NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 October 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Sunday, October 26, 2003

Witch Gets State Grant

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=573&ncid=573&e=2&u=/nm/20031021/od_nm/life_norway_witch_dc

Tue Oct 21, 8:41 AM ET

OSLO (Reuters) - A witch has won subsidies from the Norwegian state to run a business of potions, fortune-telling and magic.

Lena Skarning, 33, won the unprecedented start-up grant of 53,000 crowns ($7,400) after promising not to try out harmful spells with her business, Forest Witch Magic Consulting.

Skarning, who owns a white cat and says she has been practicing witchcraft for 13 years, said the runaway success of JK Rowling's Harry Potter (news - web sites) books about a boy wizard may have made society more tolerant of sorcery.

"But Harry Potter is a fairy tale and I'm not," she told Reuters Tuesday. "I'm the real thing. And now I'm Norway's only state-backed witch."

She said the government subsidy would help her tell fortunes from Tarot cards, teach magic tricks at corporate seminars and develop products like magical bath oil, water potions or face creams meant to help users have clearer dreams at night.

"The ingredients are mostly herbs -- nothing scary," she said of her products.

Skarning said Harry Potter was unrealistic. "He rides his broom backwards. Real witches ride with the brush part in front," she said.

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 658 October 21, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

DIRECT IMAGING OF EXTRASOLAR PLANETS might be easier than astronomers thought, a new study shows. Evidence for the existence of planets around nearby stars comes mostly in the form of tiny Doppler shifts in the star's spectra as one or more orbiting planets tug on the star. In a few cases the transit of a planet across the face of a star can be detected from a minute dimming of the star's emission. These approaches are indirect. The problem of imaging extrasolar planets directly is that the planet is far outshone by the nearby star. One proposed way of getting around this glare problem is to use nulling interferometry. In ordinary interferometry the light waves from two or more telescopes are added together in such a way that the resulting observation is equivalent to one made with a single telescope with a much wider diameter than any of the component scopes. But instead of maximizing the composite signal from the distant object, it can be minimized (see past Update item at http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/1998/split/pnu397-3.htm ). By doing this, a weaker nearby object, like a planet, might suddenly emerge from what had been irrepressible glare.

In a new paper, William Danchi (Goddard Space Flight Center) and his colleagues have performed extensive studies of the interferometry nulling technique, especially the way in which increasing the precision of component detectors increases the degree to which the star's image is truly nulled, the better to see either smaller planets or planets that are closer in toward their parent star. Both the smaller and closer criteria are pertinent when searching for earth-like extrasolar planets. Danchi (wcd@iri1.gsfc.nasa.gov, 301-286-4586) says that the new study shows that with the right configuration of detectors, the spatial resolution of the overall interferometer (which is related to its size) can be less than have been thought, an important consideration for what would be an orbiting space-based observatory. Danchi envisions that a first-round nulling interferometer using two half-meter-sized telescopes separated by a 12-meter boom could observe already discovered extrasolar planets (including spectroscopic studies of atmospheres). With a later, larger version of the nulling interferometer one could hope to search for earthlike planets harboring characteristic molecules such as ozone, and/or oxygen, plus carbon dioxide, water, and methane. Detecting these molecules could help determine the age of the planet and what life processes might be occurring there. (Danchi, Deming, Kuchner, and Seager, Astrophysical Journal Letters, 1 November 2003; preprint astro-ph/0309361)

EVIDENCE FOR AN UNUSUALLY ACTIVE SUN since the 1940s comes from a new estimation of sunspots back to the ninth century. Many natural phenomena such as solar radiance and sunspots vary according to natural cycles. The variation is subject also to additional fluctuations (arising from as yet unexplained effects) which complicate any study which examines only a short time interval. The longer the baseline, the more confident one can be in drawing out historical conclusions. In the case of sunspots, the direct counting goes back to Galileo's time, around 1610. But earlier sunspot activity can be deduced from beryllium-10 traces in Greenland and Antarctic ice cores. The reasoning is as follows: more sunspots imply a more magnetically active sun which then more effectively repels the galactic cosmic rays, thus reducing their production of Be-10 atoms in the Earth's atmosphere. Be-10 atoms precipitate on Earth and can be traced in polar ice even after centuries. Using this approach, scientists at the University of Oulu in Finland (Ilya Usoskin, ilya.usoskin@oulu.fi, 358-8-553-1377) and the Max Planck Institute in Katlenburg-Lindau in Germany have reconstructed the sunspot count back to the year 850, nearly tripling the baseline for sunspot studies. They conclude that over the whole 1150 year record available, the sun has been most magnetically active (greatest number of sunspots) over the recent 60 years. (Usoskin et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article)

CAN A SINGLE GAS BUBBLE SINK A SHIP? Yes, according to an experimental and theoretical analysis performed by researchers at Monash University in Australia (David May and Joseph Monaghan, Joe.Monaghan@sci.monash.edu.au). The ocean floor contains vast quantities of methane gas hydrates, ice-like crystals of methane surrounded by cages of water molecules. If disturbed, these methane gas hydrates can erupt from the floor and rise to the surface as gas bubbles, some of which can be very large. Copious amounts of methane hydrates exist in the North Sea, which lies in between the United Kingdom and continental Europe. At a large eruption site in the North Sea known as the Witches Hole off the coast of Aberdeen, a sonar survey recently uncovered the presence of a sunken vessel, but the cause of the wreck remains undetermined. Simple experiments have previously shown that many small bubbles rising to the surface could sink a cylinder of water (and conceivably a ship), by causing a loss of buoyancy (Denardo et al., American Journal of Physics, October 2001). But could a single large gas bubble do the trick? The Monash researchers investigated this possibility in a simple, roughly two-dimensional system. Trapping water between a pair of vertical glass plates, and launching single gas bubbles from the bottom, they used a video camera to observe a single large bubble's effect on a small piece of acrylic shaped like the hull of a boat. Along with numerical simulations of this scenario, the experiments showed that the bubble could sink the ship, if the bubble's radius was comparable to or greater than the ship's hull. Sinking would occur because a mound of water formed above the bubble as it approached the surface. As the bubble reached the surface, it would temporarily lift the ship. However, water in the mound would then flow off the sides of the bubble, forming deep troughs at either side, and the water flow would carry the boat to one of the troughs. In addition, the eventual rupture of the bubble would create high-velocity jets of fluid that moved into the troughs, creating vortices that further pulled down the boat. The researchers say that their numerical simulations could test other scenarios, including those involving multiple large bubbles, more realistic boats, and ultimately a full three-dimensional simulation. (American Journal of Physics, September 2003).

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

Jesus actor struck by lightning

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3209223.stm

Actor Jim Caviezel has been struck by lightning while playing Jesus in Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion Of Christ.

The lightning bolt hit Caviezel and the film's assistant director Jan Michelini while they were filming in a remote location a few hours from Rome.

It was the second time Michelini had been hit by lightning during the shoot.

Neither of them was badly hurt, according to the film's producer Steve McEveety.

Michelini had previously been struck during filming in Matera, Italy, when he suffered light burns to his fingers after lightning hit his umbrella.

Describing the second lightning strike, McEveety told VLife, a supplement of the trade paper Variety: "I'm about a hundred feet away from them when I glance over and see smoke coming out of Caviezel's ears."

The Passion Of Christ, which was filmed in the ancient languages of Latin and Aramaic, is directed and co-written by actor Mel Gibson and focuses on the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus.

Although it is not due for release until early next year, it has already hit headlines after Jewish figures in the United States slated it for being "dangerous" and portraying Jews in a negative way.

Originally titled The Passion, the film changed its title last week after Miramax claimed the rights to the title for one of its own projects, a historical epic based on a Jeanette Winterson novel.

The film now looks set to be released in the States by independent distributors Newmarket Films, who released Memento and Whale Rider in the US.

The Alternative Fix

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/altmed/

Thursday, November 6, at 9pm, 60 minutes

After two years, $48,000, and six attempts at in vitro fertilization, Gil and Christie Goren said, "Enough."

Frustrated by their experiences with fertility specialists and modern medicine in general, the Los Angeles, California, couple decided to take a different approach to getting pregnant. Foregoing test tubes and artificial insemination, they placed their hopes and dreams for a child into the hands of a group of traditional Maori healers visiting from New Zealand. The head of the healers, "Papa Joe," has told Christie that following his treatment--which involves deep tissue massage and chanting--she will likely become pregnant within three weeks.

"I was so broken hearted and my soul needed a little soothing that I just decided to stop the in vitro," Christie Goren says. "I kind of knew that I needed to make the choices, that I needed to find what was going to heal me."

The Gorens are not alone. They are among a growing number of Americans whose disenchantment with modern health care has led them to seek alternative therapies. From acupuncture to homeopathy, herbal supplements to chiropractic, complementary and alternative medicine has become an $18 billion a year industry in America--one that traditional hospitals and medical schools are now eagerly embracing. But do these treatments actually work? Are they safe? And have medical professionals put aside their doubts in the efficacy of complementary medicine treatments in order to cash in on a multimillion-dollar market?

In "The Alternative Fix," airing Thursday, November 6, at 9 P.M., on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE® examines the controversy over complementary and alternative medicine. The one-hour documentary features interviews with staunch supporters, skeptical scientists, and other observers on both sides of the alternative medicine debate and questions whether hospitals that offer alternative therapies are conveying a sense of legitimacy to these largely untested and scientifically unproven treatments.

"It's a big business," says Dr. Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School. "A lot of people have a vested interest in complementary and alternative medicine."

FRONTLINE traces the mainstreaming of alternative medicine to the halls of Congress and one U.S. senator's allergies. Viewers meet Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who recalls complaining to a friend about his terrible allergies. The friend said he knew someone who could cure the senator's allergies using bee pollen.

"I went on this very tough regimen of taking a lot of bee pollen, sometimes as much as sixty pills a day," Harkin tells FRONTLINE. "And literally on about the tenth day, all of a sudden my allergies just left.

"Well, that's when I began to think, 'We've got to have somebody looking at these different approaches.'"

Harkin, the chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Committee, convinced Congress to allocate $2 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the study of alternative medicine. It was a move that was not well received within the traditional medical community.

"There was this reaction that witchcraft and sorcery and alchemy and voodoo were being introduced into the National Institutes of Health," medical historian James Whorton says, "and it had no place there, and that this was purely a political plea."

"The Alternative Fix" also examines the passage of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), a controversial bill that limited the Food and Drug Administration's power to regulate dietary supplements at a time when the FDA was gearing up to increase its regulation of what has since become an $8 billion a year industry.

To Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the bill's proponents, DSHEA is "a bill of freedom. It's a bill that allows the American people to have access to high-quality dietary supplements that can enhance their lives and help them live better lives."

Physicist Dr. Robert Park disagrees. "It would be my candidate for the worst piece of legislation ever passed," he says.

Park, author of Voodoo Science, notes that one of the key provisions of the act took away the FDA's ability to ensure that supplements were proven safe and effective before they made it to drugstore shelves.

"Under the [act]," Park says, "the Food and Drug Administration can't really get involved until, as somebody put it, the bodies start piling up."

Adds Dr. Tom Delbanco of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: "It's wonderful right now to be someone who makes herbal drugs. I wouldn't be regulated, no one would be watching over my shoulder. The only people who would be interested in me are my stockholders to see how big a profit I can make."

Not everyone in the medical community, however, is so skeptical of complementary and alternative medicine. Some of the nation's leading hospitals and medical centers, in fact, have embraced these lucrative therapies, offering them alongside more traditional treatments. New York's Beth Israel Medical Center, for example, now houses the Continuum Center for Health and Healing, which offers such alternative treatments as guided imagery, acupuncture, and homeopathy--despite the fact that some practitioners confess to not knowing how or why their treatments work.

In the documentary, for example, viewers watch Beth Israel Dr. Edward Schultz treat a five-year-old boy's behavior problems with pills that contain microscopic amounts of ground up tarantula--a treatment other doctors in the film say can't possibly be effective.

The charges don't seem to trouble Dr. Matt Fink, former CEO of Beth Israel Medical Center. "If hospitals don't get involved in these kinds of programs they will lose patients because patients will go elsewhere," Fink tells FRONTLINE. "So, like any other new discoveries, you can either lead or you can follow."

Still, the question remains: Do complementary and alternative medicine treatments actually work? In "The Alternative Fix," FRONTLINE examines the few research studies conducted on alternative treatments, while also previewing several larger studies currently underway, including one of the largest studies ever done on the efficacy of acupuncture. Yet even if these new studies prove that the treatments in question are no more effective than a placebo, will the legions of consumers who spend billions on them be swayed?

Not likely, alternative treatment proponents say.

"People are fed up with being passive recipients of authoritarian, paternalistic medicine," says noted alternative healer Dr. Andrew Weil. "And many of these systems make people feel they are more autonomous, more in charge of their own destiny."

Hester Young agrees. In the past fifteen years, Young has battled breast cancer, rectal cancer, and lung cancer. But after undergoing chemotherapy and other traditional therapies the first two times around, she says she simply couldn't face the debilitating treatments when her doctor diagnosed cancer in her lungs. Although never confirmed through a biopsy, she began looking for alternative cancer treatments.

Today, five years later, she credits her survival to a special regimen prescribed by Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, an alternative cancer specialist who prescribes controversial--and expensive-- treatments such as repeated coffee enemas and megadoses of supplements to cancer patients desperate for a cure.

Just ten years ago, Gonzalez's therapy led to a fight with the New York State Medical Board which found instances of incompetence and negligence in his evaluation of several patients. Gonzales maintains the case was an attack on his unconventional cancer regimen.

Yet the NIH is currently studying Dr. Gonzalez's claims that nutritional therapy can help prolong life for cancer patients. But if the tests conclude the doctor's treatments are ineffective, Hester Young doesn't want to hear it.

"Nothing they could say would make me feel differently," she says, "because I'm feeling well and it's a success as far as I'm concerned."

Christie and Gil Goren feel similarly. At the end of the documentary, viewers check in with the Gorens. Three weeks have passed and Christie is still not pregnant. Nevertheless, the couple remains optimistic.

"I think if people were to look at this [documentary] and think, 'Oh, they're just hoping...'" Christie Goren says. "We both feel like, 'What else is there?'"

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 23, 2003

2 GENES MAKE CANCER RISK SOAR
from The Washington Post

Women who inherit mutated versions of either of the two major genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer face extremely high odds of getting one of those cancers even if there is no history of either disease in their families, according to a landmark study of cancer genetics.

The finding removes what scientists now say was a false sense of security among women who carry one of the gene mutations but have no cases of breast or ovarian cancer in their families. Based on previous studies that had analyzed the question differently, some doctors have been counseling such women that the cancer genes were less of a threat to them, perhaps because their genetic lineage conferred some compensatory protection.

The findings, reported in today's issue of the journal Science, lend support to the idea that most Ashkenazi Jewish women -- an ethnic group in which one in 40 women carries the mutations -- ought to get tested to see if they carry mutated versions of either gene, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Those who test positive, several researchers and doctors said, should now seriously consider having their ovaries removed when they are finished having children.
http://snurl.com/18ju

WORM'S LIFE EXTENDED SIXFOLD
from The San Francisco Chronicle

A UC San Francisco scientist seeking to understand the mysteries of aging has altered the genetics of a nearly microscopic worm to keep it alive and thriving for more than six times its normal lifespan.

Earlier experiments by noted molecular biologist Cynthia Kenyon and her colleagues had doubled and quadrupled the life spans of the primitive roundworm called Caenorhabiditis elegans by lowering the activity of a single gene, known as daf-2.

In their latest achievement, reported today in the journal Science, they increased the life of the worms from a mere two weeks to an average of 12 weeks by altering the daf-2 gene and also removing the worm's reproductive system. A few of the toughest worms continued living for up to six months, she said.
http://snurl.com/18np

OCEAN CENSUS DISCOVERING NEW SPECIES
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists around the world are conducting the most ambitious global census of marine life ever undertaken, and after only three years of their 10- year, $10 billion project, they can already see that thousands of ocean fish species and other sea-going animals and plants remain to be discovered.

As the health of the world's oceans becomes increasingly threatened by pollution, coastal development and over-harvesting, and with fish populations declining everywhere, the census is being undertaken by international scientists to learn both the full scope of marine diversity and the threats that life faces in the waters of the world.

In their first report, released Thursday at a meeting at New York's American Museum of Natural History, leaders of the effort said that so far they have found 15,300 fish species and at least 210,000 species of marine animals and plants. They predicted that more than 5,000 previously unknown fish species and hundreds of thousands -- perhaps nearly a million -- other forms of marine life remain to be found.
http://snurl.com/18ne

Public Library of Science

http://www.plos.org/

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.

The internet and electronic publishing enable the creation of public libraries of science containing the full text and data of any published research article, available free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world.

Immediate unrestricted access to scientific ideas, methods, results, and conclusions will speed the progress of science and medicine, and will more directly bring the benefits of research to the public.

To realize this potential, a new business model for scientific publishing is required that treats the costs of publication as the final integral step of the funding of a research project. To demonstrate that this publishing model will be successful for the publication of the very best research, PLoS will publish its own journals. PLoS Biology launched its first issue on October 13, 2003, in print and online. PLoS Medicine will follow in 2004.

PLoS is working with scientists, their societies, funding agencies, and other publishers to pursue our broader goal of ensuring an open-access home for every published article and to develop tools to make the literature useful to scientists and the public.


Saturday, October 25, 2003

Where's the fire? Who's the fireman?

http://www.townhall.com/columnists/marvinolasky/mo20031023.shtml

Marvin Olasky (archive)

October 23, 2003

The Texas State Board of Education will decide early next month whether to require textbooks to include a pinch of criticism in their pages of pro-evolution teaching. But many journalists feel no need to balance Darwinian theory with Intelligent Design perspective, since they see the latter as educational arson.

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

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

In defense of Gibbons, his role on the editorial page might relieve him of some criticism for bias: He is not required to pretend to be neutral. But reporters on the news pages also are not required to be neutral, if they define the debate as one between good and evil. Reporters do not balance news about breakthroughs in the war against cancer with pro-cancer reports. These days newspapers that affectionately cover Gay Pride parades rarely sense any need to quote critics of homosexuality.

Whether coverage is "balanced" depends on how journalists define fires and view firemen. CNN, for example, was in the clear earlier this year when it depicted the textbook battle as one between extremist Bible-thumpers and scientists, instead of the dispute among scientists that it now is. For CNN, Intelligent Design proponents were children playing with matches, and the scientists would save the day.

You'd never know from such coverage that distinguished scientists such as Michael Behe of Lehigh University, author of "Darwin's Black Box," were encouraging the Texas Board of Education to correct factual errors in biology textbooks and to require that textbooks present both the weaknesses and strengths of evolutionary theory. For many biased reporters, Behe and others are just part of the fire that needs to be extinguished.

Abortion is another issue that many leading journalists believe would already be settled in a "progressive" manner if pro-life pyromaniacs were not in the way. This week's coverage of Senate success for the bill banning partial birth abortion included an NPR slam on the pro-life movement for pushing a measure seen by most Americans as moderate. (That makes it harder to depict pro-lifers as fanatical fire-starters.)

Or look at the coverage this week and last of the purportedly fiery remarks of Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin. NBC played a clip of Boykin presenting a slide slow in June at the Good Shepherd Community Church in Sandy, Ore., and Boykin saying: "Well, is he (bin Laden) the enemy? Next slide. Or is this man (Saddam) the enemy? The enemy is none of these people I have showed you here. The enemy is a spiritual enemy. He's called the principality of darkness. The enemy is a guy called Satan."

This is standard biblical understanding: The real enemies are not flesh and blood, they are spiritual. But NBC and an unheavenly host of politicians were aghast, as they also were about Boykin's statement at a church in Florida that Christianity is true and Islam is not. The general soon came under enormous pressure to bow to the standard non-biblical understanding that all religions are essentially the same.

Intelligent Design advocates, pro-life leaders, Christian generals: Networks and liberal pundits scream Fire! Fire! Good thing we have hundreds of high-pressure fire hoses and journalists willing to use them.

Marvin Olasky is Editor of WORLD magazine, a TownHall.com member group.

©2003 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

7 School Board candidates would oppose teaching creationism

http://www.stillwatergazette.com/story.asp?cat=NEW&story=6551

(Created 10/23/03 8:49:00 AM)

Two say state should allow discussion of competing theories

By GREG C. HUFF

News Editor

STILLWATER— Neither registered nor write-in candidates for the District 834 School Board believe that Minnesota educators should teach creationism. Two candidates, however, said teachers should not deny students the opportunity to discuss in school theories that challenge evolution.

Origin-of-life debates arose anew in Minnesota last month after the Minnesota Education Department released accidentally two drafts of its new standards for teaching science — drafts which differed only in how they prescribe how educators should teach evolution. One draft version included words such as "might," "may" and "possible" in language that some believed was designed to question evolution's veracity.

A recent Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "creationism" as a "doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis," the Bible's first chapter.

The five officially registered School Board candidates — incumbents David "Choc" Junker, Christy Hlavacek, Mary Cecconi and John Uppgren, and challenger Andrée Aronson — discussed the debate about mankind's origins at a candidates' forum at Stonebridge Elementary School on Oct. 7. Write-in candidates Christopher Kunze and Nancy Hoffman addressed the matter in e-mail interviews earlier this month

Questions about creationism did not arise in Tuesday night's candidate's forum October 21 at Stillwater Area High School.

"Do you agree with teaching (creationism) in public school?" Stillwater resident Scott Neestrum asked in the Oct. 7 candidates' forum. "And, if you don't, how would you combat it?"

Aronson indicated a personal belief in creationism, but said unequivocally that Minnesota educators should not teach creationism as fact. Cecconi and Kunze both said that the state should not prohibit discussion of creationism.

"It's very important to have creationism presented to learning people ... to try and get some feel for 'This is out there?'" Cecconi said. "I think it's wrong to keep anything silent and say 'It's not there.' I think the teaching of 'Guess what, this is coming down the pike, what do you think?' (is acceptable). As far as scientifically, I am straight on the lines of evolution."

Uppgren, Hlavacek and Hoffman each said that local churches are better suited to teach creationism.

"I'm worried about teaching math and science and writing well — we do not have time to be bothered by these political games that people play that have other agendas. ..." Uppgren said. "We do not have time to address these nuisance ideas that legislators have, because they've never bothered to come and sit down and talk with the School Board."

Said Hlavacek: "We do not have enough time, energy and money to put into teaching something that will not further our student achievement. ... I strongly oppose that."

Junker, who asked Neestrum to define creationism for him, did not specifically answeer the question, but said he doesn't "like the idea of religion mixed with politics."

Below each of the following sub-headings are additional excerpts from each of the candidates' responses to Neestrum's question. The official candidates answered in the forum. The write-in candidates answered via e-mail, a few days after the forum. Responses have been edited for space and usage, and in some cases, to omit digressions not germane to the creationism debate.

The candidates in the forum also discussed transportation issues, parents' role in the education process, Minnesota's new education standards, and the many challenges facing schools here and throughout the state.

Aronson

Said Aronson: "I do not believe that creationism should be taught in schools. ... Creationism is one of many beliefs of how the world was started, and that is a different (theory than) scientific evolution. Evolution is based on science and research.

"Creationism might be my personal belief, but that's what it is — it's a belief. And I don't think that they should mix."

Hoffman

Said Hoffman, a confirmation guide for a second year at Trinity Lutheran Church: "People can make a difference in our youth, and participate in many ways at their local churches and use these opportunities to help our youth develop their faith belief system."

Cecconi

Said Cecconi: "This is one of those questions where you have your personal belief and then you have your board hat. And first off ... personally, I am absolutely opposed to ... the teaching of creationism in a public school.

"However, I have to say that I would like ... my own children to be able to have that conversation in a very lively way with a lot of students who can give them different feelings — maybe in a literature course, maybe something that's not being taught to them; definitely not proselytizing. As a board member, I think I need to fight that tooth and nail."

Kunze

Said Kunze: "I do not believe that religious views should be taught as absolute truth in schools, but I also believe that a healthy discussion of major beliefs is acceptable and beneficial."

Uppgren

Said Uppgren: "All I can say with certainty is (that) we have very good churches in our community. And it seems to me that we've done a pretty good job as a culture of taking more and more things away from churches. It wasn't long ago that churches organized sports, they handled a lot of social activities. And suddenly, that's become the domain of independent associations and schools and things like that. ... I have a lot of faith in churches in this community to do an excellent job of teaching creationism.

Hlavacek

Said Hlavacek: "I would not support the teaching of creationism in school. I strongly believe that role belongs to the churches in this community, not to the ... public schools that we (as School Board members) represent."

• • • •

Contact Greg C. Huff at gchuff@pressenter.com.

Anthropologist Scott Atran on religion

http://www.discover.com/issues/oct-03/departments/featdialogue/

In your book In Gods We Trust, you call religion an evolutionary riddle. Why?
A: Think about it. All religions require costly sacrifices that have no material rewards. Look at the Egyptian pyramids. Millions of man-hours. For what? To house dead bones? Or the Cambodian pyramids. Or the Mayan pyramids. Or cathedrals. Or just going to church every Sunday and gesticulating. Or saying a Latin or Hebrew prayer, mumbling what are to many people incoherent words. Stopping whatever you're doing to bow and scrape. Then think about the cognitive aspects of it. For example, to take alive for dead and weak for strong. I mean, what creature could possibly survive if it did these kinds of things systematically?

Look at the things that religion is said to do. It is said to relieve people's anxieties, but it's also said to increase their anxieties so that elites can use them for political purposes. It's supposed to be liberating. It's supposed to encourage creativity. It's supposed to stop creativity. It's supposed to explain events that can't be explained. It's supposed to prevent people from explaining them. You can find functional explanations, and their contraries, and they're all true.

Why then has religion survived in so many cultures?
A: Because humans are faced with problems they can't solve. Think about death. Because we have these cognitive abilities to travel in time and to track memory, we are automatically aware of death everywhere. That is a cognitive problem. Death is something that our organism tells us to avoid. So now we seek some kind of a long-term solution. And there is none. Lucretius and Epicurus thought they could solve this through reason. They said, "Look, what does it matter? We weren't alive for infinite generations before we were born. It doesn't bother us. Why should we be worried about the infinite generations that will be after us when we're gone?" Well, nobody bought that. The reason that line of reasoning didn't work is because once you're alive, you've got something that you're going to lose.

Another problem is deception. Look at society. If you've got rocks and stones and pieces of glass and metal before you, and you say, "Oh, that doesn't exist," or "That's not really a piece of metal," or "That's not really a tree," someone will come along and say, "Look, you're crazy; I can touch it; there's a piece of metal there; I can show you it's a piece of metal." For commonsense physical events, we have ways of verifying what's real or not.For moral judgments, we have nothing. If someone says, "Oh, he should be a beggar and he should be a king," what is there in the world that's going to convince me this is true? There is nothing. If there is nothing, how are people ever going to get on with one another? Especially non-kin. How are they ever going to build societies, and how are they ever going to trust one another so they won't defect? One way that humans seem to have come up with is to invent this minimally counterintuitive world developed by these deities, who are like big brothers who watch over and make sure that there will be no defectors.

Do you think science will ever replace religion?
A: Never. Because it doesn't solve any of the problems that religion solves, like death or deception. There is no society that survives more than a generation or two that isn't religiously based--even the Soviet Union, where half the people were religious. Thomas Jefferson's unitarian God fell by the wayside. The French Revolution's neutral deity also fell by the wayside. People want a personal God, for obvious reasons, to solve personal problems.

Sheep farmer finds oldest fossil

A sheep farmer in Australia has discovered a fossil of the world's oldest vertebrate - the common ancestor of all animals with a backbone. Sheep station owner Ross Fargher found the fossil among a number of strange shapes embedded in sandstone slabs on his farm - but after taking it home, he left it on his veranda for four years before scientists identified its importance.

At 560 million years old, the fossil is around 30 million years older than the next oldest vertebrate remains found so far, in China.

"All that came before it presumably was something that was absolutely microscopic, the size of an amoeba or a tiny organism, that wouldn't be represented in the fossil record," palaeontologist Dr Jim Gehling, of the Museum of South Australia in Adelaide, told BBC World Service's Science In Action programme.

"What it actually represents, I guess, is the deepest part of the tree of life."

Relations

Dr Gehling explained that the fossil was around 6cm long, with a head shield and a top dorsal crest. There was also a possibility it had once had a fin.

He said that the creature "gave rise to everything that has some kind of stiffening rod or backbone."

The group is collectively known as chordates - vertebrates are only one type of chordates, defined by the fact that their backbone is mineralised.

"We'd call this a stem group chordate - one that is right at the bottom of the line," he added.

As a result it was a very important find in tracing the origin of our own species, man.

"Animals as we know them split off into many different branches very early on in the piece - the problem is just how early," Dr Gehling stressed.

"It's been assumed that they really only started to split off pretty much at the beginning of the Cambrian [era, around 545 million years ago]."

This theory had been contested over the last 20 to 30 years, however - and the new discovery added weight to claims that man's origins were much older than first believed.

'A very good eye'

Dr Gehling also outlined the extraordinary story of how the fossil had been found in the first place.

"The local sheep farmer - who is not a palaeontologist - had a very good eye and he noticed he had some very curious shapes on some sandstone slabs," he said.

These slabs had been looked at by friends, who in turn had contacted the Museum of South Australia. The remarkable fossil was among these slabs.

"It was discovered and lay there on his bungalow veranda for about five years before anyone got to study it in any detail," Dr Gehling added.

At first the scientists had believed the special fossil was a type of spriggina - another type of creature from the early stages of evolution - but rubber casts had revealed it was something quite different.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/3208583.stm

Published: 2003/10/24 01:50:52 GMT

© BBC MMIII

Gemstones found on Mars

Large quantities of a green mineral gemstone have been found on Mars.

Rocky outcrops of the mineral olivine were spotted by a space craft orbiting the planet.

On Earth, the mineral is known as peridot, a cheap gemstone used in jewellery.

Its presence gives clues to the ancient history of Mars, suggesting the planet has been cold and dry for billions of years.

The exposed mineral is weathered away in warm, wet conditions. If it has been there for billions of years, as geological evidence suggests, then Mars must have been cold and dry for much of that time.

Scientists now need to pin down the precise age of the mineral, found over a 30,000-square-kilometre area in a long, narrow, shallow depression known as Nili Fossae.

Asteroid impact

The region probably formed at least 3.6 billion years ago when an asteroid or comet crashed nearby, carving a crater known as the Isidis basin.

Olivine Transparent green-coloured mineral Alters to other chemicals in the presence of water Called peridot on Earth and used in rings, bracelets and necklaces It is probable that the mineral was exposed at this time. An alternative, but less likely scenario, is that it was pushed to the surface much more recently by another geological event.

"If the olivine was exposed shortly after the impact event, the Martian surface may have been dry and cold for more than 3 billion years", a team of researchers from the US Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado, write in the journal Science, "but if the olivine was recently uncovered at the surface, then it could have been cold and dry for as little as a few thousand years."

The mineral was detected by an instrument on the US space agency Nasa's Mars Global Surveyor.

The unmanned probe arrived at the planet in September 1997 and has been making observations ever since.

The main goal is to answer one of the prevailing mysteries of the Red Planet.

There is evidence that the cold, inhospitable planet was once warm and wet like the Earth. If so, it could have harboured primitive life.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/sci/tech/3210951.stm

Published: 2003/10/24 15:01:48 GMT

© BBC MMIII


Friday, October 24, 2003

Doing a little goodwill haunting with ghost busters

http://www.cleveland.com/entertainment/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/friday/1066987868105510.xml

10/24/03

Pity those poor ghosts.

Every Halloween, it seems, the spook spectacle gets even more outrageous. There's a cottage industry of ooky-spooky costumes, books, movies and, of course, cheapjack suburban "haunted" houses all cashing in on paranormal activity.

And, yet, amid all the commercialism, the real spirit(s) of the holiday is getting overlooked.

Thank heavens - or hell, or purgatory, or wherever - for Spirit Seekers of Ohio. It's one of many ghost-buster posses in the area making a scientific case for those real wandering critters.

"Sure, we share ghost stories," says founder the Rev. Mitch Tolliver. "But more than that we conduct ghost investigations and show other people how to do it."

This is where it gets serious.

Spirit Seekers, founded by Tolliver and his sister, Gayle, investigates every shade of ghost, from orbs to mists to spirits to psychic imprints to death spots. It organizes field trips to cemeteries, fields, forests, even apartments, in search of the unusual suspects. The group even documents its findings online - www.spiritseekersofohio.net.

Since you can never predict what those ubiquitous ghosts are going to pull, you have to come prepared.

"There really is no such thing as a 'ghost hunter's kit,'" says Tolliver. "But you should always bring a camera, a flashlight and definitely a tape recorder.

"Digital camera photos can be fuzzy or capture dust particles, leading people to mistakenly believe that they've seen a ghost." he adds. "That's why you need a 35 mm film camera."

Very interesting . . . but what's with the tape recorder?

"That's how you capture EVPs - Electronic Voice Phenomenon," says Tolliver. "It's common for people who have visited a haunt to later hear the ghosts talking or laughing on their tape. The same goes with video."

What a coincidence: On Monday, I received an e-mail from a woman named Donna in which she describes a ghostly video her daughter shot of Gore Orphanage in Vermilion.

"We actually can see children behind the trees and in the mist," she says. "It's so eerie."

Perhaps, but not surprising.

Gore is now an empty field next to a ravine on Gore Orphanage Road, about a mile north of the Ohio Turnpike. But for decades, it's been one of Northeast Ohio's spookiest spots.

There's the tale about the fire that destroyed the orphanage in 1923, when a child dropped a lantern on a bale of hay and transformed 120 unfortunates into screaming balls of hell. There's the story of the ghosts who guard the grounds. The legend of the Headless Biker who still goes on hell rides in the woods.

"Most of the stories are untrue," says Tolliver. "There once was an orphanage there, but it closed long before there was a fire on the grounds. It is true, though, that four children died of diphtheria on the grounds and still allegedly roam the grounds."

It's that mix of legend and tragedy that makes ghost stories alluring.

"Any place where there was a traumatic death or where life was taken prematurely is fair game," says Tolliver. "But it adds to the mystery when the place is old, or some castle or cemetery."

He rates the following as among the spookiest in the area - and good places for "investigations":

Franklin Castle, on Cleveland's near West Side, where children, socialists and mistresses are said to have perished.

Erie Street Cemetery, across from Jacobs Field, where buried Sauk chief Joc-o-Sot has turned the boneyard into a field of screams.

Rider's 1812 Inn, where the ghost of the "ugliest woman in Painesville" still roams the joint dressed in a gown.

Monroe Cemetery, on Cleveland's near West Side, where tape recorders often pick up the chattering of ghosts.

Onward, ghost busters.

To reach this Plain Dealer columnist:

jpetkovic@plaind.com, 216-999-4556

© 2003 The Plain Dealer.

Faith healing center offers medical options

http://www.hometownlife.com/news/GLIndependent/Default.asp?Page=10-12-2003/FullStory/Faithhealingcenteroffersmedicaloptions.htm By NOELLE BOWMAN
Staff Writer

DELTA TWP. — Rose Carter believes in miracles.

Earlier this year doctors found a tumor in her abdomen. When surgeons opened her up, the 69-year-old woman said surgeons removed a rib and part of her kidney, which contained a cancerous tumor. Carter, who lives in Pontiac, Mich., said doctors were able to remove all of the cancer, but she credits her recovery to God and the healers at Gilead Healing Center.

Linda LaBelle, administrator at Gilead Healing Center, told a slightly different version of the story.

"A woman came [to Gilead] from Pontiac full of cancer," LaBelle said. "She came back a couple of weeks later totally healed. They can't find a cell of cancer in her."

Carter said she went to Gilead, which is located on the Mount Hope Church campus on Creyts Road, three times before her surgery on June 11 where she received what she calls "diagnosis prayer." She calls her recovery miraculous.

Carter, who makes the hour-and-fifteen-minute drive to attend Mount Hope Church from time to time with her daughter, said her "spiritual prescription" helped her find contentment before her surgery.

"I didn't have any anxiety, any nervousness," she said.

Richard LaBelle, Linda's husband and minister at Gilead, said, "We believe it's the power of prayer, God's healing touch supernaturally. If we pray for someone, and they are instantly healed, we would call that a miracle."

Not everyone embraces such miraculous attributions.

Barry Beyerstein, associate professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, studies what he calls health care "quackery" or "pseudoscientific" treatments that are offered as alternative medicine, according to his Web site.

In Beyerstein's article "Why Bogus Therapies Seem to Work," printed in Skeptical Inquirer magazine, he said mistaken correlation is the basis for most superstitious beliefs.

In other words, people often believe that because one event happened before another event, the first must have caused the second.

Major support

Gilead Healing Center has its supporters, however. Richard LaBelle said Mount Hope Church was able to raise funds for the 21,000-plus square-foot facility and complete construction in about two years — something few religious organizations achieve.

The high-tech facility, which resembles a pyramid and is decorated with original artwork and high-tech communications equipment, cost approximately $4 million, LaBelle said.

He said approximately 6,000 people are adherents, or followers, of Mount Hope Church, and of those, about 4,000 regularly attend church services.

Blue Cross Blue Shield donated more than $2 million in medical equipment from a facility that was recently down-sized, the LaBelles said.

Eventually, the facility will offer medical, dental and counseling services to Mount Hope members, the Lansing community and eventually more people.

Priority will be given to Mount Hope Church members who have invested their "blood, sweat and tears in the building," Richard said. "They'll be charged a fee, but they'll get a discount."

No insurance allowed

The center is a fee-for-service facility that will not file or accept health insurance claims.

"Once insurance gets involved," Richard LaBelle said, "the red tape piles up, and they start to meddle with how you prescribe."

In the future, the LaBelles said they hope to offer medical services to people with hardships. They plan to charge those patients on a governmental hardship sliding scale. For missionaries and ministers, however, treatments at Gilead will always be free of charge.

Although the center is open, it has not started taking medical appointments; administrators are working through licensing and insurance paperwork and expect to open in January.

Also, medical director Scott Hannen, a chiropractor is in the process of relocating to Lansing from Enterprise, Ala.

Richard LaBelle said Hannen practices homeopathic and chiropractic medicine.

"He takes a fingernail, a piece of hair, analyzes it and structures and designs a specific nutrient vitamin for you," LaBelle said.

The LaBelles expect to hire a medical doctor or a doctor of osteopathy, an X-ray technician, nurses and, in the distant future, a bio-dentist.

Traditional care

The LaBelles said every patient who comes to the center will be required to maintain his or her own primary care physician. The medical staff will not tell patients to stop traditional medical treatment.

"As far as a someone who comes in here with a bag full of prescription medications and is sicker than a dog," Richard LaBelle said, "We're not going to tell them to get rid of them (the medications). All we're going to do is present an alternative."

Nor will Gilead staff engage in acute care.

"If someone comes in here with chest pains, we are going to send them to the hospital," he said.

And what if Gilead's alternative remedies do not help someone who, for example, has high cholesterol?

Richard LaBelle said if the patient follows the diet, exercise and nutritional supplement advice of Gilead's medical staff, that won't happen.

"To get to the point to say, 'What if that doesn't work?' I don't think we'll get to that," he said. "We're just going to take an alternative kinder, gentler approach."

The LaBelles do not worry about alienating people who may be leery of homeopathic healing and alternative medicine.

"When you are sick with something such as cancer ... and you are desperate, you are willing to go anywhere and do anything," Linda LaBelle said. "The only concern that I think I would have is that people don't mix it up with the weird stuff."

"I can't worry about people's opinions," Richard LaBelle said. "They'll have to come here and find out. And we're not weird. There will be people who think that. There will be people who think we are snake charmers. I can't help that."

Keep good science in, dogma out of textbooks

Oct. 22, 2003, 6:40PM

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/editorial/outlook/2173751

By DON McLEROY

THE State Board of Education is required by law to adopt textbooks that are factually correct and adequately cover the state curriculum. In the case of biology books, there is no place for dogma (the teaching of an opinion as a fact); science books must present good science.

The state curriculum, the future educational opportunities of Texas students, the strong general consensus of biologists, and intellectually stimulating teaching require that evolution be taught. However, evolutionary hypotheses that life spontaneously arose billions of years ago, and that all life since then is related by descent from a common ancestor -- for example, that we share a common ancestor with a tree -- raise tremendous difficulties. To fulfill the requirement of Texas law and good science, textbooks must adequately present these difficulties. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, this is the issue.

What, if any, are the major difficulties? Are they presented in the textbooks? Will our Texas children be given the opportunity to hone their critical thinking skills on this controversial subject?

The spontaneous origin of life is beset with the most extreme difficulties. In the 50 years since Stanley Miller's first scientific experiment that semi-randomly produced organic molecules from inorganic molecules, scientists have vigorously pursued the study of the origin of life. How has it progressed? According to Steve Benner, as stated on the International Society of the Study of the Origin of Life Web site, it is now clear that Miller-like experiments create too many biological molecules, in mixtures that are too complex to self-organize in a way rationally likely to lead to replication. The intrinsic reactivity of organic material under the influence of energy is to create tar, not life. If this up-to-date analysis from the premier scientific origin of life organization is not reflected in our modern textbooks, they violate state law.

Common descent is likewise beset with a myriad of difficulties. A cogent argument makes its appeal to authority, utility (it works), and empirical data to prove its point. How cogent is the common descent argument? The appeal to a qualified authority is the strongest argument for common descent; it is incredibly strong! This was readily apparent at our public testimony. Common descent's critics are likewise highly qualified; they include, historically, the founder of paleontology and comparative anatomy, Cuvier, and the founder of modern taxonomy, Linnaeus.

Common descent's appeal to utility is incredibly weak; adaptive variation has been empirically demonstrated, but it cannot be extrapolated as evidence for common descent. As for empiricism, common descent must be inferred historically and philosopher Karl Popper doubts if historical science is science at all.

Also, a good theory displays the qualities of coherency, adequacy and consistency. How good a theory is common descent? Common descent is a completely naturalistic explanation for life, but does it adequately explain all the facts -- for example, the fossil record? At first appearance, common descent explains the fossil record with old rocks with simple life and young rocks with more complex life. Yet a leading paleontologist, Niles Eldredge, has stated that: "We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports (the story of gradual change) all the while knowing it does not. Also, common descent is inconsistent with the laws of thermodynamics and, many discoveries in the field of embryology."

In spite of many scientific experts' opinions, there is plenty of scientific evidence that demonstrates common descent difficulties; these are required by law to be presented in our children's textbooks.

Scientific dogmatism about origin of life and common descent has no place in Texas biology books. Our state's scientific educational system must not be corrupted. Teach evolution? Yes, warts and all!

McLeroy is a member of the Texas State Board of Education.

The mystery of the missing links

http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php3?table=old§ion=current&issue=2003-10-25&id=3647

It is becoming fashionable to question Darwinism, but few people understand either the arguments for evolution or the arguments against it. Mary Wakefield explains the thinking on both sides

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend, a man who has more postgraduate degrees than I have GCSEs. The subject of Darwinism came up. 'Actually,' he said, raising his eyebrows, 'I don't believe in evolution.'

I reacted with incredulity: 'Don't be so bloody daft.'

'I'm not,' he said. 'Many scientists admit that the theory of evolution is in trouble these days. There are too many things it can't explain.'

'Like what?'

'The gap in the fossil record.'

'Oh, that old chestnut!' My desire to scorn was impeded only by a gap in my knowledge more glaring than that in the fossil record itself.

Last Saturday at breakfast with my flatmates, there was a pause in conversation. 'Hands up anyone who has doubts about Darwinism,' I said. To my surprise all three — a teacher, a music agent and a playwright — slowly raised their arms. One had read a book about the inadequacies of Darwin — Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis; another, a Christian, thought that Genesis was still the best explanation for the universe. The playwright blamed the doctrine of survival of the fittest for 'capitalist misery and the oppression of the people'. Nearly 150 years after the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, a taboo seems to be lifting.

Until recently, to question Darwinism was to admit to being either a religious nut or just plain thick. 'Darwin's theory is no longer a theory but a fact,' said Julian Huxley in 1959. For most of the late 20th century Darwinism has seemed indubitable, even to those who have as little real understanding of the theory as they do of setting the video-timer. I remember a recent conversation with my mother: 'Do you believe in evolution, Mum?' 'Of course I do, darling. If you use your thumbs a lot, you will have children with big thumbs. If they use their thumbs a lot, and so do their children, then eventually there will be a new sort of person with big thumbs.'

The whole point of natural selection is that it denies that acquired characteristics can be inherited. According to modern Darwinism, new species are created by a purposeless, random process of genetic mutation. If keen Darwinians such as my mother can get it wrong, it is perhaps not surprising that the theory is under attack.

The current confusion is the result of a decade of campaigning by a group of Christian academics who work for a think-tank called the Discovery Institute in Seattle. Their guiding principle — which they call Intelligent Design theory or ID — is a sophisticated version of St Thomas Aquinas' Argument from Design.

Over the last few years they have had a staggering impact. Just a few weeks ago, they persuaded an American publisher of biology textbooks to add a paragraph encouraging students to analyse theories other than Darwinism. Over the past two years they have convinced the boards of education in Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Georgia to teach children about Intelligent Design. Indiana and Texas are keen to follow suit. They sponsor debates, set up research fellowships, publish books, distribute flyers and badges, and conduct polls, the latest of which shows that 71 per cent of adult Americans think that the evidence against Darwin should be taught in schools.

Unlike the swivel-eyed creationists, ID supporters are very keen on scientific evidence. They accept that the earth was not created in six days, and is billions of years old. They also concede Darwin's theory of microevolution: that species may, over time, adapt to suit their environments. What Intelligent Design advocates deny is macroevolution: the idea that all life emerged from some common ancestor slowly wriggling around in primordial soup. If you study the biological world with an open mind, they say, you will see more evidence that each separate species was created by an Intelligent Designer. The most prominent members of the ID movement are Michael Behe the biochemist, and Phillip E. Johnson, professor of law at the University of California. They share a belief that it is impossible for small, incremental changes to have created the amazing diversity of life. There is no way that every organism could have been created by blind chance, they say. The 'fine-tuning' of the universe indicates a creator.

Behe attacks Darwinism in his 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. If you look inside cells, Behe says, you see that they are like wonderfully intricate little machines. Each part is so precisely engineered that if you were to remove or alter a single part, the whole thing would grind to a halt. The cell has irreducible complexity; we cannot conceive of it functioning in a less developed state. How then, asks Behe, could a cell have developed through a series of random adaptations?

Then there is the arsenal of arguments about the fossil record, of which the most forceful is that evolutionists have not found the fossils of any transitional species — half reptile and half bird, for instance. Similarly, there are no rich fossil deposits before the Cambrian era about 550 million years ago. If Darwin was right, what happened to the fossils of all their evolutionary predecessors?

Phillip E. Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial, hopes that these arguments will serve as a 'wedge', opening up science teaching to discussions about God. Evolution is unscientific, he says, because it is not testable or falsifiable; it makes claims about events (such as the very beginning of life on earth) that can never be recreated. 'In good time new theories will emerge and science will change,' he writes. 'Maybe there will be a new theory of evolution, but it is also possible that the basic concept will collapse and science will acknowledge that those elusive common ancestors of the major biological groups never existed.'

If Johnson is right, then God, or a designer, deposited each new species on the planet, fully formed and marked 'made in heaven'. This is not a very modern-sounding idea, but one whose supporters write articles in respectable magazines and use phrases such as 'Cambrian explosion' and 'irreducible complexity'. Few of us then (including, I suspect, the boards that approve American biology textbooks) would be confident enough to question it. Especially intimidating for scientific ignoramuses is the Discovery Institute's list of 100 scientists, including Nobel prize nominees, who doubt that random mutation and natural selection can account for the complexity of life.

Professor Richard Dawkins sent me his rather different opinion of the ID movement: 'Imagine,' he wrote, 'that there is a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters, implacably convinced that the Roman Empire never existed. Hadrian's Wall, Verulamium, Pompeii — Rome itself — are all planted fakes. The Latin language, for all its rich literature and its Romance language grandchildren, is a Victorian fabrication. The Rome deniers are, no doubt, harmless wingnuts, more harmless than the Holocaust deniers whom they resemble. Smile and be tolerant, just as we smile at the Flat Earth Society. But your tolerance might wear thin if you happen to be a lifelong scholar and teacher of Roman history, language or literature. You suddenly find yourself obliged to interrupt your magnum opus on the Odes of Horace in order to devote time and effort to rebutting a well-financed propaganda campaign claiming that the entire classical world that you love never existed.'

So are all Intelligent Design supporters fantasists and idiots, just wasting the time of proper scientists and deluding the general public? If Dawkins is to be believed, the neo-Darwinists have come up with satisfactory answers to all the conundrums posed by ID proponents.

In response to Michael Behe, the Darwinists point out that although an organism may look essential and irreducible, many of its component parts can serve multiple functions. For instance, the blood-clotting mechanism that Behe cites as an example of an irreducibly complex system seems, on close inspection, to involve the modification of proteins that were originally used in digestion.

Matt Ridley, the science writer, kindly explained the lack of fossils before the Cambrian explosion: 'Easy. There were no hard body parts before then. Why? Probably because there were few mobile predators, and so few jaws and few eyes. There are in fact lots of Precambrian fossils, but they are mostly microbial fossils, which are microscopic and boring.'

Likewise, palaeontologists say that they do know of some examples of fossils intermediate in form between the various taxonomic groups. The half-dinosaur, half-bird archaeopteryx, for instance, which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs.

'Huh,' say the Intelligent Designers, who do not accept poor old archaeopteryx as a transitory species at all. For them, he is just an extinct sort of bird that happened to look a bit like a reptile.

It would be fair to say that the ID lobby has done us a favour in drawing attention to some serious problems, and perhaps breaking the stranglehold of atheistic neo-Darwinism; but their credibility is damaged by the fact that scientists are finding new evidence every day to support the theory of macroevolution. There is also something a little unnerving about the way in which the ID movement is funded. Most of the Discovery Institute's $4 million annual budget comes from evangelical Christian organisations. One important donor is the Ahmanson family, who have a long-standing affiliation to Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme faction of the religious Right that wants to replace American democracy with a fundamentalist theocracy.

There is a more metaphysical problem for Intelligent Design. If we accept a lack of scientific evidence as proof of a creator's existence, then surely we must regard every subsequent relevant scientific discovery, each new Precambrian fossil, as an argument against the existence of God.

The debate has anyway been confused by the vitriol each side pours on the other. Phillip Johnson calls Dawkins a 'blusterer' who has been 'highly honoured by scientific establishments for promoting materialism in the name of science'. Dawkins retorts that religion 'is a kind of organised misconception. It is millions of people being systematically educated in error, told falsehoods by people who command respect.'

Perhaps the answer is that the whole battle could have been avoided if Darwinism had not been put forward as proof of the non-existence of God. As Kenneth Miller, a Darwinian scientist and a Christian, says in his book Finding Darwin's God, 'Evolution may explain the existence of our most basic biological drives and desires but that does not tell us that it is always proper to act on them.... Those who ask from science a final argument, an ultimate proof, an unassailable position from which the issue of God may be decided will always be disappointed. As a scientist I claim no new proofs, no revolutionary data, no stunning insight into nature that can tip the balance in one direction or another. But I do claim that to a believer, even in the most traditional sense, evolutionary biology is not at all the obstacle we often believe it to be. In many respects evolution is the key to understanding our relationship with God.'

St Basil, the 4th century Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, said much the same thing: 'Why do the waters give birth also to birds?' he asked, writing about Genesis. 'Because there is, so to say, a family link between the creatures that fly and those that swim. In the same way that fish cut the waters, using their fins to carry them forward, so we see the birds float in the air by the help of their wings.' If an Archbishop living 1,400 years before Darwin can reconcile God with evolution, then perhaps Dawkins and the ID lobby should be persuaded to do so as well.


Thursday, October 23, 2003

Islamic astrology is serious business

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/features/21_10_03_a.asp

Professor explains field in lecture at German Orient Institute

Hannah Wettig
Daily Star staff

Eva Orthmann doesn't like it when people dismiss her studies as esoteric.

"Some people look at me as if I was on another planet when they hear about my research," the 32-year-old assistant professor of Arabic and Persian at the University of Zurich says. "Others tell me their ascendant (star)."

Orthmann studies astrology ­ to be precise medieval Islamic astrology ­ and last Thursday evening, she gave a lecture at the German Orient Institute in Beirut entitled Islamic Astrology Between Religious Objections and Profane Expectations.

The impact of astrology must have been immense on early Islamic societies, she believes. Rulers had horoscopes done for their newborn sons and many miniatures from the time depict Islamic astrologers with women queuing up to them, handing them little sacks of coins. But the fact that it was mainly women who consulted the astrologers made many people suspicious of them and their motives.

"Many satirical verses about astrology are mixed with erotic stories," says Orthmann.

Another indication of the importance given to astrology is the large amount of books that were written on the subject, especially those that rejected the "suspicious science."

Orthmann's lecture dealt mainly with those writings that rejected astrology.

Though some astrological writing can already be found in pre-Islamic times, she says, the first translations from Syriac and Aramaic into Arabic were done in the Abbasid period around 900 AD. Among the critics were such renowned writers as Ibn Sina, a Persian philosopher and doctor known in the West by the name Avicenna. He believed that the stars had an influence on people's lives, but wrote that it was "very daring to state more precisely this influence."

The philosophers of the 10th century fought over the issue of whether or not planets were intelligent beings and over which ones were male and which female. In the astrological system each planet was either happy or unhappy. Their position to each other could be lucky or unlucky.

Ibn Sina was especially critical of this concept: "There is no other meaning of the dragon's head and its tail (the star) than to show us where is North and South. That the head is lucky and the tail is unlucky is completely arbitrary," he wrote. He also argued that absolute luck or misfortune did not exist, while if it was to be believed that somebody born in a particular bad or good constellation, they should exist.

Many critics pointed out that Islam prohibited the use of astrology. According to one Hadith, the Prophet had said: "learn as much Arabic to read the Koran, then stop. Learn as much of the stars as to guide your way in the night, then stop."

Another one states that the astrologer is like the fortune-teller and the magician, all of whom will all go to hell.

But astrologer Ibn Tawus concluded that these Hadiths must not be correct and said that the prophets and the 12 imams knew about astrology but the prophets didn't need it because they got their knowledge directly from God.

"At first, there is no differentiation between astronomy and astrology," Orthmann says, answering a question from the audience. "In the 14th century, I have found the first mention of astronomy, but the books are still mixed with some chapters being completely scientific and then others astrological."

The amount of books on the subject, however, is so huge that Orthmann can't give a precise answer to most questions she is asked after the lecture.

"Maybe in 10 years, I'll be able to answer," she says. "When I look for books under the index word Nujum (stars) in the Library of Tehran, I get hundreds of handwritten books, and it's the same in the Arab world," she explains after the lecture.

The German Orient Institute lectures, which normally are attended by a crowd of Arabist scholars, have with Orthmann's seminar on astrology gathered a wider audience.

"There is scientific proof that the moon has an influence," someone says during the discussion after the lecture. But before he can elaborate, Orthmann interrupts: "Sure, sun and moon have an influence; night and daylight have an influence on our life, right? But beyond that you can't convince me."

When later the little crowd gathers in the next room for drinks and snacks, two women, a mother and daughter, approach Orthmann.

"I wanted to thank you for this beautiful lecture," the young woman says. "I will now look more into these things."

The older lady affirms that she has long believed in the influence of the stars, "Hairdressers cut hair on full moon, because then the hair grows stronger," she says.

The two are astonished when Orthmann repeats that she herself does not believe in astrology. In Zurich, she has the same reactions after her lectures, she says. "Imagine that 30 percent of the Swiss believe in horoscopes."

The interest in astrology in Lebanon surprises her a bit, however. "The last texts on it in this region, we find in the Kadschan period ­ that's 19th-century Persia. In the 20th century it stops," she explains.

When astrology became popular in Europe, it was strongly influenced by the medieval Islamic writings, Orthmann continues. "Basically, they at first copied everything from the Arabs. The Arabic writings, of course, are based on ancient Greek studies, but they developed them a lot."

But in the 16th century the European approach differentiated itself significantly.

With the findings of Galileo Galilei that the earth is not at the center of the universe, but circles the sun like other planets, astrology had to change.

This heliocentric worldview does not become prevalent in the Arab world until the 19th century, though, says Orthmann.

"I would like to study the astrological consequences of this," she explains. "Also what happens with (the discovery of) new planets? The astrologers I read didn't know about Pluto, Uranus and Neptune."

Psychic's d-ESP-air

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/local/story/126016p-112905c.html

By HELEN PETERSON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

If only he had looked into a crystal ball.

Psychic Frank Andrews, whose clients have included John Lennon and Grace Kelly, claims a vintage clothing dealer took his pricey duds to be appraised and never gave them back.

Andrews, whose real name is Frank Andrew Iacuzzo, charges in a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court that vintage-clothing dealer Milan Tainan offered to appraise several pieces of "very rare clothing" he owned in case he wanted to sell them.

Among the items in his cherished collection: Two jackets he received from Yoko Ono, one with the words "John Lennon, Yoko Ono/Milk and Honey" written on the back and the other with the words "Its [sic] Alright Yoko Ono."

He claims he also gave Tainan a U.S. flier pilot jacket from World War II; assorted clothes that belonged to his mom; wigs in original boxes, and two jackets designed by Larry Le Gaspi, the original designer for the band KISS.

That was in the summer of 2002. He hasn't seen his threads since. Iacuzzo is suing for $71,000, what he says the clothes are worth, as well as $25,000 in punitive damages and lawyers' fees.

Neither Iacuzzo nor his lawyer returned a call yesterday. Tainan, who runs the "Just Say When" Web site, could not be reached.

Originally published on October 12, 2003

Psychic 'reads' medieval ship

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/south_east/3203851.stm

A psychic has tried to 'read' the wood of the medieval ship raised from a south Wales river bank to try and uncover its past.

Despite being pored over by teams of archaeologists and scientists, there is still a lot of mystery over the boat which was unearthed from the banks of the River Usk in Newport 16 months ago.

Psychic consultant Diane Lloyd Hughes, spent a morning at the warehouse where the 1,700 timbers of the vessel, are being kept to try and shed light on some of the many questions that still remain to be answered.

And as she touched some of the pieces, she claimed to discover information about the boat from a child who worked on board.

She said that she could see a young boy with curly blond hair scrubbing the deck of the vessel which she believes is dated from about 1426.

During her reading, she said that the child told her how a local earl used the ship, which had connections with Bristol, for underhand practices including the removal of crockery and silverware which did not belong to him.

And that the ship and its crew of 35 met its untimely end during one of these trips after being weighed down by too much of this illegal cargo, sinking as it approached the port in Newport too fast.

The 37-year-old psychic from Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire, who has used her 'gift' is police investigations, says she hopes she can fill in some of the blanks of the ship.

"I am just trying to piece together some of the past of the ship," she said.

"Maybe some of my findings will help with filling in some of the details.

"I know that there is a lot of scepticism about what I do, but maybe when all the evidence is pieced together, some of the things I have discovered will ring true," she added.

But archaeologists who are working on the conservation of the ship remain sceptical about her findings.

Charles Barker from the Mary Rose Trust said he was unsure of what the reading could bring to the archaeological process.

"I am enormously sceptical about it," he said.

"This is not endorsed by Newport Council or the Mary Rose Trust but this is a community project and the public have access to the ship," he added.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/wales/south_east/3203851.stm

Published: 2003/10/22 16:58:22 GMT

© BBC MMIII

Probing The Minds Of Alien Abductees

http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/press-releases/pressrelease.php?releaseID=238

Published: 02 October 2003 14:00

Are extraterrestrials really abducting people against their will and conducting experiments on them, or are such reports simply a product of the human mind, a modern myth? Psychologists at Goldsmiths College, University of London, are to about to begin research into this fascinating phenomenon.

According to Professor Chris French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) at Goldsmiths' Psychology Department, which will undertake the research: "Abductees report a wide range of experiences; the research project aims to test not only the psychological aspects of the abduction experience, but also to find out more about the other kinds of experiences that abductees report, and includes some tests for psychic abilities."

The research is supported by other UFO investigators. Nick Pope, head of the UK Government's UFO project in the early 1990s, gives his opinion: "Whether you think the phenomenon is psychological or parapsychological, you should welcome this study. Whatever the true nature of the phenomenon, we'll learn more about it."

Judith Jaafar, Chair of the British UFO Research Association (BUFORA), comments: "I am pleased that an academic body in Britain taking steps to understand the source of this compelling phenomenon. It may throw up more questions than answers, but that has always been the way forward in true, objective scientific endeavour."

Malcolm Robinson, Founder of Strange Phenomena Investigations (SPI): "Chris French and his team should be commended for undertaking this study that will shed a little more light upon this modern mystery. SPI looks forward to the results of this project with eager anticipation."

Anyone who believes that they have had an alien abduction experience and would like to take part in the project should email apru@gold.ac.uk or contact Rachel Fox, 020 7919 7171 (ext 4389), for further information.

Notes to Editors The ten-month project, which begins in October, is being supported by the Bial Foundation of Portugal, which has provided a 36,000 Euro grant. The project team includes Chris French, Rachel Fox, Krissy Wilson and Julia Santomauro (APRU members) and Dr Michael Thalbourne (parapsychologist, APRU, University of Adelaide), with James Basil and Mark Gibbons (Foundation for the Research of Extraordinary Trauma & Support for Abductees) acting as consultants.

For further information

Janet Aikman, Communications and Publicity,
tel 020 7919 7909
e-mail ext-comms@gold.ac.uk

Professor Chris French, Department of Psychology,
tel 020 7919 7882
e-mail c.french@gold.ac.uk

Goldsmiths College,
University of London,
New Cross,
London SE14 6NW, UK
Telephone +44 (0) 20 7919 7171

Is this where Jesus bathed?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1067930,00.html

A shopkeeper running a small souvenir business in Nazareth has made a sensational discovery that could dramatically rewrite the history of Christianity.
Jonathan Cook reports

Wednesday October 22, 2003
The Guardian

Elias Shama's small souvenir shop in Nazareth, the town of Jesus's childhood, barely catches the eye. Tourists usually pass by it on their way to the neighbouring Mary's Well church, claimed by the Greek Orthodox church as the site where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she was carrying the son of God.

Before the Palestinian intifada erupted three years ago, the shop did a steady trade selling the usual pilgrim fare - olive-wood crosses and Virgin Mary statuettes - to any tourist who strayed from the 100 or more coach parties briefly herded into the city each day from across Israel. Now, with constant stories of Palestinian suicide attacks in the news, the pilgrims are long gone.

This summer, though, Shama's shop, Cactus, attracted a handful of visitors prepared to brave the violence. A team of forensic archaeologists and biblical scholars have been poring over a network of tunnels Shama unearthed under his shop several years ago. They believe he has made a discovery so remarkable it will rewrite the history books, changing our understanding not only of the Holy Land but of the life of Jesus himself.

Shama began excavating the tunnels after he and his Belgian wife, Martina, bought the shop in 1993, and found a series of 4ft-high passages, separated by columns of small bricks supporting a white marble floor. In one corner they found a walled-off room where a residue of wood ash revealed it once served as a furnace.

The American excavators are convinced that what Shama has exposed is an almost perfectly preserved Roman bathhouse from 2,000 years ago - the time of Christ, and in the town where he was raised. In a piece of marketing that is soon likely to be echoing around the world, Shama says he has stumbled across the "bathhouse of Jesus". The effects on Holy Land tourism are likely be profound, with Nazareth becoming a challenger to Jerusalem and Bethlehem as the world's most popular site of Christian pilgrimage.

Professor Richard Freund, an academic behind important Holy Land digs at the ancient city of Bethsaida, near Tiberias, and Qumran in the Jordan Valley, says the significance of the find cannot be overstated. Over the summer he put aside other excavation projects to concentrate on the Nazareth site. "I am sure that what we have here is a bathhouse from the time of Jesus," he says, "and the consequences of that for archaeology, and for our knowledge of the life of Jesus, are enormous."

Freund's confidence has been shored up by radar and ground-penetrating surveys his team carried out showing the floor of another, older bathhouse under the one excavated by Shama. He hopes to use carbon-dating to establish whether the upper or lower bathhouse is Roman.

After originally identifying the site as Ottoman, dating back only 150 years, Israel's antiquities authority has now admitted that the bath's design means it must be much older. The hypocaust (an underfloor system of heating channels) and frigidarium (cold room) are typical of Roman bath layout. "What we are looking at now is probably Roman but even if it proves to be from a later period, then the bath underneath certainly is Roman," says Freund. "Either way, we know that under the shop lies a huge new piece of evidence in understanding the life and times of Jesus."

Freund, of the Maurice Greenberg Centre for Judaic Studies at Hartford University in Connecticut, says the discovery means that historians will have to rethink the place and significance of Nazareth in the Roman empire and consequently the formative experiences of Jesus. It has been assumed that the Nazareth of 2,000 years ago was a poor Jewish village on the periphery of the empire, where local families inhabited caves on the hillside that today contains the modern Israeli-Arab city. On this view, the young Jesus would have had little contact with the Romans until he left Nazareth as an adult; his father, Joseph, one of many craftsmen in the town, may have worked on a Roman palace at nearby Sephori.

But the huge scale of Shama's bathhouse suggests that Nazareth, rather than Sephori, was the local hub of military control from Rome. The giant bath could only have been built for a Roman city or to service a significant garrison town. That would mean Joseph and Mary, and their son Jesus, would have been living in the very heart of the occupying power. This is likely to have huge significance for New Testament scholars in their understanding of Jesus's later teachings.

Even more significantly, the bathhouse opens up the possibility of discovering a treasure trove of artifacts from the time of Jesus in his hometown. Surprisingly, given its central place in Christian heritage, Nazareth has been little mined for archaeological evidence in recent times. Israeli officials, possibly intimidated by the thought of trying to dig under an overcrowded city of 70,000 Arabs, have mostly sealed up and forgotten its subterranean world of secret passages and tombs. Other areas, including around the Cactus shop, have never been properly excavated.

This failure makes Shama's find all the more intriguing, since there is a dearth of archaeological material linked directly to Jesus. Generations of charlatans have exploited pilgrims by offering them "certified" pieces of the cross, but in practice archaeologists have nothing from Jesus's life, or from Mary's. Shama observes: "If we dig deeper there will be coins and trinkets and pottery. Who knows, maybe Mary or Jesus dropped such things while in the bathhouse."

Freund is more circumspect, though in support of Shama's hopes he produces a document written nearly 500 years ago by Rabbi Moshe Bassola of Ancona after he made a pilgrimage to the area. In his account the rabbi writes: "We came from Kfar Kana, arriving the next day in Nazareth, where the Christian Jesus lived. The citizens told me that there existed a hot bathhouse where the Mother of Jesus immersed herself."

Freund is sure that plenty remains to be found under and around Shama's shop. "We are talking about relics lying untouched, buried under the ground, for 2,000 years at the place where Jesus lived, and from the time when he was living here. It doesn't get much more exciting than that."

Further excavation of the site, however, is not yet assured: Shama's discovery is mired in financial difficulties and the sectarian acrimony that has blighted the Middle East for centuries. Given the find's significance, it is surprising to learn that Shama, a Christian Arab, is receiving no outside support, even from the state. Since he and his wife sank the last of their life savings in excavating and developing the site, the shop is close to collapse - and with it perhaps the bathhouse project.

The most powerful player in the Christian world, the Vatican, has so far refused to throw its weight behind the dig, possibly fearing that Shama's find threatens its own dominance where tourism in the city is concerned. Its Basilica of the Annunciation, the Middle East's largest church, is on the other side of town from Mary's Well. There has been a long-running dispute between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches about whose church is on the true site of the Annunciation.

The Catholics claim the Basilica is built over a grotto that was Mary's home; the Orthodox, basing their tradition on an alternative Gospel that Mary was drawing water from Nazareth's well when she was visited by Gabriel, say their Mary's Well church, half a kilometre away, is located over the original spring. Shama's bathhouse, next to Mary's Well church, poses a double threat to them: it strengthens the claim of the Orthodox church to be the true site of the Annunciation, and it will make the Mary's Well area the main tourist attraction in Nazareth.

Shama has had no help from Israeli officials either. But in a sign of what may be a turn-around, Dror Bashad, head archaeologist at the northern division of the antiquities authority, recently visited the site. Afterwards he wrote in Shama's visitors' book: "Make sure to continue executing all your work with the coordination and approval of the antiquities authority since it has become clear we are talking about an ancient bathhouse from at least the Roman period."

Despite his financial difficulties, Shama has big dreams for the bathhouse. He hopes one day to be able to fill it, or a replica, with water drawn from the spring at Mary's Well. "It can be done," he says. "We will make the bathhouse of Jesus live again, just like it was 2,000 years ago."

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

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In the News

Today's Headlines - October 22, 2003

METHANE BUBBLES COULD SINK SHIPS, SCIENTISTS FIND
from Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Methane bubbles from the sea floor could, in theory, sink ships and may explain the odd disappearances of some vessels, Australian researchers reported on Tuesday.

The huge bubbles can erupt from undersea deposits of solid methane, known as gas hydrates. An odorless gas found in swamps and mines, methane becomes solid under the enormous pressures found on deep sea floors.

The ice-like methane deposits can break off and become gaseous as they rise, creating bubbles at the surface.

David May and Joseph Monaghan of Monash University in Australia said they had demonstrated how a giant bubble from one of these deposits could swamp a ship.
http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=scienceNews&storyID=3659375

SCIENTISTS ISOLATE GENE FOR AGE-RELATED EYE DISEASE
from Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In what may be an important step toward preventing blindness in old age, scientists have identified a gene believed to be responsible for a degenerative eye disease that could strike millions of baby boomers as they grow older.

The gene is suspected of being the main cause of some cases of age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, a complex disease triggered by various factors. It typically affects people 65 and older.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University were able to pinpoint the gene by tracking it through a large extended family with a history of the disease.
http://www.sacbee.com/24hour/healthscience/story/1033372p-7254592c.html

A 7-GAME WORLD SERIES IS UNUSUALLY COMMON
from The New York Times

Will the World Series go seven games?

In baseball, a game full of statistics, unexpected ones can drive enthusiasts batty. But sometimes, the best explanation is simply random, if unlikely, chance.

Even people at the American Institute of Physics can get carried away.

In trying to show how math plays in everyday life — at least for obsessed fans — the institute published an article on its Web site Friday offering a surprising statistic: in the past 50 World Series, nearly half — 48 percent — have stretched to the maximum seven games.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/22/sports/baseball/22PROB.html

FORMULA FOR SCIENTISTS OF THE FUTURE
from The Washington Post

One hundred years after the Wright brothers sent the first successful airplane into the North Carolina skies, 14-year-old Anthony Burnetti was cleared for his own takeoff.

Conditions were good: blue skies and a gentle five-knot wind out of the west. Anthony looked down a large field near Reagan National Airport toward a yellow goal post in the distance. He grabbed his Styrofoam glider with its six-foot wingspan, took a few quick steps, reached back and let fly.

Well, almost. The wing bounced off his head. The glider fluttered weakly before crashing on its nose into the dusty grass a few feet away.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61545-2003Oct21.html


Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Parents sue school over wireless network

SAN FRANCISCO, California (Reuters) --A pioneering elementary school district outside Chicago has been sued for installing a wireless computer network by parents worried that exposure to the network's radio waves could harm their children.

According to the complaint, filed in Illinois state court, parents of five children assert that a growing body of evidence outlines "serious health risks that exposure to low intensity, but high radio frequency radiation poses to human beings, particularly children."

The Oak Park Elementary School District set up a wireless network to connect its schools to one another in 1995, long before such networks became wildly popular. A spokeswoman for the district, Gail Crantz, said it complies with all government regulations for wireless networks.

Today, the 5,000 students in the district have access to carts of laptop computers to do research on the Internet from their desks, said Steve Chowanski, director of information services for the district.

An estimated 30 million WiFi networks have been installed worldwide, according to the WiFi Alliance, which certifies wireless products. Brian Grimm, a spokesman for the group, said he is unaware of other similar suits targeting WiFi networks.

According to Chowanski, a small group of parents had complained about the risks of installing wireless networks in the school. In response, the school board said it would continue to monitor research into the safety of the networks but reaffirmed its plan to use WiFi.

"We are not going to do anything different," Chowanski said. "This is the wave of the future."

The complaint by the parents was filed on September 26 in the Circuit Court of Cook County in Illinois. A hearing before Judge Nancy Arnold is scheduled for February.

The parents allege that the district failed to examine the health impact that wireless local area networks pose, especially for growing children. They are seeking class action status for their suit, which seeks to halt the use of wireless networks.

Calls to the parents and their lawyers were not immediately returned.

The WiFi Alliance says WiFi networks are safe. The radio waves in a WiFi network use the same frequency as wireless home phones, and have one-thirtieth the power of, cordless phones, Grimm, the spokesman for the group, said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Find this article at:
http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/internet/10/13/sprj.ws.wifi.lawsuit.reut/index.html

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

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In the News

Today's Headlines - October 21, 2003

ETHICS 101: A COURSE ABOUT THE PITFALLS
from The New York Times

RICHMOND, Va. — To the uninitiated, ethics in science can sound as straightforward as the West Point honor code: a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. Just substitute "scientist" for "cadet," and that should be it.

But the 50 or so graduate students taking Dr. Francis L. Macrina's ethics course at Virginia Commonwealth University are getting quite a different view of research ethics, one that asks troubling questions about professional relationships and how to draw moral lines in the sand if their own careers are at stake.

It is a view that reflects a growing realization among researchers that the real ethics issues in science are not so much the scandals that rock the field periodically — charges of outright fabrications, invented data, theft of another's research. Instead, they say, they worry about more insidious problems that can corrupt science from within and push promising researchers who are uninformed about the rules out the door.

And so, increasingly, scientists, like Dr. Macrina, who is a microbiologist, are formally teaching students the manners and mores of research today.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/21/science/earth/21GENE.html

A NEW KIND OF GENOMICS, WITH AN EYE ON ECOSYSTEMS
from The New York Times

Determining the complete DNA sequence of a single species has become almost commonplace. It has been done for humans, mice, rice plants and a host of microbes, among others. Now some scientists are moving to a more audacious challenge, sequencing "metagenomes," the DNA of entire ecosystems.

The new efforts seek to read all the DNA in the bacterial communities found in a patch of soil or seawater or even the lining of the human gut. Deciphering the genetic blueprint of all of the microbial species may help tell scientists which species are present and how they work together. Thousands of previously unknown micro-organisms may be unearthed, as well as new drugs, chemicals and ways of harnessing bacteria to fight pollution.

"We think this is a window on biology that is really unprecedented in its implications," said Dr. Jo Handelsman, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin, who coined the term metagenomics to refer to the new field. Others call it community genomics, environmental genomics, or microbial population genomics.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/21/science/21ETHI.html

SCIENCE NOTEBOOK
from The Washington Post

Harmful Proteins Have Help

The discovery of prions was one of the weirder findings ever to garner a Nobel prize, and some researchers just didn't buy it. Now there is evidence that, in fact, there might be more going on than initially met the eye with the proteins that can cause brain-rotting ailments such as mad cow disease and a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease...

Shedding Light on Plant Growth

Back in the 1980s, Michael J. Kasperbauer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that sheets of colored plastic used as "mulch" to surround plants would reflect sunlight so that strawberries and tomatoes would smell better, taste better and grow in greater profusion...

Online Journal Takes Off

If readership is the measure, last week's launch of a new scientific journal, PLoS Biology, was a huge success. Now all its publisher needs to prove is that it can remain solvent under its quirky business model, which parts company with most scientific journals by making all its articles available for free on the Web...
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50936-2003Oct19.html

'BIONIC' ADVANCES A BOON TO AMPUTEES
from The Washington Post

Every now and then, when he flexes the muscles in his forearm and picks up something such as a fork or a car key, Army Sgt. Matt DeWitt thinks he is using his own arm again.

"You still feel, for a second, like you have a hand," DeWitt said in an interview at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

It was, for DeWitt, an amazing revelation, given that he lost both his arms below the elbow three months ago when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade as he manned a machine gun atop an armored Humvee in Iraq.

DeWitt, 26, has been experiencing this sensation as he learns to use two state-of-the-art prosthetics that sense electrical impulses from muscles in his forearms -- the same muscles he once used to move his real hands and wrists -- and transmit them to microprocessors that power motors in his new mechanical wrists and hands.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50189-2003Oct19.html

NOBEL PRIZE FIGHTER
from Newsday

The daily prayer service at FONAR Corp. begins at 9 o'clock to strains of the national anthem. And as they have on weekday mornings for the past decade, a group of FONAR workers and executives head to a small area of a shop floor.

For the next 20 minutes, about 15 people listen as FONAR's human resources director, Fred Peipman, reads Scripture and gives thanks.

"We thank you for Dr. Damadian and his invention and the bread it puts on our tables," Peipman says in closing, referring to FONAR's chairman and founder, Raymond Damadian, an inventor who realized that a phenomenon called magnetic resonance could be useful in scanning tissue for signs of cancer.
http://www.newsday.com/business/ny-bzdama193503771oct21,0,5173713.story

BIOSPHERE 2 GAINS CREDIBILITY, LOSES FUNDING
from The Boston Globe

ORACLE, Ariz. -- A few students trudge past the sprawling glass structure on their way to a new dormitory. Inside the glass, two middle-aged tourists and their guide hike through a humid savanna and peer across a twisted mangrove swamp into a deep green "ocean." Down the hall, a researcher is studying how plants cope with drought.

Seven years after Columbia University agreed to rescue Biosphere 2 from international embarrassment, the project is finally delivering on its promise: Helping us understand complex Earth systems and their implications for climate change.

Once the Hubble Space Telescope of ecological projects, over the last few years, Biosphere 2 has lured scientists from around the world to its self-contained biomes -- a mini-rainforest, savanna, desert and coral ocean spread over three acres. Its researchers have published 23 papers in scientific journals. Its coral reef has allowed scientists to quantify the harmful effect of carbon dioxide on the rate of coral growth for the first time. Many of its flaws have been fixed -- plastic curtains now separate biomes for controlled research while air- and water-circulation systems have been revamped.

But last month, Columbia pulled its support from the $150 million terrarium and now the 19-year-old project in the Arizona desert is on the edge of extinction.
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2003/10/21/biosphere_2_gains_credibility_loses_funding/

BIG BLUE TO EXPAND VIEWPOINT
from The San Francisco Chronicle

Among the credentials of J.M. Coetzee, this year's Nobel Prize winner for literature, one would be of interest to many in Silicon Valley: The South African writer was once an IBM computer programmer.

It's one of those rare times when Big Blue, from whose ranks other Nobel laureates in the field of physics have come, is associated with the humanities or the social sciences.

That may soon change.

During the past year, IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose has been looking to add to its ranks experts from fields not typically associated with high technology, including linguists and anthropologists.
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/10/21/BUGED2FK281.DTL

Atlantis found, again

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Atlantis has been found again - this time in the Mediterranean, south of Cyprus. The legendary sunken empire, first described by Plato in the fourth century B.C., has already been located in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Utah, the North Pole, the South Pole, Great Britain, Holland, India, Malta, the Sahara, off the coast of Cuba, and a lot of other unlikely spots.

Plato may have been inspired by the island of Thira, now called Santorini, which was nearly destroyed by a volcano in 1470 BC, when he wrote the dialogues "Timaeus" and "Critias." Or he may have simply made up this story of an advanced society corrupted by greed and sent by the gods to the bottom of the sea. Now a new book - "Discovery of Atlantis" by Los Angeles writer and self-described mythologist Robert Sarmast - offers sonar mapping as evidence that a land mass 1.6 kilometers, or one mile, down in the eastern Mediterranean bears a striking similarity to Plato's detailed descriptions.

Or maybe it's just a lot of rocks. Sarmast admits that he published his book without knowing anything for sure - a lot more mapping and underwater exploration are needed to determine what, if anything, is there.

But that won't stop people from devouring the theory. Perhaps the obsession is born of a yearning to be connected to the gods, however dangerous that might be. Or maybe the tale of a mighty civilization that vanished has particular resonance in this age of terrorism. There could also be longing for the wisdom of ancients, too. Whatever the reasons, Atlantis continues to beckon, and people are eager to follow, no matter how illogical the route.

- The Boston Globe

http://www.iht.com/articles/114590.html

Proof of God Returns by Demand, Followed by Minimalism

http://ssmu.mcgill.ca/bahai/a030925-01.shtml

Dr. William S. Hatcher, renowned mathematician and philosopher, returned to McGill September 16 and 17 to deliver back-to-back lectures on rationalizing the divine. The first night, Hatcher reprised his "Logical Proof of the Existence of God," a blockbuster presentation last brought to McGill in January 2002. The following day, "Minimalism" further explored the philosophical underpinnings of his approach.

"A Logical Proof of the Existence of God" stirs controversy every time it comes to McGill: 600 curious students, faculty and guests packed Leacock 132 to see the impossible made possible. Recalling the 900-strong crowd that attended last year, this event confirms the ABS' unparalleled draw among the university's clubs. Hatcher begins with three standard axioms for objective, scientific inquiry - basics such as causality and set theory - and from there infers "a unique, non-composite, uncaused universal cause, and thus the cause of everything that exists: and that is God." The path to that conclusion has traditionally involved a furious blur of overhead arrows from a, b, and c to Hatcher's capital G, and while this year marked a switch to tamer PowerPoint slides, the sheer rigour of his 90-minute proof guarantees that the ensuing question period mostly involves his diehard fans and opponents. Religious believers tend to demand definitions of God that logic alone cannot provide, while skeptics often reject their own scientific axioms in an attempt to refute any letter remotely resembling a deity. Discussion is bound to be lively - and this year's organizers turned to written questions to encourage a thoughtful response all around.

Hatcher's central preoccupation is that rational thought can and must be brought to bear on spiritual issues, as the only way to promote an ethical society and transcend differences in personal belief. In his preamble to the 40-odd people gathered in McConnell 204 for "Minimalism" the following night, he drew neat parallels between the earthy geometry of the ancient Greeks and western positivism on the one hand, and the pure abstraction of Arab algebra and eastern spirituality on the other - and claimed that Descartes was the first "modern man," precisely because he achieved a fusion of the two traditions. Hatcher's minimalist thinking, as discussed in his latest book, is a simple extension of Descartian logic with far-reaching implications for rational inquiry into the metaphysical world: by defining "value" as a straightforward function of thermodynamic complexity, he asks, what can we reasonably say about spiritual realities? The answer, it turns out, covers notions ranging from his proof of the existence of God to a proactive, egalitarian philosophy of daily choices, yet leaves ample room for the ineffable experience of the divine - in other words, spirituality and science joined arm in arm.

Two days after his doubleheader at McGill, Hatcher was off to St. Petersburg to lecture at the Steklov Institute of Mathematics. While this event will be the last time McGill sees his proof for at least a few years, Hatcher is a frequent guest of the ABS, and has also lectured on themes such as the oneness of religion, ideological cruelty, and universal rights vs. human values. Throughout the school year, the ABS explores related topics through campus discussion groups.

Faithful say they see image of the Virgin Mary in Passaic tree stump

http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/ny-bc-nj--virginmary-stump1021oct21,0,5637480.story?coll=ny-ap-regional-wire

October 21, 2003, 5:37 AM EDT

PASSAIC, N.J. -- Several people claim an image of the Virgin Mary has appeared in a tree stump after a cluster of trees were mysteriously cut down.

Crowds have flocked to the Passaic site in recent days since word of the image began spreading. The state Department of Transportation owns the land, but no work order was issued for the tiny tract and officials do not know who performed the work.

Some visitors say the clearing was an act of God.

"It looks like Mary," Camilo Diaz, 41, told the Herald News of West Paterson for Tuesday's editions. "There's no way it was carved to look like that, no explanation other than it was a miracle."

The image was first noticed Saturday night by Nilma Ruiz as she drove by the site with her daughter. Ruiz initially thought someone had left a ceramic statue at the site, but she saw the image after they stopped to take a closer look.

While some people have fallen to their knees and prayed upon arrival at the site, other visitors _ including Mayor Sammy Rivera _ say they see nothing but a stump.

Meanwhile, some visitors claim a similar image of Mary in a flowing gown can be seen on a nearby bridge after the sun goes down.

Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press

A voice crying in the wilderness

A teenage runaway fears no one will hear the message, but hordes flock to her

By Ron Charles

This summer, less than a mile from my house, an image of the Virgin Mary appeared in the third-story window of a hospital. The population of Milton, Mass., doubled one weekend when 25,000 devotees came from across the country to sing, pray, leave alms, and debate the image's message for a sinful world. Stories of "Lourdes in Boston" ran in newspapers around the world. Thousands of Web pages celebrated the sighting. Unable to conduct its business, the hospital covered the window with a tarp during work hours. A month later, the archdiocese proclaimed the image was not, in fact, a miraculous appearance of the Virgin, but chemical deposits inside a double-pane window.

Sightings of the Virgin Mary, the subject of David Guterson's new novel, are not part of my religious tradition. My old house doesn't even have double-pane windows. But as someone who believes in spiritual healing, I know what it's like to live with a faith easily mocked by a skeptical world. And so I opened "Our Lady of the Forest" ready to endure another sophisticated bit of literary pity for primitives who insist against all material evidence that something lies beyond....

Rest of the review can be read at
http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1009/p15s01-bogn.html?entryBottomStory


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