NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 July 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – July 25, 2002

from The New York Times

A newly found asteroid, large enough to wreak worldwide destruction, will cross Earth's path in 2019, and although the chance of a collision is slim, astronomers cannot yet rule it out.

If the asteroid, named 2002 NT7, were to hit, it would be on Feb. 1, 2019. The odds of that happening are less than 1 in 200,000, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said yesterday. That is roughly the same chance that an unknown, as yet unseen meteor will hit Earth between now and then. Scientists expect the 1-in-200,000 odds to grow longer as they learn more about the asteroid's orbit.

On the 0-to-10 Torino scale describing asteroid hazards, 2002 NT7 ranks a 1, meriting careful monitoring but with the chance of impact judged extremely unlikely. A ranking of 0 means no danger; a 10 means certain impact with worldwide devastation.


from The Chicago Tribune

Studying tiny water bubbles that collapse in intense flashes of light and heat, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have added a skeptical note to a growing controversy over whether similar bubbles could create cheap energy through nuclear fusion.

The Illinois team's work, published Thursday in the journal Nature, may cast more doubt on a disputed report from earlier this year in which physicists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., said they had detected fusion reactions in bubble experiments. Some researchers criticized the work as inconclusive, recalling a furor in the 1980s over unfounded claims that scientists had discovered the key to limitless energy using "cold fusion."

Nuclear fusion, the potent energy source that powers the sun and hydrogen bombs, has been produced in a controlled way only in vast and expensive experimental facilities. The instruments used achieve fusion by subjecting a form of hydrogen to intense heat and pressure, causing the atoms to fuse.


from The Associated Press

In a dangerous boomerang effect apparently caused by antibiotics, E. coli is on the rise among premature babies and has overtaken strep as the most common infection in such infants, a disturbing new study suggests.

The shift is worrisome because E. coli bacteria can be more deadly than streptococcus germs.

The rate of group B streptococcus blood infections in newborn preemies fell by nearly three-quarters during the 1990s, probably because more women in labor now get antibiotics to keep from passing the bacteria on to their babies during delivery, the researchers said.


from The Washington Post

Their attributes may have given them a mythical aura -- air-breathing, slithering, omnivorous creatures that can quickly clear a pond of flora and fauna.

But the northern snakeheads captured in a suburban Maryland pond this month have met their match in a common fish poison called rotenone.

Within 24 hours, all 48 of the baby snakeheads that had been administered the toxin by state biologists had succumbed, according to Maryland officials.

"Those who got a dose of poison have given themselves to science," said a state scientist who commented on condition of anonymity. "We speak of them in the past tense now."


from The Associated Press

BOSTON - An international effort is needed to curb the deaths each year of tens of thousands of dolphins, whales and porpoises who become tangled in fishing gear, experts said Wednesday.

The alert was sounded during the two-day meeting of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

An estimated 60,000 dolphins, porpoises and whales die in fishing entanglements annually, according to Duke University scientists. Even when disentangled, most still die from infections.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

The fossil remains of an ancient bird with a stomach full of seeds and a tail like a dinosaur's have been unearthed from a province in China famed as one of the richest treasure troves of the dinosaur era.

Larger than a modern crow, the creature provides the first hint of what birds ate nearly 125 million years ago, and the length of its tail strengthens the evidence that all birds -- even today's -- are direct descendants of the dinosaurs, scientists say.

Zhonghe Zhou and Fucheng Zhang, paleontologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, found the fossil remains in Liaoning province of Northeastern China. It's a region long noted for its wide varieties of dinosaur and bird fossils representing life during the Mesozoic era, the geologic time that began some 245 million years ago and ended 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs and most other life forms on Earth were driven to extinction by the monstrous crash of a comet or asteroid from space.


from The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A group of scientists who set out to build a robot with human social skills may have actually improved on humanity: Their creation courteously steps aside for people, smiles during conversation and politely asks directions.

The 6-foot robot, named GRACE, for Graduate Robot Attending Conference, will wander a symposium on artificial intelligence that begins this weekend, where it will demonstrate its good manners. It will try to sign in at the registration desk, find a conference room, give a speech and answer questions.

GRACE, a drum-shaped contraption with a digitally animated face that appears on a computer display, is the work of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and elsewhere.


Commentary from The Christian Science Monitor

PASADENA, CALIF. – Is it just me, or are things getting kind of quiet around here? For several years now, a complaint has been heard in the hallways of our top universities: where have all the graduate students gone? Every year, there seem to be fewer and fewer qualified students applying for positions in science and engineering doctoral programs.

The problem is far from anecdotal. Now, with statistics compiled by the National Science Foundation, professional science organizations, and the federal government, it's official. Prospective students are turning away from careers in science. Since a peak in the early 1990s, the number of science and engineering students has tanked. In some fields, the decrease has been as much as 5 percent per year, according to a study published by the National Science Foundation. In electrical engineering, enrollments have dropped nearly 30 percent in the last 10 years. Overall, the number of Ph.D. students in science and engineering is at a 40-year low, and there is little sign of a turnaround.

This trend has sent academic departments and education experts scurrying. Graduate students are the lifeblood of research universities, working in the trenches to produce the discoveries that lead to publications, as well as shouldering much of the teaching load. The top dozen or so American universities may have to admit students they don't feel are up to their standards, but for other universities, the problem is far more acute.


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Cloning machines go on sale on the web


By John Lettice
Posted: 24/07/2002 at 16:06 GMT

DiY cloning is with us at last, and you can buy it on the web. Well, sort of. If you look here, you will find that for the bargain price of $9,199 ex shipping you can buy an RMX2010 Clonaid direct fusion, umm, thingummy.

It is, apparently, a device used for embryonic cell fusion, and we get the impression that it is more efficient than the chamber method, which we confess we hadn't heard of either. But if you have a ready supply of ovums and cellular scrapings from the individual of your choice, we deduce that this is all you need to produce your very own duplicate person. Well, apart from a womb, that is. We reckon you probably need one of those too.

Clonaid, you may be aware, is an interesting operation. It was founded by one Ra๋l, also founder of the Ra๋lian Movement, and although the man himself no longer runs Clonaid he still figures prominently on the front page of the site. This tells us that "life on Earth was created scientifically through DNA and genetic engineering by a human extraterrestrial race whose name, Elohim, is found in the Hebrew Bible and was mistranslated by the word 'God'. The Raelian Movement also claims that Jesus was resurrected through an advanced cloning technique performed by the Elohim."

The man himself now operates out of this fascinating site, where the flying saucer alone is, in our opinion, the best reason for giving in and installing flash we've ever seen. We also liked the award of "Honorary Guide" status to George Michael for his latest video, and there is much more of interest chez Ra๋l. And good new! Soon, presuming the cloning machine works, there will surely be quite a few of him... ฎ

Court OKs '7 Aphorisms'


By Elaine Jarvik
Deseret News staff writer

The "Seven Aphorisms" can be displayed next to the "Ten Commandments," the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The aphorisms are principles of a Utah-based religion known as Summum, founded in 1975 by Corky Ra. Summum, which claims 250,000 members worldwide, filed suit in 1999 against the city of Ogden. Since 1966, the city has allowed a Ten Commandments monument erected by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in a garden next to the municipal building, but it turned down Summum's request to put up a Seven Aphorisms monument in the same location.

"The Free Speech clause of the First Amendment compels the City of Ogden to treat with equal dignity speech from divergent religious perspectives," the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in its ruling.

Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey said the city will appeal the decision. "We're disappointed with the ruling," Godfrey said Friday evening. "I think there's evidence that the courts of appeals don't always make the best rulings." Summum's aphorisms include principles of 'psychokinesis, correspondence, vibration, opposition, rhythm, cause and effect, and gender." The principle of vibration, for example, states that "nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates."

According to founder Ra, who assumed the name of the Egyptian sun god, the principles come "from ancient times, before the Bible was written." There is always the possibility that Ogden will remove the Ten Commandments monument rather than allow the Seven Aphorisms. That's what Salt Lake City did in 1998 after it lost a similar Summum case brought by attorney Brian Barnard. Ra said he hopes Ogden will leave the Ten Commandments in place.

"We like the Ten Commandments. We think they're wonderful," says Ra. "But we'd like our seven principles up too."

Summum will now draft a letter to the City of Ogden, he says, asking for written permission to erect the monument. Summum's monument will be the same size as the Ten Commandments monument, he says; it, too, will be made of granite. "It will probably look identical."

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturns a 2001 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins, who said the Ten Commandments monument was "primarily secular" and ruled the City of Ogden "cannot be compelled to accept monuments that do not constitute expressions of the city."

The Appeals ruling confirms "the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits censorship by governmental nictitates based upon content," explains Barnard.

Ra describes his religion as nondenominational and "encompassing the philosophy of all religions." The group's Web site explains that "Summum is not about doctrine, dogma, or beliefs, but about gaining the experiences that will awaken us to the spirit within and to our place in the matrix of Creation's formulations."

The religion has received more attention, though, for its belief in "modern mummification," its wine and the 26-foot-fall pyramid its volunteers constructed in Salt Lake City in 1979.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Bubble bursts for bench-top nuclear fusion


19:00 24 July 02

NewScientist.com news service

The claim that nuclear fusion can take place inside tiny imploding bubbles of acetone in bench-top experiments has suffered a deflating blow.

The first chemical analysis of the reactions inside a single imploding bubble suggests that the temperature should fall several million degrees short that needed for fusion.

However, Kenneth Suslick from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says his team's work does not rule out the possibility of reaching those searing temperatures in other liquids, like molten salts or metals. "It's a very long shot, but possible," he says.

The results are further evidence arguing against controversial research published in March, in which Rusi Taleyarkhan of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee claimed to see evidence of fusion inside acetone bubbles.

Suslick has already said he believes Taleyarkhan's lab was contaminated with tritium - the very thing used as evidence of fusion (New Scientist magazine, 13 April 2002). And other labs that have tried to replicate Taleyarkhan's results have failed (New Scientist magazine, 9 March 2002).

Pumped up

The principle behind the experiments is not controversial. Researchers have long known that when bubbles are pumped up with sound waves and then allowed to collapse they can emit energy as heat and light - a phenomenon known as sonoluminescence.

Clouds of such bubbles can be as hot as 5000 ฐC. And researchers think that a single bubble collapsing perfectly symmetrically should get much hotter. Theoretically, it could reach the 10 million degrees needed for fusion to take place. But it has proven incredibly tricky to measure the temperature inside a single, tiny bubble.

Suslick decided to estimate that temperature by measuring the photons, radicals and ions produced by energy-consuming reactions like the dissociation of water or nitrogen gas inside an air bubble in water.

Just seeing the reaction products is a breakthrough, since only tiny amounts of atoms are kicked out of the bubble. "It's a wonderful piece of work," says Andrea Prosperetti, a sonoluminescence expert from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Energy sapping

Suslick could only see reactions that spat products out into the water, rather than those that stayed within the bubble. These reactions sapped 0.01 per cent of the bubble's total potential energy, he says. But since the temperature is high enough for those reactions to occur, many more must be happening inside the bubble, hidden from view.

Suslick thinks the hotter the bubble gets, the more reactions will take place, sucking up more energy that would otherwise raise the temperature. "It's self-limiting. I don't think you can get beyond 15,000 to 20,000 degrees," he says.

The situation would be even worse for a volatile liquid like acetone, he says. But a liquid with low vapour pressure, like molten metal, would have fewer reactions going on inside and might get much hotter.

Suslick's lab has achieved sonoluminescence in molten salts, but has not yet been able to estimate those bubbles' temperature.

Journal reference: Nature (vol 418, p 394)

Nicola Jones

This story is from NewScientist.com's news service - for more exclusive news and expert analysis every week subscribe to New Scientist print edition.

Space rock 'on collision course'


By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

An asteroid discovered just weeks ago has become the most threatening object yet detected in space.

A preliminary orbit suggests that 2002 NT7 is on an impact course with Earth and could strike the planet on 1 February, 2019 - although the uncertainties are large.

Astronomers have given the object a rating on the so-called Palermo technical scale of threat of 0.06, making NT7 the first object to be given a positive value.

From its brightness, astronomers estimate it is about two kilometres wide, large enough to cause continent-wide devastation on Earth.

Making space travel simpler with interplanetary highway

Posted: July 21, 2002


A "freeway" through the solar system resembling a vast array of virtual winding tunnels and conduits around the Sun and planets, discovered by an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., can slash the amount of fuel needed for future space missions.

Called the Interplanetary Superhighway, the system was calculated by Martin Lo, who used his theory to design the flight path for NASA's Genesis mission, which is currently using this "freeway in space" on its mission to collect solar wind particles for return to Earth.

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 – July 24, 2002

from The Washington Post

OXFORD, Md., July 23 -- The end of the notorious, omnivorous, amphibious northern snakeheads began today in a state laboratory chamber marked QUARANTINE, a room where subjects arrive living but always leave dead.

Measured out carefully and diluted with well water, the poison came in a tray full of plastic bottles, each marked with the concentrations of toxin they contained: 1.5 parts per billion. Three ppb. Six ppb. And the last bottle, marked C -- a control solution that contained no poison.

"Just want to be sure there's no placebo effect at work here," joked Colin Middleton, an assistant to the two state scientists conducting the experiment.


from The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- Astronomers are carefully monitoring a newly discovered 1.2- mile-wide asteroid to determine whether it is on a collision course with Earth.

Initial calculations indicate there is a chance the asteroid -- known as 2002 NT7 -- will hit the Earth on Feb. 1, 2019. But scientists said Wednesday that the calculations are preliminary and the risk to the planet is low.

"The threat is very minimal," Donald Yeomans, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "An object of this size would be expected to hit the Earth every few million years, and as we get additional data I think this threat will go away."

The object was detected on July 9 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Project in New Mexico. It orbits the sun every 837 days, and NASA scientists predict its path could intersect Earth's orbit. But they say more observations over the coming months will help them plot its course more accurately.


from The Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Anthrax spores have been found in the stables of the Antarctic hut used a century ago by a British explorer, a historical organization said Wednesday.

The spores probably were carried by pack animals brought to the continent by explorer Robert Falcon Scott in 1912. They were discovered by accident during tests done in preparation for a major renovation of the site.

Government officials said the spores do not pose a danger to humans in such low concentrations, but the Scott hut at Cape Evans has been temporarily closed while tests continue.


from The New York Times

Scientists have discovered an altogether new creature in Central Park.

It is a centipede — which may be the world's smallest — and is the first new animal species found in Central Park in more than a century, scientists say.

The newly found centipede is so unusual that it makes up a new genus, as well as a species, said Dr. Kefyn M. Catley, a Rutgers University professor and staff scientist for the American Museum of Natural History.


from The New York Times

ORTONA, Fla. — The casual visitor to this small rural community about 15 miles west of Lake Okeechobee might barely notice the broad indentations that run for seven miles from a cluster of oak-shaded mounds through scrub pine and palmetto to the Caloosahatchee River.

But to archaeologists they are monuments to prodigious engineering skill and hard work — canals that enabled Indians to travel between Lake Okeechobee and the Gulf of Mexico.

Around A.D. 250, Indians inhabiting this area began digging the canals by hand, using wooden and shell tools to create waterways 20 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet deep, said Robert Carr, the Florida archaeologist who directs excavations at the site.


STUCK ON THE ICE from The Washington Post

The people who visit Antarctica have their own name for it: The Ice.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest, least-friendly continent on Earth. It is nearly 1 1/2 times as large as the United States, and almost entirely covered with ice.

Surviving Antarctica isn't easy, as some unlucky explorers have found. Jennifer Armstrong's book "Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World" tells the story of one group that was nearly destroyed by Antarctica almost 90 years ago: Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the ship Endurance. But even now, with all our fancy technology, Antarctica remains a strange and dangerous place.


compiled by The Boston Globe

Watermelon and Prostate Cancer

Nothing could be better for a prostate on a hot summer day than a nice piece of cold watermelon...

Artificial Retina Update

The brain of a 74-year-old man with an implanted electronic retina is starting to be able to use the signals it generates in order to see...

Earthshine and Other Worlds

Earthshine - light reflected from the Earth in analogy with moonshine, which is light reflected from the moon - may help astronomers find distant earthlike planets...

Happiness and Semen

Semen may have a cheering, antidepressant effect...

Cellphone Worries Again

New concerns about cellphone safety have been raised with the discovery that just an hour's dose of cellphone radiation can affect many proteins in cultured human cells, and can also make the cells shrink in size...


Book Review from The Boston Globe

Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science that Changed the Course of World War II by Jennet Richards Conant

By day Alfred Lee Loomis was a captain of capitalism, a Wall Streeter who raked in millions and cashed out handsomely just before the crash of 1929.

After dark, though, he was something of a Captain Marvel, an amateur inventor who spent evenings hunkered down in his home laboratory in posh Tuxedo Park, N.Y., sometimes zapping fish with high-frequency sound waves to see what would happen.

His hobby soon became an obsession, and while finance and physics may seem an odd couple, they made Loomis a natural to later help lead the development of two technologies critical to the outcome of World War II - radar and the atomic bomb.


Commentary from The Boston Globe

Someone asked me the other day why I became a scientist.

"Ah, that's easy," I replied. "I have always been interested in connections. Science is all about seeking the connections between things."

When I thought about it later, I realized my answer was superficial.

After all, scientists are not the only ones interested in connections.


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Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – July 23, 2002

from Newsday

Though many theories have surfaced about the source of the anthrax mailings last fall, and even the names of possible suspects, the FBI isn't close to solving the mystery, according to White House sources. And top intelligence officials say the FBI investigation, though vigorous, is foundering.

FBI insiders who spoke on condition they not be identified acknowledged that the agency is operating under "many hypotheses." They say the investigation, however, is proceeding in a methodical fashion.

Others describe a probe troubled by confusion and lack of coordination between criminal and public health investigators since the Oct. 4 anthrax death of American Media photo editor Robert Stevens in Boca Raton, Fla. Subsequent mailings killed four more people and sickened 18 others in New York, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Connecticut.

"The problem goes back to the very first days in Florida," one intelligence source said. "That's when everything started going wrong."


from The Chicago Tribune

President Bush visited Argonne National Laboratory on Monday to underscore the role of scientific and technological advancements in the fight against terrorism and to urge Congress to pass sweeping homeland defense legislation before Sept. 11.

Bush told several hundred employees of America's oldest national lab, who endured wilting heat to see him, that the war on terrorism would be fought "on the frontiers of knowledge and discovery" as well as in the caves of Afghanistan and the jungles of the Philippines.

"In this new war we will rely upon the genius and creativity of the American people," Bush said.

"Our scientific community is serving on the front lines of this war, by developing new technologies that will make America safer," he said at the lab. Argonne was chartered in 1946 and was a direct descendent of the Manhattan Project's metallurgical lab at the University of Chicago. The lab was part of America's effort to develop the atomic bomb.


from The Chicago Tribune

Lapses in infection control and overuse of antibiotics are spawning drug- resistant germs that are spreading from hospitals into the community at unprecedented rates.

These new super germs--stronger, more elusive and deadlier--have multiplied for decades inside thousands of hospitals and now are hitching rides into outside communities on the clothes and skin of patients, workers and visitors.

Until the last few years, most germs quickly died after exposure to the harsher environmental conditions outside hospitals. But, increasingly, microorganisms survive for days, even months. And they have developed the ability to breed most anywhere.

"It was only a matter of time before hospital germs became strong enough to live in the community," said Dr. Donald Graham, department chief of infectious diseases at the Springfield Clinic and professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. "We're seeing them pop up everywhere."


from The Associated Press

The number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease could more than triple to 16 million by 2050, new research indicates.

The projections, presented Monday at an international Alzheimer's conference in Stockholm, Sweden, are slightly higher than those conducted 10 years ago, mostly because more people are expected to live beyond the age of 85 than were predicted a decade ago.

Some 4.6 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer's.

Ten years ago, Dr. Denis Evans of the Chicago-based Rush Institute on Healthy Aging used figures from the 1990 U.S. Census to estimate that 14 million Americans could be struck by Alzheimer's by 2050.


from The Washington Post

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton today will propose a ban on the importation of 28 species of the voracious air-breathing, ground-slithering fish known as the snakehead, following the discovery of a thriving school of the creatures in a suburban Maryland pond.

Native to the Yangtze River region of China, the fish has appeared in at least seven states and has upset the natural order by eating virtually everything -- plant and animal -- within its reach.

Maryland officials' discovery of the northern snakehead -- a species that can survive below-freezing temperatures as well as the sweltering days of summer -- alarmed biologists and prompted state officials to convene a posse of experts last week on how best to eradicate the invader.


from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The nation's automakers say they will sue California to block an anti-global warming bill that restricts carbon dioxide emissions from cars.

Gov. Gray Davis signed the measure Monday after it squeaked by the state Legislature despite a multimillion-dollar opposition campaign by carmakers and auto workers.

California already has the nation's most stringent standards for other vehicle pollutants. The new law sets emission standards for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that would apply to new passenger cars and light trucks beginning in 2009.


from Newsday

After puzzling researchers for the better part of a decade, the case of the deformed frogs has finally netted a chief suspect - and plenty of accomplices.

Biologists have long studied frog deformities, but a group of Minnesota schoolchildren sounded the first public alarm in 1995 when they discovered an unusually high number of leopard frogs with deformed hind limbs hopping awkwardly around a local pond. Ever since then, reports of deformed amphibians have poured in from across the United States and Canada, particularly in the West, Midwest and Northeast. Researchers are unsure whether the dramatic increase relates to increased awareness or environmental changes, but a variety of studies have by turns sought to link the deformities and the dwindling numbers of frogs to ultraviolet radiation, chemical pollution, predation, parasites or disease outbreaks.

Two recent reports now strongly support the idea that parasitic worms are the chief culprits behind many frog limb deformities. Chemical and fertilizer contaminants have been named as potential accessories, however, and the fingerprints of human activity cover the scene.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

A unique, satellite-borne radar system is transforming the work of earth science, giving researchers an extraordinary new tool for understanding volcanoes and improving their ability to predict eruptions.

The radar system has been used to detect volcanic activity stirring unexpectedly along the spine of the Andes, bulging ominously in Alaska beneath the flight paths of Asia-bound aircraft and inflating beneath Oregon's Cascade Mountains.

Scientists are hailing the technology -- dubbed InSAR, for Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar -- as the most useful technology since the first primitive seismograph was invented in China by a brilliant Han dynasty mathematician named Chang Heng, in 132 A.D.

"It's made a revolution," said Wayne Thatcher of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Team in Menlo Park. "It's allowed us to see earth movements we never would even have suspected."


from The New York Times

It has always been easy to make fun of cosmologists, confined to a dust mote lost in space, pronouncing judgment on the fate of the universe or the behavior of galaxies billions of light-years away, with only a few scraps of light as evidence.

"Cosmologists are often wrong," the Russian physicist Lev Landau put it, "but never in doubt."

For most of the 20th century, cosmology seemed less a science than a religious war over, say, whether the universe had a beginning, in a fiery Big Bang billions of years ago, or whether it exists eternally in the so- called Steady State.

In the last few years, however, a funny thing has happened. Cosmologists are beginning to agree with one another. Blessed with new instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope and other space-based observatories, a new generation of their giant cousins on the ground and ever-faster computer networks, cosmology is entering "a golden age" in which data are finally outrunning speculation.


from The New York Times

What feels as good as chocolate on the tongue or money in the bank but won't make you fat or risk a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission?

Hard as it may be to believe in these days of infectious greed and sabers unsheathed, scientists have discovered that the small, brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy.

Studying neural activity in young women who were playing a classic laboratory game called the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which participants can select from a number of greedy or cooperative strategies as they pursue financial gain, researchers found that when the women chose mutualism over "me-ism," the mental circuitry normally associated with reward-seeking behavior swelled to life.

And the longer the women engaged in a cooperative strategy, the more strongly flowed the blood to the pathways of pleasure.


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Alien Armada!


50 Years Ago, Unidentified Flying Objects From Way Beyond the Beltway Seized the Capital's Imagination

By Peter Carlson Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, July 21, 2002; Page F01

In the control tower at Washington National Airport, Ed Nugent saw seven pale violet blips on his radar screen. What were they? Not planes -- at least not any planes that were supposed to be there.

He summoned his boss, Harry G. Barnes, the head of National's air traffic controllers. "Here's a fleet of flying saucers for you," Nugent said, half-joking.

Upstairs, in the tower's glass-enclosed top floor, controller Joe Zacko saw a strange blip streaking across his radar screen. It wasn't a bird. It wasn't a plane. What was it? He looked out the window and spotted a bright light hovering in the sky. He turned to his partner, Howard Cocklin, who was sitting three feet away.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – July 22, 2002

GENE LINKED TO HEIGHTENED ANXIETY from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists have identified a specific gene variation that sparks heightened activity in the brain's "fear center" -- the first gene identified to affect a function of the brain related to human emotion, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

The gene activates the amygdala, a portion of the brain that controls its response to frightening situations, and has been weakly linked to increased anxiety.

David Weinberger, chief of the Clinical Brain Disorders Branch at the National Institutes of Health, said the research is a key step in understanding the complex biological puzzle of human temperament.

"Genes don't create personality, but they give you the building blocks. This is one building block of personality," said Weinberger, director of the study published in the current issue of Science.


from The Washington Post

Brush your teeth after every meal. Floss regularly. And be sure to keep your teeth nicely coated with a film of genetically engineered bacteria.

That's the advice dentists might offer if scientists achieve their goal of enlisting custom-designed bacteria in the war against tooth decay. The aim is to use an army of gene-altered microbes to rid the mouth of bacteria that cause cavities, effectively shifting the balance of power in the bug- eat-bug world of oral ecology.

"Our strain can be just brushed onto the tooth surface or squirted into someone's mouth, and it will elbow out any other strain" of cavity-causing bacteria, said Jeffrey Hillman of the University of Florida College of Dentistry. Hillman is one of several researchers to have engineered tooth- friendly versions of the bacteria that cause tooth decay.


SCIENCE NOTEBOOK compiled by The Washington Post

Horses Domesticated Widely

Archaeologists have long tried to determine when and where humans first domesticated horses. New research suggests that horses were domesticated in several different places around the world...

Ancient Flying Lizard Found

Fossil hunters have unearthed the remains of a previously unknown species of ancient flying lizard, a bizarre and fearsome-looking creature that apparently skimmed over the surface of lagoons and lakes to snatch up fish for food...


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley -- Victor Ninov was a popular, highly respected physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the last person anyone would have expected of a shocking scientific fraud.

Now, fraud accusations against Ninov are the climax of the lab's agonizing repudiation of what once looked like an historic achievement -- its purported 1999 discovery of the heaviest known element.

To his Berkeley friends, Ninov was an amiable, hard-working, highly professional physicist who could play the violin as well as fix a cranky lab gadget, who sailed across the Pacific on a 45-foot sailboat with two associates, and who was badly hurt in an avalanche while mountain-climbing about a decade ago . . . and, unfazed, survived to climb other peaks.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

A fight has erupted between environmental groups and the nation's leading animal rights organization over the issue of laboratory animal testing.

The dispute is the result of a media campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against three mainstream environmental groups: the World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense.

PETA has denounced the three organizations for their support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's use of laboratory animals to test toxic compounds. Such tests are unnecessary, PETA claims, and could be replaced with toxicology evaluations that don't use animals.


from The Washington Post

ST. PETERSBURG -- From the deck of his ship captured by ice floes off Antarctica, Yuri Medunitsin stared into the distance and didn't like what he saw. The sky was dark, as always at this time of year, he recalled, but there was no mistaking the colossal shape drawing close: a towering iceberg capable of crumpling the vessel with 107 men aboard.

As the current carried the Magdalena Oldendorff ever closer toward the giant frozen mass, Medunitsin and some of his companions feared the worst. Then, suddenly, the ship veered, carried by the water flow, and passed the iceberg unscathed. "We could have been broken in half like the Titanic," Medunitsin said.

For essentially the entire month of June, a team of Russian scientists trying to get home, along with the crew of the Magdalena sent to fetch them, remained trapped at the bottom of the world, struggling to avoid a disaster-film fate. Surrounded by walls of ice that its engines were not powerful enough to cut through, the Magdalena was left to the mercy of the elements. Food was running out, electricity rationed. Not until the end of June did rescue arrive, in the form of helicopters that sliced through torturous winds to reach the ship.


from The New York Times

NEWARK, July 20 — Glimpsed from a commuter train or a passing car, the Passaic River looks like a dreary, coffee-stained channel marred by tumbledown factories, rotting piers and unidentified floating objects.

Up close, the Passaic is even less appealing.

An armada of plastic bottles bobs on the surface. During low tide, the shoreline reveals a curious array of sofas, car parts and shopping carts trapped in a muck that smells as bad as it looks.

In some ways, it is even worse than it looks. That sediment, the color and consistency of Hershey's syrup, is a poisonous bisque of heavy metals and noxious chemicals left over from the hundreds of smelters, tanneries and refineries that once nourished former industrial giants like Paterson, Passaic and Newark. Signs posted along the shoreline promise a $3,000 fine to those who catch blue claw crabs and the prospect of cancer to those who eat them.


from The Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md., July 19 — A panel of scientists today recommended poisoning a pond that has become home to a growing population of carnivorous Chinese fish as the best way to ensure they do not escape and spread throughout Maryland's waterways.

The panel's 12 members agreed that the state needed to eradicate the fish, the northern snakehead, which grows to three feet long and feeds voraciously on other fish. Failure to do so would risk disrupting the ecosystem, they agreed.

"You're talking about a total rearrangement of the food chain when you introduce a top predator like this," said Dr. Walter Courtenay, an ichthyologist with the United States Geological Survey in Florida.


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NASA Fakes Moon Landing!


Heroic images or NASA fraud? At last we have the conclusive proof! The image on the left clearly shows the supposed 25,000 of thrust generated by the lunar lander to arrest its descent. Yet in the image on the right, where is the giant crater this would have created? Looks like the complex web of NASA lies is about to unravel!

Another apparently inspirational image from the NASA archive. All seems fine at first but notice the numerous directions in which the shadows are falling (marked with arrows). This indicates that the image is probably coposed of several images taken at different times (probably in a top secret studio guarded by specially trained aliens working as government agents) and joined together using advanced technology NASA always denies existed at the time.

This is the photographic equivalent of an automotive "cut-and-shut" job. If this image was your car, you wouldn't trust it to take you to the end of your road without breaking in half!



Last updated on Friday, June 14, 2002 14:09:58

Four years ago we watched what first appeared to be one type of event in the atmosphere. Over time, we determined we were not viewing one event but several military operations, each of a different nature. We believe the military projects were hidden or cloaked behind the biological detection, decontamination, and climate related projects. Most Federal and State level authorities were not truthfully informed of the military projects. The projects were compartmentalized and made secret from the people and certain levels of government.


Aggressive combat warfare is occurring in the sky over the United States.

We believe Russian scalar longitudinal EM wave interferometers are actively attempting to manipulate and control the jet stream and weather over the United States. They are creating drought in the United States.

Scientists testing psychics' powers to predict the future

From Ananova at


Psychics are taking part in an experiment to find out if some people really can predict the future.

Edinburgh University researchers are testing 140 volunteers who claim they've had psychic experiences.

Scotland on Sunday says they'll be asked to visualise a picture on a random postcard before it is sent to their home.

Dr Fiona Steinkamp of the university's Koestler Parapsychology Unit said: "At the moment, we are trying to find out if people can actually get an impression of the future.

"If this study proves successful, it would mean we'd be able to predict disasters such as plane crashes and accidents. You might even be able to win the Lotto."

Volunteers will be isolated and have to listen to white noise for 15 minutes while trying to visualise a picture that will be sent to them in the post. The fuzzy noise is used to stop the volunteers being distracted.

They will then be shown four pictures and will be asked to choose the one that most closely resembles the vision they had.

Two days later, a picture will be picked randomly with the help of a computer and it will be sent to their homes. Dr Steinkamp admits there is an element of chance to the experiment.

"What we need is a significant number of volunteers to pick the correct picture before we can eliminate the possibility of chance," she said.

David Concar, deputy editor of New Scientist magazine, told the paper: "If we, as a species, really could do this, we would surely know about it by now. There is no way this study can impose on us an ability that we simply do not have."

Story filed: 10:25 Sunday 21st July 2002

Sunday, July 21, 2002




July 20, 2002 -- EXCLUSIVE

State prosecutors see the future of a Nassau County fortune-telling couple: Five years in prison for bilking $100,000 from a mentally disabled Brooklyn woman who wanted a better life.

Nina DeMetro, 52, and Rob DeMetro, 56, allegedly stole the money from April 1995 until May of this year - mainly by making sure she paid them $1,000 a month from her disability insurance payments, Assistant Attorney General Ronda Lustman said.

That was about half of the disability money the woman received.

Psychologist studies mystery of stigmata


Staff Writer

A local psychologist is investigating the causes of stigmata, the mysteriously appearing wounds resembling those that Christians believe Jesus received when he was crucified.

Usually it turns out to be self-mutilation or something else science can explain, Mario Martinez said. In rare cases, stigmata occur.

''I wouldn't try to reduce it to a black or white thing,'' he said. ''My job is to rule (things) out. That's really the job of the scientist.''




July 18, the Moscow State Court threw out the lawsuit of the Russian Justice Ministry against the Moscow Church of Scientology. The religious activity of Church of Scientology in Moscow was acknowledged to correspond with the Russian Constitution.

The Moscow Church of Scientology president, Anton Lychkin said, "I am very glad that we have won, though it is not only the victory of scientologists; this also signifies religious freedom in Russia."

The head of sect department at the St Tikhon Orthodox Institute, Alexandr Dvorkin, in his interview to ITAR-TASS, stated that the Justice Ministry had intended to deprive the Moscow church of Scientology of registration for formal reasons: this organization had not completed the necessary documents in proper time. However, the organization's lawyers managed to settle this question in legal form in favour of the organization.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Confederacy was building atomic bomb

From the Weekly World News


Civil War historians are reeling over the discovery that a Confederate scientist was just weeks away from perfecting a crude atomic bomb -- and planned to use the device to destroy Washington, D.C., 138 years ago . . . in 1864!

Physicist Thaddeus McMullen was killed before he could carry out the plot, reveals Joel Remarsh, a Civil War historian who uncovered McMullen's maniacal plan while studying a collection of war-era journals, letters and documents given to him by McMullen's descendants.

"My blood ran cold when I realized what I was reading," says Remarsh, who plans to reveal all in a book tentatively titled Southern Victory: The Confederacy's Atomic War.

"Thaddeus McMullen was a plantation slave-owner who loathed Abraham Lincoln and was willing to do anything to ensure a Confederate victory.

'Monster with claws' terrorise UP villages

By Vinay Krishna Rastogi in Lucknow

Villagers in Uttar Pradesh have been terrorised by a man who allegedly plucks flesh from the mouth and other body parts of his victim with his long and deadly claws. The "monster-man" has attacked 36 people so far.

At least 50 villages of Ghazipur district are in grip of "fear of the devil" , who they call "Mooh Nochva", and at every passing day, the terror is spreading to more and more areas.

Director general of Police RK Pandit has directed the IG to rush policemen to protect villagers and to ascertain the identity of the dreaded man playing the role of a monster.

A married woman, Pikkhi,who arrived in Balua Tarao village to stay with her maternal uncle Treveni Rai was attacked by the mysterious monster.

In the attack, he ripped flesh off her face, neck and arms. Kedar Dushad of the same village was also attacked

Among the three dozens victims of the mystery man is an Intermediate College student of Balua tarao village Jai Prakash Paswan.

He claims he saw lights of red and green colour emitting from the body of the mystery man before he attacked him. His face and arms were badly scratched

Many marriages in the villages have been cancelled due to the fear of the man "considered by the district administration as a probable psycopath.

The area is awash with rumours. There are several versions about the man having long hair, blood-shot eyes and claws like that of a tiger.

Yet others absurdly describe him as a robot who emits light when attacking his victim.

Inspector General of Police, Varanasi zone S N Singh said on phone that a team of sleuths has been dispatched to ascertain the identity of the man.

Earlier, it was believed that the attacker was a woman, but now villagers are certain that the person is a weird, strange-looking man

People have fled Loharpur, Balua Tarao, Dharam Purwa, Jagatpur and many other villages as the mysterious man might attack any time if the victim is alone. He attacks and disappears in a flash.

Inhabitants of over 50 villages have stopped sleeping outside their homes at night in view of the blistering summer season.


Diana Witchel: A monstrous, lethal arrogance


15.06.2002 -

When it comes to depressing idiocy, nothing that happened so far this year - or most other years - can beat the Moorhead case. This couple from Dargaville used fanatical religious belief as an excuse to allow their 6-month-old baby to die a horrible, but apparently spiritually correct, death.

Everyone knows the story by now. Caleb died of pneumonia. His weight was that of a 6-week-old baby and he was brain-damaged from a severe vitamin B12 deficiency. His vegan parents, followers of some lunatic fringe of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, treated him with cayenne pepper and put garlic in his booties instead of taking the simple medical advice that would have saved his life.

What Caleb really died of was a severe intelligence deficiency in those he looked to for care. It's easy to say what should have happened. Neighbours and family should have turned the Moorheads in to the appropriate authorities.

The staff at Starship should have caught the parents in a flying tackle as they did a runner on the one occasion when they put their baby's needs first and fronted up.

No beliefs, religious or other, should be tolerated if they deny any child adequate medical care.

Hollywood Fertilizes Profits with Crop Circles


Hollywood Aims to Reap Summer Box Office Harvest from Field of Hoaxes-and Skeptics Say Pseudoscience Is the Fertilizer.

Amherst, NY (July 17, 2002)-"Signs," starring Mel Gibson, is Hollywood's latest attempt to cash in on the allure of the paranormal. The film, distributed by Disney's Touchstone Pictures, is scheduled to open in American theaters on August 2nd and is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who brought audiences the haunting spiritualistic thriller "The Sixth Sense" (1999). "Signs" tells the story of Pennsylvania pastor Graham Hess (Gibson), who turns to farming as a way to escape theological doubts after the tragic death of his wife in a car accident. Hess is thrown into the media spotlight when 500-foot crop circles begin appearing in his fields. That's right: crop circles.

These strange geometric patterns of matted-down grain stalks began garnering media attention in the late 1970s when they cropped up in English wheat fields. They evolved into a world-famous phenomenon in the 1980s and 90s, sparking plenty of controversy-and pseudoscience-regarding their origins. Credulous crop circles researchers-known as "cereologists" or "croppies"-believe that either extraterrestrials or "plasma vortices" are responsible for the phenomenon. Cereologists have argued that hoaxers could not be responsible for crop circles, because the grain stalks are bent and not broken, and there were no traces of footprints leading to scenes. Skeptics, including Joe Nickell, who is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), have replied that from mid-May to August, wheat is naturally green and pliable-so it is no mystery that the stalks pressed down to make crop circles are not broken. Furthermore, the tramlines left by tractors divide wheat fields into closely spaced parallel rows. Hoaxers can easily walk the tramlines without leaving tracks or disturbed grain in their wake.

In the early 1990s, Joe Nickell teamed up with forensic analyst John F. Fischer to research the entire crop circle phenomenon over previous decades. They found all of the hallmarks of hoaxers at work. "The escalation in appearances correlated directly with the increase in media coverage," says Nickell. "For years the phenomenon was concentrated in southern England. Only after media reports spread internationally did crop circles begin to appear in significant numbers elsewhere." Nickell also points to the fact that crop circles only became more elaborate over time-evidence of hoaxers demonstrating increasing mastery of their art. Finally, there's what Nickell calls the "Shyness Factor": like graffiti artists, whoever makes crop circles does not want to be seen in action.

Nickell and Fischer were vindicated in 1991-just before they published an investigative report in Skeptical Inquirer magazine-when crop circle hoaxers Doug Bower and Dave Chorley came forward and subsequently fooled cereologist Pat Delgado, who had declared an example of their handiwork to be beyond any hoaxer's ability. Since then, many other people have admitted to making the designs as well.

"It's about time that crop circles get put in their proper place," says Nickell when asked about the new "Signs" film. "Crop circles are the stuff of Hollywood fiction, not science."

Friday, July 19, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – July 19, 2002

from The Washington Post

Breast-feeding is a major factor that helps to reduce a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new analysis of research data from 30 countries.

The relatively high breast cancer rates found in developed countries are largely explained by the fact that women in those countries have chosen to have few children and to breast-feed them briefly or not at all, according to the detailed analysis of 47 studies by a British research group.

"It's really the number of children and the duration of breast-feeding that is the key to the differences between developed and developing countries" in breast cancer rates, said Valerie Beral, an Oxford University epidemiologist who led the project. "It really changes the way one looks at the cause of breast cancer."


from The Washington Post

Alaska's glaciers are melting at more than twice the rate previously thought because of warming temperatures, dramatically altering the majestic contours of the state and driving up sea levels, according to a new study.

Scientists using highly precise airborne laser measurements of 67 Alaskan glaciers from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s discovered that the glaciers are melting an average of six feet a year -- and in some cases a few hundred feet -- and that the rate has accelerated in the past seven or eight years.

As one measure of the severity of the problem, the researchers calculated that the glaciers are generating nearly twice the annual meltage of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is the largest ice mass in the Northern Hemisphere and second only to the Antarctic. That would mean the Alaskan melt is adding about two-tenths of a millimeter a year to sea levels -- a seemingly small rise that nevertheless could eventually have long-term implications for flooding on Pacific islands and along coastal areas, the researchers concluded.


from The Washington Post

KOROLYOV, Russia -- The statues, busts and posters of Yuri Gagarin at the Russian space agency headquarters here have grown worn. The orbital path of the space station Mir, which plunged into the Pacific last year, has been removed from the wall-size mission control map. A spacecraft launched just last week has gone missing.

But none of these signs of faded glory and contemporary troubles has discouraged Russia's dreams of space exploration. In past decades, space achievements loomed large in national pride. The Soviet Union was the first to launch a satellite into orbit, the first to put a man in space, the first to experiment with long-term life in zero gravity. And now, the Russians hope to lead the first manned mission to Mars.

Reports of a $20 billion proposal to send a six-member crew on a 440-day, round-trip journey to the Red Planet have stoked the imagination of a nation eager to restore a little of the luster of a legendary program left hobbled by the economic collapse of the Soviet Union. A trip to Mars would be the realization of a four-decade-old dream. Even before launching Gagarin in a cramped capsule to open the human exploration of space in 1961, the Russians were working on a plan to travel to Mars.


from Newsday

Discovery of a very old, very odd skull from an extinct flying reptile was announced yesterday by a research team in Brazil.

The skull, a fossilized remnant from a pterosaur, is blessed with thin, blade-like jaws that probably evolved to dip dinner from water as the creature skimmed just above the surface, the scientists said.

The strange boney structure represents a species that lived about 110 million years ago. Besides its fish-nabbing, beak-like jaws, the featherless flier also had a huge bony crest, like a large fin, which ran from the tip of its upper beak to the back of its head, the paleontologists said.

A detailed report on the find was published today in the journal Science.


from Newsday

Prone to anxiety? It may be in the genes.

Federal scientists have discovered that inheriting a certain form of a gene called the serotonin transporter leads to an exaggerated response in the area of the brain that regulates fear and other negative emotions.

Dr. Daniel Weinberger and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health took brain scans of 28 volunteers as they looked at images of frightening faces. The scan was measuring activity in the amygdala, the brain's fear center, as the person looked at the images.

Then the investigators analyzed the volunteers' DNA to see which form of the serotonin transporter gene they inherited. There are two varieties of the gene, one short and the other long.


from The Associated Press

VERDIGRE, Neb. (AP) -- Their numbers swelled by the drought, grasshoppers and Mormon crickets are ravaging crops and pastures across the West in what could be the biggest such infestation since World War II.

``They're even eating the paint off some of the houses,'' said Nebraska farmer Robert Larsen, who raises alfalfa, corn, soybeans and cattle on 1,600 acres where thousands upon thousands grasshoppers jump out of the way as he walks by in what looks like the parting of the sea.

The infestation threatens the livelihood of farmers and ranchers already suffering because of the dry spell.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

The humongous corpse of an endangered blue whale found floating near the Farallon Islands caused an oceanic tug-of-war between eager scientists and hungry great white sharks.

The sharks won.

Researchers hoping for an opportunity to study the rare and mysterious leviathan are now being forced to wait for the blubbery carcass to wash ashore -- and praying that it will -- while the sharks feed on their would- be science project.

A fishing boat captain first saw the giant Wednesday afternoon looking like a small island in the open ocean about 4 miles north of Point Bonita, near a pod of about a dozen blue whales, including a mother and calf.


from The (Boulder, CO) Daily Camera

University of Colorado researchers have focused an intense beam of light so tightly it may eventually let them make 3-D pictures of parts of cells, movies of the movements of molecules and even smaller computer chips.

By pulsing a fairly conventional laser through a glass tube filled with gas, Randy Bartels and his colleagues made a beam of extreme ultraviolet light that has a wavelength shorter than any laser today.

The beam was "coherent," said Bartels, a researcher at JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Coherence — the lining up of light waves with one another — lets engineers create precise cutting devices and navigation systems with lasers.


from The Roanoke (VA) Times

Virginia Tech researchers are once again delving into the mystery of Gulf War Syndrome, this time evaluating whether the uranium used in some high- tech ammunition, when combined with battlefield stress, could cause nerve damage.

Depleted uranium ammunition, which is used by U.S. and NATO forces against heavy-armor vehicles such as tanks, has come under fire in recent years from European officials who are concerned that the uranium may increase the risk of cancer in soldiers who come in close contact with the munitions or its residue. Several European soldiers who served in Kosovo with NATO forces have reportedly died of cancer, and American veterans groups have speculated whether depleted uranium could be causing some of the myriad of physical problems experienced by thousands of U.S. personnel who served in the Persian Gulf War.

U.S. military officials as well as radiation experts have vehemently denied any link with cancer, saying that depleted uranium is far less radioactive than natural uranium and is not dangerous at the levels encountered by military personnel. Other critics, however, have suggested that depleted uranium may cause chemical poisoning in some circumstances.


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Beads of doubt


Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

One of the most important principles of physics, that disorder, or entropy, always increases, has been shown to be untrue.

Scientists at the Australian National University (ANU) have carried out an experiment involving lasers and microscopic beads that disobeys the so-called Second Law of Thermodynamics, something many scientists had considered impossible.

The finding has implications for nanotechnology - the design and construction of molecular machines. They may not work as expected.

It may also help scientists better understand DNA and proteins, molecules that form the basis of life and whose behaviour in some circumstances is not fully explained.

No discussion

Flanders and Swann wrote a famous song entitled The First And Second Law about what entropy meant and its implications for the physical world. It has become a mantra for generations of scientists.

The law of entropy, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is one of the bedrocks on which modern theoretical physics is based. It is one of a handful of laws about which physicists feel most certain.

So much so that there is a common adage that if anyone has a theory that violates the Second Law then, without any discussion, that theory must certainly be wrong.

The Second Law states that the entropy - or disorder - of a closed system always increases. Put simply, it says that things fall apart, disorder overcomes everything - eventually. But when this principle is applied to small systems such as collections of molecules there is a paradox.

Human scales

This Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the disorder of the Universe can only increase in time, but the equations of classical and quantum mechanics, the laws that govern the behaviour of the very small, are time reversible.

A few years ago, a tentative theoretical solution to this paradox was proposed - the so-called Fluctuation Theorem - stating that the chances of the Second Law being violated increases as the system in question gets smaller.

This means that at human scales, the Second Law dominates and machines only ever run in one direction. However, when working at molecular scales and over extremely short periods of time, things can take place in either direction.

Now, scientists have demonstrated that principle experimentally.

Fraction of a second

Professor Denis Evans and colleagues at the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University put 100 tiny beads into a water-filled container. They fired a laser beam at one of the beads, electrically charging the tiny particle and trapping it.

The container holding the beads was then moved from side to side a thousand times a second so that the trapped bead would be dragged first one way and then the other.

The researchers discovered that in such a tiny system, entropy can sometimes decrease rather than increase.

This effect was seen when the researchers looked at the bead's behaviour for a tenth of a second. Any longer and the effect was lost.

Emerging science

The scientists say their finding could be important for the emerging science of nanotechnology. Researchers envisage a time when tiny machines no more than a few billionths of a metre across surge though our bodies to deliver drugs and destroy disease-causing pathogens.

This research means that on the very small scales of space and time such machines may not work the way we expect them to.

Essentially, the smaller a machine is, the greater the chance that it will run backwards. It could be extremely difficult to control.

The researchers said: "This result has profound consequences for any chemical or physical process that occurs over short times and in small regions."

The ANU work is published in Physical Review Letters.

Homeless cats find refuge in feng shui


By David Sapsted
(Filed: 19/07/2002)

An animal charity has installed feng shui gardens to enable rescued or abandoned cats to "chill out" and make them more appealing to prospective owners.

The four gardens were unveiled yesterday at the Wood Green Animal Shelter in Godmanchester, Cambs. Its new, Japanese-style refuge for cats comes with water features, pagodas and bamboo plants.

"The whole idea is to make the cats feel at home as much as possible in a cattery environment," said Nigel Mason, the charity's head of animal welfare. "The transition from the old accommodation to the new cattery village has also given us the ability to find new homes in half the time.

"The gardens have a definite Japanese theme about them, with rocks and stones placed in feng shui positions. Many cats that come to us are in a frozen animation state and elect to do nothing."

Construction of the new accommodation was made possible after the charity was left a ฃ1.3 million bequest.

Some tribal Indian women ploughed fields NAKED for rain. And more.

Madhya Pradesh (MP) is a state in the Indian union. Puja means prayer.

Bhopal, July 18

Tribal women ploughed their fields naked, people alive took out their own 'funeral' processions and eunuchs danced passionately. After a few hours, their prayers were answered.

Mild showers last night put an end to the longest dry spell in Madhya Pradesh after people resorted to superstitious methods in the past few days, frustrated by delayed monsoon rains.

In Satpali village, nearly 200 km from Khargone, more than a dozen tribal women ploughed their fields naked. It is common beleif among the tribals that it always rains if they plough naked.

Threatened by the spectre of a drought for the fourth consecutive year, people all over the state performed special prayers for rains at temples, mosques, church and gurudwaras in various parts of Bhopal.

In Bhopal, the ''City of Lakes'', where delayed monsoon has severly affected city's water supply system, eunuchs, on the request of a local BJP leader, danced passionately on the parched land of the Upper Lake, singing traditional folk songs to offer prayers.

A large portion of the Upper Lake has dried up for the first time, according to local elders.

In the Malwa region, people caught frogs and laid them on the ground, as if in a rally of frogs, to make them utter the sound which is believed to bring rains.

In some areas, superstition of the people received the support of the establishment. The Harda district administration urged its citizens to organise special 'pujas' to appease the rain god.


The Time Travel FundTM

Your ticket to the future!

Morlocks aside, how would you like to visit, even live hundreds of years in the future? There may be a way, and that is the purpose of this site.

Q: How does this work?

A: Current scientific theory states that Time Travel may be possible, however the technology is a long way off, perhaps hundreds of years in the future. Now, assume it does become possible in say, 500 years. As with any technology, Time Travel will get less expensive as time goes on. Just as the price of a VCR has dropped to less than $70 from the several hundred dollars it cost just ten years ago, Time Travel, once it becomes feasible, will initially be very expensive yet it will become more and more economical as time goes by.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – July 18, 2002

from Newsday

Subtle damage left behind by viral infections may set the stage for cancer to erupt long after the viruses have gone, scientists reported yesterday.

The hidden damage left by the virus may cripple the cell's vital gene- repair system. Without repairs, mutations may accumulate among the genes and later cause cancer, researchers at the Salk Institute in California suggested in the journal Nature.

The findings, if confirmed, may answer one of the most vexing questions in cancer research: How viruses might trigger the wildfire growth of cancer - without leaving genetic footprints of their own behind.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A version of the date-rape drug GHB significantly helps a dangerous complication of the sleep disorder narcolepsy, the government ruled in deciding that certain patients now can buy it.

But the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the version named Xyrem late Wednesday came with some of the most severe restrictions ever imposed on a medicine. The agency's move, nevertheless, carves out a single medical use for an otherwise illegal chemical.

Throughout the 1990s, the government had cracked down on illegal GHB use -- abused as a party drug, sex and athletic enhancer and, because it can knock people out, a date-rape drug. Several dozen deaths are blamed on the chemical. But GHB was hard to stop because it was easy for people to mix up with some common chemicals.


from The Associated Press

The tiny parasite that causes malaria may be older and more resistant to drugs than previously believed, according to a pair of new studies.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health mapped large sections of the parasite's DNA to determine how far back it dates in evolutionary history and found it may have originated between 100,000 and 180,000 years ago - instead of as recently as 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

The difference is important when deciding the best way to fight malaria, a blood disease transmitted by mosquitoes that afflicts an estimated 500 million people each year and kills as many as 3 million.

If malaria DNA is fairly uniform genetically, implying it has more recent origins, doctors could more easily develop a vaccine or drugs to prevent or cure the disease. However, if the parasite's DNA has large variations, a vaccine that prevents one strain could lead to mutations that give rise to more resistant strains that could be deadlier.


from The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (July 17, 2002 4:29 p.m. EDT) - Health officials are keeping a close eye on the incidence of West Nile virus in Louisiana after four new cases were confirmed this week, bringing the number to seven this year.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta confirmed this week that a 34-year-old woman and three men, ages 62, 76 and 79 had the mosquito-borne virus.

Last week, state health officials reported that three people, ages 53, 62 and 78, had the disease. The 78-year-old man was the nation's first human found to have the disease this year.


from The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) -- Attorneys general from 11 states sent a letter Wednesday to President Bush calling on him to end the administration's "regulatory void" and address the growing threat of global warming.

A White House spokesman said the president was working on a "common-sense approach."

The letter from the 11 Democrats criticizes the Republican president for failing to create a national policy to curb carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles and power plants that contribute to global warming.


from The Associated Press

The children of mothers who go to work full time before the babies are 9 months old have poorer mental and verbal development at age 3 than those with stay-at-home mothers, Columbia University researchers report.

Researchers measured the cognitive and verbal development of children at various ages and found lower scores for 3-year-olds whose mothers took jobs working 30 hours per week or more before the child was 9 months old. The test was a school-readiness assessment that measured recognition of numbers, letters, shapes, comparisons and colors.

But Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, one of the study authors, cautions mothers not to panic about the findings.



GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It hasn't rained much in central Florida for three years, but a short while ago it rained for a week, giving Mark Hostetler a chance to check for bug splats at the bus station.

Bugs come alive when it rains. Mosquitoes hatch. Mole crickets try their wings. Flying ants take off to start new ant hills. Often, these bugs fly across roads and have fatal run-ins with vehicles. Dr. Hostetler, who is 37 years old and a wildlife biologist here at the University of Florida, identifies the remains.

"I can claim expertise in bug splats," Dr. Hostetler said, pulling his Honda into the Greyhound parking lot; he has determined that the front of a Greyhound bus is an ideal splat catcher. "I've collected splats of various colors and sizes and matched them to carcasses," he said.


from The New York Times

ABOARD JOHNSON SEA-LINK, off Cape Hatteras, N.C., July 15 — Two hundred thirty feet below the surface, clouds of silt are rising from the remains of the Civil War ironclad Monitor as a Navy diver vacuums up 140 years of mud and debris inside its gun turret.

Nearby on the seabed, a large mesh basket is catching the outflow from the diver's hose. Experts will search it for things like bones from the 16 men who died when the Monitor sank while under tow in December 1862, nine months after its celebrated battle with the Confederate ironclad Merrimack. Already, divers have found a leather shoe and a glass button.

Freeing the revolving gun turret — the world's first — and lightening it for lifting are the culmination of a five-year, $14 million effort by a team of military and civilian restorers to bring important pieces of the Monitor back to land for conservation and public display.

The Monitor was launched in January 1862, from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, its 172 feet of innovations covered by 280 patents. One of history's best-known warships, it now sits upside down on the seabed, a mass of deteriorating wood and metal, half buried in sand.


from The New York Times

WHAT'S your age? Your salary?

Online merchants who ask nosy questions like that on surveys at their Web sites have learned what usually honest visitors will do.

Fib, most likely.

People give false answers to protect their privacy. Then, because the data is so unreliable, companies can't use it to help them run their businesses.

Two I.B.M. researchers have devised software that seeks to get around this information age impasse. Rakesh Agrawal and Ramakrishnan Srikant, computer scientists at the I.B.M. Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., have devised a data-mining program that would cloak individual truthful answers that people might enter once their trust was won but still recover important characteristics of the overall group.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Rare Earth Debate Part 1: The Hostile Universe


posted: 07:00 am ET 15 July 2002

When the book "Rare Earth" was published two years ago, it raised a great deal of controversy among astrobiologists. Written by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, the book's hypothesis suggests complex life is rare in the universe, and may even be unique to Earth. If life does occur elsewhere, the authors contend, it will only be in the form of single-celled microbial life such as bacteria.

This debate, a 5-part series beginning today, will cover a variety of topics prompted by the Rare Earth hypothesis. The moderator is Michael Meyer, the NASA senior scientist for astrobiology.

Genetics Society Speaks in Favor of Evolution

The Genetics Society of America (GSA) has joined a growing number of organizations contributing position statements in favor of teaching evolution, and rejecting pseudoscientific ideas such as "scientific creationism" and "intelligent design."

The GSA's statement reads in part, "[t]he GSA supports educating students in genetics, and consequently feels it important to express its views on the teaching of evolution in elementary and secondary schools. The GSA strongly endorses such teaching, as genetics and evolution are two very closely interwoven disciplines. In fact, evolution might be summarized as population genetics over time."

The GSA has given NCSE permission to publish the statement in our volume Voices for Evolution. Voices contains over 100 statements from organizations in the scientific, faith, civil liberties, and education communities affirming their commitment to evolution education. NCSE makes Voices for Evolution available in book form for $8 plus $2 shipping and handling to NCSE members, or $10 plus $2 shipping and handling to nonmembers.

You can read the full text of the GSA's statement at:

You can also view the full collection of position statements at the links available on this page. (Look for links to Voices for Evolution and New Voices for Evolution.)

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

Banning plan outrages community


CROMWELL -- Just as a group determined to have all materials dealing with witches or witchcraft removed were petitioning for their cause on Tuesday, an overwhelming number of responses through media outlets and Web sites were blasting the group's efforts. "This is intolerance and bigotry at its purest. Hitler would have been proud of these people," wrote Rev. Gisela G. Oeding in a message posted on Web site of The Middletown Press on Tuesday. "The thought that children will suffer because of their parent's hatred and fear breaks my heart."

The group sponsoring the petition is made up of a number of devout Christians who feel that books such as "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" -- which is taught at the Cromwell Middle School -- is anti-Christian and glorifies the practice of witchcraft. The group would like to such books, which include the "Harry Potter" books, removed from the school system.

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