NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 November 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, November 14, 2002

'Miss Cleo' Settles Federal Suit


'Miss Cleo' Settles With Federal Government, Agrees to Forgive $500 Million in Customer Debts

The Associated Press

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 14 - The operators of Miss Cleo's psychic hot line agreed Thursday to cancel $500 million in customer bills to settle federal charges that the service fleeced callers while promising mystical insights into love and money.

The settlement requires Access Resource Services Inc. and Psychic Readers Network Inc. to stop using pay-per-call numbers to sell their soothsaying services, the Federal Trade Commission said. The two Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based companies, which promoted a national network of "psychic readers" on television and the Internet, also must pay the FTC a $5 million fine.

"I'm no psychic but I can foresee this: If you make deceptive claims, there is an FTC action in your future," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau.

Under the settlement, the companies did not admit to breaking any law but agreed to stop trying to collect money from customers who called the service and to forgive about $500 million in outstanding charges. The service also must return all uncashed checks to customers.

The FTC voted 5-0 to approve the settlement. The amount involved eclipses the record $215 million that Citigroup Inc. agreed to repay customers in September to settle deceptive lending charges involving mortgages and credit insurance.

The FTC filed a lawsuit in February accusing the companies of misdeeds including false promises of free psychic readings, tricky billing tactics to squeeze money out of callers and unrelenting and abusive telemarketing calls. The action was prompted by more than 2,000 complaints.

The FTC said the psychic service promised a free reading, but consumers calling a toll-free number were directed to a 900 number charging $4.99 per minute. The agency said nearly 6 million people made such calls and were charged an average of about $60.

The government said operators made the calls last as long as possible by telling callers they would not be charged while on hold. A telephone bill running into the hundreds of dollars was the first sign for many callers that they were being charged.

The FTC also accused the psychic service of violating telemarketing rules by harassing people and making calls to those who asked to be on a "do not call" list. The agency said many consumers received up to 10 calls a day, usually automated messages telling them that "Miss Cleo had a dream about them and they should call back."

In separate actions, the two companies agreed in October to pay $1.9 million to Connecticut residents to settle charges of deceptive practices. Settlements also have been reached in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Also in October, a Missouri court sentenced the service's two owners, Steven Feder and Peter Stolz, to probation and fines, resolving criminal charges of unlawful merchandising practices.

Florida authorities have a civil case pending against the service's spokeswoman, Youree Dell Harris, known in advertising as the Jamaican mystic "Miss Cleo." During a deposition in June, Harris repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, refusing to discuss a birth certificate that shows she was born in Los Angeles to American parents.


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 613 November 13, 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

A BI-PHOTON DE BROGLIE WAVELENGTH has been directly measured in an interference experiment for the first time. In the early days of quantum mechanics, Louis de Broglie argued that if waves could act like particles (photoelectric effect) then why couldn't particles act like waves? They could, as was borne out in numerous experiments (the double-slit experiment for electrons was voted the "most beautiful" experiment in a recent poll—see Physics World, Sept 2002). In fact intact atoms in motion and even molecules can be thought of as "de Broglie waves." Molecules as large as buckyballs (carbon-60) have been sent through an interferometer, creating a characteristic interference pattern (see Update 579, www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/579-1.html). The measured wavelength for a composite object like C-60 will in part depend on the internal bonds of the molecule. What then if the corporate object is a pair of entangled photons?

One of the more fascinating predictions made regarding quantum entanglement (Jacobson et al., Physical Review Letters, 12 Jun 1995) was the suggestion that the de Broglie wavelength for an ensemble consisting of N entangled photons (each with a wavelength of L) would be L/N. This proposition has been verified now by physicists at Osaka University (Keiichi Edamatsu, 81-6-6850-6507, eda@mp.es.osaka-u.ac.jp) for the case of two entangled photons. The daughter photons were created by the process of parametric down-conversion, in which an incident photon entering a special crystal will split into two correlated photons. These photons are then sent through an interferometer (see figure at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2002/169.htm). The resultant interference pattern shows that the photons behave as if they acted as a single entity with a wavelength half that for either photon alone, a feature which might improve the sharpness of future quantum lithography (the narrowness of lines on a circuit board being no better than the wavelength of light used in the fabrication process). But since the parent photon already had this shorter wavelength, what will have been gained by splitting the photon in half? The advantage will come when, at some point in the future it will be possible to generate entangled photons from non-entangled photons of the same wavelength, a process called hyper-parametric scattering. (Edamatsu et al., Physical Review Letters, 18 November 2002)

ICICLE INSTABILITY. No two snowflakes are alike, according to common wisdom. Icicles, on the other hand, are all alike--that is, the ripples that embellish the surfaces of most icicles are similar regardless of variations in air temperature, humidity, icicle thickness, or growth rate.

An icicle grows when thin sheets of water flow down the icicle shaft. A portion of the flowing water freezes and the rest drips from the icicle tip. But the ice that's left behind doesn't build up uniformly; instead, it is selectively deposited at certain locations. As a result, icicles are covered in ring-like ripples extending along their lengths, which always measure about 1 cm from peak to peak. Researchers at Hokkaido University's Institute of Low Temperature Sciences in Japan (Naohisa Ogawa and Yoshinori Furukawa: ogawa@particle.sci.hokudai.ac.jp, frkw@lowtem.hokudai.ac.jp) have developed a theoretical model that explains the surprisingly universal structure of icicles. According to the new model, two effects are important as an icicle grows. The first effect is the Laplace instability, which is related to the latent heat released from an icicle's surface and dispersed into the air through the thin water layer. The instability arises because heat is more rapidly lost from the convex surfaces than that from the concave surfaces, which makes ice build up faster on an icicle's convex protrusions than on the concave indentations, thus amplifying ripples. The second factor is the fluid effect. Flow in the thin water layer decreases the temperature distribution along the layer, making it uniform and thus inhibiting the Laplace instability. As it happens, these two competing effects ensure that all icicle ripples have the same wavelength, although the ripple height can vary from one icicle to another. The theory also predicts that the ripples should migrate down an icicle at about half the speed that the icicle grows--a prediction the researchers hope will soon be verified experimentally. In addition the researchers expect that their model should be helpful in explaining the structures of mineral stalagmites commonly found in limestone caves. (N. Ogawa and Y. Furukawa, Physical Review E, October 2002)

POWERFUL T-LUX SPOTTED IN VIRGINIA. Terahertz radiation, far-infrared light with frequencies around 10^12 Hz, is difficult to make in useful amounts with electronic devices. It is, however, potentially valuable for a number of important applications, such as performing spectroscopy on proteins and buried structures in semiconductors. A new experiment conducted at the Jefferson Lab free electron laser (FEL) has now produced a broadband batch of coherent THz light with an average beam power of 20 watts, some 100,000 times better than previous sources. The T-light is produced in 500-femtosecond spurts when comparably timed bunches of electrons pass through a tiny region of magnetic field. (Carr et al., Nature, 14 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.

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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 - November 14, 2002

from The Boston Globe

In a study that may change the way millions of people assess their risk of heart disease, Boston researchers have found that testing for a protein produced when arteries are inflamed is a more reliable way of predicting a person's chance of having a heart attack or stroke than measuring cholesterol levels.

Doctors said the simple, inexpensive blood test could provide an early warning to millions of Americans who think their heart disease risk is low because they don't have elevated cholesterol levels. In fact, about half of the 1.5 million heart attacks each year strike people with low to normal cholesterol.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital found that in women with low cholesterol counts, high levels of C-reactive protein nearly doubled the risk of heart disease. Those people were at higher risk than people with the opposite combination - high cholesterol levels but low C-reactive protein - even though people with high cholesterol are the ones most likely to worry about their cardiac health.

While cholesterol monitoring is likely to remain a cornerstone of prevention, the study raises health concerns about an estimated 25 percent of the adult population with low or normal cholesterol and high C-reactive protein, said Dr. Paul Ridker, the lead author of the study published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

"They are a very high-risk group who are completely missed by current screening. And those patients don't spend a lot of time talking about diet and exercise and smoking cessation," Ridker, a professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the hospital's Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, said yesterday. "We are doing our patients a disservice."

The American Heart Association plans to discuss the findings at a special session on Sunday at its annual meeting, and will take them into account when it issues revised heart screening guidelines together with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sometime in the next few months.

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/318/metro/Protein_test_is_called_best_gauge_of_heart_disease_risk+.s html

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 - NASA announced a major change in direction today for its human space flight program, saying it would delay development of a replacement for the space shuttle and instead start work on a new, smaller orbiting space plane - a sort of minishuttle - to take people to and from the International Space Station.

Under the plan, the four ships in the 20-year-old shuttle program would continue to fly until at least 2015, and perhaps more than five years after that. This strategy delays a decision on a shuttle replacement until the end of this decade, said Sean O'Keefe, the administrator of the space agency, and gives the National Aeronautics and Space Administration time to define better what the new vehicle will be.

The agency would spend $2.4 billion over the next five years to design the orbital space plane, a vehicle that would be launched into space atop a conventional, nonrecoverable rocket and return to Earth to land on a conventional airport runway.

Mr. O'Keefe said the space plane would be designed to take people to and from the space station, and to serve as an emergency escape vehicle for astronauts aboard the outpost. The space plane would be able to take crew members into space more cheaply and easily than the shuttle, which would be reserved for lifting heavy cargo to the station and other specialized tasks, officials said.

The orbital space plane, which could fly as early as 2008 and carry up to 10 people, would add a step between the aging space shuttle and its anticipated replacement, a fully recoverable, two-stage rocket that would greatly reduce the cost of going into space. Mr. O'Keefe said delaying a decision on the replacement vehicle would allow the development of more advanced technology and help NASA better define the spacecraft's mission, which could be very different from that of the shuttle.


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Group Protests Influence of Conservatives on Textbooks in Texas


November 13, 2002


AUSTIN, Tex., Nov. 12 — Dozens of people gathered today at the State Capitol here to protest what they called the unfair influence of conservative groups over the state's textbook adoption process.

The protesters, part of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that calls itself a watchdog of the religious right, said an example of the influence was the removal of positive portrayals of Islam in the proposed textbooks after some people complained that it was "more propaganda."

"Good textbooks help me; censored and distorted ones hurt," Andrew Riggsby, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, said. Some people want to "wipe out facts they don't happen to care for," Professor Riggsby said. "That's not review; that's vandalism."

Group Asks 'What Would Jesus Drive?'


Evangelical Christians See Vehicles As Moral Choice

POSTED: 9:52 a.m. EST November 13, 2002 New car buyers in North Carolina will soon hear a call to conscience among the low-interest finance offers and year-end sales: What would Jesus drive?

The Evangelical Environmental Network, based in Wynnewood, Pa., will begin running television ads this month in Charlotte and Greensboro.

The ads will urge consumers to park their sport utility vehicles and buy fuel-efficient cars because Jesus wants the Earth's natural systems preserved.

The Rev. Jim Ball, the executive director of the network, said all decisions in life are moral choices.

Last year half the new vehicles sold in the United States were SUVs, minivans or pickup trucks.

Bush Signs Bill on God References


The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 13, 2002; 5:48 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed into law on Wednesday a bill reaffirming - with a slap at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and national motto.

Bush signed the legislation without comment. It reinforces support for the words "under God" in the pledge, and for "In God we trust" as the national motto.

The measure was approved unanimously in the Senate and drew just five no votes in the House. Congress rushed to act after the federal appeals court in California ruled in June that the phrase "under God," inserted into the pledge by Congress in 1954, amounted to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

The legislation faulted the court for its "erroneous rationale" and "absurd result."

The new law also modifies the manner in which the Pledge of Allegiance is to be delivered by stating that, when not in uniform, men should remove any nonreligious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Previously, the standard dictated that "any headdress" be removed.

Those House members voting against the bill, all Democrats, were Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Michael Honda and Pete Stark of California, Jim McDermott of Washington and Bobby Scott of Virginia.

At the time, Scott called the legislation "totally gratuitous" even though he shared the majority's objections to the court's ruling.

Four House Democrats - Gary Ackerman and Nydia Velazquez of New York, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Mel Watt of North Carolina - voted present.

--- The bill is S. 2690.

On the Net:

Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

From Pravda: UFOs Down Planes

Found at http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/11/12/39415.html

August Pamplona
P.S. Reproduced below

20:50 2002-11-12
UFOs Down Planes

Mysterious plane crashes that can never be explained

Everyone is used to news about plane crashes. This kind of tragedy has already become a usual thing to hear about. Nevertheless, governmental committees nearly always conclude that this or that air crash happened due to a technical malfunction or a pilot's mistake. Sometimes, a crash remains a mystery forever.

Some mysterious accidents happen due to something totally unbelievable, or anomalous, as ufologists say. Therefore, what kind of anomalous events can be dangerous for planes? They are UFOs, balls of lightening, meteorites, energy fields that humans know nothing about, or even unknown forms of life in the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere.

Is there anything funny about such a supposition? Well, a person is entitled to believe anything he wants. Let's try to find out as much as we can anyway.

First of all, planes can be downed by UFOs. We will not dwell on the origins of these objects. It is a fact, though, that they are present in the skies of our planet. This has been proved so many times with video tapes, photographs, and radar systems. The vast majority of ufologists believe that UFOs do not show any aggression against civil planes. In this connection, they are basically safe. However, there were six accidents registered during the period of 1991-1993, when UFOs were flying very close to passenger jets.

In the beginning of 1995, a Boeing 737 crew was shocked when the plane was about to slam into a triangle-shaped UFO, which flew past the jetliner at a very high speed. The same year, the crew of another Boeing 737 plane saw a ball-like object on a radar screen. The flight security system of the plane gave a warning of a possible collision. A UFO's friendliness can be rather problematic. According to a well-known Russian ufologist, Vladimir Azhazha, a plane disappeared in Siberia in April of the year 1970. About 20 large UFOs were registered on the site of the plane's supposed crash.

UFOs and fighter planes are a completely different subject to talk about. Fighter planes are supposed to down all kinds of trespassers, which inevitably leads to conflicts situations when it comes to UFOs. In 1967, there was an unidentified spherical object seen above Cuba. Two MiG-21 planes were ordered to pursue and down the mysterious trespasser. However, all the navigation equipment of the jets went out of order, including missiles and targeting systems. The UFO did not like the pilots' persistence, because the plane, which got too close to it, blew up. A Russian Su-27 vanished in 1992 in Russia's Far East. No one knows what happened to it.

Balls of lightning also pose a big threat to planes, and this danger can hardly be rejected even by disbelievers. A plane was damaged with ball of lightning in 1981 at a height of 1300 meters. Boris Korotkov, the pilot of the plane, said that the lightning was huge - about five meters in diameter. Nevertheless, Korotkov managed to land the plane and remained alive. It is worth mentioning here that such large balls of lightening can also be categorized as an anomalous phenomenon. A meteorite not destroyed completely in the atmosphere can also be very dangerous to planes. It is not ruled out that several mysterious crashes were caused by meteorites.

A Tu-154 passenger jetliner disappeared in 1995, a Boeing 737 blew up in the air not far from New York in the summer of 1996, and a MiG-31 pursuit plane burned in the air in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia. The pilots of all those planes did not report any malfunctions or state of emergency. Everything was going normal, and then a plane would disappear from radar screens, that's all. The flight recorders found after such strange crashes actually said the same: normal flights and then no records at all. Catastrophes happened all of a sudden.

Engineer Yevgeny Voronin from St. Petersburg offered his own theory to explain such tragedies. As he thinks, certain kinds of energy fields can fall in the Earth atmosphere from space. If a plane finds itself inside such an electromagnetic field, all of its equipment and black boxes stops working, and the plane starts spinning and then blows up. The fragments of a plane can be scattered over a very extensive area.

There is also a hypothesis, according to which active zones of the Earth crust (geological splits and their crossings) sometimes produce powerful energy bursts. These bursts then causes eddy flows and other anomalous phenomena in the atmosphere. If a plane flies above the site of the ejection, it will inevitably crash.

A man-made factor is also a reason of unexpected plane crashes. However, a situation, which is caused by this factor can be anomalous at times as well. This includes incidental or unauthorized missile launches, flying into a weapon-testing area, radiation, etc. An American professor determined that automatic piloting of planes is sometimes disabled with an incidental electromagnetic impulse from powerful ground antennas. Malfunctions can also be caused by battle planes that generate those impulses.

There are two other possible reasons for such crashes, but may people won't believe them. The first one is connected with the evil eye. There can be a longer title given to it too: "distant extrasensory impact on a human being with the goal of causing damage to health."

It is not ruled out that flight crews can be subjected to this kind of impact, when someone wants a plane to crash for some reason. There have been articles published stating that extrasensory individuals can exert distant influence on electric devices and computers.

As far as unknown forms of life in the upper layers of atmosphere are concerned, a weird accident happened to a small private plane in 1964 in Alaska. The pilot of that plane sent a SOS and managed to say something about very bright light and some weird creature in the sky. Then the connection stopped.

A satellite took a picture of a strange throbbing amoeba-like form, which looked like a living object. The satellite registered the creature in the upper layers of the Earth atmosphere. Ufologists believe that there are some unknown forms of life that inhabit the atmosphere of our planet. Time will tell if it is true or not.

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - November 13, 2002

Arms Inspectors in Iraq Will Use High-Tech Gear
from The New York Times

In the four years since United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq, the digital revolution has made their gear smaller, lighter, faster, more precise and easier to use. Millions of dollars in commercial and antiterrorism funds are accelerating the rush of technology, opening new vistas for weapons sleuthing.

Experts say the advances are giving the inspectors a technical edge in the hide-and-seek world of Iraqi weapons, as well as new leverage to disarm Iraq. Among the new developments are these:

* Commercial spy satellites so powerful that their photos can reveal details of factories, buildings and arsenals.

* Miniature sensors that can constantly monitor the air, water and soil for telltale signs of weapons of mass destruction.

* Newly portable germ detectors that can quickly check installations for anthrax, plague and other deadly biological agents.

* Powerful radar systems that can penetrate the ground to scan for signs of tunnels and underground bunkers.

Human knowledge and experience will still be paramount in any inspection regime, Hans Blix, head of the United Nations inspection teams, recently told trainees in Vienna, according to transcripts made public by the United Nations. But, he went on, "powerful new means of verification" are now coming into play.

His view was supported by military analysts who pointed out that if the equipment can find strong evidence of prohibited weapons work, rather than weak or ambiguous clues, that could prove important in making the case for action against the government of President Saddam Hussein.


Government Outlines Plan for Research on Warming
from The New York Times

The Bush administration, saying there are still many uncertainties about threats posed by human-caused climate change, has outlined a broad, years-long research agenda on global warming.

Among many other goals, the draft plan calls for new work to be completed in the next four years to clarify how much of the warming since 1950 has been caused by human actions like emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide or soot; to explain differing temperature trends in the upper and lower atmosphere; and to improve computer models that simulate climate and monitoring systems for tracking the real thing.

The proposal was lauded yesterday by industry officials and some scientists who have long questioned the mainstream view that global warming is mainly caused by people and poses big risks.

But many climate experts said the proposal mainly rehashed issues most scientists consider settled. For example, they pointed out, big international and national panels of climate experts concluded in the past two years that at least half of the warming measured since 1950 was indeed caused by human actions, namely smokestack and tailpipe emissions.

The plan, which was posted Monday night on a Commerce Department Web site,

www.climatescience.org, will go through months of public and scientific review before it is finished in the spring. It is already the focus of intense interest by scientists and lobbyists from environmental groups and industry, dozens of whom are among the 700 people already signed up to debate the plan at a Washington workshop in early December.


Age Barriers to Pregnancy Ease
Study Says Donor Eggs Can Aid Women In Their 60s; Practice Still Questioned
from The Washington Post

Women in their sixth or even seventh decade of life can get pregnant with relative ease using eggs from younger women, and can expect to have reasonably normal pregnancies and healthy outcomes, according to a new study, the largest of its kind.

The new findings confirm previous evidence that it is older women's eggs, not their wombs, that go into decline at menopause, leading to age-related fertility problems. The frequency of certain complications such as pregnancy-related high blood pressure does increase with age, the new study notes. But those problems can be minimized with careful oversight, the researchers conclude.

"On the basis of these data, there does not appear to be any definitive medical reason for excluding these women from attempting pregnancy on the basis of age alone," wrote Richard J. Paulson and colleagues at the University of Southern California in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The practice of helping women become pregnant in their fifties and sixties has been controversial since the first cases were documented more than a decade ago. The ethics committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine concluded six years ago that the practice is not unethical but should be discouraged. Others echoed that view yesterday, warning against wide promotion of the practice.


Growth Hormone Alters Aging
Study Shows Risks Include Diabetes, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
from The Washington Post

Injections of human growth hormone, which have become increasingly popular as a virtual "fountain of youth," do reverse some of the common physical attributes of aging, a new federally sponsored study has found. But the shots also have potentially serious side effects, including increasing the risk of developing diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome.

In the most extensive clinical trial so far of the hormone -- which is available at the many "anti-aging" clinics opening around retirement centers -- researchers concluded that the growth hormone treatment was not ready for widespread use, although it showed a "promising" ability to increase muscle and decrease fat in older people.

"There may be benefits to some older people in the use of growth hormone, but the safety is not established, and it should only be used in controlled trials," said Marc R. Blackman of the National Institutes of Health, who led the study. "This is not ready for prime time."

Human growth hormone has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration only to treat severe hormone deficiencies in children and adults, and for wasting in AIDS sufferers. But officials believe it is also being widely prescribed for older people who believe aggressive advertisements that promise the hormone will help keep them feeling and looking young. Black-market, and often counterfeit, growth hormone is used as well by athletes and body builders, FDA officials said.


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Terrorism: what are the real odds?



by Michael L. Rothschild
The Washington Post
Edited; freed for distribution.

The odds of dying in an automobile accident each year are about one in 7,000, yet we continue to drive. The odds of dying from heart disease in any given year are one in 400 and of dying from cancer one in 600, yet many of us fail to exercise or maintain a healthy diet. We have learned to live with these common threats to our health. Yet many are still afraid to return to the malls, open strange letters, and take to the skies.

What are the odds of dying on our next flight or next trip to a shopping mall? There are more than 40,000 malls in this country, and each is open about 75 hours per week. If a person shopped for two hours each week and terrorists were able to destroy one mall per week, the odds of being at the wrong place at the wrong time would be approximately 1.5 million to 1. If terrorists destroyed one mall each month, the odds would climb to one in 6 million. This assumes the total destruction of the entire mall; if that unlikely event didn't occur, the odds would become even more favorable.

In another hypothetical but horrible scenario, let us assume that each week one commercial aircraft were hijacked and crashed. What are the odds that a person who goes on one trip per month would be in that plane? There are currently about 18,000 commercial flights a day, and if that person's trip has four flights associated with it, the odds against that person's being on a crashed plane are about 135,000 to 1. If there were only one hijacked plane per month, the odds would be about 540,000 to 1.

I would like to suggest that we need an information campaign in this country: our leaders and media have not done a good job of discussing the risks that citizens need to consider when making choices in their daily lives.

We are presented with a continuous stream of stories telling us about the most recent horrible incident and the possibilities of future terrors. Frequent repetition of these stories may lead people to overestimate the likelihood of future dire events. While we need to be made aware of potential dangers, we also need to understand the true probabilities of these risks. In the above examples, the scenarios were pretty extreme; the odds of any one of us being directly affected by a lesser event would be even more remote.

People tend to underestimate the probability of a common event's occurring but overestimate the probability of a rare event. These findings may be due in part to the frequency with which we are exposed to news stories about the remote versus the common event. Anthrax, which has so far claimed a handful of lives out of a population of 275 million, was a continuous story, while smoking-related illnesses, which claim about 400,000 lives per year, are not a news story at all.

In Madison, Wis., it was reported that in some neighborhoods parents didn't allow their children to go trick-or-treating at Halloween because of the heightened risks of terrorism. What are the odds that any single child would be affected by terrorists on that one night?

We need to separate the probability that an event may occur in our country and the probability that it will occur to us as individuals. In making an informed decision about my own behavior, I need to know the probability that I will be personally affected by a terrorist act, not what the probability is that such an act may occur at some place and some time.

We each have many opportunities to take various actions each day. Each opportunity has multiple choices and multiple outcomes. Each of us must independently make our own decisions, but we are being given incomplete information on which to base these decisions. As a result we may have been unnecessarily cautious.

The economic cost to our nation in lost expenditures, resulting in lost jobs and lost businesses, has been enormous. While the impact of any potential event on any one of us is slight, the impact of the sum of our individual behaviors is great. There is a key question that we need to consider: What are the odds that I, myself, will be at the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time?

While any terrorist event is horrible, if I act with respect to my own real risk and the probability that I, personally, will be affected, then I can return to a more normal life. But if I act as if each terrorist act will be directed specifically at me, then I will hide, and collectively we will all hide.

The writer is an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin's business school.

Kyoto has 'fatal flaws,' scientists say

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/front/RTGAM/20021111/wkyot1111/Front/homeBN/breakingnews Looks like the "kettle defense again, Ed.

Toronto Globe and Mail Update

A group of scientists and engineers from Canada and the United States is gearing up for an event in which they will reveal what they say are scientific and technical flaws in the Kyoto protocol.

On Wednesday, eight scientists and engineers from Canada and the United States will speak about the "fatal flaws" in the agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Basically what they're [the scientists] going to say at the end of the day is that science is uncertain. And the science is so uncertain that you need to have more consultation," Evan Zelikovitz, a spokesman for the event, told globeandmail.com.

"You can't go to a craps table in Las Vegas and treat the Kyoto accord like that. There's just too much uncertainty," he said.

The event was the brainchild of an Ottawa mechanical engineer who has written on the topic of climate change and developed the idea of creating a platform for scientists who question the facts and figures in the Kyoto protocol, Mr. Zelikovitz said. Environment Minister David Anderson has already held federal consultations with scientists and experts across the country on the protocol.

Mr. Anderson has been criticized, however, for wanting to stack some climate-change panels, such as an upcoming one at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, with pro-Kyoto experts.

Wednesday's announcement in Ottawa will occur only days after a poll done for The Globe and Mail on the weekend revealed that 63 per cent of Canadians feel they do not have enough information on Kyoto.

Canada has said it will ratify the controversial accord, which would mean reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is planning to hold a vote on the ratification in Parliament before the House of Commons breaks for Christmas.

A number of provinces, however, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, have spoken out strongly against the ratification of the protocol, saying they prefer a made-in-Canada solution. Alberta has warned that the protocol will mean job losses and negative economic impacts.

Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm told CTV's Question Period on Sunday that it appears the premiers have made a breakthrough with Mr. Chrétien. He said Mr. Chrétien had reviewed a document from a federal-provincial meeting on Kyoto a week ago containing 12 principles and said Ottawa could agree with the provinces on all but three of the points.

"That's a mini-breakthrough in that I believe the Prime Minister himself is working on the file," he said.

Business and consumer groups have also spoken out against the protocol.

And as recently as October, 1998, 17,000 scientists signed a petition denouncing Kyoto and suggesting that carbon-dioxide emissions (one of the two major greenhouse gases, along with methane) may actually help the environment.

In Saskatchewan, meanwhile, the Kyoto protocol is shaping up to be a major battleground at this year's provincial NDP convention.

There are no fewer than nine resolutions dealing directly with the accord.

Some call on the provincial government to support ratification, while others urge the government to hold off until it can be proved that Saskatchewan will not face an unfair burden.

Saskatchewan New Democrats hold their annual convention next weekend in Regina.

With a report from Canadian Press

Sun's rays to roast Earth as poles flip


Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday November 10, 2002
The Observer

Earth's magnetic field - the force that protects us from deadly radiation bursts from outer space - is weakening dramatically.

Scientists have discovered that its strength has dropped precipitously over the past two centuries and could disappear over the next 1,000 years.

The effects could be catastrophic. Powerful radiation bursts, which normally never touch the atmosphere, would heat up its upper layers, triggering climatic disruption. Navigation and communication satellites, Earth's eyes and ears, would be destroyed and migrating animals left unable to navigate.

'Earth's magnetic field has disappeared many times before - as a prelude to our magnetic poles flipping over, when north becomes south and vice versa,' said Dr Alan Thomson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.

'Reversals happen every 250,000 years or so, and as there has not been one for almost a million years, we are due one soon.'

For more than 100 years, scientists have noted the strength of Earth's magnetic field has been declining, but have disagreed about interpretations. Some said its drop was a precursor to reversal, others argued it merely indicated some temporary variation in field strength has been occurring.

But now Gauthier Hulot of the Paris Geophysical Institute has discovered Earth's magnetic field seems to be disappearing most alarmingly near the poles, a clear sign that a flip may soon take place.

Using satellite measurements of field variations over the past 20 years, Hulot plotted the currents of molten iron that generate Earth's magnetism deep underground and spotted huge whorls near the poles.

Hulot believes these vortices rotate in a direction that reinforces a reverse magnetic field, and as they grow and proliferate these eddies will weaken the dominant field: the first steps toward a new polarity, he says.

And as Scientific American reports this week, this interpretation has now been backed up by computer simulation studies.

How long a reversal might last is a matter of scientific controversy, however. Records of past events, embedded in iron minerals in ancient lava beds, show some can last for thousands of years - during which time the planet will have been exposed to batterings from solar radiation. On the other hand, other researchers say some flips may have lasted only a few weeks.

Exactly what will happen when Earth's magnetic field disappears prior to its re-emergence in a reversed orientation is also difficult to assess. Compasses would point to the wrong pole - a minor inconvenience. More importantly, low-orbiting satellites would be exposed to electromagnetic batterings, wrecking them.

In addition, many species of migrating animals and birds - from swallows to wildebeests - rely on innate abilities to track Earth's magnetic field. Their fates are impossible to gauge.

As to humans, our greatest risk would come from intense solar radiation bursts. Normally these are contained by the planet's magnetic field in space. However, if it disappears, particle storms will start to batter the atmosphere.

'These solar particles can have profound effects,' said Dr Paul Murdin, of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. 'On Mars, when its magnetic field failed permanently billions of years ago, it led to its atmosphere being boiled off. On Earth, it will heat up the upper atmosphere and send ripples round the world with enormous, unpredictable effects on the climate.'

It is unlikely that humans could do much. Burrowing thousands of miles into solid rock to set things right would stretch the technological prowess of our descendants to bursting point, though such limitations do not worry film scriptwriters. Paramount's latest sci-fi thriller, The Core - directed by Englishman Jon Amiel, and starring Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart - depicts a world beset by just such a polar reversal, with radiation sweeping the planet.

The solution, according to the film, to be released next year, involves scientists drilling into Earth's mantle to set off a nuclear blast that will halt the reversal.

Given that temperatures at such depths rival those of the Sun's surface, such a task would seem impossible - except, of course, in Hollywood.


Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - November 12, 2002

from The Associated Press

SUNSPOT, N.M. - Scientists say they have made the unprecedented discovery of solar flares erupting almost simultaneously on opposite sides of the sun.

The flares - massive eruptions of hydrogen from the sun's surface - were observed by researchers at the National Solar Observatory in southern New Mexico on the morning of Oct. 31.

Simultaneous solar flares have been seen in the past, but never so far apart. Scientists at the observatory are trying to determine whether the eruptions were linked or a coincidence, solar physicist Don Neidig said.

Experts said the discovery could have far-reaching consequences if more cases are observed.


from The Washington Post

You've seen the recent reports and scratched your head in wonderment: After years of scientific consensus that cleanliness is next to wellfulness, evidence is accumulating, like mildew between the shower tiles, that the opposite may be true.

First came the news that having two or more cats or dogs around to slather your infant's face in salivary affection appears to help a baby build up immunity to allergies and asthma.

Then in September, researchers showed that hanging out with farm animals may help shield kids from allergies. After that came a study indicating that having older siblings and going to day care seems to provide the same type of allergy and asthma protection as consorting with pets and livestock. (For study details, see Page F4.)

And so we're faced with the emerging conclusion that, after many years of laboring under the illusion that a pristine environment would protect kids from unseen pathogens, regularly exposing them to dirt laden with bacteria will make them healthier.


from Scripps Howard News Service

People who drink wine weekly or monthly appear to have a lower risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to Danish researchers.

The researchers found that occasional wine drinkers were two times less likely to develop dementia than people who drank no wine at all.

"These results don't mean that people should start drinking wine or drink more wine than they usually do, but they are exciting because they could mean that substances in wine reduce the occurrence of dementia," said Dr. Thomas Truelson, the study's lead author and a researcher at the Institute of Preventive Medicine at Kommunehospitalet in Copenhagen.

"If that's the case, we could potentially develop treatments or prevention methods based on these substances," he said.

In the study, published today in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the researchers speculate that flavonoids, natural compounds that help counteract aging damage to blood vessels, might be responsible for the beneficial effect of modest wine consumption.


Dolphin skin inspires research aimed at keeping hulls clear of marine freeloaders
from Newsday

St. Louis -- Surprising new lessons in dolphin anatomy and polymer chemistry may be teaching researchers a thing or two about how to keep ship hulls free of tubeworms, barnacles and other aquatic freeloaders.

Dolphins are well known among anatomists for the extraordinary hydrodynamic properties that allow them to reach sustained swimming speeds of 20 mph or more. Now a chemist is taking her inspiration from another exceptional dolphin feature - its unique skin topology - to combat the underwater "biofouling" of ship hulls, long considered an aggravation by the Navy and the shipping industry alike.

Karen Wooley, a professor of organic and polymer chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, said marine organisms normally lock into place on ship hulls or pier pilings through secreted protein adhesives. These glues operate on the nanoscale level, a sub-microscopic realm that affords them Lilliputian footholds.

Speaking to science writers last month at a Council for the Advancement of Science Writing conference hosted by Washington University, Wooley explained that her work focuses on understanding molecular-level interactions between biological systems and synthetic materials, whether harmful or beneficial. Her challenge for combatting biofouling, then, has been to devise a polymer on the proper scale to prevent adhesion by such marine organisms.


from The New York Times

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. - Through the wizardry of modern genetics, it is possible to reconstruct the travels of the earliest humans as they moved out from their ancestral home in northeast Africa and spread around the globe. More details of these historic itineraries emerge each year, many at an annual conference of population geneticists and archaeologists at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

Geneticists can track these emigrations because of the train of errors that slowly accumulates in certain regions of the DNA. After a population splits, the people who go east will clock up a different set of errors from those who venture west.

From the population splits implied by these error patterns, geneticists can reconstruct family trees of different lineages in the grand genealogy of humankind, and even assign rough dates to the branch points.

At this year's conference, which ended last week, Dr. Peter Underhill of Stanford showed how scholars could begin to link the data in the genome's archive with historical events. Anatolia, the ancient name for Turkey, has long been a corridor for armies and peoples traveling between Europe and Asia.


from The New York Times

FRONT ROYAL, Va. - In Posey Hollow, tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dr. William J. McShea was inspecting a forest primeval - 10 acres of oaks, wild yam vines, seedlings and shrubs that made an ideal home for nesting songbirds and scurrying small mammals.

But he had to look through an eight-foot deer fence to see it. Where he stood, the forest was trimmed from eye level to earth as if by an army of obsessive landscapers. Mature trees stood unharmed, but oak seedlings were nipped in the bud. The only things thriving were Japanese barberry and other nonnative flora, plants that deer cannot digest.

In the last decade, from the Rockies to New England and the Deep South, rural and suburban areas have been beset by white-tailed deer gnawing shrubbery and crops, spreading disease and causing hundreds of thousands of auto wrecks.

But the deer problem has proved even more profound, biologists say. Fast-multiplying herds are altering the ecology of forests, stripping them of native vegetation and eliminating niches for other wildlife


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NEW YORK - A psychic talks to pets in doggie and kitty heaven. A man wakes up from a 6-year coma with psychic powers. A dead funeral-home patriarch visits his family from the other side.


All are characters on TV. And judging from the paranormal programs' popularity, viewers think they're out of this world.

"There is a push to have more of a spiritual side on TV," said E! Online's television columnist, "Wanda," who goes by her pen name and writes "Watch with Wanda." "We're looking for either comfort TV or dramas that have some sort of deeper meaning."

The shows vary from "reality" programs, like Animal Planet's Pet Psychic and Sci-Fi's Crossing Over, to fictional dramas like USA's The Dead Zone and HBO's Six Feet Under.

"People are really trying to connect with the other side," said Richard Fernandes, co-executive producer of Pet Psychic. "They're looking to know that people are well, their pets are well."

Crossing Over With John Edward, which documents psychic readings by the medium, has garnered a cult following. Viewers have lapped up Pet Psychic, where Sonya Fitzpatrick communicates with pets, alive and dead. And The Dead Zone -- based on the Steven King novel and starring Anthony Michael Hall as a man who wakes up after six years in a coma to find he has psychic powers -- has taken off on cable.

Those who have been in the paranormal business for years feel as though the newfangled attention justifies a craft often deemed hokey.

"I'm really happy to see what the TV shows are doing," said a Long Island, N.Y., medium who goes by the name Maryann G. "It's heightening people's awareness that there is more to life than just what we see every day."

Pop culture gurus and TV insiders say the resurgence in programming about the occult was fueled, in part, by the 1999 hit movie The Sixth Sense.

"The Sixth Sense did help facilitate interest in the supernatural," said Joanna Lowry, senior vice president of media relations for UPN, home of the just-canceled The Haunted.

When UPN took on the show about a detective who solves murders with the victims' help, there wasn't anything else like it on TV, said Lowry. "The supernatural was a subject that the country and consumers seemed to be responding to at the time we made the decision [to air The Haunted]."

While the show didn't capture viewers' imaginations, the heavenly TV trend isn't showing signs of disappearing into the ether.

E! Networks is working on a special hosted by Mark Wahlberg called Hollywood and Beyond, set to air early next year. It features "tomorrow's gossip today" with astrologers forecasting future Hollywood dish, plus segments where paranormal experts communicate with deceased stars like Marvin Gaye.

"It's a phenomenon that's in again," Jeff Shore, senior vice president of production for E!, said of parapsychology. "And celebrities are into this stuff. It's very much a part of Hollywood celebrity culture."

There are other shows soon to be unveiled, like ABC's midseason Miracles (exploring modern "miracles") and The Dream Team on Sci-Fi, where analysts interpret dreams.

"Shows that open the spiritual realm will follow into next fall season," predicted Wanda, the E! Online columnist.

Maryann G., the psychic, said communicating with those from beyond satisfies the same human need as praying.

"It gives peace to people, it gives hope," she said. "If people didn't believe in something other than this, they wouldn't pray. You're talking to the other side -- exactly the same thing that mediums do."

She thinks the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left many wanting to believe -- and stay connected with the ones who were lost.

"It was a wake-up call for a lot of people spiritually," she said. "Heaven is a very real existence. If you can connect with someone from the other side, it gives people peace knowing their loved ones are OK.

"Their love hasn't died," she added. "They're just not in visual contact. It's almost like they've moved."

"Science Friday" discusses ID and evolution

NCSE Friends,

Last week National Public Radio's "Science Friday" program featured a segment on evolution education, "intelligent design", and Ohio's pending state science standards. You can now listen to this one-hour program at http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/totn/20021108.totn.01.ram

Guests included: Kenneth Miller, Steven Meyer, Lawrence Krauss, and Deborah Owens-Fink. See also http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2002/Nov/hour1_110802.html

Eric Meikle

W. Eric Meikle, Ph.D.
Outreach Coordinator
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St., Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510 601-7203 x307
510 601-7204 (fax)
800 290-6006

Monday, November 11, 2002

Gravity's Apple Fell, and Reality Picked It Up


November 11, 2002

Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World
By Jenny Uglow
Illustrated. 588 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $30.

William Blake's "dark Satanic mills" are the three words that stick in the mind about the Industrial Revolution. The mind of course lodges in a body whose practices, power and ease go back through two centuries of technological advance to that very revolution.

Jenny Uglow's panoramic view of the intellectual seething that marked the revolution's early days paints the mills differently. Bright. Archangelic. Twinkling, even. Of course, she makes clear, this was when they were new: in the late 1700's, and 50 years before Emerson observed that England's once-green countryside pastured sheep black with factory soot. And when the revolutionaries were intoxicated with the prospect of the old idea-stifling world turned upside down.

Her book is partly a history of discovery's technology and science and, more distinctively, its exuberance. She sketches the lives, quirks, emotions and fellowship of a number of figures who played a part.

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - November 11, 2002

from The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - When a pair of tourists in New York fell ill with bubonic plague - a naturally occurring though rare disease - reaction in the East was swift and scared.

Fox News Channel ran an on-screen headline that blared "Black Death," while The New York Times ran a subhead on its story declaring: "A disease that ravaged medieval Europe reappears."

The national exposure worried New Mexico tourism officials, said Paul Ettestad, state public health veterinarian.

The state Health Department was flooded with calls from East Coast journalists - more than 25 calls since the news broke Wednesday about the Santa Fe couple, who remained hospitalized Friday in New York.

The media "seemed really surprised that the plague actually existed," state Health Department spokesman Eddie Binder said.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Researchers have found a link between the release from malformed red blood cells of the vital protein that carries oxygen, and episodes of severe pain in people with sickle cell disease.

The discovery is leading to clinical trials to test a new treatment - whether breathing nitric oxide, an important chemical that helps regulate blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, can help sickle cell patients with their pain, said National Institute of Health researcher Dr. Mark T. Gladwin.

The disease, in which blood cells form in an abnormal crescent shape, affects an estimated 70,000 Americans. It has no cure, though treatment can ease the periodic episodes of severe pain. The inherited condition can cause bouts of severe pain, particularly in joints and limbs, and can damage the lungs, kidneys and other vital organs.

Nitric oxide is removed from the blood plasma by hemoglobin, the compound that carries oxygen around the body, and that results in constricted blood vessels, reduced blood flow and the accompanying pain, according to a team of researchers led by Gladwin.


from The Washington Post

TRENTON, N.J. -- With the Bush administration and Congress deadlocked over how best to combat the mounting threat of global warming, state officials across the country are taking matters into their own hands.

California Gov. Gray Davis (D) has signed landmark legislation aimed at sharply reducing automobile and truck emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that many scientists say are the chief culprit in the earth's rising temperature. New Hampshire has enacted regulations of its own to combat rising temperatures in a bid to protect its colorful maple forests and lucrative syrup industry.

Here in New Jersey, state officials are emphasizing incentives and covenants to encourage utilities, manufacturers, colleges and even churches to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The collective impact of these state efforts is relatively minor compared with the worldwide dimensions of the problem. Yet state officials and environmentalists say they highlight a failure in Washington to address global warming.


from The Washington Post

Fishermen call it the "Hell Hole," this place of whistling winds and smashing waves in the north Atlantic Ocean. Above a chasm in the Northeast Channel, which runs between the submerged Georges and Browns banks off Nova Scotia, fishermen catch cod, haddock and other fish with hooks at the ends of long lines, and by dragging nets along the sea floor.

"It takes guts to fish 'Hell Hole,' " said Sanford Atwood, a 54-year-old Nova Scotia fisherman who has braved Hell Hole's elements aboard his boat, the Ocean Legend. "But the risks are worth the rewards. Whenever I'm out there, I come back with a boat loaded with fish. It's 'trees' on the bottom of the sea that are providing this bounty."

In "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," Jules Verne wrote of a forest of coral hidden from human eyes in the depths of the ocean. Although Verne couldn't have known that Hell Hole and other places like it existed, his century-old novel of undersea derring-do presaged a discovery made only recently by fishermen and scientists.

Deep-sea corals -- fishermen call them "trees" -- line undersea canyons and dot the "peaks" or edges of fishing banks, where currents in steep-sided channels carry food to the corals. And where there are deep corals, it turns out, there are fish in abundance.


from The New York Times

THESE may be lean economic times, but there is brisk demand for scientists who work on military projects.

One project is the $50 million contract the Defense Department gave earlier this year to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The goal is to build a sort of exoskeleton that among other things is supposed to give soldiers superhuman strength, protect them from biological and chemical weapons, and even help heal their injuries.

One of the researchers on the case is Yoel Fink, an assistant professor at M.I.T. Using, in part, technology he created, Mr. Fink and his team aim to embroider the supersoldier fighting uniform with polymer threads that - by selectively reflecting or absorbing different wavelengths of light - would silently flash an optical bar code. That way, for example, troops wearing specially tuned night-vision goggles would be able to distinguish between foe and friend during a night firefight.


from The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 10 - Researchers plan to announce on Monday a new approach to building three-dimensional integrated circuits, a technique that may one day be essential in creating faster microprocessors and higher-capacity memory chips.

The company plans to detail its results in a technical paper to be presented at the annual International Electron Device Meeting here next month.

The advance involves transferring a remarkably thin slice of a circuit onto a glass substrate and transferring it again onto another wafer that contains the bottom half of the circuit. The slice is created by using advanced mechanical grinding and etching processes.

One advantage of the technique would be to interconnect separate layers directly at thousands or even hundreds of thousands of points. Computer speeds are currently limited by the bottleneck of getting data on and off individual chips. Increasing the number of connections may sharply increase communication speeds.

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Nasa pulls Moon hoax book


Friday, 8 November, 2002, 16:08 GMT

Not heroes but actors, claim the theorists

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

The US space agency (Nasa) has cancelled the book intended to challenge the conspiracy theorists who claim the Moon landings were a hoax.

Nasa declined to comment specifically on the reasons for dropping the publication, but it is understood the decision resulted from the bad publicity that followed the announcement of the project.

Criticism that Nasa was displaying poor judgement and a lack of confidence in commissioning the book caused it to abort the project, agency spokesman Bob Jacobs said.

Nasa had hired aerospace writer Jim Oberg for the job on a fee of $15,000.

He says he will still do the work, although it will now be an unofficial publication with alternative funding.

The book will deliver a point-by-point rebuttal of the theory that the Apollo landings were faked in a movie studio, to convince the world that the US had beaten the Soviets to the Moon.

It will explain why in still and video footage of the landings, no stars can be seen in the Moon sky, why a flag appears to ripple on the atmosphere-free satellite and why shadows fall in strange directions - all "facts", conspiracy theorists say, point to a hoax.

Some commentators had said that in making the Oberg book an official Nasa publication, the agency was actually giving a certain credibility to the hoax theory.

AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory


The contemporary theory of biological evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry. It is the foundation for research in many areas of biology as well as an essential element of science education. To become informed and responsible citizens in our contemporary technological world, students need to study the theories and empirical evidence central to current scientific understanding.

Over the past several years proponents of so-called "intelligent design theory," also known as ID, have challenged the accepted scientific theory of biological evolution. As part of this effort they have sought to introduce the teaching of "intelligent design theory" into the science curricula of the public schools. The movement presents "intelligent design theory" to the public as a theoretical innovation, supported by scientific evidence, that offers a more adequate explanation for the origin of the diversity of living organisms than the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution. In response to this effort, individual scientists and philosophers of science have provided substantive critiques of "intelligent design," demonstrating significant conceptual flaws in its formulation, a lack of credible scientific evidence, and misrepresentations of scientific facts.

Recognizing that the "intelligent design theory" represents a challenge to the quality of science education, the Board of Directors of the AAAS unanimously adopts the following resolution:

Whereas, ID proponents claim that contemporary evolutionary theory is incapable of explaining the origin of the diversity of living organisms;

Whereas, to date, the ID movement has failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim that ID undermines the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution;

Whereas, the ID movement has not proposed a scientific means of testing its claims;

Therefore Be It Resolved, that the lack of scientific warrant for so-called "intelligent design theory" makes it improper to include as a part of science education;

Therefore Be Further It Resolved, that AAAS urges citizens across the nation to oppose the establishment of policies that would permit the teaching of "intelligent design theory" as a part of the science curricula of the public schools;

Therefore Be It Further Resolved, that AAAS calls upon its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of "intelligent design theory" as subject matter for science education;

Therefore Be Further It Resolved, that AAAS encourages its affiliated societies to endorse this resolution and to communicate their support to appropriate parties at the federal, state and local levels of the government.

Approved by the AAAS Board of Directors on 10/18/02

For more information, read the related article.

Ohio should keep `Intelligent Design' out of science class


Posted on Wed, Nov. 06, 2002

By Alan I. Leshner

WASHINGTON - The writer is the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which has 134,000 members serving 10 million scientists worldwide and publishes the weekly journal Science.

``Intelligent Design'' theory -- reminiscent of creationism, but more nuanced and harder to label -- has continued to challenge the Ohio Board of Education for the past several years. Ohio officials are not alone as they grapple with ID theory, which holds that the complexity of DNA and the diversity of life forms on our planet can be explained only by an extra-natural intelligent agent.

In a growing number of other states across the country, advocates have gathered, some wearing T-shirts depicting Charles Darwin on a ``wanted'' poster, to protest ID's exclusion from science classrooms, and to seek disclaimer stickers on science textbooks, describing evolution as a ``disputed view.''

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Nessie is partying with Elvis...

From Ananova at:


Loch Ness Monster 'goes AWOL'

The Loch Ness Monster has gone AWOL, according to the beast's fan club.

The Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club says there have been only three reported sightings of Nessie this year.

The club's Nessie Sightings Register reveals that nobody has claimed to have seen the monster since August.

Gary Campbell, President of the Fan Club says: "There has been an unusually low number of sightings reported this year, all of which were made by local people. It appears that no tourists visiting the area have seen anything strange at all whilst at the loch."

Historically, Nessie sightings peak during the tourist season.

Mr Campbell adds: "This would be expected, and not just for the cynics' reason that locals are trying to boost tourist number. There are longer daylight hours during the summer and of course more people about."

None of this year's "witnesses" were carrying cameras.

Anyone who has any evidence of the continued existence of Nessie might find it worth their while coming forward.

The William Hill award for the best Nessie sighting of the year is this year worth £1000 to the winner.

Last year the high priest of Britain's White Witches blessed the Loch Ness monster in a bid to keep it safe from hunters. Kevin Carlyon visited the loch to wish the monster a long life.

Story filed: 14:30 Sunday 10th November 2002

For pet psychics, it's all in heads - and hearts



By PATRICIA C. STUMB Times Staff Writer patricias@htimes.com

You're looking your dog in the eye, scratching his head and telling him what a good boy he is.

It's almost as if he understands, giving you a contented smile, wagging his tail and slobbering on your shoes.

A couple of local pet psychics say it isn't just your tone of voice that has Fido basking in the glow of self-worth. It's your words.

''We all have the ability to communicate with animals,'' says Debra Woodrow. ''We use it when we're kids, and then we talk ourselves out of it when we grow up.''

Linda Nelson says she's used her psychic abilities to convince animals to change their behavior.

She tells the story of two cat companions dropped off at the Madison County Humane Society. One was adopted. The other was not; she kept misbehaving.

''I told her that the thing that was keeping her from getting adopted . . . was that she kept biting,''

Nelson says. ''I told her that she needed to stop.

''She made a total turnaround, and she got adopted. And as far as I know, everything is still fine.''

Skeptic Newssearch - 11/6/02


'Swamp monster' halts highway
Australian Associated Press


"WORK on a major highway upgrade has ground to a halt after a Maori tribe warned it was infringing on the domain of a swamp-dwelling monster capable of causing traffic deaths."

Western Morning News


"Horse communicator and healer Julie Dicker picked up strong feelings of fear when she analysed samples of hair from two of the animals in the latest big cat sightings."

Williams Hearing Postponed Again
Associated Press

(See also

"A court hearing over whether Ted Williams' daughter can challenge her half brother's desire to have the Hall of Famer's body cryogenically preserved was postponed for a second time Tuesday."

By Kim Hone-McMahan
Akron Beacon Journal


"Her head spun around, an eerie amber glow coming from her eyes."

A haunting tune
By Mark J. Price
Akron Beacon Journal


"They said Sidney Veon's family was frightened away in the middle of the night."

Sleepy in S.F.? An election conspiracy theory
San Francisco Chronicle


"News item: NASA has assigned a historian to rebut conspiracy theorists who say moon landings were faked in studios."

Psychic claims he spoke to Cromwell
Northampton Evening Telegraph


"A psychic claims he spoke to Oliver Cromwell in a hotel room on Halloween."

Judge forbids casting of spells at Illinois prison
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


"A practitioner of witchcraft won't be casting any spells at the federal prison in Pekin, Ill., a judge in East St. Louis ruled last week in a religious freedom case."

It's official - US did land on moon
by Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian [UK]


"The US moon landings, as any good conspiracy theorist knows, were staged on a movie set by Americans eager to outstrip the Russians in the space race. You can tell because the flag they plant there ripples in a gust of wind, because the film-makers forgot to include stars in the night sky and because Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have never spoken about their lunar adventures."

No Apollo Moon Landing? NASA Book to Combat Doubts
By Deborah Zabarenko


"Moon rocks weren't enough. Neither was testimony from astronauts or even photographic evidence. So NASA has commissioned a mini-book to show that yes, indeed, Americans did land on the Moon."

FTC: Where Spam Goes to Die By Michelle Delio


"Sex swindles, credit card cons, dubious diet plans, drugs to grow hair and other body parts -- if it arrives in an unsolicited e-mail, the Federal Trade Commission wants it."

Buckingham Palace denies 'witch' invited to meet Queen


"Buckingham Palace has dismissed claims by a Romanian "witch" who says she has been invited to meet the Queen."

City receives $2.5 million in worthless checks
Newark Advocate


"Following the age-old advice, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Mayor Frank Stare discovered a recent $2 million check to the city was worthless."

Horror in the Jungle
By Andrew Chang


"Readers of Uganda's leading newspaper were met with a grisly sight last week."

SETI@home yields to pressure to curb cheating
By Andrew Colley
ZDNet Australia


"Administrators of the alien-hunting distributed computing experiment SETI@home have announced they will crack down on cheats who rort statistics on computing power lent to the project. The announcement follows a united protest from the chief contributors."

UFO group: Truth will land in 2003
Charlotte Observer


"Even with some prompting, the crowd couldn't sing "Happy Birthday" in unison."

Cancer's Enema No. 1? Make That 2 By Kristen Philipkoski


"A study testing a controversial pancreatic cancer treatment that uses coffee enemas should by all rights be nearly complete."

Human flesh 'on sale in London'
by Antony Barnett, Paul Harris and Tony Thompson
The Observer [UK]


"Detectives hunting the killers behind the 'Torso in the Thames' child murder are investigating the illegal bushmeat trade after allegations that human flesh is being offered for sale in London."

UFO case back in spotlight
By Ann Saul Dudurich


"On Dec. 9, 1965, a fiery orange object was observed streaking across the evening sky. Witnesses in Westmoreland County said the object appeared to bank and turn before gliding into a wooded ravine near Kecksburg, Mt. Pleasant Township. Military personnel arrived a short time later, purportedly keeping curious onlookers at bay while the area was searched."

Network joins search for 'truth'
By Billy Cox


"It was a marketing strategy every bit as calculating as the buildup for "The Blair Witch Project." Armed with the latest Roper Poll numbers indicating 72 percent of Americans believe the federal government is withholding information about unidentified flying objects, the Sci-Fi Channel staged a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 22 to declare its designs on learning the truth."

Psychic to join search for girl
By Kenneth A. Gailliard
Myrtle Beach Sun News


"A psychic from Paris will arrive in North Carolina today to join the search for a missing 4-year-old from Conway, a search organizer said."

Psychic's readings buoy believers, annoy skeptics


"Cherie Wacha is a believer."

Texas Crystal Skull Gets Worldwide Attention


"Since the 1970s, it's been a mystery right here in Houston. People from all over the world want to see it, touch it and just be near it. Is it an encoded message waiting to be unlocked or just a rock? News2Houston explored the secrets of Max, the Texas crystal skull."

Science texts not always by the book
By Marsha Walton


"Science and precision should be inseparable. But physics professor John Hubisz and others reviewing many U.S. textbooks say that's hardly the case."

Orgone but not forgotten
by Kurt Blumenau
Milford Daily News


"There's nothing we like better at Surf's Up than a good genius-or-fool story, and we've got a real whopper this week in the person of Wilhelm Reich."

Pet Psychic Talks With The Animals


"Have you tried everything to figure out what's wrong with your pet? Do you ever wonder what your pet may be trying to say to you?"

The Bermuda Triangle Mystery
By Bernie Alexander


"If you have ever traveled to the Caribbean from South Florida, be it by ship or plane, then you have ventured into the Bermuda Triangle. Are you scared yet?"

Two local books touch on area's spooky history
The Saratogian


'"'Do you believe in ghosts?''"

X doesn't mark the spot
By Phil Plait
Boston Globe


"When the e-mail came, I had been expecting it for weeks."

New York Post


"SHE'S quoted bogus Shakespearean passages, misspelled the name of Sen. Dick Gephardt, and issued a position paper identifying Saddam Hussein as the "president of Iran." Now liberal activist Barbra Streisand is privately saying that Sen. Paul Wellstone's plane crash was "no accident.""

Challenge defying psychics
Southland Times [New Zealand]


"Almost eight years ago Stuart Landsborough issued a challenge to psychics to find a $50,000 promissory note at his Puzzling World at Wanaka."

N.C. Capitol to be inspected for ghosts


By Associated Press, 10/31/02

RALEIGH, N.C. — They haven't quite called in the ghost-busters, but the state has given the OK for a paranormal screening of the old state Capitol.

Staffers at the Capitol say they have heard floorboards creak with invisible footsteps, keys jangle and doors squeak open and shut.

"To be honest with you, I've always made it a rule to be out of the building at quitting time," said Raymond Beck, the Capitol historian. "I've had enough of those strange vibes here that I don't like sticking around after it gets dark."

Researchers from the Ghost Research Foundation will give the 162-year-old landmark where the governor has his offices a "spectral inspection," using infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and audio recorders.

The Capitol has gone through a number of night watchmen who begged off the duty after one night of creepy noises, Beck said. But Owen J. Jackson, 84, managed the job for 12 years before retiring in 1990.

Strains of gospel hymns, the thump-thump-thumps that followed him down stairs and the angry slams of doors never bothered him, Jackson said. "You get used to something like that," Jackson said. "I think there's a couple million dollars buried somewhere there, and they're just trying to tell us where it was."

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