NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 May 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Science In the News

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

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In the News

Today's Headlines - May 14, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

One newly bioengineered salmon, endowed with a gene from an eel-like fish, grows five times faster than its natural cousins. Another genetically modified salmon produces antifreeze in its blood so it can survive icy waters that swirl through oceanic fish farms.

A tropical zebra fish, infused with the green fluorescent gene of a jellyfish, glows in the dark — a living novelty that promoters hope will be a must-have for the home aquarium.

These experimental superfish are more than laboratory curiosities. They are the progeny of genetic engineers whose skill at mixing and matching genes is outpacing laws and regulations meant to protect the food supply and the environment.

None of these designer fish, being pushed by biotech entrepreneurs as potential lucrative ventures, have yet reached the market. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has initiated a review of the souped-up salmon, a process that could lead to the first approval of a "transgenic" animal — one that has genetic material transplanted from another.


from The Washington Post

Backed by a coalition of a dozen countries, the United States yesterday filed a trade lawsuit challenging a de facto European ban on genetically altered crops, a long-awaited move that delighted American agricultural interests but is likely to aggravate a transatlantic rift over trade issues.

The United States, Argentina, Canada and Egypt formally requested consultations in the World Trade Organization on the anti-biotechnology moratorium, enacted by European countries in 1998 amid a public revolt over genetic engineering of food. The request is a first step in a challenge by the four countries alleging that the ban violates fundamental free-trade principles. At least nine other countries -- Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay -- have agreed to join the case as third parties in support of the United States' position, U.S. officials said.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced the move in Washington, and it was greeted by a chorus of praise on Capitol Hill. American farmers and, to a lesser degree, biotechnology companies have been calling for such a move for months. Zoellick said the government's patience had run out after years of promises from the European Union that the moratoriums imposed by its member states would be lifted.


from The Boston Globe

Clever as humans are, there are some things that we may never do as well as animals. We'll never fly as well as a bird or swim as well as a fish. That's why oceanographers have begun exploring the most remote ocean expanses and inaccessible depths by recruiting the wild natives of such places.

An unprecedented program is now underway to equip about 4,000 individual animals from 20 different species of whales, turtles, seals, birds, sharks, squid and tuna with data collection sensors that will archive or beam troves of oceanographic information to satellites.The Tagging of Pacific Pelagics program, or TOPP for short, is the most ambitious animal-aided ocean data gathering effort ever in the growing trend to employ wild animals to collect not just information on their lives, but also on vast expanses of open ocean down to thousands of feet deep.

"We can use satellite images, but we only see the surface," says Randy Kochevar of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, a TOPP collaborator. "That doesn't tell you anything about the underlying structure." In fact, for many years the steadily improving information from satellite sensors have made marine biologists increasingly dependent on oceanographers, who help them figure out the data and tell them what's happening in the oceans and how it might be affecting animals. With TOPP, biologists hope to return the favor by gathering data for the oceanographers that not even satellites or anchored oceanographic buoys can get.


from The Los Angeles Times

German scientists have identified two chemicals that could be used to create a drug against the SARS virus, according to a paper published online Tuesday by the journal Science. One of the drugs is in clinical trials for treating the common cold.

However, the development of a specific anti-SARS drug could take years, the authors cautioned.

The team of German researchers, led by Rolf Hilgenfeld of the University of Luebeck, had been studying a human coronavirus that causes mild cases of the cold and another virus that causes a fatal disease in pigs.


from The Associated Press

BEIJING - Hiring sorcerers. Lighting firecrackers. Following advice reputed to be from a mystical talking baby. While China's government promotes science, thousands of its people are turning to the supernatural to fight SARS.

The resort to tradition has prompted efforts by China's state press and the officially atheist communist government to discourage it.

But multiple reports of what Chinese leaders consider dangerous superstition in widely scattered areas illustrate the scale of fear of a disease the Health Ministry said Tuesday has killed at least 262 people on China's mainland. More than 5,000 others are infected.

In the central province of Hunan, villagers hoping to avoid severe acute respiratory syndrome seek help from sorcerers in incense-infused rites, according to local officials and newspapers.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

The number of kids in California being treated for autism doubled between 1998 and 2002, and there is still no end in sight to the growing trend, state officials reported Tuesday.

The report, released by the state Department of Developmental Services, found that 10,360 autistic children sought services in 1998. By the end of last year the number had jumped to 20,377, a 97 percent increase, far outstripping the growth rate in population or births.

Concern over rising autism rates has been growing since the late 1990s as parents, educators and pediatricians began reporting increasing numbers of affected children across the country.


Commentary from Chet Raymo of The Boston Globe

When I was in high school many long years ago, the sciences were the basics - physics, chemistry, biology. Boys took physics (and went on to become engineers and automobile mechanics), girls took biology (and became nurses and homemakers), and nobody took chemistry if they could help it (except a few nerds who wanted to make stink bombs).

These days the sciences are rather more jumbled up, and students might encounter physical chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, or any of many other blended specialties. Gender in the science classrooms is rather more jumbled, too.

But, by and large, the old categories stand: If you are going to organize the sciences under a few practical headings, physics, chemistry and biology are the best way to do it...


An Open Letter to the Editors of Archaeology from John Anthony West

Re: Atlantis and Beyond: THE LURE OF BOGUS ARCHAEOLOGY (or: The Anupadeshi Strike Back)

(Special Section in Archaeology May/June 2003)

The current issue of Archaeology magazine features a Special Section devoted to debunking 'alternative' archaeology. While the Open Letter is designed to be self-explanatory, it's not a bad idea to read the article first. Or maybe better - after. It's posted on their website.

Gentlemen (and scholars),

An acknowledgement:

I am delighted to learn that our 1993 NBC special MYSTERY OF THE SPHINX (based upon geological investigations carried out by me and my geologist colleague Dr. Robert M. Schoch of Boston University) has been awarded top honors in your 'Worst of Television Archaeology' list. The show 'Argues that the Sphinx is thousands of years older than currently believed and includes comparisons of the Sphinx with the "Face on Mars" (since shown to be wholly natural...)'

Short of having my books singled out and condemned by an official George W. Bush Presidential decree, I could not feel more flattered. I regret only that you have no physical equivalent of an Oscar or Tony to go with it. It sure would look good on my old oak filing cabinet! Right next to the Emmy I won for 'Best Research' for MYSTERY OF THE SPHINX, which, by the way, was also one of four nominated for Best Documentary of 1993. Anyway, I think that extraordinary disparity in public opinion a healthy sign, don't you; proof that democracy is still with us, alive and well, despite appearances to the contrary? Would you be kind enough to send me a parchment diploma, a little printed certificate ... something, anything to hang on the wall to prove our show won?

The Special Section

'Why do people so desperately want to believe in Atlantis-style tales?' moans Archaeology Editor Peter Young, unable to comprehend why people are turned away from the 'real' archaeology featured in his magazine. Bogus Archaeology expert Garrett Fagan, Assistant Professor of Classics and author of the epic, best-selling, modern-day scholarly classic Bathing in Public in the Roman World 2) explains, 'There is little doubt that presenting science (and archaeology) on television is a difficult business. The slow pace of change in scientific thinking .the habitual lack of consensus among academics about details (ital. mine, jaw), and the often complex nature of the arguments involved place pressures on producers ... The unspectacular and painstaking nature of the discipline does not make for particularly spectacular television. For how long will viewers sit through scenes of dirt sifting through knee- high ruins?'

That may sound plausible but it's claptrap. Interest in archaeology is no more dependent upon sifting through dirt than interest in baseball is dependent upon spring training or bat manufacture. Like baseball fans, archaeology fans revel in the game -- which in this case is not dirt-sifting, but uncovering and interpreting the past. It is the significance and the relevance of those discoveries that generate interest. The key word here is 'significance'.

The audience will sit through plenty of 'dirt sifting' if the stakes are high and valid Your prize winning selection for Worst Television Archaeology' had its obligatory patina of network glitz but most of that show was devoted to a complex scientific geological argument. The audience was riveted, and still is. It is not that 'people want so desperately to believe in Atlantis-style tales', it is that they are smart enough to recognize the comic triviality of your petty discipline. Again Fagan inadvertently supplies the clue (just about everything Fagan supplies is inadvertent) Those heated arguments over 'detail' (i.e., the Big Picture is agreed upon by the 'experts; only 'details' remain) appeal to no one but yourselves. The archeologically uninitiated cannot be made to warm to furious debates over how many asps killed Cleopatra (Serpent in the Sky, p.9). Especially when profound mysteries, self-evident to all acquainted with the problems involved, go unexplored, their very existence left doggedly unsifted by archeological consensus.

E.g., we do NOT know how the pyramids were built, we do NOT know why they were built (there is NO evidence, none, that the pyramids of Giza and Dahshur ever served as tombs, though other pyramids did. They may have been tombs, but there is NO evidence that they were - got it? Science is supposed to be based upon evidence, not inference.) We do NOT know how the 200 tons blocks of the Sphinx and Valley temples and the paving blocks surrounding the Khafre pyramid were moved and put into place, etc., etc., etc., etc. People are not as stupid or as gullible as you think they are. They don't buy your version of the Big Picture. Simple as that. Unfortunately, they are also not very discriminating. They tend not to distinguish between, say, a Von Danikin and an R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz. But then, neither do you.

To understand your unsolvable PR and image problems and the public's stubborn refusal to accept your word as Gospel, all you have to do is reflect upon what you wrote in your own Special Section - and, more important, what you didn't write. MYSTERY OF THE SPHINX wins your First Worst Prize, and yet, in all those pages devoted to the wholesale denigration (and often misrepresentation) of the work of Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval and everyone else who dares challenge the Sacred Archeological Status Quo there is no response to the geology --the water weathering to the great Sphinx-- precisely that which qualifies it for Worst Place honors. Not a word. How odd! But there is a good reason for it.

Because you have no response, that's why. And it is that (so far) irrefutable geology that justifies and legitimizes the entire search for alternatives - from carefully developed and sound mathematical and astronomical theories down to Von Danikin and the wilder shores of alien intervention. Until you find a way to disprove the geology, the search itself is neither 'bogus' nor 'pseudo', though some of the material cited as evidence may well fit those categories...Curious note: if an archeologist is disproved on some significant detail (say that, given enough sifting through dirt, it is established that Cleopatra committed suicide using just one asp after all) multiple asp proponents will be called 'mistaken' or 'wrong', but if those outside the archaeological Vatican make a no more egregious mistake, they are practicing bogus or pseudo-science.

To bring Archaeology readers up to date on the geology-- since developments in this ongoing investigation somehow do not find their way into your pages-- here is a brief update. Our geological evidence was presented first at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in 1991; further compelling evidence was presented at the GSA Meeting in 2000, both times with the overwhelming support of attending geologists -- and shrieks of outrage from archaeologists and Egyptologists.3 Over the intervening years a handful of opposing geologists, most with a stake in academic archaeology or Egyptology, have offered mutually exclusive alternative theories to account for that weathering ranging from demonstrably just plain wrong (K. Lal Gauri) to certifiably inept and inane (James 'Wet Sand' Harrell's theory.) All have been easily, systematically and conclusively dismantled and rebutted point by point. Meanwhile, two English geologists, Colin Reader and David Coxill, independent of each other and of ourselves, have studied the matter on site and support the theory (precipitation-induced weathering) unconditionally, categorically necessitating re-thinking the dating of the Sphinx and with it pretty much everything archeologists accept as dogma regarding very ancient history.

The actual dating remains a matter of debate so the extent of that rethinking process cannot be determined at this point with certainty. But that it must be radical is apparent to all but yourselves.4 Which is one reason why a quarter of a billion people (rough estimate) have seen MYSTERY OF THE SPHINX and been won over by it. It is often bought by teachers (sometimes with their own money) to show to students from grade school on up through college level; it has considerable support among academics and scientists across a spectrum of disciplines not in danger of caving in from the implications of a vastly older Sphinx. (Threatened by evidence as revolutionary as this in their own fields, they'd probably react as you do, but that is not the issue here.) And it is even taken seriously by a handful of credentialed Egyptologists and archeologists, who mostly keep quiet about it, not wanting to subject themselves to the predictable academic auto-da-fe they know will be their lot if their interest is revealed. It is, however, discussed briefly but taken seriously by Egyptologist Edmund Meltzer in his essay on the History of Egyptology in (that encyclopedia of New Age pseudo-scholarship) The Oxford Companion to Egyptology edited by Donald Redford. Closet New Age flakes show up in the strangest places, don't they?

While our geological evidence does not in itself prove the existence of a physical Atlantis (we never said it did) it goes a long way toward proving the existence of an 'Atlantis', a highly developed civilization capable of moving around 200 tons blocks of stone around at a time when civilization is not supposed to have existed at all. In other words it scuttles the historical context of your entire discipline. Yet not one word about the geology in your pages of carefully orchestrated debunkery masquerading as scholarship.

Strange omission! Yet hardly unique. Your fourth place 'Best of Television Archaeology' entry, ATLANTIS REBORN AGAIN ('Systematic Dismantling of Graham Hancock's proposition about his 'Lost Civilization') resorts to the same chicanery. In that television equivalent of Archaeology's hatchet job there is also no mention of the geology of the Sphinx. A long filmed interview with Schoch on the subject was carefully edited down to a brief appearance in which he gives his negative opinion on the underwater Yonaguni formations. (This striking site, with its remarkable geometric angular ledges and walls is believed, by Hancock and others, to be man-made, or at least man-doctored. If so it would be the 'smoking gun' testifying to the 'Lost Civilization' we are looking for. Schoch and I are 99% convinced that it is wholly natural. But it is always wise to leave that 1% open. As they say in the ads for the New York State Lottery, 'Hey! You never know.') So Schoch's opinion was good enough to refute Yonaguni, but not good enough to support the water-weathering to the Sphinx. There's no mention of that.

In a court of law, that's called 'withholding evidence' and it's a crime.* If Academic Malpractice were a crime (not a bad idea!) a lot of archaeologists wouldn't be walking around loose. Chris Hale, the producer of ATLANTIS REBORN AGAIN, largely escaped the consequences of withholding evidence. As unprincipled as you but less maladroit, he had the wit not to hand out a First Worst Prize. And it is difficult to prove 'intent' when the evidence is totally excluded. But you, in your debunking zeal, could not resist calling attention to the geology by bestowing the prize and then conveniently failing to discuss what qualifies it for the honor.

Presumably you thought no one would notice? Now they will. Thanks to the internet hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, will notice.

The Reason Why

But while this reveals the modus operandi of your scholarship, it does not really account for the attraction to alternative views that motivates the special section. That attraction is actually justified by Fagan, even as he discounts it. ''Pseudoarchaeology fans,' he sneers, 'get attracted to all sorts of odd notions. Their ancient civilizations are better than ours, more peaceful, more spiritually attuned.'

Now this is a curious, wholly subjective statement coming from a self-proclaimed scientist supposedly devoted to objective truth, and it merits dissection (or, more accurately, trisection). 'Better' is not an 'odd notion'. It is a judgement call. Me? I would prefer to live in world without hydrogen bombs and traffic jams, a world where you can drink the water. On the other hand, even I would rather go to a 21st Century dentist than a 21st Dynasty dentist. On balance, I'd say ancient was 'better', but it depends entirely upon how one's values are weighted. Fagan has every right to disagree -- which in turn I might call an 'odd notion'.

'More peaceful'? Well, since the world has never been less peaceful than it is at present, this does not seem such an 'odd notion' either, especially if you go back far enough. Old Kingdom Egypt was most assuredly more peaceful than anything around today. That is demonstrable.

'More spiritually attuned'? Here, inadvertently as always, Fagan has stumbled upon the core of the matter. That ancient civilizations were more spiritually inclined and directed (I'll get to 'attuned') is undeniable.. A civilization may be judged infallibly by what it does with its collective creative energy. (You do not have to be a Christian or even religious to recognize the truth of 'Ye shall know them by their fruits.' Matthew 7, 16 )

We put the bulk of our creative energies into shopping malls, weapons of mass destruction, Hollywood and Television trash, bobble-head dolls and Disneyland, with a dollop left over for clever but emotionally bereft science and technology, most of it destructive and/or frivolous; a small percentage of it undeniably beneficial. Egypt (and all other ancient peoples to a greater or lesser extent) put their creative energies into temples, tombs and pyramids all designed to facilitate the quest for Immortality. That is a 'fact', which should be apparent even to archaeologists. But does it qualify for 'spiritually attunement'? I'd say, yes. All you have to do is go to Egypt and experience it for yourself. It is self-evident ... to all but the emotionally defective and spiritually dyslexic. Still, it is a judgement call. It has nothing to do with 'science', not our science at any rate. But that it should qualify as an 'odd notion' in the Fagan lexicon is revealing.

To our Church of Progress (materialist, rationalist, Darwinian) 'spiritual' is a synonym for 'superstitious' and 'spiritually attuned' is therefore meaningless. There can be no attunement if there is no spirit. So why use that particular word.? Why not grant the ancients their demonstrable ancient preoccupation with superstition, and leave the pseudoarchaeologists to theirs? After all, we are not threatening your biological survival -- the only 'value' permissible in your one-dimensional Darwinian cosmos (though that, too, is purely subjective. I won't go into that here). Yet it is deemed dangerous. Pseudoarcheology must be contested; stamped out. Why?

My old Japanese sensei put a finger on it. He used to counsel, in his broken but pungent English, 'You want happy in klazy world? No talk moonbeam to blind man; no talk music to deaf man; and never, not ever you talk sex to eunuch. Him just get angry, sometime violent.'

This accounts for all that contumely and vituperation, the misrepresentation and deliberate neglect of real evidence; the rant, cant and intolerant yap of the Defenders of the Archaeological Faith on the Hall of Maat website so heartily endorsed by Karen M. Romey in her contribution to the special section (characterized by Maat contributor Paul Heinrich as response 'in a polite and understandable fashion'. 5

Like academic dogs in the manger, you would deny others access to that which you are incapable of digesting yourselves. Spiritual attunement cannot be acknowledged. The ancients could not possibly have had knowledge or faculties you do not have. Everything must be kept locked up nice and safe in your little Darwinian box just in case someone pries open the lid and finds the emperor's new clothes inside.

It's your loss. But if you're actually interested in understanding why vast numbers of people refuse to accept your establishment expertise, that is why. Your special section will change nothing. It is an exercise in flawlessly sustained futility.

You also do not have your facts straight. A discipline exulting in minute detail (cf. Fagan) should be scrupulous in such matters. The Mars material you deride in MYSTERY OF THE SPHINX was never shown on TV. It was not part of the original NBC special, but was rather an addition to the expanded home video version. And I make it absolutely clear in that version that I am not endorsing either the Face or (especially) its putative relation to Egypt, but rather, consider the evidence supporting the notion provocative enough to merit inclusion. The Face by the way, has NOT been 'shown to be completely natural'; though NASA, the space equivalent of orthodox archaeology, declares it so. There are a number of astronomers, geologists , physicists and imaging experts, no less qualified than those at NASA who do not accept that declaration. Since this is not our field, we happily leave open that particular question.

John Anthony West

P.S. Oh yes...and the Anupadeshi mentioned above... You're probably wondering who they are. They should be included in the well-known Hindu caste system (probably derived from still earlier Vedic sources and initially, it's thought by some, not hereditary) yet they are never mentioned in standard texts. According to the shadowy 19th Century guru and scholar Sri Viram Pradesh (who spent decades in Europe and America studying the western world) the Anupadeshi have always been with us, but it was only the onset of the Kali Yuga (the 'Iron' or Dark Age) that produced conditions favorable to their unchecked proliferation; to the extent that they now represent a class of their own, a sub-species in the long process of human devolution and debasement responsible, at its nadir, for the establishment of our own Church of Progress.

The Anupadeshi are the caste below the Untouchables: the Unteachables.


1. Readers of this open letter would do well to read the entire Archaeology article. Those who do not subscribe to the magazine do not have to waste good money on it to support still more dirt sifting. The Special Section is posted on their website http://www.archaeology.org/magazine.php?page=0305/abstracts/tv Emailing or writing your reactions to Archaeology is recommended.

2. This is a test; this is only a test. Below is a review of Bathing in Public in the Roman World by Garrett G. Fagan, posted on Amazon.com by Bruce Loveitt In quoting it, I have deliberately made use of the scientific methodology invariably employed by Garrett Fagan and the other authors featured in Archaeology's special section. See if you can catch me out.

"Could Have Used A Good (Editor's) Scrubbing !, December 21, 1999

This book makes me remember why I chose not to go to graduate school! Every page is filled to the brim with footnotes and the appendixes, index and bibliography, etc. are as long as the book is itself! The author hems and haws so much and is so hesitant to commit himself to a definitive statement that I wanted to grab him by his lapels and give him a good shaking! The middle section of this already brief book (220 pages of actual reading material....but don't forget those footnotes that sometimes take up 1/2 a page) is mind numbingly boring and almost enough to totally ruin the book. This section deals with who actually decided to build or repair the baths and is full of statistics that I'm sure make Mr. Fagan's colleagues happy but will not endear him to the public. "

(Note: Fagan's book at this writing is #586,204 on Amazon's best-seller list. This figure reflects only its current status, not necessarily its cumulative sales. It's possible that millions of readers fascinated by this vital and engrossing topic already have their copies and now, in the words of Paul Heinrich, '...understand what archaeology is and how it is done, but also the significance of such research to their own lives.' I have heard unconfirmed rumors that a no less consequential sequel is in progress: Vol.II: Drying Off in Public in the Roman World. jaw)

3. The initial presentation of our evidence at the GSA Meeting in 1991 provoked a storm of coverage from both the mainstream and scientific press (surprisingly even-handed, given the stakes). In an interview with the science editor of the Boston Globe, asked why archaeologists and Egyptologists responded with such unanimous fury, I told him that their opinions were of no consequence. Our evidence concerned the weathering patterns in rocks, and on this subject, an archaeologist's or Egyptologist's opinion carried no more weight than a proctologist's. This, Schoch told me, ratcheted up the outrage and a vicious attack on Schoch by a B.U. Egyptologist was published in the in-house B.U. newsletter. In a private letter to the author (subsequently widely distributed by her) I tried to slake the flames by pointing out the proctologists did not appreciate my comments either. They said their job was to cure sick assholes; they didn't like being compared to them. Unfortunately this was not accepted in the conciliatory spirit intended.

4. Colin Reader, while supporting the water-weathering hypothesis unconditionally, nevertheless attempts to fit the carving of the Sphinx within accepted dynastic chronology, but pre-IVth Dynasty. While we admire Reader's careful work, we feel this interpretation cannot be supported, Explaining why is beyond the scope of this Open Letter.

5. To Maat's credit, since it is a forum, it posts all contributions pro and con its acknowledged establishment position. But its own home page should disqualify it from utilizing the name of the goddess of Justice and Cosmic Equilibrium the site is, in theory, consecrated to. It proudly quotes Carl Sagan's famous but self-serving dictum: 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.'

For who is it with the authority to judge what is 'extraordinary' and what is not? Why, its own Maatzis-in Residence of course. Who else? What this means in practice is that no matter how compelling the evidence presented may be, it is never 'extraordinary' enough. Paradigm preserved.

* I stand corrected. It is not a crime. I sent this paper out for review to my legal expert who commented: 'Actually, what you are thinking of is more like Obstruction of Justice. Withholding evidence is not generally considered a crime, although it is severely frowned upon if the State intentionally withholds exculpatory evidence in a criminal prosecution. The Defendant, however, can and usually does withhold evidence. . . In civil matters, evidence is routinely withheld, exaggerated, trivialized, spun or otherwise sculpted as necessary to present only that which promotes each party's version of the case. The opponent is then charged with re-spinning the "facts" in his direction. (Sometimes, this is difficult to do with a straight face.) Plain, unbiased truth is the first casualty in any good courtroom drama. Apparently, the same can be said for the media.'

J.A.W. Credentials

© John Anthony West 2002

[Complete article at this URL]


Tuesday, May 13, 2003


From: James Randi

I'm informed by friend James McGaha that the dreaded pole-shift brought about by Planet X is now due to occur on 23rd May, but 15 May is still the day the Earth stops rotating.

But we won't notice that, since nothing happens when the Earth stops, we're told.

So, we'll all have an extra 8 days to live.


James Randi.

Science In the News

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

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Today's Headlines – May 13, 2003

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from The Associated Press

Scientists have discovered the same genetic mutation in 11 types of West Nile- and malaria-spreading mosquitoes -- a mutation that may explain their growing immunity to insecticides.

The findings could give chemical companies a molecular target for new insecticides to combat mosquitoes no longer kept in check by existing chemicals.

French scientists who discovered the mutation in the ace-1 gene said it appears to endow the mosquitoes with an immunity to two potent chemicals that cause a fatal paralysis in other mosquitoes.


from Newsday

Federal scientists may have figured out why individuals have such varying responses to the same dose of an amphetamine. The answer is in the genes.

Dr. Daniel Weinberger, of the Clinical Brain Disorders Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, has found that a person who inherits a certain variation of a gene called COMT has a different response to stimulants than those who inherit another variation of the same gene.

"If other people can replicate this, it would be the first gene-based test to predict who should go on a commonly used drug like Ritalin," Weinberger said.


from The New York Times

Scientists say they have developed powerful computational techniques to alter proteins, the workhorses of biology, so they can perform new functions.

The scientists said they had already used their technique to transform bacterial proteins so that they could detect the explosive TNT (for possible use in a sensor) and the brain chemical serotonin (for possible use in a diagnostic test). They also transformed the bacterial proteins so they could be used to bind to one version of a chemical but not its mirror image, something that is important in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

"You're no longer limited to what nature provides you," said Dr. Homme W. Hellinga, associate professor of biochemistry at Duke University Medical Center, who led the work that is reported in the current issue of Nature.


from The New York Times

ON THE SEA ICE 30 MILES FROM THE NORTH POLE — Three broken bolts. A vital part of the first sustained effort to monitor big climate shifts at the top of the world was being threatened by three broken bolts.

The bolts were in a simple winch used to haul up a $200,000 array of instruments, strung on a two-mile Kevlar strand, that had spent a year collecting data on currents, salinity and other conditions in the ocean at the pole.

Six leading polar oceanographers and marine engineers huddled around the broken winch next to a manhole-size opening that had been melted the day before through the nine-foot-thick ice, staring at the line dangling in the slushy green water.


from Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Three months after the Columbia shuttle disaster, NASA is still trying to decide how to keep humans flying in space. Officials are weighing various options, ranging from building a fourth, replacement shuttle to bringing back a version of the Apollo spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon three decades ago.

None of the proposals yet appear to satisfy the conflicting demands of safety, cost, timeliness and practicality. "I'm very disappointed," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., the chairman of the House of Representatives' Space Subcommittee, said at a recent hearing on the space agency's dilemma.

Although no final decision has been made, NASA's tentative plan is to fix the remaining three shuttles so they can continue flying until at least 2015, while building a smaller, safer Orbital Space Plane to take over the task of human flight by 2010.


from BioMed Central

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announced 72 new members last month, nearly 25 percent of them female, representing the largest proportion of women ever elected. But while the NAS has been criticized in the past for a paucity of women and other underrepresented groups in science among its members, this year's vote doesn't represent an attempt to redress the problem—at least not yet—according to NAS president Bruce Alberts.

The election of a record number of women had nothing to do with any formal efforts on the part of the NAS, said Alberts. Results just seemed to have "boiled up from below, and it really came from the membership, without any particular focus from the organization."

The new members boost the total number of women in the Academy to about 160, or approximately 8% of the 1,922 active members. However, that number still trails the estimated 14 percent of full professors in the natural and social sciences at American universities who are female, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.


from The Washington Post

PITTSBURGH -- When the whistle blows, a little plastic dog in a blue uniform hobbles toward the orange ball, reaching it just in time to get tangled up with a couple of opponents dressed in red. They push, pull and bump in a brisk clickety-click.

It only takes a few moments of robot soccer to know that this isn't Ronaldo, or even D.C. United -- not even close. Sony's three-pound Aibo dogs may be the most commercially successful robots ever made, but they still spend a lot of time in scrums or chasing their tails like addled greyhounds, and very little time in spectacular attacks.

But this is artificial life on the frontier, and "people just don't really appreciate how hard this is," says Jim Bruce, a third-year graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University here and a four-year RoboCup veteran with world titles in his trophy case. "People always ask why the dogs are so slow, but it took years to get them to walk as fast as they do."


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Hypnosis helps healing:

Surgical wounds mend faster
By William J. Cromie
Gazette Staff


Marie McBrown was invited to test whether or not hypnosis would help heal the scars from her breast surgery. Marie (not her real name) and 17 other women underwent surgery to reduce their breast size.

It's a common operation for women whose breasts are large enough to cause back and shoulder strain, interfere with routine tasks, or prompt social and psychological problems. The pain and course of healing from such surgery is well-known, and a team of researchers headed by Carol Ginandes of Harvard Medical School and Patricia Brooks of the Union Institute in Cincinnati wanted to determine if hypnosis could speed wound healing and recovery.

"Hypnosis has been used in Western medicine for more than 150 years to treat everything from anxiety to pain, from easing the nausea of cancer chemotherapy to enhancing sports performance," Ginandes says. A list of applications she provides includes treatment of phobias, panic, low self-esteem, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, stress, smoking, colitis, warts, headaches, and high blood pressure.

"All these functional uses may help a person feel better," Ginandes continues. "I am also interested in using hypnosis to help people get better physically. That means using the mind to make structural changes in the body, to accelerate healing at the tissue level."

Four years ago, Ginandes and Daniel Rosenthal, professor of radiology at the Harvard Medical School, published a report on their study of hypnosis to speed up the mending of broken bones. They recruited 12 people with broken ankles who did not require surgery and who received the usual treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In addition, Ginandes hypnotized half of them once a week for 12 weeks, while the other half received only normal treatment. The same doctor applied the casts and other care, and the same radiologists took regular X-rays to monitor how well they healed. A radiologist who evaluated the X-rays did not know which patients underwent hypnosis.

The result stood out like a sore ankle. Those who were hypnotized healed faster than those who were not. Six weeks after the fracture, those in the hypnosis group showed the equivalent of eight and a half weeks of healing.

How to hypnotize

Not everyone is convinced by the results. Some experts claim that the differences can be explained by the extra attention - the increased psychological support - given to the hypnotized patients. So when she was ready to try hypnosis again on 18 breast surgery patients, Ginandes randomly separated them into three groups. All got the same surgical care by the same doctors. Six received standard care only, six also received attention and support and from a psychologist, and six underwent hypnosis before and after their surgery.

Hypnosis sessions occurred once a week for eight weeks. Psychological soothing took place on the same schedule.

Ginandes did not put the patients to sleep by swinging a watch like a pendulum while the patients lay on a couch. "That only happens in the movies," she laughs. "In hypnosis, people don't lose control and go into a zombie-like state where they can be made to do things against their will. They don't have to lie down, you can enter a state of hypnosis standing up, even standing on your head. Patients don't even go to sleep, rather, they enter a state of absorbed awareness, not unlike losing oneself in a good book or favorite piece of music."

While in this state, Ginandes offered suggestions that were custom-tailored to different stages of surgery and healing, Before surgery, the suggestions emphasized lessening pain and anxiety. "You can even suggest to a patient that she can reduce bleeding during surgery by controlling her blood flow," Ginandes notes. Overall, the suggestions focused on things such as expectation of comfort, decreased inflammation, diminished scar tissue, accelerated wound healing, return to normal activities, and adjustments to self-image.

The women received audio tapes of these sessions so they could practice at home.

At one week and seven weeks after surgery, nurses and doctors participating in the study visibly assessed and measured the wounds of all three groups without knowing which group the women were in. They took digital photographs for three physicians to review. Each patient also rated her own healing progress and how much pain she felt on scales of zero to 10.

The result was clear. Marie McBrown and the women who had undergone hypnosis healed significantly faster than the others. Those who received supportive attention came in second.

From hooey to hurrah

The researchers reported these results in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. This report, of course, doesn't prove conclusively that hypnosis will accelerate the healing of wounds. The biggest limitation of the study involves the small number of patients, which makes it difficult to generalize the results to other types of wounds. Then there is the possible effect of expectation, the belief of some patients that hypnotism will work. It's the same effect seen when people who take a sugar pill for a backache do as well as people who take medicine. It's going to require more studies involving many more people to get the majority of doctors to shout hurrah instead of hooey.

Ginandes agrees. "Our study underscores the need for further scientific testing of hypnosis," she says. "Subsequent studies might clarify unresolved speculations about the mechanisms by which hypnotic suggestion can trigger the physical and psychological effects that we see."

She and her colleagues suggest future experiments to compare the effects of simple hypnotic relaxation versus "targeted suggestions for tissue healing." They would also like to see more work done using hypnosis for people suffering from other kinds of wounds, such as foot ulcers caused by diabetes.

Nevertheless, Ginandes believes that the study of healing after breast surgery "breaks the ground for studying a broad and exciting range of new adjunctive treatments. Since clinical hypnosis is a noninvasive, nondrug treatment, finding that it can speed healing of wounds and other conditions could lead to fewer visits to doctors' offices and faster return to normal activities. Also, further investigation might confirm our supposition that the mind can influence healing of the body."

Copyright 2003 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

Microsoft: Internet-ready toilet a hoax


Tuesday, May 13, 2003 Posted: 4:36 AM EDT (0836 GMT)

REDMOND, Washington (AP) -- Microsoft Corp. said a company news release that it was developing a portable toilet with Internet access, called an "iLoo," was a hoax perpetrated by its British division.

The April 30 release, issued by the company's MSN Internet division in the United Kingdom, said Microsoft was developing a portable toilet with a wireless keyboard and an extending height-adjustable plasma screen in front of the seat. The iLoo was to debut at festivals this summer in Britain.

"This iLoo release came out of the UK office and was not a Microsoft sanctioned communication and we apologize for any confusion or offense it may have caused," Microsoft spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold said late Monday.

The fake release generated coverage by The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and Reuters.

The Associated Press received confirmation of the project from both Microsoft Corp.'s Waggener Edstrom public relations firm and London-based Red Consultancy, which handles such work for the software giant in England.

In an e-mail sent last week to The Associated Press, Red Consultancy's Ben Philipson wrote "MSN is really working on building a prototype for the Summer festivals, perhaps Glastonbury ... This is very much a 'toe in the water' experiment to gauge interest so we'll have to see how it goes, although judging from response so far it's really captured people's imagination!"

Malina Bragg, who helps with MSN's account for Waggener Edstrom, also said last week that the project was real.

Monday, May 12, 2003

School district sued over evangelistic crusade

Monday, May 12, 2003 Posted:


10:26 AM EDT (1426 GMT)

MAYNARDVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- Every year, hundreds of Union County students take a field trip for the soul. Children are excused from class, loaded onto school buses with teachers and sent to a three-day Christian revival.

"I am going to ask you a question," an evangelical leader recently yelled to a sea of students ready for their field trip. "If you are glad to be here, say amen!"

With the ardor of a pep rally, the students shouted back: "AAAA-men!"

Not everyone is so enthusiastic.

Fourteen-year-old India Tracy said she was harassed and attacked by classmates for nearly three years after she declined to attend Baptist Pastor Gary Beeler's annual crusade because of her family's pagan religion.

Her family has filed a federal lawsuit against Union County schools, claiming the crusade, prayers over the loudspeaker, a Christmas nativity play, a Bible handout and other proselytizing activities in the rural school system have become so pervasive they are a threat to safety and religious liberty.

Union County officials say the system is neutral when it comes to religious activities, pointing out that the crusade is voluntary, teachers chaperone on their own time and school buses are operated by private contractors.

"We do not endorse, promote or prohibit it," said school spokesman Wayne Goforth.

District officials say the crusade, now in its sixth year, is like any other field trip, with parental permission required to let the children attend for two hours a day over three days. On the crusade's final day this year, April 30, more than 1,300 of the school system's 3,000 students attended.

"All local boards of education have the authority to allow students to voluntarily attend these types of events," said Christy Ballard, legal counsel to the Tennessee Department of Education.

But, she added, "it is very clear in the statute that they can't harass a student or coerce them to participate ... and, of course, they can't be school-sponsored."

Church and state Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center in Arlington, Virginia, said school officials and Christian leaders in Union County need a "crash course on the meaning of the First Amendment -- especially the part that separates church from state."

India Tracy, 14, says she was harassed and attacked after declining to attend a Christian revival because of her family's pagan religion. Beeler, 63, who lives and preaches in Union County, said he has been contacted by communities around the country wanting to set up similar crusades, and sees nothing wrong with children getting time off from school to attend them.

"The principals, the teachers, the bus drivers all have told us that they have less behavior problems after this crusade than they do before. So that tells us the positive effect," he said.

India said she was called "Satan worshipper" and accused of eating babies when it was revealed she was a pagan. She said she was taunted, found slurs painted over her locker and was injured when classmates assaulted her and slammed her head into the locker.

The lawsuit said school officials took no disciplinary action. In a May 2 legal response, school officials said they acted appropriately, denied the attacks happened, or said they were unaware of them.

Paganism is an ancient religious tradition that embraces kinship with nature, positive morality and the idea that there is both a female and male side of Deity.

After Christmas break in early 2002, India said three boys chased her down a hall at Horace Maynard Middle School, grabbed her by the neck and said, "You better change your religion or we'll change it for you."

She broke free and fled into the girls' bathroom. A teacher stopped the boys from following her, the lawsuit said.

"That was pretty much the last straw because she was terrified," said India's father, Greg Tracy.

The Tracys took India out of school on February 26, 2002.

A straight-A student, she belonged to the leadership-service organization Beta Club, chess club, and band. She was the only girl on the middle school football team.

Now she takes Internet courses at home and hopes to transfer to a public school in Knoxville, 25 miles away.

"When was it too hard? I don't know," India said. "On a couple of occasions it was too hard and then it got easier and then it started getting bad again and I would come home bawling my eyes out."

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – May 12, 2003

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from The Washington Post

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- With back-to-back rocket launchings next month, NASA hopes to revive its Mars exploration program -- and burnish its battered image -- with an ambitious $800 million mission to figure out what happened to the water that scientists think once scoured the planet's surface.

If all goes as planned, two identical spacecraft will slam into the Martian atmosphere next January after seven-month voyages, bounce like giant beach balls across the frozen surface and then unfold like flower blossoms to reveal a pair of "monster truck" robot geologists.

Working on opposite sides of the planet, the Mars Exploration Rovers will creep across the frigid soil, covering more territory in a single day -- the length of a football field -- than the 1997 economy-size Mars Pathfinder rover managed over its entire life span.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Vaccine used to prevent pneumonia may also have benefits for the heart, new research indicates.

Mice vaccinated using a bacteria that is a common cause of pneumonia developed high levels of an antibody that slows or halts the progression of heart disease, researchers working in California and Finland found.

Trials are under discussion to see if the same response occurs in larger animals, says Gregg J. Silverman of the University of California, San Diego, a co-author of the study.


from UPI

New Microscope Finds Smallest Defects
Brown University researchers have developed a scanning microscope that can find defects in tiny integrated circuits at a resolution 1,000 times greater than current technology...

Biologist Finds Smallest Seahorse Species
The smallest known species of seahorse -- about a half-inch in size -- has been discovered by biologist Sara Lourie, a member of the Project Seahorse marine conservation team...

Hubble Catches Helix Details
The Hubble Space Telescope has captured images of the coil-shaped Helix Nebula, showing a web of bicycle-spoke type features in a colorful red and blue gas ring...


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The Hack and the Quack


The "Phoenix Lights" made Frances Emma Barwood the darling of the global space-alien lobby. And it'stransformed computer geek Jim Dilettoso into a star in the UFO firmament.


Jim Dilettoso is playing a duet on a piano with a man who has a cross made of his own crusty, drying blood on his forehead.

On Dilettoso's own head is a mass of curly grayish hair. His mane dips and sways with the fluid rhythm he lays down, and his swaying locks, combined with his wire-rim glasses and the handsome seriousness of his face, evoke the eccentric genius and renowned UFO researcher he's rumored to be.

Typing Monkeys Don't Write Shakespeare


The Associated Press
Friday, May 9, 2003; 11:51 AM

LONDON - Give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, the theory goes, and they will eventually produce the prose the likes of Shakespeare.

Give six monkeys one computer for a month, and they will make a mess.

Researchers at Plymouth University in England reported this week that primates left alone with a computer attacked the machine and failed to produce a single word.

Sunday, May 11, 2003



Like so many others of his generation, John Wall was bitten hard by the Egyptology bug following a visit to the landmark Tutankhamun exhibit that toured the world's museums in the 1970s. A resident of southern England and an electrical engineer by trade, Wall was soon taking trips along the Nile and reading voraciously on the subject, dismissing the occasional "alternative" publications and television shows as "pyramidiocy." That is, until he plugged into the World Wide Web. "In the late 1990s I acquired a reasonably fast Internet connection and looked for sites on Egypt," recalls Wall. "On various message boards and discussion lists I found out just how pervasive alternative history was. Even as an amateur, I saw that it was seriously wrong and based on, at best, ignorance or, at worst, deceit." What galled Wall even more was the tone in which alternative history was presented and discussed on myriad websites and electronic discussion groups that had sprung up on the Internet.

"[Pseudoarchaeological] perpetrators and their followers seemed to deal with each and every objection by abusing the questioner, twisting facts, or invoking an Egyptological conspiracy that would make Watergate look insignificant," says Wall, who claims to be particularly proud of having been labeled a "sniveling, insinuating little worm" by one preeminent pseudoarchaeological author during an online discussion.

Katherine Reece, an accountant and business manager from Clanton, Alabama, was once a "true alternative believer" who frequently posted messages on many of the same websites Wall encountered. Ironically, it was through these cyber exchanges that she was first exposed to "mainstream" archaeologists such as Garrett Fagan and amateur buffs like Wall who actively refuted alternative histories. "But almost more importantly, I saw how [pseudoarchaeological] authors themselves dealt, or didn't deal, with questions from the general public," says Reece. "People who asked questions were labeled disingenuous and worse. I wondered why [pseudoarchaeological proponents] insulted the questioners rather than answer their questions."

By 2001, Wall, Reece, and Fagan, along with South African archaeologist Michael Brass and British biochemist Duncan Edlin--all regular dissenters in pseudoarchaeological cyber forums--had had enough. "Through our online experiences, we learned that many people were unfamiliar with or lacked access to information with which they could make comparisons between alternative history books and mainstream titles and journals," says Reece. "There also seemed to be a need for a guide to direct readers toward a better understanding of history and archaeology, since most readers of alternative books were not professional archaeologists or historians." In June of that year, their website, In the Hall of Ma'at (www.thehallofmaat.com), went online.

The website takes its name from Ma'at, the ancient Egyptian principle of justice and balance, and according to its homepage aims to "provide a well-reasoned case for the mainstream version of ancient history." Its primary features are a collection of articles dealing with such topics as the weathering of the Sphinx and the age of Antarctic ice, as well as a lively message board where, according to site owner Reece, "the mainstream proponents, the numerologists, the conspiracy theorists, the fence sitters, and all the others commingle and share thoughts on history."

What makes the story behind Ma'at so compelling is that its day-to-day operation relies almost entirely upon a group of archaeology nonspecialists. Along with Reece and Wall, Ma'at's directors include geologist Paul Heinrich of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and site administrator Don Holeman, an Enfield, Connecticut-based computer engineer. Like Reece, Holeman was under the spell of pseudoarchaeology until he visited an alleged Massachusetts "monolith with indecipherable hieroglyphs" described in von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods. It turned out to be a weathered boulder bearing a commemorative plaque that identified it as a Portuguese monument. "The Portuguese inscription was barely discernable, but my disappointment was not," Holeman recalls. Fagan and Edlin are no longer regular contributors to the site but continue to support it; archaeologist Brass, author of the 2002 creation-debunking book The Antiquity of Man, is still involved with the site.

While there are websites dedicated to refuting specific pseudoarchaeological topics, such as ancient space travel or evidence for creationism, Ma'at attempts to be a clearinghouse for all topics. The message board gets up to three hundred posts a day, with ancient Egypt the most popular subject, followed by Precolumbian America. In its first year of operation, thousands of people visited Ma'at, and the website recently moved to a larger server to accommodate increasing bandwidth demands. As the popularity of Ma'at demonstrates, the hunger for reliable archaeological information and reasoned historical discussion is out there. How to explain, then, the pervasiveness of pseudoarchaeology on the web? According to the people at Ma'at, professional archaeologists and historians need to get more involved.

Heinrich became an active pseudoarchaeology debunker after watching the 1996 television program The Mysterious Origins of Man. "As a geologist, I found the inability of the producers to distinguish between natural concretions and man-made objects, their naive acceptance of theories such as Earth Crustal Displacement, which was refuted by geologists long ago, and numerous other flaws in the program to be so obvious that, given the show's popularity, I felt someone needed to take the time to point them out." Since then, Heinrich has shared his expertise with the Ma'at community and addressed more specific issues of geology and pseudoscience on his own website, The Wild Side of Pseudoarchaeology Page.

Heinrich wishes more archaeologists would follow his example. "Archaeologists obviously need to take the time to respond, in a polite and understandable fashion, to the more popular and persistent web pages and other media promoting alternative histories. Instead of just dismissing them offhand, such responses need to explain the specific logical and factual flaws in the arguments made by many alternative 'historians' and 'archaeologists.' Moreover, they have to make sure the public not only better understand what archaeology is and how it is done, but also the significance of such research to their own lives."

The Internet is often heralded as the great democratizer, providing a relatively inexpensive medium for the seamless exchange of ideas and information around the globe. Challenging the scientific "establishment," a favored role for pseudoarchaeologists, now requires little more than a theory and an Internet connection. Still, the people supporting In the Hall of Ma'at are optimistic that this frontierless new cyber world will finally provide the opportunity for scientific reason to triumph over pseudoscientific speculation. "I still have my copy of Chariots of the Gods," adds Holleman, "which I keep as a reminder that sometimes even fifty cents is too much money for a book."

The pseudoarchaeological top five:

A pro-creationist website that seeks to prove, among other things, the presence of dinosaurs in the Bible and the fallacy of carbon-14 dating.

"Independent researcher" Alan Alford pushes the idea that ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Mesopotamian religions were "exploded planet cults" and have something to teach us regarding "eternal life in the other world."

Official website for Canadian couple Rand and Rose Flem-Ath, authors of When the Sky Fell: In Search of Atlantis and The Atlantis Blueprint.

According to ancient astronaut proponent Zecharia Sitchin, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah derives from a nuclear attack in 2024 B.C. that wiped out "a spaceport in the Sinai Peninsula."

Preeminent pseudoarchaeologist Graham Hancock often makes personal appearances on the site's message boards and offers up exclusive articles to further his theories.

And some of the websites that refute them:

Along with FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) regarding the veracity of biological and physical evolution, this site offers FRAs (Frequently Rebutted Assertions) that often surface in creationist arguments.

A Brown University biology professor's fight against the "intelligent design" arguments of creationism.

Paul Heinrich's case against "alternative geology," including the impossibility of pole shifts and the artifact "from an advanced ancient race" that happens to be a spark plug.

An excellent collection of links to sites that dispute pseudoarchaeological theories.

Ma'atian Michael Brass keeps the public up to date with the latest research in paleoanthropology and hominid evolution.

KRISTIN M. ROMEY is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY


"Attachment Therapist's Care Found 'Substandard' For Using Dildos in Therapy"

A fact-finder has found a Colorado Attachment (Holding) Therapist's care to be "substandard" in a case where he allowed a young boy to run naked in his office and introduced the boy to "synthetic, anatomically correct penises" (dildos) during therapy.

Administrative Law Judge Nancy Connick made the findings after hearing testimony over eight days concerning psychologist John A. Dicke, who co-founded and is clinical director for the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Institute in Denver. Connick also decided that Dicke should be placed on probation indefinitely to prevent him from ever again working with children suspected of child abuse.

The probation decision by Connick is effectively just a recommendation to the State Board of Psychologist Examiners, which is expected to take up the case at its meeting on July 2. It could choose to revoke or suspend Dicke's license instead.

Dicke, who was a lawyer and foster parent before becoming a psychologist, claims that he used dildos with the 5-year-old boy because he thought the boy had been abused by his father, and the dildos would be an effective way for the boy to "re-enact" the trauma and provide essential catharsis. Expert witnesses for the state, however, established that re-enactment is nothing more than just re-traumatization. Connick accepted their conclusion that the use of dildos risked "sexualizing the treatment." Moreover, Connick concluded that the dildos put the boy at risk of thinking of "the penis [a]s a separate object to be abused physically or sexually." Generally accepted standards of practice require a psychologist to provide a safe treatment setting and to do no harm, but the use of dildos does not meet those standards, according to Connick. "[I]t is paramount to prevent retraumatization," she stated.

Connick also agreed with the state that generally accepted standards of practice do not condone a psychologist allowing a 5-year-old to take off his clothes in therapy, or allowing the child to remain naked during therapy. Videotapes showed that Dicke not only didn't discourage the boy from disrobing, but actually encouraged him to do so. An accusation that Dicke penetrated the boy with a dildo was dropped when the videotape did not show that action unambiguously. The boy's mother was present during these incidents, but did nothing about the boy's--or Dicke's--behavior.

The sessions were videotaped because Dicke expected an outcry of sexual abuse from the boy during therapy. The videotapes show no such outcry. What they did show instead is that Dicke badgered the boy on the subject. He questioned him incessantly on sexual matters. Even when the boy clearly wanted to focus on other issues, Dicke wouldn't let him. He even threatened the child (with, for example, removal of all the playthings in the office, which turned out to be just the dildos) if he refused to make more disclosures about sexual abuse.

Expert testimony established that the forensic value of Dicke's questioning was negligible. Indeed, it backfired on Dicke. When he gave the videotapes to child welfare officials in the county where the family resides, those officials were so appalled by what they saw that they handed the tapes over to the sheriff's office. Psychologist Bruce Perry was consulted, and he told deputies that, "If it's your judgment that the behavior constitutes abuse, the fact that it's called 'therapy' doesn't mean that it isn't abuse." The case was handed over to the Denver DA's office, but no criminal charges were ever filed. Dicke had worked with that office in the past as Guardian Ad Litem in child sex-abuse cases.

Dicke primarily practices Holding Therapy, and he has been the subject of complaints about his practice. Screaming by his child patients has been reported to authorities (and revealed to AT NEWS) several times. He also made a public defense of Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder, who were convicted of killing Candace Newmaker during restraint therapy ("rebirthing") in 2000. He contended that the only "crime" the two therapists had committed was "abusing a corpse," since 10-year-old Candace was already emotionally dead as a result of her alleged Reactive Attachment Disorder resulting from abuse at the hands of her birth mother. He has also given a tour of his Institute to a legislator as a model for the practice of Holding Therapy, in an attempt to have "Candace's Law" repealed or modified.

Holding Therapy and restraint were originally part of the charges in the case decided by Connick, but they were unwisely not pursued by the attorney general. That undoubtedly is the reason why Connick did not recommend the harsher penalty of license revocation. "[While] Respondent's questioning methods, use of synthetic penises, and reenactment techniques were substandard, these do not establish that Respondent's practice in other areas of psychology would present a danger to the public. A disciplinary sanction should be tailored to the substandard conduct found..." So, if the Board decides to go beyond Connick's recommendation and revoke or suspend Dicke's license, the stage has been set for an appeal to the courts.

Meanwhile, there are already law suits underway in the courts. Indeed, Dicke himself took the rather extraordinary step of suing the expert witnesses and others complaining against him in this case and charging them with defamation of character in order to chill their testimony. To an outside observer it would appear he had some limited success by doing so.

(An earlier report by *Westword* reporter Julie Jargon -- "Sex Abuse, Lies and Video Tape: Play Time is Over" -- go to:
http://www.westword.com/issues/2002-03-14/feature.html/1/index.html )

[*AT NEWS* sends the latest news to activists and allied organizations about the many abusive, pseudoscientific, and violent practices inflicted on children by the fringe psychotherapy known as Attachment Therapy, aka "Holding Therapy" and AT "therapeutic parenting." Attachment Therapists claim to work with the most vulnerable of children, e.g. minority children, children in foster care, and adoptees. AT NEWS is the publication of newly formed *Advocates for Children in Therapy.* For more information on Attachment Therapy, go to the Utah activists' site:
http://www.kidscomefirst.info ]

Contact: Linda Rosa, RN
Corresponding Secretary
Loveland, CO



NCPA Daily Policy Digest | May 6, 2003 | John J. Fialka


As much as half of any artificial global warming that may be due to human activity is caused by the long-distance travel of airborne soot and similar pollutants, says meteorologist James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce and coordinator of climate change research for the Bush administration.

But research into the phenomenon is being stalled by the politics of global warming, as India in February 2003 persuaded the United Nations Environment Program to drop research efforts. The United States objected to the proposed 1997 Kyoto climate change protocols because they did not require mandatory reductions in emissions of so-called greenhouse gases by developing countries. Indian officials are reported to be concerned that such research bolsters the U.S. case.

The two-mile thick, continent-size cloud over the Indian Ocean -- dubbed the "Asian Brown Cloud" -- was discovered in 1999 by Indian scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan.

Asian pollution contains dark soot from hundreds of millions of dung-fueled cooking fires and inefficient coal furnaces. Soot warms the upper air by absorbing sunlight and artificially cools the earth's surface. This can cause regional droughts due to less evaporation from the cooler ocean.

Source: John J. Fialka, "Discovery of 'Asian Brown Cloud' Over Indian Ocean Sets Off Fight," Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2003.

White garbed cult


KOFU -- The convoy of white-garbed Panawave Laboratory cult members entered the Yamanashi Prefecture district of Hakushu late Tuesday, promising to vacate the area no later than 3 a.m. Wednesday, before their predicted end of the world on May 15.

The cult members entered the area from Nagano Prefecture, parking at an inspection site operated by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Earlier, the members of the strange cult had departed from Kiyomi, Gifu Prefecture, where they occupied a section of road for over 60 hours Monday afternoon.

The all-white fleet had crossed the prefectural border and alighted on a national road in the Nagano Prefectural village of Kaida on Tuesday morning.

Unlike the roads they have occupied in previous months, the Kaida road was wide enough for them to avoid police accusations of breaking traffic rules.

A truck bearing license plates issued in Aomori Prefecture supplied the doomsday cult members with food and fuel.

During the stopover in Kaida, members of the cult allowed a Fuji Television Network reporter to conduct an interview with a woman believed to be Panawave's ailing leader, 69-year-old Yuko Chino.

The interviewer and his crew were ordered to wear white garments and to cover their equipment with matching-colored cloths.

Despite claiming she is a terminally ill cancer patient, a surprisingly animated and lively Chino argued that the most important issue at the moment was to save "Tama-chan," a stray bearded seal that now lives in a river in Saitama Prefecture.

"I will die in four or five days from now but that's nothing as important as Tama-chan. We've been feeding him every day since last summer," Chino told the Fuji reporter inside one of the cult's vans.

She also accused "radicals" for harassing her followers and preventing them from settling in one place. The convoy then started moving again and entered Yamanashi Prefecture shortly after 5:30 p.m.

Sources said Panawave members believe that "rescuing" Tama-chan would spare mankind from certain destruction on May 15 -- the day when a massive earthquake triggered by the tilting of the Earth's axis will devastated the planet, according to cultist publications.

Tensions are rising in Oizumi, where cult members have constructed dome-shaped structures, which they claim to be resistant to any kind of natural disaster, in preparations for doomsday.

The Panawave facility also has two makeshift swimming pools, apparently built to house the wandering seal.

A senior Panawave member who built the structures had told Oizumi officials that his fellow members would not come because there is "too much electromagnetic wave activity (that they believe to be harmful)." However, Chino's statement confirmed the cult's determination to find a shelter there.

Oizumi residents, however, are in no mood to welcome the cultists. "We are planning to do a sit-in (on roads leading to Oizumi) to stop them entering," said one of some 40 villagers who attended an emergency meeting Tuesday.

A resolution to call up every one of its 4,000 residents to block the cultists from entering Oizumi was adopted at the meeting. Members of a local volunteer fire company are watching six roads leading into the village.

Yamanashi police also set up a 210-man task force to deal with the problem. They plan to pounce on the cultists if, as they have done in the past, they occupy a section of road and cover the area with white cloths.

None of the possible charges, including violations of the Road Traffic Law and farmland laws, however, will have a decisive effect. (Compiled from Mainichi and wire reports, May 6, 2003)

Michigan May Compel Surgery for Toddler



GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Surgeons say 2-year-old Noshin Hoque will probably die within a year or two unless the tumor growing deep in her brain is removed. But the operation itself will probably kill her or leave her blind or paralyzed.

Given those odds, the little girl's parents, Jalaz and Shaheda Hoque, decided not to let doctors operate, and instead started taking her to a Montreal homeopath for herbal and nutritional treatments in hopes of curing her.

But now prosecutors have taken the Hoques to court to force them to go ahead with the surgery in a case that revisits the question of who should decide what is best for the child when it comes to lifesaving medical treatment.

``There's no other outcome but death, without surgery,'' said David Gorcyca, prosecutor in suburban Detroit's Oakland County. ``I think if I'm a parent given a 30 percent fighting chance of survival, I'm taking that shot every time.''

On Friday, Circuit Judge Martha Anderson ordered the parents to allow a state social worker to see Noshin and gauge her condition, after the Hoques turned away the last one who came to their home. The couple were also ordered to provide prosecutors with complete records of their daughter's treatments.

A hearing was set for May 12, when the judge will receive the results of a court-ordered brain scan on Noshin to determine the effectiveness of the homeopathic treatment.

The walnut-size cancerous tumor lies against several important arteries and affects Noshin's speech, vision and gait. But the location of the mass could make surgery risky.

Two pediatric neurosurgeons told the couple that there was a 70 percent to 80 percent chance that their daughter would emerge either dead or with severe complications. If Noshin survived the initial surgery, she would then have to undergo chemotherapy and follow-up operations to have any chance at living, said the couple's lawyer, Charles Cooper.

The couple, an electrician and his homemaker wife, are from Bangladesh, where homeopathy is more widely accepted. The Hoques (pronounced HOKE) fear surgery would kill Noshin or leave her in a vegetative state, Cooper said.

``They didn't want her to be going into the hospital and having the top of her head removed and then all of these different surgeries and having her go through all of this,'' Cooper said.

Cooper said Noshin is doing much better now that she is receiving alternative medicine; her left eye does not roam anymore, and her left arm is stronger than it has been for a while.

Noshin's pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit contacted the state after her parents, who live in Royal Oak, stopped bringing her to appointments. Prosecutors filed an emergency petition to intervene.

Such disputes occur from time to time around the country, and judges have generally ruled that parents cannot withhold lifesaving medical care from a seriously ill child.

Parents often cite religious beliefs when rejecting medical treatment for their ill children. Christian Scientists believe in prayer instead of conventional medicine, while Jehovah's Witnesses oppose blood transfusions.

But that is not the case with the Hoques.

Lawrence Schneiderman, a doctor of internal medicine and a medical ethicist who teaches at the University of California at San Diego, said the Hoques' situation is also different because surgery in this case is so risky.

``The clinical condition of the child is so serious that quality-of-life considerations should take precedence over a prolongation of life. Therefore, the parents have a right to decide what they think is in the best interest of their child,'' he said.

But Schneiderman warned that any suggestion that homeopathic treatment can cure or ease cancer is quackery. He suggested that the Hoques instead concentrate on making their daughter as comfortable as possible.

``There are nicer, easier, better things you can do for her than take her up to Canada for this foolishness,'' he said.

Scientists find evidence of life in space


From the Science & Technology Desk
Published 12/17/2002 12:05 AM

CARDIFF, Wales, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Viable microorganisms have been discovered floating in Earth's upper atmosphere, providing evidence for the controversial theory that life on the planet was started by bacteria and other microbes arriving here from outer space, scientists said Tuesday.

"We were able to conclude there were viable microorganisms present at different heights in the air," Chandra Wickramasinghe, of Cardiff University's Center for Astrobiology, told United Press International.

Wickramasinghe's team reported last year they had discovered microorganisms high above the Earth, but they had been unable to grow them in the lab. So they turned to microbiologist Milton Wainwright of the University of Sheffield, England.

He was able to isolate and grow a fungus and two species of bacteria that were collected 25 miles above the planet's surface. The new findings are reported in the December issue of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies Microbiology Letters.

"The findings support the idea of panspermia, the theory that comets not only brought the first living microorganisms to Earth 4 billion years ago but that they must also be doing that at the present time," said Wickramasinghe, a co-author of the theory.

The microbes are not new species and "they're extremely closely related to known Earth bacteria but that's what the theory of panspermia predicts," because it holds that bacteria on Earth originated from space, he said.

The microorganisms are unlikely to be due to contamination because there are no conditions on the planet under which bacteria can be lifted so high above the surface, he said. In addition, the researchers were very meticulous when collecting the samples to ensure there was "no chance of anything of contaminants being included in the collection," he said.

Wickramasinghe's group is conducting studies of the ratio of carbon isotopes in the bacteria. "If they came from outer space, they should have a different ratio (of carbon isotopes) than that on the Earth," he said. Those results should be available in the next several months.

Other scientists in this field were skeptical of the claims that the microbes came from outer space.

Hojatolla Vali, a professor at McGill University who was involved in the discovery of evidence of bacteria in a meteorite from Mars, told UPI: "I tend to say the microbes are coming from Earth and going up."

Panspermia is a controversial issue, he said, "because we don't really have any evidence yet that there is any life found on meteorites or other planets."

He added that he had authored a study that "concluded that meteorites are capable of transferring life between planets" but no one has ever found any evidence this occurred.

Even in the Mars meteorite, he said, scientists only found indications -- not direct evidence -- bacteria might have been present. Also, there is no evidence the bacteria were alive when the meteorite arrived on Earth, he said.

Vali added that bacteria "can survive in very, very harsh conditions," including 3 miles below Earth's surface and in the permafrost layers where the temperature is below zero.

So "it is reasonable to conclude that bacteria can survive the harsh conditions at (25 miles)," he said.

(Reported by Steve Mitchell, UPI Medical Correspondent, in Washington.)

Copyright © 2002 United Press International

A dead farmer and his radio


Hong Kong - A rural Chinese province was gripped by rumours of a singing ghost after a radio was left inside a dead farmer's tomb, a news report said on Friday.

The ghost stories swept through Tongzi county in Guizhou, western China, after the farmer - an avid music fan - was buried with his favourite radio switched on at his side, the South China Morning Post reported. - Sapa-DP

Abracadabra! Alla kazam! Show us the money!


May 10 2003 at 06:36AM

Sao Paulo - Magicians claiming they nearly went broke after a television programme aired the secrets of their trade have won a legal fight against Brazil's largest television network.

TV Globo must pay damages to 21 magicians in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul because of a programme that revealed how magicians perform such tricks as pulling rabbits out of hats and sawing women in half, Judge Eduardo Kothe Werlang ruled recently.

The show featured Leonard Montano, an American magician known as "Mister M" who always hid his identity with a scary black mask and was not named in the lawsuit.

"Mister M took all the magic out of magic," Paulo Roberto Brito Martins, one of the magicians who sued, said on Friday. "It was like depriving a child of happiness and the right to fantasise when you tell him Santa Claus does not exist."

Martins, whose has performed as "Uncle Tony the Magician" for three decades, lost most of his income because many people lost interest in magic after learning how the tricks were performed.

His show on a local television station was dropped, many clients stopped contracting him for shows at parties and theatres and business slumped at his magic store in Porto Alegre, a city about 900km south of Sao Paulo.

Globo TV was ordered to pay an amount equal to the income each magician lost since early 1999, when it first aired Mister M segments on its weekly "Fantastico" show, said Sergio dos Santos, a court official.

TV Globo did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment on the judgment. It took Mister M off the air about 10 months after the first broadcast.

Martins estimates Porto Alegre magicians lost 60 to 70 percent of their income because of the show. He isn't banking on a quick payout from the judgment because it will take time to calculate the losses, and because an appeal is anticipated.

"But we have won the first battle," Martins said. - Sapa-AP

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Beverly LaHaye Institute suggests SARS link with teenage sex

Beverly LaHaye is the wife of the famous Christian doomsday writer, Timothy LaHaye of Tim LaHaye Ministries, who has become enormously wealthy through the sale of millions of books written with co-writer Jerry Jenkins in the "Left Behind" series, imaginatively based on "Armageddon" scenarios in the Bible.

Through her "Concerned Women for America" organization and the Beverly LaHaye Institute, Mrs LaHaye released an article on May 8 written by Angie Vineyard making some rather remarkable inferences on a possible link between teenage sex and SARS which apparently has gone unacknowledged -- even by many of the world's top researchers in the field.

'Unless the number of deaths falls drastically worldwide,' the reviewer points out, 'SARS will be placed among infectious diseases with the highest death rates. No one knows the cause. No one knows the cure.'

With that as the cue, she lowers the boom with a flair that virtually rivals theological doctor LaHaye and evangelist Jenkins.

'Now imagine for a moment that an outbreak of SARS is detected primarily among American teenagers. Public officials quarantine thousands of high schools and middle schools while medical teams are dispatched to convert the schools into wards. Hundreds of teens die as fear grips the nation. Families and loved ones build makeshift memorials outside schools while Congress passes emergency legislation to deal with the epidemic.

'Now imagine that the Center for Disease Control discovers that SARS is related to sexual health and that if teenagers will simply stop having sex before marriage, the disease can be completely eradicated and lives can be saved.

What would we do?'

First of all, this is quite an imaginative premise. Even more so for the fact that it posits that teenagers only really say "NO," SARS will disappear from the planet.

Now why haven't the many dedicated teams of top researchers feverishly working day and night to find an effective vaccine against this incurable disease thought of *that?*

Dramatically, Vineyard continues:

'Would we commit federal dollars to encourage teens to abstain from sex, explaining that their lives are at stake? Or would we be divided, wanting to save their lives, but also wanting to preserve their freedom to explore their sexuality?'

The very shame of it all.

'Would Congress continue to funnel taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood and their "have-sex-today-we'll-take-care-of-the-consequences-tomorrow" message to teens? Or would they redirect those funds to abstinence programs?'

Indeed, probably no one here has given such substantial attention to the whole idea that teenage passion could be connected to the spread of a dire disease that we have blithely assumed is spread airborne and by contact with surfaces affected by the viral culprit.

Of course, it's not a lengthy step to next inject sexually transmitted diseases in general into the whole scenario.

'Americans are not aggressively stamping out STD's like Asian countries are attacking SARS for one simple reason,' LaHaye's columnist declares. 'Teenagers having sex is politically correct. We've handed condoms to teens for "safe sex" and told them to call Planned Parenthood if they get into trouble. We've told them that exploring their sexuality is more important than changing their behavior. We've handed them a loaded revolver and showed them how to pull the trigger.'

It's devastating. Just imagine what may be behind SARS and how we've refused to look the truth straight in the eye.

Vineyard avers that "according to Reuters, China's center for disease control is "80 percent sure" a chlamydia-like agent has caused an outbreak of SARS. This report has received scant attention in the mainstream press. But what if China is right? What if the 3 to 4 million Americans - the majority of which are 15- to 19-years-old - infected with chlamydia every year are more likely to fall victim to SARS?'

There would not appear to be any proven connection between chlamydia infection and the "super spreading" of SARS. Another small point the reviewer neglects to note is that the "chalmydia-like agent" referred to is said to be communicated through the air rather than sexually.

Now perhaps air guitar may be just as damaging to one's health as the real thing (especially if the solos are cranked up at deafeningly high volume), but this bit of going off the deep end seems more than a bit far-fetched as a vehicle to get teenagers to act in a prim and proper way -- unlike their concerned parents.

The article in full:


Woman Reports Seeing Memphremagog Monster

May 10, 3:06 PM EDT

NEWPORT CITY, Vt. (AP) -- A local historian says she saw the Lake Memphremagog monster this month.

Newport resident Barbara Malloy said she saw the creature, known to some as Memphre, May 1 in the 30-mile-long lake shared by Vermont and Quebec.

Malloy said she has seen the monster before - first in the waters off Horseneck Island and again north of the island in 1983.

This time, Malloy said she saw a jet black hump bob up and down and disappear in the water. She said another Newport resident who wants to remain anonymous saw a larger and a smaller hump.

Memphre is believed to look somewhat like a plesiosaur, a water-living dinosaur of the Jurassic period, brown or black in color, with four fins or paddle-like feet, an elongated roundish body and a long neck. It ranges from 6 to 50 feet long. Popular artwork shows the skin color as green.

Newspapers like The Stanstead (Quebec) Journal have recorded sightings of the mysterious creature as far back as the 1840s. On Jan. 21, 1847, an eyewitness reported this: "I am not aware whether it is generally known that a strange animal something of a sea serpent ... exists in Lake Memphremagog."

According to historical accounts, American Indians told the first Europeans that there was something in the lake.

Quebec diver and local historian Jacques Boisvert named the monster Memphre. He said he's never seen Memphre himself, but promotes the creature as a tourist attraction in Magog, and maintains a Web site about it.

There have been attempts to photograph Memphre. Malloy took pictures in 1989, but they show only a dark object sticking out of the water and making a wake. One recent photograph turned out to be a moose swimming across the lake.

On the Web:


Herbs? Bull Thymus? Beijing Leaps at Anti-SARS Potions



BEIJING, May 9 — With hotels empty and foreign businesses fleeing China in fear of SARS, it goes without saying that the new pneumonia has decimated Beijing's economy. But you would not know it here at the White Pagoda Pharmacy.

Packets of an herbal SARS prevention brew are selling like lemonade on the Fourth of July, and bottles of Long An 84 disinfectant bleach — limit one to a customer — seem to grow legs and race out the door.

"When we get a new product, we run out in a day, because people are crazy the way they are buying," said a plump, bored, masked cashier near the entrance, who gave her name only as Ms. Qin. "But you know — they know — there is no treatment for SARS."

Here in Beijing, SARS has spawned a booming industry, a macabre world of potions, creams, disinfectants, shots, gloves, masks and more, many of dubious utility. For weeks now, binge buying of the latest "must have" personal weapon against the coronavirus has left store shelves empty as neighbor fights neighbor in a perceived battle for survival. To make matters worse, every few days a newspaper, a Chinese expert or a government agency recommends a new product as particularly effective, brand name often included.

The endorsement is a bonanza for companies with products so anointed, as millions of customers rush to the stores.

Today, as newly reported SARS cases dropped to 48, only about half the recent daily average, a health official said there was growing evidence that the city's epidemic had plateaued and might soon start to decline.

Nevertheless, the lively market in SARS nostrums rolled along, with hot items like Xiong Xian Tai, an extract of newborn bull thymus that is given by injection and costs more than $100, and Zhuan Yi Yin Zi, a drink made from the spleens of healthy animals.

SARS prevention strategies range from the common, like vitamin C, to the mysterious. Doctors at several hospitals in Beijing have taken to sniffing a pungent rust-colored oil extracted from a weed as they report for work each day.

Indeed, the SARS outbreak in Beijing has created a medical marketing dream: 14 million worried but healthy people, filled with anxiety about an untreatable and often deadly virus.

Add to that a growing middle class with disposable income and a long Chinese belief in health tonics, and you have a prescription for panic buying of any product that develops the slightest buzz.

"Before SARS we sent 200 crates to Beijing a month," said Zhu Qingwen, 68, an inventor from Fujian Province who in 1993 came up with a gel that is rubbed on the hands, supposedly to fortify the immune system. "Now we are sending 300 a day. It can be used for treatment and also prevention, since it helps enhance your immunity."

There were developments outside Beijing today as well. The World Health Organization, which has been deeply concerned about the SARS epidemic spreading from Beijing to the hinterland, received permission to send a team to Hebei Province, which borders on Beijing and has a large transient population.

The team will study existing surveillance and treatment policies, to see if the outlying areas have the knowledge and resources to contain the disease should it spread there.

In the meantime, many provinces and cities in China have already given their seal of approval to medicinal teas made from herbal ingredients to be drunk by healthy people in an effort to prevent the disease.

Recipes vary widely from place to place, though, and pharmacies often run out of the ingredients to make the locally sanctioned brews, which often include things like the root of membranous milk vetch to the capsule of weeping forsythia.

Although China's acting health minister, Wu Yi, proclaimed this week that "Chinese medicine is an important force in the fight against SARS," there are no scientific studies to show that such products are effective.

"It's part of the Chinese tradition to drink these medicines, and at the very least it gives you peace of mind," said Peng Baoyu, a policeman with two masks tied over a double chin, who was buying a three-day supply of anti-SARS tea for himself at a local pharmacy.

With sales restricted in recent weeks, he had used his first allotment of 15 packages to treat his wife, child and in-laws, he said.

Since last month, prices have skyrocketed for the precious anti-SARS ingredients at China's largest wholesale herbal medicine market, in Anguo, two hours south of Beijing.

Prices for honeysuckle, which is included in many of the anti-SARS potions, rose to about $10 a pound, up from about $1 normally. Rhizome of cyrtomium peaked at 45 cents, up from just about 5 cents. Visitors to the market reached 460,000 a day, up from an average of 20,000.

Patients whose regular medicines contain such ingredients are out of luck, until the panic subsides.

"I have a prescription for my father-in-law, who had a stroke, but one of the ingredients is in the SARS mix, so there's no way I can get it," said Gu Xiulan, 55, a museum worker, one of the few people not wearing a mask. "SARS? Sure, I think about it, but we have real diseases in our home."

Recently the hottest product has been a disinfectant bleach solution that goes by the brand name Long An 84, named after the year it was invented. After an omnipresent public information campaign in the last two weeks about the importance of disinfecting surfaces, all of Beijing is obsessively rubbing itself clean every few hours, creating a huge market.

It is unclear how "84" got its aura, or its reputation for being particularly effective in killing the SARS virus, since many products will do the job. It is produced by a Hong Kong joint venture set up by Ditan Hospital in Beijing, which specializes in infectious diseases. Its active ingredient is bleach.

But in late April, the Beijing Youth Daily wrote that the 84 disinfectant could kill the SARS virus, and now consumers will settle for nothing less. A painter out buying bleach, who gave only her surname, Guo, said she was disinfecting all surfaces of her apartment every two hours to prevent germs from coming in.

"Anyone who tells you they're not afraid is lying," she said.

A new plaque affixed to the seven-story Xidan Department Store announces that it is disinfected every hour with 84 — as well as every two hours with an acid solution. And many pharmacies have long since sold out of the real thing.

The venerable Tong Ren Tang drugstore, one of Beijing's oldest and largest, was reduced to selling a copycat product, also called 84, but made by the Jin Kang Company in Hebei.

"We ran out of the real 84 last week, but we are still selling thousands of bottles of this a day," said a masked saleswoman, Ma Lingxia, as people pressed against the counter reaching for their allotted two bottles.

The Jin Kang Company said it was now shipping 180,000 bottles of the disinfectant to Beijing every day, sometimes taking up an entire train car.

To prevent price gouging, the Beijing government has set price limits for the hottest product, including the 84 bleach, which sells now for about 50 cents a bottle.

Masks are another hot item, though oddly the high-technology versions that are now standard issue in the West still cannot be purchased here. Instead, stores offer 12- and 16-layer sewn gauze masks that need to be sterilized in a microwave oven after four hours of use. Also popular are paper masks with built-in carbon filters, whose black centers make wearers resemble raccoons.

It is a new market niche and, this being China, a large number of companies have jumped in.

"Before SARS we never made gauze masks," said Wang Haifeng, a salesman with the Beijing Li Kang health materials factory. "We made some disposable masks for hospitals, but mostly disposable diapers. Now we are making 4,000 a day, and since these are made by hand on sewing machines, we just can't meet the demand."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Two governments respond to SARS tonics

From: Dan Fingerman

Herbs? Bull Thymus? Beijing Leaps at Anti-SARS Potions
By Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, 10 May 2003


U.S. Warns Promoters of SARS-Related Products
By Denise Grady, New York Times, 10 May 2003


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from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The number of human stem cell lines available for research turns out to be far fewer than thought when President Bush placed limits on such studies more than a year ago.

The finding that only 11 cell lines are currently available instead of more than 70 led to a call for lifting the restrictions and development of new cell lines.

Writing in Friday's issue of the journal Science, National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni said his agency is giving a high priority to research using stem cells because of the potential for treatment of diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's.

Zerhouni's report on the work supported by the NIH also shows that initial estimates that more than 70 stem cell lines were eligible for study were optimistic.


from The New York Times

The first major study of the genome of the SARS virus shows that it has not mutated significantly in its spread to different countries.

The findings were encouraging because if the virus remains stable chances are increased that a vaccine might be developed, the authors and other experts said yesterday. That effort is expected to take years.

But the experts said that the findings also meant that SARS, unlike some other new and emerging diseases, had not weakened as it passed through successive generations. Some experts had expressed hope that the virus would cause less severe illness as it spread.


from The Los Angeles Times

A flurry of scientific papers released Thursday suggests that researchers are beginning to get a glimpse into the biology of the virus that causes SARS.

The new research confirms previous speculation that much of the lung damage from SARS results from an overactive immune system, and that there really are "super spreaders" — latter-day Typhoid Marys who play a disproportionate role in the spread of the disease. It also suggests that the coronavirus that causes SARS is evolving relatively slowly and that there is no evidence more pathogenic strains are appearing.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has raised its estimate of the fatality rate from severe acute respiratory syndrome to about 15% — and higher in the elderly — bringing its official pronouncements more in line with research released this week suggesting a similar rate in younger people and a rate greater than 50% in those over age 60.


from Scripps Howard News Service

Swedish geologists have found remnants of a massive collision in the asteroid belt that took place about 500 million years ago and peppered Earth with meteorites.

The research, published Friday in the journal Science, is based on analysis of more than 40 fossil meteorites and limestone samples from five quarries in southern Sweden up to 310 miles apart.

The limestone formed from sea-bottom sediments laid down over a 2 million- year period about 480 million years ago, trapping intact meteorites as well as trace minerals from meteorites that had broken up.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Volcanoes located away from the edges of continental plates puzzled scientists for years, until most concluded that hotspots of lava rising from deep in the Earth were the cause. Now two researchers are casting doubt on that theory.

Volcanologists are in general accord over the causes of volcanoes at the edges of continental plates, where heat and lava are generated by the great masses of rock scraping together or slipping beneath one another.

But questions have been raised about what causes them at spots away from the plate boundaries.


from The New York Times

Peace is a fragile thing, but an experiment dedicated to peace has survived the fiery breakup of the space shuttle Columbia.

The U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian Peace Experiment flew on the shuttle as part of a set of nine student experiments that have been recovered from the debris strewn across East Texas and western Louisiana.

The experiment, which also goes by the more prosaic name Growth of Bacterial Biofilm on Surfaces During Spaceflight, or Gobbss, was designed to explore the origins of life on earth by seeing whether simple life forms could grow on minerals like those found in meteors.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Sally Ride, America's first female astronaut, is introducing a series of six-day science camps for girls at Stanford University focusing on astronomy, bioengineering and structural engineering.

In the sessions in June and July, girls entering grades six through eight will do scientific, athletic and team-building activities, while sampling one of history's great science experiments: dorm food.

While overseeing one-day science festivals for young girls for the past year and a half, Ride said she was "overwhelmed by the reactions we'd get," from parents as well as the young Sally Rides.


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