NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 August 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, August 14, 2003

DI again accused of quote-mining


Dear Friends of NCSE,

A letter from NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll of the University of Wisconsin, Madison-just appeared in the San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times and is also posted, with Dr. Carroll's permission, on the NCSE web site. It reads:

John G. West of the Discovery Institute, in his guest column Friday, quoted an article in a leading biology journal as purported support for his view that alternatives to contemporary evolutionary science ought to be presented in biology textbooks. I am the author of the article he quoted (but did not properly cite) and I am writing to make it absolutely clear that West is gravely mistaken in taking the excerpted sentence out of its full context.

[See also http://www.ntskeptics.org/news/news2003-08-10.htm. Ed.]

It is very misleading of West to try to derive legitimacy for his mission by scouring the scientific literature for a phrase or sentence and then attaching a meaning that was not intended and would be far different if read in the entirety of the work or related work by the same author. The intent of West and the Discovery Institute is to recast legitimate scientific inquiry into the causes and mechanisms of evolution as doubt about the process of evolution.

There is plenty more to understand about 3 billion years of life's history, but the basic fact we share common ancestors with other apes, indeed with all animal life, is not one of them.

West, citing my article, wrote, ''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?''

The implication West asserts is that my phrasing ''long-standing question'' implies some doubt. Rather the meaning is that this is a question being actively explored. We know, for example, that mass extinctions caused by impact events shape evolution; this is not what would traditionally be in the realm of the category of microevolution. Yet my article was actually about the genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of large-scale differences between species (macroevolution).

Furthermore, I answered this question in the article, as well as in subsequent articles in the leading journal Nature and in a leading textbook, that indeed, the genetic processes operating at the level of individuals and species are sufficient to account for evolution of form at higher levels. West chose not to quote any of the remainder of the article or other work by me as they would completely destroy his case.

West and the Discovery Institute preach fairness, so if they are going to selectively quote a scientist it is only fair that the scientist's actual views are fully disclosed.

While the Discovery Institute's feeble challenges to the immense body of science underlying evolutionary biology presents no substantive scientific issue, its political and religious aspirations are very real issues. As happened in Kansas, Ohio and several other states, the Discovery Institute has sought to influence school science standards and textbook content in Texas. Its appeal to citizens' sense of fairness masks an agenda that would undermine the quality of science education in this country and introduce a thinly veiled religious doctrine as ''science.''

Scores of scientific organizations, the National Academy of Sciences and many school boards have rebuffed this agenda. I hope that state and local authorities in Texas will do the same.

Sean B. Carroll,
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Professor, molecular biology and genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, Wis.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x 305
fax: 510-601-7204

Kansas science review revives evolution debate


Posted on Wed, Aug. 13, 2003

The Kansas City Star

TOPEKA - With evolution and politics hanging over the debate, the Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday broke a deadlock and voted to review the science curriculum in Kansas schools.

The review, however, will not start until a year from now. It will be comprehensive, and its outcome might depend on who controls the board after the next elections.

After Tuesday's decision, conservative and moderates on the board agreed on one thing: Evolution, which slipped off the front pages of newspapers for a while, has not disappeared as an issue in Kansas.

"I think it will come back," said Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, a leader of the conservative side.

Sue Gamble of Shawnee, a leader of the moderate side, said evolution remains a very divisive topic.

"It's going to continue to be an issue," Gamble said. "No matter how we approach this, science is going to be controversial."

The 10 elected members of the Board of Education, who help set policy for what happens in Kansas public schools, have been split 5-5 between conservatives and moderates.

Several years ago, evolution exploded into a raging argument in Kansas, prompting widespread publicity for the state, along with plenty of joking and some ridicule.

In 1999, conservative forces ordered changes in science teaching to downplay evolution and remove questions about evolution from state assessment tests.

In the 2000 election, with evolution a prime topic, moderates took control of the board from conservatives and reversed the evolution move.

The 2002 election, however, led to the current 5-5 split.

In January the board had trouble electing a chairwoman. Last month, and again Tuesday, the board split 5-5 over the question of a review of science curriculum standards.

Then a new proposal, from Abrams, which called for a full-scale review to start in August 2004, finally attracted enough support and passed 7-3.

"It was a good compromise," Abrams said.

Abrams said the one-year delay was necessary because state education officials already were busy with school reform measures. He said a review of history and government curriculum should go forward immediately, with the science review to follow.

Gamble, who opposed Abrams' proposal, wanted a comprehensive review to begin immediately.

Asked whether moderates suffered a defeat, Gamble replied, "It's just the way it is."

She referred to the next election as a "gorilla in the middle of the room that's not being talked about."

Except for politics, the review of science curriculum standards might not attract much attention.

Kansas law calls for periodic reviews of what schools teach. Knowledge about science changes, as do rules governing schools. That makes the reviews desirable. Groups of educators conduct the reviews.

But the Board of Education operates in politics.

Every two years, five of the 10 members are on the election ballot. Next year, moderates and conservatives would like to win control of the board.

Campaigns for seats on the board do not attract as much attention as other elections, but both sides saw potential fodder in the review of science standards.

Some moderates favored an immediate review, speculating that a focus on evolution might help them generate interest in the next election. Some conservatives favored a less-than-comprehensive review, which might have kept down public interest.

"The issue of evolution is going to be there," said board member Bill Wagnon of Topeka, who favors the moderate side but voted for Abrams' proposal. "We need to stare that issue down and move ahead."

To reach John A. Dvorak, who covers Kansas government, call (816) 234-7743 or send e-mail to jdvorak@kctar.com.

Intelligent Design proponents schedule forum


A Conroe plastics scientist would like to see area school districts introduce the theory of intelligent design in high school biology classrooms.

Mark Cadwallader, who holds a master's of science degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston, will be one of four panelists debating the validity of intelligent design, or creationism, as a scientific theory during a Sept. 18 forum at Montgomery County College. The idea behind intelligent design is a theological doctrine which purposes that all matter and living forms were distinctively fashioned by God and did not merely pop up, or evolve, into being. Cadwallader believes public school textbooks promote evolution as a scientific fact rather than the hypothesis it actually is. And he says intelligent design is a "more valid" theory that should be brought into the classroom so that students can rationalize for themselves how the planet and its inhabitants came to be.

"Evolution is being taught in the classroom as a theory," he said. "But in order to become a theory, a scientist must first form a hypothesis and prove that hypothesis to be true, which makes that idea a scientific theory. The few ways evolution has been tested in the laboratory, it has failed. So, it really doesn't even really deserve to be called a theory."

Cadwallader said the world has learned more about how Earth's species came in to existence since scientist Charles Darwin expounded his theory of evolution in the 1859 book, "On the Origin of Species." According to Cadwallader, the cataloging of fossils alone offer enough evidence to disqualify Darwin's "theory of evolution" which claims all forms of life originated by descent from earlier forms.

Cadwallader claims a recent nation-wide poll shows that 86 percent of Americans want intelligent design taught alongside Evolution in the classroom. Despite what he believes to be "overwhelming" evidence that Americans want creationism taught in public schools, Cadwallader said he would be satisfied if teachers would at least include the "theory of evolution's" downfalls instead of merely presenting it as fact.

"Evolution is a hypothesis which should be presented with all the arguments, pro and con, as true science requires," he said.

A doctor of biochemistry, Don Clark; an electrical engineer, Jim Jenkins; and an architect, Tom Lancaster, will join Cadwallader on the forum's panel to present various aspects of the intelligent design theory to those attending the public event. The forum will take place at the college, located at 3200 College Park Drive in Conroe, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the campus theatre.

Topics will include The Origins of Life, Natural Selection, The Fossil Record, and DNA: The Language of Life. Tickets are available by calling 281-288-0168.

Although Cadwallader said the forum's planners considered inviting those who support evolution as a scientific theory to join in on the discussion, he said planners were concerned the debate would give way to personal attacks. The forum's planners include members of the Republican Leadership Council, the Conservative Republicans of Montgomery County, and other area organizations.

"Besides, we couldn't find anyone who wanted to support evolution to participate in the forum," he added.

Cadwallader said he does not think the debate will lead to immediate changes in the classroom with the inclusion of the intelligent design theory in biology textbooks. But he said he hopes the forum will inspire the public to sign a petition intended to motivate school boards to make sure all sides to the evolution debate are covered in biology classes.

"We want to go forward with a petitionsigned by members of the community to get school boards to enact a new policy requiring educators to teach the strengths and weaknesses of the evolution theory," he said. "We don't want to go that far, as to force school boards to include intelligent design in biology instruction because that could be seen as bringing religion in the classroom. But Texas law does call for teachers to present the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, but it isn't happening with evolution. It is being presented as fact. Look up Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements and the public will see that the state claims students must be able to review and criticize scientific theories."

Cadwallader said he would eventually like to visit area school districts in the south Montgomery County area and present his petitions to trustees. Magnolia Independent School District Superintendent Michael Holland said he was sure the district's trustees would be open to listening to their constituents regarding biology instruction. Holland said he was unaware of any movement in the district to get creationism taught in the classroom or to modify the teaching of evolution. "I'm not sure exactly what they (Cadwallader and his supporters) will be asking for, if it would be to adopt curriculum or what," Holland said, "but I'm sure the board would be willing to listen."

The Magnolia school board's president, Vicky Rudy, said she would be willing to hear the public's concerns regarding how evolution is being taught in the classroom. But she said it could be hard to monitor exactly how teachers are presenting the issue to their students.

"We have state education mandates we need to abide by to help students graduate and get into college," she said. "Those mandates are set by the state's board of education. On a personal level, I believe in creationism. I believe it is a fact. I would personally love if we taught that. I don't like the thought, however, as to how some teachers may present it to our kids. I don't know how we would police it. Do I think both theories should be presented? Absolutely. But as a school district, what we can and can't do is limited."

Another aspect that could hinder area school boards from moving to include intelligent design or altering how evolution is taught in the public school setting involves money. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the state board of education establishes a list of conforming and non-conforming textbooks for all public school grade levels. School districts select instructional aides based on those lists. Where a particular textbook is on those lists determines how much money the state will hand over to assist in the purchase.

If a school board adopts a book that is not on the approved list, district's may still teach from the book but only as a supplement to what the state requires should be taught to Texas students. As to whether or not any biology books on the state's conforming list include intelligent design or present the pros and cons to the evolution theory, the TEA spokesperson did not know what the textbooks included.

"I don't believe there are any books that deal with intelligent design," said TEA Public Information Officer Detta Culbertson.

Culbertson said state approved biology textbooks were last adopted in 1997. The state's Board of Education reviews new textbooks about every six years, according to the spokesperson.

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 13, 2003

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 — By 6 o'clock this morning, Utah time, Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, President Bush's choice for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, had called Carol M. Browner, the administrator under President Bill Clinton. He asked if he could use her as a reference as he prepared for his confirmation hearings, which are bound to be rife with Democratic dissent.

Ms. Browner said sure, but she told him she would tell people about both his pluses and his minuses. In the plus category, she told a reporter later, she would say that they worked well together, that he was "very good on the Grand Canyon visibility stuff" and that "he didn't simply walk the industry line." In addition, she said, "he's a really nice guy."

On the down side, she said, she would say he was a true believer in two philosophies with which she adamantly disagrees. One, which he shares with the Bush administration, is cost-benefit analysis, which she opposes because, she said, it traditionally overestimates the cost of regulations to industry and underestimates the benefit to health and the environment. The second is his belief in states' rights, which she said can lead to low standards and to some states' becoming pollution havens.

from The Washington Post

The World Health Organization will recommend today that nations phase out the widespread and controversial use of antibiotic growth promoters in animal feed, saying the move will help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for medicine and can be done without significant expense or health consequences to farm animals.

Based on a study of Denmark's experience following a 1998 voluntary ban on antibiotic growth promoters, WHO concluded that under similar conditions the use of low-dosage antibiotics "for the sole purpose of growth promotion can be discontinued."

WHO's findings and recommendation do not require nations to act. But they will add to the growing movement to stop routine use of antibiotics on farms, and to the kind of public pressure that led the McDonald's fast-food chain to recently tell suppliers to cut back on antibiotic growth promoters. WHO officials say that about half of the antibiotics used by livestock growers worldwide are low-dose growth promoters, the type that public health experts say are most likely to promote the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

from The (Raleigh, NC) News & Observer

When the sky is clear, Bill Webster rises before dawn, rolls a 150-pound telescope out of his garage and trains it on a reddish gleam in the southwestern sky.

Mars is edging closer to Earth than at any time in 60,000 years, and Webster doesn't want to miss a glimpse. "To see something for the first time is always a thrill," said Webster, a Wendell computer programmer and Raleigh Astronomy Club member. "To see something a hundred times and notice something different is also a thrill."

Amateur astronomers around the world are a little Mars-crazy these days. Who can blame them? Earth and the Red Planet will zip to within 35 million miles of each other on their orbits this month. That's no day trip, but it's close enough to improve the view.

from Associated Press

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- A Canadian satellite designed to monitor the depletion of the ozone layer was carried into space aboard a Pegasus XL rocket dropped from the belly of an airplane high above the Pacific Ocean.

The launch, off the California coast, occurred at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at 39,000 feet. It left behind a contrail that could be seen across a wide area of the coastline.

Seconds after the rocket was dropped from the belly of an L-1011 jet, its first stage ignited as planned and began propelling the satellite toward space.

from Associated Press

RENO, Nev. -- Civil engineers have revved up their new earthquake simulator at the University of Nevada, known as a "shake table," which they say gives the school the nation's best facility to test innovations key to preparing for the temblors.

The addition to a lab on the Reno campus is an internationally significant development that moves scientific researchers closer to their dream of creating "earthquakes on demand," said Ian Buckle, a New Zealander who directs UNR's Center for Civil Engineering Earthquake Research.

The new hydraulic "shake table" is the third at the lab, allowing earthquake simulations on up to 150 tons of bridge spans or construction materials -- more capacity than any other U.S. facility, said Ted Batchman, dean of UNR's College of Engineering.

Suck Bad Vibes out of House and Home

Space cleaning experts do brisk business


by Carol Lloyd, special to SF Gate
Tuesday, August 12, 2003

"Your house has an energy drain."

Janis McNair sits on my couch, swinging a silver chain weighed by an amber glass. She's checking to see how the yin and yang in the room are balancing.

"Ideally," she says, glancing up from her pendulum, "a home should have balance of about 60 percent yang -- active energy -- and 40 percent yin -- passive energy -- but yours is 84 percent yin and only about 15 percent yang."

Wow. I had no idea.

McNair, who has graciously agreed to come to my house for a mini-demonstration, is a professional space clearer. No, not a clutter buster or a housekeeper, but a person who works to restore positive energy to a space. Many space clearers consider themselves specialists in feng shui, the ancient Chinese system of harmonizing energies in the environment. Whereas modern feng shui consultants often work with placement of architectural, decorative and natural elements to improve the flow of chi in the home and workplace, space clearers focus on the invisible energies of buildings. Some space clearers come from different spiritual traditions, and many use instruments like dowsing rods, drums and incense to drive out the negative energy.

"Spaces can harbor negative energy for many reasons," McNair says. "It could be a ghost or a past trauma by a former occupant, it could be emotional imprints of the current occupants. It could be geopathic causes, too -- an Earth imbalance like an earthquake fault line."

Hmmm. Is this some newfangled way to separate homeowners from their hard-earned cash, or an ancient practice with roots in many venerable religions? Your answer to this question probably depends on how deeply you identify with New Age culture. Either way you see it, there's no doubt that space clearing, or consecration, has been around for centuries. Think Native American sage rituals or Catholic incense swinging. But it's only recently that it has morphed into a modern-day profession. Now space clearing is the bailiwick of not only shamans, priests and witch doctors but also a host of certified (by a multitude of New Age institutes such as Earth Transitions) practitioners who service insomniac homeowners, struggling businessmen and frustrated landlords.

Following the boom in feng shui consultation in the late 1990s, space clearing appeared on the scene not simply as one magic trick in the feng shui bag but as a field unto itself. Now there is a growing body of space-clearing literature written by gurus such as Karen Kingston, the Bali-based American feng shui expert, and Eric Dowsett, a U.K.-born, Seattle-based dowser unconnected to the Chinese tradition.

These gurus travel around the world, leading workshops, training and certifying new practitioners and charging hefty fees for their special brand of metaphysical expertise. Kingston, who boasts her own franchise of practitioners in more than a dozen countries, also owns a "feng shui hotel" in Bali. New Age companies have leaped on the budding trend with various product lines ranging from sacred-space sprays to aid in the ridding of those especially hard-to-get noxious energies to a panoply of sacred bells and harmony balls to quartz-crystal singing bowls for chanting away tenacious yin/yang imbalances.

And, according to McNair and a couple other Bay Area practitioners I spoke to, the business of vanquishing evil, grief-stricken, off-kilter energy is positively brisk.

With her elegant features and white linen pants, McNair seems more suited to the country club or a sun-bathed design studio than to a New Age chanting circle. But for the last decade, she's devoted herself to the study of space clearing and feng shui. She studied dowser-based space clearing with Dowsett and feng shui-style space clearing with Kingston and uses both methods in her work. "When I use flowers and bells to create rituals, I'm working more from a feng shui tradition," she tells me. "When I use pendulum and dowsing rod, I'm using a different method, but they all work with the same principles."

Jodi Frazier, a life coach who lives in Livermore, hired McNair only two weeks ago after feeling as if she and her husband were a little stuck in their lives. Her first experience with feng shui-style space clearing a few years ago, when she decided to hire someone to "do" the town house she was renting, had convinced her of its potential power. "I never felt comfortable there," she says. "I don't know how to describe it, but it didn't feel like home."

After that first consultation, she says, her life changed dramatically. "I stopped seeing the man I was dating, which was a good thing, because it allowed me to meet the man I would eventually marry," Frazier says. "I got a promotion at work. I got married and bought a home. All in the space of two months." And when Frazier hired McNair recently, she says, the woman's presence seemed to bring immediate changes. "From the moment she stepped on the property, things began happening," adds Frazier, who says she and her husband had been waiting for weeks for their neighbor to take a hot tub they'd wanted to get rid of. "During her visit, someone came over to see about moving it. By the end of her visit, it was scheduled to be picked up the next day."

Frazier attributed other positive changes to McNair's visit. "I'm sleeping like a dream," she says. "I'm moving forward on my coaching business. I'm meditating and journaling every day." She also sees her husband getting benefits as well. "He's not the type to say so, but I see he's gotten some really creative work opportunities in the past two weeks," Frazier adds.

Is this a true shifting of energy, or simply the placebo response writ large? For Frazier, it doesn't seem to matter. "I think if you believe in it, it will work for you," she says.

Although a slight majority of McNair's clients are homeowners or tenants seeking to cleanse their living space, many of them are entrepreneurs struggling in their businesses or landlords having a difficult time renting their buildings. She claims one of Berkeley's largest commercial landlords has repeatedly hired her to clear spaces that just wouldn't rent. She's even snagged some major corporate hotels as clients. One of her biggest jobs was a 34,000-square-foot Marriott Hotel in Phoenix, whose management, she says, flew her out to do a space clearing before opening its doors.

One recent story broadcast on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" program, on San Francisco's post-dot-com office glut, related the story of a new entrepreneur who hired a space clearer to purge the bad dot-com memories from his building's karma.

Indeed, McNair's first work began in 1993 with her husband, Martin McNair, a developer and commercial landlord. "We had a building where the lower floor was a post office, and they wanted it remodeled, but we couldn't get the U.S. Postal Service to sign off on any of the plans," McNair says. "And upstairs, we had 10 small offices, but we couldn't seem to keep more than one or two of them rented at the same time." Having run out of brass-tack solutions, her husband agreed to allow McNair to hire a feng shui consultant. "We got some pretty interesting results," she says. "Within 45 days, we had one tenant renting out all 10 offices, and the postmaster general had signed off on the remodeling plans."

"My husband then decided that spending money on my feng shui workshops -- not exactly inexpensive -- was a good idea and I should pursue it," McNair adds with a smile.

It seems especially apt that space clearing now should be finding a new clientele among the ruins of our current post-boom economy. During the turn-of-the-century Bay Area housing and office boom, feng shui consultants were kept busy with young homeowners and entrepreneurs who wanted spaces that would keep the good times flowing. Now, space clearing can offer remedies to a community pockmarked by financial trauma, where would-be billionaires have gone bankrupt, happily overemployed homeowners have become depressed slackers with massive mortgages and commercial spaces have stood empty for months.

After identifying my house's sorry lack of yang, McNair goes about discovering the locus of its imbalance. Holding her dowsing rod, a metal instrument in the shape of an L -- just the same kind of instrument, she explains, that people use to use to find wells -- she lets it guide her through the rooms. She ends up in the dining room, next to the table: The dowsing rod has begun turning in circles. "This is the where the principal cause of disturbance is," she says. "It's predecessor energy. Something happened here -- I'm getting that it came from three owners ago. Someone might have died here. Now, let me see if I can balance this energy."

After a few quiet moments, she emerges from a momentary reverie and declares that she has balanced the energies, thereby "clearing the space." She double-checks her success, using her pendulum, and, sure enough, my house's yin-yang balance has returned to a healthy 40 percent/60 percent split.

Although I'm a incorrigible curmudgeon when it comes to nouveau-ancient spiritual practices, I can't help also experiencing a sense of relief upon seeing McNair discover that my house has been healed metaphysically. Whatever we say about our homes, they are never simply shelters or even collections of well-chosen, designerly materials -- they hold our lives and our imaginations in unseen and uncontrollable ways. Any profession that taps into that invisible force field of emotion, memory and fantasy is sure to find fertile ground.

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about Bay Area real estate. She teaches a class on buying your first home in the Bay Area, and another class based on her best-selling career counseling book for creative people, "Creating a Life Worth Living." For more information, email her at surreal@sfgate.com.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Darwinism Under Attack

From the issue dated December 21, 2001


View that 'intelligent force' shaped life attracts students and troubles scientists


When John L. Omdahl teaches a course on biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of New Mexico, he sets aside a portion of his last lecture to explain why he disagrees with a central tenet of evolutionary science: that Darwin's theories of random mutation and natural selection offer a reliable framework for understanding how life developed. In fact, throughout his course, the professor tries to avoid the word "evolution," which he calls a "loaded term."

To Mr. Omdahl, who has taught at the university since 1972, a more palatable explanation for the diversity of life is that an intelligent force has guided the evolutionary proc-ess. The universe is too complex, the conditions for life too exacting, to conclude that it could have developed in such a sophisticated way without help from some "external agent."

"In my department, 90 percent of the people here, or more, would be opposed to the position I have," he says. "They're very uncomfortable with me having these discussions. But I'm very comfortable."

For the vast majority of scientists, evolution through natural means is as much a fact as the earth's revolution around the sun. Yet a small but vocal number of biologists, chemists, philosophers, and mathematicians are determined to change that view. They believe that an intelligent agent -- most rigorously avoid the word "God" -- has guided the earth's history, and that scientific research can prove its existence. While most scientists are quick to dismiss the idea as religion cloaked in academic jargon, advocates of the concept, known as intelligent design, are making inroads into academe, thanks to their unconventional approach, sophisticated arguments, and scholarly credentials.

Intelligent-design theory has been greeted most warmly at evangelical Christian colleges, where it is sometimes taught as a viable alternative to Darwinian evolution. Other institutions have been far less sympathetic. Although intelligent design has advocates in some science departments, no secular or mainstream college teaches it as a legitimate theory. Scientists who do support intelligent design have been relegated to teaching it as a nonscience course, as at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Advocates have also organized conferences at such universities as Baylor and Yale, and have assembled a group of more than 100 scientists to criticize Darwinian theory in full-page advertisements in national publications. The New York Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have sponsored debates on intelligent design, and three academic presses are publishing books on the subject.

While some of that scrutiny is quite critical of intelligent-design theory, advocates see the mere mention of their ideas in academic settings as a victory. "The point is, you wouldn't have MIT Press bringing out a 780-page volume on flat-earth theory," says Paul A. Nelson, a philosopher of science at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that supports intelligent design. One of his articles is being reprinted in a book on intelligent design forthcoming from the press.

The growing visibility of intelligent-design theory troubles some academics. They say that through sloppy science and deceptive logic, its advocates are winning converts among students, professors in nonscientific fields, and the public. "I don't think intelligent design is a science," says Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "It's a way of restating creationism in a different formulation."

He and other scientists lay the blame for intelligent design's public-relations successes squarely on their discipline. They say that professors must do a better job of explaining not just the facts of science, but the process that undergirds it. A recent Gallup Poll found that 45 percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, and 39 percent believe that Darwin's theory of evolution is not supported by the evidence. "If so many students and science teachers are ready to buy into it," says Massimo Pigliucci, an associate professor of botany at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, "then obviously we failed somewhere dramatically in science education."

How It Began

The book credited with laying out the philosophical underpinnings of the modern intelligent-design movement was published in 1991 by Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor at Berkeley who claimed that Darwinian evolution is based on scant evidence and faulty assumptions. In 1996, a biochemist at Lehigh University, Michael J. Behe, offered scientific argument in favor of intelligent design. Mr. Behe introduced the idea that some living things are irreducibly complex, meaning that they could not have evolved and must have been designed.

Two years later, a mathematician who now works at Baylor University, William A. Dembski, claimed to have developed a mathematical "explanatory filter" that could determine whether certain events, including biological phenomena, develop randomly or are the products of design.

The intelligent-design movement attacks evolutionary theory in two basic ways. Philosophically, it argues that because science refuses to consider anything but natural explanations for things, it is biased against evidence of supernatural intervention. Scientifically, it criticizes the evidence for evolution through natural processes.

The movement has expanded by pitching a big tent. It includes people like Mr. Behe, who believes that all living things evolved from a common ancestor, as well as Mr. Nelson, a creationist who believes the earth is several thousand years old. What all agree on, though, is that an intelligent force, which many of them personally believe is God, has directed the development of life.

The movement coalesced in 1996, when the Discovery Institute established the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The center, which is largely financed by Christian foundations, spends about $1-million a year to support research, advocacy, and publications on intelligent design, and many of its most prominent advocates in academe are fellows there. Stephen C. Meyer, an associate professor of philosophy at Whitworth College who heads the center, says its primary goal is to establish academic credibility for intelligent design by publishing research on it. "I think there are going to be more and more younger scientists and philosophers of science who are going to be attracted by the idea," he says. "And they are going to want to talk about it."

So far, intelligent design has taken its greatest strides at religious institutions. Several evangelical Christian colleges have introduced intelligent-design theory into their science courses.

At Illinois's Wheaton College, a course for nonscience majors called "Origins" includes a discussion of intelligent design. Derrick A. Chignell, a chemistry professor, says that he and other science professors there tend to be more skeptical of the theory than are its advocates, but believe it raises important scientific and religious questions. "I've read the books, and I've been to the conferences, and I think it's intriguing," he says. "What I want to see is some science being done based on that paradigm that produces results that could not be produced by the Darwinian paradigm."

At Oklahoma Baptist University, Michael N. Keas, an associate professor of natural science, teaches intelligent-design theory in his science courses. In a freshman colloquium for biology majors, he uses Icons of Evolution: Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong to critique the conventional science textbooks students will use later, he says. "It allows them to critically evaluate the evidence pro and con for those books." Icons was written by Jonathan Wells, a molecular biologist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and has been discredited by a number of scientists. Mr. Keas says that the science faculty at Oklahoma Baptist holds a "diversity of opinion" on intelligent design, but that the consensus is that "it's a viable part of the conversation."

'Why Are We Here?'

According to both friends and foes of the theory, it has made no headway into the science curriculums at secular universities. The closest it has come is at Berkeley and Minnesota. Jed Macosko, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley, created a course through a program that allows students to organize and run classes. Called "Evidence for Design in Nature?," the course, which has been taught several times, most recently last year, offered readings by a number of intelligent-design proponents and their critics. "We asked the real question -- why are we here, how did we get here?," he says. "We were answering it by looking at science."

With an undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from Berkeley, both in chemistry, Mr. Macosko has sterling credentials, and his course is frequently mentioned by people in the intelligent-design movement. The class was given an identifier, ChemE 198, that suggested it was a chemistry course.

But the person who authorized it, Jeffrey A. Reimer, a professor of chemical engineering, says that students were not allowed to take it for science credit. The syllabus covered such topics as the big bang, Mr. Dembski's "explanatory filter," and the origins of life. Mr. Macosko made clear to students that he believes firmly in intelligent design, but Mr. Reimer says he made sure that Mr. Macosko did not push his views on them. "I did not allow Jed to run it as a lecture format," Mr. Reimer says.

"I thought it was appropriate for a scientist to host a discussion about these worldviews and to get students to reflect on their own worldviews," he adds, saying that while he is "curious" about intelligent design, he thinks it has "little technical content" and does not belong in a science course.

Mr. Macosko's father, Christopher, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Minnesota's Twin Cities campus, taught the Berkeley course last year with his son and is offering a similar one at Minnesota this fall. "Origins: Chance or Design," a freshman seminar, covers scientific theories on the origins of life, as well as readings in philosophy and theology. Like many intelligent-design advocates, Mr. Macosko argues that the belief that life's complexity can be explained through chance and natural selection is in itself a form of faith. "It's really the religion of naturalism," he says.

A number of other scientists who teach at secular or mainstream universities are also sympathetic to design theory. While agreeing that not much research has been done to prove the existence of an intelligent designer, they believe that Darwinian evolution is flawed and say science departments should "teach the controversy." Last month, the Discovery Institute published some of their names in full-page advertisements in The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and other high-profile publications. In the ad, which was created in reaction to a PBS series, Evolution, more than 100 science professors or people with doctorates in science declare that they are "skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life."

New Mexico's Mr. Omdahl was among them. He declines to label himself a proponent of intelligent design but says it has "some very credible arguments." He has always been wary of Darwinian explanations for how biological systems can advance from the simple to the complex. His notion of intelligent design also suits his religious faith, which he discusses as well in that last lecture to students.

"When you look to the idea that you and I are basically random events and random happenings, that left me feeling void and empty as a human being," he says. "That says there's no reason for laws, or for moral behavior."

Scott Minnich, a professor of microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Idaho, is another supporter of intelligent-design theory. Like others, he says he has no problem with microevolution, the small changes within species that develop over time. His dispute is with macroevolution -- larger transformations from, for example, reptiles to birds -- which he says is "full of speculation and assumptions."

Mr. Minnich brings up such ideas in his classes. He recommends, for example, that students in his introductory-microbiology course read Mr. Behe's book on "irreducible complexity." But he says he frames the discussion carefully. "If I make any statement that is on intelligent design counter to evolutionary theory, I make sure to tell students that this is my opinion, that this is controversial, that this is outside the consensus thinking, and they should know that."

This is good science, he says. "Is it wrong to ask students to stop and think, given time and what we know of biochemistry and molecular genetics, whether blind chance and necessity can build machines that dwarf our creative ability? Is that a legitimate question? I think it is."

Intelligent-design theory has also been taken up in philosophy, religion, and other liberal-arts courses. Some professors present it with skepticism; others find it intriguing.

Jeffrey Koperski, an assistant professor of philosophy at Saginaw Valley State University, in Michigan, teaches intelligent-design theory as part of a philosophy-of-science course that examines revolutions in scientific thought. In a section titled "the evolution debate," Mr. Koperski pre-sents the ideas of Mr. Dembski and Mr. Behe. He says they "raise serious challenges that should be addressed and looked at by all sides." That mainstream scientists reject design theory, he says, doesn't mean that it should be dismissed. Revolutionary theories, he notes, always begin as fringe movements.

A 'Non-Starter'

Scientists worry that because intelligent-design advocates like to make their case in the popular press, on the campus lecture circuit, or through nonscientific disciplines, their ideas may gain credibility among academics who do not have a strong understanding of evolutionary theory.

"It's a non-starter in the scientific community," says Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which tracks the creationist movement. "But people in history, or social studies, or philosophy of science, who don't know that the science is bad, could very well be propagating this in the academic community. So there may be a lot of university graduates coming out of school thinking evolution is, quote, a theory in crisis."

A growing number of scientists have begun to respond to those challenges. "Kansas was definitely a wake-up call for many professors," says Brian J. Alters of McGill University, referring to a 1999 decision, since overturned, by that state's Board of Education to drop the teaching of evolution from public schools' science curriculums. As director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill, Mr. Alters recently co-wrote a book on defending evolution in the classroom, to respond to an increase in requests for help from science teachers and professors.

Some scientists who have tackled anti-evolution arguments in the classroom say their discipline must do more on that front. "The other professors typically ignore it, and I think that's irresponsible, given the strategy of the creationists to infiltrate the school boards of the communities around the country, and pervert the undergraduate system that American kids are entitled to," says David S. Woodruff, chairman of the department of ecology, behavior, and evolution at the University of California at San Diego.

Last year, members of a student-run intelligent-design club handed out to Mr. Woodruff's students a list of 10 questions that disputed the evidence for evolution. One of the club's founders is now organizing intelligent-design clubs on other campuses.

Robert T. Pennock, an associate professor of philosophy at Michigan State University who has written about the movement, believes that an effective rebuttal to intelligent-design theory must include a discussion on the philosophy of science. While many scientists are loath to broach topics such as religion, materialism, and naturalism, he notes that design advocates often appeal to the public by arguing that Darwinism precludes the existence of God.

"Their central criticism is that science is dogmatically naturalistic, that it denies God's intervention by fiat, and that scientists are the gatekeepers and they won't let this in because they're all atheists," Mr. Pennock says. "One of the important things to explain is that science is not metaphysically naturalistic or atheistic. There's a difference between that position and the methodological rules it uses to conduct its work."

Many intelligent-design proponents believe there is a conspiracy to keep their ideas out of scientific circles. "I've been in public life a long time," says Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute. "This is one of the most blatant forms of viewpoint discrimination that I have seen."

Critics counter that the theory's advocates are the ones who are conspiring to curtail the debate. Rather than submit papers to respected scientific journals, critics say, they publish books. Rather than present papers at mainstream scientific conferences, they hold their own.

Lehigh's Mr. Behe is one researcher who says he has, in fact, submitted articles to scientific journals, and he adds that their rejection is a sign of the mainstream's close-mindedness.

Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and a leading critic of the intelligent-design movement, says such a view turns the scientific process on its head. If a researcher's theories are rejected, he says, that means that they have failed as good science, not that they're being suppressed.

Mr. Miller also wonders why Mr. Behe, a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has never presented his ideas at its annual conference, which is his right. "If I thought I had an idea that would completely revolutionize cell biology in the same way that Professor Behe thinks he has an idea that would revolutionize biochemistry," he says, "I would be talking about that idea at every single meeting of my peers I could possibly get to."

Mr. Behe responds that he prefers other venues. "I just don't think that large scientific meetings are effective forums for presenting these ideas," he says.

Baylor's Mr. Dembski also has little interest in publicizing his research through traditional means. "I've just gotten kind of blasé about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print," he says. "And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well. I get a royalty. And the material gets read more."

Last year, Mr. Dembski was at the center of what many intelligent-design advocates say was a clear case of discrimination. Baylor hired him to create a research center dedicated, in large part, to intelligent-design research. A faculty uproar ensued, leading the university to appoint an external committee to review the center's mission and structure. Eventually, the center was dismantled, although Mr. Dembski continues to work on intelligent design at Baylor.

Faculty members there said they were upset because the center had been created through administrative fiat rather than academic review. By doing so, they said, the administration had given intelligent-design theory a level of credibility it had not yet earned. Mr. Dembski says today that he has the university's support, including a five-year contract, a position as associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science, and no teaching responsibilities. But he maintains that the center was destroyed by intense political pressure from outside the university.

Undeterred, Mr. Dembski has simply carved out another route. This month, the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design was born. In a news release, the group is described as a "cross-disciplinary professional society that investigates complex systems apart from external programmatic constraints like materialism, naturalism, or reductionism." As with established academic organizations, this one offers conferences, postdoctoral fellowships, research grants, and a journal, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design.

Mr. Dembski, Mr. Behe, Jed Macosko, Mr. Nelson, and Mr. Minnich are fellows of the new society.

Richard Monastersky contributed to this article.


Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, edited by John Angus Campbell (Michigan State University Press, expected in 2003)

Darwin on Trial, by Phillip E. Johnson (Regnery Gateway Publishing, 1991)

Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, by Michael J. Behe (Free Press, 1996)

Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, edited by William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse (Cambridge University Press, expected in 2004)

Defending Evolution in the Classroom: A Guide to the Creation/Evolution Controversy, by Brian J. Alters and Sandra M. Alters (Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2001)

The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities, by William A. Dembski (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth R. Miller (HarperCollins, 1999)

Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, edited by Robert T. Pennock (MIT Press, 2001)

No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence, by William A. Dembski (Rowman & Littlefield, expected in 2002)

Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, by Robert T. Pennock (MIT Press, 1998)

Section: The Faculty
Page: A8

Copyright © 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Global warming not man-made phenomenon


Hebrew University, Canadian scientists cite data from study

Global warming will not be helped much by efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere, say two scientists who have studied the matter.

Dr. Nir Shaviv, an astrophysicist from the Racah Institute of Physics of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Prof. Jan Veiser a geochemist at the University of Ottawa in Canada and Ruhr University in Germany, say that temperature variations are due more to cosmic forces than to the actions of man.

In a recent article published in GSA Today (the journal of the Geographic Society of America) and described in Nature, Shaviv and Veiser tell of their studies illustrating a correlation between past cosmic ray flux – the high-energy particles reaching us from stellar explosions -- and long-term climate variability, as recorded by oxygen isotopes trapped in rocks formed by ancient marine fossils. The level of cosmic ray activity reaching the earth and its atmosphere is reconstructed using another isotopic record in meteorites.

The study showed that peak periods of cosmic rays reaching the earth over the past 550 million years coincided with lower global temperatures, apparently due to the way that the cosmic rays promote low-level cloud formation (hence blocking out sun warming). No correlation was obtained, however, with the changing amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The conclusion of the two scientists is, therefore, that celestial processes seem to be the dominant influence on climate change, and that increased carbon dioxide release, while certainly not beneficial, is only secondary to those forces which are beyond our control.

In practical terms, says Dr. Shaviv, "The operative significance of our research is that a significant reduction of the release of greenhouse gases will not significantly lower the global temperature, since only about a third of the warming over the past century should be attributed to man." Thus, say the scientists, the Kyoto accord of 1997 -- which was aimed at tackling the global warming phenomenon through limitations on carbon dioxide -- is not the panacea some thought it would be.

Taking the long-range view, Dr. Shaviv and Prof. Veiser believe that fluctuations in cosmic ray emissions account for about 75 percent of climate variation throughout the millennia. They acknowledge that this position pits them against prevailing scientific opinion, which still places a heavy emphasis on the negative role of greenhouse gases.

Saddam's 'personal wizard' spells out his fate


A man who claims to be Saddam Hussein's sorcerer predicts the dictator will be found dead.

The 62-year-old says troops will find his corpse in Dhuluaiyah, a village 55 miles north of Baghdad.

The magician has asked not to be identified because he says Saddam is still alive.

He is so scared he won't even pronounce his former boss's name, and said: "That man is still alive, so I'm afraid. I helped him, his sons, his ministers, his wife, his cousins, but I can't mention names. When he is dead I can talk about him."

According to the magician and several others interviewed in Baghdad, Saddam was a firm believer in magic, and even applied himself, with modest success, to "studying the sands" and summoning genies.

He consulted frequently with two magicians from Iraq, one from Turkey, one from India, a French Arab and a beautiful Jewish witch from Morocco, the wizard says.

Saddam is still protected, he says, by a pair of golden statues imbued with magic. The deposed president speaks daily with the king and queen of genies - the same ones who provided the information on his whereabouts.

© Associated Press

Speed of Gravity Measurement Discredited


Earlier this year (February 2003), Jupiter Scientific reported on the speed of gravity measurement made by Drs. S. Kopeikin and E. Fomalont. That report argued that measurements of the effects of Jupiter's motion on the direction and time delay of radio waves from quasar QSO J0842+1835 could not be used to extract the speed of gravity cg: In one reference frame, it appears that velocity-dependent effects might be related to cg, while in another reference frame they could only be attributed to the speed of light c. Consistency of Einstein's gravity theory therefore requires cg = c. A calculation using general relativity by Dr. C. Will (astro-ph/0301145) supports Jupiter Scientific's conclusions.

Education is evolving on creationism



The place: A Michigan classroom. The time: Sometime in the future, perhaps closer than you might think.

"Good morning, class."

"Good morning, Mrs. Hepplefinger."

"As you know, our state Legislature has, in its infinite wisdom, decreed that you will be taught the theory of creationism the same way we teach the theory of evolution. So today, we will ..."

"My daddy says creationists are a bunch of nut cases."

"Now Bryan, we'll have none of that sort of name-calling. We are here to learn, to gain perspective, to ..."

"Mrs. Hepplefinger. Howcome we have to learn about whatever you just said? That sounds like church to me. Church is booooring. Yuck!"

"No, it isn't church, although I must admit we are getting into areas probably better left to the church. However ..."

"Mrs. Hepplefinger. What's evil-ution? My Sunday school teacher calls people who don't believe in God evil-utionists."

"It's evolution, Leah. And people who believe in it aren't necessarily evil. It's just ..."

"Mrs. Hepplefinger, when do we see the blue smoke and mirrors?"

"I'm sorry, Timmy. Blue smoke? Mirrors?"

"My daddy says the only way to teach creationism is if you use blue smoke and mirrors, and I can hardly wait. Can we see 'em now? Can we, huh, huh? Can we, huh?"

"You can't smoke in school, except in the teacher's lounge, right, Mrs. Hepplefinger? I saw you ..."

"That's quite enough, Katie. Now, let us begin. Andrew, can you tell us what creationism means?"

"It means God created everything, right?"

"Excellent. Wonderful. That's right. It's the first thing we've accomplished in this classroom today. Now, according to the law under which we are operating, life either is the result of random mutation or the result of a purposeful, intelligent design of a creator."

"But what about the dinosaurs, Mrs. Hepplefinger? There aren't any dinosaurs in the Bible?"

"Well, Andrew, I suppose you could say God created them, too."

"But they lived millions of years ago, and doesn't the Bible say the world is 5,000 or 6,000 years old?"

"Mrs. Hepplefinger?"

"Yes, Laura."

"My daddy says dinosaurs were made up by Hollywood and it's all part of a communist plot to poison the minds of children."

"Hey, Laura, your dad's a certifiable loon."

"I'll certify you, Andrew. Take that!"

"Children, children. Stop fighting this instant! This is a classroom, and we are here to learn. And we will learn, whether it makes any sense or not. Is that clear? Now, let's move on. You all need to know that evolution and creationism are unproven theories."

"Mrs. Hepplefinger, Mrs. Hepplefinger."

"What is it, Shana?"

"Couldn't God have just created everything using evolution?"

"Class dismissed. Now excuse me while I go have a good cry."

Originally published Saturday, August 9, 2003

Contact Jim Ketchum at (810) 989-6262 or jeketchum@gannett.com.

Do Strange Things Happen During Full Moon?


Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2003 - 7:24 AM EDT.

WTOP's Kristi King with researcher Eric Chudler and others who believe in the lunar effect. Kristi King, WTOP Radio

WASHINGTON - You may have heard that crazy things happen during the full moon. Maybe you even believe it.

But one researcher says it's just not true that more murders, suicides, robberies, even dog bites occur during the full moon.

It's just superstition.

"If you look at the data, and you track the number of violent crimes or car accidents or drug overdoses or suicides, you'll find there isn't any increase in frequency during the full moon," says Eric Chudler, a neuroscientist who studies how the brain works.

So what if the full moon occurs on a weekend or a holiday when more people might be on the road?

"The experiments and the studies that have been done have corrected for that," Chudler says. "They've looked at when the full moon occurs and whether it's weekends or Friday nights; and they've also taken into account holidays. So when you do an experiment and you control to those other variables, like holidays and day of the week, you find that there is no relationship to the full moon and any of those strange occurrences."

Chudler started looking at the data after he had heard so many people swear the full moon brought out the unusual events.

"Our desire to explain some of the unusual behavior that we see. We like to explain why things aren't right, and we look to the moon as an explanation for that," says Chudler, an associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

He says people just happen to notice the unusual during a full moon and then have a selective memory about seeing unusual occurrences at other times.

Of course, not everybody believes him. He says even his sister-in-law, who's a police officer, doubts him and swears more out-of-the-ordinary events happen when there's a full moon.

(Copyright 2003 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)

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 12, 2003

from Newsday

When used as a vaccine, a mild relative of the potentially deadly West Nile virus has protected mice from the more virulent disease, according to a team of Australian researchers.

No treatment exists for mosquito-borne West Nile disease, whose prevalence peaks in mid- to late summer. The virus has spread exponentially across the country since it first invaded the nation through New York City in 1999. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday confirmed 197 cases and six deaths so far this season. Another death is under investigation.

Roy Hall and his team at the University of Queensland injected varying amounts of DNA from the Kunjin virus into weanling mice. Kunjin is a cousin of West Nile, both members of the flavivirus family. They then followed the Kunjin injection with a lethal dose of West Nile virus. They found that even those mice receiving the smallest Kunjin inoculation were protected from West Nile.

from The Boston Globe

Dean Gordanier is a tax lawyer, fitness buff, father of three and, at age 54, a veteran of the roller-coaster ride of hope and despair that is becoming a way of life for growing numbers of people with cancer, thanks to the promise, and the heartbreak, of a new generation of cancer drugs. The science behind many of these drugs, which oncologists call "targeted therapies," is breathtaking. With names like Gleevec, Avastin, Iressa, Rituxan, Herceptin, even the still-nameless drug known as SU11248, they are the closest scientists have come yet to the holy grail of cancer treatment -- knocking out cancer cells with great specificity without wreaking too much havoc on the rest of the body.

Some of these drugs target specific enzymes called kinases that act as switches that control cell functions; in some cancer cells, kinases are locked in the "on" position, driving cell growth. Others are monoclonal antibodies that identify markers on the surface of cancer cells and kill them. And some starve tumors by attacking proteins that make the blood vessels that feed the tumors.

"I am so unbelievably excited about the science because it is like standing on the Nina, the Pinta or the Santa Maria. You can see the New World coming," said Dr. George Demetri, director of the Center for Sarcoma and Bone Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

from Newsday

Bar Harbor, Maine - Despite years of work, high hopes and some genetic finagling, scientists trying to use gene therapy to cure hemophilia - the bleeders' disease - face at least one more hurdle before they declare victory.

In pioneering experiments aimed at correcting an inborn error - an inability to make a clotting factor that stops blood flowing from wounds - they have succeeded in dogs. But dogs aren't people, and the same treatments applied to men have worked only temporarily. A permanent or long-term cure has remained disappointingly elusive.

The goal of such work, which has been under way for more than a decade, is to correct the genetic error. Because patients with hemophilia inherit a mutant gene, their bodies are unable to make one of the clotting factors needed to stop the bleeding from wounds. As a result, even small cuts and bruises become medical emergencies.

from The New York Times

Not too long ago, it was easy for an armchair astronomer to keep up to speed on the moons of the solar system. There was the Moon, of course, and the four Jovian satellites spotted by Galileo, those two around Mars, and some odd ones here and there - that weird fractured cue ball orbiting Uranus, for instance.

These days, though, it is tough to tell the moons without a scorecard. In the past six years, dozens of satellites have been discovered around the giant planets, more than doubling the total in the solar system. Jupiter is the current leader, with 61, followed by Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The tally for these four planets is 124 (the other five planets have only four among them), but that number is sure to change in the next year or two.

"They're all over the place," said Dr. Brett Gladman, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who has been involved in the discoveries since 1997.

from The Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

There's nothing like quietly contemplating the sky on a clear, moonless night to make us feel we can touch the cosmos in its entirety - the bright canopy of stars, the ever-shifting play of planets, the vast, cold silence of infinite space.

How little we know.

All this glory is but the barest glimpse of what's actually out there. Tales of extreme violence and profound mystery stream at us from every corner of the cosmos, and yet we're constrained to peering through the tiniest keyhole, seeing only the thin band that beams in visible light. Until very recently, even astronomers, who see nearly the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio to gamma rays, have been able to tune in to only the barest trickle from the flood of news.

Essay from The New York Times

Arthur Koestler, an iconoclastic thinker who could always be counted on for a catchy title, called his history of cosmology "The Sleepwalkers." The way mankind lurched and stumbled toward the truth reminded him "more of a sleepwalker's performance than an electronic brain's."

Obsessions and fixations were as common as brilliant chains of reasoning, and every step forward seemed to be countered by two steps sideways and a half step back.

The most erratic of the somnambulists on this zigzag trail was the man often called the father of modern science, Galileo. Far from being the selfless hero of popular legend who championed scientific truth over blind religious faith, he comes off in Koestler's book, published in 1959, as a vainglorious self-promoter spoiling for a fight.

Op-Ed from The Washington Post

Distinguishing truth from fantasy has been a full-time occupation in Washington for generations. But even the most seasoned politician can be baffled by debates on the safety of smallpox vaccines, the potential of fuel-cell automobiles, stem-cell research and hundreds of other issues that hinge on matters of science.

The painful reality, however, is that Congress lacks an independent source of science and technological advice -- one that can cut through the tangle of special-interest analysis and help lawmakers understand what's known, what's unknown and what's unknowable.

While the need for unbiased technical advice has grown, the resources available to Congress are in increasing disarray. Last week, for example, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) issued a broadside arguing that "the administration's political interference with science has led to misleading statements by the president, inaccurate responses to Congress" and other evils. The previous week, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) opened a hearing with the claim that "left-wing environmental communities insist sound science is outrageous."

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

UFO fixation captivates audiences of all walks of life

The Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - (KRT) - Stanton Friedman has no doubts that some UFOs are alien spacecraft.

No doubts that alien wreckage and bodies were retrieved in the "Roswell incident" of July 1947 near Roswell, N.M.

No doubts the government has engaged in a kind of cosmic Watergate for decades, hiding the truth about UFOs from the American public.

Friedman worked for 14 years as an industrial nuclear physicist spending "a lot of time on far-out, advanced, highly classified, eventually canceled research and development programs." He developed an interest in UFOs in the 1950s and has lectured on the subject since 1967, speaking at hundreds of colleges and on radio and television. He has published more than 70 papers on UFOs and is co-author of "Crash at Corona: The Definitive Story of The Roswell Incident." Born in New Jersey, he moved to Canada in 1980 and holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship.

Despite decades of research, he has never seen a UFO. But then he has never seen Tokyo, he observes, yet it seems a safe bet that it exists.

The most common question he gets is why: Why would aliens visit our planet and why would the government cover it up?

The answer to the first is self-preservation, Friedman said.

"I make one assumption about every advanced civilization, namely that it is concerned about its own security and survival. That means you've got to keep tabs on the primitives in the neighborhood, particularly those who show signs of being able to bother you."

As for a government cover-up, there are plenty of reasons, Friedman said. For one, the government wants to study and adopt alien technology without other countries catching on.

If the presence of intelligent life elsewhere were confirmed, the announcement would lead to a view of ourselves as Earthlings instead of Americans and Russians and so on, Friedman said. And no government wants that, he adds. "Nationalism is the only game in town."

Friedman's convictions are clear from the title of a talk the well-known UFO researcher will give in Denver on Monday: "Flying Saucers ARE Real." The talk is sponsored by the Colorado arm of the Mutual UFO Network.


Is Colorado's San Luis Valley a top vacation spot for visitors from other worlds?

The valley has long been a hot spot for the unexplained, from cattle mutilations to whispers of secret bases to lights zigzagging across the sky. And for three years, it has been home to the UFO Watchtower, which welcomes humans and aliens alike.

Unable to make a go of her ranch, Judy Messoline opened the UFO Watchtower on Memorial Day 2000. An igloo-shaped, UFO-themed gift shop sits partly under the 10-foot tower.

The site draws UFO buffs as well as the merely curious. "This year, we've had large buses come in, which has been really nice," Messoline said.

There have been about two-dozen sightings from the tower, from a long, narrow object that zipped across the sky to an object that resembled the bottom of a roulette wheel.

"I don't know if they're little green men or not," Messoline said of the sightings, "but they're strange."

The UFO Watchtower is on Colorado Highway 17 just north of the town of Hooper. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. - though it stays open later if there's activity in the sky, Messoline said. There used to be a small charge to visit the Watchtower, but now donations are welcomed. For more information, call 1-719-378-2271 or go to www.ufowatchtower.com.


According to a Roper poll commissioned last year by the Sci Fi channel:

Two-thirds of Americans think there are other forms of intelligent life in the universe.

Nearly half of those surveyed believe that UFOs have visited the Earth in some form over the years; 45 percent believe intelligent life from other worlds has monitored life on Earth.

Roughly seven in 10 people believe the government does not tell us everything it knows about extraterrestrial life and UFOs.


Aliens have been good guys and bad on the big screen. Here are some notable UFO movies:

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind." (1977) Steven Spielberg's beloved tale of curious humans and benevolent aliens was nominated for eight Oscars, but won only for best cinematography. Spielberg also explored first contact in 1982's "E.T.," which featured a downright cuddly alien.

"Independence Day." (1996) The aliens are definitely not benevolent in this blockbuster starring Will Smith as a hot-shot pilot who kicks alien butt and Bill Pullman as an inspiring president.

"The War of the Worlds." (1953) This tale of alien invaders, based on the novel by H.G. Wells, chilled moviegoers long before "Independence Day."

"The Day the Earth Stood Still." (1951) Characters, not special effects, dominate in this sci-fi classic. An alien visitor (Michael Rennie) is greeted with paranoia and suspicion upon his arrival on Earth.

"Signs." (2002) Aliens invade but are rarely seen in this suspenseful tale from M. Night Shyamalan.

© 2003, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).

Visit GT Online, the World Wide Web site of The Gazette, at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


The Flawed Guide to Bigfoot

Benjamin Radford

The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide
By Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe
Avon Books, New York. 1999.
ISBN 0-380-80263-5
207 pp. Softcover, $12.50

The Field Guide to Bigfoot is prefaced with a quote by George Bernard Shaw: "All great truths begin as blasphemies." The implication, of course, is that scientists and others regard claims of the existence of Bigfoot as heresy, and that the truth will out. But, as Robert Park of the American Physical Society wrote recently (in a similar context), "Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment, you must also be right."

The guide is an odd book indeed. Although purporting to be a field guide, it is really more of an illustrated catalogue of anecdotes of encounters with mysterious primates. The authors have created a classification system encompassing about fifty reports and sightings. They have grouped them into nine categories: Neo-Giant, True Giant, Marked Hominid, Neandertaloid, Erectus Hominid, Proto-Pygmy, Unknown Pongid, Giant Monkey, and Merbeing.

The entries are largely culled from previous books on cryptozoology, with few original sources cited. In nearly every entry, not enough details are given to judge the credibility of the account. Coleman and Huyghe make much of the fact that native peoples have various words for wildmen and other elusive, possibly mythical creatures. But just because a creature has a name does not imply that it actually exists: dragons, pixies, elves, and leprechauns can be described, drawn, and classified too.

Interestingly, the book's premise is at variance with longtime Bigfoot researcher Grover Krantz, who, as the authors admit on page 10, does not see "any compelling evidence for more than one type of hairy biped" and finds "no reason to think it has anywhere near a worldwide distribution."

The creatures Coleman and Huyghe catalogue have between three and five toes, and fail to account for alleged Bigfoot prints that show two and six toes. They apparently ignored evidence that didn't fit their categories. Or perhaps they assumed all tracks showing two or six toes are hoaxes. If so, by what criterion? Why are three- or four-toed primate footprints any more credible than two- or six-toed ones?

Early in the book, the authors decry a "lumping problem," that is, that myriad sightings are collected together under homogenous names such as "Bigfoot" or "Yeti." This, they say, is a problem because it "hides a larger truth, lumps considerable differences, and just plain confuses the picture."

There is indeed a lumping problem that confuses the picture, but that's not it. The problem is that the authors group eyewitness accounts, folklore, legend, footprint finds, and depictions in native art together as if all have equal weight and credibility. Sources for the field guide include an alarming number of third-hand sources, stories by young children, unnamed, long-dead eyewitnesses, and even the English poet who wrote Beowulf.

Yes, The Field Guide to Bigfoot includes Beowulf, a thousand-year-old poem, as a credible source for an account of an actual mystery primate that may be alive today. For those a little shaky on early English literature, the poem tells the story of the Danish king Beowulf who slew an ugly, hairy giant named Grendel. On your next trip to Denmark, be sure to take this guide so if you see Grendel you'll correctly identify it as a member of the True Giant class!

Even the infamous Minnesota Iceman, a fair exhibit shown in the late 1960s and claimed to be a frozen Bigfoot, appears in the book. It's touted as a real creature, despite strong evidence that it was simply a rubber creature designed by a top Disney model-maker. As Jon Beckjord, director of Project Bigfoot, wrote in the Summer 1982 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, "I'd like to point out that nobody who is involved in Sasquatch investigations has ever felt that this frozen dummy was a Bigfoot. . . ." That doesn't stop Coleman and Huyghe, who quote one cryptozoologist's bizarre theory that "it was a Neandertal killed in Vietnam during the war and smuggled into the United States in a 'body bag.'"

The best thing about the book is the illustrations by Harry Trumbore. He does an admirable job of coming up with slight variations on large, hairy bipeds. Accuracy doesn't seem to be a high priority; with one creature, the Tano Giant (p.98), the account clearly states the creature had no thumbs. That apparently didn't sit well with the authors, who note, "perhaps its thumb was simply small relative to the rest of its hand," and depict the creature with thumbs anyway.

Along with the individual entries, maps depict the range of each class of creature. My personal favorite is the Merbeing ("water creature") map. According to it, these aquatic creatures roam no less than five deserts, including the Atacama (in Peru), the Mojave (U.S.), the Great Sandy (Australia), and the Sonoran (Mexico).

Over a dozen accounts claim that the creatures were killed. Yet no bones, skeletons, or preserved bodies exist today. This elicits visions of hunters saying to themselves, "Wow! We killed a wild, man-like creature! I've never seen anything like it before! Let's throw it away!"

It's clear that mystery mongering is at work here. In several places, the eyewitnesses themselves admit that it's possible they misidentified an ordinary animal, such as a bear, spider monkey, or baboon. But as long as there's a hint of doubt, Coleman and Huyghe are happy to claim it a mystery, treat it like a real animal, and lump it in with accounts from folklore and poems.

The authors have also written other entries in this peculiar field guide series, including guides to extraterrestrials, UFOs, and ghosts. I suspect the same lax scholarship evident here bedevils those as well.

Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer.

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 11, 2003

from The Baltimore Sun

Tired of forgetting where you put your car keys? Or blanking out the name of the movie you saw last week?

You can do something about it: Take up ballroom dancing. Learn to play trombone. Or maybe just eat a bowl of blueberries.

After decades of accepting the notion that humans have little control over the memory decline that comes with age, researchers now say the process is not predetermined. Like the heart, it turns out, the human brain can be protected from harm.

Scientists have discovered that a variety of activities can help forestall the memory decay that worries so many Americans over 40. Diet, exercise and simply using the brain can raise the odds that you'll remember your ATM password when you're 82.

from The Washington Post

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. -- Wedding cake white and big beyond words, Mount Rainier floats above Puget Sound like a child's dream of what a mountain might be.

Dreams of Rainier come in handy here, for the mountain itself has a habit of disappearing in clouds for weeks or even months on end. The 3 million people who live in and around Seattle know, of course, that it is up here -- nearly 2 3/4 miles high, encased in glacial ice and fattening itself up every winter with more than 50 feet of fresh snow.

During this freakishly warm, dry and cloudless summer in the Pacific Northwest, astonishing views of Mount Rainier have been uncommonly common. Clear sightlines have made it possible to gaze at Rainier and appreciate it less as an intermittent aesthetic pleasure and more for what the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) warns that it really is.

"A monumental threat," said William E. Scott, scientist in charge of the Cascades Volcano Observatory, a USGS center that monitors volcanoes from California to Alaska.

from The Washington Post

Tornadoes are nature's most spectacular storms: A funnel of wind, spinning at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour, leaps from the bottom of a thunderstorm and cuts a swath of destruction, shredding farmhouses, uprooting trees and picking up automobiles and hurling them a quarter-mile.

Despite their frequency -- more than 800 tornadoes occur in the United States each year -- scientists know relatively little about them and how they do the damage they do. Tornadoes are short-lived, erratic and violent. They can be extremely unkind both to instruments and the researchers who operate them.

"I've been analyzing their effects for 20 years," said University of Arkansas civil engineer R. Panneer Selvam. "You can look at the damage or use a wind tunnel, but these are all estimates based on a straight wind, and in a rotating tornado there are so many variables."

Can't sleep? Blame it on the UFO Abduction Syndrome


By Ryann Connell
Staff Writer

Growing numbers of Japanese are terrified at the prospect of coming down with UFO Abduction Syndrome, screams Weekly Playboy (8/19-26).

"It's true," screeches a man we'll refer to as Akira, a self-professed expert on alien phenomena. "We're at the calm before the storm."

Akira claims to have been let in on the secret of the growing number of alien abductions by a white-collar worker with whom he is acquainted. Akira recalls the man's story.

"Doctors wouldn't listen to him, so he came to me, because he knew I would believe, and his problems concerned aliens," Akira says. "It was no lie." Akira's acquaintance continues.

"My bedroom was pitch black. Then, all of a sudden, I felt something pushing up through my nostrils. It was hard. And cold, like some sort of metal. It squirmed all the way through to the end of my nose. It didn't hurt at all. I told myself that I was only dreaming, but it didn't stop. It still fills like some foreign object is trapped up my nose. That's why I get these headaches that won't stop. My head hurts so much, it feels like it's going to split in two. That metallic object was bound to be some sort of magnetic signal device. Only aliens could do that sort of thing," he says.

That's not all.

"When I open my eyes, my body is floating in a room so bright it almost stings when I look. Next thing I know, I've fallen back onto the bed in my apartment. I betcha that bright room is the inside of a UFO," the white-collar worker says.

Extra terrestrial observer Akira is convinced that something unworldly is afoot.

"Extensive research has been carried out in the United States on alien abduction. It showed that one in every eight adults had experienced a period of at least one hour where they did not know where they were. One in 10 had also reported going through an out of body experience. One in 12 had been in a room filled with bright lights. Another one in 50 said they had been abducted by aliens. If you work that out against Japan's population, about 2 million Japanese have been abducted," Akira says. "Recently, there have been loads of UFO sightings near Mount Fuji and in Hokkaido. I tell you, it's the calm before the storm."

Medical experts have different ideas.

"Those who suffer from a type of sleep apnea lose oxygen flow through the body, their heartbeat races, breathing becomes difficult and the chest gets constricted. These symptoms are referred to as UFO Abduction Syndrome.

While the afflicted may think they've been kidnapped by extra terrestrials, UFO Abduction Syndrome is actually a type of sleep disorder," physician Akihiro Nabuchi tells Weekly Playboy, before making an ominous addition.

"Still, I have to admit that we really don't know whether UFOs actually exist."

WaiWai stories are transcriptions of articles that originally appeared in Japanese language publications. The Mainichi Daily News cannot be held responsible for the contents of the original articles, nor does it guarantee their accuracy. Views expressed in the WaiWai column are not necessarily those held by the Mainichi Daily News or Mainichi Newspapers Co.

Proposed changes in biology textbook assailed


Aug. 8, 2003, 8:11PM

Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO -- Responding to suggestions from a group that critics say advocates the teaching of creation theory, a publisher has made changes in a biology textbook being considered for Texas schools.

Critics accused publisher Holt, Rinehart & Winston of caving in to pressure from special interests and conservatives on the state Board of Education.

The Discovery Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Seattle, argued at a Board of Education hearing in July that alternatives to commonly accepted theories of evolution should be included in the textbook to comply with a state requirement that students analyze competing ideas.

Some board members were sympathetic to the group's views.

The Texas Education Agency disclosed Wednesday that Holt, Rinehart & Winston had submitted changes in its biology textbook, the San Antonio Express-News reported Friday.

"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, a group that monitors the religious right.

The network singled out a passage directing students to "study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives" to others posed in the book. Students also are encouraged to research alternative theories on the Internet.

Richard Blake, a spokesman for the publisher, said the changes responded to valid scientific arguments.

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

The Discovery Institute has led a movement on the "intelligent design theory" -- a belief that species did not evolve by natural selection but instead progressed according to a plan or design.

Bruce Chapman, president of the institute, said he supports teaching intelligent design. But he said suggestions for changes in the book only pointed out scientific errors.

While those who favor intelligent design want to offer it as an alternative to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, critics want to keep the idea out of biology textbooks. They say the theory is nothing more than a dressed-up version of creation science, which the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited from public schools as a violation of the separation of church and state.

The elected Board of Education has no control over textbook content but can reject books because of errors or failure to follow the state curriculum, which is mandated by the Legislature. The board will make its final decision on the biology textbooks in November.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Wikipedia needs skeptics

Many of you may already have heard of Wikipedia ( http://www.wikipedia.org ). It is an open, non-profit encyclopedia project which already has more than 140,000 articles in the English version alone. Many of these articles are much more detailed than what you would expect in traditional encyclopedias -- see http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Brilliant_prose for a collection of our current favorites. Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, and its contents may be freely distributed and modified, making them eligible for almost any use and ensuring that the work of Wikipedia authors can never be lost. In fact, you can download a copy of the entire Wikipedia database and set up your own copy if you desire to do so.

Wikipedia articles are written from a "neutral point of view" ( http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view ), meaning that controversial views that are presented on Wikipedia must be attributed to their adherents. This way we ensure that people who think that abortion is murder and those who think that it is a legitimate choice can work together to produce a reasonable article that discusses all arguments on the matter. In many if not most cases, we succeed at giving a balanced picture that nevertheless often reveals quite clearly the holes in certain arguments. For example, several Scientology critics have commended our current article about the group and added material.

Given that anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, people with strong beliefs sometimes dominate an article until others fill in the gaps (or rather, expose them). As a result, there are, of course, many articles on Wikipedia that would benefit greatly from input by knowledgeable scientists and skeptics. If you count yourself as part of that group, we especially invite you to edit articles. You can also help by granting us permission to include existing material you have written. Because Wikipedia grants the right to use our material to everyone, including third parties, giving permission to Wikipedia alone to use material is not sufficient -- it must either be in the public domain or licensed under our so-called "copyleft" license, the GNU Free Documentation License (developed by the GNU project, which is responsible for large parts of the open source GNU/Linux operating system). See http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Copyrights for details.

Articles of interest

Which articles might you want to work on? The following topics are particularly controversial and in need of good arguments, scientific references and a neutral tone. Just visit one of the following URLs, click "Edit this page" and start working:


There's plenty more, so just consider these some starting points. If you have material that you want to use, and you are the copyright holder, feel free to paste it right in -- you implicitly license text under the GNU FDL open content license by submitting it, but that does not preclude you from licensing it in other ways. If you become a regular contributor, please do create a user account ( http://www.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=3DSpecial:Userlogin ), so that your contributions are assigned to a name; anonymous edits are generally regarded with some suspicion.

Hopefully, you'll get hooked on Wikipedia soon and can add yourself to the list of "Wikipediholics" ;-). If you have any questions, feel free to drop me an email or leave a message on my user page:



Erik M=F6ller Wikipedia user, sysop and developer

Druid focuses Earth's energy on road toll


August 11, 2003

Druids have been brought in to reduce the number of accidents on Austria's worst stretch of autobahn.

The Druids have put up huge roadside monoliths to restore the natural flow of "earth energy". After the one tonne pillars of white quartz were erected beside a notorious stretch of road during a secret two-year trial, the number of fatal accidents fell from an average of six a year to zero.

Gerald Knobloch, who describes himself as an archdruid, used a divining rod to inspect the 275-metre stretch of the A9 in Styria and restore "earth energy lines".

"I located dangerous elements that had disrupted the energy flow," he said. "The worst was a river which human interference had forced to flow against its natural direction. By erecting two stones of quartz at the side of the road the energy lines were restored."

The pillars had a similar function to acupuncture, he said. "Acupuncture needles also restore broken energy lines. What acupuncture does for the body, the stones do for the environment."

Harald Dirnbacher, an engineer from the motorway authority, admitted that they turned to Mr Knobloch as a last resort.

"We had put up signs to reduce speed, renewed the road surface and made bends more secure but we still kept getting accidents," he said. "At that point we couldn't think of anything else to do and decided we might as well try anything.

"I admit when we first looked at it [energy lines] we were doubtful. We didn't want people to know in case they laughed at us, so we kept the trial secret and small-scale. But it was really an amazing turnaround."

Scientists are sceptical of the claims. "Natural sciences need evidence. Whatever can't be measured, does not exist," said Georg Walach, a geophysics professor at Leoben University in southern Austria. "These energy lines and their flow cannot be grasped or measured, and their existence is therefore rejected by scientists." But the motorway authorities are extending the Druids' role across the country, paying them about $A6300 for each investigation - a fraction of the cost of resurfacing a road.

The Telegraph, London

Contacting the North Texas Skeptics
The North Texas Skeptics
P. O. Box 111794
Carrollton, TX 75011-1794
214-335-9248 Skeptics Hotline (current information)

Current News  News Back Issues

What's New | Search | Newsletter | Fact Sheets
NTS Home Page
Copyright (C) 1987 - 2008 by the North Texas Skeptics.