NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 October 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, October 26, 2002


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 610 October 22, 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

TRAPPING DNA THROUGH THERMOPHORESIS might have a bearing on the origins of life, as a new experiment shows. The DNA molecules in our bodies are protected behind a nuclear membrane and a cellular membrane, but on the early Earth nascent life forms might have consisted of DNA floating in a free aqueous environment. How would such fragile entities keep from diluting themselves to death? One answer might be thermophoresis, a process (known for almost 150 years) by which heat can repel polymers. Generally the longer the molecule the greater the thermal repulsion will be, just as molecules or particles will be separated in a centrifuge according to mass. An experiment conducted by Dieter Braun and Albert Libchaber at Rockefeller monitors fluorescent-tagged DNA molecules as they are harried by a laser-generated heat spot. As expected the DNA was repelled, carried along by a convective flow away from the heat. But surprisingly the DNA then came back; the convection, scrutinized more carefully, was seen to be a circular cell pattern. The DNA had become trapped in a small zone (20 microns across and with a DNA concentration enhanced by a factor of 1000) centered around the heat spot.

Braun (212-327-8160, braund@rockefeller.edu) says this is the first quantitative experimental evidence, on a microscopic level, that biological molecules (DNA was used rather than RNA because RNA can quickly degrade in the presence of proteins in the solution) can be trapped in this way. Demonstrating a mechanism for confining early metabolic and replicative life forms in a far-from-equilibrium environment such as localized heat sources (e.g., hydrothermal vents) immersed in a cold ocean, should be of interest to biologists who ponder the advent of life. (Physical Review Letters, 28 October 2002; see also www.dieterb.de/indexe.html; independent thermophoresis expert: Werner Kohler in Bayreuth, Germany, werner.koehler@uni-bayreuth.de)

NONINVASIVE EEGs. Conventional electroencephalograms (EEGs) monitor electrical activity in the brain with electrodes placed either on the scalp (involving hair removal and skin abrasion) or inserted directly into the brain with needles. Now a noninvasive form of EEG has been devised by scientists at the University of Sussex. Instead of measuring charge flow through an electrode (with attendant distortions, in the case of scalp electrodes) the new system measures electric fields remotely, an advance made possible by new developments in sensor technology.

The device's sensitivity is demonstrated by watching electric activity change as the ambient relaxed brain signal (the so-called alpha wave, at a frequency of 8-14 Hz) gives way to the beta wave (14-35 Hz) as the subject opens his eyes (figure at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2002/166.htm). The Sussex researchers (contact Terry Clark, t.d.clark@sussex.ac.uk, 44-127-678087) believe their new sensor will instigate major advances in the collection and display of electrical information from the brain, especially in the study of drowsiness and the human-machine interface. The same group of scientists has made remote-sensing ECG units as well. (Harland et al., Applied Physics Letters, 21 October 2002; research website: www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/pei/index.html.)

NAVAL NEUTRINOS, emitted by nuclear subs as a routine byproduct of the reactions producing propulsion, will have to be taken into account when studying neutrino oscillations, suggests a team of Stanford physicists. Oscillation experiments probe the fascinating process by which one type of neutrino turns into other types. The power generated by nuclear submarines (100-200 operating at any one time) is only a few percent of all nuclear-generated thermal power in the world, and the neutrino flux from a typical naval reactor is only about 200,000 per sq. cm per second at a distance of 40 km. This does not represent much of a background for the current generation of reactor-based neutrino-oscillation experiments. But for future reactor-based experiments, trying to perform higher precision measurements or those using a lower flux from a longer baseline (neutrino flux drops with the square of the distance), naval-reactor neutrinos will have to be factored in. Stanford physicist Giorgio Gratta (650-725-6509, gratta@stanford.edu) says that, on the other hand, neutrinos from naval reactors may be used for a new breed of oscillation experiments in which the baseline for oscillations could be changed by simply "sailing the reactor" to a new position with respect to the (fixed) large detector. It is suggested that a nuclear ice-breaker could be chartered for this purpose. And, no, a sub's neutrino flux is not strong enough to give away its position. (Detwiler et al., Physical Review Letters, 4 November 2002)

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

Kumbayah Medicine: Why is the government paying for research into wacky alternative treatments?


Forbes | October 18, 2002

By Sally Satel

Having trouble remembering where you put your car keys? You can forget about Ginkgo biloba, a popular natural health product ballyhooed as a memory aid. Recently, a rigorous, partially government-funded study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the supplement is ineffective. Alas, this isn't the last you will hear of this particular quack remedy. Nor the last time that your tax money will go into what is euphemistically called "alternative medicine."

Consider, for example, Therapeutic Touch. The fanciful idea behind TT is that conditions ranging from tension headaches to stress are alleviated by smoothing the blockage of the "human energy field" that supposedly surrounds us. Without touching the patient the therapist strokes the field. One problem: No such field exists. Therapeutic Touch is literally nothing but hand waving. It's nonsense. And yet we have federal tax money studying TT, through the National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine. The agency is a monument to Congress-inspired, government-funded pseudoscience.

The TT-subsidizing agency has its roots in the Office of Alternative Medicine, created in 1992 largely at the urging of Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Convinced that his allergies were cured after taking enormous doses of bee pollen, the senator became an avid supporter of alternative medicine. He was not content to let unconventional therapies be studied expertly and objectively by scientists in the existing National Institutes of Health. Harkin was chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that allocates funding to the NIH. Naturally, funding for the OAM was approved.

The office started out with a budget of a few million dollars. After five years in existence, it had no new treatments that I saw to show for the money it handed out. Despite its anemic track record, Harkin argued, with classic political reasoning, that the office should be expanded in role and elevated in status. So in 1998 it was reincarnated as the aforementioned National Center. Its latest budget: $113 million.

The money is going into investigating some pretty bizarre therapies. Some, like TT are--conveniently for the proponents--of such a nature that they cannot be put to a scientific test. It is easy enough to evaluate a ginkgo pill in a blind test that stacks it up against a placebo. But according to its proponents, TT won't work if the practitioner is not "centered" or if the patient is "out of balance." Thus the theory behind TT is, as the scientists say, impossible to falsify.

Other treatments that the alternative medicine center is studying either are biologically implausible or have already been found to be useless in previous studies. In these categories are homeopathy, the use of shark cartilage to cure cancer and magnet therapy for pain. Then there are the kumbayah remedies like art and dance therapies, guided imagery and massage. These are no more medical than shopping or sex--both of which will make you feel better.

Or consider "distant healing." The center is funding a study on the effects of prayer on brain cancer. Patients with brain tumors (who are also getting conventional cancer treatment) agree to be prayed for by "experienced healers" several hundred miles away. Other patients with brain tumors are not prayed for. I wonder how that test will come out.

Does Harkin's agency do anything at all worthwhile? Yes. For example, it has sponsored studies on St.-John's-wort, a supplement that now appears ineffective for serious depression. It plans to study high-estrogen botanicals like black cohosh, flax seed and dietary soy--a good idea in fight of the recent controversy over the safety of some hormone replacement therapies. But the agency seemingly has no appropriate filter to sort out useful and promising lines of inquiry from bogus ones receiving aid only because of the lobbying of true believers.

It has been wisely said that alternative medicines are only alternative until they are proven to work--and then they are medicine. So let's study them, but leave the decisions up to the good scientists at existing institutes within the NIH.

Sally Satel is a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. and Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Prehistoric 'sea dragon' found


The remains of a prehistoric monster have been found on the east coast of Yorkshire.

The plesiosaur, which resembles the Loch Ness monster, dates back to the beginning of the Cretaceous period 130 million years ago. Known as the "sea dragon", it would have had a round short body, four flippers, a short tail and a very long neck with a small head.

The creature was found by amateur palaeontologist Nigel Armstrong when he stumbled across the bones sticking out of the cliff face just south of Filey.

The skeleton shows this particular specimen measured four-metres in length.

A team of palaeontogists has spent the last week excavating the remains, which are now in the hands of Scarborough Museums and Gallery.

Dinosaur coast project officer, Will Watts, told BBC News Online: "The place where this discovery came from is well known for fossils but not skeletons and the bones were in really good condition."

It will take up to a year for scientists to clean and record the findings, comparing the bones with those of other creatues.

'Important discovery'

"It will possibly be described as a new species," said Mr Watts.

Sea dragons would have been prolific in the area when seas were warmer and deeper.

Mark Evans, curator of geology at Leicester City Museums, told BBC News Online: "This is a very important discovery.

Knowledge gap "We know there were plesiosaurs towards the end of the Jurassic period but then no great numbers until about 95 million years ago.

"We have a gap in our knowledge of 30 million years and this creature is from that gap."

The sea dragon will go on display in Scarborough late next year.

Strangling science


Bill Berkowitz - WorkingForChange

10.23.02 - America's public school classrooms have come a long way since the infamous Scopes Trial of the 1920's, which pitted creationism supporter William Jennings Bryant against Clarence Darrow, an advocate for evolution. Or have they? A recent dust-up in Ohio and controversies in a few other states reveal that the teaching of evolution in the public schools continues to be challenged. This time around it's being repackaged as "Intelligent Design" theory and issues like academic freedom are being grafted on to press the point.

In mid-October, an Ohio State Board of Education standards committee "approved a set of science standards that struck a delicate balance between teaching evolution and allowing for classroom debate of the theory," reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This new set of standards, which will be formally adopted in December, "leaves it up to school districts whether to teach the concept of 'intelligent design,' which holds that the universe is guided by a higher intelligence, according to the Associated Press.

For months, the proponents of intelligent design and advocates of evolution-only classrooms clashed over the issue at a series of open school board meetings. According to the Plain Dealer, the standards committee added "a one-sentence requirement to the list of what 10th-graders should be able to do," and that sentence reads: "Describe how scientists today continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." Some opponents of intelligent design theory claim that the committee's action "impl[ies] scientific disagreement over evolution... [and] has left a back door open for alternative theories, such as 'intelligent design,'" to be brought into the classroom.

To the credit of Intelligence Design advocates, the debate in Ohio expanded beyond a discussion about the origin of the universe. Intelligent Design (ID) supporters were able to term it as a fight about academic freedom and freedom of speech, according to Robert Lattimer, a chemist who helped found a pro-ID group called Science Excellence for All Ohioans (SEAO). For months, Lattimer and other Ohio supporters of Intelligent Design had asked the state for "a fair treatment of Darwinism, by allowing teachers to simply present the evidence for or against macro-evolution," reported AgapePress, a Christian news service.

Earlier on in the debate, Ohio State Education Board Member Martha W. Wise told the New York Times that changing the terms was "a shrouded way of bringing religion into the schools. Personally, I'm a creationist: I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth... (but) I think intelligent design is a theology, and it belongs in another curriculum."

The fight in Ohio is by no means an anomaly. In late September, the school board in Cobb County, Georgia, voted unanimously to give its teachers permission to introduce students to different theories on the origin of life, including creationism. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that while allowing "teachers to discuss evolution along with disputed views on the origin of man... the school board inserted a clarifying sentence that says the purpose is to encourage critical thinking among students while ensuring 'neutrality toward religion.'"

Last year, a People for the American Way Foundation report titled "Creationism in 2001: A State-by-State Report" pointed out that the Religious right's campaign to deny science teachers "the authority to teach their classes the most authoritative scientific information about the origins in life" has been a battleground issue for years and will likely continue to be into the foreseeable future.

Kansas' educational twister

The most publicized battle over creationism occurred in Kansas in 1999. Like an unexpected late-summer twister, Kansans awoke one morning to find that the school board, controlled by a majority of Christian right supporters, had removed the teaching of evolution from the core science curriculum. Kansas was now a beachhead for creationists. Better known to the outside world for L. Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz" than for J. A. Wayland and E. Haldeman-Julius' late nineteenth and early twentieth century popular socialist newspaper, "The Appeal to

Reason," the state was an easy and frequent target of late-night television talk show hosts. In Kansas, Christian right-backed school board candidates used stealth tactics to win a majority on the State Board of Education and then, once in office, promulgate their creationism agenda. The situation in Kansas demonstrated that a few highly motivated activists could impress their political and religious worldviews on an entire state -- before citizens of that state recognized what was happening.

Dave Seaton, writing in The Winfield [Kansas] Courier, characterized the Right's campaign as a well-orchestrated effort that successfully implemented "standards [that] devalued the theory of evolution at every opportunity, denied one species could turn into another and left out the big bang theory that did not conform to the book of Genesis in the Christian Bible."

Thanks to the teacher's unions and concerned parents, the right's victory was short-lived: The public mobilized and in August 2000 voters rejected two creationism candidates in the Republican primary. A third member resigned, giving the new Board a 7-3 majority in favor of adopting a revised set of standards that eventually restored the teaching of evolution to the statewide education standards.

'Intelligent design' theory

The situation in Kansas evolved from a Christian Right school board victory into a humiliating defeat. Those challenging Darwinism, however, learned from the Kansas brouhaha. Instead of slinking off into extinction with their proverbial (or mythical) tails tucked between their legs, they set about devising a more creative and politically savvy strategy, which included the promotion of "intelligent design theory," using such hot-button issues as academic freedom and free speech in the classroom to do so.

In an article posted at PhysicsToday.org, Adrian Melott points out that William Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher at Baylor University is one of Intelligent Design's chief advocates. In "Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology," Dembski writes that "any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient."

Melott argues that ID "advocates seek to pry Americans away from 'naturalistic science' by forcing them to choose between science and religion... They portray science as we know it as innately antireligious, thereby blurring the distinction between science and how science may be interpreted."

Surprising to many, supporters of Intelligent Design include academics and intellectuals, as well as biblical creationists who accept the fact that earth is billions of years old, but do not believe that natural selection -- the essence of Darwin's theory of evolution -- adequately explains the intricacy of the Earth's plants and animals. They argue that this complexity must be the work of an unnamed intelligent designer. ID supporters are more than willing to have Darwin's theory presented in the science classroom as long as ID theory is offered as another and intellectually balancing explanation.

Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based conservative organization promoting Intelligent Design believes that the language crafted by the Ohio school board "is a clear victory for students, parents, and scientists in Ohio who have been calling for a 'teach the controversy' approach to evolution.'" Meyers added: "The board should be commended for insisting that Ohio students learn about scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory as a part of a good science education. Such a policy represents science education at its very best, and it promotes the academic freedom of students and teachers who want to explore the full range of scientific views over evolution."

"Darwin's dike is finally breaking down," Meyers said.

The Right's two-pronged strategy of mainstreaming a less devilish-sounding creationism called "Intelligent Design" theory and combining it with a call for greater academic freedom appears to have won out in Ohio. In December the entire State Board of Education will vote of the standards committee's recommendations. The outcome of this vote will likely determine how many creationist yellow-brick-roads will be connected to other states.

©Working Assets Online

Selman v. Cobb County:
court battle over creationism


By Vivi Abrams ATLANTA, Oct. 16 — Jeffrey Selman, who is suing the Cobb County School District, says the county's school board is kowtowing to a "vocal, myopic, sectarian minority" by allowing educators to teach creationism in science classes.

On Sept. 26, the seven-member Cobb County School Board unanimously approved a resolution on teaching the origin of earth's species that will allow teachers to discuss both creationism and the theory of evolution.

That vote followed an August decision by the school board to place stickers in science textbooks stating that evolution is a scientific theory, not a fact. (The American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] has challenged the stickers as a "fundamentalist Christian expression" that violates separation of church and state.)

Selman, 56, filed his case after the disclaimer was approved, and may expand the suit to include the school board's decision on teaching creationism. "I see something jeopardizing America, and it's over and over rearing its head," said Selman, a former history teacher who works as a computer programming consultant in Marietta, a fast-growing suburb of Atlanta. "I didn't want to sit idly by, especially since it's my backyard now."

Since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee, U.S. courts have barred public schools from teaching Bible-based creationism, which holds that the universe and all living things were created in their present form and did not evolve.

But the battle did not end when John Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 for teaching evolution. The verdict was overturned on a technicality, but the issue has popped up around the country ever since.

Selman said the creationism issue came to his attention in 1996, when he joined a state task force to design the core curriculum for Georgia schools. "I was one of many who was pushing for [putting] some kind of secular ethics back in schools," said Selman. "The state legislature blindsided us" when it endorsed the teaching of "respect for others" and "respect for the creator."

That, said Selman, "crossed the line."

Selman dismisses charges by Cobb backers of creationism that he is anti-religion and said 95 percent of the phone calls he has gotten have been positive. "I'm not against anybody's religion," Selman said. "I want everybody to practice what they believe. I practice [Judaism] the way I want to."

Selman, who is not affiliated with a synagogue, moved to Atlanta from New York more than a decade ago. He has one child attending elementary school in the Cobb County school system, Georgia's second largest.

Since filing the suit Selman said he has spoken to about 20 or 25 Cobb County teachers. Most of them oppose the resolution, he said, but 10 to 15 percent told him they see it as an opportunity to bring God into their classrooms.

Michael Manely, Selman's attorney, has sent a letter to the Cobb school board asking it to define the new policy on teaching of evolution more clearly. The board's response will determine whether his lawsuit is expanded, said Selman.

The Cobb County School Board defended its resolution in a statement that said its new policy does not require teaching creationism or restrict the teaching of evolution.

"Our intention is to promote a broad-based science curriculum which will acknowledge that there are differences of opinion about the origin of life, and to encourage students and others to be tolerant and respectful of those who may have different beliefs," the statement reads. "Religion has no place in science instruction, but science instruction need not offend those who hold religious beliefs of whatever type."

But Selman — who has the backing of the Anti-Defamation League — says the people singling out evolution as a theory to attack are motivated by religious belief. "There is no secular group attacking evolution," Selman said. "They don't attack gravity, they don't attack relativity or how a computer works. You can't pick and choose." Most scientists recognize the theory of evolution, postulated more than 150 years ago by Charles Darwin, as fact. The constantly revised theory explains changes in animals and humans through natural selection over millions of years.

Selman believes attacking Darwin's ideas makes no sense.

"It's an ongoing functioning theory; it's the best answer we have to what's going on," said Selman. You don't need an alternative theory to it because it is constantly revising itself." Nancy Myers, who works with Selman, is not surprised that he got involved in the evolution dispute. "He's got a hot justice button," she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "When he sees wrong being done, he wants to do something about it. I'd call him principled."

Deborah Lauter, southeast regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Selman has done "an outstanding job of doing something when he saw an injustice."

That's why the ADL recently recognized Selman as an unsung hero. Lauter also said the ADL is in contact with ACLU attorneys to assess how her group can contribute.

"Even though the [Cobb] policy states it is neutral toward religion, its effect will be to allow science teachers to break down the wall between church and state," said Lauter in a statement. "This issue has been driven by those who are relentless and clever in their schemes to break down the wall between church and state. It is a shame that the school board . . . would set a policy that is open to constitutional challenge."

Barry Lynn, an official of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told reporters that Cobb County was "putting up a giant 'sue me' sign." The teaching of evolution is generally not a problem in Jewish schools, said Rabbi Joseph Abrams, principal of Yeshiva Atlanta.

"For us it's not an issue. We teach evolution," he said.

"The Bible states the fact that God created the world; it didn't happen by accident, but with reason and purpose.

"Evolution is a process of creation," Abrams explained. "We don't see science and religion as a conflict. Many scientists are still strong believers."

Evolution may be a theory, said Abrams, "but it's the best thing we have to work with." Still, he said, creation was not a series of accidents that just happened. "If you remove deity, then it's just an accident. I believe I was put here on purpose and live my life accordingly."

Linda Bachmann contributed to this story.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Crop Circle Update - FIELD OF SCHEMES I


By Bill Eatwell

In the November 1992 issue of the Mufon UFO Journal, there is an article by Jim Schnabel titled, "Confessions Of A Crop Circle Spy". Well, as always, there is more to this story than is being published. For one thing, there are alleged inaccuracies in Schnabel's telling of his side of an a recorded telephone interview that was to be published in the journal of the Centre For Crop Circle Studies known as The Circular which is edited by George Wingfield. The interview was mysteriously pulled from the magazine before distribution.

In October, while attending George Wingfield's Dallas, Texas lecture (see HUFON Report, Nov., 1992 issue), George gave me, in strict confidence, a copy of the Schnabel interview that had been pulled. George told me that his publisher in England, Michael Green, had pulled the interview from publication while he was on his lecture tour here in America.

I was told to "sit" on my copy unless given the go ahead to publish the suppressed interview in the HUFON Report if George was unable to resolve the problem when he returned to England. On Saturday,(12/5) I received a call from a friend alerting me that a new publication in Dallas, the Texas Mufon Newsletter, had just published George's suppressed interview.

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 25, 2002

from The New York Times

Scientists at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., have made a significant stride toward understanding how a living cell's operations are controlled by the information in its genome. The insight, which gives a detailed view of the cell's computerlike biological circuitry, should help researchers understand the cellular programming errors that underlie cancer and other diseases.

The study of cells as miniature process-control computers has been made possible by several recent advances in technology. One is the DNA decoding machines that have provided the genome, or full DNA sequence, of several different species. The genomes, containing thousands of genes capable of making an even larger number of proteins, have raised in acute form the question of how a cell controls and coordinates the activity of such a complex system.

Biologists accustomed to working on one gene at a time have had to develop new tools to track the activity of thousands of genes simultaneously. One such tool is the microarray, or expression chip, which can display which of a cell's genes are switched on and being transcribed to make protein. But the expression chips, while useful, do not by themselves reveal how the cell has chosen to switch on one set of genes and switch off another.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A compound that works like estrogen, but with none of the side effects, has been found to prevent brittle bone disease in mice. The discovery might offer an alternative for older women who stopped hormone replacement therapy because of the risks of cancer and heart disease.

In a study appearing today in the journal Science, researchers say experiments with the compound, called estren, increased bone density and strength in mice that had been surgically altered to mimic menopause. The scientists said they found none of the dangerous side effects linked to estrogen.

"This seems to be superior to estrogen in its effect on the bone, but it has no effect on the sex organs," said Dr. Stavros C. Manolagas, a researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Central Arkansas Veterans Health Care System, and the senior author of the study.

Experts on osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease, said that if estren is found to work as well in humans it could substitute for the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that has been used to maintain bone health in women after menopause.


from The New York Times

Four times since the last ice age, at intervals roughly 3,000 years apart, the Northeast has been struck by cycles of storms far more powerful than any in recent times, according to a new study. The region appears to have entered a fifth era in which such superstorms are more likely, the researchers say.

No one should necessarily start building dikes right away, say the researchers, who reported their work yesterday in the journal Nature. The stormy periods they identified each lasted a millennium or more, and giant floods occurred only sporadically in those stretches.

Still, the work illustrates that natural extremes of weather — what one researcher, Paul R. Bierman, a geologist at the University of Vermont, called a "drumbeat of storminess" — are many times greater than those experienced in the modern era.

The researchers spent several years extracting 12- to 20-foot-long cores of sediment that accumulated over 13,000 years in the beds of 2 lakes in eastern New York and 11 in Vermont.


from The New York Times

Using a novel computing technique that resembles an elaborately staged billiards trick shot, I.B.M. scientists have created what they say is not only the world's smallest logic circuit, but also possibly the smallest that could ever be made.

The entire circuit covers less than a trillionth of a square inch. The equivalent circuit made from state-of-the-art silicon transistors takes up 260,000 times as much space.

"That gives you an idea for what incredible potential there is for miniaturization," said Dr. Andreas J. Heinrich, a physicist at I.B.M.'s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., and the lead author of a paper that appears today on the Web site of the journal Science.


from The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. - The North Carolina State University researcher who helped discover Pfiesteria has presented a new study that she said backs up her work and refutes studies doubting that the algae species is toxic.

JoAnn Burkholder said her team's study refuted findings published last summer stating that Pfiesteria is not toxic to fish or humans. Burkholder presented the study at the recent 10th International Conference on Harmful Algae in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Burkholder said the dissenting studies, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature, were based primarily on research with one strain. Another study conducted by a research biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others said DNA tests contradicted Burkholder's claim that Pfiesteria has a complex life cycle that passes through 24 stages.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Earth's little brother found


Monday, 21 October, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Earth's little brother found

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Astronomers have discovered the first object ever that is in a companion orbit to the Earth.

Asteroid 2002 AA29 is only about 100 metres wide and never comes closer than 3.6 million miles to our planet.

Round Earth Society


Founded on May 4th 1999, the Round Earth Society is a Brazilian non-profit organization that has three basic objectives:

To defend the rights of Atheists in society To advocate the total and complete separation of religion and state

To promote the scientific method and critical thinking, the achievements and advances of science

True Believers


Do big hairy primates occupy East Texas? Other than humans, we mean.

"I don't believe in Bigfoot. I thought I'd let you know that I absolutely do not believe in Bigfoot," begins Chester Moore Jr. The audience shuffles and murmurs uneasily, as if they have been tricked. "How many people here believe in Bigfoot?" Almost everyone warily raises a hand. Moore delivers. "I think that believing is for religion, and I've accepted the fact that we have a hidden species of primate in North America." Sighs of relief break out among the believers.

Moore, a wildlife journalist whose work has appeared in Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Fish & Game, Tide and Port Arthur News, is one of several speakers who took a stand for Bigfoot at the Second Annual Texas Bigfoot Conference held earlier this month in Jefferson, near Longview. The conference was organized by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, a volunteer group based in Dallas that investigates reports of Bigfoot activity in the state and attempts to document habitual behavior of these cryptids or "hidden animals."

Cryptozoologists, as many Bigfoot researchers tag themselves, study animals that are either thought to be extinct or unknown to science. Vindication for the science, to some degree, has come in the form of the coelacanth, the okapi and the mountain gorilla, creatures that existed only in local legend and eyewitness accounts until their eventual discovery and classification during the 20th century. Enthusiasts are quick to remind that Bigfoot is not paranormal, but simply another of these unknown animals. "I tell people, you know, we're not dealing with a monster here or the missing link or a shape-shifter from another dimension or an extraterrestrial being," says research center assistant director Craig Woolheater. "I believe it's a flesh-and-blood animal, a primate of some sort. A primate that has been able, for the most part, to elude man."

Though conference attendance topped 200, believers are the exception rather than the norm among the general population. But maybe there would be a lot more converts, Moore suggests, if people understood that there is a scientific basis--and precedent--for the existence of Bigfoot. "When I say, 'I believe in Bigfoot,' to some people, they look at me like I said I believe in some false god or something," Moore says. "Most people's representation of Bigfoot [is]...some tabloid headline that says, 'Bigfoot Stole My Grandmother.'"

While sightings of Bigfoot have become almost commonplace in the Pacific Northwest, the idea of Bigfoot in Texas is news to most. Cryptids in Texas shouldn't come as a surprise, Woolheater says. His research of Texas folklore uncovered tales of a Bigfoot-like creature--"The Wild Woman of the Navidad"--as far back as 1837. Texas also offers the mild winters, diverse agriculture, abundant prey base and natural shelter in which a Bigfoot herd could thrive. The creatures' size, intelligence and speed would put them at the top of the food chain, and with no natural predators, East Texas forests and bottomlands might be able to sustain a sizable Bigfoot population.

Luke Gross and Woolheater, who met on the Internet through their common cryptozoology interest, founded the Texas Bigfoot Research Center in 1999. In the past three and a half years, the center's volunteer staff has grown from two researchers to 30, with eight to 10 associate members. All research is self-funded through membership dues. "It would be nice if we could find somebody, a wealthy benefactor that might be interested in helping us," Woolheater admits. "There's not a whole lot of funding out there for stuff like this." Searching for Bigfoot is not an inexpensive hobby; the gear that the investigators use--generation III night-vision cameras, motion-activated infrared cameras, parabolic dish listening devices, thermal imaging units, GPS-integrated walkie-talkies--costs thousands of dollars. In hopes of finding a modern-day Tom Slick--the Texas millionaire who funded cryptozoology expeditions in the '50s--the Center has tried, unsuccessfully thus far, to elicit the aid of both Mark Cuban and Don Henley.

The Texas Bigfoot Research Center has received more than 100 eyewitness reports through its Web site, www.texasbigfoot.com, with 40 of those coming immediately after a news special about the group aired on NBC-56 Tyler-Longview in July and August. While some of the sightings were fairly recent, quite a few were older claims, people who are coming forward to tell what they've seen and kept quiet about for decades. "We find that people, a lot of times, are even traumatized by these events," Woolheater says. "It's almost a therapeutic experience for them because they don't have anybody that they feel they can say anything to...But in small towns in East Texas, people don't talk; it's just fairly accepted that these things are out there."

Woolheater himself claims to have seen a Bigfoot in 1994. On the way home to Dallas from New Orleans with his wife on a moonless night, his headlights caught a tall, hairy figure walking beside the road. "It was grayish in the light, and it was moving in the same direction we were moving, so we just saw the back of it, but it was definitely moving," he recounts. "And we both, simultaneously, looked at each other and said, 'Did you just see what I just saw?'" He wanted to turn back, but his wife, then girlfriend, did not. He hasn't seen another Bigfoot since that day.

Once an eyewitness files a report with the TBRC, the investigators follow up by phone, and if possible, visit the site of the incident. If the sighting was fairly recent, the researchers look for Bigfoot signs--tree breaks or twists, hair, blood and, of course, tracks. "We do have a lot of areas where we're finding the tree twists...and to be able to actually twist it against the grain, it takes more than just a large animal leaning up against the tree and breaking it. It has to apply torque, and that almost requires a thumb to be able to do," Woolheater says. Investigators also try to judge whether the sighting area would even be habitable for Bigfoot, offering adequate food, water and shelter.

Despite a growing quantity of evidence, the public remains doubtful about its quality. "You should be skeptical about cases where there should be some more evidence, some better evidence, and there isn't," says John Blanton of the North Texas Skeptics, a Dallas-area group that promotes the use of science in exploring extraordinary happenings. "We wouldn't consider this paranormal, because this is within the realm of possibility. If there's some large creature, an ape-like creature, and he's managed to elude our discovery all this time, more power to him. But it would be a pretty difficult thing to do."

Bigfoot trackers explain anomalies such as inconsistent track shapes and toe number with genetics. As Moore put it, "We're in the South; we've got things hanging out in the woods. It's got to be inbreeding." A small genetic pool would also account for the Bigfoot aggressiveness that has been reported in the South and not in the Northwest. And since no carcasses or skeletons have been found, researchers reason that maybe Bigfoot bury or cannibalize their dead or, like some animals, conceal themselves as they are dying.

Woolheater concludes that there are only a few choices. "Either people are out-and-out lying, or they are hallucinating, or they are being hoaxed by someone else unbeknownst to them, or they're misidentifying a known animal--or they saw what they say they saw. And I feel that at least part of them fall in that last category. And even if only one of them actually saw what they say they saw, then there's something out there."

dallasobserver.com | originally published: October 24, 2002

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines – October 24, 2002

from The Chicago Tribune

Academic institutions that use money from private sponsors to fund medical research say they are finding it difficult to comply with tough new ethical standards proposed by the major medical journals, researchers reported Wednesday.

Officials at the institutions generally feel their hands are tied when they enter into business arrangements with industry sponsors of clinical trials, according to a survey of 108 medical schools published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The national survey presents "a bleak picture," the Journal wrote in an accompanying editorial, with the goals of academic freedom and scientific truth often placed in direct conflict with the business interests of sponsors.

Pharmaceutical firms are the largest source of funding for medical research in the U.S. and Canada, but companies can't survive if they don't make money for shareholders and they may not want negative results about their drugs to be made public.


from The Associated Press

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) -- Women have quit hormone therapy in droves since a major study in July declared the pills far riskier than once thought -- but federal scientists seeking to ease confusion over just who should ever take post-menopausal hormones acknowledge they have lots of questions still to answer.

One clear recommendation, scientists told a meeting at the National Institutes of Health on Wednesday, is that women shouldn't start hormone therapy in hopes of preventing age-related diseases -- one big reason that estrogen-progestin pills were prescribed to some 6 million U.S. women.

"We can't take a pill for the rest of our life to make us young again. Disappointing but true," said Dr. Susan Hendrix of Wayne State University, a co-investigator in the NIH's Women's Health Initiative, the biggest study ever done of hormone therapy.

Still, hormones are the mainstay treatment for hot flashes and other menopause symptoms -- and there lie the biggest quandaries: Which women are at such high risk from the pills' side effects that they shouldn't use them even to briefly ease menopause symptoms? And for women who do try the pills to ease hot flashes, how long are they safe to use?


from The New York Times

BETHESDA, Md., Oct. 23 — Scientific evidence has not shown that women can avoid the breast cancer risk from hormone replacement therapy by taking the drugs for only a short time, researchers said today. It also has not shown that the risk disappears as soon as the drugs are stopped.

The questions about when the risk develops and how long it lasts arose after a large federal study of hormone replacement therapy reported in July that the drugs' risks, including a slight increase in the incidence of breast cancer, were not exceeded by their benefits.

The study was halted after five years when researchers found that the women taking hormones had a clear increase in their incidence of breast cancer.

At a meeting here today, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Rowan T. Chlebowski, of the Harbor-U.C.L.A. Research and Education Institute, reported that even women who took the hormones for some period but then stopped had more breast cancer than those who never took the hormones.


from The New York Times

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Stung by the loss of the first California condor chicks born in the wild in 18 years, biologists said Wednesday they will step up their vigilance of future newborns, including the possible use of video cameras to monitor the young endangered species.

The last of the three chicks was found dead Tuesday in the Los Padres National Forest, saddening biologists working to bring back the vulture species from the brink of extinction. All three birds died just before they were expected to take flight for the first time.

"It's obviously disturbing to have the first breeding in the wild turn out this way but we really need to be looking at the long-term thing. This is just the first attempt," said Michael Clark, an animal keeper at the Los Angeles Zoo and a member of the condor recovery team.

The chicks were a milestone in the condor program; no other birds had been laid and hatched in the wild since 1984.


from The Associated Press

A tiny worm that barely lives more than a week under normal conditions may hold clues that could help keep us stronger and healthier until old age finally catches up with us, researchers say.

C. elegans - a roundworm that has already been the subject of research that won a Nobel Prize this year - apparently goes to seed much like middle-aged people, losing muscle cells in a process called sarcopenia, according to a study by Rutgers biologist Monica Driscoll.

The soil-dwelling, bacteria-eating worms have a very simple structure that allows scientists to count and observe each cell from birth to death. The worms also can be raised under experimental conditions that produce nearly identical populations.

But even though "it's essentially like looking at clones," Driscoll and her team were surprised to find there was significant variation in muscle decay and lifespan.


from The Christian Science Monitor

A suburban backyard nearly an hour's drive north of San Jose, Calif., might seem to be an unlikely spot for taking part in one of modern astronomy's grandest adventures.

Yet when the last faint glow of dusk vanishes from cloudless skies, Ron Bissinger is likely to head to his modest garden-shed observatory to begin his search for worlds beyond our solar system.

A software-company vice president by day, Mr. Bissinger is one of a handful of amateurs helping to create a potentially worldwide collaboration between amateur and professional astronomers.

Their common cause is the search for planets that eclipse their parent stars. Such backlit planets can reveal characteristics that could lead to the discovery of a world beyond our sun's reach that displays evidence of organic life.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

It's one of the great mysteries of the natural world.

Scientists and experts of all kinds -- statisticians, physicists, bartenders, you name it -- are baffled. The head-scratching is reaching a crescendo this week as the Giants battle the Anaheim Angels in the World Series.

The Big Question, of course, is: How does Barry Bonds do it?

The most feared hitter in the game for the past two years, Bonds belted a record 73 home runs in 2001. This year, he followed up with still more remarkable numbers: a league-leading .370 batting average; a phenomenal .799 slugging percentage and .582 on-base percentage; 46 home runs with only 47 strikeouts; and a record 198 walks, 68 of them intentional.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Clay idol of Hindu goddess 'changes colour'

From Ananova at


Hundreds of people have flocked to a house in Calcutta to witness what's thought to be the "miracle" of an idol changing its colour.

Deep Ghosh says the clay idol of Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Wealth, recently installed at his house in Chetla, has changed from white to black.

He says he bought the pinkish white idol from a local artisan but the morning after the puja (Hindu religious ceremony) he noticed the face, hands and legs were turning black.

Neighbours and local residents have since visited the fish trader's house in the belief that the idol of Lakshmi has metamorphosed into the dark-hued Goddess Kali, who represents death and destruction.

Rationalist groups have rubbished claims of a change of colour saying that it may be due to a chemical reaction caused by the moisture content in the air around the house.

Prabir Ghosh, a spokesman for the Rationalists' Society told the Press Trust of India: "We can prove that a chemical reaction is behind the phenomenon being dubbed a miracle.

"But for that we need a portion of the earth, out of which the idol has been made."

Mr Ghosh is refusing to allow people to touch the idol before the final immersion ceremony on November 4.

A police picket has been posted outside the house, which has been converted into a shrine, to control the surging crowds.

Story filed: 08:47 Wednesday 23rd October 2002

Clinton aide slams Pentagon's UFO secrecy


One winter night in 1965, eyewitnesses saw a fireball streak over North America, bank, turn and appear to crash in western Pennsylvania. Then swarms of military personnel combed the area and a tarp-covered flatbed truck rumbled out of the woods.

Now a former White House chief of staff and an international investigative journalist want to know what the Pentagon knows, calling on it to release classified files about that and other incidents involving unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

"It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the real nature of this phenomenon," ex-Clinton aide John Podesta said Tuesday.

A Pentagon spokesperson could not be reached for comment regarding the requests for information.

Looking for a New Path

By Jason Tedjasukmana

Jakarta, Indonesia -- Believing in one god is mandatory in indonesia, but most people follow a smorgasbord of faiths: folk superstition, Hindu philosophy, the strictures of the holy Koran. Is there room for a new creed that offers the joys of "recontextualization" and gives devotees tips on how to "look beyond the content of their life to the context?"

Apparently so, because a phenomenon called AsiaWorks has taken Jakarta by storm. Among the capital's bourgeoisie, the self-help group has become a buzzword. Tycoons, film stars and fashion models attend its seminars (at $250 a pop). Astra president Teddy Rachmat credits the group's "trainings" with his return to the top slot at Indonesia's largest car manufacturer, after a two-year absence. "I have more fun in my life now," he says. "In the past it was not fun going to work. Now I take it lightly."

Based in Hong Kong, AsiaWorks was founded in 1993 by American Chris Gentry, a veteran of other personal-development groups like Outward Bound and Life Dynamics. Since then enthusiastic graduates have spread AsiaWorks across the region. Some 5,000 Malaysians have signed up, and 5,000 others have enrolled in Taiwan. In Indonesia, where the group has operated since 1997, more than 3,000 people have registered for AsiaWorks' programs, which purport to teach the values of commitment, responsibility and giving. Sessions start by asking participants to fill out a form disclosing their fears and personal problems; they are then guided through exercises designed to produce the typical 12-step goal of self-discovery. Southeast Asia director Mark Hemstedt attributes AsiaWorks' success in Indonesia to a "crisis of integrity" among the country's Elites. "It's not just about business," says Thessia Saleh, country manager for Indonesia. "It's about bringing back the faith that Indonesia can once again be powerful."

Hemstedt, a former Unilever executive in Britain, bridles at the suggestion that he's promoting a cult. "Cults are things people join," he says. "You don't join AsiaWorks. It is a full training company." Yet detractors say the group focuses too much on "self-help" for itself. Once hooked, participants are encouraged to sign up friends and are given recruitment goals and a "buddy" to make sure those goals are met. Sagar Mirpuri, 25, a textile importer, enrolled his whole family and found himself dedicating more time to AsiaWorks than to his business. He called it quits after a year in the group. "Whether it's good or bad, they are playing with people's minds," he says.


Science Frontiers On-line: The Digest of anomalies updated


Over 1800 reports of the Unusual & Unexplained, Strange Science, Bizarre Biophysics, Anomalous astronomy. From the pages of the world's Scientific Journals.

Example report titles from the first 10 issues:
Australian Mistletoes Mimic Their Hosts
Motion Sickness Difficult to Explain in Terms of Evolution
Addiction to Placebos
Cattle Mutilations Called Episode of Collective Delusion
Hopeful Monsters Rather Than Gradual Evolution?
Hedgehogs Use Toad Venom for Defense
Blind Man Runs on Lunar Time
Infections From Comets
Predaceous Insect Larvae Don "sheep's Clothing"
Yeti Or Wild Man in Siberia?
The Four-eyed Fish Sees All
A Sinuous Line of Sea Snakes
Fish Creates Fish
The Obscure Origin of Insects and Their Wings
Sunspots and Flu
The Deadly Sun
What Drummer Do Periodical Cicadas Hear?
The Moon and Life
Convergent Evolution Or Chance Look-alikes
The Importance of Nonsense
The Hazards of Sewer Exploration
Have Magnets, Will Travel
Chinese Hunt Red-haired Bigfoot
The Universal Urge to Join Up
Why Birds Are Pretty
Dynamic DNA
New England Seamounts Once Near Surface
Will Radiohalos in Coalified Wood Upset Geological Clocks?
How Real Are Biological Extinctions in the Fossil Record?
Immense Circular Terrestrial Structures of Great Age
The Four-eyed Fish Sees All
A Sinuous Line of Sea Snakes
Halos and Unknown Natural Radioactivity
Positive Ion Emission Before Earthquakes May Affect Animals
Strange High-level Haze in the Arctic
Humps of Particles in the Gulf Stream
Unwanted Noise on the Terrestrial Tape Recorder
Coral Carbon Ratios Confound Chronometry
Old Tektites in Young Sediments?
Iridium and Mass Extinctions
Moon-like Craters in the North Sea Floor
An Ancient Planet Beneath A Youthful Veneer
Tarnished Halos?
Cosmic Death Waves
The Nuclear Threat: Bad Dates
o's Electrical Volcanos
Double Hubble: Age in Trouble
Cartwheels in Space
Large, Unseen Mass is Pulling Earth Toward It
Venus and Earth: Engaged Or Divorced?
A Chilly Martian Night
Are the Sun's Fires Going Out?
An Oasis on Mars -- No Palm Trees But...
Due to A Fortunate Coincidence You Can Read About one
Rings of Uranus: Invisible and Impossible?
Post-eclipse Brightening of Io Confirmed
Seeing Double and Even Triple on Jupiter
White Area in Bottom of Martian Crater
Venus Has Uncertain Pedigree
Unearthly Life on Mars
Supermasses That Come and Go
Has the Universe's Missing Mass Been Found?
A Redshift Undermines the Dogma of An Expanding Universe
Asteroids with Moons?
Cometary Appearance of Venus
Nine-tenths of the Universe is Unseen
Petrol Channels on Mars?
What Caused the Grooves on Phobos?
New Cosmic Heresy
Strange Hillocks and Ridges on Mars
Radio Signals From the Stars
Sun-Earth-Moon System May Not Be Stable
Changes in Solar Rotation
Four Extragalactic Sources Expand Faster Than Light

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Textbook adoption process

Dear Texas NCSE members & supporters,

As many of you are doubtless aware, Texas has been receiving national media attention as it moves its way through the most recent round of textbook adoptions. Social conservatives and religious right organizations are exerting a great deal of pressure to see their views represented in the curriculum.

And because publishers offer their books to school districts all over the country, the efforts of a powerful, well-financed, fringe minority in Texas can have serious national implications.

Currently, the state is in the process of adopting social studies textbooks, so evolution has not experienced too many attacks. Complaints have been leveled against material that warns of environmental crisis or promote such "un-American" concepts such as restricting urban sprawl to protect wildlife.

Next year it's the science textbooks' turn. It is all but certain that evolution will come under fire. So I am writing you to ask for your assistance in organizing before the controversy erupts. Too often our side is left playing catch-up at the outset because no organized infrastructure is in place locally to get our message to the public and school officials.

As a first step, I'd like to encourage you to join the NCSE list serve. This is a one-way broadcast list, not a discussion list. NCSE uses this list to keep members informed on the latest happenings in the creationism/evolution controversy. It won't fill your in-box with a lot of information you're not interested in; we typically average a broadcast every one to two weeks. Instructions for joining the list can be found on the NCSE web site at www.ncseweb.org.

We'd also like to ask you to watch your local media for any signs of anti-evolution education activity on the horizon. If you can forward to us any articles in the local press you see concerning the issue for our files, it would be greatly appreciated.

We'd like to use this preliminary period to build the necessary infrastructure, begin gathering information on the adoption process, and also get information from NCSE into the hands of our allies in Texas. Additional input from you on what preparations need to be made is, of course, always welcome.

Below are the currently scheduled dates for the adoption of the science textbooks; however, these often change somewhat during the actual process itself. Although the process is not close at hand yet, it is certainly not too early to begin increasing our diligence and to begin laying the groundwork for potential activism in support of quality science education.

Date -- Adoption process milestone

4/1/2003 -- Textbook submissions are due
8/1/2003 -- Public hearings begin
9/1/2003 -- The board votes to certify the list with a final vote coming in November

You can find an article on the Mother Jones magazine web site that provides background information on the controversy at: http://www.motherjones.com/magazine/JA02/texas_texts.html.

Thank you so much for your time. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments on the textbook issue in Texas.


Skip Evans
Network Project Director
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609
510-601-7203 Ext. 308
510-601-7204 (fax)

NCSE now has a one way broadcast news list. Please note that this is NOT a discussion list. You cannot post messages for members to receive. We use this list to broadcast news about the creationism/evolution issue to interested parties.

To sign up send:
subscribe ncse your@email.address
to: majordomo@inia.cls.org

Rewriting Texas Texts Texas conservatives are aiming to revise their state's schoolbooks -- and teach a lesson to publishers nationwide.


by Dan Oko July/August 2002

You can still teach Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in Texas public schools, but if you're a teacher trying to warn students about the dangers of pollution and global warming, take care. After decades of focusing on hot-button topics like evolution, right-wing activists in the state are taking on a broader set of issues-challenging curriculum materials that warn of an "environmental crisis" or promote such "un-American" concepts as restricting urban sprawl to protect wildlife. Over the past year, conservative groups have challenged dozens of science textbooks, winning the rejection of one widely used text and forcing revisions to several others. This year, with the state board of education slated to consider more than 100 social-science texts, several publishers have invited conservative groups to review their texts in advance -- a step that critics say could have ramifications well beyond the Lone Star State. "If Texas continues to make these sorts of decisions, we're going to see the publishers stop printing these sorts of books," says Emily Heath of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, a California-based nonprofit.

With an annual budget for textbooks of $570 million, Texas "is clearly one of the most dominant states in setting textbook adoption standards," says Stephen Driesler, executive director of the American Association of Publishers' school division. "Along with California, it has the biggest in?uence on what gets published."

At the center of the latest controversy was Massachusetts-based publisher Jones and Bartlett, whose title Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future came under fire from conservative groups such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank chaired by Wendy Gramm, the wife of Republican Senator Phil Gramm. Among other things, conservatives objected to a passage according to which "too many people reproducing too quickly" could endanger the planet's health. In November, the Republican-dominated state board of education voted to reject the textbook; publishers withdrew a dozen other books that had been challenged, and revised several more. In one text, a passage on the lifestyles of Native Americans and European settlers was modified after conservatives criticized its "anti-settler" tone. In another, a reference to carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as a "pollutant" was removed.

As the state board begins another selection round-151 social-science texts are due to be reviewed by November -- observers expect controversy over topics such as civil rights and the role of women. (Six years ago, when social-science texts were last reviewed, conservatives objected to books that depicted women as professionals, but not as homemakers.) Neither publishers nor conservative activists would comment on the details of this year's textbook review; Chris Patterson, education research director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, says the organization was asked by publishers, including industry giants such as Harcourt and Holt, Rinehart and Winston, to submit comments and agreed to do so, "so that they can have first crack to address some of our concerns."

One company that won't be asking the foundation for input is Jones and Bartlett, the publisher of Environmental Science. Associate managing editor Dean DeChambeau says Jones and Bartlett won't bother to submit science texts in Texas anymore. "There just isn't the time and resources for us to go through such a process," he says.

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 23, 2002

from The New York Times

The latest round of international talks on global warming begins today in New Delhi, with delegates focused more on ways to adapt to changes than on cutting emissions of gases that scientists say are the main cause of rising temperatures.

The shift in focus is to some extent motivated by the Bush administration's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 climate pact completed last year and endorsed by most of the world's countries, rich and poor.

Without the United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, the Kyoto treaty is so weak, experts and government officials say, that it may have little effect. Others say the treaty has in any case been so watered down through years of negotiations that it is likely to be of limited benefit.

Instead of looking mostly at ways to reduce the level of heat-trapping gases, then, the 10-day conference "will discuss how to build greater capacity, especially in developing countries, for minimizing vulnerabilities and preparing for worsening droughts, floods, storms, health emergencies, and other expected impacts," said a statement issued by the United Nations, which supervises the talks.



Five months into his tenure as chief of the National Institutes of Health, Elias Zerhouni has begun to settle into the job and to speak out about his scientific and political priorities.

In the past few weeks Zerhouni has initiated visits with a variety of media outlets in an apparent effort to establish himself as a personality and a presence at the top of the nation's largest funder of biomedical research. His message is one of building public and congressional confidence in the NIH -- an institution poised to enjoy its fifth consecutive year of major budget increases and whose portfolio has recently expanded to include bioterrorism and homeland defense.

In a pair of recent interviews, Zerhouni said his top priority is to give the NIH a renewed sense of mission, energy and momentum after a nearly two- year period during which the agency had no permanent director -- to let the world know, he noted, that "the NIH has its act together."

Some of that comes down to bread-and-butter administrative responsibilities such as focusing on budget and personnel issues, a talent for which he amply demonstrated, colleagues say, in his former job as executive vice dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Los Alamos, New Mexico -- The nation's nuclear weapons laboratories, dismissed until recently as a relic of the Cold War, have become a critical element in the Bush administration's more forceful security and military policies, moving into areas of research and development considered virtually taboo.

The labs, operated by the University of California, are designing advanced bunker-busting weapons, manufacturing a new generation of nuclear components to update old warheads and are quietly preparing for renewed nuclear testing deep under the Nevada desert.

With their budgets at the highest level in years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Alameda County and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are also on the cutting edge of 21st century war work, like combatting bioterrorism, protecting the nation's infrastructure from crippling terrorist attacks, and developing a laser that simulates the intense heat of a nuclear explosion.

"I would call this a new chapter," said John Browne, director of the Los Alamos laboratory, which oversaw the design and testing of the first atomic bomb in 1945. "Our mission is shifting as we enter the 21st century."


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Los Alamos, New Mexico -- Alexander Saunders spoke with a subtly dismissive tone as he contrasted the way nuclear weapons designers had operated during the Cold War and what he characterized as the more methodical way the scientists work now.

Before, he said, the designers made great technological and theoretical leaps, and all they needed to do was prove that the weapons would explode during tests, not understand precisely what was happening and why.

But that is what scientists at the weapons labs must do now, Saunders said, as he stood before a massive linear accelerator at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and showed photographs it had produced -- taken at millionths of a second -- that revealed a new understanding of what happens to metals when a bomb detonates.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Despite years of study, there remains too little evidence to conclude a monkey virus that once tainted some polio vaccine can cause cancer in humans.

Still, the Institute of Medicine said Tuesday, although studies of people who received the vaccine have not shown increased cancer rates, a connection cannot be completely ruled out.

The institute, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, recommended development of a federal response plan for dealing with contaminated vaccines and better tests for the monkey virus to determine how widespread it is.

During the 1950s millions of Americans were given polio vaccine contaminated with a virus called SV40, which infects monkeys but does not cause them visible health problems.


from Scripps Howard News Service

DENVER - A new paper from a Denver neurologist suggests the possibility of humans contracting chronic wasting disease is underplayed and that the "most reasonable assumption" is CWD can be transmitted to some people.

Patrick Bosque, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, also wrote that scrapie - a CWD-like disease in sheep - can likely be transmitted to humans. Evidence to the contrary is "unconvincing," he said.

Like many other researchers, Bosque said there is no known instance of a human infected by CWD, which fatally damages the brains of deer and elk via a rogue protein called a prion. But since prion diseases of any kind are so rare in humans, scientists might not be able to identify a CWD case were it to occur, he said.

"It would be obvious by now if humans were highly susceptible to CWD," Bosque wrote, noting the disease has been present in wild deer and elk in northeastern Colorado for two decades or more without any reported cluster of a human version of the disease.


from The Washington Post

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- Marin County, long-famed as a mecca for wealthy hot- tubbers, has recently acquired a darker distinction. Women in these scenic valleys north of San Francisco are being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at a higher rate than experts have found anywhere else in the United States.

Over the past five years, non-Hispanic white women, the hardest-hit group in this county, have received a diagnosis of breast cancer at a rate nearly 40 percent higher than the national norm. Just as striking is how the rate steadily climbed through the 1990s, increasing 37 percent, compared with 3 percent for the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Marin's predicament has acquired special import in an era when breast cancer rates throughout the developed world have been rising, when more than 40,000 U.S. women are dying of the disease every year, and when scientists increasingly are raising questions about the possible influence of exposure to industrial chemicals. But even as local activists search for environmental smoking guns -- such as links to toxic waste dumps or cellular telephone towers -- experts say women here are most likely vulnerable because of something in this county's lifestyle, rather than in its water.

"We don't think there's strong evidence of unique exposure to an environmental harm," says Christina A. Clarke, an epidemiologist at the Northern California Cancer Center and a leading expert on Marin's plight.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

FRAUD: Mike Aba


"Mike Aba", "Obi Azuka", and "Peter Coal" are the fake names used by a Nigerian criminal who tried to defraud me. As soon as I read the "DEAR FRIEND" of the first e-mail, I knew it was a scam, but for fun I decided to mislead the criminal into believing that I was falling for his scam. You can read the exchange of e-mails following.

This type of fraud is known as the Nigerian Fee scam. Unfortunately, gullible people do fall for this scam. Hopefully this page will alert more people and make criminals like "Mike" less successful.

Stunning New Evidence that Jesus Lived


Christianity Today, Week of October 21

Scholars link first-century bone box to James, brother of Jesus.
By Gordon Govier | posted 10/21/2002

Pilgrims who travel to Israel to walk where Jesus walked may soon have something new to connect them with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Scholars have recently examined a box carved out of soft limestone, made to hold the bones of a first-century Jew. On its side is carved an Aramaic inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

The bone box, known as an ossuary, is in the hands of a private collector in Jerusalem. But its existence, revealed in a news conference today in Washington, D.C., has already generated a buzz among archaeologists and biblical scholars.

The news conference was convened by Biblical Archaeological Review, which reports "an archaeological landmark" in its November-December issue. The ossuary was not uncovered in an archaeological excavation, but apparently surfaced on the antiquities market. This means that potentially important evidence for evaluating the box is missing.

But experts consulted by BAR and Christianity Today seem satisfied that it really is a 2,000-year old artifact. BAR editor Hershel Shanks asked for an analysis by the Geological Survey of Israel. Retired Wheaton College professor John McRay, author of Archaelogy and the New Testament, says the survey's lab report was convincing. "Six different pieces of the patina of the stone were looked at through that laboratory," he said. "It was verified, by people who are not Christians, that the date on this is first century and there is no evidence of recent disturbances of the box."

"I have no question it is an ancient artifact from the first century," said Eric Meyers, the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies and Director of the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University. "It appears to be the oldest extra-biblical, non-literary mention of Jesus in the context of the nascent Christian church, and that's pretty significant."

Archaeological looting
Jews used ossuaries in their burial caves for a relatively short period in the first century. But archaeologists have found hundreds in recent years, including one that probably belonged to the high priest Caiaphas mentioned in the Gospels. Some have even been found inscribed with the name Yeshua (Jesus/Joshua) or with the inscription "James, the son of Joseph."

But could this ossuary really belong to the brother of Jesus of Nazareth? "You have to remember that the three names mentioned are equivalent to Tom, Dick, and Harry," says Meyers.

"They're everyday sort of names in the first century. What is most compelling to me is the use of 'brother of.' We don't have the designation of siblings common in the epigraphy of the Second Temple or early Roman period. That's kind of a clincher for me."

Meyers is an archaeologist who has excavated a number of sites in Israel. And even while marveling at this development, he cannot hide his repugnance at having to comment on a discovery of unknown provenance. "There was a whole tomb that was looted and this has been sold on the black market," he charges. "We're missing all of the rest of the stuff that could have filled in the blanks. That's very sad and that's why we don't want to encourage archaeological looting and this sort of activity."

Implications for Catholic doctrines Ben Witherington, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, believes that the bones stayed in the ossuary for a very short time. Noting that first-century Christians fled Jerusalem shortly before the Romans destroyed it in A.D. 70, Witherington thinks they took James' remains with them. "It's not likely they would take the ossuary with them, it's too heavy," he says. "They would probably have taken the bones because they wouldn't have wanted his grave to have been desecrated by Romans."

Witherington is intrigued as much by the beautiful Aramaic lettering of the inscription as by what it says. Handwriting analysis also helps date the ossuary to around A.D. 62, the traditional date of James' death.

"It certainly supports the view that Aramaic was still very much a living language amongst early Jews, including some of the followers of Jesus," he adds. He also sees implications for some Catholic doctrines in this discovery, especially the perpetual virginity of Mary.

"The dominant Catholic tradition is that the brothers of Jesus are actually cousins because Mary didn't have any more children, or they were step brothers in that they were Joseph's sons by a previous marriage," he said. "This inscription could call into question that doctrine."

Pat Robertson Counts His Federal Blessings


Reverend's Controversial Charity Awarded Faith-Based Grant From HHS

Bill Berkowitz is a long time political observer and columnist.

One of the earliest and most vociferous critics of President Bush's faith-based initiative is smiling all the way to the bank. In early October, Tommy Thompson's Department of Health and Human Services awarded a $500,000 Compassion Capital Fund grant to televangelist Pat Robertson's Virginia-based Operation Blessing International.

Operation Blessing was among 21 groups receiving a total of $25 million from HHS. The Associated Press reported that grants from the Compassion Capital Fund "were designed to provide technical assistance to smaller churches and others that need help applying for and running government programs." Although HHS has indicated that smaller groups dealing with homelessness, hunger, at-risk children, welfare to work, drug addicts and prisoners "should get priority for the sub-grants," in the end, the primary grantees will be making those decisions.

The Nigerian Nightmare
Who's sending you all those scam e-mails?


By Brendan I. Koerner
Posted Tuesday, October 22, 2002, at 7:13 AM PT

Perhaps you heard from Daniel A. Oluwa over the past few days. He's a member of Nigeria's Federal Audit Committee. He dropped you an e-mail, labeled "Strictly Confidential," stating that he's discovered a frozen account containing $42.5 million. Mr. Oluwa wants to snag the loot, but, for unfathomable reasons, he needs a foreign-based partner to act as an intermediary. Interested? Merely send along your "bank name, address, account number, swift code, ABA number (if any), beneficiary of account, telephone and fax numbers of bank." Thirty percent of the booty shall eventually be yours.

If you didn't receive Oluwa's electronic plea, maybe you were instead pitched by Dr. Chukwubu Eze, who's looking for a partner to help him spirit away $33.62 million in illicit oil money. Or Steve Okon, the purported son of a murdered Zimbabwean diplomat. He's got the skinny on about $10 million stashed away in an Amsterdam vault. Or any number of women named Mariam who claim to be the widows of either the late Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha or the deceased Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. They need help tapping into some Swiss bank accounts.

As you no doubt guessed, none of these supplicants were on the up-and-up. But you might be surprised to learn that they are, in fact, Nigerian. Odds are they're all Lagos-based con artists looking for American dupes greedy enough and dumb enough to spend thousands in pursuit of nonexistent fortunes. They aim to lure you to Nigeria or to a nearby nation where you'll be cajoled into ponying up endless fees to secure the "riches" $30,000 for a "chemical solvent" to disguise the money or $50,000 for "customs duties." When you eventually wise up, faux police barge into your hotel and demand massive bribes in exchange for your freedom. Tapped out? Expect to be held for ransom or murdered.

Former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta to Come Forward on UFO Disclosure


John Podesta, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff, will speak in support of the effort to gain release of still secret government UFO records. He will cite the importance to the public of declassifying government records.

Podesta was a key member of the Clinton administration. It was an administration went to great lengths to obtain the answer to the UFO mystery. Clinton's Science Advisor Dr. John Gibbons initiated an investigation by the U.S.A.F. into the crash of an unknown object at Roswell New Mexico. Clinton's first CIA Director James Woolsey in 1993 also green-lighted a new CIA investigation into UFOs. Clinton himself asked his good friend Webster Hubbell to find out the truth about UFOs. Hillary Clinton, also very interested in the UFO phenomena helped Laurance Rockefeller edit a letter to President Clinton on UFOs, and was briefed on the UFO subject by Rockefeller at the Rockefeller ranch during the President's 1995 vacation there.

The Podesta statement will be part of an announcement by the SCI FI Channel in support of a new effort to gain release of secret government records on unidentified aerial phenomena, commonly referred to as UFOs and release a new report by an independent journalist on the federal government's failure to carry out systematic scientific research into this widespread phenomenon.

The big announcement will be made at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday October 22, 2002.

Besides offering up support for disclosure on UFOs, a new FOIA initiative will also be announced. This will include the announcement of the formation of the Coalition for Freedom of Information (CFI).

Mystery Fireball Phenomenon a Damp Squib


By Orathai Sriring

NONG KHAI, Thailand (Reuters) - Almost half a million people flocked to witness the annual rising of fireballs from the Mekong where the river snakes between Thailand and Laos, but the phenomenon turned out to be a damp squib.

A four-hour downpour from twilight on Monday put the dampers on the show for most of the crowd camped out along a 10-km (six-mile) stretch of river bank opposite the Laotian capital of Vientiane. Usually thousands of reddish-pink balls of light are said to shoot up into the sky above the Mekong, which runs through five nations before flowing out to sea in Vietnam. But this year only a few dozen balls were seen. The fireballs, called "bung fai phaya naga," or "naga fireballs," after a mythical giant serpent, have never been proved scientifically, but some speculate they are the result of natural gases rising from the river bottom. Others say they are a hoax, while local myth tells of an ancient waterworld beneath the brown waters of the Mekong. Locals say the phenomenon has been occurring for half a century. They happen during the full moon of the eleventh lunar month in Nong Khai province, 600 km (360 miles) northeast of Bangkok. "This is terrible," complained a disgruntled grandmother, who spent hours on traffic-clogged roads to see the event.

"The fireballs weren't that spectacular and my grandchildren were crying and starving." The fireballs this year drew more than four times the usual crowd because a recent movie on the same subject.

"Usually we get around 100,000 visitors, but the crowd this year is estimated at 450,000-500,000 because of the movie," said Saroch Laowilai, a spokesman for the Nong Khai provincial administration. All 30 hotels and inns in the town of Nong Khai were fully booked and several hospitals and Buddhist temples offered room and board, officials said.

Thousands also camped along highways and the river bank. But despite the disappointment from out-of-towners, locals enjoyed the show.

"I don't how they happen," said Poon Matawong, a 72-year-old fisherman who says he first saw the fireballs when he was 20. "But I believe that the waterworld exists."

10/22/02 09:33

Contacting the North Texas Skeptics
The North Texas Skeptics
P. O. Box 111794
Carrollton, TX 75011-1794
214-335-9248 Skeptics Hotline (current information)

Current News  News Back Issues

What's New | Search | Newsletter | Fact Sheets
NTS Home Page
Copyright (C) 1987 - 2008 by the North Texas Skeptics.