NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 February 2003

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Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – February 5, 2003

from The New York Times

The space agency was warned in 1990 that the protective tiles around the shuttle's wheel wells were particularly vulnerable to damage and failure, inviting catastrophe because those tiles protect both fuel tanks and the shuttle's hydraulic system.

The study, conducted by experts at Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon and financed by NASA, also identified ice that builds up on the supercold external fuel tank as a major source of debris that could fall on the tiles and trigger a cascade of failures that could doom the spacecraft.

These two observations fit the leading theory emerging as investigators try to discover what destroyed the shuttle Columbia. If this theory is correct, it would mean that accidents involving two vulnerable areas — the foam and the tiles — combined to destroy the craft.

NASA officials said yesterday that they still believed that the object that hit the underside of the wing on takeoff was foam insulation, but there is growing speculation that it may have been mixed with ice. Video images taken about 80 seconds into the flight show the object to be white or light — the insulation itself is bright orange — fueling speculation that NASA engineers may have seriously underestimated its weight when they concluded that a blow from a block of rigid foam would pose no safety hazard to the orbiter. The insulation is applied as a shaving cream-like foam, but turns hard as a brick.


from The Washington Post

The chunk of insulating foam that broke free from shuttle Columbia's external fuel tank Jan. 16 was the biggest piece of debris ever to hit a shuttle during launch, and only two previous launches have encountered even moderately large impacts from the tough insulating material, a NASA official said yesterday.

That suggests that NASA engineers had little practical experience to rely upon as they weighed the potential importance of the event -- and as they made their decision, days later, to write off the collision as probably no threat to the shuttle's safety.

The new detail about foam debris impact described by Michael Kostelnik, a NASA deputy associate administrator, was one of several pieces of new information to shed light yesterday on the frustrating level of uncertainty that engineers had to work with as they decided whether to ignore the incident or perhaps design a radical plan to bring the crew home safely.

Among the uncertainties were the potential effects of the debris not only on the shuttle's ceramic tiles -- the major focus of NASA's attention -- but also on the reinforced carbon leading edges of the shuttle's left wing, which are stronger than the tiles in some respects but have their own vulnerabilities.


from Newsday

Washington - NASA has been slow to adopt a laser detection system, already used to inspect the Air Force Delta IV rocket, that could find problems with the bonding of foam insulation to the shuttle's external fuel tank before it could fall off and damage the craft, according to an agency contractor.

NASA recognized years ago the need for better methods to detect bonding problems with the foam insulation, according to space agency reports, but it has not adopted the technique now being used by Boeing to inspect bonding of similar foam on the Air Force rocket.

While the space agency uses the technique, called laser shearography, to look for defects in structures on its delta-winged shuttle orbiters, including their payload bay doors, the agency and its contractor, Lockheed Martin, do not use it to inspect the external tank, according to John Newman, chief executive officer of Laser Technology, Inc. in Norristown, Pa.

Newman's company makes the equipment and has been working with NASA for a decade on the technology. "For whatever reasons, someone at NASA is going to have to handle this question for all of us some day on why it is not used for [foam] inspection on the external tank," Newman said yesterday.


from The Tribune of Albuquerque (NM)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Every second, trillions of particles older than time that can't be seen, heard or felt pass unnoticed through the walls of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This isn't a security problem waiting to happen. The tiny invaders are neutrinos - subatomic particles so small they pass easily through the spaces inside of atoms.

"Even though they're too small to see, they play a huge role in understanding how the universe works," said Bill Louis, a Los Alamos physicist.

Neutrinos aren't just at Los Alamos; they're everywhere: Every inch of space in the visible world is saturated with trillions of them - but they have a special place at Los Alamos, where they were first discovered 45 years ago by scientists Fred Reines and Clyde Cowan.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Davis -- A UC Davis proposal to build a high-security lab for studying potential biological weapons like anthrax and the Ebola virus has sparked worry and anger from some residents, who aren't so sure they want the war on terrorism fought in their backyard.

University officials are putting the final touches this week on an application for millions of federal dollars that could make UC Davis an integral part of the nation's response to terrorists. The university wants to build a laboratory that could safely study all kinds of exotic pathogens and infectious diseases that pose a threat to both humans and animals.

Their scenario: scientists in moon suits, working in a new ultra-safe building at the western edge of campus, developing diagnostic tests and vaccines to identify and contain a dizzying array of biological weapons used to spread sickness and death.

But the UC Davis plan has met with opposition by some who note that the University of California hasn't exactly been a good steward of the nation's defense spending: The university is under fire for failing to prevent the misuse of credit cards and widespread theft running into the millions of dollars at Los Alamos National Laboratory.


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'Dormant' volcanoes found to be active


Saturday, 1 February, 2003, 05:17 GMT

By Helen Sewell
BBC science correspondent

Scientists say they have been shocked to discover that four dormant volcanoes in South America are in fact active.

Researchers used satellite imaging techniques to look at movements in the ground, and they say their results have implications for volcanic areas around the world.

Nine hundred volcanoes in the Andes mountains in Chile were scrutinised.

Satellites took pictures of the same landscape at different intervals and researchers compared them.

Any geological changes between the pictures were shown as what is called a radar interference fringe.

This looks rather like the patterns made by a drop of oil in a puddle, and tells scientists that the ground is moving.

'Census needed'

Professor Mark Simons of the California Institute of Technology said what his team saw was quite alarming.

"This suggests that, for most of the world's volcanoes, we have no idea of their level of activity," he said.

"[It] really promotes the idea that we need to start developing a census of the world's volcanoes to look at the level of their activity."

It is possible that many more supposedly dormant volcanoes could be active.

But although scientists can tell when the ground is deforming underneath a volcano, it does not necessarily mean it will erupt.

If there is an eruption, however, or even an earthquake, researchers hope the same satellite technology could one day be used to locate the worst affected areas more quickly, enabling emergency services to get help to those most in need.

Little evidence for effectiveness of scientific peer review


BMJ 2003;326:241 ( 1 February )


Caroline White, London

Despite its widespread use and costs, little hard evidence exists that peer review improves the quality of published biomedical research, concludes a systematic review from the international Cochrane Collaboration.

Yet the system, which has been used for at least 200 years, has only recently come under scrutiny, with its assumptions about fairness and objectivity rarely tested, say the review authors. With few exceptions, journal editorsand cliniciansaround the world continue to see it as the hallmark of serious scientific endeavour.

Published last week, the review is the third in a series from the Cochrane Collaboration Methods Group. The other reviews look at the grant application process and technical editing.

Only the latter escapes a drubbing, with the reviewers concluding that technical editing does improve the readability, accuracy, and overall quality of published research.

The Cochrane reviewers based their findings on 21 studies of the peer review process from an original trawl of only 135. These were drawn from a comprehensive search of biomedical print and online databases, and information received from bodies such as the World Association of Medical Editors.

Almost half of the available research focused on the effects of concealing the identity of reviewers and/or authors, which, the Cochrane authors conclude, has little impact on quality. Few studies assessed the impact of peer review on the importance, usefulness, relevance, or quality of research. Only one small study tested the validity of the peer review procedure itself.

On the basis of the current evidence, "the practice of peer review is based on faith in its effects, rather than on facts," state the authors, who call for large, government funded research programmes to test the effectiveness of the system and investigate possible alternatives.

"As the information revolution gathers pace, an empirically proven method of quality assurance is of paramount importance," they contend.

Professor Tom Jefferson, who led the Cochrane review, suggested that further research might prove that peer review, or an evolved form of it, worked. At the very least, it needed to be more open and accountable.

But he said that there had never even been any consensus on its aims and that it would be more appropriate to refer to it as "competitive review."

Not only did peer review pander to egos and give researchers licence to knife each other in the back with impunity, he said, but it was also "completely useless at detecting research fraud" and let editors off the hook for publishing poor quality studies.

In the latest report from the Committee on Publication Ethics, Professor Peter Lachmann, until recently president of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences, comments: "Peer review is to science what democracy is to politics. It's not the most efficient mechanism, but it's the least corruptible."


The report can be accessed from the National electronic Library for Health (www.nelh.nhs.uk)

A Failed Mission


The New York Times
February 4, 2003

Some commentators have suggested that the Columbia disaster is more than a setback - that it marks the end of the whole space shuttle program. Let's hope they're right.

I say this with regret. Like millions of other Americans, I dream of a day when humanity expands beyond Earth, and I'm still a sucker for well-told space travel stories - I was furious when Fox canceled "Firefly." I also understand that many people feel we shouldn't retreat in the face of adversity. But the shuttle program didn't suddenly go wrong last weekend; in terms of its original mission, it was a failure from the get-go. Indeed, manned space flight in general has turned out to be a bust.

Dini is Served


A spat at Texas Tech provides a new wrinkle on Darwinism and science education.

Chris Mooney; February 3, 2003

These days there are news stories, and then there are blogger news stories: events that dramatize some core moral or philosophical debate, and therefore get discussed heatedly on a wide range of prominent Weblogs. Last week, a classic blogger story emerged with the case of Texas Tech biology professor Michael Dini, who refuses to write letters of recommendation for students unless they first affirm a "scientific answer" to the following question: "How do you think the human species originated?" After a Creationist student and medical school aspirant named Micah Spradling complained about Dini's policy, the professor was targeted by the conservative Liberty Legal Institute, which cried discrimination and filed a complaint with John Ashcroft's Justice Department. The department has now opened an investigation of Texas Tech.

The online furor began with a post by the UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who confessed that he wasn't sure what he thought of Dini's recommendations policy. The outpouring continued with posts from bloggers CalPundit (pro-Dini), Clayton Cramer (anti-Dini), and Mark Kleiman (anti-Dini), among others, not to mention a slew of reader comments on the website of Patrick Nielsen Hayden. The Dini case, it seems, has rekindled the simmering evolution debate by focusing on a new wrinkle: Whether or not one needs to understand Darwin's theory in order to be a good medical doctor.

Yet some bloggers have missed what's actually at stake in the Texas Tech dispute. There seem to be three core issues:

1.The right of college educators to provoke and challenge the core beliefs of their students, rather than lamely skirting controversy;

2.The viability of a new anti-evolution strategy that focuses on painting Darwinists as dogmatic and those willing to consider critiques of evolution as open-minded; and

3.The validity of a Consilience-style approach to the application of scientific knowledge (after E.O. Wilson's book of the same title), according to which Darwinism's scope is hardly limited to biology but encompasses a range of other related disciplines, including medicine.

Because I think higher education should challenge deeply held beliefs, have myself grappled with anti-evolutionists' appeal to open-mindedness and found it wanting, and believe that the ramifications of evolutionary biology do stretch into the field of medicine, I come down on Dini's side. Granted, I'm no legal expert and don't know how vulnerable he and Texas Tech may be in court. But let me explain my thinking on the three points above.

Although the Dini bloggers have honed in on the professor's letters of recommendation's policy (which, it should be noted, does not focus solely evolution), they have not highlighted his philosophy of education, also outlined on his web page. When it comes to attending college classes, Dini writes,

Nor is one guaranteed that his/her most cherished beliefs will go unchallenged. Indeed, many students find it difficult to communicate with friends and family after completing a college education because they no longer share the same beliefs and values. College has introduced them to new knowledge and new ways of thinking. For many, especially those raised by parents who were not college-educated, college is a time of "de-acculturation," wherein one gives up the culture in which one was raised, and subsequent "re-acculturation" wherein one takes on a new culture. My hope for all of my students is that they will become acculturated in "the life of the mind." This means that they will take responsibility for the quality of their education and for the quality of their thinking. They will base their actions on what they know to be true, rather than on what they wish to be true.
From a certain perspective, the real victim in the Dini case may not be Micah Spradling, but rather this provocative educational approach. After all, there's nothing like legal challenges to destroy good teachers (for a classic example see this heartbreaking essay by my college classmate Joshua Kaplowitz, entitled "How I Joined Teach for America--and Got Sued for $20 Million"). As Dini's teaching philosophy makes clear, he wants his courses to challenge students' basic views. What Dini is basically saying is, "A Creationist student can take my class, memorize a bunch of facts but ignore their significance, and maybe even get an A. But there's no way I'm going to write him a letter of recommendation for doing so." You would think that such a policy would fall well within the range of behaviors protected in order to preserve academic freedom, especially since writing letters of recommendation is a voluntary activity.

Certainly it's nonsense to assert that Dini is discriminating on the basis of religion. According to former Texas Tech president David Schmidly, Dini is himself a devout Christian and has written recommendation letters for religious students who grasped evolution. What's really at issue is Dini's right to operate as a provocative teacher at the college level--not the high school level, remember--through his recommendations policy. And that's precisely what's being challenged by the campaign against him, which began with a highly slanted news story last October in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, was quickly followed by an anti-Dini editorial in the same paper, and culminated in action by the Liberty Legal Institute, a group of "religious freedom" lawyers who have also been involved in defending prayer at public high school football games.

The editorial in the Avalanche-Journal, entitled "Forced Thinking," takes us deep into the heart of Texas anti-evolutionism, and epitomizes the clever but ultimately unconvincing "teach the controversy" approach to Darwin's theory. As the paper puts it, "Both creationists and evolutionists feel strongly about their beliefs, but the truth is that neither can absolutely prove how life on Earth came to be." In other words, because the divide over evolution is essentially a scientific battle of the bands, it's unjust for Dini to enshrine evolutionary theory in his recommendations policy. To do so would be dogmatic, coercive, and would effectively discourage students from looking at the full range of evidence for and against evolution. (For more on how Intelligent Design theorists, now evolution's most effective battlers, cast Darwinists as dogmatic and themselves as open-minded, see here.)

The problem is that this crudely relativistic position would basically erode all the achievements of modern biological science. Evolution and its rivals aren't on the same intellectual footing; as the American Association for the Advancement of Science has made clear, Intelligent Design theory is not science at all, however much its proponents may claim otherwise (and claim persecution from the scientific establishment). Creationism is, if anything, less credible than Intelligent Design. Furthermore, if we allow some to demand that evolution be presented from "both sides," the door is open for similar campaigns against teaching standards in other politically charged areas, such as environmental science.

And not only do the complaints against Dini fail to hold water. The professor actually makes a powerful case that grasping evolution in its fullness is central to being a good medical doctor -- which gives him every justification to deny recommendations to the likes of Spradling. On his website, Dini provides a long series of citations to back up his claim that "physicians who ignore or neglect the Darwinian aspects of medicine or the evolutionary origins of humans can make bad clinical decisions." The citations aren't hyperlinked, so bloggers generally didn't grapple with them, but they're quite impressive. For example, one 1997 paper published in BioScience, entitled "Evolutionary biology in the medical curriculum--what every physician should know," notes that

Physicians who understand the evolutionary origins of the human vulnerabilities would be more respectful of our evolved defenses, more attuned to novel environmental factors that cause disease, more respectful of the power of pathogens to evolve to evade or to disable defenses, more thoughtful about what it does and does not mean when genetic variation is found to influence disease vulnerability, and more understanding of senescence.
For another example, on Eugene Volokh's blog, reader Paul Orwin has pointed out the centrality of evolutionary theory to understanding the epidemology of HIV/AIDS.

The paper in BioScience also notes that current medical school curricula fail to instruct students adequately in evolutionary biology, a deficiency Dini probably aims to help remedy. After all, the notion that medicine, with its firm groundings in human biology, could be fully understood without attention to how humans evolved is absurd. Dini's case thus demonstrates the need to think about the interconnectedness of disciplines such as evolutionary biology and biology-based professions like medicine in a more sophisticated way. Granted, not every doctor has to think in a fully Darwinian vein at all times. You don't need to know much about evolution to set a cast or diagnose food poisoning. But medical education as a whole could use more emphasis on evolution.

So could other areas of human endeavor, as is only fitting since we humans are the product of evolution. This, of course, is a central upshot of E.O. Wilson's Consilience. Similarly, Richard Dawkins has written that the Darwinian revolution still remains essentially half-baked. What's disappointing is that a professor like Dini now finds himself in legal trouble for trying to echo Wilson and Dawkins through something as modest as his letter of recommendations policy. Finally, the Dini controversy suggests just how far we remain in this country from accepting the full ramifications of evolutionary biology, not just for science education but for the practice of modern medicine.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

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 - February 4, 2003

Engineers Seek 'Missing Link' Beyond Wing
from The Washington Post

NASA investigators yesterday offered a new interpretation of the sudden heating the shuttle Columbia experienced on its left wing and side as it descended toward its destruction, speculating the fatal damage began elsewhere on the spaceship.

They have been studying the possibility that the shuttle's insulating tiles had been damaged as early as the first minutes of the flight when a piece of foam insulation appeared to break off from the shuttle's massive external tank and strike the underside of the left wing near the wheel well, where instruments recorded unusual warming just prior to the disaster.

At a late-day briefing in Houston, shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore said it is also possible the spaceship was breached someplace other than the wheel well, where the temperature increases were first registered. He said engineers were baffled as to how the modest temperature increases observed in the left wheel well and fuselage "end up with an event that lost the vehicle."


from The New York Times

HOUSTON, Feb. 3 - Though the space shuttle Columbia was lost, much of the scientific data its crew members collected was not, and it will be their lasting legacy, researchers said today. Many experiments, specimen and data sets vanished in the destruction of the shuttle, but scientists said the astronauts had transmitted a wealth of information from a number of experiments back to Earth during the 16-day research mission.

"We got about half of our data, more than enough to publish at least a couple of papers," said Dr. Paul D. Ronney of the University of Southern California, the lead scientist of a team that had a flame-making experiment aboard. "The crew, which we got to know very well before the mission, did a terrific job."


from The New York Times

The grounding of the three remaining space shuttles after the destruction of Columbia poses enormous, and potentially calamitous, challenges for the International Space Station and the 16 countries trying to maintain it as a permanent foothold in space.

All of the shuttle launchings scheduled for this year and early 2004 were missions to ferry crews or components to the station, which has been under construction since 1998. Now this schedule is in total disarray.

If delays persist for a year or more, some experts says it may even become difficult to prevent the station from falling into Earth's atmosphere. Until now, occasional nudges from the shuttle have helped keep it from sinking under the tug of friction as it skims the outermost ether.


Exercise, change in diet may ward off old-age loss
from The Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Loss of memory in old age sometimes may have nothing to do with Alzheimer's disease and much to do with blood sugar, new research suggests.

In a study at New York University, scientists found evidence that people who don't process blood sugar normally, which can be a silent, prediabetic condition, are likely to suffer poor memory and even a shrinkage of the brain region crucial for recall.

The study said, however, that simple changes to diet and the addition of exercise could help many people protect themselves from the fogged memory associated with aging.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0302040228feb04,1,5654367.story?coll=chi%2Dnewsnati onworld%2Dhed

from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The FBI mounted a vigorous defense Monday of a forensic method it has used for more than 30 years to link bullets found at crime scenes to those owned by criminal suspects.

The comments came at the first meeting of an expert panel of the National Research Council, a branch of the National Academies of Science. The 11-member committee will review the FBI's procedures for comparing bullets based on minute impurities found in lead.

Bullet matching has helped convict hundreds of defendants, but has been criticized recently by independent experts and former FBI laboratory examiners, who say the bureau's use of the technique is scientifically unsupported.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-bullet4feb04,0,7648540.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines %2Dnation

from The Los Angeles Times

ATLANTA -- Nonemergency surgeries were postponed and hospital officials in parts of the South kept a close eye on blood supplies Monday after the American Red Cross expanded a quarantine issued when an unidentified white substance was discovered in bags of donated blood.

Federal health officials worked to identify the particles, which first were spotted in 110 bags of donated blood in Atlanta late last week, prompting the Red Cross to quarantine almost all of its inventory across Georgia and parts of South Carolina.

On Sunday, officials in Nashville quarantined about two-thirds of the agency's blood supply for the Tennessee Valley region -- covering mid-Tennessee and parts of Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri -- after a similar substance turned up in 10 bags there. The quarantine applied to blood that was stored in bags manufactured by Baxter Healthcare Corp. of Deerfield, Ill., which also produced the collection bags in which the substance was discovered in Georgia.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-blood4feb04,0,2333160.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2 Dnation

from The Boston Globe

UNITED NATIONS - Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, will invite a panel of international rocket scientists here as early as next week to help determine whether two of Iraq's most important missile programs represent violations of Iraq's disarmament obligations, according to diplomats. The findings could strengthen Washington's case for military action against Baghdad.

The scientists will investigate whether Iraq's production of the Al Samoud 2 and Al Fatah missiles, which both have violated a UN prohibition on rockets with a range greater than 93 miles in tests, represent a "material breach" of a Nov. 8 Security Council resolution that threatened Iraq with "serious consequences" if it refused to meet all its disarmament requirements.

It also could set the stage for a confrontation with Iraq if it refuses to allow the inspectors to destroy two of its most prized missile systems.

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/035/nation/Scientists_to_assess_whether_rockets_break_UN_range_limit s+.shtml

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Internet "Poll" on Teaching Evolution


A Georgia newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published the results of its December 2002 "Voice of Atlanta" internet survey regarding evolution education. The results cannot be considered either accurate or precise, since they are not based on a random sample of the population. In addition, the single question asked was somewhat ambiguous:

Do you agree or disagree: The theory of evolution should be taught in public schools to the exclusion of all other theories, such as creationism or "intelligent design."

Of the 1,147 people taking part, 41% agreed, 57% disagreed. Cobb County in suburban Atlanta has been the scene of disputes over the teaching of evolution for many years. In the spring of 2002 the county board of education adopted an evolution textbook disclaimer, which has become the subject of a current lawsuit.

January 28, 2003

Textbook Disclaimer Bill Proposed



2003 Regular Session

To: Education

By: Representative Wells-Smith, Cameron, Chism, Davis, Ellington, Fillingane, Formby, Howell, Janus, Ketchings, Lott, Montgomery (74th), Moore (60th), Robinson (84th), Smith (59th)

House Bill 1397



SECTION 1. Beginning with the 2004-2005 school year, the State Board of Education shall require that any textbook that includes the teaching of evolution in its contents shall have the following language inserted on the inside front cover of those textbooks:

"The word 'theory' has many meanings: systematically organized knowledge, abstract reasoning, a speculative idea or plan, or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory.

Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life that are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the major groups of animals suddenly appear in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion), no new major groups of other living things appeared in the fossil record, major groups of plants and animals have no transitional forms in the fossil record, and all living things possess a complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body. Study hard and keep an open mind."

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2003.

Mystery surrounds photos of Mt. Herman UFO


By J.D. Cash - December 29, 2002

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

I found the team working in the mountains near Broken Bow Lake, operating from a makeshift heliport owned and managed by the Weyerhaeuser Company.

It was a miserable afternoon to be flying. Low clouds and a steady drizzle were closing down visibility when I pulled into the remote camp.

In spite of this nasty weather the crew was slogging through mud – intent on putting in a full day spreading thousands of pounds of fertilizer on carefully marked sections of pine plantation.

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

Earlier a radio call from the crew's headquarters at De Queen, Ark., let the team know I was coming with some photographs to look at and some questions to ask. If there was a sensible explanation for the unusual images stored in the computer, I felt these men would have it.

Weyerhaeuser flight crews are regularly in the air over the corporation's 500,000-acre Oklahoma investment. Surely this experienced group could explain away the apparent evidence that a so-called UFO had been operating in a remote section of McCurtain County. After all, everyone knows there's no such thing as alien spaceships.

Just as I pulled up to the team's ground support equipment, the green and white chopper turned back to the clearing and settled in.

As soon as the rotors stopped, the pilot emerged and headed over with the rest of his crew in tow.

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

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

Then came the question I'd been waiting to ask: Could that blue ball be a helicopter coming though that hole in the cloud cover?

Roberts broke in while Monroy shook his head, "Oh no, of course not. What's in that picture is no helicopter and it's not an airplane or weather balloon."

With 20 years experience flying and repairing military and civilian helicopters, Roberts added cryptically, "Whatever that is – it's not something the general public knows about. I've seen some photos of military jets blowing small holes in clouds when they broke the sound barrier. But those photos don't compare with what you have. That hole is huge and that's no jet!"

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

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

The last photo (7056) – appearing to show the blue object racing back into the hole in the clouds – only brought stunned silence from the spellbound audience.

After an hour discussing the photos in the collection, the team agreed: In all their years of flying and working in these mountains, none of the men had seen anything that might explain the cloud anomaly or blue object in the photographs.

And they weren't alone.

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

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

Set aside for conservation purposes by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1918, much of the vast wilderness area is on the east side of the Mountain Fork River and strictly off limits to the public without special written permission from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

While curiosity seekers do sneak in and wander around the fringes of the wilderness area from time to time, a more remote location in the southern U.S. would be hard to find.

Here's the rest of the story

The morning the digital photographs were made, Veterans Day, Nov. 11, I'd left my cabin around 9:30 a.m. and was on the way to do a couple of interviews for upcoming articles.

Before that day was over, I would cover about 100 miles and shoot loads of pictures with a Kodak digital camera. The first three photos proved the most unusual and certainly the most controversial.

Outside the window of the car that morning there was a layer of stratocumulus clouds highlighted by a bright mid-morning sun. The leaves on the trees lining the highway glistened with autumn colors.

Employees of Beavers Bend Resort Park had just finished putting on the big weekend fall festival and the timing for the event had been perfect. The Kiamichi Mountains were draped in peak colors and thousands of tourists had shown up to enjoy the spectacle. By Monday morning, most had gone home and U.S. 259 was abandoned.

Only about one mile north of the Mt. Herman Store, I noticed a very large gap in the clouds on the east side of the highway.

Looking closer, it appeared a cookie cutter had sliced a half-mile elliptical hole from the blanket of clouds. Above this gap in the cloud layer the morning sun was bright and beaming straight down. Inside the hole I could see wisps of clouds being drawn toward the center of the anomaly. The total effect was pure science fiction and completely foreign to me.

Just a few years ago I owned a cabin class twin-engine Cessna 421B (NIDX). The plane was purchased as an investment and put in charter service. When it wasn't hauling paying clients, I traveled extensively in One Delta X-Ray. Not once that I can remember, though, had I seen clouds like those outside the window of the car that morning. With a camera on the seat next to me, I pulled over to take a few pictures.

Looking through the viewer, I realized the sun was so bright and so near the subject to be photographed, it was doubtful any photos would turn out well. But in the span of about 30 seconds, three pictures were taken and I went on.

The next day I pulled the camera out to look for a photograph. In the viewer was the first of those three Mt. Herman pictures.

As suspected, the sun was too bright. I started to erase all three shots, but paused long enough to put the diskette in a reader to get a better look before the images were forever lost.

When the first photo came up on the screen (7054), my attention went to a bright object underneath the hole in the cloud cover. In the next picture (7055), the object had dropped hundreds of feet and was putting off what appeared to be a blue gas. The final picture (7056) was probably the most startling.

Staring at a close-up of a brilliant blue ball, I remembered that I'd hit the zoom for this last shot and put the camera dead-center on the cloud anomaly. By pure luck the object was caught just as it rocketed straight up through the large gap in the cloud cover. As it raced into the heavens, long slivers of clouds appeared to be drawn toward the brilliant blue object.

What was on the computer screen came as a complete surprise. When I was standing outside the car taking photos the previous morning, I never noticed the blue object captured in the photographs. Possibly the reason I didn't notice the object was that the sun was shining in my eyes.

During the course of trying to learn more about what was caught in the photos, Sharon Huff at the Mt. Herman Store gave me a lead on a potential eyewitness account of another sighting.

Customer Roy Patrick learned I'd been to the Mt. Herman Store with pictures of the strange object and told Huff his children saw something quite similar the same day.

During a subsequent interview, Patrick's wife, Sally, said on the evening of Nov. 11, two of her teen-age children came running into the living room screaming there was a UFO outside.

"My husband and I just laughed," she said. "I had dinner to put on and we just ignored them," Mrs. Patrick recalled.

Interviewed separately, 19-year-old Ricky Johnson said he was driving Dakota Patrick, 11; Kandie Johnson, 16; and Brandie Johnson, 13; back from the Bethel Store when they spotted a bright round ball on the horizon.

Kandie Johnson recalled the event.

"We were pulling in the drive and way up there was a bright reddish-orange ball. It was moving slowly. I think it went down and then up. We all started pointing and screaming. It was big, kind of like a basketball."

The group recalled the sun had just gone down and the object was sitting over the western horizon – glowing a bright reddish-orange, as if reflecting off the setting sun.

Brandie Johnson said she ran inside the house and tried to get others to come out, but the adults laughed and stayed in.

"The next day we went to school and told our friends," Brandie said.

Mrs. Patrick said, "Dakota stayed out in the yard most of the evening, waiting for it to come back. Eventually we went out to see what had them all excited, but it was gone."

Weather balloon?

Bruce Thoren at the National Weather Service in Norman was contacted and he said this: "Weather balloons are normally only released from stations we operate. In your area that would be Dallas, Shreveport and Fort Smith." Adding, "We don't have a weather station at Mt. Herman or anywhere else within 100 or so miles."

The meteorologist also said the balloons the service releases start out very small, about five feet in diameter, and go straight up to about 100,000 feet – expanding until they explode. The duration of each mission is only about 75 minutes. After the balloon explodes, the equipment comes back down, tethered to a small yellow parachute.

Thoren explained further, "I really don't think a weather balloon is what you're dealing with. Our balloons only go straight up, explode and then come down. And we don't release them from the Broken Bow Lake area. Sorry…."

If any readers can help solve the mystery, please let us know. And may the Force be with you in the New Year.

Is Hussein Owner of Crashed UFO?


13:47 2003-01-31

"An UFO-related incident that occurred four years ago poses a troubling question whether any kind of cooperation is possible between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and extraterrestrials," UFOlogist Joseph Trainor declared in his review UFO Roundup (issue 51 of December 17, 2002). "On December 16, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox against Iraq, a video clip aired on CNN showed a UFO hovering over Baghdad; it moved away to avoid a stream of tracer anti-aircraft fire. At that time we all thought it was another UFO sighting, although captured on videotape. But now, ufologists think it was much more than a mere incident."

Jack Sarfatti reported that Friday evening, December 6, 2002 "someone called the Art Bell radio show, claimed his connection with the military and informed that a UFO crashed in Iraq several years ago. The USA is currently searching for any pretext to invade Iraq. In fact, the USA is motivated by the greatest fear that Saddam will reverse-engineer the crashed alien spacecraft."

It is allegedly said that the craft crashed during the Gulf War (1990-1991), or more recently (probably in December 1998). This became some kind of Iraq's Rosewell. The USA is currently reverse-engineering the Rosewell craft and fears that Saddam's scientists may become even more successful than Americans in this or that sphere. It was said that these researches may give Iraq a considerable advance and even make it a leading super power.

UFO Roungup's Arab journalists failed either to confirm or to deny these rumors. Aiasha al-Hatabi replied to Joseph Trainor that "he heard nothing about a UFO crash in Iraq." In the words of Mohammed Daud al-Hayyat, "there are talks about extraterrestrials in Iraq, but nothing is said about any crash. It is rumored at a market in Sulaimaniya, to the south of Zarzi, that aliens are Saddam's guests. Where do they stay then? People mention some underground base. But Saddam has a palace in this valley, an old stronghold Qalaat-e-Julundi. Earlier it belonged to the royal family. After the revolution, the government took possession of the fortress, and now, like every palace in Iraq it is "a summer residence" of Saddam Hussein. The fortress is mentioned here for a very simple reason: it is practically impossible to penetrate into it. The citadel stands on a hill surrounded with vertical precipices on three sides; the precipices plunge down to the Little Zab river. It is said that Saddam lets aliens stay there."

Mohammed Hajj al-Amdar said on the basis of strange stories coming out of that valley: "Saddam gave the aliens sanctuary, so that they couldn't be captured by Americans. Nobody can reach the citadel Qalaat-e-Julundi at night. They say that the aliens created "watchdogs" for Saddam. The aliens took ordinary desert scorpions and used their bio-engineering to grow the scorpions to giant size. Scorpions of a cow-size! They are wonderful watchdogs: they blend in with the desert, swiftly and silently move on their warm-blooded prey for a decisive attack. Luckless intruders hear just some strange sound from behind stones, then a pincer crushes their necks, another pincer crushes their legs; then the victims is slammed to the ground and beaten with a barbed tail six or seven times. Death comes almost immediately."

Joseph Trainor came to a conclusion that something strange is actually happening in the valley of the Little Zab river, but it is not clear what exactly. It is not ruled out that Saddam intentionally spreads these rumors so that to scare people away from some important military object located in the old fortress of Qalaat-e-Julundi.

Nevertheless, it is not the only information about a UFO crash in that area. Many years ago, on June 20, 1993, an information was published on FIDOnet's MUFONET BBS NETWORK, it was a letter of some Steve from Britain. He openly warned: "The following information was published in Amateur Radio Packet BBS on June 13 by some short-wave transmitter for spreading all over the world. I know nothing about the man who published the information, I also cannot say whether his information is true. The man reported that some aircraft was found after it was brought down by F-16 over Saudi Arabia during raids in Baghdad."

The information itself said: "A high-ranking source admitted that US Air Force's F-16 brought down a UFO over Saudi Arabia during the Operation Desert Storm, and five countries are trying to conceal information about this fact. I don't know details, but it was some plane unknown to me. Saudis who were with me at that moment, were scared so much that they asked American, British and French investigators to come to the crash site immediately."

Colonel Petrokov said that at that moment he was on a visit to Er Riyadh, where together with a Russian group he managed to examine the crashed aircraft before American troops participating in Desert Storm came to the crash site. He said: "The aircraft was round and made of some material that I never saw myself. About one third of the craft was torn out by blasts of American missiles. Saudis didn't let us touch anything, but we managed to see appliances, mechanisms and other things that bewildered us absolutely." Inscriptions on the control panel and on the scales were in some unknown language.

"It was a relatively small craft, of approximately 15 feet in diameter. It had three chairs, probably for crew members, but they were so small as if meant for children. To all appearance, space aliens were just about three feet tall. However, it seems incredible that there were no dead bodies at the crash site; what is more, nothing that might look like an engine was found there as well. Probably American missiles hit the engine immediately and destroyed it. Later, operators of Saudi radar stations told me that no ejection or falling of some subjects out of the craft was registered. Searching helicopters surveyed the desert, but the pilots failed to find any surviving crew member close to the crash site.

At the radar station Petrokov learnt that the target identified as a UFO emerged "from nowhere" when four F-16 headed for Baghdad. One of the American planes broke the line and directed toward the UFO. The alien craft started moving south-west, away from the American plane, and the latter pursued it. When the F-16 was three miles away from the object, the craft fired at it but missed. Then the American plane fired a missile at the UFO. A horrifying sound followed and the spacecraft dropped on the ground. Petrokov says that when American investigators came to the crash site, he and his people were ordered to leave the area for Er Riyadh. The colonel says, it is highly likely that Americans didn't want others see some other things that were in the crash site in addition to the round shape of the craft made of some unknown material and the fact that no aliens survived after the crash.

In Petrokov's words, people from his team managed to take pictures of the site, and neither Saudis nor Americans noticed it. But the next day the team was ordered to bring the pictures to Russian authorities. "American military engineers gathered all wreckage and removed them for further study in the USA."

This story seems to be absolutely unlikely. As we see, the source of the information is just a Russian colonel, some Petrokov. If no additional information follows in connection with the case, it may be still considered just doubtful anonymous rumors.

Based on materials of UFO navigator

Translated by Maria Gousseva

Read the original in Russian: http://science.pravda.ru/science/2003/6/79/304/6375_ufologia.html

Vatican Weights in on New Age movement


The Vatican weighed in Monday on feng shui, crystals and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in a new document designed to address whether you can still be a good Christian while taking yoga class.

"A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age,"' doesn't give many absolute answers. But while saying some positive things about the New Age movement, it warns that New Agers' quest for spirituality and inner peace can't take the place of true Christian religion.

And it highlights some core differences between New Age and Christian thought, particularly regarding the concepts of God, Jesus and sin.

While New Agers are waiting for an era when they are "totally in command of the cosmic laws of nature ... Christians are in a constant state of vigilance, ready for the last days when Christ will come again; their New Age began 2,000 years ago, with Christ," the document said.

The Vatican said the preliminary document was the result of requests by bishops for guidance on determining whether practices embraced by New Agers, including yoga, meditation and healing by crystals, were compatible with Christianity.

The 90-page booklet, which includes a glossary defining terms like "channeling," "karma," and "reincarnation," urges caution.

Monsignor Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told a news conference many aspects of the New Age movement were viewed positively by the church, such as the importance it places on protecting the environment.

"But if one is brought to this by ascribing 'divineness' to the land, that's another thing," he said. "Music that relaxes you is good. But if this music empties prayer and prayer turns into just listening to music and falling asleep, it's no longer prayer."

The document, which was six years in the making, traces the history of the New Age phenomenon and notes the importance of the 1969 Woodstock festival and the musicial "Hair."

It defines "Age of Aquarius" as the astrological age that New Agers believe will usher in an era of harmony, justice and peace, following the current "Age of Pisces," which has been marked by wars and conflicts. The Vatican document is silent on when the "Age of Aquarius" begins.

It lists feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placing things to ensure a harmonious energy flow, as an "occult" New Age practice that emphasizes "being in tune with nature or the cosmos."

The document stresses that much of the New Age phenomenon is driven by marketing books, therapies, and crystals, and it notes some consider New Age just a label "for a product created by the application of marketing principles to a religious phenomenon."

The Vatican didn't say why the book was coming out now -- more than 30 years after the New Age movement took hold in the United States and elsewhere -- although it is current enough to acknowledge that yoga and crystals are enormously popular these days.

The booklet attributes such popularity, particularly in the Western world, to a "spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women" unsatisfied with existing religion, political institutions or science.

It offers some practical steps for priests to follow, saying the best way to counter the search for New Age remedies was to highlight the "riches of the Christian spiritual heritage."

It encourages dialogue with New Agers, but stresses that their credentials must be checked. And it urges caution with groups that host prayer meetings or initiation ceremonies, saying they may lure people into a form of false worship.

The booklet was prepared by Fitzgerald's council and the Pontifical Council for Culture, with help from the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It is not considered to be the Vatican's final word on the matter. A definitive document will be published once the Vatican receives feedback from dioceses on the provisional one issued Monday.

Bruise remedy 'waste of money'


Arnica, the popular homeopathic remedy used for healing bruises, is a waste of money, scientists said yesterday.

Arnica tablets are sold at chemists to control bruising, reduce swelling and aid recovery from injuries or operations. But the results of a clinical trial by the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and the University of Exeter, and published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, showed that the tablets had no effect.

A Nostradamus prophecy foretold the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

In the mission of the first blue star,
a child of the holy land among the seven shall perish,
as the ship descends heavens sky,
the lone star bescattered with wreckage.
It didn't take long for someone to cook up another phony Nostradamus prophecy in the wake of a tragedy, this one supposedly foretelling the disaster that befell the Space Shuttle Columbia as it broke up over Texas during its re-entry on the morning of 1 February 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Darwin and his daughter

By Chet Raymo, 2/4/2003


Perhaps no other scientist has attracted more biographers than Charles Darwin. And deservedly so. No other scientist has had a more profound effect on how we understand ourselves and our place in nature. Darwin had only one great idea -- evolution by natural selection -- and that idea was not uniquely his own. But he understood the idea so fully that even today his thoughts seem as fresh and relevant as ever.

Various biographers have considered Darwin in the context of his science, his psychology, his youthful adventures, his health, his relationships with his peers, and the impact of his ideas on society. Now a new biography by Darwin's great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, approaches the great man as husband and father.

''Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution'' is a portrait of the scientist amid the bustling domesticity of his family home in the countryside southeast of London. The title refers to his treasured eldest daughter, Annie, who died at the age of 10, presumably of tuberculosis.

Annie's death in 1851 is the lens through which Keynes examines the development of Darwin's ideas about God and human nature. During his daughter's illness, Darwin was at Annie's bedside day and night. Her death gave poignant meaning to his developing notions of the amorality of nature and the struggle of all creatures for survival.

When Darwin returned from his five-year voyage on HMS Beagle, at age 27, he considered in his methodical way the pros and cons of married life. He settled finally on the pros, and proposed to Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin and childhood companion.

During their engagement, Darwin told his pious fiancee about his growing doubts regarding Christian revelation. He had seen enough evidence of ancient life to know that the world was older than the thousands of years allotted by Genesis, and seen enough inherent cruelty in nature to doubt the existence of an all-powerful, loving God. He doubted, too, the promise of an afterlife.

Emma's religion was an affair of the heart, not the intellect. The hardest thing for her to bear was the possibility that Charles, by his doubts, had forfeited their chance of being reunited in heaven. Throughout their married life, their religious differences lay like a dark shadow between them, but each respected the other's beliefs. Together they had nine children.

Annie's death was a test of Emma's faith and Charles' doubts.

A widely held view among Christians at that time was that death is due to sin -- either the victim's, another person's, or Adam's. Most assuredly, Emma did not blame Annie. If she thought Charles' apostasy was implicated, she did not say so. Since God cannot cause evil, she assumed that Annie's death must be meant for the good in some mysterious way.

Charles, on the other hand, did not believe there was any divine purpose behind Annie's death. Death was a purely natural process, part of the machinery of life that drove evolution towards ''endless forms most beautiful.''

The only comfort Charles had at Annie's death was that during her brief life he had never spoken a harsh word to her. He was distressed that he might be responsible for her death, not through his apostasy, but through heredity; he was sickly all his life.

Humans are animals, Charles believed, and like all animals we are locked in a struggle for existence that, left to itself, eliminates the weak. But humans can escape from the relentless logic of natural selection, he believed. By caring for the sick and weak, we lift ourselves above our animal natures.

Charles's attendance on Annie was unwavering. He never doubted our responsibility to cherish the least advantaged -- ''the noblest part of our nature,'' he called it. He strongly opposed what came to be called ''social Darwinism,'' the natural rule of the strong.

After his daughter's death, Darwin put the notion of a loving God behind him. The Creator he now found in nature was, in Keynes's words, ''a shadowy, inscrutable and ruthless figure.''

Charles himself was far from shadowy, inscrutable and ruthless. He was open, forthright and kindly, and even in his grievous bereavement he continued to see ''the face of nature bright with gladness.''

Chet Raymo teaches at Stonehill College. His most recent book is ''An Intimate Look at the Night Sky.''

This story ran on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 2/4/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - February 3, 2003

Temperature Rises in Last Minutes
from The New York Times

HOUSTON, Feb. 2 - Six minutes before the space shuttle Columbia ripped apart, temperatures on the left fuselage spiked by 60 degrees, space agency officials reported today as they detailed a sequence of ominous problems aboard the doomed spacecraft.

In a news conference this afternoon, Ron D. Dittemore, NASA's shuttle program manager, said there were several indications of an unusual increase in temperatures on the shuttle's exterior near the left wheel well. He also said that two minutes before the craft broke up computers detected an increase in drag on the left side, suggesting a rough or missing tile on the shuttle's protective surface.

Mr. Dittemore said the findings did not necessarily point to the cause of the fatal accident, but did provide potentially important pieces of a complex puzzle. He cautioned that the inquiry was barely 30 hours old and was likely to produce many false leads before it produced a definitive account of the disaster.


from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The fragile thermal tiles that protect space shuttles on their fiery reentries to Earth's atmosphere are extremely effective in dissipating heat, but they also have a history of problems that make them a constant concern.

The focus on the tiles' role in the Columbia disaster intensified Sunday as shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore discussed sensor readings that suggested the shuttle may have been losing tiles before it disintegrated in the skies over Texas.

One problem that could have affected Columbia's tiles had not been resolved before the shuttle launch: the possibility of tile damage from insulation coming off the shuttle's main fuel tank during liftoff. The decision to keep launching shuttle missions even though the insulation problem had not been eliminated is certain to be a subject of attention for the commission appointed Sunday to investigate the loss of Columbia.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-tiles3feb03004428,0,3381500.story?coll=la%2Dheadl ines%2Dnation

from The Boston Globe

HOUSTON -- The space shuttle carried scores of scientific experiments with intended applications back on Earth, ranging from the development of new construction techniques to the growth of cell cultures that might be used to fight cancer.

"Science was at a premium," Ron Dittemore, NASA's space shuttle program manager said at the Johnson Space Center. "The folks on the ground were just ecstatic about the amount of science they were reaping. It was an amazing mission. We were ecstatic over the results and we were looking forward to getting back to the crew and telling them what a great job they had done."

It remained unclear late Saturday how much of the research survived Columbia's destruction. Some of it had been shipped back home via computers and satellites, officials said. But officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration acknowledged that much of it, such as cell cultures and vials of blood, could only have been analyzed after a successful return to Earth.


from The Los Angeles Times

The body of coin dealer Robert Rose was discovered in his Main Street office in South River, N.J., on a steamy July evening in 1995. He had been shot four times in the head. There were no witnesses, no fingerprints, no gun.

But a chemical analysis of bullets by the FBI seemed to conclusively link the rounds that killed Rose to a box of cartridges belonging to one of his customers, Michael Behn. Lead in the different bullets bore the same telltale pattern of impurities, an FBI expert told the jury. Behn was convicted of the murder.

The same technique has been used in thousands of criminal cases over the last 30 years. Testimony by FBI experts about chemical "matches" between bullets has helped put hundreds of defendants behind bars across the country. In one Texas case, such testimony contributed to the conviction of an accused murderer, who was put to death. Now, emerging scientific evidence has called the technique into question.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-bullets3feb03004428,0,7774760.story?coll=la%2Dhe adlines%2Dnation

Plan to Breed Creature In Captivity Leaves Little Room for Error
from The Washington Post

HONOLULU -- The world's rarest known bird is a dark little creature, difficult to discern in the dense rainforest that is one of the wettest places on earth. It's not colorful. It doesn't even sing. But the tiny po'ouli -- "black face" in Hawaiian -- inspires desperate fear among scientists.

The known population of the secretive birds totals just three. And so today, a team of wildlife experts plans to mount a bold mission, first to capture the lot and then to try to breed them in captivity. If they fail at either, the species almost certainly will be lost forever. They admit it's a long shot.

"This is one of the scariest situations I've ever been in," said Alan Lieberman, program director for the San Diego Zoo's Hawaii program at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, a state-federal partnership. The existence of only three birds, he said, "leaves us absolutely no room for error. We have no chance to do better the next time."


Robert Wunsche wants to be a father, but doesn't want to risk passing on a serious, painful skin condition.
from The Philadelphia Inquirer

A year ago, a group of Abington fertility specialists became the first in the Philadelphia area to offer the ultimate in genetic selection.

In the three-stage process, embryos are created in a lab dish and tested for a particular genetic abnormality, and then only the normal ones are put in the woman's womb in the hope that one will take and she will become pregnant.

It is a costly, invasive, less-than-perfect way to stack the genetic deck. But for some couples at high risk of passing on terrible genetic diseases, it is a welcome option - far less traumatic than facing the choice between aborting a defective fetus and raising a sick child.


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Maori right; experts wrong


Aotearoa tradition spot on


New scientific findings have backed traditional Maori accounts that New Zealand was settled about 30 generations ago.

An international team led by Associate Professor David Lowe of Waikato University has pinned down the timing of the country's biggest volcanic eruption in 1000 years, at Mt Tarawera, to the winter of 1314, give or take a dozen years.

The eruption spread a layer of ash from Northland to Hawkes Bay. There are signs that people may have begun to burn forests just before the eruption, but no human artefacts have been found below the ash layer.

Professor Lowe's team has concluded that people cannot have settled in New Zealand more than about 50 years before the eruption - that is, before about 1250.

This is later than most experts had thought. A survey at the 1988 conference of the New Zealand Archaeological Association found that 95 per cent of archaeologists believed people probably arrived here before 1100, with a median estimate of 800.

A repeat survey last April, published in the latest edition of the NZ Journal of Archaeology, found that the median estimate was 1150.

But Professor Lowe's date of 1250-1300 is more in line with what early Maori scholars estimated on the basis of whakapapa, or genealogies, which recorded between 18 and 25 generations from the first canoes to the 19th century.

Geneticists led by Professor David Penny at Massey University have also calculated, on the basis of genetic diversity among Maori, that at least 100 to 200 founding settlers, including at least 50 to 100 females, were needed to reach the estimated population of around 100,000 by the time Europeans arrived around 1800.

This implies that the founding settlers came in several canoes, possibly spread over many years - again matching iwi traditions around the country.

An expert on the country's early ecology, Dr Matt McGlone of Landcare Research, said there was now accepted evidence that Pacific rats reached New Zealand as early as 2000 years ago, implying that humans visited well before they settled permanently. Again, this matches Maori traditions of early visits by Kupe and later by Toi.

Some scientists say the evidence of forest fires suggests that some of these early visitors stayed.

Two research projects led by Dr Mike Elliot, now a teacher at Whangarei Boys' High School, found forest fires evidently caused by people occurred from about 1000 in the Bay of Islands and from as early as 550 in Hawkes Bay.

However, Dr McGlone said Dr Elliot got the date wrong in the first case, and in Hawkes Bay simply found the delayed effects of the eruption of Lake Taupo in about 200.

He agreed with Professor Lowe that permanent settlers did not arrive until just before the Tarawera eruption. "Nearly everyone accepts that there was earlier contact. We are really just arguing about the details," Dr McGlone said.

"One of the really exciting things is that the more the work has gone on, the more it's confirmed a commonsense interpretation of what the Maori traditions were saying."

Discoveries Could Rank With Biggest Biblical Finds



Further Analysis Is Needed On Two Artifacts in Israel

By Richard N. Ostling
Associated Press
Saturday, February 1, 2003; Page B09

It seems too good to be true, but two too-good-to-be-true archaeological finds about the Bible have popped up in less than three months.

Are they not only good but true? It will take considerable time and scholarly expertise to tell.

First came the Oct. 21 announcement from America's Biblical Archaeology Review regarding the discovery of what is purported to be the burial box of Jesus's brother James.

Then on Jan. 13, Israel's daily Ha'aretz reported a tablet inscription possibly from 2,800 years ago that would provide evidence for the Jerusalem Temple near the time it was erected.

If fully authenticated, the burial box ranks as the most sensational New Testament artifact found in modern times. The tablet, said Bar Ilan University archaeologist Gabriel Barkai, could be Israel's most significant find ever.

Those "ifs" are significant. And with ancient artifacts, hardly anything can ever be claimed with 100 percent certainty.

The two items share similarities: They turned up on Israel's semi-legal antiquities market, have unknown histories and are owned by private collectors who wanted to remain anonymous (though the owner of the James box has been identified). They also received positive early assessments but await further analysis of authenticity by Israeli experts and others.

The Old Testament Temple tablet has the more dramatic implications. Most biblical scholars believe in the existence of Jesus and James. But radical "minimalists" raise doubts about the Jerusalem Temple and the existence of King Solomon, who built it.

For instance, Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University wrote that "19th- and early 20th-century excavations around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem failed to identify even a trace of Solomon's fabled Temple."

In response, believers point out that this area was razed time and time again, which presumably obliterated such evidence.

The Temple tablet also could affect the unending religious tensions in the Holy Land that center on the tract Muslims call the Haram Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and Jews and Christians designate as the Temple Mount.

This is Islam's third-holiest site, and Muslim leaders often seek to deny that the great Temple ever stood there. The new find could undergird the geography of Judaism.

The artifact is a tablet of dark sandstone, the size of a legal pad, inscribed with 10 lines in ancient Phoenician script. It tells about Temple repair plans under Judah's King Jehoash (or Joash), echoing the biblical accounts in 2 Kings 12:5-17 and 2 Chronicles 24:4-14.

In typical reckoning from the Bible, Solomon completed building the Temple in 959 B.C., and a tablet from Jehoash's era would have come a mere century and a half later.

Electron microscope testing of the surface and carbon dating confirm authenticity and the dating back to Jehoash's time, according to government specialists at the Geological Survey of Israel. A forthcoming anthology from that agency will describe examination by specialists Michael Dvorchik, Shimon Ilani and Amnon Rosenfeld, which might dispel skepticism.

However, a follow-up article in Ha'aretz quoted several Israeli scholars who raise technical questions about the tablet. One of the doubters was convinced the biblical books were written long after the events described even before the tablet turned up.

Steven M. Ortiz, an American archaeologist at conservative New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, noted that the tablet has not yet been authenticated by epigraphers (experts on ancient inscriptions). He said initial discussions among scholars speak of a hoax.

The Israel Museum said it cannot rule out forgery but declined to say anything about the basis for that view.

There's a related dispute about where the tablet was found. Ha'aretz said it was uncovered during disputed excavations by Palestinian Muslims at the Haram as-Sharif and as acquired by the unnamed antiquities collector.

But the director of the Islamic Trust that administers the site denies the tablet was found there.

The mystery continues.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Powerlifting for Christ presentations in local public schools


When Kacee Reinecke takes her next test, she might think of her experience with the "World's Strongest Man."

James Henderson, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the strongest man, visited Meridian Junior High School Wednesday. It was one of the first stops on the Stand Ministries Powerlifting for Christ five-day tour of the area. Other stops include Midland High School, Meridian Junior High School, Midland Christian School, Bullock Creek Middle School, Saginaw Correctional Facility, Midland County Juvenile Care Center and the Jefferson Avenue Church of God.

The powerlifters are a motivational group that encourages young people to resist drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, violence, crime and abuse. T.A. Nalian, who has more than 20 years weight lifting experience, and Bryan Dorsey, a past Mr. Michigan body building champion and Mr. USA competitor, also visited the school.

Bill Chilman, Meridian Junior High School principal, welcomed students to the assembly and introduced Henderson as the new assistant dean of discipline.

At 6 feet 6 inches tall, close to 400 pounds, and dressed primarily in black, Henderson took an imposing stance in the center of the gymnasium. He tilted his head back and asked everyone to scream.

"James will be handling discipline all afternoon," Chilman said.

Reinecke and Felicia Ziehmer, both seventh-graders, gripped a metal bar as Henderson lifted them. Their feet dangled above the gymnasium floor while both giggled. A third seventh-grader, Katie Hahn, earlier attempted to lift her classmates using the bar and her strength.

"He's scary. I'm so going to get the best grades I can," Reinecke said of Henderson.

"You can think of him whenever you have a big test," Hahn said.

Henderson told students he remembered sitting in seats similar to where they were seated and always getting in trouble in school. It took a new principal who tore a book in half in front of him to get him to make better choices.

"Teachers and students all make bad choices. Today is a fresh new start," Henderson said.


Community members can view their concrete block smashing, steel bar bending, motivational presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and during the 10:45 a.m. morning worship service at the Jefferson Avenue Church of God, 5920 Jefferson Ave

Stand Ministries Powerlifting for Christ presentations
Today 9:45 a.m. - Midland High School.
1:30 p.m. - Meridian High School.
7 p.m. - Jefferson Avenue Church of God.
Friday, Jan. 31
9:45 a.m. - Midland Christian School.
1:30 p.m. - Bullock Creek Middle School.
7 p.m. - Jefferson Avenue Church of God.
Saturday, Feb. 1
9 a.m. - Saginaw Correctional Facility.
1:30 p.m. - Midland County Juvenile Care Center.
6 p.m. - Jefferson Avenue Church of God.
Sunday, Feb. 2
9:45 a.m. - Junior and senior high Sunday
School class at Jefferson Avenue Church of God.
10:45 a.m. - Jefferson Avenue Church of God morning worship service.

©Midland Daily News 2003

The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3.1.31


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is investing close to a million dollars in an obscure Russian scientist's antigravity machine, although it has failed every test and would violate the most fundamental laws of nature.

The Patent and Trademark Office recently issued Patent 6,362,718 for a physically impossible motionless electromagnetic generator, which is supposed to snatch free energy from a vacuum. And major power companies have sunk tens of millions of dollars into a scheme to produce energy by putting hydrogen atoms into a state below their ground state, a feat equivalent to mounting an expedition to explore the region south of the South Pole.

There is, alas, no scientific claim so preposterous that a scientist cannot be found to vouch for it. And many such claims end up in a court of law after they have cost some gullible person or corporation a lot of money. How are juries to evaluate them?

Before 1993, court cases that hinged on the validity of scientific claims were usually decided simply by which expert witness the jury found more credible. Expert testimony often consisted of tortured theoretical speculation with little or no supporting evidence. Jurors were bamboozled by technical gibberish they could not hope to follow, delivered by experts whose credentials they could not evaluate.

In 1993, however, with the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. the situation began to change. The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.

In ruling that such testimony was not credible because of lack of supporting evidence, the court instructed federal judges to serve as "gatekeepers," screening juries from testimony based on scientific nonsense. Recognizing that judges are not scientists, the court invited judges to experiment with ways to fulfill their gatekeeper responsibility.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them. He noted that courts can turn to scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify neutral experts who could preview questionable scientific testimony and advise a judge on whether a jury should be exposed to it. Judges are still concerned about meeting their responsibilities under the Daubert decision, and a group of them asked me how to recognize questionable scientific claims. What are the warning signs?

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs -- even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate.

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media. The integrity of science rests on the willingness of scientists to expose new ideas and findings to the scrutiny of other scientists. Thus, scientists expect their colleagues to reveal new findings to them initially. An attempt to bypass peer review by taking a new result directly to the media, and thence to the public, suggests that the work is unlikely to stand up to close examination by other scientists.

One notorious example is the claim made in 1989 by two chemists from the University of Utah, B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, that they had discovered cold fusion -- a way to produce nuclear fusion without expensive equipment. Scientists did not learn of the claim until they read reports of a news conference. Moreover, the announcement dealt largely with the economic potential of the discovery and was devoid of the sort of details that might have enabled other scientists to judge the strength of the claim or to repeat the experiment. (Ian Wilmut's announcement that he had successfully cloned a sheep was just as public as Pons and Fleischmann's claim, but in the case of cloning, abundant scientific details allowed scientists to judge the work's validity.)

Some scientific claims avoid even the scrutiny of reporters by appearing in paid commercial advertisements. A health-food company marketed a dietary supplement called Vitamin O in full-page newspaper ads. Vitamin O turned out to be ordinary saltwater.

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work. The idea is that the establishment will presumably stop at nothing to suppress discoveries that might shift the balance of wealth and power in society. Often, the discoverer describes mainstream science as part of a larger conspiracy that includes industry and government. Claims that the oil companies are frustrating the invention of an automobile that runs on water, for instance, are a sure sign that the idea of such a car is baloney.

In the case of cold fusion, Pons and Fleischmann blamed their cold reception on physicists who were protecting their own research in hot fusion.

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection. Alas, there is never a clear photograph of a flying saucer, or the Loch Ness monster. All scientific measurements must contend with some level of background noise or statistical fluctuation. But if the signal-to-noise ratio cannot be improved, even in principle, the effect is probably not real and the work is not science.

Thousands of published papers in para-psychology, for example, claim to report verified instances of telepathy, psychokinesis, or precognition. But those effects show up only in tortured analyses of statistics. The researchers can find no way to boost the signal, which suggests that it isn't really there.

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal. If modern science has learned anything in the past century, it is to distrust anecdotal evidence. Because anecdotes have a very strong emotional impact, they serve to keep superstitious beliefs alive in an age of science. The most important discovery of modern medicine is not vaccines or antibiotics, it is the randomized double-blind test, by means of which we know what works and what doesn't. Contrary to the saying, "data" is not the plural of "anecdote."

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries. There is a persistent myth that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, long before anyone knew that blood circulates throughout the body, or that germs cause disease, our ancestors possessed miraculous remedies that modern science cannot understand. Much of what is termed "alternative medicine" is part of that myth.

Ancient folk wisdom, rediscovered or repackaged, is unlikely to match the output of modern scientific laboratories.

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation. The image of a lone genius who struggles in secrecy in an ttic laboratory and ends up making a revolutionary breakthrough is a staple of Hollywood's science-fiction films, but it is hard to find examples in real life. Scientific breakthroughs nowadays are almost always syntheses of the work of many scientists.

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation. A new law of nature invoked to explain some extraordinary result, must not conflict with what is already known. If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong.

I began this list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.

Robert L. Park is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park and the director of public information for the American Physical Society. He is the author of Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud (Oxford University Press, 2002).

For more than 20 years, the CIA funded psychic experiments


Enemies in the mind's eye


His name would eventually be revealed as Joseph McMoneagle, but for the purposes of the Army's psychic intelligence unit, he was simply Remote Viewer No. 1. One fall day in 1979 he reclined in an easy chair in an office at Fort Meade, Md. The lights were dim. Sitting nearby was an interviewer, who gave him a series of geographical coordinates that were supposed to be his mind's destination. After about 20 minutes, McMoneagle brought himself out of a deep meditation and, as he describes it, "opened my mind." Gradually images began to appear: a low, windowless building; a smokestack. He smelled "a strange stink," a mixture of sulfur and natural gas. There was also a "smelting or melting activity." After an image came to mind, he drew it roughly on a piece of paper. Another viewer, No. 29, could "see" heavy metal equipment, including tubes conducting a "heat exchange." For him, the site emanated a "sense of power."

Far-fetched as it sounds, the remote viewers at Fort Meade were engaged in deadly serious work?an odd marriage of American intelligence-gathering and paranormal experimentation. Unbeknownst to themselves, viewers No. 1 and No. 29 seemed to be describing Lop Nor, a Chinese nuclear complex.

The experiment was only one episode in a remarkable research program run by the Defense Intelligence Agency and CIA from 1972 until 1996. The project, known variously as Grill Flame, Sun Streak, and finally Star Gate, explored a variety of parapsychological phenomena but especially one known as "remote viewing," the process by which someone in, say, Maryland visualizes an office in the Kremlin and describes it both in words and drawings. The viewers were shadowy and unacknowledged participants in the quest for intelligence about a range of security concerns: nuclear weapons sites, the Iranian hostage crisis, the kidnapping of Gen. James Dozier by the Red Brigades, the location of Col. Muammar Qadhafi during the raids on Tripoli in 1986, and the espionage case of Aldrich Ames.

The outlines of Star Gate have been sketched before, but new details of the project have come to light in 73,000 pages of previously classified records released by the CIA last November and made available just this month. (An additional 20,800 pages are undergoing review, and 17,700 pages were deemed too sensitive to release.) The documents illuminate a chapter of spying that bears closer resemblance to Miss Cleo than to James Bond.

In a sense, it was inevitable. From the early 1950s on, United States intelligence explored psychic research, hoping to use extrasensory perception (ESP) for intelligence operations. After all, the Soviets were doing it. Nonetheless, officials were torn between worries that the Soviets -- and later the Chinese -- were ahead of the United States in the psychic arms race and the skepticism of many American officials about spending money in the field seen as dominated by kooks.

Even such hardheaded operatives as Richard Helms, who later became the director of the CIA, were intrigued. The declassified documents reveal a memo written when Helms was deputy director for plans in 1963. For 10 years a small group in the Technical Services Division had been studying hypnosis and telepathy for use in clandestine operations but concluded that these fields were not ready for operational applications. Helms disagreed and sent a memo suggesting more research in "this somewhat esoteric (and perhaps scientifically disreputable) range of activities." He argued that given the Soviet preoccupation with "cybernetics, telepathy, hypnosis, and related subjects . . . recent reported advances . . . may indicate more potential than we believed existed."

Remote viewing was added to the roster of psychic phenomena in 1972 when the CIA became interested in the published viewing experiments of Hal Puthoff at the Stanford Research Institute. In 1972, the CIA gave the institute $50,000 to study remote viewing. Russell Targ, who joined the project in 1972, recalls a CIA official telling him: "You are wasting your time looking at churches and swimming pools in Palo Alto." Two years later, the institute received the geographical coordinates of a "Soviet site of ongoing operational significance."

"Turning point." The target was Semipalatinsk, in what is now Kazakhstan. Aside from suspicions that the site was important, nothing was known about it. Given the coordinates, a remote viewer provided a layout of a cluster of buildings and drew a puzzling, "damned big crane." He identified the underground facility as storage for Soviet missiles. Satellite photos verified the viewer's report, according to Donald Jameson, then a senior CIA Soviet specialist, who called the event a "turning point." One group within the agency refused to look at the Semipalatinsk data, objecting to the unscientific methodology. Another group allowed that the data might be real but called the process "demonic."

Still, officials were convinced enough of the program's potential that a training program was designed, as well as an ESP teaching machine. Questions designed to detect ESP talent supplemented the standard personality test used by the CIA. Some employees were deemed psychically gifted. When the CIA cut the program in 1975, the funds shifted first to the Air Force and then, in 1980, to the Defense Intelligence Agency. The military also looked for potential talent. That meant, says Paul H. Smith, a retired intelligence officer who spent seven years in Star Gate, "certain odd proclivities, like a creative pursuit in music or art, an interest or aptitude in foreign languages. They were also looking for people who didn't report any ESP experiences."

Between 1979 and 1994 Fort Meade's viewing site conducted roughly 250 projects involving thousands of missions. One, in 1987, was an attempt to find a mole in the CIA. The viewers came up with a composite: The man lived in the Washington area, drove an expensive foreign car, perhaps gray, lived in a palatial home, was intimate with a woman from Latin America, possibly Colombia. Aldrich Ames lived in a palatial house in the Washington area. He drove a Jaguar and was married to a Colombian. The car was red; the house was gray. Not that the information was used; Ames was apprehended in 1994.

By 1995, the end of the Cold War, along with increasing concerns about unfavorable scrutiny, drained the remote-viewing program of both its vitality and its supporters, and CIA director John Deutch ended it. All told, it had cost $20 million. The CIA says it no longer funds remote-viewing research, but the military is less emphatic in its denials. In the end, the weakness of remote viewing, says Smith, "is the weakness of any phenomenon that deals with the threshold of human perception. There are false positives, vague notions, and confused data that go with the territory." Paradoxically, for nearly a quarter of a century of American spying, that was also a strength.

Professor's Snub of Creationists Prompts U.S. Inquiry


February 3, 2003


LUBBOCK, Tex., Feb. 2 — A biology professor who insists that his students accept the tenets of human evolution has found himself the subject of Justice Department scrutiny.

Prompted by a complaint from the Liberty Legal Institute, a group of Christian lawyers, the department is investigating whether Michael L. Dini, an associate professor of biology at Texas Tech University here, discriminated against students on the basis of religion when he posted a demand on his Web site that students wanting a letter of recommendation for postgraduate studies "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of how the human species originated.

"The central, unifying principle of biology is the theory of evolution," Dr. Dini wrote. "How can someone who does not accept the most important theory in biology expect to properly practice in a field that is so heavily based on biology?"

That was enough for the lawyers' group, based in Plano, a Dallas suburb, to file a complaint on behalf of a 22-year-old Texas Tech student, Micah Spradling.

Mr. Spradling said he sat in on two sessions of Dr. Dini's introductory biology class and shortly afterward noticed the guidelines on the professor's Web site (www2.tltc.ttu.edu/dini/Personal/letters.htm).

Mr. Spradling said that given the professor's position, there was "no way" he would have enrolled in Dr. Dini's class or asked him for a recommendation to medical school.

"That would be denying my faith as a Christian," said Mr. Spradling, a junior raised in Lubbock who plans to study prosthetics and orthotics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "They've taken prayer out of schools and the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms, so I thought I had an opportunity to make a difference."

In an interview in his office, Dr. Dini pointed to a computer screen full of e-mail messages and said he felt besieged.

"The policy is not meant in any way to be discriminatory toward anyone's beliefs, but instead to ensure that people who I recommend to a medical school or a professional school or a graduate school in the biomedical sciences are scientists," he said. "I think science and religion address very different types of questions, and they shouldn't overlap."

Dr. Dini, who said he had no intention of changing his policy, declined to address the question of his own faith. But university officials and several students who support him say he is a religious man.

"He's a devout Catholic," said Greg Rogers, 36, a pre-med student from Lubbock. "He's mentioned it in discussion groups."

Mr. Rogers, who returned to college for a second degree and who said his beliefs aligned with Dr. Dini's, added: "I believe in God and evolution. I believe that evolution was the tool that brought us about. To deny the theory of evolution is, to me, like denying the law of gravity. In science, a theory is about as close to a fact as you can get."

Another student, Brent Lawlis, 21, from Midland, Tex., said he hoped to become an orthopedic surgeon and had had no trouble obtaining a letter of recommendation from Dr. Dini. "I'm a Christian, but there's too much biological evidence to throw out evolution," he said.

But other students waiting to enter classes Friday morning said they felt that Dr. Dini had stepped over the line. "Just because someone believes in creationism doesn't mean he shouldn't give them a recommendation," said Lindsay Otoski, 20, a sophomore from Albuquerque who is studying nursing. "It's not fair."

On Jan. 21, Jeremiah Glassman, chief of the Department of Justice's civil rights division, told the university's general counsel, Dale Pat Campbell, that his office was looking into the complaint, and asked for copies of the university's policies on letters of recommendation.

David R. Smith, the Texas Tech chancellor, said on Friday afternoon that the university, a state institution with almost 30,000 students and an operating budget of $845 million, had no such policy and preferred to leave such matters to professors.

In a letter released by his office, Dr. Smith noted that there were 38 other faculty members who could have issued Mr. Spradling a letter of recommendation, had he taken their classes. "I suspect there are a number of them who can and do provide letters of recommendation to students regardless of their ability to articulate a scientific answer to the origin of the human species," Dr. Smith wrote.

Members of the Liberty Legal Institute, who specialize in litigating what they call religious freedom cases, said their complaint was a matter of principle.

"There's no problem with Dr. Dini saying you have to understand evolution and you have to be able to describe it in detail," said Kelly Shackelford, the group's chief counsel, "but you can't tell students that they have to hold the same personal belief that you do."

Mr. Shackelford said that he would await the outcome of the Justice Department investigation but that the next step would probably be to file a suit against the university.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Homeopathic remedy 'ineffective'


The popular homeopathic remedy arnica proved to be no more effective than a dummy treatment in clinical trials. However, critics say the study is flawed, and does not prove that arnica has no effect.

Arnica tablets are available in most High Street chemists and are usually sold to control bruising, reduce swelling and generally help recovery after an injury or operation.

It is one of the most popular and well known homeopathic remedies.

However, although there are lots of anecdotes about cases where arnica 'really works', scientific studies have produced contradictory results.

Researchers, from the University of Exeter and the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, focused on three groups of patients who were about to have surgery on their wrists for carpal tunnel syndrome.

One group was given 'high-potency' homeopathic arnica tablets to be taken before the operation and afterwards for two weeks.

Another group was given 'low-potency' tablets and the third was given a placebo.


Patients filled in a standard pain-assessment questionnaire before and after surgery.

They recorded their symptoms and use of painkillers in a daily 'pain diary'.

The hospital analysed photographs of patients' wrists, using computer software to measure exact shades of bruising.

They also measured changes in swelling around the wrist.

There was no significant difference between any of the groups in terms of pain, bruising, swelling, or the number of painkillers the patients had taken. Lead researcher Professor Edzard Ernst said: "I hope this research will help people to look for more effective treatments and save money by not buying homeopathic arnica."

Professor Ernst suggested that arnica had gained a reputation because people who took it and recovered quickly from surgery tended to tell their friends about it, while those who did not were much less likely to mention it.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, he said: "These results do not support the routine use of homeopathic arnica for preventing or reducing post-operative complications such as bruising, swelling and pain.

"However, they do not rule out the possibility that individual patients could benefit."


Dr Janet Richardson, chairman of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine (RCCM), told BBC News Online the results of the study were far from conclusive.

She said: "The results suggest that people undergoing carpal tunnel surgery are not helped by arnica.

"But this does not mean that arnica is of no help with other conditions."

Dr Richardson said 16 articles extracted from the RCCM database showed a split between those that showed arnica had a positive effect, and those that showed negative results.

She added that the new study was poorly designed and based on a small sample.

In addition some patients did not necessarily follow the treatment properly.

Columbia Conspiracy Theories

One involving HAARP

A thread from alt.conspiracy having some fun with figures.

Wild speculation countered at sci.space.shuttle

Columbia and 9/11 Coincidences

It has started. However nothing really stands out a a "great" conspiracy theory re Columbia just yet. Give them time though.


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