Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Originally published in Current, March 2, 1998
By Karen Everhart Bedford
Part of public TV's job has always been to "push the envelope," and air programs that commercial broadcasters are not willing or ready to handle. But some pubcasters say stations may be pushing too fast and too far with some spiritual thinkers who describe new ways to heal viewers' emotional and physical ills--in particular, Dr. Caroline Myss.
The so-called guru programs appear to be exempt from the programmers' review that would apply to public affairs or science documentaries, and are carried almost entirely during pledge drives, where emotionally appealing programs often lead directly to heavy pledging.
"I think we've gotten a little carried away with it," said Fred Esplin, g.m. of KUED in Salt Lake City and chairman of PBS's program policy committee. Esplin said he stated this view during a recent meeting of PBS's program service committee, a separate advisory group.
"I'm concerned that we do need to exercise some discretion about how many self-help programs we use and how legitimate they are," Esplin told Current. "We have a responsibility, by virtue of being a public service and educational, not to exploit our viewers and not to do something just because it will make a buck."
Viewers and programmers raised credibility concerns last December after stations aired two PBS specials featuring Caroline Myss (pronounced "Mace"), an author and lecturer who describes herself as a "medical intuitive" with a 93 percent accuracy rate at diagnosing patients' illnesses using her intuition. Myss holds a doctorate in intuition and energy medicine from Greenwich University, a nonaccredited institution in Hawaii. She teaches at the same school with Dr. C. Norman Shealy, a neurosurgeon who mentored and tested her as she developed as a practitioner.
A Florida programmer criticized one of the specials last December as "far too close to the realm of faith healing" in a chat group on PBS Express, but declined to comment on the program's content in an interview with Current. Another from a small western station said a Myss show was "a little tough to defend on the basis of credibility" in an e-mail, but did not respond to Current's request for an interview.
Station programmers are reluctant to criticize on-air pledging practices that work for others. Patty Starkey, a prominent fundraiser from KSPS in Spokane, said her station didn't schedule the Myss specials in December, and she declined to discuss the credentials issue. "The shows that do best for us are either music--like Andre Rieu--or stunts of Faulty Towers and Lawrence Welk. We tend to go in that direction."
While some pubcasters are reluctant to embrace Myss, many Americans enjoy her books and were glad for the chance to see her on television. Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, her most recent book, was released late last year, just as PBS debuted a pledge special with the same title. PBS also distributed The Three Levels of Power and How to Use Them last December. Former American Program Service programmer Pat Faust and Sandra Hay were executive producers of both specials.
Many major-market stations reported very strong responses to the Myss programs. "She's a terrific fundraiser," said Kurt Mendelsohn, director of creative services for KQED, San Francisco, where Myss appeared in the studios during pledge breaks.
Myss also had a "very successful run" on WNET, New York, according to Anne Gorfinkel, p.d. "We did get some callers from the more orthodox community asking, 'What is this about?' and 'Why are you putting this charlatan on?', but by and large the response was overwhelmingly positive."
Gorfinkel said self-help teachers have become a very important part of WNET's pledge schedule. "People get attracted to a subject and want to own the material so they can sort of chew on them and really use them."
When the e-mails questioning Myss's credentials circulated last December, Gorfinkel said she wasn't too troubled by them. "She clearly had a message that people appreciated hearing. I don't think she misrepresented herself."
In both programs, an announcer introduces Myss as a medical intuitive with a diagnosis accuracy rate of 93 percent, but her intuitive abilities are not the main focus of the televised lectures. Instead she encourages viewers to let go of wounds from their past, learn to forgive, and direct their energies toward empowering spiritual growth.
Skeptics can easily dismiss Myss's message as New Age mumbo-jumbo, but what it basically boils down to is a lecture on the power of positive thinking and an affirmation of transcendence.
"She captures the imagination and language for people who feel the materialist paradigm isn't adequate," commented Marilyn Schlitz, an expert on energy medicine who is research director for the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Sausalito, Calif. While Myss has not participated in well-controlled experiments that would help establish scientifically how medical intuition works, Schlitz said she respects her work as pioneering. "Caroline is a person who is describing something that we have yet to figure out how to capture."
"First, do no harm"
The editorial standards that guard PBS's reputation for quality are not applied as rigorously to guru specials as to some other program types.
In the case of the Myss specials, public broadcasters didn't check out her claims of diagnostic accuracy. Even Myss's own publicist was unsure of how they had been established.
As it turns out, Shealy tested Myss several years ago, using a research instrument that he had developed especially to measure the accuracy of medical intuitives, according to Mary-Charlotte Shealy, his wife. She acknowledged that the tests weren't randomized and double-blind--the scientific "gold standard" that Schlitz would like to see.
"When you're working with intuitives and you start nailing them down and get too scientific and too picky, you're bringing them down to the physical dimension that isn't where they're used to working," she explained.
Faust, who's played a key role in bringing all varieties of pledge programs to public television, said that production partners Faust Entertainment and Mountain Drive require talent appearing in an informational program to sign a release assuring that the material in the show is accurate and cleared for broadcast use. "The information has to stand either as fact or as the opinion of an individual coming from this background," she explained.
"Our evaluation tends to be on popularity--the thousands of books sold as an author," explained Alan Foster, director of syndication services for PBS, who oversees fundraising specials. A book deal with a "legitimate, major publisher" alleviates concerns about credibility, he said.
"You know, we do look at it like the Hippocratic oath--'First, do no harm,' he added.
Faust cited standards beyond popularity. "We like to feel that, additionally, we're working with people who are of high caliber," she said. She also looks for evidence that the work of a "guide and teacher" has benefited others and attracted a growing and loyal following over time.
Stations' concerns about credibility are "always valid and highly important," she said, and arise whenever "something slightly different or out of the mainstream" comes into the line-up. "But, shouldn't there be the same concern with every individual? There's an assumption when a person has a degree from a major university that there's nothing to question."
"I don't think the point of their message is whether they're a Ph.D. doctor or a medical doctor--it has to do with having an uplifting message for people, for millions of people," said Foster.
Whether PBS should be distributing "what some label as psychobabble" is a valid question, he acknowledged. If stations become "nearly unanimous" in saying they don't want to air any more gurus, he'll stop booking them. "A couple of stations have told me that, but others are saying, 'Well, not so fast.' "
"The bottom line with pledging is to raise dollars," Foster continued. "I tend to be vocal in saying we must have values in pledge programs that go beyond the bottom line. When one says that, it gets very quiet in the room because the folks want to raise the dollars. Until I'm told otherwise--that stations don't want them--we'll probably have a self-help show or two every drive."
This month, stations will try out APS and PBS specials that feature Christiane Northrup and Dean Ornish, physicians who talk about the mind-body connection.
For her part, Schlitz doesn't see any harm in PBS bringing Myss's message to a broader audience. "I don't think she's making big claims, and her ideas are presented in a grounded fashion. It's great to get these ideas out and start a conversation."
Unexplained, Encounters, Weird Stuff
Questioning the Questioners
Forteana: Weird things, the Paranormal, UFO's and people being people. That's it in a nutshell really. For us it means long nights wondering what came BEFORE the big bang. Banging our coffee-stinking fists on the Big Guy (TM)'s desk demanding, "Why are we here?". Thinking: if there is intelligent life out there somewhere, why haven't they complained about the endless repeats of Neighbours we keep beaming at them? Questioning the answers we've already been given. Taking nothing at face value and everything with a pinch of salt. That's us. The Questioners. What!!!!!!!!!?
True Tales of the Paranormal - Nicole presents no less than 6 of her own mysterious encounters here for you.
Is the World Getting Weirder? We ask Fortean Times editor Bob Rickard. As editor of the world's foremost chronicle of weirdness and strangeness, he should have the answer if anyone does!
World of 3atoms - " Warning, this reality has encountered a fatal Causality Error and will be terminated. Please end any life you have running and save your memory. This dimension will reboot in 10 years.... " Warning, contains excessive use of Mystery Meat Navigation.
Texas Bigfoot Research Center
Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 12:20 GMT
A recently-discovered comet makes its closest approach to the Sun.
Moments later, it seems to be struck by a super-hot outburst of gas from the star.
This spectacular image was spotted on Tuesday by a spacecraft, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho).
The joint European Space Agency/Nasa satellite is designed to give warnings of stormy space weather that might affect the Earth.
Soho has photographed hundreds of comets around the Sun but this one, known as Neat, has only just been seen.
It has been hovering in the evening sky for the past few weeks but is hardly visible without a telescope.
The comet, which goes by the official name C/2002 V1, is new to astronomers.
Calculations show it has passed through the inner Solar System once before but this was 37, 000 years ago.
The comet is unusual in that it is very large and very bright. In fact it is the brightest comet ever observed by one of Soho's instruments.
Scientists are studying its interaction with the solar wind - the hot, charged particles flowing from the Sun.
They hope it could reveal new information about what comets are made of.
Last Updated Fri, 21 Feb 2003 14:00:52
WASHINGTON - Canadian officials have started a criminal investigation into a company in British Columbia that promoted a bogus therapy to treat cancer. Investigators say some patients died after postponing traditional treatments.
CSCT ran a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. It's believed 850 people took the company up on its "Zoetron Therapy" treatment. A majority of patients were American, at least 10 per cent were Canadian.
American authorities have charged the company with making false claims about a product said to kill cancer cells.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says CSCT used its Internet site to advertise this treatment to patients in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The FTC says the company charged people $15,000 up front for several weeks of "treatments" on its electromagnetic device. Patients had to travel at their own expense to Tijuana, Mexico.
"There is no scientific basis for it whatsoever," J. Howard Beales, head of the FTC told CBC TV. "(It is) one of the most reprehensible scams we have ever seen."
The treatments consisted of exposing patients to the "Zoetron machine" — a machine that uses a magnetic field to heat and kill cancer cells.
"The magnet that's involved here is weaker than the magnets people use on their refrigerators," says Beales, who says the company was up and running for five years.
The FTC says the device cannot kill cancer cells. It has issued an injunction to freeze the company's assets, stop the claims and ordered the site shut down.
Authorities in Mexico inspected the clinic in Tijuana and shut the office down.
The commission says, in many cases, patients would forgo physician-ordered treatments in order to go to Mexico.
"To make informed decisions about their care, patients need truthful information based on the best medical science," said Dr. Mark McClellan of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FTC says the company claimed its "Zoetran Therapy" could be used successfully against several types of cancers including breast, lung, brain and liver cancers. Company material said that cancer cells contain more iron and the magnetic field provided by the device caused the iron to heat up and kill the cancer cells.
Patients were told to complete an application that CSCT's doctors supposedly reviewed to determine if they were eligible. Once people wired $15,000 to the company, they would be able to go to the Tijuana clinic for up to eight weeks. As time went by, clinic staff would tell patients that tests showed the therapy was working.
Eventually, patients would find out that they weren't cured and in some cases, their condition had deteriorated.
The FTC complaint lists: CSCT Inc. in B.C., CSCT Ltd. in England, John Leslie Armstrong and Michael John Reynolds. A Canadian criminal investigation into the two men is underway.
Monica Amarelo, email@example.com
Ginger Pinholster, firstname.lastname@example.org
Prior to 13 February, 202-326-6440
As of 13 February, 303-228-8301
14 February 2003
A world of new life forms thrives below ground, researchers say
Simple life forms are turning up in a surprising variety of below-ground environments, potentially making up 50 percent of the Earth's biomass, scientists said today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.
From South African gold mines, to cooled seafloor lavas, these subsurface bugs have provided clues to the potential for life on Mars, and the diversity of possible fuel sources for life, including nuclear energy and toxic waste.
Similar Environments on Mars
Life on Mars may exist in "pillow lavas," volcanic rocks that are common on and below the terrestrial seafloor, according to Martin Fisk of Oregon State University. He and his colleagues have investigated the bacteria that live inside pillow lavas on Earth, and found that the microbes seem to be getting their energy from reactions between the glass in the rock and water.
Pillow lavas are likely to exist on Mars, Fisk said, and their unusual bulbous shape should make them easy to detect as researchers increase the resolution of photos taken of the planet's surface.
"On Earth, microbes live in the glass of pillow lavas. Mars could host life in similar volcanic rocks, although this would require the presence of 'primary producers' -- organisms that make organic matter from chemical energy and carbon dioxide," Fisk said. "We're currently working to identify those microbes in Earth's volcanic rocks."
Pillow lavas form as seawater rapidly cooled molten lava into volcanic glass. Because these glasses don't have internal crystal structures, the way minerals do, bacteria leave distinctively-shaped tracks as they bore minute holes into the glass.
"I sometimes joke that if NASA could get me a pillow lava, I could tell you if anything ever lived in it," Fisk said. He noted, however, that the rock would have to be well-preserved.
Life doesn't have to be from another planet in order to survive in seemingly inhospitable conditions, other speakers in the AAAS panel have discovered.
Getting in Deep
Tullis Onstott of Princeton University and his colleagues have found bacterial populations within the walls of South African diamond mines, at depths between 0.8 and 3.3 kilometers. There, temperatures reach up to 60 degrees C and pressures are nearly 250 times as high as on the surface.
The microbes that Onstott and his colleagues have found are unlike any living near the Earth's surface. They may even be deriving their energy from nuclear power, at least indirectly.
Water plus nuclear radiation emitted from rocks, such as those in the mines produces hydrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen peroxide. The researchers have hypothesized that the bacteria may be using this hydrogen for fuel.
"The deep subsurface may be the only place on Earth where communities are using nuclear power that is natural and environmentally safe," Onstott said.
The bacterial species may also be ancient. New age estimates from water samples taken from the mines suggest that the water is up to 100 million years old.
"Studying these unusual, primitive microorganisms helps us appreciate life's ability to take hold in a remarkable variety of environments. It may even help us understand how life evolved on Earth or other planets," Onstott said.
The Versatility of Life
Closer to home, Susan Brantley of Pennsylvania State University has grown bacteria on different mineral surfaces in her lab. Her goal is to understand how the microbes extract elements from their environment to sustain themselves.
"Early life had to solve all the same problems" that these bacteria do, Brantley said. She thinks that some bacteria's body chemistry may incorporate elements, such as nickel, that were most accessible when life emerged on Earth.
"Snapshots of the chemistry of the early Earth may be caught in these organisms," said Brantley.
Research in thermal hot springs also reveals bacteria's adaptability to all kinds of environments where photosynthesis cannot take place. Everett Shock of Arizona State University studies life in hot springs such as those in Yellowstone National Park.
Shock and his colleagues have identified more than a hundred possible types of metabolic reactions in which the organisms derive their energy from chemical reactions. While these include familiar reactions involving hydrogen, iron, sulfur, nitrogen, and organic compounds, they also involve more unusual elements, such as arsenic, selenium, and uranium.
Other metal-reducing bacteria may have potential for use in environmental cleanup efforts, according to John Zachara of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Another unsung role played by bacteria involves the formation of large deposits of methane hydrate on the seafloor. These deposits are solid under the high pressures and low temperatures at the seafloor. If that pressure were reduced or the temperature increased, however, the hydrate would likely vaporize, producing large volumes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Scientists have proposed that methane hydrates may have had a hand in past climate change episodes, or may be a possible fuel source.
Frederick Colwell of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory has identified some of the microbes that make the methane in these deposits. Colwell and his colleagues are now trying to determine the rate at which these bugs produce methane, which should help researchers predict where methane hydrates are located.
Advance interviews possible upon request.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science. Founded in 1848, AAAS serves 134,000 members as well as 272 affiliates, representing 10 million scientists.
For more information on the AAAS, see the web site, www.aaas.org . Additional news from the AAAS Annual Meeting may be found online at www.eurekalert.org .
Sir Isaac Newton predicted the world would end in the year 2060, according to theories uncovered by academics in Jerusalem.
The prophecy has been unearthed from little-known handwritten manuscripts in a library.
The pages show Newton's attempts to decode the Bible, which he believed contained God's secret laws for the universe.
The most definitive date he set for the apocalypse, which he scribbled on a scrap of paper, was 2060.
Newton, who was also a theologian and alchemist, predicted that the Second Coming of Christ would follow plagues and war and would precede a 1,000-year reign by the saints on earth - of which he would be one.
Newton's fascination with the end of the world, which has been researched by a Canadian academic, Stephen Snobelen, is to be explored in a documentary, Newton: The Dark Heretic, on BBC2 on March 1.
"What has been coming out over the past 10 years is what an apocalyptic thinker Newton was," Malcolm Neaum, the producer, said.
"He spent something like 50 years and wrote 4,500 pages trying to predict when the end of the world was coming. But until now it was not known that he ever wrote down a final figure. He was very reluctant to do so."
Story filed: 10:20 Saturday 22nd February 2003
For average Americans looking to shed a few pounds or elite athletes aiming to perform better on the field, ephedrine has been hope in a pill, an herbal supplement available for a few dollars at neighborhood health stores under such popular brand names as Metabolife and Dexatrim.
But a Florida medical examiner's ruling yesterday that an ephedrine-based product probably contributed to the heatstroke death of a 23-year-old pitcher from the Baltimore Orioles baseball team is sure to focus renewed attention on the health risks linked to the over-the-counter supplement.
Already, health care advocates have called for a ban on ephedrine, a line of products generating $1 billion to $3 billion in sales a year. A major sports-supplement supplier has stopped selling them after a spate of bad publicity about the pills. And two weeks ago, a study released on an emergency basis by researchers in San Francisco concluded that while ephedrine accounts for less than 1 percent of all herbal supplement sales, it is responsible for 64 percent of all adverse health reactions to herbs.
Those scientists concluded that people taking ephedrine were 200 times more likely to suffer complications as a result of the herb than people downing other supplements. The chances of complications associated with ephedrine, they reported, are akin to the prospects that cigarette smoking will result in lung cancer.
''We absolutely believe that it's unsafe,'' said Dr. Michael Shlipak, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and biostatistics at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and an author of the ephedrine study released on the website of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Steve Bechler, the Orioles pitcher, died Monday, a day after his body temperature soared to 108 degrees during spring-training workouts. Bechler, who reported to camp overweight at 239 pounds, had a history of high blood pressure. After performing an autopsy, the medical examiner in Florida's Broward County, Dr. Joshua Perper, found that a weight-loss drug Bechler was taking called Xenadrine had probably contributed to his death, officially attributed to multi-organ failure.
Perper called on Major League Baseball to banish use of the herb, following the lead set by the NCAA, the National Football League, and the International Olympic Committee.
To specialists who have investigated ephedrine and its reported complications - heart troubles, psychiatric problems, and seizures - the link between ephedrine and the pitcher's death came as little surprise.
''It's unregulated, and we think that should change,'' Shlipak said. ''Whether it should be banned completely, whether it should be by prescription only, that's for others to decide.''
The California researchers examined complications reported by users of ephedrine and their physicians to almost 200 poison control centers across the nation in 2001. The scientists, Shlipak said, were ''shocked'' at their findings.
The diet-pill industry has operated under a cloud since the mid-1990s, when reports first began circulating that the widely used drug combination fen-phen was responsible for potentially fatal heart valve damage. Ultimately, the maker of the pills settled a $3.75 billion class action lawsuit.
Ephedrine pills have been hot sellers in the dietary supplement aisles of health food shops, drugstores, and groceries - especially since fen-phen was pulled from the market.
Ephedrine promises to reduce weight while increasing energy, burnishing its appeal to athletes such as Bechler - as well as four football players who died reportedly after taking ephedrine. The NFL banned its use after the death of Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer, although the league has denied its move was directly related to Stringer's death. Ephedrine was discovered in Stringer's locker after his death, but toxicology studies found no traces of it in his blood.
One measure of how profoundly confidence in ephedrine has eroded was the decision last month by the supplement maker EAS to stop selling ephedrine-based products.
''This is a consumer-driven decision for EAS,'' Jim Heidenreich, EAS vice president of marketing, said in a statement. ''We believe consumers are showing a strong preference for non-ephedra weight management products. This is good for consumers and good for EAS.''
The US Department of Health and Human Services commissioned the RAND Corp. to perform an exhaustive review of whether ephedrine really works and whether it causes health problems. RAND researchers are in the final stages of their work and expect to release findings within a few months, said Warren Robak, a spokesman for the California think tank.
Xenadrine, the supplement Bechler was taking, is made by Cytodyne Technologies, a New Jersey manufacturer of weight-loss and fitness-enhancing products. The company website touts Xenadrine RFA-1 as the ''The #1 Diet Supplement in America.''
The company issued a statement last night standing by the safety and effectiveness of Xenadrine.
''Due to the lack of medical evidence available at this time, Cytodyne is unable to specifically comment on the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Steve Bechler,'' the Cytodyne statement said. ''Until the toxicology report becomes available, it is sheer speculation as to whether Mr. Bechler ever used Xenadrine, or whether Xenadrine played any role whatsoever in contributing to his death.''
The manufacturers of weight-loss pills swear by their effectiveness, citing reams of research. But that research itself has come under fire - sometimes in lawsuits.
The underlying chemistry of the herb explains why it can prove troublesome in larger doses - and especially among people with heart conditions, said Dr. Robert J. Myerburg, director of the division of cardiology at the University of Miami. Ephedrine causes blood vessels to narrow, making it harder for heat to escape. In extreme cases - and particularly when ephedrine is used in combination with caffeine - the narrowing becomes so severe that heat gets trapped, raising core body temperatures to such high levels that major organs begin to fail.
''And that,'' Myerburg said, ''is when you have fatalities.''
Stephen Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/19/2003. © Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
Police in India have arrested a holy man who claimed he could cure chronic diseases, including Aids, by merely peering into the eyes of his patients. Swami Garoju Kanakachari's powers failed him at a crucial moment when he was exercising them on a patient at a hospital in Vijayawada in front of hundreds of onlookers.
The Deccan Chronicle reports that police have charged the swami with "cheating" since the patient, who was having high fever, did not show any signs of recovery.
Immediately after the holy man had attempted his "sight therapy", doctors checked the patient's temperature and found that the mercury had actually climbed up a few notches.
Earlier, following a complaint by a local body of rationalists, the police had asked the swami to display his powers in the presence of doctors at a government hospital.
The paper said Kanakachari had begun attracting patients by claiming he could work miraculous cures for any illness by merely looking into their eyes.
Story filed: 08:39 Wednesday 19th February 2003
FROM FEMTOCHEMISTRY TO ATTOPHYSICS. Amid a fast game in a vast venue, sports photography seeks to freeze motion and isolate small portions of space for special consideration. In the scientific world of the ultrafast and ultrasmall, stroboscopic effects are achieved with greatly attenuated laser pulses. The advent of laser light served up in femtosecond (or 10^-15 second) bursts has helped to elucidate the molecular world by freezing their vibrational and rotational motions. Scientists would of course like to instigate and monitor even shorter times and distances. A collaboration between scientists at the Technical University of Vienna and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics (MPQ) has now done precisely this. They have produced a series of 2.5-fsec pulses, each consisting of only a few cycles of a carrier light signal modulated within an amplitude envelope. In the case of the Vienna-MPQ experiment, however, all the pulses are identical (a feat not achieved previously) and the phase of the carrier wave within the envelope is controlled with a time resolution of about 100 attoseconds.
When the intense (100 GW) few-cycle pulse strikes an atom, an electron can be stripped away quickly, and reabsorbed just as quickly. This violent excursion results in the emission of a sharp x-ray spike with a duration even shorter than the pulse that excited the reaction. In fact the x-ray pulses are about 500 attoseconds long. Moreover, because all the waveforms of the optical pulse are identical, and controlled, the subsequent electron motions and x-ray emissions are also highly controlled and reproducible. At a talk at this week's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Denver, Vienna physicist Ferenc Krausz said that this sub-femtosecond control of electron currents represented true attophysics, a new technique for directing and watching atomic processes at unprecedentedly short time intervals. (See Baltuska et al., Nature, 6 February 2003.)
A NEW LIMIT ON PHOTON MASS, less than 10^-51 grams or 7 x 10^-19 electron volts, has been established by an experiment in which light is aimed at a sensitive torsion balance; if light had mass, the rotating balance would suffer an additional tiny torque. This represents a 20-fold improvement over previous limits on photon mass. Photon mass is expected to be zero by most physicists, but this is an assumption which must be checked experimentally. A nonzero mass would make trouble for special relativity, Maxwell's equations, and for Coulomb's inverse-square law for electrical attraction. The work was carried out by Jun Luo and his colleagues at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China (firstname.lastname@example.org, 86-27-8755-6653). They have also carried out a measurement of the universal gravitational constant G (Physical Review D, 15 February 1999) and are currently measuring the force of gravity at the sub-millimeter range (a departure from Newton's inverse-square law might suggest the existence of extra spatial dimensions) and are studying the Casimir force, a quantum effect in which nearby parallel plates are drawn together. (Luo et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article, probably 28 Feb)
A MOLECULAR SWITCH TOOK ONLY 47 ZEPTO-JOULES (47 x 10^-21 joules, or 0.3 eV) to operate in a recent experiment, some 10,000 times less than transistor switches used in current high-speed computers. The molecular switch in question consists of rotating one of the four phenyl legs attached to a complicated porphyrin molecule (abbreviated as Cu-TBPP) from one stable position to another. A group of scientists from the University of Basle, IBM Zurich, and the CEMES-CNRS Lab in Toulouse used an atomic force microscope (AFM) tip both to rotate the leg and to measure the force expended and energy used. The use of a single chemical bond as a switch would greatly reduce the power dissipation in electronic circuits, but this new development will take time to implement, along with other molecular-electronic elements. (Loppacher et al., Physical Review Letters, 14 February 2003; contact Christian Loppacher, email@example.com, 49-351-4633-4903; http://www.iapp.de/iapp/index.php )
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.
A psychologist claims that a group of lesbian monkeys in Japan shows that Darwin's theories of evolution are incorrect.
Paul Vasey, of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, has been studying the sex lives of Japanese macaques.
According to Darwin's theory of sexual selection, says Vasey, the male monkeys should compete amongst themselves for access to potential mates - but the macaques don't follow that pattern.
A colony of 120 wild macaques in the mountains in Kyoto shows enormous sexual diversity, including female-female relationships. Females will reject the advances of a pursuing male in favour of their existing female partner 92.5% of the time.
"If females are choosing female sexual partners over male reproductive partners," Vasey told the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "that suggests a pretty fundamental revision of sexual selection theory.
"We've got females that are competing for males with other females, we've got males that are being choosy, males that are sexually coercing females... we've got females sexually harassing males that don't want to copulate with them, we've got females that have sex with each other, we've got females that are competing with males for other females, we have females that are mounting males."
Vasey said it is clear the females are deriving sexual pleasure when they mount other females. In some positions, he said, a female will rub her clitoris against her partner's back, while in others, "it's common for females to masturbate with their tails" where there is no direct genital contact.
"The traditional evolutionary theory says you do things in order to reproduce," he said, "so why would you do all this non-reproductive sex? To me, that's a really compelling evolutionary puzzle."
Trouble is brewing in Salt Lake City over a beermaker's cheeky campaign
Michael Valpy - RELIGION AND ETHICS REPORTER
Thursday, December 27, 2001
With February Winter Olympics crowds about to descend on Salt Lake City, a local brewer has taken a cheeky public poke at Utah's powerful Mormon church by introducing Polygamy Porter with the slogan: "Why Have Just One?"
The result has been spectacular. The beer is flying off the shelves and so are the T-shirts, said Greg Schirf, managing partner of Utah Brewers Cooperative.
With the story attracting attention from international news organizations, Utah Brewers' e-commerce sales -- mainly Polygamy Porter T-shirts -- have increased in the past few weeks to $57,000 (U.S.) a month from $1,500.
Seventy per cent of Utah's residents are adherents of the Mormon church, officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Polygamy, now outlawed by Utah, is part of the church's history, and an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 fundamentalist Mormons are still practising there.
Mormons are also teetotallers.
By ELLEN BECK, United Press International
(January 27, 4:10 a.m. AST) - New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is pushing for the renovation and re-naming of one of the most dangerous roads in the state - known by locals as the "Devil's Highway," "Satan's Highway" and "Highway to Hell."
The Los Angeles Times reports Richardson wants the state Legislature to change the route from Highway 666 to some other number because triple sixes are associated with Satan.
The north-south highway stretches 160 miles through an American Indian reservation, connecting Gallup and Shiprock. It actually earns its name - being a bumpy, two-lane road on which accidents killed 21 people and injured 144 in 2000 and 2001, according to state figures.
Federal highway officials designated the route 666 in 1942 because it was the sixth major highway to branch off of the famous Route 66.
Action claims student was beaten, harassed for being different
By JENNIFER LAWSON, firstname.lastname@example.org
February 14, 2003
India Tracy came to expect being sent to the principal's office even though she was a well-behaved, straight-A student.
But the Union County youngster knew she'd probably be the only student with "no" written on the permission slip to attend a tent revival during school hours. When she declined to portray Mary in a Christmas play, she also was sent to the principal's office.
India and her parents, Greg and Sarajane Tracy, allege other students taunted her, beat her and ridiculed her religion for years. Fed up with the treatment, her parents filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf Thursday.
The lawsuit claims the Union County school system violated India's civil rights by promoting and endorsing religious activities, denied her right to freely exercise her religion and failed to protect her from harassment and physical and verbal abuse.
The first time the Tracys declined to allow their daughter to attend the two-hour, fundamental Christian services held over three days was in 1999, when she was in the fourth grade. The family had bought 11 acres in Union County because they thought the area was beautiful.
"The principal had called me to the office because mine was the only slip that said no," said India, now 14. "He asked me why I didn't want to go. He asked my religion. I told him I didn't want to talk about it and for him to call my parents."
Sarajane Tracy told the principal that she also did not want to discuss religion because she didn't think it belonged in school, she said. The family could be anything - Buddhist, Jewish or Islamic - and it shouldn't matter, she said. The family follows the ancient religious tradition of Paganism, which embraces kinship with nature, positive morality and acknowledges both the female and male side of Deity, according to the Pagan Federation.
India was the only student left in her class during the Area Wide Crusade in April 1999, so her classmates knew she hadn't gone. The crusade was begun in 1998 by a Union County Baptist pastor and is planned for this April as well.
While declining to comment on the lawsuit, school system Director James Pratt said the ministry rents school buses for transporting the students and some teachers act as chaperones but they must use a personal day to do so.
He referred other questions to Nashville attorney Charles Cagle. Cagle declined comment because he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit Thursday afternoon.
The name-calling and rumor spreading began soon after the 1999 revival, India and her parents said.
Between 1999 and February 2002 when her parents removed her from Horace Maynard Middle School, the lawsuit alleges:
That India was repeatedly called "Satan worshipper," "witch" and other derogatory names. She was accused of eating babies and of being a lesbian because she wasn't a Christian, the lawsuit said.The Tracys' Knoxville attorney, Margaret Held, said the family did not want to sue. They just wanted their daughter to attend a safe school without persecution.
That India was forced to attend regular Bible study classes during the school day, and urged to lead the school and her class in prayer.
That derogatory names were written on her locker in permanent ink and the school refused to paint over the graffiti or move her locker.
That India was repeatedly attacked as she knelt in front of her bottom-row locker. Her head was bashed at least 10 times, cutting her lip, above her eyes and bloodying her nose.
That a teacher told India to "keep quiet because you'll get in trouble" after she wrote a paper about religious freedom.
That a bus driver regularly asked India in front of other students if she had gone to church yet and if she'd like to come to church.
"They tried being quiet about it and that didn't work," she said. "I would hope that the people in Union County who have been killing their goats and beating up their kid are a minority. If there's one thing that Christ taught, it was tolerance."
During her years at Sharps Chapel Elementary School and later at the middle school, India maintained top-notch grades. She also was one of the few girl players on the football team, played in the band and belonged to the Beta Club and Chess Club.
Her parents pulled her out of public school nearly a year ago, after a friend of hers called to say she'd been suggesting suicide. She was diagnosed with anxiety and has been home-schooled since then.
The suit seeks $300,000 in damages to pay India's tuition to a private school, legal fees and the cost of psychological counseling. The suit also seeks a court prohibition against "the school system's continued religious indoctrination of children."
"Maybe it will be a harsh enough lesson so the next child in Union County who's different can continue through school and graduate and feel safe," Sarajane Tracy said.
Jennifer Lawson can be reached at 865-342-6316.
Copyright 2003, KnoxNews. All Rights Reserved.
Science, but not by design
Friday February 21, 2003
By Eric Eyre
State Board of Education members on Thursday unanimously backed the teaching of evolution in West Virginia science classrooms.
The state board approved new science standards and tossed out suggested revisions from creation scientists and "intelligent design" supporters.
Those groups wanted the standards to encourage teachers and students to examine evolution more critically.
Board members declined to single out any scientific theories in the standards.
Science teachers across the state celebrated the vote.
"The board studied it hard and honestly and made the right decision," said Mark Lynch, a science teacher at Lewis County High School. "They saw what the intelligent design people were offering, and they saw it was insufficient."
"This just says we're going to teach science as science," said Jody Cunningham, who teaches at Parkersburg High School and also serves as president of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association.
John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design network in Shawnee Mission, Kan., said board members might have voted differently if they had more time to study intelligent design.
The theory holds that nature is so complex it must have had a master designer.
"This issue is not going away," Calvert said. "It will not go away as long as we have a free society."
Board members were mostly silent before Thursday's vote. School board President Howard Persinger Jr. read statements from scientists who criticize intelligent design.
Meanwhile, school board member Barbara Fish asked whether the standards would allow teachers to explain evolution theory objectively. Department of Education officials said the standards would.
Young-earth creationists and students marched to the lectern to criticize the science standards during Thursday's meeting in Charleston.
One parent trotted out his son, and the two performed a skit that skewered evolution and the science standards.
Students said the standards were "hostile" to their religious views. They said they oppose science by indoctrination.
"They can't prove evolution. They can't prove it," said Jerry E. Davis, a junior at Man High School in Logan County. "If you can't prove it, how can you teach it?"
Other students said teaching evolution leads to numerous social ills such as increased drug use and crime among teens.
"You are teaching us with this theory that there is not a purpose to life," said Mary Lynn Neese, a student at Nitro High School.
School board members rejected a summary statement that a Department of Education committee added to the standards last week to resolve a dispute with Calvert. The statement didn't single out evolution.
Several retired scientists said Thursday that school leaders gave intelligent design advocates more consideration than they deserved.
"They have the same status of people who believe the Earth is flat," said Charles Picay, a retired physicist.
In other business Thursday, the state board revised a proposal to establish a uniform grading system for high school students across the state.
The proposal, which board members plan to vote on in April, allows students to receive weighted grades in rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement classes.
Also Thursday, the state board approved the Raleigh County school board's decision to close Marsh Fork High School in June.
To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.
© Copyright 2003 The Charleston Gazette
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Today's Headlines - February 21, 2003
SCIENCE, EMOTION COLLIDE AT DNA PANEL
from The San Francisco Chronicle
Monterey -- A celebration of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA turned testy for a moment Thursday, when the guest of honor declared that it was "crap" to oppose stem cell research on the grounds that it is not essential.
Nobel laureate James Watson, who was being feted for his role in the 1953 discovery of the structure of DNA, displayed his well-known bluntness when he rose during a panel discussion to take issue with a comment by bioethicist Daniel Callahan.
Callahan was one of dozens of speakers at a three-day forum meant to explore the scientific, commercial and ethical developments that have flowed from understanding DNA.
MERCURY THREAT TO CHILDREN RISING, SAYS EPA REPORT
from The Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON -- A report warning that emissions of mercury by coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources pose an increasing health danger to young children has been delayed for nine months, while the Bush administration struggles with how to handle an increasingly contentious environmental problem.
The Environmental Protection Agency report is to be released soon, officials said, after being subjected to an unusual level of scrutiny by a half-dozen other federal agencies -- including the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. But it isn't likely to settle the mercury question. Among pollutants the report studied, mercury is the only one for which levels aren't dropping.
A partial draft, titled "America's Children and the Environment," notes that states increasingly are issuing warnings about dangerous mercury levels in fish. It says there is mounting evidence that mercury is collecting in the blood of women of child-bearing age. The evidence is also increasing, warns the EPA report, that high doses of mercury can cause mental retardation and other neurological disorders in infants. The report updates a 2000 version by the Clinton administration that included no findings on mercury.
DEVELOPMENT OF BIOTECH CROPS IS BOOMING IN ASIA
from The New York Times
CHIANG RAI, Thailand, Feb. 16 — Worried about falling behind its global competition, much of Asia is rushing forward with the development and cultivation of genetically modified crops.
The three most populous countries in Asia — China, India and Indonesia — are already planting millions of acres of genetically modified cotton. Several other large Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, are earmarking billions of dollars for private and government-sponsored research on biotech crops.
Given that there are already 145 million acres planted with genetically modified crops worldwide, mostly in North and South America, these developments in Asia could pave the way for bioengineered crops to dominate the world's food production.
"This is a significant development in the acceptance of genetically modified crops," said Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, a professor of agribusiness at the University of Missouri at Columbia. "This is not only a region where most of the population growth is, it's a region where most of the food growth is."
PAIN GENE SEPARATES 'WIMPS' FROM 'STOICS,' RESEARCHERS FIND
from The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- When it comes to pain, people can be wimps, stoics or somewhere in between. Now scientists have found one reason: a variation in a single gene that shows stoics really can tolerate more pain.
The discovery by University of Michigan neuroscientists emphasizes the need to customize pain treatment, and it might even allow doctors to more insight about a patient's response to a certain kind of medication.
People's perceptions of pain are tremendously variable. A crushing blow to one person can be trivial to another; likewise, pain medication that helps one patient may do nothing for the next.
The new research indicates that how much a person suffers is due at least partly to a gene that helps regulate how many natural painkillers, called endorphins, the person's body produces.
EPHEDRA INDUSTRY INSISTS HERB IS SAFE
from The Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON -- The ephedra industry, disputing reports linking the herbal stimulant to the death of Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Bechler, insisted Thursday that its product is safe and, as proof, pointed to the lack of government action to restrict its use.
"We take our lead from the government, from [Health and Human Services Secretary] Tommy [G.] Thompson, that ephedra should remain in the hands of consumers," said Dr. Carlon M. Colker, a physician and nutrition specialist who spoke to reporters at a news conference sponsored by the Ephedra Education Council, an industry group.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, continued to send mixed messages about the weight-loss herb and in their response to thousands of reports of ephedra-related health problems.
LUNAR SLEUTHS SAY THEY'VE SOLVED 50-YEAR-OLD MOON MYSTERY
from The Associated Press
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Nearly 50 years after an amateur astronomer photographed what he thought was a fireball of molten rock produced by the impact of an object with the moon, scientists have identified a crater likely left by the collision.
Dr. Leon Stuart used a camera attached to an 8-inch telescope to photograph what appeared to be a white-hot flash rising from the moon's surface on Nov. 15, 1953. His claim to have caught on film the lunar impact of an asteroid-sized object apparently made him the first -- and only -- person ever to do so. The flash lasted less than eight seconds.
But what has come to be known as "Stuart's Event" was met with widespread skepticism: Some claimed the Tulsa, Okla., doctor, who died in 1968, had seen nothing more than the flash of a meteorite entering the Earth's atmosphere.
In 2001, Bonnie Buratti, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Lane Johnson, then an undergraduate student at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., decided to take another look at the mystery.
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Film students filming in a cemetery in Chile claim they have caught the image of a ghost.
The transparent image of a priest appears floating between graves in the Chiguayante cemetery, near Santiago.
The ground's guard testified there was no one else in the cemetery during the filming.
The five students told Terra Noticias Populares they filmed the whole night and only noticed the ghost when reviewing the tapes.
They were filming the cemetery for a movie to be entered in a local film festival.
They said: "We chose this specific cemetery because it has lots of ghost stories."
The images were broadcast by the state Chilean TV and experts who have studied them concluded the images have not been tampered with.
A paranormal specialist said the image is a tormented soul in search of help.
Story filed: 15:44 Thursday 20th February 2003
Jakarta - A suspected genie circumcised a 10-month-old baby on Indonesia's Java island while his mother was cooking breakfast, state news agency Antara reported on Thursday.
The report did not say whether the toddler, Riyan Abdullah, experienced any complications as a result of the operation, which allegedly took place early on Wednesday close to the town of Tasikmalaya, 400 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, the agency reported.
"When I heard Riyan crying, I went straight to his bedroom and couldn't believe what my eyes saw," Riyan's mother, identified only as Ineng, told Antara. "He had been circumcised."
The family immediately suspected it was the work of a genie, belief in which is widespread in Indonesia. They summoned a local paranormal to the house who confirmed their suspicions, the report said. More than 90 percent of Indonesia's 210 million are Muslim, though many still believe in sprits and the unseen world.
According to Islamic tradition, Indonesian boys are normally circumcised, usually when they reach the age of six or seven. - Sapa-AP
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Feb. 19, 2003 05:45 PM
Matthew McConaughey's arrest after that infamous nude bongo session several years back exposed his eccentric side. And a recent interview with TeenHollywood.com will do little to change his rep as an odd bird.
The "How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days" star reveals that his new Hollywood home is haunted - a fact he learned while "staging initiation ceremonies in his new bedroom."
"When I first moved in there I had a tent and I put it up on the floor of the upstairs bedroom with my sleeping bag and my dog," the actor explains. "That's when I first saw Madame Blue. The first night I'm hearing noises, I'm hearing bass sounds, wood moving and coyotes, but then I hear this sound like a dime dropping from 10 feet off the ground onto a glass table.
"I popped up out of bed and went, 'That's too much trouble, man, that's man made, and that was not the house.' So, I get up out of the tent ... and I'm running around buck naked and I've got a bat so I'm gonna go and investigate.
"I go downstairs and there's nothing there, but I have seen her since. She has no qualms with me - we get along just fine. She's a cool ghost. Maybe me being nude all the time is why we get along."
Last Updated: Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 14:25 GMT
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor
Astronomers have identified the coldest place ever detected in space. It is the gas blown away from a star in the latter stages of its life-cycle.
The so-called Boomerang Nebula, one of the youngest of its kind, has been observed in minute detail by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
It seems that the central dying star has been expelling gas at such a rate that it has cooled as it expanded to such a degree that it is even colder than the cosmic background radiation that bathes all of space.
This HST image shows a young planetary nebula in the constellation of Centaurus, 5,000 light-years from Earth. Planetary nebulae form around a bright, central star when it expels gas in the last stages of its life.
In 1995 astronomers revealed that it is the coldest place in the Universe found so far outside a terrestrial laboratory. With a temperature of -272 C, it is only one degree warmer than absolute zero.
Even the -270 C background radiation from the Big Bang that permeates the Cosmos is warmer than this nebula. It is the only object found so far that has a temperature lower than the background radiation.
The recent Hubble image shows faint arcs and ghostly filaments embedded within the diffuse gas of the nebula's lobes. It appears quite different from other observed planetary nebulae. Researchers speculate that the object is so young that it may not have had time to develop more familiar structures.
The remarkable coolness of the gas clouds may be the result of an unusual central star. The clouds appear to have been sculpted by a fierce 500,000 kilometre-per-hour wind blowing ultra-cold gas away from the dying central star.
The dying star has been losing as much as one-thousandth of a solar mass of material each year for perhaps a millennium. This is 10-100 times more than mass loss seen in other similar objects.
It is the rapid expansion, and subsequent cooling, of the gas cloud that has enabled it to become the coldest known region in the Universe.
February 20, 2003
In the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 1953, an amateur astronomer in Oklahoma photographed what he believed to be a massive, white-hot fireball of vaporized rock rising from the center of the Moon's face. If his theory was right, Dr. Leon Stuart would be the first and only human in history to witness and document the impact of an asteroid-sized body impacting the Moon's scarred exterior.
Almost a half-century, numerous space probes and six manned lunar landings later, what had become known in astronomy circles as "Stuart's Event" was still an unproven, controversial theory. Skeptics dismissed Stuart's data as inconclusive and claimed the flash was a result of a meteorite entering Earth's atmosphere. That is, until Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Lane Johnson of Pomona College, Claremont, Calif., took a fresh look at the 50-year-old lunar mystery.
"Stuart's remarkable photograph of the collision gave us an excellent starting point in our search," said Buratti. "We were able to estimate the energy produced by the collision. But we calculated that any crater resulting from the collision would have been too small to be seen by even the best Earth-based telescopes, so we looked elsewhere for proof."
Buratti and Lane's reconnaissance of the 35-kilometer (21.75-mile) wide region where the impact likely occurred led them to observations made by spacecraft orbiting the Moon. First, they dusted off photographs taken from the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft back in 1967, but none of the craters appeared a likely candidate. Then they consulted the more detailed imagery taken from the Clementine spacecraft in 1994.
"Using Stuart's photograph of the lunar flash, we estimated the object that hit the Moon was approximately 20 meters (65.6 feet) across, and the resulting crater would be in the range of one to two kilometers (.62 to 1.24 miles) across. We were looking for fresh craters with a non-eroded appearance," Buratti said.
Part of what makes a Moon crater look "fresh" is the appearance of a bluish tinge to the surface. This bluish tinge indicates lunar soil that is relatively untouched by a process called "space weathering," which reddens the soil. Another indicator of a fresh crater is that it reflects distinctly more light than the surrounding area.
Buratti and Lane's search of images from the Clementine mission revealed a 1.5-kilometer (0.93 mile) wide crater. It had a bright blue, fresh-appearing layer of material surrounding the impact site, and it was located in the middle of Stuart's photograph of the 1953 flash. The crater's size is consistent with the energy produced by the observed flash; it has the right color and reflectance, and it is the right shape.
Having the vital statistics of Stuart's crater, Buratti and Lane calculated the energy released at impact was about .5 megatons (35 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb). They estimate such events occur on the lunar surface once every half-century.
"To me this is the celestial equivalent of observing a once-in-a-century hurricane," said Buratti. "We're taught the Moon is geologically dead, but this proves that it is not. Here we can actually see weather on the Moon," she said.
While Dr. Stuart passed on in 1969, his son Jerry Stuart offered some thoughts about Buratti and Lane's findings. "Astronomy is all about investigation and discovery. It was my father's passion, and I know he would be quite pleased," he said.
Buratti and Lane's study appears in the latest issue of the space journal, Icarus.
The NASA Planetary Geology and Planetary Astronomy Programs and the National Science Foundation funded Buratti's work. The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.
More information about NASA's planetary missions, astronomical observations, and laboratory measurements is available on the Internet at http://pds.jpl.nasa.gov.
Information about NASA programs is available on the Internet at www.nasa.gov.
Contacts: JPL/D.C. Agle (818) 393-9011
NASA Headquarters/Don Savage (202) 358-1727
On February 20, 2003 the West Virginia Board of Education voted to adopt new science standards developed over the past year. The vote to approve the draft standards without any of the changes proposed by supporters of "intelligent design theory" was unanimous. Evolution features importantly in the new guidelines, which are based on frameworks suggested by the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Opponents of evolution education, including local creation science organizations, the West Virginia American Family Association, and Intelligent Design Network (IDnet, based in Kansas) had objected to the proposed standards and attempted to convince the Board to make significant changes. IDnet in particular sent several very long letters to the Board. Two IDnet leaders presented an "Intelligent Design symposium" and met or spoke several times with Board members and staff of the Department of Education. In the end, the Board decided not to make any changes in the draft standards.
Jody Cunningham, president of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, commented after the decision: "In a courageous move the Board voted to reject all attempts by Intelligent Design Network to weaken our Content Standards. It was exciting to hear the Board give full support to the standards. They were not changed in any way. We were able to reject any attempt to weaken or even to insert a phrase that was not placed in the standards by the teachers of West Virginia."
W. Eric Meikle, Ph.D.
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Today's Headlines - February 20, 2003
MELTING SNOW MAY HAVE CAUSED GULLIES ON MARS
from The Washington Post
Mysterious gullies on Mars appear to have been etched by melting snow, a finding that offers promising new places to search for signs of life on the Red Planet, a scientist reported yesterday.
New pictures collected by NASA's Mars Odyssey space probe show formations that seem to be remnants of thick snow packs that once draped the slopes of craters, cliffs and other areas. The formations are near the gullies, which could have been carved when most of the snow melted, slicing channels into the ground.
"Mars seems to have quite a bit of snow," said Philip R. Christensen of Arizona State University in Tempe, who conducted the research. "I think the young gullies of Mars were actually carved by melting of extensive snow packs."
If confirmed, the findings would solve the puzzle of how the gullies formed and could provide the best place to search for evidence of existing or extinct microbial life when NASA's next round of unmanned Mars probes arrives in 2004.
SHUTTLE INQUIRY AGAIN FOCUSES ON DAMAGE FROM DEBRIS
from The New York Times
After more than two weeks of evaluating scores of theories about what led to the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia, investigators are concentrating again on their early idea that a piece of insulation or other flying debris from the shuttle's 15-story external fuel tank damaged a wing at liftoff, dooming the craft.
In the investigation's first days, NASA said it was focusing on the insulation, which is applied as foam but dries rigid, and then all but ruled it out. Now, with a new panel independent of NASA leading the inquiry, the insulation is back in the spotlight, along with ice that might have formed on it and a protective silicone-based layer that lies beneath it. The ice and the silicone-based material are considered potentially more dangerous.
At the Michoud Assembly Facility, the NASA plant in New Orleans where the tanks are made, investigators have begun testing another of the fuel tanks to see if any of its materials were likely culprits, a worker at the plant said yesterday.
INFECTIOUS CLUE IN BRAIN DISEASE
from The San Francisco Chronicle
People with the human form of "mad cow" disease apparently harbor the infectious protein in their noses, scientists are reporting, raising questions about transmission of the disease and opening a possible avenue for detecting it.
Researchers in Italy were able to find evidence of prions -- misshapen disease-causing proteins -- in the nasal passages of all nine people they examined who died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD. Test results were negative in the case of 11 other people who died from other diseases. The findings appear in today's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Our findings call attention to the possibility that endoscopic and surgical procedures involving the upper vault of the nasal cavity represent a risk factor for prion spreading," wrote the researchers at the University of Verona, adding, "We know of no cases of disease transmission by this route."
CJD is a rare neurological degenerative disease that affects only about one in a million people. Most cases of CJD are sporadic, with no known cause. However, a new variant of CJD became the focus of worldwide attention in the 1990s when a rash of cases in England were linked to eating meat from cows that were infected with mad cow disease. There is also a sheep form of the disease called scrapie.
WHO: 2 DEADLY VIRUSES ARE BACK
The World Health Organization announced yesterday that two particularly deadly viruses have re-emerged: Ebola and an unusual form of avian influenza that is lethal to humans.
An outbreak of Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever virus, has been under way in the Republic of Congo for more than a month, but is in such a remote region that blood samples from victims didn't reach the Geneva-based WHO until recently. So far, at least 80 people in western, mountainous Kelle province have been infected, 64 of whom have died, according to WHO. The outbreak is in a remote area, hundreds of miles from the capital of Brazzaville, near the border of Gabon.
The outbreak appears to have begun in December, killing at least two mountain gorillas in a nearby region, Dr. David Heymann, WHO head of epidemic responses, said in an interview. Conservationists notified authorities before Christmas, and blood samples tested positive for Ebola virus.
For more on this topic, see the March/April issue of American Scientist magazine: WORLD UNPREPARED FOR NEXT DEADLY INFLUENZA PANDEMIC
HOW TO FEED THE WORLD
from The Christian Science Monitor
After more than 20 years of weeding his rice paddies by hand, Takao Furuno of Japan of wondered if organic farming was worth the trouble. Then something changed his life.
The wild fowl, floating in his fields, inspired him to try an old Japanese technique of raising ducklings alongside the rice. The results surprised him. The birds ate the weeds and pests he'd worked so hard to eliminate. And their droppings nourished the rice, raising yields. Mr. Furuno, author of "The Power of Duck," has since started rotating crops and has added fish to flooded fields. His system is spreading to other Asian producers.
Furuno's ways are a prime example, observers say, of what could be the future of agriculture.
But it's only one of several visions. At the other extreme, in hungry Kenya researcher Florence Wambugu is using biotechnology to create sweet potatoes that resist pests.
VERSATILE MASKS OF DYE SPEED THE CHIP-MAKING PROCESS
from The New York Times
FOOD dye, it turns out, is not just for coloring Easter eggs and adding roses to birthday cakes.
A young researcher at the University of Washington has placed this homiest of materials at the center of a decidedly high-tech process: photolithography, the dominant microfabrication technology in the semiconductor industry.
Albert Folch, an assistant professor in the bioengineering department, used minute amounts of the brilliantly colored dyes, flowing in tiny, transparent-walled channels, to create a new kind of photomask, one of the basic tools of photolithography.
Photomasks are the pattern-makers in photolithography, functioning as stencils that either block or let through the ultraviolet light that projects an image of the chip patterns onto the photoresist, the photosensitive material below the stencil.
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At the AAAS annual convention in Denver, Colorado, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott became a Fellow of the AAAS for "distinguished contributions to anthropology, especially to the field of science education and the defense of the teaching of evolution." Other NCSE members who became Fellows of the AAAS include John C. Behrendt, Eric Delson, Nina Jablonski, Leonard Krishtalka, Bruce V. Lewenstein, Christopher Ruff, and Charles T. Prewitt. Congratulations to them all.
[Editors note: How can a high class broad like that be a fellow?]
While Dr. Scott was at the convention, she took the opportunity to unveil Project Steve following Lawrence Krauss's
topical lecture entitled "Scientific Ignorance as a Way of Life: From Science Fiction in Washington to Intelligent Design in
the Classroom." Project Steve -- a decisive cream pie in the face of creationism.
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NOVA: Let's talk about your own personal evolution from perhaps skepticism to belief ...
MACK: When I first encountered this phenomenon, or particularly even before I had actually seen the people themselves, I had very little place in my mind to take this seriously. I, like most of us, were raised to believe that if we were going to discover other intelligence, we'd do it through radio waves or through signals or something of that kind.
The idea that we could be reached by some other kind of being, creature, intelligence that could actually enter our world and have physical effects as well as emotional effects, was simply not part of the world view that I had been raised in. So that I came very reluctantly to the conclusion that this was a true mystery. In other words, that I -- I did everything I could to rule out other sources, or sexual abuse. Some of these people are abused. But they're able to tell, distinguish clearly the abduction trauma from other forms of abuse. Some forms of psychosis or people making up stories -- I could reject that on the basis that there was no gain in this for the vast majority of these people.
.... I've now worked with over a hundred experiencers intensively. Which involves an initial two-hour or so screening interview before I do anything else. And in case after case after case, I've been impressed with the consistency of the story, the sincerity with which people tell their stories, the power of feelings connected with this, the self-doubt -- all the appropriate responses that these people have to their experiences.
NOVA: So tell us, please, how literally you intend people to take this? Are you suggesting people are really being snatched from their beds by aliens and experiments on board a spaceship?
MACK: Just how literally to take this, is one of the most interesting and complex aspects of this. And I want to walk through that as clearly as I can. There are aspects of this which I believe we are justified in taking quite literally. That is, UFOs are in fact observed, filmed on camera at the same time that people are having their abduction experiences.
People, in fact, have been observed to be missing at the time that they are reporting their abduction experiences. They return from their experiences with cuts, ulcers on their bodies, triangular lesions, which follow the distribution of the experiences that they recover, of what was done to them in the craft by the surgical-like activity of these beings.
All of that has a literal physical aspect and is experienced and reported with appropriate feeling, by the abductees, with or without hypnosis or a relaxation exercise.
....There is a -- I believe, a gradation of experiences and that go from the most literal physical kinds of hurts, wounds, person removed, spacecraft that can be photographed, to experiences which are more psychological, spiritual, involve the extension of consciousness. The difficulty for our society and for our mentality is, we have a kind of either/or mentality. It's either, literally physical; or it's in the spiritual other realm, the unseen realm. What we seem to have no place for -- or we have lost the place for -- are phenomena that can begin in the unseen realm, and cross over and manifest and show up in our literal physical world.
So the simple answer would be: Yes, it's both. It's both literally, physically happening to a degree; and it's also some kind of psychological, spiritual experience occurring and originating perhaps in another dimension. And so the phenomenon stretches us, or it asks us to stretch to open to realities that are not simply the literal physical world, but to extend to the possibility that there are other unseen realities from which our consciousness, our, if you will, learning processes over the past several hundred years have closed us off.
NOVA: I wonder, if in that vein, you can speak to what you think this experience is about?
MACK: ....There are several effects that these experiences have for those who undergo alien abduction encounters. First is the most familiar aspect or fit, which is a traumatic event in which a blue light or some kind of energy paralyzes the person, whether they're in their home or they're driving a car. They can't move.
They feel themselves being removed from wherever they were. They floated through a wall or out a car, carried up on this beam of light into a craft and there subjected to a number of now familiar procedures which involve the beings staring at them; involves probing of their body, their body orifices; and a complex process whereby they sense in the case of men, sperm removed; in the women, eggs removed; some sort of hybrid offspring created which they're brought back to see in later abductions. That's the sort of literal experience.
Now, the effect of that is -- or what seems to be going on there, in a number of abductees -- not just people I see, but the ones Budd Hopkins and other people see -- is to produce some kind of new species to bring us together to produce a hybrid species which -- the abductees are sometimes told -- will populate the earth or will be there to carry evolution forward, after the human race has completed what it is now doing, namely the destruction of the earth as a living system. So it's a kind of later form. It's an awkward coming together of a less embodied species than we are, and us, for this evolutionary purpose.
However, that might not be literally true. It might be that that this is a communication to us. That perhaps we need to change our ways. It may not be that these are literally our babies. It may be a kind of expression of images of babies; or it may be that these hybrids we're told is what will have to be. It's a kind of insurance policy if the earth continues to be subjected to the exploitation of its living environment to the point where it can't sustain human and other life as it's now occurring. But it may not be literally what is going to happen. So that's one area.
Another area is the whole visual environmental and informational aspect of this in which people are shown on television screens a huge variety of scenes of environmental destruction of the earth polluted; of a kind of post-apocalyptic scene in which even the spirits have been routed from their environment because they live in the same physical and spiritual environment that we do; and canyons are shown with trees destroyed; pieces of the earth are seen as breaking away -- portions of the East Coast or West Coast.
NOVA: .....Alien hybrid. What does that mean?
MACK: Sometimes along the way, as you go deeper and deeper into the person's consciousness, into their experience, they will discover....what is called a dual identity. In other words, that they are both human -- in one dimension; but they also are themselves, have an alien identity. That they are participatory in this reproductive hybrid program, as if they were altogether part of it. And that they may, in fact, even experience themselves as aliens.
One of the men in my book actually was an active participant in taking a woman from Texas up into the ship and being, and acting the reproductive function of the alien being, and felt he was himself alien. And often the abductees will feel that their job, developmentally, is to integrate these two dimensions or these two aspects of themselves: the human and the alien. And that the alien dimension is a part of ourselves, our souls, if you will even, from which we were or have been cut off over the centuries of human beings living on this earth in this densely embodied form.
NOVA: You and others have said that there is no other psychological explanation. But that there is some reality to it. What do you think of the work of people like Michael Persinger and Robert Baker who have these complicated theories about neurology or they charge that hypnogogic hallucinations being at the root of these perceived -- these experiences?
MACK: These experiences often occur in literal consciousness. Not in a hypnogogic or dreamlike state. The person may be in their bedroom quite wide awake. The beings show up. And there they are and the experience begins. That they're not occurring in any dreamlike state. Now sometimes they do occur when a person is dozing off or in a hypnogogic state. But very frequently not.
Also, any theory that is going to look upon this as a purely endogenous phenomenon, by which I mean generated purely from the psyche of the person themselves. Which is a kind of arrogance too, really. Because it means that we just can't accept the notion there could be another intelligence at work here. Which is a much more economical explanation. But if we must find a theory within ourselves, then we should keep in mind that any theory that's going to even begin to address this, has to take into account five factors:
Number one, the extreme consistency of the stories from person after person. Which you would not get simply by stimulating the temporal lobes. You would get very variable idiosyncratic responses that would differ a great deal from person to person.
Number two, you would have to deal with the fact that there is no ordinary experiential basis for this. In other words, there's nothing in their life experience that could have given rise to this, other than what they say. In other words, there's no mental condition that could explain it.
Third, you have to account for the physical aspects: the cuts and the other lesions on their bodies, which do not follow any psychodynamic distribution, like the stigmata associated with the identification with the agony of Christ.
Fourth, the tight association with UFOs, which are often observed in the community, by the media, independent of the person having the abduction experience, who may not have seen the UFO at all, but reads or sees on the television the next day that a UFO passed near where they were when they had an abduction experience.
And finally, the phenomenon occurs in children as young as two, two and a half, three years old. And any theory that simply attributes this to the activity of the brain, does not take into account at least three of those five fundamental dimensions...
NOVA: Aren't you really at risk of losing quite a bit, personally and professionally, because of ...criticism?
MACK: I think that, in some ways, I've gained more than I've lost in terms of inviting people into this mystery, having a dialogue with all kinds of very wonderful, open, intelligent, brilliant people from many different fields. It's been quite exciting. I mean I've been attacked, but the attacks have not been really nearly as serious to me as the openness that I've found among many people throughout the culture and internationally, who are saying: Yeah, I always suspected something like this was going on, and I'm glad you were willing to come forward and report about it.
......It's often said that I'm a believer and sort of have gone and lost my objectivity. I really object to that. Because this is not about believing anything. I didn't believe anything when I started, I don't really believe anything now. I'm come to where I've come to clinically. In other words, I worked with people over hundred and hundreds of hours and have done as careful a job as I could to listen, to sift out, to consider alternative explanations. And none have come forward. No one has found an alternative explanation in a single abduction case.
NOVA: Many say that this is just really a function of cultural images.
MACK: ...I have been looking at this phenomenon as it manifests in indigenous people, in Native Americans -- the Cherokee, the Hopi, who know these beings as the star people. We've looked at this in South Africa, particularly in interviewing in depth a leading South African sangoma, or medicine man, who calls these beings "mandingdas".
We've investigated it in Brazil with a farmer in -- outside Belo Horizante who had identical abduction experiences to what have been reported in this country. I'm getting recent -- I received a letter about abduction experiences from a person in Malaysia today. In other words, this is -- as far as we can tell -- a worldwide phenomenon. This is not restricted, as some people have thought, to Western or particularly American culture.
....I found that the higher or the greater the stake that a person has in this society, in their position or their job, the more reluctant they are to admit that they've had abduction experiences......When abductees went on television with me during the spring of 1994, during my book tours, and wanted to communicate and educate about it, a number of them received threats to their jobs. Some of them lost them....we have one man in management consultation, lost an important contract. A woman that worked for the federal government, who was an abductee, was threatened with loss of her job. In other words, this is not something that is regarded as acceptable.
I've interviewed airline pilots who have had sighting-- close up sightings of UFOs. They will not report it, because they will be removed from their work. Even if they've had abduction experience, they will not talk about it. And 25 to 30 percent of airline pilots, according to a survey that one of the people I've talked with did, have had close up sightings, but will not discuss it.
This simply is not something that is accepted as OK to talk about or -- And that may be changing. I recently saw a Harvard Divinity School student, and I asked him these questions. I said: Do you talk about this among your fellow students? And he said: 'Oh, yes.' And it turned out several of them had also had abduction experiences. And even the ones that had not, were fascinated, interested, didn't ridicule 'em. So maybe the climate is changing.
It wouldn't be fair to characterize the Nova program on alien abductions as pure bunk, but this program definitely did not live up to a very high standard of scientific scrutiny of extraordinary claims. It was to be expected that Nova would give advocates such as John Mack and Budd Hopkins a chance to state their case. What I did not expect was to see an hour-long program devoted mostly to the incompetent, if well-meaning, Mr. Hopkins. The cameras followed Hopkins through session after session with a very agitated, highly emotional "patient" and then on to Florida as he cheerfully helped a seemingly unstable Florida woman inculcate in her children the belief that they had been abducted by aliens. In between more sessions with more of Hopkin's "patients," we had to listen to him again and again give plugs for his books and his reasons for showing no skepticism at all at very bizarre claims of humans being experimented on by aliens.
Skeptic dictionary http://skepdic.com/aliens.html
An unwitting participant in 'Scare Tactics' sues, claiming real-life trauma.
By Sallie Hofmeister
Times Staff Writer
February 17, 2003
The Sci-Fi Channel seems to have reached the outer limits of "reality" TV.
A new show called "Scare Tactics," scheduled to premiere on the Universal Studios-owned channel in April, is using hidden cameras to film the reactions of unsuspecting witnesses to horror and science-fiction-style scenarios such as haunted houses and alien abductions.
The trouble is, one of the witnesses contends she suffered real-life trauma from her experience and says she was hospitalized several times as a result of a prank involving an "extraterrestrial murderer."
The resulting lawsuit underscores the growing risks -- and expense -- of television's genre du jour, particularly when these unscripted programs involve everyday citizens who haven't signed up for any role on the small screen.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, L.A. resident Kara Blanc claims she suffered emotional and physical trauma when the cable channel and other co-conspirators allegedly abducted her and forced her to witness a staged homicide by an "alien" that she thought was real.
Blanc said she was led to believe by the organizers of the show, some of them allegedly using fictitious names, that she had won an invitation to an exclusive Hollywood party at a Southern California desert resort. She said she was traumatized after the car taking her to the party stalled along a remote stretch of desert and she was told by the people accompanying her, who are named in the suit as actors on the show, to run for her life into a nearby canyon to escape harm by an alien attacker.
The Sci-Fi Channel could not be reached for comment. Lawyers representing Blanc did not return a phone call Sunday.
Named as defendants in the case are the Sci-Fi Channel, two actors who staged the prank and the two creators of the show, Scott Hallock and Kevin Healey, and their production companies. Hallock and Healey were executive producers of NBC's 2001 summer staged-reality hit "Spy TV," which used hidden cameras to film comical pranks.
"Scare Tactics," hosted by Shannen Doherty, former star of "Beverly Hills 90210," is the Sci-Fi Channel's first program using hidden cameras. The show is part of the network's strategy to broaden its audience beyond the "Star Trek" crowd, building off its recent success with "Taken," a miniseries by Steven Spielberg that broke cable ratings records.
The lawsuit is one of a growing number of complaints filed against networks and TV producers by consenting -- and in this case, non-consenting -- contestants. TV networks have increased their reliance on unscripted series such as "Fear Factor," "Survivor" and "Joe Millionaire" because they are cheaper to produce than serial dramas and comedies. But the risks associated with some of these reality programs are starting to exact a toll, as insurance premiums rise and lawsuits proliferate.
Shows involving hidden cameras present a particularly slippery slope because contestants do not sign release forms consenting to be part of a TV show. A fitness trainer, for instance, sued the Pax Network after being tricked at an Arizona airport into lying down on an X-ray conveyor belt for a security check before boarding his plane. His leg jammed and was injured during the process. He emerged from the machine to discover that he had been filmed as part of an updated version of the 1960s TV show "Candid Camera."
For her part, Blanc said she was hospitalized several times because of the alien prank, missing work and incurring medical costs for unspecified physical injuries and psychological trauma. Her lawsuit charges the defendants with negligence, invasion of privacy, assault, false imprisonment and fraudulent misrepresentation. It also seeks to enjoin the defendants from airing the videotapes in which Blanc said she was victimized.
Her lawsuit also requests that the court stop the producers from engaging in "the unfair, unlawful and fraudulent business practice of surreptitiously recording the traumatized reactions of any other persons in the future."
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Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times
After disaster, media attention turns to those whose warnings went unheeded. It's the Cassandra Syndrome.
By Mary McNamara
Times Staff Writer
February 17 2003
Don Nelson lives in Alvin, Texas, a town of 20,000 located between Galveston and Missouri City. But he was taking calls at Total Video in Houston because it was easier to do TV interviews there. Even so, his time was limited. "I got a radio interview at 3:06, so I can give you about seven minutes," he said to one journalist. "Can you talk that fast?"
Nelson is the retired NASA aerospace engineer who in August 2002 wrote a letter to President Bush informing him that "our space shuttle astronauts are in imminent danger." The letter listed the numerous "potential disastrous occurrences" the launch system has experienced since July 1999 and asked the president to limit crews to four until each shuttle was equipped with escape modules.
After four months, the White House issued a reply declining to get involved. Now, everyone in the world wants to talk to him.
Almost a thousand miles away, in Boulder, Colo., Roger Pielke Jr. has also been fielding a lot of calls. In September 2002, Pielke, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle: "It is only a matter of time before we lose another shuttle," he wrote, and called for a national dialogue on the space program.
At the time, he got a lot of response -- from friends and colleagues. From NASA and the national press, nothing. Now, of course, the media are in touch.
Since Columbia was lost on Feb. 1, newspapers have been full of the dire predictions about the shuttle program made by people over the past few years, many from NASA officials. Hindsight being famously keen, it is not surprising that those people are now being looked to as prophets.
Call it the Cassandra Syndrome.
"When something like this happens, there are always going to be Cassandras," says Charles Bosk, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Bosk teaches a class called "Mistakes, Errors, Accidents and Disasters," which includes a segment on the shuttle Challenger disaster. "Think about what people are supposed to do in an organization like NASA -- argue all the time about data and risk. Inevitably, when the worst-case scenario occurs, there is always tucked in the files a memo saying, 'We considered this but didn't find the risk high enough.' In hindsight, it always looks like some factor that should have been completely obvious."
Cassandra, according to Greek myth, was the most beautiful daughter of King Priam, so beautiful that the god Apollo granted her the gift of prophesy in return for sexual favors. Cassandra accepted the gift but reneged on the bargain, so Apollo took away her power of persuasion: She could speak only the truth but no one would ever believe her. When she tried to warn her fellow Trojans of impending disaster -- that the wooden horse they had just wheeled into the city was full of enemy soldiers -- everyone thought she was crazy. And so fell Troy.
Nowadays, rounding up those who issued warnings has become as predictable a portion of the disaster news arc as instant replay. From the fall of Troy to the fall of the World Trade Center to the fall of Enron, there is inevitably someone who predicted it all.
This year, among Time magazine's three People of the Year were
Sherron Watkins and Coleen Rowley. Enron employee Watkins wrote an internal memo warning that the company was about to fall apart like a house of cards. FBI Agent Rowley wrote a damning letter about how politics at the agency thwarted her attempts to investigate a suspect who turned out to be a key player in the Sept. 11 attacks. Newfound seer status has helped former Sen. Gary Hart return from exile.
As co-chair of a commission on national security, he warned in January 2001 that the U.S. would be attacked catastrophically on its own soil. The prediction, largely ignored at the time, has given him so much political juice he might just run for president again.
The Cassandra figure permeates history -- she is Nicias trying to talk Alcibiades out of the doomed Spartan expedition to Syracuse; James Longstreet advising Robert E. Lee to keep moving past Gettysburg; Albert Einstein warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt against pursuing experiments with the potentially lethal nuclear reaction in uranium.
And, perhaps more important, she is an inexhaustible literary thread -- from her own theatrical debut in Aeschylus' "Agamemnon" to the soothsayer in "Julius Caesar" to Carol in "Oedipus Rising" to Richard Dreyfuss looking up from his grisly calculations in "Jaws" to insist to disbelieving officials that "this was no boating accident." Cassandra might have saved us had we but listened.
"Cassandra brings the fall of Troy into the realm of high tragedy," said Katherine King, associate professor of comparative literature at UCLA. "Now it's not just a bad thing has happened, it's that they've made a tragic choice."
Cassandra is used throughout literature in many ways. In Homer, King said, she is just one of Priam's daughters; in Euripides, she is half-mad. Marion Zimmer Bradley, a famous feminist re-teller of myth, wrote a novel from Cassandra's perspective called "The Firebrand" and the most oft-mentioned modernization of the character is "Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays" in which East German writer Christa Wolf uses her to speak out against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"Cassandra should always be talking about immense important disaster, not little things," said King. "She's very political."
This is exactly why Bosk believes we have to be careful about labeling someone a true Cassandra. As terrible as the destruction of the Columbia was, he said, it doesn't necessarily indicate a decision to ignore the truth. "Sometimes things will line up just so to create a disaster," he said. This doesn't necessarily mean a mistake was made. "But it's hard for us to look back and judge the process when we already know the outcome, especially when the outcome is disastrous. It seems ridiculous to think the process worked."
Far simpler, and more familiar, is the concept that warnings were ignored -- the leitmotif for many modern thrillers and most disaster movies. "The Towering Inferno" has no story line without Paul Newman's architect yelling into the phone about dangerous wiring or William Holden arguing that nothing could go wrong "in this building."
The idea of prophecy is very attractive to denizens of complicated, technology-fueled modern times, said UCLA classics professor Kathryn Morgan, because it gives us the sense of having some control.
"It's hard for us to believe that something bad could happen without someone knowing it," she said. "Cassandra encapsulates that fear and anger -- 'if only someone had listened.' "
Morgan sees society's need for a Cassandra figure reflected in such TV shows as "Miracles," "The Dead Zone" or "The X-Files." "TV and movies are the modern myth makers," she said, "and we are still obsessed with people we perceive to have a special access to the truth."
Angels and clairvoyants aside, she added, this indicates a very post-Enlightenment way of looking at the world. "Pre-Enlightenment, people were more content to think, 'Well, the gods control everything, nothing much we can do about it.' Now, science has given us the idea that we can control the chain of events." Which may explain why so many of our modern prophets are more right-brain wired than left -- biologists, engineers, mathematicians. What it doesn't explain is why, with this tendency to laud our Cassandras after the fact, we so often ignore them when there is, to use the disaster-film vernacular, "still time." Cassandra herself, Morgan pointed out, was dismissed even after she had been proven correct time and again.
The problem for Americans in believing the word of a Cassandra, said cultural historian Simon Schama is that their need to control, and blame, is at odds with a national loathing of pessimism. "In America, optimism is the tendency," said Schama, who is British. "Deep in the American psyche is that can-do-ishness, the Lewis and Clark syndrome; there are no limits."
Europeans, he said, have the opposite problem. "In Britain, we always find reasons not to do something, which is just as bad." But the unflagging enthusiasm that has sparked so many successful ventures also makes it difficult for Americans to accept that a project they believed in just isn't going to work out.
"Once something is half-started or half-funded," Schama said, "there is something in the American mind that refuses to slam on the brakes," even if there is evidence of possible disaster.
And that, says Bosk and Nelson and Pielke, is the most formidable obstacle someone with really bad news, or even concerns, must overcome. Cassandra fights not only her curse but the inertia of her countrymen.
Nelson was in his car when news of the Columbia broke. "My wife called me on the cell phone and I just sat there and cried. I felt like I had failed those guys." For three years, he said, he tried to make himself heard, wrote letters, self-published a book, started a Web site called http://nasaproblems.com.
"A colleague of mine said it would take another disaster to get people talking," he said. "I hoped it would be after my time, when I was old and crazy. But now it's on my shoulders. Now we have an opportunity to save the space program."
Pielke, though saddened and frustrated by the disaster, does not share Nelson's sense of guilt. "The shuttle has a 1% to 2% risk of destruction," he said. "You don't have to launch too many of them for that percentage to catch up with you."
His concern is not with specific design elements but with the lack of interest in our space program. NASA, he said, operates in a vacuum -- there is no outside organization analyzing or commenting on the hows and wherefores of space travel. His provocative editorial was meant not to scare anyone or even to ground the shuttle, but to catalyze such a conversation.
"I didn't predict anything," Pielke said adamantly. "Because I didn't say anything about the risk that everyone didn't already know."
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Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times
By Alan Boyle
DENVER, Feb. 16 — People who say they've been abducted by aliens exhibit the same physiological reactions as people who have experienced more conventional kinds of trauma, a Harvard psychologist reported Sunday. He says the research provides evidence that even false memories can leave real emotional scars. However, he doesn't expect to convince the abductees themselves that they're wrong.
ALIEN ABDUCTIONS have become an integral element of American popular culture — due in part to television programs like "The X-Files" and the recent miniseries "Taken," in which abductions are a common plot element. Surveys consistently indicate that about a third of all adult Americans believe extraterrestrials have visited Earth.
Harvard psychology professor Richard McNally, author of the forthcoming book "Remembering Trauma," isn't one of them. Indeed, he said he selected the subject for study precisely because memories of such abductions were "almost certainly false."
The point of McNally's research, presented here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was to see whether the emotional impact of a false memory generated physiological signs similar to the post-traumatic stress suffered after authentic experiences. Along the way, McNally developed a profile for typical abductees.
PORTRAIT OF AN ALIEN ABDUCTEE
The Harvard research team placed an ad in Boston newspapers to recruit their subjects. Most of those who responded were pranksters, but 10 people were selected as sincere reporters of abduction experiences.
McNally said the screening interviews indicated that the typical abductee:
Endorsed a variety of "new age" beliefs — for example, a readiness to accept psychic phenomena.
Scored high on a measure of absorption, or "fa ntasy-proneness." Described an experience similar to sleep paralysis — in which a person emerges from rapid-eye-movement sleep into a half-waking state, able to move the eyes but not much else. McNally said about 30 percent of the population has had such an experience, which has been linked to jet lag and other sleep-cycle disruptions. In addition, the early stages of a reported abduction paralleled descriptions of hypnopompic hallucinations — nightmares that intrude into the half-waking state. About 5 percent of the population have reported such experiences, McNally said.
May recover detailed "memories" of being subjected to medical or sexual probing on spaceships.
May eventually come to regard the experience as positive and spiritually enriching, even though it was terrifying at the time.
DOING THE EXPERIMENT
Once the 10 abductees and eight control subjects were selected, McNally put them through a standard procedure for gauging post- traumatic stress disorder.
The abductees were asked to record their memories of a neutral, positive and stressful event from everyday life, as well as two abduction experiences. Then the abductees listened to their audiotapes while hooked up with equipment to monitor heart rate, skin conductance (which detects sweaty palms) and facial muscle tension. Separately, each member of the control group listened to an abductee's tapes to gauge an outsider's reaction to the same descriptions.
When they listened to accounts of their own alien encounters, the abductees exhibited the physiological signs you might expect from someone suffering post-traumatic stress: heightened heart rate, increased sweating. McNally said three of the 10 abductees showed "subclinical" signs of post-traumatic stress disorder — which other experts have said affects 5 to 15 percent of Americans.
All this led McNally to the conclusion that falsely believing you've been traumatized could create the same reaction as actual trauma. "The fact that somebody shows this reaction does not prove that the event actually occurred," he said. "What it does seem to indicate is the sincere belief in the emotional intensity of the memory, whether true or false."
He emphasized that the abductees were not considered patients and did not require psychiatric treatment. Rather, they were all considered psychiatrically healthy.
McNally said his findings, which have been submitted to a scientific journal but not yet published, could have an impact beyond "The X- Files." For example, in child sexual abuse cases, some therapists have argued that if a child shows signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome, that serves as evidence that the child had in fact been abused — a type of claim known as "syndrome evidence."
"I don't think you can make that claim, based on what we found," McNally said.
Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist at the University of California at Irvine who has conducted years of research into false-memory implantation, said McNally's research is helpful for bringing the question of plausible vs. patently false memories into sharper focus.
"He feels pretty safe in saying these are false memories," Loftus said. "Of course the individuals who have them don't believe it, nor do some of their handlers, but most of us would accept that those are false memories. And most of those individuals get there in a way that's very analogous to the way people get to believe that they were satanically abused."
This isn't McNally's first brush with the UFO crowd: He was involved in another study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology last year, that concluded abductees were generally prone to create false memories.
"That caused a big uproar in the alien-abductee community. And now I was told ... that they love the psychophysiology study, because they're going to think, `Oh, here it is, it really happened,'" he said with a laugh. "First we're the bad guys, now we're the good guys. We're just trying to do the science on this."
He said he had no intention of deprogramming his experimental subjects, since they seemed to have transformed their negative memories into something positive.
"These individuals had embraced the identity of abductee in such a way that we felt that they were happy with it," he said. McNally said only one of the abductees asked detailed questions about the point of his research.
"I mentioned the sleep paralysis stuff," he recalled, "and she crossed her arms and said, `You scientists need to learn how to think outside the box. There are things outside there in the universe that you really don't know about.'
"We have no interest in disabusing them of their beliefs."
BALTIMORE - It was a quiet cloudy Saturday afternoon, and Dr. Adam Riess was more than a day into his search for a star.
Not just any star, but the galumphing galaxy-scorching explosion of a star giving way to age and gravity. These exploding stars, supernovae, can be seen across the universe. In them Dr. Riess can read the fate and nature of the universe.
Somewhere in the data on his computer screen, he hoped, was evidence of a star that had died before the Earth and Sun were born. He and his team had until Tuesday to find it.