NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 July 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, July 25, 2003

Aliens more like Arnie than ET


By Leigh Dayton, Science writer
July 24, 2003

IF extraterrestrials exist they look more like the steely Terminator than cuddly ET, say scientists on a cosmic quest for smart aliens.

"The rise of the machines? There's a lot of Hollywood in there, a lot of crashing and smashing about, but it's possible," astronomer and science historian Steve Dick said of the Terminator movies.

According to his new view of ET, intelligent aliens long ago dispensed with weak flesh-and-blood bodies in favour of steel-hard sinews and silicon brains. Dr Dick, of the US Naval Observatory in Washington, based his argument on the "intelligence principle" - when a species can improve its intelligence it will do so.

"If you don't get smarter you get left behind," Dr Dick said yesterday at the International Union of Astronomy conference, meeting in Sydney.

He said the earliest that "post-biologicals" could have evolved in the oldest and most distant galaxies was 7.5 billion years ago.

That's a mere 6 billion years after the big bang that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

According to Dr Dick, such superior beings would have begun existence as dim-witted primordial life, evolved into intelligent but biological lifeforms, and then made the evolutionary leap to brainy machine life.

Seth Shostak, an astronomer with the SETI Institute in California, yesterday agreed with Dr Dick, who will publish his ideas in an upcoming edition of the International Journal of Astrobiology.

"It's an idea I've been pushing for 10 years," Dr Shostak said.

"It's fairly obvious that the assumption the aliens would be soft and squishy little grey guys ... is clearly provincial. They might be grey, but they won't have big almond eyes."

Instead, Dr Shostak speculates that machine life would have a utilitarian appearance because "they don't have to appeal to mates".

As well, he predicted the machines would be compact, because their intelligence would be limited only by internal connections, running at the speed of light.

And if and when we find the new ET, will he, she or it be dangerous?

"Well, I have some goldfish, and I'm a lot smarter than they are, but I don't wake up thinking I've got to kill those guys," Dr Shostak said.

"I don't think we need to worry about the machines."

The Australian

The textbook selection process reconsidered



By Jenelle Wilson
July 23, 2003

Every year for the past decade, an expensive battle has raged in Texas over what public school children will be reading in their textbooks. Last year, the clash was over social science issues; this year it's over the highly divisive issue of evolutionary theory. The Discovery Institute, which advocates the so-called Intelligent Design theory, is trying to manipulate the Board of Education into rejecting biology textbooks that are used throughout the country because they conflict with ID, even though no single, scientific result supporting ID has ever been published in science journals. According to ID, the world was designed by an intelligent figure, as humans could not have evolved on their own.

Luckily, groups that advocate evolution stepped up at the July 9 Texas Board of Education meeting to try to ensure that Texas children are taught a scientific foundation to the basis of life. The Legislature needs to change the way textbooks are selected in this state. As it is now, the adoption of textbooks is fraught with underhanded practices and dominated by special interests.

The Texas Board of Education is in control of a $570 million undertaking. The textbooks it accepts are used not only by public school children in Texas, but -- because the state is the second largest manufacturer of textbooks -- throughout the country. Small factions have been dominating the supposedly democratic adoption process and are dictating what children learn.

The Board of Education members are elected, yet it is unlikely that most people in the state could name one of these members, because elections such as these are important to only a few people -- those with an agenda. In the past, according to the Texas Citizens for Science, Board members have objected to textbooks with references to global warming, air and water pollution produced by industry and prostitution in the American West during the 1800s. They've also wanted slavery depicted in a more positive light, and criticized pictures of women carrying briefcases for undermining family values.

To rein in the board, the Legislature passed new restrictions prohibiting the members from rejecting textbooks based on ideology in 1996. Members are still, however, able to reject books based on "errors." Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, who helped author the law, said, "the . . . law was not intended to allow these groups to police opinions. The law refers to factual errors -- and that is meant in the true sense of the word."

But policing opinions is what some board members have been doing; all they need is for someone to tell them that something they don't agree with is inaccurate, whether it actually is, and they can change it. They get to determine what is fact.

This is what is happening with ID. Even though Texas students are required by the Texas Education Agency to learn the basic concepts of evolution, religious groups are trying to use ID to mislead board members and undercut evolutionary theory.

The basic premise behind Intelligent Design is that organisms are so complex they must have been following a design created by some "intelligent designer," instead of a random process, such as natural selection. The only problem is there's no proof. ID advocates have neither published evidence supporting ID, nor proposed a scientific means of testing their claims, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science's 2002 Board Resolution on ID. Because it has no proof to back up its claims the Discovery Institute is attacking evolution, trying to push its "weaknesses."

It appears to have had some influence on Texas Board of Education members. Trustee Terri Leo, R-Spring, told the San Antonio Express-News, that the "weaknesses" concerning evolution be presented.

The problem is these "weaknesses," based on a book by Jonathan Wells called "Icons of Evolution," are not factual. Wells' book attacks the examples, which he calls "icons," used to demonstrate evolutionary principles. The book is highly criticized by the scientific community for presenting intentionally misleading interpretations of scientific data and illogical reasoning (one such criticism can be read at www.ncse.web.org/icons).

However, unless the Legislature constrains the board's ability to reject "errors" and unless the public starts caring, these discredited evolutionary "weaknesses" could make their way into textbooks across the state and even the nation.

Texas children deserve better. They deserve to learn actual science in biology courses and not theories designed to mislead them. They should be learning principles that advance science, not theories meant to support certain individuals' religious beliefs.

Astrocat's Postal Scam Warning Page


(Astrology)(Maria Duval, etc)

Page last updated February 24th 2003.

This is the story of how my partner became a victim of charlatans in the commercial astrology industry and my efforts to find the truth about Maria Duval, Eva du Maurier, Raylene van Worth, Rochelle, Sofia Dora, Marie-France, and many more.

During 1998, my partner responded to an advert similar to the one on P94 in the British Daily Express Saturday Magazine, dated 12th June, 1999, which invited readers to send for FREE material published by Astroforce Ltd. This company, which trades as Maria Duval, is listed at Companies House, although the type of business is not stated on the website. It is involved in the collection and selling of names and addresses of people who have an interest in astrology, and have already spent money on it.

While I was searching on the Internet for information on Astroforce and Maria Duval, I discovered that a company known as 'A Prime Connection', www.apc.co.uk had hundreds of thousands of names and addresses collected by Astroforce Ltd, as well as lists of people who responded to adverts for books such as 'How to get rich without working hard'.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - July 24, 2003

from The Washington Post

The Bush administration will announce today final details of a 10-year plan to study global climate change to determine whether greenhouse gases and other human-generated pollutants have contributed to an unnatural warming of Earth's atmosphere.

"We want to take a very careful acknowledgement of everything we know and don't know and try to drive the science forward," Assistant Commerce Secretary James R. Mahoney, director of the administration's U.S. Climate Change Science Program, said yesterday. "And we want to do it with as much transparency as possible, because this is a highly controversial area."

Environmental groups criticized the plan as a deliberate attempt to stall action on global warming by revisiting scientific questions that were long ago "asked and answered," said Daniel A. Lashof, science director for the Climate Center of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

from The New York Times

FOR a tumor to grow, it needs a good supply of blood, which it gets by switching on the body's process of blood-vessel making, known as angiogenesis. Researchers are trying to develop drugs to inhibit angiogenesis as a way of fighting tumors, but they need ways to make sure the inhibitors, which have so far had mixed results, are effective early in therapy, long before the vessels affect the tumor itself.

One computer-based imaging technology may have the potential to detect changes in the blood vessels in and around tumors, signaling the power of a particular inhibitor.

The technique, an adaptation of conventional magnetic resonance imaging, or M.R.I., captures up to a thousand images taken serially of a tumor before, while and after dye is introduced. Software analyzes the images, characterizing what the dye (called a contrast agent) has revealed on its journey into and out of the tumor - leakiness, for example, a hallmark of vessels that are being formed.

from The Christian Science Monitor

New measurements of a brilliant galactic beacon nearly 13 billion light-years away are unveiling a critical period in the evolution of the universe.

Astronomers are reporting Thursday that they've discovered surprisingly vast amounts of dust and carbon-monoxide gas in the active young galaxy, making its mass comparable to those of far larger galaxies in a much older universe. The results suggest that stars, planets, and, in particular, galaxies, formed faster and more furiously than was thought.

In addition, researchers say the galaxy - the most distant quasar discovered so far - has been caught in the act of helping reawaken the universe from what cosmologists call its "dark ages," a period during which new stars' and galaxies' light is thought to have been quickly absorbed in a dense fog of neutral atoms.

from The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine -- Folks who hate those interminable New England winters can take heart in a new scientific study. Those concerned about global warming will no doubt have one more thing to be worry about.

A study of river flow data found that spring arrives one to two weeks earlier than it used to in Northern New England, giving credence to those who say the region's winters aren't what they used to be.

The study, to be published in Friday's Journal of Hydrology, was based on river flow data from more than two dozen rivers.

Dealer arrested in Jesus relic forgery

Thursday, July 24, 2003 Posted: 10:05 AM EDT (1405 GMT)

'Jesus Box' exposed as fake Scholars: Oldest evidence of Jesus?


JERUSALEM (AP) -- Police have arrested an Israeli antiquities dealer suspected of creating two forgeries that shook the religious and archaeological world, including a burial box purported to be that of Jesus's brother James.

Oded Golan also is suspected in connection with a shoebox-sized tablet inscribed with forged instructions for caring for the Jewish Temple.

Golan appeared in a Jerusalem court Tuesday, one day after police arrested him at his home in Tel Aviv on suspicion of forging and dealing in fake antiquities.

In court, police unveiled forgery equipment they said was found in Golan's home, including stencils, stones and partially completed forgeries. The dealer was being detained by police.

Golan last year told a French collector about the two disputed artifacts, which raised questions from the start. After exhaustive studies, the Israel Antiquities Authority declared that they were forgeries last month.

The burial box, or ossuary, bore the inscription, "James, the brother of Jesus," leading to speculation that it referred to the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.

The inscription was deemed a fake, but the artifact had been valued at $1 million to $2 million based on the claimed link with Jesus. The inscription had caused great excitement among biblical scholars. The "Joash inscription" tablet, because of its wording, was purported to offer rare physical evidence backing up the biblical narrative.

Uzi Dahari, a member of the committee that studied the "James ossuary," called the inscription "a contamination of the archaeological science.

"It's breaking my heart to see such things," he said.

Despite the findings, Golan insisted that the artifacts were authentic. He was unavailable for comment because he was in police custody.

Psychologist bids to create scientific haunted house


A ghost-busting psychologist hopes to create his own 'haunted house' where spooky phenomena can be summoned at the flick of a switch.

Dr Richard Wiseman believes ghostly experiences can be explained by a combination of fear, and effects such as electromagnetic fields, temperature changes and low rumblings.

He plans to put his theory to the test by having control over a spooky environment.

Dr Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, told New Scientist magazine: "We want to build our own haunted house, so we are totally in control.

"It would give really important scientific results, produce a huge amount of publicity, and go down in history."

Dr Wiseman believes unusual environmental effects play an important role in many ghostly sensations, and may even account for some sightings.

Laboratory experiments have suggested that subtle electromagnetic fields and "infrasound" - low frequency vibrations just below the limit of human hearing - can induce hallucinations and feelings of unease.

There is also evidence that even a small drop in temperature can set the hairs standing on end, as can certain types of lighting and the shapes and sizes of rooms.

Such effects were seen in investigations undertaken by Dr Wiseman at two prime haunted sites, Hampton Court Palace near London and the South Bridge Vaults beneath a Victorian Bridge in Edinburgh.

"We showed people had odd experiences in the same places, and now we know they're based on environmental factors," said Dr Wiseman.

In his haunted house, visitors would be terrified by speakers emitting infrasound, electrical coils hidden behind pictures, and sudden draughts generated from vents in skirting boards.

There would also be control over lighting, the lay-out of rooms, and features within the rooms.

Dr Wiseman hopes the house can pay for itself by pulling in crowds, especially if associated with historic venues.

Story filed: 19:14 Wednesday 23rd July 2003

Planet of the Apes


During the Miocene epoch, as many as 100 species of apes roamed throughout the Old World. New fossils suggest that the ones that gave rise to living great apes and humans evolved not in Africa but Eurasia By David R. Begun

"It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; as these two species are now man's closest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere."

So mused Charles Darwin in his 1871 work, The Descent of Man. Although no African fossil apes or humans were known at the time, remains recovered since then have largely confirmed his sage prediction about human origins. There is, however, considerably more complexity to the story than even Darwin could have imagined. Current fossil and genetic analyses indicate that the last common ancestor of humans and our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, surely arose in Africa, around six million to eight million years ago. But from where did this creature's own forebears come? Paleoanthropologists have long presumed that they, too, had African roots. Mounting fossil evidence suggests that this received wisdom is flawed....continued at Scientific American Digital

Socorro's UFO incident still unexplained


By Valerie Kimble

For El Defensor Chieftain

Little did Socorro patrolman Lonnie Zamora know that a single incident recorded almost 40 years ago would change his life, and the city's, forever.

Around 5:45 p.m. on April 24, 1964, Zamora was in his patrol vehicle in hot pursuit of a speeder when he heard something that sounded like an explosion.

The five-year veteran patrolman stopped chasing the fleeing vehicle to investigate what he thought might have been the detonation of a shack of dynamite.

Zamora followed a narrow, gravel road beside a small arroyo, and radioed in that he was going to check on what looked like it might have been an overturned vehicle.

He drove further on the gravel road and then exited his patrol vehicle to get a better look.

What Zamora described next has been chronicled and analyzed by UFO experts around the world. Most reports refer to an egg-shaped object supported by legs, and the presence of two beings described as children or small adults.

A loud roar and the flash of a bluish flame sent Zamora to the ground for cover before he jumped up and ran to the other side of the gravel road.

Zamora heard a whirring sound and watched the object rise out of the arroyo; the "legs" he had seen earlier were no longer in view.

Not long after the object's disappearance, he was joined by State Police Sgt. Sam Chavez who had overheard Zamora's radio dispatch. The two officers began to scour the area for clues.

And thus began an investigation into one of the most widely circulated UFO stories ever, one that propelled tiny Socorro into the center of the unidentified flying object universe.

Dave Treseder, a teen-age disk jockey at local station KSRC-AM, found himself answering telephone queries from people with prestigious-sounding titles.

The city itself was inundated with visitors from the military to the merely curious.

Zamora, meanwhile, was at the center of the maelstrom. It would be difficult to find a UFO aficionado who has not heard of him, or tried to get in touch with him, to hear from the eyewitness himself just what he saw in the desert south of Socorro on that April afternoon.

Lonnie Zamora, now long retired from the city, declined an interview with El Defensor Chieftain regarding this article. "I just don't talk about it any more," he said.

That was not the case initially. An article in the Feb. 9, 1965, issue of El Defensor Chieftain reported that "the Socorro part" of a documentary on Unidentified Flying Objects had been completed" with Zamora as one of the principals.

The Chieftain quoted the executive producer of the project as saying that "Zamora's unchanged and straightforward account was similar to 16 other verified UFO sightings in various parts of the world."

The newspaper reported that several other residents had been interviewed for the documentary including Mayor Holm O. Bursum Jr., State Police Sgt. Chavez, City Clerk Raymond L. Senn, Steve Torres Jr., Mrs. Howard Terry and Mrs. Vince Cardinalli. Walter Shrode, then owner of KSRC radio, conducted the interviews.

In its June 29, 1965, issue, the Chieftain ran an article and editorial announcing the publication of "Anatomy of a Phenomenon: Unidentified Objects in Space -- A Scientific Appraisal" by Jacques Valle.

The article included the following quote: "On April 24, 1964, Officer L. Zamora saw a bright object which landed on four legs two miles out of Socorro, New Mexico. It has been argued, and even 'categorically stated' that the Socorro object was not interplanetary, but very probably one of the experimental devises recently developed by the U.S. for the exploration of the moon and planets."

However, Valle went on to say that "a good report is 100 percent unexplained."

The fascination with the unexplained, and the inexplicable, continues, as evidenced by the number of web sites detailing the Socorro UFO landing of 1964; one, by Chris Lambright, that bears the words, "Socorro the Zamora Sighting" and a black-and-white image of Zamora in a police officer's uniform.

"Of all the evidence that could be presented to support the contention that what Lonnie Zamora saw was something totally unexplained, perhaps nothing is more compelling than (an article written by Hector Quintanilla Jr., former head of the Air Force's Project Bluebook)."

Lambright quoted from Quintanilla's article, written for a formerly classified CIA publication called "Studies in Intelligence" from the fall of 1966:

"There is no doubt that Lonnie Zamora saw an object which left quite an impression on him. There is also no question about Zamora's reliability. He is a serious police officer, a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area.

"He is puzzled by what he saw, and frankly, so are we. This is the best-documented case on record, and still we have been unable, in spite of thorough investigation, to find the vehicle or other stimulus that scared Zamora to the point of panic."

Not all saucers have caused such controversy. Witness this news account in the Nov. 16, 1980, issue of the Chieftain:

"The U.S. Air Force has a Flying Saucer operating from this base, the public relations office recently revealed. Johnson Base personnel are quite proud of their Flying Saucer. He is T/Sgt. Abner Saucer Jr. of the 13th Bomb Squadron."

US schools face new attack on evolution



AMERICA'S bible belt is gathering behind a fresh attack on the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in schools.

Education officials in Texas are seriously considering a radical rewrite of textbooks to include claims that life on Earth was the result of "intelligent design" in a move that would affect all schools in the United States.

Evolutionists dismiss proponents of intelligent design as servants of the religious right, claiming the theory is simply a dressed-up form of creationism - the notion that God made man.

But on the other side of the debate are those who say that elements of Darwinism have been proved scientifically unsound and should be written out. They deny they are pushing a religious agenda.

Raymond Bohlin, research fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public policy think-tank in Seattle that is leading the call for change, said: "We feel that, for many years, textbooks have been given carte blanche to present all the strengths of evolutionism but none of the weaknesses."

Bohlin also heads Probe Ministries, a Texas group whose mission is to "bridge the frontier between the agonising questions man asks and the profound answers the Gospel offers".

Academics have reacted in horror to the idea of teaching ‘intelligent design’.

Brian Leiter, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, said: "Intelligent design is make-believe, but it's upsetting to people to be told that. It presents this real culture war."

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - July 23, 2003

from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Salt used to treat icy roads has polluted three major New England rivers over the past century, but better wastewater treatment is slowly cleaning up other chemicals in the water, according to a report released Tuesday.

The U.S. Geological Service reviewed water quality data for the Connecticut, Merrimack and Blackstone rivers for much of the last 100 years, and concluded that human lifestyles have had a dramatic effect on pollution levels - for better and for worse.

"Certainly, this study shows that our lifestyles have an effect on the area's rivers," said Keith Robinson, the study's lead scientist. "Using what we have learned from this study will help water resource managers and private citizens to understand what the future of New England's rivers might be."

from The Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Families with several members afflicted with Alzheimer's disease are being recruited for a new gene bank that may help speed new treatments or even prevention of the mind-robbing ailment.

The program was announced Tuesday by the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association, which is working with the National Institute on Aging to create a gene bank with samples from more than 1,000 families affected by late-onset Alzheimer's. Most of the 4 million Americans with Alzheimer's have that form of the disease, which typically is diagnosed after age 60.

While three genes have been linked to earlier-onset disease, researchers are less certain about the genetic causes of late-onset Alzheimer's.

from The Houston Chronicle

MT. VERNON, Texas -- Ten years ago, a collection of 220 bird eggs -- many older than a century -- arrived in this Northeast Texas town, part of one man's dream to establish a small-town natural history museum.

For the better part of the decade, the eggs collected dust.

Recently, the Franklin County Historical Association learned that two of the eggs in its collection are priceless -- taken from the nests of birds that have been extinct for more than 80 years.

The eggs belonged to the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet -- species that have been extinct since 1914 and 1920. Collected in 1880 and 1878, according to pencil marks on their hollowed-out shells, the eggs are a very rare find in the bird world. Only 148 passenger pigeon sets -- or clutches of eggs taken from a single nest -- exist in North American museums. Those same museums have only a dozen Carolina parakeet egg sets in archives.




by Edward T. Babinski


(Reviews of several creationist articles that deny such evidence exists.)

INTRODUCTION "Whales have been trouble for scientists since Linnaeus put together the first modern taxonomy in 1735, 'Amidst the greatest apparent confusion, the greatest order is visible,' Linneaus wrote about classification, and yet when he tried to classify whales, he seemed only to add more confusion. Were they fish or mammals? 'These are necessarily arranged with the Mammalia,' he demanded, 'though their habits and manners are like those of fish.' Whales, he pointed out, have hearts like ventricles and auricles like mammals, they are warm-blooded, have lungs, nurse their young -- just like mammals on land. They even have eyelids that move. . .Darwin viewed the similarities that Linnaeus had found as signs that whales (including porpoises and dolphins) descended from mammals that lived on land." -- Carl Zimmer, Evolution

Ancient ancestor's legacy of life

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

The fundamental processes which keep humans and all animals alive evolved more than 600 million years ago in single-celled organisms, scientists say.

The research, published in the journal Science, highlights the ancient genetic lineage we all carry in every cell of our bodies.

The way our cells function, grow and interact with others uses molecules and methods that first appeared long ago, when the most advanced forms of life were microbes living in the sea.

Studying an obscure microorganism with ancient roots led scientists to this far-reaching conclusion.

It is one which sheds light on one of the most dramatic evolutionary leaps in life's history - the origin of animals.

Cell biology toolkit

The evolution of animals from a single-celled ancestor is one of the major milestones in the development of life.

The identity of this ancestor and how it did it are shrouded in mystery.

Clues to what happened may be contained within the molecular machinery of the Choanoflagellates - a group of about 150 species of transparent, single-celled microbes that move around by using a whip-like appendage.

Scientists have long suspected that they might be modern examples of what the ancestors of multi-cellular animals, or metazoans, looked like when they lived more than 600 million years ago.

This is consistent with the idea of evolution as a tinkerer, cobbling together tools that are already available, rather than inventing a new widget for each job Nicole King, University of Wisconsin-Madison For 600 million years, animals and the choanaflagellates have gone their separate evolutionary ways.

It was discovered in 2001 that they have a type of molecular sensor usually found in multi-cellular animals, another clue to their significance.

Now it has been discovered that they have more fundamental molecular processes in common with animals.

Researchers have found that the same molecular pathways used by all animals today were in place 600 million years ago.

"We have found that the cell biology toolkit was pretty sophisticated before the dawn of animals," says Sean Carroll of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Ancient soup

The molecular processes that Sean Carroll and colleagues Nicole King and Christopher Hittinger studied enable cells to communicate and interact with each other.

Such pathways, previously found only in animals, are involved in many basic cellular processes. They also play a role in cancer and sensory functions such as hearing.

The exact function of these molecular pathways in the choanoflagellates is a mystery however.

Despite this, it appears that molecular processes that were thought to have been developed by animals have their origins in an ancient soup of microscopic single-celled microbes.

"This is consistent with the idea of evolution as a tinkerer, cobbling together tools that are already available, rather than inventing a new widget for each job," says Nicole King.

With the choanoflagellates, scientists are confident that they have selected the right organism to understand what happened on the eve of animal evolution.

The next stage in the work, say the researchers, is to identify the minimal set of genes in place at the outset of animal evolution by finding the genes shared by all animals and their nearest ancestors. Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/sci/tech/3086681.stm

Published: 2003/07/22 14:57:49 GMT


Date limit set on first Americans

By Paul Rincon
BBC Science

A new genetic study deals a blow to claims that humans reached America at least 30,000 years ago - around the same time that people were colonising Europe.

The subject of when humans first arrived in America is hotly contested by academics.

On one side of the argument are researchers who claim America was first populated around 13,000 years ago, toward the end of the last Ice Age. On the other are those who propose a much earlier date for colonisation of the continent - possibly around 30,000-40,000 years ago.

The authors of the latest study reject the latter theory, proposing that humans entered America no earlier than 18,000 years ago.

Great migration

They looked at mutations on the form of the human Y chromosome known as haplotype 10.

This is one of only two haplotypes carried by Native American men and is thought to have reached the continent first. Haplotype 10 is also found in Asia, confirming that the earliest Americans came from there.

I would say that they entered [America] within the last 15,000 years Spencer Wells The scientists knew that determining when mutations occurred on haplotype 10 might reveal a date for the first entry of people into America.

Native Americans carry a mutation called M3 on haplotype 10 which is not found in Asia. This suggests it appeared after people settled in America, making it useless for assigning a date to the first migrations.

But a mutation known as M242 looked more promising. M242 is found in Asia and America, suggesting that it appeared before the first Americans split from their Asian kin.

Contentious claim

Knowing the rate at which DNA on the Y chromosome mutates - errors occur - and the time taken for a single male generation, the scientists were able to calculate when M242 originated. They arrived at a maximum date of 18,000 years ago for its appearance.

This means the first Americans were still living in Asia when M242 appeared and could only have begun their migration eastwards after this date.

"I would say that they entered [America] within the last 15,000 years," said Dr Spencer Wells, a geneticist and author who contributed to the latest study.

In 1997, a US-Chilean team uncovered apparent evidence of human occupation in 33,000-year-old sediment layers at Monte Verde in Chile.

They claimed that burned wood found at the site came from fires at hunting camps and that fractured pebbles found there were used by humans to butcher meat. But the interpretation of these remains has been questioned by several experts.

Bone returns

The debate over the biological origins of the first Americans has wide-ranging political and racial implications.

In the US, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Nagpra) has resulted in the handover of many scientific collections to claimants.

Some archaeologists argue that the remains of early Americans are sufficiently different from their descendents to be exempt from Nagpra.

For example, a 9,300-year-old skull from Washington State known as Kennewick Man has been interpreted as looking European due to its long, narrow (dolichocephalic) skull shape. More recent American populations tend to have short, broad skulls.

Dr Wells said individuals such as Kennewick Man looked this way because Europeans and early Americans had a common origin around 35,000-40,000 years ago in south-central Asia.

Record erased

"[Dolichocephaly] is a general feature of very early skulls," Dr Wells told BBC News Online.

He said a later migration into America from East Asia 6,000-10,000 years ago associated with the spread of Y chromosome haplotype 5 could have been responsible for the Asiatic appearance of many present-day Native Americans.

But Dr Wells acknowledged the possibility that even more ancient American populations carrying unidentified Y chromosome haplotypes could have been swamped by later migrations, resulting in their genetic legacy being erased.

"We can't rule that out," he said, "but in science we have to deal with what's extant." Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2003/07/22 11:44:44 GMT


Open season on Bigfoot


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It's open season on Bigfoot! The population of the once-rare creatures has exploded so spectacularly in recent years that state officials in Tennessee have quietly authorized hunters to shoot them!

"We have to do something to trim their numbers," confirms a Department of Fish and Wildlife official who asked not to be identified by name. "If we don't, they'll overrun the forest and start encroaching on inhabited areas.

"Already, these creatures have started to become pests in some rural parts of the state, raiding garbage bins, farmers' cornfields and vegetable gardens."

The season is set to begin June 15 and run to September 15, with hunting limited to the hours of 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The maximum number of kills per season is three for each hunter.

And trigger-happy hunters can't wait to step up the challenge, eager to bag their first Bigfoot and take home an impressive trophy to show off to pals.

"To hunt an animal most people have never seen and some don't even believe in would be an incredible experience," enthuses 38-year Sam Custler of Knoxville, who plans to take his two teenage sons on a Bigfoot hunt.

"You're talking about a critter that's smarter than a bear and probably even a gorilla.

"It'll take a lot of skill and patience to track it down.

"A Bigfoot head mounted over our fireplace and a Bigfoot rug on the floor of our den would be something our whole family would take pride in."

According to cryptozoologists, who study creatures whose existence has not been substantiated, it is estimated that in the 1930s there were only 45 Bigfoots throughout North America, and they were probably one of the most endangered species in the world.

But in the late '70s, for reasons unknown, the crea- tures began breeding like jackrabbits, particularly in Tennessee's Blue Ridge Mountains.

"Hikers in the backwoods would often come across Bigfoot couples going at it like teenagers on a lover's lane," notes a leading researcher.

Thanks to the Bigfoot baby boom, experts believe the creatures' population has soared to 960 in Tennessee alone -- and it's still growing fast.

And officials are claiming that's what turned Bigfoot from a rare natural treasure into a nuisance.

So, quietly informing hunters through private organizations, authorities have spread the word that a decades-long, unspoken ban on shooting the lumbering, 7-foot-plus man-beasts has been lifted.

Despite efforts to keep the hunting secret, animal-rights activists have gotten wind of the program and are crying foul.

"We oppose all hunting, but the mass slaughter of a gentle and intelligent creature like Bigfoot is obscene," says a spokesperson for the Southeastern Association for the Preservation of Wildlife.


Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - July 22, 2003

from The Miami Herald

CHICAGO - (AP) -- Older people who eat fish at least once a week may cut their risk of Alzheimer's by more than half, a study suggests.

The study adds to the evidence that diet may affect a person's chances of developing the mind-robbing disease, which affects four million Americans.

Researchers found that people 65 and older who had fish once a week had a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer's than those who never or rarely ate fish. The meals included tuna sandwiches, fish sticks and shellfish; the amounts eaten were not specified.

"This is very promising, but it's very early and really we need to have a lot more studies," said lead researcher Dr. Martha Clare Morris of Chicago's Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.

from The Washington Post

Scientists writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association have identified the first physical warning sign of autism: small head circumference at birth, followed by rapid and excessive increase in head size during the first year of life.

The researchers' findings, published last week, could lead to earlier identification of autistic children, who now are typically diagnosed at age 3 when teachers and parents begin to notice behavioral problems. Experts say earlier intervention is more beneficial, and the study may help alert doctors to a possible, though not certain, diagnosis of autism in the first months of life.

The research also provides further evidence contradicting the theory that autism could be triggered by vaccinations given just before age 3.

from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON - Displaying ruptured implants and gruesome photographs, health and consumer groups Monday called on the government to delay a decision on whether to allow silicone gel breast implants back on the market.

The Food and Drug Administration, which banned the marketing of silicone implants for cosmetic surgery in 1992, could rule later this year on an application from the Santa Barbara-based Inamed Corp.

Although the decision of FDA reviewers will be based largely on two years of clinical trials, the health groups say many implant ruptures and other associated health problems often do not develop until at least seven years after surgery.

Letters to the Editor




It's not science

I was dismayed to see "intelligent design" adherents given credit for using "science" to question evolution in the secondary headline of the July 9 article (" `Intelligent design' adherents use science to question evolution"). Where's the science? The four "icons of evolution" used by intelligent design supporters identify well-known unanswered questions in the theory of evolution and rehash decades-old missteps in announcement of early discoveries, then they exaggerate and remove them from context. But they offer no disconfirming evidence against the theory of evolution. Their alternative "explanation" makes no predictions, cannot be tested, has made no contributions to knowledge, has not been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has not been presented at recognized scientific conferences.

Intelligent design is religion in scientific clothing. Calling it "science" was a disservice to readers.


Secular institution

In a story about the controversy over biology textbooks, the American-Statesman used a secondhand report about a donor to imply that Discovery Institute is associated with a group that wants to impose a "Christian theocracy." This charge was printed without contacting either the donor or the Discovery Institute.

Discovery Institute is a secular think tank. Until recently, the chairman of the board was former Congressman John Miller, who is Jewish. He would be surprised to find out that he headed a group supposedly devoted to imposing a "Christian theocracy."

Discovery has a record of supporting representative democracy in general, and religious liberty in particular. In fact, it sponsored a program for college students to teach the importance of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

The debate over biology textbooks in Texas is a serious one, and it should focus on the issues, not on mudslinging and personal attacks.

Associate director
Center for Science and Culture
Discovery Institute

Faulty concept

Intelligent design proponents are using faulty philosophical reasoning to introduce their concept. Scientists William Dembski and Michael Behe and others use what is known as the "either-or" fallacy. When evolution science can't explain every minute detail of a process, intelligent design folks use this as evidence for their hypothesis and claim it as fact. If evolution can't explain something, it must be a creator, according to their unscientific methodology. Either it must be evolution or a creator does not constitute a scientific method.

Creationists and intelligent design folks want their creation story told on an equal plane as evolution. Which creation story does one teach -- the seven days, the primordial parents, the egg at the bottom of the ocean, the slain monster or one of the other thousands of creation stories -- if equal time is truly what they want?


A masquerading theory

As a former high school science teacher, I must disagree with the secondary headline in the article on textbook challenges, "Intelligent design adherents use science to question evolution."

First, no one seriously questions that the process of evolution has occurred and is still occurring. If people accept that DDT-resistant mosquitoes and antibiotic-resistant bacteria now thrive, they recognize the existence of ongoing evolution. The actual debate in science is about how the flow of evolution is guided (e.g., gradual natural selection vs. punctuated equilibrium) and what genetic pathways are used.

Second, intelligent design is a spiritual belief masquerading as a theory. Working scientific theories must account for all relevant observations of the natural world and make useful predictions to be accepted. Intelligent design does not attempt to do either.


The search for truth

To appreciate and understand the scientific process, students must learn the basics of prevailing scientific wisdom. They also must experience ideas that form part of public debate about science -- even apparently foolish or supernaturally based ideas that affect public perceptions need to be addressed. Evolution is a fact; the word theory refers to mechanisms that explain evolution. Humans cause evolution artificially, making dachshunds, blue cotton and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Darwin proposed that nature may also cause change in a similar way. He did not propose "evolution;" philosophers preceding him by centuries did that. Darwin wasn't even alone in propounding the theory of natural selection to explain evolution.

Students need exposure to this history of ideas, and they need to understand the current state of science. The bottom line for science is the search for knowledge and truth, which no religious or political agenda can alter.

Assistant professor
Southwest Texas State University

`God did it' rationale

The article on the science textbook debate failed to address one key question: What, exactly, is scientific about design theorist criticisms of evolution? Where is the evidence supporting a more viable picture of human origins than current scientific models? Where are the studies in peer-reviewed journals?

Intelligent design theorists have nothing to offer in the way of science. Instead, their tool is a universal stopgap to empirical thinking: They say, simply, "God did it."

Notice what kind of intellectual black hole this sort of criticism is to scientific thinking. Students can contradict any scientific explanation with the great "God did it" rationale. This is how religious zealots, mystics and fundamentalists see the world: not as a set of observable phenomena that can be explainable by careful study and empirical investigation, but as a world at God's mercy, where science boils down to theology. Is this what belongs in our science textbooks?


Misleading criticism

The article is misleading in suggesting that intelligent design theorists are "using science rather than religion to battle evolution." Intelligent design has no scientific credibility.

The criticisms of evolution presented from intelligent design theorists presented in the article are misleading. While researchers have different models for the origin of life, the experiments from the 1950s remain central. Evolutionary theory does not claim that the rate of evolution is constant: The Cambrian explosion of animal diversity is not a problem. While some details about the evolution of melanism in insects remain uncertain, that it evolved for camouflage remains valid. The article did a disservice by presenting these objections as if they constitute problems for evolutionary biology.

The purpose of intelligent design theorists is to inject religion into science under false pretenses. The State Board of Education should reject such attempts.

Section of Integrative Biology
and Department of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

Religion isn't science

Shame on the American-Statesman for running an op-ed piece on "intelligent design" masquerading as a news article. Intelligent design is nothing more than creationism tricked out in pseudo-scientific clothes. To refer to it as "scientific" is like saying alchemists were using chemistry when they tried to create gold out of lead.

The movement to insert religion into science is a dangerous one. Not only does it promote shoddy thinking and a nonempirical approach, it also puts the cart before the horse scientifically. Science is predicated on empiricism. It starts with hypothesis and goes on to observation. Finally, a theory is arrived at -- oftentimes different from the original hypothesis.

Unlike religion -- which is a closed system in which change in not allowed -- science is an evolving process. Religion is not science. To shoehorn religious dogma into a science text is to deprive children of a decent education.


No room for `intelligent design' in texts

Regarding the replacement of "creationism" with "intelligent design" as an alternative to the theory of evolution: Why is it that the proponents of intelligent design are the best argument against it?

Any theory (intelligent design) that is based upon (1) criticism of a theory (evolution through mutation, natural selection, and other natural processes) that has a preponderance of evidence supporting it; (2) a claim that since there are some questions that have not been answered, the entire theory must be false; and therefore (3) assumes that there must have been a creator to intelligently design life (without leaving any evidence to support the theory of intelligent design), doesn't deserve space in a text that is supposed to teach the scientific method to our children.

Any intelligently designed instructional text on science wouldn't include more than a paragraph on creationism, intelligent design and any other belief system that presupposes a creator whose existence has not been proved using the scientific method.

God may or may not exist. If intelligent design proponents would address their efforts toward constructing scientific experiments to prove or disprove this basic assumption of their theory, then the evidence from their research might be considered appropriate in a science text.

Round Rock

Textbook controversy

Although the textbook misrepresentations cited in the article somewhat shake my faith in the textbooks' publishers, they do not shake my faith in evolution -- I have no faith in evolution. Scientific theories do not require faith. That is the point. Texas schoolchildren are taught current theory that best explains a wealth of objective observations, and most texts present such theory as the tentative, dynamic model it is.

It frustrates me that once again, valid controversy over the information in textbooks is being led by extremists with an agenda. Textbooks need to be assessed for accuracy by an independent, objective board of scientists; the intelligent design advocates with their controversial motives should be nowhere near the process.


Ideological debate affects textbook contract


By Alicia Gooden
The Daily News

Published July 20, 2003

Creationism versus evolution is not a new argument, but it's a hot one among those who select the textbooks students in Texas will read.

Which version of how life appeared on Earth — creationism, evolution or a combination of both — should Texas high school students be learning?

That question was behind most of the testimony on what biology textbooks should be adopted for the 2004-05 school year.

Texas' $570 million textbook budget and a conservative-leaning state school board have made the state's adoption hearings a national foray into religion, politics and sexuality.

Science groups such as the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education are battling think tanks such as the Seattle-headed Discovery Institute about the theory of evolution.

Religious organizations applaud the Discovery Institute's challenge of evolution and support of a Texas curriculum that invites alternatives to Darwinism.

Meanwhile, a statewide movement of science teachers pleaded with state school board members not to force publishers to introduce the theory of creationism into a science course. Whatever side wins likely will set the course for the rest of the nation.

Behind California, Texas is the largest buyer of textbooks in the country. Publishing analysts believe that Texas' textbook adoption standards set the pace for the rest of the country. The board will make a decision in November on which textbooks students will use in the next school year.

Flawed Theories

National textbook publishers such as Glencoe and Prentice Hall submitted 11 biology books for review. One says the embryos of chickens, turtles and rats are similar to those of humans.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, agrees with the contents of the book and thinks it should be a strong contender for adoption because of its evolutionary content. "I think it shows that there is a common ancestor," he said.

Another text says that whale evolution was probable and included graphics to show how this might have occurred. They show an animal with four legs evolving into the creature known today.

Texas Citizens for Science agreed with that theory. "I think the animals lost their leap when they became more marine and went from land dweller to mammal," said Schafersman.

But he predicted that those passages would be the most attacked by critics of evolution. "The creationists would have you believe that this is just the way they are because God made them that way," Schafersman said.

More conservative members of the State Board of Education, such as Don McLeroy, who represents District 9, had a hard time accepting that evolutionary theories were scientifically based. He questioned the theory that birds are descendants of reptiles.

The Discovery Institute gave poor to mediocre reviews of all 11 biology books up for adoption. Ten of the books failed Discovery Institute standards because they covered aspects of evolution such as the Miller-Urey experiment, the Cambrian explosion, Haeckel's drawing of the vertebrate embryo and the peppered moth theory, said Scha-fersman.

Fellows at the Discovery Institute have questioned evolutionary theories. Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education, said the critiques given by the institute were based on religious, not scientific, beliefs.

She said it is calculated move by the religious right to remove a science curriculum not just from Texas schoolbooks but all books around the country.

Scott and representatives of groups in Kansas and Ohio challenged the Discovery Institute's work during the textbook hearings.

Scott wrote a paper damning the book on which she said the Discovery Institute based its critiques of the proposed biology books. "We're here to keep the good science in textbooks and the bad science out," she said.

But Raymond Bohlin, a fellow for the Discovery Institute, said he was offended by claims that his work and that of the institute were a cover for personal religious beliefs.

He said that there were credible scientists who disagreed with the theory of evolution and that there was even disagreement about evolution among evolutionists.

"Just because you have a disagreement with evolution theory doesn't mean that you disagree with science, and it has nothing to do with any religious affiliation," he said.

Bohlin, who also represented Probe Ministries, said a more even-handed curriculum would be one that explores not just evolution, but also alternative theories on how the earth and its inhabitants came to be.

Many professors agreed that critiques of evolution do not equate to a disdain of science and a forcing of religious beliefs on school curriculum.

Francis J. Beckwith, an associate professor of church-state studies at Baylor University and author of articles in the Harvard and Notre Dame law reviews, submitted an open letter from professors at Rice, Texas A&M, University of Texas and Southwestern University that said the "strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian theory" should be taught in Texas' science curriculum.

"Contemporary criticisms of evolution cannot be dismissed as transparent attempts on the part of religious people to force their views on the public schools," said Beckwith.

An Agency Oversight

David Bradley, who represents Galveston County on the state education board, said he believes that the Texas Education Agency might have intentionally misled a textbook review panel.

Bradley said the agency should have told the layperson reviewers that one of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills textbook objectives says that students should be able to "analyze and review" the strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories.

Bradley said creationism and intelligent design could be viewed as a weakness to the evolutionary theory. He said those on the panel should have been told to consider that in their review of the biology textbooks.

Bradley said he thinks the TEA's omission of instructions to the review panel might not have been an accident. "I find it difficult to believe that was an oversight," he said. "Sometimes, the agency doesn't serve the board well, but we don't have the power to hire or fire them."

Bradley and Terri Leo, who represents District 6, say that they don't think that any of the 11 books submitted meet the TEKS objective because evolution is the only theory of how the earth began mentioned.

"I open my Bible and believe what it says in Genesis, which is fine for me," Bradley said. "But in a biology textbook, I would think that there needs to be another viewpoint presented besides what I think is correct."

Censoring Or Editing?

National headlines were made last year when some members of the State Board of Education and conservative organizations backed recommendations to publishers that they change passages in history books to make slavery less negative, de-emphasize Islam and change wording that made it seem global warming was a scientific fact.

This past legislative session, a Republican-backed bill failed in the House that would have given the state's education board the power to edit textbooks.

Two of the nine Republicans who sit on the 15-member board — Bradley and Leo — backed the bill. Civil liberty groups say the bill would have given the board explicit censorship powers. "I believe my constituents want more than evolution presented in textbooks to their children," said Bradley.

Leo said that the state board wanted science in Texas' textbooks, not just one theory used to explain how the earth came into being.

She said the real censors were groups pretending to stand for civil liberties, all the while trying to keep out any mention of creationism. "I do not believe any board member wants to censor evolution from biology textbooks," she said.

The Texas Freedom Network, a civil liberties organization based in Austin, said the board still has censorship powers by the pressure it puts on publishers to include ideas that conform to a conservative, religious agenda.

Samantha Smoot, executive director of the network, said more than half of Texas 11th-graders failed the science portions of the TAAS last year.

"Our students are already falling behind the rest of the nation in science," she said. "What we need to do is strengthen science education, not weaken it and dumb it down."

Waiting On The Sidelines

Jim Walsh sat in the packed audience, tentatively listening to the debate over evolution and American business ideas. Walsh works for Goodheart-Willcox, a publishing company in Illinois.

Walsh's company submitted trade and industrial textbooks this year. It also submitted a book last year. He's learned the drill and thinks the hearings are a good gauge of public opinion.

"Since taxpayer money is used to purchase textbooks, it's good that people have the opportunity to voice their opinions," he said.

The board has been labeled "extortionists" by people such as Schafersman, who say that publishers are made to choose between providing good textbooks or cashing in on lucrative contracts.

The state changes textbooks every five to seven years and has budgeted $550 million to $600 million for the purchase of textbooks over the years.

Walsh said he wouldn't characterize the board as extortionists. "That's a little extreme," he said. But he said the adoption process was rigorous and expensive.

Walsh had to have several of his books written, published and submitted for review in April, knowing that the books would undergo extensive reviews and possibly extensive revisions.

"It's difficult to have the different groups review your work and spend the money on getting the textbooks ready," he said.

Larger publishing companies, such as Pearson/Prentice Hall, face the same review. "We don't really have a lot to say at this point," said Wendy Spiegel, director of corporate communications for Pearson Education. "We'll follow the state process, as state law requires, and respond in 14 days."

That is the timetable the state has set for publishers to respond to criticism from the review panel. Spiegel said Pearson submitted books for biology, advanced placement biology and English as a second language.

She said once the critiques were received, the company would review them and address legitimate challenges. "We'll have to review the recommendations in terms of what is perceived to be a factual error or in terms of clarity and make the decisions based on what is appropriate for the students of Texas," she said.

No one denies that despite the best educational objectives, money — roughly half a billion dollars — drives the adoption process.

Walsh said textbook shopping in Texas has its advantages. "From a publisher's standpoint, Texas has the size, the money spent per student, instruction and a set schedule of when things are due," he said. "You know what they want, when they want it, and you know they buy a lot of them, so you give them what they want."

Anthrax Case Is a Lure to Persons of Interest


July 20, 2003

The unsolved 2001 attacks have been a fertile field for conspiracy theorists, political radicals and other amateur sleuths.

By Richard B. Schmitt, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A few weeks ago, in a creek not far from his suburban Maryland home, Pete Velis tackled one of the many unsolved mysteries of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

How did the perpetrator transfer deadly anthrax spores to four envelopes linked to the outbreak without exposing himself in the process?

A recent theory — given weight after the FBI dredged a pond near an Army biodefense lab where a "person of interest" in the case once worked — is that the transfer occurred underwater, with the help of an airtight plastic box.

So Velis picked up plastic storage containers of several sizes from a hardware store and, accompanied by a reporter for a local radio station, trekked to Rock Creek. There he methodically submerged the boxes, one by one.

His conclusions: 1)Tupperware floats, and 2) Steven J. Hatfill is not guilty.

"Even the shoe box required strong pressure to put underwater and full pressure to keep underwater," Velis said. "You could manipulate something," such as pouring anthrax from a container into an envelope, "but only crudely Now we know it does not work."

Despite what the FBI says, Hatfill — once a top researcher at the Army lab near Frederick, Md. — is not the only person of interest in the case.

The anthrax attacks have been a magnet for conspiracy theorists, political radicals and retirees with more than a little extra time on their hands.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - July 21, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

In the microscopic world inhabited by the AIDS virus, scientists are uncovering a remarkable cloak-and-dagger struggle that pits the crafty microbe against an ancient antiviral defense wired into our genes. So far, the virus is winning.

Still, the discoveries spilling out of molecular biology labs around the world are stirring new hope that basic research into the inner workings of HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- will reveal a weakness that can be exploited by a new generation of drugs.

The latest and most exciting developments involve a tiny protein called Vif.

Virion infectivity factor, or Vif, is produced using one of the smallest and least understood of the nine genes that make up the blueprint of HIV.

from The Washington Post

Scientists Look for Safer Nut

Almost everybody in the United States likes peanuts, a staple of ballgames, school lunches and saloons. But for the 1.5 million Americans who are allergic to them, peanuts are poison, capable of causing serious illness and even death...

Prozac Puts Infants at Risk

Infants of mothers who took common antidepressants during pregnancy appear to be at higher risk of suffering from tremors, rigidity and restlessness in the days after birth, new research has found...

City Birds Hit the High Notes

Even birds, it seems, sometimes need to raise their voices to be heard over the din of the city. Hans Slabbekoorn and Margriet Peet of Leiden University in the Netherlands studied the mating songs of a species of bird known as the great titmouse living in different parts of the Dutch city of Leiden...

The Blood and the Shroud

New Evidence That the World's Most Sacred Relic Is Real

Editorial Reviews


Ian Wilson's well-written and intelligent book gives a balanced view of evidence for and against the Shroud of Turin's authenticity (including new finds such as the presence of human blood and DNA on the Shroud), and along the way, provides a fascinating discussion of subjects ranging from capital punishment in first-century Palestine to the chemistry of radiocarbon dating. For Wilson, the Shroud's ultimate significance resides in the very fact of Christians' fascination with it. The Shroud represents the possibility that the Resurrection actually happened; if there's any chance the Shroud is authentic, and if that chance excites you, then historical facts are a crucial aspect of your faith. Given that, the Shroud of Turin becomes much more than a curiosity for cranks and crazies. It's a valuable incitement to introspection for all believers. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly
The Shroud of Turin is perhaps the most controversial and awe-inspiring religious relic of our time. In 1988, a team of scientists announced that the Shroud was in fact a medieval forgery and not the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, on the basis of new evidence, Wilson (The Turin Shroud and Jesus: The Evidence) re-opens the case. In part one of the book, Wilson uses the tools of image resonance and photography to contend that visual observation reveals the image of an apparently crucified...

Sunday, July 20, 2003

European Council of Skeptical Organisations

We promote Science, Reason and Critical Thinking.

11th European Skeptics Congress

London, 5 - 7 September 2003

Organised and sponsored by


The Association for Skeptical Enquiry


The UK's leading skeptical magazine


The European Council of Skeptical Organisations


The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal


11th European Skeptics Congress
P.O. Box 5994
Ripley, DE5 3XL, UK

Congress Chair:

Dr. Michael Heap
Tel: +44 (0)114 262 0468; Fax +44(0)114 221 7319


Anyone with an interest in promoting rational and scientific thinking and its application for human benefit is welcome to attend The 11th European Skeptics Congress.

Early registration is strongly recommended, particularly if you are booking accommodation as this will soon become full. Please use the registration form.

The venue of the Congress is Franklin Wilkins Building, Kings College London, 150 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NN. This is on the south bank of the River Thames and is within walking distance of many famous attractions, including the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Globe Theatre, the Festival Hall and the New Tate Gallery. It is also within walking distance of Waterloo Station (national and underground rail network and the Eurostar trains to and from France and Belgium. Economical accommodation is available through the Congress organisation. People attending the Congress may wish to extend their visit to London to explore this interesting area of the Capital City.

Congress Advisory Board

Prof. Willem Betz, University of Brussels; Dr. Scott Campbell, University of Nottingham; Prof. Cornelis de Jager, Universities of Utrecht and Brussels; Prof. Steven Donnelly, University of Salford; Prof. Chris French, Goldsmiths College, University of London; Dr. Toby Howard, University of Manchester; Mr. Mike Hutchinson, The Skeptic; Mr. Barry Karr, CSICOP; Dr. Martin Mahner, GWUP/ECSO; Prof. David Marks, City University; Mr. Amardeo Sarma, GWUP/ECSO; Dr. Graham Wagstaff, University of Liverpool; Dr. Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire


The congress will consist of formal presentations from invited speakers and members of Skeptical Societies in Europe and North America and more informal debates. At various times during the main programme, parallel events will be held such as workshop-type presentations. For the call for papers see the AKSE website (see above) or the ECSO website (www.ecso.org http://www.ecso.org).

Friday, 5th September

11.00 a.m. onwards Registration

130 - 2.00 p.m. Welcoming addresses

2.00 - 5.30 p.m. Symposium on Science, Health and Medicine (with keynote address by Professor Edzard Ernst and papers by Professor Leslie Walker and Dr. Dorothy Rowe).

8.00 - 9.30 p.m. Reception for delegates

Saturday, 6th September

9.30 a.m. - 3.30 p.m. Symposia on Parapsychology and Anomalistic Psychology (with keynote addresses by Professor Robert Morris and Professor Chris French and papers by Professor Ray Hyman and Professor Richard Wiseman).

4.00 - 6.00 p.m. Symposium on 'Scientists on the Defensive'

8.00 - 10.00 p.m. Congress Dinner

Sunday, 7th September

9.30 a.m. - 1.30 p.m. Miscellaneous papers

1.30 p.m. Close


All fees are payable in pounds sterling only, by VISA, MasterCard or a cheque in pound sterling drawn on a UK bank. (If you have any problems in the method of payment, please contact the Congress organisers).

The registration fee is £55 for applications received on or before 30 June 2003. Thereafter it is £70.

The registration fee for an accompanying person, namely a spouse or child, is £25.

The registration fee for a full-time undergraduate or postgraduate student is £25.

The cost of the Congress Dinner is £20.


The apartments and hotels below are, unless otherwise stated, within walking distance of the Congress venue, as well as major attractions - the London Eye, the Festival Hall, the Globe Theatre, the Houses of Parliament, the New Tate Gallery, etc. - and Waterloo Station. (Note that telephone and fax numbers when dialled in the UK have '0' instead of '44'.)



Stamford Street Apartments (King's College London), Stamford Street, London SE1

Accommodation in London is extremely expensive. However, we have arranged for very economical accommodation (£30.50 per person per night) to be available at students' apartments, which are vacated during the summer. These are directly opposite the Congress venue and are single en suite rooms (with shower and toilet). Breakfast (which is not included in the £30.50) is available in the main Congress hall. You should book this accommodation through the Congress organisers on your registration form.

We have reserved these rooms for Friday 5th and Saturday 6th September. If you wish to come earlier or stay longer, then you should ring the Kings College Conference Office on (44)-207-848 1700 (the Fax is (44)-207-848 1717 and the email is vacations.at.kings@kcl.ac.uk), tell them that you are attending the Congress and staying at Stamford Street Apartments, and book your extra nights (these will cost you the usual price of £34.00).


If you do not wish to use the above accommodation, you will need to book your accommodation yourself. The apartments and hotels below are a sample.


Bankside House (London School of Economics), 24 Sumner Street, London SE1 9JA

Tel: (44)-207-633 9877; Fax: (44)-207-574 6730; email: vacations@lse.ac.uk

'Standard' single and en suite single, twin, triple and quad rooms (and rooms for disabled persons) are available from approximately £30 (standard single room), £43 (en suite single room), £58 (en suite twin room), etc. Breakfast is included.

The above accommodation is very close to the Congress venue. There are many other halls of residence available over the summer but they require a short journey on the underground. For details of these, contact the following (source:


City University: Tel: (44)-207-040 8037; Email: events@city.ac.uk

Imperial College London: Tel: (44)-207-594 9494; Email: accommodationlink@ic.ac.uk

The London Institute: Tel: (44)-207-514 6240; Email: accom@linst.ac.uk

The London School of Economics: Tel: (44)-207-955 7575; Email: vacations@lse.ac.uk

Queen Mary's College London: Tel: (44)-207-882 3642; Email: holiday@qmul.ac.uk

University College London: Tel: (44)-207-833 8175; Email: accommodation@ucl.ac.uk

University of North London: Tel: (44)-207-607 5415; Email: summerlets@unl.ac.uk

University of Westminster: Tel: (44)-207-834 1172/1169; Email: comserv@wmin.ac.uk


The approximate prices quoted are per room; e.g. £88 for a twin room is £44 per person.

***Days Inn Waterloo, 54 Kennington Road, London SE1 7BJ

Tel: (44)-207-922 1331; Fax: (44)-207-922 1441

Per room per night from approximately £75. (There is a long-stay car park nearby.)

London County Hall Travel Inn, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 7PB

Tel: (44)-870 238 3300; Fax: (44)-207-902 1619

This is a popular hotel but is described as 'basic'. Do not confuse this with the Marriott below.

Per room per night: from approximately £83 plus breakfast (£5 to £7).

***The Comfort Inn Vauxhall, 87 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RN

Tel: (44)-207-735 9494; Fax: (44)-207-735 1001

Per room per night from approximately £95 (with breakfast). (This is a very short bus or underground journey to the Congress venue.)

Mad Hatter Hotel, 3-7 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NY

Tel: (44)-207-401 9222; Fax: (44)-207-401 7111; Email: madhatter@fullers.co.uk

Per room per night approximately £100. (The star rating for this hotel is not given).

****London Bridge Hotel, 8-18 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9SG

Tel: (44)-207-855 2200; Fax: (44)-207-855 2233; Email: sales@london-bridge-hotel.co.uk

Per room per night: from approximately £110.

***Novotel Waterloo, 113 Lambeth Road, London, SE1 7LS

Tel: (44)-207-793 1010; Fax: (44)-207-793 0202

Per room per night: from approximately £135 (single) or £155 (twin).

*****Marriott London County Hall Hotel, Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7PB

Tel: (44)-207-928 5200; Fax: (44)-207-928 5300; International Toll-Free: 44--80--221-222

Per room per night from £170.00



Edited by Dr. Julia Nunn and Professor Chris French

Goldsmiths College, University of London

The Skeptic, a quarterly magazine now in its 16th year, includes news, comment, investigations, feature articles, columns, humour, reviews of books and events, and much more. Issues have included articles by Martin Gardner, Susan Blackmore, and Hilary Evans, and special interviews with James Randi and Stephen Fry.

The normal cost per four issues is £15 in the UK and the US and £18 in the rest of the world. If you are registering for the Congress you may order the next four issues at the discount price of £12 (UK and US) and £15 (the rest of the world). If you wish to take advantage of this offer please indicate this in the space provided on the payment form.

Please E-Mail questions or comments regarding this website to: webmaster@ecso.org Last update: 19.06.2003

'Nature via Nurture': It's Genetic, Sometimes

July 20, 2003 By MICHAEL RUSE

Biology may not have the status of physics and chemistry, but it sure is a lot more fun. Did you know that, controlling for body size, the testicles of the chimpanzee are 16 times as large as those of the gorilla? That the chimp has sex 100 times as often as the gorilla? And that the bonobo, the pygmy chimp, has 10 times as much sex as its larger cousin and hence 1,000 times as much as the gorilla?

The basic gorilla-chimpanzee difference is a function of the chimpanzee's preference for life in the trees. Male gorillas (those that can) form harems of females, and to this end are much bigger than the females. They need to ward off their rivals. Male chimpanzees cannot afford to grow too much bigger -- that would be bad for climbing. Hence, since chimps are not so readily able to form harems, their strategy is to out-copulate competitors. In the bonobos, for various reasons, the females rule the roost, and the males know that fighting simply will not work. In such a situation, being a superstud -- the Errol Flynn of the primate world -- is the best way forward.

Michael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University. His latest book is ''Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?''


Saturday, July 19, 2003

Reports of UFOs flooding into group

By John Corser
Jul 17, 2003, 13:56:00

A Black Country UFO research group has had a big increase in reports of unexplained lights in the sky since the start of the hot spell.

Stourbridge-based Uform says it is getting reports every day of sightings of unexplainable lights and objects in the sky.

Group member Yvonne South said there appeared to be increasing activity in the "Himley Triangle" around the epicentre of the Dudley earthquake in September last year. And two unusual events were reported in Dudley on Monday and Brierley Hill on Tuesday night.

"An unexplainable silver spinning ball was seen briefly between Dudley Castle and the Black Country Museum on Monday around 1pm. It remained in the sky for seconds before disappearing.

"On Tuesday night an object was seen in the Brierley Hill area at approximately 11.45pm which travelled in the direction of Pensnett turned very sharply then disappeared instantly.

"These sightings are from credible witnesses who know the difference between, aircraft, balloons, satellites and the rising stars. There are probably even more sightings that we are totally unaware of," she said.

"It is well documented that UFO's are seen before an earthquake occurs and also when volcanos erupt. Uform is watching the skies with an open mind," she added.

The group also has video footage of an unexplainable object which was seen in the Gornal/Himley area at about 1pm on June 29 and also last month had reports of sightings from Stourport, Kidderminster and Worcester.

"One of our own Uform members witnessed an unexplainable orange ball of light on July 8 near Hartlebury Common."

She appealed for anyone with information about the Black Country sightings or other unexplainable objects in the sky to contact Uform on 07941 833842.


Family sues over funeral hell prediction


SANTA FE, N.M (Reuters) - A New Mexico family is suing their local Catholic church over a funeral Mass in which the priest allegedly said their relative was only a middling Catholic and going straight to hell.

Lawyers for the family of Ben Martinez said on Tuesday they had filed a lawsuit in June against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe and one of its priests.

Court papers filed last month say that Reverend Scott Mansfield said at Martinez's funeral last year that the deceased was "living in sin", "lukewarm in his faith" and that "the Lord vomited people like Ben out of his mouth to hell".

Martinez, 80, died June 17, 2002. Roughly 200 people attended the funeral at St. Patrick's Parish in Chama, New Mexico, a small town north of Santa Fe. Family members say he was a practicing Catholic all his life, but was too ill to attend church in the last year of his life.

Nine members of the Martinez family are seeking punitive and compensatory damages for severe emotional and physical suffering. Lawyers did not say how much the family was seeking in damages.

One of the plaintiffs said the townspeople "are staring at her, thinking her father is in hell," their lawyers said.

The complaint also said that as Mansfield walked to the grave, he laced his comments about Martinez -- a former town councilman -- with profanities.

"These people are profoundly hurt," said attorney Kathleen Kentish-Lucero, representing the Martinez family. "If you are Catholic and a representative of your church says your father is going to hell, that's perhaps the most devastating thing someone can say to you."

But church officials deny the family's claims.

"We deny the allegations and Father Mansfield denies the plaintiff's allegations," said Celine Baca Radigan, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Radigan said that Mansfield has been moved to a parish outside of Albuquerque on a routine transfer.

Conflict evolves in science standards debate


Posted on Fri, Jul. 18, 2003


The group writing Minnesota's new science standards won't be asked to choose between teaching evolution or creationism, but it will get a recommendation from the state's education commissioner that students be exposed to differing views on the subject.

On Thursday the state unveiled the list of 85 people who will draft new science and social studies standards for kindergarten through 12th grade to replace the Profile of Learning graduation requirements that sparked years of debate before being jettisoned by the Legislature this spring.

Setting new standards may prove equally controversial, especially on the science panel, where evolution is likely to get some extra attention.

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke will ask the committee to consider an amendment that Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., tried unsuccessfully to add to the federal No Child Left Behind law. It says that when controversial topics -- such as biological evolution -- come up in the classroom, the curriculum should help students understand other views as well.

One of the alternatives Santorum has written about is "intelligent design," which says an organism's complexity is evidence of an otherworldly designer. The amendment passed the Senate and was included in a conference committee's report, but was struck from the final version of the law.

The Education Department received 620 applications from people wanting to serve on the two standards committees. The 85 people chosen include parents, teachers, business people and college educators. About 60 percent are from the Twin Cities area; the others come from nonmetro Minnesota. The group will meet for the first time on July 31.

Teachers who will sit on the science standards committee for high school grades said they wouldn't shy away from a discussion of evolution, noting that their students regularly bring up alternative theories during lessons on evolution.

"We shouldn't teach religion, that's not what we do," said Nicole Harmer, who teaches chemistry and biology in the Brainerd school district. "But there's no problem saying 'There's other ideas out there, explore them, and I'll answer questions if I'm able to,' " she said. "The students I teach are well aware of the controversy," she added. "I encourage students to explore all different theories so they themselves can make a decision."

Randy Moore, a biology teacher at the University of Minnesota, is one of those who applied to be on the panel but wasn't selected. He said the talk of the Santorum amendment and intelligent design will be an issue for science educators.

"Intelligent design is not science, it's a euphemism for creationism," Moore said. "However you cover it up with euphemism, we should teach science in science classrooms. Intelligent design may have a place in philosophy classes, or comparative religion classes. But it's not science, it's creationist nonsense."

The science and social studies standards will be put in place one year behind the new math and reading standards that the Legislature passed this year. Next year the state Legislature is expected to pass new science and social studies standards, leading to a year of transition in the schools and full implementation in the 2005-06 school year.

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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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.


Today's Headlines – July 18, 2003

from Newsday

Scientists for the first time have strong evidence that a specific gene plays a role in determining whether a person will respond to stressful life events by sinking into severe depression.

The study of 847 young adults in New Zealand has found that the gene can double the risk of developing such depression in the aftermath of a string of stressful life events.

"It's a beautiful study," said Dr. Daniel Weinberger, chief of the clinical brain disorders branch at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., which funded the study. "It offers strong proof for how genes influence how our environment affects us."

from The Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — As her mother slipped into the disoriented world of Alzheimer's disease, Oleta Toliver poured herself into a project that offered hope. She began turning up at nursing homes, church groups and family reunions near her Texas home, trying to coax Alzheimer's patients and their families to donate DNA to Texas Tech University.

Most families were eager to help. A Texas Tech scientist was using the DNA to search for Alzheimer's genes, and the rogue genes, in turn, had the potential to point researchers toward a cure. More than 10,000 people from 2,400 families eventually gave DNA to the effort, many at blood-drawing events arranged by Toliver.

Then, after nine years, the gene hunt suddenly stopped. The university fell into a dispute with the lead researcher over who controlled the DNA collection and who could use the samples. Amid the fight, all work was suspended in January 2000.

...Each year, thousands of people donate DNA to medical research, often in the hope that finding a new gene will lead to a promising insight, a new diagnostic test or a better treatment for a disease or disorder that plagues their families.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

From the Hubble telescope in space and mountaintop observatories around the world, astronomers are finding dramatic new evidence of how galaxies evolved over billions of years, with mysterious "dark energy" distorting their shapes and massive black holes gobbling up stars within them.

That picture emerged this week at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Sydney, where international astronomers are reporting on their latest discoveries. The findings are made possible by technologies that researchers say are transforming the science of astronomy.

A team led by astronomers at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley, for example, is using the giant 10-meter telescope and a new detector at the Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to collect the light from galaxies as they existed more than 7 billion years ago -- half as old as the universe itself.

from The Sacramento Bee

More than 25 UC Davis faculty and administrators met privately with National Institutes of Health officials to discuss a proposed biolab Thursday, while supporters and opponents of the project rallied on the campus.

University of California, Davis, Provost Virginia Hinshaw called the encounter with the seven NIH officials an "extremely productive, positive meeting."

She said they discussed issues of security, design, management, finances and community support for the facility.

Hinshaw said university officials must now wait until late September to learn whether the campus was selected to receive NIH funds to build a $200 million high-security infectious-diseases laboratory.

from The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader

Badlands National Park - Thirty-three million years ago, this was a parallel universe -- a humid place populated by strange pigs and rhinos, miniature horses and the occasional cat or turtle.

The Badlands have since grown famously dry, and most of the large mammals that come here now carry cameras and national park maps.

But scientists can glimpse the vanished world thanks to rapid erosion that is opening a fascinating chapter in the book of life.

"These fossils are just covering everything. Sometimes it's like a pavement -- you can't take a step without walking on one," says Gavin McCullough, a graduate student at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

from The Wall Street Journal

In May, billionaire Gary Comer and four climate experts boarded his Cessna Caravan and took off in search of a catastrophe.

Flying low over southwestern Ontario, the group scanned the ground for boulders left behind by an ancient flood. The deluge, involving 2,000 cubic miles of fresh water from a prehistoric lake nearby, sent temperatures over the North Atlantic plummeting about 12,700 years ago, according to a theory advanced by scientists on the flight.

The cataclysm -- triggered by the melting of glaciers at the close of the last ice age -- poses an urgent question for the present: Could global warming also set off unexpected and extreme climate shifts, such as substantial regional drops in temperature or long droughts?

Some scientists think it's a possibility, and now their research is getting a major boost from Mr. Comer, 75 years old. The founder and former chairman of Lands' End Inc. sold the company to Sears, Roebuck & Co. last year, pocketing just over half the proceeds from the $1.9 billion cash deal. Since witnessing unusual ice conditions on an Arctic cruise, Mr. Comer has started handing out millions of dollars to researchers trying to document so-called abrupt climate change.

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Friday, July 18, 2003

Mother Kept Mummified Daughter for Aliens

Thu Jul 17, 8:31 AM ET


ALMATY (Reuters) - A distraught Kazakh mother kept her daughter's mummified corpse in her apartment for three years hoping she would be resurrected by aliens, police said on Thursday. Police spokeswoman Nina Tsys told Reuters by telephone from the town of Pavlodar in northern Kazakhstan that Olga, 27, was believed to have died from an autoimmune disorder after her mother failed -- or declined -- to call for medical help.

She said Olga's cousin, worried by her long absence, had repeatedly tried to see her, but the mother would always refuse to let him in under various pretexts. Finally police broke in and made the gruesome discovery.

"We believe death was from natural causes, although due to the long time that had passed we can't be absolutely sure," Tsys said. "At least we found no signs of vandalism."

Popular Kazakh daily newspaper Vremya carried a picture of the mummified body, with withered limbs and parched skin, lying on a plain bed in the flat in this industrial town.

Vremya suggested the mother -- a former nurse -- could have known how to treat the body to preserve it.

Tsys said the mother appeared to have been influenced by a sect preaching "cosmology" that promised resurrection of her child with the help of a "third cosmic eye" or by aliens.

She said the mother was undergoing medical checks at a psychiatric clinic. Her daughter's remains had been given a proper burial.

Faith-based science is not really science

By Chet Raymo, 7/15/2003


Now that we have been introduced to the idea of faith-based social programs and faith-based public-education (vouchers), surely it is time for the administration in Washington to make its move on faith-based science. Let's get the government out of science. Shut down the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Close shop at the national labs and observatories. Stop federal funding of research in our universities.

Let faith communities sponsor science. Provide tax support for faith-based ''scientific'' groups such as California's Institute for Creation Research. Let local school boards decide what gets taught in the science classroom without interference from the federal courts.

Nearly half of Americans believe the Earth was created sometime in the past 10,000 years; why isn't that view taught in public school science? Almost half of Americans profess faith in astrology; why doesn't astrology get equal time with astronomy?

I'm being facetious, of course. Few things could be more reckless or dangerous to our nation's health, wealth and well-being than shattering the traditional barrier between science and faith. Yet more and more Americans urge just that, and they are an important part of the present administration's constituency.

The secularization of science is one of the glories of civilization. Read any research report in any science journal and you will not be able to guess the religion, if any, of the authors. Walk into the research labs of any of the great faith-based universities -- Boston College, say, or Brandeis University -- and the science you encounter will be indistinguishable from that of any other university of stature anywhere in the world.

The scientific community has evolved ways to arrive at consensus based on reproducible empirical evidence, not faith. The science traditionally taught in our schools is consensus science, an evolving body of knowledge that makes no claim to infallibility. It does, however, claim an unprecedented degree of reliability.

Make no mistake: A 10,000-year-old Earth has no more empirical claim on the science classroom than astrology, ESP, or a belief in alien abductions. When the companies that supply textbooks to our public schools start editing the scientific consensus so as not to offend certain faith sensitivities, we begin our descent into ignorance and superstition.

When faith becomes a criteria for deciding the public school science curriculum, you can be sure that what is being taught is not science. Faith-based science is an oxymoron.

None of this is to put down religion or deny its importance in American life. Indeed, scientifically acquired knowledge of the world can give depth and meaning to the religious experience.

Microbiologist Ursula Goodenough in her book, ''The Sacred Depths of Nature,'' reminds us that the word religion derives from the Latin religio, to bind together again. She writes: ''We have throughout the ages sought connection with higher powers in the sky or beneath the earth, or with ancestors living in some other realm. We have also sought, and found, religious fellowship with one another. And now we realize that we are connected to all creatures. Not just in food chains or ecological equilibria. We share a common ancestor. . . . We share evolutionary constraints and possibilities. We are connected all the way down.''

Religious faith is deeply ingrained in human culture, and has inspired great works of art, music, literature and architecture, as well as stupendous works of charity. It has also been a source of pogroms, crusades, jihads and intolerance: Witness faith-based confrontations in Northern Ireland, Palestine, Kashmir, Kosovo, and East Timor.

There is no such thing, however, as Protestant science, Catholic science, Islamic science, Jewish science, or Hindu science. A Moslem chemist and a Hindu chemist see eye to eye as chemists. With so much havoc wreaked in God's name, all the more reason we should preserve intact those few secular institutions that unite us in global solidarity.

Chet Raymo teaches at Stonehill College. His most recent book is The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe.''

This story ran on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 7/15/2003. © Copyright
2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

NORWEGIAN SCIENTISTS IN THE DESERT: Scientists explain the burning bushes in the Bible


Av: Hanne Dankertsen 17. jul 08:30

Norwegian researchers have found the explanation for the burning bushes in the Bible. «Scientific phenomena make no difference», according to bishop.

Last year the experts were sent to the southern parts of Sahara to look at some bushes that were reported to be setting themselves alight. Stinking smoke came from burning red holes in the ground, according to VG.

700 degrees The problems increased and the authorities in Mali considered evacuating whole villages in the area.

Physician Dag Kristian Dysthe and three geologies, all Norwegian, expected to find lava underneath the smoking soil. Instead they found a burning layer of turf and the explanation for one of the mystery of the burning bushes in the Bible; the self-alighting bushes.

«We measured 700 degrees celsius (1292 Fahrenheit) in some of the holes. It was actually a little scary seeing the burning bushes in the desert, almost like in the Bible», said Dysthe.

«We discovered that a burning layer of turf under the soil caused the smoke and the heat that set the bushes on fire», Dysthe added.

The extraordinary findings were described in the science magazines Nature and Science.

Dag Kristian Dysthe and geologist Henrik Svensen are convinced that the phenomenon may have taken place in biblical time. According to the Bible, God spoke to Moses in the form of a burning bush.

«This is not a one-off, this phenomenon has not happened only once», said the experts.

Bishop not impressed Bishop Knut Andresen in Trondheim, however, is not impressed by the scientists' explanation.

«The stories in the bible are symbolic and are meant to bring a message to the reader. Scientific phenomena make no difference in this connection», said the bishop.

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