NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 October 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Vatican in HIV condom row

The Catholic Church has been accused of telling people in countries with high rates of HIV that condoms do not protect against the deadly virus.

The claims are made in a Panorama programme called Sex and the Holy City to be screened on BBC One on Sunday.

It says cardinals, bishops, priests and nuns in four continents are saying HIV can pass through tiny holes in condoms.

The World Health Organization has condemned the comments and warned the Vatican it is putting lives at risk.

The claims come just a day after a report revealed that a young person is now infected with HIV every 14 seconds.

The statements are totally incorrect. Latex condoms are impermeable. They do prevent HIV transmission. Catherine Hankins, chief scientific advisor to UNAids, According to the United Nations Population Fund, around 6,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 catch the virus every day.

Half of all new infections are now in people under the age of 25 and most of these are young women living in the developing world.

Condom advice

Health experts around the world urge people to use condoms to protect themselves from HIV and a host of sexually transmitted infections.

However, the Catholic Church has consistently refused to back such calls. The Vatican is opposed to contraception and has advocated that people change their behaviour instead.

But according to Panorama, the Church is now telling people that condoms do not work.

In an interview, one of the Vatican's most senior cardinals Alfonso Lopez Trujillo suggested HIV could even pass through condoms.

"The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom," he says.

Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids Gordon Wambi, Aids activist The cardinal, who is president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, suggests that governments should urge people not to use condoms.

"These margins of uncertainty...should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger."

The programme includes a Catholic nun advising her HIV-infected choir master not to use condoms with his wife because "the virus can pass through".

The Archbishop of Nairobi Raphael Ndingi Nzeki told Panaroma that condoms were helping to spread the virus.

"Aids...has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms," he said.

In Kenya, one in five people are HIV positive.

Gordon Wambi, director of an Aids testing programme in Lwak, near Lake Victoria, told the programme that he could not distribute condoms because of opposition from the Catholic Church.

"Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids," he said.

According to Panaroma, the claims about condoms are repeated by Catholics as far apart as Asia and Latin America.

Claims condemned

Catherine Hankins, chief scientific advisor to UNAids, condemned the Church's comments.

"It is very unfortunate to have this type of misinformation being broadcast," she told BBC News Online.

"It is a concern. From a technical point of view, the statements are totally incorrect.

"Latex condoms are impermeable. They do prevent HIV transmission."

The WHO also attacked the Catholic Church's comments.

"Statements like this are quite dangerous, " a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

"We are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people and currently affects around 42 million.

"There is so much evidence to show that condoms don't let sexually transmitted infections like HIV through.

"Anyone who says otherwise is just wrong."

The aid agency Christian Aid also attacked the Vatican's attitude.

"Condoms are a straightforward and effective way of preventing HIV transmission and to suggest otherwise is dangerous," said Dr Rachel Baggaley, head of its HIV unit.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/10/09 16:16:32 GMT



Arthur C. Clarke says, "Mars has a case of the munchies. That is, the red planet is spotted with vegetation with some sort of life feasting on the foliage." The noted sci-fi writer and space visionary, made the claim during the 2nd annual international conference on the space elevator, held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sir Arthur beamed into the gathering by satellite link on September 13, 2003. When asked what destination he'd like to travel to via the space elevator, Clarke said he was "ready and willing" to journey to the red planet. "Mars is the obvious place," Clarke said. "I'm now quite convinced that Mars is infested with life. Mars orbiter photographs show huge areas of vegetation. I don't think there's any doubt anymore on that. And where there's vegetation, there will be something nibbling on it," he said. Just as the audience was chewing on Clarke's Mars life view, he added yet another bit of speculative advice -- this time on cold fusion. "It's not cold. It's not fusion. It may be tepid fission or something," Clarke said. "DWon't laugh¦but there's something going on there. Thanks to [" mailto:ldavid@hq.space.com ]Leonard David and Bruce Cornet http://www.space.com/astronotes/astronotes.html

Confirming Miracles Both Art, Science


To judge the works of candidates for sainthood, doctors are enlisted to recognize the unexplainable.

October 14, 2003

By Tracy Wilkinson, Times Staff Writer

VATICAN CITY — Cancer is cured. Bleeding is stopped. Third-degree burns vanish overnight.

These and many, many more examples are on record as authenticated miracles that are the essential — and most unusual — step in the naming of a saint by the pope, leader of the world's Roman Catholic Church.

John Paul II, who on Thursday marks 25 years as pontiff, has set the record for canonizing saints and beatifying potential saints. He has given the title to more people than all his predecessors in the last four centuries combined, according to Vatican statistics: 476 saints as of Oct. 5.

On Sunday, the pope will add to the roster of "the blessed" by beatifying Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the petite nun with the white-and-blue sari whose ascent has generated a bit of controversy, because of both its unprecedented swift pace and questions about the miracle included in her dossier.

It is in the field of miracles, however, that the church's medieval traditions intersect with the modern edifices of science and knowledge. In some ways, it is the miracle that most tests one's faith.

"There is always an element of faith where science ends and faith takes over," said Monsignor Robert J. Sarno, an official with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican office that investigates the cases of potential saints.

"We have to be courageous enough to admit that science is not the only truth in human existence," said Sarno, a New Yorker who has been doing this kind of work for 22 years. "While it plays an essential part, it doesn't explain all human reality [and] it does not satisfy all human needs."

The requirements for sainthood are specific, and the men who prepare and authenticate the cases are meticulous and serious. "We have nothing to do with crying statues," Sarno said.

In a dusty library on the third floor of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, just off St. Peter's Square, row after row of shelves hold thousands and thousands of documents attendant to the claims of holiness going back centuries.

To be considered, candidates for beatification and sainthood — they are known as servants of God — must have widespread reputations for holiness that have grown and deepened years after their death.

And they must be known to have "intercessionary" powers. That means a believer can pray to the candidate requesting intercession with God to grant a favor, which may be the cure of a serious medical problem.

Those two points established, supporters of a particular servant of God embark on a long and expensive lobbying campaign that includes the accumulation of documents and eyewitness reports establishing that the candidate lived a life of "heroic Christian virtue."

Then comes the miracle.

In 1983, under John Paul's guidance, the process of beatification and canonization was streamlined to allow people to become saints more quickly. The pope, aides say, wanted to make saints a larger and more diverse group to show that holiness is within the reach of all good Catholics. Critics said the changes, including the elimination of the devil's advocate, whose role was to challenge each candidate and force greater scrutiny, allow for political manipulation of the process.

Among the reforms was a significant reduction in the number of miracles required. People who are "martyrs" — killed because of their Catholic faith — can be beatified without a miracle and then need just one miracle to become a saint. Others need two, one to be beatified, a second to make the final leap to sainthood.

Miracles almost always involve cures in part because many of Jesus Christ's miracles were related to healing. Also, Sarno said, it is when one is sick or dying that one most likely prays to God for help.

At the midpoint of the last century, the Vatican established a medical board, the Consulta Medica, consisting of about 100 prestigious doctors who are asked to examine the cures. To be considered miraculous, a cure — coming after the believer has prayed to the potential saint — must be instantaneous or sudden, complete and permanent, and without scientific explanation.

Dr. Raffaello Cortesini, a heart-transplant specialist who served as president of the board for two decades until retiring last year, has seen, he believes, many a miracle. Of about 500 cases he reviewed in his long career with the Consulta, roughly half have met the criteria for miraculous cures.

He's seen cases of tumors that vanished and cerebral lobes that regenerated, he said. Cervical cancer cured overnight. Expired hearts and brains jumping back to life.

"It's really impressive," he said in a telephone interview from New York, where he is working at Columbia University hospital. "Every time, we try to find an explanation, but we don't."

Ironically, they use the latest medical techniques to substantiate something that is as far from modern science as can be. They pore over CT scans, pharmaceutical regimes and medical reports supplied by physicians who treated the person allegedly healed by the miracle.

On average, five Consulta Medica doctors examine a case, and three of the five must agree that the criteria are met. Cortesini noted that most cases that reach the Consulta Medica have already been thoroughly screened, thus the relatively high rate of approval by his board.

The doctors do not utter the word "miracle," however. That is a theological determination, not a medical one. They simply judge whether the cure is complete and without scientific explanation. Next, a panel of theologians, cardinals and priests establishes that the cure came as a result of someone praying to the candidate.

Cortesini, 72, reviewed and approved the case of a girl in Massachusetts a few years ago who swallowed a bottle of Tylenol and lapsed into a coma with a damaged liver. Awaiting a possible liver transplant but fast losing hope, the girl's family prayed to Edith Stein. The lesions on the girl's liver disappeared, according to the case literature, and she recovered completely.

Stein, a Jew who converted to Catholicism and was killed in a Nazi concentration camp, was canonized five years ago this month. The sainthood granted Stein, who became Teresa Benedict of the Cross, has been roundly criticized by Jewish groups who contend that she was killed not because of her Catholicism but because of her Judaism, which the canonization obscures.

Cortesini was also impressed by the case of a Chilean firefighter who was electrocuted in an accident. He was pronounced dead, his heart and brain apparently stopped. When his family prayed to Juana Fernandez Solar, he abruptly came to, unscathed. Solar, who died in 1920, was beatified in 1987 and became St. Teresa de Jesus de los Andes in 1993.

Noting that many of the medical reports that reach the Consulta are by non-Catholic doctors (though all members of the Consulta are Catholic), Cortesini said he is convinced the board is able to eliminate cases of hysteria, or psychosomatic conditions, and is dealing with truly sick people who became well in ways inexplicable by science.

"It is not a matter of imagination or illusion," the doctor said. "You are at the border of reality. You are somewhere between the natural and supernatural. You can touch the supernatural."

This might seem odd talk coming from a man of science. But he and other members of the board seem comfortable, even satisfied, with their role in promoting saints. They see no contradiction between science and faith.

Quite the contrary, said Dr. Patrizio Poliska, a cardiologist who has served on the board for 15 years. "Faith and science can coexist in harmony," he said in an interview at Rome's European Hospital, where he practices. "I can understand [the skepticism], but speaking as a Christian man I must refer to the New Testament, and there, the miracles of Jesus are written. It's not a joke."

Cortesini was on the panel that judged the miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, who died in 1997 at the age of 87. It involves a Bengali tribal woman named Monica Besra from a remote east Indian village who was reputedly suffering from an ovarian tumor so awful and huge that she could no longer eat or drink.

Sent to die in 1998 at a hospice founded by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, Besra was attended by two nuns who placed a medallion with Teresa's image against her sick abdomen. Besra recovered, and the tumor disappeared. "This is divine intervention," Cortesini said.

Others are not so sure, especially in Besra's home region. At least one of her doctors has said she received extensive medical treatment that should be credited with shrinking the tumor. Even her husband initially told interviewers that he doubted the miracle — although he has more recently come on board.

Admired enormously by the pope and internationally famed, Mother Teresa is on the fast track. Normally five years must pass after the candidate's death before the beatification process can begin, and the process itself usually takes many more years. John Paul ordered that an exception be made, and she will be named "blessed" in record time. In fact, there was a movement, ultimately squashed, that advocated skipping beatification and elevating her straight to sainthood.

Even so, Teresa's supporters have worked endlessly to compile a complete volume of records documenting her case. More than 100 witnesses answered a 263-question survey, and a 35,000-page, 80-volume report was assembled, according to the promoter of her cause, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk.

In addition to his enormous slate of saints, John Paul has beatified more than 1,300 people. They are a diverse bunch, including, for the first time, a lay couple. They are eligible for sainthood, but another miracle, performed after the date of beatification, must be authenticated first.

Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded California's system of missions in the 18th century, was beatified in 1988 on the strength of what was judged to be the miraculous recovery from lupus by a nun in St. Louis who prayed for his intercession.

The pope beatified Marija of Jesus Crucified, a Croatian nun, after a Peruvian submarine captain whose vessel was sinking prayed to her for salvation. The ship was saved in what the Vatican certified was a miracle.

Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the ultraconservative and powerful Opus Dei sect, was made a saint last year, in record time; the miracle attributed to him involved a Spanish physician, Manuel Nevado, who in 1992 prayed to Escriva for help and was cured of an otherwise-incurable form of skin cancer known as chronic radiodermatitis.

Aware that many skeptics see all of this as little more than hocus-pocus, some priests downplay the critical role of miracles in judging a potential saint's qualifications.

"Miracles are not the essence, they are an accidental element," said Father Peter Gumpel, a Jesuit priest who has worked in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for 40 years, half of them as a relator, a kind of overseer. "We concentrate on the life. The miracle is the confirmation."

A divine confirmation, he added, that gives the congregation an assurance that it hasn't missed something when it judges a servant of God fit to become a saint.

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 14, 2003

from The Washington Post

A New York fertility doctor whose experimental technique for making babies ran afoul of the Food and Drug Administration a few years ago has now tried the approach in China, where a woman became pregnant with triplets but eventually lost all three fetuses.

The experiment, which the doctor is scheduled to describe today at a fertility meeting in San Antonio, raised alarms in medical ethics circles yesterday after being highlighted in the Wall Street Journal.

The technique involves a degree of genetic manipulation that some fear could harm children conceived this way. Others yesterday took aim at a long-standing federal ban on public funding of embryo research, saying it drove the work overseas -- where scientific and ethical oversight is often lacking.

from Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON - The nation's top scientists have confirmed the adage that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody can do much about it -- even though states, cities and utilities are spending millions of dollars trying.

Attempts to make it rain by seeding clouds are increasing worldwide, with 66 separate efforts under way in America, mostly in the parched West, but there's no scientific evidence that it works, the National Academy of Sciences concluded Monday.

In 10 states and two-dozen countries, meteorologists are seeding clouds, usually with silver iodide, in an effort to unleash more rain and snow. But the attempts are much like those of a desperate cancer patient taking unapproved drugs based on hope and belief rather than science, said University of Virginia atmospheric scientist Michael Garstang, the chair of the academy's study panel.

from The Washington Post

Recent studies suggesting that cells from adult bone marrow have the same therapeutic potential as cells from human embryos probably were interpreted incorrectly, new research suggests.

The new findings, while falling short of proving the earlier reports wrong, strongly suggest that scientists mistakenly overstated the older results, and that only embryo cells have the potential to regenerate ailing hearts, livers and brains.

The new results are significant, scientists said, because the earlier research had been used by opponents of human embryo research to argue that embryo studies were unnecessary. If the new results are confirmed in other experiments, proponents of human embryo research could gain ground in their efforts to stave off state and federal restrictions on their work.

from The New York Times

AUSTIN, Tex. — Ambition or love? Freedom or security? Perfect job here or perfect mate in Utah? Life forces painful choices on Dr. Michael J. Ryan's colleagues, but it is even harder on his research subject, the male túngara frog: the more sex it gets, the surer it is to be eaten.

Dr. Ryan, who leads the integrative biology section at the University of Texas, is best known for work on the túngara, but he ponders other animals that live between a rock and a hard place: an all-female species of fish that clones itself but must mate with an alien male to do it; tiny salamanders with cells too big for their body plans; birds that must feed the chicks of another kind of bird to support their offspring.

Biologists should learn from life's existential quandaries, he says, but many do not. Instead, they sweep the difficulties under the rug of "adaptationism," the notion that everything about an animal's body and behavior has been honed to enhance its "fitness" or chance of passing on genes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 656 October 7, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

THE 2003 PHYSICS NOBEL PRIZE goes to Alexei A. Abrikosov (Institute for Physical Problems in Moscow and now at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago), Vitaly L. Ginzburg (Lebedev Physical Institute, Moscow) and Anthony J. Leggett (University of Illinois, Urbana) The award goes for work done on systems that operate under two regimes very far from human experience: the quantum realm and the low-temperature realm. In superconductivity, a current of electrons flowing through a material undergoes a change in behavior: normally reluctant to associate with each other, the electrons at low temperature can form pairs. These pairs act like particles and are so gregarious that they can enter into a single unified quantum state. In this state the electron pairs are no longer just a current, but a "supercurrent." This supercurrent flows without dissipating energy. It flows without resistance. The practical benefit is that energy loss through dissipation can be eliminated. An additional feature is that much higher currents can flow through some superconductor materials than through normal metal wires. The price to pay for producing the weird quantum state of superconductivity in the first place is having to chill the material down to temperature close to absolute zero, which usually means about 4 K.

Practical applications of wire made from superconducting material include medical scanners (this year's Nobel for medicine rewards MRI research; here potent magnetic fields inside the scanner are usually produced with superconducting cables), levitated trains (still at an early state of deployment), and the chilling of some components in cell-phone networks.

In some superconductors (type I) magnetic fields are anathema to the superconducting state. In other superconductors (type II), magnetic fields are tolerated, and this makes possible the applications just mentioned. Abrikosov and Ginzburg are being recognized for their work in explaining how type II superconductors work.

When a sample of helium-3 atoms is chilled to very low temperature, the atoms (which like electrons in a superconductor, are "fermions," particles reluctant to associate) can pair up, and the pairs in turn may enter into a single quantum state in which (analogous to the loss-less flow of supercurrents in superconductors) the fluid will flow without losing energy via friction. Just as superconductors have no electrical resistance, so superfluids have no viscosity, and can flow freely. Leggett is being recognized for his work in explaining He-3 superfluidity. Superfluidity also appears in samples of helium-4 atoms (although the superfluid mechanism is much different than in He-3), and possibly in Bose Einstein condensates. (Some background articles: Physics Today---May 1989, Jul 95, Dec 96, Jan 98, Dec 87, May 96; Scientific American---Dec 77, Nov 60, Dec 76, Nov 88, Jun 90, Jul 82, May 66, Dec 93, Aug 94; Physics World, Feb 2000; Nature 13 Mar 97; Leggett, Review of Mod Physics, 1999; Abrikosov, PRL, 1 July 1958; Nobel website: www.nobel.se/physics/laureates/2003)

THE 2003 NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSIOLOGY/MEDICINE goes to Paul C. Lauterbur of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham for their work in developing magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. In the medical world, MRI has become a major imaging technique, but its roots lie in the most basic magnetic physics in the nuclei at the heart of every atom and molecule. Taking advantage of the fact that the body is two-thirds water, MRI obtains images of the hydrogen nuclei in water molecules inside our bodies. In the early 1970s, while working at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Lauterbur exploited the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei to yield a two-dimensional image of matter, by introducing gradients in the external magnetic field that surrounds the object to be imaged. Shortly thereafter, Peter Mansfield helped to make MRI a practical imaging procedure, in part by coming up with mathematical methods for processing the radio waves released by hydrogen during the technique. The origins of MRI go back further, to the late 1930s, when physicist I.I. Rabi of Columbia University demonstrated that one could obtaining abundant information about lithium chloride molecules by manipulating the magnetic "spins" of the molecules' nuclei (Nobel Prize, 1944). Later, physicists E.M. Purcell (Harvard) and Felix Bloch (Stanford) developed nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in hydrogen (Nobel Prize, 1952). Two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry (1991 and 2002) have been awarded for achievements in nuclear magnetic resonance. MRI has been so successful that the original technique has spawned numerous offshoots, such as functional MRI (fMRI), which measures brain activity by detecting oxygen levels in specific brain areas. MRI advances continue at a feverish pace: low-field MRI (Some background articles: Physics Today---Jun 1995, Sep 2001, Jun 92, Oct 2003; Scientific American---May 82, Oct 2001, Jan 83; Review of Mod. Physics, Jan 95)

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.

The Enemies of Science

October 08, 2003
By George Monbiot

It is curious that this government, which goes to such lengths to show that it responds to market forces, appears to believe, when it comes to genetic modification, that the customer is always wrong. Tony Blair might have spent six years rolling back the nanny state, but he instructs us to shut up and eat what we're given. The public has comprehensively rejected the technology; the chief scientist has warned that pollen contamination may be impossible to prevent; the field trials suggest that GM threatens our remaining wildlife. Yet the government appears determined to force us to accept it.

The best way of gauging its intentions is to examine the research it is funding, as this reveals its long-term strategy for both farming and science. It seems that the strategy is to destroy them both.

The principal funding body for the life sciences in Britain is the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). It is currently funding 255 food and farming research projects. Twenty-six of them are concerned with growing GM crops; just one involves organic production.1

We're not talking about blue-sky science here, but about research with likely commercial applications. We should expect it to respond to what the market wants. The demand for organic food in Britain has been growing by 30% a year. We import 70% of it, partly because organic yields in Britain are low and research is desperately needed to find ways of raising them. Genetically modified food, by contrast, is about as popular with consumers as BSE or salmonella.

This misallocation of funds should surprise us only until we see who sits on the committees which control the BBSRC. They are stuffed with executives from Syngenta, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Pfizer, Genetix plc, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Celltech and Unilever.2 Even the council's new "advisory group on public concerns" contains a representative of United Biscuits, but no one from a consumer or environmental group.3 What "the market" (which means you and I) wants is very different from what those who seek to control the market want.

All the major government funding bodies appear to follow the same line. The Homegrown Cereals Authority spends pounds10 million of our money every year to "improve the production, wholesomeness and marketing of UK cereals and oilseeds so as to increase their competitiveness".4 It lists 67 wholesome research projects on its website. Only one is designed to increase the competitiveness of organic farming.5 The Meat and Livestock Commission funds no organic projects at all, but it is paying for an investigation into the potential of the gene whose absence causes "double muscling" in cattle.6 Deletion of the gene leaves the animal looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, though with rather more brains.

When pictures of a double-muscled bullock were published recently, the public responded with outrage, especially when the welfare implications were explained. It is not easy to see how the results of this research could or should ever be commercialised. But the commission regards the possibility of genetically engineering cattle with a defective muscling gene as "an exciting development".7 These distortions are as bad for the scientific community as they are for farmers and taxpayers. As consumers continue to insist that there is no future for these crops in Britain, the heads of the research institutes are now warning that British scientists will be forced to leave the country to find work.

Michael Wilson, chief executive of the government-funded Horticulture Research International recently told the Guardian that "Britain is lining itself up to become an intellectual and technological backwater."8 If so, it will be partly as a result of his efforts. Wilson, who describes himself as "evangelical" about GM,9 has spent the past three years switching his institute's research away from conventional breeding. He can hardly complain about the brain drain when he has tied the careers of his scientists to a technology nobody wants.

"The way things are going," according to Christopher Leaver, head of the plant science department at Oxford University, "plant biotechnology is going to be stillborn here."10 Well, the way things are going is very much a result of the way he has directed them. Until this summer he sat on the BBSRC's governing council.

At the university, he has engineered a brain drain of his own by closing the Oxford Forestry Institute (perhaps the best of its kind in the world) and shifting the focus of his department away from whole organisms and ecosystems towards molecular biology and genetic engineering. The undergraduates want to study whole systems, so the few remaining lecturers with this expertise are massively overworked, while the jobs of the rest are now threatened by the lack of demand for the technology he favours.

The shift is not entirely the fault of men like Wilson and Leaver. The government's research assessment exercise, which determines how much money academic departments receive, grades them according to the numbers of papers they produce and the profile of the journals in which they are published. You can spend 30 years studying the ecology of coconut pests in the Trobriand Islands, only to discover that you can't publish the results anywhere more prestigious than the Journal of Trobriand Island Coconut Science. But a good genetic engineering team can publish a paper in Nature or Science every few months, simply by repeating a stereotyped series of tests.

Because they cannot persuade us to eat what we are given, many of Britain's genetic engineers are turning their attention to countries in which people have less choice about what or even when they eat. The biotech companies and their tame scientists are using other people's poverty to engineer their own enrichment. The government is listening. Under Clare Short, Britain's department for international development gave pounds13 million to researchers developing genetically engineered crops for the poor nations, on the grounds that this will feed the world.11

Earlier this year, Aaron deGrassi, a researcher at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, published an analysis of the GM crops - cotton, maize and sweet potato - the biotech companies are developing in Africa.12 He discovered that conventional breeding and better ecological management produce far greater improvements in yields at a fraction of the cost. "The sweet potato project", he reported, "is now nearing its twelfth year, and involves over 19 scientists ... and an estimated $6 million. In contrast, conventional sweet potato breeding in Uganda was able in just a few years to develop with a small budget a well-liked virus-resistant variety with yield gains of nearly 100%."13 The best improvement the GM sweet potato can produce - even if we believe the biotech companies' hype - is 18%. But conventional techniques are of no interest to corporations, as they cannot be monopolised. If the corporations aren't interested, nor is the government.

Those of us who oppose the commercialisation of GM crops have often been accused of being anti-science, just as opponents of George Bush are labelled anti-American, and critics of Ariel Sharon anti-semitic. But no one threatens science more than the government departments which distort the research agenda in order to develop something we have already rejected.



1. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Current Grants awarded by Agri-Food Committee

2. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. BBSRC's Governance Structure http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/about/gov/Welcome.html
3. ibid
4. Homegrown Cereals Authority. About HGCA. http://www.hgca.com/default.asp?InitialPage=/abouthgca/default.asp
5. Homegrown Cereals Authority. Current research. http://www.hgca.com
6. Meat and Livestock Commission. Variations in the bovine double muscling gene and their effect on growth, conformation and calving.

7. Duncan Pullar, Meat and Livestock Commission, ibid.
8. Ian Sample and James Meikle, 25th September 2003. Brain drain threatens GM crop research: Public antipathy towards genetically modified crops is driving Britain's leading plant scientists to seek greener pastures abroad. The Guardian.
9. Michael Wilson, 10th May 2000. Evidence before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Agriculture.

10. Ian Sample and James Meikle, ibid.
11. Independent on Sunday, 15th September 2002. Britain funds pounds 13.4m GM programme in Third World.
12. Aaron diGrassi, June 2003. Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Third World Network, Africa. http://www.twnafrica.org/docs/GMCropsAfrica.pdf
13. ibid.

Cheaper than a consultant. Same results


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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 13, 2003

from The New York Times

Monkeys that can move a robot arm with thoughts alone have brought the merger of mind and machine one step closer.

In experiments at Duke University, implants in the monkeys' brains picked up brain signals and sent them to a robotic arm, which carried out reaching and grasping movements on a computer screen driven only by the monkeys' thoughts.

The achievement is a significant advance in the continuing effort to devise thought-controlled machines that could be a great benefit for people who are paralyzed, or have lost control over their physical movements.

In previous experiments, some in the same laboratory at Duke, both humans and monkeys have had their brains wired so they could move cursors on computer screens just by thinking about it. And wired monkeys have moved robot arms by making a motion with their own arms. The new research, however, involves thought-controlled robotic action that does not depend on physical movement by the monkey and that involves the complex muscular activities of reaching and grasping.

Free access - The research paper that generated the above news story was published in the first issue of the journal Public Library of Science Biology, and is available here:


from Associated Press

BEIJING -- The three final candidates to be China's first astronaut in space have arrived at the spacecraft's desert launch pad, the government said Monday, and suggested that only one will make the trip.

XinhuaNet, the Web site of the government's official news agency, said in a brief dispatch that the three finalists had arrived at northwestern China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Xinhua cited "informed sources."

It said the "No. 1 astronaut" among them would make the flight -- the firmest indication yet that the Shenzhou 5 capsule will carry only one passenger.

China has scheduled its landmark first manned spaceflight for sometime between Wednesday and Friday, though many state-controlled newspapers have said it would be Wednesday. The craft is expected to orbit the Earth 14 times before returning.

from Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) -- Once a remote patch of land, the new launch pad for China's first manned space mission is a Gobi desert oasis -- complete with rocket-shaped streetlights, lush boulevards and restaurants where scientists snack and talk of the stars.

Glimpses of Jiuquan, a town in northwestern China, were splashed across state-controlled newspapers Sunday as a full-on propaganda blitz began and communist leaders counted the hours to the moment they have planned and anticipated for a decade.

The launch of Shenzhou 5, whose name means "Divine Vessel," is set for sometime between Wednesday and Friday, the government says. A successful mission would allow China to join the club of spacefaring nations whose membership is now limited to the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Monday, October 13, 2003

US millionaire bankrolls crusade against gay Anglican priests


America's religious right draws a line in the sand as Anglican primates meet in London

Jamie Doward Sunday October 12, 2003 The Observer

Howard F. Ahmanson Jr does not like publicity. The fiftysomething multimillionaire, who lives in Newport Beach, California, is something of a recluse.

Calls to Ahmanson's multitude of companies and foundations requesting an interview go unreturned. Organisations which enjoy his largesse decline to talk about their benefactor.

What is known is that in the 1990s Ahmanson, whose family made a fortune in banking, subsidised a number of controversial right-wing causes. These include a magazine called the Chalcedon Report , which carried an article calling for gays to be stoned; a think-tank called the Claremont Institute which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises 'the God-fearing Caucasian middle class'; and a scientific body which rejects the theory of evolution.

Withholding applause


But why shouldn't journalists be able to clap with both hands when they witness new wonders?

By Marvin Olasky

AS BASEBALL PLAYOFFS AND HEARINGS ABOUT one-sided teaching of evolution continue, we might contemplate the old Zen Buddhist question: What is the sound of one hand clapping? I have an answer: It's the sound of journalists in a press box.

Quick explanation: Applauding or cheering are forbidden in the spaces behind home plate where knights of the keyboard gather. Rule and custom have said so for at least 20 years, according to Jim Schultz, director of public relations for the Atlanta Braves. But I saw him pushing his right hand against the press box table this summer when his team did well. Confronted with that observation he came clean, and fingered a couple of Atlanta reporters who surreptitiously do the same for the Braves.

When I asked sportswriters about cheer-less press boxes, some said they were trying to maintain a professional atmosphere in their workplace. Others offered a rationale of "objectivity": They did not want to be "homers," rooters for the hometown team. But I found myself wanting to break the rules by cheering or applauding great plays by either team. Art lovers can see new paintings and rejoice, so why should press objectivity require the silent denial of excellence?

The real reason for silence, I suspect, is tiredness: Some who spend every day at the ballpark lose their sense of wonder about athletic achievement and instead become know-it-alls. A reporter at one game spotted dark clouds and predicted, "This game won't go five innings." He was right: The downpour began in the fifth inning and tarps came out. After a half-hour stoppage the field crew ran on and fans cheered, but the reporter muttered, "Don't get excited, they're just pushing off the water." He was right again, but what price predictive glory: His seen-it-all sense left him without wonder.

One problem of conventional objectivity is its tendency to embrace tired blandness. (That's why at WORLD we try to practice biblical objectivity, an attempt to report accurately by beginning with the belief that the Bible shows us how to look at the world with fresh eyes.) Another problem is that no reporter practices conventional balancing all the time anyway. Reporters do not balance news about breakthroughs in the war against cancer with pro-cancer reports. These days newspapers that affectionately cover Gay Pride parades rarely sense any need to quote thoughtful critics of homosexuality.

And so we come to one controversy facing proponents of Intelligent Design. The Texas State Board of Education plans to decide early in November whether to require textbooks to include a pinch of criticism in their pages of pro-evolution teaching. But many journalists feel no need to balance Darwinian propaganda with Intelligent Design perspective, since they see the latter as educational cancer.

Is that an exaggeration? Look at a recent e-mail exchange between Rob Crowther of the Discovery Institute, the Intelligent Design spearhead, and Houston Chronicle editorial board member James Gibbons. Mr. Crowther wrote of his disappointment to find the Chronicle twisting the textbook question and misrepresenting the Intelligent Design position. He asked whether the Chronicle had "any interest in representing Discovery Institute's side of this important issue?"

Mr. Gibbons replied with a firm NO, writing that "As Winston Churchill once remarked, 'I will not be neutral as between the fire and the firemen.' In similar fashion, the Chronicle Editorial Board will not be neutral as between biologists and members of the modern no-nothing [sic] party who have no regard for reason, intellect, or even basic honesty."

In defense of Mr. Gibbons, his role on the editorial page does not require him to pretend to be neutral. Even so, his expression of bigotry is breathtaking: It's rare to label people you don't know as idiots and liars. But that's the way it's been for critics of Darwin ever since the Scopes trial in 1925.

CNN, on the other hand, has no defense. The news network covered an Austin hearing this summer in which witnesses encouraged the State Board of Education to correct factual errors in biology textbooks and to require that textbooks present both the weaknesses and strengths of evolutionary theory. But CNN ignored the actual testimony at the hearing and depicted the textbook battle as one between extremist Bible-thumpers and scientists, instead of the dispute among scientists that it now is.

Many ballpark press boxes, sadly, include reporters bored with baseball. Many media organizations, sadly, include journalists who have boxed themselves in ideologically. But why not bring our hands together when we see new wonders on the basepaths or in the pathways of life?

Washakie school board weighs 'intelligent design'


By ZACHARY SCHNEIDER Star-Tribune staff writer

A Washakie County school board member wants to authorize the teaching of "intelligent design" theory in district science classrooms as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution.

Intelligent design theory proposes that nature is too complex to have been shaped by evolutionary forces and that some power or force is responsible for life as it is known today, according to district trustee Tom Ball.

But Casper College instructor Will Robinson contends that "intelligent design theory" is simply a cover for creationism.

"We have to be careful about keeping science classes about science and not religion," said Robinson. "The teaching of religion has its place, and I don't think that the science classroom is that place."

The Washakie County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees passed a policy on first reading last month that reads: "It shall be the policy of the Washakie County School District No. 1 when teaching Darwin's theory of evolution that it is only a theory and not a fact. Teachers shall be allowed in a neutral and objective manner to introduce all scientific theories of origin, and the students may be allowed to discuss all aspects of the controversy surrounding the lack of scientific evidence in support of the theory of evolution."

Responding to various newspaper accounts of the policy, Mike Hejtmanek, the district's superintendent of schools, said Washakie County schools are not teaching creationism, despite reports to the contrary.

"We're not teaching creationism. The board did not say that we will teach creationism," Hejtmanek said Friday. "That word isn't even in the policy. Teachers will be allowed to teach all theories of how life began on Earth, including evolution, the Big Bang and intelligent design."

Intelligent design is the theory that life on Earth and the systems that support life are so irreducibly complex that they must have been designed by some force. Scientists go to great lengths not to define what that force or higher power could be, but the theory is used by some religious groups to provide a scientific basis for their beliefs in creation.

"Our most complicated computer systems and programs show intelligent design," said Tom Ball, a Worland wildlife biologist and the school board member who proposed the policy. "I'm not using the word creation. Everything we are proposing is legal. What some people in academia are coming out with is they see this great diversity in nature that evolution can't even begin to explain."

Ball contends that the theory of intelligent design has no basis in religion and that there are top scientists across the globe that subscribe to it.

"It's just a metaphor for creationism," replies Kitsy Barnes, the head of Worland High School's science department. "When you bring in the question of a higher power in charge, you bring in faith-based questions that are based on the supernatural."

Science, both Robinson and Barnes said, is established around provable facts that can be observed and recorded. While both said they do not discount religion and its truth, the non-provable nature of faith does not fit in a basic scientific model.

"I'm not saying that science and religion are mutually exclusive," Barnes said. "But I think that each has its own place and its own institutions to teach both."

The policy is useless, according to Barnes, because it describes the curriculum as it is already being taught.

"It says that we need to present Darwin's theory of evolution as a theory and not as fact," she said. "We already do that. We explain that this is a theory and nothing is absolute in the world of science."

The problem Ball has with the current curriculum is that while it may teach evolution as a theory, it offers no counter explanations and therefore portrays it as fact.

"There are other people coming out ... and asking these questions," Ball said. "Because of those voices, what does it hurt to put those voices on the other side of the ledger and say let's talk about this?"

It is the way the policy uses the word "theory" that can be misleading as to the proof of evolution's validity, Robinson said.

"You have to be careful when you use the word 'theory,'" Robinson said. "In science, everything is a theory. But when you use it in layman's terms, it becomes something that isn't true. This theory is almost 200 years old and has a great deal of evidence supporting it."

Discussing creationism in public schools is allowed under federal law if students bring the topic up in class, according to National School Board Association guidelines for public schools dealing with religion. The Cody school board recently adopted the guidelines to "better inform teachers on the legality of religion and how to comply with the separation between church and state," said Bryan Monteith, that district's superintendent of schools.

"We adopted these guidelines in response to a complaint we had about calling our winter concert a "Christmas concert," Monteith said last week. "It is allowed to discuss creationism in school as long as it is not proselytized and if it is in combination with other theories, but we won't discuss it unless a student brings it up."

The policy is up for second reading at the Washakie County School District No. 1 meeting on Oct. 27, Hejtmanek said.

"We still have a lot of discussion to do about this policy," he said. "It might not even pass second reading. It could be a dead issue."

No Blanton Debate


Creationist kook (redundant) Jason Gastrich has posted the following:

On Friday, I called John Blanton at the appointed time (3pm), so we could test our equipment for the debate on Saturday. I called his cell phone and his other phone number (presumably his work line). He didn't answer either phone call, so I left a message.

Since John couldn't bother to be available at 3pm for the phone test and since he was unwilling to return my phone call, I will be unable to be available on Saturday for the debate. I had specifically set aside this time and made a special trip to my office to test this equipment; all for nothing.

If John had been a bit more sensible and cordial, in the days leading up to the debate, perhaps I would have been able to overlook his last minute antics. However, after he labeled the event as "Debate with a Kook," advertised it as such, and refused to change the title, even after I voiced my disapproval, after he insisted on using a cell phone during the debate, even after I told him it would make a very poor recording, and after he failed to articulate whether the debate was at 2:15pm PST or CST, I have come to the conclusion that we need to postpone this debate and he needs to reevaluate his behavior (among other things).

Thanks for coming to this page. I hope you weren't inconvenienced, today. Please visit my debate archive and hear one of our debates on free, digital audio! Link: http://sa.jcsm.org.

Middle-Aged Star Most Likely Home for Alien Life


Wed October 8, 2003 01:57

PM ET LONDON (Reuters) - If life does exist elsewhere, it's likely to be on a middle-aged star in the constellation of Gemini, according to an American scientist. Astrobiologist Maggie Turnbull, of the University of Arizona in Tucson, has compiled a shortlist of 30 possibly habitable planets and stars and one called 37 Gem is her top choice.

"This stable, middle-aged star is just a bit hotter and brighter than our sun. And if alien life is anywhere, it's likely to be there," New Scientist magazine said Wednesday.

Turnbull made the list for NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), a space telescope project that will search for habitable planets after it is launched in about 10 years time.

The amount of heavy metal present when the star is formed and its age were important criteria for Turnbull, according to the magazine.

But Gem 37, the 37th brightest star in the constellation of Gemini, came out on top because it looks most like our sun.

"The closer we look, the more we realize how (most) other stars are different from the sun," Turnbull said.

The Myth of a 12th Planet in Sumero-Mesopotamian Astronomy:
A Study of Cylinder Seal VA 243



Readers of Zecharia Sitchin's books, particularly The 12th Planet, will recognize the seal pictured below under the first point - VA 243 (so named because it is number 243 in the collection of the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin). This seal is the centerpiece of Sitchin's theory that the Sumerians had advanced astronomical knowledge of the planetary bodies in our solar system. This knowledge was allegedly given to the Sumerians by extraterrestrials, whom Sitchin identifies as the Anunnaki gods of Sumero-Mesopotamian mythology. In the upper left-hand corner of the seal, Sitchin argues, one sees the sun surrounded by eleven globes. Since ancient peoples (including the Sumerians according to Sitchin) held the sun and moon to be "planets," these eleven globes plus the sun add up to twelve planets. Of course, since we now know of nine planets plus our sun and moon, part of Sitchin's argument is that the Sumerians knew of an extra planet beyond Pluto. This extra planet is considered by Sitchin to be Nibiru, an astronomical body mentioned in Mesopotamian texts. Sitchin's works detail his contention that Nibiru passes through our solar system every 3600 years, and so some believers in Sitchin's theory contend that Nibiru will return soon. Some followers of Sitchin's ideas also refer to Nibiru as "Planet X".

Is Sitchin correct – in whole or in part? Is Nibiru a 12th planet that will soon return? Does VA243 prove his thesis? Unfortunately for Sitchin and his followers, the answer to each of these questions is no. What follows are the salient points of the problems with Sitchin's interpretation of the seal. A much more thorough (14 pp.) paper with more illustrations and images is available in PDF form. Nibiru is the subject of another page on my website and lengthier PDF file.

In the discussion that follows, I will demonstrate that VA243 in no way supports Sitchin's ideas. My reasons / lines of argument for this are:

1) The inscription on the seal says nothing about astronomy, Nibiru, or planets.

2) The alleged "sun" symbol on the seal is not the sun. We know this for sure because it does not conform to the consistent depiction / symbology of the sun on hundreds of other cylinder seals, monuments, and pieces of Sumero-Mesopotamian art.

3) There is not a single text in any extant Sumero-Mesopotamian text that says the Sumerians or Mesopotamians knew of more than five planets. There are a number of cuneiform tablets that deal with astronomy, all of which have been compiled and published. These sources are accessible to the reader, but at varying levels of difficulty (for a brief overview of these materials on this website, go to the Nibiru page / paper.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Siberia find revives yeti legends

Siberian scientists say they have a discovery on their hands which raises the possibility that the local legend of the yeti - the abominable snowman - is more than mere fiction.

According to Russian TV, the well-preserved furry limb of a mystery creature was found some 3,500 metres up in the permafrost of the Altay mountains, in Russia's remote Siberia region.

"I turned the limb over and examined the sole of the foot, and I thought it looked unsual," Sergey Semenov, the mountain-climber who made the find, said.

"So I decided to bring it back with me."

Scientific tests and X-rays show that the bones are several thousand years old, but attempts to identify the creature they belonged to remain inconclusive.

It looks very human, there are many similarities Yuriy Malofeyev, the Russian association of veterinary anatomists

Local opinion on the find, described as "surprisingly well-preserved", is divided.

There is a long tradition of alleged sightings in the area of what might - or might not - be the abominable snowman.

Size 36

Local people say the creature must have walked on snow, because the sole of the foot is furry.

They have already labelled the discovery as the foot of the yeti.

But veterinary scientists and academics at the local animal research institute and agragrian university tend towards a more rational explanation.

"It looks very human," Yuriy Malofeyev, vice-president of the Russian association of veterinary anatomists, told the TV after examining the X-rays.

"There are many similarities," he said.

That view appears to be supported by the fact that the length of the foot is about 24 centimetre - normal for a human being.

"A size 36 shoe would fit him just fine," the TV concluded.

BBC Monitoring , based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/10/09 00:30:34 GMT


Star-crossed forecast: Bear slays bull 'Market astrologer' sees possible repeat of 1987 crash


By William Spain, CBS.MarketWatch.com
Last Update: 4:45 PM ET Oct. 10, 2003

CHICAGO (CBS.MW) -- Memo to Taurus: Good luck doesn't run forever. Try to get out while you can. Don't make plans for Tuesday.

A tricky planetary set-up -- along with political and economic events and an ongoing slump in the U.S. dollar -- could put an end to the stock market's recent heavenly performance as early next week, according to one prognosticator who tracks the stars along with stocks.

On Friday, self-proclaimed market astrologer Henry Weingarten warned that Mercury will be at a 90-degree angle to Saturn during a key earnings week. That means investors' recent bullish thinking "will be challenged by realities," including the dollar's weakness against the euro, a bond auction and a "possible war event," the New York-based forecaster said.

Coupled with a rising full moon that heightens emotions, the Dow Jones Industrial Average could lose 300 or more points by the end of trading Tuesday -- and possibly even a repeat of the crash of October 1987, according to the forecaster.

There "are certain times astrologically when you must act," he said. "If you are aggressive on the long side, you must reverse that between now and Tuesday."

All in the correlation

Weingarten says his specialty is "correlating planetary events with market activity," an approach that has a small following but also plenty of detractors. See his Web site.

In a September 2002 "Stockpickers" feature on CBS MarketWatch, he tagged three equities as near-term outperformers: IBM, Tyco International and penny stock International Hi-Tech Industries.

At the time, IBM (IBM: news, chart, profile) was trading at $73 and change, Tyco (TYC: news, chart, profile) was $15.15 and International Hi-Tech (IHITF: news, chart, profile) was 24 cents.

By Friday's close, IBM was up 22 cents to $92.67 while Tyco tacked on over 1 percent to $22.05, after touching a 52-week high of $22.05 earlier. International Hi-Tech gained almost 8 percent to 28 cents.

'Out of whack'

"The fundamentals are out of whack," Weingarten continued, notably the price-to-earnings ratios of two companies that reported third-quarter profits this week: Alcoa (AA: news, chart, profile) and Yahoo (YHOO: news, chart, profile). In addition, "there is no job growth, the country is overspending...and we have the same margin levels we had in March of 2000."

While the market risk is greatest until early Wednesday, the longer-term view is hardly encouraging, by Weingarten's reckoning.

He noted that Saturn will be in Cancer for the next few years. This could hit the strongest remaining pillar of the economy since the Crab is both the birth sign of the country and rules housing.

To back that up, he said that when Saturn was in Gemini -- the astrological sign that rules communications -- "look what happened to the telecoms."

Whenever Mercury is squared with Saturn, which happens several times a year, "it is a yellow-alert day but when it is backed-up by other things happening, it makes it that much more volatile. There have to be both celestial and terrestrial events [at the same time] for a crash."

William Spain is a reporter for CBS.MarketWatch.com in Chicago.

Creationist kook a no-show

Saturday, 11 October 2003

Dallas, Texas

Despite promises to debate us by phone, creationist (and losing California gubernatorial candidate) Jason Gastrich failed to show up for the planned Saturday debate. Gastrich had arranged to phone the NTS hotline and debate NTS Secretary John Blanton during the Saturday meeting, which started at 2 p.m.

However, when the appointed phone-in time arrived, not a peep was heard from the creationist from California. Additionally, no explanation has been received from him by phone or e-mail.

Since creationists are notoriously honest and dependable, the NTS can only assume that some enormous and personal tragedy has befallen Gastrich, and he was physically unable to contact us. In that respect, the NTS extends Mr. Gastrich our sincerest wishes for a prompt and full recovery.

In the absence of the creationist from California, the NTS proceeded with the October meeting by discussing creationists in general and Mr. Gastrich in particular. There was also an entertaining program in which excerpts from one of Mr. Gastrich's previous debates was played to the delight of the audience.

The consensus of those attending was that Mr. Gastrich's contributions to creationism overall, and more specifically to Saturday's program, are greatly appreciated.

With thanks from us to you, Jason.

Science In the News

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Today's Headlines - October 10, 2003

SIGN UP TODAY for "Science in the News Weekly," an e-newsletter produced by Sigma Xi's Public Understanding of Science programs area in conjunction with "American Scientist Online." The newsletter provides a digest of the week's top stories from "Science in the News," and covers breaking news and feature stories from each weekend not normally covered by "Science in the News."

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from The Washington Post

A new drug cuts by nearly half the risk that older women who have survived early-stage breast cancer will suffer a relapse, according to results of a large international study released today.

The study, which was halted early so the results could be made public, will likely transform the treatment for one of the most feared malignancies, experts said.

"The results of this study unquestionably offer new hope to hundreds of thousands of breast cancer patients and their families," said Paul E. Goss of the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, who led the study.

from The Hartford Courant

Scientists at the Yale School of Medicine say they have found a combination of genes that causes some types of cancer tumors to metastasize in fruit flies.

If the genes described in today's issue of the journal Science work the same way in humans as they do in fruit flies, then scientists one day may be able to find deadly tumors when they are most treatable - and help drug developers find ways to stop cancer from spreading.

"Metastasis is the key to the whole story," said Daniel Rosenberg, a cancer researcher and associate professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center. "That's what kills you."

How cancer becomes detached from a tumor, travels through the body and spreads to different organs of the body is still not well understood. Yale University geneticist Tian Xu wanted to know if a well-known cancer-causing gene mutation called Ras might also be involved in cancer's spread.

from The Washington Post

As the Nobels have been unveiled all week, reporters have been calling up laureates every day and asking where they were when they heard the news, and how does it feel to be a winner. But what about the losers? Where were they and how did it feel?

Raymond Damadian was at his computer at home on Long Island at 5:30 Monday morning, logging on to the Nobel Foundation Web site. This was the precise moment when the prize for medicine was to be announced. And there it was: He immediately saw that the work being honored was magnetic resonance imaging -- MRI -- his field! He knew from colleagues that he had been nominated for the prize this year, and several previous years.

He checked the names of the winners.

"I went from my computer into my bedroom," Damadian said yesterday. "My wife said, 'What happened?' I said they gave it to [Paul C.] Lauterbur and [Sir Peter] Mansfield and they left me out."

from Associated Press

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- NASA has built and flown a remote- controlled plane powered from the ground by the beam of an invisible laser.

In indoor flights conducted last month at a NASA center in Alabama, the plane flew lap after lap, gliding to a landing once the laser beam was turned off, the agency said Thursday.

While in flight, the laser tracked the 11-ounce, five-foot wingspan plane, striking the photovoltaic cells that powered the tiny motor that turned its lone propeller.

"The craft could keep flying as long as the energy source, in this case the laser beam, is uninterrupted," said Robert Burdine, laser project manager for the tests, conducted at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

from Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Scripps Research Institute is planning to open a new research center in Florida, creating 6,500 jobs over the next 15 years, Gov. Jeb Bush said.

Aiming to make Florida a major player in the burgeoning world of biotechnology, Bush said Thursday he will call lawmakers into a special session Oct. 20 to pass a package of incentives.

Bush said the agreement would signal a transformation of Florida's economy into one with ties to high-tech industry, likening the plan to establish the center in Florida to decisions by Disney and NASA to make the state their home in earlier decades.

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Saturday, October 11, 2003

Anyone up for a challenge?


Thursday October 9, 2003
The Guardian

Talk bad science

I've been invited to put my money where my sarcastic little mouth is. Soroush Ebrahimi, "a professional and licensed homeopath", is angered by my dismissive attitude towards expensive therapies not backed up by systematic reviews of the research data. He has written in offering to prove the efficacy of homeopathic remedies - by making me very unwell with them. First I have to have a checkup from a doctor and a licensed homeopath to make sure I am "well and fit for the ordeal", and then he will feed me homeopathic remedies diluted 1:100 exactly 30 times. "When you have had enough and can no longer endure, we will list the symptoms you report and can be observed. We get you and your witness to sign them as being correct and then will compare it with the symptoms listed in [a] sealed envelope." Then he'll make me better again. With homeopathy. Apparently I can't just stick his water on my cornflakes, but instead have to sit around in a room containing the sealed envelope, witnesses, video recorders and, I fear, Mr Ebrahimi making funny faces at me. If anyone thinks they have the time to spare, email me.

In a week when I've had more hate mail than usual ("your stance has all the hallmarks of being an ideological rather than a scientific one", being the most rational), it was a relief to see the bad science still coming in strong. Reader Jenny Haxell writes: "The packaging of Ecover's squirty surface cleaner SquirtEco sports the legend: 'Safe around food: plant based ingredients.' So I guess Socrates couldn't have died from drinking hemlock then, and we've nothing to fear from ricin..."

Our collective joy at winning the Nobel prize for MRI scanners is only slightly tempered by the shameful lack of recognition for other great British inventions also taking advantage of the peculiar properties of paramagnetic substances. The Tecno AO, available - I suspect exclusively - from the Healthy House catalogue I have been sent by Andrew Currie, allegedly produces magnetic radiation in the 8-12Hz range to induce alpha waves in your brain. This, they say, will relax you as you sit at a computer, and it counteracts the dangerous effects of high- frequency energy on your "bioenergetic field". If it were true it would have worrying implications, not just because alpha waves are incompatible with concentration and work. Still, apparently, it works because it contains a paramagnetic substance: the most common of which are water and air.

Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003



The Angel of Mons is undoubtedly the most enduring supernatural legend of the First World War. But was the claim of divine intervention in battle fact, fiction or modern myth? And what lies behind recent claims that the discovery of a film depicting angels would feature in a Hollywood version of the legend?

DAVID CLARKE finds the truth is far stranger than fiction

During the Great War thousands came to believe that a miracle had happened during the British Army's first desperate clash with the advancing Germans at Mons in Belgium. In some versions a vision of St George and phantom bowmen halted the Kaiser's troops, while others claimed angels had thrown a protective curtain around the British, saving them from disaster. The battle of Mons took place on 23 August 1914 and within weeks the 'angels of Mons' had entered the realms of legend. By the end of the war it became unpatriotic, even treasonable, to doubt the claims were based on fact.

Gothic horror writer Arthur Machen maintained until his dying day that the Angel of Mons was fiction. Machen believed that his short story, The Bowmen, was the true source of the legend [see panel], pre-dating all other claims that were made from the spring of 1915 onwards. From that time the legend took on a life of its own and even today, versions of the story continue to circulate in folklore and the mass media.

Science In the News


Today's Headlines – September 15, 2003

SIGN UP TODAY for "Science in the News Weekly," an e-newsletter produced by Sigma Xi's Public Understanding of Science programs area in conjunction with "American Scientist Online." The newsletter provides a digest of the week's top stories from "Science in the News," and covers breaking news and feature stories from each weekend not normally covered by "Science in the News."

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from Scripps Howard News Service

In the life-is-not-fair category, new research finds that women not only get drunk on fewer drinks than men but women also suffer from worse hangovers.

A team at the University of Missouri-Columbia developed a new scientific scale for measuring hangover symptoms and severity.

Even accounting for differences in the amount of alcohol consumed by men and women, hangovers hit women harder.

compiled by The Baltimore Sun

Astronomers Put Spin on Rotations of Small Asteroids

Astronomers have long observed that many small asteroids are spinning in space. But until now, they thought the spin was caused by random collisions with other space rocks...

Researchers Shed Light on Plant's Deadly Weapon

Scientists have gotten to the root of an invasive plant's weapon...

Study Says as the Bill Rises, the Tip Isn't Likely to Follow

The higher the bill, the bigger the cheapskate... http://www.ctnow.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.medbriefs15sep15,1,2632135.story

from Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Since last month's Northeast Blackout, utilities have accelerated plans to automate the electric grid, replacing aging monitoring systems with digital switches and high-tech gear.

But those improvements are making the electricity supply vulnerable to a different kind of peril: computer viruses and hackers who could black out substations, cities or states.

Researchers working for the U.S., Canadian and British governments have already sniffed out "back doors" in the digital relays and control room technology that increasingly direct electricity flow in North America.

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

Sigma Xi Homepage

Media Resource Service

American Scientist magazine

For feedback on In the News,

Friday, October 10, 2003

A Letter from Charles Thomas Cayce:


When the Edgar Cayce Hospital of Research and Enlightenment was dedicated on November 11, 1928, I don't think my grandfather, Edgar Cayce, had any idea how far-reaching the impact of his work would be 75 years later.

When the hospital was opened there were no books available on the Cayce work. Access to the Cayce readings was extremely limited and available only to those individuals who had readings themselves or by contacting Edgar Cayce's secretary, Gladys Davis, and asking for a copy of a reading on a particular topic. There were only several hundred dedicated supporters of the Cayce work the majority located in the eastern portion of the United States. At the same time, with the possible exception of Dr. Harold J. Reilly of New York, there were no individuals trained in the concepts of bodywork and treatment modalities often recommended by the readings.

The last 75 years have been witness to major change.

Today, more than 300 books and pamphlets have been published on various aspects of my grandfather's life and work. With the release of the Cayce readings on CD-ROM ten years ago, the Cayce information is now available literally allover the world. Copies of the readings in CD-ROM have been purchased by thousands of individuals worldwide and members can (and do) access the complete collection via the Web site from wherever they might be. Tens of thousands of individuals are now members of the organization, and outreach has spread to 79 countries, including 25 Edgar Cayce Centers located in foreign locales around the globe.

Finally, with the creation of the Cayce/Reilly School of Massotherapy in 1987, more than 750 individuals from 45 states (and the District of Columbia) and 13 countries have been trained in the concepts of health, healing, and bodywork contained in the Cayce readings. This work has come along way in the last seven-and-a-half decades!

Throughout that time, the original Cayce hospital has undergone many changes, face lifts, and even encountered a variety of tenants. When the hospital was lost in 1931 during the Depression, the building changed hands various times it was a beach club, a hotel, a Shriners' clubhouse and even a summer stock theater.

In 1956 my father, Hugh Lynn Cayce, worked with A.R.E. members and supporters to buy back the building and property for $150,000 an enormous sum for this work at the time. Since then, Cayce's original hospital has faithfully served the organization as association headquarters.

As we continue to move ever further into the 21st Century, I can imagine that this work will expand and grow in ways that even my grandfather probably didn't dare to imagine. On behalf of A.R.E. and in recognition of the 75th Anniversary of the Edgar Cayce hospital, I want to thank the organizations many members and friends throughout the world that have helped to make the Edgar Cayce work a lasting legacy.

The ghost hunters


Concerning the Sept. 23 story on the so-called "Scientific investigative ghost hunting team":

It is good that the group seeks ordinary explanations, such as electrical defects and unbalanced furniture, for supposed paranormal events. However, the story noted the following view of the group's founder and president: "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 hauntings - residual...."

From a scientific perspective, these statements are utter nonsense. While the group may be less gullible than some other ghost-hunting groups, it would be incorrect to describe it as "scientific."


Baylor Prof's Job Challenged Over Creation Debate


October 8, 2003

by Terry Phillips, correspondent

Evolution, Intelligent Design and the separation of church and state are all involved in a debate simmering at a Texas college.

A respected scholar at Baylor University's Institute of Church-State Studies is under fire, mostly because he isn't suitably loyal to the evolutionist cause.

When the Texas Board of Education wanted advice on the constitutionality of anything other than evolution being included in the state's science textbooks, Dr. Francis Beckwith, a constitutional scholar and expert in church-state separation at Baylor, which is in Waco, was invited to testify.

Controversy erupted when he said it was legal to present Intelligent Design (ID) theory — the idea that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Hunter Baker, a student in the doctoral program in Church-State Studies, said the university's reaction was baffling.

"I think that's what made him a lightning rod to remove him from the Institute," Baker said. "He was not saying, 'We need to teach it,' (or) 'We should teach it.' He was saying 'It's permissible to teach it.' "

But even going that far triggered demands that Beckwith, who is associated with the Discovery Institute of Seattle — a group that backs Intelligent Design — be fired.

Dr. Mark Hartwig, Focus on the Family's analyst on the origins debate, said Intelligent Design was at the center of a similar flap at Baylor several years ago, when it was the featured topic at a campus conference.

"The biology faculty just went ballistic over this, that Intelligent Design would even be brought up, let alone in a major conference like that," Hartwig said.

Baylor's Church-State Institute is named for J.M. Dawson, who advocated the separation of church and state. Dawson's descendants are leading the push to remove Beckwith.

Baylor officials appear to support Beckwith. Baker said that's as it should be in church-state academics.

"We're not here to be an adjunct of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the ACLU," Baker said. "We're not here to take one side or the other."

Professor Beckwith declined to be interviewed for this story.

FOR MORE INFORMATION The Seattle-based Discovery Institute is a foremost proponent of Intelligent Design. For more information on the concepts behind it, please see the group's Web site.

Focus on the Family's "Focus on Social Issues" Web pages also offer a comprehensive look at ID, and the issues it encompasses.

A Citizen magazine article, "Loosening Darwin's Grip" by Clem Boyd, examines federal legislation that has given Christians nationwide a boost in their battle to allow evidence against Charles Darwin's controversial theory into public school classrooms.

Additionally, we recommend the following book, as an excellent introduction to Intelligent Design by its foremost proponent, Dr. William Dembski: "Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design."

Truth won out in debate on Texas textbooks


Oct. 8, 2003, 7:59PM


AT the Sept. 10 State Board of Education public hearing on textbook adoption, scientists, educators and students overwhelmingly supported leaving the evolution content in biology textbooks unchanged, since none contained factual errors or omissions about evolution and all contained the necessary material to comply with the Texas science curriculum. Indeed, every Texas scientist who testified not only supported the biology books, but also objected to efforts by creationists to confuse the public and State Board members about supposed "weaknesses" of evolution. In addition, the Texas Education Agency soon after reported that the biology textbooks all totally conformed to the TEKS, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, as required by law.

All the scientific evidence presented in the hearing strongly supported the scientists' evaluation of the textbooks. Speakers representing the Discovery Institute, a Seattle, Wash., organization that promotes intelligent design creationism, relied on misinformation to support their unwarranted claims that the biology books were inaccurate and incomplete. Scientist after scientist from the University of Texas at Austin spoke to the board, dissecting each creationist claim in detail and showing why each was illogical and unsupported by the evidence. Thus, the overwhelming effect of the testimony was to support the accurate scientific evolution content in biology textbooks and to leave them unchanged. Nevertheless, there is concern that some State Board members will try to change the textbooks or place them on the nonconforming list.

My own written testimony was misrepresented when I compared the current crop of anti-evolutionists on the State Board to Stalinists and Nazis. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany both had long and unfortunate histories of political interference and control of specific scientific topics for ideological reasons (genetics in the USSR, anthropology in Germany). Such interference and control of biology is precisely what some State Board members are trying to do in Texas, and scientists and educators have had to organize to stop them. While not similar in scale or murderous consequences, the motivation is identical and will result in "only" the corruption of our state's science education system.

The same tired litany of scientifically discredited support for intelligent design, such as arguments of anti-evolutionist Michael Behe, has been put forward as reliable science. However, readers are never informed of the dozens of reviews and essays by prominent scientists, including my own, that closely examine Behe's claims and show why they are illogical and unscientific. Today, there is zero scientific support for intelligent design and overwhelming support for modern evolution; indeed, evolution has never been stronger as an active scientific research topic. All the "weaknesses" that anti-evolutionists wish to have forced into biology books are illegitimate: They have already been corrected, are educationally unwarranted, or never existed in the first place.

Organized creationists, in their entire existence, have never conducted a single science experiment or made a single scientific observation. They just don't practice real science. Instead, their strategy is to use rhetorical and marketing techniques to persuade politically powerful non-scientists of the truth of their arguments, and convince them to force changes in science textbooks and curricula using the power of the state. This is what the creationist supporters tried to do in Kansas and Ohio, and now they are in Texas attempting to do the same thing. They failed in those two states, and they will ultimately fail here.

Houston readers should be aware that the most extreme anti-science advocates on the State Board of Education are from Houston and its surrounding counties: Teri Leo, David Bradley, Don McLeroy and Linda Bauer. Their efforts to subvert accurate science instruction are well-known and documented in the written and oral testimony available on the Texas Education Agency and Texas Citizens for Science Web sites. The first three members have publicly championed creationist speakers and their goals, and have announced their plan to place all the biology textbooks that refuse to make unscientific changes on the nonconforming adoption list, thus restricting their sale in Texas. For her part, Bauer appointed two creationists to the state biology textbook review panel, where they attempted but failed to have the books listed as nonconforming.

I have opposed such State Board of Education members since 1982, and the problems we have with anti-scientists on the board will never disappear until voters take the time to learn the true natures and beliefs of State Board candidates before electing them to office. The position is low on the ballot, and dedicated creationists run as stealth candidates to stay below the radar. I urge each reader to investigate this controversy yourself and begin to take a personal interest in Texas science education and keep ideologues and zealots off the State Board. The reason is simple: These individuals are neglecting our state's low standardized text scores, low graduation rates and shrinking Texas' Permanent School Fund, while devoting their time and energy to meddling with science textbook content. Instead of devoting their efforts to protecting and improving public school education, they appear to want to damage it. Some of them home-school their children or send them to private religious schools, so it is understandable that they have no stake in the system. Texans should demand that these public officials start to make the education of our schoolchildren their first priority, and we should expect them to begin by leaving science textbooks alone and not censor them.

Schafersman, of Midland, is the president of Texas Citizens for Science. He is a scientist, educator and writer.

For These Believers, the Visions Endure


October 9, 2003


ne recent Saturday evening, several hundred Roman Catholics wearing white gloves and clutching rosary beads gathered in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens for a candlelight vigil.

They knelt before a makeshift shrine: a granite bench covered with candles, roses and banners of Catholic saints surrounding a portable statue of the Madonna illuminated with a large flashlight. The pilgrims, including busloads from Maryland, Boston and Pittsburgh, chanted the rosary together as cars sped past on the Long Island Expressway.

The site is a monument to the Vatican Pavilion from the 1964-65 World's Fair and was blessed by Pope Paul VI during his visit to New York in 1965. But these devotees consider it sacred ground for another reason. It was here, they say, that a Queens homemaker named Veronica Lueken relayed hundreds of messages and prophecies from Jesus and Mary.

It is known as the Our Lady of the Roses shrine, or the Lourdes of America, and it attracted thousands when Mrs. Lueken appeared there regularly. But since her death in 1995 at age 72, her followers have split into two factions, waging legal battles and disputes that continue today.

Regular attendance at the shrine has been dwindling, so it might not seem the best time to be a Luekenite. But there are a lot of knowing, told-you-so smiles around the Flushing shrine these days.

After years of enduring ridicule, followers say, Mrs. Lueken's far-flung vision of doomsday redemption seems to be coming true, as witnessed by the terrorist attacks on the United States, the recent blackout, economic recession, abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, hurricanes, and the war in Iraq.

Mrs. Lueken said that because the world had become so engulfed in sin, a "great chastisement" — an apocalyptic nuclear war, earthquakes and a comet acting as a "ball of redemption" — would come, killing billions.

According to Michael Mangan, a leader of one of the factions, there is every indication that the end is near.

"Nine/eleven was awful, but that's what Our Lady prophesied," said Mr. Mangan, 44, president of St. Michael's World Apostolate, which includes a lay group of celibate men who guard the shrine and lead regular prayer services there. "We kind of knew it was coming. But 9/11 is going to pale in comparison to what's coming down the pike, and it's imminent."

Gary Wohlscheid, of Lowell, Mich., runs perhaps the most popular shrine Web site, Virgin Mary's End-Times Prophecies: tldm.org.

"You can see it coming true now," Mr. Wohlscheid, 63, said. "Look at the tornadoes, the hurricanes, earthquakes, blackouts. She predicted all this. It's coming, believe me."

The Web site prints, among other things, some of the messages that Mrs. Lueken said were relayed to her. One message, dated Oct. 1, 1988, is transcribed as follows:

"My child and my children, I must ask you this evening to remember that there are many messages that have not been read by all. It has been 18 earth years since I first appeared here, and much has been given and much has been forgotten. Therefore, we ask all of our children to obtain copies of the back messages from Heaven, because we are now in repetition. Because what can we say, my children and my child? If I could show you what is in store for mankind, you too would be shedding tears of sorrow."

Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, said on Tuesday that the church investigated Mrs. Lueken's claims years ago.

"It was determined that no credibility could be given to claims by Veronica Lueken that something of a supernatural nature was taking place," he said.

But her followers scoff at this, saying the church has grown overly tolerant of a society grown rife with sin. Examples of this, they say, include pornography, homosexuality, the wearing of slacks by women, abortion and rock music. God specifically chose to appear in New York City, they say, because it is an especially sinful place.

Mrs. Lueken lived a quiet life with her husband, Arthur, and their four children in Bayside until Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles. Mrs. Lueken said that as she prayed for Kennedy's soul, she had her first visitation from the Virgin. Soon after, she said another came — the head of Christ with a crown of thorns — as she pushed her shopping cart down Springfield Boulevard in Bayside.

She began repeating what she said were the Virgin's divine messages onto tapes and selling them. Followers began coming in droves to St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Bayside to meet the woman they called the "voice box" for Jesus and Mary and to witness what they believed were her ecstatic visions. In May 1975, the group grew too large and moved to the Vatican Pavilion site, where Michelangelo's "Pietà" was exhibited during the World's Fair.

Mrs. Lueken would sit in front of the shrine and, followers believe, slip into a trance and repeat the Virgin's words into a public address system powered by a car battery. Remarkable individual visions have become part of the lore, as have testimonials from followers who say they were miraculously cured of cancer or regained their sight or hearing at the shrine.

After Mrs. Lueken's death, her husband, Arthur Lueken, won a court decision to become president of Our Lady of the Roses on Christmas Eve in 1997. Mr. Mangan, who was Mrs. Lueken's main assistant, was ousted from the group and formed his own group. After Mr. Lueken died last year, Vivian Hanratty of Flushing became the leader of Our Lady of the Roses. Each group claims to be Mrs. Lueken's posthumous favorite.

Mr. Mangan maintains that he was "prepared by Heaven" to lead her believers ("I have 99 percent of the following and she has nobody"). Ms. Hanratty countered that membership numbers mean nothing, adding, "How many people were at the cross when Jesus died?"

The city's Parks Department has played referee by allowing each group to gather at the shrine on alternate Sundays, while the other group prays nearby. The occasional evening vigils are also split.

At a recent vigil, two women, Mary Hilton and Lita Conaman, stood together chanting the rosary, along with the shrine guards.

Ms. Conaman, who lives in Los Angeles, learned about the shrine in a newspaper article in 1988 and has been coming frequently since. Mrs. Hilton, 78, from Topeka, Kan., said she heard about Mrs. Lueken on a radio program and "came here to disprove it to myself." Instead, she said, the shrine cured the chronic arthritis in her right shoulder.

Rosemarie Sibley, 56, a retired secretary from Eagleville, Pa., said she had been coming to the shrine monthly since she became a believer in 1983. The shrine cured her mother's ovarian cancer, she said, and cured her own knees so she could walk without leg braces.

"My doctor said, `Your knees are cured,' but he didn't believe it was Mary who cured them," she said.

Ms. Sibley held a Polaroid Land camera with rosary beads wrapped around it. Mrs. Lueken advised followers to take photographs of the shrine with Polaroid cameras and examine pictures that come out distorted, with streaky flashes of light and color.

"We call them miraculous photographs," said John Benevides, 33, a shrine guard with St. Michael's.

"The Holy Ghost works through the person with the camera to send a message," he said, leafing through an album of photographs showing pictures with light streaks resembling doves and various letters and faces of saints.

"That's the miracle," Mr. Benevides said. "It's the hand of God working in the background."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Thursday, October 09, 2003

'Spiritual spending' costs women £670m a year


By Becky Barrow
(Filed: 08/10/2003)

Three quarters of women are turning to yoga, acupuncture, massage and other "alternative" therapies and exercise regimes to help to combat the stress of modern life.

The trend among women to cheer themselves up by having a massage or doing a yoga class rather than - or as well as - having a glass of wine and a chocolate bar is costing them £670 million a year, research published today reveals.

The new phenomenon, known as "spiritual spending", is one of Britain's biggest growth industries as women explore the hundreds of ways of feeling and looking better, the research from Virgin Money found.

Charlotte Walker, a therapeutic masseur in London, said: "Most of my female clients would be more happy spending their money on an hour of fantastic massaging than going out to dinner. It makes them feel much better."

Celebrities are partly to blame for the popularity of yoga, Pilates and other forms of exercise, with one in 10 of the 1,000 women questioned admitting that they were copying the actress Gwyneth Paltrow and others by taking them up.

Gucci even produced its own yoga mat to cater to the growing obsession for yoga as a spiritually superior form of exercise to 30 minutes on the treadmill in the gym.

When photographs of Madonna were published showing the singer in a yoga position that looked physically impossible, a tabloid newspaper published details of "how to get your leg over like Madonna".

Jonathan Sattin, the managing director of Triyoga, a yoga and treatments centre in Primrose Hill, north London, operates up to 100 classes of yoga each week.

He said: "When we opened in 2000, people didn't really use yoga as a primary form of exercise, but now people realise that it can be, and that they can get more out of exercise than just physical well-being."

Yoga, he says, used to be something that people thought involved being a vegetarian and eating a lot of tofu, but it is now "much more accessible".

"People used to be a little wary, or unsure about it, but now they know that there will be a style of yoga to suit them," he said.

Such is the cult of "spiritual spending" that specialist travel operators exist to arrange holidays at spas around the world.

On the website of one travel company, Erna Low, you can book your holiday by specifying what type of holiday you want, such as "anti-cellulite", healthy eating or "rejuvenation anti-ageing".

Spa holidays, which can be as expensive as they are relaxing and indulgent, cater to any whim.

In one of France's biggest wine-producing areas, Bordeaux, there is even a Vinotherapie Spa which uses vine and grape extracts.

China loses its faith in traditional beliefs

Jia Hepeng
29 September 2003
Source: SciDev.Net

[BEIJING] The Chinese public's faith in traditional beliefs has declined in recent years following a campaign by the government to increase public appreciation of scientific knowledge and to quash 'pseudoscience', according to a new survey.

However the survey also found that a substantial proportion of the Chinese public still holds strong beliefs in superstitions. For example, one quarter of the public still believes in fortune telling.

More than 10,000 individuals were interviewed for the survey, whose results were released last week in Beijing at a conference challenging superstitions and 'pseudoscience'. The survey was carried out by the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), the country's main body responsible for raising public understanding of science.

It shows that, compared to the last time such a survey was conducted in 1998, the percentage of Chinese who believe in fengshui - the art of deciding the best position and design of objects in order to bring good luck - has decreased from just over a half to 39 per cent. And belief in samsara, or the return of life, has declined from 18 to 11.5 per cent.

CAST representatives say the survey suggests that the campaign to popularise scientific knowledge and to fight superstition has made significant progress since the crackdown on the Falungong spiritual movement, which the Chinese government banned in 1999. Since then, government efforts to spread scientific knowledge at the grass-roots level have increased significantly. But much remains to be done, they say.

According to Fang Zhouzi, a US-based biologist and expert in science popularisation, the research confirms that since many traditional superstitious and 'pseudoscientific' ideas are deeply rooted in China, popularising science remains a lengthy and challenging process.

Gong Yuzhi, a professor of sociology and former senior information official of the Chinese Communist Party, says that journalists and other writers must help spread scientific knowledge among the public and should "resist supernatural propaganda".

"Authors are entitled to hold private beliefs in superstitious ideas," he says. "But if they instruct the public to believe these ideas, they should be reproached."

US parents sue over WLAN school fears

By Tim Richardson
Posted: 08/10/2003 at 14:33 GMT

Parents in Oak Park, Illinois, have launched a class action lawsuit against their local school board for allegedly threatening the health of children by installing wireless local area network technology in classrooms.

The lawsuit, reported by Wi-Fi Networking News alleges that Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has "ignored the substantial body of evidence that high frequency electro-magnetic radiation poses substantial and serious health risks, particularly to growing children".

It accuses school authorities of failing to "adequately examine and assess the potential health risks that wireless LANs pose to humans, particularly children who are still growing".

And there's more. It insists that "there is a substantial and growing body of scientific literature studying and outlining the serious health risks that exposure to low intensity, but high radio frequency (RF) radiation poses to human beings, particularly children...[and that] prolonged exposure to low intensity RF radiation can break down DNA strands, cause chromosome aberrations and break down the blood-brain barrier, thereby permitting toxic proteins to invade the brain."

A spokesman for Chicago-based attorneys, Buehler Reed & Williams, confirmed the class action was active.

No one representing the plaintiffs was available for comment at the time of writing.

Earlier this year Somerset County Council (SCC) advised its employees not to install wireless networks in the county's schools and offices until it had carried out a full investigation into the safety of the technology.

The County Council was looking into the risks of wireless network technology. ®


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