NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 June 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, June 20, 2003

Interesting French poll on supernatural beliefs and rationality

From: Terry W. Colvin

There has been a large poll on "what the French believe". I haven't read the original results, but based on a commentary published in Le Monde http://www.lemonde.fr/article/0,5987,3232--317031-VT,00.html on which I accidentally stumbled, a spectacular evolution is seen when one compares the results of this year with the results from the previous, same poll in 1994:

Belief in the explanation of personality according to astrology has gone from 60% to 37%.
Belief in foretellers has gone from 46% to 23%.
Belief in occult practices, enchantments, etc., from 41% to 21%.

The loss of beliefs "in the supernatural" is strongest among the young people.

People who define themselves as "rationalists" [rationalistes] go from 22% to 52%. (Among the young people: from 22% to 67%.)

Still, most religious indicators are slightly on the rise:

- "belonging" (I guess the person had to say if "she was Christian/Muslim/Other"): from 61% to 64%;
- "frequent prayer": 13% to 22%;
- "monthly practice": 5% to 17%.
- "believe in trinity": went down (not said how much in the article)

The 18-24 y/o who defines themselves as "believers" go from 10% to 27% (not said what proportion are muslims).
The 18-24 y/o who defines themselves as "atheists" go from 17% to 28%.

Regarding the proposition "The idea of sin doesn't mean much to me", the proportion of people who DISAGREE with it goes from 39 to 57% (and 35 to 64% among the 18-24 y/o), which is interpreted by the guy (sociologist) as "a certain comeback of morals, in particular among the young people: one gives value again to authority, fidelity in the couple, public order. While asking more freedom in the private sphere, seen as the field of personal responsability."

I don't think they asked how many expect the Singularity and when and if they are scared or not. Maybe in the next poll.


Sweet Sixteen for Edwards

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Today is the 16th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, which ruled that it is unconstitutional to require the teaching of "creation science" in the public schools.

For a transcript of the decision, see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/edwards-v-aguillard.html

For a brief summary of other relevant legal cases, see


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

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – June 19, 2003

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from The New York Times

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs.

The report, commissioned in 2001 by the agency's administrator, Christie Whitman, was intended to provide the first comprehensive review of what is known about various environmental problems, where gaps in understanding exist and how to fill them.

Agency officials said it was tentatively scheduled to be released early next week, before Mrs. Whitman steps down on June 27, ending a troubled time in office that often put her at odds with President Bush.

Drafts of the climate section, with changes sought by the White House, were given to The New York Times yesterday by a former E.P.A. official, along with earlier drafts and an internal memorandum in which some officials protested the changes. Two agency officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the documents were authentic.

from The Los Angeles Times

In scientific circles, the Y chromosome — the essence of masculinity — is scorned as the runt of the human genetic family, so henpecked by mutations that it is wasting away.

So little respect does this small, self-absorbed chromosome command that scientists investigating the human genome felt free to jeer or mostly ignore it — until now.

In research made public Wednesday, scientists confessed that they have sorely misjudged this single-minded sex specialist. After six years of laboratory work, scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis presented the complete genetic sequence of the Y chromosome, the first human chromosome to be thoroughly decoded.

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, June 18 — Scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency say there is "sufficient evidence" to conclude that the country's most widely used pesticide, atrazine, causes sexual abnormality in frogs.

They are recommending that the agency conduct more research to understand atrazine's mechanisms and its broader impact on frog populations.

The scientists noted that there had been six studies involving three species of frogs that show a variety of defects, including frogs with both multiple testes and multiple ovaries, when exposed to the chemical. The scientists cautioned that the results from studies of atrazine had not been consistent and that it was not clear at what levels of exposure those effects occurred or how different frog species were affected.

from The Associated Press

Jerusalem - An inscription that purportedly links an ancient burial chest to Jesus' brother is a forgery, Israeli archaeological experts said yesterday, dashing excitement about an artifact that had been touted as one of the greatest archaeological finds of modern times.

The limestone box caused a stir when it was discovered in October because of its inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

Israel's Antiquities Authority said yesterday that the 20-by-11-inch burial container was indeed ancient but the inscription wasn't. The telltale sign, it said, was that the letters cut through the patina, a thin coating acquired with age. http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hsbro193338115jun19,0,7467537.story

Commentary from The Christian Science Monitor

Twenty years ago Wednesday, at 7:33 a.m. on a clear Florida morning, a 32- year-old physicist with four degrees and a ready smile rode into history books with an impressive achievement: She became the first American woman in space...

This month, headlines are buzzing with the news that it is boys who now rank as the "second sex" in some schools. In what is being called a "gender takeover," girls are leading the way in academics, extracurricular activities, and student government. Boys are lagging behind.

Except in science and math. In those subjects, which propelled Ride and other women into careers as astronauts, girls start showing less interest when they reach middle school. Ride speculates that being involved in science, or being the best student in math class, might not be "cool" for girls. Peer pressure and old stereotypes take their toll.

Cattle Mutilations and TSE

By Colm Kelleher

We present evidence that a correlation exists between reports of animal mutilation and the emergence of a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) epidemic in North America.

* We show that sharp instruments are used in animal mutilations. Our data contradict the conclusions of the 1980 Rommel Report that claimed predators and scavengers could explain reports of cattle mutilations.

* Using data obtained from a NIDS nationwide survey of bovine veterinarian practitioners, we show that certain organs are preferentially removed during animal mutilations.

* We focus attention on the temporal and geographical overlaps between the animal mutilation and TSE epidemics in NE Colorado. The most highly publicized TSE epidemic in North America, chronic wasting disease (CWD), emerged in NE Colorado in the late 1960s.

* We show evidence that patterns of animal mutilations conform to covert but classical wild life sampling methodologies for infectious diseases.

* The organs that are preferentially removed during animal mutilations, the eye, tongue, large intestine (anus) and reproductive tissues, harbor high levels of prions in several species.

* We show evidence in support of an epidemic of prion disease that is both sub-clinical in cattle and clinical in deer/elk in North America.

* We describe evidence from two laboratories that a number of prion diseases in humans are misdiagnosed as Alzheimerâs disease and therefore currently escape detection.

* The historical record shows that high levels of infectious TSEs were imported from New Guinea into research facilities at Fort Detrick and Bethesda, Maryland after 1958 and were used for intensive cross-species infectivity experiments.

* We hypothesize that animal mutilations represent both a TSE- disease sampling operation on domestic animals AND a graphic warning that the beef and venison food chain is compromised.

Overall, the evidence suggests that animal mutilations are a long- term, covert, prion disease sampling operation by unknown perpetrators who are aware of a substantial contamination of the beef and venison food supply. Although this paper presents evidence in favor of a motive for animal mutilations, there is still insufficient evidence to identify the perpetrators.

The hypotheses described in this paper yield a number of testable predictions. Examining these predictions in the coming months and years is increasingly urgent because they have considerable public health implications. Secondly the recent (May 2003) announcement of a case of mad-cow disease in Alberta, Canada has brought the issue of the contamination of the human food chain into sharper focus.

With respect to the TSE hypothesis, NIDS, because of a lack of evidence cannot identify the perpetrators of animal mutilations. We hypothesize a motive for animal mutilations. As of June 2003, we have no position regarding the identity of the perpetrators.

The full report can be found on the 'Whats New' section of the NIDS web site: http://www.nidsci.org/ The National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) is a privately funded science institute engaged in research of UFOs, animal mutilations, and other related anomalous phenomena.


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 642 June 18, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and
James Riordon

INTRIGUING ODDITIES IN HIGH-ENERGY NUCLEAR COLLISIONS. Missing debris in the smashup between gold nuclei going at close to the speed of light suggests the creation of a highly unusual plasma environment, researchers have announced at Brookhaven National Laboratory. By smashing together gold ions at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), scientists are attempting to make and study a state of matter that existed only millionths of a second after the big bang. Called a quark-gluon plasma (QGP), it is a hot, dense soup of individual quarks and gluons. In today's universe, by contrast, quarks come in groups of twos and threes, held together by gluons. This spring, Brookhaven researchers performed a "control" experiment, in which they collided a gold nucleus with a deuteron, a light nucleus consisting of just a proton and neutron. In these and other kinds of nuclear collisions, a pair of quarks from a proton or neutron occasionally gets ejected. In turn each ejected quark produces a stream or "jet" of particles in its wake. In some of the gold-deuteron collisions, the researchers indeed observed pairs of jets flying in opposite directions. But in head-to-head collisions between two gold nuclei, researchers observed only one, rather than two, jets. This property, called jet quenching, suggests that the particle jet traveling in the direction of the collision region is getting absorbed by a hot, dense state of matter. Jet quenching is predicted to occur in the correspondingly hot, dense environment of a quark-gluon plasma, but RHIC experimentalists are not ready to claim the QGP prize quite yet. To verify its presence and rule out rival scenarios, they are planning numerous other experiments for finding other signatures of a QGP. However, the new data has convinced Columbia theorist Miklos Gyulassy that the RHIC team is already seeing a QGP (see http://www-cunuke.phys.columbia.edu/people/gyulassy/Welcome.html). The gold-gold collisions, he and his colleagues calculate, produce an environment 100 times denser than ordinary nuclear matter and display properties predicted in QGP models based on quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of the strong force which holds nuclei together. On June 18, three of the four RHIC experimental groups have submitted papers on the new results to Physical Review Letters and researchers discussed these new results at a special Brookhaven colloquium today. (Brookhaven press release, June 11, http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2003/bnlpr061103.htm.)

SOLAR FLARES AND GLOBAL WARMING. A recent study by researchers at Duke University and the Army Research Office has found new evidence of a link between solar flare activity and the earth's temperature. The work is another contribution to the ongoing debate over global warming and its causes. A strong link between solar flares and our climate, if it exists, could override the influence humans have on the temperature of our environment. One of the challenges of determining the connection between solar flare activity and the atmosphere stems from the fact that the motion of the air that blankets our planet is turbulent and complex. A sudden burst of solar activity would, in effect, be smeared out by moving air and its interaction with the earth's surface. Any temperature increase caused by a given period of solar flare activity would be difficult to determine, at best. Rather than focus on such challenging one-to-one correlations, the new study compares the form of the statistical fluctuations in solar flare activity with the form of the statistical fluctuations of the earth's temperature. The researchers (contact: Bruce J. West, Bruce.J.West@us.army.mil, 919-549-4257) explain that solar flare activity can be characterized by a type of statistics described by a Levy distribution, which is generated by a "Levy-walk." (Many natural phenomena, from foraging patterns of spider monkeys to complex hydrodynamic flows, are well described by Levy walks, although the coefficients in the relevant equations typically vary from one phenomenon to another. See Update 510-3 for one example.) Analyses of global and local temperature fluctuations are also well described by a Levy-walk. In fact, a comparison of the mathematical coefficients that describe the fluctuations suggest to the researchers that the atmosphere directly inherits its temperature fluctuations from the variation in solar flare activity. Unless some other underlying cause is responsible for the unlikely correspondence between solar flares and the earth's temperature, the research suggests that for the large part variations in global temperatures are beyond our control and are instead at the mercy of the sun's activity. (Nicola Scafetta and Bruce J. West, Physical Review Letters, 20 June 2003)

STAR OUT OF ROUND. The Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), an array of 2 telescopes which combine their light signals to achieve a higher angular resolution than is possible with any one scope, has determined that the star Achernar is the flattest star ever studied. The VLTI, which does not provide an actual image of the star but can provide an accurate estimate of the star's profile, has determined that Achernar's equatorial radius is 50% larger than its polar radius. This is quite oblate compared to most other celestial bodies, such as our Earth, whose equatorial radius is only 0.3% larger than its polar radius. Theorists do not yet know how to explain how a star like this could turn fast enough to adopt with such a shape without flying apart. Achernar is about 145 light years away from Earth in the southern sky and has a mass of about 6 solar masses. The telescopes used to make the interference map were not the giant 8.2-m VLT telescopes, but more modest 40-cm reflectors set at various configurations with separations as large as 140 m. (European Southern Observatory press release, 11 June, www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2003/pr-14-03.htm )

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.

'Beyond Belief': Another Gospel Truth

June 15, 2003

Elaine Pagels ''Gnostic Gospels,'' which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award in 1980, introduced the general public to the discovery in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt of an extraordinary cache of ancient papyrus books. The peasants who found the jar containing the manuscripts feared that it might house a jinni or spirit, but hoped it contained gold. They broke it open, destroyed some of the disappointing contents and sold the rest.

Written in Coptic, the documents expounded what appeared to be secret and deviant versions of early Christian teaching. Ignorance, commercial greed and academic rivalry ensured that it took a long time for the manuscripts to reach professional scholars. But by the time she wrote her book Pagels had long been involved in fundamental research, and had grown ever more confident of the importance of the find, which some claim rivals that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The clarity and unobtrusive scholarship of that pioneering account won deserved praise. Now, after more years of research, Pagels offers a kind of supplement, based on her own thinking about the Nag Hammadi evidence and its relevance to modern Christianity. Briefly, she has come to believe that over the centuries the outlawing of texts like ''The Gospel of Thomas'' has impoverished the Christian church and led to a constricting dependence on St. John's Gospel.

Fifty-two in number, the Nag Hammadi writings are a mixed bag. They include ''The Secret Book of James,'' ''The Apocalypse of Peter,'' ''The Gospel of Philip'' and other evidently ''illegitimate'' books, including ''The Gospel of Thomas.'' Although the manuscripts can be dated to the fourth century they are probably translations of Greek originals possibly 300 years older than that -- or perhaps even more ancient. Some, it is argued, may be earlier than the four canonical Gospels.

The rejection of these versions of the sayings and acts of Jesus owed much to St. Irenaeus, a second-century bishop of Lyon, remembered as the first great Catholic theologian. He affirmed the authority of four Gospels and sought to purge the church of heretical competitors. These being numerous and diverse, it required the five huge volumes of Irenaeus' ''Refutation and Overthrow of Falsely So-Called Knowledge'' to deal with them all. He and his successors did their work so well that until the discoveries at Nag Hammadi this extensive polemic was the chief source of information about these rival testaments. Now it is plain that they represent views markedly different from those of traditional Christianity. So they had to be eliminated. Had those sects survived the condemnation of the orthodox, Pagels says, Christian thought and practice might have developed very differently, and in many diverse directions.

The Gnostics and the Catholics had a fundamental disagreement about the nature of Jesus. In John's view his existence was wholly distinct from that of ordinary humans. John's Gospel differs materially from the other three on some important issues, and this is one of them; to Mark and his adapters, Matthew and Luke, Jesus was not a god but a messiah (''christos'' in Greek) in the Jewish tradition -- a human being. John, with his discordant opinion, was added later. Irenaeus said there should be no more, and over time the New Testament canon was closed. But his advocacy ensured that John's would be in all manner of ways the principal Gospel, first in importance though last in order, and a bulwark against the Gnostics. They did not believe in Christ as the divine light sent from heaven, but held that each person should seek the light within, the goal being personal illumination and a kind of twinning with Christ. The tone of their testimony was therefore quite different from John's.

''The Gospel of Thomas'' may look exotic to modern readers, who cannot help feeling the strength of tradition and the omnipresent authority of the Bible. Thomas failed while John prevailed. Committed to the conservation of his tradition, Irenaeus condemned the likes of Thomas as peddling ''evil exegesis'' and falsifying the one right path to salvation. All who wanted a unified church, so necessary in a hostile world, must stand by John; Irenaeus' reading provided ''the basic architecture of what would become orthodox Christianity.'' In the fourth century the emperor Constantine adopted Christianity, endorsed a creed to which all must subscribe and issued edicts against heretics and schismatics. Now the ''Catholic'' position had an imperial warrant; there was no salvation outside the church, which alone knew the truth and had the power to purge error. And the truth was largely John's; error belonged in an Egyptian cave.

The novelty of ''Beyond Belief'' lies, I think, in the polite confrontation Pagels arranges between John and Thomas. She maintains that the fourth Gospel itself plays what might be called (though she does not put it like this) a political game. The disciple Thomas speaks only in John's Gospel, and he is rather coolly presented, said not to have been present with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection, and condemned for all time to be the one who doubted. On the other hand we are allowed to assume that John was ''the disciple whom Jesus loved'' -- a privileged and authoritative confidant. (Pagels points out that John puts Peter down in a similar way: the ''beloved disciple'' beat him in the race to be first to the empty tomb.)

The dissident voices of Nag Hammadi, silent for centuries, uttered much that was understandably thought dangerous. Some denied the physical resurrection; all suggested a Christian way of life foreign to all that has remained familiar. An interesting exercise in ''counterfactual'' history would be to guess how different the future of Europe might have been if the Gospel that was added to those of Mark, Matthew and Luke had been not John's but Thomas's.

Some of the sayings of his Jesus are found in the other Gospels; but his whole manner is more gnomic -- in fact Pagels refers to some of the sayings as resembling Zen koans. The emphasis is on secret knowledge, conveyed secretly by Jesus: for example, ''If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.'' Moreover the interest of narrative, strong in John though not always consistent with the versions in the other three Gospels, is lacking in Thomas, where the interest is in sayings rather than the acts and events commemorated in the conventional Gospels.

Some scholars continue to think Thomas of secondary importance. Pagels, of course, does not. In her gently autobiographical manner she recounts a period of exceptional anxiety and bereavement in her own life, when she found comfort in the Sunday morning community of a Manhattan church. She had long given up the Christianity of John, and as her knowledge of these dissident ancient communities grew she developed a desire for diversity of practice and doctrine and for the undogmatic benefits of religious community. She seems to rejoice that in the earliest years of Christianity there existed these strange, dissident doctrines of illumination. Some worshiped God as both Father and Mother, others went in for sacred dancing, others proposed heterodox interpretations of baptism, and so on.

If one already possessed an incontestable version of the truth, all these deviations could be seen as deplorable -- comparable, perhaps, to ''wild analysis'' in the Freudian tradition. But Pagels looks about the Christian world today and rejoices at the proliferation of the ''new forms'' Christianity is taking in Africa, North and South America, Korea and China. She cannot be reconciled to churches that claim sole access to the truth of doctrine and discipline. Nag Hammadi seemed to show her that one must shed all such prejudices. The reward, she believes, may be a truer knowledge not only of Christianity, in whatever institutional form, but also of the other great religions.

This packed, lucid little book belongs to that admirable kind of scholarship in which the labor of acquiring Greek and Coptic, Hebrew and Aramaic, the exhausting study of ancient fragments of text against the background of an intimate knowledge of religious history, can be represented as a spiritual as well as an intellectual exercise.

Frank Kermode's new book, ''Pieces of My Mind,'' will be published this year.


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

'James ossuary' a fake, Israeli experts say Sarcophagus said to hold the bones of Jesus' brother


Jun. 18, 2003. 09:17 PM

JERUSALEM (AP-CP) — An ancient burial box purported to have held the bones of Jesus' brother, James, is a fake, Israel's Antiquities Authority said today.

The ossuary, which bore the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," had been touted by some scholars as the oldest archeological link to New Testament figures.

But Israeli officials described that inscription, as well as another purported archeological marvel, the "Yoash inscription," as "forgeries."

"The inscriptions, possibly inscribed in two separate stages, are not authentic," the Antiquities Authority said in a statement.

The officials reached their conclusions after intensive exams by several committees of experts.

Oded Golan, the Israeli owner of the "James ossuary," dismissed the officials' findings.

"I am certain the ossuary is real, I am certain that the committee is wrong regarding its conclusions," Golan said Wednesday.

He also said he believed the Yoash inscription, which he was connected to as well, was authentic.

Golan had previously accused the committee of having "preconceived notions."

The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem police launched separate investigations into the two items after Golan offered one for sale.

The Yoash inscription is a shoebox-sized tablet inscribed with fifteen lines of ancient Hebrew with instructions for maintaining the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

When it was first disclosed two years ago, it caused a stir in the archeological world, with some experts dating the stone to the 9th century BC and calling it a rare confirmation of biblical narrative.

The existence of the James ossuary was revealed last November at a news conference in Washington by the Biblical Archaeology Review. At the time, the editor of the magazine, Hershel Shanks, said the owner insisted on not being identified.

The inscription on the limestone box reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," leading some scholars to believe it contained the remains of James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Other experts have said the item might be a forgery, or that it might have been the burial box of a different James, unrelated to Jesus.

"The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters," the Israeli officials said in the statement.

Golan said he bought the James ossuary in the mid-1970s from an antiquities dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem for about $200 US, but he said he could not remember the dealer's name.

However, antiquities inspectors, who have questioned several Old City dealers, were also checking suspicions Golan bought the ossuary only a few months ago. In such a case, those involved in the sale could be prosecuted for dealing in stolen goods.

The police investigation into how the box was acquired will continue regardless of the committee's findings.

Robert Eisenman, who wrote a book on Jesus' brother, studied the box and said the writing on the box, written in two different hands, along with the artifact's sudden appearance, made its authenticity questionable.

"I always considered the timing of the James ossuary very odd and worrisome. There was a spate of books on James and his importance in 1997 and 1998, then the box appeared," he said.

The ossuary, exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum in November and December 2002, developed cracks en route to Toronto from Israel. The cracks extended through the latter parts of the inscription, now deemed a forgery. The museum's conservation staff made efforts to redress the damage.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Science In the News

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

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In the News

Today's Headlines - June 18, 2003

from Newsday

Washington -- By a process of elimination, researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory say they are tantalizingly close to showing that a huge ion collider at the lab has produced a novel form of matter unseen since the dawn of the universe.

The latest results from experiments at the lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider will be presented at a colloquium today at Brookhaven. Physicists built the device, located in a tunnel 2.4 miles around, in hopes of creating a hot primordial soup, called the quark-gluon plasma, that existed a few millionths of a second after the birth of the universe.

One theorist, Miklos Gyulassy of Columbia University, said he is convinced the soup already has been produced in the Brookhaven machine. If so, it would be one of the first great triumphs of 21st century physics. But the teams doing the experiments are not ready to make a claim yet.

from The Associated Press

The American Medical Association endorsed cloning for research purposes Tuesday, putting the nation's largest organization of doctors officially at odds with the Bush administration.

The policy, adopted without debate at the AMA's annual meeting in Chicago, says cloning for research purposes is ethical. The policy allows doctors who oppose the practice to refuse to perform it.

The measure does not support reproductive cloning and calls for proper oversight.

Divine intervention fails to get back investors' money

Golden Glades which was taken over by Maharishi Group is yet to repay investors


MUMBAI/ NEW DELHI, JUNE 17: Heard of Maharishi Vedic Construction Company or Golden Glades? Not unless you are one of those unfortunate investors who put money into this company named after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—popularly known as The Flying Swami.

It is another of those plantation companies which mopped up money from the market with clueless investors falling for their tall claims on high interest returns ranging anywhere between 18 to 24 per cent, and left their investors high and dry.

Hear this real story: Vishal N. Kulkarni, a Mumbai-based retail investor, is a worried man. His investment of around Rs 25,000 has remained stuck in Golden Glades for the last several years. Kulkarni is one among the 800 investors who had invested in Golden Glades and yet to get back their dues.

This is despite assurances from the Maharishi Group, the current owners of the plantation company that money would be given back to the investors. ''When Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's followers took over the company, I thought the company will return my money. But it has not happened,'' Kulkarni said.

According to a director in the Maharishi Group, Golden Glades was taken over by Maharishi Vedic Construction Corporation (P) Ltd in 1999-2000 when it paid around Rs 7 crore for picking up 80 per cent equity in the company.

After the death of the former managing director of Golden Glades, Ratnakar Mahashabde (who was the promoter of the project) in November 2000, the rest of the two directors in the company also sold off their stake to Vedic Construction. Ratnakar was one of the followers of the Flying Swami.

The association of Maharishi Construction, before the takeover of Golden Glades, was that Golden Glades had land in Govitri Village near Kamshet in Pune district on which Vedic construction was constructing a vedic school in accordance with the shastra of Vatsu. Vedic had purchased a portion of land from Golden Glades in 1999 by paying around Rs 18 crore.

According to Anand Shrivastava, director of Maharishi Vedic Construction, ''after the death of Ratnakar, Vedic Construction realised that the liabilities were much more than what was stated while selling the company, but were anyway bound to take over the outstanding liabilities from the investors to the tune of Rs 6.33 crore.''

''We have already spent Rs 25 crore in the school,'' Shrivastava added.

Golden Glades had mopped up the money from the investors mainly through bonds at very high rate of interest ranging from 24 per cent to 18 per cent. This money was mobilised for development of land in Govitri Village and building of cottages etc.

According to Kulkarni and other investors, the project was jinxed right from the beginning. ''If I had known that the project would be a disaster, I wouldn't have invested in this company,'' Kulkarni said.

Subsequently, some investors moved the criminal court in Mumbai in 2002. Then in keeping with the court's directives, the company paid Rs 3.04 crore before the court in instalments by opening an account in SBI, Churchgate branch.

According to Shrivastava, payments to the investors would be made by the court in accordance with the formula which the court would work out. The money was deposited in the account in instalments through drafts drawn on Oriental Bank of Commerce, Mumbai Service Branch. In the meantime, the court has attached the properties of Golden Glades which consist of land and the school.

Officials in Maharishi Group said that the company itself told the court that they should attach the property keeping in mind the investors' interest. Now the company proposes to pay the rest of the outstanding amount i.e. Rs 3.29 crore by August 31, 2003.

''We will try and pay up even before the deadline,'' Shrivastava said. However, they were supposed to pay the amount six months earlier, but has sought an extension from the court which was granted to them. According to a Sebi official, they had asked all plantation companies, which had failed to follow the Sebi norms to return the investors' money. ''Sebi has initiated action against several plantation companies which have failed to do so,'' he said.

URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=25966

Vatican skeptical of woman's visions of Virgin Mary


Saturday, June 14, 2003 By DAVID SNYDER The Washington Post

The Virgin Mary usually arrives about 7:30 in the evening. Every day but Friday, believers say, she appears at Gianna Talone Sullivan's home overlooking a golf course near Emmitsburg, Md., to dispense words of wisdom, advice and, sometimes, warning.

To believers, the details of Mary's apparitions are well known: She wears a veil, has brown hair and blue eyes, and emerges from a bright light. Her visits vary in timing and duration.

"It depends on what's going on," said Michael Sullivan, 53, Talone Sullivan's husband and spokesman. "If we're at home and we're not going anywhere, it's usually between 7:30 and 8:30."

Sullivan, a tall, bearded doctor, doesn't see the Blessed Mother when she appears to his wife. Neither have the thousands who have flocked to Emmitsburg over the years to receive Mary's messages, transcribed by Talone Sullivan in spiral notebooks.

Roman Catholic Church officials, in Baltimore and at the Vatican, cast a skeptical eye on the alleged apparitions, recently ruling them definitively not supernatural. But many of Talone Sullivan's supporters remain firm in their faith. And even doubters acknowledge that the apparitions, real or not, have profoundly changed tiny St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Emmitsburg and the town itself, about 70 miles north of Washington, which has one stoplight, 2,300 residents and a long history of devotion to the mother of Jesus.

"I've been a priest for 45 years, and I had never experienced anything like this," said the Rev. Al Pehrsson, pastor at St. Joseph's from 1989 to 1996 and now a priest in Alabama. "There was a quiet joy among the hundreds of people who had come, from Rhode Island to Virginia. ... There was no fanaticism at all."

Two years ago, the Baltimore Archdiocese ordered Talone Sullivan, 46, to stop her weekly prayer meetings at St. Joseph's. Last month, archdiocesan officials announced that the Vatican had affirmed the decision, which held that the visions were constat de non supernaturalitate, or "consistently not supernatural."

The ruling "is the end of the process for the church," archdiocese spokesman Steve Kearney said. "It's over."

Sullivan said he and his wife stopped the prayer service at the church, but they won't stop spreading the Blessed Mother's messages by word of mouth and the Internet.

"Our position is to undergo whatever persecution or humiliation is required but remain obedient to the church," Sullivan said.

Talone Sullivan, a pharmacologist who as a child was a ventriloquist and acted in television commercials, has declined requests for interviews since 2000, when church officials asked her not to talk to the news media. Through her husband, she declined to speak for this article.

Among Catholics, Emmitsburg is known for a connection with the Virgin Mary going back to the early 1800s. The nearby Grotto of Lourdes, featuring a towering golden statue of the Blessed Mother, says it draws 500,000 visitors annually. Mount St. Mary's, one of the nation's oldest seminaries, was founded in Emmitsburg in 1808.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S.-born saint, lived in Emmitsburg from 1809 until her death in 1821.

Talone Sullivan, a diminutive woman with an earnest smile, came to this haven for Mary devotees in 1993, after claiming to have her first apparitions of the Blessed Mother in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1987.

In November of that year, Sullivan said, his wife started seeing the Blessed Mother at Scottsdale's St. Maria Goretti Church while on a lunch break from work.

In January 1993, Sullivan said, Mary appeared to his wife in Emmitsburg while they were on a pilgrimage and told them to move there. The couple live near Fairfield, Pa., about eight miles north of Emmitsburg.

In 1992, Talone Sullivan founded Mission of Mercy, a nonprofit agency that provides medical care to poor and uninsured people across Maryland. Last year, the organization treated more than 13,000 patients at nine clinics in Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to the group's annual report.

At their peak in 2000, services at St. Joseph's in which Talone Sullivan claimed to be transcribing Mary's words attracted close to 1,000 people, Pehrsson said.

Her popularity tapped into a trend that has concerned church officials for years: people claiming direct connection with God, often through the Virgin Mary. Theologians say the number of reports of visions of Mary has ballooned in recent decades. Excerpts from the report on Talone Sullivan's visions issued by the Baltimore Archdiocese note "a growing addiction to the spectacular."

"(W)e think that the Church should not promote or encourage persons claiming to have extraordinary channels to God," wrote the archdiocesan commission, made up of three priests, that looked into the visions.

That alleged contact with God can attract crowds to people who claim to have supernatural visionary powers, said Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and a columnist for the magazine Skeptical Inquirer.

"Instead of just sitting passively in church, being told how to behave, here is something in which you actually are participating, and miracles are going off like flashbulbs all around you," Nickell said. "You could personally have hopes, at least, of experiencing these things yourself."

"The commission unanimously concluded that there is no evidence of supernatural intervention in the Emmitsburg messages," Cardinal William Keeler, the archbishop of Baltimore, wrote in September. "Its members are concerned, however, about some alarming language, in evident conflict with traditional Catholic teaching and the Scriptures from which this teaching flows."

Keeler was referring to several apocalyptic visions, including one in which Mary, via Talone Sullivan, prophesied the death of all the world's fish.

CSICOP Online: Science and the Media Column - Science Literacy

Who's Getting It Right and Who's Getting It Wrong in the Debate About Science Literacy?

Opinions clash over the best way to bolster public support for science.

Matthew Nisbet
Ithaca, N.Y.


June 2003

Scientists consistently worry that the public just doesn't know enough about science, and that this general lack of public understanding carries with it dreadful consequences, jeopardizing everything from government financing of research to social progress. Recent controversies in the U.S. and Europe over therapeutic cloning and agricultural biotechnology have brought fresh concerns from the scientific community. Many scientists assume, for example, that if the public knew more about human genetic engineering, then any moral or religious reservations about cloning-for-medical-research might be tempered. Or, if the public better understood the science behind the genetic modification of crops, then few would take seriously the hyperbolized risks associated with the technology.

To read the Entire Column Visit:


Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines – June 17, 2003

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from The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) -- Five years late, low on fuel and with its heating system on the blink, Japan's first Mars-bound probe, the $88 million Nozomi, or "Hope," appears to be in serious trouble.

Mission controllers trying to keep the mission alive face a major test Thursday, when Nozomi is scheduled to make its second swingby of Earth. The maneuver is intended to use the Earth's gravity as a slingshot to send the probe on its final trajectory to Mars.

Experts admit the probe is limping.

from The New York Times

People are efficient, rational beings who tirelessly act in their own self- interest. They make financial decisions based on reason, not emotion. And naturally, most save money for that proverbial rainy day.


Well, no. In making financial decisions, people are regularly influenced by gut feelings and intuitions. They cooperate with total strangers, gamble away the family paycheck and squander their savings on investments touted by known liars.

Such human frailties may seem far too complicated and unpredictable to fold into economic equations. But now many neuroscientists are beginning to argue that it is time to create a new field of study, called neuroeconomics.

from The Dallas Morning News

If fleas were trained as plumbers, they might build tiny networks of pipes and tanks almost too small for humans to see without a microscope. But scientists don't need fleas. Researchers are experimenting for themselves with flea-scale plumbing, essentially compressing an entire laboratory to the size of a quarter.

Plumbing on such a tiny scale, called "microfluidics," makes it possible to manipulate individual cells, sort proteins and monitor chemical reactions in minuscule amounts of fluid. New microfluidic technologies may be used to identify cancerous cells from a tiny sample of tissue, to help decipher the structure of microscopic protein crystals and someday to conduct medical tests more quickly and less expensively than in a full-scale laboratory.

Researchers are hoping that the miniaturization and integration of chemistry and biology will fuel a revolution. "What we're trying to do is what electronics did for computation, with biology," said Carl Hansen, a graduate student in physics at the California Institute of Technology. Mr. Hansen and other researchers reported on the latest developments in microfluidics at a meeting of the American Physical Society, held in Austin in March.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

In astronomy, there's a well-known route to immortality: Discover a new comet. Forever after, it will bear your name.

Likewise, many titans of mathematics are immortalized by conjectures, theorems and proofs -- for example, the "Kepler conjecture," "Pythagorean theorem" and "Wiles proof." They're named after the famous mathematicians who proposed or proved them.

Occasionally, though, a celebrated mathematical "proof" falls flat, sometimes years -- even centuries -- after its general acceptance by the mathematical community. All too often, a mathematical paper's formidable thicket of equations contains a hidden error.

from The Boston Globe

When Asimo, Honda's latest humanoid robot, recently walked on stage waving to the crowd as part of its North American educational tour, the audience cheered and waved back as if it were a live celebrity rather than a piece of machinery.

But then, why not? Machines that look and act like us have been part of our imaginary landscape since 1927 when Futura, the sultry robot in Fritz Lang's film classic, "Metropolis," first stepped into the public eye. Later came Robbie the Robot, the Jetsons' Rosie, C-3PO, the Terminator, and David, the robo-boy who longed to be loved, in Steven Spielberg's "AI." Since 1953, Japanese children have been growing up with the cartoon character, Astro Boy, a nuclear-powered kid that inspired robots such as the Transformers, and Asimo itself.

But it's much easier to dream up robots that act like us than to actually create them. Reid Simmons, who works on humanoid robots as a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, said that intellectually and emotionally the technology is not even close to humans. And mechanically, "we don't have robots that have the flexibility of human muscles and dexterity, even in their hands or fingers." The seemingly simple things we all do without a thought -- seeing, talking, listening, even walking through the living room without bumping into the walls -- represent some of the most challenging engineering and software problems computer scientists face.

Commentary from The Boston Globe

What was the greatest scientific idea of all time? The answer, I think, is clear: Evolution by natural selection, conceived more or less simultaneously by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in the mid-19th century. It was their genius to imagine a way diverse organisms could arise from simple ancestors by purely natural process.

As Darwin and Wallace clearly understood, if three conditions apply -- replication, variation (mutation), and competition for limited resources -- evolution is not just a possibility, it is a logical necessity.

What was not understood in their time was the genetic basis for replication and mutation, so their premises were based on a certain amount of speculation. Today, all three conditions for evolution are well understood and amply confirmed.

Mind Games: Psychological Warfare Between Therapists and Scientists


The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated February 28, 2003

Recently, while lecturing to a large group of lawyers, judges, mediators, and others involved in the family-court system in Los Angeles, I asked how many knew what a "social psychologist" was. Three people shyly raised their hands. That response was typical, and it's the reason I don't tell people anymore that I'm a social psychologist: They think I'm a therapist who gives lots of parties. If I tell them I'm a psychological scientist, they think I'm a pompous therapist, because everyone knows that "psychological science" is an oxymoron.

In fact, in many states, I cannot call myself a psychologist at all -- the word is reserved for someone who has an advanced degree in clinical psychology and a license to practice psychotherapy. That immediately rules out the many other kinds of psychologists who conduct scientific research in their respective specialties, including child development, gerontology, neurobiology, emotions, sleep, behavioral genetics, memory and cognition, sexual behavior and attitudes, trauma, learning, language, . . . and social psychology, the study of how social situations and other people affect every human activity from love to war.

For the public, however, the word "psychologist" has only one meaning: psychotherapist. It is true that clinical psychologists practice therapy, but many psychologists are not clinicians, and most therapists are not clinical psychologists. The word "psychotherapist" is completely unregulated. It includes people who have advanced training in psychology, along with those who get a "certification" in some therapeutic specialty; clinical social workers; marriage, family, and child counselors; psychoanalysts and psychiatrists; and countless others who have no training in anything.

Starting tomorrow, I could package and market my own highly effective approach, Chocolate Immersion Therapy, and offer a weekend workshop to train neophytes ($395, chocolate included). I could carry out any kind of unvalidated, cockamamie therapy I wanted, and I would not be guilty of a single crime. Unless I described myself as a psychologist.

As a result of such proliferation of psychotherapists, the work of psychological scientists who do research and teach at colleges and universities tends to be invisible outside the academy. It is the psychotherapists who get public attention, because they turn up on talk shows, offer advice in books and newspaper columns, and are interviewed in the aftermath of every disaster or horrible crime -- for example, speculating on the motives and childhoods of the Washington snipers. Our society runs on the advice of mental-health professionals, who are often called upon in legal settings to determine whether a child has been molested, a prisoner up for parole is still dangerous, a defendant is lying or insane, a mother is fit to have custody of her children, and on and on. Yet while the public assumes, vaguely, that therapists must be "scientists" of some sort, many of the widely accepted claims promulgated by therapists are based on subjective clinical opinions and have been resoundingly disproved by empirical research conducted by psychological scientists. Here are a few examples that have been shown to be false:

Low self-esteem causes aggressiveness, drug use, prejudice, and low achievement.

Abused children almost inevitably become abusive parents, causing a "cycle of abuse."

Therapy is beneficial for most survivors of disasters, especially if intervention is rapid.

Memory works like a tape recorder, clicking on at the moment of birth; memories can be accurately retrieved through hypnosis, dream analysis, or other therapeutic methods.

Traumatic experiences, particularly of a sexual nature, are typically "repressed" from memory, or split off from consciousness through "dissociation."

The way that parents treat a child in the first five years (three years) (one year) (five minutes) of life is crucial to the child's later intellectual and emotional success.

Indeed, the split between the research and practice wings of psychology has grown so wide that many psychologists now speak glumly of the "scientist-practitioner gap," although that is like saying there is an "Arab-Israeli gap" in the Middle East. It is a war, involving deeply held beliefs, political passions, views of human nature and the nature of knowledge, and -- as all wars ultimately do -- money and livelihoods. The war spilled out of academic labs and therapists' offices and into the public arena in the 1980s and '90s, when three epidemics of hysteria caught fire across the country: the rise of claims of "repressed memories" of childhood sexual abuse; the growing number of cases of "multiple-personality disorder" (MPD), from a handful before 1980 to tens of thousands by 1995; and the proliferation of day-care sex-abuse scandals, which put hundreds of nursery-school teachers in prison on the "testimony" of 3and 4-year-old children.

All three epidemics were fomented and perpetuated by the mistaken beliefs of psychotherapists: that "children never lie about sexual abuse"; that childhood trauma causes the personality to "split" into several or even thousands of identities; that if you don't remember being sexually abused in childhood, that's evidence that you were; that it is possible to be raped by your father every day for 16 years and to "repress" the memory until it is "uncovered" in therapy; that hypnosis, dream analysis, and free association of fantasies are reliable methods of "uncovering" accurate memories. (On the contrary, such techniques have been shown to increase confabulation, imagination, and memory errors, while inflating the belief that the retrieved memories are accurate.) The epidemics began to subside as a result of the painstaking research of psychological scientists.

But psychotherapeutic nonsense is a Hydra: Slay one set of mistaken ideas, and others take their place. Recovered-memory therapy may be on the wane, but "rebirthing" techniques and forms of "restraint therapy" -- physically abusive practices that supposedly help adopted or troubled children form attachments to their parents -- are on the rise. In Colorado, 10-year-old Candace Newmaker was smothered to death during rebirthing, a procedure in which she was expected to fight her way through a "birth canal" of suffocating blankets and pillows. The two therapists convicted in Candace's death are now serving time in prison, but efforts in Colorado to prohibit all forms of "restraint therapy" were defeated by protests from "attachment therapists" in the state and throughout the country. After Candace's death, one member of the Colorado Mental Health Grievance Board noted with dismay that her hairdresser's training took 1,500 hours, whereas anyone could take a two-week course and become "certified" in rebirthing. Yet the basic premise -- that children can recover from trauma, insecure attachment, or other psychological problems by "reliving" their births or being subjected to punitive and coercive restraints -- has no scientific validity whatsoever.

To understand how the gap between psychological scientists and clinicians grew, it is necessary to understand a little about therapy and a little about science, and how their goals and methods diverged. For many years, the training of most clinical psychologists was based on a "scientist practitioner" model. Ideally, clinicians would study the research on human behavior and apply relevant findings to their clinical practice. Clinical psychologists who are educated at major universities are still trained in this model. They study, for example, the origins of various mental disorders and the most effective ways to treat them, such as cognitive-behavior therapy for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, anger, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

They have also identified which interventions are unhelpful or potentially harmful. For example, independent assessments of a popular post-trauma intervention called Critical Incident Stress Debriefing have found that most survivors benefit just as much by talking with friends and other survivors as with debriefers. Sometimes CISD even slows recovery, by preventing victims from drawing on their own wellsprings of resilience. And, sometimes, it harms people -- for example, by having survivors ventilate their emotions without also learning good methods of coping with them.

Unfortunately, the numbers of scientifically trained clinicians have been shrinking. More and more therapists are getting their degrees from "free-standing" schools, so called because they are independent of research institutions or academic psychology departments. In these schools, students are trained only to do therapy, and they do not necessarily even learn which kinds of therapy have been shown to be most effective for particular problems. Many of the schools are accredited by the American Psychological Association, and their graduates learn what they need to know to pass state licensing examinations. But that does not mean that the graduates are scientifically knowledgeable. For example, the Rorschach Inkblot Test has been resoundingly discredited as a reliable means of diagnosing most mental disorders or emotional problems; it usually reveals more about the clinician administering it than about the individual taking it. I call it the Dracula of psychological tests, because no one has been able to drive a stake through the cursed thing's heart. Many clinicians love it; it is still widely used; and it still turns up on licensing exams.

Of course, tensions exist between researchers and practitioners in any field -- medicine, engineering, education. Whenever one group is doing research and the other is working in an applied domain, their interests and training will differ. The goal of the clinician, in psychology or medicine, is to help the suffering individual; the goal of the psychological or medical researcher is to explain and predict the behavior or course of illness in people in general. That is why many clinicians argue that empirical research cannot possibly capture the complex human beings who come to their offices. Professional training, they believe, should teach students empathy and appropriate therapeutic skills. Good therapy depends on the therapist's insight and experience, not on knowledge of statistics, the importance of control groups, and the scientific method.

I agree that therapy often deals with issues on which science is silent: finding courage under adversity, accepting loss, making moral choices. My clinician friends constantly impress me with their deep understanding of the human condition, which is based on seeing the human condition sobbing in their offices many times a week. Nor am I arguing that psychological scientists, or any other kind, are white knights with a special claim to intellectual virtue. They, too, wrangle over data, dispute each other furiously in print and public, and have plenty of vested interests and biases. (For example, many scientists and consumer advocates are concerned about the growing co-optation of scientific investigators by the pharmaceutical industry -- which now finances the majority of studies of treatments for mental disorders and sexual problems -- because the result has been a pro-drug bias in research.)

It is not that I believe that science gives us ultimate truths about human behavior, while clinical insight is always foolish and wrong. Rather, I worry that when psychotherapists fail to keep up with basic research on matters on which they are advising their clients; when they fail to learn which methods are most appropriate for which disorders, and which might be harmful; when they fail to understand their own biases of perception and do not learn how to correct them; when they fail to test their own ideas empirically before running off to promote new therapies or wild claims -- then their clients and the larger public pay the price of their ignorance.

For present purposes, I am going to do an end run around the centuries-old debate about defining science, and focus on two core elements of the scientific method. These elements are central to the training of all scientists, but they are almost entirely lacking in the training of most psychotherapists, including clinical psychologists. The first is skepticism: a willingness to question received wisdom. The second is a reliance on gathering empirical evidence to determine whether a prediction or belief is valid. You don't get to sit in your chair and decide that autism is caused by cold, rejecting, "refrigerator" mothers, as Bruno Bettelheim did. But legions of clinicians (and mothers) accepted his cruel and unsubstantiated theory because he was, well, Bruno Bettelheim. It took skeptical scientists to compare the mothers of autistic children with those of healthy children, and to find that autism is not caused by anything parents do; it is a neurological disorder.

The scientific method is designed to help investigators overcome the most entrenched human cognitive habit: the confirmation bias, the tendency to notice and remember evidence that confirms our beliefs or decisions, and to ignore, dismiss, or forget evidence that is discrepant. That's why we are all inclined to stick to a hypothesis we believe in. Science is one way of forcing us, kicking and screaming if necessary, to modify our views. Most scientists regard a central, if not defining, characteristic of the scientific method to be what Karl Popper called "the principle of falsifiability": For a theory to be scientific, it must be falsifiable -- you can't show me just those observations that confirm it, but also those that might show it to be wrong, false. If you can twist any result of your research into a confirmation of your hypothesis, you aren't thinking scientifically. For that reason, many of Freud's notions were unfalsifiable. If analysts saw evidence of "castration anxiety" in their male patients, that confirmed Freud's theory of its universality; if analysts didn't see it, Freud wrote, they lacked observational skills and were just too blind or stubborn to see it. With that way of thinking, there is no way to disconfirm the belief in castration anxiety.

Yet many psychotherapists perpetuate ideas based only on confirming cases -- the people they see in therapy -- and do not consider the disconfirming cases. The popular belief in "the cycle of abuse" rests on cases of abusive parents who turn up in jail or therapy and who report that they were themselves victims of abuse as children. But scientists would want to know also about the disconfirming cases: children who were beaten but did not grow up to mistreat their children (and, therefore, did not end up in therapy or jail), and people who were not beaten and then did grow up to be abusive parents. When the researchers Joan Kaufman and Edward Zigler reviewed longitudinal studies of the outcomes of child abuse, they found that although being abused does considerably increase the risk of becoming an abusive parent, more than 70 percent of all abused children do not mistreat their offspring -- hardly an inevitable "cycle."

Practitioners who do not learn about the confirmation bias and ways to counteract it can make devastating judgments in court cases. For example, if they are convinced that a child has been sexually molested, they are often unpersuaded by the child's repeated denials; such denials, they say, are evidence of the depth of the trauma. Sometimes, of course, that is true. But what if it isn't? In the Little Rascals day-care-abuse case in North Carolina, one mother told reporters that it took 10 months before her child was able to "reveal" the molestation. No one at the time considered the idea that the child might have been remarkably courageous to persist in telling the truth for so long.

Because many therapists tend not to be as deeply imbued with the spirit of skepticism as scientists are (or are supposed to be), it is common for many of them to place their faith in the leader of a particular approach, and to set about trying to do what the school's founder did -- rather than to raise too many questions about the founder's methods or the validity of the founder's theories. If you go off to become certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), invented by Francine Shapiro while she was walking in the woods one day, you are unlikely to ask, "Why, exactly, does waving your finger in front of someone's eyes realign the halves of the brain and reduce anxiety?" Scientific studies of this method show that the successful ingredient in EMDR is an old, tried-and-true technique from behavior therapy: exposing people to a thought or situation that makes them anxious, until the feeling subsides. The eye movements that are supposedly essential, the clinical scientist Scott O. Lilienfeld concluded, do not constitute "anything more than pseudoscientific window dressing."

Similarly, most clinicians are not trained to be skeptical of what a client says or to demand corroborating evidence. Why would they be? A client comes to see you complaining that he has a terrible mother; are you going to argue? Ask to meet the mother? Some clinicians, notably those who practice cognitive-behavior therapy, would, indeed, ask you for the evidence that your mother is terrible and also invite you to consider other explanations of her behavior; but most do not. As the psychiatrist Judith Herman explained in a PBS Frontline special on recovered memory: "As a therapist, your job is not to be a detective; your job is not to be a fact-finder; your job is not to be a judge or a jury; and your job is also not to make the family feel better. Your job is to help the patient make sense out of her life, make sense out of her symptoms . . . and make meaning out of her experience."

That remark perfectly summarizes the differing goals of most clinicians and scientists. Clinicians are certainly correct that most of the time it is not possible to corroborate a client's memory anyway, and that it isn't their job to find out what "really" happened in the client's past. Scientists, though, have shown that memories are subject to distortion. So, if the client is going to end up suing a parent for sexual abuse, or if the therapist's intervention ends up causing a devastating family rift, a little detective work seems called for. Detective work is the province of scientists, who are trained not to automatically believe what someone says or what someone claims to remember, but to ask, "Where's the evidence?"

For psychological scientists, clinical insight is simply not sufficient evidence. For one thing, the clinician's observations of clients will be inherently limited if they overlook comparison groups of people who are not in therapy. For example, many clinicians invent "checklists" of "indicators" of some problem or disorder -- say, that "excessive" masturbation or bed-wetting are signs of sexual abuse or, my favorite, that losing track of time or becoming engrossed in a book is a sign of multiple-personality disorder. But, before you can say that bed-wetting or masturbation is an indicator that a child has been sexually abused, what must you know? Many psychotherapists cannot give you the simple answer: You must know the rates of bed-wetting and masturbation among all children, including nonabused ones. In fact, many abused children have no symptoms, and many nonabused children wet their beds, masturbate, and are fearful in new situations.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, many therapists routinely testified in court that they could magically tell, with complete certainly, that a child had been sexually abused because of how the child played with anatomically correct dolls, or because of what the child revealed in drawings. The plausible assumption is that very young children may reveal feelings in their play or drawings that they cannot express verbally. But while such tests may have a therapeutic use, again the scientific evidence is overwhelming that they are worthless for assessment or diagnostic purposes. How do we know that? Because when scientists compared the doll play of abused children to that of control groups of nonabused children, they found that such play is not a valid way of determining whether a child has been sexually abused. The doll's genitals are pretty interesting to all kids.

Likewise, psychological scientists who study children's cognitive development empirically have examined the belief held by many psychotherapists that "children never lie" about sexual abuse. Scientists have shown in dozens of experiments that children often do tell the truth, but that they also lie, misremember, and can be influenced to make false allegations -- just as adults do. Researchers have shown, too, that adults often misunderstand and misinterpret what children say, and they have identified the conditions that increase a child's suggestibility and the interviewing methods virtually guaranteed to elicit false reports. Those conditions and methods were present in the interrogations of children by social workers, therapists, and police officers in all of the sensational cases of day-care hysteria of the 1980s and '90s. And those coercive practices continue in many jurisdictions today where child-protection workers have not been trained in the latest research.

I fear that the scientist-therapist gap is a done deal. There are too many economic and institutional supports for it, in spite of yearly exhortations by every president of the American Psychological Association for "unity" and "cooperation." That's why, in the late 1980s, a group of psychological scientists formed their own organization, the American Psychological Society, to represent their own scientific interests. Every year, the APA does something else to rile its scientific members while placating its therapist members -- like supporting prescription-writing privileges for Ph.D. psychologists and approving continuing-education programs for unvalidated methods or tests -- and so, every year, more psychological scientists leave the APA for the APS.

But to the public, all this remains an internecine battle that seems to have no direct relevance. That's the danger. Much has been written about America's scientific illiteracy, but social-scientific illiteracy is just as widespread and in some ways even more pernicious. People can deny evolution or fail to learn basic physics, but such ignorance rarely affects their personal lives. The scientific illiteracy of psychotherapists has torn up families, sent innocent defendants to prison, cost people their jobs and custody of their children, and promoted worthless, even harmful, therapies. A public unable to critically assess psychotherapists' claims and methods for scientific credibility will be vulnerable to whatever hysterical epidemic comes along next. And in our psychologically oriented culture, there will be many nexts. Some will be benign; some will merely cost money; and some will cost lives.

Carol Tavris, a social psychologist, is on the board of the Council for Scientific Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry, a consulting editor of The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, and a member of the editorial board of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 49, Issue 25, Page B7

Monday, June 16, 2003

Psychics say more people seeking contact with deceased pets


By: JOANN LOVIGLIO (Sun, Jun/08/2003)

PHILADELPHIA - After the loss of her dog Cassie, Sharyn Cerniglia wanted to know her golden retriever and friend of 12 years was OK. After consulting with an animal psychic, she found the answers she was seeking.

"I got pictures of her running by a stream in a field," Cerniglia said. "She was playing with a couple of kids and taking care of them, and it was always summer. ... It was very heartwarming."

Cerniglia is among a growing number of people who are consulting with psychics not to contact deceased relatives but to communicate with dearly departed pets, according to psychics and skeptics alike.

Part of the popularity is being chalked up to television shows like "The Pet Psychic" cable television program. And some people theorize that pets have been raised in many modern households to a status akin to family members, their owners want to bond with them in much the same way as a sibling or child.

Kim Pickett, who teaches pet owners ways to talk to their living and dead pets at two-day "Communicating with Animals" seminars at the Spring Haven Center in Malvern, says everyone has the ability to do like Doolittle.

"This is nothing supernatural ... it's an innate gift, it's hardwired into us but when we're enculturated to believe that it's not possible the instinct becomes atrophied and we forget how to do it," she said.

Cerniglia's quest started in 2000, after Cassie died and after she brought home a new golden retriever, Cedar, who was not following commands and showing other behavioral problems. Confused, she went to Pickett, who she says got Cerniglia and her former and current dogs talking.

"They were both in my head and I could talk to them," said Cerniglia, of Wayne. "When I actually talked to Cedar and Cassie at the same time, Cedar said, 'I am sick and tired of being compared to Saint Cassie.' It broke my heart."

She says she learned to not expect her new dog to be a duplicate of her former dog. "Now, Cedar is the best dog in the world. ... I wouldn't trade her for anything."

Pickett says most pet owners have experienced some of this psychic connection: a dog that clings extra close to an owner who's ill or upset, a cat that jumps in the window just before its owner comes home.

"When we're in a relationship with a dog or cat that lives in our house, that animal is connected to us all the time," Pickett said. "Bonds develop. That's how you can connect with your animal and that's how you can do it after it's deceased."

That aspect of human nature - to want to speak to loved ones who are gone - makes people ripe for exploitation, said Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation for Claims of the Paranormal.

"Like all aspects of the paranormal, this is tapping into the most basic of human hopes and fears and longings," Nickell said. "We hope that we live after we die, we hope that we're not alone in the universe."

Nickell, who has investigated pet and people psychics alike, said he believes that most people who claim to be animal communicators are "fantasy-prone personalities."

"This is kind of like a grown-up version of the child with imaginary playmates," he said. "They're fantasy-prone people who are conveying a message to people who are hopeful to get a message and who aren't thinking critically."

Many who have visited pet psychics disagree, including Erin C. Conlen, of Collegeville, a project manager for a construction company who said she communicates with her pet wolf Kapugen, who died in 1999.

"Some people are definitely skeptical ... maybe they think it's goofy, but it's real," Conlen said. "I took (Pickett's) class and it confirmed what I was doing and what I knew all along: Animals want to talk to us, they do talk to us, and it's a matter of being open enough to hear them."

Nicole Roberts of Minneapolis, who has been doing psychic consultations for five years but says she has been able to communicate with animals all her life, said nearly all of her customers at the beginning were seeking deceased relatives and friends. Now that makes up only half of her business, with the other half coming from pet owners, she said.

"I've talked to mice, birds, turtles ... people are happy to pay $100 to talk to a goldfish that has passed that they bought for 50 cents. Our animals mean so much to us."

Unlike people with living pets who often are looking for insight about a behavioral problem, "most people who want to communicate with a deceased animal are very grieved," Roberts said.

"They really miss the animal and they want to know that it's OK," she said. "Many of us were raised to believe only people go to heaven, not animals ... people want the reassurance that their animal exists in spirit."

Nickell understands the sentiment - but urges people to trust their logic and not their emotions in the realm of psychic communication.

"It surprised many of us skeptics that this kind of spiritualism made such a big comeback, but it really shouldn't have. The desire to speak with the dead is ancient," Nickell said. "If it really was possible to talk to your dead pets, would you do it? Of course you would."

Science In the News

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from The Associated Press

Scientists say they've identified a flawed gene that appears to promote manic-depression, or bipolar disorder, a finding that could eventually help guide scientists to new treatments.

A particular variant of the gene was associated with only about 3 percent of cases in a study, but researchers said other variants might be involved with more.

Follow-up research might help reveal the mysterious underlying biology that makes some people susceptible to the disorder, and so help scientists devise new treatments, said the study's senior author, Dr. John Kelsoe of the University of California, San Diego.

The work is reported in Monday's issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

from The New York Times

SAN JOSE, Calif. — With light-speed agility, an experimental chip in a QuickSilver Technology laboratory here fluidly executes the three distinct tasks of conducting a cellular phone call. The chip searches for a local cell site, verifies that the caller is an authorized network user and then puts the call through.

It may sound as mundane as phoning home. But to a growing school of chip designers, the three-step feat exemplifies the most fundamental change in computing in decades. Today's cellphones require three different chips to perform the same tasks that the single QuickSilver prototype can execute — thanks to an emerging type of chip architecture known as adaptive, or reconfigurable, computing.

Under this new approach, software is able, on the fly, to effectively redraw a chip's physical circuitry. Not only can adaptive computing enable a single chip to perform tasks normally requiring several, it can add speed while saving cost and energy when compared to today's conventional static chips in which circuitry is inflexible.

from The Washington Post

When they finally found it, high in California's rugged White Mountains, the tree looked a lot like the other stunted and windblown evergreens scattered about: a twisted mass of sun-bleached wood, stubborn green needles and gray crusts of bark.

But this particular bristlecone pine was different. Nicknamed Methuselah, it has clung to its rocky patch of ground near the Nevada border for the past 4,768 years, making it the oldest known living tree on the planet.

Its precise location is known to just a few -- a necessary protection against souvenir hunters and tourists with penknives, the U.S. Forest Service says. But having been sworn to secrecy, Jared Milarch, 23, approached the world's most ancient tree in October and introduced it to the modern world of science. He was there to clone old Methuselah -- to cultivate genetically identical seedlings and then distribute them for study, celebration and show.

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Weird science investigators materialize in Kalispell

By William L. Spence
The Daily Inter Lake

You may already know this, but a group that investigates mental telepathy, reincarnation and other abnormal phenomena is holding its annual meeting in Kalispell this week.

About 80 members of the Society for Scientific Exploration are expected at the event, which runs today through Saturday at the WestCoast Kalispell Center Hotel.

Presentations are scheduled on a variety of topics, including the search for Sasquatch, "anomalous" medicine and healing, evolution in the 21st century and "remote viewing."

"Remote viewing is when one person sits in a lab, another goes somewhere else and the one in the lab somehow senses what the other is seeing," explained Charles Tolbert, the society's president, during a telephone interview.

The presentations are open to the public at a cost of $55 per person. (Remote viewing is presumably free of charge.)

The Society for Scientific Exploration was invited to Kalispell by Dr. James Armstrong, a local physician and society member who has a long-time interest in parapsychology.

Tolbert, a professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville, said the organization was originally formed to provide a forum for people who wanted to investigate subjects that are outside the mainstream of traditional science.

"We basically formed to produce a journal," Tolbert said. "We have a number of members in perfectly respectable fields. They're interested in various 'fringe' topics, but couldn't get published in mainstream journals. They had no place to go."

That isn't entirely surprising, given the subject matter. Recent articles in the "Journal of Scientific Exploration," for example, include:

"Can Population Growth Rule Out Reincarnation? A Model of Circular Migration."

"Unconventional Water Detection: Field Testing of the Dowsing Technique in Dry Zones."

"Poltergeists, Electromagnetism and Consciousness."

"Unusual Play in Young Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives."

Despite the nature of these investigations, the society isn't really made up of people who have watched one too many episodes of "The X-Files."

In fact, many of its members - like Tolbert - are legitimate, open-minded scientists who apply the same skeptical approach to the search for Sasquatch as they would to the search for the Missing Link.

"If we agree in advance that there's no such thing as Bigfoot, then searching for it is a waste of time," Tolbert said. "But if you believe there is evidence that ought to be investigated, then you should also be able to present that evidence and be critiqued on your methods."

That's exactly the kind of thing that takes place at mainstream science conferences, he said, where severe peer review often leads to more vigorous proofs, better experiments and more compelling evidence.

However, in the case of abnormal phenomena, that approach can also stifle creative investigation.

"At mainstream conferences, people will almost get into fistfights, but they're critiquing each other's data or methods," Tolbert said. "They aren't being told they're crazy - whereas many of our members have. It's a group that historically has felt disenfranchised."

Because it lends an aura of legitimacy to UFOs and Loch Ness monsters, the society is occasionally criticized for undermining public confidence in science.

Nevertheless, Tolbert said the hallmark of good science is its willingness to consider the evidence, no matter how unusual it might be.

"You ought to base decisions on the data," he said. "You may decide it's a bunch of hooey - a lot of these people do turn out to be kooks - but there are other things that we clearly don't understand. To take a whole structure of evidence and not even look at it because you think it's crazy is inappropriate. We don't want to miss something."

The Society for Scientific Exploration will hold five sessions during its annual meeting. The agenda includes:

Thursday morning - Medicine and Healing

Thursday afternoon - Evolution in the 21st Century

Friday morning - Remote Viewing: Here, There and Everywhere

Friday afternoon - Open session featuring short lectures by society members

Saturday morning -The Search for Sasquatch


The 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference


"Write better emails. Make more moneys."

I am Mr. Laurent Mpeti Kabila, a senior assistant leader of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone.

I present to you an urgent and confidential request: I request your attendance at The 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference. This is an excellent opportunity to meet your distinguished colleagues, learn new marketing techniques, and spend your hard-earned money. Attending this conference demands the highest trust, security and confidentiality between us.

Dates: November 7 - 9, 2003
Location: Abuja Sheraton Hotel & Casino
Registration Fee: $995 per person

Like most Nigerians, you're probably finding that it's increasingly difficult to earn a decent living from email. That's why you need to attend the 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference.

"This conference is an investment in your future. Learn to take advantage of modern technology, and make a great deal of money with very little effort. If you have any question, please contact me and I will send you a proposal that may be of interest to you. I await your response by return while assuring you that the transaction is absolutely risk free."

- Dr. Collins Mbadiwe

Preliminary* List of Events

As in the past, this conference has something for everyone. You will hear presentations by some of the world's leading Nigerian Email businessmen and businesswomen.

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