NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 May 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - May 20, 2003

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- It may be time to move over and share the human branch of the family tree with chimpanzees, says a researcher who has studied how closely the two are related.

Humans and chimps share 99.4 percent of DNA -- genetic code for life -- according to a team led by Morris Goodman of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

"We humans appear as only slightly remodeled chimpanzee-like apes," said Goodman.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, proposes that chimps be added to the genus Homo, currently reserved only for humans.

from The Washington Post

HONG KONG -- Liu Jianlun, a graying physician from southern China, had a scare in mid-February, when it looked as if he had picked up a strange new strain of pneumonia that was raging in his province.

But after he dosed himself with antibiotics, his chest X-rays looked clear. He felt well enough to take a three-hour bus ride with his wife from their home in Guangzhou to Hong Kong for a nephew's wedding. Well enough to go shopping and have a long, chatty lunch on Feb. 21 with relatives. Well enough to check in to Room 911 of the Metropole Hotel at about 5 p.m. that day.

But the next morning, he was feeling very ill.

By the time he checked out at 10 a.m., Liu had spread a deadly virus directly to at least eight guests. They would unknowingly take it with them to Singapore, Toronto, Hong Kong and Hanoi, where the virus would continue to spread. Of more than 7,700 cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome tallied so far worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 4,000 can be traced to Liu's stay on the ninth floor of the Metropole Hotel.

from The New York Times

Even though SARS is contained or waning in many countries, scientists are still racing to discover its source. The virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome is a newly discovered member of the coronavirus family. Other family members cause mild infections like the common cold in humans and much more serious diseases among animals.

Did the SARS virus jump species from an exotic animal in a food market in China to infect a human and start a chain of transmission that has gone on for seven months? If SARS is an animal virus, did it mutate to cause a new human virus?

Or did the virus go undetected in animal species until now? If so, will SARS become another of the so-called zoonotic diseases like rabies that primarily affect animals and only occasionally infect humans and that often die out in humans on their own?

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Iris scanners, facial-recognition gadgets, fingerprint readers and other biometric gizmos are routine features in Hollywood thrillers and science- fiction shows. If the federal government gets its way, they may eventually play important roles in guarding America's borders.

But past visions of a boom in biometrics -- technology used to identify individuals based on their biological traits -- foundered partly because of the cost of the gadgets plus the public's short attention span about terrorist issues, biometrics experts say.

And at least one gadget proved too intrusive -- even creepy -- for the public at large: the once-ballyhooed "retinal scanner." Biometrics experts hope an alternate type of eye-scanning device, the iris scanner, won't suffer the same fate.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

As Congress moves closer to a vote on repealing a ban against developing smaller, more usable nuclear warheads, a group of prominent scientists issued a letter Monday urging that the prohibition be kept in place.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has already voted in favor of a total repeal of the prohibition, passed 10 years ago as a means of preventing the use or proliferation of nuclear weapons. But the House Armed Services Committee voted on a compromise version that would permit design work but stop short of production of low-yield warheads.

The Bush administration and many Republicans in Congress have said the law should be repealed because, in a world of dangerous new threats, the U.S. needs a new generation of low-yield weapons for pinpoint strikes, largely against deeply buried caches of weapons of mass destruction. Democrats have fought bitterly to retain the law, saying that a new nuclear program would just provoke other nations to build their own.

from The New York Times

About a year ago a large group of astronomers began to assemble what some of them were calling "the world's best telescope." Their ambitious instrument is still far from complete, but they recently took it for a test run. Within minutes, to their joy and astonishment, they had discovered three or four brown dwarfs, objects that occupy the niche between planet and star.

"It gave me shivers when I heard about it," said Dr. Alex Szalay, a Johns Hopkins astronomer who is one of the telescope's chief architects.

It wasn't the brown dwarfs themselves that excited Dr. Szalay; hundreds of them have been discovered in the past decade. But he and many other astronomers believe that the means used to discover these objects heralds the beginning of a new era of astronomy, and even a new era of science.

from The New York Times

Dr. José Ribeiro is sequencing the "spitome" of the deer tick. This is a little bit like sequencing a genome, except that it has to do with saliva, specifically the saliva of the deer tick, the tiny menace that lives off deer and white-footed mice and likes to give suburban gardeners Lyme disease.

What Dr. Ribeiro and other scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., are finding is that tick spit is a complex weapon, with an array of components that alleviate pain, keep blood from coagulating and subdue the host's immune system at the site of the bite. "Tick saliva is amazing," said Dr. Fred S. Kantor of the Yale School of Medicine, who is also working on deciphering tick saliva.

The goal of the research is to develop a vaccine, not against the bacteria that causes Lyme, a twisty spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi, but against the tick itself.

from The Boston Globe

The 20th century may not have been so extraordinarily hot after all, according to a climate study of the last thousand years, which confirms historical accounts of fig trees growing in Germany and early grape harvests in England during medieval times.

The study is part of a fast-emerging field in which scientists combine the data from many natural indicators of past climates to reconstruct what sorts of temperatures and rainfall were experienced over large areas of the globe long before scientific weather records were kept. Such work is providing a much better picture of the past climate, a subject of increasing importance after a century in which the Earth's average temperature increased by one degree Fahrenheit.

"We felt it was time to pull together a large sample of recent studies from the last five to 10 years and look for patterns of variability and change," said Willie Soon, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

'Lake monster' triggers cross-border fight


Last Updated Sun May 18 23:50:56 2003

MAGOG, QUE.-- A Vermont woman has threatened to sue anyone who tries to cash in on a creature that legend says inhabits a lake straddling the Quebec-Vermont border.

Historian Barbara Malloy of Newport City claims to have exclusive rights to the Lake Memphremagog monster, also known as Memphre.

Jacques Boisvert, a lake historian and expert scuba diver from the Canadian side of the lake, says he's preparing to fight Malloy.

"We have lawyers right now involved in this," he says. "It's too bad, because the relation between the United States and Canada should be good and that's one way of deteriorating this good will."

Boisvert has been documenting lake monster sightings since the mid-1970s in Magog, Que. Although the diver said he's never seen Memphre himself, he told a Vermont newspaper that he's keeping an open mind.

The Caledonia-Record in St. Johnsbury, Vt., reported that Boisvert and Malloy collaborated for a while in the 1980s on publicizing the Memphre legend and history.

The creature is said to measure between seven and 20 metres from head to tail. Those who claim to have spotted Memphre say it resembles the water-dwelling plesiosaur of the Jurassic period.

The first recorded sightings began in the 1840s. Long before that, North American Indians in the region warned early settlers not to bathe in Lake Memphremagog because of the mysterious monster.

Barbara Malloy refused to be interviewed on camera for a CBC TV news story. But some people in Newport were willing, and a few scoffed at Malloy's moves to copyright everything from the name Memphre to the creature's cartoon image.

"It's ridiculous," said Buzz Roy. "I don't think she should have a right to it," added Sandra Chaplin. "Feed her to it," Paul Moyer joked.

A journalist with the Caledonian-Record also disputes Malloy's grip on Memphre.

"It's probably the oddest story I've ever written, and yet it's so important," said Robin Smith. The fight over the lake legend involves everything from freedom of speech to intellectual property rights, she added.

Darwin's Blind Spot

From: Frank Ryan

As author of DARWIN'S BLIND SPOT, you've clearly got my book very wrong. I don't disagree with evolution. I support Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolution. What I do claim, with a huge volume of evidence in support of it, is that symbiosis is non-Darwinian in nature, though the resulting relationship is further honed, at the level of the relationship, by natural selection. This is quite different from my claiming that symbiosis disproves evolution. Mark Ridley cannot prove me wrong so he falls back on 'his feeling' about it, claiming that it's all natural selection. In fact, if you care to read the last two sentences in the introduction to THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, you'll find that Darwin (a scientist I admire much as I do Newton or Einstein) states quite explicitly that natural selection is not the only force in evolution. I agree with Darwin and disagree with Ridley. My book has been highly praised by a number of leading Darwinians and the views I espouse are very much those of the greatest living British neo-Darwinian, John Maynard Smith. We don't call physics Einsteinism or Newtonism and we shouldn't call evolution 'Darwinism'. We should praise and revere Darwin as the discoverer of natural selection but keep an open mind, as he did, for other forces in evolution.

I have to presume that you haven't actually read my book, though you felt impelled to criticise it.

Frank Ryan

Chimpanzees Should Be Classified in Same Genus as Humans, Researchers Say


WASHINGTON (AP) - It may be time to move over and share the human branch of the family tree with chimpanzees, says a researcher who has studied how closely the two are related.

Humans and chimps share 99.4 percent of DNA - genetic code for life - according to a team led by Morris Goodman of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

"We humans appear as only slightly remodeled chimpanzee-like apes," said Goodman.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, proposes that chimps be added to the genus Homo, currently reserved only for humans.

It's an idea sure to spark renewed debate about evolution and humanity's relationship with animals.

The battle over whether humans are related to chimps, gorillas and other primates has raged since 1859, when Charles Darwin described evolution in "Origin of Species."

The dispute between religious and scientific factions got its greatest notoriety in 1925 when Tennessee school teacher John Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution.

It continues to this day. Kansas reinstated the teaching of evolution 18 months after the state school board voted to drop it from classes. Alabama's school board voted to put stickers on biology books warning that evolution is controversial.

Goodman's team did not address evolution directly but proposed that humans and chimps be considered branches of the same genus because of their similarities.

A genus is a group of closely related species. The human species, Homo sapiens, stands alone in the genus Homo. But there have been other species on the branch in the past, such as Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthal man.

Chimpanzees are in the genus Pan, along with bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees.

Goodman's proposal would establish three species under Homo. One would be Homo (Homo) sapiens, or humans; the second would be Homo (Pan) troglodytes, or common chimpanzees, and the third would be Homo (Pan) paniscus, or bonobo chimpanzees.

There is no official board in charge of placing animals in their various genera, and in some cases alternative classifications are available.

"If enough people get agitated by this and think it's something to be dealt with, there may be a symposium that takes this as the central issue and determines if this is a reasonable proposal," Goodman said. "I think it's a reasonable proposal, of course, or I wouldn't have proposed it."

Richard Sherwood, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, isn't so sure.

That chimps and humans are closely related and share a common ancestor about 7 million years ago is well known, Sherwood said, but that doesn't mean they belong in the same genus now.

Goodman's paper cites a proposal by George Gaylord Simpson that chimps and gorillas be combined in one genus; gorillas are in the genus Gorilla. Goodman says chimps are more closely related to humans than to gorillas and thus should be added instead to Homo.

Sherwood says Simpson made his chimp-gorilla proposal in 1963, and no one is arguing today to put both species in the same genus.

"To go hunting for an historical reference like that and then use it as the sole criteria for suggesting a major shift in primate systematics is difficult to take seriously," Sherwood said.

Reclassification of chimpanzees would cause major changes in the way anthropology students learn the relationships among various types of animals.

In their study, Goodman and colleagues compared 97 genes from humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, Old World monkeys and mice.

Genes from humans and chimps most closely resembled each other, followed by orangutans and Old World monkeys. None of the other creatures was closely related to mice.

Tracking mutation rates in the genes, the scientists estimate that the common ancestor of chimps and humans diverged from gorillas about 7 million years ago, and then separated into two species between 5 million and 6 million years ago.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - May 19, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

The red-and-black splashes on the card are bustling with images: bad-tempered crows, a butterfly in a belly and even a couple of blood-stained kidneys — if it isn't a pair of monkeys contemplating their rears.

You, however, would see other things, for this card and nine others in the world-famous Rorschach test have strange powers and are said to reveal much about a person's mind when a skillful seer interprets them.

The cards have another uncanny power: to really, really tick people off.

The Rorschach inkblot test was named after its inventor, Hermann Rorschach, a young Swiss psychiatrist with smoldering Brad Pitt looks. More than 80 years later, the test remains one of the most popular personality tests in clinical psychology, still used in helping assess the mental health of patients, the sanity of defendants in murder trials and the suitability of parents in child-custody disputes.

Background from The Los Angeles Times

Hermann Rorschach was not the first psychiatrist to experiment with inkblots, and the origins of his famous test are not entirely clear. But, according to Rorschach lore, he may have been inspired by a 19th century parlor game called Klecksographie, or Blotto, in which participants made ink blots and then described what they saw. As a Swiss schoolboy, Rorschach was reportedly a fan of the game, even earning the nickname, "Klex."

from The Associated Press

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (AP) -- A volcanic eruption on a little-known American island now knee-deep in ash is prompting concern over an inadequate warning system for Pacific volcanoes.

About 70,000 people live among the volcanic islands of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas with little fear of eruption because they have been so rare.

Even after the eruption a week ago on the tiny island of Anatahan -- the first significant eruption on a Northern Marianas since 1981 -- some exiles in the bustling capital of Saipan still yearned to return to lush outer islands that have erupted in the past.

But scientists say the lack of warning before the eruption on Anatahan, where steam continued to rise Sunday, should put local and federal officials on alert.

from The Baltimore Sun

GAITHERSBURG - Even as the number of new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome seems to be slowing overseas, a team of scientists here is revving up its effort to keep people from getting infected in the first place.

Researchers at GenVec, a small biopharmaceutical company that normally fights enemies such as cancer and HIV, has begun the painstaking work it will take to come up with a SARS vaccine - if, that is, they can come up with one at all.

Their approach is among the newest in the field of vaccine research. Scientists plan to insert synthetic genetic bits of the coronavirus that causes SARS into a benign form of another virus, in hopes that the body will react to the hybrid in a way that will protect it from the illness.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

The lowly cockroach, loathed as an abhorrent creature worth crushing beneath one's shoe, has found respect in an unlikely place -- a robotics laboratory at Stanford University.

Led by engineering Professor Mark Cutkosky, Stanford researchers are building robots that will replicate the cockroach's remarkable speed and agility. They are among a growing number of scientists and engineers who believe that the robots of tomorrow will scurry and run and jump like insects.

Researchers are cribbing from nature as they build ever-smaller robots that can navigate the trickiest terrain with ease. In their minds, robotic cockroaches, spiders and even crickets will one day venture where humans fear to tread, from mine-laden attlefields to distant planets.

from The New York Times

MASSACIUCCOLI, Italy, May 16 — At first the Americans were welcome. They were admired. Robust and energetic, they looked like partners in a better, richer future.

But they did not know their place. They did not respect limits. Conquest by conquest, they revealed themselves as too ambitious, too domineering, imposing their will on less truculent populations.

Now many Italians in this northern Tuscan town have had enough.

They would like to say "arrivederci" to the big, red, rapacious Louisiana crawfish.

from The Washington Post

It was not a fair fight. The wolverine may have been as nasty as any predator in the mountains, but it weighed only 27 pounds. The black bear had arisen from a long winter's sleep and was almost certainly very hungry. The slain elk, carrying as much as 550 pounds of meat, was a prize worth fighting for.

This encounter occurred April 22, an unusual example of predator killing predator in the remote reaches of greater Yellowstone Park, a 40,600-square-mile tract of wilderness spreading like an ink blot across the junction of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

But while the wolverine may have chosen a mismatch bordering on madness, scientists say that predators killing one another is probably part of the natural order of things, and greater Yellowstone is offering an unprecedented opportunity to test the theory.

from The New York Times

Ah, the Gowanus, that fetid Brooklyn canal synonymous with contamination and death. Sewage, industrial waste — perhaps even human remains — still molder at its murky bottom. On occasion, its famously noxious, sulfurous aroma wafts over its banks. But now, as if to collect that batty neighbor living in a clutter of cats and old string, the men (and one woman) in white suits have finally arrived.

For the past few weeks, a team of scientists and technicians from the Army Corps of Engineers has been putting on protective coveralls and setting out along the waterway that snakes from Butler Street out to Gowanus Bay. Equipped with sample jars, hollow-stem augurs and drills, they have been delving far into the repellent depths to catalog, in minute detail, just what is festering in all that muck. It is not pretty work, but it is far from thankless.

"You can't begin to come up with any kind of engineering plan until you understand the situation that you have," said Col. John B. O'Dowd, a brawny, affable man who is the New York District commander of the Army Corps of Engineers. "Once you can sit back and look at the picture of what you have, then you can begin to look at what you can do to improve it."

My Contact with Flying Saucers

From:Terry W. Colvin

A flying saucer captain from one of the moons of Jupiter tells a Brazilian contactee in 1953 about his ideas for educational reform. The spaceman turns out to be quite prescient. His description in parts reminds me of my university experience in the mid-'70s (except for the bit about getting a degree).


Dino Kraspedon (Aladino Felix), *My Contact with Flying Saucers*. London: Neville Spearman, 1959, pp. 172-3.

Education could be changed. Naturally, any radical change would involve the dismissal of teachers which in the present world situation would mean that they would suffer serious privation. Today most people spend the best part of their lives, from the age of seven until about thirty, poring over books, and at the end of this, they are chagrined to find that they have learned nothing, and still have a long way to go. A lifetime is too short to learn everything. However, using hypnosis in a truly scientific spirit, the whole scope of education could be changed. In a few hours a child could master a whole subject which at present takes the better part of its youth to master. Further, he would do so with great accuracy. It would be sufficient to put a child into a controlled hypnotic sleep, with the help of a drug such as *canabis sativa*, or a combination of chloroform and morphia, administered at intervals with a psychologist at hand to dictate all the material to be learned. This could be carried out on a large scale with thousands of pupils at once, making use of headphones. It would be easier, more convenient, and cheaper, and it would not bore a child with long lectures, it would not be subject to the shortcomings of the teachers, and other disadvantages of the present system. Pupils could go to college early, sleep and come back with a scientific degree in their pockets.

The entire book can be accessed at


Cameroon bans urine 'health drink'


The Cameroon health minister has deemed it necessary to warn people that drinking urine may not be good for your health.

Urbain Olanguena Awono has even warned that those who advocate drinking urine risk prosecution.

He was moved to speak after a wave of interest in "urinotherapy".

Advocates are convinced that it can cure afflictions such as haemorrhoids, ulcers, infertility and even snake bites.

"Given the risks of toxicity associated in the short, medium and long term with ingesting urine, the health ministry advises against the consumption of urine and invites those who promote the practice to cease doing so forthwith or risk prosecution," Mr Awono said in a statement.

Best seller

But "urinotherapists" are sticking to their beliefs that a glass of urine a day keeps the doctor away.

"I used it to treat my haemorrhoids," Emile told Cameroon newspaper, Le Messager.

"Everyone uses it in secret. But you need to be brave," he said.

But not everyone has the necessary courage.

"I tried but I just couldn't," said G Gisele.

"For several years now, I haven't had a hair on my head, but since I started drinking my urine, it's started growing again - it's quite extraordinary," the French news agency, AFP, quoted an unnamed magistrate as saying.

Le Messager says that a book on "urinotherapy" published in Switzerland has become a best seller.

But others say it is part of Cameroon's traditional medicine.

"When my grandmother who is 80 was bitten by a snake in the fields, she drank her own urine. This slowed down the progress of the venom to her heart until she got to hospital," said Omer Otabela.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/03/13 16:14:11 GMT


Sunday, May 18, 2003

God and George W. Bush

May 17, 2003 By BILL KELLER

Is President Bush a religious zealot, or does he just pander to that crowd? That, crudely put, is probably the most persistent question I hear about Mr. Bush when I travel outside the country, and it comes up all the time in the less godly American precincts (universities, Bush-hater Web sites, Hollywood, the island of Manhattan). On issues from Saddam to sodomy, the assumption is that Mr. Bush is an evangelist for a moralistic agenda that grows from his born-again Christianity. Or else (the more cynical variation), regardless of what he believes in, he has handed over the presidential portfolio to the preacher pols of the religious right in exchange for their influence as campaign ward heelers.

I understand the critics' discomfort with Mr. Bush's public piety. It contributes to an image of crusading arrogance abroad, and to a fear of invasive moralism at home. Most recently, the president's reluctance to offend Senator Rick Santorum - a Catholic theocrat who believes that states should have the power to arrest gay lovers in their bedrooms, or even to criminalize couples who use contraceptives - was an occasion to wonder what, exactly, Mr. Bush was born-again into.


A Heated Debate Flares in Unitarian Universalism

May 17, 2003

Humanism has been on the wane as an intellectual and political force in America for many years, as more people question whether reason and science are adequate portals into the mystery of life. But humanists alarmed by the rise of religion in American politics and culture have at least been able to turn to certain liberal domains for comfort and confirmation.

One has been Unitarian Universalism, a liberal religious movement that pitches a large enough theological tent to include atheism, religious humanism, liberal Christianity, non-Christian theism and much else. Which may be why the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, sparked such a reaction this spring when he posed a challenge to its members.

Mr. Sinkford, who was elected in June 2001, has been urging the nation's 225,000 Unitarian Universalists to reclaim a "vocabulary of reverence." He has called the effort a main goal of his presidency of the noncreedal association.

In recent sermons, talks and articles, Mr. Sinkford said he was struck by the fact that the association's Purposes and Principles, or mission statement, "contain not one piece of traditional religious language, not one word." The statement has inclusive generalizations about human dignity, justice and "the interdependent web of all existence," but omits mention of God. It serves well as a broad ethic, he said, but does not do much "to capture our individual searches for truth and meaning."

Explicit religious language would better acquaint people with life's "religious depths" and "ground them in their personal faith," Mr. Sinkford said in a recent interview. It would also help liberals wrest religious language back from the religious right, he said.

In the interview, Mr. Sinkford, a 56-year-old onetime businessman and former "card-carrying atheist" who turned to ministry 10 years ago, said he was not formally proposing to change the principles, which are bylaws of the association and require a five-year process to be altered. Nor is he saying that any new language, wherever invoked, must mention God, so long as it "allows us to capture the possibility of reverence, to name the holy, to talk about human agency in theological terms." But it is clear that he is comfortable with that word. After his son recovered from a coma in 1997, Mr. Sinkford began to develop "a prayer life centered on thankfulness and gratefulness to God."

Mr. Sinkford describes his own faith with a reference to the merger, in 1961, of Unitarianism, a liberal offshoot of Puritan Calvinism that gradually shed its Christian identity, and Universalism, a small denomination that preached a theology of grace. "The Unitarian side tells us that there is only one God," he said, "one spirit of life, one power of love. The Universalist side tells us that God is a loving God, condemning none of us, valuing the spark of divinity that is in every human being."

Officials of the association say Mr. Sinkford's initiative has generated more e-mail, letters and telephone calls than any other issue in its history - a big statement for a contentious group that has had some huge blowups over race, war and gender issues.

"It's tender territory," noted Mr. Sinkford, who said he was talking with hundreds of individuals or groups on the topic. "But it's a conversation I think we need to have." He called it part of the process of Unitarian Universalism's "growing up" into "a more confident maturity."

Rhoda Miller of Concord, Mass., a member of the Unitarian Universalist church there who calls herself a rational atheist, said Mr. Sinkford's plea "makes me feel that atheists are less welcome in Unitarian Universalism."

The Rev. Kendyl Gibbons, minister of the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and a leader of a national Unitarian Universalist humanist group, said that "some humanists certainly feel threatened" by the initiative. But she said she did not see the association slipping away from humanists. "I don't think Sinkford's use of theological language means he's unwilling to be disciplined by reason," she said.

One former president of the association, William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said he viewed himself as a religious humanist but supported efforts to use a "wide lexicon" of religious language. "I've long been critical of the position of some humanists that would sanctify secular language and lock us into a calcified rationalism," he said.

Mr. Sinkford's first sermon on the topic, in Texas in January, set off a firestorm of protest from humanists, who flooded a humanist chat room with cries of "creeping credalism" and warned of a "mass exodus" from the association. That was partly a reaction to a newspaper article that erroneously said Mr. Sinkford had called for including the word "God" in the principles.

In an open letter responding to that outcry, Mr. Sinkford said he would not twist anyone's arm to speak of God. "After that," he said in the interview, "people notched down their anxiety."

Mr. Sinkford said the flexible language of the mission statement dated from efforts in 1961 to find wording acceptable to Unitarians and the more traditional Universalists, and he noted that the culture had changed since then. "I think we are seeing a historical cycle," he said. "I sense a gradual shift in Unitarian Universalism," away from the Unitarian pole of doubt and toward its pole of faith.

Mr. Sinkford was asked what he thought of the coincidence that his initiative came amid the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is often linked to Unitarian skepticism. "I'm delighted by that convergence," he said. "Emerson was deeply spiritual, of course, and he wanted people to think for themselves about these matters. I see this as the next stage in the conversation he initiated."


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Take water and potash, add electricity and get - a mystery


By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent
(Filed: 18/05/2003)

British researchers believe that they have made a groundbreaking scientific discovery after apparently managing to "create" energy from hydrogen atoms.

In results independently verified at Bristol University, a team from Gardner Watts - an environmental technology company based in Dedham, Essex - show a "thermal energy cell" which appears to produce hundreds of times more energy than that put into it. If the findings are correct and can be reproduced on a commercial scale, the thermal energy cell could become a feature of every home, heating water for a fraction of the cost and cutting fuel bills by at least 90 per cent.

The makers of the cell, which passes an electric current through a liquid between two electrodes, admit that they cannot explain precisely how the invention works. They insist, however, that their cell is not just a repeat of the notorious "cold fusion" debacle of the late 1980s. Then two scientists claimed to have found a way of generating nuclear energy from a similar-looking device at room temperature. The findings were widely challenged and the scientists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, accused of incompetence, fled America to set up labs in France.

"We are absolutely not saying this is cold fusion, or that we have found a way round the law of energy conservation," said Christopher Davies, the managing director of Gardner Watts.

"What we are saying is that the device seems to tap into another, previously unrecognised source of energy."

According to Mr Davies, the cell is the product of research into the fundamental properties of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe. He argues that calculations based on quantum theory, the laws of the sub-atomic world, suggest that hydrogen can exist in a so-called metastable state that harbours a potential source of extra energy.

This theory suggests that if electricity were passed into a mixture of water and a chemical catalyst, the extra energy would be released in the form of heat.

After some experimentation, the team found that a small amount of electricity passed through a mixture of water and potassium carbonate - potash - released an astonishing amount of energy.

"It generates a lot of heat in a very small volume," said Christopher Eccles, the chief scientist at Gardner Watts.

The findings of the Gardner Watts team were tested by Dr Jason Riley of Bristol University, who found energy gains of between three and 26 times what had been put in.

In a written report, Dr Riley concluded: "Using the apparatus supplied by Gardner Watts and the procedure of analysis suggested by the company, there appears to be an energy gain in the system."

In tests performed for The Telegraph, the cell heated water to near-boiling, apparently producing more than three times the amount of energy fed into it.

Scientists admit to being astonished by the sheer size of the energy increase produced by the cell. "I've never seen a claim like this before," said Prof Stephen Smith of the physics department at Essex University.

"In the case of cold fusion, people talked about getting a 10 per cent energy gain or so, which could be explained away quite easily but this is much too big for that."

Prof Smith said he was sceptical about the theory put forward by the company. He conceded, however, that scientists had also been baffled by the source of energy driving radioactivity, as the key equation involved - Einstein's famous E=MC2 - had yet to be discovered.

According to Prof Smith, if there is a flaw in the company's claims, it lies in the measurement of the amount of electrical energy pumped into the cell. It is possible that, as sparks pass between the electrodes, there is an energy surge which would not be picked up by the instruments measuring the electrical input.

Prof Smith said: "This needs to be very carefully checked, as there could be far more energy going in than the makers think."

Prof Smith's views were echoed by Dr Riley, who said: "There's no doubt that there was a heat rise but I'd like to see a more thorough investigation of the electrical energy supplied into the cell."

While many scientists are trying to solve the mystery of the thermal energy cell, its huge commercial potential has already caused interest.

Cambridge Consultants, one of Britain's most prestigious technology consultancies, has teamed up with Mr Davies and his colleagues to develop a working prototype. "We've had a multi-disciplinary team working on this, and we're perplexed," said Duncan Bishop, head of process development at Cambridge Consultants.

"We are offering to risk-share on it, as it will need about £200,000 to prove the principle behind it."

According to the Gardner Watts team, it will take about six months to carry out tests putting the reality of the effect beyond all doubt. The company then plans to develop a prototype capable of turning less than one kilowatt of electrical power into 10 kilowatts of heat.

Mr Davies said: "The technology could be licensed by a company making household boilers for the domestic market. " He added that the plan is to have the first thermal energy cell devices on the market within two years.

12 September 2000: Writer sees a glowing future for cold fusion

12 November 2002: Mud homes will help to reduce fuel bills

5 September 2002: Greenhouse gases can cause ecological chaos

19 April 2001: Colour-change paint can cut fuel bills

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Interview With Sylvia Browne



Aired May 16, 2003 - 21:00 ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, best selling psychic Sylvia Browne. She says she's on a mission from God to prove the soul survives death. Do you believe? She's here for the hour. We'll take your phone calls. Sylvia Browne is next on LARRY KING LIVE. It's always good to welcome her to this program and we'll take lots of calls, of course. The world renowned psychic, author of several books, including Sylvia Browne's "Book of Angels," which is number nine right now on "The New York Times" list of best selling self-help books. There you see its cover. Do you believe in angels?


KING: What are they?

BROWNE: They're actually the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that was made by God to protect us. I mean, they're not...


KING: Bad people have angels?

BROWNE: You know, bad people, I've never seen bad people have angels. That's interesting you should ask that, because I've never seen angels around bad people.

KING: Do they look like the drawings of angels?


KING: They do?

BROWNE: And I didn't think they had wings. I thought that was just some stupid...

KING: Sylvia, Sylvia, come on. You see people with wings?

BROWNE: Yes. I used to tell people they didn't have wings, Larry. And then I saw one with wings, and then I had to go back up on stage and say, I'm sorry, I lied. They have wings.

KING: Why do you see them and I don't?

BROWNE: I don't know. You probably could see them if you wanted to. You have four of them around you.

KING: To what, to protect?

BROWNE: To protect.

KING: We have four them around us?

BROWNE: You have four.

KING: I have four.

BROWNE: You have four. Some people have two.

KING: I'm a good guy?

BROWNE: Well, that's it.

KING: I've got connections, right?

BROWNE: You've got connections.

KING: And what do these angels do?

BROWNE: The angels are really protectorates. There is so many things that people say, oh, well, what the hell do they do, but I think there are so many things that you were saved from that you don't realize that you were saved from. It's like a near miss accident, a near miss fall. They protect you.

KING: So the angels -- and who sends them? God sends them?

BROWNE: God sends them. They're from God. They're directly from God.

KING: What do you think happens? You communicate with dead people, right?

BROWNE: Yes, I do. Sure, I do.

KING: are you OK?

BROWNE: Yes. Well, my ear thing is goofy, but that's all right.

KING: We'll fix it.

You communicate with dead people.


KING: You do psychic readings.


KING: You work with the police on murders.

BROWNE: Yes, and I'm on learning annex tour.

KING: You tour learning annexes all over. BROWNE: Right.

KING: What is this gift? And why do you have it and we don't?

BROWNE: I don't know. I guess I'm just -- I was going to say unlucky.

KING: You don't like it, do you?

BROWNE: Oh, I do most of the time when I help people, I do, Larry. I do come from 300 years. This is absolutely valid 300 years of psychics, everybody in my family from my mother's side was a working psychic.

Dragons are not extinct!


Remember learning in school "dinosaurs became extinct 65.000.000 years ago? And we only have fossils of them petrified in rocks", and "Dragons are myths" and "the Loch Ness Monster is a legend?" And all such propaganda? Here are some genuine dragon pictures, or dinosaurs that were and are alive during the LAST and THIS CENTURY! The reason that you never saw any these pictures in your schoolbooks is, that the authorities who order them, didn't want to "confuse your faith in evolutionary truth with the bare facts!" So they decided to not inform you about them!

Water witch harnesses a divine flow

Local man's dowsing techniques help locate hard-to-find wells, septic tanks
Journal Staff

Journal Staff

Stanley Van Nederynen lightly grasps a bent piece of welding rod in each hand, holding the piece delicately so that the parts not resting against his palms hover parallel to the ground.

Van Nederynen begins to inch forward with his arms in front of him. Suddenly, the wires swing out to the left and right. Van Nederynen's dowsing technique has found groundwater.

Dowsing is the process of using a divining rod to search for underground water or minerals. Also called "water witching," the practice of dowsing has been used for thousands of years around the globe.

Van Nederynen, 71, has been dowsing for more than half of his life. He goes out to dowse for people in the county, usually farmers or new landowners, several times a month.

"Sometimes, in a dry year, I might do two or three a week," Van Nederynen said.

Other dowsers use a tree branch to divine, but Van Nederynen prefers to use welding rod. He said not only are the wires less painful -- the force exerted on a branch can cause it to tear into the skin -- they are also more accurate.

"The tree branch will show the spot, but not the line," he said. "(The wires) pick up everything. You have to figure out the source to tell what it is."

Bob determines depth

Van Nederynen said he makes no preparations before arriving at a site to dowse.

Once he has located the water source using his dowsing wires, Van Nederynen uses a longer metal wire to determine the depth of the water source. Holding one end of the wire near his navel, the rod moves forcibly up and down -- each bob equaling an estimated 2.5 feet between the surface and the water source.

A fishing bob serves as Van Nederynen's third dowsing tool. By holding the bob over the water source, he claims, the quantity of water can be determined. The bob is supposed to swing around violently where there are larger quantities of water.

Van Nederynen said most of his dowsing customers are referred to him through local well drillers and by word of mouth. In addition to locating water sources, he has located septic tanks and old drilled wells and pinpointed breaks in pipes.

"If I were a health inspector, boy, would I be a blinger!" he said. "I could tell you what everybody had underneath their land."

Skeptical clients

A lot of people call just to see dowsing in action, he said.

"Some of them are very skeptical. I tell you, I pick the men out of the boys on this one," said Van Nederynen, who charges a flat fee of $10 for dowsing. "Most of them are astounded."

According to the Skeptic's Dictionary, dowsing is not based upon any known scientific or empirical laws or forces of nature. Most skeptics subscribe to the theory that involuntary motor action causes the rods to move, but others add that dowsers' success rates are not high enough to merit anything beyond pure chance.

George Berry, a local well driller and owner of Berry Drilling in Trumansburg, has worked with Van Nederynen for more than 20 years.

Berry said some of the dowsers he works with are all talk, but others -- such as Van Nederynen -- really know their stuff. On some sites, he said, dowsers independently searching for water have chosen the same location.

"Most of the time, they are right on," he said.

It is the customer's choice whether to use a dowser to search for water or locate it through other means, Berry said. He warns them the method is far from perfect.

"There's no way you can pick up a stick and find water, but it works," Berry said. "It's still a hit or miss deal, but Stanley's done something remarkable."

Runs in family

Van Nederynen first learned how to dowse 40 years ago, after his brother experimented with the technique. He then began learning from other dowsers in the area. With study and practice, he became proficient.

"It was just something I found out I could do," he said. "I said, 'If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right.'"

Talent for dowsing runs in Van Nederynen's family. He said the wires work for his four children, and so far, at least one of his nine grandchildren. He said his two great-grandchildren are both too young to try the technique.

Van Nederynen was born right outside of Ithaca, and has lived in the area all his life. After spending his early years as a pig farmer, he now works artificially inseminating cattle.

When he isn't working or dowsing, Van Nederynen enjoys hunting, fishing and crafting lures. He and his wife, Irene, also can vegetables from their garden in Trumansburg. Jars of jams, jellies, sauces, pickles and tomato juice line their cellar, supplying them with the garden's bounty year-round.

Community members with interesting or alternative lifestyles are featured every other Tuesday in Alternative Tompkins. To suggest a profile subject, contact The Journal at 274-9224.


Originally published Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Mommas don't let your babies grow up to be Chiropractors

From: James H.G. Redekop

There's a book out in Canada called "Spin Doctors: The Chiropractic Industry Under Examination" by Wayne MacPhail and Paul Benedetti which (among other things) documents numerous Canadian cases of death and disability caused by improper neck manipulations by chiros.

The book is based on research for canoe.ca which was prompted by some wrongful death lawsuits against chiropractors and an attempt by a Canadian Chiro college to get affiliated with York University.

Some reviews can be found here:


Some followup articles can be found here:

Woman: Refusal to pray results in discipline


Saturday, May 3, 2003

Last modified at 1:09 a.m. on Saturday, May 3, 2003

Lawsuit filed on jail's prayer circles

By Paul Pinkham
Times-Union staff writer

Whatever rights Laurel Clanton lost when she was sentenced to a year in the Duval County jail, she never believed the right not to pray was one of them.

Yet Clanton was disciplined and spent several extra weeks in jail for refusing to participate in an inmate prayer circle that was part of the jail's drug treatment program, she says in a federal lawsuit against the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the agency that runs the program.

Lawyers for the city and River Region Human Services counter that Clanton wasn't ordered to pray but merely had to remain in the circle while another inmate gave a closing message. Those messages were frequently prayers or religious statements. They were controlled by inmates, not the jail or River Region, and therefore don't violate the separation of church and state, they argued in court yesterday.

The case is drawing parallels from the judge, the lawyers and constitutional scholars to Duval County's controversial graduation prayer case that, after eight years of legal wrangling, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clanton was placed on house arrest in 1998 for fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs and sentenced to a year in jail in 2000 when she violated the terms of her house arrest. The judge recommended she participate in the drug program at the jail. The program is voluntary but once enrolled an inmate can't leave, said city attorney Scott Makar.

Clanton went willingly to the program but balked when, at the end of each session, the inmates joined hands in a circle while one designated as the leader gave a short closing message. Nearly all the sessions were closed with the leader saying the Serenity Prayer used in 12-step programs, though Clanton said the leader sometimes would say the Lord's Prayer. She didn't know about that aspect of the program when she signed up, said her attorney Gray Thomas.

When Clanton, an agnostic, objected to holding hands, that requirement was dropped, but she was told she had to remain in the circle. When she refused, a counselor filed a disciplinary report, and Clanton lost 20 days of sentence reduction time.

"Clanton's only objection was to participating in the prayer aspect of the program," Thomas said. "Laurel Clanton's claim isn't that nobody in this group should be allowed to pray, it's that she should be allowed to step aside."

Jail officials described Clanton as uncooperative, non-compliant and argumentative but said the disciplinary report "was based on her categorical refusal to participate in group close-outs even though she was not required to pray." Makar said if jail and River Region officials had prevented the other inmates from praying or giving religious messages, they could have been accused of violating those participants' free speech rights.

"She wasn't forced to pray. The government wasn't injecting any religion into the program," Makar said. "Merely being subjected to someone else's religious speech isn't a violation because the government isn't enforcing the speech on you."

Clanton's case raises similar issues as the Duval County graduation prayer case, said Thomas Berg, a constitutional scholar at St. Thomas University School of Law in Minneapolis. In that case, student-led messages that could include prayers or religious statements were allowed by the Supreme Court as long as they weren't orchestrated by school officials.

However, "I'm not sure that that argument transfers over to a prison setting," Berg said. "To punish her for not participating in the prayer is one giant step forward from a constitutional perspective."

Thomas, who was on the losing end of the graduation prayer case, acknowledged the similarities in arguments yesterday before U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan but said Clanton's incarceration makes a big difference.

"In the graduation cases, you're not required by literal force of law to be there," he said. "You're not behind barbed wire. You don't have a bunch of guards who are armed around you making sure you comply. ... You're not going to jail for 20 days."

Liberty Counsel President Matthew Staver, who backed the school system in the graduation case, said Clanton's case is similar to the school case with one big difference: "She has no way to escape it because she is confined to jail." Staver worried about a reverse situation if a Christian in the circle was forced to listen to offensive statements or prayers from a non-Christian.

Berg said the constitutional problem could have been avoided if Clanton had been allowed to opt out of the close-out circle. But River Region officials said the close-outs are a necessary component of treatment.

"It was designed to get the group together for the secular purpose, the therapeutic purpose of showing unity" in fighting their addictions, Makar said. "If you had inmates breaking off from the circle ... it creates additional security issues."

Yesterday's hearing concerned a motion by the city and River Region for judgment in their favor. Corrigan questioned the lawyers for about 90 minutes before taking the issue under advisement.

Staff writer Paul Pinkham can be reached at (904) 359-4107 or ppinkhamjacksonville.com.

Tom Jones exorcism? It is unusual


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

My grandmother used to say that Tom Jones was the devil. Said that about Lyndon Johnson, too, but Tom Jones was on TV more. This is the kind of ready-made cultural nonsense that shaped our early conclusions about the Prince of Darkness. I didn't care about Tom Jones, but I thought it was interesting that the devil would wear a tux with one of those frilly shirts.

Hey, we didn't dress that way for the prom for nothin'.

This musty knowledge oozed to the surface the other day when it occurred to me that I could benefit from a nice relaxing exorcism. Just one of those days, you know, when the weather was nasty, the people nastier, and the issues I kick around for a living seemed irretrievably divisive. Some call it the blues, but frankly, calling it the blues gives me the blues. By calling it demonic possession, I'd at least know where to go.

Pastor Jack Stahl, of course.

Pastor Jack will get you an exorcism that's quick and clean. No screaming, no preening, no big theatrical "THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU" motif for Pastor Jack. No frills, no chills, no spew; it's new. Or relatively. And cheap. You can get it for the price of a long-distance phone call.

The only problem, at least for me, is that Pastor Jack can't exorcize your deepest Tom Jones because he does his exorcisms in the name of Tom Jones.

Right. How could I make that up?

There are at least 200 people in California who understand this (you're stunned by the locale), as they are members of the Progressive Universal Life Church, the doctrine of which likely would not exist if it weren't for the famous Welsh baritone.

"In 1969, when I was 6 years old, 'This is Tom Jones' first aired on television," Pastor Jack explains on one of the several hundreds of thousands of sites on the Internet that are so depressing you could almost slap Al Gore for inventing the dang thing. "Every week, I would sit in front of the TV hypnotized by this gyrating god. Jones' voice made me feel as if I was surrounded by angels. It is a feeling I still experience today. It is an inner peace, not easy to describe."

Oh no, you're doing great.

"It is spiritual," says Pastor Jack. "Considering Tom Jones was responsible for my spiritual awakening as a child, it is only natural for me to incorporate him into my ministry as an adult."

Perhaps it was only natural, although in a psychotic sort of way. It's like saying it would be only natural for all those clerics who watched a good amount of the Three Stooges as children to have founded differing sects of the Nyuk Nyuk Temple.

But in Pastor Jack's case, the Tom Jones connection lives in everything he does from the pulpit, even to the extent that he'll dress and dance like the Vegas crooner himself to make his spiritual point. For the sake of decorum, he discourages the throwing of panties, as it would offend the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the Holy Spirit of Engelbert Humperdinck.

When he's not invoking the name of Tom Jones in baptisms, weddings, funerals and exorcisms, Pastor Jack distributes, through the church's education department, degrees, clerical titles and psychic certifications designed to help you offer the very same kinds of services he does.

"At Universities, it takes years and thousands of dollars to obtain a Doctoral Degree," he says at www.pulc.com. "For a limited time, we are offering our doctorate courses for an unbelievably small donation. ACT NOW! You are guaranteed to pass all courses (Doctoral and Psychic)."

As for your chances of becoming a minister of the church, that too looks fairly promising, and, Pastor Jack points out, "thousands of ministers have become enormously wealthy performing simple religious ceremonies [and] . . . get many discounts, such as fares on airplanes, buses, ships and trains. Many hotels and clothing stores also offer substantial savings."

All of this, of course, is to say nothing of Pastor Jack's own title of Gifted Psychic, which is definitely the kind you want. You don't want a

Bumbling Psychic or a psychic who has been designated clairvoyantly challenged.

But none of this was getting me my exorcism. It was time to call the 24-hour Tom Jones Exorcism Hotline. At first I heard only Tom Jones, bellowing "It's not unusual to be . . . " then Pastor Jack came on and screamed at the devil:


Oh that feels better.

And see? I'm not even sweating much.

Date of Christ's Death Pinpointed


05/16/2003 16:45

Two astronomers from Romania made a sensational revelation: they determined the time of Jesus Christ's death, pinpointed it to the exact minute and also named the time of his miraculous resurrection.

Scientists Liviu Mircea and Tiberiu Oproiu set themselves an objective to make a research dedicated to the last hour of the God's Son life in a human body.

As the scientists from Romania's Astronomic Observatory Institute say, Jesus Christ died at 3 p.m. on the Good Friday, April 3, 33AD and rose again at 4 a.m. on April 5.

To obtain the information the astronomers turned to the primary source, the Bible, and then started some astrology computer programs. However, the New Testament says that Jesus Christ died on the day after the first night with a full moon following the vernal equinox day. The astronomers employed information about revolution of the planets within 26-35AD and found out that it was only two times within the period that the fool moon followed the vernal equinox immediately. The first date was Friday, April 7, 30AD and the second time this combination repeated was April 3, 33AD. However, the Bible also mentions a solar eclipse that occurred during crucifixion of Jesus Christ. According to astronomy records, a partial solar eclipse was registered only in 33AD. So, this is how the scientists determined the exact dates of Christ's death and resurrection.

Friday, May 16, 2003

The Original Story: Paul Sheehan on the effect of the water


April 8 2002

Struck down by an incurable disease, journalist Paul Sheehan could get no relief from his chronic pain until he started drinking a local "wonder water". He's not the only one who swears by it - 100 other Australians (and their pets) are also swigging the stuff. So, is it the latest in snake oil, a miracle cure, or just a thirst-quenching placebo?

July 10, 1998, was not the sort of day you forget. It was a Friday. I woke up with a mouth full of ulcers. I had to go on national television, the Midday show, to be interviewed by Kerri-Anne Kennerley. It did not go well. When I got home, I received a phone call from my doctor.

"Don't leave the house," he said.

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - May 16, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

A UCLA study published in Britain is casting doubt on the health risk of inhaling so-called secondhand smoke, but American anti-tobacco groups have pounced on the report, questioning its validity and denouncing the researchers' financial ties to cigarette companies.

Using data collected from California by the American Cancer Society over 39 years, the researchers concluded that people who never smoked, but were married to smokers, had no higher risk of lung cancer or heart disease than that of married couples who did not smoke at all.

The findings challenge widely accepted studies showing that exposure to secondhand smoke raises the risk of lung cancer to a nonsmoker by 25 percent and the risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Such studies have been crucial in winning support for laws banning smoking in offices, bars and restaurants from California to New York.


from The Los Angeles Times

Max Faget, one of the nation's most important spacecraft designers, says the space shuttle — which he helped pioneer — should be retired and the human space program suspended until the nation can build a better vehicle for putting astronauts into orbit.

Similar calls for grounding the shuttles and other harsh assessments of its safety have been growing over the last week from members of Congress and space policy experts who say the fleet is too unreliable, too old and too costly to continue operating.

But such views have largely represented critics outside the circle of elite space engineers. Faget designed the Mercury space capsule and had a managing role in the design of every other U.S. human launch system, including the space shuttle, Apollo and Gemini.


from The Associated Press

Actress Hilary Swank isn't the only one who wants to ride a terra-ship to Earth's molten center.

On the heels of Swank's Hollywood thriller, "The Core," a California researcher is proposing to send a probe that would surf a wave of molten iron on a weeklong journey to the center of the Earth.

CalTech geophysicist David Stevenson knows his proposal is far-fetched. But billions of dollars are spent exploring space every year, he says, and the planet's interior is equally mysterious and deserves similar study.

The Earth's core, after all, creates the magnetic field that keeps compasses pointing north and deadly radiation in space from reaching the planet's surface. Scientists know from seismic data that the core is solid, and the outer core is molten, but many questions remain.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists analyzing the effects of a major earthquake in Alaska's mountainous interior in November say its unusual violence along three distinct faults holds important lessons for builders of high-rise structures in the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin.

The pattern of chaotic ground motion around the Denali quake's epicenter is likely to result in upgraded building codes and improvements in the quake resistance of future new buildings in California's most quake-prone cities, said David Hill of the U.S. Geological Survey's Menlo Park office.

The quake struck with a magnitude of 7.9 in an isolated mountainous region of Alaska. It lasted for 100 seconds, ruptured the ground along more than 200 miles of faults, and was felt thousands of miles away. It was the largest earthquake in North America in almost 150 years.

A technical report on the investigation by 29 scientists is being published today in the journal Science.


Men in white sheets postpone end of the world to next Thursday


By Colin Joyce in Godaishi
(Filed: 16/05/2003)

Members of a bizarre Japanese cult were busy draping trees and buildings in white sheets yesterday, apparently unconcerned as their deadline for the end of the world came and went.

Japan has for weeks obsessively watched the Panawave Laboratory cult as its members, dressed all in white, have blocked mountain roads in a convoy of white vans.

Members claim that communist guerrillas are trying to kill them with electro-magnetic waves. The cult also plotted to capture a celebrity seal.

Crop circles puzzle farmer


May 16, 2003

THE overnight appearance of dozens of bizarre crop circles in a field of sorghum has spooked a Sunshine Coast hinterland farmer and his workers.

The phenomenon, which was accompanied by loud "zapping noises", a flash of green light, lost power and barking dogs has the Gowen family of Glass House Mountains flumoxed.

Fifth generation land owner Kel Gowen said he was woken about midnight on Wednesday by two loud "zaps".

His farm hand, Noel Brady, whose cottage overlooks the 4ha of sorghum, said he was also woken by the first zapping sound, which was followed by the loss of power and bright green flashes.

Mr Gowen said it was only during a routine check of his property early yesterday morning that he noticed the 30 flattened circles in the sorghum.

Mr Gowen said his family had never taken notice of stories of crop circles or UFOs.

The Courier-Mail

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - May 15, 2003

from The Washington Post

Industrial fishing practices have decimated every one of the world's biggest and most economically important species of fish, according to a new and detailed global analysis that challenges current fisheries protection policies.

Fully 90 percent of each of the world's large ocean species, including cod, halibut, tuna, swordfish and marlin, has disappeared from the world's oceans in recent decades, according to the Canadian analysis -- the first to use historical data dating to the beginning of large-scale fishing, in the 1950s.

The new research found that fishing has become so efficient that it typically takes just 15 years to remove 80 percent or more of any species that becomes the focus of a fleet's attention. Some populations have disappeared within just a few years, belying the oceans' reputation as a refuge and resource of nearly infinite proportions.


from The Los Angeles Times

Two astronomers surveying the region around Jupiter have detected 20 new moons, bringing the giant planet's total to 60.

Although Galileo Galilei detected the planet's four largest moons in 1610, the discovery of dozens of smaller satellites has occurred only recently. The feat has required digital cameras capable of imaging huge swaths of sky and computer programs that can pick out orbiting objects as they slowly cross the night sky.

Since they began their systematic search in late 2000, the two astronomers — David C. Jewitt, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii, and graduate student Scott S. Sheppard — have found 43 of the planet's 60 moons. (Four were discovered by Galileo, four were discovered during a flyby of the Voyager spacecraft and nine were discovered during the 20th century by other astronomers who painstakingly analyzed photographic plates.)


from The Washington Post

A mysterious disease emerges almost overnight, jumping borders and uniting scientists in a worldwide effort to identify the source. They succeed. But before there is time to celebrate the collaboration, a divisive race begins: to patent the virus and secure commercial rights to a diagnostic test based on their discoveries.

It was the mid-1980s and the disease was AIDS. Today, history appears to be repeating itself with SARS.

Scientists in the United States, Hong Kong and Canada are seeking patents for the virus suspected to cause severe acute respiratory syndrome and for its genetic code. If approved, the patents could translate into broad rights over SARS testing, requiring any company selling a diagnostic tool to pay the virus's owner royalties. The result could be years of legal wrangling over who was first to discover the agent.


from The Chicago Tribune

Calling invasive species the most urgent environmental threat to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin, five dozen scientists laid out some extreme measures Wednesday to choke off a "revolving door" through Chicago that alien animals use to expand their devastating influence.

The two-day summit, organized by Mayor Richard Daley and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is focusing on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel, which links the two regions by connecting Lake Michigan and the Illinois River.

Invading creatures come in a wide range of sizes, from 100-pound carp to the tiniest microbes, so different techniques may be necessary to keep them from spreading. But many of the scientists at the summit decided the most effective way to pinch off that corridor to everything would be to construct physical barriers where the Chicago and Calumet Rivers and the North Shore Channel meet Lake Michigan. Such barriers would draw heavy opposition because they would block recreational boats and cargo ships.

But scientists favor barriers as the most clear-cut way to keep unwanted plants and animals from making that journey, said John Fogner of the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Barrington.


from The New York Times

THE nerve center of a conventional robot is a microprocessor of silicon and metal. But for a robot under development at Georgia Tech, commands are relayed by 2,000 or so cells from a rat's brain.

A group led by a university researcher has created a part mechanical, part biological robot that operates on the basis of the neural activity of rat brain cells grown in a dish. The neural signals are analyzed by a computer that looks for patterns emitted by the brain cells and then translates those patterns into robotic movement. If the neurons fire a certain way, for example, the robot's right wheel rotates once.

The leader of the group, Steve M. Potter, a professor in the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at Georgia Tech, calls his creation a Hybrot, short for hybrid robot.

"It's very much a symbiosis," he said, "a digital computer and a living neural network working together."


Rise of Japanese cults

By Robert Pigott
BBC's Religious Affairs Correspondent

If anyone in Japan is still unaware of the Armageddon poised to take place on Thursday, it won't be the fault of the Pana Wave Laboratory.

This cult organisation - one of many in Japan - has caught the nation's attention with its prediction that a close encounter with a 10th planet will set off earthquakes and tidal waves destroying most of humankind.

Pana Wave - and its bleak prognosis - might once have gone unnoticed.

But since the poison gas attack by another cult - Aum Shinrikyo - on the Tokyo subway in 1995, Japan has grown suspicious of their destructive power.

Pana Wave's bizarre progress across the country in a caravan of white vehicles (their steering wheels bandaged in white) has provided a captivating spectacle.

To protect themselves from electro-magnetic waves allegedly directed at them by Communist aggressors, members of Pana Wave drape themselves - and surrounding trees, bushes or crash barriers - in white fabric.

People - especially the young - are seeking alternative forms of security and spiritual fulfilment

Television crews, at first shunned, have been allowed to approach only when similarly garbed in white.

As so often with cults, this one has a powerful personality at its centre.

Yuko Chino is a former English teacher, aged 69 and in poor health, who has woven a personal philosophy out of Christianity, Buddhism and science fiction.

Another reason for heightened awareness of the plethora of cults is the trial of Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyo, reaching its culmination eight years after the group carried out the worst terrorist attack in Japan.

Twelve people were killed and 5,000 injured when members of the group released sarin gas on the subway system in Tokyo during a Monday rush hour.

Aum Shinrikyo - which had also preached that the world was coming to an end - was found to hold vast stores of the chemicals needed to make sarin.

Spiritual alternatives

Several explanations are offered to explain the growth in cults in Japan, but many trace them back to the loss of spiritual certainties taught before the war, and to the more recent economic decline that has eroded the confidence of a society that has measured its worth by work.

Some say the malaise has reached deep into society, with parents and teachers losing authority, and traditional moral values being undermined.

In such an atmosphere people - especially the young - are seeking alternative forms of security and spiritual fulfilment.

The Japanese Government - which recently estimated that there could be more than 200,000 cults at large - says many have profit as their main motivation.

It may have had in mind groups such as Ho-no-hana Sampogyo, a so-called foot-cult led by "His Holiness" Hogen Fukunaga.

The organisation claimed to be able to tell people's fortunes in the soles of their feet. They might be told a short toe meant their foot was out of balance, and charged huge sums for getting the "powers of heaven" flowing.

These activities led eventually to legal claims against His Holiness by former members of the cult.

In other Western countries a hunger for spiritual exploration is not being met by established religions; in Japan their failure seems far greater. Japanese attend services which include Shinto, Buddhist and Christian rites, but stripped of much of their theology.

It's a weakness that has helped promote novel religions, which mix elements of several faiths and folk beliefs.

Even disillusioned former members of such groups will accept that they offered at least elements of truth.

The doomsday cults - which predict the end of the world or the creation of a new world order - are the most sinister, but the absurd, white-shrouded Pana Wavists may not gain even the distinction of being considered dangerous.

Of course, if the world does end on Thursday sceptics will face a position of unthinkable embarrassment.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/05/14 21:56:10 GMT

Chinese turn to the occult to ward off SARS epidemic


May 14, 2003


BEIJING -- They're hiring sorcerers. Lighting firecrackers. Following advice reputed to be from a mystical talking baby. Across China, thousands of people are turning to the supernatural to fight SARS.

Reports of the activities from widely scattered areas across the nation come as the Health Ministry said Tuesday that the disease now has killed at least 262 people on the 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.Some burn fake money as an offering to the gods.

He Dazhi, a reporter for the Sanxiang Metropolitan News, wrote that believers are asked to bow to spiritual scrolls or a statue of Buddha. Gongs or drums occasionally accompany the ceremony.

"SARS is completely unknown to many farmers," He wrote. "Their fear of infection has been used by sorcerers to have them rely on superstition instead of science."

On Tuesday, World Health Organization investigators who visited northern Hebei province said migrant workers had carried the virus to rural areas.

The announcement confirmed worries that SARS, still largely an urban disease in China, might spread to the countryside. Experts say a lack of doctors and hospitals there could make any outbreak a catastrophe.

In Beijing, news reports said quarantines on three hospitals and a residential neighborhood have been lifted, though a WHO specialist said it was too early to say the peak of the capital's epidemic was past.

"It is quite possible that in another week we'll see an upsurge in cases, if there are undetected clusters or outbreaks occurring," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda.

Meanwhile in Guizhou province, firecrackers crackled through the city of Liupanshui after a rumor spread that a deaf man spoke after years of silence and said the virus would disappear if fireworks were set off May 6, according to a policeman who would give only his surname, Tang. Similar firecracker displays were reported in other cities.

Gao Binzhong, a professor of folklore study at Peking University, said the popularity of magic in response to SARS is natural.

"People not only need a medical explanation, but also a cultural and psychological explanation," Gao said. "It is understandable that people with various backgrounds explain the uncertainty in their own way."

In SARS news Tuesday:

The worldwide death toll reached at least 580, with more than 7,400 cases reported.

Canada's death toll rose to 24. Most of the more than 140 Canadian cases and all 24 deaths have been in the Toronto area.

The Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain added the Philippines to its banned visitor list that includes China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam

'Vampires or aliens' blamed for Chilean chicken slaughter


Farmers in a Chilean village are reportedly blaming vampires or aliens for the deaths of 40 chickens.

According to El Diario Austral newspaper, the chickens were found dead with their insides scattered all over their owner's backyard in Perquenco.

Juana Raasch, owner of the farm, said: "It was a horrible scene. But the strangest thing was that there was no trace of any other animal that could have done it.

"I have owned this farm for seven years and I have never seen anything like that.

"I would know if it were the work of a pig, dog, wolf or cat. What happened here was out of this world."

Police sent to the farm were puzzled by the fact that there was no evidence of an intruder, either animal or human.

A spokesman said: "It seems silly to talk about vampires and aliens, but you never know around here.

"This farm is well protected with lots of wires and fences, I don't see how an animal could have come in here.

"This is not the first time something bizarre like that has happened around here, and we have never come up with a normal explanation."

Story filed: 09:26 Wednesday 14th May 2003

North Korea Markets 'Healing Stone'



SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea is mass producing a "stone" it has developed that when heated emits "infrared rays" that are good for the human body, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday.

The rays can remove smells, be used as a sterilizer and as a treatment for heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and other illnesses, the report said.

"The long-wave infrared rays emitted from the stone penetrate deep into the human body, giving no side effects to the heart, and help (the) human body absorb energy," it said.

The agency said the stones were being "mass produced" in various sizes, colors and patterns and branded with the name "Kumgang," or "Diamond."

North Korea's communist government is cash-strapped and has been accused of resorting to selling narcotics and missiles to raise money. Alternative health remedies are believed to be popular in the isolated country as health care is poor.

Religious preaching makes these books unfit for use in public schools


William J. Bennetta

When we examine the textbooks that major publishers try to sell to public schools, we sometimes find fraudulent passages that function as instruments of religious indoctrination: Religious myths are depicted as accounts of real people and events, religious superstitions are depicted as matters of fact, and the origins of religious writings are obscured or are wrapped in outright lies.

These passages of religious propaganda have been devised by individuals or groups that seek to use the public schools for spreading their own sectarian doctrines and for recruiting converts. In various cases, publishers evidently have accepted material from religious pressure groups and have put the material into textbooks, even though it is laden with blatant preaching, miracle-mongering and fake "history." I assume that the textbook-publishers have required the pressure groups to pay for this service, but I am not aware of any instance in which a publisher has admitted to collecting a fee for disseminating religious stuff.

Because the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids the erection of any official religion by any agency of government, it is illegal for public schools to deliver instruction that has been "tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma." (See the decision issued by the Supreme Court of the United States in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).) Public-school educators must bear this restriction in mind, not only when they design curricula but also when they adopt textbooks. If a textbook subjects students to sectarian indoctrination, the use of that book in a public school will run afoul of basic constitutional principles and will invite lawsuits.


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 637 May 14, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

PLASMA WAKEFIELDS ACCELERATE POSITRONS. An experiment conducted at SLAC features a number of firsts: the first time positrons have been accelerated by the plasma wakefield method (for background, see http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/1998/split/pnu385-2.htm ); the first time wakefield acceleration has been achieved with meter-size plasmas (previous efforts have taken place in 10 cm cells); and the first to operate under realistic accelerator conditions (in this case a 30-GeV beam of positrons). In this UCLA/SLAC/USC collaboration, positron bursts are sent into a 1.4-meter-long chamber filled with a lithium plasma. The first two-thirds of the burst sets up powerful electric fields in the plasma which then serve to accelerate the trailing one-third of the burst to higher energy. The boosted positrons increased their energy by about 80 MeV over a length of 1.4 m, for an acceleration gradient of about 50 MeV/m. This is comparable to the best acceleration that can be accomplished with conventional RF techniques in which electrons or positrons are taken up to higher energies by soaking up radio energy coupled into the beam pipe. But the wakefield researchers expect that the gradient can be enhanced a hundredfold to 5 GeV/m if the size of the beam pulses can be shrunk by a factor of 10. According to Chan Joshi of UCLA (contact Chan Joshi, joshi@ee.ucla.edu, 310-825-7279) the wakefield approach may not be fully mature by the time the next electron-positron collider is built, but its benefit could be tested by installing two plasma accelerator sections, one for positrons and one for electrons, just before the interaction point for some final energy boosting in an existing collider. (Blue et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article)

TURNING BUBBLES INTO MICROSCOPIC SYRINGES through the use of sound has been experimentally shown by researchers in the Netherlands (Claus-Dieter Ohl, University of Twente, 011-31-53-489-5604. c.d.ohl@tn.utwente.nl), demonstrating a potential method for injecting drugs and genes into specific regions of a patient's body. Taking high-speed microscopic photographs, the researchers revealed that even bubbles much smaller than the thickness of a human hair could transform into a needle-like tube, delivering a billionth of a millionth of a gallon of liquid. While this sub-nanofluidic volume seems very small, it is more than enough to transfer large molecules (such as DNA and most drugs) into desired cells for medical therapy.

In their experiment, the researchers start with a room-temperature container of water that was slightly "degassed," or had some oxygen gas removed from it. Inside the water container, they create tiny bubbles between 7 and 55 microns in size. Next, they broadcast high-intensity ultrasound into the liquid, creating supersonic disturbances known as shock waves. Slamming against the microscopic bubbles and squeezing them into needle-like shapes, the shock waves also introduce small amounts of surrounding liquid into the bubble. The liquid shoots through the bubble at very high speed, punctures its opposite end, and continues outside as a high-speed stream of fluid resembling a syringe. Based on the speed of the flow, the researchers expect that this liquid stream could easily penetrate a nearby cell membrane. Dissolved drugs or genetic material surrounding specially designed microbubbles could therefore be injected into targeted cells. Long suspected but now confirmed, the acoustically driven metamorphosis of bubbles into micro-syringes could someday become a useful medical tool. (Ohl and Ikink, Physical Review Letters, upcoming). While this work aims to inject material deeply into living cells, other U-Twente researchers have just introduced a new acoustic method for manipulating cells: they devised a "sonoporation" technique which uses gently oscillating bubbles attached to a surface to deform or even puncture cell membranes (Marmottant and Hilgenfeldt, Nature, 8 May 2003).

FIRST-YEAR PHYSICS GRADUATE STUDENTS are on the rise at US universities, a new AIP study shows. The number of first-year physics/astronomy students for the year 2000 (2697) was some 5% higher than the recent low in 1997. (In still more recent numbers for 2002, about to be published, the number of first year grad students is some 15% higher than in 1997.) In the 1999/2000 beginning-grad cohort, foreign students (52%) outnumber US students (48%). Chinese students (25%) make up the largest single international component, with Eastern European students accounting for 22%, up from about 5% in the early 1980s. Women constitute 19% of the 1999/2000 first-year physics grad students and 29% in astronomy. Age is a factor: about 64% of the foreign students were 2 4 or older when they began physics grad school, whereas the number for US students is 41%. What kind of employment do these students hope for? A majority indicated their long-term desire was an academic job. ("Graduate Student Report: First-Year Students in 1999 and 2000," prepared by the Statistical Research Center, AIP; www.aip.org/statistics, contact Patrick J. Mulvey, 301-209-3070.)

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

Microsoft says iLoo not a hoax, but project dead anyway

Microsoft says iLoo not a hoax, but project dead anyway SEATTLE (AP) — Microsoft and its public relations firm have changed their story — again — about whether its United Kingdom division had been developing an Internet-enabled portable toilet.

What's true with the iLoo?

On Monday, three representatives for the Redmond software giant told news agencies, including The Associated Press, that an April 30 news release trumpeting the "iLoo" was a hoax and apologized for "any confusion or offense" for the joke.

But on Tuesday, the company reversed itself, saying the iLoo had been real — only it's now been killed.

"We jumped the gun basically yesterday in confirming that it was a hoax and in fact it was not," said Lisa Gurry, MSN group product manager. "Definitely we're going to be taking a good look at our communication processes internally."

It's a public relations embarrassment for a company that's famous for micromanaging news releases, interviews and promotional events.

"It's definitely not how we like to do PR at Microsoft," Gurry said.

The iLoo was described as a portable toilet equipped with a wireless keyboard and a height-adjustable plasma screen with high-speed Internet access. Microsoft's MSN division was "in the process of converting a portable loo to create a unique experience" in time for the summer festival season, according to the release.

Several news organizations carried reports of the iLoo project, including The Associated Press and USATODAY.com. An AP reporter specifically asked whether the reported project was a hoax, and received assurances last week from Microsoft, its PR firm, Portland, Ore.-based Waggener Edstrom, and another PR firm in London, Red Consultancy, that the project was real

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

Current News  News Back Issues

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