NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 October 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society


Welcome to the Home of the P.B.S.

The Group conducts year round Expeditions and Investigations on Bigfoot Sightings in Pennsylvania and the surrounding Areas.

Field data and evidence as well as our expedition photos can be viewed at this site. Aplications for membership into the group can be submitted as well as subscriptions to the Keystone Sasquatch report, a bi-monthly Newsletter that reports the latest sightings, and what events the PBS is involved in. Our "Headlines" page can fill you in on all the latest Bigfoot news around the World! Other features of the website include our own "Forum 54" Post Forum and the latest "State of the Art" real time Audio Chat Room which can also be found on www.paltalk.com. Please place us on your favorite's list and stop by often. The website is updated with information as soon as it becomes available. Our report page is constantly being updated, and contains sightings in Pennsylvania that date back to the 1800's. If you have seen, or suspect you have seen a Sasquatch, please fill out our "Submit Report Form". All Submitted Reports are Held in Strict Confidentiality. Does Bigfoot exist in Pennsylvania? Enter our sight and you be the judge.

Bigfoot's toehold on region up for debate at conference


By Carl Prine
Saturday, September 21, 2002

He stinks.

Not that that's his only problem. He's at least 8 feet tall. Very hairy. And painfully awkward in his size 85 feet. Very shy, too. Loves dumpsters, but hates puppies, babies and group hugs.

Spotted more than 500 times since 1973 in western Pennsylvania alone, the tall, dark and hairy man-beast known as "Bigfoot" takes center stage today in Jeannette, Westmoreland County, where a gaggle of Sasquatch aficionados will host the fourth annual East Coast Bigfoot Conference & Expo.

Although never captured or otherwise scientifically substantiated, the big lug known for his mammoth footprints continues to cut an impressive — and odorous — path through the collective consciousness of the Keystone State.

"He looks like a big hairy guy and he stinks real bad," said John Vukovich, a West Newton hunter who claims to have seen Bigfoot six times since the early 1960s. "Armpit, body odor, real bad, real concentrated. And diarrhea. He smells like diarrhea, too.

"In the sixties, we didn't really know what he was. We thought these tracks were from some hippie walking barefoot in the woods.

"Now we know better."

Bigfoot enthusiasts make tracks to Jeannette


By Craig Smith
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Eric Altman dreams of coming face to face with a hairy creature that can stand more than 8 feet tall, weigh nearly a ton and smell like rancid meat.

He came close, he thinks, about two years ago. That's why he's 98 percent sure the creature that's come to be known as Bigfoot is out there.

"I want to see one of these creatures up close," he said. "There's obviously something out there. We have a mystery to solve." Altman will be among the speakers when the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society holds its fourth annual East Coast Bigfoot Conference and Expo from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at Pitzer's Townhouse Restaurant in Jeannette.

He's hoping the public will attend the conference to share stories of Bigfoot sightings and to learn more about the creature.

Altman's own close encounter occurred in August 2000 in the woods of Bradford County. During a preliminary investigation into a Bigfoot sighting, Altman and others heard something circling them. At first, they thought it was a bear.

"When we moved, it moved," he said. "That's not typical of a bear." Then there was the mumbling. Altman said it sounded as if the creature was trying to talk. "We had goosebumps. Our hearts were racing," he said. "It was pretty intense."

Altman, 32, of Jeannette, has been "obsessed" with Bigfoot for more than 20 years. He believes the creature stems from a break in the evolutionary process.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – October 3, 2002

from The Washington Post

Scientists have determined the complete genetic codes of the single-cell parasite that causes malaria and of the mosquito that transmits it to people, a feat they said would allow them to launch a high-tech assault on one of the world's deadliest and most intractable scourges.

Capping a six-year effort involving hundreds of scientists in nearly a dozen countries, scientists say the accomplishment should speed development of new drugs and vaccines that take aim at the parasite's most vulnerable genes, and could facilitate the creation of environmentally benign insecticides.

Moreover, malaria's genomic unveiling has revealed a host of new research opportunities that could inspire a much-needed shot of international investment in the faltering global war against the disease, researchers said. Malaria kills more than 2 million people annually -- the vast majority of them children younger than 5 -- and has spread in recent years as affordable drugs have lost their effectiveness and mosquitoes have perfected their resistance to the most widely used sprays.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

WASHINGTON (AP) -- French doctors have suspended studies of the first gene therapy to ever work -- a treatment that appears to cure the rare immune disorder dubbed "bubble boy disease" -- because one of the boys treated has developed a leukemia-like side effect.

It's unclear if the gene therapy actually caused the boy's new illness and, if so, how often such a side effect would occur. The boy is responding well to treatment.

The other seven children given the same gene therapy at Paris' Necker Hospital are doing well, but France's public health agency announced Thursday that all the families had been notified about the possible risk.


from The Chicago Tribune

Two years after its U.S. debut, the abortion pill mifepristone has failed to live up to predictions that it would transform the nation's bitter abortion debate. It is, however, showing promise as a treatment for diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to cancer.

"I think it's a very exciting medication," said Eric Schaff, a mifepristone researcher at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

Mifepristone--called RU-486 when it was developed more than 20 years ago in France--received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in September 2000. At the time, abortion-rights supporters predicted the drug would make abortion more accessible and private, while opponents warned that it would drive up the nation's declining abortion rate and put women's health at risk.

So far, none of this has happened.


from The Christian Science Monitor

Some 200 miles west of Acapulco, Mexico, Volcano 7 rises 8,600 feet from the ocean floor.

A range of odd organisms grows along the seamount's flanks, but the volcano is not exactly a hotbed of biological activity.

As marine biologist Lisa Levin tells it, however, that picture shifts dramatically roughly 200 feet short of the summit. There, a narrow zone bustles with shrimp, crabs, starfish, worms, and rattail fish. Just as abruptly, the scene changes to one of submarine desolation – a peak as seemingly barren of life as a Rocky Mountain summit above the timber line.

The abrupt shift remained a mystery until Dr. Levin and colleagues discovered that the peak juts into a layer of water severely depleted of dissolved oxygen. And despite its appearance, the peak was home to thriving colonies of tiny worms and bacteria.


from The Christian Science Monitor

PASADENA, CALIF. – In September, scientists in Europe made an incredible announcement: they had produced not one, but tens of thousands of "anti- atoms," atoms made entirely of antimatter. This result rightly generated a good amount of publicity, but I was amused at the media's reaction to the news. Whenever I saw it mentioned, either on television or in papers, there always seemed to be a picture of the starship Enterprise or some other science fiction-type image.

Of course, that seems fitting; antimatter is dramatic, exciting stuff, and is, as well, the fuel that supposedly propels the starship Enterprise across the galaxy. But there's so much more to the antimatter story. Sure, understanding antimatter and how to create it in our laboratories may very well lead us to a super-efficient, almost inexhaustible energy source to power the spaceships in our far future. But the properties of antimatter may also help us understand how we, and in fact, everything in the universe, came into being.

What exactly is antimatter? Well, antimatter wouldn't look any different to us if we could see a chunk of it flying through space. And, although this is highly unlikely, if a distant galaxy were made entirely of antimatter, we'd have absolutely no way of telling from the light it emitted. Every type of particle in the universe has a kind of evil twin, its antiparticle. The only difference between the two is that antiparticles have an opposite electrical charge than their regular-matter mates.


Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Arcane ostrich study wins prize for tedium


By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent
(Filed: 04/10/2002)

A scientific paper entitled "Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain" earned British researchers a coveted "anti-Nobel prize" last night.

The Ig Nobel award for Biology, presented for achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced", was handed over to Dr Charles Paxton, of the University of St Andrews, and Dr Norma Bubier, of Pro Natura UK, Oxford, at Harvard.

In an evening that celebrated some of the most pointless experiments in recent history, Britain did exceptionally well, picking up three awards. Prof Chris McManus, psychologist and medical educationalist at University College London, won a belated Ig Nobel prize for Medicine. His paper, originally published in Nature in 1976, investigated "Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and Ancient Sculpture". The report was described by judges as "excruciatingly balanced".

The Economics prize was awarded to the executives, corporate directors and auditors of Enron and 26 other companies, including Maxwell Communications, for "adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world".

The annual Ig Nobels have become an institution, with many of the winners travelling to America to receive their prize in person. Three genuine Nobel Prize winners handed out the prizes. The Ig Nobels are organised by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research.

No Cure for Cancer


Tenn. Mom, Preacher Accused of Letting Girl Die by Turning to God

By Dean Schabner

Oct. 3

When doctors told Jacqueline Crank to get her daughter to a hospital for the tumor that was growing on her shoulder, the Tennessee woman turned to God instead.

Now the woman could face murder charges on top of the aggravated child abuse and neglect charges that she and the girl's "spiritual father," Ariel Ben Sherman, already face.

The 15-year-old girl, Jessica Crank, died on Sept. 15 from a rare form of bone cancer. One last attempt at using faith to help the girl was attempted at her funeral on Sept. 18, when Sherman asked a group of members of his New Life Ministries to pray over the girl's open casket for her resurrection.

The girl did not rise from the dead, but Sherman — who was charged with five counts of child abuse in Oregon in 1984 and convicted of criminal mistreatment — said that should not be any reason for those in his church to lose faith.

"Jesus is a healer," Sherman said at the funeral service. "Jessica believed that, too."

There is no legislation against people making their own decision not to go to a doctor, but when a parent decides not to seek medical care for a sick child, it can be considered child abuse or worse, if the child dies.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Quakes reveal 'core within a core'


Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK

Scientists probing the secrets of the Earth's inner core say there is evidence of another, smaller, core hidden within it.

If they are correct, it could reveal more about how the Earth itself formed.

The inner core was first discovered in the 1930s, and scientists have been looking ever since for ways to measure it.

It is solid, about 2,440 km across, and composed mainly of iron and nickel.

A new way of measuring the composition of the core was found when the shock-waves from earthquakes on one side of the world were measured by sensors on the opposite surface.

To get there, they would have had to pass through the centre, and it proved possible to measure subtle changes to the speed of the waves depending on what kind of rocks and minerals they encountered on their route.

Bizarrely, a wave travelling from north to south moved faster than one going east to west.

It is believed that this effect happens because the core has been formed in a crystalline manner - with its components lining up in the same direction, changing the speed at which the waves pass through depending on their initial direction.

This phenomenon is called anisotropy.

Tough centre

The latest research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that a wave precisely targeted through the inner core behaved differently depending on which part of the core it travelled through.

There appeared to be a separate "inner inner" core - perhaps 600 km in diameter.

Not only was the anisotropy effect much stronger - suggesting an even more crystalline composition - but the angle of most resistance, a guide to the alignment of these crystals, was different to that of the rest of the inner core.

Researchers from Harvard University, US, used data from more than 300,000 seismic events between 1964 and 1994.

They believe that this difference may be the result of changes in the environment of the core during its formation.

As such, further studies may be able to shed some extra light on how, and at which point, the core was formed.

The researchers said that, with more seismometers in place around the world, it might be possible to complete a more detailed survey of the core.

Attention grabber

Professor Guy Masters, from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, US, told BBC News Online that, if the findings were correct, the "core within a core" could be left over from an early stage of the planet's formation.

He said: "This would change the way we think about the formation of the inner core.

"If it's right, we have to explain it somehow.

"Trying to understand how the Earth evolved is one of the fundamental problems we have in science.

"The core is just so strange that it seems to catch people's attention."

Judges Urged to Consider Criminal Genes


Wed Oct 2,11:02 AM ET
By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Judges of the future should be able to consider offenders' genetic make-up before sentencing them, a leading British think-tank said on Wednesday.

A criminal's genetic disposition toward anti-social behavior, such as violence or aggression, should be as valid a factor for judges as psychiatric reports or personality disorders, Britain's Nuffield Council on Bioethics said.

"If you found that someone had a genetic make-up of this kind together with certain environmental factors, you might find probation plus anger treatment or therapy more appropriate than sending them to prison," Professor Bob Hepple, chairman of the council's working party, told Reuters.

"If people are found guilty of criminal behavior it shouldn't be an excuse but it may be relevant to the way in which they are treated."

The council, a body formed to identify and report on ethical questions raised by advances in research, made its recommendation in a report entitled "Genetics and Human Behavior: the Ethical Context."

An international team of researchers said in August they had identified a single gene which might explain why some boys abused in childhood -- but not all -- grew up to be violent or aggressive.

They found 85 percent of young boys who had a weakened version of the gene and had been abused turned to criminal or anti-social behavior.

Hepple said it showed the importance of both nature and nurture in an individual's development.

"If you are aggressive you can go and have anger management courses. You can restrain your genetic predisposition or channel it in certain ways," he said.

He also dismissed the notion that genetic information alone could be used to predict anti-social behavior.

"We don't think the case is made out yet for preventive detention or anything of that kind. That would be horrifying science fiction stuff," he said.


The report also came out against the idea of "designer babies."

In February, Britain's fertility watchdog allowed a couple to select an embryo to have the same genetic match as their terminally-ill three-year-old son who needed a bone marrow transplant.

But Hepple strongly rejected the idea of designer babies where parents could use genetics to play a role in their baby's intelligence, sexual orientation or personality.

Although as yet there is no scientific evidence to link certain genes to particular behavioral traits, he said it would arise, creating "really serious moral issues."

"We shouldn't be trying in any way to impose a more intelligent child or a child with a particular type of personality," he said.

"If you allow it for abnormal conditions such as chronic diseases, it doesn't follow that you have to allow it for what we regard as the normal make-up of mankind

Occam's razor

FW: it slices, it dices


Buddhist miracle in Siberia


Steven Lee Myers The New York Times
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
Lama's body is intact, 75 years after his death

IVOLGINSK, Russia A miracle has occurred here in Siberia. Or it may be a hoax. Others believe science can explain it. It is a question, it seems, of faith.

The story begins in 1927, when a spiritual leader of Russia's Buddhists gathered his students and announced his plans to die. The leader, Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama, then 75 and retired, instructed those gathered around him to "visit and look at my body" in 30 years.

Books Often Give History a Facelift

October 2, 2002

THE Texas Board of Education will soon decide which history textbooks may be used in the state. Activists on the left and right are lobbying the board, to influence its choices.

One text has already been withdrawn because it referred to prostitution in frontier towns. A board member felt this was inappropriate for high school students to read.

A group called the Texas Public Policy Foundation has attacked the simplistic glorification of minority groups that is now conventional in American education.

The foundation wants texts modified to tell how African chieftains, not Europeans, captured slaves for sale in America. It wants to emphasize the role of white Europeans in ending slavery. It objects to portrayals of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as civil rights supporters, noting that the brothers refused to support the movement at crucial times.



#1058 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 10/2/02


After heated debate, the House of Representatives this morning rejected a bill that would have allowed churches and other houses of worship to become more active in political campaigns by raising money and endorsing partisan candidates.

Lawmakers voted down HR 2357, the so-called "Houses of Worship Political Speech protection Act" which had been introduced by North Carolina Rep. Walter B. Jones. The measure would have amended a portion of the IRS Code which bans overt political support for a specific candidate by a church, mosque, synagogue or other religious entity. That policy began in 1954 when Congress placed restrictions on all 501(c)(3) corporate entities at the behest of then - Sen. Lyndon Johnson.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a religious advocacy group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, expressed dismay with the vote, saying that representatives "missed an important opportunity to protect the free speech rights of religious leaders."

"Unfortunately, it will remain difficult and risky for religious leaders to speak out on the moral and political issues of the day from the pulpit because of the unfair and unconstitutional restrictions of the Internal Revenue Service," lamented Colby May, legal counsel for ACLJ. "We will continue to work with Congress and in the courts to ensure that the First Amendment rights of ministers, pastors and rabbis are protected."

During comment and debate which ran over from last night, lsome awmakers rose to defend the measure as a necessary step in preserving religious liberty.

Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) told the House, "Our nation's pastors, priests, rabbis and clerics should be free to express their political opinions just as any other American. We should be doing everything we can to promote freedom of speech."

Fellow Republican Christopher Shays of Connecticut took issue, though, and charged that the measure would "erode the separation of church and state, a bedrock value of our nation."

Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrats warned, "If this legislation is allowed to pass, you could have a minister coming into a pulpit and saying vote for so and so because God told me."

"This legislation has one purpose," Lewis added, "to allow our houses of worship to become vehicles for partisan activity."

Religious advocacy groups divided over HR 2357, with support for the bill coming from the American Family Association, Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, the Southern Baptist Convention and televangelists including Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson.

Mainstream and liberal religious groups like the United Methodist Church, National Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists and the American Jewish Congress opposed the measure.

Even Without Bill, Abuses Likely To Continue

Despite claims by supporters that HR 2357 was necessary to protect the First Amendment rights of houses of worship, recent elections indicate that violations of laws limiting clerical political activity are on the rise. They are also likely to continue, says Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists.

"They just ignore the law. We see candidates traipsing through churches, mosques and temples during the campaign season and courting blocks of religious voters."

Johnson added that abuses reached a "high-water level" in the 2000 election campaign, with national candidates like George Bush and Al Gore seeking to identify themselves with religious virtue and belief.

"That's bad enough," noted Johnson. "The problem is that we see more cases where religious leaders, decked out in their costumes and speaking from their pulpits, are using the veneer of divine authority to solicit votes and elect candidates."

In theory, churches and other houses of worship are permitted to address issues and may ask candidates to speak to congregations. But the invitations must include all those running for office, and the church may not use its funds to back a particular candidate or make a public endorsement. It is an IRS regulation that, say critics, is being regularly violated as religious leaders attempt to mobilize their flocks to influence legislation and boost the fortunes of select politicians.

In the 2000 race, for instance, candidates of both major parties regularly spoke from the pulpit and received overt endorsements or more indirect support from preachers. Rev. Floyd Flake, a New York minister and former member of Congress, openly urged congregants to vote for then-Vice President Al Gore in his race for the White House, admitting that the gesture likely violated the separation of church and state.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Christian Coalition distributed tens of millions of "voters guides" which critics charge misrepresented candidates' position on key issues like abortion, voucher aid to religious schools and other "pro-family" issues. Following a prolonged legal battle with the Federal Election Commission and the IRS, the government concluded in 1999 that the group, founded by Pat Robertson, should not be tax exempt.

Most interesting in today's vote on the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act is a charge made by Concerned Women for America that many of those legislators who chastised the bill have themselves spoken and solicited votes from congregations.

"Someone should find out how many of those members who voted against this bill have personally made campaign appearances in churches," said Michael Swartz, a CWA official. "The hypocrisy factor is one that should not be ignored. When members of Congress do things that they publicly say should be illegal, you have to wonder where else they stray from accepted standards of ethics."

For further information:

("Congress ready for post-Labor Day session, 'religion friendly' legislation," 9-2-02)

(Lawmakers seek ways to promote pulpit politics," 10/1/01)

("Weakening the wall: Al Gore grovels for votes with Promise Keeper TD Jakes," 10/25/00)

("Election 2000 -- a religious cold war of words," 8/25/00)

("How low can you bow, how long can you grovel? ..., 8/17/00)

("Jesus in charge? Whose election is it anyway?" 12/23/99)

Candidate turned himself blue


'I tell them I'm practicing for Halloween'

Wednesday, October 2, 2002 Posted: 11:48 PM EDT (0348 GMT)

GREAT FALLS, Montana (AP) -- Montana's Libertarian candidate for Senate has turned blue from drinking a silver solution that he believed would protect him from disease.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

More on Georgia creationism vote

#1057 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 10/1/02

New Policy Goes Beyond "Warning Labels" On Text Books

The Cobb County, Georgia Board of Education has unanimously voted to amend teaching guidelines, and allow discussion of creationism and other religious accounts about the origin of life and the universe in science classes.

The move comes after a powerful coalition of local and national religious groups, including organizations which support so-called "Intelligent Design" sought to have such doctrines included in the science curriculum along with evolution. It has put Cobb County in the media spotlight as the latest culture war front pitting evangelicals and other religious critics of evolutionary theory against scientists and educators who say that such teachings are inappropriate in public school science courses.

Indeed, scientists from across the country weighed in on the Cobb County debate, as did the prestigious National Academy of Science.

Cobb County public schools already mandate the inclusion of "warning labels" in thirteen different text books, advising students that evolution is a theoretical opinion, not a scientific fact. Three biology books used throughout the school system discuss evolution in scientific, secular terms but "account for a relatively small portion" of the respective texts according to a story in the Marietta Daily Journal newspaper. The disclaimers have prompted a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a parent charging that the warning labels are unconstitutional and promote "a fundamentalist Christian expression."

Thursday's meeting at the offices of the Cobb County School District was packed, with dozens of spectators waiting outside. The policy amendment declared:

"It is the educational philosophy of the Cobb County School District to provide a broad based curriculum; therefore, the Cobb County School District believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origins of the species. This subject remains an area of intense interest, research and discussion among scholars. As a result, the study of this subject shall be handled in accordance with this policy and with objectivity and good judgment on the part of teachings, taking into account the age and maturity level of their students."

While supporters justified the guideline change as an example of free academic inquiry and expression, scientists and many parents charged that the new policy would result in faith-based or religious arguments against evolution. Two board members, Teresa Plenge and Lindsey Tippins, said that they favored the introduction of arguments that are critical of scientific evolution, including Christian creationism. Meanwhile, School Board Chairman Curt Johnson waffled over the issue, and released a prepared statement saying that the district did "not expect teachers to teach creationism ... religion has no place in science instruction, but science instruction need not offend those who hold religious beliefs of whatever type."

Jeffrey Selman, the east Cobb parent represent by the ACLU who is challenging the warning labels, said that the new policy "still has a big loophole" for smuggling religion into the public school curriculum.

"It still doesn't say they can't teach creationism, which is teaching religion," he told reporters.

"To deny that this whole issue is not about religion is ludicrous, it's spin," Selman added. "If you are going to pass this thing, make sure you are putting proper science in the classrooms."

Board Runs For Cover, Re-Election

Several board members, especially those up for re-election, tried to downplay the significance of the new policy.

Chairman Curt Johnston pleaded to media and a packed audience at last Thursday's meeting that the intentions of board members had been misconstrued.

Another board member who faces voters in November, Laura Searcy, denied that the new amendment would pander to or promote religion saying, "The policy, the language of the policy speaks for itself. I don't have comment on it."

But board members tried to do their own pandering and avoid responsibility for the unanimous vote. A last minute add on contributed to the confusion over wording. While clearly opening the door for the teaching of creationism, "Intelligent Design" or other religious pseudoscience, members inserted an addendum to the policy declaring:

"It is the intent of the Cobb County Board of Education that this policy not be interpreted to restrict the teaching of evolution; to promote or require the teaching of creationism; or to discriminate for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, religion in general or non -religion."

For Dave Hudson, the parent of a County high school student, the new policy still violates the First Amendment and invites religion into the science lab. "The policy is still not clear," he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "It appears to be intentionally unclear in an attempt to circumvent the laws of our country."

For further information:

(Archive of articles on evolution, creationism)

("Creation-evolution battle hits Ohio," 3/14/02)

("Evolution survives in Kansas as voters reject extremist creationist candidates," 8/2/02)

("Report grades evolution in states, draws fire from ID advocates," 10/3/00)

("Hawaii board gives unanimous thumbs-down to creationism," 8/4/01)

What's the Deal With the Bright Light You See Before Dying?


By Brendan I. Koerner
Posted Tuesday, October 1, 2002, at 2:42 PM PT

Train operator Kelvin DeBourgh Jr. was killed last week when the new AirTrain, which connects Manhattan to Kennedy International Airport, crashed. Before succumbing to his injuries, he told rescue workers: "I can't see you anymore--all I see is a bright light." Why do the mortally wounded often report seeing a bright light before dying?

Assuming it's not the Great Beyond, medical science has advanced several theories as to the bright light's physiological roots. Many researchers ascribe the glow to the effects of anoxia, or oxygen deprivation, which can affect the optic nerves. Others suspect that trauma to the right temporal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for perception, can cause the senses to malfunction. Michael A. Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, has replicated the bright-light phenomenon in test subjects by stimulating their right temporal lobes with mild electromagnetic fields.

A third theory holds that the brain releases massive amounts of endorphins, or natural painkillers, when the body is gravely injured. Those endorphins may "override" the optic nerves, causing the victim to see a peaceful glow rather than their own mangled body or teams of desperate paramedics scurrying about. This endorphin-induced serenity can be crucial to warding off lethal shock, thus giving the person better odds of survival.

It has also been suggested that some bright-light glimpsers neither gaze at eternity nor experience unusual neurological activity. Instead, they may simply mistake the high-powered operating room lights as something a tad more mystical.

Bonus Explainer: In Western societies, the bright light is often accompanied by visions of deceased relatives, idyllic gardens, and a convivial bearded man in flowing white robes--all standard images of the Christian heaven. Dying Hindus in India, by contrast, typically picture the afterlife as a Kafkaesque bureaucratic office. Fading Micronesians have been known to describe a bustling, skyscraper-filled metropolis.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

AT NEWS: Bipolar Foundation Warning

*AT NEWS COMMENTARY*: The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation came forth with the below press release last week, warning that children with bipolar disorder are at risk for being misdiagnosed as "attachment disordered" and being exposed to the risks of Attachment Therapy.

As more professionals are becoming of these abusive practices under the name of AT, they are speaking out forcefully against it.

Press Release
September 26, 2002
Contact: Stuart Cox
The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation
(757) 258-9679

"Rebirthing, Attachment Disorder Red Flags for Bipolar Disorder in
Children, says Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation"

Chicago (September 26, 2002) -- Calling it "dangerous and harmful" last week the U.S. Congress passed a resolution introduced by U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) asking all states to enact laws banning a therapeutic technique known as rebirthing - "to reenact the birthing process in a manner that includes restraint and creates a situation in which a patient may suffer physical injury or death." (H. Con. Res. 435)

Rebirthing came into focus in April 2001 after Candace Newmaker, a 10-year-old North Carolina girl, died as a result of a rebirthing treatment she had received in Evergreen, Colorado a day before her death.

Rebirthing is a controversial technique for treating attachment disorder (failure of children to form developmentally appropriate bonds with their caregivers) and is used as a means of connecting adopted children with their new parents. Rebirthing has not been approved by the American Psychological Association and is already illegal in many states.

"Many children are misdiagnosed with attachment disorder who actually have emerging symptoms of bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), which can now be identified and successfully treated in children," says Martha Hellander executive director of the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF).

Children with bipolar disorder have behavior, when ill, that may include oppositionality and rages, disturbed relationships with family and peers, school refusal due to severe anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts. If untreated, the illness has a mortality rate higher than that of childhood leukemia, according to CABF, and many children may go on to abuse substances if not treated early.

Hellander cautions that "many of these children need medical treatment for a biological brain disorder. Unfortunately any child who is adopted, even into loving homes at birth, is liable to get diagnosed with attachment disorder because the public and many treatment professionals are unfamiliar with early-onset mood disorders in children. We urge anyone with a child showing these behaviors, or who is told their child has attachment disorder, to have their child evaluated by a board-certified child psychiatrist. Many of our more than 6,000 children were originally given the diagnosis of attachment disorder prior to finding proper treatment for their bipolar disorder."

Many of the suggested treatments for attachment disorder, including rebirthing, are carried out by untrained or unlicensed therapists, adding further to their risk. At least six children, including a 4-year-old Utah girl earlier this month, have died as a result of controversial therapies related to attachment disorder.

CABF is the only national, not-for-profit organization devoted solely to education, support and advocacy for families raising children with bipolar disorder. CABF's Web site, www.bpkids.org, receives more than 2,000 visits daily. The interactive Web site offers an extensive library, message boards, chat rooms, a database of doctors, free online support groups, a gallery of children's art, and more. # # #

The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation 1187 Wilmette Ave., P.M.B. #331 Wilmette, IL 60091 E-mail: cabf@bpkids.org Web site: www.bpkids.org

[AT NEWS sends the latest news to activists and interested organizations about the many abusive, violent practices inflicted on children by the fringe psychotherapy known as Attachment Therapy, aka "holding therapy" and "therapeutic parenting."]

Contact: Linda Rosa, RN
Corresponding Secretary
Loveland, CO

Vatican body recognises Mother Teresa's miracle

Press Trust of India/Agence France-Presse

Vatican City, October 1: Vatican cardinals and bishops in Tuesday formally recognised as authentic a miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, Vatican sources said, making it a formality that Pope John Paul II will grant her sainthood status.

The pontiff is expected to sign the decree recognising the miracle at a meeting of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in December, and announce a date for the beatification of the Albanian-born "Saint of the Gutters".

The beatification is likely to take place at the Vatican in spring next year, making Mother Teresa's journey to sainthood the shortest in history.

She died in September 1997 aged 87 after a life of service to the poor and dying earned her global recognition as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.

The miracle healing of an Indian woman's abdominal tumor which the Congregation recognised at a meeting on Tuesday is one of a number attributed to the intercession of the nun, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, now Macedonia, in 1910.

The Congregation declared the healing "scientifically inexplicable," Vatican sources said. A miracle is a prerequisite to being made a saint in the Catholic Church.

Mother Teresa set up the Missionaries of Charity order in Calcutta in 1950.


Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – October 1, 2002

from Newsday

WASHINGTON -- Iraq's bioweapons program that President Bush wants to eradicate got its start with help from Uncle Sam two decades ago, according to government records getting new scrutiny in light of the discussion of war against Iraq.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that U.N. weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program, CDC and congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research.

The CDC and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus.


from The New York Times

Two papers by Harvard and Cornell researchers in the June 13 issue of the journal Nature described a spectacular breakthrough in miniaturization: researchers have now created transistors whose switching components are literally single atoms.

After nearly a year of topsy-turvy excitement and puzzlement over the now discredited findings of Dr. J. Hendrik Schön at Bell Labs, the field of molecular electronics is still very much alive. Researchers are making steady progress at work whose practical prospects are promising, if uncertain.

"Honestly, there's a river flowing here," Dr. Thomas N. Theis, director for physical sciences research at I.B.M., said. "The Schön thing is like throwing a big rock in there. It makes a big splash, but the river keeps flowing on."

At first glance, the findings from June look similar to the fabricated research. Dr. Schön, who was fired last week after an independent investigatory panel found that he had manipulated and fabricated data, had claimed transistors with single molecules as switches. Had they proved real, those transistors might have catapulted the young field of molecular electronics from research laboratories to factories in a few years, transforming the computer chip industry.


2002 DRUGS VS. THE BUG OF 1918
from Newsday

With extreme care under tight conditions, scientists in New York City and Georgia have constructed a bug that resembles the deadly virus that caused the disastrous 1918 worldwide influenza pandemic.

Hoping to find ways to protect people if the natural virus returns, microbiologist Christopher Basler and his colleagues recently made new copies of several genes that rendered the 1918 flu so dangerous. These few genes were engineered into infectious viruses for testing at a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Athens, Ga.

The results showed, fortunately, that existing drugs such as amantadine, zanamivir and oseltavir seem to work, protecting mice against big doses of engineered virus.

"These data suggest that current anti-viral strategies would be effective in curbing the dangers of a re-emergent 1918 or 1918-like virus," Basler and his colleagues announced Sept. 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Part 2, continued from yesterday, from Newsday

A year after the World Trade Center's collapse, doctors have just begun to get a grasp of the scope - and persistence - of respiratory disorders left in the disaster's wake.

Many have even begun to wonder whether more serious illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer, await.

In addition to asthma, a new condition called World Trade Center cough and another relatively new medical disorder known as reactive airways dysfunction syndrome - RADS - are the ailments most commonly treated in firefighters, police officers and others who responded to or lived near the site. RADS is a type of occupational asthma, a wheezing condition that occurs usually after exposure to high concentrations of environmental irritants. It can evolve into full-blown episodes of asthma, studies have shown.

Doctors say a rarer condition - hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known interchangeably as farmer's lung and coffee worker's lung - may yet be established.



more on SLAC's 40th anniversary from The San Francisco Chronicle

Age 40 is a "shadow line" in life that must be crossed "in style -- or else," warned the writer Gore Vidal. He was speaking of human beings, not of scientific laboratories. But his point may apply to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, celebrating its 40th birthday this week.

A glorious past -- including five Nobel Prizes -- is behind SLAC, one of the pioneering "atom-smashing" labs.

Does a glorious future lie ahead? Or is the age of big particle accelerators waning because of their great cost and their declining glamour as public attention turns toward biotechnology, computer science, nanotechnology and other wonders?

SLAC officials are optimistic as they approach the celebration at the lab, which Stanford University operates under contract to the U.S. Department of Energy. They'll celebrate four great decades Wednesday at the lab off Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park.


from The Chicago Tribune

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Angola's 27-year civil war took a brutal toll on the nation's wildlife herds, once some of the most magnificent in Africa.

Angola's elephants--more than 100,000 of them--were hunted to extinction by soldiers who sold their ivory to finance the war. Rhinos and Cape buffalo also vanished, many slaughtered for food or used as target practice by soldiers thundering over the game parks in helicopters. Land mines inflicted heavy casualties as well.

Today, antelope, monkeys and even domestic animals are a rarity in war- ravaged Angola, one of the poorest nations in the world.

Angola, however, just got some good news to go with its new peace deal: The rare giant sable antelope, a revered symbol that graces everything Angolan from passports to postage stamps, somehow managed to survive.


from The New York Times

FAIRFAX, Calif. — Ascending the forested slopes of Mount Tamalpais, 15 miles north of San Francisco, Dr. Matteo Garbelotto and Dr. David Rizzo point out victim after victim of the fast-spreading new disease known as sudden oak death syndrome. But despite seeing dead, wilting and yellowing plants throughout these woods, it is hard for an observer to fathom the real power of this plague until the trail abruptly ends in a heap of ghostly white branches and trunks.

"We call this site mucho destructo," said Dr. Garbelotto, standing in the streaming sunlight next to a carpet of fallen trees where sudden oak death has brought down the forest canopy. Branches fall even as he speaks.

Such is the power of this plant pestilence that has infiltrated much of California and jumped to Oregon, and that researchers fear could easily spread to the midwest and east. The disease has already killed tens of thousands of trees in California and spread to 17 different species, including huckleberry, big leaf maples, rhododendrons and bay trees. Scientists have found it can also infect the northern red oak and pin oak, species that are widespread in the East and Midwest. Recently, the United States Forest Service declared large regions of the East, including the southern Appalachian Mountains, whose climate would probably suit the disease, as areas of high risk.


a conversation with Steven Wise from The New York Times

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Among the high-flying lawyers who roam the halls of Harvard Law School, Steven M. Wise, 51, is an oddity. Instead of devoting himself to the fine points of torts or contracts, he teaches the school's first ever course in animal rights law.

Moreover, Mr. Wise, who runs a small law firm that litigates for the interests of animals, has written two well-reviewed books on the subject, "Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals" and the recently released "Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights."

Mr. Wise spends much of his time trying to develop legal theories to advance his cause. "Almost all my work is directed toward breaching the legal wall that separates humans from nonhumans," he said over coffee at the Charles Hotel. "I'm interested in getting the first nonhuman animals their rights because I think once that happens the paradigm will shift. I'm very practical about this. It's going to take a while."


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'Strange Matters': Mathematics and the Playful Side of Physics

September 29, 2002

If you thought physics was weird in the 20th century, wait until you read about the ideas coming your way in the 21st. Most of us still find notions like Einstein's relativistic reframing of space and time, quantum uncertainty or entities that behave like both waves and particles counterintuitive. But physicists and cosmologists are going boldly down paths lighted by ever more exotic mathematics. These take them farther and farther from everyday reality into underlying realms that are . . . well, exactly what they are is what Tom Siegfried wants to find out.

In ''Strange Matters,'' a fascinating but flawed book, he describes a host of aspects of the way things are that have this in common: at least some physicists think they fall out of their favorite equations. They range from mirror worlds and alternate universes to new families of particles, new forces, multiple hidden dimensions of space and even an extra dimension of time. All could be true, but in most cases we have little idea whether they are; we know only that they are not excluded by what is already known. They add up to, in his own phrase about work on just one idea -- supersymmetry -- numerous surmises about things the world might possess.''


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

compiled by Daniel H. Caldwell

On Some Unfair Practices towards Claims of the Paranormal

by Marcello Truzzi


This article was published in slightly edited form in: Edward Binkowski, editor, Oxymoron: Annual Thematic Anthology of the Arts and Sciences, Vol.2: The Fringe, New York: Oxymoron Media, Inc., 1998.

The reception of unconventional or extraordinary claims in science has come under increasing attention by sociologists and historians. Scientific anomalies have sparked scientific revolutions, but such claims have had to fight prejudices within science. This essay offers scattered reflections on the adjudication process confronted by protoscientists (science "wannabes") wishing admission into the scientific mainstream. My comments here are not intended in support of proponents of the paranormal (for I remain a skeptic, as defined below) but to help produce a more level playing field and a greater fairness that might help all scientists.

Equilibrium in Science.

Philosopher Paul Feyerabend asserted that in a free society, science is too important to be left entirely to scientists. He had a point, for institutionalized Big Science has brought with it increased vested interests, some of which may threaten scientific growth itself. Though many historians and philosophers of science remind us that science needs to remain a tentative and open system, both fallible and probabilistic, science may, as do other human institution, develop orthodoxies and even dogmas. Historian Thomas Kuhn spoke of the "essential tension" in science between its conservative need to accumulate a body of tested knowledge and its progressive need for innovations from theory and data that might lead to new paradigms. So, a successful scientist performs like a circus wire-walker, engaged in a balancing act with closed minded arrogance weighted at one end of the balancing pole and open minded credulity weighted at the other. If either end pulls too far, a fall may follow. Today, I think the balance has shifted too far towards arrogance. The emergence of a new and quasi-religious dogmatism, usually termed Scientism, has been examined and criticized from diverse standpoints in recent years, particularly those of Tom Sorell, Mary Midgley and Bryan Appleyard. Though some critics of Scientism take an anti-science stance, we need not go so far to recognize some current excesses. And though some postmodernists and others question the basic epistemology of science, my concern here is only with metaphysical debates over what phenomena science should judge to be "real," especially controversial claims for the reality of anomalies (ranging from alleged processes like extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis --the claims of the parasciences-- to bizarre physical things like bigfoot and UFOs -- the claims of the cryptosciences). My complaints here, then, are only with scientists' violations of their own professed method; in fact, I agree with those who contend that science fundamentally IS its method rather than its tentative substantive content.

Adventures in cosmic air space ... take with a grain of salt


By Chris McGillion
October 1 2002

If you are an enthusiast of the supernatural, or just plain curious, you may have caught a glimpse of Channel 10's new series Crossing Over, in which the American "psychic medium" John Edward purports to commune with the spirit world.

Edward is the very model of a modern medium. He doesn't rely on crystal balls or trance states, just his "gift" for seeing, hearing and feeling spirits, combined with a knack for almost instantaneous interpretation of the message they are trying to get across.

His performances are slick and entertaining, but is anything about them genuine?

According to his Web site, Edward "has brought a fresh, honest and thought-provoking attitude to the world of psychic phenomena [and has] helped thousands with his uncanny ability to predict future events and communicate with those who have crossed over to the Other Side". (Interestingly, the words "dead" and "death" are strangely missing from Edward's vocabulary.)

Born John MaGee jnr - you won't find this information on the Web site - Edward grew up in a household where the paranormal was never considered out of the ordinary.

In an article entitled "John Edward: Hustling the Bereaved" in the November/December 2001 edition of Skeptical Inquirer, Joe Nickell writes that Edward's mother was "a 'psychic junkie' who threw fortune-telling 'house parties"' and that Edward began doing card readings for family and friends as a matter of course from an early age.

In his book Crossing Over: The Stories Behind the Stories, Edward reduces his qualifications to "16 years of hanging out in the intercosmic air space between the physical and the spirit worlds".

Whatever that means, it has become the basis of a highly lucrative career. Aside from his television series and books, Edward has also made a very comfortable living from the fees he charges for guest lectures and appearances and private readings.

But what is it he's selling? In a word - his word - it is "validation".

Most of the messages Edward relates to his clients are simply aimed at establishing (or validating) that he is indeed "communicating" with the spirit he claims to be in touch with. This he does by providing trivial information about the client - or the spirit - that Edward alleges he could not have gathered in anything but a psychic way.

From this the client, presumably, gets some kind of reassurance - such as that there is life after death, that loved ones are at peace, or that it is permissible for the client to get on with his/her life.

If you are seeking more substantive messages from beyond the grave, Edward is not your man.

This in itself is curious. In the golden age of spiritualism (1890s-1920s), spirits often "communicated" in elaborate language usually dictated to a medium.

Before that, they preferred a kind of morse code (the tapping sounds reported by the Fox sisters in 1848) or relied on moving objects around to make their thoughts known (such as the pointer on a ouija board). Either the spirits can't get their act together or mediums are having to change styles in order to avoid exposure as frauds.

Edward's technique is called "cold reading". He claims to have no prior knowledge of the deceased or of the deceased's friends and family but simply "reads" the signs given him from the spirit world.

Nickell says this relies on "an artful method" of gleaning information in the course of a rapid-fire reading and giving it back as revelation.

"The 'pyschic' can obtain clues by observing dress and body language (noting expressions that indicate when he is on or off track), asking questions (which if correct will appear as 'hits' but otherwise will seem innocent queries), and inviting the subject to interpret the vague statements offered."

Less skilful tricks are available as well, such as gathering pertinent information through the seemingly innocent prepping of a client or an audience by aides of the medium.

The crew of Crossing Over was accused of doing precisely this in an article that appeared in Time magazine last year.

But if anybody remains in any doubt that this is nothing more than flim-flam in mystical guise, keep a close eye on the credits at the end of Crossing Over.

For a split second - literally - you will notice a disclaimer from the producer that the program is offered for "entertainment purposes only" and that no statements or predictions made on it "are meant or intended to be a form of advice, instruction, suggestion, counsel or factual statement in any way whatsoever".

Enough said.

Chris McGillion, the Herald's religious affairs columnist, teaches in the school of communication at Charles Sturt University.

Round in circles

Rodney Chester


IF THE "croppies" are right, there is a race of aliens who travel across the universe to communicate with the people of Earth, and the way they choose to leave their message is through crop circles that no one understands.

And if you are a croppie, like Nancy Talbott, this type of scenario could make perfect sense.

What's more, she believes she can prove it.

Well, at least she believes she can prove that there is something about these crop circles that is definitely not man-made.

Talbott is part of the group who believes there is something non-Earthly about these funny shapes in fields around the world and is using the tools of science to prove it.

Her research team believes "it is possible that we are observing the effects of a new or as yet undiscovered energy source".

The strange geometric circles that some believe are a sign from another species have been appearing in English wheat fields since the late 1970s, with up to 10,000 circles reported around the world.

A dedicated group of researchers including Talbott, aided by the hype of the Mel Gibson movie Signs, say there is "evidence" that something is not kosher about the circles.

Talbott's work follows a breakthrough geologist Diane Conrad claims to have made after examining soil samples taken from a crop circle near her Utah home.

The soil was not what you might expect. The preliminary results showed that the soil had a significant increase in its crystallinity, meaning that the crystals within the soil were more ordered.

In short, the researchers say the soil's crystal structure appeared to be similar to crystals normally found in sedimentary rock which has been exposed for hundreds of thousands of years to heat from the Earth's core and the pressure of tonnes of overlying rock.

Not that everyone accepts that evidence as proof, with sceptics, crop circle creators and scientists pointing to the lack of scientific rigour in the work of Conrad and others.

If the science of these croppies is so good, why hasn't it been published in respected peer-related scientific journals, those in the science community typically ask.

Certainly, even the croppies acknowledge that many of the crop circles are man-made.

That is evidence impossible to refute, when you consider that some of the crop circle creators now go public about their work.

England's community of circle makers now have their own website in which they detail the geometrically complex crop circles they have made, give tips on how to make your own circle using a footboard attached to a length of rope, and criticise croppies and those who believe them for accepting what they see as dodgy research techniques as science.

"In their attempts to create a universal acceptance of the crop circles' paranormal origins, leading cerealogists often pretend a relationship with orthodox science," the site's beginner guide to crop-circle making says.

"Such phrases as 'we are working closely with scientists' or, 'we are awaiting the results of analysis' are commonly used in press releases, for instance, or on the lecture circuit.

"As well as the possibility that this might fool gullible, provincial journalists who aren't particularly bothered if they parrot rubbish to their readership, this provides a certain security amongst the rank-and-file researchers, who, when pressed, will cite the need for only one circle to be proved to be 'of unknown origin', thereby justifying their pursuance of the phenomenon."

The site has examples of patterns they have made that some labelled as too intricate to be a hoax until the hoaxers came forward with proof of it being a man-made creation.

Talbott, who describes herself as a music producer with a research background, runs the BLT Research Team, with New York businessman John Burke and Michigan biophysicist Dr William Levengood, which is dedicated to science and the circles.

The group believes that the key to solving the mystery of the circles could be in the soil. The BLT Research Team says its study of the soil taken from the circles has shown that the strange shapes were made by some form of extreme but unknown energy.

Levengood has reported finding tiny holes in the plant stems that he says are caused by microwave energy heating the plants from the inside out, turning the water they contains into steam. Levengood and Burke have patented a way to replicate this phenomena, claiming it could lead to new types of plants that grow faster than their conventional equivalents.

Conventional scientists typically quickly dismiss the BLT claims, but not everyone is as sceptical.

New York philanthropist Laurance S. Rockefeller recently funded the research team to embark on its biggest crop examination yet.

Soil samples were taken from crop circles in the Netherlands and the US, along with hundreds of plant and soil samples from a seven-circle barley formation in Canada, and were examined using a process similar to that adopted by Conrad.

Preliminary results showed crystal growth similar to those achieved in a laboratory when temperatures of more than 600C are used.

Seeking confirmation of the findings from the scientific community, Talbott sent the results to emeritus professor of geology and mineralogy at Dartmouth College, Dr Robert Reynolds, who is considered a world expert in X-ray diffraction analysis of clay minerals.

In a letter to the BLT team, Reynolds wrote that the heat required to have made the observed changes in crystallinity would have incinerated the plants.

"In short, I believe that our present knowledge provides no explanation," Reynolds said.

The BLT Research Team's website says that an academic paper presenting the "remarkable results" of this study is in progress and will be submitted for publication soon.

Whatever the full study finds, it is unlikely to convince Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow of the sceptics group called the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

Nickell has studied the crop circle phenomenon for decades, and believes all crop circles are the work of hoaxers.

"The escalation in appearances correlated directly with the increase in media coverage," he says. "For years the phenomenon was concentrated in southern England.

"Only after media reports spread internationally did crop circles begin to appear in significant numbers elsewhere."

While the croppies are experiencing increased interest in their work thanks to the release of the movie Signs, the sceptics also are glad the movie has appeared.

"It's about time that crop circles get put in their proper place," Nickell says.

"Crop circles are the stuff of Hollywood fiction, not science."

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines ­ September 30, 2002

from Newsday

Physicians in the city have made it clear: The malady now officially called World Trade Center cough is like nothing they've ever seen, and hundreds - perhaps thousands - of people are experiencing it.

The extent of this lung disease is not known, and for a combination of bureaucratic reasons, the extent of the human health impact may be understated. Moreover, cleanup efforts may be inappropriately focused on a single element of the debris: asbestos.

The ailment, as described recently by Dr. Kerry Kelly, the New York Fire Department's chief medical officer, is characterized by a reduced lung capacity and a hyper-reactivity of the airways to inhaled particles, bacteria and viruses. The cough is dry and nonproductive and can leave the sufferer gasping for air.

As physicians sought to pin down the ailment's causes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was monitoring Ground Zero and lower Manhattan for chemicals and substances that violate the Clean Air Act. It has become clear, though, that the cough's causes have little if anything to do with those substances. Rather, the culprit appears to be microscopic bits of glass.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

When drivers on Interstate 280 cross the roof of a low-slung tunnel near Palo Alto, most are unaware they're passing above one of the world's great high-energy physics laboratories -- a 2-mile-long structure where electrons whiz at nearly the speed of light.

It's the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, whose beginning 40 years ago owe much to a diminutive, stubborn hustler of a physicist named Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky.

Arguably the only large-scale project in American science that was ever completed both precisely on time and within budget, the center had to beat out hostility in Congress, fears of earthquakes, stormy opposition from its affluent Woodside neighbors and competition from rival nuclear projects.

But the $114 million venture had two formidable advantages: First, three similar but relatively tiny atom-smashers on the Stanford campus had already shown how powerfully such high-speed electron beams could probe the innermost secrets of atoms.

And second, there was Panofsky, or Pief as he's known to scientists around the world, who was ready to take on the demanding job of leading the mammoth project's design and getting it built.


from The Washington Post

Scientists have found a clue to the chemical reaction that may cause potato chips, french fries and other fried or baked starchy foods to build up high levels of a possible cancer-causing substance.

The suspect is asparagine, a naturally occurring amino acid that, when heated with certain sugars such as glucose, leads to the formation of the worrisome substance acrylamide.

The Food and Drug Administration has made studying acrylamide's risk and determining how to lower its levels in food two of its highest research priorities, according to a plan that agency officials were to discuss today with consumer groups and food manufacturers.

Canada's government made the discovery about the chemical reaction and has ordered food manufacturers to look for ways to alter it and thus lower levels of acrylamide in food. Cincinnati-based manufacturer Procter & Gamble Co. says its scientists, too, have found the asparagine connection.


from The Washington Post

New research has escalated a decades-old scientific and political battle over the risks inherent in the popular street drug known as Ecstasy.

A synthetic chemical cousin of "speed," Ecstasy already had a rap sheet as long as its chemical name: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA. Studies in animals have suggested it may be toxic to brain cells that help regulate mood. It's been linked to memory impairment in some users. And rarely the drug triggers a mysterious reaction in which the body becomes radically overheated, causing sudden death.

If that weren't enough to make potential users think twice, Ecstasy is highly illegal. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has placed it in its most restrictive "schedule 1" category, meaning it has no medical value and carries serious risks.

Last week, researchers added to the agony of Ecstasy by reporting in the Sept. 27 issue of Science that, in monkeys, at least, even one night's indulgence in the drug may increase the odds of getting Parkinson's disease. Yet despite all the evidence against it, Ecstasy's popularity has only grown in recent years, with about 10 percent of U.S. high school students saying they've tried it in the past 12 months. That pattern is testimony to the profound sense of peace and open-heartedness that Ecstasy users say the drug delivers. But it is also the result of a deep distrust of the evidence of Ecstasy's harm -- not only by youthful partygoers but also by a cadre of scientists and others who have been arguing with increasing fervor that much of the work, including the latest study, is flawed.


from The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO - By diluting long-stored doses, the United States now has more than enough smallpox vaccine to protect everyone in case of a bioterrorist attack, a top health official said Sunday.

Testing some of the 86 million doses of vaccine that came to light last March shows that they can be watered down and still offer potent protection against smallpox.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday that the diluted vaccine has been tried on more than 100 volunteers to see if it still works. The results show this cache alone contains enough to vaccinate everyone in an emergency.

"This is very reassuring," Fauci said. He spoke at an infectious disease conference in San Diego sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology.


from The Chicago Tribune

New research on how the body fights diseases like Huntington's, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's could lead to significant advances on treating and perhaps reversing neurodegenerative illness.

Scientists have believed for some time that certain "good guy" proteins work to rescue healthy proteins from damage by forces that cause cell death. But they've never understood how the good guys, called molecular chaperones, do their work.

A research team led by Richard Morimoto, a Northwestern University biologist, devised a tactic to observe the chaperones trying to save healthy proteins in a living cell where several components were afflicted with Huntington's disease.

"We've made movies now of this process in action," Morimoto said. "It's exciting because it will suggest new ways to help this natural process regain its equilibrium to keep the disease from progressing or, maybe, reversing it."


from The Chicago Tribune

Illinois researchers are at the heart of a $13.5 million federally funded project to build an ultrahigh-speed virtual computer.

The end result will be like having the parts of a really powerful computer strewn around the country and linked by fiber, said Thomas DeFanti of the University of Illinois at Chicago, which will manage the project, called OptIPuter.

"Think of OptIPuter as a giant graphics card, connected to a giant disk system via a system bus that happens to be an extremely high-speed optical network," said DeFanti.

"One of our major design goals is to provide scientists with advanced interactive querying and visualization tools to enable them to explore massive amounts of previously uncorrelated data in near-real time," he said.


'Week in Review' from The New York Times

THE fairy tale about science says that cheaters will quickly get caught. And if a result is wrong or faked, a scientist's collaborators will be the first to know.

If only it were that simple. Last week, after an investigative panel announced that a series of remarkable physics papers were based on faked data, it became clear that when fraud occurs, the best scientists can be fooled by their own colleagues. Yet there are no clear rules about whether a scientist's co-authors bear responsibility.

The research questioned last week was conducted by Dr. J. Hendrik Schön, a scientist at Bell Labs. From 1998 to 2001, he published 17 papers — including claims last fall that Bell Labs had created molecular-scale transistors — in the most prestigious scientific journals with a total of 20 co-authors.

From time to time, outside scientists said they had tried, and failed, to replicate Dr. Schön's results. But an investigation was launched only after a few physicists noticed that he had published identical graphs in different papers.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Los Angeles -- What is it about dinosaurs, anyway? Since "Jurassic Park" in 1993, people just can't seem to get enough of them. Paleontologist Josh Smith, who stars in A&E's new documentary "The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt," offers a hypothesis.

"I think largely the attraction is they're really big, but they're dead so they can't hurt us. You can go, 'Look at the big teeth on that thing; isn't that cool! But it can't kill me because it's dead.' We can still study them, but at a safe distance."

With "Lost Dinosaurs," Smith and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania got a chance to study the prehistoric creatures up close when they visited the Egyptian desert in 1999 to try to find fresh evidence for Spinosaurus, a finned dinosaur first uncovered in the Bahariya Oasis by German scientist Ernst Stromer in 1916. Stromer's collection of Spinosaurus bones, stored in a Munich museum, was demolished in a 1944 Allied bombing raid.


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Monday, September 30, 2002

Cell Phone-Tumor Lawsuit Is Tossed

SEPTEMBER 30, 13:06 ET

Associated Press Writer

BALTIMORE (AP) — A federal judge Monday threw out an $800 million lawsuit filed by a Maryland doctor who claims cell phones caused his brain tumor.

The lawsuit was brought against cell phone manufacturer Motorola and several major cell phone carriers.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that none of the evidence submitted by Dr. Christopher Newman was substantial enough to warrant a trial.

The wireless industry has been watching the case closely because if allowed to go forward, it could have opened the door to other lawsuits. No other such claims have succeeded so far.

Newman, a neurologist, claims the older, analog cell phone he used from 1992 to 1998 caused his brain cancer.

Blake ruled that although there is evidence that radiation from cell phones may cause cancer, there are many more studies that show no relationship between tumors and cell phones.

Newman's attorney, John Angelos, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

Cell phones are used by 97 million Americans. Digital phones emit radiation in pulses; older analog varieties emit continuous waves. By the time cell phones exploded in popularity in the late 1990s, most of those sold used digital technology.

Three major studies published since December 2000, including one by the National Cancer Institute, found no harmful health effects from cell phones.

4 Who Reject Tax System Are Facing U.S. Inquiry


September 5, 2002


Four businesses whose owners boast that they do not withhold taxes from workers' paychecks and do not file tax returns are under criminal investigation, according to an Internal Revenue Service letter released yesterday by two senators.

The four businesses were not named, but the letter said that they were among the 15 identified in a November 2000 report in The New York Times about a growing number of enterprises that have dropped out of the tax system, saying it is a hoax.

One of the 15, Dick Simkanin, whose company, Arrow Custom Plastics of Bedford, Tex., makes injection moldings, has posted on his company Web site a letter from the Justice Department saying he is the target of a federal grand jury tax investigation.

Mr. Simkanin has sent the grand jury a letter saying the government has no authority in Texas and that he refuses to provide business records. His Web site includes a warning that any move against him will be an attack on God that will cause those responsible to be consumed by fire.

Scientists wrangle with questions of faith

The Christian Science Monitor - csmonitor.com
from the September 05, 2002 edition -


By G. Jeffrey MacDonald | Special to The Christian Science Monitor

STAR ISLAND, N.H. - Ursula Goodenough knows she takes a risk as a respected biologist when she spends a week each summer on this island considering God.

Though she says her colleagues might be intrigued by the questions asked here, many wouldn't grace this annual conference of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS), she says. The reason: Suspicions of religion in academic circles make them "afraid they won't get a grant if people find out they've been here."

Yet on a sun-splashed day at the end of July, this professor at Washington University in St. Louis claimed her place in the shade on a stately wrap-around porch six miles off New Hampshire's coast. As gulls cried and lobster boats puttered by, she counted herself among dozens of scientists who considered the risk worth taking.

"I'm troubled by the antiscience world," Ms. Goodenough said, citing efforts to bar evolution from the classroom as an example. "I come here to see how our understanding of matter can become a resource for religious understanding ... and to experience the wonder of being together."

Goodenough was far from alone. Dozens of scientists were among the 245 participants who grappled with the question: "Is Nature Enough? The Thirst for Transcendence." Nor was she alone in her dual motive for attending.

Whether trained in physics, astronomy, or organizational systems, the scientists shared dreams of reshaping a religious landscape they see as fraught with peril. At the same time, some confided yearnings for a genuine religious experience of their own. And for one week, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, they took their best shot at both.

Discussions of religious faith have in recent years become increasingly friendly terrain for scientists. Academic institutions that once spurned any ties between the two fields now study the effects of prayer on physical healing and convene scholars to connect science with spirituality. Suggested reasons vary: Perhaps postmodern critiques of objectivity have made religion more acceptable to scientists, or maybe the growth of interdisciplinary studies has made fusion inevitable. Whatever the reason, IRAS conferences are reflecting the shift as scientists this year outnumbered theologians by more than 5-1.

Few who chose to attend were shy about it. Within minutes of a reporter's arrival, scientists were circling tightly to tell the world for the record why they were there. More often than not, they had come unabashedly with the cause of reinterpreting religious traditions to accept the insights of science.

"The inability of religions to accommodate each other is a problem for the whole global community," said Jeff Dahms, a biologist and surgeon from New York City. "If they kill each other, they're going to kill all of us .... There's a job to be done by people who have sympathy with the religious impulse," which he defines as craving for "connection to other people and to the environment."

"To some extent, we're all fighting off fundamentalism" and its exclusive claims to truth, said Matt Young, a physicist at the Colorado School of Mines in Boulder. "One way to fight off fundamentalism is to infiltrate liberal religion." In his case, he brings to Reform Judaism a view of God as "nothing more and nothing less than an allegory. God is the best in us, and the best in us is God."

"Religion is an important part of our lives," said Surinder Paracer, a biologist at Worcester State College in Worcester, Mass. "It has great bearing on how we raise our children. The question is what type of modern religion do we want to have in the 21st century." Hinduism practiced in America has so little regard for logic, he said, that he traded it for Unitarianism whose "basic organizing principle is rationality."

For seven days, scientists pushed to see if religious terms – such as "transcendence," "God" and "morality" – could be redefined without assuming any supernatural forces to be at work. Yet even as they took aim to overhaul traditional religious concepts, they were celebrating spiritual rituals of their own that said the ancients' insights were alive and well among them.

Each day began and ended with a chapel service in which a Unitarian minister led a nontheist reflection. Participants one evening proceeded silently, two by two, along a rock-strewn path to the church. All meals were served family-style at tables seating 12. Workshops on such topics as "The Book of Job From a Standpoint in Religious Naturalism" suggested a collective trust that truth is best sought through a scientific method of gathering evidence and testing hypotheses. And when time came to honor the dead, including a well-known bookstore worker who had recently died, all were expected to gather in the chapel to pay respects.

For all the skepticism expressed in workshops and rocking-chair conversations, some echoed one impression that the week gives even the most rational of participants "a sense of awe and wonder."

"It's a very emotional place," said Leslie Lowry, a software engineer who's been attending each year since 1968. "Chapel services are people sharing the deepest feelings and emotions. I don't think we really felt [the bookstore worker's loss] until we got here, to the chapel."

Back at the Oceanic Hotel & Conference Center, discussion swirled around what is known through science – and what implications such knowledge might have for the moral life of human beings. Whether the natural world can produce a moral code knowable through scientific research, or whether humans must instead look to tradition and faith for guiding principles, is a dilemma Goodenough expects to generate "decades of conversation" in the future.

As they looked ahead, these scientists also looked back on what they had seen emerge over their careers in research. All agreed they know only a portion of what there is to know, and some marveled at what might unfold.

"It's important to find a relationship between myself and the infinite, between the work I do and the work I ought to do. That's where I find my place in the universe," said Art Francis, a chemical engineer from New York City.

Copyright 2002 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

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