NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 November 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, November 28, 2002

NORAD Investigates Reports of Contrail

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

No. 605-02
November 28, 2002

Yesterday at approximately 4 p.m. (EST) North American Aerospace Defense Command received unverified reports of what appeared to be a contrail of unknown origin in the vicinity of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. Initially, it was reported to be heading northwestward toward the United States. Commercial airline pilots later reported the contrail over Florida and later over Indiana. Thereafter, no other sightings were reported.

NORAD scrambled fighter aircraft from several bases in an attempt to intercept and identify the source of the contrail. No visual or confirmed radar contact was made with the source of the contrail. NORAD continues to investigate these reports. NORAD is coordinating with the FAA to determine any further information on the nature of these reports.

[Web version: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Nov2002/b11282002_bt605-02.html]

Now, 'Integrative Care'
As science rigorously examines herbs and acupuncture, a new blend of medicine emerges


By Geoffrey Cowley

Dec. 2 issue — Carol Green was busy filling out medical-school applications several years ago when she had an epiphany. She could devote herself to a single healing tradition, she realized, or she could take a chance on something more inclusive. "I was interested in integrating Eastern and Western philosophies and finding a common language." So Green tossed her med-school applications and pursued a degree in traditional Chinese medicine at the New England School of Acupuncture.

Today she has a busy practice at the Marino Center for Progressive Health in Dedham, Mass. She loves sharing her knowledge of herbs and acupuncture with patients. And though she worried at first that conventionally trained physicians would shun her, she has found they're as eager as she is to break down old boundaries. She sends her patients to M.D.s when she can't help them—and M.D.s send just as many to her. She gets referrals from internists, orthopedic surgeons, even psychiatrists. "Why should people use just one modality?" she asks.

Nearly half of all U.S. adults now go outside the health system for some of their care. We make more visits to nonconventional healers (some 600 million a year) than we do to M.D.s, and we spend more of our own money for the privilege—about $30 billion a year by recent estimates. Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, is not a single, unified tradition. The term covers practices ranging from the credible (acupuncture, chiropractic) to the laughable (coffee enemas). Because few of these therapies have been thoroughly evaluated in controlled studies, their effectiveness is still widely debated. But no one now disputes their significance. "The treatments are already in widespread use," says Dr. Susan Folkman of the University of California, San Francisco—"and the public believes in them."

So after dismissing CAM therapies as quackery for the better part of a century, the medical establishment now finds itself racing to evaluate them. At many of the country's leading hospitals and research institutions, conventionally trained physicians are studying herbs, acupuncture, tai chi and biofeedback as rigorously as they would a new antibiotic. The short-term goal is to identify the CAM practices with the greatest benefits and the fewest hazards, and to make them part of routine clinical practice. But this movement is more than a search for new remedies. Its larger mission is to spawn a new kind of medicine—an integrative medicine that employs the rigor of modern science without being constrained by it. If the dream is realized, the terms "complementary" and "alternative" will become meaningless, proponents say. We'll have one health system instead of two, and healers of every stripe will work together while being guided by science.

Getting Taken
Steven Spielberg, paranormal huckster.

By Chris Mooney
Updated Wednesday, November 27, 2002, at 12:54 PM PT

Suppose that the truth really is "out there," as The X-Files postulated, but not exactly where you might expect. In other words, rather than a vast government conspiracy to conceal proof that aliens have visited Earth, perhaps the real plot lies elsewhere. The entertainment industry, for instance, is constantly putting out films, TV shows, and pseudo-documentaries suggesting that Americans are being visited or even abducted in droves by gray-skinned, strangely kinky spacemenâ€"and that the government wants to keep it all quiet. Dark Skies, Roswell, Fox's Alien Autopsy special … Could the real conspiracy be on the part of the mass media and designed to make people believe in UFOs because it helps ratings?

If such a plot exists, Steven Spielberg would have to be the ringleader. After all, Spielberg planted the seeds of modern UFO obsession with 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which he quickly followed up with E.T. (1982). And now it appears that Spielberg was just getting warmed up. This Dec. 2, the Sci Fi Channel will air the first installment of Taken, a 10-part fictional miniseries about alien abductions, for which Spielberg served as executive producer.

A 20-hour epic, Taken blends all the staples of our modern UFO mythology into a multigenerational tale of three families torn apartâ€"and brought togetherâ€"by aliens and the government's ruthless quest to understand them. In the first generation, Air Force pilot Russell Keys and his crew are saved by flashing blue lights after their plane is shot down over France in World War II; Army intelligence officer Owen Crawford investigates a crash at Roswell, N.M.; and Lubbock, Texas, waitress Sally Clarke is seduced and impregnated by a charming stranger who appears one night, wounded, in her barn. Two generations later, Keys' grandson Charlie and Clarke's granddaughter Lisa struggle to protect their gifted part-alien daughter, Allie, from Crawford's granddaughter Mary, who also works for the military. The final conflagration reveals nothing less than the UFOs' true intentions for humanity.

With its slogan "Some secrets we keep. Some are kept from us," Taken brings the conspiracy-mongering of The X-Files to its logical conclusion, all but demanding that the feds come clean about Roswell and other UFO encounters of the classified kind. Still, Taken, which was four years in the making, may represent the swan song of 1990s UFO culture. As Aliens in America author Jodi Dean pointed out to me recently, following 9/11, America's UFO fixation seemed to dwindle; with real invaders to worry about, it was hard to care about alien ones. With its allusions to government cover-ups, alien implants, the Roswell crash, and alien-human hybrids, Taken almost seems like a time capsule made especially for television.

The Sci Fi Channel, however, is treating aliens more seriously than ever. The network, which now reaches some 80 million homes, has billed Taken as a breakout premiere that will prove it's a "television powerhouse." Sci Fi has also prepared a slew of tie-ins: a Roper Poll announcing that three-quarters of Americans are prepared for the discovery of extraterrestrial life; pseudo-documentaries titled Abduction Diaries and The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence; and public events featuring UFO-abduction gurus John Mack, Bud Hopkins, and David Jacobs. All this might seem an odd accompaniment to a fictional TV series, but Sci Fi has gone even further. It has launched an advocacy group called the Coalition for the Freedom of Information, which plans to sue and file Freedom of Information Act requests to make the government come clean about UFOs. Of course, if the outlandish UFO information requests received by the National Security Agency are any indication, the coalition's chief achievement may be to drive a lot of bureaucrats up the wall.

Such activities certainly do suggest that Sci Fi and Spielberg are out to make people believe in UFOs. Indeed, Sci Fi's excavation of the Roswell crash site and other gimmicks threaten to drag Taken into a sinkhole of purportedly factual UFO-mongering. The evidence about Roswell overwhelmingly suggests that what crashed in 1947 was a government spy balloon; similarly, close examination of UFO-abduction claims overwhelmingly suggests they're best explained by sleep paralysis and other conditions. Those who already believe otherwise, however, will never accept these explanations. That makes battles over UFOlogy worse than pointless, especially if they're conducted by a network like Sci Fi, rather than through serious scientific channels, and presented in the context of promoting a fictional drama.

Neither Taken nor its various tie-ins present us with any new truths, but at least the series has other merits. In a fictional format, Taken deftly historicizes the UFO lore that our culture has churned out since the late 1940s, in a sense merging The X-Files with something like Forrest Gump. At times Taken even seems aware that with UFOs, what we're actually dealing with are the modern analogues of fairies and fallen angels.

What's also impressiveâ€"and characteristically Spielbergianâ€"is how the momentous events of Taken unfold against thoroughly mundane backdrops. Sally Clarke's bizarre contraption to contact her alien lover recalls E.T.'s "phone home" gadget. When Owen Crawford, head of a top-secret government UFO project, attempts to kidnap Clarke's half-alien son Jacob, the song "Purple People Eater" comes on the radio as they drive away. In yet another scene, we learn that one useful technology the government acquired from the UFOs was Velcro. The concept of "taken" is itself a double entendreâ€"characters are abducted and abused by UFOs, but also by the government.

The one aspect of Taken that doesn't come in for a sensitive, historicized treatment is the UFO itselfâ€"and its supposed activities. In one installment, a highly complicated crop circle appears in the United States in the year 1969 or 1970, even though the crop circle phenomenon really only got going in the mid-1970s in southern England. Similarly, Taken's aliens are short, black-eyed, huge-skulled humanoids known as "grays," yet it was only in 1961 with the Betty and Barney Hill "abduction" that aliens began to be described this way. As an "Alien Time Line" by the paranormal investigator Joe Nickell demonstrates, up through the 1970s, people were seeing blobs, insectoids, hairy dwarfs, robots, reptilians, and other types. In other words, the way that UFOs appeared to Americans was itself historically contingent on, and highly influenced by, media representations.

Granted, if Taken admitted this, it would also have to admit that Spielberg himself generated much of the lore that the series has now repackaged and dramatized. But at least the Taken crew seems willing to joke about it. In a recent interview, Taken screenwriter Leslie Bohem noted that Spielberg once said to him of alien abductions, "If this isn't true, then why are all these stories the same?" To which Bohem replied, "Maybe because of your movies?" That's not exactly fessing up to the existence of a vast media conspiracyâ€"but it's a promising start.

Article URL: http://slate.msn.com/?id=2074656

Is the Big Bang a Bust?


The Big Bang Never Happened: A Startling Refutation of the Dominant Theory of the Origin of the Universe.
By Eric Lerner New York: Random House, 1991, 466 pp. Cloth,
Victor J. Stenger
Published in Skeptical Inquirer 16, 412, Summer 1992.

Normally the refutation of a dominant scientific theory takes place on the pages of a scientific journal. But strange things are happening in science these days, as a Nobel laureate admits to publishing falsified data, great research universities are accused of misspending, and wacky claims like cold fusion are announced by press conference. News magazines proclaim that science is in trouble, so it must be so. The scientific establishment has been smug and complacent for too long. It's high time it was pulled down from its pedestal and told who's boss in a democratic society.

The big-bang theory is the standard framework within which most cosmologists operate, having assumed the same position held by evolution for biologists and quantum mechanics for physicists. Eric Lerner wishes to pull down not only that framework, but also what he perceives as the outdated mentality that built it.

Lerner's case against the big bang is composed of several different lines of argument. The first is conventional scientific criticism: The big-bang conjecture is said to be invalidated by the data. Cosmologists have a theory, the big bang, that makes specific quantitative and qualitative predictions that are tested against observations. They claim success for a significant majority of these tests, far exceeding all alternatives. The recent highly-publicized results from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE) provide further evidence for the validity of the big-bang model. While admitting that a detailed, satisfactory explanation of several phenomena, notably large-scale structure formation, is yet to be provided, big-bang cosmologists do not see this as fatal. Lerner, however, argues that these deficiencies are so severe as to invalidate the whole notion of a universe finite in time and space.

The big bang may be wrong, but Lerner can't seriously expect to prove it in a popular book. The issue is hardly likely to be settled without the technical detail, careful reasoning, and expert critical review of the conventional scientific paper or monograph, which this is not. Lerner attempts to go over the heads of cosmologists to the general public. Despite current criticism of science, I see no sign that the public is demanding suffrage in the determination of scientific truth.

The author does not limit himself to a scientific critique of big-bang cosmology, but has a larger agenda. His goal is to refute not just the big bang, but the very thought processes of conventional science as well. He argues that the hypothesis-testing procedure is a throwback to Platonism, a product of theological rather than scientific thinking and antithetic to the essence of the scientific revolution.

According to the author, the equations used in big- bang calculations are treated by the science elite as the ultimate reality of the universe - like Plato's forms. Even after these equations are shown to disagree with observational facts, as Lerner claims they have been, they are retained by big bangers because of an irrational prejudice that the theory must be correct regardless of the facts. Rather than discard the big-bang theory, cosmologists invent new unobserved phenomena, such as cosmic strings and invisible dark matter, to "save the phenomena."

The big bang is promoted, in Lerner's view, because science has sacrificed its soul to theology. The theory confirms the theological notion of creation _ex nihilo_: The universe is finite, having a definite beginning, created with a fixed design, and gradually winding down under the inexorable effect of the second law of thermodynamics.

Lerner argues that this picture disintegrates on exposure to observed facts, not just those gathered with telescopes but common experience as well. From everyday observations, the universe is growing and evolving to a state of increasing order. The second law is simply wrong, or wrongfully interpreted.

The curved space and black holes predicted by general relativity are likewise not common experience, but the result of abstruse mathematics. Lerner says we should believe what our eyes tell us, not some fashionable mathematical equation.

Finally, Lerner finds within this cosmotheological conspiracy the source of most of the evils of society. The slavery of the past and the continued authoritarianism of the present somehow arise from the idea that the universe came into being at an explosive instant and is headed toward ultimate decay. He says the big bang is a convenient paradigm employed by an unholy alliance between church and state to subjugate humanity. In their view, the material world came from nothing and is next to nothing, transient and meaningless in the face of the eternal, limitless power of God.

Lerner's alternative universe is based on the matter-antimatter symmetric plasma cosmology promoted for years by Nobel laureate Hannes Alfvén. Most conventional cosmologists insist that plasma cosmology is inconsistent with observational data. In particular, Alfvén's universe is half matter and half antimatter; yet no more than one part in a billion of antimatter is observed anywhere in the universe.

What arguments does Lerner use to promote the plasma universe? Again they fall into the same classes as his arguments against the big bang. And they possess the same flaws he purports to find in conventional cosmological argument.

While castigating big-bang cosmologists for using hypothesis-testing, Lerner is not beyond claiming successful tests of the hypotheses of plasma cosmology. While maligning big bangers for inventing new ad hoc entities, such as the dark matter, to "save the phenomena," he introduces unobserved, invisible "filaments" throughout the universe to scatter the microwave background and make it isotropic as the data require. (The big bang requires nothing ad hoc here, and, in fact, _predicted _ the microwave background.) While he derides the mathematical equations of general relativity for being inferred from arguments of symmetry and elegance, rather than directly from experiment, Lerner extols the marvels of Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism - also inferred as much from arguments of symmetry and elegance as from observation. And while he criticizes the theological nature of creation _ex nihilo_, he calls on the equally mystical ideas of Teilhard de Chardin.

Has Eric Lerner punctured the big-bang balloon so that its collapse is at hand? I doubt it. The big-bang theory is in no more trouble than the theory of evolution. Creationists tried and failed to invalidate evolution by trumpeting a few of the problems biologists still argue over. Similarly, Lerner tries and fails to invalidate the big bang by drawing attention to its current unsolved problems, declaring them fatal while ignoring the theory's many successes, unmatched by any alternative theory.

The first successful test of the big bang occurred with the discovery of the microwave background in 1964. Lerner dismisses this prediction, labeling it a failure because the measured temperature of the radiation was lower than predicted. But the important result was that the radiation was there at all. No other theory, including plasma cosmology, foresaw this. Lerner's argument here is like someone saying that Columbus failed to prove that the earth was round since he set foot in the Americas, rather than East Indies, where he had expected to land.

Lerner also argues that the universe must be much older than the 15 to 20 billion years required by standard big-bang theory. He claims that the large structures being observed by astronomers ". . . . were just too big to have formed in the twenty billion years since the big bang" (p. 23). While current cosmology has yet to accommodate these structures, Lerner has not demonstrated that it never will within the big-bang framework. His calculation is based on the _lengths_ of the structures, the longest being somewhat less than a billion light-years. In fact, only their _widths_, tens or hundreds times smaller, need be explained. In a 15 to 20 billion year-old universe, ample time exists to generate a structure a billion light-years long and a hundred million light-years wide. We just do not yet know the exact mechanism.

The fact is: No observation rules out the big bang theory at this time. And the big bang theory is successful in quantitatively explaining many observations. For example, calculations on the synthesis of light chemical elements in the big bang give remarkable agreement with measured abundances.

Lerner uses the kinds of arguments one often hears in public discourse on science, but rarely among professional scientists themselves. For example, he argues that plasma cosmology is in closer agreement with everyday observation than big-bang cosmology, and hence is the more sensible. A look through a telescope reveals spirals and other structures similar to those observed in the plasma laboratory (and, as cosmologist Rocky Kolb has remarked, in your bathroom toilet as well). Following Lerner's line of reasoning, we would conclude, as people once did, that the earth is flat, that the sun goes around the earth, and that species are immutable. The scientific revolution taught us to question commonsense expectations.

Finally I want to comment on Lerner's connection of the big bang to the Judeo-Christian concept of Creation. I agree with the author in condemning the way the big bang has been exploited by preachers, popes, and some scientist-authors of popular books, as providing an imagined link between science and religion, and even a verification of the existence of a Creator. We have seen this phenomenon repeated as the recent COBE results are trumpeted by the media as evidence for God's presence "shining through" in the design of the universe. These commentators do not understand that quite the opposite is the case. No support for creation by design can be found in the theory of the big bang.

Complete quantum chaos must have existed at an early moment of the big bang (the _Planck Time_, 10^-43 second). All we know about the universe is consistent with a beginning that was a spontaneous quantum fluctuation, with structure and physical laws developing by the purely material processes of self-organization. The uncreated universe does not, as some people think, require a violation of the first or second law of thermodynamics, nor any other principle of physics.

Perhaps the big bang did not happen exactly as currently envisaged, but Lerner does not make much of a case against it. In fact, a great deal of what he discusses in his book, like cosmic plasma phenomena, is perfectly consistent with the big bang. He could have used the same material had he decided to write "The Big Bang Happened!"

Victor J. Stenger is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and the author of _Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (Prometheus Books, 1988) and http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/087975575X/qid=1038490452/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/104-2416717-0985567?v=glance&s=books (Prometheus Books, 1990).

Bad medicine


Homeopathy is based on a 300-year-old mistake and magnetic therapy is simply fraudulent. As for oxygen-fortified drinks ... Christopher Wanjek debunks some popular medical myths

Tuesday November 26, 2002
The Guardian

Ancient Egyptians believed the heart was the centre of thought and the brain cooled the body. The Romans reckoned a bad uterus caused hysteria. And you know about London's blood-letting days. Yet myths about the body and health linger on today, some astoundingly ludicrous but pervasive none the less.

Often it is said, for example, that we use just 10% of our brains. Magician Uri Geller readily spreads this myth as an explanation for why he can bend spoons; he claims to use more of his brain than the rest of us. Truth be told, we use 100% of our brains - even while watching a silly Uri Geller magic show. That 10% figure was invented in the 30s by ad men in America selling self-help pamphlets. "Scientists say you only use one-tenth of your brain," the ads said. "Wake up to your true potential."

In the 19th century, scientists did indeed determine that certain parts of the brain didn't seem to have any obvious function (such as moving a limb) when stimulated by an electrode. They called these regions "the silent cortex" and later learned that these regions were responsible for the very traits that make us human: language and abstract thought.

How can we be sure that Geller is not even 10% right about the brain? For one, commonsense: never has a doctor said, "You'll be fine.The bullet is lodged in the 90% part of the brain you don't use." Biologically, any part of the body will deteriorate without use. Legs shrivel in a cast, and neurons in the brain die as a result of diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia. And if you want proof in pictures, modern scans all show that the entire brain is active.

Some body myths still show up in biology textbooks. The tongue is not mapped out to taste sweet, salty, bitter and sour in select locations. The tip of the tongue is said to be reserved for the sweet taste. Yet place salt on the tip of your tongue - or anywhere, for that matter - and you will taste it.

The tongue map developed around 1900 merely suggesting that certain regions might be more sensitive than others for certain types of tastes, which itself isn't so true either. A misinterpretation of the data over the years led people to think that taste buds only existed in delineated regions. French wine glass makers are still hooked on the idea.

Slightly lower in the body we come to the liver, which detoxifies poisons from food and medicine. A million-dollar industry has grown from the notion that the liver itself becomes toxic and must be cleaned, or banged out like a lint screen, with a vitamin and herb regimen. Not true. Aside from vitamin A, nothing ever accumulates in the liver. What the liver cannot detoxify, it allows to pass.

Alternative medicine thrives on these types of myths. Magnet therapy, with its claim that it manipulates blood flow, is just plain fraudulent. The therapy is based on the notion that the iron in our blood is magnetic. Makes sense, but it's wrong, because iron is bound to haemoglobin. If the blood were magnetic, then we would blow up when placed under the powerful magnets of an MRI machine. If you do notice redness under that magnetic bracelet you are wearing, that's not magnetism. You merely have a chunk of metal irritating your skin.

Homeopathy is based on a 300-year-old mistake. Homeopathy's foundation lies on the premises of "like cures like" and "the law of infinitesimals." Nappy rash, for example, is cured with a diluted solution of poison ivy. Homeopathy founders when it comes to dilution. A typical dilution level is times 30, which in homeopathy-speak means one-part medicine and 1030 part water. Such dilution is implausible, developed before the concept of Avogadro's number, which determines the number of molecules in a given solution. You would need to drink 8,000 gallons of water to get one molecule of medicine.

Other homeopathic cures are set at 100 to the power of 30. You would need an entire solar system worth of matter to mix with one molecule of medicine. At least homeopathy is safe because it is, indeed, just water.

On the topic of thirst, a new trend is oxygen-fortified drinks to replenish your body with oxygen. It shouldn't surprise you that breathing works better. Oxygen best enters the bloodstream through the lungs, not the stomach. You would need to drink about a litre of oxygenated water every 30 seconds to get a deep breath's worth of extra oxygen, and this assumes you don't pee.

Even breathing in pure oxygen won't help you catch your breath because haemoglobin (which carries oxygen in the blood) is nearly saturated with oxygen with every normal breath we take at sea level, where the air is about 18% oxygen.

Alternative medicine proponents have also latched on to the antioxidant fable, this notion that heroic antioxidant supplements fight sinister free radicals out to wreck havoc on the body. This is an oversimplification. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, making them highly reactive. Yes, they destroy cell walls and lead to disease. And yes, antioxidants neutralise free radicals. Yet free radicals are crucial for the body to make energy, a process that occurs in the cell's mitochondria. Also, free radicals, such as hydrogen peroxide, are a key component to the body's immune system. Too many antioxidants - that is, megadoses of supplements - disturb this natural process.

Indeed, antioxidants such has vitamin C and beta carotene have been shown to fuel cancer growth, and selenium can be toxic. Conversely, there is no evidence that high doses of antioxidants help the body in any way - except (a big maybe here) vitamin E. The myth of brain cancer from mobile phones is steeped in society's irrational fear of radiation. For radiation to cause cancer, it must break chemical bonds in the body. Only certain types of radiation, called ionising radiation, can do this. Ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays are the culprits. Visible light and radio waves are always safe.

Radiation travels as photons. Imagine a chemical bond as a window across the street. A high-energy X-ray photon is like a golf ball that smashes the window. Radio photons from mobiles, millions of times less energetic than X-rays, are like puffballs. You can throw as many radio puffballs as you want, you will never break that window. This is the essence of quantum mechanics.

If your ear feels warm after a cellphone conversation, remember that you are holding a machine with a battery pack against your head. If you get a headache, remember that talking on a mobile is much more annoying than talking on a traditional phone.

Vaccination also worries people today, particularly the MMR vaccine thought to be related to autism. Several major studies in America and England have found no association between the two. Autism merely appears at the same time in life that a child gets the MMR jab. The myth lives on, though, fuelled by a back-to-nature crowd who simply don't understand the importance of vaccines. We have a false sense of security: because our children are immunised, they do not contract measles, whooping cough, and other potentially deadly diseases. Those children not immunised are relatively safe because everyone around them is immunised. Drop immunisation, and we're right back to the 19th century.

The anti-vaccine crowd doesn't understand that 25,000 people will have died of measles alone in Afghanistan this year, according to World Health Organisation. That's a world without vaccines. Likewise, Britain, feeling confident, dropped the whooping cough vaccine in 1974, and by 1978 there was an epidemic of 100,000 cases, with 36 deaths.

The vaccine worry highlights the core myths associated with alternative medicine. First, the ancient "natural" world was somehow a better place, less polluted and with less stress. Second, ancient peoples knew how to care for themselves with natural remedies that "restore balance" by channelling unseen energy forces in the universe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Life was much harder as little as 100 years ago. Children died. Disease wiped out entire cities. For most of humanity, indoor air was filled with soot and faeces. Families constantly stressed over where the next meal would come from. No herbal medicine or incantation routinely worked to cure disease. Few lived past the age of 50, no matter if they practiced yoga and thought happy thoughts, as Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil teach us. Surprisingly, many in this modern world subscribe to the idea that disease is not caused by pathogens but rather an "unbalance" or "negative energy". They take untested herbs, much like medieval Europeans, to restore this balance. Or they practice qigong to move so-called qi (chi) energy through the body to initiate some mystic healing practice.

Only people in the wealthiest of nations are subscribing to ancient practices, often banned in developing countries. We seem to be so content, so caught up with myths, that we have forgotten how the advances of real science through the 20th century - the germ theory of disease, for one - have made life that much more pleasant.

· Christopher Wanjek's book, Bad Medicine, is published by John Wiley & Sons, priced £11.50. To order a copy phone: 0800 243407.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Homeopathy - The Test - Programme Summary



Homeopathy was pioneered over 200 years ago. Practitioners and patients are convinced it has the power to heal. Today, some of the most famous and influential people in the world, including pop stars, politicians, footballers and even Prince Charles, all use homeopathic remedies. Yet according to traditional science, they are wasting their money.

The Challenge

Sceptic James Randi is so convinced that homeopathy will not work, that he has offered $1m to anyone who can provide convincing evidence of its effects. For the first time in the programme's history, Horizon conducts its own scientific experiment, to try and win his money. If they succeed, they will not only be $1m richer - they will also force scientists to rethink some of their fundamental beliefs.

Homeopathy and conventional science

The basic principle of homeopathy is that like cures like: that an ailment can be cured by small quantities of substances which produce the same symptoms. For example, it is believed that onions, which produce streaming, itchy eyes, can be used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.

However, many of the ingredients of homeopathic cures are poisonous if taken in large enough quantities. So homeopaths dilute the substances they are using in water or alcohol. This is where scientists become sceptical - because homeopathic solutions are diluted so many times they are unlikely to contain any of the original ingredients at all.

Yet many of the people who take homeopathic medicines are convinced that they work. Has science missed something, or could there be a more conventional explanation?

The Placebo Effect

The placebo effect is a well-documented medical phenomenon. Often, a patient taking pills will feel better, regardless of what the pills contain, simply because they believe the pills will work. Doctors studying the placebo effect have noticed that large pills work better than small pills, and that coloured pills work better than white ones.

Could the beneficial effects of homeopathy be entirely due to the placebo effect? If so, then homeopathy ought not to work on babies or animals, who have no knowledge that they are taking a medicine. Yet many people are convinced that it does.

Can science prove that homeopathy works?

In 1988, Jacques Benveniste was studying how allergies affected the body. He focussed on a type of blood cell known as a basophil, which activates when it comes into contact with a substance you're allergic to.

As part of his research, Benveniste experimented with very dilute solutions. To his surprise, his research showed that even when the allergic substance was diluted down to homeopathic quantities, it could still trigger a reaction in the basophils. Was this the scientific proof that homeopathic medicines could have a measurable effect on the body?

The memory of water

In an attempt to explain his results, Benveniste suggested a startling new theory. He proposed that water had the power to 'remember' substances that had been dissolved in it. This startling new idea would force scientists to rethink many fundamental ideas about how liquids behave.

Unsurprisingly, the scientific community greeted this idea with scepticism. The then editor of Nature, Sir John Maddox, agreed to publish Benveniste's paper - but on one condition. Benveniste must open his laboratory to a team of independent referees, who would evaluate his techniques.

Enter James Randi

When Maddox named his team, he took everyone by surprise. Included on the team was a man who was not a professional scientist: magician and paranormal investigator James Randi.

Randi and the team watched Benveniste's team repeat the experiment. They went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that none of the scientists involved knew which samples were the homeopathic solutions, and which ones were the controls - even taping the sample codes to the ceiling for the duration of the experiment. This time, Benveniste's results were inconclusive, and the scientific community remained unconvinced by Benveniste's memory of water theory.

Homeopathy undergoes more tests

Since the Benveniste case, more scientists have claimed to see measurable effects of homeopathic medicines. In one of the most convincing tests to date, Dr. David Reilly conducted clinical trials on patients suffering from hay fever. Using hundreds of patients, Reilly was able to show a noticeable improvement in patients taking a homeopathic remedy over those in the control group. Tests on different allergies produced similar results. Yet the scientific community called these results into question because they could not explain how the homeopathic medicines could have worked.

Then Professor Madeleine Ennis attended a conference in which a French researcher claimed to be able to show that water had a memory. Ennis was unimpressed - so the researcher challenged her to try the experiment for herself. When she did so, she was astonished to find that her results agreed.

Horizon takes up the challenge

Although many researchers now offered proof that the effects of homeopathy can be measured, none have yet applied for James Randi's million dollar prize. For the first time in the programme's history, Horizon decided to conduct their own scientific experiment.

The programme gathered a team of scientists from among the most respected institutes in the country. The Vice-President of the Royal Society, Professor John Enderby oversaw the experiment, and James Randi flew in from the United States to watch.

As with Benveniste's original experiment, Randi insisted that strict precautions be taken to ensure that none of the experimenters knew whether they were dealing with homeopathic solutions, or with pure water Two independent scientists performed tests to see whether their samples produced a biological effect. Only when the experiment was over was it revealed which samples were real.

To Randi's relief, the experiment was a total failure. The scientists had been no better at deciding which samples were homeopathic solutions than pure chance would have done.

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 27, 2002

from The Washington Post

A new type of medicine to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was approved yesterday by the Food and Drug Administration, bringing with it the promise that the most common psychiatric disorder of childhood may be treated with fewer side effects -- and less controversy.

Atomoxetine, which will be marketed under the brand name Strattera, will join in January such drugs as Ritalin that are prescribed by physicians. It will become the first medicine to treat ADHD that is not a stimulant.

Early studies have indicated that the new medicine does not cause insomnia, and is generally well tolerated by children, adolescents and adults. No comprehensive studies have compared the effectiveness of the new medicine against the older drugs, so it will be months before clinicians can establish which drug works best for each patient.


from The Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS -- Nevada's congressional delegation is demanding an investigation into claims that the Energy Department ignored consultants' misgivings about the use of Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste -- and then punished the critics.

The allegations bolster concerns that the White House is "charging forward with so [few] facts" in support of the $70-billion project, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday.

"Scientists who don't agree with the plan are given short shrift," Reid said. "It's obvious that Yucca Mountain is on the fast track, because of the strength of the power industry in this administration."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-yucca27nov27,0,576357.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2 Dnation%2Dmanual

from The New York Times

A group of American and Canadian biologists is debating whether to recommend stem cell experiments that would involve creating a human-mouse hybrid.

The goal would be to test different lines of human embryonic stem cells for their quality and potential usefulness in treating specific diseases. The best way to do that, some biologists argue, is to see how the cells work in a living animal. For ethical reasons, the test cannot be performed in people.

But if the human stem cells are tested that way in mice, any animals born from the experiment would be chimeras - organisms that are mixtures of two kinds of cells - with human cells distributed throughout their body. Though the creatures would probably be mice with a few human cells that obey mouse rules, the outcome of such an experiment cannot be predicted. A mouse with a brain made entirely of human cells would probably discomfort many people, as would a mouse that generated human sperm or eggs.


from The New York Times

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov. 26 - Astronauts from the International Space Station and the shuttle Endeavour performed the most important construction task of their mission today, hooking a 45-foot-long aluminum girder to the station and performing a spacewalk.

Using the shuttle's robot arm, the Endeavour's commander, Capt. James Wetherbee of the Navy, clutched and then gently extracted the girder from the shuttle cargo bay.

The shuttle arm performed flawlessly, putting to rest concerns that it might have sustained significant damage on Nov. 12 when it was bumped by a work platform on the launching pad.


from The Miami Herald

LONDON - Will 2003 be the year of the first human clone? An Italian fertility expert says a patient will give birth to a cloned baby early next year but experts, including one who helped create Dolly the sheep, are skeptical. Dr. Severino Antinori told a news conference in Rome on Tuesday that the cloned baby is due in January.

The maverick doctor gained fame nearly a decade ago when he helped a 62-year-old women give birth following fertility treatment with a donated egg, but he has revealed few details about his latest project.

"It's going well. There are no problems," was all he would say about the pregnancy of the cloned embryo.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Student learns artifact is a cuneiphony


10:07 PM 11/24/02
Susan Lampert Smith Wisconsin State Journal

When UW-Madison student Tom Leary was brushing back leaves and sticks in Madison's Quarry Park on a Sunday earlier this month, he was trying to create a better mountain bike route over the rough terrain.

Instead, he was stunned by what he found on top of a rocky mound. It was a small, coffin-shaped stone tablet covered with strange, symbolic writing.

"I thought it was a burial mound," Leary said. "I thought it was a spiritual artifact. It looked like a baby's coffin."

Leary, 21, went home to Sun Prairie and began trying to look up the symbols in a book about Hopi Indians. He said he was worried about finding the correct tribe so he could return the artifact. Those worries evaporated when he carried it into the office of State Archaeologist Bob Birmingham.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

MIOS MEETING Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Don R. Patton Ph.D.

The "Malachite Man"
Evolutionary Theory Falsified

Skeletons of ten perfectly modern humans have been excavated from more than fifty feet down in the Dakota Sandstone. This formation is a member of the Lower Cretaceous, supposedly 140 million years old, known for its dinosaurs. The bones are partially replaced with malachite (a green mineral) and turquoise, thus appropriately named "Malachite Man."

These humans appear to have been buried by the same catastrophe that buried dinosaurs within this continent spanning formation. It is powerful evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived and died at the same time, thus devastating evolutionary theory.

Of course, evolutionists have tried to explain away this evidence. Their foolish attempts will be considered and exposed. Dr. Patton has made many trips to investigate this site. He has personally excavated some of the bones and has interviewed the all the principals involved. It is his conclusion that the objections have been demolished and that this exciting find can be nothing other than what it appears to be.

Come, look at the evidence and decide for your self.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX
Tuesday, December 3rd, 7:30 PM

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 26, 2002

from The New York Times

Like rockets awaiting a launching signal, three white towers pierce the floor of a former gymnasium on the City College campus at 133rd Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem. Beneath, gigantic concrete cylinders rooted to bedrock prevent their delicate innards from being jarred by passing subway trains. On the floor around each tower is painted a red line, a warning to anyone who steps inside that an intense magnetic field will lift keys faster than any pickpocket.

The three towers are the core of the New York Structural Biology Center, which will open its doors next month. They hold the latest versions of machines for probing the three-dimensional structure of the body's proteins, a task that has become all the more pressing after the decoding of the human genome. The machines cost $2 million each.

The center is the result of an attitudinal revolution - a decision by nine New York universities and research hospitals to cooperate in buying machines for joint use, instead of competing against one another for federal funds and raiding one another's staffs in the usual way.


from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Enforcement of a federal law meant to track the movement of dangerous pathogens among U.S. laboratories is fraught with problems, posing an "urgent and potentially serious public health threat," congressional auditors said in a letter released Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, charged with enforcing the law, said it is already working to fix the problems.

The General Accounting Office investigation was prompted by last fall's anthrax attacks, when it became clear no one knew how many U.S. labs had the microbe sent through the mail. That made it harder to pinpoint the source of the anthrax and the person who mailed it.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/ats-ap_health10nov25,0,2525233.story?coll=sns%2Dap %2Dtophealth

from The Philadelphia Inquirer

WASHINGTON - Using sugar-making genes from a common bacterium, biologists have created a strain of rice that is more resistant to drought, cold and salt water, perhaps enabling farmers to grow it in places that have been impossible.

In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at Cornell University report that they fused two genes from the E. coli bacterium and placed them into a common variety of rice.

The genes added a sugar, called trehalose, to the rice plant and made it hardier, said Ajay K. Garg, a Cornell researcher and first author of the study. The genes are active only in the rice plant's stem and leaves and do not appear in the grain, he said.


from The Dallas Morning News

It might look like an elaborate video game, but the joysticks don't command busty, karate-kicking women. Instead, these controls are made for doctors who want to perform operations with robots - an expanding field that some believe to be the future of cardiac surgery.

Federal regulators just this month cleared robotic surgery for a type of heart valve repair. And last week, researchers announced the results of the first study in the United States of "closed" open-heart surgery - performed with a robot, through incisions no wider than drinking straws - to repair a birth defect in the heart.

That research suggested that robotic surgery, where surgeons manipulate willowy mechanical arms threaded into the chest, could return patients to their normal lives faster than traditional operations. Another study is under way with a more ambitious goal: closed-chest coronary bypass surgery.


Findings suggest how tiny jolts can steady tremor sufferers
from The Dallas Morning News

ORLANDO, Fla. - Everybody likes to stimulate their brains, usually to make themselves feel smarter. But for some people, it's a medical necessity.

People who suffer from Parkinson's or other tremor-related diseases sometimes benefit from deep brain stimulation - a surgery in which doctors implant a small device that sends an electrical signal to a specific part of the brain. Just as a pacemaker uses electricity to regulate an erratic heartbeat, deep brain stimulation uses electricity to pace the firing of nerve cells, or neurons, that control movement.

Used with or instead of medication, the surgery often lets patients regain control over involuntary jerks like those experienced during Parkinson's. But nobody knows why.

"We're ignorant about how it works," says Dr. Robert Gross, a neurosurgeon at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Now, 15 years after neurosurgeons began the first studies of deep brain stimulation, scientists are just starting to understand some details of its success.


from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- About 800 Americans a year bring home a bad souvenir from a trip abroad: malaria. A few die, and the rest suffer weeks of miserable symptoms that usually hit shortly after they unpack. Most of the several million Americans who travel to malaria-plagued countries come home healthy thanks to swallowing protective drugs during the trip.

But the number sickened each year because they didn't take those pills has risen by a few hundred since the mid-1990s. Even as tourism in developing countries grows, too many travelers don't know to take anti-malaria medicines -- or skip them from worry about side effects, such as rare psychiatric symptoms linked to Lariam, the most-prescribed drug.

Now doctors are looking to a meeting of the world's malaria experts in January to settle just which medication is the best choice for different people heading on vacations, military duty or other trips to malaria-ridden countries.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/ats-ap_health11nov25,0,2983986.story?coll=sns%2Dap %2Dtophealth

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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Politician must hand over eight cattle after sorcery conviction

From Ananova at


A Namibian politician must hand over eight of her cattle after being convicted of using sorcery against one of her rivals.

Linus Kani, the complainant in the witchcraft case, was until a few months ago the Swapo Party Regional Co-ordinator in the Caprivi region of Namibia.

After he was ousted in an internal party election, he alleged that his successor, Florence Simaimbulwa, enlisted the sorcery services of an "old man" from Zambia to ensure he was not voted back in.

According to The Namibian sources said Simaimbulwa admitted using the services of witchdoctor Induna Simbwengela.

In a letter, Simaimbulwa reportedly praised the "old man".

She also reportedly appealed to the witchdoctor to send her more herbs that would "protect" her from Kani, who she alleged was plotting against her using a witch doctor based near Victoria Falls.

At the time she said Kani was refusing to surrender the office and car keys and that she needed a prescription of his "strongest" herbs to reverse a life-threatening situation.

The paper says she also wanted the witch doctor to cleanse both the Swapo office and the vehicle used by her predecessor.


From Terry Colvin

The relevant website with photo-analysis (and computer-assisted analysis) of the new evidence is at


The main website for the newly-released "Roswell crash" research is http://www.scifi.com/roswellcrash/

In 1947, Brigadier General Roger Ramey, head of the U.S. 8th Army Air Force at Fort Worth, Texas, posed for a press photo showing the "weather balloon debris" allegedly from the Roswell, New Mexico crash. For more than 50 years, civilian researchers had very good reason to suspect this crash was of a spacecraft, piloted by alien beings -- NOT a "weather balloon," as the U.S. military has long claimed.

Curiously, in the press photo, there was a piece of paper in General Ramey's hand -- with the text facing toward the cameras. (Probably, in the excitement and fast-moving events of the moment, the text was inadvertently exposed to cameras.)

[I concede I have no explanation why a U.S. Brigadier General is posing for a press photo with any kind of military message in his hand. As revealed by modern, sophisticated photo-analysis, the teletype message appears to contain the heading "URGENT" -- and to be overstamped "Top Secret."]

Now, with 21st century technology, including digital image processing and computer-assisted English language analysis (with contextual constraints added) of the words in the dispatch, it is possible to reconstruct with very reasonable accuracy what was in that message.

For more information on the methods and analysis used to reveal this classified message, visit http://roswellproof.homestead.com/Methods.html

Hopefully, this analysis will be subject to independent peer review and verification. (It is my understanding that the U.S. military has reported that many records and messages from this period have been inexplicably [read that as "conveniently"] lost or destroyed -- making the analysis of this photo and the communique in General Ramey's hand even more important.)

The reconstructed text of the message can be viewed in both graphic form and Rich Text Format at http://roswellproof.homestead.com/reconstruct.html

Although the actual analysis is heavily copyrighted (with unusually thorough claims to Copyright) Art Bell read PORTIONS of the text of the reconstructed message to millions of listeners.

So, I will repeat what Art Bell read on the air, because speech which is broadcast to more than 500 radio stations worldwide can reasonably be considered as public domain. This approach extinguishes any "copyright" issues for the purposes of this limited email message. (Additionally, "Fair Use" and limited, non-commercial distribution of copyrighted material only for "research and scholarship purposes" is lawful and authorized by Congress under Title 17, U.S. Code, Section 107.)

Here is a partial transcript from the "Coast to Coast" radio program, Nov. 22/23, 2002:

ART BELL (reading excerpts from the analyzed 1947 dispatch in General Ramey's hand) said,


This communication exposes the USAAF's claims of a "weather balloon crash" as a fraud.

For the full message text, see http://roswellproof.homestead.com/reconstruct.html

Additional air times on the Sci-Fi channel for the program, "THE ROSWELL CRASH: Startling New Evidence"

 Monday, 11/25 - 5:00 p.m.
 Wednesday, 11/27 - 12:00 p.m. & 11:30 p.m.
 Monday, 12/2 - 2:00 p.m.
 Saturday, 12/7 - 9:00 a.m.
 Sunday, 12/15 - 9:00 a.m.

-- CW
Col. Lieve Peten, Commander MarsBase - Mailto:SHADO@gmx.net

"That's what life is all about, I guess - The things we never say." Cmdr. Ed Straker, UFO Series, Subsmash episode.

SHADO pages : http://www.dandello.net/shado/aspects/index.html
MarsBase/UFO: http://shado.iwarp.com

Telescope to challenge moon doubters


By Robert Matthews in London
November 25 2002

Conspiracy theorists, you have a problem. In an effort to silence claims that the Apollo moon landings were faked, European scientists are to use the world's newest and largest telescope to see whether the spacecraft are still on the lunar surface.

For years, doubters have claimed that NASA, the United States space agency, spent billions of dollars faking the landings to convince the world that it had beaten the Soviet Union to the moon. Evidence cited has ranged from the absence of stars on any photographs taken by the astronauts to the way that the Stars and Stripes they planted seemed to flutter in a vacuum.

This month NASA tried to put an end to the controversy by commissioning a definitive account of the evidence for the landings. Days later it dropped the idea after criticism that it was wasting money by taking on the lunatic fringe: naturally, this only boosted claims that the agency was trying to hide something.

Now astronomers hope to kill off the conspiracy theory forever by using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) - by far the most powerful telescope in the world - to spot the Apollo lunar landers.

Operated by European astronomers in the Chilean Andes, the VLT has four mirrors eight metres across linked by optical fibres. It can see a single human hair from 16 kilometres away.

Trained on the moon, such astonishing resolution should enable it to see the base of one or more of the six lunar modules that NASA insists landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972.

Supporters of the conspiracy theory welcomed the news that astronomers were to photograph the landing sites. But Marcus Allen, the British publisher of Nexus magazine and a long-time advocate of the theory, said photographs of the lander would not prove that the US put men on the moon. "Getting to the moon really isn't much of a problem - the Russians did that in 1959," he said. "The big problem is getting people there."

According to Mr Allen, NASA was forced to send robots to the moon and faked the manned missions because radiation levels in space were lethal to humans.

Pooh-poohing postmodernism


Article5 November 2002

by Sandy Starr

'The essays that the graduating BAs would submit with their applications were often brilliant. After five or six years of PhD work, the same people would write incomprehensible crap. Where did they learn it? They learned it from us.'

Frederick Crews, Emeritus professor of English at the University of California at Berkley, is telling me about his time spent dealing with graduate admissions to the university's PhD programme. He subsequently retired from academic life, to slate it in his new book Postmodern Pooh.

Postmodern Pooh is a sequel to Crews' 1963 book The Pooh Perplex: A Student Casebook. The Pooh Perplex was a satire of various schools of literary theory. It was written in the form of analyses, by imaginary critics, of the children's classic Winnie the Pooh - and gained a cult following in the USA. Postmodern Pooh is written in a similar form, but is a more thorough and scathing attack on the product of the post-Sixties culture wars in academic thought.

'This is probably the longest delay for a sequel that the world has ever seen', says Crews. 'The Pooh Perplex was written right off the top of my head, in 20 days, with almost no reading behind it. This book took two years to write, and they were two years of hard labour, because I did the research.'

But the research paid off. As a former English undergraduate, who was once stranded and bewildered in the outer reaches of obscure literary theory, I found Crews' pastiches of post-structuralist, Marxist, feminist, cyber-, new historicist and post-colonialist literary theory painfully hilarious.

Each of the book's imaginary contributors seems to be modelled on a real-life critic - although Crews wisely insists that 'no identification of the characters in Postmodern Pooh will be done by me'. But all of the embarrassing secondary material cited in the book, written by prominent critical figures, is real. 'Every single quotation is genuine and accurate', says Crews. 'I really enjoy seeing how far people can sink, and I have at least 20 times as much material as I used.'

So what's wrong with contemporary literary criticism? A good clue in Postmodern Pooh can be found in the contribution by Carla Gulag - who has co-administered the 'ever popular Marxism and Society Program' and 'lectured and written widely on topics pertaining to Critical Sociology, Critical Anthropology, Critical Legal Studies, and Critical Criticism'. For Gulag, 'the truly essential tasks of criticism' are: 'cognitive mapping, reconciling emergent and residual forms, weighing symbolic against diachronic factors, detecting and disabling master narratives, retotalising the Real, and deciding what is hegemonic over what, and why' (1).

'The results of your investigation are already given before you start' Crews has little time for such vacuous jargon. 'My academic friends tend to be the scientists, and they say: "What are your colleagues up to?" They just can't fathom why people would waste their time in this way.' According to Crews, the notion of a specific literary theory which holds all of the answers is self-defeating. 'People are always looking for the master key to interpretation. If you believe in a theory that applies to all of literature, you've essentially tied your hands.'

One target that comes in for a particularly hard time in Postmodern Pooh is identity politics. 'You take an academic field and you try to translate it into an efficient instrument of your own ethnic, class or gender identity. And that's fine - it gives you a momentary thrill', says Crews. 'The trouble is that the discipline of knowledge disappears. And then it becomes extremely tedious, because the results of your investigation are already given before you start.'

As a consequence, he explains, 'so-called disciplines are losing their disciplinarity. They're losing the sense that there are any grounds on which we can criticise one another, except the grounds of membership, of factionalism. For me, this is the end. It's entirely possible that it can be reversed in some way, but not during my career.'

Crews is concerned, not just about the prevalence of postmodern twaddle in his own area of literary criticism, but about its impact upon academia as a whole. 'A typical first-year graduate student in English, now, has a cannier sense of the profession than I had at the age of 40', he complains. 'What that means is, they're aiming for one of these little niches - a gender niche, an ethnic niche, or what have you. So their perspectives have already been narrowed. They are completely oriented to the profession, they master the jargon of the profession, and for the rest of their lives they essentially speak to each other.'

Such developments are the reason why Crews chose to retire from his academic post, to focus on journalism and writing books. 'In many ways, I was at the top of my profession. But I wanted to get out, because I was being paid in order to be an influence in my field, and I had no influence whatsoever. Absolutely none. I don't think you can deal with people like this, and the reason you can't deal with them is that they understand the system better than you do. They know what is rewarded.'

Postmodern Pooh is intended to satirise not just a few celebrity critics, but the kind of critical writing that academics and students generally tend to come up with today - evasive, incomprehensible, and making enormous, unjustified claims for the power of texts and language. Here's a sample from Felicia Marronez, Sea & Ski Professor of English at the University of California:

'Pooh is trying to say that nothing short of a thoroughgoing revolt against the equivalence of word and thing, name and person, signature and certification can overcome the stifling of our linguistic freedom. A comparable insight enabled Derrida to show that South African apartheid, which some dull analysts had blamed on a tenacious and fearful white minority, was actually brought about by phonetic writing.' (2)

'Are intellectuals saying things that the public can genuinely learn from?' On occasion, the focus of Crews' attacks lies outside of academia. It should be noted that Crews is best known in the USA not as a commentator on cultural studies, but as a critic of psychotherapy; and is infamous for his attacks on recovered memory syndrome, in books such as Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute. Some of these other bugbears are shoehorned into Postmodern Pooh, where, although admittedly funny, they feel a little out of place.

In a contribution entitled 'The Courage to Squeal', Dolores Malatesta proclaims: 'the strongest evidence of Piglet's early abuse...is the fact that he doesn't have any conscious memory of it at all. Neither did I, for that matter, when I started my own therapy.' (3) When I ask Crews whether he was motivated to write Postmodern Pooh by anger, he says with grim humour: 'Yes. I'm a little reluctant to admit it, because my psychoanalytic friends have given me a lot of free psychiatric help, telling me how angry I am.'

N Mack Hobbs, the final contributor to Postmodern Pooh, concludes with a cynical recommendation that academics 'kick back and acknowledge that we're in this criticism racket together, not for the sake of "truth" but just to earn a meal ticket by tooting our little horns' (4). Given the prevalence of such academic cynicism today, and Crews' own decision to retire from academic life, does he believe that the pursuit of knowledge is now best undertaken within academia, or outside of it?

'Membership in the academy or non-membership in the academy isn't really the point', argues Crews. 'The point is, are intellectuals saying things that the public can genuinely learn from? When they're only talking the jargon of their own field, the public is learning nothing. There has to be an effort to take the serious disciplines of knowledge and communicate them to the public in a way which is not debased.'

Anyone concerned with the state of intellectual debate can agree on that, whatever their discipline. Postmodern Pooh may not avert corrosive trends in academia, but it does provide us with a useful precis of what went wrong with the culture wars. And did I mention that it's very, very funny?

Postmodern Pooh, by Frederick Crews, was published in the UK by Profile Books on 29 October 2002. It is published in the USA by North Point Press. Buy it from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

(1) Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews, Profile Books, 2002, p36
(2) Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews, Profile Books, 2002, p15
(3) Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews, Profile Books, 2002, p126
(4) Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews, Profile Books, 2002, p170

Monday, November 25, 2002


Tue 26 Nov, 21:00 - 21:50

Homeopathy - The Test: Horizon puts homeopathy's most controversial principle to the test. How can a treatment, so diluted that it contains no medicine, possibly work? W/S.


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 25, 2002

from The Washington Post

A good deal of hoopla surrounded last year's completion of the Human Genome Project, in which scientists spelled out the exact order of all 3.1 billion letters of the human genetic blueprint. And no doubt the feat will lead to scientific insights and medical breakthroughs, as promised.

But what of the world's lesser genomes? Might some of them deserve at least a moment of fame as they, too, have their contents revealed? Might a few of them even hold the key to relieving some fraction of the world's suffering? Consider the humble bacterium with the cuddly name Wigglesworthia glossinidia.

Yale University scientists reported this month they had decoded all 697,742 letters of the genetic code of this little-known microbe, named for the famed British entomologist Sir Vincent Brian Wigglesworth. The silence was deafening. After all, Wigglesworthia does not cause a disease. In fact, it is such a simple bug that it is incapable of living outside of the African fly in which it makes its home.

But therein lies Wigglesworthia's potential to be of assistance to humanity. Because the fly within which this microbe lives is none other than the infamous tsetse fly, which transmits the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, a scourge that has recently been taking an increasingly terrible toll on humans and animals south of the Sahara.


from The Los Angeles Times

It works with worms, rats, mice and monkeys. Reduce an animal's intake of calories by 30 percent and it will live 30 percent longer than those on an ordinary diet.

Now scientists want to know if the same severely restricted diet that has produced dramatic results in laboratory experiments in animals will work in humans. In September, the National Institute on Aging began scientific trials involving about 200 people at three locations in Louisiana, Massachusetts and Missouri. The volunteers are eating low-calorie diets to see if a significant reduction in calorie consumption will improve their health and enhance the likelihood of a longer life span.

The institute's trials are noteworthy because the latest government figures show that a disturbing 61 percent of American adults are overweight, increasing their risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and arthritis. Finding a diet that delivers maximum nutrition while sharply reducing calories -- and that people will stick with -- is a key goal of the research project.


from The New Orleans Times-Picayune

SANTIAGO, CHILE -- Lately it's begun to seem as though culinary vogue is the kiss of death. No sooner does some denizen of the deep become trendy with the fine-dining set, than concern arises about its very survival. From redfish to swordfish, the hottest seafood offerings in America's top restaurants soon end up in the environmentalist frying pan.

The latest addition to the list is the Chilean sea bass, or Patagonian toothfish, to use its proper name. In truth, it's not a bass at all but rather a fearsome, primitive-looking predator of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, renamed by a savvy marketing expert.

Less than a year after being crowned Bon Appetit magazine's 2001 Dish of the Year, the Chilean bass found itself a hot topic this month in its namesake country, as 160 nations gathered for the 12th conference of the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species.


from The Chicago Tribune

BLACK EARTH, Wis. -- Amid one of the most unorthodox deer hunting seasons in state history, some storied Wisconsin traditions are holding fast. Far-flung families and friends reunited this weekend at deer camps. Local stores advertised annual "deer widow" sales for temporarily abandoned wives. And hunters shivered for hours in shaky tree stands, the devout using earpieces to catch Sunday's Green Bay Packers football game.

For those living in the hilly, densely forested "eradication zone" in south-central Wisconsin, however, little seemed right about the weekend start of the nationally renowned nine-day gun season for deer.

Hunters here have been called upon to wipe out about 25,000 white-tailed deer in a 411-square-mile area west of Madison to help prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal nervous system and brain condition found in deer and elk. In addition, officials want to collect at least 50,000 deer heads statewide for testing, one of the largest wildlife disease surveys ever conducted.


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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Randi in Horizon

From James Randi

The BBC is screening the Horizon (known as Nova, in the USA) episode with me on Tuesday on BBC2 at 9PM in the UK (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/).

No showing in the USA yet, but I'll keep you informed.

This is a STRONG program!


Scientists Planning to Make New Form of Life


By Justin Gillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 21, 2002; Page A01

Scientists in Rockville are to announce this morning that they plan to create a new form of life in a laboratory dish, a project that raises ethical and safety issues but also promises to illuminate the fundamental mechanics of living organisms.

J. Craig Venter, the gene scientist with a history of pulling off unlikely successes, and Hamilton O. Smith, a Nobel laureate, are behind the plan. Their intent is to create a single-celled, partially man-made organism with the minimum number of genes necessary to sustain life. If the experiment works, the microscopic man-made cell will begin feeding and dividing to create a population of cells unlike any previously known to exist.

Roswell dig on Sci-Fi comes up empty



The press material accompanying a videotape of "The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence" warns that the facts revealed in the documentary are embargoed until tomorrow, to prevent sleazebag critics like me from spilling the frijoles before tonight's premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel.

To that I say, "Embargo shmembargo! The public has a right to know!" (Actually, I wanted to say, "Embargo shmembargo! Let's all go to Key Largo," but wasn't sure how to support the position, what with the bad economy and all.)

Here, then, is everything I discovered while sitting through "The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence."

It's a startlingly bad documentary.

Bryant Gumbel apparently needs work.

My TV screen needs dusting.

There. Lock me up. Rattle my kneecaps. Take away my press pass. I have divulged the undivulgable and, I believe, created an indigestible new word.

Am I ashamed?

Well, only to admit that I watched the whole thing. But sometimes a journalist has to step up. Face the consequences. Show some courage. Be a man (unless he's a woman).

Like an underfilled burrito, "The Roswell Crash" has about 10 minutes worth of information wrapped in a two-hour package. And, like most "documentaries" that know they've got squat to reveal, this one keeps the big "surprise" till the end, making the whole thing less of a journalistic undertaking and more of a snake-oil come-on. At the risk of being tossed in divulgers' dungeon for life, let me say the big surprise is roughly equivalent to discovering that the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are related. In other words, you've kind of suspected it for years but just needed some more corroboration.

The network newsmagazines play this game all the time, baiting incessantly with bits of chum. How else can they persuade us to stick with an aimless ramble through an hour (or two) of prime time? The hook here is that the U.S. government probably covered up the facts of what happened on ranch land outside Roswell, N.M., in July 1947. (Stop me before I divulge again!)

The believers say an alien spaceship, complete with alien crew, crashed on the site.

The Air Force, in a "final" report issued eight years ago, sticks with a weather-balloon mishap it postulated soon after the incident.

I'm inclined to think it was some exotic military experiment gone awry, which the government would be only too eager to cover up. But that's just me, the Mad Divulger.

Of course, if extraterrestrials did crash and burn on a New Mexico ranch two years after the end of World War II, the feds probably would keep that sort of thing under wraps, too, at least until it had done due diligence in ascertaining it wasn't a commie invasion.

But the fact that our own government is less than forthcoming on matters it considers strategically sensitive isn't exactly breaking news. People who've wondered what happened outside Roswell have been stonewalled by the Air Force for years. The denials become more intriguing as retired servicemen who've been silent for two generations begin to admit they saw things that couldn't possibly have been part of a weather-balloon experiment.

The low point of the Sci-Fi documentary, which centers on a recent archeological dig while simultaneously filling us in on 55 years of Roswell history, is a failure to reveal any findings from the excavation! The truth may be out there, but Sci-Fi isn't telling. (Technically, I'm not divulging anything here because, well, there's nothing to divulge.)

We presume that if anything interesting shows up in the bags of dirt collected from the the crash site, we'll see it on another Sci-Fi Channel special titled, "The Roswell Crash: More Startling New Evidence." But the last we see of it in tonight's program is when the bags are delivered to a bank vault by some rent-a-cops -- security being a top priority -- pending further examination.

Gumbel, host and narrator, has no problem telling us: "These samples and artifacts will remain locked in the safe of the Roswell Wells Fargo Bank until they can undergo extensive testing at a materials lab." Famous for asking tough questions, Gumbel doesn't seem concerned that Sci-Fi Channel couldn't wait until the "samples and artifacts" were evaluated before it put such a slapdash documentary on the air.

The reason, it turns out, is that "The Roswell Crash" is part of Sci-Fi's buildup to the Dec. 2 launch of Steven Spielberg's "Taken," a 10-night miniseries about alien abduction. (Another documentary, "Abduction Diaries," follows "The Roswell Crash" tonight at 7 and 10.)

So, in the interest of generating heat instead of light, Sci-Fi Channel goes with programming that would get an "incomplete" if it were turned in as a term paper. Maybe this shouldn't be surprising when a channel with "fiction" in its name tries to deal in fact.

John Levesque is the P-I's television critic. Call him at 206-448-8330 or send e-mail to tvguy@seattlepi.com.

'Path of the Skinwalker'


Thursday, November 21, 2002
Copyright Las Vegas Mercury

A small ranch in northern Utah may be the strangest place on Earth

by George Knapp

First of two parts.

I'm sitting on a white plastic chair in what seems like total darkness. Strapped to my chest and shoulders is an array of electronic gear - microphones, a video camera, a box that detects magnetic changes and a Geiger counter. Somewhere in the mix is a flashlight, the only device whose function I understand, and thus, the only device I cannot find.

In front of me, I can almost make out the sinister shapes of some truly spooky trees. Malevolent bugs are buzzing in and out of my eyes and ears, and it occurs to me that there must be a tavern open somewhere nearby, even in this remote corner of Utah. One hundred or more yards away, beyond a barbed-wire fence and a little creek, are my fellow paranormal rangers, equipped with their own video cameras, night-vision glasses and assorted scientific gear. They are supposed to be watching me to see if anything happens.

On this night, I am the bait. Bait for what, I wonder? The unspoken hope is my own inherent weirdness quotient might give me some sort of connection to the undeniably odd energy, or entity, that seems to have concentrated itself on this remote rural community, and, in particular, on this small ranch where I now sit, waiting for something to announce its presence.

Some very strange things have happened at the precise spot where I'm sitting. It is here that a visitor was accosted by a roaring but nearly invisible creature, something akin to the Predator of movie fame. It is here that a Ph.D. physicist reported that his mind was invaded, literally taken over, by some sort of hostile intelligence that warned him that he was not welcome. It is here that an entire team of researchers watched in awe as a bright door or portal opened up in the darkness and a large humanoid creature crawled out before quickly vanishing. And it is here that several animals - cattle and dogs - were mutilated, obliterated or simply disappeared.

For as long as anyone can remember, this part of northeastern Utah has been the site of simply unbelievable paranormal activity. UFOs, Sasquatch, cattle mutilations, psychic manifestations, creatures that aren't found in any zoos or textbooks, poltergeist events. You name it, residents here have seen it.

...Full story at URL above...

Unidentified Czech returns Egyptian antiquities after getting Pharaohs curse!


Egypt's cultural counsellor to Austria and the Czech Republic Helmi Omran received a parcel containing ancient Pharaonic pieces, copper coins and some original stone pieces with a letter in the Czech language in which the unidentified writer asks to return these possessions to the National Museum in Cairo "after suffering several years of jinx since possessing these antiquities".

Egypt's ambassador in Prague Abdel-Rahman Moussa sent the parcel to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, which in turn handed it to the SCA.

French Scholar Insists He's Being "very Cautious" in Identifying the Purported Burial Box of Jesus' Brother

TORONTO (AP) - The French scholar who discovered the purported burial box of Jesus' brother, James, strongly defended the artifact's identification Sunday against skeptical points raised at a convention of religion scholars.





November 25, 2002 -- You've heard of haunted houses and haunted forests - now a suburban New Jersey town is the home of America's first haunted strip club.

The staff of the Liquid Assets lounge in South Plainfield says a gaggle of go-go loving ghouls invaded their burlesque hall after the club's owners spotted an otherworldly image on a security video last summer.

The ghostly visages, which look like specks of light dragging pale wispy tails across the screen, are not birds or video glitches - and they can't be explained by the company that installed the equipment.

Paranormal investigators who have examined the video claim the strip-house specters may be the spirit of a dead dancer or the souls of Prohibition-era gangsters.

"I've been in the field for 20 years now and this is to me without a doubt a ghost," said self-described "ghostbuster" Jane Doherty. "The way it's moving clearly shows it has a consciousness."

This go-go ghost story goes beyond just the images on the tape.

Doherty said she's felt one of the spirits hanging out in the club's "Champagne Room," peeping on people getting lap dances.

Club workers also say the ghosts have filled the club with more boo than boobs - by moving around beer bottles, tossing the bar's soda gun in the air and brushing up against people (although none of the dancers, yet).

Club deejay Sergio Lopez, who sometimes sleeps in the lap-dance room after hours, said one night his slumber was disturbed by a strange whooshing sound.

"Two doors to the room swung open," he said. "I saw a flash of light out of the corner of my eye and then felt a pressure on my ear and face and a strange looping sound."

That minute-long encounter prompted him to film another night's rest. The tape captured strange lights dancing around him.

"I couldn't believe what I got on tape," he said. "That spirit that night was angry."

Club owner John Colasanti says he isn't sure what's going on at his go-go bar - but he's beginning to believe in ghosts.

"Since this has happened, my life has been catapulted into a paranormal sphere," he said. "I don't know if it's reality or what."

Doherty says she thinks that the spirits could be that of a 1920s gangster named Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll and his pals from The Bronx underworld, Joe "Bar Rags" Iadarola and Jerry "Chin" Iadarola, who are Colasanti's deceased uncles.

Doherty said one of at least four spirits she feels could be that of a dancer named Ariel, who died on her way to work a few years ago.

To be sure, she has scheduled a seance for the coming weeks.

Not everyone is convinced. A leading skeptic laughed at the idea of a haunted strip club.

"Science has not validated a single ghost image," said Joe Nickel, of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claim of the Paranormal.

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

Current News  News Back Issues

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