NTS LogoSkeptical News for 21 October 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Pastor's horse ride supports creationism in schools

This article can be viewed online:

10 Oct 2003

CONCORD, N.C. -- Jeff Smith, 43-year-old pastor of Young Memorial Baptist Church, is on a 400-mile journey -- by horse -- in an effort to encourage debate over Darwin's evolutionary theories and academic freedom in U.S. classrooms.

According to an article in the AgapePress, in Concord, Smith embarked on his "Creation Quest Journey for Academic Freedom," a three-week, 400-mile horseback ride that he hopes will encourage people nationwide to reconsider the prevalence of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in modern science education.

Smith believes creationism should be taught alongside the theory of evolution. "I'm not saying they should kick evolution out," Smith said in the article. "What they need to do is teach the scientific facts. If they do that, evolution will fall by the wayside."

The pastor-activist says the public schools' exclusion of creationism from America's science classrooms is a form of discrimination. He said public education in America is ruled by "a philosophy that presupposes that there is no God, and we need to change that."

Throughout his journey, Smith is stopping at churches and preaching his Creation Quest message. He will conclude his journey in Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2003 Church Central Associates. All rights reserved.

Mommie Dearest


The pope beatifies Mother Teresa, a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud.

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, October 20, 2003, at 1:04 PM PT

Mother Teresa: No saint

I think it was Macaulay who said that the Roman Catholic Church deserved great credit for, and owed its longevity to, its ability to handle and contain fanaticism. This rather oblique compliment belongs to a more serious age. What is so striking about the "beatification" of the woman who styled herself "Mother" Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism.

It's the sheer tawdriness that strikes the eye first of all. It used to be that a person could not even be nominated for "beatification," the first step to "sainthood," until five years after his or her death. This was to guard against local or popular enthusiasm in the promotion of dubious characters. The pope nominated MT a year after her death in 1997. It also used to be that an apparatus of inquiry was set in train, including the scrutiny of an advocatus diaboli or "devil's advocate," to test any extraordinary claims. The pope has abolished this office and has created more instant saints than all his predecessors combined as far back as the 16th century.

As for the "miracle" that had to be attested, what can one say? Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of the fakery. A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No. (As it happens, I myself was interviewed by them but only in the most perfunctory way. The procedure still does demand a show of consultation with doubters, and a show of consultation was what, in this case, it got.)

According to an uncontradicted report in the Italian paper L'Eco di Bergamo, the Vatican's secretary of state sent a letter to senior cardinals in June, asking on behalf of the pope whether they favored making MT a saint right away. The pope's clear intention has been to speed the process up in order to perform the ceremony in his own lifetime. The response was in the negative, according to Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Canadian priest who has acted as postulator or advocate for the "canonization." But the damage, to such integrity as the process possesses, has already been done.

During the deliberations over the Second Vatican Council, under the stewardship of Pope John XXIII, MT was to the fore in opposing all suggestions of reform. What was needed, she maintained, was more work and more faith, not doctrinal revision. Her position was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms. Believers are indeed enjoined to abhor and eschew abortion and contraception, but they are not required to affirm that abortion and contraception are the greatest threat to world peace, as MT fantastically asserted to a dumbfounded audience when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Believers are likewise enjoined to abhor and eschew divorce, but they are not required to insist that a ban on divorce and remarriage be a part of the state constitution, as MT demanded in a referendum in Ireland (which her side narrowly lost) in 1996. Later in that same year, she told Ladies Home Journal that she was pleased by the divorce of her friend Princess Diana, because the marriage had so obviously been an unhappy one ?

This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been-she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself-and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

The rich world has a poor conscience, and many people liked to alleviate their own unease by sending money to a woman who seemed like an activist for "the poorest of the poor." People do not like to admit that they have been gulled or conned, so a vested interest in the myth was permitted to arise, and a lazy media never bothered to ask any follow-up questions. Many volunteers who went to Calcutta came back abruptly disillusioned by the stern ideology and poverty-loving practice of the "Missionaries of Charity," but they had no audience for their story. George Orwell's admonition in his essay on Gandhi-that saints should always be presumed guilty until proved innocent-was drowned in a Niagara of soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring propaganda.

One of the curses of India, as of other poor countries, is the quack medicine man, who fleeces the sufferer by promises of miraculous healing. Sunday was a great day for these parasites, who saw their crummy methods endorsed by his holiness and given a more or less free ride in the international press. Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.

Cable channel suing NASA over UFO documents


Tue 21 October, 2003 09:32 BST

By Michael Learmonth

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The truth is out there, and the Sci Fi Channel is determined to find it, even if that means suing NASA, the Department of Defence, the U.S. Army and Air Force for documents related to unidentified flying objects.

Sci Fi, a U.S. cable channel that airs fictional programming such as Battlestar Galactica, as well as documentaries that explore the line between fact and science fiction, is part of a group pressuring the federal government to de-classify UFO information.

Last year Sci Fi joined forces with an investigative journalist, a Washington, DC law firm, and former President Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, to gain release of documents relating to an incident it calls "the new Roswell," a UFO sighting in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania in 1965.

"Now, one year later, despite serious effort to uncover the facts, NASA and the Department of Defence are still maintaining their wall of silence," said Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer. "Whether or not this has anything to do with UFOs the public has the right to know."

Now the Sci FI Channel is supporting what could turn into a series of lawsuits, first against NASA and then against the Department of Defence, the Army and Air Force, to get classified documents released to the public.

The group said it expects to file the suit against NASA within a week. Representatives from NASA and the Department of Defence were not immediately available for comment.

NASA was chosen as the first agency to be sued because SCI FI and the groups' attorney, Lee Helfrich of the Washington, DC-based firm, Lobel, Novins and Lamont, believe that they've fully exhausted their administrative options with the agency, a prerequisite for a judge to agree to hear the case.

While news organisations routinely pursue Freedom of Information Act requests with the government, it's relatively rare for a cable channel, especially one focused on fantasy, not the gathering of news, to pursue such a course of action.

But Hammer sees a great deal of programming potential in pursuing government documents related to UFO sightings, part of the channel's effort to "find the line between science fiction and science fact."

"As we grow the channel, this will become more and more important," Hammer said.

In December 1965, residents of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania watched a fireball descend into a heavily-forested area 40 miles from Pittsburgh. That night the area was cordoned off by the military, trucks and helicopters came and went, and the town was briefly placed under martial law.

The next day, headlines in the Greensburg, Pennsylvania Tribune-Review read "Unidentified Flying Object Falls Near Kecksburg" and "Army Ropes Off Area," but residents of Kecksburg were never told why the military cordoned off the area and what, if anything, was found.

The results of Sci Fi's new investigation into the incident will air Friday in a documentary hosted by Bryant Gumbel called "The New Roswell: Kecksburg Exposed."

In Kecksburg it hired a forestry expert from West Virginia University who discovered growth patterns and core damage to trees there that support a "traumatic event" in 1965.

Sci Fi, a unit of Vivendi Universal, is among the assets recently sold to General Electric Co.'s NBC. Hammer sees the integration with a network news operation as a potential boon for Sci Fi's newsgathering efforts.

"If it's something that seems credible, absolutely," said Hammer on the potential of working with NBC journalists. "But we're not going to do it just to create buzz."

Diana 'feared car accident plot'


Princess Diana feared the brakes of her car were going to be tampered with, 10 months before she died in a crash in Paris, her former butler has claimed.

The princess allegedly wrote in a letter to Paul Burrell: "This phase in my life is the most dangerous".

She reportedly named someone who was "planning an accident in my car, brake failure and serious head injury."

The alleged letter, which Mr Burrell kept secret until now, has been published in the Daily Mirror.

The name of the alleged person has been blacked out by the newspaper for legal reasons.

Diana and her lover Dodi Al Fayed were killed early on the morning of 31 August, 1997 when a Mercedes driven by chauffeur Henri Paul crashed in the Pont D'Alma tunnel in Paris.

In the alleged letter, Princess Diana reportedly believed the plot was "in order to make the path clear for Charles to marry".

It was reportedly written a couple of months after her divorce from Charles was finalised in October 1996.

A French inquiry in 1999 blamed Mr Paul, concluding he had taken a cocktail of drink and drugs and was driving too fast.

In August, Surrey Coroner Michael Burgess announced he would conduct inquests into the death of Diana and Mr Fayed, but did not specify a date.

Indian Rationalists question mother Teresa’s ovarian miracle


By Sanal Edamaruku

Was Monica Besra’s ovarian tumor really cured by the supernatural powers of Mother Teresa’s picture placed on her abdomen? The Missionaries of Charity insist it was. The Vatican has approved the story officially as a first-class miracle. The Indian Rationalist Association says: Such absurd and dangerous claims call for legal action! The rationalists, who have kicked off the controversy about Mother Teresa’s after-death-miracle, demand that the government of West Bengal take the Missionaries of Charity to court for their false claims.

The case of the miracle makers won’t stand in front of any court of law. Their witnesses have vowed to keep mum, not to contradict each other. Their certifiers are anonymous and untraceable. Their proof is obviously faked. And to top it all: their crown witness has vanished!

According to the Vatican, Monica Besra’s ovarian tumor was cured by the powers of Teresa’s picture, placed on her abdomen. But the medical records prove that it was sheer conventional medical treatment that rescued her life. “In the 21st century how can you talk about miracle healing?” says West Bengal health minister Suyrya Kanta Nishra. The miracle documentation claims that several doctors have certified that the healing was “scientifically inexplicable”, but not a single of these anonymous witnesses could so far be traced. The former health minister of West Bengal, Partho De, revealed that he had been approached by the Vatican agents and asked to name a doctor, who would certify that Monica Besra’s healing was a miracle. He declined support. After ordering the medical records of the case in February 2000 for scrutiny to the Kolkata (Calcutta) health department, he was convinced that there was nothing unusual about the disappearance of the tumor after prolonged medical treatment.

Knitting her saintly cowl with relentless efforts, the miracle agents of the Vatican under the leadership of chief investigator Brian Kolodiejchuk have identified several hundred examples for Mother Teresa’s supernatural capacities. Neatly filed, classified and elaborately documented in a dossier of more than 34,000 pages, they are getting ready to be sent by air fright to Vatican now. On this base, they hope, her canonization has become a mere formality. In December, the Pope is expected to check in the heavy luggage, and may be in spring the Albanian born nun could already enter the annals of saints as the speediest one in the history of the Catholic Church.

The most important of those bundled paranormal claims is the miracle, which Teresa has allegedly done on her first death anniversary. At least one proven after-death-miracle is a must for any saint. Teresa’s managers have offered the “Healing of Monica Besra” for this purpose and the Vatican has officially accepted it as a suitable ticket to sainthood. But unexpectedly the miracle has met with a tough challenge. Stripped off the veil of holiness, it looks like a rough-cut fake.

Dr. Manju Murshed, superintendent of the government hospital in Balurghat, informed that Monica Besra was admitted in the hospital with severe pain. She suffered from tubercular meningitis and from an ovarian tumor, which was discovered during an ultra-sound investigation. She was subsequently treated by Dr.Tarun Kumar Biwas and the gynecologist Dr. Ranjan Mustafi. After she left the hospital, the treatment was continued in the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital and ended successfully in March 1999. A final ultra-sound investigation showed that the tumor had disappeared.

Heart piece of the Vatican’s “proof” is a statement of crown witness Monica Besra. It leaked, despite utmost secrecy, to the press. In this statement, Besra describes that she was suffering from terrible pain from a giant tumor in her stomach and nearly lost all hope. She left her family to seek help with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. On 5 October, 1998, Mother Teresa’s first death anniversary, she prayed to her ardently. Two nuns, sister Bartholomea and sister Ann Sevika, took a silver medallion with Mother’s picture from the wall and tied it on Monica’s body with a black thread, right on the tumor. The pain vanished the same night and never came back. Her stomach became smaller and smaller and in the morning she felt that the tumor had vanished. She was miraculously healed!

Monica Besra is a 30-year-old tribal woman from Dulidnapur village. She is illiterate and speaks her tribal mother tongue only, laced with a few words of broken Bengali. Until recently she has not been a Christian. The statement is written in fluent English and shows familiarity with details of Catholic belief. It is obvious that the text has not been written or dictated by her. But Monica Besra is not available to bring light into the murky story: she has vanished. She must be “under the protection of the church”, suspect those close to her. She was not seen, since her name, despite all efforts of secrecy, became public.

And the nuns involved in the miracle keep their lips sealed. “An objective miracle has happened”, explains archbishop D’Souza of Kolkata. “The sisters don’t want to give different versions as that would spoil things.”

If this obvious fraud is not brought to book and if the idea of miraculous healings gets credence, it will have dangerous consequences for the uneducated and the poor, insists Indian Rationalist Association. Confidence in modern medicine and science has to be developed and strengthened and people have to be encouraged to use available medical facilities for treatment instead of taking to superstition and miracle belief. The efforts should be to expand the outreach of the modern medicine to all strata of the society.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - October 20, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

The world of science is changing swiftly today as researchers in fields as widely diverse as physics, medicine, genetics and engineering find themselves working together in new academic melting pots.

With funding from government, foundations and industry, at least half a dozen universities are creating new research institutions where the watchword is "interdisciplinary collaboration," including Caltech, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, the University of California and the University of Michigan.

"All the exciting stuff in science is happening now at the interface between engineering, biology and the physical sciences," says Michael Isaacson, a physicist at UC Santa Cruz now deeply involved in linking medicine and nanotechnology (the development of devices that operate at the "nano" scale).

from The San Francisco Chronicle

It's all about breaking down barriers at Stanford University as the sleek James H. Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, home of the innovation-minded Bio-X project for interdisciplinary biological research, formally opens this week.

Rooms here are defined by translucent glass. All the furniture is on wheels. Laboratory benches are hooked up to exposed utility systems hanging from the ceiling, easy to get to in case someone wants to push a wall or two out of the way.

Inside the new building, scientists have been setting up shop and struggling to get some work done, bemused by the hullabaloo surrounding one of the most high-profile ventures in academia. Researchers admit to an odd feeling of kinship with their own laboratory rats.

from The New York Times

A team of university researchers has constructed an electronic memory circuit from disordered arrays of electronic clumps of gold atoms, according to a report to be published today in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The advance, made by researchers at Rice University, North Carolina State University and Pennsylvania State University, is based on one of several approaches that are being pursued to create a microelectronic technology on a much smaller scale than today's silicon chips.

In the new field, known as molecular electronics, the researchers have succeeded in creating tiny switches from molecules and atoms. They are now searching for ways to assemble the vast arrays of the switches to serve both as memory and computing devices.

from Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- It was a scorching afternoon in the South American summer when paleontologist Sebastian Apesteguia found what he wasn't looking for: the 90-million-year-old fossilized remains of sharp-beaked reptiles.

On the hunt for dinosaur fossils in Patagonia in 1999, Apesteguia and his assistant were scouring the rocky, barren landscape on a January afternoon when a 12-year-old local boy led them to a gorge framed by red sandstone cliffs.

What they found took even them by surprise: a set of astonishingly well-preserved fossils of a species of lizard-like reptiles -- called sphenodontians -- that disappeared from the fossil record 120 million years ago.

TV episode to feature exploits of Norwich psychic


Norwich Bulletin; gasmith@norwichbulletin.com

NORWICH -- From part-time bus driver to world-renowned psychic, Pat Gagliardo had led "quite an interesting life, to say the least."

For more than two decades, the Norwich native has aided investigators with what she describes as "visions," or spiritual insights, achieved through meditation.

She's to be featured on an upcoming series on Court TV, titled "Psychic Detectives," due to air at the beginning of the year. Her segment on the show will delve into the story involving work with New London County investigators two decades ago.

On Friday, a film crew planned to visit the City Pier in New London, the site where on Oct. 16, 1979, investigators lifted a car and decomposed body of a missing Coast Guardsman.

Gagliardo, 30 years old at the time, aided investigators from the New London County State's Attorney's Office, providing tips to locate Warrant Officer Richard E. Eastman, missing for six months.

She had reluctantly contacted authorities after seeing visions. Her descriptions of landmarks, such as a crane, barge and seaplane, led investigators to a place in the Thames River that had been looked over once.

"I saw him slumped over in the car in the water," she recalled.

The location was revisited and turned out to be the place where Eastman was found. The incident gained her national attention.

Since that case, Gagliardo has consulted police departments, many by phone, in the state and across the world.

Her gifts, she said, include "psychometry," touching a person's personal possession and immediately knowing something about that person.

There have been numerous testimonials to Gagliardo's power, including divers who contacted Gagliardo in 1982 to help find a missing wind surfer in the Mystic River in Mystic. Her information, hints that included a physical description and details of location, were said to be accurate.

She wasn't always a believer.

A near-death experience due to surgery complications while she was in her 20s might have been "the spark," she said.

Later, she was persuaded to take a course at a local junior high school called "Getting to Know Your Psyche." It was her husband, Gene's, idea, she said.

"During that time, I started meditating," she said. "Doing that was like opening Pandora's box. It was through constant meditation that things began to come to me ... visions."

She continued use the well-publicized and unexplained talent, the same that had helped to find the missing Coast Guardsman.

Within two years of the discovery in New London, Gagliardo opened an office on Oneco Street in Norwich to offer intuitive counseling.

She's been contacted by hundreds of people, as well as police department all over the country.

In 2000, she published her autobiography, "Pebbles on the Beach, A Medium's Journey Into the Spirit World."

She also was recently featured on A&E's "Take This Job," sharing time with an exorcist "waging a personal war against the devil."

Gagliardo lives in a quaint home on Canterbury Turnpike in Norwich, helping out where she can, she said.

For more about Gagliardo, visit www.patgagliardo.com.

Originally published Monday, October 20, 2003

Cold fusion provides the promise of infinite energy


Human society has been experiencing an energy deficiency from time immemorial. Every time we discover a new, powerful source of energy, we simultaneously discover a humongous new requirement for it, thus unwittingly moving ourselves back to square one.

Society has always relied on innovation, rather than conservation, to rid itself of a potential energy problem. Even though experts grimly predict that the world's oil will not last for more than a few decades, consumption is on the increase. Gas guzzlers still roam the roads and hybrid cars are a small minority. People still use cars to transport themselves past any distance greater than ten meters, and fuel efficiency is unheard of in several Arab countries where fuel is often cheaper than water. Those few countries which make fuel efficient engines, like India, do it out of purely economic considerations based on the price of fuel. Society, almost always, relies on science to help it out of problems that could have been avoided, or at least procrastinated, by conservation.

The search for a new energy source has been on for quite some time. Everything that can move or can provide heat has been put to use in some form or the other, ranging from the wind to sunlight to uranium; every one of them have exhibited drawbacks. For a while, nuclear fission seemed to be the perfect solution to the world's energy requirements, but the amount of pollution caused and the potential for misuse have proven that it is not the solution to the world's energy problems.

Man has always regarded the sun with fascination; lately, scientists have been viewing it with nothing short of greed. For even a small part of the total energy emitted by the sun would solve all our power requirements for decades; however, it is almost impossible to harness the potential of the sun's awesome power, except in miniscule amounts. Therefore, scientists then turned their attention to fusion, the process of merging small atoms to form larger ones, releasing large amounts of energy in the process and the source of the sun's nearly infinite energy.

The biggest advantages of fusion over fission are that there are no waste products and the raw materials are easily available. The temperatures required, however, is so high that nothing can withstand the usage of such energy. No element has yet been discovered that can withstand a temperature of millions of centigrade; any fusion reactor would have devastating effects, a principle which has been effectively used in the development of hydrogen bombs.

Thus, there seems to be no ideal source of energy. But a few scientists disagree, airing what seems to be an incredible and almost ridiculous idea: fusion at low temperatures, or 'cold' fusion.

Cold fusion, if there is such a thing, offers endless possibilities. Not only would it completely do away with the world's energy problems, it would cause violent change in every aspect of power production. There would be no need for a centralized power station; instead, people would be able to own reactors and power their own homes. Motor vehicles could come equipped with mini-fusion reactors. The economy would encounter violent upheavals, with the entire conception of power production and consumption being completely transformed. To summarize, society as a whole would be changed by the concept of free, infinite energy.

But is this really possible? Most scientists remain skeptical. Physicist Douglas Morrison, formerly employed by CERN in Geneva, doesn't mince words: "The results are impossible." "It's pathological science."

There are a few scientists lured by the seductive promises of cold fusion. Often subjected to derision and ridicule from their colleagues, these people nevertheless believe the amazing technique is possible. Cold fusion took a big blow in the early 90s when two of the most promising researchers into the topic were accused of fraud and incompetence. Cold fusion was dismissed as a hoax and was never taken seriously, a feeling that exists in society today. Yet several people still continue, hoping for the incredible to occur.

Experiments in cold fusion almost always sound bizarre. Almost all of them include an innovative twist and out-of-the-box thinking, sometimes even going against accepted laws and assumptions. For example, Fleishmann and Pons conducted a secret experiment, back in the early 90s, with very simple apparatus: a jar of heavy water containing platinum and a precious metal called palladium as electrodes. They believed oxygen atoms from the heavy water would be continuously absorbed into the palladium rod, packing themselves together so tightly that it would eventually cause a fusion reaction.

The Joint European Torus is a huge collection of tubes and pipes, tangled in an eclectic collection of cables and coils. Claimed to be the largest fusion reactor in the world, its frame contains a process that energizes deuterium gas to 300 million degrees centigrade, in a hope that it would provide limitless energy by fusion.

These are just a few of the examples of the research that's being done in the field of cold fusion. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that it would take at least five decades before cold fusion is feasible, but human ingenuity knows no time limit.

Thus, research into cold fusion is something like sighting the supernatural — most of the work turns out to be fraudulent, or simply impossible. However, there are still a few, rare cases that are genuinely on track, their ideas growing more weird as they travel farther and farther on the trail left behind by the seductive whispers of infinite energy.

Manikantan Parameswaran is a pre-junior majoring in computer engineering.

Many in India doubt Mother Teresa's miracle


Associated Press

CALCUTTA, India - Monica Besra says she is living proof that Mother Teresa performed a miracle from heaven and deserves to become a saint.

Millions of other Hindus and Christians in the slums of this eastern capital would argue the tiny Roman Catholic nun was a living saint among the poorest of India's poor and deserves eternal veneration for that alone.

Yet, as Pope John Paul II prepares today to beatify the woman known simply as "Mother" to many in her care, doctors who treated Besra insist the illiterate villager was cured of her illness by medicine - not a miracle. They're concerned that belief in such events will turn the poor away from science when they are ill.

And there are other critics of Mother Teresa: those who take issue with her faith-based advocacy against abortion and condoms in this overpopulated AIDS-stricken country, and find fault with her failure to modernize her hospices for the elderly and poor.

The 35-year-old Besra is amazed that anyone could fail to see Mother Teresa's healing abilities.

"God chose me as the medium for people to see Mother Teresa's enormous power to cure, not only with her physical cures, but through her miracles," Besra said before she left for Rome to attend today's ceremony that will elevate the nun to the status next to sainthood.

"Those who love Mother will believe," she said. "Those who don't, I feel pity for them."

Mother Teresa took her own pity for the outcast and turned it into a cottage industry in this predominantly Hindu nation. Thousands of volunteers of all religions still flock to the dozens of Mother Houses in India each year to tend to the destitute and the dying.

In India, Mother Teresa's humanity is unquestioned. The sisters and brothers of her Missionaries of Charity are respected, in part, because they don't try to convert others to their Catholic faith.

For those whose wounds were treated by Mother Teresa under the shade of a banyan tree, or whose hunger was eased with a meager bowl of rice and lentils, her wrinkled smile and quiet grace felt like coming home. "We would sit and talk with her and it was like talking to our own mother," said Lalji Srivastava, a 32-year-old Hindu whose fingers are curled stiff by leprosy.

"She would tell us we were safe here in her home. Listening to Mother was like listening to God himself - it didn't matter if you were a Hindu or a Christian."

Srivastava has lived and worked at the Gandhiji Prem Nivas Leprosy Center on the outskirts of Calcutta for 18 years. It's where he met his wife, also a victim of leprosy, and it's where they brought up their four children. They work on the clacking wooden spinning wheels and cotton looms that churn out cloth for the poor and the white saris with blue stripes worn by 4,500 sisters of the Missionaries of Charity around the world.

Mother Teresa died in 1997

Born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, Mother Teresa died at age 87 on Sept. 5, 1997, in Calcutta, where she spent most of her life.

Last year, John Paul approved a miracle credited to her intercession - Besra's cure - which reportedly took place on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death. A second miracle is needed to make her a saint. Besra, a slender and poised tribal woman from the village of Nakor, 280 miles north of Calcutta, told The Associated Press in an interview that the miracle that saved her life began with a vision.

The reports of Besra's illness vary, and she herself claims not to really understand what ailed her. Some doctors say she had a large malignant tumor in her abdomen; others diagnosed tubercular meningitis. She was put on four anti-TB drugs, said Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, the chief gynecologist who treated Besra at Balurghat District Hospital.

Unable to care for herself, and too poor to remain at the state hospital, Besra says her family took her to the Missionaries of Charity hospice in Patiram, a town on the outskirts of Balurghat.

About 7 a.m. on Sept. 5, 1998 - the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death - the sisters told Besra that, though she was Hindu, the day was particularly holy and she might want to pray with them in their chapel. "When I went in for the prayers and looked at a photograph of Mother Teresa, I saw rays of light coming from her eyes and I felt very light and dizzy," said Besra, who spoke with passionate certitude, despite telling the story hundreds of times to Vatican investigators and skeptical doctors and journalists.

"I started shaking and my heart was beating very fast," she said. "I felt scared as I didn't know what was happening to me."

Besra says the sisters helped her back to bed and told her to pray. At 5 p.m., she watched as they lifted her sari, put a small medallion of Mother Mary on the large lump in her right abdomen, and told her to pray.

"At 1 a.m. the next morning, I awoke with a start and suddenly felt so light," said Besra, whose family has since converted to Catholicism. "I was so excited, I woke up the woman in the bed next to me, Simira, and told her, 'Look, it's gone!' "

Canadian investigated case

The Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Canadian postulator (chief advocate) for the case, said the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints interviewed 113 people and gathered 35,000 pages of documentation attesting to the virtues of Mother Teresa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

They also got testimony from Mother Teresa's detractors, including author Christopher Hitchens, who condemns the nun for taking donations from shady people - such as disgraced American financier Charles Keating - while doing little to modernize her grimy, dark hospices for the poor.

Kolodiejchuk said the allegations were investigated, and "in the end, Mother Teresa was not found to be without virtue in these cases."

Dr. Mustafi agrees Mother Teresa was full of virtue, but says she didn't perform any miracles. He said Besra was on anti-TB drugs for nine months and they dissolved the tumor.

"She had a medical disease which was cured by medical science, not by any miracle," Mustafi said by telephone from the hospital where Besra was treated. "I've been shouting against this miracle to anyone who will listen."

Kolodiejchuk said five doctors in Rome were asked their medical opinion about Besra. "The unanimous opinion of the doctors here was that there was no medical explanation for it," he told AP.

Meanwhile, the 30,000 members of the Science and Rationalists' Association of India, whose mission is to expose charlatans and gurus offering miracle cures and meditations, are also upset.

"Look, Coca-Cola promotes their business and that's what Sister Nirmala is doing. Sister Nirmala is a good businessman, nothing more," said Prabir Ghose, general secretary of the group, referring to the Catholic nun who now heads the Missionaries of Charity.

Sister Christie, a nun at Mother House, headquarters for the Missionaries of Charity, shrugs and smiles serenely at such skepticism.

"For those who believe, no proof is necessary; for those who don't believe, no proof is enough," said the Japanese nun who has lived at Mother House for 11 years.

Chandramani Agarwalla feels she has proof of her own. The devout Hindu has volunteered at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying Destitutes every day for 20 years, dispensing medicine or washing dishes. Now 70, she has little strength but for tasks such as updating the record books or holding the hand of a beggar as he lays dying of tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria or cancer.

Agarwalla believes her daughter and husband were also relieved of serious illnesses by the touch and prayer of Mother Teresa and has told the Vatican so.

"I'm a very devout Hindu, but Mother taught us that we're doing the Lord's service, so here I am doing Lord Krishna's service," said Agarwalla. "I was very lucky to have spent many long hours with her. She did not feel that she was a great person. She was just God's servant, doing God's work."

Water sparks new power source

A new way to generate electricity from water which could be used to power small electronic devices in the future has been developed by Canadian scientists.

The researchers have harnessed what happens to water when it is pumped through tiny channels. "What we have achieved so far is to show that electrical power can be directly generated from flowing liquids in microchannels," said Professor Larry Kostiuk from University of Alberta.

The team says its "electrokinetic" battery could be further developed to provide a clean, non-polluting power source that could eventually drive small devices such as mobile phones.

But some experts in the field have cast doubt over its potential as a useful source of power.

Early promise

The research by Professor Kostiuk and colleague Professor Daniel Kwok is published by the Institute of Physics journal.

It is said to be the first new method of generating electricity in over 150 years.

The work is all to do with charge separation, and what happens to ions in liquids when they come into contact with a non-conducting solid

The team created a glass block, two centimetres in diameter and three millimetres thick, containing about 400,000 to 500,000 individual channels. Thanks to a phenomenon called the electric double layer, when water flows through these 10-micron-diameter-wide channels, a positive charge is created at one end of the block and a negative charge at the other - just like a conventional battery.

The prototype generated about 10 volts with a current of around a milliamp. This allowed the team to successfully power a lightbulb.

The scientists stress their work is in its early stages.

Nano application

"The applications in electronics and microelectronic devices are very exciting," said Professor Kostiuk.

"This technology could provide a new power source for devices such as mobile phones or calculators which could be charged up by pumping water to high pressure."

They suggest more research needs to be done to develop the potential of how their prototype device can be turned into a battery for commercial use.

One mechanical engineering expert BBC News Online spoke to was hesitant about the potential uses of this energy source, however.

Dr Jon Gibbins from Imperial College London said he could only see it generating a small amount of power on a small scale, so it might have uses on a nanotech scale.

"Its best first application might be in the field of micro-electronic mechanic systems, like labs which are being built on computer chips which require power," said Professor Kostiuk, but the research is still in its infancy.

Improving efficiency

Making electricity from water is by no means new.

Large-scale power generation already happens with hydroelectric power turbines which are almost 100% efficient at converting available energy in the water to electricity.

Magnetohydrodynamic methods also generate electricity through water.

What Professor Kostiuk and his team have achieved is create a kind of turbine device that does not have moving parts.

"Efficiency is a fraction of 1% and right now we are trying to fully understand the characteristics of such devices.

"The real goal is to find ways of improving its efficiency to around four to 16% to complete with other energy sources."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/10/19 23:54:50 GMT

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Now a call centre for astrology in Bhopal


Published : October 13, 2003

Basic telecom company Touchtel has launched a unique call centre in Madhya Pradesh. Contrary to the trend, the employees of this call centre are oldies, with little expertise in English and only hands-on experience in computers.

While normal call centres do not entertain a call for more than three minutes, the employees of this call centre attend to a customer, at times, for more than an hour.

The employees reply to subscribers' calls by reading their horoscope with the help of an astro-software.

They analyse the callers' present on the basis of their vinshotari dasha, mahadasha or shani dasha (planetary positions).

The call centre operates in two shifts between 9 am and 9 pm and the employees are paid between Rs 3,500 and Rs 8,500 on the basis of their knowledge in the field of astrology.

Says Ram Naresh Trivedi, an employee who is a Shastri and a B Ed from Sampurnanad Sanskrit Vishwavidhyalaya in Varanasi, "We even suggest about gems and stones. But we have to be quick."

"During a six-hour shift, we receive about 25 calls. We attend to each call and try to satisfy the caller's queries mostly about success in business or profession or the status of marriage. Interestingly, a large number of callers are women," Trivedi adds.

The company allots a fixed number to its subscribers and a different number to BSNL subscribers. The facility is limited to Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Refusing to divulge financial details, Rohit, owner of the call centre, said: "I have invested more than Rs 1 lakh and have a revenue sharing partnership with the telecommunication company. The business is going on well."

"It is not doing great business, but is adding more value to our services," said Rohtash Mal, chief telecom officer of Touchtel.

Says KK Sharma, a former employee of Barkatullah University, "At 62, I find the job quite interesting. He has masters degree in Hindi and Sanskrit, a B Ed and diploma in Library Science and Jyotishacharya from Maharishi Vedic Vishvavidyalaya.

Acharya BL Tripathi, the head of the call centre, solves caller's problems with the help of a panchang (Indian calendar).

Curse is foiled: Psychic helps cleanse Wrigley


By MELISSA WESTPHAL‚ Rockford Register Star

BELVIDERE — Denise Guzzardo drove to Wrigley Field, bottle of negativity repellent potion and sage wand in hand.

It was June. She'd been summoned by Chicago radio DJ Pete McMurray and Fox Sports Network. Her mission: To rid the lovable North Side losers of the 58-year Curse of the Goat that had doomed Wrigley Field from ever hosting a World Series.

Don't expect immediate action, Guzzardo warned. It would take a full lunar cycle for her efforts to work.

"We're cleansing, cleaning ... purifying the air around the entrance," Guzzardo says on the video of her and McMurray standing outside Wrigley Field.

By mid-July, the Cubs were still struggling. They hovered around .500 until September.

Now well into October, the team is on the brink of playing in its first World Series since unhappy goat-owner Billy Sianis cursed the Cubs in 1945.

The 46-year-old Belvidere psychic is modest about her impact on the team but says she expects them to go all the way.

"I'm so proud of them," she said Monday. "God bless Dusty Baker."

Guzzardo has been doing the psychic gig full time for 16 years. She has private clients and has worked on missing-persons cases in Rockford, Chicago and McHenry County.

McMurray has known Guzzardo for 10 years and often invites her to do psychic readings for his morning show on WLUP (97.9 FM). He believes her predictions are on target.

"Denise is crazy. She's absolutely insane, just like me, which is why we get along," said McMurray, a former DJ at WXRX (104.9 FM) in Rockford. "I've heard some strange predictions from Denise over the years, but 80 to 90 percent of them have come to fruition.

"Be ready. It's gonna happen. It's their destiny to win."

QUESTION: How did you get started in the psychic biz?

ANSWER: It was really something you kept hidden early on because people perceived you differently. I did it part time when my kids were little, like from 7 to 9 p.m. during weekdays and on Saturdays. Then I was just overrun with requests. It was a gift God wanted me to work with. When your path is set for you, the universe makes an opening.

Q: What did you do to rid the Cubs of their long losing streak?

A: The drive to Chicago gave me time to meditate and prepare mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I channeled and drew on the strongest positive energy source and asked it work.

Q: What did it feel like once you were there?

A: You could feel something was off with the fields. It was no mystery. It's like a hollow, almost heavy melancholy feeling.

Q: What did you use?

A: I used a potion that repels negative energy. It's something I've been working on for almost 20 years, a combination of scented oils. It disperses whatever dark energy is hanging around. I also burned a sage wand.

Q: What kind of reaction did you get?

A: People were honking their horns. We looked like a couple of nuts.

Q: Will the Cubs go all the way?

A: I believe they're going to the World Series. I have a strong sense they'll play the Yankees. I think they'll win, but whether that's a premonition or just a fantasy at this point, I'm not sure.

Several Web sites talk about The Curse; just type Goat Curse Cubs 1945 in a Google search.

Contact: mwestpha@registerstartower.com; 815-987-1352

Touring haunted city sites


10/19/2003 8:00 AM
By: News 8 Austin Staff

There are spooky secrets in the Capital -- ghostly fingerprints that mysteriously appear on a window, a shadowy figure from the 19th century who wanders the hallways.

These hauntings and more are among the tales that folks relish when they take the Austin Ghost Tours.

Tours sell out quickly around Halloween. To check the calendar or make a reservation for any one of three walks available, call Austin Ghost Tours at (512) 443-3688 or log onto their Web site.

News 8 Austin's Paul Brown spoke with guide Katy Shea about these outings that are particularly popular around Halloween.

Q: What are some of the legends and stories that people in Austin don't know about?

A: Well, on our walking tour, one of the favorite stories is about the "Austin Annihilator." Most people don't realize, but the first serial killer reported in the United States was in Austin. He was also known as the "Austin servant girl killer." That's one of the stories that stops people in their tracks.

Q: What are some of the favorite ghost stories?

A: One of the favorites involves [singer] Annie Lennox. She was staying at the Driskill Hotel, one of the more haunted places in Austin. She laid out some dresses on her bed and went to take a shower before her gig that night. When she came back out, one of the dresses had been put away in closet with the door shut and the other was still laying on the bed. So she decided to take the "spirit's" advice and wear the dress laid out on her bed.

Q: Do you get a lot of repeat customers?

A: The routes are changed very often as we learn new information. So if you've taken the tour before, odds are it has changed since then.

Q: One final question, have you ever seen a ghost?

A: Well, I've never seen a ghost, but on my tours it isn't about my experiences, it's about the experience of the people on the tour.

Weblog: Did Nobel Committee Ignore MRI Creator Because of Creationism?


Compiled by Ted Olsen | posted 10/10/2003

Not everybody on the Nobel Committee loves Raymond Damadian While today's Nobel Peace Prize announcement will no doubt reignite discussion over whether Islam is a religion of peace, and may cause some to ask what happened to the buzz that Pope John Paul II would win, others are still discussing the controversy over this year's Nobel Prize in medicine.

The Nobel Committee on Monday announced that the prize would be awarded to Paul C. Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield, for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI scans.

But when you ask Google who invented the MRI, the most common answer is Raymond V. Damadian. What's up? The controversy has been percolating, and The Wall Street Journal reported last year that "a ferocious battle in the scientific community over who gets credit" probably held up an MRI-related Nobel for years.

A full-page ad in yesterday's The Washington Post said the Nobel committee was "attempting to rewrite history" and "did one thing it has no right to do: It ignored the truth."

Likewise, Damadian told Newsday, "I can't escape the fact that I started it all. … My concern is the distortion by the Nobel Committee to write me out of the history of the MRI. Every history book from now on will say the MRI is Lauterbur and Mansfield."

"I know that had I never been born, there would be no MRI today," he told The Washington Post.

Many scientists agree, but some suggest that Damadian's self-promotion may have hurt him. He's "sometimes flamboyant," NPR science correspondent Richard Knox told All Things Considered yesterday.

But Knox, along with Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey, suggested another reason Damadian may have been disregarded: He's a devout Christian (see this 1997 profile in Christianity Today sister publication Christian Reader) who believes in creationism. In fact, he's on the Technical Advisory Board for the Institute for Creation Research, and on the reference board for Answers in Genesis's upcoming Creation Museum.

"He's identified by many web sites as a prominent creation scientist," Knox said. "I have no first-hand knowledge of his beliefs, but it's fair to say that most scientists are not creationists and tend to look askance at scientists who believe that way, but it's really impossible to know if the Nobel Committee took that into account."

Bailey similarly writes, "I have no inside information, but I wonder if the committee was swayed by the fact that Damadian, although a brilliant inventor, is apparently a creation science nut. In ironic contrast, Lauterbur's current research is on the chemical origins of life."

The Nobel Committee, meanwhile, says it doesn't talk about why certain people don't receive the prizes. It only talks about why winners do.

Gazette only retracted creationism story's headline, not entire article


(Created 10/16/03 9:53:00 AM)

STILLWATER — The Stillwater Gazette last month did not retract a Sept. 29 article about creationism's place in public education.

"We retracted and corrected that article's headline, but not the article itself," Managing Editor Greg C. Huff said.

On Sept. 30, the Gazette published on its front page an apology for the headline which appeared above the print version of the Sept. 29 article. The mis-reprensentative headline indicated erroneously that Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, and other local Republican lawmakers believe that Minnesota educators should teach creationism. The Gazette's on-line version of the article carries a more accurate headline.

Although the Gazette both retracted and apologized for the mis-representative headline, Huff said, "we absolutely did not retract the article itself, and continue to stand by it."

Huff wrote the Sept. 29 article.

Who said what?

Neither Bachmann, nor District 56 Sen. Brian LeClair, R-Woodbury, specifically told the Gazette that Minnesota educators should teach creationism. And although District 56A Rep. Eric Lipman said that "exposing students to the tenets and outlines of creation science" is as important as teaching the ideas of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Darwin, he did not specifically use the term "creationism."

And although Bachmann — in reference to long-standing debates between evolution and creationism advocates — told the Gazette in an interview that "I think it's important to teach that controversy," she later clarified that she did not mean by that statement that Minnesota educators should teach creationism as fact. And LeClair said only that in 12 years of Catholic school he "spent time discussing both evolution and creation."

Bachmann later clarified that the Sept. 29 article's original headline mis-represented her political opinions, "as a senator," that "all science-based evidence on a topic should be allowed in the classroom," that "government should not censor scientific evidence," and that "in this subject area, students and teachers benefit from academic freedom."

In the interview for the Sept. 29 article, Bachmann also confided several of her personal beliefs about mankind's' origins, which she neither recanted nor challenged the veracity of. And while those statements did not justify the article's original headline "Local Republicans: Schools should teach creationism," Huff said, "the ensuing article is 100-percent accurate."

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - October 17, 2003

from The New York Times

Laying a broad basis for possible future prescriptions, the President's Council on Bioethics yesterday issued an analysis of how biotechnology could lead toward unintended and destructive ends.

Called "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness," the council's report concerns present and future interventions intended not to restore health but rather to alter genetic inheritance, to enhance mind or body, or to extend life span beyond its natural limits.

These range from selecting the sex of children, to drugs that change the mind or improve athletic performance, to the various research projects that seek to tap the body's presumed capacity for extreme longevity. While the report is not attributed to a single author, it is written in a graceful style quite distinct from standard government prose and very similar to that of Dr. Leon R. Kass, the council's chairman.

from Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Melting of glaciers in the Patagonian ice fields of southern Argentina and Chile has doubled in recent years, caused by higher temperatures, lower snowfall and a more rapid breaking of icebergs, a study suggests.

Using satellites from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Defense Department, researchers measured the loss from two ice fields on the southern tip of South America and found that the rate of melting doubled from 1995 to 2000 when compared with earlier measurements.

A report on the findings appear Friday in the journal Science.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

In the verdant countryside of western India along the Arabian Sea, villagers digging a well in a cardamom plantation five years ago were astonished to spot a squat, bulbous purple frog sitting immobile nearly seven feet down in the mud.

The well-diggers turned their strange amphibian over to S.D. Biju, a visiting biologist who happened to be in the neighborhood from the Tropical Research Institute at nearby Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the Indian state of Kerala.

Biju was equally surprised.

Neither he nor any of his colleagues had ever seen a frog quite like it. With a pointed snout, glistening deep purple skin, red eyes and a powerful talent for burrowing into the ground, it looked like something primitive. Indeed it was.

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Crackpots hampering UFO study, author says


Oct. 10, 2003. 01:00 AM


Blame Ed Wood's spinning pie plates, the Raelian obsession with cloning and theme parks, or maybe Erich von Daniken's premise that ancient gods were once travellers from outer space.

Pop culture and crackpots have hijacked the scientific study of UFOs, turning it into a running joke, says UFO researcher Chris Styles.

Best known for his work on the 1967 case of a suspected UFO crash in Shag Harbour, N.S., Styles was expected to be among five experts speaking this weekend in Halifax at an international symposium on unidentified flying objects.

For him, proof that UFOs exist can be found in an unlikely place: Canadian government documents.

Through federal access requests, he has found detailed reports from RCMP officers and Defence Department officials chronicling decades of strange sightings in our skies.

"A lot of what goes on nowadays really isn't ufology. It's what I call alienology," says Styles, co-author of Dark Object, a book about the Shag Harbour incident in which a large object crashed into waters off southwest Nova Scotia on Oct. 4, 1967, leaving behind a trail of yellow foam and bewildered fishermen who sailed the area to search for survivors. Navy divers mounted an extensive search and RCMP talked to many witnesses but nothing was found.

Official reports offer detailed accounts from police and an Air Canada pilot who witnessed a strange object in the sky.

Styles was 12 when he saw the orange object above his home in Dartmouth, N.S. He estimates 90 per cent of sightings are mistakes. The International Space Station's bright lights regularly trip up casual observers.

Water Cluster Pseudoscience


Junk science in the marketplace

There are more than twenty commercial products on the market that purport to alter the structure of water in order to help maintain or restore health, youth, and vigor. At my age I would not mind re-aquiring some of these myself, but as a retired Chemistry professor and habitual imbiber of tap-water, it disturbs me to see crackpot chemistry, pseudoscientific mind-mush and outright lies used to promote these products to consumers whose lack of scientific training leaves them unprotected from this exploitation. This Web site is directed primarily to those who are concerned about their health, but who lack the technical background to distinguish science from pseudoscience when the two are closely intertwined. It is also recommended for teachers to use as resource material in courses about consumer protection, pseudoscience, or critical thinking.

In the rather long page below, I try to present a critical examination of some of the claims about the nature and action of these fictional structure-altered waters ("SAW") in the context of the science as I believe it is presently known and understood. It is my hope that readers will thus be better equipped to make their own decisions about the value of these products.

Digging out the truth of Exodus


Science & Society 10/20/03

By Helen Fields

Egyptologist Manfred Bietak was reading a 60-year-old report of a dig near Luxor in Egypt when a surprising find caught his eye. Near a mortuary temple from the 12th century B.C., archaeologists had uncovered a grid of shallow trenches, which they guessed was the base of a workers' hut. Bietak, head of the Institute of Egyptology at Vienna University, recognized the floor plan as that of the four-room houses used by almost all Israelites from the 12th to the sixth century B.C. What was it doing in Egypt? If Bietak is right, the trenches could be the first physical evidence for the Bible story of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt.

The literal truth of the Exodus narrative is hotly disputed among archaeologists and Bible scholars. According to the Old Testament books of Genesis and Exodus, the patriarch Jacob moved with his large family to Egypt to join his son Joseph, who had risen to Pharaoh's right hand. The Israelites were fruitful and multiplied, but a later Pharaoh, unsure of their loyalty, forced them into slavery. Moses told Pharaoh to let his people go; only after God sent nastier and nastier plagues did the ruler give in. The slaves fled Egypt through the Sinai--the Exodus. After 40 years in the wilderness, they emerged to settle in Canaan, the ancient territory that is now Israel, the occupied territories, and Lebanon.

The problem has been that in a century of digging, archaeologists had found no physical evidence that Israelites were in Egypt in the second millennium B.C.--said to be the time of Exodus. Recognizing the house was a stroke of luck, says archaeologist Larry Stager, the director of the Semitic Museum at Harvard University. "It's a wonderful discovery, to see very probably an Israelite house in Egypt."

House proud. The structure had three long parallel rooms, with a wide room across one end. The Israelites weren't the only people to build such houses--a few have also been found in what is now Jordan, where Israelites generally did not live. But the distinctive houses dominated Canaan's hill country, now the West Bank. Families lived on a second floor and kept animals in the rooms below. With strong stone foundations and thick walls, the houses lasted for decades.

The house in Egypt was of flimsier construction. It "would have been considered a bit of a shack compared to how they were built in ancient Israel," Stager says. The narrow trenches of the foundation probably supported only thin reed and mud walls. Yet the light construction makes sense if it were a workers' or slaves' hut. The hut was built in the courtyard of the temple of Ay and Horemheb, probably by laborers who were taking that older temple apart to erect a 12th-century B.C. Pharaoh's mortuary temple, Bietak writes in the latest Biblical Archaeology Review.

But one house doesn't prove the Exodus. When droughts hit in Canaan, people often wandered southwest into well-irrigated Egypt. Some could have stayed and become laborers, says Stager, who adds that he's still "agnostic" on whether the Exodus actually happened. Archaeologist Larry Herr of Canadian University College speculates that someone with no connection to the Israelites could have, by coincidence, built a hut with the familiar floor plan. "Give me a slave city where all of the houses are like this," he says. "Then I'll see some sort of connection."

Building a history. Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University also points out that there's no physical evidence that thousands of people wandered for decades in the desert. Besides, Jericho and other Canaanite cities described in the Bible didn't exist when the Israelites were supposed to be conquering them. Finkelstein says the Bible isn't just fantasy, though. He thinks the first books of the Bible were written in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., long after the Exodus might have happened. The writers drew on a pool of folk tales, of myths, of shreds of evidence to build a history for Israel, he says.

Maybe, suggests historian Baruch Halpern at Pennsylvania State University, the Exodus actually happened over and over. Everyone knew someone who'd gone to Egypt and come back complaining. "That's basically what the story is about," Halpern says. "God, you know how much taxes they make us pay in Egypt?" Maybe through years of retelling, he says, their grousing became an epic of enslavement and escape.

Friday, October 17, 2003



The issue of teaching weaknesses of evolutionary dogma to our children is a clear winner across the landscape of America. Polls routinely show that only a small minority of Americans actually believe that, even after decades of exclusive evolutionary instruction, a purely naturalistic materialistic evolution is capable of explaining life.

The most recent confirmation of this decades-old support for teaching both strengths and weaknesses was demonstrated in Texas by the Zogby organization. It found that a remarkable 75% agreed that "The state board of education should approve biology textbooks that teach Darwin's theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it." In another question specifically addressing whether the board should enforce the existing requirement to teach both strengths and weaknesses in textbooks, 82% agreed. Yet another question tested specifically whether biology teachers should teach both sides, and 76% agreed!

The last question was not specifically related to the question before the Texas SBOE, but asked if "intelligent design" should be taught alongside evolution, and a whopping 84% agreed either strongly (64%) or somewhat (20%). The most likely to agree included 18-29 year olds and Hispanics. The poll results were released September 8, 2003 in this PDF.

The Closing Of The ACLU Mind


Crusading Against Critical Thinking In Cobb County, Georgia

Brian Fahling, Esq.
Senior Policy Advisor
August 23, 2002

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit in Georgia against the Cobb County School Board claiming that the following disclaimer placed in its science textbooks is unconstitutional: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

If, like me, you missed the constitutional violation, let Michael Manely, who is representing the plaintiffs on behalf of the ACLU, explain it: "What it does is promote the establishment of creationism in public schools . . . .Why are they singling out evolution? Because from a creationist's standpoint, they don't have a problem with the theory of gravity."

So, creationism is being promoted because those nasty fundamentalists are singling out evolution because they don't have a problem with the "theory" of gravity? My logic students are going to have a fun time with that one.

In a rational world it would be impossible to find a constitutional violation by a school district that simply asserts the unimpeachable fact that evolution is a theory and then encourages its students to have an open mind, to study carefully, and to critically consider evolution. In a rational world we would applaud such a disclaimer.

The disclaimer's origin is apparently linked to a group of Cobb County parents who are opposed to evolution on religious grounds. These parents, it seems, requested that a disclaimer be placed in the science textbooks. It may be that their objections are religiously based, but it is equally true that the language in the disclaimer suggests absolutely nothing about religion.

Is the ACLU suggesting that Christian parents, because their actions are religiously motivated, at least in part, cannot have input in their childrens' schools? Are schools prohibited from responding to legitimate concerns from any parent who is motivated by religious beliefs? This is clearly the twisted logic of the ACLU.

What if the same Cobb County parents, because of Jesus' admonition to feed the poor, had given money to the school's lunch program to help feed the school's underprivileged children? The act of giving the money, like the disclaimer, is neutral on its face, that is, unobjectionable. It is only when the sinister religious purpose behind the donation is exposed that, according to the logic of the ACLU, the school's use of the money to buy lunches for underprivileged children would become unconstitutional. Under the ACLU's theory, the school's actions become irredeemably infected by the communicable and virulent religious purpose of the parents.

The ACLU is also agitated because, as Mr. Manely notes, the disclaimer "singles out evolution from all the scientific theories out there." Did he say "theory"? Evolution--a theory? Sorry, I digress. I suspect that evolution was singled out by Cobb County because it is the only scientific theory that is routinely taught in schools as the gospel truth that no reasonable person could question. This is not only troubling for parents whose religion rejects the theory, but it is equally troubling from a academic, scientific, and intellectual perspective for obvious reasons.

But again, Mr. Manely sees a darker reason, stating that the motivation to place the disclaimer in the textbooks has to be coming from a religious basis." That is to say, "only religious "fundamentalists," as he put it, could be critical of evolution. Mr. Manely is, of course, wrong and he knows it. That is why he is reduced to name calling which is the stock-in-trade of evolutionary theory's high priests and parishioners. What are they afraid of?

The theory of evolution has far too long been shielded from critical examination. The tired old tactic of shrieking "fundamentalist" or "creationist" every time a question about evolution arises is wearing thin. Dissenting voices in the scientific and academic communities are increasing in number despite tremendous institutional pressures to conform to the orthodoxy of philosophic naturalism.

Critics of evolutionary theory include, not only creationists, but scientists who subscribe to the intelligent design theory, and, yes, even some scientists who are in the camp of Darwin but are nonetheless unsatisfied with is present condition. Nevertheless, students, like lab rats, are being spoon fed a theory masquerading as fact.

Students must be allowed to think for themselves about this important matter of life's origin. Cobb County's disclaimer is a welcome step in that direction. If the ACLU is really interested in academic and intellectual freedom it is time for them to stop crusading against critical thinking simply because "fundamentalists" are for it.

Some educators take issue with textbooks


From Casey Wian
Wednesday, October 15, 2003 Posted: 10:22 AM EDT (1422 GMT)

(CNN) -- You won't find textbooks in eighth-grade history teacher Brent Heath's classroom.

Heath, who teaches at De Anza Middle School in Ontario, California, uses historical fiction, the Internet, the Library of Congress and even music to teach students.

"It's the exact same content. It's being taught in a different way," he said.

Heath is not alone in his dissatisfaction with school textbooks. Jack Farrell still has textbooks in his high school English classes at Newbury Park High School in Newbury Park, California, but he doesn't like the slick, state-approved books he must use.

"Because it's attractive to the eye the way TV might be, the way the Internet might be, you think the student's going to be pulled into it," he said. "But in point of fact, it's very hard to negotiate logically."

Text boxes and charts designed to make information accessible often do not translate into the real world, Farrell said.

Too often, teachers say, the real world is absent from school textbooks -- from racial quotas on illustrations to sanitizing rough language in literary classics. Critics say textbooks designed not to offend also don't do much to inform.

"The books get dumber and dumber. Dumber in what they say and dumber in the sense of delivering less and less content," said William Bennetta, president of The Textbook League, an organization that reviews schoolbooks.

The content of textbooks is often influenced by forces that have little to do with educational merit. Special interest groups from both the left and the right exert tremendous pressure on states, school districts and textbook publishers.

Publishers say they're just meeting the demands of big customers like California, Texas and other states with formal approval processes that dictate content.

"Textbooks in our public schools are provided free of charge to all students. That means they're purchased with taxpayer dollars. And so the process is open for citizen input, and that's both a blessing and in some instances perhaps a curse," said Steve Driesler, executive director of the School Division of the Association of American Publishers.

According to Diane Ravitch, author of "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn," four big companies control about 75 percent of the American textbook market. Ravitch attributes the distortion in the marketplace to the states' role in buying the books.

She would like to see less involvement from the states so that "small publishers have a chance to compete."

"When you realize that your history books and your science books and your literature books are not the result of experts sitting down and making it a wise decision, but of political pressure groups coming to the state textbook hearings, this is wrong," Ravitch said.

Clustered water online


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What is Clustered Water®?

In the human body, there are two basic types* of water (biological Water): Bound water and Cluster. Cluster (free) water is able to move freely through the cell walls and is instrumental to transport nutrients, remove waste, and maintain proper communication between the cells.

Bound water, on the other hand, is water that becomes physically bound to other molecular structures and is unable to move freely through the cell walls.

When we are young, our bodies contain a high level of this remarkable water and very little bound water *.

However, as we age, bound water becomes more predominant and free water levels decrease, hindering the effectiveness of literally thousands of metabolic functions and causing significant structural changes in our body's tissues.

Even the DNA in each of our cells, which determines how we grow and what we look like, is folded around a core of this remarkable and highly organized water.

As we get older, the clusters of the water molecules changes. Because of stress and pollution, toxins and accumulated wastes in our bodies gradually bind to the water molecules, enlarging and distorting them. As the normal cluster molecules in our bodies get bigger and lose shape, it becomes difficult for water to pass the cell wall barrier.

How is it made?

Clustered Water® is highly purified water that has been raised to a high level of electromagnetic power through a patented process US Patent #'s: 5,711,950 Titled: Process for Preparing Microclustered Water, Filed: March 4, 1994, and 6,033,678 Titled: Microclustered Water. Filed December 4, 1997

It is this restructuring that makes these products so effective in accelerated hydration through enhanced mobility.

The process begins with extremely pure distilled water and, while it is exposed to special ceramics, treats it with lasers and extremely strong magnetic fields to create water "clusters". Most water is in organizations or clumps of 60 or more water molecules (H2O). The processing organizes the water molecules into clusters that are very mobile, therefore entering the cell system very rapidly and replenishing inter-cellular water.

Using bioimpedence, it has have been shown that these solutions can cause significant cell water turnover more rapidly than distilled, R.O., or regular water.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Pre-Darwin evolution idea emerges


Scottish scientist had floated similar theory in 1794 but few noticed

Thursday, October 16, 2003 - Page A9

Charles Darwin's landmark theory of evolution, described in The Origin of Species in 1859, was anticipated 65 years earlier by a scientist living and working in Edinburgh, newly published research says.

Unfortunately, prescient geologist James Hutton wrote in a nearly impenetrable literary style and buried what would later turn out to be revolutionary concepts in a 10-page chapter in a 2,250-page book.

Mr. Hutton has been called the "founder of modern geology" because he was the first to say geological records showed that the earth was millions and not thousands of years old. In 1794, he proposed the notion of natural selection. That is, if a trait gave an advantage to a member of a species, the natural world would eventually select those with that trait for survival.

More specifically, Mr. Hutton described a hypothetical race of dogs who relied on "nothing but swiftness of foot and quickness of sight" to survive. In this circumstance "the most defective in respect of those necessary qualities, would be the most subject to perish, and that those who employed them in greatest perfection would be best preserved, consequently, would be those who would remain to preserve themselves, and to continue the race."

Conversely, if an acute sense of smell was more important, a "race of well scented hounds" would arise.

Mr. Hutton also differentiated between those traits caused by the environment, such as abundant rain producing a bountiful harvest, and the heritable qualities we now know are caused by genetic mutations.

However, Paul Pearson, a geology professor at Cardiff University who has tracked down the obscure book and investigated Darwin's relationship to it, says that if Mr. Hutton got the selection element of the theory of evolution right, he missed the other key feature of Darwin's theory. This is selection's role in originating new species. "While he [Hutton] uses the selection mechanism to explain the origin of varieties in nature, he specifically rejected the idea of evolution between species as a 'romantic fantasy,' " Mr. Hutton writes in today's issue of the journal Nature.

For those interested in irony in the history of science, Prof. Pearson points out that Mr. Hutton's one-sidedness was precisely the mirror-image of Darwin's famous grandfather Erasmus Darwin. The latter Darwin wrote extensively and poetically on the interconnectedness of all species, but even though he was friends with Mr. Hutton, the elder Darwin did not employ the natural selection mechanism to explain how these links might have arisen in the natural world.

While Darwin scrupulously said that his ideas about selection were influenced by two obscure 19th century scientists, Prof. Pearson says there is no evidence in his researches of the great British biologist willfully ignoring an influential predecessor.

"There is no evidence of foul play, that is, that Darwin stole these ideas from Hutton or that he even read the book" he said in an interview.

Rumsfeld defends general who commented on war, Satan


Thursday, October 16, 2003 Posted: 2:25 PM EDT (1825 GMT) WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are defending a new deputy undersecretary of defense "who has reportedly cast the war on terror" in religious terms.

Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, whose promotion and appointment was confirmed by the Senate in June, has said publicly that he sees the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Appearing in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, Boykin said Islamic extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan."

In its report, the Times said Boykin was not available for comment and did not respond to written questions the newspaper submitted to him Wednesday. Audio and video tapes of Boykin's public appearances before religious groups over the past two years were obtained exclusively by NBC News, which reported on them Wednesday night on the "Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw.

Discussing a U.S. Army battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia in 1993, Boykin told one audience, "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol."

Asked about this Thursday, Rumsfeld told reporters he had not seen the videos and did not know the "full context" of Boykin's remarks. But the secretary did say, "We do know that he is an officer that has an outstanding record in the United States armed forces."

President Bush has often said the view of the administration is that the United States is in a war against terrorism, "not a war against a religion," Rumsfeld said, but rather a war against people who "have tried to hijack a religion."

"There are a lot of things that are said by people that are their views," he said, "and that's the way we live. We are free people and that's the wonderful thing about our country, and I think for anyone to run around and think that can be managed or controlled is probably wrong."

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "there is a very wide gray area on what the rules permit" but that "at first blush, it doesn't look like any rules were broken."

Senators who appeared before reporters at the Pentagon Thursday on another matter were asked about the reports. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, R-Rhode Island, said he had not been aware of Boykin's views as described by the Times, then added, "If that's accurate, to me it's deplorable."

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 16, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Two research teams at UCSF and Stanford have discovered evidence that stem cells from adult bone marrow do not create a wide variety of cells in the body the way cells from embryos do -- a finding that could add fresh controversy to scientific and political battles over the issue.

The adult bone marrow cells appear to fuse with existing cells of the heart, liver and brain rather than differentiating into entirely new ones, the scientists said. The studies suggest that only embryonic cells have the potential to regenerate diseased tissues.

However, in the case of brain cells, the fusion may itself provide new paths to therapies for brain disorders, according to the Stanford scientists.

from The New York Times

Tests of stored blood of healthy military personnel show that certain antibodies for lupus were formed years before the disease was diagnosed, according to a new study being published today.

The study's authors said the findings provided a more detailed picture of the natural progression of lupus and might lead to discovery of the cause of lupus and safe therapies to prevent the onset of symptoms.

Lupus — its formal name is systemic lupus erythematosus — affects up to an estimated 1.4 million Americans, predominantly women, and is potentially fatal. Lupus usually affects the skin, joints, blood and kidneys, but can harm any part of the body. There are treatments for the disease, but no cure.

from The Christian Science Monitor

AMHERST, MASS. – Iron lungs may be the answer. To the problem of nuclear pollution, the demand for new energy sources, the mystery of Earth's earliest life, and the search for life in space. A family of tiny iron-breathing critters discovered by Derek Lovley, professor of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is redefining what scientists have believed possible in all these areas.

"It's a great time to be a microbiologist," says the bright-eyed professor, outdoorsman, and dad. "I've got a team of 50 people working with me; almost every day somebody discovers something that changes the way we think about how things work."

He never planned to be a biologist. But poking around in the muck at the bottom of Maryland waterways for the United States Geological Survey in 1987, Dr. Lovley discovered a new type of bacteria: the iron-breathing geobacteraceae (Latin for "earth" and "rod," their habitat and shape). Poisoned by oxygen, these organisms thrive in environments free of it, underground and underwater.

from The Christian Science Monitor

Ask any aquarium curator, and you'll discover just how much an octopus likes to explore its environment. A master escape artist whose soft body can contort itself through the smallest of openings, the octopus is the brainiest of animals without backbones, and it has keen eyesight. Those attributes attracted Albert Titus, a University of Buffalo professor, to study how an octopus sees, and to mimic that structure and function in a silicon chip called the o-retina.

His goal is to create electronic vision systems that could be used in robots to explore the oceans, outer space, and harsh environments. Professor Titus and his colleagues developed an experimental version of the o-retina chip, which is about the size of a narrow Post-it Note. The chip acts as a retina, a sensory membrane in the eye that distills relevant visual information to be sent to the brain.

"We'd like to be able to explore new things in a more intelligent way, to have a vision system that perceives its environment and makes decisions without a human always telling it what to do," says Titus. One big challenge is figuring out how the brain uses information to understand and reconstitute an image, and then translating that process onto a chip. The octopus retina provides a simple, yet elegant visual system which, Titus says, is relatively easy to simulate in silicon.

from Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- The Lowell Observatory and science cable giant Discovery Communications have formed a partnership to build a $30 million telescope to search the skies for meteors and asteroids.

Observatory leaders and Discovery Communications Founder and CEO John Hendricks held a Wednesday press conference to announce the project.

"This telescope has been a dream of mine and my colleagues," said Observatory Director Bob Millis.

Princeton paleontologist produces evidence for new theory on dinosaur extinction


PRINCETON, N.J. -- As a paleontologist, Gerta Keller has studied many aspects of the history of life on Earth. But the question capturing her attention lately is one so basic it has passed the lips of generations of 6-year-olds: What killed the dinosaurs?

The answers she has been uncovering for the last decade have stirred an adult-sized debate that puts Keller at odds with many scientists who study the question. Keller, a professor in Princeton's Department of Geosciences, is among a minority of scientists who believe that the story of the dinosaurs' demise is much more complicated than the familiar and dominant theory that a single asteroid hit Earth 65 million years ago and caused the mass extinction known as the Cretacious-Tertiary, or K/T, boundary.

Keller and a growing number of colleagues around the world are turning up evidence that, rather than a single event, an intensive period of volcanic eruptions as well as a series of asteroid impacts are likely to have stressed the world ecosystem to the breaking point. Although an asteroid or comet probably struck Earth at the time of the dinosaur extinction, it most likely was, as Keller says, "the straw that broke the camel's back" and not the sole cause.

Perhaps more controversially, Keller and colleagues contend that the "straw" -- that final impact -- is probably not what most scientists believe it is. For more than a decade, the prevailing theory has centered on a massive impact crater in Mexico. In 1990, scientists proposed that the Chicxulub crater, as it became known, was the remnant of the fateful dinosaur-killing event and that theory has since become dogma.

Keller has accumulated evidence, including results released this year, suggesting that the Chicxulub crater probably did not coincide with the K/T boundary. Instead, the impact that caused the Chicxulub crater was likely smaller than originally believed and probably occurred 300,000 years before the mass extinction. The final dinosaur-killer probably struck Earth somewhere else and remains undiscovered, said Keller.

These views have not made Keller a popular figure at meteorite impact meetings. "For a long time she's been in a very uncomfortable minority," said Vincent Courtillot, a geological physicist at Université Paris 7. The view that there was anything more than a single impact at work in the mass extinction of 65 million years ago "has been battered meeting after meeting by a majority of very renowned scientists," said Courtillot.

The implications of Keller's ideas extend beyond the downfall of ankylosaurus and company. Reviving an emphasis on volcanism, which was the leading hypothesis before the asteroid theory, could influence the way scientists think about the Earth's many episodes of greenhouse warming, which mostly have been caused by periods of volcanic eruptions. In addition, if the majority of scientists eventually reduce their estimates of the damage done by a single asteroid, that shift in thinking could influence the current-day debate on how much attention should be given to tracking and diverting Earth-bound asteroids and comets in the future.

Keller does not work with big fossils such as dinosaur bones commonly associated with paleontology. Instead, her expertise is in one-celled organisms, called foraminifera, which pervade the oceans and evolved rapidly through geologic periods. Some species exist for only a couple hundred thousand years before others replace them, so the fossil remains of short-lived species constitute a timeline by which surrounding geologic features can be dated.

In a series of field trips to Mexico and other parts of the world, Keller has accumulated several lines of evidence to support her view of the K/T extinction. She has found, for example, populations of pre-K/T foraminifera that lived on top of the impact fallout from Chicxulub. (The fallout is visible as a layer of glassy beads of molten rock that rained down after the impact.) These fossils indicate that this impact came about 300,000 years before the mass extinction.

The latest evidence came last year from an expedition by an international team of scientists who drilled 1,511 meters into the Chicxulub crater looking for definitive evidence of its size and age. Although interpretations of the drilling samples vary, Keller contends that the results contradict nearly every established assumption about Chicxulub and confirm that the Cretaceous period persisted for 300,000 years after the impact. In addition, the Chicxulub crater appears to be much smaller than originally thought -- less than 120 kilometers in diameter compared with the original estimates of 180 to 300 kilometers.

Keller and colleagues are now studying the effects of powerful volcanic eruptions that began more than 500,000 years before the K/T boundary and caused a period of global warming. At sites in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Israel and Egypt, they are finding evidence that volcanism caused biotic stress almost as severe as the K/T mass extinction itself. These results suggest that asteroid impacts and volcanism may be hard to distinguish based on their effects on plant and animal life and that the K/T mass extinction could be the result of both, said Keller.

Note: A longer version of this news release appeared in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin:


The science behind the curtain

By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 10/14/2003


A man stands before a crowd holding a styrofoam cup. He pours the water in the cup. Maybe he smirks. Then he turns the cup upside down and . . . nothing comes out. The crowd gasps. But wait: He's not done. Poke a pencil in the bottom of the cup, he tells an audience member. Someone pokes. Still no water on the floor.

The man with the magical powers has a doctorate, and he's the dean of engineering at Dartmouth College. And there's a simple scientific explanation behind his sorcery: He slipped some slush powder into the cup.

"It's a simple polymer," said Lewis M. Duncan. "It's the same stuff they put in diapers to prevent them from leaking."

As long as there have been magic tricks -- for the better part of 5,000 years -- there have been scientific explanations for the things we see, or think we see, or see and then not see and then see again.

And now Boston's Museum of Science is helping reveal those underpinnings with "Magic: The Science of Illusion," which opened over the weekend. The show, curated by the California Science Center in Los Angeles, aims to preserve magic's magic but at the same time give museum goers at least a partial peep behind the curtain.

Famous illusions explained include: Penn & Teller's bodiless head; Goldfinger & Dove's levitating chair; Max Maven's mindreading; and Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin's "light and heavy chest," in which someone is invited to pick up a box and then, after a few magic words are incanted, the person who had no trouble lifting it the first time, suddenly finds it too heavy to budge.

Behind these and other illusions lie cables, levers, magnets, mirrors, more mirrors, some simple math, and an iron plate. The theater of the trick disguises the science and heightens the mystery.

"Magic combines -- and has almost always combined -- very sophisticated mechanical, electrical, and material technology with very straightforward techniques in deception and misdirection," said Duncan, who has not seen the exhibit.

The engineering professor, whose official specialty is in experimental space plasma physics, said it's our natural interest in science that has made magic so universally appealing for millennia.

"It's part of human curiosity," he said. "Nature often does things we don't expect. Why do the leaves change? What's the source of an aurora?"

Or: How can a body be made to disappear, leaving only its head behind? That goes back to the psychology of misdirection.

"If I'm staring at you, looking at you intently and speaking intently, the pressure you'll feel to raise your head and look directly at me is enormous," said Larry Haas, a professor of philosophy at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania and director of the school's Theory of Art and Magic program.

"Magicians know how to make that happen so you don't even feel a suspicion about what's going on," he said. "Then you don't see the elephant being dragged in."

Penn, who has made a career of dragging in unseen elephants and other objects, said it's hard to beat the "ah-ha" feeling of suddenly being able to see through an illusion. That feeling is "to me, one of the most powerful feelings any one can ever have."

Although he and his silent partner (and frequent victim) Teller, reveal the mystery of their bodiless head trick in the museum exhibit, their magic goes further than their explanation. That's because understanding the math, chemistry, or physics of a trick is ultimately unsatisfying, Penn said.

"Sometimes people come up to me after a show and ask how we did something," Penn said. "Once in a while, I tell them. And there's no look of satisfaction at all. I don't think they really want to know how we did it.

"They want to look into themselves and see the whole process of how they got false information from the world. Telling them I shifted something from my right hand to my left isn't what they really want to hear. There's more to it."

Michael Rosenwald can be reached at mrosenwald@globe.com
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Power of prayer found wanting in hospital trial


By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 15/10/2003)

The biggest scientific experiment on prayer has failed to find any evidence that it helps to heal the sick.

Doctors in the United States will today disclose that heart patients who were prayed for by groups of strangers recovered from surgery at the same rate as those who were not.

The three-year study, led by cardiologists from Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina, involved 750 patients in nine hospitals and 12 prayer groups around the world, from Christians in Manchester to Buddhists in Nepal.

Earlier, less extensive, research suggested prayer could have a measurably beneficial effect.

But the experiment, which will be detailed in a BBC2 Everyman documentary to be broadcast next week, was criticised as crude by Church leaders. The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Tom Wright, said: "Prayer is not a penny-in-the-slot machine. You can't just put in a coin and get out a chocolate.

"This is like setting an exam for God to see if God will pass it or not."

He said both the Old and New Testaments said "very clearly" that you must not put God to the test. The new research, dubbed the Mantra project, was led by Dr Mitch Krucoff, a cardiologist, whose pilot studies had led him to believe that prayer could have measurably beneficial effects.

Over three years, 750 patients awaiting angioplasty, a procedure to clear obstructions from their arteries, were recruited for the experiment.

Names selected at random by a computer were sent to the 12 prayer groups, who began praying immediately for their recovery. Neither the hospital staff nor the patients and their relatives knew who was being prayed for.

The prayer groups included American Christian mothers, nuns in a Carmelite convent in Baltimore, Sufi Muslims, Buddhist monks in Nepal and English doctors and medical students in Manchester. Prayers were even e-mailed to Jerusalem and placed in the Wailing Wall.

An analysis of the results found that there were no significant differences in the recovery and health of the patients who were prayed for and those who were not.

The Rev Leslie Francis, professor of practical theology at the University of Wales, said two major studies, in 1988 and 1999, had found that prayer had a beneficial effect.

"In medical research one expects divergent results, so it is premature to affirm or dismiss the power of prayer in healing," he said. "But if the pharmaceutical industry was getting these sorts of results they would be investing a great of money in research."

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