NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 June 2002

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Wednesday, June 26, 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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Today's Headlines – June 26, 2002

THE SWAMP A four-part series on the Everglades restoration plan from The Washington Post. Access Parts 2-4, as well as sidebar stories, through the box on the right side of the page.

first of four articles

President Bill Clinton and Gov. Jeb Bush met in the Oval Office on Dec. 11, 2000, to launch a $7.8 billion effort to revive the Florida Everglades. Vice President Al Gore, the plan's leading White House advocate, stayed home to watch CNN. That morning, the Supreme Court was hearing final arguments in the Florida vote-count case pitting him against Bush's brother George.

None of the power brokers who did attend the Everglades ceremony mentioned dimpled chads or butterfly ballots, but they were clearly thinking more about Florida's political swamp than its actual one. "What a surreal scene," recalled former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta. "It took a heroic effort to keep the fake smiles plastered on our faces."

It was an oddly muted debut for the widely trumpeted Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. This rescue mission for wading birds, panthers and gators is, after all, the largest environmental project in American history. The plan is already the national model for future restorations, from a $15 billion proposal for Louisiana coastal wetlands to a $20 billion plan for California rivers and deltas. It is becoming the restoration blueprint for the world, studied in south Brazil's Pantanal and sub-Saharan Africa's Okavango Delta. And at a moment when partisanship reigned, the plan was an example of rare political unity in Florida and Washington.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Choosing safety over schedule, NASA has grounded the space shuttle fleet while engineers try to determine why tiny cracks are developing in the fuel line feeding the main rocket engines.

The announcement put a crimp in NASA's efforts to satisfy a tight schedule for building and supplying the international space station. Solving the problem could take weeks or more, and people who have criticized the space agency in the past praised what they saw as a new emphasis on success and safety over speed.

"These days, the value of safety is higher in the NASA culture than it has ever been," Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a watchdog Web site and frequent space agency critic, said Tuesday.

Cowing said that earlier in NASA's history, "You didn't want to be the guy who stood up and said, 'We shouldn't fly.' There's been a slow-motion change in that culture, and that's good."


from The Baltimore Sun

The FBI searched the apartment yesterday of a biological weapons scientist in Frederick as part of the continuing investigation into the mailing of anthrax-laced letters that killed five people last fall.

An FBI car and Ryder rental truck were parked yesterday evening outside Detrick Plaza apartments, and agents were carrying out large trash bags filled with unknown materials collected inside, a witness said. The low- rise apartments are just outside the main gate to Fort Detrick.

The scientist agreed to the search in the hope that it would remove his name from the list of possible suspects in the investigation, one law enforcement official said.

Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, 48, has not been charged or identified by the FBI as a suspect. He worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the top military bioterrorism research facility, for about two years in the late 1990s.


The following two articles are several days old, but that does not necessarily make them untimely. In fact, the story is relevant in part because of its absence from mainstream media outlets.

from The Washington Times

The Army Corps of Engineers' dumping of toxic sludge into the Potomac River protects fish by forcing them to flee the polluted area and escape fishermen, according to an internal Environmental Protection Agency document.

The document says it is not a "ridiculous possibility" that a discharge "actually protects the fish in that they are not inclined to bite (and get eaten by humans) but they go ahead with their upstream movement and egg laying."

The House Resources Committee will hold a hearing today on the sludge dumping, first reported by The Washington Times, calling in top Cabinet officials to explain why they allow it.

"To suggest that toxic sludge is good for fish because it prevents them from being caught by man is like suggesting that we club baby seals to death to prevent them from being eaten by sharks. It's ludicrous," said Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican and chairman of the subcommittee on national parks, recreation and public lands.


from The Washington Times

The EPA blamed the Army Corps of Engineers yesterday for a court document suggesting that sludge dumped into the Potomac River helps fish, and the Interior Department wants the discharges stopped.

The document, reported yesterday by The Washington Times, was included in the Environmental Protection Agency's administrative record as part of an ongoing lawsuit to stop the sludge discharges along the river.

Two EPA spokesmen told The Times in telephone interviews yesterday that the memo came from the Washington Aqueduct, a division of the Corps, which is responsible for the dumping, a practice allowed by the EPA.


compiled by The Boston Globe

Putting the Brakes on Diabetes

A new drug made from mouse antibodies may be able to slow the progress of diabetes in people who have just been diagnosed with it...

Eat Your Broccoli

One more reason to eat your broccoli: It turns out it's full of a chemical that kills ulcer-causing bacteria and inhibits stomach cancer in mice...

The Speed of Gravity

It's a common assumption that gravity travels at the speed of light, but it's also an assumption that hasn't been tested very well...

The Chemical Warfare of Wasps

Some species of wasps like to look around in ant colonies for caterpillars that hide out there, and it turns out that the way they get around without being bothered by the ants is to use some tricky chemistry...


from The Los Angeles Times

A new round of tests showing high levels of a suspected carcinogen in french fries and other starchy snack foods is throwing a scare into the food industry.

Fearing panic among consumers and slumping sales as a result, industry officials are conducting their own tests and putting out statements intended to calm fears that acrylamide, a substance that causes cancer in animals, might pose a human health risk in food.

The latest tests, conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and disclosed Tuesday, echo the findings of a Swedish government study in April that showed high levels of acrylamides -- a substance used to make plastics and purify water -- in french fries, potato chips and other starchy food cooked at high temperatures.


from The New York Times

In the grand story of evolution that scientists have been reconstructing since Charles Darwin's voyage on H.M.S. Beagle, the chapter on mate selection reads something like this: males compete among themselves to attract females, showing off their antlers, bright plumage or other ornaments that signal good health. Females watch the display from the sidelines, aloof and picky, like wealthy patrons at an art exhibition.

When a male meets a female's approval, she agrees to court him and finally grants him permission to impregnate her.

That account of mate choice, in which males do all the dancing-to-impress and females sit on the judging panel, is being increasingly viewed by scientists as too simplistic — a broad-brush picture that tells only part of the story.

Zoologists and evolutionary experts are coming up with evidence that suggests greater evenness in gender equations across the animal kingdom, meaning that females as well as males — at least in some species — strive to attract the opposite sex.


from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Propped up in a darkened room and illuminated at an oblique angle, the flat rectangle of pewter reluctantly reveals the scene it has faithfully held for 176 years.

"You have to dance around it to get a good view," Dusan Stulik, a senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute said as he hovered nearby.

You do, and the plate flashes gold before going dark. A step forward, one back and somewhere, in between, an image emerges: A farm building. Pear and poplar trees. A dove cote.

Together, the objects appear just as they did to Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1826, when the Frenchman created what is acknowledged as the world's first photograph.


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'God talk' blurs traditional separation of parties

Texas Democrats strive to dispel notion that they're anti-religious


By COLLEEN McCAIN NELSON / The Dallas Morning News

One of the hottest bumper stickers at the Texas Republican convention advertised: "G.O.P: God's Official Party."

Democrats say they want to change that.

The party that in the past has criticized Republicans for mixing prayer with politics is trying to shake the rap of being anti-religious.

As Democrats try to square their image as both secular and welcoming to people of faith, candidates from both parties have been engaging in what some call "God talk" on the campaign trail – freely discussing religion, values and morality.

Analysts say some voters welcome such a spiritual discourse, which they use to judge a candidate's character and background. Others are put off by the melding of religion and campaign rhetoric, saying the messages seem too calculated.

Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/latestnews/stories/062602dntexgodtalk.3a33b.html

They want Satanists, Druids, psychics to pray at County Council


-- By Elaine Jarvik Deseret News staff writer

How about Druids, Chris Allen suggests. Or maybe the Ku Klux Klan, or the Satanists? These are some of the folks Allen is recruiting to offer prayers at Salt Lake County Council meetings.

The County Council last month voted to begin every meeting with a moment of prayer, and that has Allen and fellow members of Utah Atheists coming up with a litany of possible supplicants.

"We want to recruit people from the New Age group, people with tarot cards, psychics, crystal healers. We need to get Native Americans who are involved in the peyote cult," Allen told members of Utah Atheists at their monthly meeting. "I feel pretty confident the Pagan Student Association at the U. would get involved."

Faced with so many unconventional prayers and prayer givers, Utah Atheists hope, the County Council will soon realize that it's just too uncomfortable to begin its meetings appealing to a higher power. Meanwhile, Salt Lake attorney Brian Barnard is also "working on filing some litigation," he told the Utah Atheists. Barnard was the group's featured speaker at its February meeting. "You can't attack it head on, because the U.S. Supreme Court and the State Supreme Court say you can have prayers before public meetings," Barnard told the group. "The way to attack it is to show the County Council the folly of their ways: 'You want diversity, we'll give you diversity!' "

Nuke attack? Be ready with cow dung


By Vinay Krishna Rastogi in Lucknow

The Uttar Pradesh Cow Protection Commission claims that a new cow dung distemper could save a building from the deadly radiation of a nuclear attack.

The new chairman of the commission Radhey Shyam Gupta says that cow dung has been regarded from time immemorial as radiation-proof.

Says the vice-chairman of the commission, Purshottam Toshniwal: "Even doctors have proved that if a hand is smeared with cow dung you can't get an X-ray done. If an X-ray is done it would reveal nothing."

The commission has also come up with several cow urine-based formulations for heart and kidney ailments although their medicinal benefits have yet to be proved medically.

But several Gaushalas being run under the control of the commission are purchasing cow urine at the rate of Rs 5 per litre for such "medicines".

Commission chairman Radhey Shyam Gupta said the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur and Delhi are working on a cow urine-based electricity project.

Cow dung, they claim, could help the nation take a giant leap in rural electrification. Gupta points to a watch powered by a cow dung-based battery to back his claim.

Gupta alleged that even today 50,000 cows and their progeny, including calves, bullocks and oxen, are being killed in 15,000 abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh illegally with the connivance of police and railway police officials. Cow killing is a punishable offence in U.P.

Probability proves your horoscope correct


Paul Webster in Paris
Wednesday June 5, 2002
The Guardian

A Nobel prize may not be essential to becoming a modern mystic, but it helps. Georges Charpak, the physics prizewinner in 1992, has co-authored a rapid guide to becoming a fakir or astrologer and making a fortune by bamboozling a gullible public.

His co-author, Henri Broch, who runs a paranormal research unit at Nice University, went through sessions of firewalking and tongue-piercing to prove that all mystic arts were based on trickery, natural circumstances or mathematical probability.

Devenez Sorciers, Devenez Savants (Become Wizards and Wise Men) is a best seller because so many want to learn telepathy, levitation, horoscope-casting, water divining and metal-bending.

Mr Charpak said his attempt to debunk mysteries by applying the laws of probability had left many unconvinced.

"I have been inundated with letters saying I interviewed the wrong astrologers from people who claim their personal fortune tellers had been right."

Fooling people is easy, he said: just generalise. When a single astral chart was used to define the "individual characters" of students, 69% were convinced it was accurate: a better result than analyses by professional psychologists.



New claims that Sir Laurence Gardner is a shape-shifter who takes part in human sacrifice rituals.

Major revelations about the reptilian presence on this planet.


Many people were understandably shocked and skeptical when Arizona Wilder claimed in the video, Revelations of a Mother Goddess, that Sir Laurence Gardner, the author and head of the ancient Royal Court of the Dragon Sovereignty, was a shape-shifting reptilian who took part in Satanic human sacrifice rituals she had witnessed.

Nexus Magazine, and its publisher, Duncan Roads, have been particularly scathing of these claims. Hardly surprising, when Sir Laurence Gardner has been massively promoted by Roads and his magazine.

But now the author and lecturer, Stewart Swerdlow, says that he also witnessed human sacrifice and blood drinking rituals at the Montauk mind control centre on Long Island, New York, in which Sir Laurence Gardner played a major role.

Mysterious Pipes Left by 'ET' Reported from Qinghai


The widespread news of mysterious iron pipes at the foot of Mount Baigong, located in the depths of the Qaidam Basin, Qinghai Province of northwest China, has roused concern from related departments.

The widespread news of mysterious iron pipes at the foot of Mount Baigong, located in the depths of the Qaidam Basin, Qinghai Province, has roused concern from related departments.

Some experts believe that these might be relics left behind by extraterrestrial beings (ET), for the site, with its high altitude and thin, crisp air, has long been held as an ideal place to practice astronomy.

Three caves are found at the foot of Mount Baigong. Two of them have collapsed and are inaccessible. The middle one is the biggest, with its floor standing two meters above the ground and its top eight meters above the ground.

This cave is about six meters in depth, a little like a cave dug out by human beings, with pure sand and rock inside.

What is astonishing is inside for there is a half-pipe about 40 centimeters in diameter tilting from the top to the inner end of the cave. Another pipe of the same diameter goes into the earth with only its top visible above the ground.

At the opening of the cave there are a dozen pipes at the diameter between 10 and 40 centimeters run into the mount straightly, showing high fixing technique.

About 80 meters away from the caves is the shimmering Toson Lake, on whose beach 40 meters away, many iron pipes can be found scattered on sands and rocks. They run in the east-west direction with a diameter between 2 and 4.5 centimeters. They are of various strange shapes and the thinnest is like a toothpick, but not blocked inside after years of sand movement.

More strange is that there are also some pipes in the lake, some reaching above water surface and some buried below, with similar shapes and thickness with those on the beach.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

15 ways to refute materialistic bigotry: A point by point response to Scientific American

by Jonathan Sarfati

Response to '15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense' by John Rennie (Editor), Scientific American. 287(1):78–85, July 2002; Feature article on Scientific American Web site, 17 June 2002.

20 June 2002


Scientific American's foundation

Scientific American is a semi-popular journal which publishes attractively illustrated and fairly detailed, but not overly technical, articles, mostly on science. It is not a peer-reviewed journal like Nature or TJ, but many of its articles are very useful. Scientific American was founded by the artist and inventor Rufus Porter (1792–1884), who thought that science glorified the creator God. In the very first issue, his editorial stated:

'We shall advocate the pure Christian religion, without favouring any particular sect …'
The complete article is at http://www.answersingenesis.org/news/scientific_american.asp

The author, Jonathan Sarfati, is one of the most profound thinkers of the late 20th Century and early 21st Century.

And Andrea Yates is Mother of the Year.


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 25, 2002


A team of the nation's leading scientists called yesterday for a comprehensive rethinking of the nation's anti-terrorism infrastructure, underscoring the need to quickly bring existing technologies into use, accelerate new research and create a Homeland Security Institute to evaluate counterterrorism strategies.

"The structure of federal agencies is . . . to a large extent the result of [the] distinction between the responsibility for national security and the responsibility for domestic policy," the report said. "Given this compartmentalization, the federal government is not appropriately organized to carry out a [science and technology] agenda for countering catastrophic terrorism."

The report by the National Research Council gave a long list of shortcomings in scientific preparedness, including lack of coordination in research on nuclear or "dirty bomb" threats and "enormous vulnerabilities" in the ability of the public health system to defend against biological warfare.


from The Los Angeles Times

Humans now consume more of the Earth's natural resources than the planet can replace, raising doubts about the long-range sustainability of modern economies, according to a new study being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the last 20 years, people have been depleting natural resources, including fish, forests and arable land, at a rapid rate. Economic expansion has boosted demand for resources and overshot the planet's ability to regenerate them by 20%, the study says.

"You can overdraw on nature's accounts and leave a debt. We are no longer living off nature's interest, but nature's capital. Sustainable economies are not possible if we live beyond the means of nature," said Mathis Wackernagel, lead author of the study and sustainability program director for Oakland-based Redefining Progress, a nonprofit public policy group. The study, titled "Tracking the Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy," was produced by an international team of researchers and will be published this week. It marks the first attempt to build a comprehensive accounting method to assess the cost borne by nature of human activity.


from The Boston Globe

CHICAGO - Drug manufacturers spent $1.5 billion in 2000 to test medicines already approved by the Food and Drug Administration primarily so they could make new marketing claims to sell their products, industry specialists said this week. Critics say the trend inflates health care costs while undercutting the integrity of research.

Spending on these "post-approval" drug studies tripled in the last half of the 1990s, growing faster than any other clinical drug research, according to CenterWatch, a Boston-based firm that presented the data at the national meeting of the Drug Information Association. CenterWatch, which monitors the pharmaceutical industry, said approximately 700,000 patients completed post-approval studies last year.

"What used to be a scientific purpose - clarifying effectiveness and safety in a larger population - has turned into a commercial purpose," said conference speaker Nayan Nanavati, a vice president at Parexel, an international company based in Waltham that conducts studies for drug firms. "However, it must still be supported by a scientific need."


from The San Francisco Chronicle

A jury decided Genentech Inc. should pay $200 million in punitive damages to a former research partner that had already been awarded $300 million in back royalties on discoveries that helped launch the biotechnology industry.

South San Francisco's Genentech, the world's second biggest biotech firm, immediately said on Monday that it will appeal the civil judgment totaling $500 million in favor of City of Hope National Medical Center.

The nonprofit cancer center near Los Angeles claimed Genentech violated a 1976 contract by hiding patent licensing agreements on groundbreaking research by City of Hope scientists that led to the manufacture of the first biotechnology drugs.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) -- Scientists from Stanford University and the U.S. Geological Survey have begun drilling a hole more than a mile deep on an active portion of the San Andreas fault to better predict earthquakes.

An international team of scientists will place instruments underground later this summer when the project is expected to be completed. The instruments will allow them to monitor the earthquake process in an area about 163 miles south of San Jose where a magnitude-6.0 quake has been expected since 1985.

Mark Zoback, a Stanford geophysicist, hopes that Congress will support a more ambitious project that calls for drilling to extend to 2.4 miles into the fault. Zoback said Congress is being asked to appropriate $30 million over six years.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Injections of a naturally occurring compound can prompt the growth of new nerve fibers and restore some functions lost after a stroke, according to researchers who have tested the chemical on rats.

Researchers in Boston found that injections of inosine, a natural chemical, caused the undamaged side of the brain to develop new nerve circuits that helped to restore function in rats who lost the ability to control their legs after induced strokes.

The study appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Inosine stimulates the damaged nerve cells to form new connections that partially take the place of the ones lost in the stroke," said Larry Benowitz, a researcher at Boston's Children's Hospital and an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.


from The Washington Post

Sometime around 1612, a Venetian scientist named Santorio Santorio marked numbers on a glass tube that had some water inside and used it to measure history's first recorded heat wave.

For 400 years or so, Santorio's "thermometer" and its descendants sufficed to tell us how hot it was at a given moment on stifling June days.

Then, about 20 years ago, the National Weather Service cooked up the heat index, a measure of combined heat and humidity that reported how hot it felt at any moment on a torrid day.

Now, in honor of the start of our current summer, the Weather Service has officially unveiled a more explicit refinement: the Mean Heat Index, which calculates an average of how hot it felt all day -- ugh -- and forecasts the advent of such conditions.


from The New York Times

Moore's Law holds that the number of transistors on a microprocessor — the brain of a modern computer — doubles about every 18 months, causing the speed of its calculations to soar. But there is a downside to this oft- repeated tale of technological progress: the heat produced by the chip also increases exponentially, threatening a self-inflicted meltdown.

A computer owner in Britain recently dramatized the effect by propping a makeshift dish of aluminum foil above the chip inside his PC and frying an egg for breakfast. (The feat — cooking time 11 minutes — was reported in The Register, a British computer industry publication.) By 2010, scientists predict, a single chip may hold more than a billion transistors, shedding 1,000 watts of thermal energy — far more heat per square inch than a nuclear reactor.

The comparison seems particularly apt at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, which has two powerful new computers, Q and Green Destiny. Both achieve high calculating speeds by yoking together webs of commercially available processors. But while the energy-voracious Q was designed to be as fast as possible, Green Destiny was built for efficiency. Side by side, they exemplify two very different visions of the future of supercomputing.


from The New York Times

SOLDOTNA, Alaska — Edward Berg has a pair of doctorates, one in philosophy and another in botany, but for the last decade he has been a forensic detective in the forest, trying to solve a large murder mystery.

The evidence surrounds him on his home in the Kenai Peninsula: nearly four million acres of white spruce trees, dead or dying from an infestation of beetles — the largest kill by insects of any forest in North America, federal officials say.

Beetles have been gnawing at spruce trees for thousands of years. Why, Dr. Berg wondered, has this infestation been so great? After matching climate records to the rate of dying trees, Dr. Berg, who works at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, believes he has come up with an answer.


from The Boston Globe

YSTIC, Conn. - At 11:30 a.m. last Thursday, Robert Ballard was midway through a technical explanation about the operation of remote-control cameras in a theater at the Mystic Aquarium when a California harbor seal, projected live on a large screen behind him, woke up.

The seal was beached on a rock with several others at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary south of San Francisco, where it was shortly after sunrise. The mammal yawned, indulged in a few chores related to morning hygiene, gave the camera a bored stare, and then went back to sleep.

As animal performances go, it was a snore. But Ballard reacted as if he were on the verge of finding another Titanic - which he did in 1985.

You get what you get when it's "real TV," and this was the first ever live broadcast of life's mundane routine in the ocean, one second at a time, captured by four seaborne cameras controlled with nothing more than a tweak of the fingers 3,000 miles away.


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Life lessons from losers


By MICHAEL PRECKER / The Dallas Morning News

Go ahead and laugh at the offbeat stories that lighten up our daily news: the thief who gets caught in the air vent, the helicopter patrol that stops for doughnuts, the man who treats his head lice with gasoline, then dries his hair in front of a wood stove.

But can we learn from them?

Pat Reeder thinks so. In a decade of making a living by chronicling humankind's folly, the Dallas comedy writer has become something of an expert on screw-ups big and small.

That insight has convinced him that cautionary tales can be as useful as the most serious self-help volume or business tome.

"Mistakes are the easiest thing to learn from, but only if you learn from other people's mistakes," Mr. Reeder says. "Nobody ever sees themselves."

He hopes to prove it with his new book, which has a title that super-motivators Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins aren't likely to use: Nine Hallmarks of Highly Incompetent Losers.

Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/texasliving/stories/062502dnlivlosers.24cb0.html

Monday, June 24, 2002

A Vigorous Skeptic of Everything but Fact

June 19, 2002

By DINITIA SMITH http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/19/arts/television/19SKEP.html?tntemail0

These are some of the things that Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and publisher of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, does not believe in: parapsychology, holistic cures for animal illnesses, the universal effectiveness of chiropractic, extraterrestrial beings, alternative medicine, Bigfoot and organized religion.

For 35 years Mr. Kurtz has kept up a drumbeat of opposition to all kinds of this nonsense, as he calls it. And now he is turning his attention to the proliferation of the paranormal in movies and on television. Although movies are obviously fiction, Mr. Kurtz said, their power and influence are enormous. Meanwhile some television shows are presenting extraterrestrial conversations as a real thing.

"The television networks are selling communication with the dead with abandon," Mr. Kurtz complained as he sat in the headquarters of the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y., near Buffalo, the secular humanist organization that is the umbrella group for all his interests. Mr. Kurtz pointed to John Edward's show, "Crossing Over," and to James Van Praagh and George Anderson, mediums who also appear regularly on television claiming to talk to the dead.

Then "there are the increasing number of scenes in soap operas that are set in heaven," Mr. Kurtz said, adding that movies are also gross offenders. For instance, on Aug. 2, Touchstone is scheduled to release "Signs," starring Mel Gibson, about the mysterious appearance of crop circles on a family farm. Another example is "The Mothman Prophecies" with Richard Gere, released in January, in which the characters are terrified by an otherworldly creature in the form of a giant moth.

To monitor these trends his investigating committee, which its members call Csicop (pronounced SY-cop), has opened a National Media Center on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. And tomorrow Mr. Kurtz and some 400 other skeptics from around the world are to convene in Los Angeles at the World Skeptics Congress at the Hilton Burbank Airport and Convention Center to discuss these and other concerns.

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 24, 2002

from The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Scientists working in Brazil's central Amazon have discovered two new monkey species that are about the size of small cats, Conservation International announced Sunday.

The monkeys were discovered by Marc Van Roosmalen, a Dutch scientist working at Brazil's National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, 1,800 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. Van Roosmalen works in a little-explored region of the Amazon near the confluence of the Madeira and Tapajos Rivers.

Full scientific descriptions of the monkeys, Callicebus bernhardi and Callicebus stephennashi, were published by the peer-review journal Neotropical Primates.

"This once again demonstrates how little we know about biodiversity. These are the 37th and 38th new primate species described since 1990," said Conservation International President Russell Mittermeier, a co-author of the scientific descriptions.


from The Washington Post

Fears of a terrorist nuclear attack have prompted a nationwide interest in an imagined "magic pill," potassium iodide, for protection against radiation exposure.

People are buying the tablets online. The federal government is shipping or planning to ship millions of the pills to states that request them.

Health experts, however, caution that the tablet protects against only one of many forms of radioactivity -- from decaying isotopes of the element iodine, which can cause thyroid cancer years down the line. It's useless against other effects of an atomic disaster, such as noniodine radiation sources and the effects of heat and blast.


from The Washington Post

Comets are among the least understood objects in the heavens, yet these frigid leftovers from the birth of the solar system may be among the most important, seeding Earth with the water and organic compounds that made life possible.

In the second wave of an unprecedented scientific assault on these enigmatic "dirty snowballs," NASA is launching an innovative, relatively inexpensive spacecraft next Monday that will fly within a stone's throw of two comets that represent the extremes of cometary evolution.

In 2003, the $109 million Comet Nucleus Tour -- CONTOUR -- spacecraft will pass within 60 miles or so of Encke, an elderly comet discovered in 1786 that has whipped around the sun thousands of times and now releases relatively small amounts of dust and gas.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Looking to nature to improve on engineering, UC Berkeley researchers have cleared a major design hurdle in their quest to build a tiny robotic fly that the Defense Department hopes to use as a spy.

The robot, called "microfly," remains a long way from buzzing around a room, but the recent creation of minuscule wings that flap like their biological counterparts marks a breakthrough in understanding how insects fly, scientists said.

Microfly is at the vanguard of a field known as biomimetics, based on the idea that biological systems are more flexible and adaptable than anything coming out of a laboratory. Efforts to reverse-engineer nature are influencing fields ranging from jet propulsion to submarine design.


from The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - Legend has it that 250 years ago this month, Benjamin Franklin sailed a kite and a key into a stormy Philadelphia sky and made a shocking discovery: Lightning was a form of electricity.

His test sparked criticism from clergy who feared he was challenging God and earned him acclaim in America and Europe as one of the greatest minds of his era. It continues to generate debate among some historians who say Franklin might not have even conducted the experiment taught to generations of schoolchildren.

"When I teach Franklin, I always try to plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of my students" about the kite-and-key experiment, said Richard Rosen, science historian and dean of Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences. "Even if he did do it, we don't know exactly when or where, which is also part of the problem."


from The New York Times

KOKOMO, Ind., June 17 — A mystery is simmering in this sleepy industrial city.

To Billy Kellems, it sounds like butter "crackling in a skillet." In the middle of the night, it is more like the buzz of a busy interstate, though there is no highway for miles, Mr. Kellems said. Others say it sounds like the deep growling of a train idling.

The phenomenon is called the Kokomo hum, and it is more than an annoyance. Many blame the hum, which began in 1999, for health problems, including headaches, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue and joint pain.

Residents say they hope that a study commissioned by the city will get to the root of their troubles. Meanwhile, they live with the hum.


from The Chicago Tribune

When managers install computer software intended to improve employee communication, they had better be careful. One unintended--but common-- result is that people barely speak to each other after the implementation.

A recent study found that was the case at a pharmaceutical firm where new groupware enabled salespeople to perform certain interactions electronically. But since the employees could now avoid face-to-face encounters, they did. As a result, social relationships at the firm suffered.

Another study found that a computer program designed to promote information sharing had the opposite result when workers turned it into a social testing ground by judging the astuteness of questions and answers posted by fellow workers. That led to cliques among certain staffers who kept knowledge among themselves rather than sharing it.


from The Chicago Tribune

ROME -- If Severino Antinori can be believed, and if everything goes as he devoutly hopes, around Christmas there may occur an epoch-making event that is opposed by virtually all scientists as unethical, dangerous and worse: the birth of the first cloned human baby, a boy, followed shortly by four others.

"The pregnant now is five," said Antinori, a volcanic and ultracontroversial Italian gynecologist, during a recent interview at his bustling fertility clinic in Rome. "Until now, no birth. No delivery. Miscarriage, only one."

According to Antinori, the cloned pregnancies--none of them in Italy, where reproductive human cloning is illegal--were all created in the same way, by inserting DNA from the prospective father into an egg that had been stripped of its own DNA, then implanting the resulting embryo in the prospective mother's womb.


from The Guardian (UK)

After four months of entertaining humans, Gaak the predator robot yesterday did what all the best robots do in science fiction: he copied his masters' most basic instinct and made a dash for freedom.

Programmed to sink a metal fang into smaller but more nimble prey robots, to "eat" their electric power, at a science adventure centre, Gaak showed that a two year experiment in maturing robot "thinking" may be proving alarmingly successful.

Left unattended for 15 minutes, the 2ft metal machine crept along a barrier until it found a gap, squeezed through, navigated across a car park and reached the Magna science centre's exit by the M1 motorway in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Only then was its plot foiled, as dappled shade from trees fooled its solar batteries into steering it round and round. A visitor, Dan Lowthorpe, 27, from Sheffield, almost ran it over as it circled.


Television Review from The Boston Globe

George Washington was practically murdered by his own doctors. The former president lay in his Mount Vernon home, suffering from a throat infection, and his doctors prescribed the traditional cure-all: bloodletting. As his condition worsened, they let more blood and death came quickly.

Washington is just one of the characters we meet in an unusual historical tale, ''Red Gold: The Epic Story of Blood,'' airing on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) in two installments (Tuesday and July 2, 9-11 p.m.) The material is surprisingly rich - one minute an engrossing battlefront scene, the next an infuriating portrait of racism - but the four-hour series is marred by sloppy direction.

''Red Gold'' is based on a widely praised book by Boston University associate professor Douglas Starr, ''Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce.'' And the series builds on Starr's insight that the story of blood is not just a scientific tale, but a chronicle of the human quest for self-discovery - and the power of hatred and greed.


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Skepticism's Prospects for Unseating Intelligent Design

By William A. Dembski

Talk delivered at CSICOP's Fourth World Skeptics Conference in Burbank, California, 21 June 2002, at a discussion titled "Evolution and Intelligent Design." The participants included ID proponents William Dembski and Paul Nelson as well as evolutionists Wesley Elsberry and Kenneth Miller. Massimo Pigliucci moderated the discussion.

version 2.1 (final version)

This conference focuses on skepticism's prospects over the next 25 years. I want in this talk specifically to address skepticism's prospects for unseating intelligent design in that time. Though as a proponent of intelligent design I'm no doubt biased, I believe that over the next 25 years intelligent design will provide skepticism with its biggest challenge yet. I want in this talk to sketch why I think that.

A few years ago skeptic Michael Shermer wrote a book titled Why People Believe Weird Things. Most of the weird things Shermer discusses in that book are definitely on the fringes, like holocaust denial, alien encounters, and witch crazes -- hardly the sort of stuff that's going to make it into the public school science curriculum. Intelligent design by contrast is becoming thoroughly mainstream and threatening to do just that.

Gallup poll after Gallup poll confirms that about 90 percent of the U.S. population believes that some sort of design is behind the world. Ohio is currently the epicenter of the evolution-intelligent design controversy. Recent polls conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer found that 59 percent of Ohioans want both evolution and intelligent design taught in their public schools. Another 8 percent want only intelligent design taught. And another 15 percent do not want the teaching of intelligent design mandated, but do want to allow evidence against evolution to be presented in public schools. You do the arithmetic.

The complete document is here.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Army hopes divination will solve mystery of sleep-walking soldiers

From Ananova at:


Military officials in Austria are using mystics armed with divining rods to try and stop sleep-walking soldiers falling out of windows.

Two soldiers have been seriously injured after falling while apparently sleep-walking from the bunk room at the Strass Barracks in Styria.

An Austrian MoD spokesman said: "The army keeps an open mind on such things. If the mystics do find negative energy then we will be taking whatever action they deem necessary to make sure it is dealt with."

He added: "In the first case the man suffered serious internal injuries, but made a full recovery.

"In the second case the sleepwalker injured his head and broke several bones, and is still in hospital.

"There have also been several other cases where we awoke the soldier in time. We have no idea what could be causing it."

Story filed: 13:07 Sunday 23rd June 2002

Darwin Award Contender


A wedding feast in north-east Pakistan turned to carnage after a mortar shell launched in celebration misfired, killing 21 people, including the bridegroom.

More than 40 guests were wounded in the accident, which happened in the village of Korez, 250 kilometres (180 miles) south-west of the border city of Peshawar.

Local officials said guests had been "joyously" firing their weapons in the air in a traditional act of celebration, when one of the groom's relatives loaded the mortar "upside-down".

It exploded prematurely, killing several people outright.

The wounded were taken to a government hospital in Kohat, where some of them died from their injuries, hospital sources said.

Officials said 14 children, women and the 22-year-old bridegroom were among the dead.

Korez is in the lawless region of Orakzai, where tribes are powerful and the government has little influence.

Weapons are freely available on the black market there.

Letter on Old Testiment history

Following is a letter I wrote to the Dallas Morning News recently, which they never published.

RE: Religion Section, April 6, 2002: "Rabbi's take on Exodus slanted"

Mr. Reid Heller, in a column on April 6, objected to Rabbi David Wolpe's discussing the veracity of the Exodus story in public (as reported in an article in the March 30 Dallas Morning News). Mr. Heller seems to have been a little unfair, in that the original article was about the nature of the discussion and not about the nature of the evidence concerning the Exodus story. In any case, Mr. Heller claims that "the findings of contemporary archaeology with respect to the historicity of the Exodus can be summarized in one word: silence." This just is not so.

The biblical stories can be considered hypotheses which lead one to predict that certain evidences will be present in the archaeological record. When the evidence is not found, the hypotheses are considered unlikely to be true. Archaeological excavations have been going on throughout the Middle East for over a century, while the past few decades have seen present day Israel virtually dug up from one end to the other by archaeologists. Unfortunately for biblical literalists, recent archaeological research suggests that it is not just the traditional Exodus which is unlikely to be historically true, but most of the rest of the Torah and the Prophets.

Laypersons can be excused for not being aware of the recent archaeological findings, since most of the research has appeared in technical publications such as the Journal of Near Eastern Archaeology and the Israel Exploration Journal. The most thorough account of this recent research is contained in the book The Bible Unearthed (Finkelstein and Silberman, Free Press, 2001), while some of the information is summarized in the article "False Testament" in Harper's Magazine (Daniel Lazare, March 2002).

Some archaeologists have tried to answer the question: "if we did not have the Hebrew Bible, what is the history of Israel we would interpret from the archaeological record?" In summary, the emerging history identifies the first Israelite culture as evolving in the central highlands of Judea out of a widespread Canaanite culture, around 1300 BCE. The culture had two separate factions from the start, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Favored by climate and topography, and perhaps its pluralistic society which included several ethnic and religious groups, Israel prospered. By about 900 BCE it had become a fairly wealthy, culturally advanced kingdom. Israel's strength is indicated by the fact that in 853 BCE the Israeli king Ahab, in confederation with some adjacent kingdoms (not including Judah), was able to stop an invasion by the powerful Assyrian empire. On the other hand, Judah, which existed in a drier and rougher environment, remained an under-populated, fairly backward collection of small villages (including Jerusalem).

The Assyrians did eventually prevail in 722 BCE, conquering Israel and forcing many of its inhabitants into captivity and exile. Some northerners managed to flee to Judah, which was still so inconsequential the Assyrians did not bother to attack it. The influx of northerners seems to have given the southern province the additional population and skills it needed to start on the path to establish its own kingdom. Apparently it was during this time, particularly during the reign of Josiah (639-609 BCE) that the Deuteronomistic History was written. Josiah enlisted the aid of the religious cult of YHWH (Yahwah). From the combined efforts of the state and religious leaders a history of past glories and hope for a bright future was written. This fabricated history was based in part on hazy memories of the Canaanites, such as the expulsion of the Hyksos (Canaanites who ruled lower Egypt for a couple hundred years) from Egypt (in about 1570 BCE). The state and religious leaders insisted on the belief in one god and interpreted the demise of the northern kingdom to their tolerance of, and sometimes worship of, multiple gods.

The Judahite idea of a Pan-Israelite kingdom was, however, short lived. Apparently, Josiah thought a little too much of his abilities. In 609 BCE he decided to challenge the Egyptians. Whether in battle or by some other means, Pharaoh Necho killed Josiah. After this defeat it was downhill for the fledgling southern kingdom, until 586 BCE when it was conquered by the expanding Babylonian empire. Then captivity began for many of the Judahites, until about 520 when they were liberated by the Persians. Migrating back to what was now the Persian province of Yehud, the second temple was built and the reconstruction of a new Jewish culture began.

If this version of Jewish history continues to be strengthened by the scientific evidence, one wonders how the Jewish/Christian communities will handle the historical revisions. Mr. Heller is wrong to suppose that science is not the standard for grasping the historical truth of the Bible. But science it is not the standard for grasping its ethical or spiritual truths, which remain the same. Whether literally true or not, the Old Testament stories are still powerful expressions of human hopes and fears, triumphs and failures. As it has in the past the Bible will still inspire and instruct, even if more of the biblical history will have to be interpreted metaphorically. The Ten Commandments can still be understood as divinely inspired, even if Moses was not a historical person.

It is appropriate that the scientific evidence relative to the origins of Judaism (and thus of Christianity) has finally reached the stage of public discussion. Otherwise, the Judaic/Christian religions are in danger of becoming intellectually irrelevant. Results of a frank discussion may be traumatic for some, but hopefully a renewed and healthier religious community will emerge.


James Cunliffe

Predictions of World Cup Football 2002 - Quarter Finals


by - Anita Nigam(Profile)

Countdown for World Cup Final has begun. World Cup has come up with so many unexpectations and surprises. This time stars and planetary position seems to be against top football teams, as Argentina. France, Italy etc have been knocked out of the tournament. On the other hand S. Korea stunned the world with its performance against Italy. Also the winning of USA and Senegal has left the remaining soccer super stars in tournament apprehensive as the Quarter final looms.

Most special and anticipating match in quarterfinal is between Brazil and England on 21st. Anybody can predict that it is going to be a real tough competition between the finest defence and finest attack. Let's see what stars have to say about the fate of both the teams. Brazil and England both are in the influence of the malific planets but at the same time some benific planets are favouring England. It shows that chances of England winning are more. Both the teams will equalize up to the last minute. There could be more than one tie-breaker situation. Stars say that at last luck will favour England. Seaman, M. Owen will show good performance.

On the same day in the match between Germany and USA, Germany is in the winning position. It has got both excellent skills and good fate. Sscore could be a 3-1 or 3-2 win for Germany. Jersey number 3,9,21,18,12 of Germany and 3,15,14,12 of USA will be good.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

The fright club

Paranormal investigators are out and about in record numbers. You can call them any time, day or night. Just don't call them ghostbusters.



I. The haunted condo

When Kristyn Gartland says she has personal demons, she really means it.

A Somerville native, Gartland recently moved from Reading to Wakefield, and she's afraid that the spirits who haunted her previous home have followed her. "It seems ridiculous to say this is a safety issue," she says, sitting at the kitchen counter of her new apartment, "but these things can be pretty mean when they want to." She lights up a Marlboro Menthol Mild. "I need to find out if I actually did bring them with me."

To help answer this question, Gartland has recruited The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), a Connecticut-based group of investigators who've been tracking Gartland's ghosts for a couple of years now. Tonight, the TAPS people will be dropping by the new apartment to do some preliminary sniffing around. If all goes well, they'll conduct a room-to-room blessing — complete with the sprinkling of holy water and the muttering of incantations. "They're very professional," Gartland says. "Very professional and very caring."

Gartland doesn't immediately strike you as the hauntable type. A blond-haired, blue-eyed, elaborately tattooed 27-year-old, she has a carefree manner and a droll sense of humor. She often talks about her ghosts in an offhand way, as if griping about intrusive in-laws: "They'd turn the heating off in the middle of winter," she says. "I'd tell them, 'Cut it out! It's cold!' " But Gartland also has a six-year-old son, which is what made her call TAPS in the first place. "He would wake up screaming in the middle of the night," she says. "I was afraid for him. I didn't know what [the spirits] were capable of."

So far, Gartland's ghosts haven't proven themselves to be especially malicious. There have been the requisite cold spots, flitting shapes, bumps in the night, whisperings, and a single "excruciating shriek." Household items have been moved, TV channels changed, windows opened, and thermostats meddled with. On one occasion, Gartland saw the figure of a boy running down her hallway. When she followed the child into a bedroom, he crouched behind the bed, his eyes peeping above the mattress.

"That," she says with some understatement, "was creepy."

Sleep Paralysis
Associated Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences


Sleep paralysis, or more properly, sleep paralysis with hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations have been singled out as a particularly likely source of beliefs concerning not only alien abductions, but all manner of beliefs in alternative realities and otherworldly creatures. Sleep paralysis is a condition in which someone, most often lying in a supine position, about to drop of to sleep, or just upon waking from sleep realizes that s/he is unable to move, or speak, or cry out. This may last a few seconds or several moments, occasionally longer. People frequently report feeling a "presence" that is often described as malevolent, threatening, or evil. An intense sense of dread and terror is very common. The presence is likely to be vaguely felt or sensed just out of sight but thought to be watching or monitoring, often with intense interest, sometimes standing by, or sitting on, the bed. On some occasions the presence may attack, strangling and exerting crushing pressure on the chest. People also report auditory, visual, proprioceptive, and tactile hallucinations, as well as floating sensations and out-of-body experiences (Hufford, 1982). These various sensory experiences have been referred to collectively as hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences (HHEs). People frequently try, unsuccessfully, to cry out. After seconds or minutes one feels suddenly released from the paralysis, but may be left with a lingering anxiety. Extreme effort to move may even produce phantom movements in which there is proprioceptive feedback of movement that conflicts with visual disconfirmation of any movement of the limb. People may also report severe pain in the limbs when trying to move them. Several recent surveys including our own suggest that between 25-30% of the population reports that they have experienced at least a mild form of sleep paralysis at least once and about 20-30% of these have had the experience on several occasions. A few people may have very elaborate experiences almost nightly (or many times in a night) for years. Aside from many of the very disturbing features of the experience itself (described in succeeding sections) the phenomenon is quite benign. It was thought in the past that it was a significant part of the so-called "narcoleptic tetrad", but recent surveys of non-clinical populations, such as ours, suggest that the prevalence may be as high among the general population as among diagnosed narcoleptics. For a summarry of SP Characteristics see Table 1.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Miracle water knocks students sick

From Ananova at:

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_608725.html?menu=news.quirkies A miracle, health-giving water which was given to students by a Thai monk has put 35 of them in hospital.

The monk had been invited to give an anti-addiction lecture to students at Mahasarakam Collage in the north east of the country.

He offered the students the snow lotus water saying it would help fight drug addiction and cleanse the body.

After drinking the liquid 35 students suffered acute stomach pains and sickness.

Teachers took them to hospital where doctors are running tests on the water samples to find out the cause.

The Thai Rath newspaper reports the lecture was called Improving and Developing the Mind.

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – June 21, 2002

Below is a package of three stories on stem cell discoveries reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature. All three marry coverage of the science and its possible political implications.

from The New York Times

Two significant advances in cell therapy, the notion of treating diseases with human cells instead of drugs, have been made by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Minnesota.

One advance shows how embryonic stem cells can be converted into copious quantities of the exact type of brain cell that is lost in Parkinson's disease, a technique that might have possible use in therapy.

The other research reports that cells surprisingly similar to embryonic stem cells can be isolated from people's bone marrow.

The two studies intertwine science with politics because they bear on whether embryonic stem cells, the primordial cells from which all body tissues develop, are necessary for realizing the dreams of cell therapy. The cells are obtained from early embryos discarded by fertility clinics. Opponents of abortion say destroying the frozen embryos, even if no woman wishes to bring them to term, is unethical.


from The Washington Post

Researchers have isolated a type of cell from bone marrow that seems capable of transforming itself into most or all of the specialized cells in the body, a dramatic new finding likely to fuel the debate over the ethics of stem-cell research.

The finding was reported by researchers at the University of Minnesota and published online yesterday by the journal Nature. It heightens the prospect that therapies scientists are trying to create -- cures for diabetes, Parkinson's disease, hemophilia and many others -- can be made entirely with adult cells, alleviating moral concerns over using discarded embryos and fetuses as sources of tissue.

There has been conflicting evidence about whether cells found in adults might be as useful as those derived from embryos. But the work by Catherine Verfaillie, known as a fastidious and cautious researcher, was widely acknowledged as the most definitive evidence to date that adult cells may be almost as versatile as embryonic cells.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

In a scientific finding with political overtones, a study published Thursday provides the first strong evidence that stem cells taken from the bone marrow of adults have roughly the same ability to form replacement tissues as the more controversial stem cells derived from embryos.

National lawmakers have struggled over the rules and resources that should guide stem cell research, with conservatives trying to push adult cell studies in lieu of embryo research, while the scientific community generally wants both fields explored simultaneously.

In apparent recognition of the political impact of this latest discovery, the journal Nature held a news conference that coupled the adult stem cell finding with a separate report showing how embryonic stem cells had been coaxed into forming neurons that could treat Parkinson's disease.

from The New York Times

ATLANTA, June 20 — A panel of specialists advising the federal government on smallpox vaccinations unanimously rejected a proposal today to offer vaccines to every American. Instead, the panel recommended immunizing only the estimated 15,000 health care and law enforcement workers who would be most likely to respond to a biological attack and come in contact with victims.

In rejecting the idea of starting mass vaccinations for the first time since routine immunization was halted in 1972, the panel said the risks of complications from the vaccine outweighed its benefits in the absence of any known case or confirmed threat of a smallpox attack.

In the event of an attack, the panel said, the government should follow the health care strategy known as ring vaccination, in which victims are isolated and those with whom they had direct contact are vaccinated. In that way, the panel said, state and local health departments "would be able, if necessary, to expand immunization to additional groups, up to and including their entire population, in a timely manner."

from The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- An asteroid the size of a football field hurtled past the Earth a week ago, missing what could have been a catastrophic collision by a mere 75,000 miles -- less than a third of the distance to the moon.

The miss was one of the nearest ever recorded for an object of that size, scientists said Thursday. ``It was a close shave,'' said Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

The asteroid would have caused ``considerable loss of life'' if it had struck Earth in a populated area, said Grant Stokes, the principal investigator for the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Project, whose New Mexico observatory spotted the object last week.

from The Boston Globe

Specialists tracking the world's radioactive material revealed a new concern yesterday: a highly radioactive powder, used by the Soviets, whose location is currently unknown.

The Soviet Union used the substance in a bizarre series of agricultural experiments, the specialists said, a disclosure that raises concerns that terrorists could acquire the powder and use it to fashion radioactive ''dirty bombs.''

Although details about the program remain murky, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said yesterday that it had received reports of the program from ''reliable sources'' in Russia, as well as photos of trucks used to move the powder around. The agency is alarmed because the powder is highly radioactive, easily dispersed, and unaccounted for.

from The Wall Street Journal

It wasn't the kind of passage you usually encounter in a strait-laced science journal: "I have had to spend periods of several weeks on a remote island in comparative isolation," Anonymous wrote in Nature. Curiously, he continued, the day before he was due for shore leave his beard grew noticeably: "I have come to the conclusion that the stimulus for (this) growth is related to the resumption of sexual activity."

Neither Anonymous nor his fellow scientists were surprised that the aforementioned activity would loose a flood of testosterone, which affects beards the way Miracle-Gro affects tomato plants. No, the weird part is that merely anticipating female companionship did the trick.

Just as stress in the med students I wrote about last week altered the expression of genes in their immune systems, so libidinous thoughts seem to affect gene expression, says developmental psychologist David Moore of Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. Thoughts can cause the release of hormones that can bind to DNA, "turning genes `on' or `off.'"

from Scripps Howard News Service

A warmer world is already increasing the risk of disease for humans, animals and plants on land and in the sea, scientists have concluded after reviewing a growing collection of evidence over the past two years.

"Climate change is disrupting natural ecosystems in a way that is making life better for infectious diseases," some of which affect humans as well as animals, said Princeton University epidemiologist Andrew Dobson, a co- author of the report published Friday in the journal Science. "The risk for humans is going up. It's not only going to be a warmer world, it's going to be a sicker world."

Although similar reports of increased illness in animals and plants tied to slight temperature increases or precipitation changes have been published in recent years, the review, sponsored by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, is the first to analyze disease epidemics across entire plant and animal systems on both land and in oceans.

from The Associated Press

LONDON - Tobacco smoke is even more cancerous than previously thought, for both smokers and nonsmokers who breathe in the fumes, causing cancer in many more parts of the body than previously believed, a panel of experts has concluded.

Although smoking has been established as a leading cause of cancer, scientists have only now been able to track more than one generation of smokers to develop a clear picture of the dangers of tobacco.

The scientists, convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, said Wednesday that for types of cancer already known to be caused by smoking, the risk of tumors is even higher than previously noted. The research also definitively proves that secondhand smoke causes cancer.

The analysis is the first major examination of the accumulated research on tobacco smoke and cancer since 1986. A full report of the findings will be published later this year.

from United Press International

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The microscopic marine creature Pfiesteria piscicida - also known as "the cell from hell" - may have been mistakenly identified as the culprit in recent fish kills in eastern U.S. coastal waters, though microbiologists who study the organism strongly disagree about the meaning of the latest research.

Pfiesteria is a marine dinoflagellate - a single-celled creature propelled by a long, whip-like tail. It might be considered the chameleon of marine organisms because it can take on many forms. In some of its guises, Pfiesteria is believed to produce a poison that kills fish by attacking their skin. Earlier work with the creature indicated it went through a 24- stage life cycle, producing toxins in some of the stages.

University of North Carolina microbiologist Wayne Litaker told United Press International that Pfiesteria may have been misidentified as the fish killer. Litaker said his group used molecular probes - a relatively new research technique available only since about 1998 - to examine the creature's life cycle.

from The Associated Press

FOSTER CITY, Calif. (AP) -- Some West Coast fishermen breathed a sigh of relief as the federal government put limitations on depleted groundfish fisheries, but stopped short of closing them completely as some in the industry feared.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously Thursday to prohibit groundfish fishing between 600-foot and 1500-foot depth north of Cape Mendocino.

Some fishermen were relieved that they had not been completely closed down for the month of September.

"Everybody wishes it could be better but it's the more acceptable of the two choices," said Rod Moore, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association.

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More donkeys wed to bring rain to Tamil Nadu

Note: Tamil Nadu is the southern most state in India.

Caution: "Fun"-tastic and weird:
Chennai, June 20

The water-starved residents of a remote village in Tamil Nadu organised a grand wedding for two farm donkeys to appease the god of rain, a report said Thursday.

The residents of Sakkayanayakanur village in Madurai district pulled out all the stops on Wednesday to organise the marriage ceremony followed by a grand wedding feast, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The female donkey was dressed in an elaborate bridal skirt while her groom was dressed in a green "dhoti". The pair got married at the local temple where the village priest chanted the traditional prayers.

After the temple ceremony the donkeys were taken in a village procession and fed while the local villagers were treated to the wedding feast later in the evening, a wedding guest told the news agency.

The donkey wedding was the second to be organised in Tamil Nadu to propitiate Varuna Bhaghavanthe, the god of rain.

Although a donkey wedding is rare, Adivasis in Assam organise frog weddings every year to pray for the monsoon rains.


Space rock's close approach


Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Astronomers have revealed that on 14 June, an asteroid the size of a football pitch made one of the closest ever recorded approaches to the Earth.

It is only the sixth time an asteroid has been seen to penetrate the Moon's orbit, and this is by far the biggest rock to do so.

What has worried some astronomers, though, is that the space object was only detected on 17 June, several days after its flyby.

It was found by astronomers working on the Lincoln Laboratory Near Earth Asteroid Research (Linear) search programme in New Mexico.

Catalogued as 2002MN, the asteroid was travelling at over 10 kilometres a second (23,000 miles per hour) when it passed Earth at a distance of around 120,000 km (75,000 miles).

The last time such an object is recorded to have come this close was in December 1994.

'Wake up call'

The space rock has a diameter of between 50-120 metres (160 - 320 feet). This is actually quite small when compared with many other asteroids and incapable of causing damage on a global scale.

Nonetheless, an impact from such a body would still be dangerous.

If 2002MN had hit the Earth, it would have caused local devastation similar to that which occurred in Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908, when 2,000 square kilometres of forest were flattened.

Dr Benny Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University, UK, told BBC News Online: "Our ever increasing observational capacity is now detecting these close shaves from small objects.

"The probability is actually quite high that a Tunguska-sized object will hit us in our lifetimes."

'Bolt from the blue'

A major issue of concern centres on how late this object was picked up.

Dr John Davies, of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, has calculated the orbit of the asteroid from the Linear data.

He concludes that the asteroid came out of the Sun and was impossible for Linear to see until one hour after its flyby of the Earth on the 14th.

Dr Davies said: "...if an asteroid were to approach close to an imaginary line joining the Earth and the Sun it would never be visible in a night-time sky and would be quite impossible to discover with normal telescopes. Its arrival would come, literally, as a bolt from the blue."

Space-based telescopes, such as Hubble and the future European Gaia spacecraft, are the only means of searching for asteroids in the daytime sky.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

New version of e-mail scam purports to be from American soldier in Afghanistan


Posted on Thu, May. 23, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) - A new e-mail scam from a purported American ``Special Forces Commando'' in Afghanistan who needs help getting terrorist drug money out of the country is making the rounds on the Internet.

The Secret Service says it is the latest incarnation of a fraud scheme that targets hundreds of people each day.

The e-mail starts simply -- a request to respond to the e-mail to get a phone number -- but authorities say it is the first step of a long con that takes in victims looking for easy cash. Other versions of the con involve wiring funds overseas or even traveling to an African nation to claim the nonexistent money.

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 20, 2002

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A young, sun-like star with orbiting blobs of dust and rock may be forming planets, giving astronomers their first chance to observe the evolution of a planetary system like our own.

The star, named KH 15D, is unique in astronomy because it is periodically obscured by clouds of matter that orbit between the star and viewers on Earth, said William Herbst of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

Herbst said Wednesday the orbiting material may be building planets, perhaps following the same evolutionary process that is thought to have formed the Earth and its sister planets.

"The processes that are going on in this inner disk region could be analogous to what was going on in the formation of the Earth," said Herbst. "It could shed light on our origins by helping us to understand how our Earth and the planets in the solar system came to be."


To find out more about KH 15D, visit its Web page, hosted by Van Vleck Observatory at Wesleyan University:


from The New York Times

For the second time in a week, astronomers have announced the discovery of a Jupiter-like planet around a distant star, and they say this one could be part of a planetary system more similar to the Sun's than any yet discovered.

A team of European astronomers yesterday reported detecting a large gaseous planet at the star HD 190360a that appeared to be like Jupiter in mass and its near-circular orbit. It is close enough in other characteristics to encourage speculation that the solar system has some familiar company in the galactic neighborhood.

The announcement followed one last week by a team of Americans, who said they had found a planet resembling Jupiter, though with about four times the mass, in a Jupiter-like orbit around the star 55 Cancri.


from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Six Nobel laureates slammed the European Union's science policy on Thursday and urged reforms and a doubling of research funds to stem the brain drain to the United States.

"Brain drain -- young talented scientists leaving their countries -- is making itself felt in most EU countries," the laureates and several other European scientists said in a letter to EU leaders due to hold a summit in Seville, Spain, on Friday and Saturday.

The EU should at least double current investment in research and development if it was serious about achieving its stated goal of creating "the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010," the scientists said in the letter obtained by Reuters.


from The Boston Globe

In the dead of night during Christmas break, with most of their colleagues away, two doctoral fellows sneaked into a Harvard Medical School laboratory and stole crates of precious biological research, federal prosecutors say.

The pair allegedly made off with the fruit of years of research into new drugs that could help organ transplant recipients and planned to sell it to a Japanese drug company, according to a federal complaint unsealed yesterday.

The exploits of Jiangyu Zhu, 30, and Kayoko Kimbara, 32, are recounted in a detailed affidavit that reads like a thriller. FBI agent Scott Robbins described nearly two years of alleged subterfuge and criminal activity as the pair amassed a secret web of gene codes and research filched from their boss and colleagues. Then, they stealthily prepared to move to the University of Texas, according to the charges.


from The Boston Globe

A team of Boston scientists has built a living web of tiny blood vessels - a crucial advance in the long quest to grow replacement organs for humans from scratch.

Every year, thousands of Americans die waiting for an organ transplant. To meet the demand, researchers - many of them in the Boston area - have been trying to grow hearts, lungs, and other organs in the laboratory. But they have been stymied: As the new organ tissue flourishes and grows thicker, the cells are starved of blood and die.

The Boston team, which includes researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital, has been working to grow a new circulatory system to feed the organs. They created a vast network of tiny plastic tubes - many smaller than a human hair - and then coaxed cells to line the insides and form a network of live capillaries. The plastic tubes are designed to dissolve in the body, leaving the capillaries to supply oxygen and nutrients deep into any tissue, sustaining it.


from The Associated Press

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) -- The bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease has been detected at high levels in ten buildings at NASA Ames Research Center.

There are no reports of illness or infection.

The legionella bacteria was discovered at significant levels at nine buildings this month after tests following a routine sampling in May that found bacteria in condensation pans of the heating and air conditioning units of Building 239, according to spokesman David Morse.

Legionella is often found in water tanks, humidifiers, cooling towers and air conditioning systems. Disinfecting with chlorine or heat usually kills the bacterium.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists have developed a new method of stamping out cheap but powerful computer chips that could revolutionize the industry and offer consumers a new generation of high-powered computers.

Described today in the British journal Nature, the new chip technology is deceptively simple -- not much different in principle from the way medieval scribes pressed designs into warm wax to seal documents.

Computer experts call it one of the most promising new ideas for mass producing the incredibly detailed circuits needed for the next generation of computers.

Consumers may ultimately reap the benefits in the form of less expensive, smaller but ever-more-sophisticated computer applications. And specialized high-end users, such as big university laboratories or financial firms, are hoping these chips will drive desktop-size -- or even smaller supercomputers.


from The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Federal documents released following a lawsuit by The Associated Press and other media organizations show the Savannah River Site for long-term plutonium storage is structurally sound and can withstand an earthquake.

The media companies sued the Energy Department after the agency said hundreds of pages of documents should be sealed under a federal law limiting the release of nuclear information.

Media attorney Jay Bender argued the materials failed to meet the standard for being kept secret. The two sides reached an agreement to seal only a few of the documents the DOE considered sensitive.


from The Associated Press

BOSTON - Researchers have taken a step toward solving one of modern medicine's mysteries: why so many people get chest pain without classic signs of heart disease.

The simple answer: They have unseen heart disease.

The condition, known as cardiac syndrome X, has befuddled doctors since it was identified about 30 years ago. For all its mystery, it is widespread, striking perhaps tens of thousands of Americans, mostly women.

Many doctors have long viewed it as an unexplained form of heart disease. But others see it a puzzling hypersensitivity to pain - that is, a neurological problem, not a cardiovascular one.


from The Associated Press

Scientists lowered microphones into the Pacific Ocean and came up with evidence suggesting that the booming songs sung by finback whales are mating calls, rather than sonar-like navigation signals.

The findings raise concerns that shipping noises and other manmade sounds at sea could interfere with the whales' breeding.

The recordings made in the Sea of Cortez off Mexico's Baja Peninsula found that the deep, low-frequency calls are made exclusively by males, said Alejandro Acevedo, a marine biologist at the California Academy of Sciences and co-author of a study in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.


To find out more about Whale Communication Research, the bioacoustics program run by Christopher Clark, lead author of the Nature study referenced above, click on the link below to visit the Web page.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

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For feedback on In the News,

A challenging view of the universe

Scientist's tome draws notice, critics

By Gareth Cook, Globe Staff, 6/19/2002


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.

Cosmic energy for Indian power station

Note: Vaastu is Indian Feng Shui.

Officials at a state run-power station in India, have enlisted the help of experts in an ancient building science of to help stop power cuts.

They're considering the use of Vaastu, the study of cosmic energy flows within buildings, taking into consideration positioning and direction of a structure - ideally before construction begins.

Officials at the Raichur power station in northern Karnataka called in an astrologer and Vaastu expert, K.N Somayaji, when failures at the plant caused frequent power cuts.

The state capital, Bangalore, prides itself on being the main high-tech centre of India. The expert suggested changing the station's chimneys which he said block energy flows, planting eucalyptus trees and putting copper wire fencing around the building.

The Vaastu expert also suggested that the replacement of old, sub-standard equipment at the power station may also help stop power cuts.


A Conference Is in the (Tarot) Cards
Occult Opening

Week of June 19 - 25, 2002

Mind Body Spirit
by David Shawn Bosler


Although the 562-year-old practice of reading tarot is quickly approaching the popularity of Western astrology, the process is still very private and frequently misunderstood. It often exists in a vacuum, with many card enthusiasts keeping their interest secret from friends and family—especially those in the Bible Belt. So the New York Tarot Festival, this weekend at the Marriott LaGuardia in East Elmhurst, Queens, should provide a nourishing environment for experienced readers and newcomers alike.

Wald Amberstone and Ruth Ann Brauser, founders of the Tarot School in New York City and the event's organizers, are tarot experts well aware of the growing international interest in their subject and the tendency for people to be "reading" under the radar. Known for their emphasis on innovative techniques, in-depth analysis, and integrating outside material (numerology, astrology, magic, psychology) into their practice, between them they have over 70 years' experience working with the tarot.

The middle-aged Amber-stone has been refining his understanding of symbology and esoterica since his introduction to the cards in 1959. Brauser, his younger partner, started reading in 1974, and like many of her students originally pursued her interest alone; for years she knew no one else interested in tarot. "The Tarot School was conceived," says Brauser, "in part as a solution to the problem of learning tarot in isolation." When they started the school in 1995, there were a limited number of classes and workshops available. Though they've had 1000 students in classes here, and hundreds participating in their phone courses, it wasn't until the late '90s, when the pair started attending symposia, that they became connected to a larger tarot community. They finally met many of the authors, deck creators, and teachers whose work they had come to respect.

True to most things occult (i.e., hidden), the history and intent of the cards (which allegedly originated in northern Italy around 1420) are very fragmented and mysterious. Origin theories range from the plausible to the completely harebrained. Although many have theorized that the first decks were adapted from a royal court game called Triumphs (carte da trionfi), one common explanation is that the original decks were a template to preserve ancient knowledge, possibly passed down from the Egyptians via the Rom (popularly known as "Gypsies"), the Sufis, the gnostic Christians, or any number of cryptic sources.

A system so potent in symbology and archetypal knowledge had to have been using the old Sufi mind trick of hiding "secret" knowledge right out in the open. It's thought that even "normal" playing cards were originally created as a map of psychological and emotional functioning, hidden in a game; European playing cards were adapted from Islamic Mamluk cards.

Many believe the tarot is a cosmograph— a kind of map of the universe similar to the Kabbalah's Tree of Life and the Gurdjieff Enneagram, a tool said to be a living universal symbol containing all knowledge. Although speculation about how and why it works is endless (and probably futile), users think it accurately reflects a person's inner state (psychological and emotional) at the time of a reading. The tarot is a language of symbols that tells a story, your story, and if you're paying attention, it could be a powerful tool to help you live more consciously and control the way your story turns out.

The tarot deck is used primarily for divination and meditation— it's been called the "meditative yoga of the West." A typical deck (there is no "definitive" version) is an assortment of 78 cards: 22 are the major arcana, or trump cards, such as the Chariot, the Hierophant, the Magician, the Moon, and the Devil, dealing with areas of life that are, for the most part, beyond our control. They "speak" of the influence of fate and the connection to the higher self; they're the big stars of Jung's collective unconscious. The other 56 cards are the minor arcana, or suits, such as Ten of Coins, Two of Wands, and Eight of Swords. These address issues under the questioner's (or "querent" 's) control.

The cards, even contemporary ones, are almost always beautifully decorated. Most decks are adaptations of the classic designs such as the Visconti-Sforza and Sola Busca (15th century) and the Rider-Waite (a classic, but still a relative newcomer, published in 1910). There are a variety of specialized decks for a myriad of interests and lifestyles: feminists, Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, cat and dog lovers, baseball fans, Buddhists, Christians, pagans, Crowleyans, feng shui-ers, Native Americans; designs can be Celtic, Taoist, Egyptian, or reference Disney, H.R. Giger, H.P. Lovecraft, rock and roll, and Star Wars, to name just a few.

The cards can be consulted alone or with a "reader." The querent contemplates a certain question for a few minutes—the best ones ask for wisdom or insight for a particular situation, dynamic, or relationship, or seek to know the pattern or trend of a certain matter. The cards should not be told to reveal winning lottery numbers or make exact predictions about the future, but they can be a very powerful mirror—often reflecting aspects of your psyche you're not aware of. After asking the question, the querent (or the reader, if one is present) shuffles the deck and draws a certain number of cards, laying them out in a particular order. Some popular "spreads" are the Celtic Cross and the Three Card (past, present, and future). A learned reader can decipher meaning based on the cards themselves, their accompanying symbols, and the arrangement or order in which the cards have been "laid."

For a tarot enthusiast, next weekend's event is the Super Bowl of esoteric adventure. Some of the biggest names in the tarot world will gather for a variety of classes and workshops. The festival is primarily interactive and hands-on— no lectures! On board are Rachel Pollack, giving a class on "Tarot, Spirit, and Imagination"; Mary K. Greer, exploring "Life as a Dream: Tarot 'Lifework' "; Robert M. Place, teaching "Hieroglyphics From the Soul: The 3-Card Reading"; and Lon Milo DuQuette, who will demonstrate "How to Be Truthful to Yourself When Reading Your Own Cards." Brauser and Amberstone are in for an epic weekend; besides running the festivities and teaching "Past Life Work Using Tarot," they are getting married. All participants are invited.

Also on the agenda are a "tarot art shoppe," a bazaar, a banquet, a party-bus tour into Manhattan, and celebratory rituals (the closing one will be conducted by respected tarot author and deck creator Robin Wood). The event provides an excellent opportunity to network and flock. If you're in the biz or want to be, you'll find tarot card and book publishers on hand, as well as a class about starting your own tarot reading business.

For more information call 800-804-2184, or see www.tarotschool.com

Disney fakes crop circles for Signs


Disney company Touchstone Pictures is planning to create crop circles around the world as part of its marketing campaign for its sci-fi movie Signs, starring Mel Gibson.

In the M Night Shyamalan-directed film, Gibson plays farmer Graham Hess who discovers a "message" in one of his fields - an intricate pattern of circles and lines in his crops.

A source at Disney's Buena Vista told Teletext: "We will carve out crop circles at unnamed sites."

Most circles appear in July and August - but this year, some will have been created by Signs' film-makers.

How Touchstone proposes to alert the world to its landscaped crop circles is not known, but it's thought images of the crop patterns will be posted on the net and used on posters.

Signs examines the effect crop circles have on a family. The UK release date is September 13. Movie website: www.signs.movies.com.


China Scientists to Probe 'ET' Launch Tower

Wed Jun 19, 7:06 AM ET


BEIJING (Reuters) - A team of Chinese scientists is to head out to the far west of the country to investigate a mystery pyramid that local legend says is a launch tower left by aliens from space, Xinhua news agency said Wednesday.

Nine scientists would probe origins of the 165 to 198-foot tall structure -- dubbed "the ET relics" -- in the western province of Qinghai this month, the agency said.

It sits on Mount Baigong, has three caves with triangular openings on its facade and is filled with red-hued pipes leading into the mountain and a nearby salt water lake, Xinhua said. Rusty iron scraps, pipes and unusually shaped stones were scattered around the inhospitable and largely uninhabited area, it said.

A research fellow at a nearby observatory of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the theory the pyramid was created by extra terrestrials was "understandable and worth looking into," it added

Xinhua did not report any details on the age of the structure, or any other possible explanations for it.

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