NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 March 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, March 05, 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 – March 5, 2002

from The New York Times

In an echo of claims that limitless, cheap energy could be generated through "cold fusion" 13 years ago, a team of scientists will report in Friday's issue of the journal Science that it has achieved nuclear fusion in a small, tabletop experiment. But even before the findings reach print, many scientists are already expressing skepticism and are wondering why Science accepted the article over the doubts.

In the article, researchers led by Rusi Taleyarkhan, a senior scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Richard T. Lahey Jr., a professor of engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., say that by blasting liquid acetone with ultrasound, they cause bubbles in the acetone to collapse with such ferocity that they reach temperatures of several million degrees, where atoms can fuse and release bursts of energy.

"We've repeated it many times, and we made the first measurements more than a year ago," Dr. Lahey said in an interview yesterday. "I think it's real."


from The Washington Post

Nuclear physicists split yesterday into camps of excitement and skepticism after a group of scientists announced it may have created nuclear fusion -- the awesome power that fuels the sun -- in a device the size of two coffee cups stacked one atop the other.

The work, so simple and elegant, could create a virtually endless source of clean, renewable energy and change the world. But it also could be just another false alarm, like a 1989 report about "cold fusion" that drew huge attention before being dismissed as a dud.

"At first blush, we were very excited about it," said Lawrence Crum, a physicist at the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle. Closer examination suggested that skepticism was in order, he said, adding, "the researchers might be deluded by Mother Nature, whose principal object in life is to make fools of scientists."


from The Boston Globe

Sharing is as core a value as any in science. At least that's what Albert Einstein said.

''The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true,'' states a quote emblazoned on a bronze of the master physicist at the National Academy of Sciences headquarters in Washington.

But, for many academic researchers today, Einstein's statement is far from absolute.

''I humbly have to admit that between only 15 to 20 percent of my requests are fulfilled. I cannot afford to do anything else,'' said Tak Mak, a leading genetics researcher at the University of Toronto.

In fact, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, nearly 50 percent of surveyed geneticists at major US academic institutions said that another faculty member had denied them at least one request for information in the past three years. The study also found that geneticists are vastly more likely to believe that sharing has decreased in their field over the past decade than that it has increased - a startling figure given how much easier the Internet has made the transfer of information.


from The Boston Globe

Comic book physics

One of the recent insights that physics has brought to sociology has been the understanding that collaborative networks have well-defined statistical properties - and now research shows the same sorts of characteristics in the imaginary world of comic book superheroes. Ricardo Alberich and colleagues at the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain have shown that over 40 years, Marvel comics characters have appeared in each other's comics and formed alliances in much the same way that real humans do. Spiderman, perhaps not surprisingly, had the largest web of connections.

ref.: e-print at http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/cond-mat/0202174, Feb. 11, 2002.


from The Associated Press

CHICAGO - Presenting fresh evidence of an intriguing link between sleep problems and attention deficit disorders, new research suggests children who snore face nearly double the risk of being inattentive and hyperactive.

While the study doesn't answer whether one condition causes the other, the researchers believe snoring and other sleep problems may be the culprit in some cases because children often express sleepiness by being inattentive and "hyper."

If it turns out to be true, this theory could help explain the paradox over why stimulants such as Ritalin can effectively treat children with conditions like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder who already seem over-stimulated, said Dr. Ronald Chervin, a University of Michigan neurologist and sleep researcher, and the study's lead author.


from The New York Times

Nobody knows why our early ancestors decided to get off their knuckles and stand upright. Maybe they just wanted a better view of the stars.

And when sky gazers finally realized that the heavenly lights were not the footprints of the gods, but rather millions of blazing stars like our Sun writ far, they began to wonder, How do we get there? How can we leave this world and travel, not merely the 238,000 miles to the Moon, or 35 million miles to Mars, but through the vast dark silk of interstellar space, across trillions and trillions of miles, to encounter other stars, other solar systems, even other civilizations?

According to a group of scientists for whom the term "wildly optimistic dreamers" is virtually a job description, it will indeed be very difficult to travel to other stars, and nobody in either the public or private sector is about to try it any time soon. But as the researchers see it, the challenge is not insurmountable, it requires no defiance of the laws of physics, so why not have fun and start thinking about it now?


Medical researchers fear the group that says space aliens have instructed them to start cloning humans will cause lawmakers to ban the technique.

from The Los Angeles Times

VALCOURT, Canada -- In the course of 29 years, Claude Vorilhon built a small yet international religious group by preaching that scientists from another planet created all life on Earth. But in 1998, Vorilhon had an especially big pronouncement for his 5,000 or so followers: The creators would soon board their flying saucers and return. It was time to prepare.

And so Vorilhon called for beautiful young women in his group to step forward as hostesses for the arriving aliens. Members of the elite Order of the Angels were to devote themselves fully--and in some cases sexually--to the creators and their prophet on Earth, Vorilhon. According to former members, well more than 100 women volunteered.

It is an unusual tale, but the strangest part may be this: Today, Vorilhon has won a prominent role in one of the most sober policy decisions before Congress--whether to outlaw human cloning, even as a research tool that might help cure disease. At the direction of the aliens, Vorilhon says, his group is working to create the world's first cloned child. Some of the Angels have agreed to act as the egg donors and surrogate mothers that the process requires.


from The Washington Post

As scientific arguments go, the great debate of recent years over how best to unravel the genetic map of the human race never seems to end. Every time scientists think it has died down, the dispute comes roaring back.

The latest installment, due for electronic publication today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a detailed analysis by three leading figures of the international Human Genome Project of the work done by their former competitor, Celera Genomics Corp. That's the Rockville company that raced them to a draw two years ago in compiling a draft map of the genome, the entire complement of human genetic instructions.

The scientists conclude that the scientific paper Celera published about its experiment, an attempt to apply a fancy new technique to the problem of creating genetic maps, essentially didn't prove the case. After analyzing that paper in detail, the scientists said the company relied so heavily on a public database compiled by the Human Genome Project that it's impossible to know whether Celera's rapid-fire approach would have worked on its own.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

The Assemblies of God

General Info:


AG and LDS comparison:

The AG on Homosexuality:

Omega΄s cruelest legacy: Suspension of disbelief


Published Online February 24, 2002

A California psychologist who specializes in helping people to distinguish fantasy from reality admits now that he, too, was a victim of Omega Trust and Trading. Maurice Rapkin, 85, of Encino, Calif., claims he personally sent in about $30,000 – all in cash – as "loans" to Michael Kodosky, Arlene Diamond and Clyde Hood for the Omega program, which was supposed to be an overseas prime bank note trading program that would generate "huge payouts." Rapkin's friends, members of his family and associates also were convinced to participate and all of them intended to use the money for charities, he said.

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 – March 4, 2002

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, March 3 — With the Hubble Space Telescope secured to the space shuttle Columbia, astronauts today began the arduous weeklong task of overhauling the orbiting observatory to enhance its ability to explore the universe.

Columbia and its crew of seven ended a two-day chase early today by slowly pulling up to the 12.5-ton observatory and taking it aboard as they flew 362 miles above Earth.

Cmdr. Scott D. Altman, the mission commander, maneuvered Columbia to within 35 feet of the four- story telescope, and Lt. Col. Nancy J. Currie of the Army reached out with the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm to grab it at 4:31 a.m. Eastern time while the two craft soared over the Pacific Ocean southwest of Mexico.


from The Los Angeles Times

Twenty times larger than the sun, tens of thousands of times larger than Earth, the largest object in the solar system is a violent, radiation- filled magnetic bubble that surrounds Jupiter, according to new data resulting from the timely rendezvous of two spacecraft around the giant planet.

"This inner region is probably the most intense and hazardous environment in the solar system except for the surface of the sun. It's the extreme of the extreme," said Scott Bolton, a space physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who worked on several of the new studies.

Jupiter's magnetic field arises from electric currents generated by the planet's metallic interior. Earth has a magnetic field too, but it is much smaller and simpler than Jupiter's. Both magnetospheres contract and expand dramatically as they are buffeted by the solar wind, the streams of charged particles that are hurled into space by the ferocious activity of the sun. But the vagaries of Jupiter's magnetosphere have remained a mystery. Many of the signals it generates are trapped; those that do escape can't penetrate Earth's protective atmosphere.


from The Washington Post

"Venice, lost and won, her thirteen hundred years of freedom done, sinks, like a sea-weed, into whence she rose," wrote Lord Byron in "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage."

While Byron's dire prediction of the early 1800s has yet to come true, "the evidence certainly is there that Venice is disappearing at a fairly fast rate," according to Maria Livia Tosato, a science adviser to the Italian government in Rome.

Venice's low-lying location has forever linked its fortunes with tide levels, prevailing winds, and now, the rising waters of the Adriatic Sea. A constellation of 118 small islands in the middle of a large lagoon at the head of the Adriatic, Venice's future, say scientists, policymakers and residents, depends on preventing the Adriatic's waters from carrying away the city itself.

"Sea-level rise and the increased tidal flooding it brings have certainly imperiled Venice and its citizens and visitors," said Rafael Bras, a civil and environmental engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies the effects of rising sea levels on Venice. "Engineering solutions need to be found if the city is to be saved for future generations."


from The San Francisco Chronicle

A controversial new book by a Danish statistician claims that environmentally speaking, the world is getting better, contrary to the headline-making scary scenarios of the last few decades.

Some scientists are upset by the book, which they say is a case study in the perils of the old saw about "lies, damned lies and statistics." But other experts welcome it as a breath of optimistic air amid the often alarmist press coverage of the planetary environment.

Whoever's right, the fuss illustrates the challenge facing scientifically savvy citizens: How can they decide what is and isn't "good science" when the disputes are so technically complex and the atmosphere is so politically charged?

The book is "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and associate professor of political science at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. Published by Cambridge University Press, the book is a 515- page survey of global trends in everything from human population and grain production to illiteracy, working hours and planetary forest cover.


from The Los Angeles Times

One of my students told me he was writing a paper about the efforts of the United States to maintain neutrality during World War I.

And I thought: Right. As if anything can remain neutral in our universe for long.

Strange to say, but the universe does not run well in neutral. Most of the time, the only way to stay in place is to keep moving. The status quo needs constant tending. Doing nothing is not an option--or perhaps I should say: Nothing doing! *

Take something really simple. Say you are sitting on a chair, reading this column, thinking there is not much going on (physically speaking), assuming that it doesn't require an exertion of force to stay put. You would of course be wrong.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Monday, March 04, 2002

China cracks down on growing faiths

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Globe Staff, 3/2/2002


BEIJING - China's widening crackdown on unregistered religions coincides with a dramatic rise in the number of Chinese who are embracing faiths, especially Christianity, according to official figures and independent groups.

Critics of the government's stepped-up campaign say Beijing is worried that if more Chinese come to believe in God than in communism, they may organize and threaten the regime. Authorities counter that they are safeguarding society from cults and charlatans who trick the ignorant and endanger public safety.

The truth seems to lie somewhere in between.

Intelligent Design presentations in Cincinnati

Intelligent design explicated

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP -- Intelligent design theory will be explained in an eight-week series that begins today.

Videos will be shown 6-7:10 p.m. Sunday evenings today through March 24 and April 14-May 5 at Mount Washington Church of Christ, 6986 Salem Road, Anderson Township. Dr. Robert Lattimer, a member of the Ohio Science Standards Writing Team, will be the featured speaker April 28.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation to include intelligent design theory in the Ohio State Science Standards, which are being revised. Intelligent design theory maintains the world was created by an intelligent designer.

The sessions are hosted by Joel Roadruck, an Anderson Township man who in February 2001 asked the Forest Hills School District to include intelligent design materials as a supplement to science textbooks that teach evolution. The board declined.


David K. Wall

The Saints Just Keep Marching In


March 3, 2002


JOHN PAUL II thinks big. In the course of his 23-year pontificate, the holy father - who is 81 and ailing but may yet turn out to be the Strom Thurmond of popes - has taken on both communism and the excesses of capitalism. He has upended centuries of Italian tradition inside the Vatican and unambiguously invited Catholics who dissent on doctrine to find spiritual homes elsewhere.

He also tends toward sheer volume. He speaks 8 languages, has visited 115 countries and written enough encyclicals and letters to fill 150 books. He has certainly made more apologies than any of his predecessors. And he has named more saints.

Zombie detectors


For a short time only Zombie Alert is offering much more than simply the chance to save your family from a bloody disgusting death. In additon Onko is offering a limited number of Zombie Alert Franchise Dealerships and the potential for you to bring in thousands of dollars a day by doing little more than sitting on your butt.

The finacial wizards at Onko have developed a revolutionary new method of distibuting their zombie detection products to the consumer. Totally different from the common 'multi-level marketing' and pyramid schemes of the past, the Onko franchise dealership plan uses the patented "layered mechandizing" approach. No pyramids here. Instead the organization is built upon the ultra solid concept of the "cone." In the old discredited pyramid approach all the real money flows to the few at the top. In the cone approach to layered merchandizing, the strength of the plan is in its wide round base. And as a newcomer to the program that is exactly where you get to start - at the strongest and most stable portion of the organization.

Just think of it. Not only can you be saving your friends and family from being torn to shreds by heartless zombies, but you can also assure yourself an income that you never imagined possible.

Thieves slink off with anti-Satan sentries


Undaunted, a local pastor will replace them with longer posts anchored with concrete.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

INGLIS -- What a rip. You fly all the way from Germany, video cameras in tow, and they're gone.

Blame it on the devil.

The German television crew in town Friday to interview Mayor Carolyn Risher, she of Satan-banning repute, surely got plenty of good material. But one of the key visuals in this wicked tale has vanished.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions


Click to purchase

Wendy Kaminer
1992, Addison-Wesley; 180p.
newage:history, newage:sociology, psychology, quackery:anthropology,
quackery:philosophy, religion:sociology
An attorney, commentator, and social critic, Kaminer provides an astute, witty, and devastating critique of the billion-dollar recovery movement/industry in the USA. Her perspective is that of an observer, not a participant, of the various 12-step groups, workshops, conferences, and rituals she attended. She bemoans the intellectual bankruptcy of the numerous best-selling "recovery," self-help, and pop psychology books. She describes how members of 12-step groups encourage a childish, addicted, and dysfunctional mentality. People see themselves as self-centered, helpless victims, not as individuals with the capacity to learn, achieve, and change their world. Kaminer is especially critical of new age nonsense and popular theology. Throughout the book Kaminer seems sad that society has completely and credulously accepted -- and embraced -- the sheer stupidity of the recovery movement and its pathetic victim imagination. However, she readily admits she has no answers to the problems she presents. Overall, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the recovery movement.

[ Reviewed by Saffron Monsoon, smonsoon@yahoo.com ]

Please visit the rest of the bibliography at

Consider contributing an entry or two yourself...
Taner Edis, SKEPTIC Bibliographer

You, too, can be a telephone psychic

Just follow Miss Cleo' script.


Saturday, March 02, 2002

Caught by feng shui's fangs

By Joel Warner, Globe Correspondent, 2/24/2002


Lynn and Richard Blumberg want to turn their 34 LaGrange St. residence into their dream house. But to next-door neighbors Xiaowei Yan and Janmei Che, their plans seemed a feng shui nightmare.

The Atlantis Syndrome

Good summary and debunking of Atlantean myths, past and current. Jordan surveys the history of the myth, starting with Plato and ending up with today's Antlantean writers: Rose and Rand Flem-Ath, Graham Hancock, and Andrew Collins. Along the way, he also examines ideas like an Atlantis-Thera connection. He always compares "alternative archaeology" with the real version, concluding that "Modern Atlantology is in essence little more than certain vulgar assumptions of Western religion and colonialism unthinkingly imposed on the entire past history of the human race."

Buy it here.

From CSICOP at:


Psychic took life savings of $320,000, suit claims


By Dani Davies, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Self-described psychic Linda Marks told LeRoy Hoffert of Boynton Beach she could save his life.

When the 85-year-old leukemia patient saw snakes squirm out of the chicken egg he brought into Marks' clairvoyant shop, he believed her.

In about eight months, Hoffert had paid Marks and her husband, James, about $320,000 -- his life savings -- keeping it secret from his wife. Hoffert even bought a pricey sport utility vehicle for Linda Marks.

"She told him she needed a Cadillac to pray in," Dolores Hoffert said.

Hoffert, now 87, and his wife filed suit Monday against the psychic couple and The Psychic Shop they own in Delray Beach alleging consumer fraud, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy, among other counts.

The complaint also names Delray Beach police officer Jack Makler, a former detective who investigated the psychic business, and the city of Delray Beach.

Makler was a friend and one-time employee of the Marks couple who had investigated similar complaints against them and had never pursued criminal charges, according to the complaint filed by attorney Barry Silver of Boca Raton.

Police spokesman Jeff Messer said Monday no one in the department could comment about the allegations because of the lawsuit.

LeRoy Hoffert emptied a safe in his home and several bank accounts before his wife noticed the money was missing. When she asked him where it went, he said, "If I tell you, I'm a dead man."

Linda Marks, 54, had convinced LeRoy Hoffert that she could cure his disease only if he remained silent about their deal, the complaint said. She said she would return his money to him as soon as she cured his illness, the complaint said.

At one point, Linda Marks told him to bring a chicken egg that he had placed under his bed on a white handkerchief the night before. When she cracked it open into a bowl of water, Hoffert said Monday, he saw small squirming snakes come out of the egg.

According to the complaint, Linda Marks told him the snakes were symbols of the evil spirits in his wife, who was cheating on him and trying to kill him. She could get rid of the spirits, as well as his sickness, if he followed her instructions. Marks told Hoffert to lock his bedroom door to keep his wife away.

"How cruel. How cruel to do that to someone who is dying," Dolores Hoffert said.

The Markses' attorney, Joel Hirschhorn of Coral Gables, wouldn't discuss specifics of the case Monday. "I will say there may be some truth to the allegation that they are not real psychics because if they were, they would have seen this coming," he said. "This lawsuit is no surprise to me, and I didn't need a crystal ball to figure that out."

Police records show that the Markses repaid some of the money to the Hofferts through Makler. Dolores Hoffert said she got $86,000 before she gave up on the dwindling payments and decided to file suit. Hirschhorn said his clients paid closer to $100,000.

According to the complaint, Makler delivered money to the Hofferts and advised them that the only way they would see more of it was to forgo criminal charges and let "Makler quietly recover as much money as they would agree to give back. He also advised the plaintiffs not to tell anyone about the fraud." Since 1991, James Marks has been arrested 11 times on charges such as fraud, grand larceny, domestic battery and drug trafficking, according to state records. Linda Marks has no criminal record in Florida.

LeRoy Hoffert said that on the day he walked into The Psychic Shop, he had reached a point where doctors couldn't do anything for him. The Markses offered some hope.

"What they told me was that they could save my life," said LeRoy Hoffert. "I feel that I made a big mistake."

The suit also names Southtrust Bank as a defendant. In the complaint, Silver criticized the bank for allowing Hoffert to withdraw hundreds of thousands of dollars "when it was readily apparent to even the casual observer, let alone an expert, that he was in no physical, psychological or mental condition to make such huge withdrawals."

Evangelist Blames Jews on 1972 Tape


Associated Press Writer

March 1, 2002, 5:02 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- Thirty years ago, the Rev. Billy Graham said a Jewish "stranglehold" of the media was ruining the country and must be broken, according to a newly released tape of a 1972 conversation between the famous evangelist and President Nixon.

The conversation was among 500 hours of Nixon tapes released by the National Archives. Most were recorded between January and June 1972.

In the conversation, Graham expressed disdain for what he saw as Jewish domination of the media.

The Cryptozoology Jungle


The Cryptozoology Jungle is a resource offering information and latest news on the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Yeti, Chupacabra, Giant Anaconda, Mothman and many more strange creatures. Project Monarch: The Tangled Web by Martin Cannon


Since 1991, Mark Phillips and Cathy O'Brien have alternately appalled and enthralled their growing audience with tales of mind control, programmed prostitution, ritual abuse, and worse. The handsome couple from Tennessee initially told their story to a select group of writers and journalists. Now, they spread the word via right-wing periodicals and outside-the-mainstream radio programs. They've also written a book: Trance-formation of America.

Cathy claims to be a victim of the Monarch Project, an insidious CIA/military/Satanist plan to use ritual abuse victims as mind-controlled guinea pigs. Victims of the plot, almost always female, grew up within multi-generational Satanic families. Sold by their parents to government brainwashers, Monarch kids are intentionally "split" into directed multiple personalities, useful for various criminal purposes - as spies, as drug mules, as prostitutes, and so forth. The well-developed primary personality never realizes what was done by, or to, the alter personalities. Powerful individuals with a taste for sexual excess choose their playmates from the ranks of Monarch graduates, the better to avoid after-the-fact blackmailers and tattle-talers, a la Vicki Morgan and (if you believe certain writers) Marilyn Monroe. For example, O'Brien describes in detail how one important aide to Ronald Reagan enjoyed raping her anally while using a stun device to prod her body with electric convulsions. This is the sort of fetish that might cause some concern among the voters, if ever they learned the truth. Hence, Monarch.

Radical New Views of Islam and the Origins of the Koran


The New York Times
March 2, 2002

To Muslims the Koran is the very word of God, who spoke through the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad: "This book is not to be doubted," the Koran declares unequivocally at its beginning. Scholars and writers in Islamic countries who have ignored that warning have sometimes found themselves the target of death threats and violence, sending a chill through universities around the world.

Yet despite the fear, a handful of experts have been quietly investigating the origins of the Koran, offering radically new theories about the text's meaning and the rise of Islam.

Meditation mapped in monks


Friday, 1 March, 2002, 08:38 GMT
Meditation mapped in monks

Scientists investigating the effect of the meditative state on Buddhist monk's brains have found that portions of the organ previously active become quiet, whilst pacified areas become stimulated.

Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, US, told BBC World Service's Discovery programme: "I think we are poised at a wonderful time in our history to be able to explore religion and spirituality in a way which was never thought possible."

Using a brain imaging technique, Newberg and his team studied a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks as they meditated for approximately one hour.

When they reached a transcendental high, they were asked to pull a kite string to their right, releasing an injection of a radioactive tracer. By injecting a tiny amount of radioactive marker into the bloodstream of a deep meditator, the scientists soon saw how the dye moved to active parts of the brain.

Sense of space

Later, once the subjects had finished meditating, the regions were imaged and the meditation state compared with the normal waking state.

The scans provided remarkable clues about what goes on in the brain during meditation.

"There was an increase in activity in the front part of the brain, the area that is activated when anyone focuses attention on a particular task," Dr Newberg explained.

In addition, a notable decrease in activity in the back part of the brain, or parietal lobe, recognised as the area responsible for orientation, reinforced the general suggestion that meditation leads to a lack of spatial awareness.

Dr Newberg explained: "During meditation, people have a loss of the sense of self and frequently experience a sense of no space and time and that was exactly what we saw."

Prayer power

The complex interaction between different areas of the brain also resembles the pattern of activity that occurs during other so-called spiritual or mystical experiences.

Dr Newberg's earlier studies have involved the brain activity of Franciscan nuns during a type of prayer known as "centring".

As the prayer has a verbal element other parts of the brain are used but Dr Newberg also found that they, "activated the attention area of the brain, and diminished activity in the orientation area."

This is not the first time that scientists have investigated spirituality. In 1998, the healing benefits of prayer were alluded to when a group of scientists in the US studied how patients with heart conditions experienced fewer complications following periods of "intercessory prayer".

Inner world

And at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston last month, scientists from Stanford University detailed their research into the positive affects that hypnotherapy can have in helping people cope with long-term illnesses.

Scientific study of both the physical world and the inner world of human experiences are, according to Dr Newberg, equally beneficial.

"When someone has a mystical experience, they perceive that sense of reality to be far greater and far clearer than our usual everyday sense of reality," he said.

He added: "Since the sense of spiritual reality is more powerful and clear, perhaps that sense of reality is more accurate than our scientific everyday sense of reality."

A Boy Genius? Maybe Not, Mother Admits

March 2, 2002


DENVER, Feb. 23 - Justin Chapman was the smartest little boy in the world.

There were documents to prove it: An I.Q. test, given when Justin was 6, recording his score at 298- plus, the highest on record. A perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT. Another intelligence test, taken when he was 3, on which he maxed out the scale.

Based on such achievements, Justin enrolled in an online high school at 5, and at 6 he took courses at the University of Rochester in New York.

He met with Gov. George E. Pataki of New York. He was featured in a BBC documentary about child geniuses. He spoke at conferences about the special needs of highly gifted children.

His mother, Elizabeth Chapman, told reporters how her son walked and talked precociously, evinced a relentless hunger for learning and needed only two to five hours of sleep each night.

But in an interview with The New York Times after a newspaper raised doubts about Justin's accomplishments, Ms. Chapman admitted that many of the records attesting to his superior intelligence were a sham. Ms. Chapman said she falsified the records of the I.Q. test given when Justin was 3. The SAT scores, she said, belonged to a former neighbor's son. She also said Justin had studied the manual for the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale before taking the test in April 2000.


Spacecraft Sends Its First Images of Mars

March 2, 2002


Eleven months after its departure from Earth and four months after its arrival at Mars, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft has finally settled into its working orbit and started sending back pictures and other scientific observations of the planet.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration yesterday made public the mission's first mapping pictures and other data, including evidence of significant amounts of frozen water on and under the Martian surface.


Resort complex on Mars


Friday, March 01, 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 – March 1, 2002

from The Washington Post

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The veteran space shuttle Columbia rocketed into space early today on a high-stakes mission to replace the electronic heart of the Hubble Space Telescope and to install a $75 million digital camera to extend its scientific reach.

Fresh from a 2½-year, $100-million overhaul, NASA's oldest shuttle roared to life at 6:22 a.m. EST and thundered away from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, lighting up the predawn sky for miles around as it vaulted away through a partly cloudy sky.

Putting on a spectacular show, Columbia knifed through a thin layer of clouds over the launchpad as the Hubble Space Telescope, a clearly visible target 350 miles up, sailed overhead at five miles per second.


from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A top enforcement official with the Environmental Protection Agency has resigned, saying in a two-page letter that the Bush administration has failed to crack down on companies that pour 7 million tons of toxins into the air every year.

Eric V. Schaeffer ended his 12-year EPA career Wednesday with a missive accusing the administration of dragging its feet on lawsuits filed against nine power companies he blamed for one-fourth of the nation's annual sulfur dioxide pollution--a gas known to cause haze, acid rain and lung ailments.

Schaeffer, the agency's director of regulatory enforcement and a decorated civil servant, said he has been "fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce." Addressed to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, the letter said the administration's 90-day review of clean air laws had stretched to nine months, derailing negotiations with the nine power companies and weakening attempts to regulate coal-fired smokestacks built without the updated pollution controls required by law.


from Newsday

Genetic testing to determine whether a woman carries a high risk of cancer is paying off in early diagnoses and treatment, doctors in New York announced yesterday.

Even as cancer gene mutations were being discovered, doctors debated whether genetic testing would be worthwhile or would simply heighten fear. This new study and others suggest that testing patients thought to be at high risk is worthwhile.

According to a research team at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, among 251 women carrying one of the mutant genes, 21 were later diagnosed with breast, ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal tumors. Half of the breast tumors were detected early via mammography and half were found through self-examination. The 21 cases were diagnosed during the study's follow-up period of about two years.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Cloned mice developed obesity when they reached adulthood, according to a new study that raises doubts about cloning animals for human transplantation and about cloning humans themselves.

Ian Wilmut, the pioneer researcher who cloned the sheep Dolly, says the report raises the question of whether any clones are entirely normal.

Duane C. Kraemer, a veterinary professor at Texas A&M University, said the finding is "another reason to continue the research."

"I would not indict the entire process of cloning," Kraemer said. "We just have to have a lot more information than we have now to evaluate the consequences of such abnormalities."


from The San Francisco Chronicle

The legendary dodo, a flightless bird extinct for more than 300 years, has yielded its DNA for the first time, and scientists say it is related to pigeons in Southeast Asia and even, though more distantly, to San Francisco's own flocks of the often-scorned scavengers.

From a scrap of skin and a bit of bone, British biologists at Oxford University, together with an American graduate student from Georgia, have created a fascinating genealogy for the weird creature, the most poignant emblem of extinction at the hands of humans.

The genetic findings, along with the volcanic history of the islands in the Indian Ocean where the bird originated, show that the dodos probably descended from an unknown ancestral bird some 42 million years ago that flew from Africa to what are now the Mascarene Islands east of Madagascar.


from The New York Times

A new space show, another of those wraparound experiences with the universe brought indoors, is opening tomorrow at the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History.

The show this time, though, is less about the universe itself — the merry- go-rounds of planets orbiting stars, the cascades of galaxies spilling through the heavens and almost into your lap, the tumult of creation, destruction and regeneration. All this is here: what would a planetarium show be without cosmic splendor? But it is only the setting for the real subject, which is life.

As promised by the title, "The Search for Life: Are We Alone?," the 23- minute show is a fast-paced survey of one of the most provocative pursuits of modern astronomy. The title question goes unanswered, and may even be unanswerable in the immediate future. Nonetheless, the show could not be more timely.


from The New York Times

Although a Swedish car magazine found higher than normal levels of electromagnetism in some Volvos, its study, which alarmed many Volvo owners, may have overstated the hazard.

The magazine, Vi Bilagare, said it found magnetic fields in three Volvo models — the S60, V70 and S80 — as high as 17.8 microteslas around the driver's left foot. A microtesla is a unit of measurement for magnetism. Citing recommendations by the National Institute for Working Life, a Swedish labor group, the magazine said that was about 80 times the level considered safe, which it defined as 0.2 microteslas. The Swedish findings were widely reported.

But the labor group's standard is far more conservative than one set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, a group of scientists who establish safety standards for various forms of electromagnetic radiation. The commission considers low-frequency radiation of less than 100 microteslas to be safe.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Astronomers Respond To Young Universe Claims & More

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@aol.com

Be sure to visit www.csicop.org and check out our 4th World Skeptics Conference: http://www.csicop.org/events/conference-2002/

From CSICOP Fellow Andrew Fraknoi


Material for Teachers About How We Know the Age of the Universe Is Now On Line

In several U.S. states there have been demands that discussions of the Big Bang and the vast age of the cosmos be excluded from science curricula in K-12 classrooms. In response, the Astronomy Education Board of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) has put together an article for teachers on how astronomers know that the universe is old and that it changes with time.

The illustrated article has been posted on the Web at:
It is a special issue of "The Universe in the Classroom," a newsletter on teaching astronomy in grades 3-12, published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

The article explains the evidence showing that we live in a universe that is between 10 billion and 15 billion years old and that both the universe and its contents undergo evolutionary change. It is designed to help teachers explain these ideas to their classes and concerned community members. A list of written and web resources is also included.

The article grew out of a formal statement on behalf of the astronomical community issued by the Council of the AAS in 2000, when the Kansas State Board of Education in 1999 adopted state standards that eliminated both evolution and Big Bang cosmology. While those standards have now been repealed, following the election of new Board of Education members, the scientific perspective continues to be questioned in states and communities around the U.S. Both the AAS Council, and the Society's Astronomy Education Board feel that astronomers have an obligation to assist teachers in sorting out the evidence supporting our modern view of an ancient universe.

2) Articles of Note

The Electric Christian Rapture Test
Kate Silver, Las Vegas Weekly
February 21, 2002


They say all it takes is a little bit of faith, some cash and a signature, and if everything goes as planned, subscribing Christians (and maybe a few trusting infidels) will be free of the evil power companies -- and their power bills -- for life. Call it the Electric Christian Rapture Test.

KFC bosses aren't chicken, but they sure are tender
by Les Kennedy
The Age [Australia]


"It was meant to develop leadership skills, but the fire-walking exercise for 30 managers of the KFC fast food chicken restaurant chain was too hot to bear."

Hitler's clairvoyant
By Stephen Lemons


"In the weeks leading up to Adolf Hitler's appointment as Reichschancellor on Jan. 30, 1933, there was nothing inevitable about the Austrian corporal's ascension to power. Results of the 1932 November Reichstag elections were disappointing for his National Socialist Party, with the Nazis suffering losses in the German parliament while retaining about a third of the seats there."

Shamed star's aliens claim
BBC News


"A triple gold medallist who was kicked out of the Winter Olympics for failing a drugs test claims he is being told what to do by aliens."

The graffiti ghost of Treuddyn
BBC News


"A phenomenon regularly takes place at Penyffordd Farm, the home of the Gower family."

Does prayer work?
By Giles Wilson
BBC News


"The world's religions got together a month ago to pray for peace. Has the planet seen any impact - and is there any evidence that praying works anyway?"

Back Off, Chiropractors!
by Leon Jaroff


"Chiropractors have been taking their lumps lately. And not all of the criticism has come from their usual critics in the medical profession. Indeed, some chiropractors themselves are cautiously calling for reforms."

FTC Settles With Two Sites Selling Bioterrorism Products
By David McGuire


"As part of its ongoing crusade to purge the Internet of fraudulent Sept. 11 profiteers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today announced that it had settled a claim against a Web site that marketed its "colloidal silver" product as a cure for Anthrax."

FTC shuts off bioterror hype
Associated Press


"Federal regulators have settled deceptive advertising charges against the marketers of a do-it-yourself anthrax test kit and a dietary supplement touted as curing hundreds of deadly diseases."

Did Miss Cleo see it coming?
Philadelphia Inquirer


"Back in August I tried to call Miss Cleo."

Physicians' groups voice opposition to proposal to license naturopathy
By Scott Rothschild
Lawrence Journal-World


"Associations representing medical and osteopathic doctors Monday voiced opposition to the licensing of naturopathic physicians."

Criminals don't appear to be moonstruck
By Sid Schwartz
Janesville Gazette


"Kids ran away from home more, people made more crank calls and committed more vandalism, but overall full moons didn't cause a spike in crime last year in Janesville."


Firewalkers hot-foot it to hospital


Thirty people had their feet burnt in a fire-walking exercise that went wrong at a resort in NSW today.

Eleven ambulances were sent to the Horizons Golf Resort at Salamander Bay near Newcastle just before 2pm (AEDT) and transferred 20 of the victims to hospital.

A NSW Ambulance Service spokesman could not say what went wrong or why so many people were burnt.

"Thirty people suffered burns to their feet after the fire-walking exercise went wrong," the spokesman said.

"Seven people have suffered serious burns, full thickness burns to their feet and they have gone to John Hunter Hospital."

Thirteen others with less severe burns were taken to a medical clinic for treatment and 10 others declined to be transferred by ambulance officers, he said.

A spokesman for the golf resort and conference centre declined to comment on the incident but said a media release was being prepared.


Giant Squid Babies Captured


Giant Squid Babies Captured
By Mark Schrope, Discovery News

Feb. 27 ‹ For the first time ever, researchers have gotten a brief look at living babies of the deep sea's most elusive known creature ‹ the giant squid.

Though numerous groups have attempted the feat, an adult giant squid, Architeuthis dux , which can grow as long as a city bus, has never been seen alive, though countless dead ones have come up in fishing nets.

Steve O'Shea of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, in Wellington, decided to take a novel approach and hunt for baby, or juvenile giant squid, which are roughly the size of an ant. His team's efforts are chronicled in the upcoming documentary "Chasing Giants: On the Trail of the Giant Squid," which airs on the Discovery Channel March 11th.

When their search for juvenile giant squid began, they used trawl nets in what seemed the most logical place, the deep ocean. But they found only one squid and it died quickly. Later research back on land revealed that albatross, which feed on animals at the surface in open waters, at times eat tiny giant squid larvae, meaning that at earlier stages in life the creatures are not confined to the deep, where their parents live.

So, the team mounted a new expedition early last year that focused on surface waters closer to New Zealand's shore. They hit a jackpot of 14 juvenile giant squid, some of which they were able to keep alive and observe briefly in tanks onboard their ship.

Unfortunately, all were dead by the time the ship reached port, but DNA analyses proved that the animals were in fact baby giant squid.

Richard Young, a squid specialist at the University of Hawaii, said of the achievement, "It's really exciting that they found these things at all. It's always been a big mystery why we can't catch the young."

Though the researchers did not reach their goal of raising giant squid larvae in captivity, seeing the squid alive for any length of time was an unprecedented achievement.

O'Shea believes the larvae died because they were not given the right food or light levels in the shipboard tanks. He says the group has now solved these problems through work with other juvenile deep-sea squid.

Armed with this knowledge, O'Shea is confident he and his team will able to get living juveniles to aquariums on land and raise them as soon as they can get back out to capture more, a project currently in the planning stages.

The ultimate goal is to raise squid until their bodies grow to about ten feet long.

Besides drawing people to the institute's facility, O'Shea said having captive giant squid would allow researchers to expand their severely limited understanding of the creatures, and hopefully aid in protecting them.

"There's a lot we do stand to learn," he said.

Said David Cripes, senior aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who has done work with squids in captivity: "Scientifically there's just so little that we know about them that anything we can learn even at those early life history stages is extremely significant, extremely important."

Earth formed quicker than thought - Your News from Ananova

A new analysis of meteorites has found the Earth may have taken less than half the time to form than previously thought.

The technique measures radioactivity inside the rocks and removes all possible sources of contamination.

It suggests the Earth formed from the debris around the Sun in just 20 million years, not 50 million as had been thought.

Full story: http://www.ananova.com/yournews/story/sm_532692.html

New Challenge

From: Youens, Tony tony.youens@ntu.ac.uk

Hi all,

Just to let you know that ASKE's (Association for Skeptical Enquiry) new challenge has started today (1st March 2002). We're now offering £11,000 prize money for proof of communication with the dead. Well not even 'proof' really. The preliminary stage requires the medium to answer 10 questions, 7 of which need to be correct. A 70% hit rate should be an absolute cinch. The questions are listed on our website the encrypted answers to which are being held by an independent party namely the Rev. Lionel Fanthorpe (hosted 'Foretean TV' in the UK).

Most mediums I've met claim a high level of accuracy so in theory at least the second stage, when they have to repeat the test live, should be awash with mediums.

For full details see our website at: http://www.aske.org.uk All the best, Tony Youens

Bible as history

From: Thomas J Wheeler

Bill Bennetta keeps us informed of high school textbooks which treat Bible stories as if they were historical events. Someone writing for the Washington Post science section seems to do this as well. The following is the first of two paragraphs from the Post which appeared in the "Science Forum" section of the Louisville Courier-Journal on Feb. 25:

"King Herod, the brutal king of biblical times who directed the infamous Slaughter of the Innocents in a vain attempt to destroy the infant Jesus, died from chronic kidney disease that was probably complicated by gangrene, according to a new theory."

A search of the Post archives suggests that the story may have been in the Science Notebook on Jan. 28 (there is a charge to read it).

Not only is there no solid historical evidence of Jesus, but the alleged "Slaughter of the Innocents" is highly unlikely to have occurred. The following notes are from the Skeptic's Annotated Bible http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/mt/notes.html#2:16 referring to Matthew 2:116-18:

"2:16 Herod kills all boys in and around Bethlehem that are two years old and under. Such a massacre would certainly have been noted by contemporary historians. Yet not even Josephus, who documented Herod's life in detail, mentioned this event.

"2:17-18 Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, claiming that it was a prophecy of King Herod's alleged slaughter of the children in and around Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. But this verse refers to the Babylonian captivity, as is clear by reading the next two verses (16 and 17), and, thus, has nothing to do with Herod's massacre."

Tom Wheeler

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 28, 2002

from The Associated Press

Federal authorities have subpoenaed documents and anthrax samples from the nation's scientific laboratories in their hunt for the origin of the anthrax used in last year's mail attacks.

Officials believe the attacks, which killed five people and sickened 13, were the work of a scientist who may have obtained the spores from one of a dozen labs that have the Ames strain on hand. They hope to narrow the source through complex genetic analysis now under way.

Subpoenas issued this week also sought documents to help the FBI piece together the movement of anthrax around the country. Labs were asked to detail where and when they got their anthrax samples and to identify labs to which they sent samples.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange may not have an increased chance of leukemia after all, contrary to the assertion of a U.S. National Academy of Sciences report last year, an academy panel acknowledged yesterday.

The panel changed course mainly because errors were discovered in an Australian study of the purported links between the pesticide and acute myelogenous leukemia.

The evidence of a link "wasn't as positive as it was initially," said Loren D. Koller, a Corvallis, Ore., pathologist and toxicologist who was one of two West Coast members of the academy review panel.

During a telephone interview, Koller said the Australians' change of mind was the "primary" reason for the NAS panel's shift in view.


from The Chicago Tribune

Since the deepest chill of the Cold War, the occasional movements of the hands on the Doomsday Clock at the University of Chicago have served as an unofficial gauge of the threat that the world might plunge into nuclear Armageddon.

But when the clock's academic custodians today moved the hands closer to midnight for the first time in four years, the focus was on a laundry list of dangers--including the increased risk of nuclear terrorism after Sept. 11.

At a news conference this morning on the U. of C. campus, Nobel Prize- winning physicist Leon Lederman moved the clock's minute hand to seven minutes to midnight, the same position as when the timepiece made its debut 55 years ago.


Click on the link below to view a timeline of the Doomsday Clock and all movements made since its inception.


from The New York Times

Every school child knows that Tyrannosaurus rex was the biggest, fiercest predator in the Age of Reptiles. No plant-eating Triceratops or duckbill dinosaur was safe when a hungry T. rex came around with sharp teeth ready to tear flesh.

But scientists have now found that this fearsome animal was not superior in all respects. It was biomechanically disadvantaged. Contrary to what had been thought, T. rex was slow of foot. It lacked enough muscle in its legs to produce the forces required for an animal of its huge size to break into a sprint, let alone achieve the 45 mile-per-hour speeds some paleontologists once assumed.

The surprising discovery, being reported in today's issue of the journal Nature, was made by Dr. John R. Hutchinson of Stanford and Dr. Mariano Garcia of Cornell. The two men, specialists in biomechanics, conducted their research while at the University of California.


from The Washington Post

On the Potomac, low water flow has made the waterunnaturally clear, and the migrating herring easy targets for hungry birds.

In Maryland, fisheries experts had to evict 40,000 trout from a crowded hatchery because water from the feeder spring is one-third of normal.

And in the lower Potomac River, low flow and the resultant record high salinity are suspected in an algae bloom that has halted the oyster harvest.

Farm ponds in Virginia are mud flats. Connecticut's maple trees are low on sap. And in some parts of Pennsylvania, groundwater has receded 500 feet below the surface.


from The Christian Science Monitor

The scenario is now just a gleam in an engineer's eye: An ambitious mission to the outermost reaches of the solar system is ready to leave Earth orbit. After a flawless launch, a final rocket motor ignites. When it falls away spent after a few minutes, ground controllers check the heading of the craft, and with a punch of a button, activate a nuclear reactor the size of a small trash can.

The reactor represents NASA's technological declaration of independence from gravity as a tool for propelling interplanetary spacecraft. Whereas today, a trip to the outer solar system relies on five to 10 minutes of burning chemicals and months or years of coasting, nuclear propulsion holds the promise of faster, more direct, more experiment-packed missions to places where sunlight is too feeble to power spacecraft. Indeed, some say that manned missions to Mars and beyond are unthinkable without nuclear propulsion.

If the mission is hypothetical, the technology is not. Earlier this month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that its budget proposal includes $125.5 million to explore the use of low-power reactors as part of the propulsion systems in new spacecraft. One prototype reactor already has been built by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.


from The Christian Science Monitor

If you wonder about the prospects for life on other worlds, take another look at what's going on at home. Microbes are surprising scientists by thriving where life as we thought we knew it shouldn't survive.

Last Friday, for example, Carnegie Institution microbiologist Anurag Sharma reported that his group had bacteria colonies living under 17,000 times Earth's sea level pressure. University of Southern California biologist Kenneth Nealson told the Associated Press the announcement "knocked my socks off." Yet it came less than a week after Dr. Nealson himself had described microorganisms' amazing versatility in a paper prepared for a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

Such is the fast pace of discovery in the new science of geobiology. Its practitioners are tracing the relationships between microbes and inanimate matter that make Earth hospitable for so many other life forms, including ourselves.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Does prayer work?


A holy trinity

By Giles Wilson
BBC News Online

The world's religions got together a month ago to pray for peace. Has the planet seen any impact - and is there any evidence that praying works anyway?

There was certainly no shortage of good intentions, or of symbolism.

Just a month ago, the Pope led 200 religious leaders from round the world in prayers for peace.

The venue for this landmark occasion was Assisi - the place which, fittingly, gave the world St Francis and his prayer "Make me a channel of your peace".

And yet a month on, peace seems as elusive as ever. Dozens of Israelis and Palestinians have died. Worshippers at a Rawalpindi mosque have been gunned down. Fears of further conflict rose after President Bush spoke of an "axis of evil". Zimbabwe grows further from the world community.

The impact of the day of prayer is on the agenda in the House of Lords on Wednesday as crossbench peer Lord Hylton asks the government what conclusions it draws from the event.

It could scarcely conclude that prayers had been answered in any miraculous way. And it goes without saying that non-believers would not be surprised by that.

But for believers, whether there is any point in praying can be a complicated issue, crucially taking in two distinct aspects:

Can praying change "external" things, for example the weather? Can it have an "internal" effect on the person who is doing the praying?

Believers can answer the latter point for themselves, but the former point is more open to debate.

Crude methods

Some of the first experiments to try to answer it came in the 1800s, when the worlds of science and religion began to eye each other uncomfortably.

The tests used crude methods, concluding for instance that prayer was proved by the long lifespans of royals - people who were much prayed for. These methods have been superseded by more rigorous trials.

But, remarkably, many modern tests have reached similar conclusions. Professor Leslie Francis of the University of Bangor has studied 31 experiments (conducted to the "highest professional standards") into the effectiveness of prayer.

The trials would typically take a group of hundreds of patients recovering from heart surgery, randomly divided into two groups, one of which is prayed for. None of the patients would know they were or weren't being prayed for.

"The findings are quite staggering," he says. "Studies show that patients in hospital who are being prayed for (even when they do not know they are being prayed for) are more likely to recover."

But according to Dr David Laws of the University of Manchester the kind of prayer which asks God to do something is only relevant if you have a particular understanding of God.

"It depends on God being an intervening God who breaks into our world and mops up our mess whenever we make one."

That is a kind of God that Professor Francis says he would be uncomfortable with, since it raises questions that if God can intervene, why does he not do so to avoid more human suffering?

But former cancer patient Mary Ligertwood, from Milton Keynes, believes prayer did play a part in her recovery.

When she was found to have cancer in her breast, kidney and lymph gland at the age of 50, she was given a year to live. And yet within six months, she walked away free of the disease.

Now 13 years on, she puts her recovery down to a combination of the power of surgery - she had five operations - and the prayers of her friends. But she does not consider herself to have experienced a "miracle cure".

She does though consider it a miracle that the whole experience of diagnosis, surgery and recovery was for her such an enjoyable - and spiritual - one.

"Again and again, people visiting me in hospital would say: 'Why are you so happy?' For me it really was a very wonderful time... There was no element of fear there at all."

Peace prayers

The inner effect on praying people has a bearing on prayers for world peace such as those said at Assisi, says Dr Laws.

"For me it's not a matter of persuading God to do something, but of people praying for peace looking to become peaceful people. It starts with the internal effect and that, hopefully, will have an impact on the outside world."

Lord Hylton says the fact of the religious leaders praying together was a significant statement in itself, and one which has made its own contribution to a more peaceful world.

In particular, he says, a declaration the leaders made that their religions should not be used as pretexts for violence or wars could have a huge impact. He believes that even now, the religious leaders in the Middle East have become more inclined towards engaging with each other.

Professor Francis suggests that should another day of prayer for peace be organised, subsequent levels of fighting should be monitored, as should people's perceptions of peace.

Many religious people may feel however that having tangible proof is not really what prayer is about, and that - believe it or not - they rather enjoy simply believing.

Creationism in Ohio

From: CSICOP www@cuinfo2.cit.cornell.edu

1) Creationism in Ohio

The Ohio Board of Education is currently considering downplaying evolution content in their new science standards, removing references to the age of the earth, and including "Intelligent Design theory" -the idea that life cannot be scientifically explained -i.e. without recourse to supernatural events. Legislation has been introduced into Ohio's House & Senate, that would give instructional time to so-called "scientific alternatives" to evolution whenever evolution is taught in Ohio's classrooms. Intelligent Design "theory" is the political heir to the "creation-science" movement of the 1980's whose "equal time" laws were found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1987. Its backers are serious, well-spoken, well-funded, and well-organized. The Ohio situation is the tip of the iceberg. Similar situations will be arising in other states in the next few years. FMI see www.ohioscience.org

When intellectual issues arise in public policy, it is the obligation of universities to help the public understand the issues and access further resources. Thus, we are extremely happy to see Case Western taking on that role.

Why Intelligent Design Theory Isn't Science

Case Western Reserve University's Center for Policy Studies is pleased to announce a public presentation -FREE and open to the public- 1 pm, March 2, 2002, at the Allen Theater, Playhouse Square, Cleveland, OH:



Cynthia Beall
Sarah Idell Pyle Professor of Anthropology, And member of the National Academy of Sciences

Lawrence Krauss
Ambrose Swasey Prof of Physics, Prof. of Astronomy, and Chair of Physics, Case Western Reserve University author of "The Physics of Star Trek" & "Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth" "The Nature of Science and the Current Situation in Ohio"

Stephen Jay Gould
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Harvard University author of "Wonderful Life", & "Rocks of Ages" "The Factuality of Evolution & The Non-Scientific Nature of Intelligent Design Theory"

Kenneth R. Miller
Professor of Biology, Brown University Author of "Finding Darwin's God" "Looking for God in All the Wrong Places: Do the Details of Life Reveal Design or Evolution?"

This event is co-sponsored by the College Scholars Program, the Hallinan Project, and CWRU's departments of Astronomy, Biology, Geology, Physics, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Religion.

This event is FREE and open to the public
1 pm, March 2, 2002
Allen Theater, Playhouse Square, Cleveland, OH:
1501 Euclid Ave, Downtown

FMI Patricia Princehouse, Dept of Philosophy pmp7@cwru.edu
Joe White, Dept of Political Science jxw87@po.cwru.edu
CWRU www.cwru.edu

3) Articles of Note

Behind the Hum
Kokomo Mayor Requests Funding to Investigate Hum
The Associated Press


K O K O M O, Ind., Feb. 26 " Mayor James Trobaugh has asked the City Council for $100,000 to investigate a mysterious hum that some city residents say is causing health problems ranging from headaches to nausea.


Delray psychic accused of swindling dying man out of $300,000
By Mitch Lipka
South Florida Sun-Sentinel


"Like many who seek the guidance of psychics, Leroy Hoffert was desperate. The West Boynton Beach man had just been diagnosed with terminal leukemia, and he wanted hope."

Crowds gather to witness cross of light
By Darrell Smith
The Desert Sun


"For the hundreds gathered behind the humble double-wide mobile home at the end of a dirt road, the image before them was unmistakable."

Scientist: Legendary City of El Dorado Exists
By Rossella Lorenzi
Discovery News


"El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, did exist and was even evangelized by Jesuit missionaries, according to the findings of a Lima University archaeologist."

Miracle to happen in April, Mama Mary tells visionaries
Philippine Inquirer News Service


"SINCE the first apparition of Our Lady in the mountain of San Sebastian de

Garabandal on June 18, 1961, the Workers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel have continued to propagate devotion to her while awaiting the Church's recognition of the apparitions' authenticity."

Deconstructing Darwin
Columbia Missourian


"Textbooks often answer where life came from with a simple answer: Evolution. But for William Harris, a medical professor at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, the usual mechanisms of evolution are not enough."

UFO sightings nearly double in Canada

From Ananova at


Reports of unidentified flying objects increased by 42% last year in Canada.

Authors of the annual Canadian survey of UFO reports say they rose to 374. Most sightings were in British Columbia.

The Canoe website reports researcher Chris Rutkowski said: "We're thinking that perhaps more people are seeing something that's really there, or perhaps more people are aware of how or whether they should report things."

The trend started well before September 11, so that has been ruled out as a factor.

British Columbia accounted for 123 of the 374 reported sightings and has led the country consistently since 1999. Ontario was next with 87 sightings and Alberta was third with 40 reports.

For the first time, researchers also tied reports to cities and found that Vancouver and Ottawa topped the list with 17 and 15 reports respectively.

Mr Rutkowski, who works at the University of Manitoba, said: "All of the cases got some degree of investigation by researchers in various parts of the country. About 15% were left unexplained. The rest either had explanations or we didn't have enough information to make an evaluation."

Included on the list of the unexplained was a fire funnel that left a crater more than 30 metres wide in a field near Etzikom, Alberta. He said: "Some astronomers and experts in meteorites investigated and decided that it wasn't (a meteorite)."

Other sightings included six orange objects spotted flying in V formation over Portage la Prairie, Manitoba , and a luminous object that hung in the sky over Hull, Quebec, for two consecutive nights before appearing to explode.

Airline pilots flying over Craik, Saskatchewan, saw what they thought were the lights of another aircraft until they were told by air traffic controllers that there was no other plane on radar. There were 15 so-called close encounters with UFOs or their alleged occupants reported in 2001, but none of them made the short list of the best unexplained cases.

Italy exposes magicians' dirty tricks

By Bruce Johnston in Rome
(Filed: 28/02/2002)


THE arrest of a self-styled magician in Italy accused of cheating a woman out of £27,000 after promising to rid her of "evil" has deepened fears that occultist charlatans have become a national problem.

Franca Policicchio, 41, who called herself the magician of Cleto, was arrested in Calabria with two alleged collaborators.

She was reported to police by relatives of a woman, 23, who said she was often tied to a chair so that she could be "exorcised" of the evil that had confounded her search for a husband. She said she was insulted, hit, pierced with pins and burnt with candles.

The incident is the sixth report in the past month of people alleged to have been swindled by quack "magicians" in Italy, a country where there is a lingering weakness for superstition.

The most sensational was that of Vanna Marchi, a television saleswoman. She is accused of defrauding £30 million from people by selling them "stomach-melting" creams and lottery numbers guaranteed to win as well as using threats of black magic.

A question of karmic energy

Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle



Big plans for a big public safety building are creating bad vibes in Sausalito.

The 7,300 people in this normally peaceful waterfront town are going apoplectic for and against plans to build a $7.8 million, 22,500-square-foot police and fire building at the foot of Caledonia Street.

The whole bobbery, which has simmered for years, will finally come to a boil on Tuesday with a vote on advisory Measure B.

For the townsfolk, though, it is about more than a building. Proponents see it as a commitment to the brave police officers and firefighters who sacrifice for the town. For opponents, it is a referendum on the character, the somnolent village ambience, the very aura of Sausalito.

"If you put that up," said Nancy Bennett, an expert called in by opponents of the plan to testify before the City Council, "it will be bad feng shui!"

The cold snap that civilised the world

By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent
(Filed: 22/02/2002)


A SUDDEN drop in temperatures 5,000 years ago ushered in the modern climate and may have encouraged the development of complex civilisations around the world.

Researchers studying ancient fish bones off the coast of Peru say the temperature fall heralded El Nino, the periodical warming of the Pacific which brings unusual weather patterns every two to seven years.

The rapidly changing weather, which followed several thousand years of post-Ice Age stability, triggered a new temple building culture in South America. Elsewhere, it may have forced Stone Age people to innovate, generating a period of development and the formation of large cities.

NYTimes.com Article: A Huge Crucifix Has This Small Town Abuzz


February 28, 2002


ANN ARBOR TOWNSHIP, Mich., Feb. 27 - For the last few weeks, the talk here has revolved around a crucifix nearly the size of the Statue of Liberty.

Thomas Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, has a vision to transform this small wealthy suburb of about 5,000 people outside the city of Ann Arbor into a center for Roman Catholic endeavors. He has already built a church, a Catholic school, a Catholic day-care center, two convents, offices for two Catholic radio stations, a foreign mission and a Catholic newspaper.

Keeping up with the miracle-mongers

From: The Textbook League ttl@textbookleague.org


Let's review. On 11 February 2002, Daniel Pipes published in the New York Post an article titled "Think Like a Muslim." The article dealt with the presentation of the origins of Islam in a 7th-grade history book called Across the Centuries, which was issued in 1999 by Houghton Mifflin. (This book has been adopted for use in the public schools of California.)

As Pipes has demonstrated in his article, the material about early Islam in Across the Centuries is relentlessly promotional and deceptive. Islam is whitewashed. Muslim myths -- including tales about Muhammad's chats with the angel Gabriel -- are presented as accounts of historical events. The claim that Muhammad was a prophet of God, and received messages from God, is endorsed as a fact. And so forth.

On 12 February, the day after Pipes's piece was printed, Houghton Mifflin issued a press release headlined "STATEMENT BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN REGARDING ITS 'ACROSS THE CENTURIES' TEXTBOOK." The statement was signed by a Houghton Mifflin PR guy, Collin Earnst. The text of the release was interesting because Earnst admitted, in effect, that Houghton Mifflin is in the pandering business, not the education business. (Even if his candor was unintentional, it was noteworthy. I had never before seen any such thing in a statement issued by a schoolbook company.)

In his last paragraph, Earnst put forth the claim that "learning about [religion and culture] must be based on information from believers." That was more than I could take, so I sent a query to Earnst, by e-mail. My query said, in part:

I have seen your press release . . . . In the last paragraph of that release you claim that "learning about it [religion and culture] must be based on information from believers."

Why? Can you adduce any support for that claim?

I am much interested in this matter because my own observations directly contradict your claim. My own observations have convinced me that, in gathering information about the history and tenets of a religion, one cannot trust, credit or use the allegations put forth by believers. Rather, one must conduct a first-hand reading and analysis of the religion's canonized scripture (if such scripture exists) and then consult the publications of historians, sociologists and cultural anthropologists who have studied the religion in question.

Earnst has now answered my query. In a message dated 27 February, he has told me that
The comments in the Houghton Mifflin Statement were misleading, and suggested that we relied only on information from believers. However, the sentence should read "learning about [religion] should INCLUDE information from believers."
Appended below, for your information, is the reply (with one typographical error corrected) that I have just sent to Earnst.

Bill Bennetta
(William J. Bennetta, President, The Textbook League)

Dear Mr. Earnst:

Many thanks for replying to my query about the claim that you made in "STATEMENT BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN REGARDING ITS 'ACROSS THE CENTURIES' TEXTBOOK" (12 February 2002). I have noted your explanation that

The comments in the Houghton Mifflin Statement were misleading, and suggested that we relied only on information from believers. However, the sentence should read "learning about [religion] should INCLUDE information from believers."
Many thanks for providing that clarification.

That said, I must offer this comment (while doing my best to display a wry smile): Including information from believers is fine when one is doing research -- as long as one makes sure that none of the information from believers ever gets used in a schoolbook.

To illustrate what happens when believers get into the act -- and when scholars are excluded -- look at the very material that engendered Daniel Pipes's article: The lesson "Muhammad and Islam" in Across the Centuries. The opening passages of that lesson consist almost entirely of woo-woo, double-talk, and miracle-mongering, occasionally made worse by the clumsy, inconsistent and deceptive use qualifying phrases (such as "is believed" or "Muhammad's followers believe"). Those opening passages peddle superstitions disguised as pseudohistory, and they fail to present the real history that young students need to know. Here is that history:

In Arabia in the 7th century, there arose a new religion that would soon gain considerable political importance and eventually would acquire followers throughout the world. This religion was conceived by a merchant named Muhammad, who borrowed various items from earlier religions (especially Judaism) and mixed them with some ideas of his own. There are no records of Muhammad's original teachings. Modern followers of Islam have a holy book called the Koran (or Qu'ran), and they claim that this book contains Muhammad's own statements -- but in fact, the origins of the Koran are unknown. Scholars haven't been able to establish when its various parts were written, who wrote them, or how many versions were written and rewritten before the present (canonized) version was assembled.
Needless to say, the vocabulary and diction that I have just employed would have to be reworked for 7th-graders. I have sought only to set forth the substantive information that 7th-graders need to know.

Now: Do you think that 7th-graders need to know the myth of Muhammad and Gabriel? Yes? -- then place it in a box by itself, label it a myth or legend, and do this: Conclude by telling students that the Gabriel myth isn't history and doesn't have anything to with history, for this reason: It consists entirely of claims that can neither be supported nor refuted by any sort of evidence. History is the business of reconstructing the past through the use of evidence and reason, and only such claims as meet the tests of evidence and reason can become items of history. This is the most important lesson -- bar none -- that any history book can convey.

Now please look at page 58 of Across the Centuries and read this passage:

Three times the angel pressed Muhammad, finally commanding him to Read! In the name of your Lord who created. Created man from a clot of congealed blood. Read! And your Lord is the Most Bountiful. He who has taught by the pen. Taught man that which he knew not.
The person who furnished that particular bit of woo-woo to Houghton Mifflin's writers wasn't just a believer -- he was a dishonest believer, bent on deception. Here is what he concealed: While sura 96 of the Koran says that (the Muslim version of) God created man from a clot, other suras contain claims that contradict that one and contradict each other. As examples:
sura 6: man was created from clay
sura 15: man was created from pre-shaped potter's clay
sura 16: man was created from a drop [of what?]
sura 18: man was created "from dust, then from a drop"
    [a divine double-whammy?]
By quoting the congealed-blood item while failing to acknowledge the other, contradictory claims, Houghton Mifflin's writers have pleased the Koran-thumpers but have deceived and betrayed students.

Let me now provide further evidence that the practice of bringing believers into the act -- while excluding scholars -- generates pernicious follies. Please get yourself a copy of Houghton Mifflin's World History: Perspectives on the Past (1997), a high-school book that was developed originally by D.C. Heath and Company. Turn to the section "The Life and Teachings of Jesus," on page 161, and notice that it is another splurge of woo-woo, double-talk, and miracle-mongering. In the interest of brevity, I'll cite only a few examples:

1. The passage completely conceals the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of legend -- and it thus ignores more than a century's worth of New Testament scholarship. The passage, as printed, reflects only the maunderings, conceits and deceits of true believers.

2. ". . . the story of Jesus' life comes primarily from Christian sources, the four Gospels of the New Testament." That is false. The New Testament doesn't provide anything that can be called "the" story of Jesus's life, because the four canonized gospels of the New Testament sometimes contradict each other outright. They cannot be fused into a single narrative.

1. "According to the Gospels, Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem . . . ." That is vicious and unacceptable and on two counts. First, nobody knows where Jesus was born -- and to imply otherwise is to engage in deception. Second, only two of the gospels (those of St. Matthew and St. Luke) say anything about Jesus's birth. Phrases such as "According to the Gospels" and "The Gospels say" are used only by true believers who want to convey the false impression that the New Testament is internally consistent and coherent. When honest people cite a claim or statement that appears in a gospel, they specify the pertinent gospel by name.

3. By its title, the book proclaims itself to be an account of world history. Then why does is dispense that New Testament stuff at all? The New Testament isn't history, and no historian imagines that it is. To be sure, the New Testament has a history, and that history (with an account of how scholars have tried to infer the contents of the original document(s) from which the synoptic gospels were derived) would make interesting reading for high-school students. But that is a different matter.

4. "According to the Gospels, Jesus' follower Mary Magdalene visited Jesus' tomb [two days after he had died] and found his body gone." That's a plain, unadorned lie. Among the canonized gospels, only the Gospel of St. John ascribes the discovery of Jesus's empty tomb to one person. (The three other canonized gospels offer contradictory accounts in which the discovery of the empty tomb is attributed to two persons or more. And by the way: The gospels offer contradictory claims about whether the tomb was open or closed when the discoverer or discoverers arrived.)

5. "[Jesus's] most famous sermon, recorded by the apostle Matthew . . . ." On its face, this use of the word "recorded" is false and deceptive. I needn't comment further.

With best wishes,

William J. Bennetta
The Textbook League

Pope says abortion could lead to down fall of democracies


Thursday February 28, 4:31 AM

Pope John Paul II on Wednesday lashed out against abortion and warned that its practice could lead to the fall of democratic regimes.

"The church affirms the right to life to every innocent human being at the moment of its existence," he told participants of the eighth general assembly of the papal academy.

The pontiff warned against the "grave danger that the false interpretation of human rights poses in not taking into account the reality of human nature, which can drive democratic regimes to transform themselves into totalitarian regimes."

"The distinction sometimes made in certain official documents between a human being and a human person to then apply the right to life and physical integrity only to people who are already born is an artificial distintion without scientific or philosophical foundation," he said.

"Every human being, from his conception to his natural death, has the inviolable right to life and deserves all respect due to the human person," he added.

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

Current News  News Back Issues

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