore added, "A homosexual lifestyle is illegal under the laws of this state and immoral in the eyes of most of its citizens."

The comments brought an immediate outcry from political and civic leaders across the state. Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery) demanded an official inquiry, and said that Moore should resign since he is violating portions of Provision 2 of the state Canon of Judicial Ethics. Holmes told the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper, "He (Moore) has no business being chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He should be removed from office following the inquiry commission's finding."

Under the Alabama guidelines, any judge must "conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary," and "avoid conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute."

In addition, every judge is admonished to "not allow his family, social, or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment."

The custody case has worked its way through several courts, and involves a Birmingham man and his ex-wife, who now lives with a lesbian partner in California. The parents are not identified in court documents in order to protect the children. The mother lives in a domestic partnership arrangement which is legal in California. In Friday's ruling, however, Moore boasted that Alabama law does not recognize such an arrangement, and that homosexuality is illegal as well.

Attorney Wendy Crew, who represents the mother, noted: "The state of California has legitimized my client's relationship and Judge Moore has said her relationship is criminal. You've got a horrible conflict of law here."

The mother had reportedly turned over custody of the children to their father in 1996. Two years ago, she petitioned for custody and charged that the father was abusive. An Associated Press report notes that a circuit county judge ruled for the father, but ordered him to attend parenting classes.

In 2001, the state Court of Civil Appeals overturned that decision in a 4-1 ruling, saying that the mother should be granted custody in order to prevent physical violence by the father.

Moore's role in the case has been watched closely because of his extreme views on Christian fundamentalism and the role of religion in government. Last fall, Moore ordered a stealth placement of a giant monument to the Ten Commandments in the state's Judicial Building. When Holmes and other legislators requested a similar display to honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Moore demurred. He also turned down a request from American Atheists Alabama State Director Larry Darby to place a sculpture next to the Commandments which would honor reason and science. Moore also rejected that appeal.

Along with protests from Moore and other leaders, the group Equality Begins At Home is calling for Moore's resignation from the bench, saying that he cannot be considered fair when dealing with cases involving gays.

"Judge Moore is entitled to his beliefs, but those beliefs exclude him from being able to fairly judge cases involving the more than half-million gay and lesbian citizens of Alabama or the remainder who have gay and lesbian family and friends," said Ken Baker, a spokesman for organization. "Judge Roy Moore has shown that he is not capable of judging gay and lesbian citizens fairly and should resign immediately."

The Christian Coalition of Alabama has already announced its support for Moore, though. John Giles, CC president for the state, told reporters that Moore was simply following state law.

For further information:

("Moore in exclusive film deal with televangelist..." 11/26/01)

("Moore rejects Atheist proposal for log," 9/25/01)

("Roy Moore's war on separation," 8/16/01)

(Office of the Alabama State Director, American Atheists)

Homeopathy 'is all in the mind'

By Roger Highfield
(Filed: 18/02/2002)


THE effectiveness of homeopathic treatments is based on "belief and anecdote", not evidence, the association was told.

The National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, said it was spending $105 million (£76 million) this year on studies of alternative medicine - excluding homeopathy.

However, Dr Stephen Straus, the director, said homeopathic treatments were unlikely to do harm.

NYTimes.com Article: Facing a Sin Of the Fathers

February 17, 2002


JOHN J. GEOGHAN, 66, was convicted in January for having molested a 10- year-old boy and faces two more criminal trials and scores of lawsuits that charge he sexually abused 130 children over the three decades he served as a priest in several Massachusetts parishes. Under pressure, the Boston archdiocese then passed on to prosecutors the names of 80 priests accused of abusing children over the past 40 years. The scandal widened Friday when the bishop of Manchester did the same with 14 priests in New Hampshire.

"It is about sin, sickness and crime," said the bishop, John B. McCormack.

Since the mid-1980's, such scandals have periodically erupted. Each time, there is outrage and wide publicity in local communities over men in collars who move silently from the sacraments to violation of the innocent.

Is it something about being a Catholic priest? The headlines make it seem so. But the data is just not there to answer that question, or many of the other uncomfortable questions that arise on the subject.


Sunday, February 17, 2002

Doctor Continues To Claim He Treats Elvis

http://www.thekansascitychannel.com/kc1/news/stories/news-123056820020211-190225.html Posted: 7:56 p.m. CST February 11, 2002
Updated: 8:01 p.m. CST February 11, 2002

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- An Independence psychiatrist is still claiming that he is treating Elvis Presley for migraine headaches, KMBC 9 News' Maria Antonia reported Monday.

Elvis lives and still sings, but he no longer shakes his hips because he is old now and has arthritis, psychiatrist Dr. Donald Hinton said. "I hear from him on a regular basis. - On Sunday, it was by phone," Hinton said. "I'm treating Elvis Aaron Presley, the entertainer, (whom) everybody believes died in 1977."

A photo (left) in Hinton's book supposedly shows a present-day Elvis, who has had plastic surgery, Hinton said.

"He has white hair now. He's 67 years old," Hinton said. "He's given me things that can be tested (and) that actually (have) his DNA on them." Hinton said he has a gold tooth from Elvis. He said he also co-wrote a book about the King with Elvis called "The Truth About Elvis Aron Presley."

Elvis now goes by Jessie, the name of his twin brother, who died at birth, Hinton said.

Hinton now speaks to groups about his once-secret patient and about the book that explains how friends helped Elvis hide, Antonia reported. "This is all part of his plan for 2002," Hinton said.

Elvis has a plan to bring grieving fans out of the dark and tell them he faked dying to get away and get healthy, Hinton said.

"And people will think I'm crazy or that I've been tricked by someone," Hinton said.

Hinton holds a legitimate medical degree from the University of Kansas. He is a board-certified practicing physician.

Missouri's Board of Healing Arts told KMBC that Hinton is "currently licensed as an MD." His license was issued in 1993, according to the board.

"It is current (and) active with no discipline," the board said of Hinton's license. Hinton said people made a lot of money from Elvis' supposed death.

The publisher for Hinton's book said it has not made a profit, and Hinton supposedly told his publisher that he didn't want any money from the book. The book cost thousands of dollars to publish, and Hinton said the money came out of his pocket, Antonia reported. Vampire attacks increase in Colombian capital From Ananova at:


Police say up to 50 groups of human vampires are operating in the Colombian capital Bogota.

They dress in black and drink brandy mixed with human blood. They usually obtain human blood from contacts in transfusion centres or buy animal blood from city abattoirs.

But police say groups of vampires have recently begun stopping passers-by at gunpoint and forcing them to bare their necks.

The vampires then pierce their vein with a razor and take it in turns to drink their blood.

A police spokesperson said it is difficult to prosecute the groups because witnesses are afraid to come forward.

Victims are also worried people will think they are crazy if they report the attacks.

The authorities say they can't do anything about the vampires without hard evidence and Colombia's freedom of religion laws mean the police can't stop and search people just because they are dressed like vampires.

Interpol official Juan Prieto told newspaper El Espectador that he was worried that vampire numbers were increasing.

Mr Prieto said vampires could be responsible for several unsolved murders in Bogota, adding: "But we have a problem proving it."

Uri Geller plans mass experiment on 20.02.2002

From Ananova at:


Uri Geller wants people to take part in an experiment on February 20, which he claims will see their wishes come true.

The date 20.02.2002 is palindromic, meaning it reads the same backwards as forwards.

Geller says this gives it a special spiritual power, which the Greeks and Egyptians believed in.

The Sunday People has a photograph of Geller looking straight into a camera. He tells readers to compile a list of what they want and to look into his eyes at 11.11am, 1.11pm and 11.11pm on February 20. They must visualise what they want while they do this.

Readers are warned not to worry if they feel warm, see an orange and blue aura around his eyes or experience things jumping off shelves.

He said: "It will be the first time anyone in the world has tried to bring people together through mind power on such a staggering scale and on such a significant date.

"Imagine throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples on the surface expand and expand to cover the whole pond.

"The date is the pond and I am a stone - the ripples are the effects these components have on each of us."

Fortune-teller sued for saying dead man was still alive

From Ananova at:


A Venezuelan family says it's suing a fortune-teller who said their father had run off with another woman when he was in fact dead.

Diomar Vela disappeared from his house in Barinas last October. His family began an intensive search for him with money from the local authorities.

They allege funding for the search was stopped because the authorities believed the fortune-teller.

A farm worker found 48-year-old Mr Vela's remains last week, reports El Universal newspaper.

An autopsy proved he had died shortly after going missing and was already dead when the prediction was made.

Mr Vela's son Ivez said the story proved "experts in the esoteric arts just play on people's blind faith".

He told the newspaper his father's body would have been found much sooner if the fortune-teller hadn't convinced everyone to stop searching.

New Hampshire Diocese Names 14 Priests Accused of Abuse

February 16, 2002


BOSTON, Feb. 15 - In a reflection of the rising concern over pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church, the bishop of the diocese of Manchester, N.H., today announced the names of 14 priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children in the past and turned those names over to prosecutors.

"People wonder not only what has the church in New Hampshire done about this in the past, but also what is it doing to make the church safe for children in the future," said Bishop John B. McCormack, whose diocese covers New Hampshire. "There have been instances in New Hampshire where priests have had inappropriate contact with children." http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/16/national/16PRIE.html?ex=1014924095&ei=1&en=c792482eb6686d64

Believing is seeing for hypnosis subjects - Your News from Ananova

Scientists are admitting hypnosis makes people literally see what they believe by affecting the way their brains function.

Volunteers who had their brains scanned while under hypnosis showed they were not merely doing what they were told.

The scans revealed that when they were asked to see non-existent colours, they really saw them.

Full story: http://www.ananova.com/yournews/story/sm_523059.html

From: The Johns Hopkins News-Letter-Elvis Presley

This story was printed from The Johns Hopkins News-Letter.
Site URL: http://www.jhunewsletter.com.

Presley "autobiography" is a psychological analysis

By Aaron Glazer
December 07, 2001

One would expect Dr. Donald Hinton to encounter a wide range of mental illness in his rounds as a psychiatrist for two hospitals in his home state of Missouri. It is surprising, therefore, that he finds Elvis not in a psychiatric ward, but through the author of an "Elvis Presley" newsletter to which he has long subscribed. Hinton, author of The Truth About Elvis Aron Presley: In His Own Words (American Literary Press, $12.95), claims that the King is alive and well, living under the pseudonym of Jesse — the name of his dead twin brother. Jesse is listed as a co-author of the book, in the great literary tradition of "as told to" novels, except that in this case, we have Jesse's own handwritten letters interspersed throughout the book to remind us of the validity of the claim.

Saturday, February 16, 2002

Grover S. Krantz (1931-2002)

Obituary by Loren Coleman


Grover S. Krantz, an anthropologist who was never afraid to take the unpopular academic position that the primates called Sasquatch actually exist, died peacefully, on the morning February 14, 2002, in his Port Angeles, Washington home.

As the modern era's first academically-affiliated physical anthropologist to actively involve himself in Bigfoot/Sasquatch research, Dr. Krantz was one of the most quoted authorities on the status of the controversy.

Ancient lake's climate secrets

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Scientists are planning to drill into what could be the longest and richest archive of Earth's past climate. It could provide a year-by-year continuous record going back millions of years in a part of the world where it is thought humans first evolved.

Using a newly developed drilling system, researchers will, for the first time, obtain sediments from the bottom of Lake Malawi.

Situated at the southern end of the East African rift valley, Lake Malawi, is 750 metres (2,460 feet) deep and possibly seven million years old.

Researchers say that the data they could obtain about past climatic variations might provide the environmental background needed to understand human origins and evolution.

"Our goal is to get something on the order of a half-million to a million-year record on past climate and environment, taking advantage of the fact that these lake sediments are frequently annually layered," said Professor Andrew Cohen of the University of Arizona, US.

Short and unforgiving

From previous studies, scientists know that each annual layer of Lake Malawi sediment consists of a black zone - the sediment runoff from land deposited during the rainy season - and a light-coloured layer of single-celled algae that grow in abundance each dry season.

The composition and variation in the layers can be used to infer climatic conditions - temperature, precipitation, etc - in the distant past. Because this information is not a direct record of climate behaviour, scientists refer to it as proxy data.

Old trees, glaciers, even fossilised plankton shells hold clues to what the Earth's climate was up to millions of years ago.

Andrew Cohen said: "A big question has always been whether the global climate engine has been driven by the advance and retreat of glaciers at high latitudes or by circulation patterns at the tropics.

"It has long been assumed that Earth's climate engine was driven by the ice sheets themselves. But there is good reason to believe the tropics may be driving the global climate system. So, one of the first things we want to address is the question of whether the climate history of the tropics leads or lags behind the climate of the polar regions."

Ultimate goal

Preparations for Lake Malawi drilling will take place during the summer, with the actual drilling starting in December or January 2003. The project will take 70 days.

"This is a risky scientific expedition, to be sure," said David Verardo, of the US National Science Foundation's Earth System History program. "We are moving a new drilling system into a technologically challenging environment."

This is because Lake Malawi is deep and the weather window for drilling operations is short and unforgiving.

Scientists say that their ultimate goal is to obtain sediment cores at Lake Tanganyika.

Andrew Cohen said: "At Tanganyika, there is potential for getting much longer records than from Malawi. Lake Malawi is 750 meters deep. Tanganyika is around 1,500 meters deep. We suspect that Lake Malawi dried up sometime during the Pleistocene, whereas Lake Tanganyika held water."


So Much Information

Special Sneak Preview (and subject to change):

1) AAAS Meeting In Boston (CSICOP Members as Speakers)
2) CSICOP Notes - New at the Skeptiseum
3) Kudos To Uncle Sam: FTC Says Psychic Hot Line Is Fraud

1) AAAS Meeting in Boston

Three CSICOP-affiliated speakers will be presenting this weekend at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meetings in Boston, Massachusetts. Presenters include CSICOP fellows Eugenie Scott and John Allan Paulos, as well as CSICOP on-line columnist Matt Nisbet. Scott is director of the National Center for Science Education. Paulos is professor of mathematics at Temple University. Nisbet is a doctoral student in science and political communication at Cornell University.

All presentations will be held at the Marriott Copley Place, Sheraton Boston, and the Hynes Convention Center. The venues are connected by an indoor shopping mall and climate-controlled sky-bridges. Details on topics, dates, and times are listed below.


2002 Genome Seminar
Genomes Around Us: What Are We Learning?
Saturday, February 16 - Sunday, February 17, 2002

ORGANIZED BY: J. Craig Venter, Celera Genomics; Claire Fraser, The Institute for Genomic Research; Barbara Jasny, Science Magazine

The completion of a draft sequence of the human genome has heightened awareness ofthe importance and vast potentials for genomic studies. As information accumulates about an increasing variety of organisms, our knowledge of the natural world, humans in particular, and an array of diseases and disease processes will continue to expand. This continuing annual seminar brings together leading researchers to examine the many avenues for study and learning that derive from our greater understanding of human and other genomes. Areas to be addressed include new ways of using genomic information, the genome and society, genomics and developing countries, genomes and food, and the many "genomes around us."

Saturday, February 16, 2002
3:00PM - 6:00PM

Genomes, Evolution, and Society Interpretive Genomics with Sophisticated Evolutionary Models:
Steve Benner, University of Florida, Gainesville

How Many Human Genes?:
Victor Velculescu, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Race, Genomics, and Medicine:
J. Craig Venter, Celera Genomics

Genomics, Evolution, and Anitevolution:
Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education

Clinical Evolution of Genomics Applications:
Judy Garber, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute


TRACK: Science and Society
TITLE: Show Me the Data! Wanted: More Accuracy in Media Reporting
DATE: Friday, February 15, 2002
TIME: 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon
ORGANIZERS: Leon H. Seitelman, University of Connecticut

Leon H. Seitelman (Speaker),University of Connecticut: The Minefield of Reporting Scientific Data: What's Needed, and Why John Allan Paulos (Speaker),Temple University: A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper Constantine J. Maletskos (Speaker),Gloucester: The Saga of the U.S. Radium

Toxicity Studies
Donald Rubin (Speaker),Harvard University: The Use of Surrogate Outcomes in Experiments of Anthrax Vaccine

Michael O. Finkelstein (Speaker),Columbia Law School: The Legal Reception of Statistical Evidence in the Implant Cases
Terrence Moran (Speaker),New York University: Science in the Media

Applications of mathematical and statistical modeling are pervasive in modern society, from interpretations of sociological and epidemiological studies in professional journals, to reporting of economic data and projected trends in the Wall Street Journal, to presentation of polling data and bar graphs in USA Today. When this information is incompletely understood or incorrectly interpreted, the consequences can be more than simply inconvenient; the bankrupting of Dow Corning as a result of the breast implant controversy, and the economic hardship to apple growers in Washington State as a result of the alar scare, are two examples that spring to mind. Many other subjects, including the fairness and completeness of the Florida vote in the 2000 Presidential election, and the validity of perceived linkages between cancer cases and cell phone usage, or proximity of power lines, beg further scrutiny. The scientific community's technical expertise, by helping the public to distinguish fact from fiction in the interpretation of data, can inform and improve public policy choices. This symposium is organized by the principle that citizens need to be made aware of the limitations in models, and the misuse of statistics, where they occur. Experts in mathematical modeling and statistics and subject areas will provide insight into use (and abuse) of these techniques, using examples and case studies from a broad range of applications. The discussion includes observations about how recent cultural change, particularly television, has redefined reality, and the presentation and perception of information, and has affected this process of public education.


TRACK: Science and the Public Trust
TITLE: Biotechnology Policy in Europe and North America: A Roundtable Discussion
DATE: Friday, February 15, 2002
TIME: 2:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
ORGANIZERS: Susanna Hornig Priest, Texas A&M University

Helge Torgersen (Speaker),Institute for Technology Assessment, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria: Austria and the European Mainstream: Parting Company
Timo Rusanen (Speaker),University of Kuopio, Finland: Challenging the Risk Society: The Case of Finland
Suzanne de Cheveigné (Speaker),Laboratoire Communications et Politique, France: Biotechnology Policy in France: Centralized Government or Citizen Governance?
Jüergen Hampel (Speaker),Center of Technology Assessment in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany: Biotechnology in Germany: Between Boom and Bust Urs Dahinden (Speaker),Universitat Zurich, Switzerland: Biotechnology in Switzerland: From Street Demonstrations to Regulations
Edna F. Einsiedel (Speaker),University of Calgary: Food Labeling as Battleground in the GMO Food Debate
Martin Bauer (Speaker),London School of Economics, United Kingdom: Ethics, Ethos, and Trust in the Global Biotechnology Debate: The UK Experience
Bruce V. Lewenstein (Speaker),Cornell University: Biotechnology in the U.S. Public Sphere, 1970-1999: Media and Policy Interactions
Matthew C. Nisbet (Speaker),Cornell University: CO/W Bruce Lewenstein

The volatile public response to emerging biotechnology, both agricultural and medical, has challenged policymakers and members of the scientific community to consider issues of public trust and accountability across national boundaries in new ways. Policy development in Europe and North America has taken place in diverse media and public opinion climates, within divergent political cultures, producing different strategies and outcomes. The widespread perception in the U.S. has been that national differences in media reports and other cultural factors are largely responsible for differing policy outcomes, but this perception may mask other possible explanations. Different approaches to managing uncertainty, assessing technologies, and providing for public participation in policy development also exist. Heavy industrial investment in biotechnology-based research may strain the existing social contract between the scientific community and the public, and these dynamics may play out in different ways in particular national contexts. Like perhaps no other contemporary set of scientific developments, the emergence of biotechnology has forced the scientific community to reexamine its relationship to society. This panel examines some of the factors shaping biotechnology policy development in specific cases involving Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. Two panels address the view from continental Europe and from North America and the U.K.

2) CSICOP Notes

Contact: Kevin Christopher, PR Director, CSICOP press@csicop.org

February 15, 2002

Skeptiseum Feature Gallery on Creationism, In Time for Darwin's Birthday Correction on CSICOP In the News In honor of Charles Darwin's birthday on February 12, CSICOP Announces the opening of its new Feature Gallery, devoted to the subject of Creationism. Check it out at www.csicop.org/skeptiseum and click on the "Feature Exhibit" link in the side bar. Anyone interested in finding out more about the nearly 100 celebrations of Darwin's birthday worldwide should visit the www.darwinday.org Web site.

I'd like to correct an error of omission in that January 28, 2002, CSICOP In the News. The author of the article "Nauka, Antinauka, i mi Rovoy Krizis" which covered the Skeptic's Conference in Moscow last year and appeared in the Russian magazine "Nauka i Zhizn" (Science & Life) was Tatyana Zimina.

3) Kudos To Uncle Sam: FTC Says Psychic Hot Line Is Fraud

She Didn't See It Coming
FTC shuts down Miss Cleo's psychic hotline for fraud.

Friday, February 15, 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 - February 15, 2002

Feat Spurs Criticism And Business Dreams
from The Washington Post

Scientists in Texas have created the first cloned cat, a calico named "CC" that has immediately taken a curious and controversial place in history as the first cloned domestic pet.

Born Dec. 22 by Caesarean section in a university laboratory, the apparently healthy cat is the sixth kind of mammal to be created from a single adult cell -- after sheep, mice, cattle, goats and pigs -- and the first household pet to be cloned. Scientists said the ability to clone cats could eventually be a boon to biomedical research but more immediately could satisfy what they said was a growing consumer demand for pet cloning services.

"You can't beat around the bush. There are lots of people interested in their pets, so why avoid it?" said Mark Westhusin, the lead scientist behind the project at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine in College Station. But the feat drew intense criticism from animal care organizations, which have spearheaded efforts to reduce feline birth rates through nationwide spaying and neutering programs.


from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ATLANTA - About half of all deaths from heart disease occur before the patient can get to a hospital, the government reported Thursday. Health officials called the finding alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the study shows the need for a new national push to recognize the early warning signs of heart attacks. Heart disease is the nation's leading cause of death.

The study examined the 729,000 heart disease deaths reported in the United States in 1999. About 47 percent were deaths that happened before the patient could get to a hospital, the CDC said. In an additional 17 percent, the patient was dead on arrival or died in the emergency room.

"These high numbers of sudden deaths from heart disease, and the fact that they occur outside of the hospital, are alarming," CDC director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan said.

The CDC said many people still don't recognize early signs of heart failure. Those include cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness and shortness of breath, in addition to pain in the chest, arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.


from The Washington Post

Contrary to popular belief, people who sleep six to seven hours a night live longer, and those who sleep eight hours or more die younger, according to the largest study ever conducted on the subject.

The controversial study, which tracked the sleeping habits of 1.1 million Americans for six years, undermines the advice of many sleep doctors who have long recommended that people get eight or nine hours of sleep every night.

"There's an old idea that people should sleep eight hours a night, which has no more scientific basis than the gold at the end of the rainbow," said Daniel Kripke, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego who led the study, published in today's Archives of General Psychiatry. "That's an old wives' tale."

The study was not designed to answer why sleeping longer may be deleterious or whether people could extend their life spans by sleeping less.


from The Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Fielding particularly sober questions from a youth audience normally tuned in to watch the latest hip-hop videos, Secretary of State Colin Powell explained the war on terrorism to MTV viewers around the world Thursday and stressed the supremacy of American democratic values.

He also took a question about condoms and gave an unvarnished answer distinctly at odds with the beliefs of many conservative members of his Republican Party. He strongly urged young people to use them.

"I believe condoms [are] part of the solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis and I encourage their use by our young people who are sexually active," Powell said, pausing at first before answering a question from a 19-year-old woman in Milan, Italy, who said she is Roman Catholic.

That represented an apparent difference with President Bush, who has emphasized the virtues of youth abstinence over condom use and sexual activity. But then Powell went even further.

"Forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about," Powell continued. "It's the lives of young people that are put at risk by unsafe sex, and therefore, protect yourself."


Plan calls for improved screening of workers, guard training, stricter vehicle searches.
from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government Thursday ordered the nation's 103 nuclear power plants to adopt more rigorous employee screening and guard training as part of an anti-terrorism campaign, but critics said the measures did not go far enough to protect dangerous radioactive material.

The stricter security also means that cars and trucks approaching commercial nuclear plants will be stopped farther away from plant gates for searches, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency said.

As part of the stepped-up security, plant employees will be subject to new restrictions as to where they can go within a facility. There also will be more screening and identification checks for employees and subcontractors visiting plants. Nuclear safety activists and some Democratic lawmakers have called for National Guard troops or federalized guards to help prevent attacks against the facilities.


from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

BOSTON - Scientists bear partial responsibility for shaping a world in which resources are more evenly divided between rich and poor countries to eliminate conditions that foster terrorism, said Missouri Botanical Garden director Peter Raven. Raven opened the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Thursday here.

Raven is ending his term as president of the 140,000-member association -- the largest scientific organization in the world. Recent anthrax attacks in Florida, New York and Washington may have reinforced the public's notion of the mad scientist, Raven said in a telephone interview Wednesday. But scientists need to take a more active role in society to counteract that stereotype, he said.

"If scientists are retiring and secluded in laboratories and don't participate in the democracy ... people will draw their own conclusions about what scientists are doing -- most of them bad," Raven said Wednesday.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

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For feedback on In the News,

The Kokomo Hum


Reports of Mysterious Noise and Illness in Indiana

By Oliver Libaw

Feb. 13 — Some say it's like a diesel engine idling. Others describe it as a deep drone or fluorescent light-like buzz. And a great many people don't hear anything at all.

Complaints about the "Kokomo Hum" began in 1999, when a handful of local residents began to report a constant low-pitched rumbling noise. They say they developed a range of mysterious health problems soon after, including dizziness, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, nosebleeds, and excruciating, unending headaches.

"I think we all know something was starting to go drastically wrong about two years ago," says LaQuita Zimmerman, a 55-year-old grandmother who has lived in Kokomo her entire life. "It went from a headache to a never-ending headache," she says. When she leaves Kokomo to visit relatives, the suffering abates, she says.

"It's been over two years now," says Maria McDaniels, who lives several miles away from Zimmerman. "We just noticed a low hum — a drone in the background. It seemed to increase in intensity in the wee hours of the night."

McDaniels says she, her two sons and her husband began to experience regular headaches, sleep problems, and diarrhea around the same time. She admits she doesn't know for certain how the sound she hears relates to the symptoms, but she wants the hum investigated.

Zimmerman and McDaniels are not alone; Sen. Richard Lugar's office says it has received more than 80 letters complaining about the sound.

But most people in this central Indiana town of 45,000 don't hear anything at all.

Hum Complaints Met With Skepticism

Many Kokomo residents have been skeptical about reports of mysterious illnesses caused by a mysterious vibration, and local officials have done little to investigate.

"I know it does sound pretty bizarre," Zimmerman says. "It did to me before I was affected."

Attention to the problem began to increase last summer, however, when the Kokomo Tribune began an extensive investigation of the reports of the hum.

The paper talked to 40 residents who reported hearing the noise, and found that nearly all had visited a doctor more than once about related health problems, and at least 15 had undergone a series of neurological tests. Doctors typically attributed the problems to stress or aging, the Tribune found.

In an editorial last Sunday, the Tribune called for local officials to lead an investigation into the hum reports.

"The Kokomo Tribune editorial board wonders if city and state officials hope this issue won't just go away on its own," the paper said.

Hums Reported from New Mexico to Scotland

The Kokomo Hum is far from the first such complaint about strange low-frequency noise and related health problems. The so-called "Taos Hum" in northern New Mexico drew international attention in the early 1990s, as residents there complained of a persistent deep droning noise and accompanying headaches and illnesses.

Extensive investigations there failed to measure any low-frequency vibration that experts believed could cause either the noise or the infirmities reported by those who heard it. Even people who believe the Taos Hum is real admit that it has attracted a large number of outlandish theories and conspiracy buffs, which has hurt their credibility.

People in Taos continued to complain about the hum — some still do so today — but attention died down and many of those who reported serious problems moved away. A California rock band named itself "The Taos Hum," lending further infamy to the phenomenon.

Nevertheless, people in dozens — perhaps hundreds — of communities around the world have claimed they have been sickened by low-frequency noises. There is the "Larg Hum," in Scotland, the "Bristol Hum," in England, and others in Japan, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Some have been supported by scientific data; others have not.

The existence of low-frequency noises that cause nuisances is hardly controversial. Such sounds can be generated by turbines, industrial fans, compressors and other machinery.

The vibrations can travel a half-mile or more through the ground, causing dishes to rattle and a small subsection of the population to hear an annoying low drone. Adding insulation or adjusting equipment can often alleviate the problem.

Vibration Detected, But More Tests Needed

In Kokomo, reputable experts say they have detected a low-frequency noise of some kind.

In 2000, one hum-afflicted Kokomo resident hired an acoustic engineer to test for low-frequency noise.

The engineer, Angelo Campanella, who runs his own acoustic consultancy firm and holds a doctorate in physics and electrical engineering, found a low-frequency noise in the woman's home, but at a relatively low level.

"The level that is there is right at the threshold of perception, around 60 decibels," Campanella says.

The vibration Campanella detected would be considered a borderline problem according to some scales, and on other scales would be below problematic levels, says another acoustic engineer, Paul Schomer, who reviewed the data.

Both men stress that more testing is needed before drawing any conclusions about the hum. "We don't have really definitive data," says Schomer. "We need to have measurements at a bunch of these houses over a period of time."

Without speculating on the hum's possible effects on Kokomo residents, Schomer notes that scientists have associated a range of symptoms, such as general fatigue and malaise, with low-frequency noises.

Caution Against Blaming Hums for Every Problem

Other acoustics experts caution against associating a range of serious health problems to a low-frequency noise, however.

"They may be hitting on something that's a real phenomenon, but it could be their imagination," says Bennett Brooks, an engineer and investigator who heads the American Acoustical Society's Technical Committee on Noise. "The levels [of low-frequency noise] that will rattle dishes on a wall … haven't been shown to cause health problems, other than perhaps people waking up at night worrying."

He, too, is supportive of more testing for the Kokomo Hum. It generally is not difficult to measure low-frequency noise and to determine its source or sources. But in Kokomo, there has been little investigation beyond Campanella's one-time measurements.

People complaining about the hum have approached myriad local, state, and federal agencies, but none has agreed to investigate.

"We'd like to find the cause and correct the problem," says Scott Winger, a postal employee who hears the hum and believes he, his wife and children have suffered a range of health problems because of it. "It's not something that we just thought up."

Harry Potter fans warn against dangerous effects of Bible


OXFORD, Tuesday: A number of concerned British Harry Potter fans have spoken out against the Bible, claiming that the holy text of the Christian Church can cause serious damage to children. "Reading the Bible teaches children to believe in the supernatural," said one English Literature academic from Oxford University, Lewis Williams. "The tales of Jesus turning water into wine are fairly harmless, but there is a serious risk of children drowning if they try to walk on water," he said. "And the chance of serious bodily harm isn't exactly minimised by that whole 'resurrection-from-the-dead' story either."

Christians have responded that reading the Bible assists with literacy skills, but Williams rejects this idea too. "The Bible is only ever read in very small chunks, a few paragraphs at a time. It's never read as a long sustained narrative like the Harry Potter series. Reading too much of the Bible promotes a very short attention span," he says.

Critics such as Williams warn that without appropriate parental guidance, reading the Bible may make children unable to enjoy quality children's literature. "Enjoying books such as Harry Potter or the Narnia series requires the ability to suspend disbelief," he said. "When children are taught that the Bible is absolutely literally true, and that a story like Noah's Ark actually happened, the imagination is completely stifled – it's very detrimental."

Williams has also pointed out that some of the scarier elements in fantasy novels will really frighten children if they think they are true. "Some children may think that murderous Dark Wizards such as Voldemort (the villain of the Potter series) are actually real if they've been corrupted by Christians who believe that devils and magic actually exists," he said.

The spooky charisma of Mormon temples


Latter-Day Fortresses
The spooky charisma of Mormon temples.
By Christopher Hawthorne
Posted Thursday, February 14, 2002, at 3:16 PM PT

Every recent Olympics has had its architectural icon: In Nagano '98 it was the 1,400-year-old Zenkoji Buddhist shrine. In Sydney 2000 it was Jorn Utzon's Opera House. In Salt Lake City 2002 it's likely to be the Mormon Temple, which can be glimpsed in nearly every one of NBC's shots of the city—including the studio backdrop showing downtown, where it hovers just over Bob Costas' right shoulder.

Sure, the network will try to give equal time to non-denominational attractions like the Wasatch Mountains and Salt Lake's City and County Building. But the temple is going to be hard to beat for visibility over the next 10 days, especially since the Olympic medal stand has been set up practically at its feet. And with its dramatic lighting, the building is even more prominent at night, when American TV audiences are at their biggest and the mountains slip into un-telegenic darkness.

As church lore has it, Brigham Young himself picked the spot for the temple in the summer of 1847 after the Mormons, fleeing persecution in the Midwest, finally came to rest on the cracked floor of the Salt Lake Valley. The building, finished in 1893, was designed by Young's brother-in-law, the sublimely named Truman O. Angell. About 225 feet at its highest point, it features a solidly American frame cloaked in flowing Gothic and Romanesque ornament and topped off by a half-dozen spires and a golden statue of the angel Moroni. The temple looks like the sort of handsome, broad-shouldered late-19th-century building you can find in any number of American downtowns—but on its tiptoes, reaching up to the heavens.

The Mormon Temple is not the tallest building in Salt Lake City (that honor goes to the bland, 28-story office tower nearby, which holds the church offices). But it's easily among the most architecturally striking in town, and in that quality it resembles nearly every one of the Mormons' 107 temples around the world. I wouldn't know a Baptist church from a Lutheran one if they were standing side by side, but like most people I can spot a Mormon temple a good three or four miles away.

What is it about the design of these buildings that allows them to stand out so unmistakably from their neighbors? The first answer is the easiest: Mormon temples don't usually have any neighbors at all. Their sites are carefully selected, usually for a combination of remoteness and high visibility. Often this means a point on the crest of a hill near—even directly adjacent to—a freeway on the edge of a metropolitan area. This is the case with the huge temples in Oakland (finished in 1964) and Washington, D.C. (1974), among others. When D.C. traffic reporters talk about a backup on the Beltway by "the temple," listeners know the spot right away.

Stylistically, Mormon temples have spanned pretty much the whole architectural spectrum, from Neoclassicism to the Prairie Style to strip-mall Postmodernism. In Mexico City the LDS temple is an updated version of a Mayan design. Lately, in a kind of architectural paradigm shift, the church has begun building smaller temples in the suburbs rather than flagships in and around big cities.

But the temples continue to possess a singular architectural presence, and the best-known group of them, the postwar behemoths in places like Ogden, Utah, and D.C., are remarkably consistent examples of a grandiose if tight-lipped late Modernist style. As Paul Anderson, the curator of a show on Mormon architecture now running at the Brigham Young University Art Museum, notes, the temples have always aimed for a delicate harmony between the church's desire to appear reassuringly Christian—to help dismiss the air of clannishness and peculiarity that's always hovered over Mormonism—while at the same time proudly advertising its separation from Catholic and Protestant dogma. The result, as Anderson puts it, are buildings that want "to appear distinctive without seeming strange." Indeed, Mormon temple architecture is most remarkable for its contradictions. The temples are severe but sugary-sweet, traditional but shiny-new-looking, prominent but guarded.

The temples play on the subconscious and dredge up no small number of associations, from the religious to the pop-cultural. When I was a kid, I lived near the Mormon temple in the Oakland hills. The building has a spooky charisma at night, with a lighting scheme that's the architectural equivalent of holding a flashlight under your chin. Every once in while it would show up in my nightmares.

Other connections are less dark. Mormons sometimes say their temples allow them to step "out of the world" for a few hours. Mostly, of course, that means they consider the buildings a refuge from a chaotic, godless society. But the temples do look a little as though they came from "out of the world"—if not from another planet, then at least from some distant or imagined landscape. Non-Mormons tend to feel the same way. After the temple outside Washington was finished in the mid-'70s, somebody climbed onto a Beltway overpass with a can of spray paint and scrawled a plea to the Mormons. It read, "Free Dorothy!"

Religious preaching in a schoolbook

From: The Textbook League ttl@textbookleague.org

In earlier messages I have told about The Textbook League's efforts to stop the patently illegal use, in California schools, of a textbook that presents biblical myths as fact. To review the entire affair, use the five links provided at http://www.textbookleague.org/spjoyh.htm

To read our latest information, go directly to http://www.textbookleague.org/spjoyh4.htm This newly posted page presents a summary of a letter that was sent to the president of the California State Board of Education, on 30 January 2002, by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Bill Bennetta

Spellcasting 101: Don't Try This At Home


January 11th, 2002

With the Harry Potter movie raking in bales of box office cash as I write this, and the popularity of both the Harry Potter books and the recent edition of D&D driving some Satanic panic victims into fits of apoplexy, I thought I might do a little demonstration for everyone.

More than a few times, I've heard certain people claim that both Harry Potter and D&D books contain real spells that you can cast. Recently, in fact, I found a site called Demonbuster that has this to say about the Harry Potter series:

"Some of the Christians who defend HP books claim that one could never learn enough to truly practice magick or sorcery by reading them. That sort of statement could only be made by someone who was comparatively ignorant of sorcery. "

Demonbuster also tells us that we should never burn candles or wear cologne, perfume or any clothing with a paisley print, so they must know what they're talking about. Bold statements like those are never made by crackpots, after all.

So, I'm going to settle this for everyone. I am going to take my Harry Potter books and my Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook and attempt to cast the arcane spells contained within, all in the name of science, and at great risk to my body and soul.

You heard right. These claims of authentic, functional magical abilities will be put to the test before your very eyes. Do these spells really work? Will your kids be able to cast them after a casual read? Will I survive unscathed? Stay tuned to find out.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

State sues to unmask alleged TV psychic 'Miss Cleo'


By Mitch Lipka
Consumer Writer
Posted February 13 2002

The state of Florida is squaring off in court with psychic pitchwoman Miss Cleo, trying to force her to prove she's really the Jamaican shaman she has claimed to be before millions of viewers of her TV infomercials.

Florida's Attorney General's Office has subpoenaed Miss Cleo's birth certificate and records that would show her relationship with Access Resource Services, the controversial Fort Lauderdale-based company that profits from her sales pitches.

Assistant Attorney General Dave Aronberg said consumers who spent millions of dollars based on the image the company has created have a right to know the truth about Cleo, including where she's lived.

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - February 14, 2002

Emissions limits would be tied to state of economy
from The Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Nearly a year after he rejected an international treaty on global warming, President Bush on Thursday will unveil a substitute plan that places a premium on protecting U.S. businesses while encouraging a reduction in greenhouse gases over the next 10 years.

Bush's plan would tie environmental protection to economic activity so limits on emissions would be measured against the size of America's gross domestic product. Such an approach would tighten pollution controls as the economy grows but would decrease them when the economy stumbles.

To be outlined in a speech at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the president's plan also would use a "cap-and-trade" approach that sets limits on the amount of pollution each business is allowed to emit. The plan would allow heavy polluters to buy pollution credits from companies with lower emissions.

Bush is releasing his plan two days before he is to travel to Japan, where officials have been waiting since March to hear how the president plans to address greenhouse emissions after rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental treaty drafted in 1997 and signed by 178 other nations.

The Bush plan, which came under fire from environmental groups on Wednesday, will propose a Clean Skies Act that would require power plants to cut their emissions of three of the worst pollutants--nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and mercury. Bush, however, is breaking his campaign promise to regulate a fourth greenhouse gas emitted by power plants, carbon dioxide.


Protections for birds, rodents in peril
from The News & Observer

WASHINGTON - Over the years, U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms has described his adversaries in many ways. This week, he called them rats. And literally speaking, they were.

In a move that drew outrage from animal welfare groups, Helms inserted language in a major farm bill passed Wednesday by the Senate that would derail new protections for rats, mice and birds used in lab experiments.

The regulations, which are being developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are intended to resolve a decade-long legal battle by providing the same kind of safeguards against abuse that have been afforded for decades to monkeys, dogs and other larger lab animals.

But Helms says the new requirements would overwhelm researchers with paperwork and slow important work on spinal cord injuries, breast cancer and other human ailments.

Besides that, "a rodent could do a lot worse than live out its life span in research facilities," Helms argued in a colorful speech on the Senate floor this week.


from The Chicago Tribune

A feathered dinosaur not much bigger than a chicken, recently discovered in northeast China, is expected to give science a clearer picture of the ancestors of today's birds, according to Field Museum paleontologist Peter Mackovicky.

He and three co-authors describe the pint-size, two-legged meat-eater they named Sinovenator changii in Thursday's issue of the British scientific journal Nature.

Evolving between 130 million and 144 million years ago, Sinovenator, which means "China hunter," is one of the earliest, most primitive members of a group of dinosaurs known as troodontids, Mackovicky said.

Troodontids and birds branched off from the same common ancestor at roughly the same time. Various species of troodontids lived on until the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Birds, of course, survived and live on today.

"Sinovenator comes along close to the point where troodontids split off from that ancestor and birds split off to evolve in a different direction," Mackovicky said. "Sinovenator shares some very close resemblances to the earliest bird we know, Archaeopteryx."

Crow-size Archaeopteryx fossils, complete with feather impressions, have been found in limestone formations in Germany dating back 144 million years.


Many nations are switching to cheaper, largely ineffective alternatives
from The Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya -- As African countries decide how to fight a resurgence of malaria, many are switching to drugs that are largely ineffective, a report by the aid group Doctors Without Borders warned Wednesday.

"We feel like we're watching a train wreck," Daniel Berman, an official with the Paris-based group, told a news conference here.

Malaria is the leading killer in many sub-Saharan countries, with children accounting for 90% of the estimated 1.8 million deaths each year. Across the continent, public health experts are debating how to replace chloroquine, to which the malaria parasite has become resistant. Bowing to cost pressures, several African countries have switched to cheaper alternative drugs even though research has shown that they are no more effective than the drugs they're replacing.

The report by Doctors Without Borders, which is meant to help guide African countries in their malaria policies, said the most effective treatment should include artemisinin. The drug, an ancient Chinese remedy, is derived from the wormwood plant.


from The Boston Globe

In English, time rushes forward. In Mandarin Chinese, it moves down. The past lies above, and the future lies below.

So is the mind of a Mandarin speaker different from the mind of an English speaker?

The question is one of science's loaded topics, a politically charged theory with a racist past. But researchers now say they are uncovering proof that it may be true.

At a major scientific conference in Boston opening today, a half-dozen specialists in the resurgent field will debate the role of language in shaping the way people think about basic concepts such as space and time. A growing body of research suggests simple quirks of language - such as the lack of a word for left or right - can fundamentally alter the way people perceive the world around them.

Their findings could have dramatic implications for psychology, anthropology, and even international relations. But the researchers are cautious. Their work touches on politically divisive issues, such as the importance of bilingual education, and raises uncomfortable questions, such as whether speakers of certain languages are superior in some respects to others.


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Beyond a Doubt


The truth is out there. Bob Carroll -- professor by trade, skeptic at heart -- is doing his best to find it.

By Blair Anthony Robertson --
Bee Staff Writer
Published 5:30 a.m. PST
Saturday, Feb. 9, 2002

There is a professor at Sacramento City College who leads a double life.

Some call it dangerous and loathe him for what he does. Others see him as a hero, a crusader for the truth in an increasingly zany world.

So this must be a disguise he's in, smiling and soft-spoken as he begins a lecture in his philosophy class on "Law, Justice and Punishment." He looks like the prototypical mild-mannered professor, right down to the khaki pants and the brown comfort shoes he accents with a black belt.

That's the 56-year-old Bob Carroll everyone seems to know around here, the one whose doctoral dissertation was titled "The Common-sense Philosophy of Religion of Bishop Edward Stillingfleet, 1635-1699." By all appearances on campus, he has been teaching and making few waves for 25 years.

But in the wee hours since 1993, Bob Carroll has been slipping into the proverbial phone booth and stepping out as Internet superhero Robert T. Carroll.

The force behind a Web site called "The Skeptic's Dictionary," he has become a celebrity in the cyber sense, attracting 25,000 visitors a month to Skepdic.com. Online, Carroll is a brash, prolific, provocative, self-assured know-it-all who takes on all kinds of archenemies. Online, his belt and shoes always match.

Amway? POW!

Creationism? BAM!


The site has won numerous awards and was named to PC Magazine's top 100 list. It is stimulating, thorough, entertaining and seemingly infinite, with writing that is lively and accessible even as it shoots down everything you might have thought was good and right with the world.

Carroll hammers away at what he calls Amway's "legal pyramid scheme," pokes holes in the paranormal, calls "creation science" an oxymoron and critiques everything from acupuncture and abracadabra to werewolves, zombies, Nessie and Big Foot.

He gets fan mail and plenty of hate mail, and both kinds seem to inspire him to press on with his countervailing crusade. Enemies pepper him with computer viruses to try to shut him down.

Although skeptics have been around for years, the modern skeptical movement in the United States sprang up about 25 years ago. It was led by scientists such as Carl Sagan who were frustrated that far-out claims were seldom challenged in the media.

The Web site is believed to be among the first full-fledged efforts at publishing in hypertext, meaning Carroll's essays are full of links to sources elsewhere in The Skeptic's Dictionary as well as the rest of the Internet.

"It's an excellent site. I use it quite a bit," said Kevin Christopher of Skeptical Inquirer, the leading magazine in the field with a worldwide circulation of 50,000. Christopher says the site is one of the three best of its kind.

The hypertext numbers within Skepdic.com are astounding and illustrate how the project Carroll began in 1993 practically became an obsession. There are 23,044 links on the site, including 13,093 links that take the visitor to another area within Skepdic.com. The bibliography has grown to a 70-page list of books and other source materials.

"Man, I can't believe I've looked at all this stuff," Carroll said, referring to the massive bibliography.

The Web site is such a vast resource that one might think Carroll would be seen by colleagues as the go-to guy on topics of skepticism and pseudoscience. But when Sacramento City College had a conference on skepticism two years ago, organizers didn't think -- or even know -- to invite the unassuming professor. The disguise has been working.

Unassuming might be an understatement. It seems Carroll never tells on himself, and hardly anyone on campus knows of his site, which, thanks to an army of devoted volunteers, has been translated into eight languages and attracts attention around the globe. Practically anonymous in the Sacramento area, Carroll has been interviewed by the BBC, the Associated Press and the Sydney (Australia) Herald, among others.

When Carroll is asked who might be interviewed to discuss him and his work, he digs up the name of a Canadian devotee he has never met -- or even spoken to on the telephone. In the World Wide Web, relationships grow out of ideas and expressions, not interpersonal contact.

Tim Boettcher, the Canadian in question, is a 45-year-old computer programmer from Edmonton who became so engrossed reading The Skeptic's Dictionary five years ago that he volunteered to proofread the site.

"I thought it was an honest effort to get at the truth," said Boettcher, a fundamentalist Christian who thinks Carroll occasionally goes too far in challenging some aspects of religion. "If you're skeptical, there's not a lot of information out there to help you. You're often bombarded with New Age philosophies and quack healing."

Boettcher is unusual as skeptics go. Most leading skeptics are atheists and agnostics. Asked what he thinks Carroll is like in person, Boettcher replied, "I expect him to be a curmudgeonly old fellow who doesn't put up with a lot."

A recent visit to Carroll's classroom found the professor to be calm and patient and hardly the curmudgeon. He lives in Davis in a cozy middle-class neighborhood. He likes Celtic music, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. He likes to play golf and enjoys sipping 12-year-old single malt Scotch.

The cramped desk in his study where he does the bulk of his writing has an oak veneer. The opposite wall is lined with hundreds of books. His wife's computer has a screen saver that rotates photos of their grandkids. When he gets his picture taken, he asks if there is a lens that will make him appear slimmer.

In the 1960s, he attended the University of Notre Dame, entering the seminary for a short time in his junior year before dropping out. "I thought, 'God help us if this is the crew that is going to lead us to the New Age.' "

He gradually stopped following Catholicism, then stopped believing in God altogether. Some readers of The Skeptic's Dictionary write him wondering if he believes in anything at all, and if not, why he even bothers getting out of bed in the morning.

"There is nothing dull about a life without fairies, Easter bunnies, devils, ghosts, magic crystals, etc.," Carroll writes in his FAQ (frequently asked questions). "Life is only boring to boring people."

Carroll may not be boring, but neither is he animated, brash or brimming with confidence, at least not on the outside. But the Internet is a liberating medium, and on Skepdic.com Carroll leaves behind any inhibitions and real-life reticence. He becomes a witty, relentless attack dog who seems to have opinions about everything. For instance:

* Under the heading "WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)," a movement that began in Holland, Mich., Carroll answers the question himself: "Jesus would not ask anyone what to do. He would tell them. He would command them. And if they disobeyed, he would threaten them with eternal damnation."

* Feng shui: "... another New Age 'energy' scam with arrays of metaphysical products from paper cutouts of half-moons and planets, to octagonal mirrors to wooden flutes, offered for sale to help you improve your health, maximize your potential and guarantee fulfillment of some fortune cookie philosophy."

* Haunted houses: "It is not clear why Satan or ghosts would confine themselves to quarters, since with all their alleged powers they could be anywhere or everywhere at any time. ... In the case of Amityville, the real devils were George and Kathy Lutz, who concocted a preposterous story made into a book and a movie, apparently to help them out of a mortgage they couldn't afford and a marriage on the rocks."

* Karma: "... a law for the passive, for those who will not disturb the status quo, who will accept whatever evil is done as 'natural' and inevitable."

In 1992, when the World Wide Web was new and raw and still relatively empty, events came together that inspired Carroll to "publish" a book in cyberspace. His best friend and his father-in-law died in the same week. Carroll began writing with abandon.

"I just felt totally focused," he said. "It was like the deaths of these two people had forced me to start looking at everything and not take anything for granted. All these times I had said that someday I am going to do this or go there, I decided to just do it."

Those who want their debunking on paper are in luck. Carroll's agent is working out a deal with John Wiley & Sons Inc. to publish the book in hardcover.

Carroll doesn't plan to get rich from writing about this stuff. All skeptics know there's more money in fooling people, in getting them to suspend common sense, than there is in setting them straight.

Where scientists are looking for God


(Filed: 16/01/2002)

Lourdes, in France, has a reputation for miracles but are these `inexplicable' cures evidence of divine intervention? Raj Persaud investigates

CAN science prove that God exists? Debate over this issue has been sparked again with the publication of the latest meticulously conducted clinical trial of whether praying for the sick assists their recovery.

Two previous large studies - the last one published in 1999 - seemed to find that, astonishingly, seriously ill patients in Coronary Care Units improved medically if they were prayed for. However, the latest study of 800 Coronary Care Unit patients, published in the prestigious journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found no significant beneficial effect of prayer.


Summer Session 2002

**Main Session**
July 14-28, 2002
Center for Inquiry-International
Amherst, New York

The Center for Inquiry announces a two-week summer school featuring courses in Introduction to Critical Inquiry and History and Philosophy of Naturalism (available for undergraduate credit through the State University of New York), and weekend seminars and cultural tours on the history of freethought and spiritualism in Upstate New York. With faculty including Nicholas Capaldi, Margaret Downey, David Hull, Marvin Kohl, Paul Kurtz, Joe Nickell, and Sally Roesch Wagner. For more information, see below.

**Skeptic's Toolbox**
Investigating Extraordinary Claims
August 15-18, 2002
University of Oregon, Eugene

The wildly popular, team-taught, intensive workshop in hands-on skepticism returns again to the University of Oregon, Eugene. Further information TBA. Contact the Center for Inquiry Institute at www.centerforinquiry.net.


July 14-28

Spend two stimulating weeks at the Center for Inquiry, one of the world's leading institutions dedicated to skepticism, critical rationalism, and philosophical naturalism. Conduct research using the Center's 34,000+ volume libraries. Take in the sights and history of Upstate New York in summer. The main summer session features:


Two-week course in the fundamentals of logic, critical thinking, and basic scientific reasoning, including practical applications. 3 credits.


Two-week course in the development and theoretical foundations of philosophical naturalism, with connections to science, metaphysics, and ethics. 3 Credits.

FREEDOM AND FREETHOUGHT: Religious Dissent and Progressive Politics in Nineteenth Century Upstate New York

Weekend Seminar I. July 19-20

Friday evening presentation by Prof. Glenn Altschuler on the cultural context of freethought and spiritualism in nineteenth century Upstate New York. All-day Saturday cultural tour of Lily Dale Spiritualist Assembly, birthplace of modern spiritualism, with Joe Nickell. Saturday evening presentation by Prof. Marvin Kohl.

Weekend Seminar II. July 26-27

Friday evening presentation by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner on early feminism and religious dissent. All-day Saturday cultural tour of women's rights sites at Seneca Falls, New York and birthplace museum of famed agnostic orator Robert G. Ingersoll, with Margaret Downey.


Assistantships available at Center for Inquiry. Fields include communications, outreach, research, editing, computing, and graphic design.


Sporting and outdoor activities; Philosophy Cafe; music, theatre, and magic performances; local festivals.


Glenn C. Altschuler, Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies and dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, Cornell University; co-author (with Jan M. Saltzgaber), Revivalism, Social Conscience and Community in the Burned-Over District: The Trial of Rhoda Bement (Cornell 1983) and (with Stuart Blumin) Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton 2000).

Nicholas Capaldi, McFarlin Endowed Professor of Philosophy and Research Professor of Law at The University of Tulsa; former editor, Public Affairs Quarterly; author, The Art of Deception: An Introduction to Critical Thinking (Prometheus 1987); Hume's Place in Moral Philosophy (Peter Lang 1989); co-author (with Albert G. Mosley), Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Unfair Preference? (Rowman & Littlefield 1996).

Margaret Downey, Founder and director, Anti-Discrimination Support Network; invited representative, United Nations Freedom of Religion and Belief Conference; United Nations International Consultative Conference on School Education in relation to Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Richard Hull, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University at Buffalo; Executive Director, The Texas Council for the Humanities; Editor, Presidential Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 1901-1910 (Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999); Histories and Addresses of Philosophical Societies, A Special Series of the Value Inquiry Book Series published by Editions Rodopi.

Marvin Kohl, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, City University of New York; author, The Morality of Killing (Humanities Press 1974).

Paul Kurtz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University at Buffalo; Founder and Chair, Center for Inquiry; Chair, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal; Editor-in-Chief, Free Inquiry magazine; author, Embracing the Power of Humanism (Rowman and Littlefield 2000); Skepticism and Humanism (Transaction Books 2001).

Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal; Associate Dean, Center for Inquiry Institute; author, Pen, Ink & Evidence (Oak Knoll Press 2000); Real Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal (University of Kentucky Press 2001).

Sally Roesch Wagner, lecturer and historian seen on Ken Burns' "Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony"; author, A Time of Protest: Suffragists Challenge the Republic 1870-1897 (Sky Carrier Press 1988), introduction to Matilda Joslyn Gage's Woman, Church, and State (Persephone 1980).


Attend the entire summer session, OR one or both weekend seminars. Certificate of Proficiency and transferable undergraduate credit available.

ASSISTANTSHIPS AVAILABLE FOR UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS! To request registration materials or additional information, contact:

Center for Inquiry Institute
PO Box 741
Amherst, New York 14226
tel: 716-636-4869 x223
fax: 716-636-1733.

Or register online at:

Registration Deadline: June 15, 2002

Assistantship Application Deadline: May 15, 2002

Doctor Continues To Claim He Treats Elvis


Psychiatrist Says He Has DNA Evidence

Posted: 7:56 p.m. CST February 11, 2002
Updated: 8:01 p.m. CST February 11, 2002

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- An Independence psychiatrist is still claiming that he is treating Elvis Presley for migraine headaches, KMBC 9 News' Maria Antonia reported Monday.

Elvis lives and still sings, but he no longer shakes his hips because he is old now and has arthritis, psychiatrist Dr. Donald Hinton said.

"I hear from him on a regular basis. … On Sunday, it was by phone," Hinton said. "I'm treating Elvis Aaron Presley, the entertainer, (whom) everybody believes died in 1977."

Unintelligible Redesign


This is the way creationism ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
By William Saletan
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2002, at 10:48 AM PT

According to scientists, teachers, and civil libertarians, the Taliban has invaded Ohio. Creationists have devised a theory called "Intelligent Design" (ID) and are trying to get Ohio's Board of Education to make sure it's taught alongside Darwinism. Unlike creationism, ID accepts that the Earth is billions of years old and that species evolve through natural selection. It posits that life has been designed but doesn't specify by whom. Liberals call ID a menace that will sneak religion into public schools. They're exactly wrong. ID is a big nothing. It's non-living, non-breathing proof that religion has surrendered its war against science.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Scientists undermine Goldfinger paint killing


German scientists have proved scriptwriters who killed off a Bond girl by covering her in gold paint were wrong.

New research shows only 0.4% of the body's total oxygen needs are met through the skin. Cutting it off completely doesn't affect the organs.

The character of Jill Masterson died in the 1964 film Goldfinger after being covered from head to toe in paint.

The research did find a grain of truth in the plot because the amount of oxygen supplied through the skin is much higher than previously thought.

Scientists have shown that air supplies the top 0.4 mm of the skin with oxygen and dermatologist Markus Stücker, of the Ruhr-University in Bochum, says this is almost 10 times deeper than previous estimates.

The finding could change doctors' approach to skin conditions because most thought atmospheric oxygen was insignificant to the skin's needs.

The research is published in the Journal of Physiology and reported in Nature.

The Jesus Action Figure


And Other Toy Stories

By Buck Wolf

Feb. 12 Calling GI Joe, calling GI Joe: Are you still the ultimate action figure hero? Mayday, mayday!

It's bad enough that some people still think of him as a doll. These are times of war, and Joe's coming under heavy fire from the likes of "Tora Bora Ted" and other patriotic playthings. At New York's annual toy fair this week, even teddy bears are dressing up like rescue workers, and the World Trade Center lives on as a cuddly souvenir pillow.

In post-Sept. 11 America, military heroes are definitely in style. U.S. sales for action figures rose 36 percent last year to $1.62 billion, according to the NPD group, making it the fastest growing sector in the $23 billion toy market.

But these are scary times. Kmart, a discount retailer that once accounted for 7.5 percent of domestic toy sales, is in bankruptcy, and toymakers are desperate to find the next Furby, the next Tickle Me Elmo.

Joe has to compete with a whole new litany of action heroes, some, like Blue Box Toys' "Freedom Force," specifically developed for the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Joe even has to compete against Jesus. That's right, Jesus action figures are among the hot novelty items at the toy fair. This 5-inch plastic messiah, retailing for $6.95, is mounted on little wheels and ready to roll.

Years ago, toy purveyor Archie McPhee scored a major hit with Boxing Nun Puppets, and now he thinks he's on to something bigger. Jesus fans may be disappointed to learn that this savior is made in China and not suitable for children under 3 years old. Yeah, maybe that's stupid. But stupid sells. Look at Bill Bass, the mounted rubber fish that sings "Take Me to the River" If people will buy that, why not a Jesus toy on wheels?

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 - February 13, 2002

Bush Administration Appeal on 36 Leases Irks State Officials, Environmentalists
from The Washington Post

Every few miles along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway another offshore oil platform appears in plain view from the beach, shimmering in the California sun like an apparition from another age.

Drilling has been banned in the waters off the state's coastline for more than a decade, but the rigs here were in place before the rules changed. There are about two dozen of them, still pumping. And California, which barely tolerates their presence, is adamantly opposed to hosting any more.

But the Bush administration may have other plans. It has just appealed a federal judge's ruling last year that gave California broad new power to review and restrict oil exploration near its coast--in particular, 36 old drilling leases that are exempt from the ban but that the state wants to stay undeveloped.

The appeal has outraged California leaders and environmental groups in much the same way that the administration's interest in expanding oil and gas exploration in the Alaskan wilderness and off the Florida coast provoked strong protests last year.

State officials call the leases, which are in federal waters less than five miles offshore, the last hope that oil companies have to increase production along a part of California's coast that is a magnet for tourists and a haven for fragile marine life.


Faced With Suits, Home Improvement Industry Agrees to 2-Year Phaseout
from The Washington Post

Chemical and home-improvement industry executives agreed yesterday to a two-year phaseout of the use of an arsenic-based preservative in pressure-treated wood that is widely used for fences, decks, playground equipment and boardwalks in homes and on playgrounds throughout the country.

Arsenic is a known human carcinogen, and the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study to determine whether children who repeatedly come in contact with the preservative -- known as chromated copper arsenate or CCA--face a heightened risk of developing cancer of the lungs, bladder or skin, as some environmental and consumer groups contend.

Home Depot, Loews and other building supply stores and manufacturers of lumber treated with the chemical are defendants in class action suits alleging they failed adequately to inform consumers of the health risks posed by the lumber.

In announcing the agreement, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said that "it will ensure that future exposures to arsenic are minimized in residential areas," adding that "the companies deserve credit for coming forward in a voluntary way to undergo a conversion and retooling of their plants as quickly as possible."

EPA and industry officials who negotiated the agreement said that there is no conclusive evidence that CCA-treated wood poses unreasonable health risks to the public. But industry officials acknowledged yesterday that mounting consumer demands for a safer alternative wood preservative that doesn't include arsenic had forced their hand.

"Basically, we did it for market reasons," said John Taylor, vice president of Osmose Inc., one of the three chemical manufacturers that agreed to discontinue production of CCA within 22 months.


from The Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- About one in 12 young adults in Baltimore had untreated gonorrhea or chlamydia, and many were unaware they were infected, according to a new study.

Most of those in the study who were infected did not report any symptoms, prompting the study's authors to recommend changes to improve diagnosis. The number of untreated infections is more than the number that are diagnosed and treated each year, the researchers reported in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was conducted by Charles F. Turner and colleagues at the Research Triangle Institute in Washington. The researchers surveyed 728 adults, ages 18 to 35, and tested urine samples from 579 of them in 1997 and 1998.

About 5.3 percent of those studied were found to have an untreated gonococcal infection, and 3 percent had an untreated chlamydial infection. About 7.9 percent of the total group is estimated to have either an untreated gonococcal or chlamydial infection, with the rate among black women at 15 percent.

Untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia infections can lead to chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancies. The sexually transmitted diseases also increase the chances of transmitting the virus that causes AIDS, the researchers said.

At most health clinics, the two diseases often go undetected because patients didn't showed symptoms or didn't admitted having symptoms, said Susan Newcomer, the study's project officer at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, which funded the research.


From The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- President Bush set a goal Tuesday of cutting the use of illegal drugs in the United States by 10% over two years and 25% over five years as he unveiled a national drug control strategy.

The program, which the president said is "in the center of our national agenda," is built on three elements: disrupting the market for illegal drugs, helping drug users, and preventing drug use among those who have not gotten involved with it.

Bush's plan calls for increased funding for drug abuse treatment, heightened efforts to educate young people about the dangers of using illegal drugs, and greater involvement by parents in making drugs socially unacceptable. In seeking to balance efforts to reduce demand for drugs with the campaign to reduce supplies that took root when Bush's father was president, the proposal marks a sharp turn in government anti-drug policy.

"We're determined to limit drug supply, to reduce demand and to provide addicts with effective and compassionate drug treatment," the president said. "Each of these steps is essential, and they're inseparable."

Bush also linked the campaign against drugs to the anti-terrorist campaign, which has become the focus of his foreign policy.

Citing the support he said terrorist networks get from selling drugs, whether in South America or Afghanistan, Bush said: "When people purchase drugs, they put money in the hands of those who want to hurt America, hurt our allies."


from The Chicago Tribune

Adding to the growing evidence that the brain can rebuild itself throughout life, researchers have found that older people who engage in regular vigorous mental activity are nearly 50 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than people who put their brain on pause.

The findings further support claims that people can play a direct role in retaining their thinking capacity through such simple activities as reading, travel, working crossword puzzles and going to museums.

Even TV watching can be helpful if it is part of a variety of intellectual pursuits, the researchers said, but by itself TV is not an effective aid for memory retention.

The study of Catholic priests, nuns and brothers, reported on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that older people who participated in the highest level of routine intellectual activities were 47 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over a four- to five-year period than people who used their minds less frequently.


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You a Gemini? Drive Carefully and Get Insurance

Found at:

Mon Feb 11, 9:35 AM ET
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Born a Gemini? Watch out on the roads and get insurance.

Better still, have a Capricorn drive your car. A study released on Monday by Australian financial services group Suncorp Metway Ltd that ranked car accident claimants by star sign found the most accident-prone were Geminis, closely followed by Taureans and then Pisceans.

"Geminis, typically described as restless, easily bored and frustrated by things moving slowly, had more car accidents than any other sign," said Warren Duke, Suncorp's national managerof personal insurance. Taureans were thought to be obstinate and inflexible, while Pisceans could be risk-takers and dare devils, he said. Capricorns were the safest behind the wheel due to their patience and careful driving.

The light-hearted study was based on 160,000 car accident insurance claims received over the past three years.

Suncorp Metway said it had no intention to alter its premiums according to a person's star sign.

The company listed car accident claims by star sign as follows, with the most accident-prone at the top:

1. Gemini, May 21-June 21
2. Taurus, April 20-May 20
3. Pisces, February 19-March 20
4. Virgo, August 23-September 22
5. Cancer, June 22-July 22
6. Aquarius, January 20-February 18
7. Aries, March 21-April 19
8. Leo, July 23-August 22
9. Libra, September 23-October 22
10. Sagittarius, November 22-December 21
11. Scorpio, October 23-November 21
12. Capricorn, December 22-January 19

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"Pushing back the origins of animals."


"If a recent analysis of animal evolution is correct, then the famed "Cambrian explosion" in the evolution of multicellular animals was not so much a Big Bang as simply the end of a long, slow, crawl.

In the most recent issue of The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Daniel Wang and colleagues from Pennsylvania State University in the USA have looked at the molecular evidence for the timing of animal evolution. By looking at the molecular clocks represented by differences in the DNA sequences of some 50 genes in present-day animals, they have pushed the time of origin of the major animal groups (phyla) hundreds of millions of years further back into the Precambrian.

Cross-shaped giveaways raise ire of parents

KUALA LUMPUR - Malay parents have complained that many provision shops in several cities across the country are selling packets of snacks that come with free pens and pencils in a shape of a crucifix.

According to Harian Metro, worried parents had informed the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia, which in turn warned other parents about the product.

The association's secretary-general, Dr Maamor Osman, said that the cross-shaped pens and pencils should not be used by Muslims because the crucifix is a symbol of another religion.

He urged the ulemas, or religious teachers, to explain the issue to parents so their children did not buy the product.

The Home Ministry said it will investigate the matter.

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