NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 November 2002

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Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines - November 20, 2002

from The Los Angeles Times

Private for-profit kidney dialysis centers may provide worse care for patients than private centers that are not-for-profit, resulting in about 2,500 premature deaths in this country every year, scientists report today in a new analysis of patient data.

A likely cause, according to the authors, is the need by for-profit centers to pay taxes and make money, which could lead companies to reduce staff, employ less-qualified workers and cut the time a patient spends in dialysis.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, pooled data from eight previously published studies and found 8 percent more deaths each year with for-profit institutions than with not-for-profit private institutions.

However, several scientists commenting on the study expressed doubts about its findings, in part because it was based on information collected from 1973 to 1997 that could be outdated by modern practices.


from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 - Two giant black holes have been found at the center of a galaxy born from the joining of two smaller galaxies and are drifting toward a cataclysmic collision that will send ripples throughout the universe many millions of years from now, scientists said today.

The detection of the supermassive black holes - collapsing objects so dense that their gravity draws in all material around them, including light - is the first definitive evidence that two of them can exist in the same galaxy.

These particular black holes, found by a team of researchers using the orbiting Chandra X-Ray Observatory, are circling each other in a Mephisto waltz that will lead to their merging in several hundred million years. That joining, astronomers said, will result in a monumental release of radiation and gravitational waves that should stretch across the universe.


from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In a matter of days, President Bush will likely decide whether millions of Americans will be rolling up their sleeves for a smallpox vaccination. When he does, it will launch the biggest test of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since last year's anthrax attacks.

As soon as Bush announces how many Americans should be vaccinated, the CDC will have to explain the policy, educate the public and supervise a complex vaccination campaign that could produce hundreds of serious side effects and even kill some people.

The campaign could prove to be a major trial of the Atlanta-based agency's ability to communicate clearly and rapidly on a public health issue capable of provoking broad national anxiety -- a task that some lawmakers and health experts said the CDC failed to perform well during the anthrax crisis.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Stanford -- In an unusual alliance between one of the nation's top research campuses and some of the country's most polluting industries, Stanford University will receive a huge donation for research on energy, climate and environmental problems.

The grant -- which could reach nearly a quarter of a billion dollars -- will come from oil, gas and other energy companies such as ExxonMobil and General Electric.

The money will create the Stanford-based Global Climate and Energy Project (G-CEP) and bankroll its study of technologies needed for resolving energy and environmental problems, it was learned Tuesday.

At least $175 million is already guaranteed for the 10-year project, and the total may reach $225 million, according to a Stanford official who insisted on anonymity. Of the $175 million already promised, $100 million will be given by ExxonMobil.


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Fear factor: Conspiracy theories go mainstream


More and more so-called 'normal' people believe outlandish stories


Saturday, November 16, 2002 – Print Edition, Page F2

LONDON -- It's been a banner year for conspiracy theories. Forget the old days when the panic seemed confined to crop-circle farmers and alien-friendly hippies -- today, conspiracy theories are not just for the kooky fringe. The practice of outlandish hypothesizing has gone mainstream.

Everyone from your local bartender to the Queen of England is citing dark "unknown forces" that control society from the shadows. Consider it equal-opportunity paranoia.

This year, The New Statesman compiled a list of recent international opinion polls revealing that an extraordinary number of people believe that world events are being controlled by shadowy off-stage elements.

Among the revelations: A near-majority of the Arab world believes that Jews were warned of the World Trade Center attacks; an actual majority believes that the Princess of Wales was murdered because she had a Muslim boyfriend; more than 50 per cent of all black Americans believe that the Central Intelligence Agency approves of widespread drug use in their community because of its pacifying effect, and one-fifth believe that the AIDS epidemic was introduced by the CIA; 80 per cent of all Americans believe that the U.S. government is deliberately concealing the true explanation behind Gulf War syndrome.

Joseph Stalin insisted that the USSR outpace America with its space program


Pravda.RU:Top Stories:More in detail

10:39 2002-11-19
Stalin's UFOs

Almost simultaneously with the USA, in the middle of the 20th century, the USSR tabooed everything connected with UFO crashes. Immediately, the next day after one of the first UFO crashes, in Roswell (the state of New Mexico, U.S.A.), on June 2, 1947, General Roger Romay, commander of the 8th American Air Brigade, declared that the incident was a mere crash of a weather balloon. That was the very beginning of a campaign of mass disinformation.

Your average American citizen believed the general's statement for several dozens of years, as they considered it really incredible that an UFO might really have crashed. However, the Soviet leadership headed by Joseph Stalin didn't believe Romay's lies at all.

The USSR believed that the story about a weather balloon crashing was just an attempt to hide the truth. The military unit that recovered the remains of the UFO was believed to be America's best trained Air Force unit. This unit took part in super secret nuclear missions (it was this group that dropped the nuclear bombs on Japan); pilots of this group tested new planes and were experienced enough not to confuse a weather balloon with an UFO.

In order to clear up the situation, Joseph Stalin ordered three Soviet scientists to research data obtained by the KGB in the USA and define to what extent such mysterious objects were dangerous for the Soviet Union. These three men were talented mathematician Mstislav Keldysh, chemist Alexander Topchiyev, and physician Sergey Korolev.

In order to assess the situation, the scientists recommended that Stalin organize special investigations of similar phenomena. As a result, a number of programs to study UFOs were launched in the USSR. At that time, the programs were secret, and the West didn't know about them. It was only recently that the West has learned about these programs.

Until the end of the 1990s, there were seven Soviet research institutes and about ten secret military departments of the Soviet Defense Ministry that studied UFO phenomenon. All of them were attached to a secret department of the KGB, which created by Yury Andropov.

In 1948, on Stalin's order, the first sample of an UFO was brought to the Moscow region. Famous Soviet archeologist and artist and journalist Sukhoveyev described the events that preceded this event.

"My father had been a digger in archeological expeditions for many years. Long before the Great October Revolution in 1917, famous archeologist Khvoika found a small silver device during archeological digs in Kiev near the place where the Chaikovsky Conservatory is currently situated.

The scientist ordered the crew to dig as deep as possible around the discovery. The land from the dig site was taken away in pails for a week. The Kiev governor was invited to the site. The governor carefully watched everything and ordered the find to b buried. He said that some time was required before the discovery could be dug up and examined.

Indeed, the object was very unusual.

Archeologist Khvoika told himself that the "discovered ancient space rocket" was a sign of an ancient civilization.

The father of journalist Sukhoveyev had dealings with this rocket after WWII once again. When workers demolished ruins in 1948, they came across the mentioned mysterious object. The find was dug up, cut into pieces, and loaded onto trucks. The parts were taken to a secret testing area in the Moscow region. The father of the journalist was sent there as well as an expert in ancient languages; he was to translate the inscriptions inside the space ship. It was the Sanscrit language, which is now a dead language.

The construction of the rocket was actually very complicated; it was practically impossible to understand it. Sergey Korolev, the head of the scientific group researching the mysterious device, admitted that it was a very difficult task to investigate the rocket. However, the Soviet scientists managed to understand some of the rocket's secrets; the discoveries came in very useful later, when Soviet space technology was created.

Joseph Stalin personally controlled the project and completely relied upon Sergey Korolev's research. Joseph Stalin insisted that the group of Soviet scientists must successfully complete their research and take the lead over the Americans' space program.


Translated by Maria Gousseva

Ontario author says he knows where UFOs come from

http://www.dailybulletin.com/Stories/0,1413,203%7E21481%7E998080,00.html Inland Valley Daily Bulletin



Sunday, November 17, 2002 -

ONTARIO -- Author C.A. Honey of Ontario calls himself a skeptic. Many others, he says casually, think he's a wacko.

Honey, 74, has spent the last 45 years of his life seeking the truth about UFOs and "space people.' His new book "Flying Saucers: 50 Years Later,' published in yellow paperback by a Canadian company, was released earlier this year.

Honey, a television repairman and a former design engineering supervisor at Hughes Aircraft Co. in Fullerton, wrote the book because he needed the money and wanted to promote his agenda, he said.

"It's exposing about 95 to 97 percent of the phony stuff in the field and setting people straight as to what is going on,' he said. "A lot of people are interested in UFOs and flying saucers, but all they know is all this propaganda that is being put out by so many people.'

Honey became interested in UFO phenomena after he spotted a UFO in the late 50s while he lived in Seattle, he said.

Honey, who served in the U.S. Navy and Air Force and is also a professional hypnotist, makes several claims in the book.

UFOs, he says, originate from another planet still unknown to present day astronomers.

According to Honey, mankind did not originate on Earth through normal evolution but is the result of a special creation performed by the Nefilim who came to this solar system about 450,000 years ago as documented in ancient Sumerian writings.

He said the government has participated in a disinformation campaign, including the use of hypnosis, to confuse the truth and is concealing it from all those who could not accept it at this time.

Contrary to the beliefs of some, space people do not look like insects or reptilians, but in fact look like you and me, he said.

Pat Linse, founder of the Altadena-based Skeptic Society, said Honey's claims are more religious than scientific.

"If they were scientific, people in all these other fields would agree with him more,' she said, citing geneticists, biologists, archaeologists and biblical scholars. "He's just an isolated figure whose come up with some very appealing ideas.'

Honey's knowledge is the the result of logic, years of personal experience and research in the field, circumstantial evidence and research from pundits like Zecharia Sitchin, a Sumerian scholar, Honey said. Honey added that he does not like to talk about his personal encounters since he has no way of proving them.

"I think that what I write is logical, it makes sense and I document very heavily just about everything I do and why I believe the way I do on things,' he said.

Honey, the son of evangelists, said he is on a campaign against "religious wackos' -- which he distinguishes from mainstream religious denominations -- who say that flying saucers come out of hellfire and are piloted by demons.

Honey, who adds that he believes in God, also makes the claim that all religions are man-made. He does not know why the space visitors are visiting Earth, he added.

Honey was a ghostwriter and colleague for the late ufologist George Adamski until Honey dissolved their partnership in 1963. He did so, he said, because he disagreed with some of the later claims Adamski was making, including that he visited the planet Saturn in a spacecraft.

Honey has published 81 articles in the field, close to 25 of which are reprints of publications from other authors, which he sends to people free of charge over the Internet, he said. His writings have generated questions and comments from people around the world. Honey writes from his office, which is full of books and has a small section dedicated to flying saucers and alien memorabilia.

"I'm sincere in my beliefs and I make a standing statement that if anybody can come up with any documented evidence that I'm wrong about some of these things, I want to know about it, because I want to know the truth,' he said.

Brenda Gazzar can be reached by e-mail at brenda.gazzar@dailybulletin.com or by phone at (909) 483-9355.

Mysterious Creatures

George Eberhart forwards this news, on November 7, 2002:

At last word, Mysterious Creatures is due to be available in early December from online sources like, for example:


Bigfoot hunters who cannot afford the price tag are encouraged to make a purchase recommendation to their local public or academic libraries.

The book, which is essentially a field-guide-like encyclopedia of cryptids, covers the following types of mystery animals (this is an excerpt from the introduction):

What constitutes a "cryptid"? Cryptids are the alleged animals that a cryptozoologist studies. Obviously, someone - either an ethnic group familiar with a specific habitat, a traveler to a remote region, or a surprised homeowner who sees an ALIEN BIG CAT or SKUNK APE in the back yard - first has to allege that such animals exist. (Words in CAPITALS refer to entries in the text.) The examination and evaluation of ethnographic, testimonial, and physical evidence to determine the identity of a cryptid is what cryptozoology is all about.

Some would say that only those animals with a reasonable chance of one day becoming recognized as a new species should be included, and that bizarre, red-eyed ENTITIES like MOTHMAN or mythical creatures like DRAGONS and UNICORNS are out of scope. This is a practical approach for the zoologist whose aim is to add to knowledge of the world's biodiversity, and it is one of cryptozoology's primary goals as well.

However, I have taken a broader view in this encyclopedia. It can be equally important to show how known animals can pose as cryptids, or how people's belief systems and expectations can color their observations of the natural world. Do Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) occasionally get reported as BIG BIRDS or THUNDERBIRDS? Are witnesses of HAIRY BIPEDS or EASTERN PUMAS in certain parts of Maryland influenced by the tales of GOATMAN and SNALLYGASTER in those areas?

Solving historical puzzles also seems relevant to cryptozoology. Just what animals were responsible for medieval BASILISK lore? Could the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) or the Giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus) have survived somewhat later in time than is currently supposed and thus be responsible for Indian legends of the STIFF-LEGGED BEAR?

Most of the mystery animals in this book fall into one of the following 10 categories:

(1) Distribution anomalies, or well-known animals found in locales where they have not previously been found or are thought extinct, such as the EASTERN PUMA.

(2) Undescribed, unusual, or outsize variations of known species, such as the BLUE TIGER, HORNED HARE, or GIANT ANACONDA.

(3) Survival of recently extinct species, such as the IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER in the southern United States, thought extinct since the 1960s.

(4) Survival of species known only from the fossil record into modern times, such as the ROA-ROA of New Zealand, which might be a surviving Moa.

(5) Survival of species known only from the fossil record into historical times, but later than currently thought, such as the MUSKOX OF NOYON UUL.

(6) Animals not known from the fossil record but related to known species, such as the ANDAMAN WOOD OWL or BEEBE'S MANTA.

(7) Animals not known from the fossil record or bearing a clear relationship to known species, such as BIGFOOT and some SEA MONSTERS.

(8) Mythical animals with a zoological basis, such as the GOLDEN RAM.

(9) Seemingly paranormal or supernatural entities with some animal-like characteristics, such as BLACK DOGS or CANNIBAL GIANTS.

(10) Known hoaxes or probable misidentifications that sometimes crop up in the literature, such as the COLEMAN FROG and BOTHRODON PRIDII.

--George Eberhart

The Amazing Meeting.....!

From: James Randi randi@randi.org

Those of you who follow the JREF page will be aware that we'll be hosting "The Amazing Meeting" here in lovely Fort Lauderdale, January 31, 2003, thru

February 2nd. Prompted in part by popular demand from our message board (Forum) members, this 3-day conference promises to be entertaining, educational and energizing. We have a great lineup of guest speakers including:

Our good friend Michael Shermer of "Skeptic Magazine" fame, the very well-known figure in the battle against crackpottery and fraud, is prepared to tell us the latest in pseudoscience. The unique astronomer Jack Horkheimer, PBS-TV "Star Gazer" and good friend of the JREF, will charm us with his lecture, "The Star of Cleopatra." Phil Plait, aka "The Bad Astronomer" and author of that remarkable book "Bad Astronomy," will talk about the dreaded "Planet X", which, according to doomsayers, will sweep by the Earth next May and kill us all. Phil doubts that...

Bob Carroll, of "Skeptic's Dictionary" fame, will explore the Discovery Institute's war on science, especially their tactic of trying to cause confusion, fear, and doubt about evolution and their notion that science should include philosophy and theology, i.e., intelligent design (ID). He'll discuss what happened recently in Georgia and Ohio regarding ID in the science classroom and the AAAS' response.

The one-and-only "magician's magician," Jerry Andrus, will prove that you, too, can be deceived by your perceptions. Be prepared to be thoroughly bamboozled by this master of optical illusions. Magician extraordinaire Jamy Ian Swiss will defy your perceptions and tell you why you were fooled.

Describing what Jamy does as with a deck of cards, is almost impossible, but the word "miracles" comes to mind... This is one of the profession's brightest stars.

Special guest Dan Garvin, featured in my July 12, 2002 online commentary, will talk to us about his bizarre experiences inside the inner Scientology organization and how he eventually got out. Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, currently assigned as Deputy Director of the USAF Institute for National Security Studies at the Air Force Academy, will talk about his experiences with the US Department of State. He will also do his "Hamilton Lives" re-creation of the life of Alexander Hamilton. Preview this fascinating account at www.hamiltonlives.com.

Statistician and good friend Chip Denman will be there, discussing recent official and very interesting, comprehensive, tests of homeopathy, data never before revealed. It's pretty powerful! The data, not the art.

Can't tell you now, but a visitor from even further back than Hamilton just may pay us an official visit. We're keeping that secret, for now.....

Just to keep Andrus and Swiss on their toes, The Amazing may see fit to demonstrate a miracle or two himself. In fact, it's inevitable...

We'll also have other magicians, possibly some additional speakers, and at least two stimulating discussion groups. We've issued a "call for papers" from anyone wishing to share their ideas and achievements for a special session on Sunday afternoon. Those of you with academic affiliations may be able to get the costs of a Florida visit paid, if you present a paper....! We'll even send you an official written invitation to present, which should "do the trick," as we magicians often say.

So set aside that weekend to join the fun and meet prominent fellow skeptics. Our host hotel, the beautiful new Renaissance Plantation/Fort Lauderdale, will surpass your expectations, while providing the stage for this exciting event.

Space is limited, so don't miss out! Complete the registration form, or go to our website for more information. Members of the JREF are eligible for a reduced fee of $110 from the regular $130 registration. Those rates will increase slightly after November 31st! Hotel rooms will be available at the special rate of only $109 a night. Reservations should be made directly with the hotel at 1-800-316-7708. These rates are good until Jan. 1st. Ask for "The Amazing Meeting" group rate. We hope to see you there!

James Randi

Meet the Flintstones

by Simon Blackburn


The New Republic

Post date: 11.14.02
Issue date: 11.25.02

The Blank Slate:  The Modern Denial of Human Nature
by Steven Pinker
(Viking, 509 pp., $27.95)


When the hoary old question of nature versus nurture comes around, sides form quickly. And as Leavis once remarked, whenever this is so, we can suspect that the differences have little to do with thinking. Still, the question certainly obsesses thinkers, and it crops up in various terminologies and under various rubrics: human essence versus historical accident, intrinsic nature versus social construction, nativism versus empiricism. In the ancient world, the nativist Plato held that we come into the world equipped with knowledge obtained in a previous life, while the empiricist Aristotle denied it. In our own time, Chomsky has revived the nativist doctrine that our capacity for language is innate, and some ultras have even held that our whole conceptual repertoire is innate. We did not ever have to learn anything. We had only to let loose what we already have.

There is a standard move--call it the demon move--in such a debate. First we establish our own reasonable credentials. We, the good guys, are not taken in by the labels. We recognize, of course, that any human being is the result of both nature and nurture. There is the biological or genetic endowment and there is the environment in which the biological or genetic endowment gets expressed. We good guys understand that it is meaningless to ask whether iron rusts because of the nature of iron or because of the environment in which the iron is put. We know that the rusting requires both. It is the deluded others, the bad guys, who forget entirely about one or the other of these components.

So if you wish to demonize theorists on the nature side, present them as genetic determinists who hold that there is no more to growing up than following a formula written in the genes. These dangerous fools think that iron is programmed to rust wherever you put it, as if oxygen and moisture had nothing to do with it. And if you are demonizing theorists on the nurture side, then portray them as holding that human beings have no characteristics at all except those that are inscribed by environment and culture. These dangerous fools think that the chemical nature of iron has nothing to do with whether it rusts. (There is also a second-order, or meta-demonizing, move to make. Not only have the dangerous fools got themselves into an extreme position, they also have the gall to paint people like us as extreme. They are not only blind to their own extremism, they are also blind to our moderation. The things they call us! They must be doubly demonic.)

After Two Scandals, Physics Group Expands Ethics Guidelines


November 19, 2002

Jarred by scandals at two prestigious physics laboratories, the council of the American Physical Society, which represents the nation's 40,000 physicists, issued a set of revised and expanded ethical guidelines for researchers last week.

Scientific misconduct "diminishes the vital trust that scientists have in each other" and undermines public confidence, the council said. It called for more ethics training in science and urged all research institutions to adopt procedures based on the Federal Policy on Research Misconduct that the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued in 2000 and applies to all federal agencies and the research they support.

Tuesday, November 19, 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 - November 19, 2002

from The New York Times

Despite the release of a flurry of new results in what is becoming an increasingly intense debate, scientists still have not reached a consensus as to whether the nation's most commonly used herbicide is harming amphibians in the wild.

The new studies raise questions about whether atrazine, used primarily for killing weeds in cornfields, is acting as an endocrine disrupter in amphibians, interfering with normal hormonal functions, and causing males to become hermaphrodites, producing eggs in their testes. Some 60 million to 70 million pounds of atrazine are applied each year in the United States, and it has been found in rivers, ponds, snowmelt and rainwater.

Scientists have taken a particular interest in the new studies because such a widespread endocrine disrupter could help explain worldwide declines of amphibians.

The studies could also affect continued use of atrazine. The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the herbicide's environmental risks as part of the periodic reregistration process required for continued sale of such chemicals.

Much of the newest research was presented yesterday at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Salt Lake City.

The controversy began in April when Dr. Tyrone Hayes, an endocrinologist at the University of California at Berkeley, and colleagues published results in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicating that very low concentrations of atrazine, similar to those seen in the wild, could turn males of the African clawed frog into hermaphrodites in the laboratory.

Then last month in Nature, Dr. Hayes and colleagues published studies showing that males of the leopard frog, a native species, could also be feminized by exposure to low levels of atrazine in the laboratory. More worrisome, the researchers found that in the seven field sites from Utah to Iowa where they could detect atrazine, they also found hermaphroditic frogs. At the one site without detectable atrazine, there were no hermaphrodites.


from The New York Times

In excavations at the Pyramid of the Moon near Mexico City, archaeologists think they have found an answer to a perplexing question about two of the Western Hemisphere's greatest ancient cultures: what links, if any, existed between the people of Teotihuacan, in central Mexico, and the Maya civilization mainly in southern Mexico and Guatemala?

An international team of archaeologists reported last week the discovery of buried jade objects and three skeletons in a tomb in the pyramid ruins of Teotihuacan. The team said this revealed for the first time a Maya influence at Teotihuacan, suggesting some close interaction between the ruling elites of the two cultures 1,700 years ago.

The jade apparently came from Guatemala, in Maya country, and was carved in Maya style. A jade statuette bears the image of a man with fairly realistic features and big eyes. The skeletons were found in cross-legged, seated positions, a practice more familiar at Maya sites than in Teotihuacan.

Dr. Saburo Sugiyama, an archaeologist at Aichi Prefectural University in Japan and the co-director of the excavations, said the jade objects were intriguing because they were like those that were often used as symbols of rulers or royal family members in Maya societies.

"We have to study the objects and bones further, but the offerings strongly suggest a direct relation between the Teotihuacan ruling group and the Maya royal families," Dr. Sugiyama said.

The discovery was announced by Arizona State University in Tempe, where Dr. Sugiyama also holds a position as research professor. The other leader of the project is Dr. Ruben Cabrera of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City. Excavations at the pyramid are to resume next summer.


from The Chicago Tribune

PHILADELPHIA -- Except for an herbal remedy developed by American Indians, most of the exotic berries, teas, herbs and oils frequently taken by women to ease menopause symptoms have been ineffective in clinical trials, according to a study.

Alternative treatments for hot flashes, vaginal dryness and other menopause symptoms have gotten additional attention since July, when researchers found evidence linking estrogen-progestin hormone supplements with breast cancer and heart disease.

Researchers at Columbia University and George Washington University examined the results of 29 independent studies on alternative treatments for hot flashes and found that only the herb black cohosh appeared to work.

Three of four trials found that the herb had a benefit, according to the review in Tuesday's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Black cohosh, a member of the buttercup family, is among the most popular of alternative treatments for menopause. Most clinical studies involved a concentrated brand called Remifemin, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0211190315nov19,0,4268954.story?coll=chi%2Dnewsnati onworld%2Dhed

from The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON - Astronomers have spotted a black hole speeding through the Milky Way as it gobbles up the outer layers of a doomed companion star locked in a fatal gravitational embrace.

The discovery provides direct observational evidence that black holes with masses comparable to single stars can, as long theorized, form in supernova explosions, the catastrophic end result for the most massive stars in the universe.

"This is the first black hole found to be moving fast through the plane of our galaxy," Felix Mirabel, of the French Atomic Energy Commission and the Institute for Astronomy and Space Physics of Argentina, said in a statement. "This discovery is exciting because it shows the link of a black hole to a supernova."

The black hole, known as GRO J1655-40, is heading in the general direction of Earth, racing through space at about 250,000 miles per hour in the constellation Scorpius. Lest anyone worry about some future collision, the black hole is 6,000 to 9,000 light years away, putting it more than 16 million years from Earth's vicinity in the Milky Way.

"It is much more likely that a normal star could produce discernible effects than a black hole, simply because they are much more numerous," Mirabel said in an e-mail from Madrid.

While GRO J1655-40 cannot be directly observed, the companion star is visible, as are the effects of the black hole's titanic gravity. The hole is slowly consuming the companion sun, which whirls around GRO J1655-40 once every 2.6 days. Huge jets of debris stream away from the poles of the black hole at sizable fractions of the speed of light.


from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government released its first state-by-state report on cancer Monday and said it can use the information to find unusual patterns of cancer incidence.

Careful analysis of the data should reveal patterns of disease that may prove important, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the report.

Until now, the United States was one of the few industrialized nations that lacked a national cancer registry. Health experts used statistical analysis and extrapolation to project rates for cancer incidence and death.

"Canada and the U.K. and a lot of countries have national cancer surveillance systems in place. Now the United States, for the first time, has that capability," CDC cancer expert Hannah Weir said in a telephone interview.

"Now we are actually able to start to identify the geographic variability in incidence rates in the United States ... [and] to be able to ... better coordinate cancer prevention and control activities."

But Weir and other CDC officials declined to identify any geographic variations in general cancer rates, saying it was too soon to say anything informative about them. "I would caution against trying to identify clusters of cancers in this report," she said.

"We don't have all states' data in the report [and] when you only have one year's incidence data it is really hard to know what is going on. One state may have the highest rate this year for one cancer and the next year it may not be high at all."

Weir did note that the five states with the highest rates of colorectal cancer, the third leading cause of cancer in the United States, were all in the East. New Mexico and Utah, in the West, tended to have the lowest rates. "But we don't see that with all cancers," she said. It would take several years of states showing the same pattern to raise concerns.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-cancer19nov19,0,462543.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines% 2Dnation

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New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Skeptical Odysseys)

Skeptical Odysseys: Personal Accounts by the World's Leading Paranormal Inquirers
Paul Kurtz, ed.
2001, Prometheus; 430p.
astrology, creationism, dowsing, fraud, newage, pseudoscience, psi, quackery, religion, skepticism, UFO
A collection of essays celebrating CSICOP's 25th anniversary.
Many of the contributors reflect on the recent history of organized skepticism, and give their personal thoughts and experiences. This makes for some surprisingly good reading, plus learning more about the background of, say, Joe Nickell or Kendrick Frazier, makes even a long-time skeptic better appreciate their perspective. Most of the essays included also serve as brief critical introductions to the subjects covered, so this is also a book which could be be recommended to those who are just being introduced to a skeptical view of paranormal claims. A good addition to a skeptics' bookshelf, or indeed any bookshelf.

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/ Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

New Voices for Evolution: National Association of Biology Teachers

Dear Friends of NCSE,

NCSE is pleased to announce a further addition to New Voices for Evolution: the 2000 revision of the National Association of Biology Teachers statement on teaching evolution, reading in part: "... examination, pondering and possible revision have firmly established evolution as an important natural process explained by valid scientific principles, and clearly differentiate and separate science from various kinds of nonscientific ways of knowing, including those with a supernatural basis such as creationism. Whether called 'creation science,' 'scientific creationism,' 'intelligent-design theory,' 'young-earth theory' or some other synonym, creation beliefs have no place in the science classroom." See http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=7 for the complete statement, and be sure to visit the NABT web site at http://www.nabt.org.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x 305
fax: 510-601-7204

Judge's Biblical Monument Is Ruled Unconstitutional

November 19, 2002

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Nov. 18 - Roy Moore may be the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, but around here most people just call him the Ten Commandments judge.

And the 5,280-pound monument of the holy tablets he wheeled into his courthouse early one morning last year, without the knowledge of his colleagues, is simply known as "Roy's rock."

Almost instantly the chunk of granite became a beacon, a shinning light across the South, drawing fundamentalist Christians to Montgomery by the busload. Many dropped to their knees in front of the monument and prayed.

Civil liberties groups accused Justice Moore of turning a courthouse into a church. But his popularity only grew. Not long ago, Justice Moore was a little-known county judge with a homemade plaque of the Ten Commandments tacked to his courtroom wall. Now he was an Alabama folk hero.

But today a federal judge issued his own commandment: Thou shalt remove thy monument. Now.

"This court holds that the evidence is overwhelming and the law is clear that the chief justice violated the Establishment Clause," wrote Judge Myron H. Thompson of Federal District Court in Montgomery in a crackling opinion, referring to a clause in the First Amendment. The monument is "nothing less than an obtrusive year-round religious display intended to proselytize on behalf of a particular religion, the chief justice's religion."

In Alabama, there is no underestimating the popularity of religion - and defiance. While fundamentalists in Kansas lost their battle for creationism, and supporters of organized school prayer were defeated in Texas, evangelical Christians still set the agenda here. This is the state, after all, where high school science books have stickers on them saying evolution is just a theory.

Justice Moore tapped right into this, becoming a figurehead in the movement pushing for more religion in public life. The 55-year-old judge, a former ranch hand and kickboxer, does radio shows, helps raise money for evangelical groups and travels roads near and far in his old blue Cadillac, promoting his unique blend of church and state.

Today's decision was hailed by civil liberties groups as proof that there are limits.

"Justice Moore was elected to administer justice, not to serve as a religious minister," said Richard Cohen, general counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the parties that sued last month to have the Ten Commandments removed.

Justice Moore's lawyer said the federal courts were "confused." He vowed to appeal today's ruling.

Justice Moore had repeatedly said he would never remove the monument, a four-foot-high cube that rises from the lobby floor. It was one of his campaign pledges two years ago to bring the Ten Commandments to the State Supreme Court.

He has also rejected requests from outside groups to display other monuments in the courthouse. By state law, it is his decision. In the chief justice's pocket are the courthouse keys. An alliance of black organizations asked to put up a plaque of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Justice Moore said no. Ditto for the atheist group that wanted to display a statue of an atom.

The roots of the case go back to 1992, when Justice Moore was appointed as a judge in Etowah County, in northwestern Alabama. One of his first acts was to hang a homemade rosewood plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

Three years later, the A.C.L.U. sued. The first judge ordered Judge Moore to take it down. Judge Moore refused. Then Gov. Fob James Jr. vowed to send in the National Guard to protect Judge Moore's plaque.

Judge Moore became a cause célèbre, sending his name recognition into a realm that few other judges this side of Lance Ito ever enjoy.

He emerged a contender for chief justice of the State Supreme Court and won easily in November 2000.

The next August, early one morning, he sneaked the cube monument, paid for by an evangelical group, into the court building. He did not tell any of the eight other justices.

A Montgomery lawyer, Stephen R. Glassroth, who is Jewish, then sued.

"It offends me going to work everyday and coming face to face with that symbol, which says to me that the state endorses Judge Moore's version of the Judeo-Christian God above all others," Mr. Glassroth said.

Last month, a weeklong trial was held in federal court. Presiding was Judge Thompson, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter.

Justice Moore argued that the monument did not establish a state religion but merely acknowledged the role God had played throughout the history of American law.

"I feel very strongly that the monument represents the moral foundation of law, which is greatly needed in our country today," he said.

After mulling over his decision for a month, Judge Thompson issued a 93-page opinion today, saying Justice Moore had violated the separation between church and state.

"The only way to miss the religious or nonsecular appearance of the monument would be to walk through the Alabama State Judicial Building with one's eyes closed," he wrote.

Judge Thompson said the display was much different from other displays of the Ten Commandments, including one at the United States Supreme Court, which is incorporated with other symbols.

He gave Justice Moore 30 days to get the monument out of the courthouse.

Christian groups in Alabama said they were not giving up.

"We anticipate wide-ranging resistance to the removal of this monument," the president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, John Giles, said.

Danielle J. Lipow, who delivered the closing argument for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the case against Justice Moore and his monument was not an attack on anyone who holds strong religious beliefs.

"Judge Moore has every right to believe what he does about the role of God and the state," Ms. Lipow said. "What this case does is establish that Judge Moore does not have the right to impose that view on others through state policy. That's the danger."


'The Skeptic': Mencken, a Smart Set of One


November 17, 2002


One might say of Mencken,'' remarks his latest biographer, Terry Teachout, ''as was once said of Paul de Man, the deconstructionist who in his youth published anti-Semitic articles in pro-Nazi publications, that 'he was the only man who ever looked into the abyss and came away smiling.' '' I suppose that perhaps one might. But in that case de Man would not be the only such person. And nor indeed would Mencken. One thing one learns from the study of his career is that the great H. L. Mencken took considerable care to avoid abysses of any kind. Except for his coverage of political conventions and his attendance at the Scopes trial in Tennessee, he seldom left his native Baltimore. Except for a couple of trips to Europe, partly motivated by his tribal feeling for Germany in its 20th-century difficulties, he barely quit the shores of the United States. His life was cautious, fussy, routine, domestic and self-centered.

Hoax Web site fools school paper, but students learn valuable lesson


Saturday, November 16, 2002
By Federico Martinez
Chronicle Staff Writer

Dolphins and whales in Lake Michigan? Oh, my! That's the whale of a tale (and pictures) thousands of elementary-school-age children in Muskegon and throughout Michigan saw when they opened up their "Michigan Studies Weekly" newspaper earlier this fall.

It is, of course, completely untrue. But that apparently did not stop the paper from reporting as fact items lifted from a Web site created as a joke.

"Every spring, the freshwater whales and freshwater dolphins begin their 1,300-mile migration from Hudson Bay to the warmer waters of Lake Michigan," reads a report in the nationally produced education publication aimed at young readers.

The article, which features several pictures of dolphins and whales supposedly swimming in Lake Michigan, went on to state: "There are several locks along the route, but the whales forge a water path each year."

"Oh, my goodness!" Reeths-Puffer Elementary fourth-grade teacher Deb Harris recalled blurting out as she read the story aloud in front of her excited students.

"There are no whales in Michigan," Harris quickly told her students.

She then pulled out a world map to further show her students why it would be impossible for whales and dolphins to swim from the Hudson Bay to Lake Michigan. The bay and lake are separated by land.

Students got the paper before Harris could review it, and excited 10-year-old Jacob Verschueren, a fourth-grader in Harris' class, rushed home from school. He asked his mom if they could go to Lake Michigan to see the dolphins and whales.

He showed her the article and pictures.

"Well, honey, I've never heard of whales in Lake Michigan," a perplexed Ruth Verschueren told her son. "We'll have to look into it a little better.

"Let me call your teacher."

Soon, Harris was promising students' parents that she would get to the bottom of this "whale" of a story.

Freedom From Religion Foundation 25th Annual Convention


Nov. 22-24, 2002
Westin Horton Plaza, San Diego, Calif.
Mark your calendar for the 25th annual Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in November!

FFRF, Inc.
PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701

Thank you, and we hope to see you in San Diego!


Folks, in December, the SCI FI Channel is running a ten-part miniseries, yet another farce on UFOs.

They say they're "bringing together the world's most highly regarded and experienced UFO abduction investigators/authors for the first time to explore facts and theories of this controversial phenomenon." Well, just look at who's "highly regarded" and "experienced":

Morton Dean will host Budd Hopkins (quack author), David M. Jacobs, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of History at Temple University), and John Mack, M.D., (Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School).

Where, I ask, are James Oberg and/or Bob Sheaffer? No, their opinions are far too logical and informed, and of no interest to the sheep that this channel caters to....

James Randi.

Dubya, Willya Turn the Book Over?

Wired News

By Justin Jaffe

Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,56430,00.html

02:00 AM Nov. 16, 2002 PT

Bill Clinton peers through a set of binoculars, unconcerned that the lens caps are still on. Reading to a classroom of children, President Bush obliviously holds his book upside down. On an anonymous city street, Hillary Rodham Clinton impetuously lifts her shirt and flashes the camera.

Rhodes scholarships and Ivy League educations notwithstanding, our political leaders are imbeciles and we've got the pictures to prove it.

Or do we?

Phony photographs have become a permanent part of the online political landscape, traveling around the Internet, from inbox to inbox. Ranging from displays of subtle, technical virtuosity to crude and tasteless frippery, digitally altered photographs are becoming one of the most prevalent forms of political commentary.

"The whole doctored photo thing is going to become a bigger and bigger phenomenon," said Zack Exley, creator of the parody site gwbush.com, which features a host of presidential multimedia mockery.

It comes as no surprise that President Bush is the day's most common political target of digital manipulation. In addition to holding books upside down, Bush has also been "photographed" holding a "victory bong," earnestly studying Politics for Dummies and snuggling with Al Gore.

Steve DeGraeve created Wgirls, a series of nearly convincing images of Bush on female bodies, as a joke for friends. Wgirls has since cropped up in Esquire and across the Internet.

The availability of image-editing technology such as Adobe Photoshop has given people the power to color reality like never before.

But as voters are increasingly besieged with information -- and misinformation -- sorting the real from the fake has become ever more challenging.

David Mikkelson is the co-creator of snopes.com, a site dedicated to debunking urban legends. Snopes has become ground zero for setting straight these visual myths of the Internet.

He analyzes questionable photographs, searching for "artifacts" -- "blurry spots, things that don't match" and other "evidence of digital manipulation."

While most of the pictures he comes across are obvious fakes, a few are so convincing that they end up widely held as legitimate. The Bush shot with an upside-down book is one of these.

Such is the growing blur between real and fake, Exley says, that, "in a few years, everybody will start ignoring photos."

Mikkelson disagrees. "People have been manipulating photos since photography was invented," he said. Pictures "just reinforce what the believers want to believe. They don't convince the skeptics."

But how much political influence can a picture exert?

"Events have shown that parodic activity can be a consequential factor in national campaigns," writes Barbara Warnick in Critical Literacy in a Digital Era: Technology, Rhetoric, and the Public Interest.

A professor of Media Criticism at the University of Washington, Warnick said in an interview that since the 2000 elections, campaigns have become much more diligent about "reviewing what is out there and trying to contain it."

"But they must be careful," she said. "They don't want to draw more attention to these things."

That was Bush's mistake during his first presidential campaign.

Despite registering scores of Internet domain names to prevent them from falling into unkind hands during the 2000 campaign, Bush's team neglected the innocuous gwbush.com.

In April 1999, Exley launched his site as a lark, featuring satirical news items and press releases. It was a fake press release extolling Bush for his alleged drug use that finally caught the attention of Bush and company.

Asked about how far sites like Exley's "should be allowed to go" at a May 1999 press conference, Bush infamously responded, "There ought to be limits to freedom" and referred to Exley as a "garbage man."

A lawyer for Bush's Exploratory Committee sent a cease-and-desist order to Exley and eventually filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

By mid-2000, gwbush.com was reporting 300,000 hits per month.

The White House did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment for this article.

While the political effects of digitally manipulated pictures are impossible to calculate, some believe that they are libelous.

Paul Begala, co-host of CNN's Crossfire and a former adviser to former President Clinton, wrote in an e-mail, "I'm all for satire, parody and spoofing. But when folks try to characterize doctored photos as real, that's wrong.

"These photos are not parodies. They're falsehoods."

"Besides," added Begala, "Bush has done enough goofy things in real life."

Monday, November 18, 2002

ON TONIGHT! - Critical Eye (8:00pm Eastern - Check you local listings)

Dear CSICOP List Reader:

Tonight on the Discovery Science channel will be the fourth episode of the "Critical Eye" program:

Foretelling the Future
Is it possible to predict the future? Scientific experts question the validity of psychic behavior, palmistry, tarot cards, astrology and the predictions of Nostradamus.

Skeptics on the show this evening include: Ray Hyman, Robert Steiner, Ben Radford, Andrew Fraknoi, and Kevin Christopher

This series hosted by William B. Davis (The X-Files-smoking man), looks into the science behind the paranormal, new age philosophies, and the unexplained. The series will investigate 34 topics including, subliminal messaging, alien abduction, acupuncture, ghosts, astrology, exorcism, Stonehenge, near-death experiences, and the lost city of Atlantis. Each topic will be addressed by leading experts and scientists. These subjects will be brought to life through lively debate and extraordinary visuals in order to shed light on its scientific relevance.

See: http://science.discovery.com/tuneins/criticaleye.html for more details

Skeptic Andrew Skolnick in Chicago has been interviewed for a show for WGN TV on psychics and communicating with the dead. Andrew believes the show will take a good critical look at "psychics" such as James Van Pragh, John Edward, etc.

We writes to us, "Would it be possible for you to send out a little notice to your email list, suggesting that people who can get WGN-TV to tune in to the evening news report on Nov. 21 (9:00 PM Central time here in Chicago) and to write/email support if the report is as good as I hope?"


Here's the contact info:
Select WGN News at Nine for feedback form, or write/call: WGN Television
2501 W. Bradley Pl. Chicago, IL 60618-4718
phone: (773) 528-2311 The news anchor who's reporting/writing the piece is Larry Potash. The producer is Lori Bullerdick.
Again, the date is Nov. 21. WGN TV Evening News at Nine (PM).

The $6 Million Man

[New York Times Editorial]

November 13, 2002

Even 114 years later, Jack the Ripper remains the ur-murderer. He was not the first serial murderer to fuse tarnished sexuality, death and disfigurement. And he probably wasn't even the first to do so in that ur-city of the Western imagination, the fog-damped, smoke-choked London of the late Victorians. Had the Ripper's crimes been solved soon after they occurred, he would have faded into the oblivion of a police blotter, a forgotten court case involving the brutal killings of five East End prostitutes. He would have taken on a proper name. Instead he remains Jack the Ripper, the marquee murderer.


Turin Shroud Said from Middle Ages



Nov. 12 - Russian scientists say their calculations back the conclusion that the Turin Shroud, believed by some Christians to be the linen cloth in which Jesus Christ was buried almost 2,000 years ago, was in fact made in the Middle Ages.

A 1988 study authorized by the Vatican and conducted separately by carbon-dating laboratories in Britain, Switzerland and the United States estimated the Shroud to have been made some time between 1260 and 1390.

That supported skeptics who had contended that the sacred relic - whose documented existence only started to surface in the 14th century - was a hoax.

Then, in April this year, a pair of scientists, Anatoliy Fesenko, a forensic expert at the Russian Federal Security Service, and Alexander Belyakov, director of the Russian Center for the Turin Shroud, said the 1988 study had been skewed.

They pointed to evidence that in the 16th century, the Shroud had been wiped with fresh vegetable oil - olive oil, linseed oil or nut oil - in order to remove surface grime. This, they contended, had left traces of oil in the fabric that had distorted the carbon dating, making the relic younger by some 1,300 years.

But, according to another Russian team, Fesenko and Belyakov got their calculations wrong. The pair did not account for different ratios between two isotopes, carbon 14 and carbon 12, in the vegetable oil, according to the new study.

As a result, this meant that the oil contamination would only change the 1260-1390 timeframe very marginally, by four decades at the most.

The new research is published by Dmitry Voronov from the Institute for Problems of Information Transfer at the Russian Academy of Sciences and Vladimir Surdin from the Shternberg State Astronomy Institute.

"The two authors' research is based on a mistake in the mathematical work and in the pathology," Elena Krasnova of the Informnauka Agency, a Russian scientific news agency which reported the research in a press release, told AFP by phone on Tuesday.

The Shroud, which measures 4.37 by 1.11 meters (14 feet three inches by three feet seven inches), bears the image of a crucified man wearing a crown of thorns and with a wound in his side.

In addition to Fesenko and Belyakov, other critics of the 1988 study say the samples may have contained threads from darning made in the Renaissance period to repair the Shroud after it was damaged by fire.

Study Concludes No Difference Between Ionized Bracelet and Placebo for Musculoskeletal Pain Relief

http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2002-rst/1528.html News from Mayo Clinic in Rochester

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Nov. 8, 2002 — Researchers from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., report wearing ionized bracelets for the treatment of muscle and joint pain was no more effective than wearing placebo bracelets in the November 2002 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Authors of the published study randomly assigned 305 participants to wear an ionized bracelet for 28 days and another 305 participants to wear a placebo bracelet for the same duration.

The study volunteers were men and women 18 and older who had self-reported musculoskeletal pain at the beginning of the study. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which volunteers wore an ionized bracelet and which wore a placebo bracelet. Bracelets were worn according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Both types of bracelets were identical and were supplied by the manufacturer, QT, Inc.

Participants self-reported their pain for each location where they felt it with a score of 1 to 10 before wearing a bracelet. They self-reported their pain again after wearing a bracelet for one day, three days, seven days, 14 days, 21 days and 28 days. Researchers were interested in both the change in the self-reported pain score for the location of greatest pain and the change in the sum of the pain scores for all self-reported painful locations.

Both groups reported significant improvement in pain. However, researchers found no difference in the amount of self-reported pain relief between the group wearing the ionized bracelets and the group wearing the placebo bracelets. The study authors conclude that the equivalent, subjective improvement in pain scores calls into question the true benefit of using an ionized bracelet.

Principal investigator Dr. Robert Bratton, from the Department of Family Medicine, says the study was important because so many patients are interested in alternative medicine. "We need to look at what our patients are doing for their various problems," he says, "and undertake objective, controlled studies to prove whether or not these treatments are beneficial."

The study authors say that although their goal was not to assess the effectiveness of placebos, their results did support the benefit of placebos in the treatment of pain. They also note that 80 percent of the 409 participants who answered an initial survey question about the use of ionized bracelets stated they believed the bracelets can reduce joint or muscle pain.

The study was conducted between 2000-2001. It won the Florida Academy of Family Physicians first-place award for research in October. Mayo Clinic Proceedings is a peer-reviewed and indexed general internal medicine journal, published for more than 75 years by Mayo Foundation, with a circulation of 130,000 nationally and internationally.

Mayo Clinic is a multispecialty medical clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. The staff includes 328 physicians working in more than 40 specialties to provide diagnosis, treatment and surgery. Patients who need hospitalization are admitted to nearby St. Luke's Hospital, a 289-bed Mayo facility. Mayo Clinics also are located in Rochester, Minn., and Scottsdale, Ariz. Visit http://www.mayoclinic.org/news/ for all the news from Mayo Clinic.

Erik Kaldor

John Murphy
507-284-5005 (days)
507-284-2511 (evenings)
e-mail: newsbureau@mayo.edu

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 - November 18, 2002

from The New York Times

CHICAGO, Nov. 17 - In a line of research called promising, scientists reported today that they were trying to develop treatments for heart disease by taking skin, muscle and blood cells from a patient, engineering them in a laboratory and then injecting them back into the patient.

The hope is that the engineered cells will transform into heart cells to make failing hearts pump more effectively and extend the lives of many people with heart failure, researchers said as the American Heart Association's annual scientific meeting opened here today.

Such tissue engineering might someday help doctors eliminate the need for many transplants and the anti-rejection drugs used in transplantation. It would also reduce the need for repeated operations for children born with heart defects.

Dr. Timothy Gardner of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, a moderator at the meeting, cautioned that the findings were "very, very early, but what's exciting is that they have opened a treatment pathway that was not tried before."

The aim of the tests conducted so far on humans is to determine safety, not effectiveness. Although researchers reported evidence that the transferred cells took root and flourished in scarred areas of the heart, they said they still had to prove that the new cells would make the heart pump more forcefully without significant risks. It will be years before any method becomes part of standard practice, if indeed it does.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and the experimental therapies of seeding cells focus largely on heart failure, the disease's terminal stage. The damage from a heart attack is permanent because heart cells cannot regenerate the way liver cells can.


from The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 17 - From a rooftop overlooking hundreds of failed dot-com businesses in the South of Market district here, an inelegant picture-frame sized antenna is now radiating the Internet over a 20-block area.

There are some here who think that the antenna, a wireless Internet-access transmitter and receiver, represents the next big thing.

In the wake of the wild financial boom and bust that followed the emergence of the World Wide Web eight years ago, it pays to be wary. Yet there are those who argue that the wireless Internet is the logical next example of the new industries that have successively spun out of Silicon Valley, from PC's to hand-held computers.

The next industry cycle may revolve around a wireless data technology known as Wi-Fi, which has the potential to eventually let anyone with a computer or computing device connect to the Internet at high speeds, without cables. For evidence of the trend look no further than airport waiting lounges, Starbucks coffee shops, maybe even your next-door neighbor's den, or any of the other locales for the Wi-Fi hubs now used by an estimated 15 million wireless Net surfers in this country.

The Federal Communications Commission is taking a growing interest in the technology, and major companies including IBM, Intel and AT&T are hatching Wi-Fi plans.


from The Boston Globe

At its poetic heights, marriage can be a rapturous union of two souls. But at its prosaic depths, it can be the mating of two people with similar medicine cabinets.

A study in the British Medical Journal, which examined more than 8,000 married couples, found that people who had spouses with high cholesterol, asthma, depression, stomach ulcers, and other common medical problems were likely to suffer from the same ailments. In some cases, the risk more than doubled.

Spouses' medical charts start looking more alike over time, researchers say, perhaps because they share a home with the same allergens, viruses, and bacteria; eat similar foods; think alike about exercise and smoking; and share attitudes about seeing doctors. Physicians say the study is a powerful reminder that couples can boost their overall health by making some immediate changes - from relationship dynamics to residence dustballs.

"We always tell them to work together as a team," said Dr. Jacques Carter, a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who has treated many couples with shared diseases.

Dr. Julia Hippisley-Cox of the University of Nottingham, who helped conduct the study published this fall in the British Medical Journal, urged more doctors to consider such diagnostic links any time they see a couple who live together for many years.

"Partners of patients with specific diseases may need screening for that disease, too," she said.

The study, the largest of its kind analyzing shared diseases in couples, is part of a small but growing body of medical literature that investigates marital environment as the root cause of health problems. In 1998, Hippisley-Cox conducted a study showing spouses often shared high blood pressure. A year later, a study published in the journal Cancer investigated cancers among couples, concluding there was little correlation except for tongue and stomach cancer, as well as non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Other studies have found a spouse connection for depression and other mental health issues.

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/322/metro/Couples_are_likely_to_share_ailments_a_study_suggests+.sht ml

The national preserve's namesakes offer a highly visible omen of climate change: Ice dating to the Stone Age will soon vanish.
from The Los Angeles Times

MANY GLACIER, Mont. -- When naturalists first hiked through Glacier National Park more than a century ago, 150 glaciers graced its high cliffs and jagged peaks. Today there are 35. The cold slivers that remain are disintegrating so fast that scientists estimate the park will have no glaciers in 30 years.

Boulder Glacier, once massive enough to contain a human-dwarfing ice cave, was gone by 1998. Grinnell Glacier, beloved by tourists and scientists alike, has lost 90 percent of its volume since 1850.

The dwindling glaciers amid the deeply chiseled landscape of this national park offer the clearest and most visible sign of climate change in America. It is an omen even a child can grasp in an instant: Ice that has lasted in these high alpine valleys since the end of the Stone Age will soon vanish.

"It's not just going to happen in my lifetime," said Dan Fagre, a 49-year-old ecologist who leads the U.S. Geological Survey team working to chronicle climate change in this park known as the Crown of the Continent. "It's going to happen during my career."

The unexpected speed of the demise of the glaciers has left scientists racing against time. They have only decades left -- nothing at all in geological time -- to understand these ancient frozen beasts before they disappear. "The scariest thing to me is realizing how fast these things are happening," said Blase Reardon, 39, an avalanche expert who has worked in the park for the last two years. "Being here is like having a front row seat at the Indianapolis 500."


FDA Approvals Are Lowest in a Decade
from The Washington Post

New drugs to treat and cure sick patients are coming into the market in the United States at the slowest rate in a decade, despite billions invested by pharmaceutical companies on research and a costly expansion by the federal agency that reviews new medicines.

The decline in the number of new drugs is most pronounced in the category considered by the Food and Drug Administration to have the greatest promise for patients -- those listed as breakthrough "priority" drugs and "new molecular entities" that are different from any others on the market.

The slowdown is troubling to many because it is largely unexpected. The drug industry now invests three times as much money in research as it did a decade ago, and the FDA has already undergone a major revamping to become more efficient and prompt -- an expansion funded largely by user fees from the drug makers. Yet the number of industry applications for innovative new drugs is down significantly, and the average time needed by the FDA to review applications is moving up.

The net result of both trends is a steep drop in the number of new drugs coming to the market to help cure and treat illnesses, and growing disappointment among many patients and their families and advocates.

"We hear talk all the time from the drug makers of the great drugs waiting in line, but the reality doesn't seem to match the facts," said Ellen Stovall, director of the Cancer Leadership Council, a patients advocacy group. "There's been a lot of hope about new drug cures and treatments and we've seen some progress, but lots more disappointment."

The possible reasons for the decline -- whether it is a function of FDA caution after some high-profile drug withdrawals, industry shortcomings and strategies, or a troublesome combination of both -- is the subject of an increasingly urgent debate. Some believe the drop is a relatively short-term development that will resolve on its own, while others believe there is a deeper and more fundamental problem.

"Industry was trying to hit home runs, and it struck out a lot," Henry McKinnell, chief executive of the largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer Inc., said in an interview. "Added to that, the [FDA] is giving greater scrutiny to each drug application. The result is that we are spending more time on each drug, spending much more on research, but seeing a definite drop in the number of new drugs."


from The Miami Herald

WASHINGTON - Recent images from space satellites reveal hundreds of little-known primeval forests and stands of ancient trees scattered all across the United States. Scientists say these trees -- some dating before the rise of the Roman Empire -- provide an unequaled record of droughts and floods that can help them understand historic disasters and predict environmental changes.

In addition to California's famed redwoods and giant sequoias, researchers have discovered that millions of very old trees remain in their pristine state in dozens of states from New England to the Carolinas and across Texas to Arizona and Nevada.

"We can still find unmolested virgin forests," said David Stahle, a forest scientist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "There are still trees that are thousands of years old, the last relics of the great forest primeval that has been heavily disturbed or completely destroyed by man."

According to Stahle, the largest old-growth forest left in the United States consists of ancient blue oaks covering more than 4,000 square miles of the California foothills. But even in the thickly populated eastern United States, Stahle thinks, more than 2,000 square miles of old-growth woodlands survive to this day.

"People used to think there were no ancient trees in the eastern United States. That is not the case," Stahle said. "The abundance of ancient forest sites strongly contradicts the common misconception that most ancient forests were destroyed by logging and agricultural development."

Old-tree hunter Robert Leverett, executive director of the Friends of the Mohawk Trail in Deerfield, Mass., has discovered a 626-year-old black gum tree in New Hampshire. There are 400-year-old red oaks on a Massachusetts mountain in view of the Boston skyline. Only 50 miles north of Manhattan, 500-year-old pitch pines cling to a mountainside in the Hudson River Valley.


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Impact 'showered debris over Britain'


Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 19:00 GMT
By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online science reporter

Evidence has emerged of how Britain's history was shaped by an asteroid collision 214 million years ago.

Rock blasted out of the ground by an asteroid hitting the Earth has been found for the first time in the southwest of England.

Canada still bears the scars of the explosion, which splattered hot rock and dust across the British Isles.

The space rock hit what is now Manicouagan, Quebec, opening up a 100-kilometre-wide (62-mile-wide) crater that can be seen by astronauts from space.

The Atlantic Ocean had not appeared at the time, so the two land masses (Europe and North America) were much closer than they are today. The rock was found near Bristol by geologists at the University of Aberdeen.

Dr Gordon Walkden said: "We have found evidence of a massive shockwave carrying molten rock and dust that has left a thin layer of glass beads and shattered mineral grains across the ancient British land surface."

Nuclear bomb

The material has the distinctive hallmark of an asteroid slamming into the planet. The space body, about five km (three miles) wide, generated a shockwave 40 million times larger than the Hiroshima blast.

Molten rock and debris were hurled high into the Earth's atmosphere, some of it falling on to Britain.

The landscape 214 million years ago was very different to the rolling green fields of today. It was largely arid desert, sparsely populated by ferns, reptiles, lizards, and small mammals.

"Anything standing would have been flattened by the blast," said Dr Walkden, who discovered the rock in the 1980s.

He knew at once there was something unusual about the sample, which he describes as tiny green balls embedded in pinky-coloured rock, but its ancient origins have only just come to light.

"It was very clearly something strange that I wasn't able to identify at the time," the senior geology lecturer told BBC News Online. "It sat in a drawer for a long time." It was to be 20 years before he realised its scientific value, when he saw similar deposits from a crater in Mexico, where the asteroid blamed for killing off the dinosaurs landed.

Dark skies

According to Dr Simon Kelley, of the Open University in Milton Keynes, who dated the Bristol sample, it is the first recorded example of such an impact deposit in Britain.

"If you had been in Britain at the time, the Sun would have been blotted out by the dust and gases from the impact," he told BBC News Online. "First you would have seen a big flash over the horizon. Then the skies would have gone dark; then it would have rained hot dust and rocks. The effects would have lasted for years." The shock wave from the asteroid would have carried molten rock and dust thousands of kilometres.

Scientists are now searching for other remnants of the blast to study what happened to biodiversity on Earth.

Public display

The Canadian impact does not seem to have had as devastating an effect as the impactor that signalled the downfall of the dinosaurs. This is thought to be because it hit normal rock, rather than salt deposits capable of releasing poisonous gas. "It may well be that we might get devastating meteorite impacts in the future but it is unlikely that there will be a repeat of the impact that saw the end of the dinosaurs," said Dr Kelley. A piece of the material discovered by Dr Walkden will be on display at the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum, London, on 15 November. Specimens will also be on display at the National Space Centre in Leicester, the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, and at the University of Aberdeen.

The research is published in the journal Science.

NRK apologizes for spiritualism for kids


Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has issued an apology for airing an animated Swedish film involving Ouija boards, spirit conjuring and fortune telling on early morning children's TV last Saturday.

"This episode of the Swedish (children's) series "3 friends and Jerry" should not have been broadcast. Our quality control routines have not been good enough this time," said Kalle Furst, head of Children and Youth programming at NRK to the Christian Press Office. In the cartoon children learn how to ask spirits about the future with the help of candles, a glass and a Ouija board. Viewers get the sense that the answers become reality.

"It is astounding that Children's TV broadcasts such programs. The Ouija board is not a toy, but rather something used to make contact with spirits," said Professor Arild Romarheim at the Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology in Oslo.

"We are experience a general "occultification" of society today where the borderlines between fiction and reality are becoming increasingly difficult to draw," said Romarheim.

El Nino Affects Climate on a 2,000 Year Cycle


LONDON (Reuters) - El Nino, the weather phenomenon blamed for causing devastating droughts, storms and floods around the globe, works on a 2,000-year cycle, scientists said on Wednesday.

The frequency of El Nino events peaked about 1,200 years ago during the Middle Ages and will probably reach another high in the early part of the 22nd century.

"El Nino operates within its own kind of 2,000-year rhythm, and because of that, we believe these periodic changes have had a major impact on global climate conditions over the past 10,000 years," Christopher Moy of Stanford University in California said.

El Nino is an abnormal warming of waters in the Pacific that distorts wind and rainfall patterns around the world. It has been linked to heavy rainfall in northern Peru and southern Ecuador and heat waves in the northeastern United States.

While studying at Syracuse University in New York, Moy and his colleagues discovered the first continuous records of weather events caused by El Nino going back thousands of years.

By studying sediment from Lake Pallcacocha in southern Ecuador, the scientists were able to track dramatic changes in weather systems across North and South America.

"About every 2,000 years, we see a lot of El Nino activity," said Moy, who reported his finding in the science journal Nature.

"El Nino is an important part of our modern-day climate system. Likewise, our study shows it was also an important part of the earth's climate system 7,000 years ago," he added.

The scientists hope that by studying earlier El Nino cycles they can improve understanding of future climate changes.

Weather experts predict the current mild El Nino, which scientists have blamed for extending the dry season in parts of Asia, may strengthen this winter, increasing storms in the southern United States and causing drier conditions in the Midwest.

But the experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States said it will be weaker than the 1997-1998 El Nino that claimed thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars of damage worldwide.

The Mothman craze
Mason County takes its claim to fame a step further with the first Mothman festival


Chris Stirewalt cstire@dailymail.com
Daily Mail Staff

Thursday November 14, 2002; 10:30 AM

POINT PLEASANT -- The Mothman has returned to this sleepy river town, but this time residents hope he will portend economic growth rather than disaster.

Town merchants are hoping to cash in on a national trend, called crypto-tourism by some, that has seen tens of thousands drawn to places where unexplained or paranormal events occurred.

"There's a hunger out there for answers or even just a connection," local Mothman expert, author and entrepreneur Jeff Wamsley said. "People want to see something or touch something that was part of the whole mystery. We've got to find a way to tap into that."

From the site of alleged alien abductions in Roswell, N.M., to the home of purported prehistoric underwater creatures in upstate New York, Americans are willing to travel far and spend big to be part of the excitement.

This weekend, Point Pleasant will host the first Mothman Festival in its downtown with rides for children, props from last year's hit movie "The Mothman Prophecies" and even a hayride out to the old explosives storage area where the ghastly, winged being allegedly was first seen 36 years ago on Nov. 15.

In the 13 months that followed, the town, all of Mason County and much of the state were gripped with fear as more and more people came forward to say they had seen a gray creature, standing 7 feet tall, with bright red eyes and wings like a bird.

Witnesses reported being visited by the creature, being pursued by air at high speeds as they drove along country roads and experiencing interruptions in radio and television signals by an unearthly squeal.

The sightings abruptly ended on Dec. 15, 1967, when the Silver Bridge that connected Point Pleasant to Kanauga, Ohio, collapsed under the weight of a holiday shopping traffic jam, killing 45 and injuring many others.

The Mothman legend faded into the background and Point Pleasant slipped into relative anonymity over the next 30 years, with the scars of the Silver Bridge disaster and the terror caused by the Mothman gradually receding.

When John A. Keel, a journalist who came to town to report on the bizarre occurrences of 1967, published his book "The Mothman Prophecies" in 1975, it caused only a minor stir but offered a more benign explanation of what had occurred.

In Keel's telling, the possibility was raised that the Mothman came to warn people about the impending disaster. Keel found other incidents around the world where similar sightings were reported before disasters.

As the book circulated and the stories became part of local legend, the Mothman became less of a sinister character and more of a local celebrity -- a claim to fame for a town that had seen little else in recent years to celebrate.

By the time the movie based on Keel's book starring Richard Gere premiered in 2001, most Point Pleasant residents were ready to embrace the connection to the paranormal.

"I started keeping a guest book after a while because I wanted some kind of a record to show people at the chamber of commerce how much interest there was in this," said Carolyn Harris, the owner of the diner that was recreated in the movie. "We've got people from all over who see the sign for Point Pleasant as they're driving along and pull off to see where it all happened."

Wamsley and Harris are leading the charge to make Point Pleasant Mothman country. They hope a new river museum, a refurbished waterfront and other unrelated projects will add to the experience.

"We have a chance to do something here," said Wamsley, who owns a record store that is also a Mothman gift shop and center for paranormal studies in town. "There's still some people in town who just dismiss what we're trying to do. But you have to remember that they dismiss everything. It's a lot easier for them just to shoot down every idea than to get out and do something."

This weekend's festival is intended to show businesses and city leaders that the Mothman need not be simply a curiosity. Wamsley and Harris think he can become an economic engine.

"Even if we just had a few hundred people show up," Harris said, "that would really say something."

Point Pleasant has some examples to follow when it comes to crypto-tourism, including the leader in the field, Roswell, N.M.

Julie Shuster, director of the UFO Museum in Roswell, said their annual festival held over the 4th of July holiday, the anniversary of the 1947 UFO sightings, has been a hit for years. She said the museum itself draws more than 200,000 visitors each year.

Shuster said the UFO Festival draws more than 10,000 visitors to Roswell each year with a mixture of fantasy and serious study.

"If they want to dress up as Klingons, they can," Shuster said. "Or if they want to come down and hear a free lecture from the leaders in the field, they can do that, too."

Roswell officials credit the fascination with aliens for creating a tourism boom in their town and eagerly cooperate with any effort to bring in alien hunters.

Locals in Willow Creek, Calif., also have learned to embrace their unexplained resident -- Bigfoot.

The Bigfoot Days Festival, held every summer since 1960, draws as many as 2,000 people every year to the tiny town in the northern part of the state that bills itself at the "Gateway to Bigfoot Country" and features a huge statue of a sasquatch.

The festival features fun for believers and non-believers alike, with costumes, parades and ice cream socials.

"It's just a real hometown kind of festival," Nita Rowley of the Willow Creek Chamber of Commerce said. "Tourists like it because it has that homey feel to it. They pour in. And there's the museum and the like for the more serious folks."

On Lake Champlain in the Adirondack region of New York, locals love their local paranormal resident, Champ, the Lake Champlain Monster. Think of him as a smaller and more lovable Loch Ness Monster.

While there is much disagreement over the actual existence of Champ, many locals are adamant in their belief that the creature exists and even assists stranded fishermen. It is considered something of an honor to have your name listed on a board listing confirmed sightings.

"The Champ Day celebration is always great fun," event organizer Teresa Huestis said. "And there is generally a pretty positive response from local merchants. Everyone sort of gets involved. We have a townwide yard sale and crafts."

Now that Point Pleasant can claim a creature that may have been a protector rather than a ghoul, perhaps Wamsley and Harris can get their town to get behind a festival celebrating the Mothman.

"We need to try something here," Harris said. "We can't just all sit around on our hands and complain. We'll have to leave that to them that have been doing it for years around here."

Writer Chris Stirewalt can be reached at 348-4824.

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