NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 February 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Friday, February 28, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - February 28, 2003

NASA PRESSED ON WHEN OFFICIALS LEARNED OF E-MAIL ABOUT SHUTTLE
from The New York Times

NASA's top official faced sharp questioning yesterday over when mission managers learned of e-mail discussing dire possibilities facing the space shuttle Columbia.

Lawmakers questioned Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator, about why he learned only on Wednesday of e-mail messages in which engineers discuss whether chunks of foam insulation that hit the shuttle during its ascent might cause catastrophic failures in the landing gear and hydraulics.

Representative Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, asked why Mr. O'Keefe didn't learn earlier of "this vigorous debate among experts" at the space agency. "Have you fired anyone for not bringing them to your attention sooner?"

Mr. O'Keefe said concerns about the shuttle's condition were properly examined by NASA officials during the mission, but he said he would await the judgment of an independent investigative board "as to whether that was an appropriate systemic or management approach."

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/28/national/nationalspecial/28INQU.html

U.S. SEEKING CLEANER MODEL OF COAL PLANT
from The New York Times

The Energy Department yesterday announced plans to build an experimental power plant within 10 years that runs on coal but emits no carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas that makes coal plants major contributors to global warming.

The project, called FutureGen, is considered a first step toward creating a generation of coal-fueled power plants that emit no greenhouse gases and cost no more than 10 percent extra to run, department officials said.

The technology is essential, said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, if the vast coal reserves in the United States and in many developing countries are to be used without adding to the atmosphere's burden of greenhouse gases.

Coal-fueled plants now produce about 40 percent of the roughly 23 billion tons of carbon dioxide humans release into the atmosphere each year, and coal is still considered a vital underpinning of economic development, here and overseas.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/28/science/28COAL.html

DREAM UNMET 50 YEARS AFTER DNA MILESTONE
from The Washington Post

It was just the kind of success that scientists had been promising for decades.

The boys had been born with faulty versions of a key immune-system gene, leaving them so vulnerable to everyday infections that a common cold could prove fatal. But when French researchers inserted normal copies of that gene into the boys' blood cells, the children were instantly cured -- able to play with their friends instead of living inside sterile bubbles, and ready to go down in history as the first humans to be cured of a disease by gene therapy.

Now scientists are scrambling to understand why, in some of the boys, the treatment has triggered a life-threatening form of leukemia, in which their renovated white blood cells are multiplying out of control and the boys are having to undergo chemotherapy to kill the very cells they had so desperately needed. The problem has brought dozens of gene therapy studies to a halt and has cast a pall over the struggling research field, which seeks to cure diseases by giving people new genes.

In an awkward coincidence, the unfolding debacle will be the highlight of a Food and Drug Administration meeting today, 50 years to the day after James Watson and Francis Crick launched the modern age of genetic medicine by deducing, with the help of a cardboard model, the three-dimensional structure of DNA.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13765-2003Feb27.html

REACTIONS MAY BE LINKED TO VACCINE
from The Washington Post

Three Florida health care workers inoculated against smallpox as part of the Bush administration's bioterrorism preparations have experienced serious side effects that may be linked to the vaccine, federal officials announced yesterday.

Nationwide, two dozen people have reported complications associated with the vaccine, though none has been life-threatening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 39-year-old Florida nurse, after complaining of headaches and malaise, developed a severe rash called "generalized vaccinia" that is a known side effect of the inoculation. Although additional testing is being done, health officials expressed confidence that the pustules on her chest and back were caused by the live virus vaccine. She was treated with antihistamines, and doctors do not expect her to have permanent scarring, said Eric Mast, an immunization specialist at CDC.

The two other Florida cases involved symptoms not typically associated with smallpox vaccination -- angina, or severe chest pain, and gallbladder inflammation. Both patients were treated at local hospitals and are in good condition, officials said.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13570-2003Feb27.html

SCIENTISTS FIND STARDUST IN EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE
from Scripps Howard News Service

Scientists have identified and analyzed single grains of silicate stardust gathered in samples from Earth's upper atmosphere, offering new insight into the building blocks of the universe, according to a new study published Friday.

The tiny particles were found among fragments of asteroids and comets collected by a modified U-2 spy plane employed for research by NASA during the past two decades.

"The stardust grains we discovered are typical of the kinds of dust that were available at the beginning of our solar system. These were the building blocks of the sun and the planets," said Lindsay Keller, a researcher in the Office of Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science at NASA's Johnson Space Center and a co-author of the study published electronically by the journal Science.

Keller said "comet samples are the logical place to look for preserved stardust," because comets formed far out at the edges of our planetary neighborhood, away from the effects of forces that formed the sun and planets.

http://www.nandotimes.com/healthscience/story/784463p-5619830c.html

SCIENTISTS REDUCE ESTIMATE OF POTENTIAL 'MAD COW DISEASE' DEATHS
from The Associated Press

LONDON - Scientists have dramatically lowered their estimates of how many people are likely to die from the human form of mad cow disease, though experts say much uncertainty remains.

Part of the reason the estimate has dropped is because early predictions of worse-case scenarios did not materialize, forcing a shift in calculations.

Experts previously estimated that anywhere between a few hundred to 100,000 people in Britain could eventually get the fatal brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Now, new research published by the Royal Society, Britain's academy of scientists, forecasts that as few as 10 additional people and as many as 7,000 could get the illness by 2080. Variant CJD has killed 132 people so far - 122 of them in Britain.

http://www.nandotimes.com/healthscience/story/784516p-5619996c.html

Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Most Americans believe in ghosts
Survey shows 1/3 accept astrology, 1/4 reincarnation

To view this item online, visit http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=31266

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Posted: February 27, 2003
5:00 p.m. Eastern

© 2003 WorldNetDaily.com

A new survey on religious beliefs found half of all American adults believe in ghosts, almost a third believe in astrology and more than a quarter believe in reincarnation.

Fifty-one percent of the public, including 58 percent of women, believe in ghosts, according to a Harris Poll of a cross section of 2,201 adults surveyed online between Jan. 21 and 27. Thirty-one percent of the public believe in astrology, including 36 percent of women, and 27 percent believe in reincarnation – that they were once another person.

The poll showed a significant difference between Americans aged 25 to 29 and those over 65. Among the younger group, 65 percent believe in ghosts, while just 27 percent of the seniors hold that belief.

Forty-three percent of those aged 25 to 29 believe in astrology, but only 17 percent of people aged 65 and over, and 25 percent of men.

Belief in reincarnation is held by 40 percent of people aged 25 to 29 but only 14 percent of people aged 65 and over.

The poll reflected past surveys that show large majorities of the American public believe in God, the survival of the soul after death, miracles, heaven, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Virgin birth. Majorities of about two-thirds of all adults believe in hell and the devil, but few expect that they will go to hell themselves, Harris said.

The survey also indicated that women are more likely than men to hold both Christian and non-Christian beliefs. Blacks are more likely than whites and Hispanics to hold Christian beliefs, as are Republicans. The level of belief generally is highest among people without a college education and lowest among those with postgraduate degrees.

The 90 percent of adults who believe in God include 93 percent of women, 96 percent of blacks and 93 percent of Republicans but only 86 percent of men, 85 percent of those with postgraduate degrees, and 87 percent of political independents.

The 84 percent of those who believe in the survival of the soul after death include 89 percent of women but only 78 percent of men, 86 percent of those without a college degree but only 78 percent of those with postgraduate degrees.

The 84 percent of the public who believe in miracles falls to 72 percent among those with postgraduate degrees and rises to 90 percent among women and 90 percent among blacks.

The 82 percent who believe in heaven includes 89 percent of women but only 75 percent of men and falls to 71 percent among people aged 25 to 29 and those with postgraduate degrees.

On almost all the beliefs that are central to Christianity, there is a general pattern that indicates higher levels of belief among women than among men; lower level of belief among people aged 25 to 29; higher levels of belief among people with no college education and lower levels of belief among those with postgraduate education; and higher levels of belief among African-Americans than among whites and Hispanics.

The survey also found that 68 percent of the public believes in the devil, and 69 percent believe in hell.

Harris said that one of its more intriguing findings is that not all people who call themselves Christians believe all the conventional Christian beliefs. For example, 1 percent of Christians do not believe in God, 8 percent do not believe in the survival of the soul after death, 7 percent do not believe in miracles, 5 percent do not believe in heaven, 7 percent do not believe in the Virgin birth and 18 percent do not believe in hell.

Even more surprising, according to Harris, is that some people who say they are not Christian believe in the resurrection of Christ, 26 percent, and the Virgin birth, 27 percent.

Most of the 84 percent of the public who believe in the survival of the soul after death expect to go to heaven. Sixty-three percent, including 75 percent of people who identify as Christians, believe that is their destiny. Only 1 percent expect to go to hell. Six percent expect to go to purgatory while 11 percent expect to go somewhere else and 18 percent don't know.

Harris disclosed the following about its survey: "Figures for age, sex, race, education and number of adults in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. 'Propensity score' weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online."

The polling agency qualified its findings, stating that "in theory, with a probability sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus two percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy. Unfortunately, there are several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that are probably more serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. They include refusals to be interviewed (non-response), question wording and question order, interviewer bias, weighting by demographic control data and screening (e.g., for likely voters). It is impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors. This online survey is not a probability sample."

Riddle of 'Baghdad's batteries'

Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 13:48 GMT

Arran Frood investigates what could have been the very first batteries and how these important archaeological and technological artefacts are now at risk from the impending war in Iraq.

" I don't think anyone can say for sure what they were used for, but they may have been batteries because they do work "
Dr Marjorie Senechal

War can destroy more than a people, an army or a leader. Culture, tradition and history also lie in the firing line.

Iraq has a rich national heritage. The Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel are said to have been sited in this ancient land.

In any war, there is a chance that priceless treasures will be lost forever, articles such as the "ancient battery" that resides defenceless in the museum of Baghdad.

For this object suggests that the region, whose civilizations gave us writing and the wheel, may also have invented electric cells - two thousand years before such devices were well known.

Biblical clues

It was in 1938, while working in Khujut Rabu, just outside Baghdad in modern day Iraq, that German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig unearthed a five-inch-long (13 cm) clay jar containing a copper cylinder that encased an iron rod.

THE KEY COMPONENTS
Batteries dated to around 200 BC Could have been used in gilding

The vessel showed signs of corrosion, and early tests revealed that an acidic agent, such as vinegar or wine had been present.

In the early 1900s, many European archaeologists were excavating ancient Mesopotamian sites, looking for evidence of Biblical tales like the Tree of Knowledge and Noah's flood.

Konig did not waste his time finding alternative explanations for his discovery. To him, it had to have been a battery.

Though this was hard to explain, and did not sit comfortably with the religious ideology of the time, he published his conclusions. But soon the world was at war, and his discovery was forgotten.

Scientific awareness

More than 60 years after their discovery, the batteries of Baghdad - as there are perhaps a dozen of them - are shrouded in myth.

"The batteries have always attracted interest as curios," says Dr Paul Craddock, a metallurgy expert of the ancient Near East from the British Museum.

"They are a one-off. As far as we know, nobody else has found anything like these. They are odd things; they are one of life's enigmas."

No two accounts of them are the same. Some say the batteries were excavated, others that Konig found them in the basement of the Baghdad Museum when he took over as director. There is no definite figure on how many have been found, and their age is disputed.

Most sources date the batteries to around 200 BC - in the Parthian era, circa 250 BC to AD 225. Skilled warriors, the Parthians were not noted for their scientific achievements.

"Although this collection of objects is usually dated as Parthian, the grounds for this are unclear," says Dr St John Simpson, also from the department of the ancient Near East at the British Museum.

"The pot itself is Sassanian. This discrepancy presumably lies either in a misidentification of the age of the ceramic vessel, or the site at which they were found."

Underlying principles

In the history of the Middle East, the Sassanian period (circa AD 225 - 640) marks the end of the ancient and the beginning of the more scientific medieval era.

Though most archaeologists agree the devices were batteries, there is much conjecture as to how they could have been discovered, and what they were used for.

How could ancient Persian science have grasped the principles of electricity and arrived at this knowledge?

Perhaps they did not. Many inventions are conceived before the underlying principles are properly understood.

The Chinese invented gunpowder long before the principles of combustion were deduced, and the rediscovery of old herbal medicines is now a common occurrence.

You do not always have to understand why something works - just that it does.

Enough zap

It is certain the Baghdad batteries could conduct an electric current because many replicas have been made, including by students of ancient history under the direction of Dr Marjorie Senechal, professor of the history of science and technology, Smith College, US.

"I don't think anyone can say for sure what they were used for, but they may have been batteries because they do work," she says. Replicas can produce voltages from 0.8 to nearly two volts.

Making an electric current requires two metals with different electro potentials and an ion carrying solution, known as an electrolyte, to ferry the electrons between them.

Connected in series, a set of batteries could theoretically produce a much higher voltage, though no wires have ever been found that would prove this had been the case.

"It's a pity we have not found any wires," says Dr Craddock. "It means our interpretation of them could be completely wrong."

But he is sure the objects are batteries and that there could be more of them to discover. "Other examples may exist that lie in museums elsewhere unrecognised".

He says this is especially possible if any items are missing, as the objects only look like batteries when all the pieces are in place.

Possible uses

Some have suggested the batteries may have been used medicinally.

The ancient Greeks wrote of the pain killing effect of electric fish when applied to the soles of the feet.

The Chinese had developed acupuncture by this time, and still use acupuncture combined with an electric current. This may explain the presence of needle-like objects found with some of the batteries.

But this tiny voltage would surely have been ineffective against real pain, considering the well-recorded use of other painkillers in the ancient world like cannabis, opium and wine.

Other scientists believe the batteries were used for electroplating - transferring a thin layer of metal on to another metal surface - a technique still used today and a common classroom experiment.

This idea is appealing because at its core lies the mother of many inventions: money.

In the making of jewellery, for example, a layer of gold or silver is often applied to enhance its beauty in a process called gilding.

Grape electrolyte

Two main techniques of gilding were used at the time and are still in use today: hammering the precious metal into thin strips using brute force, or mixing it with a mercury base which is then pasted over the article.

These techniques are effective, but wasteful compared with the addition of a small but consistent layer of metal by electro-deposition. The ability to mysteriously electroplate gold or silver on to such objects would not only save precious resources and money, but could also win you important friends at court.

" Let's hope the world manages to resolve its present problems so people can go and see them " Dr Paul Craddock

A palace, kingdom, or even the sultan's daughter may have been the reward for such knowledge - and motivation to keep it secret.

Testing this idea in the late seventies, Dr Arne Eggebrecht, then director of Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, connected many replica Baghdad batteries together using grape juice as an electrolyte, and claimed to have deposited a thin layer of silver on to another surface, just one ten thousandth of a millimetre thick.

Other researchers though, have disputed these results and have been unable to replicate them.

"There does not exist any written documentation of the experiments which took place here in 1978," says Dr Bettina Schmitz, currently a researcher based at the same Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum.

"The experiments weren't even documented by photos, which really is a pity," she says. "I have searched through the archives of this museum and I talked to everyone involved in 1978 with no results."

Tingling idols

Although a larger voltage can be obtained by connecting more than one battery together, it is the ampage which is the real limiting factor, and many doubt whether a high enough power could ever have been obtained, even from tens of Baghdad batteries.

One serious flaw with the electroplating hypothesis is the lack of items from this place and time that have been treated in this way.

"The examples we see from this region and era are conventional gild plating and mercury gilding," says Dr Craddock. "There's never been any untouchable evidence to support the electroplating theory."

He suggests a cluster of the batteries, connected in parallel, may have been hidden inside a metal statue or idol.

He thinks that anyone touching this statue may have received a tiny but noticeable electric shock, something akin to the static discharge that can infect offices, equipment and children's parties.

"I have always suspected you would get tricks done in the temple," says Dr Craddock. "The statue of a god could be wired up and then the priest would ask you questions.

"If you gave the wrong answer, you'd touch the statue and would get a minor shock along with perhaps a small mysterious blue flash of light. Get the answer right, and the trickster or priest could disconnect the batteries and no shock would arrive - the person would then be convinced of the power of the statue, priest and the religion."

Magical rituals

It is said that to the uninitiated, science cannot be distinguished from magic. "In Egypt we know this sort of thing happened with Hero's engine," Dr Craddock says.

Hero's engine was a primitive steam-driven machine, and like the battery of Baghdad, no one is quite sure what it was used for, but are convinced it could work.

If this idol could be found, it would be strong evidence to support the new theory. With the batteries inside, was this object once revered, like the Oracle of Delphi in Greece, and "charged" with godly powers?

Even if the current were insufficient to provide a genuine shock, it may have felt warm, a bizarre tingle to the touch of the unsuspecting finger.

At the very least, it could have just been the container of these articles, to keep their secret safe.

Perhaps it is too early to say the battery has been convincingly demonstrated to be part of a magical ritual. Further examination, including accurate dating, of the batteries' components are needed to really answer this mystery.

No one knows if such an idol or statue that could have hidden the batteries really exists, but perhaps the opportunity to look is not too far away - if the items survive the looming war in the Middle East.

"These objects belong to the successors of the people who made them," says Dr Craddock. "Let's hope the world manages to resolve its present problems so people can go and see them."

Project Steve Update; new issues of C/E

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Project Steve continues apace, with the 277th Steve coming on board today. For the current list and links to the media coverage (by Science, The Scientist, and the Washington Times, among others), see http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=18

Also, issues 2, 3, and 4 of Creation/Evolution have just been added to the NCSE web site; see http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=16

Sincerely,

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


Thursday, February 27, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - February 27, 2003

ENGINEERS RAISED CONCERNS ABOUT COLUMBIA'S WING DAY BEFORE DISASTER
from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - One day before the Columbia disaster, senior NASA engineers worried the space shuttle's left wing might burn off and cause the deaths of the crew, describing a scenario remarkably like the one investigators believe ultimately happened. They never sent their warnings to NASA's brass.

The space agency released e-mails Wednesday also showing it was sufficiently concerned about possible damage to Columbia's insulating tiles that it asked the Defense Department - then abruptly changed its mind - to take pictures of the shuttle in orbit more than one week before its breakup.

The dozens of pages of e-mails described a far broader, internal debate about the seriousness of potential damage to Columbia from a liftoff collision with foam debris than previously acknowledged. They even considered instructing the crew to bail out.

Engineers in Texas and Virginia fretted about the shuttle's safety during its final three days in orbit, with one wondering whether officials were "just relegated to crossing their fingers" and another questioning why such dire issues had been raised so late.

http://www.nandotimes.com/healthscience/story/782161p-5607979c.html

Below is a link to a PDF, released by NASA, of the email debate between engineers. The source document appears to be a scanned fax, so legibility is less than perfect.

http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/COL_email_030226.pdf

SPACEFLIGHT DEBATE PITS MAN VS. MACHINE
from The Washington Post

A Congress sobered by the Columbia tragedy opens debate today on the United States' future in space, with an embattled human spaceflight program being defended against the glittering promise of unmanned exploration of the heavens.

For decades, the unmanned spaceflight program was the poor relation in an endeavor that spent lavishly to put humans in orbit, humans on the moon and, finally, humans in reusable spaceships.

But in the past 10 years, with an aging space shuttle, a costly space station and missions mired in lower Earth orbit, the human program has languished, while the unmanned program has leapfrogged ahead with a string of spectacular feats of engineering and technological skill.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7933-2003Feb26.html

SCIENTISTS REJECT ABORTION, BREAST CANCER LINK
from The Chicago Tribune

BETHESDA, Md. -- Contradicting a belief widely promoted by abortion opponents, top scientific experts concluded Wednesday that there is no link between ending a pregnancy and developing breast cancer.

Some 100 epidemiologists, clinicians and basic scientists, convened by the Bush administration's cancer czar to review the evidence, quickly agreed that a woman who terminates her pregnancy does not face a higher risk of the devastating disease later in life.

Although some early, smaller studies had found an increased risk, larger and better-designed studies found none, they said.

Malcolm Pike, a researcher who did one of the early studies that showed a link, said it is now clear the research was fundamentally flawed.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/north/chi-0302270373feb27,1,5203630.story

AIDS VACCINE NUMBERS OFF, STATISTICIAN SAYS
from The NEw York Times

VaxGen may have overstated the effectiveness of its AIDS vaccine because it did not make the proper statistical adjustments to its data, an expert consulted by the company said Wednesday.

Steven Self, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington, said the company should have lowered the level of confidence with which it said the vaccine appeared to protect blacks, Asians and other non-Hispanic minorities from infection by HIV.

Dr. Donald Francis, the president of VaxGen, said there was some debate among statisticians about the proper adjustments but called it "a tangential issue." Even with the adjustments, he said, the results showing efficacy in minorities would still be statistically significant.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/02/27/MN41271.DTL

LOS ALAMOS MANAGERS OBSTRUCTED INVESTIGATIONS, TOLERATED CORRUPTION, INVESTIGATORS SAY
from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Officials at the university that runs Los Alamos National Laboratory were blindsided by reports of theft and corruption at the lab, but changing management at the lab could undermine its national security mission, says a University of California official.

The most experienced nuclear weapons scientists at Los Alamos are nearing retirement and could leave the lab if management changes, Bruce Darling, senior vice president at the university, told members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Wednesday.

"Turning over the contract on a regular basis creates a real threat of disruption to our nation's security," Darling said.

The New Mexico lab maintains and develops the nation's nuclear weapons. It has also been the training ground for many of the nuclear weapons inspectors working in Iraq and developed systems to detect chemical and biological weapons.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2003/02/27/national0415EST0454.DTL

LOOKING INSIDE THE BRAINS OF THE STINGY
from The New York Times

HERE's a game economists play: Player 1 has $10 and can give any dollar amount to Player 2. Player 2 can either accept or reject it. If Player 2 accepts, they both keep the money. If Player 2 rejects it, neither player gets anything.

What should the players do? Arguably, Player 2 should accept whatever is offered, since some money is better than none. Player 1 should thus offer as little as possible: $1. That strategy is the standard game-theory equilibrium.

But that's not necessarily what happens when real people play this "ultimatum game" in laboratory settings with real money on the line. Faced with low-ball offers, many Player 2's reject them. And many Player 1's make more generous offers, often nearly half the money.

"About half the subjects that we observed played according to the way the game theory said people should play, and about half didn't," said Kevin McCabe, an economist and director of the Behavioral and Neuroeconomics Laboratory at George Mason University.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/27/business/27SCEN.html

Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Scientists find prehistoric ax that may bear earliest sign of human spirituality

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/134639736_ax23.html

Sunday, February 23, 2003, 12:00 a.m. Pacific

By Robert Lee Hotz
Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK — To the primitive hands that deftly shaped it from rose-colored quartz 350,000 years ago, the glittering stone ax may have been as dazzling as any ceremonial saber.

It was found in the depths of a Spanish cavern among the skeletal remains of 27 primitive men, women and children — pristine, solitary, and placed like a lasting tribute to the deceased whose bones embraced it.

For archaeologists who unearthed this prehistoric blade, the unusual burial site is a compelling but controversial glimpse of arguably the earliest evidence of humanity's dawning spiritual life.

Harvard study explores 'false memories'

http://www.uwire.com/content/topnews022003003.html

By Jeremy B. Reff

Harvard Crimson (Harvard U.)
02/20/2003

(U-WIRE) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- People who claim they were abducted by aliens show more intense emotional reactions to their memories than some Vietnam War veterans, according to a Harvard University study released Sunday.

Most researchers hailed the findings as significant in the field of recovered and false memories.

But a spokesperson for one controversial Harvard professor said the study may demonstrate something more significant -- that humans may actually experience contact with a "third realm."

Professor John E. Mack, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and a popular writer and commentator on extraterrestrial activity, has disputed the notion that alien abduction claims are fabricated. His spokesperson cites the study as evidence.

Most experts, however, say the study's findings, presented by Professor of Psychology Richard J. McNally at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, show that emotional trauma can stem from imagined experiences.

"The core findings of this study underscore the power of emotional belief. If you genuinely believe to have been traumatized -- even by an alien abduction, which we think is clearly fanciful -- you show the psycho-physiological profile of those who have been," McNally said.

In his study, McNally read abduction accounts both to subjects claiming to have been taken by aliens and to neutral controls, and found significant physiological differences in the reactions of the two groups.

The average increase in heart rate of those who claimed abduction was 7.8 beats-per-minute, compared with no significant response from subjects in the control group. When Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder were subjected to the same procedure, the average increase in heart rate is 3.2 beats-per-minute, McNally said.

William J. Bueche, communications director for Mack's Center for Psychology and Social Change, said the physiological reactions may stem from contact with a spiritual reality that exists apart from the material and the nonmaterial.

Bueche said McNally's study is "a significant landmark in alien encounter research."

He criticized McNally, however, for what he called his "leap of faith."

"McNally assumes that the alien encounters are just beliefs ... but that's not clear-cut," Bueche said.

McNally said he and Mack agree that the subjects had intense emotional experiences, and were not mentally ill; but he added he was "very skeptical" of the abduction narratives themselves.

This disagreement over the reality of the abductions is not new. In 1995, then-Dean of the Medical School Daniel C. Tosteson '44 took the rare step of publicly warning Mack about the manner in which his research on alien abduction was affecting the academic standards of the Medical School.

Mack was forced to withdraw Harvard affiliation from his center, and asked by the Medical School to work with other researchers who were not immediately sympathetic to his work.

Some scientists said Mack's research methods cast doubt on his interpretation of McNally's study.

Arnold S. Relman, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and chair of an ad-hoc committee at the Medical School which investigated Mack's research, said Mack has "only gone through the motions" of producing more objective research.

But Bueche said the accusations against Mack were "trivial" and that since 1994, Mack had brought together researchers in multiple disciplines, including McNally, to do research on alien abduction.

Relman, however, said he has been "disappointed" with what he called Mack's lack of objectivity.

"If I were dean, I might have said to him, 'John, for God's sake, take a look at what you're doing, you're making a fool of yourself, and if you believe that you're onto something of fantastic import ... get some help from your colleagues," Relman said.

Any content distributed via U-WIRE is protected by copyright. U-WIRE is a division of Student Advantage, Inc.

West Australian "Weeping Statue" Vegetable oil.

Statement by the Catholic Archbishop of Perth The Most Rev. Barry James Hickey

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Due to widespread interest in the "weeping" statue of the Virgin Mary at Rockingham over the past months, I formed a Commission of inquiry on November 18, 2002 to investigate the alleged miraculous nature of the phenomenon and to advise me of its conclusions.

The statue was first reported to have wept on March 19 last year, the Solemnity of St Joseph, and then again over the four days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, and a third time on June 22, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The process began again on August 15 and continued unabated until the statue was handed over for investigation on December 10, 2002. It became widely known around the world after a report in the diocesan newspaper, The Record, on September 5, 2002.

The Commission, which convened on November 26, 2002, at first reviewed all the then known facts including the results of investigations previously carried out.

The statue was handed to the Commission for testing on December 10, 2002 and was returned to the owner on December 14, 2002.

The statue was dried and subjected to a number of tests and observations by the Commission and scientists. It was closely examined with magnification, X-ray and CT scan. Enquiries were also made of the statue's origin and reports were obtained regarding the process of manufacture in Thailand. In conjunction with me, the Commission also undertook various interviews.

The tests revealed the complex structure of the statue, but there was no evidence of internal interference and the cavity was empty and dry.

The liquid that covered the face and front of the statue and collected in a dish under the statue was scientifically analysed. The Commission was informed by the statue's owner that over the two weeks before testing the volume collected and measured amounted to a large glass full of oily fluid (355ml). Analysis of a sample of this oil, provided by the owner, found it to be vegetable oil, strongly suggestive of olive oil. In addition, there were small globules of another substance present which probably accounted for the rose fragrance. This suggested that two oils might have been mixed together. In the view of the Commission, this mixing could be accounted for by physical explanations.

During the whole time the statue was under the observation of the Commission it showed no sign of "weeping". However, the "weeping" commenced again from December 15 when the statue was returned to its custodians. On January 9, 2003 when members of the Commission, Bishop Sproxton and I visited Rockingham to inspect the statue, it was "weeping". Bishop Sproxton gained permission to dry the statue and did so. It did not resume "weeping" during our stay.

At my request, the statue was then placed in the care of the Parish Priest and isolated from all other people. The statue did not "weep" for a full month. On February 9, 2003 a tear appeared in one eye.

In the light of these observations and all the other scientific evidence obtained by the Commission, I have accepted its advice that one cannot safely conclude that this phenomenon is of divine origin. The hesitations of the Commission are in keeping with the Church's traditional prudence and reservation concerning matters purporting to be miraculous.

It is therefore my rightful duty as Archbishop of Perth, for the correct guidance of the people of God, to say that the case for a miraculous happening has not been proved. The Church requires very strict criteria for a miracle that rule out other explanations. In this case the criteria have not been met.

I have therefore withdrawn the statue from public veneration within the churches and other Church properties within the Archdiocese of Perth. It has been returned to its owners.

No accusations of interference are being made against anyone.

At no stage did the Church seek donations from people visiting the statue. Donations that were spontaneously offered have been fully accounted for and have been directed to works of mercy among the poor in Bangkok.

Many people have pointed to the conversions and renewed faith that have accompanied visits to the statue as proof of its authenticity. These are the fruits of prayer for which we give thanks to God. They are gifts of God through Mary's prayerful intercession, but are not necessarily proof that the "weeping" is miraculous. Catholic faith in the goodness of God and His Blessed Mother does not depend on particular extraordinary events.

I commend the priests and people of the Rockingham Parish for their hospitality to the thousands of people who visited their church while the statue was available for veneration. Along with many other priests who made themselves available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they gave generously of their time without thought of personal reward in the best traditions of Christian hospitality. They always ensured that the presence of the statue in their church was in an atmosphere of prayer and repentance.

http://www.perthcatholic.org.au/Archbishop/Media_Releases/Weeping_Statue_Finding/weeping_statue_finding.html


Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - February 26, 2003

NATIONAL ACADEMY SCIENTISTS FAULT BUSH PLAN TO STUDY CLIMATE
from The New York Times

A panel of experts has strongly criticized the Bush administration's proposed research plan on the risks of global warming, saying that it "lacks most of the elements of a strategic plan" and that its goals cannot be achieved without far more money than the White House has sought for climate research.

The 17 experts, in a report issued yesterday, said that without substantial changes, the administration's plan would be unlikely to accomplish the aim laid out by President Bush in several speeches: to help decision makers and the public determine how serious the problem is so that they can make clear choices about how to deal with it.

The president has said that more research is needed before the administration can even consider mandatory restrictions on heat-trapping greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The expert panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences at the administration's request, said some of the plan's proposals for new research seemed to rehash questions that had already been largely settled.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/26/science/26CLIM.html

ANOMALY IN DEBRIS HEAT DAMAGE
from Newsday

Washington - Investigators have found an unusual pattern of heat damage on one of Columbia's protective tiles recovered west of Fort Worth, Texas, and the head of the panel probing the shuttle accident said such clues from debris could prove helpful.

Retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., head of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said in a Houston news briefing yesterday it is too soon to say whether the tile was damaged while attached to the shuttle or after the fiery breakup of the craft Feb. 1.

But Gehman said the heating effects are not typical of those seen on a tile that has come through a normal re-entry. "It should be smooth and slightly gray," he said. Instead, parts of the underside of the tile that faces the shuttle's metal skin was "worn away, probably by hot gases," he said. The outer side of the tile was rough and darkened, with orange specks of undetermined origin.

http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hsshut263147569feb26,0,1127818.story?coll=ny%2Dhealth%2Dheadlines

WATSON AND CRICK, BOTH ALIGNED AND APART, REINVENTED BIOLOGY
from The New York Times

The discovery of DNA's double helix 50 years ago was the founding event of molecular biology. It was also the moment that forged the reputations of two of biology's most compelling figures and united their names, no doubt in perpetuity.

"We will remember Darwin and Mendel, Watson and Crick, all in the same category," says Dr. Philip Sharp, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Sydney Brenner, one of the founders of molecular biology and a close colleague of Dr. Crick's, has the same assessment. "The DNA structure is one of those turning points," he says. They will be remembered as the biologists of the 20th century, there is no doubt about that, much as Darwin is remembered as the biologist of the 19th century."

Their relationship has not been seamless. Francis Crick and James D. Watson each speak affectionately of the other now, but with a certain reserve on Dr. Crick's part, and with a still competitive edge on Dr. Watson's. The intense meeting of minds that drove them to divine the structure of DNA — a feat that each has said he could not have done without the other — made for an enduring relationship. But it was one that the ever restless Dr. Watson kept straining.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/25/science/25FATH.html

The New York Times has a special Web section devoted to Watson and Crick's discovery, including an interactive feature and "Voices on DNA," a piece allowing several noted scientists to reflect on how the double helix has influenced their work.

http://www.nytimes.com/indexes/2003/02/25/health/genetics/index.html

IN KEY TEST, U.S. ALLOWS SALE OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CORN
from The Washington Post

Monsanto Co. won government approval yesterday to sell genetically altered corn designed to combat the most significant pest in the largest crop grown in the United States, setting up a major test of whether the plant biotechnology industry can deliver on its long-standing promise to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

The new corn is genetically engineered to resist corn rootworm disease. That problem, which plagues farmers nationwide, is the biggest single reason they apply toxic pesticides to their fields. Monsanto, of St. Louis, estimates that the corn could eventually be grown on 12 million acres, or 15 percent of the nation's cornfields.

In granting permission, the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that some environmental questions remain but declared that on balance the corn appears to offer more benefits than risks.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A2177-2003Feb25.html

POSSIBLE CANCER CAUSER FOUND ACROSS FOOD PYRAMID, SCIENTISTS FEAR
from The Associated Press

BELTSVILLE, Md. - A possibly cancer-causing substance appears not only in popular fast foods, but in everyday, nutritious staples, too, government scientists say.

Acrylamide, a substance that at very high doses causes cancer in animals, made headlines last spring when Swedish scientists discovered it lurking in popular foods like french fries and chips.

High-carbohydrate foods cooked at very high temperatures seem to contain far more acrylamide than other foods.

But products with lower levels that are eaten more frequently than junk-food snacks - from vitamin-packed breakfast cereal to toast and coffee - increase the U.S. population's overall exposure, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

http://www.nandotimes.com/healthscience/story/780241p-5598017c.html

Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org



Articles of Note

Thanks to Joe Littrell.

For more stories visit:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/skepticsearch/

Fortune-teller fight
By Donovan Slack
Boston Globe

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/049/metro/Fortune_teller_fight+.shtml

"On a wintry evening last December, Boston police came to The Psychic Eye, a downtown fortune-telling parlor run by a young woman who goes by the name Mitchell. She was ticketed and ordered to appear before the city's licensing board. Her offense: claiming to divine the future without a license."

Sacred image, secular dealings
By Dane Schiller
San Antonio Express-News

http://news.mysanantonio.com/story.cfm?xla=3Dsaen&xlc=3D950937

"The Catholic Church wants to make this clear: Mexico's dark-skinned queen is not a commodity."

Weeping Mary withdrawn from church display
Australian Associated Press

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/02/17/1045330538903.html

"A statue of the Virgin Mary - the subject of scientific tests after apparently "weeping" an oil-like substance - has been taken off display in a Catholic church south of Perth."

Sceptics dismiss weeping statue
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

http://abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s787389.htm

"The Australian Sceptics Association says a further investigation by the Catholic Church of Rockingham's weeping Virgin Mary statue is most likely to have revealed there is no supernatural force or miracle involved."

Bangladeshis flock to 'weeping Virgin'
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2775461.stm

"Thousands of people in the Bangladeshi port city of Chittagong are flocking to a Roman Catholic church where tears are reported to have been seen on a statue of the Virgin Mary."

The Exorcist
By Gail Walker
Belfast Telegraph

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/features/story.jsp?story=3D379247

"THERE is a distinct chill in the front room of the comfortable middle-class semi in south Belfast, and it has nothing to do with the heavy morning frost outside."

A scientist searches for mysticism
By Bernadette Murphy
Los Angeles Times

http://www.calendarlive.com/books/cl-et-book11feb11,0,2815377.story

"The mystical experience has been pursued by countless millions over the=20 millenniums, all hoping to tap into ultimate truth, to access an=20 understanding of life beyond what we are able to see and feel, to=20 encounter, as John Horgan puts it, "an escape hatch in reality, through=20 which we can wriggle out of our existential plight." Horgan, a science=20 journalist, explores the convergence between this sought-after mystical=20 experience and scientific thought in "Rational Mysticism" (the follow-up to=20 his acclaimed "The End of Science," in which he discussed the limitations=20 of scientific inquiry)."

Alien memories leave real scars
By Alan Boyle
MSNBC

http://www.msnbc.com/news/873673.asp?0cv=3DCB20&cp1=3D1

"People who say they have 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."

From Kissing Frogs To Demonic Possession, People Are Led To Believe They Experienced The Improbable
University Of California - Irvine

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/02/030217115223.htm

"During a recent study of memory recall and the use of suggestive interviewing, UC Irvine cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus successfully planted false memories in volunteers of several study groups -- memories that included such unlikely events as kissing frogs, shaking hands with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland, and witnessing a demonic possession."

Scientists spread the word on evils of pseudoscience
By Deborah Frazier
Rocky Mountain News

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/technology/article/0,1299,DRMN_49_1752=310,00.html

"Scientists must be the evangelists against the well-financed effort to undermine science education, especially evolution, a physics professor said Monday."

Group Health consumer lawsuits settled
By LARRY LANGE
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/108283_grouphealth12.shtml

"Group Health Cooperative will reimburse an estimated 100,000 of its members for alternative medical care under settlement terms reached for two lawsuits yesterday."

'Steves' support teaching of evolution
By Larry Witham
WASHINGTON TIMES

http:/washingtontimes.com/national/20030217-97829083.htm

"More than 200 scientists "named Steve" yesterday issued a statement=20 backing evolution instruction in public schools, the latest response to=20 state science standards that allow criticism of Darwinism."

An analytical point of view
By Karl J. Mogel
California Aggie

http://www.californiaaggie.com/_articles/5651.taf

"I have focused my attentions each week on various topics in science and debunking pseudoscience, but without really addressing what separates the two. Astrology is thought by some to be a science, while the scientists disagree. Why? The answer is rooted in what makes a science."

Canada helps shut down suspicious cancer clinic
By Hester Riches
CTV News

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1045780463796_41189663/?=hub=3DSpecials

"Authorities from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have shut down a dubious medical clinic that was treating cancer patients with magnets."

Macabre tour horrifies Ted Williams' friend
By Bill Madden
New York Daily News

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/sfl-tedwilliams21feb21,0,125909=1.story

"For 41/2 years, Buzz Hamon was Ted Williams' constant companion. As director of Williams' museum in Hernando, Hamon arranged all of the hitting legend's travels -- to Cooperstown every summer, the All-Star Game and various other events -- and served as his aide-de-camp as well as an "adopted son.""

'Ebola spell' teachers stoned
Reuters

http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/africa/02/21/health.congo.ebola.reut/

"Congolese villagers have stoned and beaten to death four teachers accused of casting an evil spell to cause an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease that has killed nearly 70 people, a local official said Friday."

Scientology Grows Fast, Sparks Debate
by Maura Jane Farrelly
Voice of America

http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectID=3D9AD8AC2B-F222-4E9D-87E478653DE=B8326

"Last month, Germany's Federal Finance Office granted the Church of=20 Scientology full tax-exempt status, clearing the way for the organization=20 to be recognized as a bona fide religious group. Scientology was founded in the United States nearly 50 years ago by L. Ron Hubbard, an engineer and novelist. Many political leaders in Europe have accused the group of being a cult and the German decision comes at a time when here in the United States, a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the church awaits trial."

Dawkins answers questions about god and the paranormal

http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/story.jsp?story=379807

Richard Dawkins: You Ask The Questions (Such as: in the name of rationality, would you like to see Father Christmas stamped out? And would you spend the night in a haunted house?)
20 February 2003

The evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins was born in Nairobi in 1941. A graduate of Oxford University, he has been a fellow of New College, Oxford, since 1970; he became the first Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the university in 1995. His first book, The Selfish Gene, a radical updating of Darwinian theory, was an immediate bestseller in 1976. He is a confirmed atheist. He lives in Oxford with his third wife, the actress Lalla Ward, and has a daughter, Juliet, from a previous marriage.

In the name of rationality, would you like to see Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy stamped out? Patricia Kell, London

No. Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part of the charm of childhood. So is God. Some of us grow out of all three.

Did you have a Pauline conversion to atheism? Or did your beliefs evolve more slowly over time? What changed your mind? Adam Elford, Northampton

I had a normal, decent Anglican upbringing, which is to say that I was never brainwashed as I might have been had I been brought up in another faith.

I toyed with atheism from the age of about nine, originally because I worked out that, of all the hundreds of religions in the world, it was the sheerest accident that I was brought up Christian. They couldn't all be right, so maybe none of them was. I later reverted to a kind of pantheism when I realised the shattering complexity and beauty of the living world. Then, around the age of 16, I first understood that Darwinism provides an explanation big enough and elegant enough to replace gods. I have been an atheist ever since.

Do you think anyone who claims to have seen a poltergeist has witnessed something objectively real? Would you spend the night in a haunted house? Mike Dell, Blakeney

The philosopher David Hume's put-down of miracles can be adapted to poltergeists. If someone claims to have witnessed a poltergeist, it may seem improbable that he is a liar, a hoaxer or deluded. But still it is more probable than the claim itself. I like to think that I would spend the night in a haunted house. But I am a human being as well as a rationalist, and it is possible that primitive fears would overtake me.

By analogy, reason convinces me that pain is only a brain mechanism warning me not to damage myself, so I should just ignore it. But I always want an anaesthetic when the dentist drills.

What is beyond scientific explanation? Emma Hutchins, Surbiton

There are things that science wasn't meant to explain and doesn't try to, such as what is right or wrong. There are things that science can't yet explain but is working on. And there may be things that science would like to explain but never can. It is a simple (but distressingly common) fallacy to presume that if something is beyond science, it is not beyond religion, too.

Do you have a particular affinity with chimpanzees? Sheila Anderson, by e-mail

No more than you do. You and I are exactly equally close cousins of chimps, which means very close indeed.

Is a scientist who believes in God a true scientist? Bruce Kitts, Cardiff

Some of the greatest scientists who have ever lived ­ including Newton, who may have been the greatest of all ­believed in God. But it was hard to be an atheist before Darwin: the illusion of living design is so overwhelming. My guess is that if Newton were born today, he would be an atheist.

A recent poll of scientists elected to the American National Academy of Sciences (equivalent to fellows of the Royal Society) revealed that 93 per cent are atheists. That figure drops to 60 per cent if you include scientists not elected to the National Academy. It would be absurdly arrogant for me to claim that the 7 per cent of academicians who believe in God are not true scientists.

One day, will it be possible to predict a child's future at birth by testing its genes, foretelling what diseases it will suffer from, what crimes it will commit and how long it will live? If so, do you welcome this? Kelly Stimpson, by e-mail

This prophecy is often made, but it is exaggerated. If the effects of genes were all that deterministic, identical twins would die simultaneously and commit the same crimes even if apart. The increased predictability we'll gain from reading genomes cheaply will, for many genes, be only statistical. But even the improved statistical prediction will have a big impact on the life-insurance industry. And there are some terrible diseases whose heritability score is one, meaning that if an identical twin dies of the disease, his twin is bound to die of it, too. When it becomes feasible to screen for such nasty genes in the DNA of embryos, the moral case for selective abortion will become overwhelming.

Sufferers from such inherited diseases sometimes object, on the grounds that selective abortion would have deprived them of existence. All of us have to thank a ludicrously improbable chain of past events for our existence. If a different sperm in your father's ejaculate had won the race to the egg... did your parents or grandparents meet each other as a direct consequence of the Second World War...? Many people could answer yes. Do you, then, see this as grounds for objecting to the suggestion that wars should be abolished? Of course not: the idea is absurd.

Was your friend Douglas Adams right: is the answer to life, the universe and everything 42? If not, what is? And what was Adams right about? Paula Guthrie, London

The scientific understanding of the universe is so strange and unexpected to the human mind that laughter may be the only way to cope. I think that is one basis of Douglas Adams's unique humour. Other science-fiction writers give us goose pimples over the mystery in the universe. Douglas Adams's response to the same kind of mystery was to make us laugh. It is as though the universe, as portrayed by science, were one big Monty Python sketch.

Doesn't the fact that so many societies throughout history have invented some sort of god or gods suggest that humans really have a need to believe in gods ­ that in some way our brains have a god-shaped hole, which we try to fill as conveniently as possible? Charles Harry, Reading

You could be right, but the evidence is not strong. Plenty of us lead happy and fulfilled lives without plugging that hole. Or maybe the hole is not god-shaped but understanding-shaped. We have a need to understand where we came from; understand our place in the universe. If that's the real shape of the hole in our brains, science will plug it more satisfyingly than religion. Finally, if it turned out to be true that we have a psychological need for gods, that emphatically wouldn't prove that gods exist.

If, when you die, you find yourself unexpectedly at the Pearly Gates, what would you say to St Peter? Mark Richards, by e-mail

OK, I was wrong. But I was wrong for the right reasons. Those guys in there were right. But just look at their reasons.

'A Devil's Chaplain', a collection of Dawkins' essays, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £16.99

If the arnica pills don't work... ..do any other homeopathic remedies work?

Sally Weale investigates

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4597988,00.html

Sally Weale
Tuesday February 4, 2003
The Guardian

Do you believe in homeopathy? Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but I bet most of you have got a tube of arnica cream hidden away somewhere in your medicine cabinet.

After years of booming sales and burgeoning enthusiasm, fanned by the high-profile support of the likes of the Queen, Paul McCartney, Bill Clinton and David Beckham, homeopathy appeared to have well and truly come in from the complementary cold. It has never been more popular.

A substantial proportion of us will have tried one homeopathic treatment or another - whether for eczema or asthma, PMS or hayfever. Almost every chemist you walk into will have a decent stock of remedies, alongside the painkillers and throat sweets. Two years ago the market in homeopathic remedies was a healthy £25.5 million.

Homeopathy, perhaps more than any other alternative medicine, has become increasingly accepted by the medical establishment. There are a growing number of homeopathic doctors - GPs trained in orthodox medicine as well as homeopathic medicine; more and more conventional GP surgeries are engaging the services of homeopaths, as well as other complementary practitioners, and the Royal College of General Practitioners is proud of its record of pioneering new ways of working between orthodox and complementary medicines.

But such extraordinary success could be short lived for, in recent months, homeopathy has not been having such a good run.

Last November, it took a severe battering when a high-profile BBC Horizon programme put the boot in, declaring by way of elaborate scientific experiment that homeopathic treatments simply did not work.

A fortnight ago a GP was hauled before the General Medical Council after prescribing a homeopathic treatment for a baby, who was later taken to hospital where she was found to be suffering from gastroenteritis.

And yesterday, arnica, that most familiar of homeopathic treatments, the one that most parents swear by to soothe the the hundreds of lumps and bumps, knocks and bruises that come with childhood, took a massive hammering.

Many of us can vouch for its miraculous effects. My seven-year-old son's forehead and shins have been smeared lavishly with arnica several times a week ever since he could move. But according to new research, arnica is a total waste of money.

Results of a new clinical trial published in this month's Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine show it does nothing to reduce pain or accelerate healing - so save your money and go to your GP instead.

The study was carried out by Professor Edzard Ernst and colleagues at the University of Exeter and the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, who looked at three groups of patients about to have surgery on their wrists for carpal tunnel syndrome.

One group was given high potency homeopathic arnica tablets to be taken before the operation and afterwards for two weeks. Another group was given low potency tablets and the third was given a placebo. Results showed "no significant difference" in pain, bruising or swelling between the groups.

So where does that leave the future of homeopathy?

Professor Ernst, Britain's only professor of complementary medicine, believes the jury is still out. He is dismissive of the Horizon experiment, denouncing it as trial by media. "It was excellent journalism. Whether it is science, I don't know. A television programme is not enough."

His own study was too limited to offer a conclusive verdict on homeopathy. "Our study did not question homeopathy as a whole. It just questioned one tool in the homeopathic tool kit and that is arnica." The case for homeopathy may have been dented a bit, but the case against was far from proven.

"In the future we need more rigorous studies of homeopathic treatments. There are millions of research questions out there. We can't answer them all, but we should answer at least some of the most obvious ones in homeopathy. One study is not enough to really make firm conclusions."

Homeopathy was first discovered, or described, almost two centuries ago by a German physician called Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathic remedies are made up from minute amounts of a substance that in higher doses could be harmful, and are intended to stimulate the body to heal itself using the principle that like cures like. Homeopathy believes that the more diluted a remedy, the more effective it is. But one of the key scientific problems with this is that remedies are diluted to the point where not even a single molecule of the original substance remains. So how can it have any effect, good or bad?

Ernst, a trained homeopath, agrees that patients receiving homeopathic treatment do get better, but that could be down to the placebo effect or just the illness or condition following its natural course. Others think the empathy shown by homeopaths towards patients could have a powerful impact on their healing potential.

"As a clinician or practitioner, very often you are misled by your own wishful thinking. We need to do the science," says Ernst.

So what would he say to the tens of thousands of us spending millions of pounds every year on homeopathic treatments and consultations? "Homeopathic products are usually quite cheap," Ernst offers in its defence. It is also utterly harmless, another fact in its favour. "But when people spend money on arnica for bruises, I would advise them to save their money.

"Generally speaking, the evidence is far too mixed, with positive studies and negative studies. At present I cannot say whether homeopathy does or doesn't work."

Currently there are a number of other studies under way investigating homeopathy, including one by Ernst which looks at the impact of homeopathic treatments on asthma. It is expected to be published next month. But less than 1% of the entire medical research budget is currently spent on studies of complementary medicine which, according to Ernst, is woefully inadequate.

"It might just be nonsense," says Ernst. But does the fact that it is nonsense matter if it works? "If it truly is nonsense - and I'm not saying it is - it is still better to use effective treatments."

GP and writer Michael Fitzpatrick, author of The Tyranny of Health, says studies such as Ernst's arnica trials and the Horizon experiment will do little to dent enthusiasm for homeopathy among those interested in complementary medicine.

"It is not going to bother them. It is more than just whether they can be demonstrated to be effective. It's the whole notion of having an alternative form of treatment. I don't think it has much to do with results.

"I think it is hocus pocus, but obviously people have a faith in it and that carries you a long way in these matters. My main objection is that people want to incorporate it into orthodox medicine. I think that is a dangerous trend."

Indeed, last month a London GP, Dr Michelle Langdon, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct and was banned from practising for three months after letting her faith in alternative medicine cloud her medical judgment.

The GMC's professional conduct committee heard that Dr Langdon, a partner at the Brunswick Medical Centre, Camden, told Bethan Jinkinson that her 11-month-old baby Kira could be ill due to "geopathic stress lines" under her home.

She selected phosphorus, a homeopathic medicine, for the baby by swinging a crystal pendant over a manual on herbal remedies at the appointment in October 2000. Ms Jinkinson later took Kira to University College Hospital where gastroenteritis was diagnosed. Dr Langdon also used homeopathic remedies on two other patients without their consent.

Dr Peter Fisher is director of research at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital - one of five homeopathic hospitals in the UK - and he is also homeopath to the Queen. He is cheerily confident about the future of homeopathy, despite recent setbacks. The Horizon programme only led to an increase in sales, he said, which were growing at a rate of 12 and 13% a year.

He can tell you scores of homeopathic success stories - a woman with such acute eczema that she had to be hospitalised, who is now virtually mark free; patients with rheumatoid arthritis fantastically cured. He admits it raises big scientific questions but adds: "We have made huge progress. I remain confident that the long-term trend is going to be favourable."

So don't throw away the arnica just yet, perhaps.


Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - February 25, 2003

PRESSING ON WITH AIDS VACCINE
from The Washington Post

The maker of the first AIDS vaccine to be widely tested in humans said it will continue working for market approval of its product despite disappointing results announced yesterday from its large international clinical experiment.

In a population that included people from many racial and ethnic backgrounds, AIDSVAX was ineffective in preventing infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). There were hints, however, that it might be effective in black patients -- a scientifically puzzling and socially provocative finding that several experts characterized as dubious but company officials described as promising.

"We clearly will move toward licensure [of the vaccine]. The question is whether we do it with this study or with other ones," said Donald P. Francis, president of VaxGen, the California biotech company that conducted the study, using about 5,400 high-risk volunteers in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and the Netherlands.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62733-2003Feb24.html

SCIENTISTS SPLIT OVER ROLE OF RACE IN AIDS VACCINE
from The San Francisco Chronicle

With its puzzling mix of disappointment and promise, the world's first large-scale trial of an AIDS vaccine has tapped one of the most sensitive nerves in biology today: whether race plays a significant role in modern medicine.

"The scientific community is divided on this," said Dr. Esteban Gonzalez Burchard, a San Francisco General Hospital lung disease specialist who studies racial differences in response to asthma medicines.

Many skeptics of AIDVAX, developed by VaxGen in Brisbane, were not surprised that the vaccine had failed its primary test. Overall, the three- year trial produced no difference in infection rates between those who received the vaccine and those given shots of an inert placebo.

But among blacks and Asians and other non-Latino minorities, the vaccine appeared to reduce infection rates by two-thirds. Among a group of 314 black volunteers, the vaccine appeared to cut infections by 78 percent -- in a league with some of the best vaccines ever made.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/02/25/MN211922.DTL

RESEARCHERS FIND ONLY SMALL PERCENTAGE OF CANCER CELLS SPREAD
from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Researchers studying breast cancer have found that only a small percentage of the tumor cells are capable of moving on and creating new cancer elsewhere in the body, a discovery they hope will lead to ways to target the most dangerous cells.

Only between 1 percent and 15 percent of cancer cells were capable of forming new malignant tumors in a study done at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. The findings are reported in Tuesday's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The first step was to identify the cells, the next step is to try to find out what makes them tick and then to target them with new therapies," said Dr. Michael F. Clarke, who led the team.

http://www.nandotimes.com/healthscience/story/779341p-5590783c.html

DNA, THE KEEPER OF LIFE'S SECRETS, STARTS TO TALK
from The New York Times

Fifty years ago, on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1953, two young scientists walked into the Eagle, a dingy pub in Cambridge, England, and announced to the lunchtime crowd that they had discovered the secret of life.

By divining the chemical structure of DNA, the archive of life, James D. Watson and Francis Crick had seen how the molecule could encode information in the copious quantities necessary to program a living cell.

Years later Dr. Crick's wife, Odile, told him she had not believed him, he has written. "You were always coming home and saying things like that, so naturally I thought nothing of it," she said. But on that occasion the claim was true, and it set in motion a revolution that has continued to unfold to this day, much of it guided by the two original discoverers.

Research is a slow process, often with years between each eureka, and even today the DNA revolution remains largely behind laboratory doors, in the form of biologists' ever intensifying understanding of the mechanisms of life. But a few powerful inventions — forensic DNA, a new wave of DNA-based drugs — have already had considerable effect, and many researchers believe they are just a foretaste.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/25/science/25HELI.html

IN COMBAT, BEST FIGHTERS HANDLE SEVERE STRESS WELL AND RECOVER QUICKLY
from The Los Angeles Times

During a routine military training exercise some years ago, two skydivers collided about 1,000 feet above the desert floor east of San Diego. One of the parachutes shuddered and held. The other one collapsed, sending a Navy commando named Mark Divine into free fall.

In the next few moments, which promised to be his last, Divine's training took over. He worked his parachute lines up and down to try to catch air. About 50 feet from the ground, the chute swept open, pitching its cargo hard into the dust and scrub, unharmed. "I don't remember ever thinking about dying," Divine recalls. "Even afterward."

At a time when the country is mobilizing for war and engaged in counterterrorist operations around the world, psychiatrists and military professionals are determined to learn how some people can handle heart-stopping danger and walk away without any apparent psychological harm. The answers are crucial not only for recruiting elite fighters but also for preventing the kind of mental breakdowns that can follow intense combat.

Academic psychiatrists have been doing sophisticated blood analysis and mental testing on groups of special forces, including Navy SEAL (Sea, Air Land) teams and Army Green Berets, as they participate in classified training courses. The research reveals how training and upbringing - including our response to trauma and abuse - can produce enormous mental resilience. It also affirms that most commandos are neither unfeeling warriors nor the Rambo-type loners many people imagine.

http://www.newsday.com/news/printedition/health/ny-dsspdn3146024feb25,0,2602021.story?coll=ny%2Ddiscovery%2Dprint

WAR IN IRAQ WOULD HALT ALL DIGS IN REGION from The New York Times

War in Iraq would halt archaeology not just in that country but across the Middle East, experts say, and could result in some of the earliest cities of Mesopotamia being bombed or looted into ruins of ruins.

Researchers with long experience in Iraq say they are worried that postwar looting could cause even more damage to the antiquities than combat. They also fear that some art dealers and collectors might try to take advantage of any postwar disarray and change in government to gain access to more of Iraq's archaeological treasures. After the Persian Gulf war of 1991, ancient treasures were plundered and sold illegally in international markets.

Fear of war has already had a widespread effect. All European research teams left Iraq months ago, indefinitely suspending excavations along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers at places like Uruk, Assur, Nimrud and Nineveh.

Others doubt that they will return this year to dig sites in Syria, Jordan and some places in southern Turkey. In many cases it is impossible to get insurance for staff and students. Researchers in Egypt are growing wary, and nascent plans for reviving long-suspended operations in Iran have been abandoned. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/25/arts/design/25DIG.html

TERROR'S DUAL THREATS OF BOMBS AND BIOLOGY television review from The New York Times

Rest semiassured: guards near New York City tunnels have stopped cars with cancer patients inside; remnant radiation from their tumor-fighting therapies tripped sensors. Also, the city's existing air-quality monitors have already been retrofitted to sniff out bioterror attacks, and so far so good.

That, however, is the extent of relief available in two unsettling hours about the airborne evils that Americans have been told to await. Two separate shows, "Dirty Bomb," tonight on the PBS series "Nova," and the Discovery Channel's "Bioterror: The Invisible Enemy" tomorrow, for the most part offer dreadful insights and fodder for fear.

Each program looks at information that often flits by on television in shorter, incomplete packages. Unfortunately, the hourlong shows wind up in macabre competition, arguing which is the most lethal and immediate agent of doom. Gird yourself against deadly radiation, spread by a cesium core within a detonated explosive, or run for your life from microbes like anthrax or "hemorrhagic fevers" like Ebola virus. Some choice. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/25/arts/television/25MART.html

Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Book Notice from Rick

We're very excited about introducing you to our book, The Delphinus Chronicles, by RG Roane. It's a remarkably original novel about the unintended consequences that develop when a computer with too much power is placed in proximity to an ocean-going species about which we know far too little--for a hint as to what species this might be, look to the night sky for the Constellation Delphinus, also known as "The Dolphin." Further details about the book can be viewed at http://www.DelphinusChronicles.com.

We're particularly excited about our relationship with your community of free thinkers because we see Chronicles as the potential rallying post for an entire generation of like-minded people. However, to say more now would risk detracting from the experience that lays in store when you do sit down with the book.

Synopsis

Students at a small college in Southern California program their supercomputer to learn languages on its own, but the school is adjacent to an aquatic amusement park and the computer mistakenly learns to communicate with the world's dolphin population. The dolphins ultimately reveal explosive information about the true origins of mankind, which falls into the wrong hands and sets off a chain of events that threatens to unravel society as we know it.
Rick, at Cherry Hill Publishing

Anti-Creationists Backed Into a Corner?

[Crap alert! Ed.]

http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/2/242003e.asp

By Jim Brown
February 24, 2003

(AgapePress) - More than 200 evolutionists have issued a statement aimed at discrediting advocates of intelligent design and belittling school board resolutions that question the validity of Darwinism.

The National Center for Science Education has issued a statement that backs evolution instruction in public schools and pokes fun at those who favor teaching the controversy surrounding Darwinian evolution. According to the statement, "it is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible" for creation science to be introduced into public school science textbooks. [See Earlier Article]

Forrest Turpen, executive director of Christian Educators Association International, says it is obvious the evolution-only advocates feel their ideology and livelihood are being threatened.

"There is a tremendous grouping of individuals whose life and whose thought patterns are based on only an evolutionary point of view," Turpen says, "so to allow criticism of that would be to criticize who they are and what they're about. That's one of the issues."

Turpen says the evolution-only advocates also feel their base of financial rewards is being threatened.

"There's a financial issue here, too," he says. "When you have that kind of an establishment based on those kinds of thought patterns, to show that there may be some scientific evidence -- and there is -- that would refute that, undermines their ability to control the science education and the financial end of it."

Turpen says although evolutionists claim they support a diversity of viewpoints in the classroom, they are quick to stifle any criticism of Darwinism. In Ohio recently, the State Board of Education voted to allow criticism of Darwinism in its tenth-grade science classes.

© 2003 AgapePress all rights reserved.

Isaac Newton predicted world would end in 2060

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1046029105331_30/?hub=SciTech

Associated Press

Updated: Sun. Feb. 23
2003 4:12 PM ET

JERUSALEM — Sir Isaac Newton predicted the world would come to an end 57 years from now, a TV network says, based on a document unearthed from a Jerusalem archive by a Canadian researcher.

Newton's sombre prediction is part of the documentary Newton: The Dark Heretic. In a statement promoting the program, to be aired March 1, the British Broadcasting Corp. said it will show a handwritten Newton document predicting the end of the world in 2060, according to calculations he made based on the Bible.

The BBC said the document was found in a Newton collection in the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem.

Raphael Weiser, director of the library's manuscripts and archives department, said Sunday that Canadian academic Stephen Snobelen had worked extensively on its Newton collection and had brought a BBC camera crew with him, but Weiser said he had not seen whatever document the program intended to present as evidence.

"They came here two months ago with a researcher from Nova Scotia," Weiser said Sunday. "He found in one of our folios this note and they are going to show it on their program."

Snobelen, of the University of King's College in Halifax, could not be reached on Sunday.

Weiser said he could not confirm the manuscript's contents or authenticity until it is revealed in the BBC film. "I didn't see it with my own eyes," he said. "When they show it on TV, we will see it."

Newton, who died in 1727, won immortality for formulating the law of gravity, but he was also a theologian who wrote well over a million words on biblical subjects and was influenced by Hebrew scripture, according to academic articles on his work.

The BBC statement said he studied the Bible for more than 50 years, trying to unravel what he believed were God's secret laws of the universe.

The Israeli daily Maariv said the documents now in Jerusalem were discovered in England at the home of the Duke of Portsmouth and put on sale at the London auction house, Sotheby's, in 1930.

The buyer, named by the paper as Abraham Yehuda, later donated the collection to the Jewish National Library, it said. Weiser said the library has never fully examined its wealth of Newton manuscripts.

"We have thousands of volumes of Newton," he said. "We haven't researched it all."

© Copyright 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.

Parallel Universes

http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0302131

Astrophysics, abstract
astro-ph/0302131

From: Max Tegmark max@hep.upenn.edu
Date: Fri, 7 Feb 2003 01:39:52 GMT (614kb)

Authors: Max Tegmark (Penn)
Comments: 18 pages, 8 figs. A less technical adaptation is scheduled for the May 2003 issue of Scientific American. Version with full-resolution figs at this http URL
Journal-ref: In "Science and Ultimate Reality: From Quantum to Cosmos", honoring John Wheeler's 90th birthday. J. D. Barrow, P.C.W. Davies, & C.L. Harper eds. Cambridge University Press (2003)

I survey physics theories involving parallel universes, which form a natural four-level hierarchy of multiverses allowing progressively greater diversity.

Level I: A generic prediction of inflation is an infinite ergodic universe, which contains Hubble volumes realizing all initial conditions - including an identical copy of you about 10^{10^29} meters away.

Level II: In chaotic inflation, other thermalized regions may have different effective physical constants, dimensionality and particle content.

Level III: In unitary quantum mechanics, other branches of the wavefunction add nothing qualitatively new, which is ironic given that this level has historically been the most controversial.

Level IV: Other mathematical structures give different fundamental equations of physics. The key question is not whether parallel universes exist (Level I is the uncontroversial cosmological concordance model), but how many levels there are. I discuss how multiverse models can be falsified and argue that there is a severe "measure problem" that must be solved to make testable predictions at levels II-IV.

Full-text: PostScript, PDF, or Other formats

Eating tomatoes 'turns kids into criminals'

http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,901199,00.html

Pioneering clinic will bring new hope to disruptive youngsters, reports Jean West

Sunday February 23, 2003 The Observer

Tomatoes don't agree with John. He is sick within an hour of eating them and becomes sweaty and panicky. But worse than this, they also make him irritable and aggressive and liable to commit violent crimes.

Jason has a similar reaction to bread. He has always loved doorsteps smothered in butter for breakfast. But it gives him diarrhoea and a weird kind of depressed 'hangover'. This makes him crave the heroin that once put his life on the skids.

It may sound implausible, but a controversial theory is gathering momentum: that one explanation for crime may be found on our dinner plates. The premise is that the brain needs the right fuel to function properly - otherwise it will misbehave.


Monday, February 24, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – February 24, 2003

SCIENTISTS QUESTION THE VALUE OF SHUTTLE FLIGHTS
from The New York Times

For decades, NASA's prime argument for putting people in space has been the value to science. Space, the agency says, is a unique laboratory where humans are essential to test an array of things, including the way gases burn and how spiders spin webs in a weightless environment.

But in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster, many scientists outside the space agency have concluded that the scientific payoff, by itself, is nowhere near enough to justify the program's huge cost and risks.

The scientists do not necessarily favor abandoning human spaceflight. Some say long-term space exploration is a worthwhile goal. They note that experiments on the long-term effect of weightlessness can be studied only on flights.

But with remarkable unanimity, the scientists reject NASA's assertion that the research being done by astronauts can be carried out in no other way. They add that unmanned probes and robots could do most of the experiments.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/24/national/nationalspecial/24NASA.html

AIDS VACCINE MOSTLY A FAILURE
from The San Francisco Chronicle

A disappointed and puzzled Brisbane, Calif.-based biotech firm announced Sunday that its experimental AIDS vaccine failed to protect white and Latino volunteers against HIV infections, while inexplicably shielding two- thirds of the black, Asian and other non-Latino minority participants.

Officials of VaxGen planned to hold a briefing this morning to elaborate on the unexpected results of the company's three-year study of an experimental vaccine tested primarily on gay men in the United States and Europe.

VaxGen vice president for research Phillip Berman, who began work on the vaccine in 1984, put the best spin on the divided findings.

"This is the first time we have specific numbers to suggest that a vaccine has prevented HIV infection in humans," Berman said, adding "we're not sure yet why certain groups have a better immune response."

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/02/24/MN119994.DTL

THE RUMBLE OF DESTRUCTION
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Denver -- In rumbling tones far lower than the sounds that human ears can hear, a symphony of mysterious noises constantly assails the entire globe, and scientists are learning to translate and even to exploit the inaudible signals.

Avalanches rumbling down mountainsides, the seething magma inside volcanoes as eruptions near, the violent twisting air of tornadoes and even the crash of ocean waves -- all send out ultra-long-wave, low-frequency vibrations known as infrasound.

Using sensitive instruments, scientists are studying whether detection of infrasound can provide advance warning of these natural disasters. They also are using infrasound to detect the nuclear weapon tests of enemy nations.

Infrasound is the opposite of the extreme high-frequency whistles that dogs can hear but humans can't, or the high-pitched ultrasound echolocation that bats use home in on their prey or that modern physicians use to create images of a fetus in the womb.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/02/24/MN32772.DTL

SCIENCE NOTEBOOK
from The Washington Post

Scanning Mummies' World

Applying 21st-century medical imaging technology to 4,500-year-old antiquities, Italian scientists have "unwrapped" ancient Egyptian mummies without touching them and even taken "virtual tours" through the corpses to see which organs were removed and what was put in their place.

The novel imaging study, described in the March issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, has revealed new details about the religious customs and embalming techniques of the ancients. It allowed researchers to determine not only the sex and probable age of the 13 mummies examined, but also the medical and dental health of the deceased before they were preserved.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55855-2003Feb23.html

COULD HEALTH RISKS BE NIPPED IN THE TASTE BUDS?
from The Washington Post

Researchers are studying a genetic trait that makes some people extremely sensitive to certain tastes.

Perhaps 25 percent of people are "supertasters," although women are much more likely than men to inherit the trait, and the intensity of their taste experience can range from just slightly stronger than normal to overwhelming.

"The food world can be unbelievably vivid to them," said Linda Bartoshuk, a Yale University researcher. "The world in their mouth is intense."

In addition to providing researchers with a window into understanding how the sense of taste works, a debate is underway about whether supertasters are also more or less prone to certain diseases because their hypersensitivity to certain flavors makes them more or less likely to eat foods that can increase or decrease risk of disease.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54915-2003Feb23.html

MISSING MONKEY IN MIDDLE OF LAB DEBATE
from The Associated Press

DAVIS, Calif. -- When a monkey slipped from its cage at a University of California medical research lab, handlers peered into sewers, poked behind cages and baited traps to try to catch it.

A week and a half later, though, all they've found in their search is an angry town armed with new ammunition against a proposed biodefense research center that the university says would study the world's deadliest diseases for the effort to protect the country from bioterrorism.

The monkey, a rhesus macaque, disappeared from the California National Primate Research Center, which would supply animals to the proposed Biosafety Level 4 lab to study diseases with no known cure, such as the Ebola and West Nile viruses.

School officials promised that the runaway was disease-free -- the center currently raises animals for research on level two and three diseases, which have vaccines or treatments -- and would never have escaped from the proposed biodefense lab, which would have armed guards.

http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ats-ap_health15feb23,0,5545311.story?coll=sns%2Dhealth%2Dheadlines

Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage
http://www.sigmaxi.org

Media Resource Service
http://www.mediaresource.org

American Scientist magazine
http://www.americanscientist.org

For feedback on In the News,
inthenews@sigmaxi.org

Darwin Awards announce early nominees

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_754053.html?menu=news.quirkies

A Kansas man who was killed by a train after his car broke down on a motorway is among the contenders for the latest Darwin Awards.

The train 's driver spotted him standing on the tracks, holding a mobile phone to one ear and cupping his hand to the other ear to block the noise of the train.

The awards are awarded, posthumously, to people who have "improved our gene pool by removing themselves from it in really stupid ways".

The nominees also included a Ukraine man who was killed when his dog retrieved a hand grenade which he'd just thrown at a police cadet.

The police cadet had just pointed out to the man that his dog should have been muzzled and on a leash.

Another contender died in Arizona's Mohave County Jail when he defecated on his cell floor, slipped in his own faeces, struck his head on the ground, and died.

And in Holland, a retired engineer booby-trapped his home with twenty deadly devices, with the intention of killing his estranged family. However, he inadvertently triggered one of his own and got killed.

The posthumous winners will be announced in a few weeks, say the organisers.

Story filed: 10:29 Monday 24th February 2003

US website allows for messages to be passed to the afterlife

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_754080.html

An American cartoon artist has set up a website where the living can send telegrams to the dead.

Paul Kinsella recently launched the afterlifetelegrams site to facilitate contact between the living and the dead.

It costs about £3-per-word to post the message to the site. The message is then given to a terminally ill person who memorises it to take it with them into the afterlife.

The messengers all have less than a year to live and Kinsella says they are tested to ensure the message is perfectly captured in their memory.

Once the messenger passes away, the fee, depending on the wishes of the messenger, is either given to a relative, donated to a charity or used to pay for medical bills.

Kinsella admits they cannot guarantee the message will be delivered.

"Truthfully, nobody knows what happens when someone dies. Since we cannot guarantee the delivery of the telegrams, our clients only pay for the delivery attempt and not for the delivery itself," Kinsella says.

For example, people still mourning the recipient may not use the service, the recipient must be dead for more than 30 days and the message must be in English.

Story filed: 12:02 Monday 24th February 2003

Saddam Hussein T-shirts selling slowly

From Ananova at

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_754132.html

Saddam Hussein T-shirts are being sold in Indonesia where traders hope to make a killing from young Muslims.

Syahrul Arief's Quds company started making Saddam T-shirts about a month ago, reports the Straits Times.

So far, he says sales have been sluggish with about 400 sold but the entrepreneur is confident business will pick up

He said: "These are different from the Osama T-shirts we sold last year. Saddam is not a bestseller yet because many Indonesians understand he is not a completely pure Muslim. He has done bad things.

"But if war starts, more people would be interested in Saddam T-shirts. Then they would perceive him as a fighter against America and support his cause. When that happens, the T-shirts will move faster."

He has three designs. Two show Saddam wearing his beret and bearing slogans "We Support You" and "Ready for War". The third depicts Saddam defying President Bush.

Osama T-shirts hit the streets last year after US action in Afghanistan began.

Mr Syahrul said that more than 100,000 Osama T-shirts had been sold through his shop in Jakarta and university campuses nationwide.

Asked what he thinks of criticisms that he is adding fuel to anti-US feelings, he said he is tapping into existing sentiments, and not creating them.

"I am also doing this to make a living. I can't sell these T-shirts if people don't like the sentiments expressed already. Nobody would buy them if they disagree," he added.

Story filed: 12:50 Monday 24th February 2003

Canada helps shut down suspicious cancer clinic

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1045780463796_41189663/?hub=Specials

By Hester Riches, CTV.ca News Staff Authorities from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have shut down a dubious medical clinic that was treating cancer patients with magnets.

Most of the patients were from the U.S., and about 10 per cent were from Canada. The company was based in B.C., while the treatments were given at a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico.

Mexican authorities closed the clinic, while the U.S. government is suing CSCT Inc. of Naramata, B.C., and the Canadian Competition Bureau has opened a criminal probe.

The Tijuana clinic is typical of many that authorities from the three countries have been trying to shut down. These clinics prey on the desperately ill and charge a lot of money for dubious treatments.

The health care field, experts say, is a magnet for fraud artists. Their alleged crimes costs the health-care system -- private and public -- billions each year. And they target the most vulnerable victims.

"They're looking for hope," Joel Alleyne, executive director of the Canadian Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, told CTV.ca News. "Irrespective of whether it happens in Mexico or Yellowknife, you're taking advantage of people at the most difficult times of their lives."

Mexico has been known for years as a haven for "completely off-the-wall" treatments," as one expert calls them. (See below for tips on how to recognize a medical fraud.)

"They oftentimes include a secondary deception through the insurance companies," Bill Mahon, of the U.S. National Health Care Fraud Association, told CTV.ca News.

He explained that many of these companies make it look as though the patient was treated in the U.S., and then apply for coverage from insurance companies, by disguising the alternative treatment as one that is covered.

"They prey on desperate people," Mahon said. Patients are often convinced to help participate in the fraud -- they are told this is an experimental treatment, that it is confidential, that it is not to be discussed with authorities because the treatment is not yet approved. Sometimes they are given gifts, trips, or other enticements.

The buzz words for dubious clinics can include "alternative therapies" and "experimental treatments" and "a wide variety of approaches." The offerings can include: detoxification, laetrile, enzymes, chelation, oxygen therapies, bioelectrical therapies, nutritional therapy, hydrotherapy, metabolic, hyperthermia, electro-Magnetic Therapy, detoxification, biological response modifiers, aloe vera, cesium, live cell therapy, etc.

In addition to claiming to treat cancer, these types of clinics offer hope to chronically ill, and claim to have cures for AIDS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other diseases or disorders that have been known to frustrate conventional treatments.

While there are some acceptable uses of alternative therapies, fraudsters take them to extremes -- making outrageous claims about the benefits, and charging a lot of money for the service. J. Alan Cates, Chief of the Fraud Prevention Bureau for the State of California, says it's unfortunate that the medical field attracts scam artists in such a great number.

"It's helpful for the public to generally know, that fraud goes where there's lots of trust, and we trust our medical professionals," Cates said. "Fraud is nothing but deceit. You don't want to lie to somebody who doesn't trust you. "Unfortunately, health care is one of those areas. Fraudsters found it to be very, very lucrative."

In Thursday's case, the company, called CSCT Inc., was based in British Columbia. Its offering was a high-tech looking "Zoetron machine," with electro-magnetic treatments.

Full treatment cost about $15,000 US. The company advertised its services on a website that has since been shut down. Howard Beales, director of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the Zoetron technology delivered the power of a refrigerator magnet. He called it "one of the most reprehensible scams we have ever seen."

The investigation was led by the Mexico-U.S.-Canada Health Fraud Work Group. MUCH, set up in 1994, includes agencies from the U.S. and Mexico, as well as Health Canada and Canada's Competition Bureau. The task force was set up because of a rise in cross-border medical fraud. Complaints rose 11 per cent in the past two years; and many of them involved Internet-related offerings.

The U.S. group, the National Healthcare Anti-Fraud Association, estimates that all types of medical fraud costs Americans about $33 billion annually, or 3 per cent to 5 per cent of the nation's healthcare spending. Alleyne says the Canadian Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, which has been active for four years, doesn't have data for Canadian costs. "But we don't have any reason to doubt it's significant."

'Shocking' discovery boosts chance of life on Europa

http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993421

09:38 21 February 03
Jenny Hogan

Scientists simulating meteorite impacts on the frozen oceans of Europa have made an electrifying discovery, which raises the chances of finding life on Jupiter's moon.

Jerome Borucki, at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, and his colleagues fired aluminium bullets into a block of ice. They found that when the bullet impacted, sensors embedded in the ice detected an electric shock. A second, and much larger, electrical discharge was observed a few moments later.

A shell of ice many kilometres thick encases the surface of Europa and scientists speculate that liquid water - and therefore life - might lie beneath. Evidence for the presence of the molecular building blocks for life comes from the yellow-brown stains seen on the ice by the Galileo probe.

"Europa is a high priority target for exploration because the key ingredients for life seem to be there. But even if you have the ingredients, the question is, is there a spark that creates the first organic molecules?" says Ron Greeley, a planetary scientist at the Arizona State University.

Borucki's bullet experiments suggest meteorite impacts might have provided that spark. The electric shock had gone undetected because no-one had put sensors below an impact crater before, he told New Scientist. The team think the current is caused by the movement of protons as the ice cracks.

'Looking for Spinoza': The Source of Emotion

February 23, 2003
By COLIN McGINN

Once scientists returned, at last, to the study of consciousness it was only a matter of time before emotions engaged their attention, not just emotional behavior, but the inner conscious feelings that accompany it: experiences of fear, anger, sadness, joy and more. These, after all, are mainly what constitute human well-being, so it would be nice to understand them, particularly as they relate to the brain, where the mechanics lie. Antonio Damasio, chief neurologist at the University of Iowa Medical Center, is a leader in this developing field, having written two well-regarded books on emotions and the brain: ''Descartes' Error'' and ''The Feeling of What Happens.'' Now, in ''Looking for Spinoza,'' he sets out to explain what precisely an emotion is, and what parts of the brain give rise to emotions of different kinds. Spinoza, the enigmatic 17th-century philosopher, enters the story because of his interest in emotion and will, and his foreshadowing of the theory Damasio favors.

Colin McGinn is a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University. His books include ''The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World'' and ''The Making of a Philosopher.''

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/23/books/review/23MCGINNT.html?ex=1047071959&ei=1&en=65eef5f94ffe901f


Contacting the North Texas Skeptics
The North Texas Skeptics
P. O. Box 111794
Carrollton, TX 75011-1794
214-335-9248 Skeptics Hotline (current information)
E-mail

Current News  News Back Issues


What's New | Search | Newsletter | Fact Sheets
NTS Home Page
Copyright (C) 1987 - 2008 by the North Texas Skeptics.