NTS LogoSkeptical News for 6 August 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, August 06, 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 – August 6, 2002

from The Washington Post

One year after President Bush told the nation he had resolved one of the toughest dilemmas facing his young administration -- whether the federal government should fund human embryo cell research -- the research boom that scientists hoped would follow has yet to materialize.

In Bush's televised address on Aug. 9, 2001, and in a news briefing the next day, the president and his top aides said the new policy, allowing limited federal funding, would give scientists access to more than 60 different colonies of precious human embryonic cells. Federally funded studies could probably get underway by the beginning of 2002, the aides said.

Twelve months later, only three colonies of embryo cells are readily available to researchers. Moreover, despite the field's widely acknowledged medical potential, only nine research laboratories applied for the first round of federal grants -- evidence, some say, of a "chilling effect" from the lingering political controversy over embryo research.

By contrast, embryo cell research is speeding ahead in several other countries, threatening U.S. dominance in a realm of biology that many believe is poised to revolutionize medicine.


from The Associated Press

ATLANTA - National health officials warned Monday that the West Nile virus is here to stay and that simple prevention efforts, such as wearing insect repellant, are the best way to manage the epidemic.

CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reporters that she wasn't surprised human infections have risen since the disease spread south and west from New York, where it was first seen in 1999. The disease has been found in 88 people this year.

Gerberding insisted there is little chance of eliminating the mosquito- borne disease, especially when it spreads to areas with longer summers and warmer water.

Instead, she said, officials should spray for mosquitoes as much as possible and people should eliminate standing water from their lawns to reduce their risk. Wearing insect repellent and long pants and shirts are also recommended.


from The Boston Globe

It was a milestone that public health specialists had been dreading.

For a year, antibiotics simply didn't work on an infection in a 40-year-old Michigan woman's foot. Even when she took vancomycin - the powerful drug physicians turn to when others fail - the staphylococcus aureus bacteria in the infection persisted, finally forcing doctors to amputate one of her toes.

The woman, it turned out, had become an incubator for a new, more powerful strain of staph bacteria that refused to die when exposed to vancomycin. Apparently, the staph growing inside her had acquired genes from another, less-dangerous type of bacteria that allowed it to repel vancomycin's assault on its cell walls. Just as staph had done with penicillin 50 years earlier, the fast-evolving bacteria had found a way to outwit human defenses again.

We might only have ourselves to blame. Despite warnings since the 1980s that overuse of antibiotics was giving harmful bacteria opportunity to build up tolerance to treatment, the drugs are still sometimes prescribed simply as a precaution. And prescriptions for antibiotics continue to rise. It seems striking that there were 10 million prescriptions for azithromycin (used to treat respiratory tract infections) in 1997, and 23 million in 2001. This data comes from IMS Health, which tracks prescriptions nationwide.


from The Associated Press

OFF CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (AP) -- It's rusty, covered with coral and pocked with dents. But to the divers and scientists who pulled it from the ocean floor, it's irresistible.

"She's beautiful," Navy dive chief Cmdr. Bobbie Scholley said Monday after the gun turret from the Civil War warship USS Monitor broke through the waves for the first time since it sank during a storm nearly 140 years ago.

As crews cheered, the 120-ton turret was pulled out of the depths by a huge crane on a 300-foot barge. A Civil War-era American flag fluttered from the salvage apparatus and silt-colored water poured out of the turret before the wreckage was swung aboard the barge.


from The New York Times

Pfiesteria piscicida, the microbe with a fearsome reputation for killing fish and endangering human health, may not be a villain after all, some researchers say.

Theories that the microbe is to blame for spectacular fish kills in North Carolina and elsewhere on the East Coast are based on a misreading of the microbe's life cycle, these researchers assert. According to several recent articles, including two being published this week, pfiesteria does not morph into a multitude of toxin-producing forms, as has been reported, but is an ordinary marine microbe, maybe toxic neither to fish nor to people.

What is killing fish, the researchers believe, is a water-borne fungus known as Aphanomyces invadans.

Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, the North Carolina State University botanist who named Pfiesteria piscicida and first brought it to public attention, maintains as she originally reported that the microbe is toxic and goes through amoeba-like stages in its life cycle. The laboratories with which she has shared her special strain of pfiesteria largely agree. Pfiesteria's toxin has recently been isolated, her supporters say, and her critics will look foolish when the toxin's chemical structure is announced this October.


from The New York Times

Two ancient skulls, one from central Africa and the other from the Black Sea republic of Georgia, have shaken the human family tree to its roots, sending scientists scrambling to see if their favorite theories are among the fallen fruit.

Probably so, according to paleontologists, who may have to make major revisions in the human genealogy and rethink some of their ideas about the first migrations out of Africa by human relatives.

Yet, despite all the confusion and uncertainty the skulls have caused, scientists speak in superlatives of their potential for revealing crucial insights in the evidence-disadvantaged field of human evolution.

The African skull dates from nearly 7 million years ago, close to the fateful moment when the human and chimpanzee lineages went their separate ways. The 1.75-million-year-old Georgian skull could answer questions about the first human ancestors to leave Africa, and why they ventured forth.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Patients facing a potentially terminal disease often are forced to make a decision no one can fully be prepared to consider: whether or not to participate in a study of experimental medicine that could prolong life. While such a decision may seem like an easy one, conflicting perceptions makes an answer difficult to reach.

On one hand, there's a growing controversy about such tests as reports emerge of violations nationwide involving human research subjects.

On the other hand, researchers maintain that serious infractions are rare, and they are telling potential volunteers stories of hope -- how science is poised to deliver medical miracles in an age of genome sequencing and other technological breakthroughs.


from Newsday

A growing number of young men and women are being diagnosed with a baffling and potentially fatal psychiatric condition called borderline personality disorder. The disease is marked by impulsivity, unstable relationships, outbursts, self-harming behavior and mood disturbances. Until recently, few therapists would take on patients diagnosed with the disorder because there was no effective treatment, and they feared the patients wouldn't get any better and might even kill themselves. More than 70 percent of these patients engage in self-harming behavior, and one in 10 commits suicide. While the government has sponsored epidemiological studies to assess how common certain mental disorders are in the general population, it was only last year that borderline personality disorder was included. And the results - one to two diagnosed per 100 people questioned - suggest that it is as common as manic-depression and schizophrenia.

Now federal agencies and private organizations are waking up to the seriousness of the illness, according to Dr. Larry Siever, a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. They're providing funds to study its development, course and treatment in an attempt to understand people who act on suicidal thoughts. "This is a very serious disease," said Siever, whose brain-scan studies have shown the first hints of a biological abnormality.

But while scientists are beginning to unravel the biology of the disorder, hospital-based treatment programs remain scarce.


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,



Robert L. Park
Department of Physics
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland 20783

A best-selling health guru insists that his brand of spiritual healing is firmly grounded in quantum theory; half the population believes Earth is being visited by space aliens who have mastered faster-than-light travel; and educated people are wearing magnets in their shoes to restore their natural energy. Why, in an age of science, does irrationalism appear to be raging out of control?

The persistent irony is that science begets pseudoscience. The more science succeeds, the more it attracts imitators who cloak foolish and often fraudulent claims in the language and symbols of science. With spectacular advances in science and medicine being announced almost daily, the public has come to expect scientific "miracles." And of course, there are "miracles" aplenty, or at least scientific wonders that would have seemed like miracles a few short decades ago. Too often, however, those with little exposure to the methods and ideas of modern science are unable to distinguish genuine scientific advances from the claims of misguided zealots or unscrupulous hucksters.

Staircase mystery may be solved, but the miracle remains


SANTA FE - Only here, in the City of Holy Faith, could the notion of a miracle wrought by a mysterious angel thrive against evidence to the contrary.

Talk of the supposed miracle didn't even start until decades after its purported occurrence. Since then, it has been nurtured and burnished into a hair-tingling tale of romantic excess.

And monetary benefit.

Pay the $2.50. Step inside the Loretto Chapel. Visit its gift shop.

Seven days a week, camera-toting tourists crowd into what is now a private museum. Chattering away, they nearly drown out the audio tape that tells - over and over, hour after hour - the saga of the miraculous staircase.

Cosmic Energy


Although the twentieth century will certainly pass into history as a century of scientific achievements and unprecedented progress, it has not provided explanations of many historical and even new phenomena, which in many instances are denoted as mysteries. The reason of this may be found in the many still undiscovered pieces of the mosaic of general knowledge which constitute obstacles to a continuous progress in some fields of science, as well as in the belief that the progress of civilization must proceed in the direction approved by us in advance. According to the prevailing concept, apart from what has already been discovered, nothing so far unrevealed could have existed in the past. And these points of view did not allow us to understand the activities of ancient cultures, and these have been so to speak compressed, "at all costs", to fit our concepts. The respective assessments were of course not very plausible, and the same applies to many other hypotheses. For the same reasons it has been impossible to find viable explanations of a number of controversial phenomena of the present time.

Our empirical research has yielded some so far unknown facts that offer convincing substantiation for a number of so far unexplained phenomena. We have been surprised that some new items of information have taken us back into ancient history, while others have focused our attention on unknown fields of energy. We were not able to comprehend that natural energy, which is all around us and even constitutes a significant part of the human body, could have remained hidden for science up to the end of the 20th century. It appears incredible that at the time of computers and cosmic flights we will have to acquaint the public with an energy that had been utilized by mankind some thousands years ago. We are aware that this will not be a simple task, but we will do our best. First of all we will acquaint the reader briefly with the development of our research, and later on will deal in more detail on some practical examples.

CSICOP in the News and On The Air

Amherst, NY (August 6, 2002)-- It's easy for skeptics to feel beleaguered when faced with the flood of credulous reporting in print, on the radio and on TV. That's why I think it's important to let you know about some of the great media coverage CSICOP has been getting lately.

In anticipation of the new Hollywood movie, "Signs," CSICOP has been on a marathon crop circle media blitz over the past eight days; In addition, the past three weeks have kept Paul Kurtz, Joe Nickell and other CSICOP staff busy on studio phone lines for morning and afternoon talk radio shows across the United States. The CSICOP Announcement List recently tallied several interviews Paul Kurtz has given to media worldwide.

Adding to this the media successes of the Burbank skeptics conference in June, which included taped interviews of dozens of CSICOP fellows by BBC Radio and a production company for The Learning Channel, it becomes clear that CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer have been effectively getting the word out on a slew of paranormal and junk-science claims. I can also guarantee that in coming weeks, we'll be announcing even better news about our media outreach.

Here's a list of some of the great coverage we've enjoyed in the past few weeks:


August 2, 2002
"The News with Brian Williams" 7:00 PM EDT (GMT - 4 hr)
Joe Nickell interviewed on crop circles. Joe, Ben Radford and Kevin Christopher demonstrate the techniques to create crop circles.

NEWSPAPER CROP-CIRCLE MEDIA BLITZ: (Boston, Indianapolis, New York, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, New Jersey State, National)

July 28, 2002
New York Daily News

The new movie 'Signs' exploits the corny crop-circle phenomenon" by Jami Bernard
http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/nydailynews/index.html?ts=1028300309 (FEE for FULL ARTICLE)

August 1, 2002
Boston Globe
by Vanessa E. Jones, Globe Staff


August 1, 2002
Indianapolis Star
"Mystery or mischief? Crop circle phenomenon preys on our imagination."
By John J. Shaughnessy"


August 1, 2002
Salt Lake Tribune
"Film Opening Triggers Memories of Utah's Crop Circles"
By Vince Horiuchi


August 1, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
"Cereal spin doctors
Crop circles: Precursors to a close encounter with ET or merely catering to the public's appetite for 'occult metaphors'?"
by Rick DelVecchio SF Chronicle Staff Writer


August 2, 2002
"It's harvest time for crop-circle hype"
by Alan Boyle


August 2, 2002
Denver Post
"Circular argument crops up yet again
Skeptics, believers continue debate"
By Michael Booth, Denver Post Staff Writer


Monday, August 05, 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 – August 5, 2002

from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - An international team has completed the most comprehensive map ever of the genetic code of the mouse, an accomplishment that will make the laboratory animal more useful to scientists studying human health and disease.

The map covers an estimated 98 percent of the order of the nearly 3 billion letters that make up the mouse code, or genome.

Two efforts have nearly completed the deciphering of those letters, and the map will serve as an atlas of the genome and allow scientists to zero in on regions of interest. It will also permit scientists to fill in gaps that remain in the deciphering efforts, which remain in draft form.

Details are to appear Monday in the online edition of the journal Nature.


The map is available for public review on the Internet here:


from The San Francisco Chronicle

More Americans than ever are taking part in clinical trials, but the rules protecting human test subjects are so fragmented that they may be leaving some of the estimated 20 million volunteers exposed to unnecessary risk.

Indeed, critics say, the rules regulating research on monkeys are more consistent than those for people.

"If you do research with animals in this country, regardless of the funding or where it is done, it is all regulated by the same rules," said Adil Shamoo, a professor at University of Maryland at Baltimore and a critic of the system. "With human beings, this is not the case."

Critics say the potential peril stems from the fact that safeguards vary widely, depending on the type of study, where it's done and whether it's sponsored by a university or a drug firm.


from The Washington Post

Public health officials are deeply concerned about the West Nile virus, but residents in Slidell, La., a town at the outbreak's epicenter, seem to have a nonchalant attitude about the dangers mosquitoes pose. West Nile has killed four people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in recent weeks and sickened 88 others in the largest outbreak of the disease since it arrived in this country three years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rushed 10 scientists to the region last week. In Louisiana, the state hit hardest, Gov. Mike Foster (R) has declared a state of emergency.

Much of the focus is on this swampy little town on Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans. Along with nearby environs, it has logged the most cases -- 18 people infected and one dead.

Throughout St. Tammany Parish, spraying has been intensive, with exhausted crews going out every night, two planes flying and the mosquito control budget already nearly exhausted. "We've increased our spraying operations three-fold, four-fold," said the parish mosquito control director, Charles Palmisano.


from The Associated Press

WEST COVINA, Calif. (AP) -- California is counting on 2,000 chickens to provide early warning for when the potentially deadly West Nile virus reaches the state.

Under a state- and county-run program, chickens placed statewide have their blood regularly tested for antibodies that would indicate they were bitten by virus-carrying mosquitoes.

On a recent morning, Amanda Colombo, a 24-year-old summer employee of the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District, took samples from six Rhode Island red hens. Drawing them one by one from their coop, she gripped them between her legs unceremoniously but firmly, then pricked their combs with a needle.

So far, no trace of the virus has been found in California or other Western states but its arrival appears guaranteed.


from The Washington Post


Picture a 9-foot-tall top hat, but with no brim, and with sides made of iron eight inches thick. Then poke two holes halfway up for a pair of cannons and leave room inside for ammo and a few sailors from the Union navy.

Now turn the entire thing upside down, drop it to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and fill it with sand, dirt and close to 50 tons of coal from a ship's massive engines. Leave it there, in 240 feet of seawater, for 139 years.

Last evening, Navy Cmdr. Bobbie Scholley said that strong undersea currents and shifting winds had delayed the final effort by Navy divers to lift the 160-ton piece of history -- the gun turret of the USS Monitor -- to the surface. If the turret is raised today, as Scholley said was possible after a barge on the surface is repositioned, it would end a five-year recovery of the major pieces of the famous ironclad warship.

The process has been immense. The industrial-looking barge with a 500-ton crane floats above the Monitor's watery grave, an eight-legged claw dubbed "the spider" attached to the turret. Hoses bring an oxygen mixture to a steady stream of divers, whose summer has been spent in darkness at the ocean's bottom, clearing the turret of debris and rigging it for its ascent through 40 fathoms.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

An unknown infectious agent may be responsible for a five-fold increase in mental illness over the last two centuries, a controversial psychiatrist proposes in a new book.

The claim by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a noted psychiatrist-author and scourge of mainstream psychiatry, challenges common explanations that mental illness is caused by a combination of genetic factors and environmental influences, such as family upbringing.

Torrey's new book also defies two schools of academic thought: One is that rates of at least one major type of mental illness, schizophrenia, have sharply declined or remained stable.

The second is that the extensive construction of "insane" asylums from the 18th to the mid-20th centuries was at least partly driven by nonmedical aims -- to suppress iconoclasts and other socially marginal people.


from UPI

Although last fall's anthrax letters spurred the federal government to tighten up security at laboratories that work with the deadly bacteria, this may not be enough to prevent someone from removing anthrax from a lab illegally and launching another attack, experts told United Press International.

An FBI official who requested anonymity said since the anthrax mailings the agency has been "working very closely with (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and any other entity and we have done all that we can to secure any of these labs - as have the labs themselves."

The official added, "We are working closely with any and all authorities that have anything to do with anthrax strains or anthrax studies." The official declined to give details about the steps taken to secure anthrax labs because doing so could compromise the ongoing investigation to identify the culprit responsible for the attacks.

As reported by UPI, FBI agents investigating the anthrax attacks searched the apartment of Steven Hatfill for a second time last week. Hatfill, who has not been charged or called a suspect in the case, is a former employee at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) - the military's main facility for conducting biowarfare research - and had access to anthrax spores similar to the ones used in the attacks last fall, which killed five people.


from UPI

Many of us dream of a cabin in the Rocky Mountains, near a national park or forest, where we can hike easily into the wilderness. If our new second home doesn't burn down from an inconvenient wildfire, we want to watch the native birds, stroll among the local wildlife, fish the trout-fattened streams and generally play the country squire.

A mounting body of evidence, however, indicates the large footprints of our new homes are displacing the very wild things we've come to enjoy.

Studies by two Montana State University scientists indicate "Rural sprawl may be driving species toward local extinction. New research suggests that ranchettes in the Yellowstone (National Park) area could degrade the best habitat for birds and so cut their population growth below sustainable levels."

The phrase "rural sprawl" is a capsule description of profound changes that have occurred in the America West over the past 30 years.


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,

Daschle, Lott Oppose Polygraphs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate leaders agreed Sunday that members of Congress should not submit to lie detector tests as part of an FBI investigation of intelligence leaks.

``I think it's a bad idea. I think that it's an infringement constitutionally on the legislative branch. And I don't think there's much support for it,'' said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

The Republican leader, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, agreed the ``separation of powers is certainly a difficult one'' but that lawmakers should heed Bush administration warnings about leaks.

``I have to say that the thing for members of Congress to do is to keep their mouths shut when it involves sensitive and classified information,'' said Lott, who appeared with Daschle on ABC's ``This Week.''

The FBI investigation was requested by congressional intelligence committees after news organizations reported details of Arabic conversations intercepted by the National Security Agency on Sept. 10. The conversations made vague references to an impending attack on the United States.

FBI officials have said polygraph tests are a standard investigative technique and are always voluntary.

Man Found with Human Heart Gets Witchcraft Rap


Fri Aug 2, 9:02 AM ET

LUSAKA, Zambia (Reuters) - A Zambian man has been jailed for witchcraft after a human heart was found in his possession, and police are investigating a possible murder, state radio and prosecutors said Thursday.

Moses Chisambo, 60, pleaded guilty to charges of witchcraft and possession of various items used in the trade, including a "witchcraft gun" -- a gun-shaped piece of wood believed to be used by witches to kill people at night.

"A fresh human heart wrapped in a chitenge (wrapping cloth) and a witchcraft gun ... used in mysterious killings of people were found in Chisambo's possession," said the radio.

Chisambo, from the Kabompo district, 590 miles northwest of the capital Lusaka, was jailed for 18 months.

Witchcraft is a criminal offense in Zambia, an officially Christian country where black magic is widely practiced in deeply superstitious rural communities.

Zambia's director of public prosecutions Mukelebai Mukelebai said Chisambo had not been charged with a serious more offence because police were still trying to find out how he got the heart.

"If it is found that murder was committed, then such a charge will follow," Mukelebai told Reuters.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Carbon dioxide turned into hydrocarbon fuel


16:00 02 August 02
Eugenie Samuel, Boston

A way to turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons has caused a big stir at an industrial chemistry conference in New Brunwick, New Jersey. Nakamichi Yamasaki of the Tokushima Industrial Technology Center in Japan says he has a process that makes propane and butane at relatively low temperatures and pressures.

Earth 'getting fatter'


Friday, 2 August, 2002, 04:16 GMT 05:16 UK

Scientists have known for some time that the Earth is not a perfect sphere.

It is shaped a little like a pumpkin - wider at the middle and narrower at the poles. It is a difference of more than 20 kilometres.

But now new research published in the journal Science suggests our planet is getting even wider - if only by the odd millimetre.

The scientists behind the report, Christopher Cox and Benjamin Chao, base their findings on space-based observations from past 25 years.

Scientists unravel secrets of long life

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2167316.stm Friday, 2 August, 2002, 00:19 GMT 01:19 UK
By Richard Black
BBC science correspondent

Scientists in the United States have discovered three things which help predict how long someone is going to live.

In a study published in the journal Science, they report that the length of a person's life is related to their body temperature, and to levels of two chemicals, insulin and DHEAS, circulating in the blood.

On average, people who have a lower body temperature live longer, as do those with lower levels of insulin, and those with higher levels of DHEAS.

Hubble astronomers feast on an interstellar hamburger

http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0208/03hamburger/ [includes picture]

Posted: August 3, 2002

Hold the pickles; hold the lettuce. Space is serving up giant hamburgers. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has snapped a photograph of a strange object that bears an uncanny resemblance to a hamburger. The object, nicknamed Gomez's Hamburger, is a sun-like star nearing the end of its life. It already has expelled large amounts of gas and dust and is on its way to becoming a colorful, glowing planetary nebula.

The ingredients for the giant celestial hamburger are dust and light. The hamburger buns are light reflecting off dust and the patty is the dark band of dust in the middle. The Hubble Heritage image, taken Feb. 22, 2002, with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, shows the structure of Gomez's Hamburger with high resolution, particularly the striking dark band of dust that cuts across the middle. The dark band is actually the shadow of a thick disk around the central star, which is seen edge-on from Earth. The star itself, with a surface temperature of approximately 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit (10,000 degrees Celsius), is hidden within this disk. However, light from the star does emerge in the directions perpendicular to the disk and illuminates dust above and below it.

The reason why the star is surrounded by a thick, dusty disk remains somewhat uncertain. It is possible that the central object is actually a pair of stars. If so, then the star that ejected the nebula may be rapidly rotating, expelling material mostly from its equatorial regions.

Stars with masses similar to our Sun's end their lives as planetary nebulae. The star evolves to become a bloated red giant, with a girth about 100 times greater than its original diameter. Then it ejects its outer layers into space, exposing the star's hot core. Ultraviolet radiation from the central core streams out into the surrounding ejected gas, causing it to glow. The glowing gas is called a planetary nebula. The Hubble Space Telescope has provided numerous spectacular images of planetary nebulae over the past several years, including the Ring Nebula and several others that have been released in the Hubble Heritage series.

Less well known are "proto-planetary nebulae," objects like Gomez's Hamburger that are in a state of evolution immediately before the true planetary-nebula stage. Just after the red giant expels its outer layers, the remnant star in the center is still relatively cool. Consequently, it emits ordinary visible light, but very little ultraviolet radiation. Therefore the surrounding gas does not glow. However, the ejected material also contains vast numbers of microscopic dust particles, which can reflect the starlight and make the material visible. This same effect of light scattering produces halos around streetlights on a foggy night.

The lifetime of a proto-planetary nebula is very brief. In less than a thousand years, astronomers expect that the central star will become hot enough to make the dust particles evaporate, thus exposing the star to view. At that time the surrounding gas will glow. Gomez's Hamburger will have become a beautiful, glowing planetary nebula.

Gomez's Hamburger was discovered on sky photographs obtained by Arturo Gomez, an astronomer at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The photos suggested that there was a dark band across the object, but its exact structure was difficult to determine because of the atmospheric turbulence that hampers all images taken from the ground. Gomez's Hamburger is located roughly 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA), for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Town in panic over bottom-pinching ghost

From Ananova at:


A northern Indian town believes it's being terrorised by a ghost which pinches women's bottoms.

Victims claim to suffer identical scratch marks from its claws, lose consciousness and wake up feeling dizzy.

More than 20 attacks have been reported to police in Biswan, Uttar Pradesh.

Women in the town have started walking around with padded posteriors.

Sub-Divisional Magistrate Akhilesh Singh told the Hindustan Times: "The incidents are for real."

Locals are reported to be maintaining nightly vigils on the terraces of homes, holding torches.

Dr S P Verma, a medical officer at the local government hospital, said: "The entire town has turned into insomniacs."

Residents are also demonstrating in large numbers to protest at the failure of police to do something about the attacks.

Police Inspector R D Yadav said: "We have registered at least 20 complaints so far. We can arrest a man, but not a ghost."

A team of scientists have arrived in the town to investigate the ghost reports but have so far failed to come up with any conclusive findings.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

World: Case against Church of Scientology expires in French courts



PARIS (July 30, 2002 6:05 p.m. EDT) - A Paris judge has ruled that a 13-year-old case against the Church of Scientology alleging fraud and illegal practice of medicine cannot go to trial because the statute of limitations has expired, a judicial official said Tuesday.

Judge Colette Bismuth-Sauron ruled Friday that there was a lack of progress in the investigation and rejected the case on procedural grounds, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The criminal probe into 16 leaders of the church was opened in 1989 after a criminal complaint was filed by a former Scientologist, Juan Esteban Cordero. He accused the group of "progressive mental conditioning" that led him to spend more than $167,000 on Scientology-related courses.

However, in 1998, hundreds of documents that were to be used as evidence in the case disappeared from the Justice Ministry.

Icon of Obfuscation


Jonathan Wells' book Icons of Evolution and why most of what it teaches about evolution is wrong

by Nic Tamzek [1]
Copyright © 2002
Version 1.0
[Last Modified: July 26, 2002]

Jonathan Wells' book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (henceforth Icons) makes a travesty of the notion of honest scholarship. Purporting to document that "students and the public are being systematically misinformed about the evidence for evolution," (p. XII) via common textbook topics such as peppered moths, embryo similarities, and fossil hominids [2], Icons in fact contains a bevy of its own errors. This is not original -- creationists have been making mistakes about evolution for years. Newly and more insidiously, however, Icons contains numerous instances of unfair distortions of scientific opinion, generated by the pseudoscientific tactics of selective citation of scientists and evidence, quote-mining, and "argumentative sleight-of-hand," the last meaning Wells' tactic of padding his topical discussions with incessant, biased editorializing. Wells mixes these ingredients in with a few accurate (but always incomplete) bits of science and proceeds to string together, often in a logically arbitrary fashion, a narrative that is carefully crafted to make the semblance of an honest case for Wells' central defamatory accusation: that mainstream biologists are "dogmatic Darwinists that misrepresent the truth to keep themselves in power" (pp. 242-243).

This essay will show that it is Wells' book Icons that is shot through with misrepresentations.

Boeing Builds a Saucer



Researchers at Boeing, the world's largest aircraft maker, are building an anti-gravity "flying saucer" based on the work of controversial Russian scientist Yevgeny Podkletnov, whose work is viewed with suspicion by scientists who haven't been able to reproduce his results. The project, code named Project Grasp, is being undertaken by the top-secret Phantom Works in Seattle, which handles Boeing's most sensitive programs.

Podkletnov claims to have figured out how to counter the effects of gravity in an experiment at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland in 1992. He says he found that objects above a superconducting ceramic disc rotating over powerful electromagnets lost weight.

Although the reduction in gravity was only about 2%, the implications for future airplane designs are enormous. Scientists who investigated Dr Podkletnov's work, however, say the experiment was fundamentally flawed.

Boeing is the latest institutions to try and replicate Podkletnov's experiment. The military wing of BAE Systems in the U.K. is working on an anti-gravity program called Project Greenglow. NASA is also attempting to reproduce Podkletnov's findings, but their preliminary report indicates the effect does not exist.

Will we soon be able to make UFOs? There's evidence that the military has been trying to do that for a long time. Read about it in "UFOs and the National Security State" by Richard Dolan, click here.

Friday, August 02, 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 - August 2, 2002

from The Miami Herald

For the first time, researchers have found evidence suggesting people may live longer by eating fewer calories each day, a dietary restriction that already has shown in experiments to extend the lives of laboratory animals by up to 40 percent.

Even if the evidence proves to be correct, it's unknown how much extra time people might live.

Laboratory studies for decades have shown that reducing the calories fed to lab mice and rats enabled the animals to live much longer, but the same effect has not been positively demonstrated in monkeys or in humans.

Now, George Roth and his colleagues at the National Institute on Aging say they have preliminary evidence that biological changes that help create super-aged rodents may also work in humans.

The biological markers -- lower temperature, lower insulin levels and a steady level of a steroid hormone called DHEAS -- all occur in restricted-diet rodents that live about 40 percent longer than fellow rodents on a normal diet, said Roth. The same biological markers have now been found in men who are living longest in a continuing study in Baltimore on aging.

"This means that the biological characteristics of animals that are on calorie-restricted diets seem to apply to longevity in people," Roth said.

But Roth, co-author of a study appearing today in the journal Science, said the results should be considered "preliminary" and he cautions that nobody should start starving in hopes of living longer. Instead, he said, the study gives only tantalizing hints that are worthy of further investigation about helping people to extend life.

Other experts said the study offers new hope about science some day finding ways to slow aging and extend life.


from The Washington Post

Scientists have discovered a gene that appears to help explain why some boys who are abused or mistreated are more likely than others to grow up to be aggressive, antisocial or violent.

The finding, which for the first time links a gene and an upbringing to a specific behavior, could help shed light on why some children who suffer trauma never seem to recover, while others are resilient. By showing that a particular environment can have devastating consequences for children with certain genes, the new research might one day identify children at greatest risk and help direct services to them.

While the implications for social policy could be profound, researchers warned against assuming that genes alone determine behavior, and said that any effort to peg certain children as potentially violent was simplistic and unethical.

Indeed, in the interplay between this particular gene and the environment, researchers found the environment played a dominant role. Absent abuse, the gene, which is involved in regulating brain chemicals, did not help predict whether a boy would grow up to be violent or aggressive. And some boys without the genetic variation became aggressive if they grew up in an abusive setting.

"On the one hand, the study is a wonderful example of this new frontier of science that provides us with what influences differential outcomes" in people, said Jack Shonkoff, a child development and social policy expert at Brandeis University who helped write an influential 2000 report by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine called "From Neurons to Neighborhoods."

"There is also this huge warning sign on the horizon that says: 'Be careful about premature conclusions; be careful about the misuse of science; be careful about oversimplistic conclusions that translate into reckless social policy; be careful about premature labeling and self-fulfilling prophecies,'" he said.

Rather than viewing the gene as a risk factor for violence, the researchers suggested the gene may be designed to play a protective role. One variant of the gene may remove that layer of protection. Only one third of the population has this "high-risk" version. Researchers said this might explain why most adults who suffer accidents and violence emerge emotionally unscathed.


from The Detroit Free Press

The science world is suddenly all excited about nothing.

After decades of shelving studies with negative results, researchers around the nation are agog about not one, but two new journals that focus only on studies that demonstrate what doesn't work.

Researchers say they think the new journals will accomplish two goals: They will save taxpayers from paying for duplicate studies, and they will help scientists learn from one another's mistakes.

Of course, these aren't necessarily mistakes. Sometimes, proving a negative can have positive results.

"I think these studies ought to be published so it's clear that certain things have been tried and done, and they haven't worked," said Dr. Bjorn Olsen, creator of the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine and chairman of the department of oral biology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

Olsen hopes to publish the first volume of his online journal this summer through BioMed Central, a well-respected online publisher of peer-reviewed journals. The other journal, the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, which focuses more on psychological studies, appeared online last month.

Major scientific journals such as Science and the New England Journal of Medicine usually publish studies with positive results that support the researcher's hypothesis, such as pill X was shown to be effective to combat cancer Y.

Established journals tend to avoid studies that have negative results because other scientists can't build directly on that research and see them as a dead end, said Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science.

But Bradford said she could see some value in such studies for those just starting their research and trying to see what has already been done.

Scott Kern is professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and editor of the Journal of Negative Observations in Genetic Oncology, which he started in 1997. The response to that negative journal has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

Kern's journal focuses on gene mutation studies and cancer. His hope is to stop scientists from performing the same study over and over again, simply because they don't know it has been done before because it never got published in a traditional journal.


from The Houston Chronicle

The West Nile virus has infected 58 Louisiana residents, killing four of them, while spreading to virtually every corner of the state, health officials said today.

Earlier this week, health officials confirmed that an 83-year-old Baton Rouge woman had died from West Nile. The latest victims include a 53-year-old man from Folsom, a 75-year-old man from Baton Rouge and a 72-year-old man from the Calcasieu Parish town of Iowa.

Today, the Department of Health and Hospitals said it had confirmed the first human cases of West Nile virus in Washington, Allen, Orleans, Calcasieu and Ouachita parishes.

Gov. Mike Foster declared a statewide emergency, a move he said could help bring in federal money to fight the nation's second-worst epidemic of the West Nile virus, which can cause the potentially fatal brain inflammation known as encephalitis, as well as milder illnesses.

Foster said he hopes the declaration will pave the way for federal cash to help parishes that are using up their money for mosquito spraying far faster than usual.

"There ought to be some kind of relief. This is an emergency situation," Foster said Thursday on his weekly "Live Mike" radio show.

Before the newly announced deaths, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed 185 cases, including 18 deaths, since the first Americans were diagnosed in 1999. The virus was first detected in New York City and now has been found in 34 states and the District of Columbia.


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,



Billy Meier's UFO photos remain unparalleled for their clarity and sheer number. Several variations of the Pleiadian/Plejaran "beamships" were photographed at various remote locations in the Swiss countryside, mostly between 1975 and 1982. For the bulk of his photos, Billy used a camera that was easy for him to operate (having only one arm) -- an Olympus 35 ECR still camera. He also filmed several sequences using an 8mm movie camera (see FIGU's web site for samples of the 8mm footage.) Billy also used another camera (with variable focus) to take the photos of the "wedding cake" ships as well as with a video camera.

The purpose of these photo demonstrations offered by the Pleiadians/Plejarans was to allow Billy the opportunity to acquire evidences in the form of photographic proof. (See FIGU's web site photo page for more of Billy's UFO photos.) This evidence is important as it can provide convincing testimony for the reality of Billy's contact experiences, if properly analyzed. This form of proof is also special since it affords each person the opportunity to decide for themself whether or not these contacts with extraterrestrials are really taking place, without harmfully infringing upon one's free will and beliefs. This policy of limited intervention by the Plejaran extraterrestrials, through photographic and metal-sample evidence, has served many purposes. Primarily, it has allowed both sides of the controversy -- the skeptics and those who are convinced it is real -- to form their own opinions through their individual level of research and study. In addition, it has brought about some desired goals of the extraterrestrials; one of which was to create a UFO controversy. This would urge a variety of scientists, government agencies, military services and other citizens to seriously preoccupy themselves with the subject of UFOs.

Many people still claim that Billy faked the hundreds of UFO photos he has taken to achieve some form of personal fame and/or monetary gain for himself, despite the positive analyses performed by several competent scientists and photo experts. Most of these allegations are not even backed up by scientific research, or they contain false, distorted data. In addition, it is a known fact that numerous photos of Billy's were carefully manipulated in the past to show strings and similar anomalies and were widely distributed in attempts to discredit him. However, the decision as to their authenticity ultimately lies with each and every individual...

Look to the Stars for Lottery Luck?


TOKYO (Reuters) - People hoping to win a lottery jackpot would be well advised to consult a zodiac chart before forking out for a ticket, if a survey released on Thursday by Japan's Mizuho Bank is to be believed. The survey of 3,515 lottery winners revealed that those born under the star sign of Capricorn were the most likely to win, followed by Aquarius and Pisces.

Least likely to hit the jackpot were people born under the sign of Gemini, according to the survey from the bank's lottery division, which handles the administration for various lotteries around the country.

Fortune-telling is a thriving industry in Japan, with everything from blood group to sushi preferences used to make predictions.

Cosmic Rays Help Resolve Global Warming Puzzle


ALBANY, New York, July 31, 2002 (ENS) - For the first time, researchers have evidence that interstellar cosmic rays could be the missing link that would explain why increases in Earth surface temperatures observed over the past 20 years, known as global warming, exist simultaneously with unchanging temperatures of the low atmosphere.

Because of this discrepancy, some have argued that global warming is unproven. They suggest that true global warming should show uniformly elevated temperatures from Earth's surface up through the atmospheric layers.

In the past, researchers have theorized that changes in cloud cover could help explain the phenomenon, but had not come up with an observation that could account for the difference in temperature profiles.

Fangqun Yu, a research associate with the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York-Albany, has shown that cosmic rays may have height dependent effects on Earth's cloudiness.

High clouds generally reflect sunlight while lower clouds tend to retain surface energy. Both effects are well known to science and both have significant effects on global temperatures.

A cosmic ray is a high speed particle - either an atomic nucleus or an electron - that travels throughout the Milky Way Galaxy, including the solar system. Some of these particles originate from the Sun, but most come from sources outside the solar system and are known as galactic cosmic rays.

These tiny charged particles bombard all planets with varying frequency depending on solar wind intensity.

Previous research has proposed a link between cosmic rays and cloud cover, but had not suggested the altitude dependence of the current study.

Yu's National Science Foundation supported study, published in the July 2002 issue of the American Geophysical Union's "Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics," proposes that cosmic rays are responsible for the varying heat profiles.

"A systematic change in global cloud cover will change the atmospheric heating profile," Yu said. "In other words, the cosmic ray induced global cloud changes could be the long sought mechanism connecting solar and climate variability."

Yu's hypothesis, if confirmed, could illuminate the Sun's role in global warming. The amount of cosmic rays reaching Earth depends on solar winds, which vary in strength by space weather conditions.

Yu points out that indications of Earth's warming have coincided with decreased cosmic ray intensity during the 20th century.

Recent satellite data have revealed a correlation between cosmic ray intensity and the fraction of the Earth covered by low clouds.

Yu proposes that the amount and charge of ions generated by cosmic rays can contribute to the formation of dense clouds by stimulating the production rate of low atmosphere particles that make the clouds more opaque.

Human contributions to climate change are not ruled out by explanations for the natural causes of global warming, but humans may not be solely responsible for the observed temperature increases.

Natural and human made differences in atmospheric chemistry, like greenhouse gas concentrations, can also affect the cosmic rays' influence on clouds, Yu says.

Such height dependent atmospheric differences can increase the quantity of ambient particles in the lower troposphere and decrease the particles in the upper air, says Yu, affecting the type of cloud cover over the Earth.

NASA links about cosmic rays:

Cosmic Rays Tutorial: http://ast.leeds.ac.uk/haverah/aims.shtml

Learn more about the solar wind at:

Witches threaten Romania's EU interests as revenge for TV ban

From Ananova at


Witches are threatening spells in revenge for being banned from TV by laws demanded as part of Romania's integration into the EU.

The regulation bans any direct or indirect promotion through radio or television of occult practices. It's aimed at protecting impressionable young audiences.

The country's National Witches Association claims it discriminates against white witches and should only apply to black magic.

They claim it is just another form of witch hunt directed by Christian priests who feel surpassed by the powers of white magic.

In a statement, the witches said: "This new law is a real threat to Romania's integration and we are going to do whatever is necessary for our own interest."

A representative of the witches community, Rodica Gheorghe, told the National newspaper: "It is outrageous and we will not accept it. Witches have been persecuted since the Inquisition because their powers are stronger than priests'.

"But we think such a measure should be taken only against those who use black magic and not against good witches who use white magic."

Cludiu Rusu, spokesman for the National Audio-Visual Council, said: "Programmes with miraculous healers and broom-riding witches who claim they can change the world are very harmful, especially for young audiences. We should not allow children or people in trouble to believe all those witches claim they can do."

First evidence for early bombardment of Earth


Posted: July 30, 2002

University of Queensland researchers have for the first time discovered terrestrial evidence of a meteorite bombardment nearly 4 billion years ago.

It is widely accepted that the moon was heavily bombarded at this time, creating huge craters and basins. But although the effect of these impacts is still clearly visible on the moon today, movement of Earth's dynamic plates over geological time have reshaped the terrestrial surface dramatically, leaving little evidence of these catastrophic events.

In a paper published in the international journal Nature, UQ researchers report evidence of the oldest impact events so far discovered on Earth.

The research team of Dr Ronny Schoenberg, Dr Balz Kamber and Professor Ken Collerson of UQ's new Advanced Centre for Isotope Research Excellence (ACQUIRE) made the discovery by analysing 3.8 billion year old rocks from West Greenland collected by Oxford University collaborator Professor Stephen Moorbath and from Northern Labrador in Canada collected by Professor Collerson.

The researchers found these very old metamorphosed sedimentary rocks -- derived from the Earth's early crust -- contain anomalies in the isotope composition of the element tungsten.

"Such anomalies are usually found in meteorites. To our knowledge, this is the first time these anomalies have been shown to exist in terrestrial samples" Professor Collerson said.

"There is no plausible mechanism by which tungsten isotope anomalies could have been preserved in the Earth's dynamic crust-mantle environment. Therefore, we conclude these rocks must contain a compound derived from meteorites."

"We have in effect found a chemical fingerprint in the earth's oldest terrestrial rocks of a heavy meteorite bombardment 3.8 to 4 billion years ago," he said.

"This finding has implications for the origin of life on earth as these giant impacts would have annihilated any possible existing life forms but also delivered complex molecules from carbonaceous chondrites -- a type of meteorite -- to the earth's surface," Dr. Kamber added.

"Further research on this unique collection of rocks will yield insight into the evolution of life on Earth provided provision of adequate research funding," Professor Collerson said.

Preacher's antics still a matter of faith


By STEVE BLOW / The Dallas Morning News

When he was a boy, Kevin Bostwick often went to church with his grandparents. And they always attended churches led by the Rev. W.V. Grant.

So when 25-year-old Kevin began searching for a church for his own family, it didn't take long to find himself at the Rev. Grant's Eagle's Nest Cathedral in eastern Dallas.

Yes, this is the same W.V. Grant whose slippery fund-raising tactics were discussed here in years past.

And, yes, it's the same W.V. Grant who was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison in 1996 for using church funds to purchase a $1.2 million home.

But Kevin wasn't aware of any of that. He just knew his grandparents put their trust in W.V. Grant. So he did, too.

Kevin's wife, Shauna, was a little shocked at first by the boisterous, miracle-healing church. "I grew up Catholic, so it was really different for me," she said. "But it was nice."

Kevin was thrilled to have his Far North Dallas family in such a dynamic church. "I felt wonderful. I thought, 'This is great. People are getting out of wheelchairs and being healed.' "

When little doubts arose about some of the healings, Kevin and Shauna pushed those aside and prayed for deeper faith.

In May, Kevin's mother visited from Florida and went with them to church. Earlier that week, in a phone chat with a woman on the church staff, Kevin had casually mentioned that his mother was having headaches.

That Sunday, the Rev. Grant singled out Kevin's mother in the congregation. "He came and talked to my mom. He said, 'God told me you have a headache.' Take off your shoes and run down the aisle and you will be healed.' "

Kevin's mother was astounded by this apparently miraculous insight into her health. She joyously took that run – and ended up giving $1,000 to the church that day.

Kevin was troubled, but he said nothing to his mother. "I didn't want to ruin her faith," he said.

Furthermore, how did he know if the staff member actually said anything to Rev. Grant about the headaches? "I thought maybe God really had told him," he said.

But Kevin and Shauna let their doubts keep them away from church a while. They had been going several times a week.

Kevin began to mull a guest preacher's sermon, one based on 1 John 4:1 – "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God...."

When that same woman from the church staff called a few days later to inquire about them, a "test of the spirits" suddenly came to Kevin's mind.

"I told her that I hadn't been feeling well. I said, 'In fact, I have just been diagnosed with throat cancer.'

"She said, 'You ought to come to church on Sunday. You might get a healing.' "

The Bostwicks went to church that Sunday. And sure enough, Rev. Grant called Kevin out from his pew during the service.

"Brother, right there with your legs crossed, come up here," Rev. Grant said to him. (Kevin later bought an audiotape of the service from the church.)

"This is not ESP or mind power or mental telepathy or fortune telling," Rev. Grant said to the congregation as Kevin was walking forward. "Paul called it 'the gifts of the spirit.' "

Rev. Grant then turned to Kevin. "God brought you here this morning," he said. "I've not talked to you about anything you're going through?"

"No," Kevin said.

"Nobody has walked up and asked you anything?"


"Can I tell you something – what I'm seeing? I hope this doesn't blow you away, but there's cancer in your body. There's a malignancy in your body, and you're too young to have this. And you've been having symptoms – especially right in here," Rev. Grant said, motioning to Kevin's throat. "Are you aware of what I'm talking about?"

Kevin said he felt terrible standing there telling a lie in church. But he also felt he was conducting a biblical test. So he plunged ahead. "Yes, I just found out this last week," he said.

"You just found out this week you have cancer?!" Rev. Grant said, seemingly amazed. "You haven't told this to me?"


"I've not talked with you or anything?"


On the tape, the congregation can be heard murmuring at this apparently miraculous diagnosis.

"Well, God says today's your day!" Rev. Grant went on. "Lift up your left hand. ... Yes, sir. Oh, hallelujah. We're serving a cancer specialist!

"I'm going to put my hand right here on the upper part of your esophogarian area. God says you're going to feel a heat. It's going to burn that cancer out, and you're going to have a testimony. Oh, hallelujah!

"I see a 'K' here.... What's your first name?"

"Kevin," he replied.

"Kevin! That's what I saw! Kevin, let the fire of the Holy Spirit burn this malignancy out! In Jesus' name! There it is!"

The congregation shouted praises and applauded at what appeared to be a miracle healing.

Kevin returned to his pew – supposedly cured of cancer, but now with a broken heart.

"I thought this was real," he said last week, still sounding dejected. "It makes me scared to go into any church now. I wonder if any of them are real."

Sometimes he argues with himself, saying Rev. Grant cleverly sidestepped some outright lies. "No, I hadn't spoken to him about this, that's true," he said.

And in especially blue moments, he wonders if maybe God has really given him throat cancer and Rev. Grant really saw it.

Shauna dismisses all that as nonsense. She's just mad – and thinks Rev. Grant is a fake and a fraud. "I want to strangle him," she said.

She wrote a long letter to the church outlining the deception and demanding a refund of their $2,750 in offerings.

Last week, Rev. Grant sent them a check for $1,903 – the amount they donated by check. The rest was given in cash, Kevin said.

"Dear Shauna and Kevin," said an accompanying letter. "I was saddened and disappointed that you chose to come to our church under false pretenses, and lie and deceive."

The letter repeatedly chided Kevin for his deception, but Rev. Grant offered no defense or explanation for his own deceit in making it appear God revealed the cancer to him.

I called the church to ask Rev. Grant about that. He responded by fax. "It was not my intention to mislead anyone," he wrote. "God shows things to all of us in many, many ways. Sometimes, God shows us through other people."

As for the nonexistent cancer that God supposedly showed him, he wrote, "This is a clear case of entrapment. I feel that in this situation, we are the victims, not the Bostwicks."

In his letter to the Bostwicks, Rev. Grant said, "The church board has requested you not come back, as your motives are not pure."

Kevin said that's fine. He had no intention of going back.

Right now, he wonders if he'll ever go back to any church. Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/localnews/columnists/sblow/stories/072802dnmetblow.5c4a0.html

Thursday, August 01, 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 - August 1, 2002

from The Miami Herald

WASHINGTON - A last-ditch compromise to provide a prescription drug benefit fizzled in the Senate Wednesday, dashing chances this year that Congress will help 40 million senior citizens on Medicare pay for their medication.

By a 50-49 vote, the Senate rejected a plan by Sens. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, and Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, to spend $390 billion over 10 years on a benefit primarily for the poorest Medicare recipients and those with the highest drug costs.

The plan, backed by the Democratic leadership, fell far short of the 60 votes needed under Senate budget rules. It was the fourth plan, two pushed by each party, to fail during a two-week debate that ended in an impasse -- as it has for four years.

A more modest bill to help bring down drug costs passed the Senate on a 78-21 vote. It's designed to get lower-cost generic drugs to the marketplace faster and allows re-importation of U.S.-made drugs from Canada, where they are cheaper.

The generics bill, which has not passed the House, could save consumers $60 billion in drug costs over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The legislation also included a massive influx of federal funds to bolster cash-strapped Medicaid programs serving 40 million poor people. The Medicaid provisions -- a response to heavy lobbying from governors -- would give states $6 billion in additional federal matching funds and $3 billion in grants to help pay for state-run child care and other social services programs.


from The Washington Post

Being even moderately overweight or obese increases a person's risk of developing heart failure, a serious condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs, according to data released yesterday from the long-running Framingham Heart Study.

The findings add heart failure to the long list of diseases and conditions to which obesity has been linked. For example, overweight or obese individuals are predisposed to developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, each of which also increases the risk of heart attack and of heart failure.

Previously, researchers were aware that severe obesity was an independent risk factor for heart failure, but the new data show that being even moderately overweight increases one's chances of developing the condition -- and the more overweight someone is, the greater the risk. Obesity alone accounts for 14 percent of cases of heart failure in women and 11 percent in men, according to estimates in the study, which appears in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Obesity "is almost a primordial risk factor," said Claude Lenfant, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "If you have it ...you are going to be pulled to all these problems, and eventually ...to heart failure."


Schizophrenia Medicine Found to Control Outbursts Associated With Disorder
from The Washington Post

Parents and educators can control the tantrums, aggression and self-injurious behavior of children with autism and related disorders by placing them on an antipsychotic medicine that is approved only to treat schizophrenia in adults, researchers reported yesterday.

Many psychiatrists have already placed children with autism and related problems on Risperdal, a member of a new class of schizophrenia medicines. Although the Food and Drug Administration has not approved such "off-label" use, doctors expect the new report to greatly expand antipsychotic prescriptions for this purpose.

Some mental health experts have expressed concern about the use of powerful medicines among young children. Worried by a spiraling rise in prescriptions, the New York State Office of Mental Health recently asked a panel of experts to study the long-term risks.

Some children with autism, an incurable disorder that can impair language, cognition and social skills, are easily provoked to uncontrolled bursts of anger and frustration, making it difficult for them to benefit from the intense learning structure that is the only way such children can acquire knowledge and routine social skills.

These outbursts range from tantrums, during which autistic children might slam doors or tip over tables, to outright violence, in which they might throw things at people, bite or scratch themselves or others, or bang their head with their fists, said Lawrence Scahill, an associate professor in child psychiatry and nursing at Yale University.

"If the medicine could reduce these behaviors, the child may be more available to remedial and rehabilitative efforts to learn, to dress themselves, to get on the school bus and make it to school," said Scahill, the principal investigator in a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.


from The Boston Globe

WELLFLEET - A.J. Cady spent Monday herding more than 50 pilot whales out to sea from a beach in Dennis. On Tuesday, he tried to do the same thing to the dwindling pod in Wellfleet Bay. But later that day, they were back. And as sunset approached, the 31 magnificent animals still alive were clumped in a thrashing, boisterous knot just a few feet from shore. The tide was going out; the water was still deep enough for the whales to swim for life. But they weren't going anywhere.

So the word came down that the animals would be euthanized. Cady took the pronouncement quietly. Then, minutes later, he said, "If we were told to try again, I would be jumping into this water in a heartbeat, headfirst."

He is one of an estimated 80 people, most of them volunteers, who spent two sweaty days in the low-tide muck trying to save whales because, as several of them would later explain, to help an animal help itself is a most human thing to do. What many of them probably don't realize is that scientific evidence supports their humanitarian efforts.

A survey of 17 mass strandings of whales and dolphins on Cape Cod from 1990 to 1999 concluded that 82 percent of the animals healthy enough to be escorted back to open water survived and did not strand themselves again. The paper, published last year in the Marine Mammal Science journal, examined the fate of all 376 cetaceans - pilot whales and dolphins - that beached on the Cape during the decade, according to the paper's author, David Wiley, marine mammal director at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.


from The Detroit Free Press

A new study finds nearly 5 million youngsters who are eligible for free health insurance aren't receiving it.

In many cases, parents don't know their children qualify for coverage through Medicaid, the national public health plan for poor people, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, created in 1997 to cover children of low-income working parents.

Nearly 2 million of the 4.7 million eligible children live in California, Texas and Florida -- populous states with large numbers of immigrants, whose English and awareness of public services are both often poor. Michigan, Ohio, New York and Illinois also have between 144,000 and 178,000 uninsured but eligible children each, according to the new figures from the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Washington.

To inform parents about their children's eligibility, a team of corporate partners and more than 100 national organizations will work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a national philanthropic organization based in New Jersey, on a national public awareness campaign.

The campaign will include television, radio and print advertisements in Spanish-language and black media outlets and enrollment drives in minority communities. Twenty-five percent of Hispanic children and more than 13 percent of black children are eligible for coverage but uninsured, according to recent federal figures.


from the Rocky Mountain News

TOKYO (AP) - Nearly half of Japan's population of 120 million now use the Internet via computers, cell phones or other devices to surf, go shopping or chat, according to a government survey.

The number of Internet users totaled 56 million, or 44 percent, of Japanese aged six or older at the end of last year, said Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications official Keiichi Takenaka.

The most common use of the Internet is to exchange e-mails, which accounted to 64.8 percent, followed by searches for free coupons and shopping information, at 45.9 percent. Other popular usage included actual shopping at 19 percent, and chatting, which accounted to 15.6 percent

Of the total, 6.6 million people accessed the Internet solely via cell phones, Takenaka said, citing the ministry's latest survey, which was released Wednesday. Lower access fees and recent growth of DSL, a high-speed Web connection through fixed phone lines, are expected to boost Internet use, he said.

Japan's 2001 user ratio, up from 37 percent from a year earlier, ranks 16th in the world, topped by Sweden at 64.7 percent. The United States is ranked fourth at 59.8 percent, with 166 million users.


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,

A New Go-Round

http://www.calendarlive.com/top/1,1419,L-LATimes-Search-X!ArticleDetail-67662,00.html Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The coming film 'Signs' is renewing interest in, and debate over, crop circles. Most can be easily accounted for, but some seem to defy explanation.

By ROBERT W. WELKOS, Times Staff Writer

In M. Night Shyamalan's new sci-fi thriller, "Signs," a Pennsylvania farmer played by Mel Gibson awakens one morning to discover a 500-foot geometric pattern that has mysteriously appeared in his cornfield overnight.

Opening Friday, "Signs" marks the first time that a major Hollywood studio--Disney's Touchstone Pictures--has delved into the phenomena commonly known as "crop circles," those sprawling and intricately designed geometric patterns that appear each summer in the picturesque fields of southwest England and elsewhere.

Long debunked by skeptics as the work of hoaxers, crop circles are about to get another moment in the sun--compliments of "Signs." Media interest in the phenomena is higher than it has been in years, with an assortment of films, television programs, books, videos, magazine covers and newspaper stories focused on the topic timed to the release of Shyamalan's film.

This month in SCIENCE ROUNDUP...

Rehabilitation for Tumors
Genetics of Fear
Resetting the Human Clock?
Defending Genomic Integrity
The Latest Skinny on Fighting Obesity
Protecting Genetic Privacy
|Controlling Brain Size
Big Brains Aren't Everything
Fisheries Management: Forgetting Evolution?
Precision Physics
Martian Ice Revealed
Melting Ice and Rising Seas
Tropics Past and Present

Rehabilitation for Tumors

Oncogenes direct normal cell growth and division but, when mutated, can trigger rampant tumor growth that leads to cancer. In recent years, multiple studies have shown that some cancer cells actually become "addicted" to, or physiologically dependent on, the continued activity or overexpression of oncogenes for maintenance of their cancerous state. Unfortunately, cancer treatments aimed at inactivating oncogenes face two potential pitfalls: toxicity caused by suppressing genes that are critical for normal cell function, and the possibility that tumor growth will simply resume once treatment ceases. In the 5 July 2002 Science , Jain et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/102 ) reported a fascinating find that may provide new hope for treatments targeting oncogenes. Using a transgenic mouse engineered to overexpress the *myc* oncogene, the researchers demonstrated that brief inactivation of *myc* caused tumors to regress and somehow reprogrammed cancerous bone cells to form new healthy bone. What's more, subsequent reactivation of the oncogene did not revitalize tumor growth, but rather caused the tumor cells to self- destruct through apoptosis, or programmed cell death. As noted in a Perspective by I. B. Weinstein ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/63 ), these findings --and further understanding of the molecular circuitry of cancer cells -- will enable researchers to select better molecular targets for new treatments that could require only brief drug therapy, followed by periodic boosters.

Genetics of Fear

Boo! A report in the 19 July 2002 Science suggested that there may be genetic basis for why some people are more prone than others to become "spooked." Hariri et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5580/400 ) showed that people with different versions of a single gene have different patterns of brain activity in response to fear. The gene -- involved in transporting serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to modulate behavior and emotion -- comes in two versions, or alleles: short and long. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain activity of 28 volunteers, half of whom had two copies of the long allele, and half who had at least one copy of the short allele. When asked to match pictures of frightened or angry faces, the patients with at least one short version of the gene showed greater activity in the amygdala -- a small structure deep in the brain that processes anxiety-related behavior -- than people with two long copies. The study demonstrated that genetic variation can contribute to how the brain responds to its environment, and to the expression of a human emotion -- a milestone in behavioral genetics, as noted by G. Miller ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5580/319a ) in an accompanying news article.

Resetting the Human Clock?

Imagine having just flown from Hong Kong to New York. You are mired in jet lag, but have an important meeting for which you must be coherent tomorrow morning. No problem -- just shine some light behind your knees. According to a surprising report published in Science in 1998, shining light to the backs of knees of human patients could actually reset their circadian clock, the internal 24-hr biological timer that mediates everything from sleep to metabolism. While scientists had known that exposing humans or animals to bright light at night could "reset" their internal clocks, the report challenged the notion that light could only reach the clock through the eyes. The work spurred a number of laboratories to try and reproduce the results; in the 26 July 2002 Science , Wright and Czeisler ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5581/571 ) reported on theirs. Using highly controlled experimental conditions and measurements of melatonin levels to precisely assess changes in "circadian phase," they found that shining light behind the knees does not "reset" the biological clock. They suggested statistical phenomena and uncontrolled aspects of the original experiment as possible reasons for the initial study's allegedly false positive results. A News Focus by M. Barinaga ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5581/505 ) described the Wright and Czeisler experiment and revisited the controversy over the original study in light of the new findings.

Defending Genomic Integrity

Cells have an arduous task in defending the integrity of their genetic information. From gross chromosome rearrangements and gains or losses of chromosomes, to small unrepaired DNA mutations, these genetic horrors can have dire consequences for the cell and even for the fate of an entire organism. A special issue of Science on 26 July 2002 examined the molecular mechanisms governing genome stability, and what happens when these systems go awry. Four review articles examined how defects in DNA damage detection, signaling, and repair result in genomic instability; the cellular mechanisms in place to prevent instability; the molecular processes involved in chromosome separation; and the role of telomeres, or chromosome ends, in the initiation and suppression of cancer. A Viewpoint article by A. M. Carr described two new studies (reported in the same issue) that help clarify the relationships among so-called checkpoint proteins (responsible for sensing DNA damage and signaling cell cycle arrest so it can be repaired), recombination, and integrity of the DNA replication fork. A News story by J. Marx, meanwhile, covered the intense debate over the precise role that genome instability plays in cancer.

In a related report, also in the 26 July 2002 issue, Howlett et al. found that a small subset of patients of Fanconi Anemia (FA), a rare, recessive cancer susceptibility disorder, carry mutations in two copies of the breast cancer susceptibility gene, *BRCA2*. The BRCA2 protein is thought to be important for DNA damage repair, as are six previously characterized FA proteins. As noted in a Perspective by Witt and Ashworth, the new finding suggests a common DNA-repair pathway involved in FA and breast cancer progression, and further dissection of the pathway may reveal new targets for cancer therapeutics.

The Latest Skinny on Fighting Obesity

As long as people are gaining weight, the "battle of the bulge" will forge on -- and everybody will continue looking for new weapons in the struggle. Two reports in this month's Science provided insight into the molecular biology governing obesity, which may help scientists develop an arsenal of new weight-loss drugs.

--Cohen et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/240 ; 12 July 2002) reported on how leptin -- a hormone that regulates body weight, food intake, and metabolism -- exerts its effects. The researchers found that leptin represses a liver enzyme called stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 (SCD-1), which is required for making monounsaturated fats. When mice with a mutation in the gene that codes for SCD-1 were crossed with leptin-deficient mice, the offspring consumed similar amounts of food as the leptin-deficient parents, but showed a 40% reduction in fat mass, and a 75% increase in energy expenditure. The results demonstrated that SCD-1 plays a key role in leptin- regulated fat metabolism in the liver (and perhaps elsewhere), and could be a potential target for future obesity drugs.

--Heisler et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5581/609 ; 26 July 2002), meanwhile, described findings on the mode of action of D-fenfluramine (d-FEN), a component of "Fen-Phen" -- the widely prescribed weight-loss drug of the 1990s, pulled from the market because of harmful cardiovascular side effects. Through a combination of neuroanatomy, feeding, and electrophysiology studies in rodents, they showed that the appetite-suppressing effects of d-FEN require activation of pathways controlled by melanocortins -- a group of hormones that regulates food intake and body weight in rodents and humans. The researchers hope that drugs specifically targeting these pathways could prevent and treat obesity, without the damaging side effects that caused the original drug to be banned.

Protecting Genetic Privacy

The Human Genome Project has committed a portion of its annual budget to study the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of genetics research. One issue that has attracted particular interest, and is currently under debate in Congress, is that of genetic discrimination in health insurance, and the need for federal antidiscrimination legislation. A pair of Policy Forums in the 12 July 2002 Science took opposing views on this controversy. W. Nowlan ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/195 ), the medical director if a life insurance company, argued that genetic discrimination in the area of life insurance is unlikely to become a significant social problem. He asserted that ELSI literature has greatly exaggerated threats to our genetic privacy that are largely theoretical, and noted that misguided laws could place a cost burden on insurers. But according to K. H. Rothenberg and S. F. Terry ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/196 ), "regardless of whether fear of genetic discrimination is based on perception or reality, we must find a way to ensure public confidence in genetics research and use of genetic information." They argued that only federally enacted legislation can effectively alleviate public fear and curtail cases of genetic discrimination before they develop.

Controlling Brain Size

How organs and tissues know when to stop growing remains a mystery to developmental biologists, but a research article in the 19 July 2002 Science adds a new piece to the puzzle. Chenn and Walsh ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5580/365 ) examined the mechanism that controls the size of the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain responsible for higher-order functions like language and learning. The researchers created a pair of transgenic mice engineered to overexpress beta-catenin, a protein suspected to regulate the production of neural precursor cells. The resulting embryos had dramatically enlarged brains -- and, moreover, the normally smooth mouse brain surface did not grow in thickness, but rather in surface area, by way of folds, nooks and crannies similar to those in human and monkey brains. The embryos also had an unusually large numbers of neural precursor cells, suggesting that beta-catenin somehow triggers neural precursors to proliferate rather than simply differentiate into other brain cell types. An article by Li et al. posted at the same time on Science 's online publish-ahead-of- print service, Science Express ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/1073263 ), explored how another protein, Six6, helps to regulate the size of the developing retina and pituitary gland. As noted in an accompanying news article by G. Vogel covering both articles ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5580/328 ), understanding the regulatory pathways involving beta-catenin and other growth-related proteins should provide valuable insight into global mechanisms of size control.

Big Brains Aren't Everything

Two years ago, a team of paleoanthropologists working in Dmanisi, Georgia, uncovered the remains of what are believed to be the earliest human ancestors to migrate out of Africa (Science , 12 May 2000, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/288/5468/948 ). The small, ancient skulls and primitive stone tools, dating back 1.75 million years, challenged the widely held hypothesis that humans didn't journey out of Africa until they had become smart enough to invent sophisticated tools. Now, in the 5 July 2002 Science , the same team has reported another revealing discovery: an equally ancient skull from the same site that is the smallest and most primitive ever found outside of Africa. According to the report by Vekua et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/85 ), the brains of the new Dmanisi specimens are only about half the size of a modern human's brain -- and the stone tools found alongside the hominid remains are simple choppers and scrapers. As noted in an accompanying news story by M. Balter and A. Gibbons ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/26 ), the fossils "appear to bury the notion that big brains spurred our first exodus from Africa" It is unclear whether the newly discovered hominids more closely resemble *Homo habilis* or *Homo erectus*, but determining which species were present at Dmanisi, and understanding their biology, may be the key to figuring out how and why these "little people" first left Africa.

Fisheries Management: Forgetting Evolution?

Current fishery management practices aim to maximize fish size and yield over the time scales important for the fishing business. While this makes for a fish that fits neatly in our frying pan and results in a perfect-sized filet, a telling report by Conover and Munch ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/94 ) in the 5 July 2002 Science illustrated that these practices may be doing real evolutionary harm. There is evidence that as fishers systematically reel in the larger, older fish in a given population, generations of smaller, earlier-maturing fish are favored, shifting the natural size and age balance of the population. To empirically test that phenomenon, Conover and Munch monitored the evolution of six populations of Atlantic silversides, a common marine fish, in the laboratory. Their results were striking: consistently catching the biggest fish in a stock resulted in fish considerably smaller than the controls by the fourth generation; and taking only small fish selected for larger, heavier fish over time. Fish size in randomly fished stocks, by contrast, remained virtually unchanged. The findings support the notion that well-intentioned management plans may have a disastrous evolutionary impact, and that new practices like the establishment of no-take reserves or marine-protected areas may be necessary to maintain the natural genetic variation in thriving fish populations. A news story by D. Malakoff ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/31a ) accompanied the report.

Precision Physics

Three papers in Science this month unveiled developments in applied physics that could ultimately give researchers the power to store information and analyze objects and systems with nano-scale resolution.

--Keren et al.

( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/72 ; 5 July 2002) described an inventive "molecular lithography" technique that uses RecA, a protein important for DNA recombination in the cell, to pattern metallized DNA and construct nano-scale electronics. The information guiding the lithography is encoded in the DNA substrate molecules, while RecA provides the assembling capabilities as well as the resist function. As noted in an accompanying Perspective by C. M. Niemeyer ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/62 ), the new technology opens the door for generating complex microelectronic networks encoded with sequence-specific information.

--Pfeiffer et al.

( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/230 ; 12 July 2002) reported on a method to guide coherent x-ray beams with pinpoint accuracy -- a procedure that will make it possible to use x-rays to analyze microscopic objects. The researchers designed a waveguide -- consisting of a periodic array of polymer-based wires with metal cladding -- with an exit opening only nanometers in diameter, ten times narrower than current x-ray beams. By adjusting the angle at which x-rays enter the waveguide, scientists can control electrical field intensity and thus generate narrow x-rays with precision. An accompanying Perspective by T. H. Metzger ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/205 ) described the work.

--Bartels et al.

( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5580/376 ; 19 July 2002) described the development of a tabletop source of spatially coherent, extreme-ultraviolet light that uses high-harmonic generation -- ultra-short, high-intensity laser pulses -- to produce light. The new device should enable high-precision microscopy, lithography, and holography applications with nanometer resolution.

Martian Ice Revealed

The latest news from the Mars Odyssey mission indicates that parts of the Red Planet may actually be blue. Three reports in the 5 July 2002 Science provided stunning evidence of vast reservoirs of subsurface ice on Mars. Feldman et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/75 ), Mitrofanov et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/78 ), and Boynton et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/81 ) used a host of instruments on the spacecraft to detect gamma-ray and neutron emissions from the martian surface, with specific signatures indicating that those emissions come from hydrogen, a telltale sign of water. The data revealed an abundance of hydrogen near the planet's frigid poles, and point to the presence of an ice layer tens of centimeters thick, containing enough water to fill Lake Michigan twice over. The frozen water appears to reside just three feet beneath the Martian surface, in a layer of loose rock and dust. As noted in an accompanying Perspective by J. Bell ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5578/60 ), the reports, generated after only 30 days of the planned multiyear Odyssey investigation, created a big splash in the space exploration community -- and the dramatic discovery will not only help guide selection of future landing and exploration sites, but reignites ideas about the possibility of past and future life on Mars.

Melting Ice and Rising Seas

Closer to home, two reports in Science this July demonstrated that global climate change is causing glacial ice to melt faster than previously predicted. The melting ice could be contributing significantly to rising sea levels.

--Zwally et al.

( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/297/5579/218 ; 12 July 2002) analyzed periodic Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) measurements from 1996 through 1999 and reported that increased ice flow velocity in the Greenland Ice Sheet correlates with melting of surface ice during summer months. The results were unexpected, given that measurable changes in ice sheets in response to climate change were thought to occur over hundreds to thousands of years, not just a few. According to the researchers, meltwater travels through the 1200-meter thick ice sheet to the underlying bedrock, causing the ice to slide faster.

--Arendt et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5580/382 ; 19 July 2002), using airborne laser altimetry, studied volume and area changes on 67 glaciers, representing approximately 20% of the glacierized area in Alaska and Canada, and developed new estimates for the total contribution of Alaskan glaciers to rising sea level. They showed that Alaskan glaciers produce more meltwater than models have predicted (more than any other glacier examined thus far) and suggested that future sea level rise might be underestimated. As noted in an accompanying Perspective by M. F. Meier and M. B. Dyurgerov ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5580/350 ), more data from understudied glaciers must be collected, and better climate- glacier models generated, before scientists can make confident projections for the course of global sea level rise over the next century.

Tropics Past and Present

How much do we really know about Earth's climate history? The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a naturally occurring seesaw of sea surface temperature and air pressure change in the Pacific, has been well documented over decadal time scales, yet little is known about similar climate trends thousands of years ago. Conversely, scientists understand what causes millennial-scale variability in the Southwest Asian monsoon, one of earth's most important climate systems, but lack information about its recent past, which is of greater human interest. Three reports in Science during the past month provided new insights into the past and present of these tropical climate systems.

--Two studies in the 12 July 2002 Science pieced together records of events past by analyzing sediment deposits and planktonic remains -- and revealed new aspects of tropical Pacific climate change during the last ice age. Stott et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/222 ) reconstructed a history of seawater temperature and salinity by measuring magnesium-calcium ratios and isotopic oxygen concentration of planktonic remains in the warm waters of the Philippines, and found evidence of millennial-scale ENSO-like events, marked by large shifts in surface-water hydrology. Meanwhile, Koutavas et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/226 ) studied the cooler Galapagos waters, using similar methods to examine variations in sea surface temperature (SST) over the last 30,000 years. Their evidence suggested that sustained changes in tropical SST patterns, influenced by trade wind strength and other atmospheric circulation patterns, exert powerful control over global climate. An accompanying Perspective by D. W. Lea ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5579/202 ) discussed the findings of both studies.

--In a report in the 26 July Science , Anderson et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5581/596 ) analyzed plankton fossils from the Arabian Sea and presented a 1000-year sediment record of variations in the southwest monsoon winds. They observed that the Asian monsoon intensity has increased during the past four centuries, which correlates with a steady rise in Northern Hemisphere temperature observed during the same time period. They further predicted that monsoon strength will continue to build over the next 100 years as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations increase and northern latitudes continue to warm. A Perspective by D. E. Black ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/297/5581/528 ) accompanied the report.

Cocktails and predictions: Tarot cards add zing to the corporate party


Sunday, July 28, 2002

By MARIEE PILKINGTON, Columbia News Service

NEW YORK — At this year's corporate party, Angelica Taranto, a secretary at Cravath, Swaine and Moore, made sure she got to the Rainbow Room early to beat the line. She knew from last year's get-together at the swank penthouse restaurant in midtown Manhattan that there would be a crowd — all for the tarot card reader.

No longer the province of boardwalks and carnival booths, tarot card readers are popping up in the most unlikely places, among the gray suits and wine spritzers of the corporate party. To enliven the cocktails and hors d'ouevres atmosphere, corporate party planners have made tarot card readers a staple feature of the fun and games at these annual events.

"Maybe people wanted to know what to do with their fortunes," says Sasha Nanus, owner of a party planning company called Manhattan Performing Arts Co. While the caterers bring the food and drink, Nanus brings the goodies that make the party buzz: face painters, mimes, caricaturists, celebrity look-a-likes, string quartets or a circus depending on the occasion. Tarot card reading, she says, is a "constant and expected at parties."

Back in 1993 when the party scene started humming after the lean years at the end of the 1980s, Nanus first added four tarot card readers to her offerings. Today she employs 12. A typical lineup at a big corporate bash will consist of four readers, two caricaturists and then maybe celebrity look-a-likes or photographers taking digital pictures, she says. Her clients are a who's who of Manhattan's top companies, including the investment bank Goldman Sachs, the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather and BlueCross BlueShield insurance.

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

Current News  News Back Issues

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