NTS LogoSkeptical News for 11 October 2002

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Friday, October 11, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – October 11, 2002

from The Washington Post

New tests offer overwhelming evidence that a leukemia-like disease diagnosed in a 3-year-old boy in France was triggered by the experimental gene therapy he received as a baby, the first proof that the nascent and troubled field of medicine can cause cancer.

Nonetheless, because of the treatment's track record of having apparently cured several children and because the risk of cancer so far appears to be modest, a federal advisory committee yesterday recommended that the Food and Drug Administration reverse its recent suspension of such studies and allow them to continue with new restrictions and protections in place.

"All of us are scared about it and are aware that this has implications," said Daniel R. Salomon, chairman of the FDA's Biological Response Modifiers Advisory Committee, which met in an emergency session yesterday at a hotel in Gaithersburg. "However, one adverse event, serious as it is in the context of the whole field, . . . is not enough to advise the FDA to put all these programs on hold."


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Gene therapy worked to stop the damage of Parkinson's disease in rats, and the experiment was so successful that the operation will now be tried on a few people, researchers said on Thursday.

The researchers, in the United States and New Zealand, put new genes into the brains of the rats that stopped the symptoms that mark Parkinson's.

"We are using gene therapy to 're-set' a specific group of cells that have become overactive in an affected part of the brain, causing the impaired movement and other symptoms associated with Parkinson's Disease," Dr. Matthew During, a neuroscientist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who led the study, said in a statement.


from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Archaeologists excavating an ancient site in London said on Friday they had unearthed the oldest known plaque inscribed with the city's Roman name.

"This is hugely important," Francis Grew, curator of archaeology at the Museum of London told reporters. "It is the first real monumental inscription with the word Londinium on it.

"It is also visually the most important inscription we have even found in London. The words are just as clear as people would have seen them 2,000 years ago," he added.


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'To the best of my knowledge and belief...'


By Ardeshir Cowasjee

It is extremely difficult to get to the bottom of many of the alarming stories we read in our press. My column last week made mention of a September 14 news item which related how a religious school teacher, a Qari (a reciter of the Quran), of the small town of Yazman, near Multan, had chopped off the tongue of a 13-year old student who some days previously had observed his teacher sodomizing a fellow student.

The boy's father, a Pesh Imam (a leader of prayers) had told reporters that his son had witnessed the sexual assault, had been threatened by the Qari not to tell anyone about it, had told his father, and the Qari had then used a razor on his tongue. But no arrest had been made, as the boy's family had not so far lodged any complaint with the local police.

Another report in another newspaper on the same day had it that the boy, Hafiz Abdul Qadoos, was aged 18, that he had reported the matter to the police and that a case against Qari Bashir Ahmed, the seminary in charge, who had deprived him of the power of speech, had been registered under sections 336 and 506 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The case was registered on the complaint of the boy, who 'told' the local SHO that he and the Qari had for long been at daggers drawn, that on several occasions he had thrashed the Qari, and that on September 2 the Qari in his turn had overpowered him and 'injured' his tongue with a sharp weapon, and then threatened him with dire consequences 'if he let the cat out of the bag'.

The boy's father, when contacted by the police told quite a different story. He claimed that the injuries to the his son's tongue were self-inflicted and that boy had not lost the power of speech. The police maintained that the boy had given his statement in writing as he could not speak. Some of the town's people had told the police that the Qari had first sodomized the boy Qudoos and then cut off his tongue.

Come September 18 and in a further report on the incident we learnt that the Yazman police had discharged the case against the Qari as two local doctors had declared that the injury was indeed self-inflicted. A fresh case had been filed under section 182 of the Penal Code against the boy Qudoos for having misled the police.

All quite normal happenings in our neck of the woods.

We will presumably never know the truth, nor will we learn of the true state of the injuries to the boy, nor of his fate. If someone concerned in this sordid matter can do a spot of clarification, the people will at least learn what is or is not what.

On September 19, a news report from Naushahro Feroze, headlined 'Jirga hands over girl, land in murder dispute', gave us the startling news that a former ambassador of Pakistan, Syed Manzoor Ali Shah, had been a member of the three-man jirga. One Naban Solangi had been murdered by three of his relatives. The judgment of the Jirga was that two of the accused, a father and son, would hand over one acre of land and Rs 10,000 to the sons of Solangi and that the third accused would hand over his daughter. Both parties readily agreed. Again, normal happenings.

A headline in a Lahore newspaper yesterday reads : 'Jirga system to remain intact, says governor.' The NWFP governor has declared in Bajaur Agency that the tribal areas will not be subject to judicial reforms. Will our other three governors follow suit? This would be quite in keeping with our times.

Another report in this newspaper on September 19, underneath the blazing headline 'Policemen wanted in rape cases still at large', related how, during the past two months there had been reports of gang rapes involving policemen. In one case, a woman, the mother of two, was found in Neelam Colony crying in agony as her face had been burnt with acid. She was taken to Jinnah Hospital where it was established that she had been raped.

Her story was that she had been abducted by three policemen of Karachi, taken to Mian Chunnu in Punjab, and repeatedly raped over the course of one week. She was brought back to Karachi, threatened with the usual 'dire consequences' if she spoke out, and the dire consequences in her case was a dose of acid-throwing.

A 'clarification' to this story issued by a 'spokesman' was published in yesterday's Dawn. It only serves to further confuse the issue - the object obviously being to adhere to the old saying, 'if you cannot convince them, confuse them.' Again, perfectly normal.

The second case took place in Karachi's Kashmir Colony, involving four policemen, who took a young girl to a Defence house, raped her, and then dumped her near Golden Towers (also in Defence). A case has been registered against the four policemen, who of course absconded and remain at large.

On quite a different topic which I touched upon last Sunday, on the difficulties now faced, post-9/11, by Pakistani students trying to obtain admission to US colleges and the requisite US visas, 'Aliya and Saqib' responded by e-mail:

"Hello, Your recent article with the mention of Pakistani/ Muslim students not getting visas, brought back the memory of the Aga Khan medical students and Duke University. I am sending you the web documents regarding an incident in which a Duke professor told students that he won't consider their applications because they may be terrorists."

The story dates back to December 19, 2001:

"Medical school dean apologizes for faculty letter sent to foreign students. Three Pakistani medical students, whose inquiries about working in a research laboratory were initially rebuffed by a Duke University professor, have been sent a letter of apology from Dr R. Sanders Williams, dean of the Duke School of Medicine.

"Williams also has sent a message to the Duke University Medical Centre community that reaffirms Duke's commitment to cultural diversity.

"In his letter e-mailed to the three students at Aga Khan University Medical College, Williams stated, 'I have learned of your interest in spending time in one of our research laboratories and of the intemperate and inappropriate response that you received from Professor Michael Reedy in your quest for information. Professor Reedy's initial response to you does not represent the views of Duke University or of Duke University Medical School.

"...... 'I have spoken with Professor Reedy and, as he indicated to you in his follow-up e-mail, he sincerely regrets his initial response and appreciates very much your acceptance of his apology. I am convinced his response is both sincere and appropriate. In addition to his apology, I want to express my own on behalf of our school.'

"The students concerned had e-mailed Reedy about possible summer research opportunities in his laboratory, Reedy replied by e-mail: 'Your ethnicity and your age (student age = idealistic) are so similar to those of the jihad-minded terrorists from the schools that nurtured the Taliban and Al Qaeda that it is not worth our trouble to try to determine if you are a well-disguised terrorist or a real learning-motivated medical student. You may well be innocent, but some of your neighbours are as potentially lethal as anthrax or HIV, and must be protected against.

"As long as there are zealots whose idea of reasonable dialogue and persuasive rhetoric is suicide bombing, we seem to have no efficient choice but to react with suspicion, which must motivate us to extreme avoidance or to kill-or-be-killed defensive activism aimed at extermination.'

"Reedy later apologized: 'I see now that my negative reaction came mainly from my anger and frustration with the extremism and deceptiveness of the terrorists of Sept. 11, which seemed to destroy my personal hopes for a reasoned an peaceful resolution of international conflicts. ... Your messages touched me in that sore spot, and I fired back at you in anger and frustration ......... I deeply apologize for my violent words and bad manners.'

"Reedy also noted that the incident had 'made very clear to me that the ease and speed of e-mail can embody hazards as significant as its conveniences'." This last observation is very correct.

All involved in the occurrences related in this column have undoubtedly acted in keeping with their respective characters and with the knowledge each possesses. Should the people of Pakistan educate themselves to remain in synchronization with the world outside, or should we keep to our insular ignorant barbaric ways and expect the world to accord us respect?

Polygraph useless, scientists say Lie-detection test called risk to national security

Charles Piller, Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, October 9, 2002

A long-awaited research report released Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences describes polygraph testing for national security screening as little more than junk science.

The United States' premier scientific organization said such tests, a key counterespionage tool for 50 years, are so inaccurate as to be counterproductive -- promoting false confidence that spies and other national security threats have been ferreted out.

The academy's National Research Council prepared the report based on 19 months of study. Produced by experts in psychology, engineering, law and other fields, the report confirms long-standing doubts about the validity of polygraph testing that led to a 1988 federal law banning the use of such tests for employment screening in most private businesses. Polygraph results are also inadmissible as evidence in nearly all state courts.

"If logic has anything to do with it, then the report will have a major policy impact," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists. "I don't think federal agencies stop and ask themselves how many spies have we caught with this -- because the answer is 'none' -- or how many people have been unfairly denied employment -- because the answer is 'many.' "

The federal government subjects thousands of job applicants and employees in sensitive positions to "lie detector" tests each year.

The CIA and National Security Agency give polygraph tests to all job applicants and employees. The FBI and Defense Department also test extensively,

particularly since last year's terrorist attacks. Such screening also is common at large police departments nationwide.

Some experts say the wide-ranging and authoritative report could trigger profound changes in security practice.

"It is going to be a watershed" that shifts the burden of proof from polygraph skeptics to its advocates, said Paul Giannelli, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and a consultant to the National Academy panel.

"The report is so devastating that it will affect all uses of the polygraph, " he said, noting that the panel concluded that the government has "wasted millions of dollars and ought to go in a different direction."

The study was underwritten by the Department of Energy, which was embarrassed by contradictory interpretations of polygraph tests given to Wen Ho Lee, who had been accused of being a nuclear spy, in 1998 and 1999. Lee was ultimately exonerated, and the furor over his case indirectly stimulated the polygraph study.

Many people often assume that polygraph machines literally detect lies. Actually, they measure changes in physiologic signals -- blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, and perspiration -- thought to characterize deception.

Only trained operators can interpret the results, and their conclusions often are more art than science.

Reviewing a century of experience, the research panel found that technicians can sometimes detect deceptive responses to questions involving specific incidents, such as, "Were you at the bank robbery on Oct. 9, 2002?" But the method shows scant reliability for general use in employment or security screening, particularly with spies or criminals trained to defeat the testing procedure.

Why witches


High rates of infant mortality. The plague. Crops and livestock wiped out overnight. How could a world created by a watchful, benevolent and engaged God be such a mess?

The answer, according to 15th century Christian theologians, was witches. Their belief in witches -- and their ability to persuade society in general that witches existed -- took God off the hook for all the bad things that happened to good people. Stories of alleged witches' gruesome acts comforted people whose faith in God was challenged by the evil in the world, according to Walter Stephens, the Charles S. Singleton Professor of Italian Studies at The Johns Hopkins University.

Stephens has devoted the past decade to the study of witchcraft theory and how it was used both to explain evil and to "prove" the existence of God. Just in time for Halloween, Stephens, author of Witchcraft: Sex, Demons and the Crisis of Belief, debunks some popular myths about witches:

So you'll know a witch when you see one because she will be dressed in black from her pointy hat to her lace-up boots, right?

"Actually, in the period we are talking about, there was no 'uniform.' Anyone could be accused of witchcraft. Notice I say 'accused.' There's no proof that anyone in their right mind ever admitted to being a witch without being tortured or threatened with torture."

Is there any truth to the folklore that tells of witches casting spells over bubbling cauldrons and flying through the night on broomsticks?

"No, the cauldron and the flying broomstick (or chair, or stool, or sawhorse, etc.) are paranoid fantasies of Christian theologians living in the first half of the 15th century. There is no reliable evidence that either of these stereotypes has anything to do with folklore or ancient traditions of pre-Christian societies. Everything we hear of these things, in a European context, comes from the pens of Christian theologians. But, of course, the theologians attribute these activities to 'the folk.'"

Were all accused witches female? And were these so-called witches the old cackling crones we see depicted in Halloween decorations?

"About 80 percent of those prosecuted, and a comparable proportion of those executed, were female. It appears that some of the people executed -- male and female -- were as young as 8. We don't know a lot for certain, because scholars who specialize in trials (and I don't) have several decades, if not centuries, before they will have surveyed all the surviving archives of the trials. And there are many archives that did not survive. Some of the most spectacular accusations against alleged witches came not in trials but in anecdotes told or repeated elsewhere, in panicky letters, for instance. So they may often represent rumor, not fact. 'Witchcraft' was mostly rumor, when you get down to it."

Why were theologians intent on proving the existence of witches?

"Why was Joseph McCarthy intent on proving that communists infiltrated the U.S. government? One senses that something is not right with the system; it's vulnerable. It doesn't work perfectly. So it must be being undermined by extremely powerful and crafty enemies. The difference is that the United States in the 1950s had just won the greatest military victory ever, while Europe in the 1450s was recovering, just gradually, from one of the worst centuries of all time. It's true that the Russian and Chinese threat looked pretty credible in the 1950s despite the successes of World War II; but the 14th century had had the Black Plague, which killed about one third of the European population; it had the Hundred Years' War, which though intermittent, was even longer than its name suggests; it had at times as many as three men claiming to be the true pope -- and on and on and on, for every kind of social and natural evil you can imagine. Including spectacular infant mortality, which is why the cauldron was invented by these 15th-century McCarthies: Infants died because witches killed them, craftily and secretly, then boiled them up in cauldrons to make ointments and powders that attracted demons like Chanel No. 5, showing them whom to kill or maim among adults and cattle."

If witches and demons are evil, then why were these holy men be so interested in writing about such a taboo subject?

"Very late witchcraft theologists proclaimed that there can be no proof that God exists without proof that the devil exists (Nullus deus sine diablo). Why? Because if God is all good and powerful, then there is no excuse for evil in the world. Christians in other times have come up with sophisticated answers to this puzzle, so that they don't need the devil and his accomplices to let God off the hook. But the world of the 15th century was an absolute nightmare in many respects, and the 14th century was, in general, even worse, particularly after the outbreak of the plague in 1347."

Why do the witchcraft treatises written in western Europe in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries contain accounts of women having sexual intercourse with satanic spirits? Were the authors misogynists who were aiming to portray women in the worst possible light?

"Yes and no. The theologians needed to explain that devils were the origin of all society's evils, so they needed authoritative witnesses that devils were real. The best witnesses are always accomplices. So far, so good. But how do you know that someone who says demons are real is telling the truth? You get them to confess having had orgiastic sex with their demonic accomplices. Sex with demons was 'carnal knowledge' of the reality of the spirit world. As the Hammer of Witches proclaimed, "The expert testimony of the witches themselves has made all these things credible." An even earlier treatise claimed, in essence, that you can't have sex with something imaginary; another went into great detail to claim that you can't have sex while asleep and dreaming. Women were the ideal lovers of demons in these theologians' view because women were thought of as sexually passive, the objects of actions performed by men. But there were theologians who even imagined sex between men and succubi, or 'female' devils -- and then, often, put those men to death for confessing it. The crime was presented as something abominable to be wiped out, but it was also the best possible proof that demons were real, and thus that God was not responsible for the shambles of this world."

How many people were tried and killed as witches?

"Somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000; historians are currently tending toward the figure 50,000 in 300 years. We'll never know for sure. The figure of 9 million that one often hears was made up in the 1970s."

Do modern-day Wiccans have anything in common with the witches of old?

"No. Modern Wiccans are aware of being dissatisfied with Christianity. Most of the people killed [in witch trials] thought of themselves as good Christians. Few of them had done anything resembling modern Wiccan and neo-Pagan ceremonies."

Stephens welcomes opportunities to work with the media. To arrange an interview with him, contact Amy Cowles at 410-516-7160.

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Thursday, October 10, 2002

2002 Leonid Meteor Storm Forecast

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/09oct_leonidsforecast.htm Meteor Storm Forecast
NASA Science News
October 9, 2002

NASA scientists have just released new predictions for the 2002 Leonid meteor storm.

A New Mexican desert. A graveyard in West Virginia. The International Space Station (ISS). What do these places have in common? Experts say they're good spots to watch the 2002 Leonid meteor storm, which is expected this year on Nov. 19th.

"We've calculated meteor rates for 58 cities around the world and for the space station," says Bill Cooke of the Marshall Space Flight Center's Space Environments Team. "People who live in North America or Europe or onboard the ISS are going to see a lot of Leonids next month."

Leonid meteor storms happen when Earth plows through clouds of dusty debris shed by comet 55/P Tempel-Tuttle. Right now Earth is heading for two such clouds. "We'll collide with both of them on Tuesday, Nov. 19th," says Cooke. "The first cloud will cause a flurry of meteors over Europe at about 0400 UT. We expect sky watchers in the countryside (away from bright city lights) to see between 500 and 1000 Leonids per hour."

Earth will plow into the second cloud about six hours later (1030 UT or 5:30 a.m. EST) and cause an even bigger outburst over North America. "Observers here in the United States could see as many as 2000 per hour," he predicts.

Other parts of the world will be sprinkled with Leonids, too, but nothing like Europe or North America. If the predictions are correct, observers in Asia, Australia, South America and much of Africa will count no more than a few dozen bright meteors in a one-hour span.

Although millions of people will experience either the European outburst or the North American outburst, only three people will see both: the crew of the International Space Station.

"The ISS will be flying over Europe during the first outburst," explains Rob Suggs, leader of the Space Environments Team. "Then it will pass over North America during the second outburst. Perfect timing!" Astronauts looking out the station's windows could spot more meteors than anyone else.

Meteor watching from the space station isn't like meteor watching from the ground. On Earth we look up to see shooting stars. On the ISS they look down. That's because meteoroids glow when they disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere at an altitude of about 80 km. The ISS orbits Earth about 300 km higher than that, so from the point of view of an astronaut meteors appear underfoot. (Astronaut Frank Culbertson described his experience watching the 2001 Leonids from the ISS in Science@NASA's "Space Station Meteor Shower.")

Observers on the ISS and on Earth will be equally bothered during this year's shower by a glaring full Moon. "Moonlight will reduce the number of Leonids seen by some factor between 2 and 5," says Cooke. "We took this into account when we calculated our forecasts."

Along the east coast of North America, the meteor outburst will happen just before local dawn. "That's good," says Suggs, "because at that time of night, the Moon will be low in the western sky. Try to find a dark observing site where the Moon sets early behind tall buildings or surrounding hills." A country graveyard, say, in one of the mountainous Appalachian states might be an ideal spot, he laughs.

In Europe and in western parts of North America, the Moon will be high in the sky when the Leonids arrive. "That's not so good," he says. Moonlight scattered from air molecules and aerosols (e.g., water droplets, dust and pollution) makes the air glow and interferes with meteor watching. The glow will be less in places where the air is dry and pollution-free. Suggs recommends traveling to the desert, if possible, or to a mountain which rises above the local aerosol layer. "A desert mountaintop would be the perfect combination," he says.

Indeed, that's where Suggs is going, to the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico. He's leading a team there to record the North American outburst using image-intensified video cameras. "Our job," explains Suggs, "is to improve meteoroid activity forecasts for spacecraft. Observing these showers from Earth helps refine our models." Suggs will also have teams in Spain, Alabama, the Canary Islands and Arizona, "so we'll be able to monitor both peaks."

"I'd rather watch the shower from the ISS," allows Suggs, but it could be worse: New Mexico is ones of the best places on Earth to see the 2002 Leonids, and "it beats a graveyard any day."

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 10, 2002

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 — The Bush administration's choice of science advisers on matters varying from reproductive medicine to lead poisoning in children is drawing criticism from some Democrats in Congress, who complain that the advisers are being selected for their ideology and ties to industry rather than their scientific expertise.

At issue is how Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, and his staff are reconstituting the expert committees that advise Mr. Thompson and the agencies under his control. The experts are influential in shaping federal policy.

In a particularly controversial case, the Food and Drug Administration has asked an obstetrician-gynecologist who strongly opposes abortions to serve on the panel that reviews reproductive health drugs. The doctor, Dr. W. David Hager, teaches at the University of Kentucky and has written popular books asserting the healing power of faith in Jesus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, is considering a toxicologist who has advised the lead industry for a panel weighing the contentious issue of whether the federal government should lower its acceptable limits of lead in the blood.


from The Washington Post

The tarot card left near the scene of one of the sniper shootings suggests a man who is hungry -- even desperate -- for respect and credit for his crimes, experts in mass killings said yesterday.

"The people who do that are usually losers seeking attention," said Robert K. Ressler, a former FBI profiler and Virginia criminologist. "It's a logo to give themselves recognition: 'I'm the guy. I'm doing it all.' "

Those who have tracked and interviewed mass killers agree that the tarot card, which declared, "I am God," offers insight into the state of mind of a man who is trying to establish power and dominance through his decisions about who will live and die.

The card was found near Monday's shooting at a Bowie school that left a 13- year-old boy critically wounded. It was a tarot "death" card on which was written: "Mister Policeman, I am God." The message also contained a request that the card and the note not be revealed to the news media, sources said.


from The Washington Post

HAVANA -- The images appear slowly on the video screen, like ghosts from the ocean floor. The videotape, made by an unmanned submarine, shows massive stones in oddly symmetrical square and pyramid shapes in the deep- sea darkness.

Sonar images taken from a research ship 2,000 feet above are even more puzzling. They show that the smooth, white stones are laid out in a geometric pattern. The images look like fragments of a city, in a place where nothing man-made should exist, spanning nearly eight square miles of a deep-ocean plain off Cuba's western tip.

"What we have here is a mystery," said Paul Weinzweig, of Advanced Digital Communications (ADC), a Canadian company that is mapping the ocean bottom of Cuba's territorial waters under contract with the government of President Fidel Castro.

"Nature couldn't have built anything so symmetrical," Weinzweig said, running his finger over sonar printouts aboard his ship, tied up at a wharf in Havana harbor. "This isn't natural, but we don't know what it is."


from The New York Times

ATOMIC clocks may be the world standard in timekeeping, but they have a number of drawbacks, not the least of which is the space they take up. They range from shoebox-size (for use in satellites) to boxcar-size (for global timekeeping).

Now Peter J. Delfyett Jr., a laser scientist at the University of Central Florida, has developed a clock that potentially could nestle on the head of a pin and, in at least one crucial aspect, rival the accuracy of atomic timepieces. His clock may enable makers of computer chips to overcome potential timing problems with future generations of their products. And it may also prove to be an ally of atomic clocks rather than a rival.

"It's a technology that is coming of age," Dr. Delfyett said of his optical clock, the heart of which is a standard inexpensive semiconductor laser like the ones used in CD-ROM drives and DVD players. "It's now at the point where companies could consider including it in real-world technologies."

The technology Dr. Delfyett uses to transform those lasers into extremely sophisticated clocks came out of research on improving fiber-optic communications, which use laser light to carry data.


from The Associated Press


After nearly five millennia clinging to a wind-swept mountain in eastern California, clips from a bristlecone pine tree believed to be the world's oldest will spend the next year in a petri dish.

The result might unlock the secrets of aging, or at least provide cloned copies for researchers to study and foresters to spread. It might also be a bust.

"It would be great to learn what gives longevity and survival," U.S. Forest Service official Larry Payne said of efforts to clone a 4,767-year-old bristlecone pine near the Nevada border that he called the Earth's oldest known living tree.

"It has lived at least a millennium longer than any other known tree," Payne said Wednesday from Washington, D.C. "And when you're looking for the best genes out there, the oldest and the biggest is a good place to start."


More in-depth coverage of 2002 Nobel Prize recipients:

from The Washington Post

Virginia Commonwealth University's John B. Fenn and two other scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry yesterday for innovations in microbiological analysis that inspired a revolution in biomedical research.

Fenn, 85, and Japan's Koichi Tanaka, 43, an engineer at Kyoto-based Shimadzu Corp., shared half the $1 million prize for developing different methods of determining the mass of large biological molecules, such as proteins, peptides and DNA.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the other half of the prize to Kurt Wuethrich, 64, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich, for using magnetic imaging techniques to determine the three- dimensional structures of complex, ribbon-like protein molecules in solution.

Fenn, a researcher at Yale for much of his career, moved to Richmond with his wife in 1994. He has his own laboratory, maintains a full work schedule and is mentor to two graduate students.


from The New York Times

Two Americans have won this year's Nobel award in economics for trying to explain idiosyncrasies in people's ways of making decisions, research that has helped incorporate insights from psychology into the discipline of economics.

Daniel Kahneman, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, who is also a citizen of Israel, and Vernon L. Smith, a professor of economics and law at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., shared the prize, which is worth approximately $1.07 million before taxes. Their work shed light on strategies for explaining everything from stock market bubbles to regulating utilities and countless other economic activities.

In many cases, the winners tried to explain apparent paradoxes. For example, Professor Kahneman made the economically puzzling discovery that most of his subjects would make a 20-minute trip to buy a calculator for $10 instead of $15, but would not make the same trip to buy a jacket for $120 instead of $125 — saving the same $5. "It took me several years," Professor Smith said at a news conference yesterday, "to realize that the textbooks were wrong, and the people in my class were correct."


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Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Owners of once-popular psychic company indicted by grand jury


St. Louis Post-Dispatch

(KRT) - Some 6 million people called late-night TV psychic Miss Cleo, and the companies that operated her hot line are swamped with civil fraud complaints. Now, for the first time, the companies are facing criminal charges.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has learned that a grand jury in St. Charles County, Mo., returned a suppressed indictment Sept. 13 charging the companies and their two principal owners with criminal fraud.

Sweet smelling body of dead priest unearthed in Romania

From Ananova at


A small church in Romania is drawing crowds of Christians after the perfectly preserved body of a 19th century priest was unearthed smelling of roses.

Workers reconstructing a church in Husi in northern Romania found the body of a man dressed in the robes of an Orthodox priest.

Some Christians believe the bodies of blessed people have a strong pleasant perfume around them because their corpses have been visited by Jesus.

Romanian daily Adevarul reports records indicate the body may be that of the priest who consecrated the church in the early 1800s - priest Irimia Hagiu.

Alexandru Vijianu, vicar of the Saint Niculai church, said: "The body looks as if it was buried yesterday and what is even more incredible is that it has a wonderful scent of roses. It is possible that we are standing before the discovery of a saint."

Spiders Spark UFO Scare



No, the UFOs haven't landed. Nor is Santa Cruz, California, being attacked by some kind of secret weapon.

Plot Summary for Alternative 3 (1977) (TV)


World ecological collapse; the next ice-age has already begun! Lucky for us, governments know what to do. Unfortunately it's a conspiracy to end all conspiracies. Vanishing scientists, dubious space missions, and a freak accident which kills the courier of a tape containing a secret radio message from an unmanned Mars probe - holds the key. Ruthless investigative reporters uncover the ominous master plan.

Tribulation Worketh Patience


October 9, 2002 By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON - W.W.J.D. at the F.D.A.?

We may soon find out, if W. David Hager becomes chairman of the powerful Food and Drug Administration panel on women's health policy. His résumé seems more impressive for theology than gynecology.

"Jesus stood up for women at a time when women were second-class citizens," Dr. Hager says. "I often say, if you are liberated, a woman's libber, you can thank Jesus for that."

A professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Kentucky, he has a considerable body of work about Jesus' role in healing women, and last summer he helped the Christian Medical Association with a "citizens' petition" calling on the F.D.A. to reverse its approval of RU-486, the "abortion pill," claiming it puts women at risk. (RU-486 or RU-4Jesus?)

Karen Tumulty reports in Time that the F.D.A. senior associate commissioner, Linda Arey Skladany, a former drug-industry lobbyist with Bush family ties, has rejected doctors proposed by F.D.A. staffers and is pushing Dr. Hager.

The policy panel, which helped get RU-486 approved, will lead the study on the hot issue of hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women. As Time notes: "Some conservatives are trying to use doubts about such therapy to discredit the use of birth control pills, which contain similar compounds."


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 9, 2002

"Science In the News" is produced daily by the the Media Resource Service, a public understanding of science program sponsored by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. The Society wishes to congratulate the following members who were honored with the 2002 Nobel Prizes announced this week:

Physiology/Medicine - Howard Robert Horvitz
Physics - Raymond Davis, Jr. and Masatoshi Koshiba
Chemistry - John Bennett Fenn
Economics - Daniel Kahneman

from The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - American, Japanese and Swiss scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for developing methods of identifying and analyzing large biological molecules, such as proteins.

American John B. Fenn, 85, of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Koichi Tanaka, 43, of Shimadzu Corp. in Kyoto, Japan, will share half of the $1 million prize. The other half of the prize goes to Kurt Wuethrich, 64, a scientist with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, Calif.

Their work has revolutionized the development of new medicines and has shown early promise in early diagnosis of ovarian, breast and prostate cancer, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

The laureates' research in methods to analyze large molecules has "meant a revolutionary breakthrough, making chemical biology into the 'big science of our time,'" the academy said in its citation.


from The New York Times

Two scientists who used underground vats of water and cleaning fluid to see into the hearts of stars and a third, who deployed X-ray sensors in space to detect the invisible violence rattling the cosmos, won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday.

Dr. Raymond Davis Jr., 87, now a professor of physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Masatoshi Koshiba, 76, of the University of Tokyo were cited for underground experiments that detected the shadowy elementary particles known as neutrinos from the Sun and from a distant exploding star. The experiments proved that thermonuclear fusion powers the Sun.

Moreover, a deficit in the expected number of solar neutrinos started a crisis that has opened a new window on the physics of the weird particles.

The scientists will share half the prize, about $1 million.


from The Washington Post

Three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday, including a Washington-based physicist who detected X-ray emissions in space and developed X-ray telescopes to study spectacular cosmic phenomena ranging from supernovas to neutron stars, black holes and interstellar shock waves.

Riccardo Giacconi, 71, was awarded the prize along with the University of Pennsylvania's Raymond Davis Jr., 87, and Japan's Masatoshi Koshiba, 76, who were honored for their groundbreaking research into the subatomic particles known as neutrinos. Giacconi was awarded half the $1 million prize, with Davis and Koshiba splitting the rest.

Giacconi, who lives with his wife in Chevy Chase, is president of Associated Universities Inc., a Washington-based nonprofit corporation that operates the National Radio Astronomy Observatory for the National Science Foundation.

"I am pleased for my family, and, of course, I like the recognition," Giacconi said in an interview. "But it is also good for the field. This is the first one [Nobel Prize] that comes out of the space work of NASA after so many years. It's a shot in the arm."


from The Los Angeles Times

A long-awaited research report released Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences describes polygraph testing for national security screening as little more than junk science.

The United States' premier scientific organization said such tests, a key counterespionage tool for 50 years, are so inaccurate as to be counterproductive -- promoting false confidence that spies and other national security threats have been ferreted out.

The academy's National Research Council prepared the report based on 19 months of study. Produced by experts in psychology, engineering, law and other fields, the report confirms long-standing doubts about the validity of polygraph testing that led to a 1988 federal law banning the use of such tests for employment screening in most private businesses. Polygraph results are also inadmissible as evidence in nearly all state courts.


from The Baltimore Sun

When recent reports in The Sun and other publications revealed that former Army bioweapons scientist Dr. Steven J. Hatfill had claimed a Ph.D. he had not received, he offered an explanation.

He had completed the work for the degree at Rhodes University in South Africa and assumed it had been granted, he said through his spokesman, Pat Clawson. Later, when he learned the degree had not been awarded, he stopped listing it on his resume, he said.

But when applying for a research job in 1995, Hatfill provided to the National Institutes of Health a handsome Rhodes University Ph.D. certificate in molecular cell biology with his name on it, signed by the university vice chancellor and other officials.

The Ph.D. certificate, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun from the NIH under the Freedom of Information Act, is a forgery, Rhodes officials say. The university seal is not in the right place, the vice chancellor's signature has the wrong middle initial and other names are made up, they say.


from The Baltimore Sun

It began with an ugly red bump on the middle finger of Johanna Huden's right hand. Huden, an editorial assistant for the New York Post, thought it was an insect bite.

In retrospect, Huden's infection, which appeared about Sept. 21 last year, would turn out to be the first sign of the first major bioterrorist attack in U.S. history. Her job opening the Post's mail had put her in contact with spores of Bacillus anthracis leaking from a poisoned letter to the editor - making her what epidemiologists call the "index case" of the anthrax outbreak.

The attacks turned the daily mail into a lethal weapon, killing five people and sickening at least 17 others, some of whom suffer lingering fatigue and other ailments a year later. Scientists have discovered how little they really knew about anthrax, considered until recently chiefly a threat to cattle in Third World countries. And the federal government has begun to pour billions of dollars into defense against bioterror - though some critics wonder whether the boom in germ studies might actually make the country less safe.

But even as the anthrax attacks have set off a scientific gold rush, the extensive criminal investigation that began a year ago this week has failed to identify the perpetrator. Despite the combined resources of the FBI and the Postal Inspection Service, the investigation has been widely criticized for unaccountable delays and questionable investigative methods.


from The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS - The United States and the Vatican have lined up against France and Germany on whether a proposed new treaty should ban only cloning to create babies or prohibit all kinds of human cloning - even for research, diplomats said Tuesday.

Last November, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution by consensus establishing a committee to draft an international convention on human cloning after studying the complex and sensitive issues surrounding the new field. The treaty should "prevent practices which are contrary to human dignity," it said.

But after almost a year, the committee is deadlocked, faced with competing versions of what a final treaty banning human cloning should look like.

The United States wants a treaty which bans all human cloning. France and Germany have proposed an alternative which would ban only cloning to produce babies, leaving the question of cloning for research and medical experiments for future consideration.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

When Samantha Sylvester was barely 18 months old, she nearly died of one of the world's most common genetic diseases.

It is known as celiac disease, and people who have it cannot digest gluten, the common protein in wheat, oats, rye and barley. Even a single bit of food containing gluten can trigger nausea and diarrhea. In severe cases, it can lead to malnutrition and even death.

Although the condition is very common -- more than a million Americans have it -- it took seven months and many wrong diagnoses before doctors finally figured out Samantha's problem. By then, she had lost weight, her growth had been delayed, and she had become more and more listless.

Today, Samantha is a happy, healthy 10-year-old -- having learned to stave off the disorder's depredations by adhering to a rigorous diet. And she and other sufferers now have reason to hope that scientists may one day develop a treatment.

Led by a scientist with a powerful personal motive for his quest, Stanford University researchers reported last month that they have discovered the cause of the disease: A small fragment of the gluten protein fails to break down and triggers the immune systems into action.


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Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – October 8, 2002

from The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- A Japanese and two American astrophysicists won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for using some of the most obscure particles and waves in nature to increase understanding of the universe.

Riccardo Giacconi, 71, of the Associated Universities Inc. in Washington, D.C., will get half of the $1 million prize for his role in ``pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X- ray sources.''

Raymond Davis Jr., 87, of the University of Pennsylvania shares the other half of the prize with Japanese scientist Masatoshi Koshiba, 76, of the University of Tokyo. The two men pioneered the construction of giant underground chambers to detect neutrinos, elusive particles that stream from the sun by the billion.

Neutrinos offer a unique view of the sun's inner workings because they are produced in its heart by the same process that causes it to shine. Davis' early experiments, performed during the 1960s in a South Dakota gold mine, confirmed that the sun is powered by nuclear fusion.


from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Nobel prize winner Sir John Sulston had no inkling when a call came through to his office that he had won the 2002 award for medicine.

Although he was at his desk at the Sanger Center in Cambridge, the 60-year- old scientist missed the call and had to phone back the Nobel committee in Sweden before he could believe it was true.

"I got it as a message initially and then I phoned back which made it easier," he told Reuters. "I had time to ponder it and say 'is this real?"'

It was -- thanks to a humble worm.

Along with South African-born Sydney Brenner, a professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and founder of the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California, and American Robert Horvitz, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, he will share the $1 million prize.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Astronomers have discovered the biggest thing out there since Pluto was found -- a rocky, icy mini-planet circling the sun far beyond Neptune.

Tentatively named "Quaoar" (pronounced "kwah-oh-wahr") after a creation god of Southern California's Tongva Indian tribe, the newfound world is about 4 billion miles away in an outer fringe of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt, a birthing zone of comets.

The discovery sets a new outer limit to Earth's celestial neighborhood and strongly hints that other hidden "minor planets" may exist in the same general region as Pluto.

These objects, generally too small and probably too numerous to be counted officially as "planets," are just coming into view with the aid of the powerful Hubble Space Telescope and sophisticated, computer-guided scans of the heavens.


from The New York Times

Two physical anthropologists have reanalyzed data gathered by Franz Boas, a founder of American anthropology, and report that he erred in saying environment influenced human head shape. Boas's data, the two scientists say, show almost no such effect.

The reanalysis bears on whether craniometrics, the measurement of skull shape, can validly identify ethnic origin. As such, it may prompt a re- evaluation of the definition of human races and of ancient skulls like that of Kennewick Man.

"I have used Boas's study to fight what I guess could be considered racist approaches to anthropology," said Dr. David Thomas, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "I have to say I am shocked at the findings."

Forensic anthropologists believe that by taking some 90 measurements of a skull they can correctly assign its owner's continent of origin — broadly speaking, its race, though many anthropologists prefer not to use that term — with 80 percent accuracy.


from ABC News

Oct. 8 — Deborah Ortiz recently made a bold claim before members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"My law makes the Bush policy on stem-cell research irrelevant in California," the Democratic California state senator told the committee. More than a year ago, President Bush restricted all federally funded scientists to use 78 existing stem-cell lines for their research.

But California now welcomes state and privately funded researchers who step outside that rule. And other states may follow its lead.

It's not often that a senator from a state legislature poses a direct challenge to the president of the United States. But Ortiz, who lost her mother to ovarian cancer three years ago, says she felt perfectly confident about her position.


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Nobel Honors 3 for Astrophysics Work

OCTOBER 08, 07:02 ET

Associated Press Writer

AP/Doug Mills

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Two Americans and a Japanese won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for using some of the most obscure particles and waves in nature to understand the workings of astronomy's grandest wonders.

Riccardo Giacconi, 71, of the Associated Universities Inc. in Washington, D.C., will get half of the $1 million prize for his role in ``pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources.''

Raymond Davis, Jr., 87, of the University of Pennsylvania shares the other half of the prize with Japanese scientist Masatoshi Koshiba, 76, of the University of Tokyo. The two men pioneered the construction of giant underground chambers to detect neutrinos, elusive particles that stream from the sun by the billion.

Neutrinos offer an unparalleled view of the sun's inner workings because they are produced in its heart by the same process that causes it to shine. In fact, Davis' early experiments, performed during the 1960s in a South Dakota gold mine, confirmed that the sun is powered by nuclear fusion.

Koshiba won his share of the prize for his work at the Kamiokande neutrino detector in Japan. That experiment confirmed and extended Davis' work, and also discovered neutrinos coming from distant supernova explosions, some of the brightest objects in the universe.

``All I can say is I'm so happy,'' Koshiba said in Tokyo. ``This wonderful outcome was only possible because of my young assistants' hard work.''

The Italian-born Giacconi, a U.S. citizen, was awarded half of the prize for building the first X-ray telescopes that provided ``completely new — and sharp — images of the universe,'' the academy said.

His research laid the foundation for X-ray astronomy, which has led to the discovery of black holes and allowed researchers to peer deep into the hearts of the dusty young galaxies where stars are born.

When academy officials reached Giacconi by phone at his home outside Washington, he said he was ``dumbstruck'' to learn of the prize. Koshiba also was phoned at home in Tokyo, but the academy was still trying to reach Davis, spokesman Erling Norrby said.

This year's Nobel awards started Monday with the naming of Britons Sydney Brenner, 75, and Sir John E. Sulston, 60, and American H. Robert Horvitz, 55, as winners of the medicine prize, selected by a committee at the Karolinska Institute.

The researchers shared it for discoveries about how genes regulate organ growth and a process of programmed cell deaths that shed light on how viruses and bacteria invade human cells, including in conditions such as AIDS, strokes, cancer and heart attacks.

The winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry will be named on Wednesday morning and the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel later the same day.

The literature prize winner will be announced on Thursday, the Swedish Academy said on Tuesday.

The winner of the coveted peace prize — the only one not awarded in Sweden — will be announced Friday in Oslo, Norway.

The award committees make their decisions in deep secrecy and candidates are not publicly revealed for 50 years.

Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who endowed the prizes left only vague guidelines for the selection committees.

In his will he said the prize being revealed on Tuesday should be given to those who ``shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind'' and ``shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics.''

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also chooses the chemistry and economics winners, invited nominations from previous recipients and experts in the fields before cutting down its choices. Deliberations are conducted in strict secrecy.

The prizes are presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896, in Stockholm and in Oslo.

On the Net:

Nobel site, http://www.nobel.se

Biggest object since Pluto found in solar system


By Richard Stenger (CNN)
Monday, October 7, 2002 Posted: 12:54 PM EDT (1654 GMT)

(CNN) -- A newly discovered body in the outer reaches of the solar system is larger than all the objects in the asteroid belt combined, astronomers announced Monday.

The spherical planetoid, half the size of Pluto, is the biggest found in the solar system since astronomers detected the ninth planet in 1930.

It orbits the sun from a distance of about 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) in a nether region known as the Kuiper Belt, a ring of thousands of primordial icy, rocky chunks beyond the planets that date back to the origins of the solar system.

The object, dubbed Quaoar, further strengthens the theory that Pluto is not a conventional planet but rather a Kuiper Belt object.

Heretical Animals


Christian songwriter Dan Barker used to praise the Lord for Pat Boone--now he's the Mr. Rogers of atheism

By Richard von Busack

IT'S A COMMON STORY when a musician, after a life of the customary debauchery that marks his profession, comes to Jesus. The tale is so common that even Parade Magazine has grown tired of it. But a born-again atheist is a novelty.

Don't expect to see Dan Barker's story in Parade, though. After a life of ministry and missionary work, and after a lucrative career of recording Christian music, Barker had a change of heart and became a practicing atheist. Barker is bringing songs from his CD Friendly Neighborhood Atheist to Le Petit Trianon in San Jose this weekend, in a show sponsored by the Atheists of Silicon Valley and the Humanist Community in Palo Alto.

Sainthood beckons for priest linked to Franco


Controversial founder of Opus Dei will be canonised tomorrow

Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Saturday October 5, 2002
The Guardian

Three Spanish ministers and a host of senior officials were due in Rome tomorrow for the canonisation of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the Catholic church's controversial, powerful and conservative Opus Dei group.

Escriva, accused of being a supporter of the rightwing dictator General Francisco Franco, has achieved full sainthood in near record-breaking time. He died in 1975.

The pope, however, is among his most ardent fans and put him on the path to sainthood by beatifying him in 1992. Since then he is deemed to have brought about dozens of miracles.

He earned the right to canonisation, or full sainthood, by saving a Spanish doctor, Manuel Nevado, from certain death. Vatican investigators have said that he performed a "scientifically inexplicable" cure of the doctor's chronic radiodermatitis.

Escriva's ultra-conservative movement, which recruited many of its members from Spain's wealthy and powerful families, flourished under Franco and eventually provided ministers to his governments.

Opus Dei's 84,000 members around the world deny he actively supported Franco - though Escriva went into hiding to avoid anti-clerical factions in Republican Spain when the civil war broke out in 1936.

Opus Dei's representative in the Vatican, Flavio Capucci, claimed this week that Escriva should not be criticised for his silence on the Franco regime's abuses or for letting Opus members join the dictator's governments.

"Neither the political nor religious authorities of the time criticised Franco," he said. "One of the characteristics of Opus Dei is that it allows its members freedom."

But former members have complained that Opus Dei, whose extreme members expiate sins by committing self-flagellation, exercises a cult-like control over followers.

Members are divided into two groups. Supernumerary followers can marry, have families and are expected to lead exemplary lives. A small number of members take vows of chastity, live in sex-segregated communities and give much of their income to Opus.

The group's annual income has been estimated at around £120m - enough to fund hundreds of schools and universities and help make it one of the fastest growing movements within the Catholic church. It is present in 70 countries and has some 700 members in Britain.

Opus members have enjoyed a revival in their secular power in Spain since the centre-right People's party of the prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, took power six years ago.

The defence minister, Federico Trillo, a supernumerary, will be in Rome with the justice and foreign ministers.

El Mundo newspaper recently named a raft of senior officials in the defence, justice and interior ministries who belong to the order, which encourages its followers to seek positions of power. The group is estimated to have up to 30,000 followers, but membership can be kept secret.

"Defence, law and order and the judiciary are in the hands of Opus," said Juan Carlos Rodriguez, the socialist president of Extremadura region's government.

Opposition politicians have claimed that the two and a half hours of live broadcasting from Rome scheduled for tomorrow by the state broadcaster TVE is proof of how far the group's tentacles reach.

Recently published biographies of Escriva have produced conflicting visions of the new saint as either a loving, caring charismatic person or a mean-spirited, manipulative egoist.

Jesus Ynfante, author of the critical Founding Saint of Opus Dei, says that he was an unashamed fascist. "He had Madrid under his control, starting with the dictator. Under Franco the clerical fascism of Opus Dei won out over the true fascism of the Falange [political party]," he wrote.

Pilar Urbano, a prominent Spanish journalist and Opus member, has claimed that there was little doubt about Escriva's sanctity. "Even during his life he had a growing reputation for saintliness."

Monday, October 07, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – October 7, 2002

from The San Francisco Chronicle

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- An American and two Britons won this year's Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for discoveries about how genes regulate organ growth and a process of programmed cell suicide. Their findings shed light on the development of many illnesses, including AIDS and strokes.

Britons Sydney Brenner, 75, and John E. Sulston, 60, and American H. Robert Horvitz, 55, shared the prize, worth about $1 million.

Working with tiny worms, the laureates identified key genes regulating organ development and programmed cell death, a necessary process for pruning excess cells. Many cancer treatment strategies are now aimed at stimulating the cell-death process to kill cancerous cells.


from The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON - Medical research institutions should make ''fundamental changes'' in the way they conduct experiments on human beings in order to stop a string of accidental deaths, an influential advisory panel said yesterday.

The Institute of Medicine panel also recommended that federal oversight of human research include privately funded experiments; currently, the government regulates federally financed experiments and those conducted at institutions that receive federal dollars. The panel also said a no-fault insurance program should be established to compensate people who are harmed during the experiments.

But some critics said the report failed to address what they called the fundamental conflict of interest inherent in much medical research - the fact that universities and hospitals set up boards to review their own experiments.


from BioMedNet

It's generally assumed that adequate protection for human research subjects will require more money, more regulation, more bureaucracy, more paperwork, and more time. But some of what the Institute of Medicine is recommending in its new report released today - Responsible Research: A Systems Approach to Protecting Research Participants - could be accomplished tomorrow for free, says Daniel Federman of Harvard Medical School, who chaired the study committee.

Protection of research participants, says Federman, just requires an attitude adjustment - what the report calls an "unequivocal" commitment. The right attitude must emanate from the top levels of a research organization, he said, creating "an institutional culture that facilitates and improves the ethical and scientific quality of research."

Rather than generate a blizzard of new paperwork, Federman argues, some of the report's recommendations should reduce the administrative load on individual researchers. One example: more resources to implement a robust system of protection, meaning additional space, equipment, support personnel, and research assistants. "Most have been on a shoestring in the past," he told BioMedNet News.


To read the IOM report, click here:


from The San Francisco Chronicle

A landmark lung study by a research network including UCSF that was hailed as a life-saving medical advance may actually have endangered patients and proved little, government scientists say.

In a tense internal dispute among federally funded researchers, a National Institutes of Health team says severely ill patients who were enrolled in the experiment may have faced a greater risk of death because high ventilator settings forced damaging volumes of air into their lungs.

The study by a prestigious research consortium -- including Johns Hopkins, Duke University and UCSF -- changed emergency room practices worldwide in the treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, an often- fatal condition resulting from pneumonia or other lung damage.

The study's influence is likely to persist despite the controversy, experts say. But as Congress and national ethics committees debate ways to boost human subject protections in the wake of recent research scandals, the experiment could become a case study in the possible conflicts between scientific advances and patient safety.


from UPI

WASHINGTON - Although the biotechnology revolution will lead to new treatments for disease, that same technology could be used by terrorists to produce deadlier biological weapons, a biotech expert said Thursday at a World Medical Association meeting on bioterrorism.

Techniques for working with DNA and manipulating genes aimed at treating or understanding disease could be used to modify organisms such as smallpox and anthrax so they are more virulent or resistant to vaccines and antibiotics, said George Poste, chief executive officer of Health Technology Networks of Gilbertsville, Pa., a consulting firm specializing in the impact of biotechnology on healthcare. The technology is "giving raise to entirely new weapons systems," he said.

Poste also said miniature devices being developed to monitor or treat disease within the body - such as tiny robots that could patrol blood vessels - could be used to "maim or kill" people. "This technology will emerge to have sinister importance," he said.

Because such technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible, it will be difficult for intelligence agencies to detect groups or individuals developing devices for nefarious intentions, he said.


from The Associated Press

BOSTON - The definitive study on bellybutton lint, a dog-to-person translation device and an inquiry into what arouses ostriches were recognized Thursday with Ig Nobel prizes for dubious contributions to science and cocktail-party conversations everywhere.

The Ig Nobel Prizes, awarded annually at Harvard University as a spoof of the Nobel ceremony, recognize achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced."

"It's a great honor. It introduces people to the idea that science is fun," said Karl Kruszelnicki, a University of Sydney researcher who wrote the paper on bellybutton lint.

Kruszelnicki, at his own expense, studied bellybutton lint samples sent to him by 5,000 people. He concluded the lint is a combination of clothing fibers and skin cells that are led to the navel, via body hair, "as all roads lead to Rome."


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Moon Dust and the Age of the Solar System


Dr. Andrew A. Snelling and David E. Rush

First Published in

Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 7(1):2-42, 1993.


Using a figure published in 1960 of 14,300,000 tons per year as the meteoritic dust influx rate to the earth, creationists have argued that the thin dust layer on the moon's surface indicates that the moon, and therefore the earth and solar system, are young. Furthermore, it is also often claimed that before the moon landings there was considerable fear that astronauts would sink into a very thick dust layer, but subsequently scientists have remained silent as to why the anticipated dust wasn't there. An attempt is made here to thoroughly examine these arguments, and the counter arguments made by detractors, in the light of a sizable cross-section of the available literature on the subject.

Of the techniques that have been used to measure the meteoritic dust influx rate, chemical analyses (of deep sea sediments and dust in polar ice), and satellite-borne detector measurements appear to be the most reliable. However, upon close examination the dust particles range in size from fractions of a micron in diameter and fractions of a microgram in mass up to millimetres and grams, whence they become part of the size and mass range of meteorites. Thus the different measurement techniques cover different size and mass ranges of particles, so that to obtain the most reliable estimate requires an integration of results from different techniques over the full range of particle masses and sizes. When this is done, most current estimates of the meteoritic dust influx rate to the earth fall in the range of 10, 000-20, 000 tons per year, although some suggest this rate could still be as much as up to 100,000 tons per year.

Apart from the same satellite measurements, with a focusing factor of two applied so as to take into account differences in size and gravity between the earth and moon, two main techniques for estimating the lunar meteoritic dust influx have been trace element analyses of lunar soils, and the measuring and counting of microcraters produced by impacting micrometeorites on rock surfaces exposed on the lunar surface. Both these techniques rely on uniformitarian assumptions and dating techniques. Furthermore, there are serious discrepancies between the microcrater data and the satellite data that remain unexplained, and that require the meteoritic dust influx rate to be higher today than in the past. But the crater-saturated lunar highlands are evidence of a higher meteorite and meteoritic dust influx in the past. Nevertheless the estimates of the current meteoritic dust influx rate to the moon's surface group around a figure of about 10,000 tons per year.

Prior to direct investigations, there was much debate amongst scientists about the thickness of dust on the moon. Some speculated that there would be very thick dust into which astronauts and their spacecraft might 'disappear', while the majority of scientists believed that there was minimal dust cover. Then NASA sent up rockets and satellites and used earth-bound radar to make measurements of the meteoritic dust influx, results suggesting there was only sufficient dust for a thin layer on the moon. In mid-1966 the Americans successively soft-landed five Surveyor spacecraft on the lunar surface, and so three years before the Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon NASA knew that they would only find a thin dust layer on the lunar surface into which neither the astronauts nor their spacecraft would 'disappear'. This was confirmed by the Apollo astronauts, who only found up to a few inches of loose dust.

The Apollo investigations revealed a regolith at least several metres thick beneath the loose dust on the lunar surface. This regolith consists of lunar rock debris produced by impacting meteorites mixed with dust, some of which is of meteoritic origin. Apart from impacting meteorites and micrometeorites it is likely that there are no other lunar surface processes capable of both producing more dust and transporting it. It thus appears that the amount of meteoritic dust and meteorite debris in the lunar regolith and surface dust layer, even taking into account the postulated early intense meteorite and meteoritic dust bombardment, does not contradict the evolutionists' multi-billion year timescale (while not proving it). Unfortunately, attempted counter-responses by creationists have so far failed because of spurious arguments or faulty calculations. Thus, until new evidence is forthcoming, creationists should not continue to use the dust on the moon as evidence against an old age for the moon and the solar system.

Jesus and the FDA


Saturday, Oct. 05, 2002

A quiet battle is raging over the Bush Administration's plan to appoint a scantily credentialed doctor, whose writings include a book titled As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now, to head an influential Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel on women's health policy. Sources tell Time that the agency's choice for the advisory panel is Dr. W. David Hager, an obstetrician-gynecologist who also wrote, with his wife Linda, Stress and the Woman's Body, which puts "an emphasis on the restorative power of Jesus Christ in one's life" and recommends specific Scripture readings and prayers for such ailments as headaches and premenstrual syndrome. Though his resume describes Hager as a University of Kentucky professor, a university official says Hager's appointment is part time and voluntary and involves working with interns at Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital, not the university itself. In his private practice, two sources familiar with it say, Hager refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women. Hager did not return several calls for comment.

FDA advisory panels often have near-final say over crucial health questions. If Hager becomes chairman of the 11-member Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee, he will lead its study of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, one of the biggest controversies in health care. Some conservatives are trying to use doubts about such therapy to discredit the use of birth-control pills, which contain similar compounds. The panel also made the key recommendation in 1996 that led to approval of the "abortion pill," RU-486—a decision that abortion foes are still fighting. Hager assisted the Christian Medical Association last August in a "citizens' petition" calling upon the FDA to reverse itself on RU-486, saying it has endangered the lives and health of women.

Hager was chosen for the post by FDA senior associate commissioner Linda Arey Skladany, a former drug-industry lobbyist with longstanding ties to the Bush family. Skladany rejected at least two nominees proposed by FDA staff members: Donald R. Mattison, former dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, and Michael F. Greene, director of maternal- fetal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Despite pressure from inside the FDA to make the appointment temporary, sources say, Skladany has insisted that Hager get a full four-year term. FDA spokesman Bill Pierce called Hager "well qualified."

Sunday, October 06, 2002

Sensation: Cities Found on the Moon!


It's from Pravda, so you know it has to be true.

Reasonable activity of an alien civilization showed up unexpectedly close to us. However, we were not psychologically ready for it

We still come across publications trying to find an answer to the following question: Are we alone in the universe? At the same time, the presence of reasoning beings has been detected close to our home, on the Moon.

However, this discovery was immediately classified as secret, as it is so incredible that it even might shake the already existing social principles, reports Russia's newspaper Vecherny Volgograd.

Here is an extract from the official press-release: "NASA scientists and engineers participating in exploration of Mars and the Moon reported the results of their discoveries at a briefing at the Washington National Press Club on March 21, 1996. It was announced for the first time that man-made structures and objects have been discovered on the Moon." The scientists spoke rather cautiously and evasively about these objects, with the exception of an UFO. They always mentioned that the man-made objects are possible, and stated the information was still under study and official results will be published later.

It was mentioned at the briefing as well that the Soviet Union used to own some photo materials proving the presence of such activity on the Moon. And, although it wasn't identified what kind of activity it was, thousands of photo- and video materials from the Apollos and the Clementine space station showed many parts on the lunar surface where this activity and its traces were perfectly evident. The video films and photos made by US astronauts during the Apollo program were demonstrated at the briefing. People were extremely surprised why the materials hadn't been presented to the public earlier. NASA specialists answered: "It was difficult to forecast the reaction of people to information that some creatures had been or still are on the Moon. In addition, there were some other reasons to it, which were beyond the control of NASA."

Specialist for lunar studies Richard Hoagland says that NASA is still trying to alter photo materials before they are published in public catalogues and files. They do some retouching or are partially refocussing them while copying. Some investigators, Hoagland is among them, suppose that an extraterrestrial race had used the Moon as a terminal station during their activity on the Earth. These suggestions are confirmed by the legends and myths of different nations of our planet.

The ruins of lunar cities stretch for many kilometers. Huge domes on massive basements, numerous tunnels, and other constructions cause scientists to reconsider their opinions concerning the Moon. How the Moon appeared and principles of its revolving around the Earth still pose a great problem for scientists.

Some partially destroyed objects on the lunar surface can't be placed among natural geological formations, as they are of complex organization and geometrical structure. In the upper part of Rima hadley, not far from the place where the Apollo-15 had landed, a construction surrounded by a tall D-shaped wall was discovered. As of now, different artifacts have been discovered in 44 regions. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Houston Planetary Institute are investigating the regions. Mysterious terrace-shaped excavations of rock have been discovered near the Tiho crater. The concentric hexahedral excavations and the tunnel entry on the terrace side can't be the results of natural geological processes; instead, they look very much like open cast mines. A transparent dome raised above the crater edge was discovered near the crater Copernicus. The dome is unusual, as it is glows white and blue from the inside. A rather unusual object, which is unusual indeed even for the Moon, was discovered in the upper part of the Factory area. A disk of about 50 meters in diameter stands on a square basement surrounded with walls. In the picture, close to the rhomb, we can also see a dark, round embrasure in the ground, which resembles an entry to an underground caponier. There is a rectangular area between factory and the crater Copernicus, which is 300 meters wide 400 meters long.

Apollo-10 astronauts took a photo (AS10-32-4822) of a one-mile long object called "Castle," which is at the height of 14 kilometers and casts a distinct shadow on the lunar surface. The object seems to consist of several cylindrical units and a large conjunctive unit. The internal porous structure of the Castle is clearly seen in one of the pictures, which gives the impression that some parts of the object are transparent.

As it turned out at the briefing where many NASA scientists were present, when Richard Hoagland had requested originals of the Castle pictures for the second time, no pictures were found at all. They disappeared even from the list of pictures made by the Apollo-10 crew. Only intermediate pictures of the object were found in the archives, which unfortunately don't depict the internal structure of the object.

When the Apollo-12 crew landed on the lunar surface, they saw that the landing was observed by a half-transparent, pyramidal object. It was hovering just several meters above the lunar surface and shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow against the black sky.

In 1969, when the film about astronauts travelling to the Sea of Storms was demonstrated (the astronauts saw the strange objects once again, which were later called "striped glasses"), NASA finally understood what consequences such kind of control could bring. Astronaut Mitchell answered the question about his feelings after his successful return: "My neck still aches as I had to constantly turn my head around, because we felt we were not alone there. We had no choice but to pray." Johnston, who worked at the Houston Space Center and studied photos and video materials made during the Apollo program, discussed the artifacts with Richard Hoagland and said that the NASA leadership was awfully annoyed with the great number of anomalous, to put it mildly, objects on the Moon. It was even said that piloted flights to the Moon might be banned.

Investigators are especially interested in ancient structures resembling partially destroyed cities. Photos reveal an astonishingly regular geometry of square and rectangular constructions. They resemble our cities seen from the height of 5-8 kilometers. A mission control specialist commented on the pictures: "Our guys observed ruins of the Lunar cities, transparent pyramids, domes, and God knows what else, which are currently hidden deep inside the NASA safes, and felt like Robinson Crusoe when he suddenly came across prints of bare feet on the sand of the desert island." What do geologists and scientists say after studying the pictures of lunar cities and other anomalous objects? They say that such objects can't be natural formations. "We should admit they are artificial, especially the domes and pyramids." Reasonable activity of an alien civilization showed up unexpectedly close to us. We were not ready for it psychologically, and some people hardly believe they are true even now.

Translated by Maria Gousseva

Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/society/2002/10/04/47957.html

Related links:
PRAVDA.Ru First Indian may step onto Moon in 2005
PRAVDA.Ru Will the first moon base be Chinese?
SPACE.com : NASA Reveals New Plan for the Moon, Mars & Outward
CNN : New moon to leave Earth orbit
Spaceflight Now : Mystery moon around Earth likely Apollo rocket
SPACE.com : Apollo Moon Booster Still Flies as Detailed Model Rocket
CNN : Fallen Challenger, Apollo astronauts remembered
BBC : Apollo samples reveal Moons origin
PRAVDA.Ru Fifty-five years of insanity
PRAVDA.Ru UFO Prevents Blast at Chernobyl Nuclear Plant
Salon : UFOs in the land of the rising sun

Cell Phone Suit Gets Bad Reception


A federal judge this week dismissed an $800 million lawsuit alleging cell phone use caused a Maryland physician's brain cancer.

Judge Catherine Blake ruled the plaintiff's scientific evidence wasn't sufficiently reliable or relevant.

If you worry that cell phone use might cause brain cancer, Judge Blake's ruling should ease your mind. It's safe to assume the plaintiff's lawyers -- the case was handled by the firm of infamous personal injury lawyer Peter Angelos -- presented the "best" possible case against cell phones.

Judge Blake screened the potential testimony to ensure the "reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue."

Christopher Newman used a cell phone for an estimated 343 hours from October 1992 until the March 1998 diagnosis of his brain tumor. Newman claimed to hold the phone with his right hand next to his right ear, the area where the tumor developed. Dr. Lennart Hardell, the only medical doctor offered to support the phone-cancer link, testified the tumor was caused by cell phone use. He relied on his own research -- including two published studies -- to support his testimony.

But Judge Blake observed Dr. Hardell's 1999 study reported no "overall increased risk for brain tumors associated with exposure to cellular phones" and his 2001 study, purporting to link cell phone use with cancer, was criticized by defense experts as a faulty effort to recast the 1999 study results.

Dr. Hardell's subsequent research -- not published as of the court hearing -- showed no overall statistically significant increased risk between cell phone use and brain cancer. But Dr. Hardell nonetheless maintained the overall findings didn't matter because the cancer was only associated with ipsilateral phone use, in which the cancer develops on the same side of the head as the phone is held -- as in Newman's case.

Judge Blake dismissed this claim since Hardell also reported a statistical association between ipsilateral use of cordless phones and cancer, "even though there is otherwise no scientific claim that cordless phones cause brain cancer." A defense expert attributed Hardell's results concerning ipsilateral use to "recall bias" -- study subjects' inability to accurately recall which side of their heads phones were used.

In addition to point-by-point disassembly of Dr. Hardell's testimony, Judge Blake added, "Arrayed against Dr. Hardell's findings are the numerous studies published in peer reviewed journals and by international scientific and governmental bodies."

Another expert, Dr. Elihu Richter of Hebrew University, withdrew his opinion about a cell phone-cancer link before the hearing. During depositions, Dr. Richter conceded Newman's phone was within the parameters of studies reporting no cell phone-cancer link.

Without evidence from human studies, Newman's lawyers offered animal studies supposedly showing relevant biological effects of radiofrequency radiation -- the type of low-level radiation emitted by cell phones.

Judge Blake noted, however, "No peer-reviewed published study was identified [that] reported an increased risk of brain cancer from RFR at cell phone frequencies."

Newman's lawyers offered a study by the University of Washington's Dr. Henry Lai where rats exposed to RFR at a frequency of 2450 megahertz supposedly had more DNA strand breaks. DNA damage can result in a mutation that gives rise to a cancer cell.

Judge Blake found, however, Dr. Newman's cell phone frequency ranged from 824 to 848 megahertz, way below the frequency used in Lai's experiments.

Dr. Lai also acknowledged that RFR at cell phone levels is not a strong enough energy source to break chemical bonds and thereby cause DNA damage.

My favorite plaintiff's expert was Dr. Neil Cherry, a meteorologist called on to provide background testimony about RFR.

Dr. Cherry would have been more useful to the plaintiff's lawyers if he had forecast the storm of science that rained out the plaintiff's case.

Newman's lawsuit met a similar fate -- dismissal for lack of evidence -- as the 1993 cell phone lawsuit that was infamously announced on Larry King Live and that launched the cell phone scare.

It's comforting to know that while cell phone reception has improved, reception of cell phone junk science hasn't.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

Seven-year-old boy sacrificed to goddess Kali


Giridhar Gopal in Bhubaneswar

A seven-year-old boy, Sitakanta Behera, was sacrificed on the night of October 1 apparently to appease goddess Kali, police said on Friday.

Behera was kidnapped from his house, in Ranjagola village in Dhenkanal district, on the night of September 29 while he was asleep.

His father Pramod Behera lodged a complaint at local Balimi police station after which a police team led by district Deputy Superintendent of Police Banamali Mishra searched for the kidnappers.

The police picked Arta Sahu (23) from Ranjagola village, who confessed to kidnapping and sacrificing Sitakanta before goddess Kali in a temple located in a nearby forest in the same district.

Sahu said he had a dream that he would die if he did not sacrifice the boy to the deity.

When the police team raided the temple, they discovered severed body parts from different pits around the temple.

"We have arrested Sahu and registered a murder case against him under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code," a district police official told rediff.com.

The Silver Supplement Fraud


Guess who took the colloidal silver (CS)? Rosemary did. That's why she is slate-gray. The condition is called argyria. It is irreversible and cannot be covered by makeup.

Actually, Rosemary's doctor in New York prescribed CSP for her back in the fifties as a treatment for allergies. It was sold as a drug then. Today it is sold as a dietary supplement. You can find it in "health food" stores and on the Internet. You can even buy the equipment to make your own. It was snake oil when it was given to Rosemary. It is snake oil now.

Colloidal Silver:
Risk Without Benefit

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Colloidal silver is a suspension of submicroscopic metallic silver particles in a colloidal base. Long-term use of silver preparations can lead to argyria, a condition in which silver salts deposit in the skin, eyes, and internal organs, and the skin turns ashen-gray. Many cases of argyria occurred during the pre-antibiotic era when silver was a common ingredient in nosedrops. When the cause became apparent, doctors stopped recommending their use, and reputable manufacturers stopped producing them. The official drug guidebooks (United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary) have not listed colloidal silver products since 1975.

Dubious Ads

In recent years, silver-containing products have been marketed with unsubstantiated claims that they are effective against AIDS, cancer, infectious diseases, parasites, chronic fatigue, acne, warts, hemorrhoids, enlarged prostate, and many other diseases and conditions. Some marketers claim that colloidal silver is effective against hundreds of diseases.

Mother Teresa's 'miracle' challenged


By Subir Bhaumik

A miracle attributed to Mother Teresa has been challenged in the Indian state of West Bengal.

A rationalist group in the state says a woman reportedly cured of cancer by placing a photograph of the nun on her stomach had subsequently received treatment in government hospitals. Doctors who treated the woman, Monica Besra, say she was in pain several years after Mother Teresa died.

Vatican officials earlier this week approved the miracle, and said this would strengthen her case for sainthood.

For several years Prabir Ghosh, general secretary of the Indian Rationalist and Scientific Thinking Association, has challenged Hindu "godmen" and exposed their miracles as what he describes as cheap hypnotic tricks better performed by magicians.

Now he is challenging the claim of the Missionaries of Charity, who say a photograph of their founder, Mother Teresa, when placed over the stomach of 30-year-old Monica Besra, cured her of a tumour.

Undue publicity

Mr Ghosh described the claim as bogus and typical of the process of cult building in all religious orders. He says Mother Teresa could be considered for sainthood for her services to the poor, adding that it was an insult to her legacy to bestow her sainthood on false claims of miracles.

Mr Ghosh says several doctors have reported to the West Bengal government that Ms Besra continued to receive treatment long after Mother Teresa died.

He said Ms Besra was admitted to hospital with chronic headaches and severe abdominal pain at least a year after Mother Teresa's death. The doctors say that if the story of the miracle gets what they describe as undue publicity, illiterate and poor villagers may stop taking medical treatment for their maladies and seek miracle cures. Mr Ghosh says his association, which seeks to promote rational and scientific thinking in India, would expect the West Bengal Government to take legal action against the Missionaries of Charity.

When contacted, the Missionaries of Charity did not react to the charge.

'Charles Darwin': The Scientist Was Celebrated, His Work Dismissed

October 6, 2002

Charles Darwin's ''Origin of Species'' landed among the other new books of 1859 -- ''A Tale of Two Cities,'' ''Adam Bede,'' ''Idylls of the King'' and Samuel Smiles's ''Self-Help'' -- as an unlikely best seller, agreeably scandalous because its full meaning was only hinted at by its cautious author. Most readers were less interested in its science than in its air of emancipation. Although Lord Palmerston claimed that ''every class of society accepts with cheerfulness the lot which Providence has assigned to it,'' a restless, upwardly mobile reading public was willing to consider rival Providences that were less enamored of a static social hierarchy.

Even scientists debating Darwinism appeared less driven by the scientific issues than by broader commitments. Thomas Henry Huxley exulted that ''The Origin'' was a ''veritable Whitworth gun in the armory of liberalism,'' and though unconvinced about natural selection, proceeded to position himself as ''Darwin's bulldog.'' Huxley was no aberration. Darwin succeeded in persuading only one of his close scientific allies, the botanist Joseph Hooker, that selection was the chief engine of evolution.

John Tooby's book ''Universal Minds'' (with Leda Cosmides) is due out this winter. He is co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


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