NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 July 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Wild Man of Shennongjia spotted by six people

An investigation has been launched in China after six people claimed to have spotted the Wild Man of Shennongjia.

The 5ft 5ins, grey-skinned human-like figure, which had shoulder-length black hair and crooked arms and back, was seen walking across a road.

The Wild Man of Shennongjia, a Yeti-like creature, is said to live in the mountainous forests of Hubei Province.

The six people who saw the creature were travelling in a vehicle in the Shennongjia Nature Reserve, reports the Hong Kong edition of China Daily.

One of the witnesses, Shang Zhengmin, a local reporter, said they saw the beast as they turned a corner on a mountain road.

He said the "ape-like" animal was moving fast on the road and by the time the vehicle finished the turn, it had disappeared.

Passengers got out of the vehicle and found several 12 ins footprints, newly broken branches and a large patch of "foul smelling urine-like liquid" on the road.

Dozens of sightings of the Wild Man have been reported in the area and China organised several searches during the 1980s and 1990s but to no avail.

Story filed: 10:49 Friday 4th July 2003


Unlocking airs--with disclaimer

When WNYE broadcast Unlocking the Mystery of Life on July 6, 2003, the following disclaimer appeared:

WNYE presents documentaries that represent many different viewpoints. The following documentary supports the thesis that Creationism rather than Evolution is the explanation for the history of life on our planet. WNYE believes that this is a position worth studying, but makes no representation as to its factual accuracy.

The text of the disclaimer now appears in NCSE's growing collection of information and opinions about Unlocking at: http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=19


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

Suburban scientist says he may know the origin of life


By Jon Davis Daily Herald Staff Writer

A suburban scientist says he believes he's found the answer to a quandary that has vexed humanity for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years:

How did life on Earth begin?

Not through chemistry or physics alone, but a combination of sunlight and quantum mechanics, said Marek Lassota of Arlington Heights, a 57-year-old Polish-born engineer and tinkerer who holds about 20 patents.

His idea is this: As light waves begin their 93 million-mile journey from the sun to Earth, information is encoded in their valleys, or dips, and especially in the ultraviolet portion of the sun's spectrum.

Once sunlight reaches the earth, the encoded information reacts with terrestrial chemistry on a sub-atomic level, forcing the creation of recombinant nucleic acid, or RNA -- the precursor to deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, the double-helix blueprint for life.

According to Lassota's "Code Theory," this process not only happened 3.8 billion to 4 billion years ago, but is still at work here and beyond our solar system on planets capable of sustaining life.

"It's a very tantalizing connection of seemingly unrelated things," said Porter Johnson, a professor of theoretical physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology. "It's an interesting scenario for the origin of life."

The theory is laid out in Lassota's book, "Life Decoded: The Sun, Your Origin and the Creation of Life in the Universe." Over 432 pages, he details the theory, supporting evidence culled from existing scientific literature and a list (also from existing literature) of what Lassota considers to be 51 requirements that any origin of life theory must meet.

Not surprisingly, his code theory meets them all. Its key lies in the wave-like nature of light.

The peaks and valleys of light waves can be charted with a spectrograph -- a machine that breaks light into its constituent colors, ranging from the infra-red through the visible spectrum (red, yellow, green, etc.) to the ultraviolet.

The color bands are crossed by dark lines known as Fraunhofer Lines, named for the German scientist Joseph von Fraunhofer, who discovered them in 1814.

Each line indicates the presence of a specific chemical element (which is how astronomers are able to determine the chemical composition of the sun and other stars).

But what's the connection between Fraunhofer Lines and RNA/DNA? First, they represent similar organizations of a huge amount of data. Second, put the lines and DNA patterns side by side, and they both look like a UPC bar code.

"These are the only two instances in nature where massive amounts of information are organized in the same way. It's just star spectrum and life," Lassota said. "One second, and I said, 'Oh, this is the connection.' That was it."

Information from sunlight transfers to RNA/DNA through photosynthesis, but chemistry can't do it alone, Lassota said. Physics and quantum mechanics appear to play critical roles, too.

Lassota writes in "Life Decoded" that his theory establishes "for the first time, a direct link between physics and the origin of life."

The idea's genesis came in 1991, while Lassota was reading books on nucleosynthesis (the process of how elements are created inside stars) and the origins of life.

"To me, it became almost evident that there was a much bigger connection between light and all that other stuff," he said. "To me, although I didn't have a smoking gun, it's all connected."

The epiphany came in 1995, in the Borders Bookstore in Schaumburg, as he perused the Encyclopaedia of Physics and a book on DNA. He realized the lines of a DNA analysis and the analytical lines of light from the sun were identical in appearance.

That led to more reading and a paper written in 1996. Lassota then realized there was more to write, and got funding to research and write a book. He also borrowed money for the effort that has taken most of his time since 1997.

"I de facto staked all my future on this project. It's as simple as that," Lassota said.

Lassota sent copies of "Life Decoded" to 60 scientists whose works he'd quoted, and to NASA's Astrobiology Institute.

But aside from IIT's Johnson and a few others, he's had little response.

Where's the beef?

What feedback Lassota has gotten suggests there's something serious here.

In a forward he wrote for "Life Decoded," Johnson said "the indirect evidence provided by Lassota is overwhelming."

Andrzej Staruszkiewicz, a professor of theoretical physics at Jagiellonian University in Lassota's native Poland, wrote that Lassota's theory is "coherent and plausible" and "a truly intriguing vision."

For now, however, a vision is all it is, Johnson said. The theory is speculation, but as speculations go, "it is an interesting one," he added.

The sun is surely at center of life, because without it no life would exist, Johnson said. And there is agreement among some scientists that photochemistry is a critical part of the process of life, he added.

Lassota's book "is interesting from a cultural viewpoint in that scientists are going to say, 'Where's the beef?' like that burger commercial," Johnson said. "It might go over well as an idea for general audience."

Lassota was born in Mielec, Poland, in 1946, the son of one of Poland's leading aircraft designers.

By age 15, he was a glider pilot but got bored with it. And at 21, he invented his first engine. As a student at the Warsaw University of Technology, he studied chemistry, electronics, mathematics and physics.

He came to Chicago in 1970, to the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he developed a prototype rotary engine in the early 1970s from which he developed a line of compressors. He ran a compressor company from 1984 to 1993.

In 1995, he began day trading, and though he was making some money at it, he said it became a time killer.

A holder of several patents, he said his inventive quality was key to discovering the code theories.

"I think this is very important because it's the ability to connect unconnected things … that others don't see as connected," he said. "I was very well primed at the time to accept the challenge, no doubt about it."

Bottaro's Letter to WNYE

by Andrea Bottaro


Mr. Laing Kandel
General Manager
New York

Dr. Joe Klein
Dept. of Education
New York

Dear Mr. Kandel and Dr. Klein:

It was recently announced by the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA, that the New York Department of Education's WNYE television station is planning to broadcast the documentary video "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" (hereafter, UML) on July 6, 2003. While I realize that the purpose of WNYE is to provide its viewers with the broadest and most diverse information from different sources and points of view, there are a few background issues about this video that I believe you and WNYE viewers should be made aware of.

UML presents itself as a well-crafted, purely scientific documentary, while it is factually misleading in many respects, and its main purpose is propaganda for a pseudo-scientific movement known as Intelligent Design Creationism. UML has its (strategically concealed) origins close to religious fundamentalist and Creationist circles, and displays a pattern of poor scholarship, including misrepresentation/omission of key scientific evidence. Ultimately, these result in a misleading picture of the facts and of current scientific knowledge, as well as of the ultimate goals of the documentary itself. (More details about these problems are found in the attachment to this letter.)

While as a scientist I fully subscribe to the free dissemination of opinions from any source, I think you owe WNYE viewers that such background information is made available to them, so that they may properly judge the documentary's message. Addition of a disclaimer to the broadcast, explaining that the documentary presents a one-sided view of a fringe, pseudo-scientific idea rejected by the overwhelming majority of scientists, and that its main purpose is religious/philosophical in nature, would probably be sufficient to alert your viewers of the true significance of "Unlocking the Mystery of Life".

Thank you very much for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions or require additional information.


Andrea Bottaro, PhD
Assistant Professor
Medicine, Microbiology and Imunology, Oncology
University of Rochester Medical Center

Rochester, NY, 6/30/03

Unlocking the Mystery of Life - More omissions than facts

The source:
"Unlocking the Mystery of Life" is the first and only production of an entity called "IllustraMedia". In fact, "IllustraMedia" is one and the same with "Discovery Media Productions"1. Discovery Media is a production company whose previous videos are devoted to evangelical topics, such as "Heaven and Hell" and "The End Times"2. While there is nothing wrong with an evangelical video company producing a science documentary, the fact that to do so it was felt necessary to create a "shell" production outfit highlights the aura of ambiguity that pervades the entire enterprise (more examples to follow). Furthermore, the purpose of the video as a propagandistic and religious, rather than scientific/educational tool is underscored by how UML is being publicized within fundamentalist circles. For instance, Mission Frontiers, the Bulletin of the evangelical U.S. Center for World Missions, hails it as "the most impressive evangelistic tool ever made"3.

The contents:
As a documentary, UML is a skillful and sophisticated production, showing some well-made computer animations of cellular processes at the molecular level. In discussing such mechanisms, the video claims that the scientific evidence points to insurmountable difficulties for standard evolutionary theory, and supports instead the hypothesis that a superior intelligence directly intervened to create and/or diversify life (hence the name "Intelligent Design", or ID, Creationism4). The video discusses such purported evidence and devotes much of its time to the historical origins and philosophical underpinnings of the ID movement.

The fundamental question is whether ULM conforms to basic scientific standards of adherence to evidence and facts. In this, it fails at several levels. First of all, throughout the documentary mainstream scientific views, supported by the overwhelming majority of scientists, are not even independently presented. Instead, oversimplified, sometime downright scornful presentations of mainstream scientific theories and hypotheses are provided by supporters of ID (as a counterexample, the recent PBS "Evolution" series, though clearly favoring a scientific view, featured the opinions of several prominent representatives of Creationism). In UML, therefore, the viewers are treated to descriptions of scientific evidence and theories that have little connection with what is in fact going on in the science world. For reasons of space, I'll just mention a few examples.

The most glaring omission deals with UML's discussion of Origins of Life (OoL) science. The only non ID-based views on OoL discussed in the video are those proposed, in the late '60s, by one of the current ID proponents, Dr. Dean Kenyon. According to UML, those models have been later shown by Kenyon and colleagues to be insufficient to explain key aspects of early molecular and cellular evolution. In fact, most of Kenyon's original views have long been superseded by more thorough, and better empirically supported, scientific hypotheses - indeed, it was those hypotheses and evidence that led to the demise of Kenyon's ideas in scientific circles long before ID Creationism appeared on the scene. Alas, what is arguably the current (and has been for more than a decade now) favored hypothesis about OoL, the so-called "RNA World" model5, finds no mention whatsoever in UML. This is not surprising, perhaps, since the objections raised in UML by ID proponents to Kenyon's original theory would not stand against this new model. Thus, the viewer is given the false impression that the current scientific choice is between ID Creationism and its outright miraculous Origin of Life, or Dr. Kenyon's outdated 1960's theory. Of course, our understanding of OoL is still very limited, and highly speculative. Nevertheless, it is far more advanced and scientifically solid than the UML parody would want its audience to believe.

Other mistakes in UML include an equally superficial, almost mockingly simplified discussion of cooption, a crucial evolutionary mechanism for which in fact significance evidence exists in the biological world. UML's "experts" even commit a basic error regarding the role of nucleic acids in the cell, which are presented as uniquely involved in genetic information storage and transfer, while it is now well known that they are directly active in crucial molecular processes functionally comparable to those carried out by protein enzymes - a key piece of evidence in favor of the "RNA World" hypothesis mentioned above (and the possible reason why it also went unmentioned).

The crucial argument underlying the whole ID philosophy, widely discussed in the video, is the concept of "irreducibly complex" systems, and the purported impossibility of conventional evolutionary mechanisms to generate them. Although it was quickly rejected by biologists on theoretical and empirical grounds6, "irreducible complexity" has remained the main staple of ID Creationism. Ironically, this argument was just recently delivered a fatal blow in the prestigious science journal Nature, where a computer simulation based entirely on evolutionary principles (undirected random mutation and selection) was shown to be able to generate "irreducibly complex" outputs7. While of course the video cannot be faulted for not predicting the results of future scientific research, this episode serves as a good example of the shaky grounds on which ID reasoning is built. Indeed, not only does scientific evidence continue to accumulate contradicting the ID arguments, but even more damningly, in over 10 years from the onset of the "movement", no single scientific result supporting ID has been published in the scientific literature, despite its supporters continuing claims of the existence of such results. Indeed, even the ID advocates' own journal, the electronically published Progress in Complexity, Information and Design, has failed to publish any experimental result supporting ID8.

In short, despite the appeals by ID advocates to "let the evidence speak for itself", there is in fact no positive scientific evidence in support of ID, and on the contrary the theoretical arguments of its advocates are constantly being proven erroneous in the professional literature. To avoid facing this lack of evidence, UML resorts instead to systematic distortions of mainstream science theories and omissions of key ideas and pieces of evidence.

The people
The experts interviewed for UML, and ID advocates in general, are fond to present themselves as "scientists", often accompanied by the qualifier "a small but growing number of". In fact, most ID advocates are not scientists by any meaningful definition of the term, and their numbers (for which "small" is an overstatement) are anything but growing.

Of the experts who appear in UML, 4 can in fact qualify as bona fide scientists: Michael Behe, Scott Minnich, Dean Kenyon, and Jed Macosko. The first two hold tenured positions in Biochemistry and Microbiology, respectively, at mainstream universities, but despite their own research experience and active labs, as discussed above they have failed to produce any evidence in support of the ideas they so eloquently argue for. Dean Kenyon was scientifically active until the mid-'70s, after which he has not published further in the scientific literature (however, he has since co-authored the notorious Creationist school textbook "Of Pandas and People"9). Jed Macosko, whose image is accompanied in UML by the qualifier "Molecular Biologist, UC Berkeley", although a Berkeley graduate and former postdoctoral trainee, in fact is not, or has ever been, on the Berkeley faculty, as that title could suggest. Indeed, Dr. Macosko is apparently not even affiliated with UC Berkeley anymore; if he was at the time of interview, he certainly was there as a junior postdoc trainee, hardly an "expert" in the field by any standards. Currently, Dr. Macosko is listed on some ID web sites as teaching chemistry at the religious La Sierra University in Riverside, CA10, although he does not appear on the faculty list there either11. Such "generous" use of credentials is not unique in the documentary. One of the leading proponents of ID, William Dembski, is labeled as a "mathematician - Baylor University" in UML, although he is affiliated with Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning, which focuses on theology and philosophy12. Indeed, almost the entirety of Dr. Dembski's vast published opus, with the exception of a mathematics paper in 1990, is about various aspects of theology, apologetics and philosophy13 (Dr. Dembski holds PhDs in Mathematics and Philosophy, and a M.Div. in Theology). Finally, Jonathan Wells, presented as "biologist" in UML, does hold a PhD in Developmental Biology from UC Berkeley. By his own words, however, he entered the program not based on any genuine interest in science and biology, but following the direction of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, with the expressed goal to "devote his life to destroying Darwinism"14. Not surprisingly, there is no record of Dr. Wells performing any meaningful research work after his training at Berkeley, and he has since entirely dedicated himself to anti-evolutionist propaganda (including the book "Icons of Evolution", some editions of which even contained stickers for students to deface biology textbooks15).

Thus, the definitions of professional background and academic affiliation used throughout UML are at the very least ambiguous, and clearly result in an inflation of the apparent academic clout and relevant expertise of the participants.

In summary, "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" is a depiction of a fringe, at best semi-scientific philosophical movement very close, ideologically and organizationally, to religious Creationism. The documentary misrepresents itself, its goals, the existing scientific evidence and its own experts in several significant ways. While it is your prerogative to air the programs that you believe best suit your audience's needs and interests, it is equally important that your viewers be provided with information that may help them put this product's contents and purpose in the appropriate context. This is necessary not only in the spirit of openness and full disclosure, but also to avoid that your broadcast of the documentary appear as an implicit endorsement of this new form of "stealth" Creationism by one of the largest Departments of Education in the country.


  1. Verifiable by a "WHOIS" search for the domain name "illustramedia.com": http://www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois?STRING=illustramedia.com&SearchType=do Accessed 6/30/03
  2. http://www.discoverymedia.org/dm_products_page.htm Accessed 6/29/03
  3. http://www.missionfrontiers.org/2002/06/PDFs/Unlocking_Mystery.pdf Accessed 6/28/03
  4. For an in-depth discussion of ID Creationism, see "Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics", Robert T. Pennock, ed, MIT Press, 2001, ISBN 0-262-16204-0; review in http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~cheathwo/Phil100/nytimes.html Accessed 6/30/03
  5. http://www.lawrenceroberge.com/RNAWORLD.htm Accessed 6/30/03 http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/21438?fulltext=true Accessed 6/30/03
  6. see for instance several articles by Dr. Ken Miller, Brown University: http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/ Accessed 6/30/03
  7. Lenski RE, Ofria C, Pennock RT, Adami C. "The evolutionary origin of complex features." Nature. May 8 2003; 423 (6936):139-44
  8. http://www.iscid.org/pcid.php Accessed 6/29/03
  9., reviewed at the National Association of Biology Teachers web site http://www.nabt.org/sub/evolution/panda1.asp Both accessed 6/30/03.
  10. http://www.iscid.org/jed-macosko.php; http://www.lasierra.edu/ Both accessed 6/30/03
  11. http://www.lasierra.edu/resources/phonelists/phonename_m-s.html Accessed 6/30/03
  12. http://www3.baylor.edu/IFL/ Accessed 6/28/03
  13. http://www.designinference.com/documents/05.02.CV.htm Accessed 6/30/03
  14. http://www.tparents.org/library/unification/talks/wells/DARWIN.htm Accessed 6/30/03
  15. Links to reviews of Icons of Evolution can be found at the National Center of Science Education's web site http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/9855_reviews_of_icons_of_evolution_10_31_2002.asp Accessed 6/30/03

Don't stop with creationism; teach flat Earth theory, too


Posted on Mon, Jul. 07, 2003

By Robert N. Bostrom

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Flat Earth Society's founding, and I'm sorry to say that the media have largely ignored our organization and its contribution to contemporary thinking and the quality of life.

The society was founded to defend the right of Americans to insist on equal treatment by the school systems and a balanced approach to the teaching of science. It has been well established that the beliefs of individuals must be considered when schools design curricula.

Imagine the feelings of a child whose family believes in a flat Earth and has to hear that some of their most precious beliefs are ignored, or worse, derided. Oppressive government and lock-step educational institutions insist that they know everything, in spite of the massive evidence to the contrary.

If you've ever been to Kansas, you know the Earth is flat. If you've been up in a lighthouse and looked out at the ocean, you can see that this planet is as flat as can be. In spite of the evidence of our senses, schools everywhere in America are continuing to teach about the round Earth as if it were an established fact and not just a theory, which it is.

We of the Flat Earth Society want equal time in the schools to see that our point of view is presented as an alternative to the established view that the Earth is round. We want to start out by having the globes in schools and publicly funded institutions carry a warning sign that they represent only one view of the shape of the Earth and that other theories are worth our attention.

All of the so-called evidence for a round Earth theory is indirect and can be interpreted in many ways. We know that Magellan actually sailed in a great circle and not around the world as he claimed.

And recently, we have seen pictures taken by so-called astronauts that purport to show a round Earth. If you really believe the astronauts went to the moon and not to Arizona, you are dumber than we think.

Nonetheless, Flat Earth members have not had nearly as much media attention as we would like. Our friends who espouse scientific creationism have done much better, and we believe that their success has been due to the support of churches and religious organizations.

At first it may seem odd that a church would have a point of view about scientific questions, but you can't argue with success. The creationists have browbeaten school boards and departments of education into allowing mention of their theories in school science classes, and we want the same respect.

From most science teachers' point of view, a flat Earth is no more ridiculous than a magical account of creation with floods and miraculous creation from ribs and stuff. So it is obvious that we need to enlist churches in our cause, and we are negotiating with some of the more enlightened groups to support us.

We were horribly disappointed when the Catholic Church announced that Galileo was right after all, and so we have given up on it. But if anyone out there is interested in forming an alliance, we would like to talk to you. Look in your Bible; you won't find anything about a round Earth in it.

In spite of hardship, the Flat Earth Society continues its efforts, and we think the next 20 years will be better. We know that liberal newspapers will pay us little attention, so we are going to rely on word of mouth. Our word to you is to trust your senses and don't let scientists pull the wool over your eyes.

If nothing else, we want views about a round Earth treated as the theories that they really are and not established fact. Equal time is the American way.

Armed with Hindu Texts, Creationist Takes on Darwin


By Alexandra Alter
Religion News Service

Washington, July 3--(RNS) What's a creationist doing bashing Darwin at the World Archaeological Congress?

Michael Cremo, a research associate at the Bhaktivedanta Institute for consciousness studies in California, is not picketing outside. He's arguing that human civilization may have existed millions of years before the accepted dates, making the self-described Hindu creationist something of a unique voice in the ongoing debate between Darwinists and creationists.

Cremo, who has spent more than 20 years looking for evidence of ancient human civilizations, is now pressing the scientific community to be more tolerant of different metaphysical views.

In a radical departure from both Darwin's theory and Christian creationism, Cremo comes at the question of evolution from the Hindu understanding of time as cyclical. It was his study of the Puranas--sacred Sanskrit texts that speak of ancient civilizations--that led him to search for evidence of "extreme human antiquity."

While presenting his paper "Archaeology in the Service of Darwinism" to a group of seasoned archaeologists last week (June 26), Cremo told his rapt audience that archaeologists have overlooked a large body of evidence that contradicts Darwinian evolution. He buoyantly described a mortar and pestle that were found lodged in an fossilized riverbed dated to about 30 million years ago, noting that no fissures in the rock formation could account for their presence there.

"When operating from a different metaphysical perspective, I seem to see the evidence in a different light," he said, adding that these discoveries are not well known today because they contradict Darwinian principles of evolution, Cremo said.

Although his 1994 book "Forbidden Archaeology" is a top seller among archaeology books on Amazon.com, Cremo hasn't enjoyed the same warm reception from the scientific community. Now in his 50s, Cremo has sp ent nearly 20 years fighting "Darwinian fundamentalists" who he claims have dismissed evidence proving the existence of human beings as early as 2 billion years ago. According to most scientists, the first anatomically modern humans appeared about 100,000 years ago.

"The problem is, there's so much evidence against it," said Eugenie Scott, physical anthropologist and director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization that defends teaching evolution in public schools. "For his view to be right would require answers that he can't provide."

Professor Jonathan Marks, a biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina who reviewed Cremo's book in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, said Cremo relies on poorly documented 19th century archaeological finds.

"What Cremo does in `Forbidden Archaeology' is he takes all this stuff that has been confined to the rubbish pile and says, `Look at all this evidence that archaeologists have ignored,"' Marks said. "It's not evidence at all. He believes humans existed in the Precambrian era, but the world was a very different place then. There was no oxygen, there was no life; without multi-cellular organisms, there wouldn't have been anything for them to eat."

But for Cremo, the periodic disappearance of life from Earth is merely a glitch in an endless process of creation and destruction that is laid out in Hindu sacred scriptures.

One unit of Vedic time, known as the day of Brahma, lasts about 4 billion years, he explained. Each day of Brahma is divided into 14 periods called manvantaras--after Manu, Hinduism's Adam--which last about 300 million years and are punctuated by a devastation, after which all life forms have to be reintroduced. The lifeless early Precambrian, in Cremo's view, was one of those times.

"I was surprised to find there was so much evidence that is consistent with the Puranas," he said.

For example, the current day of Brahma began 2 billion years ago, the rough date that most paleontologists give to the beginning of life on the planet, he said. Moreover, most paleontologists agree that there have been six extinction events in the history of the planet; likewise, six devastations have happened in the current day of Brahma according to Vedic time.

But where Cremo finds common ground with paleontologists, he diverges from biblical creationist theory. Young Earth Creationism, based on the Book of Genesis, dates the advent of humans to about 6,000 years ago and the origins of the Earth to 10,000 years ago.

Some prominent Christian creationists, however, approve of Cremo's work because of his efforts to prove that humans coexisted with ancient primates rather than evolving from them.

"Christian creationists would disagree with me about the age of the Earth, but they would agree that humans were there since the beginning," Cremo said, adding that Islamic scholars have also written him and complimented his work.

Dennis Bonnette, a professor of metaphysics at Niagara University and author of "How Humans Evolved," a study of evolution and creationism from a Catholic perspective, said Cremo's book has opened doors for creationists of all creeds.

"It does provide credible evidence that the standard view on human evolution may be incorrect," Bonnette said. "Paleoanthropology may be consistent with both the Hindu Vedic and the Catholic perspective. There is plenty of room for different metaphysical perspectives."

Although their ideas draw scorn from the scientific establishment, researchers like Cremo and Bonnette have ample company in the creationist camp. A 2001 Gallup Poll showed that 45 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, while only 12 percent believe human beings evolved from less advanced forms over millions of years. Thirty-seven percent said the process of evolution is guided by God.

Like many creationists, Cremo rejects the idea that human evolution resulted from a series of random accidents.

"A cyclical concept of time doesn't rule out evolution; neither does the Bible," Cremo said. "But Darwinist scientists believe evolution was a completely material process with no intelligence behind it."

In his forthcoming book, "Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin's Theory," set to be released by Torchlight Press this September, Cremo describes how humans first exist with God on the level of pure consciousness before they take on material bodies.

Cremo, who practices a theistic strain of Hinduism known as Vaishnaism, began searching for evidence to corroborate the Vedic idea of ancient human civilizations in 1984. It was his spiritual teacher, the late Bhativedanta Swami, whom he met in India in the 1960s, that inspired Cremo to begin his scientific search.

"My simple goal was to show that human civilization has been around for the day of Brahma," he said.

It may require a lot more digging and some more reliable dating methods to get scientists on board, however.

"Theories get overturned consistently in science," Marks said. "But one of the standards we use is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Copyright 2003 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be reproduced without written permission.

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 - July 8, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

A rocket carrying the second of two NASA Mars rovers soared into the sky over Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday night, lighting up the darkness with a glowing orange flare as it began its roughly 300-million-mile journey to the Red Planet.

The Boeing Delta II Heavy rocket carrying the 384-pound rover, named Opportunity, lifted off at 11:18 p.m. EDT amid cheers from exuberant but exhausted Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers who built and tested both rovers and have been frustrated by a series of launch delays.

George Diller, a Kennedy Space Center spokesman and launch commentator, announced the successful liftoff of the rocket carrying Opportunity, calling it "a chance to explore and unlock the secrets of our neighboring planet."

from The Hartford Courant

Paralysis and extreme muscle weakness are a significant cause of complications in West Nile virus patients, according to a study to be released today.

A rash - which helps distinguish the mosquito-borne disease from another paralytic disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome - was the earliest symptom in about a quarter of 23 West Nile patients at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, according to research published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Half the patients developed muscle weakness. Because of weakness in their breathing muscles, nine patients required mechanical ventilation. Three patients died of the infection.

from The Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Endangered sea turtles, the Chinese alligator, the Asiatic black bear and a host of other wild animals may be unexpected beneficiaries of the deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Preliminary evidence that the SARS virus may have jumped from animals to humans has focused a harsh spotlight on China's role as one of the world's biggest consumers of wild and endangered animals for food and medicinal uses. The first known case of the highly infectious disease surfaced in November in the southern province of Guangdong, where snakes, cats and more exotic animals are part of the traditional cuisine. Since then, SARS has infected at least 8,439 people and killed more than 800.

Faced with a potential public safety issue and a threat to its global image, China has begun cracking down on the worst wildlife abuses. The government recently banned the sale and trade of endangered aquatic species such as the Chinese sturgeon, giant salamander and sea turtles. It also said it would consider amending a 1988 wildlife conservation law criticized as toothless. While the measure bans the sale and trade of wild animals, it does not cover consumption. Moreover, the penalties are weak.

from The Boston Globe

A polished black sphere rests casually atop Andrew Kadak's desk at MIT, half-hidden by haphazard stacks of paperwork. The sphere is smooth and slightly cool to the touch, about the size of a billiard ball. It has a nice heft to it, an even balance that feels perfect for juggling. Kadak, along with many other nuclear experts, believes that this little sphere is the key to the future of nuclear power. Kadak, a former nuclear industry executive and now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems in Cambridge, is promoting a new kind of nuclear plant called a pebble-bed modular reactor, or PBMR. Cooled by helium and fueled by hundreds of thousands of radioactive pebbles visually identical to the mock-up on Kadak's desk, PBMRs are supposed to be safer, cheaper and easier to operate than conventional water-cooled reactors fueled by 12-foot-long uranium rods. His team has spent five years investigating PBMR potential and believes it is far superior to other nuclear designs.

It's a "meltdown-proof reactor that captures the small-is-beautiful trend," Kadak said.

His enthusiasm is striking considering the nuclear industry's rough ride over the last 25 years. The 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island 2 in Pennsylvania and the lethal explosion at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986 shook American confidence in nuclear power, making the industry a target for pop-culture satire from "The Simpsons" to the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." More than 20 US nuclear plants have shut down prematurely, and no new ones have been ordered in this country since 1973. (The last US plant to go on line was in 1996, 23 years after its order date.)

from The New York Times

Years after Congress ordered NASA to pull the plug on a survey looking for alien radio signals from the stars, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, as it is known to aficionados, seems to have gradually achieved a modicum of respect in the halls of Washington.

The most recent indication appeared at the end of last month, when NASA named 12 groups that had won five-year grants to participate as "lead teams" in its Astrobiology Institute, which investigates the origin and future of life in the universe.

On the list was the SETI Institute, an organization in Mountain View, Calif., that has carried on the abandoned survey.

The group proposed a variety of basic research on the way planetary environments affect life or are affected by it. One project is aimed at determining whether certain kinds of stars are promising abodes for life and thus good targets for a planned expansion of the institute's search for intelligent radio signals.

from The New York Times

Today, temperatures in New York City are expected to be in the 90's, and most New Yorkers will think of the temperature as a warm, soggy, sensation on the skin.

Physicists have a different notion. To them, temperature is, in a simple sense, speed. "It's some measure of the random motion of the various degrees of freedom," said Dr. Robert J. Schoelkopf, a professor of applied physics at Yale.

For example, molecules of air or water bounce into one another like the Ping-Pong balls in the machine that picks lottery numbers. The collisions transfer energy between the molecules, producing a bell-curve distribution of speeds, and the average kinetic energy of the molecules corresponds to temperature. While the speeds of individual molecules constantly change, the distribution of speeds remains the same, determined by the temperature. The higher the temperature, the faster, on average, the molecules jostle into one another; at cooler temperatures, the molecules move more languidly.

Sunset reveals inscription on Biblical tomb


Points to John the Baptist's father
Monday, July 7, 2003 Posted: 12:12 PM EDT (1612 GMT)

Anthropologist Joe Zias studies a cast of a Greek inscription found on an ancient burial monument near the Mount of Olives in Jersalem. Story Tools

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The discovery was a stroke of luck: the light of the setting sun hit an ancient tomb at just the right angle and revealed hints of a worn inscription, unnoticed for centuries, commemorating the father of John the Baptist.

"This is the tomb of Zachariah, martyr, very pious priest, father of John," the inscription of 47 Greek letters reads.

The inscription probably does not mean that the father of the biblical figure is actually buried in the 60-foot-high (18-meter-high) funerary monument at the foot of the Mount of Olives, say the text's discoverers.

But it does give new insight into the local lore surrounding the early figures of the Christian Church.

Scholars say the words were probably written several hundred years after Zachariah's death -- and after the tomb's construction -- by Byzantine Christians.

The Byzantines scoured the Holy Land in the 4th and 5th centuries and, drawing on local tradition, marked sites they felt were linked to the characters they knew from the Bible.

Leading the charge was Helena, the newly converted mother of Emperor Constantine, who selected the site now marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, said to be the site where Jesus was crucified and buried.

But even such second-hand references are important, scholars say, because they confirm the traditions among early Christians and because there are so few artifacts directly relating to biblical narrative.

"We actually have contact with ancient history through Byzantine Christians," said Jim Strange, a New Testament scholar at the University of South Florida.

The text was discovered by physical anthropologist Joe Zias and inscriptions expert Emile Puech. Zias, an Israeli originally from Ypsilanti, Michigan, and the French-born Puech are publishing their findings on the Zachariah inscription in the upcoming July issue of the Revue Biblique, a French quarterly.

The grave of Absalom?
The inscription is carved into the facade of what is known as Absalom's Tomb, one of three large funerary monuments in the Kidron Valley, between Jerusalem's Old City and the Mount of Olives. The monuments were apparently built for Jerusalem's aristocracy around the time of Jesus.

It's unlikely Absalom, son of King David, lies buried in the tomb, which was built hundreds of years after his death.

Medieval Jewish tradition, however, held that the monument was his tomb, and -- based on that tradition -- Jews, Christians and Muslims stoned the monument for centuries to curse Absalom for his deeds: murdering his half brother Amnon for raping their sister Tamar, and later inciting a rebellion against his father.

The once smooth facade became badly pockmarked, and the Zachariah inscription carved above the entrance arch, about 30 feet (9 meters) from the ground, began to fade.

Zias, a member of the Science and Archaeology Group, a team of scholars affiliated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discovered the first letters by chance, on a photograph shown to him by an art history student asking for advice on a paper about Absalom's Tomb.

The photographer told Zias he shot the picture years ago, toward dusk in summer, with just the right shadows, and that at any other time, the letters might have remained unnoticeable.

Zias put up scaffolding to get a closer look and Puech, using a low-tech method involving paper mache, lifted off a cast.

Puech made out the inscription -- two lines, each about four feet (1.2 meters) long, with letters up to four inches (10 centimeters) tall. The letters correspond to the Byzantine period, he wrote.

Puech and Zias said they've spotted several more lines of writing and will lift more casts off the facade this week.

They've already made out one name, "Simon," perhaps a reference to "Simon the Elder," the pious man who cradled the infant Jesus and recognized him as the Messiah.

It's possible the additional lines include the phrase, "He who held in his arms God's Messiah," wrote Puech, a scholar at Jerusalem's Ecole Biblique research institute.

Zias and Puech hope they'll also find the name of James, brother of Jesus, citing one 4th century Christian tradition that Zachariah, Simon and James were buried together in the Kidron Valley.

Clues in the Gospel
There's no biblical clue to the nature of Zachariah's death or the location of his tomb.

The Gospel of Luke describes him as an elderly man from the priestly caste of Abijah who, while burning incense in the Temple one day, was told by an angel that his wife Elizabeth, also advanced in years, would bear a son, who was later to become John the Baptist.

Jewish historian Josephus writes that a priest named Zachariah was slain by Zealots in the Temple and thrown into the Kidron Valley below -- which would explain the "martyr" reference in the Greek text.

The inscription suggests that local Christians believed Zachariah was buried at the site of the tomb.

But because hundreds of years had passed from his death to the inscription, and with no other corroboration, Zias and other scholars say they'll never know for sure.

The inscription, at best, sheds light on ancient Christian beliefs.

"You may be able to confirm the existence of a tradition there," said Stephen Pfann, a Bible scholar and head of the University of the Holy Land. "It's a very important witness to the history of Byzantine Christianity."

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Texas BOE meeting

NCSE has just learned that the scheduled meeting for July 9 meeting of the Texas BOE where public comments can be made concerning the biology textbooks now up for adoption has been expanded to allow people to sign up at the meeting and testify.

It is our understanding this was done by creationists on the board simply because our side was too well represented and they wanted to open it up to get more of their people on the list.

The controversy right now centers around a critique of the biology books submitted to the board based on Jonathan Wells's book Icons of Evolution. The critique is aimed specifically at the books up for adoption, but is mostly just a rehash of the same claptrap from his book and centers on four of the supposed "Icons":

1. Miller-Urey experiment
2. Cambrian explosion
3. Vertebrate embryos and Haeckel's drawings
4. Peppered moths

Creationists on the board are using this document, and the bogus claims made by the DI, to assert that the books contain factual error and, therefore, cannot be adopted according to Texas BOE policy.

NCSE is urging all scientists and science education supporters in the Austin area to attend the meeting and specifically address the four claims above made by the DI.

Attached you will find talking points regarding each of the claims, with concise and easy to understand explanations why they are wrong.

We urge anyone addressing these points to remember your time will be limited, so you will not be able to go into a great deal of detail. We recommend you prepare a brief, perhaps three minute, statement to be read aloud and then submit more details in written testimony so it goes on record refuting the DI's document. It is important we have written testimony submitted to have a record documenting the fallacies in the DI's objections to the books.

If I can be of any further assistance, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Feel free to distribute this message to any concerned parties.

Meeting time and location:
WEDNESDAY - July 9, 2003
1:00 p.m.
William B. Travis Building - Room 1-104
1701 N. Congress Avenue,
Austin TX, 78701

Skip Evans
Network Project Director
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609
510-601-7203 Ext. 308
510-601-7204 (fax)

NCSE now has a one way broadcast news list. Please note that this is NOT a discussion list. You cannot post messages for members to receive. We use this list to broadcast news about the creationism/evolution issue to interested parties.

To sign up send:
subscribe ncse your@email.address.here
to: majordomo@ncseweb2.org




#2. En la publicación electrónica Skeptical News (Sunday, June 01, 2003) editada por The North Texas Skeptics (USA) se incluye un link al website de Argentina Skeptics y se detallan sus principales actividades. Agradecemos a John Blanton, secretario de esa organización (www.ntskeptics.org/news/news2003-06-01.htm).

#1. El 21 de marzo de 2003, Argentina Skeptics cumplió su 1er año de existencia. Lo celebramos recordando la clásica regla escéptica: "Afirmaciones extraordinarias requieren evidencia extraordinaria" ("Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence").

Exonerating the Friedmans

Skeptics of hypnosis and "recovered memory therapy" will know that Arnold and Jesse Friedman were probably innocent. So did the documentary filmmaker who captured their story: He just decided not to say it.

Chris Mooney; July 7, 2003


Andrew Jarecki's debut documentary Capturing the Friedmans, which features startling home videos of a family falling apart under police investigation, has received the sort of critical acclaim generally reserved for instant classics. Friedmans not only won the 2003 Sundance Film Festival documentary prize; recently The New Yorker called it "one of the most heartbreaking films ever made about an American family." The New York Times liked Friedmans so much that it reviewed it twice. Elvis Mitchell gave two thumbs up; so did columnist-critic Frank Rich, who wrote that "Capturing the Friedmans is the most compelling American movie I've seen in ages, and one of the most astonishing debut features ever."

To Read More of This Column Visit:


and on the Quackwatch.com website:

Sylvia Browne: Psychic Guru or Quack?

Bryan Farha, Ed.D.

Most assuredly you've heard the phrase "innocent until proven guilty." I'm pretty much a believer in that saying. Our legal system is built around it -- and justifiably so. But what if an alleged psychic makes three promises on international television to test her extraordinary claims, yet makes no effort to do so? Should the phrase for that person become "guilty until proven innocent?" In any event, I'm referring to one of the most popular "spiritual mediums" in the country -- if not the world. Sylvia Browne -- herein after referred to simply as "Sylvia."

To Read More of This Article Visit:


Roseville sticks with evolution


School trustees OK a text that teaches Darwin but may add material disputing his theory.

By Laurel Rosen -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Thursday, July 3, 2003

A surgeon, a rabbi, a science teacher and a lawyer were among the throng who joined in a debate on how Roseville high schools should teach evolution -- and whether ideas about a theory known as "intelligent design" should be included.

After listening to dozens of arguments from the public at Tuesday's meeting of the Roseville Joint Union High School District, trustees unanimously approved a new science textbook that presents Charles Darwin's landmark theory but does not address evidence to the contrary.

During the coming months, however, district officials said they will consider supplements to the textbook that could include information disputing evolution. Trustees will vote at their September meeting on whether such supplements will be included in the district's science curriculum.

"I see so much evidence that evolution is bogus," said school board President Jan Pinney.

Before approving the text, Pinney asked if there was a biology book available that teaches evolution as one of many ideas about the origins of life, rather than a theory with overwhelming scientific support.

Susan Brothers, the district's director of instruction, said no such book exists in the mainstream education market.

"You can find those books in the small Christian ends of the market that have a political agenda," she said.

Assistant Superintendent Steven Lawrence said that the 2004 Holt, Rinehart and Winston textbook titled "Biology" was selected by a committee of district science teachers because it matches the material students are tested on by the state, is easy to read and presents information in a graphically interesting way.

Any supplemental materials will have to be considered in relation to education codes and case law, Lawrence said, noting that intelligent design is not included in any state standards. Numerous Supreme Court decisions have determined that discussion of a supernatural creator in public school science classes violates the separation of church and state.

"We are looking at the state frameworks for what to include in science classes and are reviewing relevant court cases," Lawrence said.

Cornelius Hunter, a Cameron Park biophysicist and author of books published by the evangelical Christian press criticizing Darwin, urged trustees to reject the Holt, Rinehart book.

"This text teaches from a strict evolution perspective," Hunter said. "The science is badly compromised."

Hunter was introduced by Larry Caldwell, the Granite Bay parent who first asked the district to consider teaching evidence against evolution at the last board meeting.

Caldwell originally said he wanted the district to consider teaching intelligent design as part of its science curriculum. On Tuesday, though, he said he is focused less on introducing intelligent design and more on the goal of teaching ideas that counter evolution.

"What I'm proposing is a lot less controversial than people have been led to believe," he said.

Proponents of intelligent design say Darwin's idea of natural selection doesn't adequately explain the complexity of the universe. They say life did not evolve through such an unguided process but is instead the result of a plan, or design, made with intention. Followers of intelligent design distance themselves from creationists, saying their idea is based on science, not religion.

Opponents disagree.

"Intelligent design isn't science. It's creationism dressed up in a white lab coat," said Ron Scholar, a parent addressing trustees on Tuesday. "It's based on faith in a creator. That's the cornerstone of religion, not science."

Scholar said he is one of a growing number of parents concerned about the possibility of introducing religion into the district's science classes. His views were echoed by a surgeon, a rabbi and a high school science teacher, in addition to many other parents at the meeting. Roseville resident David Stuart said he would sue the school district if it began teaching intelligent design.

But many at the meeting said teaching intelligent design would be a good idea.

"The people in our organization believe it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in intelligent design," said Debbie Morris of Community Advocates for Safety in Education.

Scott Hightower said the evidence against evolution was an "elephant in the living room" that schools need to recognize.

And school board member Kelly Lafferty said she thinks it's important to "teach the debate" about different ideas on the origins of life.

Rebutting evolution, however, is simply a wedge for intelligent design believers to introduce religious ideas into science classes, said Skip Evans, of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland-based group that opposes intelligent design.

"It's really an attempt to cast doubt in students' minds on the level of support evolution has in the scientific community," he said. "If they can cast doubt in students' minds, then they stand a better chance of converting students to their own particular belief system."

The Bee's Laurel Rosen can be reached at (916) 773-7631 or

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 – July 7, 2003

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from The Associated Press

Scientists have identified a third gene that can cause congenital heart defects, a leading cause of death in newborns.

A malfunctioning version of the gene, called GATA4, can lead to defects in forming the walls that separate the heart's four chambers.

Individuals from families with a history of the common heart defect are being screened for the mutated gene. Such screenings can prepare them for the possibility that their offspring are at risk.

from The Baltimore Sun

At the University of Pennsylvania, scientists are feeding people muffins made with flaxseed oil to see if the natural remedy fights cholesterol.

The University of Maryland is running tests to see if acupuncture can soothe osteoarthritis pain. At the University of Pittsburgh, neurologists are testing ginkgo biloba's ability to ward off Alzheimer's disease. And at the University of San Francisco, researchers are trying to find out if yoga can relieve backache.

A few years ago, these experiments would have drawn sneers from mainstream medical researchers. But across the country, hundreds of scientists at respected institutions are now conducting studies of alternative therapies - - treatments that millions of Americans have already adopted.

from The Los Angeles Times

The Joshua trees are dying.

Hundreds of the crooked-limbed trees in the national park that bears their name have succumbed to one of the worst droughts ever recorded, which sparked attacks by desert animals desperate for moisture. Despite the return of life-giving rains last winter, scientists say, thousands more will perish in coming years.

"When you drive through the park, you'd have to be nearly blind to miss the attacks on the Joshua trees. There are incredibly abundant numbers of dead trees," said Jim Cornett, a desert ecologist who has studied the trees in Joshua Tree National Park for 16 years. Based on surveys begun last year, he said, they are dying at 10 times their normal rate.

Cornett said that when scientists and park officials realized what was going on, "we panicked. When it's the namesake of a national park, you panic."

from The San Francisco Chronicle

The moon is a quarter of a million miles away, and it may seem irrelevant to the evolution of life on Earth.

It isn't totally irrelevant, though: Many a dung beetle owes its survival to the baleful rays of the moon. Without those rays, new research shows, the dung beetle couldn't find its way through nocturnal, predator-haunted terrain.

True, you may not care what happens to dung beetles. They are among the more embarrassing members of the insect world, given their taste for, well, excrement; it's a prime source of nutrition for them. Upon finding fecal matter, they roll it into nutritious clumps, which they laboriously push to a safe place.

But dung beetles aren't as unsophisticated as they look: They possess the entomological version of a global-positioning satellite system. On moonlit nights, they navigate by sensing "polarization patterns" in lunar rays scattered by Earth's atmosphere, according to the July 4 issue of Nature.

from The Wall Street Journal

When Cindy Hale hikes through stretches of the Chippewa National Forest in north-central Minnesota, she sees the depredations of her sworn enemy all around her.

The colorful spring flowers that once bloomed are all but gone. Ferns and the seedlings of sugar-maple trees are in short supply. The thick, spongy forest floor that cushioned every step has disappeared, leaving bare dirt. There are fewer ovenbirds, warblers that rely on the downy floor for their nests.

The dark, green forest is slowly being stripped. Over time, Ms. Hale fears, dozens of species of animals that depend on the forest floor and its abundant plant life will be affected.

Blame the earthworm.

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Sunday, July 06, 2003

Antarctic Scott's lasting legacy

By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online science reporter

When the bodies of Scott of the Antarctic and his party were discovered in 1912, a collection of rocks and fossils were found by their tent.

The men had hauled geological specimens weighing 35 pounds (16 kg) back from the South Pole.

Observers have since questioned the wisdom of carrying them all that way but Scott and his colleagues were determined that the expedition have a scientific cause.

Almost a century later, the party's plant fossils have helped overturn a long-held theory.

"Scott was right all along, his fossils have a lasting legacy," says Colin Osborne, a biologist at Sheffield University, UK.

The collection contained some of the first plant fossils found in Antarctica, the remains of ancient lush deciduous forests that carpeted the continent about 250 million years ago.

The fossilised leaves and bark, now in the archives of London's Natural History Museum, show Antarctica was once green and warm. Exactly how forests managed to flourish at what is now the South Pole has been contentious ever since.

Falling leaves

Much of the debate centres on the predominance of deciduous trees (which lose their leaves during winter) over evergreens.

The accepted wisdom is that trees dropped their leaves because they were unable to photosynthesise during the dark winters. (Photosynthesis is the light-dependent process used by plants to make carbon, the stuff of life.)

According to this theory, deciduous trees in a polar climate save more valuable carbon than evergreens since carbon is lost by canopy respiration during warm, dark winter months.

Dr Osborne and colleagues have now tested this theory by growing modern day descendants of the trees in conditions they would have encountered in an ancient polar forest.

It turns out that leaf shedding was a false economy. The quantity of carbon lost would have far outweighed that burned as fuel by an evergreen in the darkness of a warm polar winter.

"Our findings show that the long-standing explanation for the dominance of deciduous trees in these ecosystems simply doesn't add up," says Professor David Beerling.

Forgotten paper

There must be another explanation, he adds, perhaps water supply, soil fertility or the chilling effects of low temperatures.

Ironically, the work supports research carried out on the plant fossils by the Cambridge botanist Albert Seward in 1914.

He wrote that a deciduous or evergreen strategy would have been equally viable but his work was "forgotten or not picked up", says Dr Osborne.

The alternative view, put forward 30 years later by researchers in the United States, prevailed instead. Exoneration, perhaps, for Scott's decision to collect specimens?

"Scott wanted to justify his expedition not only in terms of going to the pole but also scientifically," says Paul Kenrick, a palaeobotanist at the Natural History Museum. "It was more than just a race to the pole."

The plant research is published in the journal Nature.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/07/02 17:16:19 GMT


Who Promotes Unlocking the Mystery of Life?

Dear Friends of NCSE,

NCSE Network Project Director Skip Evans's article "Who Promotes Unlocking the Mystery of Life?" is now available at: http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=19

In it, he shows that "Unlocking is promoted almost exclusively by fundamentalist Christian organizations, who sing its praises as a tool to strengthen faith while converting skeptics." Although NCSE supports religious free speech, we object to misrepresentations of science in the name of religion.

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


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 644 June 30, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and
James Riordon

A FIVE-QUARK STATE HAS BEEN DISCOVERED, first reported by a group of physicists working at the SPring-8 physics lab in Japan. All confirmed particles known previously have been either combinations of three quarks (baryons, such as protons or neutrons) or two quarks (mesons such as pions or kaons). Although not forbidden by the standard model of particle physics, other configurations of quarks had not been found until now. The "pentaquark" particle, with a mass just above 1.5 GeV, was discovered in the following way. At the SPring-8 facility a laser beam is scattered from a beam of 8-GeV electrons circulating in a synchrotron racetrack. These scattered photons constitute a beam of powerful gamma rays which were scattered from a fixed target consisting of carbon-12 atoms. The reaction being sought was one in which a gamma and a neutron inside a carbon nucleus collided, leaving a neutron, a K+ meson, and a K- meson in the final state. Efficient detectors downstream of the collision area looked for the evidence of the existence of various combinations of particles, including a short-lived state in which the K+ and the neutron had coalesced (drawing will be posted soon at www.aip.org/mgr/png ). In this case the amalgamated particle, or resonance, would have consisted of the three quarks from the neutron (two "down" quarks and one "up" quark) and the two quarks from the K+ (an up quark and a strange antiquark). The evidence for this collection of five quarks would be an excess of events (a peak) on a plot of "missing" masses deduced from K- particles seen in the experiment. The Laser-Electron Photon Facility (LEPS) at the SPring-8 machine (http://www.rcnp.osaka-u.ac.jp/Divisions/np1-b/index.html ) is reporting exactly this sort of excess at a mass of 1540 MeV with an uncertainty of 10 MeV. The statistical certainty that this peak is not just a fluctuation in the natural number of background events, and that the excess number of events is indicative of a real particle, is quoted as being 4.6 standard deviations above the background. This, according to most particle physicists, is highly suggestive of discovery. (Nakano et al., Physical Review Letters, 4 July 2003; contact Takashi Nakano, nakano@rcnp.osaka-u.ac.jp,) Confirmation of this discovery comes quickly. A team of physicists in the US, led by Ken Hicks of Ohio University (hicks@ohio.edu, 740-593-1981) working in the CLAS collaboration at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, has also found evidence for the pentaquark. A photon beam (each photon being created by smashing the Jefferson Lab electron beam into a target and then measuring the energy of the scattered electron in order to determine the energy of the outgoing gamma) was directed onto a nuclear target. The photon collides with a deuteron target and the neutron-kaon (nK+) final state is studied in the CLAS detector (http://www.jlab.org/Hall-B/ ). The Jefferson Lab result was announced at the Conference on the Intersections of Nuclear and Particle Physics (http://www.cipanp2003.bnl.gov ) held on May 19-24, 2003, at New York City. Stepan Stepanyan (stepanya@jlab.org, 757-269-7196) reported at this meeting that the mass measured for the pentaquark, 1.543 GeV (with an uncertainty of 5 MeV), is very close to the LEPS value. The statistical basis of the CLAS measurement is an impressive 5.4 standard deviations. (This result is about to be submitted to Physical Review Letters.) These results, together with the previous results from SPring-8, now provide firmer evidence for the existence of the pentaquark. The HERMES experiment at the DESY lab in Germany is also pursuing the pentaquark particle.

The discovery of a 5-quark state should be of compelling interest to particle physicists, and this might be only the first of a family of such states. Not only that but a new classification of matter, like a new limb in the family tree of strongly interacting particles: first there were baryons and mesons, now there are also pentaquarks. According to Ken Hicks, a member of both the SPring-8 and Jefferson Lab experiments, this pentaquark can be considered as a baryon. Unlike all other known baryons, though, the pentaquark would have a strangeness value of S=+1, meaning that the baryon contains an anti-strange quark. Past searches for this state have all been inconclusive. Hicks attributes the new discovery to better beams, more efficient detectors, and more potent computing analysis power. (Additional website:   http://www.phy.ohiou.edu/~hicks/thplus.htm )

HIGH-T SQUIDS PRODUCE MAGNETOCARDIOGRAMS that are clinically practical. SQUIDs (superconducting quantum interference devices) can detect incredibly small magnetic fields, even those produced by nerve signals in the brain or heart. Arrays of SQUIDs have been used to make magnetic maps of the heart in the past but only with models using the lower-critical-temperature superconductors that must be chilled in liquid helium, and operated in a room-sized enclosure needed to shield against extraneous magnetic fields. Now, for the first time, a group of scientists at Hitachi in Japan has produced a magnetocardiograph machine based on high-temperature superconductors which can be chilled with much more tractable liquid nitrogen, and magnetically shielded by a much smaller cylindrical enclosure. The Hitachi device employs a 4 x 4 SQUID array to map the heart's magnetism at field strengths as small as 50 pico-tesla, a million times weaker than Earth's field. One of the authors, Koichi Yokosawa (yokosawa@rd.hitachi.co.jp, 81-423-23-111-39), suggests that magnetocardiography will prove to be one of the forefront applications of high-Tc superconductor technology. (Yokosawa et al., Applied Physics Letters, 30 June 2003)

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.

E.T., will you accept a call from Roswell?

Associated Press
Jul. 5, 2003 12:00 AM

ALBUQUERQUE - This weekend, officials with Team Encounter plan to beam into space what they claim is the most powerful greeting ever sent from Earth, trying to reach out and touch someone.

Team Encounter will place its "cosmic call" today to possible extraterrestrial neighbors using a 230-foot diameter radio astronomy dish in Evpatoria, Ukraine, and a temporary mission control set up at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, N.M.

The message will be a digital mixed bag: text, photos, and audio and video clips from paying customers and schoolkids all over the world. The intended targets are five stars deemed candidates for harboring life-supporting planets.

The message has star power: an introduction by newsman Hugh Downs; a greeting from Sally Ride, America's first woman in space; and a music clip from rocker David Bowie.

"We've gotten everything from jokes to great musical scores," said Charles Chafer, president of Team Encounter. "We got one drawing of a kid's Nintendo because he wanted E.T. to know how kids play."

Roswell, in southeastern New Mexico, has become a UFO mecca since the purported 1947 crash-landing of a suspected alien spacecraft.


Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (June, 2003)

Richard Steigmann-Gall. The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xvi + 294 pp. $30.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-521-82371-4.

Reviewed for H-German by John S. Conway

jconway@interchange.ubc.ca, Department of History, University of British Columbia

Richard Steigmann-Gall's lively and sometimes provocative study of the relationship between Nazism and Christianity breaks new ground. He takes issue with those, like this reviewer, who argue that Nazism and Christianity were incompatible, both in theory and practice. Instead he examines more closely the areas of overlap and the consequent ambiguities in the minds of many leading Nazis. He rejects the view that, when Nazi orators before 1933 made frequent use of a Christian vocabulary, it was purely a tactical device to gain votes. Later on, such deceptive religiosity would be discarded as no longer needed. Instead he shows the extensive and consistent appreciation of Christianity as a religious system in the Nazi ranks, even among several members of its hierarchy. Similarly he disputes the claim that those Christians who flocked to the Nazi cause were shallow-minded opportunists, jumping on a popular political bandwagon. Instead, he argues that the stressful conditions of a defeated Germany led many sincere Christians, particularly Protestants, to regard the Nazi cause as theologically justified as well as politically appropriate.

Nazism idealized, even idolized, the German nation and Volk. Steigmann-Gall shows how this tendency was already present in the newly-created Bismarckian Reich, and was greatly fostered by the Protestant clergy. Their wartime theology in 1914 asserted divine approval of Germany's cause and called down damnation upon her enemies. After her defeat in 1918, the clergy provided the spiritual climate for an apocalyptic view of Germany's destiny, valiantly guarding itself against the onslaughts of the evils of Marxism, Judaism, Bolshevism and materialism. Such dualistic thinking both ran parallel to and nurtured the extremism of the radical political groups of the 1920s, out of which Nazism emerged as the most successful.

Nazism's most notorious characteristic was its antisemitism. Many observers have claimed that the Holocaust was the culmination of centuries of Christian intolerance and persecution. Churchmen, for their part, have sought to draw a line between earlier Christian theological anti-Judaism and the far more virulent Nazi racial antisemitism. But Steigmann-Gall, following Uriel Tal, shows how easily both Catholic and Protestant Germans could merge their religious antipathies with the Nazis' political campaign. On the other side, he shows how many Nazis believed in the religious basis of their hatred of Jews, who formed a negative point of reference for an ideology of national-religious integration. Luther's stance against the Jews could thus be supported, for more than merely tactical reasons. And Hitler's support of "positive Christianity" was an attempt to overcome confessional differences in order to concentrate Christian forces against their arch-enemy, the Jew. To be sure many leading Nazis were anti-clerical. But this venom was principally directed against those priests and pastors who put their institutional loyalties ahead of their national ones. This did not prevent these Nazis from believing that their movement was in some sense Christian. It was on this basis that such Nazis as Gauleiter Wilhelm Kube, the Bavarian Minister of Education, Hans Schemm, and Hanns Kerrl, the Prussian Minister of Justice who later became Reich Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs, could seek an alliance with those elements in the churches, especially Protestants, who supported the Nazis' authoritarian, anti-Marxist and antisemitic policies. This was not, Steigmann-Gall believes, a mere opportunistic relationship on either side. Both believed they were adopting a genuinely Christian stance, "following a call to faith from God, which we hear in our _Volk_ movement" (p. 73).

Following this interpretation, Steigmann-Gall finds that even those Nazis most hostile to the churches could still have an ambivalent relationship to Christianity. For example, Alfred Rosenberg, in his book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, made numerous positive references to Christ as a fighter and antisemite, and was even warmer in praise of the noted mediaeval mystic Meister Eckhart. If the Church could be purged of its Jewish and Roman accretions, Rosenberg could look forward to a Nordic-western soul faith which would reincarnate a purer Christianity. In this he was only adopting the ideas of at least one extreme wing of "German Christian" Protestantism.

Certainly, these "paganists," as Steigmann-Gall calls them, exercised little control over Nazi policy. Hitler stoutly and consistently rejected any talk of an ersatz religion based on German myths or culminating in Valhalla. The "positive Christianity" of such leaders as Goering continued to stress the advantages of a national non-denominational Christianity in such areas as education or social welfare. And even strident anti-clericals such as Goebbels or Streicher supported the idea of an Aryan Christianity as an admirable moral system. The fact that the churches were the only major institutions which did not suffer Gleichschaltung shows, in Steigmann-Gall's view, "the fundamentally positive attitude of the Nazi state toward at least the Protestant Church as a whole." For this reason, in 1934 Hitler refused to back the radicals and in 1935 appointed an old crony and primitive Protestant, Hanns Kerrl, to be Minister of Church Affairs. The kind of Christianity Kerrl affirmed was proclaimed in his speeches: "Adolf Hitler has hammered the faith and fact of Jesus into the hearts of the German Volk.... True Christianity and National Socialism are identical." But Kerrl, who was appointed to co-ordinate the rival Protestant factions, failed. Thereupon, Steigmann-Gall notes, Hitler turned against the churches and abandoned institutional Protestantism once and for all. But even so, according to one source, he still adhered to his original ideas and was of the opinion that "Church and Christianity are not identical" (p. 188).

The differences between this interpretation and those put forward earlier are really only ones of degree and timing. Steigmann-Gall agrees that from 1937 onwards, Nazi policy toward the churches became much more hostile. The influence of such notable anti-clericals as Bormann and Heydrich grew exponentially and was restrained only by the need for wartime compromises. On the other hand, Steigmann-Gall argues persuasively that the Nazi Party's 1924 program and Hitler's policy-making speeches of the early years were not just politically motivated or deceptive in intent. Agreeing with the view taken by Hitler's fellow-countryman, the Austrian theologian Friedrich Heer, Steigmann-Gall considers these speeches to be a sincere appreciation of Christianity as a value system to be upheld. Yet he is not ready to admit that this Nazi Christianity was eviscerated of all the most essential orthodox dogmas. What remained was the vaguest impression combined with anti-Jewish prejudice. Only a few radicals on the extreme wing of liberal Protestantism would recognize such a mish-mash as true Christianity.

Steigmann-Gall is perfectly right to point out that there never was a consensus among the leading Nazis about the relationship between the Party and Christianity. As Baldur von Schirach later commented: "Of all the leading men in the Party whom I knew, everyone interpreted the party program differently [...] Rosenberg mystically, Goering and some others in a certain sense Christian" (p. 232). Ambiguities and contradictions were numerous.[1] Over the years hostility grew despite a lingering desire to uphold an ongoing Christian element, combining antisemitism and nationalism in some kind of positive assessment.

Steigmann-Gall's achievement is to have fully explored the extensive records of the Nazi era in order to illustrate these often conflicting conceptions of Christianity and to assemble the evidence in a carefully weighed evaluation. In so doing, he almost makes a convincing case. But his final view that, in light of the post-1945 ideological imperatives, Nazism had to be depicted as an evil and unchristian empire seems overdrawn. Yet he is undeniably right to point out how much Nazism owed to German Christian, especially Protestant, concepts and how much support it gained from a majority of Christians in Germany. That is certainly a sobering lesson to be drawn from this interesting and well-reasoned account.


[1]. As an example of the differences between Nazi leaders, the following anecdote is recorded. On meeting Kerrl shortly after his appointment as Church Minister, Heinrich Himmler told him, "I thought you were only acting piously hitherto, but now I see you actually are pious. I shall treat you badly in the future." When the astonished Kerrl asked why, the Reichsfuehrer SS answered, "Well, in your view, the worse you are handled here below, the better marks you will receive later."

Copyright (c) 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu.



"My cloak I shed in the light of my reflection. My grand entrance I make after the serpent appears. Then they will know me."

Old Greek Samian Riddle

The Hyperborea Sky Diagrams

Note : There is a total of nine graphics which have to load for this page (about 650KB), so depending upon your equipment and connection speed, this loading process might require a few moments to complete. Please be patient. Rob Solàrion






































First Mary, Now Jesus Said to Adorn U.S. Hospital


Thu July 3, 2003 10:35 AM ET
By Greg Frost

MILTON, Mass. (Reuters) - First the Virgin Mary turned up in a hospital window. Now Jesus is apparently on the chimney.

Thousands of onlookers are flocking to this Boston suburb, where believers have seen the divine in otherwise ordinary bits of glass, mortar and brick.

"That's a miracle," exclaims Tina Montgomery, one of hundreds of people who gathered on a steamy afternoon in a parking lot to gaze up at a window on the third floor of Milton Hospital.

The window is clearly unique when compared to those around it. While other panes on the building are clear, the window that has drawn worldwide attention is clouded over with a white film. From some angles, the image caused by the film appears to shimmer.

"It's Mary, and she's holding a baby, and he has something in his hand," Montgomery says excitedly.

Many people say they see the same image. So many, in fact, that the hospital has decided to cover the window with a tarp for all but three hours a day to ensure calm for patients and to cut congestion on local roads.

This does not sit well with pilgrims like Montgomery, who calls the move "sacrilege." Others say the cover has only caused new images to appear and as proof they point to a nearby chimney where they say the face of Jesus has shown up.


Since it was first noticed in June, more than 40,000 people have descended on the not-for-profit community hospital just south of Boston to see the phenomenon for themselves.

Some pilgrims stand in awe or pray to themselves while clutching rosary beads. Others bow their heads and place their hands on the brick wall beneath the window.

Glass experts tell Milton Hospital that a seal on the double-paned window broke years ago and that a drying agent seeped between the panes, causing the discoloration.

Skeptics have seized on this to say the image purported to be Mary is no more than a random assortment of molecules that just happen to resemble the religious icon.

"OK if that's true then why doesn't it look like a clown or an elephant?" asks Mirna LeBlanc, a Paraguayan native who moved to Boston 16 years ago.

"You can sit and stare at anything that happens and think of a logical explanation," says Chet Flynn of Townsend, Massachusetts. "I just happen to believe that there's something a little bit more to it than that."

Hospital spokeswoman Susan Schepici confirms that officials at the facility have asked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for "guidance" on how to deal with the apparition and the crowds it has drawn.

Although the archdiocese has not formally replied, a church spokesman says that if the image leads people to deepen their faith then it is a good thing.

For Milton Hospital, however, it is becoming an expensive thing. Schepici reckons the hospital is spending $10,000 a week to arrange visitation hours and control traffic, but she says officials do not consider the flood of visitors a "nuisance."


Not content to simply gaze at the images in wonder, the faithful -- many of them Roman Catholic -- are coming up with reasons for the apparitions.

Some, like LeBlanc, think the apparition is somehow linked to current events like the clergy sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the Boston archdiocese for the past 18 months or the war in Iraq.

"These are bad things that have happened," says LeBlanc. "Mary's asking us for more prayers. We've abandoned her."

But other Catholics suggest in ominous tones that the apparition may be a warning to Milton Hospital about joining forces with Beth Israel-Deaconess, a Boston hospital that performs abortions.

Milton Hospital, which does not deliver babies or perform abortions, signed a clinical affiliation with Beth Israel on June 1 -- about the same time the image began to gain media attention.

"This is a sign that this hospital has been trying to merge with Beth Israel to make this an abortion clinic," says a Catholic woman who would only identify herself as Vidalina.

"I strongly believe the Blessed Mother doesn't want that, and I strongly believe she's here to tell us that," she says.

To back up their claims of a warning, some pilgrims speak of another window on the building that contained an image of a fetus developing in the womb. That window, they say, has since been removed by the hospital.

Schepici, the hospital spokeswoman, says she has heard such talk but never saw the second window herself.

Pilgrims flock to the 'Madonna' in hospital window


By Julian Coman in Milton, Massachusetts
(Filed: 06/07/2003)

Lorna Dibona, a Catholic grandmother in her mid-sixties, is sitting on a red, white and blue deckchair, gazing at a third-floor window of Milton Hospital, a few miles outside Boston.

"They said it was just condensation between two window panes," she tells the assembled crowd. "But that shape hasn't changed since it first appeared on June 11. We've had endless days of rain and now we've had a full week of hot sun, yet she is still there."

Mrs Dibona is referring to the "Milton Madonna", whose arrival in this small Massachusetts town has caused a sensation that no one, whether believer or cynic, is likely to forget.

The alleged appearance of a robed Virgin Mary, with child, in the hospital window has provoked scenes described by a Protestant onlooker as "straight out of an early film by Federico Fellini".

Visitors from as far away as New York City and Washington kneel and pray each evening in this otherwise mundane setting in the Boston commuter belt. Rapt women sing Ave Maria and light candles that, it is said, have continued burning throughout the fiercest thunderstorm.

For a heady spell, Milton, whose population is 26,000, has turned into an unlikely North American version of Marian shrines such as Lourdes in France or Fatima in Portugal.

Not everyone believes. Maintenance workers at the hospital have attributed the whitish discolouration on the window to condensation - the result of a ruptured sealant in the frame.

"It's chemical," said one, "nothing more." According to hospital administrators, the company that fitted the window has confirmed that a broken seal allowed heat and moisture to penetrate, leaving a powdery deposit. This prosaic explanation has done nothing to discourage visitors.

More than 50,000 pilgrims have visited the site since the image was noticed last month. The numbers are such that the hospital authorities have covered the window with tarpaulin. Viewings are allowed only between 5.30pm and 8.30pm on "safety" grounds.

Between prayers, there is constant discussion about the possible cause of the visitation. "Many people think that this is related to a recent merger of this hospital with one nearby," said Nick Faraci from Albany, New York. "The merger meant that for the first time, this hospital will be involved in performing abortions. So the Virgin is coming to make a point."

Others believe that the recent paeodophile scandals which engulfed the archdiocese of Boston have led to a "crisis apparition", a common event in Marian history.

Under papal guidelines, all natural explanations must be disproved before an event can be declared miraculous. A week ago, Bishop Richard Lennon of Boston visited the site privately for talks with the hospital authorities. Church officials subsequently leaked that the bishop had plumped for the chemical theory.

The crowds, however, have treated the judgment with outrage and scorn. Mrs Dibona said: "This place is on the map now. We will keep coming here and praying. Eventually they will have to accept that something miraculous has happened here."

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