NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 August 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Reeve Blames Church, Bush for Research Obstruction

Tue Sep 17, 8:57 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Christopher Reeve, the Hollywood star paralyzed from the neck down, said on Tuesday the Catholic church and President Bush ( news - web sites) had obstructed research which might free him from his wheelchair.

The actor, who found film fame as "Superman," told Britain's Guardian newspaper the Bush Administration had caved in on the issue of embryonic stem cell research after the Catholic church expressed opposition to cloning.

"If we'd had full government support, full government funding for aggressive research using embryonic stem cells from the moment they were first isolated, at the University of Wisconsin in the winter of 1998 -- I don't think it unreasonable to speculate that we might be in human trials by now."

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Speed of light broken with basic lab kit

10:03 16 September 02

Charles Choi

Electric signals can be transmitted at least four times faster than the speed of light using only basic equipment that would be found in virtually any college science department.

Scientists have sent light signals at faster-than-light speeds over the distances of a few metres for the last two decades - but only with the aid of complicated, expensive equipment. Now physicists at Middle Tennessee State University have broken that speed limit over distances of nearly 120 metres, using off-the-shelf equipment costing just $500.

Jeremy Munday and Bill Robertson made a 120-metre-long cable by alternating six- to eight-metre-long lengths of two different kinds of coaxial cable, each with a different electrical resistance. They hooked this hybrid cable up to two signal generators, one of which broadcast a fast wave, the other a slow one. The waves interfere with each other to produce electric pulses, which can be watched using an oscilloscope.

Any pulse, whether electrical, light or sound, can be imagined as a group of tiny intermingled waves. The energy of this "group pulse" rises and falls over space, with a peak in the middle. The different electrical resistances in the hybrid cable cause the waves in the pulse's rear to reflect off each other, accelerating the pulse's peak forward.

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AP Fires Reporter After Source Query

The Associated Press

Monday, September 16, 2002; 5:13 PM

WASHINGTON ?? The Associated Press has dismissed a reporter after the news agency could not confirm the existence of people quoted by name in a number of his stories.

AP reviewed stories by Washington reporter Christopher Newton after receiving inquiries about two experts he quoted in a Sept. 8 piece about crime statistics. Editors then found a number of additional stories quoting people whose existence could not be verified. Most of these quotes were attributed to individuals with academic credentials or working in policy research.

"Chris Newton maintains these experts are real and accurately quoted, but our editors have been unable to verify that they even exist," said AP spokeswoman Kelly Smith Tunney. "The integrity of the news report is our highest priority, and we asked him to provide proof of authenticity, but he could not or would not do so."

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Many ethical and political issues could be averted if adult stem cells prove to be as successful at differentiating into all tissue types in the human body as their embryonic counterparts are. Numerous studies have so far reported success at coaxing adult stem cells into various cell types under different conditions. But new findings indicate that stem cells cultivated from adult blood may resist change more strongly than previously thought.



A variety of plants respond to attacks from herbivorous pests by synthesizing substances that deter their visitors from further feasting. Now scientists have discovered a new, fast-acting form of self-defense that some strains of corn use to defend against caterpillars attempting to feed on them. The results could help researchers better protect corn crops from hungry invaders.



Scientists have determined how turbulent air inside clouds causes rain to fall, according to a new study. The findings may help meteorologists make more accurate rain predictions for various types of clouds.



Today's Headlines ­ September 17, 2002


from The Washington Post

The Bush administration has begun a broad restructuring of the scientific advisory committees that guide federal policy in areas such as patients' rights and public health, eliminating some committees that were coming to conclusions at odds with the president's views and in other cases replacing members with handpicked choices.

In the past few weeks, the Department of Health and Human Services has retired two expert committees before their work was complete. One had recommended that the Food and Drug Administration expand its regulation of the increasingly lucrative genetic testing industry, which has so far been free of such oversight. The other committee, which was rethinking federal protections for human research subjects, had drawn the ire of administration supporters on the religious right, according to government sources.

A third committee, which had been assessing the effects of environmental chemicals on human health, has been told that nearly all of its members will be replaced -- in several instances by people with links to the industries that make those chemicals. One new member is a California scientist who helped defend Pacific Gas and Electric Co. against the real- life Erin Brockovich.

The changes are among the first in a gradual restructuring of the system that funnels expert advice to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.



from The Washington Post

In the fictitious horror movie "Attack of the Killer Mold," a creeping pathogen that starts out as a little dot in the corner of the utility room turns into a seething green-black slime that soon consumes the entire house. Hapless householders who breathe in the killer's spores collapse into paroxysms of wheezing and spend the rest of their shortened lives in intensive care.

Several things about molds and health are well-known. Some molds growing in homes and buildings trigger allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in some people. A smaller group of people, including those with compromised immune systems, are susceptible to lung infections caused by inhaling mold spores.

And a small group of molds does produce toxins.

But the impression that toxin-producing molds are rampant and more virulent than ordinary molds -- an impression created by some news reports and on the Internet, often on sites operated by companies that sell mold tests, cleanup systems or legal services -- is not supported by evidence. In fact, according to those who have studied the issue, there is little conclusive evidence that mold toxins in the home or office (as opposed to an overabundance of ordinary mold) can cause serious harm to humans.



from Newsday

One of the fundamental riddles of cancer - how a single cell can accumulate enough mutations to become malignant - may now be solved, scientists report.

The answer seems to lie in the availability of road-kill. By slurping up the parts and pieces of cells that have died nearby, ordinary cells may consume another cell's damaged DNA, then lose control of their own growth and become cancerous.

Until now it was suspected that all the mutations that lead to cancer must occur within one cell, which then grows like a clone to form a tumor. In colorectal cancer, for example, as many as six different mutations are needed to reach malignancy.

But "that has been very difficult to explain," said tumor biologist Lars Holmgren. "How can all of these mutations occur within a short period of time, and within one cell?"



from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 ? Even in astronomy, there are some tough acts to follow. After parting a curtain to the universe with the Hubble Space Telescope and allowing millions to experience previously hidden wonders in space, what do you do for an encore?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration last week revealed its choice for the next stage in expanding human vision into deep space. The agency announced that it would build the long-discussed Next Generation Space Telescope, selecting the design of a team led by TRW Inc., for a successor to Hubble to be launched in 2010.

The new observatory, while only half as big as the 24,000-pound Hubble, will have a primary, light-gathering mirror 20 feet in diameter compared with the existing telescope's 8-foot reflector. With a mirror that has a light gathering area six times as large as the Hubble's and a suite of more sensitive instruments, the new telescope should be able to detect objects a hundredth the brightness Hubble can see in visible light and one four- hundredth the brightness in the infrared part of the light spectrum.



from The New York Times

Much of what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, was recorded in wrenching close- ups, with video and still cameras surrounding the falling twin towers, the burning Pentagon and the crash site of Flight 93.

But in the days that followed, scientists started pulling back, examining events from vantage points as distant as geostationary orbit, 22,300 miles from Earth.

Using airborne spectrometers like those that have mapped the face of Jupiter, researchers charted potentially toxic dust from the disintegrated towers. Others pored over weather-satellite data to see how the lack of contrails in the planeless skies affected weather patterns.

But in scrutinizing Sept. 11 from aircraft and spacecraft, the researchers also added a wide-field view to the growing archive of indelible imagery from that extraordinary day.



from Newsday

If a tree falls in the forest, physicist Mark Coles and his colleagues do not want to hear it.

They have begun a pioneering search for the first direct evidence of gravity waves using a sensitive new detector nestled in the woodlands of Livingston Parish, Louisiana.

To be successful, their instrument, and a companion detector in southeastern Washington state, must be isolated from the bumps and shakes of the natural world and human activities such as the logging now under way near the Louisiana detector.

The detectors, called jointly the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (or LIGO), are designed to pick up a murmur from the cosmos so slight as to be almost laughable.



from The San Francisco Chronicle

Male fruit flies can be induced to court other males by blocking a little- known chemical messenger system in the brain, scientists reported Monday.

The study is the latest evidence suggesting that even the most complex behavior patterns can sometimes be tied to basic neurobiology. But how much light it sheds on sexual orientation in humans is very much an open question.

Previous studies have shown that several genes can influence mating behaviors in the Drosophila fruit fly, a popular laboratory model for gene studies.

The new research appears to be the first to identify a particular "neuronal pathway" -- a collection of brain cells, receptors and chemical transmitters in the brain -- capable of eliciting male-male courtship. The study by scientists at the City of Hope Medical Center is published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



from The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- An astronaut who has been toiling on the international space station all summer got a promotion Monday: She has been named the outpost's first science officer.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe informed Peggy Whitson of her new title during a radio hookup between Mission Control and the orbiting complex. He said someone will be designated a science officer on every succeeding space station crew.

O'Keefe said NASA wants to increase the scientific potential of the space station now that construction soon will be winding down. Only 17 months remain until the U.S. portion of the station is complete.



from The Boston Globe

After more than 20 years as a celestial wallflower, the moon is about to be bombarded by orbiting, penetrating, and crashing space probes from Europe, Japan, and TransOrbital, a private US firm. China is also showing interest, intending to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

"It'll be another moon race," says TransOrbital's president, Dennis Laurie. But instead of the United States vs. the Soviets, it may be TransOrbital and China, or Japan and Europe. Another difference is that while Europe and Japan are hoping to make small steps for science and technology with their missions, TransOrbital and China are eyeing the moon for giant leaps in profitability.

TransOrbital officially entered the fray at the end of August, after the US government granted the California-based company a nine-year license to venture to the moon and snap images of the Earth rising over the lunar landscape. TransOrbital's unmanned spacecraft, Trailblazer, is scheduled to launch next year, within weeks of the liftoffs of the European and Japanese moon probes, making 2003 a remarkable year for lunar exploration - and exploitation.

"For the long term, the wealth of the moon is its resources," says planetary scientist Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas. "But getting to that is a big step."



from USA Today

A laser technique being tested by Army scientists might be able to instantly detect explosives, chemicals and biological agents.

In this era of bioterrorism and post-9/11 fears, researchers envision small, portable, $20,000 laser systems monitoring the air for danger in train stations, airports and subways. In the field, laser systems may allow soldiers to detect chemical weapons from a football field away.

Called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, the technique uses laser pulses to heat a few billionths of a gram's worth of suspicious material, whether airborne or in solid form, to temperatures near 43,000 degrees. After such a roasting, the material radiates its chemical signature, which is read by sensors.

In experimental laser-breakdown tests, U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientists working at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland detected chemical signatures of TNT and three strains of bacteria related to anthrax. At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the technique has detected airborne pesticides, uranium in liquid solutions and chromium pollution in the soil.



from The New York Times

Who should define human nature? When the biologist Edward O. Wilson set out to do so in his 1975 book "Sociobiology," he was assailed by left-wing colleagues who portrayed his description of genetically shaped human behaviors as a threat to the political principles of equal rights and a just society.

Since then, a storm has threatened anyone who prominently asserts that politically sensitive aspects of human nature might be molded by the genes. So biologists, despite their increasing knowledge from the decoding of the human genome and other advances, are still distinctly reluctant to challenge the notion that human behavior is largely shaped by environment and culture. The role of genes in shaping differences between individuals or sexes or races has become a matter of touchiness, even taboo.

A determined effort to break this silence and make it safer for biologists to discuss what they know about the genetics of human nature has now been begun by Dr. Steven Pinker, a psychologist of language at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a book being published by Viking at the end of this month, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature," he seeks to create greater political elbow room for those engaged in the study of the ways genes shape human behavior. "If I am an advocate, it is for discoveries about human nature that have been ignored or suppressed in modern discussions of human affairs," he writes.



from The Boston Globe

STOCKBRIDGE, MASS. - When Erik Erikson arrived in Stockbridge, he had no idea how his ideas were about to metastasize. His book, ''Childhood and Society,'' had sold a paltry 1,500 cloth copies in its first year, and, as his biographer Lawrence Friedman noted, his old protector in Vienna dismissed it as ''sociology.'' This was not a compliment, coming from Anna Freud.

But already the culture of Erikson's adopted country was preparing itself for his flagship theory. In 1951, as Erikson strode into Austen Riggs psychiatric hospital, pink-cheeked, wild-haired, and conspicuously uncredentialed among a crowd of medical doctors, the bright conformity of post-World War II America had begun to corrode. From his studies of the 16th-century seminarian Martin Luther, Erikson emerged with a new vocabulary for a psychological event - the adolescent ''identity crisis'' - just in time for a generation of young Americans to have one. He became a strange kind of cultural hero.

When Austen Riggs celebrated Erikson's 100th birthday this summer, it was a wistful nod to a time when a psychoanalyst could appear on the covers of glossy magazines. From a protege of Freud's came the powerful idea that young people face a universal challenge of defining themselves in contrast to social expectations. Over the years that followed, the ''identity crisis'' has so permeated our culture that it is hard to imagine it originating with any one person in particular.


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Monday, September 16, 2002

Guard gets paid for letting sufferers of chlamydia rape street dogs in Turkey

11/09/2002 KurdishMedia.com - By Robin Kurd

London (KurdishMedia.com) 11 September 2002: In Izmir, the third biggest city of Turkey, the Animal?s Safe House in Ortakoy has been shut down and its premises demolished.

3 months ago the Animal?s Safe House in Ortakoy, Izmir, made the headlines in Turkey when 6 dogs in the safe house were raped by several people who had broken into the premises. This time the Safe House has become news material as allegations have been made that several dogs have been raped for the reason that "it cures chlamydia".

The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported today that the guard responsible for the animals in the safe house "hired" the dogs out for people with chlamydia.

2500 signatures have been collected by animal rights activists for the closure of the safe house and has been forwarded to the local council. 90 of the dogs from the safe house have been transferred to the Buyuksehir Council Animal Safe House.

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Bush's religious prescription


© St. Petersburg Times published September 15, 2002

They say no one has the zeal of a convert, and our president is living proof. The former ne'er-do-well frat boy beat back his problem with alcohol by finding religion. Now Bush wants to put the nation on a prayer diet. For whatever ails you, Bush believes a spoonful of salvation is the answer. And while a prescription drug plan for seniors will have to wait, Bush is determined to get government to underwrite his religious prescription -- whether or not he has congressional approval.

Bush's request for congressional action on faith-based initiatives, which would allow religious entities to vie for federal social service dollars, has stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The White House wants the freedom to hand out dough to groups which saturate their programs with prayer, and has no compunction about giving money to groups that turn away Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities for employment. Conscientious senators are refusing to go along.

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FDA Combats Resistance to Antibiotics

Worry Over Germs Means Makers of Animal Drugs Must Assess Human Parallels

By Marc Kaufman Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, September 15, 2002; Page A09

Concerned that antibiotics used to feed and treat farm animals are contributing to the declining usefulness of antibiotics for people, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed regulations that could limit the use of new animal drugs in the future.

The draft "guidance," which has been under development for more than three years, was generally applauded by public health advocates who have been pushing to limit the widespread use of antibiotics on farms

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Cloned Food Products Near Reality

Items Could Reach Shelves by 2003

By Justin Gillis Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, September 16, 2002; Page A01

Milk from cloned cows and meat from the offspring of cloned cows and pigs could show up on grocery shelves as early as next year under the plans of livestock breeders who are already raising scores of clones on American farmsteads.

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's top scientific body, has given fresh impetus to the effort to turn cloning into a routine tool of U.S. agricultural production.

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Sunday, September 15, 2002

'Inventing America': A Technological History

September 15, 2002


Remember those history textbooks of the 1950's extolling the miracles of modern science? They treated inventors as heroes and portrayed technology as the deux ex machina that would solve America's social ills. Then, perhaps because of the nuclear power's dark side or the specter of the collapsing ecosystem, succeeding generations of textbooks banished science and technology from their pages altogether.

''Inventing America,'' by the historians Pauline Maier, Merritt Roe Smith, Alexander Keyssar and Daniel J. Kevles, was supposed to remedy that neglect by treating ''science and technology as integral elements of American history.'' But those who hoped that this much-anticipated textbook would give college freshmen a better grasp of how bright ideas helped turn America into a global power, the world's richest nation and the undisputed leader in scientific discovery will be frustrated.

Starting with an elegiac chapter on ancient America, the authors document successive waves of invention and provide examples of how new technologies, spread by businesses large and small, unsettled politics, altered work and lifestyles, triggered booms and busts and otherwise contributed to change. The book is packaged with two CD-ROM's containing archival and other materials. But ''Inventing America'' doesn't deliver what a textbook should. It neither introduces students to relevant concepts like productivity or life expectancy, nor helps them marshal evidence to distinguish between competing hypotheses.

The premise that inventiveness is somehow an ''American'' characteristic confounds invention with innovation. Long before the Industrial Revolution, other societies, including the Chinese and Islamic empires, displayed great technical virtuosity. But none of these societies unlocked the secret of turning inventions into economic growth. For millenniums, average output per person bobbled around $1 a day -- more or less what it takes to provide the minimum of necessary calories -- while the bulk of humanity was tethered to subsistence farming. When societies did corral extra resources, by trading, vanquishing new territories or subjugating other peoples, these were typically spent, as H. G. Wells lamented, ''on the mere insensate multiplication of common life.''

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Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

On the Left Side of the FM Dial, a War for Turf

September 15, 2002


LAKE CHARLES, La., Sept. 13 - The Rev. Don Wildmon, founding chairman of a mushrooming network of Christian radio stations, does not like National Public Radio.

"He detests the news that the public gets through NPR and believes it is slanted from a distinctly liberal and secular perspective," said Patrick Vaughn, general counsel for Mr. Wildmon's American Family Radio.

Here in Lake Charles, American Family Radio has silenced what its boss detests.

It knocked two NPR affiliate stations off the local airwaves last year, transforming this southwest Louisiana community of 95,000 people into the most populous place in the country where "All Things Considered" cannot be heard.

In place of that program - and "Morning Edition," "Car Talk" and a local Cajun program called "Bonjour Louisiana" - listeners now find "Home School Heartbeat," "The Phyllis Schlafly Report" and the conservative evangelical musings of Mr. Wildmon, whose network broadcasts from Tupelo, Miss.

The Christian stations routed NPR in Lake Charles under a federal law that allows noncommercial broadcasters with licenses for full-power stations to push out those with weaker signals - the equivalent of the varsity team kicking the freshmen out of the gym.

This is happening all over the country. The losers are so-called translator stations, low-budget operations that retransmit the signals of bigger, distant stations. The Federal Communications Commission considers them squatters on the far left side of the FM dial, and anyone who is granted a full-power license can legally run them out of town.

Religious broadcasters have done this to public radio stations in Oregon and Indiana, too, and many large-market public radio stations, like WBEZ in Chicago, complain that new noncommercial stations, most of them religious, are stepping on the signal at the edge of their transmission areas.

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Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

Was 'Old' Map Faked to Tweak the Nazis?

September 14, 2002


The Vinland Map must be the world's most contested piece of parchment. Donated to Yale University by the philanthropist Paul Mellon in 1957, the map, which famously describes the Viking discovery of North America, has been stuck in scholarly deadlock ever since. The subject of endless studies and counterstudies, the map is either a rare medieval artifact - the first cartographic representation of the continent - or else a modern fake.

Consider the two conflicting studies that appeared in scientific journals last month. One, published in Radiocarbon, gives a date for the map's parchment of 1434, suggesting to the researchers that the map could well be authentic. The second study, published in Analytical Chemistry, comes to the opposite conclusion, arguing, as previous studies have, that the presence of a mineral called anatase in the map's ink indicates a 20th-century origin - even if the parchment is far older. And just last Sunday, in The Boston Globe, the rival factions were rehashing the debate once again.

But now the forgery camp may have some fresh ammunition. A Norwegian historian says she has fingered the forger: a German Jesuit priest named Josef Fischer, whom she believes made the map partly to protest the Nazi regime.

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Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

'Brotherhood of the Bomb': The Hunt for Oppenheimer

September 15, 2002


J. Robert Oppenheimer was once much closer to the Communist Party than he ever admitted. Yet as director of the laboratory that built the atomic bomb and as a weapons adviser to the government after World War II, he served his country more scrupulously than did many of those who made an issue of his loyalty. This arresting paradox is at the heart of the most commanding history yet written of the internal politics of the United States during the early years of the nuclear age, ''Brotherhood of the Bomb,'' by Gregg Herken, a historian at the Smithsonian Institution.

Herken shows how high-ranking officials conspired, sometimes with illegal wiretaps, to push Oppenheimer out of government service in 1954, and forced an Army general to testify falsely that Oppenheimer was a security risk. He also shows that Oppenheimer's petty deceits about who told him what concerning potential Soviet espionage were motivated more by personal than political loyalties and damaged himself more than anyone else. Herken's new material includes recently opened F.B.I. files, more than 80 interviews, and previously closed papers of several key actors in the drama.

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Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

Saturday, September 14, 2002

John Edward -- "Psychic Lab Rat"

This is a short clip of John Edward doing his usual act. Only this time, he's doing it for Dr. Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona's Human Energy Systems Lab. I don't find it very convincing, but it's a bit amusing. -Dean A. Batha


Gay Couple Moves Near Rev. Falwell's Church

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - A gay couple is renting a home across the street from the Rev. Jerry Falwell's church to correct what they see as misinformation spread by the pastor and show that homosexuals can lead Christian lives.


ELCT says `NO' to condom use

By Thomas Ratsim

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) has reiterated that promoting the use of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS is immoral.

This remark was made at the Karatu Lutheran Town Church on Sunday, September 8 by Reverend Martin Shao, Assistant to the Bishop of Northern Diocese of ELCT when addressing a ceremony to mark 25 years of partnership between the Altdorf Lutheran District of Bavaria, Germany and the Karatu Lutheran District.

Reverend Shao said that ELCT would not change its stand by distributing condoms. He insisted that prevention to AIDS/HIV lies in upholding morality and ethics.

" We can prevent AIDS by abiding with the Word of God," he emphasized.

Full article at:


Your Pet Peeved? She'll Listen

Television* Can Animal Planet's 'Pet Psychic' really communicate with critters? A 'reading' with McGwire the cat puts Sonya Fitzpatrick's claims to the test.


Sonya Fitzpatrick, a stunning former British fashion model with a penchant for calling people "darling," is a modern-day Doctor Dolittle. During her hourlong weekly series on cable's Animal Planet, "The Pet Psychic," she meets with animals and their owners and even feral creatures to solve behavioral problems or just to find out whatever is on Rover's or Puss' mind.

And just like her counterparts who deal with humans, spiritual mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh, Fitzpatrick says she can speak with deceased pets.

During the three months her series has been on the air, she's helped two lions with mating problems, solved allergy problems in a cat and comforted a prairie dog in mourning for his dead mate. No wonder "The Pet Psychic," which debuted in June, has become one of the top-rated series on the critter-friendly network, sometimes outpacing such better-established favorites as "Animal Precinct," "The Crocodile Hunter" and "The Jeff Corwin Experience."

Michael Cascio, executive vice president and general manager of Animal Planet, said the cable outlet had been looking for a pet communicator to build a series around for the past few years. He was familiar with personable and charming Fitzpatrick because she had appeared on a series on A&E, "The Unexplained," when Cascio worked at that network.

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Today's Headlines ­ September 13, 2002


from The Washington Post

Government scientists said yesterday they have found West Nile virus in blood collected from three different donors and transfused into a Mississippi woman who subsequently came down with the infection.

The discovery provides new evidence for the theory that West Nile virus can be spread through blood transfusions, and raises the possibility that prevalence of the microbe in the blood supply of certain parts of the country may be much higher than previously suspected.

An official of the Food and Drug Administration called finding the virus in so many donors "fairly surprising and . . . unexpected." The agency is embarking on studies to try to find out what fraction of blood donors this summer was carrying the virus, the official said.



from The Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- A senator who was the target of an anthrax-laden envelope sent to his Washington office last year has raised the possibility that terrorists may be responsible for the spread of another disease: the West Nile virus.

Sen. Patrick Leahy called on the government to examine whether terrorism is involved in a West Nile outbreak that has killed 54 people this year.

"I think we have to ask ourselves: Is it coincidence that we're seeing such an increase in West Nile virus or is that something that's being tested as a biological weapon against us?" Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that there is no evidence to suggest an act of bioterrorism.



from The Associated Press

LONDON - Wading through 30 years of confusing and sometimes contradictory studies on cancer and diet, experts have summarized the state of scientific knowledge: alcohol is bad, obesity is bad and lots of fruits and vegetables are good.

Poor diet is thought to account for about 30 percent of cancer in the developed world and about 20 percent in poor countries, and scientists have long sought to determine what foods cause or ward off cancer. A review of the evidence, published this week in The Lancet medical journal, concludes that studies so far have confirmed little.

"Because the public is so bombarded and confused by stories that broccoli is the answer, or whatever, we wanted to get away from that and report what we know is really important," said the study's lead investigator, Dr. Tim Key, a diet expert at Oxford University's cancer epidemiology unit. "The problem is you keep getting stories, and the more bizarre the connection, the more press coverage it gets."



from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As scientists make daily advances with the human genetic code, Congress should act now to prevent Americans from facing genetic discrimination from employers and insurers, privacy advocates say.

Genetic research could make it possible to identify an individual's lifetime risk of cancer, heart attack and other diseases.

But that same information also could be used by employers for hiring, firing or promotions, or by insurance companies to determine how much to charge for their services or to deny coverage completely, privacy advocates said Thursday.

But health and insurance advocates say there is no proof that anyone would do this, and lawmakers would be moving far ahead of reality by banning the use of genetic information.



from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- An amateur astronomer hunting for asteroids may have discovered a piece of the rocket that launched the Apollo 12 astronauts to the moon in 1969, a NASA scientist said Thursday.

The object was first spied Sept. 3 by Arizona astronomer Bill Yeung. Follow- up observations and calculations of its path suggest it is orbiting Earth once every 48 days at a distance twice as far as the moon.

Although it was initially believed to be an asteroid, astronomers now suspect it is a rocket fragment, possibly the third stage of the massive Saturn V launched Nov. 14, 1969, with astronauts Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., Richard Gordon and Alan Bean aboard.

"It's a detective story, and we're looking at the evidence here," said Paul Chodas, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.



from Newsday

Even if money isn't the root of all evil, it can cause real problems in hot, sweaty palms.

According to researchers in Switzerland, the 1- and 2-euro coins now circulating hand to hand in most of Europe may be causing skin problems by releasing far too much metallic nickel.

In a brief report published this week in the journal Nature, dermatologist Frank Nestle and metallurgists Hannes Speidel and Markus Speidel "conclude that the actual release of nickel from the present 1- and 2-euro coins exceeds the value acceptable for prolonged contact with human skin."

Nestle is on staff at the University of Zurich Hospital. Both Speidels work at the Institute of Metallurgy in Zurich.



from The Associated Press

"Superman" star Christopher Reeve's against-all-odds improvement has stunned doctors, who say it is the first documented case of such progress over paralysis years after catastrophic spinal cord injury.

They believe intensive physical therapy is key to the modest, though important, changes Reeve has seen since his injury in 1995. However, they cannot predict whether improvement will continue or if the same approach will help others with long-term paralysis.

"We are talking about an unprecedented amount of recovery. There is just no basis to talk about how much more to expect," said neuroscientist Naomi Kleitman, head of spinal cord injury research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The first clear sign of change occurred one early November day almost two years ago, when Reeve twitched his left index finger. By then, he had been immobile from the neck down for more than five years, unable to feel or move anything. But the movement was the start of a slow rebirth of sensation and control that he says has changed his life for the better.



from The San Francisco Chronicle

Earth's polar regions are undergoing huge changes, and while the debate over global warming pits United States policymakers against the rest of the world, scientists probing the changes are trying to discern what's going on and why.

What they learn could influence how America alters its policies on climate change.

Because the polar seas and continents play a significant role in regulating climate, scientists are studying these changes:

Antarctica's vast ice sheets are breaking up in some regions but thickening in others, yet the continent's total ice cover appears to be thinning year by year, the experts believe.


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Friday, September 13, 2002

The Mosquito conspiracy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 - Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said today that the authorities should examine whether the spread of the West Nile virus in this country is a result of biological terrorism. "I think we have to ask ourselves: Is it a coincidence that we are seeing such an increase in West Nile virus, or is that something that is being tested as a biological weapon against us?" Mr. Leahy, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a radio interview in Waterbury, Vt. "There are some people, credibly, who feel that it is a test of our defenses and is a biological weapon or somebody doing this for commercial purposes."

A 2000 report from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee examined the possibility that the West Nile virus could be bioterrorism. An article in The New Yorker magazine the year before cited a book by a supposed Iraqi defector who claimed that President Saddam Hussein might have developed a lethal strain of the virus to use as a weapon.

Law enforcement and public health officials dismissed the theory. "Our research up until this point has not indicated that this is anything other than a natural evolution" of a virus that follows the migratory patterns of mosquitoes and birds, said Rhonda Smith, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When pressed later in Washington to elaborate on his statement, Mr. Leahy said: "In the times in which we live, questions about our vulnerabilities are unavoidable, and finding all the answers we can is more important than ever. I have no way of knowing what the answers are, but some legitimate questions have been asked, especially before Sept. 11 last year, and no doubt they are being asked anew by the agencies that are working on this."

For the rest of the story click on the following link:


Skeptics Challenge Friday The 13th Superstitions

LOS ANGELES (Wireless Flash) -- An LA-based skeptic's society wants to prove once and for all that superstitions are super stupid.

This Friday (Sept. 13), the Center for Inquiry-West will be throwing a party where guests be encouraged to put superstitions to the test by smashing mirrors, opening umbrellas indoors and leaving hats on beds.

In fact, just showing up will violate superstitions. You have to walk up a cracked sidewalk and under a ladder just to get in the doors.

Rees encourages everyone at the bash to call him the next day and report how their luck has fared. However, in the four years that he's been organizing the superstitious shindig, not one person has earned seven years' bad luck or broke their mother's back.

Still, Rees admits that old superstitions die hard. Some party people are too freaked out to do anything but look around and stay far away from anything that involves "breaking stuff."


Nigerian Scams

Wondered who sends these e-mails that routinely inundate our mailboxes asking us help with transferring huge quantities of money out of secure bank accounts? Ever tempted to respond to them, if not for the greed, at least for getting at the bottom of these mysteries. Here is a person who did. His rather hilarious exchange of letters is published on the following site. If you were not previously convinced these letters are from scam artists, after reading this exchange, you will be.

Keywords: Nigerian Scam letters, SPAM, Nigerian Fraud, Nigerian Fee, Nigerian Spam, Nigerian money exchange, Nigerian Security Deposit, DUPED.


WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 13 Sep 02 Washington, DC


Yes, it's another one. Inventor Carl Tilley rented the Nashville SuperSpeedway on Saturday to demonstrate his amazing electric generator. He took a 1981 DeLorean and replaced the engine with a conventional electric motor. The motor is connected to twelve ordinary 12-volt batteries. Here's the good part: the motor not only runs the DeLorean, it also runs a generator that charges the batteries, so the car just keeps going. Can it do that? Well, not without a good generator. As Tilley explains, "it utilizes the generation of static electricity rather than cutting magnetic fields which has been common practice to date." Further details are not available. Eric Krieg, the relentless foe of perpetual motion quacks at PHACT, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking, predicted that the DeLorean would suffer mechanical failure after 25 miles or so. Actually, Tilley stopped the demonstration at 52 miles, explaining that a wheel bearing had failed. That happens when you lubricate bearings with snake oil.


While the US is spending billions on missile defense, ABC News shipped a simulated nuclear weapon from Istanbul to New York. The mock bomb contained 15 pounds of depleted uranium. On the Sept. 11 ABC Good Morning America program, Physicist Tom Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council called it, "A perfect mock-up. It replicates everything but the capability to explode." Well, not quite. The U-238 in depleted uranium is far less radioactive than the U-235 in weapons grade uranium, and thus is much harder to detect. Depleted uranium wouldn't even make a good dirty bomb. Nevertheless, the ABC stunt demonstrates that a perfect missile defense would only ensure that anyone planning a nuclear attack would use a simpler delivery system.


Levi Strauss is introducing a new line of "Dockers" with pockets that protect your testicles from the radiation produced by a cell phone in the pocket. If you carry your cell phone in a shielded pocket, however, expect a sharp reduction in incoming calls. For the latest in protection devices, you have only to look in the seat pocket on an airliner. There with the airsickness bag, is a catalog of really cool stuff marketed by the airline. The latest is a line of expensive wrist watches that contain Teslar Chips. The ad explains that the Teslar Chip will protect you from harmful EMF and relieve stress. Should you have any doubt, there are Kirlian photographs showing increased energy around a finger, induced by the Teslar chip. Glen Rein, PhD. confirmed that the Teslar Chip increased immune system components 76%. Dr. Scott Morley, D.Sc.,PhD., MD showed it eliminated ambient EMF from his patients. I'm reaching for the airsickness bag now.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Apollo astronaut says he hit man in self defense


Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin offered a spirited defense Wednesday as to why he decked a pushy filmmaker who wanted him to swear on a Bible that he really did go to the moon -- self defense. "The man had him up against a wall and was not letting him pass. All Buzz was doing was trying to get away from him. On the videotape of the incident, you can hear Buzz asking for police to be called," his lawyer, Robert O'Brien, told Reuters in an interview.

O'Brien added that the 72-year-old Aldrin "was forced to protect himself" from independent Nashville filmmaker Bart Sibrel, a much younger and bigger man, who was stopping the astronaut and his daughter from leaving. Sibrel, 37, has admitted to ambushing Aldrin at the hotel and shoving a Bible at him so that he could swear he really made the second walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

The filmmaker has made television documentaries and films debunking the Apollo 11 voyage, saying it never left earth -- a conspiracy theory that some critics maintain gives conspiracy theory a bad name. Sibrel said Aldrin punched him in the jaw and he wants the Beverly Hills police to charge astronaut with assault. A police spokesman said police were investigating but had not yet spoken to Aldrin and "got his side." Once the investigation is completed, its findings will be forwarded to the district attorney to see what, if any, action will be taken, the spokesman said.

The police spokesman added that witnesses have come forward stating that they saw Sibrel aggressively poke Aldrin with a Bible and that Sibrel had lured Aldrin to the hotel under false pretenses so that he could interview him.

Sibrel told Reuters, "I approached him and asked him again to swear on a Bible that he went to the moon, and told him he was a thief for taking money to give an interview for something he didn't do." The incident was videotaped for a new Sibrel film, which claims to prove that the Apollo 11 astronauts faked footage of their 1969 voyage to the Moon to fool the Soviet Union into thinking the United States had won the space race.

Aldrin was the second man to take a walk on the Moon, a feat recorded on grainy black-and-white film footage and transmitted around the world. "The claim that the moon landing is a hoax is completely crackpot. It's just crazy. The scientific evidence is overwhelming," a spokesman for The Skeptical Inquirer Magazine told the Los Angeles Times.


Skeptics Challenge Friday The 13th Superstitions

LOS ANGELES (Wireless Flash) -- An LA-based skeptic's society wants to prove once and for all that superstitions are super stupid.

This Friday (Sept. 13), the Center for Inquiry-West will be throwing a party where guests be encouraged to put superstitions to the test by smashing mirrors, opening umbrellas indoors and leaving hats on beds.

In fact, just showing up will violate superstitions. You have to walk up a cracked sidewalk and under a ladder just to get in the doors.

Rees encourages everyone at the bash to call him the next day and report how their luck has fared. However, in the four years that he's been organizing the superstitious shindig, not one person has earned seven years' bad luck or broke their mother's back.

Still, Rees admits that old superstitions die hard. Some party people are too freaked out to do anything but look around and stay far away from anything that involves "breaking stuff."

New York lottery winning numbers: 9-1-1

ALBANY, New York (AP) -- On the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, a date known as 9-11, the evening numbers drawn in the New York Lottery were 9-1-1.

"The numbers were picked in the standard random fashion using all the same protocols," said lottery spokeswoman Carolyn Hapeman. "It's just the way the numbers came up."

Lottery officials won't know until Thursday morning how many people played those numbers or the total payout, she said.

For the evening numbers game, the New York Lottery selects from balls numbered zero to nine circulatin g in a machine at the lottery office. Three levers are pressed, and three balls are randomly brought up into tubes and then displayed.


From New York Post, Sunday Page Six column:

Flying saucers follow Mick

IS Mick Jagger an alien magnet? UFO specialist Mike Luckman thinks so. "UFOs seem to follow Mick," Luckman tells PAGE SIX. "Not only did he and his friend Marianne Faithful see a rare, cigar-shaped mother ship while camping at Glastonbury Tor in England in 1968, but during that period, Mick kept setting off a UFO alarm whenever he left one of his estates in England," the author of "Close Encounters of a Musical Kind," (Pocket Books) said. At the Rolling Stones notorious 1969 concert in Altamont, Calif., one UFO was even caught on tape. "You can see the crowd turning away from the stage and looking up at the sky . . . and I have quite a few reports of UFOs showing up at other concerts. The music seems to attract them," Luckman adds. Luckman is trying to cash in on music and aliens by producing a "Signal to Space: Countdown to Contact" concert next year at a yet-to-be-named outdoor amphitheater. "It is not inconceivable that we may get a message that will prove once and for all that we are not alone in the universe," he said. No word yet on whether the Stones will play at the extraterrestrial bash.

Virgin seeping, not weeping

By Simone Pitsis

September 12, 2002

IT is the type of news most witnesses to Rockingham's weeping statue don't want to hear - but which sceptics would argue was inevitable.

Thousands of believers, including many people hoping for relief from serious illnesses, have flocked to a church south of Perth to see a fibreglass Virgin Mary statue weep.

But Murdoch University lecturer Doug Clarke, commissioned by the Seven Network's Today Tonight to test the statue's rose-oil tears, claims it is a fake.

Although the results of Mr Clarke's tests were due to be screened exclusively on Seven tonight, news of them leaked around the Perth university campus and eventually were broadcast on Murdoch Radio by journalist Darren Zygadlo.

"Mr Clarke believes that when the statue was made, a cavity was built into the head of the statue and for some reason he believes it has been filled with an oil similar to soya-bean oil," Zygadlo told The Australian yesterday.

"The oil is covered in an enamel coating and so when you scratch the enamel away, it begins to seep."

Statue owner Patty Powell has dismissed any claims the statue is not genuine.

The Australian


New 'moon' found around Earth

By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor

An amateur astronomer may have found another moon of the Earth. Experts say it may have only just arrived.

Much uncertainty surrounds the mysterious object, designated J002E3. It could be a passing chunk of rock captured by the Earth's gravity, or it could be a discarded rocket casing coming back to our region of space.

It was discovered by Bill Yeung, from his observatory in Arizona, US, and reported as a passing Near-Earth Object.

It was soon realised, however, that far from passing us, it was in fact in a 50-day orbit around the Earth.

Paul Chodas, of the American space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, says it must have just arrived or it would have been easily detected long ago.

Calculations suggest it may have been captured earlier this year.

For the rest of the story click on the following link:


Earth's new 'moon' is space junk

By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor

So, it looks like Earth does not have a new "moon" after all

The latest analysis of the mysterious object called J002E3 suggests it could well be a leftover Saturn V rocket component from one of the Apollo lunar missions.

The suspicious, fast-moving object was discovered on 3 September by Bill Yeung from his observatory in Arizona, US. Initial orbit calculations indicated that it was only about twice as far away as the Moon, and in orbit around the Earth.

At first, astronomers were not sure whether the object was a passing chunk of rock that was captured by the Earth's gravity, or a piece of space junk.

Now the mystery may have been solved thanks to a retrospective analysis of its movement through space. The object is most likely from the Apollo 12 mission, launched on 14 November 1969.

For the rest of the story click on the following link:


Nigerian 419: White farmers up the ante

By Lester Haines

Posted: 11/09/2002 at 09:58 GMT

It's all go on the 419 fraud front this week as the latest email circular breaks all previous records of riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Not to outdone by the Nigerians, the white Zimbabwean farmers have rustled up an impressive $46 million dollars for immediate transfer to an honest and trustworthy partner abroad.

Their contact man is Max Crawford - a good, solid Anglo name to be sure - although Max seems to have learnt his English in downtown Lagos. Still, let's give him the benefit of the doubt. It can't be easy spamming half of the western world while enraged war veterans are firing AK47s through your office window. Yup, this one looks legit alright:


Chandra's view of Tycho's

supernova remnant


Posted: September 8, 2002

Nice Picture:


Life reached land a billion years ago

By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor

Life colonised the land more than a billion years ago, far earlier than previously thought.

A geologist at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, Dr Tony Prave, has evidence that some ancient sandy surfaces were covered in a film of bacteria, a so-called biocrust.

For the rest of the story click on the following link:


Copy of Program:

Frontline faith and doubt at ground zero PBS


The Humanist Launches New Website

Contact Information

Fred Edwords, Editor

202 238-9088


(Washington, D.C.- September 9, 2002) The Humanist magazine is proud to launch its new website at: www.thehumanist.org. The site is the product of careful evaluation, design, and consultation and is part of the expanding role of the magazine. Editor Fred Edwords comments, "The time has come for Humanists to reenergize the movement and its publications. Over the past few years our staff and readership have expressed a new vitality, so our energy to pursue an improved presence has never been stronger. The redesigned site is just one way in which the magazine is reaching out to more people."

Man Beheads Daughter Thinking She Was Raped

Mon Sep 9, 8:37 AM ET

TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian man cut off his seven- year-old daughter's head after suspecting she had been raped by her uncle, the Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper said on Sunday.

A post-mortem, however, showed the girl was still a virgin.

"The motive behind the killing was to defend my honor, fame, and dignity," the paper quoted the father as saying.

Rape often goes unreported in Iran where the conservative society sees it as bringing shame on the victim and family.

Local people have called for the man, who has been arrested, to be hanged, but under Iran's Islamic law only the father of the victim has the right to demand the death sentence.

The paper said the father, named as Khazir, has three wives.


Exhibition and Symposium Announcement

>"Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, >Ephemera and Books" will be on view at the Grolier Club in New York City >from September 18th to November 23rd 2002.

>The exhibition showcases the often flamboyant sellers of nostrums and >proprietary medicines over the course of four centuries, largely >through visual material. It traces the prevalence of medical quackery >from the itinerant seller of nostrums four centuries ago to unsolicited >spam on the Internet today. Early prints and broadsides suggest that >the quack doctor's lavish pronouncements and excessive postures were >matched only by similarly exalted promises of therapeutic cure. Quacks >dressed elaborately, inflated their credentials, and embraced a >particularly extravagant vocabulary to market their panaceas, at times >claiming their pills and salves would cure all disease. Some wryly >observed that the quacks' nomadic nature was necessary to enable them >to avoid the inevitable reprisals of dissatisfied customers. They were >later succeeded by the makers of proprietary medicines, many of whom >adopted quackery's promotional methods while, at the same time, >introducing new ones of their own. These vendors advertised widely >(often with celebrity testimonials), publishing broadsides, posters, >pamphlets and manifestoes to further amplify the popular reach of their >product claims. Until the mid-nineteenth century, both physicians and >quacks relied upon certain standard agents, including opium, quinine >and antimony (which worked) and a great many others (which did not).

>The quack over time has been both a popular and profitable subject for >artists and writers from Europe and the United States. Among the >well-known artists and writers represented in the exhibition are works >by William Hogarth, Honoré Daumier, Maxfield Parrish, Jules Chéret, S. >Wier Mitchell and H. G. Wells.

>Altogether, Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, >Posters, Ephemera and Books comprises 185 items, all drawn from the >collection of William H. Helfand, who has curated the exhibition.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Global warming models flawed

By Michael Field


AUCKLAND, New Zealand - A discovery that it is much colder over the South Pole than believed has exposed a major flaw in the computer models used to predict global warming, a new scientific paper says.

U.S. scientists based at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station say they have measured the temperature of the atmosphere 18 to 68 miles over the pole and found that it is 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit lower than computer models showed.

Various models are used to predict global climate, and some assumptions have had to be made, including air temperatures over Antarctica.

Writing in the American Geophysical Union Letters, Chester Gardner, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois; Weilin Pan, a doctoral student at the university; and Ray Roble of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research say the models are wrong.

For the rest of the story click on the following link:


Pigs and Chickens Are Smarter Than You Think

Wed Sep 11,10:45 AM ET

LEICESTER, England (Reuters) - Pigs and chickens are more intelligent than most people believe, scientists said Wednesday.

Chickens can learn from each other and are encouraged by example, and pigs use subtle social behavior and signal their competitive strength to rivals, researchers from the University of Bristol in southern England told a science conference.

Despite their reputation as the bird-brains of the avian world, chickens can be taught what food to eat or avoid, are able to adapt their behavior and can learn to navigate, studies have shown.


Tuesday, September 10, 2002

GREY CLOUD ISLAND TOWNSHIP: Teenagers can't resist ghostly rumors


Pioneer Press

For years, folks have spread tales of ghostly goings-on at the Grey Cloud Island Township cemetery. Spirits roam the area, the stories go, and green lanterns flicker. The rise of the Internet ? where the cemetery is frequently mentioned ? has made the rumors all the harder to stamp out.

Along with the unwelcome notoriety come thrill-seekers: Youth stare at stop signs believing blood will pour forth; other signs are stolen repeatedly. Some people bring Ouija boards to the secluded site, and on Halloween and Friday the 13th, trespassers abound. On Memorial Day, someone hung an inappropriate flag.

Residents and police were only annoyed about it until last week, when someone got hurt. Now they're more concerned about trespassers getting out of hand.

A group of Woodbury teenagers was hoping to witness and film bald men in white robes, because they'd heard there was a cult nearby, authorities said. Instead they confronted a resident in his yard near the cemetery on Sept. 1.

For the rest of the story click on the following link:




from The New York Times

Although the Bush administration has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year to strengthen the nation's defenses against a biological attack, experts say the United States remains highly vulnerable to bioterrorism, particularly strikes on the food supply.

The long-neglected public health system, which was stretched thin during the anthrax attacks of last fall, has received nearly $1 billion. States have used the money for plans to cope with a germ attack, and some are already hiring workers who can respond to intentional attacks or natural outbreaks of diseases like West Nile virus.

"Each day we are getting stronger," said Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services. Even so, significant shortcomings remain.

Many experts, including Mr. Thompson, say the administration has not paid enough attention to protecting the plants and animals in the food supply from biological attacks. The Food and Drug Administration doubled the number of food inspectors, to 1,500, this year, but even so, Mr. Thompson said, the government is "woefully inadequate in this area." He called this his biggest concern.

Battles persist within the federal bureaucracy, particularly over the role of the new Department of Homeland Security in preparing for germ attacks. John J. Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization devoted to security, says the bioterrorism effort is still "years away" from being properly organized.

"We're better prepared as a society, but not necessarily as a government," said Mr. Hamre, a deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.

Meanwhile, a deep philosophical divide has emerged between scientists and intelligence officials over whether to withhold scientific information in the name of national security. A case in point is a rift over a study on agricultural bioterrorism prepared by the National Research Council.

The report, a draft of which was obtained by The New York Times, says the government lacked a comprehensive plan to respond to agricultural bioterrorism. But it has yet to be published, its authors say, because of fears that it could aid potential terrorists.





from The Boston Globe

CHICAGO - A new study found that hospitals every day average more than 40 potentially harmful drug errors, the latest report on a problem regulators are working to remedy.

The most common errors were giving hospitalized patients medication at the wrong time or not at all, researchers found in a study of 36 hospitals and nursing homes in Colorado and Georgia.

Errors occurred in nearly one of five doses in a typical, 300-bed hospital, which translates to about two errors per patient daily. Seven percent of the errors were considered potentially harmful.

The study, which did not evaluate death or injury rates, is published in today's Archives of Internal Medicine. It is based on data collected in 1999.

The rates are similar to those in other reports, but the new study highlights a specific point in the process of getting a drug to a patient: "administering errors" made by nurses or other hospital staff after a doctor has properly prescribed a drug.

"It's a major problem, not a minor problem, and it doesn't lend itself to an easy solution," said researcher Kenneth Barker, an Auburn University professor of pharmacy care systems.

The researchers said their findings support implications in a 1999 Institute of Medicine report suggesting that the nation's hospitals have "major systems problems."

The IOM report said medical errors contribute to more than 1 million injuries and up to 98,000 deaths annually.





from The Miami Herald

BEIJING - China's Health Ministry on Monday denied news reports that it is considering producing generic AIDS medications in violation of foreign patents, but said it wants deeper discounts for imported drugs.

The government wants to cut the cost of AIDS treatment but won't do so in violation of intellectual property rights, said Qi Xiaoqiu, director general of the ministry's Department of Disease Control.

Qi denied news reports that he had suggested last week that China was considering violating patents if foreign companies didn't offer cheaper drugs.

"We are strictly adhering to patent law and will continue to do so in the future," he said.

Chinese health officials, in an announcement Friday, said the country will have 1 million people infected with the AIDS virus by the end of this year. The officials said that number could rise to as many as 10 million by the end of this decade without effective public health measures.

China has begun treating patients with a domestically produced version of the anti-AIDS drug AZT, for which patents recently expired.

Ten more Chinese firms have applied for permission to make generic versions of anti-AIDS drugs with expired patents, and might be producing them by the end of the year, according to Qi.

Foreign drug makers have agreed to price reductions in China that cut the cost per patient from $16,000 for a year's treatment to about $4,000.





from The New York Times

KABETE, Kenya, Sept. 6 - A barbed-wire fence encloses a field full of vegetables, and security guards protect the perimeter of what is clearly not an ordinary garden. At harvest time, this well-guarded produce, instead of going to market, goes into a bonfire.

The sweet potatoes grown here on the outskirts of Nairobi, and in three other secure gardens across Kenya, are different from those sold at market - genetically different. They have been altered in a laboratory to help them fight a virus that regularly wipes out Africa's sweet potato harvests.

For now, though, they remain experimental, and they are sealed off from consumers and destroyed just when they grow to the point that they could be boiled, mixed with unripe bananas and eaten as a Kenyan breakfast food with tea.

Genetically modified food is a contentious topic in Africa right now. Two countries where many people live on the verge of starvation, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have raised safety concerns about corn donated by the United States that was grown using scientific methods. Zambia has banned donated food that has been genetically modified. Zimbabwe was also reluctant to feed its people corn from the United States, which does not certify that it is free of modifications, but lately has dropped its objections.

But behind the protests, Africa has been developing genetically modified foods of its own, with the help of countries like the United States that see them as an important development tool. Scientists at the front lines of Africa's biotechnology revolution, in Kenya, South Africa and Egypt, say they believe that their lab work will eventually help develop heartier crops for a continent that has always been a difficult place to farm.

"Biotechnology is a tool, one of many," said Christopher K. Ngichabe, a Kenyan scientist who is coordinator of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa. "We're not saying it's a panacea, but it can address some of our problems."





from The Washington Post

Some new drugs developed through biotechnology will be approved in the future by the Food and Drug Administration's drug evaluation center rather than its biologics center, the agency announced on Friday.

Many biotechnology companies have recommended the shift, saying the agency's drug evaluation center is better staffed and can review the applications more swiftly.

FDA officials said the move makes sense because the testing, evaluation and use of the pharmaceuticals is similar, whether the drugs are created through traditional chemical means or through newer biotechnology.

While the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research will lose its review authority over the drugs created through biotechnology, it will maintain control over vaccines, blood safety, gene therapy and tissue transplantation


In recent years, the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has gained in industry respect because of its relative speed in reviewing applications. It was the first center at the FDA to be given additional staff and funds through the user fees that drug companies have paid since 1994 when they apply for approval to sell their products. The biologics center will not begin receiving user-fee funds until next year.

Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said his group welcomed the change, which he said reflected concerns that were raised when the user-fee legislation was reauthorized over the summer.

"The industry has been impressed with [the drug center's] close attention to review time clocks," he said, adding that the biologics center did not have as good a record.





from The Miami Herald

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One year ago, Tom Christerson's life was ebbing away when he decided to let doctors take out his failing heart and put in a revolutionary mechanical pump.

Now, as he prepares to mark the first anniversary of his operation this week, the retired tire dealer has become a symbol for the AbioCor artificial heart and its potential as a replacement for diseased hearts.

Of seven people implanted with the device, the 71-year-old Christerson is the lone survivor. He went home in April to Central City, Ky., resuming a quiet life with a close-knit circle of family and friends.

"I didn't have any idea it would last this long," Christerson said last week during a routine checkup at Jewish Hospital. "I thought it would give me another six months, but I've got a year so far."

The AbioCor has not skipped a beat since being inserted into Christerson's chest last Sept. 13, according to its manufacturer, Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass.





from The Miami Herald

WASHINGTON - A space rock big enough to cause widespread damage and death will hit the Earth only about once every 1,000 years, but experts say the destruction would be so extreme that nations should develop a joint defense against asteroids.

Participants at a NASA-sponsored conference on the hazards of comets and asteroids smashing into Earth estimated that the planet probably would be hit about once each millennium by a space rock big enough to release about 10 megatons of explosive energy.

Such a rock, estimated at 180 feet across, scorched through the atmosphere over Tunguska in Siberia in 1908 and flattened trees across 800 square miles of forest land. No crater was found and experts say they believe the damage came from atmospheric shock.

Bigger space rocks, which would cause considerably more damage, would hit the Earth even more rarely.

An object of about 1,000 feet "would flatten everything in an area the size of New Jersey and kill everybody there," said Erik Asphaug of the University of California, Santa Cruz. The planetwide effects of such a catastrophe are unknown, he said, but debris thrown into the atmosphere could diminish sunlight and perhaps affect agriculture for months.




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