NTS LogoSkeptical News for 3 October 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Friday, October 03, 2003

Creeping up on ghosts

http://www.courier-journal.com/features/2003/09/20030923.html

Louisville team takes scientific approach to investigating the unexplained

By KATYA CENGEL
kcengel@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Three women clad in black polo shirts and beige khakis enter Shelbyville City Hall. The leader of the group, Kay Owen, vice president of the Scientific Investigative Ghost Hunting Team (SIGHT), takes an 11-page witness questionnaire from her folder and begins firing questions at Shelbyville City Hall Deputy Clerk Wendy Rutledge.

Rutledge recounts the vision of a child's face she saw floating in space, the eerie whisper she heard when no one was talking and the warm touch she felt when no one was near.

Owen flips through her questionnaire.

Did you notice any smells?

No.

Electrical disturbances?

No.

Moving objects?

No.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Oh, yeah.

Rutledge answers the questions eagerly.

"It's nice to actually talk to people who don't call me names," said the 40-something blonde.

Owen smiled and added: "Some people will ridicule you for being honest."

Not the 11 members of SIGHT, one of Louisville's newest ghost-hunting teams. They are eager to investigate claims of paranormal sightings and even more eager to disprove them.

"I don't look for the paranormal. I look for the normal," said Kevin Mayer, the group's electrician.

Mayer, 41, a resident of Pekin, Ind., said it usually isn't a spirit making lights dim and brighten, but a short in the electrical system. Instead of looking for ghosts when clients report blinking lights, he said, he looks for an outside source that might have caused a voltage drop.

It is this more scientific approach that SIGHT president and founder Steve Conley says sets his members apart from the more than half a dozen other ghost-hunting groups in Louisville and the thousands nationwide. Conley said the method paid off when Shelbyville police asked SIGHT to investigate their office and "Good Morning America," MSNBC and National Public Radio jumped on the story earlier this month.

Conley said SIGHT uses Gauss meters — which measure electromagnetic fields and are considered a must-have for any ghost hunter — noncontact infrared thermometers, motion detectors, cameras, videos and a computer system that runs all these tools simultaneously. The idea, he said, is not to prove the paranormal, but to rule it out.

Not that Conley doesn't believe in things that go bump in the night.

The 33-year-old Jefferson Community College student said he first started believing in the unbelievable in the early 1990s when he was a military policeman stationed in Hawaii. He said he didn't believe rumors that the enlisted club at the Air Force base was haunted until one night when he locked and secured it, only to come back later and find all the windows open.

Since then, he said, he has read all he can on the paranormal and hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology with an emphasis in parapsychology. Two years ago, he said, he even bought the Ditto house, a building in West Point, Ky., that is said to have served as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War and is supposedly haunted by the ghosts of men who died there.

Around the time he bought his haunted house, Conley said, he joined Louisville Ghost Hunters. Nine months ago, he decided he wanted to work in a smaller group and branched off to form SIGHT. He said he has made a point of recruiting members with specialties in everything from investigating and photography to electricity.

The group's building inspector is Kay Owen's husband, Danny Owen, a building contractor, who said that 95 percent of the time everything can be explained.

"It's the 5 percent that keeps us interested," he said.

Tools of the trade

When Owen, 49, enters a "haunted" location, he takes a level, a tape measure and a carpenter's square with him.

"My job is to go in and make sure the floors are level and the doors hung straight," he said. The group looks for obvious explanations for things that go bump, such as loose windows, crookedly hung doors and unbalanced furniture.

During initial investigations at the Shelbyville police headquarters, SIGHT members discovered that a desk whose drawer mysteriously slid open was merely off-kilter and the catch on the drawer was soft. They were also able to explain why the thermostat kept resetting itself — it was defective. Owen hopes an air-conditioning specialist can help them explain the hot and cold spots in the building.

But that still doesn't explain the reports witnesses have provided of strange noises, eerie visions and prickly sensations at the brick building the police moved into this past spring.

To get to the bottom of these and other claims, SIGHT members — most of whom hold other, full-time day jobs — will spend months of their spare time interviewing witnesses and sorting through historical documents.

The documents might provide a context for the unexplainable, Conley said. He said that traumatic and violent events like murders expend a lot of energy, which becomes imprinted in the place they occur. Later, when certain environmental conditions that set off the energy come together, the energy replays itself like a video, causing one of the most common kinds of haunting — residual, Conley said.

It was historical clues that SIGHT members Kay Owen, Marla Jo Reynolds and Sherri Shafer were seeking at the Shelby County Courthouse Annex on a recent afternoon. The trio sifted through large, dusty volumes of deeds, adoptions and deaths. All they had to go on was the name of a former resident of the modest brick building, part of which was renovated and dates to the 19th century, a rumor of another resident and a clue that the building might once have served as an orphanage.

It won't be until the end of October that members of the group get to spend the better part of a night at the police station to monitor movement, noises and images with their equipment. The same process will be followed for four other cases that SIGHT is in the early stages of investigating, Conley said. Unlike the Shelbyville case, the group's other cases are residential and confidential, he said.

The group does not charge for its services. The ghost chasers finance their investigations, equipment and research through bake sales, car washes and their own savings. Owen estimates the group has spent $5,000 so far.

"Steve (Conley) is very hard-core," said Carrie Galloway, founder of another local ghost-hunting group, Kentucky Paranormal Research. "He is more interested in having physical evidence than experiencing the paranormal."

Galloway, who teaches an adult-education course called Ghost Hunting101 at the University of Louisville, said that about half of the eight ghost-hunting groups in Louisville are scientific — claiming to use computers, meters and other tools to rule out the paranormal, like SIGHT and Kentucky Paranormal. The other half, she said, are more metaphysical, using psychics and other less technical methods to try to prove the existence of the paranormal.

Keith Age, founder of Louisville Ghost Hunters, one of the oldest and largest ghost groups in Louisville, praised Conley's investigative skills but said that what he does is not that unusual.

"We both go in with gear, not psychics," said Age.

Scientific claims by paranormal groups are not unusual, according to Glenn Sparks, a Purdue University communications professor who studies the effects of media on the paranormal. He said groups that say they are scientific and pride themselves on debunking bogus paranormal claims while at the same time searching for legitimate ones usually provide evidence that doesn't hold up.

"In almost every case, these groups tend to be very excited and accepting of certain kinds of `evidence' that I don't think the main scientific community would regard as evidence," said Sparks.

In the last decade, he said, ghost-hunting groups have popped up all over the place, with most estimates numbering membership in the thousands. Ghost Hunters alone claims a membership of almost 500.

Sparks believes the surge can be tied to increased media coverage of the unexplainable, beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He said during this time television especially started airing more shows with paranormal themes.

"The media has been pushing it for a couple years," said Galloway, who cited TV fare like "The X-Files" and "World's Scariest Places" as examples.

But it was the Internet, not television, that really changed things, Galloway said. Once the Internet took off, "you weren't just a freak anymore; you could connect," she said.

Most of the members of SIGHT say it wasn't until they got connected to the Internet that they started turning their hobby into a more serious endeavor. Now they use the Internet to order equipment, update members on meetings and investigations, and research other groups.

Sparks said that technology might have caused an increase in paranormal groups in another way. He called it a science backlash — people looking for the few things that science cannot explain. Mayer, in fact, said that one of the attractions the paranormal holds for him is that it is the final frontier.

"Everything has been pretty much explored to death except this field and a couple others," the electrician said.

Conley said he thinks the majority of ghost "sightings" are psychological reactions to the unexplainable.

"Some of our experiences don't have obvious explanations," said Sparks, "and some people would rather latch onto a belief that explains it directly than admit coincidences happen."

But what if there is something more? SIGHT members want to find out. So they spend their Friday nights at ghost-hunting meetings, save to buy $100 infrared thermometers and go to investigations instead of movies. They do it because, like Owen, they like "the thrill of the chase" or, like Sherri Shafer, they like "hearing the stories."

Finding a ghost isn't important, said Reynolds. "It's enough just to know there is a possibility."

Wesley Clark on FTL travel

From http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,60629,00.html

"I still believe in e=mc², but I can't believe that in all of human history, we'll never ever be able to go beyond the speed of light to reach where we want to go," said Clark. "I happen to believe that mankind can do it.

"I've argued with physicists about it, I've argued with best friends about it. I just have to believe it. It's my only faith-based initiative." Clark's comment prompted laughter and applause from the gathering.

Gary Melnick, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said Clark's faith in the possibility of faster-than-light, or FTL, travel was "probably based more on his imagination than on physics."

While Clark's belief may stem from his knowledge of sophisticated military projects, there's no evidence to suggest that humans can exceed the speed of light, said Melnick. In fact, considerable evidence posits that FTL travel is impossible, he said.

"Even if Clark becomes president, I doubt it would be within his powers to repeal the powers of physics," said Melnick, whose research has focused on interstellar clouds and the formation of stars and planets.


Thursday, October 02, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - October 2, 2003

THE TROUBLE WITH SARS
from Newsday

An assessment of how Hong Kong responded to the SARS epidemic is being released today and finds failures and vulnerabilities that in some cases are mirrored in the U.S. public health system.

The report, compiled by a multinational commission, concludes that Hong Kong authorities actually did a reasonable job managing the outbreak of a new disease, one that doctors did not know how to control. But the panel found shortcomings and warned that should SARS resurface next month - a year after it first emerged in China's Guangdong province - Hong Kong would be vulnerable.

Scientifically, the panel said, Hong Kong's primary weakness is epidemiology - the science of tracking how a microbe spreads and what human behaviors or environmental factors may provide an assist. Health authorities have not been able to explain how it spread so rapidly in a hotel and through hospitals.
http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hssars023477485oct02,0,673672.story?coll=ny-health-headlines

BIG BEASTS, TIGHT SPACE AND A CALL FOR CHANGE IN JOURNAL REPORT
from The New York Times

Polar bears, lions, tigers, cheetahs and other wide-ranging carnivores do so poorly in captivity that zoos should either drastically improve their conditions or stop keeping them altogether, biologists from Oxford University report today in the journal Nature.

Zookeepers have long recognized that some species thrive in captivity while others languish. Today the researchers, Dr. Georgia Mason and Dr. Ros Clubb, say the problems — including high infant mortality and a tendency to pace around and around in the cage — are directly related to the size of the animal's home range in the wild.

The typical zoo enclosure for a polar bear is one-millionth the size of its home range in the wild, which can reach 31,000 square miles, the authors said. Some captive polar bears spend 25 percent of their day in what scientists call stereotypic pacing, and infant mortality for captive animals is around 65 percent.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/02/science/02CAGE.html

FORECASTERS CLAIM TO PERFECT WEATHER DATA
from Associated Press

AMHERST, Mass. -- Severe weather claims hundreds of lives and costs billions of dollars in damage every year. Now, forecasters believe the menace may have met its match.

Scientists led by engineers at the University of Massachusetts say they will soon be predicting tornadoes, hurricanes and severe thunderstorms faster than ever before -- and lowering casualty rates by taking the wind out of the surprise factor.

In a UMass student center packed with professors, administrators and business leaders, officials on Wednesday announced the creation of the $40 million Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere.
http://www.newsday.com/news/science/wire/sns-ap-weather-forecasting,0,5741172.story?coll=sns-ap-science-headlines

Unintelligent Designs on Academic Freedom

http://www.spectator.org/article.asp?art_id=2003_10_1_0_11_6

By Hunter Baker Published 10/1/2003 12:11:00 AM

Special Report

It's been an unusual week in the academy. The academic freedom that so incensed Bill Buckley as a student at Yale decades ago is now acting to protect a conservative scholar under fire.

Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies hired Francis Beckwith as its Associate Director last summer. Although previously known as a philosopher who had developed powerful critiques of abortion, Beckwith has used the past few years and a research fellowship at Princeton to transform himself into a legal scholar investigating the controversy over public schools and the teaching of human origins. His research culminated in publication of the book, Law, Darwinism, and Public Education.

Here's where the matter gets a little sticky. Beckwith concludes an alternative to evolution that goes by the name Intelligent Design may be constitutionally taught in public schools. Here's where it gets a lot sticky. It turns out the Institute's namesake and founder, J.M. Dawson, was an early proponent of teaching evolution in public schools and an ardent, strict separationist in matters of church and state. Dawson was also instrumental in the formation of the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

After Beckwith testified before the Texas Board of Education as to the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design in schools, Dawson's descendants (who do not fund the program) decided the good professor should be reassigned because of the possible divergence of his views with those of the patriarch Dawson. They have since written formal letters requesting Beckwith's removal from the Institute and have vigorously pursued media coverage of their grievance. To date, the story has been featured in the Baptist press, the Waco Tribune, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reporters from Dallas, Houston, and World Magazine (a Christian version of Time or Newsweek with a surprisingly large circulation) are beginning to sniff around for a good story.

The current flare-up is further evidence that America has never quite gotten over the Scopes Trial. For some citizens, the face-off between Clarence Darrow as the prophet of the Enlightenment and William Jennings Bryan as the withering apostle of a spent Christian faith stands as a holy moment in history. Jews have Mount Sinai. Christians have Calvary. Enlightenment fundamentalists have Darrow brilliantly cross-examining Bryan in a courthouse in Tennessee. In their version of the national myth, people of learning finally overcame the fearsome faithful through the triumph of cold, hard, liberating reason. Moments like that, properly interpreted or not, are hard to let go.

That's why evolution has always been much more than a scientific issue in America. Darwin's legacy is fully bound up in the broader American culture war between the self-appointed enlightened and those who insist there's something else waiting for us behind Curtain number three.

Among those who fail to be convinced of evolution's status as the final word in the origins controversy are the group of scientists and philosophers in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. Design theorists have developed a much more sophisticated critique of evolution than young earth "creation scientists" ever put forward. By raising questions about the information content of DNA and irreducible complexity of even simple life forms, ID'ers have stoked the embers of the nation's perennial controversy. Beckwith's examination of ID's legal status in public education put him squarely in the middle of the hot zone.

IT DOESN'T SEEM TO MATTER to Beckwith's opponents that his work fits comfortably within the range of rational discourse on the subject of the origins controversy and public schools. Nor does it mitigate the annoyance of Dawson heirs that Dr. Beckwith hasn't recommended that ID be immediately incorporated into high school curriculums, but merely affirms the constitutionality of doing so. Instead, they repeatedly quote "Church and State," the house organ of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, to support the supposed malignancy of Beckwith's view. One might object on the basis of the non-objectivity of the source. To be fair, there are legitimate scholars who disagree with Dr. Beckwith, but that's hardly the basis for escorting the man out of the ballpark.

As a doctoral fellow in the program, I have to ask the following questions. Does Baylor University want to firmly commit its Church-State Studies department to a particular position on Darwinism, Intelligent Design, and public schools? For that matter, should the department follow its namesake and cast its lot with one version of church-state separation known as strict separationism and work essentially as an adjunct to the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State?

It would seem the prudent answer to both of those queries should be in the negative. We are at an exciting point in history where the relationship between church and state is being re-examined in the light of new challenges. What are the possibilities for government-funding of faith-based social services? How does the nation deal with legal issues raised by ever-growing religious pluralism? What role will faith play in a new constitution for Iraq? This is exactly the time for intellectual curiosity and openness in a venerable field of academic inquiry. Attempts to remove a professor for holding "unorthodox views" strike me as stifling and outside the spirit of a university striving to penetrate the top tier of research institutions. Given the further fact that Baylor is explicitly trying to create the most vital center of Christian scholarship in the nation, one imagines the anti-Beckwith efforts will stall out.

So far, Baylor seems up to the challenge and the media scrutiny involved. Public statements by the University's provost have been supportive of Beckwith's work and have invoked the now-sacred principle of academic freedom. The idea that protected the mass introduction of the radical left to American university faculties is finally doing a little work for the other side. Mr. Buckley, I know you're on board with us now.

Hunter Baker is a doctoral fellow in Baylor University's Church-State Studies Department. He may be contacted via email at bakersemail@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2002 Spectator.org. All Rights Reserved.

Police expert claims Bigfoot 'proof'

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3152468.stm

A forensic expert in the US believes he has some of the strongest evidence yet that the Bigfoot, or sasquatch, creature exists.

The creatures are real enough to those who say they have spotted them - but most scientists remain sceptical about their existence.

Investigator Jimmy Chilcutt of the Conroe Police Department in Texas, who specialises in finger and footprints, has said he believes he is certain around six footprints found - claimed to have been made by Bigfoot - are genuine.

He added that one 42 cm (18-inch) print found in Washington in 1987 has convinced him.

"The unique thing about this cast is that it has dermal ridges - and the flow and texture matches the ridge flow texture of one from California," Mr Chilcutt told BBC World Service's Discovery programme.

"The ridges are about twice as thick as in a human being."

'Physical evidence'

Before becoming involved in bigfoot studies, Mr Chilcutt had amassed a huge collection of ape and monkey prints as part of a police research project.

I know there's an animal out there, because I've seen the physical evidence Jimmy Chilcut

He added that the ridge flow pattern was crucial in proving the prints had not been made by a very large-footed human or other primate.

"The ridges run down the side of the foot - in humans, the ridges run across the width of the foot," he said.

"That's what makes it unique. The only other animal I've seen this in is a howler monkey in Costa Rica.

"As a crime scene investigator, I don't deal in what I believe or what I think.

"I examine physical evidence and make a determination... I know there's an animal out there, because I've seen the physical evidence."

The Bigfoot is considered to be a North American version of the yeti of the Himalayas. The name bigfoot comes from several huge, mysterious foot impressions found in 1959 in a Californian forest.

Hundreds of other prints have been found since, although many have turned out to be hoaxes.

"There have been reported sightings in every state of the United States, other than Hawaii and Rhode Island," said Craig Woolheater, director of the Texas Bigfoot Research Center.

"It's not the missing link, it's not an extra-terrestrial, it's just an animal - a flesh-and-blood primate that has learned to be elusive around man and avoids man where possible."

Sightings

Mr Woolheater's organisation investigates about 100 Bigfoot sightings in the state each year - as well as the surrounding states of Arkansas and Louisiana.

Members use a wide range of technology - remote-controlled cameras, video surveillance systems, night-vision, and thermal imaging - in an effort to get video and photographic evidence of these creatures.

So far it has proved unsuccessful.

However, other evidence gathered through time includes footprints, audio recordings and "limb twists" - where branches of trees have seemingly been twisted by a type of primate with massive strength.

These twists are a common aspect of primate behaviour and Bigfoot hunters say they occur in areas where there have been a number of sightings.

But most of the evidence - such as photographs, hair samples, and even blood - has turned out to be fake.

"There is a significant amount of evidence for Bigfoot - there are tracks, there are fuzzy photographs, there are hair samples, there are sighting reports - the problem is that it's not good evidence," said Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Sceptical Inquirer magazine.

"I liken it to a cup of coffee - if you have many cups of weak coffee, they can't be combined into strong coffee.

"It's the same with scientific evidence. If you have lots of weak evidence, the cumulative effect of the evidence doesn't make it strong evidence - and what science needs to validate a Bigfoot is strong evidence."

Cryptozoology

Bigfoot is probably the best-known of the subjects of "cryptozoology" - the study of hidden creatures.

Some scientists are highly sceptical, believing these creatures to be nothing more than tricks of the mind.

"One of the problems - and I know this from my background in psychology - is that it's actually fairly easy to fool ourselves," said Mr Radford.

"What often happens is that people will be out in the wilderness and they'll see something out of the corner of their eye - something dark or hairy or fast - that will surprise or shock them.

"If they're already thinking that there's a Bigfoot in the area, it's easy to make the leap between saying: 'I saw something, I don't know what it is,' to: 'I saw something and it's Bigfoot.'"

But others say it is best to keep an open mind.

"Every now and again big things turn up," Colin Tudge, zoologist and author of the book The Variety Of Life, told Discovery.

"The okapi - a horse-sized relative of the giraffe - turned up only in the early 20th Century.

"A few years ago somebody discovered an absolutely enormous shark in the ocean.

"The most recent - and I think the most spectacular - is an animal that people think is a goat-antelope, some kind of relative of the shamuar, which has turned up in the forests of Vietnam.

"This is an animal about the size of a Shetland pony with long horns, that nobody even suspected was there until just a few years ago - it was finally identified in about 1994."

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/americas/3152468.stm

Published: 2003/10/02 00:14:30 GMT

© BBC MMIII


Wednesday, October 01, 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 - September 30, 2003

BIG TEETH IN ANCIENT JAW OFFERS CLUES ABOUT OUR ANCESTORS
from The New York Times

A jawbone complete with a set of large pearly molars, discovered in a cave in Romania, is the earliest fossil evidence yet found of modern humans in Europe, scientists reported last week.

Radiocarbon analysis put the jaw's age at 34,000 to 36,000 years, when humans were relative newcomers to the continent they then shared with its longtime inhabitants, the Neanderthals. These close relatives of modern humans became extinct about 30,000 years ago.

An international team of researchers announced the jawbone findings in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other fossils from the same cave in the Carpathian Mountains, including facial and cranial bones, are described in a report to be published soon in The Journal of Human Evolution. They are still being tested; only the jaw has been dated.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/30/science/30JAW.html

SMALL, ISOLATED ELEPHANTS FOLLOW OWN EVOLUTIONARY PATH
from The New York Times

The small Borneo elephant represents the last remnant of an ancient lineage, a team of international biologists has determined. The finding, based on DNA samples, overturns a long-held prevailing theory of the animals' origins: that they were descended from domesticated elephants that reverted to the wild.

Instead, the elephant, isolated in the tropical rain forests of northeastern Borneo, has followed an independent evolutionary path for at least 18,000 years, and probably longer, the scientists conclude. In the process, it has become genetically distinct from other Asian elephants, the experts say, based on extensive comparisons of elephant DNA obtained across Asia.

The report appears in the October issue of The Public Library of Science, Biology, a new peer-reviewed, online journal that was created as a free alternative to established journals that allow access only to subscribers. (Their paper was posted in advance of its publication at biology .plosjournals.org.)
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/30/science/30ELEP.html

SCIENCE YOU JUST CAN'T IG-NORE
from The Baltimore Sun

It's safe to say that when Peter Barss began investigating the deadly hazards posed by Cocos nucifera, the tropical coconut palm, he wasn't expecting to win a Nobel Prize for his work.

And he didn't. But nearly 20 years after The Journal of Trauma published "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts," Barss did take home an unexpected career-defining accolade for his impactive study: an Ig Nobel Prize. The media have been hounding him ever since. "I've never had so much attention in my life," he marvels by telephone from his office at United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain.

Such are the strange powers of the Ig Nobel. Since mathematician Marc Abrahams conceived of an award honoring scientific achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced," the Ig Nobel has become almost as well-known as the prize it is meant to spoof.

On Thursday, the 47-year-old Abrahams will again serve as master of ceremonies for the awards, held each October inside Harvard University's incongruously august Sanders Theatre. He also has a new book out on the prizes and the behind-the-scenes stories of its more unusual recipients.
http://www.ctnow.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.ignobel29sep29,1,7133385.story

Textbooks should reflect scientific consensus

http://www.reporternews.com/abil/op_columns/article/0,1874,ABIL_7981_2303939,00.html

By Brice Fuqua
September 28, 2003

Once again, the Abilene Reporter-News devotes major ink space to a creationist making tired, old attacks on evolution.

Robert Johnson's Sept. 21 guest column calls for biology textbooks to present valid criticisms of Darwinism. This is a reasonable request. Johnson goes on to give some examples of problems with evolutionary theory.

However, all of his examples are either wrong, distortions or irrelevant.

For example, he repeats the old argument that the laws of thermodynamics make evolution impossible.

As I and others have pointed out before in these pages, the thermodynamic laws have nothing to do with evolution. They are simply descriptions of the way energy behaves within systems.

Anyone who had a Magic Rocks crystal growing kit as a child knows that complicated chemical structures can arise spontaneously without violating any physical laws.

Most recent creationist publications no longer make the thermodynamic argument. Even creationists see that this criticism does not hold up.

Johnson goes on to say that Neanderthal Man is nothing more than a figment of the imagination. I suspect paleontologists who have studied Neanderthals would be surprised to find the fossils they hold are fictitious.

In fact, people have been digging up Neanderthal sites since 1856.

Recent mitochondrial DNA testing indicates Neanderthals were not closely related to modern humans but probably a separate species of human that finally died out 30,000 years ago in Spain.

There are some creationists who accept the fact of Neanderthal fossils but claim they are apes, not humans. There is substantial evidence, however, that Neanderthals walked upright all the time, cooked their food and buried their dead — things that apes never do.

Johnson goes on to mention the Piltdown Man hoax. But he fails to mention that the hoax was perpetrated in 1913. This hoax occurred long before radioactive dating and DNA testing were available to science. The phony fossils went undetected for so long because the British Museum prevented scientists from examining the bones.

Once paleontologists gained access in 1953, Piltdown Man was quickly revealed to be a fake.

Today safeguards are in place to prevent the scientific community from being duped by a similar hoax. Science is a self-correcting process. Anyone making a major find today must submit to the peer review process if he or she is to be taken seriously.

Johnson's other examples of problems with evolution are along the lines of what I have discussed above.

In his column, he says Texas is an educational leader. I agree. But we will soon become a laughingstock if the examples Johnson cites are inserted into our biology textbooks.

Science texts should reflect the consensus of the scientific community, just as English grammar books reflect the standard view of what good English is.

There are still a few people who believe the Earth is hollow, but you won't find that theory included in a modern geography textbook. The majority of cartographers, however, do not believe that a hollow Earth is a credible idea.

Brice Fuqua of Abilene teaches physics and chemistry at Clyde High School.

Experts lay out case for evolution

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?BRD=1569&dept_id=180944&newsid=10225414&PAG=461&rfi=9

By: Erika Durham September 25, 2003

Local supporters of evolution were unable to match the overflowing attendance at last week's intelligent design forum during Wednesday night's symposium.

But judging from the warm reception and support the guest speakers received, the fewer number of attendants were also those faithful to the theory.

"Evolution: What It Is, and What It Isn't," was led by Alan D. Gishlick, Steven Schafersman and Keith Parsons, all doctors of philosophy in their respective scientific fields.

One by one, each presented a case for evolution or against intelligent design, a theory that says a higher being or power created humans. Included in this higher power is God, nature, Allah or space aliens.

Each speaker unveiled different points about evolution. However, one belief was common among them -- evolution is science and intelligent design is not, therefore it shouldn't be taught in public schools.

Gishlick of the National Center for Science Education, argued that "intelligent design" was simply a mask for Christian creationism, which preaches that God created all things.

"Proponents of intelligent design don't like to talk about God but that is exactly what they are talking about," he said. "They are trying to make God scientific." Donna Lopez, a resident of The Woodlands said she fully supports evolution although she is a Christian.

She said she just wants to know that her children are learning facts in school. Lopez said it is a "sad day," when residents must fight to keep unscientific facts out of the classroom.

Schafersman, whose talk was more politically focused, said proponents of intelligent design have made a recent push for the weaknesses of evolution to be included in school books, which "is a last ditch effort to win something. They are desperate for any victory," he said.

Parsons, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, Clear Lake, said he disagreed with intelligent designs' elusive way of not naming an actual designer but instead giving a list of possible creators.

"I think we deserve to know who they are talking about," Parsons said. Parsons said several aspects of evolution have passed scientific tests, unlike intelligent design, which is why scientists as a whole support the theory. "More scientists believe in evolution than (those who believe) the world revolves around the sun," he said.

©The Courier 2003 Reader Opinions Scott Goodman Date: Sep, 27 2003

As a long time supporter and member of the National Center for Science Education, I am very familiar with the so-called "Intelligent Design" movement and its tactics. If you follow the writings of the proponents of this idea and examine the history of anti-evolution organizations generally, you will find that the arguments put forward by the ID movement are no different than outright (and more honest) Biblical creationists, and no more scientific either. ID advocates, despite the fact that a few of them hold doctoral degrees (a tiny fraction of which are in actual disciplines related to evolutionary biology), have failed to publish a single paper in a reputable peer reviewed scientific journal. The reason for this is simple: They have nothing to report. Some, like William Dembski, have managed (through inter-publisher contract obligations having nothing to do with the ideas expressed in their books) to have things published by academic book publishers and then tried to claim these are peer reviewed in an effort to deflect this glaring shortcoming, hoping to fool members of the public who may not realize the difference between a book publisher and a refereed journal. Such deceptions are desperate and dishonest attempts to claim a legitimacy that their ideas simply don't merit. Their ideas must be kept out of science classes in the public schools because they are not science but rather, are sectarian religious advocacy whose supporters haven't sufficient courage of conviction to admit it. The last thing that students should be exposed to is intellectual cowardice. Ross Hamilton Henry Date: Sep, 27 2003

During the Q. & A. period one person noted that the theose who oppose the teaching of the Theory of Evolution are sincere in their beliefs that teaching children the facts of modern science will somehow undermine thier faith in ancient cosmologies based on sacred books and will lead to a loss of morals. The question posed was: How do we reassure our fearful neighbors that the acquisition of knowledge poses no risk to the ethics or morals of their youth. It was noted that perhaps we need to do a better job of educating the general public in basic science since the majority of our citizens still do not believe that the process of evolution is the best explaination for how all the present day creatures including humans arrived at their present forms. Perhaps we (on the Evolution side) should circulate a petition asking for equal time for the teaching of basic science in Sunday School Classes.


Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Superbomb ignites science dispute

Pentagon advisers challenge experiments behind nonnuclear weapon
Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
Sunday, September 28, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/09/28/MN23720.DTL

The Pentagon's pursuit of a new kind of nonnuclear super-weapon has sparked a behind-the-scenes revolt among its elite scientific advisers, some of whom reject the scheme as pseudoscience.

The military's goal is to develop a bomb that might be far more powerful than existing conventional weapons of the same size. Precisely targeted, such a weapon could take out targets -- such as underground caverns that conceal weapons of mass destruction -- without posing the severe political risks of using nuclear bombs.

The key to the concept is a little known element called hafnium. By figuring out how to unleash the abundant energy from a hafnium isotope, called hafnium-178, the military hopes to develop a new generation of weapons. According to a Defense Department Web site, such a weapon might "revolutionize all aspects of warfare."

The Pentagon is now quietly investigating ways to mass produce the isotope. Late last year, it created the 12-member Hafnium Isomer Production Panel (HIPP). Its purpose: to assess ways to mass-produce the isotope for military uses ranging from bombs to advanced forms of propulsion.

Yet some of the nation's most distinguished scientists and military advisers say that such futuristic dreams of tomorrow's battlefields are premature at best and nonsense at worst.

For four years, working largely behind the scenes, they have advised the Pentagon that claims by hafnium-178 enthusiasts -- led by physicist Carl Collins of the University of Texas -- defy sound physical theory and have not been reproduced in lab experiments by other researchers. For the first time, some of these skeptics are going public with their concerns.

Last month, in a memorandum to Pentagon and Energy Department officials obtained by The Chronicle, five of the 12 members of the military's own advisory panel on mass producing hafnium-178 and other top experts warned against prematurely proceeding to develop weapons "applications that may not make physical sense."

"In my opinion, this matter is worse than cold fusion," said panel member Bill Herrmannsfeldt, referring to unconfirmed claims by scientists in the 1980s that they had generated nuclear fusion energy at low temperatures. Herrmannsfeldt, a physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, is leading a revolt against hafnium-178 weapons work within HIPP itself.

Although Herrmannsfeldt regards claims for hafnium-178's super-energy powers as nonsense, he fears that other nations will take them seriously, triggering a new arms race. Recently, he successfully urged numerous top scientists to co-sign a letter to Washington officials citing experts' reservations about the scientific credibility of hafnium-178 claims and asking for a review of those claims by independent experts.

HIGHLY RESPECTED SKEPTICS

Among the signatories to the Aug. 13 letter to officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Energy Department are Stanford's Wolfgang Panofsky and Sidney Drell, both grand old men of the American weapons advisory establishment.

The letter urges the federal government to create an independent panel to resolve the scientific community's dispute over claims made for the hafnium- 178 "nuclear isomer," as it's called. The government should do so, they stress, before spending any more money to develop weapons "applications that may not make physical sense."

Jan Walker, a spokeswoman for DARPA at its Arlington, Va., headquarters, said the agency is reviewing the letter but declined to discuss the issue.

Walker noted that in conducting advanced research and technology development for the Defense Department, DARPA has been involved in producing the technical underpinnings of the Internet, the stealth fighter and bomber, and unmanned air vehicles such as Global Hawk and Predator.

Some isotopes can experience high-energy, or "nuclear isomer," states in which they retain abnormal amounts of energy. One of these isotopes is hafnium- 178; its nuclear-isomer state is technically known as hafnium-178m2.

Normally, this nuclear isomer has a half-life of 31 years, meaning half of it decays away in 31 years. That's way too slow to heat and ignite a firecracker, much less a super-bomb.

Hafnium is a bright, natural metal. For weapons purposes, the Pentagon would need large quantities of the particular type called hafnium-178. The known amount of hafnium-178 nuclear isomer in the world is so small that the Pentagon would have to mass produce it. No one has a good idea how. The Pentagon appointed the HIPP panel to try to find out.

One possible way would involve bombarding elements in a giant particle accelerator, then developing a tedious process for extracting the hafnium-178 nuclear isomer. Some scientists are skeptical that such a technique could be developed cost effectively -- even if hafnium-178 nuclear isomer proves to be an exotic energy source as Collins and his colleagues have speculated.

STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT

In January 1999, an international team led by Collins claimed it had unleashed startling amounts of energy -- far more than theoretically expected - - from the hafnium-178 isomer. They did so, they reported in the journal Physical Review Letters, by bombarding the isotope with X-rays from an ordinary dental X-ray machine.

Besides Collins, the article's 13 co-authors included scientists at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque; Russia's Joint Institute for Nuclear Research; and Sandia National Laboratories, a nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico. Collins himself has a weighty reputation. A decade earlier, the Texas Academy of Sciences had named him "Distinguished Texas Scientist" of the year for his research on high-energy lasers.

Elsewhere, other scientists tried to replicate Collins' work by bombarding the isotope with radiation from large particle accelerators, which are far more powerful than the Collins team's dental X-ray machine. Results: negative.

One of Collins' original collaborators on the 1999 paper, nuclear physicist James Carroll of Youngstown State University, has since been unable to replicate the Collins experiment on his own. He suspects the energy-unleashing process "is more complex than (Collins) originally thought and needs further study," Carroll said in an interview.

Furthermore, scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory found "no evidence" of unusual energy emissions from hafnium-178 exposed to X-rays at Argonne's hefty Advanced Photon Source accelerator, they reported in Physical Review Letters in 2001.

The hafnium-178 controversy was also investigated by the members of "Jason, " which has functioned for decades as a kind of supreme advisory council of military science. Mostly distinguished physical scientists based at universities and private companies, these scholars -- often collectively known as "the Jasons" -- use their expertise to critique the Pentagon's more ambitious schemes for expensive, futuristic weapons.

CLAIMS CHALLENGED

Claims that hafnium-178 can unleash intense energy are based on experiments that are "poorly characterized and ill-described," Jason member Steve Koonin wrote in 1999, summarizing the group's findings in a letter to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. The claims are "a priori implausible -- extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof," but that's lacking so far, added Koonin, a nuclear physicist and provost of the California Institute of Technology.

"It is extraordinarily unlikely that there is something here" that portends a new generation of futuristic weapons, Koonin said in a phone interview. However, he noted that Collins and others have reported new results since 1999, and that he'd support a new Jason analysis if the Pentagon or Energy Department requested it.

Collins has stuck to his guns. In a number of e-mail responses to a Chronicle inquiry, he compared the critics to early 20th century naysayers who denied the feasibility of atomic energy.

Collins insists his findings have "been confirmed at about all of the world's third-generation (most advanced) synchrotron radiation sources, except the DOE facility at Argonne. . . . Naturally, that causes controversy, but it is a strength of the scientific method that continued study and measurement will resolve the controversy."

One reason some critics have been unable to verify his original claim, Collins said, is that their instrument was "blind" to one of the spectral lines, the so-called 130 line, that he used in measuring energy from hafnium- 178. Hence, "they could not possibly have seen the results" even "if they had succeeded in doing it."

But physicist John Becker of Lawrence Livermore said that to the best of his knowledge, no scientist has verified Collins' claim except Pat McDaniel, a researcher at Sandia who was one of Collins' original collaborators. McDaniel has not published his results, Becker said. McDaniel could not be reached for an interview.

"I don't think there's any controversy at all: We've done two experiments, and we cannot reproduce his (Collins') results," Becker said in an interview. The Becker team has used instruments that are "a hundred thousand times more sensitive" than Collins' dental X-ray machine, and "in spite of our best efforts, we cannot reproduce those results."

The Pentagon isn't discouraged by skeptics' doubts about the hafnium-178 isomer. In fact, it's trying to figure out how to mass produce the stuff. According to one knowledgeable source who insisted on anonymity, a full-scale hafnium-178 facility, if approved, "would probably (cost) tens to hundreds of millions of dollars."

At one Pentagon Web site, dubbed the Military Critical Technologies List, under the section titled "Armaments and Energetic Materials," the text explains that hafnium-178's reported "extraordinary energy density has the potential to revolutionize all aspects of warfare."

Recently, amid their post-Iraq-war anxieties over U.S. military and foreign policy, European media have sounded an alarm about possible hafnium-178 weapons. New Scientist, a respected popular science journal in England, ran a story on Aug. 13 declaring, "Gamma-ray Weapons Could Trigger Next Arms Race."

By coincidence, that same day, five members of the HIPP panel and 10 other experts signed a letter to federal officials citing "the numerous objections raised by the (Jasons) and others over any projected use of the hafnium isomer. " The letter urged the officials to launch an independent scientific review of the subject "before proceeding to study (military) applications that may not make physical sense."

E-mail Keay Davidson at kdavidson@sfchronicle.com.

SEPT 10 TEXTBOOK HEARING TRANSCRIPT ONLINE

Read the transcript of the September 10 public hearing on proposed Biology textbooks. A shorter synopsis of the hearing is below.

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/textbooks/adoptprocess/index.html

TAKE ACTION - PUBLISHERS MUST HEAR FROM YOU TODAY!

Contact the textbook publishers (see list at bottom of email) before October 3 and let them know that all 11 Biology textbooks sufficiently cover the theory of evolution. Changes to include the unscientific "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory of evolution pushed by the Discovery Institute are not acceptable.

Please contact heather@tfn.org if you have any questions on taking action.

SEPT 10 HEARING - DON'T MESS WITH TEXTBOOKS

A standing-room-only crowd attended the second of two public hearings on biology textbooks before the State Board of Education (SBOE) in Austin on September 10. More than 160 people signed up to speak before the board, and the testimony concluded at1:00 a.m. after twelve long hours of statements and questions by board members.

Supporters of quality science education, including members of National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Texas Citizens for Science, and the Texas Freedom Network, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin and around the state, educators, including many members of the Texas Association of Biology Teachers, and concerned parents, clergy, students, and citizens were out in force -- many wearing "Don't mess with textbooks" t-shirts.

The Discovery Institute of Seattle, the organizing push behind inserting the Intelligent Design "weaknesses of evolution" in the biology textbooks, had a hospitality room in the Texas Education Agency for the press and their creationist supporters. They flew in their senior fellows, including Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Icons of Evolution author Jonathan Wells from all over the country to testify. Their strategy was repeated through each creationist testimony by citing the curriculum guideline TEKS 3A, which they interpret meaning "the strengths and weaknesses of evolution" must be discussed. Beyond science, worldviews were contemplated by creationist Mac Deaver testifying that, "There is a correlation between the acceptance of evolutionary theory and the degeneration of morals in our society."

Samantha Smoot, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, told the board, "The weaknesses of evolution alleged here today are founded on ideology, not science ... There's really no debate about any of this in the scientific community."

This view was confirmed by the testimony of research biologists such as Andrew Ellington, Matt Levy, Bassett Maguire, Marty Shanklin, Lauren Meyers, Edward Theriot, David Cannatella, Randy Linder, Arturo De Lozanne, and Art Woods of the University of Texas at Austin, whose testimony was a devastating critique of the Discovery Institute's assessment of the biology textbooks' treatment of scientific research into the origin of life.

Steven Weinberg, Professor of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, addressed the common criticism that evolution is "just a theory" by remarking that his theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles won him the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics. He added that the existence of phenomena unexplained by a given theory is not, in his view, a "weakness."

Texas political icon Liz Carpenter, who served as press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson and went on to hold posts in four presidential administrations, eloquently urged the board not to "water down the strength of the science curriculum."

The Reverend Roger Paynter of Austin's First Baptist Church testified, "It is my deep conviction that creation flows from the hand of a creator God. But that is a statement of faith and not something that I or anyone else can prove in a scientific experiment. To lead children to believe otherwise is a disservice to them."

Creationists, for their part, were vocal, too. Mark Ramsey, of Texans for Better Science Education -- who is also the secretary and a board member of the Greater Houston Creation Association -- said, "I was indoctrinated, some would say brainwashed, to believe that evolution was as proven as gravity.... Today, over two decades later, many of us now know better."

SBOE members Terri Leo and Gail Lowe continued to lead the charge for the Discovery Institute, asking for the vote on out-of-state testimony and relentlessly questioning evolutionist, while sending softball questions to creationist to extend their 3 minute testimony limit.

Don McLeroy circulated his treatise entitled "Historical Reality Copernicus' "Heliocentric" Hypothesis Yes," which included a visual science fair display at the meeting, stating that if any textbooks presented common descent as historical reality, he would vote to reject them. During testimony, Dr. Sahotra Sarkar, professor of philosophy and integrative biology at Univ. of Texas answered McLeroy's challenge, "Is Darwin's hypothesis on the same plane as Copernicus "Heliocentric" hypothesis?" Sarkar's response was "without a doubt even more so than Copernicus!"

Eight out-of-state witnesses, including five associated with "intelligent design," were not allowed to testify during the hearing; they were, however, permitted to make presentations to the board members after the hearing adjourned and to submit written testimony. Robert T. Pennock, professor and author of two books critiquing the Intelligent Design movement, stressed that the proponents of Intelligent Design are visible at the SBOE level but not in debate in the scientific community, "They insert their view here, through the back door, by improperly appropriating the language of TEKS."

The board will vote on proposed biology textbooks on November 7. Take action by signing the petition on page 8 and contacting publishers and your SBOE member.

PUBLISHERS CONTACT INFORMATION

Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group
Ms. Eileen Tanania
4B Cedarbrook Drive
Cranbury, NJ 08512
866-843-3715, Ext. 714
etanania@bfwpub.com

Glencoe/McGraw-Hill
Attn: DeeDee Alsup
4360 Beltway Place, #230
Arlington, TX 76018
800-828-5096
deedee_alsup@mcgraw-hill.com

Holt, Rinehart & Winston
Attn: Michael Brawley
1175 N. Stemmons Fwy.
Lewisville, TX 75067
800-242-5479
mbrawley@hrw.com

J.M. LeBel Publishers
Attn: Mr. Rene LeBel
6420 Meadowcreek Drive
Dallas, TX 75254
800-882-0667
rene@lebel.com

Kendall/Hunt Publishing
Attn: Marie Brooks
4050 Westmark Drive
Dubuque, IA 52002
800-542-6657, Ext. 1141
mbrooks@kendallhunt.com

Pearson Education Inc/Prentice Hall
Attn: Brenda Cole
600 Freeport Pkwy, #140
Coppell, TX 75019
800-888-8398
Brenda.Cole@phschool.com

Thomson Learning/Wadsworth
Attn: Cynthia Bugge
5191 Natorp Blvd, 5th Floor
Mason, OH 45040
800-543-0487, Ext. 1510
cindy.bugge@thomsonlearning.com

The Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the radical right.

To subscribe or unsubscribe, send an email to tfn@tfn.org.

To join, go to www.tfn.org/joinus.

Texas Freedom Network
P.O. Box 1624
Austin, TX 78722
heather@tfn.org
512-322-0545 phone
512-322-0550 fax
www.tfn.org


Monday, September 29, 2003

Was Sigmund Freud a quack?

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/030912.html

12-Sep-2003

Dear Cecil:

I'm sort of surprised that you dismiss the work of Freud as mere quackery in your recent column about B.F. Skinner. No doubt Freud's theories and the therapeutic effectiveness of psychoanalysis remain open and controversial issues. But accusing the father of psychoanalysis and one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century of quackery is simply "Freud-bashing" and serves no purpose. --T. Mehr, via the Straight Dope Message Board

Cecil replies:

I never accused Freud of mere quackery. On the contrary, I think most fair-minded folk nowadays would agree that Freud elevated quackery to a whole new level. Phrenology, animal magnetism, and the like have been consigned to the dustbin of history, but you'll still find intelligent people praising Freud's pioneering contributions to our understanding of the human mind. To adapt General Bosquet's remark about the Charge of the Light Brigade: Freudian theory may be magnificent, but it ain't science.

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 653 September 12, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

NANOTUBE VELCRO. Joining two or more nanochips, such as nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS), can be done by welding or gluing or with tiny nuts and bolts. But what if you could gently just fasten them the way fabrics are fastened, with velcro? Conventional velcro fastening works by pairing one patch of mm-scale hooked protuberances with a patch of looped protuberances. In the microscopic version, both patches would bristle with carbon nanotubes, grown upright except for a hook on the top end. David Tomanek and his colleagues at Michigan State (tomanek@pa.msu.edu, 517-355-9702) are studying how to make nano-velcro work (see movies as www.pa.msu.edu/cmp/csc/simulvelcro.html ). His calculations so far show that the nanotubes will remain in place on each separate substrate (they can be grown on selective pieces of surface geometry using lithographic-like patterning techniques) and will also remain locked together when mated with its counterpart on another substrate. A typical application for nano-velcro would be to fasten a diamond coating onto specific parts of a metal surface. (Berber et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; co-authors, Savas Berber, berber@pa.msu.edu and Young-Kyun Kwon, ykkwon@nano.com )

GOOD VIBRATIONS HELP A FROG LOCATE TASTY PREY. Living in southern Africa, the aquatic frog Xenopus catches insects by detecting critters' vibrations on the water surface. Not able to see well in a liquid environment, the frog gets a wealth of information from the water waves that insects produce as they slosh around. The waves tell Xenopus the direction in which the insect is located. They even give the frog a general idea of the type of insect that is making the waves. To detect the water waves on its skin, the frog has about 180 receptors known as "lateral-line" organs, which are found on the skin along both sides of the body, around the eyes, and also on the head and neck. Now, researchers in Germany (Leo van Hemmen, TU Munich, LvH@ph.tum.de, +49-89-289.12362) have developed a simple model that explains how the lateral-line organs enable Xenopus to locate and classify its prey. Strikingly, the model suggests that the frog can reconstruct the shape of the water wave (its "waveform") from limited information, namely the movement of water recorded by the 180 simple sensory organs. In the frog, water gets deflected by 4-8 flag-like structures (called "cupulae") in the lateral line organs. Each deflection stimulates nearby hair cells to generate electrical spikes that are synchronized in time with the deflection. The timed electrical spikes from the 180 sensory organs, the researchers show, contain enough information for the frog to "estimate" the shape of the water wave pretty accurately. This is true even if some of the lateral-line organs are not functioning properly. Furthermore, they show how the frog can localize and distinguish between two different water waves coming simultaneously from two insects in different directions. This model may also be applicable to the mechano-sensory systems of other animals, such as crocodiles (Soares, Nature, 16 May 2002), which have similar receptor organs (Franosch et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming).

HORIZONTAL BRAZIL NUT EFFECT. A new twist on the Brazil-nut effect appears to be a good way to harvest large particles from a granular mixture, according to recent experiments and simulations performed at the University of Texas at Austin. The Brazil-nut effect is an odd but well-known phenomenon in agitated granular mixtures. Depending on the conditions, shaking containers filled with grains of various sizes will cause the larger grains to rise to the top of the mixture (Update 132), or sink to the bottom. The Texas researchers (contact: Sung Joon Moon, moon@Princeton.edu, 609-258-2977), however, showed that they could also control the horizontal distribution of large grains by using kinks that spontaneously arise in granular layers for sufficiently large container accelerations. A kink separates two regions oscillating with opposite phase: the granular layer on one side of a kink is moving up while the layer on the other side is moving down. Larger particles flow from the two oscillating regions and collect in the kink. The researchers can control the location of a kink by adjusting the driving signal, and harvest the large grains by sweeping the kink to one side of the container. The research shows that trapping results from avalanches that form at the kink as falling fluid-like regions move past rising, effectively solid, regions. The avalanches lead to internal convection rolls that carry the large particles toward a kink. The horizontal Brazil-nut effect may eventually lead to new commercial methods for segregating granular material by size. (S. J. Moon et al., Phys. Rev Lett., date)

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

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 – September 16, 2003

SPERM MADE FROM STEM CELLS
from The Washington Post

Scientists in Japan have transformed ordinary mouse embryo cells into sperm cells, marking the first time those specialized sex cells have been cultivated in the laboratory.

The achievement offers researchers an unprecedented window through which they can study the mysterious process by which embryo cells become sperm and brings scientists a step closer to controlling the basic mechanisms of sexual reproduction.

Scientists said the work would also advance efforts to engineer sperm with specific genetic traits -- a capability that, if applied to human embryonic stem cells and sperm, would pose new ethics questions regarding the extent to which people should be allowed to alter their genetic legacies.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15976-2003Sep15.html

TANTALIZING CLUES, BUT FEW FACTS
from The Baltimore Sun

In recent years, autism research has been a battleground. A vocal group of parents, advocates and a few scientists focused on vaccines containing traces of mercury as the lead suspects in the disorder. But most autism researchers were suspicious, arguing that the theory didn't fit the evidence.

Now, with a new Danish study offering the strongest evidence yet against the vaccine theory, the controversy may give way to a more baffling question: If vaccines aren't the culprit, then what is?

The range of theories underscores how little is known about autism, a developmental illness that afflicts as many as one in 200 American children and makes it difficult for them to connect with the outside world.
http://www.sunspot.net/news/nationworld/bal-te.autism15sep15.story

PAUL ALLEN CREATES NEW BRAIN PROJECT WITH $100 MILLION
from The Seattle Times

Billionaire Paul Allen, in his largest upfront charitable commitment ever, today will announce that he is giving $100 million to start a nonprofit research center that will try to create a definitive map of the mouse brain that researchers can use for further discoveries.

The Microsoft co-founder is creating the Allen Institute for Brain Science, in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood.

The money will be used to try to build the "Allen Brain Atlas" to show how a list of 30,000 genes can be transformed into a circuit board with a trillion cells.

By mapping cells from the mouse brain and making it publicly available to researchers around the world with "minimum encumbrance," the Allen Institute says it will become a springboard others can use to advance knowledge. Allen says he hopes the center will kick-start more efficient research into how brains develop, learn, form emotions or become damaged by disorders such as Alzheimer's, depression or stroke.
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2001730983_allenbrain16.html

THEY'RE BACK: NASA'S QUEST FOR SPACE TRAVEL RETURNS TO ITS ROOTS
from The Boston Globe

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - In the 1970s, NASA traded its Apollo space capsules for a new generation of flight vehicle that promised bigger payloads, more passengers, and smoother landings. Now, months after the second major space shuttle disaster, NASA is reconsidering the cone-shaped spaceship that first took man to the moon.

Motivated by the need for a disaster-free space program and believing the capsule design may make more sense for deep space exploration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is giving serious consideration to launching capsules again by the end of the decade, according to several members of Congress and officials at the space agency.

"We need to field a system that does not require an inordinate amount of [research and development], and it must be a system that is not overly expensive to develop, operate and maintain," said Representative Dave Weldon, (R-Fla.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee who represents a piece of Florida's space coast. "My study of space policy and history have led me to consider the conclusion that an expendable capsule system akin to the Apollo command module may be the best way to do this."
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2003/09/16/theyre_back/

WE GOT RHYTHM; THE MYSTERY IS HOW AND WHY
from The New York Times

In lovers' songs, military marches, weddings and funerals — every occasion where a degree of emotion needs to be evoked — music is an indispensable ingredient.

Yet the ability to enjoy music has long puzzled biologists because it does nothing evident to help survival. Why, therefore, should evolution have built into the human brain this soul-stirring source of pleasure? Man's faculties for enjoying and producing music, Darwin wrote, "must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed."

Music is still a mystery, a tangle of culture and built-in skills that researchers are trying to tease apart. No one really knows why music is found in all cultures, why most known systems of music are based on the octave, why some people have absolute pitch and whether the brain handles music with special neural circuits or with ones developed for other purposes. Recent research, however, has produced a number of theories about the brain and music.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/16/science/16MUSI.html

PEYOTE'S HALLUCINATIONS SPAWN REAL-LIFE ACADEMIC FEUD
from The New York Times

ALBUQUERQUE, Sept. 15 — In the 1960's and 70's, Carlos Castaneda captivated millions of readers with his tales of self-discovery under the influence of peyote, jimson weed and other hallucinogens.

His writings have always been controversial among anthropologists. After all, he claimed to have flown and grown a beak, among other things, in his transformation into a sorcerer under the tutelage of Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian shaman he said he met at a bus station in 1960 in Nogales, Ariz., while an anthropology graduate student.

But rarely has the profession witnessed anything as fierce as a feud between two anthropologists — one a former associate of Mr. Castaneda, the other a harsh critic — that has now reached the New Mexico Supreme Court.

What began as a disagreement over the authenticity of research into peyote rituals has evolved into a take-no-prisoners legal battle between the two experts on the Huichol Indians of northern Mexico. The court is expected to rule soon on whether a jury should hear each one's accusations that the other is out to destroy his reputation and career.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/16/science/16PEYO.html

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The search for Atlantis 'ends at Ayia Napa'

http://portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/09/28/wnapa28.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/09/28/ixworld.html

By Fiona Govan
(Filed: 28/09/2003)

It may be the answer generations of experts on the ancient world have been looking for. New research claims that the fabled ancient civilisation of Atlantis is located close to Cyprus.

After nearly 10 years of research using ocean mapping technology and accounts from ancient texts, an American explorer says he has evidence that Atlantis lies beneath the deep blue waters off the southern tip of the island.

Robert Sarmast, a self-proclaimed mythologist and expert on the ancient world, makes this claim in his book, Discovery of Atlantis - The Startling Case for the Island of Cyprus, published last week in America by Origin Press. Mr Sarmast uses maps to show the location of archaeological remains on a sunken strip of land just off the south coast of Cyprus, which he says is Atlantis.

Mr Sarmast said at his home in California last week: "This is going to rewrite the history books. We are set to make the biggest archaeological discovery of all time."

His research, which cost $500,000 (£312,000) and uses data collected by a Russian scientific survey vessel in 1989, was paid for by the Heritage Standard Corporation, an organisation involved in undersea surveys for oil and gas. He now intends to carry out an expedition to explore the sea bed, to find proof of his theory.

Mr Sarmast says the site matches Plato's account of Atlantis, in the dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written in about 400BC. The description is said to be based on the writings of Solon, who recorded the account told to him by the Egyptians in around 600BC.

Whereas many historians believe that Atlantis is the stuff of legend and that Plato's description is an allegory to praise the values of Athenian society, Mr Sarmast takes a more literal view.

"My discovery will vindicate Plato," he said. "Within his dialogues, Plato provides factual clues as to what Atlantis was like. I have matched all but two of the 45 clues with the area around Cyprus. That's either the biggest coincidence in the history of the world or we have found Plato's Atlantis. Plato's account is so detailed that it is possible to make city plans based on his description. These match exactly the antediluvian maps of Cyprus as discovered through oceanographic mapping."

Mr Sarmast says he has identified many of the areas described by Plato, including a rectangular plain, running east to west, containing a metropolis at its centre.

Central to the latest theory is the fact that the Mediterranean basin suffered a catastrophic flood with the destruction of the Gibraltar "dam" that once closed the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic.

This substantiates Plato's claim that an epochal flood "swallowed up" the island of Atlantis leaving only the uninhabited mountainous regions above water, and supports the Biblical story of the flood.

Mr Sarmast believes that it will not be difficult to launch an underwater expedition and that the rewards will be great. "It's only a mile down in warm, calm waters," he said. "Compare that with the Titanic which is two miles down in freezing, treacherous waters. That was explored fully 20 years ago.

"What we have here is a whole city, an ancient civilisation, megalithic sites packed full of artefacts. We can expect to find colossal buildings, bridges, roads, canals and stone temples. With no sunlight, heat, oxygen or wind to degrade its remains, Atlantis will be mummified in the cold waters of the deep sea, frozen in time."

Mr Sarmast's claim about Cyprus is, however, just the latest in a long list of suggested locations for Atlantis, including the Azores, the Sahara desert, Malta, Central America and Antarctica.

Cypriot reaction last week ranged from derision to enthusiastic support.

Dr Despo Pilides, an archaeologist at the Department of Antiquities, said: "Serious archaeologists tend to place the search for Atlantis within the realm of fantasy.

"This latest theory should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Archaeologists only work with hard evidence. There is no evidence whatsoever to give credence to this hypothesis and we have no intention of investigating it."

But in the kafenios, the coffee houses where men pass the time and debate the issues of the day, it was a different story.

Christos sipped his strong, dark coffee as he contemplated the idea. "Of course it's true," he said. "We are Atlantis, we are the oldest civilisation, we are the Garden of Eden. This is a very good thing for Cyprus. We will be more famous than anywhere else in the world."

The tourist industry agreed. A spokesman for the Cyprus Tourism Organisation said: "I don't think we should be hasty in dismissing this idea. Whether it is true or not it can only be a good thing for us.

"People will want to come and visit what could be part of Atlantis."

British holidaymakers in Ayia Napa were less impressed. "I couldn't care less," said one Briton. "If you're looking for Atlantis, I'll tell you where it is. It's on the left before you get to Larnaca . . . the Atlantis Night Club Cabaret. But get there early if you want a seat - it gets quite full."


Sunday, September 28, 2003

Charlatan in a monkey suit?

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/09/14/MN303756.DTL

Bigfoot academics say no way
Symposium unites experts on the weird-footed mystery beast

Glen Martin, Chronicle Staff Writer

Willow Creek, Humboldt County -- In the pantheon of legendary beasts, Bigfoot plays Rodney Dangerfield: a shambling hominid that doesn't get any respect.

Even here, in the heart of his putative stomping grounds -- where an international Bigfoot conference was held Saturday -- he is a mere shill rather than a point of pride, a leering caricature used to purvey everything from burgers to used cars. Few locals believe in Bigfoot, except as an effective way to hawk junk food or trinkets to gullible tourists.

For the most part, his champions have done more harm than good to his reputation. Some think he is no simple woods ape cast adrift in the evolutionary tide, but an interdimensional traveler, or an immortal if hirsute shaman whose mission is to impart Earth Knowledge to benighted humans. That makes it hard for more conventional people to acknowledge his existence.

Bigfoot, in short, needs rehabilitating.

Which is why the International Bigfoot Symposium, held at Trinity Valley Elementary School in this tiny mountain town, didn't come a day too soon.

"Our goal was to turn the corner on this thing, to change it from the freak show it is now to the academic dialogue it deserves to be," said Rudy Breuning,

a sponsor of the symposium. "We have to get beyond the stigma and look at the solid scientific evidence that exists."

The event drew about 200 people from around the world to hear Sasquatch authorities discourse on everything from the anatomical and behavioral characteristics of the creature to detailed analyses of still photographs and film that reportedly captured its image. There were few, if any, hard-core skeptics to be found.

FILM-CLIP DISCUSSION

A major topic of discussion was the 1967 film clip made by Yakima, Wash., residents Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. It shows a big, furry, obviously female primate loping through downed trees at Bluff Creek, a drainage about 35 miles from Willow Creek.

In many circles, the clip has been derided as a hoax showing someone in a monkey suit. Only last year, the family members of the late Ray Wallace, a logger who purportedly had told the filmmakers where they could shoot Bigfoot, said he had admitted to trickery.

But supporters of Bigfoot's existence are not dissuaded, and they continue to promote the film as prima facie evidence of Bigfoot's existence.

"Doug Hajicek, one of our speakers and a producer for the Discovery Channel,

talked about recent digital analyses of the film, and concluded that fraud would've been virtually impossible," said Breuning.

Al Hodgson, a longtime resident of Willow Creek who is considered the godfather of local Bigfoot lore and arcana, recalled he received a call from Patterson a few hours after the film was shot.

"He said, 'Al, I got a picture of the son-of-a-buck,' " Hodgson said. "I really don't think it was a hoax. That film was made 37 years ago, and there weren't the advances in special effects then that there are now. I don't think a man in an ape suit could duplicate the body movement you see."

Another featured speaker was Jimmy Chilcutt, a crime scene investigator and latent fingerprint examiner with the Monroe, Texas, police department. He has assembled a database of primate fingerprints as part of an attempt to identify human fingerprint characteristics by race and gender.

Chilcutt -- who acknowledged that he endures some gentle ribbing from his Texas law-enforcement peers -- has studied plaster casts allegedly taken from Sasquatch footprints and found that the toeprint patterns from some "were completely different from either humans or any of the known great apes. On top of that, one had scars on the dermal ridges that puckered inward as finger or toeprint scars do naturally. It would be extremely hard to duplicate that, assuming you knew that's what scarring does to prints, which few people do."

Still, one indisputable fact of the Bigfoot phenomenon is that few people who live in its home realm make contact with it. It's always "researchers" from out of town or fortunate tourists who report the sightings.

WHY DON'T LOCALS SEE BIGFOOT?

Many residents point out that the one group of locals you would expect to find oodles of Bigfoots -- bear hunters, who roam the deep woods with packs of hounds trained to chivvy and corral any big, furry beast -- never report encounters.

"That's a fair assessment," said Marc Rowley, a co-sponsor of the symposium.

"For that matter, my father worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the 1940s, surveying Bluff Creek -- the area where the Patterson-Gimlin film was made -- and he never reported any Bigfoot contact."

But for Dimitri Bayanov, a hominology investigator with the State Darwin Museum in Moscow, the evidence is clear: Bigfoot exists, and in considerable numbers.

"They are not as common as bears, but (other researchers) have concluded that around 2,000 Sasquatch inhabit the forests of the Pacific Northwest," said Bayanov, a slight, intense man with a stubbly beard and heavy horn-rim glasses.

"That sounds reasonable to me," he said. "In Russia, we were convinced about Bigfoot's existence since 1973, when we concluded a detailed analysis of the Patterson-Gimlin film. We are even more certain now, with the evidence that has accrued since then."

Some of the attendees did not share Bayanov's rock-ribbed certitude, but they still claim a strong bond to the possibly nonexistent simian.

Kai Roath, a documentary film maker from San Luis Obispo who led an expedition to Nepal in quest of yeti folklore, said he wants to believe in Bigfoot, "and I have another fantasy -- my taxes are going to be cut."

Jim Hiers, a strapping, long-haired ex-Marine dressed formally for the occasion in a camo-patterned kilt, said he thinks Bigfoot exists -- and he is seeking firsthand confirmation.

Hiers is a member of the Bigfoot Rangers, a squad of ex-military men who conduct long-range "recons" for Bigfoot. Evidence so far: A few rocks chucked at the group from a wooded covert.

"That's classic primate threat display behavior," Hiers said. "It's nothing that a bear could or would do, for example. In any event, it's a good excuse to go camping, and it adds some color to our mundane lives."

BIGFOOT lore: Legends of Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) have circulated among North American native tribes for hundreds if not thousands of years. White settlers quickly incorporated tales of the huge, hairy, smelly hominids into their own mythologies.

Bigfoot sightings have been reported from the Florida Everglades to Ohio, but putative sightings of "North American wood apes" have been particularly abundant in the Pacific Northwest. The Klamath Knot -- a vast, sparsely populated region of heavily wooded mountains and lush river canyons -- is considered a hotspot for the creatures. Bluff Creek, located about 40 miles from the Klamath area town of Willow Creek, was the site of a famous 1967 film clip allegedly taken of Bigfoot by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin.

No irrefutable evidence of Bigfoot exists, and skeptics are quick to point out that most sightings are made by tourists or urban "researchers," not woods- savvy locals.True believers estimate the Pacific Northwest's sasquatch population ranges from a couple of hundred to 5,000.

Bigfoot Vital Statistics: Height: 7 to 10 feet Weight

Weight: 350 to 500 pounds

Size of feet: Up to 16 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Physical Appearance: Extremely hairy, with long arms, thick shoulders and short neck. Walks upright, like a human being.

Diet: Omnivorous: Acorns, berries, orchard fruit, fungi, salmon, small mammals, reptiles, carrion.

Odor: Offensive. Often described as putrefying flesh.

Disposition: Generally retiring, though occasionally aggressive. Credited with tearing apart bothersome dogs.

E-mail Glen Martin at glenmartin@sfchronicle.com.

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 654 September 17, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

A SINGLE-ATOM LASER, a device employing a single trapped atom to resonantly emit light back and forth between two reflective mirrors, has been created by Jeffrey Kimble at Caltech. Although single-atom lasers have been demonstrated before (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/1994/split/pnu204-3.htm ), Kimble's is the first to use a single atom nearly at rest, and not a parade of atoms in a dilute beam entering a reflective cavity one at a time. The singleness of the source means that the number of photons emitted by the laser over a certain time interval is, while not exactly predictable (which would be outlawed by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle), much less jittery than emission from multi-atom lasers. The emission is weak by laser standards---only about 100,000 photons per second---but this quiet, more controllable form of photons should aid future quantum information schemes. (McKeever et al., Nature, 18 September 2003.)

THE LASER INTERFEROMETRY SPACE ANTENNA (LISA) is not due for launch until 2012 but tests of components are of course going forward now. LISA will search for gravity waves passing the sun's vicinity by watching how the distance between two test masses changes. A gravity wave can be thought of as a traveling disturbance in spacetime itself; such a wave would temporarily shorten and then lengthen the path between the test masses. In this case the masses would be 5 million km apart, an interval that would be monitored every instant by the interference of laser beams traveling back and forth between the masses. Actually three pairs of test masses would be mounted on three far-flung satellites, spread out in space in an equilateral triangle where each leg is 5 million km long, with all three craft in independent orbit around the sun (see LISA websites at http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=27 and http://lisa.jpl.nasa.gov/ ). While the spaceborne LISA would look for waves with very low frequencies (.001-.1 Hz), the earthbound detector LIGO would search for gravity waves in a higher frequency range (100-1000 Hz).

As an interim step toward deploying LISA, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch in 2007 its Pathfinder mission, a craft serving as a miniature version of LISA, two free-floating test masses 35 cm apart (small thruster rockets will be used to reposition the spacecraft so its sides do not come in contact with the masses), will be tried out. The test, watching that the masses move along in parallel trajectories, is not unlike the famous (or apocryphal) experiment conducted by Galileo Galilei to affirm that two objects, one light and one heavy, would fall at the same rate from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And to perform the test in 2007 some terrestrial tests have now been carried out in 2003.

Basically, scientists at the Universita' di Trento (Italy) are attempting to understand all the possible forces, in addition to gravity, that could influence the motion of the test mass. In an ideal experiment, the test mass (2 kg or, in units of weight, about 20 newtons) would be hung from a thin wire and surrounded by all the apparatus that will accompany it into space, including the motion sensor needed to reorient the spacecraft, and all extraneous forces on the mass, down to a precision of a femto-newton (10^-15 newtons) would have to be accounted for if the desired levels of precision needed for LISA were to be achieved. Such precision is not possible with ground-based detectors, so the experimenters used not the full test mass, but a hollow facsimile. At this early stage in understanding, the Trento physicists found a satisfactorily "quiet" force environment, but there are still a fact of 10 away from the precision needed for Pathfinder and a factor of 100 away from the precision needed for LISA. (Carbone et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; Stefano Vitale, vitale@science,unitn.it, 39-0461-881568 )

THE FRACTION OF PHYSICS GRADUATE STUDENTS coming to the US from abroad has declined since the 2000/2001 academic year, reversing a steady climb that had been in effect since 1970. The fraction of non-US first year grad students grew from about 20% in 1970 to a peak of 55% in 2001. However, in the past two years the fraction has eased back to less than 50%, a new report shows. Two-thirds of the PhD-granting physics departments in the US say that at least some of their admitted students from abroad have been unable to attend owing to visa problems. Students from China and from the Middle East seem to have had the most trouble entering the US. ("Physics Students from Abroad in the Post-9/11 Era," report prepared by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics; contact Patrick J. Mulvey, pmulvey@aip.org; a copy of the reported can be obtained at http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/undtrends.htm )

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

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IN THE NEWS

Today's Headlines – September 18, 2003

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GENETIC BASIS TO FAIRNESS, STUDY SAYS
from The New York Times

"It's not fair!" is a common call from the playground and, in subtler form, from more adult assemblies. It now seems that monkeys, too, have a sense of fairness, a conclusion suggesting that this feeling may be part of the genetically programmed social glue that holds primate societies together, monkeys as well as humans.

Two researchers at Emory University, Dr. Sarah F. Brosnan and Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal, report today in the journal Nature that they taught female capuchin monkeys to trade pebbles for pieces of food. The capuchins were caged in pairs, so that each member of a pair could see the other. If one monkey got a grape in return for her pebble but the other only a less desired piece of cucumber, the shortchanged monkey would often refuse to hand over the pebble in exchange or might decline to eat the cucumber - both very unusual behaviors.

These refusals were often accompanied by emphatic body language, like dashing the pebble or the cucumber on the floor, Dr. Brosnan said. The expressions of exasperation were twice as common if the monkey offered a cucumber saw her companion being given a grape without even having to hand over a pebble.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/18/science/18MONK.html

U.N. SAYS 'OZONE HOLE' HITS RECORD SIZE
from Associated Press

GENEVA -- The ozone hole over the Antarctic this year has reached the record size of 10.8 million square miles set three years ago, the United Nations' weather organization said Wednesday.

Measurements over and near Antarctica show that ozone decreased more rapidly this year than in previous years and that the size of the ozone hole is now as large as it was in September 2000, the World Meteorological Organization said.

The hole could continue to grow to its largest size ever in the next couple of weeks, the WMO said, but it also could suddenly decrease.
http://snurl.com/2du5

STAR-STUDDED FIND: ASTRONOMERS DISCOVER NEW GALAXY
from The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer (Registration Required)

Astronomers from Case Western Reserve University have discovered a new galaxy, a shy collection of stars hovering undetected just outside the huge Andromeda spiral.

The newest known resident of the celestial neighborhood, dubbed Andromeda VIII, was unmasked when researchers realized that some stars thought to be part of the big spiral galaxy were moving at a different velocity.

"That was the 'aha!' moment," said Heather Morrison, the Case astronomer who led the four-member team.

Andromeda, the nearest big galaxy to Earth's Milky Way at 2 million light years away, rotates like a pinwheel and the stars within it are generally "well-behaved," she explained. That's why the apparent rogues attracted attention.
http://snurl.com/2dv7

AFTER PINPOINT TRACKING, FORECASTING TURNS TO INTENSITY
from The New York Times

For a dozen days, Hurricane Isabel has seemingly rolled on tracks laid out by government weather forecasters.

Its neatly predicted ride toward a collision with the mid-Atlantic coast today reflected enormous advances in computer modeling of the atmosphere's vagaries and growing understanding of the forces that steer such giant storms. Forecasters say a five-day tracking forecast now has the same reliability as a three-day forecast 15 years ago.

But forecasters have been far less successful in predicting the strength of hurricanes, a characteristic almost as important as the storms' routes in determining their destructive potential.

"We've listed that as our No. 1 priority for the research community as an area where we need help," said Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/18/national/18PRED.html

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Bigfoot symposium examines evidence of creature's existence

by Erin Miyabara
Lumberjack Staff
09.16.03

About 220 scientists, researchers and enthusiasts flocked to Willow Creek for the International Bigfoot Symposium last weekend to discuss the probability that the creature exists.

People gathered from 22 states, Canada, Russia, Belgium and Great Britain to hear experts presenting evidence regarding the creature's existence.

"[Bigfoot is] really one of the most intriguing questions in natural history," said Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University.

Thomas Steenburg, author and Canadian Sasquatch investigator since 1978, pointed out that regardless of the interest garnered by the subject, Bigfoot is still reduced to the tabloids and that the most important question has to be answered first.

"Is it nocturnal? Is it omnivorous? Does it need protection?" he asked. "None of that is important 'til question one is answered: does it exist or doesn't it?" Though that question may never be answered, many attendees had their minds made up before making the trip to Willow Creek.

Chester Moore Sr. of Logan Port, La., described his Bigfoot sighting several years ago in northwestern Louisiana. He said he and some friends were in a pickup truck when they saw a Bigfoot about 70 yards away. After running to the place where it was seen and measuring pine trees nearby, they estimated its height to be around 7 feet, 6 inches.

"If I had any doubt, it's done gone," he said. His son Chester Moore Jr., field researcher and author of "Bigfoot South," said he doesn't believe in Bigfoot creatures because he knows they exist. He uses the term "Bigfoot creatures" because the word Bigfoot implies that there is just one creature.

The symposium began Friday with a keynote address from John Green, author, journalist and Bigfoot investigator for 44 years.

"People are starting to take a serious look at the evidence that humans are not the only bipedal primates on earth," Green said. "And in my opinion, that's the current development that holds the greatest promise for the future of Bigfoot/Sasquatch investigation."

Retired wildlife biologist John Bindernagel of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, described similarities between the descriptions of the Sasquatch from over a hundred eyewitness accounts and anatomical features found only in the great apes of Africa and Asia. He pointed out behavioral similarities apparent in the chest beating reported by Fred Beck in the 1924 Ape Canyon account and the throwing of projectiles also found among chimps.

Dr. Meldrum presented his take on the evolution of hominid bipedalism, stating that the mid-foot flexibility apparent in casts of Bigfoot tracks suggests these creatures walk on flat, flexible feet, which have been the norm for the majority of hominid evolutionary history.

Jimmy Chilcutt, crime scene investigator and latent fingerprint examiner from Conroe, Texas, focused on evidence of vertical dermal ridge patterns found on casts from Northern California, Walla Walla, Wash., and Elkins Creek, Ga., which suggest they came from the same species of animal.

"From my examination, there is a North American great ape," he said.

Doug Hajicek, natural history filmmaker and producer of the Discovery Channel's "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science" program, described the process he used to examine the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film of a female Bigfoot. He pointed out the unusual gait particular to Patty--the name given to the Bigfoot--and the supposed hernia visible on her right thigh.

The second day continued with Sonora-based forest archaeologist for the Stanislaus National Forest, Kathy Moskowitz, who described the "Hairy Man" legend of the Yokuts tribe. She estimates the story could be almost six thousand years old.

One story says that after creating humans, Hairy Man started to cry because people were afraid of him. The pictograph on Painted Rock on the Tule River Indian Reservation shows Hairy Man with lines coming out of his eyes, representing tears. This painting is the only known Bigfoot pictograph in California.

Richard Noll, Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization curator and member of the September 2000 Skookum Expedition, described the expedition and Bigfoot researching methods used, such as taped Sasquatch calls from a Tahoe recording, pheromone chips and thermal imaging. The expedition resulted in a 200 pound, much-disputed cast of what appears to be the lower torso of a hair-covered primate. Noll said he is not one hundred percent sure the Skookum cast represents Bigfoot.

"I say no because I didn't see [Bigfoot]," he said. After Dr. W. Henner Fahrenbach's discussion of the structure of primate skin and its appendages--such as glands and hair--a panel of pioneer Bigfoot investigators described its experiences beginning in the 1950s.

The symposium ended with an address by Russian author and hominology investigator Dmitri Bayanov, who ended his discussion of Russian Bigfoot finds by passing around a picture of supposed Bigfoot droppings, which measured 40 inches long and 5 inches wide.

This was Bayanov's first trip to America, one which came as the "fulfillment of a prophecy." Years ago at a party, he drew a wish, somewhat akin to a Chinese fortune cookie, that said: "You'll get to America during a proletariat revolution." After reflecting on that statement, he realized that those who came to the symposium are the proletariats of the scientific community.

"We are proletariats," he said. "We are starting a revolution."

http://media.humboldt.edu/merge1/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=677&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0

Yeti's 'non-existence' hard to bear

Daniel Lak
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

A row has erupted in Nepal after a Japanese expert on Himalayan languages insisted the yeti was nothing more than a case of linguistic mistaken identity. Dr Matako Nabuka is a researcher and mountaineer who spent 12 years in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan conducting, he says, research into the elusive abominable snowman.

Hackles began to rise in Kathmandu earlier this month when Dr Nabuka told a press conference in Tokyo yetis were not mysterious apes or hairy hominids living in the High Himalaya.

They were, quite simply, Himalayan brown bear, known in a regional Tibetan dialect as "meti", he said.

"This has spread too far," said Dr Nabuka, referring to belief in the yeti.

Many claim to have seen it, he said, but no one has proof.

The tribes of the Himalayas worship the brown bear as a deity, Dr Nabuka pointed out, and have endowed it with supernatural powers.

He said he had pictures of bear paws and other artefacts from the animal being venerated by mountain tribes people.

Linguistic dispute

But no sooner had the story hit the Nepali press than local opinion chimed in.

A letter to the editor of the Kathmandu Post headlined "Yetiquette" took Dr Nabuka to task for linguistic carelessness.

Signed by Bha Dawa, the letter says the Japanese researcher may have spent too long in the wrong mountains and had himself mixed up his words.

Both "yeti" and "meti" mean a near-mythical beast, said Mr Dawa.

Dr Nabuka has other opponents.

Dr Raj Kumar Pandey, who like the Japanese scientist researches both yetis and mountain languages, says it is not enough to blame tales of the mysterious beast of the Himalayas on words that rhyme but mean different things.

"Look at all the foreign expeditions that have seen [the yeti]," says Dr Pandey, naming British mountaineering legend, Eric Shipton, Italian super-mountaineer Reinhold Messner and the British Everest expedition leader from 1953, John Hunt.

"We have much more research to do on language and in zoology before we believe statements like this [from Dr Nabuka]."

Japanese rivalry

A very informal straw poll of mountaineers in Kathmandu carried out for BBC News Online at the city's legendary Rum Doodle Bar, a favourite hangout of climbers, found at least three people who claimed to have seen the yeti.

We'll get a picture this time and then all disbelievers will learn their lessons Yoshiteru Takahashi, rival to Dr Nabuka None wanted their names used but all denied vehemently that their claims had anything to do with the amount of locally brewed Everest beer they were drinking.

In the end, it all probably comes down to rivalry between Japanese mountain-climbers.

Dr Nabuka's press conference came just weeks after Japan's most celebrated yeti-hunter, Yoshiteru Takahashi, left his country to make "the definitive attempt" to photograph the beast.

Mr Takahashi claims to have found a yeti cave on the slopes of Dhaulagiri, the world's fifth highest mountain, in western Nepal.

His camera froze in 1994 when he tried to photograph the denizens of the cave, he said in Tokyo before leaving.

This year, he is using nine infrared cameras with motion sensitive shutters, and wrapping them up well against the Himalayan chill.

"We'll get a picture this time," he said, "and then all disbelievers will learn their lessons."

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/3143020.stm

Published: 2003/09/26 15:05:58 GMT

© BBC MMIII


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