NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 August 2003

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Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Science In the News

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

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In the News

Today's Headlines - August 4, 2003

from The Washington Post

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, Tenn. -- Gaze out at a suburban lawn at dusk, and the fireflies you see will light up haphazardly: As soon as you see a flash out of one corner of your eye, it disappears and another one appears somewhere else.

Like most of the estimated 2,000 species of fireflies around the world, they don't flash in unison. But a handful of firefly species do, including Photinus carolinus, which lives here near an abandoned cluster of cabins called Elkmont and in a number of other locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Now, only a decade after scientists first took note of them, these unusual insects have become the most popular symbol of an emerging field called "synchrony," or, more commonly, "sync."

from The New York Times

After a period of neglect, the intellectual legacy of Seymour Cray, the father of the modern supercomputer, is being revived.

The scientists in government, industry and academia who are engaged in the race to build the world's fastest computing machines are now turning their attention once again to Mr. Cray's elegant approach to building ultra-fast computers.

When Mr. Cray died after a car accident in 1996, the one-of-a-kind machines that embodied his computing philosophy had gone out of fashion, largely replaced by designs based on thousands of connected microprocessors that are inexpensive and mass produced.

from The Chicago Tribune

When Dr. John Snow removed the pump handle from a town well in London in 1848, he wanted to prove two things: Water from the contaminated well was spreading cholera, and forcing people to drink clean water would stop the deadly epidemic.

He was right on both counts.

Today medical scientists stumped by more modern epidemics--including asthma, autism, retardation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, childhood cancer, depression and schizophrenia--are turning again to Snow's tactics.

Why much of what Jonathan Wells writes about evolution is wrong

by Alan D. Gishlick

Evolution is the unifying paradigm, the organizing principle of biology. Paradigms are accepted for their overall explanatory power, their "best fit" with all the available data in their fields. A paradigm functions as the glue that holds an entire field together, connecting disparate subfields and relating them to one another. A paradigm is also important because it fosters a research program creating a series of questions that give researchers new directions to explore in order to better understand the phenomena being studied. For example, the unifying paradigm of geology is plate tectonics; although not all geologists work on it, it connects the entire field and organizes the various disciplines of geology, providing them with their research programs. A paradigm does not stand or fall on a single piece of evidence; rather, it is justified by its success in overall explanatory power and the fostering of research questions. A paradigm is important for the questions it leads to, rather than the answers it gives. Therefore, the health of a scientific field is based on how well its central theory explains all the available data and how many new research directions it is spawning. By these criteria, evolution is a very healthy paradigm for the field of biology.

In his book Icons of Evolution (2000), Jonathan Wells attempts to overthrow the paradigm of evolution by attacking how we teach it. In this book, Wells identifies ten examples that are commonly used to help to teach evolution. Wells calls these the "icons," and brands them as false, out of date, and misleading. Wells then evaluates ten "widely used" high school and college biology textbooks for seven of these "icons" with a grading scheme that he constructed. Based on this, he claims that their treatments of these icons are so rife with inaccuracies, out-of-date information, and downright falsehoods that their discussions of the icons should be discarded, supplemented, or amended with "warning labels" (which he provides).

According to Wells, the "icons" are the Miller-Urey experiment, Darwin's tree of life, the homology of the vertebrate limbs, Haeckel's embryos, Archaeopteryx, the peppered moths, and "Darwin's" finches. (Although he discusses three other "icons" -- four-winged fruit flies, horse evolution, and human evolution -- he does not evaluate textbooks' treatments of them.) Wells is right about at least one thing: these seven examples do appear in nearly all biology textbooks. Yet no textbook presents the "icons" as a list of our "best evidence" for evolution, as Wells implies. The "icons" that Wells singles out are discussed in different parts of the textbooks for different pedagogical reasons. The Miller-Urey experiment isn't considered "evidence for evolution;" it is considered part of our experimental research about the origin of life and is discussed in chapters and sections on the "history of life." Likewise, Darwin's finches are used as examples of an evolutionary process (natural selection), not as evidence for evolution. Archaeopteryx is frequently presented in discussions of the origin of birds, not as evidence for evolution itself. Finally, textbooks do not present a single "tree of life"; rather, they present numerous topic-specific phylogenetic trees to show how relevant organisms are related. Wells's entire discussion assumes that the evidence for evolution is a list of facts stored somewhere, rather than the predictive value of the theory in explaining the patterns of the past and present biological world.

Textbook "icons": Why do we have them?

Paradigms and all their components are not necessarily simple. To understand the depth of any scientific field fully requires many years of study. It is the goal of elementary and secondary education to give students a basic understanding of the "world as we know it," which includes teaching students the paradigms of a number of fields of science. In order to do this, teaching examples must be found. It is this need to find simple, easy-to-explain, dynamic, and visual examples to introduce a complex topic to students that has led to the common use of a few examples -- the "icons." Yet, with our knowledge of the natural world expanding at near-exponential rates, the volume of new information facing a textbook writer is daunting. The aim of a textbook is not necessarily to report the "state of the art" as much as it is to offer an introduction to the basic principles and ideas of a certain field. Therefore, it should not be surprising that introductory textbooks are frequently simplified and may be somewhat out-of-date. In Icons of Evolution, however, Wells makes an even stronger accusation. Wells says: "Students and the public are being systematically misinformed about the evidence for evolution" through biology textbooks (Wells 2000: xii). This is a serious charge; to support it demands the highest level of scholarship on the part of the author.

Does Wells display this level of scholarship? Is Wells right? Are the "icons" out-of-date and in need of removal? And more importantly, is there something wrong with the theory of evolution?

In the following sections, each textbook "icon" is reexamined in light of Wells's criticism. The textbooks covered by Wells are examined as well, along with the grading criteria (given in the appendix of Icons (Wells, 2000) and on the Discovery Institute's website) that he used to assess their accuracy. What was found is that although the textbooks could always benefit from improvement, they do not mislead, much less "systematically misinform," students about the theory of biological evolution or the evidence for it. Further, the grading criteria Wells applied are vague and at times appear to have been manipulated to give poor grades. Many of the grades given are not in agreement with the stated criteria or an accurate reading of the evaluated text. Beyond that, Icons of Evolution offers little in the way of suggestions for improvement of, or changes in, the standard biology curriculum. When Wells says that textbooks are in need of correction, he apparently means the removal of the subject of evolution entirely or the teaching of "evidence against" evolution, rather than the fixing of some minor errors in the presentation of the putative "icons." This makes Icons of Evolution useful at most for those with a certain political and religious agenda, but of little value to educators.

Statement on Evolution


The Botanical Society of America has as its members professional scientists, scholars, and educators from across the United States and Canada, and from over 50 other countries. Most of us call ourselves botanists, plant biologists, or plant scientists, and members of our profession teach and learn about botanical organisms using well established principles and practices of science.

Evolution represents one of the broadest, most inclusive theories used in pursuit of and in teaching this knowledge, but it is by no means the only theory involved. Scientific theories are used in two ways: to explain what we know, and to pursue new knowledge. Evolution explains observations of shared characteristics (the result of common ancestry and descent with modification) and adaptations (the result of natural selection acting to maximize reproductive success), as well as explaining pollen:ovule ratios, weeds, deceptive pollination strategies, differences in sexual expression, dioecy, and a myriad of other biological phenomena. Far from being merely a speculative notion, as implied when someone says, "evolution is just a theory," the core concepts of evolution are well documented and well confirmed. Natural selection has been repeatedly demonstrated in both field and laboratory, and descent with modification is so well documented that scientists are justified in saying that evolution is true.

Some people contend that creationism and its surrogate, "intelligent design," offers an alternative explanation: that organisms are well adapted and have common characteristics because they were created just so, and they exhibit the hallmarks of intelligent design. As such, creationism is an all inclusive explanation for every biological phenomenon. So why do we support and teach evolution and not creationism/"intelligent design" if both explain the same phenomena? Are botanists just dogmatic, atheistic materialists, as some critics of science imply? Hardly, although scientists are routinely portrayed by creationists as dogmatic. We are asked, "Why, in all fairness, don't we teach both explanations and let students decide?"

The fairness argument implies that creationism is a scientifically valid alternative to evolution, and that is not true. Science is not about fairness, and all explanations are not equal. So, me scientific explanations are highly speculative with little in the way of supporting evidence, and they will stand or fall based upon rigorous testing. The history of science is littered with discarded explanations, but they weren't discarded because of public opinion or general popularity; each one earned that distinction by being scientifically falsified. Scientists may jump on a "band wagon" for some new explanation, particularly if it has tremendous explanatory power, something that makes sense out of previously unexplained phenomena. But for an explanation to become a mainstream component of a theory, it must be tested and found useful in doing science.

To make progress, to learn more about botanical organisms, hypotheses, the subcomponents of theories, are tested by attempting to falsify logically derived predictions. This is why scientists use and teach evolution; evolution offers testable explanations of observed biological phenomena. Evolution continues to be of paramount usefulness, and so, based on simple pragmatism, scientists use this theory to improve our understanding of the biology of organisms. Over and over again, evolutionary theory has generated predictions that have proven to be true. Any hypothesis that doesn't prove true is discarded in favor of a new one, and so the component hypotheses of evolutionary theory change as knowledge and understanding grow. Phylogenetic hypotheses, patterns of ancestral relatedness, based on one set of data, for example, base sequences in DNA, are generated, and when the results make logical sense out of formerly disparate observations, confidence in the truth of the hypothesis increases. The theory of evolution so permeates botany that frequently it is not mentioned explicitly, but the overwhelming majority of published studies are based upon evolutionary hypotheses, each of which constitutes a test of an hypothesis. Evolution has been very successful as a scientific explanation because it has been useful in advancing our understanding of organisms and applying that knowledge to the solution of many human problems, e.g., host-pathogen interactions, origin of crop plants, herbicide resistance, disease susceptibility of crops, and invasive plants.

For example, plant biologists have long been interested in the origins of crop plants. Wheat is an ancient crop of the Middle East. Three species exist both as wild and domesticated wheats, einkorn, emmer, and breadwheat. Archeological studies have demonstrated that einkorn is the most ancient and breadwheat appeared most recently. To plant biologists this suggested that somehow einkorn gave rise to emmer, and emmer gave rise to breadwheat (an hypothesis). Further evidence was obtained from chromosome numbers that showed einkorn with 14, emmer with 28, and breadwheat with 42. Further, the chromosomes in einkorn consisted of two sets of 7 chromosomes, designated AA. Emmer had 14 chromosomes similar in shape and size, but 14 more, so they were designated AABB. Breadwheat had chromosomes similar to emmer, but 14 more, so they were designated AABBCC. To plant biologists familiar with mechanisms of speciation, these data, the chromosome numbers and sets, suggested that the emmer and breadwheat species arose via hybridization and polyploidy (an hypothesis). The Middle Eastern flora was studied to find native grasses with a chromosome number of 14, and several goatgrasses were discovered that could be the predicted parents, the sources of the BB and CC chromosomes. To test these hypotheses, plant biologists crossed einkorn and emmer wheats with goatgrasses, which produced sterile hybrids. These were treated to produce a spontaneous doubling of the chromosome number, and as predicted, the correct crosses artificially produced both the emmer and breadwheat species. No one saw the evolution of these wheat species, but logical predictions about what happened were tested by recreating likely circumstances. Grasses are wind-pollinated, so cross-pollination between wild and cultivated grasses happens all the time. Frosts and other natural events are known to cause a doubling of chromosomes. And the hypothesized sequence of speciation matches their observed appearance in the archeological record. Farmers would notice and keep new wheats, and the chromosome doubling and hybrid vigor made both emmer and breadwheat larger, more vigorous wheats. Lastly, a genetic change in breadwheat from the wild goatgrass chromosomes allowed for the chaff to be removed from the grain without heating, so glutin was not denatured, and a sourdough (yeast infected) culture of the sticky breadwheat flour would inflate (rise) from the trapped carbon dioxide.

The actual work was done by many plant biologists over many years, little by little, gathering data and testing ideas, until these evolutionary events were understood as generally described above. The hypothesized speciation events were actually recreated, an accomplishment that allows plant biologists to breed new varieties of emmer and breadwheats, and in one instance, create a new cereal grain species, Triticale, by hybridizing wheat and rye and generating a polyploid offspring.

What would the creationist paradigm have done? No telling. Perhaps nothing, because observing three wheat species specially created to feed humans would not have generated any questions that needed answering. No predictions are made, so there is no reason or direction for seeking further knowledge. This demonstrates the scientific uselessness of creationism. While creationism explains everything, it offers no understanding beyond, "that's the way it was created." No testable predictions can be derived from the creationist explanation. Creationism has not made a single contribution to agriculture, medicine, conservation, forestry, pathology, or any other applied area of biology. Creationism has yielded no classifications, no biogeographies, no underlying mechanisms, no unifying concepts with which to study organisms or life. In those few instances where predictions can be inferred from Biblical passages (e.g., groups of related organisms, migration of all animals from the resting place of the ark on Mt. Ararat to their present locations, genetic diversity derived from small founder populations, dispersal ability of organisms in direct proportion to their distance from eastern Turkey), creationism has been scientifically falsified.

Is it fair or good science education to teach about an unsuccessful, scientifically useless explanation just because it pleases people with a particular religious belief? Is it unfair to ignore scientifically useless explanations, particularly if they have played no role in the development of modern scientific concepts? Science education is about teaching valid concepts and those that led to the development of new explanations, e.g., inheritance of acquired characters.

Creationism is the modern manifestation of a long-standing conflict between science and religion in Western Civilization. Prior to science, and in all non-scientific cultures, myths were the only viable explanations for a myriad of natural phenomena, and these myths became incorporated into diverse religious beliefs. Following the rise and spread of science, where ideas are tested against nature rather than being decided by religious authority and sacred texts, many phenomena previously attributed to the supernatural (disease, genetic defects, lightening, blights and plagues, epilepsy, eclipses, comets, mental illness, etc.) became known to have natural causes and explanations. Recognizing this, the Catholic Church finally admitted, after 451 years, that Galileo was correct; the Earth was not the unmoving center of the Universe. Mental illness, birth defects, and disease are no longer considered the mark of evil or of God's displeasure or punishment. Epileptics and people intoxicated by ergot-infected rye are no longer burned at the stake as witches. As natural causes were discovered and understood, religious authorities were forced to alter long-held positions in the face of growing scientific knowledge. This does not mean science has disproven the existence of the supernatural. The methodology of science only deals with the material world.

Science as a way of knowing has been extremely successful, although people may not like all the changes science and its handmaiden, technology, have wrought. But people who oppose evolution, and seek to have creationism or intelligent design included in science curricula, seek to dismiss and change the most successful way of knowing ever discovered. They wish to substitute opinion and belief for evidence and testing. The proponents of creationism/intelligent design promote scientific ignorance in the guise of learning. As professional scientists and educators, we strongly assert that such efforts are both misguided and flawed, presenting an incorrect view of science, its understandings, and its processes.

Authored by: J. E. Armstrong and J. Jernstedt, officers of the BSA.
Approved by the BSA Council: July 27, 2003

Ten Commandment challenges spread

from the August 04, 2003 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0804/p01s01-uspo.html

Disputes have arisen in 14 states. Many rulings go against the displays.

By Warren Richey | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Some 3,300 years after Moses descended from Mount Sinai, a debate over the Ten Commandments is raging in towns and cities across America.

From Cambridge, Mass., to Montgomery, Ala., to Everett, Wash., state and local officials are scrambling to defend the placement of the Ten Commandments in government buildings or on public land.

In some cases, monuments and plaques depicting the Ten Commandments have been on display for decades. But now their placement on government property is increasingly being challenged by groups who say such displays violate the US Constitution's mandated separation between church and state. "The rulings are now mostly against the Ten Commandments. The tide has turned," says Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis.

The disputes are part of a larger national debate over how much entanglement of religion and government the Constitution permits, including questions about the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"This is a culture war," says Edward White, a lawyer with the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. "You have certain groups who are trying to secularize this country and stamp out every image of our Judeo-Christian heritage. The fight is being fought everywhere."

The most closely watched dispute is unfolding in Alabama, where the state's chief justice, Roy Moore, installed a 2-1/2-ton stone monument of the Decalogue in the rotunda of the justice building two years ago. A federal judge and a federal appeals-court panel have both ruled that the display amounts to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government.

Chief Justice Moore has been ordered to remove the display within the next two weeks. Moore's supporters are warning that they are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to prevent the removal.

Although it has received the lion's share of press coverage, the Montgomery dispute is just one of numerous Ten Commandments cases. Similar disputes are under way in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Many receive only local press coverage.

Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council says the legal skirmishes are taking a toll on the nation. "The Ten Commandments are of paramount moral importance to our culture and our government. They are the rudimentary expression of right and wrong," he says. "Every time a court rules against the display of the Commandments, there is an erosion of respect for the principles espoused in the Commandments."

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has a different view. "Religious and moral codes should be promoted by religious organizations, not by government," he says. "Just as you wouldn't want to see a giant cross on the Capitol building, you shouldn't create the impression that the government favors certain beliefs over others."

It remains unclear whether the US Supreme Court will enter the fray. Moore of Alabama says he will appeal his case to the nation's highest court. But the justices have declined three times during the past three terms to take up a Ten Commandments case.

Last April, the justices let stand a decision barring the display of the Ten Commandments outside Kentucky's State Capitol. A year earlier, the justices refused to take up an appeal involving a similar display ordered removed from Indiana's State House lawn.

In 2001, the justices declined to consider whether a Ten Commandments monument outside the municipal building in Elkhart, Ind., was unconstitutional. It had been on display in that location since 1958.

In an unusual move, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, issued a written dissent to the court's decision not to consider the Elkhart case. "The city is not bound to display only symbols that are wholly secular, or to convey solely secular messages," the chief justice wrote. "The fact that the monument conveys some religious meaning does not cast doubt on the city's valid secular purposes for its display."

Chief Justice Rehnquist said the Ten Commandments display "is part of the city's celebration of its cultural and historical roots, not a promotion of religious faith."

Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed. In a statement supporting the court's action in refusing to hear the case, he said the first two lines of the monument are presented in larger type and include the statement: "I am the Lord thy God."

"The graphic emphasis placed on those first lines is rather hard to square with the proposition that the monument expresses no particular religious preference," he wrote.

Although the general trend among judges has been to rule against Ten Commandments displays, not all judges are striking them down. A federal appeals court in Philadelphia in late June upheld a Ten Commandments display on a 1920 bronze plaque at the Chester County Courthouse in Pennsylvania.

"The age and history of the plaque provide a context which changes the effect of an otherwise religious plaque," the panel ruled.

Last Monday, a federal judge in Pittsburgh adopted the same reasoning, ruling that a Ten Commandments plaque - installed in 1918 - could remain on display at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

In contrast, in mid-July a federal judge in La Crosse, Wis., ordered the city to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a city park because, she said, it made some community members "feel they were not welcome, that they did not belong in La Crosse unless they followed Judeo-Christian traditions." The monument had been there since 1965.

"The First Amendment guarantees persons of all faiths that the government will treat them with equal concern and respect," wrote US District Judge Barbara Crabb.

Many of the battles over the Ten Commandments never make it to court. The City of Milwaukee, Rehnquist's hometown, agreed to remove a Ten Commandments monument from public property after the Supreme Court declined to take up the Elkhart case.

Two weeks ago, local officials voted 8 to 0 to remove a Ten Commandments monument from outside the Wyandotte County Courthouse in Kansas. It is slated to move across the street to the grounds of a church.

www.csmonitor.com | Copyright © 2003 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.
For permission to reprint/republish this article, please email copyright@csps.com

Voodoo's spell over Haiti


By Nick Caistor
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The drumming and chanting goes on hour after hour. A goat and a small black pig have their throats cut, and the blood is sprinkled over the worshippers.

The animals are thrown into a pool of brown, bubbling mud.

Many of the blue and red-robed believers jump into the pond as well.

This is the climax of the voodoo ceremony at the Plaine du Nord, some 300 kilometres north of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

Thousands of Haitian voodoo believers make the trek to the Plaine du Nord each year - some of them from as far afield as the United States and Canada.

"I come here because I have lots of problems," says Mironne, from nearby Cap Haitien. "The saints will help me, and it brings me and all my friends together."

This voodoo ceremony is in honour of Ogou, the spirit of fertility and the earth: but also of the Catholic saint of Saint James, the warrior saint, and is held every year towards the end of July.

Throughout the month of July there are voodoo ceremonies and pilgrimages all over Haiti.

But this year for the first time, voodoo has been recognised as an official religion in Haiti, where it has been practised for almost 300 years.

"We have our own temples," Nene, a voodoo priest or houngan tells me. "We believe in God, and we baptise people, we have religious ceremonies, so of course we are a church."

This recognition of voodoo, which combines a belief in a single god with the worship of ancestral spirits that enter the body of its believers in ceremonies like the one at Plaine du Nord, does not please everyone.

"The Bible tells us we are made in the image of God," says the Catholic priest Adonais Jean-Juste. "But these people who bathe in mud are behaving like pigs - they're the animals who like to roll in mud. These voodoo believers need to be made clean by being baptised in Christ."

Others are more understanding.

"People who are possessed by voodoo spirits feel two things," says John Hoet, a Belgian priest who has spent all his adult life working in rural Haiti.

"Often for the first time in their lives they feel they are important. They speak with a voice of authority, the voice of Ogou, and people listen to them."

"They also feel part of a community, and protected in a way they are not protected by anyone else in their lives."

After the ceremony at the Plaine du Nord, the believers move on at dawn to bathe in the sea at nearby Limonade, with their faith renewed.

Despite the suspicions of other religions, and despite its reputation for black magic, voodoo is ever more deeply rooted in this Caribbean country of some eight million people.

As the Catholic missionary John Hoet admits: 'Haitians may be 95% Catholic, but they are 100% voodoo."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/08/04 10:34:07 GMT


Monday, August 04, 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 - August 1, 2003

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, July 31 — Officials from more than 30 countries agreed today to expand monitoring of the atmosphere, the oceans and the land and to create a system for sharing the resulting data.

At a meeting here organized by the Bush administration, the officials said the goal of the 10-year effort was to fill in big gaps, primarily in developing countries, in the network of instruments recording earth's vital signs. The resulting benefits, like better crop and weather forecasts, are to be shared by rich and poor countries alike.

Such a system was made possible by the explosion of the Internet and advances in monitoring technology, participants said, and it was necessitated by climate shifts and stresses on agriculture, water supplies and ecosystems.

from The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - Supporters of the Hubble Space Telescope asked NASA yesterday to extend its life for three years beyond the shutdown date of 2010 - at a cost of at least $150 million a year.

Steven V.W. Beckwith, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at the Johns Hopkins University, which operates the instrument, told a National Aeronautics and Space Administration panel the money will ensure that Hubble continues to capture pictures that help scientists unravel mysteries about the origin and nature of the universe.

"It's up there, it works well and it's pretty easy to service it," Beckwith told a group of astronomers and planetary scientists appointed to look into Hubble's future.

But there was far from unanimous agreement on extending Hubble's life.

from Newsday

WASHINGTON -- Changes in the lower parts of the stratosphere may influence the weather below, and studying that region could improve extended-range forecasting, according to a new atmospheric analysis.

Periodic changes in the northern air pressure and winds -- called the Arctic Oscillation -- seem to nudge the weather, particularly in the hard-to-forecast winter season, said Mark Baldwin of Northwest Research Associates in Bellevue, Wash.

Because these high-level changes occur over a week or two, watching them might allow forecasters to improve their predictions for the weather 10 days or more ahead.

from The Washington Post

A fierce debate about whether jealousy, lust and sexual attraction are hardwired in the brain or are the products of culture and upbringing has recently been ignited by the growing influence of a school of psychology that sees the hidden hand of evolution in everyday life.

Fresh sparks flew last month when a study of more than 16,000 people from every inhabited continent found that men everywhere -- whether single, married or gay -- want more sexual partners than women do.

"This study provides the largest and most comprehensive test yet conducted on whether the sexes differ in the desire for sexual variety," wrote lead researcher David P. Schmitt, an evolutionary psychologist at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. "The results are strong and conclusive -- the sexes differ, and these differences appear to be universal."

from St. Louis Post-Dispatch

New research by neuroscientists at Washington University suggests that anti-depressant drugs may have additional benefits beyond helping patients feel better now.

In a study published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Yvette I. Sheline and her colleagues found that women who had taken drugs to fight depression had less shrinkage in a region of the brain known as the hippocampus than women whose depression was left untreated. The hippocampus is a part of the brain involved in learning and memory.

People with smaller hippocampus volumes tend to perform poorly on verbal memory tests, Sheline said. And depression has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Anti-depressant drugs may help stave off those complications by keeping the hippocampus pumped up.

from The Washington Post

John F. Eisenberg, 68, a ranking expert in the evolution of mammal behavior who, as the National Zoo's first resident scientist, helped make science and conservation biology a component of animal management at zoos internationally, died of cancer July 6 at his home in Bellingham, Wash.

National Zoo Director Theodore Reed hired Dr. Eisenberg in 1965 for what was then a relatively new position in the zoo world.

His studies of social behavior and communication in species such as the Madagascar tenrec, a kind of lesser hedgehog, also received backing by sponsors as diverse as the Air Force and the National Science Foundation.

Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision


Reading something they can understand, that seems to make sense, that presents itself as technically competent, non-scientists are easily gulled by fake science. --Henry H. Bauer

The less one knows about science, the more plausible Velikovsky's scenario appears.... --Leroy Ellenberger
In 1950, Macmillan Company published Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision, a book which asserts, among many other things, that the planet Venus did not exist until recently. Some 3500 years ago in the guise of a gigantic comet, it grazed Earth a couple of times, after having been ejected from the planet Jupiter some indefinite time earlier, before settling into its current orbit. Velikovsky (1895-1979), a psychiatrist by training, does not base his claims on astronomical evidence and scientific inference or argument. Instead, he argues on the basis of ancient cosmological myths from places as disparate as India and China, Greece and Rome, Assyria and Sumer. For example, ancient Greek mythology asserts that the goddess Athena sprang from the head of Zeus. Velikovsky identifies Athena with the planet Venus, though the Greeks didn't. The Greek counterpart of the Roman Venus was Aphrodite. Velikovsky identifies Zeus (whose Roman counterpart was the god Jupiter) with the planet Jupiter. This myth, along with others from ancient Egypt, Israel, Mexico, etc., are used to support the claim that "Venus was expelled as a comet and then changed to a planet after contact with a number of members of our solar system" (Velikovsky 1972,182).

Sunday, August 03, 2003



1.) See Demo of "Holding Therapy"
2.) North Carolina bans "rebirthing"

1.) See a Demo of "Holding Therapy" Online

Activists working to ban restraint as psychotherapy in Utah and elsewhere have a website (http://www.kidscomefirst.info ) that now includes a film clip demonstration of "Holding Therapy":


This film segment is from a *48 Hours/CBS* program called "Afraid of our Children" (1995). The boy client has been wrapped in a blanket -- called an "angel wrap" -- and is held down by 3-4 Utah Attachment Therapists. The female therapist digs her elbow into the boy's ribs; this is supposed to cause a release of repressed anger. While the boy writhes in pain, AT therapist Craig Ramsey explains to the reporter that the boy is really angry at his [birth] father, but is projecting it onto the therapists. While the boy pleads for the therapists to stop hurting him, AT therapist Lawrence Van Bloem (to the right of the boy) appears to insist that the boy maintain eye contact with him -- another classic feature of AT.

2.) "North Carolina Bans 'Rebirthing': Holding Therapists Escape Scrutiny"

Similar in almost all respects to "Candace's Law" passed in Colorado two years ago, North Carolina's new statute makes it unlawful for a therapist "to reenact the birthing process in a manner that includes restraint and creates a situation in which a patient may suffer physical injury or death." As in Colorado, a first offense is a misdemeanor and a second offense is a low-level felony.

(Full text of the bill can be seen at http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/html2003/bills/currentversion/ratified/senate/sbil0251.full.html).

Both bills follow on the 2000 death in Colorado of a North Carolina girl, Candace Newmaker, during a "two-week intensive" in Attachment Therapy (AT). She had been sent to Colorado on the advice of Attachment Therapists operating in North Carolina. The 10-year-old girl died from asphyxiation during a "rebirthing" session where she pleaded for her life, but her screams were disregarded by the five adults in the room, including her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, a pediatric nurse at Duke University in Durham.

Though its preamble correctly identifies "rebirthing" as a form of Attachment (Holding) Therapy, the bill actually received the active support of holding therapists in North Carolina. They recognize that no holding therapist in the state is or will be doing rebirthing anyway. Passing the bill, then, forestalls other legislative action that might outlaw what they actually do on a daily basis in North Carolina - restraining children AS therapy - putting those children at substantial risk for the same physical and emotional abuse that befell Candace in North Carolina before her death. It is expected that having passed the rebirthing bill, state legislators will not re-open the subject for effective reform in the foreseeable future.

Attachment Therapists operate in North Carolina through a child-abuse loophole in the state's anti-restraint laws which permit restraint when "necessary as a measure of therapeutic treatment." Attempts to have the bill close this loophole failed repeatedly in the legislative process as Attachment Therapists complained that they would be unable to deliver "effective" treatment of children with "Attachment Disorder" if the loophole was closed.

There is a dearth of scientific evidence that AT is effective in any way for changing the behavior of children for the better. Many professional organizations around the country, however, deem its procedures -- irrespective of rebirthing -- as abusive to the children who are forced to endure it. Its use of restraint is considered dangerous.

So for the time being, North Carolina's Attachment Therapists can continue their dangerous and abusive practices unchecked.


*AT NEWS* sends the latest news to activists and allied organizations about the many abusive, pseudoscientific, and violent practices inflicted on children by the fringe psychotherapy known as Attachment Therapy, aka "holding therapy" and "therapeutic parenting." Attachment Therapists claim to work with our nation's most vulnerable of children, e.g. minority children, children in foster care, and adoptees. AT NEWS is the publication of newly formed *Advocates for Children in Therapy.* For more information on Attachment Therapy and a film clip demonstrating AT, go to the Utah activists' site: http://www.kidscomefirst.info ]

Contact: Linda Rosa, RN
Adminstrative Director
Loveland, CO
(970) 667-7313

A Bioethicist's Take on Genesis

August 2, 2003

Before Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the serpent had already opened her eyes. Genesis tells us that she saw that the tree was "good for food," that it was "a delight to the eyes," and that it could "make one wise." She already understood, that is, three human needs: the physical, the aesthetic and the intellectual, and that the tree promised satisfaction. Reason is at work; so is imagination. What she did not yet know was what it would mean to choose to transgress.

In that choice, as Leon R. Kass shows, Genesis finds both the pathos and the possibility of human life, for the world will not accommodate itself to desire and desire will demand more than the world can ever offer. The question is where humanity will seek its consolation and its satisfactions. Properly read, Mr. Kass argues, Genesis begins that education.

This is a somewhat daring position. In our secular society Genesis, along with the rest of the biblical canon, has long been severed from the educational enterprise. Instead it has become a source book for folk tales, or a portrait of "dysfunctional families," or a politicized set of doctrines wrestled over by fundamentalists and secularists alike.

A few years ago, in a series of television discussions led by Bill Moyers, Genesis seemed little more than a postmodern novel, meaning just about anything.

But Mr. Kass - drawing on interpretations by scholars like Robert Alter, Leo Strauss, Umberto Cassuto and Robert Sacks (along with the work of numerous, generously cited students) - has something else in mind.

It would be worth attending to for its source alone: Mr. Kass has inspired controversy as chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics and has sought a temporary ban on human cloning research. Trained as a biochemist and physician, he was a founding fellow of the Hastings Center, the country's first bioethics institute.

As a professor on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago (where I studied with him), he has broadened his perspectives on medicine by an intimate acquaintance with philosophy and the Greek classics.

These perspectives are also reflected in Mr. Kass's commentary, which grew out of 20 years of teaching a seminar on Genesis. He includes fascinating asides comparing, say, Jacob's limp and Oedipus's leg injury, or ideas of vengeance in Genesis and Aeschylus. Mr. Kass's conservative position on bioethics is also related to his interpretation of biblical views about human life.

Put aside, for a moment, those controversies, for Mr. Kass's dense book is extraordinary. It soberly works through the text and demands comparable labors from its readers, piercing through two millenniums of commentary. It may not always convince and more historical background would help at times, but its analyses and hypotheses will leave no reader's understanding of Genesis unchanged.

So what sort of inquiry does Genesis pursue? Mr. Kass argues that even the creation story, which appears historical, is actually philosophical. First, it denies the eternal, divine character of heavenly bodies - one of the axioms of the Mesopotamian world. It defines creation as an intellectual process requiring conceptual distinctions and categories. During the first days, for example, objects that lack a defined and specific place (light, heavens, sea) are created. On the third day, objects that exist in a particular place but lack motion are created: plants. The following day, objects that exist in a particular place and possess motion but lack life are created: the heavenly bodies.

Man is the climax of this creative distillation: a moving, living, terrestrial creature created in God's image. But then the Eden story reveals what that means. By beginning with a prohibition, the story of the Tree of Knowledge acknowledges that man is capable of acting against a prohibition; man, like God, is capable of free choice. As in God's own creative acts, free choice makes distinctions. Every choice reflects a judgment; and every judgment is a claim of knowledge of good and bad.

The danger, Mr. Kass suggests, is the snake's promise that full knowledge can be had simply by exercise of human faculties. The snake is, he writes, "an embodiment of the separated and beguiling world of autonomous human reason," a voice of "rationalist mischief."

That primal temptation recurs. Genesis is punctuated with human attempts to be radically self-sufficient. This is what was so problematic about Babel's tower, Mr. Kass notes; residents aspired "to nothing less than self-re-creation through the arts and crafts, customs and mores of their city." Genesis is deeply suspicious of cities; it is even suspicious of civilization itself. Its heroes are not farmers (cultivators), but shepherds (guides).

But civilization cannot be avoided; after Cain and Noah and Babel even God has to acknowledge as much. So, in Mr. Kass's telling, other constraints on hubristic humanity become necessary. In this case it is a covenant, an agreement that God makes with Abraham and his descendants. A covenant binds; it also promises. For Mr. Kass this notion of a transmittable tradition, is crucial; it becomes the central preoccupation of Genesis.

The transmission of that covenant, though, is tenuous: wives don't conceive, husbands don't acknowledge wives, sons unman their fathers, fathers fail their sons; primogeniture is overturned. Mr. Kass stringently revises traditional judgments of characters, arguing, for example, that Rachel, Jacob's beautiful and favored wife, was far from admirable, and that the much-championed Joseph proved himself an unfit leader of his people.

Ultimately the covenant is so precarious that it must be supplemented by binding law. Nothing mitigates Genesis's skepticism about the nature of humanity. As a religious book Genesis is dark and troubling. Its skepticism, common to many religious traditions, also gives religion a peculiar place in modern societies. It can seem illiberal and threatening: it sees limits on humanity's abilities to perfect itself through the use of reason alone.

The tensions outlined in Genesis still have political resonance in contemporary debates between liberalism and conservatism. In Norman Podhoretz's recent book, "The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are," he argues that the prophets saw idolatry as a form of "self-deification," a delusion that humans could become as gods and remake the world in their own image - a delusion Mr. Podhoretz connects to self-reliant liberalism run amuck.

Mr. Kass sees similar dangers in the unbounded ambitions of modern "democratic man." One result, he suggests, is that the "project of Babel has been making a comeback," as science and technology threaten a "human imperium over nature." Mr. Kass has argued that unrestricted research into human cloning will transform "procreation into a form of manufacture," undermining its "dignity."

But what compels an avowed secularist to adopt Mr. Kass's views of "dignity"? Without a belief in God, what are the first principles by which human behavior can be limited? What contemporary covenant could possibly help resolve such issues?

These questions are beyond this book's scope, which leaves matters unsettled and unsettling - just the way Genesis leaves things. But Mr. Kass, with his relentless questioning and devotion, suggests that one way to find first principles is to begin by taking the idea seriously.


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

For Snopes.com, Debunking the Bambi Hoax Was All in a Day's Work


Site is a labor of love for husband-and-wife team who stayed skeptical about media reports that hunters could pay up to $10,000 for chance to shoot paintballs at naked women.

There are a lot of reporters who live by the maxim: If it sounds like it's too good to be true, it probably is. Meaning, it's not true. In the case of the "Hunting for Bambi" whopper, Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS was ready to shoot video first, ask questions later. Despite the fact that the station's LuAnne Sorrell did a four-part report on the scheme -- supposedly giving men the chance to hunt naked women with paintball guns for up to $10,000 -- it failed to do the heavy lifting needed to unmask the hoax. Instead, urban legends site Snopes.com led the way within days with a detailed explanation of why it was a hoax.

In fact, KLAS ended up crediting Snopes, though the station still sticks by claims that two hunts took place, with a paintball actually hitting someone. And that's after Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman went public to debunk the alleged hunt. "It all was staged," Goodman told the press. "They were actors and actresses, and there wasn't even the real shooting of paintballs." KLAS' latest report yesterday noted that Goodman is now calling the scam a front for an unlicensed escort service.

While the Internet has taken its share of knocks for helping scammers perpetrate e-mail and Web hoaxes (the Bambi hunt reportedly was staged to sell videos on the proprietor's Web site), not enough credit is given to the folks who are using the Internet to debunk them. Snopes.com is the work of the husband-and-wife team of David and Barbara Mikkelson, who have taken their passion for urban myths to the Web since 1995. The site is an encyclopedia of past hoaxes and myths, from classic e-mails purportedly from Bill Gates offering money for forwarding e-mail to friends, to recent reports of terrorists buying up UPS uniforms.

The Mikkelsons, who live in the Southern California suburb of Thousand Oaks, support themselves via David's full-time programming job, and use ad money from the site to pay for bandwidth and related costs. They received an inundation of traffic right after 9/11 due to a plethora of terror-related hoaxes and misinformation. They've appeared on CNN and various TV shows, but remain relatively low key and out of the spotlight, despite pop culture interest in their subject matter (there have been two "Urban Legends" movies and a TV show; none affiliated with them).

I spoke to David Mikkelson recently by phone, after elbowing my way through his e-mail pile to get his attention. The pair depend on e-mail to find out about new hoaxes from their legions of followers.

Mark Glaser: Tell me about the genesis of your site.

David Mikkelson: Originally, Barbara and I participated in various online discussion groups before the development of the Web. It wasn't convenient to post individual answers to newsgroups every time someone asked about an urban legend, which suggested a Web site repository of such articles, which prompted the creation of Snopes.com. I just started adding more and more sections to our Web site, then Barbara started pitching in and writing things as well. We quickly became the place where people mailed anything that was questionable. If they needed verification, they'd ask us.

MG: Do you have any kids?

DM: No kids. Just cats and rats. I have my hands full taking care of three cats. I don't know how anyone manages with children, too.

MG: Do you really have pet rats? Or is that a legend?

DM: [laughs] Yeah, we have pet rats.

MG: What are the myths over the years that have brought you wider attention online and in the media?

DM: The biggest one, that gave us the biggest boost to the site -- I hate to say it because it sounds like we're capitalizing on a tragedy -- was after September 11. It was the bogus Nostradamus prophecy that was going around that same day [equating a passage about "two brothers torn apart" with the Twin Towers]. Barbara had the foresight to get that up by the end of the day. The next day this thing was going crazy on the Internet and we had a page up on our site debunking it. Our site became the place to go, especially because a lot of the news sites were so swamped with traffic. It took a while before they caught on and started covering a lot of the hoaxes.

MG: That's pretty quick to get it out that fast.

DM: Well, it was a pretty easy one to debunk. Because it was a [Canadian] student who had been showing [in a Web essay] how vague prophecies can be applied to anything. Lacking that source, it would have been difficult to figure out, we would have had to go through the entire writings of Nostradamus. He had basically invented a Nostradamus prophecy that could be applied to anything. Someone had stumbled across that and didn't read the context.

MG: Have the terror-related hoaxes calmed down over the past couple years?

DM: Certainly they've tailed off because they were flooding the Internet right after September 11. But you still see them popping up, like the item about the UPS uniforms. At the end of last year, there was outrageous prices being bid for UPS uniforms on eBay -- several hundred dollars. Then eBay clamped down on sale of these items.

MG: People thought terrorists were trying to buy UPS uniforms?

DM: The rumor du jour was that terrorists were going around buying UPS uniforms and trying to impersonate them and hide bombs and things like that.

MG: When did you first hear about the "Hunting for Bambi" story?

DM: It was within a day or two after the woman from KLAS in Las Vegas did her report and it went on their Web site. We got enough inquiries that we had to write something about it. I heard that Fark.com picked it up but didn't see it there. We do get a lot of inquiries from people saying they saw something at Fark.com, asking, "Is this true?"

MG: So what made you think "Hunting for Bambi" was a hoax?

DM: Part of it is that we start off with the thought that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Our approach is going to be that something outrageous is going to be a hoax. But that's unfortunately not what a lot of people in the media do. They say, "This is real, and we'll see if there's proof it isn't."

MG: So you start off with the assumption that everything's a hoax until proven real?

DM: In a general sense. I can't say that applies to everything. We start out by saying, is there anything that proves this to be true. Absolutely the worst approach you can take -- and unfortunately the approach that most people in the media take -- is simply to contact the hoaxer and ask, "Are you on the level?" No one will put the time and effort into perpetrating a hoax simply to say, "Oh, you got me." Simply by approaching him, you've both alerted him that you're on his trail, and you quite possibly have given him clues as to what people might be looking for to verify that it's phony and will give him ideas on how to improve the hoax.

Our approach is, we're completely coming from the other end. In this case, we say is there anything that demonstrates that it's real. The first thing you notice is that it's rather improbable that naked women wearing no protection whatsoever, not even helmets or goggles, will run around in front of guys with unmodified paintball guns with nothing more than a vague promise they won't shoot above the waist. This is a disaster waiting to happen. I mean, heaven forbid, one of these girls could get hit in the head, blinded or killed or injured. No waiver or no agreement would protect the hunters from criminal prosecution.

Also, just like the ManBeef Web site that was claiming to be selling human meat, if somebody is claiming to be operating a business, you approach them as a customer and see what happens. You generally find that you can't order what they're claiming to be selling. You look at the "Hunting for Bambi" site and there's no contact information whatsoever, no address, no phone number. Kind of unusual for people who are trying to sell something that costs $10,000... If they're selling something, they're not doing a good job.

The KLAS reporter went back to the ISP and saw a list of orders that were being submitted to the site, but that doesn't demonstrate anything because you don't know who's putting in those orders. Somebody working for "Hunting for Bambi" could have typed in 20 different addresses. Just because people are submitting orders through the Web site doesn't mean that they've been accepted or processed. If I put up a site advertising live unicorns for sale, I'm sure at least a few people would try to order them if I put an order form up.

If you can't order what they're claiming, then they're probably not really selling anything. If they do accept payment then they're setting themselves up for fraud charges if they don't deliver it.

MG: Because the media was bringing things to his attention, it made it easier for him to cover his tracks?

DM: Exactly. There were quite a few things we thought of, simple investigative tasks that one might take on. We didn't have the power to do them, we're just two people here. I didn't put them up on the site because I had no power to investigate them, and didn't want to put a blueprint for how to get it past people.

MG: You've done this site since the time when the Web first became popular. Are you noticing that journalists are becoming a little more skeptical about things online?

DM: Yes and no. It goes both ways. People will blindly believe what they read in the newspaper or hear on Paul Harvey, who then blindly believe a Web site without checking anything. They go from one extreme to another. We have a section on our site called Lost Legends. We just made up the most outrageous things we could think of, made them out to being true, then put them out there to see if people would suspend their common sense.

The most popular one is that we say that Mr. Ed was not a horse [but was a zebra]. We made up that the song "Sing a Song of Sixpence" was actually a song pirates used to recruit each other in the days of Blackbeard. It turns up on the "Urban Legends" show broadcast on a cable channel that it was true. They read it and thought that it was true.

Unfortunately some people have also had an unrelenting skepticism and simply disclaim everything. You see that a lot with photos on the Web. People say about everything, "Is this real?" It is now impossible to post a photograph without some self-proclaimed Photoshop expert saying it's fake. You could take it yourself and not touch it, and some people will tell you they're sure it's fake. Some people have a hypersensitivity to hoaxes. This is another phenomenon after September 11.

MG: Have you noticed more or less hoaxes over the years?

DM: It's pretty much the same. Really widespread Internet-based hoaxes are fairly uncommon. Most of them are just, "I'm going to put up this gag and see if anyone falls for it." Having someone go through the time and effort to do a really thought-out hoax is pretty rare, maybe happening once or twice a year. Like the ManBeef site. They also appeared on talk radio shows, and when journalists contacted them, they left voice-mail messages.

MG: What about the role of the Internet in hoaxes?

DM: I think in general, nothing's changed but the technology. There's a lot on the Internet that you can't trust. But frankly, there's a lot on your bookshelf and the library shelves that you can't trust either. There are books on UFOs and alien encounters that require some examination. There's never been a medium that you could inherently trust. You still have to look at who's telling you this and why are they telling you this. Is there anything else they should be telling you? That concept hasn't changed. The Internet has made it easier to debunk hoaxes while at the same time making it easier to perpetrate them. Nothing's really changed but the technology.

Saturday, August 02, 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.


Today's Headlines – July 31, 2003

from Newsday

Leapin' better than lizards, jumpin' beyond Jehoshaphat, and more than hopping mad, the lowly spittlebug now ranks as nature's best jumper, a scientist in England said yesterday.

In fact, if you've got to get up and go, the spittlebug is the best example of how it's done. The reason, of course, is that spittlebugs must get the jump on hungry predators; either jump or be eaten.

According to zoologist Malcolm Burrows, scientists have overlooked the jumping prowess of this amazing little bug.

from The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON – Like restaurateurs watching food-laden plates move from the kitchen to customers, scientists with the US Geological Survey have been watching - and measuring - nitrogen and phosphates pouring down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers into the Gulf of Mexico.

While algae in the Gulf have been munching on these nutrients, a team of scientists has fed their measurements into computers and announced last Friday the first annual forecast for the Gulf's "dead zone" - a vast region of ocean deprived of dissolved oxygen as the area's algae population explodes, dies, and then decays.

For top federal officials here, the effort is a small-scale example of what they hope will grow into a coordinated, long-term international effort to monitor the environment planet-wide.

Thursday, ministers from 34 nations and several nongovernmental organizations are meeting at the State Department to lay the political foundation for pulling together disparate systems of sensors - from "floats" gathering data deep below the sea surface to satellites in Earth's orbit. The idea is to create a more tightly linked set of tools for tracking and forecasting environmental changes that can affect fisheries, agriculture, water resources, and climate.

from The New York Times

IN the summer of 1999, at a workshop on statistical machine translation at Johns Hopkins University, Kevin Knight passed out a copy of an advertisement to each member of the research team he was leading. In the center of the ad was a picture of a yellowed, frayed parchment covered in Japanese characters. "To most people, this looks like a secret code," the ad announced. "Codes are meant to be broken."

The ad was for a product yet to be created called the Decoder. "Pour in a new bunch of text," said the ad's text, alongside a picture of a software box. "We think you'll be surprised."

The Decoder was meant to be a motivational tool. At the time, the field of statistical machine translation was all but dead. In the four years that have passed since that workshop, Dr. Knight, the head of machine translation research at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, is amazed by just how prophetic the ad has proved. "Here we are," he said. "It's no joke anymore."

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MIOS MEETING Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Don R. Patton, Ph.D. (????)
Will Present

More Creation Evidence From Mexico

Mexico has proved to be a fruitful field of research for documenting the co-existence of humans and dinosaurs.

Dr. Patton, together with Dr. Dennis Swift, has just returned from a research expedition in Mexico. In spite of determined cover-ups and overt opposition from the establishment, significant discoveries were made.

We encourage you to hear the intriguing story of discovery and consider the earthshaking implications.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, August 5th, 7:30 PM

Friday, August 01, 2003

The Heretic


Controversial televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn came to Texas in 1999, abandoning his congregation in Florida to build a World Health Center in Irving. But Hinn—whose lifestyle more closely resembles Michael Jackson's than Jerry Falwell's—recently got word from on high to delay his plans for the theme park/New Age miracle spa. Thank God.

by John Bloom (AKA Joe Bob Briggs)

IF YOU DRIVE WEST FROM THE CITY, through the neo-modern lunarscape of Las Colinas, past the airport on our denuded prairie, into the warren of faceless office buildings that make up cosmopolitan Grapevine, you'll never find Benny Hinn.

He wants it that way. The nerve center of his worldwide organization is tucked away in a group of cheap, white, nondescript buildings that look like the kind of domiciles favored by mafia fronts on the wharves of New Jersey. Inside, several dozen employees process an estimated $100 million per year in donations from people who believe in Hinn as a sort of Elmer Gantry for the 21st century. (Obviously they didn't read the novel.)

Bill would require teaching creationism


Published 8/1/2003
Co-sponsors say balance needed in state science classes

Associated Press

HOLLAND - A state House bill would require middle and high school students who study evolution also be taught creationism, the belief God designed life on Earth.

Republican State Reps. Bill Van Regenmorter of Georgetown Township and Barb Vander Veen of Allendale are co-sponsors of the bill. The legislation introduced this month says that science teachers should tell their students that evolution and natural selection are "unproven theories."

Teachers would have to "explain the competing theories of evolution and natural selection based on random mutation and the theory that life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a Creator."

Van Regenmorter said that while he believes intelligent design to be fact, that is not why he is a co-sponsor on the bill.

"This provides balance. The way this bill is set up is if teachers are teaching evolution as a viable theory, then they also should teach intelligent design as a viable theory," the Ottawa County lawmaker said.

Kevin Padian, president of the National Center for Science Education and a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said this type of legislation is religious in purpose and unsupported by science.

There is no established evidence for the intelligent design theory, and it should not be taught as science in schools, Padian said.

Intelligent design supporters "are trying to short circuit the process. They want to go straight to the schools," Padian said.

"This is smoke and mirrors. They have the right ideals but the wrong process.

"Intelligent design is not a scientific concept."

The bill has been referred to the House Education Committee and is awaiting action there.

"There are scientific facts on both sides, and I think both sides need to be presented," Vander Veen said. "Our students are very intelligent, and they can make up their own minds."

The bill's co-sponsor said she does not back it out of a wish to promote a specific religion in schools.

"I have been accused of being a religious bigot, but I am not saying that we have to tell a child one way or another," she said. "What I am saying is that we have to teach both sides of the scientific facts, because if we don't, then it's censorship."

The state Board of Education in 1995 considered and then rejected a proposal to include the Bible's story of creation with discussions of evolution in Michigan science classes.

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King of the Paranormal

What's up with the Larry King Show's outrageous promotion of UFOs, psychics, and spiritualists?

Chris Mooney; July 31, 2003


Broadcast on CNN, the July 1, 2003 installment of "Larry King Live" was a sight to behold. The program, in King's words, explored "the incredible events of 56 years ago at Roswell, New Mexico." What most likely crashed at Roswell in 1947 was a government spy balloon, but the panel of guests assembled on King's show preferred a more lurid version of events. Jesse Marcel, Jr., son of a Roswell intelligence officer, claimed that just after the crash, his father showed him bits of debris that "came from another civilization." Glenn Dennis, who worked at a Roswell funeral home at the time, said a military officer called him to ask about the availability of small caskets (i.e., for dead aliens). Later Denis, obviously a UFO enthusiast, observed out of nowhere that the pyramids in Egypt had recently been "[shut down] for three or four days and no tourists going out there on account of the sightings."

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King of the Paranormal

What's up with the Larry King Show's outrageous promotion of UFOs, psychics, and spiritualists?

Chris Mooney; July 31, 2003

Broadcast on CNN, the July 1, 2003 installment of "Larry King Live" was a sight to behold. The program, in King's words, explored "the incredible events of 56 years ago at Roswell, New Mexico." What most likely crashed at Roswell in 1947 was a government spy balloon, but the panel of guests assembled on King's show preferred a more lurid version of events. Jesse Marcel, Jr., son of a Roswell intelligence officer, claimed that just after the crash, his father showed him bits of debris that "came from another civilization." Glenn Dennis, who worked at a Roswell funeral home at the time, said a military officer called him to ask about the availability of small caskets (i.e., for dead aliens). Later Denis, obviously a UFO enthusiast, observed out of nowhere that the pyramids in Egypt had recently been "[shut down] for three or four days and no tourists going out there on account of the sightings."

King's program didn't merely advance the notion that an alien spacecraft crashed at Roswell in 1947. It also hawked the DVD version of a recent Sci-Fi Channel documentary, "The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence," clips of which appeared throughout the hour. A breathy and sensationalizing take on the events of 1947, "The Roswell Crash" first appeared as a tie-in for Sci-Fi's fictional miniseries Taken, a Steven Spielberg production tracing the impact of UFO abductions on three generations of American families. Other Taken tie-ins that thoroughly blur the line between fact and fiction include a documentary titled Abduction Diaries, a Roper Poll finding that Americans are ready for the discovery of extraterrestrial life, and even the launching of the Coalition for Freedom of Information, an advocacy group devoted to unearthing classified government documents about aliens. Sure enough, King's July 1 guests included two people with Sci-Fi ties: Leslie Kean, a left-wing journalist turned UFO investigator who works with the Coalition for Freedom of Information, and Dr. William Doleman, a University of New Mexico archaeologist contracted by Sci-Fi to excavate the Roswell crash site. Doleman admitted to King that his dig had not yet yielded any definitive evidence, but added that the "results" of his analysis will be aired on Sci-Fi in October--as opposed to, say, being published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Sci-Fi is an entertainment network, and can arguably air whatever it wants, including pseudo-documentaries hyping the Roswell myth. But Larry King is different. King regularly interviews senators, former presidents, and heads of state. One would expect him to hew to basic standards of journalistic rigor and balance. On July 1, however, King presided over a thoroughly biased discussion of the Roswell question that eschewed historical accuracy and gave a big boost to Sci-Fi's paranormalist marketing strategies. One Roswell expert, New Mexico physicist and mathematician Dave Thomas, observed to me by e-mail that King's program failed entirely to explain why Project Mogul, a secret government program to develop spy balloons, counts as such a strong candidate for the source of the Roswell incident.

Does CNN, the "most trusted name in news," take responsibility for the factual content and balance of "Larry King Live"? This article--a double-length installment of my monthly "Doubt and About" column--attempts to answer that question. After all, King's July 1 Roswell program was no aberration. King has hosted uncritical shows about UFOs in the past. Not only that: He probably devotes more air time to spiritualist mediums like John Edward, Sylvia Brown, and Rosemary Altea than to America's UFO obsessives. No other serious cable news anchor treats the paranormal in the consistently promotional way that Larry King does, which more resembles the approach of a Montel Williams or Jerry Springer than that of a trusted journalist.

In researching this article, I interviewed four leading skeptics who have appeared on "Larry King Live," seeking their perceptions of why the program consistently promotes the paranormal, sometimes without airing any critical perspective at all. I also attempted to contact King or his producers to seek a response to the skeptics' criticisms. My request, however, went unmet. As a result, I have been left with no choice but to privilege the skeptical perspective, which views "Larry King Live" as a depressing example of the way that marketing values and the demand for viewers can trump journalistic responsibility. This process leads otherwise trustworthy media outlets to inflate the reputations of psychics and promoters of the paranormal because they draw in hordes of credulous viewers. CNN may be a respected news network, but in its irresponsible presentation of paranormal topics and themes, "Larry King Live" belies and compromises that reputation.

On CNN's website, Larry King's impressive personal page presents the sixty-nine year old anchor as a true lion of journalism. King, the page notes, hosted the famous 1993 debate between Ross Perot and Al Gore over the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, which broke CNN records by drawing in some 16 million viewers. King also conducted "award-winning jailhouse interviews" with Karla Faye Tucker and Mike Tyson, and has won journalism accolades ranging from the Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism to the George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. Indeed, over the years King has conducted interviews with pretty much anybody who's anybody, celebrities and politicians alike. Some top tier interviewees include Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin, and Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher.

You might be surprised to hear that someone so decorated could be guilty of repeatedly treating a certain topic--the paranormal--in a fashion that betrays virtually all journalistic standards. If you cast a glance back at King's various shows over the years, however, you will find titles like "Is the End of the World at Hand?", "Paranormal Warfare - A Secret Military Power?, "Is Exorcism Real?", and "Are Some Persons Programmed for UFO Contact?" interspersed with more serious programs. Sometimes these shows have included interviews with a skeptical figure. But King frequently devotes entire programs to paranormal topics with nary a skeptic to be seen, as was the case with the July 1 Roswell program. In fact, a study by Matthew Nisbet found that even in one case where King included skeptics on his program, these doubters were granted dramatically fewer total seconds of speaking time than the paranormalists.

Possibly the most troublesome aspect of King's promotion of the paranormal involves spiritualism, the contacting-the-dead movement that began in the 19th century with the "rappings" of the Fox Sisters and evolved into the televised psychic mediumship seen today on programs like Crossing Over with John Edward (a Sci-Fi production that originated after the channel's president saw Edward on "Larry King Live"). Prior to his July 1 Roswell program, King's most recent foray into the paranormal was a May 16 interview with popular psychic Sylvia Browne, whose website attests that she is "truly on a mission from God," and who frequently dispenses explicit health advice despite her lack of medical qualifications. An excerpt from the show transcript demonstrates just how low these programs can go, and how willingly King plays along:

KING: Do you believe in angels?
KING: What are they?
BROWNE: They're actually the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that was made by God to protect us. I mean, they're not...
KING: Bad people have angels?
BROWNE: You know, bad people, I've never seen bad people have angels. That's interesting you should ask that, because I've never seen angels around bad people.
KING: Do they look like the drawings of angels?
KING: They do?
BROWNE: And I didn't think they had wings. I thought that was just some stupid...
KING: Sylvia, Sylvia, come on. You see people with wings?
BROWNE: Yes. I used to tell people they didn't have wings, Larry. And then I saw one with wings, and then I had to go back up on stage and say, I'm sorry, I lied. They have wings.
KING: Why do you see them and I don't?
BROWNE: I don't know. You probably could see them if you wanted to. You have four of them around you.
KING: To what, to protect?
BROWNE: To protect.
KING: We have four them around us?
BROWNE: You have four.
KING: I have four.
BROWNE: You have four. Some people have two.
KING: I'm a good guy?
BROWNE: Well, that's it.
KING: I've got connections, right?
BROWNE: You've got connections.

Browne appeared alone for the entire hour. Throughout much of the show, King allowed her to take phone calls and attempt to contact listeners' dead loved ones--a process greatly facilitated by a palpable will to believe on the part of these desperate, bereaved callers. A Nexis search shows that King has invited Browne on his show on several other occasions during the last few years. In fact, Browne has repeatedly promised, on the air, to allow magician James Randi to test her psychic abilities in a rigorously controlled setting, but she has not yet submitted to the test. On his website Randi maintains a "Sylvia Browne Clock" that keeps track of how many days it has been since Browne accepted his challenge. King, however, has shown little interest in learning whether Browne can actually do what she claims.

And if King's promotion of Browne rankles, it's just the beginning. Another psychic superstar of King's program is John Edward, who has appeared repeatedly, both alone and with other guests (including occasional skeptics). As CSICOP paranormal investigator Joe Nickell and others have documented, the techniques used by Edward to convince "Larry King Live" callers that he can contact the deceased turn out to be quite mundane. Using a process called "cold reading," Edwards essentially goes fishing for information. Talking quickly, he throws out common causes of death and other vague data, and then waits for callers to take the bait and suggest he's on to something. Edward also asks questions, makes educated guesses, and feeds off reactions for more information. His statements are often wrong, and when they're right it's only in a vague way. But the willingness of callers to seize upon Edward's "hits" and ignore his "misses" makes these antics seem believable.

King's uncritical presentation of spiritualists like Browne and Edward, as well as James Van Praagh and Rosemary Altea, reached such a pitch in 1999 that two leading skeptics, CSICOP's Paul Kurtz and Joe Nickell, sent a complaint letter to King and one of his producers. "We must protest," wrote Kurtz and Nickell, "your repeated promotion of 'spiritualism'...without providing a contrary view," continuing:

One must wonder if people would really want the touted "communications" from their deceased loved ones if they knew the facts about spiritualism's history of fraud and deception, or even that the techniques used by mediums on your several shows are well known and easily discredited.

If spirit communications are not genuine, we are often asked, nevertheless what harm is there in the solace provided by the pretense? The answer is that falsehoods have consequences. Magician Harry Houdini catalogued many of them--"the suffering, losses, misfortunes, crimes and atrocities"--of spiritualistic deception. We have personally witnessed the consequences to people's self-respect when they realized their most sacred beliefs had been manipulated and trivialized.

Kurtz and Nickell concluded by noting that while "we do not advocate censorship, we do invite fair-minded journalism."

According to Kurtz, the letter resulted in a telephone "shouting match" between Kurtz and King's producers, who defended their presentations on the grounds that, in Kurtz's words, "everybody knows it's entertainment." Kurtz disagreed, explaining to me that since Larry King has a reputation as one of TV journalism's leading figures, even his treatments of the paranormal will inevitably be taken as "authoritative and newsworthy." Indeed, it's almost as if the sheen from King's interviews with senators and former presidents rubs off on the UFO-promoters, psychics, and quacks.

So what's going on at "Larry King Live"? Why are psychics, mediums, and UFO believers permitted to speak without interruption to King's vast audience? Among the skeptics I interviewed, all of whom have appeared at one time or another on "Larry King Live," a consistent theme emerged: That the quest for ratings is the only possible explanation for King's journalistic transgressions. "Having the spiritualists on must be for him very popular shows. Whatever he uses for feedback to tell him this, it must really work. Otherwise he would drop it like a hot potato," said Nickell. Magician James Randi was even more explicit: "This is a marketing thing. They want sponsors, they will get sponsors and they will keep sponsors if they put this kind of material on, because it attracts viewers. That's the bottom line."

Michael Shermer, of Skeptic magazine, has also appeared on "Larry King Live" and confirms the views of Kurtz, Nickell, and Randi. Of King's presentation of the paranormal, Shermer notes: "I've actually asked Larry about this. Specifically, 'Do you believe this stuff?' And he said, 'For the most part, I'm a skeptic like you,'" recalls Shermer. "And I've asked his producers, 'Why do you put this stuff on?' And they said, 'Cause it gets great ratings, it's good television.'" Since ratings inevitably drive the media's presentation of the paranormal, Shermer argues, it's incumbent upon skeptics to create programs that stand an equal chance of drawing large audiences. Shermer's own show, "Exploring the Unknown," presented a skeptical perspective for 65 segments on the Fox Family Channel. And with Showtime's late night show "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!", the Discovery Kids Channel's "Mystery Hunters," and the Discovery Science Channel's "Critical Eye" (produced with the help of CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer), the skeptical perspective does seem to be finding its way onto television more frequently than it did during the paranormal-obsessed 1990s.

Shermer's strategy certainly describes one way of combating the paranormal messages spread on "Larry King Live" and other programs. But should ratings alone dictate the treatment of the paranormal on a television news network like CNN? Shermer opines that "Larry King is not in the news department, he's in the entertainment department, so he's not required to have any journalistic ethics, and he doesn't." But there are problems with this response. For example, "Larry King Live" will sometimes transition back and forth between news reporting and paranormal "entertainment" within the course of the very same program. When this happens, how are viewers supposed to tell the difference?

In any case, Shermer's recollection of his conversation with King and his producers seems consistent with Kurtz's account of his own interaction with King's producers. Still, I wanted to be sure these first-hand accounts accurately represented the institutional view of "Larry King Live." So I contacted King's publicist, Erin Sermeus, identifying myself as a writer with the online version of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Sermeus returned my initial call, and in our conversation I summarized for her the criticisms of "Larry King Live" that I had been hearing from leading skeptics.

Besides noting--correctly--that shows devoted to psychics comprise only a small percentage of total "Larry King Live" programming, Sermeus did not provide much substantive response. However, said she would get back to me in a few days with something more thorough. She never did. An e-mail, a follow-up phone call, and a call to Sermeus's cell phone all went unreturned. After waiting a week beyond my original article deadline, I decided to go ahead with this piece without a formal response from "Larry King Live." If this article presents a very negative view of the show, it's partly because that was the only viewpoint I actually heard.

Where does that leave things? If the past is any indication, we will continue to see unbalanced presentations of paranormal topics on "Larry King Live," sometimes with token skeptics included, sometimes not. Barring a sudden change of heart at CNN, things will proceed as usual.

At this point, Michael Shermer's suggestion--that skeptics try to create their own programs to get their messages into the media--does sound pretty attractive. Granted, it basically concedes that skeptics have lost the moral argument about proper journalistic practices. And yet, these practices themselves are not set in stone. After all, who knows how our culture's approach to the paranormal--both journalistic and otherwise--will change?

We have already seen skeptic-friendly media programs. Perhaps one day the skeptic movement will produce a media personality of sufficient stature to appear on "Larry King Live" for a whole hour uninterrupted, the way Sylvia Browne and John Edward currently do. Then maybe Larry and the skeptic will exchange a few jokes at the expense of psychics and UFO believers. Indeed, perhaps the skeptic will even ask King to repent for his show's previous transgressions, and King will go along. An on-air confession: Now that would make for great ratings.

Christian Zionists endure criticism


The Victoria Advocate - http://TheVictoriaAdvocate.com
Associated Press
Saturday, July 26th, 2003

NEW YORK - As Israelis and Palestinians take faltering steps toward peace in the Mideast, Christian groups watching from the United States have taken sharply different stances on the peace plan backed by President Bush.

The majority of churches - Roman Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant and some evangelical groups - welcome the three-step plan called the "road map," which envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

President Bush was hosting Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Friday to discuss the initiative, and is to meet Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

A vocal segment of evangelical Protestants, however, are lobbying the Bush administration to abandon the plan because they believe it rewards terrorism and violates God's promise to give the Jewish people the historic land of Israel.

So-called Christian Zionists also see the modern state of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy - and a precondition of the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Setting up a Palestinian state is seen as undermining these end times events.

"Because of their apocalyptic interpretation of the Bible, they view the initiative as a betrayal," said Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Columbia University. "They've threatened to derail the whole thing."

Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate and an evangelical Christian, is spearheading a "one-state solution campaign" with a group called Americans for a Safe Israel, which is erecting billboards and distributing bumper stickers emblazoned with a verse from Genesis: "And the Lord said unto Jacob ... 'Unto thy offspring will I give this land.'"

Another group, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, last year donated $200,000 from U.S. churches to help build Jewish settlements in "Judea and Samaria" - the biblical name for the West Bank.

"Judea and Samaria were given to the Jews by God, and I cannot see the United States of America taking this land and giving it to a known terrorist," said religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, also an unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate, referring to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Such views, heard widely on Christian radio and television - and increasingly picked up in the Muslim media, where they're regarded as threatening - are harshly criticized as counterproductive and theologically misguided by most other American Christian groups, including a significant number of evangelicals.

"Christian Zionists have turned their biblical interpretation into a political ideology that is aligning itself with the most extreme forms of Zionism in Sharon's own coalition," said Donald Wagner, religion professor at North Park University in Chicago and a co-founder of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding.

Understanding the grievances and desires of both the Israelis and the Palestinians is key to resolving this conflict, said Gerard Powers, director of the international justice and peace office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"A one-sided approach isn't going to help," Powers said. "You have to try to understand the legitimate aspirations of both sides. The road map seems to be a way to do that."

Orthodox Christians support Israel but also strongly back the Palestinians' right to self-determination because of historic ties to the Middle East - and out of a sense of justice, said Antonios Kireopoulos, an Orthodox theologian and associate general secretary at the National Council of Churches.

"The Palestinians are indigenous to the region," said Kireopoulos. "To deny them a homeland would be unjust."

Bauer, now president of American Values, a conservative think tank, counters that a Palestinian state, on top of violating God's covenant, "will be used as a launching pad for more terrorist attacks against Israel."

By offering the Israeli government such strong support, however, Christian Zionists are attacked for ignoring the suffering of Palestinians - including Palestinian Christians, whose roots in the region go back 2,000 years to the beginning of the church.

"Evangelicals who are Christian Zionists want to see events unfold, but they aren't so concerned about justice," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif.

Christian Zionism is based on a theology called dispensationalism that emerged in England in the mid-1800s. It emphasizes a literal reading of prophetic and apocalyptic passages in the Bible, contrary to most Christian traditions.

Dispensationalists believe that the regathering of the Jewish people in Israel is foretold in Scripture, and that Israel will play a key role in end times events.

This system of thought - popularized in the "Left Behind" novels - is embraced by about a quarter to a third the evangelical Protestants in this country, or as many as 17 million Americans, estimates Timothy Weber, church historian and president of Memphis Theological Seminary.

By pushing the Mideast initiative, Bush risks alienating these evangelical voters who would otherwise likely support the GOP.

Yet the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who in the past opposed the creation of a Palestinian state, now says he is willing to accept one with reservations - but only because Bush is behind the plan.

"I love and trust President Bush so much, I will go with him almost anywhere," said Falwell, the well-known televangelist.

Robertson says that conservative Christian voters won't desert Bush unless there are signals that the Palestinians will be given East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, as is their desire.

"If (Bush) touches Jerusalem, he's not only going to get us mad but get God mad," Robertson told the AP.

Activism from churches supporting the peace plan has been more muted - although it has intensified recently, partly in reaction to the anti-road map efforts.

Churches for Mideast Peace, a coalition of 18 mainline Protestant and Catholic groups, has been sending out e-mail alerts to 4,000 grass-roots organizers, urging them to contact their congressional representatives to back the road map.

Corinne Whitlach, the coalition's director, sees one of the group's roles as "tempering the extremists" - although some Jewish and evangelical groups consider it to be biased in favor of the Palestinians.

"We recognize there are wide differences in interpreting theology, even within our coalition," Whitlach said. "But when interpretation thwarts peacemaking, we need to challenge that."

Evolution opponents are at it again


By Terry Maxwell
July 30, 2003

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, developed by the Texas Education Agency, requires that ''the student knows the theory of biological evolution'' and that students ''analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.''

The language is clear, but it was painfully evident that agreement ended on that point at the July 9 State Board of Education hearing. Textbooks selected by TEA for SBOE review included the standards in the field used by the scientifically literate faculty at high schools, colleges and universities across this land - a land that is a world leader in science and technology.

Some of us testifying in defense of the professional, undiluted coverage of evolution in the texts were surprised to find ourselves defending a couple of photographs of moths. One might have expected to hear claims of a fossilized human inside a Tyranosaurus, which would have been a serious problem for current evolutionary thought about the history of life. Instead, we responded to contrived confusion about a publication's photos.

British ecologist B. Kettlewell had demonstrated in the 1950s that peppered moth populations were altered by natural selection. Light-colored moths resting on trees were no longer so well hidden from bird predation now that the trees were soot-covered by industrial air pollution. Logically, dark-colored moths increased proportionally.

To illustrate the moth/tree surface color issue in his publication, Kettlewell took the rational approach. He photographed, side by side, light and dark moths that he had affixed to differently colored tree surfaces. They were the same moth colors and tree bark colors found in his investigation. He did not waste his time waiting interminably for two individual moths representing color extremes to alight side by side on a tree in front of his camera.

Incredulously, some members of the SBOE agreed with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank, that Kettlewell's photographs were a weakness of evolution theory.

The Discovery Institute is currently the best-funded pusher of intelligent design creationism, and seemingly never argues points about any other subject in science except that which might contradict their particular religious view. Clearly, the Discovery Institute approaches such opportunities as the SBOE hearing with a political and religious agenda.

The Discovery Institute's critique of the textbooks under consideration for Texas students was based on Rev. Dr. Jonathan Wells' ''Icons of Evolution.'' In it, Wells claims several well-known experiments, observations and working concepts in evolutionary biology are invalid. The Discovery Institute singled out for textbook criticism four of Wells' so-called ''icons,'' including the peppered moth case. Wells' criticisms are more extensive than the moth photograph example, but all of his objections have been exposed as junk science, at best. For one detailed dismissal of Wells' ''Icons,'' go to www.ncseweb.org/icons.

It is the function of public school science textbooks to present hypotheses and theories that have been extensively tested and are generally accepted in science. The National Academy of Science and numerous other science and religious organizations have made public statements about how teaching evolution as it is understood by mainstream science is critical to the scientific literacy of our children.

Evolution is the organizing principle of biology, and although it is a treasured freedom in this country to level criticisms at the establishment, it is not good science education policy to allow criticisms based on religious or political ideology to be allowed into science textbooks. Surely, that is self-evident. Where would that end?

Another SBOE hearing on biology textbook content will be held Sept. 10 and the board's decisions will be made in November.

Terry C. Maxwell, Ph.D., is a biology professor at Angelo State University.

Copyright 2003, GoSanAngelo. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

School board taking a different direction


This story is taken from Roseville at sacbee.com.

In Roseville, more emphasis is being placed on social issues.

By Laurel Rosen -- Bee Staff Writer - (Published July 29, 2003)

School trustees in Roseville are discussing more than the three R's.

In December, they added a fourth "R" to the agenda: Roe vs. Wade. And in June, a parent brought forward a fifth: Rebutting evolution.

Recent debates over such emotionally charged issues have led a few people to complain that personal convictions are driving a social agenda on the board of the Roseville Joint Union High School District. The critics include one of the trustees, who thinks the board should concentrate on attracting good teachers, boosting test scores and building new schools.

Others see a school board aligned with the community's views and carrying out its duties. For decades, they contend, school boards have acted as the intermediary between school policy and social mores, and they believe it's appropriate for a board to shape policies that reflect local standards.

But what if those standards contradict the state's educational conventions and potentially violate state law?

The five-member Roseville board is considering adding material to the biology curriculum that presents challenges to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and introduces the idea that life did not evolve, but was created by a supernatural force. And trustees are talking about overturning a policy that requires schools to release students for certain medical appointments without notifying their parents -- even though the school district's lawyers have said the policy is mandated by state law.

Most board members say their discussions reflect the concerns of their constituents in a community they describe as largely conservative and church-going. While they say aligning school policy with the values of area parents always has been important, the board's current focus may be due in part to the presence of a new trustee who has tipped the balance on key issues.

Since Kelly Lafferty joined the board in January, the majority opinion appears to have shifted on the debate over whether students should be allowed to leave school, without their parents knowing, when they have medical appointments related to reproductive health, mental health or substance abuse.

Roseville, like almost every school district in California, releases students in these situations from school without notifying their parents. The district's lawyers, along with the California School Boards Association, say the policy is mandated by state law. Other lawyers, most of whom work for anti-abortion causes, say it is not.

Trustees Lafferty and Dean Forman have been vocal opponents of the policy, saying it compromises parents' rights and puts students' safety at risk. Currently, trustee Jim Joiner stands as the only voice supporting the policy, leading him to remark at a recent meeting that his position was "going down in flames."

The controversy over confidential medical appointments led many board members to publicly state their opposition to abortion. And discussions about the science curriculum spurred board President Jan Pinney to say that evolution is "bogus," and Lafferty to remark on the shortcomings of only teaching that humans evolved from other species when many believe that "we were placed on the Earth."

Board members say their discussions are not religiously motivated. But most acknowledge their faith has some influence on decision making.

"I'm not on some religious or moral crusade," said Pinney, who has been on the board since 1995. "But I do look to my experiences -- including those in the military, in business, as a family member and as a religious person -- to help formulate some of my decisions."

Lafferty said her values as a Christian are shared by many parents, regardless of their faith.

"I can't say my religion is not a part of me, because it is a part of me," she said. "But I've talked to people who aren't religious, and they have the same viewpoint."

Representing the public is what board members are supposed to do, said Forman, elected in 2000 on a platform of supporting "traditional family values."

"The majority of the board members are Christian, but we represent the values of the community in general, which is what government is designed to do," he said.

Joiner declined to discuss his religious beliefs, saying "it doesn't play a role in my decision-making process."

Veteran board member Gary Kidder, who has served since 1987, did not return calls for comment. He rarely speaks at public meetings.

While public discussions indicate that Lafferty, Forman and Pinney agree in their desire to overturn the confidential medical policy and to introduce into the science curriculum ideas that rebut evolution, their power as a board majority will not be known until they vote on these matters in the coming months.

Joiner said the board's current focus is something new.

"In the past, I haven't seen the thought processes of the board members be dominated by any type of agenda other than providing the best possible education for our students," said Joiner, a 10-year board veteran.

"More recently, thought processes have been dominated by social issues, at the expense of educational issues."

Joiner cited other discussions about dress codes and chaperoning overnight field trips and increasing punishment for freak dancing -- a sexually explicit style of dancing popular among teenagers -- which is prohibited at school dances.

"Any of these items individually are all appropriate items of discussion for a board," he said. "But collectively put together, that's a major agenda."

Not so, say some parents.

"They are faced with tough controversial issues, and they are up to the task," said Dennis Cota, a parent of a Granite Bay High School student. A lawyer, Cota argued before the board in favor of repealing the confidential medical policy.

"They roll up their sleeves, they get to work, and even though they don't necessarily all take the same position they respect each other and work their way through it," he said.

Other parents are upset about what they see as religious undertones in the board's discussions.

"They're letting their political and their religious views get a little too involved," said Valerie Weinberg, whose twin sons are about to enter Granite Bay High School. "They're supposed to be representing a whole school district. And there's a diverse cross section of people who live here."

Tony Hamilton, a parent working to get a high school built in Antelope, worries that trustees are neglecting educational issues.

"They have a job to do -- to educate the kids and focus on the standards," he said. "Instead, they're wasting their time focusing on personal missions."

Most trustees counter that they have done a good job taking care of the district's academic and financial needs.

But Joiner wants the trustees to shift gears and concentrate on recruiting "not just good, but great teachers," improving test scores -- which have dropped steadily at three of the four district schools -- making curriculum relevant to students' futures and solving the problem of overcrowding, expected to affect all district schools in the fall.

About the Writer

The Bee's Laurel Rosen can be reached at (916) 773-7631 or lrosen@sacbee.com.

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

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In the News

Today's Headlines - July 30, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Almost 30 years after scientists discovered that common industrial gases were destroying Earth's protective ozone layer, satellite readings and ground observations show for the first time that the dangerous rate of ozone loss is finally slowing.

Colorless compounds known as chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFCs), such as the Freon once used in refrigerators and common spray cans, have accumulated in the stratosphere to cause a growing "hole" in the ozone layer. That layer normally acts to screen out much of the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation, which can cause skin cancer and damage ecosystems.

Alarm has grown over the years as satellite observations found that an ozone hole was spreading over thousands of square miles in the Southern Hemisphere while high-flying NASA missions discovered evidence that a similar hole was growing over far northern latitudes.

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, July 29 — An internal analysis by Environmental Protection Agency economists has found that a Senate plan to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming could achieve its goal at very little cost, according to a copy of the analysis made available by a group supporting the plan.

This stands in contrast to public statements by Bush administration officials saying the environmental benefits of the plan, which sets limits on emissions of so-called greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, would come at a significant cost to the nation's economy.

The results of the environmental agency analysis, dated May 23, were never completed and analysts were told not to continue with the study, employees at the agency said. In June, Christie Whitman, who was then the agency's administrator, sent a letter refusing to carry out the study to the proposal's sponsors, Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut.

from The New York Times

A small biotechnology company is expected to announce today that it has determined the three-dimensional structure of a crucial enzyme in the virus that causes SARS, an accomplishment that could accelerate efforts to develop treatments for the deadly respiratory disease.

The company, Structural GenomiX of San Diego, said yesterday it had unraveled the shape of the SARS protease, an enzyme that plays an essential role in replication of the virus and is a prime target for scientists trying to disable it.

Knowing that shape should make it easier to design drugs that mesh with the enzyme like a key in a lock and block it from working. "You can see what you're doing," said Timothy J. R. Harris, chief executive of Structural GenomiX, which is privately held.

from The Boston Globe

Brain researchers believe they may finally have solved the Case of the Blind Kittens.

The kittens in question are described in just about every textbook on brain development. Beginning in the early 1960s, they figured in experiments by Harvard researchers David H. Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel, work so seminal that it helped net the two a Nobel Prize.

Hubel and Wiesel found that if a very young kitten's eye was temporarily sutured closed, it would never be able to regain sight in that eye, because crucial connections in the brain had not been made in time.

Wednesday, July 30, 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 29, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

Peering into the genetic code of an eight-cell creature scarcely stirs excitement anymore in labs across America. But when the eight-cell creature is a human embryo - an egg and sperm united in a petri dish just 72 hours earlier - the sight of chromosomes lighted up in neat, color-coded pairs stirs excitement, and something deeper as well.

It stirs hope.

This is preimplantation genetic diagnosis, fertility's new frontier, where advanced genetics meets the thriving science and booming business of in vitro fertilization.

Twenty-five years after the birth of the first child conceived by human egg and sperm in a laboratory, preimplantation genetic diagnosis - or PGD - is touted as the next big thing: a technology that could eliminate inherited diseases, boost birth rates among infertile couples for whom nothing else has worked and reduce the incidence of potentially risky multiple births.

from The Washington Post

West Nile isn't the only mosquito-borne virus worrying U.S. health officials. In recent years, Texas and Hawaii have seen cases of an Asian virus not seen in the Americas since the 1980s -- dengue. A flavivirus like West Nile and yellow fever, dengue, in its mild form, can be symptomless or produce a flu-like illness. But its more severe strain, dengue hemorrhagic fever, can kill by causing bleeding...

from The New York Times

There is more than one way to see the universe, and some of them were featured this month in Sydney, Australia, where the world's astronomers gathered for the triennial meeting of the International Astronomical Union.

Once restricted to looking at the pearly lights of stars, astronomers have increasingly sought to look for what they cannot see in the darkness between the stars.

Some have used a chunk of Antarctica as their telescope to map the rain of high-energy particles from the cosmos.

Others have used galaxies themselves as lenses to limn invisible clouds of dark matter that envelop the cosmos.

Local group pushing 'intelligent design'


By: Heath Hixson, HCN Staff Writer July 22, 2003

Science teachers in Montgomery County's public schools would be required to teach that life may be the result of an "intelligent design" if a local group's petition drive is successful.

A group of residents, many associated with the Republican Leadership Council (RLC), are collecting petition signatures to persuade the six school boards countywide, including trustees with the Magnolia Independent School Distirct, to teach students that life was caused by "intelligent design." At least one critic calls the theory a form of creationism and said the group's drive is a political ploy to push religion into public schools.

Jim Jenkins, RLC president, said the group is attempting to convince school boards that evolution theory must be supplemented with "intelligent design" theory.

"We just want equal time," he said. "We want equal representation in the classroom." State curriculum currently leans on Charles Darwin's evolution theory to explain the origin of species. The theory holds that species evolve from earlier stages through gradual hereditary genetic changes and surviving types are established through natural selection. The curriculum does not include any mention of "intelligent design," which argues an "intelligent" cause best explains life, not natural selection.

The state does, however, allow school districts to supplement the curriculum with other material. As a result, design theory supporters say they will push the school boards to include the teaching of the theory of "intelligent design" with evolution.

Design supporters argue the theory should be taught to help explain what they perceive as Darwinism's factual holes. The evolution critics cite the missing link connecting evolution of humans from primates as an example.

"You don't see any examples in the fossil record," said Tom Lancaster, a resident of The Woodlands. "You don't see transitional animals, you see animals that are extinct."

But Steve Schafersman, Texas Citizens for Science president, called the move a "back door" attempt of introducing the teaching of creationism in public schools. Schafersman argues "intelligent design" is simply a form of creationism and called the claims that evolution was not factual "bogus" and "fraudulent."

"There is no scientific validity to 'intelligent design' at all," Schafersman said. "It does not belong in the science curriculum at all."

Design theorists reject the creationism connection and argue their theory has as much scientific evidence as evolution. And this they believe should result in "intelligent design" taught as a competing view in schools.

But the campaign to add the theory may face an uphill battle, because school boards are often reluctant to deviate from the state's curriculum.

"Our district is bound by the curriculum that is required by the Texas Education Agency," said Ann Snyder, Conroe school district board president. "Citizens are welcome to come and give information."

However, the design theorists may soon get a boost in their campaign as the state's curriculum or at least material in text books, may possibly change to include at least some mention of "intelligent design." The Texas State Board of Education is now considering new biology text books for schools and already hearings on the books have seen heated discussion about the theory's inclusion. None of the books mention the theory.

While the board is not able to require the theory be added to the text before they approve the books, the board's interpretation of the state's curriculum could result in text book publishers changing content to gain approval. Evolution supporters such as Schafersman and the citizens for science fear this possibility and have been fighting any inclusion of design theory. "The bottom line is that there is a political effort to force religious views into the public school curriculum," he said. "It is really unethical."

State board member Linda Bauer, R-The Woodlands, who represents the county and several East Texas counties on the board, said she is waiting to decide whether she will vote to approve the books.

"I am going into this with an open mind and I have done a lot of my own research," she said, "I really believe I want to hear what everyone else is going to say."

The next state board of education hearing on the books is Sept. 10. The board is scheduled to vote on adopting the biology books at their meeting, scheduled for Nov. 6 and 7.

In the meantime, design theory supporters locally are planning to petition during the next two months and present their desires to school boards by Sept. 18. That day, the group has scheduled a public forum on the "intelligent design" at Montgomery College.

©Magnolia Potpourri 2003

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