NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 August 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Expedition sets off to find abominable snowman


A Japanese expedition equipped with sensor-activated cameras and led by an amateur cryptozoologist is heading to the Himalayas hoping to track down the abominable snowman.

Seven climbers will spend six weeks in Nepal trying to capture images of the legendary humanlike creature also known as the yeti, more than 10,000 feet up the world's seventh-tallest mountain.

Yoshiteru Takahashi, the expedition leader, who climbs as a hobby, is on his second yeti hunt. He says he found humanlike footprints made by a "rather large animal" in a cave about 15,000 feet up Dhaulagiri on a previous expedition in 1994.

"I want to find out what made those footprints." Takahashi said. "They definitely didn't belong to a bear."

The expedition, which leaves Sunday, plans to "ambush" the elusive creature which Takahashi believes is some kind of primate by setting up about 15 cameras that are automatically activated by infrared sensors.

Takahashi, 60, described his expedition, which has no backing from Japan's academic community, as "just bunch of climbers" who had all seen unfamiliar footprints on past ascents of the Dhaulagiri range.

"I don't consider this a mystery," he said. "The yeti exists I just want to figure out what kind of animal it is," he said.

© Associated Press

An Astronomer's Personal Statement on UFOs

Alan Hale


When I am confronted with beliefs about UFOs or other paranormal phenomena -- or, for that matter, just about anything -- I am guided by three basic principles, to wit:

1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The discovery that there are other intelligent beings in the universe -- and, as a corollary, that life and intelligence can and has evolved at locations other than Earth -- and that, moreover, these beings are visiting Earth on a semi-regular basis in spacecraft that seem to defy the laws of physics as we now know them, would unquestionably rank as the greatest discovery in the history of science, and most definitely is an extraordinary claim. Therefore, in order for me to accept it, you must produce extraordinary evidence. What might this evidence be? For one thing, the aliens themselves. Not some story where someone says that someone says that someone says that they saw aliens, but the actual physical aliens themselves, where I and other trustworthy and competent scientists and individuals can study and communicate with them. I'd like to examine their spacecraft and learn the physical principles under which it operates. I'd like a ride on that spacecraft. I'd like to see their star charts and see where the aliens come from. I'd like to know the astronomical, physical, chemical, and biological conditions of their home world and solar system, and how they compare with and contrast with ours. If possible, I'd like to visit their home world, and any other worlds that might be within their sphere of influence. In other words, I want the aliens visible front and center, where there can be no reasonable doubt as to their existence. Stories about "lights" or "things" in the sky do not impress me, especially when such reports come from people who have no idea of the vast array of natural and man-made phenomena that are visible in the sky if one would only take the time to look.

2. The burden of proof is on the positive. If you are making an extraordinary claim, the burden is on you to produce the extraordinary evidence to prove that you are correct; the burden is not on me to prove that you are wrong. Furthermore, you must prove your case by providing the direct and compelling evidence for it; you can't prove it by eliminating a few token explanations and then crying, "Well, what else can it be?"

3. Occam's Razor: If one is confronted with a series of phenomena for which there exists more than one viable explanation, one should choose the simplest explanation which fits all the observed facts. It is an undeniable fact that many people have seen, or at least claimed to see, objects in the sky and on the ground for which they have no explanation. But it is also an undeniable fact that people can make mistakes about their observations. It is an undeniable fact that reports can come from people who are unaware of the various phenomena that are visible in the sky and from people who are not equipped or trained at making reliable scientific observations. It is an undeniable fact that a person's preconceived notions and expectations can affect his/her observations. It is an undeniable fact that some people will lie and will create hoaxes for any one of various reasons. Taking all these undeniable facts together, the simplest explanation -- to me, anyway -- for the UFO phenomenon is that every report is either a hoax or is a mistake of some sort. If this explanation is incorrect, then you have to increase the sphere of undeniable facts; and for this, see points 1) and 2) above.

To me, it seems extremely likely that life has started and evolved at other sites throughout the universe, quite possibly in a great number of places. It also seems rather possible that, at some of those sites, evolution has created an intelligent species which has developed technology far in advance of our own and which might be capable of interstellar space flight. Despite the incredible distances between stars, and despite the vast dispersion in evolutionary states that must exist throughout the sphere of races that have achieved some sort of sentience, it is possible -- although, to me, extremely unlikely -- that one or more of these races has visited Earth within the relatively recent past. Indeed, I would be absolutely ecstatic if any such visits have taken place. No one would be happier than me to meet with and converse with these beings and, I dare say, there are very few people who are better prepared intellectually and emotionally to deal with this prospect if it were to occur. But again, I want the direct evidence for their existence; I want the aliens themselves. I don't want to hear stories about some "thing" that some person somewhere might have seen.

As a lifelong amateur astronomer, as a professional astrono-mer, as someone who has read countless science fiction stories and scientific essays, I have devoted my life to unraveling the secrets of the universe and to pushing humanity and humanity's knowledge as far into space as I can. (This is my reason for claiming that there are few people in the world who are better prepared than I am to meet with an alien race; if there is any human being who could meet with alien beings, it would be someone like me.) At the same time, I suspect there is hardly anyone who watches and studies the sky more than I do, and while I have almost continuously observed the sky for most of my lifetime, I have yet to see a single object for which there was not a prosaic explanation. I have seen such diverse phenomena as: fireballs, rocket launches, satellite re-entries, comets, auroras, bright planets, novae, orbiting satellites, ionospheric experiments, high-altitude balloons -- all of which have been reported as "UFOs" by uninformed witnesses. If indeed there are alien spacecraft flying around Earth with the frequency with which UFO devotees are claiming, then I must ask how come I have never seen anything remotely resembling such an object, while at the same time I have managed to see all these various other types of phenomena.

In summary, I consider it likely that there are advanced alien races somewhere "out there," and I remain open to the possibility that, unlikely as it may seem, one or more such races could be visiting Earth. But if so, where are they? If they possess the technology capable of traveling interstellar distances, then they are so far ahead of us that there can be no reason for them to be afraid of us. If they wish to hide from us, they could do so easily; if they don't wish to, then they have no need to play games with us and only show themselves to a few unwitting individuals. Let them reveal themselves to humanity at large, to our scientists, and to me.

About the Author

Astronomer Alan Hale is co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp and director of the Southwest Institute for Space Research, Cloudcroft, NM 88317. His book Everybody's Comet: A Layman's Guide to Comet Hale-Bopp (High-Lonesome Books of Silver City, New Mexico) has just gone into a second printing.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Institute supports accurate science

[Yes, and Andrea Yates is mother of the year. Ed.]


By John G. West
August 8, 2003

When students study Darwin's theory of evolution, should they learn only about its strengths, or should they also hear about its weaknesses? And should they learn about the best current evidence for evolution, or should they study outdated examples that have been discredited by the scientific community?

Those are the real issues Discovery Institute has raised with the Texas State Board of Education, which over the next few months will be considering the adoption of biology texts for use in Texas schools. Contrary to the preposterous rhetoric of Terry Maxwell (''Evolution opponents are at it again,'' July 30), Discovery Institute is not a ''creationist'' organization, nor do we support the teaching of religion in science classes.

Instead, we favor two modest proposals that everyone concerned about good science education should be able to embrace.

First, we believe students should be exposed to legitimate scientific (not religious) controversies over evolutionary theory. Peer-reviewed science journals are filled with articles raising issues about various aspects of neo-Darwinism, the prevailing theory of evolution taught in textbooks. In 2000, for example, an article in the journal Cell noted that there is a ''long-standing question of the sufficiency of evolutionary mechanisms observed at or below the species level ('microevolution') to account for the larger-scale patterns of morphological evolution ('macroevolution').'' Yet this ''long-standing question'' about neo-Darwinism isn't covered in most textbooks. Why not?

In addition, we favor correcting clear factual errors in textbook presentations of evolution.

Unfortunately, many biology texts contain outdated information about evolution that is no longer accepted by many scientists. For example, some books still present a 1950s experiment supposedly showing how life first arose as good science, even though more recent research has shown that the experiment doesn't work under the conditions now thought to have been present on the early Earth.

Biologist Jonathan Wells, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California at Berkeley, has extensively documented these textbook errors in his book ''Icons of Evolution.'' Contrary to Maxwell, Wells' criticisms have not been refuted, and Wells has successfully defended his book in subsequent articles that can be read at www.iconsofevolution.com.

Far from being rejected by the scientific community, Wells' criticisms of textbooks actually have been confirmed by many other biologists and peer-reviewed science publications.

Take the case of the peppered moth experiments that Terry Maxwell defends so ardently. Microevolution in peppered moths may be due to Darwin's mechanism of natural selection, but experiments purporting to prove this hypothesis have been discredited, and not just by Jonathan Wells. The same criticisms raised by Wells have also been presented in The New York Times, the prestigious science monograph series Evolutionary Biology, and the acclaimed book ''Of Moths and Men'' by evolutionist Judith Hooper. One textbook being proposed for use in Texas actually informs students about problems with the peppered moth experiments, but others continue to present the experiments uncritically.

Let's be clear about what is at stake here. No one disputes that microevolution occurs, or that natural selection can lead to microevolutionary changes. If the original peppered moth experiments had turned out to be valid, not even ''creationists'' would object. The real issue is accurate science. The original peppered moth experiments have been discredited in the scientific community, and so they should not be presented uncritically as proof for Darwin's mechanism of natural selection. The same goes for other examples of outdated research used in textbooks.

Unfortunately, Darwinists like Maxwell seem willing to defend junk science rather than give up their cherished textbook icons. They are so blindly committed to Darwinism that they have lost all objectivity. Such closed-minded dogmatism is the opposite of good science, and it shouldn't be allowed to dictate what Texas students learn about biology.

For more information on inaccuracies in the textbooks proposed for Texas, I encourage readers to check Discovery Institute's textbook review posted at www.discovery.org/crsc.

John G. West, Ph.D., is associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle.

NEW: Textbook would urge students to consider alternatives to evolution


By Marti Maguire
Express-News Staff Writer

Web Posted : 08/07/2003 5:30 PM

The publisher of a biology textbook being considered for adoption in Texas has submitted changes in response to suggestions by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that critics claim is leading a push to teach alternatives to evolution in public schools.

The move by Holt, Rinehart & Winston, made public by the Texas Education Agency Wednesday, prompted critics to accuse the company of buckling to pressure from special interests and conservatives on the board.

"Rather than stand up for keeping good science standards in textbooks, Holt Rinehart has compromised the education of Texas students," said Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network.

The network singled out a passage directing students to "study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives" to several posed in the book.

In a July 9 public hearing, some board members were sympathetic to Discovery's assertion that alternatives to commonly accepted tenets of evolution should be included to comply with a TEKS requirement that students analyze competing theories.

Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, said he supports teaching intelligent design — a theory that outside forces direct human development — but insists the current suggestions only point out scientific errors.

"Students should know the scientific evidence both for and against the theory," Chapman said.

Richard Blake, a spokesman for Holt, acknowledged that Discovery "is seen as having particular point of view," but said the changes responded to valid scientific arguments.

"Publishers are obligated to respond to comments without considering where they come from," said Blake. "We see these as minor changes and clarifications, and certainly nothing that challenges the role of evolution."

Because Texas is the second largest textbook market in the country, changes made by publishers here often influence textbooks nationally.

Both sides are ready for a debate leading up to trustee's final adoption of the books in November. Another public hearing is planned for September, and publishers must submit final changes by October 3.



Seeking answers to big 'mystery ape'


Clues to new ape species?

By Marsha Walton
Saturday, August 9, 2003 Posted: 11:05 AM EDT (1505 GMT)

(CNN) -- From a remote region in the heart of Africa to a genetics lab at the Omaha Zoo, scientists are trying to find out if they have a new big ape on their hands.

"It doesn't look much like a gorilla, it doesn't look like a chimpanzee," said primatologist Shelly Williams, who captured a bit of video of the female mystery ape with a baby.

Pictures of the rare ape are scarce. Wildlife photographer Karl Amman, who was first to spot the mysterious mammals a few years ago, said the animal has feet that are about two inches bigger than the average gorilla and is more flat-faced than other apes. Its behavior also sets it apart from other apes, researchers say.

The mystery ape often sleeps in big ground nests. Chimpanzees, for example, usually nest in trees to stay away from predators. And the mystery apes hoot when the moon rises and sets, something chimps don't do for fear of attracting lions and hyenas, Williams said.

So what could this animal be?

"We cannot rule out the possibility that it is a new species of ape, or a new subspecies or some form of hybrid," said Duane Rumbaugh, a professor at Georgia State University.

"Discovering any new primate is a huge thing, a new ape would be incredible, " said Ed Louis, conservation geneticist at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.

Common ancestor

Chimpanzees, bonobos (also known as pygmy chimps), and gorillas are all members of the ape family. Present-day apes and humans had a common ancestor in the distant past -- perhaps 6 million years ago, scientists say.

But Amman found some evidence and plenty of local legend to suggest another type of big ape also may call Africa home. The forest in the north central area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the mystery ape lives, is known to be populated by chimpanzees. The nearest gorillas and bonobos are hundreds of miles away.

Williams, who speaks the local language, Lingala, interviewed villagers about their sightings of the creature in the Bili forest of what was once the Belgian Congo and later the Republic of Zaire.

"Some people call them 'lion eaters' because they are so big," Williams said.

Using clever tricks

On her last trip to the region earlier this year she got within about 15 feet of the animals. With some local trackers she was able to follow the apes for several hours. Williams and the trackers used some clever tricks to lure the mystery apes.

"One of my trackers made the sound of a duiker, a small antelope, as if it were in pain," said Williams. Four or five of the mystery primates fell for the ruse and came running to kill it.

Chimpanzees and bonobos both are carnivorous. Chimps are known to eat monkeys, and at times other chimps; bonobos catch and eat fish.

Williams also has a fascinating anecdote from a longtime resident of the region, an 84-year-old Norwegian Baptist missionary known as "Madame Liev."

"Years ago, she was driving an old truck and one of these apes walked by in front of her. It was walking bipedally (upright) and was taller than her, and she's six feet tall," Williams said.

Comparing DNA

Conservation geneticist Ed Louis at the Omaha Zoo is working on an important piece of the ape mystery also.

"We compared fecal samples from this unknown animal to the DNA of captive gorillas, bonobos, and chimps," Louis said. "Our preliminary data shows that the mitochondrial DNA is chimp-like."

But mitochondrial DNA is passed down only from the mother's side. So if this species or sub-species is a hybrid of a chimp mother and a gorilla father, current DNA would only identify information from the mother.

Tests yet to come are nuclear DNA tests: This roadmap would come from both parents.

Is it a hybrid?

If the mystery animal does turn out to be a hybrid of a chimp and a gorilla , for example, such inter-breeding would not be unique in nature. There are several examples of different species breeding successfully, said Louis.

There are hybridized green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles, as well as some hybrids of Borneo and Sumatran orangutans.

Such pairings "can throw a monkey wrench in our idea of species," Louis said.

Louis said he's eager to examine further samples from the mystery ape.

Williams hopes to return to the African habitat this autumn.

She's already working on some tactics to improve her observation. She'll camouflage her skin because the animals have not seen light-skinned humans. She'll also follow the animals and try to camp out near them overnight, and she'll set up three more observation platforms near the animals' nests.

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 8, 2003

from The Washington Post

The Bush administration has repeatedly mischaracterized scientific facts to bolster its political agenda in areas ranging from abstinence education and condom use to missile defense, according to a detailed report released yesterday by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

The White House quickly dismissed the report as partisan sniping.

The 40-page document, "Politics and Science in the Bush Administration," was compiled by the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee's special investigations division. It marks the launch of a new effort by Waxman and others in Congress to highlight simmering anger among scientists and others who believe that President Bush -- much more than his predecessors -- has been spiking science with politics to justify conservative policies in areas such as reproductive rights, embryo research, energy policy and environmental health.

from Newsday

A novel gene therapy technique tested in mice succeeded in delaying symptoms of ALS and extended the lives of the animals. The results were so stunning, experts said, that human trials are being planned.

Scientists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore used a common virus to deliver genes that make a potent growth hormone. An injection was made into muscle, and the virus carried the genes to the spinal cord. There it helped the animals, which had been genetically destined to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, to live almost twice as long as expected. ALS took the life of Yankees star Lou Gehrig, and is referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"It is going forward," Fred Gage, a professor of genetics at the Salk Institute, said of the human clinical trials that are in the planning stages. Gage collaborated with Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University. Their paper appears in this week's issue of the journal Science.

from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a study that shows more than ever you are what you eat, U.S. scientists said on Friday they had changed the coat colors of baby mice simply by altering their mothers' diets.

The study shows that common nutrients can influence which genes turn on and off in a developing fetus, and help explain some of the factors that decide which genes "express" and which remain silent.

Writing in Friday's issue of the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology, the scientists at Duke University Medical Center said they changed the color of baby mouse fur by feeding pregnant mice four supplements -- vitamin B12, folic acid, choline and betaine.

from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Companies are lining up to help California squeeze salt from the sea in its quest for new water sources, but the agency that would approve the projects says tapping the ocean could pose serious problems for the coastline.

In a report to its board of directors, the California Coastal Commission warns that allowing desalination plants to proliferate could threaten marine life, spur development in sensitive habitats and turn what has long been considered a common good -- the ocean -- into a commodity.

The commission's board of directors is reviewing the report during its monthly meeting in Huntington Beach this week. A 60-day public comment period will follow.

Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Friday, August 08, 2003

CSICOP Hoaxes, Myths & Manias Conference

The CSICOP Hoaxes, Myths & Manias Conference will be held at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, located at 2500 Carlisle Blvd., NE in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

All events will take place in Building #2 on the 2nd Floor. Building #2 is located to the right of the Main Building and Front Desk. Talks will be held in the Cotillion Rooms. Next door to the Cotillion Rooms, a bookstore will be set up in the Cavelier Room. (See map of hotel for more information.)



Tour of Sandia National Laboratories 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm Sandia Labs is one of the nation's premier research and development facilities. A Department of Energy / National Nuclear Security Administration defense programs laboratory, it has multidisciplinary programs in science and engineering to meet broad national security needs, from nuclear weapon safety and security to energy research. The tour is designed to give the visitor a general understanding of the labs' technologies and accomplishments. This will consist of a drive-around, "windshield" viewing of the labs with a narration of the various areas including some of Kirtland Air Force Base sites. The tour will stop at one prime testing site where a presentation will be made at Sandia's National Solar Thermal Test Facility. Visitors will view the Central Receiver Test Facility, a major test field for developing technology to produce electricity from the heat of the sun. Visit Sandia Labs online: www.sandia.gov

Tour Guide: Juanita Sanchez
All visitors to Sandia National Laboratories must be US citizens. Snacks will be provided during tour. Bus will be picking up registrants, promptly at 1 pm, at the front entrance of the Radisson Hotel.

- wear comfortable clothes & shoes
- wear a hat or cap
- bring sunglasses & sunscreen
- don't forget your camera!

$15.00 Additional Registration Fee
This tour is limited to 25 persons. THE TOUR IS NOW FULL

Registration 12:00 pm (noon) - 9:00 pm
Registration tables will open at noon and will be located in front of the Cotillion Rooms, where talks will be held.

*Note: hotel check-in does not begin until 3 pm. If you are planning an early arrival, please make arrangements with the Hotel by calling 1-800-333-3333 (local telephone: 505-888-3311)

Reception 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Reception to be held in the Cotillion Rooms (2nd floor of Building #2)
Cash Bar Available

Welcoming Remarks 7:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Kendrick Frazier Editor, Skeptical Inquirer
Author, People of Chaco: A Canyon and Its Culture; Solar System, and others
Editor, Encounters with the Paranormal; The Hundredth Monkey, and others

Would You Believe It? 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Barry Beyerstein Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University Editor, The Write Stuff: Evaluations of Graphology

The Psychology of the Con 8:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Ray Hyman Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, University of Oregon Author, Water Witching USA; The Elusive Quarry; and others


Registration 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Registration tables will be located in front of the Cotillion Room on the second floor of Building #2. An elevator is available.

Internet and Media Hoaxes 9:00 am - 10:00 am
Alex Boese Curator, The Museum of Hoaxes (online)
Author, The Museum of Hoaxes

Conspiracy Theories 10:00 am - 11:00 am
Jonathan Vankin Author, 70 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time

Pranks, Frauds, and Hoaxes from around the World 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Robert T. Carroll Department of Philosophy at Sacramento City College
Creator of the Skeptic's Dictionary web site
Author, How to Become a Critical Thinker; The Skeptic's Dictionary

Special Luncheon Presentation
Legends and Hoaxes of Evolution 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Eugenie Scott Director, National Center for Science Education

Luncheon location TBA
$25.00 Additional Registration Fee
(How to register for Friday's Luncheon)

Investigating Among the Spirits 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Joe Nickell CSICOP Senior Research Fellow
Curator, The Skeptiseum (online)
Author, Entities; Looking for a Miracle; Real Life X-Files; and others

They See Dead People, or Do They? 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
James Underdown Executive Director, Center for Inquiry - West

How to Hoax a Ghost Video 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Mark Manning Director, American Association for Critical Scientific Investigation of into Claimed Hauntings

Dinner Break 5:00 pm -7:00 pm
Friday's Dinner is on your own. Suggestions for restaurants in the area are available here.

Urban Legends: Too Good to be True 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Jan Harold Brunvand Professor Emeritus in the Department of English, University of Utah
Author, Encyclopedia of Urban Legends; Too Good To Be True; and others


Registration 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Registration tables will be located in front of the Cotillion Room on the second floor of Building #2.

The Museum of Unworkable Devices 9:00 am - 10:00 am
Donald Simanek Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics at Lockhaven University
Curator, The Museum of Unworkable Devices (online)
Author, Science Askew

The Promise of Free Energy 10:00 am - 11:00 am
Eric Kreig Computer Consultant; president of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT)
Author, Guide to Free Energy Con Men and Kooks (online)

Beyond the Bible Code: Hidden Messages Everywhere 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Dave Thomas Physicist and Mathematician; president of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason

Special Luncheon Presentation
The Future of Skepticism 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
CSICOP Staff Members

Luncheon to be held in Delfinos
$25.00 Additional Registration Fee
(How to register for Saturday's Luncheon)

Planet (hoa)X 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Philip Plait Astronomer and Educator at Sonoma State University
Creator, Bad Astronomy web site
Author, Bad Astronomy

Medical Hoaxes 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Wallace Sampson Clinical Professor of Medicine, Stanford State School of Medicine
Editor, Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (SRAM)

The Use of the Polygraph 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Alan Zelicoff Physician and Physicist; Senior Scientist in the Center for National Security and Arms Control at Sandia National Laboratories

Reception 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Cash Bar Available

Conference Banquet 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Entertainment by BANACHEK
Steve Shaw aka Banachek, the World's #1 Thought Reader

Banquet to be held in Cotillion Ballroom
$40.00 Additional Registration Fee
(How to register for Saturday's Banquet & Entertainment Show)


Hoaxes, Myths & Monsters 9:00 am - 10:00 am
Benjamin Radford Managing Editor, Skeptical Inquirer
Author, Media Mythmakers; Hoaxes, Myths & Manias

There Were Giants In the Earth 10:00 am - 11:00 am
Kenneth Feder Department of Anthropology, Central Connecticut State University
Author, Frauds, Myths & Mysteries in Archaeology

UFO's - A Space Age Mythology 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
James McGaha Retired Major USAF; Director of the Grasslands Observatory

ROSWELL Bus Trip 12:00 pm

Running Commentary: Dave Thomas
Boxed Lunch available on bus
Lavatory on bus
Bus will be picking up registrants, promptly at 12:00 pm, at the front entrance of the Radisson Hotel.

$45.00 Additional Registration Fee
This tour is limited in seating. We recommend reserving your seat early.
(How to register for the Roswell Bus Trip)

Feng Shui and Vegan Fare Battle a Neighborhood Curse



If you noticed them at all, you would think they were part of the restaurant's new design: two small octagons outside, each with a mirror at its center. The point? To protect the restaurant from the building across the street, whose sharp edges, according to Judith Wendell, a feng shui consultant, "create a knifelike effect on the restaurant's energy, cutting into it — so we're reflecting it back."

Yes, it's come to this. Opening a restaurant in New York has always required a certain combination of savvy and insanity, especially at problematic addresses. Everyone can think of a space that has had a run of bad luck, no matter how many menus were tried. So when Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza, the owners of Candle Cafe, a successful vegan restaurant at 1307 Third Avenue at 75th Street, decided to expand into the property recently vacated by the failed Dining Room, they took its karma into their own hands. They hired Ms. Wendell to go where no contractor had gone before and fix what seemed to be ailing the two-story town house at 154 East 79th Street at Lexington Avenue.

Candle 79, as it is called, is the building's fifth tenant in 20 years; others were Trois Jean, the Living Room and Jams, which started out white hot with Jonathan Waxman at the stove, was shaken by the stock market crash of 1987 and finally closed in 1988 after being renamed Jonathan Waxman and lowering its prices. So rather than rely on the purity and healing powers of the food alone to conquer unseen demons (vegans omit not only meat and poultry but all animal products, including fish, eggs, dairy, even honey) Ms. Pierson and Mr. Potenza have taken out supernatural insurance instead. Although they will devote this month to private parties and not open full time until September, they claim to feel the benefits already.

"We used feng shui in the Third Avenue location," Mr. Potenza said, "and after being in business there for nine years and going strong, we think it's an element that has added to its overall success."

The front door to Candle 79 was built on a diagonal, which means it is slanted in Ms. Wendell's parlance, and she says that is no laughing matter.

"Slanted energy can cause accidents, bad business and lawsuits, and we want to cut that off immediately," she said. She hung a bamboo flute above it on the inside. "Usually you hang a sword, but it didn't match the décor," she said. "The flute symbolizes the sword."

An identical bamboo flute hangs over the doorway to one of the bathrooms near the kitchen; according to a feng shui map that Ms. Wendell consulted, that particular bathroom is located in a zone symbolizing wealth. "Because there is a toilet and sink there, you don't want the wealth going down the drain," she explained. (When Mr. Potenza added a mirror to a bathroom at his first restaurant, the Healthy Candle, to counteract a similar problem, he said he received a tax rebate of $1,700 the next day.)

At the 79th Street space, Ms. Wendell said, she will also perform a number of "blessing and clearing" ceremonies that will "cleanse the negative energy and augment the positive," including one that will have Ms. Pierson and Mr. Potenza mix a concoction of cinnabar (a component of mercury known, Ms. Wendell said, for its protective qualities) with alcohol (Ms. Wendell prefers Bacardi 151 proof).

"They will then literally anoint the space," she said, "sealing the doors, putting it down drains and toilets and touching the center part of each burner on the stove."

In still another ceremony, she will use rice to "feed the negative spirits so they are sated and no longer need to occupy the space," Ms. Wendell said. "One of the things that prevented me from coming in at first was the yin, or what I call predecessor chi." (Chi is the Chinese word for energy.)

Which means the place had ghosts. "And they could be here from long before there was even a 79th Street," she said.

Well, depending on what they like to eat, they might be getting out just in time. Clarkson Potter has recently published "The Candle Cafe Cookbook: More than 150 Enlightened Recipes From New York's Renowned Vegan Restaurant," by Ms. Pierson and Mr. Potenza with Barbara Scott-Goodman, featuring ingredients like Tofutti cream cheese, soy margarine and seitan (pronounced say-tan), which is wheat gluten. Whether or not that food appeals to ghosts, there are plenty of people who are fans of the restaurant and its signature dishes, like ginger-miso stir-fry and paradise casserole (sweet potatoes, black beans and millet), including Brooke Shields, Woody Harrelson, Alicia Silverstone, Michael J. Fox, Tracey Pollan and Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation."

There is also enough noncelebrity customer demand for Ms. Pierson and Mr. Potenza to keep open the original Third Avenue location, with its cafe feel, so its devoted regulars can choose between it and the new space for a more upscale ambience. Candle Cafe 79 seats 85, double the capacity of the original, and, like it, will serve organic wine and beer.

"There is still a hippie perception about this kind of food," Mr. Potenza noted, a copy of Vegetarian Journal tucked under his arm, as he and Ms. Pierson bade Ms. Wendell farewell and walked to Candle Cafe for lunch.

Ms. Pierson agreed. "A lot of the vegetarian ambience is not fun," she said. "Some of it can be spiritual, but a lot of it just feels morose. The attitude around the food is so negative, that it's about deprivation, but it's really the opposite. These flavors should be eaten with fine wine and good crystal and appreciated as its own cuisine. You don't even necessarily have to eat it every day, but culinarily it's vibrant. How can you not like fresh fruit from the farm?"

Mr. Potenza nodded vigorously. "That's a beautiful point," he said as Ms. Pierson smiled. The couple have been together since 1987, when Mr. Potenza made her an avocado and hummus sandwich and, as he likes to say, "her life was never the same."

Mr. Potenza, now 66, bought Sunny's, a popular heath food store and juice bar on Lexington Avenue at 71st Street in 1984 from two women who were in the habit of lighting candles all over the store each night to bless their establishment, so Mr. Potenza renamed the place the Healthy Candle. Ms. Pierson, now 41, was working as a nutritionist then and became a customer there. She became the restaurant's in-house nutritionist, then Mr. Potenza's in-house nutritionist.

They wanted to open a new restaurant — less juice bar, more dining room — and on Friday the 13th in August of 1993 played a combination of their birthdays in the New York State Take Five game and won $53,000. Raising the rest of the money they needed from family, friends and customers, they opened Candle Cafe in 1994. (The restaurant does use candles, but only soy-based, never beeswax, petroleum or lead-wicked.)

On a recent weekday, the restaurant was packed. A family with three generations sat at a large table up front.

"We've been feeding them for 15 years," Ms. Pierson said proudly, adding that the place is popular with pregnant women and new mothers, and indeed there were babies at many of the tables. It looked more like the Upper West Side than the Upper East Side, though Mr. Potenza said that the neighborhood had been supportive of his food from the start.

"Ladies in limousines eat rice and beans," he said. "That's not exactly Stephen Sondheim, but it's true."

Certainly, vegan cuisine has been getting a glossier profile of late. The techno rock star Moby opened Teany, a vegan tearoom on Manhattan's Lower East Side last year, and Roxanne Klein, the chef acclaimed for raw vegan cuisine at her restaurant, Roxanne, in Larkspur, Calif., has joined with Charlie Trotter to write "Raw," a cookbook that is to be published in November by Ten Speed Press.

"The whole raw movement is getting chic," Ms. Pierson said. "Demi Moore is eating raw now."

Mr. Potenza nodded. "Trend is our friend," he said. "Look at all the Whole Foods stores opening. And we use the same farmers as Union Square Cafe and all those kinds of restaurants." Candle Cafe gets its organic breads from Amy's Bread.

"This is good stuff," Ms. Pierson said staunchly. "People think they're not going to like it, but that's just a preconceived notion."

As they spoke, customers stopped by their table to embrace them; one couple, a London-based art dealer and his wife, made a reservation for that night, having just finished lunch. A waiter brought over a dish for Ms. Pierson and Mr. Potenza to try that the chef, Angel Ramos, was perfecting for 79th Street: curry and mustard-seed-crusted tofu with black rice and coconut black-eyed-pea masala, served with paratha bread and peach chutney. It was delicious.

"If it were an exotic fish, everyone would just eat it without even thinking about it," Ms. Pierson said. "What we're doing here is feeding people food that goes straight from farm to table. I feel good about that."

She can only hope the ghosts will, too.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

The triumph of fringe science


Global warming naysayers argue that we don't need to do anything to stop rising temperatures. Mainstream scientists used to be able to ignore them, but now they make White House policy.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Aug. 7, 2003 | When the White House announced its 10-year strategic plan for its Climate Change Science Program this July, the more than 300-page document could be summed up in two words: more research.

The plan's No. 1 priority is to study the ways that the climate varies naturally, as in, for example, the El Niño phenomenon. A secondary priority is to gather more information on human, or non-natural impacts on the atmosphere. Whether caused by burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests or belching industrial pollution, man-made effects on climate can be "quantified only poorly at present," according to the plan. So, to "reduce uncertainty" more data collection is needed.

It's a research agenda that enshrines the suspicions of global warming skeptics into federal policy: "Looking at the executive summary, I'm generally pleased with it," says William O'Keefe from the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that's received hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding from ExxonMobil. "The reason that they've focused on research is not a way to slow down taking action," he says. "Most of what we think we know about the climate system and human impacts on it comes from computer models that are based on hypotheses. There is a terrible deficit of real scientific information where you actually go out and gather data."

While the White House preaches the need for more study, more than 2,000 scientists from across the globe -- contributors to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- have been in agreement since 1995 that human activities are contributing to worldwide warming. The United States' own National Academy of Sciences reported in 2001 that some of the warming of the Earth's atmosphere over the last 50 years is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide generated by the burning of fossil fuels.

Environmentalists see the White House research plan as just another stalling tactic to avoid regulating pollution to mitigate global warming. "Most climate scientists around the world will see this as fiddling while Rome burns," says Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Climate study just hot air say critics


By SIMON COLLINS, science reporter

An Auckland University geographer has been caught up in a political storm in the United States over a study which challenges the conventional wisdom over global warming.

Dr Chris de Freitas, who describes himself as a climate "agnostic", has been attacked in a US Senate committee hearing for letting the study appear in the journal Climate Research, where he is one of the editors.

The journal's editor-in-chief, Dr Hans von Storch, resigned in protest last week when the journal's publisher, Otto Kinne, refused to let him run an editorial saying that publication of the study was a mistake. Two other editors also resigned.

But the Bush Administration has welcomed the controversial study by two Harvard astro-physicists, which argues that temperature increases in the 20th century were no greater than in the Medieval Warm Period around 1000 years ago when Greenland was "green" and there were 50 vineyards in England.

According to the Wall Street Journal, White House staff edited a report from the Environmental Protection Agency to insert a reference to the Harvard study.

Dr Michael Mann, of the University of Virginia, told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works last week that Dr de Freitas was a well-known critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to restrain global warming by cutting carbon dioxide emissions from cars and industry.

New Zealand, most European countries and Japan have agreed to sign the protocol, but the Bush Administration and Australia's Howard Government oppose it.

"Chris de Freitas, the individual in question, frequently publishes op-ed pieces in newspapers in New Zealand attacking IPCC and attacking Kyoto and attacking the work of mainstream climatologists in this area," Dr Mann told senators.

"So this is a fairly unusual editor that we are talking about."

Another editor of Climate Research, Dr David Legates, told the committee that "there were several people complaining that Chris de Freitas should be removed simply because he published the [Harvard] paper".

The senators, who included former first lady Hillary Clinton, did not comment directly on the allegations.

But a review editor for Climate Research, Professor Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia in Britain, has sent an email to colleagues around the world noting that Dr de Freitas' editing of the journal had already been criticised over similar studies in 1999.

"Of 16 published papers de Freitas has been editor for, nine have been authored by scientists who are well known for their opposition to the notion that humans are significantly altering global climate," Dr Hume wrote.

Scientific American reported: "Some conclude that politics drove the paper's publication in Climate Research.

Dr de Freitas published a major study last year in the Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology, edited by his brother Dr Tim de Freitas, of Talisman Energy in Calgary, arguing that "there is no reason to believe that catastrophic [climate] change is under way".

Dr Chris de Freitas said he had never received any research funding from petroleum companies and his brother had taken no part in the publication of his article in the Bulletin.

Dr Legates told the Senate hearing that when allegations were first made about the Harvard paper, the journal's publisher, Dr Kinne, asked Dr de Freitas to send him the comments from all four referees and the details of changes made.

"Essentially, what he concluded was that the reviewers provided good and appropriate comments; that [the authors] provided an appropriate addressing or incorporation of these concerns; and that Chris de Freitas provided analysis appropriately," he said.

Faith-Based Fudging


How a Bush-promoted Christian prison program fakes success by massaging data.

By Mark A.R. Kleiman
Posted Tuesday, August 5, 2003, at 9:35 AM PT

The White House, the Wall Street Journal, and Christian conservatives have been crowing since June over news that President George W. Bush's favorite faith-based initiative is a smashing success.

When he was governor of Texas, Bush invited Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship to start InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a Bible-centered prison-within-a-prison where inmates undergo vigorous evangelizing, prayer sessions, and intensive counseling*. Now comes a study from the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society reporting that InnerChange graduates have been rearrested and reimprisoned at dramatically lower rates than a matched control group.

For those who know how hard it is to reduce recidivism, the reported results were impressive. Colson celebrated the report by visiting the White House for a photo op with the president. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay issued a triumphal press release. The Journal smacked critics of faith-based programs for "turning a blind eye to science" by opposing InnerChange. The report heartened officials in the four states that have InnerChange programs and buttressed President Bush's plan to introduce the Christian program in federal prisons.

You don't have to believe in faith-healing to think that an intensive 16-month program, with post-release follow-up, run by deeply caring people might be the occasion for some inmates to turn their lives around. The report seemed to present liberal secularists with an unpleasant choice: Would you rather have people "saved" by Colson, or would you rather have them commit more crimes and go back to prison?

But when you look carefully at the Penn study, it's clear that the program didn't work. The InnerChange participants did somewhat worse than the controls: They were slightly more likely to be rearrested and noticeably more likely (24 percent versus 20 percent) to be reimprisoned. If faith is, as Paul told the Hebrews, the evidence of things not seen, then InnerChange is an opportunity to cultivate faith; we certainly haven't seen any results.

So, how did the Penn study get perverted into evidence that InnerChange worked? Through one of the oldest tricks in the book, one almost guaranteed to make a success of any program: counting the winners and ignoring the losers. The technical term for this in statistics is "selection bias"; program managers know it as "creaming." Harvard public policy professor Anne Piehl, who reviewed the study before it was published, calls this instance of it "cooking the books."

Here's how the study got adulterated.

InnerChange started with 177 volunteer prisoners but only 75 of them "graduated." Graduation involved sticking with the program, not only in prison but after release. No one counted as a graduate, for example, unless he got a job. Naturally, the graduates did better than the control group. Anything that selects out from a group of ex-inmates those who hold jobs is going to look like a miracle cure, because getting a job is among the very best predictors of staying out of trouble. And inmates who stick with a demanding program of self-improvement through 16 months probably have more inner resources, and a stronger determination to turn their lives around, than the average inmate.

The InnerChange cheerleaders simply ignored the other 102 participants who dropped out, were kicked out, or got early parole and didn't finish. Naturally, the non-graduates did worse than the control group. If you select out the winners, you leave mostly losers.

Overall, the 177 entrants did a little bit worse than the controls. That result ought to discourage InnerChange's advocates, but it doesn't because they have just ignored the failure of the failures and focused on the success of the successes.

The Penn study doesn't conceal the actual poor outcome: All the facts reported above come straight from that report. But the study goes out of its way to put a happy face on the sad results, leading with the graduates-only figures before getting to the grim facts. Apparently, the Prison Fellowship press office simply wrote a press release off the spin, and the White House worked off the press release. Probably no one was actually lying; they were just believing, and repeating as fact, what they wanted to believe. It's hard to know for sure what those involved were thinking: Study author Byron Johnson canceled a scheduled interview at the last moment. The White House didn't respond to requests for comment.

InnerChange program manager Jerry Wilger says he doesn't know much about research, but he doesn't think it's fair to count the performance of the people who dropped out of his program against him, a fair-sounding objection that misses the point entirely. If InnerChange's 177 entrants were truly matched to the control group but ended up having more recidivism, then either the apparent success with the graduates was due to "creaming" or the program somehow managed to make its dropouts worse than they were to start with. If the program genuinely helped its graduates and didn't harm its dropouts, and if the whole group of entrants was truly matched to the controls, then the group of 177 should have done better than the controls. And they didn't.

So, the feel-good winners-only analysis simply isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Only the full-group analysis (known technically as "intent-to-treat," a holdover term from its origins in medical research) has any real value. And on that analysis, the program has a net effect of zero or a little worse than zero. That makes it a loser.

John DiIulio, an intellectually serious advocate of faith-based programs who was the first director of the Bush administration's faith-based initiatives and the founder of the Penn research center, acknowledges frankly the results weren't what a supporter of such programs would have hoped for. But he points out that a single study almost never provides a convincing yes or no answer on a program concept. "The orthodox believers point to a single positive result and say it proves faith-based programs always work. The orthodox secularists point to a single negative result and say it proves faith-based programs never work. They're both wrong."

The poor result of InnerChange doesn't mean that no faith-based prison program could work, but it does mean that this one hasn't, at least not yet. It joins a long line of what seemed like good ideas for reducing recidivism that didn't pan out when subjected to a rigorous evaluation. Maybe my own pet, literacy training, wouldn't do any better in a real random-assignment trial. But that's why you do evaluations; they tell you things you didn't want to hear. If you're honest, you listen to them.

And if you're smart, you don't listen to the political advocates of "faith-based" this and that when they say they're only asking us to support programs that have been "proven" to work.

Correction, Aug. 6, 2003: The article originally and incorrectly described InnerChange Freedom Initiative as "a fundamentalist prison-within-a-prison." The Prison Fellowship regards itself as being part of the evangelical tradition rather than the fundamentalist tradition. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Rep says evolution remains unproven

August 2, 2003


He's sponsoringa bill to teach creationism

Record-Eagle staff writer

PETOSKEY - "Intelligent design" - the theory that life on Earth is the result of a creator's plan - is science, not religion.

So says state Rep. Ken Bradstreet, the lead sponsor of a bill that would mandate adding creationism to the discussion if evolution is taught in Michigan's public schools. "Good science is not blocking off all other theories except the one we like," said Bradstreet, R-Gaylord. Bradstreet said many things in nature cannot be explained under the theory of evolution espoused by Charles Darwin - that life forms on earth evolved from common ancestors over millions of years.

Lisa Hoogerhyde, a middle-school science teacher at Central Lake Public Schools, said teaching intelligent design would cause an uproar.

"I think some parents would have a very hard time with that being taught to their kids," she said, noting parents who believe in creationism often teach it to their children at home or in church.

Bradstreet likened his cause to that of John Scopes, a Tennessee teacher charged with teaching evolution in his biology classroom in 1925, at a time when governments mandated creationism.

"Today the pendulum has swung all the way to the other side," Bradstreet said. Bradstreet's House Bill 4946, which has 24 co-sponsors, would amend the state's core school curriculum. All references to "evolution," "natural selection" and "how species change through time" would be modified to indicate they are unproven theories. The curriculum would mandate that students "describe how life may be the result of a purposeful, intelligent design of a Creator." "Young people need to understand that evolution is a theory, that it has some major weaknesses," Bradstreet said.

Gravity is an unproven scientific theory, too, said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif. The center defends the teaching of evolution in public schools, monitors the creation-evolution controversy nationwide, and provides information to communities struggling with the issue. Any government attempt to force attribution of a scientific phenomenon to a creator is mandating a religious belief in a public classroom and would run counter to the well-established judicial principles of the separation of church and state, Scott said.

"If this bill accidentally passes, the state of Michigan will be in for a lawsuit that you're going to lose," she said. "If your state is like mine, you probably don't have a lot of extra money to be throwing away for no good reason." It's not for legislators to say what should be taught in a science classroom, Scott said.

"If a scientific idea has merit, it will be judged so by scientists and trickle down to the high school curriculum," she said. "To mandate intelligent design before it is accepted by the scientific community is wrong-headed, and bad for science education."

Bradstreet countered that there is "compelling scientific evidence supporting intelligent design," and that there are "thousands of scientists who believe exactly" what is proposed in his bill.

James Pavelka, superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools, said the district runs a state-mandated curriculum, and would be forced to include intelligent design if so ordered by the Department of Education.

A similar bill Bradstreet co-sponsored in 2001 died in committee. But Bradstreet said he is confident his new bill will get a hearing in the Education Committee. Eight of the bill's co-sponsors are on the 19-member committee.

"The Ten Commandments: #4"

Printed on Sunday, August 03, 2003 @ 12:52:27 CDT


By John Brand, D.Min., J.D.
YellowTimes.org Columnist (United States)

(YellowTimes.org) – A sort of a parable happened when I started thinking about writing this column. Stopping for a red light, I saw a homeless man holding up a sign that read, "Why lie? I need a beer." Impressed with his honesty, I gave him several dollars.

I believe that one badly handwritten sign contained more truth than can be found among many of those who claim to be our leaders. My fervent wish is that they -- politicians, executives, religionists, academicians -- might learn to speak to us with the same integrity as that bum who stood on the corner of Braker Lane and Highway 183 in Austin, Texas on July 18 at about 3:30 p.m.

What a shot in the arm it would be to our ailing and sick society if truth would take the place of mendacity. How gratifying it would be if honest examination and logical evaluation would replace the mumbo-jumbo inundating our lives. Certainly, before the dogmatists seeking to plaster the Ten Commandments all over the U.S., it would behoove them to discover the profound problems raised by these proscriptions.

In the Fourth Commandment we are told that God made the world in seven days and rested after he finished his labors. If God rested the seventh day, did he just take a break from his creative work or did he go off on a permanent vacation? Genesis 1:1-2:3 comments "And God saw that it was good" after each day's scheduled work. Well, how good was it? Was it good enough that no further improvements and developments were needed? Or was it just good enough for starters?

Of course, the Fourth Commandment raises the question how the universe began. Those who believe that every word in the Bible is the expressed word of God waged a major campaign under the heading of "Creationism." Seeking to defend the six days creation story, they wanted public schools to teach as science that the biblical account of creation supercedes any evolutionary explanation of origins.

Their intellectual dishonesty went so far that they built a museum in Glen Rose, TX, which is close to some exposed dinosaur tracks. In the museum is an explanation that, supposedly next to one of the reptilian footprints left millions and millions of years ago, there is also the footprint of a human being. That, to their contention, proves that both species existed side-by-side. Of course, closer examination of the supposed human footprint turns it out to be nothing more than just a shallow depression next to the dinosaurian imprint. It takes a wild imagination to call it a human footprint. But such is the imagination and mentality of creationists.

Creationism seems to have been trounced. Now the orthodox camp is back again waging its warfare under the banner of intelligent design. They seek to sneak in their dogmas through the back door saying that intelligence, really their own parochial understanding of God, is the genesis of the cosmos. "How could there be such a marvelous world without intelligence designing the whole scheme?" they ask.

But just how intelligent is this universe? If man is the crowning achievement of God's creation, how does it come about that we live in a world where some microbes are mightier than humans? It doesn't seem very intelligent to me to make a human being the ultimate act of creation and then have millions wiped out by a mutating virus such as AIDS.

Is it intelligent to go to all the trouble to fashion this world and then have it ravaged by floods and earthquakes, droughts and meteorites? Of course, unexamined standard dogmatism avows that human sinfulness brings about all these tragedies. However, I cannot for the life of me reconcile a god who would drown a little kid in a flood because either parent had done something wrong.

It would seem to me to be much more honest intellectually to hold up a sign saying, "Why lie? God could care less about what is happening in the world!" Even the great Einstein could not bring himself to accept that conclusion. He proclaimed, "God does not play dice with the universe." Yet all the evidence is that that is precisely what God does. The dice are rolled and sometimes they come up sevens and elevens and at other times it's snake eyes and double sixes.

The one hundred billion galaxies, each one with about one hundred billion stars, provide the evidence that God only took a breather on the seventh day. The universe is very much a work in progress. Stellar furnaces explode with a million times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. Old stars die and become the debris from which heavier elements are formed. Black holes swallow other black holes. The horizon of the universe is ever expanding.

While there are mathematical equations and laws of physics explaining the nature of Nature, there is no evidence that a benign intelligence is at work. On our planet, starvation is an ever-growing reality. If God is behind every little squirming sperm that finally penetrates an egg, then that intelligence does not give a fig whether or not "his beloved creatures" survive. If things keep on as they are, by the year 2600, God will be responsible for so many of us that we will stand shoulder to shoulder. The total consumption of electricity would make Earth glow red-hot. That does not seem to be a sign of intelligence.

Assigning blame for cataclysmic events to Adam and Eve eating one lousy, forbidden fruit reflects a petty, narrow-minded, vindictive god. Now if he would pinpoint his wrath against Mafia bosses, crooked politicians, Kenneth Lay, and sundry other such sorry characters, I'd be all for him or her or it. However, it seems that all of this kit and caboodle have big homes in secluded estates and eat "pheasant under glass" for dinner.

Obviously, God did not rest on the seventh day. The world is still very much in process. As things are developing, tragedies and horror stories are part of the everyday.

Of course, to me the biggest single indicator of a lack of intelligent design in the universe is presence of that creature calling itself homo sapiens, sapiens. How smart are we when our single most consistent behavior pattern is genocide? We just love killing each other.

How smart was it on the part of this supposedly intelligent creator to give our species a brain reflecting hundreds of millions of years of development? A brain of three brains where the several parts are not well coordinated is not evidence of a lot of intelligence on the part of the designer.

So before various and sundry folks plaster the Ten Commandments all over this country, they ought to know what in the world they are promoting.

[John Brand is a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry veteran of World War II. He received his Juris Doctor degree at Northwestern University and a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry at Southern Methodist University. He served as a Methodist minister for 19 years, was Vice President, Birkman & Associates, Industrial Psychologists, and concluded his career as Director, Organizational and Human Resources, Warren-King Enterprises, an independent oil and gas company. He is the author of "Shaking the Foundations."]

John Brand encourages your comments: jbrand@YellowTimes.org

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Science In the News

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In the News

Today's Headlines - August 6, 2003

from San Francisco Chronicle

Researchers have identified a rogue form of a normal gene that may increase the risk of cancer when it acts in combination with subtle variants of other genes.

The new find suggests that small changes in chemical sequences of human DNA -- the master molecule of heredity -- may interact to reduce people's resistance to cancer-causing environmental factors such as radiation, smoking and many chemical carcinogens, the scientists say.

Although new tests for cancer risks or new treatments are still far away, the discovery opens a promising new door for researchers seeking to understand some of the most difficult and widespread forms of cancer.

from Newsday

Pollutants that cast a pall over Manhattan in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster ultimately may have caused pregnant women who were at or near Ground Zero to deliver smaller babies, researchers say in a study released today.

A preliminary report on 187 pregnant women who were in or near the collapsing towers shows that the soot, pulverized glass and other toxins proved so detrimental that mothers who inhaled the debris delivered babies who averaged a half-pound lighter than infants of unexposed women. Researchers studied women who were within a half mile of Ground Zero on the day of the attack or during the succeeding three weeks.

Reporting in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from Mount Sinai Medical Center describe the pollutants as a toxic cocktail with a potential for long-term adverse health effects. Other studies have linked such contaminants to heart disease and an array of chronic disorders. Ever since the attack, the compounds have been implicated as culprits in World Trade Center cough, a persistent respiratory illness still affecting firefighters and other rescuers who responded to the burning towers.

from Scripps Howard News Service

West Nile virus, monkeypox, Lyme disease, mad cow disease, SARS. The list of public health problems making headlines this year all have one tie - the diseases affect animals as well as people.

But a new report says that coordination between American experts on human health and their animal-science counterparts is still too weak to effectively identify and contain what seems to be a rising risk of cross-species outbreaks.

"This is the greatest risk of new and emerging diseases that we face today," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association and co-author of the report issued Tuesday by the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit group that promotes disease prevention.

Benjamin said as much as 75 percent of all emerging infections in humans are coming from other animals.

from Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Agriculture Department will require biotech companies to get permits for the genetically engineered crops that help make chemical compounds for products like detergent, now that there has been a sharp increase in such crops.

Until now, the department simply asked companies to notify federal officials before planting industrial crops and randomly checked the crops. The department received five such notices in 2003 alone; between 1993 and 2001 it received just 10 notices.

Cindy Smith, a deputy administrator of biotech regulation for the agency, said that the crops will be routinely tested under the new rule to be issued Wednesday.

from The New York Times

GLOBAL warming is a fearsome proposition, dredging up visions of rising tides engulfing shoreline cities, and other cataclysms. For winemakers, especially those in historically cool grape-growing regions, the changing climate has already markedly affected their lives and wines.

"This has been great, no doubt," said Johannes Selbach, speaking by telephone last week from Zeltingen, Germany, where his family has grown grapes along the Mosel River since the 17th century. "Just look at the row of fine vintages we've had. From 1988 through this year it has been strikingly warmer than any time I can remember. Everybody talks about it here."

Wherever winemakers have historically struggled against the elements, hoping to coax just enough warmth from the cosmos to release the sugar inside the grapes and achieve ripeness, the last decade seems to have brought little but blue skies.

from The New York Times

Radford, Va. -- As development spills into rural areas across southern Virginia, vultures — aggressive, ugly, unappreciated — have joined white-tailed deer, coyotes, raccoons and skunks as animals unwelcome in the suburbs.

Many ornithologists say Virginia has the second-largest vulture population east of the Mississippi, after Florida. Thanks largely to federal protection, the number is growing, though estimates are in dispute. Federal officials have put the number as high as 100,000. Conservationists place it lower.

As vultures have multiplied, they have also spread into suburbs and even cities. Vultures, it turns out, like being near people, with all their roadkill, livestock and landfills. "It is one of the side products of urbanization, just like storm runoff and air-quality degradation," said Bryan D. Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary. Several Virginia communities have roosts with 1,000 birds or more. Radford's is among the largest.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Greenville Church Burns the Bible


August 3, 2003

GREENVILLE -- A church in Greenville thinks the Harry Potter books are part of an evil cult, so church leaders decided to have an old-fashioned book burning, but children's books were not the only things that went into the fire.

"They have changed it the key points in the Bible," said Bishop Tom Turner Sr. of Jesus Non-Denominational Church in Greenville.

"The majority of it's probably the same, but it takes just a little bit to mislead people."

So the Book of Mormon, versions of the Bible, even the Catholic Rosary, all went up in flames.

Church leaders say any Bible besides the King James version that they use, are distractions.

However, religion experts say this is something very uncommon to West Michigan.

Dr. Bastiaan VanElderen has been studying religion at Calvin College since the 1940s and has never seen anything like this here.

"No, not at all," said VanElderen. "I've heard a lot of harangs about differing viewpoints, but nothing of this caliber."

Still, pastors sight a passage from the book of Acts that mentions burning pagan literature.

"So mightily grew the word of God and revailed," said Tom Turner Jr.. "When did it prevail? When they burned them and made a public testimony that they are for God."

Book burnings aren't a new part of our country's history, but Dr. VanElderen says the last time he remembers burning Bibles was in the South in the 1950s.

Evolutionary pressure on Creationists


31 OCT 2002 | source H. Allen Orr writing in Boston Review

Out of the primordial Judaeo-Christian soup stomped the Young Earth Creationists. They believed in six-day creations and static geology. Their great evolutionary advantage was simplicity, and so they are still with us today, like the slime molds. But their brains were too small to compete with Darwinists for the spoils of intellectual credibility. No organism can resist an ecological niche, and so a new Creationist evolved: the Creation Scientist. These Creationists had the brain capacity to read scientific material and could even perform simple abstract analyses, such as attacking radio-isotope dating methods and concocting Flood-friendly geological theories. Creation Scientists were moderately successful. They captured a large ecological niche, feeding off the ignorance of those who knew just enough to recognise scientific terms as scientific, but who did not know enough to evaluate the actual scientific validity of Creation Science. This is a pretty good evolutionary strategy. Good enough to temporarily colonise a district school board in Kansas. But it was still not the Big Niche. The Creation Scientists were soon crushed by the heavy evolutionists and the school board returned to its ante-diluvean state.

Now the Creationists have evolved again. They're bigger. They're smarter. They have cranial capacities measured in volumes larger than thimblefuls. They are Intelligent Design Theorists. The most famous is Michael Behe, a qualified biochemist. The next most famous is Phillip Johnson, who has no scientific credentials, but is a professor emeritus of law from Berkeley. The latest is William Dembski, who has a PhD in philosophy, a PhD in mathematics, and a Master of Divinity. These are not intellectual slouches.

Like all Creationists, the Intelligent Design (ID) Theorists reject Darwinism, and specifically natural selection as an explanation for the complexity of living creatures. As Michael Behe puts it, organisms are made up of too many "irreducibly complex" systems to be the work of random mutation and natural selection, and they must be the work of intelligent design. The ID theorists do not reject the existence of Darwinian evolution - after all, Darwinism can explain the evolution of antibiotic resistance and the fluctuating beaks of Galapagos finches. The ID theorists accept that the Universe is billions of years old. They do not reject science itself. They don't lie about their opponents. This makes them more formidable than their primitive ancestors.

In this review of Dembski's book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Design, H. Allen Orr delivers a stinging critique of ID theory. He gives lucid and compelling reasons why Dembski is wrong. He even shows that Dembski is often aware of the limitations of his own arguments.

Dembski has constructed a complex mathematical argument. He claims that he can show mathematically whether something is random or is designed, and that biological systems must be the latter. Orr's review completely spikes Dembski's argument. Orr even shows that Dembski's mathematics are irrelevant to the question, that is, Dembski's book is one long strawman argument. Orr even shows that Dembski is aware that he is fighting a strawman. This is pretty damning. But the problem is that Orr is a professional biologist, and his critique is resolutely biological. This makes sense of a sort - ID theory makes biological claims, so that is how it should be confronted. But it goes deeper. Dembski is actually engaging in two dishonest strategies that Orr does not really address because they go beyond the biology. Orr identifies several points where Dembski's arguments fall apart - in one instance so badly that Orr describes it as "the height of hypocrisy." But there are two other flaws in Dembski's book that are just as damning.

Orr's review utterly demolishes Dembski's argument that biological organisms are too complex to be explained by Darwinism. But let's suppose that Dembski is right. Let's suppose that there are biological systems that are too complex. This is a hypothetical, understand. Dembski is wrong. But let's pretend that he is right. The problem here is that even if Darwinism cannot account for biological complexity, Dembski has offered no evidence that Intelligent Design is the only plausible alternative. Like all the ID theorists, he assumes that what cannot be explained by Darwinism must be God's work. This is the old God of the Gaps argument. But science doesn't work this way. Proving the Scottsboro Boys innocent doesn't mean that Elvis raped the women.

Scientific theories are judged on two key criteria: (i) that they explain the known facts, and (ii) that they lead to testable predictions. Intelligent Design certainly can explain the known facts, but that's because anyfacts can be put down to Intelligent Design. Something doesn't make sense? Well that's not a flaw in the theory, that just means God made it that way. And that's the problem. It makes no testable predictions. Any scientific observation can be explained away as God's direct intervention. There is no such thing as contrary evidence to an ID theorist. This is not science. It is rationalisation of faith.

The other deep flaw in Dembski's argument that Orr only addresses tangentially is that it boils down to an attempt to cheat the reader. He fills his book with complex mathematics and rigorous-looking theses - and then reveals at the very end that these arguments don't really address the core of Darwinism. It is a shell game. Watch the maths go round and round. Where it stops, no-one knows.

A story, the relevance of which will become apparent, is recorded by Françoise Thiebault. In the 18th century there lived a famous encyclopedist by the name of Denis Diderot. He was even more famous as an anti-Catholic materialist. In Diderot's time, his philosophy was despised and mildly dangerous to follow. He spent three months in a French prison for publishing Lettre sur les aveugles, which questioned the existence of God. In another essay, Diderot wrote, 'Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: "My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly." This stranger is a theologian.' You can see why he got himself in trouble.

Diderot was invited in 1773 to the Russian Court. Catherine the Great was amused by Diderot's philosophy, but some of the court officials were distressed, and while they wanted to muzzle Diderot they did not dare confront him given that the Empress herself had invited him. Instead they introduced him to the famous mathematician Leonhard Euler. A true genius, Euler published over 380 mathematical papers on many subjects. When Euler died in 1783, he left such a backlog of material that the St Petersburg Academy continued to publish his work for fifty years. He was also a devout Christian who conspired with the Russians to deflate the upstart French atheist. The court officials explained that the famous mathematician Euler had an algebraic proof of God's existence, which he would present to the Court if Diderot would like to hear it. Of course Diderot agreed.

Here Thiebault completes the story: 'The mathematician, which was Euler advanced towards Diderot and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: "Monsieur, (a + b^n)/n =x, therefore God exists. Any answer to that!" Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.'

William Dembski has cast himself in the role of Leonhard Euler and his readers as Diderot. His argument amounts to a proof by mathematical intimidation. It is bad enough that No Free Lunch gets published as if it is a serious scientific work. But the worst of it is that the slime-mold Creationists are symbiotic with the ID theorists, and once again they are demanding Creationism be taught in schools, this time in the guise of Intelligent Design. Once again they are demanding equal time and that students be given access to "competing theories". But there are no competing theories here. ID theory is just Creationism dressed up. Its practitioners may be more intellectually gifted than the old Young Earthers, but they have still not constructed a viable theory. As we speak, the entire ID argument can be summed up thus: "I believe but have no evidence that some components of biological organisms are too complex to have evolved in a Darwinian fashion. The only other alternative is that God must have made these complex systems in numerous acts of Special Creation. I cannot think of any experimental design that would show my theory is better than Darwinism." This is not science. It should not be in science books. If ID theory deserves equal time as an explanation of biological complexity, then we'd better include Native American folklore, which explains how Crow got his raspy voice from being tricked into singing himself hoarse by Raven. Equal time for all, I say.

Radio station claims responsibility for Livingston County crop circles

The Associated Press
8/5/2003, 7:06 p.m. ET


HOWELL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A radio station on Tuesday claimed responsibility for three crop circles that mysteriously appeared in a Livingston County farmer's wheat field.

The farmer, Michael Esper, says he doesn't believe the station created the circles — one of which is more than 50 feet in diameter — but says he has consulted a lawyer and is weighing his legal options.

"They owe me some money because of the damage to the field, lost time and wages," said Esper. "I've been harassed ... for two weeks now with people, TV stations, newspapers calling me day and night all because of this prank."

In a statement, radio station WKQI said on July 14, at about 3:00 a.m. EDT, members of one the station's shows "created small crop circles in a cornfield" in Howell Township, about 50 miles northwest of Detroit.

Dom Theodore, the station's operations manager, apologized on air to listeners and to Esper. Telephone messages left Tuesday afternoon for Theodore were not returned.

The 55-year-old Esper first thought the circles were the work of pranksters, but then called a crop circle researcher to examine them.

Researcher Jeffrey Wilson studied the circles for three days. He determined they weren't an act of man, were not a hoax and were the result of some unexplainable natural phenomenon. Wilson said he did not believe the station's claims.

"They have just come out and they've made the claim, they have no proof," he said.

During his investigation, Wilson found dozens of wheat stems with holes in the middle. He said the electricity associated with crop circles generates heat and that heat turns the moisture in the stems to steam. It expands and it blows out the holes.

The station said in its statement the pranksters used a device made from wood planks and rope that would be available upon request for viewing at its studios in Farmington Hills.

Stabbing suspect blames ghost


Kennebec Journal | 8.5.03 | ALAN CROWELL

SKOWHEGAN — A Hartland woman accused of stabbing a drinking companion has blamed the assault on the man's dead ex-wife.

Jean Lampron, 46, was charged with aggravated assault, reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and obstructing the report of a crime after she allegedly stabbed Paul Vicnaire of St. Albans several times Sunday night after drinking whiskey with him at his Hartland Road home.

According to an affidavit filed in Skowhegan District Court Monday, Vicnaire told police that Lampron stabbed him under orders from his dead ex-wife.

Lampron, however, told police that Vicnaire's ex-wife, who was glowing and dressed "in a beautiful white robe," stabbed him.

Lampron told police that she attempted to pull the ex-wife off Vicnaire and in the process got blood on her shirt. Vicnaire was calling the dead woman's name out at the time, Lampron told police, according to the document, signed by Somerset County Sheriff's Deputy Kris M. McKenna. Lampron was initially charged with kidnapping and attempted murder, but those charges were downgraded when Lampron appeared in Skowhegan District Court on Monday morning.

Evert N. Fowle, district attorney for Somerset and Kennebec counties, said the charges could be elevated but he said several questions first need to be resolved.

A charge of attempted murder indicates a person knowingly attempted to kill someone, according to Fowle.

"We don't really know where the investigation is going to take us in terms of her state of mind," he said.

Following her court appearance, Lampron, who is being held on $50,000 cash bail, was taken to a facility for a mental health evaluation, according to court officials.

According to the affidavit, Lampron stabbed Vicnaire near his collarbone, telling him she was "going to kill him and that she would slit his throat" while he was seated in a chair in the living room. Vicnaire apparently did not have the strength to fight back, according to the affidavit.

After stabbing him, Lampron left Vicnaire in the chair and ripped phones from the wall, before eventually forcing him to go upstairs, take his clothes off and take a shower.

Vicnaire later told police that as he was taking a shower, Lampron was "pounding on the shower door with the butt of the knife threatening to cut his heart out," according to the affidavit.

After Vicnaire got out of the shower, Lampron's attitude changed abruptly and she said she needed to wash off the knife to make sure the blood and fingerprints were gone. Then she said she needed to "get out of there because she was going to get into trouble," according to the affidavit.

Vicnaire gave Lampron a ride to another man's house in Hartland and then went to a relative's house, according to the affidavit. The relative called the police.

Lampron smelled of intoxicants when she was interviewed following the incident and appeared to be mentally unstable, according to the affidavit.

The Greatest Myths, Hoaxes & Mysteries in Astronomy and Space Science


By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 07:00 am ET
25 March 2003

Few scientific disciplines seem to generate as many mysteries and falsehoods as astronomy and, by extension, the supporting space science effort to explore the unknown. From alleged hoaxes and conspiracies to unintentionally inaccurate accounts, there is plenty to debunk and correct.

On This Page
Mysteries | Myths | Hoaxes

Some of the bad information out there is demeaning to real science, an affront to astronomers, astronauts and the general public. Allegations that the Moon landings were fake tops that list.

Some of the misinformation is just what it is, non-facts that manage to pop up again and again, either in our brains or in print, many of them perhaps because they seem logical enough. A classic example is the erroneous suggestion that meteors burn up due to friction with air molecules.

There are countless mysteries, too, things for which we simply don't have answers despite years or decades of investigation. Dark energy, life, and the origin of sex are but three puzzles astronomers contemplate. The universe is a complex place.

Because our weekly Science Tuesday presentations are intended to serve as reservoirs of interesting and factual news and information about the universe, I thought it would be useful to devote one installment to reviewing some of the many myths, outlandish claims, incorrect accounts and plain old enigmas related to nearby and distant cosmic objects and phenomena.

Below are just a few.

Space Mysteries
An amazing number of things that befuddle big-brained scientists

There's a lot we do know. Deep Space Explorer takes you on a 3-D multimedia journey through time. Narrated by your personal tour guide, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 actress Chase Masterson.

Life remains the greatest mystery of science. How did it start? Nobody knows. Does it exist elsewhere? Nobody knows. Now that astronomers have discovered planets orbiting other stars, the second question has taken on some added urgency, helping to spawn an entire new field called astrobiology. For now, astrobiologists are the only scientists I can think of who are more clueless than biologists, because they ask both of the biggest unanswered questions (the two above), whereas biologists mostly realize they have their hands full with the first one.

Bet you didn't expect to see this entry on a list devoted to space topics. It is here for a compelling reason and with substantial justification: We don't know why sex began. Scientists have long been mystified as to why early life forms switched from asexual reproduction -- which avoids all the complications of monogamy, entirely sidesteps partnering, and enjoys the benefits of cloning -- to sexual reproduction, with its inherent burden of getting hitched, at least for a time. A study in 2001 suggested the stress of repeated asteroid or comet impacts may have fueled the world's first lust, albeit microbial, elevating sex to the level of cosmic mystery (where I suspect many intelligent beings had placed it all along).

Other universes
Here's how space author Andrew Chaikin prefaced an article on this topic: "The irresistible, mind-boggling fantasy comes to just about everyone, sooner or later: What if everything we knew, our whole universe, was just a speck of dust on someone's shoulder?" I've long had a similar thought, but I always imagined our universe as a molecule in the thumbnail of a lumbering giant, whose arm has been swinging forward ever since the Big Bang. Whatever, we have no clue whether our universe is the only one, or one of many. I'm just hoping the giant never smashes his thumb with a hammer (or wipes the dust mote from his shoulder).

Dark matter
"We've known that it exists for more than 25 years," says astronomer Virginia Trimble of the University of California Irvine. "But we don't know what the hell it is." Astronomers do know that something is out there, filling up "space" and adding to the gravity budget of the universe. They know this because without this as-yet-unseen dark matter, galaxies wouldn't hold together.

Dark energy
This one makes dark matter seem simple. "Frankly, we just don't understand it," says Craig Hogan, an astronomer at the University of Washington at Seattle. "We're completely clueless … about it." Dark energy's effects are plain as day, however: The universe is accelerating at an ever-increasing pace; something invisible is serving in an anti-gravity capacity over large distances, quite literally pulling the cosmos apart.

Planet X
The purported 10th planet makes an appearance in our Hoax section below, but it belongs here in the Mystery section, too, because there may in fact be another planet-sized object out beyond Pluto. If one exists, searches that are underway or planned will turn likely it up. And you can bet that a great debate will ensue over whether to call the object a planet or not. By one astronomer's definition, there are several additional planets, all round and orbiting the Sun but smaller than Pluto. Other scientists call these either asteroids or Kuiper Belt Objects.

Now and then, astronomers detect unfathomable discharges of energy from deep space. The bursts are brief, and astronomers are still trying to figure out what causes them. The leading speculation is that when a star explodes as a supernova, a lot of the energy escapes along two narrow beams that shoot out along the axis of the star's rotation. If a beam is aimed at Earth, the chance observation boosts an otherwise "normal" supernova to hypernova status.

The scary sounds of meteors
Just ask Chuck Bonner about the loud whistling noise, the buzz, and then the green fireball streaking across the sky. I don't know what it was either, nor do scientists who've looked into Bonner's account and other claims of loud noises associated with meteors.

So why is there no South Star?
There is. Mystery solved.

Space Myths
Stuff that's just not true or that is rooted in cloudy circumstances

No myths, just wonder. Deep Space Explorer takes you on a 3-D multimedia journey through time. Narrated by your personal tour guide, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 actress Chase Masterson.

"At the edge of the universe …"
There's just one problem with this oft-used phrase: The universe has no edge. To fathom how this could be, imagine an expanding balloon. Now put some ants on the balloon and ask them to find the edge. Try as they will, scurrying around, the ants will never reach an edge. Just one frustrating aspect to our mind-boggling universe.

The Sun has a companion, Nemesis
This one nearly belongs in the Hoax category, below, because fringe writers frequently claim the thing has been found. Facts do not bear this out, but there are real scientists looking into the possibility that the Sun has a stellar companion. Importantly, no one has proved there isn't a dim star, possibly a brown dwarf, orbiting the Sun. Brown dwarfs are considered failed stars, but stars nonetheless. They radiate very little energy, and almost no visible light, so they're not easy to find.

The Sun gets fatter as it sets
Nope. It just looks that way. Here's what really happens: When the Sun gets low on the horizon, its light becomes more noticeably refracted by Earth's atmosphere, because the light has to travel through more of it. Light from the bottom of the Sun travels through just a bit more atmosphere than light from the top of the Sun, and it is refracted slightly upward, making the Sun appear squashed, or rolled up like a window shade. The fact that it looks fatter, instead of shorter, is an illusion, one that works with the Moon, too:

The Moon is bigger when on the horizon
Sorry. It just looks bigger. Scientists aren't sure exactly why, but they think it has to do with our perception as well as our conception of how the sky is shaped. We imagine (without realizing it) the sky to be like an upside-down, not-to-deep bowl. So space objects near the horizon surprise us, because our minds expect them to be farther away.

Meteors burn up due to friction
This falsehood is often reported by mainstream media, which explains why it never goes away. In fact, a meteor vaporizes due to something called ram pressure. Air in front of an incoming space rock or speck of dust is compressed and heated, like the air in a handheld tire pump.

A comet toppled ancient civilizations
Myths are often rooted in real events, and the dictionary says a myth may or may not be based on fact. That's the case with this one. Nobody knows when the last major comet or asteroid struck Earth, or whether it happened recently enough to have altered human history in a big way. But Biblical stories, apocalyptic visions, ancient art, and some recent scientific data all point to the possibility that a series of calamitous events occurred around 2350 BC, wiping out several advanced societies in Europe, Asia and Africa. Could it have all been caused by a disintegrating comet that struck in stages? Ah, that's the stuff of myth, at least for now.

There is no gravity on the Space Station
It might look that way, but actually there's just a cool trick going on. The station, like any satellite, is in a perpetual state of falling back to Earth. It is also conveniently moving sideways, which keeps it from falling and sets up a state of equilibrium, which feels like zero-g to an astronaut.

The Hubble Space Telescope pictures are totally real
I need to be careful here, so as not to spawn any silly hoaxes. Hubble images are real, but they are not always showing reality, whatever that is. Many of the beautiful "objects" photographed by the orbiting observatory involve mere wisps of gas that cannot actually be seen by the human eye. Astronomers let Hubble gather light for many seconds or minutes to tease out the features of, say, a nebula. Then photo processors use the popular software program Photoshop to apply colors to the three filtered images that Hubble provides (the light is actually captured and beamed to Earth as grayscales, not color). All this is then combined to make a pretty picture that scientists find more useful for its distinct coloring. With infrared images, colors from the visible spectrum have to be applied, otherwise we'd have pictures of nothing, as far as our human eyes could tell.

The Moon landing never happened
This has to be the most ridiculous suggestion ever related to the Space Age. It is a hoax of grand proportions (suggesting that NASA carried out a hoax of even grander proportions). Believers are unlikely to be swayed, but if you're on the fence, click the above link to get an account of the facts.

Planet alignments bring gravitational doom
There is a very compelling argument against this claim: It didn't happen. Doomsayers predicted that an alignment of the planets in the year 2000 would rattle Earth and kill bunches of us. It's not often an astronomer calls something "a load of crap," but that was the case regarding the millennium prophecies surrounding the alignment. It wasn't the first time doom had been forecast because planets were lining up, and it probably won't be the last. Here's what was supposed to happen on May 5 of 2000: Severe weather was to rival Noah's tale, earthquakes were to crush cities, the Sun was to act up and Earth's axis was supposed to tilt. Whatever. Let's move on to something more plausible:

The "Face" on Mars
There are four salient facts related to this hoax: NASA started it; it's patently false; believers will never give up; I will get nasty e-mail for calling them mere "believers." The first suggestions that a hill in the Cydonia region of Mars appeared to have human features came from NASA scientists when they released the Viking photo in 1976. In hindsight, they could be said to have publicly ruminated a bit too much and have caused the agency to pay for their press-release ponderings ("…errors comprise part of one of the 'eyes' and 'nostrils' on the eroded rock that resembles a human face near the center of the image") ever since.

Planet X or a comet will destroy Earth
Hoaxes and doom seem mutually attractive. This one crops up every now and then, and it hasn't happened yet, but let's not let that fact get in the way of a good story. Recently, NASA was purported to have hidden evidence of a comet that was heading our way. If you're reading this, please note that this page was published after the predicted time frame for the end of the world.

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 – August 5, 2003

from The New York Times

Just as the global climate ebbs and surges, with droughts followed by deluges, so does the politically charged atmosphere that has long surrounded research pointing to potentially disruptive global warming.

The political turbulence always seems to intensify when there is momentum toward actions to limit smokestack and tailpipe releases of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping greenhouse gas, which most experts link to rising temperatures.

Such a surge occurred last week. Scientists who have called for action and those who say risks from warming are overblown agree that it has been many years since research on warming has been the subject of such a vigorous assault.

from The Washington Post

The family was poor, living on the Great Plains, and the child had a rare medical condition. "Here's what we can do," the family doctor told them. But it didn't work, recalled Michael Keller, who oversees the libraries at Stanford University. "So the family went to the Internet."

Soon they were back at the doctor's office with a report of a new therapy. "They plunked it down and said, 'Hey, can we try this?' And guess what? It worked."

Such tales are becoming increasingly common, but the happy endings come at a cost -- literally. That is because the vast majority of the 50,000 to 60,000 research articles published each year as a result of federally funded science ends up in the hands of for-profit publishers -- the largest of them based overseas -- that charge as much as $50 to view the results of a single study online. The child's parents, Keller said, paid for several papers before finding the one that led them to the cure.

from The Boston Globe

For years, Shakespeare scholars have debated whether a strange 16th-century play known as "Edward III" actually was written by the bard of Avon himself. Some see Shakespeare's brilliant wit in the scene where a clown helps the anxious king compose a love letter. And a few suggest the entire work is genuine Shakespeare, produced early in his career, and deserves a place in the canon.

Now a team of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center believe they have settled the debate, as well as a broader Shakespearean controversy, with a new computer program that tracks the play's use of very common words like "the," "of" and "to."

Though they designed the program for scientific purposes like predicting heart attacks, they tested it by combing through Shakespeare's plays and comparing them to other literature of the time. In the disputed play, "Edward III," they found a very different pattern of word use from Shakespeare's own works, suggesting the play was penned by someone else. They also showed a substantial difference between the works of the bard and those of Christopher Marlowe, who some have argued was the real Shakespeare.

from The New York Times

One morning, three days into a throbbing toothache that even a few silos of Advil could not muzzle, I realized I had no choice but to inflict myself on a dentist.

I was too humiliated to call my previous dentist's office, where my behavior had inspired staffers to put up a little sign that essentially compared abusive patients to cavities: you need them like you need another hole in the head. So I hauled out the Yellow Pages and found an unsuspecting practitioner who agreed to see me that afternoon.

I barely had time to sneer at the spalike touches of the waiting room — low lighting, aromatic candles, a Japanese fountain bubbling and New Age music burbling — when a dental technician bounded over and asked, "How're you doing today?"

"I'm here, aren't I?" I snapped. "How do you think I'm doing?"

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