NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 April 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, April 01, 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 - April 1, 2003

from The Associated Press

Asian governments on Tuesday ordered measures ranging from new quarantines to travel restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of a flu-like illness that has killed at least 62 people.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of people remained quarantined inside a 19-story Hong Kong apartment building after 213 people from the same complex were hospitalized, with 185 showing SARS symptoms.

An official proposed converting rural camps into quarantine centers in Hong Kong, where more than 600 people have been infected and 15 have died.

Gordon Tam, a spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said four such camps are ready if necessary.


from Newsday

As the number of cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome continued to climb yesterday, disease experts said there are three basic theories about the origin of the virus.

Understanding where the microbe came from would aid health authorities in determining how to limit further spread. Officials initially said the illness seemed to spread only through close contact: for instance, when victims sneeze or cough and nearby people are infected. But as the disease has surged through an apartment complex in Hong Kong, officials have refused to rule out that the microbe may be airborne.

The number of cases worldwide topped 1,600 yesterday, including 58 deaths.

The three emerging theories involve a man-made virus; an ancient animal virus that has mutated into a form capable of infecting humans; and an old human virus that went undetected until it had the opportunity to spread rapidly. http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hssars013200941apr01,0,1665890.story?coll=ny%2Dhealth%2Dheadlines

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- NASA's chief shuttle engineer wrote in a draft e-mail days before Columbia's fiery breakup that a failure to seek photographs of possible damage to the shuttle's left wing was wrong and "bordering on irresponsible," according to internal documents released Monday.

But Alan R. "Rodney" Rocha never sent the message to his colleagues at the space agency. In the draft, Rocha cautioned that severe enough damage to delicate insulating tiles near Columbia's wheel compartment "could present potentially grave hazards."

Rocha's draft e-mail, which NASA said was written around Jan. 22, was among hundreds of pages of internal documents NASA released Monday. News organizations had sought the documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

In separate e-mails, which Rocha sent, he said damage to Columbia could range from acceptable to horrible.


from The New York Times

A few wars ago, the potent dust storm that pummeled American-led forces in Iraq last week would have roared out of the desert with hardly any warning.

This time, the troops knew that it was coming more than five days in advance, allowing commanders to tailor battle plans to the choking, blinding conditions. The military meteorologists who predicted the storm so precisely say nothing nearly as powerful is likely this week, although there is a rising chance of some blowing dust today toward the weekend.

Rising heat will be the main natural antagonist, with daytime temperatures Thursday through the weekend reaching the 90's around Baghdad and topping 100 degrees in the south. But by summer, the chances of more potent and less predictable dust storms will rise again, forecasters say.

In an arena where a violent dust storm can stall an advance just as abruptly as an enemy's counterattack, forecasting is an essential element of military planning.


from The New York Times

If something poisonous wafts onto a battlefield in Iraq, American soldiers would want enough warning to put on their gas masks. If terrorists release nerve gas in a subway station, officials would want quick identification of the toxin.

If someone arrives at a hospital with suspicious symptoms, doctors would want a fast test to determine whether the sickness is anthrax or just the flu.

After the World Trade Center and anthrax attacks in 2001, the federal government has doubled financing for counterterrorism research, including improved detectors, in each of the last two years. The research has generated promising advances, but "the perfect system doesn't exist," said Dr. Duane L. Lindner, deputy director for chem/bio programs at the Sandia National Laboratories site in Livermore, Calif.

Accurate systems are slow, bulky and expensive. The simple quick tests are prone to "false positives," finding danger where none exists.


from The Boston Globe

The reports filtering back from Iraq can sound like a wartime parody. Chicken sentries. Mine-seeking dolphin scouts. Pigeon sentinels and whiskered sea lions that can clamp a handcuff on an enemy diver.

Threats of new types of warfare are growing in Iraq, and as they do, the US military is drafting an experimental battalion of animals to join the trusted canine corps in defending soldiers and detecting weapons. While some of the animals are showing early signs of success, others are ill-equipped for war and, to the chagrin of animal-rights activists, are sometimes killed in the line of duty. But, as researchers back home work on an even odder mix of wartime recruits such as chemical-sniffing bees, some observers say animals may still offer the best defense in wartime until technology catches up with nature.

"It's a stark demonstration of how far we have to go when we have to put a chicken in a cage on top of a Humvee to test the environment," said Alan Rudolph, program manager for the Defense Sciences Office at DARPA, the United States' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which among other things, funds the use of animals in the military.


from The Chicago Tribune

For three decades, scientists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have probed an arcane world of quarks and other subatomic particles thought to be the building blocks of matter.

In coming months, the high-energy physics lab hopes to extend its research into more mundane matters: its relationship with neighboring communities in DuPage and Kane Counties.

In partnership with a state-funded consortium of Illinois universities, Fermi has hired a consultant to develop ways to improve communication with its neighbors. The consulting work will be done over the next 18 months by the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

"This is a great time to be doing this because we don't have any burning issues on the table," said Judy Jackson, director of public affairs at Fermi. "But there are things we care about that we think the community cares about also."


from The Associated Press

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) -- Biologists want the public's help in watching for thousands of monarch butterflies bearing tiny tags that may reveal the mystery of where the colorful insects spend their summers.

Biologists tagged more than 20,000 monarchs between November and February, when they clustered in wintering grounds in coastal Marin, Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz counties.

The white, round tags are attached to the hindwing of the butterflies. Each is imprinted with an identification number and a toll-free telephone number -- (877) 897-7740 -- that anyone spotting the tagged insect is asked to call with details of the sighting.

The tags weigh between 1 percent and 2 percent as much as a butterfly itself.


Seven riddles suggest a secret city beneath Tokyo



During the Gulf War in 1991, Shun Akiba was one of only two foreign journalists reporting from Baghdad, along with Peter Arnett of CNN. With such experience and expertise, it would be reasonable to imagine him in great demand right now. Wrong.

Shun is on some kind of invisible blacklist. His book "Teito Tokyo Kakusareta Chikamono Himitsu" ("Imperial City Tokyo: Secret of a Hidden Underground Network"), published by Yosensha in late 2002, is already in its fifth edition. Yet Shun has found it impossible to get the media to take serious note, write reviews or offer interviews.

This is very strange because he has a great story -- evidence of a network of tunnels and possibly an underground city beneath Tokyo that the public is totally unaware of. "Why am I ignored? Can I be on to something, and there is a conspiracy to silence me? I believe so."


From the Weekly World News

Wednesday March 19, 2003


NEW YORK -- Federal investigators have arrested an enigmatic Wall Street wiz on insider-trading charges -- and incredibly, he claims to be a time-traveler from the year 2256!

Sources at the Security and Exchange Commission confirm that 44-year-old Andrew Carlssin offered the bizarre explanation for his uncanny success in the stock market after being led off in handcuffs on January 28.

"We don't believe this guy's story -- he's either a lunatic or a pathological liar," says an SEC insider.

"But the fact is, with an initial investment of only $800, in two weeks' time he had a portfolio valued at over $350 million. Every trade he made capitalized on unexpected business developments, which simply can't be pure luck.

"The only way he could pull it off is with illegal inside information. He's going to sit in a jail cell on Rikers Island until he agrees to give up his sources."

The past year of nose-diving stock prices has left most investors crying in their beer. So when Carlssin made a flurry of 126 high-risk trades and came out the winner every time, it raised the eyebrows of Wall Street watchdogs.

"If a company's stock rose due to a merger or technological breakthrough that was supposed to be secret, Mr. Carlssin somehow knew about it in advance," says the SEC source close to the hush-hush, ongoing investigation.

When investigators hauled Carlssin in for questioning, they got more than they bargained for: A mind-boggling four-hour confession.

Carlssin declared that he had traveled back in time from over 200 years in the future, when it is common knowledge that our era experienced one of the worst stock plunges in history. Yet anyone armed with knowledge of the handful of stocks destined to go through the roof could make a fortune.

"It was just too tempting to resist," Carlssin allegedly said in his videotaped confession. "I had planned to make it look natural, you know, lose a little here and there so it doesn't look too perfect. But I just got caught in the moment."

In a bid for leniency, Carlssin has reportedly offered to divulge "historical facts" such as the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden and a cure for AIDS.

All he wants is to be allowed to return to the future in his "time craft."

However, he refuses to reveal the location of the machine or discuss how it works, supposedly out of fear the technology could "fall into the wrong hands."

Officials are quite confident the "time-traveler's" claims are bogus. Yet the SEC source admits, "No one can find any record of any Andrew Carlssin existing anywhere before December 2002."

Weekly World News will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. Keep watching for further developments.

More about the "Intelligent Design" brand of creationism

From: The Textbook League

In 1998 the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Develop- ment -- allegedly a respectable organization for educators -- published a book called _Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum_. Two reviews of that book are now available on the Web site of The Textbook League, under this introductory statement:

Warren A. Nord and Charles C. Haynes have developed a scheme for overhauling American education: Our public schools must renounce rationality, must promote and endorse popular religious beliefs, must present religious myths as "history," and must make the world safe for superstition by abolishing instruction in natural science. The Nord-and-Haynes scheme is set forth in Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum -- a malevolent and dishonest book that may seem to be respectable, at first glance, because it has been published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The ASCD has shamed itself.
The reviews are at http://www.textbookleague.org/111nord.htm Together they comprise 26,000 words, so we don't expect that they will be read in their entirety by a lot of people. The second of the two reviews includes a passage in which I reply to Nord and Haynes's efforts to promote the "Intelligent Design" brand of creationism. That passage may be interesting to some members of this list. Go to http://www.textbookleague.org/111nord.htm , then use your search function to find this phrase: mysticete whales

Bill Bennetta

It's a dog's life


Pretoria - A dog nursing three kittens has caused havoc in Winterveld outside Pretoria, where residents believe witchcraft has caused the dog to give birth to her feline offspring.

Witnesses say two-year-old Vodi adores her kittens. Elijah Mhlanga, Vodi's owner said she was "a wild dog", but her behaviour has changed after she disappeared a while ago.

"I was worried when she disappeared. When she came back last Sunday, she was different. She hid from us and stopped barking. She also refused to eat.

"On Monday my grandchildren called me and said Vodi had given birth to kittens.

"I did not believe them. I thought the puppies just looked like kittens to them," he said.

He decided to go and see for himself and was shocked to find Vodi nursing three kittens.

When Vodi saw people staring at her, she tried to hide the kittens under her belly.

One of the neighbours blamed the kittens' birth on witchcraft. SPCA inspector Meshack Matlou said he had never seen anything like this before. "We will do some tests and the results will tell us what happened," he said.

Monday, March 31, 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 - March 31, 2003

from The Washington Post

Carlo Urbani, the scientist who discovered the first clue that a dangerous new microbe was beginning to spread around the globe, succumbed yesterday in a Bangkok hospital bed to the frightening disease he alerted the world to.

It was Urbani, an Italian epidemiologist at the World Health Organization's office in Hanoi, who first responded last month when anxious hospital officials phoned to report that a sick U.S. businessman was infecting doctors and nurses with a strange pneumonia. Within days, Urbani himself fell ill.

"Carlo was the one who very quickly saw that this was something very strange. When people became very concerned in the hospital, he was there every day," said Pascale Brudon, the WHO representative in Hanoi. "We are all devastated."

The pneumonia, now known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has become the focus of a worldwide health emergency. Yesterday, U.S. health officials warned against any unnecessary travel to Hanoi, Hong Kong, Singapore and all of China, and outlined stringent new measures to keep infected people from spreading the sometimes fatal disease.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

In the gleaming new laboratory of 33-year-old Joseph DeRisi at UCSF, the latest version of his virus-screening technology was barely out of the box when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came calling.

A mysterious pneumonia was killing health care workers and travelers from Southeast Asia and threatening to unleash a global pandemic. Could DeRisi's new test possibly identify the culprit?

On March 22, a packet shipped from Atlanta brought him precious samples of genetic material prepared by the centers from a batch of suspect virus.

By noon the next day, DeRisi had his answer: It was a coronavirus, one of a family of microbes that cause the common cold. But the genes were different from any coronavirus ever seen, signaling that a new and potentially deadly human pathogen may have evolved.


from The Washington Post

Less Promise for Marrow Cells

In a finding that could escalate the scientific and ethical debate over human embryo cell research, blood cells from bone marrow seem unable to transform directly into other kinds of cells and tissues -- as some scientists had recently come to believe. Nonetheless, researchers said, the cells may have significant potential for medical therapy.


from The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Columbia's salvaged data recorder registered unusual temperature spikes in the left wing just seconds after the shuttle experienced the peak heat of re-entry, indicating the ship was mortally wounded before it began its descent, an official close to the investigation said Sunday.

And that makes the flyaway foam from the shuttle's fuel tank, during launch, an even stronger suspect for breaching the leading edge of the wing, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A chunk of foam, perhaps containing ice or other debris, broke off the tank during Columbia's liftoff on Jan. 16 and sideswiped some of the heat-resistant carbon panels on the leading edge at 500 mph and possibly also some of the metal and tiles underneath.

A spokeswoman for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Laura Brown, said the tape from the data recorder holds a significant amount of good data from at least 420 sensors that were located across Columbia's wings, fuselage and tail, mainly temperature and pressure measurements.


from The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- There's never been a better time to be a microbiologist. The field is suddenly awash with billions of dollars to combat bioterrorism and much more is promised under President Bush's Project BioShield plan.

The money will fund a building boom of at least three new airtight laboratories where scientists in space suits handle the world's deadliest diseases.

At least six universities and the New York State Department of Health in Rome, N.Y. are competing for contracts to build one or two labs, where scientists can infect research monkeys and other animals with such lethal agents as the Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses. Those African hemorrhagic diseases are often fatal and always painful, marked by severe bleeding.

It's not just concerns over escaped research monkeys -- as happened recently -- and other heightened risks that killer germs could be mishandled that trouble scientists and weapons control advocates about this microbiology buildup. It's the prospect that even more U.S. researchers will be trained in the black art of bioterrorism.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

They didn't find a signal from E.T. this time, but UC Berkeley astronomers aren't discouraged after a week at the world's largest radio telescope in Puerto Rico analyzing bursts of radio noise from distant stars.

"It's hard to know what E.T. is up to," said Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of the worldwide SETI@home project. "We may still find a faint murmur of a signal lurking somewhere in our mass of data once we've conducted a more thorough analysis -- and that will take a few months."

SETI@home -- one of many continuing efforts in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- links more than 4 million enthusiasts around the world who are using the idle time on their computers to help analyze the immense amount of radio noise that constantly fills the sky.

Somewhere in that noise, some day, many astronomers are convinced they or their descendants will detect a deliberate signal emitted by beings in some far-advanced civilization -- perhaps even in another galaxy -- that have been eager to make contact with other intelligent civilizations.


Articles of Note

Group That Debunks Paranormal To Open Office In Manhattan
New York-AP, March 10, 2003


When the Center for Free Inquiry opens its newest office in Manhattan, it couldn't ask for a better greeting. The ornate sign outside the building at 30 Rockefeller Center reads "Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of our times" and a sculpture of the Greek god Prometheus stands prominently nearby. "If we had a patron saint, he would be ours," CFI-Metro NY Chairman Austin Dacey says of Prometheus, who brought fire and intelligence to humanity. The group of international skeptics, known for debunking psychics, ghosts and alien abductions, is opening a new office in Manhattan to promote better scientific coverage by the news media.

Some see Iraq war in Scripture
By Bill Hillburg
Los Angeles Daily News


"For millions of Americans, the looming war with Iraq is far more than an effort to eliminate a dictator and his weapons of mass destruction. Citing Scripture, they fervently believe that the conflict is yet another strong sign that the end of time is approaching."

Can good vibrations stop war?
by Dennis Roddy
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


"With Americans prepared to invade Iraq in reaction to terrorist strikes by Saudis and Saddam Hussein destroying weapons he denies having, logic's tattered remnants strode across the international stage in the robes of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi."

ITC monitors Diana spirit show
BBC News


"A TV watchdog is to monitor a documentary which claims to contact the spirit of Princess Diana as part of a review into paranormal programming."

Diana seance edited for British TV


"Lurid scenes of psychics trying to get in touch with the late Diana, Princess of Wales, have been cut from a U.S. television programme being shown on British television Monday."

ITC to investigate paranormal shows
by Matt Wells
The Guardian [UK]


"Tonight's coverage by a satellite TV channel of an attempt to raise the spirit of Princess Diana has prompted television regulators to launch an investigation into the proliferation of programmes about the paranormal."

It's Time To Rethink Ephedra Regulation
by Leon Jaroff


"Steve Bechler may not have died in vain. After the 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher collapsed and died in February following a spring training workout in Florida, a bottle of weight loss supplements containing ephedra was found in his locker. A Florida medical examiner reported that ephedra might well have contributed to his death."

The mind should be open
By Karl J. Mogel
California Aggie


"Last week, I had the privilege to discuss science and astrology with Michael Mercury on his radio show. He said that the reason I didn't believe in astrology was because my mind was closed. I contested that characterization, but he repeated that multiple times, even in the closing statements of the show, when it was out of place for me to respond again."

FDA Proposes Standards for Supplements
Associated Press


"Millions of users of St. John's wort, calcium and other dietary supplements may soon know for sure they're getting what they pay for: The government proposed the first manufacturing standards for the $19 billion supplement industry in an attempt to cut fraud and contamination."

Outlawing Science
By Ellen Goodman
Washington Post


"Never again will I underestimate the commitment of the U.S. House of Representatives to homeland security. While the whole country is on an emotional toggle switch, alternating between orange and yellow alert, the representatives nevertheless have taken time out to protect our fair country from another breed of international criminals: patients."

US soldiers in Iraq asked to pray for Bush


They may be the ones facing danger on the battlefield, but US soldiers in Iraq are being asked to pray for President George W Bush.

Thousands of marines have been given a pamphlet called "A Christian's Duty," a mini prayer book which includes a tear-out section to be mailed to the White House pledging the soldier who sends it in has been praying for Bush.

"I have committed to pray for you, your family, your staff and our troops during this time of uncertainty and tumult. May God's peace be your guide," says the pledge, according to a journalist embedded with coalition forces.

The pamphlet, produced by a group called In Touch Ministries, offers a daily prayer to be made for the US president, a born-again Christian who likes to invoke his God in speeches.

Sunday's is "Pray that the President and his advisers will seek God and his wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding".

Monday's reads "Pray that the President and his advisers will be strong and courageous to do what is right regardless of critics".

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Dead son walks back home

From Prasanta Paul
DH News Service BASIRHAT(West Bengal), March 29

Ojha, the village sorcerer, pronounced him as dying following a vicious bite of a venomous snake and a grief-stricken Alorani Devi had set her 12-year-old son Shankar afloat on a banana raft in the Ichamati river, hoping a divine hand alone could do a miracle and revive her "dead" son by removing the deadly snake's poison from his body.

It was sheer providence of a different kind; 15 years down the line, Shankar who not only survived the venomous bite and was rescued by a generous old man from the river after being afloat for more than 240 kms, had a tearful yet fairy-tale reunion with his mother.

In fact, the tale of Shankar's "rebirth" is laced with torrid excitement. While working as a domestic help at Hatthuba village, 90 km from Kolkata in North 24 Parganas district, the young boy was bitten by a poisonous snake that hid in a stack of straw. Shankar turned blue within a few minutes before any medical assistance could be organised.

As a last resort, a grieving Alorani Sardar sought the help of village Ojha who declared that the boy was either "dead" or would be dying within seconds. And the sorcerer advised that Shankar be set afloat on a banana-raft, as part of the typical rustic ritual practised for centuries by innocent villagers who staunchly believe in divine intervention for a miracle cure from snakebite. Accordingly, the raft was organised and "dead" Shankar was bade a tearful farewell by the villagers and the incident was forgotten.

But Shankar didn't die; "When I gained consciousness, I was told that I am at the residence of Haren Haldar of Magrahat in South 24 Parganas district," a dazed Shankar told Deccan Herald here while sitting at the courtyard of their hut. But he couldn't recall how he travelled such a great distance of around 240 kms in the banana-raft and for how many days, he was afloat.

"On inquiry, the old man (Haren Halder) once told me that he fished me out of the river," Shankar said. "However, he kept on skirting the issue whenever I insisted on a reply about my parents or the village I come from." Shankar who was affectionately rechristened as Sujit by Mr Halder, started growing up at Salgaria village of Magrahat. But Sujit's luck shortly turned sour as he was driven out of Halder's place by his sons following the demise of the old man eight years ago.

An "orphaned" Shankar was forced to leave Magrahat and was desperately scouting for some means of livelihood at Paina village when he had a chance meeting with his elder sister Shefali who meanwhile had been married off to a person from the village.

"Initially, neither myself nor my sister could firmly approach each other," Shankar recounted as his mother, sitting beside him, sobbed lowly. But quite certain as Shefali was that this "aimlessly loitering fellow" is none other than her brother "dead and missing" for the last 15 years, she searched for some prominent marks in Shankar that would clearly bridge the missing link.

Shefali's efforts didn't go in vain as she zeroed in on a deep cut mark in Shankar's right thigh and there was no looking back thereafter. A beaming Shefali trooped back home with Shankar early last week and pleaded with uncle Shibu Sardar to verify her claim.

As Shibu Sardar's spell of excitement and wonder was broken by combined cries of Alorani and Shefali, tears came rolling down Shankar's cheek too and the entire family was united in a tearful embrace


People in Kecksburg want to resolve what fell from the sky in 1965

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Sunday, March 09, 2003

KECKSBURG, Pa. -- Dec. 9, 1965. A day that will live in incongruity.

That was the late afternoon when something -- or nothing -- shot from the heavens over this south edge of Westmoreland County and landed -- or didn't -- in a gully a mile outside of town.

Really. It came down, an acorn-shaped something a size up from a Volkswagen Beetle, some insist.

Bunk, say others.

In the intervening 37 years, the dispute busted up a few friendships. Even now, pair Kecksburg and UFO in a sentence and it kick-starts a back-and-forth, said Kathy Leeper, bartender at the local firefighters club.

"They were talking about it just the other night," she said.

So, now come UFO sleuths, figuring to settle this by getting as much of the public behind them as they can and demanding a look at the record.

Except that key elements of the record, if there is much of one, may be locked away in government files. And the UFO sleuths, a coalition of cash, legal expertise and ardor for probing the supernormal, figure that getting at it will take a major petition drive, a congressional investigation and maybe some legal muscle.

"This case is so incredibly fascinating," said Leslie Kean, a San Francisco-area freelance journalist whose writing on UFOs appeared from opinion pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to news pages of the Boston Globe. "Even now, the trail is not cold."

For years, retiree Robert Bitner, former Kecksburg fire chief, a man who believes that something noteworthy fell from the sky, hasn't spoken with his brother-in-law. He maintains only a nodding acquaintance with neighbor and fellow ex-fire chief Ed Myers. It's a cold war born of the UFO dispute.

"I'd love to know what the government knows about it," Bitner said. "It might help us end this thing for good."

That's end, not forget.


What looks like a Bunyanesque brown acorn perched on a platform next to the fire hall is actually a 7-foot replica of what believers say they saw -- modeled a dozen years ago for the television show "Unsolved Mysteries," then put on permanent display here.

North of town, the twisting township route closest to the purported crash site has been renamed Meteor Road.

The records hunt begins with a newly launched online petition drive, at www.signpetition.com, to persuade Congress to put its General Accounting Office on the case, a gambit that Kean said might shake loose records that the general public hasn't seen.

Then, through a law firm doing freedom-of-information work, the coalition would sue where it felt government agencies shortchanged requests for declassified files on Kecksburg.

The drive is being bankrolled by television's SciFi Channel, where fare ranges from "The Twilight Zone" reruns to the ultimate vision of the American melting pot, a serial about space aliens blending in with the Roswell, N.M., locals.

This isn't about Kecksburg's promotional value to SciFi, channel Special Projects Director Larry Landsman vowed. "We're committed to solving this," he said.

Along with reporter Kean, the records hunt includes Greensburg resident Stan Gordon, 53, an electronics salesman and, since age 16, gumshoe tracking the unexplained.

Gordon's pursuit of enigmas ranging from UFOs to Bigfoot, detailed at his Web site, www.westol.com/~paufo/, brings 200 e-mails a day and "phone calls at 2, 3, 4 in the morning," he said. His Kecksburg inquiry, begun when he was a teenager, has yielded reams of files and produced a 92-minute, $25 videotape, "Kecksburg: The Untold Story," a 1998 production bearing the tag line "New Mexico has Roswell, but in Pennsylvania it was Kecksburg."

Sales, he said, "have been in the hundreds."

"I keep an open mind," said Gordon, who recites Kecksburg particulars with edge-of-his-seat urgency, " ... but something of military importance seems to have fallen."

He has critics.


Ed Myers, fire chief in 1965, complains that Gordon "turned this into a circus." And Bob Young, an amateur astronomer who lectures at the state planetarium in Harrisburg and studied the Kecksburg puzzle, said people who insist that something slammed down outside town ignored hard evidence that the matter was much ado about a meteor that came nowhere close.

But the UFO case also has people dropping tantalizing hints.

Retiree Bob Schmidt, an amateur astronomer in Pittsburgh's North Hills, tells of a friend, wary of reporters, who worked with NASA and had associates who said they examined debris retrieved from Kecksburg.

"They said it looks very much like a Russian nose cone," Schmidt said.

Around Kecksburg, 300-some people strong, that's the talk that rumpuses are made of.

On that dreary 1965 afternoon, the episode began in a flash -- a "brilliant fireball" lighting the dusk sky, according to the next morning's Post-Gazette.

It was meteor, photographed by at least a couple earthlings, visible from Chicago to New York State to Virginia, astronomers Von Del Chamberlain and David Krause of Michigan State University wrote in a paper published 20 months later by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

The space rock burst and vanished 15 miles southeast of Windsor, Ontario, but not before fooling spectators as it streaked into the horizon, Chamberlain wrote.

"Observers in several states were certain the object landed within a mile from them," he wrote in a follow-up paper for the state of Michigan's Geological Survey.

"Individuals often report: 'It definitely went between me and the nearby trees.' "

Actually, it did, says Bill Bulebush.

'Big, huge piece of metal'

Bulebush, 40 then, was home just outside Kecksburg, tinkering with his 1964 Corvair.

He saw the flaming whatever-it-was fly over, then double back "just like it was controlled," he said last week.

And when he watched it go down just north of town, Bulebush said, he drove off after it, up what's now Meteor Road.

There, maybe a quarter-mile into the woods, lay this thing -- burnt orange, maybe 10 feet long, shaped like an acorn, he said.

"It was smoldering and cracking, sparks coming off it ... no sign of life, with a sour smell, sort of like sulfur," Bulebush said.

It was half-buried, after tearing a trench into the ground with a belly-flop landing, he said.

"I went down and stood behind a tree and watched it ... 10 feet away," he said.

And when he heard people tramping through the woods, he said, he got scared and hightailed back home -- where wife, Betty Bulebush, concedes she met the story with enough lack of interest that "I kept watching TV."

James Romansky, now 57 and a disabled machinist living near Derry, insists he came upon it, too, as a volunteer firefighter, called from Lloydsville, 25 miles from Kecksburg, to comb woods for what was supposed to be a crashed plane.

In the flashlight beams, he said, he and a handful of searchers saw "one big, huge piece of metal buried in the mud ... goldish, copperish, yellow, quiet as a church mouse."

The wreckage bore markings Romansky likens to hieroglyphics. Nobody touched it.

"I'm running around, looking for bodies and scratching my head and my butt because there aren't any," Romansky said. "There's no loose pieces. This thing has no rivets, no portals, no way to get in and out."

Out of the dark came "two guys with crewcuts and trench coats," Romansky said. "And they said, 'This is quarantined. You get the hell out,' very loud and very adamant."

Then-Fire Chief Ed Myers' response, in a word: hooey.

"Afterward, there was no sign of it," he said. "There wasn't so much as a bird spot."

People who figure that something indeed hit the ground suggested origins ranging from extraterrestrials to a misfired NIKE missile to a remnant of Kosmos 96, a Soviet probe that was bound for Venus but, according to U.S. Space Command, crashed in Canada 14 hours earlier.


No matter what the case, reporter Kean said, the case is ripe for investigation because it has living witnesses who saw something on the ground and three decades worth of evidence rounded up by Gordon.

"It's a very good case," she said.

Except that in Kecksburg, even what happened in plain sight is open to dispute.

U.S. Air Force documents tell of a three-man team coming from its Oakdale radar station, finding nothing and heading home in early morning.

Retired firefighter Bitner recalls seeing "a dozen" military men.

Carl Porch, whose farmland sits nearby, says there barely were any.

"There were all kind of military people," said Robert Gatty, now publishing a trade magazine in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, then a reporter with the Tribune-Review in Greensburg. "I couldn't get past them."

"And the government didn't send all them out because of some shooting star," Bitner said.

By Romansky's account, the military trucked out its find under tarp, on a flatbed truck, and commandeered the fire hall as a command post, stationing armed guards who turned him away when he tried to use the restroom.

Myers' response: More hooey. The firehouse was open and people jammed the social club, he said.

"We probably sold as much beer as we ever did because of all the people," he said.

So it goes. Storytellers question each others' credibility. Critics who turned up a criminal past that included theft and armed robbery scoff at Romansky's believability. Gordon defends him for offering corroborated detail. Allegations simmer of people massaging stories over the years.

If townspeople figure that the new push to open records will settle this, though, a spokesman for Kecksburg's congressman offers little hope. If there are files locked away and the government justified sealing them, said Brad Clemenson, aide to Rep. John Murtha, D- Johnstown, GAO probably won't find a rationale to unseal them.

That's not what a lot of people want to hear.

"This thing dies off, then it comes up," current Fire Chief Duane Hutter said. "Everybody'd like it if we got it resolved."


Planet X


Doomsayers seem to pop up every few years. Last time, it was the alignment of the planets that somehow managed not to destroy the Earth in May 2000. Now, we have Planet X. A few people are claiming that a heretofore unknown planet in our solar system is on a very long, elliptical orbit. In May 2003, it will pass close enough to the Earth to affect it in some way, causing it to flip over (what many call a "pole shift") and spur many other huge disasters. The end result will be the deaths of many billions of people. There are a large number of web pages, chat rooms and books about Planet X and its horrible affects on the Earth. So the question is, does this planet exist, and will it come by in May 2003 and cause all this horror?

Why I'm skeptical even of the Skeptic



Readers of this column know that one thing I can't stand is when influential figures misrepresent the research of others to make a point.

I've written about the all-too-frequent use of that technique by skeptics of global warming, but now I've come across a different example. I'm beginning to wonder: Is this now considered justifiable if you have some sort of scientific axe to grind?

Michael Shermer is editor of Skeptic magazine, has written several books (the best-known of which is Why People Believe Weird Things) and also has a regular column (called "Skeptic") in Scientific American magazine. His crusade, if that isn't totally obvious already, is to expose the worldsof ESP, parapsychology and alien abductions for what he thinks they are: complete nonsense.

Most of the time, I agree with Shermer -- there is a lot of nonsense out there, and it's worthwhile pointing that out and showing why it doesn't merit our belief. Another thing in his favour is that he is a more reasonable voice than many of his colleagues, who are often shrill and arrogant.

In the March Scientific American, Shermer devotes his column to the brain. His argument: "If the brain mediates all experience, then paranormal phenomena are nothing more than neuronal events." Fair enough. He concentrates on out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and tries to show they are "nothing more than neuronal" by quoting a variety of studies.

He mentions Michael Persinger at Laurentian University, who sometimes can induce OBE-like experiences by pulsing magnetic fields through a subject's temporal lobes.

He quotes a Swiss study that showed a female patient experienced an OBE of a sort (she did indeed "see" herself in bed, but not her whole body, only her legs and lower trunk) when electricity was pulsed into a specific locale in her temporal lobe.

Finally, Shermer refers to a study published in the British medical journal Lancet showing that 12 per cent of patients with cardiac arrest had experienced a "near-death experience" -- a phenomenon that sometimes includes an out-of-body component.

Those who report near-death experiences usually tell of flying down a tunnel toward a light, seeing long-dead relatives and a feeling of peace. Shermer argues that this study illustrates that when the brain "abnormally generates these illusions," the rest of the brain takes them to be real.

These examples, to him, are the latest to "deliver blows" against the belief that the mind and the body, or brain, can be separate.

But wait a minute. I know this Lancet study very well. I interviewed the principal author, Pim Van Lommel, and I know that he and his colleagues would be stunned to think their study was seen as debunking the mystery of near-death-experience --stunned, because they argued exactly the opposite in their article.

After acknowledging that experiences similar to near-death can be induced in a variety of ways (by electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe, excess levels of carbon dioxide, loss of blood to the brain and several drugs), the authors continue their discussion by pointing out that none of these artificially induced near-death experiences are identical to the "real" thing, and that for them the real question is: "How could a clear consciousness outside one's body be experienced at the moment the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death with a flat EEG?"

In other words, the memory of near-death experiences, at least in these cases of cardiac arrest, seems to arise at a time when the brain is flatlined. Rather than "delivering a blow" to the idea that the mind and the brain can be separate, these Dutch researchers are actually arguing for that very possibility.

So what happened here? Did Shermer read only the summary of the article and draw his conclusions from that? Or was he aware that the authors felt something mysterious was going on here and simply chose to ignore them?

Either way, his use of this study to bolster his point is bogus. If he were aware of the authors' point of view, he could have said: "The authors think there's a mystery, but I choose to interpret their findings differently ..." But he didn't. I find that very disappointing.

Jay Ingram hosts the Daily Planet show on the Discovery Channel.

Headteacher makes predictions from backs of hands


An Indian headteacher claims to be able to make predictions about people's lives by reading the back of their hands.

Pothuri Murali Krishna claims that it is not merely the face of the palm that tells about one's fate, the reverse has a lot to say too.

The college principal from the southern city of Guntur, who reportedly has made several accurate predictions during state elections, claims to be the only practitioner of Reverse Palm Technology in the world.

He told Central Chronicle: "Reading the palm from the reverse side is, in a majority of cases, even more accurate than in what we know as palmistry - the art of reading one's fate by studying the palm."

The teacher claims the science of reverse palm forecasting was passed on to him directly by God.

He said: "In 1996 I had the intuition that I should do this. It appeared to me as if the Almighty himself was giving me an order to do so."

Mr Krishna has predicted that chemical weapons will be used both by Saddam Hussain and by the United States during the ongoing war in Iraq, and that the United States will never be able to fulfill its desire of overthrowing the dictator.

Story filed: 09:50 Saturday 29th March 2003

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Congress Gives Up On 'Faith-Based' Push


Associated Press Writer

March 28, 2003, 11:21 AM EST

WASHINGTON -- Conceding they don't have enough support, congressional sponsors of President Bush's faith-based initiative have given up on legislation that would make it easier for churches and religious groups to get government grants.

They had tried and failed to get the Senate to approve a watered-down version of the Bush initiative. Instead, their bill would simply provide tax breaks for donations to charities. It also offers $1.3 billion more for the Social Services Block Grant, a favorite of Democrats.

"I would have liked to have gotten the whole enchilada, but in the United States Senate this year, you're lucky to get anything, and I'll take anything," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said Thursday. "We just thought it was a great trade-off."

Santorum said the Bush administration has succeeded in rewriting government regulations to open programs to religious groups, making legislation less urgent. He also said the tax provisions would aid charities, including many that are religious.

Santorum said House Republicans had agreed to go along with the scaled-back bill -- a remarkable shift since the legislative push began two years ago.

The head of the White House faith-based office pledged to continue the fight.

"This is really more of a legislative strategy issue -- what can you do now versus what can you do later," Jim Towey said in an interview. "The president remains committed to ending discrimination against faith-based groups."

He added that the administration would continue to try to open programs to religious groups individually as they are debated in Congress. "There are going to be debates this year on faith-based (issues). You can set your watch on that," Towey said.

While the administration has tried to implement much of its faith-based agenda through regulations, those efforts might not hold up to any court challenges as well as a law would. Further, the regulatory changes are sporadic across federal programs, whereas the initial Bush-backed bill covered a dozen programs.

The initiative, at the center of Bush's "compassionate conservative" agenda, met stiff opposition from the start.

Backers argued that people looking for social services should be able to choose religious providers if they want to. Opponents worried about discrimination against people based on religion and feared the wall between church and state was crumbling.

A divided House approved Bush-backed legislation opening a dozen new social programs to religious groups. It allowed these groups to hire or fire based on their religion, and allowed them to skirt state anti-discrimination laws.

The bill was strongly opposed by civil rights groups and others, and when it got to the Senate, sponsors Santorum and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn, scaled it back.

Their bill initially offered tax breaks and made it clear that religious groups may not be excluded from government contracts for reasons such as having a religious name or displaying religious symbols.

Still, critics objected.

Several senators said the bill specifically should bar groups from using federal funds to proselytize. They said it should expressly prohibit groups from getting tax dollars from discriminating against beneficiaries or employees of other religions. Without this clarification, the administration would interpret the law on its own to allow these things, they said.

Unable to overcome these objections, Santorum said he was stripping the contested language from the bill.

A prominent opposition group declared victory.

"This is a huge step in the right direction," said Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "This shows that members of Congress can increase aid to religious and secular charities without violating the Constitution."

Most significantly, the remaining legislation would give people who do not itemize on their taxes a break for donations to charity beyond $250 in any one year, up to $500. To keep the cost down, the new tax deduction would expire in two years.

The bill also gives tax breaks for corporate donations, allows tax-free donations from Individual Retirement Accounts and encourages banks to offer Individual Development Accounts, which match the savings of low-income people

It provides $150 million for a new fund to help small charities, including religious groups, expand their programs.

Information on the bill, S. 272, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/

Missionaries set to tend to physical, spiritual needs


Houston Chronicle
March 26, 2003
Newhouse Service

Two leading evangelical Christian missionary organizations say they have teams of workers poised to enter Iraq to address the physical and spiritual needs of a large Muslim population.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant denomination, and the Rev. Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse say workers are near the Iraq border in Jordan and are ready to go in as soon as it is safe.

Also see:




Alabama Governor calls for prayer soldiers

Posted on Fri, Mar. 28, 2003

Atheist invocation sets off city council walkout
Charleston officials say beliefs forced their exit
Associated Press

CHARLESTON - Several City Council members have walked out of a meeting to protest an atheist giving the invocation.

Some of the half-dozen or so Charleston City Council members who left Tuesday said their religious beliefs compelled them to do so.

But Herb Silverman, who noticed the walkout when he rose to speak, said it was rude.

"I think it's outrageous behavior," said Silverman, a College of Charleston math professor well-known in the city for his atheist views. "What would we say if the first time an African American got up to speak at City Council, a bunch of whites walked out, or if a rabbi got up to give an invocation and a bunch of people got up to leave?"

But councilman Wendell Gilliard said the idea of an atheist giving the invocation was particularly wrong when war is going on in Iraq.

"We've got young men and young women over there fighting for our principles, based on God," he said. "I think it's about time we started standing up for something in this country."

The invocation is a tradition at council meetings, and council members take turns performing it. Occasionally, council members will invite a pastor to give the invocation. In this case, councilman Kwadjo Campbell invited Silverman to speak in his place after Silverman asked for the opportunity.

Campbell, who is not an atheist, said he felt Silverman had a right to be heard, but that other council members had a right to leave if they wanted.

Silverman said an invocation is not necessarily a prayer and can be a way to give advice.

In this case, he briefly talked about minorities' rights and the need to treat everyone with "respect and dignity." He ended with quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman.

Silverman, president of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, has gained attention in the past for tackling issues involving the relationship of church and state.

Several council members stayed during the invocation, and some said they felt they at least should hear what Silverman had to say.

"Charleston has a great tradition of respecting religious differences," councilman Paul Tinkler said. "I felt that Dr. Silverman's position should be respected."

Councilman Robert George said he would not have been comfortable listening.

"He has a right to speak, and I have a right to walk out," he said. "He can worship a chicken if he wants to, but I'm not going to be around when he does it."

ET fails to 'phone home'

By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online science reporter

A search for intelligent life in space has drawn a blank.

Scientists have found no signs of alien beings after analysing radio signals collected in the world's biggest distributed computing project. More than 150 candidates selected by the Seti@home project have been examined using the giant Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

Astronomers say they have discovered no evidence of a signal from an extraterrestrial civilisation during a quick, real-time analysis of the data.

However, they intend to take a more thorough look at the results over the next few weeks, with the help of Seti@home volunteers.

Susan Lendroth, of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, US, which sponsors Seti@home, said they had not expected a quick result.

She told BBC News Online: "The odds are probably against a quick find but Seti researchers around the world hope that they will one day find evidence of an alien civilisation."

People power

Since 1999, millions of people from more than 200 countries have been running a special screensaver program on their desktops.

It uses idle time on a PC to sift data obtained by radio telescopes for patterns that might represent a communication from space.

The observations in Puerto Rico took place over three days. Data was collected on 166 promising radio signals, exceeding the original goal of 150. Other sources were observed, including extra-solar planetary systems (that might contain Earth-like planets), nearby galaxies and Sun-like stars.

Bruce Betts of the Planetary Society said the unique aspect of the project was that the public participates in real scientific analysis.

"Millions of people around the world have helped get us to the point where we could identify potential targets and take a second look," he said.

"Now the new data will go back to the Seti@home volunteers for more help with this early but critical step in our continuing search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

Seti@home, which is based at the University of California, Berkeley, was founded by the Planetary Society four years ago.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Friday, March 28, 2003

MIOS MEETING Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Don R. Patton, Ph.D. Present

Evidence From Peru & Bolivia

Dr. Patton has made numerous trips to Peru, together with Dr. Dennis Swift, to investigate the ceremonial burial stones found in the Inca tombs (c.a. 500-1500 AD). Almost one third of the stones depict specific types of dinosaurs.

The evolutionary scenario tells us that man and dinosaur were separated by at least 65 million years and "modern" man's conception of dinosaurs did not begin until the 1800s. This find appears to falsify that theory and verify the fact that ancient Peruvians saw these dinosaurs. See the stones for yourself. Hear the whole story and learn of the numerous independent sources of confirmation.

See the ancient tombs and view the tapestry (ca. 700AD) which clearly displays the dinosaur motif. Visit the ruins of Tiwanaku, a city that existed before Christ with astounding technology; 20,0000 ton building stones, precisely cut into complex geometrical shapes, ancient temple walls decorated with human faces typical of today's races. This is a record that defies the often heard story of "primitive" man and evolutionary development.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, April 1st, 7:30 PM

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 - March 28, 2003

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Like a hummingbird following fragrance to a flower, the male sperm follows chemical attractants to find the female egg.

Researchers now have identified a key part of the process and say the discovery could lead to a new form of contraception that does not depend on hormones, or to help for infertility.

In laboratory tests, the researchers have found that human sperm has a receptor, or chemical sensor, that causes the sperm to swim vigorously toward concentrations of a natural attractant.

The precise compound present in the human female reproductive tract has not been identified, the researchers said. But the new study, using a laboratory compound called bourgeonal, proves that sperm does respond to a chemical signal by swimming toward the source, said Richard K. Zimmer, a professor of biology at UCLA and a co-author of the study appearing Friday in the journal Science.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Acting to contain a deadly flulike illness, the World Health Organization on Thursday urged airlines to bar ailing passengers from international flights in parts of Asia and Canada, while Hong Kong authorities moved to quarantine more than 1,000 people and close schools.

The nonbinding recommendation regards flights leaving Toronto, Singapore, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai and the Chinese provinces of Shanxi and Guangdong. The latter is where the earliest cases of the illness were recorded.

Airlines flying out of cities where the mystery disease is spreading should question passengers at check-in desks for signs of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the global health agency said.


from The Washington Post

Every morning, scientists gather in a secure war room in Howard County to gauge how people in the Washington region are feeling.

Are people buying lots of flu or diarrhea medicine? What are patients complaining about in doctors' offices and emergency rooms? Are doctors ordering more lab tests? How many people are calling 911? How many children missed school? What about animals -- are governments picking up more carcasses?

At the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Scaggsville, a 30-mile drive from the White House, researchers believe quick answers to those questions could save huge numbers of people in a biological attack.

Experts say outbreaks of highly contagious smallpox, starting with only 3,000 infected people in three states, could lead to 1 million deaths if not promptly contained by rapid public health measures. A cloud of anthrax spores released over a congested urban area could cause 120,000 deaths unless antibiotics were distributed at once, according to a computer model released last week. Al Qaeda leaders have obtained materials to weaponize botulinum and salmonella and the chemical poison cyanide, according to U.S. officials, and are close to a feasible production plan for anthrax.


from Newsday

When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently disparaged France and Germany as "Old Europe," maybe he was speaking demographically.

According to a new study of the European Union's 15 member nations, governments there are facing an age problem that is almost certain to get worse. European families are having fewer children, and are exacerbating the problem by delaying child-bearing.

As a result, the research team said, Europeans face higher health and welfare costs, fewer wage-earners, and an impact on national productivity. In other words, a downward spiral has begun, and soon fewer young workers will be supporting more and more old retirees.

Although their calculations predict a slight population rise over the next 15 years - the result of a "baby boom" in the 1960s - the researchers see Europe having 88 million fewer people when the year 2100 rolls around, down from about 230 million.



WASHINGTON - A second health care worker has died of a heart attack after receiving the smallpox vaccine, and officials are investigating whether vaccinations are to blame for cardiac problems seen in 17 people who have been inoculated.

The vaccine has never been associated with heart trouble, but as a precaution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people with a history of heart disease not to be vaccinated until further investigation is complete.

CDC officials said Thursday there was some evidence the smallpox vaccine has played a role in heart inflammation. They were less certain whether three recent heart attacks were related to the vaccine.

Meanwhile, an expert panel advising CDC raised questions Thursday about the government's smallpox vaccination program.


from The Chicago Tribune

A hail of meteorites pelted Illinois for the first time in more than 60 years late Wednesday, poking holes in rooftops and bouncing around like pinballs inside homes in the Chicago area.

One fragment of what had originally been a single, large meteorite narrowly missed a Park Forest man, crashing into the spot in his bedroom where he had been standing only minutes before.

The meteor flashed across the sky as it burst apart at about 11:50 p.m., according to the National Weather Service, and was seen by people from Wisconsin to Ohio. Some thought the brilliant light might have been an attack.

"The sky just lit up," said Lauren Ellis of Plainfield, who was traveling in a car when the meteor shot across the sky. "We were in shock. We pulled over because we thought it was a bomb."


Film Review from The Chicago Tribune

Electro-magnetism and the mysteries of the earth's core are fascinating subjects, but "The Core," unhappily, turns them into pseudo-sci-fi nonsense.

This elaborate misfire--which misuses an unusually good cast--is an end-of-the-world movie about a group of scientists drilling to the center of the Earth in order to restart the planet's mysteriously dormant core. And it's such a preposterous idea and movie that even though director Jon Amiel and company try to play it for laughs and irreverent satire, they're working to increasingly diminishing returns.

At first, "The Core" deceptively seems to have something going for it. The dialogue (by writers Cooper Layne and John Rogers) is fairly sharp, the actors are top level and the early scenes of earthly disaster--bizarre catastrophes caused by those core problems--are wild and outrageous in the usual disaster-movie manner. Thirty Boston residents with pacemakers all mysteriously die. Pigeons go wild in London's Trafalgar Square. Rome's Coliseum explodes. The Golden Gate Bridge collapses. And an off-course space shuttle is saved by an emergency landing in the L.A. storm drain canals by plucky pilot Major Rebecca "Beck" Childs (Hilary Swank) and her staunch flight commander Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood).


Behold, the Invisible Man, if Not Seeing Is Believing

March 27, 2003

TOKYO, March 23 - Enveloped in a green plastic raincoat, Kazutoshi Obana slowly raised his arms. Then, with a click of a button, Mr. Obana, a graduate student at Tokyo University, faded away.


Psychics converge on hotel for expo


CROMWELL -- While the rest of the economy sputters, these are boom times for psychics. Or so it seemed at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center Sunday, where 400-to-500 people descended on the Mind-Body-Spirit Expo. Twenty dollars got you 15 minutes with one of the six psychic readers stationed in the hallway outside the vendors' exhibition room. By early afternoon, the waiting list was nearly an hour long.

Patricia DiBarnado of Warwick, R.I. said she started going to psychics three years ago because her boyfriend was into it. Now she believes in their power to read her thoughts and feelings. She also said they can bring back the dead.

"The last one I went to brought back my old cat. My cat came back and she wanted me to know that it wasn't my fault she went away. She said, 'Don't feel bad. I lost my way.'" DiBarnado said the cat was sitting on her shoulder during the reading.

DiBarnado said she trusts psychics because they make connections to her personal experiences or knowledge. Recently, she said, a psychic was giving her boyfriend a reading when his father came back after being dead for 30 years and started talking about wanting to feed DiBarnado Double Stuffed Oreo cookies.

DiBarnado said she believed it was more than just coincidence that she had just polished off a bag of Oreos on the way to the psychic's office.

"There's no way she could have known that. All of the sudden, she said, 'All right. Who likes Oreos?'"

Kris Ranspassard, a fiber optic engineer from West Hartford said he had recently interviewed with three companies in Phoenix and was hoping to learn whether a move was in his future.

"I'm looking for a little guidance," he said.

An hour later he emerged from his reading with a confident look in his eye.

"I'm moving," he said.

Sandy Cangemi, a psychic and hypnotherapist from Enfield, said while people might be more likely to turn to psychics during turbulent times in world affairs, 90% of her clients' concerns dealt with personal relationships.

"People know their past and know where they are going. We give them confirmation and guidance along their path," said Cangemi.

A lavender-scented air wafted from the entrance to the vendors' exhibition hall. Inside, more than 50 vendors displayed such wares as crystals, non-allergenic cleaning products, aroma therapy machines, and books on metaphysics.

The Miracle II soap sampler basket was for sale at the booth of Martin Wassik of the Elite Nutrision Shoppe in Berlin.

"This will clean anything," said Wassik

Greg Coleman showed off centuries-old labyrinths and his own more recent creations. He called the ancient practice of walking through the maze-like designs, "moving meditation." The healing value of the labyrinth, he said, lies in its ability to help you break negative patterns of behavior and create new ones.

Coleman had walking labyrinths on the ground as well as a selection of portable varieties. He made his first finger labyrinth to help himself cope with his mother's decision to die. He called it Mourning and Loss.

"She had broken her hip and chose to stop eating. This was my tool for healing," he said pulling out a one-foot by one-foot square cloth with red and yellow stitching. Laying the cloth down on a table, he would trace his fingers along the paths stitched into the cloth and feel his balance restored.

In addition to the vendor booths and psychic readings, the expo offered 28 workshops with titles including Sound Healing through Divine Harmony, Transmission Meditation, and Past Life Regression. Expo organizer Barbara Hardie gave a talk about communicating with the angel kingdom called, "Connect with your angels!"

Hardie said she was a stressed-out assistant to the president of a Fortune 500 company when she had her revelation.

"One night I was in tears. I prayed to God to help me find my inner peace. He helped me find it," she said. Hardie now puts on five psychic fairs per year though her Tolland, Mass. company, Angel Connections. While she doesn't make the money she did in the corporate world, Hardie said, now she has the happiness.

Atheist Group Challenges Alabama Governor's Bible Study


Monday, March 03, 2003

By Jonathan Serrie

MONTGOMERY, Ala. Alabama Republican Gov. Bob Riley has incurred the wrath of ardent church-state separationists for offering early-morning bible study classes to his staff.

"He is a political panhandler for public piety," said Larry Darby, Alabama state director of American Atheists. "He's using the machinery of government to promote the concept that God is necessary in government. It's not."

Riley attended regular prayer meetings while serving as a representative in Congress. He said he can't understand why bringing the tradition to the Alabama governor's office is creating controversy.

"This country was set up on the principle that everyone had the right to worship as they saw fit," Riley said. "What the Constitution says is government should never forbid the practice of religion or interfere in the practice of religion."

Riley started offering Bible study classes shortly after taking office Jan. 20. A Southern Baptist, he holds classes with senior staff and Cabinet members each Tuesday morning. Other staff members hold their own Wednesday morning class. Both sessions take place before normal working hours and staffers say no state business is discussed.

"This is something that I think my Cabinet enjoys," Riley said. "It's something that means a lot to me. But it is strictly voluntary and will continue to be."

Last Wednesday's meeting was attended by 11 of Riley's 55 regular staff members. Participants say this is proof no one is being pressured to attend.

Catholic and Protestant ministers have presided over previous sessions and staff members say they plan to invite a rabbi to an upcoming meeting. But Darby insists that as long as the governor is involved, the Bible study amounts to "prayer bullying," and favors some religions over others.

Tongue-in-cheek, Darby added, "I hope to be notified when the first Wiccan offers some sort of chant ... and I would really like to see this state accept some Islamic fundamentalists offering their prayers in the governor's office."

The debate over Bible study in the governor's office is just the latest battle over the separation of church and state in Alabama.

Roy Moore, the state's chief justice, is currently appealing a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

Even some of the plaintiffs in the monument case acknowledge there is nothing illegal about the governor holding voluntary Bible classes.

Legal or not, Darby insists religious study in the governor's office blurs the line separating church and state. But Riley and staff members say the U.S. Constitution protects the religious practices of all Americans, including those in government.

"How did we get to this point?" Gov. Riley asked rhetorically. "How did we get to the point that today it's controversial to come together at a Bible study?"

Psychic predicts terrorist attacks on U.S.

"I don't mean to be an alarmist," [psychic "Mrs Who"] reported, "but last night I had a spontaneous and very vivid dream about an attack on the City of Detroit. And, as many of you know, my most accurate and in-depth readings are done in my dreams.

"In this dream, I see a plane flying overhead, and I realize that it's heading for Detroit. The plane is a smaller, prop plane that looks more "pointy" in shape than round like a commercial jetliner. As it speeds towards the city, it suddenly dives and crashes into the city. There is a slight pause before it explodes, and when it does, the blast seems to roll the ground outward, as far as the biggest highway that surrounds the city.

"The explosion is so powerful and moves outwards so quickly that many will see it coming, yet they won't have time to do more than dive for cover. It will be devastating. So, with that in mind, I believe that there may be a small nuclear component to this explosion."

"The date I get is August 13, 2003, although I can't be certain," Ms. Who replied. "It could occur any time between June through late summer of this year, and I expect that it will be a coordinated attack with several other cities in the United States including Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Dallas and more."

"There's always the chance that we can stop these people in time if we can find the people who are plotting this. There is a group of terrorists posing as students. I'm getting Indiana University, so I'm sure they're living there in Indiana or Southern Michigan. They're here in the U.S on student visas," she told us. "I see them living in a home that may be vacant because its owners aren't aware that they're there. I'd say that there are also a very wealthy individuals involved, because I see a large home, a mansion, situated directly across from the school that these foreign students are attending." '


Fundamentalism persists but shows signs of moderation

From: J. Scott Evans


Sorry, full text not available without subscription. Here is the text of the summary paragraph:

The widespread assumption that, world-wide, fundamentalism is rising remains untested. Researchers have not yet gathered enough data to explore this assumption outside of Judeo-Christian countries. Fundamentalism in Europe generally persists at a far lower level than in the U.S. and presumably far lower than at the beginning of the 20th century. Only in Portugal and Poland does belief in inerrancy range higher than in the U.S. During the 1990s no Western country experienced substantial change except Northern Ireland, which registered a decline from about one third to one fifth believing in inerrancy.


Demon-Haunted Brain


February 10, 2003

If the brain mediates all experience, then paranormal phenomena are nothing more than neuronal events

By Michael Shermer

Five centuries ago demons haunted our world, with incubi and succubi tormenting victims as they lay asleep. Two centuries ago spirits haunted our world, with ghosts and ghouls harassing sufferers during all hours of the night. This past century aliens haunted our world, with grays and greens abducting captives and whisking them away for probing and prodding. Nowadays people are reporting out-of-body experiences, floating above their beds.What is going on here? Are these elusive creatures and mysterious phenomena in our world or in our minds? New evidence adds weight to the notion that they are, in fact, products of the brain. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger, in his laboratory at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, for example, can induce all these perceptions in subjects by subjecting their temporal lobes to patterns of magnetic fields. (I tried it myself and had a mild out-of-body experience.)

Mystics Say Hidden Vault Contains Secret to World Peace


From NewsChannel 8 News:
Location: Williamsburg, Va.
Posted: March 19, 2003 1:32 PM EST
URL: http://www.ktul.com/showstory.hrb?f=n&s=79571&f1=odd

A group of mystics says it's time to search again beneath the Bruton Parish Church graveyard for the secret keys to world peace.

"We're here by divine providence," said Fletcher Richman, one of a handful of believers who were so vocally insistent about the graveyard's supposed secrets more than a decade ago that church leaders sponsored a dig in 1992 to search for a legendary underground vault.

"This could stop the holy wars in the Middle East," he declared.

Richman, who lived in the Williamsburg area in the early 1990s but later moved to his current home in Minnesota, said the 1992 dig failed to find the vault because archaeologists picked the wrong spot.

During a recent weekend visit to Williamsburg, Richman gestured to the pyramid-shaped monument marking the centuries-old graves of Elizabeth and David Bray.

He was accompanied by six other self-described metaphysicians who call themselves Sir Francis Bacon's Sages of the Seventh Seal. Behind him was the historic church on Duke of Gloucester Street that serves as a tourist attraction as well as an Episcopal house of worship.

"Underneath here is a spiral staircase that goes down to a freemasonry library," Richman said as other members of his group nodded agreement.

He was referring to a reputed 10-by-10-foot vault, which is said by those who believe it exists to contain writings, documents and other material that belonged to Sir Francis Bacon.

Bacon was an essayist, among other things, and those who believe in the vault say he was editor of the King James Version of the Bible and the real author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

He died in 1626 in England without ever coming to Virginia. Believers say his written revelations, including missing pieces of the Bible, were shipped to Virginia in a vault that was buried first in Jamestown. The vault was moved in 1676 to beneath what is now the Bruton Parish Church yard.

Believers, who are convinced the vault's location is revealed by codes in various places, say its contents have the power to bring a new and peaceful world order. They also say the vault and its contents were known to America's founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson.

Mainstream scholars dismiss the claims of the Bacon believers, but those beliefs have persisted. A California woman named Marie Bauer Hall persuaded church officials to dig in the churchyard in 1938, and that excavation led to discovery of the original church foundations.

In 1991, a New Mexico couple who were students of Hall's teachings dug surreptitiously in the churchyard at night. They were arrested and fined. About the same time, a group with which Richman was affiliated began planning to hold a symposium in Williamsburg about the vault.

Church officials, frankly hoping to put the vault legend to rest once and for all, then asked archaeologists from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to undertake a dig that would satisfy believers that no vault was there.

The dig lasted for several weeks in the late summer and attracted throngs of tourists and wide media attention. It ended with an announcement that archaeologists had investigated all the subsurface area that had been touched by humans over the past three centuries and found no sign of the vault.

Dr. Gerald H. Johnson, a geologist who participated in the 1992 search, now retired from the faculty of the College of William and Mary, had followed up the dig by extracting core samples of subsurface material beneath the excavation to a depth of about 20 feet. He said he got beneath the water table and found no sign that human activity had disturbed the deep soils.

Johnson said on a visit to the churchyard recently that he did not bore for samples beneath the monument Richman now claims marks the location of the vault. He said he'd be willing to take some new samples if he gets an official request.

Richman said that he felt back in 1992 that the location was wrong, but "withdrew" until the timing felt better. He said meditation and prayer drew his current group together for another try at finding the vault.

"Because of the alleged beginning of World War III or Armageddon, we're back here for that reason," he said.

Richman and his friends met last summer with the Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, rector of the Episcopal church, to try to convince him that new research provides the evidence to justify another excavation.

The Rev. Mary L. Douglas, an associate rector at the church, had agreed to meet again with the group recently but canceled the meeting at Hollerith's request. Douglas said Hollerith is taking some time off for medical leave and asked her to postpone meeting with Richman's group until he returns.

Richman said his group hoped the church would entertain bids by archaeologists or other researchers sympathetic to his cause to search for the vault this summer in conjunction with a landscaping project scheduled for the church yard.

Although Douglas said the only excavation planned as part of that project is construction of a new drainage ditch, Richman said he's still hopeful.

"We're not here to polarize," he said. "We want to inspire through public relations and good will."

But he also said that "students of metaphysics" from around the world could use pressure tactics if church officials don't cooperate.

"If we have to, we will surround this churchyard 24 hours a day with thousands of metaphysicians," Richman said.

Thursday, March 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.


Today's Headlines March 27, 2003

from The New York Times

Scientists have discovered why different strains of the bacterium that causes anthrax differ so much in virulence, a finding that in theory could produce more effective vaccines and better tools for distinguishing and tracking the lethal germ.

But the finding could also aid the creation of designer varieties of anthrax that are potentially deadlier to humans. Because of that potential danger, a debate occurred over whether the discovery should be kept secret, scientists said. In the end, it was decided that the benefits of publication outweighed the risks.

The discovery was made by six scientists at Louisiana State University, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the nation's top center for studying germ defenses. It is published in the current Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

The lead author, Dr. Pamala R. Coker, formerly at L.S.U. and now at the Livermore laboratory in California, spearheaded the research for her Ph.D. dissertation. The Livermore laboratory once pioneered nuclear arms but increasingly studies biology and germ defenses.


from Newsday

The number of reported cases in the world of severe acute respiratory syndrome skyrocketed yesterday, largely because of revelations from China.

After weeks of prodding, Chinese health officials yesterday admitted to the World Health Organization that at least 792 people in that country have contracted SARS since November, and 34 have died. This more than doubled the previously acknowledged number of Chinese cases, bringing the global total to 1,323 cases, 52 of them fatal.

Chinese officials said yesterday that the first known case surfaced Nov. 16 in Foshan City, a modern boomtown that is home to 3.3 million people and a key tourist center. In 2002, the Chinese government named Foshan the nation's "Healthy Status City."

Some world health authorities have expressed off-the-record anger at China's lack of openness on these issues. After two weeks of public diplomacy, WHO yesterday issued a statement in which it "called on Beijing to be more cooperative."


from The Washington Post

At least 80 percent of people stricken by a mysterious new lung infection spreading around the globe appear to recover, but the rest become critically ill and about half of them die, health officials said yesterday.

Victims who are older than 40 and have other health problems, such as heart or liver disease, are most likely to move to the life-threatening phase of the infection, officials said.

New details about the disease, dubbed severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), emerged yesterday when about 80 doctors treating patients in 13 countries participated in an unprecedented electronic meeting organized by the World Health Organization. The "electronic grand rounds" enabled doctors trying to save patients worldwide to exchange information over the telephone and Internet about how best to diagnose and treat the disease.

"For the first time, we brought all the clinicians together," Mark Salter, who is coordinating WHO's clinical response to the new disease, said in a telephone interview. "The WHO has never brought together this many clinicians with such rapidity. It's groundbreaking."


from The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A widespread earthquake is taking place beneath the Northwest, slowly unleashing energy that may be equivalent to the magnitude 6.7 Nisqually quake that rocked the region two years ago, experts say.

But the so-called "silent" or "slow" earthquake is releasing that energy over weeks rather than in the sharp, seconds-long jolts of a typical quake. No one can feel it.

The event started Feb. 26 and seems to be sputtering to a halt far beneath northwest Washington and southwest British Columbia. The quake originated beneath the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Friday Harbor, Wash., and Victoria, British Columbia.

Recently discovered silent quakes, which can only be detected with sensitive instruments, aren't as harmless as they may seem.


from The Associated Press

Here's another good reason for healthy living: Symptomless, unnoticed strokes more than double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to a large Dutch study.

The researchers and other experts said the finding suggests many people could prevent the mind-robbing disorder by keeping their heart and blood vessels healthy by exercising, eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking.

Elderly people who suffered tiny "silent strokes" -- detected by an MRI -- had their mental function decline more sharply and were about 2.3 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's or other types of dementia, researchers at Erasmus Medical Center found.

The study, the first major one on silent strokes, was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.


from The Associated Press

Neanderthals were not the ham-fisted cavemen often portrayed in cartoons, but instead had at least as much dexterity as modern humans, computer modeling of ancient hand bones shows.

The modeling suggests that the disappearance of Neanderthals cannot be attributed solely to a physical inability to make tools as successfully as their modern human cousins, researchers said.

Instead, the reason for the Neanderthals' demise seems to be more complex, said Wesley Niewoehner, an anthropologist at California State University- San Bernadino who developed the computer model. Results of his comparisons appear in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Neanderthals had to compete for food and territory with fast-spreading modern humans, who are believed to have been more adept at finding resources and cooperating strategically. Other factors such as changing climates also may have played a role.


from The New York Times

TOKYO, March 23 Enveloped in a green plastic raincoat, Kazutoshi Obana slowly raised his arms. Then, with a click of a button, Mr. Obana, a graduate student at Tokyo University, faded away.

In his place, a ghostly image of the cityscape directly behind him came into view.

Graduate students may be resigned to some invisibility, particularly in the eyes of their advisers, but this was something else entirely: an "invisible" raincoat, under development at the university.

It is the brainchild of Susumu Tachi, a professor of computer science and information physics.


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Stunning Hubble images of mysterious erupting star

http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0303/26hubble/ [includes photographs]

Posted: March 26, 2003

In January 2002, a dull star in an obscure constellation suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun, temporarily making it the brightest star in our Milky Way galaxy.

The mysterious star has long since faded back to obscurity, but observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of a phenomenon called a "light echo" have uncovered remarkable new features. These details promise to provide astronomers with a CAT-scan-like probe of the three-dimensional structure of shells of dust surrounding an aging star. The results appear tomorrow in the journal Nature.

Scientologist drug claim on poster is censured


By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 27/03/2003)

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against the Church of Scientology, which stated in a poster that it had rescued 250,000 people from drug addiction.

The council said that the worldwide religious movement had not proved its claim that as many as a quarter of a million addicts had stopped using drugs as a direct result of Scientology's intervention.

The Church of England's Birmingham diocese and several members of the public had objected to the poster, which was produced by the Scientologists to publicise a tour of parts of the country.

The poster read: "Scientology: applied religious philosophy. 250,000 people salvaged from drugs." There was also a free telephone number and a website address.

The council said it accepted that many people had stopped taking drugs with the help of Scientology, but the movement had not proved that they had all been addicts.

Is there a poltergeist in YOUR double-wide?

From: Jack Kolb

[from the HUMOR list]

I fear this is mostly a suggestion that you check out a fascinating web site run by one Larry Weaver http://www.trailerghost.com/ghost/

Mr. Weaver us a dedicated paranormal researcher who specialized in "mobile home hauntings."

Contrary to popular belief it is Florida that leads the nation in mobile home ghost sightings rather than Valdoster, GA.

Mr. Weaver gives a set of tips for those who want to assure that their own mobile home is ghost-free:


1. A can of Skoal mysteriously floats through the air.
2. Blood drips out of your simulated wood paneling.
3. The eyes on the velvet Elvis painting move.
4. The room is spinning, and you're not even drunk yet.
5. That Camaro in your front yard isn't on blocks - it's levitating by itself.

....visit the site for more tips.

Romanian football chiefs may hire witch to put spell on Denmark


Romanian football chiefs might hire a witch to put a spell on the Danish national team before this week's key Euro 2004 clash.

Mircea Sandu, president of the Romanian Football Federation, claims they successfully did the same to Peter Schmeichel in a similar match 14 years ago.

Mr Sandu told the Libertatea daily he hired a witch to put a spell on Schmeichel before a game against Denmark in 1989.

He said: "The communists threatened the entire federation, including me, with dismissal if we lost the game against Denmark. We hired a witch to put a spell on Schmeichel.

"The witch came to the stadium one hour before the match started. She did her job very well because we won 3-1."

When asked if he was considering hiring a witch again for this Saturday's clash with Denmark in Bucharest, he said: "Why not?"

Metaphysical Lens May Refocus Electronics


By Mike Martin
NewsFactor Network
March 24, 2003

With metamaterial lenses, "the amount of information that could be stored on optical media would be vastly increased," explained Claudio Parazzoli, an associate technical fellow of the Boeing Company.

The creation of an unusual flat lens may finally resolve a long-running controversy about the existence of materials that have metaphysical qualities -- so-called "metamaterials" -- that transcend the laws of nature.

The lens could lead to amplified antennas, smaller cell phones and increased data storage on CD-ROMs, claims University of Toronto electrical engineering professor George Eleftheriades in the March 24th issue of Applied Physics Letters.

"This is new physics," Eleftheriades told NewsFactor.

Articles of Note

Thanks to Joe Littrell, Norm Allen and Greg Martinez

For More Stories Visit: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/skepticsearch/

Rebutting a Book's Claim of Tarnished Valor
New York Times


"It is the World Trade Center fire that will not go out " the startling assertion in a book about ground zero that some firefighters not only looted stores there, but did so before the towers fell, even as severely burned people fled the buildings and other firefighters climbed unknowingly to their deaths."

Ephedra use declines, but lawmakers aren't satisfied
By Ray F. Herndon


"Wary consumers are beginning to shy away from diet preparations containing ephedra, with U.S. sales of some of the most popular brands falling 30 percent or more over the past year. But some researchers and lawmakers worry that without a change in federal law, untested substitutes will take their place."

Armstrong breaks his silence
By Chris Kridler


"He was the first man to set foot on another world, and after that, we hardly heard from him."

Blowing Up the Moon's Conspiracy Theory
By Patricia Ward Biederman
Los Angeles Times


"Phil Plait, 38-year-old astronomer and skeptic, was on the California State University, Northridge, campus Friday, punching holes in the tenacious myth that American astronauts never landed on the moon."

They See Dead People (and Animals) on TV
New York Times


"The last thought that Diana, adored and tormented Princess of Wales, had before she lost her life in the Alma Tunnel in Paris was about her children. No big surprise there. Her next-to-last thought, though, was "What a dirty place to die!""

Selling space-alien fiction as truth
By Steve Weinberg
Baltimore Sun


"Authors and their publishers who push books labeled "nonfiction" about UFOs carrying aliens to earth - where the aliens then sometimes implant foreign objects under the earthlings' skin and engage in a form of sexual intercourse - ought to be publicly scolded. Instead, academics who should know better, book reviewers, retail booksellers and readers themselves allow the misleading "nonfiction" labeling to go unpunished. As a result, those publishers who know they are selling lies for profit (or else are employing editors deluded to the point of being psychologically unbalanced) remain in business with no apparent adverse consequences."

Test aims to link holy visions with brain disorder
By Dr. Raj Persaud


"Does the biological structure of our brains program us to believe in God? Advances in "neurotheology" have prompted some researchers to claim they can induce the kind of holy visions prophets may have experienced " even in those who are not religious believers."

Some thoughts on new ways to critique alternative medicine.
by Chris Mooney


"Here we go again: The federal government has put together yet another advisory body on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) policy, and once again, science-based skepticism seems to have been left off the agenda. This time the offender is the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies, which has created a committee to investigate the "Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the American Public." The panel will be studying issues such as the licensing of non-mainstream health practitioners, but it will not bother to first "assess the safety or efficacy of CAM products." What's the point, you might wonder."

Scientists sift evidence for a 'God gene'
By Roger Higfield


LONDON Scientists are hunting for a "God gene" that underpins our ability to believe. The idea of genes linked with beliefs does not look far-fetched, given the influence of genetics on the developing brain. Thomas Bouchard, a professor at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, conducted a study of twins reared apart and concluded that there was "a modest degree of genetic influence" in two measures of religiousness.

Hagelin proposes new U.S. government
By Joyce Howard Price


"The man who lost to Pat Buchanan in a struggle for Reform Party presidential campaign funds in 2000 has announced plans to start a second U.S. government: the U.S. Peace Government."

Mystics seek new dig


"A group of mystics says it's time to search again beneath the Bruton Parish Church graveyard here for the secret keys to world peace."

UFOs are Saddam's secret - UFO watchers claim
New Zealand Truth


"President Bush decided to attack Iraq because he was scared Saddam Hussein would use technology from a crashed alien spaceship, UFO watchers claim."

Doomsayer heaven
by Bill Broadway
The Age [Australia]


"Ever since Jesus said that only God knows the hour or day of the Second Coming, preachers and self-appointed doomsayers have been trying to predict when it will happen. Even those who chastise date-setters nearly always say, "God's final judgement is coming soon, so get ready"."

California militias revive their rhetoric
By Thomas Peele


"Extremist paramilitary or militia groups have re-emerged in California and other western states, calling themselves a last line of defense but acting like camouflage-wearing vigilantes."

Evolution Creates Controversy In Classroom
By Melissa Blouin
Springdale Morning News


"In his 18 years of teaching science-methods courses to University of Arkansas students, associate professor Michael Wavering has encountered resistance to teaching evolution in about one-third of the pre-service teachers."

'Divine Revelation' Unlikely to Influence Court


"Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee may believe God ordered them to kidnap Elizabeth Smart, but legal experts say divine revelation will be little help to them in the courtroom."

By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News


"WHEN ARMAGEDDON hits, I tell Kathleen Merkle, I want to be wherever she and her husband are. After all, she and Bill have spent the last three decades preparing for planetary meltdown."

From faith to fanatic delusion
By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret News


"With the arrest this week of a couple who allegedly believe God told them to abduct Elizabeth Smart, many Utahns are wondering again what moves people of seemingly deep religious faith into fanaticism."

'Prophet' opens theme park for our alien heritage
by Robin McKie
The Observer [UK]


"He has written books that have sold more than 56 million copies, served three years in jail for tax evasion, and spent the past 30 years trying to convince the world that most of our famous ancient structures were built by creatures from another world."

Tunnel Vision
by Art Levine
Fort Lauderdale


"They walk among us, seemingly normal but somehow different, having been changed forever by indelible memories of what they believe have been visits to the afterlife. They are survivors of near-death experiences (NDEs), and though skeptics tell them it's all been nothing more than a hallucination, a trick of the dying brain, there's a place in Broward County where they can tell their strange stories of angelic beings, lost souls and the landscapes of heaven without being ridiculed. On the first Friday of every month, the South Florida chapter of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) meets in an annex of University Hospital in Tamarac to offer these survivors and other spiritual seekers a safe space to get support and inspiration."

Uncommon Causes
By Buck Wolf
ABC News


"I'd like to publicly apologize to the trailer park residents I offended when I reported a few months ago on a new breed of ghosts who reportedly haunt mobile homes."

Boycott Mideast Oil? It's Tough to Spot at Pump


"For nearly a year, an emotional stream of electronic mail has urged readers in the United States to avoid buying gasoline made from Middle Eastern oil."

Sniff out the aromatherapy controversy
By Cheryll Powell
Knight Ridder Newspapers


"These days, aromatherapy is more than sniffing pleasing smells."

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