NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 May 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Friday, May 10, 2002

Creation scientists answer back

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/education/newsid_1979000/1979840.stm

Friday, 10 May, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
A group of 27 creationist scientists has written to the education secretary arguing against any narrowing of England's school science curriculum to focus on Darwinian evolution.

Their letter is in response to a previous letter from 36 academics, expressing alarm that creationism theory - the Biblical account of the origins of life - was being taught in schools.

That letter sought a tightening up of the curriculum to prevent creation stories being presented as anything but myth.

The row began with reports that a leading school - Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead - was teaching creationism.

'Unproven'

The latest letter argues for the teaching of alternative theories in science.

"We find it most inappropriate that some well-meaning scientists have given the impression that there can only be one scientific view concerning origins," the group says.

"By doing so they are going way beyond the limits of empirical science which has to recognise, at the very least, severe limitations concerning origins.

"No one has proved experimentally the idea that large variations can emerge from simpler life forms in an unbroken ascendancy to man.

"A large body of scientific evidence in biology, geology and chemistry, as well as the fundamentals of information theory, strongly suggest that evolution is not the best scientific model to fit the data that we observe."

Surprise

The group's spokesman is Andy McIntosh, professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory at the University of Leeds and author of Genesis for Today, a book about the modern relevance of the Biblical book of Genesis.

"My colleagues and I want schools to teach children how to think, not what to think," Dr McIntosh said.

"I am surprised that other scientists would only support teaching and learning in Darwinian evolution.

"Education should be analytical not dogmatic, particularly when dealing with science."

In March, the then chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, asked the chairman of the governors at Emmanuel for clarification of the school's policy on science teaching and for samples of children's work.

A spokesperson for the inspectorate, Ofsted, has confirmed that the school has replied.

She said the new chief inspector, David Bell, had not yet had time to consider the issue.

The letter to the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris

Teaching of Origins in Schools

The undersigned academics, scientists and educationists are deeply concerned that the reasonable position taken by the QCA in National Curriculum science and by Ofsted concerning the teaching of origins at secondary level has been challenged. (We write as a group of individuals and consequently the views expressed do not necessarily represent the view of those organisations with which we are associated).

The National Curriculum requires that Darwinian evolution is put across as the dominant scientific theory but also requires that pupils are taught "how scientific controversies can result from different ways of interpreting empirical data". Science should be taught with the critical appraisal of alternative theories. Such debate concerning opposing theories provides rigour in scientific method and contributes to the development of critical thinking by pupils.

We find it most inappropriate that some well-meaning scientists have given the impression that there can only be one scientific view concerning origins. By doing so they are going way beyond the limits of empirical science which has to recognise, at the very least, severe limitations concerning origins. No one has proved experimentally the idea that large variations can emerge from simpler life forms in an unbroken ascendancy to man. A large body of scientific evidence in biology, geology and chemistry, as well as the fundamentals of information theory, strongly suggest that evolution is not the best scientific model to fit the data that we observe.

We ask therefore that, where schools so choose, you ensure an open and honest approach to this subject under the National Curriculum, at the same time ensuring that the necessary criteria are maintained to deliver a rigorous education.

From Genesis To Genetics

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/05/10/1021002385782.html

Reviewed by John Carmody
May 11 2002

FROM GENESIS TO GENETICS: The Case of Evolution and Creationism
By John A. Moore
University of California Press, 223pp, $68.75

What is the meaning of life? Simply to ensure the continuity of the DNA. That amazing molecule is not only the key to everything that we are, it is itself the template of evolution and far more reliable than the fossil record - increasingly diverse, illuminating and spectacular though that is - as the evidence for evolution.

Yet John Moore, an eminent American zoologist and diligent author of textbooks, gives DNA pretty skimpy treatment.

SUGGESTED MODIFICATIONS TO DRAFT INDICATORS

http://www.sciohio.org/seaoindi.htm

This is so stupid it bears repeating. These are the proposed changes to the Ohio science teaching standards. Note, particularly, the phrase "The whole matter of evolutionary relationships is tentative, and there is no need to introduce this concept in connection with the indicators in question."

Editor

These are the current draft benchmarks and indicators (April 1, 2002) relating to "origins science" (the study of the origin and development/diversity of life on earth). The standards as they now stand consider biological evolution as the only possible explanation in origins science. While the teaching of evolution is certainly appropriate, it is the lack of critical examination and the exclusion of alternatives that many Ohioans will find objectionable.

Overall, most of the current language describing biological evolution can remain intact. Minor changes are needed, however, to ensure that Darwinian evolution is portrayed as a theory with widespread support, but not without uncertainties. Modifications are suggested that add language to (a) distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution, (b) state that biological evolution and chemical evolution are naturalistic theories, (c) make a distinction between empirical and historical sciences, and (d) teach the controversy surrounding the evidence for biological evolution and the definition of science.

The suggested Modifications are largely unchanged from the first set we presented on December 1, 2001. A majority of the comments sent by the public to the Ohio Department of Education on the "first draft" of the standards asked that the "evolution only" indicators be changed to make them more objective (e.g., include evidence for and against evolution and/or discussion of alternative theories). Nevertheless, the Science Writing Team (at their February 7-9 meetings) chose to leave the draft biological origins standards essentially unchanged. That is, the public input was ignored and rejected.

The suggested Modifications are consistent with the proposal made by Dr. Stephen Meyer at the March 11, 2002, Panel Presentation in Columbus. The Modifications are also consistent with the Santorum language in the conference report to the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" (H.B. 1, 2001), as well as language calling for objectivity in origins science in House Bill 481, now being considered by the Ohio General Assembly.

-------

Current draft benchmark. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Diversity and Interdependence of Life) #7. Students will explain that unity and diversity of life reflect their evolutionary relationships.

Modified benchmark. Students will describe how the diversity of life is related to classification, structure and function, and survivability of organisms.

Explanation. "Evolutionary relationships" have very little to do with the indicators under this benchmark. The whole matter of evolutionary relationships is tentative, and there is no need to introduce this concept in connection with the indicators in question.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade10, Life Sciences (Diversity and Interdependence of Life) #14. Know that biological classifications are based on how organisms are related. Organisms are classified into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups based on similarities which reflect their evolutionary relationships. Species is the most fundamental unit of classification.

Modified indicator. Know that biological classifications are based on how organisms are related. Know that organisms are classified into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups based on similarities in form and/or function. Know that species is the most fundamental unit of classification.

Explanation. The Linnaean classification system (which is still used to a large extent) was developed during the 18th century, long before the advent of Darwinian evolution. Thus it is inaccurate to say that classifications of organisms "reflect their evolutionary relationships."

It is true that some modern (cladistic) methods seek to develop classifications based on evolutionary relationships. Cladistic taxonomy is troublesome in practice, however. For example, Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker, 1996, p. 284) says "it is difficult to pin down the precise identity of ancestors, and there is a good case for not even trying to do so."

-------

Current draft benchmark. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #10. Students will describe evolution as the change in gene frequency of a population over time and explain the historical and current scientific developments, the mechanisms, and the processes of evolution.

Note. No modification is suggested for this benchmark.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #24. Know that biological evolution is a change in gene frequency (genetic composition) in a population over time.

Modified indicator. Know that biological evolution may be defined as a change in gene frequency (genetic composition) in a population over time. Know that evolutionary theory posits that microevolution (minor genetic variation within a population) over long periods of time results in macroevolution (descent with modification from a single common ancestry).

Explanation. The statement that biological evolution is a "change in gene frequency" requires clarification. A change in gene frequency would seem to be microevolution, the normal genetic variation within a population. Macroevolution, or descent with modification from a common ancestry, would require an increase in genetic information and complexity. It is debatable whether this increase in genetic information/complexity can be accomplished via proposed evolutionary mechanisms (i.e., formation of new combinations of existing genes, or mutation of genes, accompanied by natural selection). The standards should make a distinction between microevolution, which is well-supported experimentally, and macroevolution, which is ultimately based on similarities rather than experimentation.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #25. Understand that natural selection leads to organisms that are well suited for survival in particular environments. Chance alone can result in the persistence of some heritable characteristics having no survival or reproductive advantage or disadvantage for the organism. When an environment changes, the survival value of some inherited characteristics may change.

Note. No modification is suggested for this indicator, since it basically describes microevolution (which is well accepted). In any case, the validity of natural selection is not the issue. The issue is whether natural selection and other evolutionary mechanisms are sufficient to enact macroevolutionary change. The indicator does not consider this topic.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #26. Know historical scientific developments that occurred in evolutionary thought (e.g., Darwin, Mendel, Lamarck).

Modified indicator. Know historical scientific developments that occurred in evolutionary thought, including alternative theories that have been considered historically as well as in recent years (e.g., Paley, Darwin, Lamarck, Mendel, Behe).

Explanation. A discussion of historical developments in origins science should include a discussion of theories that have competed with Darwinian evolution (such as inheritance of acquired traits, special creation, panspermia, and intelligent design). The modified indicator suggests the addition of William Paley to the list of historical figures. Paley's book Natural Theology (1802) gave a classic presentation of the argument for design. His writings were later overshadowed by Darwin and his followers, but Paley's arguments (and those of his successors) are still worthy of consideration. Michael Behe is also included; Behe is one of the leading proponents for the modern synthesis of design theory.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #27. Understand that natural selection provides the following mechanism for evolution: some variation in heritable characteristics exists within every species, some of these characteristics give individuals an advantage over others in surviving and reproducing, and the advantaged offspring, in turn, are more likely than others to survive and reproduce. The proportion of individuals that have advantageous characteristics will increase.

Note. No modification is suggested, since this basically describes microevolution. None of the original indicators states the Darwinian argument that natural selection over long periods time results in macroevolution.

-------

New indicator. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life, insert after #27). Discuss how various types of scientific evidence may either support or not support the theory of biological evolution (e.g., embryological development in vertebrate classes, fossil progression, biogeographical distribution, homologies, vestigial structures, biological complexity, biological information). (NOTE: The consideration of alternative theories, such as intelligent design, is permitted - but not required - under this standard.)

Explanation. This indicator is added to reflect the proposal made by Dr. Stephen Meyer at the March 11, 2002, Panel Presentation sponsored by the Ohio Department of Education. Dr. Meyer outlined a "teach the controversy" approach that is consistent with the Santorum language in the conference report of the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" (H.B. 1, 2001): "Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." The indicator is also consistent with language in Ohio's House Bill 481, now being considered by the General Assembly.

This new indicator addresses point #2 in Dr. Meyer's proposal: "(2) Teach the scientific controversy about contemporary Darwinian theory. Mandate mastery of the scientific evidence and arguments for and against Darwinism. Students should know the scientific case for modern Darwinism and contemporary scientific critiques of the theory as well."

The note in parentheses reflects points #1 and #3 in the Meyer proposal: "(1) Do not mandate mastery of the scientific evidence and arguments supporting the theory of intelligent design. (3) Permit, not mandate, teachers to tell students about the alternative views that exist within the scientific community about the origin of new life forms - including the view of scientists who favor the theory of intelligent design."

This approach seems reasonable for several reasons:

1.It calls for coverage of evolution with intellectual honesty (since evidence both supporting and not supporting evolutionary theory is presented).

2.It promotes academic freedom for teachers (since they are permitted to discuss various aspects of evolution as well as alternative theories).

3.It enhances critical thinking in students (since they are exposed to a variety of viewpoints on the issue).

4.It generates student enthusiasm for science (since the controversy is interesting).

5.It aligns Ohio with the Santorum language in the federal education law.

6.It maintains government neutrality on a matter (biological origins) touching on religion.

-------

Current draft benchmark. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #11. Students will know how natural selection and other evolutionary mechanisms account for unity and diversity of life forms past and present.

Modified benchmark. Students will know how natural selection and other evolutionary mechanisms may account for unity and diversity of life forms past and present.

Explanation. The word "may" is added to indicate that biological evolution is a theory.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #28. Analyze how natural selection and other evolutionary mechanisms (e.g., genetic drift, immigration, emigration, mutation) and their consequences provide a scientific explanation for the diversity and unity of all past life forms as depicted in the fossil record and present life forms.

Modified indicator. Analyze how natural selection and other evolutionary mechanisms (e.g., genetic drift, immigration, emigration, mutation) and their consequences may explain the diversity and unity of all past life forms as depicted in the fossil record and present life forms. Know that evolutionary biology, as a historical science, forms a tentative reconstruction of events and processes that have already taken place.

Explanation. The word "may" is added to emphasize that evolution is a theory. The study of the origin and development/diversity of life on earth is a historical discipline. As such, in the words of Ernst Mayr ("Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought," Scientific American, July 2000, p. 80): "Evolutionary biology, in contrast with chemistry and physics, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain." Theories that are proposed in a historical science are always tentative, and alternative explanations are possible.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Life Sciences (Evolution of Life) #29. Know life on earth is thought to have begun as simple, one-celled organisms about 4 billion years ago. During most of the history of the earth, only single-celled microorganisms existed, but once cells with nuclei developed about a billion years ago, increasingly complex multicellular organisms evolved.

Modified indicator. Know that according to evolutionary theory, life on earth is thought to have begun as simple, one-celled organisms shortly after the time when the earth first became habitable. During most of the history of the earth, only single-celled microorganisms existed, but after cells with nuclei appeared, increasingly complex multicellular organisms appeared in the fossil record. Know that biological evolution and chemical evolution are naturalistic theories that are based on the assumption that phenomena result only from naturalistic processes and not by intelligent cause.

Explanation. The original indicator assumes that Darwinian evolution (macroevolution) occurred. The modified wording makes it clear that evolution is a theory for the development of life on earth. This is the only indicator in the origins science area that includes estimated dates for events or processes in the distant past. In place of a tentative date, one can state that life is believed to have arisen shortly after the earth became habitable.

Students should know that a basic assumption of evolutionary theory is methodological naturalism, the doctrine that science is "limited to natural explanations for natural phenomena" (Grade 10, Scientific Ways of Knowing, indicator #4). Naturalism specifically assumes that design (teleology) plays no role in science. One effect of this assumption is that evolutionary theory in many respects has not been tested by comparing it with the competing design hypothesis and the evidence that supports it. As a consequence, evolutionary explanations are generally based only on a consideration of evidence not excluded by the naturalistic assumption, and not on the basis of all the evidence.

Naturalism is a reasonable assumption for empirical sciences like chemistry and physics. There is considerable debate, however, as to whether or not naturalism should be employed in historical sciences like cosmology and origins science. Since chemical evolution and biological evolution assume naturalism as a precondition, this needs to be disclosed and explained to students.

The origin of life and its subsequent development are really separate subjects. That is, before any biological evolution can occur, life must originate. The origin of life remains a mystery. For example, Michael Denton (Nature's Destiny, 1998, p. 293) says "despite an enormous effort, we still have no idea how this [the beginning of life] occurred, and the event remains as enigmatic as ever." A discussion of naturalistic theories for the origin of life ("chemical evolution") is typically included in biology textbooks under the umbrella of evolutionary theory, so it is appropriate for the standards to deal with this issue.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Earth and Space Sciences (The Earth System) #5. Know how the evolution of life on earth has changed the oxygen composition of the earth's atmosphere.

Modified indicator. Know how the presence of life on earth has changed the oxygen composition of the earth's atmosphere.

Explanation. This indicator assumes that Darwinian evolution (macroevolution) has occurred. It is the presence of different life forms, not the evolution of those life forms, that has changed the oxygen composition.

-------

Current draft indicator. Grade 10, Scientific Ways of Knowing (The Nature of Scientific Inquiry) #4. Scientific knowledge is limited to natural explanations for natural phenomena (material world perceived by our senses or technological extensions).

Modified indicator. Know that science involves the systematic search for the best explanation of phenomena in the natural world. There is disagreement as to whether scientific inquiry should consider all logical explanations for phenomena, or whether inquiry should be limited to naturalistic (materialistic) explanations.

Explanation. The original indicator gives a naturalistic definition of science. Naturalism is the "doctrine that cause-and-effect laws (as of physics and chemistry) are adequate to account for all phenomena and that teleological [design] conceptions of nature are invalid." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary - unabridged, 1971) The use of a naturalistic definition of science in the standards is problematic both scientifically and legally. The scientific method requires objectivity when considering possible explanations for phenomena in nature. A naturalistic definition of science excludes teleological considerations on philosophical grounds; there is no inherent reason in science why "natural" explanations should be the only ones considered. From a legal standpoint, the use of a naturalistic definition of science has the effect of indoctrinating students into a naturalistic worldview. This is arguably a violation of the Constitutional principle of government neutrality on a matter (biological origins) that touches on religion.

The modified indicator reflects current disagreement over the operational definition of scientific inquiry. The suggested indicator addresses point #4 in Dr. Meyer's proposal of March 11, 2002: "(4) Enact no definition of science that would prevent teachers from discussing alternative evidence-based theories or that would stigmatize the scientists who hold them as 'unscientific.' " Essentially this implies that a purely naturalistic definition of science should not be used. Instead, one should "teach the controversy" about the definition of science, and test on comprehension of the competing viewpoints. This approach has the advantage that it avoids making a politicized decision over the definition of science.

Science In the News

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

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.

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – May 10, 2002

CLUES TO ANTHRAX ATTACKS FOUND
from The Washington Post

The first detailed genetic analysis of the bacteria used in last fall's anthrax attacks has revealed minuscule but consistent differences between the terrorist strain and the nearly identical strain developed by the Army at Fort Detrick -- clues that could narrow the search for the person or people behind the attacks.

The differences -- a handful of mutations that apparently arose some time after the bacteria left the Army lab -- are so subtle that it is now indisputable the mailed microbes are direct descendants of the germs developed at Fort Detrick, according to scientists who did the analysis.

But the tiny genetic hallmarks found in the DNA of the bioterror microbes also amount to telltale fingerprints that had been invisible to scientists, who until now had been relying on cruder genetic techniques.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62614-2002May9.html

TINY TRIUMPH FOR SCIENCE
from The Washington Post

Scientists have for the first time used the power of light to create mechanical energy for a microdevice, making a single molecule of plastic drive a tiny machine.

The experiment could have important implications for the field of nanotechnology, which seeks to miniaturize machines and mechanisms to an atomic or molecular scale. "We know [the machine] works pretty well," said researcher Hermann E. Gaub. "Miniaturization drives progress."

Gaub, a physicist at the University of Munich's Nanoscience Center, was part of a German-led team that used well-known materials in a relatively simple experiment to turn light into mechanical energy, something that had never been done before on the molecular level. The results of their research were reported today in the journal Science.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62712-2002May9.html

SLIME FOSSILS RESET EVOLUTION TIME LINE
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists have discovered what appear to be the tracks of tiny wormlike creatures that oozed their slimy way across the mud of a tide-swept seashore at least 1.2 billion years ago -- hundreds of millions of years earlier than any animal fossils ever found before.

The discovery in the sandstone rocks of what is now an Australian mountain range could push the early evolution of animal life back to a time when science had long thought that only bacteria, algae and an even more ancient group of one-celled microbes called archaea were Earth's only living organisms.

In a report being published today in the journal Science, the researchers diffidently call the tracks "trace-like fossils" in the hardened billion- year- old mud. They also describe evidence of broken impressions of mysterious disk- shaped objects they cannot name.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/05/10/MN114411.DTL

IN PLACEBO DEBATE, NEW SUPPORT FOR ROLE OF BRAIN
from The Wall Street Journal

It has been almost a year since a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine seemed to bury the placebo effect with all the finality of goons icing Jimmy Hoffa.

Phrases like "medical myth," "urban legend" and even "scam" filled the airwaves and medical meetings. The idea that a patient's thoughts and expectation of cure would help effect that cure seemed headed for the ash heap of biology.

It hasn't worked out that way.

Criticism of the NEJM paper has been nonstop. And a year of new research shows that reports of the death of the placebo effect are like those of Mark Twain's: exaggerated.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2002/05/10/financial0838EDT0038.DTL

FOR BUSH'S REGULATORY 'CZAR,' THE EQUATION IS PERSUASION
from The Washington Post

How much is a human life worth?

In the Bush White House, John Graham decides.

As head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) -- sometimes called the "regulations czar" -- he is one of the most powerful -- and least known -- officials in Washington.

Though he plays down his power and chafes at being called a czar -- "I can't just pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, do this' " -- Graham wields enormous influence as the arbiter of which rules need rethinking, which proposed rules need retooling, which areas of public interest need less regulation, which more. A single rule change could mean billions of dollars in added or reduced costs to industry and to consumers. It could also mean thousands of lives saved or illnesses averted.

As the Bush administration reviews a host of rules that businesses object to, and as public advocacy groups push for stricter oversight, debate has crystallized on the question: How does government balance saving money and saving lives?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62674-2002May9.html

UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR USES COMIC BOOKS TO TEACH PHYSICS
from The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Is Spider-Man's web really strong enough to support him as he swings from building to building?

Why did Superman's home planet of Krypton explode?

How much would the Flash need to eat in order to run around the globe in 80 seconds?

The man to ask is University of Minnesota physics professor Jim Kakalios.

Kakalios, who has taught physics at the school since 1988, is entering his second semester teaching an elective course for freshmen called Science in Comic Books. Or, as he calls it in his syllabus, "Everything I Know of Science I Learned From Reading Comic Books."

http://www.nando.net/healthscience/story/397078p-3159164c.html

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

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org



Thursday, May 09, 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.

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – May 9, 2002

HOUSE BACKS PLAN TO BURY NUCLEAR WASTE IN NEVADA
from The Washington Post

The House yesterday overwhelmingly affirmed the Bush administration's decision to dispose of nuclear waste beneath Nevada's Yucca Mountain, after rejecting opponents' claims that there is too much uncertainty about the project's safety and scientific soundness.

Voting 306 to 117, the House overrode Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's objection to President Bush's Feb. 15 decision endorsing the long-studied plan to bury a vast portion of the radioactive waste from the nation's nuclear power plants -- as much as 77,000 tons of it -- in a remote desert spot about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Guinn, a Republican, had invoked a unique provision in federal law to try to block the project.

The strong, bipartisan vote was anticipated because of widespread support for the nuclear energy industry and because many lawmakers want eventually to rid their states of growing stockpiles of waste now stored at nuclear power plants throughout the nation. The vote may be much closer in the Senate, however, where Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Majority Whip Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have vowed to try to derail the project.

Despite the strong objections of Nevada officials, state gambling industry leaders and environmentalists, Bush backed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's findings that the proposed project is "scientifically sound and suitable," and would enhance protection against terrorist attacks by consolidating nuclear waste in an underground desert tomb.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54422-2002May8.html

ASTRONOMERS PLAN TO INTENSIFY SEARCH FOR LIFE, EARTHLIKE PLANETS BEYOND THE SOLAR SYSTEM
from The Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Astronomers are trying to find places in the solar system and beyond where conditions are right for life. Thus far, more than 80 planets have been discovered orbiting distant stars, but all are forbidding and unlike Earth.

What the experts want to find are planets where the temperature is right and the orbit is not too far or too close to the central star. There needs to be liquid water and oxygen. It also has to be in a reasonably quiet neighborhood without frequent asteroids or comets collisions.

A place, in other words, kind of like Earth.

"The questions are how many stars have planets and how many of those planets are habitable," said Charles Beichman, a scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Within the next decade we'll get some very good answers."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56837-2002May8.html

FOSSILS LEND INSIGHT INTO WHALE EVOLUTION
from United Press International

Scientists studying the inner ears of ancient cetaceans have come up with a whale of a find: evidence that once they hit the water, the early whales underwent a remarkably rapid adaptation.

Taking an unconventional approach, the investigators looked at tiny but telling parts of the whale ancestors of 40 million to 50 million years ago to get the big picture.

The two-year, three-dimensional analysis suggested a quick and early acquisition by the prehistoric beasts of the organ of balance - called semicircular canal - that permits whales, dolphins and porpoises to perform swimming acrobatics without getting dizzy.

The findings will be published Thursday in the British journal Nature.

http://www.nando.net/healthscience/story/395827p-3150195c.html

SCIENTISTS MAP COMMON BACTERIUM GENOME
from The Associated Press

British scientists have completed a genetic map of a common soil bacterium, a step that could help scientists develop new antibiotics and other medicines.

Bacteria called Streptomyces are used to make most antibiotics and many other naturally produced compounds, including anti-cancer agents. Scientists, however, do not know precisely how these germs operate.

In the new work, scientists completed the genetic map of Streptomyces coelicolor, a well-studied representative of the bacterial family.

The map, which took five years to complete, provides clues to the bacterium's mechanism and will help scientists find new antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs, the researchers said.

http://www.nando.net/healthscience/story/395477p-3148311c.html

THE BIG BANG (ONE MORE TIME)
from The Christian Science Monitor

Just when it seems the broad outline of the universe's origin is as safely in hand as money in the bank, along come two physicists who could prove to be the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of cosmology.

For 20 years, Paul Steinhardt has played a key role in helping to write and refine the inflationary "big bang" origin of the universe.

But over the past few years, the Princeton University physicist and some of his colleagues have struggled with a vexing question. "Even if our story seems to describe what we see, how do we know it's the right story?" Dr. Steinhardt asks.

He decided to see if he could come up with a plausible alternative to the prevailing notion. The inflationary big-bang model posits that the universe began as a random fluctuation in empty space, grew with extraordinary speed through an "inflationary" period, then slowed, cooled, and formed all the matter and energy astronomers see and infer today. Steinhardt wanted to be able to describe the universe with as much precision as the inflation theory does but without some of its "baggage," including the need for an inflationary period itself. The result: He and Cambridge University physicist Neil Turok have unveiled a model in which the universe has no beginning or end, but replenishes itself in a cycle of expansion and contraction. Each expansion is triggered by its own big bang.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0509/p11s01-stss.html

NUTS AND BOLTS THAT REDEFINE 'TINY'
from The Christian Science Monitor

Machinery that drove an industrial revolution a couple of centuries ago was often as large as a locomotive. You couldn't miss it when a new development made the scene. Mechanisms underlying this century's industrial progress are as small as molecules. Few of us note their arrival.

Take Hicham Fenniri's "microtruss," for example. The Purdue University chemist and his colleagues have developed a molecule-size analogue of the nuts, bolts, and universal parts of the old technology. These can be assembled into tiny linear structures to which other substances can be attached.

Depending on what these substances are and exactly how the structure is put together, the assembly could perform a variety of functions.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0509/p12s02-stct.html

GUIDING CELERA'S CHANGE
from The Washington Post

In 1991, health-care giant Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. asked Kathy Ordoñez to lead a new venture that would turn polymerase chain reaction -- an obscure laboratory technology used to detect and measure DNA -- into a money maker.

When Ordoñez left Roche Molecular Systems nine years later, the California firm had transformed the technology into a standard laboratory technique worldwide. Its uses are as diverse as diagnosing AIDS, identifying criminals and mapping the human genetic code. Ordoñez's division became one of Hoffman-La Roche's most profitable businesses, employing about 800 workers and generating more than $500 million in annual sales.

"She built Roche Molecular Systems from the ground up," said Thomas MacMahon, chief executive at LabCorp, who recruited Ordoñez for the job when he was a Roche executive. "Before that, there was nothing but a name and a technology."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56368-2002May8.html

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

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis

http://www.jasnh.com/

Welcome to the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis. We are a brand new start-up journal. In the past other journals and reviewers have exhibited a bias against articles that did not reject the null hypothesis. We plan to change that by offering an outlet for experiments that do not reach the traditional significance levels (p<.05). Thus, reducing the file drawer problem, and reducing the bias in psychological literature. Without such a resource researchers could be wasting their time examining empirical questions that have already been examined. We collect these articles and provide them to the scientific community free of cost. Our first online publication will be out in June, 2002

Students taught superheroes science

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_583459.html?menu=news.quirkies

A physics professor at the University of Minnesota is teaching the science of superheroes.

Jim Kakalios explains how comic book characters like Spiderman and Superman do what they do and the consequences of doing it.

For example, he says the Invisible Woman must be blind because all light passes straight through her - including her eyes.

The professor also says the reason Superman can jump so high is the same as the reason his home planet blew up - gravity.

He said: "The gravity on Krypton would have to be eight times that of Earth in order for a Krypton native to come to Earth and leap tall buildings with a single bound. A planet with that much mass would be intrinsically unstable."

Professor Kakalios teaches the course to first year students at the university as a way of easing them into more serious science.

He also explains that Spiderman's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, should have died from a broken neck caused by him snagging her with a web after she fell from a bridge.

He said: "She must have been going 95mph at that point, and stopping so suddenly subjected her to a force of 10Gs."

He also says The Flash needs so much energy: "He would have to eat everything in 'The Joy of Cooking' 26 times every time he runs."

Cold War hysteria sparked UFO obsession, study finds

http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,710181,00.html

Paul Harris
Sunday May 5, 2002
The Observer

Budding Fox Mulders and Dana Scullys attracted to the mysteries of the X-Files will be disappointed: a new book claims UFOs are all in the mind and should be seen as a form of cultural mass hysteria.

British researchers, who uncovered thousands of previously secret government and military reports and investigated dozens of sightings, have concluded that flying saucers were a product of Cold War paranoia - not visitors from outer space.

The study by David Clarke and Andy Roberts concluded that none of the evidence pointed to any form of alien contact. Instead the widespread belief in UFOs that began in the 1950s and lasted until the present day should be seen as a social phenomenon.

Clarke said that the UFO craze began at the start of the Cold War, when the new threat of atomic war with the Soviet Union hung over the world. 'It was just simple to want to believe in something up there in the sky that could come and rescue us,' he said.

Religion's power to heal dissected

http://www.iht.com/articles/57192.htm

Mary Duenwald The New York Times
Thursday, May 9, 2002

NEW YORK In the last decade, dozens of scientists have claimed they have found evidence of links between religion and health, and the idea has caught on. News articles with headlines like "Spirituality Is Good Medicine" and "The Prayer Cure" have reported the findings as if they added up to just another instance of science confirming the obvious: Spiritual faith helps people stay healthy and live longer.

More than 70 medical schools offer instruction in how to address patients' religious beliefs. A Health Maintenance Organization in Denver offers spiritual counseling to all members. And doctors are beginning to cross the traditional divide between religion and medicine.

But Richard Sloan, a psychologist at Columbia University, says this is a movement that should never have started. Sloan has been examining the research and has found it to be rife with methodological problems and statistical flaws. "Nobody would dispute that for a great many people, religion provides comfort in times of distress, medical or otherwise," Sloan said. "But there is no really good compelling evidence that there is a relationship between religious involvement and health."


Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Science In the News

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

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – May 8, 2002

BUSH ADMINISTRATION TO FORM PANEL TO SCREEN FOREIGN STUDENTS FOR SENSITIVE AREAS OF STUDY
from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration is creating a screening process for some foreign graduate students who want to do sensitive study that could be put to terrorist uses against the United States.

In a move that is quieting concerns among U.S. educators, a newly formed Interagency Panel on Advanced Science and Security will review perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 visa applications a year.

The academic community had feared the administration would impose a wide- ranging set of restrictions that would require colleges and universities to monitor the courses its foreign students were taking.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2002/05/08/national0317EDT0464.DTL

STUDY FINDS FAR LESS PESTICIDE RESIDUE ON ORGANIC PRODUCE
from The New York Times

The first detailed scientific analysis of organic fruits and vegetables, published today, shows that they contain a third as many pesticide residues as conventionally grown foods.

The findings, published in the Food Additives and Contaminants Journal, confirmed what consumers of organic food have taken for granted but did not settle the argument over whether organic food is safer than conventional food treated with chemical pesticides.

The debate gained prominence in February 2000 when John Stossel, a correspondent on the ABC News program "20/20," reported that testing had proved that the levels of pesticide residues in conventional produce were similar to those in organic produce, making organic claims a fraud. Though Mr. Stossel retracted his statement — such testing had never been conducted — his report alarmed proponents of organic agriculture and those like Consumers Union who do not oppose the use of synthetic pesticides but want stricter standards.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/08/science/08PEST.html

STUDY CITES A LINK BETWEEN HIGHER I.Q. AND BREAST-FEEDING
from The Chicago Tribune

Infants who are breastfed for 7 to 9 months may have a small but significant gain in intelligence that lasts at least into early adulthood, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, which showed that intelligence levels increased with every additional month of nursing up to 9 months, adds to the benefits already ascribed to breastfeeding, which include better protection from infections, intestinal problems and respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

One of the most important findings is that the percentage of young adults with IQs below 90 appears to decrease by two-thirds if they were breastfed, said study author June Machover Reinisch, director emerita of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0205080224may08.story

SEARCH IS ON FOR KILLER PLANKTON
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Marine scientists are carefully sampling the waters off Monterey this week for signs that a mysterious species of plankton could suddenly bloom and begin poisoning marine mammals, fish, sea birds -- and possibly humans.

Hundreds of California sea lions, common dolphins and other marine mammals and sea birds have become ill or died on the southern and central California coast during the past two months.

In recent days, at least one northern fur seal was discovered stranded and ill in the Monterey Bay area, suggesting that a plankton bloom there has already become toxic enough to sicken animals, scientists believe.

The culprit is a diatom of the genus Pseudo-nitzschi, a microscopic single- celled plant that under certain conditions can produce domoic acid, a deadly nerve toxin.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/05/08/BA214448.DTL

FOOD SCIENTIST FINDS WAY TO DOUBLE THE FILLET
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Drop one raw chicken tender into a special brew in the fridge, let it sit a few days, and presto -- enough skinless boneless chicken to feed the entire family.

Scientists developing new foods for astronauts believe this scenario -- or something very similar -- is not far from reality.

Under a NASA contract, they have succeeded in coaxing goldfish fillets, marinated in a high-protein broth, to grow into bigger fish chunks. And if fish sticks can grow on their own, why not chicken, beef, lamb and pork?

"I'm willing to say that within 10 or 20 years maybe people will be eating it," says M. Aaron Benjaminson, the bioengineer who led the project from his lab at Tuoro College in Bay Shore, N.Y.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/05/08/FD243228.DTL

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

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Articles of Note

From: CSICOP

"The Fasting Girl"
By Kate Bolick
Salon

http://www.salon.com/books/review/2002/05/01/stacey/index.html

"Every so often in the history of mental health a disease rears up, wreaks havoc and then disappears altogether, only rarely to afflict anyone again.

Specific to a certain place and time, these flash-in-the-pan illnesses are by definition unique, and always deeply unusual. Indeed, from the whirlwind suicide trend among teenage boys in Micronesia, to a propensity for self-cutting among American girls, they are diseases that seem sprung from the tabloids."

Body snatching is mark of a cult
BY WILLIAM KLEINKNECHT
Newark Star-Ledger

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1020244221242493.xml

"The two men slipped into Newark's Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on a January night in 1999 and crept through the cold stillness of gravestones and crypts."

The Nocebo Effect: Placebo's Evil Twin
By Brian Reid
Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A2709-2002Apr29

"Ten years ago, researchers stumbled onto a striking finding: Women who believed that they were prone to heart disease were nearly four times as likely to die as women with similar risk factors who didn't hold such fatalistic views."

Stranglers in the night
By Kimina Lyall
The Australian

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,4240606%255E2703 A great fat man who sits on the face of his victims, sometimes stuffing his genitals into their mouths and suffocating them. The young men struggling beneath this monster are unable to move and merely moan loudly in a futile protest a few minutes before they die."

Scientology, Google and the First Amendment
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/business/columnists/3185788.htm

"Search engines like Google provide an indispensable road map for navigating the Internet; hypertext links are the vehicles that quickly take you where you want to go."

Scientology foes continue rancor
By DEBORAH O'NEIL
St. Petersburg Times

http://www.sptimes.com/2002/05/01/TampaBay/Scientology_foes_cont.shtml

"Millionaire Scientology critic Robert Minton has expanded his criticism of the lawyer fighting the Church of Scientology over the death of Lisa McPherson."

Allegations won't alter church suit
By DEBORAH O'NEIL
St. Petersburg Times

http://www.sptimes.com/2002/05/03/TampaBay/Allegations_won_t_alt.shtml

"A wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology probably won't be dismissed because of recent allegations of legal misconduct, a judge indicated Thursday."

Science didn't have a ghost of a chance here
By DALE MCFEATTERS
Scripps Howard News Service

http://www.naplesnews.com/02/05/perspective/d767455a.htm

"Anyone who has seen our fellow citizens talking to an ATM machine, buying lottery tickets or punching an already lit button to make the elevator come faster was not surprised by the results of a recent National Science Foundation survey."

Alternative Medicine
Science Friday
NPR

http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/totn/20020503.totn.02.ram

"Earlier this year, the White House Commission on Complimentary and Alternative Medicine issued a report recommending that alternative treatments be made more widely available. The report received criticism from some, fanfare from others.. Join us in this hour of Science Friday for a look the report and its recommendations.. Is there really a difference between so called 'alternative and complimentary medicine' and 'traditional' methods? And, if so, what is it? And as alternative therapies move into the mainstream, what does the science say about what might work and what probably will not?"

Angst and Urban Legends
by Anne Blair Gould
Radio Netherlands

http://www.rnw.nl/special/en/html/legends020501.html

"Have you heard some of the stories going round at the moment? Like the one about the woman whose daughter was snatched from her when they were visiting a fun-park? The daughter was found later in the ladies toilet - but her hair had been cut, her clothes changed and she had been drugged."

Florida Times Union Sunday, May 5, 2002
Is it a 'magic box' or a high-tech hoax? Northeast Florida man attracted millions from investors who now say they were scammed.
By Matthew I. Pinzur

Madison Priest's history is filled with people who call him a con artist, a geek who invented nothing more than a beautiful lie.

http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/050502/met_9322821.html

Florida Times Union Monday, May 6, 2002
Investors shaken by amnesia, alien accused of faking his 'magic box,' Madison Priest makes new promises -- and looks for more money
By Matthew I. Pinzur

He blamed amnesia.

http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/050602/met_9326453.html

"HE comes in the night, almost always at 3 a.m., "


Tuesday, May 07, 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.

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – May 7, 2002

(Special package of stories on mouse genome.)

Following are three stories on the compilation of the map of the laboratory mouse's genome. Versions from three major metropolitan newspapers are included because the focus of each is quite different.

SCIENTISTS COMPILE MAP OF MOUSE'S GENOME
from The Washington Post

Passing yet another milestone in the rapidly advancing science of genetics, biologists said yesterday that they had compiled a map of the hereditary instructions of the laboratory mouse, the single most important test organism in medical research.

The map is still in draft form, but researchers said the success of a new data-gathering strategy had permitted them to create a far more detailed version than expected this year. Data from the effort have already been placed in the public domain, meaning researchers throughout the world now have access to in-depth information about mice that can help them in their efforts to learn biological principles common to all mammals, including humans.

The announcement, from a consortium led by the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, comes almost two years after publicly financed researchers and a private company, Celera Genomics Corp. of Rockville, announced they had created similar draft maps of the hereditary instruction set -- the genome -- of human beings.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42950-2002May6.html

MOUSE GENOME IS OFFERED FREE ON THE WEB
from The Los Angeles Times

Geneticists in the United States and Britain have completed a sophisticated draft of the genome of the mouse, which they are making generally available on the Internet--a boon to researchers who use the rodent for studying a host of human ailments.

The huge amount of data covers about 96% of the animal's genome. The information will also be key to understanding the nearly completed human genome because the two mammals are biologically similar. Mice are important as a research tool--used to probe everything from diabetes and Down's syndrome to asthma and atherosclerosis.

"It's totally cool. It's well ahead of where I think even the most optimistic would have predicted," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which co-funded this latest phase of the mouse genome effort with the Wellcome Trust, a British research- funding charity. A year ago, a group of scientists working for Celera Genomics developed their own map of the mouse genome. But they only allow other researchers to use it if they pay a fee of $8,000 to $13,000 annually for access--out of the price range of many researchers. The new work, by contrast, is being made available free.

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-000032343may07.story?coll=la%2Dnews%2Dscience

MOUSE GENOME IS NEW BATTLEGROUND FOR PROJECT RIVALS
from The New York Times

Leaders of the public consortium of academic centers that decoded the human genome announced yesterday that they had also decoded the mouse's genome, a tool of great value in interpreting that of people. But the consortium directors' news release neglects to mention that their rival, Dr. J. Craig Venter, the former president of Celera Genomics, decoded the mouse genome more than a year ago.

The mouse's genome is surprisingly similar to that of people, despite the evolutionary distance between them, and possesses counterpart versions of many human genes. Celera packaged the mouse with the human genome in its database so as to help compete with the consortium, whose human genome sequence has always been free. But in catching up with Celera, the consortium can now make the assembled mouse genome freely available, as well.

Scientists are usually scrupulous in acknowledging prior work lest they seem to be claiming credit for the achievements of others. The credit for decoding the human genome is a particularly delicate matter, however, because a Nobel Prize is expected to be awarded for the work and the prize can be split only three ways.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/07/science/life/07MOUS.html

(End of special package.)

NEW DETAILS EMERGE FROM THE EINSTEIN FILES
from The New York Times

He was the Elvis of science.

Women pursued him, celebrities sought him out, politicians courted him, and journalists followed him through the streets.

But, as Einstein was well aware, there was a darker posse on his trail. For many years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies spied on him, acting on suspicions as disturbing as a tip that he had been a Russian spy in Berlin; as vague as an unease with his support of civil rights and pacifist and socialist causes; and as goofy as claims that he was working on a death ray or that he was heading a Communist conspiracy to take over Hollywood.

The broad outlines of this history have been known since 1983, when Dr. Richard Alan Schwartz, a professor of English at Florida International University in Miami, obtained a censored version of Einstein's 1,427-page F.B.I. file and wrote about it in The Nation magazine.

But now new details are emerging in "The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist," by Fred Jerome, who sued the government with the help of the Public Citizen Litigation Group to obtain a less censored version of the file. His book will be published this month.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/07/science/physical/07EINS.html

BIOLOGISTS SOUGHT A TREATY; NOW THEY FAULT IT
from The New York Times

A treaty enacted nine years ago to conserve and exploit the diversity of species on earth is seriously impeding biologists' efforts to catalog and comprehend that same natural bounty, many scientists say.

They say the treaty has spawned paralyzing biological bureaucracies built on the widespread belief that any scientist collecting samples — whether for a drug company or a dissertation — is bent on stealing genetic material and making a fortune.

As a result, biologists say, in many tropical regions it is easier to cut a forest than to study it.

"Something that was well intentioned and needed has been taken to an illogical extreme," said Dr. Douglas C. Daly, a curator of Amazonian botany at the New York Botanical Garden, who has worked in Brazil for 20 years in partnerships with Brazilian scientists, but recently had to wait a year and a half for a new research visa.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/07/science/earth/07TREA.html

AGAINST DEPRESSION, A SUGAR PILL IS HARD TO BEAT
from The Washington Post

After thousands of studies, hundreds of millions of prescriptions and tens of billions of dollars in sales, two things are certain about pills that treat depression: Antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft work. And so do sugar pills.

A new analysis has found that in the majority of trials conducted by drug companies in recent decades, sugar pills have done as well as -- or better than -- antidepressants. Companies have had to conduct numerous trials to get two that show a positive result, which is the Food and Drug Administration's minimum for approval.

What's more, the sugar pills, or placebos, cause profound changes in the same areas of the brain affected by the medicines, according to research published last week. One researcher has ruefully concluded that a higher percentage of depressed patients get better on placebos today than 20 years ago.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42930-2002May6.html

CRACKS, HOLE AT NUCLEAR REACTOR RAISE CONCERN OVER HOW WELL AGING FACILITIES ARE BEING INSPECTED
from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Severe cracks found at one nuclear power reactor and the stunning discovery of a hole that nearly breached the six-inch steel dome of another facility are raising new questions about aging nuclear plants and whether they are being inspected closely enough.

The hole that went through most of the heavy reactor cover of the Davis Besse power plant in Ohio and the severity of cracks found about a year earlier at a reactor in South Carolina surprised federal safety regulators and the industry.

Both incidents have had plant operators scurrying to look for cracking in reactor control rod nozzles and, more recently, for corrosive boric acid on reactor domes. It was a government-ordered inspection prompted by cracks found in South Carolina in early 2001 that led to the discovery of the David Besse hole this past March.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2002/05/07/national0342EDT0464.DTL

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

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Quarter of pew believers take God's word as gospel

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/05/06/1019441477510.html

By Kelly Burke, Religious Affairs Writer
May 7 2002

God created the world in six days and the Antichrist is coming, say nearly one in four Australian church-going Christians.

According to results released yesterday from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS), 24 per cent of those questioned believed that the Bible was the word of God and should be taken literally.

The survey of 435,000 Australians from 19 big Christian denominations, conducted in the middle of last year, is considered the most comprehensive of its type in the world.

Oly-hay Ible-bay

http://www.museumofconceptualart.com/ible-bay.html

I've recently completed what is, to the best of my knowledge, the first complete translation of the Bible into Pig Latin. This is the 319th translation of the entire Bible; the New Testament has now been translated into 845 languages, and parts of the Bible have been rendered into 1629 tongues.

This translation is the culmination of millions of man-hours of work over the past 2000 years. I owe a tremendous debt to all those writers, translators, monks, scribes, pharisees and whatnot who came before me, and especially to King James and his coworkers, upon whose magnificent translation I have based this version.

It is my sincere hope that this work will be of value to scholars, researchers, native speakers of Pig Latin, and all those who wish to further their understanding of scripture by seeing it presented in new terms. As it is said, "In-ay e-thay eginning-bay as-way e-thay Ord-way."

The Catholic Church may wish to conduct mass in Pig Latin, as it combines the solemnity of Latin with the accessibility of English.

I hope this work will accelerate the movement toward incorporating Pig Latin into our educational system. Pig Latin is one of the easiest foreign languages to learn, and English is closer to its Pig Latin roots than to its roots in classical Latin. In addition, the uses of Pig Latin encryption for email security have barely been explored; the potential benefits are incalculable.


Monday, May 06, 2002

Healers help football club over dog-killing curse

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_582173.html

Healers have been asked to remove a curse believed to be on an Ecuadorian football club because of its dog-killing fans.

Supporters of Manta FC kill a dog before every home match and throw the dead animal on the pitch if the team is losing.

They believe it helps the side win.

But club officials believe it may have brought a curse on the team, which hasn't been very successful since the ritual began 10 years ago.

They recently decided to ban the custom, which has claimed about 200 dogs, and have now turned to healers to perform a cleansing ceremony at the stadium.

The ceremony involved around 45 special herbs and many prayers to St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

Club director Carlos Estrada told newspaper Aja: "I personally don't believe in witchcraft or curses, but I can't deny that we have not had any luck at all recently."

One of the healers said: "This is the hardest job I have ever had. The curse was very powerful, but we are confident our herbs, incense, spells and prayers will help the team in the next few games."

The supporters believe that the dog's death releases negative energy which affects the opposition.

Is it a 'magic box' or a high-tech hoax? Northeast Florida man attracted millions from investors who now say they were scammed

http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/050502/met_9322821.html

Sunday, May 5, 2002

Last modified at 12:09 a.m. on Sunday, May 5, 2002

By Matthew I. Pinzur
Times-Union staff writer

Madison Priest's history is filled with people who call him a con artist, a geek who invented nothing more than a beautiful lie.

None of them, though, can prove it.

He appeared with his magic box, promising it could convert plain copper phone lines that run to almost every home in the country into greased-lightning pipelines for data and video, four times faster than the most advanced fiber-optic cables. It was a magic box that would shock communications like the television had, transform technology like personal computers had, redefine entertainment like Nintendo had. It was a magic box he built from $100 worth of spare parts.

He choreographed elaborate demonstrations, quickening the pulses of engineers shocked by its innovation and capitalists stunned by its potential.

He asked for money and received it, sometimes more than a million dollars at a time, enough to move him from a cobblestone street in Palatka to a gated community in St. Augustine.

And then he stalled, stymied and stonewalled. Prototypes were destroyed by lightning, floods and plane crashes, he said. They were too unstable for independent tests. Just a little more money, he said, and it would be ready. Just a little bit more.

Every time, he wore out his partners -- rich partners like Blockbuster and Intel, prominent partners like former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins and the son of Atlanta media czar Ted Turner, partners who brought him to Silicon Valley and partners who brought him to Capitol Hill.

Sometimes they sued him, sometimes they threatened him and sometimes they just threw up their arms in disgust, but they walked away and left their money with him. Priest -- who declined repeated interview requests -- never needed to mourn the loss of old partners; he just found new ones. He has had many since 1994, and they have paid him at least $6 million.

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.

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – May 6, 2002

WORMS MAY CAUSE FROG DEFORMITIES
from The Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- After slogging through 101 ponds and wetlands in five western states, scientists on the trail of a mysterious outbreak of deformities in frogs have settled on a microscopic parasitic flatworm as the prime suspect.

Linked with existing laboratory studies showing that the trematode known as Ribeiroia ondatrae can cause the frogs to sprout extra legs, the new field work closes the loop by showing a direct correlation between the prevalence of the parasite and the number of deformed frogs, scientists said.

"There's still work to do, but this nails it," said Stan Sessions, associate professor of biology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., who did not take part in the study, but has been working on the mystery since 1990.

The study was published in the May issue of Ecological Monographs, the journal of the Ecological Society of America. http://www.latimes.com/news/science/wire/sns-ap-exp-deformed-frogs0505may05.story?coll=sns%2Dap%2Dscience%2Dheadlines

ANTIBIOTIC MAY SLOW LOU GEHRIG'S DISEASE, RESEARCHERS SAY
from The Associated Press

An ordinary antibiotic slowed the progression of Lou Gehrig's disease in mice, suggesting a potential new approach for treating people, researchers report.

The disease, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, attacks nerve cells that control movement. As these cells degenerate, an affected person becomes progressively paralyzed. Most cases appear between the ages of 40 and 70, and death follows an average of four years after symptoms appear.

The antibiotic, minocycline, was shown recently to prolong the lives of mice with a version of Huntington's disease, another neurodegenerative disorder. It is now being tested against Huntington's in people.

http://www.nando.net/healthscience/story/391870p-3112941c.html

PYRAMID UNCOVERED SEVERAL MILES FROM CHEOPS' GREAT PYRAMID
from The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt - Archaeologists have discovered the 110th pyramid to be uncovered in Egypt - the 4,500-year-old tomb of a queen whose identity remains a mystery, the country's antiquities director said Sunday.

"When we discover in Egypt a tomb or a statue, it's something important," said Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Antiquities. "But when we discover a pyramid, it's the most important thing."

Hawass said the last such discovery was four years ago, when he found another queen's pyramid at Saqqara, south of Cairo.

The latest discovery was made by a Swiss team excavating the tomb of the 4th dynasty pharaoh Redjedef, son and successor of Cheops - also known as Khufu - of Great Pyramid fame.

http://www.nando.net/healthscience/story/391860p-3112910c.html

RENEGADE FISH IS OUTLASTING EVEN BOMBINGS
from The New York Times

PORTOLA, Calif., May 2 — The anglers are back at Lake Davis, drinking their coffee at the Grizzly Country Store, stocking up on gas and beer at Dollard's Market and making life in general in this fishing town look like the good old days before pike.

But people who live here know better.

The war on the northern pike is not over. Far from it. Armies of pike — better known here as saw-tooth Satan spawns — still occupy Lake Davis, five years after California officials thought they would have them licked, five years into an escalating and increasingly desperate campaign of poisoning, electrocution and even, in recent weeks, precision bombing.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/06/science/06FISH.html

CAMBODIA'S MYSTERY, THE HORNS THAT NEVER WERE
from The New York Times

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Nobody is quite sure what it is — cow, goat, antelope, gazelle — a mysterious creature that is said to roam the hidden mountain ranges of Cambodia.

But the shape of its horns is well known: curved and curlicued with a distinctive twining ridge like the stripe on a candy cane. The horns have been diplayed in marketplaces and trophy cases around the country.

For years, tales have emerged from Cambodia's hidden mountain ranges of this strange animal known as the khting vor (commonly pronounced KIT-ting voar). Some mountain people say it eats snakes. Some say it can leap like a mountain goat. Some swear that it is a roaring, savage predator.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/06/international/asia/06CAMB.html

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

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Rick Ross and Landmark Forums

From: Garrison Hilliard

Start with searches on www.rickross.com www.skepdic.com www.freedomofmind.com and keep looking. There's plenty of links to research and articles on est/Landmark, a lot of it on-line and free. Look for Robert Lifton, Margaret Singer, Steve Hassan and many other writers.

There's a good site at http://home.swbell.net/danchase/forum.htm and the site at http://hometown.aol.com/carol2180/index.htm

Bovis and Butthead

http://www.beyond100.com/Bovis%20scale.htm

BEYOND 100
TOPIC: Bovis Scale

Q: Can you please explain how Bovis is measured? Is there a home test kit?

Is it available in New Jersey?

A: Thank you for your question about Bovis. The life force index or Bovis scale, named after a 1930's French researcher, is used to measure "Natural Earth Energy". Ranging from zero to infinity, a reading of 6,500 Bovis is considered neutral for human life. Scientific research has correlated the clockwise or right spin if atoms and molecules with a Bovis reading below 6,500 (i.e. life-depleting). Besides mismanagement of the environment, readings below 6,500 are the effect of underground streams, geological faults, and Earth's magnetic grids. A counterclockwise or left spin correlates with a reading above 6,500 (i.e. life-enhancing). Several of Earth's energy vortices exceed 2,000,000 Bovis. The Energy Mug shown at beyond100.com creates readings between 18,000 and 40,000 Bovis depending on the original liquid. A truly amazing product! How it works is that the water encased in the walls of the Energy Mug has a reading of 530,000 Bovis! Encoded in these emanations is life sustaining information. The natural correctness of this information sets it apart from artificially contrived waters. The life depleted waters of Earth are "hungry" for this information and readily "copy" it.

Religious preaching makes these books unfit for use in public schools

William J. Bennetta

http://www.textbookleague.org/sp-nogo.htm

When we examine the textbooks that major publishers try to sell to public schools, we sometimes find fraudulent passages that function as instruments of religious indoctrination: Religious myths are depicted as accounts of real people and events, religious superstitions are depicted as matters of fact, and the origins of religious writings are obscured or are wrapped in outright lies.

These passages of religious propaganda have been devised by individuals or groups that seek to use the public schools for spreading their own sectarian doctrines and for recruiting converts. In various cases, publishers evidently have accepted material from religious pressure groups and have put the material into textbooks, even though it is laden with blatant preaching, miracle-mongering and fake "history." I assume that the textbook-publishers have required the pressure groups to pay for this service, but I am not aware of any instance in which a publisher has admitted to collecting a fee for disseminating religious stuff.

Because the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids the erection of any official religion by any agency of government, it is illegal for public schools to deliver instruction that has been "tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma." (See the decision issued by the Supreme Court of the United States in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).) Public-school educators must bear this restriction in mind, not only when they design curricula but also when they adopt textbooks. If a textbook subjects students to sectarian indoctrination, the use of that book in a public school will run afoul of basic constitutional principles and will invite lawsuits.


Sunday, May 05, 2002

Review of Wells' creationist book

Dear NCSE Friends & Supporters,

National Center for Science Education President Kevin Padian and NCSE Postdoctoral Scholar Alan D. Gishlick have written a review of Jonathan Wells' book Icons of Evolution.

The review is available online in the March 2002 issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology at:

http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/QRB/journal/issues/v77n1/770103/770103.web.pdf

For more information contact Alan Gishlick: gish@ncseweb.org.

Skip Evans
Network Project Director
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609
510-601-7203
510-601-7204 (fax)
800-290-6006
evans@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

NCSE now has a listserve! Sign up now to get regular news from NCSE.
Send:
subscribe ncse <your email address>
to: majordomo@inia.cls.org
(NCSE will not sell or distribute your email address to any other group or company.) ** * [ncse] NCSE announcements mailing list * To unsubscribe, send email to "majordomo@inia.cls.org" with a line, * "unsubscribe ncse your@email.address.here" * in the body of the message. Remove the quotes.

Microscopes move to smaller scales

11 April 2002

http://optics.org/article/news/8/4/8

The sharpest images ever achieved by optical means have been produced by researchers in Germany.

Courtesy of Physics Web

Stefan Hell and Marcus Dyba of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry have used conventional optics to image clumps of bacteria just 33 nanometres across - equivalent to 1/23 of the wavelength of light used to illuminate them. The achievement shows that 'far-field' optical microscopes can operate well beyond the so-called diffraction limit without exploiting the quantum nature of light (Phys. Rev. Lett. 88 163901).

Scientists long believed that the maximum resolution of a microscope was about half the wavelength of the light used to illuminate an object - a constraint known as the diffraction limit.

One way to improve the resolution of microscopes is to use radiation with shorter wavelengths - such as X-rays - but this method does not overcome the diffraction limit, and is unsuitable for some biological samples. 'Scanning probe' techniques - in which the sample is illuminated by a tiny light source - have recently reached high resolutions beyond the diffraction limit.

Now Hell and Dyba have combined two techniques to image bacteria labelled with an optically active dye in unprecedented detail. Both of these methods - which are known as stimulated emission depletion and 4Pi confocal microscopy - have shown that the diffraction limit can be beaten.

Kauravas were cloned, says scientist

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Articleshow.asp?art_id=8871649

PTI [ SATURDAY, MAY 04, 2002 5:10:27 PM ]

HYDERABAD: The science of cloning and test-tube baby was known to Indians of Mahabharata age (3000 BC), according to a scientist who told a conference on stem cell research here on Saturday that the Kauravas "were products of a technology that modern science has not even developed yet".

The epic Mahabharata describes Gandhari as a mother of 100 sons who were called Kauravas, the eldest of them being Dhuryodhana.

"No woman can give birth to 100 children in her lifetime, that too all males and of the same age," B G Matapurkar, a surgeon with the Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi told the conference organised by the southern chapter of the All India Biotech Association.

Matapurkar, who holds a US patent on organ regeneration technique that he developed 10 years ago, said that he was thrilled when he stumbled on a verse in Mahabharata under the chapter Adiparva that actually describes how the Kauravas were created from a single embryo from Gandhari.

THE MAP OF "THE CREATOR"

http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/04/30/28149.html

A find of Bashkir scientists contraries to traditional notions of human history: stone stabs which is 120 million years covered with the relief map of Ural Region.

This seems to be impossible. Scientists of Bashkir State University have found indisputable proofs of an ancient highly developed civilization's existence. The question is about a great plate found in 1999, with picture of the region done according to an unknown technology. This is a real relief map. Today's military has almost similar maps. The map contains civil engineering works: a system of channels with a length of about 12,000 km, weirs, powerful dams. Not far from the channels, diamond-shaped grounds are shown, whose destination is unknown. The map also contains some inscriptions. Even numerous inscriptions. At first, the scientists thought that was Old Chinese language. Though, it turned out that the subscriptions were done in a hieroglyphic-syllabic language of unknown origin. The scientists never managed to read it…

"The more I learn the more I understand that I know nothing," – the doctor of physical and mathematical science, professor of Bashkir State University, Alexandr Chuvyrov admits. Namely Chuvyrov made that sensational find. Already in 1995, the professor and his post-graduate student from China Huan Hun decided to study the hypothesis of possible migration of Old Chinese population to the territory of Siberia and Ural. In an expedition to Bashkiria, they found several rock carvings done in Old Chinese language. These finds confirmed the hypothesis of Chinese migrants. The subscriptions were read. They mostly contained information about trade bargains, marriage and death registration.

Though, during the searches, notes dated the 18th century were found in archives of Ufa governor-general. They reported about 200 unusual stone stabs which were situated not far from the Chandar village, Nurimanov Region. Chuvyrov and his colleague at once decided that stabs could be connected with Chinese migrants. Archive notes also reported that in 17th-18th centuries, expeditions of Russian scientists who investigated Ural Region had studied 200 white stabs with signs and patterns, while in early 20th century, archaeologist A.Schmidt also had seen some white stabs in Bashkiria. This made the scientist start the search. In 1998, after having formed a team of his students, Chuvyrov launched the work. He hired a helicopter, and the first expedition carried a flying around of the places where the stabs were supposed to be. Though, despite all efforts, the ancient stabs were not found. Chuvyrov was very upset and even thought the stabs were just a beautiful legend.

Japan's Haunted History

Age-old ghosts, believed to inhabit every nook of society, hold potent sway. Exorcists can help ease believers' anxiety-- for a price.
By MARK MAGNIER
TIMES STAFF WRITER

http://www.latimes.com/templates/misc/printstory.jsp?slug=la%2D000031588may04

May 4 2002

TOKYO -- More than 1,000 years after the death of samurai Masakado Taira, executives, homemakers and multinational corporations still worship and appease his vengeful ghost. Each day, residents leave food, mementos and money at his stone monument, wedged between skyscrapers in Tokyo's financial district.

"As far as I know, he's the only ghost in Japan with his own bank account, which is now worth around $190,000," Masakado Preservation Society Chairman Tatsuzo Endo said. "That said, I'm not really sure ghosts need money."

'Mystery Machine' recovered

http://www.pottsville.com/pub/2002/May/1/E517765A.htm

BY RORY SCHULER
Staff Writer
rschuler@republicanherald.com

The whereabouts of the "Mystery Machine" aren't a mystery any longer.

The missing van of the Central Pennsylvania Paranormal Research Association has turned up in a garage near Port Carbon.

After seeking spirits in the Tamaqua Train Station late Saturday night, William T. Mahute, Pottsville, discovered that his van had been stolen.

Mahute joked that ghosts may have taken a joy ride in his green full-size van, aptly nicknamed the "Mystery Machine."


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

Current News  News Back Issues


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