NTS LogoSkeptical News for 22 January 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Experts aim to make technology and science relate more to everyday life.


By Jim Nash

How long does it take the Earth to orbit the sun? Half of U.S. adults don't know, according to a recent National Science Foundation survey. In fact, a 2001 NSF survey found that 42% of adults said they couldn't be bothered with science and technology issues--this at a time when literacy in both have enormous impact on the nation's health and economy.

Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University's Office for Science and Society in Montreal, says indifference and outright rejection of technology and science are stunting progress in both areas.

Thinking that better communication of the topics might turn things around, the National Institute of Standards and Technology convened a panel of scientists, journalists, educators, and others to coach those in the know on how to effectively communicate with those in the dark. The panel's report has just been published, and it calls for a two-way, all-media push that, among other things, relates science to everyday life and does more than preach to the choir.

"A lot of people feel it's all incomprehensible," says Jesse Gordon, a senior systems analyst with consulting firm Technology Planning & Management. It isn't, he says, "but too often, the people teaching science are so into it that they can't communicate it in a way that people grasp it."

Gordon says there needs to be more "popularizers" of science and technology, perhaps in the mold of Stephen Hawking. Schwarcz, a chemist, is one popularizer: He has a weekly radio show in which he answers listeners' science questions.

"I've learned you can't communicate with those who have very, very strong beliefs, like in astrology or that the moon landings were faked, but you can give education early on," he says. Children and adults need a "vocabulary" for critical thinking.

Both Schwarcz and Gordon acknowledge that the Internet is a major source of bogus information. But, they say, as the world learns how to judge the worthy online information from the worthless, the Internet will be a heavy tool for beating back superstitions and misconceptions.

Gordon says he has talked with people who in the course of a conversation espouse questionable beliefs. He walks the person through the idea, or as he puts it, "I reduce the argument to its absurdity." Were someone to say the world is flat, for example, he might ask that person where people fall to when they go over the edge.

Schwarcz isn't put off by what seems to be an increasing number of dubious alternative beliefs about the world. He says it's likely that the same percentage of people have odd thoughts today as 100 years ago. Communication options have multiplied in the interim, though, giving voice to more people.

Maybe so, but one wonders why that percentage hasn't dropped as fast as the planet's gotten smaller.

Dowsing Data Defy the Skeptics



Usually, the boundary between science and science fiction is as distinct as the difference between the 6 o'clock news and "The Simpsons." Wherever the line blurs, you're bound to find contentious debates. One of the longest-running of these disagreements centers on dowsing, a supposed sixth sense that enables people to find underground water using a forked branch, pendulum or pair of bent wires. There is no scientific reason why dowsing should work. Yet, it apparently works well enough and reliably enough to keep the practice alive.

The success of dowsers doesn't surprise the people who know the most about finding underground water, hydrogeologists for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). They point out that the United States is so water-rich you can get wet drilling just about anywhere, if you drill deep enough. Far harsher criticism of dowsing and dowsers comes from outside the mainstream scientific community. Two organizations, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), http://www.csicop.org/si, and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), http://www.randi.org, are actually working to discourage the practice, which they both dismiss as paranormal nonsense. To make their point that dowsing is a sham each has staged demonstrations in which dowsers were asked to find buried pipes. Dowsers did no better than the laws of chance predict. JREF is so confident of its position it promises to pay $1.1 million to anyone who can "prove" dowsing works.

Yet Dowsers Flourish

Like bees unaware they are too aerodynamically challenged to fly, dowsers don't let the skeptics get them down. In fact, the ranks of dowsers have been steadily growing. Forty years ago, about 50 dowsers and curiosity seekers were drawn to Danville, Vt., for a 1-day National Dowsing Convention. That get-together led to the creation of the American Society of Dowsers (ASD), www.newhampshire.com/dowsers.org, which now counts about 4200 members. Lest you dismiss dowsing's popularity as just another New Age fad, take a close look at the 16th century drawing to the left. The men wearing traditional miners' clothing are holding the same type of forked stick in use by many dowsers today.

Now comes a massive set of data that suggests there may be some validity to dowsers' claims. The encouraging words are contained in a study financed by the German government and published in the Journal Of Scientific Exploration, http://www.jse.com/betz_toc.html, which is a peer-reviewed scientific journal published at Stanford University. The project was conducted by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit in the hope of finding cheaper and more reliable ways of locating drinking water supplies in Third World countries.

Researchers analyzed the successes and failures of dowsers in attempting to locate water at more than 2000 sites in arid regions of Sri Lanka, Zaire, Kenya, Namibia and Yemen over a 10-year period. To do this, researchers teamed geological experts with experienced dowsers and then set up a scientific study group to evaluate the results. Drill crews guided by dowsers didn't hit water every time, but their success rate was impressive. In Sri Lanka, for example, they drilled 691 holes and had an overall success rate of 96 percent.

"In hundreds of cases the dowsers were able to predict the depth of the water source and the yield of the well to within 10 percent or 20 percent," says Hans-Dieter Betz, a physicist at the University of Munich, who headed the research group.

"We carefully considered the statistics of these correlations, and they far exceeded lucky guesses," he says. What's more, virtually all of the sites in Sri Lanka were in regions where the odds of finding water by random drilling were extremely low. As for a USGS notion that dowsers get subtle clues from the landscape and geology, Betz points out that the underground sources were often more than 100 ft. deep and so narrow that misplacing the drill only a few feet would mean digging a dry hole.

As impressive as this success rate may seem, it doesn't do much to change the minds of skeptics. Their preference is to test dowsing under more controlled conditions. Back To The Lab Anticipating this criticism, the German researchers matched their field work with laboratory experiments in which they had dowsers attempt to locate water-filled pipes inside a building. The tests were similar to those conducted by CSICOP and JREF, and similarly discouraging. Skeptics see the poor showing as evidence of failure. Betz sees the discrepancy as an important clue. He says that subtle electromagnetic gradients may result when natural fissures and water flows create changes in the electrical properties of rock and soil. Dowsers, he theorizes, somehow sense these gradients and unconsciously respond by wagging their forked sticks, pendulums or bent wires.

Low-Energy Sensor

There is ample evidence that humans can detect small amounts of energy. All creatures with eyes can detect extremely small amounts of electromagnetic energy at visible light wavelengths. Some researchers believe the dark-adapted human eye can detect a single photon, the smallest measurable quantity of energy. Biologists also have found nonvisual electric and magnetic sensing organs in creatures from bacteria to sharks, fish and birds. Physiologists, however, have yet to find comparable structures in humans.

Betz offers no theories of how dowsers come by their skill and prefers to confine his speculation to his data. "There are two things that I am certain of after 10 years of field research," he says. "A combination of dowsing and modern techniques can be both more successful, and far less expensive, than we had thought."

Nine Arrested for 'Exorcism' Fraud


Wed January 22, 2003 10:17 AM ET TOKYO

(Reuters) - A Japanese man who promised to exorcise evil spirits for a price has been arrested on suspicion of fraud along with eight followers who dressed in tennis garb to help them look "credible" when approaching young women.

Dressed in tennis clothes and carrying racquets or violin cases, group members approached people near train stations and frightened them into going to a hotel room, where an "exorcism" was conducted, police said.

"They fooled women by telling them that there was a spirit clinging to them and took money for getting rid of it," said a police spokesman in Kanagawa Prefecture outside Tokyo.

The Daily Yomiuri newspaper said group members told potential victims: "Your back is possessed by the spirit of a dead woman and she has attached strings to your neck," or "the spirit of a dead man with severed legs is clinging to your waist."

The alleged mastermind, Shunichi Miyazaki, 55, told the newspaper he had his followers dress in tennis garb because he thought it made them more credible.

"When I was a high school student, I nearly drowned. After the incident I came to have psychic power. I didn't mean to cheat them and it is not a fraud," the Yomiuri quoted him as saying.

Police said the group allegedly raked in more than $42,000 from eight victims over four months.

Sea Breezes Could Turn Deserts Green


Wed January 22, 2003 09:37 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Coastal deserts could turn green thanks to a new project that combines wind power and sea water to make rain. A research team led by Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh is developing mobile wind-driven turbines, 131 feet in diameter, that spray vaporized sea water into the air, increasing humidity and, in turn, the likelihood of rain.

"If it works the pay-off could be enormous, right from putting out bush fires to pushing back the desert," Salter said Wednesday.

The turbines, which would be mounted on hundreds of catamaran-like barges, could be used to boost rainfall in some of the world's driest areas.

The engineering professor said he had found no major flaws in the idea.

"I'm putting a big part of my research into this and so far I haven't come across any impossible show-stoppers."

In theory water vapor sprayed from slits in the turbine rotors will partially evaporate in the air from the turbine wake. Residual salt will fall back into the sea and humidified air be blown inland to produce rain as it hits high ground.

But that theory is dependent on a number of factors. The wind must blow onshore, the air must be warm enough to get latent heat for evaporation and to produce rain the air must rise over high ground.

Salter said a meteorological computer model was being used to test the idea.

"One problem is that we can't be sure where (the vaporized air) will go. This is a very difficult meteorological question ... we need a computer model," he said.

If the model is successful Salter hopes to set up a trial run.

"We would have to find somewhere with a narrow valley and high mountains." He said he had found possible locations in the Mediterranean island of Crete and on the Red Sea.

But not everyone is convinced by the project.

Philip Eden, meteorologist and weather correspondent for The Telegraph newspaper, said: "Deserts are deserts because the air in those regions is descending, and descending air does not create rain clouds however much moisture you pump into it."

Salter said the possible upsides to the project, which will run for 15 months, outweighed the skeptics' views.

"There are people who are willing to risk years of their active career on this. It's worth taking a very heavy odds against bet on it."

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – January 22, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

New York -- The scramble for profit warps the way scientists and universities conduct medical experiments, undermining the integrity of research, said Yale University investigators who studied the impact of commercial funding on science.

One-quarter of the biomedical researchers at universities had commercial ties serious enough to raise the questions of financial conflicts, the analysts found. In many cases, it was enough to bias their research.

Moreover, the universities expected to police the integrity and ethics of faculty scientists have their own commercial research interests and financial conflicts. At least two-thirds of the universities also were involved in commercial ventures, holding equity shares in startup companies whose research they were also expected to monitor. Twenty-seven universities had equity in 10 or more startup companies, the researchers said.

The result is slanted science.


from The Associated Press

Yale University researchers Justin Bekelman and Dr. Cary Gross said they found "strong and consistent evidence that industry-sponsored research tends to draw pro-industry conclusions."

"Anecdotal reports suggest that industry may alter, obstruct or even stop publication of negative studies," they said. "Such restrictions seem counter productive to the arguments in favor of academic-industry collaboration, namely encouraging knowledge and technology transfer."


from The Associated Press

CHICAGO - A study of Australian twins and marijuana bolsters the fiercely debated "gateway theory" that pot can lead to harder drugs.

The researchers located 311 sets of same-sex twins in which only one twin had smoked marijuana before age 17. Early marijuana smokers were found to be up to five times more likely than their twins to move on to harder drugs.

They were about twice as likely to use opiates, which include heroin, and five times more likely to use hallucinogens, which include LSD.

Earlier studies on whether marijuana is a gateway drug reached conflicting conclusions. The impasse has complicated the debate over medical marijuana and decriminalization of pot.


from The Associated Press

College Station, Texas - Rainbow the cat is a typical calico with splotches of brown, tan and gold on white. CC, her clone, has a striped gray coat over white.

Rainbow is reserved. CC is curious and playful.

Rainbow is chunky. CC is sleek.

Sure, you can clone your favorite cat. But the copy will not necessarily act or even look like the original.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Scorpions don't bother to waste venom killing a victim if they don't have to. Instead they use a prevenom that causes extreme pain, resorting to the deadlier version only when necessary, researchers have discovered.

A team led by entomologist Bruce D. Hammock of the University of California, Davis, was researching the possibility of an anti-venom for scorpions when they discovered that the stinging creatures produced two kinds of venom.

When first confronted by a threat the scorpion produces a clear liquid on its stinger, Hammock said. The more deadly venom, a thick liquid, "like a milkshake," is produced later, if the threat continues.

It's a clever strategy, Hammock explained, because the deadly true venom uses a lot of proteins and peptides that are costly for the scorpion to make.


from The New York Times

Columbia University plans to curtail sharply its financial support for Biosphere 2, the ambitious but troubled effort to simulate Earth's ecology under glass.

The university is under contract with the owner of the Biosphere, a 250- acre research center in the Arizona desert north of Tucson, to manage it until 2010. Three years ago, the university trustees approved $20 million to expand research and teaching programs there until 2005.

But those efforts, and the fate of the center, are in doubt, many scientists and officials involved with the partnership said yesterday in interviews.

The university has frozen hiring plans for new faculty members for the Biosphere and has said it will move a master's degree program in environmental public policy from the center, in Oracle, Ariz., to New York.


Book Review from The Washington Post

Pick up a child-care manual from 70 years ago, and you may be stunned at what once passed as conventional wisdom. Back in the 1930s, no less an expert than John Watson, the president of the American Psychological Association, ominously warned expectant parents that "when you are tempted to pet your child, remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument." Like many of his contemporaries, Watson believed that anything more than a modicum of affection would produce a weepy, dependent child. It necessarily followed that parents should keep their distance from their children from Day One, treating them with the kind of "rational" attention that scientists lavished on laboratory cultures. Watson went so far as to dream of a golden future when babies would be removed from their parents at birth and raised on farms away from corrupting maternal influence.

That we don't live in the dystopia envisioned by misguided modernists like Watson is due in part to the pioneering work of psychologist Harry Harlow, the subject of Deborah Blum's engrossing biography, "Love at Goon Park." Blum, who examined the ethics of primate research in her previous book, "Monkey Wars," has now turned her considerable talents to sketching out the contributions of the controversial but brilliant scientist who begat a revolution in the way we think about the role love and affection play in everything from child-rearing to intelligence.


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Rocks Tell Tales of Earth Billions of Years Ago

January 21, 2003

From just a few sulfur atoms trapped inside some diamonds from Botswana, scientists have inferred that there was almost no oxygen in the air until about 2.4 billion years ago. Meanwhile, a biology experiment looking at starved bacteria suggests that methane was in the air, perhaps explaining why the planet did not freeze over.

When scientists try to figure out what the earth was like billions of years ago, they do not have much to work with, mostly just rocks. But a rock can tell much about itself. Limestone is a remnant of ancient sea sediment. Basalt is a hardened lava flow. Granite is magma that slowly cooled underground into a hodgepodge of crystalline minerals.


The ghost and the darkness


January 15, 2003

A Milder Man-Eater?

The legend of the Tsavo man-eaters holds that two lions killed and devoured 135 workers constructing a bridge in Kenya in 1898. Now scientists are suggesting that the story is just that: a legend. Their findings, published in the latest issue of the Journal of East African Natural History, indicate that the animals most likely killed fewer than 30 men. Moreover, they argue that the Tsavo lions were not aberrant, but that their actions were instead a function of changing environmental conditions.

Julian Kerbis Peterhas and Thomas Gnoske of the Field Museum in Chicago examined historical accounts, game department records, and unpublished correspondence of John Patterson (who eventually killed the lions) and analyzed the skulls and skins of the man-eaters, which are housed at the Field Museum (see image). Patterson's journal entries from the time of the attack, often referred to as "the reign of terror," note the deaths of 28 Indian workers. Earlier fatalities could increase the toll to 31, but later reports of 135 deaths seem unlikely, the researchers say. "The distorted version, perpetuated by Hollywood and popular treatments, fall more into the category of myth rather than fact," Gnoske notes. "Promoting such fiction can actually have a negative impact on serious conservation efforts focused on preserving lions in the wild."

Peterhas and Gnoske posit that the man-eaters' motives have been distorted over the years as well. Although two crazed lions terrorizing a railway crew out of the blue makes for a more dramatic story, the scientists point out that man-eating "was well established in the vicinity of the railway bridge well before these infamous lions appeared, and continued well after their demise." In fact, humans may have encouraged the habit because caravans passing through the region often abandoned sick, injured or dead members, thereby supplying an easy source of food to the local lions. In addition, a sharp decrease in the number of buffalo (the lions' typical quarry) owing to an outbreak of rinderpest between 1891 and 1893 most likely drove them to human prey. "Given the circumstances there in the 1890s, instead of asking how so many humans could have been dispatched," Gnoske says, "we wonder why there weren't more." --Sarah Graham

Hazing Charged Dropped on Technicality

By ABC 11

Hazing charges against five Methodist College football players and two other men have been dropped after lawyers argued the charges violated separation of church and state.

One of the players was charged with sodomizing a student with a magic marker, and the other six suspects were charged with misdemeanor hazing.

According to a police report, 18-year-old Kent Murphy was pinned to a locker room floor and stripped by teammates after a practice in November. The report says teammates tried to write on his backside with a marker and he was sexually assaulted with it.

The players' lawyers successfully argued that because the school is a religious institution, the campus police cannot enforce state law, and they violated separation of church and state when they arrested the students for violating a North Carolina law.

The case will now be turned over to the Cumberland County Sheriff's office.

'Oldest star chart' found

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2679675.stm [includes picture]

Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 10:50 GMT

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

The oldest image of a star pattern, that of the famous constellation of Orion, has been recognised on an ivory tablet some 32,500 years old.

The tiny sliver of mammoth tusk contains a carving of a man-like figure with arms and legs outstretched in the same pose as the stars of Orion.

The claim is made by Dr Michael Rappenglueck, formerly of the University of Munich, who is already renowned for his pioneering work locating star charts painted on the walls of prehistoric caves.

The tablet also contains mysterious notches, carved on its sides and on its back. These could be a primitive "pregnancy calendar", designed to estimate when a pregnant woman will give birth.

Man-like figure

It was found in 1979 in a cave in the Ach Valley in the Alb-Danube region of Germany. Carbon dating of bone ash deposits found next to the tablet suggest it is between 32,500 and 38,000 years old, making it one of the oldest representations of a man ever found.

It was left behind by the mysterious Aurignacian people about whom we know next to nothing save that they moved into Europe from the east supplanting the indigenous Neanderthals.

The ivory tablet is small, measuring only 38 x 14 x 4 millimetres, but from the notches carved into its edges archaeologists believe that it was made that size and is not a fragment of something bigger.

On one side of the tablet is the man-like being with his legs apart and arms raised. Between his legs hangs what could be a sword and his waist is narrow. His left leg is shorter than his right one.

From what is speculated about the myths of these ancient peoples before the dawn of history, archaeologists have suggested that the man-like figure could be praying or dancing, or be a half-man, half-cat, or a divine being.

But Michael Rappenglueck thinks it is a drawing of the constellation of Orion that is nowadays, and was perhaps also 32,000 years ago, called the hunter.

The proportions of the man correspond to the pattern of stars that comprise Orion, especially its slim waist - which corresponds to its famous belt of three stars and the left "leg" of the constellation being shorter.

The "sword" on the ivory tablet also corresponds to a famous and well-know feature that can be seen in Orion.

There are also other indications that Dr Rappenglueck may be correct.

The stars were in slightly different positions 32,000 years ago because they are moving across the sky at different speeds and in different directions, a phenomenon called "proper motion".

Dr Rappenglueck allowed for this effect by using a computer program to wind back the sky and found evidence for a particular star in Orion that was in a different place all those years ago.

Human gestation period

The tablet may also be a pregnancy calendar.

There are 86 notches on the tablet, a number that has two special meanings.

First, it is the number of days that must be subtracted from a year to equal the average number of days of a human gestation. This is no coincidence, says Dr Rappenglueck.

It is also the number of days that one of Orion's two prominent stars, Betelguese, is visible. To ancient man, this might have linked human fertility with the gods in the sky.

Orion is one of the most striking constellations. The Ancient Egyptians identified it with their god Osiris and it has a special significance for many cultures throughout history throughout the world.

Douglas Herrick, 82, Father of the Jackalope, Is Dead

From The New York Times: January 19, 2003


Douglas Herrick, who gets both the credit and the blame for perhaps the tackiest totem of the American West, the jackalope - half bunny, half antelope and 100 percent tourist trap - died on Jan. 6 in Casper, Wyo. He was 82.

In 1932 (other accounts say 1934, 1939 and 1940, but Ralph Herrick swears it was 1932), the Herrick brothers had returned from hunting. "We just throwed the dead jack rabbit in the shop when we come in and it slid on the floor right up against a pair of deer horns we had in there," Ralph said. "It looked like that rabbit had horns on it."

His brother's eyes brightened with inspiration.

"Let's mount that thing!" he said.

That was tens of thousands of jackalopes ago. A jackalope, of course, is a legendary animal with a jack rabbit's body and the antlers of a pronghorn antelope, which resembles a small deer. The last syllable of the name comes from antelope. (Jackadeer? Nah.)

[SEE: http://www.jackalope.org/jackalope.htm]

The F. C. Kuechmann Collection


A collection of F. C. Kuechmann's humorous but biting comments on creationist nonsense

F. C. Kuechmann has undergraduate degrees from the University of Illinois and Clark College in the USA with specialisations in applied logic and electronics. He has carried out college coursework in biology, physical geography and social sciences and has taken graduate studies but has no advanced degrees.

Mr Kuechmann works as a microcomputer programmer, hardware designer and technical writer. He is the author of several recent publications in computer applications for recreational mathematics.

"Creationists may well have produced some of the best humorous writing ever, albeit unintentionally."--FCK


From: Terry W. Colvin

Thanks so much for asking about my novel, "Shadow of the Thunderbird". I don't want to influence any responses you receive as to the quality of my first cryptofiction effort, but it is strange that you should mention two of my favorite authors and huge influences, Lincoln Childs and Douglas Preston. The blend of science and fiction they weave into such titles as "Relic", "Reliquary", "Mount Dragon" and "Ice Limit" has been some of my best spent pleasure reading in recent years.

I have exerpts and the first chapters of "Shadow" and my latest work-in-progress, "Track of the Bigfoot" on my site at www.dltanner.com under the 'Exerpts' section. I will complete the second draft of "Track" this afternoon and go into the third later this week. It is scheduled to be published in June/July 2003. "Shadow of the Thunderbird" is in its second edition and was first published in May of 2002.

If you enjoy cryptozoological fiction based on plausible high tech solutions applied to solving ancient mysteries, you may enjoy "Shadow". Please feel free to ask any questions you may have regarding my thunderbird story on or off the list.


D.L.Tanner Author "Shadow of the Thunderbird"


The Learning Channel "TLC" Tonight & More

Our own Skeptical Inquirer Investigative Reporter, Joe Nickell will be on The Learning Channel tonight (January 21st at 10:00pm eastern time) dealing with a program on "Miracle Statues."

Also we learn from this note from Center for Inquiry West Director Jim Underdown:

I just found out that the History Channel show I'm on is called UFO's and the Bible, and it will air at 9 PM EST and PST on January 28, 2003.

I'll also be on the premier show of Penn and Teller's Bullshit this Friday, on Showtime.

Best regards,

James Underdown
Center for Inquiry-West
The West Coast's Home of Science and Reason


Joe Nickell will also be a guest on the Penn & Teller show and is featured on the website for the show:

See: Skeptical magicians Penn & Teller's incredible new TV series debunking the paranormal, entitled "Bullshit," premieres Jan. 24 at 11:00 p.m. on Showtime.

For more information, see: www.showtimeonline.com/ptbs

Joe Nickell Paranormal Investigator, Journalist

Earth's clock of life


Posted: January 15, 2003

In its 4.5 billion years, Earth has evolved from its hot, violent birth to the celebrated watery blue planet that stands out in pictures from space. But in a new book, two noted University of Washington astrobiologists say the planet already has begun the long process of devolving into a burned-out cinder, eventually to be swallowed by the sun.

By their reckoning, Earth's "day in the sun" has reached 4:30 a.m., corresponding to its 4.5 billion-year age. By 5 a.m., the 1 billion-year reign of animals and plants will come to an end. At 8 a.m. the oceans will vaporize. At noon - after 12 billion years - the ever-expanding sun, transformed into a red giant, will engulf the planet, melting away any evidence it ever existed and sending molecules and atoms that once were Earth floating off into space.

"The disappearance of our planet is still 7.5 billion years away, but people really should consider the fate of our world and have a realistic understanding of where we are going," said UW astrophysicist Donald Brownlee. "We live in a fabulous place at a fabulous time. It's a healthy thing for people to realize what a treasure this is in space and time, and fully appreciate and protect their environment as much as possible."

In "The Life and Death of Planet Earth," Brownlee and UW paleontologist Peter Ward use current scientific understanding of planets and stars, as well as the parameters of life, to provide a glimpse of the second half of life on Earth and what comes after.

The book, a sort of biography of our planet, is being published today by Times Books, a division of Henry Holt and Co. It is a sequel to Ward and Brownlee's best-selling and much-discussed book "Rare Earth," in which they put forth the hypothesis that simple life is relatively common in the universe but complex, Earth-like life is exceedingly rare.

"The Life and Death of Planet Earth" explains how the myriad life on Earth today was preceded by a long period of microbial dominance, and the authors contend that complex life eventually will disappear and be succeeded again by a period of only microbial life. They say that higher life will be removed much as it came into being, ecosystem by ecosystem. Aspects of the planet's past, such as numbingly cold ice ages, will be relived in the period of devolution.

"If we do begin to slide into the next glacial cycle, there probably are grand, planetary-scale engineering projects that might stop or lessen the effects," Ward said.

"The big unknowns are whether we can afford to do such projects and would we really know what to do. If the planet was cooling, we could, in principle, begin painting the surface black to collect more heat. Could we afford it? And what would be the many possible ramifications of a planet suddenly covered in black paint? Any planetary remediation project would always run the risk of making things worse."

Eventually, though, scorching heat will drive land creatures to the sea for respite. Those that can adapt will survive for a time, but eventually the oceans will warm too much for the complex life forms to continue.

"The last life may look much like the first life - a single-celled bacterium, survivor and descendant of all that came before," the authors write. Finally, even the surviving microbes "will be seared out of existence."

The prospects of humans surviving by moving to some other habitable planet or moon aren't good, Brownlee and Ward contend, because even if such a place were found, getting there would be a huge obstacle. Various probes sent into space could survive Earth's demise, and just a few grams of material could arguably carry a DNA sample from every human, they say, but it's not likely the human species itself will survive. Long before the planet's final end, life will become quite challenging, and finally impossible, for humans.

As the sun gets hotter and grows in size, it will envelop Mercury and Venus. It is possible it will stop just short of Earth, the authors say, but the conditions still would make this a most-inhospitable planet. More likely, though, the sun will consume Earth as well, severing all the chemical bonds between molecules and sending its individual atoms out into space, perhaps eventually to form new planets. That would leave Mars as the nearest planet to the sun, and on Mars the fading sun's glow would be like that of Earth's moon.

That end is still some 7.5 billion years distant, but by then Earth will have faced a variety of "ends" along the way, the authors say. The last dinosaur perished long ago. Still to come are the last elephant, the last tree, the last flower, the last glacier, the last snowflake, the last ocean, the last life.

"The Life and Death of Planet Earth" is like its predecessor, "Rare Earth," in that the authors collected and distilled some of the latest scientific ideas about the Earth's place in the universe, Brownlee said. He hopes the new book, like "Rare Earth," will spark widespread discussion, and give people a fundamental and realistic view of the past and future of their planet.

"It's a healthy thing to think of the place of Earth among the other planets, and its place in the sun. The sun gave life and ultimately it will bring death."

The UFO Hunters: Scientists Seek Answers to Strange Flying Phenomena

From: Terry W. Colvin



The more obvious explanation for many of the sightings is top-secret stealth military projects. The Bird of Prey was one top-secret plane that was recently unveiled by Boeing, and Kelleher thinks the military will soon pull the wraps off another top-secret project that many UFO observers call "Big Black Deltas."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Kelleher says, UFO sightings have decreased, except for in one category: Big Black Deltas.

"We think this BBD [Big Black Delta] object may be a combination of lighter-than-air and aircraft hybrid technology," Kelleher says.

Imagine a black triangle longer than a football field that is able to move silently across the sky and seems to appear and disappear quickly.

"Currently we have 250 sightings of these objects in our database from all over the country," he says. "Superimposed on that map we have the locations of the air mobility command air force bases in the US."

Kelleher shows the map and reports a clustering around certain bases, including spots in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Seattle, and of course near the famous Area 51 in Nevada known as Groom Lake.

"We have an interview from a person who claims to have seen one of these objects on the runway at Groom Lake," Kelleher says. "He said it was a gigantic triangular object on the ground."

Possible Explanation for Sightings

The BBDs are also thought to be behind the March 1997 sightings of strange lights over Phoenix, which were captured by several television news crews and tracked across the entire desert Southwest.

These proposed aircraft would be a good candidate for UFO reports because of their hypothetical quiet propulsion system, blimplike structure, and advanced stealth capabilities.

Electrochromatic displays are the key. The idea is to project images of the sky above an aircraft onto the machine's underbelly.

"There are a lot of indications that military soldiers have that kind of technology," Kelleher explains.

"They say you can see star fields in these. Some people even tell us if you really look, you can see the leading edge as it moves across the stars," Kelleher says.

So far the military is not confirming anything about the Deltas, but if past experience with the unmanned drones, the B2 Stealth Bomber, the SR-71, and other revolutionary aircraft is any indicator, the Deltas may be flying for years before anyone tells the public what they are.

The UFO field remains bizarre, frightening, speculative, and mysterious, and Kelleher and NIDS hope to demystify the unidentified objects. They may not get much help from scientists, but the public, he says, is ready for answers.

"There's huge interest in the investigation of the UFO phenomenon, but the gap between the public interest and the interest in the scientific community is huge," Kelleher says. "It's a chasm, and that chasm I don't think has narrowed in the last 50 years."

It's Kelleher's hope that the next 50 years may bring some answers.

Skeptic Pitied

From The Onion at http://www.theonion.com/onion3902/skeptic_pitied.html

FAYETTEVILLE, ARâ€"Craig Schaffner, 46, a Fayetteville-area computer consultant, has earned the pity of friends and acquaintances for his tragic reluctance to embrace the unverifiable, sources reported Monday.

"I honestly feel sorry for the guy," said neighbor Michael Eddy, 54, a born-again Christian. "To live in this world not believing in a higher power, doubting that Christ died for our sinsâ€"that's such a sad, cynical way to live. I don't know how he gets through his day."

Coworker Donald Cobb, who spends roughly 20 percent of his annual income on telephone psychics and tarot-card readings, similarly extended his compassion for Schaffner.

Craig is a really great guy," Cobb said. "It's just too bad he's chosen to cut himself off from the world of the paranormal, restricting himself to the limited universe of what can be seen and heard and verified through empirical evidence."

Also feeling pity for Schaffner is his former girlfriend Aimee Brand, a holistic and homeopathic healer who earns a living selling tonics and medicines diluted to one molecule per gallon in the belief that the water "remembers" the curative properties of the medication.

"Don't get me wrongâ€"logic and reason have their place," Brand said. "But Craig fails to recognize the danger of going too far with medical common sense to the exclusion of alternative New Age remedies like chakra cleansing and energy-field realignment." Eddy said he has tried repeatedly to pull Schaffner back from the precipice of lucidity.

"I admit, science might be great for curing diseases, exploring space, cataloguing the natural phenomena of our world, saving endangered species, extending the human lifespan, and enriching the quality of that life," Eddy said. "But at the end of the day, science has nothing to tell us about the human soul, and that's a critical thing Craig is missing. I would hate for his soul to be lost forever because of a stubborn doubt over the actual existence and nature of that soul."

Gina Hitchens, a lifelong astrology devotee, blamed Schaffner's lack of faith on an accident of birth.

"Craig can't entirely help himself, being a Gemini," Hitchens said. "Geminis are always very skeptical and destined to feel pain throughout life as a result of their closed-mindedness. If you try to introduce Craig to anything even remotely made-up, he starts going off about 'evidence this' and 'proof that.' If only the poor man were open-minded enough to stop attacking everything with his brain and just once look into his heart, he'd find all the proof he needed. But, sadly, he's unable to let even a little bit of imagination drive his core beliefs."

Perhaps the person who pities Schaffner most is his brother Frank, a practicing Scientologist since 1991.

"It's bad enough when someone has the ignorance to reject Dianetics in spite of its tremendous popularity," Frank said. "But Craig isn't even willing to try a free introductory course. Scientology has the potential to free humanity from the crippling yoke of common sense, unshackling billions from the chains of century after century of scientific precedent, and yet he still won't give it a try."

"I realize that Craig seems very happy with his narrow little common-sense-based worldview," Frank continued, "but when you think of all the widely embraced beliefs that are excluded by that way of thinking, you have to feel kind of sad."

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – January 21, 2003

from Newsday

A small number of new brain cells found in cancer patients who had received bone marrow transplants suggests that one day it may be possible to help the brain rebuild itself after injury or illness.

"People are looking for hope, and there is hope, but it's a long way off," warned Dr. Eva Mezey, a scientist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders in Bethesda, Md., who conducted the latest study.

Mezey is one of many investigators who have found evidence in animals that bone marrow stem cells can do more than just repopulate tissue in the bone marrow. There is growing evidence that these stem cells can turn into neurons and other support cells of the brain.

For the new study, she worked with a neuropathologist at Johns Hopkins Medical School to collect brain tissue from cancer patients who had undergone bone marrow transplants for non-brain related cancers.


from The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A dearth of dust storms had space shuttle Columbia's astronauts aiming their cameras instead at plumes of pollution and thunderstorms in an Israeli atmospheric study.

The thunderstorms already have produced electrifying results.

A pair of cameras aboard Columbia have captured video images of an elf -- a luminous red, bagel-shaped, electrical phenomenon that occurs above a thunderstorm in less than a millisecond, said Yoav Yair, an atmospheric scientist at the Open University of Israel in Tel Aviv.

These are the first scientific images of an elf ever recorded from space, and they were captured by chance, Yair said Monday.


from The Washington Post

As it lays the groundwork for another war with Iraq, the U.S military is engaged in a massive effort to prevent the reappearance of Gulf War syndrome.

Over the decade that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, the chronic illnesses that tens of thousands of veterans described ultimately marred the U.S. victory. The agonizing investigation of what came to be known as Gulf War syndrome eroded trust in the military, cost hundreds of millions of dollars and consumed thousands of years of human labor.

As American troops prepare to face the same enemy in the same place, military planners hope that this time they can keep the perplexing phenomenon at bay. Their weapons include health questionnaires, epidemiological studies, a powerful computer system, soil-sampling kits, a new generation of detectors for nerve gas and biological threats, and millions of tubes of human serum stored at 25 degrees below zero.


from The New York Times

In the family of genetic material, RNA has long been the poor cousin of DNA. DNA makes up the genes, the master instructions of life, while RNA merely conveys those instructions to other parts of the cell.

But surprising new discoveries are showing that cells contain an army of RNA snippets that do much more than act as DNA's messenger. The discoveries are helping to refine the prevailing theories of genetics — or even upend them.

"It's like discovering the neutrino or something," said Dr. Gary Ruvkun, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. "These things were all around us for many years," and no one was aware of them. "Now we're discovering they are all over the place," he added. "Genomes are full of them."

The discoveries are having practical applications. Scientists have found that tiny snippets of RNA with two strands instead of the usual one can be used to shut off specific genes. The technique, known as RNA interference, is being widely used to discover the functions of genes by turning them off and seeing what happens to the plant or animal.


from The New York Times

As landscape features go, the patterned ground of the Arctic lacks the cachet of crop circles, say, or the Nazca lines etched in the high desert of Peru. But the Arctic features — expanses of stone and soil ordered into rings, islands, labyrinthine ridges and polygons — have one thing the others do not, a natural explanation.

That explanation is now more complete, because of recent work by researchers at the University of California at San Diego. They have developed a computer model to show how under the right conditions over hundreds of years, stone and soil organize themselves into patterns, through cycles of freezing and thawing.

At work, said Dr. Mark A. Kessler, an author of a paper on the model in the current issue of Science, are feedback mechanisms that involve segregating stones and soil into distinct areas or domains. As the mechanisms interact, different patterns evolve, depending on factors like the concentration and size of stones and the slope of the land.

"We've tried to make a simple model to capture the differences between the patterns," said Dr. Kessler, a postdoctoral researcher in earth sciences at U.C. Santa Cruz. He wrote the paper with Dr. Brad Werner of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the university.


from The Washington Post

The ship had a cargo hold filled with ceramic jars, some -- and perhaps all -- of them filled with salt fish. It probably left from a seaport in what is now Turkey and sailed northwest through the Black Sea to the Crimea to pick up its load.

Then, for unknown reasons, it sank in 275 feet of water off the present-day Bulgarian coast, coming softly to rest on a carpet of mud.

Last week, archaeologists announced they had found the long-lost vessel. Sunk sometime between 490 B.C. and 280 B.C., it is the oldest wreck ever found in the Black Sea.

It is also the latest find in an ambitious effort to unlock the secrets of a unique body of water whose oxygen-free abyss may conceal a ghostly museum of intact shipwrecks spanning much of human history.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Hvar, Croatia -- Beneath the surface of Starigrad Bay, the finger-shaped inlet that serves as this Adriatic island's main harbor, the invasion is well under way.

Just off the main ferry landing, the seafloor is carpeted in luxuriant green foliage, a thick meadow of beautiful seaweed stretching uninterrupted as far as the eye can see. The delicate, bright green plants have covered rocks, sand, mud and virtually everything else in their path.

Before 1995, nobody in Croatia had ever seen this voracious tropical interloper, which is toxic to most marine animals and rapidly replaces other sea-bottom ecosystems. In the future, researchers fear, those diving off its Adriatic coast may see little else.

Others fear California could be next.


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The Non-locality of Morphic Resonance

[Coming full circle, we have investigated Rupert Seldrake, and now we are being cited as a reference. Ed.]

A midpoint between two extreme views on life, Rupert Sheldrake's hypothesis of formative causation is founded on a holistic point of view, compromising between the reductionist Mechanistic viewpoint and the superstitious, unscientific Vitalist viewpoint. Through his concepts of morphic fields and a collective unconsciousness in nature he attempts to provide a solution to the enigma of the formative forces behind morphogenesis, instinct and memory. He describes morphic fields and their effects in the form of morphic resonance in great detail, but two key properties must needs be emphasized: they attract the systems under the influence (I.e.: biologically similar systems) toward characteristic forms and patterns of activity and that they are not subject to spatio-temporal decay. That is they do not diminish in magnitude over large expanses of time or space. Support for this theory comes in a variety of forms involving highly complex discoveries in the recent world of Quantum Physics. But, only One experiment has been specifically designed and conducted for testing the primary concept of the hypothesis of formative causation –the existence of a collective unconsciousness of a species. However, no experiments have been specifically designed and conducted with regard to the second point raised in his theory, claiming that morphic fields are not subject to spatio-temporal decay. This is what will comprise the focus of my experiment: testing the validity of the claim that morphic fields do not diminish when traversing expanses of space. This will be done be testing Sheldrake's theories of a collective unconsciousness as done in the previous experiment but then also repeating the same procedure to incorporate aspects of spatial separation –at locations remote from the original individuals who were part of the first test and the first test location. If morphic fields do play a part, to the same extent, as they would be expected without the proximal separation, as claimed, then the theory is sound in this respect. However, if no effects from morphic fields can be detected, or if these effects are diminished or corroded in any way, then the theory is disproved. The implications of this hypothesis are far reaching into realms transcending the modern mentality towards science as they run in parallel with recent experiments of Quantum Entanglement. In my project there will be an emphasis on theory because of the lack of resources and the difficulty associated with conducting potentially decisive experiments for the existence of morphic fields within nature. In general it is difficult to separate morphic field effects from other known kinds of causation. However, the occurrence of morphic resonance effects observed from my experiment, and discussed in the theory of my project, would imply the existence of such fields and thus provide indirect evidence for their existence, hence the emphasis on theory and the diminished role of experimental evidence. This experiment focuses on investigating the following: the ability of typical House Mice (Mus musculus and higher classification, Rodent) to draw on their collective unconscious memory, when in each other's proximity, is tested and a trend is established (here in California), this trend is then used in comparison to the relative ability of the same species to draw on the same memory at a new and isolated location somewhere in South Africa. The 'instinct' established in the collective memory of the species house mouse is that of the memorization of a maze. This is in the form of a conditioned aversion. My experiment tests the theory that Morphic fields do not decay spatially.

Visit to Raelians full of sci-fi imagery


By Phil Couvrette

Jan. 20, 2003 | VALCOURT, Quebec (AP) -- From the first sight of a futuristic, curving concrete building amid the barns and grain silos of southern Quebec farmland, something is off-beam.

Entering the headquarters of the Raelian religious sect, past a sign welcoming visitors to UFOland, is like strolling onto the set of a bad 1950s sci-fi movie, complete with a replica of the flying saucer that supposedly brought the space aliens who visited Rael, the sect founder. But the display lights don't work and inflated plastic pool seats create the command post.

This is no theme park, but the Canadian base of a group associated with Clonaid, which stunned the world with the Dec. 26 claim of having cloned a baby but has failed so far to provide proof.

Bigfoot Believers: Legitimate scientific study of legend gains backing of top primate experts


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.

Skeptics, who include those in the scientific mainstream, scoff at such ideas. They say reported Bigfoot encounters, tracks and other evidence are either hoaxes or mistakes, and that people who believe such nonsense are soft-headed.

But dedicated amateurs and a smattering of professionals are trying to change that attitude. Using accepted scientific methods, they believe they can show at least some of the claimed evidence for Bigfoot - footprints, hair, voice recordings and a 400-pound block of plaster known as the Skookum Cast - are authentic traces of a rare giant primate.

But dedicated amateurs and a smattering of professionals are trying to change that attitude. Using accepted scientific methods, they believe they can show at least some of the claimed evidence for Bigfoot - footprints, hair, voice recordings and a 400-pound block of plaster known as the Skookum Cast - are authentic traces of a rare giant primate.

Recently they have received support from a handful of the field's top experts.

Daris Swindler, for example, is not the typical Bigfoot believer.

When he retired in 1991 after more than 30 years at the University of Washington, Swindler was an acclaimed expert in the arcane study of fossilized primate teeth.

His book, "An Atlas of Primate Gross Anatomy," went through several printings and was among the standard references in the field.

So it comes as a surprise to some of his peers that Swindler believes that the Skookum Cast, discovered by amateur Bigfoot researchers in 2000, is a genuine record of a hairy giant that sat down by a mudhole to eat some fruit.

"Daris said that?" asked Russell Ciochon, a prominent paleoanthropologist and professor at the University of Iowa. "He's an important figure. But I still don't think Bigfoot exists in any form."

Mythical giant apes lurk in the traditions of nearly every Native American linguistic group and in legends handed down through the ages from Europe and Asia. Each year, Bigfoot or similar creatures are reported by hundreds of hunters, hikers, motorists and others from central Asia to the central Rockies. But no one has provided the minimum proof required by science: a type specimen or remains that researchers can pick up, measure and argue over.

Nevertheless, Goodall is intrigued.

"People from very different backgrounds and different parts of the world have described very similar creatures behaving in similar ways and uttering some strikingly similar sounds," she said. "As far as I am concerned, the existence of hominids of this sort is a very real probability."

George Schaller, director of science at the Wildlife Conservation Society, has spent 40 years studying rare animals in remote places, including pioneering studies of Central Africa's mountain gorilla, which Western scientists first discovered in 1903.

Is history a science of chaos theory?


"The Landscapes of History" argues that the hard sciences are a better place for historians to seek philosophical guidance than social sciences, such as economics and sociology, which have been poisoned by an obsession with identifying a single variable that "caused" events and can predict them. The closer cousin to the historian is the astronomer or evolutionary biologist. Both must combine data and their imaginations to describe phenomena they cannot observe or replicate in a laboratory. And both historians and hard scientists recognize that explanations rarely have a single explanation. They depend on both pre-existing circumstances and contingency.

Finding life away from Earth will be tough task, paleontologist says

Earth's most ancient fossils are hard to find. Some scientists think a few of the earliest fossils might still be preserved in Earth rocks blasted to the moon by an asteroid or meteor. Others believe much of the evidence has been erased forever by the constant heat and pressure of plate tectonics.

But learning as much as possible about the earliest life on Earth is probably the best starting point for trying to find life somewhere else, said Roger Buick, a paleontologist who became the first faculty member hired specifically for the University of Washington's pioneering graduate program in astrobiology. He also is an associate professor of earth and space sciences.

"The earliest organisms were presumably very simple, both in their structure and their chemistry," he said. "The evidence we're used to seeing for modern life may not be a good guide for what to look for in earliest life."

As a doctoral student nearly two decades ago, Buick discovered stromatolites, or mounds of sedimentary rock, formed by microbes 3.5 billion years ago in western Australia. Those mounds remain the oldest visible evidence of life on Earth.

Buick suggested that using basic techniques to search for the simplest evidence of ancient life on Earth is the best approach to finding evidence of life elsewhere. That is a message he delivered today at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Seattle during a session called "The Biology of Astrobiology for Astronomers." There are a variety of difficulties associated with searching for early life based on what we know of biology and geology, he said, yet both disciplines must be involved if we are to be successful in the search for life elsewhere.

"We have to go from what we know, but we also must have an open mind because we might be surprised by what we find," he said. "We have to be hypercritical so that we're not misled by superficial resemblances to what we know."

It will be a tough chore for astrobiologists to turn their field into a self-sustaining endeavor because for so long science fiction has made the idea of life away from Earth a fanciful notion of all sorts of intelligent aliens, Buick said.

"It will take a lot of work to turn it from science fiction into science, and because it is so interdisciplinary it's going to require a rethinking of how science is done," he said.

The UW started the first graduate program in astrobiology four years ago with a National Science Foundation grant for graduate education and research. That later was supplemented by a major award from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Astrobiology Institute and money from the UW. The curriculum involves 11 degree programs -- including astronomy, microbiology, chemistry and oceanography -- and graduates receive degrees from one of those programs with an endorsement certificate in astrobiology. Graduates will have broad, interdisciplinary knowledge, the kind many of their professors are just starting to gain now.

Buick said fossil evidence of early life, whether from Earth or somewhere else, could be so tiny that it is at the limits of -- or beyond -- current capabilities in optic microscopic resolution. Those life forms might have existed without hard bodies, so fossil evidence would be exceedingly difficult to find and might consist only of poorly preserved organic polymers.

He noted there are three instances -- two in Greenland and one in Australia -- in which evidence for life on Earth was discovered that was as old or older than what he found. But in two of the cases the evidence is not clear-cut and there are ongoing scientific disputes about the meaning of the data. To resolve these arguments, he said, it is important for scientists to understand how signatures for biological life can be altered or erased from rocks, primarily by heat and pressure.

To sort out the terrestrial evidence and to apply it to the search for simple extraterrestrial life will involve many, if not most, of the existing scientific disciplines, each adding bits of knowledge to crystallize the science of astrobiology, Buick said.

"The bottom line is that we don't know much yet, but it's going to be a huge amount of fun finding it out," he said. "And everyone has something to contribute."

For more information, contact Buick at (206) 543-1913 or buick@ess.washington.edu.


From: Barry Williams

At last! Found what I have been seeking (as mentioned in previous discussions).

Radio amateurs, who received voice signals from the Moon and enroute, live, in real time. Sven Grahn and Dick Flagg.
With photos, copies of Cape Canaveral pass, equipment details etc (familiar to radio engineers of the day).

Pointed their antennas and tuned their receivers themselves. No chance for NASA to fake it.

Sven Grahn is still around and well known:

So much for the Conspiracists! Now we can tell them "Here is the proof, go take a jump".

Extract follows:

VHF monitoring of Apollo communications

We were lucky and got through the traffic jam and out of the rocket base very quickly and got back to Titusville in time for the first transit of the spacecraft over Florida. At 0208 local time (0708 UT on Dec. 7) we picked up the very characteristic PCM "buzz" on the TM frequency 258.5 MHz from the last stage of the Saturn 5 booster, which was still attached to the spacecraft. The rocket stage would be used 1˝ hours later to boost the astronauts towards the Moon. Shortly after hearing the telemetry signals we also picked up voice signals on 296.8 MHz. The astronauts were chit-chatting with the ground (53 kB, RA)and we tracked the spacecraft across the sky with the helix-antenna. When Apollo 17 was due south of us we could clearly hear an astronaut say in our loudspeaker: "I saw a shooting star over Miami". As Apollo 17 approached the horizon in the southeast the crew could be heard calling: Houston, 17, how do you read?" On the next transit the spacecraft passed very close to the local horizon and telemetry and voice signals were picked up weakly between 0343 and 0346 local time. A few minutes later (0354) Apollo 17 was fired out of earth orbit and changed from VHF transmissions to microwaves (2287.5MHz).

Microwave signals from the Moon with a 9 meter parabolic dish

After a few days' rest we started preparations for microwave monitoring of Apollo communications. My radio astronomy friends had mounted a 9 meter dish on its mount a week before. The antenna is placed at the old radio observatory of the University of Florida near a little lake, Biven's Arm, outside Gainesville. The servo-mount is a piece of space history in its own right. It was used at Cape Canaveral in the beginning of the sixties to steer a command antenna for the first communications satellite Telstar!

The attempts to tune Apollo 17 was the first test of the 9 meter dish after its installation at Biven's Arm. The aluminum dish is Air Force surplus equipment. In the focus of the dish a feed antenna is placed to "illuminate" the surface of the parabola. The feed is a 30 cm by 10 cm cylinder and is only sensitive to left hand circular polarized radio waves. Its SWR is 1.2 over a 200 MHz range around 2300 MHz (S-band).

The signal from the feed was supplied to a tunnel diode pre-amp for S-band. This unit, the most critical item of the whole receiving system, had a 3 dB noise figure and enough gain to overcome the cable loss of the inch-thick coax cable that brought the signal from the dish to the listening post in a shed 25 meters away. In this shed the rest of the equipment was located.

The receiver used for tuning the Apollo frequency 2287.5 MHz was a Motorola unit - surplus from the Apollo program itself. Only the local oscillator and the first mixer was used. The IF of the first mixer at 50 MHz was fed to a Vanguard Electronics Labs converted which brought this frequency down to 30 MHz. The final demodulation was done with a Collins R-390 shortwave receiver tuned to 30 MHz.

Voice signals from Apollo are frequency modulated on 1.25 MHz subcarrier, and by sidetuning the Collins receiver 1.25 MHz the voice signals were made available for demodulation. This could be done in two ways. The simplest method was of course slope detection with a 16 kHz bandwidth in the 455 kHz IF of the R-390. The other variant involved taking the 455 kHz IF out of the R-390 and feeding it into a narrow-band FM detector.

The dish can be steered with a 1o accuracy and the beamwidth at 2300 MHz is about 2o. But the Moon subtends only an angle of 0.5o in the sky. Pointing the antenna was therefore somewhat of a problem. Of course one could calculate where the Moon is supposed to be, but fortunately the weather was fine so the Moon was fully visible even during daytime. One person placed himself behind the dish and directed the operator in the shed with hand signals until the antenna was pointing at the Moon.

After the signal was acquired the position of the dish had to be corrected towards maximum signal strength every 4 minutes.

On December 10, 1972 we picked up our first signals on S-band. The main carrier was 45 dB over noise and the voice subcarrier was 25 dB over noise. Apollo 17 passed. over the lunar disc between 1722 and 1819.10 local time, and we measured a total Doppler frequency shift of 43 kHz. The next day the lunar module landed on the Moon and at 1518 local time we picked up main carrier and telemetry from the surface of the moon some 80 minutes after touchdown. Unfortunately the astronauts soon changed to low power which prevented us from getting voice signals because of the too low signal-to-noise ratio. The lunar module transmitted on 2282.5 MHz, but we decided to shift back to the frequency of the command module in lunar orbit, i.e. 2287.5 MHz. The lone astronaut Evans was not very talkative except when he just appeared in front of the Moon or just before he disappeared behind it. At such times he changed to high power and on December 11 we could pick up our first voice signals from the Moon. At 1722.00 local time Ron Evans said: "'Standby three zero" and at l722.30, i.e. 30 seconds later, we abruptly lost the signal as the spacecraft swung, around the edge of the Moon.

The following day, December 12, we concentrated on the command module and received strong voice signals on several occasions (Here [7 kB, RA] you can hear Ron Evans say: "The barber pole it is grey", referring to a barber pole-shaped control panel indicator). We also had an opportunity to test different FM detectors. To our great surprise slope detection worked amazingly well. When using this mode the receiver is slightly detuned so that the FM signal is placed on one of the slopes of the a selectivity curve of the receiver. In this way FM is converted to AM which is heard in the loudspeaker. When using slope detection the R-390 was operated with 16 kHz bandwidth to avoid resetting the main tuning too often because of Doppler shift.

Barry Williams

Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist details how green exaggerations could trigger needless global tragedy

by Mike Byfield


BJORN Lomborg is hardly a typical champion for any conservative cause. The 37-year-old Danish professor is a former Greenpeace activist and vegetarian homosexual. He favours jeans and backpacks over ties, he votes socialist, advocates a strong welfare state and enthuses about the United Nations. Yet this month the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based free-market think-tank, sponsored speeches by the telegenic statistician in Calgary and Toronto. The subject on everyone's minds was the proposed Kyoto climate control treaty.

Haunting residents: When a house guest is a ghost


Connie Nelson
Home & Garden Editor

Published Oct. 31, 2002 HOUS31

A door suddenly slams, shattering the silence in an empty room. A TV blares on, as if by itself. Car keys left on the kitchen counter disappear, only to be found later in the shower. The sound of muffled voices filters down from the attic.

House hoax -- or haunting?

That was an easy question for Virginia Van Dusen to decide. In fact, she wasn't surprised to learn that her Minneapolis home was haunted. Over the years, several family members had reported ghostly behavior -- the sound of footsteps, unexplainable problems with appliances, small items missing.

What did surprise her was that ghostbuster Carol Lowell said she had discovered 12 ghosts in the 101-year-old house. (Lowell banished most of the ghosts, including a family of four who she said died of the plague in 1910, but allowed one ghost to remain, with Van Dusen's blessing.)

"I have never been afraid of ghosts," said Van Dusen, who has since shared some of her ghost stories in her neighborhood newspaper. "In these old Kenwood homes, I'll bet there are a lot of ghosts out there. You know, a lot of theaters are haunted, too. It's just the way it is."

From incredible to credible

Almost everyone loves a good ghost story, especially on Halloween. But it now seems that an increasing number of people believe them. Skeptics and psychics alike say acceptance of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena has grown.

Echo Bodine, a well-known Twin Cities psychic, author and longtime ghostbuster, calls the current interest in ghosts "unbelievable. It's like the interest has tripled," she said.

Sheryl Grassie, a local ghost writer, ghostbuster and a former student of Bodine's, agreed.

"The evolution of people's attitude is amazing," Grassie said. "There's something in the consciousness that ghosts are real."

Although Michael Schermer acknowledged that there has been a gradual change in attitude since the 1960s, he wouldn't call it an evolution. And instead of being amazed, he's dismayed. Schermer, author of "Why People Believe Weird Things" and founder of the Skeptics Society, considers ghosts and spirits "paranormal nonsense." But he said he understands the reason some people grasp at easy, other-worldly explanations for what may seem like mysteries.

"The idea of a transcendent spirit is ingrained in the human psyche," he said. "We are pattern-seeking, storytelling animals trying to make sense of the world."

Still, he called belief in ghosts "an assault on critical thinking. If you believe in that, what else are you willing to believe?" he asked.

The scientific spirit

John Savage considers himself somewhat of a skeptic, too. He's also the founder of the Minnesota Paranormal Investigative Group. Savage's group is affiliated with other national and international ghost "research" organizations that claim to use scientific methods to prove -- or disprove -- the existence of ghosts.

Armed with digital and video cameras, tape recorders and other more exotic tools of the trade (electromagnetic field meters, thermal guns and Geiger counters), group members inspect reportedly haunted homes to find scientific evidence of ghosts.

"Nine times out of ten, there's usually an explanation," said Savage.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't believe in ghosts. On the contrary. "They (ghosts) do exist and they are definitely quite active," he said.

But just what they are is not widely agreed upon.

Dave Oester, founder of the International Ghost Hunters Society, takes a fairly benevolent view.

"Ghosts are an extension of life after death," he said. "They have intelligence and emotions and personalities the same as when they were alive. The only thing they don't have is a physical body."

According to Oester, ghosts don't haunt, can't be seen and shouldn't be "busted" because most often are "loved ones and family members coming back to watch over you."

Bodine begs to differ. She believes ghosts are spirits of people who have died but have not passed over to the other side, that they often have no relation to the people they haunt and that they can wreak havoc on a household for no better reason than that they are bored. She sees them, talks to them and usually convinces them to leave.

Frightfully friendly

However, there are a couple of points on which many ghost aficionados agree: The vast majority of ghosts, while frightening, aren't dangerous. (The horrible ghost is largely a product of Hollywood, they said.) And although ghosts may roam cemeteries, theaters, saloons and train stations, they seem to take up residence in houses -- and not necessarily old or spooky-looking ones, at that.

Oester suggested that ghosts make themselves at home in homes because when they were human "most spirits lived in houses of one kind or another and they're going to live in a house as a ghost."

But Pat Linse, co-founder of the Skeptics Society, has a different take on haunted houses. She said people sometimes use ghosts "as a way to act out whatever conflicts there are in the family."

A door suddenly slams. A TV clicks on. Car keys disappear. House hoax -- or haunting?

Linse, of course, would call it a hoax. But then she adds: "There's a lot of fun to be had in ghost stories."

-- Connie Nelson is at cnelson@startribune.com.

Monday, January 20, 2003

The sage of Aquarius

S.F. company says what you don't know about astrology can be harnful to your business' health

Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, October 27, 2002
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/10/27/BU169447.DTL

An Aries wants a firm handshake and the bottom line. The Aquarius steers clear of confrontation. Scorpios, like Ted Turner and Bill Gates, are fierce, stealthy competitors who hate flattery.

So say Tom Mitchell and Bruce Cady, former telecommunications executives and founders of Jupiter Returns, a new company that merges business and, yes, astrology.

No, Mitchell said, it's not a joke.

Sick pin hopes on bare bottoms January 13, 2003


HAEMORRHOID sufferers are flocking to a church in central Portugal in the belief they will be cured by exposing their afflicted behinds to the statue of a local saint.

The suffering faithful in Murtosa, 250 km north of Lisbon, attribute Saint Goncalo with the power to cure the condition, the Jornal de Noticias reported. The 13th-century priest also has a reputation for curing acne and helping women find husbands.

Antonio Amador, a local doctor and member of the church, told the paper that turnout was still strong but that "before the numbers were even greater."

Amador said that several years ago a young woman with severe acne wanted to pray nude in the church but that the local priest would not allow it because he was "a bit conservative."

Saint Goncalo has a loyal local following. Every June, during a festival in his honour in the northern town of Amarante, unmarried men and women exchange penis-shaped cakes as tokens of their affection. Agence France-Presse

Aircraft EM effects from AAOs (UFOs)

From: Terry W. Colvin


Reports of anomalous aerial objects (AAO) appearing in the atmosphere continue to be made by pilots of almost every airline and air force of the world in addition to private and experimental test pilots. This paper presents a review of 56 reports of AAO in which electromagnetic effects (E-M) take place on-board the aircraft when the phenomenon is located nearby but not before it appeared or after it had departed. These effects are not related to the altitude or airspeed of the aircraft. The average duration of these sightings was 17.5 minutes in the 37 cases in which duration was noted. There were between one and 40 eye witnesses (average = 2.71) on the aircraft. Reported E-M effects included radio interference or total failure, radar contact with and without simultaneous visual contact, magnetic and/or gyro-compass deviations, automatic direction finder failure or interference, engine stopping or interruption, dimming cabin lights, transponder failure, and military aircraft weapon system failure. There appears to be a reduction of the E-M energy effect with the square of increasing distance to the AAO. These events and their relationships are discussed. This area of research should be concentrated on by other investigators because of the wealth of information it yields and the physical nature of AAO including wavelength/frequency and power density emissions.

For full report see:


One of the best researchers in the UFO field, in my opinion, is Dr. Richard Haines for the exacting attention to detail and the breadth and scope of his interests. I consider him a model for emulation.

This bio is dated, 1992...

Richard F. Haines was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and attended the University of Washing ton (College of Engineering) and Pacific Lutheran College (Tacoma) where he received the B.A. degree in 1960. He was awarded the M.A. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University (East Lansing) in 1962 and 1964, respectively, in the field of Experimental Psychology.

After working at NASA-Ames from 1967 - 1986 as a research scientist in numerous astronautical (Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Station) and aeronautical (e.g., Mgr. of the Joint FAA/NASA Head-up Display Program, landing simulation research) projects, he was appointed Chief of the Space Human Factors Office at NASA-Ames (1986-1988) where he directed research and development efforts of the AX-5 "hard" EVA space suit, habitability design research for Space Station Freedom, and spacecraft window design.

He retired from government service in 1988 and taught at San Jose State University as an Associate Professor of Psychology while working part time as a scientist in the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science. From 1990-1991 he has provided consulting services to NASA in various laboratory activities related to supersonic wind tunnel automation redesign and Space Station Freedom - to - ground bandwidth image transmission reduction.

His interest in UFO phenomena spans over 20 years with special interests in sightings by pilots, analysis of photographic evidence, and data on Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind. He claims that, "these three areas contain the type of data that will bring us to a successful discovery of the core nature of the phenomena.

Richard studied 56 pilot sightings that involved electromagnetic effects on the aircraft.

We need more work like this in order to establish a foundation of solid factual evidence that yields more information about the properties and behaviors of UFOs.


Bill Hamilton
Executive Director
Skywatch International, Inc.
Fiat Lux et Veritas

Woman has devil of time finding exorcist


NORWICH, Conn. (AP) _ A woman who claims she once hosted 19 demonic spirits has begun a lonely protest of what she says is the lack of a decent exorcist in Connecticut.

Wearing a black ski mask, the woman picketed Wednesday afternoon in front of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich, carrying a sign that read "The bishop forgot my exorcism."

For believers, exorcism is the rite of casting out evil spirits from those who have become possessed.

"I want public exposure for the unpardonable neglect of people who are possessed by a demon," said the woman, who told the Norwich Bulletin she wished to be identified only as Mrs. B.

Witch sued after spell doesn't work

From Ananova at


A Romanian witch is being sued by a customer after the spells she gave him didn't have any effect.

Vasile Birsan, 72, from Roznov, Neamt county, saw the witch's adverts in a local newspaper and hoped they would solve some of his problems.

He hoped they could help his sick wife and make his 40-year-old son marry.

He paid the equivalent of Ł250 for the spells, but went to police when the term indicated by the witch expired without any changes.

Police managed to find her after an officer requested a meeting claiming to be a customer.

The witch agreed to make a refund, reports the Evenimentul Zilei newspaper. Story filed: 11:34 Friday 17th January 2003

Woman tormented by demons plans protest

From Ananova at


An American woman tormented by demons is planning a protest on behalf of fellow-sufferers.

The 51-year-old former schoolteacher has spent six years seeking an exorcism.

She now intends to demonstrate in front of the Norwich Diocese in East Connecticut.

"I'll be carrying a sign and have my head covered in a hood. I want public exposure for the unpardonable neglect of people who are possessed by a demon," she said in the Norwich Bulletin.

Ms. B, who asked not to be identified by name, at one point was possessed by 19 demonic spirits and spoke in "a tongue in which she is not familiar" in a session with her psychiatrist, according to mental and spiritual assessments of her.

Roman Catholic exorcisms are carefully planned rituals that can include holy water, crucifixes and sacred ruins, according to De Exorcismus et supplicationibus quibusdam, a manual approved by Pope John Paul II in 1998. But getting one in eastern Connecticut isn't easy, which is why Ms. B plans to protest in front of the Norwich Diocese at 201 Broad St.

The symptoms started in 1993. "I heard hateful voices, I had an involuntary blurb here or there. I had involuntary motions. For example, if I had been cutting a vegetable, the knife would move. My eyes would move without my permission," she said.

Bible college shuns beastly 666 phone number

From Ananova at


A Kentucky Bible college wants to change its telephone number because the 666 prefix is disturbing to Christians who recognise it as the biblical mark of the beast.

It has been trying for months to persuade a telephone company to change the number.

Rob Roy MacGregor, the college's vice president for business affairs, says they want the number changed to a second prefix, 693.

"People say, 'You're a Bible college and you have 666 in your phone number?"' said Carlene Light, an office worker at Kentucky Mountain Bible College.

"It's the connotation. No one wants to be part of the mark of the beast." In the biblical book of Revelation, 666 is stamped by Satan into the foreheads or hands of those marked for eternal damnation during the last days.

MacGregor said he asked Access Point, a North Carolina-based telephone company that serves the college, to change the number about six months ago. "In the secular world, 666 is not a problem," he said. "It is for us."

Kaye Davis, general counsel for the company, said the phone company intended to change the number as soon as possible.

"I certainly understand, being a Bible college, that the number 666 would cause some questions," she said.

Story filed: 11:12 Saturday 18th January 2003

Radio producer may have ghostly voice on tape

From Ananova at


A radio producer says she may have captured the voice of a ghost in Edinburgh's underground vaults.

Debbie McPhail claims to have made a recording of a ghoulish voice hissing the words "get out" or "go away" in Gaelic.

The voice ruined a recording she was making with former rugby international Norrie Rowan, who owns a section of the underground city.

Mrs McPhail describes herself as "a cynical person by nature" - but says she has no explanation for the ghostly voice, reports The Scotsman.

She said: "When I was listening back to it, I could hear Norrie Rowan chatting and then I heard another voice. It was close by to the microphone because you can tell if voices are far away or not. I knew it wasn't the presenter or Norrie because the voice had a slightly Irish accent."

She added: "When the presenter came back up I asked him who they had met in the vault and he said nobody.

"I asked a colleague who spoke Gaelic and she said they could be saying 'get out' or 'go away'."

Gordon Stewart, assistant director at Mercat Tours, which conducts visits around the vaults says the recording could be the first actual evidence of psychic phenomena in the vault.

But Dr Paul Stevens, from Edinburgh University's Koestler Parapsychology unit, said: "At one time someone there thought they were hearing strange sounds, but the wall actually backed on to a massage parlour and that was where the funny noises were coming from."

Radio Journalist Arrested for Interviewing Man Who Said Vampires Attacked Him

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) - A radio journalist was arrested Sunday for interviewing a man who claimed he was attacked by vampires, under a Malawi government campaign to quash vampire rumors.


Mysterious circles caused by Mother Nature, not aliens


By LEE BOWMAN - Scripps Howard News Service They've been credited to space aliens, gnomes or citizens of lost worlds, but a new computer-driven study concludes that only natural forces create perfect circles of stones and other geometric patterns that mysteriously form on the ground in parts of Alaska, Norway and other regions with long winters.

Basically, soil and stones sort themselves into circles, polygons and stripes through a process of lateral sorting and squeezing that occurs as the ground cycles through freezes and thaws.

On the Net: www.sciencemag.org
(Contact Lee Bowman at BowmanL@shns.com or online at http://www.shns.com)

Adam and 'Eve': New Science Will Give Parents Some Control Over Children's Genes


Jan 19, 2003
By Matt Crenson
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - They held a news conference not long after Adam Nash was born.

It was a small affair compared to the international media extravaganza that attended last month's alleged birth of the world's first cloned human.

Maybe that's because Adam's birth had nothing to do with UFO cults, virgin births or secret laboratories in unnamed countries. But unlike the allegedly cloned "Eve," Adam offers a very real glimpse into the future of human reproduction.

For one thing, Adam has actually been proven to possess the genes he was designed with. Even more important, those genes were not merely copied from another person's, but selected to give Adam specific traits.

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