NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 May 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, May 25, 2003

McCullough calls national 'amnesia' threat to liberty


By George Archibald

Thought police in American schools and rotten history textbooks are as great a threat to American freedoms as al Qaeda terrorists, Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer David McCullough said yesterday. "Something's eating away at the national memory, and a nation or a community or a society can suffer as much from the adverse effects of amnesia as can an individual," Mr. McCullough, who wrote the best-selling biography of the United States' second president, John Adams, told The Washington Times. "I mean, it's really bad."

Mr. McCullough, who gave the annual Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities last night, told an audience at the National Museum of American History: "For a free, self-governing people, something more than a vague familiarity with history is essential if we are to hold onto and sustain our freedom. But I don't think history should ever be made to seem like some musty, unpleasant pill to be swallowed solely for our own civic good.

"History, let us agree, can be an immense source of pleasure. For almost anyone with the normal human allotment of curiosity and an interest in people, it is a field day," he said.

In an earlier meeting with reporters, Mr. McCullough said elementary, middle and high school students are bored by dreadful history textbooks that embrace multiculturalism and cultural equivalence in order to be politically correct.

"They are deadly," he said of the history textbooks used at all levels. "It's as if they were designed to kill anyone's interest in history rather than encourage it. And if you were told you have to go home tonight and read this book for two hours, you would say in your heart of hearts, what did I do wrong today that I'm being so punished?"

Mr. McCullough said he agreed with a critical assessment of current history textbooks by New York University education-research professor Diane Ravitch, in her just-published book, "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Children Learn."

Mrs. Ravitch wrote: "The once-traditional emphasis in textbooks on the growth of democratic institutions has nearly vanished. Glencoe's 'World History: The Human Experience' is typical, with its upbeat descriptions of 'flowering civilizations' in every part of the world.

"Students who learn about the world from these texts are unlikely to understand why some civilized nations flourished and others languished, or why people vote with their feet to leave some places and go to others. ... Nor will they have any deep knowledge of the great ideological, political, economic, and military struggles between democratic nations and their totalitarian adversaries in the 20th century," Mrs. Ravitch wrote.

"Nor will they perceive the critical importance of freedom, democracy, and human rights in the successful functioning of multiethnic, multireligious societies. Nor will they have any insight into the historic struggle to protect religious freedom and to separate religion from the state."

Mr. McCullough said: "It's all true. History is a story, cause and effect. And if you're going to teach just segments of history — women's issues — these youngsters have almost no sense of cause and effect. "They have no sense of what followed what and why, that everything has antecedents and everything has consequences. And they might begin to think that's true of life, too."

Mr. McCullough said students today "have no sense of geography — they don't understand about struggle." He said that when his daughter, Dorie, was a history major at Vermont's Middlebury College in the late 1980s, "nobody was teaching anything about wars and battles, and why one side won and the other lost, and what kind of leadership was involved. ... You could say this is post-Vietnam syndrome or something.

"And so many of the blessings and advantages we have, so many of the reasons why our civilization, our culture, has flourished aren't understood; they're not appreciated," he said. "And if you don't have any appreciation of what people went through to get, to achieve, to build what you are benefiting from, then these things don't mean very much to you. You just think, well, that's the way it is. That's our birthright. That just happened.

"[But] it didn't just happen," he said. "And at what price? What grief? What disappointment? What suffering went on? I mean this. I think that to be ignorant or indifferent to history isn't just to be uneducated or stupid. It's to be rude, ungrateful. And ingratitude is an ugly failing in human beings."

Flying Saucer Review, Volume 48/1, Spring 2003 pp. 22 & 23

New website and email address:



Article #1

KGB Chief Ordered 4m soldiers to keep watching the skies for UFOs.
By Nick Paton Walsh, © The Observer, 23 March 2003.

Yuri Andropov, the former Soviet leader and longtime head of the KGB, had an acute personal interest in UFOs, and ordered a 13-year programme that required every soldier in the military to monitor sightings over Russian territory, according to new revelations.

Andropov shunned the splendour enjoyed by many Soviet leaders to live in a sparse flat throughout his 15 years as KGB chief and one years as Secretary-General of the Communist Party.

Igor Sinitsin, who worked as an Aide to Andropov in the Politburo for six years and has just written his memoirs, told *The Observer* that in 1977 he discovered that Andropov kept a file on the phenomena in his desk.

At the time there had been fevered speculation in the Soviet Union about a large unidentified object in the skies over Petrozavosk on 20 September 1977. Sinitsin, now 70, said that one of his responsibilities was to monitor the foreign press, and he brought Andropov a *Stern* magazine piece about UFOs.

"I dictated a summary of the piece to my secretary and was sure to express some doubts, because you know how sceptical the mood was in Soviet times to such stories. I worried he would be concerned about my mental health, but I dared to hand the summary to him."

Sinitsin was shocked by the staid KGB chief's reaction. Andropov handed him the text of an official report he had ordered from the counter-espionage directorate. "It described a UFO appearance in Astrakhan that an officer had seen while fishing."

Through Andropov's personal interest, in 1978 two committees were established to investigate UFOs, one military and one civilian. Andropov ordered four million Soviet soldiers to file detailed reports of incidents.

Platov said the programme led to hundreds of thousands being recorded in the 13 years before it was abandoned with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990.

Most cases had a 'rational explanation and were mainly linked to technical issues like missile launches'.

Article #2

Interview with current Russian UFO Research Chief.
By Philip Creighton [editor, FSR]

On the occasion of 12th International UFO Congress & Film Festival at Laughlin, Nevada (2-8 February 2003) a filmed interview was conducted between Valery Uvarov, of Russia's National Security Academy, and Graham Birdsall, editor of *UFO Magazine*, this being reported in the April 2003 issue of the latter.

The extraordinary revelations to emerge from this interview include the following:

That he is the head of the Department of UFO Research, Science and Technical, National Security Academy, based in St. Petersburg. He is answerable to just two people above him, in turn to President Putin.

In answer to the question "Do UFOs exist?" he says: "For sure, we know they exist, but what is behind their activity, their interest? This is the most important issue for us, and what we mostly focus our investigations on."

He asserts that there is wide-level active cooperation between NASA and Russia on this subject.

He makes an extraordinary declaration on the Tunguska explosion of 1908. He says they know that it was a meteor, and that it was shot down by a missile from an unknown installation in Siberia. [say what!-TWC] Furthermore, that this same installation shot down another meteor on 24/25 September 2002. He indicates that this installation is actually protecting planet Earth, and even maintains it in a stable orbit. [woo-woo]

He says: "This has taught us to believe we have friends--friends who watch over us silently. They did not then, nor will they allow now, any planet, comet or asteroid to strike and destroy the Earth. This, for us, is now absolutely clear."

He continues: "Let me speak frankly. This installation has a power system, an energy source. We have located this. It was during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia that we first noticed an increase in the output of that energy. For us, it was incredible, but we now know that this installation responds to social upheaval and conflict."

Further: "Let me tell you something about the Tunguska explosion-- something that has never been spoken of before. Two months before the explosion, every living animal fled the region. It was as if the installation had powered up to deal with the asteroid. With that came an increase in radiation. The same thing is happening now, today"

He explains that radiation is a factor which is hampering visits to the site, but another expedition is planned for later this year, and invites Graham Birdsall to come to Russia to visit the installation as an observer.

This is indeed remarkable stuff. Despite numerous expeditions over decades noone has ever been able to explain adequately what caused the Tunguska explosion. Current theories even envisage that it could have been caused by a chunk of "mirror matter" which could still lie buried there under the ground. Let's watch this space.

Life clues on Red Planet

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Scientists may have identified what could be the best place to look for life on the Red Planet. It is the Russell Crater in Mars' southern hemisphere.

Observations of the region made during the local autumn and spring, when frost covers the dunes and then recedes, indicate liquid water could be present on the surface at certain times of the year. Detailed analysis suggests this water could be mixing with soil to create frequent mudflows.

"The water we believe is there means that it could be the best place we know of so far where you could dig into the surface to look for life," researcher Dr Dennis Reiss told BBC News Online.

Freeze thaw

"There are extraordinary features in Russell Crater, features resembling terrestrial mudflows," said Dr Reiss, of the German Aerospace Centre.

He has studied high-resolution images from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft in orbit around the planet. He has concluded the mudflows could be the youngest features on Mars, perhaps even being formed from time to time during the present day.

In particular, Dr Reiss measured the temperature of the surface along with its reflectivity, technically called its albedo.

These two quantities told him a lot about what is going on in the dunes.

The albedo indicates if the surface is frozen or thawed and the temperature provides clues about what types of ice and liquid are present.

When spring comes

When winter arrives at Russell Crater, water vapour and carbon dioxide condense out of Mars' thin atmosphere and frost the dunes.

The albedo and temperature readings indicate that during the spring thaw, the frozen carbon dioxide sublimates - turns into a gas - leaving a thawed surface containing liquid water. "It could be that in the first couple of centimetres of the surface there is liquid water, possibly even on the surface as well," Dr Reiss said.

"In this place, for a few hours each day, just after noon in the summer, there could be liquid water on the surface of Mars."

Faraway missions

Such a possibility is exciting for those wishing to look for life on the planet.

It is generally believed that to find life on Mars, one should try to find water.

However, none of the spacecraft set for a Mars landing this year are due to go anywhere near the Russell Crater.

The European Beagle 2 will land on the arid plain of Issidis, about 10 degrees north of the equator.

It is a site chosen to be warm enough for Beagle to work and low enough for Beagle's parachutes to allow a safe landing.

The two US rovers, also due for launch next month, will touch down near the equator, halfway around the planet from each other.

Dennis Reiss and Ralf Jaumann publish their work on Russell Crater in Geophysical Research Letters.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/05/24 06:47:36 GMT

Saturday, May 24, 2003

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

From: Paul Lee pglee@mail1.stofanet.dk

Since the study by Terrett has been mentioned in this thread, I will provide some more information from one of my previous mails on this subject. Notice that the purpose of the study by PTs was "to identify cases of injury involving treatment by physical therapists", not by chiros. But it of course revealed their involvement in the problem.

The results of DC's attitudes towards the use of manipulation in patients of all ages are reflected in the following study. A summary regarding the cervical spine follows here:

"Manipulation of the cervical spine (MCS) is used in the treatment of people with neck pain and muscle-tension headache. The purposes of this article are to review previously reported cases in which injuries were attributed to MCS, to identify cases of injury involving treatment by physical therapists, and to describe the risks and benefits of MCS. One hundred seventy-seven published cases of injury reported in 116 articles were reviewed. The cases were published between 1925 and 1997. The most frequently reported injuries involved arterial dissection or spasm, and lesions of the brain stem. Death occurred in 32 (18%) of the cases.

Physical therapists were involved in less than 2% of the cases, and no deaths have been attributed to MCS provided by physical therapists. Although the risk of injury associated with MCS appears to be small, this type of therapy has the potential to expose patients to vertebral artery damage that can be avoided with the use of mobilization (nonthrust passive movements). The literature does not demonstrate that the benefits of MCS outweigh the risks. Several recommendations for future studies and for the practice of MCS are discussed. [Di Fabio RP. Manipulation of the cervical spine: risks and benefits." (Physical Therapy 1999;79:50-65.) http://www.ptjournal.org/Jan99/v79n1p50cfm (unfortunately only availabe to subscribers)

The graphs are interesting, especially Figure 2: http://www.ptjournal.org/Jan99/v79n1p50-figs.cfm#F2 where the type of practitioner was adjusted according to the findings by Terrett. PTs were involved in less than 2% of all cases, with no deaths caused by PTs. DCs were involved in a little more than 60% of all cases, including 32 deaths.

Before adjusting the numbers according to the findings by Terrett, it looked like DCs were involved in more cases than was actually the case. The revised figures made DCs look a very little bit better, but were still far too high. A casual glance at these numbers could lead to the partially incorrect conclusion, that manipulation, when performed by a chiropractor, is much more dangerous than when performed by other practitioners. No, that would not be entirely correct. They should be seen more as a reflexion of the fact that manipulation is most often performed by DCs.

Regardless of who performs the manipulation - the more it gets done, the greater the risk. Sooner or later someone is going to get hurt. It needs to be used much more judiciously, by whoever it is that uses it, than most DCs use it today. If a PT or MD were to use spinal manipulation in the same way, extent and frequency that DCs do, they would be exposing their patients to the same risks that chiropractic patients are exposed to every day. The statistics would then reveal more injuries from PTs and MDs.

While the technique itself is potentially problematic, the attitude of most chiropractors towards it makes it doubly so when applied by them.

"The literature does not demonstrate that the benefits of MCS outweigh the risks."



Paul Lee, PT

The Quack-Files

Anti-Quackery Resources & Web Rings

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Passive smoking risks in doubt, study says


Times OnLine | 5/16/03 | Nigel Hawkes

INHALING other people's tobacco smoke has no effect on heart disease or lung cancer risks, according to a new study.

The results cast doubt on moves to ban smoking in public places and suggest that much of the fuss about passive smoking may have been misplaced. Two American scientists reviewed evidence from a long-term study in California that enrolled nearly 120,000 adults and monitored their health for nearly 40 years.

The study began in 1959, when the risks of smoking were less well understood.

James Enstrom, of the University of California in Los Angeles, and Geoffrey Kabat, of the University of New York, compared the risks of lung cancer and heart disease between non-smokers married to smokers, and non-smokers married to non-smokers.

They found no difference, suggesting that being married to a smoker and hence exposed to second-hand smoke on a daily basis did not increase the risk of either disease.

This conclusion is in conflict with many authoritative bodies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency and the American Heart Association. But the studies underlying those claims have long been disputed, for a number of reasons. People who say they are non-smokers may in fact be ex-smokers; the actual exposure to smoke is hard to measure; and negative studies — those that find no effect — often go unpublished.

When many studies are pooled to increase their statistical power, only the positive studies go into the pool and create a false impression. The results, say the authors, "do not support a causal relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco-related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect".

The British Medical Journal said that Mr Enstrom had received funds from the tobacco industry for research because it was impossible to get the money from other sources. Mr Kabat said he had not received money from the industry until last year, when he conducted a review for a law firm that has several tobacco companies as clients. Both are lifelong non-smokers, the journal says.

Amanda Sandford, from the anti-smoking group Ash, said: "The authors appear to be deliberately downplaying the findings to suit their tobacco paymasters."

The British Medical Association said that the study was flawed because it did not collect detailed data on passive smoking.

Tim Lord, the chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, said: "This is a large and very important study . . . taking the evidence as a whole, the inevitable conclusion is that claims made about the potentially harmful effects of passive smoking have indeed been overstated."

Simon Clark, of the smokers' lobbying group Forest, said: "We have consistently argued that the jury is still out on the effects of environmental tobacco smoke. This latest study proves our point."

Colorado Judge Throws Out Death Sentence


Saturday May 24, 2003 12:29 AM


Associated Press Writer

BRIGHTON, Colo. (AP) - A judge threw out a convicted killer's death sentence Friday, saying the jury improperly relied on the ``eye for an eye'' teachings of the Bible to reach its decision.

Judge John Vigil ordered a new sentencing hearing for Robert Harlan, who was convicted in 1995 of kidnapping, raping and murdering Rhonda Maloney, 25. He also shot a passer-by who tried to help, leaving her paralyzed.

``If any case merits the death penalty, there cannot be serious debate about this case being that case,'' Vigil wrote. ``The death penalty, however, must be imposed in a constitutional manner ... Jury resort to biblical code has no place in a constitutional death penalty proceeding.''

Harlan had appealed, arguing that the Bible is not part of Colorado law.

Prosecutors, who plan to appeal, said the use of biblical passages could not have influenced the verdict and that passages were only read for comfort and inspiration.

``We disagree with the ruling,'' Adams County Assistant District Attorney Steve Bernard said. ``It is unclear from the evidence what role the Bible played in deliberations.''

All 12 jurors testified at a hearing earlier this year. Several jurors, including Lana Eaton-Ochoa, said they wrote down references from the Bible on note cards, brought the cards into the deliberation room and read them aloud.

Among the Bible citations was Leviticus 24:20, which reads, ``fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.''

Vigil said the sequestered jury discussed the biblical passages in the deliberation room ``for the purpose of guiding and directing certain jurors to a particular verdict.''

``This and other passages the jurors considered do more than simply encourage jurors to follow the instructions of the court,'' he said. ``The passages mandate that death be the penalty for murder.''

Defense attorney Kathleen Lord expressed satisfaction with the judge's ruling.

``The eye for an eye. That's just not the law in Colorado or in any state,'' Lord said. ``Bible passages that were used by the jury in this case were Bible passages contradictory to Colorado law.''

The judge criticized court officials for failing to make sure jurors were not exposed to outside influences. ``The jury supervision performed in this case was extremely negligent and appallingly lax,'' he wrote.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

Weighing the evidence for alternative history

From: Terry W. Colvin


To the ancient Egyptians ma'at was a concept of truth, justice and balance.

This web site is put forth in that spirit.

The aim of this site is to provide a well reasoned case for the mainstream version of ancient history. We will present articles that validate our true heritage and that dispute the proposals used to support the belief in a lost civilization that seeded the familiar ancient cultures of the world.

Many readers of alternative literature are interested in the mainstream version of human history so that they can make a fair comparison and draw their own conclusions. Therefore it is imperative that the established theories be presented in a form that is educational, entertaining and easily available so that they may be more easily understood. At this site, we seek to challenge the validity of the alternative propositions by reasoned and logical arguments founded in evidence.

Morse wins AIBS Education Award

Dear Friends of NCSE,

M. Patricia Morse is the 2003 recipient of the Education Award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences. The award is presented annually to individuals and groups who have made significant contributions to education in the biological sciences. Morse, a marine biologist and science educator at the University of Washington, is a lifetime member of NCSE. Congratulations from all of us at NCSE!

For information on the award, please see http://www.aibs.org/board/eduaward.html or the May 2003 issue of BioScience (vol. 53, no. 5, pp. 529-32).


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x 305
fax: 510-601-7204

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 23, 2003

Scientists Shine Light on Monarchs' Pilgrimage
from The Washington Post

Scientists have figured out for the first time how the monarch butterfly uses an intricate interplay of its internal body clock and the sun to guide its extraordinary annual pilgrimage from eastern and midwestern North America to its tiny winter home in the pine woods of central Mexico.

Researchers said yesterday that the monarchs -- the orange-colored denizens of summer gardens all over the United States -- use their body clocks to orient themselves in a southwesterly direction as they fly toward Mexico, guided by the position of the sun as it moves across the autumn sky.

The researchers also found that the sun's ultraviolet light is important, perhaps crucial, in stimulating the butterflies to begin their trip south, but that it has no apparent affect on the functioning of the insects' body clocks.


from The New York Times

Wednesday's deadly earthquake in Algeria occurred in a seismically active region that stretches from Portugal to Sicily.

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake, which struck at 7:44 p.m. (2:44 p.m. E.D.T.), was the strongest in more than two decades. The United States Geological Survey placed the origin of the earthquake six miles underground about 45 miles east of Algiers.

At that spot the African tectonic plate is moving almost a quarter inch a year to the north-northwest, pushing up against the Eurasian plate.

"Northern Algeria is right along the plate boundary between Africa and Europe," said Dr. Mustapha Meghraoui, a geophysicist at the Institute of Physics of the Earth in Strasbourg, France. "This activity is not a surprise."

from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- At an annual dinner attended by the political elite, President Bush last year aimed a few zingers at the woman he had named administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Christie Whitman, he noted in a humorous speech, had given him a Scottish terrier. And in return, Bush said, "I gave her EPA. Now we both have messes to clean up."

Today, the EPA itself has the potential to become a mess for the president -- or at least a political challenge. The administration faces significant political risks as it goes about nominating a successor to Whitman, who announced her resignation Wednesday.

If the president chooses someone with moderate views on the role of environmental regulation, he could anger his industry allies and Republican ideologues, some of whom want to scale back requirements on business. But if the administration names a sharp critic of environmental regulation, it could hand Democrats an issue to use against the president in the next election.

from The Los Angeles Times

Eating few grains, fruits or vegetables but plenty of fat-laden meat - the hallmarks of the controversial diet championed by weight-loss guru Dr. Robert Atkins - helps dieters shed twice as much weight over the short term and leads to healthier blood-fat levels, according to two studies published today.

The findings, appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine, surprised many researchers who had expected the fatty diet to worsen dieters' risk factors for heart disease.

"These are important studies," said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children's Hospital Boston. "They will, I think, really dramatically demonstrate that a primary focus on fat reduction may be mistaken."

from The (Raleigh) News & Observer

Hundreds of Albert Einstein's scientific papers, personal letters and humanist essays are now on the Internet. The documents, some dating back to Einstein's youth, can be found on a Web site run by the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Web site was opened to the public on Monday, May 19.

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Friday, May 23, 2003


Applicable to the subsequent news stories (below) about the resurgence of creationism, here please find my March, 2002 Scientific American column, written, in part, as a tribute to Martin Gardner and his now 50-year-old classic work on skepticism, In the Name of Science, but, sadly still appropriate today. I think you'll especially like the quote from H. L. Mencken.

Hermits and Cranks

Fifty years ago Martin Gardner launched the modern skeptical movement. Unfortunately, much of what he wrote about is still current today

Michael Shermer

In 1950 Martin Gardner published an article in the Antioch Review entitled "The Hermit Scientist," about what we would today call pseudoscientists. It was Gardner's first publication of a skeptical nature (he was the games columnist for Scientific American for over a quarter century), and in 1952 he expanded it into a book titled In the Name of Science, with the descriptive subtitle "An entertaining survey of the high priests and cultists of science, past and present." Published by Putnam, the book sold so poorly that it was quickly remaindered and lay dormant until 1957, when it was republished by Dover and has come down to us as _Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science_, still in print and arguably _the_ skeptic classic of the past half century.

The "hermit scientist," a youthful Gardner wrote half a century ago, works alone and is ignored by mainstream scientists. "Such neglect, of course, only strengthens the convictions of the self-declared genius." Gardner, however, was wrong by half in his prognostications: "The current flurry of discussion about Velikovsky and Hubbard will soon subside, and their books will begin to gather dust on library shelves." While Velikovskians are a quaint few surviving in the interstices of fringe culture, L. Ron Hubbard has been canonized by the Church of Scientology and deified as the founding saint of a world religion.

In 1952 Gardner could not have known that the nascent flying saucer craze would turn into an alien industry: "Since flying saucers were first reported in 1947, countless individuals have been convinced that the earth is under observation by visitors from another planet." Absence of evidence then was no more a barrier to belief than it is today, and UFOlogists proffered the same conspiratorial explanations for the dearth of proof: "I have heard many readers of the saucer books upbraid the government in no uncertain terms for its stubborn refusal to release the "truth" about the elusive platters. The administration's "hush-hush policy" is angrily cited as proof that our military and political leaders have lost all faith in the wisdom of the American people."

From his perspective half a century ago Gardner was even then bemoaning the fact that some beliefs never seem to go out of vogue, as he recalled H. L. Mencken's quip from the 1920s "that if you heave an egg out of a Pullman car window anywhere in the United States you are likely to hit a fundamentalist."

Gardner cautions that when presumably religious superstition should be on the wane how easy it is "to forget that thousands of high school teachers of biology, in many of our southern states, are still afraid to teach the theory of evolution for fear of losing their jobs." Today, bleeding Kansas enjoins the fight as the creationist virus spreads northward.

Thankfully there has been some progress since Gardner published his first criticisms of pseudoscience. Now largely antiquated are Gardner's chapters on believers in a flat-earth, a hollow earth, Velikovsky, Atlantis and Lemuria,

Alfred William Lawson, Roger Babson, Trofim Lysenko, Wilhelm Reich, and Alfred Korzybski. But, disturbingly, a good two-thirds of the book's contents are relevant today, including homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, iridiagnosis (reading the iris of the eye to determine bodily malfunctions), food faddists, cancer cures and other forms of medical quackery, Edgar Cayce, the Great Pyramid's alleged mystical powers, handwriting analysis, ESP and PK, reincarnation, dowsing rods, eccentric sexual theories, and theories of group racial differences.

And the motives of the "hermit scientists" have not changed either. Gardner recounts the day that Groucho Marx interviewed Louisiana State Senator Dudley

J. LeBlanc about a "miracle" cure-all vitamin and mineral tonic called Hadacol that the Senator had invented. When Groucho asked him what it was good for, LeBlanc answered with uncharacteristic honesty: "It was good for five and a half million for me last year."

What I find especially valuable about Gardner's views are his insights into the differences between science and pseudoscience. On the one extreme we have ideas that are most certainly false, "such as the dianetic view that a one-day-old embryo can make sound recordings of its mother's conversation."

In the borderlands middle are theories advanced as working hypotheses, but

highly debatable because of the lack of sufficient data," and for this Gardner selects a most propitious example: "the theory that the universe is expanding." That theory would now fall onto the spectrum at the other extreme end of "theories almost certainly true, such as the belief that the earth is round or that men and beasts are distant cousins."

How can we tell if someone is a scientific crank? Gardner offers this advice:

(1) "First and most important of these traits is that cranks work in almost total isolation from their colleagues." Cranks typically do not understand how the scientific process works--that they need to try out their ideas on colleagues, attend conferences, and publish their hypotheses in peer-reviewed journals before announcing to the world their startling discovery. Of course, when you explain this to them they say that their ideas are too radical for the conservative scientific establishment to accept. (2) "A second characteristic of the pseudo-scientist, which greatly strengthens his isolation, is a tendency toward paranoia," which manifests itself in several ways:


(1) He considers himself a genius. (2) He regards his colleagues, without exception, as ignorant blockheads. (3) He believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against. The recognized societies refuse to let him lecture. The journals reject his papers and either ignore his books or assign them to "enemies" for review. It is all part of a dastardly plot. It never occurs to the crank that this opposition may be due to error in his work. (4) He has strong compulsions to focus his attacks on the greatest scientists and the best-established theories. When Newton was the outstanding name in physics, eccentric works in that science were violently anti-Newton.
Today, with Einstein the father-symbol of authority, a crank theory of physics is likely to attack Einstein. (5) He often has a tendency to write in a complex jargon, in many cases making use of terms and phrases he himself has coined.

We should keep these criteria at the forefront when we explore controversial ideas on the borderlands of science. "If the present trend continues, Gardner concludes, "we can expect a wide variety of these men, with theories yet unimaginable, to put in their appearance in the years immediately ahead. They will write impressive books, give inspiring lectures, organize exciting cults. They may achieve a following of one--or one million. In any case, it will be well for ourselves and for society if we are on our guard against them." So we still are, Martin. That is what skeptics do and in tribute for all you have done we shall continue to honor your founding command.

The following clippings are provided by Metanexus: The Online Forum on Religion and Science http://www.metanexus.net.

I wanted especially to post this story because many months ago I reported on (and wrote a column about for Scientific American) the DNA study showing that all tested human groups today descended from a single population out of Africa 70,000 to 90,000 years ago. This study seemed to soundly confirm the Out of Africa theory, and Vince Sarich, a long-time staunch skeptic of the theory, admitted that he was wrong. Well, not so fast. New data sheds new light on the subject. Read on . . . .

Early man evolved by spreading love, not war
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
07 March 2002

They came, they saw and they made love, not war. This is the story of how our human ancestors spread across the world, according to the most detailed study of our genetic heritage attempted so far.

Alan Templeton, professor of biology at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, has found convincing evidence to suggest that the history of human evolution is one of sexual interchange rather than the physical elimination of one group by another.

"Humans expanded again and again out of Africa, but these expansions resulted in interbreeding, not replacement, and thereby strengthened the genetic ties between human populations throughout the world," he said.

The study, a computer analysis of the DNA from people living in 10 different regions of the world, was more extensive than any previous research, Professor Templeton said.

The findings, published today in the journal Nature, add a new twist to the long-running dispute over whether modern humans are the result of a single migration out of Africa some 100,000 years ago, or the product of a series of migrations extending back over one million years to several regional homelands in Asia as well as Africa.

"The main conclusions are that human populations in Africa and Eurasia have not been genetically isolated from one another, but rather have been interchanging genes for least 600,000 years," Professor Templeton said.

"This 'gene flow' was restricted, primarily by geographical distance, which meant that local populations could and should show genetic differences, as they do today. But over a long time there was sufficient genetic interchange to insure that all humanity evolved as a single species."

Professor Templeton's research indicates that there were two important waves of migration out of Africa - one about 600,000 years ago when humans were represented by "archaic" species such as Homo heidelbergensis and the Neanderthals, and the other about 95,000 years ago, soon after the rise of anatomically modern Homo sapiens.

Professor Templeton said the earlier migration coincided with a significant expansion in brain size and the latter with the appearance of "modern" traits, such as smaller brow ridges, a rounded skull, a vertical forehead and a pronounced chin.

"This later set of traits is difficult to reconcile with a population replacement, but is compatible with this most recent out-of-Africa expansion event being characterised by interbreeding," he said.

To read this article in its entirety, go to

Top school's creationists preach value of biblical story over evolution State-funded secondary teachers do not accept findings of Darwin
Tania Branigan

Saturday March 9, 2002

Fundamentalist Christians who do not believe in evolution have taken control of a state-funded secondary school in England. In a development which will astonish many British parents, creationist teachers at the city technology college in Gateshead are undermining the scientific teaching of biology in favour of persuading pupils of the literal truth of the Bible.

Emmanuel College - set up by the Tories - is designated a beacon school by the Labour government and its backers are sponsoring a city academy to be built in nearby Middlesbrough.

City technology colleges are technically independent schools but charge no fees because they are funded by the government as well as the private sector. City academies are similar although local education authorities have to agree to their creation.

The school is hosting a creationist conference this weekend and senior staff have given a series of lectures at the college urging teachers to promote biblical fundamentalism and giving tips on techniques to make pupils doubt the theory of evolution.

The creationist lobby has become increasingly notorious in the US, but until recently it has been relatively weak in Europe. The Anglican and Catholic hierarchies have accepted evolution as a fact, with the Pope saying it was "more than just a hypothesis."

Under the national curriculum, schools must teach evolution but are not banned from teaching creationism as well. That leaves Emmanuel's teachers free to present evolution merely as a "theory" no different from the idea that the world was made in six days.

Nigel McQuoid, the school's head, told us it was "fascist" to say that schools should not consider creationist theories.

Mr McQuoid and his predecessor John Burn wrote in an article in 1997: "To teach children that they are nothing more than developed mutations who evolved from something akin to a monkey and that death is the end of everything is hardly going to engender within them a sense of purpose, self-worth and self-respect."

Emmanuel is a non-denominational Christian school which achieves consistently outstanding academic results and received a glowing Ofsted report last year.

To read this article in its entirety, go to

March 12, 2002

Ohio Board Hears Debate on an Alternative to Darwinism

COLUMBUS, Ohio, March 11
Proponents of the intelligent-design movement, which challenges Darwin's primacy in the science classroom, argued for equal footing in the state's new teaching curriculum today, while critics warned that speculative theories of some ultimate agent underpinning evolution were the antithesis of true science.

Hundreds of people sat for more than two hours at a hearing on the issue by the State Board of Education, listening to abstruse arguments about the bacterial flagellum and the peppered moth before one of four clashing scholars finally used the G- word that had attracted the crowd in the first place.

"The real danger is in trying to put God in the gaps," said Dr. Lawrence Krauss, the physics chairman at Case Western Reserve University.

Dr. Krauss argued that while much remained to be discovered about natural selection, Darwin's theory had only grown in strength through decades of repeated experimentation and discovery that intelligent design had not been subjected to.

In contrast to the biblical literalism of creationists, proponents of intelligent design acknowledge that the earth is billions of years old and that organisms evolve over time. But they dispute that natural selection is the sole force of evolution, arguing that life is so complex that only some sort of intelligent designer, whether called God or something else, must be involved.

Members of the school board, which will vote this year on a new curriculum, the old one having come up for routine review, asked for the hearing today despite a strong endorsement of evolution teaching from the board's curriculum advisory panel.

"There are unanswered questions," Dr. Krauss conceded of evolution, even as he warned that intelligent-design proponents were trying to force "unanswerable questions" about some theoretical instigator of life onto a school curriculum properly limited to the rigorous proofs of science.

With equal fervor, Dr. Jonathan Wells, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle organization dedicated to alternative scientific theories, contended that there was enough valid challenge to Darwinian evolution to justify intelligent design's being ordered into the classroom curriculum--not as a religious doctrine, he maintained, but as a matter of "a growing scientific controversy."

"I'm not trying to tell you who's right and who's wrong here," Dr. Wells, a biologist and religious studies scholar, said in denying critics' accusation that the intelligent-design movement was a new approach, veiled in scientific trappings, to forcing theism into the public schools.

"Is the design that we all see real or merely an appearance?" Dr. Wells asked.

To read this article in its entirety, go to

Debate rages on in US

Saturday March 9, 2002

The infamous Scopes "monkey" trial of 1925, when a teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was prosecuted for teaching evolutionary theories, sounds like a historical curiosity to most people on this side of the Atlantic.

But 80 years on, the argument between evolutionists and creationists in the US is becoming increasingly vociferous and fundamentalist Christians are gaining ground. In 1999, the Kansas state board of education voted to remove Darwin from the curriculum - although the policy was reversed after the members were ousted in elections.

In Alabama, biology textbooks bear stickers reading: "This book may discuss evolution, a controversial theory some scientists give as an explanation for the origin of living things... No human was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be treated as theory, not fact."

According to a survey in the journal Scientific American last month, 45% of Americans think that God created life some time in the past 10,000 years - even though the vast majority of scientists believe that life on earth began around 4 billion years ago.

To read this article in its entirety, go to

'SARS virus came from space'

May 22, 2003

Paris: SARS may have come from space, according to a novel theory aired by a trio of astrobiologists in India and Britain.

In a letter that appears in Saturday's issue of the British medical weekly The Lancet, they say the idea for this came from experiments, carried out in January 2001, in which a tethered, sterile balloon collected samples from the stratosphere.

"Large quantities of viable micro-organisms" were captured at an altitude of 41,000 metres, they say.

Translated for the globe, that means "a tonne of bacterial material falls to Earth from space daily," the trio say.

The sheer volume of this stream of micro-organisms raises the possibility that some of them will survive and a few may prove to be bacteria or viruses that are dangerous for humans, they contend.

"The annals of medical history detail many examples of plagues and pestilences that can be attributed to space incident microbes in this way.

"New epidemic diseases have a record of abrupt entrances from time to time, and equally abrupt retreats."

The letter says that the great flu pandemic of 1918-19 which slew tens of millions of people, may have been just such an example of a disease sown from space.


Ghostly magnetism explained

By Arran Frood

British psychologists have published research findings which they believe go some way towards explaining why people think they see or feel ghosts.

The study - in which hundreds of volunteers were taken around two allegedly haunted locations - found that people reported having more unusual experiences in the specific places at each location which are considered most haunted. The researchers think this can be explained by the way people react to environmental cues, such as subtle drafts, and in particular visual factors, like low lighting.

The research also threw up evidence suggesting a link between magnetic fields and ghostly sightings.

At both Hampton Court Palace, in Surrey, and the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh, the variance in local magnetic fields was highest in the areas thought to be most haunted, and lowest in areas where people typically did not record experiencing ghostly phenomena.

The variations in magnetic fields were incredibly small - about 100 times less than you get from sitting about a metre away from your TV - but the researchers think the findings are significant.

"The correlations between ghostly activity and magnetic variance were relatively large and tie in with laboratory findings that suggest varying magnetic fields have a measurable effect on human physiology," said Dr Paul Stevens, of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University, who obtained the magnetic field measurements at both sites.

Trial and error

Some studies have previously shown that variation in normal electromagnetic (EM) fields, when applied to certain parts of the brain like the temporal lobes, can result in experiences from the physical, like being touched, to the metaphysical, such as feeling close to God.

"When the shapes of these magnetic fields are reproduced in the laboratory and generated across the brains of volunteers 'the sensed presence', fear, and other experiences are reported," said Dr Michael Persinger, of the Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada. "However, both in the field and in the lab, the details of the experiences are strongly affected by the expectations of the subject as well as their sensitivity to the EM fields."

A professor of neuroscience, Persinger's results are very similar to those just revealed in the UK by Dr Wiseman and his colleagues.

"When we measure houses where pervasive haunts occur, the place where the occupants find they can sleep, by trial and error, has the most consistent and normal field strengths," said Dr Persinger.

"The high-density haunt areas, usually not more than about one or two metres in diameter, are very electromagnetically noisy."

Further research

So does this mean that ghosts don't exist at all?

"A likely explanation is that the 'ghost' component is primarily derived from the direct effects of the stimulation of the natural physical events upon the observer's brain," said Dr Persinger.

"However, science is the pursuit of the unknown. There may be stimuli present we still have to measure."

Not everyone is so easily convinced, and they point out that the magnetic field variation results do not explain every ghostly phenomenon. How for instance, can groups of people perceive the same ghost or feel the same presence, when hallucinatory experiences are typically individual and very subjective?

Tony Cornell, author and a paranormal researcher for over 50 years, thinks there is some way to go.

Open mind

"Since 1852, science has been trying to find an easy answer, and it would be nice if we had a simple answer but we do not; the magnetic wave theory is too simple."

A vice president of the Society for Psychical Research, based in London, he points out that the same apparitions revisit many haunted sites - something not predicted or explained by the magnetic wave theory.

"I'm not going to say they haven't got the answers, but these experiments seem to be one-offs," Tony Cornell said.

"We need more repeatable answers. Scientists can switch lights on and off, but can they switch the ghosts on and off? No they can't."

His own experiments on magnetic fields have yielded mixed results, though he remains optimistic that the answers are coming.

"We persevere. The answer will come eventually. An open mind is what is always needed."

The research conducted at Hampton Court Palace and the South Bridge Vaults is reported in the British Journal of Psychology by Dr Richard Wiseman and colleagues.

People do have consistent experiences in consistent places, but I think that this is driven by visual factors mainly, and perhaps some other environmental cues
Dr Richard Wiseman

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/05/21 09:28:19 GMT


Thursday, May 22, 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 22, 2003

from The Washington Post

An experimental vaccine for Alzheimer's disease, which was quickly pulled from testing last year after it caused serious side effects, has halted and even reversed the brain disease in some who got the shots, according to the first follow-up study of those patients.

The results, which several experts described as remarkable, represent a bittersweet coda for the now abandoned vaccine, which was designed to rally the immune system against the debilitating ailment.

The vaccine's developers do not plan to resurrect the product, which caused brain inflammation in 18 of 300 patients who got the shots. But the positive findings, published in today's issue of the journal Neuron, offer tantalizing evidence that similar vaccines under development may be able to save people from the syndrome's devastating decline. Alzheimer's afflicts 4 million Americans and is expected to strike twice that number in the next two decades as baby boomers enter their senior years.

from The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The erosion of Louisiana's fragile coast is even worse than previously thought, and a third of the state's shoreline -- home to the fabled Mississippi River Delta -- could be wiped out by 2050 without urgent action, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Between 1932 and 2000, about 1,900 square miles of Louisiana's marshy coast washed away, up from the previous estimate of 1,500 square miles, said the USGS, an Interior Department bureau charged with safeguarding the environment.

The new figure was presented Wednesday to President Bush's environmental policy adviser, Jim Connaughton, who traveled to Louisiana to learn about erosion around the Delta.

from The Washington Post

A couple of thousand of science's best brains converged under a circus-style tent last week for Fort Detrick's seventh annual Spring Research Festival.

The event, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, which has a headquarters at Fort Detrick, attracted about 2,000 medical and scientific researchers for presentations on advances in diagnosing, treating and curing cancer, HIV/AIDS, and more exotic diseases, including Ebola, anthrax and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Many attendees work inside the post for the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). Although the two groups work within yards of each other, they don't have many opportunities to see each other's work.

from The Christian Science Monitor

Mars beckons, and planet Earth is set to respond.

On June 2, the European Space Agency is set to launch Mars Express/Beagle 2 to the red planet, followed by a NASA mission that involves sending two rovers on June 5 and 25.

These robotic geologists are designed to scrutinize soil and rocks for clues to the history of the planet's climate. Together, the missions represent a vital step in the quest to answer the question: Did Mars ever offer an environment capable of nurturing life?

Some planetary scientists say Mars exploration is entering a pivotal period. "This decade is really critical," says Daniel McCleese, chief scientist for Mars exploration at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "From my point of view, the missions that run out through 2009, as an ensemble, are going to provide the smoking gun one way or the other."

from The Christian Science Monitor

In an era of intensive farming and global trade, we take our food plants for granted. But if our ancient ancestors had not learned to deal with such natural poisons as a cyanide-producing compound in cassava, our modern diet would be severely restricted. Unfortunately, farmers in some places now neglect ancient wisdom.

So it is with cassava root, one of the most important food sources in tropical countries. It contains linamarin, a well-known cyanogen - a compound that produces cyanide when eaten. Rushing to get their crop to market, some farmers shortcut the traditional processing that removes linamarin. This puts millions of cassava eaters at risk for cyanide poisoning.

Enter modern genetic engineering to eliminate the problem at its root. Ohio State University in Columbus reports that plant biologists Richard Sayre and Dimuth Siritunga have created a cassava variety whose roots are essentially cyanogen free. Professor Sayre notes that this is particularly important for sub-Saharan Africa, where, he says, "improperly processed cassava is a major problem.... If we could eliminate the cyanogens in cassava, the plant wouldn't need to be processed before it's eaten."

Archaeologists Unearth Stonehenge Bodies

May 21, 4:41 PM EDT

Associated Press Writer

LONDON (AP) -- Archaeologists who last year unearthed the remains of a Bronze Age archer at Stonehenge said Wednesday they have found six more bodies near the mysterious ring of ancient monoliths.

The remains of four adults and two children were found about half a mile from that of the archer, dubbed "The King of Stonehenge" by Britain's tabloid press. Archaeologists said he came from Switzerland and may have been involved in building the monument.

Radiocarbon tests will be done to find out more precise dates for the burials but the group is believed to have lived around 2300 B.C., during the building of Stonehenge at Amesbury, 75 miles southwest of London, said Wessex Archaeology, which excavated the site.

The latest bones discovered are about the same age of those of the archer, said Wessex Archaeology.

"This new find is really unusual. It is exceptionally rare to find the remains of so many people in one grave like this in southern England," said Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology. "The grave is fascinating because we are seeing the moment when Britain was moving from the Stone Age into the Bronze Age, around 2300 B.C."

Wessex Archaeology said it is possible the bones are those of people from different generations, as the grave seems to have been reopened to allow further burials.

The grave contained four pots belonging to the Beaker Culture that flourished in the Swiss Alps during the Bronze Age, some flint tools, one flint arrowhead and a bone toggle for fastening clothing, Wessex Archaeology said.

The large number of bodies placed in this grave is something more commonly found in the Stone Age, but the Beaker style pottery is characteristic of Bronze Age burials.

The archer was identified by the flint arrowheads found by his body. Archaeologists said some 100 artifacts found in his exceptionally rich grave, discovered about three miles from Stonehenge, indicate he was a man of stature and likely involved in constructing the monument.

Although the indigenous British originally came from mainland Europe, they settled thousands of years before the arrival of the archer, who clearly belonged to a different culture, marked by a new style of pottery, the use of barbed flat arrow heads, copper knives and small gold ornaments.

His grave contained teeth and bones as well as two gold hair tresses, three copper knives, flint arrowheads, wrist guards and pottery. The copper knives came from Spain and France. The gold dated to as early as 2470 B.C., the earliest dated gold objects found in Britain.

Wessex Archaeology, http://www.wessexarch.co.uk.

The Paleontological Society adds its Voice for Evolution

Dear Friends of NCSE,

NCSE is pleased to announce a further addition to Voices for Evolution: a statement from the Paleontological Society, reading in part: "Because evolution is fundamental to understanding both living and extinct organisms, it must be taught in public school science classes. In contrast, creationism is religion rather than science, as ruled in recent court cases, because it invokes supernatural explanations that cannot be tested. Consequently, creationism in any form (including 'scientific creationism,' 'creation science,' and "intelligent design') must be excluded from public school science classes."

For the full statement, go to http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=2, click on Statements from Scientific and Scholarly Organizations, and then click on The Paleontological Society. And be sure to visit the Paleontological Society's web site at http://www.paleosoc.org.

And by the way, there is still time to join NCSE's August 17-23 Grand Canyon raft trip -- call now!

The Steveometer currently reads 360.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x 305
fax: 510-601-7204

Ghosts 'all in the mind'


By Arran Frood

Ghosts are the mind's way of interpreting how the body reacts to certain surroundings, say UK psychologists.

A chill in the air, low-light conditions and even magnetic fields may trigger feelings that "a presence" is in a room - but that is all they are, feelings.

This explanation of ghosts is the result of a large study in which researchers led hundreds of volunteers around two of the UK's supposedly most haunted locations - Hampton Court Palace, England, and the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dr Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, and his colleagues say their work has thrown up some interesting data to suggest why so many people can be spooked in the same building but provides no evidence that ghosts are real.

Clustered experiences

In Hampton Court - alleged to contain the ghost of the executed Catherine Howard, 5th wife of Henry VIII - the volunteers were asked to face their fear.

They had to record any unusual experiences, such as hearing footsteps, feeling cold or a presence in the room, as well as marking the location and intensity of the experience on a floor plan.

Before this, candidates were also asked to reveal any prior knowledge of hauntings at the site.

The researchers then examined the distribution of unusual experiences.

In a "normal" setting, you would expect the ghostly encounters to be evenly spaced, but in classic haunting, they would be clustered around certain places.

The results were striking: participants did record a higher number of unusual experiences in the most classically haunted places of Hampton Court, areas such as the Georgian rooms and the Haunted Gallery.

And in the Edinburgh vaults, the result was the same - the vaults considered most haunted were the locations where the most unusual encounters occurred during the study.

Environmental cues

The researchers interpret this as evidence that hauntings are a real phenomenon because they are concentrated in specific places over time.

Indeed, it is known for people from different cultures to consistently report similar experiences over perhaps hundreds of years.

"Hauntings exist, in the sense that places exist where people reliably have unusual experiences," Dr Richard Wiseman told BBC News Online. "The existence of ghosts is a way of explaining these experiences."

But are the ghosts real? Dr Wiseman and his colleagues are not so sure.

They claim, somewhat paradoxically, that the hauntings exist but the ghosts do not.

"People do have consistent experiences in consistent places, but I think that this is driven by visual factors mainly, and perhaps some other environmental cues," he said.

Sensitive people

Making detailed measurements at each place, such as temperature, light intensity and room space, Dr Wiseman thinks that people are responding unconsciously to environmental cues and the general "spookiness" of their surroundings.

He cites examples of mediums successfully indicating haunted areas of buildings with no prior knowledge of them.

Spiritualists interpret this as evidence that the ghosts are there, but another explanation is that the mediums are simply more sensitive to the environmental cues that result in haunted feelings - not sensitivity to the ghosts themselves.

Sceptics have long maintained that ghostly encounters are influenced by a person's knowledge of the place and its history, the "prior knowledge hypothesis".

But this study refutes that explanation, as the statistics showed that prior knowledge did not affect the areas in which strange experiences were recorded.

"We found little if no evidence that people's prior knowledge mattered," said Dr Wiseman. "If anything, it made them veer away from having experiences in the known haunted sites."

Dr Wiseman and colleagues report their data in the British Journal of Psychology.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/05/21 04:44:17 GMT



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Wednesday, May 21, 2003

mini-Annals of Improbable Research ("mini-AIR")


Issue Number 2003-05
May, 2003
ISSN 1076-500X
Key words: improbable research, science humor, Ig Nobel, AIR, the

A free newsletter of tidbits too tiny to fit in the
Annals of Improbable Research (AIR),
the journal of inflated research and personalities


2003-05-01 Table of Contents
2003-05-02 What's New in the Magazine
2003-05-03 Wide-Ranging Curiosity
2003-05-04 Icthyology en Hotel
2003-05-05 EU Chocolate Directive
2003-05-06 Gibb & Rooker and the Comitology of Chocolate
2003-05-07 Comitology for the Masses
2003-05-08 Unexplosively Explosive, or Vice Versa
2003-05-09 type oof
2003-05-10 Video of Last Year's Ig
2003-05-11 Bax, Max, and Zax
2003-05-12 Chicken Poets Have Roosted
2003-05-13 Concrete Abstracts
2003-05-14 Bulletin of Wire Ropes
2003-05-15 Another Near-DEATH-BY-DISSERTATION
2003-05-16 Fingernail Water Limerick Contest
2003-05-17 RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Sticky, Unheard Paralysis
2003-05-18 BURSTS OF HotAIR: Psychoterminology, Soup, Drip Song
2003-05-19 MAY WE RECOMMEND: Sweat on Meat, Mutt Math
2003-05-20 AIRhead Events
2003-05-21 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)
2003-05-22 Our Address (*)
2003-05-23 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)
2003-05-24 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

Items marked (*) are reprinted in every issue.

mini-AIR is a free monthly *e-supplement* to AIR, the print magazine

2003-05-02 What's New in the Magazine

Volume 9, number 3 (May/June 2003) of the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) is a special EVERYTHING issue. Highlights include:

..and much more.

The issue is now at the printers, and will be arriving at subscribers' doorsteps very soon now.

The complete table of contents can be perused at

2003-05-03 Wide-Ranging Curiosity

The May/June issue of AIR also includes a special, deliciously detailed article about the work of a scientist who may well be the best and truest modern example of a prolific renaissance person.

We are also publishing this article on the AIR web site, as a special ten-part series. The introduction and Part 1, together with a special index of topics explored by the researcher, will appear on Monday, May 26. Subsequently, a new part will appear every Monday and every Wednesday, until the entire article is present in all its glory. The parts can be labeled as follows:

Part 1 -- The Early Years
Part 2 -- An Approach to Stop Lights
Part 3 -- Matters of the Mall
Part 4 -- Time Hangs Heavy?
Part 5 -- Motorists' Use of Sirens
Part 6 -- Out Which Way
Part 7 -- The Celebrated Brussels Sprouts
Part 8 -- Caps, Chapel Attendance, and Perceptions of Ground Beef
Part 9 -- Heavy Going, With Integrity and Gloves
Part 10 -- Women in Vans ...and... Into the Future

2003-05-04 Icthyology en Hotel

Icthyologists who travel no longer need anguish that the hours they spend in a hotel will be "down time" in which they are unable to continue studying fish.

Investigator Pete Shoemaker alerted us to the scientific opportunities offered by the Hotel Monaco in Chicago. The hotel's web site, http://ratesandavailability.com/10229343.htm, presents technical details:

The Hotel Monaco Chicago offers travelers a temporary pet -- a complimentary goldfish. A companion goldfish may be requested when making a reservation or at check-in and is delivered to the guest's room for their stay. Goldfish care and feeding is administered by the trained hotel staff under the guidance of Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, a partner of the Hotel Monaco Chicago.

2003-05-05 EU Chocolate Directive

The science world is once again agonizing over the EU Chocolate Directive.

The melodrama could come to a head this very week, on May 21 and 22, in York, England, at the Society of Chemical Industry's conference on "CHOCOLATE, CHOCOLATE FATS AND THE EU CHOCOLATE DIRECTIVE."

Details are at http://www.soci.org/SCI/events/details.jsp?eventID=EV267

We, like nearly all other persons, organizations, and other human- affiliated entities, wish the participants well.

2003-05-06 Gibb & Rooker and the Comitology of Chocolate

The British Parliament's most recent take on the Chocolate Directive, as expressed at http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199899/cmhansrd/vo990707/text/90707w07.htm, is revealing. It consists of the following terse exchange of views between a Mr. Gibb and a Mr. Rooker.

* * *

MR. GIBB: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the European Commission's objections to the proposed comitology provisions of the proposed EU Chocolate Directive.

MR. ROOKER: The Commission objected to a part of the proposed Directive which limited its powers to make technical changes to the law. However, I am pleased to say that a new Presidency compromise has now received Commission support and I am hopeful that a Common Position will be achieved during the Finnish Presidency.

2003-05-07 Comitology for the Masses

We have received several letters asking, "What is comitology?"

Comitology is a highly technical matter. Rather than attempt a "dumbed down" answer, we refer all inquiries to the experts: the European Parliament. The European Parliament's current take on comitology is expressed at http://wwwdb.europarl.eu.int/dors/oeil/en/inter51.htm. This view, of course, updates the European Parliament's prior view, which can be still be seen at http://europa.eu.int/scadplus/leg/en/cig/g4000c.htm

Alternatively, one could consult Mr. Gibb and/or Mr. Rooker of the British Parliament.

To sum up: if you have questions about comitology, please do not direct them to us.

2003-05-08 Unexplosively Explosive, or Vice Versa

It has been variously said that:

(a) the most interesting science is that which EITHER cures OR causes problems (b) the most interesting science is that which BOTH cures AND causes problems (c) the most interesting science is that for which it is not obvious whether it will cure problems, or cause them, or both.

Investigator Brian Josephson has alerted us to what may be an example comprising all three varieties. That example is:

"Destruction of Nuclear Bombs Using Ultra-High Energy Neutrino Beam," Hirotaka Sugawara, Hiroyuki Hagura, and Toshiya Sanami, http://arXiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0305062. The authors explain their work as follows:

"We have shown that it is possible to eliminate the nuclear bombs from the surface of the earth utilizing the extremely high energy neutrino beam. When the neutrino beam hits a bomb, it will cause the fizzle explosion with 3% of the full strength. It seems that it is not possible to decrease the magnitude of the explosion smaller than this number at this stage. It is important to decrease this number to destroy bombs safely. We are not sure what this means when the plutonium or uranium is used to ignite the hydrogen bomb. We may just break the bomb or may lead to a full explosion."

2003-05-09 type oof

Investigator (and LFHCfS member) Dennis McClain-Furmanski has been studying the flexible functionality demanded of certain U.S. government employees. He points to U.S. federal job announcement PAX-OC-0055, listed at http://jsearch.usajobs.opm.gov/ftva.asp?OPMControl=IL7705, which says exactly the following:

"The type oof specialized experience required will be identified in the individuao position deccription submitted at the time a vacancy is to be filled."

Investigator McClain-Furmanski translates this as meaning: "We will tell you what experience you need in order to get the job when we hire you," and adds that "The ornate spelling is, of course, just icing." The spelling is also a further indication of the afore-hinted functional flexibility required of the jobholders.

Investigator McClain-Furmanski conducted a brief investigation, with this result: "That quote from the job announcement appears on every engineering psychologist announcement I've looked at."

2003-05-10 Video of Last Year's Ig

You can watch all of last year's (2002) Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at http://www.uwstout.edu/chemistry/ignobel/igvideo2002.html. Special thanks and huzzahs to Forrest Schultz and Juliet Fox of the University of Wisconsin-Stout, who hoisted it up onto the web, to Bruce, Tal, and Julian Petschek who filmed and edited the video, and of course to all the winners and other participants in the ceremony. (Who, we have been asked, are those musical performers at the very beginning? They are none other than the Dresden Dolls, whose web site is at http://www.brainwashed.com/dresden/)

The Ig Nobel Board of Governors are now digesting the splendid morass that is this year's nomination pile. If you would like to nominate someone for an Ig, please do so SOON. General info about the ceremony, past winners, etc., is, as always, at http://www.improbable.com/ig/ig-top.html

This year's ceremony will occur on Thursday evening, October 2, at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.

2003-05-11 Bax, Max, and Zax

Bax, Max, and Zax. The names ring out. They sing out. They are, at any rate, the co-authors of the first paper to be included in our new project, the RHYMING MONIKERS RESEARCH CITATION COLLECTION.

Investigator Russell Mortishire-Smith unearthed this project- inspiring citation:

"Measurement of Long-Range 13C-13C J Couplings in a 20-kDa Protein-Peptide Complex," Ad Bax, David Max, and David Zax, Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 114, no. 17, 1992, pp. 6923-5. The authors are at what is abbreviatingly referred to as the Lab. Chem. Phys., Natl. Inst. Diabetes Dig. Kidney Dis., Bethesda, Maryland.

If you know of an impressive citation of this type, please contribute it to the Collection.

2003-05-12 Chicken Poets Have Roosted

The judges in the first and last annual SELF-WARMING CHICKEN LIMERICK COMPETITION have chosen the winners, each of whom in some sense explored the research report:

"Heat Produced by Broiler Chickens in a Commercial Transport Vehicle," P. J. Kettlewell, R.P. Hoxey, and M.A. Mitchell, Journal of Agricultural Engineering Research, vol. 75, No. 3, Mar 2000, pp. 315-26.

The winners each will receive a free, lukewarm issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. Here are the poets and their limericks:

For chicken soup simply sublime,
Combine salt, pepper, water, and thyme,
Two cups of wild rice,
A pinch of allspice,
Some chickens, a truck, and some time.

Kettlewell, Mitchell, and Hoxey --
Not one of them studies epoxy.
Nice hot chickens in trucks
Are what these muckamucks
Stick to in their research orthodoxy.

2003-05-13 Concrete Abstracts

We heartily recommend, with admiration but without having access to it, the world's best-named research tool: Concrete Abstracts. Details are at http://www.normas.com/ACI/PAGES/CAQS98.html. Thanks to investigator Kenneth J. Sher for bringing it to our attention.

2003-05-14 Bulletin of Wire Ropes

In answer to all those who have been asking us "Can you lend us your back issues of the BULLETIN OF THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION FOR THE STUDY OF THE ENDURANCE OF WIRE ROPES?" we say to one and all: Yes, we have no back issues of the BULLETIN OF THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION FOR THE STUDY OF THE ENDURANCE OF WIRE ROPES. We are, and always will be grateful to Richard Wakeford for making the BULLETIN's existence known to us, but we have never knowingly possessed a copy, nor even seen one.

2003-05-15 Another Near-DEATH-BY-DISSERTATION

Investigator Hauke Reddmann is yet another individual who was nearly done in by his dissertation. He writes:

"When my father drove me to the printing shop (I have no car) he didn't take directional advice, and in the result had to turn left where it was forbidden, across a bus lane. A bus *was* coming. The bus had very good brakes, or I couldn't write you now."

2003-05-16 Fingernail Water Limerick Contest

We invite you to enter the first and last annual FINGERNAIL WATER LIMERICK COMPETITION, for the best (NEWLY composed!) limerick that elucidates this research report, which was brought to our attention by investigator Carl Einar Sjøgren:

"Determining Water Content in Human Nails with a Portable Near- Infrared Spectrometer," Mariko Egawa, Tadao Fukuhara, Motoji Takahashi and Yukihiro Ozaki, Applied Spectroscopy, vol. 57, no. 4, 2003, pp. 473-8. The authors explain that:

The water content of human nail plates was determined using a portable near-infrared (NIR) spectrometer with an InGaAs photodiode array detector. [Data] were collected from 108 cut nail plates with different relative humidity and in-vivo from fingernails.

RULES: Please make sure your rhymes actually do, and that your limerick at least pretends to adhere to classic limerick form.

PRIZE: The winning poet will receive a free, nail-biting issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. Send entries (one entry per entrant) to:

c/o marca@chem2.harvard.edu

2003-05-17 RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Sticky, Unheard Paralysis

Each month we select for your special attention a research report that seems especially worth a close read. Your librarian will enjoy being asked (loudly, so other library patrons can hear it) for a copy. Here is this month's Pick-of-the-Month:

"Earwax and Level of Paralysis," J.H. Frisbie and E.H. Zahn, Spinal Cord, vol. 41, no. 4, April 2003, pp. 247-8. (Thanks to W. Bradley Jacobs for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, who are at Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, West Roxbury, MA, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, respectively, explain that: "Patients with C2 tetraplegia accumulate more earwax and request its removal more often than patients with lower levels of paralysis."

2003-05-18 BURSTS OF HotAIR: Psychoterminology, Soup, Drip Song

Here are concise, flighty mentions of some of the features we've posted on HotAIR since last month's mini-AIR came out. See the whole list by clicking "WHAT'S NEW" at the web site, or go to: http://www.improbable.com/navstrip/whatsnew.html


2003-05-19 MAY WE RECOMMEND: Sweat on Meat, Mutt Math

"Probabilistic Analysis of a Repairable System With Warm Standbys Plus Balking and Reneging," Kuo-Hsiung Wang and Jau-Chuan Ke, Applied Mathematical Modelling, vol. 27, 2003, pp. 327-36. (Thanks to Tom Roberts for bringing this to our attention.) The authors are at National Chung-Hsing University and National Taichung Institute of Technology, Taiwan ROC, respectively.

"Intelligence and Behavior and Motor Vehicle Accident Mortality," B.J. O'Toole, Accident Analysis and Prevention, vol. 22, June 1990, pp. 211-21. The author, who is at Westmead Hospital, Australia, reports that:

Risk of mortality was higher for men with lower scores on the army intelligence test...

"Modeling the Thermal Conductivity of Meats," V.E. Sweat, Transactions of the ASAE, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 564-8.

"Do Dogs Know Calculus?" Timothy J. Pennings, College Mathematics Journal, vol. 34, no. 3, May 2003, pp. 178-82. (Thanks to Barry Cipra for bringing this to our attention.) The author, who is at Hope College, explains that:

In all calculus books appears the problem of minimizing the time to get to a point on the other side of a river, running part of the way and swimming the rest. Isomorphic to this, if you are a dog, is the problem of minimizing the time to get to a ball that your master has thrown into a lake. The author has made measurements of how his dog retrieves the ball and finds that he indeed seems to choose the optimal path... [It] is possible that [the author's dog] Elvis chose paths that were actually BETTER than the calculated ideal path.

2003-05-20 AIRhead Events

==> For details and updates see
==> Want to host an event? 617-491-4437

Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
INFO: http://www.improbable.com/ig/ig-top.html

Details TBA.

Details TBA.

Annual AIR special session as part of the annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science. Details TBA.

IG NOBEL / AIR Tour will be a featured part of the UK's NATIONAL
and other of Britain's most and least celebrated scientist will do
improbable public shows in various cities. Details TBA.

2003-05-21 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)

Here's how to subscribe to the magnificent bi-monthly print
journal The Annals of Improbable Research (the real thing, not
just the little bits of overflow material you've been reading in
this newsletter). Name:
City and State:
Zip or postal code:
Phone: FAX: E-mail:

SUBSCRIPTIONS (6 issues per year):
USA 1 yr/$29 2 yrs/$53
Canada/Mexico 1 yr/$33 US 2 yrs/$57 US
Overseas 1 yr/$45 US 2 yrs/$82 US

BACK ISSUES are available, too:
First issue: $8 USA, $11 Canada/Mex, $16 overseas Add'l issues
purchased at same time: $6 each
Send payment (US bank check, or international money order, or
Visa, Mastercard or Discover info) to:
Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927 air@improbable.com

2003-05-22 Our Address (*)

Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927

EDITORIAL: marca@chem2.harvard.edu
SUBSCRIPTIONS: air@improbable.com WEB SITE: http://www.improbable.com

2003-05-23 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)

Please distribute copies of mini-AIR (or excerpts!) wherever
appropriate. The only limitations are: A) Please indicate that the
material comes from mini-AIR. B) You may NOT distribute mini-AIR
for commercial purposes.

------------- mini-AIRheads -------------
EDITOR: Marc Abrahams (marca@chem2.harvard.edu)
MINI-PROOFREADER AND PICKER OF NITS (before we introduce the last
few at the last moment): Wendy Mattson wendy@posh.com
COMMUTATIVE EDITOR: Stanley Eigen (eigen@neu.edu)
CO-CONSPIRATORS: Alice Shirrell Kaswell, Gary Dryfoos, Ernest
Ersatz, S. Drew
AUTHORITY FIGURES: Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, Sheldon
Glashow, William Lipscomb, Richard Roberts

(c) copyright 2003, Annals of Improbable Research

2003-05-24 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

What you are reading right now is mini-AIR. Mini-AIR is a (free!)
tiny monthly *supplement* to the bi-monthly print magazine.
To subscribe, send a brief E-mail message to:
The body of your message should contain ONLY the words
(You may substitute your own name for that of Madame Curie.)

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 21, 2003

from The Washington Post

Mad cow disease is a much-feared illness because it is incurable and causes great suffering. Millions of cattle have been slaughtered to keep it from spreading to other animals and to people, but the number of human cases has actually been small -- about 125 people worldwide, most in Britain.

The disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is caused by an abnormal protein that destroys nervous system tissue and brings a slow and painful death as the brain and other parts of the nervous system waste away.

All of the people who have contracted the disease are believed to have gotten it from eating BSE-infected beef or beef products. The disease is a variant of a related nervous system ailment, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, that occurs naturally in about one of every million people and is believed to be caused by a genetic mutation.


from The Los Angeles Times

The SARS epidemic may be slowing down, but it could come back with a vengeance in the fall, bringing deaths to the United States and Europe, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said Tuesday.

"I am not confident at all," he told a meeting of European Union officials in Brussels. "I do not think SARS is going to go away. Even though it may level off now, it could come back in the fall and then you can, I think, anticipate that you will have deaths in all the continents. The virus knows no borders whatsoever."

Thompson's concern arises because severe acute respiratory syndrome is caused by a coronavirus, a family of viruses that causes about 30% of common colds.


from The Wall Street Journal

Your driver's license says you're 40. You feel 60. Which one is lying?

Maybe neither. A growing field of medicine claims there is often a significant difference between your chronological age and your "biological" age -- the actual rate at which your body is wearing out. This specialty, an outgrowth of new research on diet and fitness as well as changing demographics as baby boomers age, takes a radical approach: It treats aging more like a disease, as opposed to an inevitable consequence of being human. The goal isn't only to prevent age-related ailments such as heart disease and Alzheimer's, but also to literally reverse the "symptoms" of aging, from creaky joints to fatigue.

Anti-aging doctors use an aggressive and sometimes expensive array of tests to uncover what specialists call "biomarkers" -- indicators of wellness that can range from skin thickness to oxygen consumption while exercising. These can indicate whether your body is aging faster than it should be. (Or slower -- anything is possible.)


from Newsday

Through genetic tinkering, scientists find they can dramatically boost the amount of vitamin C in the leaves and seeds of crop plants.

By taking a special gene from wheat plants and inserting it into tobacco and corn plants, Daniel Gallie and four colleagues at the University of California, Riverside, doubled and quadrupled the amounts of vitamin C found in their engineered plants.

The research could be significant since humans are unable to make vitamin C and meet their need for it through diet.


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