NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 May 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, May 04, 2002

Microlepton GeoVision Technology


ALKOR International Ltd.

Subterranean exploration of any dry land or sea region applying Microlepton GeoVision Technology For the discovery of Oil, Gas, Water, Gold and Diamond.

Microlepton GeoVision Technology (ML) is a unique method of exploring the earth from outer space and from the aircraft.

This new revolutionary technology allows us to explore for oil, gas, water and metal.

By revealing, then examining specifically the Microlepton emanation of any given area.


The basic nature of Microleton GeoVision Technology hang on the fact that all physical objects weather on the planet or out in space have a unique Microlepton field, which arises during the interaction of light elementary particles. These light elementary particles are called "Microleptons".

The unique composition and special distribution of a particular Microlepton field intensity depends on three guidelines:

1- Chemical composition of the subject.
2- Distribution of the chemical elements due to the volume of the subject.
3- Form of the subject.
Microleptons possess a longer length "free run" inside any substance, and are mostly not subject to screening by environmental conditions. Because of this, the intensity of any particular geological Microlepton field inside the earth differs only slightly from the same field measured on the surface or from space.

Commencing with Satellite images of emissions from some subsurface deposits, this new technology will identify and map the proximity of oil, gas, water, and numerouse minerals.

During the process of special treatment called Visualization, the Microlepton image is screened by use of a special filter when exploring for a particular substance. Once the chosen substance is discovered via its unique Microlepton field emanations, the image is then transferred to an optical diapason. At which point the image becomes visible.

Microlepton filters have been used for discovery of :

Research And Development of new grade of filters are under development.

Additional software programs allow us to identify the magnitude and the shape of the material. Allowing for for precise location and field outline. This information is processed to a geological map providing field size, contour and location for development.

When compared to more traditional methods of geological research and exploration, Microlepton GeoVision Technology has particular and unequalled advantages, which cannot be compete with or disregarded.

A. The technology is proven to be completely ecologically friendly.

B. It is largely less expensive than present traditional methods for exploration.

C. It is a great deal faster - up to 15 to 30 times faster than present technologies which are available. Estimated time to conduct a complete analysis of a given area 100Km X 100Km is normally 4 to 5 months.

See also

A View from Russia: Popularization of Science as a Tool against Antiscience


Boris Shmakin

In Russia, as well as in many other countries of the world, many parapsychologists, astrologers, so-called nontraditional medical doctors (mainly charlatans), specialists on UFOs, etc., are involved in pseudoscientific "investigations.' Very often they use radio, television, and newspapers to publish articles on various topics of pseudoscience. Why is such activity still not unmasked?

There are at least three reasons:

1.The leaders of mass media organizations are not educated enough to recognize and expose pseudoscientific "theories.' They don't ask advice of real scientists, probably in order to conceal their naivete; and scientists themselves are, as a rule, not sufficiently active in the struggle against antiscience.

2.Real scientists understand the limitations of general knowledge. They sincerely acknowledge that many puzzles of nature are not yet understood. Parascientists, on the contrary, are confident in their "achievements'; they pretend to be more certain.

3.In the 1930s and 1940s some attempts were made in the former Soviet Union to end investigations in such important fields as genetics and cybernetics. After such oppression was disclosed and lifted, biologists and physicists -- along with pseudobiologists and pseudophysicists -- felt freedom. The latter demanded respect for their "new ideas' and they portrayed themselves as fighters for truth.

New Bibliography Entry (Washington: Blavatsky)


Madam Blavatsky's Baboon
  Peter Washington
  1993, Schocken
  newage:history, occult:history

A history of Theosophy and its allied movements, from Madame Blavatsky to Annie Besant, Krishnamurti, Gurdjieff, down to the New Age movement of today. A fascinating eye-opener, even for those already knowledgable about the occult scene. It also makes it clear (though the author does not note it) that today's New Agers and Neo-pagans are first cousins. Both are descended from 19th century Spiritualism, the former taking the "Eastern Path" by way of the Theosophical Society and the "Ascended Masters," and the latter taking the "Western Path" by way of the Order of the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, and Gerald Gardner. Find out where the New Agers came from -- you will know more about them than most of them know themselves.

[ Reviewed by Jana Hollingsworth, jana_ch@blarg.net ]

Please visit the rest of the bibliography at


Consider contributing an entry or two yourself...

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC Bibliographer

NYTimes.com Article: Insight Into Human-Chimp Differences

April 12, 2002

Philosophers and theologians may speculate about the essence of human nature, but biologists have a kick-the-tires test that should, in principle, deliver an exact definition. By comparing humans and their close cousin, the chimpanzee, at the finest level possible, they believe, they can find the special ingredient that must be mixed into animal clay to make it human.

Pursuing this goal with a sophisticated tool called a gene expression chip, researchers have now compared the genetic activity of the chimp and human brain, the organ that presumably holds the vital difference. Despite reports from anatomists that the two species' brains seemed to differ only in size - the human brain has more than three times the volume - the gene chip has brought to light numerous differences in how the brain cells of the species operate at the genetic level.

The finding is reported today in the journal Science by Dr. Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues in Germany, the Netherlands and the University of California at San Diego.


Do the jinn occupy the same space and time as humans?


Do they exist in our environment? Can they see, read, or feel our joy and sorrow? Do they have societies like us? Do they pray, fast, do Haj etc.? If they are made of fire, then how will they react in Hell which is also made of fire?

A.4. There is much that people say about the jinn, but most of it has no basis. It is mere conjecture. We prefer to limit ourselves to what is clearly and authentically reported about them in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Thus, we know that they have freedom of choice in matters of faith and belief, and that they are required to believe in Islam, as were they formerly required to believe in the message given to Prophet Moses. We also know that like human beings, most of them do not choose to believe. As to where exactly they live and what they look like, and what sort of social life they have, these are matters about which we have not been given any clear, authentic information. Hence, we do not try to delve into them.

We can say for certain that they do not have any mastery over us. They cannot possess a human being and control his behavior, as people claim. That they have been created from fire is a fact, as this is mentioned in the Qur'an. Could they burn in hell, since they are made of it? The answer is in the affirmative, because God tells us so. The transformation through creation could be great indeed. We are made of clay, but we are so unlike clay. What is more, if a human being sinks into a pool of clay, he is certain to die.

The Green Children of Woolpit


Feature Story FATE Magazine 2001-05-01 00:00:00
by Dr. Karl P. N. Shuker

Dr. Karl P. N. Shuker is a cryptozoologist who lives in West Bromwich, England. He is the author of Mysteries of Planet Earth.

English medieval history and legend are sometimes so intricately interwoven that it can be exceedingly difficult to delineate with any degree of certainty the facts from the fantasy. The fascinating story of the green children of Woolpit is a particular case in point.

The date was the 12th century a.d., but has been variously placed by chroniclers within the reign of King Stephen (1135-54) or King Henry II (1154-1189). The setting was the small Suffolk village of Woolpit, named after the deep trenches in which wolves were formerly captured. One day, the villagers were amazed to see two very unusual children crawling out of one of these trenches. A girl and a slightly younger boy, they were both dressed in strange clothing and spoke an unintelligible language. But by far the most striking characteristic of these children was their skin--it was green!

Unable to communicate with them, and thoroughly perplexed as to what should be done, the villagers took the girl and boy, who were weeping and very forlorn, to the home of Sir Richard de Calne, a local landowner. Here they remained, treated with great care and kindness by Sir Richard and his servants. But the boy fell ill, and in less than a year he had died. Happily, however, the girl survived, and as she grew older her skin's green hue gradually disappeared. She eventually married a man from King's Lynn in Norfolk, a senior ambassador of Henry II according to some sources, and became known as Agnes Barre.

During her years in Sir Richard's household, Agnes learned English and was eventually able to reveal something about where she and her brother had come from and the manner in which they had reached Woolpit. She claimed that they were from a Christian place called St Martin's Land, where it was always twilight (and also where, according to one medieval chronicler of this story, everything was green), and which was separated from a much sunnier place by a wide river. One day, while tending their father's flocks in a field, Agnes and her brother had been led away by the sound of church bells into an underground realm, and then somehow found themselves in Woolpit.

This peculiar account has lent itself to many different interpretations. Eminent British folklorist Dr. Katharine Briggs noted in A Dictionary of Fairies (1976) that it contained a number of themes prevalent in Faerie lore-the color green, a twilit land, subterranean worlds. Could this entire story thus be nothing more than another legend of elves or fairies visiting mankind?

Rocket Launch, Science Understanding, Articles of Note, More

From: CSICOP guest@enc.org

1) A rare northwards launch of an Ariane rocket from French Guyana tonight may be visible up the entire US East Coast about 9:45 PM (EST). It's worth going outside to look. It's also worth keeping this note if other people see it accidentally and jump to unearthly conclusions. The information is from the Seesat home page, a great resource for sky observers.
Jim Oberg www.jamesoberg.com

2) WASHINGTON (AP) -- Few people in the United States understand the scientific process and many believe in mysterious psychic powers and may be quick to accept phony science reports, according to a national survey. The survey, part of the National Science Foundation's biennial report on the state of science understanding, research, education and investment, found that the belief in "pseudoscience" is common in America. The study found that science literacy has improved only slightly since the previous survey and that 70 percent of American adults do not understand the scientific process.

3) Articles of Note

We have seen the lowest common denominator: us
By JIM BARLOW May 1, 2002 Houston Chronicle


THE sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), once said, "No one in this world, so far as I know, has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."

UK HIV-test fugitive awaits court verdict
BBC News Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 1


The father opposes conventional HIV treatments. A man who fled the UK with his baby daughter to avoid her having an HIV test is waiting to see whether an Australian court takes her away from him.

Science and Aliens
By Paul Recer
Associated Press


"Americans are undecided about cloning farm animals, dismiss the notion that some numbers are lucky and believe global warming is a serious problem. But a majority also say some people have mysterious psychic powers, according to a survey that found belief in "pseudoscience" is widespread in the United States."

Stars divide astrologers & astronomers
Times of India


"While astrologers are predicting serious fallout, astronomers merely find it a star gazer's delight."

Catholic Church inquires about three 'miracles'
Associated Press


"Investigators from the Catholic Church are looking into whether several alleged miracles in the past year can be attributed to a beatified Puerto Rican office clerk."

Meditation Town Prints Own Money
Las Vegas Sun


"If Walt Disney World can make Disney Dollars and Club Med can print its own currency, then this Iowa town founded by practitioners of Transcendental Meditation figured it, too, could make its own money."

SETI@Home Project Nears Milestone
By Michael Bartlett


"The SETI@Home project, which uses the spare computing power of volunteers from around the world to analyze data in a search for intelligent alien life, will receive its 500 millionth result this week."

Mind Games
by Rita Braver


"Just go to the movies, or turn on the TV and you can soon be "Crossing Over With John Edward," who claims to be able to talk to the dead."

Big questions about medium miniseries
St. Petersburg Times


"This could be a very dangerous movie."

Naturopath found guilty in diabetic girl's death, practicing medicine without license
By Tonya Maxwell
Asheville Citizen-Times


"A naturopath is guilty of practicing medicine without a license and involuntary manslaughter in the death of an 8-year-old diabetic, a Buncombe County Superior Court jury ruled Monday afternoon."

Unlikely Allies Bound by a Common Hatred
By Peter Finn
Washington Post


"A portrait of Adolf Hitler has long adorned the study of Ahmed Huber, a 74-year-old Swiss convert to Islam who lives outside this small capital city. After Sept. 11, he twinned the picture with one of Osama bin Laden."

Church targets lawsuit attorney
St. Petersburg Times


"The Church of Scientology is rolling out an aggressive set of legal maneuvers aimed at wiping out one of its biggest headaches: the lawsuit blaming the church for the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson."

Physicist argues that, for lack of scientific evidence, God is probably just a concept
By Mark Sauer


"In July 1998, the cover of Newsweek declared: "Science Finds God.""

Aid scheme tackles African witch myth
BBC News


"Aid workers in Tanzania are trying to dispel the myth that old women are witches as part of efforts to improve their health."

Miss Cleo Attorney Decries 'Witch Hunt'
By Scott Hovanyetz


"Youree Dell Harris, better known as Miss Cleo, is the victim of a "new age witch hunt," her attorney said yesterday in announcing that he had filed a motion to dismiss charges against her in Florida."

Myth of the virgin cure
News24 [South Africa]


"In a country long-sickened by the level of sexual violence, a shocking series of child rapes has stunned South Africa and left people grasping for answers."

Nigerian Letter Scam Thrives With E-Mail
By Ken Magill


"E-mail has given an old scam new life, according to a report released this month by the Internet Fraud Complaint Center."

For More Strories See: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/skepticsearch/

4) Skeptic-run Web Sites up for Internet Equivalent of Oscar

In a year which saw record numbers of New Zealanders nominated for Oscars, the country's leading Skeptics have scored a similar coup with two sites nominated as finalists in the highly prestigious Webby Awards, the leading international honors for consumer Web sites and individual achievement in technology and creativity.

NZCSICOP spokesman Denis Dutton's Arts & Letters Daily site is up against heavyweights like the BBC in the News category, while its sister site SciTechDaily Review, managed by NZCSICOP Chair-entity Vicki Hyde, is slugging it out against the likes of NASA in the Science category at the Sixth Annual Webby Awards.

"Because of our long involvement in organised skepticism, we both cover topics of skeptical interest, whether it's things like Darwinism and right- wing politics on Arts & Letters Daily or casting a scientific eye on environmental and medical issues on SciTechDaily," says Hyde.

"Science has always been a passion, and being a Skeptic is part of that" says Hyde. Over 50,000 site visitors a month share that passion, and SciTechDaily now has a tie-up with the Caltech-based Closer to Truth multimedia science discourse initiative.SciTechDaily now has a tie-up with the Caltech-based Closer to Truth multimedia science discourse initiative.

The People's Voice Award opens voting open to the public worldwide until June 7th at http://www.webbywards.com/peoplesvoice/. Registration (free) is required as the votes are carefully monitored, and hundreds of thousands of people have chosen to do so in past years.

"It would be great to have the world skeptical community behind us in a vote for reason and informed debate."

The main Webby Awards are determined by the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, a diverse, 350-person organization whose membership includes director Francis Ford Coppola, musician David Bowie, cyberguru Esther Dyson, chef Julia Child, cartoonist Matt Groening, Oracle chairman Larry Ellison and UK business tycoon Richard Branson. They will be announced at a ceremony in San Francisco on June 18.

SciTechDaily Review: http://SciTechDaily.com
Arts & Letters Daily: http//aldaily.com
Closer to Truth: http://www.ClosertoTruth.com
Webby Awards: http://www.webbyawards.com

Vote for the underdog, at the People's Voice:

http://www.webbyawards.com/peoplesvoice/ SPIS Ltd, Box 19-760, Christchurch, NZ http://www.spis.co.nz
* FREE TurboNote memo: http://TurboPress.com/tbnote.htm
* Print-to-Web automation http://TurboPress.com
* Web design, automation and hosting specialists

Kinky Therapy for Your Back


Desperate times for chiropractors drive some to set up shop with prostitution rings, officials say. Operators say they were tricked.

By MONTE MORIN, Times Staff Writer

"Dr. Jim" pitched himself as the ultimate New Age healer, a chiropractor who also practiced electro-acupuncture and hypnosis and dispensed botanical elixirs.

James F. Aquila promised to remedy life's stresses and addictions with a blend of spinal adjustments, counseling and "psychobiochemical" therapy. Relief, he wrote, was just a matter of "utilizing the mind/body connection" and "channeling spiritual flow."

Authorities have a simpler term for what went on at Dr. Jim's Midnight Therapy in Anaheim: prostitution.

Friday, May 03, 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 May 3, 2002

from The Washington Post

Researchers from China and the United States have found fossil remains of what appears to be the oldest and most primitive flowering plant ever discovered, an aquatic progenitor of today's waterlilies that lived in northeastern China at least 125 million years ago.

The delicate imprints are in excellent condition on a slab of stone more than two feet long. They offer the best clues yet to how plants made one of the more extraordinary leaps in evolutionary history: the transition from primitive spores and seeds, such as those still used by ferns and pines, to the more sophisticated use of flowers and fruiting bodies.

That transition marked the beginning of a co-evolutionary pas de deux involving flowers and insect pollinators, which led to an eruption of new plant species and ultimately helped carpet the planet with today's bouquet of floral diversity.


from The New York Times

LAMAR, Colo. A hypnotist was the featured guest at the soil conservation district's annual meeting here a few weeks ago, a fitting diversion for a place where it has not rained for nearly a year and the land seems to be in a hard trance.

Across the state line from this southeastern Colorado town, in Syracuse, Kan., a crowd packed into the school gym to hear Dusty Dowd, a crop-duster, lead a prayer for rain. "Lord, we ask that you might again bless us with the general, beneficial rains that are so vital to our crops and our lives," the prayer went.

The soil is on the move again in the High Plains, drifting over a swath of the American midsection calcified by drought. For some, it is reviving memories of a time when the world seemed to blow away. There have been serious droughts here before, some as fierce as the dry spells of the 1930's. But this drought is among the worst, and in some counties, particularly in the northern plains, it is the most devastating in more than a century.


from The New York Times

Most scientists blame people, at least in part, for global warming. Now, some researchers say people may be partly to blame for the cooling of Antarctica as well.

While average global temperatures have risen about one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, Antarctica over all appears to have cooled slightly in the past few decades.

That has been puzzling, because the polar regions are thought to be more sensitive to warming trends than the rest of the globe. Even more puzzling, a small portion of Antarctica the peninsula that stretches north toward South America defies the cooling trend. It has been warming very rapidly, about five degrees over the past 50 years, 10 times the global average.

Writing in today's issue of the journal Science, Dr. David W. J. Thompson, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, and Dr. Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., argue that the ozone hole, which has opened up each spring over Antarctica in recent years, may help explain both contradictory trends.


from The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) -- Women are five times as likely as men to die from lupus, an immune system disease that causes crippling joint pain, scientists said Thursday.

A 20-year study also found that blacks are three times as likely as whites to die from the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Lupus turns the body's immune defense system against its own healthy tissues, in some cases attacking the kidneys and other vital organs. Many people afflicted also develop severe arthritis.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The love life of a female chickadee could make a country music classic: "If your song don't pass muster, buster, I'm gone."

The lady chickadee has a cheatin' heart, quick to find another lover if her mate fails to win his daily song contests with rivals. In effect, she decides that if her mate is a loser, he won't be the only papa in her nest, say researchers at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

Daniel Mennill, co-author of a study appearing Friday in the journal Science, said mates of high-ranking male black-capped chickadees are more likely to be unfaithful than are the mates of lower-ranked males.


from The Wall Street Journal

NEW LONDON, Conn. -- William Landschulz, a Pfizer Inc. doctor, brimmed with anticipation as he strode through the company's research headquarters to a hastily called meeting last August.

Dr. Landschulz, a boyish 42-year-old endocrinologist, was leading the clinical trials for one of the most exciting drug candidates at Pfizer in years. Code-named CP-424,391, it was a once-a-day pill with the potential to be a fountain of youth.

By stimulating the pituitary gland, the experimental drug aimed to reverse the physical decline that comes with aging, to make old people feel young again and to keep legions out of nursing homes. The treatment, in which Pfizer had already invested tens of millions of dollars during nearly a decade of research, also had a shot at becoming the ultimate lifestyle drug for baby boomers by offering them vigor in old age instead of frailty.


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,

Ground stress could be increasing


David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor Thursday, April 18, 2002

A puzzling surge of recent earthquake activity in the northern Bay Area has left scientists wondering whether the modest tremors presage a major quake on the San Andreas Fault system as stress builds up deep underground.

But it is also possible, they say, that the smaller quakes could actually be relieving some of the strain and thus delaying the Big One that all earthquake experts say is virtually inevitable within the next 20 to 30 years.

The new concern comes on the eve of today's 96th anniversary of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which claimed 3,000 lives and caused the fire that destroyed much of the city.

Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments

By William J. Cromie
Gazette Staff


In a monastery in northern India, thinly clad Tibetan monks sat quietly in a room where the temperature was a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a yoga technique known as g Tum-mo, they entered a state of deep meditation. Other monks soaked 3-by-6-foot sheets in cold water (49 degrees) and placed them over the meditators' shoulders. For untrained people, such frigid wrappings would produce uncontrolled shivering.

If body temperatures continue to drop under these conditions, death can result. But it was not long before steam began rising from the sheets. As a result of body heat produced by the monks during meditation, the sheets dried in about an hour.

Attendants removed the sheets, then covered the meditators with a second chilled, wet wrapping. Each monk was required to dry three sheets over a period of several hours.

Thursday, May 02, 2002


For those of you who managed to sit through that awful ABC special last night, "Contact: Talking to the Dead," you saw George Anderson, a medium dubbed by the network (on their web page) as the "Edgar Cayce of our time," a man with a true "sixth sense." Of course, for such a prime time special he can't talk to just anyone's dead friends and relatives, he need to talk twaddle with the likes of Vanna White, Mackenzie Phillips, WWF and WCW champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart and the family of murder victim Bonny Lee Bakley who, we are told, apparently did not commit suicide. Now that's a shocker. What's next? Nicole Brown Simpson also didn't kill herself? Quick, call the LAPD!

This must be the psychic specials week, as on Sunday and Tuesday, April 28 and 30th, CBS is running a television miniseries "Living with the Dead," staring Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Jack Palance, Diane Ladd, and Queen Latifah. Then, coming this fall, Van Praagh gets into the TV series act alongside John Edward, with his own syndicated show entitled "Beyond," starting September 16.

Given all the hoopla, I thought I would present once again the section from my book How We Believe, on "Talking Twaddle with the Dead." It explains how psychics talk to the dead, plus the psychology of belief to explain those who buy into this flapdoodle.

Talking Twaddle With the Dead

Throughout much of 1998 and 1999, the best-selling book in America was by a man who says he can talk to the dead (and so can you, if you buy his book).

It turns out that our loved ones who have passed over are not really dead, just on another spiritual plane. All you have to do is fine tune your frequencies and, like Sri Leachim Remresh, you too can turn off the Here and Now and tune into that Something Else.

I am referring to James Van Praagh, the world's most famous medium--for now anyway. He appeared three times, unopposed, on Larry King Live. He was featured on NBC's Dateline, The Today Show, and on ABC's 20/20. He made the talkshow rounds, including on Oprah (who was mildly skeptical) and Charles Grodin (who was not skeptical at all), and even had Charles Gibson on ABC's Good Morning America talking to his dead dad. Cher met with him to talk one last time with Sonny. Denise Brown received a reading to make a final connection with her sister, Nicole Brown Simpson. What is going on here? Who is James Van Praagh, and why do so many people believe in him?

An Actor in Search of a Role

A brief glance at Van Praagh's biography is revealing. According to Alex Witchel of the New York Times (February 22, 1998), Van Praagh is the third of four children, born and raised Roman Catholic in Bayside, Queens, New York.

At one point, he considered becoming a priest. He served as an altar boy and even entered a Catholic prep seminary--the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and Brothers in Hyde Park. His father is Allan Van Praagh, the head carpenter at the Royale Theater on Broadway (where his brother still works). His mother was Irish-Catholic and one of his sisters is a eucharistic minister. While attending college he found part-time work at the theater where, says Witchel, while the other stagehands were playing cards during the shows, Van Praagh "was out front watching, picking up pointers he still uses for his numerous television appearances." The lessons were well learned.

His college career was checkered, including enrollments at Queensboro Community College, State University of New York at Geneseo, Hunter College, and, finally, San Francisco State University where he graduated with a degree in Broadcasting and Communications. Subsequently he moved to Los Angeles and began working in the entertainment industry, including Paramount Studios and a stint with the famed William Morris agency in Hollywood. He confesses in his book, Talking to Heaven, "I dreamed of a career as a screenwriter. As luck would have it, while coordinating a conference with the creative staff of Hill Street Blues, I became friendly with one of the show's producers. When I told him I would be graduating soon, he offered what I thought was my first big break." After graduation, Van Praagh moved to Hollywood where "I vowed that I would not leave Tinsel Town until I realized my dream and became a writer." Through a job at William Morris, Van Praagh met a medium who told him "You know, James, you are very mediumistic. The spirit people are telling me that one day you will give readings like this to other people. The spirits are planning to use you." Van Praagh had found his role in Hollywood. He would act the part of a spirit medium.

In 1994 he was discovered by NBC's The Other Side, for whom Van Praagh made numerous appearances in their exploration of the paranormal. This, and other media appearances, generated countless personal and group readings, pushing him above the psychic crowd and eventually leading to his status as a bestselling author.

Who does James Van Praagh say he is? According to his own web page, "Van Praagh is a survival evidence medium, meaning that he is able to bridge the gap between two planes of existence, that of the living and that of the dead, by providing evidential proof of life after death via detailed messages." Van Praagh calls himself a "clairsentient," or "clear feeling," where he can allegedly "feel the emotions and personalities of the deceased." His analogue, he says, is "Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost." He claims that the "spirits communicate by their emotions," and even though they do not speak English or any other language, they can tell you, for example, "that you changed your pants because of a hole in the left seam or that you couldn't mail letters today because the stamps weren't in the bottom right desk drawer." He readily admits that he makes mistakes in his readings (there are so many he could hardly deny it), rationalizing it this way: "If I convey recognizable evidence along with even a fraction of the loving energy behind the message, I consider the reading successful." In other words, if he can just get a few hits, then "convey" the all important emotional stroking that your loved one still loves you and is happy in heaven, he has done his job.

From the feedback of his clients, this is all most people need.

Gambling on the Afterlife

By way of analogy, consider the gambling games of Las Vegas. Gaming is big business, as anyone can see driving down the ever-burgeoning neon-glaring strip. In fact, gambling is the best bet in business, far superior to the stock market, as long as you are the house. With only a tiny advantage on any given game, and heaps of customers playing lots of rounds, the house is guaranteed to win. For the roulette wheel, for example, with eighteen red slots, eighteen black slots, and two green slots (zero and double zero), the take is only 5.26 percent. That is, by betting either black or red, you will win eighteen out of thirty-eight times, or 47.37 percent, whereas the house will win twenty out of thirty-eight times, or 52.63 percent. If you placed one hundred $1.00 bets, you would be out $5.26, on average. This may not sound like a lot, but cumulatively over time, with millions of gamblers betting billions of dollars every year, the house take is significant. Other games are better for gamblers. For straight bets in Craps the house take is a mere 1.4 percent; for Blackjack, with the most liberal rules and optimal (non-card-counting) player strategies, the house earns just under 1 percent.

These are the best games to play if you are a gambler (that is to say, you will lose more slowly). With other games it is downhill for the gambler. The take for some slot machines, for example, is a staggering 25 percent. That is, you are losing 25 cents on the dollar, or, the house wins 62.5 percent and you win 37.5 percent of the time. Yet people still play. Why?

As B. F. Skinner showed in rats, pigeons, and humans, organisms do not need steady reinforcement to continue pressing a bar, pecking a plate, or pulling a one-armed bandit (slot machine). Intermittent reinforcement will do just as well, and sometimes even better at eliciting the desired behavior. A "Variable Ratio Schedule" of reinforcement turns out to be the best for gambling games, where the payoff is unpredictably variable, depending on a varying rate of responses. Payoff comes after ten pulls, then three pulls, then twelve pulls, then seven pulls, then twenty-three pulls, and so on. When I was a graduate student in experimental psychology in the mid 1970s I worked in an operant laboratory where we created these variable schedules of reinforcement for our subjects. It is remarkable how infrequently the payoffs need to come to keep the subjects motivated. And this was for such basic rewards as sugar water (rats), seed (pigeons), and money (humans). Imagine how much more motivating, and, correspondingly, lower the rate of reinforcement can be, when the reward is the belief that your lost loved ones are not really dead and, as an added bonus, you can speak with them through a medium. This renders intelligible, in part, the success of someone like James Van Praagh, whose hit rate is far below that of even the lowest-paying gambling games in Las Vegas. It also helps explain the more general case of how we believe.

I once sat in on a day of readings with Van Praagh and kept a running tally of his ratio of hits and misses for each of ten subjects (one of whom was me, all filmed for NBC's Unsolved Mysteries). Being generous with what kind of information counted as a "hit," Van Praagh averaged 5-10 hits for every 30 questions/statements, or 16-33 percent, significantly below that of roulette where the player wins almost half the time. But because Van Praagh's payoff is the hope of life after death and a chance to speak with a lost loved one, people are exceptionally forgiving of his many misses. Like all gamblers, Van Praagh's clients only need an occasional hit to convince them.

How to Talk to the Dead

Watching James Van Praagh work a crowd or do a one-on-one reading is an educational experience in human psychology. Make no mistake about it, this is one clever man. We may see him, at best, as morally reprehensible, but we should not underestimate his genuine theatrical talents and his understanding, gained through years of experience speaking with real people, of what touches off some of the deepest human emotions. Van Praagh masterfully uses his ability and learned skills in three basic techniques he uses to "talk" to the dead:

1. Cold Reading. Most of what Van Praagh does is what is known in the mentalism trade as cold reading, where you literally "read" someone "cold," knowing nothing about them. He asks lots of questions and make numerous statements, some general and some specific, and sees what sticks. Most of the time he is wrong. His subjects visibly nod their heads "no." But he only needs an occasional strike to convince his clientele he is genuine.

2. Warm Reading. This is utilizing known principles of psychology that apply to nearly everyone. For example, most grieving people will wear a piece of jewelry that has a connection to their loved one. Katie Couric on The Today Show, for example, after her husband died, wore his ring on a necklace when she returned to the show. Van Praagh knows this about mourning people and will say something like "do you have a ring or a piece of jewelry on you, please?" His subject cannot believe her ears and nods enthusiastically in the affirmative. He says "thank you," and moves on as if he had just divined this from heaven. Most people also keep a photograph of their loved one either on them or near their bed, and Van Praagh will take credit for this specific hit that actually applies to most people.

Van Praagh is facile at determining the cause of death by focusing either on the chest or head areas, and then exploring whether it was a slow or sudden end. He works his way down through these possibilities as if he were following a computer flow chart and then fills in the blanks. "I'm feeling a pain in the chest." If he gets a positive nod, he continues. "Did he have cancer, please? Because I'm seeing a slow death here." If he gets the nod, he takes the hit. If the subject hesitates at all, he will quickly shift to heart attack. If it is the head, he goes for stroke or head injury from an automobile accident or fall. Statistically speaking there are only half a dozen ways most of us die, so with just a little probing, and the verbal and nonverbal cues of his subject, he can appear to get far more hits than he is really getting.

3. Hot Reading. Mentalist Max Maven informs me that some mentalists and psychics also do "hot" readings, where they obtain information on a subject ahead of time. I do not know if Van Praagh does research or uses private detectives to get information on people, but I have discovered from numerous television producers that he consciously and deliberately pumps them for information about his subjects ahead of time, then uses that information to deceive the viewing public that he got it from heaven. Leah Hanes, for example, who was a producer and researcher for NBC's The Other Side, explained to me how Van Praagh used her to get information on guests during his numerous appearances on the show (interview on April 3, 1998):

I can't say I think James Van Praagh is a total fraud, because he came up with things I hadn't told him, but there were moments on the show when he appeared to be coming up with fresh information that he got from me and other researchers earlier on. For example, I recall him asking about the profession of the deceased loved one of one of our guests, and I told him he was a fireman. Then, when the show began, he said something to the effect, "I see a uniform. Was he a policeman or fireman please?" Everyone was stunned, but he got that directly from me.

Deception or Self-Deception?

When I first began following Van Praagh I thought perhaps there was a certain element of self-deception on his part where, giving him the benefit of the doubt (he does appear likable), he developed his cold- and warm-reading techniques through a gradual developmental process of subject feedback and reinforcement, much like how gurus come to believe in their own divinity when enough of their followers tell them they are divine. Human behavior is enormously complex, so I suppose it is possible that Van Praagh is both deceiving and self-deceiving, but over the years I have observed much more of the former than the latter. During the Unsolved Mysteries shoot, which lasted ten hours and was filled with numerous breaks, Van Praagh would routinely make small talk with us, asking lots of questions and obtaining information, which he subsequently used to his advantage when the cameras were rolling.

Is it possible he does not consciously realize that he is doing this? I contacted numerous mentalists about Van Praagh and they assured me that it is very unlikely he is self-deceiving because these are techniques that they all use, and they do so consciously and purposefully. I was told that I was being naive in trying to give Van Praagh the benefit of the doubt. I spoke to an individual who works a 900-psychic hotline, who knows Van Praagh and many of the people who work with him in that industry, and he assures me that Van Praagh is not self-deceived. The psychic industry consensus, this source tells me, is that James Van Praagh knows exactly what he is doing.

That may be so, but as a general principle self-deception is a powerful tool because if you believe the lie yourself your body is less likely to give off telltale clues, making it more difficult for an observer to detect deception.

I am fully convinced that cult leaders, after being told for years by hundreds and thousands of followers that they are special, at some point begin to believe it themselves, making them all the more convincing to other and potential followers.

Caught Cheating

Even for seasoned observers it is remarkable how Van Praagh appears to get hits, even though a closer look reveals how he does it. When we were filming the 20/20 piece for ABC, I was told that overall he had not done well the night before, but that he did get a couple of startling hits--including the name of a woman's family dog. But when we reviewed the videotape, here is what actually happened. Van Praagh was failing in his reading of a gentleman named Peter, who was poker-faced and obviously skeptical (without feedback Van Praagh's hit rate drops significantly). After dozens of misses Van Praagh queried, "Who is Charlie?" Peter sat there dumfounded, unable to recall if he knew anyone of significance named Charlie, when suddenly the woman sitting in back of him--a complete stranger--blurted out "Charlie was our family dog." Van Praagh seized the moment and proclaimed that he could see Charlie and this woman's Dad taking walks in heaven together. Apparently Van Praagh's psychic abilities are not fine-tuned enough to tell the difference between a human and a dog.

The highlight of the 20/20 piece, however, was a case of hot reading. On a break, with a camera rolling, while relaxing and sipping a glass of water, Van Praagh suddenly called out to a young woman named Mary Jo: "Did your mother pass on?" Mary Jo nodded negatively, and then volunteered "Grandmother." Fifty-four minutes later Van Praagh turned to her and said: "I want to tell you, there is a lady sitting behind you. She feels like a grandmother to me." The next day, when I was shown this clip, one of the line producers said, "you know, I think he got that on the break. Too bad we don't have it on film." After checking they discovered they did, so Van Praagh was caught red-handed. When confronted by 20/20 correspondent Bill Ritter with the video clip, however, he demurred: "I don't cheat. I don't have to prove--I don't cheat. I don't cheat. I mean, come on." Interesting. No one said anything about cheating. The gentleman doth protest too much.

As an example of the power of the Belief Engine, even after we caught Van Praagh cheating, Barbara Walters concluded in the wrap-up discussion: "I was skeptical. I still am. But I met James Van Praagh. He didn't expect to meet me. He knew that my father's name was Lew--Lewis he said--and he knew that my father had a glass eye. People don't know that." Ritter, doing his homework on this piece to the bitter end, explained: "You told me the story yesterday and I told you I would look and see what I could find out. Within a few minutes I found out that your father's name was Lew and that he was very well known in show business. And this morning I was looking in a book and found a passage that says he was blind in one eye--an accidental incident as a child--and he had a glass eye. If I found that out, then he could have." While Walters flustered in frustration, Hugh Downs declared without qualification: "I don't believe him."

Where have we heard all this before? A hundred years ago, when mediums, seances, and spiritualism were all the rage in England and America, Thomas Henry Huxley concluded, as only he could in his biting wit, that as nonsensical as it was, spiritual manifestations might at least reduce suicides: "Better live a crossing-sweeper than die and be made to talk twaddle by a 'medium' hired at a guinea a seance."

Expedition seeks paranormal pit


By John Zebrowski
Seattle Times staff reporter

ELLENSBURG A topographic map spread on the hood of a car showed where the search party would start. There is a hole out there, they believe, a hole that not only appears to be bottomless but has, on at least one occasion, brought an animal back to life.

The hole, the story goes, exists outside of town on land once owned by a man who calls himself Mel Waters. For years, he said, it was used as the neighborhood dump for trash, old appliances, dead cattle. When the hole never filled up, Waters measured its depth by lowering weighted fishing line into it. After 80,000 feet, he gave up. Amazed by this odd place (which dogs and birds avoided), Waters called radio host Art Bell, whose late-night show on conspiracies and the paranormal attracts a huge national audience.

The hole is now lost. Waters himself a mystery said he sold the property and won't say where it is. Few people know who he really is. So far, Waters exists only on radio waves, with a story many think is bunk. But tales of a deep hole in Ellensburg have circulated for years. Hoax or not, Waters' appearances before Bell's 10 million listeners have elevated an old local legend into a national paranormal mystery.


FILER'S FILES #18-2002, MUFON Skywatch Investigations
George A. Filer, Director, Mutual UFO Network Eastern
May 1, 2002, Majorstar@AOL.COM.
Webmaster: Chuck Warren http://www.filersfiles.com.

Art Wagner, M.S.(Physics) has written a book review of "The Hunt for Zero Point". Zero point is believed to be energy that exists in space. Nick Cook's new book was released in England, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa in August 2001, but has been delayed twice for US release. It is an investigative reporter's Cooks Tour of what has come to be known in the UFO-as-machine literature. This is the story of Dr. Pangloss, who for ten years - travels to many companies and countries by following the directions of a pseudonymous "Dr. Marckus". We are never told exactly who Dr. Marckus is except for a cursory physical description and that he is an eminent scientist in the physics department of a famous British University. Written in a "popular" vein, THE HUNT FOR ZERO POINT seems to prompt the interested reader to dig deeper; at least that is the effect it had on me. For example, in discussing ionized plasma boundary layer control, a certain paper by engineers at Northrop is mentioned. Dr. Marckus is given to say, "It's missing. They couldn't find any record of it. Almost certainly, some special projects office in the Pentagon made it disappear." That paper does not seem to be readily available but I most strongly urge everyone reading this review to study the web page of the Berlin University of Technology titled "Electroaerodynamic (EAD) Wind-Tunnel"

This is necessary reading in the current UFO-as-machine literature,
Century/Random House(2001). ISBN 07126 69531

Along with the research reports of Jean-Louis Naudin in France on "The Enhanced T. Brown Electrokinetic Experiment" http://jnaudin.free.fr/html/enhbbexp.htm and "The Lafforgue Field Propulsion Thruster" http://jnaudin.free.fr/lfpt/index.html. The so-called "Philadelphia Experiment" is mentioned briefly as a tarnishing element to T.T.Brown's career and stays pretty close to the standard party line. However, if such an event like the P.E. of Legend had taken place, its physics would be very much like that described by Yuri N.Obukhov and Guillermo F. Rubilar in "Fresnel Analysis of the Wave Propagation in Nonlinear Electrodynamics," 5 April 2002 (arXiv:gr-qc/0204028) producing birefringence and skew on field effects. This type of work is based on a 1923, paper by Walter Gordon in Germany on optical analog gravity metrics. See also "Optical Black Holes Could Be Made In The Lab" on CERNCourier (http://www.cerncourier.com/main/article/40/4/10). (amazon.uk.co)'s blurb for the book refers to a lecture on antigravity as having taken place in "April,1992" while the book itself (p.230) says "1991." We are also given much important material: the spotlight on Kammler and his Kammlerstab (staff); with two photographs of the AVRO V.T.O. Project Y "Manta" and one of their Mach 4 Project 1794 saucers in its test rig; clarifying details about Viktor Schauberger's saucer work from his own contemporary records; and results from a firsthand study of John Hutchison's experimental work by Col. John Alexander from INSCOM in 1983 over several months. A good background report on Mr. Hutchison's work may be found in "The Hutchison Effect" by John Hutchison in ELECTRIC SPACECRAFT JOURNAL, issue 9 (1993), PP.21-28. An important connection between his work and that of Wilbert B. Smith in Ottawa can be found in THE GRANITE MAN & THE BUTTERFLY by Jeanne Manning (1995), p.183.

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 May 2, 2002

from The Washington Post

Scientists for the first time have managed to remotely direct the movements of rats by using implanted electrodes to control their behavior -- in effect transforming living animals into robots.

The technique has potentially important implications for activities ranging from land mine detection, earthquake recovery and spying to the emerging field of "neural prostheses" -- using electronics to bridge nervous-system gaps caused by spinal injuries, strokes or other physical infirmities.

"It's really just conditioning behavior," said physiologist John K. Chapin of the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center, noting that training an animal to do human bidding is as old as teaching dogs to fetch. "But it's different in that you can do it all with remote control," he added. "In theory, you could guide the animal anywhere."


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Medical researchers seeking ways to restore muscle control to paralyzed humans have implanted electrodes in the brains of laboratory rats and use them like remote-controlled robots.

As a result of the scientists' work, the Pentagon is now supporting the efforts to learn whether the rats, carrying tiny video cameras on their backs, might prove useful sniffing out hidden explosives, as mine detectors, or even to aid in search-and-rescue operations.

"It wasn't what our experiments started out for," said John K. Chapin, a neurophysiologist at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center. "We were really experimenting to see if we could use the rats as models to see if electrically stimulating the brains of patients with spinal cord injuries might let doctors teach them to move their arms or legs the way robots do."


from The San Francisco Chronicle

The official candidate to head the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has withdrawn his name from consideration, expressing concern that his candidacy might be unfairly tainted by the nuclear spy scandal over Chinese American scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Alluding to "unwarranted linking of my name to the Wen Ho Lee affair in an attempt to cast a cloud on the appropriateness of my appointment," Raymond J. Juzaitis said he would withdraw his name from further consideration because "the unfounded controversy may hinder my effectiveness in leading the laboratory."

Juzaitis made the statement in a letter dated April 30 to University of California President Richard C. Atkinson, whose office released the letter to the media Wednesday.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

New research published today in the journal Nature proves what scientists have long suspected -- that the AIDS virus selectively targets for infection the very cells the body enlists to fight the disease.

The study also showed that "drug holidays," a practice meant to reduce toxicity and boost immunity in HIV-positive patients, may actually allow the virus to rebound to levels that the body would have difficulty fighting.

The practice of "structured treatment interruptions," or drug holidays, "may occur at the price of enhancing HIV replication by expanding, rather than controlling, critical pools of infected memory T- cells," the study found.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- NASA faces a dilemma in planning to send people to Mars: The scientific desire to search for life there versus the need to prevent any such life from endangering the astronauts or the Earth.

The National Research Council is recommending that safety take precedence and that missions to the Red Planet try to avoid encountering any possible life forms there.

"While the threat to Earth's ecosystem from the release of Martian biological agents is very low, the risk of harmful effects is not zero and cannot be ignored," the council said in a report released Wednesday.


from The Los Angeles Times

Against a majestic panorama of plunging valleys and knife-edged mountains, the last California condor captured in the wild spread his 9-foot wings and soared off a remote cliff in Los Padres National Forest on Wednesday, 15 years after being trapped as part of an ambitious plan to save the species from extinction.

The 22-year-old bird, known as AC9 or Adult Condor 9, initially had problems getting out of the cage holding him and three juvenile condors.

The younger birds made it look easy, flying out and over the cliff-face and thrilling the more than 100 observers on a nearby ridge. But two hours later AC9 remained baffled, so biologists shoved him out the door. In moments, the enormous bird was airborne over his home territory. He sped along the cliffs some 4,000 feet above the green, undulating floor of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary just north of the town of Fillmore. Other condors wheeled and glided nearby, casting black silhouettes against the sun.


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,

Mystic farmers get grants for zodiac growing

The Sunday Times

April 28, 2002
Dipesh Gadher and Jonathan Leake

BRITISH farmers are winning government grants to help them to convert to a mystical form of agriculture that requires crops to be planted in line with the movements of the moon.

The number of biodynamic farms in Britain based on a holistic approach to farming championed by an Austrian-born philosopher has doubled in the past four years. The method is being heralded by its supporters as the purest means of growing organic food.

Meditation Town Prints Own Money

Associated Press Writer


VEDIC CITY, Iowa (AP) - If Walt Disney World can make Disney Dollars and Club Med can print its own currency, then this Iowa town founded by practitioners of Transcendental Meditation figured it, too, could make its own money.

The Raam Mudra, as the colorful notes are called, began circulating last month in this city incorporated last year by 125 followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles' guru and founder of the TM movement.

NSF survey shows supernatural trend

By Jennifer Harper


We pine for science, really we do. But ESP, haunted houses, horoscopes, geeky stereotypes and a few aliens have so much more cachet - the National Science Foundation says so.

The group has released "Indicators 2002," a mammoth overview, tallied every two years, of all things scientific. Americans, it seems, are interested in all those sparkling discoveries and inventions. Understanding them is another thing.

The NSF survey found that 90 percent of us say we're interested in science and technology - but less than 15 percent say we're "very informed." Around 70 percent do not understand the classic "scientific process" of investigation and analysis.

NASA Unveils Photos From the Hubble's Newest Camera

April 30, 2002

WASHINGTON, April 30 (Reuters) - NASA unveiled images of a galactic tadpole, a pair of monster mice, a nursery for newborn stars and a giant pillar of dust on Tuesday in the first batch of pictures snapped by Hubble Space Telescope's newest camera.

All four detailed images of the distant universe were produced by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which is operating superbly after its installation in March, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Malaysians 'die' to strengthen religion

From Ananova at


Malaysian Muslims are flocking to experience death to strengthen their religion.

The process involves looking at graves, lying in a coffin and hearing the last rites.

But the country's religious affairs minister says the course, run by a Muslim group, is unnecessary and could result in people becoming backward.

Datuk Abdul Hamid Zainal Abidin said: "They will be so preoccupied with death that they may neglect their responsibilities as Muslims. I worry that if more Muslims get into such a mindset they may become backward."

The Straits Times reports the course is held in Rawang in Selangor.

Its organisers say: "It is aimed at heightening religious consciousness to encourage Muslims to be more committed to their duties and work for the religion throughout their lives."

Participants first pay respect to replicas of two graves. Then they move to another room where they are made to lie down inside a wooden box representing a coffin.

The lights in the room are switched off and a video of the last rites being performed on the dead is shown on a small screen.

Some other visuals and sound effects are also played to enable people to experience 'the journey', said organisers. Participants are supposed to feel like they are dead and that their deeds are being accounted for.

The leader of the unnamed Muslim group, Ustaz Zainal Abidin Yusof, said the method was unorthodox but not against Islam.

Story filed: 10:24 Tuesday 30th April 2002

Giant 'centipede' fossil find could rewrite natural history

From Ananova at


The oldest fossilised footprints ever found on land suggest animals may have emerged from the sea before plants.

Animals similar to centipedes made the prints on seaside sand dunes about 530 million years ago.

It had been thought animals didn't take this step until 40 million years later. There are no fossils of land plants the same age apart from moss-like mats.

The lobster-sized animals left 25 rows of prints in rock which is now in south-eastern Canada.

Ripples and the way the sandstone is layered are typical of wind-blown sand compacted and not underwater sediments.

Simon Braddy, of the University of Bristol was part of the joint Canadian and UK team which found the prints.

He said: "It's staggering that we thought for all this time that animals appeared on land so much later."

The footprints are about 10 centimetres apart and the creatures which made them had between 16 and 22 legs and tails which they dragged.

The study is published in the journal Geology and reported by Nature.

Story filed: 12:27 Tuesday 30th April 2002

Wednesday, May 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 May 1, 2002

from The Washington Post

A photograph from a camera installed aboard the Hubble Space Telescope in March shows more than 3,000 galaxies -- a cosmic core sample that includes light from star swarms shining a scant billion years after the birth of the universe.

Unveiled yesterday at a news conference in Washington, the picture shows at a glance that the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) will keep the upgraded $6.9 billion Hubble telescope at the forefront of astronomy for years.

"The advanced camera gives Hubble and humanity a new window on the universe," said Holland Ford, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University who serves as lead scientist for the new camera. "This new window is the widest and clearest that Hubble has ever had."


from The Washington Post

The congressional debate over human cloning and embryo research took a dramatic turn yesterday as Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, an opponent of abortion, announced his support for a bill that would outlaw the creation of cloned human babies but allow the cloning of human embryos for research.

The Utah Republican's decision, which he said he made after "countless hours of study, reflection and, yes, prayer," is a significant setback for religious conservatives and others who favor an opposing bill now before the Senate. That bill would ban all aspects of human cloning, including the creation of cloned human embryos.

Opponents of embryo cloning say the research is inherently unethical, potentially exploitive of the women who would donate eggs for the research, and a dangerous move toward human genetic engineering. Proponents say it would be unethical to criminalize the production of cloned embryos because they appear to be ideal sources of stem cells, which have the potential to cure a host of diseases.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush's nominee to head the National Institutes of Health sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing after expressing strong support for federal funding for research on stem cells from human embryos.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni also promised to speak up if scientific advances pass the limits Bush has set on the promising but controversial research.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said the committee was likely to approve Zerhouni's nomination Wednesday and that the full Senate could vote to confirm him by week's end.


from The New York Times

A team of scientists from Norway and the United States say they are developing a technique that transforms one type of cell from the body into another type without using cloning or embryonic stem cells.

The scientists say they have made human skin cells in a test tube behave as if they were immune system cells, by bathing the skin cells in extracts of the immune cells. In more preliminary work, they have been able to get skin cells to behave as if they were nerve cells.

"We can take a skin cell from your body and turn it directly into a cell type that you need to treat a particular disease," said Dr. Philippe Collas, the leader of the team, whose work is being published today in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

"The message here is we are developing an entirely new approach to tissue replacement therapy that avoids many of the issues" related to cloning, Dr. Collas said.


from The New York Times

Despite their pressing, immediate health needs, developing countries should devote some time and money to keeping up with genetic research because of its promise in battling the diseases most important in the third world, the World Health Organization said in a report released yesterday.

The report, "Genomics and World Health," is the first major study to address the question whether developing countries should stick to health care basics or to devote resources to genomics research.

"Some of the claims for the medical benefits of genomics have undoubtedly been exaggerated," the report says, but a review of the evidence suggests that major advances in health will come from the study of genomes and they may not necessarily involve sophisticated technology and lots of money. Some might be cheap diagnostic tests and effective but relatively inexpensive vaccines or treatments for major diseases.


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,

Nessie fans announce International Loch Ness Monster Day

From Ananova at


Fans of Nessie are gearing up for the first ever International Loch Ness Monster Day.

The Inverness-based Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club has named May 2 as the official day to celebrate the mystery.

Club President Gary Campbell says the first major Nessie newspaper story appeared on that date in 1933.

He's written to the UN in New York asking for it to formally recognise the day.

The club is co-ordinating a webcam watch at the loch on May 2 which can be accessed on its site.

Mr Campbell said: "We thought it was only fair that an internationally recognised icon such as Nessie had her own day set aside. May 2 was the obvious choice as it was this day that the first real Nessie story appeared in the Inverness Courier in 1933.

"The purpose of the day is to bring to the world's attention that even though scientific research has moved on significantly in recent years, some mysteries that many would have thought explainable still have no answers."

He added: "We also decided to make it international not just because Nessie is so well known around the world but also to include similar phenomena such as America's Bigfoot and Canada's own Nessie, Ogopogo. In many respects Nessie is the best known representative of such creatures."

Businessman Ian Miller, who runs the Loch Ness Nessie Shop on the shores of the loch, said: "As someone who has seen Nessie I agree that she should have her own special day.

"This now means that each year people all over the world will be reminded that Nessie is not just some ancient myth but that she is still there to be seen to this day."

Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding


In National Science Foundation (NSF) surveys conducted since 1979, about 90 percent of U.S. adults report being very or moderately interested in new scientific discoveries and the use of new inventions and technologies. Those with more years of formal education and those who have taken more courses in science and mathematics are more likely than others to express a high level of interest in science and technology (S&T).

News about S&T, however, does not attract much public interest. According to Pew Research Center surveys, only about 2 percent of the most closely followed news stories of the past 15 years were about scientific breakthroughs, research, and exploration. The leading science-related news event of 2000 was the announcement that scientists had completed mapping the human genome. However, only 16 percent of the public claimed to be following that story very closely. Twenty-eight percent said they were closely following news about the Microsoft antitrust court case, an event that may have been more of a business than a technology story, although the outcome could have a major impact on innovation in the software industry.

The number of people who feel either well informed or moderately well informed about S&T is relatively low. In 2001, less than 15 percent of NSF survey respondents described themselves as well informed about new scientific discoveries and the use of new inventions and technologies; a substantial minority, approximately 30 to 35 percent, thought that they were poorly informed. People are feeling less informed than they used to. A recent downward trend is particularly noticeable for the five S&T-related issues included in the NSF survey.

Most Americans do not know a lot about S&T. The general public's ability to answer basic questions about science has hardly changed. For instance, in 2001, only about 50 percent of NSF survey respondents knew that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs, that it takes Earth one year to go around the Sun, that electrons are smaller than atoms, and that antibiotics do not kill viruses. However, the number answering the last item correctly rose from 40 percent in 1995 to 51 percent in 2001, an increase that may be attributable to widespread media coverage of an important public health issue, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

For the first time, a majority (53 percent) of NSF survey respondents answered "true" to the statement "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," bringing the United States more in line with other industrialized countries in response to this question. Although a majority (60 percent) of people surveyed in a Gallup poll were opposed to the Kansas State Board of Education's decision to delete evolution from the state's science standards (a decision that was later reversed), more than two-thirds favored teaching both evolution and creationism in U.S. public school classrooms.

A majority of Americans (about 70 percent) lack a clear understanding of the scientific process. Although more than 50 percent of NSF survey respondents in 2001 had some understanding of probability, and more than 40 percent were familiar with how an experiment is conducted, only one-third could adequately explain what it means to study something scientifically. Understanding how ideas are investigated and analyzed is a sure sign of scientific literacy. Such critical thinking skills can also prove advantageous in making well-informed choices at the ballot box and in other daily living activities.

All indicators point to widespread support for government funding of basic research. In 2001, 81 percent of NSF survey respondents agreed with the statement: "Even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the Federal Government."

Data from the NSF survey show a gradual decline in public support for genetic engineering over the past 15 years. The shift can be seen most clearly among the college educated and those classified as attentive to S&T. In no year has a majority of Americans agreed that the benefits of genetic engineering outweighed the harmful results. In 2001, 40 percent of those surveyed thought that the benefits outweighed the harmful results, down from 49 percent in 1985. However, the number of people who think the harms outweigh the benefits has also declined in most years, from 39 percent in 1985 to 33 percent in 2001. Concurrently, the percentage saying that the benefits are equal to the harms increased from 12 percent in 1985 to 28 percent in 2001.

In the 2001 NSF survey, 61 percent of respondents reported that they supported genetically modified food production; 36 percent said that they were opposed. In addition, 89 percent said that they supported genetic testing to detect inherited diseases (9 percent were opposed), and 47 percent said that they supported cloning animals, about the same as the percentage opposing the technology.

Anti-biotechnology sentiments are much more common in Europe than in the United States. In addition, the number of people harboring negative perceptions of biotechnology has increased in both Europe and Canada during the past few years, especially when compared with attitudes in the United States. These latest findings are from an international study conducted in late 1999 and early 2000 in the United States, Europe, and Canada.

On a 10-question "pop quiz" on biotechnology, most Americans, Europeans, and Canadians gave the incorrect answer (true) to the statement "ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, while genetically modified tomatoes do," and fewer than half the respondents in each region knew that animal genes can be transferred into plants. On the same quiz, Americans and Canadians seemed to know more than Europeans about the science of biotechnology; they averaged 6.2 and 6.1 correctly answered questions, respectively, compared with Europeans, who averaged 5.4 correctly answered questions. In responding to another question in this quiz, about half of Americans, Europeans, and Canadians knew that more than half of human genetic makeup is identical to that of chimpanzees.

In response to surveys conducted in late 1999 and early 2000, about half of the Americans thought that genetic engineering would "improve our way of life in the next 20 years." The corresponding statistics for Europe and Canada were 38 and 50 percent, respectively. However, a sizable minority of Americans (29 percent) said the opposite, that genetic engineering "will make things worse" during the next 20 years, compared with 31 percent of Europeans and 40 percent of Canadians. In all three surveys, biotechnology ranked sixth among the seven technologies that respondents were asked about (only nuclear energy ranked lower). In contrast, more than 80 percent of Americans and Canadians said that solar energy, computers, and telecommunications would improve our way of life in the next 20 years. The corresponding European percentages were somewhat lower but still greater than 70 percent. In addition, approximately 70 percent of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans each thought that the Internet would improve their lives during the next 20 years.

Data from the 2001 NSF survey show that Americans have been listening to what scientists and others have been saying about global climate change. Nearly 80 percent believe in the existence of global warming, and 53 percent of those surveyed said that the possibility of global warming should be treated as a very serious problem.

Most adults learn about the latest developments in S&T primarily from watching television. Although the Internet is affecting what Americans know about these subjects, only 9 percent identified it as their main source of information about S&T, compared with those who identified television (44 percent) or newspapers and magazines (16 percent). However, according to a 2000 Pew Research Center survey, the Internet is displacing network news shows in certain types of households. Also, according to the 2001 NSF survey, the Internet is the preferred resource when seeking information about specific scientific issues, indicating that encyclopedias—and every other information resource—have lost a substantial number of customers to the Internet.

Access to the Internet at home is an indicator of both attitudes toward and knowledge of S&T. Those who have home computers hooked up to the World Wide Web seem to harbor fewer reservations about S&T and have more knowledge of science and the scientific process than their non-access counterparts.

Few characters on prime time entertainment shows are scientists. According to a recent study, the percentage of prime time television characters who are scientists was less than 2 percent in each year during the mid-1990s. Even though scientists seldom show up on the small screen, the appearance of women and minorities as scientists is even more rare. The reverse was true for foreign nationals, however, because they are more likely to portray scientists than other types of characters on television.

Most people believe that scientists and engineers lead rewarding professional and personal lives, although a stereotypical image of these professions, deeply rooted in popular culture, exists and has been difficult to dislodge. For example, 25 percent of those surveyed thought that scientists were apt to be odd and peculiar people, and 29 percent thought that scientists have few other interests but their work. In addition, a majority (53 percent) of those surveyed agreed with the statement "scientific work is dangerous."

Belief in pseudoscience, including astrology, extrasensory perception (ESP), and alien abductions, is relatively widespread and growing. For example, in response to the 2001 NSF survey, a sizable minority (41 percent) of the public said that astrology was at least somewhat scientific, and a solid majority (60 percent) agreed with the statement "some people possess psychic powers or ESP." Gallup polls show substantial gains in almost every category of pseudoscience during the past decade. Such beliefs may sometimes be fueled by the media's miscommunication of science and the scientific process.

Alternative medicine, defined here as any treatment that has not been proven effective using scientific methods, has been gaining in popularity. One study documented a 50 percent increase in expenditures for alternative therapies and a 25 percent increase in the use of alternative therapies between 1990 and 1997. Also, more than two thirds of those responding to the NSF survey said that magnetic therapy was at least somewhat scientific, although no scientific evidence exists to support claims about its effectiveness in treating pain or any other ailment.

Survey finds few in U.S. understand science


Feeling smart? Check out some of the quiz

May 1, 2002 Posted: 2:00 AM EDT (0600 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Few people in the United States understand the scientific process and many believe in mysterious psychic powers and may be quick to accept phony science reports, according to a national survey.

The survey, part of the National Science Foundation's biennial report on the state of science understanding, research, education and investment, found that the belief in "pseudoscience" is common in America. The study found that science literacy has improved only slightly since the previous survey and that 70 percent of American adults do not understand the scientific process.

Oxen allows soothsayers to foresee rich harvest

From Ananova at


Cambodia will reap an abundant rice harvest and suffer no flooding in the year ahead according to royal soothsayers.

They made the claim after studying sacred oxen at an annual plowing ceremony near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

King Norodom Sihanouk watched along with 1,000 spectators as three pairs of oxen wearing golden finery and dragging plows were led around a ceremonial plot of land.

The first set of oxen were then released from their yokes and devoured rice, corn and beans from gold-painted bowls.

Royal astrologer Kang Ken said the oxen's healthy appetites boded well for Cambodian farmers, a prediction that was greeted with applause. Onlookers rushed to collect leftovers from the symbolic crops eaten by the oxen, believed to have magical properties.

"The oxen are magic, so whatever is left from them is magic too," said Oum Kim, a 68-year-old farmer from southwest Kampot province who said she made annual trips to the capital city for the ceremony.

Other spectators splashed their faces with water from a bowl that went untouched by the oxen, which means the country will not see flooding this year.

The Cambodian countryside has been devastated by flooding over the past two years, killing more than 400 people.

The plowing ceremony is an ancient ritual that was interrupted when Sihanouk was toppled as Cambodia's ruler in a 1970 coup. The ceremony was reinstated when Sihanouk became constitutional monarch in the early 1990s

Contacting the Dead? It's Become a Lively Business



After 12 years of not hearing from my dad, I was starting to get worried. I mean, just because he's been dead the whole time doesn't mean he can't stay in touch. With so many talented psychics running around, including several who have their own TV shows, the lines of communication should be wide open.

Unfortunately, even though my job as a journalist has required me to interview psychic dogs, psychic humans and the occasional Magic 8 Ball, my father's spirit has never materialized. Until now.

The breakthrough happened earlier this month at a summit of "after-death communicators." Actually, the summit was a flop. At the last minute, well-known medium James Van Praagh backed out because "Entertainment Tonight" needed him to contact actor Robert Blake's slain wife. And a University of Arizona professor who researches psychic phenomena was too ill to fly from Tucson.

Hmm. Guess the spirits didn't see that coming.

Rick Ross and EST


This information was posted to offer the public a resource concerning controversial and/or potentially unsafe groups--some that have been called 'cults' and related subjects. Rick Ross does not necessarily endorse or support the views expressed-- with the exception of those specifically attributed to him. Some may find this material controversial. Rick Ross posts this information for the convenience of researchers.

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.