NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 August 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Here They Are, Science's 10 Most Beautiful Experiments

September 24, 2002 By GEORGE JOHNSON

Whether they are blasting apart subatomic particles in accelerators, sequencing the genome or analyzing the wobble of a distant star, the experiments that grab the world's attention often cost millions of dollars to execute and produce torrents of data to be processed over months by supercomputers. Some research groups have grown to the size of small companies.

But ultimately science comes down to the individual mind grappling with something mysterious. When Robert P. Crease, a member of the philosophy department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the historian at Brookhaven National Laboratory, recently asked physicists to nominate the most beautiful experiment of all time, the 10 winners were largely solo performances, involving at most a few assistants. Most of the experiments - which are listed in this month's Physics World - took place on tabletops and none required more computational power than that of a slide rule or calculator.

What they have in common is that they epitomize the elusive quality scientists call beauty. This is beauty in the classical sense: the logical simplicity of the apparatus, like the logical simplicity of the analysis, seems as inevitable and pure as the lines of a Greek monument. Confusion and ambiguity are momentarily swept aside, and something new about nature becomes clear.

The list in Physics World was ranked according to popularity, first place going to an experiment that vividly demonstrated the quantum nature of the physical world. But science is a cumulative enterprise - that is part of its beauty. Rearranged chronologically and annotated below, the winners provide a bird's-eye view of more than 2,000 years of discovery.

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


Ghost hunters rely on science

Group strict on accepting claims

By Marion Gooding Staff writer

Phantom screams and gunshots, lights that come on by themselves, furniture that moves when nobody's around: now that's the Jacksonville Amateur Ghosthunting Society's kind of house.

A local not-for-profit organization dedicated to researching paranormal activity, JAGS is always looking for an opportunity to explain why something goes bump in the night.

JAGS president and founder Jodi Battin has been captivated by the otherworldly for as long as she can remember, and has spent a good portion of her life researching and documenting local ghost lore, she said. It's that captivation that led her to found JAGS two years ago.

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



Of the forces of nature that threaten humans, earthquakes may be the most worrisome, in large part because they always seem to strike without warning. For years geologists have been trying to figure out how to predict these often-catastrophic events. Forecasts in a number of temblor-prone regions--including California, Japan and New Zealand --currently rely on the so-called time-predictable recurrence model, which holds that an earthquake occurs when the geological fault recovers the stress released in the most recent quake. New findings, however, place that model on shaky ground.



by Janet Browne

After years of immersion in Charles Darwin's 14,000 letters at the Cambridge Library, Janet Browne--an editor of the Darwin correspondence project--has published the second half of her sprawling, magnificent biography. Integrating the best of current scholarship with her own discoveries, Browne's account is state of the art. That said, as Stephen Jay Gould once opined, "too many Darwins dwelled within this enormously complex man" to allow any one biography to be "definitive." But if the most any author can do is to find his or her own Darwin, Browne's finely detailed portrait ranks among the best ever attempted.






Eleven years after the 5,000-year-old Tyrolean Iceman was found frozen in the Italian Alps, scientists have determined what he ate for his last meals. Previous studies found a stone arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder, which implied a violent confrontation preceded his death. Now DNA analyses suggest that this Late Neolithic individual dined on grains, venison and ibex meat in the days before his demise.



Over the past few decades, wildlife areas have become increasingly fragmented. In response, many conservationists have argued that, at the very least, developers should leave land that links separated habitats undisturbed in order to improve the health of the remaining ecosystems. But how much these habitat corridors truly help has been unclear because scientific studies of their effects have been carried out on small scales or have failed to control for confounding factors such as the type of land chosen for the corridor. Now the results of a large-scale study may help resolve the issue. The findings indicate that wildlife corridors enhance crucial plant and animal interactions, and significantly increase plant pollination.



In order to forecast future long-term climate change accurately, scientists must first understand fluctuations that have already occurred. At the end of the last ice age, between 18,000 and 10,000 years ago, a succession of abrupt climate shifts occurred that had consequences around the globe. Earlier studies had suggested that a "see-saw" effect tied warming episodes in the Northern Hemisphere to opposing fluctuations in the Southern Hemisphere. But according to the results of a new study, cooling in the south may actually have happened first.


Monday, September 23, 2002

Detroit zoo shark credited with 'virgin births'

DETROIT - Holy mackerel!

A shark held with no male counterpart at Detroit's Belle Isle Aquarium for the past six years has produced three babies in what zoo officials are calling "virgin births."

The first two offspring hatched in July and the third was born earlier this week, Doug Sweet, curator of fishes at the aquarium, said in an interview last week.

The female trio and their two-feet-long (60-cm-long) mother, a white spotted bamboo shark common to waters in the South Pacific, are all doing well and a fourth offspring is expected in another couple of weeks, Sweet told Reuters.

"With fish, amphibians and reptiles it does happen sometimes, it is kind of rare but it can happen," Sweet said of the unusual hatchings.

He said they were thought to be the result of a process called parthenogenesis, which is the ability of unfertilized eggs to develop into embryos without sperm.

"The other option here is that perhaps there's a chance that the female might be a self-fertilizing hermaphrodite. That is, she might have testicular tissue inside her as well as ovarian tissue, and it's possible she could be fertilizing her own eggs. Either way you look at it it's pretty weird," Sweet said.

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


Earth's magnetic field 'boosts gravity'

09:20 22 September 02 Michael Brooks, Porto

Hidden extra dimensions are causing measurements of the strength of gravity at different locations on Earth to be affected by the planet's magnetic field, French researchers say.

This is a controversial claim because no one has ever provided experimental evidence to support either the existence of extra dimensions or any interaction between gravity and electromagnetism. But lab measurements of Newton's gravitational constant G suggest that both are real.

Newton's constant, which describes the strength of the gravitational pull that bodies exert on each other, is the most poorly determined of the constants of nature. The two most accurate measurements have experimental errors of 1 part in 10,000, yet their values differ by 10 times that amount. So physicists are left with no idea of its absolute value.

Now Jean-Paul Mbelek and Marc Lachieze-Ray of the French Atomic Energy Commission near Paris say they can resolve the contradiction by taking into account the location of the labs where the experiments were carried out.

The pair suggest that electromagnetism and gravity influence one another enough for gravity's pull to be noticeably affected by the Earth's magnetic field.

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


Haunted by cliches

Those who search for specters must overcome society's suspicions

By THOMAS NORD tnord@courier-journal.com The Courier-Journal

First of all, don't bring up "Ghostbusters."

It's just not fair. Troy Taylor has only seen one ghost -- as best he can tell -- and he wasn't at all interested in busting it.

But you know the media. So lazy.

"You get tired of every article coming out saying, 'He ain't afraid of no ghost,' " says Taylor. "Or how many times can they say, 'Who you gonna call?' "

Taylor's singular sighting occurred during the summer of 2001. As one of the nation's leading explorers of the paranormal, Taylor had been drawn to a barn in Northern Indiana that the locals claim is haunted.

The vast majority of the time, that's going to mean strange sounds, doors slamming or inexplicable chills. If Casper were showing up on Jay Leno, then there wouldn't be much "para" left in paranormal.

"We're not looking for ghosts," explains Taylor, seeming to contradict his very reason for being. "We're looking for a natural explanation for what you're seeing or hearing. Ninety percent of the cases we've investigated don't turn out to be ghosts."

Skepticism is a requirement, but it's pretty hard to resist the lure of a haunted barn when you're the president of the American Ghost Society and have written 25 books on the subject.

"We sat in that barn for hours. It was pitch black and hot as blazes," he recalls. "Through the locked door of the barn comes this white light -- glaringly white, brighter than any flashlight than I have ever seen -- and it's about a foot wide by 3-1/2 feet tall. It lit up everything inside the barn."

Then it got really spooky.

"It started moving from one end of the barn to the other," he says. "It went through the solid walls of the horse stalls at the speed of a quick walk. The whole thing took about 20 seconds."

Naturally, he took lots of pictures?

"That's how the story ends," he says, embarrassed. "No pictures! After 20 years of being a ghost hunter, I sat there with my mouth open and watched it go by."

He doesn't much care whether you believe this story or not. He's long past that point.

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


Davis OKs stem cell research California is first state to encourage studies

Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Monday, September 23, 2002

Sacramento -- Challenging the Bush administration on one of the hottest controversies in medicine, Gov. Gray Davis on Sunday signed legislation intended to make California a haven for stem cell research.

The law makes California the first state in the nation to give its stamp of approval to research that scientists say could lead to breakthroughs in treating disorders ranging from Alzheimer's disease to spinal cord injuries.

Stem cells, which are small fragments of living tissue, can be turned into almost any variety of cell. Researchers hope they can find ways to transplant new cells into patients who have lost cells due to disease or injuries.

The new law, written by state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, establishes a broad regulatory framework for stem cell research requiring that projects be reviewed by an approved industry review board. The bill does not spell out which panel would be have oversight responsibilities or provide guidelines for research project approval.

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



Today's Headlines September 23, 2002



Federal health officials will issue detailed guidelines today for vaccinating the entire U.S. population against smallpox within five days of an outbreak of the dreaded disease.

Intended as a blueprint for state and local health officials nationwide, the unprecedented move reveals a growing belief within the Bush administration that even one case of smallpox anywhere in the Western Hemisphere would signify a terrorist assault and should therefore trigger a far more massive response than officials had previously suggested, said two experts involved in the planning.

The manual being sent to health commissioners in the 50 states and the District of Columbia offers advice on how to operate mass vaccination clinics -- from logistical issues such as parking to the medical challenge of treating severe side effects. It offers suggestions on utilizing the National Guard, recruiting translators, building intricate data systems and contending with extreme weather conditions.



The Bay Area biotech firm that started the heretical campaign to ban gene patents hopes to stir more debate on the topic by sponsoring a scholarly smackdown in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Santa Clara's Affymetrix broke ranks with the biotech industry in March by arguing that the United States should quit issuing gene patents because genes were invented by nature, not science.

For 20 years it has been an article of faith in the biotech world that gene patents provide a crucial incentive for private investment by allowing successful firms to generate enough profits to offset the risks inherent in developing medical treatments.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has already issued more than 1,300 patents on human genes and has thousands more applications pending.



In their appropriations committee reports for 2002, both the House and the Senate made it clear they were not happy with the Patent and Trademark Office. It was not the first time, and the patent office's customers have not been happy with the agency for a while, either.

In fact, for several years the patent office's basic functions have had serious problems. It typically takes a year before an inventor hears a first response to an application, and then an average of slightly over two years before a patent is issued (and there are warnings that this will soon stretch out to three). And there have been increasingly frequent complaints about the quality of the patents themselves and doubts about the skills of the patent examiners.

The agency, meanwhile, has a growing backlog of pending applications (currently more than 400,000) and an annual argument with Congress because lawmakers divert about 10 percent of the money the patent office earns in user fees.


TOXIC WORDS OVER ALGAE from The (Raleigh, NC) News & Observer

The first assault came in June.

A small journal published word that North Carolina scientist JoAnn Burkholder misjudged pfiesteria, the toxic marine algae that threatened the Eastern Seaboard five years ago.

In August, two papers in big-gun publications said some scientists were concluding that pfiesteria may pose no risk to people. And the woman the world looks to as the expert -- the one who battled to be taken seriously -- decided she was under attack again.

Now she is fighting back.

"I see this as an attack on one lab in particular," said Burkholder, an N.C. State University scientist and co-discoverer of pfiesteria. "They talk about 'the Burkholder group,' even though there are multiple labs conducting this science."



After an amateur astronomer spotted a speck of light shooting through the California sky recently, scientists made a startling discovery: The object had been pulled from its orbit around the sun and was circling the Earth, creating, in effect, a new natural satellite for our planet.

As it turns out, the object, which scientists tagged J002E3, was no naturally occurring visitor, like an asteroid, but a piece of man-made space junk. It was a remnant of U.S. space history.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif., said it probably is the discarded third stage from the Saturn rocket that sent Apollo 12 astronauts to the moon in 1969.

"This is something interesting," Mark McHugh, the curator of Suffolk County Vanderbilt Planetarium in Centerport, said Friday. "This is the first large object that the Earth has ever captured."



COLD warriors would have gasped in disbelief if they could have foreseen the debut of a new American rocket last month. A giant 19 stories high, the Atlas 5, successor to America's first intercontinental ballistic missile, blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and roared into space to deploy a satellite. But Yankee smarts had little to do with the fiery success of the rocket's engines. Instead, the brains were Russian.

Moscow may have lost the cold war, but its companies are beating Western capitalists at the game of making rocket motors. With technology that is simple and reliable, powerful yet relatively cheap, the Russians are winning over not only commercial customers around the globe but the American military as well. What's more, the Russians have outperformed their technologically advanced rivals by relying on a strikingly low-tech fuel: kerosene.

The Atlas 5, made by Lockheed Martin, is the brainchild of the United States Air Force, which realized seven years ago that it would need to replace its aging fleet of cargo rockets with a new generation of inexpensive but dependable rockets able to loft large payloads.



Cable modems and digital subscriber lines promise customers high-speed connections to the Internet. What isn't so swift in many regions of the country, however, is the hookup by cable and telephone companies.

But the frustration some customers experience in trying to get a high-speed connection pales in comparison with that faced by about 130 scientists and support staff members at the National Science Foundation's research station at the South Pole. Right now these researchers deep in Antarctica's interior have only a sporadic link to the outside world through what is, in effect, a living museum of obsolete and abandoned satellites.

Given that some of those satellites are now more than a quarter-century old, the Office of Polar Projects at the science foundation is looking at new ways of linking the Admundsen-Scott South Pole Station electronically to the rest of the world.

The prime contender at the moment seems an unlikely choice: cable. Through its contractor, Raytheon Polar Services, the science foundation is looking into the feasibility of installing a fiber-optic cable across a continent that is marked by glaciers, deep crevasses and towering mountains and is notorious for having some of the world's most extreme cold and winds.


New Website Announcement

Parapsychology, Anomalies,Science, Skepticism, and CSICOP

A Collection of Weblinks presenting Arguments for and against the Paranormal with a Critical Look at Pseudo-Skepticism and CSICOP


Sunday, September 22, 2002

Mel Gibson launches scathing attack on the Vatican

From Richard Owen in Rome

MEL GIBSON, a Roman Catholic who is to play Christ in a new film, has attacked the Vatican, saying that he does not believe in the Church as an institution.

The actor, who says that he is an ?old fashioned Catholic? who rigorously supports the Latin Mass, is shooting Passion in Rome and in the southern Italian town of Matera. He says that he is happy that his only daughter has decided to become a nun.

Gibson, 46, had a Catholic upbringing and attended a Catholic boys? school in Australia. He is scathing about the Church?s hierarchy, saying that the Vatican was ?a wolf in sheep?s clothing?.

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


'Bigfoot' believers attend convention

Big believers in "Bigfoot" have ignored a history of hoaxes and misidentifications and gathered in the US to exchange stories and peruse books and items on the creature.

About 120 people attended the fourth annual East Coast Bigfoot Conference and Expo yesterday in Jeanette, Pennsylvania.

Items for sale included plaster casts of footprints - some with five toes, some with three.

"There's just too much evidence collected, too many sightings, too many reports for the creature not to exist," said Eric Altman, director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society.

Mr Altman does not claim to have actually seen a Bigfoot, the American version of the tall, elusive hairy ape-man also known as the Yeti when it is sighted in the Himalayas.

But while investigating a report in some woods two years ago, he and another researcher heard some sort of creature.

"We couldn't see it, but we could hear it mumbling and growling - almost like speaking," said Mr Altman, a software installer. He said it crossed the path about 100 yards ahead of them, just out of sight.

Over the past three years, the society has investigated more than 50 Bigfoot reports in Pennsylvania. Though the north west US is best identified with Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, Mr Altman said Pennsylvania ranks fourth among states with more than 500 sightings dating to the 1800s.

Christine Vinkler said she would have thought anyone claiming to see a Bigfoot was crazy, too - until June 2000, when she said she saw one while driving to work. "I was a sceptic, very much so," she said.

Dave Grim, 32, a high school history teacher, said he came to the expo out of curiosity. "I'm open and would like to experience something I can't explain," he said.

Story filed: 05:01 Sunday 22nd September 2002

Culture Briefs

Excerpts and quotes from the cultural war of words in publications around the nation.


Buck-Toothed, Rabbitlike Dinosaur's Remains Found

Unusual Fossil Found In Northeastern China

Posted: 3:05 p.m. EDT September 18, 2002

A bucktoothed, rabbit-like dinosaur related to Tyrannosaurus Rex and other predators lived in China 128 million years ago, researchers report.

The fossil of the unusual Incisivosaurus was found in the Yixian formation near Beipiao City in northeast China, an area that has already produced many unusual fossils, including dinosaurs with feathers.

Incisivosaurus is part of a group of dinosaurs known as oviraptors, small two-legged dinosaurs that had parrot-like beaks. Incisivosaurus, however, is the oldest oviraptor found to date and lacks the bird-like features found in others of its group, the researchers report in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Instead of having a beak, Incisivosaurus has a long skull and jaws filled with teeth for grinding. However, in its most unusual characteristic, it sports two large buck teeth at the front of its jaw similar to those used by rodents for gnawing.

The buck teeth suggest the dinosaur was an herbivore rather than a meat-eater like its relatives, reported Xing Xu and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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


Saturday, September 21, 2002

Some weird shows this week: (compiled by Sharon Hill):


(Discovery) "Haunting in Georgia"


(Discovery) "Burning Bodies: Spontaneous Human Combustion"

(Science Channel) Explanation: Unknown "Hit by Lightning"

Mon 9PM

(Discovery) Inside the Bermuda Triangle

Mon 10PM

(Discovery) Nostradamus: A Skeptical Inquiry

Thurs 9PM

(Travel Channel) Haunted Hotels "Where Phantoms Lurk" and "If Walls Could Speak"

Friday, September 20, 2002

Marriage lowers testosterone Hormones range less on the homestead

By William J. Cromie Gazette Staff

A man's testosterone levels drop significantly when he holds an infant. Even holding a baby doll can decrease levels of the male virility hormone.

Married men, whether fathers or not, have markedly lower testosterone levels than single males, according to one of the first studies of how the hormone changes when men marry and become fathers. Results of the study, done by a team of Harvard University anthropologists, increase our knowledge of human biology and may have implications for so-called "male menopause."

Researchers have long suspected that levels of the hormone largely responsible for fighting, competing, and mating decrease when men settle down and start a family. Other studies have showed that testosterone begins to decline shortly after marriage, but surges upward when unions end in divorce.

"It makes sense," notes Peter Ellison, professor of anthropology. "Lower levels of testosterone may increase the likelihood that men will stay home and care for their wives and kids, while decreasing the likelihood they will go out drinking with the guys and chase other women."

To pin down precisely how hormones vary between single men, married men without children, and married men with children, graduate student Peter Gray and his colleagues tested a total of 58 men in the three categories. Testosterone can easily be measured by analysis of saliva, and the men, all from the Boston area, willingly spat for science. Forty-eight of the 58, who ranged in age from 20 to 41 years, were affiliated with Harvard University.

The analyses showed little difference between married men with and without children, but both had significantly lower testosterone levels than unmarried fellows.

The men also took written tests to indicate how much time each one spent with his wife and children. They answered questions about how much attention they gave their wives on their last day off, rather than golfing or hanging around with male friends. Those with higher scores on these "spousal investment" quizzes had lower testosterone levels.

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


Parents charged in death of girl forced to drink water; lawyer said was bonding therapy

PAUL FOY, Associated Press Writer

(09-17) 12:31 PDT SALT LAKE CITY (AP) --

A couple have been charged in the death of their 4-year-old adopted daughter, who allegedly was forced to drink large amounts of water in an unusual form of therapy meant to promote family bonding.

Richard Killpack, 34, and Jennete Killpack, 26, of Springville were charged Monday with child abuse homicide and child abuse. They were not arrested and were awaiting a court summons.

Prosecutors said Cassandra Killpack was forced to drink so much water it lowered the concentration of sodium in her blood, causing fatal brain swelling. The girl died June 10.

Defense attorney Danielson said the girl had been physically and sexually abused before being adopted and was not bonding with her new parents. He said the Cascade Center for Family Growth in Orem promoted forced water drinking for children with attachment disorder and that it was supposed to teach children to go to their parents for relief and comfort.

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


Saint's Dried Blood Liquefies in 'Miracle'

NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - The substance many Neopolitans believe is the dried blood of their patron saint liquefied right on cue on Thursday, in a twice-yearly "miracle."

Thousands of faithful crammed into Naples cathedral to see the blood of the fourth century Saint Gennaro turn from powder to liquid, which they see as a good omen for the city and the world. The miracle has been recorded almost without fail for the past 600 years -- on September 19, the saint's feast day, and on the first Saturday in May. When the blood has remained dry, tragedies have followed.

Scientists have confirmed that the substance inside the closed vial is blood but cannot explain why it regularly turns to liquid.

Cardinal Michele Giordano told the congregation this year's miracle was particularly good, because the blood had liquefied in less than an hour.

"It's an extraordinary event, also because you can clearly see that the blood has changed color and there's more of it," Girodano said holding up the glass vial.

Disaster has struck at least five times after the blood failed to liquefy. In 1527 the plague killed 40,000 people and more recently in November 1980 some 3,000 people died in a massive earthquake that struck southern Italy.


Liquefying myth debuked at:




Preserving bodies for the future - science or science fiction?



SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Pearl Harbor veteran Hugh Hixon Sr. wasn't a sports fan. He probably heard of Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams but almost certainly never saw him hit any of his 521 home runs.

Yet Hixon might still have a chance to meet the legendary ''Splendid Splinter'' -- decades, or perhaps centuries, after both were declared legally dead.

That is the passionate, if not bizarre, hope of their children, who arranged to have their fathers cryogenically preserved -- frozen -- on the chance that science one day will figure out how to bring them back to life.

''I have no idea what remains [of my father],'' said Hugh Hixon Jr. ``But I have retained the option of finding out.''

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


Cuts Lessen Space Station's Value to Science, Report Says

September 20, 2002


WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 - The International Space Station will never be a first-class research laboratory if recent decisions to reduce its crew size and scientific equipment remain in effect, according to a report by a panel of experts.

NASA officials, however, said that the agency was considering further expansion of the station, an orbiting outpost, and that it was determined to make it productive scientifically.

Allard Beutel, a space agency spokesman, said today that Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator, had seen the space station report, which was issued Wednesday by a panel of the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences. Mr. O'Keefe will take it into consideration as the agency reviews how to conduct the best science on the station, Mr. Beutel said.

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


Radio Telescope Proves a Big Bang Prediction

September 20, 2002


CHICAGO, Sept. 19 - After 271 20-hour nights of staring at the Antarctic sky, a radio telescope at the South Pole has confirmed a critical prediction of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, astronomers from the University of Chicago and the University of California announced here today.

The result reassured cosmologists that their theories of the universe were on track and pioneered a new technique that greatly increases cosmologists' ability to know what was going on in the early universe.

Using their telescope in effect as a pair of Polaroid sunglasses, the team, headed by Dr. John Carlstrom of Chicago, discovered that a faint radio haze thought to be the fading remnant of the Big Bang itself is slightly polarized. That is to say, its flickering electromagnetic fields that constitute light waves were not completely jumbled, vibrating in all different planes as they sped to Earth, like feathers sticking out at all angles at the end of an arrow. Rather, they showed a slight preference for one plane of vibration, as if all the feathers lined up.

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


HHS Seeks Science Advice to Match Bush Views

By Rick Weiss

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 17, 2002; Page A01

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.

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


Thursday, September 19, 2002

Experts dismiss town's sea monster claims

Experts have dismissed claims a strange sea monster has been washed up on the Nova Scotia shoreline.

A strange carcass attracted crowds after being washed up in the Bay of Fundy, near Parkers Cove.

According to local media reports, townspeople were convinced the remains belonged to a Loch Ness-style creature.

The badly-decomposed specimen measured 30 feet and seemed to have a long neck and small skull.

Scientists who have studied videotape say the body is most likely that of an shark.

Chris Harvey-Clark, director of animal care at Dalhousie University in Halifax, say the features - its small head, gill arches and large dorsal fin - closely resemble a basking shark's.

However the Parkers Cove resident who made the discovery remains unconvinced.

Grant Potter told the Globeandmail.com: "I believe this is the remnant of an animal from times gone by."

He added that fishermen in the area have long reported sightings strange sea creatures, but haven't come forward for fear of being ridiculed.

Story filed: 11:45 Thursday 19th September 2002


Science shows how out-of-body feelings occur

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

(Filed: 20/09/2002)

Electrical stimulation of the brain can summon up out-of-body experiences to order, according to a study published today.

Many people have reported leaving their body and watching it from above, notably when very seriously ill.

Today scientists report in the journal Nature that they have found out how to stimulate the brain to create the feeling of being detached from the body.

They believe that the discovery suggests that these experiences occur when the brain struggles to deal with contradictory information from the senses to create a mental idea of the body.

The team used electrodes to stimulate the brain of a 43-year-old woman who had had epilepsy for 11 years to find the origin of her seizures.

The brain centre was found an inch above and slightly behind the right ear by a neurologist, Dr Olaf Blanke, and colleagues at Geneva University Hospital, Switzerland. Exciting this spot - called the angular gyrus of her right cortex - repeatedly caused out-of-body experiences.

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


Physicists Make Enough Antimatter to Test Theory

Wed Sep 18, 4:10 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - European scientists have developed enough antimatter to try to answer one of the great questions of Big Bang theory, research published on Wednesday said.

Scientists believe the Big Bang that created the cosmos about 15 billion years ago produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But the antimatter, whose subatomic particles have the opposite electrical charge to matter, disappeared just after the Big Bang.

Now researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN ( news - web sites)) in Geneva have created large amounts of antihydrogen -- the partner to hydrogen in terms of antimatter -- to test the standard models of physics and help discover where the antimatter went.

Previously, scientists had produced a few molecules of hydrogen antimatter, but not enough to test the theories.

"This is a milestone that has opened up new horizons to enable scientists to study symmetry in nature and explore the fundamental laws of physics which govern the universe," Professor Michael Charlton, of the University of Wales who worked with the CERN team, said on Wednesday.

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


Area 51, truth seekers 0 - Bush reissues order keeping Nevada site secret

By Alex Johnson, MSNBC

Sept. 18 ? For more than four decades, an unusual alliance of mainstream lawyers, conspiracy theorists and UFO enthusiasts has tried to find out just what is going on at Groom Lake, Nev. ? the top-security Air Force facility better known to fans of ?The X-Files? as Area 51. Now they will have to wait at least another year after President Bush reissued an executive order Wednesday barring the disclosure of any information about the site.

IN THE CONTINUATION of a drama played out every Sept. 18 since 1995, Bush signed the order to make sure that lawyers pursuing hazardous-waste claims against the Environmental Protection Agency could not get their hands on classified information about the site, which lies in the middle of a remote stretch of desert 100 miles north of Las Vegas.

The government did not even acknowledge the existence of the site until the mid-1990s, when it had to begin responding to workers? claims of injuries resulting from hazardous waste practices.

Even now, all the Air Force will say is that the area is used ?for the testing of technologies and systems training for operations critical to the effectiveness of U.S. military forces and the security of the United States.? It insists that ?specific activities and operations ... both past and present, remain classified and cannot be discussed.?

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


Wednesday, September 18, 2002

HHS Seeks Science Advice to Match Bush Views

By Rick Weiss

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 17, 2002; Page A01

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.

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Today's Headlines September 18, 2002


from The San Francisco Chronicle

It took a ferocious national ethics debate and a historic compromise by the Bush administration last year to move controversial stem cell research forward.

To get the stem cells moving forward at UCSF this week, it took Meri Firpo's silver Honda Civic.

Firpo, an assistant research geneticist, led a UCSF laboratory team that produced two colonies of stem cells -- precious all-purpose cells derived from discarded embryos that are capable of maturing into all the cells of the body.

Among other possibilities, scientists hope the stem cells will yield made- to-order transplants for patients with otherwise incurable diseases.



from The New York Times

The Hubble Space Telescope has detected the first clear evidence for a new category of cosmic black holes, astronomers reported yesterday. The discovery is expected to yield insights about the evolution of black holes and the formation of star clusters and galaxies in the early universe.

In a briefing at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Washington, the astronomers described finding the first two medium-weight black holes, the new class of these extremely dense but titanic gravitational sinks. One has a mass 4,000 times that of the Sun; the other, 20,000 times.

It was not a complete surprise. The Chandra X-ray Observatory, which orbits Earth, had delivered tantalizing clues that there could be intermediate black holes: something much heavier than those created by the collapse of a single huge star but nothing like the supermassive ones that weigh as much as billions of stars and roil the cores of most galaxies.

But astronomers had to look in unexpected places ? at the centers of bright star groups known as globular clusters ? to find the new class of black holes. These clusters contain the oldest stars in the universe and are relatively benign environments, which suggested to scientists that the black holes were formed at about the same time as the clusters themselves.



from The Christian Science Monitor

Regional blackouts, botched ship navigation, interrupted long-distance calls, damaged satellites, even rusting oil pipelines all have been traced at one time or another to stormy "space weather."

Now, the federal government is spending $20 million on a new center that aims to improve forecasts of solar outbursts, minimizing their effects on humans and their technology.

Dubbed the Integrated Center for Space Weather Modeling, the new operation will provide up to a few days' warning so that satellite operators, astronauts in orbit, and others affected by solar outbursts can prepare for a solar storm.

"In space weather, we're about where weather forecasters were 40 years ago," says Tim Killeen, one of the new center's lead researchers. "But we have the advantage that the computing power and the modeling know-how already exist."



from The Chicago Tribune

Illinois researchers documented the first known cases in the country of a dog, a wolf and three gray squirrels dying from the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, but officials emphasize that the disease remains rare and is unlikely to spread from animal to human.

The College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois in Urbana- Champaign announced the cases Tuesday, saying that an 8-year-old Irish setter-golden retriever mix from the Bloomington-Normal area died of the virus.

"This dog had a condition of the brain showing nervous symptoms," said John Andrews, director of the university's veterinary diagnostic laboratory. "In that situation it could be a number of possibilities, including rabies, distemper or encephalitis of other types. We eliminated all of those other possibilities and said, `Well, what about West Nile?'

"The tests came up positive."



from The Chicago Tribune

Dr. Todd Rosengart, head of cardiothoracic surgery at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, can't help himself. He knows he shouldn't, and yet, as he runs a slide show on the laptop computer in his office, his scientific reserve gives in to an almost boyish enthusiasm.

What so floats the 42-year-old researcher/surgeon's boat is the prospect of a new era in cardiac surgery and a restored shine to the once-radiant promise of gene therapy. That prospect seems to march ever closer as his procession of slides shows heart scans evidencing new blood vessel growth and bar charts tracking such progress as a 50 percent increase in the amount of time patients can run on a treadmill.

In a case of the whole being far more than the sum of its parts, the computer's images may ultimately add up to a future in which cardiac surgery will not only be refined but, in fact, redefined.

"What we are looking at is influencing the body to create its own new vessels," Rosengart says, "not the plumbing work that heart surgery is now. Think of it as a Bio-bypass." And then he catches himself in what may be an indication of how far along this treatment already has come. "Oops, I'm supposed to say a biologic bypass. `Bio-bypass' is trademarked."



from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -The crippling effects of muscular dystrophy were partially corrected in laboratory mice by the insertion of a new gene that restored to the muscles a protein lacking in victims of the fatal disease.

Researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, fused a gene that makes a muscle chemical with a modified virus and injected the combination into the hind leg muscles of mice that have a disorder that mimics Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Within a month, the test mice had a 40 percent improvement in muscle action compared to muscular dystrophy mice that received no injection, said Christiana DelloRusso, lead author of the study that appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We measured the force produced before and after the muscle is stretched and it was much better with the mice that were injected compared to the ones that weren't," DelloRusso said Monday.



from The Associated Press

RICHLAND, Wash. - In a scrubby sagebrush desert not far from the Columbia River, lethal leftovers from the Cold War era are finally about to be cleaned up.

After a decade of fits and starts, construction has begun on a $4 billion waste treatment complex at the Hanford nuclear reservation, the biggest environmental cleanup project in the country.

Environmental advocates say it's none too soon. At least 67 of Hanford's 177 underground tanks, some of them decrepit and well past their intended service lives, have leaked more than a million gallons of radioactive brew into the soil.

The waste has contaminated the aquifer, and the tanks are just seven miles from the Columbia River, which borders Hanford.

"There's a lot at stake," said John Britton, a spokesman for Bechtel National, which was hired to rescue the stranded project last year after the previous contractor's cost estimates doubled to $15.2 billion.


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