NTS LogoSkeptical News for 27 February 2002

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Wednesday, February 27, 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.

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Today's Headlines – February 27, 2002

from The Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 26 -- The United States today proposed a "global and comprehensive ban" on human cloning and all experimentation involving human embryos. The announcement marked an expansion in the Bush administration's campaign to restrict the uses of human embryos for scientific and medical purposes.

"Human cloning is an enormously troubling development in biotechnology," U.S. delegate Carolyn L. Willson said at a meeting of the U.N.'s Committee on an International Convention Against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings. Such cloning, she said, could lead to a future in which "human beings are born for spare body parts, and children are engineered to fit eugenic specifications."

Scientists have not yet demonstrated the ability to clone a human being, but one U.S. biotechnology company claims to have cloned human embryos consisting of a few cells. Although there is broad support at the United Nations for a ban on the cloning of babies, delegates from Europe to Asia today cautioned that it would be unwise to stifle research on cloned embryos, a promising field that might yield medical breakthroughs.


SEPT. 11
from The Associated Press

The hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock that gauges the threat of nuclear danger are moving for the first time in nearly four years as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the turmoil that followed.

The board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which oversees the clock's movements, scheduled a news conference Wednesday to reset the clock. The clock's time, reflecting the state of international security, had remained unchanged since 1998.

At that time, the hands of the clock were moved forward to nine minutes to midnight after India and Pakistan conducted tests of nuclear weapons.


from The Associated Press

One July afternoon 40 years ago, unsuspecting commuters on the London Underground were engulfed in clouds of harmless bacteria as part of a secret government germ-warfare test.

If the travelers detected anything in the air, it isn't recorded in the confidential official papers that were released Tuesday by the Public Records Office after the requisite four decades of secrecy.

The papers detail the 1962 trial conducted by government experts to see how far and how fast bacteria would spread through the underground railway system.


from The Los Angeles Times

SEATTLE -- The first human studies of a highly anticipated proposed AIDS vaccine indicate that it produces a response in the immune system that may help keep HIV infections in check, researchers said Tuesday.

If the vaccine ultimately is proved to work--something that won't be known for several years--it would be given to people after they are infected. The aim would be to limit the ability of the virus to replicate itself, keeping it at a manageable level and slowing--perhaps blocking--the onset of AIDS.

Last month, Merck, which is developing the vaccine, announced the results of studies showing that the vaccine can sharply reduce HIV replication in monkeys.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

For 30 years, Earth-bound explorers scanning images of Mars from spacecraft have been tantalized by giant channels, broad basins and sinuous valleys on the Martian surface that look exactly as if water had flooded and flowed there billions of years ago.

Now, scientists studying new images from the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor have detected signs that giant floods may have swept one region of the planet much more recently -- leaving behind a huge lake of ice buried less than 50 feet beneath a porous plain of lava near the Martian equator.

From the geologic evidence in the new images, the scientists calculate that the amount of water that must have burst from deep volcanic fissures in the surface region was truly huge: at least 600 cubic kilometers, four times more water than deep Lake Tahoe holds, or 65 times more than exists in Southern California's shallow Salton Sea.


from The Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- William J. Clancey tags along when NASA researchers visit a crater 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle to explore its Marslike environment.

"The scientists are studying the crater, the geology and biology of this land, and I'm studying the scientists," Clancey said.

He wants to see how they go about their business to develop ways that computers and other devices can be used to help astronauts explore Mars.

Clancey, a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence at the University of West Florida's Institute of Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, is on loan to the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.


from The Boston Globe

Imagine going through later life seeing everything, from your morning coffee to your bedtime book, with a hole in the middle of the picture. If this hole continues to spread, it eventually could wipe out almost all of your central vision - the part you need for doing things like reading and recognizing faces.

The problem is macular degeneration, a disease in which a small region called the macula in the center of the retina becomes damaged. One in every three Americans over 65 is at risk, with absolute numbers likely to increase as baby boomers age.

To be sure, cataracts and glaucoma are big problems, too, though they are comparatively easy to treat. Macular degeneration, the leading cause of legal blindness in the developed world, has been difficult to treat - until recently.

Thanks to an explosion of recent advances, including better adaptive equipment, surgical techniques, experimental drug strategies, and dietary supplements, many people with macular degeneration may now be able to lead fairly normal lives.


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What's God Got to Do With It?

http://www.robertscheer.com/1_natcolumn/02_columns/022602.htm By Robert Scheer
Published February 26, 2002 in the Los Angeles Times

God again!

The good news is that according to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, God is on our side in the war on terrorism. This is a definite improvement over the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson position, stated and then partially retracted, that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. were proof of God's wrath over our national indulgence of lesbians and the like.

The bad news is that Ashcroft is again off on a holy war of his own. Sermonizing to a flock of the Christian faithful gathered for a meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters, the guardian of our civil rights argued that "civilized people--Muslims, Christians and Jews--all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the creator." Perhaps Ashcroft should heed the words uttered by President Bush in China: "In a free society, diversity is not disorder. Debate is not strife. And dissent is not revolution."

Presumably the president's heartfelt plea for religious tolerance in China is also a defense of the rights of those Americans who are not Christians, Jews or Muslims, extending even to those who want no truck with organized religion at all.

Can the attorney general be trusted to protect the rights of those whose spiritual life rests outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition when he has excluded them from the ranks of civilized people? Not to split angels on the head of a pin here--or to restrict Ashcroft's hearty expressions of his Pentecostal faith as manifested in his daily prayer meetings at Justice--but it is alarming when he defines his job in religious terms: "The guarding of freedom that God grants is the noble charge of the Department of Justice."

What hooey! The Justice Department is a creation of men to enforce laws written by ordinary mortals--some of them drunk as well as godless--and, most important, to follow the precepts of the U.S. Constitution, itself the product largely of those founders who were suspicious of efforts to bring any official notion of God into the day-to-day governance of a free people. They had enough of that with the religious pretenses of English kings, and they made no bones about their deep concerns regarding the mixing of church and state.

Admittedly, Ashcroft's recent remarks are an ecumenical improvement over those he was said to have made last year to Christian conservative columnist Cal Thomas, suggesting that only Muslims, and never Christians, support terrorism.

"Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him," he reportedly told Thomas. "Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you."

The Justice Department later issued a statement that Ashcroft had only meant to refer to those Muslims who are terrorists. Still, one wonders if Ashcroft has ever heard that song, "Onward, Christian Soldiers," or read about the Crusades, or been told of the violent terror propagated by Catholics and Protestants for decades in Northern Ireland.

President Bush offered a more benign and inconclusive view of religion in his China address, even mentioning Buddhism, Taoism and localized religions. "Regardless of where or how these believers worship, they're no threat to public order," he said.

That is a noble expectation, to be sure, but is not one borne out by history; throughout history and to the present day, religious divisions have been great disrupters of public order. One wonders whether Bush would have offered the same remarks before an audience in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan or the former Yugoslavia.

What is most disturbing about the remarks of both the president and his attorney general is the simplistic association of faith in a major religion with virtue and responsibility. Simplistic, because men of loudly proclaimed faith sometimes are responsible for actions most uncivilized.

We have come to an odd juncture in this world's modern history when notions of God are once again routinely employed to justify and counter the most heinous of human actions. Isn't it enough to state that the wanton destruction of innocent civilians, whether by primitive or sophisticated military means, is just plain wrong, as defined by what exists of international law and the laws of all nations worth respecting?

For political leaders to bring God into it is to again risk overplaying a hand that has a long and bloody history at the expense of many true believers , as well as the rest of us.


Robert Scheer writes a syndicated column.

Exorcising the devil: is it really all in the mind?


This week, the Pope warned against Satanic temptation, saying that he has performed three exorcisms himself. What really happens during the ritual? ANNE DEMPSEY reports

This week Pope John Paul put the devil firmly back in fashion by warning his flock to be on their guard against Satanic temptation, and by letting it be known that he has performed three exorcisms during his reign. In the first in 1982, the possessed young woman arrived rolling on the ground. In his latest exorcism last September, another woman had been the subject of demonic curses and is still undergoing treatment.

In today's world, tales of evil possession, cursings and writhings sound medieval and far-fetched. The nearest most of us ever got to a devilish take-over was being scared to death by the 1973 shocker The Exorcist. Many real-life dramas sound just as unpleasant. Reports of actual exorcisms talk of phenomena which can include a dreadful stench, freezing temperature, violent smashing of furniture, levitation of the possessed person while exorcist and helpers can feel weighted down with suffocating pressure. The possessed one often spits, urinates and defecates, while the room can be filled with the sound of shouting, shrieking, howling and barking.

The boom in New Age religions and cults, coupled with the growth in materialism and cynicism are being blamed for the rise in exorcisms. More recently, world capitulation to Harry Potter, the successful release of Lord of the Rings and the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are causing some to question our move to the macabre.

Now the Pope has joined the debate. At his Sunday address this week, he suggested the worst thing we can do with Old Nick is ignore him. "The devil, 'the prince of this world', continues his insidious actions, and each and every man is tempted by the devil when he least expects it," the Pontiff said. He has recently updated the church's 90-page ritual on exorcism On Every Kind of Exorcism in Supplication. Given that the original manual had been in use since 1624, the guidelines were well in need of a revamp.

Today's priests are encouraged both to spend more time in prayer with the possessed person and to work closely with doctors and psychologists to distinguish between cases of mental illness and demonic influence. There had been a tendency to misdiagnose Satanic possession in the past. People suffering from physical diseases like cerebral palsy were suspect and, more recently, victims of Tourette's Syndrome were the perfect target for accusations of possession, as symptoms include sudden yelps, snorts and facial contortions.

The current international scene seems patchy with some countries performing more exorcisms than others. While French cleric Henri Geslaud says that out of 3,000 consultations, he knows of only four cases of demonic possession, Italian prelate Father Gabriele Amorth seems to preside over a welter of writhing and spitting: "I have seen many strange things. The devil told a woman that he would make her spit out a transistor radio and lo and behold, she started spitting out bits and pieces of a radio transistor. For us exorcists, levitation is run of the mill."

What about exorcisms Irish-style? Author and lecturer Father Pat Collins began developing an interest in exorcism some years ago. "Pastorally, I was running into situations which I couldn't explain in purely psychological terms. I began studying, and reluctantly really I began to see that while there were psychological strands for disturbed behaviour, there was something else as well.

"The church distinguishes between solemn exorcism where someone is completely possessed and a simple exorcism, where there is partial possession or spiritual oppression and this is much more common. While priests may be called in to investigate reported cases of possession, I do not know of a single occasion in Ireland where someone was totally possessed and a full exorcism was needed or performed.

"Whenever I talk about this subject in public, I get lots of calls from people who feel they are possessed, but most of them are suffering from a mental illness, such as schizophrenia. In the last Vatican document on exorcism, there was an acknowledgement that 95pc of the cases thought to be the work of the devil in the past were most likely to be manifestations of mental illness.

"I did witness an exorcism in England. I was having a drink with a friend who works as an exorcist, and a woman approached looking for prayers for healing a growth on her neck. As he prayed, there was suddenly the most atrocious screeching and shouting, really scary. Afterwards, I asked what had happened, and he said he begun to pray for healing but realised there was something else there and did an exorcism. The lump also disappeared."

Father Collins says there are a number of situations where prayers for deliverance may be needed. "You can have the unquiet dead where the spirits of dead people continue to affect the living. I've been involved in blessing homes which seem to be haunted. You go and pray against any bad spirits remaining. I remember one case where the family kept hearing a child crying and the sound of footsteps. We subsequently discovered that a child had been abused in the house 50 years ago.

"Then there are situations of projection where disturbed people project their emotions externally, and finally those under the influence of an evil spirit who need a simple exorcism to deliver them."

Father Collins believes that the church in Ireland needs to be more proactive in the area of spiritual possession. At present while every diocese is entitled to an exorcist under Canon law, few have this designated ministry. In the past, priests automatically became exorcists at ordination, but that is no longer the case.

Father Pat Buckley, who works as priest and bishop outside the established Catholic church, has exorcised homes disturbed by paranormal happenings and believes he witnessed the demonic possession of another priest. "It happened in a rural parish when I went to stay with this priest to help him. His house overlooked the church yard, I drove down in the evening and arrived after midnight to find the place in darkness. They had left the key out for me, and when I went in, I heard screaming from an upstairs bedroom. I went up, and knocked on the door. Immediately there was dead silence.

"When I went in, I saw the priest huddled in the corner and the whole room in bits, furniture upturned stuff all over the place. The place was icy cold, I went to bed that night still wearing all my clothes. Later on, the screaming began again, the most unbelievable obscenities you ever heard. I finally spent the night sitting up holding on to my crucifix. The priest told me he felt he had been taken over by something and had begun drinking to try to escape. It was a terrible time, but he later got help and became well."

Mike Guard is a field worker with Dialogue Ireland, an organisations set up by the four main Christian churches in Ireland to provide a pastoral response for people caught up in new religious movements and cults. He believes that in our materialistic society, where the authority of the Christian message has been undermined, some jaded souls, no longer getting the buzz they need from alcohol, drugs or sex, move on to the occult and Satanism.

"I believe people can be demonically affected. I've dealt with a couple of cases where kids were playing around with the dark side, I would say they were dabbling, not actually possessed by Satan. They become involved with the Ouija board as if they are playing Monopoly, and then they can find they begin to see things and have encounters beyond the natural.

"It often begins with one or two, in a class, and in a few schools, this became an epidemic with the whole class getting involved. I would have prayed for people to be released from evil spirits, praying against Satan and his power. I would be always making the point that Satan is a creature and cannot be greater than his creator, so I would be praying for the power of God to come into the situation."

Wider perils in South Africa's stance on AIDS


SciDev.Net Comment

The continued reluctance of the South African government to accept the scientific consensus on the cause of AIDS could undermine broader efforts to promote sustainable development

How much longer can South African president Thabo Mbeki continue to deny the international scientific consensus on the link between HIV and AIDS? In political terms, the current answer could be: not very long. Events over the past two weeks suggest that domestic political pressure, from both within South Africa's ruling African National Congress and former president Nelson Mandela, may soon succeed where virtually unanimous international disapproval has failed.

However, even if this happens, unless the government openly acknowledges a change of heart, rather than appearing to give way to political pressure, a significant danger will remain. This is the threat that Mbeki's anti-scientific stance will not only damage his political authority, but also undermine a fundamental premise of health and development policy: the idea that any such policy will only succeed if it draws on sound scientific and technical knowledge.

This year, that message is even more important than usual. It will be one of the main themes of the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, which opens in the South African city of Johannesburg in August (See Putting science in the frame for Johannesburg). There are many who hope that, as host of the meeting, South Africa will fully endorse this message. Continued public equivocation on the AIDS issue could weaken public confidence in its commitment to knowledge-based policies more generally.

There are grounds for optimism that the equivocation may come to an end. Some of this comes from growing evidence of dissatisfaction with the government's stance from within the ANC. In particular, the heads of two important provinces — first East Cape and subsequently Gauteng — have decided to stand up to Pretoria by introducing plans to allow the anti-retroviral drug Nevirapine to be issued to pregnant mothers, a treatment that has been generally found to reduce the mother-to-child transmission of HIV by up to 50 per cent.

The move has not gone down well with the federal government. Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has accused both premiers of breaking a previous agreement that the anti-retroviral drug would not be issued until the completion of further studies into its effectiveness and its potential side-effects. If there were a genuine cause for concern, such caution and calls for further research would be justified. In the circumstances, given that both issues have already been extensively covered elsewhere, it appears to be little more than further evidence of the government's — and Mbeki's — continued procrastination.

Those who are becoming increasingly frustrated with this stance include Mandela. Since handing over the reins to Mbeki three years ago, Mandela has expressed relatively little criticism of his successor's policies. Just over a week ago, however, he shifted gear significantly in an interview with the South African Sunday Times. Echoing criticism from scientists, AIDS activists, and the country's trade union movement, he called for an end to the debate – which Mbeki seems intent on keeping alive — on whether HIV causes AIDS. "This is a war," he declared. "We must not continue to be debating, to be arguing, when people are dying".

AIDS will not, as such, be the top item on the agenda when the WSSD opens in Johannesburg (even though it will not be far behind). But the need for action to alleviate poverty and health across the world will be. Hopefully, the meeting will endorse a commitment to the idea that sound science is required to ensure that this action is effective. Hopefully South Africa, as the host nation, will readily sign up to a consensus on this point. And hopefully, it will have shifted its position on AIDS by then with sufficient conviction to demonstrate that it, too, believes in its own words.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2002


Copyright 2002 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, e-Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com and skepticmag@aol.com). Permission to print, distribute, and post with proper citation and acknowledgment.

Greetings e-Skeptic readers. Sorry for my long absence. I was away on an around-the-world eco-tourism trip for which I was a lecturer (evolution, Darwin, Wallace, etc.), an itinerary that included the Amazon, Galapagos islands, Easter island, Samoa, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo, Nepal, Seyschelles islands, Tanzania, Canary islands, Washington D.C.

One interesting observation related to today's e-Skeptic: This was a fairly select group of travelers in that each paid close to $40,000. So they were pretty well educated and very successful (lots of retired business execs, CEOs, etc.). Of the 82 people on the trip, at least a dozen approached me after my lecture on evolution (ergo I figure there were probably a dozen or two more who didn't say anything), expressing their skepticism about the theory.

Their main argument is William Paley's design argument of the nonblind watchmaker. It seems to be difficult to conceive of how such complexity could have arisen through natural means. That has always been a bugbear for people, a problem addressed and answered by countless scientists from Darwin to Dawkins, and obviously one we will continue to experience because, in part, the human mind cannot grasp on a deep level deep time and what can be accomplished through natural selectionentific American columns on Intelligent Design creationism. Interestingly, I received more mail than all my other columns combined. In fact, what I'm doing now is a content analysis of the letters, for which I'll write another column for a special issue of Scientific American on Intelligent Design creationism, summarizing the vox populi opinion of evolution (at least, those who write in to the magazine in response to my column).

This Sunday we have our next Caltech lecture event:

John George will be lecturing on extremism and terrorism, fringe groups and political radicalism. George is a social scientist who specializes in tracking political fringe movements, and authored a book published by Prometheus Books entitled Nazis, Communists, Klansman, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America. In light of recent events this should be one of the more informative lectures we've had.

Sunday, 2:00pm, Baxter lecture hall, California Institute of Technology (our usual time and place).

Directions: Off the 210 freeway, exit Lake Ave. south, left on Del Mar, right on Michigan. Park in Faculty parking lot. From L.A., 110 north to the end, continue to Del Mar, right on Del Mar, follow past Lake Ave., follow above directions.

Christian Science Monitor
February 20, 2002 edition

Christian Science Monitor

One of America's longest-running dramas is being revived in Ohio. There, the state school board is wrestling with whether to give the theory of evolution sole billing in its revised science curriculum, or to make room for an alternative theory called "intelligent design."

Inevitably, the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial springs to mind, along with "Inherit the Wind," the perennially popular play based on that trial. And, don't forget, only three years ago Kansas had a major replay of the controversy when its education board removed evolution from the curriculum altogether, a decision later reversed when voters installed a new board.

Ohio is following a somewhat different script. Intelligent design, depending on the commentator's perspective, is seen as either a reasonable explanation of nature's more complex formations - or simply Bible-based "creationism" in a different costume.

Full text

The Gradual Illumination of the Mind

The advance of science, not the demotion of religion, will best counter the influence of creationism.

Michael Shermer

In one of the most starkly honest and existentially penetrating statements ever made by a scientist, Richard Dawkins concluded that "the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

Facing such a reality perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a

2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans agree with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," 37 percent prefer a blended belief that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process," and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process."

In a forced binary choice between the "theory of creationism" and the "theory of evolution," 57 percent chose creationism against only 33 percent for evolution (10 percent said they were "unsure"). One explanation for these findings can be seen in additional results showing that only 33 percent of Americans think that the theory of evolution is "well supported by evidence," while slightly more (39 percent) believe that it is not well supported, and that it is "just one of many theories." A quarter surveyed said they didn't know enough to say and, shedding some light on the problem, only 34 percent considered themselves to be "very informed" about evolution.

Although such findings are disturbing, truth in science is not determined democratically. It does not matter whether 99 percent or only one percent of the public believes a theory. It must stand or fall on the evidence, and there are few theories in science that are more robust than the theory of evolution. The preponderance of evidence from numerous converging lines of inquiry (geology, paleontology, zoology, botany, comparative anatomy, genetics, biogeography, etc.) all independently point to the same conclusion--evolution happened. The nineteenth century philosopher of science, William Whewell, called this process of independent lines of inquiry converging together to a conclusion a "consilience of inductions." I call it a "convergence of evidence." Whatever you call it, it is how historical events are proven.

The reason we are experiencing this peculiarly American phenomenon of evolution denial (the doppelganger of Holocaust denial, using the same techniques of rhetoric and debate--see my book Why People Believe Weird Things for a comparison), is that a small but vocal minority of religious fundamentalists misread the theory of evolution as a challenge to their deeply held religious convictions. Given this misunderstanding, their response is to attack the theory. It is no coincidence that almost without exception all of the evolution deniers are Christians who believe that if God did not personally intervene in the development of life on earth then they have no basis for belief, morality, and the meaning of life. Clearly for some much is at stake in the findings of science.

Since the Constitution prohibits public schools from promoting any particular brand of religion, this has led to the oxymoronic movement known as "creation-science," or, in its more recent incarnation, "Intelligent Design" (ID), where ID (aka God) miraculously intervenes just in the places where science has yet to offer a comprehensive explanation for a particular phenomenon. (ID used to control the weather, but now that we understand it He has moved on to more difficult problems, such as the origins of DNA and cellular life. Once these problems are mastered then ID will no doubt find even more intractable conundrums.) Thus, IDers would have us teach children nonthreatening theories of science, but when it comes to the origins of life and certain aspects of evolution, children are to learn that "ID did it." I fail to see how this is science, or what it is, exactly, that IDers hope will be taught in these public schools. "ID did it" makes for a rather short semester.

By contrast, a scientist would want to know how ID did it. In eschewing all attempts to provide a naturalistic explanation for the phenomena under question, IDers have abandoned science altogether. Yet they want the respectability that science brings in our culture, so they do theology and call it science.

To counter the nefarious influence of the ID creationists we need to employ a proactive strategy of science education and evolution explanation. It is not enough to argue that creationism is wrong; we must also show that evolution is right. The theory's founder, Charles Darwin, knew this when he reflected:

"It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds which follows from the advance of science."

Science In the News

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

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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 26, 2002

from The Washington Post

The FBI has conducted anthrax tests in the homes, offices and vehicles of about a dozen people who have been investigated in the deadly anthrax mailings, but the individuals were cleared of suspicion after the tests came back negative, according to officials familiar with the government's probe.

The tests, which use swabs to detect the presence of anthrax spores, were conducted with the consent of those under investigation and did not require search warrants, authorities said.

Disclosure of the searches comes amid increasing concern on Capitol Hill and among some scientists over an apparent lack of progress in the FBI's anthrax probe, which has yielded no firm suspects despite thousands of interviews conducted since the deaths of five people last fall.


from Newsday

WASHINGTON-- -- IN THE SCRAMBLE to find better tools to fight terrorism, researchers at Long Island's Brookhaven National Laboratory are hoping to adapt an air pollution sensor for use in quick identification of deadly airborne pathogens.

"We may be able to see a single spore of anthrax," said Ralph James, Brookhaven's associate director for energy, environment and national security.

For several years, Brookhaven researchers have been using a sensitive spectrometer to "sniff" the air over a city for tell-tale signatures of chemical pollutants and greenhouse gases.

The device was used in separate studies last year to identify individual pollutant particles in air masses over Queens and over an island off the Korean peninsula. The year before, it was used in a study of air pollution in the Houston region.


from The Associated Press

Historians and scientists have long wondered why Nazi Germany didn't build a nuclear bomb, a debate that almost always revolves around Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg.

Did he try and fail in the effort? Or did Heisenberg ensure a bomb wasn't built?

His son thinks his father steered Germany in that direction, despite recent evidence to the contrary. It's an important debate considering Heisenberg's work as leader of Germany's nuclear fission project had the potential to change world history.


from The Washington Post

The federal government has decided not to expand a closely watched AIDS vaccine study because the vaccine has fallen short of prompting a key immune system response in volunteers, health officials said yesterday.

The AIDS vaccine regimen, one of many at various stages of testing in the United States and abroad, involves an initial "primer" shot made by Aventis Pasteur followed by a "booster" vaccine made by VaxGen of Brisbane, Calif.

Researchers had hoped that the federally funded study would shed light on which components of the immune system are most effective at fighting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But results to date indicate that by one key measure, at least, the vaccine is not potent enough to answer that question, said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which has been funding the study.


from Newsday

Seattle - Scientists are zeroing in on two new types of anti-HIV drugs that appear to be far more potent than available therapy and less toxic.

The researchers cautioned that their work is preliminary, and none of the new drugs is likely to be available commercially for at least two years.

Still, the chemicals have generated considerable excitement among the 5,000 scientists and clinicians attending the Ninth Conference on Retroviruses here.

The first drug is a new approach to controlling HIV, by blocking the virus' ability to get inside human cells.


from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists are winning the fight against cancer but it is a long, slow process and the disease that kills about six million people each year may never be eliminated, said Nobel medicine laureate Sir Paul Nurse.

Don't expect any magic bullets. Forget miracle cures.

Cancer is not one but more than 200 different types of disease and far too complicated for any quick fixes.

"Our generation will make significant progress. I really do believe that. I don't believe we will eliminate cancer," the co-director of Cancer Research UK, Europe's largest research organization, told Reuters in an interview.


from The New York Times

On the biggest steps in early human evolution scientists are in agreement. The first human ancestors appeared between five million and seven million years ago, probably when some apelike creatures in Africa began to walk habitually on two legs.

They were flaking crude stone tools by 2.5 million years ago. Then some of them spread from Africa into Asia and Europe after two million years ago.

With somewhat less certainty, most scientists think that people who look like us - anatomically modern Homo sapiens - evolved by at least 130,000 years ago from ancestors who had remained in Africa. Their brain had reached today's size. They, too, moved out of Africa and eventually replaced nonmodern human species, notably the Neanderthals in Europe and parts of Asia, and Homo erectus, typified by Java Man and Peking Man fossils in the Far East.


from The New York Times

MARINA DEL REY, Calif., Feb. 22 - Cosmology, the science of the universe in the large, is coming to resemble the literary subgenre in which stories revolve around a shadowy character who never actually appears. Call it the Godot phase of cosmology, after the Beckett play. Or the T. J. Eckleburg phase, after the optometrist whose eyes mysteriously survey the world from a giant billboard in "The Great Gatsby."

The Godot of the cosmos is dark matter, an invisible substance that scientists believe makes up nearly all the mass of the universe, though they have been unable to capture it in any detector. The cosmic T. J. Eckleburg is dark energy - a dodgy, springy kind of stuff thought to fill apparently empty space in amounts that overwhelm even the dark matter. Dark energy has not been seen either; some scientists suspect that it may be undetectable even if it is as real as prescription eyeglasses.

Those themes could not have been more vividly illustrated here this week at the Fifth International Symposium on Sources and Detection of Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe. Two possible discoveries - if correct, signs that particles of dark matter have been detected - were by far the most intensely debated. But both experiments had been undertaken by scientists who, for various reasons, never appeared at the symposium. Scientists who did attend criticized both findings as unlikely, but conceded that either would go down as one of the greatest discoveries in physics if right.


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Australian Govt report on the risks of electric and magnetic fields.

Look at the chart that shows the levels of exposure. It shows that these exposures are as high in the living and bedrooms as near a high voltage powerlines.

http://www.arpansa.gov.au/is_electricity.htm#Scientific Studies On Health Effects


The scientific evidence does not firmly establish that exposure to 50 Hz electric and magnetic fields found around the home, the office or near power lines is a hazard to human health. In view of the epidemiological studies, however, the possibility remains that intense and prolonged exposures to magnetic fields may increase the risk of leukaemia in children. If exposure to higher-than-normal magnetic fields does actually cause leukaemia at the level indicated in the Doll report, then, on average, there would be one extra case in Australia every two years. The evidence does not allow health authorities to decide whether there is a specific magnetic field level above which continuous exposure is dangerous or compromises human health.

Monday, February 25, 2002

Judge's case ruling could revolutionize fingerprint evidence

By Joann Loviglio, Associated Press, 2/25/2002


PHILADELPHIA - Ninety-one years after fingerprint evidence first appeared in an American courtroom, its reputation as an infallible forensic tool is under attack in a court challenge that could change how criminal cases are tried.

Today, federal prosecutors will try to persuade US District Judge Louis H. Pollak to reverse his recent decision barring specialists from testifying about whether a fingerprint taken from a crime scene matches a defendant. If the judge doesn't change his mind, the decision could change the way forensic evidence is gathered and presented in court.

While prosecutors and some forensic specialists say Pollak's ruling could have grave consequences, critics of fingerprint analysis say it's about time the process was reviewed.

JFK conspirators claim another victim

Harold Weisberg, a prolific author and persistent critic of the official Warren report that found a lone gunman responsible for the death of President John F. Kennedy and who was often dubbed the dean of assassination researchers, died Thursday at his home in Frederick, Md. He was 88.


Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines - February 25, 2002

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The FBI has a chief suspect in its anthrax investigation, according to a newspaper report. The Washington Times reports that federal authorities are looking at a former U.S. scientist. They believe the unidentified scientist learned how to make a weapons-grade form of the deadly bacteria at a government laboratory.

The paper cites law enforcement and other sources as saying authorities are targeting the scientist after interviewing more than 300 people tied to the government's anthrax program.

Five people ended up dying after anthrax was found in letters sent to Florida, New York, Connecticut and Washington last fall.


from The Los Angeles Times

Over the last 20 years, research on a tiny, S-shaped stomach bacterium has overturned doctors' notions about the origins and history of diseases from ulcers to cancer of the stomach.

Now, some scientists who study the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, say the tiny bug may help trace the migration of human populations across the globe.

Next week, enthusiasts from around the globe will gather in Australia to celebrate the discovery of H. pylori. While the discovery of a stomach bacterium may seem an odd thing to celebrate, this one did something big. Two Australian scientists discovered H. pylori. Pathologist Robin Warren had noticed tiny bacteria in stomach ulcer specimens and his group managed to grow them where others had failed, in part because the members left the cultures incubating for an extra long time during their Easter vacation.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

After an epic voyage of discovery to the planet Jupiter and its many moons, an aging spacecraft named Galileo is flying now toward its own destruction. Next year, it will plunge into the hot, dense atmosphere of the planet that was its goal when it first flew into space nearly a dozen years ago.

Despite a series of crises that threatened it time and again like the Perils of Pauline, Galileo's interplanetary mission has compiled one of the most successful records in the history of space exploration.

"We've had a fantastic mission," says Torrence V. Johnson, Galileo's chief scientist, who has worked on the project for more than 25 years. "We've accomplished our goals, explored an entire planetary system and encountered one surprise after another."


from The Washington Post

Since its famously flawed optics were corrected in 1993, the Hubble Space Telescope has become an icon of American science, one of the most productive astronomical instruments ever built and the flagship of NASA's exploration of the universe.

The $2 billion telescope operates 350 miles above Earth's turbulent atmosphere. It has confirmed the existence of black holes, helped astronomers zero in on the true age of the universe, opened a window on the question of how galaxies formed in the fiery aftermath of the big bang and helped astronomers map the intricacies of stellar evolution.

A larger replacement - the Next Generation Space Telescope - will not be launched until the end of the decade. While huge, ground-based telescopes now rival Hubble's powers in some areas, the space telescope remains in a class by itself.

But that is true only as long as spacewalking astronauts can repair its aging subsystems and install new, state-of-the-art instruments to keep the 24,000-pound orbiting observatory on the cutting edge of science.


compiled by The Washington Post

Swedish Warship Under Attack

Sweden's fabled Vasa, a 17th-century warship rescued from the sterile depths of Stockholm harbor to become a spectacular museum attraction, is under attack from acid forming deep inside the timbers from an enormous reservoir of sulfur deposited by three centuries of decaying bacteria, researchers have discovered.

Reporting in the Feb. 21 edition of the journal Nature, University of Stockholm chemist Magnus Sandstrom and colleagues said that sulfuric acid was attacking the wood of the Vasa chemically even as it formed sulfate mineral solids that swelled the ship's timbers unnaturally.

The Vasa, a 200-foot, 1,331-ton warship, sank in Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628 and lay undisturbed for more than three centuries in stagnant, nearly sterile water polluted by municipal sewage.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Designer babies, bionic adults and genetically "improved" humans used to be the stuff of science fiction, but now these are not merely possible but probable outcomes of biotechnology.

That was the sense of a symposium held Saturday at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

The daylong event brought together an eclectic group, ranging from Buddhist bioethicists to biotech executives, for what the academy's director, Patrick Kociolek, called an "unapologetic dialogue" about where genetics and other technologies are going.

And where better to begin such a discussion than at the beginning? Academy anthropologist Nina Jablonski made the case that a continuum links the primitive human, who used stone tools to extract the marrow from bones, to the modern scientist, who hopes to extract medicines from bone marrow.


from The New York Times

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. - "There was a time," Jeff Clark said, "when looking at the biggest waves at Maverick's was like looking at the moon from the earth and asking, 'What would it take to get there?' "

In the early 1990's, Mr. Clark and a small cadre of fellow surfers gained attention by surfing Maverick's, a spot off Pillar Point south of San Francisco with some of the largest waves on the planet. But the most massive waves, towering above 35 feet, were simply too big and fast to catch.

"We didn't have the vehicles or the technology to put us on the moon," he said.

Later in the decade the technology was found, in the form of highly maneuverable motorized personal watercraft, more commonly known as PWC's. With these machines, a surfer could be towed into waves like a skier behind a boat. The result was a staggering advance in the pursuit of waves that trip seismographs when they break.


from Rocky Mountain News

When a 6-mile-wide asteroid slammed into Earth 65 million years ago, it wiped out the dinosaurs, about 80 percent of the world's plant species, and all animals bigger than a cat. But what happened to the bugs?

It's been tough for scientists to determine how the insects fared because they rarely leave behind fossils.

But a Denver paleontologist and his Smithsonian Institution colleagues found a way around the problem: By studying insect damage etched into thousands of fossil leaves, they determined that many plant-eating bugs perished in the big impact.


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Sunday, February 24, 2002

Cult Head Predicts Human Clone in Two Years


Fri Feb 15, 6:10 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - The Canadian leader of a cult which believes in UFOs predicted on Thursday a

human clone would be born within two years, despite the best efforts of the U.S. government to block such Frankenstein-style activities.

Fifty five-year-old former sports reporter Claud Vorilhon, now known as cult chief Rael, has said a program by the human cloning company he founded was back on track to clone a person after pressure from the U.S. government stopped a first attempt last year.

Rael said the company, Clonaid, was still in the process of recreating a terminally-ill man at a secret location despite abandoning its U.S. laboratory in the wake of a March warning from the United States Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) that it would not allow experiments on cloning humans.

"The process is going well," Rael told journalists. "A baby will be born 12 to 24 months from now."

Scientists have cloned a number of animals, including Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal, and more recently a pet cat from Texas called "Cc".

But ethical reservations have so far kept the reality of human cloning out of mainstream science and last year the United States .

The emergence of medical complications with Dolly, who has developed premature arthritis, has also cast doubt over the safety of dabbling in what is normally seen as the sole preserve of God or Mother Nature.

Dressed in white and with his hair swept up in a small knot, Rael said fears of the human cloning producing "a monster" or "Frankenstein" were unfounded because faulty cells would be discarded in the Clonaid process.

"My mission is to prepare human beings for future technology," said the Raelian leader, a self-confessed lover of the Internet and video games who was in London to promote his new book.

"Life expectancy is now 90 years, at the beginning of the century is was 40 years...once we have applied this technology human beings will soon live at 700 years," he said.

Chupacabras Attacks Coastal Chilean Town / Interesting UFO

Chupacabras Attacks Coastal Chilean Town From Virgilio Sanchez-Ocejo Miami UFO Center UFOmiami@.dventures.com

Source: Diario Lider de San Antonio 2-14-2

The Chupacabras phenomenon does not cease in Chile; instead, it seems to move to different places of the country. Almost two years ago, the central coastal area of Chile witnessed strange animal deaths, particularly chickens. The animal mutilation cases took place in towns like Llo Lleo and Cartagena.

However, today it is the coastal area of Barrancas where the most recent animal mutilation cases have occurred. The dead animals, once again, presented signs of the absence of blood in their bodies, which is typical of chupacabras attacks.

A local family of Barranca is shocked and frightened by what has taken place. They are not only afraid of being subject to ridicule, but of the fact that the animal mutilations have taken place in their property. Furthermore, the fear is even greater due to uncertainty of not knowing if this phenomenon will happen again or not.

Another landlord, who did not want to appear in public, said he woke up frightened yesterday. He claimed that he waken by a strange sound made by one of the chickens outside. He quickly went outside with his son. They walked across their yard and found the dead body of a hen. It was headless and it had no blood.

It all happened at about 6:40 AM, on February the 11th. As a result, the following day, family members discussed over breakfast how that could have possibly had happened. They all seemed to agree that the crime should not go unpunished and that this must be prevented from happening again. They asked themselves, "who or what could have killed the chickens?" They came to the realization that a common animal, such as a cat or a dog simply could not have done it. "Dogs and cats don,t go around tearing chicken heads off; furthermore, they do not drain their blood", said one family member.

Previously, on the day before, their 13-year-old daughter found 5 dead chickens. In that case, they were a few weeks old and they were still in the nest located in the back yard. One of them was headless and appeared to be "bloodless" as well.

They blamed their dog, a young German Shepherd, for the death of the birds. As punishment, they locked the dog up. However, they realized that it was someone or something else other than the dog, as they found another dead chicken the following day - when the dog was locked up inside the house.

"We used to enjoy staying out in the porch until late at night. Now, we have to go inside early because we simply do not know what we are dealing with", said the girl,s father. He also stated that they have looked throughout their property for any clues as for what might have caused the death of the 6 chickens, but with inconclusive results.

The consequences of this strange event have left that particular family puzzled. They have many questions, no answers, and 5 of their domestic animals are dead.

Virgilio Sanchez-Ocejo

Miami UFO Center http://UFOmiami.dventures.com


From the LOOK magazine special issue - Flying Saucers, 1967 "Have no fear, we mean you no harm."

Not only do some persons claim to have seen UFO's but to have been in contact with saucers and space people. Daniel W. Fry of Merlin, Oregon, claims the distinction of being the first Earthman to ride in a spaceship. Fry, who identifies himself as a scientist, author, and lecturer, says the incident took place on the evening of July 4, 1950. He was strolling in the desert near White Sands, NM, when he says he came upon a flying saucer resting on the ground. He reached out to touch it, Fry says, when suddenly a friendly voice warned: "Better not touch the hull, pal, it's still hot."

Fry says there was no crew aboard the craft, so that the voice apparently came from a "Mother Ship" hovering above. He says he was invited to enter the saucer, did so, and made a round-trip flight from White Sands to New York - a distance of several thousand miles - in approximately half an hour.

He appeared recently on a radio program in St. Louis and took phone calls from the listeners. One caller asked him if he used LSD or any other drug. Fry replied, "No, they didn't have LSD in 1950."

Paul Villa, Jr., 49, a mechanic in Albuquerque, N.M., says that in 1953 he had telepathic conversation with space people. Ten years later, he says, he received a telepathic request to drive his truck to a rendezvous alone.

On June 16, 1963, about 2 p.m., Villa says he arrived at the meeting place about 15 miles south of Albuquerque. Villa says he met nine members of the crew, five women and four men, as they disembarked from their landed spacecraft through a hermetically sealed door. He says they were all "beautiful beings" ranging from seven to nine feet in height, with blond, red, or black hair. They told Villa that they were from the galaxy of Coma Berenices.

Villa says they then took off in their ship, which he estimated to be about 70 feet in diameter, and hovered over him for two hours.

West Virginian Woodrow Derenberger tells of being stopped on Interstate Highway 77 by a flying saucer whose occupant reassured him that his country was "not nearly as powerful as yours." Woodrow Derenberger is a salesman working in Parkersburg, W.V. He lives in the nearby town of Mineral Wells, is the father of two small children, and attends church regularly.

Derenberger is one of those who firmly believes he saw a flying saucer and that he spoke with one of its occupants. He says it occurred on Nov. 2, 1966, about 7 p.m. when he was driving to Parkersburg on Interstate 77 from Marietta, Ohio.

A "dark, charcoal grey object apparently made of some kind of metal and shaped something like an old kerosene lamp globe, having a flat bottom and a dome light top" came along-side his panel truck traveling at about the same speed. Then it stopped on the highway in front of him and he halted.

A man stepped out. he says, approached his car and told him to roll down the window. They talked for five or 10 minutes. The man was wearing "a short topcoat with trousers visible below and a shirt buttoned at the neck." His clothing was "blue and quite shiny, having a glistening effect."

"Have no fear, we come from a country that is not nearly as powerful as yours," the stranger said," We mean you no harm."

Derenberger said the saucer occupant communicated with him through "thought waves or mental telepathy." His lips were closed and he smiled constantly. He was described as six feet tall, 35 to 40 years old, 185 pounds and of dark complexion. The man asked what the lights were in the distance and Derenberger told him it was the city of Parkersburg. The man said a similar place in his country was called a "gathering."

Before parting, the man told Derenberger he would contact him again and suggested he notify the local authorities. The saucer, which Derenberger says had been hovering nearby, then returned to the ground and another occupant reached out the door to help his companion aboard.

"The door closed, sounding much like a car door." Derenberger says. Then the saucer took off at tremendous speed.

Derenberger says he was shaken. When he got home he telephoned the Parkersburg police and told them his story. A representative of the Air Force local recruiting station also talked with him. One officer said it was apparent Derenberger "had some sort of experience."

Doctors examined Antonio Villas Beas, a Brazilian farmer, shortly after he claimed in 1957 that he had been kidnaped by spacemen, taken aboard a spaceship, and forced to make love to a blonde spacewoman. Brazilian Antonio Villas Beas has his UFO experience on Oct. 15, 1957. He was plowing his father's field by night to avoid the heat. A spaceship, which the 23 year-old Antonio described as looking "like a huge egg" landed in the field. Five spacemen captured him, he says, hauled him inside the ship where he was stripped of his clothing and introduced to a nude spacewoman. Antonio described her as having an earthling's body with small waist, strong legs, large thighs, and well-separated breasts. She had freckles on her arms; very light skin and thin, almost white blond hair. Her face was almost Asiatic but she had slit-thin lips.

Antonio says the space girl did not let him kiss her but they made love over a period of four and one half hours. Then, he says, he was released and the spaceship flew off.

Scoutmaster J. D. Desverges told in 1952 of having his arm singed by the blast of a UFO near West Palm Beach, Florida. J. D. Desverges, a hardware salesman, scoutmaster, and former marine, said in 1952 that he not only sighted a flying saucer but came so close to one in the woods near West Palm Beach, Florida, that the hair on his forearm was singed. He was 30 years old then. Desverges said he was "blasted" by a "ball of fire" from the object when he investigated flashes of light near a country road.

Barney and Betty Hill tell of being carried aboard a spaceship in New Hampshire in 1961, and being given physical exams by spacemen. One of the most widely publicized flying saucer personal experiences is that of Barney Hill and his wife, Betty. Betty Hill, 46, is a social worker for the state of New Hampshire. Barney Hill, 44, a Negro, works for the U.S. Post Office in Portsmouth, N.H. On the night of Sept. 19, 1961, the Hills say that they were driving home to Portsmouth from a vacation in Montreal. They sighted a brilliant object in the sky nearby and shortly thereafter were halted by six "humanoid" creatures who took them aboard a spacecraft.

The spacemen gave them each careful physical examinations, the Hills say. Betty says a six-inch needle was inserted in her naval and she was told it was a pregnancy test. Then they were taken back to their car. They arrived home two hours later than the trip normally would have taken.

Boston psychiatrist Benjamin Simon who counseled the Hills said each told the same remarkable story under hypnosis. Both began to experience anxiety and they went to Boston psychiatrist Benjamin Simon. He hypnotized them separately and their stories came out with virtually no contradiction. Writer John Fuller has given a full account of the hills in a book, "The Interrupted Journey." Which was condensed in LOOK magazine.

Unusual Calf Mutilations

From: Terry W. Colvin fortean1@mindspring.com

NIDS has just posted three cases of unusual calf mutilations on the What's New section of the web site at: http://www.nidsci.org. The timeline for Case #1 is given below.

March 10, 1997 -- 10:00 AM : Two ranchers on a remote pasture in NE Utah began the daily tagging of calves born the night before. The weather was bright and sunny, temperatures in the 50s. The ranchers estimated they tagged and weighed the 87-pound animal about 100 yards from the fence line. There was a ring of snow surrounding the pasture where they tagged the animal.

After tagging the animal, they walked about 300 yards west to another newborn animal and went through the process of weighing and tagging that animal. The two were accompanied by their blue heeler dog. About 10:45 AM, the heeler began to growl and act strangely with a focus on the area they had just left.

March 10 -- 10:45 AM: The blue heeler began snarling in earnest and arching his back. Without warning, the animal ran west across the fields, away from the direction he had been looking. The heeler was never seen again.

March 10 -- 10:50 AM: The rancher and his wife, looking back, then noticed a grown cow running frantically back and forth towards the fence line while dragging her leg. Both then walked back to investigate. The rancher reported seeing the recently tagged newborn calf lying eviscerated in the field (see photos), close to where it had been tagged about 45 minutes previously. In a 45-minute period in daylight, 100 yards from any cover, with the rancher about 300 yards away, the calf had most of its body weight removed, including entrails, and appeared to have been placed carefully on the ground with no blood present on or near the animal.

March 10 -- 4:00 PM: In one of the most rapid turn-around times in NIDS' investigative history, two NIDS scientific investigators and a veterinarian were standing over the dead calf only a few hours after receiving the call from the rancher...

The full 16 page report with photographs can now be downloaded from the NIDS web site.

Also recently added to the What's New section of the NIDS web site is an essay by Dr. Eric Davis on the Incommensurability Problem and UFOs.

French court asked to ban Paris Scientology church


PARIS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A French prosecutor asked a court on Friday to consider shutting down the Church of Scientology in the greater Paris area, saying it engaged in "mental manipulation." "This is about protecting potential victims," prosecutor Christine Forey told the court in Paris. "I ask you to think about the penalty of dissolution due to the methods used by Scientology," she said.

Forey charged the church, whose U.S. branch counts Hollywood stars including Tom Cruise among its members, with attempted fraud, untruthful advertising, and violation of people's rights by holding computerised files on them.

The case is the first time the church has been taken to court in France. The French National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, considers it a sect as distinct from a religion.

The case was initiated by former members of the church, who complain they were harassed after leaving in 1999.

The church argues that it is a spiritual movement and on Friday called three members -- teachers at the universities of Helsinki, California and Madrid -- as witnesses to testify that Scientology is, for them, a religion.

The church in the United States, where it is recognised as a religion, said on Thursday it would submit a complaint to the United Nations against France for "violation of human rights."

Seeking to control the activities of sects, French legislators passed a law last year making it an offence to abuse a vulnerable person through "the exertion of heavy or repeated pressure or techniques" liable to alter his or her judgment.

The law also allows courts to ban groups if individual members are convicted of such existing offences as fraud or wrongful advertising.

Forey asked that the church be fined at least 300,000 euros ($263,200) if it were not ordered to close.

She also requested that the group's leader in Paris, Marc Walter, 60, be given a one-year suspended prison sentence.

"The methods of Scientology, its deceitful promises of results which call for large donations of money, amount to a form of mental manipulation," Forey told the court. "The aim of this organisation is purely commercial."

Walter's lawyers argued on Thursday that there was nothing stopping any member from leaving the group.

"If someone doesn't want to belong to the church anymore, we are not going to hold them back, there's no sense in that," said defence counsel Bernard Michel.

The court is due to give its verdict on May 17.

Saturday, February 23, 2002

The Fourth World Skeptics Conference

June 20-23, 2002 Burbank, California

Visit www.csicop.org and click on conference banner

The Fourth World Skeptics Conference, sponsored by the Committee for the Sci entific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) is to be held at the Hilton, Burbank Airport and Convention Center, Burbank, California, June 20-23, 2002.

Ashcroft's 'Creator' remarks faulted


Attorney General speaks on morality, terrorism to religious group
Los Angeles Times

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Attorney General John Ashcroft portrayed the battle against terrorism in starkly religious tones of good vs. evil at a sermon-style speech Tuesday, saying that "civilized" people respect freedoms granted by the Creator.

"The call to defend civilization from terrorism resonates from a deeper source than our legal or even our political institutions. Civilized individuals – Christians, Jews and Muslims – all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator," Mr. Ashcroft told the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters Association.

Mr. Ashcroft's 25-minute speech, laced with biblical quotations, took on the feel of a Sunday morning sermon, as his comments drew "amens" and frequent applause from a crowd of more than 6,000 in the ballroom of the Opryland Hotel.

His comments could revive questions that some have raised since Mr. Ashcroft's heated nomination battle last year – namely, whether his deeply held religious beliefs color his actions as the nation's chief law-enforcement official.

Mr. Ashcroft has never shied away from his religious beliefs as a public figure. He holds devotional sessions with prayer and readings nearly every day at the Justice Department. His speech Tuesday appeared to mark his most expansive public comments on the subject as attorney general.

Critics said that although they weren't surprised by Mr. Ashcroft's continued focus on issues of religion and morality, some elements of the speech made them uncomfortable.

Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit group in Washington, said he was particularly bothered by Mr. Ashcroft's focus on "civilized" people respecting freedoms granted by "the Creator."

"One of the things he's never understood is that true pluralism in our society includes those who would choose not to believe, and there are millions of Americans who fall under that umbrella," Mr. Boston said.

Controversial business faces charges, suit Kentucky among states acting against Lee's marketing tactics


By Matt Batcheldor
The Courier-Journal

See an engine that runs on a cocktail ''of pickle juice, soda pop . . . even human urine.''

Watch live electricity pass across a room ''without any wires.''

As Dennis Lee's operatives demonstrate such devices at seminars advertised on Web sites and in faxes, they ask the curious to sign up for information about a machine that will provide them with free electricity -- if it's developed.

Later they're offered $15 memberships in a ''discount club'' selling videos and devices like a plastic laundry disc that claim to end the need for detergent. Those who recruit other members into the discount club are eligible for free kilowatts of the electricity.

Lee's enterprises are based in New Jersey, but his dealers and recruiters extend throughout the country, and at least eight states, including Kentucky, have taken legal action against him.

Even so, numerous Web sites continue to promote Lee's companies, and 150 people attended a demonstration in Louisville in December. One of them, Edward Bowden, 29, insisted to a reporter that Lee's products were legitimate as the crowd watched a demonstration of how radioactive waste could be ''neutralized.''

''People have been programmed to believe these things aren't possible by the big corporations,'' said Bowden, who once lived in Louisville and now lives in West Lafayette, Ind. His brother, he said, is a dealer.

Kentucky Attorney General Ben Chandler has filed criminal charges and a lawsuit against Lee. A hearing on the civil case is set for today in Jefferson Circuit Court, when a judge will consider whether to stop Lee and his companies from doing business in Kentucky.

In the criminal case, Lee is scheduled to go on trial in District Court on March 22 on charges of not registering his business opportunity and making false earnings claims.

Lee says he is breaking no laws.

Chandler said the cases show how his office tries to stop fraudulent companies from operating in Kentucky. Last year there were 4,461 complaints of such businesses, up from 4,161 in 2000 and 4,377 in 1999.

In Lee's case, however, no one has filed a complaint with the state.

Here's a look at how he operates, and what the state is doing:

Divine inspiration

Lee, who said he didn't graduate from college, likens himself to Albert Einstein, who never attended college, and the Wright brothers, whose dreams of flight initially were mocked.

''It's not about me, it's not about intelligence. It's about God revealing things to people,'' Lee told a reporter at his Louisville show.

Web sites and faxes promoting Lee's enterprises say things like: ''See what Big Business and Big Government do not want you to know.''

The promotions are crafted to appeal to religious people and those who distrust the government, said Harold Turner, who manages the Louisville branch of the attorney general's consumer protection division.

Lee says scientists have filed affidavits attesting that his machines work, but he would not provide them.

Chandler, however, said several experts have dismissed Lee's claims as unsupported by science.

And authorities in Vermont, Maine, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Illinois and Alaska have issued orders either prohibiting or limiting Lee's promotions.

Warning letters ignored

Lee's legal troubles in Kentucky began Oct. 8, when he arrived at the Holiday Inn on Fern Valley Road, one of the final stops of his national tour.

Despite two warning letters from Chandler, he was preparing a demonstration where, according to his Web site, people could witness seemingly impossible things: burning pure water to cut through thick steel and turning one element into another ''as the alchemists believed.''

But the show didn't come off.

Lee was arrested in his hotel room and charged with making unsubstantiated earnings claims; not registering his business opportunity; and not posting the required $75,000 bond -- all felonies. Chandler said the letters gave Lee fair warning.

''That's what we would say to anybody coming into Kentucky -- that you need to abide by those laws . . . (so we) know you're out there and have some idea of what you're engaging in, and also that you've got some kind of bond that will protect people if you harm them.''

Lee's brother, Stanley Lee of Louisville, posted his $50,000 bail bond.

Then Dennis Lee decided to try Louisville again and advertised a show in December.

One of his promotional faxes sent to The Courier-Journal read:

''There is nothing for sale at the show. There are no business opportunities or dealerships available to Kentucky residents . . . only free gifts, a part-time job (if you want it) and a whole line of amazing products. Sign up to possibly never pay an energy bill again. Make incredible money spreading the word. There is absolutely no investment ever.''

Picking legal battles

Lee didn't make presentations at the December show, but he was in the audience. And that's when the attorney general filed suit, seeking a restraining order against him and his companies.

It's more practical to charge Lee with not registering his business and violating the Consumer Protection Act than trying to prove his gadgets don't work, Turner said. Judges can be lenient in deciding what is a legitimate product, so the attorney general's office rarely seeks criminal trials on those grounds, he said.

Instead, the state's suit claims that Lee and his companies used deceptive advertising, and that the ''revolutionary technologies'' seminars are a front for Lee's companies: United Community Services of America, Better World Technologies and the International Tesla Electric Co.

Turner said Lee is using the seminars to sell dealerships -- some for up to $100,000.

In an interview, Lee denied that, saying all his dealerships were sold 10 years ago. Individual dealers may sell their dealerships, but that isn't his responsibility, he says.

Turner, however, said Lee is responsible because he sets the conditions for dealerships.

There's no way to tell how many people Lee has recruited through expensive dealerships or $15 memberships.

Victims often are unwilling to come forward, out of fear of looking foolish or a desire to protect friends who got them involved, Turner said. Even people who aren't making money as they're promised may remain loyal to the scheme because they distrust the government, he added.

Lee told a reporter that he's being persecuted because Kentucky's coal industry feels threatened by his ideas.

''We don't have free enterprise anymore,'' he said. ''What we have is good ol' boy politics.''

Glow-In-The-Dark Graves Worry Police

By Andrew Marshall

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan police are cracking down on a shrine that has grown up around the graves of al Qaeda fighters at a Kandahar cemetery, saying it has been abused by charlatans promising supernatural cures and miracles.

Police sources told Reuters on Monday they had carried out several raids on the grave site in a windswept corner of a vast burial ground on the eastern edge of Kandahar to try to prevent pro-Taliban residents gathering there.

"One man buried electric bulbs in the graves and told people it was magical light that could heal them," a senior police official said. "He has been arrested. We respect the graves but we do not respect such people."

More than 80 Arab, Pakistani, Chechen and African fighters from Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network lie buried at the site under simple earth mounds marked with stones. Colored flags flutter in the wind, many inscribed with Koranic verses.

The graves have become a place of pilgrimage for Afghans who supported the Taliban and mourn their departure.

The site is usually the busiest part of the graveyard, a flat dusty plain that stretches into the desert at the edge of the city, with thousands of graves and a few domed mud-brick tombs.

Word has spread that the al Qaeda graves have magical healing properties, and scores of people congregate there every day, some to pay their respects, and others hoping their diseases or disabilities will be cured.

"The police have told people not to come, but we are still coming," said Aziz Mohammad, an elderly white-bearded Afghan who says he visits the graves every day.

"Handicapped people and sick people have been cured by coming here. This is a holy place."

In a city where many are suspicious of the changes sweeping through their country, the crowds holding a vigil at the cemetery show that support for the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies has not disappeared in Afghanistan.

But the austere Islamic Taliban movement, which tolerated no superstition, would have been appalled.

UFO Fly-By Predicted for the Olympics

By James Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - The massive security at the Winter Games could be put to the test Thursday when a delegation arrives in an unusual fashion.

Intergalactic visitors are expected in the early evening, according to a woman who claims to have had "multiple visitations" by the aliens.

"The Brotherhood of Light will make their presence known on Thursday, February 21 over the Olympic city," said Victoria Liljenquist of Phoenix, Arizona.

Since she arrived in Utah a week ago Liljenquist has been talking with scores of reporters -- and anyone else who will listen -- about her prediction of a friendly fly-by of space travelers.

"I pinned them down -- between noon and 5 p.m.," said Liljenquist.

Liljenquist, 46, claims she was first "contacted" by these visitors when she was 13 years old living in northern Utah. Since then she's had many visits from them.

Her claims have had the BBC and other UFO documentary producers calling her.

She said during one of the appearances by these other-world beings she was told she was going to do something major for humanity when she was in her 40's.

"They want to make contact and to be in unity and peace with us," said Liljenquist.

Unidentified flying objects flying overhead during the Games is her destiny and a "wake-up call" for everyone she said.

"It could be a cigar shaped-craft with a scout fleet," she said.

"They're benevolent beings, a peaceful entrance of making their presence known. They want the world to unite together," she said.

Protesters, scalpers, religious zealots and pin traders have been gathering for weeks in downtown Olympic Square areas. So what is another stranger in the neighborhood going to hurt anyway?

Anyone who wants to know more about the UFO prediction and Victoria can visit her Web site at www.victoriaslight.com.

"I think a lot of people will see it," Liljenquist said, "I hope it's good weather."

Boob gel gives 'three-inch increase' in size


The makers of a gel claim it increases bust size by three inches.

They say Bust Booster works in minutes but lasts for five hours.

It is reported to work by increasing blood flow and swelling the breasts by one cup size.

The £60-a-tube gel is being imported from America, reports the Daily Record.

David Green, boss of UK distribution firm Studio Holdings, said: "Bust Booster is like an instant alternative to breast enhancement surgery.

"Those who don't believe it works should rub it on one boob first and see the difference it makes. Thousands have already used it and found it safe.

"All the girls in my distribution centre have tried it and they have been amazed by the results. You see your boobs grow in front of you."

The distributors claim to have had several enquiries from men who want to know if the gel works on other parts of the anatomy.

A spokeswoman said: "For some reason men seem particularly interested in this side of things. The good news is that it seems to work on more or less anywhere - which might mean the gel is as popular with men as it is with women."

More information about Bust Booster is available at www.thermohealth.com.

Times go back to front


Students of the psychic and mystical are on the alert for a phenomenon which will not happen again for another 110 years.

At two minutes past eight this evening the time and date will read 20:02,20.02,2002 - the same backwards as it is forwards.

There is no other palindromic calendar occurrence involving just two numbers and perfect repetition at each stage until the year 2112.

Many are convinced the moment holds great mystical significance.

Psychic Uri Geller is heading an experiment to use the energy allegedly created by the date to help people change their lives.

He says he can make people's dreams come true by sending out a psychic message at 8.02pm.

He said: "It's an unusual date and it's the H-type of synchronised event that comes to us from the universe and beyond.

"I'm trying to capitalise on this event to trigger those psychic abilities that lie dormant in all of us."

Although such perfect repetition two-number calendar palindromes are rare, other palindromes occur three more times this year - March 30, for instance, works out to 20:02, 03.30, 2002 - and more than a hundred times this century.


"Everybody Knows It." But did it happen? Was it a truck or a plane?


le jeu des 7 erreurs

Tout le monde le sait. Le 11 septembre, moins d'une heure après l'attentat contre le World Trade Center, un avion a percuté l'immeuble du Département de la Défense. Une première dépêche de l'Associated Press avait fait état d'un camion piégé. Mais elle a été rapidement démentie par le Pentagone. La version officielle ne fait aucun doute. Petit jeu : trouvez dans ces images des éléments pouvant accréditer la thèse officielle.

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