NTS LogoSkeptical News for 16 February 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Armageddon asteroids 'best kept secret'


15 February 2003

A scientific adviser to the United States government has suggested that secrecy might be the best option if scientists were ever to discover that a giant asteroid was on course to collide with Earth.

In certain circumstances, nothing could be done to avoid such a collision and ensuing destruction, and it would be best not to tell the public anything, said Geoffrey Sommer, of the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California.

"When a problem arises with high uncertainty, there is an opportunity to spin the problem to avoid global panic. If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all," Dr Sommer told the association yesterday.

"If an extinction-type impact is inevitable, then ignorance for the populace is bliss. As a matter of common sense, if you can't intercept it and you can't move people out of the way in time, there's nothing you can do in terms of reducing the costs of the potential impact," he said.

"Overreaction not just by the public but by policy-makers scurrying around before the thing actually hits because we can't do anything about it anyway ... to a large extent you are better off not adding to your social costs," said Dr Sommer, who is also an adviser on terrorism.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) is conducting a 25-year survey of the sky to find asteroids wider than a kilometre which could have a devastating impact if they collided with Earth.

So far they have determined the orbits of about 60 per cent of these objects and none so far have a trajectory that threatens the world within the next couple of centuries, said David Morrison of Nasa's Ames laboratory in Moffat Field, California.

"There are, however, many things out there that we know nothing about," he said.

Astronomers look for space-time 'atoms'


By Charles Q. Choi
UPI Science News
From the Science & Technology Desk
Published 2/16/2003 4:48 AM

DENVER, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The most powerful explosions in the universe finally might provide the clues scientists need to uncover the structure of the very fabric of the universe -- the very stuff of space-time -- a Canadian researcher said late Saturday.

If the new theory can be supported, it could help solve some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos that have stumped the best particle physicists and cosmologists -- who study the nature of the universe -- for years.

"We could describe the entire universe, find out what is the nature of time, what happened at the Big Bang, whether the life of the universe is infinite or finite," said Fotini Markopoulou Kalamara, a physicist with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont.

The most persistent and vexing dilemma underlying practically all unsolved problems in physics is how to establish a so-called "theory of everything." At present, two great but seemingly contradictory theories are the bases for understanding the universe.

Einstein's theory of relativity describes time as variable, the speed of light as constant and gravity the result of space being warped by large chunks of matter, such as stars and, to a lesser degree, planetary bodies. Its components have been validated repeatedly by observations at both planetary and galactic scales.

Meanwhile, quantum theory describes the interaction of subatomic particles with exotic names such as quarks and leptons. Among its strange principles is an observer can determine either the position or the energy level of a subatomic particle, but never at the same time.

For more than half a century, however, these twin towers of science have had to remain separate because no one has been able to reconcile them. In fact, most attempts to unite relativity and quantum physics have resulted in gobbledygook.

For instance, based on experimental observations, quantum theory asserts that particles can exist in two or more places at once. When this combines with general relativity, which describes the very shape of space and time, "what is past and future becomes fuzzy," Markopoulou Kalamara said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Markopoulou Kalamara explained how she and colleagues hope an entirely different approach -- made possible by exquisitely sensitive instruments aboard a new satellite -- will result in finding the Holy Grail of physics: the Grand Unified Theory.

To do so, researchers must study phenomena at Planck scales, where current theoretical understandings of space and time break down. Planck scales -- named for German physicist Max Planck -- enter the realm of the unimaginable. For instance, Planck temperatures are about 100 million trillion trillion degrees Celsius. "The geometry of space-time at that temperature melts," Markopoulou Kalamara said. "The center of a star compared to that is cold."

Markopoulou Kalamara suggested that, like the conventional matter that comprises the Earth, the sun and the stars, space and time likewise are made of "atoms," except they are irreducible. If shown to be true, the finding would be compatible with both relativity and quantum theory, she said.

Detecting such particles has long thought to be impossible because they exist at Planck sizes. The Planck scale of distance is some 100 trillion trillion times smaller than an atomic nucleus, which is roughly 100 trillion trillion times smaller than the Earth.

The observations are scheduled to begin in 2006, Markopoulou Kalamara explained, with the launch of a new NASA probe called the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope. GLAST is going to attempt to detect space-time atoms -- though indirectly. The satellite will scan the heavens for gamma ray bursts, the largest explosions known.

"In 10 seconds, they can release as much energy as the sun does in its whole 10 billion year lifetime," Markopoulou Kalamara said. "They come from the furthest away galaxies. The reason we can see them is because they have such insanely high energies."

Like light, gamma rays emitted by these bursts travel at a constant speed and should reach an observer simultaneously. However, if space-time atoms exist, she said, "the photons would appear to not all travel at the same speed."

The reason is surprisingly simple. Markopoulou Kalamara said because some gamma rays have less energy than others, they would have to travel different routes to reach an observer -- because a space-time continuum that is atomic would be lumpy in places.

"Imagine if a (billiard) table is lumpy," she explained, and more energetic gamma rays, with their shorter wavelengths, are the equivalent of smaller billiard balls. "You can imagine that the shorter wavelength rays would actually get knocked around by the (space-time) lumps more easily than the bigger guys that roll right over them."

Such Planck scale deflections normally would be far too small to detect. However, over enormous distances, such as the billions of light-years between Earth and the sources of gamma ray bursts, the deflections would accumulate. Gamma rays that traveled longer routes due to space-time atom deflection would appear to have moved at a speed slower than light.

"I'm often worried about theories invented because of their elegance," said physicist Robert Robertson of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., explaining that such ideas do not necessarily relate to real-world phenomena.

"What I admire a great deal about what (Markopoulou Kalamara and colleagues) are doing is they're looking at phenomena and trying to get a theory that can go with them," he said.

Book recounts two-week terror of Mattoon's Mad Gasser



It was a crisp, fall night during the first week of September 1944 when the reports of a young Mattoon housewife launched a community panic that drew attention from every corner of the nation.

It was just after Aline Kearney got into bed on that Friday evening that she noticed an odd smell coming from just outside her bedroom window. Within minutes, she began to experience a paralyzing feeling in her legs, accompanied by a dry throat and a burning sensation in her lips.

Kearney immediately called for help and her neighbors promptly alerted the authorities. The next evening, the front page of the Mattoon Daily Journal-Gazette warned residents with a bold headline announcing: "Anesthetic Prowler on Loose."

Over the two weeks that followed, dozens of reports poured into the Mattoon police station, sending officers rushing to every section of the city in search of the prowler, who was later dubbed the "mad gasser of Mattoon." Almost 59 years later, the mad gasser case remains one of the most well-known examples of mass hysteria during the 20th century, according to Vermont sociologist and writer Robert Bartholomew.

Bartholomew has studied the mad gasser case extensively and has devoted chapters in two of his books to the famous Mattoon incident. Bartholomew's new book, "Hoaxes, Myths and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking," is co-authored with Ben Radford and will be available next month.




There's going to be a comedic section here,'' Bart Sibrel says. ''Some man-on-the-street kind of interviews that I did.'' He hits the fast-forward control to race through a rough cut of his new documentary. Sibrel's studio, located along a strip of storefront recording joints and one-room editing suites known as Nashville's Music Row, is actually his tiny two-room apartment, crammed with mixers and Apple computers. On a Sony Trinitron, the video screeches to a halt and then rolls on some average folks exercising their First Amendment right to express heartfelt opinions on both sides of a debate.

One American says, ''Yes, I think we walked on the moon.''

Another American offers balance: ''Jury's still out in my opinion.''

Sibrel cranks up the background music he has selected, and the familiar voice of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe brings it on home: If you believed they put a man on the moon, man on the moon. If you believe there's nothing up my sleeve, then nothing is cool.

Sibrel is part of a new generation of conspiracy mega-theorists. They don't toy with the small stuff. Ever since the passing of that sweet, simpler time -- when the Trilateral Commission ordered the hit on John Kennedy and the Queen of England managed the drug cartels -- the narratives of big suspicion have been distorted by the same force that has reshaped our partisan politics, action movies and morning TV talk shows: outrage inflation. To be noticed now, a theory must be of a scope only Stephen Hawking could measure, and it must be promulgated by an amiable spokesman who can deftly juggle often absurd contradictions. Sibrel is not your father's conspiracy theorist -- some grumpy autodidact with a self-published book raging at the gates of the establishment. Sibrel came of age in the post-Watergate era. He has absorbed the real lesson of the last two decades: push for belief in ever bolder and more unlikely ideas. Plus, he knows how to make decent television.

Sibrel's first documentary, ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon,'' is a 47-minute feature contending that what people saw on their television screens that famous July night in 1969 was in fact filmed on a back lot. (Sibrel says he believes that it was probably directed by Stanley Kubrick and shot at Area 51 in Nevada.)



Toronto (April 11, 2002) - More than 600 people jammed the Earth Sciences Auditorium of the University of Toronto on 28 March to hear Professor William Hatcher of Quebec City deliver a two-hour presentation on his logical proof of the existence of God organized by the Campus Association of Bahá'í Studies (CABS). A similar address at McGill University two months ago attracted more than 900 faculty and students.

This event was organized in a systematic, modular fashion. The CABS membership was divided into groups and each taskforce was charged with a very clear mandate. While one group prepared the posters that publicised the event, other groups designed invitations for distribution to professors and other faculty-members, constructed an online presence for CABS that included information relevant to Dr. Hatcher's address, drafted press releases and made preparations for the evening of the presentation itself. Each group was headed by a manager, who was ultimately responsible for the completion of an assignment. The manager was directly assisted by two or three additional individuals and was guided by a panel of consultants.


Relying on a modern innovation in mathematics and logic that serves as the foundation for computer programming, Dr. Hatcher drew on relational logic to refine and update a classical proof of God's existence.

Dr. Hatcher's presentation identified the historical antecedents of the proof of the existence of God and explored its connections to theological conceptions of God while providing several significant insights that contribute much to contemporary popular and philosophical discussions.

Hatcher began by considering Aristotle's use of attributional logic (the syllogism) and then proceeded to examine Avicenna's implicit reliance on a form of relational logic to refine Aristotle's proof. Avicenna's work is impressive given that our understanding of relational logic is largely due to the work of modern-day philosophers and mathematicians such as G. Frege and von Neumann. Investigations by these and other individuals have provided the foundation for our knowledge of formal language systems and relational logic, both of which are essential components of computer science.

Noting the parallel implications of this development in modern logic, that has served the 'information revolution' and now Hatcher's new formulation of a proof of the existence of God, Hatcher delivered his lecture with modesty and a warm sense of humor that captivated the attention of his audience through two hours of coherent, compelling and challenging demonstration.

Dr. Hatcher maintains that his proof is merely an elucidation of Avicenna's seminal proof through the use of modern logic and is based on three fundamental assumptions.* Based on these three principles, Dr. Hatcher proved that there is indeed only one cause of all reality and that cause is itself uncaused, unique and non-composite.

Having thus shown that God is unique, universal and self- or uncaused, Dr. Hatcher qualifies his proof with the proviso that this is a "minimalist" understanding of God and does not preclude the fuller characterizations of God that can be found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i Faith. In fact, one of the implications of Dr. Hatcher's proof is that these religions all describe the same God.

Following the lecture a question and answer period was held. In the end the event was highly successful; the lecture hall was filled beyond capacity, almost all 400 pamphlets were picked up and 26 books were sold. A week following the lecture a follow-up session was held at the Toronto Baha'i Centre attended by several individuals including a university professor.

As they are so crucial to the proof, it may be of interest to some to identify briefly those three assumptions:

1.First, Hatcher explains the principle of sufficient reason, involving a discussion of causality which does not ignore David Hume's important observations but which allows Hatcher to clarify how his realist position is more compelling than Hame's sceptical empiricism. This is related, too, to Hatcher's distinguishing his position from Kant's unnecessary limitation of reality to only that which we can know. On that point Hatcher is especially interesting in the context of contemporary discourse in pointing to the regrettable habit of stating universal negatives. This is the habit of saying, "we know this, and that's all." It would be better to say, "We know this." and omit the universal negative which is reductionist and closes off intellectual inquiry.

2.There is a second, equally compelling assumption crucial to Hatcher's proof, that he terms the "potency" principle. This is merely the statement, or observation, that what is a cause of a phenomenon is also a cause of a part of that phenomenon.

3.The third assumption is the principle of "limitation" which states that a phenomenon cannot cause a part of itself. Hatcher is careful to explain that "phenomenon" is strictly defined as a unique phenomenon such that dynamic organisms and systems must be understood, over time, as a series of phenomena so that when the organism generates changes within itself, the phenomenon causes a new and different organism. So, this principle is maintained if challenged on that point.

NASA scientists know little about 'ignorosphere'


Copyright © 2003 Nando Media
Copyright © 2003 AP Online

FMA Research

By MATTHEW FORDAHL, AP Technology Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. (February 10, 8:07 a.m. AST) - The space shuttle Columbia broke up in a mysterious area of the upper atmosphere once so little understood and difficult to study that scientists dubbed it the "ignorosphere."

The region is of particular interest not only because that's where the disintegration occurred but also because of a time-exposure image taken by an amateur astronomer showing a snake of purplish light corkscrewing through the shuttle's hot glowing trail as it crossed over California.

Former shuttle astronaut Tammy Jernigan collected the camera and the image from the photographer, who has requested anonymity while NASA analyzes the shot. It's not clear whether the flash is real, or an aberration of the camera.

The shuttle was traveling at 12,000 mph at an altitude of 39 miles as it disintegrated Feb. 1 in the searing heat of re-entry, for reasons still unknown. All seven astronauts were killed.

Columbia was crossing through the mesosphere, or middle atmosphere, which extends from about 30 to 50 miles above the surface. It's also called the ionosphere, because of the presence of free electrons - or ions.

"We're discovering the middle atmosphere has got a lot of electrical phenomena," said Walt Lyons, president of the FMA Research in Fort Collins, Colo. "The key message here is that there may be more things going on up there that we just don't understand or have no inkling of yet."

In a report published last year, NASA researchers said experts have "so far" concluded that the electromagnetic phenomena or ice crystals from the highest clouds are not known to pose a danger to shuttles on re-entry.

Moreover, conditions on Feb. 1 were not right for the most dangerous occurrences, though other experts caution that much remains unknown about this part of the atmosphere.

The region has been difficult to study, because it's too high for balloons and aircraft, yet it's too low and the air is too heavy for satellites, which would be unable to stay in orbit because of the drag, said Umran Inan, a physicist at Stanford University.

"You can't make local measurements with any regularity," he said. "You can have a single rocket shot through the region, but the phenomena are dynamic and change from place to place and time to time."

In the ionosphere, ultraviolet energy from the sun as well as cosmic rays from faraway stars separate electrons from atomic nuclei. The free electrons give the area a characteristic not unlike metal, in that it can reflect electromagnetic energy.

These electrons also create strange electrical effects, with fanciful names like "elves," "sprites" and "blue jets." Until recently, they were largely dismissed as illusions, noticed only by bleary-eyed airline pilots.

All those phenomena are related to thunderstorms, which were not recorded in the area at the time of Columbia's descent.

The 2002 report by Kennedy researchers also noted some risk from "noctilucent" clouds, which are the highest clouds in the atmosphere. During hypersonic flight, ice crystals in the clouds could pose a corrosion or abrasion hazard to shuttles and "certainly" increase drag.

"The most severe effect of entry through a noctilucent cloud would probably be the erosion of the thermal protection system during the most critical heating region," the report said. "Depending on the particle size, sufficient damage could be done to result in loss of vehicle."

But it's not likely the shuttle passed through such a cloud, since they tend to occur from May to August.

Still, scientists are just starting to understand phenomena in the upper atmosphere.

"The research we've been able to do has made us realize it's even weirder than we thought," Lyons said. "There may be other things that happen up there that we just don't know about. Maybe we just encountered a new phenomenon the hard way."

Senate, ban holding therapy


Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Deseret News editorial

The Utah House of Representatives is to be commended for passing, by an overwhelming majority, a ban on so-called holding therapy.

The House this past week voted 68-2 to restrict therapies where counselors restrict the movement of children — sometimes forcefully. The techniques, which resulted in the death of a Utah child in 1997 and is suspected in the death of another in 2002, have not withstood scientific review and are not sectioned by reputable psychiatric organizations. Although these children died while in the care of their own parents, the parents have alleged they conducted holding therapy upon the advice of mental health practitioners.

To help ensure the safety of Utah children from these potentially life-threatening practices, the Utah Senate needs to take the next step by approving HB5, the "Prohibition of Coercive Restraint."

Some lawmakers may hesitate to ban a therapeutic practice. They should know that other states have banned these potentially dangerous therapies.

Moreover, prohibiting this practice is no different than the federal government refusing to sanction certain treatments for diseases. Laetrile wasn't approved as a cancer treatment, for instance, because it didn't work.

Coercive therapies are most often used for children with reactive attachment disorders, which has been associated with adopted children who spent a long time in abusive situations or institutions. While some adoptive parents will make compelling arguments for the procedure, legislators need to ask for the literature or scientific review that validates these practices. Simply put, there are none.

Many adopted children in Utah have been in state custody. That means their adoptive parents may receive government subsidies to help provide for their mental health care. Government has a responsibility to ensure adoption subsidies are spent for treatments sanctioned by reputable mental health organizations.

Nationwide, eight children have died after undergoing these therapies. Utah has had two cases where two little girls — Krystal and Cassandra, both 4 years old — died after their parents claimed they had followed the orders of their therapists. We ask the Senate to remember those two little girls as they consider this legislation. The government is not overreaching in this case. Rather, the ban would err on the side of saving innocent children's lives.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Preparing for The Big One


Friday, 14 February, 2003, 19:09 GMT
By Jonathan Amos
BBC News Online science staff in Denver

Should we be told if a monster rock is heading our way?

Researchers wrestled with this question on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Denver.

Some suggested there was no point worrying the global population about its imminent demise.

"If there is absolutely nothing you can do about it - you can't intercept it, you can't move people out of the way - then it makes no sense to incur social costs from whatever panic or overreaction there will be," argued Geoffrey Sommer, of the Rand Corporation, who has been studying how policymakers should react and prepare for Armageddon.

"If an extinction-type impact is inevitable, then ignorance for the populous is bliss."

But hang on, don't we have right to know?

"I'd certainly want to know and it's not up to some bureaucrat to keep that from me," said Lee Clarke, a sociology professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Space search

Clarke is an expert in disasters and in organisational and technological failures.

He has written about panic, civil defence, evacuation and community response to disaster, and says people tend to react well in a crisis.

"The single most important reason there were not more casualties at the World Trade Center collapse was because there was no panic," he argued. "It does happen - there are soccer stampedes and the like - but it is very rare."

The possibility of a major impact from space is a certainty. The geological record shows the Earth has been hit many times by large objects - some of which have come close to wiping life clean from the face of the planet.

All asteroid researchers say we will be hit again by objects much greater than one kilometre across - although it may not happen for tens, hundreds or even thousands of years.

The Spaceguard Survey, conducted by the US space agency (Nasa), is looking for these big rocks with wide-field telescopes.

In the space out to about 200 million km, it has so far found about 650 "monsters" - none of which have orbits that pose a threat to the Earth. There is possibly a similar figure of undiscovered one-km-plus-sized rocks in the same region of space that have yet to be tracked down.

If a threatening object is found, many researchers are confident Earth will have the time and the technology to do something about it.

Constant 'rain'

Clark Chapman is an asteroid scientist from the Southwest Research Institute. He told the AAAS meeting:

"We've landed a spacecraft on an asteroid; we have thrusting devices. We don't need a bomb. We could push on it and push it out of the way.

"It would take a while but we could deal with it. The real problem arises with comets that come from the deep, dark reaches of the outer Solar System.

"We don't see them until they get to Jupiter and they're in the vicinity of the Earth within a few months or a year after that. Perhaps there won't be enough time to deal with that."

All are agreed that proper disaster plans need to be put in place now and that the public needs to be educated about the real threat and how we might cope.

Every year, a small asteroid explodes in the Earth's atmosphere with an energy equivalent to 5,000 tonnes of TNT. Lee Clarke said: "Stuff comes in and it blows up. This sort of thing needs to be common knowledge."

Mars 'once warm and wet'


The ice cap at Mars' south pole is made almost entirely of ice made from water, rather than from carbon dioxide as had previously been thought, scientists say. New data from an unmanned spacecraft in orbit around the planet show that the south pole is very similar to the north pole, which is made up of frozen water, with just a thin covering of frozen carbon dioxide.

The findings - from scientists at the California Institute of Technology - indicate that any astronauts visiting the planet would not be short of water.

But it also means that it would be difficult to make Mars habitable in the future because there is less carbon dioxide there than previously thought, and carbon dioxide is what is needed to trap heat and warm the planet up.

New goal

Writing in the magazine Science, Professor Andy Ingersoll and his graduate student, Shane Byrne, argue that the old model is inaccurate.

They say the south polar cap is too warm to be carbon dioxide, or dry ice, as previously believed.

According to the new study, the south pole's dry ice cover is slightly thicker than the one found in the north and does not disappear entirely in the summertime.

The layer of dry ice on the south pole is about eight metres - which would indicate that the planet has a only a small fraction of the carbon dioxide found on Earth and Venus, the researchers say.

"Mars has all these flood and river channels, so one theory is that the planet was once warm and wet," professor Ingersoll said.

This could suggest that there once was a large amount of carbon dioxide in the planet's atmosphere - enough to produce a greenhouse effect that would allow liquid water to exist.

The scientists say that finding the missing carbon dioxide - or accounting for its absence - is now a major goal of Mars research.

Scots losing their religion


Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 14:27 GMT

One in 10 people living in Scotland have turned their back on religion, according to the latest census.

Key results from the 2001 study also showed a significant increase in the size of Scotland's ethnic minorities - and a rise in the number of English-born people living north of the border.

The detailed figures were unveiled by John Randall, the Registrar General for Scotland, on Thursday.

The 2001 census was the first to feature questions on religious beliefs.

"One can see a shift over the course of a person's life time towards no religion and away from each of the Christian groupings," said Mr Randall.

More than 42% of the Scottish population said they belonged to the Church of Scotland, while 15.9% said they were Roman Catholic.

However, 27.5% said that they had no current religion - compared to the 17.5% who said they had no religion at birth.

The figures pointed towards an ageing population north of the border.

Jedi faithful say amen to the almighty Pop Culture


By Jon Sparks
February 15, 2003

More than 390,000 people listed "Jedi" as their religion on Britain's 2001 census form, more than those who registered their faith as Jewish, Buddhist or Sikh.

The Jedis declared their belief after a campaign on the Internet asked people to "do it because you love Star Wars" or "just to annoy people."

"Star Wars devotees stated their faith as 'Jedi' in the mistaken belief that if 10,000 did so it would be recognized as an official religion," said a spokesman for the Office for National Statistics.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - February 14, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

HOUSTON -- A breach in Columbia's skin allowed glowing, superheated air to penetrate the shuttle--possibly in its left wheel well--seconds before the craft broke apart over Texas, killing its seven-member crew, investigators said Thursday.

In its first key finding, the independent board of investigators said the shuttle fuselage sustained a significant rupture, rather than simply incurring damage from the loss of a few heat-resistant tiles or another internal malfunction.

NASA officials now suspect that plasma--air heated to temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit--penetrated the shuttle's armor either through the leading edge of its left wing or through a 300-pound landing gear door. Either way, one NASA consultant said Thursday night, "that's death."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-shuttle14feb14,1,3704784.story?coll=la%2Dhome%2Dh eadlines

from The New York Times

BOSTON, Feb. 13 -- Infection with a common harmless virus seems to slow the progress of H.I.V. and prolong the survival of AIDS patients, according to new evidence reported by American scientists at a meeting here today.

Swedish scientists reported a study supporting the link between the harmless virus, known as GBV-C, and H.I.V. But the Swedish and American authors disagreed about whether GBV-C could cause the apparent benefit or whether it was simply an indicator of something else--as yet undetected--that might account for the variability of H.I.V. infection.

The Swedish and American authors agreed with other participants at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections that much more research was needed to determine the importance of the link before it could have any effect in AIDS care.


from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

TOKYO -- In what resembles a journey to the center of the Earth, Japanese scientists launched the world's first attempt Thursday to bore a hole into the red-hot core of a volcano and unlock the secrets of deadly eruptions.

A 164-foot-high oil-rig-like derrick perched on the scrubby slopes of Mount Unzen will begin drilling through the volcano's crust next week in a bid to sample the magma bubbling below.

The aim is to study how the liquefied rock begets menacing gas buildup, said team leader Setsuya Nakata, of the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute.


from The New York Times

A little more than a year after the largest known die-off of monarch butterflies occurred in the mountains of Mexico, researchers say the monarchs that migrate there appear to have recovered to near normal population levels.

The finding was announced jointly by the Mexican government, the World Wildlife Fund and the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, all of which financed or otherwise assisted the research.

"It's more than surprising," said Dr. Bill Calvert, an independent American biologist who was part of the international team that carried out the new census. "It's amazing that they recovered so well."


from The Miami Herald

LONDON -- Fresh evidence adds to suspicions that ibuprofen could be dangerous for most heart patients because it can block the blood-thinning benefits of aspirin.

New research published this week in The Lancet medical journal found that those taking both aspirin and ibuprofen were twice as likely to die during the study period as those who were taking aspirin alone or with other types of common pain relievers.

Scientists believe ibuprofen clogs a channel inside a clotting protein that aspirin acts on. Aspirin gets stuck behind the ibuprofen and cannot get to where it is supposed to go to thin the blood.


Homeland agency plans more advice
from The Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, responding to days of debate over duct tape and plastic sheeting, on Thursday defended his new department's recommendations on how Americans can best protect themselves during terrorist attacks and promised even greater guidance in the near future.

Responding to critics who belittled some of the suggestions, Ridge said his department had worked for the last eight months, even using focus groups, to find the best ways to prepare the public in the event of terrorist attacks.

In a discussion with the Tribune Editorial Board, Ridge said the department would be rolling out two major programs next week. One is intended to help limit the vulnerabilities of the nation's key industries, such as banking, chemical plants and electric utilities. The other will address civil preparedness, with more ideas about what Americans can do to safeguard themselves.


from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The nation is not prepared to protect and treat children in the event of a terrorist attack, child health and safety experts said Thursday as they concluded a conference in Washington.

"The possibility of large numbers of children in this country being affected by weapons of terror has not been addressed ... on state or federal or local levels in most parts of the United States," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of the Children's Health Fund, which develops health-care programs for disadvantaged children.

Redlener, who also serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics' task force on terrorism, said disaster planning since the Sept. 11 attacks has focused primarily on the needs and requirements of adults.

"Children cannot be managed in the same way [as] adults ... for a variety of reasons that have to do with the anatomical and physiologic makeup of children," Redlener said.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-children14feb14011423,1,3082551.story?coll=la%2Dh eadlines%2Dnation

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The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 624 February 13, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, James Riordon

A PINPOINT PRECISION MAP of the cosmic microwave background, reported this week at a press conference by scientists associated with the orbiting Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), brings the early universe into sharper focus. The credibility of WMAP's pronouncement rests on three things: its angular resolution is some 40 times better than that of its microwave predecessor, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE); it comprehensively surveyed the entire sky for a whole year (3 more years of data is yet to come); and it measures the polarization of the microwave radiation; the orientation of the radiation arises partly from the last scattering of light at the time of "recombination," when stable atoms formed for the first time, and partly from the time when ultraviolet radiation strewn by the first generation of stars ionized once again a lot of atoms in space. Here are a few of the salient numbers coming out of the WMAP analysis: the time of recombination was 380,000 years after the big bang; the era of the first stars was about 200 million years along (surprisingly early); the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years; and the accounting of matter in the universe is as follows: atomic matter makes up about 4%, dark matter about 23%, and dark energy 73%. (Websites: http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/;

http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2003/0206mapresults.html )

SALT: THE MOVIE. Solid, liquid, melting, and freezing are concepts that refer to bulk matter, and not to individual atoms. But what about a cluster of a dozen atoms? Louis Bloomfield (University of Virginia) has assembled a nano-sized grain of salt, a seven-atom blob of consisting of 4 cesium atoms and 3 iodide atoms. Compare this to an ordinary salt grain, with a size of .2 mm and about 1.5 million atoms along each side of its cubical structure.

By spraying this cluster with picosecond pulses of light, Bloomfield has been able to make a "movie" of sorts showing how the cluster rearranges its geometry: sometimes a 2x2x2 cube, sometimes a flat 2x4 ladder, sometimes an octagonal ring, all by virtue of the cluster's own internal thermal energy; they don't image the cluster directly, but their locations can be inferred from a mixture of measurement and theory (for figures and cool movie, see http://rabi.phys.virginia.edu/research/ ). Separate laser pulses are used to heat or to view the clusters. One outcome of the experiment: "melting" of the tiny crystal begins at a "temperature" of 225 C rather than 626 C, the melting temperature of the bulk material. Studies like this are pertinent to the production of nm-sized circuitry since one should know whether a wire or some other structure will retain its basic shape or shift into something else over time. (Dally and Bloomfield, Physical Review Letters, 14 February 2003 bloomfield@virginia.edu, 434-924-4576; see also http://htw.wiley.com/htw/, chapter 15)

ULTRAVIOLET LITHOGRAPHY can produce lines for integrated circuits as small as 39 nm in one recent test. To help sustain Moore's law and cram more and more gates and memory units into a given space, manufacturers of microchips must make the lines in their circuitry ever smaller. This usually means working with a shorter-wavelength light beam for creating the patterns used for inscribing fine features on silicon or metal surfaces. The form of lithography currently in mass production now can produce a half-pitch size (equal lines and spaces in between) of 90 nm and isolated line widths of 65 nm. To produce a later generation after that you would need even shorter wavelengths. At the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) a government-industry consortium of scientists is trying out this future lithography. Using a beam of synchrotron radiation in the extreme ultraviolet range they have produced 70-nm line/space intervals and isolated lines 39 nm wide (see figure at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2003/179.htm ). By the time this type of lithography comes into play, by about 2007, these numbers should be 45 and 25 nm, respectively. The consortium consists of a government side, the "Virtual National Lab" (LBNL, Livermore, and Sandia), and an industrial component comprising Intel, AMD, IBM, Infineon, Micron, and Motorola. (Naulleau et al., Journal of Vacuum Science Technology, Nov/Dec 2002; contact Patrick Naulleau, pnaulleau@lbl.gov)

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

Possible Evolutionary Futures for Mankind


By G. A. Kerkut
The complete account is published in;
Comparative Biochememistry and Physiology. 1988. Volume 90A. pp 5-10


1. With the development of techniques of gene transfer, human genetic defects such as sickle cell anaemia, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, haemophilia, Huntington's chorea, etc, will be eliminated.

Ninety nine percent of humans in the year 2500 will be much the same as present but healthier.

2. Studies of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology show that many strategies have been developed in the Animal Kingdom that could be advantageous in furthering Human survival. Some of these strategies are discussed in the present article.

3. Commensal algae that live in the epidermis of domestic animals (pigs, goats, cattle) will be developed enabling these animals to live in dry environments with minimal demands for food and water. Once successful in domestic animals, the algae could be adapted to live in some humans, i.e. the Green Man

4. Commensal protozoa and bacteria that digest cellulose and lignin will be developed so that they can live in the human gut and convert cellulose and lignin to sugars, volatile fatty, acids and amino acids that can be absorbed and metabolised by Man, thus making many inexpensive vegetable food resources available.

5. Mammalian embryos will be able to develop through to full term in vitro in a cleidoic egg; the in vitro fertilised egg will not then have to depend on finding a surrogate mother.

6. Some people will have an altered pattern of sexual activity. Many patterns are available; one suggested here is of protogynous hermaphroditism, i.e. the individuals would be female for the first 30 years of life and male for the remaining years.

7. Most groups of animals have representatives that have returned to living in the oceans. It is suggested that some humans will adapt or develop so as to live the whole of their lives in the ocean.

9. Technological developments will produce a hybrid man. Instead of just having glasses, hearing aids, artificial hip and knee joints, cardiac pacemakers; new electronic implants will be developed to improve physical functions and also to enable increased sensory awareness and continuous access to information technology.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Science In the News

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In the News

Today's Headlines - February 13, 2003

from The Washington Post

HOUSTON, Feb. 12 -- Two days before the shuttle Columbia was lost, flight controllers at NASA's mission control in Houston had in hand e-mails from a NASA engineer outlining a nightmare scenario in which a tire might explode, producing "carnage in the wheel well" and a possible catastrophe when the shuttle returned from orbit.

The engineer, Robert Daugherty of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., sent the e-mail to a colleague at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Jan. 30. NASA released the exchange today.

If there were a failure of the heat shielding of the wing in the area of the wheel well, Daugherty wrote, "at some point the wheel could fail and send debris everywhere. ... With that much carnage in the wheel well, something could get screwed up enough to prevent deployment and then you are in a world of hurt." The e-mails are the first known documentation that anyone at NASA detailed a specific scenario during the mission in which damage to the heat shield might lead to disaster.


From The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Electric utilities and 12 other industries that are major emitters of greenhouse gases responded Wednesday to President Bush's climate change initiative by making a commitment to limiting the increase of their emissions.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the declarations represent each industry's fair share in meeting the president's goal of an 18% decrease in the so-called greenhouse gas intensity by 2012.

"Our preliminary analysis of the commitments we have in hand indicate they will yield their sector's share of the president's 18% goal," Abraham said. These commitments serve as an important measure of the effectiveness of the president's voluntary approach to tackling the problem of global warming.


from The Washington Post

New research appears to contradict a widely publicized study that concluded that inexpensive, old-fashioned diuretics should be the first drug given to people with high blood pressure.

The conclusion that "water pills" are as good as, if not better than, newer and more expensive drugs called ACE inhibitors came in a major government-financed study published Dec. 18 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But a large study from Australia, the results of which were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that ACE inhibitors are somewhat better at preventing heart attacks -- at least in men.


Caltech aims to turn out well-rounded engineers and geneticists with a humanities regimen. Some students say it doesn't compute
from The Los Angeles Times

William Deverell's freshman history course is titled 19th Century America, but it could be called Revenge Against the Nerds. Deverell teaches at the California Institute of Technology. Many of his students are walking calculators who breezed through high school algebra while numbers-shy classmates suffered.

At Caltech, the tables are turned. For all the English majors out there forced to take physics, Deverell's eight-book class offers some payback. It is part of a rigorous humanities requirement for the Pasadena institution's 950 undergraduates. Every budding rocketeer, every genome mapper in the making must complete a four-year program of history and literature, philosophy and languages, music theory and art studies.


from The New York Times

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 12 - California's largest water agency voted on Tuesday to add fluoride to the water it supplies to 18 million homes and businesses, from the Mexican border to the Central Coast.

The agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said it would take more than two years to fluoridate its water to protect teeth from cavities.

"This is very significant in that public water fluoridation has been touted as one of the great public health achievements of the century," Dr. Timothy Collins, chairman of the California Fluoridation Task Force, said. Dr. Collins, who is also head of dentistry for Los Angeles County, said fluoridation could reduce dental decay by 20 percent to 40 percent.


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Buddhist Retreat
Why I gave up on finding my religion.

By John Horgan
Posted Wednesday, February 12, 2003, at 12:54 PM PT

For a 2,500-year-old religion, Buddhism seems remarkably compatible with our scientifically oriented culture, which may explain its surging popularity here in America. Over the last 15 years, the number of Buddhist centers in the United States has more than doubled, to well over 1,000. As many as 4 million Americans now practice Buddhism, surpassing the total of Episcopalians. Of these Buddhists, half have post-graduate degrees, according to one survey. Recently, convergences between science and Buddhism have been explored in a slew of books—including Zen and the Brain and The Psychology of Awakening—and scholarly meetings. Next fall Harvard will host a colloquium titled "Investigating the Mind," where leading cognitive scientists will swap theories with the Dalai Lama. Just the other week the New York Times hailed the "rapprochement between modern science and ancient [Buddhist] wisdom."

Four years ago, I joined a Buddhist meditation class and began talking to (and reading books by) intellectuals sympathetic to Buddhism. Eventually, and regretfully, I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than the Catholicism I lapsed from in my youth; Buddhism's moral and metaphysical worldview cannot easily be reconciled with science—or, more generally, with modern humanistic values.

For many, a chief selling point of Buddhism is its supposed de-emphasis of supernatural notions such as immortal souls and God. Buddhism "rejects the theological impulse," the philosopher Owen Flanagan declares approvingly in The Problem of the Soul. Actually, Buddhism is functionally theistic, even if it avoids the "G" word. Like its parent religion Hinduism, Buddhism espouses reincarnation, which holds that after death our souls are re-instantiated in new bodies, and karma, the law of moral cause and effect. Together, these tenets imply the existence of some cosmic judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with rebirth as a cockroach or as a saintly lama.

Western Buddhists usually downplay these supernatural elements, insisting that Buddhism isn't so much a religion as a practical method for achieving happiness. They depict Buddha as a pragmatist who eschewed metaphysical speculation and focused on reducing human suffering. As the Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman put it, Buddhism is an "inner science," an empirical discipline for fulfilling our minds' potential. The ultimate goal is the state of preternatural bliss, wisdom, and moral grace sometimes called enlightenment—Buddhism's version of heaven, except that you don't have to die to get there.

The major vehicle for achieving enlightenment is meditation, touted by both Buddhists and alternative-medicine gurus as a potent way to calm and comprehend our minds. The trouble is, decades of research have shown meditation's effects to be highly unreliable, as James Austin, a neurologist and Zen Buddhist, points out in Zen and Brain. Yes, it can reduce stress, but, as it turns out, no more so than simply sitting still does. Meditation can even exacerbate depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions in certain people.

The insights imputed to meditation are questionable, too. Meditation, the brain researcher Francisco Varela told me before he died in 2001, confirms the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, which holds that the self is an illusion. Varela contended that anatta has also been corroborated by cognitive science, which has discovered that our perception of our minds as discrete, unified entities is an illusion foisted upon us by our clever brains. In fact, all that cognitive science has revealed is that the mind is an emergent phenomenon, which is difficult to explain or predict in terms of its parts; few scientists would equate the property of emergence with nonexistence, as anatta does.

Much more dubious is Buddhism's claim that perceiving yourself as in some sense unreal will make you happier and more compassionate. Ideally, as the British psychologist and Zen practitioner Susan Blackmore writes in The Meme Machine, when you embrace your essential selflessness, "guilt, shame, embarrassment, self-doubt, and fear of failure ebb away and you become, contrary to expectation, a better neighbor." But most people are distressed by sensations of unreality, which are quite common and can be induced by drugs, fatigue, trauma, and mental illness as well as by meditation.

Even if you achieve a blissful acceptance of the illusory nature of your self, this perspective may not transform you into a saintly bodhisattva, brimming with love and compassion for all other creatures. Far from it—and this is where the distance between certain humanistic values and Buddhism becomes most apparent. To someone who sees himself and others as unreal, human suffering and death may appear laughably trivial. This may explain why some Buddhist masters have behaved more like nihilists than saints. Chogyam Trungpa, who helped introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the United States in the 1970s, was a promiscuous drunk and bully, and he died of alcohol-related illness in 1987. Zen lore celebrates the sadistic or masochistic behavior of sages such as Bodhidharma, who is said to have sat in meditation for so long that his legs became gangrenous.

What's worse, Buddhism holds that enlightenment makes you morally infallible—like the pope, but more so. Even the otherwise sensible James Austin perpetuates this insidious notion. " 'Wrong' actions won't arise," he writes, "when a brain continues truly to express the self-nature intrinsic to its [transcendent] experiences." Buddhists infected with this belief can easily excuse their teachers' abusive acts as hallmarks of a "crazy wisdom" that the unenlightened cannot fathom.

But what troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation. Buddha's first step toward enlightenment was his abandonment of his wife and child, and Buddhism (like Catholicism) still exalts male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual. From this perspective, the very concept of enlightenment begins to look anti-spiritual: It suggests that life is a problem that can be solved, a cul-de-sac that can be, and should be, escaped.

Some Western Buddhists have argued that principles such as reincarnation, anatta, and enlightenment are not essential to Buddhism. In Buddhism Without Beliefs and The Faith To Doubt, the British teacher Stephen Batchelor eloquently describes his practice as a method for confronting—rather than transcending—the often painful mystery of life. But Batchelor seems to have arrived at what he calls an "agnostic" perspective in spite of his Buddhist training—not because of it. When I asked him why he didn't just call himself an agnostic, Batchelor shrugged and said he sometimes wondered himself.

All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created for our benefit, as a stage for our spiritual quests. In contrast, science tells us that we are incidental, accidental. Far from being the raison d'être of the universe, we appeared through sheer happenstance, and we could vanish in the same way. This is not a comforting viewpoint, but science, unlike religion, seeks truth regardless of how it makes us feel. Buddhism raises radical questions about our inner and outer reality, but it is finally not radical enough to accommodate science's disturbing perspective. The remaining question is whether any form of spirituality can.

Article URL: http://slate.msn.com/id/2078486/

Scientists Seek Clues in Solar Storm That Enveloped Shuttle

February 13, 2003

A storm of particles and radiation from the Sun, a kind of disturbance that has disabled or destroyed satellites on dozens of occasions, crossed the path of the space shuttle Columbia just as it was making its descent to Earth, scientists said yesterday.

The disturbance was detected by at least two NASA space probes as it passed from deep space toward Earth on Feb. 1, said Dr. Devrie S. Intriligator, director of the space plasma laboratory at the Carmel Research Center, a private laboratory in Santa Monica, Calif., who discovered the event by examining data from the probes.

Experts in this complex area of space science, often referred to as "space weather," said the possibility that the disturbance contributed to the loss of the Columbia could not be dismissed. But they cautioned that the Feb. 1 storm was milder than the powerful outbursts that have previously damaged equipment in space.

Dr. Intriligator and other scientists who have seen the data describe the phenomenon as a sort of gigantic wave of electrically charged particles, magnetic fields and radiation that was moving toward Earth at roughly 400 miles a second.

"It is a disturbance, a discontinuity, and it did deliver a punch," Dr. Intriligator said.

So far, a NASA spokesman said, nothing in the abnormal readings sent to the ground from the wounded craft suggested that its catastrophic loss began with an electrical jolt. But he would not rule it out.

"I'm not saying their theory is implausible," said James Hartsfield, a spokesman at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We are still in the process of evaluating everything."

Another space weather expert, Dr. Daniel Baker, director of the laboratory for atmospheric and space physics at the University of Colorado, said the phenomenon should be examined further. "With such an extraordinary event," Dr. Baker said, referring to the loss of the Columbia, "you want to look at every possible contributing factor."

But Dr. Baker said he would be more confident that the shuttle disaster was related to the disturbance if it had been more intense. Dr. Intriligator agreed that the disturbance was modest but said the lack of knowledge about the region of space where it was detected suggested scientists should study the possibility. Space physicists often refer to the region as the "ignorosphere" because they know so little about its complexities.

Satellites are especially vulnerable to these storms because they are in orbit for years at a time. By contrast, the storms have never caused a problem for the shuttle, NASA officials say, though they track the solar eruptions that give rise to them and avoid spacewalks when a storm is in progress.

NASA scientists have warned of the dangers that storms in space pose for spacecraft under some circumstances. An August 1996 technical report by scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., noted that on Jan. 20, 1994, two Canadian communications satellites suddenly began to "spin out of control" because "the gyroscopic guidance system on both satellites had mysteriously failed" during a space storm.

The problem was traced back to an electrical charge picked up by the spacecraft from the electrically charged gas of space itself, the report said.

Dr. Intriligator said this kind of "charging" was one of at least three possible ways the Columbia could theoretically have been damaged by the storm. Other spacecraft have been damaged by fast-moving particles, which can strike delicate electronics like microscopic bullets, or by changes in Earth's upper atmosphere that occur when the Sun generates this kind of disturbance.

Earth's relatively dense atmosphere can warm and expand under the assault of a solar storm, several scientists said, increasing its grip on satellites and pulling them down. A Japanese science satellite suddenly tumbled back to Earth on July 14, 2000, Dr. Baker said, when the drag increased in a storm and ground controllers did not compensate adequately.

In particularly intense solar storms, problems in space can occur by the dozens, Dr. Baker said. Eighteen operational failures were documented in one such period in May 1998. "There have been quite a large number of episodes in the past," he said.

Space storms like the one that moved across Earth on Feb. 1 usually start when powerful magnetic fields near sunspots suddenly pour their energy into the solar wind, the stream of particles that continuously speeds away from the Sun into space.

The particles and their associated magnetic fields move relatively smoothly until they reach the magnetosphere, a kind of magnetic field that surrounds Earth like a cocoon. At that point, the collision generates the powerful radiation and energetic particles that propagate like a wave toward Earth.

The two NASA space probes, positioned about a million miles from Earth, picked up such a disturbance at about 8 a.m., Eastern time, on Feb. 1. Using data from the two satellites, scientists could estimate the speed of the wave. Dr. Intriligator said she believed it enveloped the shuttle about an hour later, just about the time NASA began noticing abnormal sensor readings on the Columbia.

Data from other satellites in the general area could hold further clues to the potential effects of the storm on the Columbia, Dr. Intriligator said. She added that if the shuttle had suffered even small external damage from another source - like space debris or the piece of insulating foam that was seen to strike the orbiter on liftoff - it would be more likely that dangerous electrical effects could have come into play.

Such damage could create jagged areas that would act like lightning rods, increasing the danger of any electrical disturbance in surrounding space.

Spiros Antiochos, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory, said there was a "very low probability" that a storm in space played a role in the Columbia's demise. But it would be "premature, a mistake, to make a claim that it's not viable," Dr. Antiochos said, urging that the possibility be studied.


Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

'Faith-Based' Rehabilitation Program in Iowa Prison Merges Religion, Government


Americans United for Separation of Church and State

A government-backed program that seeks to rehabilitate Iowa prison inmates by converting them to fundamentalist Christianity violates the U.S. Constitution, Americans United for Separation of Church and State charged in a pair of federal lawsuits filed today.

A government-backed program that seeks to rehabilitate Iowa prison inmates by converting them to fundamentalist Christianity violates the U.S. Constitution, Americans United for Separation of Church and State charged in a pair of federal lawsuits filed today.

Americans United is challenging state promotion of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a program run by Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship. In the lawsuits, AU charges that InnerChange constitutes a merger of government with religion. The program indoctrinates participants in religion, discriminates in hiring staff on religious grounds and gives inmates special privileges if they enroll.

The InnerChange program is currently in operation in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Texas, and a similar program is under consideration for use in the federal prison system as well. President George W. Bush and other advocates of faith-based social services have praised InnerChange as a model program.

But Americans United insists the arrangement is deeply flawed.

This program is one of the most egregious violations of church-state separation I've ever seen, said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. It literally merges religion and government.

It is unconscionable for the government to give preferential treatment to prisoners based solely on their willingness to undergo religious conversion and indoctrination, said Lynn. Officials should use public funds to help rehabilitate all prison inmates, not just those who are willing to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.

Continued Lynn, Sadly, President Bush sees nothing wrong with an arrangement like this and indeed wants to spread it across all social services, affecting all Americans. It's a dangerous agenda that must be stopped.

Americans United filed suit on behalf of Jerry D. Ashburn, an inmate at Newton Correctional Facility in Newton, Iowa, who objects to the program's religious tenets. A separate suit was filed on behalf of family and friends of Newton inmates who also object to the sectarian emphasis of the program.

Both lawsuits assert that InnerChange is based entirely on fundamentalist Christianity. InnerChange materials describe the program as a revolutionary, Christ-centered, values-based pre-release program supporting prison inmates through their spiritual and moral transformation and says it is explicitly Christ-centered.

In addition, InnerChange openly discriminates in hiring staff on religious grounds, despite its support from public funds. All employees must be Christians who are willing to sign a statement of faith that reflects fundamentalist Christian dogma.

InnerChange staff do not hesitate to discuss the group's sectarian goals. Jack Cowley, national director of operations for InnerChange, told The Non-Profit Times in 2002 that the program seeks to convert inmates to fundamentalism. From the state's point of view, the mission is to reduce recidivism, Cowley said. From a ministry point of view, our mission is to save souls for Christ.

The lawsuits also note that inmates in the InnerChange program receive much better treatment than inmates in the general population. InnerChange participants, for example, have keys to their cells and have access to private bathrooms. They are allowed to make free telephone calls to family members and are given access to big-screen televisions, computers and art supplies. These benefits are not extended to general-population inmates.

Newton officials fund InnerChange in part by charging general-population inmates and their family members exorbitant rates for telephone calls. The profits are then used to pay for 40 to 50 percent of InnerChanges costs. Housing for the program is also completely subsidized with public funds.

This unusual funding mechanism means that all inmates and their family members and friends who wish to communicate by telephone are forced to support InnerChange. Americans United expects other plaintiffs to join the cases as they get under way. AU attorneys urged Newton inmates (or those who pay into the phone fund on their behalf) to contact AU.

These cases have substantial implications for President Bush's faith-based initiative, said Ayesha Khan, Americans United's legal director. The president says it's okay to use public dollars for religious discrimination, and we say it's not. These cases will be among the first to determine how far the government can go in funding religious programs.

In addition to AUs Khan, other attorneys involved in the lawsuits include AU Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser and local counsel Dean Stowers, a constitutional lawyer with the Des Moines law firm of Rosenberg, Stowers & Morse.

The cases, Ashburn v. Mapes and Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, are pending in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Wednesday, February 12, 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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In the News

Today's Headlines - February 12, 2003

Scientists Capture Best Image Ever of Universe's Beginning
From The Washington Post

A powerful satellite has captured the best picture ever taken of the infant universe, an image so detailed that scientists said it answers some of the most important questions about the cosmos, including when it was born and how it will probably die.

The image, created from a year's worth of data collected by a NASA probe 1 million miles from Earth, has solved long-standing puzzles, such as what the universe looked like right after it was forged in the violent inferno of the big bang, when the first stars blinked on in the coalescing heavens and what kind of matter makes up the expanding universe that exists today.

Astronomers calculated that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that the first stars lighted up just 200 million years after the cosmos was born and that it will expand forever, thinning and cooling until it eventually reaches nothingness.


From New York Times

The first hint of trouble came from Jeff Kling, the maintenance and mechanical officer at Mission Control who was monitoring the descent of the space shuttle Columbia.

"F.Y.I., I've just lost four separate temperature transducers on the left side of the vehicle, hydraulic return temperatures," he calmly reported.

The flight director, Leroy Cain, seemed surprised, but not alarmed. "Is there anything common to them?" he asked. "I mean, you're telling me you lost them at exactly the same time."

"No, not exactly," Mr. Kling replied. "They were within probably four or five seconds of each other."

The conversation was made public today as NASA released audio tapes of the final communications among ground controllers and the crew of the Columbia, a chilling libretto of the dawning signs of disaster.


From The New York Times

When lawmakers convene on Wednesday morning for a hearing on the space shuttle disaster, they will examine both the technical aspects of the tragedy and broader issues about safety, costs and the ultimate goals of the nation's space program.

The laundry list of questions to be put to NASA's administrator, Sean O'Keefe, will go to the heart of the manned space program.

Did NASA undercut shuttle safety by shifting money to other programs? Can the space agency investigate itself, or is a more independent body needed to look into the Columbia disaster? Should the United States push forward with a next-generation space vehicle or continue to rely on the shuttles? And what should the United States do about the over-budget International Space Station, whose completion has now been thrown in doubt?


From The Los Angles Times

As the Bush administration proposes a dramatic increase in research funding to protect Americans against bioterrorism, congressional and scientific skeptics are calling for closer scrutiny of the nation's leading biodefense facility.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., has accumulated a record of environmental, safety and security problems.


From The Los Angeles Times

Difficulty concentrating? Getting along with your spouse? Weaning yourself from the Internet or that computer game to get your work done? Or thinking about all those things you have to do instead of focusing on what you're reading right now?

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. thinks its new blue, gold and white pills might help.

The Indianapolis drug maker has been heavily marketing the drug Strattera, also known as atomoxetine, for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It's the first drug approved for ADHD in adults as well as children, and a surprising number of adults -- including doctors, lawyers and chief executives -- may benefit.


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NASA Releases Tape of Final Mission Talk

FEBRUARY 12, 05:10 ET

AP Science Writer

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) — NASA has released transcripts from some of space shuttle Columbia's final radio transmissions, chronicling the efforts of Mission Control engineers as they became painfully aware of the destruction that was unfolding.

In the conversations, released Tuesday, Mission Control reports a litany of problems that seem to worsen by the minute as the shuttle breaks into pieces, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

The first bad news came when Jeff Kling, the maintenance, mechanical arm and crew systems officer, reported a sudden and unexplained loss of data from spacecraft sensors. The assessment came in the final six or seven minutes of the flight.

``I just lost four separate temperature transducers on the left side of the vehicle, the hydraulic return temperatures,'' Kling said.

Flight director Leroy Cain quickly asked if there was anything common to the sensors and got bad news in reply. Kling said there was no commonality, suggesting there was a general failure instead of a single system.

Moments later, more bad news. Mike Sarafin, the guidance and navigation officer, announces Columbia's wing is encountering drag, or increased wind resistance.

Cain, still hopeful, asks if everything else is normal and Sarafin assures him, ``I don't see anything out of the ordinary.''

There is a short indistinct call from the spacecraft and, almost at the same time, Kling says the landing gear tires have lost pressure.

Capsule communicator Charlie Hobaugh then addresses the spacecraft: ``And Columbia, Houston, we see your tire pressure messages and we did not copy your last.

Columbia commander Rick Husband's response — ``Roger, buh — `` — is abruptly cut off. It is 7:59 a.m. CST.

In short order, flight controllers begin reporting a string of more problems. There is evidence of small collisions on the tail, and signals are cut off from the nose landing gear and the right main landing gear. Then more sensors are lost and the drag increases to the left.

Hobaugh begins a series of radio calls to Columbia. There is no response as the minutes tick down toward a planned landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

``MILA (the Kennedy spacecraft communication center) is not reporting any RF (radio frequency) at this time,'' says Bill Foster, a ground controller.

``OK,'' says Cain, who then asks hopefully when a radar signal was expected.

``One minute ago, flight,'' comes the response from Richard Jones, flight dynamics officer.

The communication checks continue. So does the silence. A radar station near the Kennedy center then says it is putting its radar in a ``search mode.''

``We do not have any valid data at this time,'' said Jones. He said there was a ``blip'' but it was bad data.

Then a long pause, a silence of despair. Then Cain says the final words, the phrase that marked the lack of hope: ``Lock the doors.''

This meant nobody could leave Mission Control or even make phone calls. For the next several hours, the engineers have to ignore the certain loss of the crew and store the data in their computers, finish reports and then write personal accounts of what they saw, heard and did Feb. 1.

Universe to expand for ever


Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 12:28 GMT

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

The Universe will expand for ever, at an ever-increasing rate, Nasa scientists are to announce.

They base their conclusion on new data obtained by the Microwave Anisotropy Probe (Map) satellite, which has been orbiting the Sun beyond the Moon since shortly after its launch in 2001.

Map data also confirm previous findings that most of the Cosmos is composed of mysterious "dark energy" that is causing the expansion of the Universe to accelerate.

Atoms - the basic components of matter that can give off light - comprise only a few per cent of the Universe. As one astronomer put it: "To the Universe, stars and planets are minor impurities."

Map was launched in 2001 to make its way to the L2 Lagrange point of gravitational balance between the Earth, Moon and Sun.

Big Bang echo

It is the first probe to be positioned at L2, which is four times further away than the Moon, and which follows the Earth and the Moon around the Sun.

Map's focus is the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. The CMB was first detected in 1965 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of the Bell Telephone labs in the US.

It has been called the "echo" of the Big Bang - the event that created the Universe about 15 billion years ago.

The CMB is radiation that formed about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, when the Universe had cooled to such a degree that hydrogen atoms could exist.

In 1992 the Cosmic Background Explorer (Cobe) satellite detected fluctuations in the CMB that were attributed to the first structures to form in the Universe - the so-called seeds of galaxies appearing in the vast clouds of hot gas that was all the Universe consisted of at the time.


Astronomers believe that the CMB contains a great deal of information about the origin and fate of the Universe.

Measurements of the CMB will allow cosmologists to determine basic parameters of the Universe, for instance whether it will expand for ever, or collapse, or whether its expansion will accelerate or slow down.

Able to scan the whole sky every six months, the Nasa satellite is producing maps of the CMB with unprecedented accuracy.

Map's first release of data will confirm previous results obtained by the Boomerang balloon-based detector that flew over Antarctica in 2000.

It will show that "dark energy" dominates the Universe, causing the expansion of the Cosmos to accelerate.

This will mean that eventually all matter in the Universe will be scattered ever more thinly and, as the stars go out and the galaxies fade, all will become an ever-cooling thin gas.

Beauty in the eye of the android


Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 15:47 GMT

Artificial intelligence experts in Fife have unveiled a robotic head which they say can scientifically determine how attractive women are to men.

But they have warned that it does not work in reverse because masculine appeal to women is not as likely to be based on looks alone.

Specialists at Kirkcaldy-based Intelligent Earth company said that the head-shaped android was capable of calculating how "feminine" or "masculine" a person's face is.

They claim that with feminine faces the android can assess attractiveness to men.

Managing director David Cumming said: "The artificial intelligence technology we've developed here learns to recognise what sex someone is by drawing on its past experiences, in much the same way that the human brain learns when we are children.

"It examines a number of facial characteristics to determine what sex someone is, so the more classically feminine a woman looks, then the quicker it will decide what sex they are.

"Psychological research has shown that a woman's attractiveness directly relates to her femininity and so we can also use this reading as a measure of a woman's attractiveness to men."

He said the technology was more useful for determining female attractiveness as women relied more closely on factors other than looks when making decisions about men.

Robot enthusiasts

The artificial intelligence firm received its first prototype of the robot, nicknamed Doki, last week and is now mass producing the android.

Initially it could be used as a receptionist-style greeting device.

Company chiefs said they have already received several orders from firms, colleges and robot enthusiasts.

The android will sell for between £3,000 and £5,000, depending on its features and whether it will be used for teaching purposes.

Using web cameras mounted in the robot's head, an image of a person's face is taken and analysed by the robot's on-board computer and compared to previous faces it has seen.

The robot can currently only perform simple tasks but it is hoped that later this year it will be developed into an electronic personnel assistant, which could take messages, recognise frequent visitors and address them by name.

The company also plans to build a full size android, which can walk and interact with humans.

A Glimpse of a Future in a New Kind of Light

February 11, 2003

How many scientists does it take to change the light bulb?

It's not a joke. The ubiquitous light bulb is quietly on its way to becoming as quaint a relic as the gas lanterns it replaced more than a century ago. Incandescent bulbs, neon tubes and fluorescent lamps are starting to give way to light-emitting microchips that work longer, use less power and allow designers to use light in ways they never have before.

The chips - 18 million of them - are already on display in the $37 million Nasdaq sign in Times Square. They are in the vibrant facade of the Goodman Theater in Chicago and adorned last year's White House Christmas tree. More notable, the chips are penetrating blue-collar tasks like illuminating traffic lights, brake lights and exit signs.

Lighting experts expect the pace of change to pick up as researchers continue their relentless efforts to shrink the chips to microscopic size, improve their already impressive energy efficiency and increase their brightness. The chips are expected to move into the general home and office lighting market as early as 2007.

The eventual result, the experts say, will be savings of billions of dollars annually in energy and maintenance costs and a revolution in how people use lighting in homes and offices to influence their moods.

"We are not talking about replacing light bulbs," said Arpad Bergh, a former Bell Labs researcher who is president of an industry trade group working with the government to promote the new technology. "We are talking about a totally new lighting industry."

The vision of revolutionary new uses of light reflects the ability of such lighting, also known as solid-state lighting, to switch virtually instantaneously among more than a million shades of color at the command of a computer. Researchers talk about using the technology to coordinate lighting effects in a theater with film scenes, which might make a battle sequence appear to leap off the screen, or to alter the color and brightness of lighting in nursing homes at appropriate times, which could help stimulate or soothe residents.

The chips, which are known as light-emitting diodes, or L.E.D.'s, have huge performance advantages in many mundane tasks. In devices like traffic lights, for example, they consume 80 percent less electricity than do the bulbs they replace and last up to 10 times as long. Moreover, they have the safety advantage of gradually fading instead of unpredictably burning out.

Beyond such obvious benefits, though, it is the ease of mating the chips to computers that is driving interest. Programs simple enough to run on a hand-held personal digital assistant can alter the intensity, pattern and colors produced by solid-state lights. Color Kinetics, a five-year-old lighting company based in Boston, calculates that the various chips it packages with computer controls can generate up to 16.7 million colors.

That flexibility is already used in advertising and entertainment. Solid-state lights are featured in numerous Times Square signs and Broadway shows like "Hairspray." Mad Doc Software, based in Lawrence, Mass., has designed tools to link video games to room lighting so that a player in a Star Trek game who is passing a red nebula would have one side of a room shift in color.

"It's fantastic how much more immersive the game becomes," said Ian Davis, founder of Mad Doc.

Architects and building designers have far more ambitious possibilities in mind, including mimicking indoors the variability of natural lighting as the day progresses. Lighting experts predict that once costs come down, such flexibility will greatly increase the attention paid to the role of light in people's moods and health.

"L.E.D.'s are only limited by what we put in the computer," said Fred Oberkircher, director of the Center for Lighting Education at Texas Christian University. "I'm waiting for the day when clouds of light float across my ceiling."

It may sound whimsical, but Mr. Oberkircher's vision is rooted in research suggesting that people find the rigid lighting environments they normally work and dwell in boring and, in some cases, unhealthy. While most market projections are based on assessing the progress of solid-state lights toward matching the cost and performance of traditional incandescent and fluorescent white lights, some experts say that such comparisons miss the point.

"The ability to do things you couldn't do before is what will trigger mass adoption," said Michael Holt, president of LumiLeds, a leading diode producer that is a joint venture of Agilent Technologies and Philips Lighting. "People will become much more attuned to the mental and health aspects of light in the next 5 to 10 years."

The chips driving the revolution currently cost too much to use in general lighting. The cost of white-light diodes for standard electrical sockets is anywhere from 40 to 100 times that of comparably bright incandescent bulbs, according to various industry estimates.

But like their cousins the microprocessors, the diode chips are continually improving in performance and plunging in price. They could become cheap and luminous enough to break into the general lighting market as early as 2007, according to a technology road map developed by the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association, the trade group Mr. Bergh heads.

By then, the chips are likely to be facing competition in many specialty applications from a newer form of solid-state lighting known as organic light-emitting diodes, or O.L.E.D's. These light-emitting plastics are not nearly as bright or durable as the chips but may prove to be more economic for many uses. Like other polymers, they would be manufactured in continuous processes instead of batch by batch the way microchips are made. They are already being used to light small displays, like the battery-life monitor in the Norelco Spectra razor.

Whatever the progress, experts like Mr. Holt and Charles A. Becker, head of the L.E.D. for lighting project at General Electric's research laboratory, say incandescent bulbs are likely to remain so cheap that they will be widely used for years to come as white-light sources, even though they are quite inefficient and fragile.

Light bulbs, which lighting experts deride as heaters that happen to give off visible light, work by forcing electricity through a metal filament in a vacuum. About 6 percent of the energy ends up as light. Today's light chips are up to five times as efficient.

Researchers say that further development could double the chips' efficiency advantage. If achievable, these gains would allow solid-state lighting to surpass the efficiency of fluorescent lamps.

The first practical diode, which emitted low intensity red light, was invented in 1962 at General Electric. Red and amber L.E.D.'s came to market in the 1970's as on-off signals and other indicators for electronics and machinery. Using diodes for general lighting seemed laughable until researchers at companies like Cree, Nichia Chemical, Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard discovered much brighter materials and relatively inexpensive emitters of blue and green light in the early 1990's.

Blue diodes were crucial to generating white light, which could be produced by blending the blue, red and green or by shining the blue light through a coating of yellow phosphor. By last year, products built around the new generation of higher-intensity colors and white light had become a $1.2 billion market, according to Dr. Robert V. Steele, director of optoelectronics research at Strategies Unlimited, a market research company in Mountain View, Calif.

The biggest market at the moment is in outdoor signs and in lighting the contours of buildings like fast food restaurants, where the diodes are displacing neon. The nation's four million or so traffic signals represent a smaller market, but diodes have taken over a third of it and continue to spread rapidly, according to Gary R. Durgin, vice president for business development for Dialight, a solid-state lighting supplier based in Farmingdale, N.J.

Buses, trucks and autos have diodes in brake lights and interior lighting. Styling and maintenance benefits are driving the trend, but there are safety benefits, too. Because the diodes light up fractions of a second faster than do incandescent lights when a driver hits the brakes, anyone trailing a vehicle at 65 miles an hour is able to stop about 19 feet sooner, according to a study at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

New research fields like nanotechnology are spurring innovation. In July, for instance, Kopin, a manufacturer of semiconductors and electronics displays based in Taunton, Mass., disclosed that it had discovered a way to make millions of pockets just two nanometers thick - the width of just 10 hydrogen atoms - in the dust-size light-emitting chips. The nanopockets, as Kopin calls them, help light escape the chip without being obstructed by microscopic defects in the chip's crystal structure. The new design cut the voltage needed to get light out of the chips enough to grab the attention of makers of battery-operated electronics.

As a result, Kopin, which was once unknown in the industry, is gearing up to ship 100 million light chips this year to contractors who will package them with power and optical components for use by device manufacturers.

The first applications, according to John Fan, Kopin's chief executive, are likely to be back-lighting for liquid-crystal displays on portable electronics and night-lighting for keys on devices like cellphones. The chips are so small that the entire year's production could be easily enclosed in a golf ball.

Mr. Fan and other entrepreneurs have been attracted by the potentially huge environmental and energy returns from replacing traditional lights with solid-state devices. One widely cited study for the Energy Department concluded that the widespread use of solid-state lighting by 2025 could cut electricity demand 10 percent and save consumers $100 billion.

Getting there is not a trivial challenge, though. Researchers say there are numerous hurdles to overcome in fields like manufacturing technology, chip design and extraction of the light created in the chips.

The new technology also requires changes in regulations and standards. For instance, the advertised life of a product line of light bulbs is set as the length of time until half of them fail in tests. But solid-state lighting slowly degrades rather than burning out so the industry is struggling to come up with an agreed standard for "useful life."

While many in the industry are confident about where their markets will end up, the hurdles make it hard to project how they will get there.

"It's easier to know what will happen 10 years from now than 2," said Mr. Durgin of Dialight.


Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

New Map Unveiled of Universe at Start of Time

February 11, 2003

Astronomers unveiled today what they said was the most detailed and precise map yet produced of the universe at the beginning of time, one that confirms the Big Bang theory in triumphant detail and opens new chapters in the prehistory of the cosmos.

The map, compiled by a satellite called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, shows the slight variations in a haze of radio microwaves believed to be the remains of the fires of the Big Bang. Cosmologists said the map would serve as the basis for studying the universe for the rest of the decade.

It reveals the emergence of the first stars in the cosmos, only 200 million years after the Big Bang, some half a billion years earlier than theorists had thought, and gives a first tantalizing hint at the physics of the "dynamite" behind the Big Bang.

By comparing their data with other astronomical observations, the astronomers said, they had arrived at a definitive measurement of the basic parameters that characterize the universe, including its age, geometry, composition and weight. The result, they said, is a seamless and consistent history of the universe, from its first few seconds, when it was a sizzling soup of particles and energy, to the modern day and a sky ribboned with chains of pearly galaxies inhabited by at least one race of puzzled and ambitious bipeds.

"We have laid the cornerstone of a unified coherent theory of the cosmos," said Dr. Charles Bennett, an astronomer at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and head of an international team of astronomers who built the satellite that produced the map.

The WMAP satellite was launched on June 30, 2001, and has been orbiting the Earth and recording cosmic emanations from a point on the other side of the moon. The satellite and its map are the long-awaited successor to NASA's COBE satellite, which first mapped the cosmic radiation in broad brush strokes in 1992. The new satellite can resolve features one-fortieth the size of those in the COBE map, which was once referred to as the "face of God."

Originally known as MAP, it was named today in honor of Dr. David Wilkinson, a Princeton University cosmologist and leader of the MAP project who died last September.

The WMAP results, which have been eagerly awaited and tightly guarded in recent weeks, were announced at a press conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington, today, and posted on WMAP's Web site, http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/. Dr. Bennett and his collaborators have submitted a set of 13 papers to The Astrophysical Journal.

"I think there is no longer any credible alternative to the Big Bang," said Dr. David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and member of the WMAP team.

The WMAP results largely confirm the strange picture that has emerged from various astronomical observations over the last few years of a universe full of mysterious dark matter that is being accelerated apart by an even more mysterious "dark energy."

In a nutshell, the universe according to WMAP is 13.7 billion years old, plus or minus one percent. It is geometrically "flat," in accordance with the simplest solutions of Einstein's equations, which equate gravity with the bending of space time. By weight it is 4 percent atoms, 23 percent dark matter - presumably as-yet-undiscovered elementary particles left over from the Big Bang - and 73 percent "dark energy."

These vital statistics are almost identical to those previously calculated by cosmologists based on balloon and groundbased glimpses of the microwaves. They nevertheless hailed WMAP and said it had exceeded their expectations. Dr. Max Tegmark, of the University of Pennsylvania called the results "wild," and said WMAP had put the ball in the court of regular astronomy to match its precision. "MAP will be the foundation of all cosmology in the next five years," he said.

Dr. Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, hailed the MAP team and said, "To a cosmologist, their map has the emotional impact of looking at a beautiful painting."

Dr. John Bahcall, an astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a self-described skeptic described the results as a "smorgasbord of goodies," and said they marked a "rite of passage" for cosmology from philosophical uncertainty to precision. He said that in his opinion the most revolutionary result was that there were no revolutionary results. Astronomy had gotten it right. "The motley mixture of strange elements that astronomers have put together over the last two or three decades is confirmed to remarkable accuracy."

"We've answered the set of questions that have driven the field of cosmology for the last two decades," Dr. Spergel said. "How many atoms in the universe? How old is the universe?"

The task now, he and others agreed, is to understand those motley elements, the dark stuff that apparently makes up 96 percent of everything, and what happened in the Big Bang that gave birth to it all. "We haven't explained everything," Dr. Bennett said. "I can't say what dark matter is, or what dark energy is."

The cosmic microwaves have mesmerized astronomers ever since they were discovered in 1965 as a faint radio hiss filling the sky by two Bell Laboratories radio astronomers, Dr. Arno Penzias and Dr. Robert Wilson, subsequently Nobel laureates. They represent a snapshot of the universe as it was cooling to the point where atoms could form, at an age of about 400,000 years. But water vapor in the atmosphere obscures the microwaves and so astronomers have had to be satisfied with glimpses from mountaintops or balloons.

In 1992 COBE confirmed that this cosmic gravy has lumps, the seeds from which galaxies and other cosmic structures would grow. Since then a series of smaller experiments with names like Boomerang, Maxima, CBI, and DASI have studied these lumps, which can be used to diagnose properties like the geometry and matter density of the cosmos, on finer and finer scales. These experiments suggested that the universe was flat and dominated by dark energy, but they only glimpsed small portions of the sky for limited times.

WMAP scans the whole sky every six months. It is designed to operate for four years. The new map was based on the first year's worth of data.

In addition to measuring the brightness or temperature of the microwaves, WMAP, like a pair of Polaroid sunglasses, can also measure their polarization. That ability was key to the discovery of the era of the first stars. Like light skipping off a lake, the electric and magnetic fields that constitute light bouncing off an electrified gas are not jumbled but show a preference to vibrate in a particular plane. Last year astronomers from the DASI project showed that a polarization had been imparted to the cosmic microwaves at the moment that the first atoms formed, and the cosmic fireball thus lost its free electrons.

But astronomers thought there should be another polarization episode. When the lights went on in the universe, blazing ultraviolet from the first stars would have stripped the electrons from hydrogen atoms in space. Those electrons, which scatter the cosmic microwaves, would also polarize them again.

Most astronomers suspected that this had happened at about the time of the most distant and early quasars, around 800 million years of age. It was a surprise, astronomers said, to find the stars had formed so early.

The first stars, Dr. Bennett explained in an interview, were probably monsters 100 times as massive as the Sun, which burned out rapidly and violently, transmuting primordial hydrogen and helium into heavy elements like carbon and oxygen and spewing them out into space to form the basis for future generations of stars and eventually life.

"This will give those studying the first stars lots to think about," Dr. Turner said of the discovery. Dr. Tegmark added that these would become tempting targets for the so-called next generation space telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope

The WMAP scientists also said that their data was beginning to shed light on a theory of what might have been going on during the Big Bang.

That theory, known as inflation, hypothesizes that the universe underwent an enormous growth spurt during the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of time under the influence of a brief but powerful antigravitational field that permeated space. Such behavior is allowed by the laws of physics, and it has formed the core of Big Bang theorizing, but the details depend on the unknown physics that prevails at the energies of the early universe - far beyond the capacity of modern particle accelerators. And so inflation, as Dr. Bennett noted, is often called a paradigm instead of a theory.

By analyzing the bumps in the cosmic microwaves, which according to inflation are the result of microscopic fluctuations in the mysterious force field that drove inflation, along with other data, Dr. Spergel said, the WMAP scientists might be able to rule out one simple version of inflation that is often seen in textbooks. Other more complicated versions, he added, seemed to fit the data quite well.

"The data are good enough to rule out whole classes of inflationary theories," Dr. Spergel said. That ability, he said, represented a "new frontier" for particle physicists, who want to know what laws governed the universe at the beginning of time.

"It really is a big hint for them," he said, adding that the physics that prevailed during the time of inflation is "the highest energy physics we can measure."

Dr. Bahcall said that particle physicists should be "thrilled." They are now working not just with a pencil and paper but with detailed measurements in the early universe. "That the simplest model fails has to be good news to them," he said.

Other astronomers noted that there was a flip side of this new "precision cosmology." Small deviations in WMAP data from theoretical predictions would have to be taken seriously, and are likely to be the subject of future research. If these effects are real, and not noise in the instruments, it could be a signal of a need to change the models.

"This is precision cosmology," Dr. Turner said, "and sometimes things don't work out."


Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

Microwave Anisotropy Probe results

The initial results have finally been released. They mostly confirm what we know or thought to be the case. The Big Bang is yet even more strongly confirmed than before. I expect to see more detailed information about the results in a few days or so. (The instrument has been renamed and is now called WMAP in honor of Dr. David Wilkinson, a Princeton University cosmologist and leader of the MAP project who died last September.) From http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_mm/mr_limits.html

We use our new detailed picture to ask: "What happened earlier to make this picture happen?" We now begin to probe the earliest moments of the universe: Inflation (the rapid expansion of the universe a fraction of a second after its birth.). We have ruled out a textbook example of a particular inflation model. But others will be supported with this new evidence.

Starting from the time of our picture we can ask: "What must have happened later?" We have compared and combined the new WMAP data with other diverse cosmic measurements (galaxy clustering, Lyman-alpha cloud clustering, supernovae, etc.), and we have found a new unified understanding of universe:

Universe is 13.7 billion years old with a only a 1% margin error.

First stars ignited 200 million years after the Big Bang.

Content of the Universe:
4% Atoms, 23% Cold Dark Matter, 73% Dark energy.

The data places new constraints on the dark energy. It seems more like a "cosmological constant" than a negative-pressure energy field called "quintessence". But quintessence is not ruled out. Fast moving neutrinos do not play any major role in the evolution of structure in the universe. They would have prevented the early clumping of gas in the universe, delaying the emergence of the first stars, in conflict with the new WMAP data.

Expansion rate (Hubble constant) value: Ho= 71 km/sec/Mpc (with a margin of error of about 5%)

Man Tells Judge He Wants Jesus As Lawyer


FEBRUARY 11, 08:17 ET

GAINESVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri man can have Jesus Christ as his attorney, but only one licensed to practice Missouri law will be allowed to speak for him during trial on charges he tampered with a judge.

Defendant Richard John Adams, who described himself as a patriot and a Christian, told the Ozark County judge presiding over his case that under that ruling, he was ``being restricted to the devil.''

Adams, of Branson, said he refers to lawyers as ``devils'' because he believes the Missouri Bar Association ``created the Federal Reserve through their unconstitutional statutes and case laws.''

Adams formerly associated himself with a militia and Christian Identity movement but has since said he's not a member of any group.

Adams is scheduled to stand trial March 19-20 on two counts of tampering involving Ozark County Associate Circuit Judge John Jacobs of Gainesville.

Adams, whose age was not available, requested Jesus Christ as his trial attorney during a hearing Wednesday. He listed ``Christian brother'' Lee Constance of Alton as co-counsel. Constance is not licensed to practice law in Missouri.

Ozark County Circuit Judge John Moody told Adams it was fine for Jesus Christ to be his chief counsel, but no one — including Constance — could speak for him in the courtroom unless a lawful attorney.

Adams replied that his choice of lawyers was ``religious in nature.''

Moody offered to let Adams sign a waiver of counsel, but Adams objected to the language in the document and declined.

Adams said he planned to appeal the decision.

The case began when Adams was ticketed March 24 in Howell County for speeding and failing to wear a seat belt.

Both charges have since been dropped. But the two felony counts of tampering stem from those proceedings, during which Adams requested a change of venue to Ozark County.

One count alleges Adams harassed Jacobs during a July 3 hearing by filing a letter in a court file saying he would sue the judge because he was incompetent.

His allegation implies Jacobs needed ``a guardian to make his decisions for him and to the effect that he is unable by reason of any physical or mental condition to receive and evaluate information or to communicate decisions,'' prosecutor Thomas Cline said in court records.

The second count alleges Adams tampered with a judicial officer on Aug. 13 by threatening to sue Jacobs for violating his civil rights. Adams was ordered removed from the court after he became antagonistic over Jacobs' ruling, according to records.

Cline said Monday that he could not comment on the case prior to trial.

In court records, Cline said the statement was intended to threaten Jacob because a suit would require the judge ``to incur expenses of retaining counsel and providing a defense.''

Adams faces a maximum of 14 years in prison if convicted of both counts.

Consumers in Europe Resist Gene-Altered Foods



TOTNES, England, Feb. 7 — At the Happy Apple greengrocer in this Elizabethan town in England's West Country, the roasted vegetable pasty is labeled, clearly and proudly, as GM-free. So is the hommity pie and a scattering of other products crammed onto shelves.

In fact, all across Britain and most of the rest of Europe, shoppers would be hard pressed to find any genetically modified, or GM, products on grocery store shelves, and that is precisely how most people want it.

Tinkering with the genetic makeup of crops to make them faster-growing and more resilient, something done routinely in the United States with seldom a pang of consumer concern, is seen here as heretical, or at the very least unhealthy.

In some countries, including France and Austria, there is an unofficial moratorium on the sale of genetically modified foods. Such foods simply cannot be found there.

"It's not the natural order of things, that's all," Heather Baddeley, who was picking up lettuce and avocados at the Happy Apple, said about GM foods. "It's a kind of corruption, not the right thing to do, you know?"

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