NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 January 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Textbook Disclaimer Bill Proposed

From: Skip Evans evans@ncseweb.org

On February 3 this year's session of the Oklahoma state legislature will open. Among the bills scheduled to be introduced at that time is House Bill 1504, sponsored by Rep. Bill Graves. This bill would require an evolution disclaimer in every textbook which discusses the subject.

Similar bills have been introduced in Oklahoma in the past, but failed to pass. The complete text of the bill, available on the Oklahoma legislature's website, reads as follows:


SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 16-121.1 of Title 70, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:

A. All textbooks used by school districts in the state in which evolution is discussed shall include the following disclaimer: "This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants and humans. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact. The word evolution may refer to many types of changes. Evolution describes changes that occur within a species, for example, white moths may evolve into gray moths. This process is microevolution which can be observed and described as fact. Evolution may also refer to the change of one living thing to another, such as reptiles into birds. This process, called macroevolution has never been observed and should be considered a theory. Evolution also refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things. There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: Why did the! major groups of animals suddenly appear in the fossil record, known as the Cambrian Explosion? Why have no new major groups of living things appeared in the fossil record in a long time? Why do major groups of plants and animals have no transitional forms in the fossil record? How did you and all living things come to possess such a complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body? Study hard and keep an open mind. Someday you may contribute to the theories of how living things appeared on earth."

B. The State Textbook Committee shall determine which textbooks shall include the disclaimer set forth in subsection A of this section. If the disclaimer is not printed in the textbook by the publisher, the State Textbook Committee shall be responsible for ensuring that the disclaimer is inserted into any textbook authorized for use in public schools of Oklahoma. SECTION 2. This act shall become effective July 1, 2003. SECTION 3. It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.

Skip Evans
Network Project Director
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609
510-601-7203 Ext. 308
510-601-7204 (fax)

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Stealth Wasn't Extraterrestrial Present


12:35 2003-01-28

The plane is designed especially for repulsing and scattering of a radio locator signal, that is why contours of the plane are so unusually angular. Indeed, shape and design of the invisible plane are rather strange against the background of hundreds of "regular" planes. The dark baffle paint adds something more menacing and schizophrenic to the plane's design. Although battle technique of the West is famous for its exaggerated gloomy and aggressive design, the Stealth design was very unusual for ordinary people and even caused some timidity. It is no wonder that at the same very period when the invisible plane was built, lots of publications appeared saying that extraterrestrials helped Americans design Stealth. Suggestions of this kind were somehow connected with the fact that 50th anniversary of UFO's first registered flight over the Earth was celebrated in 1997. As is known, an UFO was registered from the Earth for the first time on June 25, 1947, it was businessman Kenneth Arnold who saw the UFO. But now we know that the objects that he saw were in fact jet airplanes F-84 that were secret at that period.

As for a technology "presented" by UFO to Americans, it was connected with some vessel that crashed near Roswell on June 2, 1947.

So, is Stealth a present of some space beings? An article was published in Los Angeles Times in the early 1990s under the title "Did UFO build Stealth?" The author of the publication wondered why the B-2 Stealth looked like an extraterrestrial flying vehicle. Readers were dumbfounded with suggestions of the author saying that UFO engineers helped Americans design and build Stealth. The information was published with reference to Great Britain's leading ufologist Doctor Weis; it was declared to be the biggest secret of the US Government.

To all appearance, technology of extraterrestrials must be progressive and successful. But how did it happen in fact?

An experimental American plane crashed in October 1987 in the desert Nevada, 160 kilometers to the north-west of Las Vegas. As American news agencies reported just few facts concerning the crash, it was clear that it was a pursuit plane constructed with the help of the progressive Stealth technology. And the crash was not the only one. Earlier, in July 1986 a similar plane crashed in California, above a national park famous for its sequoias. The region was immediately cordoned off and the air space was banned for flights. Two years before the accident, General Bond, US second-in-command for new air force weapons, crashed in a F-19 plane. The plane got out of the general's control as the machine wasn't stable enough. The plane was designed in accordance with the Stealth technology. But, as the publication in Los Angeles Times said, the history begins from early 1970, when an American fighter brought down three UFOs over Arizona. "Only six of 34 extraterrestrials were saved. They look like earthly people, but their skin is gray and wrinkled. The creatures were delivered to a secret research laboratory in New Mexico. As soon as the Pentagon learnt that the extraterrestrial beings came from a more developed civilization, they were immediately engaged in development of a new invisible bomber." So, it was wonderful: uflogist Weis, being hundreds of kilometers from the USA knew what was going on in secret research centers and even knew the exact number of extraterrestrial beings that died and remained alive.

Attempts to build an invisible plane were made in different countries already long ago. However, before radio locators appeared, those were attempts to build a plane that would be invisible over the optical range only. It is highly likely that such experiments were a success in Russia.

For instance, such machine was briefly mentioned in the book "History of plane construction in the USSR before 1938" by V.Shavrov. Description of such machines were published in Soviet magazines and editions on technology. This is one of the descriptions concerning operation of an invisible plane. "Two pursuit planes I-16 were set a problem: they must take off after an experimental plane, catch up with it and keep a look-out. Video shooting was to be done from the surface at the same time. But the pursuit failed, as the pursuit planes lost the experimental plane. Spectators who remained on the surface couldn't see it as well. They just heard the sound of its engine several times sounding quite close, above the city and above the fields, but the pursuit planes were some distance away from the place. Operators failed to videotape the pursuit as they saw nothing at all. The pursuit planes had to land soon as they couldn't see the object of the pursuit. Soon the sound of the invisible plane was heard. The spectators saw that grass fell under the pressure of the plane's air-blast. Then the engine was stopped, and the plane was visible on the strip again." So, fantasy was turning into reality: it was already possible to make objects invisible.

But then radio locators were created. This made invisible planes correspond other requirements, they was to operate in a different radiation range. The principle of radar's operation is simple: a secondary echo from some object is received by the radar input device. At long distances the secondary echo is insignificant, it can be compared with the light of a flash-light that is 20 kilometers from an observer. But modern air defence systems can detect it as well.

Bulgarian engineer, Colonel Todor Andreyev wrote in 1988 that machines developed in accordance with the Stealth program had been developed in the USA since 1975; the program was strictly classified, that is why any publications on the problem were brief and contradictory starting with 1977.

Invisible planes are very dangerous, this can be seen from Richard Cheney's statement saying that one Stealth bomber could have performed the operation in Libya. For the attack at Libya, the USA used 18 F-111 bombers, 15 naval force bombers, 28 refueller planes, several planes of electronic resistance, control planes and regular bombers.

Los Angeles Times quoted Doctor Weis as saying that extraterrestrials helped in every stage of the Stealth bomber development. So, publications of this kind in the gutter press for the broad masses spread the opinion saying that black triangles of "invisible" planes were generated by some extraterrestrial beings, and that humans, especially non-Americans wouldn't cope with such planes. But there were some cases registered when such invisible planes were brought down. For instance, there was one "invisible" plane, F-117 among 68 American planes brought down during the conflict between the USA and Iraq in 1991.

Experts say, the cockpit and the surface of an invisible plane cannot be detected by radars, but such planes are visible from the side rather well. What is more, such invisible planes become quite unprotected when their bomb hatches are open. It is like in Herbert Wells' "Invisible Man" where the inventor had to walk naked so that nobody could see him. Adventures of the naked invisible man were rather funny. But the reality turned out to be even more amusing. London's Guardian wrote: "Russian scientists developed a technology invisible for radiolocators, that was used for creation of invisible plane Stealth. It was this warplane that has become the symbol of America's scientific superiority in refined spheres of heavy armament during the last decade of the cold war. This was an official statement of American scientist Ben Rich." The scientist said that they came across the idea accidentally, they never hoped that the USSR would make such a present in the press openly. The American scientist refers to a lengthy technical publication by prominent Russian scientist Pyotr Ufimtsev, the article was published in Moscow in 1966. Information about invisible planes was hidden deep in the publication.

However that may be, these sombre planes built either in accordance with "extraterrestrial" technology, or on the basis of a technology stolen in Russia, they were produced and used in the attacks at Yugoslavia.

Yury Shchekochikhin wrote in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in 1999: "I was told that Stealth' recognition system "friend-enemy" ignored old Russian MiG-21. That is why when an invisible Stealth came out of clouds, its radar couldn't see this MiG-21. But when the MiG-21 pilot saw the Stealth, he fired at it immediately. Later, when the Stealth was downed, Belgrade replied: "Men from NATO, sorry, we didn't know the plane was invisible." So, it is highly likely that extraterrestrials palmed off some fraud on America as a revenge for UFOs that the USA downed.

Magic wands make cash disappear


Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Express-Times

BETHLEHEM -- Joann Zansky believed it when the psychic told her the magic wands were blessed by nine priests and were supposed to remove negative thoughts.

But four months and $5,400 later, Zansky thinks she may have been swindled.

The 57-year-old West Easton woman said she paid out the money to the psychic between October 2002 and this month. But she became suspicious about the effectiveness of the wands and told her sister, who recommended she report the matter to authorities.

Zansky went to the Bethlehem Police Department with her sister Friday to file the report. The matter was referred to investigators, but they said Monday they are unsure if the matter would warrant any criminal charges against the psychic.

"We're investigating," Bethlehem Police Lt. Robert Righi of the criminal investigations unit said Monday. "Possibly it is some violation of consumer fraud." The state attorney general's office will be contacted to look into the matter, Righi said.

The report names the psychic as Peaches Miller of Psychic Readings, 2538 Easton Ave. No charges have been filed against Miller, the report says.

A woman who answered the phone at Psychic Readings on Monday afternoon said Miller was unavailable. A message left for Miller's husband, Donald Miller, was returned by his attorney, Chris Spadoni. Spadoni declined to comment, saying he had not seen the police report.

Zansky said Monday that she initially went to Psychic Readings after she read an advertisement published last summer in The Express-Times. She disclosed several details about her life to Peaches Miller through a series of visits and phone conversations throughout the fall, Zansky said.

The police report says Peaches Miller convinced Zansky to buy the first wand sometime in the fall because it would help her get rid of her "negative thoughts."

She gave Peaches Miller cash for the $1,800 wand, the report says. Zansky purchased the second wand with cash sometime in the fall after Miller suggested that the wand would help Zansky's nephew with his problems, the report says.

On Jan. 13, Miller contacted Zansky regarding a dream she had about Zansky's mother, who had passed away 33 years ago, the report says. Miller told Zansky that she needed to buy a third wand and a 6-foot candle to help her mother "get out of limbo and go to heaven," the report says.

Zansky paid for the wand with a check, but told Miller she didn't have any more money to pay for the 6-foot candle, the report says. The third wand has not yet been delivered, the report says.

Zansky said she became suspicious when Miller sold her the third wand. She said she now realizes she was deceived into buying the wands.

"She was a terrific actress," Zansky said. "I believed her."

Zansky said she bought the second and third wands out of concern for her nephew and mother.

"I can't explain why I did this," she said. "I'm a very co-dependent person and I worry about everyone else before myself. I guess that's why I did it."

Zansky handed the two wands over to police. They are being stored in evidence.

Referring to her first visit to Psychic Readings, Zansky said, "To think I just went for fun."

'Superman' Slams Scientology


Superman star Christopher Reeve has hit out at the controversial Scientology cult - claiming he opted out of becoming a member because he was "skeptical" about its authenticity. The faith, founded by L. Ron Hubbard, has a huge following in the US, and is promoted vigorously by a number of Hollywood names including Tom Cruise and John Travolta. But Reeve says his experiences with Scientology left him cold. In his autobiography Nothing Is Impossible the paralyzed star describes how he underwent "auditing" sessions during which he was quizzed about his past, drug history and forced to take part in a lie-detector test. Reeve says he became so "skeptical" about the process he told a deliberate lie to the "e-meter" lie detector - and got away with it. An excerpt from the book, quoted on gossip site The Scoop, reads, "The fact that I got away with a blatant fabrication completely devalued my belief in the process. It's refreshing to find a celebrity that isn't another annoying Hollywood cliché, constantly promoting some leader, special mentor or weird group." Reeve's outburst has prompted Cultnews.Com - a website that campaigns against destructive and harmful religious organizations - to note, "It seems Scientology has more to learn from Superman than he ever could have take n in from its endless courses and 'auditing.'"

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 28, 2003

from The Washington Post

Top health experts yesterday recommended that doctors consider using a new blood test to help identify millions of people at risk for heart attacks and strokes.

The CRP -- for C-reactive protein -- test can help doctors target people who need to be treated aggressively to protect their health, according to an expert panel convened by the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The panel stopped short of endorsing universal screening with the test, which became the subject of intense debate in recent years as its popularity soared. Thousands of Americans are getting the tests, which proponents argue can save lives by identifying people with developing heart and blood vessel disease who might otherwise be missed. Others argue there is not yet enough evidence to justify widespread use.


from The New York Times

BEACON VALLEY, Antarctica - Scientists who study Mars have been coming here for 30 years to learn how an ultracold, bone dry climate shapes the terrestrial, and perhaps Martian, landscape. But they never, until now, thought about monster glaciers that vanish like phantoms in the night. "My mind was blown," said Dr. James Head of Brown University, a leading expert on the geology of Mars, referring to the idea that vast glaciers can ride over the land and leave only tiny traces. But he is reading these traces in the rocks and boulders of Antarctica's Dry Valleys, he said, and now that his eyes have been opened, he plans to look for similar marks on the plains of Mars as well.


from The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON - Drivers who use a cellphone, even with a "hands-free" device, suffer from a kind of tunnel vision that endangers themselves and others, US researchers said yesterday.

Legislation that seeks to make mobile telephone use by drivers safer by mandating the use of a hands-free device may be providing a false sense of security, they warned. New York is the only US state that requires the use of the devices for cellphone conversations while driving, but 30 other states have been considering similar laws, as has the Canadian province of Newfoundland.

"Sometimes you have to actually do the silly study that shows the obvious," said David Strayer, a University of Utah associate professor of psychology who led the study.


from The New York Times

We get tremory
In this world with no memory
Life makes only partial sense
Knowing only the present tense.

You might have thought that "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," the 1905 paper in which Albert Einstein proposed the theory of relativity, would be an unlikely subject for song and dance. After all, haven't art and science been at war since the British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow said so in a famous 1959 lecture, "The Two Cultures"?

The four lines quoted above are from the libretto of a musical under development and sung last week in the Kaufmann Theater at the American Museum of Natural History. Called "Einstein's Dreams," produced by Brian Schwartz and written by Joanne Sydney Lessner and Joshua Rosenblum, it is based on the best-selling novel of the same name, a tone poem of ruminations on time and mortality in early 20-century Switzerland by Dr. Alan Lightman. The producers have their own dreams of a Broadway run.


from The Chicago Tribune

SAN FRANCISCO -- In Silicon Valley, the land of technological whiz kids, astronomically expensive bungalows and glorious palm trees, the underside of the computer revolution keeps seeping up--literally.

The valley, located about 25 miles south of San Francisco, has been struggling for more than a decade to deal with semiconductor manufacturing solvents that have seeped into the groundwater, a problem that has made pricey Silicon Valley the home of the largest concentration of Superfund toxic waste sites in the nation.

Now the news is worse: The Environmental Protection Agency said last week that the suspected carcinogen trichloroethene, known as TCE, may be many times more harmful than originally thought, and that vapors from the substance have been found inside homes and office buildings.


from The New York Times

One of the most remarkable examples of symbiosis, the interdependence of different species, involves a tropical ant called the attine, or leaf-cutter. The ants grow a mushroomlike fungus in vast underground gardens, and they protect the fungus against a devastating mold with antibiotics produced by a bacterium that lives in a patch on their skin.

This ménage à quatre - the ant, the mushroom, the bacterium and the mold - form a stable association that has evolutionary biologists scratching their heads. The interplay of the four species seems to be the most complex symbiosis known.

Now the puzzle has grown more challenging with a report in the journal Science that suggests that the mold has been part of the system for a long time and, perhaps, accompanied the mushroom fungus that the ants first domesticated some 50 million years ago. Like original sin, the pathogen was in the first garden.


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These Guys Aren't Psychic Friends

By Diane Werts

January 24, 2003

Must be open season on psychics. First "South Park" skewered "Crossing Over" medium John Edward by having fourth- grade skeptic Stan accidentally land a competing talk-to-the-dead show. Now "Penn & Teller: B.S.!" launches its 13-week debunking run on Showtime with an epithet-strewn tirade against/investigation of Huntington's Edward, Bayside's James Van Praagh and others who claim to facilitate communication between we the living and our dear departed.

Epithets? We can't even print the full title of the show here, though, trust us, the massively aggressive Penn Jillette bellows it like a bullhorn. He also strenuously expends other unprintable verbiage of both fewer and many more letters, helpfully first explaining how this approach is much safer legally than calling people liars. But the gusto with which he goes for the throat is what makes this rant-cum- inquest such a raucous hoot. Even when he targets a subject you might find less worthy of such venom, it's hard to keep a straight face as the clever giant Penn spews while small-and-silent, one-named Teller pantomimes his partner's bombast.

Having built their own magic/comedy careers on being general charlatans - "One important difference: We tell you we're lying" - Penn & Teller bank on being even more resentful of "cheesy psychic superstars" than you might be. They're less upset tonight by the economic con than by "the desecration of memories" when the bereaved's last notion of a loved one gets messed up "by somebody else's images." They fuel their fury with step-by-step explanations of how the game can be played, using footage of "real" psychics at work in what P&T call "artful fishing for information." Those clips and Penn's sarcastic commentary are intercut with undercover sting efforts and observations from scientific debunkers such as the Skeptical Inquirer crew.

One unfortunate problem with this fast-paced half-hour approach quickly becomes apparent. The guys might be rightly exercised about the way psychics can edit their televised encounters to spotlight any success and eliminate the clinkers. But what are they themselves doing? The show's gotta be watchable. So when the "B.S." cameras seek comments from a psychic's audience, we only get the cynics.

Such nagging doubts magnify in next week's takedown of alternative medicine. The episode's investigated subjects - a traveling reflexology guru and a magnet therapy crusader - are both Southern- accented "hicks" designed to look essentially dumb. One could argue they contribute plenty to their seeming foolishness. Yet this TV trip-up can feel uncomfortably rigged by editing choices, even when you're inclined to agree with Penn's assessment that "people are being hosed by these whack-jobs." A sting stunt that's set up to show how patients can be "persuaded" of the medical effectiveness of nothing - yes, it's the yucky old snail-mucus face mask - actually becomes a demonstration of the power of television. People will agree to anything if they think it'll keep 'em on camera. They know the video drill.

But just as you're feeling creeped out or cheap- shotted yourself, Penn puts it in perspective. "These people aren't stupid," he insists. "These people are us. People trust others. And sadly, sometimes that's the problem." So go ahead and trust Penn & Teller if you want. Their future equal-opportunity skewerings include alien abductions (Feb. 7), the end of the world (Feb. 14), secondhand smoke (Feb. 21) and sex- enhancement products (Feb. 28). Further down the run are bottled water, creationism and environmental hysteria. (See more online at http://sho.com/ptbs.) Just remember to be as objectively skeptical of what these guys say as of anybody else. Hey - maybe that's the point they're trying to make.


PENN & TELLER: B.S.! A rollicking weekly debunk-fest in which the mismatched con artists gleefully go for the throat, targeting espousers of everything from psychic help to global warming. Series premiere tonight at 11 on Showtime.

Copyright (c) 2003, Newsday, Inc.

This article originally appeared at:



Boston Review

Maybe not.

Richard Eldridge

Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited
Charles Taylor
Harvard University Press, $19.95 (cloth)

"Only a god can save us," Martin Heidegger notoriously pronounced in a 1966 interview, published in Der Spiegel just weeks after his death in 1976. Heidegger's assertion remains a mystery. Who is the we (Germans, modern Europeans, human beings in general)? Why do we need to be saved? And why does our salvation require a god?

In his new book, Charles Taylor proposes that we—modern people—do need salvation and that a god is important. Not all is well, according to Taylor, in modern culture. We tend to drift through projects and relationships. A consumerist impulse drives us toward personal satisfactions that we never quite experience as richly meaningful—not in the way that compliance with god's word was once experienced as meaningful.

Fiery Ice From The Sea: A New World Energy Source?


Source: Office Of Naval Research

If you know anything about methane gas – and the Office of Naval Research thinks you should – it probably has something to do with swamp gas, and a faintly unpleasant sulfurous smell that rises from country marshes on sultry, summer evenings, or perhaps – for more romantic types – stories of Will-o'-the-Wisp, the flickering lights seen at night above that very same swamp (mundanely, methane igniting spontaneously with traces of odorous hydrogen sulfide found in the bog's rotting organic matter).

Forget it.

Start thinking about methane hydrates - a crystalline form of methane gas and pure water that exists when pressures are sufficiently high, or temperatures sufficiently low. If you manage to keep that pressure high or that temperature low, it looks like a lump of ice. There are mega-tons of the stuff at the bottom of the ocean all over the world and in the Arctic permafrost (about 300,000 trillion cubic feet of it) and it is the cleanest and most abundant source of energy in the world. There is at least twice as much of it around as fossil fuels (some say 10 times as much). And, when burned as a fuel, it releases less carbon dioxide pollution than anything else around.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued for journalists and other members of the public. If you wish to quote any part of this story, please credit Office Of Naval Research as the original source.

"Birds That Carry Off People"

I just received and read the September 2002 issue of Wonders (Vol. 7, No. 3). It contains an extremely important article by Mark A. Hall, "Birds That Carry Off People," on pages 67-84. In an organized, chronological fashion, Hall gives detailed historical case evidence for reports of large birds that have carried off human children, human adults, and other animals. He notes that "eagles," despite being used by skeptics and debunkers, have nothing to do with these reports. Migration routes, temporal patterns, and links between old and new cases are explored, with an integration of the new Alaskan accounts. For those curious about or doing research on Thunderbird reports, this article is well worth your time.

See http://home.att.net/~mhall.feature/ for details.

- Loren [Coleman]

Birth Pangs

January 28, 2003

Q. Why do humans, unlike virtually all other mammals, experience so much pain in giving birth?

A. The standard explanation is that the evolutionary growth of the human cranium outstripped the size and configuration of the human birth canal, especially the passage through the pelvis (which had to remain narrow so that people could walk on two feet), creating a uniquely difficult job. But recent research suggests that the matter is not so simple.

Studies of nonhuman primates have found that their offspring may face an even more tortuous route on the way out and that the relative difference between head size and pelvic diameter is larger in some nonhuman species.

One researcher, Dr. Wenda Trevathan, an evolutionary anthropologist at New Mexico State University, even argues that the pain and anxiety surrounding human birth serve a lifesaving purpose.

Since women know that giving birth is a really hard job, she suggests, they recruit help in giving birth, unlike virtually all other mammals. This often saves both woman and child, she says, because the position in which anatomy dictates that the baby emerge, downward and facing backward, makes it impractical for the woman to extricate the newborn and make sure it is free of the umbilical cord and mucus.

She also suggested that assisted childbirth coincided with the advent of bipedalism and long predated the cranial growth surge.


Gilead Is Nigh


Jan. 27, 2003. Page 10
By Matt Bivens

WASHINGTON -- One of Bob Jones University's three recommended Bible readings this Friday was Genesis 29:15 to 30:24. Rachel, unable to conceive, steps aside: "And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her."

Many Americans of my generation would associate this reading with Margaret Atwood's novel "The Handmaid's Tale," about a United States rechristened the Republic of Gilead and ruled by a conservative Christian dictatorship. Maybe that's the point. Certainly the Christian right is more fully and unapologetically in power than ever.

Bob Jones is a small South Carolina college that, according to its web site, "stands without apology for the old-time religion and the absolute authority of the Bible." In other words, BJU asserts that everything in the good book, right down to the animals marching two-by-two into Noah's Ark, happened exactly that way. The school's web site once infamously described the rival Catholic Church as "a satanic counterfeit" of a Christian church and as "the old harlot of the book of the Revelation." The school frowns upon the mixing of races and only dropped a ban on inter-racial dating in 2000.

None of this would be terribly noteworthy if not for the weird hold this obscure place exerts on leading Republicans. Among the many politicians who have made speaking pilgrimages to the school are President George W. Bush and his attorney general, John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft, who holds an honorary BJU degree, gave the commencement address in 1999, asserting controversially that Americans "have no king but Jesus." In fact, the attorney general not only starts each day with a quasi-mandatory office prayer, and exhorts his staff to sing patriotic songs he's written -- upon taking office he actually had conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas anoint him with oil in the manner of King David, according to his memoirs.

All of which is background to the past week's "two-day wonder," the appointment of one Jerry Thacker to a presidential advisory council on HIV and AIDS. Thacker has a powerful story to tell: His wife contracted HIV in 1986 from a blood transfusion during labor and passed the AIDS virus on to her husband and daughter.

Thacker and his wife are conservative Christians, and he is, yes, a Bob Jones University alumnus. Since contracting AIDS, he has written of it as "the gay plague" and has described homosexuality as a sin and a "deathstyle."

The newspapers ran loud with the idea of Bob Jones-grad Thacker advising Bob Jones-suckup Bush on federal policies to combat (or not combat) AIDS -- with the even-creepier-than-Bob-Jones attorney general looking on. A day of such headlines had the White House backing off the appointment and blaming Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson for hiring Thacker; and Thompson blaming "someone from my office."

"Someone from my office?" The Republic of Gilead draws nigh indeed. So many Bob Jones sympathizers are seeded throughout the Bush Administration, it seems no one can keep track of them anymore. And even an administration that let its attorney general be anointed with oil can be embarrassed by them. As Paul wrote to the Galatians (6:7-9), "What things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap."

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes "The Daily Outrage" for The Nation. [www.thenation.com]

Federal Funds to Build Churches


The New York Times
January 28, 2003

The Bush administration's campaign to merge church and state continued last week when it announced plans to allow federal housing money to be used to erect buildings in which religious services occur. Spending taxpayer money to build religious structures is a radical move, and one that defies long-established constitutional precedents. The new policy should be challenged and, if the administration refuses to withdraw it, struck down by the courts.

Monday, January 27, 2003

The Debunkers vs. the UFO Menace; or, Is Ufology


Tantamount to Communism?
by Jerome Clark
(written in 1992)

On August 23, 1983, an administrator at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln took a strange phone call from a man who had a complaint which he expressed at some length. When he finally got offf the phone, the administrator summarized the conversation in a memo to another university official:

"Mr. Phillip [sic] Klass ... is a member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal [CSICOP]. This committee has a much different view of unexplained phenomena than those groups we are working with as sponsors of "this conference [titled Exploring Unexplained Phenomena]. He was, in fact, quite adament [sic] in his position regarding the credibility of the conference presenters. Further, Mr. Klass has a personal feeling that the nature of this conference seriously questions the integrity of the United States Government. He feels that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims of the presenters and indicated that these organizations, by publicly questioning the government, lend support to the Communist movement."

All ufologists, of course, know who Philip J. Klass is. A Washington-based aerospace journalist, Klass is the world's best known (and, some would say, most obsessed) critic of UFO reports and ufologists, the author of books with self-explanatory titles as UFOs Explained, UFOs: The Public Deceived, and UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game -- all sacred texts of the debunking movement.

Cancer trial to study the power of thought


CANCER patients will be taught to use their own powers to tackle the disease in a study being launched in Yorkshire which harnesses ideas that go back to the Ancient Greeks.

Nearly 200 patients with bowel cancer in Hull will take part in the trial to learn techniques visualising their bodies' defences attacking and overcoming tumours.

The self-help approach, known as guided imagery, has already proved successful with breast cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy.

Patients reported a better quality of life and fewer side effects during their treatment than those who had not learned the technique.

It was also found to have an impact on white blood cells, which play a key role in boosting immune systems leading to benefits in fighting cancer and other diseases.

The latest trial – funded by the charity Cancer Research UK – will involve 180 patients who have operable bowel cancer and are suitable for chemotherapy.

Professor Leslie Walker, director of the oncology centre at Hull University's Postgraduate Medical Institute, said: "The idea that images may have powerful psychological and biological effects goes right back to the dawn of human history. Two-and-a-half thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle said, 'The soul never thinks without a picture'.

"We have good scientific evidence that this treatment can promote psychological well being in women with breast cancer and now we want to learn if men and women with bowel cancer will get similar benefits. We also want to compare effects of relaxation and imagery, alone and in combination.

"The relaxation techniques involve learning special muscular exercises. When patients have learned to relax, they may be able to visualise their host defences more clearly.

"Some patients like to imagine their white blood cells, or the chemotherapy, fighting the cancer. Others prefer to imagine a healing process, for example a white light promoting well being and a return to health."

The study will start soon at the Princess Royal Hospital in Hull and Castle Hill Hospital in nearby Cottingham and will run for three years.

Both centres provide services for patients and relatives who can drop in for information or make an appointment to learn various self-help techniques. They currently deal with 260 people a week from East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.

The services, which have won national awards, have been developed thanks to increasing recognition of the trauma caused to patients' quality of life by cancer which has been acknowledged by the Government in its cancer programme.

Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "There is much to be learned about the benefits of mind and body working together.

"This is very interesting research that may lead to improving the quality of life of many more cancer patients undergoing treatment."

Leading scientists still reject God


Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Sir — The question of religious belief among US scientists has been debated since early in the century. Our latest survey finds that, among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever — almost total.

Research on this topic began with the eminent US psychologist James H. Leuba and his landmark survey of 1914. He found that 58% of 1,000 randomly selected US scientists expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of God, and that this figure rose to near 70% among the 400 "greater" scientists within his sample [1]. Leuba repeated his survey in somewhat different form 20 years later, and found that these percentages had increased to 67 and 85, respectively [2].

In 1996, we repeated Leuba's 1914 survey and reported our results in Nature [3]. We found little change from 1914 for American scientists generally, with 60.7% expressing disbelief or doubt. This year, we closely imitated the second phase of Leuba's 1914 survey to gauge belief among "greater" scientists, and find the rate of belief lower than ever — a mere 7% of respondents.

Weeping statues and Icons


From The Detroit News. Thanksgiving, 1997, an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help started seeping oil in a woman's home. This icon is reportedly associated with miraculous cures as well.

Chinese in Singapore not eyeing new donor programme

From Ananova at


Chinese people in Singapore say they don't want eyes included in the national organ donor programme, because they need them in the afterlife.

The government is testing public opinion over whether corneas and livers, and possibly hearts and lungs, should be included in an expanded programme instead of just kidneys.

Under the current law all Singaporeans except Muslims, are considered organ donors unless they opt out.

Muslims must sign up individually for religious reasons.

Chinese community members say they won't give up any part of their eyes after death because of their belief in reincarnation. Many in the predominantly Chinese country are Buddhists and Taoists, who believe that if their eyes are removed, they will be blind or have no eyes at all in their next life.

Some also opposed the cornea donations because eyes were not considered necessary to save lives.

Story filed: 08:43 Monday 27th January 2003


A new monthly web column by Matthew Nisbet exclusively at www.csicop.org

January, 2003

The Skeptical Environmentalist:
A Case Study in the Manufacture of News

How did a book authored by an obscure Danish academic with little or no expertise in environmental science become an international media event? Or more precisely, what was so newsworthy about this book?

To read the column, go to: http://www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/environmentalist/

MATTHEW NISBET is a doctoral candidate in the department of communication at Cornell University. His research on science, politics, and the media appears in the journals Communication Research, the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, and Science Communication. From 1997 to 1999, Nisbet worked as public relations director for CSICOP.

Science In the News

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

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines – January 27, 2003

from Newsday

Davos, Switzerland - Microsoft founder Bill Gates yesterday announced a $200-million challenge to the world's scientists, aimed at increasing the amount of research on diseases that afflict the world's poor.

The latest philanthropic venture from the software billionaire aims to create a panel of scientists who will establish research targets involving diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Grants would then be offered to scientists willing to tackle the targets.

In a speech at the World Economic Forum, Gates said he hoped to cast light "on the real health challenges in the world today" and "stimulate the collective IQs of the world's best young scientists."

"It's a wonderful, wonderful announcement for all of us," U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said in a news conference. "Thank you, Bill Gates, for your tremendous generosity. What a great human being you are."


from The Washington Post

It's the cynic's Golden Rule that no good deed goes unpunished, and no group knows it better than those well-intentioned, ecologically oriented citizens who heat their homes with special corn-burning stoves instead of natural gas or oil. Their goal is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. But their approach has critics fuming.

"This is an example of how stupid society is," one irate energy analyst wrote recently on a Web site, echoing comments from many others after articles about corn burners appeared in several U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post. "More gasoline was spent to grow the corn than the [energy] delivered to heat the houses," wrote Ken Bosley, of Sparks, Md.

In fact, corn cultivation in this country is, for the most part, an energy- consuming environmental disaster, said David Pimentel, a professor of ecology and agricultural science at Cornell University. "Corn is the number one cause of erosion or total soil loss in the United States," he said. "It uses more fertilizer than any other crop. It's the largest user of insecticides. And it's the largest user of herbicides."


from The New York Times

Will great cheese come from genetically engineered cloned cows?

Scientists in New Zealand are reporting that they have created such cows, animals that produce milk with higher than normal levels of protein, which would speed the process of making cheese.

Cows have previously been genetically engineered to produce proteins for use as pharmaceuticals in their milk. But this is the first time the food properties of the milk have been genetically engineered, according to the journal Nature Biotechnology, which will publish a paper on the work in its February issue.

The researchers, led by Götz Laible at AgResearch, a government-owned research company, put extra copies of the genes for two milk proteins — beta-casein and kappa-casein — into cow cells in the laboratory. They then created cow embryos from those cells using cloning. Eleven cows were born, and nine produced milk with 8 percent to 20 percent more beta-casein and twice as much kappa-casein as controls.


from The New York Times

The whiteboard in Duncan J. Watts's office at Columbia University was a thicket of squiggly blue lines, circles and calculus equations. Mr. Watts, an associate professor of sociology, had just begun a passionate disquisition on the virtues and liabilities of scale-free networks when the telephone rang. It was Alfred Berkeley, the vice chairman of Nasdaq, hoping to chat about the exchange's design.

Mr. Watts, 31, is a network theorist. And these days that means fielding frequent calls from powerful admirers like Mr. Berkeley — Wall Street moguls and government officials eager to tap into a nascent academic science that few understand but that many think may hold the key to everything from predicting fashion trends to preventing terrorism, stock market meltdowns and the spread of HIV.

Never mind that Mr. Watts's new book on the subject, "Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age," which will be published by W. W. Norton next month, is littered with the arcana of theoretical physics as well as charts and graphs that appear to require an advanced degree in math in order to decipher. Network theory is hot. Two other recent books on networks, "Linked: The New Science of Networks" (Perseus, 2002) by Albert- Laszlo Barabasi and "Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks" (W. W. Norton) by Mark Buchanan, have already sold tens of thousands of copies.


from The Chicago Tribune

The plan to landfill air pollution might seem laughable.

As a stopgap solution to global warming, scientists have proposed capturing several billion tons of carbon dioxide from the air and injecting it deep into the earth for long-term storage.

No one knows whether vast amounts of the greenhouse gas would stay put 2 miles below ground. Nevertheless, an increasing number of experts-- including some environmentalists--believe the idea isn't as harebrained as it might sound.

With carbon dioxide emissions rising steadily in the U.S. and around the world, countries are casting about for ways to reduce the heat-trapping pollution. In the meantime, scientists say it can be unloaded into dark reaches of the earth, including saline aquifers, depleted oil wells, coal seams and the ocean.


Commentary from The Washington Post

This country isn't ready to deal with a catastrophic terrorist attack, and government preparedness may not be the biggest problem. Indeed, one of the most critical parts of our infrastructure -- the nation's news media -- doesn't appear near the top of anyone's list of concerns. They should be of utmost concern to those responsible for homeland security.

I suspect, though, that most defense types simply regard journalists as pests at best, maybe even a threat to national security. They generally feel the media are to be avoided as much as possible and told as little as possible. But with the country's increased focus on security here at home, I think that the strength of the news media is more important than ever.

When we think of infrastructure, we usually think of tangible things that bind us together: our water supply, transportation networks, energy pipelines . The media, too, belong in this category. They are the main communication conduit to the public, carrying valuable information from one place to another. The interconnectedness of these modern infrastructure systems allows greater efficiency, but it also creates new vulnerabilities. And the news media may be the weakest link in this system.

We need to protect the media as zealously as we protect the electric power grid and nuclear reactors, and not just their printing plants and broadcast towers. Their journalists also need to be armed to work effectively as part of the nation's response to terrorism. And to do that, they need the help of the engineering and science community.


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By James Randi at


Alternative Healer/Guru Dr. Andrew Weil has mailed me a videotape of a chap named Joao Teixeira de Faria. This is yet another Brazilian "healer." A book and video have been produced about him, both called "The Miracle Man of Brazil." He modestly calls himself John of God, and he claims that he has cured 15 million people in 35 years of practice. Sure.

New Home for Vampire Park

'Vlad the Impaler's historic Transylvanian birthplace has been spared the indignity of having a Dracula theme park built nearby after consultants said it would be more viable if located near the Romanian capital.

'A study by the international auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers found a park devoted to the legendary vampire would attract more than a million tourists a year if located near Bucharest....'

For more details, go to:

Sunday, January 26, 2003

The Spirits of Texas


Vallie Fletcher Taylor

True ghost stories

Texas is not an old state, but it is big, and lots of stories come out of big country. Here are real tales, not tall tales, from a noted author and writer, and they will make you think again if you're a skeptic. Indians were here first, and naturally they have a few tales of their own. But their ghosts are still around and you can hear recent travelers tell about them.

And of course, for the more modern sorts, author Fletcher captures the sights and sounds in even urban hotels where ethereal movements spook the staff and the patrons. A little harder to get to are the rural residents in houses still occupied by former souls. For ghost buffs, this is a great read. For historians, its fast-paced and authentic, and sometimes she even gives directions!

This is a collection of true tales you won't want to put down until you've finished it, but you will want to savor it enough to save a few chapters for tomorrow night.

"Uniquely attuned to her topic, and scientifically precise in her investigations, Val Taylor has produced a work that is truly haunting. Spirits of Texas is certain to win a special place among the classics of its kind."
Richard Wheeler
author of Voices of the Civil War and other titles

Thousands attend festival to be exorcised

From Ananova at


Thousands of people have flocked to a 250-year old temple fair in central India to be exorcised of ghosts.

The "possessed" are brought before Hindu priests in Malajpur in Madhya Pradesh.

The priests are trained to deal with exorcisms and sprinkle holy water to bring the demons under control.

The Times of India says there are about 200 priests in the village.

Head priest Chandra Singh Mahant said two trees in the temple grounds were home to "hundreds of thousands of ghosts who have been expelled from human bodies."

The annual fair is held in honour of a saint Guru Deoji who lived in the 1700s. Locals believe the saint had supernatural powers and could perform miracles.

It's reported that 11 months after they buried the saint alive at his own request, a foetus of an unborn child was found. The foetus was re-buried.

The fair is expected to attract about 100,000 visitors by the time it finishes at February 6.

Story filed: 13:18 Saturday 25th January 2003

'Winter World': Surviving the Cold


January 26, 2003

It is snowing here in New England as I write this -- a perfect time to slip under a comforter and enter Bernd Heinrich's ''Winter World.'' ''It is getting light now,'' he writes. ''The snowflakes continue their soothing rustle on my jacket. . . . I look down and see a blade of sedge wiggle. A tiny load of snow slides off. A flash of movement. A moving black dot. It's the eye of an immaculately white weasel. . . . The weasel stands up, extending its slender six-inch body toward a tiny rustle, looks in that direction, then dashes off. In seconds it is back, standing tall and looking at me. Fearless, focused, improbably alert and powered with unbounded restless energy, it soon again disappears from sight.'' A biologist at the University of Vermont and the author of such notable books as ''Bumblebee Economics'' and ''Mind of the Raven,'' Heinrich enthralls us now with this new, captivating and at times surprising examination of animal survival in the coldest of seasons, when woodland creatures face ''the anvil of ice'' and ''the hammer of deprivation.''

How to Make Your Own UFO


Ever since launch, there's been a number of people who've claimed to have seen flying saucers and other esoteric objects in SOHO images. Although some of these supposed pictures of UFOs can seem quite intriguing, they have always turned out to have a quite ordinary cause when examined by experienced SOHO scientists. In recent days, we've been receiving so many questions and claims that we'd like to set the record straight: We've never seen anything that even suggests that there are UFOs "out there".

In the past we've been accused of "covering up" UFO evidence when we present our explanations, and of "refusing to comment" (or "clamming up") when we give up on somebody who won't accept our explanations. While we don't expect to convince everybody, we hope that this page (and links herein) can provide some information for the curious who want to investigate the claims on their own.

Most commonly, UFO claims are due to perfectly natural flaws or artifacts in our publicly available data. Quoting from one of the replies sent by a SOHO scientist in response to a question from the public:

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Seminar debates evolution theory


By Breuse Hickman

Kent Hovind can remember when folks didn't have to lock their front doors.

But then schools began teaching the theory of evolution and all hell broke loose -- literally, according to Hovind.

"The devil invented the big-bang theory," Hovind has said.

The former Pensacola-based Christian school science teacher says he's discovered a link between the acceptance of evolution and the exodus of God from schools and society. And that has lead to the nation's moral decline that started sometime in the early 1960s.

Since 1990, Hovind has been on a mission to expose what evolution can't explain and what God's instant creation can. He left the classroom, began the Creation Science Evangelism ministry and travels the country speaking at schools and universities.

"I've been doing this every week now for about 14 years," he said. "The adrenaline keeps me going."

Hovind will lead a six-hour seminar Sunday and Monday at Eau Gallie First Baptist Church in Melbourne. In addition to the open sessions, about 1,000 students are expected to attend condensed seminars on Monday. Seats are available for the Monday afternoon session.

In the seminar, he dismisses the evolution theory via Bible verses and what he sees as common sense.

Though modern science rejects creationism, which holds that the human race can be traced to a talking snake and a spare human rib, Hovind stresses it requires even more faith to believe in evolution.

He notes evolution's failure to explain the origins of gravity or the reason why man has yet to see evidence to support the theory.

Among other points he professes: The Earth is only 6,000 years old, dinosaurs lived with human beings, and new scientific research shows the surface of the Earth was covered with water and was not once a hot, molten mass.

But Hovind says his aim is greater than disproving evolution. He believes students indoctrinated with modern science will eventually lose their fear in God and possibly be prone to breaking common laws. Conscience and a sophisticated understanding of the human condition is not enough.

"Hitler killed the Jews because he thought they hadn't evolved far enough," Hovind said. "The lion kills the zebra, and evolution teaches kids that they are animals. So how are they going to understand right from wrong?"

But other religious views maintain it is possible to learn from the theory of evolution without sacrificing faith in a supreme being.

"Evolution is a theory, so we hold to the possibility that God could have used a process of evolution," said Bill Jent, director of evangelism at Indialantic's Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Community. "The most important thing we should learn from creation teachings is that man has a soul."

Faith should not be juxtaposed with scientific discoveries, said Pauline Rowen, principal at Assension Catholic School in Melbourne.

"The church teaches that the creation stories are not factual scientific explanations of the origins of the world, but instead teach us important truths about faith," said Rowen, who holds a master's degree in religion. "We do not seek to find scientific evidence for the creation. We leave that to science." Such creation/evolution debates are common in post-seminar question-and-answer periods.

They can continue past midnight, Hovind said, especially at secular universities.

"When I did the seminar at Berkley (Calif.)," Hovind said, "the discussion lasted 10 hours."

Reviewing a fraudulent curriculum manual

ISLAM: A Simulation of Islamic History and Culture 610-1100 1991.

ISBN: 1-57336-074-0.
Interaction Publishers, Inc.
(DBA "Interact"),
5937 Darwin Court, Suite 106, Carlsbad, California 92008.

Page for Page, This Is the Most Malignant Product That I've Seen During All My Years as a Reviewer

William J. Bennetta

ISLAM: A Simulation of Islamic History and Culture, 610-1100 is produced and distributed by Interaction Publishers, of Carlsbad, California. This company, which does business under the name "Interact" (and refers to itself by that name), promotes ISLAM: A Simulation as a curriculum manual for use by history teachers in grades 6 through 12. ISLAM: A Simulation consists of lesson plans and handouts for a three-week program of classroom instruction in which students "will simulate becoming Muslims" and allegedly "will learn about the history and culture of Islam." The lesson plans and handouts occupy 114 printed pages, contained in a loose-leaf binder.

ISLAM: A Simulation has no educational purpose, and it can serve no educational function. From beginning to end, it is nothing but a Muslim religious publication, produced by writers who seek to exploit classroom teachers for propagating Islam.

From beginning to end, ISLAM: A Simulation directs teachers to deceive their students and to boost Islam by disseminating lies and by falsifying history. From beginning to end, ISLAM: A Simulation requires teachers to indoctrinate their students by feeding them servings of "information" in which historical facts are insidiously intermixed with Muslim myths and Muslim woo-woo. From beginning to end, ISLAM: A Simulation directs teachers to present facts, myths and woo-woo as equivalent, equipotent items. From beginning to end, ISLAM: A Simulation requires teachers and students alike to abandon rationality, to shun analytical thinking, and to embrace the view that any claim about anything -- no matter how fatuous the claim may be -- must be accepted as true.

These are the defining properties of ISLAM: A Simulation, and I shall analyze them, later, in some detail. First, however, I must devote a few paragraphs to a lesser but significant feature of Interact's document: It is so heavily loaded with anachronisms that it has no sense of time.

Bending God's Ear for a Fee


At one Manila church, believers can hire 'prayer ladies' to do their praying for them. But many Catholics look askance at the practice.

By Ching-Ching Ni, Times Staff Writer

MANILA -- They come to Quiapo Church to pray to the black Nazarene, a dark wooden statue of Jesus believed to have special powers. Desperate for a miracle, supplicants often roll up their clothing and crawl on bare knees from the back of the cathedral to the altar some 100 feet away.

For some, there is a less painful path. For a few pesos, they can hire one of the church's dozen or so "prayer ladies" to smooth the bumps on the hard road to salvation.

"God does not care who the prayer is coming from, as long as the person who paid for the prayer is sincere," said Nanette Rosales, 63, a widow who for more than two decades has been praying on behalf of others for a fee.

Finding science at the shoreline

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/365/science/ Finding_science_at_the_shorelineP.shtml

By Chet Raymo, 12/31/2002

The great 19th-century physicist James Clerk Maxwell said, ''It is a universal condition of the enjoyable that the mind must believe in the existence of a law, and yet have a mystery to move about in.''

Law and mystery: The two pillars of scientific creativity.

It is a common complaint that science robs the world of mystery and leaves us stranded in a world of law. Indeed, science is often taught to nonscientists as law only, with no hint of how law is energized by mystery. No wonder so many students find science boring, and go looking for mystery in pseudoscience and superstition.

To counter this complaint, I have often evoked the metaphor of scientific knowledge as an island in a sea of infinite mystery.

As the island grows larger, some of what was formerly mysterious becomes lawful. But, in an infinite universe, the mystery is hardly depleted by our discoveries.

Rather, as the island of knowledge grows larger, so does the shoreline along which we encounter mystery. It is at the shoreline - Maxwell's interface of law and mystery - that all great science takes place.

All the views that are fit to print (and then some)


By Mark Sachs, Times Staff Writer

"Anyone can talk to the dead," says Penn Jillette. "Getting an answer, that's the hard part."

Nevertheless, there are people out there claiming to have a hotline to heaven, and Jillette, the talkative half of the comedy-magic team of Penn & Teller, has plenty to say about them tonight at 11 on Showtime. Some of it is even printable in a family newspaper, but that doesn't include the title of the pair's new series.

Each week, P&T take on topics that rankle their skeptical souls, such as the purported dangers of secondhand smoke, alien abductions and creationism.

In tonight's half-hour premiere, psychics, whom Penn says he finds particularly loathsome after losing his mother recently, are put in the cross hairs. But the expose feels a trifle weak and obvious, laboring too long over "cold-read" techniques allegedly used by psychics to "connect" the bereaved with their departed loved ones. A hidden-camera segment involving a planted subject isn't much better.

Next week's episode on alternative medicine is a dandy, however. The show goes after chiropractors, magnetic therapy and a traveling reflexologist who promises health benefits from manipulating his patients' feet in his RV ("Close your eyes and see if you feel your ovaries twitching," he says). The show also takes to a shopping mall for some inspired foolishness in which people are persuaded to allow snails to roam their faces in order to apply a wrinkle-reducing "mucous mask."

Cry of the angry magicians


In a new show, Penn & Teller go on the attack against psychics, feng shui and other things that bug them.

By Brian Lowry, Times Staff Writer

"Penn & Teller Get Killed" was the title of the magic-and-comedy duo's 1989 movie. For their new Showtime series, an appropriate title might be "Penn & Teller Get Angry."

The actual title can't be printed here, because it includes an expletive that, as Penn Jillette suggested, in days past would have meant "Humbug!" -- a sentiment that sums up this weekly half-hour devoted to debunking everything from alternative medicines to feng shui to secondhand smoke and aspects of the environmental movement.

Along the way, Jillette unleashes a stream of invectives (this is Showtime, after all) at what he bluntly maintains -- within legal parameters that he outlines during the show -- are charlatans duping people. The most provocative broadside may be launched in tonight's premiere against psychics, or spiritual mediums, including John Edward and James Van Praagh.

Penn & Teller are best known as magicians, in an act that frequently involves the very boisterous Jillette subjecting the silent Teller to increasingly dangerous stunts. Their merciless tone, on stage and off, is also aimed at exposing what they see as fakery, in magic and elsewhere, and they have wanted to do such a television program for years.

"It's about time that somebody came out and screamed at the top of their lungs that this is bad stuff," said Teller, who is as mute onstage (and on camera) as he is talkative during an interview. He contends that by exposing tricks such as "cold readings" (a way to approximate a psychic reading without prior knowledge of the subject), "We want to make people just as angry as us."

Friday, January 24, 2003

Ten Commandments judge suggests link between Sept. 11 and legal decisions


JEFFREY McMURRAY, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
(01-21) 19:32 PST WASHINGTON (AP) --

The Alabama chief justice famous for his Ten Commandments fight warned an audience Tuesday night of "great consequences" when America turns away from God and suggested the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks might be an example.

Roy Moore, in Washington to accept an honorary doctorate in divinity from the National Clergy Council and Methodist Episcopal Church U.S.A., implied a parallel between the attacks and what he contends has been a 40-year legal erosion of religious rights, including his own right to display the Ten Commandments in court.

He pointed out similarities between the devastation and the Biblical words of Isaiah, who had forecast a "day of great slaughter, when the towers fall."

Science In the News

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

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines – January 24, 2003

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Call them "qucks" and "duails."

With a little egg tinkering, scientists replaced a duck's flat bill with a quail's pointy beak, breeding some funny-looking birds.

But the experiment yielded more than an avian oddity. It uncovered some of the key cellular players in bird evolution - and more importantly, may lead to a better understanding of what causes facial birth defects such as cleft palate.

Figuring out why birds have such an amazing variety of beak styles is integral to the study of evolution. One of Charles Darwin's most famous observations during his 1835 visit to the Galapagos Islands was that finches were subtly different - including their beak size and type - depending on where they lived on the chain of pristine, volcanic islands. His analysis of such differences later led to his theory of evolution through natural selection.


from The Washington Post

People who inherit one version of a key gene score better on certain memory tests than people who inherit a slightly different version, researchers reported yesterday.

The work may speed the day when doctors will be able to predict which people are at greatest risk of brain-destroying diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, researchers said, since people with the less robust version of the gene may be more vulnerable to such diseases.

More immediately, and perhaps most important, scientists said, the finding offers the best evidence yet that even tiny and seemingly benign molecular variations in a single gene can make a difference in the memory capabilities of normal, healthy people.

"This is the first gene that explains, in part, why young healthy people with no apparent memory deficits don't all do the same on memory tests," said Daniel Weinberger, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, who led the study.


from The Washington Post

Exposing insects to X-ray beams a billion times more powerful than the ones that doctors use, researchers have at last settled one of the longest- running -- if lesser-known -- controversies in science: Bugs, it turns out, do breathe.

The discovery may seem small, and by some measures it is. The pulsing, lung- like structures that scientists were able to observe with startling clarity on high-definition X-ray videos are typically smaller than the comma in this sentence.

Among biologists, however, the evidence that insects actively inhale and exhale is nothing less than historic, closing the books on a debate that dates back to Aristotle, who grudgingly conceded that insects are alive but scoffed at the idea that they can breathe.


from The Chicago Tribune

Field Museum zoologist Mark Westneat often compares his current research with the science he practiced as a boy: frying ants with focused sunlight from a magnifying glass.

Only now, Westneat and his colleagues are bombarding insects with radiation one billion times more intense than a medical X-ray, using a $500 million particle accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont. And these bugs revealed something interesting before they died for science--the discovery that many insects breathe by flexing their windpipes, similar to how we use lungs.

Believe it or not, scientists hadn't known that--most thought that oxygen simply filtered into an insect's body from the outside with only some active pumping.


from The Los Angeles Times

In vitro fertilization has resulted in a million babies worldwide, but now there are glimmerings of concern that the 25-year-old technology and other methods known collectively as assisted reproductive technology are causing a variety of rare medical abnormalities.

Two studies in the past three months have linked in vitro fertilization, and a related method called intracytoplasmic sperm injection, to a four- to six-fold higher risk for a condition known as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, typified by children with enlarged tongues and other organs. Other reports within the past year have spotted a possible increase in Angelman syndrome, in which children have a spectrum of problems including speech impairment and mental retardation.

In 2002, an Australian study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that rates of birth defects were twice as high in children conceived by in vitro fertilization. Another U.S. study published in the journal found that in vitro-conceived children were more likely to have a low birth weight.

The latest finding is reported today in the journal Lancet by Dutch researchers, who found a four- to seven-fold increase in the rate of a rare cancer of the eye -- known as retinoblastoma -- in children conceived via assisted reproductive technology.


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Inside the British government's UFO files


What does the British Ministry of Defence really know about unidentified flying objects? Is there a conspiracy of silence over visits by alien craft? With the imminent arrival of a British Freedom of Information Act, many hundreds of formerly 'secret' files covering official investigations of UFO reports in Britain are now available for study. DAVID CLARKE and ANDY ROBERTS spent three years following the paper-trail in search of Britain's X-Files. This is what they found…

Bush Plans to Let Religious Groups Get Building Aid


The New York Times
January 23, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 - The Bush administration plans to allow religious groups for the first time to use federal housing money to help build centers where religious worship is held, as long as part of the building is also used for social services.

The policy shift, which was made in a rule that the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed this month, significantly expands the administration's contentious religion-based initiative.

"Christ can rescue the homosexual."

Views of White House Commission Nominee Draw Criticism


Washington Post
By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 23, 2003; Page A01

The Bush administration has chosen Jerry Thacker, a Pennsylvania marketing consultant who has characterized AIDS as the "gay plague," to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS.

Next week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson is scheduled to swear in several new commission members. They include Thacker, a former Bob Jones University employee, who says he contracted the AIDS virus after his wife was infected through a blood transfusion.

The 35-member commission, which makes recommendations to the White House on AIDS prevention, is the latest incarnation of a panel that has existed since the Reagan administration. Earlier commissions issued reports strongly critical of the national response to AIDS, and helped to nudge the government and the pharmaceutical industry toward greater action.

In his speeches and writings on his Web site and elsewhere, Thacker has described homosexuality as a "deathstyle" rather than a lifestyle and asserted that "Christ can rescue the homosexual." After word of his selection spread among gays in recent days, some material disappeared from the Web site. Earlier versions located by The Washington Post that referred to the "gay plague," for instance, were changed as of yesterday to "plague."

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Cops eye faith-healing in boy's death


Posted on Thu, Jan. 23, 2003


BENJAMIN REINERT was just 9, the eldest of seven, when his mother died in August from an infection about a week after she miscarried.

The once-happy little blond boy who loved to play ball, roller- skate and help care for his siblings sank into a deep, dark depression.

"He was just devastated. He didn't talk to anyone, even his dad. Everyone saw a change in him. He was so close to her," his aunt, Lorraine Troutman, said yesterday from the Reinerts' Northeast Philadelphia home.

"All he wanted in life was his mom."

Now, police are investigating Benjamin's mysterious death. He was found dead at his home on New Year's Eve, one day after a city social worker visited him. The medical examiner has still not determined how or why he died.

Bush Invokes Faith's Power to Cure Society's Ills


The New York Times
January 21, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 - President Bush visited a predominantly black church in suburban Maryland today to commemorate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 's birthday, saying there is "still prejudice holding people back" and invoking the power of faith to address society's shortcomings.

After meeting in private with a group that included leaders of religion-based charities, Mr. Bush addressed about 500 congregants of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover and spoke of his hope that religious groups could further Dr. King's goal of creating opportunity for all people.

"It is fitting that we honor this great American in a church because out of the church comes the notion of equality and justice," Mr. Bush said, standing beside Pastor John K. Jenkins Sr.

Astronaut Captures Rare Images of Red Luminosities in the Skies

January 21, 2003

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Jan. 20 (Reuters) - Sprites and elves dancing on thunder clouds that were captured by cameras on the space shuttle Columbia could help scientists crack the mystery of recently discovered electrical phenomena that are usually invisible to the naked eye.

The sprites, which are red flashes of electricity shooting up from thunderclouds 13 miles into the ionosphere, and elves, which are glowing red doughnut shapes radiating 190 miles, were photographed on Sunday by Capt. David M. Brown of the Navy.


Evolution Education Chautauqua Course

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Gregory Forbes, Professor of Zoology at Grand Rapids Community College, Education Director for the Michigan Scientific Evolution Education Initiative, and member of NCSE, will be teaching a Chautauqua short course for college teachers on Evolution Education: A Delicate Balance Between Science, Controversy and Pedagogy in Dayton, Ohio, from April 30 to May 2, 2003. According to the description, "Upon completion of this course, participants will have a strong understanding of the background of this continuing debate as well as a strong working knowledge of the foundations of contemporary evolutionary theory along with the ability to respond to questions from students, the administration and the community regarding evolution theory and the necessity of its inclusion in a comprehensive science education."

For information on the course, go to http://www.engr.pitt.edu/chautauqua/coursedescriptions2003.htm and look for course #70.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x 305
fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 branch@ncseweb.org http://www.ncseweb.org

Science In the News

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

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines – January 23, 2002

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Fossils of a four-winged, feathered dinosaur that lived in trees and glided to earth to seize its prey have been unearthed in China, a find that American scientists say could revolutionize the long debate over the origin of flight in birds.

Many key questions remain about just where these unique beasts fit along the evolutionary path from dinosaurs to modern birds, but scientists have never seen their like before and are already speculating about the aerodynamics of the dinosaurs' strange anatomy.

"It's an incredible discovery, the kind of thing we've wished for -- well, for centuries now," said Kevin Padian, a noted paleontologist at UC Berkeley. "The specimens are potentially as important as archaeopteryx," he said, referring to the world's first known true bird.

The report on the 128 million-year-old fossils is appearing in today's issue of the international scientific journal Nature by veteran Chinese paleontologists, headed by Xing Xu and Zhonghe Zhou of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Mexico's latest deadly earthquake struck at the meeting point of three massive slabs of Earth's surface and in one of North America's most active seismic hot zones, scientists said Wednesday.

The quake -- a 7.8-magnitude temblor, according to U.S. Geological Survey -- hit Tuesday night in the state of Colima on the Pacific central coast of Mexico. Although no one can predict the timing of such events, the power and location of the temblor was no surprise to those who have studied the region's seismic past.

"It's exactly what one should expect to see happen there," said Eldridge Moores, a veteran geologist at UC Davis.

Seismologists know the region as a "subduction zone," where two chunks of oceanic crust, known as the Rivera and Cocos tectonic plates, are diving beneath the North American landmass into the Earth's mantle.


from Newsday

New research has ended a 50- year-old controversy over how to identify the most serious cases of a type of heart disease best known as the No. 1 killer of young athletes.

The disorder has a tongue twister of a name: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM for short, and it is the leading genetic cause of heart disease in the United States, doctors say. The disorder affects 1 in 500 people and its signature symptom is thickening of the heart.

The disorder often remains undetected until it has caused death, usually in a young athlete. In older people, the disease is typified by shortness of breath, chest pain and blackouts. An echocardiogram can spot the disease.


from The New York Times

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 22 — Even with its numbers on the rebound, life is rarely easy for the California brown pelican.

Fish hooks are an ever present danger, puncturing eyes, tearing holes in the pelicans' bodies and causing dangerous infections. Fishing lines provide another set of problems, wrapping around their wings and legs and limiting movement, which can result in slow starvation.

But since last month, a more mysterious threat has emerged. It appears the birds, a federally protected endangered species, are being purposely maimed or killed.


from Newsday

Across the country, doctors, nurses and public health officials are making some hard choices about whether to get the smallpox shot for the good of the country.

In the coming weeks, health care workers will be deciding whether to volunteer to be vaccinated so they can be ready to respond to a smallpox bioterrorist attack. The first shots will be given Friday in Connecticut, the first state ready with the vaccine.

Nebraska, Vermont and Los Angeles County also had received vaccine shipments by Wednesday but were waiting at least until next week to begin vaccinating.

Worries about the vaccine's fierce side effects and the threat that it may even sicken people near those vaccinated has prompted a number of nurses to refuse.


from New Scientist

A new dipstick test for bubonic and pneumonic plague will help dramatically reduce the number of cases in countries still blighted by the diseases.

Bubonic plague is highly contagious and spreads rapidly into epidemics. It is almost eradicated in the developed world, but there at least 4000 confirmed cases every year in more than 20 countries, mainly in Africa.

This number is likely to be a vast under estimation, says Suzanne Chanteau at the Pasteur Institute and Ministry of Health in Madagascar, who developed the test.

About 20 per cent of people with the disease die, she says, despite the disease being easily treatable with streptomycin, a cheap and effective antibiotic. However, early detection is crucial. Pneumonic plague is always fatal unless treated within 24 hours.


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No Answers in Genesis!


'Creationism is not the alternative to Evolution - ignorance is.'

Bible Code II: The Countdown

Bible Code II: The Countdown starts with 9/11 and counts down to Armageddon. For 3000 years a code in the Bible remained hidden. Now it has been unlocked by computer, and it reveals events that happened thousands of years after the Bible was written. Often world-shaking events are predicted in advance -- and then happen exactly as foretold. Do we really have only years to survive? Or can the Bible code help save our world? Can we use it to change our future? This is the thrilling sequel to the #1 bestseller that shook the world.

Fickle Evolution: Winged, to Wingless, to Winged


January 21, 2003


The fluttering wing of an insect is a gossamer marvel capable of such power and precision that it is thought to be one of the chief innovations that allowed them to become the soaring rulers of this age.

So intricate are the nerves and muscles of these aviational workings, not to mention the wing itself, that entomologists have long assumed that when a lineage of insects evolves to become wingless, its descendants can never again regain this complex machinery. Instead, the assumption went, the entire lineage would be grounded into evolutionary perpetuity.

So it has been with great surprise that researchers have greeted a paper in the current Nature in which an international team of researchers reports evidence that wingless stick insects have re-evolved wings at least four times in the history of the group.

First truly artificial organism engineered


15:40 16 January 03
Anil Ananthaswamy

The world's first truly artificial organism has been engineered by researchers in California. The bacterium makes an amino acid that no other organism uses to build proteins.

The work is being hailed as "a very great accomplishment" and the technique promises to open unique avenues for manufacturing drugs.

Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of life, making up the proteins which constitute all living cells. The DNA of every organism on Earth contains three-letter codes, known as codons, for 20 such amino acids.

Now, a team led by Peter Schultz of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla has managed to coax E. coli bacteria to produce a 21st amino acid and use it to make a protein, using only natural food sources such as sugar and water.

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