NTS LogoSkeptical News for 16 May 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Thursday, May 16, 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 16, 2002

HOUSE REPUBLICANS PRESS SENATE ON CLONING
from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, May 15 — As the Senate considers legislation to restrict human cloning, Republicans in the House of Representatives today tried to rally opposition to the research. They produced a memorandum from the Justice Department saying any legislation short of a ban would be difficult to enforce and heard from a scientist who vowed to clone a baby this year.

"All indications are 2002 could be the year of the clones," the scientist, Dr. Panayiotis Zavos, who runs a fertility clinic in Kentucky, told a House subcommittee this afternoon at a hearing that was apparently timed to sway the Senate debate. But Dr. Zavos, who has made such statements before, said he had not created a cloned human embryo, which is the first step toward cloning a baby.

The House has passed legislation that would ban human cloning for reproductive or medical research, and President Bush is urging the Senate to do the same. Senator Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, the majority leader, had promised a vote before the Memorial Day recess, but the debate has been delayed until June at the earliest.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/16/politics/16CLON.html

GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE ON CLONING, EXPERT SAYS
More on Zavos's testimony from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying the genie already was out of the bottle on cloning, a fertility expert predicted on Wednesday that he would clone a human baby later this year, and urged the U.S. Congress to keep all cloning legal so it can be regulated.

"A pregnancy can take place this year," Panayiotis Zavos, a fertility expert who runs a clinic in Lexington, Kentucky, told a House of Representatives subcommittee. "2002 will be the year of the clones."

Later he told reporters that his team was ready to try to create a human clone and impregnate a woman later this year.

Zavos cast doubts on claims by two other groups that they had created cloned human embryos, and promised to produce proof of a pregnancy and DNA evidence that the pregnancy involved a clone, if he did it.

http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=sciencenews&StoryID=966817

PUTTING WORDS IN THEIR MOUTHS
from The Boston Globe

Cambridge, Mass. -- Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created the first realistic videos of people uttering words they never said -- a scientific leap that raises unsettling questions about falsifying the moving image.

In one demonstration, the researchers taped a woman speaking into a camera and then reprocessed the footage into a new video that showed her speaking entirely new sentences and even mouthing words to a song in Japanese, a language she does not speak. The results were lifelike enough to fool viewers consistently, the researchers report.

The technique's inventors say it could be used in video games and movie special effects, perhaps reanimating Marilyn Monroe or other dead film stars to deliver new lines. It could also improve dubbed movies, a lucrative global industry.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/05/16/MN193033.DTL

MAIN OXYGEN MAKER ON SPACE STATION FAILS
from The New York Times

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 15 — The International Space Station's three residents are using a backup method of producing oxygen while trying to fix a generator.

The primary oxygen generator on the station has been working intermittently over the past few weeks and, as of today, was not operating at all.

The station's commander, Yuri I. Onufrienko of Russia, and his two American crewmates have been using solid-fuel canisters to produce oxygen.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/16/science/16SPAC.html

DUTCH FIRM TO DEVELOP EBOLA VACCINE WITH U.S.
from Reuters

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The U.S. government joined forces with a tiny Dutch biotechnology company on Thursday to develop a vaccine against Ebola, the virus that bleeds people to death and which could be a powerful weapon in bioterrorism.

Crucell NV said on Thursday it would develop the vaccine together with the U.S. government's major medical research body, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and could test it on humans within two years and sell it by 2008.

The Ebola virus causes Ebola fever, one of the deadliest diseases known to man and for which there is no cure. Victims' internal organs literally disintegrate and they die rapidly, bleeding from every orifice. Ebola spreads like wildfire.

http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=sciencenews&StoryID=970722

RESTARTING REACTOR COULD BOOST NUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRY
from The Washington Post

The U.S. nuclear power industry, in a holding pattern for years because of concerns about safety and costs, could get a strong boost today when the Tennessee Valley Authority takes up a $1.7 billion proposal to restart a reactor that has been shut down for 17 years.

There have been strong indications that the TVA's three-member board supports the plan to revive the 1,280-megawatt unit at the Browns Ferry plant in Decatur, Ala. An ultimate decision to restart the unit -- where the target date is 2006 -- would mark the first go-ahead for bringing a U.S. nuclear reactor on line in well over a decade.

Browns Ferry's Unit 1 was mothballed in 1985, during a broad reassessment of nuclear power by the federal government, which owns the TVA. Its resurrection could signal that nuclear power is beginning to emerge from its status as the pariah of the U.S. energy industry.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A23504-2002May15.html

DECADES-OLD TIP SPURS MUNITIONS SEARCH
from The Washington Post

Pursuing a mysterious tip left by a caller nearly a decade ago, scientists are examining land near Chain Bridge in search of a site where chemical munitions from World War I may be buried.

On a recent morning, a four-man crew led by Herbert Nelson, head of the molecular dynamics section at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, traipsed through the woods north of Chain Bridge between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River.

Using magnetometers, the team has found signs of buried metallic objects at six locations north and south of the bridge, but whether the objects are munitions or something more innocent has not been determined, according to officials involved in the search.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A20280-2002May15.html

CAN NERVOUS BOOMERS PREVENT ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?
from The Wall Street Journal

Every day, Dewey Moede, a healthy 45-year-old owner of a New Mexico radio network, swallows a little tan pill with brown flecks. It's an anti-oxidant vitamin and mineral concoction called Memory Support that his doctor sold to him as a preventive for Alzheimer's disease.

"It acts as little maids going up to your brain and scrubbing out the rust," Mr. Moede explains. He says he takes it because he wants to live to a ripe old age, with all of his mental faculties in place. "I'd rather wear out instead of rust out."

Losing one's mental edge is one of the most dreaded scenarios of the Baby Boom generation's nightmares about aging. Plastic surgery can rejuvenate the body's exterior. Worn-out hips, busted knees and faulty heart valves can be replaced and upgraded with high-tech equivalents. But keeping the wolves of mental deterioration and senility at bay is a far tougher prospect.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2002/05/16/financial1004EDT0053.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

What a relief!...

http://www.football365.com/All_News/Football_League_News/story_30274.shtml

URI GELLER VOWS NOT TO 'PARANOMALLY INTERFERE' WITH MATCHES

Tuesday May 14 2002

New Exeter joint-chairman Uri Geller has assured fans that he will not be using his paranormal powers to influence events on the pitch.

The famous spoon-bender, who last week took charge alongside John Russell, claims his chief role will be as a motivator.

Geller said: "In recent years I have ebbed away from the spoon-bending, preferring to focus on more important issues, amongst them self-help, self-belief, motivation and inspiration.

"Whilst I advocate a positive work ethic and optimistic outlook, I will absolutely refrain from using any form of paranormal activity.

"The playing side of the club is 100% down to (manager) John Cornforth and he knows my sentiments on this," he told the club's official website.

"My role in this domain will be solely, should the manager be in agreement, to be an inspirational, motivational figure, perhaps popping down to the dressing room just to give the team a boost."

School officials felt the dorm brought in a negative energy.

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=4103965&BRD=1139&PAG=461&dept_id=142642&rfi=6

Maharishi University of Management will have one less building on its campus, after the demolition of Hoerner-Weissenberger dormitory is completed.

Students, professors and administrators showed up to witness the removal of the building Friday morning.

In a ceremony that preceded the demolition, which began at 9:45 a.m, M.U.M. executive vice president Craig Pearson, Vedic City Mayor Bob Wynne and Maharishi Sthapatya Veda Institute director Jon Lipman addressed approximately 75 onlookers.

"Today is a special day," Pearson said. "The largest building to be demolished so far, the H & W dormitory is coming down."

H & W was constructed in 1961, and is largest building to be razed since the university began its campaign to remove all of the buildings on campus that officials consider to be improperly oriented.

The Maharishi University of Management is in the process of reconstructing the entire campus with new buildings using Sthapatya Veda. Administrators feel structures that aren't properly oriented aren't healthy for students to learn or live in.

"Having a building (in accord with Sthapatya Veda), is not just a positive influence, but not having one is a negative influence," Pearson said. "It casts a shadow on good fortune and creates obstacles to progress."

The university aims to add 8,000 new students, over 10 times their current enrollment. Administrators feel strongly that demolishing 10 percent of the non-Sthapatya Veda buildings on campus is a key to accomplishing that goal.

For a complete story, read Friday's Fairfield Ledger.

Smacking Is Sanctioned by Christianity, Court Told

http://news.excite.com/article/id/162353|oddlyenough|05-15-2002::12:19|reuters.html

May 15, 2002 12:13 pm EST

LONDON (Reuters) - Smacking children at school is sanctioned by Christianity, a British court was told Tuesday.

The Court of Appeal is hearing a legal challenge by the headmaster of a fee-paying school who is seeking the right to smack unruly pupils.

Phil Williamson, head teacher at the independent Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, wants the court to overturn laws which bar corporal punishment in schools.

Smacking was banned in British state schools in 1986. Four years ago the ban was extended to include the country's 200-odd fee-paying schools.

Barrister Paul Diamond laid out the school's case before three of the country's top judges on the opening day of the appeal.

"It is a central tenet of the Christian religion that mankind is born with a heart inclined to all kinds of evil," he said. "Discipline in the educational context is therefore vital."

Articles of Note

Absolute rubbish, FTC says of exercise belts
by Nanci Hellmich
USA TODAY

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/usatoday/20020509/ts_usatoday/4097020

"The Federal Trade Commission has filed false-advertising complaints against the marketers of three electronic exercise belts that promise users ''six pack'' abs or toned bodies without breaking a sweat."

The White Stuff
BY JOHN DICKER
Seven Days Vermont

http://www.sevendaysvt.com/-thisweek/feat/mainstory.html

"Robert Griffin has slept next to the enemy, but not necessarily with him. In the summer of 1998, the University of Vermont education professor spent six weeks living on a 364-acre compound in West Virginia. His host was a man who is typically described as America's leading Neo-Nazi with words like racist, violent and hater trailing close behind. His name is William Pierce."

Mercury blamed for autism
BY MICHAEL WALL
Creative Loafing Atlanta

http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/news_feature2.html

"Will Redwood was a healthy, happy baby for the first year of his life. Back then, he cooed, cried, laughed and slept just like a normal infant."

There's Nothing Dangerous About 'Silver'
by Leon Jaroff
Time

http://www.time.com/time/columnist/jaroff/article/0,9565,235009,00.html

"Diane Watson has had a distinguished career in education and politics, and last year was elected to the House of Representatives, winning 75 percent of the vote in her Congressional district. Representative Watson is also convinced that the mercury in the "silver" (really amalgam) fillings used by dentists around the world is hazardous to the health of everyone with such fillings, afflicting them with a wide variety of illnesses."

National media sidestep UFOs
by Billy Cox
Florida Today

http://www.floridatoday.com/!NEWSROOM/columnstoryA18534A.htm

"There was a big subculture buzz in Washington, D.C., a year ago this week when a group called the Disclosure Project launched a bid to end government secrecy surrounding unidentified flying objects. The goal: Open congressional hearings. The hook was to invite 20 witnesses, some bolstered with government documents, with testimony so compelling the media couldn't possibly freeze it out."

Monster hunter's deep obsession with Loch Ness
By REBECCA ROWE
New Zealand Herald

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/travel/travelstorydisplay.cfm?storyID=1843570

"There is no Nessie. At least, I didn't see her during the half hour I spent standing on the shores of Loch Ness, gazing intently into its murky waters, willing whatever was hiding beneath the surface to come up and show itself."

Arrest Nuwaubians' latest trouble
By Rob Peecher
Macon Telegraph

http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/3226037.htm

"Wednesday's arrest of United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors leader Malachi York is the latest in a long string of troubles for the fraternal organization and Putnam County."

Ex-Scientologist Collects $8.7 Million In 22-Year-Old Case
By Richard Leiby
Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63143-2002May9.html

"Nearly 22 years ago, Lawrence Wollersheim, a disaffected member of the Church of Scientology, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles accusing the church of mental abuse that pushed him to the brink of suicide. Teams of lawyers and various rulings came and went, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judgments against the church hit $30 million, then dropped to $2.5 million."

Mercury astronauts recall early space race
By Bill Kaczor
Associated Press

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/custom/space/orl-locastro10051002may10.story

"John Glenn still has a lingering question about those "fireflies" he saw in orbit, while Wally Schirra says he has proof to settle another lingering space-program controversy."

John Edward: Listening to the dead
CNN

http://www.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/TV/05/10/john.edward.cnna/index.html

"John Edward is the star of TV's "Crossing Over," but even though he's crossed over -- to general success -- there are many who question the abilities of this seer, who claims to be communicating with the dead."

Japanese Faith Dr. Given Death Penalty
Associated Press

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A4038-2002May11.html

"A Japanese faith healer was sentenced to death for beating six people to death with a drumstick during a 1995 exorcism ritual."

Nostradamus and the battle of Beckham's foot
by Simon Hoggart
The Guardian [UK]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,713739,00.html

"Yet another new book about Nostradamus lands on my desk. This one, The Final Prophecies, by an Italian scholar and dingbat called Luciano Sampietro, makes even more astounding claims than usual for the great man's gifts of prophecy. For example, in quatrain 57 of his second "century" of gobbledygook, he forecast the fall of the Berlin Wall thus: "Auant conflict le grand tombera". This might not seem to mean anything apart from "Before [a] conflict the great will fall" but as Sgr Sampietro notes, it doesn't scan. Insert the word "mur" after "grand" and bingo, "before a conflict a great wall will fall". Which conflict he meant is not clear, but you can't have everything - not unless you're a Nostradamus scholar, that is."

Creation scientists answer back
BBC News

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

"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."

By the Numbers: Don't Blame It on the Moon
by Solana Pyne
Discover

http://www.discover.com/apr_02/breaknumbers.html

"Folk wisdom holds that more babies are born during the full moon than at other times. Many doctors and nurses agree. Astronomer Daniel Caton of Appalachian State University wondered if anyone had ever put the claim to a test."

Alleged Delray psychic, husband arrested on insurance fraud charges
By Nancy L. OthC3n
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/sfl-pmarks08may08.story

"Psychic Linda Marks and her husband were arrested Tuesday on insurance fraud charges, a move that police say signals the beginning of an investigation into Marks' "continuing criminal enterprise.""

Alternative medicine is practically mainstream now - should we cheer?
by Anne Karpf
The Guardian [UK]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,711756,00.html

"A short history of medicine. "I have earache..." 2000BC: Here, eat this root. 1000AD: That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer. 1850AD: Prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion. 1940AD: That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill. 1985AD: That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic. 2000AD: That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root."

The Modern Use of Ancient Lies
By DAVID I. KERTZER
New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/09/opinion/09KERT.html

"As Jews view the demonic images of themselves that are circulating in the Middle East today, they have a sickening sense of dC)jC vu. The strain of anti-Semitism that has taken hold in the Arab world, particularly since Sept. 11, is especially hateful. When Western commentators take note of this phenomenon they tend to ascribe it to a "medieval mentality" in the Muslim world. Yet a look at the anti-Semitic imagery sweeping much of the Arab world shows something quite different."

Salt Lake Catholics Mourn Damage to 'Weeping Virgin' Tree
BY BOB MIMS
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

http://www.sltrib.com/05112002/utah/736076.htm

"Graciela Garcia leaned into the cold wind, gripping her cane and tucking a wisp of errant silver hair under her mantilla. "Come, see," she said. "See what someone did to the Blessed Mother.""


Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – May 15, 2002

SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL
from The San Francisco Chronicle

The modest earthquake near Gilroy that jangled nerves throughout the Bay Area was centered on a little-known rift near the infamous San Andreas Fault, scientists said Tuesday.

Monday night's quake was centered on the minor Castro Fault, and although no large quakes have hit there recently, "we class it scientifically as an active fault," said Mary Lou Zoback, chief of the Western Earthquake Hazards Team at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, "because evidence shows that at least one large quake on it has actually ruptured the ground within the past 10,000 years."

The deep crack in the Earth's crust and the skein of nearby parallel faults that form part of the broad San Andreas zone have all been shaking gently again and again for years, she added, and one quake with a magnitude of 5.3 is believed to have occurred on the Castro Fault on March 2, 1959.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/05/15/BA166924.DTL

SINGLE GENE MAY DETERMINE CLONING SUCCESS, SCIENTISTS REPORT
from The Chicago Tribune

Scientists reported Tuesday that they have identified a gene that helps explain the low survival rate in animal cloning, a finding that they say illustrates how vastly problematic it would be to clone a human.

The gene, called Oct4, switches on early in embryonic development and must function with exquisite precision for life to continue, University of Pennsylvania researchers reported in the journal Genes and Development. If Oct4 is missing or not working normally, the fate of the clone is sealed, even though the embryo may appear to be normal, survive birth and even grow to adulthood.

Analyzing the gene in cloned mouse embryos, the scientists found that in only a small percentage of the embryonic cells was Oct4 functioning well enough to permit development.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0205150227may15.story

METHOD MAY AID IN VITRO SUCCESS
from Reuters

LONDON -- British scientists have developed a new technique that could improve the chances of having a baby for thousands of couples undergoing fertility treatment.

One of the main stumbling blocks with in vitro fertilization (IVF) is choosing which test-tube embryos will be most likely to implant in the womb and result in a pregnancy.

Fertility experts examine each embryo under a microscope to choose the best ones but the method is only modestly successful. Less than 20 percent of IVF treatment cycles in Britain result in a live birth.

Professor Henry Leese said recently that a technique he devised with colleagues at the University of York in northern England could remove much of the guesswork.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/women/chi-0205150044may15.story

YEAR FOUR, AND WEST NILE RETURNS TO AREA ON SCHEDULE
from The Washington Post

Neither wind, nor storm, nor rain, nor drought may stop a stubborn microbe's return.

And despite all of the above -- lately all at the same time -- West Nile Virus is back for its fourth season in a row.

Right on schedule.

The drought, which officials in some states had hoped would reduce disease- bearing mosquitoes, did keep local insect populations low in early spring, Maryland experts said yesterday.

But the culex mosquitoes, the prime carriers of West Nile Virus, and other mosquito species like dry conditions in which water can stagnate. "If anything, a drought situation can make it worse," said David Gaines, a Virginia state health department mosquito expert.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17206-2002May14.html

YET ANOTHER PLAGUE FOR CURSED, GLORIOUS SHIP
from The New York Times

STOCKHOLM — Some ships are cursed.

Sweden's legendary 17th-century warship, the Vasa, is one. But it is no Flying Dutchman, wandering the world's seas. The Vasa roamed less than a mile in its short vainglorious life, and it has gone from being the Sinking Swede to the Sewage-Soaked Swede to the Sulfurous Swede.

If no way is found to reverse the unpredictable chemistry taking place inside its planks, a ship that survived 333 years at the bottom of Stockholm's harbor and 20 million visitors as Scandinavia's leading museum piece will eventually, like a cheap library book, crumble into acidic dust.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/14/science/14VASA.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

The Effects of Reverse Speech and "Its Only A Metaphor" on me

http://www.reversespeech.com/iaome.html

By: Jerry Hirsch CRSI
Certified Reverse Speech Investigator

I was recently asked to pontificate my experiences with Reverse Speech as it related to reading "Its Only a Metaphor", a book by David John Oates, who is the discoverer of Reverse Speech. What I'm about to relate to you may sound nuts, or crazy, but from my perspective it is simply fact. I have no intention of explaining Reverse Speech in this writing. If you have no understanding of the process you can revert to my thesis paper or other similar papers at, http://www.reversespeech.com.

As a beginning student, back in 1996, I had absolutely no knowledge of what Reverse Speech was. I didn't understand it, nor did I think much of it. I heard about it on a rather dubious show hosted by Art Bell who was infamous for presenting the fringe nutcases of the world. However after listening to several hours of presentation by David John Oates, I realized this was different from the usual Art Bell fare, and I began to take interest.

...Full article at URL above...

Colombia puts its scientific credibility on the line

http://www.scidev.net/archives/editorial/comment16.html

The Colombian immunologist Manuel Patarroyo is celebrating the opening of a new institute and continues to promise to produce an effective malaria vaccine. More than one man's scientific reputation is at stake.

If charm and charisma were sufficient to ensure scientific success, Colombian immunologist Manual Elkin Patarroyo would have won his much-coveted Nobel prize many years ago. It is less than a decade since his dreams of producing the world's first effective malaria vaccine effectively crumbled into dust in the face of disappointing clinical trials. But a year after his whole research project seemed on the verge of collapse with the withdrawal of government funding and the confiscation of his research equipment in bankruptcy dispute in which he was not directly involved, Patarroyo has come bouncing back.

Last week saw the opening in Bogotá of a brand new institute, the Institute of Immunology of Colombia (see Malaria researcher comes in from the cold ). It was an event at which the current president of Colombia, Andrés Pastrana, praised the researcher as a national hero, and expressed pride at the support that his government provided him and the new institute. For a country torn apart by violence, the event must have provided a welcome distraction; in addition, many, both within and outside Colombia, see Patarroyo's return to favour as valuable recognition that top-level scientific research can be achieved in the country.

Scientific reputations, however, rest on more than enthusiasm and dedication — two of the qualities that no-one has ever accused Patarroyo of lacking. What the scientific world is waiting to see is whether Patarroyo's promise of a second generation malaria vaccine is able to overcome the hurdles at which the first one failed. And by attaching itself to his reputation in the public eye, the Colombian government is making itself hostage to fortune — not least because his financial support has not come through the usual scientific channels (including conventional peer review), but, uniquely, out of direct government funding.

Uphill task

In striving to convince the scientific world of the value of his new vaccine, Patarroyo faces an uphill task. His brilliance as a synthetic chemist and immunologist — talents that revealed themselves at an early age during his studies first in Bogotá and subsequently at Yale and Rockefeller universities in the United States — is widely respected. It was these skills that lay behind the first potential vaccine, based on synthesised peptides and published with much fanfare in Nature in 1987.

There has been more disagreement over Patarroyo's skills as an epidemiologist and clinical researcher. Although he claimed a success rate of 30 to 60 per cent with the initial vaccine, known as SPf66 — and pointed out that even such relatively low figures offered hope of reducing the three million who die from the disease in the developing world every year — other researchers failed to achieve the same success rate. And the final nail in the coffin came in 1995 with the results of independent trials in Gambia and Thailand. These found that the vaccine offered no protection at all when compared to a placebo, killing any hope it would become the World Health Organisation's standard form of protection against the disease.

Patarroyo did not take kindly to his vaccine's failure to win the recognition that he had sought. He frequently blamed this on the reluctance of scientists in developed nations to accept that a researcher from a developing country such as Colombia could succeed where they had failed.

Understandable frustration

It is difficult not to sympathise with Patarroyo's frustration. Clearly convinced by the apparent success of his vaccine not only in initial trials with monkeys, but also on Colombian volunteers, that he was on to a successful vaccine, the outcome of the Gambian and Thai studies was a bitter blow. The fact that this failure seemed to fuel the doubts of those who had long challenged his optimistic assessment of the vaccine's prospects will only have increased the bitterness.

One should not underestimate the cultural impact in Colombia of Patarroyo's fame, whatever doubts there may be about the claims on which it is based. It is with pride that he points to opinion polls showing that a high proportion of young Colombians want to become scientists, a reflection of the fact that his popularity rivals that of his friend, the author Gabriel García Márquez. And the fierce loyalty of his staff, many of whom continued to work for no pay last year when his government funding temporarily ran out, reflects not only a personal commitment to the man, but also a broader commitment of the promise of basic biomedical research.

High-risk strategy

Having said that, however, Patarroyo is running a high-risk strategy by making promises to find "a logical and rational way to develop vaccines". Some of the critics of his previous vaccine work strongly wanted him to succeed, and were as disappointed as he was at the outcome of the Gambian and Thai trials. Accusing such critics of intellectual arrogance, indeed claiming that the research failed to win acceptance because of his own developing country origins, has done little to serve his cause.

For the time being, Patarroyo and his colleagues must be given the benefit of the doubt. A 'second generation' synthetic peptide vaccine against malaria may eventually work, and Patarroyo's research may still point the way to it. But this does not mean that the rule of good science can be ignored or replaced by wishful thinking. To believe in such would not only be the ultimate in self-deception; it would also be a disservice to all those in Colombian society who have put their faith in science as a path to a better future.

New York Quack Law

From: William Briggs william@wmbriggs.com

This is an article that I have posted to my web site.

P.S. An interesting article by Chris Mooney recently appeared in The Washington Monthly on this subject (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0204.mooney.html).

A bill is before the New York State legislature that, if passed, would require insurers to pay for alternative medical treatments. There has been resistance to this idea from insurers, who are worried that this bill would increase their costs. But here is why forcing insurers to cover alternative, or quack, therapies may be good medicine.

Most people do not see a doctor for any alarming condition. Instead, minor aches, sniffles, and vague suspicions that something is amiss are why most go.

These symptoms, real or imagined, disappear in time and no formal treatment is needed.

Therefore, a referral to a quack will be adequate for these patients. Whatever disease, if any, is present will run its course, the patient will feel better, and he will have the pleasure of bothering his friends and family with stories of how his quack saved him.

Of course, nothing more than the body's own defenses, the comforting presence of a man in a white lab coat, and the placebo effect can be said to have cleared up the patient's symptoms. Quack therapies are cheap too. But even if they are not, what matters is that the patient's complaint is seen to. Making quacks more widely available frees up the time of real doctors too.

Now here is why it is a bad idea to pass this legislation.

It's true that most quack therapies are harmless, but some are not. There is real risk of injury, for example, when having your neck twisted by a chiropractor. Other quacks have their patients ingest strange substances, the effects of which are unknown. And seeing a quack delays or eliminates efficacious treatment in those cases where a patient has a real disease.

Most quack therapies, while inexpensive on a per-use basis, have as their theme reapplication, that is, a series of endless return visits is required which serves to increase the overall cost of treatment. And giving money to quacks means less is available for real doctors, which is bad in the long run.

Anybody can put up their shingle and set up as a quack. New quack therapies arise constantly and are limited only by the imagination of the practitioner.

It is only a small step from touch therapy nurses manipulating energy fields to Madame Zelda's concoction of an astrologically based shark-fin suppository. Any therapy, no matter how bizarre or ridiculous, is acceptable because there are no standards on which to base a judgment.

Alternative medicine is contrasted with what is sometimes called evidence-based, or traditional medicine. Proof is needed that a treatment works in evidence-based medicine. Only opinion counts in alternative medicine.

Evidence of treatment efficacy is viewed with deep suspicion by quacks and their supporters. And for good reason, because once a treatment is proved to work, it ceases to be alternative, which then obviates the need for the alternative practitioner.

Even scarier to quacks is when their treatment is proved worthless. Unfortunately, if this bill passes, even worthlessness won't be argument enough to withhold payment.

Claims of worthlessness will be rare, though, because many quacks refuse, with good reason, to take part in formal experimentation. Or, when they do, they refuse to accept negative results.

This is because it is impossible to concretely and finally prove that a quack treatment does not work: a negative cannot be disproved. Quacks ruthlessly exploit this inductive loophole. They say that "more data is needed." Or they trot out anecdotes from their adoring patients (only, of course, the positive ones).

What counts is what works for the patient. Quack therapies work in the sense of providing peace of mind for those who are not ill or who do not require real treatment, but fails in the sense of actual healing powers.

Money that is spent on insuring quack treatments would be better spent funding experiments to test these treatments. We can take what is proved useful and discard what is not. But if insurers have to pay a quack before his method's are proved, they will never be allowed to stop paying him once it is proved that his therapy is worthless.

Therefore, sizing up the positives and negatives, the negatives are more persuasive and it is best to not pass this bill.


Tuesday, May 14, 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 14, 2002

STUDY: ANTHRAX TAINTED UP TO 5,000 LETTERS
from The Washington Post

Envelopes full of anthrax spores cross-contaminated as many as 5,000 letters in the eastern United States, almost certainly causing the mysterious deaths of two women in New York City and rural Connecticut, scientists said yesterday.

A mathematical model describing last fall's attacks suggested that focusing only on anthrax-laden envelopes could be a grave mistake: "The original letters were extremely dangerous," said Vanderbilt University mathematician Glenn Webb. "But there was also great danger from cross-contamination."

Webb and co-researcher Martin Blaser, chairman of medicine at the New York University Medical School, said the model could be used to predict the course of future letter-borne anthrax attacks and perhaps save lives. Their research was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11611-2002May13.html

YEARLY CANCER DIAGNOSES PROJECTED TO DOUBLE IN 50 YEARS
from The Associated Press

ATLANTA - The number of Americans diagnosed annually with cancer will double over the next 50 years, from 1.3 million to 2.6 million, according to a new study that warns of an intense burden on the health care system.

The expected boom reflects a population that will be larger and live longer - rather than suggesting that cancer itself will become more menacing.

Government and private researchers analyzed census data and applied it to newly compiled cancer statistics to make the projections, which appear Wednesday in the journal Cancer.

The so-called cancer population will get older as it gets larger, according to the study. By 2050, more than 1.1 million people 75 and older will be diagnosed each year, up from about 400,000 today.

http://www.nando.net/healthscience/story/401154p-3195245c.html

MOON'S DUST HIDES A THROBBING HEART
from The New York Times

It takes two and a half seconds for a laser beam to flash from Earth to the Moon and back again. But it has taken 33 years of doing such experiments for scientists to glimpse what may be the Moon's greatest secret: that far beneath its cold craters and rocky landscape lies a heart that is warm and yielding. The discovery, if confirmed, could boost a theory that the Moon was born in the aftermath of a violent collision between early Earth and a speeding cosmic wanderer.

The suspicion that a sizable zone of molten rock lies hidden beneath the craggy lunar surface comes from laser ranging experiments that have increased steadily in accuracy since Apollo astronauts first put laser reflectors on the Moon in 1969. For decades, scientists have been analyzing the round-trip travel time of the flashes to make increasingly exact measures of the Moon's shape, wobbles, distance from Earth, and physical characteristics.

At first, the measurements were good to a precision of about 10 inches, then 5 inches, then 1. Today, they track changes of a little less than an inch, and the readings may improve still more if plans are approved for a more sensitive laser observatory.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/14/science/space/14MOON.html

IN DNA, NEW CLUES TO JEWISH ROOTS
from The New York Times

A new thread is being woven into the complex tapestry of Jewish history, a thread fashioned from a double twist of DNA.

The DNA data suggest a particular version of Jewish history and origins that historians have not yet had time to appraise but that seem to be reconcilable in principle with the historical record, according to experts in Jewish studies.

The emerging genetic picture is based largely on two studies, one published two years ago and the other this month, that together show that the men and women who founded the Jewish communities had surprisingly different genetic histories.

The earlier study, led by Dr. Michael Hammer of University of Arizona, showed from an analysis of the male, or Y chromosome, that Jewish men from seven communities were related to one another and to present-day Palestinian and Syrian populations, but not to the men of their host communities.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/14/science/social/14GENE.html

HONEYBEES IN A MITE MORE THAN TROUBLE
from The Washington Post

...In recent years, two tiny spider-like parasites have been weakening and killing bee populations across the United States. While the mass media have played up the threat of Africanized "killer" bees in the Southwest, the rest of the country has been losing 80 percent or more of its wild honeybee populations.

Only people living within a mile or two of a beekeeper have much chance of seeing the industrious, golden-bodied insect at work on a flower. For everyone else, this icon of the garden and orchard might as well be extinct.

In the garden this means a scant harvest of cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and other vegetables requiring insect pollination, as well as feeble flowering and fruiting of many ornamental trees and shrubs. Wildflowers are not reseeding themselves as they should.

Most important, one-third of food crops need insect pollination, of which the honeybeeis by far the most consistent and reliable source.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11354-2002May13.html

SHOULD YOU ENROLL IN A CLINICAL TRIAL? NEW BOOK OFFERS GUIDANCE
from The Boston Globe

Clinical trials attract sick people seeking novel lifesaving therapies and healthy volunteers with an altruistic desire to help the sick. After all, clinical trials are the source of the latest breakthrough miracles and incremental advances in medicine - from new drugs that treat AIDS to innovative chemicals to tame cancer.

Despite their hopes, most of the estimated 2 million sick and healthy volunteers in clinical trials will be given drugs that eventually flunk their tests. For one in 30 volunteers, experimental treatments will cause serious side effects that may be fatal, life-threatening, permanently disabling, or result in hospitalization.

Last year, for example, Ellen Roches, a healthy volunteer, died in an asthma study under the supervision of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. Three years ago, Jesse Gelsinger, 18, died in a gene-transfer experiment at the University of Pennsylvania.

What you don't know about clinical trials can hurt you, say the authors of a new book, ''Informed Consent: The Consumer's Guide to Volunteering for Clinical Trials.'' The book comes from the Boston-based CenterWatch, which publishes newsletters for the clinical trials industry and for volunteers who participate as research subjects.

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/134/science/Should_you_enroll_in_a_clinical_trial_New_book_offers_guidance+.shtml

EUREKA MOMENTS
from The Boston Globe

Plague Gene

Just one evil gene seems to have been responsible for the bubonic plague, or Black Death. Joseph Hinnesbusch of the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hampton, Mont., and his colleagues have shown that the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, is very similar to another bacterium that just causes mild stomach upsets. The key deadly difference seems to be a gene that codes for an enzyme that lets the plague survive in the guts of fleas. Once they've made their way from fleas into people, this could have led to increased virulence as evolutionary pressures favored strains of the flea-borne bacterium that could live in human blood. The plague killed off about a third of the people in 14th-century Europe.

ref.: Science, April 26, 2002.

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/134/science/Plague_gene+.shtml

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

Intelligent design happens naturally

By Chet Raymo, 5/14/2002

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/134/science/Intelligent_design_happens_naturallyP.shtml

What a jumble! I'm sitting in a doctor's examining room waiting for a checkup. On the wall is a poster chart of the human digestive system. The first thing I'm reminded of is my sock and underwear drawer. Everything thrown in a heap, all twisty and turny. No two socks that match. A long sock balled up with a short one and a pair of skivvies.

The drawer of a slob who can't be bothered.

When you think about it, it's a wonder how anything makes it from one end of the digestive tract to the other. An engineer might sort it out. Roll that small intestine up into a nice neat coil. Straighten out those kinks in the large intestine. Can you imagine the exhaust system of your car in such a tangle?

'Miracle Cure' for Back Pain Has Lots of Appeal -- and Skeptics

About eight in 10 Americans suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, and many try everything from bed rest to spinal surgery for relief -- with mixed results. Millions are still hurting, and desperate for answers that doctors often can't provide.

Of the many therapies that are touted in newspaper and radio advertisements, perhaps the most visible in Southern California is a treatment program known as DiskCure. Ads for DiskCure promise a "breakthrough" drug treatment at a clinic known as the Institute for Neurological Research. "Freedom from pain. At last. Without surgery," says the clinic's Web site.

http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-000033759may13.story?null

Police Psychics: Do They Really Help Solve Crimes?

http://www.cicap.org/en_artic/at101006.htm

di Joe Nickell

The subject is nothing if not controversial. On one television show an experienced detective insists that no psychic has ever helped his department solve a crime, while another program features an equally experienced investigator who maintains that psychics are an occasionally valuable resource, citing examples from his own solved cases. Who is right? Is it a matter of science versus mysticism as some assert, or an issue of having an open mind as opposed to a closed one as others claim?

In ancient times those who sought missing persons or who attempted to uncover crimes could consult oracles or employ various other forms of divination including astrology. After dowsing became popular in the sixteenth century, certain practitioners used divining rods to track down alleged culprits. Throughout the nineteenth century, certain "sensitive" persons received information regarding crimes in their dreams, while during the heyday of Spiritualism some mediums claim to solve crimes through information provided by spirits of the dead.

When Science Goes Bad

http://www.randi.org/jr/05-31-2000.html

Edgar D. Mitchell was the sixth person to walk on the Moon, during the February, 1971, Apollo landing. He holds a Doctor of Science degree, and was a Naval pilot for many years. His qualifications, both physically and mentally, plus his work experience, made him an ideal candidate for the US space program, which he joined in 1966, at that time being chosen as a lunar astronaut. In February of 1970, he served on Apollo 14 as the lunar module pilot.

Mitchell retired from the Navy in 1972 with the rank of captain, and the following year he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Palo Alto, California, "a non-profit tax- exempt public corporation dedicated to research and education in the processes of human consciousness to help achieve a new understanding and expanded awareness among all people." (Noetics is the study of consciousness.)

Following Dr. Mitchell's triumphant return to Earth from the Apollo mission, there developed a rumor that he had conducted an unauthorized experiment during his trip in space. In The New York Times of June 22, 1971, he verified that rumor, and reported that his experiment had produced results "far exceeding anything expected" but in almost the same breath, he described those results as only "moderately significant." This is only the beginning of certain puzzling aspects of the astronauts report, as we shall see.


Monday, May 13, 2002

Earth punctured by tiny cosmic missiles

By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
(Filed: 12/05/2002)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/05/12/wnugg12.xml&sSheet=/portal/2002/05/12/por_right.html&secureRefresh=true&_requestid=130439

FORGET dangers from giant meteors : Earth is facing another threat from outer space. Scientists have come to the conclusion that two mysterious explosions in the 1990s were caused by bizarre cosmic missiles.

The two objects were picked up by earthquake detectors as they tore through Earth at up to 900,000 mph. According to scientists, the most plausible explanation is that they were "strangelets", clumps of matter that have so far defied detection but whose existence was posited 20 years ago.

Coming Soon

GET READY for Mel Gibson's new film 'Signs' about crop circles to be released in August 2002.

http://bventertainment.go.com/movies/signs

INVESTIGATE - Is there an extra-terrestrial connection between crop circle formations and our ancient monuments? Independent researchers into crop circle formations and UFOs recommend the book titled 'Silbury Dawning: The Alien Visitor Gene Theory' (Second Edition). www.silburydawning.com

If you believe that all crop circles are hoaxes, check out the website www.thisiswiltshire.co.uk/wiltshire/leisure/weird/index.html for extremely interesting information on amazing crop circle formations near Avebury and Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, UK – one of the most active areas for crop circles in the world!

Veggie Tales Releases Product in Poor Taste

http://www.landoverbaptist.org/news0502/veggietales.html

FREEHOLD, IOWA - "Veggie Tales is not Christian!" yelled Pastor Deacon Fred as he burst into the Landover Baptist Baby Jesus Day Care Center last Friday afternoon. He was followed by four deacons who kicked veggie toys out from the hands of youngsters and smashed them to pieces. "Now gather up what's left of that trash and BURN IT!" Deacon Crenshaw told the children. Throughout the day, the deacons visited upon other day care centers around the church campus until all traces of veggie toys were eliminated from church property. Then it was off to the homes of church members with children to finish the Lord's business by ridding the community of filth.

Since it's inception, Veggie Tales has been getting rich by lining their pockets with Christian money. Recently however, their true intentions were revealed. With the release of "Larry, The Singing and Dancing Cucumber" toy just a few weeks ago, it's become quite clear that the Veggie Tales Corporation is involved in a more sinister agenda. Either that, or they just hired an army of priests and homosexuals to head their product development team. Christian experts believe that, like Mr. Potato Head, this could be yet another attempt by liberals to force their evil "tolerance" into True Christian homes. Larry the Dancing Cucumber could be even more dangerous than Mr. Potato Head since it comes with a "choking hazard" clearly printed on the outside of the box. "The choking hazard is a direct acknowledgement that the Veggie Tales Corporation believes that a child will be naturally inclined to place the toy into his or her mouth," said Pastor Deacon Fred. "It's unbelievable that a so-called Christian company would stoop to this level of depravity."

Pope blesses the Internet

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&ncid=582&e=1&cid=582&u=/nm/20020512/wr_nm/pope_internet_dc_1

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul (news - web sites) is putting his faith in the Internet.

In his weekly address at St. Peter's Square Sunday, the 81-year-old Pontiff said: "I've decided, therefore, to propose a big new theme for this year: 'The Internet -- a new forum for proclaiming the Gospel."'

The leader of the world's Roman Catholics didn't say how much he practices what he preaches -- for instance, whether he surfs the World Wide Web. He doesn't have his own e-mail address.

But the Vatican (news - web sites) does have an active Web site (www.vatican.va), the pope sent his first message over the Internet last year, and there's talk he is searching for a patron saint for Internet users.

Miss Creo

http://www.animarso.com/mscreo.htm

Antigravity Research

http://www.americanantigravity.com/

Commercial Antigravity doesn't lift off from the table -- it lifts off with the table! Lifter technology is an experimental form of Field-Effect Propulsion being investigated for commercial transportation and payload delivery applications by American Antigravity.

From the Roof of the World to the Land of Enchantment: The Tibet-Pueblo Connection

http://www.swcp.com/~eltiki/homie_page/articles/peblotibet.html

by Antonio Lopez

In the incongruous atmosphere of the Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, an extraordinary encounter took place in 1979. During the Dalai Lama's first visit to North America, he met with three Hopi elders. The spiritual leaders agreed to speak in only in their Native tongues. Through Hopi elder and interpreter Thomas Benyakya, delegation head Grandfather David's first words to the Dalai Lama were: "Welcome home."

The Dalai Lama laughed, noting the striking resemblance of the turquoise around Grandfather David's neck to that of his homeland. He replied: "And where did you get your turquoise?"

Since that initial meeting, the Dalai Lama has visited Santa Fe to meet with Pueblo leaders, Tibetan Lamas have engaged in numerous dialogues with Hopis and other Southwestern Indians, and now, through a special resettlement program to bring Tibetan refugees to the United States, New Mexico has become a central home for relocated Tibetan families.

As exchanges become increasingly common between Native Americans and Tibetans, a sense of kinship and solidarity has developed between the cultures. While displacement and invasion have forced Tibetans to reach out to the global community in search of allies, the Hopi and other Southwestern Native Americans have sought an audience for their message of world peace and harmony with the earth. In the context of these encounters are the activities of writers and activists who are trying to bridge the two cultures. A flurry of books and articles have been published, arguing that Tibetans and Native Americans may share a common ancestry.

The perception of similarity between Native Americans of the Southwest and the Tibetans is undeniably striking. Beyond a common physicality and turquoise jewelry, parallels include the abundant use of silver and coral, the colors and patterns of textiles and long braided hair, sometimes decorated, worn by both men and women.

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 13, 2002

MOON ACCENTS PLANETARY ALIGNMENT
from The San Francisco Chronicle

A dazzling display that has graced the skies since mid-April takes a new twist tonight as the razor-thin crescent moon joins the planets in a shifting, slow-motion celestial dance.

Venus stars this week in the once-in-a-lifetime planetary alignment. All five naked-eye planets -- Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Mercury, in order of current brightness -- are visible at a glance in the Western sky just after sunset.

The naked-eye planets -- those that can be viewed from Earth without aid of a telescope -- currently appear clustered, roughly in a line, with brilliant Venus forming a tight triangle with Mars and Saturn, dim Mercury hanging below near the horizon and bright Jupiter presiding regally above them all from the constellation Gemini.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/05/13/MN187768.DTL

AIRBORNE SEARCH FOR LIFE ON VENUS
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Is there life in "hell"?

It's an old question being dusted off and re-examined in a new way by space scientists, who jokingly use the label for hellish Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor.

Glowing like a brilliant diamond at sunset, Venus is the brightest of the five "naked-eye" planets, all now grouped in a spectacular western-sky alignment. For space scientists, though, earthly views only hint at what may be lurking beneath the planet's thick cover of white clouds.

The heat on Venus -- close to 900 degrees Fahrenheit -- far exceeds the heat within a standard domestic oven. Surface air pressure is about 90 times greater than Earth's. Immense clouds of acid race overhead at hurricane speed.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/05/13/MN185465.DTL

FREE TO BE ME: WOULD-BE CLONERS PUSHING THE DEBATE
from The Washington Post

Liz Catalan lives in a nice house in Miami. She does marketing for a cruise line. She's been married to a wonderful guy for five years. She is, in short, an ordinary woman of 41.

Except that Catalan, who suffers from an untreatable form of infertility, has an extraordinary craving to be cloned.

"I'm not crazy," says Catalan, whose ovaries went into premature failure years ago. "I just want to have a child of my own." Not a child made from a donor egg provided by someone she doesn't know. Not one adopted from halfway around the globe. She wants a baby genetically related to her. And if that means one who's genetically identical, then so be it.

Catalan is part of a small but serious cadre of would-be clonees, people who have studied the science, considered the issues and concluded that their pursuit of happiness might best be fulfilled by having themselves or a loved one cloned.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6007-2002May11.html

BEES LEARNING SMELL OF BOMBS WITH BACKING FROM PENTAGON
from The New York Times

Scientists working for the Pentagon have trained ordinary honeybees to ignore flowers and home in on minute traces of explosives, a preliminary step toward creating a buzzing, swarming detection system that could be used to find truck bombs, land mines and other hidden explosives.

The research, under way for three years, initially focused on using bees to help clear minefields. But the effort has broadened, the scientists say. In two tests last summer, before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, trained bees picked out a truck tainted with traces of explosives.

The work is in its early stages, and bees, like bomb-sniffing dogs, have limitations. They do not work at night or in storms or cold weather, and it is hard to imagine deploying a swarm to sniff luggage in an airport. But they also have extraordinary attributes, including extreme sensitivity to scant molecular trails and the ability to cover every nook around the colony as they weave about in search of food.

Pentagon officials acknowledge that the idea of bomb-sniffing bees has a public relations problem, a "giggle factor," as one official put it. But that official and scientists working on the project insist the idea shows great potential.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/13/science/13BEES.html

FOR OLD PARTS, NASA BOLDLY GOES . . . ON EBAY
from The New York Times

NASA needs parts no one makes anymore.

So to keep the shuttles flying, the space agency has begun trolling the Internet — including Yahoo and eBay — to find replacement parts for electronic gear that would strike a home computer user as primitive.

Officials say the agency recently bought a load of outdated medical equipment so it could scavenge Intel 8086 chips — a variant of those chips powered I.B.M.'s first personal computer, in 1981.

When the first shuttle roared into space that year, the 8086 played a critical role, at the heart of diagnostic equipment that made sure the shuttle's twin booster rockets were safe for blastoff.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/12/technology/ebusiness/12NASA.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

E-SKEPTIC: SCIENTOLOGY DEFEAT, UFO STUDY, JOHN EDWARD, HOFFA

From: Michael Shermer skeptix@fortnet.com

E-SKEPTIC FOR MAY 10, 2002SCIENTOLOGY LEGAL DEFEAT

This editorial opinion provided by FACTNet, Inc. (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network.) http://www.factnet.org
F.A.C.T.Net, Inc.
PO Box 3135
Boulder, CO 80307-3135 USA
May 9, 2002 9:00 AM.

It was a crushing and humiliating legal defeat for the cult that is infamous around the world for its outrageous litigation tactics. Over the past 22 years Scientology spent an estimated 140 million in and out of the court in its efforts to crush a former member, Lawrence Wollersheim, and his legal teams.

Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology of California (CSC) litigation wound its way though the LA Superior Court, the California Appellate and Supreme courts as well as the US Supreme court almost a half a dozen times.

In the first landmark Wollersheim decision, Scientology's counseling practices were found to be dangerous in the first jury decision of the LA Superior Court. These dangerous counseling practices were also found to be the cause of Lawrence Wollersheim being driven to the brink of insanity.

Thereafter, Scientology filed numerous malicious and tangential legal actions designed to inhibit Wollersheim right of due legal process and to exhaust his financial resources so that he could not carry on his case. The

California court saw this new abuse and fined Scientology separately $500,000 in what is known as a SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.) This SLAPP fine was the highest fine ever paid for such a suit in California.

In another ill-conceived effort to avoid paying the judgment Scientology stripped an estimated 500 million dollars from the Church of Scientology of California and transferred its assets to other corporations in the Scientology corporate umbrella. To collect this judgment from the new Scientology corporations that had received the money, Wollersheim and his legal team filed a new collection lawsuit naming the Church of Scientology International (CSI) and religious Technology Corporation (RTC) as responsible for paying the Wollersheim judgment because of their receipt of the CSC assets.

On 9th May 2002, just before minutes before CSI and RTC were to appear in court Scientology hurriedly delivered an $8,674,643 cashiers check to the LA superior court clerk. This stopped having any additional evidence presented in court that could have exposed Scientology's lack of corporate integrity, and could have exposed Scientology's controversial IRS charitable tax exemption to review and potential repeal as well as stopped the very real risk that Scientology's top executives could soon being put in jail for corporate and asset fraud.

During the original 5-month jury trial in the LA Superior court in 1986 Scientology had almost 25,000 members picketing the courthouse carrying signs saying "Not one thin dime for Wollersheim" and "We will NEVER pay." David Miscavige, the cult's current leader and former executive in CSI and RTC at the time of the (CSC) transfers, as well as other top Scientology cult leaders, repeatedly vowed to members that nothing could ever force them to pay the Wollersheim judgment and they would fight the judgment forever no matter how much it costs or what the sacrifice.

After today's last minute payment it would appear that what David Miscavige and Scientology's other senior executives were actually saying was that they would only stonewall on the payment up to that point at which they were in danger of exposing themselves personally for potential felonies. And that they wanted, at all costs, to avoid Scientology's controversial IRS tax-exempt status grant being exposed in a court of law to evidence that could cause its repeal.

Scientology leaders are now faced with having to concoct a story for their current members explaining the painfully obvious incongruity of their actions. They also have to now contend with the floodgates being thrown wide open for thousands of new lawsuits being filed by emboldened former members who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to Scientology and/or were also harmed by Scientology's outrageous counseling tactics.

In an exclusive for interview for FACTNet Lawrence Wollersheim said the following about this long overdue and hard won victory:

"It is my opinion that there are hundreds of thousands of people all over the US, Europe and South America who have been destroyed by this cult and then intimidated into silence. But, I now do not think that these people will remain silent any longer.

I believe that they see this abusive cult has been beaten by the power of the law and patience. I hope that they will begin immediately calling their lawyers to use the full power of the law get their lives back and seek restitution as well. I also believe that after this court victory, former members who were intimidated into silence about criminal acts they were coerced to commit while in Scientology will come forward and speak with the proper government officials.

It took me 22 years of using the slow but steady power of law to enforce justice upon this dangerous cult. There were times when I thought I could not go on any longer. But then I would remember the many people who have lost their lives in Scientology such as Lisa McPherson (a current Scientology wrongful death case in Florida.). These people would have no voice if someone did not win a Scientology case.

I remembered Medger Evers wife who fought for 32 years and finally got the killers of her husband (the civil right worker) to trial. I thought of the families for the four African American teens in Atlanta who, after 39 years of persistence using the force of the law, finally got the fourth Ku Klux Klan member suspected in their deaths to trial.

When I saw the courage, persistence and dedication these individuals displayed in using the law to effect justice I told myself to stop being such a wimp and that I was only at the 12, 18, 20, and 22 year mark. These numbers were nothing compared to the 32 years that Medger's wife fought. What also sustained me in fighting for justice, no matter the level of threat or intimidation, was my faith in a higher, infinite and benevolent power.

The most important thing I have learned in this ordeal is that true justice is not the law. Nor is it the judges or courts. True justice is that sense of fairness that we all have in our hearts. It is that which gives us the power to ensure justice for others and the strength to demand justice for ourselves against all odds.

The most important thing I could say to others or to social advocacy groups that are facing or considering cult - litigation, or bringing lawsuits against wealthy corporations like cigarette companies or fighting the governments that are polluting our environment or committing financial or other criminal acts, is that they should use the legal system and be patient. Do not be intimidated into silence. Do not let the wealth or the size of your opponent dissuade you. At the end of the day, the power of justice sought through law and patience dwarfs any opposing force or party.

The rewards for enforcing justice are many. If you are a victim, justice is the miracle healer that accelerates the process far beyond just therapy. When a victim turns the tables on its former oppressor using the legal system they no longer remain a victim. The process transforms them psychologically and empowers them emotionally. There are also new laws like the SLAPP laws that protect the weaker or poorer parties from wealthy adversaries that are trying to punish them for speaking out or working for a better world. This is the good news.

Lastly, I want thank all of the lawyers and former members and all the family friends and other people who, as a team, forced this ruthless cult to comply with the law. It could not have been done other than as a team.

I promise that everything that Scientology sought to hide from public scrutiny in my case (by stopping the hearings with their $8,760,000 payment

to the court) will go to the proper government authorities. Everything in my case that can be made available to other new cases suing Scientology will be made available as soon as possible.

It is quite a paradox that the cult that vowed it would never pay me one thin dime has now paid over 86 million thin dimes not even including the $500,000 they paid earlier."

UFOs A SOCIO-CULTURAL PHENOMENON

Cold War hysteria sparked UFO obsession, study finds 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.

Many of the early UFO sightings were seemingly confirmed by Britain's fledgling radar system, often scrambling fighter planes into the sky to investigate sightings. But, as the new technology improved, the number of incidents appearing on radar quickly dwindled to zero. 'That cannot be a coincidence. Those early confirmations were just a product of a primitive radar system,' Clarke said.

But Clarke and Roberts, whose research is to be published this week in a book called Out of the Shadows , did uncover evidence that the American Secret Service, with the possible connivance of the British, looked at ways of using the public panic over UFOs as a psychological weapon against the Russians.

In CIA memos marked 'secret' and seen by The Observer, top officials consider exploiting the UFO craze. 'I suggest that we discuss the possible offensive or defensive utilisation of these phenomena for psychological warfare purposes,' wrote CIA director Walter Smith in 1952.

'Shortly after that meeting the CIA sent a delegation to Britain to discuss UFOs. It is hard to imagine that they did not discuss the psychological warfare aspects of it with their British counterparts,' Clarke said.

Clarke, who started out as a believer in UFOs but is now a sceptic, said that the belief in alien visitation had once reached up to the highest positions in government. Prime Minister Winston Churchill once ordered an investigation into it and Lord Mountbatten was a firm believer in flying saucers. In the 1950s Britain set up a flying saucer working party of top Ministers and army staff. 'That is why this field is important for academic research. It did have an impact on government policy at a crucial stage in history,' he said.

One scrap of consolation for conspiracy theorists is evidence that the British and US Governments did embark on a systematic cover-up of UFO sightings, especially by military pilots. Reports were kept secret and military personnel told not to talk about them. But Clarke believes that such actions were taken, not to disguise contact with aliens, but because the Government did not want to admit that it too could not explain the UFO hysteria.

It is a different story now. The Observer revealed last year that the secret army intelligence unit tasked with examining UFO reports has now quietly disbanded.

THE RESIDUAL PROBLEM

I received the following e-mail about psychic medium John Edward. It reminds me of the "residual problem," where there will always be a residual of unexplained phenomena and anomalies that go unexplained in any field of inquiry. My response follows:

"I've been watching Crossing Over with John Edward on and off for a couple of months, trying to find "evidence" to prove to my wife that he is a fraud.

I find that I can explain away about 80-90% of what he says with Cold Reading techniques. Another 10%, I say, that's pretty good, I don't know how

he jumped to that conclusion. Then there's about 5%, possibly even less, where I say, wow! that's pretty impressive, leading me to believe he is either truly psychic or there is some heavy-duty deception going on (hot-reading, editing, whatever).

I checked out one of his books from the library (no, I didn't buy it), to try to have more insight. The guy seems very genuine to me. To me, there are inane details in the book that just aren't necessary if he's a fraud (he rambles on & on). I think he truly believes he is talking to the dead.

So, I'm perplexed in explaining how he does it. I've seen or heard no real evidence that debunks him. I would like to see a 20-20 / Dateline investigation or Shermer report that would convince me. And that unexplained 5% that is so impressive really bothers me."

The fact that I cannot explain the final 5% does not relieve him of the burden of explaining the other 95% that is obviously faked. Why accept him on that 5%. Not all crimes are solved. If your local police department solves 95% of homicides, we do not assume that the other 5% were abducted by aliens or killed by gremlins. We know that not all crimes can be solved. In the same way, we know that science cannot explain all phenomena. We have to learn to live with uncertainty. It's okay to say "I don't know." --Michael Shermer

WHAT HAPPENED TO JIMMY HOFFA?

I recently received an e-mail from an astrologer telling me that he can find missing people. I asked him what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. Here is his response:

"The astrology of Jimmy Hoffa, (born 2/14/13 Brazil, Indiana), shows that at the time he vanished (&/30/75 Lake Orion, Michigan), he was undergoing the following three strongest transits to his birth postitions (a brief meaning follows each):

Saturn conjunct natal Neptune (fear, anxiety, disoriented, unable to discern real from illusion); Uranus trine natal Pluto (insight heightened, understood what was wrong with his life, involved in matters of ultimate concern); Mars trine natal Jupiter (optimistic, working with a positive energy, lucky).

On the day he vanished, he told friends and family that he would meet with Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, a reputed crime capo in Detroit, and Anthony Provenzano, a New Jersey Teamster boss known to friends as "Tony Pro."

Both of those men have died and neither have said a word about what happened to Hoffa, whose fate remains an unsolved mystery.

An astrology study of Hoffa's fate would require a study of those two mens' astrology at the time Hoffa was missing. At this time those birthdates are not available.

Hoffa was killed by a hitman. (He did not simply "take a little trip" as Giacalone suggested upon questioning by FBI.)That is part of the truth, but not all of it.

In that context, the primary transit in which he was unable to discern real from illusion would mean that as Hoffa waited for the two men, he was probably approached by the assigned hit man, and he was unable to be certain if the man had good intentions or not. The hit man probably asked him to "take a little trip". Traveling in a vehicle, Hoffa was probably in grave concern whether the man who was transporting him was in fact a friend or a foe (Saturn conjunct natal Neptune). Hoffa would have been worried about his relationships with the two men and whether they would indeed meet with him as previously agreed. Perhaps the man that picked him up explained to him a problem regarding their relationship. However, with an optimistic attitude towards the meeting, and a determination to work positively, Hoffa would probably go along for the "ride" (Mars trine natal Jupiter). The hit man killed Hoffa and hid his body. Those actions would not show on Hoffa's astrology, but possibly on the person who killed and/or ordered his murder.

Whether this was under direction of both of the two men, one of the two, or none of them, is yet to be determined."

Why People Believe in Weird Things

From: Mark Meyer

You may want to spread the word that Shermer's book is available on the Barnes & Noble bargain shelves at about $9 hardback. I've seen it in Dallas and in Washington. Just bought it in Washington.

Why People Believe in Weird Things

Scientology cult pays $8,674,643 to ex-member to end 22-year legal battle.

http://www.factnet.org/letters/FACTNewsMay2002Wollersheim.html?FACTNet

May 9, 2002 9:00 AM.

(At the end of editorial below are updates, media contacts and links to current media covering the breaking story.)

It was a crushing and humiliating legal defeat for the cult that is infamous around the world for its outrageous litigation tactics. Over the past 22 years Scientology spent an estimated 140 million in and out of the court in its efforts to crush a former member, Lawrence Wollersheim, and his legal teams.

The Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology of California (CSC) litigation wound its way though the LA Superior Court, the California Appellate and Supreme courts as well as the US Supreme court almost a half a dozen times. In the first landmark Wollersheim decision, Scientology's counseling practices were found to be dangerous in the first jury decision of the LA Superior Court. These dangerous counseling practices were also found to be the cause of Lawrence Wollersheim being driven to the brink of insanity.

Thereafter, Scientology filed numerous malicious and tangential legal actions designed to inhibit Wollersheim right of due legal process and to exhaust his financial resources so that he could not carry on his case. The California court saw this new abuse and fined Scientology separately $500,000 in what is known as a SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.) This SLAPP fine was the highest fine ever paid for such a suit in California.

In another ill-conceived effort to avoid paying the judgment Scientology stripped an estimated 500 million dollars from the Church of Scientology of California and transferred its assets to other corporations in the Scientology corporate umbrella. To collect this judgment from the new Scientology corporations that had received the money, Wollersheim and his legal team filed a new collection lawsuit naming the Church of Scientology International (CSI) and religious Technology Corporation (RTC) as responsible for paying the Wollersheim judgment because of their receipt of the CSC assets.

On 9th May 2002, just before minutes before CSI and RTC were to appear in court Scientology hurriedly delivered an $8,674,643 cashiers check to the LA superior court clerk. This stopped having any additional evidence presented in court that could have exposed Scientology's lack of corporate integrity, and could have exposed Scientology's controversial IRS charitable tax exemption to review and potential repeal as well as stopped the very real risk that Scientology's top executives could soon being put in jail for corporate and asset fraud.


Sunday, May 12, 2002

When Were They Written? The Dating of the Scrolls

http://www.elca.org/lp/scrolls.html

The traditional view posits the dating of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls as before the time of Jesus. Other textual evidence point to some time after Jesus' birth. The implications of a later dating may not be insignificant.

Neil Altman

(Editor: Neil Altman is a Philadelphia-based writer who specializes in the Dead Sea Scrolls and religion. He also receives assistance from his editor/colleague, David Crowder, an investigative reporter and former editorial page editor for the El Paso Times. Mr. Altman has done graduate work at Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, Conwell School of Theology, and Temple University, and has a master's degree in Old Testament from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.)

(By permission of the John C. Trever family)

Are these "X" markings on the Dead Sea Scrolls' Isaiah Scroll (Isaiah 42:1 and 6) ancient Hebrew (tof/sofs), or are they actually Syriac designations for the word "Christ?" The author stated that, according to Epiphanius, a fourth century CE church historian and scholar in Israel, Syriac New Testament manuscripts used "X," while "+" were used on Greek New Testament manuscripts, both designations for the word "Christ."

Since the discovery in the late 1940s of a huge cache of scrolls in caves near the Dead Sea in Israel, a tight-knit community of scholars has insisted they were written by a Jewish sect before the birth of Jesus.

But, as we move into the new millennium, the Dead Sea Scrolls debate will become hotter than ever as evidence mounts that they were written at a later date, after the birth of Jesus and by Christians.

At stake is the credibility of the original eight-member team of Dead Sea Scroll scholars and the thousands of articles and books they and other scholars have written.

Also at stake is the integrity of the Bible itself, which has undergone scores of changes because of the scrolls, with more changes on the way.

Western characters raise doubts about age of Dead Sea Scrolls

http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/stories/guest_11rel.ART.Zone1.Edition1.b7cea.html

Some scholars rethink assumption scrolls were written before Christian times

05/11/2002

NEIL ALTMAN AND DAVID CROWDER / Soecial Contributors to The Dallas Morning News

Scattered through some Dead Sea Scrolls are Western letters and numbers that are causing some scholars to rethink the assumption that the scrolls were written before Christian times.

"It creates suspicion when you see Western letters and numbers on manuscripts attributed to a Jewish sect that existed before the birth of Christ," Peter Pick, former dean of Arts and Sciences at California's Columbia Pacific University, said after looking at anomalies such as a "3x" between lines of the Great Isaiah Scroll.

The scrolls supposedly were written by a Jewish sect between 200 B.C. and the early first century A.D. and were hidden about A.D. 68 in 11 caves overlooking the Dead Sea, where they remained hidden until 1947.

John Edward: Listening to the dead

http://www.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/TV/05/10/john.edward.cnna/index.html

May 10, 2002 Posted: 3:32 PM EDT (1932 GMT)

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on CNN.com providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- John Edward is the star of TV's "Crossing Over," but even though he's crossed over -- to general success -- there are many who question the abilities of this seer, who claims to be communicating with the dead.

CNN anchor Paula Zahn spoke with Edward on "American Morning."

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: John Edward is back, who claims he can communicate with the dead. He has a show on the Sci Fi Channel that draws in, we're told, about 3 million people per show.

'Making Sense of Life': Studying Biology Through Mathematics

May 12, 2002
By LEWIS WOLPERT

In ''Making Sense of Life,'' Evelyn Fox Keller surveys efforts over more than a century to discover theories that will explain how the astonishingly varied biological forms we see in the world are generated. But her subtitle should alert a nonscientific reader that her book is not a history of biology; her underlying concern is with the philosophical problem of what ''understanding'' means.

Thus she concentrates not on giants of developmental biology in the past, like Wilhelm Roux, Hans Spemann and C. H. Waddington, who researched interactions between cells in the embryo, but on people like Stephane Leduc, D'Arcy Thompson, Alan Turing and, recently, researchers who try to mold biology to mathematical modeling and experiment with what is called ''digital biology.'' She has a special interest in mathematical biology, natural enough in someone trained as a theoretical physicist. She looks for theories that have the generality of those in physics. She is understandably disappointed that mathematical biology has failed to become a distinct branch of the biological sciences and feels that biologists do not accept that mathematical explanations are the heart of true science. A reader may feel that some of the theorists she highlights do not prove her case.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/12/books/review/12WOLPERT.html?ex=1022197459&ei=1&en=353f656261113348

Oldest worm trail discovered

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1977000/1977935.stm

Fossils in rocks thought to have been deposited 1.2 billion years ago could be the oldest evidence of animal life discovered so far.

Australian researchers believe a worm-like creature left a trail in sandstone found off the western tip of Australia.

If confirmed, it would be the oldest example of an animal comprised of more than one cell.

Until now, it was thought that multicellular animals, or metazoans, only appeared about 600 million years ago.

The rocks in question come from the Stirling Range Formation of south-western Australia.

Fine ridges in the sandstone may be "casts of mucus-impregnated strings of sediment left by an organism creeping over the surface," say Dr Birger Rasmussen and colleagues of the University of Western Australia.

Early world

The fossilised worm cast gives a glimpse into a primordial world.

This was a time when scientists believe the Earth was inhabited largely by microbes and algae.

According to current theory, there was a sudden burst of animal life about 600 million years ago.

This event - the Cambrian explosion - is clearly recorded in the fossil record.

There is little undisputed evidence of animal life before then, so the Australian research could prove contentious.

If the dating studies are correct, scientists will have to explain why little changed on Earth for millions of years after the arrival of primitive animals.

The fossil evidence is revealed in the journal Science.

Research that evolves from fossils to genes

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,923-289601,00.html

May 08, 2002

Where did we come from and where will we go? Mark Ridley looks at four books that explore the big questions of evolution

What Evolution Is
By Ernst Mayr
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99
ISBN: 0 465 044255 Buy the book

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
By Carl Zimmer
Heinemann, £25
ISBN: 0 434 009091
Buy the book

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
By Stephen Jay Gould
Harvard, £27.50
ISBN: 0 674 006135
Buy the book

Darwin's Cathedral
By David Sloan Wilson
University of Chicago Press, £16
ISBN: 0 226 901343
Buy the book

Evolution is one of a small number of ideas that not only inspires scientists at the lab-bench and jungle field-site but also inspires people who like to reflect on big questions about life and the Universe. Evolution is also well served, on both supply and demand sides, by the publishing industry. Here are four more books aimed more or less at the popular-science market, and variously looking at research science and the big philosophical questions.

The current trend in evolutionary research is to go molecular. The trend began in the 1980s, accelerated in the 1990s and now dominates the subject. There is money and technology behind it. The human genome project is the most expensive research programme ever undertaken in biology. Next year we should have a complete transcript of human DNA (the media circus in February last year was over an incomplete draft). Along with human DNA, the sequencing machines are transcribing DNA from many other forms of life, too. The human genome project is often justified in terms of conjectural medical benefits, but our understanding of evolution has been the big winner so far. I am not sure that a DNA sequence has yet saved a single life. But DNA sequences are answering evolutionary questions that have been unanswerable before, and are challenging the picture of history that has prevailed for 150 years.

Until recently, the fossil record was almost the only source of evidence about the history of life. (To be exact, it was the only source of evidence that gave us dates.) The history of life, as told by fossils, was reconstructed — mainly by British palaeontologists — in the early to mid-19th century. The picture was pretty much in place when Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in 1859. The fossils show a sudden origin of animal life 540 million years ago.

From then to now there are three main phases, the first dominated by fish and amphibians, the second by reptiles, including dinosaurs, and a third dominated by mammals. Dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the second phase, and mammals seem to have taken off after that.

Our knowledge of fossils has expanded in the past 150 years. We now have fossils older than 540 million years — the oldest may be 3,800 million years old. But the early fossils are all tiny microbes, and animal life still seems to have begun suddenly about 540 million years ago. The picture painted by the Victorian fossil-hunters still stands in most of its essentials.

The evidence from DNA has broken the fossil monopoly on historical research. The molecule seems to change at an approximately constant rate over evolutionary time. It provides, after suitable calibration, a "molecular clock" that can be used to date events in the past. The molecular clock has already filled in many branches in the tree of life that we previously knew nothing about (because those branches left no fossils).

The molecular clock is also rewriting the history we thought we did know. For instance, the differences between the DNA of the main kinds of animal suggest that animals have been around for 1,200 million or more years — much more than their 540 million-year-old ancestry in the fossil record. Also, the main groups of mammals, such as cats, elephants, monkeys and mice have a molecular age of more than 100 million years — much more than their fossil age of about 60 million years.

Maybe mammalian evolution did not have to wait for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The clash between fossil and molecular historians provides one of the great dramas of modern biology. Biologists have not quite decided what to make of the incompatible dates. Some (mainly molecular biologists, surprise, surprise) argue that the fossils are wrong. Others (guess who) argue that the molecular clock is wrong. Yet others have suggested ways of reconciling the two lines of evidence.

Oddly enough, it is the book by Ernst Mayr that gives the best introduction to the molecular history of life (What Evolution Is , Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99). I say odd, because the research is youthful and moves fast. Mayr has been around for a while. His book has a foreword by Jared Diamond, who describes the dangerous beginnings of Mayr's career, in New Guinea.

"Ernst managed to befriend the local tribes, was officially but incorrectly reported to have been kiled by them, survived severe attacks of malaria and dengue fever and dysentery and other tropical diseases, plus a forced descent down a waterfall and a near-drowning in an overturned canoe, succeeded in reaching the summits of all five mountains, and amassed large collections of birds with many new species and subspecies."

That was in 1928. Mayr went on to help shape modern evolutionary biology. You might think he would be slowing down, but his account of the history of life is impressively up-to-date. By comparison, the account by the science journalist Carl Zimmer — Evolution: The Triumph of An Idea (Heinemann, £25) — looks almost old-fashioned.

Stephen Jay Gould's new shelf-cracker, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Harvard, £27.50), is the book that ought to be best on the new insights from DNA. Gould is interested in the relation between evolution on the large scale (macroevolution) and on the small scale (microevolution). Macroevolution used to be the province of palaeontologists, such as Gould, and microevolution the province of geneticists. Now genetic methods are being used to study both, and the relation between them is being redrawn.

Gould has other ideas about how the relation should be redrawn. He wrote several papers in the early 1980s arguing that special processes might act to drive macroevolution — processes distinct from natural selection, which drives microevolution. In the 20 years since then, a little evidence has been found for Gould's view, but the main research trend has been elsewhere. Gould has not tried to rethink his old theme in the new molecular terms. Instead, he has restated his old view at massive length. Any normal writer could say what Gould has to say in about 200 pages. Gould has filled it out with a Wagnerian orchestration of literary, historical, and autobiographical anecdotes. I suspect he will have less influence in scientific circles this time round. They will say "oh, he is still saying that", and get on with the job. Gould will have readers in the popular market, though his book is written in academic style.

In Darwin's Cathedral , David Sloan Wilson has written another kind of book (University of Chicago Press, £16). It is not about research on evolution, but reflects on a big question of general interest: religion. You might guess from the title that it is about evolution and creationism. It is not. It takes religious belief as a question for evolutionary inquiry. From a Darwinian perspective, religion can seem paradoxical. We spend time imploring supernatural powers to supply us with benefits. But, as Wilson says: "If religion does not actually deliver the scarce resources, the entire enterprise is a waste of time as far as survival and reproduction are concerned. A mutant human race with the ability to employ its psychological attributes only when they deliver worldly benefits would quickly replace Homo religiosis." So why do we believe in religions?

It is a difficult question to answer, and one that few evolutionists have written about. Wilson himself is unorthodox about evolution. He accepts "group selection": he thinks that natural selection produces benefits for groups at a cost to the individuals. Most evolutionists think that natural selection works for the benefit of individuals, not groups. Wilson accordingly argues that religion exists despite the disadvantages it produces for individuals because it results in groups that function better. Maybe — but I doubt that anything in the book will persuade his colleagues. He assumes that group selection is right, and reasons from there. But most biologists think that group selection is wrong, and ignore arguments that are built on it.

Readers looking for a popular introduction to evolution as a whole would do well with either Mayr or Zimmer, or both. Mayr is a Darwinian mastermind, and has had a huge influence. However, his book does wander off into scientific controversies with little explanation for outsiders. That often happens with books written by experts for a broad audience. Mayr's book is the one for readers who prefer an author of great stature, and do not mind being baffled occasionally. Zimmer's book is associated with a TV series in the US, and is attractively illustrated; he is a reliable writer and explains everything clearly. Mayr's book is readable, but Zimmer's is even more so, as well as being more attractive to look at. For all that, Zimmer is an observer of the subject; but Mayr created a big chunk of it.

* Mark Ridley's Mendel's Demon is published by Orion, priced £7.99


Saturday, May 11, 2002

Enchanted Forest Intuitive Camp Press Release

Announcing the 4th Annual
ENCHANTED FOREST INTUITIVE CAMP!
held at the Enota Mountain Resort, Hiawassee, GA

DATES: July 29 - August 3, 2002.
Full Program Schedule and Registration forms available at http://www.psykids.net

National and international interest is focused on the phenomenon of so many of today's children utilizing their intuitive and psychic capabilities.

ual humans' intuitive experience. Blended work/playshops with camp activities. Enriching Appalachian mountain setting prime for faerie walks at waterfalls.

Each year the parents have share with us the immeasurable happiness of their children from finding other children like themselves - often for the first time in their lives!

Program areas this year include:

Human Energy Fields; Healing Lab; Genesa 13-dimensional General Systems; Dowsing in depth; Deep Empathy; Celebrating Life; Multi-Dimensional Sensory Integration;

Chi Gong Meditation; plus Art, Music, Yoga, Hiking 200' waterfall etc.

Issues of clairvoyance, clairaudience, angels, dolphins and so forth flow through out all sessions amidst JOYOUS play and games.

Sponsored by ChildSpirit Institute, we are able to offer scholarships as available. Please let us know

So God's Really in the Details?

May 11, 2002
By EMILY EAKIN

Economists use probability theory to make forecasts about consumer spending. Actuaries use it to calculate insurance premiums. Last month, Richard Swinburne, a professor of philosophy at Oxford University, put it to work toward less mundane ends: he invoked it to defend the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

"For someone dead for 36 hours to come to life again is, according to the laws of nature, extremely improbable," Mr. Swinburne told an audience of more than 100 philosophers who had convened at Yale University in April for a conference on ethics and belief. "But if there is a God of the traditional kind, natural laws only operate because he makes them operate."

Mr. Swinburne, a commanding figure with snow-white hair and piercing blue eyes, proceeded to weigh evidence for and against the Resurrection, assigning values to factors like the probability that there is a God, the nature of Jesus' behavior during his lifetime and the quality of witness testimony after his death. Then, while his audience followed along on printed lecture notes, he plugged his numbers into a dense thicket of letters and symbols - using a probability formula known as Bayes's theorem - and did the math. "Given e and k, h is true if and only if c is true," he said. "The probability of h given e and k is .97"

In plain English, this means that, by Mr. Swinburne's calculations, the probability of the Resurrection comes out to be a whopping 97 percent.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/11/arts/11GOD.html?ex=1022154436&ei=1&en=106eb81f32d986dd

UFOs Revisited

http://www.fairfieldweekly.com/articles/ufos.html

While society has embraced aliens as part of our modern mythology, are we ready to handle biological competition of that magnitude?

By Stefanie Ramp

Above: The Westchester Boomerang: An artist's rendering of the Hudson Valley UFO, which has been routinely described by witnesses as a triangular object larger than a football field with a "V" of lights.

It was 17 years ago this month when the phenomenon known as the Hudson Valley UFO commenced its high-profile tour through the Northeast. Particularly fond of Westchester County, it was nicknamed the "Westchester Boomerang," though it spent a great deal of time in Connecticut as well.

Hundreds of local citizens reported sightings to the police and numerous police officers witnessed the spectacle firsthand. According to Philip Imbrogno, a UFO investigator and co-author of Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings (written with Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Bob Pratt), which chronicles the most impressive reports, more than 5,000 people have reported seeing a triangular- or boomerang-shaped object larger than a football field hovering in our skies.

Ex-Scientologist Collects $8.7 Million In 22-Year-Old Case

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63143-2002May9.html

By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, May 10, 2002; Page A03

Nearly 22 years ago, Lawrence Wollersheim, a disaffected member of the Church of Scientology, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles accusing the church of mental abuse that pushed him to the brink of suicide. Teams of lawyers and various rulings came and went, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judgments against the church hit $30 million, then dropped to $2.5 million.

But the Church of Scientology never paid -- until yesterday, when officials wrote a check for more than $8.6 million to end the case, one of the longest-running in California history.


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.