NTS LogoSkeptical News for 19 June 2002

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Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Science In the News

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

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


Today's Headlines – June 19, 2002

from The Washington Post

Advocates of legislation to ban all forms of human cloning suffered their second setback in a week yesterday as the Senate blocked an effort to add an anti-cloning amendment to legislation dealing with insurance against terrorism.

Voting 65 to 31, the Senate barred consideration of amendments unrelated to the insurance measure, effectively shelving a proposal by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to add a provision barring issuance of patents for cloned human beings or the technology to produce them.

Brownback, leader of anti-cloning forces in the Senate, resorted to the amendment strategy after failing last week to reach agreement with Democrats on a procedure for voting on his overall legislation, which would ban cloning for medical research as well reproductive purposes. This left Brownback without the ability to force votes on his legislation, except as amendments to other bills.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Washington -- President Bush is asking Congress to create a national research center at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to help protect Americans against biological and radiological attacks -- almost two weeks after the White House proposed transferring nearly all of the lab's budget to the newly proposed Department of Homeland Security.

As Bush sent Congress legislation Tuesday creating the new Cabinet department, his aides spent the day trying to clarify some of the still- fuzzy details about the proposed agency.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge acknowledged that the administration has reversed its earlier decision to move the lab, which is run by the University of California under a contract with the Department of Energy, into the new Homeland Security Department.

Scientists and Bay Area officials complained that such a move would complicate the lab's main mission, which is to conduct research that helps maintain the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile without having to conduct live tests. White House officials ultimately agreed.


from The Washington Post

Antibiotic prescriptions for children fell by 40 percent over the course of the 1990s, reversing an upward trend that had fueled the emergence of hard- to-treat, drug-resistant bacteria, researchers reported yesterday.

The dramatic reversal was seen across the spectrum of common ailments of childhood, including ear infections, sore throats, bronchitis and miscellaneous respiratory infections. It was seen in all ways that drug prescribing is gauged -- total number of prescriptions, prescriptions per child and prescriptions per trip to the doctor.

The change follows numerous public health campaigns aimed at doctors and parents, widespread media coverage of "super-bugs" and a few documented examples of death from bacterial infections that once would have been easily cured.


from The Chicago Tribune

With 16 people dying every day for lack of a needed organ, the American Medical Association on Tuesday said it would support studies to determine whether money should be used to motivate potential donors and their families.

Although the AMA's decision is only a baby step toward financial payments for organ donation, the vote by the nation's largest doctor group is nevertheless significant, organ banks said. Just six months ago, the AMA's policymaking House of Delegates turned down a similar measure at its winter meeting in San Francisco.

This time, however, supporters of the measure were able to convince enough AMA delegates that the lack of available organs is, indeed, a crisis, and merely studying financial incentives could at least help medical professionals and lawmakers understand what drives donations.


from The Chicago Tribune

Reversing a long-standing anti-vitamin policy, the Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday is advising all adults to take at least one multivitamin pill each day.

Scientists' understanding of the benefits of vitamins has rapidly advanced, and it now appears that people who get enough vitamins may be able to prevent such common chronic illnesses as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis, according to Drs. Robert H. Fletcher and Kathleen M. Fairfield of Harvard University, who wrote JAMA's new guidelines.

The last time JAMA made a comprehensive review of vitamins, about 20 years ago, it concluded that normal people shouldn't take multivitamins because they were a waste of time and money. People can get all the nutrients they need from their diet, JAMA advised, adding that only pregnant women and chronically sick people may need certain vitamins.


from The Washington Post

Paul Werbos is one of those guys who like to dabble in technology. Only when he dabbles, organizations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and a growing number of other influential people take note.

A virtual polymath -- he has four political, economic and applied-math degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics -- Werbos has consulted on projects involving hypersonic flight, space robotics and fuel- cell automobiles in recent years.

He also happens to be past president, and current guru, for the International Neural Network Society, a group of scientists and computer thinkers who specialize in artificial-intelligence software that code writers hope will one day mimic the human mind.


science shorts compiled by The Boston Globe

One-Atom Transistor

Well, this is about as small as you're likely to get - a transistor made of just one atom! Paul McEuen and his colleagues at Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley built the device out of a single cobalt atom held in an organic compound. They put a tiny gold wire just 10 millionths of a millimeter thick on a silicon substrate and covered it with the cobalt compound. Making a tiny gap in the wire allowed molecules of the coating to slip into the space created, and to drag a cobalt atom with them. The two ends of the wire then act as contacts with the third and final connection being made to silicon dioxide, which insulates the gap from the substrate. The group is working on other transistors made using different atoms.


(Yet another piece on Stephen Wolfram and his book "A New Kind of Science." Our inclusion of so many similar stories is not intended to add to the considerable amount of hype generated by this self-published tome. Rather, "Science In the News" has attempted to link those articles that present a well-rounded and heavily contextualized review of the book, complete with varying points of commentary. It is rare that a subject generates the occasion for the mainstream media to highlight the manner in which science is conducted, and Wolfram's challenge to traditional science has afforded many science writers that view. So, for now, more Wolfram.) from The Boston Globe

No one doubts that Stephen Wolfram is one of the brightest minds of his generation. He published his first paper on theoretical physics at age 15, earned his PhD at the California Institute of Technology at 20, and went on to amass millions of dollars with a software program used by scientists around the world.

But now Wolfram, still an enfant terrible at 42, is making his bid for intellectual immortality with a book, ''A New Kind of Science.'' The 1,200- plus page tome, an unexpected bestseller that challenges basic premises of modern science, is creating an enormous buzz in publishing circles. But it is also generating a backlash among scientists who say he has moved from arrogance to self-delusion in presenting other people's ideas as his own.

Out for only a few weeks, the book has sold more than 100,000 copies, about half of that on back order as the printers try to catch up with demand, Wolfram says. It has reached the Amazon.com top 10, despite a hefty $44.95 price tag, and despite the fact Wolfram published the book himself.


"Science Musings" column from The Boston Globe

If you've seen a rainbow, you have seen the colors of starlight.

The sun is a typical star, and the light of other stars also would make earthly rainbows if they weren't so far away and faint. Astronomers use instruments called spectroscopes to make rainbows of starlight. To the eye, some stars are yellow like the sun, some redder, some bluer, but, through a spectroscope, they all reveal a spectrum of colors, of varying intensities.

Now bear with me through some technical stuff and we'll get to one of the greatest mysteries of the universe, something so wonderful, so unexpected, we can only shake our heads with awe.

Put sunlight or starlight through a spectroscope and you see something the eye can't see: The rainbow has narrow gaps, missing colors of light. The missing colors tell us much about stars, including what stars are made of.


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UFO in Lanka? Clarke says no way



TIMES NEWS NETWORK [ MONDAY, JUNE 17, 2002 10:09:03 AM ]

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is abuzz over aliens after some villagers and a journalist spotted an unidentified flying object (UFO) in the north central town of Polonnaruwa, but visionary space scientist Sir Arthur C Clarke has played down the local X File episode.

The unusually glimmering flying object was first spotted by a farmer in Polonnaruwa, but its presence was also confirmed by several others in the area including a television journalist, local media reports said on Sunday.

The object had been seen over Sri Lankan skies for nearly a week and eventually prompted the Sri Lankan Air Force to investigate the matter, the reports added.

Polonnaruwa is an ancient Sri Lankan capital and is a popular tourist attraction because it houses many rare historical ruins dating back to the first century AD.

A team of astrophysicists -- led by Dr Chandana Jayaratne of the University of Colombo -- has also started studying the Sri Lankan sky to determine what the object is.

But for the internationally renowned author of several books on this subject, Arthur Clarke, all the hype appears to be largely unwarranted.

Intelligent-design movement is going against Constitution

FROM the Columbus Dispatch at:


The debate over Ohio's science curriculum is not over academic freedom or balance.
Thursday, June 13, 2002
Dennis D. Hirsch

Fresh on the heels of its defeat in Kansas, the intelligent-design movement came to Ohio advocating that, along with Darwinian evolution, our public schools teach that complex life-forms are the work of an "intelligent designer.'' It demanded that the state science standards, which the State Board of Education will revise by December of this year, encourage the teaching of this idea.

There are many good reasons to reject this request, including the Ohio Academy of Science's conclusion that intelligent design has "no scientific validity . . . (and) should not be taught as science'' in the biology classroom. But perhaps the strongest reason, one that has gotten little attention, is that under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Edwards vs. Aguillard, granting the request would violate the Constitution.

Please see the Ohio Citizens for Science's web page at:


Shooting crap

Alleged psychic John Edward actually gambles on hope and basic laws of statistics.

By Shari Waxman


June 13, 2002 | John Edward, host of the television series "Crossing Over," is just short of creating an empire of Oprah or Martha Stewart proportions. His show, a half-hour exhibition of his self-professed ability to communicate with the dead and predict the future, now airs on CBS and Sci-Fi at least 10 times a week. Author of three books (his second, "One Last Time," was a New York Times bestseller), subject of an HBO documentary, guest of "Larry King Live" and "The Crier Report," and celebrated counselor to a host of B-list celebrities (Jennifer Beals, Anne Rice, et al.), Edward has gained surprising credibility.

He has managed to sell his talents via audiotapes ("Developing Your Own Psychic Powers," yours for $59.95), a quarterly newsletter, internationally touring seminars (sold out), private readings (the wait list is now three years) and personally endorsed products like the John Edward Pink Rose Appreciation Pin, "a symbol to express love."

But Edward, a 32-year-old native of Long Island, has not fessed up to all of his talents. As it happens, he is more than a psychic medium; he is also a master statistician. The smoke and mirrors behind his self-professed ability to communicate with the dead is a simple application of the laws of probability. Basically, if you keep trying something whose results are independent, your odds of getting your desired result increase.

For example, the odds that you will roll a 3 on any one roll of a six-sided die are 1 in 6, about 17 percent. After six throws, the chance that you will have thrown at least one 3 has increased to about 67 percent. After 12 throws, it's nearly 90 percent.

Lucky for Edward, most audience members on his television show are too hopeful and trusting to pull out a calculator and expose the charlatan behind the prophet.

Fire-walk with me


When it comes to activities that teach self-awareness, some like it hot

By Catherine Foster, Globe Staff, 6/18/2002

LITTLETON - A dozen strangers sit on blue tarps in a damp field and stare at a pile of wood across the way. That wood will soon be a blazing pyre and a few hours later will burn down into a carpet of glowing coals. Then, when the coals are raked out into a large circle, these strangers will walk across it, barefoot. No wonder they look apprehensive.

They've paid $95 to spend an evening with Arne Rantzen, a fire-walk leader from Annapolis, Md., who will teach them how to do what seems physically impossible - walk across the coals without harming themselves - and to learn something about who they are in the process. ''Some 5 percent come to workshops thinking they want to walk, with the others thinking they're crazy,'' says Rantzen, a stocky man with a mop of blond curls and a kind but determined face. ''By the end, 95 percent do walk.''

The way he teaches it, fire-walking is an exercise in personal growth, not a challenge to check off on a life list, like bungee jumping or sky diving. ''The way we deal with the fire is the way we deal with all our situations, health, business, etc. Standing in front of the fire, we will notice how we hesitate. Maybe we'll see that we're someone who postpones all the time or maybe that we're a daredevil.''

New theory fills in the gap before Darwin


By Tim Friend, USA TODAY

Forget what you learned in biology about the origin of life: that it began with a single mother of all cells and became increasingly complex. It was a simplistic notion anyway.

A new theory by leading evolutionary microbiologist Carl Woese, which may revolutionize notions on the origin of life, suggests that life really began with at least three primitive cell-like structures engaged in a promiscuous gene-swapping free-for-all more than 3 billion years ago. At different points in time, these genetic swingers settled down and only then gave rise to the three known branches of the tree of life — bacteria, eukaryotes (like the cells in our bodies) and archaea (such as the organisms that thrive around deep-sea vents). Woese's theory is described for the first time in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Hold the Fire and Brimstone


Mention of hell from pulpits is at an all-time low. The downplaying of damnation shows the influence of secularism on Christian theology.

June 19 2002

Bill Faris believes in hell, that frightful nether world where the thermostat is always set on high, where sinners toil for eternity in unspeakable torment.

But you'd never know it listening to him preach at his south Orange County evangelical church. He never mentions the topic; his flock shows little interest in it.

"It isn't sexy enough anymore," said Faris, pastor of Crown Valley Vineyard Christian Fellowship. In churches across America, hell is being frozen out as clergy find themselves increasingly hesitant to sermonize on Christianity's outpost for lost souls.

The violence and torture that Dante described in the "Inferno" and that Hieronymus Bosch illustrated on canvas centuries ago have become cultural fossils in most mainstream Christian denominations, a story line that no longer resonates with churchgoers.

"There has been a shift in religion from focusing on what happens in the next life to asking, 'What is the quality of this life we're leading now?' " said Harvey Cox Jr., an eminent author, religious historian and professor at the Harvard Divinity School. "You can go to a whole lot of churches week after week, and you'd be startled even to hear a mention of hell."

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Full Results from the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Poll About Intelligent Design


JUNE 2002 The poll results printed here are questions that deal specifically with the "evolution-design" issue in Ohio. The complete poll contains additional results that are not listed here.

1,507 Ohio adults were interviewed statewide May 28 through June 4, 2002, by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. The margin for error is plus or minus 2.6%. The poll results were reported in the Plain Dealer on June 9, 2002.


QUESTION: Which of the following five statements comes closest to your view about the development of life on Earth?

13% - All living things on Earth came from a common ancestor and over millions of years evolved into different species due to natural processes such as natural selection and random chance.
15% - Living things are too complex to have developed by chance. A purposeful force or being that may or may not be God is responsible for designing life as we know it. Evolution may be part of a such a design.
26% - God created the universe and all living things as claimed in the Bible. Creation took millions of years and evolution is the method God used to achieve this result.
13% - God created the universe in the manner the Bible describes, but over a long period of time, and the world is millions of years old. God made all living things, including humans, but has allowed some small-scale evolution to take place.
29% - God created the universe exactly as the Bible describes, in a period of six days, and the world is less than 10,000 years old. God made all living things, including humans, in the form they appear now, and there has been no evolution.
4% - None/Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Would you say your beliefs about the manner in which life developed on Earth are very certain, somewhat certain, or uncertain?

Very Certain - 55%;
Somewhat Certain - 37%;
Not Certain - 8%

QUESTION: Which of the following is the principal source of your views on the development of life on Earth?

54% - Religious teachings;
15% - Science classes in school;
10% - The work of scientists;
1% - The positions of religious or political leaders;
5% - The news media;
15% - Other/Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Would you say that you are very familiar, somewhat familiar, or not that familiar with the concept of evolution?

Very Familiar - 42%;
Somewhat Familiar - 43%;
Not Familiar - 15%

QUESTION: The theory of evolution is that human beings developed from less advanced forms of life. Which of the following best describes your view of evolution:

15% - A completely valid account of how humans were developed;
44%- A somewhat valid account;
36% - Not a valid account;
6% - Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Would you say that you are very familiar, somewhat familiar, or not that familiar with the concept of "intelligent design?"

Very Familiar - 18%;
Somewhat Familiar - 37%;
Not Familiar - 45%

QUESTION: The concept of "intelligent design" is that life is too complex to have developed by chance, and a purposeful being or force is guiding the development of life. Which of the following best describes your view of intelligent design? Is it a:

23% - A completely valid account of how humans were developed;
48% - A somewhat valid account;
22% - Not a valid account;
2% - Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: With regard to intelligent design, which of the following best describes your position:

18% - I am strongly persuaded that intelligent design is correct;
51% - I prefer a traditionally religious point of view, but I can support intelligent design;
22% - I find intelligent design completely unpersuasive;
10% - No Opinion/Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Regarding the concept of intelligent design, who do you think the designer is:

67% - God;
4% - A supernatural force;
0 - An alien being;
20% - Doesn't matter/Not Sure;
9% - None/Don't believe it is valid


QUESTION: Currently, the Ohio Board of Education is debating new academic standards for public school science classes, including what to teach students about the development of life on Earth. Which position do you support:

8% - Teach only evolution;
8% - Teach only intelligent design;
59% - Teach both;
15% - Teach the evidence both for and against evolution, but not necessarily intelligent design;
9% - Teach nothing about human development;
1% - Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Would you say that you are paying a great deal of attention to this debate, some attention to it or are you not paying much attention?

Great Deal - 20%;
Some - 48%;
None - 32%

QUESTION: Should the state Board of Education require that intelligent design be part of the science curriculum, or should this decision be left to local school boards and teachers?

State - 33%;
Local - 50%;
Not Sure - 16%

QUESTION: Do you believe ____ are competent to decide what is taught about human origins, or not? (Y = yes; N = no; DK = don't know)

Scientists and science teachers? Y 47% - N 36% - DK 17%
Parents? Y 53% - N 31% - DK 16%
School boards? Y 38% - N 46% - DK 16%
Religious leaders? Y 42% - N 44% - DK 14%

QUESTION: Which of the following is the best place to teach about beliefs regarding the development of life that differ from evolution?

23% - In a science class;
17% - In a class other than science;
51% - At home or in a religious setting;
9% - Not Sure/None (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Do you feel teaching about only evolution in public school undermines personal morality or religious beliefs, or not?

Yes - 43%;
No - 50%;
Not Sure - 7%

QUESTION: Do you feel teaching about intelligent design in public school promotes a religious view of creation, or not?

Yes - 40%;
No - 41%;
Not Sure - 19%

QUESTION: When it comes to teaching public school students in science class about the development of life, is it more important to: (ORDER ROTATED)

27% - Teach only theories for which there is scientific consensus;
60% - Teach all alternative concepts out of respect for individuals' beliefs;
13% - Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Which of the following is the primary basis for your opinion about what should be taught in science class about human development:

44% - Your personal education;
29% - Your religious beliefs;
1% - What you've learned from the news media;
10% - What you've learned from my family;
7% - What you've learned from supporters of evolution or supporters of intelligent design;
10% - Other/Not Sure (NOT READ)

QUESTION: Have you contacted a school board member or other elected official about this issue, or not?

Yes - 5%;
No - 95%

QUESTION: Has anyone contacted you about this issue, or not?

Yes - 4%;
No - 96%

QUESTION: Some people say intelligent design is just a way to get religion into schools. Do you agree or disagree?

Agree - 28%;
Disagree - 56%;
Not Sure - 16%

QUESTION: Some people say teaching evolution is an attempt to remove God from our society. Do you agree or disagree?

Agree - 31%;
Disagree - 60%;
Not Sure - 9%

QUESTION: If Ohio public schools include intelligent design in their science curriculum, how do you think the following areas would be affected? Would it have a positive effect, a negative effect, or no real effect on:

Ohio's ability to attract new businesses?
Positive - 20%;
Negative - 19%;
No Effect - 58%;
Not Sure - 3%

Ohio students' chances at being accepted at out-of-state colleges?
Positive - 21%;
Negative - 15%;
No Effect - 62%;
Not Sure - 3%

Ohio's reputation with the rest of the country?
Positive - 28%;
Negative - 24%;
No Effect - 45%;
Not Sure - 3%

The quality of instruction in public schools?
Positive - 39%;
Negative - 22%;
No Effect - 36%;
Not Sure - 3%

The public's confidence in Ohio schools?
Positive - 37%;
Negative - 26%;
No Effect - 33%;
Not Sure

Please see the Ohio Citizens for Science's web page at:


Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – June 18, 2002

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Los Angeles -- Genentech Inc. pulled the gloves off in a high-stakes patent case Monday, accusing an attorney for a nonprofit medical center of lying and ethics violations that the biotech giant claimed should void a $300 million jury award for the center.

In a heated motions hearing, Genentech attorney Susan Harriman called for a mistrial in a half-completed trial of claims by City of Hope National Medical Center that Genentech cheated it out of royalties on groundbreaking research that helped launch the biotechnology industry. She urged a judge in Los Angeles to abort a second phase of the trial that could yield an additional punitive damages award.

Harriman said City of Hope General Counsel Glenn Krinsky falsely told reporters after the partial verdict was announced last week that all the money awarded the cancer center would be plowed back into medical research and hospital care for people with life-threatening diseases.


from The Washington Post

Advances in medicine always bring about new challenges in health care.

Surgery and drug treatment now routinely save the lives of heart attack victims who in the past would have died. But damage from those once-fatal heart attacks, and the underlying conditions that caused them, have created a new epidemic of heart failure in the U.S., The Washington Post reports.

Heart failure is a condition in which a weakened heart is no longer effective at pumping blood, thus depriving the body's tissues of oxygenated blood. What is routinely felt as fatigue or shortness of breath in the early stages eventually becomes debilitating for patients. Some doctors predict the number of heart failure patients in the country to double to 10 million in the next five years.


from The Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia - Australian scientists said Monday they had successfully "teleported" a laser beam encoded with data, breaking it up and reconstructing an exact replica a yard away.

Their work replicates an experiment at the California Institute of Technology in 1998, but the Australian team believes their technique is more reliable and consistent.

Although the research brings to mind the way "Star Trek" characters were beamed around on TV and in film, scientists at the Australian National University said their technique's main use will be as a way to encrypt information and for a new generation of super-fast computers.

At this stage, the process perfected by Australian physicist Ping Koy Lam and his 12-member team can only teleport light by destroying the light beam and creating an exact copy at the receiving end from light particles known as photons.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Bacteria found in the intestines of humans and other animals have been identified as the cause of a disease killing elkhorn corals in the Caribbean Sea.

First reported in 1996, the disease has spread widely, causing severe damage to the branched corals.

On some reefs near Key West, mortality of elkhorn coral has reached 95 percent, and the disease has been recorded in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean areas of Mexico, the Bahamas and Florida, said James W. Porter of the University of Georgia.

Porter and his research team traced the white pox disease that causes the problem to Serrate marcescens bacteria, which are widely found in the intestines of humans and other animals.


from The Washington Post

BEIJING, June 17 -- A scientist who is one of Taiwan's senior advisers on China policy has been allowed to come to the mainland for the first time in five years in a sign of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that has raised hopes of improved relations between Beijing and Taipei.

Lee Yuan-tseh, a chemist and Taiwan's only Nobel laureate, arrived in Beijing on Sunday, telling reporters he came only to attend scientific conferences. "It has nothing to do with politics," Lee told Taiwanese reporters when accosted at Tsinghua University. But in the highly charged atmosphere between China and Taiwan, who is allowed to travel from one side to the other is sometimes as important as what they say or do.

Taiwan's rambunctious media have billed Lee's trip as a breakthrough. Emile Sheng, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taipei, said he thought the trip was "symbolically significant."


from The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- Where have all the sparrows gone?

Environmentalists asked Londoners on Tuesday to help solve the mystery.

Sparrows were once a common sight in the city's parks and gardens, where they sometimes flocked to feed from people's hands. Now, though, they are almost impossible to find.

In 1926, researchers counted 2,603 so-called house sparrows in London's Kensington Gardens, but were able to find only 885 in the park in 1948, 544 in 1975, 81 in 1995 and only eight in 2000.

This spring, scientists could find just four of the birds in Kensington Gardens, although other bird species continue to thrive there. The house sparrow has disappeared from other sites including St. James Park, Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace, where they used to nest in the gates.


from The New York Times

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — In the year 874, Viking crews from western Norway started to drop in on Ireland, capture an allotment of young Celtic women and sail off northwest to a remote island beyond the reach of retribution.

Eleven centuries later, a direct descendant of those Icelandic pirates and their slave wives, Dr. Kari Stefansson, says he is starting to extract a tremendous prize, made possible by Iceland's tiny, isolated population and its obsessive interest in genealogy: a catalog of the deviant genes that cause the most common human diseases.

He hopes to snatch this prize away from competitors who are hunting for the same errant genes by a different method, including those relying on information from the Human Genome Project, a $3 billion program financed largely by the United States government.


from The New York Times

A leading example of evolution given in biology textbooks has come unglued, evoking jeers and jubilation in the camp of creationists, who have been trying for years to expel Darwin from the classroom.

The case is that of the peppered moth, which over the course of a few decades has changed its wing color from pale-peppered to black and back to peppered again in parallel with the rise and fall of industrial pollution.

The moth, a furtive citizen of Britain and the United States, flies only at night. During the day, it supposedly hides on the trunks of lichen- encrusted trees, where the normal pale form is almost invisible.

Textbook writers have long held that the dark form of the moth grew much more common when soot from industrial activity blackened the trees and killed the lichens, making the pale form more conspicuous to birds. But with the passage of clean air laws, the lichens returned, the pale form regained its camouflage, and the black form reverted to rarity.


from The New York Times

PLAINS OF SAN AUGUSTIN, N.M. — "This entire plain is one big telescope," Dr. James Ulvestad, an astronomer, said with proprietary pride.

In three directions, reaching miles across an expanse of desert high (elevation 7,000 feet) and broad (almost as big as Connecticut), 27 radio telescopes stand at attention, like giant ears cocked to the heavens. Called the Very Large Array, the configuration of the 82-foot-wide dish antennas forms a huge Y on this ancient lake bed, and all of them work together, merging their observations as a unified telescope of cosmic discovery.

The combined antennas are receiving a blitz of energies in radio wavelengths from the hearts of galaxies, the peripheries of black holes and the scattering debris of exploded stars. They are yielding insights into where and how stars form and the nature of galaxies from the universe's early history.

But the Very Large Array could be better, astronomers say, and a program of technological improvements and eventual expansion has just begun. Dr. Ulvestad, assistant director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in nearby Socorro, N.M., noted that the antennas went into full service in 1980, and "we have been running a lot of the V.L.A. on technology of the 1970's."


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Search for Bigfoot after sighting draws a blank

From Ananova at


There has been a sighting of the legendary Bigfoot in Washington State.

A man spotted the hairy, human-like creature near his house in Forks.

An animal-control officer and Forks police carried out a search but found no trace of the Sasquatch.

"We were unable to locate, identify or capture the Sasquatch," said Forks Police Chief Mike Powell.

He said it was a relief because he wouldn't know how to deal with a Bigfoot.

Mr Powell said: "I don't know why we would impound him or where we would keep him."

Sightings of the creature, reputed to lurk in Northwest forests, are rare.

Story filed: 20:41 Monday 17th June 2002

Artist sells his soul for £11.61

From Ananova at


A hard-up graduate has sold his soul on an internet auction site for £11.61.

Artist Gareth Malham came up with the idea after watching an episode of the Simpsons in which Bart makes a similar transaction.

The 26-year-old, of Byker, Newcastle, posted an advert on the eBay site and his soul was bought by a man from Oklahoma for £11.61.

Mr Malham said the buyer wanted a new soul as he had lost his own in a bet over a game of air hockey. He said he would sign over his soul by writing a legal document in his own blood when he receives his cheque.

Mr Malham graduated in photography, video and digital imaging from Sunderland University last year. He works part time in the University's photography department and began selling possessions on the Internet when he was short of money.

It was then that he decided to sell something less tangible than old videos or computer games.

He said: "I don't think I'm really selling my soul, I believe my soul is me. I'm more interested in the fact someone wanted to buy it. I'm playing with the idea of marketplaces and the fact that people will sell anything nowadays."

Malham, who said he was an atheist, did not believe he would come to any harm from making the deal - although he has received warning emails from Christians. "I asked the guy who was buying it and he said he wasn't a Satanist, thank God," he said.

He plans to sell other bits of himself and will auction off photographs of various body parts later. Eventually he would like to issue shares in himself on the Stock Exchange.

"In a way it is like the Internet bubble where companies were being hyped out of all proportion and I am trying to talk my own worth up," he said. "But I only got £11.61."

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

From Scientific American at


Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up
By John Rennie

When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere--except in the public imagination.

Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Besieged teachers and others may increasingly find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism. The arguments that creationists use are typically specious and based on misunderstandings of (or outright lies about) evolution, but the number and diversity of the objections can put even well-informed people at a disadvantage.

To help with answering them, the following list rebuts some of the most common "scientific" arguments raised against evolution. It also directs readers to further sources for information and explains why creation science has no place in the classroom.


from AMERICAN ATHEISTS NEWS for Monday, June 17, 2002

Vatican Reversed Stance On Cult Figure Padre Pio

Before one of the largest crowds to assemble in front of St. Peters in Rome, Pope John Paul II yesterday officially proclaimed sainthood for a controversial Capuchin friar known as Padre Pio.

Decked out in gold and white vestments and wearing a jewel-encrusted gold hat, the pontiff celebrated a two-hour long solemn Mass of Canonization and declared that Pio's name was inscribed "in the annals of the saints," and that the church would celebrate his legacy with an annual day of devotion every September 23.

In addition to being one of the largest celebrations of its kind in the history of the Vatican, Pio's elevation to sainthood is also one of the fastest and most controversial. John Paul has canonized 458 people during his tenure as Pope, raising charges that the Roman Catholic Church is now a "saint factory" manufacturing household deities for popular worship. That rate of sanctification exceeds the number of those elevated to sainthood by all previous popes over the past 407 years when the Vatican began keeping an official archive.

None of this prevented crowds from jamming St. Peter's square, though. An immense portrait of Padre Pio gazed down from the facade of the Basilica in what the New York Times described as "a moment of intense jubilation."

"Gone for a moment here were worldly preoccupations, like soccer's World Cup, and troubling concerns about priests accused of abusing minors," noted staff writer John Tagliabue.

Despite the festive atmosphere, and the enthusiasm of a virtual cult surrounding the figure of Padre Pio, there are concerns that the church has, in effect, ordained a new patron Saint of Holy Rehabilitation. Indeed, Padre Pio's reputation over the decades has -- even in many official church quarters -- been that of a womanizer, fraud, and mentally ill huckster who claimed extraordinary paranormal powers. The padre was investigated by the Holy Office over a dozen times, and at one point banned from celebrating the Mass in public, receiving visitors, or talking to women alone. Correspondent John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter newspaper recently wrote, "The whispered consensus on Padre Pio in the halls of the Vatican was that he was at best a naive hysteric, at worst a con man."

Why all the fuss?

Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione on May 25, 1887 in a small town north of Naples. He developed an early fixation with the Catholic faith, and by age 11 announced that he wanted to join the Capuchin order of monks. He was ordained in 1910 and promptly, says Allen, "acquired a reputation for special spiritual gifts."

One was entering trance-like states during the rite of the Mass. At age 31, he began reporting the "stigmata," cuts or lesions on his hands, feet and side that seemed to mimic the wounds attributed to Christ in the biblical tale of the crucifixion. Miracles -- or at least claims of miracles -- soon followed. Padre Pio, it was said, could give sight to the blind, even predict the future of those whose confessions he heard.

The church quickly began the first of a series of official investigations into the activities and claims of Padre Pio. A bishop accused the Capuchin order of using reports of such incredible events to make money. Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI ordered further investigations. When Pius attempted to have the charismatic priest, who by that time had developed a cult-like following, relocated to another friary, 5,000 of Padre Pio's supporters rioted and Rome backed down.

The claim of the stigmata was considered the most serious, however, by church authorities. The markings on the side, hands and feet signify the wounds inflicted on Jesus according to biblical references. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is considered by the church to be the first "authentic" stigmatist, although a man from Oxford, England claimed similar wounds two years before. A story quickly evolved of how Francis and a handful of followers climbed Mt. Alverno in the Apennine range, and after forty days of prayer and fasting were rewarded with a vision of Christ on the cross. St. Francis then reportedly received the stigmatic markings.

There was a surge of stigmata claims in the thirteenth century, and within 100 years of St. Francis's death, no fewer than 20 cases were reported. By 1908, that figure had climbed to 321, with one-third of them reported in Italy and most of the rest originating in France, Spain and Portugal. In later years, the phenomenon of the stigmata would cross the oceans, and claims were made by people in the United States, Australia and England. Most were associated with Roman Catholics.

Some of the wounds reportedly bled, while others were less spectacular and consisted only of impressions or markings from the heads of nails or something else which pressed upon the victim's flesh. They were rectangular, or straight, or consisted of multiple slash marks. Some stigmatists even presented wounds on the forehead or back. Marks would also appear on the wrists, in keeping with some of the revisionist claims about how crucifixion was performed during the Roman occupation of Palestine.

But imitation of Christ's death wounds was not the only extraordinary claim associated with Padre Pio. In addition to reports of pre-cognition, Pio was said to possess the ability to teleport himself through "bilocation." Reports of these paranormal appearances included Genoa, Rome, Uruguay and even Milwaukee. It was also claimed that the monk could repair broken windows with the mere wave of his hand.

Padre Pio was also an enthusiastic "penitente" or self-flagellant, a practice which some theorize leads to altered state of consciousness and fuels inner feelings of wholeness and transcendence.

Over the years, investigations even by church officials led to charges that Pio faked miracles and had sex with women in the confessional box. Many felt that the friar caused the stigmata by burning his skin with nitric acid, and used a perfume to create what his credulous followers described as a pervasive "odor of sanctity" that was said to surround Pio. A report by journalist Paul Vallely of the New Zealand Herald newspaper says that Pope John XXIII, suspicious of Pio's cult-like popularity, authorized the bugging of his confessional. And the founder of Rome's Catholic University Hospital concluded that Friar Pio was "an ignorant and self-mutilating psychopath who exploited people's credulity."

In 1960, Monsignore Carlo Maccari concluded an investigation ordered by Pope John XXIII. "The 200-page report he compiled," notes the National Catholic Reporter, "though never published in full, is said to be devastatingly critical. Vatican gossip long had it that the 'Maccari dossier' was an insuperable obstacle to Padre Pio's sainthood."

One entry in the file reported that Padre Pio engaged in sexual activities twice a week with female penitents, "his in hebdomada copulabat cum muliere..."

In 1992, Italian physician and theologian Agostino Gemelli, who specialized in the investigation of stigmata cases for the Vatican, said that Padre Pio was a "hysteric" who inflicted the wounds upon himself.

The reversal of Padre Pio's fortunes seem to rest on two factors -- his incredible, growing cult-like celebrity status, and the present pontiff, John Paul II.

The town where Padre Pio's mastery is located, San Giovanni Rotondo, draws a whopping 8 million visitors annually -- a number greater than those visiting the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, and second only to the church of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Pio's followers number in the millions. His 1968 funeral was attended by over 100,000 believers, and his 1999 beatification attracted over 300,000. Yesterday's canonization drew an even larger crowd, with some estimates running as high as 500,000 people jamming Vatican square.

San Giovanni has cashed in on the popularity of its favorite friar. The town has less than 30,000 residents but boasts 87,000 hotel rooms that are regularly booked. The National Catholic Reporter estimates that this results in the sale of $2 million in promotional memorabilia like Padre Pio keychains and statutes, with the local bars and restaurants taking in $60 million. Annual donations to various sites and groups associated with Pio's legacy generate about $100 million.

Pope John Paul II has been central to rehabilitating the man who just a few years ago was considered by many to be a cheap hustler. Ironically, John Paul receives his medical care at Rome's Gemelli Hospital, founded by the Vatican investigator who charged Padre Pio with fraud. The two men had met around 1947 while the future pope was a young Polish priest. Vatican lore tells had Karol Wojtyla, the man who would someday be pontiff, asked Padre Pio to pray for a friend who was reportedly dying of cancer. The man survived.

The beatification and canonization of Padre Pio -- and the tacit acceptance of the miraculous, paranormal events associated with the controversial friar -- come at a time when the Vatican finds itself in competition with energetic Pentecostal and evangelical Protestants. Pio's paranormal accomplishments appear at times to have more in common with "signs and wonders" fundamentalism and tent revivalism than restrained Roman Catholicism. The "saint factory" strategy of canonizing a record number of personalities for church veneration is proving to be a media savvy move that encourages and supports growing public credulity.

For further information:
("Pope running saint factory? John Paul beatifies monk accused of mental illness, fraud, philandering," 5/2/99)

Staple of Evolutionary Teaching May Not Be Textbook Case


June 18, 2002


A leading example of evolution given in biology textbooks has come unglued, evoking jeers and jubilation in the camp of creationists, who have been trying for years to expel Darwin from the classroom.

The case is that of the peppered moth, which over the course of a few decades has changed its wing color from pale-peppered to black and back to peppered again in parallel with the rise and fall of industrial pollution.

The moth, a furtive citizen of Britain and the United States, flies only at night. During the day, it supposedly hides on the trunks of lichen-encrusted trees, where the normal pale form is almost invisible.

Textbook writers have long held that the dark form of the moth grew much more common when soot from industrial activity blackened the trees and killed the lichens, making the pale form more conspicuous to birds. But with the passage of clean air laws, the lichens returned, the pale form regained its camouflage, and the black form reverted to rarity.

This account of events became an instant hit with Darwinian advocates. The story caught evolution in unusually speedy action, and flagged bird predation as the mechanism of natural selection that drove it. The moths made a striking illustration because in a typical pair of photographs, one with lichen covering a tree trunk and the other with soot, the reader could hardly spot the pale moth in the first or the dark form in the second, and it was easy to imagine a bird being similarly deceived.

For generations of biologists reared on the peppered moth story as perfect proof of Darwin's theory, it came as a shock to learn of certain problems the textbooks ignored and which a new book is interpreting in sinister light.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Physicists beaming with teleport success



Staff and agencies
Monday June 17, 2002

A team of physicists in Australia have successfully teleported a laser beam of light from one spot to another in a split second, it emerged today.

The physicists, from the Australian National University, said they had managed to disembody a laser beam in one location and rebuild it in a different spot about one metre away in the blink of an eye.

Project leader Dr Ping Koy Lam said there was a close resemblance between what his team had achieved and the movement of people in the science fiction series Star Trek, but the reality of beaming human beings between locations was still light years off.

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – June 17, 2002

from The Washington Post

POKROV, Russia -- Bunker 12A of the Pokrov Biologics Plant is a pill factory like none other on Earth.

To enter, visitors pass through the five-ton blast doors and down the steep corridor to an underground laboratory, built of reinforced concrete to survive a nuclear attack. Inside, a few dozen workers in white coats churn out pain-relief tablets in a room lined with relics from the plant's still- secret past: 30-year-old machines used for growing viruses. Ask the plant's director about the bunker or machines and he chooses his words carefully.

"These were built," Vladimir Gavrilov says, "to handle very dangerous pathogens."

In fact, the full extent of the dangers posed by this obscure pharmaceutical factory is only beginning to be appreciated. Most of the ingredients for a biological weapon still exist here in a crumbling and poorly guarded facility that has become another front line in the battle to keep terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.


from The Washington Post

In the summer of 1971, the Soviet Union apparently conducted an open-air test of a biological weapon containing smallpox virus. The experiment caused a smallpox outbreak that killed three people and required a massive vaccination campaign to confine it to a port on the Aral Sea, in Kazakhstan.

Details of the outbreak were immediately suppressed by Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB and later the Soviet premier. Yesterday was the first time they were presented in the West, at a gathering of smallpox experts and public health officials at the National Academy of Sciences, in Washington.

The account was presented by Alan P. Zelicoff, a physician and biological weapons expert at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico. He used the official Soviet report on the outbreak, which recently came into American hands, and his interviews with two of the smallpox survivors to reconstruct the events. He described the account as "preliminary," with certain events inferred from circumstances and not proved.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

A radical new theory has astronomers arguing over the origins of our solar system.

If the theory is correct, then the sun, Earth and its fellow planets were born in a place that is far different from what astronomers have assumed -- as different, in terms of cosmic glamour, violence and beauty, as New York is from Dubuque.

The theorist, Alan P. Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, still recalls the "classic eureka moment" last year when he hit on his idea, which he unveiled at a NASA conference in Mountain View during the spring. He believes our solar system was born inside a cosmic maelstrom similar to the faraway, spectacular Orion nebula.

Boss' idea -- a "paradigm shift," he calls it -- contradicts the traditional belief that our nine-planet system emerged inside the comparatively calm twilight of a nebula similar to a relatively nearby one within the constellation Taurus.


from The New York Times

YAKUTAT, Alaska, June 16 — Hubbard Glacier, one of the world's largest, is threatening the economic life of this tiny, predominantly Tlingit fishing village on the southeast Alaskan coast.

Within days, the advancing glacier could block the outlet of Russell Fjord, a 30-mile-long habitat of porpoises, seals and salmon at the end of the Situk River.

The glacier has done this before, most recently in 1986, with an ice dam that turned the fjord into a new lake, Russell Lake, swollen with freshwater runoff. It endangered trapped wildlife for months as the level of salt in the water fell, but after several months the ice dam gave way and the glacier retreated.


from The Chicago Tribune

SOUTH BOWERS, Del. -- In the pitch darkness of a new-moon night, the couples on the beach are clinched in a tight embrace worthy of the wave- washed love scene in "From Here to Eternity."

Bristling with claws and a spiny tail, these amorous pairs of horseshoe crabs are no Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, that movie's passionate duo, yet the creatures are obeying their own eternal instincts, burying eggs in the sand as their ancestors did before the age of the dinosaurs.

But the number of crabs that scuttle out of Delaware Bay to spawn at this time of year has been dropping for more than a decade, raising troubling questions about the future of an extraordinary species that has become increasingly important to medicine as the source of a bacteria-detecting chemical.

In 1990, an annual horseshoe crab census counted about 1.2 million spawning crabs on the Delaware and New Jersey beaches of the bay, home to the largest concentration of horseshoe crabs in the world. Last year, the census mustered fewer than 250,000. Similarly steep declines have been reported from Cape Cod, Mass., to Florida.


cloning commentary from The San Francisco Chronicle

We remember Solomon as the wise man who once settled a dispute between two women who claimed the same child by ordering the baby split down the middle.

When one woman offered to surrender her claim rather than see the order carried out, Solomon judged her the true mother and awarded her the child.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill should consider that parable as they ponder their next steps, given the stalemate over cloning legislation that occurred in the Senate last week.

One Senate faction had sought to ban all human cloning, regardless of whether the process is used to make babies or create stem cell medicines. But that bill now appears to be badly flagging, if not dead.


more commentary on Stephen Wolfram from The New York Times

SCIENCE is a cumulative, fairly collegial venture. But every so often a maverick, working in self-imposed solitude, bursts forth with a book that aims to set straight the world with a new idea. Some of these grand schemes spring from biology, some from physics, some from mathematics. But what they share is the same unnerving message: everything you know is wrong.

A self-employed British theorist named Julian Barbour recently argued that time doesn't exist, and Frank Tipler, a physicist with a theological bent, offered scientific proof, in "The Physics of Immortality," of an eternal hereafter. People still read Julian Jaynes's imposing 1976 book, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," which pinpoints when humanity first became self-aware, and (also from that era) the work of James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis, holding that the earth — rocks, air and all — is a living, breathing superorganism.

But for sheer audacity — and intellectual salesmanship — it would be hard to beat Stephen Wolfram, whose 1,263-page, self-published manifesto, "A New Kind of Science," was holding its own last week atop Amazon's best-seller chart, along with "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and "The Nanny Diaries."


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Rational skepticism vs. Hopeful delusion

By Chet Raymo, 6/11/2002


Here's something that will ruin your day, if you haven't heard it already.

The best-selling book in France this spring is Thierry Meyssan's ''L'Effroyable Imposture,'' or ''The Horrifying Fraud,'' which suggests that the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were planned and executed by US government officials as part of a plot to justify military intervention in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

According to Meyssan, the planes that crashed into the twin towers were directed from the ground by remote control, and no plane at all crashed into the Pentagon (the explosion was detonated inside the building).

This comes on top of the widely-held belief in Muslim countries that the murderous highjackings were planned and executed by Israel's Mossad secret service, and that thousands of Jews were pre-warned not to go to work in the towers on the day of the attacks.

That Meyssan's book was published is no surprise; someone, somewhere will propose a conspiracy theory to account for every major news event - the assassination of JFK, the Apollo moon landings, the death of Princess Diana.

Scientists Turn to Computers to Prove That Everyone's Handwriting Is Unique



Scientists at the State University of New York at Buffalo have turned to computers to verify that each person's handwriting is unique, according to a paper that will be published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in July.

The paper could prompt more courts to accept handwriting analysis as evidence, says Sargur N. Srihari, who headed the study. Mr. Srihari, a computer-science professor, also directs the university's Center of Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition.

Mr. Srihari recently testified about his research in an effort to help the government prosecute Michael Stefan Prime, of Seattle. A jury of the U.S. District Court in Seattle last month convicted Mr. Prime of conspiracy and using counterfeit money in connection with spurious sales on eBay.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Congressman Clarifies Dispute Over Santorum Language

From: Skip Evans evans@ncseweb.org

Congressman George Miller, a member of the joint conference committee that drafted the final version of the recently signed No Child Left Behind education bill, has sent a letter to NCSE clarifying the significance of the "Santorum Amendment." The amendment, stripped from the bill and placed in the conference committee report in weakened form, has been cited by anti-evolutionists in several states as justification for watering down evolution or inserting intelligent design in science curricula.

In the letter, Miller states "the report language should not be construed to promote specific topics within subject areas such decisions are best left to the scientific community, rather than legislators."

For the complete text see: [complete text given below - SAE]

Skip Evans
Network Project Director
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609
510-601-7204 (fax)

May 14, 2002

Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.
Executive Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509

Dear Dr. Scott:

Thank you for contacting me to share the concerns of the National Center for Science Education, Inc. regarding the report language accompanying H.R. 1, now titled, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). I am writing to express my views on the compromise language on science education that was agreed to by the conferees.

As you are now aware, NCLB calls for states to implement annual assessments in the subjects of reading and math during grades 3 through 8. The law also requires states to measure the proficiency of all students in science starting with the 2007-2008 school year. To address the importance of these newly required assessments in the area of science education, the conference committee included a compromise version of the Santorum Amendment in report language:

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exists, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries profoundly affect society. Quality assessments involve the application of critical thinking skills, and perhaps this is nowhere more important than in science education. Teachers often encourage critical thinking through the introduction of controversial issues. While the subject of evolution was used as an example of a controversial issue in the report language, neither the teaching of evolution nor any other specific topic is mandated in NCLB or the conference report. The law restricts the federal endorsement of curriculum, and the report language should not be construed to promote specific topics within subject areas. Congress recognizes that the teaching of the "full range of scientific views" should be encouraged, and such decisions are best left to the scientific community, rather than legislators.
The purpose of the No Child Left Behind Act is to ensure that all children receive a quality education with reading, math and science as its foundation. The report language correctly describes science as a subject of "data and testable theories", different from "religious or philosophical claims." It is critical that the effort to narrow the achievement gap not be burdened with ideology regardless of subject matter. The language is profoundly clear that "science" should be at the center of a quality science education.

Your interest in upholding academic excellence is science is appreciated. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Very truly yours,


George Miller
Ranking Democrat

Please see the Ohio Citizens for Science's web page at:


Scholars say prayer not enough in scandal


By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 6/9/2002

NEW ORLEANS - Mary Carter Waren believes in the power of prayer.

An instructor of sacramental theology at St. Thomas University in Miami, she believes in forgiveness, conversion, and reconciliation. But when she listens to the religious language used to explain what went wrong in the Catholic Church over the last several decades, and how the church can recover, she gets apprehensive.

''If prayer doesn't make a difference, we need to shut up the shop,'' she said. ''But we can't just say I'm sorry, so let's put this behind us. That's a form of cheap grace.''

Chilean region declared official UFO tourism zone


San Jose de Maipo's mayor wants to make the area friendly for visitors from other countries and other galaxies
By Kevin G. Hall

Posted on Fri, Jun. 14, 2002

SAN JOSE DE MAIPO, Chile - The snowcapped Andes have long attracted globetrotters, but the mayor of this picturesque Chilean mountain district insists visitors are coming from even farther away: other galaxies and solar systems.

Villagers have reported so many UFO sightings during the past two decades that on Saturday, Mayor Miguel Marquez is declaring his Maipo River region just outside the capital of Santiago an official UFO tourism zone.

He plans to erect two observation centers, place signs where there have been sightings and offer workshops on, among other topics, how best to photograph alien visitors.

He thinks the nearby mountains contain a "natural energy" that attracts visitors, even those from another world.



by Steven M. Greer M.D.
Director, The Disclosure Project


Imagine this. It is the summer of 2001, and someone presents you with a script for a movie or book that tells how a diabolical terrorist plot unfolds wherein both 110 story World Trade Center towers and part of the Pentagon are destroyed by commercial jets hijacked and flown into those structures.

Of course you would laugh, and if you were a movie mogul or book editor, reject it out of hand as ridiculous and implausible, even for a fictional novel or movie. After all, how could a commercial jet, being tracked on radar after two jets had already hit the World Trade towers, make it through our air defenses, into the most sensitive airspace in the world, and in broad daylight on a crystal clear day, slam into the Pentagon! And this in a country that spends over $1 billion a day to defend itself! Absurd, illogical - nobody would swallow it!

Unfortunately, there are some of us who have seen these scripts - and of far worse things to come - and we are not laughing.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Strange Dwarf Reported In Argentina Cattle Mutilation Area


From Scott Corrales
Source "La Arena"
(La Pampa, Argentina)

GENERAL ACHA (DNA) -- The presence of a "dwarf" or "green midget" wandering the backyards of many neighborhoods in General Acha has been the latest subject of conversation. It appears to be a short, green entity which runs away with haste when detected.

A resident of the El Oeste neighborhood informed this newspaper that the entity appeared twice on her property: once in the morning and once in the afternoon. According to the woman, her husband was resting on both occasions, but when he reported to the backyard in response to his wife's screams, the mysterious entity vanished by rapidly climbing up a tree. While the man did not see the "dwarf", he gives his spouse the benefit of the doubt, stating that he has known her for 40 years and can vouch for her physical and mental health.

Evidence Suggests Advanced Civilization 120 Million Years Ago


May 6, 2002 8:30 CDT

Bashkir State University scientists have discovered stone stabs thought to be over 120 million years old. The shock of the stone stabs are that they indicate the existence of a highly developed ancient civilization. Questions surround the plate found in 1999 which contains a picture of the region using unknown technology.

The map indicates the use of civil engineering to create a system of channels about 12,000 km in length and 500 meters wide, and 12 dams that are 300-500 meters wide. The map also includes unknown hieroglyphic-syllabic language not yet understood. Alexandr Chuvyrov, a professor at Bashkir State University initiated the project that would lead to this exciting find.

Murder Verdict in Infant Starvation


Massachusetts Sect Leader Convicted of First-Degree Murder in Starvation Death of Baby Son

The Associated Press

TAUNTON, Mass. June 14 — A leader of a religious sect who said he believed he was fulfilling God's prophesy and expected a miracle as he watched his infant son starve to death was convicted Friday of first-degree murder.

Jacques Robidoux, 29, testified that he was following God's instructions as he withheld solid food for 51 days from his son, Samuel. The boy died April 26, 1999, three days shy of his first birthday.

Robidoux is one of the leaders of a small sect known as "The Body," a group that rejects modern medicine, government and science.

Baptist Pastor Attacks Islam, Inciting Cries of Intolerance


June 15, 2002

A prominent Southern Baptist pastor caused protests this week with a speech condemning American religious pluralism and calling the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, a pedophile.

Critics said the remarks by the Rev. Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, illustrated how hate speech against Muslims had become a staple of conservative Christian political discourse. The speech also briefly united Muslim and Jewish groups in outrage over what they called the Baptists' intolerance of other religions.

Mr. Vines called Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile," asserting that his 12th and final wife was a 9-year-old girl, and declared that Muslims worshiped a different God than Christians.

South Korean fan in World Cup suicide

Darwin Alert!


SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korea man in his mid-twenties died Friday after setting himself on fire and leaving a chilling suicide note saying he wanted to be "a ghost and the 12th player" for his team in the World Cup, police said.

"I'm choosing death because South Korea has to go far to compete with the Latin American and European teams. I will be a ghost and the 12th player on the pitch and do my best for our team," police in the southeastern city of Pusan quoted the note as saying.



(The following excerpt was taken from an article pulished in The Delphi Associates Newsletter, Issue #74, September 2001 ©)


(Compilation and Editor's notes by Melissa Thomson)

~The Millennium Factor~
September 17, 1992

" In July of 1999, New York will be attacked unsuccessfully...The Anti-Christ will be behind this. We will intercept the nukes in time, but large scale damage is still sustained by the East Coast."

"A neutron-like bomb will be successfully exploded over the Pentagon in Washington, DC. It will turn Washington into a ghost town, but the monuments will all be left standing. The Anti-Christ will be responsible for this, and the US will make no further moves against him. Many in the country will think him a hero for getting rid of Washington once and for all."

Air date: November 17, 1995

Announcer: Watch out New York this psychic's got a shocking forecast for the Big Apple's future.

SDM: "I think you are going to see a nuclear attack on New York City in July 1999.

Announcer: And if you think that's bad, listen to what he says is in store for Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

SDM: Get out of the way because something is going to come!
Announcer: Don't believe it? Wait till you hear from the Prophet of Doom...

Host: Now, is disaster our destiny? From New York City to San Francisco, the apocalyptic forecast from the man who predicted the LA quake.

SDM: There will be a series of terrorist attacks on New York City in the next couple of years and chemical warfare attacks on Washington, D.C.

Host: Now, is it the end of the world, as we know it? As we head into the new millennium just four years from now, futurists warn that disasters will strike major cities around the world. Tonight, a renowned psychic with a remarkable track record shares his shocking predictions for the future. As Sylvia Villigran reports what we have to look forward to, is enough to make you want to crawl under a rock.

Sylvia: As we race towards the year 2000, Mother Nature seems to be sounding a worldwide wake up call.

SDM: All these things are certainly contributing to people being nervous because everything is coming together.

Sylvia: Sean David Morton is a futurist, whose vision of the coming century is not for the squeamish.

SDM: I think you are going to see a nuclear attack on New York City in July 1999. Next season, the hurricanes are going to be twice as big as the ones here, [in the past year.]

Friday, June 14, 2002

Beware the Bloop

By John von Radowitz, London
June 13 2002


Mysterious giant beasts may lurk in the darkest depths of the ocean, making whale-like noises that are baffling scientists, it was disclosed today.

Researchers have nicknamed the strange unidentified sound picked up by undersea microphones ``Bloop''.

While it bears the varying frequency hallmark of marine animals, it is far more powerful than the calls made by any creature known on Earth.

In 1997, Bloop was detected by sensors up to 4,800 km apart, New Scientist magazine reported.

That meant it had to be much louder than any recognised animal noise, including that produced by the largest whales.

One suggestion is that the sound is coming from giant squid, which live at extreme depths of up to four km.

Although dead giant squid have been washed up on beaches, and telltale sucker marks have been seen on whales, there has never been a confirmed sighting of one of the elusive cephalopods in the wild.

The largest dead squid on record measured about 18 metres including the length of its tentacles, but no one knows how big the creatures might grow.

However Phil Lobel, a marine biologist at Boston University in Massachusetts, US, doubts that giant squid are the source of Bloop.

``Cephalopods have no gas-filled sac, so they have no way to make that type of noise,'' he said.

``Though you can never rule anything out completely, I doubt it.''

Nevertheless he agrees that the sound is most likely to be biological in origin.

The system picking up Bloop and other strange noises from the deep is a military relic of the Cold War.

In the 1960s the US Navy set up an array of underwater microphones, or hydrophones, around the globe to track Soviet submarines.

The listening stations lie hundreds of metres below the ocean surface, at a depth where sound waves become trapped in a layer of water known as the ``deep sound channel''.

Here temperature and pressure cause sound waves to keep travelling without being scattered by the ocean surface or bottom.

Most of the sounds detected obviously emanate from whales, ships or earthquakes, but some very low frequency noises have proved puzzling.

Scientists believe many of these - given names such as Train, Whistle, Slowdown and Upsweep - can be explained by ocean currents, volcanic activity , or the movement of Antarctic ice. Bloop, however, remains a tantalising mystery.

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Denzler)

From: Taner Edis edis1@llnl.gov


The Lure Of The Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs
  Brenda Denzler
  2001University of California Pressxxii+313p.
  religion:sociology, skepticism:sociology, UFO:philosophy, UFO:sociology

A fascinating study of ufology from a cultural and religious studies view. Denzler describes how ufology is positioned at the boundaries of mainstream science and (less comfortably) religion, and explores how UFO skeptics function as part of this interaction. Often the skeptics and mainstream scientists do not come across very well, compared to ufologists who, even in their eagerness to mystify, seem much more open. Unfortunately, Denzler too often ends up presenting a distorted view, since she falters in distinguishing between what might seem respectable speculation to scientists and, for example, newagey physics-abuse. So she does not adequately convey how ufology's claims do not seem credible against the background knowledge of mainstream science. However, she is an excellent guide to the cultural and religious aspects of ufology, particularly the strains which have developed in the field with the recent prominence of abduction narratives. As in most religious-studies books, Denzler also has half an eye on legitimating "spirituality," which might put more hard-nosed skeptics off occasionally. Nevertheless, this is an important book which skeptics should read and take as an opportunity for self-criticism.

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

  Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – June 13, 2002

from The Associated Press

The distinguished New England Journal of Medicine is relaxing its strict conflict-of-interest rules for authors of certain articles because it cannot find enough experts without financial ties to drug companies.

The change, announced in Thursday's issue, applies to experts who write either editorials or review articles, which are overviews of research on a particular drug or treatment, rather than original studies.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, the journal's editor in chief, said the policy reflects the way drugs are developed nowadays.

"New treatments are brought out by investigators whose research is in part supported by industry. They're the ones who know about new stuff," he said.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Wednesday awarded 19 individuals and the Dow Chemical Co. the nation's highest honors for achievement in science and technology.

The recipients of the 2001 National Medals of Science and Technology include scientists who have developed new therapies to battle cancer, discovered acid rain in North America and advanced the understanding global warming, evolution and the workings of the brain. They also include contributors to the human genome project, a television innovator and a former director of the National Institutes of Health.

Before handing out the medals, the president called the laureates "the prophets of a better age."


from The Baltimore Sun

The FBI is investigating whether the anthrax used in last fall's attacks could have been grown secretly inside an Army lab and taken elsewhere to be converted into a weapon, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.

A former government microbiologist, who was interviewed in recent days by the FBI, said agents focused their questioning on the logistics of how someone with access to the U.S. Army's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, in Frederick County, might carry out the scheme. The microbiologist, who once worked at Fort Detrick, said the agents did not indicate whether they had evidence that such an incident had occurred.

"They asked me, if I wanted to grow something I wasn't supposed to, would there be somebody asking me about it and could I have taken it out of the lab," said the scientist, who did not want to be identified. "I told them no one checked, and it was far easier to get something out of Fort Detrick than into it."


from The Washington Post

President Bush, saying that "biological weapons are potentially the most dangerous weapons in the world," signed legislation yesterday that provides $4.3 billion for drugs, vaccines, training and other initiatives to deal with a bioterror attack.

The legislation, crafted in the wake of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax outbreak, calls for tightening security at water plants, improving food inspections, and increasing stockpiles of vaccines against smallpox and other diseases. It also provides $1.6 billion for states to aid with emergency preparedness.

"Last fall's anthrax attacks were an incredible tragedy to a lot of people in America, and it sent a warning that we needed and heeded," Bush said in a Rose Garden ceremony. "We must be better prepared to prevent, identify and respond."


from The Washington Post

The group that oversees doctor training in the United States announced yesterday that it will impose strict new limits on work hours for medical residents in response to mounting evidence that workweeks of up to 120 hours are detrimental to young doctors and perhaps their patients as well.

The first national standards address long-standing concerns that the grueling hours trainee physicians work endanger patient care, an issue that has received new attention because of reports that thousands of people die annually from medical mistakes.

Under rules adopted by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the normal resident workweek would be limited to 80 hours. The standards also impose mandatory rest periods of 10 hours between shifts, one day off per week, restrictions on moonlighting and closer faculty supervision.


from The Associated Press

Scientists say they have found a cluster of genes that transforms a normally benign type of bacteria in the intestines into a nasty germ blamed for a variety of infections, especially those acquired in hospitals.

Researchers said the findings, published Thursday in the journal Nature, could lead to quicker diagnosis of infected patients and perhaps to new ways to combat the bacteria, Enterococcus faecalis.

The University of Oklahoma research team compared benign forms of E. faecalis with two strains that caused disease outbreaks in two Midwest hospitals in the 1980s. Both infectious strains were resistant to several antibiotics, and one was the first known to be immune to vancomycin, a last- resort antibiotic.


from The Washington Post

Another day, another "credible" terrorist threat. The disaster scenario du jour is now the so-called dirty bomb, so called because this is a conventional bomb that plays dirty. Experts say a dirty bomb could range in size from a small "suitcase" device to a truck bomb, and maybe larger. Its explosive may be as ordinary as dynamite, but it's packaged with radioactive material that, detonated, is scattered in fragments and airborne dust -- or "dirt." Hence the name.

You have probably heard public officials and terrorist experts say a dirty bomb's real threat is psychological. And that it is a weapon of terror, fear, panic and disruption rather than one of mass destruction. But what else does the public need to know about dirty bombs? How bad are they, really? Here's the dirt:

What could happen if a dirty bomb went off in downtown Washington?

Experts envision scenarios that could be on the scale of Timothy McVeigh's 1995 truck bombing in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people -- with the added dimension of radiation contamination. But it could be much less if it involved a small device, such as one set off by a backpack bomber.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Jef Raskin's Humbug: Nursing Theory


Schools of nursing at major academic institutions would seem to be unlikely places to find beliefs in the paranormal and crackpot scientific theories being taught and personality cults flourishing. The author shares his surprise and alarm.

Jef Raskin

Reality does not exist but appears to exist as expressed by human beings.

-–Martha Rogers

"Read this!" my wife said when she came home from the start of a new term at nursing school. The book she handed me was Martha Rogers' "The Science of Unitary Human Beings". The more I read, the more I thought I was the butt of an elaborate joke she had somehow put together. "You've got to be kidding," I said.

"I'm not. This is one of the texts for our Nursing Theory course," she replied, with a tone of voice and facial expression that showed her dissapproval.

It wasn't just the book that was suspect. My wife's Nursing Theory course itself had a number of the hallmarks of a cult indoctrination: Any serious intellectual challenge to the basic ideas was treated as troublemaking, the leader was held in reverent awe and was regarded as having knowledge beyond the current reach of science. As I did more research into the topic, I discovered that this brand of nursing theory was widespread. For example, as an alumnus of Penn State, I was not pleased to read that Sarah H. Gueldner, Director of the School of Nursing at the Pennsylvania State University believes that "Paranormal events such as precognition and clairvoyance may hold potential as evolving communication techniques of space travel and living." (Christensen, Sowell and Gueldner, 1994).

Courses in nursing theory are taught at the University of San Francisco, Penn State, Rutgers, Wayne State University, New York University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Rochester and many other institutions. Rogerian nursing theory is also taught overseas, for example, I've corresponded with prominent nursing theorists and educators in England and Australia.



This sound was repeatedly recorded during summer, 1997 on the Equatorial Pacific Ocean autonomous hydrophone array. The sound rises rapidly in frequency over about one minute and was of sufficient amplitude to be heard on multiple sensors, at a range of over 5,000 km. It yields a general location near 50oS; 100oW. The origin of the sound is unknown.

Click on spectrogram for full-sized image.

162K wav file (The recorded signal has been sped up 16 times)




June 14, 2002 -- WHEN astrologers gather this weekend at the "History and Future of the World" conference at Hunter College to discuss their prophecies for the future, the crisis in the Middle East will be a hot topic. "What good is astrology if it doesn't apply to what we're all thinking about?" asks Shelly Ackerman, the moderator of the Mideast panel.

Hundreds are expected to attend the semi-annual confab, which attracts a who's who of the stargazing set.

If their predictions on the Middle East are any indication, it'll be a wild weekend. Here's what a few of them had to say:

* MEIRA EPSTEIN, translator, teacher, astrologer: "In the next nine years, there will be a period of chaos and uncertainty. It will continue until 2011, and be most active between the years 2005 and 2007. It will end with a change in the structure of the governments in the region."

* JACOB SCHWARTZ, astrologer, author of "Asteroid Names Encyclopedia": "I have a feeling there will be peace between the two regions. I don't see it happening until late September or early October. However, I think the major players right now, Sharon and Arafat, will not be involved in this coming peace process."

* MICHAEL LUTIN, Vanity Fair horoscope columnist: "The world is not going to end in the foreseeable future, especially now that I just finished my kitchen. I think it's going to be a long struggle. Eventually, a resolution will be reached when people get tired of the combat and other forces drive them together."

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