NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 December 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Miss Cleo Speaks


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Just before Thanksgiving, fraud charges against television psychic Miss Cleo were dropped in Florida, and now Youree del Harris, the real woman behind the crystal ball, has broken her silence. On camera, Harris (pictured) told Channel 10 News that despite what prosecutors say, she is the real thing and does have psychic abilities, which she calls the "gift of sight." "Everything that I said on the TV that were my words, was real," Harris said. "Call me now was something required by contract to say. When I'd encounter people on the street and they said, 'Cleo we tried to call.' And I said, 'Don't call that number dear.'" The commercials are off the air, and the company, which produced them, Access Resource Services, has settled with the state.

Many claim divine image on street sign Candles and flowers mark pilgrim's progress.


Claudia Leos, Observer Staff

A "No Parking" sign posted to keep the street in front of a South Alpine home clear of unwelcome vehicles has done just the opposite, with many local residents claiming to see the face of Jesus Christ in dark patterning on the sign.

Pilgrims and curiosity seekers make the trip to the home of Luisa Ibarra, 610 W. Avenue I, nightly to discern the "image" in the sign. According to Ibarra, owner of the residence across from the old Centennial School, a friend of her grandson, Michael Carrillo, first noticed the image.

"His friend asked if we had noticed the image on the sign… so we came home to look at it," Ibarra said. According to Carrillo, who resides with Ibarra, his friend notified him that the reason why vehicles passed by his home in the evenings was due to rumors of the image.

Alma Betancourt, Ibarra's daughter, stated that the family has known of the image since they were notified in September but did not want to make a big deal out of it.

"We didn't know what to think," Betancourt said. "We wondered if it was our imagination and if we were seeing things." While it may have taken some months for word of the image to reach the rest of the community, more and more people are taking the time to visit the sign and see for themselves.

According to Ibarra, she realized just how many people have heard of the image late last week when numerous cars began to drive by the house. "Friday night is when the rest of the community started noticing and coming by," Betancourt said.

The sign had lain discarded in the backyard if the Ibarra residence and was finally tacked to a utility pole by Luisa this summer in hopes of keeping cars from parking on her front yard during baseball games.

Ibarra stated the family was unable to watch the ball games from the home due to vehicles parking in the front of the residence, which was also causing traffic due to the street being so narrow.

Many have touched the sign, some because they believe a small miracle may have occurred and others out of skepticism or curiosity. The image, is more visible at night - only appearing as a dark smudge during daylight hours, visitors say.

"In September you could see it, but barely. Now you can see it real good," Carrillo said. "I just thought it was weird and it gave me the chills. I really don't know where it came from."

The family has even tried, to no avail, to wipe the sign with a washrag to remove the apparent stain, Betancourt said.

"I really don't know what to think. I hope it's something good," Betancourt said. "A lot of people were saying that it was a good blessing, and we want to share it with everybody. Maybe it's a blessing for everybody or the neighborhood."

Alpine resident Barbara Franco is just one local resident who heard of the image and decided to visit for herself.

"After my husband and I saw it, we got Father Mike (Alcuino, of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church)," Franco said. "I don't know what it is. I think it's a miracle that his appearance is there and my faith is strong enough to believe it's of God."

While Alcuino did not bless the image as many thought he had, he agrees that the image is very similar to that of Jesus Christ's face.

"Well, if you're going to ask my opinion, I did see some image, which personally I can associate it with the image of the 'Shroud of Turin,'" Alcuino said. "Supposedly, it was believed to be the cloth used to wrap our Lord when he died and it left an imprint of his face." Alcuino stated that images of Jesus Christ found in old pictures and films while he studied are similar to the image on the sign.

"Officially, I cannot say anything about it," Alcuino said, adding that he is not in any position to make comments until the Church makes an official statement. "(The Church) can only (make a statement) after a thorough investigation of an event or the assuming appearance on a 'No Parking' sign."

According to Alcuino, the Church would launch an investigation "if there is a clamor for the church to investigate," which would come from the people. While Alcuino said that if an investigation was made, it would take years to come to a conclusion.

"That would be the greatest and most wonderful thing that could happen in Alpine once the church authenticated it," Alcuino said. "Alpine will never be the same again. It would mean that you will see thousands and thousands coming here and that is why Alpine will never be the same."

In the meantime, locals continue to flock to the residence.

"I got curious and wanted to check it out," said Rosa Ramirez, an Alpine resident.

Ramirez stood outside the Ibarra residence Monday night with about 50 other residents to view the image and exchange opinions on it.

Many brought cameras and video cameras to capture the image on film. Ramirez went back home in search of her video recorder and taped the image like several others did.

This is not the first time Ramirez has witnessed unusual images. Ramirez said she traveled to Marfa three years ago to observe a tree with an image that supposedly resembled the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ with the crown of thorns.

"They had a light shining on the tree and you could see the faces in the shadows and they were very clear – it was amazing," Ramirez said. There have been many apparitions throughout time, some of which have had full Church approval.

One of the most famous appearances was that of an apparition of the Virgin Mary said to have appeared to a poor Indian, Juan Diego, in Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City in 1531.

She is said to have visited him several times before embedding her image on Juan Diego's tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth.

The Ibarra's expect that as word of the image spreads more people will travel to Alpine to witness the image outside their home.

For now vehicles have been known to drive to view the image from the time the sun sets to about 1 a.m. in the morning.

"Some stop during the day but mostly at night… You can't really hear them," Carrillo said. Although some passersby just drive through, some stop to place candles under the image and pray. "There are so many places like Our Lady of Fatima and Guadalupe - those are appearances or apparitions that took so many years to approve," Alcuino said. "Seemingly it always takes years, in other words – time."


Jesus Painting Survives House Fire

Reported by Kristin Smith
Web produced by Kelly Reynolds

When a house went up in flames, a family lost everything. Clothes, furniture, Christmas gifts all burned in the fire. The only thing saved was a picture of Jesus, it remained untouched by the flames.

Faulty wiring caused a fire that gutted the home a couple of weeks ago. Only a bedroom and a bathroom survived the blaze. But the one thing that came out of it unscathed is what has become Pauline Mallory's most prized possession, an oil painting of Jesus.

The picture hung in the livingroom where smoke and flames destroyed everything else, but somehow, by the grace of God perhaps, the portrait of Jesus survived untouched.

"It was hanging above a couch. The couch was all black, and then I guess, my husband, he said when he took the picture down, the wall behind it was black. So you know that definitely is, it's quite amazing," Mallory said.

The Mallory's are calling it a miracle. They also feel blessed that no one was home when the fire broke out. The family feels fortunate because the community has really rallied around them, donating money, furniture, clothing to help the parents, who have four children and another one on the way.

If you'd like to help out by making a donation, you can call Sherri at North Sashabaw Elementary School. The number is 248-623-4100

"Rods," Aliens or Bugs?


Physician studies fate of ill children'treated' by faith healing

Many cases of religiously motivated medical neglect never become public due to cover-ups, lack of investigations and poor record keeping, according to postdoctoral fellow's research.

by Scott J. Turner
December 15, 2002


Most pediatric research takes place in a medical or scientific setting such as a clinic or lab. But one postdoctoral fellow in forensic pediatrics is more likely to conduct his work in a cemetery. Seth Asser, M.D., studies the deaths of children due to medical neglect on religious grounds.

In the past 15 years, more than 200 children have died in the United States because their parents relied exclusively on faith to heal them. The children died of treatable ailments such as diabetes or dehydration.

"Typical parents cannot relate to this topic because it is so unbelievable," said Asser. "But freedom of belief doesn't allow you to throw away a young life."

Last year Asser became a fellow at the Medical School and at Hasbro Children's Hospital after working close to 20 years as an intensive-care pediatrician, primarily in San Diego and San Antonio. He is also a former medical director for the county-administered California Children Services in San Diego.

In 1998, Asser published a paper in the journal Pediatrics that evaluated the deaths of 172 children between 1975 and 1995 from families of 23 religious groups whose rituals dictated that healing must occur through prayer. The article was the largest study ever conducted of such deaths

The study found that 140 fatalities "were from conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90 percent," and that overall only three children would likely not have benefited from medical care. "Not only did they die needlessly,but many of the deaths were slow and painful," Asser said.

Public officials, said Asser's co-author, Rita Swan, have long ignored these deaths. Swan is president of Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD). This Iowa-based nonprofit organization works to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect.

There are "many laws that allow parents to deprive their children of various kinds of health care on religious grounds," said Swan. "The religious exemption laws are a rare example of discrimination de jure: laws that deprive one group of children of protections afforded to others."

Many cases of religiously motivated medical neglect never become public due to cover-ups, lack of investigations and poor record keeping, Asser said. His most recent findings provide bone-chilling evidence that some individuals and groups look outside of medicine for healing illness and disease.

Asser studied the deaths of youngsters in an obscure religious congregation. In 1998, 78 graves of children buried since 1955 were discovered in a cemetery of the Followers of Christ Church in the suburbs of Oregon City. The finding sparked widespread publicity about poor record keeping and inadequate investigations.

Last fall Asser flew to Oregon to examine public records for information about cause of death. He tramped through mud to record data on the children buried in the Followers of Christ cemetery. Asser combed through the group's telephone directory and counted the people coming to a service at the Followers church, as he stood on the sidewalk receiving their hostile glares.

These methods allowed Asser to compare the proportion of child deaths for the group with statewide numbers. Children born into the Followers of Christ Church were 4.5 times more likely to die compared to peers in the surrounding population, he found.

"Once again many of the deaths were from conditions easily prevented or treatable," Asser said. After the deaths were publicized, Oregon repealed laws giving religious exemptions to charges of child abuse, neglect, manslaughter, criminal mistreatment, and criminal nonsupport.

In fact, no children in the Oregon Followers of Christ Church have died of medical neglect since the repeal, Asser said, and members were witnessed taking children to doctors. Concluded Asser, "To stop these preventable deaths, other states should promptly repeal similar exemption laws."

"Children don't have the option of saying `yes' or `no' to care if their parents decide to deny them that care," said Carole Jenny, M.D., professor of pediatrics and director of the Child Protection Program at Hasbro Children's Hospital.

"In addition, children are not competent to understand the long-term consequences of foregoing medical care in life-threatening situations," she said. "Society needs to make sure they are protected until they are able to make those decisions on their own."

Jenny is "proud" of Asser's work. Religiously-motivated medical neglect is "not a popular topic to study – people are often afraid to stand up for these kids," she said."Many powerful institutions are on the `other side' of the issue."

Swan thinks that few physicians would have the patience to gather the information that Asser does. "It's quite a tedious project to track down data on these kids," she said, adding that "a coroner who has not reported a child's death to law enforcement may not be happy to have a researcher inquire about a case and implicitly expose the coroner's indifference."

Asser has followed the events in Attleboro, Mass., closely. There, two religious sect members have been charged with murder in the starvation death of their year-old son. Two other religious sect members were jailed for refusing to provide information on the whereabouts of their child or its remains.

"Despite the local tradition of independence in New England,"Asser said, "we don't tolerate people who dispose of children as if they were used tissues."

Asser said he would continue to collect data on religion-motivated medical neglect to "push legislators to change laws." He advocates for medical care for a simple reason: It saves lives.

"Witnesses to some of these deaths tell how the babies died," Asser said. "Each story is worse than the last. They died in pain. They died horribly. They died within easy access to top-notch medical facilities. These are examples of how hard-headed some parents can be in the face of what is reasonable and logical and good – protecting and saving the lives of their own children."

New Premise in Science: Get the Word Out Quickly, Online


The New York Times
December 17, 2002

A group of prominent scientists is mounting an electronic challenge to the leading scientific journals, accusing them of holding back the progress of science by restricting online access to their articles so they can reap higher profits.

Supported by a $9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the scientists say that this week they will announce the creation of two peer-reviewed online journals on biology and medicine, with the goal of cornering the best scientific papers and immediately depositing them in the public domain.

By providing a highly visible alternative to what they view as an outmoded system of distributing information, the founders hope science itself will be transformed. The two journals are the first of what they envision as a vast electronic library in which no one has to pay dues or seek permission to read, copy or use the collective product of the world's academic research.

Extinction's evolution


In a recent paper in the journal World Archaeology, University of Nevada-Reno anthropologist Gary Haynes wrote: "Archaeological and theoretical evidence indicates that Clovis-era foragers exterminated mammoths and mastodons in North America around 11,000 radiocarbon years ago. The process unfolded quickly as human foragers explored and dispersed into fragmenting habitats where megamammal populations were ecologically stressed." The other side of the coin -- that perhaps humans were not responsible for the death of the Pleistocene megafauna might be good news for modern biodiversity. If it is hard to kill off a species with human technology, there may be hope that care and judgment can support the great chain of being. This is ecologically important to us, and it makes for good mystery.

Scientists find evidence of life in space

http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20021216-052639-6668r From the Science & Technology Desk
Published 12/17/2002 12:05 AM

CARDIFF, Wales, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Viable microorganisms have been discovered floating in Earth's upper atmosphere, providing evidence for the controversial theory that life on the planet was started by bacteria and other microbes arriving here from outer space, scientists said Tuesday.

"We were able to conclude there were viable microorganisms present at different heights in the air," Chandra Wickramasinghe, of Cardiff University's Center for Astrobiology, told United Press International.

Experts Rebut Claim of Biblical Bathhouse in Jesus' Hometown

JERUSALEM (AP) - An ancient bathhouse unearthed beneath a Nazareth souvenir shop dates back to Crusader times and is not, as the shopowner believes, a Roman bath which may have been used by Jesus, archaeologists and Bible scholars said Tuesday.


Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Women Turn to Non-Traditional Methods to Find Refuge and Focus


The New York Times
December 15, 2002

LONDON - Try as you might, it is hard to ignore a newspaper headline that says: "They stood naked in the shower as Carole scrubbed the toxins out of Mrs. Blair's body." Such an article appeared last week in The Daily Mail, featuring an intriguing account of the purported New Age practices of Cherie Blair, the wife of Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and her so-called lifestyle adviser, Carole Caplin.

Recently, Mrs. Blair has faced a bewildering barrage of allegations, involving the purchase of two modest apartments in Bristol, a city in southwest England, with the help of a convicted would-be diet-aid entrepreneur, who is fighting deportation to Australia and who also happens to be Ms. Caplin's boyfriend. But perhaps the most compelling and strange details to have emerged concern Mrs. Blair's unconventional health regime.

Louisiana Rejects Evolution Disclaimer


On December 12 the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted 7-3 not to require biology textbooks to include an evolution "disclaimer". Opponents of evolution education had proposed that Louisiana require a version of the disclaimer placed in all Alabama biology texts since 1996. Alabama remains the only state with such a requirement.

According to an Associated Press report of the December 12 BESE meeting, "The board room was packed with backers of the proposal, who tried only a couple of times to interrupt the proceedings with shouts." A representative of Louisiana Family Forum spoke in favor of a disclaimer. The proposal was opposed by the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union.

A committee of the Board had voted on December 10 to require a disclaimer singling out evolution as "only a theory" in new textbooks which the state is adopting. The Student and School Standards/Instruction Committee approved the measure during a session described as "contentious."

"I don't believe I evolved from some primate," declared board member Jim Stafford. However, other board members spoke against the proposal. Board president Paul Pastorek said, "I am not prepared to go back to the dark ages," and said he would oppose the measure.

Science in the News

"Science In the News" is produced daily by the Media Resource Service, a public understanding of science program sponsored by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. Sigma Xi does not endorse the items that appear in "Science In the News," nor the science they report.

In the News

Today's Headlines - December 17, 2002

Will the world's population plummet in the next century? from The Boston Globe

The women of Bangladesh are among the poorest, least-educated in the world. But they are in the forefront of a revolution that is staggering population scientists. In a single generation, they have halved their birth rate. On average, they have a little more than three children today, down from the six born to their mothers. Their daughters may have fewer than two.

They and hundreds of millions of other women could be setting the human race on a path toward demographic decline. Within 50 years, four-fifths of the world's women may settle for two or fewer children. And if that happens, babies will be so scarce that the world's population will be shrinking.

Forget the population bomb: There may be a baby bust.

In much of Southern and Eastern Europe, women already have an average of just 1.3 children - way below the two or more needed to maintain populations. Now, large numbers of poor, developing countries are headed that way, too, said Joseph Chamie, head of the United Nations population division in New York, which will publish a new analysis of population trends early next year. The projections have yet to be completed, but they'll be based on fertility rates in most of the developing world dropping to 1.85. Barring a vastly expanded life expectancy, this will inevitably lead to an eventual population decline, Chamie said.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Researchers have sequenced the gene structure of the sea squirt, a homely seafloor creature - and distant human relative - that has intrigued scientists since the days of ancient Greece.

In a report appearing Friday in the journal Science, 87 scientists from five countries announced they have correctly assembled the 150 million DNA base pairs of the sea squirt genome. The humble creature is the seventh animal to be genetically sequenced.

Mike Levine, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, and a coauthor of the study, said studying the genetics of the sea squirt gives a glimpse at the very early history of evolution, a time more than 550 million years ago when animals with backbones were just beginning the shift toward a new age of complexity.

"The sea squirt enjoys a special place in the hearts of biologists because it provides the first evolutionary connection between invertebrates and vertebrates," Levine said. "You look at the adult and you think it is one simple creature, but if you look at the embryo, you see a clear connection to higher animals. This is our ancient, ancient cousin."


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Sounds from the radio slip into a melody and suddenly your mind skips back to an evening of moonlight and romance and happy times. It happens to everybody, but until now science was unsure just why.

A new study by researchers at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., suggests that recalling that melody is the job of a part of the brain known as the rostromedial prefrontal cortex. It is the part that remembers music and is even able to recognize a sour note in the midst of a familiar tune.

A team led by researcher Petr Janata of Dartmouth's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience explored the mind's memory for tunes by studying the brains of eight musicians as they listened to a bit of original music.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which detects the part of the brain active in response to specific stimuli, they found that the ability to recognize music is contained in a centrally located area just behind the forehead.


from The New York Times

A group of prominent scientists is mounting an electronic challenge to the leading scientific journals, accusing them of holding back the progress of science by restricting online access to their articles so they can reap higher profits.

Supported by a $9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the scientists say that this week they will announce the creation of two peer-reviewed online journals on biology and medicine, with the goal of cornering the best scientific papers and immediately depositing them in the public domain.

By providing a highly visible alternative to what they view as an outmoded system of distributing information, the founders hope science itself will be transformed. The two journals are the first of what they envision as a vast electronic library in which no one has to pay dues or seek permission to read, copy or use the collective product of the world's academic research.

"The written record is the lifeblood of science," said Dr. Harold E. Varmus, a Nobel laureate in medicine who is serving as the chairman of the new nonprofit publisher. "Our ability to build on the old to discover the new is all based on the way we disseminate our results."


from The New York Times

Bend, don't break.

With an experiment of soap film and a short glass fiber, mathematicians at New York University have worked out some underlying principles of how something like a willow tree withstands powerful gusts.

The same researchers showed two years ago why flags flap in the wind.

Years ago, biologists started observing how plants had adapted to the flow of wind and waves around them. Some, like Dr. Steven Vogel, a professor of biology at Duke University, put sections of trees in wind tunnels and videotaped how leaves rolled up into tight streamlined cones when buffeted by high winds.


from Newsday

They are just the kind of findings that drive nonscientists nuts: Two studies back to back in the Nov. 28 New England Journal of Medicine looked at whether eating fish contaminated with mercury appeared to cause heart disease in men.

One said: Yes, we see a higher incidence of heart attacks in those who consume the most fish with the highest levels of mercury. The other said: Nope, don't see any correlation between how much mercury- tainted fish the men ate and whether they developed heart disease. Both were large studies that used similar methods.

Given that fish is low in fat, high in protein and the best source of omega-3 fatty acids - shown in several studies to protect against heart disease - that leaves consumers wondering: Do we eat fish or not?

The answer, experts say, is: Eat fish, just be careful what kind and how much.


from Newsday

It was the stuff of legends: a Mongol ruler determined to expand his empire, an invasion of epic proportions, and a divine wind twice sent by the gods to repel the attack. The ethereal threads of folklore and artwork often intertwine the historical reality of Kublai Khan - grandson of Mongol ruler Genghis Khan - and his failed 13th century invasions of Japan.

Archaeologists sifting through the muck of a small fishing harbor on a tiny island have now reclaimed a principal historical thread by anchoring Khan's devastating military defeat of 1281 to a monumental find: a shipwreck from the doomed Mongol fleet.

The story begins in 1274, when Kublai Khan conscripted the newly conquered Korean vassal state of Koryo into abetting his first ill-fated military invasion of Japan. The fleet, purported to consist of 900 warships, encountered initial success before abruptly retreating, perhaps wary of Japanese reinforcements or the region's notoriously stormy seas.

Whatever the cause, some Japanese accounts invoke strong winds that shifted course on Oct. 20 and forced the Mongols into full retreat. So began the first stirrings of the mythic "divine wind" sent by the gods to protect Japan, an otherworldly force the Japanese would eventually call the "kamikaze."


mini-AIR Dec 2002 - Lice/Gophers, Shopping and the Brain]

mini-Annals of Improbable Research ("mini-AIR")
Issue Number 2002-12
December, 2002
ISSN 1076-500X
Key words: improbable research, science humor, Ig Nobel, AIR, the

A free newsletter of tidbits too tiny to fit in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), the journal of inflated research and personalities

----------------------------- 2002-12-01 TABLE OF CONTENTS

2002-12-01 Table of Contents
2002-12-02 Soon...
2002-12-03 What's New in the Magazine
2002-12-04 Luxuriant Flowing Hair News
2002-12-05 Micro-Stardom in Denver
2002-12-06 Pocket-Gopher-Lice Poets
2002-12-07 Oliver and the Elements
2002-12-08 No Words
2002-12-09 The Anguish of Spaghetti, Revisited
2002-12-10 Knotted Anguish
2002-12-11 Shopping and the Brain
2002-12-12 Improbable Science Books
2002-12-13 Sheepish Thermodynamics Limerick Contest
2002-12-14 Season's Watery Greetings
2002-12-15 BURSTS OF HotAIR: Anti-Money Conference, etc.
2002-12-16 RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Inevitable Breakthrough
2002-12-17 MAY WE RECOMMEND: Flighty, Hopping and Fick
2002-12-18 AIRhead Events
2002-12-19 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)
2002-12-20 Our Address (*)
2002-12-21 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)
2002-12-22 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

Items marked (*) are reprinted in every issue.

mini-AIR is a free monthly *e-supplement* to AIR, the print magazine

2002-12-02 Soon...

On TUESDAY, DECEMBER 24, Christmas eve (Tokyo time), watch a special TV documentary about the Ig Nobel Prizes on NHK, Japan's public television network.

For details, see Section 2002-12-18 below.

2002-12-03 What's New in the Magazine

AIR 8:6 (November/December 2002) is the special ART & SCIENCE ISSUE. It will be emerging from the printers any day now. Highlights include:

"The Tring Tiles," by Ayers Bagley. A look at one of the most curious -- and curiously overlooked -- exhibits in the British Museum: a set of thirteenth-century tiles from a church in Tring, England. The tiles are believed to depict non-biblical stories about childhood miracles and misadventures of Jesus, but they strongly resemble episodes from the modern cartoon series "South Park."

"Libretto for 'Il Destino di Grant Application,'" by Lloyd Fricker. The complete partial description of the alleged opera, with newly discovered photographs.

"The Avian Bombing Target Experiment," by Jeff Van Bueren. The author tested birds' ability to drop their load on a large bullseye.

"Cosmic Headlights and the Origin of Gamma Ray Bursts," by Eric J. Heller. The author presents an automotive argument to explain a curiously puzzling appearance of intense, very sudden flashes in many parts of the cosmos.

... and much, much more...

(What you are reading at this moment is mini-AIR, which is just a wee, small, monthly e-mail supplement to the print magazine.)

2002-12-04 Luxuriant Flowing Hair News

These are heady times for the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS). In recent weeks, the club has seen (a) its first resignation due to haircut; and (b) the first simultaneous membership of three Luxuriantly Flowing Tressed Scientific sisters. The Club's home page is, as ever, at


2002-12-05 Micro-Stardom in Denver

If you are an accomplished singer and/or pianist, and will be attending the AAAS Annual meeting in Denver, and would like to be part of the AIR show there on Friday night (Valentine's Day), Feb. 14, please get in touch with us ASAP at .

Ditto if you are a published AIR author and will be attending the meeting and might like to give a wee, little mini-presentation as part of the show.

2002-12-06 Pocket-Gopher-Lice Poets

The judges in the first and last annual POCKET-GOPHER-LICE LIMERICK COMPETITION were heartened to see how many people could not stop themselves from composing limericks that explore the the research report:

"Comparative Body Size Relationships in Pocket Gophers and Their Chewing Lice," by Serge Morand, et al., which explained that: Our study of gopher hair-shaft diameter and louse head-groove dimensions suggest that there is a "lock-and-key" relationship between these two anatomical features. [for the full citation, see last month's mini-AIR]

The winning poets and limericks are:

A louse that could leave like a rocket Stayed put on a Thomomy's pocket. The louse only gripped On gophers equipped With hairs that could fit in its socket.

Pocket Gopher said, "Isn't that nice? They've been researching my chewing lice, And the width of my hair Doth directly compare With the size of their head-groove device!"

A louse wanted a chew at a pocket gopher or two. He chose for his host one whose fur was the most fitting. Well, wouldn't you?

As the hair on our gopher grows thicker So, too, do the lice there that lick 'er. Pocket-gopher/louse teething 's a "lock-and-a-key" thing. The lice just get fatter, and snicker.

These and several notable runners-up will be featured later this month on the AIR web site.

2002-12-07 Oliver and the Elements

2002 Ig Nobel Chemistry Prize winner Theodore Gray writes:

I thought some of you might like to see my write up of the events of the day Oliver Sacks came to visit my Periodic Table Table:


2002-12-08 No Words

We have been asked to comment on the existence of a publication named "The Digital Urology Journal" http://www.duj.com/. We have declined.

2002-12-09 The Anguish of Spaghetti, Revisited

"Spaghetti" is the subject of INVESTIGATOR ADRIANO MELIS's note, published here last month. "Lengthy, tangled, and well worth chewing on" is not a bad way to describe the reaction that investigator Melis's note provoked in the scientific community.

Melis was, perhaps in a too-hasty frenzy of scientific excitement, commenting on the report that appears at


Here is a sampling of the Melis-corrective commentary that is pouring in to our office:

The researcher's statement that typical spaghetti take 30 seconds to cook is to me, a reasonably typical Italian specimen, simply astounding. Hand-made spaghetti takes about 30 seconds to cook. It's the dried stuff in the grocery store that takes 7 to 10 minutes.

Looking at the original report, two things struck my attention: 1- The original report mentioned THAWING times for FROZEN spaghetti. Not the same as cooking time at all. 2- The original research was made in Japan, and the researchers were Japanese, but the report was made by Reuters, an Western news service. Some westerners have been known to mistake Japanese-style noodles (ramen) for true spaghetti. Maybe it was not spaghetti at all!

2002-12-10 Knotted Anguish

Anguish was evident, too, in notes we received from knot mathematicians who saw INVESTIGATOR JONATHAN ADAMS's note here last month about obscure journals. INVESTIGATOR Susan Williams summed the knot community's feelings:

The Journal of Knot Theory and its Ramifications will never rise to the ranks of the outstandingly obscure unless it trims its 50-member editorial board. The journal's circulation must number at least 51, since each editor gets a free copy, and the University of South Alabama library has a paid subscription.

2002-12-11 Shopping and the Brain

There are people who will buy anything, and an organization called BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences says it wants to study these people's brains using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI). We wish them lots of luck. The BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences, by the way, is owned by an advertising agency, several of whose top employees have the official job title "Thinker."

The tip of the iceberg can be seen at


2002-12-12 Improbable Science Books

Every holiday season we are inundated with books that people want us to review. Many of these books are both (a) funny and (b) about science -- but not at all in the way their authors apparently intended. Here are four OTHER recent books -- books that we enjoyed very, very much.

"How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science of Everyday Life,"
by Len Fisher, ISBN 0297607561. The 1999 Ig Nobel Physics Prize winner makes the scientific aspects of doughnut dunking as appetizing and satisfying as the dunking itself. He also makes a lot of other commonplace activities -- things you'd seldom hear mentioned in school -- more interesting than most things that do get discussed in classrooms.

"Right Hand, Left Hand,"
by Chris McManus, ISBN 0297645978 and 0674009533. The 2002 Ig Nobel Medicine Prize winner gives a rollicking fingers-to-atoms explanation (with plenty of technical insight) of the biological wonder of handedness.

"The Science of Harry Potter,"
by Roger Highfield. ISBN 0755311507 and 0670031534. This book, in a manner half-Hermionely, half Harryesque, takes an adventurously wise and clever look at how and why, with a scientific approach, one might go about pulling off at least some of Hermione and Harry's magical accomplishments.

"The Ig Nobel Prizes," by Marc Abrahams, ISBN 0752851500. The in-depth, juicy, behind-the- scenes story of what, how, when, and (as much as possible) why most of the Ig Nobel Prize winners did what they did to earn their Prizes.
[NOTE: we enjoyed writing this book, as well as reading it.]

2002-12-13 Sheepish Thermodynamics Limerick Contest

We invite you to enter the first and last annual SHEEPISH THERMODYNAMICS LIMERICK COMPETITION, for the best (NEWLY composed!) limerick that elucidates this research report, which was brought to our attention by investigator Tricia Rogerson:

"Enthalpy, Heat Capacity and Thermal Conductivity of Boneless Mutton Between -40 and +40 Degrees C," Ana M. Tocci, Ethel S.E. Flores, and Rodolfo H. Mascheroni, Food Science and Technology / Lebensmittel-Wissen und-Technologie, vol. 30, no. 2, March 1997, pp. 184-91.

RULES: Please make sure your rhymes actually do, and that your limerick at least pretends to adhere to classic limerick form.

PRIZE: The winning author will receive a free, thermally conductive copy of an issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. Send entries (one entry per entrant) to:

c/o marca@chem2.harvard.edu

2002-12-14 Season's Watery Greetings

Jacques Benveniste, the only person who has been awarded two (2) Ig Nobel Prizes, recently sent us a big hello. You can see it at

Benveniste won his first prize for demonstrating, to his satisfaction, that water has the ability to remember things. His second prize was for demonstrating, with equal vigor, that these memories can be transmitted over telephone lines and the internet.

2002-12-15 BURSTS OF HotAIR: Anti-Money Conference, etc.

Here are concise, flighty mentions of some of the features we've posted on HotAIR since last month's mini-AIR came out. See the whole list by clicking "WHAT'S NEW" at the web site, or go to:


The Anti-Money Laundering Conference


New Additions to the List of Scholarly Romance Restaurants


Edison's Research on Nonverbal Communications


Edison's research on Human Topology




2002-12-16 RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Inevitable Breakthrough

Each month we select for your special attention a research report that seems especially worth a close read. Your librarian will enjoy being asked (loudly, so other library patrons can hear it) for a copy. Here is this month's Pick of the Month:

"Food and Drink Packaging: Who is Complaining and Who Should Be Complaining," Belinda Winder, Keith Ridgway, Amy Nelson, and James Baldwin, Applied Ergonomics, vol. 33, no. 5, September 2002, pp. 433-43.The authors, who are at the University of Sheffield, report that:

Analyses on who suffered the most serious accidents and injuries whilst opening food and drink packaging revealed that the decision-making style of social resistance (that is, the extent to which you resist asking for help from others) was related to susceptibility to the most severe accidents.... [M]anufacturers of packaging should always look at a 'worst case scenario' for their packaging closures as it is evident that some people will continue to struggle with difficult packaging until either they open it or they have injured themselves.

2002-12-17 MAY WE RECOMMEND: Flighty, Hopping and Fick

"Sister, Aunt-Niece, and Cousin Recognition by Social Wasps," G.J. Gamboa, Behavior Genetics, vol. 18, no. 4, July 1988, pp. 409-23.

"Correlated Hopping in Infinite Dimensions: Rigorous Local Approach," A.M. Shvaika, (Thanks to Melissa Shreve for bringing this to our attention.)

"On the Application of Fick's Law for the Kinetic Analysis of Air Drying of Foods," L. M. Vaccarezza and J. Chirife, Journal of Food Science, vol. 43, 1978, pp. 236-8. (Thanks to Fred Frank for bringing this to our attention.)

2002-12-18 AIRhead Events

For details and updates see http://www.improbable.com
Want to host an event? marca@chem2.harvard.edu 617-491-4437

9:15 p.m. Tokyo time.
Special, festive Ig Nobel documentary prepared by, and broadcast on, the Japanese public television network.
INFO: http://www.nhk.co.jp

Special Annals of Improbable Research session at the Annual Meeting of the American Assn for the Advancement of Science. Featuring:
* 2001 Ig Nobel Biology Prize winner BUCK WEIMER
* 1994 Ig Nobel Medicine Prize co-winner RICHARD DART and others TBA

8:00 PM, Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts
INFO: Valerie Pegg, vepegg@mtu.edu, 906-487-2844


2002-12-19 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)

Here's how to subscribe to the magnificent bi-monthly print journal The Annals of Improbable Research (the real thing, not just the little bits of overflow material you've been reading in this newsletter).
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Send payment (US bank check, or international money order, or Visa, Mastercard or Discover info) to:
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2002-12-20 Our Address (*)

Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927

EDITORIAL: marca@chem2.harvard.edu
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2002-12-21 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)

Please distribute copies of mini-AIR (or excerpts!) wherever appropriate. The only limitations are: A) Please indicate that the material comes from mini-AIR. B) You may NOT distribute mini-AIR for commercial purposes.

------------- mini-AIRheads -------------
EDITOR: Marc Abrahams (marca@chem2.harvard.edu)
MINI-PROOFREADER AND PICKER OF NITS (before we introduce the last few at the last moment): Wendy Mattson wendy@posh.com
COMMUTATIVE EDITOR: Stanley Eigen (eigen@neu.edu)
CO-CONSPIRATORS: Alice Shirrell Kaswell, Gary Dryfoos, Ernest Ersatz, S. Drew
AUTHORITY FIGURES: Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, Sheldon Glashow, William Lipscomb, Richard Roberts

(c) copyright 2002, Annals of Improbable Research

2002-12-22 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

What you are reading right now is mini-AIR. Mini-AIR is a (free!) tiny monthly *supplement* to the bi-monthly print magazine.
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Clairvoyant 'finds body'


December 10 2002

The family of a man missing for more than a year believe they have found his remains in remote central Australian mountains after they followed a clairvoyant's directions, it was reported today.

Thomas Braun, 36, disappeared on November 17 last year when he walked out of his girlfriend's house 6km west of Honeymoon Gap, near Alice Springs.

Relatives found human remains they believed to be Mr Braun 20km west of Alice Springs in the West MacDonnell Ranges on Thursday last week, the Centralian Advocate newspaper said.

Three relatives, following the clairvoyant's directions, found the skeletal remains in less than two hours on top of the range near Larapinta Drive.

"He was found on top of a mountain. We are so relieved," Mr Braun's cousin, who declined to be identified, told the newspaper.

"We had asked police to search an area where he was last seen, but they did nothing."

The cousin said a Braun family member took the clairvoyant to the area where Mr Braun was last seen.

The clairvoyant, who was not identified, told the newspaper she had met an Aboriginal "spirit lady" who asked her to help find Mr Braun.

Emergency services have retrieved the remains.


Vampire Ecology in the Jossverse

From: Terry W. Colvin


Ooh, Brian, can you help us work out the vampire carrying capacity of a typical population? I'm assuming a typical vampire accounts for, say, 150-200 humans a year. So how big does a town have to be to support Sunnydale's apparently limitless supply of vampires? Are there human warrens in the catacombs somewhere, used only for feeding purposes?

Editor's Note:
Vampire carrying capacity... who woudda thunk it?; what about dydactic research methods: can it be explicated with a two-by-two? [garlic, wooden stake; full moon, dawn]; considering social movements, hasn't anyone mentioned to vampires the "slow-food movement"?; how does a vampire defect from the commons? can one make meaningful ethnographic observations during daylight hours?

Ontario author says he knows where UFOs come from


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.


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.

Monday, December 16, 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 – December 16, 2002

from The Washington Post

NASA is launching two modest but scientifically ambitious satellites this week to answer fundamental questions about the forces shaping Earth's environment, from the surface of the planet to the depths of interstellar space.

The Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite -- ICESat -- is designed to find out whether the polar ice sheets are expanding or melting, either scenario a tell-tale sign of environmental change on a vast scale.

The other satellite, the Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer, or CHIPS, will study how the debris from exploding suns cools and ultimately becomes the raw material for new stars in a galactic recycling program.

Both satellites are scheduled for launch Thursday atop a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.


from The Washington Post

If U.N. officials get the opportunity to question Iraq's scientists about hidden weapons programs, near the top of the list will be a 47-year-old mother with black hair streaked with gray and a talent for growing anthrax bacteria.

Biologist Rihab Taha ran one of Iraq's largest biological weapons programs for more than a decade, a job that earned her the nickname "Dr. Germ" among weapons inspectors. She has at times displayed an explosive temper -- she once smashed a chair during a meeting with U.N. inspectors -- and U.S. officials believe she might eventually spill details about Iraqi plans to wage biowarfare.

But only if Iraq agrees to let her talk.

Three weeks after the start of weapons inspections, the question of access to Iraqi weapons scientists poses one of the biggest challenges yet to U.N. efforts to disarm Iraq. The Bush administration last week repeated its demand that President Saddam Hussein deliver top weapons scientists for interviews outside Iraq. So far, Iraq has given no clear sign that it will cooperate, despite U.S. threats that a refusal could lead to armed conflict.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Major recent cases of scientific fraud have spurred some serious soul- searching among academic administrators and science policy-watchers:

Are fraud and other forms of scientific misconduct on the increase? If so, is the increase related to changes in the nature of scientific practice or funding -- such as the tightening bonds between science and the competitive world of startup research firms?

A Chronicle survey of the Bay Area's three most prominent academic institutions -- UCSF, UC Berkeley and Stanford University -- found that a total of 38 charges of research misconduct have been filed since 1994 -- an average of about five charges a year.

Those allegations have led, in turn, to 17 investigations and eight findings of wrongdoing, ranging from falsification of data to plagiarism of other researchers' work. That's an average of one conviction per year for all three campuses combined -- hardly an epidemic of evildoing.


from The New York Times

This may be remembered as the "Alice in Wonderland" decade for new technology. More and more businesses are moving into the world of nanotechnology, where particles of common materials are shrunk to such a minuscule size that they behave in unexpected — and often useful — ways.

Entrepreneurs and multinationals alike are building on research from the 1980's and 1990's that led to relatively simple ways to fashion silicon, metals, plastics and even workaday substances like clay into particles of no more than a few molecules apiece.

Although the basic chemical structure of materials in this microscopic landscape remains unchanged, the materials often exhibit surprising properties shaped by the unfamiliar forces of quantum physics, which governs the behavior of individual atoms. Silicon, for example, becomes fluorescent. Other materials show unusual electrical qualities or become amazingly strong. Some, like silver, have unseen medical effects, like fighting inflammation.


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defending a plan to vaccinate a million Americans against smallpox, a disease not seen in 30 years, top U.S. health officials said on Saturday they would watch carefully for any side-effects from what they acknowledge is a crude and relatively dangerous vaccine.

Unions representing health care workers have condemned a decision by President Bush to vaccinate close to a million Americans against the smallpox virus, saying the plan does not adequately protect them.

Bush said on Friday that after thinking for months about what to do he would go ahead and order 500,000 troops and ask more than 400,000 health workers to get the vaccine so that they are protected in case of a biological attack.

"Our government has no information that a smallpox attack is imminent, yet it is prudent to prepare for the possibility that terrorists who kill indiscriminately would use diseases as a weapon," Bush said in announcing the plan.

Groups such as the American Medical Association have accepted the decision, under which any member of the public who really wants the vaccine can get it. They will have to apply to take part in a clinical trial, however, which is not an easy process and involves close monitoring and extensive briefing.


from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying they have no idea how many Americans will demand the smallpox vaccine, U.S. health officials said on Saturday that most people still do not understand just how risky the shot is.

President George. W Bush on Friday rolled out a long-awaited plan for starting vaccinations against smallpox just in case of a biological attack, saying it would start with half a million troops and more than 400,000 doctors, nurses and health care workers likely to encounter any first victims.

In a move that surprised many health experts, Bush also said the vaccine would be made available to anyone who really insisted on getting it. Health officials strongly discourage this, and said once people knew of the risks, they expected few to press for the vaccine.

"The federal government is not recommending vaccination ... of the general public," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told reporters in a conference call.


from The Associated Press

CHICAGO - At one time the Chicago River was so polluted that no fish could live there, and now scientists are considering a longshot idea to make it unlivable again to prevent exotic species from using the river to migrate between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes.

Killing the river would buck the Clean Water Act and set an ugly example of environmental policy. But biologists foresee ecological and economic disaster from invasions of giant carp, zebra mussels and other undesirables.

"We've done marvelous things with the Clean Water Act, and nobody wants to undo that," said Jerry Rasmussen, a river biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Chicago River flows backward, away from Lake Michigan, because 19th century Chicagoans engineered it to carry pollution away from their beaches and into a canal. The canal flows to the Illinois River, a tributary of the Mississippi, creating a link unintended by nature.


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Sigma Xi Homepage

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Bishop attacks 'sentimental' Christmas portrayals


A Church of England bishop has delivered a provocative Christmas message by claiming the Three Wise Men were part of an assassination plot.

The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Keith Sutton also pours scorn on the "sentimental" and "false" images in nativity plays and Christmas cards.

He criticises the portrayal of the shepherds, who were on "the fringes of society", as loveable characters, according to the Daily Telegraph.

In an email sent to the media, Bishop Sutton says Mary and Joseph were forced to flee "as refugees seeking asylum in Egypt".

He also thinks the wise men were "on a mission of Herod to discover the whereabouts of the baby Jesus so that he could be killed", the newspaper said.

Ridiculing the "superficial sentimental Christmas of the pop songs", the bishop asks: "How many of us really feel like that at Christmas?

Christmas documentary questions the virgin birth


Christian wrath risked

Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent

Monday December 16, 2002

The Guardian

The BBC will court controversy from some religious believers, already convinced that it is a nest of atheists, by airing a documentary questioning just about every tenet of the Christmas story.

In particular, the programme about the Virgin Mary, to be shown next Sunday night on BBC1, suggests that she was probably a 13-year-old when she gave birth and considers the possibility she became pregnant through being raped by a Roman soldier.

The conservative Catholic Herald points out that its speculation departs from the church's catechism and said that Alan Bookbinder, the BBC's head of religious broadcasting, is himself an agnostic.

Mary's virginity is important in Catholic theology so the claim that she went on to have more children is contentious.

David Hilborn, the Evangelical Alliance's theological adviser, said: "The danger with these theories is that marginal ideas are given more prominence than is warranted. The rape allegation is not something that should be given much credence and there is far more manuscript attestation from ancient documents to the idea of the virgin birth."

Belief in afterlife has a biological basis?

An estimated 82 % of Americans believe life continues after death.

"A new study by a University of Arkansas psychologist proposes that beliefs about the afterlife may amount to *more* than a cultural construct. They may in fact have a *biological* basis - arising from the human brain's unique ability to comprehend the mental states of other people."

According to the study, even "extinctivists" and agnostics are unable to fully give up the idea that some sort of consciousness continues after the cessation of human life.

For complete article, go to:

Darwinian Literary Criticism

December 15, 2002
By D. T. MAX

For many years, literary study has been divided among various arcane philosophies, from deconstruction to postcolonialism. The next hot theory comes not from France or Slovenia but from American laboratories -- by way of evolutionary theorists like E. O. Wilson and Steven Pinker. According to Joseph Carroll, a professor of English at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and its foremost practitioner, ''Literary Darwinism seeks to understand the way literature is produced by human nature and reflects human nature -- basic human motives like mating, parenting, gaining social status, acquiring resources.''


Corpse from flu pandemic may unravel virus' mystery


The Straits Times Interactive
DEC 13, 2002

PARIS - Scientists plan to dig up the body of a woman who died in the flu pandemic of 1918-19 in a bid to pinpoint the genetic causes of the 20th century's most lethal plague, New Scientist magazine reports.

They hope the body of Phyllis Burn, which has lain in a West London cemetery for 84 years, will contain a complete, preserved copy of the viral strain which is one of the world's great medical mysteries.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Rods Sequence Pictures


These pictures were taken from Jose Escamilla's Rods Web site. I believe these are all of the pictures on Escamilla's site that show a flight sequence well enough to compare the "rod's" location in each frame. For each, the flight sequence has been composited into a single picture by cutting and pasting the "rods" onto one frame. (Enough detail from each frame was cut to allow proper alignment.)

For all except two pictures, a very interesting pattern emerges: The "rods" all appear to be moving at a rate of about twice their own length per video frame! Thus, successive images are about one rod-length apart, despite the different conditions and (presumably) different distances and different sizes of the "rods".

[The shadow knows.., Ed.]



By Richard J. Boylan Ph.D.

Just as with the official government, the Shadow Government has functional branches. However, unlike the official government, the purpose of the non-executive branches of the Shadow Government is simply to distribute various functions, but not to achieve a system of checks and balances, as was supposed to happen constitutionally between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. Government. That is because the Shadow Government is a creature of a powerful elite, who need not fear being dominated by an instrument of their own creation.

In the Shadow Government five branches may be identified. These branches are: the Executive Branch, the Intelligence Branch, the War Department, the Weapons Industry Branch, and the Financial Department.

Boy kills himself to 'become a ghost'



PENANG: A 12-year-old schoolboy, who wanted to be a ghost in order to see the world, leapt to his death from the 8th floor of a flat block in Lip Sin Garden here early yesterday.

The Standard Six pupil had left a brief suicide note addressed to his parents and elder sister.

The note written in Chinese stated, "I am a ghost without strength. I want to become a ghost so that I can see the world."

The sister, who declined to be named when met at the Penang Hospital mortuary said in the suicide note, her brother also asked his parents to burn his collection of horoscope books which he was very fond of.

"My brother spent most of his time in the flat reading the horoscope books which he had used his pocket money to buy.

"He had built up quite an extensive collection," she said.

Kidnappers demand $800 for return of Baby Jesus

From Ananova at


Thieves have stolen a baby Jesus from a display in New Jersey and are demanding $800 in ransom.

The model statue was taken from outside the home of Tom and Candy Konczos in Trenton, New Jersey.

Police say the kidnappers left a computer-generated type-written ransom note demanding $800 in "small" bills in exchange returning the plastic figurine.

The note was signed by "Me, him and the other kid who was really scared and didn't want to take your baby Jesus and the whole time all he did was say stuff like you're going to hell."

Local police said they think kids playing a prank are behind the kidnapping.

But the ransom note is "kind of unsettling" a spokesman told The Trentonian.

Driver Says Satan Was in His Car During Deadly Crash


He deliberately ran a red light, killing an innocent man. His excuse? The devil made him do it. He is accused of being behind the wheel, but he says that Satan was the one in the driver's seat. Friday evening, a Redford man was charged with murder for blowing through a major intersection at full speed and reducing the car he hit to a twisted pile of metal.


He said Satan was in the car with him. He says he had been smoking marijuana "today, every every day, and a lot." He said he was Satan, but yes, he said he accelerated to kill as many people as possible. He waited for the red light. He had been seen driving erratically before that, he had been driving in and out of the left turn lanes, again, trying to kill people.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Hypnotherapy and payment issues

From: Paul W Harrison

I note the following on a "hypnotherapy" website. The therapist evidently works out of Milwaukee:

'We have found that certain issues respond to therapy over the phone, sometimes augmented by email. If you live too far away to visit us in person, write us by email detailing your problem and what you would like to achieve through therapy. We'll tell you if we think that's possible. If so, we'll arrange a consultation schedule by phone just as if you were seeing us personally. You'll have your own private therapist. Payment can be made by MasterCard, Visa, Discover and Bravo, and like all of our services, is very reasonable. To reiterate, Please NOTE that, as with all payments to S/V, fees for therapy are non-refundable, whether they be for individual sessions or pre-payment plans.'
Source: http://www.hypnotherapy.com/therapy.html

With the way he stresses "non-refundable", it would seem that he's had some troubles with clients in this area in the past.

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 - December 13, 2002

from The Chicago Tribune

SAN ANTONIO -- A new approach to chemotherapy allows breast cancer patients to improve their odds of survival while cutting their treatment from six months to four.

Although researchers cautioned that longer follow-up is needed to confirm the survival advantage, there appear to be few disadvantages to the new approach: Side effects for the compressed regimen are about the same as those for the traditional schedule.

In a large, multicenter study presented at the 25th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, women whose breast cancer had spread to their lymph nodes -- but not to other parts of the body -- were randomized to receive the standard drug regimen or the compressed schedule, known as "dose-dense" chemotherapy. All 2,000 patients got the same drugs (Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol) at the same cumulative doses, but the dose-dense group got their treatments every two weeks instead of three.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0212130232dec13,1,2967385.story?coll=chi%2Dnewsnati onworld%2Dhed

from The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - A small black-and-white-striped fish common in aquariums and laboratories might lead the way to helping ailing human hearts repair themselves. A new study shows the zebrafish grows new cells and totally restores its heart after 20 percent of the muscle has been cut away. Experts said the discovery is an important advance in "regenerative medicine," the research effort to learn how to restore diseased organs with healthy new cells. Most researchers are trying to grow new heart cells by causing stem cells to transform into fresh cardiac tissue. But a team led by Dr. Mark T. Keating of Harvard University is taking a different approach: The scientists are looking for genetic secrets that enable some animals, such as the zebrafish, to grow new body parts.

from The Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- From Mozart to Miles Davis, the harmonies of Western music rewire the brain, creating patterns of neural activity at the confluence of emotion and memory that strengthen with each new melody, research made public Thursday shows.

By monitoring the brains of people listening to classical scales and key progressions, scientists at Dartmouth College glimpsed the biology of the hit-making machinery of popular song. Focusing on the structure of Western music, researchers show how the musical mind hears the flat notes in Flatt and Scruggs, the sharps of the Harmonicats and all five octaves in pop diva Mariah Carey's repertoire.

The flash-dance of these brain circuits, which process the harmonic relationship of musical notes, is shaped by a human craving for melody that drives people to spend more every year on music than on prescription drugs. The circuits center in a brain region that responds equally to the musical patterns of Eminem's hip-hop busta rhymes and Bach's baroque fugues.


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An Open Letter to the Ohio Citizens for Science from Eugenie C. Scott

Dear Ohio Citizens for Science,

Well, you did it.

Ohio now has standards that for the first time direct Ohio teachers to teach evolution, across all scientific disciplines. Both the writing team and all of the activists who defended evolution's inclusion get our thanks. Gone is that mealy-mouthed "change over time" stuff of the old directive. Students will be tested on evolution, and so teachers will teach it. The Ohio standards give your teachers a great shield to stand behind when parents harass them about teaching evolution ("I have to, Mrs. Brown"), and also a nice little cattle prod for those teachers who are reluctant to teach the e-word.

Consider that the opponents of evolution first tried to get creation "science" into the standards. They failed. Then they linked up with the Intelligent Design folks, and tried to get ID into the standards. They failed. Then they tried to weaken the amount of evolution taught. They failed. Then they tried to sneak ID into the social studies standards. They failed. That's at least four flops, and there may be more examples of the virtual rout of antievolution forces in Ohio.

Their last-ditch effort was to try to require teachers to qualify evolution, but the best they could do was item #23. "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and analyze aspects of evolutionary theory" can only mean – taken literally and also in the context of the evolution-rich standards as a whole – that teachers should encourage students to discuss interpretations of the pattern and process of evolution, not whether evolution took place. To call for the teaching of aspects of evolutionary theory is not to call for teaching "evidence against evolution!" Phil Johnson and other ID proponents can spin this all they want, but they must at heart be very disappointed that after a year of hard work, all they got was a set of standards with plenty of evolution, and only one wimpy sentence to try to spin into a victory.

As a final standards-related task, I encourage you to devote some time to clarifying the import of item #23. Clearly, antievolutionists will be trying to convince teachers that "evidence against evolution" is required by the standards, and we need lots of letters, calls to radio talk shows, etc., getting the word out that what the Standards direct teachers to do is to teach straight, unqualified evolution. Item #23 means that, as in any science, teachers will present to students controversies within the field. No big deal.

And of course, it doesn't hurt that ID got a final last kick in the shins with Ms. Wise's "The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of Intelligent Design." Because standards don't "ban" subjects, but rather mandate their inclusion, Ms. Wise's sentence is a clear signal to teachers that ID is off the table.

Over these many months, I have been extremely impressed with the dedication of members of the OCS. You have stayed in there, doggedly resisting the pressures, supporting school board members who saw the light, and trying to persuade the undecided. As everyone knows by now, politics is the art of persuasion, and the acceptance of the Ohio science standards required a lot of educating of school board members – to say nothing of the general public. Your calls, letters, e-mails, op-ed pieces, and other forms of communication were instrumental in turning the tide, I am sure. Many of you took much time away from your jobs and families, and I know many of you spent a lot of your own money traveling and paying for phone calls and faxes! I want to thank you for your efforts, not just because we are concerned about what happens in Ohio, but because if the antievolutionists had won in Ohio, it would have made it harder for those of us in other states as well.

Thanks, guys. You done good.

Faith-Based by Fiat


Friday, December 13, 2002; Page A44 PRESIDENT BUSH sat on a stage in Philadelphia yesterday behind a desk looking every bit as though he were signing a bill finally giving life to his faith-based initiative, the cornerstone of his "compassionate conservative" agenda. Only this wasn't a bill; it was a series of executive orders. This had the advantage of avoiding all the hassle and bother of legislative debate and opposition.

But the faith-based initiative is not National Secretaries' Day. It stalled in both the House and Senate last year after a raw and substantive debate over the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Last summer there was an uproar after the leak of a Salvation Army internal report saying the group had received a commitment from the White House to protect religious charities from state laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Salvation Army is a Christian group that does not recognize gay couples in its employment benefits. In his executive order yesterday, Mr. Bush did not explicitly promise religious organizations that receive federal grants an exemption from such state laws. But he did make clear that religious organizations that receive federal contracts may discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 617 December 13, 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

PHYSICS STORIES OF 2002. The top two physics stories for the past 12 months were the total accounting of neutrinos from the sun by the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), thus solving the solar neutrino problem (Update 586; www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/586-1.html); and the formation and detection of antihydrogen atoms at CERN (Updates 605 and 611, www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/605-1.html and www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/611-1.html). Other notable physics developments for the year include stopping and storing light in a solid (Update 571), the observation of phase-transition behavior in nuclei (572), publication of some unsent letters by Niels Bohr to Werner Heisenberg (576), interferometry with C-70 molecules (579), a dispute over "fusion" in sonoluminescence (579, 599), most precise tests of special relativity (571, 590), sharper maps of the cosmic microwave background (591), "droplet" of light (596), claims for element 118 retracted (597), verification of the notion that the second law of thermodynamics can be violated on small spacetime intervals (598), high precision measurements of CP violation in B meson decays and in the g-2 factor of the muon (600), scandal at Lucent (606), record high laboratory magnetic fields (614), polarization in the cosmic microwave background detected (606), 2002 Nobel prize for physics (608), noise can improve balance (612), and longest measured atomic lifetime (616). All the above Update items can be retrieved from our archive at www.aip.org/physnews/update.

REACTOR ANTI-NEUTRINO DISAPPEARANCE, measured by a detector in Japan, supports the idea that neutrinos oscillate from one type to another and that they possess mass. Nuclear reactors produce several things: heat, electricity, spent fuel rods, and neutrinos. The neutrinos (or, to be more exact, electron anti-neutrinos) are a result of fission reactions inside the reactor core. But some of the electron antineutrinos, once they're underway and moving through the Earth, manifest one of the weirdest phenomena in all of physics, namely the ability to exist as a composite of several sub-species. That is, what we call a neutrino is really several (perhaps three) neutrinos in one. At any point along its trajectory the generic neutrino might (if you were to capture it just then) appear as an electron neutrino, but farther along it might look like a muon neutrino, in which case it would elude detectors tuned to detect only electron nu's. The Kamioka Liquid Scintillator Anti-Neutrino Detector (KamLAND) sets out to sample this odd mode of being. The apparatus, basically a huge reservoir of optically-active liquid viewed by numerous phototubes, looks for interactions in which an incoming nu strikes a proton, creating in their stead a trackable neutron-positron pair. KamLAND resides in an underground lab beneath Toyama, Japan. It is a sort of telescope peering not at galaxies in the sky; instead it stares through a block of terrestrial crust looking for the neutrino warmth cast off by a constellation of 69 reactors in Japan and Korea.

Taking into account the laws of physics governing the reactions in the reactor cores, the known power ratings for the reactors, their aggregate reactor-detector distances, and the duration of the experiment (145 days), one would expect seeing 86 true events, whereas the actual number was 54. The researchers conclude that the disappearance of events is due to neutrino oscillation.

This result is not merely a confirmation of oscillation research carried out with solar nu's at such detectors as Super Kamiokande in Japan and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) in Canada (see Update 586, http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/586-1.html). For one thing KamLAND studies anti-neutrinos rather than neutrinos. Furthermore, the production of neutrinos in a reactor is much closer at hand and better understood than is the case for the sun. The KamLAND finding also serves to narrow the theoretical explanation of the neutrino's split personality. (Eguchi et al., paper submitted to Physical Review Letters, text and background information at:

ION-CHANNEL PROTEINS, which act as a sort of circuit element, allowing the flow of ions in and out of cells, can now be scrutinized in a new way that exploits technology operative at the single-molecule level. Scientists from the Center for NanoScience (CeNS) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich don't make electrical contact with cells in the customary way by pressing an electrolyte-filled glass micro-pipette against the cell membrane. Instead they allow individual cells to settle down onto a glass gasket covered with micron-sized pores, allowing the ion-channels to protrude out the bottom (see figure at www.aip.org/mgr/png). This chip-based architecture, the researchers believe, will more easily facilitate an automated biotech-nanotech approach to ion-channel research, which in turn is important for understanding how cells exchange information in various nervous, cardiovascular, intestinal, and reproductive processes. (Fertig et al., Applied Physics Letters, 16 December 2002)

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

AUTO-SUBSCRIPTION OR DELETION: By using the expression "subscribe physnews" in your e-mail message, you will have automatically added the address from which your message was sent to the distribution list for Physics News Update. If you use the "signoff physnews" expression in your e-mail message, the address in your message header will be deleted from the distribution list. Please send your message to: listserv@listserv.aip.org

Spooky Credulity

From a reader:

I saw the article on Polygraph. It only touched on a small part of the big picture. Many so called "professionals" from a variety of disciplines wish that polygraph technology would not work at all or that it would just go away.

The results of a professional polygraph rely on a number of variables that help make up the "Art" and Science. For best and some say absolute results the subject (the one who is being examined) must have a fear of detection and a fear of punishment. This is almost impossible to replicate in mock scenario.

It is often said that one can fool the examiner but not the instruments. I do not know what went wrong with the Ames case or a few others of note but in my own experience I have been able to determined new victims in child sex crimes and the "rest of the story" in a number of crimes against property cases. The latest "guilty knowledge" polygraph test is so statistically sound as to be readily provable by any mathematician with average skills.

The "utility" of the polygraph procedure is that it is often instrumental (like the pun) in determining additional or new facts and admissions that were not available prior to the test. Sometimes these are learned in pre-test admissions but a lot of times they come only after a subject has failed the exam and finally gives up the information when confronted.

When laymen say yes, but "polygraph is not admitted in court" they are wrong on the first count as more and more polygraph results nationwide have found a way to be admitted in the courts and recent rulings (Daubert) laid the foundation for the trial court judge to determine polygraph admissibility with the same standards as any other evidence to be admitted. Second, in the American court system the Jury is normally finders of facts and not a polygraph or any other instrument. A mamogram or an EKG exam are certainly not 100% but should we stop using these "tools" just because the procedure is not perfect?

I have not tried to explain all there is to know or all that is relavant to the polygraph standing as an instrument that can help determine the truth of a statement. I hope I have helped to level the debate somewhat and to open the minds of blind skeptics that wish it didn't work at all.

Thank you

Michael Park
U.S. Marshal (Ret.)
Licensed Polygraph Examiner

Michael D. Park & Associates Polygraph
1721 West Plano Parkway, Suite 207
Plano, Texas 75075

(972) 578-9302

I'll get right on it

A note sent to snopes.com

Comment: I appreciate your service. I was wondering when you are going to "evolution" to the falsehoods perpetrated upon the world? There is no evidence to support it and it well know that is violates several laws of science.

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