NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 August 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines August 20, 2002

from The Washington Post

David L. Evans, an oceanographer and science research administrator, has been selected to lead the Smithsonian Institution's far-flung and troubled scientific enterprises, the museum's officials announced yesterday.

Evans, the assistant administrator for research at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, will become the Smithsonian's under secretary for science next month. He will be in charge of the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

"Who lives in the United States who doesn't know about the Smithsonian? It is one of the best established and longest running scientific institutions in the country," said Evans, 56. He said part of his goal would be to make the Smithsonian's science, and science in general, more accessible.

"Over the last few years in particular I have noticed that the country is not as scientifically literate as I feel is appropriate, given what science has done for the country. The Smithsonian makes the connection with the science, why science is done and how that relates to the public," he said.


from The Associated press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- When the Earth started shaking in Fiji, people and computers thousands of miles away in quake-sensitive Southern California took notice.

The result, a 7.7-magnitude quake centered in the South Pacific was recorded as temblors of magnitude-3.0 or higher Monday morning in the Southern California cities of Bakersfield, Palm Springs and San Bernardino.

The quake had sent such a powerful shock wave across the Pacific that it was automatically recorded on a network of about 300 Southern California seismic monitors, said Kate Hutton, a seismologist with the California Institute of Technology.


from Newsday

Washington - Only about one in five people infected with the West Nile virus develop a severe, life-threatening illness. A study in mice suggests a gene variation may be the reason some become very sick from the mosquito- borne virus, while others recover easily.

Experts said the research is an important step toward finding a drug to treat West Nile, a virus that has caused 11 deaths in the United States this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Saturday there have been at least 251 human cases of the disease this year.

West Nile is carried by mosquitoes whose bite can spread the virus to birds, horses and humans. So far this year, the virus has been found in dead birds, in horses, in humans or in mosquito pools in at least 39 states, including New York, and the District of Columbia.

Human cases, including one involving a Queens man, have occurred in 11 states and the District of Columbia.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Woodland, Yolo County -- In what was originally presented by prosecutors as a high-profile trade secrets case, a jury Monday found a Chinese American researcher at UC Davis not guilty of charges that he embezzled laboratory materials with the intent of starting a business overseas.

The acquittal, celebrated by supporters in the California Asian American community, ended a three-month ordeal for researcher Bin Han, a 13-year employee at the Davis campus. Han's troubles began in May when his research contract was terminated by supervisors at the university ophthalmology labs. On May 17, he was arrested at home by university police and held in jail for 18 days without bail.

"I am very happy," Han said, surrounded by his supporters in the Yolo County courthouse following the verdict. "I love this country. Now, all I want to do is get back to work." Han still has an administrative legal action for wrongful termination pending against the university.

In his defense, Han, married with two school-age children, insisted that he had no plans to keep the university materials -- protein gels used in cornea repairs and transplants -- that police had found in his home freezer. He said a round-trip airplane ticket that police also found in his home was to visit his ailing mother back in the western Chinese city of Xi'an. After his arrest, the case was presented by Yolo County prosecutors as an international scientific espionage plot in which Han was accused of attempting to smuggle proprietary protein gels from the United States to China. Portrayed as a flight threat, Han was ordered to surrender his U.S. passport.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - "Drink at least eight glasses of water a day" is an adage some obsessively follow, judging by the people sucking on water bottles at every street corner - but the need for so much water may be a myth.

Fear that once you're thirsty you're already dehydrated? For many of us, another myth. Caffeinated drinks don't count because they dehydrate? Probably wrong, too.

So says a scientist who undertook an exhaustive hunt for evidence backing all this water advice and came up mostly, well, dry. Now the group that sets the nation's nutrition standards is studying the issue, too, to see if it's time to declare a daily fluid level needed for good health - and how much leaves you waterlogged.

Until then, "obey your thirst" is good advice, says Dr. Heinz Valtin, professor emeritus at Dartmouth Medical School, whose review of the eight- glass theory appears in this month's American Journal of Physiology.


from The New York Times

Nearly 70 years ago, a Soviet geochemist, reflecting on his world, made a startling observation: through technology and sheer numbers, he wrote, people were becoming a geological force, shaping the planet's future just as rivers and earthquakes had shaped its past.

Eventually, wrote the scientist, Vladimir I. Vernadsky, global society, guided by science, would soften the human environmental impact, and earth would become a "noosphere," a planet of the mind, "life's domain ruled by reason."

Today, a broad range of scientists say, part of Vernadsky's thinking has already been proved right: people have significantly altered the atmosphere and are the dominant influence on ecosystems and natural selection. The question now, scientists say, is whether the rest of his vision will come to pass. Choices made in the next few years will determine the answer.

Aided by satellites and supercomputers, and mobilized by the evident environmental damage of the last century, humans have a real chance to begin balancing economic development with sustaining earth's ecological webs, said Dr. William C. Clark, a biologist at Harvard who heads an international effort to build a scientific foundation for such a shift.


from The New York Times

Demography has never been an exact science. Ever since social thinkers began trying to predict the pace of population growth a century or two ago, the people being counted have been surprising the experts and confounding projections. Today, it is happening again as stunned demographers watch birthrates plunge in ways they never expected.

Only a few years ago, some experts argued that economic development and education for women were necessary precursors for declines in population growth. Today, village women and slum families in some of the poorest countries are beginning to prove them wrong, as fertility rates drop faster than predicted toward the replacement level 2.1 children for the average mother, one baby to replace each parent, plus a fraction to compensate for unexpected deaths in the overall population.

A few decades ago in certain countries like Brazil, Egypt, India and Mexico fertility rates were as high as five or six.

As a result, United Nations demographers who once predicted the earth's population would peak at 12 billion over the next century or two are scaling back their estimates. Instead, they cautiously predict, the world's population will peak at 10 billion before 2200, when it may begin declining.


from The Los Angeles Times

Science has sent people to the moon, built an artificial heart, created genetically engineered, insect-resistant grains - and yet it finds some nuts hard to crack. Like, what exactly causes dandruff?

It's been a real head-scratcher. Some scientists and doctors have posited that the unsightly flaking is caused by tiny yeasts that grow on heads. Certainly, such yeasts do grow there. (The French scientist who first identified some of them more than 100 years ago, Louis Charles Malassez, has the dubious honor of having the fungi named after him.)

Others have suggested that dandruff is caused by inflammation of the scalp - leading to faster division of skin cells and a nice, flaky environment that the yeasts simply love to grow on.

After all these years and who can guess how many billion flakes cascading down on imprudently selected black jackets, scientists still don't know for sure - but it's not for want of effort. Dandruff may not command the dollars thrown at cancer research or AIDS, but you'll find hundreds of earnest and un-flaky articles on the topic in the dermatology journals. And there are whole labs dedicated to dandruff science, generally at companies that make antidandruff shampoos.


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Water Pseudoscience, Crackpot Chemistry and Nonsense."


The author debunks pseudoscientific claims about "oxygenated water," "clustered water," "super-ionized water" and magnetic water treatment. He also links to other reliable sources of information on this topic. For example, the site reports that the sellers of oxygenated water sold many thousands of small bottles for $60 with claims of cures for cancer and other diseases. The government put them out of business.

2002 CSICOP Crop Circles Experiments


Kevin Christopher
CSICOP Public Relations Director

August 15, 2002

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




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Pat Robertson's reward

Televangelist honored by the Zionist Organization of America


Bill Berkowitz - WorkingForChange

08.19.02 - On Sunday, July 14, televangelist Pat Robertson was presented with the State of Israel Friendship Award at the annual "Salute to Israel" dinner held by the Chicago chapter of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). According to a ZOA spokesperson, Robertson, through his Christian Broadcasting Network and his daily program, The 700 Club, has consistently supported Israel during this latest wave of tension and turmoil in the Middle East.

In a pre-dinner press release, National President of ZOA Morton Klein said that "as Israel continues to face grave dangers from Palestinian Arab terrorists devoted to the destruction of the State of Israel, we are honoring Pat Robertson as a major Christian leader who strongly supports Israel and its religious, historical and legal right to the holy land. Our organization continues to be dedicated to spreading the message that a Palestinian Arab state is a grave danger to the State of Israel."

Some critics were flabbergasted by the ZOA's choice, questioning how the organization could disregard many of Robertson's past anti-Semitic statements and writings. "We wouldn't do it," Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told The Forward, a New York City-based newspaper. "He's not deserving, but I have no objections to other groups honoring him."

Lab Mice Die After Drugs, Disco


Aug 19, 7:49 AM (ET)

LONDON (AP) - The government on Monday reprimanded scientists who plied mice with drugs and loud dance music to study the effect on their brains.

The Home Office said it was taking "infringement action" against Cambridge University researchers who injected mice with the stimulant methamphetamine and subjected them to loud music, including tracks by dance act The Prodigy.

Several mice died and others suffered brain damage in the experiment, whose results were published in the journal NeuroReport last year.

Monday, August 19, 2002

High Schools Flunk Science


Aug. 19, 2002

By David Harriman

Physics is the fundamental natural science. Its birth in the 17th century heralded man's coming of age as a rational being. The discovery of the basic laws of nature led to the industrial revolution and modern technology, demonstrating the enormous practical power of such abstract knowledge.

Yet the vast majority of high school graduates never take a course in physics and know almost nothing about the role of the scientific revolution in creating the modern world. While this alone constitutes criminal negligence by educators, there is an even worse crime of which they are guilty: the students who do take physics are indoctrinated with a fundamentally false view of science.

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 19, 2002

from The Baltimore Sun

As T-shirt vendors hawked their wares and the curious made a detour from their Sunday morning coffee run, a small boat bobbed in Maryland's most famous pond, spraying the first batch of chemicals that scientists hope will kill the voracious northern snakehead.

State fisheries biologists gathered before dawn yesterday in Crofton, and spraying began just after 7 a.m. under the watchful eye of a media horde corralled along a wedge of shoreline by yellow police crime scene tape.

The airboat moved slowly back and forth across the homely, nameless pond, the driver directing a stream of two herbicides from a 100-gallon tank into the water. At a pair of smaller ponds nearby, a similar operation was being carried out.

State officials say the chemical cocktail of diquat dibromide and glyphosate will kill all the oxygen-producing vegetation and suffocate a large percentage of the fish, including snakeheads. But because snakeheads have a primitive lung that allows them to breathe out of water, biologists will return after about a week to apply the fish poison rotenone to ensure eradication


from The Christian Science Monitor

ST. LOUIS America's latest health threat is not carried by a bioterrorist but a mosquito.

So far this year, the so-called West Nile virus has spread farther and caused more fatalities than anthrax. It's an example, experts say, of how diseases have become globalized.

Thanks to increasing travel and trade, diseases as new as AIDS and as old as malaria are jumping continents and oceans faster than ever before.

That means that even developed countries, such as the United States, have to bolster their public-health infrastructure to meet the challenge. But the demand comes at a difficult time for cash-strapped states and localities, which traditionally have provided the first line of defense against mosquito-borne pathogens.


from The Washington Post

Twenty-five years ago this week, NASA's Voyager 2 probe began its epic, ongoing space odyssey, a voyage of discovery that many consider humanity's greatest feat of pure space exploration.

Zooming past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, Voyager 2 beamed back a treasure trove of stunning photographs and other priceless data, providing spectacular close-up views of the solar system's four gas giants, their intricate rings and their myriad moons.

The hardy spacecraft is now 6.31 billion miles from the sun, well beyond the current 2.8-billion-mile distance of Pluto, heading toward interstellar space at more than 35,000 mph.

It is so far away it takes radio signals, moving 186,000 miles every second, more than nine hours to cover the vast gulf between Earth and spacecraft. To put that in perspective, if Earth was the size of a grain of sand, Voyager 2 would be more than 400 feet away.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - An asteroid will pass close enough to the Earth to be viewed with binoculars on Saturday night, but astronomers said there is no immediate danger that the half-mile-wide space rock will hit the planet.

The asteroid, known as 2002 NY40, was discovered July 14. Astronomers said Friday that it will zip by about 350,000 miles from the Earth, about 1.3 times farther away than the moon.

It is expected to be faintly visible by binoculars or by telescope after sunset on Saturday to about 3 a.m. EDT Sunday as it appears to pass near the star Vega and clip through the constellation Hercules.

Don Yeomans, director of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said an asteroid passage within view of the Earth is uncommon.


from The Washington Post

Cynthia M. Leahy and J. Howard Kucher are not technologists. Nor are they scientists, mathematicians or inventors. They are business people betting on their ability to spot a good idea and turn it into sales.

Leahy and Kucher founded Wickford Technologies Inc. after professors at the University of Baltimore, where Kucher was studying for his master's degree in business administration, introduced them to the world of federal research.

Leahy, Wickford's president and chief executive, said that $8.5 billion is spent in the area on research every year. Government-sponsored scientists are required to try to commercialize some of these things, but can't do it themselves, she said.

"There is just so much of [this research] out there. The big dollars are already spent, so the spending we have to do is very minor."


from The New York Times

The great Gray Goo debate is beginning to matter.

The controversy involves the potential perils of making molecular-size objects and devices, a field known as nanotechnology.

From its earliest days, nanotechnology has had its fear-mongers, warning of novel and terrifying risks.

Who could be sure how products so small that they would be invisible to the human eye would behave, particularly when the nanoworld's basic design elements atoms and small molecules are governed by the surreal laws of quantum mechanics rather than the more familiar Newtonian physics of large objects?


from The New York Times

GLOBAL warming has been on the agenda of environmental activists for years. But it is also becoming a green issue of another kind discussed not only in terms of melting ice caps and endangered species, but as a problem that can cost corporations and their investors billions of dollars.

With their confidence shaken in corporate bookkeeping and the market's omniscience, investors are starting to look for other possible "off balance sheet" land mines, including the hidden risks that could be associated with global climate change.

A scientific consensus has formed that greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions released by automobiles, power plants and industrial factories are causing the average temperature to increase, setting off environmental reactions ranging from rising water levels to droughts.

Losses from global warming were in evidence just this past week. A report released last Monday by the United Nations predicted that a two-mile-thick layer of brown haze blanketing Asia, caused in part by greenhouse gases, could severely cut rainfall and reduce India's rice harvest by 10 percent. And abnormally high temperatures in Eastern Europe have been partly blamed for the severe floods ravaging Prague and other beacons of European architecture.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

It's not much as sex shows go, but researchers at the Molecular Sciences Institute must find it captivating.

In their offices overlooking the downtown Berkeley BART station, they plan to spend the next five years studying in mathematical detail the mating rituals of yeast.

"Yeast comes in two sexes," said Roger Brent, president of the nonprofit think-tank. They don't lead a very interesting life, he says, but sex is one of the benefits.

Using a newly announced $15.5 million grant from the Human Genome Project, Brent will enlist 40 academic scientists, including UC Berkeley chemistry Professor Julie Leary, in an effort that exemplifies the fundamental premise of biotechnology.


from The Los Angeles Times

When baseball slugger Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals hit his record-breaking, 62nd home run on Sept. 8, 1998, the ball barely passed over the left field fence at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The same hit would not have been a home run at, say, Fenway Park in Boston.

This episode suggests an interesting question: How hard is it to hit a home run in different ballparks?

One factor that could affect home-run hitting is that major-league ballparks have somewhat different dimensions. At Fenway Park, for example, the left field wall is 310 feet from home plate down the third-base line and 37 feet high. At Chicago's Comiskey Park, the left field wall is 347 feet from home plate but only 8 feet high.

To compare ballparks, mathematician Howard L. Penn of the United States Naval Academy determined the average initial velocity required for a baseball to clear the fence in various stadiums. To do so, he turned to a rule of thumb first derived by Edmond Halley (1656?-1742) in 1686.

In a paper presented to the Royal Society of London, Halley used calculus to determine how gunners could aim a cannon and find the proper powder charge to send a projectile to a given target. Halley's "rule" gives a relationship between the angle of elevation and the minimum initial velocity required to reach a target at a certain height. That angle of elevation is half-way between 90 degrees and the angle of the target as seen from the launch point.


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Accurate or not, lie detectors have become pervasive


Ariana Eunjung Cha The Washington Post
Monday, August 19, 2002

NEW YORK "Lie detectors," those controversial assessors of truth, are making their way into everyday life.

Insurance companies use them to help catch people filing fraudulent claims. Suspicious spouses use handheld versions to judge whether their significant others are cheating. Interrogators for the U.S. government use them to double-check analyses of who might be a terrorist.

Polygraphs, which have been used for decades, have been joined by new systems that purportedly analyze a person's voice, blush, pupil size and even brain waves for signs of deception. The devices range from costly experimental devices that use strings of electrodes or thermal imaging to $19.95 palm-sized versions.

No studies have ever proven that lie detectors work. Many show that they assess truth as accurately as a coin flip; in other words, not at all. Still, some people have come to depend on them.

Claim: It's recommended one attempt to rhythmically cough during a heart attack to increase the chance of surviving it.


Status: False.

Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]

Goose packed a prehistoric punch


Fossils of half-ton bird pieced together in Australia

SYDNEY, Australia, Aug. 16 Monster kangaroos, car-sized wombats and flesh-eating marsupials were not the only outsized megafauna thundering across Australia before man's arrival. Australian researchers say they have pieced together fossils of a giant goose that could have weighed up to half a ton and may have thrived as long as 55 million years ago.

DNA test denied to solve Boney riddle


Jon Henley in Paris
Saturday August 17, 2002
The Guardian

France's defence ministry has turned down a historian's request to exhume Napoleon's remains for DNA testing, a move that might have put paid to a growing suspicion that the body buried in Paris is not in fact Boney's.

"The theories that raise doubts about the identity of the body interred in Les Invalides do not, for the time being, hold sufficient weight," the ministry said in a letter quoted by the daily Libration.

Bruno Rey-Henri, a lawyer and historian, had asked for the corpse of the diminutive Corsican-born emperor to be dug up after concluding in a book published last year that DNA testing was the only way to resolve the increasingly heated 30-year old debate.

Mr Rey-Henri, backed by an increasing number of specialists, says there are too many inconsistencies surrounding Napoleon's original burial on the remote Atlantic island of St Helena in May 1821, and the body's later exhumation and transfer to Paris in 1840.

He says Napoleon's real remains were probably spirited away to Westminster Abbey by the emperor's perfidious British captors, and that the body buried in Paris was actually that of his maitre-d'hotel, one Jean-Baptiste Cipriani.

As evidence, the historians cite witnesses' reports from 1821 and 1840 that suggest the body had at least been tampered with: his Legion d'Honneur and vases containing his heart and stomach were found to have moved, and during the exhumation, the body's teeth were described as "exceptionally white", whereas at the initial burial they were reported as "most villainous".

At least one of the several known examples of Bonaparte's death mask is also said to bear a striking resemblance to the unfortunate Cipriani.

Less sensational souls argue that a number of people who knew Napoleon were on hand at both ceremonies to confirm the body's identity.

DNA tests carried out two years ago on a lock of the emperor's hair appeared to lend weight to the theory that he died of arsenic poisoning in British captivity, not cancer as the textbooks say.

Claims that the great man may still be alive are, thankfully, generally discounted.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Crop Circles

Forwarded by Rosemary Ceravolo and Varda Novick

complete article at:


The crop circle phenomenon is a truly magical event, on a par with the majestic and shimmering sight of a peacock's outstretched tail feathers on a summer's day, or entering the enigmatic and unfathomable depths of an Andrei Tarkovsky film.

Many people suspect that crop circles are the result of human labour and creativity, whereas others adhere to the belief that the majority are not man-made, that there is some transpersonal force at work, and that who or what is responsible remains at heart a mystery. It is undisputable that some crop circles are man-made, but not necessarily all. There is a possibility that unknown forces are at work...

Crop Circles, or agriglyphs as they are increasingly called, are beautiful, complex geometric patterns found impressed in a variety of crops and, less often, other vegetation. They also appear in any other ground cover that can take an impression such as earth, sand, ice, and snow, and even in maize and tree canopies. In crop formations, the stalks are gently bent down flat to the ground, often with complicated multi-level layering and spiralling patterns.

It is alleged they come in all weather, unheard and unseen, and, with few exceptions, at night. Although prime areas for formations are extensively watched during the growing season, so far there have been no official sightings of a 'genuine' crop circle in the process of forming.

Evolution of Crop Circles

Over the last 15 years or so the presentation of crop circles has evolved to become more complex. Crop circles started off with simple circular shapes, or singletons, in the early 1980s, taking the form of a circular depression within a field of crop, typically oil seed rape, barley, wheat or oats. The next decade witnessed smaller circles beginning to form outside the main rings, with the appearance of recognisable patterns such as the Celtic cross. By the 1990s, with a sudden escalation in their size and complexity, crop circles became more prominent, attracting worldwide media interest and bringing the subject to the forefront of public attention and debate.

Many formations in the last decade have been 200-300 feet or more in diameter (about the size of a football pitch). One of the most complex was over 1000 feet wide and consisted of nearly 200 circles. The longest formation to date, one of the few giant formations, measured 8/10ths of a mile.

To fully appreciate the formation and pictorial design, crop circles are best viewed from the air. However, hiring aircraft is expensive and taking aerial photos and video footage requires patience. It is thanks to dedicated researchers or 'croppies' that thousands of crop circles have been studied and documented.

Origin of Crop Circles

Crop circles are not a new phenomenon. There are 17th Century woodcuts that record the observation of what appears to be crop circles. One such woodcut, entitled The Devil Mower, appeared in a Hertfordshire newspaper dated 22 August, 1678. The article described the apparition overnight of a strange design in a field of oats, so neatly pressed that 'no mortal man was able to do the like' which was attributed to the 'devil or some infernal spirit'. By convoluted logic this apparition confirmed the existence of God since, it was argued, if devils have a hell then there must be a heaven, and a God.

Simple circles have appeared on farmland for generations. However, these enigmatic formations were often not reported since they were considered by country folk to be the result of natural causes, such as rutting deer, hedgehogs or crows feeding on ripened seed heads and trampling the crop in a ring. Circular damage has also been attributed to strange diseases, magic, fairies, and the intervention of demons. Consequently, silence was guaranteed either for fear of ridicule and ostracism from the community, or fear of losing a buyer for the crop. This situation probably holds true today, with many people afraid to come forward for similar reasons.

However, it is true that many farmers on whose land crop circles appear, rather than hush up and deny their existence, actually charge the public to access the site, thereby compensating for any damaged crops and possibly making a profit into the bargain.

Location of Crop Circles

There are estimated to be several thousands of crop circles so far documented worldwide, with new reports coming from an ever-increasing number of countries each year. For instance, there have recently been reported sightings in the Krasnodar region of Russia. Formations are regularly reported in North America, with prolific activity in the prairie provinces of Canada. However, at least two-thirds of the world's crop circle activity takes place in Southern England, the majority of these being more specifically within the downlands of Wiltshire and Hampshire. They also turn up in other parts of Britain, sometimes as far north as Yorkshire.

Interestingly, crop circles mainly occur in the vicinity of ancient sites, for example near stone circles, tumuli, dolmens, longbarrows and other landmarks, revisiting the same locations year after year. This is the case at Stonehenge, Avesbury and Silbury Hill (the largest man-made mound in Europe). Such sites are said to derive their power by virtue of the St Michael and St Mary ley lines (hypothetical straight lines linking prehistoric landmarks), which run through the Wessex triangle in Hampshire and Wiltshire, the epicentre of the phenomenon. Many dowsers have found these key ley lines crossing within crop formations.

New Child Welfare Head in Florida Is Drawing Fire


August 17, 2002


MIAMI, Aug. 16 Gov. Jeb Bush's appointee to head Florida's troubled child welfare agency is not even on the job yet and already the appointee, a former Oklahoma social services administrator and founder of a conservative Christian group, has come under fire.

The latest controversy at the agency, the Florida Department of Children and Families, involves a 1989 religious essay which carries the name of Mr. Bush's appointee, Jerry Regier, on its cover. The essay, entitled "The Christian World View of The Family," supports spanking of children that may cause "temporary and superficial bruises and welts" and denounces abortion, parenting by gays and women in the work force.

Women, the essay says, should work outside the home only if the family is in a financial crisis and should consider such employment as "bondage."

The essay has led to calls from Democrats for Mr. Bush to withdraw his appointment of Mr. Regier and has put the governor's office in the position of having to do damage control on a move that itself was supposed to control damage.

Anger as bishop urges faithful to get in touch with God's 'feminine' side


Anger as bishop urges faithful to get in touch with God's 'feminine' side

The Telegraph, London
By Chris Hastings
(Filed: 18/08/2002)

A senior Anglican bishop has made an outspoken attack on the notion that God is a man. In a book out next month, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, criticises "outdated and chauvinist" views that, he claims, have no place in the modern world.

His call for the faithful to give greater recognition to God's "feminine" side has already angered traditionalists who fear that support for the Church will be further undermined.

The bishop advocates a notion of God "which is beyond gender" and claims that failure to recognise His feminine side is an insult to women struggling to get to grips with the teachings of the Bible. The book, God Outside the Box, also argues that the idea of the "all-powerful boss man" has more to do with attempts at social control rather than educated interpretations of the Bible.

The bishop, who is the chairman of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, defends attempts by feminists to assign to God feminine attributes.

"God in Himself is neither male nor female and in His perfection includes in sublime, perfected form all that we associate with concepts of the masculine and feminine," he states in the book.

While accepting that the "irrefutably masculine" language of God is something that cannot be sidestepped, he claims that "it is perfectly orthodox to qualify this language with images associated with the more feminine".

The bishop's comments will be welcomed by Christian feminists who have spent the past 30 years trying to drum up support for the idea of a female God. He writes that each age fashions an image of God to suit its needs. A world which seeks to encourage the participation of women needs to "alter our language and mental image of God".

In a subsequent passage the bishop refers to descriptions of Christ as mother and the Holy Spirit as feminine and says "progress is being made in the personal pronouns which are used".

MPs and fellow Christians have attacked his ideas as dangerously misguided.

Ann Widdecombe, the former shadow home secretary who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: "I think the bishop should remember that Jesus himself referred to God the father. I have no time for arguments like this which simply empty the pews."

John Roberts, an evangelical preacher who is also the secretary of the Lord's Day Observance Society, told The Telegraph: "I think its a load of rubbish and it is the bishop not the Bible who is behind the times. It is ideas like this which are costing the Church of England supporters on a daily basis."

He added: "The evangelical wing of the Church is blooming because we appeal to those people who have faith in the basics such as the idea that God is a man.

"This sort of argument may sell books but it won't win anyone over to the Church of England."

A spokesman for Forward in Faith, a campaign group set up to oppose the ordination of women, said: "There is nothing in scripture to support this argument. Creation may be male and female but God is not. He is outside creation."

Recent attempts to change the image of God have proved equally controversial. In 1996, the Theatre Royal in York was heavily criticised after it cast a woman as God in the York mystery plays.

Three years later, the singer Alanis Morissette provoked similar outrage when she played God in the American comedy film Dogma. The film poster became the target of protests by the Catholic League. Bishop Richard's ideas

will, however, be welcomed by some in the Church.

Last year, the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds told 150 clergy not to assume automatically that God was male.

The bishop is no stranger to controversy and has often spoken out on political issues. In recent weeks he has attacked the Government's policy on Iraq and called for the minimum wage to be raised to at least 5 an hour.

He was unavailable for comment last night.

NASA plans to read terrorist's minds at airports



Airport security screeners may soon try to read the minds of travelers to identify terrorists. Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have told Northwest Airlines security specialists that the agency is developing brain-monitoring devices in cooperation with a commercial firm, which it did not identify.

Space technology would be adapted to receive and analyze brain-wave and heartbeat patterns, then feed that data into computerized programs "to detect passengers who potentially might pose a threat," according to briefing documents obtained by The Washington Times.

NASA wants to use "noninvasive neuro-electric sensors," imbedded in gates, to collect tiny electric signals that all brains and hearts transmit. Computers would apply statistical algorithms to correlate physiologic patterns with computerized data on travel routines, criminal background and credit information from "hundreds to thousands of data sources," NASA documents say.

Dilbert on Feng Shui


Elvis bust weeps in Dutch town


DEURNE, Netherlands -- They say he loves them tender: a bust of Elvis Presley in the southeastern Dutch town of Deurne reportedly is "weeping" salty tears for his fans.

The white statuette, decked out in a fur-trimmed cloak and framed by two pink candles, started weeping last week, owner Toon Nieuwenhuisen said in an interview that made front page news Monday across the Netherlands.

Far from being all shook up about it, Nieuwenhuisen has a simple explanation.

Elvis Bust 'Weeps' in Dutch Town


Last Updated: August 16, 2002 02:30 PM ET

DEURNE, Netherlands (Reuters) - A plaster bust of Elvis Presley wept "miracle" tears Friday on the 25th anniversary of his death, its Dutch owner said.

The 50-year-old professional Elvis impersonator in the small town of Deurne in the southern Netherlands also said the ghost of the "King of Rock n' Roll" appeared in his house last week.

"He is crying for his fans all over the world. He knows how much they love him," Nieuwenhuisen, an Elvis impersonator, said in an interview published in the Dutch daily "De Telegraaf."

Holy Cow a Myth? An Indian Finds the Kick Is Real


August 17, 2002


Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Traditions," is a dry work of historiography buttressed by a 24-page bibliography and hundreds of footnotes citing ancient Sanskrit texts. It's the sort of book, in other words, that typically is read by a handful of specialists and winds up forgotten on a library shelf.

But when its author, Dwijendra Narayan Jha, a historian at the University of Delhi, tried to publish the book in India a year ago, he unleashed a furor of a kind not seen there since 1989, when the release of "Satanic Verses," Salman Rushdie's novel satirizing Islam, provoked rioting and earned him a fatwa from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

As Mr. Jha's book was going to press last August, excerpts were posted on the Internet and picked up by newspapers. Within days the book had been canceled by Mr. Jha's academic publisher, burned outside his home by religious activists and after a second publisher tried to print it banned by a Hyderabad civil court. A spokesman for the World Hindu Council called it "sheer blasphemy." A former member of Parliament petitioned the government for Mr. Jha's arrest. Anonymous callers made death threats. And for 10 months Mr. Jha was obliged to travel to and from campus under police escort.

After months of legal wrangling, Mr. Jha's lawyers succeeded in having the ban lifted this spring. And now his book has been published in Britain and the United States by Verso, with a new preface and a more provocative title: "The Myth of the Holy Cow." But though copies have been shipped to India, few bookstores there are likely to stock it.

His offense? To say what scholars have long known to be true: early Hindus ate beef.

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder


A new study has established that beauty may be in the eye of the beer holder rather than the beholder.

'I am Jesus Christ . . . It was prophesied that I would return to finish what I started'


By Ben Aris in Moscow
(Filed: 18/08/2002)

Thousands of pilgrims have converged on the hamlet of Petropavlovka, deep in the Siberian tundra, to hear today's annual sermon by a 41-year-old former traffic policeman who they believe to be Jesus.

Sergei Torop, known to his followers as Vissarion, has descended on horseback for the occasion from the mountain log cabin that he shares with his wife and six children, 4,000ft above Petropavlovka in the republic of Khakassia, near the Siberian-Mongolian border.

Dressed in flowing red velvet robes and sporting long dark hair, Vissarion has appeared before his growing band of followers every year on the anniversary of his revelation in 1989 that he was Christ returned.

More than 4,000 followers have travelled from all over the former Soviet Union, and some as far away as Australia, to listen to his sermon and be baptised in the river that runs by Petropavlovka.

Those who have come from Moscow will have flown 3,000 miles to the southern Siberian town of Abakan and driven for half a day though a necklace of tiny villages along rutted roads.

Vissarion leads one of the largest and most remote religious communities in the world with his most dedicated followers drawn from about 40 hamlets in southern Siberia where his name is spoken in hushed tones and where his image hangs in thousands of homes.

The barrenness of Siberia has always appealed to those with a religious bent. Following a schism in the Orthodox Church more than 300 years ago, the so-called Old Believers, who refused to accept ecclesiastical reforms, moved there to continue their traditional worship.

Vissarion's preaching appeals directly to nationalist instincts and to those who long for a return to past ways of life lost on a wave of change.

"God meant the Russian soil for a higher mission and this is why on this earth the agony of forces turns into clear features. Foolish are those who want to go west: bereft of morality and spiritually impoverished," says Vissarion in his teachings.

His most loyal followers, like the majority of those who have come to hear him preach today, have abandoned modern life. A hardcore of several hundred have built log huts and yurts (felt tents used by the nomads of Central Asia) in an area outside Petropavlovka that they have named Sonsiya Gorod (Sun City).

The inhabitants of Sun City follow ascetic rules. No drinking, swearing or smoking is allowed in the settlement and veganism is strictly enforced. There is little contact with the outside world and the families largely live on berries, mushrooms and vegetables gathered from the tundra.

Vissarion says: "The quality of a person does not depend on technical knowledge. The heights of the human mind are not defined by what he achieved in technology and science. Regardless of material success or high social standing, inside the human soul you stay a creature."

Every morning the men rise at 7am and meet in the central clearing where a wooden angel perches above a cross, the sect's symbol. Prayers are said and hymns sung as the worshippers look up the mountain where they believe The Teacher, as they call Vissarion, looks down on them.

The Orthodox Church was banned but never destroyed in Soviet days and with the return of religious freedoms, Russia has experienced a huge increase in the number of cults. One in five of the 140 religious organisations registered in the republic of Khakassia are sects. Converts flock to them to escape the confusion of a country wracked by economic and political change.

Vissarion is unconcerned by accusations that he is exploiting the cult of personality and speaks unashamedly of his claim to be the son of God.

"I am Jesus Christ, but I am not God," he tells those who come to interview him. "It was prophesied that I would return to finish what I started."

The thousands who will submerge themselves in the rivulet that runs by Petropavlovka today have no doubt that they are privileged to be the first to witness the Second Coming.

Melting glacier 'false alarm'


By Julian Isherwood, Scandinavia Correspondent
(Filed: 17/08/2002)

Pictures released by Greenpeace claiming to show how man-made global warming has caused Arctic glaciers to retreat are at best misleading and only illustrate a natural phenomenon, says a leading glaciologist.

The picture series, which compared the size of a glacier on Svalbard in 1918 with its size in 2002, was published across the world alongside a Greenpeace warning that global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gases was causing Arctic glaciers to melt.

"The blame can be put squarely on human activity," Greenpeace said. "Our addiction to fossil fuels releases millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and this is what is causing temperatures to rise and our future to melt before our eyes."

But Prof Ole Humlum, a leading glaciologist in Svalbard, 500 miles north of Norway, said yesterday: "That glacier had already disappeared in the early 1920s as a result of a perfectly natural rise in temperature that had nothing to do with man-made global warming."

Prof Humlum is employed by several universities to research glacial developments in Svalbard and the Arctic in general. He said the picture series was at best misleading. "They should have asked the specialists on Svalbard first."

Humanist Society of Gainesville


Chennai police free girl from godman's clutches


Chennai, Aug 17

The police rescued a 23-year-old Haryana girl from the custody of a 70-year-old self-styled 'godman' at Chromepet near the City on Friday.

Police said that accused Sakthivel had gone to Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, where he met the girl, Renu, and her parents, who were among the scores of people who took him for a holy man.

After coming to know that Renu was unhappy with her parents, he convinced her to come with him to Chennai on the promise that he would get her a job.

After reaching the City, Sakthivel kept her in a house at Chromepet for the past one month. However, Renu managed to get out and call her mother, who had already lodged a police complaint in this regard.

The Haryana police then traced the telephone from which the call originated and with the help of the Chennai police laid a trap for the 'godman', arrested him and rescued the girl from his custody yesterday.

Police say Sakthivel had a history of problems with women, with his own family deserting him after he attempted to molest his daughter several years ago.

He had then left for the Himalayas, where he spent seven years in the company of hermits. But, lust got the better of Sakthivel when he went to Kurnool.

Cricket Ganesha worship


Shobha Warrier

Nine-year-old Stalin left his cricket bat near the temple and started riding his bike. "I love this temple. This is how temples should be. I prayed to Lord Ganesha to make me a great cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar," he said.

There was hope and anticipation in his eyes. At the same time, he was slightly disappointed because he hasn't had a chance to bat in front of Ganesha.

"All the kids in the neighbourhood want to show Ganesha how they bat," he said. "I am yet to get my chance. Probably, I will be able to do it today."

Pointing to the girls who were cycling with him, he said rather contemptuously, "They are not interested in cricket at all. They don't go and pray there."

The girls protested vehemently, "We like cricket, Ganesha!" But before long they confessed: "Okay, okay, we don't like the game much. Who said it is so interesting? It is boring!"

"See? I told you they are dumb," Stalin exclaimed triumphantly and began cycling at a frantic pace, for the girls had gone far ahead of him by then!

It is said that cricket is a religion in India and the cricket mania here can only be compared to the soccer mania in Brazil. But it seems there is something more to cricket in India. Otherwise, how can anyone explain Lord Ganesha also becoming a lover of the game, and a Ganesha being named Cricket Ganesha?

When K.R.Ramakrishnan installed a small Ganesha temple in one corner of the apartment and named the God, Cricket Ganesha, his wife Saraswathi was amused; she thought it was quite childish of him to do so.

"I never used to watch cricket; but he was crazy about cricket. But I did not expect him to be so crazy as to name Lord Ganesha, Cricket Ganesha! Slowly, when India started winning matches, where its position was rather hopeless, I also started believing in Cricket Ganesha." Saraswathi said, with an amused smile on her face.

It all began when K.R.Ramkrishnan, General Manager (Legal) and Company Secretary at ACCEL ICIM Systems and Services Ltd bought a Ganesha to install in the north-east corner of his apartment as he felt a Ganesha temple should be there to guard the residents.

The day was March 11, 2001. The second Test match between India and Australia was going on at Kolkatta.

"India's position was very bad when I installed the Ganesha. Australia had scored 190 for 1 then. Australia had an enviable record of winning 16 Test matches in a row. I turned to Ganesha and prayed, 'If you are really powerful, let India win the match.' I was just testing his power. Immediately after that, Harbhajan Singh took a hat-trick. Though we were asked to follow on, we made a huge total of 600-odd. Laxman made the highest score ever made by an Indian, 281. Rahul Dravid also made 180. Harbhajan took 13 wickets in the match and we won the Test! "

No, Ramkrishnan did not name him Cricket Ganesha then. He wanted to Test the power of his Ganesha again.

"I waited for the Madras Test, and that also we won. After we won the Test series only, I started believing in his strength. And then I decided that I should name him Cricket Ganesha."

Inside the temple, not only a Ganesha, with its trunk pointing to right, but another one, with its truck pointing to the left, also is there.

There is a story behind that too. When Ramakrishnan found that his Ganesha was "helping" only the right-handed batsmen, he decided to have a God to bless the left-handed batsmen too.

"When I saw a Ganesha with a left trunk inside my friend's car, I asked him, 'Why do you have a left trunk Ganesha when the whole world knows that a right trunk Ganesha is the most powerful?' His answer perplexed me. He said, he was a left-hander and ever since he had a `left trunk Ganesha', things started looking bright for him."

Immediately, Ramakrishnan installed a Ganesha with its trunk pointing to the left. Believe it or not, he says, the Goa one-day match was played after that and Ganguly came back to form after a long gap and scored 74 runs in 83 balls.

Bishops Proceed Cautiously in Carrying Out Abuse Policy

August 18, 2002

Two months after America's Roman Catholic bishops adopted broad new policies to defuse a sexual abuse crisis, 31 bishops say they have moved swiftly to remove or suspend 114 priests, throwing dozens of parishes into turmoil, according to a survey of the nation's dioceses by The New York Times.

But despite the bishops' overwhelming vote at their June meeting in Dallas to strip past abusers of their collars and ministries, many bishops have not yet lived up to that promise. Some bishops say they have not acted because they need more time to revamp the local church panels that review abuse cases, the survey found. Others are hesitating until they see whether the Vatican accepts the new American policies.

"We're waiting for instructions from Rome as to how to proceed," said the Rev. Kevin Slattery, a spokesman for the Diocese of Jackson, Miss., where several priests accused of abuses were suspended before the Dallas conference but have not been permanently removed from ministry.


Government Investigating Leading Seller of Ephedra Dietary Supplement


Thursday, August 15, 2002

WASHINGTON The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into whether a leading ephedra seller lied about the safety of the long-controversial dietary supplement.

The Food and Drug Administration, which sought the investigation, dismissed as "disingenuous" Metabolife International's offer Thursday to turn over 13,000 health complaints from its consumers years after federal health officials sought the records.

FDA Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford said the agency would have a special task force comb the records for evidence of risks from the herbal stimulant.

The FDA has long sought the records as part of its probe of ephedra, which has been linked to dozens of deaths. Three weeks ago, the FDA asked the Justice Department to pursue a criminal investigation -- one Justice lawyers themselves had been urging.

"Metabolife has refused and resisted us at every step of the way," Crawford said. "News that so many reports exist greatly heightens our concern."

Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said Thursday a criminal investigation of the company is under way.

At issue is a 1998 statement from then-Metabolife President Michael Ellis to the FDA that his company had "never received one notice from a consumer that any serious adverse health event has occurred because of the ingestion of Metabolife 356."

But court records from private lawsuits against the San Diego-based company suggest Metabolife in fact had received reports of serious illnesses among ephedra users before Ellis made that statement, a senior Justice Department official, Eugene Thirolf, wrote the FDA last month.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Skeptic Newssearch - 8/16/02


Joe Littrell

FDA warns about dangerous Chinese diet pills
Associated Press


"Americans should avoid two Chinese diet pills because they may contain a drug banned for causing dangerous side effects, the Food and Drug Administration warned Tuesday."

Hofstad asks council to install 'energy magnifier'
by Jeremy Waltner
Freeman Courier


"Richard Hofstad wants the city of Freeman to install his invention, an "energy magnifier," at its lagoon west of town to demonstrate how the device reduces power transmission losses of horsepower and saves energy consumption."

Fort Walton Beach school officials reject opposition to pledge Associated Press http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/florida/sfl-fpledge14aug14.story

"More than 150 people shouted "under God" and held up signs bearing crosses and flags as the School Board turned down a request to take the Pledge of Allegiance out of classrooms."

Mystical Uri enters Wayne's world
By Sue Austin
Shropshire Star


"A Shrewsbury Town fan has received some extraordinary healing help - from none other than legendary spoon-bender and television star Uri Geller."

U.S. to Re-Evaluate Hormone Therapy
Associated Press


"Health officials this fall will reassess hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women in response to a recent study questioning the therapy's risks and benefits."

Atheists lose faith in Thought For The Day
by John Plunkett
The Guardian [UK]


"More than 100 public figures, led by broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy, playwright Harold Pinter and Labour MP Tony Banks, have protested to the BBC over the ban on atheist contributors to the long-running Thought For The Day slot in Radio 4's Today programme."

Atheist breaks Today tradition
by Julia Day
The Guardian [UK]


"For the first time, an atheist has delivered an alternative Thought for the Day on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme."

Atheist gives Thought for the Day
BBC News


"A scientist has become the first atheist to deliver a Thought for the Day on the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme."

The ghost blimp
Akron Beacon Journal


"There's no way we'll ever really know what happened."

Pursuing the paranormal: St. Augustine ghost tours bring thrills, chills, history
Daytona Beach News-Journal


"It's no surprise that the country's Oldest City has the oldest citizens. That is, if you count the ghosts that are said to still inhabit the area."

Uri Geller leaves psychic powers at home for celebrity Survivor


"Uri Geller says he won't be using his psychic powers on the celebrity version of Survivor."

Two teens charged with sacrificing a live cat
Associated Press


"Two Mayodan teens accused of sacrificing a live cat during a during a satanic ritual have been indicted by the Rockingham County Grand Jury."

Nic Cage and the Scientology life?


"Is Nicolas Cage getting into Scientology? Now that the moody "Honeymoon in Vegas" star has married devout Scientologist Lisa Marie Presley, sources believe that Cage is becoming involved in the controversial religion."

World War III to be Underway by 2018, Russian Predicts


Paranormal Paranoia
by Liane Klein
Santa Clarita Valley Signal


"A team of professional psychics entered Heritage Junction Sunday to answer a question that members of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society couldn't help but wonder: Is this place haunted?"

Indians blame mystery attacks on UFOs


"Panic-stricken Indian villagers are blaming UFOs for a spate of attacks that have killed several people and injured many others in Uttar Pradesh state."

By Lisa Aleman-Padilla
Fresno Bee


"A mysterious etching in a harvested cornfield at California State University, Fresno, has students and faculty trying to solve the riddle of "who done it?""

Muhnochwa only a scare, says IIT team
Times of India


"Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) experts have not found any concrete fact about the presence of muhnochwa. After watching the C D of the muhnochwa victims, the IIT team failed to get any clue about the mysterious element and decided to meet the victims personally."

Poll: For a Few True Believers, Elvis Lives
By Dana Blanton
FOX News


"Supermarket tabloids promote the idea, and 25 years after what most people agree was his death, a handful of Americans still believe Elvis could be alive."

IIT scientist solves mystery behind 'UFO'


"A scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur has solved the mystery behind the "unidentified flying object" that had created a scare in large parts of Uttar Pradesh."

Rumour Plunges Lives of Elderly Women in Danger
The Herald [Harare]


"LIVES of elderly women are in danger following the attack of four elderly women by a mob of people in Chitungwiza, Mabvuku, Glen View and Machipisa."

Interview With Aerospace Consultant Nick Cook
Fresh Air


"Aerospace consultant Nick Cook, author of the new book, The Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology. (Broadway Books/ Random House) In the book, Cook tracks down the secret history of anti-gravity research. It*s technology that defies the laws of physics. Cook discovered that during WWII, the Nazis claimed to have been close to antigravity technology. The U.S. government allegedly conducted antigravity research in the 1950s and 60s. Cook is former Aviation Editor for the military affairs journal, Jane's Defense Weekly."

Interior residents: We saw flying ball of light
by Nicole Fitzgerald
The Province [British Columbia]


"Reports of UFO sightings are flying around the central Interior and the credibility of the sightings is gaining momentum."

Town Council Calls in Shaman
Associated Press


"A Town Council known for nasty squabbling called in a shaman to rid its meeting hall of bad vibes."

Camps for Citizens: Ashcroft's Hellish Vision
Los Angeles Times


"Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's announced desire for camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be "enemy combatants" has moved him from merely being a political embarrassment to being a constitutional menace."

Dundee Daze story drew a lot of attention across the planet
By Mary Ann Holley
Sheboygan Press


"On that weekend in July, when six glowing amber spheres lit up the night sky above a forested area on the northern edge of Long Lake, 150 or more spectators who spent the day celebrating UFO Daze in Dundee believed, "They're out there.""

Roswell museum publishes UFO magazine
By Sarah Means
Washington Times


"A small New Mexico city that is the scene of America's most famous UFO incident is now the base for a new magazine on extraterrestrials."

'I make crop circles'
BBC News


"'Tis the season for crop circles. And the Mel Gibson film, Signs, has renewed interest in who - or what - might make these mysterious markings. Here, controversial crop circle maker John Lundberg tells of his nights in the Wiltshire fields."

Tourist dared to sleep in haunted jail
BBC News


"An Australian tourist has braved a night in one of Derby's most haunted buildings."

Woman's hands weeped oil, some say
Canadian Press


"Parishioners at a suburban church believe they have witnessed a sign from God - the oil that weeps from the hands of a Syrian visitor."

The Circular Logic of 'Signs'
by Leon Jaroff


"They call themselves cereologists, the motley collection of pseudo-scientists, paranormalists and unfulfilled nafs who have suddenly been thrust into the spotlight by the new movie "Signs." Yes, these cereologists (after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture) have dedicated themselves to the study of crop circles, those large patterns of flattened stalks that appear overnight, usually in fields of wheat, barley or oats."

Have Faith
Denver Westword


"Oscar Paniagua called himself El Mensajero de la Verdad, "The Messenger of Truth," and claimed he could place people's prayers directly in the lap of the Lord. Today, that could be a short trip for him."

Friday, August 16, 2002

What your writing says about you


Monday, 27 August, 2001, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK

By BBC News Online's Mike Verdin

Want to know how Sir Sigmund Warburg, who arrived in the City in 1935 with 5,000, built up a merchant bank sold 60 years later for 860m?

Through the use of handwriting analysis - graphology - apparently. (Well, in addition to boasting outstanding financial nous, and introducing Britain to the art of the hostile takeover)

Prospective employees at SG Warburg, now part of the UBS empire, would have to satisfy not just interviewers but a handwriting expert, who would hope to gain clues from the angle of letters, the roundness of vowels, as to candidates' personalities.

"There was this woman in Switzerland he would use," Lawrence Warner, principal at the International Graphology Association told BBC News Online.

"He was completely sold on it, I hear, and would not hire anyone without asking this lady's opinion."

And considering Sir Sigmund's record, what self-respecting executive could question his championing of graphology?

'Akin to voodoo'

Plenty, it seems. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the professional body for managers, has described graphology as "akin to voodoo, with almost no scientific evidence that is of any real use".

The British Psychological Society has dismissed the technique as having "zero predictive validity".

Mr Warner himself admits the technique has yet to receive the prominence he might have hoped.

"Has it?" he replies when asked when graphology took off in the UK.

Reluctant champions

He estimates that fewer than 10% of British firms consult graphologists to gain an extra opinion over the hiring of senior staff.

"Employing the wrong person can be an expensive business, so you want to make sure you do everything you can to put it right."

He quotes one estimate that a wrong appointment can cost the equivalent of two years' salary.

Even those firms which do use, or have used, graphology are often reluctant to admit it.

It took three phone calls to establish that Merrill Lynch Asset Management, which as the independent Mercury Asset Management used graphology, was not only unwilling to comment on the technique, but had in fact stopped employing it.

Pifco, which owns kettle-maker Russell and Hobbs, also declined to reveal whether it still consulted graphologists.

'Black art'

The problem is that graphology, a well-documented process even in Sir Sigmund's time, has yet in Britain to convince the sceptics.

"There is still this perception that it is a black art," Mr Warner said.

But then to demand firm proof of graphology's capabilities is to enter something of a grey area, of judgement based on movement, form and arrangement of writing, slant size and pressure.

"A lot of the evidence for graphology is anecdotal," Mr Warner admits.

Long history

The appreciation of handwriting analysis dates back to at least 1622, and a critique by an Italian scholar.

Novelists Charles Dickens and Johann Goethe are among figures who dabbled with the subject, before, in the 1870s, French priest Jean Hypolite Michon opened efforts to establish graphology as science.

A series of academics since have sought to develop subjective and systematic analysis techniques.

Graphology today is based around consideration of a string of features, such as the size of letters, curvature and spacing.

The pen pressure the writer has used is taken as a guide to energy levels, while the slant of letters is seen as an indication of emotionality.

As one observer put it: "Your writing is formed according to impulses from the brain via the nervous system and muscles in your hand.

"Like a seismograph needle, the pen detects and transmits unseen tremors, creating a style of handwriting which is as unique as fingerprints."

'Potential harm'

It is not an argument which cuts much ice at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which has undertaken a review of tests on graphology's effectiveness.

The institute concluded that "the scientific data overwhelmingly points to the failure of graphology to demonstrate any real validity.

"Employers considering the use of graphology should be aware of the limitations of the technique, its unreliability and the potential harm this could cause to their business."

Institute adviser Ms Baron urged companies to rely on other assessment techniques.

"The evidence around psychometric testing, for instance, is far better documented.

"There may turn out to be something in graphology, but the case has yet to be proven."

'National psyche'

Try saying that in mainland Europe, however, where the legacy of Father Jean is written large, on French and Dutch landscapes particularly.

Some three quarters of French firms are estimated, albeit by graphologist themselves, to consult handwriting analysts during recruitment.

Whereas in Britain, graphology's fortunes have depended largely on individual champions, such as Sir Sigmund or former Pifco boss Michael Webber, across the Channel handwriting analysis is taken as read.

"It is part of the national psyche there," Mr Warner said. "People expect to have their handwriting tested when applying for a job."

Chance meeting

And it was indeed through contact with France that society jewellery firm Elizabeth Gage, one of graphology's most vocal UK champions, was introduced to the technique.

In the late 1980s, at a business awards ceremony sponsored by French-based champagne producer Veuve Clicquot, Elizabeth Gage executives met a graphologist who offered a free handwriting test.

"It was so astonishingly accurate that we decided to look into graphology further," said chief executive Zoe Simpson.

"Now all our staff are tested. We have found graphology to be incredibly accurate."

Honesty measure

The technique's ability to spot hidden character traits is particularly relevant for a firm dealing with valuable goods, where honesty among staff is an essential characteristic, she said.

"At the time there had been problems in another jewellery store around the corner. One of the staff had tipped someone off."

Graphological studies of handwriting from potential employees had been "uncannily accurate", she added.

"It even goes down to him [the graphologist] mentioning phrases which candidates have used themselves in subsequent interviews."

One candidate assessed as seeming to have been imprisoned, yet showing no criminal tendency, turned out to have been a political refugee.

Another reported to have low energy levels was found just to have recovered from serious illness.

Future test?

So, 130 years after Father Jean embarked on his efforts to prove the validity of handwriting analysis, the jury is still out on the technique's effectiveness.

Some swear by it, some swear at it.

And whichever is right, with less than one-in-10 UK companies consulting graphologists, the chances of most job-seekers encountering a handwriting test are minimal.

Unless, that is, they are applying for work in the kettle-making or upmarket jewellery sectors, or for a job in France, whose economy is, after all, described as the star performer of the eurozone.

It is then that the slants and curves of your scrawl could test your career ambitions.

And no amount of protesting that the dominance of Word and e-mail has affected your ability to write is likely to prove a convincing defence.

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 16, 2002

Criminal probe of diet pill company
from The San Francisco Chronicle

The Department of Justice has opened a criminal probe into whether Metabolife International of San Diego lied when it told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it knew of no side effects associated with taking the herbal supplement ephedra.

The nonprescription pill, which an estimated 12 million Americans use for weight loss and other purposes, has been the focus of a long-running medical feud over whether it can cause heart attacks, strokes and even death.

The investigation reveals the government's frustration after five years of trying to get Metabolife, one of the leading makers of ephedra products, to give the FDA any reports of ill effects involving the supplement.

In an effort to blunt charges that it had withheld information, Metabolife gave the FDA on Thursday 13,000 complaints of health problems from ephedra it had collected over five years. But the FDA dismissed the gesture as too little, too late.

"Metabolife has resisted us every step of the way," deputy FDA commissioner Lester Crawford said in a statement. The FDA revealed the existence of the investigation, which it requested three weeks ago, only after Public Citizen--a Washington, D.C., health watchdog group associated with Ralph Nader--posted an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

In the Public Citizen complaint, health industry critic Sidney Wolfe cited an April 17, 1998, letter in which Metabolife President Michael Ellis told the FDA that his company had never received any reports from consumers complaining of serious adverse health events connected with taking ephedra.


Private Firm's Experiment
from The Boston Globe

SAN DIEGO -- Security consultants entered scores of confidential military and government computers without approval this summer, exposing vulnerabilities that specialists say open the networks to electronic attacks and spying.

The consultants, inexperienced but armed with free, widely available software, identified unprotected PCs and then roamed at will through sensitive files containing military procedures, personnel records, and financial data.

One computer at Fort Hood in Texas held a copy of an air support squadron's "smart book" that details radio encryption techniques, the use of laser targeting systems, and other field procedures. Another maintained hundreds of soldier records containing Social Security numbers, security clearance levels, and credit card numbers. A NASA computer contained vendor records, including company bank account and financial routing numbers.

Available on other machines across the country were e-mail messages, confidential disciplinary letters, and, in one case, a memo naming couriers to carry secret documents and their destination, according to records maintained by ForensicTec Solutions Inc., the four-month-old security company that discovered the lapses.

ForensicTec officials said they first stumbled upon the accessible military computers about two months ago, when they were checking the network security for a private-sector client. They saw several of the computers' online identifiers, known as Internet protocol addresses. Through a simple Internet search, they found the computers were linked to networks at Fort Hood.


from The Rocky Mountain News

Three Colorado horses and a dead crow have tested positive for West Nile virus, marking the deadly germ's much-anticipated arrival in the state and its westernmost detection in the United States so far.

Two of the horses and the crow were from Greeley. The other horse was from Pueblo, health officials announced Thursday. No human cases have been found in the state.

"Even with the presence of the virus in the state, the chances of any one person becoming ill with West Nile virus disease is remote," said Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado's acting chief medical officer.

"Your risk of the things that we usually are concerned about--heart disease, motor vehicle injuries and cancer--are still much greater than your risk of becoming ill or seriously ill with West Nile disease."


from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The West Nile virus epidemic could cause 1,000 serious illnesses and 100 deaths before the mosquito season ends this fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

And significant numbers of people made seriously ill by the virus could face long-term health consequences, the CDC said.

The grim forecast came as the Atlanta-based agency released the latest tally for the mosquito-borne infection: nine deaths and 156 lab-confirmed cases of human illness in eight states. In addition, the virus has been found in horses, birds or mosquitoes in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

New cases were reported Thursday in Maryland, Missouri and Ohio. Also, state health officials announced the discovery of the West Nile virus in Colorado. None of the state findings released Thursday have been confirmed by the CDC.

Dr. Lyle Petersen of the CDC's insect-borne diseases branch in Fort Collins, Colo., said the latest projections are based on research conducted since West Nile arrived in the United States in August 1999.

In each of the past three summers, only 10 percent to 15 percent of West Nile cases had occurred by Aug. 1, Petersen noted.

"The vast majority" of the 156 cases confirmed this year by the CDC "actually had symptoms before Aug. 1," he said. "We are still on the upslope of the epidemic curve. We expect more cases to occur."


from The Miami Herald

NEW YORK -- The smoke hangs thick at Pete's Tavern, swirling through the 138-year-old pub as the lunch-hour conversation turns to the mayor's plan to ban smoking in thousands of bars and restaurants across the city.

"They did it in California, but everybody out there is a health nut," said Phil Kraker, an accountant and a Pete's regular. "They're out jogging at four in the morning. Those people are crazy. This is New York."

Depending on which smoker you ask, the proposal--which must still clear the City Council--is either a personal affront or an attack on the appeal of New York itself. Bar patrons say they should have the option of savoring a cigarette with their cocktails, especially in a city that prides itself on its independence, not to mention its nightlife.

"New York is the capital of the world," said Audrey Silk, founder of the smoker-rights group NYC CLASH. "The charm of New York is our differences. Now you want to create this bland, faceless city?"

Mayor Michael Bloomberg stirred up the controversy a week ago in calling for the ban. The former smoker said bars and restaurants have to protect their employees from harmful smoke, just as they do from toxins like asbestos.


from The Miami Herald

WASHINGTON -- The government has ordered a Georgia tissue bank, whose products are linked to a death and serious infections, to stop distributing its cadaver tissue, charging that CryoLife Inc. can't guarantee that the grafts are free of fungus or bacteria.

Wednesday's unusually harsh action by the Food and Drug Administration comes after months of failed inspections and negotiations with the Kennesaw, Ga., company, which the FDA said has refused to adopt and follow procedures to prevent contamination of donated tissue.

The FDA ordered CryoLife to recall all the soft tissue--such as cartilage and tendons--that it has processed since Oct. 3, a month before a 23-year-old Minnesota man died from a bacterial infection linked to CryoLife cartilage received during reconstructive knee surgery.

Nor can the company resume distribution until it meets federal standards to ensure the products aren't tainted, said Mary Malarkey, the FDA compliance officer in charge of the case.

Among the FDA's top charges: that CryoLife sent out tissue from a cadaver even after it had confirmed the presence of harmful germs in tissue samples from the same donor.


from The New York Times

Orthopedic surgeons reassured patients yesterday that risks of infection from cadaver tissue are small and that there were several good sources of it besides a company whose shipments were ordered halted Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency acted against CryoLife Inc. of Kennesaw, Ga., the nation's largest processor of donor tissue, ordering it to recall all soft tissues--ligaments, tendons and cartilage--it had sent to surgeons since Oct. 3. The agency said the company had not done enough to ensure that its tissues were free of deadly bacteria and fungi. Such tissues are widely used in orthopedic surgery to repair bad knees and other muscular or skeletal injuries.

"There are many excellent tissue banks that follow extremely good tissue practices," said Dr. Gary Friedlaender, professor and chairman of the department of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the Yale University School of Medicine, who is a spokesman on tissue bank safety for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. "There is no need to panic. There's no crisis in supply or confidence in these procedures."

Of the estimated 650,000 transplants each year using allografts, or donor tissue from cadavers, about 10 percent involve the kinds of tissues being recalled by CryoLife. Bones and many other allograft materials are not affected.

Dr. Warren King, an orthopedic surgeon at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in California, said he did 400 to 500 allografts a year, mostly for sports injuries, and had only seen one serious infection in more than eight years.

"These products are safe and effective," he said. "They allow us to eliminate a tremendous amount of pain and suffering."

Dr. King said patients had been calling him to ask if they should delay surgery. "I tell them that they can do more damage to the joints if they wait too long," he said.


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Articles of Note

The Odds of That
New York Times


"When the Miami Police first found Benito Que, he was slumped on a desolate side street, near the empty spot where he had habitually parked his Ford Explorer. At about the same time, Don C. Wiley mysteriously disappeared. His car, a white rented Mitsubishi Galant, was abandoned on a bridge outside of Memphis, where he had just had a jovial dinner with friends. The following week, Vladimir Pasechnik collapsed in London, apparently of a stroke."

Circular argument crops up yet again
Skeptics, believers continue debate

By Michael Booth , Denver Post Staff Writer

Friday, August 02, 2002 - For most people, crop circles are simply the pattern they cut in their grass while walking behind the lawn mower. Get ready to hear a lot more about the real ones.


From Sami Rozenbaum, group leader in Venezuela

Hi, Barry! Today (Sunday) appeared a full-page interview in a Venezuelan national newspaper about the skeptic position, CSICOP, AREV and the World Skeptics Conference:


and also:


Two incumbents lose in Board of Education races
Kansas City Star


"Voters on Tuesday ousted two incumbent moderates on the Kansas Board of Education, raising the possibility that the board could return to a 5-5 moderate-conservative split."

Fertile Imaginations
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post


"Suddenly, crop circles are hot. They're hip. They're not just for New Age neo-Druid saucer freaks anymore."

Earth to conspiracy buffs: Moon landing hoax looks so good on TV
by Tom Lyons
Sarasota Herald-Tribune


"The video came weeks ago, in a manila envelope with no letter explaining what it was or why it was sent."

Fireball terrorises south-western Nepal
Australian Broadcasting Corporation


"Many residents of south-western Nepal are living in fear after seeing a fireball swoop down from the sky to attack a woman two nights in a row, reports have said."

No UFOs sighted; `flash' likely a meteor
By Craig Garretson
Cincinnati Post


"Call off the Men In Black."

People will believe the nuttiest things
By James A. Haught


"Well, the recent movie "The Mothman Prophecies" stirred thoughts about the eagerness of some people to believe nutty things."

Psychic visits area seeking Song clues
By Adam Smeltz
State College Centre Daily Times


"A two-day visit from a California psychic tracking the Cindy Song case turned up possible landmarks or clues the psychic had predicted earlier, an investigator said Thursday."

God in the Brain


"To those who believe, prayer can be a mysterious distillation of adoration, gratitude, pain and hope. Science prefers what is "real," and thus subject to measurement, analysis and explanation."

Is That Real Science or . . . Is That a Candle in Your Ear?
By Chris Mooney
Washington Post


"'How Psychic Are You?' "101 Ways of Seeing Yourself; From Archetypes and Chakras to Enneagrams and Sun Signs." "Unexplained Phenomena." At first glance, these are the kind of book titles you might expect to find at a New Age shrine in Sedona, Ariz. But I came upon them recently at my local Discovery Channel Store at Union Station, where they nestled among wildlife books, electronic devices, kids' science kits and copies of "The Universe in a Nutshell" by Stephen Hawking. It was as if, on the Discovery store's shelves, the endless battle between fringe and mainstream science had finally reached an uneasy truce."

Cardiologist gets grant to study chelation therapy
Miami Herald


"A Mount Sinai Medical Center cardiologist has received a $30 million National Institutes of Health grant to put chelation therapy, a controversial alternative treatment for heart disease, under the microscope of a large-scale clinical trial."

Cereal offenders who won't go away
Christian Science Monitor


"Hollywood's latest cash crop, the Mel Gibson thriller "Signs," took in more than $60 million in its opening weekend, a record for Gibson and for writer-director M. Night Shyalaman. The movie's premise - that aliens are responsible for the sudden appearance of elaborate "crop circles" all over the world - has resurrected a mystery that was actually solved a decade ago.

Official: Russia to Monitor TV


"All Russian TV channels will be screened for extra video frames containing subliminal messages by the end of the year, a broadcasting official said Wednesday."

Villagers Blame UFO for India Attacks
Associated Press


"It comes in the night, a flying sphere emitting red and blue lights that attacks villagers in this poor region, extensively burning those victims it does not kill."

Here is a very cool thing to check out:

For more info, and to find the local times when this for-real spaceship will be visible to you. See:


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