NTS LogoSkeptical News for 31 December 2002

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Science Roundup

Welcome to the December, 2002 issue of Science Roundup!

Science Roundup is a service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, provided free to members each month.

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This month in Science Roundup:

Small RNAs Take the Prize
Tracing Human Populations with Genetics
Tunicate Clues to Chordate Evolution
Zebrafish Mend Damaged Hearts
Polarity, from Cell to Organism
Olmec Origins of Mesoamerican Writing
Cooperation Pays Off
Glimmering Nanoparticles
Sulfur Profiles Reveal Early Earth Chemistry
Cosmic Crashes Formed Martian Water

Small RNAs Take the Prize

Long relegated to the role of faithful genetic servant -- taking orders from DNA to build proteins -- RNA has performed its duties with little fuss or fanfare. But a chain of recent discoveries has brought well-deserved attention to these unnoticed molecules. It appears that so-called small RNAs, just 21 to 28 nucleotides in length, play master roles in a number of important cellular functions. They can inhibit translation of messenger RNA (mRNA) to protein, silence genes by a mechanism known as RNA interference (RNAi), and help form heterochromatin, the DNA bundled with protein that makes up chromosomes. These unexpected finds won the distinction of *Science's* 2002 Breakthrough of the Year, and were highlighted in a special section in the 20 Dec 2002 issue. Also included were stories of other dramatic achievements worthy of runner's-up prizes, including the final resolution of the solar neutrino problem; new developments in ultrafast "attosecond physics"; discovery of fossil remains of the oldest known human ancestor; and sequencing of key genomes such as rice, the malaria parasite *Plasmodium falciparum*, and the malaria mosquito *Anopheles gambiae* -- developments that could prove pivotal in enhancing nutrition and disease control in the developing world. Each story in the Breakthrough special section is enhanced on *Science* online with links to selected references and Internet resources.

Tracing Human Populations with Genetics
Analyzing the genetic makeup of individuals from across the globe provides a window into human evolutionary and migratory history. To better understand the relationships underlying modern human populations, Rosenberg et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5602/2381 ) investigated their genetic structure and reported their findings in the 20 Dec 2002 *Science*. The team analyzed DNA samples from more than 1000 people from 52 populations worldwide, looking not at genes, but at microsatellite markers -- short repetitive DNA segments that occur in specific patterns and are passed down from generation to generation. They used statistical analysis of these "fingerprints" to cluster people on the basis of genetic similarity. The results suggest that geographically distinct populations share more genetic similarities that previously thought: 93 to 95% of genetic variation occurred within populations rather than among groups. Still, the team was able to identify genetic clusters corresponding to the five major geographic regions of the world -- Africa, Eurasia, East Asia, Oceania, and the Americas -- without prior knowledge of ancestry. This could have important implications in the field of medicine, where an ongoing debate ensues over the use of ancestry information in research and diagnosis. But, as an accompanying Perspective by M.-C. King
and A. G. Motulsky ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5602/2342 ) cautioned, it should not be assumed that differences in disease frequency and treatment outcome among populations have a genetic basis. Social, economic, or other risk factors may be significant and must be considered when evaluating medically important group differences.

Tunicate Clues to Chordate Evolution
Genomic clues from a tiny, soft-bodied marine animal, evocatively named the sea squirt, may give scientists new insight into the evolution of modern vertebrates. In the 13 Dec 2002 *Science*, Dehal et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2157 ) reported the draft genome sequence of *Ciona intestinalis* --
a marine tunicate that, evolutionarily, is more closely related to humans than to other sequenced invertebrates like the nematode and fruit fly. Though, as adults, these animals have nothing even close to a backbone, the tadpoles of *Ciona* have a cartilagenous dorsal cord, or notochord, that resembles a spine. That characteristic puts them in the same phylum, Chordata, that includes vertebrates -- and evolutionary biologists believe that tunicates and vertebrates did indeed share a common ancestor. Analysis of the 117 million base pair genome, which encodes some 16,000 genes, has revealed that the sea squirt shares about 60% of its genes with the nematode and fruit fly, but only about 5% with vertebrates (human, mouse, and pufferfish). Interestingly, *Ciona* contains single copies of several genes that have multiplied several times over in the human and mouse genomes -- which suggests that the tunicate genes may correspond to the complement of a common ancestral chordate. About 20% of the genome appears to be unique to *Ciona*, with several genes involved in producing cellulose, the main component of the creature's stiff tunic-like sheath. Further genome analysis should provide more hints about the evolution, organization, and regulation of vertebrate genes. A News story by E. Pennisi
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2111a ) accompanied the report.

Zebrafish Mend Damaged Hearts
With only a few limited exceptions, human tissues and organs cannot regenerate themselves -- an inability that underlies not only aging, but countless neurodegenerative and cardiac diseases. Technical and ethical issues surrounding use of stem cells has hindered exploration of their potential to repair tissue damage, but stimulating tissues to regenerate themselves could be an alternative approach to organ repair. Animals such as newts, fish, and flatworms have the ability to faithfully regenerate skin, nerves, muscles, and even whole limbs and fins. In the 13 Dec 2002 *Science*, Poss et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2188 ) dramatically demonstrated that adult zebrafish also have the capacity to repair injured hearts by regeneration. The researchers removed 20% of the zebrafish heart ventricle and found that instead of scar tissue forming at the wound site (as it would in mammals and amphibians), in the zebrafish heart, cardiac muscles neighboring the wound rapidly grew and divided -- remarkably restoring the damaged tissue just two months after surgery. As noted in an accompanying Perspective by I. C. Scott and D. Y. R. Stainier ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2141 ),
the zebrafish may thus become a model system for understanding the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying heart regeneration.

Polarity, from Cell to Organism

Establishing and maintaining polarity, an orientation within a cell or amongst millions, is fundamental to living organisms. It is essential for functions ranging from flagellar movement in microbes, to the establishment of left-right symmetry in complex plants and animals. In the 6 Dec 2002 Science, a collection of review articles examined some of the cellular and molecular mechanisms used by organisms to orient themselves. L. Shapiro et al. discussed polarity in bacteria, orchestrated by subcellular localization of cytoskeletal components and signaling machinery, which allows these organisms to rapidly respond to external cues. Other articles explored polarity in multicelled organisms, and looked at the establishment of anterior- posterior polarity in *C. elegans* and *Drosophila*; how polarized embryonic cell movements shape the vertebrate body plan; mechanisms that establish and control epithelial cell polarity; and the molecular clues that help guide the wiring of the developing nervous system. Finally, three Perspectives in Science Online's Signal Transduction Knowledge Environment
( http://stke.sciencemag.org/ ) examined aspects of asymmetric protein localization and cell division in *Drosophila*, and the role of oscillating ion concentrations in polarized growth of pollen tubes in plants.
(Access to Science's STKE is free through 7 January.
If you do not already have a subscription to STKE, simply log in to
http://stke.sciencemag.org/ with your Science Online username and
password to view these articles and more).

Olmec Origins of Mesoamerican Writing
Written language emerged in Mesoamerica sometime in the first millenium B.C. Its use by the sophisticated Maya civilization has been extensively documented, but archaeologists continue to debate just who developed that hieroglyphic language, when, and where. Some believe that it stemmed from a nearby ancient culture called the Olmec, while others contend that several interacting cultures all contributed. In the 6 Dec 2002 *Science*, Pohl et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5600/1984 ) reported on the discovery of artifacts with glyphic inscriptions near La Venta, Mexico, an ancient Olmec center. The artifacts contain many of the hallmarks of other Mesoamerican scripts including a sacred 260-day calendar and common pictographic elements. Furthermore, radiocarbon dating of these and other relics indicates that they originated around 650 B.C., which suggests that they may represent the oldest evidence of writing yet found in the Americas. But, as noted in an accompanying News story by E. Stokstad
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5600/1872 ), some experts are skeptical -- countering that the new artifacts are too fragmented to provide clear proof of an actual written language, and that radiocarbon dating can have a wide margin of error. Still they agree that the Pohl et al. findings are an important step in defining the origin of ancient Mesoamerican language.

Cooperation Pays Off
Given a choice, will animals select a smaller immediate reward or a delayed but larger payoff that requires cooperation between individuals? Studies have shown that humans faced with such a quandary can sustain cooperation -- in favor of a mutual advantage - - by repeated and reciprocal interactions with each other. Stephens et al. ( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2216 ) investigated how captive bluejays would react to this "Prisoner's Dilemma" and reported their findings in the 13 Dec 2002 *Science*. Using a clever set of experiments designed to test the reward strategies used by hungry birds, the researchers found that the animals were indeed capable of sustained cooperation. When faced with the choice of doling out a small portion of food for oneself or a larger portion for a neighbor (trusting that the favor would be returned), most birds chose to "cooperate" for the bigger reward if their partner did as well. Furthermore, the birds were more apt to cooperate if "temporal discounting" -- the preference for an immediate versus a delayed reward -- was reduced. As noted in an accompanying Perspective by M. Mesterton-Gibbons and E. S. Adams
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2146 ),
the study is timely because it forces behavioral ecologists to re-examine the assumed importance of reciprocity in animal cooperation, and the influence of other factors such as temporal discounting or variability in the cooperation tendencies of individuals in the same species.

Glimmering Nanoparticles
Smaller. Faster. Cheaper. These three principles are guiding the nanotechnology revolution as engineers and chemists strive to create semiconductors, information storage systems, and other complex devices on the 1- to 100-nm scale. In the 13 Dec 2002 *Science*, Sun and Xia
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2176 ) reported on a promising method for synthesizing metallic nanoparticles -- which could be used for optical sensing, catalysis, or nanoelectronics. Previous efforts to make metallic nanoparticles have resulted in mixtures of different shapes and sizes that require subsequent purification -- not the ideal route for synthesizing materials for highly precise applications. In their report, Sun and Xia showed that silver nanocubes of a uniform and controlled size can be made, reproducibly and reliably, from simple chemical reactions in solution. What's more, a simple oxidation-reduction reaction involving these nanocubes and gold salts allowed the group to fashion tiny, uniform gold nanoboxes. Controlling the size, shape, and structure of metal nanoparticles is important, because it enables scientists to manipulate their optical, electrical, and catalytic properties for specialized applications. A Perspective by C. J. Murphy
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5601/2139 ) accompanied the report.

Sulfur Profiles Reveal Early Earth Chemistry
Two reports in the 20 Dec 2002 *Science* examined sulfur isotopic signatures from diamonds and sulfate-reducing bacteria, and revealed new information about processes that shaped early Earth and its atmosphere three billion years ago.

--Farquhar et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5602/2369 ) analyzed sulfide inclusions from ancient diamonds (about 3 billion years old) from the Orapa kimberlite pipe in Botswana, Africa, and found evidence of "mass-independent fractionation" of sulfur. This unique separation of three sulfur isotopes results from only one known natural process: photochemical reactions in the atmosphere in the absence of oxygen or ozone. Thus, the data suggest that Earth's early atmosphere contained little, if any free oxygen. The researchers believe that during the Archaen (3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago), sulfur-containing gases in the atmosphere reacted with ultraviolet light to produce the distinct combination of sulfur isotopes. The sulfur was then transported by subduction from the atmosphere into the mantle. Sulfide-containing diamonds formed there, and were eventually brought to the surface by volcanic activity, and mined.

--Habicht et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5602/2372 ) studied sulfur fractionation in cultures of *A. fulgidus*, a sulfate- reducing bacterium, as a model to "calibrate" sulfate levels in the Archean ocean. Their results suggest much lower Archean sulfate concentrations than previously thought -- most likely because of SO2 outgassing from volcanoes and extremely low sulfate reduction rates. According the researchers, the data also imply that the primitive atmosphere had little free oxygen, but an abundance of methane, a greenhouse gas that may have contributed to early global warming.

A Perspective by U. H. Wiechert
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5602/2341 ) accompanied the reports.

Cosmic Crashes Formed Martian Water

Thirty years ago, the discovery of gigantic river valleys on the surface of Mars tipped planetary geologists off to the idea that the dry, Red Planet was once overrun with water. Since then, scientists have been struggling to explain how Mars -- bitterly cold for several billion years -- could have ever been warm enough to sustain the massive rainfall required to carve these gorges. In a report in the 6 Dec 2002 *Science*, Segura et al.
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5600/1977 ) proposed that huge asteroid bombardments could have heated up the planet for thousands of years at a time, thus allowing the floodgates to open. According to their model, a barrage of asteroids 100 to 250 km in diameter crashed into Mars and vaporized, blanketing the planet with ultra-hot rock and gas. As the vapors cooled and condensed, they fell as scalding rain. The molten rock, suggest the researchers, melted frozen groundwater and forced it to the surface, causing a string of mudslides and flash floods that sculpted the landscape. The researchers estimated that the cosmic impacts generated an average rainfall of about two meters per year. But as noted in an accompanying News story by R.A. Kerr
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5600/1866a ), not everyone agrees that such episodes of intense crashes and blistering rain can explain the extent of the erosion observed on the martian surface. Geologic studies and further work detailing the cumulative effect of small and large craters over time, will be needed to convince the skeptics.

Also on the martian front, a news story by D. Mackenzie in the same issue
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/298/5600/1866b ) described a new study that suggests that the edges of the Red Planet's southern ice cap -- commonly supposed to be composed largely of frozen carbon dioxide, or "dry ice" -- may actually harbor a substantial cache of pure frozen water, overlain only seasonally by a thin patina of dry ice. Those results, presented by Titus et al. and published on *Science*'s online publish-before-print service, *Science* Express
( http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1080497 ), could boost interest in sending a polar mission to Mars, as the martian ice deposits offer a potential record of climate change on the planet, just as glaciers do on Earth.

Journal of Theoretics Vol.4-6

http://www.journaloftheoretics.com/second-index.htm Current Original Articles: Vol. 4-6 (all articles are in PDF)

Time as Stream of Change Dott. Ing. Amrit Sorli
Abstract: In scientific experiments we observe constant stream of irreversible physical, chemical and biological change. Change X1 is transforming into X2, change X2 into X3 and so on. Time exists only as a stream of this change. We can measure with clocks its duration, speed, and numerical order.

Natural Time Base F. H. Makinson
Abstract: Presents a methodology to derive a natural time base using a geometric-arithmetic relationship keyed to a right triangle and based upon mathematical and physical constants.

Elvis running out of time to enter the building


Posted on Sun, Dec. 22, 2002

Now or never? That is the question...

Time is running short for Elvis to confirm claims by local shrink Donald Hinton that Elvis is alive and will reappear in 2002. Will the King -- who Hinton claims to be treating under the name Jesse, Elvis' twin brother who died at birth -- usher forth by year's end?

"He says we will be validated," Hinton says. "It may not happen by the end of this year, but it will happen soon."

The problem: "There are a lot of people trying to keep him from revealing himself," Hinton says. "And he had a mild stroke three months ago, but he's recovered. He still has a slight tremor of his hands and his speech was affected, but that's better now.

Reporter Becomes Actor in Human Clone Drama

December 30, 2002

Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, the chief scientist for Clonaid, a company founded by a sect that believes life on Earth was created by aliens 25,000 years ago, raised eyebrows around the globe on Friday by announcing the arrival of the world's first cloned baby.

She backed up her assertions by producing not the baby nor the mother nor pictures nor genetic tests, but a journalist, Michael A. Guillen. Dr. Guillen, a former science editor at ABC News, declared that it would be his job "to put her claim to the test."

From Clonaid's perspective, Dr. Guillen - who says he is not a member or employee of the sect, the Raλlians - is brimming with credibility. He has a doctorate in theoretical physics, mathematics and astronomy from Cornell University. He taught physics to undergraduates at Harvard. He is an Emmy-award-winning science journalist who appeared regularly on "Good Morning America," `20/20" and other ABC news programs for 14 years before leaving the network in October.

But Dr. Guillen's critics say that as a reporter he was too credulous of fantastic pseudoscience claims, citing his earnest news reports about astrology, ESP, healing at a distance, auras and cold fusion - topics dismissed by most scientists as nonsense.


Remembering the Permanent Opposition of H. L. Mencken

December 30, 2002

Every generation needs a Mencken. Not H. L. Mencken proper, reincarnated in all his old prejudices, but an observer as critical of the provinciality and double standards of the moment as Mencken was of those in his own time. This is the man who lies at the heart of Terry Teachout's new biography, called, appropriately, "The Skeptic." Mencken's peak came in the 1920's, a decade when America seemed to awake out of a lilac and camphor scented daydream into a more vigorous and honest sense of what life was all about. Some of that was Mencken's doing. He did everything he could to discredit the oppressive pieties of his time, many of which enjoy renewed strength today. He loved a foe almost better than a friend. He had more opinions than he knew how to organize, which made self-contradiction inevitable, and he did not believe in keeping his opinions down for the sake of mere consistency.


Expert: 'Identical Twins Are More Identical Than Clones Will Ever Be'


Dec 30, 2002

By Malcolm Ritter
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - The idea of cloning a person brings up fantastic notions, not all of them scary.

Imagine a team of Michael Jordan clones on the basketball court, or a clone of Mozart taking up where the original genius left off, just some of the ideas that could spring up following Friday's still-unproven claim of the birth of the first human clone.

But if you want a reality check, look into the Hutchinson, Kan., home of Holly and Noel Adcock.

They're 10-year-old identical twins. So, just like a clone and its progenitor, they have identical genes.

They do look alike; even teachers mix them up. But Noel is about five pounds lighter than Holly. Noel has pierced ears; Holly isn't interested.

Noel is the more mechanically minded and "definitely more of a go-getter," says their mother, Mary. Holly is "more laid-back, she's more the peacemaker."

Identical twins are strikingly similar in many ways, but Noel, Holly and a bundle of research shows that even they aren't completely alike. And scientists who study how genes shape us say that's an important lesson for trying to predict how much a human clone will resemble its progenitor.

The bottom line: Don't expect a replica.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Raelian Movement: Summary of the Messages

From: http://www.rael.org

On the 13th of December 1973, French journalist Rael was contacted by a visitor from an other planet, and asked to establish an Embassy to welcome these people back to Earth.

The extra-terrestrial was about four feet in height, had long dark hair, almond shaped eyes, olive skin and exuded harmony and humour. He told Rael that "we were the ones who made all life on earth, you mistook us for gods, we were at the origin of your main religions. Now that you are mature enough to understand this, we would like to enter official contact through an embassy".

The messages dictated to Rael explain how life on Earth is not the result of random evolution, nor the work of a supernatural 'God'. It is a deliberate creation, using DNA, by a scientifically advanced people who made human beings literally in their image" what one can call "scientific creationism". References to these scientists and their work, as well as to their symbol of infinity can be found in the ancient texts of many cultures. For example, in Genesis, the biblical account of creation, the word "Elohim" has been mistranslated as "God" in the singular, but it is a plural, which means "those who came from the sky".

Leaving our humanity to progress by itself, the Elohim nevertheless maintained contact with us via prophets including Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, all specially chosen and educated by them. The role of the prophets was to progressively educate humanity through the messages they taught, each time adapted to the culture and level of understanding at the time. They were also to leave traces of the Elohim so that we would be able to recognise them as our creators and fellow human beings when we had advanced enough scientifically to understand them.

Now that Man has put his foot on the moon, and our scientists are creating life through the synthesis of DNA, we are finally capable of understanding our creators rationally instead of mystifying and dumbly adoring them. For this reason the Elohim have contacted French journalist Rael. They have asked him to make their final message known throughout the world and to establish an embassy for them where they will officially meet with us and our world governments.

They are not invaders. They have shown their desire to come but they respect our choice to say no. It is up to us to invite them - and our invitation is the embassy. It's the least we can do.

Without the neutrality of an embassy, free air space and an official welcome, an unannounced and undesired landing would have enormous political, economic and social repercussions with disastrous consequences world-wide. Nor do they wish to endorse any government, religion or ideology other than that of the Raelian Philosophy, by contacting any other institution first. Thus they will only come when we build their embassy, such is their love and respect for us.

Following the extra-terrestrial's instructions, Rael established the Raelian Movement, an international organization to bring together anyone who wishes to help.

It is an atheist, non-profit, spiritual organisation; "atheist" because it demystifies the old concept of god, "spiritual" because it links us with our creators and infinity, and "non-profit" because no member gets paid any salary, not even Rael himself.

It is a completely open organization designed not to convince people, but to allow those who wish to help, to join or leave anytime.

AIMS Its aims are:

- To inform without convincing.
- To establish the embassy.
- To catalyse a society adapted to the future.

In the message which they dictated to Rael, which he has now published as a series of books, they kindly bring us a new vision of the universe, which provides us with the keys to awakening our own potential and a series of values to revolutionise society.

This new philosophy, where spirituality and science meet, is taught at international seminars on every continent and is the final ingredient necessary to ignite a personal and global revolution of individuality, freedom, love and respect. It is already sweeping the globe and allowing humanity to transform war into peace, labour into leisure, poverty into fulfilment and money into love. The Raelian revolution is made up of people from all walks of life, from all sexual orientations, from all races, all ages, everyone different and fiercely non conformist, turning everything they touch into fun and pleasure.

This information has been compiled from various presentations and data obtained form the Raelian Website and is to the best of my knowledge reflective of their latest motivations and endeavors. My goal with these posts is to present information about the Raelians in order to encourage people to read up on them and to offer their support and gratitude to their local chapters.

You can purchase various books related to the Raelian movement which contains information much more in depth then the summarized versions presented via the usenet gateway by way of accessing their official website at: website http://www.rael.org.



DRESSED from head to toe in figure-hugging black, baby-clone doctor Brigitte Boisselier strutted between 17 nervous 'initiates' to her sex cult. The ten men and seven women gathered at a remote farmhouse on the 2,000-acre estate of Sir Richard Glyn near Wimborne in Dorset.

And by the flickering light of candles and the booming sound of whale song, the prospective converts to the Raelian movement, in which Brigitte is a 'bishop', were coaxed into sharing and exploring their darkest fantasies.

This is the same woman who, on Friday afternoon, made the shattering announcement that her Clonaid operation, a medical offshoot set up by the Raelian cult, was responsible for the birth of the world's first cloned baby. She said a 7lb girl named Eve was delivered on Boxing Day morning.

Again, she was dressed in black, right down to her ribbed tights.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

U.S. Revises Sex Information, and a Fight Goes On

December 27, 2002

WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 - The National Cancer Institute, which used to say on its Web site that the best studies showed "no association between abortion and breast cancer," now says the evidence is inconclusive.

A Web page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used to say studies showed that education about condom use did not lead to earlier or increased sexual activity. That statement, which contradicts the view of "abstinence only" advocates, is omitted from a revised version of the page.

Critics say those changes, far below the political radar screen, illustrate how the Bush administration can satisfy conservative constituents with relatively little exposure to the kind of attack that a legislative proposal or a White House statement would invite.


Understanding Remote Viewing


We will use the above illustration to help us start understanding how Remote Viewing works. An individual conscious awareness always located at the middle level the present the now, when he learn RV he can connect to any point in time/space.

When one is doing RV he enter the RV point which potentially connected to all point and can reflect them. One can connect not only to the present and travel in space to different locations and sites but also connect to the Past and Future points which exists always in the now as a potentials with a certain probability.

In order to Remote View a person needs to relax his mind very deeply and clear his thought processes.

From a scientific point of view our brain resonate and cycles through four brainwave states: Beta – our normal daily awake and alert state EEG show electrical wave of 14-30 cycles per second in the brain.

Our Not-So-Distant Cousin

December 27, 2002

BETHESDA, Md. - Humans and mice both have hair, five toes on each foot and an affinity for cheese. This month's publication of a draft of the mouse genome shows that genetically, too, we have much in common: 99 percent of our genes are also in mice. We have long known that all living organisms are related to one another genetically, but what does this newfound genetic similarity between humans and mice say about the similarities between any two humans - who are, after all, 99.9 percent the same at the DNA level?

Comparing the genome of humans to that of mice gives us a glimpse into the history of both of our genomes over the 75 million years since we last shared a common ancestor, a species that was a small mammal. One lineage that descended from that species became rodents, and eventually mice, and another became primates - and eventually humans.

During that time, mutations occurred randomly in the DNA sequence of organisms in both lineages. A few mutations had beneficial effects, making the individuals who had them more resistant to disease or better at doing monkey or mousy things. Many such mutations increased in frequency by natural selection until all members of the species had them. Mutations that had detrimental effects were lost from the species, and most of the mutations that lasted probably had only small effects on how individuals functioned. Over time, differences accumulated in parts of the genomes where the exact sequence of DNA is not critical, while far fewer differences accumulated in parts of the genome important for function.


Where does world-famous televangelist's money go?

Benny Hinn has millions of believers and millions in donations
NBC News

Dec. 27 — Maybe you spotted him while you were channel surfing one night or maybe you were already tuned in. Either way, he's hard to ignore. Benny Hinn — televangelist, faith healer, and appointment viewing for millions of believers. His popularity and his wealth are matched only by the devotion he's shown by his followers, many of them desperate for help. Their stories and his ministry play out almost every night in made-for-TV mini-dramas. But there are other stories, other scenes that reveal much more about Pastor Benny, caught on Dateline's hidden cameras. Correspondent Bob McKeown reports.

Prosecutors Consider Opening An Investigation of Harry Potter


Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2002. Page 2

The Moscow Times

The Moscow city prosecutor's office is considering opening an investigation into the popular Harry Potter books after an Orthodox believer lodged a complaint that they discredit Christianity, an official said Monday.

The office's senior investigator, Andrei Alexandrov, has asked the Russian Book Chamber to provide copies of all books that mention Harry Potter in their titles and whatever additional information it has about the boy wizard, said Rustem Aigistov, the chamber's executive director. "It is a lengthy inquiry ... and we are still drafting a response to it," he said. Moscow-based Rosman publishing house has published Russian-language editions of all four of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. Rosman said the books have sold 3.5 million copies.

Aigistov confirmed a report in Moskovsky Komsomolets that Alexandrov is studying whether the books violate Article 282 of the Criminal Code, which deals with instigation of ethnic, racial or religious enmity. Violators, if convicted, face up to five years in prison.

Moskovsky Komsomolets reported Monday that Alexandrov opened the inquiry on Dec. 16 after his office received a complaint from a woman in the Moscow region town of Tarusa. In her complaint, the unidentified woman said "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," the second book in the series, promotes witchcraft and discredits the Orthodox faith. Prosecutors were unavailable for comment Monday.

Rosman spokeswoman Natalya Dolgova called the allegations absurd. "Claims of Satanism are absolute nonsense," she said. The Russian Orthodox Church has issued no official statements on Harry Potter. But at least one outspoken Orthodox missionary has read all four books and concluded that they are harmless. "Is it a textbook on magic?" Deacon Alexander Kurayev said in an undated 16-page critique of the Harry Potter series posted on his personal web site.

"No," he said, "it's a fairy tale."

May it please the court


Many stories are going around the 'net saying they are "The Stella Awards". Many of these stories are false, made-up, or (sometimes) true stories with false elements added to them. It makes no sense to use false examples of real problems when there are so many true examples that illustrate the actual problem.

The most-common e-mail example is the following, which the clerk has marked "Exhibit A". We've received many, many copies of it over the last few years, and no doubt you have too. You'll see what we mean by "bogus".

Saturday, December 28, 2002

When God needs a joke, He just has to look at us

By David Waters
December 28, 2002

It's been a funny year along America's border between church and state. Funny strange and funny ha-ha.

Good thing the First Amendment is more than paper.

Good thing God has a sense of humor.

A federal court ruled that a granite sculpture of the Ten Commandments must be removed from Alabama's judicial building.

Another federal court ruled that a 6-foot cross, put up in 1934, must be removed from the Mojave National Preserve.

Meanwhile, another federal court ruled that a 5-foot stone monument of the Ten Commandments could stay at the state Capitol in Texas.

And another federal court ruled that Cincinnati could not bar a Jewish group from displaying an 18-foot menorah in a public square.

"Before God we are all equally wise and equally foolish," Albert Einstein said.

A federal court ruled that a city could ban a church from residential areas.

A state court ruled that a church does not have to own property to qualify as a church under the law.

"There, but for the grace of God, goes God," Winston Churchill said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Ohio could give public money to religious schools.

A few weeks later, a federal court ruled Florida couldn't.

A federal appeals court ruled that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional.

The same court ruled a state was wrong to deny a scholarship to a college student who declared religious studies as his major.

"I sometimes think that God in creating man somewhat overestimated His ability," Oscar Wilde said.

Officials in Ohio tried to stop a couple from feeding the poor from their home because neighbors complained about the traffic.

Officials in Los Angeles tried to stop monks from feeding and clothing the homeless because neighbors complained about the traffic.

And officials in Virginia tried to stop a woman from feeding and clothing the needy from her house because neighbors complained about the traffic.

"If God lived on Earth, people would break his windows," a Yiddish proverb goes.

A city in Connecticut ordered a store owner to remove a big sign that said "GENO IS GOD." Geno Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team.

A church near the store complained. "God is God. God is not Geno," a church official told reporters.

The store owner resisted. City officials backed off. They said the sign could stay, but it had to be smaller.

"There is hope for the future because God has a sense of humor and we are funny to God," Bill Cosby once said.

Funny strange or funny ha-ha?

Contact columnist David Waters at 529-2399 or E-mail

Experts Are Suspicious of Claim of Cloned Human's Birth

December 28, 2002

In the six years since scientists in Scotland shocked the world with their announcement that they had cloned a sheep, scientists have cloned seven species and have even made clones of clones. Dolly the sheep is a grandmother, entering old age. And most scientists say they think humans, too, will be cloned.

But cloning experts interviewed yesterday say they strongly doubt assertions made at a news conference that a 31-year-old woman has given birth to her own clone, a baby that is genetically identical to her. Clonaid, a company associated with a group that believes that space travelers created the human race by cloning, said yesterday that its scientists had created the clone but offered no proof, would not say who had done the work or describe their methods.

"I would be really really surprised if it stands," said Dr. Tanja Dominko, a cloning expert who is chief science officer at Cellthera, a newly formed company in Southbridge, Mass. "I don't believe it for a minute."


Spiritual Connection on the Internet

December 28, 2002

For anyone who cannot make the trip to Mission San Xavier del Bac in Arizona to pin a personal memento to a wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier and say a prayer, all that is needed is to jot an e-mail message and hit the "Send" key. Requesting prayers and joining virtual prayer circles has become commonplace on the Internet, as worshipers can e-mail an order of nuns and request a prayer or enter a chat room and ask whoever reads their message to pray on their behalf. But e-mailing a prayer for the intercession of a saint is new.


Scientist claims first human clone born


December 27, 2002 By Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Ushering in either a brave new world or a spectacular hoax, a company founded by a religious sect that believes in space aliens announced today that it has produced the world's first cloned baby.

A healthy 7-pound girl, nicknamed Eve by scientists, was delivered by Caesarean section Thursday somewhere outside the United States, said Brigitte Boisselier, chief executive of Clonaid. Boisselier said the girl is an exact genetic copy of the American woman who gave birth to her.

At a news conference, Boisselier offered no scientific proof, provided no photographs and did not produce the mother or child. She said proof -- in the form of DNA testing by independent experts -- will be available in perhaps eight or nine days.

"You can still go back to your office and treat me as a fraud," she told reporters. "You have one week to do that."

Cloning experts were skeptical or reserved judgment on the announcement, which is certain to touch off fierce ethical, religious and scientific debate. In Washington, the Food and Drug Administration said the agency will investigate whether the experiments violated U.S. law.

The United States has no specific law against human cloning. But the FDA contends its regulations forbid human cloning without agency permission.

"The very attempt to clone a human being is evil," said Stanley M. Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke University. "That the allegedly cloned child is to be called Eve confirms the godlike stature these people so desperately seek."

Boisselier would not say where Clonaid has been carrying out its experiments and did not identify any of the scientists involved.

She said the mother as a 31-year-old with an infertile husband. The couple have decided not to face the media now, she said.

She said four other couples are expected to give birth to Clonaid-created clones by early February.

Clonaid was founded in the Bahamas in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist and leader of a sect called the Raelians. Vorilhon, who calls himself Rael, claims a space alien visiting him in 1973 revealed that extraterrestrials had created all life on Earth through genetic engineering.

Boisselier, who claims two chemistry degrees, identifies herself as a Raelian "bishop" and said Clonaid retains philosophical but not economic links to the Raelians. Rael is "my spiritual leader," Boisselier said.

"I do believe we've been created by scientists," she said. "And I'm grateful to them for my life."

Friday, December 27, 2002

Bigfoot in Texas

From: Craig Woolheater

I saw in the archives that you featured articles about the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society and the Conference they held last September. You missed the one held by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, http://www.texasbigfoot.com here in Texas in October. One of your members, John Blanton, was quoted in the article that ran in the Dallas Observer.


An article also ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


An edited version ran in the Washington D. C. Times:


And here is a review of the Conference from a free-lance writer that attended:

http://www.texasbigfoot.com/tbconf2002.html We are based in Dallas and I thought that you would like to know.

Craig Woolheater
Texas Bigfoot Research Center


Researchers Seek Answers to Faith's Place in Psyche

The human brain, even at its ancient, primitive core, is less an organ of impulse than a machine of reason. We are built to make sense of things. Our brains restlessly scan the world for patterns in chaos and causes in coincidence.

c.2002 Newhouse News Service

We crave explanation and, when faced with the ineffable, sometimes we create the answer.

For many people, the answer to the most ineffable question of all -- "Why do we exist?" -- is God.

Neuroscientist Rhawn Joseph has spent years studying history, myth and biology in his quest to understand the universality of spiritual experience and its evolutionary function.

In his studies of the brains of Tibetan monks and Franciscan nuns, radiologist Andrew Newberg seeks out the relationship between neural activity and mystical experience.

Both men believe that the connection between the brain and spirituality suggests that there is a physiological basis for religion -- that human beings, in essence, are hard-wired for God.

* * *

Rhawn Joseph, of Santa Clara, Calif., believes there is a neurological, even genetic, explanation for religious belief and spiritual experience.

[Full story at URL above...]

Religious Sect Says It Will Announce the First Cloned Baby


December 27, 2002


A religious sect that contends that space travelers created the human race by cloning themselves said yesterday that it would announce today that the first cloned human baby had been born.

A representative of the group, the Raλlians, said the announcement would be made at a news conference in Florida by Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, who directs a Bahamian company formed to clone humans and is scientific director of the sect. Dr. Boisselier's spokeswoman, Nadine Gary, would give out little information but said the baby had been born by Caesarean section and was a clone of the woman who gave birth to her. Neither mother nor child will be at the news conference "for medical reasons," Ms. Gary said.

This year, three groups — a fertility clinic in Italy, an embryology laboratory business in Kentucky and the Raλlians — announced separately that they were on the verge of overseeing the births of cloned humans. Dr. Boisselier said she had five clone pregnancies under way and the first birth was expected before 2003.

Animal-cloning experts said it was theoretically possible for a human to be cloned but any such effort would probably have had dozens of failures before a successful birth.

Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years

by Bruce Sterling
Hardcover: 224 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.14 x 7.82 x 5.38
Publisher: Random House; ISBN: 0679463224; 1st edition (December 17, 2002)

From Amazon.com:

Visionary author Bruce Sterling views the future like no other writer. In his first nonfiction book since his classic: The Hacker Crackdown, Sterling describes the world our children might be living in over the next fifty years and what to expect next in culture, geopolitics, and business.

Time calls Bruce Sterling "one of America's best-known science fiction writers and perhaps the sharpest observer of our media-choked culture working today in any genre." Tomorrow Now is, as Sterling wryly describes it, "an ambitious, sprawling effort in thundering futurist punditry, in the pulsing vein of the futurists I've read and admired over the years: H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and Alvin Toffler; Lewis Mumford, Reyner Banham, Peter Drucker, and Michael Dertouzos. This book asks the future two questions: What does it mean? and How does it feel? "

Taking a cue from one of William Shakespeare's greatest soliloquies, Sterling devotes one chapter to each of the seven stages of humanity: birth, school, love, war, politics, business, and old age. As our children progress through Sterling's Shakespearean life cycle, they will encounter new products; new weapons; new crimes; new moral conundrums, such as cloning and genetic alteration; and new political movements, which will augur the way wars of the future will be fought.

Here are some of the author's predictions:

The future of activism belongs to a sophisticated, urbane global network that can make money-the Disney World version of Al Qaeda.

Tomorrow Now will change the way you think about the future and our place in it.

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.


Volume 7, Number 52
December 24, 2002
Editor: Joseph Trainor



What is now the city of Rome was once the "Elephant's Graveyard" over a quarter-million years ago, according to an Italian woman archaeologist.

"Some 300,000 years ago, ancient elephants trudged into a shallow river to drink but found their legs stuck in the mud. Eventually, they fell and died there, attracting scavenger animals and pre-humans, who fed off the meat and made tools from the bones."

"After 17 years of excavation," the site at Castel di Guido in Italy, located 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Rome, "packed with thousands of animal bones and tusks the length of station wagons, opens to the public for the first time this month."

"Fossilized bones from ancient forms of deer, oxen, horses, rhinoceroses, mice, birds, small reptiles and fish all lie in the hardened earth of the prehistoric swamp. No pre-human skeletons have been found, although excavators discovered 500 primitive instruments made of flint and bone."

"The archaeologist heading the project, Anna Paola Anzidei, says the site was particularly important for fossils of the species Elephas antiquus, an ancestor of the modern elephant."

"Though there are several other similar sites in Italy, La Polledrara di Cecanibbio holds the oldest, most plentiful and best preserved bones due to the abundance of the gas flourite in the region, scientists say."

"'The site preserves the best samples from anywhere in the world of Pleistocene elephants (Palaeoloxodon-- J.T.) from that period of time (300,000 B.C.),' says professor of paleobiology Adrian Lister at University College, London, who visited the site in October 2001. 'The study of skulls, for example, will help us better understand the relation of the population to other fossil elephants. That work has not been done yet.'"

"Geology professor Larry Agenbroad at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff highly praised the Italian location, which he viewed in October 2001."

Dr. Agenbroad oversees the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota (population 4,129), which is "famed as the best for its museum that contains the remains of 49 Colombian mammoths."

"'The size of the elephants I saw at the Italian site was mindboggling,' he says, 'It would be particularly interesting for people who study paleontology and archaeology, as well. I expect the public would be very impressed with it.'"

Gigliola Possenti, an archaeologist working at Castel di Guido, said the researchers at the site are "studying the climate and environment of the region during the (Pleistocene) period and the ways in which pre-humans in the area began interacting with big game." (See the Duluth, Minn. News-Tribune for December 22, 2002, "Down to the bones," page 6D.)

Thursday, December 26, 2002

With Dog Detectives, Mistakes Can Happen


December 24, 2002


MIAMI, Dec. 23 — When bomb-sniffing dogs indicated the presence of explosives last summer in the cars of three medical students bound for Miami, the authorities detained the men and closed a major thoroughfare across South Florida. No trace of explosives was found in their cars.

Now, a number of scientists and trainers are expressing concern that such mistakes could become more common as thousands of new canine detectives are deployed across the country.

Experts on explosives detection say that when dogs' handlers are excited and stressed, the dogs may overreact and falsely suggest that explosives are present when they are not. False alerts are better than missing a live bomb, they say, but it is better for the dogs to be accurate.

More rigorous training and certification standards and more research into the way dogs detect scents and the relationship between them and their handlers are needed to avoid these problems, said Dr. Lawrence J. Myers, an expert on dog olfaction at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dogs are far better at sniffing out the source of a particular odor than any machine yet developed, experts say. They are also more manageable and culturally acceptable than rats and other animals adept at detecting scents.

Scientists have estimated that a dog's nose has about 220 million mucus-coated olfactory receptors, roughly 40 times as many as humans.

When a dog sniffs, chemical vapors — and, perhaps, tiny particles — lodge in the mucus and dissolve, sending electrical signals along the olfactory nerve and ultimately to nearly all parts of the brain. In dogs, the vomeronasal organ in the roof of the mouth and two branches of the trigeminal nerve in the nasal cavity also play roles in scent detection.

Skilled trainers have taught dogs to detect just about anything that emits even the faintest odor, including explosives, underground oil and water leaks, contraband food, termites, guns, drugs and cash. But in most cases, scientists have not measured the lowest levels of odor that dogs can detect.

Training and handling dogs is an art at which some people excel, and together top dogs and top handlers can perform extraordinary feats. But there are limits on dogs' performance that are frequently overlooked. Poor handlers alone, Dr. Myers said, can cause dogs' vaunted accuracy rate of 85 percent to 95 percent to plummet to 60 percent, Dr. Myers said.

"Dogs want rewards," he added, "and so they will give false alerts to get them. Dogs lie. We know they do."

Determining how accurately dogs in general detect particular odors is difficult, experts say, because procedures vary from place to place, and few have been subjected to rigorous scientific testing. Though some dogs and handlers are consistently good, all may vary in their daily performance.

When dogs are asked to identify people, the situation is even more complex. This use of dogs is based on assumptions that every person has a unique scent, that odor is stable over time and that dogs can tell one person from another. But the first two assumptions have not been fully verified and the last is not always true, said Dr. Adee Schoon, scientific adviser to the Netherlands National Police Agency Canine Department.

"You need special handlers and special dogs for identifying suspects," said Dr. Schoon, who recently visited Florida International University in Miami to present a seminar on scent identification at its International Forensic Research Institute and to discuss collaborative research.

In the 1990's, Dr. Schoon documented that the Dutch procedure for identifying suspects with dogs was prone to substantial errors. Then, she redesigned it.

Her biggest achievement, she said, has been discrediting people who say, `My dog never errs.' "


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 618 December 23, 2002 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon


can be achieved by varying a static voltage applied between the nanotubes and a counter electrode. This was demonstrated for several nanotubes (NT) grown on a nickel support tip. The natural resonant NT frequencies are those where the NT oscillates with a large amplitude, a motion that can be monitored directly by watching the pattern of electrons spraying out the end of the tubes (like water spraying out of a wiggling garden hose). The vibration is excited by applying an additional sinusoidal voltage of the correct frequency to one of the electrodes (see figure at www.aip.org/mgr/png/2002/173.htm ). This technique gives researchers yet another handle for manipulating the versatile NT's for what promises to be wide variety of applications. According to Stephen Purcell of the University of Lyon (stephen.purcell@dpm.univ-lyon1.fr), one of the co-authors on a new paper reporting the results, carefully excited and tuned NT's may act as the core for future nanometric oscillator circuitry, nano-balances or nano-force sensors. (Purcell et al., Physical Review Letters, 30 December 2002; for a past summary of NT thermal, electrical, and optical emissions, see Update 580, http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/580-2.html. )

QUANTUM SIMULATIONS WITH CONTINUOUS VARIABLES. Furthering efforts to answer hard-to-test questions about the quantum world, a NIST ion-trap computer can now simulate how the unique rules of quantum mechanics can affect a microscopic particle's "continuous variables," quantities such as position and momentum which can have a smooth continuum of values. Acting as a form of quantum computer, the NIST ion trap might only need a couple of seconds to simulate a quantum physics experiment that can take days to carry out. Moreover, the ion trap can simulate experiments that require rare commodities, like entangled photons, which are created relatively infrequently.

Since quantum computers embrace the unusual logic of the microscopic world, they can perform powerful simulations of its often counterintuitive phenomena. First envisioned by Richard Feynman, quantum simulators are perhaps the earliest practical application of quantum computing--in fact, they have been around for several years now. However, previous versions (Update 438, http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/1999/split/pnu438-2.htm ) have only re-created quantum phenomena involving "discrete variables," such as an electron's energy in an atom, which can only have certain prescribed values. The new version recreates quantum processes involving both discrete and continuous variables.

To construct their simulator, NIST researchers in Colorado trap a single beryllium-9 ion with electric fields. As the ion vibrates in the trap, its position and momentum are continuous. This allows the researchers to easily simulate any other complementary pair of continuous variables-such as an electric field's amplitude and phase-which have the exact same mathematical interrelationship. To perform simulations, the researchers shine a series of carefully engineered light pulses on the ion. The pulses cause the ion to act like something it's not, such as an electron bound by an atom, or even a photon as it hits a beamsplitter. Under the influence of the pulses, the ion's quantum states evolve in a way identical to the situation the researchers want to study.

For now, the researchers have performed simple, proof-of-principle demonstrations. As an example, they have investigated how a photon would behave if entangled with other photons by sending it through a beamsplitter. Shining light pulses on the ion to simulate the effects of a beamsplitter on a photon, the researchers have demonstrated that interferometry with up to three other entangled photons would be three times as precise as interferometers using single photons, in line with the recent experimental results on bi-photon interferometry (Update 613, http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2002/split/613-1.html ). (Leibfried et al, Physical Review Letters, 9 December 2002; Dietrich Leibfried, 303-497-7880, dil@boulder.nist.gov)

PRL CHANGES ITS PUBLICATION DATES. Instead of appearing on Monday each week, the print version of Physical Review Letters will now appear on Friday. The print issue will comprise all the articles that were published online during that week. It had already been the case for more than a year that online publication marked the official publication date for each article, and so the new print-version schedule does not affect this policy. (http://prl.aps.org/edannounce/PRLv89i26.html )

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

Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

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District is open to theories about life


Posted on Mon, Dec. 23, 2002

Phoenixville's statement addresses alternative thoughts to evolution. One is called intelligent design.
By Dan Hardy
Inquirer Staff Writer

The sentence added to the mission statement of the Phoenixville Area School District last month seems like one of those "who can disagree with this" morsels of educational philosophy.

It reads: "Critical thinking, along with objective and thorough investigation of data and theories in all areas of study is necessary to ensure the success of the educational program."

To school board vice president and Phoenixville resident David M. Langdon, however, that phrase is an invitation for students to have classroom discussions of alternatives to the theory of evolution, including one called "intelligent design," which says that life is so complex that it must have been initiated by some higher, intelligent power.

"In order to make decisions, [students] should know about intelligent design and the problems with evolution," Langdon said in a recent interview. "I think it's important that they hear both sides."

Langdon added that he would seek to have the district's faculty trained in "how to present ideas that are controversial in many different areas," including evolution, as well as other hot-button topics such as "same-sex adoption and gay marriages - you need to hear both sides to make a good, honest decision."

The new wording was inserted by the school board in place of a statement Langdon had sought that much more explicitly called for alternatives to evolution to be taught in the district. Langdon said his original proposal was modeled after one passed this fall by the Cobb County School District in Georgia and on wording inserted into a Senate education bill by Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) in 2001, both of which were aimed at encouraging the discussion of alternatives to the theory of evolution in the classroom.

Controversy has abounded recently about the teaching of alternatives to the theory of evolution, especially intelligent design, which advocates say is a scientific alternative theory to evolution. Critics say it is a sophisticated attempt to evade court rulings that forbid the teaching of Christian views on creation as part of the science curriculum.

The school board in Cobb County, while denying that it intended to promote religion, passed a resolution saying the district "believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of species."

The teaching of alternatives to evolution was discussed by the Ohio Board of Education earlier this year; the board ended up calling for the teaching of evolution but also for a critical analysis of the theory. In 2001, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education considered adding language about teaching alternative ideas to evolution before backing off the idea. In Kansas, the state education board removed the teaching of evolution from state curriculum standards in 1999; the board put it back into the standards in 2001.

There is strong public support for the view that evolution doesn't tell the whole story: A 2001 Zogby poll found that only 24 percent of respondents agreed that the universe and life are a product of purely natural processes, while 69 percent agreed that God or some intelligent design played a role.

Langdon, 44, is a devout Christian who says he personally believes that the story of creation told in the Bible is a literal account. He said he also believes that evolution teaches that "everything happened by chance, whereas the challengers say that there's something out there that influenced the way things developed - it's a theistic view versus an atheistic view."

The software quality-control manager, who earned his bachelor's degree in biochemistry at Lehigh University, said, however, that he does not want to introduce Christian teachings into the Phoenixville curriculum. If intelligent design is presented as an alternative scientific theory to evolution, he said, it would pass constitutional muster. A 1987 Supreme Court decision banned teaching creationism in schools, but said that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind... might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction."

"Teaching intelligent design is not teaching religion," Langdon said. "It just says that there was a higher intelligent power that started all this - it doesn't promote any one religion or religion in general."

Robb S. Frees, president of the Phoenixville school board, said that he also believes that, in the context of teaching critical thinking to students, the discussion of intelligent design is proper. "I personally think that it's all right," he said. "You can't teach religion, but it's up to the [school district] administration to make sure that all reasonable theories and ideas are discussed, and I'm sure they will do that."

He added: "There are holes in the theory of evolution, there are holes in creationism, and there are holes in intelligent design. None of them is definitive; when presented professionally - and it's the administration's job to monitor that - I believe it can be beneficial to have all viewpoints presented."

Frees emphasized that the discussion of intelligent design or other controversial topics was a means to the end of "exploring how the students could benefit from the open discussion of all the information that's available to them.

"We've used this discussion to improve the educational process in all areas," he said.

Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said in a recent interview that many supporters of intelligent design have recently been using a "teach the controversy" approach as a way of saying that intelligent design should be discussed in classrooms. "This view is packaging the 'dispute' about evolution in a very unfair way," she said. "It implies a controversy about whether evolution took place; instead, there's only controversy about how it took place."

Scott, who said that there is no credible scientific evidence to support the intelligent-design hypothesis, added: "I think intelligent design should be taught in its proper place - a comparative-religion course - but it doesn't have any place in the science curriculum."

In an interview last week, Phoenixville Superintendent David R. Noyes said he doubted that the debate would have much impact in the classroom, other than to heighten the district's commitment to teaching critical thinking as an important skill for students.

"I don't think this will change the district's offerings much," he said. "I don't believe that we should teach creationism [or any of its variants], but I don't think we should avoid all discussion of it either."

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-701-7638 or dhardy@phillynews.com.

© 2001 inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


From science and computers, a new face of Jesus


By Jeordan Legon
Thursday, December 26, 2002 Posted: 6:59 AM EST (1159 GMT)

(CNN) -- The Jesus pictured on the cover of this month's Popular Mechanics has a broad peasant's face, dark olive skin, short curly hair and a prominent nose. He would have stood 5-foot-1-inch tall and weighed 110 pounds, if the magazine is to be believed.

This representation is quite different from the typical lithe, long-haired, light-skinned and delicate-featured depiction of the man Christians consider the son of God.

Israeli and British forensic anthropologists and computer programmers got together to create the face depicted in the 1.2-million circulation magazine, which occasionally veers from its usual coverage of motors and tools to cover the merger of science and religion.

"What did Jesus look like?" the article asks. "An answer has emerged from an exciting new field of science: forensic anthropology."

Looking in on forensic anthropology

The same science has been used to create artists' depictions of dozens of famous faces, including the father of Alexander the Great and King Midas of Phrygia. This new conceptualization of Jesus is based in large part on the work of Richard Neave, a medical artist retired from the University of Manchester in England.

"Using archaeological and anatomical science rather than artistic interpretation makes this the most accurate likeness ever created," Jean Claude Gragard, producer of the BBC documentary "Son of God," told The London Times. Gragard used the same image last year in his series. "It isn't the face of Jesus, because we're not working with the skull of Jesus, but it is the departure point for considering what Jesus would have looked like," he added.

How they started

Neave and a team of researchers started with an Israeli skull dating back to the 1st century. They then used computer programs, clay, simulated skin and their knowledge about the Jewish people of the time to determine the shape of the face, and color of eyes and skin. They turned to the Bible to determine the length of his hair. In the New Testament, "would Paul (one of the apostles) have written, 'If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him' if Jesus Christ had had long hair?" the article speculates.

The magazine's editors admit that they cannot be certain of the accuracy of this facial representation.

'Hard to find a lot of evidence'

"There is no way that we are saying this is the skull of Jesus," Popular Mechanic's Mike Fillon told CNN. "Christians believe ... that Jesus' entire body was resurrected, so there would never be any bones or skull or DNA evidence of Jesus. Plus, his ministry was very, very short. So it would be hard to find a lot of evidence."

Instead the article focuses on describing the painstaking effort of imagining the face and how science and theology both played a part in the process. Despite the concerns about accuracy, Alison Galloway, a professor of anthropology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, told Popular Mechanics that: "This is probably a lot closer to the truth than the work of many great masters."

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