NTS LogoSkeptical News for 24 August 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Incidence and correlates of near-death experiences in a cardiac care unit


Bruce Greyson MD, Division of Personality Studies, Department of Psychiatric Medicine, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA, USA


Near-death experiences, unusual experiences during a close brush with death, may precipitate pervasive attitudinal and behavior changes. The incidence and psychological correlates of such experiences, and their association with proximity to death, are unclear. We conducted a 30-month survey to identify near-death experiences in a tertiary care center cardiac inpatient service. In a consecutive sample of 1595 patients admitted to the cardiac inpatient service (mean age 63 years, 61% male), of whom 7% were admitted with cardiac arrest, patients who described near-death experiences were matched with comparison patients on diagnosis, gender, and age. Near-death experiences were reported by 10% of patients with cardiac arrest and 1% of other cardiac patients (P<.001). Near-death experiencers were younger than other patients (P=.001), were more likely to have lost consciousness (P<.001) and to report prior purportedly paranormal experiences (P=.009), and had greater approach-oriented death acceptance (P=.01). Near-death experiencers and comparison patients did not differ in sociodemographic variables, social support, quality of life, acceptance of their illness, cognitive function, capacity for physical activities, degree of cardiac dysfunction, objective proximity to death, or coronary prognosis.

Author Keywords: Near-death experience; Cardiac arrest

In Search of a Scientific RevolutionControversial genius Stephen Wolfram presses onward

Science News

Week of Aug. 16, 2003; Vol. 164, No. 7

Peter Weiss

Plenty of people claim to have theories that will revolutionize science. What's rare is for other scientists to take one of these schemes seriously. Yet that's what's happened since May 2002 when theoretical physicist Stephen Wolfram self-published a book in which he alleged to have found a new way to address the most difficult problems of science. Tellingly, he named this treatise A New Kind of Science. The book, which Wolfram sent to hundreds of journalists and influential scientists, sparked a firestorm of criticism. Detractors charged that the author was peddling speculations as discoveries, asserting that decades-old research was new, and pirating the research of others without giving due credit. Many commentators concluded that the author's promise of a revolutionary upheaval in science was grandiose and unbelievable, even as they allowed that the book contained some incremental scientific discoveries, as well as intriguing ideas.

Fast-forward to this summer: Wolfram's book is in its fifth 50,000-copy printing, despite being a $45, 1,200-page, technically dense hardback. Dozens of scientific papers have cited the book. Wolfram has hosted the first international conference on his work.

What's going on? Has the man discovered a secret that will cause science textbooks to be rewritten or merely found a formula for mass-marketing science—or something in between? Science News takes a look at Wolfram's enterprise 15 months after the book's debut.

Equation evasion

At the heart of Wolfram's work is the observation that extremely simple computer programs can generate patterns of extraordinary complexity. Among such programs are a type known as cellular automata, which scientists have studied for 50 years (SN: 7/3/99, p. 8: http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc99/7_3_99/bob1.htm).

To understand what a cellular automaton is, consider a sheet of graph paper on which a pattern can be marked by darkening selected boxes. The top row may have one or more boxes blackened. A simple cellular automaton draws a pattern by beginning with the second row and working its way down the page.As it considers each box in a row, the automaton observes the box above and those on either side of that higher box. Then, on the basis of a specific rule that depends on which, if any, of those three boxes are dark, the automaton blackens its current box or leaves it blank—and moves on.

Most simple cellular automata generate boring, repetitive patterns. However, one day more than 20 years ago, Wolfram was observing the behavior of a cellular automaton known as Rule 30 when the program created an unpredictable pattern of stunning complexity on a computer printout. That event began a journey of discovery, Wolfram says, that ultimately led him to realize that elementary computer programs offer a way to solve problems in many branches of science without the drudgery and limitations of conventional equations and equation-based simulations.

Although equations have formed the foundation of math and theoretical science for centuries, they often become insoluble when applied to complex phenomena. By contrast, Wolfram contends, simple, complexity-generating programs are the tools of "a new kind of science" that, more accurately and easily than the old one, can simulate complicated phenomena, from the growth of snowflakes to the workings of the universe.

According to Wolfram, this style of simulation will be successful because it mimics how the universe works: Computational processes underlie phenomena from elementary particle interactions to life.

Wolfram has spun off a lot of exhilarating ideas about where this new approach can lead. For example, rather than needing Darwinian evolution to explain the complexity of living creatures (SN: 6/10/00, p. 382: Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/20000610/bob10.asp), Wolfram says that a biological computation process based on a few simple rules could do the trick. In physics, Wolfram's approach suggests that space itself may not be a continuous entity but rather some sort of network of interconnected fragments. The unpredictability of patterns generated by simple programs, he says, explains how people can exercise free will while their brains obey strict physical laws.

Although Wolfram calls his approach a new kind of science, some elements of it, such as cellular automata, have been investigated for decades. His new work also has links to earlier theories of fractals (SN: 2/2/02, p. 75: Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/20020202/bob10.asp), of chaos (SN: 10/31/98, p. 285), and of complexity theory (SN: 5/6/00, p. 296: http://www.sciencenews.org/20000506/bob9.asp). In fact, Wolfram has in the past made notable contributions to research on cellular automata and complexity.

For that reason among others, the man behind A New Kind of Science isn't easily labeled a crackpot. A British-born prodigy, he received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology at age 20 and won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award 2 years later, in 1981, for his work in physics and computing. Later, he created Mathematica, a software package for scientists, engineers and mathematicians, and developed it into a highly profitable business—Wolfram Research of Champaign, Ill.—which he still leads.

Because of Wolfram's credentials, heavy hitters of science and technology have paid attention to his book, though not necessarily praised it. In the New York Review of Books last October, physics Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin concluded that Wolfram had written a "failure," albeit "an interesting one." Weinberg found that "not one real-world complex phenomenon . . . has been convincingly explained by Wolfram's computer experiments." Still, he added, Wolfram may have taken a first step toward a much-needed theory of complexity.

A critique by inventor and artificial intelligence pioneer Ray Kurzweil of Kurzweil Technologies in Wellesley Hills, Mass., hails Wolfram's work as a "tour de force" on the topic of cellular automata. Nonetheless, Kurzweil says that Wolfram seriously overstated the complexity that simple programs produce. On the topic of living organisms, for instance, Kurzweil asserts that unless factors beyond simple rules are invoked, one can't explain "insects or humans or Chopin preludes."

Fans of Wolfram's work say that much of the negative reaction has stemmed more from the author's self-aggrandizing writing style than from his science. For instance, Wolfram says in his book, "I have discovered vastly more than I ever thought possible, and in fact what I have now done touches almost every existing area of science, and quite a bit besides."

Fans look beyond his habit of frequently and brashly proclaiming the historic importance of his findings. "I believe that some of the ideas in A New Kind of Science are going to be very valuable to us in developing predictive models," says medical researcher Elaine L. Bearer of Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Rite of assembly

Compared with the harsh treatment Wolfram endured from many reviewers last year, the recent conference on his work was a love fest. More than 200 men and women, paying up to $325 apiece, attended the event June 26-29 at a hotel in Waltham, Mass. They ranged from college students to retirees and represented an eclectic mix of professions and interests, including physics, biology, psychology, medicine, computer science, engineering, economics, business, art, and music. Attendees came from as far away as Norway, Israel, and Australia.Some people said they were drawn by their admiration for Wolfram; others, by the allure of participating in what could be a historical shift in scientific thought.

"This guy is the closest thing to [Isaac] Newton in 350 years," says Stanley Ruby, a physicist who retired from Stanford (Calif.) Linear Accelerator Center 9 years ago. "I think he's onto something hugely important."

Others, like Carl E. Lippitt of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, came looking for help with applying Wolfram's concepts to engineering designs.

For instance, Lippitt and his Sandia colleagues are exploring control schemes for proposed battlefield robots that would aid soldiers, for example by carrying extra gear. Because the battlefield is such a complex environment, those robots would require intricate behavioral repertoires. That's where Wolfram's ideas of generating complexity from simplicity seem to fit in, Lippitt says. Yet Lippitt couldn't find in Wolfram's book guidance for developing practical devices.

"It's somewhat difficult to understand, from an engineering perspective, how you go about implementing these ideas," Lippitt says.

During the two-and-a-half-day "minicourse," Wolfram did most of the talking—about 15 hours' worth of lectures—although there were a few panel discussions.

The meeting was too one-sided, says mathematician and science fiction author Rudy Rucker of San Jose (Calif.) State University, even though he's a fan and friend of Wolfram's. "It would be a better conference if somebody besides Stephen was organizing it. Then it could be more of a full spectrum" of opinions, he says.

Kurzweil Tech's vice president of business development Celia Black-Brooks says the meeting's science was over her head, but she had no trouble appreciating the business savvy of Wolfram's firm. "He certainly has a well-oiled marketing machine behind him," she adds.

Wolfram unveiled no new developments in his own work at the conference because there haven't been any to speak of since the book was finished, he told Science News. He says he's been too busy giving talks at campuses and laboratories, responding to the 30,000 or so e-mails prompted by the book, and striving to build a scientific movement based on his work. Wolfram predicts that it will be another year before he can get back to the science.

On the other hand, at the conference's poster session, about 10 of the conference goers unveiled projects in which they had used Wolfram's style of computer modeling to explore areas as diverse as explosion dynamics, quantum mechanics, data visualization, and cultural identity.

Among those projects was a cellular automaton created by physicist Larry G. Hill of Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory. The algorithm yields an animation that may mark the first step toward realistic computer models of explosions caused by superheated liquids, Hill says. The dynamics of those fluids have proved too complex for today's conventional equation-based simulations, he adds.

In another project, electrical engineer Rodrigo G. Obando of Fairfield (Conn.) University statistically analyzed cellular automata patterns and translated the results into three-dimensional forms resembling disks, bowls, and hats. Comparing the shapes of those forms may reveal relative degrees of symmetry, complexity, and randomness of automata patterns, Obando says.

Venue menu

Besides hosting the conference, Wolfram and his associates are moving ahead on other fronts to foster a new scientific movement.

At the meeting—which planners say will be repeated next year—Wolfram distributed a booklet summarizing more than 170 problems and projects that he considers next steps for the field that he has launched: for instance, to "develop automated ways to find 'interesting' cellular automata" and to consider "what might history have been like if cellular automata had been investigated in antiquity."

Wolfram also announced the start of an online clearinghouse for related research (http://atlas.wolfram.com) and to found an institute devoted to the approach. What's more, he said he's planning to transform Complex Systems, a journal that he founded in 1987, into the flagship publication for the new field.

Although the scientific establishment has largely rejected Wolfram's revolution, academia features a few courses on the topic. For instance, San Jose State's Rucker has been teaching a graduate course on it since the fall of 2002, and Wolfram and his assistants taught a 3-week graduate course in early July at Brown University.

"One of the things universities should do is to be a home for ideas that are controversial, whose long-term potential is uncertain, and that generate a lot of interest and excitement," says Brown's provost, mathematician Robert J. Zimmer. He invited the Wolfram program onto the campus after a Wolfram talk at the school last October proved so popular that people had to be turned away.

One effect of Wolfram's campaign for a new science has been to intensify interest in some longstanding ideas that don't mesh with prevailing theories. For instance, in the early 1980s, Edward Fredkin originated the idea that the universe itself may be a cellular automaton and that energy and mass are just information (SN: 8/2/97, p. 76: http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc97/8_2_97/bob1.htm). In Fredkin's model, both space and time are grainy rather than continuous, so space is permeated with exquisitely small, discrete cells whose states change at extremely brief, discrete intervals, just as patterns generated by computers' cellular automata do.

Fredkin, now of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, complains that Wolfram has taken credit for some of his ideas. At the same time, he says, his now-famous friend and rival has "done me a favor because a lot more people are interested in what I do because of Wolfram's notoriety."

Wolfram says he's pleased with the his enterprise's progress, which is "a little ahead of schedule." Looking ahead, he predicts that the "first round of serious extensions to the book" will come in 2 to 3 years.

To skeptics and enthusiasts alike, Wolfram readily declares that the revolution has begun. Nonetheless, "it's going to be a while," he admits—another 10 years or so—before his approach will take the place he thinks it deserves at the forefront of science.

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References and Sources


Kurzweil, R. 2002. Reflections on Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science. Available at http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0464.html?printable=1.

Weinberg, S. 2002. Is the universe a computer? New York Review of Books 49(Oct. 24). Available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/15762.

Wolfram, S. 2002. A New Kind of Science. Champaigne, Ill.: Wolfram Media.

Further Readings:

Perkins, S. 2002. It's a rough world. Science News 161(Feb. 2):75-76. Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/20020202/bob10.asp.

Travis, J. 2000. Fly genome creates a buzz. Science News 157(June 10):382-384. Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/20000610/bob10.asp.

Peterson, I. 2000. Changes of mathematical state. Science News 157(May 6):296-297. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/20000506/bob9.asp.

______. 1997. Silicon champions of the game. Science News 152(Aug. 2):76-79. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc97/8_2_97/bob1.htm.

Weiss, P. 1999. Stop-and-go science. Science News 156(July 3):8-10. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc99/7_3_99/bob1.htm.

______. 1998. The puzzle of flutter and tumble. Science News 154(Oct. 31):285-287. References and sources available at http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc98/10_31_98/bob2ref.htm.

For further information on Edward Fredkin's "Digital Philosophy," go to http://www.digitalphilosophy.org/.

For Stephen Wolfram's official Web site, go to http://www.wolframscience.com/.


Elaine Bearer
Box G-B5
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912

Celia Black-Brooks
Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.
15 Walnut Street
Wellesley Hills, MA 02481

Edward Fredkin
Carnegie Mellon University
Robotics Institute
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Larry G. Hill
Mail Stop P952
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, NM 87545

Ray Kurzweil
Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.
15 Walnut Street
Wellesley Hills, MA 02481

Carl E. Lippitt
Sandia National Laboratories
P.O. Box 5800
Albuquerque, NM 87185

Rodrigo A. Obando
School of Business
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824

Stanley Ruby
18400 Overlook Road
Los Gatos, CA 95030

Rudy Rucker
Computer Science
San Jose State University
208 MacQuarrie Hall
San Jose, CA 95192

Steven Weinberg
Department of Physics
University of Texas, Austin
Theory Group, RLM 5.208 C1608
Austin, TX 78712-1081

Stephen Wolfram
Stepham Wolfram Science Group
c/o Wolfram Research, Inc.
100 Trade Center Drive
Champaign, IL 61820

Robert J. Zimmer
Brown University
Office of the Provost
Box 1862
Providence, RI 02912

From Science News, Vol. 164, No. 7, Aug. 16, 2003, p. 106.
Copyright (c) 2003 Science Service. All rights reserved.

Interested in new developments in science and technology? Consider subscribing to Science News. Visit Science News Online at http://www.sciencenews.org/ for access to additional news articles and subscription information.

High School Students Do Cold Fusion


Every summer, high school students work with Prof. John Dash, of Portland State University, in cold fusion experiments, as part of the Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering program, which allocates high school students to summer internships all over Oregon and Southern Washington. In 2003, Corissa Lee and Shelsea Pedersen participated. They will be seniors next semester. They were assisted by Ben Zimmerman, was an apprentice in 2002, and who will be attending the University of Chicago this Fall. Zimmerman describes the 2003 program:

"Our experiment is very rudimentary electrolysis of palladium in a D20 and Sulfuric Acid electrolyte, running under modest current (from 3-4 amps) with a non-reactive identical control cell for comparison of heat flow. So far, we've analyzed temperature readings and found that the cells used so far produce on average .5 watts, and as high as .9 watts as excess. Also, we've analyzed the palladium cathodes of similar experiments and found anywhere from 2 to 20% of unaccounted for silver with an SEM after electrolysis from cathodes that produced excess heat." Cultural evolution, the postbiological universe and SETI http://journals.cambridge.org/bin/bladerunner?REQUNIQ=1061542659&REQSESS=8579264&118000REQEVENT=&REQINT1=163278&REQAUTH=0

International Journal of Astrobiology (2003), 2:65-74 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © 2003 Cambridge University Press
DOI 10.1017/S147355040300137X

Steven J. Dick a1
a1 US Naval Observatory, 3450 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
20392-5420, USA e-mail: sdick@cox.net


The Biological Universe (Dick 1996) analysed the history of the extraterrestrial life debate, documenting how scientists have assessed the chances of life beyond Earth during the 20th century. Here I propose another option – that we may in fact live in a postbiological universe, one that has evolved beyond flesh and blood intelligence to artificial intelligence that is a product of cultural rather than biological evolution. MacGowan & Ordway (1966), Davies (1995) and Shostak (1998), among others, have broached the subject, but the argument has not been given the attention it is due, nor has it been carried to its logical conclusion. This paper argues for the necessity of long-term thinking when contemplating the problem of intelligence in the universe. It provides arguments for a postbiological universe, based on the likely age and lifetimes of technological civilizations and the overriding importance of cultural evolution as an element of cosmic evolution. And it describes the general nature of a postbiological universe and its implications for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

(Received November 15 2002)
(Accepted October 3 2002)

Dowsing Data Defy the Skeptics


Usually, the boundary between science and science fiction is as distinct as the difference between the 6 o'clock news and "The Simpsons." Wherever the line blurs, you're bound to find contentious debates. One of the longest-running of these disagreements centers on dowsing, a supposed sixth sense that enables people to find underground water using a forked branch, pendulum or pair of bent wires. There is no scientific reason why dowsing should work. Yet, it apparently works well enough and reliably enough to keep the practice alive.

The success of dowsers doesn't surprise the people who know the most about finding underground water, hydrogeologists for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). They point out that the United States is so water-rich you can get wet drilling just about anywhere, if you drill deep enough. Far harsher criticism of dowsing and dowsers comes from outside the mainstream scientific community. Two organizations, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), http://www.csicop.org/si, and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), http://www.randi.org, are actually working to discourage the practice, which they both dismiss as paranormal nonsense. To make their point that dowsing is a sham each has staged demonstrations in which dowsers were asked to find buried pipes. Dowsers did no better than the laws of chance predict. JREF is so confident of its position it promises to pay $1.1 million to anyone who can "prove" dowsing works.

Yet Dowsers Flourish

Like bees unaware they are too aerodynamically challenged to fly, dowsers don't let the skeptics get them down. In fact, the ranks of dowsers have been steadily growing. Forty years ago, about 50 dowsers and curiosity seekers were drawn to Danville, Vt., for a 1-day National Dowsing Convention. That get-together led to the creation of the American Society of Dowsers (ASD), www.newhampshire.com/dowsers.org, which now counts about 4200 members. Lest you dismiss dowsing's popularity as just another New Age fad, take a close look at the 16th century drawing to the left. The men wearing traditional miners' clothing are holding the same type of forked stick in use by many dowsers today.

Now comes a massive set of data that suggests there may be some validity to dowsers' claims. The encouraging words are contained in a study financed by the German government and published in the Journal Of Scientific Exploration, http://www.jse.com/betz_toc.html, which is a peer-reviewed scientific journal published at Stanford University.

The project was conducted by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit in the hope of finding cheaper and more reliable ways of locating drinking water supplies in Third World countries.

Researchers analyzed the successes and failures of dowsers in attempting to locate water at more than 2000 sites in arid regions of Sri Lanka, Zaire, Kenya, Namibia and Yemen over a 10-year period. To do this, researchers teamed geological experts with experienced dowsers and then set up a scientific study group to evaluate the results. Drill crews guided by dowsers didn't hit water every time, but their success rate was impressive. In Sri Lanka, for example, they drilled 691 holes and had an overall success rate of 96 percent.

"In hundreds of cases the dowsers were able to predict the depth of the water source and the yield of the well to within 10 percent or 20 percent," says Hans-Dieter Betz, a physicist at the University of Munich, who headed the research group.

"We carefully considered the statistics of these correlations, and they far exceeded lucky guesses," he says. What's more, virtually all of the sites in Sri Lanka were in regions where the odds of finding water by random drilling were extremely low. As for a USGS notion that dowsers get subtle clues from the landscape and geology, Betz points out that the underground sources were often more than 100 ft. deep and so narrow that misplacing the drill only a few feet would mean digging a dry hole.

As impressive as this success rate may seem, it doesn't do much to change the minds of skeptics. Their preference is to test dowsing under more controlled conditions. Back To The Lab

Anticipating this criticism, the German researchers matched their field work with laboratory experiments in which they had dowsers attempt to locate water-filled pipes inside a building. The tests were similar to those conducted by CSICOP and JREF, and similarly discouraging. Skeptics see the poor showing as evidence of failure. Betz sees the discrepancy as an important clue. He says that subtle electromagnetic gradients may result when natural fissures and water flows create changes in the electrical properties of rock and soil. Dowsers, he theorizes, somehow sense these gradients and unconsciously respond by wagging their forked sticks, pendulums or bent wires.

Low-Energy Sensor

There is ample evidence that humans can detect small amounts of energy. All creatures with eyes can detect extremely small amounts of electromagnetic energy at visible light wavelengths. Some researchers believe the dark-adapted human eye can detect a single photon, the smallest measurable quantity of energy. Biologists also have found nonvisual electric and magnetic sensing organs in creatures from bacteria to sharks, fish and birds. Physiologists, however, have yet to find comparable structures in humans.

Betz offers no theories of how dowsers come by their skill and prefers to confine his speculation to his data. "There are two things that I am certain of after 10 years of field research," he says. "A combination of dowsing and modern techniques can be both more successful, and far less expensive, than we had thought."


Saturday, August 23, 2003

Science In the News

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

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In the News

Today's Headlines - August 22, 2003

from The New York Times

There are no white cliffs of Mars, scientists are reporting today, and that absence casts more doubt on the theory that Mars once had a warm, wet, Earth-like climate favorable for life.

NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, in orbit around Mars, has been measuring the glow of infrared light from the rocks below, looking for patterns of colors that identify different minerals. In particular, scientists have been interested in minerals known as carbonates, which form only in the presence of liquid water. On Earth, the white cliffs of Dover in England are a notable example of carbonates.

In today's issue of the journal Science, the researchers who run the infrared instrument report that Global Surveyor has detected small concentrations of carbonates in Martian dust, 2 percent to 5 percent by weight, but none of the large deposits that would probably form at the bottom of a lake or an ocean.

from Associated Press

AVELLA, Pa. -- Evidence that humans inhabited western Pennsylvania some 16,000 years ago -- thousands of years earlier than most scholars believe -- is still dividing archaeologists, 30 years after blade tools and materials to make beads were found in a rock shelter.

Archaeologist J.M. Adovasio and his crew began to unearth the artifacts in the summer of 1973 at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, about 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Those findings challenged for the first time a belief cemented in the 1950s that humans had crossed the Bering Strait and first settled near Clovis, N.M., about 12,000 years ago.

Adovasio says skepticism over his findings has slowly dissipated over the last three decades, because of extensive study, dozens of radiocarbon tests and the discovery of other sites in North and South America.

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Jagger lends a hand as Jerry looks into gurus


By Matt Born
(Filed: 21/08/2003)

The rise of the celebrity guru, one of the more bizarre facets of modern culture, is to be examined in a BBC documentary presented by Jerry Hall, the fashion model.

Her former husband, Mick Jagger, and the actress Anjelica Houston, are among those she interviews about the fascination that gurus, mystics and new age cults have held over celebrities from The Beatles to Madonna.

In the programme, Jagger, the Rolling Stones singer and notorious lothario, talks about the less well-documented spiritual side of his life.

He recalls meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - who had a profound impact on The Beatles - in 1968 at a conference in Bangor, North Wales.

Jagger also goes on to say that the Greek god he most closely resembles is Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility.

The three-part series, which will be broadcast in the autumn, forms a key part of BBC3's public service remit, which includes an obligation to broadcast 15 hours a year of programmes about "business, ethics, documentaries with a global perspective and science".

The corporation has been widely criticised for failing to make more traditional religious programming. But Stuart Murphy, the channel's controller, yesterday defended the decision to make a series about new age spirituality, saying that was what his target audience were interested in.

All-natural doesn't always mean all-safe

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff, 8/19/2003


It began benignly enough with a bumper crop of pinkish welts -- looking for all the world like mosquito bites -- sprouting on the insides of my upper arms.

Less than 18 hours later, I fretted that the Mars Rover was due to alight on my body at any moment as a mottled red rash covered virtually every square inch of skin from clavicle to cuticle.

As the nurse-practitioner evaluating my condition reviewed a checklist of possible sources for the rash, we returned inexorably to the one act that deviated from my daily pattern of activities. The night before, I'd taken a piece of luggage that my cat had mistaken for his litter box and doused it with a cleaning solvent whose powers had been touted by a genial clerk at the neighborhood pet shop.

"But," I sputtered to the nurse-practitioner, "it's all-natural."

Her riposte, without missing a beat: "Poison ivy is all-natural, too."

It's a lesson learned all too often under such circumstances, after we're lulled into believing that just because something comes from nature's factory rather than man's, it surely must be safe.

"In fact," said Dr. Edward W. Boyer, staff toxicologist at the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention serving Massachusetts & Rhode Island, "some of the most toxic substances known to man are all-natural. The presumption the public has that all-natural equals safe, and that synthetic or manufactured or bioengineered is somehow unsafe, is really unfortunate."

There are, of course, the extreme examples, like the bacterium that causes botulism. And then there are the everyday agents like ephedra, the key ingredient in herbal supplements that until quite recently were all the rage among fitness fanatics racing to get pumped up or slimmed down. That is, until federal authorities in February issued an urgent warning against the popular product -- derived from the plant ma huang -- after linking it to more than 100 deaths.

Last week, The Journal of the American Medical Association provided the latest evidence of the peril in assuming all-natural means all-good.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania wanted to know whether guggul, an extract from the mukul myrrh tree, really lived up to its promise of reducing LDL-cholesterol, the bad kind. Since 600 BC, guggul has been embraced -- most prominently in Asia -- for its purported ability to help users shed weight.

So, the scientists gave study participants a guggul tablet or a dummy pill. Their finding: Levels of LDL-cholesterol actually rose by as much as 5 percent in the people downing guggul tablets.

"I have to say I was expecting something positive," said Dr. Philippe O. Szapary, lead author of the study and a University of Pennsylvania internist. "But, while I was surprised, I wasn't shocked."

That's because trees have long been known as a potential source of misery to humans.

"If you think of the plant world," Szapary said, "many of the things we react to -- poison ivy, sumac -- are tree-based."

So, what's a consumer to do?

For one thing, if you're taking all-natural supplements, be forthright with your doctor.

"A lot of patients don't feel it's even necessary to tell their doctor they're taking an herbal product," said Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center. "They assume that if they can buy it over the counter without a prescription, it can't do any harm. You have to always remember to tell your physician that you're taking an herbal product."

And, if you're using an all-natural product to, say, remove a liquid gift deposited by your feline, you can call a poison control center to determine the ingredients and their potential for producing allergic reactions. Whether you're in Boston, Mass., or Boston, Ky., the number's the same: 1-800-222-1222.

"There's a very good chance we have the information," said Boyer, who along with his poison control center duties is chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine.

As for me and my rash, it vanished swiftly after a single dose of antihistamine.

As for Tommy the cat, if he relieves himself on any more luggage, he'll receive a dose of all-natural punishment.

Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

N.C.C.A.M. funds dangerous research

Amherst, NY (August 22, 2003)- A new article in the September/October 2003 issue of Skeptical Inquirer by anesthesiologist Kimball Atwood, M.D., describes a history of dubious science at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The NCCAM is a branch of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and successor to the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). The heavy hands of Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and former Iowa representative Berkeley Bedell were behind the formation of the OAM and NCCAM, and leave their fingerprints all over past and current projects. Senator Harkin came to believe that he was cured of his hay fever by bee pollen: ever since he has been an avid supporter of research into complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Atwood argues that "the NCCAM continues to be committed more to pseudoscience and CAM advocacy than real science." According to Atwood, Senator Harkin's and Berkeley Bedell's influence and meddling through funding for NCCAM's research and staff appointments have compromised the integrity of the Center's work.

Atwood presents shocking findings about NCCAM-funded research. NCCAM and the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) both fund Bastyr University's AIDS Research Center (BUARC). (See http://www.bastyr.edu/research/buarc/). Not only does BUARC waste money on incredible AIDS "therapies" like distant healing, it conducts research that is downright dangerous: namely testing the anti-HIV activity of St. John's Wort-an herb that has been proven to have dangerous interactions with the HIV protease inhibitors (see http://www.bastyr.edu/research/buarc/activities.asp). Funding continues despite the fact that the NCCAM has long known the dangers discovered by other researchers in the NIH-and even issued a press release back in February 2000 warning about them (see http://nccam.nih.gov/news/19972000/021000.htm). "How many people carrying HIV may have developed AIDS or relapses because of such promotion [of St. John's Wort HIV therapy] is a mystery," writes Atwood, "but there is no indication that anyone at Bastyr or the NCCAM is wondering."

Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), a non-profit science and education organization founded in 1976 by Dr. Paul Kurtz of the State University of New York at Buffalo, in addition to Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and other leading scientists and writers dedicated to scientific literacy. The official Web site for CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer is http://www.csicop.org.

For copies of this article from the new Skeptical Inquirer, to arrange an interview with the authors, or to request reprint permissions for the articles mentioned in this release, contact Kevin Christopher at 716 636 1425, extension 218 or send an e-mail to press@csicop.org.

A Forged James Ossuary? You read it first in Skeptical Inquirer

Amherst, NY (August 22, 2003)--You read it first in Skeptical Inquirer. Now, in the new September/October 2003 issue, Skeptical Inquirer columnist Joe Nickell follows up on his March/April 2003 special report with recent developments in the James ossuary case. In the report he wrote for the March/April issue, Nickell was the first to argue from the preponderance of evidence that the James ossuary may well be a forged inscription on an authentic, but otherwise unremarkable, bone box.

"The scenario was proved accurate," Nickell writes in his current follow-up, "by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and utilizing a panoply of sophisticated analytical techniques."

The James ossuary is an example of a type of limestone box commonly used to hold skeletal remains. What set it apart from the average bone box is an Aramaic inscription that reads (in English): "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Many were quick to accept the ossuary as the genuine receptacle for the remains of James, the brother of Jesus Christ. They were certainly encouraged by the misguided certitude of French biblical scholar Andre Lemaire and Biblical Archeology Review editor Hershel Shanks.

In late July, Israeli police raided the Tel Aviv home of Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan, owner of the famed ossuary. Golan was arrested on July 21, on suspicion of forging ancient artifacts and was released on July 25; as of August 18, charges have not yet been filed against him. The Israeli Antiquities Authority also published a report confirming that the patina in the inscription was faked.

In his special report, Nickell had pointed out several suspicious facts that called into question the authenticity of the artifact. The patina of the inscription was questionable. Scholars were finding inconsistencies in the style of the lettering. A provenance was utterly lacking. (Golan said that he bought the ossuary in the Old City (old Jerusalem) "in the 1970s," paying an Arab antiquities dealer he can no longer identify.) Lemaire had originally claimed that the ossuary was otherwise unadorned. This claim was belied when Nickell's observed rosettes on the side opposite the inscription during his inspection of the object in its exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. That is a puzzling fact, given that ossuaries are usually decorated and inscribed on one side only.

"Forgers frequently select genuine old artifacts upon which to inflict their handiwork," Nickell concluded in the March/April 2003 issue, noting similar forgeries he has personally investigated and exposed, such as Daniel Boone muskets and the "Jack the Ripper" diary. "Mounting evidence has begun to suggest that the James ossuary may be yet such another production." Indeed the raid of Golan's home has completely undermined any serious claims of authenticity.

Of course, Golan is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. However, the conclusion that he had something to do with the forged "James Ossuary" is probably inevitable as details about the discoveries made in the July raid are made public. According to a recent Religion News Service story, directly damning evidence was found in a rooftop storage room. "We found in this room other inscriptions and antiquities that appeared to be in various stages of being counterfeited," Israel Antiquities Authority officer Amir Ganor told the Religion News Service. "We also found a lot of equipment for the process."

Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), a non-profit science and education organization founded in 1976 by Dr. Paul Kurtz of the State University of New York at Buffalo, in addition to Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and other leading scientists and writers dedicated to scientific literacy. The official Web site for CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer is http://www.csicop.org.

For copies of this article from the new Skeptical Inquirer, to arrange an interview with the authors, or to request reprint permissions for the articles mentioned in this release, contact Kevin Christopher at 716 636 1425, extension 218 or send an e-mail to press@csicop.org.

May's Misleading Response



Michael May claims in his Aug. 1 response to Terri Leo ["Postmarks"] that 1) he did not call me a "creationist" and that 2) his calling attention to my Christian faith is somehow relevant to the case for textbook accuracy I was making before the education board. He is mistaken on both counts.

Concerning the latter, I am amazed that someone from a region of the U.S. that seeks to distance itself from its bigoted past would call attention to my faith (as if it were a bad thing) when the arguments I offered to the board stand or fall on their own merit. By singling out my faith and not revealing the metaphysical commitments of my opponents, Mr. May employed the ugly and disreputable "label and dismiss" strategy. Its fallaciousness is easy to recognize if we change the subject and the religion. Imagine, for example, if Mr. May had dismissed the arguments of a Holocaust historian because May had learned that he is a "Jewish historian." Here's the lesson: When someone proposes an argument, a response that calls attention to the person's religion is not a response to the argument -- it's called bigotry.

Second, Mr. May clearly implies that I am a creationist, even though I am not. This is what he wrote in his July 18 piece ["Ignorant Design at the SBOE"] in the Chronicle: "The Seattle-based institute [the Discovery Institute] supports Beckwith's work and that of a small stable of 'creation scientists' who disagree with the principles of evolution." Imagine if someone had said the following about Mr. May: "The Austin-based institute [the Lester Maddox Center] supports Mr. May's work and that of a small stable of 'white supremacists' who disagree with the principle of equality." We would all, instantly, infer that Mr. May is a white supremacist, even though he is not.

Francis J. Beckwith
Associate Director, J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies
Associate Professor of Church-State Studies
Baylor University

[News Editor Michael King replies: Professor Beckwith protests more than a little too much. He objects to being described as a "Christian philosopher," when even a cursory review of his publications (including regular contributions to Philosophia Christi published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, aka "Biola University") confirms that's exactly how he presents himself, at least when he's not flogging his "scholarship" before state boards of education. For him to dismiss such a relevant identification in this context as the equivalent of bigoted anti-Semitism is ludicrous -- if anyone is guilty of name-calling, he is. Similarly, while Beckwith may prefer to distinguish the theologian's new clothes of "intelligent design" from "creationism," other observers are under no such obligation, since both notions rest on the same pseudoscientific premises, and have no place in public school biology textbooks. If he considers such a designation akin to being called a "white supremacist," the problem is his, not Michael May's nor the Chronicle's. Finally, in light of the strained logic of his response, perhaps we did err in describing him as a "philosopher" at all.]

Friday, August 22, 2003

Panel backs off evolution debate


Posted on Thu, Aug. 21, 2003

Union school board asked to urge revision of science curriculum
Staff Writer

MONROE - The Union County school board on Tuesday flirted with, then backed away from, a more-than-century-long debate questioning evolution's place in science education.

Under discussion in the board's meeting was a proposal to ask the state to revise its science curriculum guidelines to include "both the strengths and weaknesses of the Theory of Evolution without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption."

N.C. education officials are currently reviewing the state science curriculum as they do every five years. Although they are still gathering public comment, an official said discussion from Union County residents has been the first public questioning of evolution's role in the curriculum.

But the Union County measure, effectively defeated when the board passed an alternative resolution to stay quiet on the curriculum, is yet another battle in an enduring nationwide movement to challenge evolutionary theory. The movement itself, however, has also evolved.

"It's the latest variation on a theme," said Tom Hutton, staff attorney with the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va.

Back in 1925 in Dayton, Tenn., the question was whether evolution should be taught at all when John Scopes, a substitute biology teacher, was tried in court for teaching Charles Darwin's 1859 theory that humans were not created in the Garden of Eden but through the evolution of other animal species.

Now, due to court interpretations of the First Amendment's separation of church and state, Hutton said, evolutionary theory opponents have modified how they make their point.

Instead of creationism, the belief in the Biblical story of creation, some are arguing "intelligent design," he said, which is "carefully designed to be not a religious but a scientific approach." Intelligent design argues that the universe was created, then governed by a higher intelligence.

In Union County, school board members Dean Arp and Phil Martin want students to discuss evolution's flaws.

"The way it is now, we are teaching an evolutionary-only, naturalist-biased approach," said Arp, via speakerphone from Ohio because of a funeral. Instead, he said he wanted "a balanced curriculum that's unbiased."

Arp and Martin said the resolution came from their constituents' concerns expressed at a public meeting last week in Charlotte.

Both had attended the meeting in which state education officials heard comments on the science curriculum revisions. It was one of six statewide sessions to gather public comments before education officials submit a revised science curriculum to the state school board in November.

Once approved, the curriculum will be taught in 2005, said Bill Tucci, who heads the state's math and science division.

Of the six meetings, Tucci said Charlotte's was the only one in which participants questioned how evolutionary theory should be taught. The N.C. School Boards Association also said it hadn't heard debate on how evolution should be handled in the new curriculum.

Want to Learn More?

To view N.C. current and proposed science curricula, visit: www.ncpublicschools.org/curriculum/science

Group promotes evolution in textbooks


Campaign unveiled as state board prepares to pick biology textbooks

07:47 AM CDT on Thursday, August 21, 2003

Associated Press

AUSTIN – A group of teachers, scientists, parents and religious leaders on Wednesday launched a campaign they say is an effort to protect the accurate teaching of evolution in high school biology textbooks.

"Evolution is the most crucial concept we teach in biology. It is the cornerstone for understanding the living world," said Austin biology teacher Amanda Walker.

The Stand Up For Science campaign was unveiled as the state Board of Education prepares to adopt biology texts in November.

The evolution proponents criticized what they say are attempts to teach creationist theories and said creationism isn't used as a basis in science or medical literature.

Other groups, including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute think tank, say they just want to ensure that scientific weaknesses of evolution, or Darwinism, are presented to Texas students.

Critics say "intelligent design" is a dressed-up version of creationism, which the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited from public schools as a violation of the separation of church and state.

"The choice of the state Board of Education is not between religion and science, but a decision about which will be taught in our science classrooms," said Larry Bethune, chairman of the Texas Freedom Network, a group which says it is a watchdog of the religious right. Mr. Bethune is also a Baptist minister.

Battle over evolution heating up



Updated: 8/20/2003 4:58:02 PM
By: Antonio Castelan and Wire reports

The debate continues over what information Texas biology books should present.

The Texas Board of Education is looking to pick the best science book for students.

Members of a campaign called "Stand Up For Science'' said it's meant to protect the accurate teaching of evolution in Texas high school biology textbooks.

The push was unveiled on Wednesday by some religious leaders, scientists and parents. It comes as the state Board of Education prepares to adopt new biology textbooks this fall.

Terry Maxwell, a professor of biology at Angelo State University, doesn't believe creationism should be in biology textbooks.

"Science uses evidentiary reasoning and it uses no other approach," he said.

Creationists generally believe earth was formed supernaturally by God.

Reverend Tom Hegar said while he believes in God's powers, those ideas need to stay at home or in the church.

"Faith and science are complimentary. Don't use faith to build your science. Don't use science to try to destroy or shrink my faith," he said.

Seattle-based Discovery Institute believes the theory of intelligent design should be in Texas biology books. According to the Institute, intelligent design is the hypothesis that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Science backers say that's the same thing as creationism.

"Textbooks should fix embarrassing factual errors and tell students about the scientific weakness of neo-Darwinism as well as its strengths," Discovery Institute officials stated in a faxed memo.

Maxwell said two different ideologies make it harder for students to learn science.

"If you interject ways of knowing other than the way science is practiced by mainstream science you confuse children," he said.

Austin biology teacher Amanda Walker said evolution is the cornerstone for understanding the living world, and influences medicine such as prostate cancer, heart disease and AIDS.

The evolution proponents also criticized what they said are attempts to teach creationist theories.

The Board of Education can reject books because of errors or failure to follow the state curriculum.

The board will make its final decision on the biology textbooks in November.

People have until Thursday, Aug. 21, to sign up to speak at the final public hearing Sept. 10.

In July, the first public hearing brought 42 speakers who offered their opinions at the public hearing on biology, but only half of them were familiar with the particular books.

Board member Gail Lowe said then she was disappointed that many of the people who testified for or against certain textbooks hadn't actually read them.

"They seem to be here to express a viewpoint, but it doesn't seem to relate to the textbooks we're actually considering," she said.

Copyright © 2003 TWEAN d.b.a. News 8 Austin

Speakers gear up for textbook battle on evolution issue


Aug. 20, 2003, 10:25PM

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN -- Today is the deadline to sign up to testify on new biology textbooks for public schools, and supporters and critics of how the books present evolution are gearing up for a heated battle.

The State Board of Education will hold its second and final hearing on the textbooks Sept. 10. Already, more than 80 people have registered to testify.

On Wednesday, a group of science educators, business people and clergy gathered in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency to ask for a strong discussion of evolutionary theories in high school textbooks.

"Individual religious beliefs about the origin of life are sacred and illuminating, and they should be studied in homes and religious congregations, just as evolution is studied in science classrooms and laboratories," said Larry Bethune, a Baptist minister who serves as chairman of the Texas Freedom Network, a group dedicated to the separation of church and state.

David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas, said he thinks the publishers have done a good job discussing evolution, but he is worried that the text will be diluted or that misleading information will be added. If science really is the issue, he asked, why are there no similar controversies at scientific meetings or in scientific journals?

"This argument is being waged over high school textbooks because that is where the final decisions are not made by scientists but rather by politicians," said Hillis.

Leaders of groups advocating changes to the textbooks said they just want a full discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

Ike Trotter, a spokesman for Texans for Better Science Education, said 400 people have signed the group's Internet petition supporting the inclusion of the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

Trotter said the books contain factual errors, a contention disputed by Hillis.

"We intend to make the scientific case for cleaning up the factual problems and what we see as a biased lack of balance in many biology textbooks," said Trotter.

The State Board of Education is allowed to reject textbooks only for factual errors. The board is scheduled to vote in November on the biology books.

After the first hearing in July, one publisher changed a passage to encourage students to use the library or Internet to "study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives" to those discussed in the textbook.

In 2001, the board rejected an environmental science textbook after critics complained it was extreme and anti-American. Last year, history book references to the Ice Age and other events occurring "millions of years ago" were changed to read "in the distant past."

Publishers last year also responded to criticism that there wasn't enough information about minorities in the textbooks by adding passages about Mexicans who helped defend the Alamo and the later struggles of Mexican-Americans for civil rights.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - August 21, 2003

from Associated Press

Scientists say they have identified an ocean sponge living in the darkness of the deep sea that grows thin glass fibers capable of transmitting light at least as well as industrial fiber optic cables used for telecommunication.

The natural glass fibers also are much more flexible than manufactured fiber optic cable that can crack if bent too far.

"You can actually tie a knot in these natural biological fibers and they will not break -- it's really quite amazing," said Joanna Aizenberg, who led the research at Bell Laboratories.

from The New York Times

WHEN the United States entered World War I in 1917, its railroad system had just undergone three decades of torrid expansion after the adoption of a standard track width. While the expansion was unquestionably a boon, it also created the potential for new logistical problems.

"All of a sudden there was a demand to rush all of this war matériel and troops to the East Coast and there was a complete meltdown of the system," said Bill Withuhn, transportation curator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. "All of the ports on the East Coast were totally clogged up because they could not get the railroad cars unloaded. There is a famous story of one troop train that sat on a siding in Ohio for four days because the system was overloaded. The effect of this was colossal, and the parallel is immediate and is an exact duplicate in some ways to the blackout."

Like the World War I railroad meltdown, last week's blackout was vast precisely because of the interconnectedness that the network was meant to exploit and foster.

Web skips ephedra warnings


August 18, 2003

By Martin Miller, Times Staff Writer

Internet marketers of herbal supplements containing ephedra frequently make false claims and fail to offer complete information about potentially dangerous, even life-threatening, side effects, finds one of the first studies to focus solely on e-commerce and the herbal supplement business.

Despite being linked to elevated blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks, the popular stimulant, used by millions primarily for weight loss, was touted on one Web site as a beneficial treatment for hypertension and coronary disease, according to an article published this month in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Other problems identified in the Internet promotion of ephedra ranged from wrongly implying governmental approval to falsely claiming the product had no adverse side effects. In all, the study scrutinized 32 Web sites selling products with ephedra in July 2002.

"This confirms what I think most physicians knew intuitively — that there's a lot of misleading, sometimes just bad, information on the Internet," said Dr. Bimal Ashar, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "But to most of the public, including many of my patients, they really don't know about these dangers."

Suspicions about the claimed benefits of dietary and herbal supplements, made both on and off the Internet, were heightened further last week after an article in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. reported that guggulipid, advertised as a cholesterol reducer, instead slightly raised cholesterol levels. The same study also found that the supplement, made from the resin of the mukul myrrh tree, gave one in 10 users a skin rash.

In a random sampling of Web sites selling guggulipid last week, neither the JAMA study nor the rash side effect was mentioned. Makers of the herbal supplement, however, criticized the JAMA study as being too limited in scope and for failing to test the product for its effectiveness in treating other heart disease risks.

The studies highlight the need for consumers to exercise caution when purchasing such items via the Internet, critics of Internet marketing say.

"There's no guarantee of effectiveness or safety with these kinds of products," said Nicolas Terry, co-director of the Center for Health Law Studies at Saint Louis University in Missouri. "Never mind if they're going to kill you, you really don't know what's in them.

"My advice would be not to buy any of these products without first talking to your doctor," he added.

A 1994 federal law allows makers of dietary supplements to place their products on the market without testing their safety or efficacy, as is required for drugs. Also, it is incumbent upon the government to prove an herbal or dietary product is dangerous to regulate or ban it.

In the face of calls during congressional hearings held last month to ban or at least to more strictly control the supplement, makers of ephedra continued to claim the substance is safe when used as directed and is beneficial for weight loss and improving athletic performance. Even so, Illinois already has banned ephedra sales, and the American Medical Assn. and the National Football League have prohibited its use.

If regulating over-the-counter sales of herbal supplements is challenging, critics say, the task is greatly magnified when it comes to the Internet.

Because of the Web's relative anonymity, it can be hard to know who is operating the e-business. And even if the identity is discovered, critics say, if the operator is located outside the United States, it's not bound by U.S. law.

"The Internet clearly facilitates small-level fraud, because just as it reduces transaction costs for legitimate commerce, so it also removes a lot of barriers for legally marginal businesses, too," Terry said. "I would not buy these kind of products over the Internet unless I was buying it from one of the recognized on-line drugstores. Otherwise, you really don't know what you're buying."

Letters to the Editor


To the Editor: Intelligent design should not be taught as a principle of biology until some advocate of intelligent design can propose scientific experiments, with results, that would justify inclusion in a science text. Einstein's almost-incredible ideas about gravity were confirmed experimentally within a few years of their publication in refereed science journals.

Intelligent Design should not be taught as biology To the Editor: Intelligent design should not be taught as a principle of biology until some advocate of intelligent design can propose scientific experiments, with results, that would justify inclusion in a science text. Einstein's almost-incredible ideas about gravity were confirmed experimentally within a few years of their publication in refereed science journals. In contrast, intelligent design has failed to publish even one description of just what it is, or how it might be applied in a lab, in more than a decade of thunder from religious partisans. Intelligent design, as a concept in biology, is taught in no university anywhere in the world. There is no research facility which conducts research under an "intelligent design" model. There is no concept of modern biology which has been advanced by the concept of intelligent design since William Paley's book on it was published in 1802. Why should we give our school kids intellectual candy, instead of the meat and potatoes of real science? Intelligent design is to biology what cold fusion is to physics, but lacking the experimental support cold fusion had. Evolution, regardless of our feelings about it, is one of the most useful concepts in modern science.

Perhaps one day some bright kid might find a hole in the theory that nullifies it, and propose a new alternative that will be a springboard to great new advances in agriculture and medicine. If that day ever comes, that kid will be one who learned Darwinian evolution well enough in school to be able to explain it to her college professors and demonstrate in a laboratory what is the error. Intelligent design will keep kids from having that background.

Ed Darrell

I'm for ideas, not myths

The reason that ID is not getting equal time is not because students don't deserve equal time of ideas. I am all for equal time. In a religious mythology class teach the 7 day creation myth right along side with the primordial parents, egg at the bottom of the ocean, slain monster or any other thousands of creation myths. The scientific evidence may very well be in a book available at the library. Michael Behe's book "Darwin's black box" is available for all but it is severely flawed when it claims there is a designer because it's just too improbable for all the cells to be arranged and life to exist. That tiny probability of life doesn't equal science supporting a designer. That is why ID isn't science and not taught in science class.

Mark Johnson

Religions are fearful

To the Editor:

Religions, especially Christianity, have always been threatened by knowledge.

They are invested in tradition and the status quo that new data is bad in their eyes. The relatively recent scientific data on evolution and our origins challenges the sudden rib action at Eden as set out in the Bible. The class in question is SCIENCE, not theology.

We will do our children a disservice if we teach them the wrong facts.

Rick Wilbanks

A textbook case of bad science


Defenders of evolutionary theory in Texas say creation scientists are getting sneakier -- and more successful -- in getting their views into public school educational materials.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Aug. 20, 2003 | Charles Darwin, Satan, Joseph Stalin, aliens, Raelians and fire-breathing dragons hibernating at the bottom of the sea all put in cameos last month at a Texas board of education public hearing on textbooks.

One member of the board invoked Darwin's name with reverence, even as she defended the principle of giving more attention to alleged weaknesses in the theory of evolution in biology textbooks.

"Darwin himself would not have supported censorship of scientific weaknesses," said Republican board member Terri Leo.

But a former United Methodist minister chided members of the board that such "ignorance and misinformation are the works of Satan." In other words, in this minister's view, God is firmly on the side of teaching scientific fact to students.

The half-day hearing, on July 9, was the first of two occasions for public comment on the biology textbooks currently under consideration by the state's board. Texas is the second-largest market for textbooks in the country, with an annual budget of $570 million, which gives it considerable influence in what gets taught in the rest of the United States.

By law, the Texas board of education cannot ban a textbook simply because it objects to its content. But it can ding a book for factual inaccuracy, or for inadequately representing the strengths and weaknesses of a theory. So this year, critics of evolution are charging the state with censorship and accusing biology teachers and scientists of being dogmatic in their adherence to Darwin.

"The true censors are the Darwinian activists who want to keep textbooks from including any discussion of the scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory," said John West, the associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at a Seattle think tank called the Discovery Institute, in a press release.

But advocates of teaching evolution in school say that the accusation that they are hiding "weaknesses" is just clever hogwash. They aren't trying to block criticisms of evolution, they say, as long as those are based in the scientific method. But they are alarmed at the increasing subtlety with which religiously based views are masquerading as real science.

Come the revolution

Meet the people shaping the future of science


This interview was first published in New Scientist print edition, subscribe here

Only in a few countries could a philosopher of science be seen as an enemy of the state. Abdolkarim Soroush, one of Iran's best-known intellectuals, argues that science cannot progress under totalitarian regimes. His greatest "crime" is to suggest that this is a legitimate Islamic view. After six years in exile, Soroush bravely returned to Iran last week. Ehsan Masood spoke to him on the eve of his departure

Why are you going back to Iran?

I have been away for six years. I need to go back to sort out various things and visit my students, family and friends. Some of my closest friends have been arrested. Before I left I set up an independent institute for epistemological research, which I have discovered was closed down last month. The building has been sealed off. I need to find out what happened.

How risky will this visit be in terms of your personal safety?

It is difficult to say. My friends tell me I am taking a risk. But I need to go.

President Mohammad Khatami is also a personal friend of yours. Will you meet him?

I avoid him and he avoids me. That is better for both of us.

Many of your students are taking to the streets in Iran calling for more freedoms. Do you think they will succeed?

These protests are coming entirely from within. They are not because of foreign provocation. Iran has had an explosion in its university population since the revolution, when there were just 200,000 students. Today there are 2 million. They and their families want greater freedoms and I believe the end result will be a reduction in the power of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, more power to parliament, and greater academic freedom.

How has your experience in Iran influenced your views about science?

My experience in Iran teaches me that a minimum amount of freedom is necessary for the advancement of science, for the advancement of thought. Research cannot flourish if you cannot communicate with your fellow scientists; if you cannot explain your ideas freely, or have to hide part of them lest you be arrested.

I am communicating with you now. We can freely chat and freely exchange information. Science is a child of these kinds of conditions. If I hide something from you and you hide things from me, and both of us are obliged to read between the lines, these are not ideal conditions for research to progress.

Yet science has done well under totalitarian regimes in China and the former Soviet Union, and even under some fairly unpleasant governments during Islam's "golden age of science" between the 9th and 13th centuries...

Let me make a distinction between empirical research and thinking per se. Thinking needs a free environment. Empirical research, where you have a well-defined project with official approval, can indeed flourish even under a totalitarian regime, because scientists can still meet other scientists, read the literature and publish. But it is impossible to advance new theories - particularly in the social sciences - when you are under the influence of a particular view, or under the pressure of a particular dogma.

And I disagree with you about Islam's golden age. Totalitarianism is absolutely a modern phenomenon. In the past, kings were despots but they were not totalitarian. They weren't able to put their hands on science and philosophy. There was no widespread plan to limit scientists, philosophers and other academics. If there were restrictions, they came from religion or fellow philosophers rather than the political system.

You started your professional life as a chemist. Why did you switch to history and philosophy of science?

While still in Iran, I became fascinated with a whole series of problems to do with the nature of science. This happened when I took private tuition in the philosophy of Islamic metaphysics and my teacher and I would often discuss issues such as the nature of theories, the nature of observation and experimental evidence. Neither of us was ever satisfied that we had properly understood these issues, but then neither of us knew that there existed a branch of knowledge called philosophy of science. In fact, philosophy of modern science was unknown in Iran at the time. I didn't find out about it until I came to the UK in 1973.

Are you saying there was no teaching or research in philosophy of modern science in Iran before the Islamic revolution of 1979?

Yes. I was the first person to introduce this subject in Iranian universities. I arranged for academics to be trained and books to be translated and written. Prior to the revolution, philosophy courses at Tehran University concentrated on figures such as Kant, Hume and Heidegger. There was no teaching of the works of modern analytical philosophers such as Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell. This may have been because our heads of department were mostly educated in Germany and France - French is Iran's second language - and were generally weak in English.

You were a supporter of the 1979 revolution...

Yes. Everybody was a supporter. We thought that there was no other way to get rid of the hated regime of the shah and the insecurity that came with it.

Scientific revolutions and political revolutions are similar in many ways. You cannot plan them, they just happen, and you become wiser after the event. After the revolution there was no one dominant view. There were secular people, moderate Muslims, radical Muslims and so on. Revolutions tend to result in totalitarianism. People like me were in it to make it more moderate.

After the shah was overthrown, you returned to Iran. How did you attract the attention of Ayatollah Khomeini?

I met Ayatollah Khomeini when he was in exile in Paris during the 1970s. I later discovered from some of his intimate friends that he had read and liked one of my books on the philosophy of Islamic metaphysics. Khomeini himself had taught metaphysics. I was also known for another book I had written criticising Marxism - considered a serious threat in Iran at the time - and for another on ethics and science. You could say I was a public figure in Iran.

After the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini set up what he called the Advisory Council for the Cultural Revolution to revise the curricula in the universities. I was invited to become one of the council's seven members and I served on it for four years. It was here that I was given the opportunity to introduce philosophy of modern science in universities.

How did the students take to it?

The students became very excited. I myself taught the subject for more than 10 years and set up a research faculty at Tehran University. Today, I am happy to say that history and philosophy of science is flourishing in Iran. There are many professors and books are constantly being published.

How did you fall out with the authorities?

Around 1990, I published a series of seven articles in a popular cultural magazine called Kyan. The magazine is part of the country's biggest-selling newspaper group. The articles went under the title "The expansion and contraction of religious knowledge". In these articles, I defined a branch of knowledge called religious knowledge and tried to explain it using the principles of philosophy of natural and social sciences. These articles rapidly became quite controversial. The ayatollahs [Shiite Muslim religious leaders], in particular, became very sensitive. Some 10 books have since been written in response to my series.

What did you write that got the ayatollahs so inflamed?

They didn't like the idea that interpretations of religious knowledge can change over time, or that religious knowledge can be understood in its historical context. They thought I was taking away the sacredness of religion and making it dependent on human understanding.

But as the controversy grew, I was happy to see these ideas debated in the public media. The original articles were later published in a 700-page book, and I found that I was beginning to attract quite a following. My classrooms became overcrowded and my books were selling very, very well. Books on philosophy usually sell between 2000 and 3000 copies. Some of my books sold more than 50,000. This made the politicians and clergy very sensitive as I was seen to be undermining their exclusive position. I started coming under restrictions.

What kinds of restrictions?

Vigilante groups would stop me from speaking in public. I was often attacked and beaten. I found that I no longer had a job. No one would employ me. No one would publish my work. Invitations to speak stopped coming. The magazine where my original series of articles appeared was closed down. I was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence and told very explicitly that the authorities did not like me any more and did not want me to feel secure in the country.

To what degree do you think research in Muslim countries should be regulated?

When I was on the Advisory Council for the Cultural Revolution, the clerics thought there was an excessive leftist influence on the social sciences and wanted us to purge them of this. I always argued that this would not work because scientists never accept commands from anybody.

But in a country like Iran, surely religion will always guide what research you can do?

There are always barriers to science. Some come from the nature of the research itself, and these have to be recognised and acknowledged. Others come from outside, and these need to be minimised or eliminated. If you are asked to confirm predetermined conclusions to further a social, political or religious cause, that has to be resisted. If you believe through your religion that you know the answer to a particular issue, then embarking on research to find the answer seems to be a contradiction.

You are sometimes described as Islam's Martin Luther, the 16th-century Christian reformer. Are you?

I do not think I am. My main job is to offer an alternative to the totalitarian view of Islam.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

TFN Action Alert - Register to testify for Sept 10 hearing

Today, mainstream Texans and members of the Texas Freedom Network launched the STAND UP FOR SCIENCE campaign at a press conference in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency building in Austin. Over 50 business leaders, scientists, clergy members, teachers and parents came out to show their support for keeping good science standards in Biology textbooks.

We hope to mobilize as many voices as possible for the next public hearing at the State Board of Education and secure petition signatures to stand up against Biology textbook censorship. Please visit our website at www.tfn.org to download and sign the petition.

We need your testimony at the Sept 10 hearing on Biology textbooks. The deadline to register to testify is tomorrow, August 21 at 5:00 p.m. Please email Larry Thomas at the Texas Education Agency (lthomas@tea.state.tx.us) to sign up testify, or call us (512) 322-0545 get more information about testifying. Please plan to attend the hearing even if you cannot testify. Please contact heather@tfn.org if you can attend.

Below is the press release from today's press conference.


RELEASE Contact: Casey Kaplan
August 20,
2003 (512)

Austin, Texas With one day left to sign up to testify on proposed Biology textbooks, a group of citizens launched a campaign they say protects the best interests of science, religion and business.

The proposed textbooks have drawn fire nationally from an organized group that wants their creationist perspective included in the books. But today, a group of citizens announced the launch of Stand Up for Science, a grassroots campaign encouraging people to speak out against the push to undermine the study of evolution.

Over 50 Texans gathered at the William B. Travis Building, home of the Texas Education Agency, to show support for keeping good science in Biology textbooks.

"Our economy is increasingly driven by science and technology, and to undermine the study of science threatens our children's ability to compete for jobs and our state's ability to compete for business," said David Vom Lehn, a network systems engineer and former technical recruiter.

"Individual religious beliefs about the origin of life are sacred and illuminating, and they should be studied in homes and religious congregations, just as evolution is studied in science classrooms and laboratories," said Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune, Chairman of the Texas Freedom Network. "The question for the State Board of Education is not religion or science, but which should be taught in science classrooms."

Dr. Bethune added, "As a Texan, a pastor and a father of two high school boys, I want the strongest possible science curriculum and textbooks available to them."

"There is no debate about evolution in college textbooks, where scientists select the best books for use," said Dr. David Hillis, Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas. "The debate is at the level of secondary school textbooks, precisely because that is where non-scientists can exert influence. These objections to the textbooks are not about science or facts; they are about pushing a political and religious agenda."

"Our kids are already falling behind the rest of the nation in science education," said Amanda Walker, a Texas certified high school Biology teacher. "To water-down our textbooks is irresponsible and reckless."

The second and final public hearing at the State Board of Education is scheduled for Wednesday, September 10. The deadline to sign up to testify is Thursday, August 21.

How can I start a Creation Club at my school?


Answers in Genesis has inaugurated an exciting new outreach! Humanists are initiating programs across the country to indoctrinate young people in evolutionary and humanistic thinking. Christians must counter this frontal attack on the foundation of their faith by equipping students and teachers with ammunition.

Answers in Genesis will be enabling teachers and students in public schools (as well as Christian schools) to form "creation" clubs. We are looking for teachers and/or students who are willing to set up "creation" clubs as a staging ground for outreach in their school. Even though these clubs are for government-school children and Christian school children, we also encourage home educators to get their official support groups to organize "creation" clubs as well. We also welcome "Bible" clubs already in existence to get involved.

How can you become a part of this venture? If your school has a practice of permitting non-curricular clubs and...

What will Answers in Genesis give you to help you get your club started?

Contact Answers in Genesis by e-mail and request that introductory packet of club materials be sent to you: kstreutk@answersingenesis.org

Since Answers in Genesis announced that it was starting these clubs, many questions have been asked. For instance:

1.How often should the meetings be held? Normally, club meetings are held weekly, but that decision would be up to the sponsor/mentor. AiG recommends a weekly meeting.

2.Can this be part of an already-existing Christian club? Yes. We will come alongside and provide faith-building materials for the students and information for distribution on your campus.

3.Can home-school support groups sponsor a club? By all means. But keep in mind that the focus of these groups will be on the relevance of creation. We would expect each official home-school group to already have scheduled meetings in order to accomplish this objective.

4.Can a Christian school form a Creation Club? Yes. Knowledge of Biblical apologetics is vital. You see, many Christian young people will be attending secular colleges where they will encounter secular humanism and evolution -- frontal attacks on their faith.

The goal of this club outreach is creation evangelism -- to enable you and your students to boldly proclaim the Creation/Gospel message as the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Our youth are being bombarded daily with evolutionary humanism. One of AiG's purposes is to equip Christian students with useful and provocative information that will bolster their faith and challenge their non-Christian friends with the Gospel. These clubs will be outposts to proclaim the authority of Scripture in a usually hostile environment. That is why each club will need a strong Christian leader (sponsor/mentor) to conduct meetings and maintain the direction of the club.

[ If this information has been helpful, please prayerfully consider a donation to help pay the expenses for making this faith-building service available to you and your family! Donations are tax-deductible. ]

Author: Kurt H. Streutker, Answers in Genesis.
Creation Evangelism/Outreach
Answers in Genesis
P.O. Box 6330, Florence, KY 41022-6330 USA

Copyright © 1998, Answers in Genesis, All Rights Reserved - except as noted on attached "Usage and Copyright" page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.

Christian Answers Network
PO Box 200
Gilbert AZ 85299

Lunar Landing Hoax Links

NASA website

Mike Bara's compendium of lunar anomalies

Richard Hoagland's site; the face on Mars and more

Scptical look at lunar conspiracies

Bad Astronomy's take on the Moon hoax theories.

Point by point rebuttal of moon-landing hoax charges.
[Since moved to http://www.braeunig.us/space/hoax.htm]

James Oberg is a science writer and space engineer.

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 19, 2003

from Associated Press

NEW YORK - Researchers slipped billions of copies of a gene into the brain of a Parkinson's disease patient Monday, marking the first attempt to test gene therapy in a person with that disease.

The 55-year-old patient had dinner afterward and was doing fine, Dr. Michael Kaplitt of Weill Cornell Medical College said a few hours after completing the procedure.

The man, whom the surgeon did not identify, is the first of a planned 12 patients for a study focusing on the procedure's safety, rather than whether or not it relieves symptoms.

from The Washington Post

In a creative use of insect genetics to solve an enduring mystery of human evolution, scientists studying the DNA of lice have concluded that early humans may have started wearing clothes just a few tens of thousands of years ago, more recently than many had presumed.

The new work -- based on subtle genetic differences between human body lice, which depend on clothing for their survival, and human head lice, which do not -- suggests that early humans may have lived in Europe for tens of thousands of years after leaving Africa before availing themselves of clothes.

Among the work's controversial implications: Early humans such as Neanderthals -- who lived from about 150,000 years ago until 30,000 years ago and who are typically depicted as hairless and clad in furs -- may in fact have been quite furry until surprisingly late in their evolution.

from The New York Times

One of the most distinctive evolutionary changes as humans parted company from their fellow apes was their loss of body hair. But why and when human body hair disappeared, together with the matter of when people first started to wear clothes, are questions that have long lain beyond the reach of archaeology and paleontology.

Ingenious solutions to both issues have now been proposed, independently, by two research groups analyzing changes in DNA. The result, if the dates are accurate, is something of an embarrassment. It implies we were naked for more than a million years before we started wearing clothes.

Dr. Alan R. Rogers, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Utah, has figured out when humans lost their hair by an indirect method depending on the gene that determines skin color. Dr. Mark Stone- king of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, believes he has established when humans first wore clothes. His method too is indirect: it involves dating the evolution of the human body louse, which infests only clothes.

from The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 — Science satellites, launched into orbit for long-term studies of the Earth's climate, are increasingly being used for more immediate purposes like helping firefighters in their battles to contain wildfires.

The satellites, components of NASA's Earth Observing System, continue their primary task of trying to understand the complex interactions among land, air, water and life on the planet that affect climate. But some of the data, instead of being held for months or years for use in scientific research, is being applied almost as soon as it is gathered to practical problems, like improving weather forecasts and monitoring forest fires.

"We are interested in NASA assets being used for scientific research, but also for real-world applications," said Dr. Vincent V. Salomonson, a senior scientist at the agency's Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Md.

from The Boston Globe

TARTU, Estonia -- The gooey strip of DNA was visible underneath the halogen glow as Dagni Krinka tilted the tube of liquid back and forth under the light at a lab in this northernmost Baltic country.

"This is the part of the work I like best," said Krinka, the head of the laboratory assigned the daunting task of collecting genetic samples from hundreds of thousands of Estonians in the coming years. Then, gazing at the strip, she asked, "Isn't it beautiful?"

It could be much more than beautiful. If this nation of 1.4 million succeeds in its ambitious goal to build one of the world's largest DNA databases, the stringy white gobs in Dagni's test tubes could push international drug development to a new level and bring international recognition to a country still playing catch up after decades of Soviet rule.

from Associated Press

MANSFIELD, Pa. -- Two of Matthew Lebeda's strongest subjects are physics and chemistry. And he always wanted to be a policeman. But he never knew those things could dovetail until he watched "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

Now he'll be combining his interests as a freshman at Mansfield University.

Chemistry labs and criminal justice programs are what's cool on campus these days, as "CSI" -- the nation's top-rated show last season -- and its spinoff, "CSI: Miami," which ranked 14th in the Nielsen ratings, have created a whirlwind of interest in forensic sciences.

Column from The Dallas Morning News

by Tom Siegfried

You don't need to know how a tree grows to put out a newspaper.

You don't need to know how a car works to drive one, and you don't need to know how an airplane works to fly. You don't even need to know how a computer works to send e-mail.

It's all because of the way your brain works.

Human brains are pretty good at coping with reality without really understanding it. And that's a good thing, because reality can get pretty complicated...



Creationism not a science

Evolution, like all theories, assumes that rational inquiries, if performed along similar lines, will achieve similar results. This is called an axiom, an unprovable assumption upon which theory and conclusions are based. Creationism, however, assumes a special event, a one-time shot, that has no observers, has left no undeniable tracers and cannot be tested in miniature in the laboratory; but it doesn't admit that its axiom is unprovable. Evolution can at least be examined indirectly.

The unprovabiility of central axioms is called Godel's Theorum. Science has the entire universe from which to draw data. The creationist camp has only one book, which was written in a most unscientific manner, and large parts of which predate the culture of the supposed writers. This does not bode well for an idea that they wish to foist on America as a supposedly solid theory of life's origin.

Sure, evolutionary theory has its problems; even gravity did until Einstein came along. But the problems can be examined and evidence can be weighed. Creationism affords no such opportunity and therefore is not science by even the broadest of definitions.

Jason Bennett
Wichita Falls


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