NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 August 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, August 26, 2002

Science In the News

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

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 26, 2002

from The Washington Post

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Stepping up his counteroffensive against FBI anthrax investigators who have targeted him, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill released documents yesterday showing that he worked long hours in Virginia the days the contaminated letters were mailed in New Jersey last fall.

In his second public statement in two weeks, Hatfill accused the FBI of bungling the high-profile investigation of the bioterrorist attack that killed five people and then pursuing him publicly in a cynical attempt to demonstrate progress. He also offered to take blood tests and give handwriting samples to prove his innocence.

Hatfill singled out Attorney General John Ashcroft for publicly naming him as a "person of interest" in the anthrax investigation as recently as last week. Hatfill's attorney, Victor M. Glasberg, released copies of formal misconduct complaints he has filed with the Justice Department against Ashcroft and FBI agents pursuing the case.

"This assassination of my character appears to be part of a government-run effort to show the American people that it is proceeding vigorously and successfully with the anthrax investigation," said Hatfill, his voice occasionally breaking with emotion. "I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare to them, 'I am not the anthrax killer.'"


from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Scientists say the first global survey of the health of the world's coral reefs shows they are in serious decline, with overfishing worsening a crisis situation.

Scientists and volunteers found that overfishing has affected 95 percent of the more than 1,000 coral reefs monitored since 1997. At least four species of reef fish, hunted as food or to adorn aquariums, face extinction, further threatening the biodiversity of the marine ecosystems.

The results of the five-year study are presented in report being released Monday by the Institute of the Environment's Reef Check program at the University of California, Los Angeles. More than 5,000 scientists and volunteers in about 60 countries contributed to the survey, possibly the largest ecological study ever undertaken.

"What we have seen is coral reefs have been damaged more in the last 20 years than they have in the last 1,000. Suddenly, the pressures of overfishing and damaging types of fishing -- dynamiting fish and poisoning fish, particularly in Southeast Asia -- have taken off," said Gregor Hodgson, a UCLA marine ecologist and founder of Reef Check.


from The Associated Press

WORCESTER, Mass. -- It hangs in the daytime sky like a dirty curtain filtering sunlight into a toxic gray haze, choking throats and burning eyes.

But what smog-causing pollution does when the sun sets is still a mystery to scientists, and one they say needs to be solved if pollution regulation is going to work.

"We don't have a good idea about what's going on at night," said Carl Berkowitz, a scientist for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "And if we don't understand what goes on at night, we can't have confidence that we know the best way to fight smog during the day."

So Berkowitz led a team of scientists into the night sky in search of answers. For two weeks, the group flew a laboratory-equipped plane into pockets of pollution hovering over Boston and floating over the Atlantic.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

As Earth-bound astronomers wait and ponder the mysterious nature of a giant moon that circles the planet Saturn, computer scientists believe they have modeled a solution to at least one of its major puzzles.

The moon is Titan - a strange anomaly in the solar system and the only planetary satellite with a thick atmosphere of its own.

That atmosphere, full of the chemicals involved in life itself, is dominated by nitrogen and traces of methane, but even the best of telescopes cannot pierce the thick, dark-orange clouds of what can only be photochemical smog that eternally shrouds its entire surface.

Larger than the planet Mercury, and more than twice the size of Earth's own moon, Titan is 3,200 miles in diameter and could well be a planet by itself, yet it remains one of the 18 known Saturnian satellites, and it will not be visited at close range by any spacecraft for another two years.


from The Washington Post

For farmers struggling to make a living with corn and soybeans, a new cash crop may be on the horizon: carbon. Although it can't be used to feed animals or make vegetable oil, "farming" carbon could provide extra income for farmers and provide significant environmental benefits.

A $15 million project being carried out by 10 universities in the Midwest has the goal of encouraging farmers to use methods, including "no-till" farming, that keep carbon in the soil rather than releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases considered a culprit in global warming.

Widespread carbon "sequestration" by farmers could reduce the expected increase in carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent per year, according to leaders of the project, called CASMGS (Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases).

And many agricultural experts expect that a private market will develop in "carbon credits," meaning farmers who sequester carbon could sell their credits to industrial companies that emit high levels of the gas. This could be done now on a voluntary basis to help companies "green" their image. If Congress or state legislatures pass carbon caps, the credits could be sold to corporations that are above the legal limit. A similar market in sulfur dioxide credits already exists.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists in Mexico City may have confirmed one finding by a University of California at Berkeley scientist who caused an international furor last year when he reported finding traces of bioengineered corn in native Mexican maize.

The latest research, outlined in an e-mail from the president of Mexico's National Institute of Ecology, comes as welcome news to UC Berkeley ecology Professor Ignacio Chapela.

"We know a little bit about their work," Chapela said. "We're anxious to see the full data."

Chapela, who is up for tenure, has been on a scientific hot seat since November, when the European journal Nature published his report that genes from bioengineered corn had appeared in native maize plants from Oaxaca.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Here's a friendly public service reminder for biotech CEOs.

If your company is one of the 3,000 U.S. biotech firms that recently received a 25-page survey from the Department of Commerce, make sure someone fills it out and returns it within 45 days.

"Failure to report can result in a maximum fine of $10,000 or imprisonment up to one year, or both," warns the imposing document from the Bureau of Industry and Security, formerly known as the Bureau of Export Affairs.

The questions suggest the Commerce Department is trying to get a handle on what sort of research biotech companies do, and how much their work involves international talent or sales.


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The Great African Gold Mining E-Mail Operation


By Ken Ringle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 12, 2002; Page C01

Lots of books and articles these days tell us there is great poverty in Africa. This can't be true, however, because people I've never even met over there keep e-mailing me wanting to send me money.

This is a relatively recent event. We used to send money to Africa. But apparently political uncertainties over there make it imperative that various government officials deposit millions of dollars into my bank account if I will only give them my account number and other personal data. All of these offers, by the way, are STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL, so be sure not to tell anyone.

Ghost tours explore spirits' existence


By Linda Florea | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted August 25, 2002

KISSIMMEE -- They say you can still hear the footsteps of John L. Overstreet echoing in the halls of the third floor of the historic courthouse.

Between 1905 and 1953, Overstreet walked the corridors of the building, first as a tax assessor and later as clerk of courts. Finding a bridge between the spiritual and physical world, some think that in death Overstreet continues his daily rituals inside the courthouse.

Outside the courthouse, the oaks offer cool shade on the well-manicured lawn as workers and residents buzz about on county business. One tree, however, has a reputation for more than blocking the sun. Some say they have seen visions of those who lost their lives under the so-called hanging tree.

Across the street in Grissom Park, swings supposedly move mysteriously by themselves and the merry-go-round turns, some say haunted by the spirit of a child who warns others to be wary of strangers.

If you believe, it seems ghosts are in every nook and cranny in Kissimmee. Diana Baldwin is a believer.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

The Ritual Abuse Controversy
An annotated bibliography

Mary de Young
258pp. $49.95 softcover

The ritual abuse of children is the most controversial issue in the child maltreatment field, but much of what has been written about ritual abuse over the past twenty years is in the form of unpublished and endlessly reproduced "stuff"—a curious mixture of conjecture, folkloric and pop-culture representations of Satanism, devil worship, occultism and witchcraft, and Christian Fundamentalist images of premillennarian evil. What remains after this "stuff" is excluded is an intriguing body of international literature that seriously examines the controversy.

This annotated bibliography dissects the literature, objectively and thoroughly annotates published articles, books and reports, legal opinions, and occasionally, thought-provoking newspaper and magazine articles. Chapters deal with the definition of ritual abuse, ritual abuse cases in the United States, cases in American families and neighborhoods, cases in Canada, Europe and Australasia, clinical features of ritual abuse in children and adults, the controversy's impact on professionals and systems, the controversy and American law, ritual abuse reports and narratives, and anthropological, folkloric and sociological perspectives.

About the Author
Mary de Young, a professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology at Grand Valley State University, lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Pop-Up Ad Says You've Won a Vacation. Then Come the Bills.


August 25, 2002

WHILE scanning the Internet last fall, Susan Hacking came across a pop-up ad that caught her eye: she had "won" an eight-day cruise for two to the Bahamas. All she had to do was call a toll-free number. She quickly signed up, even after being told that she would have to pay $348 for the accommodations, which she did by giving out her credit card number. "The price was good," she said. "I thought it would be a nice thing to do for my husband for Christmas."

But when her vacation package arrived in December, Mrs. Hacking, 63, said she was disappointed to find even more hidden costs, including air fare and port charges. She decided to cancel but said she has yet to receive a refund or even a response from the Florida-based company that sold her the package.

'Of Moths and Men': The Moth That Failed


August 25, 2002


It was the story that was supposed to prove Darwin right. It began in England, during the Industrial Revolution, when foul black smoke began to pour from factory chimneys. The air grew so thick with soot and grime that mothers, it was said, ''could barely make out the outlines of their children across the street.'' Acid rain soaked nearby woodlands, stripping tree trunks of their speckled lichens, leaving them bare and nearly black.

At the same time, British lepidopterists, mostly a pack of woodsy amateurs, noticed a change in the peppered moth. The typical speckled variety was quickly being replaced by an unusual black form, especially in the polluted industrial Midlands. As the forests darkened under the grimy skies, the moths grew darker. The typical peppered moths -- which had been nearly invisible on the trunks of unpolluted, lichen-covered trees -- were now becoming easy for hungry birds to spot on stripped, dark tree trunks. Perhaps the darker moths, less visible in polluted forests, were an adaptation, evidence of natural selection at work. Ever since Darwin, biologists had been looking for an example of evolution in action. Now they thought they had it.

The idea that natural selection might explain the rise of the dark moths was suggested in the late 19th century. But it wasn't tested until 1953, when E. B. Ford, an Oxford biologist, recruited an amateur lepidopterist, H. B. D. Kettlewell, to get out into the field and find out what was happening. Kettlewell, a doctor, and a moth collector since he was a boy, jumped at the opportunity to abandon his medical practice and pursue his hobby full time.

Assignment America: Smoke screens


By John Bloom
From the Life & Mind Desk
Published 8/22/2002 12:35 PM

NEW YORK, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- If you were to be strapped down on a surgical table while four guys exhaled smoke directly into your mouth and nostrils for 30 years, you MIGHT get lung cancer 40 years after they stopped -- but it's not likely.

I'm using this absurd example, because ALL of the other examples in the available scientific literature are equally absurd.

The second-hand smoke scare is a political farce. It was invented in the mid-1990s by the Clinton administration -- it has Hillary's hands all over it -- because anti-smoking radicals, who tend to be like anti-abortion radicals in their zealous devotion to the cause, actually convinced the Environmental Protection Agency to change its "conventional standard for statistical significance" so that second-hand smoke could be proven to be a killer.

Object as subject
Planet Earth should welcome aliens with open arms


Pandemonium has broken out in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where an unidentified flying object known as muhnochwa, or "face scratcher", has caused panic with a concerted nocturnal campaign of, er, face scratching. Villagers have criticised the local constabulary for not protecting them from this menace, presumably in the hope that the UFO would make itself scarce after a ticking-off of the sort: "Now, look here, young face scratcher, this prowling about has got to stop."

In the tradition of UFO encounters, conspiracy theories have grown up to explain this phenomenon, ranging from alien invasion forces to genetically engineered bugs. Others are following a still more traditional route and blaming the Pakistanis. The National Intelligence Bureau sent a team of crack investigators to the region who created a replica muhnochwa using a pole, a couple of bicycle lights and some double-sided sticky tape to lure the UFO out of its lair. When something with the demeanour of a flying photocopier took to the night skies they considered their suspect booked.

Ah, the UFO, B-movie stalwart and 20th-century scourge. Time was when the UFO fulfilled that time-honoured entertainment axiom of being "all we had." When the Cold War was at its peak and before the advent of colour television, time played heavily on the hands of young Brits and Americans, particularly in rural parts. A run-in with a little green man, quick jaunt in a space ship, and a frisky bit of business involving a medical examination was the most that a youngster could hope for of a Saturday night. When not fraternising with loners, anoraks, Steven Spielberg and adolescents, aliens devoted their time to exactly the sort of activities these individuals liked to engage in: frightening neighbours, meddling with cattle and vandalising crops. Uncanny.

As the 21st century became not a silver-suited fantasy, but a mundane reality, aliens lost their bite. The things that petrified the punters back in the old days could no longer compete with Hollywood special effects or the terrifying complexity of The X-Files plot. It looked as if aliens, like demons, would be forced to join the dole queue of unemployed bogeymen who once terrified humanity but now make it scoff.

Until, that is, their reassuring reappearance in India. Turns out aliens had not lost their mojo, theyre just on a gap year, and will return to Western parts, talking about how magical it all was. And we should welcome them with open arms. They are the Them without which we are not Us and if we were not a little obsessed by aliens, we would fret all the more about the neighbours and their annoying habits.



by Bill Chalker
(copyright;1997 - B. Chalker)
The author can be contacted C/-
P.O. Box 42,
West Pennant Hills, NSW, 2125,
Phone: Sydney, Australia + 9484 4680
Email: bill_c@bigpond.com

The Tully "saucer nest" has a very special place in UFO lore. The famous Tully "UFO nest" affair of 1966 is one of the best known accounts of an apparent UFO landing report. It is the focus of a very important nexus in the pivotal question of UFO reality. 1966 was a major year for UFO activity in Australia.

The classic UFO landing at Horseshoe Lagoon near Tully, far north Queensland, and witnessed by 28 year old banana farmer George Pedley, entered the term UFO "nest" into popular UFO parlance. The locality was the centre of an extended UFO milieu that continued for many years, particularly in 1969, 1972 and 1975. The area was also the site of controversial experiments in UFO detection through remote sensing and filming.

The Tully incident has been mentioned extensively in the UFO literature over the years, and yet surprisingly many inaccuracies and misconceptions have developed. These problems became more critical when the famous incident once again became the focus of attention, this time due to the English "crop circle" controversy.

Ted Phillips' Physical Trace Catalogue


(These selections from the Ted Phillips Trace Catalogue originally appeared in several editions of the Crop Watcher magazine. and were compiled by British researcher, Paul Fuller.

Special thanks to Paul Fuller for allowing us to compile his extracts into one article, and to Mark Rodeghier of CUFOS for permission to reproduce Ted Phillips' material.

Ted Phillips' Physical Trace Catalogue
by Paul Fuller
E-mail: 100611.1013@compuserve.com

I am very grateful to Mark Rodeghier of the J. Allen-Hynek Centre for UFO Studies (CUFOS) for allowing me to reproduce the following cases from Ted Phillips' celebrated Physical Trace Catalogue. The catalogue was published in 1975 by CUFOS and its proper title is Physical Traces Associated with UFO Sightings, A Preliminary Catalogue.

Ted Phillips was born in 1942 and has lived all his life in Missouri. He is still alive today and his career in UFO research stretched from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s. Phillips had a varied career and at various times was an inspector for the Missouri State Highway Department, a professional photographer and also an amateur jazz musician. According to Ronald Story's UFO Encyclopedia Phillips investigated more than five hundred UFO cases in his first twelve years of UFO research. His position statement (written in the mid 1970s) concluded "I believe, after thirteen years of investigation, [that] the data indicates a non-terrestrial origin."

This summary is based on only a partial listing of the catalogue as many of Phillips' cases appear extremely dubious in nature. Cases from the early 1950s are particularly unreliable because many of the early UFO books were written by people who automatically assumed that they were describing encounters with alien spaceships. Jenny Randles tells me that cases reported in the "hysterical" Spanish and South American media should be treated even more skeptically because these cases were often complete fabrications! Furthermore many of the early cases have no proper source, e.g. Phillips quotes Vallee describing cases which appear to have been anecdotally reported to Vallee. This means that we often have no idea whether or not a specific case was investigated by anyone, let alone whether it was a contemporary investigation or whether the investigator was in any sense someone capable of undertaking an objective scientific evaluation.

The Gyroverse: The Hidden Structure of the Universe


There are too many unexplainable behaviors of the Universe that are not supported by our three-dimensional view. For a plausible explanation, a new physical construct of the universe is needed. Take, for example, the behavior of quantum ntanglement, the phenomena where particles that at one time interact, retain an uncanny awareness of each other, even after being separated by miles. This aberration can be explained if these particle are, in reality, very close to each other. Another seemingly unexplainable enigma that Isaac Newton was first to identify, is the equivalence of inertial, gravitational and energy mass. These are three seemingly unrelated phenomena that, on the surface, should not have the same mass value. However, they do, because they all have a common origin that is not apparent from the three-dimensional view of the universe. Many other unexplained natural occurrences will also be described in this book, each of which further helps to reveal the nature of the universe. Intuition, common sense, and logic can no longer be relied upon because the physical structure of the universe is very different from its appearance. This new gyroverse model of the universe explains these many mysterious anomalies. In this model, the universe is composed of twelve dimensions, which are related in shape to a hyper-cylinder with proportions the size of an atom. All matter is wrapped around the twelve-dimensional hyper-cylinder moving at the speed of light. The immense inertia caused by this motion constrains all movements to this three-dimensional subset. Light, and all other reference measurements follow the same rotational path. All bending is confined to dimensions other than our three-dimensional Euclidean subset, so that the rolled-up nature of the universe is hidden, giving the universe its current three-dimensional Euclidean appearance. Distances, as far as light years away, in three dimensions are reduced to atomic distances in the full twelve-dimensional space. Even though it seems implausible for the entire universe to fit into such a seemingly small manifold, it can do so with room to spare. This is because in high dimensional spaces, the distances can be kept small, while allowing the volume inside to be immense.

The Haunted E-Bay Painting


In February, 2000 the sudden appearance of a rather strange painting with the accompanying title of "Haunted Painting" made it's debut on Ebay.com. Of course a title like this is going to attract attention and it's still discussed to this day whether the painting is genuinely haunted or not. Even stranger is the reactions that the general public had when viewing the photos of the painting.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Alleee and Franc's


George Hammond is, contrarily to everyone else reviewed on this site, a real scientist. He has two diplomas in physics, granted by two serious universities (as far as I can tell), and seems to be knowledgeable of Relativity. On the other hand, he is a well-known kook, having written a book called "The Origin of the Cross" that featured a weird 4-sided numerology, and having been featured in the book "Kooks Outtakes" for it, and now putting on a web site his "THE WORLD'S FIRST SCIENTIFIC PROOF OF GOD".

Discovery of a scientific proof of God

The web site itself confirms our suspicions, if only because he compares himself with Gregor Mendel and imagines himself having a conversation with Feynman (from what I know of Feynman, he would only talk to him to have a good joke to tell other people, certainly not to have a serious conversation) .

However, we should still give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he did prove God. Here is the proof in one sentence :

God is caused by the curvature of Psychometry Space

DiskCure. A New Breakthrough for Pain. At last. Without Surgery


Another medical scam?

DiskCure(tm) is a breakthrough new non-surgical treatment for patients with back, leg, neck, or arm pain, numbness, or weakness associated with disk disease. By using the power of a new class of biotechnology medications it has brought relief to many patients who have failed to respond to epidural steroids, spinal surgery, and many other treatment modalities.

School Board to Revise Policy on "Theories of Origin"


The Board of the Cobb County School District, near Atlanta, decided on August 22 to consider changes in a policy related to science and evolution education. Early this year the same district adopted an evolution textbook disclaimer. Now the seven member board has voted unanimously to study a proposed new policy for 30 days. A final vote will probably be taken at their September 26 meeting.

The district's current policy entitled "Theories of Origin" dates from 1995. It reads as follows:

The Cobb County School District acknowledges that some scientific accounts of the origin of human species as taught in public schools are inconsistent with the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens. Therefore, the instructional program and curriculum of the school system shall be planned and organized with respect for these family teachings. The Constitutional principle of separation of church and state shall be preserved and maintained as established by the United States Supreme Court and defined by judicial decisions.
The proposed new policy states:
As stated in Policy IA, Philosophy, it is the educational philosophy of the Cobb County School District to provide a broad based curriculum; therefore, the Cobb County School District believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species. This subject remains an area of intense interest, research, and discussion among scholars. As a result, the study of this subject shall be handled in accordance with this policy and with objectivity and good judgment on the part of teachers, taking into account the age and maturity level of their students. Parents should refer to Policy ICA, Curriculum Development, Policy ID, Curriculum Design and Implementation, Policy IDA, Student Competencies for Basic Program, and Policy and Regulation IFAA, Textbook Selection and Adoption for additional information regarding curriculum selection and content.
According to a news report in the August 23 Atlanta Journal-Constitution Board Chairman Curt Johnston "…said he did not know how the policy would change current classroom practices and he wasn't sure whether the new language allows creationism to be discussed." However, the headline of a news report in the August 23 New York Times stating "Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible" seems to be incorrect, as is the statement in its first sentence that the district would now require "giving equal weight to evolution and biblical interpretations".

In March of this year the Cobb district board approved new science textbooks which included coverage of evolution. At the same time, the board decided to require a "disclaimer" sticker be printed and placed in each book. The new books, with stickers, are being used this school year. The disclaimer states:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

On August 21 the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a federal lawsuit against the school district asking that the disclaimers be removed from the textbooks.

August 24, 2002

Meet the Nigerian E-Mail Grifters


By Michelle Delio
2:00 a.m. July 17, 2002 PDT

She's a widow, he's a high-ranking government official. They have fallen on hard times and urgently request your assistance to get a large sum of money out of Nigeria. They will reward you handsomely for your help.

Chances are you've seen something like that in your e-mail box. Perhaps in a bored moment you've wondered who sends them and why they bother; after all, no one could be gullible enough to buy into such an obvious con game.

Zero Tolerance Takes Big Toll in a Texas Diocese


August 24, 2002

TULIA, Tex. - The table at the Church of the Holy Spirit is lined with casseroles and bowls of fresh fruit as the new priest, the Rev. Scott Raef, loads his plate under watchful eyes. His arrival has brought joy and relief, and also a little teasing from his new parishioners, who are eager to fatten up his slender frame.

More than two months earlier, in a potluck supper in this same hall, some people had little appetite as they bid an abrupt and unexpected farewell to the previous pastor, the Rev. John Salazar-Jimenez. Only later did they learn that Father Salazar-Jimenez had once been in a California prison for sexually abusing two altar boys. His secret had lasted 11 years.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – August 23, 2002

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Imagine a big, big rock -- a few miles wider than San Francisco -- plunging from the sky at an incredible speed and striking the Earth hard enough to gouge out a crater tens or hundreds of miles wide.

That's what happened 3.47 billion years ago, and the colossal impact generated tidal waves more than a mile high around the world, scientists report in today's issue of Science.

The asteroid was probably about 12 miles wide, twice the diameter of the falling rock that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, said Donald Lowe, a Stanford University geologist who co-authored the article.

"This is the oldest record of an asteroid impact ever found on Earth," said another co-author, geologist Gary Byerly of Louisiana State University. Previously, the most ancient known terrestrial impact crater was 1.9 billion years old.


from The Chicago Tribune

An asteroid 200 feet across missed the Earth by an astronomical hair's breadth recently, and scientists didn't notice until three days later. Last weekend, a passing asteroid was big enough and close enough to be seen with binoculars.

As "near earth objects," these space rocks are now on a list that NASA is slowly compiling in hopes that, with enough notice, humankind could act to prevent a life-threatening asteroid from smashing into the planet.

An international network of astronomers, including several NASA-funded teams, daily record new asteroid sightings and observational data. Amateurs are also part of the hunt, providing additional celestial information.

Ideally, these efforts would track all asteroids passing near the Earth, and predict impacts long before they happen. But the international asteroid search has accelerated into a serious, systematic project only in the last several years, and its budget limits how many Earth-threatening asteroids it can find.


from The New York Times

After an angry debate among parents, Georgia's second-largest school district adopted a policy last night that requires teachers to give a "balanced education" about the origin of life, giving equal weight to evolution and biblical interpretations.

The district, Cobb County, had already come under attack this summer for attaching disclaimers to all science textbooks, saying that evolution "is a theory, not a fact," and should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." On Wednesday, a parent and the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding that the disclaimers be removed. Yesterday, they vowed to amend the suit to ask the court to reverse the new policy.

Board members said they were not restricting the teaching of evolution or encouraging the teaching of creationism. The policy, they said, was simply a reflection of the district's philosophy of teaching a wide and objective range of ideas, particularly in discussing "disputed views of academic subjects, including the origin of species."

After the vote, Gordon O'Neill, a board member, led his colleagues in a prayer: "Heavenly father, we ask that you provide to all of us a clear understanding of our fellow man and an acceptance of a diversity of thinking. Amen."


from The Chicago Tribune

Advancing across the country in ways scientists had not predicted, the West Nile virus is being detected in younger populations than past years, federal officials said Thursday.

In Michigan, state health officials said Thursday that a 9-month-old boy with a probable case of West Nile virus had been treated in a hospital and released. He would be the youngest U.S. victim to date if his disease is confirmed as West Nile virus by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Louisiana has recorded four victims younger than 14. Other cases include a 3-year-old from Mississippi and a 2-year-old boy from Chicago. None of the illnesses was fatal, but researchers are still struggling to explain West Nile virus' transmission patterns.

Until this year, there were only four cases of West Nile virus diagnosed in people younger than 19 in the U.S. Scientists still believe that children are even less likely than adults to experience serious symptoms. Most people who are bitten by an infected mosquito don't become ill, and life- threatening illness from West Nile remains rare.


from The New York Times

RAIRÃO, Brazil, Aug. 19 — By decree, the official burning season here in the Amazon is supposed to be severely limited in scope and not to start until Sept. 15. Yet the skies south of here are already thick with smoke as big landowners set the jungle ablaze to clear the way for cattle pasture and lucrative crops like soybeans.

The Amazon basin, which is larger than all of Europe and extends over nine countries, accounts for more than half of what remains of the world's tropical forests. But in spite of heightened efforts in recent years to limit deforestation and encourage "sustainable development," the assault on its resources continues, with Brazil in the lead.

On Monday, the United Nations' World Summit on Sustainable Development is to begin in Johannesburg. That conference comes 10 years after an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was attended by more than 100 nations, who signed a series of ambitious agreements aimed at protecting forests, oceans, the atmosphere and wildlife.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The sudden deaths of 450,000 people a year in the United States are linked to irregular heart beats, and a new study has found 13 percent of black Americans have a gene variation that greatly increases their risk of developing a rare type of abnormal cardiac rhythm.

In a study appearing Friday in the journal Science, researchers say they screened hundreds of DNA specimens looking for forms of a gene called SCN5A, which has a key role in the chemical and electrical cycling of the heartbeat.

They found the variant, Y1102, was present in more than half of the black patients who were being treated for cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats. People carrying the gene variant are eight times more likely to develop a rare type of irregular heartbeat than those who don't.

Researchers did not find the variant in screenings of white and Asian patients. They found it in only one of 123 Hispanic patients tested.


from The Washington Post

U.S. and Russian officials whisked away 100 pounds of weapons-grade uranium from an aging nuclear reactor in Yugoslavia yesterday in a dramatic, military-style operation described as the first of a series of preemptive strikes against the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The uranium -- enough to make up to three nuclear bombs -- was spirited out of Belgrade's Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences before daybreak with an escort of Yugoslav army helicopters and 1,200 heavily armed troops. With U.S. officials looking on, the uranium was loaded onto a plane and flown to Russia to be converted into a form that cannot be used in weapons.

The mission, planned in secrecy over a year, was organized to eliminate what many weapons experts regarded as one of the world's most dangerous nuclear repositories -- a large and unusually vulnerable stash of the kind of weapons-grade uranium that would be prized by the governments of Iraq, Iran and North Korea and terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.


from UPI

Fayetteville, N.C. - Friends of three Fort Bragg soldiers suspected of killing their wives this summer say the men exhibited unusual anger and incoherence after returning from Afghanistan, where all three had been given an anti-malaria drug associated with aggression and mental problems.

One of the soldiers was "almost incoherent" and visibly shaking while describing marital problems to a friend. Another was unable to control his anger at his wife in public, startling those who knew him. A third puzzled his new neighbors with his strange behavior.

Soldiers at Fort Bragg said they are well aware of problems linked to the drug Lariam, which include aggression, depression, paranoia, hallucinations and suicidal thinking, even as official military spokesmen dismiss a possible connection between the drug and the tragedies that have drawn national attention.

Spokesmen for the Army, which developed the drug and say it is safe, told UPI the Army will review scientific literature on Lariam, also called mefloquine, but believe it played no role in any of the deaths, citing evidence of domestic problems in each case.


from The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) -- Scientists plan to trigger explosions across a fault line in western Japan to map a largely uncharted earthquake zone linked to the Kobe temblor that killed thousands of people seven years ago, a researcher said Friday.

Packed with up to 1,100 pounds of dynamite, the 10 underground blast sites will be detonated one after another next week along a 145-mile frontier bisecting Japan's main island from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan.

"This is a very dangerous area," said project leader Takaya Iwasaki, of the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute. "Our experiment will provide basic information that is vitally important in helping save lives."

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, sitting atop four tectonic plates, slabs of the crust that move across the earth's surface.


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Expert attacks latest tests on Turin Shroud


By Richard Owen

August 21, 2002

A FRESH attempt by Catholic officials to prove that the Turin Shroud is genuine and not a medieval fake has provoked a row after experts said that the tests could damage the cloth.

The shroud, preserved in Turin Cathedral, is held by many Christians to be the cloth in which Jesus Christ was wrapped after the Crucifixion. Venerated for centuries as the Holy Shroud, it preserves the image of a tall man with crucifixion marks which only came to light when the 4.37m-by-1.11m (14ft 4in-by-3ft 7in) cloth was first photographed at the end of the 19th century.

Carbon-dating tests conducted in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Arizona, in 1988 indicated that the shroud was a forgery and had been made between 1260 and 1390.

Two years ago Vatican officials said that there would be no further tests in the foreseeable future. However, members of the official Committee for the Conservation of the Holy Shroud have disclosed that testing has begun again.

They said that the cloth's backing and around thirty triangular patches used to mend the shroud in the 16th century after it was damaged by fire, had been removed in a "secret experiment". They added that the committee as a whole had not been consulted and instead the testing had been authorised by a small number of church "insiders".

Officials in Turin confirmed that the shroud had been removed from its case and would not be on display while the experiment was in progress. They said that the operation was being conducted by the Swiss textile expert, Mechtild Flury-Lemberg.

Supporters of the latest move said that there was a "plausible theory" that the 1988 tests on tiny fragments taken from the shroud had been "skewed" by the possible fusion of the original 1st-century cloth with the fibres of later additions, giving a "confused and inaccurate" carbon dating. Removing the patches would enable scientists to test the original cloth with less likelihood of contamination.

Two American shroud scholars or "sindonologists", Sue Benford and Joseph Marino, told Il Messaggero, the Rome daily, that independent tests conducted on some of the fragments of cloth used in the 1988 carbon dating showed that 40 per cent were 1st-century fibres and 60 per cent were 16th-century material. That would have produced a "median date" of around the 13th century, they said.

New study a blow to ginkgo's reputation


By Gina Greene

(CNN) --Memory problems usually go hand-in-hand with wrinkles and body aches as we grow older. But if you're looking to the supplement ginkgo biloba to keep the mind in steel-trap form, a new study says it might be wiser to look elsewhere.

Researchers at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, gathered 230 people between the ages of 60 and 82 to help them test ginkgo's ability to improve memory and concentration as advertised. Half the group was given 40 milligrams of ginkgo three times per day for six weeks per the maker's recommendations. The others were given a placebo. Neither group was told what they were taking.

No difference in mental sharpness was seen by study participants or their companions. But the researchers took it a step further with a battery of tests. They looked at verbal and nonverbal learning and memory, attention and concentration.

Their conclusion? "When taken following the manufacturer's instructions, ginkgo provides no measurable benefit in memory or related cognitive function" in generally healthy adults, the researchers write in Tuesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Clock runs out on long-told story of time traveler


Posted on Mon, Aug. 12, 2002

European man ends up in Akron while getting to bottom of strange mystery
By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writer

Is time travel possible?

Could evidence for it be found in the story of a man who appeared suddenly on the streets of New York City in 1950, bearing the property and identity of a man who had vanished in 1876?

Chris Aubeck loves a good mystery, so the Londoner who lives in Madrid, Spain, decided to get to the root of a tale that has received a lot of press in Europe.

This month, the Spanish magazine Enigmas will publish the yearlong odyssey of Aubeck, who doggedly traced a piece of paranormal folklore through six countries and back six decades to its source -- in Akron.

Aubeck, 31, who researches modern and ancient mysteries as a hobby, said fellow researchers in Europe often use the case of Rudolph Fentz as proof of time travel.

``They had been using the story for years in articles and books... and many of them accepted the Fentz story at face value,'' Aubeck said in an e-mail interview. ``When I asked them if it had been solved, I was told it had been tried but never successfully.''

To Aubeck, that sounded like a challenge he couldn't pass up.

Dialling the numbers for success


Dr Hair claims numbers are the key to a company's fortunes

By Sharon Mascall
In Melbourne

A company's birthday could hold the key to its financial fortunes, according to a numerologist based in Sydney, Australia.

Dr Neil Hair is offering an alternative explanation for the spate of financial scandals which have hit WorldCom, Enron and other big businesses over the past two years.

The answer, he claims, lies in the humble zero.

"The double zeros in 2001 and 2002 represent hidden files and skeletons coming out of the closet," explains Dr Hair, a softly spoken Scot with a PhD in structural chemistry who took up numerology 20 years ago.

"The twos represent the people in charge.

"They're supposed to act for the good of their shareholders and employees. But if the energy's negative they may act as crooks."

A business therapy?

Numerology takes a huge leap of faith.

Ridiculed by scientists, mathematicians and just about anybody who fails to see the link between the number two and irritable bowel syndrome - as some numerologists claim - it has struggled for acceptance alongside other predictive pseudo-sciences.

But now a number of Australian companies are turning to this more creative method of accounting.

"Neil was able to read the intention of our company without knowing too much about us," said Natalie McDonagh, the co-founder of an experimental design company based in Melbourne.

"The numbers gave us confidence to know that there's hidden support for what we do embedded in our name."

To predict a company's fortune, Dr Hair requires its name and "birth" date: the date on which it was founded or incorporated.

Numbers are assigned to the letters and, by a series of additions and subtractions, a chart is compiled and the results interpreted.

Number ones, for instance, can mean success. Eights are highly prized, delivering money and sound business judgement.

Lucky numbers

Dr Hair can not explain how or why his interpretations work.

They are based - he says - on years of observation and his "feel" for numerical patterns, rooted in structural chemistry but now embracing astrology, spirituality and, indeed, product launches.

"I can help companies to choose the right name and the right date for a product launch," he explains. "It can make all the difference."

But while some companies in the United States and Asia consult astrologers and Feng Shui experts as regularly as they call on management consultants, Australian businesses have, in the past, been slow on the uptake of alternative company "therapies".

"Big business has been sceptical, no doubt about that," Dr Hair admits.

"And Australia's numbers indicate it's a conservative country."

But he believes tapping into a company's spiritual side is "nothing new".

Dr Hair says: "Numerology and astrology are just an extension of the psychological profiling strategies companies are already using to improve relationships with their staff."

Looking ahead, he believes the numbers bode well.

"We're entering a new phase," he says.

"The last 1,000 years have seen a strong masculine influence, and now the number two in the second millennium is switching us on to the feminine.

"There'll be more interest in astrology and numerology and companies will find success through working harder to keep clients and nurturing their staff."

Or, quite possibly, by sticking to more orthodox methods of numerical analysis - employing a better accountant.

Georgia School Board Requires Balance of Evolution and Bible



August 23, 2002


After an angry debate among parents, Georgia's second-largest school district adopted a policy last night that requires teachers to give a "balanced education" about the origin of life, giving equal weight to evolution and biblical interpretations.

The district, Cobb County, had already come under attack this summer for attaching disclaimers to all science textbooks, saying that evolution "is a theory, not a fact," and should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." On Wednesday, a parent and the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding that the disclaimers be removed. Yesterday, they vowed to amend the suit to ask the court to reverse the new policy.

Board members said they were not restricting the teaching of evolution or encouraging the teaching of creationism. The policy, they said, was simply a reflection of the district's philosophy of teaching a wide and objective range of ideas, particularly in discussing "disputed views of academic subjects, including the origin of species."

After the vote, Gordon O'Neill, a board member, led his colleagues in a prayer: "Heavenly father, we ask that you provide to all of us a clear understanding of our fellow man and an acceptance of a diversity of thinking. Amen."

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – August 22, 2002

from The San Francisco Chronicle

A newly discovered enzyme could safely treat victims of a bioterrorist anthrax attack as well as swiftly detect suspected anthrax spores wherever they might be hidden, researchers are reporting today.

The promising two-edged weapon has been isolated from a type of virus that naturally kills anthrax bacteria, and it already has proved successful against many strains of the microbe in three sets of animal experiments, the scientists say.

It could even attack novel anthrax strains genetically engineered by enemy scientists to resist all currently known antibiotic drugs, according to Vincent Fischetti of the Rockefeller University in New York, the leader of the discovery team.

Fischetti's group is publishing a report on the enzyme's early tests today in the British scientific journal Nature, which headlined a commentary on the research: "Virus deals anthrax a killer blow."


from Newsday

In a discovery that upsets one of the central dogmas of biology, scientists in Denmark have determined that a 28-year-old man inherited a disease from his father that until now was believed transmissible only through women, scientists report in a study released today.

The finding zeros in on the components of cells called the mitochondria, the main sources of the body's energy. These tiny bean-shaped constituents, found in each cell, carry their own DNA, apart from the body's nuclear genes inherited from both parents. Mitochondrial DNA has been believed passed from one generation to the next only along a maternal line of inheritance. Fathers, scientists long believed, did not transmit them. The sperm cells' few mitochondria, scientists discovered only two years ago, are assassinated by killer proteins in the egg. This molecular murder plot is carried out not long after conception.

Now, Dr. Marianne Schwartz and colleagues in the department of clinical genetics at the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center have found that a man not only has inherited paternal mitochondria, but that he has developed a genetic muscle disease caused by a distinct defect due to paternal inheritance.


from The Associated Press

MIAMI -- On radar, the storm was a spherical mass barreling into the Florida coast, with red, yellow and blue hues warning of deadly wind and torrential rain.

That abstract image of Hurricane Andrew's fury was swiftly replaced with a devastation all too real--flattened homes, trees reduced to toothpicks, dazed residents walking through neighborhoods that looked like war zones.

With $30 billion in damage, it remains the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. It still affects South Florida, where it changed lives and everything from insurance regulations and construction codes to the very location of the National Hurricane Center.

On Wednesday, scientists ended a decade of debate on the storm's intensity by announcing that what was once thought to be a Category 4 storm is now believed to have hit 165 m.p.h., making it only the third Category 5 storm to hit the United States in recorded history.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Seeking a quick reversal of a $500 million court judgment that could erase more than a year's profit, Genentech Inc. is accusing the trial jury of illicit vote-swapping and reading news stories that led them to conclude the company was "a crook."

Lawyers for Genentech are set to argue today before the Los Angeles trial judge that the jury awarded "grossly excessive" damages to its former research partner, City of Hope National Medical Center, after committing misconduct that warrants a new trial.

Attacking the verdict on that and numerous other grounds, Genentech is fighting to prevent the loss of nearly 9 percent of its $5.8 billion net worth in a long-running legal dispute with the Southern California medical center, which claimed that Genentech failed to fully share the profits of a 1976 collaboration that yielded the first genetically engineered drugs.

City of Hope maintains the verdict was fair and should stand, citing statements by jurors who deny any misconduct occurred.


from The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The government has approved the first national trial of a drug to treat the West Nile virus, which has killed at least 31 people since it was first detected in the United States three years ago.

The testing of alpha-interferon will begin immediately at New York Hospital Queens, in the borough where the mosquito-borne virus was first found in the country.

Dr. James Rahal, the study's chief investigator, said 40 people 50 and older who have been hospitalized with the virus will be enrolled in the study. Patients across the country can enroll, but the trial most likely will focus on Louisiana and Mississippi, where 10 West Nile deaths have been confirmed this year.

Alpha-interferon is sold as Intron A for treatment of hepatitis C by Schering-Plough, which is paying for the study.


from The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) -- A group of privately funded Japanese scientists has a mammoth project for Siberia -- a safari park they hope might eventually feature a genetic hybrid of the extinct woolly mammals and modern-day elephants.

For several years, the researchers have conducted excavations in Siberia in hopes of finding a frozen specimen well enough preserved in the Siberian tundra for its DNA to be used to impregnate an elephant.

"If we can find a somatic (body) cell, or preferably a sperm cell, that is intact, we can recreate a mammoth," said Shoji Okutsu, a veterinary expert at Kagoshima University. "If everything goes successfully and we have baby mammoths, we don't want to keep them at a zoo. We want them to live in an environment as close as possible to where their ancestors once lived."

That is a big if -- so far, no mammoth sperm or other cells bearing cloning- quality DNA has been found and there are no guarantees any ever will be.


from The New York Times

THERE are no jazz riffs in the rhythms of electronic circuitry. Instead, all the operations of a microprocessor are governed by a metronomic central clock — a crystal oscillator that beats out a single lockstep rhythm more relentlessly than Toscanini on a bad day.

The calculations done by a chip are timed by this tiny clock, so that answers can be produced at a specific instant and permit the next logical step to proceed.

If the clock distribution system sends the timing signal to the circuits at a rate of 1.5 gigahertz, that means the clock is ticking a billion and a half times a second. All the tens of millions of additions and multiplications, as well as all the other operations, will be synchronized to this beat, whether each operation needs that sliver of time or not.

In the last few decades, though, a small number of circuit designers and other researchers have decided that they want their circuits to march to a different, clock-free drummer that lets them proceed at their own best speed.


from The Washington Post

Touring the 7,000-acre property by yourself, you might think it resembled any other farm in America, with expansive fields of crops and livestock. After taking a guided tour of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), however, you'll learn that its pigs, cows, chickens, elm trees, tomatoes and other living things are not so typical.

Much of the farm is experimental, meaning that scientists work on such projects as plant and animal breeding, nutrition, genome mapping, biological control of disease, chemical control of pests and food safety in order to develop solutions to agricultural problems.

Scientists, foreign dignitaries, agricultural researchers, economists, community and school groups are often attracted by the work that approximately 2,000 employees do at 47 laboratories and management units of the research center, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

Tours are free, can be tailored to specific interests and are given by appointment only. "We try to take hard-core science and put it into simple terms so that people can understand it," said John Kucharski, director of the research service's visitor center and one of the handful of regular tour leaders.


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Not A "Sign," But A Real Spaceship


The movie "Signs" is fun fiction, but make no mistake: Crop circles are really done by human pranksters and "performance artists." Crop circles have been done at various times in history, with the recent, er, crop of circles starting some years back when a couple of older guys with a good sense of human gullibility used boards and ropes to flatten out simple circular areas in British grain fields, to the consternation of some locals.

Today, crop "circles" are rarely simple circular areas. Instead, whole teams of pranksters and artists actually compete against each other to create ever-more-elaborate designs, and to get away undetected. They've developed techniques for entering and exiting the fields without leaving obvious tracks (one team uses bar stools to move through the grain without footprints). There are even videos and web sites that show you how it's done; including the math and tools behind the complex geometries of some of the fantastically elaborate designs that have appeared.

For example, see http://www.circlemakers.org/guide.html or http://www.circlemakers.org/exhibit_a.html or http://www.circlemakers.org/ or http://www.csicop.org/list/listarchive/msg00350.html or http://www.forteantimes.com/articles/138_circlemakers.shtml Or, do a web search. But be warned: You'll have to wade through an incredible number of sites from people who desperately want to believe that aliens or unexplained "plasma vortices" or "earth energy ley-lines" or other made-up phenomena somehow create these designs. Hey, why accept the simple, obvious, demonstrable answer (humans!) when you can imagine some unseen, un-provable force or intelligence behind the designs?

I personally love the notion of aliens who--- although smart enough to travel interstellar distances--- are still so dim that they think the best way to communicate with us is not through radio or TV, or by landing a ship in any populated area, or by walking up to to a human and simply saying hello--- but rather to draw enigmatic patterns in grain fields. I truly hope the universe really is teeming with life and other civilizations, but if or when we meet them, I also truly hope they're not dolts whose idea of communication involves doodling in our Wheaties.

OK, by now you've guessed I'm a deep skeptic of most supposedly paranormal things, so you may be surprised when I tell you there's a real spaceship visible most nights over the US this week. In fact, at one time or another, it's visible over most of the earth. Really!

For more info, and to find the local times when this for-real spaceship will be visible to you. See: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/24jul_spaceship2.htm

French mayor bans residents from dying


Wed Aug 21, 1:50 PM ET

LE LAVANDOU, France (Reuters) - The mayor of a French Mediterranean town, faced with a cemetery "full to bursting", has banned local residents from dying until he can find somewhere else to bury them.

Gil Bernardi, mayor of Le Lavandou on the coast 25 km (15 miles) west of Saint Tropez, introduced the ban after a court rejected his plans to build a cemetery in a tranquil setting by the sea.

Bernardi said most locals had obeyed the edict so far, but he was desperately trying to find a resting place for a homeless man who had recently passed away in the town.

"Initially, the decree has been remarkably well followed," the mayor said.

Bernardi has appealed against the ruling preventing the seaside cemetery being built, saying it would be the best final resting place for his townsfolk.

"What people want here, because it's a local tradition, is their own little personal plot of land, their burial spot, not an impersonal pigeonhole," he said.


by Rob Riggs


Paraview Press, 2001
ISBN 1-931044-26-0
Controversial Knowledge, 185 pp
Trade paperback: $13.95

From Chapter 1 The Lair of the Mysterious

Bill thought we'd better take along some serious self-defense. The stories I had been telling him about the "wild man" sightings in the Big Thicket finally piqued his curiosity enough for him to join me on an exploratory hike. He drove in from the Central Texas Hill Country to rural Hardin County in deep Southeast Texas and brought an M-14 semi-automatic assault rifle and a .38 special police revolver with him.

We entered the Big Thicket National Preserve at the Little Pine Island Bayou Corridor Unit with the intention of following the bayou upstream to the Kountze-Sour Lake Highway. This would cover a distance of some 10 to 12 miles through swampy woods, vine-entangled palmetto flats and heavy underbrush. There had been a number of wild man sightings in that general area over a considerable length of time, enough to suggest that the drainage area of the bayou might be part of its territory or range.

No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence

William A. Dembski
Rowman & Littlefield, $35 (cloth)


by H. Allen Orr

"All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive."

—G. K. Chesterton

Nothing evolves as surely as anti-evolutionism. The anti-Darwin movement, at least in its popular form, began in the primitive whoops and hollers of young-earthers and seven-day literalists. Their claims, as you might guess, were short on science and long on Genesis. But somewhat higher in the strata we find a thoroughly transformed, though recognizably related, beast: the scientific creationist. While still relying on some scriptural sources (many believed the fossil record reflected a certain forty-day deluge), these creatures did talk science, disputing radioactive dating and making lots of interesting claims about hydrology, pH, and sedimentation. Following their extinction, the strata reveal yet another and far more advanced form, the Intelligent Design champion. Compared to this modern species, its predecessors look downright primordial. Indeed the Intelligent Design advocate is characterized by at least three novel traits: i) advanced academic degrees; ii) sophisticated arguments accompanied by expert knowledge; and iii) strict avoidance of religious language, including any speculation on just who the designer might be.

Wednesday, August 21, 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 21, 2002

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Warning that bioengineered animals could escape into the wild and muddy the gene pool, a new scientific report calls for more oversight of the entire field, including assessments of whether biotech meat or dairy products might cause allergies if eaten.

The report released Tuesday by the National Research Council offers the first comprehensive look at the potential environmental and health risks of using gene-splicing and cloning to create animals that could not have been bred through traditional means.

The National Research Council report was requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is fashioning new rules to govern the many ways in which corporate and academic scientists are redesigning animals.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Some women with gene mutations have had their breasts removed after studies showed they were at a high risk of cancer. A new analysis suggests the studies may have exaggerated the breast cancer risk.

Precautionary breast removal, called prophylactic mastectomy, has been performed for many women who have a high frequency of breast cancer in their families and who have mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Such women are thought to have lifetime breast cancer risks of 80 percent or more.

But Colin B. Begg of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York said this high risk rate cannot be applied to every woman with mutations of the BRCA genes.

"It is likely that the typical mutation carrier would have risks lower than that," said Begg, who wrote an analysis published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "Relatively few mutation carriers would have risks that high."


from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - NASA has found a missing $159 million spacecraft, thanks to a half-dozen telescope images that confirm the silent probe is in orbit around the sun but possibly broken in pieces.

Astronomers at observatories in Arizona, California, Hawaii and elsewhere have captured pictures of the Contour spacecraft, which has been silent since Thursday when it left Earth orbit to embark on a multiyear mission to visit at least two comets.

"It's orbiting the sun at this point," Michael Buckley, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, said Tuesday.

The university built and manages the mission for NASA.


from The Washington Post

Environmental activists sued the Bush administration yesterday to try to stop a limestone mining plan that would destroy 15,000 acres of wetlands in the Florida Everglades, saying the plan would literally and figuratively undermine the largest environmental restoration project in U.S. history.

The Army Corps of Engineers approved the first permits for the 50-year Lake Belt mining plan in April, even though its own documents had said the plan "will have an irreversible significant impact on the environmental resources of this region." Half the Everglades has been drained or paved, and the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal, state and local agencies have warned that the plan to sacrifice another swath of wetlands the size of Miami could cause severe additional damage.

Corps officials have said the plan will also steer the mines as far as possible from Everglades National Park and nearby wellfields, create artificial lakes to block Miami's westward sprawl and harvest 1.7 billion tons of limestone for South Florida's highways and driveways. The Corps has said the mining plan is a key element of its $7.8 billion Everglades restoration project, because it hopes to convert two of the mined-out pits into huge storage reservoirs in about 35 years.


from The Washington Post

A partial Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in the badlands of Montana will be airlifted out of the backcountry this weekend on the first leg of a journey to the Natural History Museum on the Mall, Smithsonian scientists announced yesterday.

Workers from the National Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman unearthed the remains of two tyrannosaurs along with a triceratops at a dig on remote Hell Creek this summer.

In recent years, the site has emerged as a rich trove of all sorts of dinosaur bones. T. rex -- a seven-ton carnivore with six-inch teeth -- prowled the area more than 65 million years ago. The finds should help unravel mysteries about how the creature evolved and behaved.

Last month the team finished the work of identifying the specimens and encasing them in plaster jackets so they could be flown out. The Smithsonian's share of the fossils should arrive in Washington this fall. The more complete tyrannosaur will go to the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University, where Jack Horner, the leader of the expedition, is curator of paleontology. Horner was recently named a senior scholar in paleobiology at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.


from The Fayetteville Observer

The Pentagon is considering sending an epidemiology team from the Office of the Surgeon General to Fort Bragg to investigate the ''medical aspects'' surrounding the murders and murder-suicides involving four Fort Bragg couples this summer.

Pentagon officials say the investigation would include a look at the anti- malarial medication Lariam, which is also known as mefloquine. Lariam is routinely prescribed to soldiers in malarial countries, such as Afghanistan. Some users have blamed the drug for causing psychotic symptoms.

The drug's label says possible side effects range from anxiety, paranoia and depression to hallucinations and psychotic behavior.

Rare cases of suicide have been reported, the label says, but "no relationship to drug administration has been confirmed."


from The Associated Press

FALLON, Nev. (AP) --

Unusually high levels of arsenic and tungsten were found in residents of this small agricultural and military town hit by an epidemic of childhood leukemia, federal scientists reported Tuesday.

But scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there's no known correlation between high levels of the minerals and acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL, which has killed three people with ties to Fallon and sickened 13 others since 1997.

Dr. Carol Rubin of the CDC said the testing of families hit by ALL and the general population showed eight out of 10 had abnormally high levels of tungsten. The national average is one out of 10.


from UPI

SAN DIEGO (August 20, 2002 8:32 p.m. EDT) - People who have quick tempers are likely to be more pain sensitive, while their easygoing neighbors find physical aches less painful, new research presented Tuesday at the 10th World Congress on Pain suggests.

People who suppress their anger also are more likely to feel pain, said the study's author, Stephen P. Bruehl, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Individuals with short fuses tend to produce very low levels of brain chemicals called endogenous opioids, also known as the body's natural pain- killers, "so they are feeling more pain and more constant pain," Bruehl said in an interview with United Press International. People who suppress anger, however, "actually have adequate levels of endogenous opioids, but they are still are more pain-sensitive," said Bruehl.

At least in the case of "raging bulls," personal anger management can boost production of endogenous opioids, explained Bruehl, who discovered this link between anger and pain by studying 43 chronic low back pain patients.


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Evangelist Says Muslims Haven't Adequately Apologized for Sept. 11 Attacks


August 15, 2002


Nine months after calling Islam "a very evil and wicked religion," the evangelist Franklin Graham said yesterday that Muslims had not sufficiently apologized for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that they should help compensate victims' families.

"I'm certainly not preaching against Muslim people," Mr. Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, said on WBT-AM radio in Charlotte, N.C., The Associated Press reported. "I am concerned about our nation, and on Sept. 11 last year, we were attacked by followers of Islam, claiming to do this in the name of Islam."

Atlantis Web Site


"[W]hen you click the columns with lapis symbol you will go to a site that has 40 to 60 articles from Egerton Sykes who studied the atlantis subject for 40 years or more."

Creative Marketing Plan for Crop Circle CerealTM*


Crop Circles are widely acknowledged as one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century. The global fascination with this phenomena continues to gain in momentum as the sheer number of sighting increases. Crop formations have been found in more than a dozen countries worldwide since 1990; including Japan, Australia, Canada, United States, Russia, England and other European countries.

Southern England is still the main area that crop circle formations appear ­ over 90% of the reported 5000+ circles. Some of the most intense activity is in a 40 mile radius of one of the world's most famous ancient monuments ­ Stonehenge. Thousands of these simple circles, Celtic crosses, and increasingly complex pictograms have been discovered in southern England's crop fields since 1978. One of the most popular theories regarding the formation of these circles has to do with some form of extraterrestrial and/or extradimensional alien intervention. The scientific community has yet to come up with any solid evidence as to the cause of this fascinating phenomena, although many interesting theories have been presented.

Some of these circles have been written off as a hoax, intentionally created by groups of individuals with various agendas. However, upon objective scrutiny, a large percentage of these circles are still unexplained. Some would say that this is a concerted effort by the part of agencies unknown to discredit and cover-up the nature of the genuine phenomena, the nature of which can be readily discerned by a more in-depth examination of certain unique properties of the "real" circles. The emerging field of study for this phenomena is called "Cereology."

We will present several of the more interesting and informative internet websites should you wish to do further research on the crop circles:

The Crop Circle Connector -- A large site containing many sub-sections of interest.

The homepage of US researcher Ilyes contained within the larger Crop Circle Connector Site.

The Crop Circular -- One of our favorite sites with nice graphics and a concise presentation of data.

Crop Circle Central -- Another site with some interesting theories and research info on the phenomena.

Colin Andrews, one of the world's leading crop circle researchers, has his home page here.

The Circlemakers -- The hoaxers and disinformation artists also have their own homepage.

Investigating the Sirius "Mystery"

Ian Ridpath


Did amphibious beings from the star Sirius visit the earth 5,000 or more years ago and leave advanced astronomical knowledge that is still possessed by a remote African tribe called the Dogon? This astonishing claim was put forward in 1976 by Robert Temple in his "ancient astronaut" book, The Sirius Mystery. An astronomer, familiar with the Sirius system, would say no, because astronomical theory virtually precludes the possibility that Sirius is a suitable parent star for life or that it could have habitable planets. But most of Robert Temple's readers would not know enough astronomy to judge the matter for themselves. Neither would they find the relevant astronomical information in Temple's book, most of which consists of brain-numbing excursions into Egyptology. (Isaac Asimov has been quoted by Temple as having said that he found no mistakes in the book; but Temple did not know that the reason for this, according to Asimov, was that he had found the book too impenetrable to read!*) Even the BBC-TV Horizon investigation on ancient astronauts (broadcast as part of the PBS "Nova" series in the United States), which did an otherwise excellent demolition job on the more extreme fantasies of Erich von Däniken, left the Sirius problem unanswered because of its extreme complexity. Yet an answer is needed, because the Dogon legends about a companion to Sirius are claimed to originate before any terrestrial astronomer could have known of the existence of Sirius B, let alone its 50-year orbit or its nature as a tiny, condensed white dwarf star, all of which the Dogon allegedly knew. So what is the truth about the Dogon and Sirius? Does astronomical and anthropological information omitted by Temple help us to resolve this most baffling of all ancient astronaut cases?

From Collier Smith, an update on overflights of International Space Station:

For NASA's page that will generate the date/time of ISS (Int'l Space Station) overflights for every big city in the world and most medium or larger ones in the USA:


European Council of Skeptical Organisations


We promote Science, Reason and Critical Thinking.

2nd ECSO Symposium

Date: 5 - 6 October 2002

Venue: Centre for Inquiry Europe, Arheilger Weg 11, 64380 Rossdorf, Germany

Theme of the Symposium

The main theme of the Symposium in Investigating Paranormal Claims.

Programme Saturday, 5 October 2002
Investigating Paranormal Claims Part I
14:00 - 14:45 Joe Nickell: Investigating Paranormal Claims
15:30 - 16:15 Joe Nickell: Investigative highlights
17:00 - 19:00 ECSO Annual meeting (for members only)

Sunday, 6 October 2002
Investigating Paranormal Claims Part II
09:00 - 09:35 Jan Willem Nienhuys: The fun of investigating together
09:45 - 10:20 Jochen Bergmann: Testing dowsers in Würzburg

Science - Pseudoscience - Parascience
11:00 - 11:45 Martin Mahner: Demarcating science from pseudoscience. But what, if anything, is parascience?
11:55 - 12:20 Amardeo Sarma: Dealing with fringe-science claims

The Art of Hoaxes


Strange but true: This is the golden age of hoaxes


She strolls onto the stage as if into her own living room, casually elegant in a twinkling, black tunic top and matching trousers. "I love you, Sylvia!" cries an exuberant young woman, her enthusiasm rising above the applause of 2,400 paying audience members. Sylvia Browne–psychic, medium, prolific author–accepts the affirmation gracefully and takes the podium. "I want to talk to you about angels, about spirit guides, and about how to become more psychic." Shudder. This is precisely the conversation I've spent most of my life avoiding. But I was trapped in a sea of believers, and having paid $78.50 of U.S. News's money for my seat in the Atlantic City Convention Center auditorium, I didn't dare attempt an escape.

What is a hoax, exactly? When does a good deal become too good to be true, and where does belief end and credulity begin? In the stories that follow, we present elaborate swindles, outrageous gags, and insidious disinformation campaigns. They're all hoaxes–proof there's a sap for every scam artist, an easy mark for every mountebank, a chump for every charlatan. The notion that the Eskimos have 100 words for "snow" isn't true–more urban legend than hoax–but English certainly has a telling number of mots juste for stretchers of the truth and the suckers who believe them. And it is a collaboration; history shows that a successful hoax often depends not so much on the guile of the hoaxer as on the gullibility of the hoaxed.

Life is full of decisions to believe or not to believe. When it comes to psychics, I'm quick to adopt a skeptical stance. Yet despite any number of analyses exposing the psychic's art as, at best, a clever party trick, many people–perhaps even you, dear reader?–clearly believe this stuff. Sylvia Browne's Book of Dreams (Dutton, $25.95), about connecting with loved ones on "the other side," is on the New York Times bestseller list. John Edward, who also offers a link to the dead, has a hit with his television show Crossing Over, and other dabblers in divination and necromancy are perennial favorites on TV talk shows. I went to see Browne not so much to test her psychic powers as to test my own ability to resist the temptation to believe in them, real or not. Sadly, my status as a hardened skeptic did not survive unblemished, but more on that later.

20 "great schemes, scams, and shams" in 2/3 to 3 pages each:
1. Deception of Hitler et al by Allied troops - invasion of Europe
2. "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" - world control by the Jewish
3. Freemasonry as Satanism
4. political campaign statements; focus on Wm. Henry Harrison
5. scapegoating of African-Americans, including "Scottsboro Boys"
6. Capt. Kidd, in truth, rarely buried gold
7. Journalism; focus on New York Sun & life on the moon
8. fake art objects (Elmyr de Hory)
9. Ponzi and his "great idea"
10. Aimee Semple McPherson
11. holocaust memoir faked
12. The Hitler Diaries
13. goat testicle transplant to cure impotence (and frigidity)
14. 1985 Sports Illustrated story of rookie pitcher for NY Mets
15. Crop Circles
16. Piltdown man
17. 1770 robot that won at chess
18. Breatharians eat light
19. thermonuclear fusion scam accepted by Perón
20. 1382 alchemist

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