NTS LogoSkeptical News for 22 October 2002

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Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – October 22, 2002

from The Washington Post

A nondescript limestone box, looted from a Jerusalem cave and held secretly in a private collection in Israel, carries an inscription that could be the earliest known archaeological reference to Jesus, according to new research released yesterday.

The box, an ossuary used at the time of Jesus to hold bones of the deceased that dates to about 60 A.D., has almost no ornamentation except for a simple Aramaic inscription: Ya 'a kov bar Yosef a khui Yeshua -- "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

Andre Lemaire, a French philologist and epigrapher who is the first scholar known to have studied the box, believes the inscription refers to Jesus of Nazareth.

"I was very excited," said Lemaire, who was invited by the ossuary's owner to examine it this spring. "Could it be James [English translation for the Old Testament Jacob], the brother of Jesus? There was no mention of Nazareth, but it was very impressive."


from Newsday

Researchers have devised a clever genetic technique in mice that can regulate the production of the abnormal protein that causes Huntington's disease.

Ai Yamamoto, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, created an animal model that exhibits all the signs of the lethal disease: brain damage and impaired movement. When the mutant gene is shut off, toxic protein deposits clear out and the animal improves substantially. Yamamoto presented her findings last week at the American Neurological Association's annual meeting in Manhattan.

The study raises many questions about the nature of neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington's and Alzheimer's and whether these diseases can be reversed in humans.

"The work is extraordinary," said Dr. Anne B. Young, a Huntington's investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "... We've always thought that neurodegeneration was irreversible. Turning gene expression off can clear out the pathology and improve function."


from The Associated Press

NICE, France - An experimental drug that targets cancer in an entirely new way has yielded disappointing results when combined with chemotherapy for lung cancer patients, but experts remain convinced it has a role in fighting cancer.

The drug, called Iressa, was very impressive in early studies of lung cancer patients who had not been helped by any other therapy.

However, it had no effect when combined with chemotherapy and given as first-line treatment to more than 2,000 patients in two large trials, researchers reported Monday.

Even so, experts gathered in Nice for a meeting of the European Society of Medical Oncology said it's just a question of determining how best to use the drug and who should get it.


from The New York Times

TURKEY POINT, Ontario — When a botulism outbreak hit this provincial park on Lake Erie in early September, it closed the beach. Thousands of dead fish, their white bellies glinting in the sun, washed up on the sandy shore. Hundreds of cormorants, gulls and terns fed on the dead sheephead, burbot and perch and quickly keeled over.

It was one of about two dozen sudden, random outbreaks this summer and fall on the shores of Lake Erie. Over the past four years dozens of similar outbreaks have occurred, all involving type E botulism, a rare strain of the potent nerve toxin. Experts say they still do not know what to make of the outbreaks.

Biologists are holding their breath, for over the next six weeks or so, migratory loons and the diving ducks called mergansers will make their way from Canada to the gulf coast for the winter. More than 8,000 common loons have been killed by the botulism, and the species is already in peril from overdevelopment. "This is just another hit," said Dr. Grace McLaughlin, a wildlife disease specialist at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. "It's pretty scary."


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (October 21, 2002 7:56 p.m. EDT) - In a step toward creating herds of pigs that could provide organs for transplanting into humans, Italian researchers manipulated swine sperm to make an animal strain that carries human genes in the heart, liver and kidneys.

Researchers at the University of Milan mixed swine sperm with the DNA of a human gene called decay accelerating factor, or DAF, and then used the modified sperm to fertilize pig eggs. The eggs were implanted into sows to produce litters of pigs that carried the human gene.

"What we obtain at high efficiency and low cost is genetically modified pigs expressing the human protein," said Dr. Marialuisa Lavitrano, a University of Milan researcher and first author of the study appearing Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lavitrano said that 205 piglets in 20 litters were produced using the modified sperm technique and the human genes were present in 20 to 50 percent of the young. Tests showed that the human genes were present in the animals' central organs and that the human genes would be passed along to later generations of pigs.


from The New York Times

A new Trojan War has broken out. In the warrior roles of Achilles and Hector are two respected professors on the same German university faculty who could not differ more fully and vehemently over what to make of the ruins at the presumed site in western Turkey of the legendary siege in the 13th century B.C. immortalized by Homer.

One adversary, an archaeologist who has directed excavations there since 1988, contends that he has found telling evidence of Troy as a much larger and more important city than previously thought. Surveys and excavations, he says, disclose the outlines of a densely settled town reaching 1,300 feet south of the hilltop citadel.

This greater Troy, with an estimated population of up to 10,000, sizable for the time, is now being portrayed as a thriving center of Late Bronze Age commerce at a strategic point in shipping between the Aegean and Black Seas. It seemed to have been a place worth fighting over (if indeed there is any historical basis to Homer's "Iliad").

Where is the proof, the other combatant, an ancient historian, demands to know. Accusing the Troy archaeologist of "willful deceit," he argues that excavations have turned up no firm evidence of such a large town outside the acropolis. At best, he insists, Troy in that period was only a princely seat, a castle and little else of consequence.


from Newsday

The idea of tracing guns back to the people who use them is as elusive as it is enticing.

One idea under discussion is to make guns traceable via "fingerprinting," testing every gun before it leaves the manufacturer for the unique marks it leaves on bullets and casings. Prominent supporters of such a nationwide "ballistic fingerprint" system include the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Million Mom March.

But forensics experts warn that devising such a system, even though it seems logical, is likely to be unreliable. That's because guns can be easily altered. And, of course, millions of unsampled guns are already in people's hands.

To change the kinds of marks a firing pin and a breach block make on a brass cartridge, for example, only simple tools and little skill are needed. Also, the gun's barrel can be rebored, honed or simply allowed to rust, and the marks it leaves on a bullet change.


from The Boston Globe

In a small lab just off Albany Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Seth Lloyd holds a shiny gem that might help make modern computer technology obsolete. ''It's calcium fluoride,'' Lloyd explained. ''You could call it weapons-grade toothpaste.''

The pale purplish crystal is not some kind of high-tech dental spy tool, but part of a research experiment in the quest for quantum computing, a completely new way to crunch numbers and process data. If quantum computing can be perfected, it will revolutionize everything we know about computers.

Computing is no stranger to revolutions. Nowadays your Playstation or GameCube has more computing power than the first supercomputers. Yet, in a sense, computers as we know them today are destined to die of their own success. Whether we like it or not, another revolution is on the way.

Sometime around 2020, researchers reckon, each transistor will have shrunk to the size of a single atom. The magnitude of data storage at this scale is unprecedented. ''If you could put a bit of information on a single atom, you could store way more than the Library of Congress on the head of a pin,'' Lloyd said.


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More about the promotion of Islam (and the teaching of Muslim woo-woo as "history") in California schools

From: The Textbook League ttl@textbookleague.org

Earlier in this year, newspaper articles drew attention to two commercial products -- a textbook and a "simulation" document -- that are used for promoting Islam in public schools in California. (The newspaper articles included "Text's lessons on Islam questioned" (written by Ryan McCarthy) in the Sacramento Bee for 10 February 2002; "Think Like a Muslim" (by Daniel Pipes) in the New York Post for 11 February 2002; "Islam for kids: Required course" (by David Kiefer) in the San Francisco Examiner for 25 February 2002; and " 'Become a Muslim warrior' " (by Daniel Pipes) in the Jerusalem Post for 2 July 2002.)

In both the textbook and the simulation document, Muslim myths are disguised as historical information, Muslim superstitions are disguised as facts, pivotal features of Islam are falsified or concealed, and students are impelled to embrace the religion of Allah.

The textbook is Across the Centuries, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Across the Centuries has been adopted in the State of California as a 7th-grade history book. An analysis of the religious preaching and religious indoctrination delivered in Across the Centuries was added to the Web site of The Textbook League in September.

The simulation document is titled ISLAM: A Simulation of Islamic History and Culture, 610-1100. It is produced and distributed by Interaction Publishers, Inc. (of Carlsbad, California), which does business under the name "Interact.") ISLAM: A Simulation consists of lesson plans and handouts for a three-week program of instruction in which students "will simulate becoming Muslims" and allegedly "will learn about the history and culture of Islam." In 2000, the State of California granted legal-compliance approval to ISLAM: A Simulation. This cleared the way for school districts to buy copies of ISLAM: A Simulation with state funds. A review of ISLAM: A Simulation has just been added to the Web site of The Textbook League. You will find it at http://www.textbookleague.org/filth.htm

We have also added a new article called "Joy Hakim Should Not Write About the History of Europe." It exposes some of the misinformation, disinformation and exhibitions of bias in Book 2 of the schoolbook series A History of US_, and it emphasizes items that sanitize Islam, glorify Islam, and credit Muslims with imaginary achievements. You will find it at http://www.textbookleague.org/whealey.htm

Bill Bennetta

'Creative' approach to teaching religion draws fire

from the March 19, 2002 edition


By Shira Boss | Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Having students walk a mile in someone else's moccasins is a common teaching tool, used by teachers to bring historical topics alive. Kids might act out a battle, take sides in a historical debate, or build a replica of an ancient village or city.

But insert religion into the process, and suddenly an engaging approach can become fraught with problems.

Education about religious holidays, particularly Christian ones, has long been a lightning rod for parental concerns. But this year, not surprisingly, Islam as a faith has come under particular scrutiny.

Study about Islam was already part of many school curriculums. But some parents have raised concerns about classroom activities they say are tantamount to practicing the religion instead of learning about it – and in the process have renewed a debate about how religion should be addressed in schools.

"[Role-playing] is a wonderful tool, and schools should continue to do creative things with kids so they stay engaged," says Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "But when you get creative, there's always a danger."

The most recent controversy is in California, where state standards require seventh-graders to "analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages."

One parent has claimed that the middle-school textbook "Across the Centuries" takes students beyond this mandate because of what she sees as a bias toward Islam and against Christianity.

"The text specifically displays its bias by only citing Christianity for examples of religious persecution, focusing on church schisms, crusades, and inquisitions," says a statement from the Pacific Justice Institute, which is representing the San Luis Obispo parent.

'Creative' approach to teaching religion draws fire

From: The Textbook League ttl@textbookleague.org

Houghton Mifflin's book _Across the Centuries_ is an instrument of Muslim religious indoctrination, and is full of fake "history" concocted by a Muslim pressure group. See my article at http://www.textbookleague.org/centu.htm

When the book's religious purpose was recognized and exposed, the publisher issued defensive public statements which included sanctimonious maunderings, plain lies, and attempts to deny what was obvious to anyone who had seen the book. One of the publisher's few statements that were _not_ lies or double-talk was the statement, cited above, about the book's chronological scope. The charge that the book gave more space to the origins of Islam than to the origins of Christianity was absurd and idiotic, because _Across the Centuries_ did not cover the period in which Christianity arose.

Bill Bennetta

Monday, October 21, 2002

Naked man 'disguised himself as ghost to rob tourists'

From Ananova at


Police in Zimbabwe have arrested a thief who allegedly disguised himself as a ghost and robbed foreigners at a tourist site. Police say the thief worked naked with his body daubed in ash. He is accused of taking goods and money worth 20 million Zimbabwe dollars (£232,000) over a four-year period from tourists visiting the Great Zimbabwe monument, an ancient stone-walled citadel. According to the Herald newspaper, some tourists even believed the 'ghost' was the godfather of the monuments, angry with constantly visiting foreigners.

The Herald says police ended the bogus bogeyman's spree last week when they raided his home in Masvingo, south of Harare.

Story filed: 11:06 Monday 21st October 2002

Mayor erects wooden crosses to ward off angry spirits

From Ananova at


A Romanian town mayor has erected four huge wooden crosses to ward off the spirits he believes are behind a series of accidents on local roads . Mayor Mircia Munteanu, from Deva, said 40 people had died this year alone in accidents on local roads.

He says soil from a local cemetery was used to build the roads and he believes the spirits of people buried there were disturbed. Mayor Munteanu has erected four 10ft wooden crosses at the roadside and called in local priests to bless them.

He told Romanian daily Curierul National: "Soil from a local cemetery was used to build these roads a few years ago and I believe the spirits of those who were once at rest were disturbed."

Story filed: 14:11 Monday 21st October 2002

Unique Chinese Fossils Help Rewrite Book of Life


"Dinosaurs are not extinct, and their descendants are living in the same world as humans." Sounds like an advertisement for a science fiction story.

The words, printed on the name card of a Chinese paleontologist, reflect the landmark findings and the latest research. Chinese scientists are making a big impact on world paleontological research as they have discovered the most extraordinary fossils over the past decade.

"China has complex tectonic plates and abundant fossils, and the discovery of many rare fossils in recent years has attracted the attention of the international scientific community," said Yang Zunyi, a 94-year-old academician from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the top scientific research body in the country.

Outstanding Paleontological Fossils

Guizhou, one of China's economically backward provinces, standsout at the beginning of the 21st century because of its numerous unique paleontological discoveries. It has become known worldwide as the "Kingdom of fossils (or of paleontology)."

The earliest known animal embryo fossil, roughly 670 million years old, was found beautifully preserved in phosphorite rock in southern Guizhou. Another 220 million years old fossil site in the province yielded a world treasure of rich and finely preserved specimens of encrinite and aquicolous reptiles.

"Paleontologists are flocking to Guizhou from all over the world. They feel they are fortunate to be able to see such unique fossils and to have chance to further their research," Dr. Wang Shangyan, general engineer of the geological and mineral survey bureau of the province, says.

The complex geology and diverse climate here has helped the survival of the world's largest forest of spindle tree ferns throughout the same latitudes and the dinosaur's favorite food in the Mesozoic era. In local museums, various types of dinosaur fossils are on display and speak of the evolution of eons.

Outside the Guizhou Province, new stunning fossil discoveries have been made throughout the country over the past few years. These discoveries all contributed to what paleontologists worldwide call the "rewriting of the evolutionary book of life".

Birds Origin

Since the 1990s many feathered dinosaurs' fossils have been found in western Liaoning Province, northeast China. Subsequent research linked the feather-like skins of the fossils to the plumage of birds. The feathered fossil specimen was later named Sinosauropteryx.

The link between dinosaurs and birds was first proposed by British scientist Dr. Thomas Henry Huxley in the mid-1800s. Paleontologists split into the two groups who continued sometimes acrimonious debates over avian origins and whether or not there was a link with dinosaurs.

The fossilized Sinosauropteryx is believed to be the dinosaur-bird link. The discovery answered the question about the appearance of "protofeathers" and so gave convincing evidence of the evolution of birds from small theropods, carnivorous bipedal dinosaurs with small forelimbs.

An even more startling find was made on July 22, 2002, in Liaoning's Yixian County, where Chinese scientists discovered the fossil of what was described as the Shenzhouraptor Sinensis, a theropod dinosaur that had been able to fly.

The discovery, the only parallel to Archaeopteryx, the most primitive avialae bird found in Germany in 1860, gave key proof tothe theory of the evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

The dove-sized Cretaceous Shenzhouraptor Sinensis, was only the second such primitive bird-type creature ever found in the world. It was at the same evolutionary stage as the Archaeopteryx, according to Dr. Ji Qiang, the fossil finder who worked with the Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

Judging from its shoulder girdle, beak, breastbone, limbs and feathers, avian paleontologists were certain that the new avialae bird was really capable of flight and is the missing link between theropod dinosaurs and modern birds.

Critics have long said the research into the evolution of birds from dinosaurs has lacked "the vital intermediary link." The discovery of the Shenzhouraptor Sinensis has filled the gap. This discovery not only put an end to the long-standing debates but unfolded a new landscape for further research," said Zhang Hongtao,deputy head of the China Geological Survey.

Vertebrates and Plants

Yunnan Province, in south China, is another paleontological hotspot. The fossils of fish-like creatures that could be the earliest known vertebrates were found in 1999 on the outskirts of Kunming, capital of Yunnan in southwest China. The creature, older than the previously found Wenchang Fish thought of the ancestor of vertebrates, was named the Haikouichtyus.

Being the world's oldest fish aged more than half a billion years, the Haikouichtyus has extended by a startling 50 million years the time when key features of vertebrates appeared. This finding was hailed by an American scholar as "an extraordinary achievement by humans in the remodeling the history of life on earth."

Back in western Liaoning Province, Chinese botanists found the fossils of the most primitive species of angiosperm, a plant whose ovules are enclosed in an ovary, according to the official website of the China Geological Survey. A new family based on the finds has been set up within the angiosperm phylum.

For a century, debate continued about the time and place of the origin of angiosperm. The discovery of the new genus has assured a solution to the problem.

The respected US Journal Science dedicated nine pages of stories and graphics in its first issue last year to give credit to China's outstanding research into paleontological fossils in recent years.

"Within lees than a decade, there have been found in China a staggering array of fossils of great significance to key evolutionary phases of life, and the country's paleontological research has jumped from being unremarkable to being the mainstay internationally," said Henry Gee, senior biology editor of the prestigious Nature journal based in Britain.

"I know many unique fossil specimens are still being researched, and I believe more spectacular findings will surface in near future in China," Ma Fucheng, deputy director of China's National Committee for Natural Sciences Fund, noted.

People's Daily Online --- http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/

Articles of Note

Selling the Free Lunch
By Graham P. Collins
Scientific American


"In recent decades crackpot inventors have focused on a variant of perpetual-motion machines known as free-energy devices or over-unity generators. These contraptions supposedly output more power than they take in, generally by drawing on an implausible font of energy hitherto unknown to science. The motionless electromagnetic generator discussed last month is a good example. At first it appears to be based on misconceptions about magnets, but it turns out the inventors have published a physics paper describing a "higher symmetry electrodynamics" that would allow infinite energy to be extracted from the vacuum by their device."

A case of mistaken identity
by Yoginder Gupta


"It was a case of mistaken identity which led to the lynching of five innocent persons by a mob in Jhajjar district on Dasehra day. The mob mistook the victims, who were Dalits, for cow slaughterers. Preliminary investigations into the shocking incident suggest that the victims were, in fact, traders of animal skins, according to highly placed sources."

Ira flops with the jury
By Jacqueline Soteropoulos
Philadelphia Inquirer


""The Unicorn" will spend the rest of his life in a cage."

Feeling Antigravity's Pull
By Adam Rogers


""Don't call it antigravity research," Ron Koczor pleads. He's a physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and he's talking about a project he's been working on for almost a decade. "Call it 'gravity modification.' 'Gravity anomalies.' Anything but antigravity. That's a red flag.""

Phantom or phenomenon?
St. Petersburg Times


"Old Fort Niagara has a ghost, of course, and that's as it should be. It would be hard to imagine a more likely home for a spirit."

'Faith healer' jailed for sex assault of girl
Toronto Globe & Mail


"A professed faith healer who persuaded a superstitious mother to let him sleep with her daughter from the age of 10 until she was 16 to remove a curse has been convicted of sexual-abuse charges and jailed for 15 months."

Doctor claims pressure to ratify Teresa's 'miracle'
by M Chhaya


"A doctor who treated Monica Besra, the tribal woman whom Mother Teresa is believed to have miraculously cured, has alleged that some persons claiming to represent the Roman Catholic Church and the Missionaries of Charity are trying to pressurise him to pass off the case as an inexplicable medical phenomenon."

Tale of big bird catches some air
By Peter Porco
Anchorage Daily News


"A newspaper story this week about the sightings of a large bird in Southwest Alaska turned out to have wings."

When Risk Ruptures Life
New York Times


"AS he prepared last week for a trip to the nation's capital, Arnold I. Barnett, a professor of statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reassured himself that his risk of being shot by the Washington area sniper was "statistically low." Then he worried he might get shot."

Scientific Fakery
Talk of the Nation


"A committee convened by Bell Labs has concluded that one of its physicists falsified and fabricated data in several journal articles. In this hour, we'll talk about scientific fakery and how to safeguard against it."

Book, Chapter and Verse
Denver Westworld


"In the beginning, the Big Bang created the heavens and the earth. The Big Bang, not God. Also, camels and lions were never immortal, and neither were humans, who actually used to be monkeys. Oh, and get this: The Earth is billions of years old, not six thousand, like the Bible tells us."

For More Stories Visit: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/skepticsearch/

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 21, 2002

from The Washington Post

For centuries, farmers have sought to discover and modify crops that can grow in otherwise inhospitable areas -- places that are too dry, too salty and too cold. While plant breeding has led to some advances, the progress has been slow, and frost, drought and high salinity still greatly limit global agriculture.

But new research has begun to explain how plants adapt to hostile conditions, and advances in biotechnology have allowed scientists to start to use and significantly expand those adaptations.

Using genetic material already in a plant, researchers have been able to supercharge the plant's natural defenses, and allow it to survive usually fatal drought, cold and salinity. Other scientists have been able to move genes from organisms able to withstand great water and temperature stress into other plants, with significant success.

Most of this work has been done in greenhouses and growth chambers, and the technology is not ready for regulatory review or commercial use. But researchers are optimistic that crops in the future can be designed to withstand far more adversity than today. And if they can, the benefits could be substantial.


from UPI

PALO ALTO, Calif. - By linking together thousands of computers from around the world, scientists said Sunday they have harnessed enough computing power to simulate accurately how proteins fold in the body, an advancement that could lead to a better understanding of and treatments for diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to mad cow.

Protein folding is a process by which proteins assume precise three- dimensional shapes, which are necessary for them to carry out their function in the body. It is critical to understand this process because "a lot of diseases are caused by protein misfolding," Vijay Pande, assistant professor of chemistry and of structural biology at Stanford University and co-author of the research, told United Press International.

"When this process goes wrong a lot of bad things can happen," said Pande, noting protein misfolding may play a role in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of mad cow disease.

Unfortunately, protein folding happens so rapidly, in units as small as millionths of a second, it is difficult to study the process in real time. So computer simulations have been suggested as an alternative but up to this point the massive number of calculations involved have proven to be too much for single computers to handle. Using one computer, "it would take 10,000 days or 30 years just to see one protein fold," Pande said.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists at UCSF are reporting today they have developed a highly sensitive test to detect the infectious proteins that have caused mad cow disease in Europe and other deadly disorders that afflict sheep, deer and elk in both Europe and America.

By identifying infected cattle even before they show symptoms of the degenerative disorder, the test should also help prevent transmission of the disease-causing proteins to humans, said Dr. Jiri Safar, the lead author of the report.

The lack of a fast, effective test hampered efforts to stem the mad cow epidemic in Europe during the 1980s and '90s, when 120 people died from eating infected beef and hundreds of thousands of cattle were destroyed out of concern that they were carriers of the disease.

The new immunoassay system takes about a year -- between 220 and 400 days -- to produce results. But that is still much faster than the current systems now used by European agencies monitoring cattle for mad cow disease, which take two to nine years to accurately detect the disease-causing proteins.


from The Chicago Tribune

Nobody is more optimistic about nanotechnology than Don Freed.

The Harvard University-trained chemist works in a field many predict will be as important to this century as computer chips were to the last.

Yet to hear him and his peers talk is like listening to a bunch of inventors toasting their exciting futures while worrying about getting inebriated.

"We need to create a business that will survive the investment bubble and not become a dot-com industry," Freed, a vice president at Nanophase Technologies Corp. in Romeoville, told more than 200 scientists and business people gathered in Chicago last week.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Refusing to let some things fall where they may, scientists are taking another look at the eternal mystery of why leaves change color in autumn.

Preparing for winter is a kaleidoscopic occasion for many trees, particularly the hardwoods native to the Eastern and Midwestern United States and widely planted in California's desertlike, naturally golden-hued suburbs.

More than a tourist draw, leaf coloration also is intensive research by biologists, who study foliage pigmentation to track photosynthesis rates, unravel the defensive strategies of all kinds of plants, and follow the impact of climate change and pollution on the landscape.

Paul Schaberg, plant physiologist for the U.S. Forest Service in Burlington, Vt., said investigations of fall foliage have been driven partly by pure curiosity, "just wanting to understand it because it's out there and in our face so dramatically."

For more on leaf coloration, make sure to read the "Why Leaves Turn Red" article in the current issue of American Scientist magazine. Below is a link to the abstract and accompanying images:


from Newsday

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Molecular biologist Keith Woeste squats down among rows of young, musky-smelling black walnut trees and grasps one tree's trunk to eye a slender branch.

These aren't ordinary black walnut trees -- they're integral to an ambitious bid by Purdue University scientists to create faster-growing, richer-grained and disease-resistant hardwood trees.

The goal is superior black walnut, black cherry and northern red oak trees - - a trio coveted by the fine furniture and wood flooring industry -- that can be planted by the millions in tree plantations.

"If we can domesticate hardwood trees, that means you can eventually leave the wild ones where they are in the woods because you've made something that's better," Woeste said.


from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Scientists in California and Virginia will try to decode the genetic makeup of two plant-destroying microbes, including one blamed for killing tens of thousands of oak trees along the West Coast.

Backed by $4 million in federal grants, the scientists hope to sequence the genomes of the two species of Phytophthora to find ways to track, detect and eventually treat both diseases.

The more notorious microbe is P. ramorum, which causes sudden oak death syndrome. It has killed tens of thousands of black oak, coast live oak and tan oak trees in Northern California and southern Oregon since it appeared in 1995. This year, scientists discovered coast redwoods and Douglas fir are also susceptible, as are at least 14 other plant species.

"We're really worried this could be the beginning of something terrible," Jeffrey Boore of the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute said of the infestation.


from The Chicago Tribune

At the age of 51, a family physician in a midsize southwestern city joined the ranks of an estimated 4 million Americans who are victims of prescription drug abuse.

"I took a Xanax pill that my wife had been prescribed to help her sleep, and I felt normal," said the doctor, who asked that his name not be used. "I didn't feel high, I just felt normal. My anxiety was gone. I was calm. It was a wonderful feeling."

The doctor's psychiatrist said "great" and prescribed Xanax for him. But it wasn't long before the doctor found he had to up the dose to retain that feeling of normalcy. When his Xanax supply ran low, he turned to alcohol to supplement its calming effect.

Xanax, a perfectly legal drug, is a member of the sedative-depressant family of pharmaceuticals known as benzodiazepines, and it is widely prescribed for anxiety and panic attacks.

The problem with Xanax is that it is too efficient, according to drug abuse therapists. It is the most potent and fastest-acting of the benzodiazepines, properties that can quickly make the brain become dependent on it.


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You are a soldier in the data war


Jon Carroll

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

SEPARATING TRUTH FROM falsehood: never easy. There are always people who seek to deceive, and there are always people ready to believe them. Additionally, there are a great many urban legends, factoids that do not appear to benefit any specific person or cause but are nevertheless mere -oids, not facts.

(It is too bad that "factoid," a very useful word meaning "something that many people believe but that is not true," has mutated and now means "a small or concisely stated fact." The neologism for that should be "factette," but I fear the damage has been done. Goodbye, "factoid" -- you were darned useful in your day.)

Do not hang your head if you've believed an urban legend. This space has printed at least three in its 20 years of operation; the source was "usually reliable," but "usually" does not mean "always." Many of you have passed on to me the Caesar-Shakespeare "drums of war" quote, which, alas, is entirely bogus.

Probably you liked the sentiments expressed. And it's so easy to send it out to your mailing list. I strongly discourage mass e-mailings of stuff that you received in e-mail. Original work is different: If you want to type in a lovely story about your visit to the seashore and send it to your friends, be my guest, although I don't promise to read it.

Remember: You are a soldier in the data war. It is important that you use only real bullets.

Did you get that photo of the shark leaping out of the water to nip at the heels of a guy hanging from a ladder below a helicopter? Bogus. The photo of George Bush holding a children's book upside down while reading it? Bogus. Also, the standard U.S. railroad gauge does not derive from the space between the wheels of a Roman chariot. John Kennedy appearing hatless did not ruin the American hat industry, feminists did not routinely burn their bras in demonstrations and King Christian X of Denmark did not don a yellow star when the Nazis ordered all Jews in his country to wear one.

There are many places to check urban legends on the Web; my favorite is www.snopes2.com.

IT'S NOT JUST e-mail you should distrust. Newspapers, television, radio, everything -- just because people are paid to say it doesn't make it right. Last week on-air humans employed by CBS, ABC and CNN (among others) informed us of a world decline in blondes so severe that within 200 years, there would be no blondes left on earth.

They cited a World Health Organization study on the matter. (WHO has a lot on its mind right now; the possibility that it's out there studying hair color is vanishingly small. That might have set off an alarm bell.) Turned out it was based on some 2-year-old article in a German women's magazine that quoted a not-real person.

AND DON'T TRUST me, either. I try to bring you the very best in fact and opinion, but I write about 190,000 words a year, and they can't all be right. There is also a distinction between "wrong" in the factual sense and "wrong" in the "evidence suggests that your scenario would result in disaster" sense. I would love to run the many thoughtful letters I get disagreeing with me on items such as capping insurance rates, centralizing intelligence agencies and voting Green in November. So use your head, not mine. A good information soldier never follows orders.

Just last week, after an interesting exchange, I wrote a reader named Adam Wilt, saying that I might have been wrong. He wrote back: " 'Wrong' is such a harsh judgment. I prefer to think that your solution was, as we geeks say, simply underconstrained."

Plebes, overconstrain!

Einhorn defense to invoke paranormal


Posted on Wed, Oct. 09, 2002 story:PUB_DESC

By Jennifer Lin
Inquirer Staff Writer

One courtroom wag at the Ira Einhorn murder trial dubbed it the X-Files defense.

And as a legal tack, it's a doozy.

With the trial shifting to the defense today, Einhorn will argue that he was framed for the beating death of Holly Maddux because he knew too much about secret mind-control weapons. Einhorn has maintained that unknown persons put a trunk with Maddux's mummified body in his closet, resulting in his arrest in 1979.

"He thinks he stepped on toes in doing this mind-control research and paranormal, psychological research," said William Cannon, Einhorn's lawyer.

"But he's going to have to sell that to the jury," Cannon said yesterday. "He absolutely has to be able to give to the jury the possibility that people wanted to embarrass him and put him in a predicament where he would basically be out of the way.

"If he can't do that," Cannon added, "he has no hope for an acquittal, because the body in the trunk is too overwhelming as a piece of circumstantial evidence."

In a nine-page, handwritten essay that Einhorn wrote last month - titled "A Snapshot of My 70s" - he gives a preview of what's to come when he takes the witness stand, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

He painted himself as "a social change agent, consultant, futurist and learner" who was on the verge of greatness when he was arrested.

"I was busted for a murder I did not commit and all my work on mind control and free energy became history," Einhorn wrote from his cell.

In the essay, which was circulated via e-mail to supporters and the media before the Common Pleas Court trial, Einhorn dropped more names than a gossip columnist - from City Councilman W. Thacher Longstreth to futurist Alvin Toffler and a mysterious "Prince of Iran."

He portrayed himself as a peripatetic '70s activist, involved in the antiwar movement and black empowerment, as well as investigating the CIA and the heroin trade, UFOs, and President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

But he explained how his trouble began with his exploration into "psychotronic mind-control weaponry." So-called psychotronic weapons, popular in science fiction, allegedly harness telepathic power and radio waves to control and influence people from afar.

George Smith, a technology writer in Pasadena, Calif., who edits the online Crypt Newsletter, said these weapons simply do not exist.

Smith, who focuses on issues involving national security and technology, said psychotronic weaponry was a pop subject during the Cold War era that gave way in the 1990s to talk of "electromagnetic pulse guns."

With both, Smith said, no one has been able to take talk and theories and construct actual weapons, subject to scientific scrutiny.

"You never see any examples of any devices that can do the kinds of things that are described," Smith said. "It's the domain of charlatans and the gullible."

He added that in the '60s and '70s, military and intelligence agencies did fund research on such paranormal topics as telepathy, but those projects went nowhere. "The evidence is that the FBI and CIA can't get inside everyone's head and don't have psychotronic powers," Smith said.

"Psychotronic? Never heard of it," said Lt. Col. Jimmy Wyrick, executive officer of the U.S. Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences in Washington. "Sounds kind of far-fetched."

At the Washington office of the publisher of Jane's Defence Weekly, a magazine about military news and weaponry, editors opted to steer clear.

"We do not have any information on this topic, or any editors who could verify whether such weaponry exists," said Melissa Golding, a Jane's spokeswoman.

Einhorn, however, said he believed his life was in danger because of his mind-control research. He said he received reports from inside the Soviet Union about mind-control devices "so chilling that I only shared some of the content, not the actual reports, with two people."

Einhorn also wrote that he had enlisted the former president of the Franklin Institute, Bowen Dees, to work with him on a conference in honor of Nikola Tesla, an inventor and electrical engineer. Einhorn claimed that Tesla worked on mind-control and free-energy devices that created energy without using fuel.

Dees, now retired in Southern California, was surprised to learn of his mention in Einhorn's statement.

"Ira was an interesting character," said Dees, who headed the institute from 1970 to 1982. "But my interaction with him was minimal."

Einhorn wrote that in the '70s, he also got involved in the "Geller project," a reference to Uri Geller, the spoon-bending psychic. Einhorn said that through this work, he became convinced of the possibility of "free energy devices... that would solve our energy problem."

"Unfortunately, all new technology can be used as weaponry as well as for human benefit," Einhorn wrote. "I was soon up to my ears in a multi-pronged intelligence game that is still waiting to be unravelled."

Contact Jennifer Lin
at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.

Cosmic rays 'linked to clouds'

Saturday, 19 October, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent


German scientists have found a significant piece of evidence linking cosmic rays to climate change.

They have detected charged particle clusters in the lower atmosphere that were probably caused by the space radiation.

They say the clusters can lead to the condensed nuclei which form into dense clouds.

Clouds play a major, but as yet not fully understood, role in the dynamics of the climate, with some types acting to cool the planet and others warming it up.

The amount of cosmic rays reaching Earth is largely controlled by the Sun, and many solar scientists believe the star's indirect influence on Earth's global climate has been underestimated.

Some think a significant part of the global warming recorded in 20th Century may in fact have its origin in changes in solar activity - not just in the increase in fossil-fuel-produced greenhouse gases.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Quirks predict California quake


Fri Oct 18, 8:18 PM ET
By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The prognosticators are at war over whether a full moon on Monday will produce California's next big earthquake.

Among the signs that it will: the San Francisco Giants are in another all-California World Series. Among the signs that it won't: not enough cats have run away.

Thirteen years after a 6.9 magnitude tremor shook San Francisco, causing much damage and the postponement of the third game of the 1989 World Series -- the last to feature two California teams -- some earthquake predictors say conditions are ripe for another Fall Classic shaker.

In "Predicting the Next Great Quake," written in 1996, author David Nabhan published an earthquake almanac for Southern California that pinpointed Monday as a likely earthquake day because of a lining up of the moon, sun and Earth, known as "syzygy" (SISS-a-gee).

Although seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey said predicting large and destructive earthquakes is impossible, Nabhan and others subscribe to the theory that most large earthquakes happen during full moon or new moon syzygies.

Chiropractic and the NFL


October 2002

First Down and Chiropractic to Go


When you witness a crushing tackle during a game of Monday Night Football, you probably wonder how these guys can continue to get out and play again the following week. Besides simply being big and tough, one way players in the National Football League (NFL) get back on their feet is through chiropractic treatment. Sports chiropractors focus on treating injuries of the muscles and bones. With back pain alone appearing in as many as 75% of professional athletes every year, and possibly even a greater percentage of football players, NFL players are requiring chiropractic care for their aches and pains.

To determine the use of chiropractic in the NFL, a questionnaire was sent to the head athletic trainers of every team in the league. The questions related to frequency and type of treatment used to treat injured players. Of the two-thirds of all trainers who responded, the results indicate a strong use of chiropractic:

1. 45% of the NFL trainers had personally seen a chiropractor;
2. 77% of trainers had referred players to a chiropractor; and
3. 31% of NFL teams had an official chiropractor on their staff.

Feeling Antigravity's Pull


Can NASA stop the apple from falling on Newton's head?
By Adam Rogers
Posted Friday, October 18, 2002, at 8:30 AM PT

"Don't call it antigravity research," Ron Koczor pleads. He's a physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and he's talking about a project he's been working on for almost a decade. "Call it 'gravity modification.' 'Gravity anomalies.' Anything but antigravity. That's a red flag."

When people find out that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has researchers working on sci-fi stuff like antigravity—or rather, "gravity modification"—the red flags do indeed start waving. Reputable scientists like Koczor earn polite disdain from colleagues (or worse, from funders of research). But truth's truth: NASA has been studying the manipulation of gravity for at least 10 years, as have nongovernment researchers.

NASA began its work after a Russian physicist named Evgeny Podkletnov published an article in the peer-reviewed journal Physica C in 1992. Podkletnov claimed that a device built around a superconductor and a magnet could shield an object from gravity. The trick, he said, was to make a superconducting disc about a foot in diameter, chill it, levitate it over magnets—a nifty property of superconductors is that they repel magnetic fields—and set it revolving like a compact disc. Podkletnov said an object placed above that contraption lost 0.3 percent of its weight. The object itself didn't change. Rather, gravity's effect on it lessened.

If that effect could be harnessed and strengthened, the aerospace industry would be upended. Vessels bound for space wouldn't have to ride atop massive, barely controlled explosions. All the energy human beings expend moving things around, from cargo to cars, could be reduced or eliminated. And post-Einsteinian physics would have to be rewritten to explain what the hell was going on. Podkletnov called the effect "gravitational force shielding," and even in the absence of a good theory to explain the phenomenon, other researchers took notice. "Because his experiment and results were published in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, that gave it a level of credibility," Koczor says.

After Podkletnov published his article, it took NASA until 1999 to figure out how to make a large, thin superconducting disc. Ceramic high-temperature superconductors are brittle as cheap china, and the discs kept shattering. Once they solved that problem, NASA paid Columbus, Ohio-based SCI Engineered Materials $650,000 to build the entire apparatus. But Podkletnov had called for a disc with two layers, one superconducting and one not, and SCI didn't solve that engineering challenge until last year. Then they hit another roadblock. The disc wouldn't spin. SCI engineers stuck a rotor through the disc's center to turn it mechanically, but Podkletnov specified 5,000 revolutions per minute. SCI's device barely pulls 30 rpm.

Why not just ask Podkletnov how to build the thing? SCI brought him over to consult a couple of years ago, to little avail. "His excuse basically was that he was a ceramics physicist, not an electrical or mechanical engineer, and other people built the device for him," Koczor says. "Draw your own conclusions. All I know is, if I were a principal investigator on something like this, I would know the size and thread-depth of every screw in the damn thing. But you know, the Europeans and the Russians, they're different. They're much more, 'this is your job and this is my job.' So it's plausible that he didn't know the details." It might not matter. SCI's contract is ending, and Koczor's budget to explore "way-out physics" is spent. He hasn't got the money to actually test the device even if it did meet Podkletnov's specs.

But researchers outside NASA are working on the problem, too. This summer Nick Cook, a writer for Jane's Defence Weekly, reported that aerospace giant Boeing was pursuing antigravity research. Boeing denied it. "We are aware of Podkletnov's work on 'anti-gravity' devices and would be interested in seeing further development work being done," said a company statement. "However, Boeing is not funding any activities in this area at this time." Note Boeing's use of the Clintonian present tense. They never contacted Jane's to ask for a correction, Cook says. Meanwhile, British aerospace company BAE Systems says it's keeping an eye on the research, and that it had once funded its own antigravity project, Greenglow.

Unfortunately, Cook strains his own credibility somewhat. A couple of weeks after his Jane's piece appeared, Cook's book on antigravity research, The Hunt for Zero Point, came out. In it, he claims that the Nazis built an antigravity device during World War II. Its absence from present-day science, Cook says, implies a vast "black" world of secret antigravity aircraft that might explain the UFOs people see over Area 51. He's a careful investigative reporter, but once you start talking about UFOs and Nazi antigravity you're not far from hidden tunnels under the White House full of lizard-men disguised as Freemasons.

Even without Nazis, there are plenty of reasons to doubt Podkletnov. My e-mails to the account listed on his recent articles (not peer-reviewed) went unanswered. Even more problematic, I can't find the institution he lists as his affiliation in Moscow. "Eugene always expressed his worries that others could copy his work, although as far as I know he never applied for a patent," Giovanni Modanese, a collaborator of Podkletnov's at the University of Bolzano in Italy, wrote in an e-mail (using a Western version of Podkletnov's first name). "Nonetheless, at the scientific level if one wants a confirmation by others and a successful replication, one must give all the necessary elements." Well, yeah. Modanese says that the current version of the device, now called an "impulse gravity generator," is simpler and could be built "by a big-science team of people expert in superconductivity." A Boeing spokesperson didn't respond to follow-up questions. So, either there's nothing going on here, or it's an X-File.

And the science? Ten years is a long time to go without replication. Combine that with Podkletnov's cagey behavior and it's enough to make even sci-fi geeks like me lose hope. But like the core of any good conspiracy, antigravity research has the ring of plausibility. One of the outstanding problems in physics and cosmology today involves the existence of so-called dark matter and dark energy. They're by far the main constituents of matter in the universe, and nobody knows what they're made of—researchers have only inferred their existence from gravitational effects. Coming up with a new theory of how gravity works might explain that, though it'd be a scientific revolution on a par with relativity. "Changing gravity is in the cards," says Paul Schechter, an astronomer at MIT. "But so far no one's been able to do better than Einstein." Still, Einstein worked in a lowly patent office. Ron Koczor works for NASA.

Will evolution leave humanity behind?

By Chet Raymo, 9/17/2002


History is not the same old same old, nor is it just one darn thing after another. History - cosmic and human - has a direction, and the direction can be quantitatively defined.

Eric Chaisson, a physicist at Tufts University, defines cosmic evolution as an ever-increasing concentration of energy as it flows through space and time.

U.S. judge rules scientists can study Kennewick man


William Mccall; The Associated Press PORTLAND - A federal judge on Friday ordered the U.S. government to let scientists study the bones of Kennewick Man, an ancient skeleton discovered along the banks of the Columbia River that could offer clues to how the first people arrived in America. The ruling by U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks rejected a decision by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to give the remains to Indian tribes for reburial.

After six years and wading through 20,000 pages of documents filed in the case, Jelderks said there was "nothing I have found in a careful examination of the administrative record" that would support the government.

"Allowing study is fully consistent with applicable statutes and regulations, which are clearly intended to make archaeological information available to the public through scientific research," Jelderks wrote.

Dana Perino, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said government attorneys would have to review the ruling before they could comment.

The scientists said they were extremely happy with the ruling.

Cheryl's Daily Diatribe: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Cheryl may be contacted at cherylseal@hotmail.com.

The Bush Energy Policy Scam:
Bogus Global Warming Science and Phony "Alternative Energy" Schemes,
with King Coal about to Be ReCrowned

by Cheryl Seal

Sometimes I love my part time "day job" as a science abstractor. You often get a close up look at facts the general public will never — and was not intended to — see. Like the little article in Nature (July 18 issue) in which researchers from the British Antarctic Survey expose the dubious "science" used by an American team of researchers to arrive at the conclusion that Antarctica is COOLING, not warming (tell that to the Larsen-B ice shelf, a chunk of melting ice larger than Rhode Island that broke off and slipped into the Weddell Sea last winter). But researchers in England beg to differ and they most certainly come from solid ground — the American study was based on data collected by the University of East Anglia, where some of the British researchers were based. So, here's a summary of the British article:

One study from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) reports a net cooling of the entire Antarctic continent in the past few decades. However, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and the Climate Research Unit (BAS/CRU) of the University of East Anglia in the U.K. have questioned this result, accusing the UIC. team of basing their conclusions on an inappropriate generalization of data obtained from far too few climate stations across the vast continent.

Caltech planetary scientists find largest object in solar system since Pluto's 1930 discovery

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.-Planetary scientists at the California Institute of Technology have discovered a spherical body in the outskirts of the solar system. The object circles the sun every 288 years, is half the size of Pluto, and is larger than all of the objects in the asteroid belt combined.

The object has been named "Quaoar" (pronounced KWAH-o-ar) after the creation force of the Tongva tribe who were the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles basin, where the Caltech campus is located. Quaoar is located about 4 billion miles from Earth in a region beyond the orbit of Pluto known as the Kuiper belt. This is the region where comets originate and also where planetary scientists have long expected to eventually find larger planet-shaped objects such as Quaoar. The discovery, announced at the meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Birmingham, Alabama, today, is by far the largest object found so far in that search.

Currently detectable a few degrees northwest of the constellation Scorpio, Quaoar demonstrates beyond a doubt that large bodies can indeed be found in the farthest reaches of the solar system. Further, the discovery provides hope that additional large bodies in the Kuiper belt will be discovered, some as large, or even larger than Pluto. Also, Quaoar and other bodies like it should provide new insights into the primordial materials that formed the solar system some 5 billion years ago.

The discovery further supports the ever-growing opinion that Pluto itself is a Kuiper belt object. According to recent interpretations, Pluto was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered, long before the age of enhanced digital techniques and charge-coupled (CCD) cameras, because it had been kicked into a Neptune-crossing elliptical orbit eons ago.

"Quaoar definitely hurts the case for Pluto being a planet," says Caltech planetary science associate professor Mike Brown. "If Pluto were discovered today, no one would even consider calling it a planet because it's clearly a Kuiper belt object."

Brown and Chad Trujillo, a postdoctoral researcher, first detected Quaoar on a digital sky image taken on June 4 with Palomar Observatory's 48-inch Oschin Telescope. The researchers looked through archived images taken by a variety of instruments and soon found images taken in the years 1982, 1996, 2000, and 2001. These images not only allowed Brown and Trujillo to establish the distance and orbital inclination of Quaoar, but also to determine that the body is revolving around the sun in a remarkably stable, circular orbit.

"It's probably been in this same orbit for 4 billion years," Brown says.

The discovery of Quaoar is not so much a triumph of advanced optics as of modern digital analysis and a deliberate search methodology. In fact, Quaoar apparently was first photographed in 1982 by then-Caltech astronomer Charlie Kowal in a search for the postulated "Planet X." Kowal unfortunately never found the object on the plate-much less Planet X-but left the image for posterity.

Because the precise location of Quaoar on the old plates is highly predictable, the orbit is thought to be quite circular for a solar system body, and far more circular than that of Pluto. In fact, Pluto is relatively easy to spot-at least if one knows where to look. Because Pluto comes so close to the sun for several years in its 248-year eccentric orbit, the volatile substances in the atmosphere are periodically heated, thereby increasing the body's reflectance, or albedo, to such a degree that it is bright enough to be seen even in small amateur telescopes.

Quaoar, on the other hand, never approaches the sun in its circular orbit, which means that the volatile gases never are excited enough to kick up a highly reflective atmosphere. As is the case for other bodies of similar rock-and-ice composition, Quaoar's surface has been bathed by faint ultraviolet radiation from the sun over the eons, and this radiation has slowly caused the organic materials on the body's surface to turn into a dark tar-like substance.

As a result, Quaoar's albedo is about 10 percent, just a bit higher than that of the moon. By contrast, Pluto's albedo is 60 percent.

As for spin rate, the researchers know that Quaoar is rotating because of slight variations in reflectance in the six weeks they've observed the body. But they're still collecting data to determine the precise rate. They will also probably be able to figure out whether the spin axis is tilted relative to the ecliptical plane.

Inclination is about 7.9 percent, which means that the plane of Quaoar's orbit is tilted by 7.9 degrees from the relatively flat orbital plane in which all the planets except Pluto are to be found. Pluto's orbital inclination is about 17 degrees, which presumably resulted from whatever gravitational interference originally thrust it into an elliptical orbit.

Quaoar's orbital inclination of 7.9 degrees is not particularly surprising, Brown says, because the Kuiper belt is turning out to be wider than originally expected. The Kuiper belt can be thought of as a band extending around the sky, superimposed on the path of the sun. Brown and Trujillo's research, in effect, is to take repeated exposures of a several-degree swath of this band and then use digital equipment to check and see if any tiny point of light has moved relative to the stellar background.

Brown and Trujillo are currently using about 10 to 20 percent of the available time on the 48-inch Oschin Telescope, which was used to obtain both the Palomar Sky Survey and the more recent Palomar Digital Sky Survey. The latter was completed just last year, thus freeing up the Oschin Telescope to be refitted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a new mission to search for near-Earth asteroids. About 80 percent of the telescope time is now designated for the asteroid survey, leaving the remainder for scientific studies like Brown and Trujillo's.

Siuce the discovery, the researchers have also employed other telescopes to study and characterize Quaoar, including the Hubble Space Telescope (related news release available at link below) and the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Information derived from these studies will provide new insights into the precise composition of Quaoar and may answer questions about whether the body has a tenuous atmosphere.

But the good news for the serious amateur astronomer is that he or she doesn't necessarily need a space telescope or 10-meter reflector to get a faint image of Quaoar. Armed with precise coordinates and a 16-inch telescope fitted with a CCD camera-the kind advertised in magazines such as Sky and Telescope and Astronomy-an amateur should be able to obtain images on successive nights that will show a faint dot of light in slightly different positions.

As for Brown and Trujillo, the two are continuing their search for other large Kuiper-belt bodies. Some, in fact, may be even larger than Quaoar.

"Right now, I'd say they get as big as Pluto," says Brown.

Note to editors: Additional information and images are available at the following Web sites:



Creationists making noise about quantized redshifts


Camera eyes dusty spirals in Milky Way center


Posted: October 2, 2002

The highest resolution mid-infrared picture ever taken of the center of our Milky Way galaxy reveals details about dust swirling into the black hole that dominates the region.

The image was taken by a team led by Dr. Mark Morris of the University of California, Los Angeles, at the Keck II telescope in Hawaii, with an infrared camera built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The camera, called the Mid-Infrared Large-Well Imager, or Mirlin, used three different infrared wavelengths to build the color composite image.

The mid-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum comprises the wavelengths at which room temperature objects glow most brightly. Everything on Earth, including the telescope, the astronomers, and even the atmosphere, emits a bright glow in the mid-infrared. Seeing celestial objects though this glow is like trying to see stars during daylight; special techniques are needed to tease the stars from this glow to build a recognizable picture.

Near the center of the image, but not apparent at these wavelengths, is a black hole three million times heavier than our Sun. Its gravitational pull, so powerful that not even light can escape from its surface, affects the motion of dust, gas and even stars, throughout the region.

A veil of dust absorbs the visible light emitted by most of the stars near the Galactic Center. The light warms the dust, which then radiates in the infrared and becomes visible to the mid-infrared camera.

The image shows this dusty material spiraling toward the black hole, most notably the stream of gas and dust called the Northern Arm. When this material eventually falls into the black hole, it will release energy that affects everything in its vicinity. This event, which astronomers are certain has happened many times in the history of the Milky Way, may trigger the formation of a new generation of stars by causing other nearby dust clouds to collapse, or it may actually inhibit the formation of new stars if the released energy destroys those clouds. Either way, the black hole continues to grow larger as new material falls into it.

Astronomers know that the stars in this image are all very luminous, because less luminous stars appear very faint to a mid-infrared camera. A massive star nearing the last stages of its life, the red supergiant IRS7, is visible in this image as the smallish, bright spot just above the center. IRS7 is simply so luminous -- more than 100,000 times as bright as our Sun -- that we can see its starlight directly.

The "mini-cavity" in the center is a bubble that has apparently been evacuated of dust and gas. A star located at the center of the mini-cavity (not visible in this image) apparently blows this bubble with its powerful stellar wind. The "bullet" is a mysterious, fast-moving feature pointing roughly away from the mini-cavity, just below and to the right of the center. It may be a jet composed of gas and dust.

Other members of the Mirlin imaging team, along with Morris, are Dr. Andrea Ghez, Dr. Eric Becklin and Angelle Tanner of UCLA; Drs. Michael Ressler and Michael Werner of JPL; and Dr. Angela Cotera Hulet of the Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz. The camera was built at JPL by Ressler and Werner. Some findings based on this image have been published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Studying processes in the center of our own galaxy may teach astronomers more about much more active, more distant galactic nuclei -- objects like quasars and Seyfert galaxies, which are the most violent places known in the universe. More information about both the center of our Milky Way and the centers of other galaxies may be obtained with future instruments that have higher resolution and greater sensitivity.

For example, NASA is planning a similar infrared camera, the Mid-Infrared Instrument, one of three instruments that will fly aboard the James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2010. This camera will achieve resolution roughly equivalent to the Keck images, but because it will orbit above the warm glow emitted by Earth's atmosphere, it will be 1,000 times more sensitive. Using this instrument, astronomers will be able to study the centers of galaxies all the way to the edge of the observable universe.

JPL, in conjunction with a consortium of European countries and the European Space Agency, is developing the Mid-Infrared Instrument. The James Webb Space Telescope is managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Moore: God created separation of church and state



STAN BAILEY News staff writer

MONTGOMERY The God of the Bible, rather than the framers of the First Amendment, created the principle of separation of church and state, Chief Justice Roy Moore testified in federal court Friday. Moore told U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson that the nation's founders realized God gave man a free mind and conscience, which in turn, he said, formed the basis of the Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion.

"Without a knowledge of this God, there would be no religion clause," Moore said. "That's exactly what's at issue here in this court today: whether we can acknowledge the God of the holy Scriptures."

Moore was on the witness stand for the third consecutive day in the trial challenging his placement of a monument to the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building lobby.

Three lawyers who filed the suit said the monument offends them and violates the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Many Leaders of U.S. Church Say Rome's Stance Is a Relief

October 19, 2002

While victims of sexually abusive priests expressed despair and outrage yesterday at the Vatican's refusal to endorse the American bishops' zero tolerance policy, many bishops, priests and even some laypeople privately breathed a sigh of relief.

They said they welcomed the Vatican's decision as a corrective measure that will put the brakes on a policy that many of them now say was adopted at the American Roman Catholic bishops meeting in Dallas in June with too much haste, with too much attention to the pain of victims and not enough to the rights of priests accused of abuse.

"As a matter of fact, I've been hoping that there would be a refinement of the Dallas charter and the norms, and I welcome what's been called for today," said Archbishop Thomas C. Kelley of Louisville, Ky., who said he had voted in favor of the policy but with "enormous misgivings."

"Particularly in the area of due process for the priests, this is something that in the church's law has been built up over the centuries, and I was afraid that our norms seemed to lose sight of that," Archbishop Kelly said in an interview.


Cow's life very important: VHP

By Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI OCT. 18. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad today denied its activists were involved in the lynching of five Dalit youths in Jhajhar, Haryana, on October 16, but at the same time it held that "according to Hindu shastras the life of a cow was very important".

(The Dalits allegedly "skinned alive" a cow, a charge that was denied.)

The senior VHP leader, Giriraj Kishore, said the Bajrang Dal leader, Surendra Jain, had been asked to inquire into the incident, especially the allegation that VHP activists were involved in the lynching.

"I will only say that if a cow was killed or was skinned alive, that could have triggered a mob fury, but if a dead cow was skinned, it would be a different question," Mr. Kishore said. And, in response to a question on the value of the life of a cow as against that of Dalits, his response was: "in our (Hindu) shastras, the life of a cow was very important".

The BJP spokesperson, Sunil Shastri, was quite mild in his criticism of the incident. "We condemn all violence wherever it takes place,'' he said.



The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 609 October 15, 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

NEUTRON HOLOGRAPHY with atomic-scale resolution has been performed, for the first time, with an "inside-detector" approach. Holography generally includes a source of illuminating waves, an object to be imaged, and a detector or film in which waves direct from the source interfere with waves scattered from parts of the object. The interference pattern, stored in the detector medium, is later read out (and a 3D image of the object viewed) by sending waves into the detector. Holograms with visible light are common enough: they adorn most credit cards. Holograms using electrons (considered in their "wave" manifestation, not as particles) provide sharp pictures, but because the electrons cannot penetrate far into a solid sample, the imaging process is usually restricted to surface regions. Holograms using x rays go can penetrate much farther, but their limitation consists of the fact that the penetration depth improves as the square of the atomic number.

Therefore x-holography is not very good for materials with light elements. Holograms with neutrons are different; rather than scattering from the electrons in the atoms of the sample, neutrons scatter only from nuclei, which are 100,000 times smaller than the atoms in which they reside. This is important when it comes time to reconstruct an image of the interior of a crystal lattice. In an experiment carried out with a beam of neutrons from a reactor at the Institute Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, a group of scientists has produced, for the first time, an atomic-scale map of a crystal, in particular a sample of lead atoms, using a technique in which the "detector," a trace amount of atoms (cadmium-113) whose nuclei readily absorb neutrons, are embedded inside the sample itself. The holographic process unfolds as follows: neutron waves can strike a Cd nucleus directly (reference beam) or by first scattering from a Pb nucleus. In either case, the absorption of a neutron stimulates a Cd nucleus to emit a high energy photon observable in a nearby detector. The overall interference pattern for these two processes (absorbing scattered or direct neutron waves) is monitored as the profile of the sample to the beam is stepped through various angles.

The result: a crisp picture of a unit cell of 12 lead atoms (see figure at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2002/165.htm ). This process should be great for spotting foreign atoms in a solid (dopants if the atoms are desired, impurties if they're not). Since the neutron has a magnetic moment, n-holography might also to contribute to an understanding of the magnetic nature of the sample atoms, in addition to imaging their whereabouts. (Cser et al., Physical Review Letters, 21 October 2002; contact Laszlo Cser, Central Research Institute for Physics, Budapest, cser@sunserv.kfhi.hu, 36-1-392-2222 extension 1526.)

FIRST DETAILED POSITRONIUM SCATTERING EXPERIMENT. The lightest atom made of an electron and a positively charged mate is not hydrogen but positronium (abbreviated Ps), a bound electron-positron pair. The lifetime for these no-nucleus atoms is hardly more than about 100 nanoseconds but, if things are expedited, this is long enough for doing an experiment. (The brief lifespan comes not from the intrinsic instability of the Ps "atom" but from the fact that the constituents will, left to themselves, annihilate each other.) In recent years physicists have been able to gather Ps beams, made by sending a beam of positrons through a neutralizing gas, and have measured the total cross section (likelihood of scattering) for Ps scattering from various targets. Now a team of scientists at University College London reports the first experiment in which a specific type of inelastic scattering takes place. In particular, the London researchers found that in many encounters with helium atoms, the Ps will split apart but that the fragmented partners continue to be highly correlated, moving through the lab with roughly the same velocities. Learning more about this fragmentation process will aid proposed schemes for using Ps beams for studying material surfaces. Furthermore, Ps is unusual in that its centers of mass and charge coincide. This allows for interactions between the electron in the Ps and electrons in target atoms to be more potent than if the electron were yoked to a much heavier proton, as in a hydrogen atom. (Armitage et al., Physical Review Letters, 21 October 2002; contact Gaetana Laricchia, 44-20-7679-3470, g.laricchia@ucl.ac.uk)

SUPERCONDUCTIVITY IN LITHIUM now has the highest demonstrated transition temperature of any element, 20 K. Great pressure, 48 GPa, was needed to achieve superconductivity. According to the physicists at the University of Tokyo and Osaka University who performed the experiment on lithium (the sample and its electrical leads are squeezed in a diamond anvil press), their result bears out an expectation that lighter elements should possess higher transition temperatures. Extrapolating this principle further, they argue, might produce room temperature superconductivity in hydrogen, but only at crushing pressures above 400 GPa. (Shimizu et al., Nature, 10 October 2002.)

Wasps a gypsy moth solution, or did town get stung?


By Carolyn Starks
Tribune staff reporter

October 16, 2002

In a laboratory in California, entomologists are trying to identify a tiny wasp that doesn't sting but has stirred up a hornet's nest for agriculture officials in Illinois.

Thousands of the wasps were released into the environment last month by Crystal Lake park officials, who ordered them through the mail for $2,200 after hearing that they were an effective way to eradicate gypsy moths.

Now, officials in the McHenry County suburb aren't quite sure what they set free, the company that provided the wasps won't say, state agriculture officials are expressing skepticism that any bug can do the job--and it will be months before anybody knows for sure what the pepper-flake-size insects have been up to.

Wiccan seeks to lead prayers for meetings


By Mary Shaffrey

A Wiccan priestess wants the Board of Supervisors of Chesterfield County, Va., to add her name to the list of clergy members who say prayers before board meetings.

"I am a witch and I am fine with that," said Cyndi Simpson, a member of Reclaiming Tradition of Wicca. "I have something good to share, and I think they should let me."

She has encountered nothing but polite resistance from the county government, which allows nonsectarian prayers at the start of board meetings.

"Chesterfield's nonsectarian invocations are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition," Chesterfield County Attorney Steven Micas told Miss Simpson in a letter denying her request to offer an invocation last month.

"Based upon our review of Wicca, it is neo-pagan and invokes polytheistic deities. Accordingly, we cannot honor your request to be included on the list of religious leaders."

Repeated calls to Mr. Micas' office for comment were not returned.

5 Dalits lynched in Haryana, entire administration watches

Sonu Jain

Jhajjar, Haryana, October 16: Less than two hours from the capital, this was the scene today outside the Dulena police post in Jhajjar district: patches of blood on the road, a pile of smouldering ashes.

This is where five Dalits, all in their 20s, were beaten to death last night, two of them torched. They were doing what they have been doing for years: skinning dead cows to sell the hide. This time, however, ''someone'' spread the word that the cow was alive.

So a mob, returning after the Dussehra fair, dragged them out of the police post where they had taken refuge and lynched them to the cries of Gau mata ki jai. [Hail to the mama Cow!] Watched by the City Magistrate, the DSP of Jhajjar and Bahadurgarh, the Municipal Corporator's husband, the Block Development Officer and at least 50 policemen.

Says City Magistrate Raj Pal Singh who saw the lynching: ''We tried stopping them but got hurt ourselves in the process. I was dragged a few feet away, otherwise I would have been killed.''

One FIR has been registered against ''unknown people,'' while a second has been filed against the victims under the Cow Slaughter Act.

Local office-bearers of the VHP and the Shiv Sena have submitted a memorandum to the local police asking them not to take any action against the guilty.

The Indian Express spoke to several eyewitnesses and district officials to reconstruct the incident. And they suggested this was no impulsive act, the frenzy built up over a good three and a half hours—the Dalits were first ''spotted'' at 6.30 pm, beaten and dragged to the police post and then battered to death between 9 and 10 pm.

• Five Dalits had bought what they claimed was a dead cow from Farooqnagar and were on their way to sell the hide—something which they traditionally do here to earn a living.

• They were first seen 500 m from the police post by a group of men returning from Dusshera festivities.

• This group reached Jhajjar, 15 minutes away, and informed the local Dharamshala that ''cow slaughter was going on.''

• Within minutes, two vehicles with the District Magistrate, two priests from the temple and some local VHP leaders left for the spot.

• By then, the five had sought refuge at the police post. The word spread in at least 10 nearby villages, and in an hour, the crowd swelled to 2,000.

''Local VHP workers and some anti-social elements were spotted at the scene,'' says District Commissioner Mohinder Kumar, who claims he reached late because of a traffic jam. ''The word spread by telephone, word of mouth and of course a tractor full of people returning from the fair stopped.''

Local VHP office-bearers dare the police to take action. ''If they can kill our mother then what if we kill our brothers who kill her,'' says Mahendra Parmanand, the priest of the local temple. ''I will say it in front of the police that what they were doing was wrong and they deserve to be punished,'' says Ramesh Saini, VHP office-bearer.

Shishu Pal from the local Shiv Sena unit says that whatever happened was wrong but ''could not have been helped.''


Broomstick test tells grooms whether bride is a witch

From Ananova at:


Superstitious grooms in Serbia are using broomsticks to check whether their brides are witches.

Husbands-to-be have been taking their brides to Djundjerski Castle in Kulpin where the broom test is carried out.

Historians and folklore experts from the Novi Sad University developed the test reviving an ancient ritual to "scientifically prove" whether a woman is a witch or not.

They say they were surprised so many people seemed to be worried about the subject and were taking the test.

The women are weighed and then weighed again sitting on the broomstick. If they weigh more the second time round they are not being supported by the broomstick and "certainly not a witch".

Certificates, available in several languages, including English, are issued to non-witches.

Castle spokesman Miladin Prolic said: "The test was created as a historical research work that was then adapted as an attraction for visitors, but the response was far above what we expected."

Story filed: 13:18 Thursday 17th October 2002

The Bush Purge of Science

With religious conservatives and corporate right-wingers clamoring for blood, scientific advisory committees are being cleansed and discarded, producing an administration devoid of scientific advise.

By Frederick Sweet

In 1633, the Catholic Church put Galileo under house arrest because he dared to contradict their ancient earth-centered dogma of the universe. Similarly, because their scientific or ethical views clash with President George W. Bush's radical religious right wingers and corporate supporters, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is purging at least two and possibly more expert scientific committees.

One committee, studying federal protections for human research subjects, angered Bush's radical religious supporters. Another committee charged with helping to protect public health has been jettisoned by Bush because it recommended that the Food and Drug Administration expand its regulation of the increasingly lucrative genetic testing industry, which had previously been free of oversight.

The URL for this story is:

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