NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 January 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Gravity moves at speed of light



By Dan Falk
UPI Science News
From the Science & Technology Desk
Published 1/7/2003 9:02 PM

SEATTLE, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Two U.S. astronomers claimed Tuesday to have measured the speed of gravity for the first time and discovered it travels at the same speed as light.

The finding confirms what most physicists had assumed, but which until now no one had been able to measure directly, the astronomers said.

"Gravity is one of the most important forces in the universe, but it's not understood particularly well," Edward Fomalont of the National Radio Astronomical Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va., told United Press International. "Many people assumed it propagates at the speed of light. We thought, 'we can measure it, so let's measure it.'"

Fomalont, who works with NRAO in Charlottesville, Va., and colleague Sergei Kopeikin, of the University of Missouri in Columbia, presented their research at the 201st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

They described their experiment as involving technical skill and plain luck as they carefully measured the way light from a distant quasar, or quasi-stellar object -- among the most powerful energy sources in the universe -- was deflected as it passed behind the planet Jupiter during a rare chance alignment of the two objects last September.

The measurement was carried out using NRAO's array of 25-meter radio telescopes, as well as a 100-meter instrument in Effelsberg, Germany. The displacements involved were tiny -- shifts in the quasar's position had to be measured to within 50 millionths of an arc-second -- equivalent to detecting an object the size of a silver dollar on the moon, the astronomers said.

"We measured exactly what we expected, so I'm relieved," Kopeikin told UPI, "and I'm happy that we were able to conduct such a high-precision experiment."

Gravity always was known to propagate at a high speed. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton assumed it moved infinitely fast. In more modern times, however, theorists have assumed gravitational forces move at the speed of light. This was one of the assumptions at the heart of Einstein's theory of relativity, which he published in 1915. However, testing that assumption has been painstakingly difficult.

Despite the precise measurement, Fomalont and Kopeikin, who have submitted their paper for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, said their margin of error remains at about 20 percent.

Steven Carlip, a physics professor at the University of California, Davis, called the experiment was "a nice demonstration" of Einstein's principle.

"There were a couple of possible outcomes," Carlip told UPI. "The prediction of general relativity was that the result would be the speed of light exactly. There are some other extensions of general relativity theory that have been proposed that would give values very slightly different, but nobody expected this experiment to make distinctions that accurately."

He explained that the first measurements of deflection of light by the sun were less accurate than that.

"The other possibility," he said, which would be remote, "was that they could have a speed of propagation much faster than the speed of light. In Newtonian gravity, the speed of propagation is infinite, or nearly infinite. While no physicist working in the field seriously believed that's what they would see, it had to be checked."

Carlip added that future measurements of gravitational propagational speed should be more accurate. A number of gravitational wave interferometers have come on line in recent months that should be able to detect gravitational waves directly for the first time, and thereby measure the speed.

Physicist Phil Schewe, a spokesman for the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Md., said Fomalont and Kopeikin's experiment is relevant because the force of gravity is so fundamental in our universe.

"It's important to measure something as central as the speed of gravity," Schewe told UPI. "It's there in Einstein's equations, but he implicitly took it to be equal to the speed of light. We shouldn't just assume it; we should measure it."

Danish Science Committee Says Controversial Writer's Book Not Scientific Work

Jan 8, 2003

JAN M. OLSEN Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) - A Danish panel of scientists has rebuked an author who became a hero of conservatives for challenging tenets of the environmental movement. In his 2001 book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," Danish statistician Bjoern Lomborg said concerns about melting ice caps, deforestation, acid rain were exaggerated. He claimed that the global environmental situation was not deteriorating.

The book was translated into a dozen languages and generated criticism from environmentalists worldwide. The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty said Tuesday that the 350-page book "is clearly in violation of the norms for good scientific behavior."

The agency reviewed the book after complaints from four scientists, including ecologist Stuart Pimm of the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation at Columbia University in New York. He did not immediately return a call by The Associated Press. Hans Henrik Brydensholt, the panel's chairman, said Lomborg did not make "thorough searches for all available sources ... including what goes against one's supposition."

"He used sources in favor of his own beliefs," he said. Lomborg acknowledged Tuesday that he may not have always quoted all available sources, but said the panel failed to provide any examples of the alleged unfairness, he said.

"I have never tried to hide that I wasn't an environment specialist," Lomborg said, adding his book was meant to start a debate on the environment.

The ruling didn't include any penalty, but opponents of the Liberal-Conservative government said it was an indicator that Lomborg shouldn't have been named director of the national Environmental Assessment Institute, which monitors the use by state agencies of public funds aimed at cutting pollution.

"Bjoern Lomborg is a provocative environmental debater (and) he should be allowed to be that," said Pernille Blach Hansen of the opposition Social Democrats. "The problem is that he and the government have presented him as something he is not: namely a scientist." A former member of Greenpeace, Lomborg has argued that a solution to pollution is more likely to be found in economic and technological progress than in the policies advocated by many environmentalist organizations.

AP-ES-01-08-03 0304EST
This story can be found at: http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGAI0GOZOAD.html

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – January 8, 2003

from The Washington Post

Decades of inadequate funding and inconsistent leadership have placed serious science at the Smithsonian Institution in peril, according to a report released yesterday by a commission formed to evaluate scientific research at the nation's leading museum organization.

The Smithsonian Institution Science Commission, appointed in July 2001, issued a strong endorsement of the importance of original scientific research to the Smithsonian's mission and called upon regents to reverse years of neglect, budget erosion and general malaise.

The commission cited the Smithsonian's scientific strengths in astrophysics and the life sciences. Institute scientists have done pioneering work in the breeding of endangered species, the study of tropical environments and the understanding of volcanoes; Smithsonian collections are an invaluable trove of DNA.

But, it warned, "without inspired leadership and careful strategic planning, it might slip -- like a building without maintenance -- into a state of mediocrity from which it will be hard to recover."


from The New York Times

SEATTLE, Jan. 7 — In a test critical to theories of cosmology, scientists have for the first time measured the speed at which the force of gravity moves. And, once again, it appears that Einstein has been proved right, scientists announced today at a meeting here of the American Astronomical Society.

"Newton thought that gravity's force was instantaneous," said Dr. Sergei Kopeikin, a physicist at the University of Missouri. "Einstein assumed that it moved at the speed of light, but until now, no one had measured it."

By observing a slight "bending" of radio waves when Jupiter passed nearly in front of a more distant cosmic object, scientists said they determined that gravity's propagation speed is equal to the speed of light. They said their finding was within an accuracy of 20 percent, which they considered good enough to conclude that gravity's velocity is probably indeed equal to the speed of light.

The result came as no surprise to other scientists.


from The New York Times

A branch of the Danish Research Agency has concluded that Prof. Bjorn Lomborg, an author whose upbeat analysis of environmental trends has been embraced by conservatives, displayed "scientific dishonesty" in his popular book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist."

Professor Lomborg, who has a doctorate in political science and teaches statistics at the University of Aarhus, has portrayed the book as an unbiased scientific refutation of dire pronouncements by environmental groups. But it has been attacked as deeply flawed by many environmental scientists since its publication in English in 2001 by Cambridge University Press.

Many experts have said that environmental conditions, in most cases, are not nearly as good as Professor Lomborg portrays them, but also not nearly as bad as some environmental groups and scientists have said.

The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, after a six-month review following several complaints filed by scientists, issued a 17-page report yesterday concluding that the book displayed "systematic one-sidedness."


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Democrats, joined by a maverick Republican, Sen. John McCain, sought at the opening of the 108th Congress to make global warming a battleground issue with the Bush administration for the next two years as they readied competing legislative proposals.

McCain, the incoming Commerce chairman, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., proposed requiring a huge swath of U.S. industry to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other warming gases back to 2000 levels by 2010, and to 1990 levels by 2016.

Their bill would affect power plants, manufacturers, petroleum refiners and other large-scale commercial sources, and also set up a trading system similar to one created to fight acid rain, a Lieberman aide said.

Utilities and plants that cannot meet the targets could instead pay for the emissions reductions of companies that exceed the targets.


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The "Amazing Meeting"

"The Amazing Meeting" is shaping up to be the most exciting event The James Randi Educational Foundation has ever staged. We have lined up a variety of guest speakers. Join us Friday evening, Jan. 31st, for an opening reception. Then plan on spending all day Saturday and Sunday getting educated, energized and entertained. Meet new friends and network with message board forum members. Of course Randi will be there the entire weekend and will be the main speaker on Saturday evening.

For hotel reservations, you will contact the Renaissance Fort Lauderdale-Plantation Hotel directly. This is a brand new hotel, scheduled to open September 2002. Based on the tour we took, we are very pleased with the facility and think you will thoroughly enjoy your stay. Especially considering this is "high season" in Florida, rooms are a very reasonable $139 night (plus 11% occupancy tax). Call (800) 316-7708 to reserve your room now! Tell them you're coming for "The Amazing Meeting" of the James Randi Educational Foundation. Or log onto www.renaissancehotels.com/fllrp. Click on "Make a reservation." Put in the dates and under the Group Code put AMAAMAA. Then click "Check Rates & Availability".

Due to space limitations, registrations will be limited, so act NOW to reserve your place!

To register for "The Amazing Meeting" Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2003, download a registration form. Please print out the form and mail with your check or credit card information to:

"The Amazing Meeting"
201 S.E. 12 Street
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316-1815 If you have any questions or comments contact Linda Shallenberger at (954) 467-1112 or Linda@randi.org.


Bill Steigerwald
January 8, 2003

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
(Phone: 301/286-5017)

Release: 03-03

We have one less thing to worry about. While the cosmic debris from a nearby massive star explosion, called a supernova, could destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer and cause mass extinction, such an explosion would have to be much closer than previously thought, new calculations show.

Scientists at NASA and Kansas University have determined that the supernova would need to be within 26 light years from Earth to significantly damage the ozone layer and allow cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation to saturate the Earth's surface.

An encounter with a supernova that close only happens at a rate of about once in 670 million years, according to Dr. Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who presents these findings today at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

"Perhaps a nearby supernova has bombarded Earth once during the history of multicellular life with its punishing gamma rays and cosmic rays," said Gehrels. "The possibility for mass extinction is indeed real, yet the risk seems much lower than we have thought."

The new calculations are based largely on advances in atmospheric modeling, analysis of gamma rays produced by a supernova in 1987 called SN1987a, and a better understanding of galactic supernova locations and rates. A supernova is an explosion of a star at least twice as massive as our Sun.

Previous estimates from the 1970s stated that supernovae as far as 55 light years from Earth could wipe out up to 90 percent of the atmosphere for hundreds of years. The damage would be from gamma rays and cosmic rays, both prodigiously emitted by supernovae. Gamma rays are the most energetic form of light. Cosmic rays are atomic particles, the fastest-moving matter in the Universe, produced when the expanding shell of gas from the exploded star runs into surrounding dust and gas in the region. Gamma rays, moving at light speed, would hit the Earth's atmosphere first, followed closely by the cosmic rays moving at close to light speed.

Gamma-ray light particles (called photons) and the cosmic-ray particles can wreak havoc in the upper atmosphere, according to Dr. Charles Jackman of NASA Goddard, who provided the atmospheric analysis needed for the new calculation.

The particles collide with nitrogen gas (N2) and break the molecule into highly-reactive nitrogen atoms (N). The nitrogen atoms then react fairly quickly with oxygen gas (O2) to form nitric oxide (NO) and, subsequently, other nitrogen oxides (NOx). The nitrogen oxide molecules can then destroy ozone (O3) through a catalytic process. This means that a single NOx molecule can destroy an ozone molecule and remain intact to destroy hundreds of more ozone molecules.

The new calculations -- based on the NASA Goddard two-dimensional photochemical transport model -- show that a supernova within 26 light years from Earth could wipe out 47 percent of the ozone layer, allowing approximately twice the amount of cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth's surface. Excessive UV radiation is harmful to both plants and animals, thus a doubling of UV levels would be a significant problem to life on Earth.

The gamma-ray irradiation would last 300 to 500 days. The ozone layer would then repair itself, but only to endure cosmic-ray bombardment shortly after, lasting at least 10 years. (Cosmic rays are electrically charged particles whose paths are influenced by magnetic fields, and the extent of such fields in the interstellar medium is not well understood.)

The calculations simultaneously point to the resilience of the ozone layer as well as its fragility in a violent Universe, said Dr. Claude Laird of the University of Kansas, who developed the gamma-ray and cosmic ray input code and performed the atmospheric model simulations. Although the ozone layer should recover relatively rapidly once the particle influx tapers off -- within about one to two years, the Goddard models show -- even this short period of time is sufficient to cause significant and lasting damage to the biosphere.

"The atmosphere usually protects us from gamma rays, cosmic rays, and ultraviolet radiation, but there's only so much hammering it can take before Earth's biological defenses break down," he said.

Dr. John Cannizzo of NASA Goddard and University of Maryland, Baltimore Country, initiated and coordinated the new calculations. "I've long been fascinated by the possibility of extinction from something as remote as a star explosion," he said. "With this updated calculation, we essentially worked backwards to determine what level of ozone damage would be needed to double the level of ultraviolet radiation reaching the Earth's surface and then determined how close a supernova would need to be to cause that kind of damage."

These results will appear in the Astrophysical Journal 2003, March 10, vol. 585. Co-authors include Barbara Mattson of NASA Goddard (via L3 Com Analytics Corporation) and Wan Chen of Sprint IP Design in Reston, Virginia.

For images and more information, refer to:

Darwin Award Nominee


Driver struck, killed during road-rage incident
By Gale M. Bradford
Special to the Star-Telegram

In a bizarre case of road rage, a 20-year-old Poolville man was struck and killed north of Weatherford on Monday night after he exited his car and kicked and pounded another vehicle, state police reported Tuesday.

B.J. Justin Lundin, a food service worker, was killed instantly at 7:20 p.m. on Farm Road 920 north of Weatherford. He was struck by an oncoming car that hadn't been in the two-vehicle conflict.

Mind Body Spirit

by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
For Adults Only
Radical Revisions of the Spiritual Life
January 8 - 14, 2003 http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0302/asantewaa.php

"Beloved, gaze in thine own heart," Yeats advised. "The holy tree is growing there." Yet many seekers of spiritual growth seem—as another poet, Pamela Sneed, would say—more afraid of freedom than of slavery. We yield our power to glamorous, sometimes unscrupulous authority figures or invest big bucks in the promise of Enlightenment Made Easy or search for a spiritual family to lavish us with the love we desperately crave. Now controversial authors Mariana Caplan, Andrew Harvey, and Alan Clements reveal their own longings and crises of the soul while challenging Americans to wake up and grow up.

Mariana Caplan first lit into the pacifying certainties of new-age America in Halfway Up the Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment (Hohm Press, 1999), an angry, unsparing dissection of self-deception among spiritual teachers and explorers. Today the anthropologist, counselor, and self-described escapee from "the middle-class deadness of Rockville, Maryland" admits that she herself has stumbled upon nearly every misstep along the spiritual path, all colorfully related in her new Do You Need a Guru?: Understanding the Student-Teacher Relationship in an Era of False Prophets. Part memoir, part didactic guide, Do You Need a Guru? displays a warmer, seeker-friendly Caplan tempered by humor often wielded at her own expense. This willful, hardheaded Westerner finally found her perfect guru match in Lee Lozowick—a Jewish New Jerseyite in the company of India's Yogi Ramsuratkumar. With scandals of sexual predation and greed undermining public trust in most religious figures, Caplan now says she aims to make seekers savvier consumers. During an informal talk at Sufi Books, a Tribeca center welcoming speakers from a panoply of mystical traditions, she detailed her strategy for "conscious discipleship."

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Amazing Bible Discoveries!


The Boat that Carried the Entire World Population - Still Preserved!
A Burned Mountaintop from a Most Unearthly Visitation
The Mystery Golden Chest That No Mortals May Touch! A Temple with a Wall 45 Stories high
A 'Secret Garden' that Holds the Ultimate Secrets
A Linen Cloth that Has 2000-Year-Old Full Body Image
Fossils that Reveal the True Story of Dinosaurs
A Mountain that Collapses as You Walk on It
Our Mysterious Past and where We Are Headed
All these and much more you can learn here!

Dino Truth


Creation Evolution and Dinosaurs exists to strengthen the faith of believers in Jesus Christ and the Bible. To seriously challenge non-believers to reconsider their beliefs.

We wish he had been more heroic

By Chet Raymo, 1/7/2003

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/007/science/ We_wish_he_had_been_more_heroicP.shtml

On the evening of Jan. 7, 1610, Galileo Galilei, citizen of Florence and mathematician of the University of Padua, turned his telescope to the planet Jupiter. He saw the planet as a round disk against a background of three tiny stars, all in a row.

The next night he looked again. Jupiter had moved, as he had known it would, against the background of the three stars. But it seemed to have moved in a direction contrary to the common knowledge of astronomers.

More Creation/Evolution on-line

Dear NCSE friends & supporters,

The National Center for Science Education's project to make its Creation/Evolution journal available on the web continues with the latest postings of issues 8, 9 and 10.

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Floored by thoughts of a poltergeist?


By BRYAN NOONAN Staff Writer

Latest update: Monday, January 06, 2003 at 10:15 AM EST

As the ripples began to grow on the oak floors inside the home he managed, Tom Rivers could think of only one cause for this strange encounter.

"It's a ghost that throws things around," he said. "This one likes to move floors." This "floor poltergeist" as he called it, might have been striking for the first time in St. Augustine at the home on Oglethorpe Boulevard. The Prince of Peace Church off San Marco Avenue and the DiMuzio family home on Genoa Road both had tiles explode from their floors without warning in December. "It got so bad, the tenant had to move," Rivers said of the home on Oglethorpe. He said the eerie part of the floor poltergeist is the house numbers it strikes. The oak floor home is located at 330 Oglethorpe Boulevard, the DiMuzio home at 303 Genoa Road.

Rivers said over the past three months the oak floors in the Oglethorpe home slowly ascended into peaks, some 8 inches high. The tenants never heard the floors rise, unlike the DiMuzio and Prince of Peace tiles that made a creaking sound when they came unearthed.

A contractor was called to investigate the floors. The home is elevated off the ground in what Rivers called "crawl space," and the contractor checked below the house and inside. "He picked these boards apart," Rivers said standing over the gutted living room floor. "He can't figure it out." The small bedroom was the first to grow the ripples. Soon the hallway rolled and the living room began to rise.

The oddest might be the kitchen counters, Rivers said. "They popped up," but the kitchen floors stayed flat, he said. "That shows pressure from something."

The latest bulge is in the dining room. "It keeps getting higher, higher, higher and higher," Rivers said.

Dan Blaydes, senior geotechnical engineer of Ellis and Associates in Jacksonville, said the investigation into the Prince of Peace Church incident revealed no flaws in the soil or foundation the church was laid on. He said the tiles were likely exposed to stress over time.

"They chose that particular time to let go," he said. The Rev. D. Terrence Morgan is the pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and oversees Prince of Peace Church. He said the church has an "all-clear" to replace the tiles. He said the whole floor will be stripped and re-tiled. But first, "Once the floor is exposed, we're going to want some people to take a good look."

He said the church probably won't open before Ash Wednesday in early March. "But you never know," Morgan said. "Some things may move along fast."

The DiMuzio family is still planning the re-tiling of their foyer. Patricia DiMuzio said she and her husband, Sam, are reminded of the crackling tiles every day, even though those that ruptured were removed.

"A couple more have cracks and I tell you, as you walk through the hall, many, many more of the tiles are ready to come up," she said. "They're all loose. We just put a piece of plywood on top so you won't trip."

The DiMuzios are planning to lay stronger tile next time around, and Patricia said a hurricane won't be able to loosen the brand she has in mind.

To help with the cost, the DiMuzio family has contacted its insurance company to see if they would pay for the repairs, but Patricia said, "We have to prove it was an act of God."

Rivers might be on their side should they need a witness. "St. Augustine is famous for its ghosts," he said.

Raelians renege on promise to allow tests of 'clone' baby


By Raja Mishra, Globe Staff, 1/4/2003

The biotech firm behind last week's startling cloned-baby announcement appears to have backed off its promise to allow independent verification of its alleged feat, convincing already skeptical scientists that the alien-worshiping sect has engineered a publicity hoax that could trigger a backlash against mainstream medical research. Clonaid, founded by members of the fringe Raelian movement, announced last week it had cloned a 31-year-old American woman, producing a healthy infant girl they called ''Eve.'' They offered no infomation on the identities or whereabouts of mother or child but said a DNA test proving their feat would be forthcoming.

Clonaid officials say Eve's parents became skittish about the DNA testing after a Florida lawyer asked a state juvenile court to take custody of the child, arguing that her very creation was a form of abuse because, as most scientists believe, any human clone would face a lifetime of possible health problems from genetic defects caused by the cloning process.

A Florida court scheduled a Jan. 22 hearing on the request by attorney Bernard Siegel, a former professional wrestling league owner, prompting Raelian founder Claude Vorilhon, also called Rael, to tell CNN late Thursday, ''If there is any risk that this baby is taken away from the family, it is better to lose your credibility, don't do the testing.''

Freelance journalist Michael Guillen, a former scientist picked by Clonaid to offer independent verification of their claim, made no public comment yesterday. A spokeswoman for Guillen's agent said the former ABC news producer was unavailable for comment, even as reports surfaced that Guillen had unsuccesfully tried over the last week to sell his story to two major television networks.

With no proof the clone exists, many scientists said the entire episode was a publicity stunt. Rael, when asked about this on CNN, fiddled with his earpiece and said: ''I am so sorry but the sound is so bad. I cannot hear anything.''

Local scientists, watching the proceedings, were outraged.

''I believe it's all a hoax. There's nothing behind it,'' said Rudolf Jaenisch, a research cloning expert at the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute. ''Nothing they say is trustworthy.''

With the US Senate poised to consider banning all cloning research - both creation of cloned children and use of days-old cloned embryos for medical research - Jaenisch said the Clonaid chaos may sway crucial votes against his field.

''I'm really worried about a backlash. These [Raelian] people are really poison,'' he said.

Clonaid head Brigitte Boisselier told French television Thursday that the group would annouce the birth of a second clone, to a lesbian residing in Europe, sometime this weekend. But she also said Clonaid would take two days to decide whether to allow testing to prove the existence of the first clone.

Hanging over Clonaid's decision is the Florida lawyer's court challenge. Siegel asked a state juvenile court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to appoint a legal guardian for the child and consider placing her in state protective custody, an action available to anyone in Florida aware of ongoing endangerment of a child. Florida courts only have jurisdiction over children residing in the state. Siegel decided to file his petition in Broward County because Clonaid's press conference last week announcing the child's birth took place in the county.

''The child is a possible victim of negligent infliction of severe, permanent and possibly fatal birth defects from the cloning experiment,'' said Siegel, who has no connection to Clonaid and was acting as a private citizen. ''The child is being exploited.''

Meanwhile, Guillen reportedly has been attempting to leverage his involvement with Clonaid into a television deal. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that executives at NBC and CBS turned down the former ABC producer's pitch, questioning his credibility.

A specialist on the Raelians said she would not be surprised if the entire cloning episode was a stunt designed to attract new members and money. ''The only way they can succeed in that is to court the media,'' said Susan Palmer, religion professor at Dawson College in Montreal.

Palmer, who completed an 80-page report on the Raelians for the Vatican library, said swelling membership rolls is crucial to the sect's success. The Raelian movement claims 55,000 members, mostly in France and Canada, though Palmer said active members number far less. All members must turn over 3 percent of their income, said Palmer.

Clonaid is no stranger to questionable claims. In 1998, the group made waves by boasting it would create a cloning lab in the Bahamas. It later admitted the entire operation was a publicity ploy never amounting to more than a post office box.

''For a minimal investment, it got us media coverage worth more than $15 million. I am still laughing,'' wrote Rael about the venture in his 2001 cloning manifesto, ''Yes to Human Cloning.''

Material from the Associated Press was used for this report. Raja Mishra can be reached at rmishra@globe.com.

The Chinese discovered America

Or did they? A dubious new book offers an object lesson in amateurish research, slapdash editing and publishing greed.

By Natalie Danford

Jan. 7, 2003 | On March 15, 2002, Gavin Menzies, a retired Royal Navy submarine commanding officer, made a speech at the Royal Geographical Society in London that tipped a number of sacred cows. Menzies declared that the Chinese -- traveling on a fleet of ships under the auspices of Emperor Zhu Di -- had reached America 70 years before Columbus. They had also, he posited, seen Australia 350 years before Captain Cook and explored the Magellan Straits 60 years before Magellan was born. In fact, our long-mythologized European explorers, Menzies said, relied on maps provided by the Chinese. In other words, the heroes of the West were slowpokes and copycats.

Publishers came knocking. U.K. publisher Bantam/Transworld eagerly paid him a 500,000 pound advance for a manuscript that Menzies had previously been unable to sell, to be titled ":1421: The Year China Discovered the World." Rights were sold to William Morrow in the U.S. as well as to publishers in Japan, Germany, Italy, Taiwan and eight other countries. Forty-seven television production companies bid for the rights, with Pearson Broadband winning out for an undisclosed amount.

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – January 7, 2003

Special package of stories from the national meeting of the American Astronomical Society:

from The Los Angeles Times

Snapping the most detailed images yet of the center of the Milky Way, astronomers have captured their first glimpses of the day-to-day life of the monstrous black hole residing at our galaxy's core. They reveal a temperamental and somewhat wimpy beast that appears to be starving.

Black holes — space and time twisters that personify the extremes of physics — are among the most mysterious objects in the universe. Our neighborhood black hole is no exception. The new close-up view reveals a host of contradictions: The black hole is bigger than 3 million suns, yet it is so weak that one astronomer describes it as "a cowardly lion." And rather than slurping up massive gulps of gas and stars like normal black holes, this one appears to be on a starvation diet, subsisting only on dainty snacks of stellar wind.

"It's really quiet, uncomfortably quiet," said Mark R. Morris, a UCLA astronomer and co-leader of the team that announced the findings Monday at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

The finds are a prodigious leap in the study of a cosmic body that four years ago existed only in theory. Now, having proved that the black hole does exist, scientists are probing its most intimate details, watching it eat and burp and, at times, suffer for lack of food.


from The New York Times

Seattle -- Beyond the sun's neighborhood, out in another spiral arm of the Milky Way, scientists have found a strange, Jupiter-mass planet that orbits so close to its parent star that a year passes every 29 hours.

Temperatures there are melting hot, and the skies may be cloudy from time to time, with occasional showers of microscopic droplets of iron.

Of the more than 100 planets found thus far around stars other than the sun, this is the most distant -- at 8,000 light-years from Earth it is more than 30 times as far away as any of the others. It is the first extrasolar planet detected outside what astronomers call the local neighborhood, the Orion spiral arm.

Strange and remote as the newfound planet may be, astronomers said Monday that they were more impressed with the way it had been discovered. Since the first one was detected in 1995, all have signaled their existence by the effect of their gravitational tug on the star they orbit; it makes the star wobble slightly.


from The Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Using a new technique that will be used to search for Earthlike planets, astronomers have found a distant extrasolar planet, a bizarre place of torrid heat, with clouds and raindrops made of iron.

A team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found the planet orbiting a star 5,000 light years away by detecting the slight dimming of light caused as the planet moved between the star and telescopes on Earth.

The sophisticated technique was compared to spotting the shadow cast by a mosquito flying in front of a searchlight two hundred miles away.

More than 100 extrasolar planets -- planets orbiting stars other than the sun -- have been found by measuring a star's wobble caused by the gravity of the planet. The new discovery is the first using the new technique, called a transit search, which looks directly at the dimming light.


End of Special Package

from The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- A self-imposed deadline on a genetic testing decision has passed for a company that claims to have produced the first human clone. Still, there's been no DNA proof, and no baby is forthcoming.

The journalist who said he would oversee DNA testing to verify the company's claim said Monday he has abandoned the effort and could not rule out the possibility of "an elaborate hoax."

Officials with Clonaid, the company that announced the birth of the world's first clone on Dec. 27, first promised DNA testing, then backed off. Clonaid said the parents of the 7-pound baby girl have refused to allow it.

"The team of scientists has had no access to the alleged family and, therefore, cannot verify firsthand the claim that a human baby has been cloned," said Michael Guillen, a former ABC science editor who had offered to arrange the testing.


from The Washington Post

NEW YORK -- Nearly 16 months after the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center poured a plume of toxic debris over Lower Manhattan, the dispute only grows among scientists and physicians about the health implications for those who live and work near the site of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Two recently released studies, including one by the Environmental Protection Agency, indicate that those people are safe. But the studies say little about what the health consequences may be for those present during the first few days after the collapse. Since physicians still are treating nearby workers and residents as well as emergency personnel with medical problems, some researchers say that there is too little evidence to rule out any health implications.

"It would be foolish to say there will or will not be long-term effects," said Paul Lioy of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute. Lioy helped write one private study and reviewed the newly released EPA draft report. "All we can say is that we've stated that the risk may not be as high as people initially thought."


from The New York Times

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — The chimpanzees at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center were acting up.

Jessie, a pink-faced 20-year-old, slapped her ample belly and hooted wildly from behind a steel gate. Dover, a mischievous 4-year-old, spied an unfamiliar human and served up his standard greeting for strangers, a fistful of feces, pitched with remarkable accuracy.

Jessie and Dover do not really have to be at Yerkes, but there is nowhere else for them to go. Bred for biomedical research, they are now unemployed, a result of a vast surplus of laboratory chimpanzees. They pass their days in small steel-and-concrete enclosures, playing with burlap bags and shredding old telephone books for entertainment.

But there may be better times ahead for these great apes and hundreds of their captive kin. Acting on a mandate from Congress, the National Institutes of Health announced last year that it would spend $24 million to help build and operate a chimpanzee sanctuary, in essence, a taxpayer- supported retirement home for research chimps.


from The New York Times

When a dog goes after a sailing Frisbee — now racing, now turning, head cocked skyward — it looks like nothing so much as an outfielder chasing a fly ball. The resemblance is impossible to miss. Now researchers say it is laden with deeper similarities.

The scientists, at Arizona State University, had previously shown that outfielders navigated by keeping the ball's image moving along a straight line against its background.

Now, after a study involving a cheerful springer spaniel, Dr. Dennis M. Shaffer and his colleagues say that dogs use the same instinctive arithmetic, and they say that the similarity, while not unexpected, could shed light on questions about instinct and learning.

Of course, neither dogs nor baseball players use the strategy consciously.


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Monday, January 06, 2003

Egypt Makes Christmas a National Holiday, Highlighting Uneasy Christian-Muslim Relationship


Jan 6, 2003

By Maggie Michael
Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - A presidential decree making Christmas - which falls on Tuesday on Egypt's Coptic Christian calendar - a national holiday is focusing attention on relations between Christians and Muslims in this overwhelmingly Islamic country. It is the first time a Christian holiday has been officially recognized in modern Egypt. In the past, only Copts, as Egyptian Christians are known, got Christmas off, while the rest of Egypt worked as usual.

Reaction by some Muslims illustrates the sometimes uneasy relationship between the two faiths, according to Copts who say their identity as Egyptians and their contributions are not adequately recognized.

A statement posted on Islammemo, a Web site devoted to conservative Islamic comment, said President Hosni Mubarak made Christmas a holiday because of U.S. pressure to prove Egypt was democratic and respected minorities' rights.

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – January 6, 2003

from The Washington Post

CAPE CANAVERAL -- NASA's Galileo spacecraft, crippled by old age, suffering from hellish doses of radiation and nearly out of fuel, has completed its last major objective, all but closing out one of the most successful voyages of planetary exploration ever.

In November, seven years after braking into orbit around the solar system's largest planet, Galileo streaked past Amalthea, one of Jupiter's inner moons, and dipped deeper into the planet's seething radiation belts than ever before for a final death-defying flyby.

The radiation scrambled Galileo's computer timing circuits, sent the spacecraft into electronic hibernation and caused its tape recorder, loaded with priceless data, to freeze up. But in one more display of technical virtuosity, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., brought the spacecraft back to life and got the recorder working in time to play back a final treasure trove of data, a task they hope to complete this week.

Over the next few weeks, engineers expect to finish the job of retrieving additional data that was stored earlier. At that point, 13 years after launch and seven years after arrival at Jupiter, the Galileo mission will come to a fiery end.


from The Associated Press

BEIJING - An unmanned Chinese space capsule returned safely to Earth on Sunday, state media said, laying the groundwork for China to attempt later this year to send an astronaut into space.

A successful manned flight would make China only the third country, after Russia and the United States, able to send its own astronauts into space.

The Shenzhou IV capsule landed as planned just after 7:00 p.m. on China's northern grasslands in the Inner Mongolia region, the official Xinhua News Agency and state television said.

"Experts in charge of China's manned space program said the return of the spaceship represents a complete success of the fourth test flight of the program," Xinhua said. It said the flight "lays a solid foundation" for eventual manned missions.


from The Associated Press

SEATTLE -- In a space game of "catch me if you can," a small asteroid shares the same orbit with Earth -- sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, but never quite touching -- as the two race around the sun, astronomers say.

"This is one of the most interesting orbits for an asteroid we have ever seen," said Paul Chodas, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher who studies asteroids and who first plotted the bizarre motion of the space rock.

The asteroid, called 2002 AA29, is in a precise circular orbit that follows the same general path as the Earth around the sun. But, like a mouse teasing a cat, the asteroid sometimes speeds up and precedes the Earth and then later slows to drop into a follow-the-leader approach.

But never will the two meet, Chodas says.

On Wednesday, the asteroid makes its closest approach to the Earth in almost a century, moving within 3.7 million miles.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Many biologists view stem cells as perhaps the most promising new development since the advent of genetic engineering. New research centers are being established at Stanford University and UCSF, spurred in part by a California law encouraging the sometimes controversial research.

Now, the Burnham Institute, an independent research center in La Jolla (San Diego County), is jumping into the mix, beginning a new stem cell initiative under the direction of Dr. Evan Snyder, a top stem cell expert at Harvard University.

Snyder was interviewed by Chronicle Science Writer Carl T. Hall during his move to the West Coast:

Q. Why leave Harvard?

A. The Burnham Institute decided to make a major assault on understanding stem cell biology. They call it a Manhattan Project for stem cells. So that was very appealing. They are going to be doing this by putting a lot of intellectual, fund-raising and administrative firepower behind it.


from The Wall Street Journal

Psst. Want a piece of the hot baby-cloning story?

Even before the company linked to the UFO-worshiping Raelian movement touched off a news frenzy with its claim of creating the first cloned human, media-savvy cloning teams were demanding extravagant sums from reporters and filmmakers in exchange for exclusive access to their alleged experiments.

Giancarlo Calzolari, a free-lance Italian journalist, has offered to arrange an interview with another self-styled cloning pioneer, Severino Antinori, for a fee of $100,000. Mr. Calzolari says he is a close friend of Dr. Antinori, an Italian fertility doctor who has promised to unveil a cloned human baby early this year.

That price tag was too steep for Soren Hojlund Carlsen, a Danish journalism student who traveled to Rome in December to interview Dr. Antinori for a documentary film at his Rome clinic. Instead, Mr. Carlsen settled for an interview with Mr. Calzolari. Mr. Calzolari tells journalists he has a written statement from Dr. Antinori he will sell for 500 euros ($518.05).


from The Washington Post

Does the Clonaid crowd deserve any coverage?

That's the question reverberating in media circles in the wake of the group's spectacular – and totally unproven – claim of having cloned two baby girls, the latest on Friday.

Why, you might wonder, did the cable networks give live coverage to a wacky bunch who believe the human race was cloned by space aliens? Why did the nation's newspapers give substantial space to the followers of Rael, a former race car driver who says he was taken aboard a spaceship and entertained by voluptuous female robots?

The cloniacs and their space-cadet spokeswoman, Brigitte Boisselier, brought zero evidence to the table, even though they knew their claim would be greeted with fierce skepticism. No picture of the baby. No names for the parents. No DNA samples, no medical records, no nothing. Just the promise of some evidence down the road, to be validated by a former ABC newsman who once did a series that took seriously claims for astrology, ESP and moving objects through thought. And even as television shows have rushed to interview Rael – who insisted that CNN's Connie Chung call him "Your Holiness" – the group keeps making excuses for why the promised DNA tests haven't materialized.


from The Washington Post

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Jan. 5 -- Los Alamos National Laboratory's next director must do a better job telling the public about the lab's failures as well as its successes, outgoing director John Browne said.

Browne, 60, has resigned, effective Monday, amid a growing number of government investigations into charges of widespread theft and fraud at the nuclear weapons lab.

Browne, a physicist, said last week he was not pressured to quit by federal officials or the University of California, which runs the lab for the Energy Department.

Browne said university President Richard Atkinson told him during a Dec. 23 conversation the lab may need a "management change" to address its problems.


from The New York Times

Hot on the scent of a suspected terrorist? Darpa — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — hopes to give literal meaning to the phrase. It wants someone to develop a sniffing machine that can detect individuals by their body odor.

The idea is not as rank as it may seem. Dogs are said, at least by dog handlers, to recognize the scents of individual people. Researchers have found that mice can detect from body odor and urine how closely they are related to one another, a useful way to avoid inbreeding.

So Darpa, the grand patron of exotic military arts (not everything it does works, but it did have a hand in creating the precursor of the Internet), is soliciting "innovative proposals to (1) determine whether genetically- determined odortypes can be used to identify specific individuals, and if so (2) to develop the science and enabling technology for detecting and identifying specific individuals by such odortypes."


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Tolkien manuscript struggle revealed


An academic who discovered a lost JRR Tolkien manuscript had to contend with obsessive fans and "strange" lingering resentments to get it published, he has said.

Professor Michael Drout came across Tolkien's translation of eighth century epic Beowulf in an Oxford University library six years ago.

The Lord of the Rings author had written the 2,000-page translation and appraisal, called Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics, for a British Academy lecture in 1936.

It has now been published in the United States - but only after an epic struggle against the fears of Tolkien's estate that the author's legacy might be exploited, and the intrusion of some fans.

"I now know more than I ever wanted to about the difficulties of editing a 20th Century manuscript, about copyright regulations, about the strange personal and academic resentments that still lurk in various quarters nearly 30 years after Tolkien's death," Prof Drout said.

"Taken all together, it has been the most joyful and fulfilling experience I've had in academia, but the learning curve was very, very steep."

It was unfortunate that there were some obsessive fans who "whose attention one attracts by working on anything related to Tolkien", he added.

The late author's estate was initially reluctant to give permission for Prof Drout to publish the translation because so many people try to exploit Tolkien's legacy.

The estate has turned down ideas for everything from Tolkien coffins to Hobbit slippers, Prof Drout said.

"The sheer number of people who were trying to profit from Tolkien's work was astonishing, and the problems with copyright violation and outright theft were like nothing I had ever encountered in medieval studies," he said.

Tolkien's original lecture is credited with changing the tide of opinion from looking at Beowulf as bad history to great poetry.

Prof Drout also said The Lord of the Rings was heavily influenced by the Old English classic, with orcs, elves and a talking tree all borrowed from the Anglo Saxon story.

On Friday, some of the author's biggest fans were celebrating Tolkien's 111th - or "eleventy-first" - birthday.

It is the age that hobbit Bilbo Baggins celebrated at the start of The Lord of the Rings, and was described in the book as "a rather curious number and a very respectable age for a hobbit".

The Tolkien Society encouraged fans to drink a toast to the writer at 2100 GMT, and is producing a DVD of fans celebrating around the world.

Thousands flock to church after Virgin Mary painting starts to cry

From Ananova at


Thousands of people have flocked to a small Romanian church after two men said they had seen the Virgin Mary 'crying' in a painting.

A delegation from the Romanian Orthodox Church arrived at a church in the village of Musetesti, west Romania, to investigate the claims made by the two workers.

The pair, who have not been named, said they first saw the Virgin Mary crying on January 2.

Local parish priest Aurel Chiana said the tears had been seen for four consecutive days after that.

He told local media: "It is a sign from God, but I cannot say if it's a good or bad sign."

The delegation is continuing investigations into the claims and taking statements from other people who say they saw the Virgin Mary crying.

The claims come just weeks after reports of tears coming from a statue of the Virgin Mary in a church in Giurgiu, southern Romania.

Texas Ministry Warns of Popular Televangelist's Shenanigans


By Allie Martin
January 3, 2003

(AgapePress) - A spokesman for Benny Hinn Ministries is dismissing a recent national news report which questioned the ministry's fundraising practices, financial accountability, and claims of physical healings.

The story ran last week on NBC's Dateline and was the result of a two-year undercover investigation into Hinn and his worldwide ministry. Dateline producers and reporters interviewed former Hinn employees who claimed the televangelist's main priority is bringing in millions of dollars to finance a lavish personal lifestyle.

Included in the report were details of Hinn's plans to build a $3 million house on the West Coast. The show also featured several people who claimed to have been healed at Hinn crusades, only to die a short time later.

Ole Anthony runs the Texas-based Trinity Foundation, which investigates televangelists. He says Christians need to think twice before supporting Hinn's ministry.

"There are thousands and thousands of people that follow him all over the country [who are] severely disabled in wheelchairs that go because they believe the next crusade is going to be where their healing is going to happen," Anthony says. "Well, that's just not scriptural."

Anthony says NBC's report should serve as a warning for Christians. "An organization similar to ours in England did a study of the people who go to these crusades over and over," he explains. "When they leave, within two or three days after the crusade they're depressed -- and they can't wait until the next crusade so they can get un-depressed [sic].

"That's not what Christianity is about -- Christianity is about peace that passes understanding," Anthony says.

Although he would not agree to an interview, a spokesman for Benny Hinn said the Dateline report found no incriminating evidence against the ministry.

ฉ 2003 AgapePress all rights reserved.

News outlets failed dismally in reporting on Clonaid


By Art Caplan, Ph.D.

Jan. 3 — I do not believe chemist Brigitte Boisselier and her cloning company Clonaid, which is sponsored by the manifestly crazy cult known as the Raelians, have created a clone. I do believe that a number of negative ramifications have resulted since Boisselier appeared just after Christmas in a tacky Hollywood, Fla., motel room to announce to the world that the first cloned human had been born. And the blame for these unfortunate events must be laid squarely at the feet of the media.

Goodbye, Columbus!

Gavin Menzies is an amateur historian with a bold new book declaring that the Chinese discovered the New World in 1421. Was there really a Chinese junk near Sacramento?


The New York Times Magazine
January 5, 2003

"The evidence is massive,'' said Gavin Menzies of his new theory. ''I've got it coming out of my eyes!'' His voice was filled with excitement, just as you'd expect from someone propounding one of the most revolutionary ideas in the history of history. A retired navy man with white hair, Menzies still has a hint of red in the eyebrows that frame his ocean-blue eyes. Dressed in a handsome sports jacket and tie, he cheerfully invited me into his stately Georgian house in the Canonbury section of London. What he had to say, his publicists had warned me in breathless e-mail messages, would make ''every history book in print obsolete.''

Menzies' book, ''1421,'' boldly asserts that the Chinese discovered America 70 years before Columbus. Riding the tube out to his house, I saw ''1421'' promoted on the billboards at the station stops, alongside Eminem's new album and J. Lo's latest movie. The London papers have feverishly debated Menzies' radical thesis since its publication in November; his book will finally arrive here in the New World later this week, accompanied by a huge publicity campaign from its American publisher, William Morrow.

Jack Hitt, a contributing writer for the magazine, last wrote about environmentalist mercenaries.

"People who rely on Internet polls are relying on a false indicator."


Sun Jan 5, 4:14 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats and Republicans alike turned to the Internet for news during last fall's elections, but conservatives were more likely to weigh in on online polls, according to a study released on Sunday.

The nonprofit Pew Internet and American Life project found that the Internet continued to grow as a source of news and political information during the Nov. 5 midterm elections, as more users turned to their computers to look up news and research candidate positions than in the last midterm election four years ago.

But television remained the dominant medium, commanding the attention of 66 percent of adults on election night, the study of 2,745 adults found.

The Internet served as the primary source of election news for only 7 percent of the population.

Voters from across the political spectrum turned to the Internet for more detailed information, such as candidate positions and voting records, that they could not find on television.

Web sites of prominent national news organizations such as CNN and the New York Times drew the largest audiences.

Nearly half of Republicans who went online for election news said they liked to register their opinions in online polls, compared with 28 percent of Democrats.

Web sites that operate online polls should take the results with a grain of salt, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet project.

"They very much skew toward more conservative views," Rainie said. "People who rely on Internet polls are relying on a false indicator."

Fewer people turned to the Internet for political news in 2002 than during the 2000 presidential election, the survey found, mirroring voter-turnout figures.

But the survey found a significant jump over the last midterm election in 1998, with 22 percent of Internet users seeking out political information, compared with 15 percent four years ago.

Gallup Poll on Republican & Democrat use of news sources: http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr030106.asp

Sunday, January 05, 2003



Medical researchers gain more insight into what directly causes heart disease--discoveries that are helping them develop more effective treatments.

Available Online NOW for ONLY $5.00

Dear Scientific American Enthusiast,

What is your New Year's resolution? Cutting back on your drinking, quitting smoking or getting more exercise? Such lifestyle changes go a long way towards warding off heart disease, one of the leading causes of death among adults around the world. In this special online issue from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, Tackling Major Killers: Heart Disease, Peter Libby explains the latest ideas about how blood vessels deteriorate in the case of atherosclerosis, and Rakesh K. Jain and Peter F. Carmeliet describe how, by manipulating angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels, researchers may find drugs to treat the condition. Alternatively, other authors explore the history of defibrillation; operations to treat cardiac arrhythmias; new procedures for coronary bypass surgery; and, when all other interventions have failed, the use of artificial hearts.
Download your copy today.

A year after doctors began implanting the AbioCor in dying patients, the prospects of the device are uncertain

Coronary bypass surgery can be a lifesaving operation. Two new surgical techniques should make the procedure safer and less expensive

To save the life of a doomed patient, the author and his colleagues developed a now standard surgical procedure for correcting lethally fast heartbeats in many people susceptible to them

In the 50 years since doctors first used electricity to restart the human heart, we have learned much about defibrillators

It causes chest pain, heart attack and stroke, leading to more deaths every year than cancer. The long-held conception of how the disease develops turns out to be wrong

VESSELS OF DEATH OR LIFE by Rakesh K. Jain and Peter F. Carmeliet
Angiogenesis -- the formation of new blood vessels -- might one day be manipulated to treat disorders from cancer to heart disease. First-generation drugs are now in the final phase of human testing

[healthfraud] Bernie Segal

From: Thomas J Wheeler As J.A. Lyons has pointed out, the letter writer has almost certainly confused (Bernie) Segal with David Spiegel, who published a famous study showing enhanced survival of breast cancer patients participating in a support group (Speigel et al. (1989) Lancet 2:888-891). However, a recent attempt to replicate this result found no differences:
Goodwin, Pamela J.; Leszcz, Molyn; Ennis, Marguerite; Koopmans, Jan; Vincent, Leslie; Guther, Helaine; Drysdale, Elaine; Hundleby, Marilyn; Chochinov, Harvey M.; Navarro, Margaret; Speca, Michael; Hunter, Jonathan.

The Effect of Group Psychosocial Support on Survival in Metastatic Breast Cancer

New England Journal of Medicine. 345(24):1719-1726, December 13, 2001.


Background: Supportive-expressive group therapy has been reported to prolong survival among women with metastatic breast cancer. However, in recent studies, various psychosocial interventions have not prolonged survival.

Methods: In a multicenter trial, we randomly assigned 235 women with metastatic breast cancer who were expected to survive at least three months in a 2:1 ratio to an intervention group that participated in weekly supportive-expressive group therapy (158 women) or to a control group that received no such intervention (77 women). All the women received educational materials and any medical or psychosocial care that was deemed necessary. The primary outcome was survival; psychosocial function was assessed by self-reported questionnaires.

Results: Women assigned to supportive-expressive therapy had greater improvement in psychological symptoms and reported less pain (P=0.04) than women in the control group. A significant interaction of treatment-group assignment with base-line psychological score was found (P lessthan/equal 0.003 for the comparison of mood variables; P=0.04 for the comparison of pain); women who were more distressed benefited, whereas those who were less distressed did not. The psychological intervention did not prolong survival (median survival, 17.9 months in the intervention group and 17.6 months in the control group; hazard ratio for death according to the univariate analysis, 1.06 [95 percent confidence interval, 0.78 to 1.45]; hazard ratio according to the multivariate analysis, 1.23 [95 percent confidence interval, 0.88 to 1.72]).

Conclusions: Supportive-expressive group therapy does not prolong survival in women with metastatic breast cancer. It improves mood and the perception of pain, particularly in women who are initially more distressed.

The authors noted that two other "recent randomized trials of two different psychosocial interventions for women with metastatic breast cancer did not show that group therapy prolongs survival, although transient positive effects on mood and self-esteem were found. Results of other randomized studies of psychosocial interventions in cancer patients have been inconsistent."

In an editorial in the same issue (N Engl J Med 345, 1767-1768), Spiegel gave two possible reasons for the differences between his study and the new one. First, medical treatment of breast cancer has improved. Second, there is now much better psychosocial support for cancer patients, such that the control groups now receive such support from other sources, and the support groups would be expected to have less impact.

The bottom line from these and other studies of mind-body interventions for cancer seems to be that they are worth doing from the standpoint of improving the quality of life of cancer patients, but they have little or no impact on survival rates.

Thomas J. Wheeler, Ph.D. tjwheeler@louisville.edu
Associate Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
University of Louisville School of Medicine

Alternative medicine reading list:
NEW! 2002 updates now complete

Top Dogs


Dogs can read the human mind. This is something every dog owner knows. Dogs seem to sense when you need them. They go where you want them to.

Now a new experiment is revealing why this is so, providing a scientific window into the mind of a dog. Dogs, it turns out, have a special ability to understand human body language -- following our gaze to a hidden cache of food, for example. Surprisingly, they are even better at this than chimpanzees, our closest living animal relatives.

Bigfoot believers


Legitimate scientific study of legend gains backing of top primate experts

By Theo Stein
Denver Post Environment Writer

Sunday, January 05, 2003 - EDMONDS, Wash. - After enduring decades of ridicule, Bigfoot researchers are enjoying support from some of the world's most respected scientists in their efforts to prove the hulking creatures of legend are no myth.

The persistence of reported sightings of Bigfoot-type creatures in North America and elsewhere has convinced leading researchers on primates - including Jane Goodall, made famous by her studies of chimpanzees in Tanzania - to call for something never seriously considered before: a legitimate scientific study to determine whether the greatest apes that ever lived persist in the world's moist mountainous regions

Search for Bigfoot Outlives the Man Who Created Him


January 3, 2003


SEATTLE, Jan. 2 — No region in the country has a lower percentage of churchgoers than the Pacific Northwest. But ask people here about the existence of a camera-resistant, grooming-challenged, upright biped known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch and the true believers shout to the misty heavens in affirmation.

So it came as a considerable blow when the children of Ray L. Wallace announced that their prank-loving pop had created the modern myth of Bigfoot when he used a pair of carved wooden feet to stomp a track of oversized footprints in a Northern California logging camp in 1958. Mr. Wallace, 84, died on Nov. 26 at a nursing home in Centralia, Wash.

"This wasn't a well-planned plot or anything," said Michael Wallace, one of Ray's sons. "It's weird because it was just a joke, and then it took on such a life of its own that even now, we can't stop it."



by Peter Bower
28 November


From discussions with various colleagues:

It is more than likely that the four pieces of GURNEY IVORY LAID paper, that have been identified as coming from the same batch of paper (ie: 2 Sickert letters and 2 Ripper letters) actually come from a much smaller group of sheets than was originally thought.

The practice at many small manufacturing stationers, such as LePard & Smirths, who produced this paper, when they were producing relatively small runs of papers such as personal stationery, was as follows:

The sheets were roughly guillotined to size and then folded and divided into quires of twenty-four sheets.

Each individual quire of paper was then given a final bim in a hand-fed guillotine.

Every guillotining would produce very slightly different bims.

The match between the short edge cuts on the four identified sheets shows they came from the same quire of paper.

The four identified letters came from a group of 24 sheets.

Physics News Update 619

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 619 January 3, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

X-RATED INTERFEROMETRY. The appearance of an x-ray interference pattern in a Fabry-Perot interferometer has been achieved, for the first time, by a group of physicists at the University of Hamburg (Yuri Shvyd'ko, yuri.shvydko@desy.de, 49-40-8998-2200). This might lead to a new generation of x-ray optical devices, such as high-resolution x-ray spectral filters, or x-ray clocks, and, more important still, a new way of calibrating length measurements at the atomic scale. X-rays are a potent type of electromagnetic radiation, with a much higher energy and smaller wavelength than visible light. But because x-rays are so potent and because they see various materials as having essentially the same indices of refraction, x-rays are much harder to reflect at a surface. Indeed, x-ray telescopes in orbit use only grazing-incidence (reflected through an angle of a milliradian or less) mirrors to focus x-rays on a detector.

In the last few years, though, the scientists in Hamburg have succeeded in reflecting x-ray light directly backwards with special sapphire (Al2O3) mirrors; the price for this high-angle reflectivity (other than the difficulty of preparing faultless crystalline mirrors) is that the reflection occurs only for an extremely narrow spectral range (x-ray color), precluding the mirrors' use in telescopes, where x-radiation over a broad range is important. In the Hamburg device, an x-ray version of a Fabry-Perot Interferometer (FPI), the reflecting waves will resonate if the cavity between two exquisitely polished mirrors is a multiple of the radiation half-wavelength. Light entering the cavity bounces back and forth between the mirrors producing multiple sub-waves emerging from the cavity. Their interference shows up as a modulation in the radiation that exits the cavity, both on time and wavelength scales. The Fabry-Perot interference pattern provides a means of measuring of the x-ray wavelength, and this provides an opportunity for creating a new, higher-precision, length standard. Currently the most accurate way to measure x-ray wavelength is to produce a Bragg scattering pattern by sending x rays into a silicon crystal, whose lattice spacing (the distance between atoms) is known with an uncertainty of about one part in 6 x 10^-8.

There is, however, a nuclear process related to the Mossbauer effect which produces x-rays (better known as Mossbauer radiation) with an extraordinarily narrow spectral line. The most familiar is the Mossbauer radiation originating from the decay of the first excited state of 57-Fe nuclei. The radiation wavelength of about 0.086 nm is perfectly suited for atomic scale measurements. Its stability, about one part in 10^-15, is comparable to the best cesium fountain clocks. If Mossbauer x rays could be used to calibrate an FPI device capable of operating in both x-ray and visible ranges, then this could facilitate a stable, reproducible, wavelength (and hence length) standard far better than is possible (about one part in 3 x 10^-11) with, say, helium-neon lasers.

An important step toward this goal has now been attained in the experiments of the Hamburg group conducted at synchrotron radiation facilities including the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne (near Chicago) and HASYLAB at DESY (near Hamburg). The x-rays, from the synchrotron-radiation sources, were chosen to be as similar to Mossbauer rays as possible. For the first time, interference patterns in a Fabry-Perot interferometer have been observed for x-rays. From the attenuation time of the multiple sub-waves emerging from the cavity, the spectral sharpness of the Fabry-Perot interference fringes was estimated to be less than a micro-electron-volt. This is more than 100 times better than the best x-ray crystal monochromators can do. (Shvyd'ko et al., upcoming article in Physical Review Letters; accompanying figure will be posted on Jan 6 at www.aip.org/mgr/png ; see also related PRL article, 17 July 2002; http://focus.aps.org/story/v6/st2 )

FEASIBLE CHAOTIC ENCRYPTION. Encryption schemes that hide messages in chaotic signals have attracted attention in recent years as a means to transmit information securely (Update 170, 361), but most work has been either theoretical or strictly limited to laboratory experiments. Now a group of researchers in Beijing have managed to demonstrate chaotically encrypted, two-way voice transmission through the Beijing Normal University computer network. With a 32-bit encryption structure, a 750 MHz personal computer can encode information at speeds comparable to the widely recognized Advanced Encryption Standard, and support voice communication at typical telephone speeds and quality. While no encryption technique is absolutely impenetrable, the researchers (Hu Gang, Beijing Normal University, hugang@sun.ihep.ac.cn, 86-10-62208420) explain that their communication scheme is reasonably secure (it would take an intruder armed with a personal computer more than a million times the lifetime of the universe to break the code) as well as being feasible in realistic, commercial settings. (S. Wang et al., Physical Review E, 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.

TIME STORMS by Jenny Randles

review by Mac Tonnies

"Time Storms" is a brisk, thought-provoking, and thoroughly arresting re-examination of the UFO enigma. Randles argues that some atmospheric anomalies, thought by many to represent alien visitors, are in truth natural phenomena that displace space and time. Randles rounds out her thesis with chapters on synchronicity, theoretical physics, and abundant casefiles.

Randles' book is a model assessment of contemporary forteana that raises fascinating questions. Also recommended: "Visitors from Time" by Marc Davenport, "The Holographic Universe" by Michael Talbot, and "Electric UFOs" by Albert Budden (see review below).

For more: http://www.mactonnies.com/ufobooks.html

Mystery surrounds photos of Mt. Herman UFO


By J.D. Cash - December 29, 2002

Veteran pilot Luis Monroy's stare was a mixture of disbelief and curiosity. At his shoulder, senior helicopter mechanic and Weyerhaeuser flight-crew member, Gene Roberts, smiled as the first photo was brought up on the computer screen. Outside the Jeep near Eagletown, three men stared through rain-soaked windows at the mysterious image on display.

I found the team working in the mountains near Broken Bow Lake, operating from a makeshift heliport owned and managed by the Weyerhaeuser Company. It was a miserable afternoon to be flying. Low clouds and a steady drizzle were closing down visibility when I pulled into the remote camp. In spite of this nasty weather the crew was slogging through mud – intent on putting in a full day spreading thousands of pounds of fertilizer on carefully marked sections of pine plantation.

The fertilizer spreader was a sleek multimillion-dollar Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.

Earlier a radio call from the crew's headquarters at De Queen, Ark., let the team know I was coming with some photographs to look at and some questions to ask. If there was a sensible explanation for the unusual images stored in the computer, I felt these men would have it. Weyerhaeuser flight crews are regularly in the air over the corporation's 500,000-acre Oklahoma investment. Surely this experienced group could explain away the apparent evidence that a so-called UFO had been operating in a remote section of McCurtain County. After all, everyone knows there's no such thing as alien spaceships.

Just as I pulled up to the team's ground support equipment, the green and white chopper turned back to the clearing and settled in. As soon as the rotors stopped, the pilot emerged and headed over with the rest of his crew in tow.

With the first photograph (7054) displayed on the laptop computer, I began explaining the origins of the photos, but didn't get far.

Monroy spoke as he pointed at the screen, "I've never seen anything like that cloud." Then in a slow, deliberate voice the pilot surmised, "That thing … it's putting off heat, maybe. Something is going on. It's doing something to make those clouds open and swirl around. I've never seen this before."

Then came the question I'd been waiting to ask: Could that blue ball be a helicopter coming though that hole in the cloud cover? Roberts broke in while Monroy shook his head, "Oh no, of course not. What's in that picture is no helicopter and it's not an airplane or weather balloon." With 20 years experience flying and repairing military and civilian helicopters, Roberts added cryptically, "Whatever that is – it's not something the general public knows about. I've seen some photos of military jets blowing small holes in clouds when they broke the sound barrier. But those photos don't compare with what you have. That hole is huge and that's no jet!"

Monroy nodded agreement. "That's not any helicopter or airplane we know about. Whatever that is, it's got tremendous power to do what it's doing to those clouds. Maybe the military has something new they're testing around here."

After reviewing the second photo in the series (7055), Roberts commented on the remarkable picture of a mysterious object being trailed by clouds of bright blue vapors: "That's right out of a Stephen Spielberg movie," he said.

The last photo (7056) – appearing to show the blue object racing back into the hole in the clouds – only brought stunned silence from the spellbound audience. After an hour discussing the photos in the collection, the team agreed: In all their years of flying and working in these mountains, none of the men had seen anything that might explain the cloud anomaly or blue object in the photographs.

And they weren't alone.

For the past several weeks, I have been trying to determine what the blue object in three consecutive photographs was, and what caused the strange hole in the clouds over Mt. Herman that morning.

Satellite photographs of this region place the approximate location of the cloud anomaly quite close to the McCurtain County Wilderness Area – a 23-square-mile, heavily wooded and rugged mountain region, about six miles east of U.S. 259.

Set aside for conservation purposes by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1918, much of the vast wilderness area is on the east side of the Mountain Fork River and strictly off limits to the public without special written permission from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. While curiosity seekers do sneak in and wander around the fringes of the wilderness area from time to time, a more remote location in the southern U.S. would be hard to find.

Here's the rest of the story

A New Year's Message from Paul Kurtz

The year 2002 proved to be a year of unprecedented growth for CSICOP, the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, the Council for Secular Humanism, FREE INQUIRY, and the Center for Inquiry. The ten magazines that we publish at the Center have hit an all-time high in circulation. Moreover, our activities have accelerated, with the sheer number of speaking engagements, meetings, seminars, media interviews of our staff, not only in North America, but worldwide. Our aim is to provide a dissenting voice in the present world of irrational claims. We are committed to science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and the examination of affirmative ethical alternatives. And we have attempted very hard to defend this outlook with vigor and courage.

Some of the high points of the year 2002 and some of the prospects for 2003 are as follows:

The Center for Inquiry has appointed Dr. William Cooke to Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry's new Commission for Transnational Cooperation. Dr. Cooke (and his wife Bobbie) come to us from New Zealand, where he edited the New Zealand Rationalist (now renamed Open Society). Born in Kenya, he has traveled worldwide and is familiar with skepticism, freethought, rationalism, and secular humanism. Among our international Centers are those in Germany, France, Russia, Nepal, India, Peru, Mexico, and Africa. The Center for Inquiry and its affiliated organizations have provided substantial funds to support these Centers worldwide and will continue to do so in the future. We look forward to vigorous growth and development of new Centers, whether humanist or skeptical or both, in other countries of the world.

The Center for Inquiry Institute hosted its first expanded summer school in July 2002. It provided, for the first time, college credit, in cooperation with the State University of New York (Empire State College). Students from Malaysia, Uganda, Australia, and Russia attended the conference. A similar program will be held July 6-20, 2003. The faculty will include noted skeptics Professor Richard Wiseman from the United Kingdom and Professor Barry Beyerstein from Vancouver, Canada. The course will be "The Psychology of Belief." The second course, "Reason and Ethics," will be taught by Austin Dacey with other faculty. An exchange program with Moscow State University will bring students from Russia. Students and Research Fellows from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world are expected to participate. Again, course credit is offered for those wishing to avail themselves of it.

In August 2002 a popular course for skeptics was conducted at the University of Oregon by Professor Ray Hyman and colleagues. This will again be offered at University of Oregon August 14-17, 2003.

CSICOP hosted a World Skeptics Congress in June 2002 in Burbank, California, attended by 500 participants from twenty-three countries, including a large delegation from China (headed by Dr. Lin Zixin), India (Sanal Edamaruku), and skeptics from Latin America (Mario Mendez Acosta from M้xico, Manuel Paz y Mi๑o from Per), etc.

A special Congress in Washington, D.C., will be convened April 11-13, 2003, coordinated by Dr. Edward Buckner, on the topic "One Nation Without God: Secularism, Society and Justice." Among the speakers will be Christopher Hitchens, Michael Newdow, Peter Beinart (Editor of The New Republic), Julia Sweeney (of Saturday Night Live), Ibn Warraq, Eugenie Scott, Rob Tielman (Commissioner of Education of the Netherlands), Eddie Tabash, and others.

The Campus Freethought Alliance hosted over 100 debates and seminars on college campuses. The debates drew thousands and thousands of students. There are now 137 groups on various campuses in North America and throughout the world. and new ones are being added every month.

CSH also cosponsored a special program commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Sidney Hook at the City University of New York in October 2002, which received widespread press attention in The New York Times and The New Yorker to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other media. Among those who participated were Nathan Glazer, Arthur Schlessinger Jr., and Cornell West. The proceedings will be published in 2003 by Prometheus Books in a special collection to be edited by Matthew Cotter, Robert Talisse, and Robert Tempio.

CSH also sponsored a meeting of the Society of Humanist Philosophers at the American Philosophical Association, December 29th, in Philadelphia. The topic under discussion was the writings of Professor Richard Gale, a naturalistic philosopher from Pittsburgh, with criticisms by four theists. A similar meeting will be held in December 2003 at the American Philosophical Association.

A new Center for Inquiry was launched in Tampa, Florida, at the end of 2002. Its first major conference will be held February, 7-9, 2003. A distinguished list of speakers will participate.

The Center for Inquiry-MetroNY announced its decision to expand into new offices in the city of Manhattan.

The media impact of the Center continues very strong, especially noted are the interviews by Joe Nickell in the December New Yorker and Paul Kurtz in The New York Times. TV. Several hundred radio shows and press interviews featured members of the staff, including Ed Buckner, Tom Flynn, Joe Nickell, Paul Kurtz, Katherine Bourdonnay, Jim Underdown, Barry Seidman, Norm Allen, Ben Radford, Kevin Christopher, DJ Grothe.

CSH sponsored the TV series Humanist Perspective, moderated by Joe Beck. This continues to play in cities coast to coast.

CSICOP participated in the TV series on Discovery in late 2002 called Critical Eye, hosted by moderator William B. Davis of The X-Files. These programs will continue in early 2003.

The National Media Center is expected to be completed in Hollywood, California in early 2003 and will be a showcase not only for the media, but also for people in Southern California.

The Religious Right continues its attack on science, reason, and especially secular humanism. Skepticism is constantly engulfed by paranormal programs in the mass media. Thus we strive mightily to respond.

The worsening economy has had a serious impact on nonprofit organizations such as those affiliated with the Center for Inquiry. The conflict with terrorism, an impending new war in the Middle East, and the possible decline of civil liberties in the United States are indeed worrisome. In spite of this, we have managed to survive, and we look forward with great anticipation to continue our efforts as virtually the lone voice in the cacophonic din. Our mission is to burn bright the candle in the dark-and to keep alive the light of reason and freedom.

Paul Kurtz
Chairman, CSICOP, CSH, CFI

Astrologer Sydney Omarr Dies at 76


The Associated Press
Friday, January 3, 2003; 4:00 AM

LOS ANGELES –– Astrologer Sydney Omarr, whose horoscopes appear in more than 200 newspapers across the nation, has died. He was 76.

Omarr, who was blinded and paralyzed from the neck down by multiple sclerosis, died Thursday at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica of complications from a heart attack, the Los Angeles Times reported. His ex-wife, assistants and several close friends were by his side.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Rael Religion?  'Cultist' Cloning Advocates Test Definitions of Faith


By Geraldine Sealey

Jan. 3

— If Claude Vorilhon is right, Dec. 13, 1973, was a big day for the planet Earth.

That's when 4-foot, dark-haired, olive-skinned extraterrestrials appeared to Vorilhon at a volcano in France and told him they created human life in their image using DNA, he says.

The scientifically advanced visitors, known as Elohim, supposedly stayed in contact with humans through the years via prophets such as Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, says Vorilhon, now 56 and a former car-racing journalist.

Now known as Rael, Vorilhon seeks to spread a message of science and spirituality and build an embassy for the extraterrestrials in Jerusalem. Last week, much of the world was introduced to the Quebec-based Raelian movement when the group claimed to have created the first human clone — a step toward achieving eternal life, they believe.

Since then, Raelians have been widely ridiculed as cultists. Indeed, many practices and beliefs of this sect stray far from the mainstream: the UFO theme park, the emphasis on open sexuality, and the leader himself, who wears his hair in a bun perched on his balding head.

But just how much more far-fetched is Raelianism from other faiths? Just the thought of comparing Raelian beliefs to Christianity, Judaism or Islam surely raises sacrilegious flags for many, despite the freedom of religion encoded in the Constitution.

Many religious scholars, though, see a broader definition of religion — and the Raelians fit it, they say, just as Scientologists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons do.

Instead of the word "cult," considered by religious scholars to be the most derogatory term of their field, modern sects are known as "new religious movements" in academic lingo. Just because a belief system is young does not make it wrong, scholars say.

After all, the Romans once considered Christians superstitious for not worshipping the emperor, said Frank K. Flinn, religion professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "Yesterday's cult is tomorrow's religion," he said.

Parents of Cloned Baby Question Whether to Allow DNA Testing, Clonaid Says

Jan 3, 2003

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - The scientist who rocked the world with her announcement of the first human clone one week ago is now backing off promises of DNA testing to prove it.

Brigitte Boisselier, the chemist who heads Clonaid, which claims to have produced the clone, told a French television station Thursday that no DNA sample has been taken and the parents of the baby are reluctant.

"The parents told me that they needed 48 hours to decide yes or no - if they would do it," Boisselier told TV station France-2 in an interview. Many experts have expressed skepticism about the cloning claims. Clonaid was launched by a religious sect that believes life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials using genetic engineering.

[Editor's note: Does anybody besides me have a problem with the word parents in associatiation with a clone?]

Experts have said they need DNA proof to believe claims by Boisselier, who is a bishop in the Raelian sect. Last week she said test results should be ready in eight or nine days proving the baby is a clone of the 31-year-old American woman who is also the mother. But now she says the parents are reconsidering the DNA testing because of legal action taken in Florida that could result in the child being taken away from them.

Miami attorney Bernard F. Siegel asked a court in Florida this week to turn the baby over to state care if it found the baby's health was in danger. Though Clonaid has kept secret the baby's whereabouts, the company held its news conference in Hollywood, Fla., to announce the birth of the baby. Siegel said that could give the court jurisdiction.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Michael Guillen, a freelance journalist and former ABC-TV science editor who was arranging the DNA testing, were not successful. A spokeswoman for Clonaid said she was not familiar with Boisselier's broadcast remarks and was unable to comment. AP-ES-01-03-03 1157EST

This story can be found at: http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGA0TDJDIAD.html

Science In the News

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

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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 – January 3, 2003

from The Washington Post

The orangutans in central Borneo like to "surf" down dead trees for fun, grabbing hold of a safety line at the last second. The orangutans in western Borneo, on the other hand, express annoyance by pressing a leaf against their pursed mouths to make a loud kissing sound.

While some orangutans bite through vines to execute highly unusual "Tarzan" techniques, others appear to have "Martha Stewart" tendencies: They repeatedly arrange pillows of twigs in unique patterns that seem to have no practical purpose.

From these diverse behaviors, which are each shared by small groups of orangutans but not the entire species, scientists have concluded that the origins of "culture" go back 14 million years, twice as long as previously estimated.

The discovery brings the number of species who are known to have "culture" to a grand total of three -- orangutans, chimpanzees and humans. That number may well be larger -- or smaller -- depending on how culture is defined.


from The New York Times

The director of the nation's pre-eminent nuclear weapons laboratory has resigned amid investigations of corruption and missing equipment, officials said yesterday.

John C. Browne, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico since November 1997, submitted his resignation on Dec. 23, according to the University of California, which manages the laboratory for the Department of Energy. Joseph Salgado, the laboratory's principal deputy director, also resigned. The resignations will take effect on Monday.

George P. Nanos, a retired Navy vice admiral who is a deputy associate director at Los Alamos, will become interim director while the university looks for a permanent replacement.

"These changes reflect the university's deep concern about the allegations that have been made about Los Alamos business practices and our absolute and steadfast commitment to addressing them in a timely manner," Richard C. Atkinson, president of the University of California, said.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More federal research dollars are coming with strings attached as the government tries to keep sensitive information out of the hands of terrorists.

Some federal agencies, for example, are pressing to review papers on certain topics and ban foreign researchers who have not been specially screened.

Universities are balking at new restrictions, and in some cases turning down lucrative contracts because they violate long-standing policies.

"Those are deal-breaker issues for us," said Paul Powell, who negotiates federal contracts for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- An Antarctic ice sheet the size of Texas and Colorado combined is melting and could disappear in 7,000 years, possibly raising worldwide sea levels by 16 feet.

Based on geologic measurements that date when rocks first become free of ice, researchers have found that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet started retreating about 10,000 years ago, said John O. Stone, first author of a study appearing Friday in the journal Science.

"There was a gradual and continuous melting," said Stone, a professor of geology at the University of Washington, Seattle. Over thousands of years, he said, the ice has retreated at the rate of about 2 inches a year in a steady pattern that shows no sign of slowing.

If the sheet does melt entirely, he said, the global sea level could rise by as much as 16 feet, enough to drown some islands and coastal areas.


from The Wall Street Journal

When Clonaid announced this week that it was willing, even eager, for an independent laboratory to test DNA from the 31-year-old mother and the newborn who is supposedly her clone, a lot of skeptics shut up fast. After all, why would the scientists at Clonaid, established by the Raelian "humans-are-clones-of-ETs" cult, set themselves up for public exposure as liars or dupes unless they were sure the DNA test would prove that baby "Eve" was created from mom's skin cells?

Maybe all they care about is the media jackpot they've already hit. Maybe they knew all along no such tests would ever be done. Indeed, Clonaid is now hinting that the parents are resisting such a test. But the colorful history of science hoaxes suggests some other explanations.

One is that Clonaid is deluding itself. "The human capacity for self- deception is enormous," notes physicist Robert Park of the American Physical Society in College Park, Md.

Self-delusion accounted for the initial claim of cold fusion. In early 1989, two chemists in Utah truly believed they had induced atomic nuclei to fuse, produce helium and emit energy in a tabletop experiment at room temperature. No matter that all the other fusion hunters were slaving away on experiments at energies as great as the sun's.


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