NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 November 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Take Final Action To Stop Biology Textbook Censorship

Dear Texas Freedom Network Supporter,

As we near the final vote on biology textbooks, there has been a flurry of activity. I want to update you with regard to the activities of anti-evolution organizations, let you know what we anticipate at the board meeting, and ask you to take action one more time.

First and foremost, thank you for your work to ensure the best possible science textbooks for Texas students. The involvement of scientists, parents, teachers and concerned citizens has been incredible this year. Board members have noticed, as have the news media, textbook publishers, and elected officials. At stake is the quality of our children's education, our state's ability to compete for business, and whether or not an ideology-driven minority can hold information hostage in our country. Thank you for your many efforts.

What the other side is doing:

We've heard from several board members that their email inboxes are full with as many as 1600 messages with identical text. The source may be One Million Dads and One Million Moms, projects of James Dobson's Focus on the Family that say their mission is to oppose violence and sex on television: http://www.onemilliondads.com and www.onemillionmoms.com.

Focus on the Family itself just sent out a blast-fax imploring supporters to call SBOE members, and the Texas Eagle Forum has alerted its members via email. Both messages borrow liberally from Discovery Institute communications.

The Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank who says its top goal is to promote "intelligent design" has heaped five binders full of information about the alleged "weaknesses" of the theory of evolution on State Board of Education members. Discovery sent lengthy testimony requesting changes in the books. We're glad to report that publishers, in keeping with their commitment to provide kids the best possible science education, refused to make major concessions to Discovery. However, several publishers made numerous changes that, taken together, show a real pattern of qualifying the theory of evolution and representing less certainty about evolution than exists in the scientific community. Discovery recently revamped their website, which focused almost entirely on "intelligent design" until a month ago. See the spiffy new site at: www.discovery.org, then go to their "Center for Science and Culture".

Texans for Better Science Education, a new website which claims over seven million hits, continues its online petition drive. Check out TBSE at: www.strengthsandweaknesses.org.

What's likely to happen at the Board meeting

SBOE member Terri Leo will continue her push to selectively link Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) 3A, which covers analyzing scientific theories and their strengths and weaknesses, to TEKS 7, which covers evolution. Leo first laid out her strategy in a personal privilege speech at the beginning of the first hearing on the biology books. This week's meeting is her last chance to convince a majority of board members that the theory of evolution should be taught differently than other aspects of science. If she succeeds in thus manipulating the TEKS, she will establish grounds for rejecting the books.

SBOE member Don McLeroy says he is planning to move that only the textbook published by Glencoe be approved as conforming, and that all the other books be approved as non-conforming. In the view of several scientists, the Glencoe book is actually the weakest of the eleven, and the only one to mention religious beliefs about the origins of life. (Note: if the Board rejects a book, a school district may use the book but only at its own expense. Books the Board approves as "conforming" (to 100% of the TEKS) or approves as "non-conforming" (conforming to less than 100% of the TEKS) are paid for by the state.

Here is the text of Dr. McLeroy's email:

The Glencoe Motion

My Personal Confession
Given all the time in the world, I don't think I could make a spider out of a rock. However, most of the books we are considering adopting, claim that Nothing made a spider out of a rock.

I don't think I share a common ancestor with a tree. However, most of the books we are considering adopting, claim as a fact that we all share a common ancestor with a tree.

Has science made its case that Nothing made a spider out of a rock and that we share a common ancestor with a tree? I say NO, there are too many difficulties with their case, therefore, I am making these motions.

Evolution science is predominantly historical science; it is not observable or testable empirically, it must be inferred. For example, even the empirical research on embryology and the sequences of proteins and DNA only give rise to historical speculations. Thus, the argument for evolution is not deductive, but inductive; in an inductive argument, scientists weigh evidence to see what is most probable to have occurred. On this basis, most scientists hypothesize that Nothing made a spider out of a rock and that we share a common ancestor with a tree. However, other scientists find serious flaws with those hypotheses.

In most of the books we are considering adopting, our students are not being presented both sides; the minority viewpoint is being withheld. This means that these books do not conform to our standards.

In fact, most of the books assert the majority view as a fait accompli. While all the books contain some "qualifiers", Glencoe's Biology, the Dynamics of Life comes the closest to meeting Texas' high standards and is the most "qualified" book up for adoption.

The Motions
Therefore, I plan to make the following motions at our November board meeting. First, I will move that we separate out the regular biology books from the commissioner's recommendation. Second, I will move that we adopt Glencoe's Biology, the Dynamics of Life as conforming and adopt the rest of the regular biology books as non-conforming.

Last Thought
This action would approve all the books up for adoption, plus reward the book that most closely follows our standards. It does not negatively single out any book but fulfills our responsibility of standards conformity.

Don McLeroy

What you can do:

Fax a letter to Board members care of the Texas Education Agency at 512-463-8728.

Attend the Don''t Mess With Textbooks press conference at 10 a.m. on Thursday outside the Board hearing room. RSVP to
heather@tfn.org .

Send a concise Letter to the Editor about this issue today.

Weigh in with the Governor by calling his Citizen Opinion Hotline at (800) 252-9600.

Texas Freedom Network
P.O. Box 1624
Austin, TX 78767
(512) 322-0545
(512) 322-0550 Fax

The Big Chill at the Lab


November 3, 2003



list of nearly 200 scientific researchers has been compiled and given to federal officials by the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative group that goes wild over gay issues and federal funding of research related to human sexuality.

The list, which has sent a chill through some researchers, is being used by the coalition and its government allies in attempts to discredit the researchers and challenge or revoke their federal grants. It's a sloppy, dangerous and wildly inaccurate list, put together by people who are freaked out by the content of the studies, and unconcerned about their value.

The targeted studies cover a wide range of topics related to health and sexuality, including H.I.V. and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and adolescent sexual behavior.

The Web site of the Traditional Values Coalition is bizarrely fixated on sexual matters. The banner headline on the home page the other day blared, "HOMOSEXUAL URBAN LEGENDS: The Series . . ."

The site complained that "nearly $100 million has gone to research many projects which reasonable people, even those with no particular religious or political perspective, would view as prurient."

For a right-wing coalition to be hung up on these matters is one thing. But the coalition's list, which includes some of the most respected scientists and institutions in the country, is circulating among members of Congress and was forwarded to the National Institutes of Health, which is responsible for awarding the crucially important grants.

"It has a lot of people very nervous," said Dr. Thomas Coates, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A. "People who have made a career out of this kind of research well, when you see your name on a list you wonder what's going to happen to your funding."

"The list itself is less important than the context in which it's been generated," said Dr. Judith Auerbach, a vice president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Until recently Dr. Auerbach headed the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health.

"The context is that in recent months there have been a series of specific inquiries to the N.I.H. from Congressional committee members, through their staffs in particular, asking about specific grants and specific grantees based apparently on the content of those grants."

The content is usually related to such matters as the AIDS virus, high-risk sexual behavior and other topics linked in some way to sexuality.

"Those inquiries come in a very negative tone," said Dr. Auerbach. "And they cast aspersions on the quality and the content of the science from someone who doesn't know how to conduct science, and is not a scientist. So the N.I.H. has been put in the position frequently in the last year of having to re-justify research that has already been peer-reviewed, approved and funded."

Science has to suffer when the know-nothings come traipsing through the laboratories, infecting the research with their religious beliefs and political ideologies. Andrea Lafferty is the executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, which she says represents more than 43,000 churches.

"What makes us unique among all the conservative groups," she said, "is that I believe we truly represent the body of Christ."

Ms. Lafferty said she personally gave the list of scientific researchers to Representative Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. One of its subcommittees has been reviewing the awarding of grants by N.I.H.

"We never said any grant on there was bad," said Ms. Lafferty. But she said she wanted to know why the grants were being funded, and why so many had to do with H.I.V. and AIDS.

Ms. Lafferty acknowledged that her group has a problem with homosexuality. "We're concerned that it's a behavior-based lifestyle, that you're not born that way," she said.

She insisted that the coalition does not oppose research on H.I.V. and AIDS, but added, "How many times do you have to study something to find out how to stop the spread of AIDS?"

The public officials who got their hands on this sinister list could have thrown it in the garbage. Instead, the list is circulating, like an insidious disease, and some scientists are worried that they are not immune.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

A battle over books in Texas


from the November 04, 2003 edition

By Spike Gillespie | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

AUSTIN, TEXAS In a couple of days, the Texas State Board of Education, at the end of its annual review, will decide whether to accept or reject proposed textbooks.

A textbook review may sound fairly tame, but in the Lone Star State it can stir serious controversy, as looks to be the case this year.

Last week the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, based in Dallas, filed a lawsuit against the Texas board, charging it with violating First Amendment rights when it rejected an environmental science textbook for use in state high schools.

The book, TLPJ charges, was academically sound but was rejected because the board judged it to be out of line with both Christian and free enterprise principles - criteria the legal group feels are political and shouldn't be applied to textbooks.

It's a case of conservative special-interest groups wielding inappropriate power over academic interests, critics charge, a particularly serious concern in Texas, where texts there have the potential to impact classrooms far beyond the state's borders.

With 4.1 million public schoolchildren, Texas is the second-largest textbook buyer in the country, trailing only California. Because Texas and California are such lucrative markets, textbook manufacturers tend to tailor their products to the requirements of these two states, making any changes they may require.

Because other states represent smaller markets, most publishers won't publish special editions just for them, and they often end up with the books approved by the two giants.

Some who monitor the process in Texas worry that the books approved there too often sacrifice academic quality to the concerns of watchdog groups with conservative agendas.

"Unlike most states, Texas has this centralized approval process, so a relatively small amount of pressure from the right wing can yield enormous consequences," says Samantha Smoot, president of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a liberal watchdog group based in Austin.

The current dispute over the science text is not the first time Texans have battled over questions of censorship connected with the review process.

At its website, www.tfn.org, the TFN gives examples of cases where it believes ideology affected textbook decisions, such as the 2002 rejection of a history text with positive references to Islam and the environmental-science book in the current lawsuit, which some see as anti-free enterprise because it teaches about global warming.

Influence of this kind worries those who think such an approach confuses ideological standards with academic ones. But for some of the more conservative parent groups, ideology is exactly what they're trying to keep out of textbooks.

"Textbooks by and large are written by college professors," says Peggy Venable, state director for Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation. "Many of us feel professors are more liberal than many parents are. We need to make sure information being taught is something parents feel comfortable with."

Ms. Venable's group also worries that accuracy in textbooks may be sacrificed to liberal goals such as political correctness.

Textbookmakers, they argue, sometimes rewrite history by overplaying the accomplishments of woman and racial minorities and editing out what they believe to be more important material.

"White males are often underrepresented," says Venable. "I see publishers as trying to meet requirements by putting women and minorities in [and] ignoring significant events."

In 1995 the Texas legislature passed a law stating that the state board of education may reject books only on the basis of factual errors and not due to disputes over ideology.

But at the same time, state law requires the board to approve books that promote democracy, patriotism, and the free-enterprise system - leaving the door open to disagreements of a more subjective nature.

In Texas, textbooks are updated in waves. Each year, different topics come up for revision. Under consideration this year are family studies, career studies, and biology. The subject of biology is usually the trigger for particularly fierce controversy.

While some groups accept evolution as correct science that should be taught to biology students, others argue that it is only a theory and thus should either be presented differently, or alongside other "scientific theories" including that of Intelligent Design, the belief in an intelligent creator.

Some retort that ID is not science at all, but religion dressed up "in a lab coat."

Files available at the Texas Education Association Webpage for the textbook-review process feature more than 1,000 pages of commentary from public hearings, much on this topic. Whichever side prevails, however, in any of the debates over textbooks, no Texas school is required to buy the books approved by the board of education. But the majority do.

Books deemed conforming - meeting the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements - are appealing to in-state schools because they can use state funds to buy them.

But even in schools that buy the books, there are always some teachers who either ignore or supplement them.

Alex Hendrex, a history teacher for 10 years at Kealing Junior High School in Austin, long avoided textbooks.

He objected to certain characterizations of history he regarded as inaccurate.

For example, he says, when it comes to New World explorers, "the emphasis in [the state-approved history] textbook is the wonderful accomplishments of Columbus," with just a small sidebar mentioning enslavement of the natives.

Mr. Hendrex has recently begun using the state-approved text, but only in conjunction with other assigned reading. Hendrex says his goal isn't to sway the students one way or the other, but to have them compare accounts. He'd like to see them think critically, draw their own conclusions, and learn to question sources.

Hendrex's colleague, English teacher Kristen Scott, collaborates with fellow teacher Sarah Waggoner to develop curriculum not focused on textbooks.

But she still relies on textbooks to teach basics such as grammar.

"Some kids find textbooks comforting - they're familiar," she says. "I use them the same way I use any other resource - I don't depend solely on them."

Staff writer Kris Axtman contributed to this story.

Board should have seen this coming


By Heber Taylor
The Daily News

Published November 02, 2003

The lawsuit filed by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice last week against the State Board of Education was unfortunate.

But it was not frivolous or silly, as David Bradley, Galveston County's representative on that board, suggested.

The lawsuit is right on target with its central claim. Members of the state board have been forcing publishers to edit textbooks to fit their own religious and political beliefs.

What would make anyone think that?

Just a little more than a year ago, the board objected to a history textbook that pointed out that there were thousands of prostitutes in the Wild Wild West.

Never mind that there are countless letters from the era describing a frontier made up of a bewildering blend of God-fearing folks, scoundrels, teenagers from New Jersey who wanted to be cowboys but had never ridden a horse, runaway husbands and prostitutes.

The textbooks failed to live up to some board members' belief that the West was settled by an endless stream of Bible-toting, civic-minded folks in covered wagons.

So the board had a discussion about getting a book that more accurately reflected those board members' beliefs.

Then, earlier this year, the Texas Legislature seriously considered House Bill 1447, which would have allowed the State Board of Education, rather than the Texas Education Agency, to decide how textbooks would present scientific information to students.

State Rep. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land reasoned that board members "have the responsibility to adopt textbooks, so they should have the authority to edit the content."

The undercurrent behind that bill: Less evolution, more creationism.

Having politicians with strong religious views editing science books is a bad idea.

It was a bad idea in the days of Galileo. It's still a bad idea today in parts of the Islamic world where religious leaders, fearing modern science as a secular evil, have taken their communities back into the Middle Ages.

It doesn't matter whether the State Board of Education is conservative or liberal. It doesn't matter what faith most of its members happen to profess.

Those beliefs whatever they are shouldn't be imposed on others.

When people use political positions to keep legitimate, scholarly information out of textbooks used in public schools, that's censorship.

We really wish we could say this lawsuit was baseless and silly. But it's not.

Textbooks at center of evolution debate


Oct. 31, 2003, 10:40PM

Associated Press

AUSTIN -- Texas will be under the microscope this week in the fight over teaching evolution in public schools as the State Board of Education votes on adopting biology textbooks that have been at the center of the debate.

The board meets Thursday and Friday and is set to consider proposed changes submitted by 11 publishers. The board's decisions -- which could determine which textbooks publishers offer to dozens of states -- will end a review process that has been marked by months of heated debate over the theory of evolution.

Religious activists and proponents of alternative science urged publishers to revise some of the 10th-grade books and want the board to reject others, saying they contain factual errors regarding the theory of evolution. Mainstream scientists assert that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a cornerstone of modern research and technology.

Board members can only vote to reject books based on factual errors or failure to follow state curriculum as mandated by the Legislature.

"There's a bait and switch going on here because the critics want the textbooks to question whether evolution occurred. And of course they don't because scientists don't question whether evolution occurred," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Among those questioning the textbooks are about 60 biologists from around the country who signed a "statement of dissent" about teaching evolution and said both sides of the issue should be taught. Several religious leaders also testified against teaching evolution.

Any changes to the textbooks will have implications across the country.

Texas is the nation's second largest buyer of textbooks, and books sold in the state are often marketed by publishers nationwide. Texas, California and Florida account for more than 30 percent of the nation's $4 billion public school book market. Three dozen publishers invest millions of dollars in Texas.

One of the most vocal advocates of changing the textbooks is the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Seattle. Institute officials have argued at board hearings that alternatives to commonly accepted theories of evolution should be included in textbooks to comply with a state requirement that both strengths and weaknesses are presented.

"These things are widely criticized as being problematic. They aren't criticisms we made up; they're criticisms widely held in the scientific community," said Discovery Institute fellow John West.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said there are no weaknesses in current textbooks' explanation of evolution. Publishers are required to cover evolution in science books.

The institute has referred to a theory dubbed intelligent design -- a belief that life did not evolve randomly but progressed according to a plan or design. No book on the mainstream market presents the intelligent design theory of evolution.

"We know that this is a very contentious issue. We know that, but the sorts of things we were proposing we thought were moderate," West said.

Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors religious activists, argues that the Discovery Institute's arguments are rooted in religion. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that the teaching of creationism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state.

"It says that the theory of evolution can't explain the diversity of life on this planet and that there must have been a designer," Smoot said. "That is a very valid and commonly held religious perspective, but not one that is upheld by scientific evidence. Therefore it's not one that belongs in science classrooms."

The Discovery Institute has maintained that its arguments have no religious foundation, but Smoot disagrees.

"The concept of intelligent design was crafted specifically to get around legal prohibitions against teaching religion in public schools," she said. "And as long as proponents of intelligent design deny that they're referring to God when they talk about the designer, they hope to be able to pull this off."

At least one publisher has submitted changes in line with the institute's recommendations.

Holt, Rinehart & Winston has submitted a change that directs students to "study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives" to the others in the book. Students also are encouraged to research alternative theories on the Internet.

Ontario farmer challenges driver's licence photo


Globe and Mail Update

A hell-fearing Christian fundamentalist farmer has mounted a constitutional challenge to prevent his driver's licence photo being placed in a central data bank.

George Bothwell told a packed press conference in Toronto on Wednesday that the Book of Revelations warns that any such use of an individual's image automatically aligns him with Satan.

"The Bible says that he who worships the beast or receives his image shall drink the wine of the wrath of God," Mr. Bothwell said, quoting several ominous-sounding passages by heart.

"That prophecy was written two millennia ago, when there was really no vocabulary to describe the technology that has come up on this," he said. "The God of the Bible wants individual freedom. This system enforces external control over people."

Mr. Bothwell's lawyer, Clayton Ruby, said the provision allows government bureaucrats too much leeway in deciding whether they find a person's religious beliefs to be sincere.

Far from being a fundamentalist flake, Mr. Ruby argued that his client is a deeply religious man who truly believes he will go to hell if the government stores his photograph in digital form.

Mr. Ruby said the theory is comparable to the beliefs of other fundamentalists.

"I don't think that anyone will dismiss him as a wingnut, because these views are widely held," he said.

Before 1997, provincial bureaucrats allowed Mr. Bothwell to have a Polaroid image attached to his licence. The licencing system then became digitalized, obliging Mr. Bothwell, 57, to renounce his driver's licence altogether.

According to a legal brief Mr. Ruby prepared for Ontario Superior Court, Mr. Bothwell's dilemma has severely constrained his ability to pursue his livelihood as a liquid manure spreader.

"Farming is a very challenging business," it says. "One needs to be very focussed on it to succeed. The stress he feels as a result of having to focus on the issues surrounding his driver's licence which affect his eternal salvation distract him and make it very difficult to run the farming operation."

The brief says that Mr. Bothwell a father of eight is in the position of having to choose between his religious beliefs and the ability to operate a motor vehicle.

"Because he lives in a rural area, the inability to drive greatly restricts his freedom of movement, his ability to earn a living and his ability to interact with the community," it says.

Mr. Bothwell would be eligible for a religious exemption from the photograph provision if he could show that his viewpoint is endorsed by a religious leader of a congregation to which he belongs.

Mr. Bothwell, however, has no congregation. His interpretation of the Bible is strictly his own and he believes he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

"George doesn't have a religious leader other than Jesus Christ who is not about to write a letter of support for him to the Ontario government," Mr. Ruby told reporters.

"We say that even if only one person on Earth has a sincerely held belief, that belief may turn out to be the truth."

Averting his eyes from a bank of cameras throughout today's press conference, Mr. Bothwell anticipated the question on every reporter's lips.

"I feel a little uncomfortable with the technology presently in this room, because I assume you are using digital cameras and recorders," he said. "But that technology is not the danger."

The problem arises not when photographs are taken, but when they are stored and potentially used for unknown purposes.

"The danger is when the central authority captures digital identifiers from people and stores them in a central data base for any authority with the right technology to access," he said.

Mr. Ruby said a ruling in his favour would not open the floodgates to people making all manner of exotic claims about their religious beliefs. Authorities would still have the power to screen out those making ridiculous claims, he said.

"I have an easy road; a very easy road," Mr. Ruby said. "They would still be able to weed out anybody who is not a sincere, religious believer."

Mr. Bothwell, whose farm is located near Owen Sound, has been driving since 1962.

Sex, drugs, and NIH


November 3, 2003

Grant controversy escalates, with charges of misconduct and 'scientific McCarthyism' exchanged

By Ted Agres

Within the next 2 weeks, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) hopes to convince Congress of the public health relevance of some 200 research project grants dealing with human sexual behavior and drug use. A conservative advocacy group assembled the list of grants, amounting to some $100 million, and complained that the projects were prurient, wasteful, and lacking in scientific merit. But at least one NIH defender contends that a Bush administration attempt to inject ideology into science is really behind the list.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a leading administration critic, last week said the Bush administration used "insiders" within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees NIH, to help assemble a "hit list" of ideologically objectionable grants. Waxman accused the White House of "scientific McCarthyism" and of "imposing ideological shackles" on vital public health research. An HHS spokesman denied that any of its employees were involved.

NIH, caught in the middle, inadvertently fueled the controversy when officials began calling principal investigators to let them know their names were being circulated on a list in Washington. In some cases, the officials also asked the scientists to explain their research activities. This caused some of the scientists to worry that their funding was being threatened due to the controversial nature of their research.

NIH spokesman John Burklow denied any ill intent. "We called them as a courtesy. It was only fair and professional to let people know their names were on a list being circulated at a [congressional] hearing," he told The Scientist. "We were not questioning their research. In fact, we are defending the need to do research in these areas."

But Waxman, expressing "outrage," described the list and the telephone calls as a "calculated effort to subvert science and scientists at NIH to a right-wing ideological agenda" in an October 27 letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "Imposing ideological shackles on this research would be a serious public health mistake," the letter stated, and urged Thompson to launch an investigation "to identify anyone at HHS who has actively participated in efforts to undermine peer-reviewed research at NIH."

Waxman has been hammering the Bush administration for some time for what he calls "politicizing science." In August, Waxman released a report prepared by the minority staff of the House Committee on Government Reform, of which he is ranking member. The report and an accompanying Web site were created to expose the administration's "political interference with science."

The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), which represents more than 43,000 churches in the United States and Puerto Rico, says that it assembled the NIH grant list over a period of several weeks from public sources without any help. "I know there are important studies being conducted at NIH which do benefit the public," TVC Executive Director Andrea S. Lafferty wrote in an October 29 letter to Waxman. "But I do not believe the reasonable person would see evidence of this scientific value or rigor in the grants in question," the letter stated.

TVC's review "suggests that the NIH has become nothing more than another federal ATM for grant traffickersa National Endowment for the Arts with a chemistry set," Lafferty wrote, referring to a 1990s controversy over federal funding for art projects that many congressmen and others deemed prurient or offensive.

The NIH grants under attack include research into male truckers who have sex with male truckers ("truck chasers") and female sex workers ("lot lizards" and "CB prostitutes"); comparing the sex behaviors of Mexicans on either side of the border; and studies of jealousy among homosexual individuals.

Lafferty accused NIH of "misconduct" and of being an agency that "obviously requires more adult supervisiona bureaucracy run amuck." She called for the Justice Department to investigate NIH's grant approval process. Lafferty did not respond to The Scientist's request for an interview.

Research supporters, including members of leading scientific societies, are defending the grants as inquiries that can elucidate such problems as HIV/AIDS transmission and drug abuse. "There's a vital public interest in these studies," said Howard J. Silver, executive director for the Consortium of Social Science Associations, a Washington, D.C.based advocacy group representing more than 100 professional organizations in the social sciences.

"There are groups in this country who want to keep their heads in the sand when it comes to behaviors they don't like," Silver said. "Given the AIDS pandemic and the significant number of people with STDs and the volatile mix of drugs, sex, and disease, this research is necessary."

"We can't let moralizing trump sound science when the public's health and safety are at stake," said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a statement.

"[T]he integrity of the oversight processes themselves should never be compromised by intrusion of extraneous sectarian or ideological issues," added Jordan J. Cohen, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, in a statement.

But others see the dispute as part of the process by which the boundaries of scientific research are defined through political pressure. "I see this as part of a long history of not major, but ongoing, struggles between science and society to decide what are the appropriate norms to govern science by," said Dan Sarewitz, a senior research fellow at Columbia University and founding director of the Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes in Washington, D.C.

"Regardless of how one judges this particular issue, there's nothing new going on," he said. "For one thing, the federal science budget is a political construct, and decisions on what gets funded are made for political reasons all the time." While terming this case particularly "egregious," Sarewitz noted that science in the past has benefited from political interference.

"Yes, it sounds offensive and scary, but I think the scientific enterprise is pretty robust and there's a pretty good understanding of what's an appropriate debate and where people think it's not appropriate," he said. "This sounds like it goes over the line, but that's nothing new, either."

The grants controversy dates back to at least July 10, when by Rep. Patrick Toomey (R-Penn.) introduced an amendment during floor debate on the fiscal year 2004 appropriations bill that included funding for NIH. The amendment would have defunded research for four NIH grants studying human sexual behavior. Those grants were among a list of 10 that had been created by the Republican House Study Committee.

The Toomey amendment measure was narrowly defeated, but during the floor debate, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Labor/HHS appropriations subcommittee, urged legislators to forward any concerns about the grants to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Separately, the TVC gave Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) its much longer list and requested that the committee look into the matter. A committee spokesman has said that the panel was not investigating individual grants but was looking at NIH's overall grant management program.

During an October 2 oversight hearing cosponsored by the committee, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.) and other Republican congressmen questioned NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni about the sex-related research grants that Toomey had questioned on the House floor. Zerhouni defended NIH's peer-reviewed research. "One has to look at the balance between science, society, and health," Zerhouni said, adding that there existed "scientific justification" and a "definite public health connection" for the research efforts.

The congressmen asked Zerhouni to provide written explanations for the public health relevance of the grants. After the hearing, NIH staffers asked committee staffers for a list of the grants. They were given, evidently by mistake, the longer list generated by the TVC, not Toomey's shorter 10-grant list. NIH officials began calling the scientists on the longer list and are currently reviewing the grant applications and files.

Links for this article

T. Agres, "Science, policy, and partisan politics," The Scientist, August 13, 2003.

Politics and Science

Traditional Values Coalition

T. Agres, "Politicizing research or responsible oversight?" The Scientist, July 14, 2003.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Blurred vision


Stephen Amidon on David Guterson's Our Lady of the
, a rich but uneven tale of faith and credulity

Saturday November 1, 2003
The Guardian

Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson
323pp, Bloomsbury, 16.99

If opinion polls are to be believed, folks nowadays are just as hungry for the miraculous as they were in the Dark Ages. Belief in astrology, extraterrestrial life and faith healing have not been dampened by scientific breakthroughs such as high-speed computer networks or genetic mapping. Our hooked-up world may be getting smaller, but the person on the street still craves their regular dose of the inexplicable. The third novel from David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars and East of the Mountains, is rooted in this credulity.

Set in Washington state in the autumn of 1999, it opens with an alleged miracle: Ann Holmes, a sickly teenage runaway with a history of sexual and psychedelic abuse, claims that she has been visited by the Virgin Mary while picking mushrooms in the rainy forests outside the impoverished logging town of North Fork. The apparition "glided toward her in a frightening arc, dropping first and then advancing. It loomed larger and more distinct until it was clearly a human figure - she could make out a spectral, wavering face and a pair of incandescent hands - levitating just off the forest floor thirty yards away."

Word of her vision is quickly posted on the internet, and thousands of pilgrims descend, greatly burdening the town's physical and spiritual infrastructures. The local priest, Father Donald Collins, feels the strain particularly, his liberal cynicism warring with his unexpected attraction to the waif-like Ann. Equally vexed is Tom Cross, an unemployed logger who is suffering extreme guilt over paralysing his son in an accident that might have been deliberate. The last member of this unholy trinity drawn to Ann is Carolyn Greer, a fading hippy who becomes the visionary's lady-in-waiting, her attention divided equally between the girl's wellbeing and the buckets rapidly filling with donations from the faithful.

As Ann's visions become increasingly intense, her three disciples are further implicated in her life. Father Collins jeopardises his career by protecting her from the church's grim inquisitor, who seeks to unmask the girl as a doped-up fraud, while Tom's efforts to get Ann to perform a miracle for his crippled son threaten to get him in trouble with the law. Carolyn, meanwhile, knows the fragile girl's health is at risk, but cannot quite allow herself to renounce those tithes she's been stealing secretly. When the logging conglomerate that owns the land where the "Marian apparitions" are taking place forbids further visits by Ann and her flock, the tragedy Guterson has been carefully setting up quickly unfolds.

Our Lady of the Forest is a deeply uneven novel, often fine in its constituent parts but ultimately unable to shoulder the emotional weight its author intended. Guterson's sad characters are very well drawn, none more so than the aptly named Tom Cross, whose refusal to accept cheap remedies for his guilt redeems an otherwise unappealing character. Weak and dithering Father Collins, a "self-reflective anthropologist" who cannot quite come to terms with celibacy, also manages to capture the reader's sympathy. And while Carolyn's shrill voice and thievery are hard to abide initially, it becomes clear that the redemption she seeks is as valid as any other pilgrim's.

Guterson proves less successful in establishing a consistent narrative tone. The book charts an unsteady course through the seven days it chronicles, veering between broad satire and sombre reverence. The spectacle of thousands of polyester-clad pilgrims tramping through the woods, "a horde of charismatic Catholics with walkie-talkies and a phone tree", is rendered in tones that aspire to the acid visions of Tom Wolfe. "In another bay of the sea of pilgrims, a woman had taken up juggling rubber balls purchased expressly for that purpose and stowed in the bottom of her backpack ... Others examined photographs - Polaroids of cloud formations resembling Jesus, the door to heaven, angels. Cells of devotees arrayed themselves in tight-knit circles and prayed together feverishly."

Unfortunately, time and again Guterson relinquishes this flinty point of view to slip into the sort of arcane, over-articulated prose popularised by Cormac McCarthy. This is especially apparent when he is dealing with Ann, for whom the singing of pilgrims "was ethereal, enchanted, it might have been mere wind in the trees or a distant band of woodland dryads who were also exceptional ventriloquists ... She could not quite make out its tone, celebratory hymn or funeral dirge, canticle or lamentation, chant or elegy." Elsewhere, "Ann's tortured face constricted and contorted through the myriad expressions of the listener, the histrionic face that shows everything, like a mime's. Mime was not a bad comparison, if the mime could be construed as having studied with Lee Strasberg. A mime hallucinating." As one labours to unravel these tortuous images (ventriloquist nymphs?) and thesaurus-cracking vocabulary, Ann slips quietly away, leaving a hole in the place where a mystery should have been.

Stephen Amidon's novel The New City is published by Black Swan.

'Pet psychic' puts on dog-and-pony show


Fitzpatrick displays mastery of obvious in canine 'conversation'

By Joe Rassenfoss, Rocky Mountain News
November 3, 2003

Mom used to tell me that all the animals could talk at midnight on Christmas Eve.

It must always seem like Christmas Eve to Sonya Fitzpatrick, the British-born "pet psychic" who claims to talk to the animals.

Hard to believe? Maybe. But she has parlayed her life into a TV series on Animal Planet and two books (What the Animals Tell Me and The Secrets of Communicating With Your Cat). A line of pet food is next.

And now: A speaking tour that included a Denver stop, with tickets as high as $35. Which explains how I wound up on the phone with her the other day.

Only, the ebullient Fitzpatrick wasn't just talking to me - she had dialed up my family's Labrador, Ajax, on some psychic hot line, thanks to a digital photograph I had e-mailed. Apparently, the connection was pretty good.

"Ooooh," she crowed in her distinctive British accent. "I'm looking at a lovely boy, he's just beautiful. And he says he eats everything."

Labs eat only slightly less than they breathe, so suggesting that's a psychic reading is pushing it. But she was warming up, so I let her riff.

"He says he's good at carrying things in his mouth," Fitzpatrick cooed, again illustrating a mastery of the obvious when it comes to retrievers' minds. In an effort to push her along, I noted that he brings the paper in daily.

"And he says it didn't take him long to learn that!" she exclaimed.

This she got right. Ajax is our second Lab, and both have been miserably trained. In fact, to even use "trained" and "Ajax" in the same sentence constitutes an oxymoron. Clearly, he figured this skill out on his own.

We plunged on through other subjects, including:

Ajax didn't mind wearing my son's lacrosse shoulder pads for the photo: "He felt self-conscious at first, but he got used to them."

He was happy to hear we had no plans to get a cat, but would like us to get another dog.

A neighbor's tabby cat has no right to be in the back yard. It's most annoying.

He says that he is nice to every dog that he meets.

Emboldened by all this talk, Ajax piped up with a question. At least, that's what Fitzpatrick said: "He wants to know if (the family) will be moving; he has heard it discussed."

I confirm that we almost moved last year, but decided against it.

"Good," says Fitzpatrick, "may I tell him?"

Umm, sure, I say, wondering how I could possibly stop a psychic give-and-take anyway. Silence fills the line.

"He says 'good,' but he also wants to make sure that if you do move, that you would bring him along."

I say we will definitely bring him along (heck, now that he talks, he has added value). "I'll tell him," she says, followed by more silence.

"He's very happy," she finally reports. (And here I thought all it took was two meals a day to keep that tail wagging).

As the call winds down, Fitzpatrick asks if I have seen her TV show. No, I say. After considering the situation, I ask: "If you're a psychic, shouldn't you know that?"

"Well, I'm on a higher level right now, talking to the animals, so I can't hear humans," she says, leaving me wondering which of us are AM and which are FM.

Days later, I'm reminded she may not have that human frequency nailed. The Denver date has been canceled because of low ticket sales.

Who would have predicted that?

Psychic scorecard

A look at what pet psychic Sonya Fitzpatrick said about Ajax and how it squares with reality:

Psychic said: "He says he goes someplace to be with other dogs . . . He says one dog is more temperamental than the other, and I have to watch him pretty closely because he gets cross with me."

Truth is: True. Ajax plays with two Corgis, one of which is much friendlier to him than the other.

Psychic said: He says there's a person that lies on the floor with him that has hair like him.

Truth is: Various family members lie on the floor with him, but none can match that fur color.

Psychic said: He says there's one child who has a lot of trouble getting down to studying and sometimes gets into trouble for it, and really, he's quite smart.

Truth is: How many children REALLY want to study?

Psychic said: He thinks his mum is tidy, though others in the house are not. She's always tidying up, just can't leave it alone.

Truth is: Nailed this one on the head.

Psychic said: He loves the water . . . He loves it when the hose is on.

Truth is: No big surprise a Labrador would like running water from a hose, but it's true he follows anyone who has a hose, snapping at the water for a drink.

The Verdict: A lot of this sounds like guessing, but Fitzpatrick gets enough right to make you wonder if she is picking up a few vibes.

rassenfossj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-5410

Antioxidants: Have they been hyped?


Millions of Americans believe in supplements, but science can't back up many of the claims.

By Elena Conis
Special to The Times

October 27, 2003

A decade ago, antioxidants nutrients such as beta carotene and vitamins C and E were taking the nutrition world by storm. These free-radical fighters, medical experts predicted, would extend human life by protecting us from environmental hazards, cancer and heart disease.

Antioxidants began making headlines in the early 1990s, when several large medical studies showed lower rates of cancer in people who took vitamin E and beta carotene. Seemingly overnight, antioxidants were hailed by scientists and the media as an important medical breakthrough. Vitamin E, proclaimed a Time magazine article, was a "potent lung saver." A story in U.S. News & World Report heralded beta carotene as a "miracle vitamin."

The problem was, much of the research on which these claims were based was preliminary the result of test tube or animal experiments that didn't always pan out when scientists tried to replicate them in humans. And it wasn't long before those breathless proclamations became more measured.

The reason: In recent years, several larger research studies have found that people who took antioxidant supplements received no greater protection from chronic diseases than those who didn't. The scientific community remains split on the potential for antioxidant supplements. But one thing is clear: They no longer are considered the miracle cure they once were.

That message, however, appears not to have been fully digested by the public. About one-third of Americans take antioxidants, according to national statistics, and sales of these supplements are rising. Food companies continue to cash in on the antioxidant craze with an array of products, from pomegranate juice to blueberry tea to supplement-spiked fruit smoothies.

Experts say the scientific community must bear part of the blame for raising and then dampening the public's hopes about the health benefits of antioxidants.

"The medical community has given the public mixed signals on antioxidants and vitamins," said Dr. Marc Penn, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio who led a recent review of antioxidant research published in the British medical journal Lancet. He found that even his patients seemed to put too much faith in antioxidants. "They felt like, 'I'm on vitamin E, I'm going to be OK,' " he said.

Where did the science go wrong? An oversimplified interpretation of the science that led to misguided dietary advice is one explanation, said Marion Nestle, a professor and chairwoman of New York University's department of nutrition and food studies. "Researchers said, 'We know fruits and vegetables are good, so something in them must be good. It must be the antioxidants,' " Nestle said. The scrutiny that followed involved numerous studies that looked at antioxidants in isolation first in animals, then in humans but provided results that were inconsistent at best.

In the lab, antioxidants, including vitamin E and beta carotene, neutralized some of the potentially hazardous byproducts of cell metabolism. As cells convert food to energy, they generate charged molecules known as free radicals, which become neutralized by binding to other charged molecules. Many scientists believe that when free radicals bind to cellular structures such as DNA, it causes damage that can lead to cancer, some chronic diseases and symptoms of advancing age. Round up the free radicals with antioxidants, the theory went, and disease risks would decline.

Lab and animal studies are quick and easy to do, but they don't offer real proof of what a drug or vitamin may do for a human. Evidence from human studies took much longer to produce.

When research from large-scale human trials began to emerge in the mid-1990s, the results were mixed. Observational studies, in which researchers compared people who took antioxidants or consumed them in their diets with people who didn't, found lower rates of heart disease and cancer among antioxidant takers. But some researchers said these studies were flawed because of the so-called healthy-user effect. That is, people with lots of antioxidants in their diets may be healthier to begin with, because they may eat low-fat foods or exercise regularly.

"There are loads of studies that show that people taking supplements feel better," Nestle said. "People taking them are also healthier; they have healthier lifestyles."

To help resolve the healthy-user question, researchers designed studies in which people of varied health were randomly assigned to take antioxidants. But for every clinical trial that showed some benefit from taking antioxidants, such as lowered cancer rates or decreased risk of heart attack, another found no benefits.

A 1993 study of nearly 30,000 Chinese adults found that people who took antioxidant supplements were less likely to die of cancer. Last year, however, the Lancet published a study of more than 20,000 British adults that showed no difference in heart attack, stroke or cancer rates between people who took antioxidant supplements and those who took placebo pills.

Some of the news was worse: Antioxidants might even harm your health. Two studies in the mid-1990s that looked at beta carotene use concluded that the substance increased smokers' likelihood of developing lung cancer.

Then, in separate reports released in June, scientists at the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Cleveland Clinic, after reviewing some of the biggest studies to date, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to show antioxidant use did any good. Beta carotene came in for a particularly harsh assessment: The task force said beta carotene supplements should not be used to protect against cancer or heart disease. And the Cleveland Clinic researchers recommended that further studies of beta carotene be stopped.

"We were very concerned about the number of patients and doctors who felt that they were really doing something good by taking antioxidants," said Penn of the Cleveland Clinic.

But Penn's findings puzzled other researchers such as Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, an antioxidant researcher at Tufts University who called the Cleveland Clinic report "stunning" and said it drew conclusions prematurely.

Blumberg, director of Tufts' Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, said much of the evidence that failed to show a benefit from antioxidants - the evidence reviewed by Penn and colleagues - came from secondary prevention studies in which supplements were given to people with established heart disease or at high risk of heart attacks or cancer (such as smokers).

Primary prevention studies, in which people are put on antioxidants long before they have signs of chronic disease, although preferable are more difficult to do because they require decades of data.

Penn said primary prevention studies - which examined antioxidant use in healthy people - were a flawed approach in this case. In the animal studies that first illuminated the potential of vitamin E and beta carotene, he said, researchers gave the compounds to young animals well before chronic disease set in.

"It's the equivalent of putting vitamin E in [McDonald's] Happy Meals," so children can get the vitamin starting at age 5 or 6, Penn said.

Penn and many other researchers still believe that antioxidants are an important part of a healthful diet. But whether those benefits are derived from antioxidants in foods you eat or in supplements is unresolved.

"What we're looking at is the importance of a healthful diet," said Melanie Polk, director of nutrition education at the American Institute of Cancer Research in Washington. "We're not just eating nutrients independently in food. We don't just eat folic acid, vitamin E or selenium, but a whole arsenal of nutrients" at once, she said. "Green beans, broccoli [and] cauliflower may all contain cancer-protective substances. But broccoli alone is not going to do it."

Researchers recently have begun to focus on the synergy exhibited when several antioxidants and other phytochemicals - plant chemicals such as quercetin (found in apples), lycopene (in tomatoes) and sulforaphane (in broccoli) - act together, said Dr. Michael Aviram, a researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. His research has shown that vitamin E amplifies the antioxidant effects of nutrients found in pomegranates.

Will bigger and better studies validate the early predictions about the power of antioxidants? That remains to be seen. Long-term studies still are investigating the effects of antioxidants in isolation, in concert with each other and with other phytochemicals.

To overcome the limitations of earlier studies, some researchers are looking at younger groups. A recent small study, published in the Sept. 2 issue of the medical journal Circulation, showed that vitamin E and C supplements helped improve the cardiovascular health of children with high cholesterol who also were placed on healthier diets.

For now, many doctors and scientists agree that you're better off consuming antioxidants in their natural form - by eating fruits and vegetables - than by taking a vitamin pill. "You can't get around it," said Polk. "We should be spending our money in the produce department, not the vitamin aisle."

Doing good or doing harm?

Some studies suggest that antioxidants, which occur naturally in many foods, may prevent or slow the development of cancer and help ward off other diseases by protecting cells against damage by oxygen molecules called free radicals. Other studies suggest, however, that there may be little benefit and that antioxidant supplements - particularly when taken in large doses - actually may increase cancer risk in some cases. Until more long-term studies are done, many scientists recommend getting antioxidants primarily from foods.

Antioxidant: Vitamin A/beta carotene

Possible benefits: Important in vision, bone growth, reproduction, regulating immune system and reducing risk of some types of cancers.

Possible risks: In excess, might enhance the risk of lung cancer or osteoporosis.

Antioxidant: Vitamin E

Possible benefits: May help thwart heart disease, certain cancers, cataracts

Possible risks: Few known risks; extremely high doses may increase bleeding risk.

Antioxidant: Selenium

Possible benefits: May combat lung, colorectal and prostate cancers; heart disease and arthritis; may slow progression of HIV/AIDS.

Possible risks: Gastrointestinal upset, hair loss, mild nerve damage.

Antioxidant: Coenzyme Q10

Possible benefits: BTD Evidence suggests it stimulates immune system; may be useful as adjuvant therapy for cancer.

Possible risks: No serious side effects; possible insomnia, abdominal pain; Researchers studying interactions with drugs.

Antioxidant: Vitamin C

Possible benefits: Possible anti-cancer agent; may help ward off colds.

Possible risks: Doses larger than 2,000 milligrams daily may cause headaches, diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, stomach cramps, possible kidney stones.

Sources: National Institutes of Health; National Cancer Institute Researched by Times graphics reporter Joel Greenberg.


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 659 October 28, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

A MAP OF THE UNIVERSE produced by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey contains 200,000 galaxies at distances of up to two billion light years, and spread out across 2400 square degrees of sky. According to Sloan astronomer Michael Blanton (NYU), this is "the best three-dimensional map of the universe to date." The Sloan effort uses a telescope in New Mexico optimized to record spectra from many galaxies at the same time. One of the standout features of the map is the Sloan Great Wall of galaxies, some 1.37 billion light years long and the "largest observed structure in the universe" (preprint:astro-ph 0310/0310571) Combined with data from other telescopes, such as the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), the new Sloan observations help tamp down uncertainties in several pivotal astronomical numbers. The new best value for the Hubble constant is 0.70 with an uncertainty of about 0.04; the amount of energy in the universe vested in matter is 30% with an uncertainty of 4%; the upper limit on neutrino mass is 0.6 eV; and the age of the universe is 14.1 billion years with an uncertainty of 1 billion (Preprint astro-ph/0310/0310723; Sloan website at http://www.sdss.org/news/releases/20031028.powerspectrum.html ).

AN ELECTRICAL MICRO-GENERATOR might provide electric power for portable microscale devices. At a modern power station, high pressure fluids (water, steam, or gas) are dashed against turbine blades, thus turning a shaft which cranks out electricity. At an MIT lab, all of this is done on a centimeter-size scale. At an upcoming meeting of the AVS Science and Technology Society in Baltimore, Carol Livermore will describe a micromotor with a 4-mm rotor which puts out 20 milliwatts of power, far more power than any other existing rotating micromotor. The motor may be incorporated into a microscale gas turbine generator. This is, in effect, a tiny jet engine: air and gas mix in a small combustion chamber and the resultant explosion powers the turbine (figure at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2003/204.htm ). The MIT researchers expect that soon the output will be at the level of 300 volts, and 1 watt of mechanical power or 0.5 watt of electrical power. The device might not yet be as compact as the best micro-batteries currently available, but it will be able to do what batteries cannot, namely supply power over long periods. (Paper MM-TuA3, Carol Livermore, 617-253-6761, livermor@mit.edu; meeting will be held November 2-7; website at http://www.avs.org/symposium/baltimore/default.asp ; background article, http://www.aip.org/tip/INPHFA/vol-7/iss-6/p20.pdf )

THE HIGH AND LOW NOTES OF THE UNIVERSE. The Cornell nano-guitar, first built in 1997 but only now played for the first time, twangs at a frequency of 40 megahertz, some 17 octaves (or a factor of 130,000) higher than a normal guitar (see figure at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2003/205.htm ). Researchers at Cornell University used laser light to set the delicate silicon "strings" (actually slender planks of silicon) of the 10-micron-long guitar in motion (see figure at www.aip.org/mgr/png ). There is no practical microphone available for picking up the guitar sounds, but the reflected laser light could be computer processed to provide an equivalent acoustic trace at a much lower frequency. The laser light could excite more than one string, creating megahertz "chords." The playing of the nano-guitar will be described by Lidija Sekaric (now at IBM) at the AVS meeting (paper MM-WeM1; lidija@us.ibm.com, 914-945-1802; www.avs.org/symposium/baltimore/default.asp ). If the nano-guitar's natural tones are among the most high-pitched sounds in the universe, some of the lowest pitched are to be found in the vicinity of the black hole in the Perseus galaxy cluster. The Chandra x-ray telescope recently saw concentric circles in the inter-galactic gas cloud surrounding the cluster core; some astronomers interpret the ripples as being sound waves (with a frequency some 57 octaves below human hearing, and possibly "the deepest note ever detected from an object in the universe") caused by jets from the black hole shooting outwards into the nearby matter. (http://chandra.harvard.edu/press/03_releases/press_090903.html )

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.

Monday, November 03, 2003



OSA - Dallas is painting a powerful portrait of what the Church of Jesus Christ can do when she is unafraid and unashamed of the power of the Gospel of Christ!

October 25, 2003

"I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people." Lev 20:6

On Saturday, October 25, 2003, OSA-Dallas stormed the gates of the local witch in town. We went to the psychic with the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord and that, yes even a witch can be set free from the bondage of sin and death!

We had about sixteen folks come out to express to the community that witchcraft is evil and that Christians should not partake in it, but rather expose it for what it really is.

John and Missi give last minute instructions before heading out to the psychic.

Before we headed out to the psychic, we had to make signs! So for about three hours, coming straight from the abortion mill, about 10 of us went to the OSA-Dallas headquarters and put our artistic talents to work! Then we all went to the parking lot of OSA-Dallas and spent time in prayer before heading off.

After a short time of personal and corporate prayer we headed off to the psychic to find that she was having a special for $10.00 that day.

As we gathered in front of the psychic's business, some of our guys went and witnessed to mechanics who worked three buildings down. They were very curious as to why we were there! We also handed out some tracts about witchcraft to many of the folks walking by and those waiting at the bus stop just yards from the psychic. At one point a woman appeared in the doorway of the the psychic's house and kept asking us what were were doing. We shared with this woman the truth of the Gospel and told her that Jesus is the only way and that witchcraft is evil. She said she was going to call the police.

Missi and John speak with a couple entering to the psychic's business. They did not go in!!

About into thirty minutes of the public proclamation, a very large man pulled into the driveway. He came our way and asked us why were were doing this to his "business". We told him that we were Christians proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and taking a stand against witchcraft. He told us that we had a right to our opinion, but that he owned the public sidewalk that were were standing on and if we didn't leave, he would call the police. We kindly smiled back at him and held firm to our positions on the sidewalk.

The police came. The owner of the business went and greeted the officer and murmured to him for about fifteen minutes. Then the officer approached John Reyes and told him that everything was fine. As a matter of fact he stated that he was all for what we were doing! Praise God! The officer then got in his car and left. Right afterwards, the Physic's neon sign in the window that reads "OPEN" was turned off! THEY CLOSED DOWN! The gates of hell cannot contend with the Church of the Living God!

Are We Alone in the Universe?


Dr. Ray Bohlin

Life on Mars?

There was great excitement in the media when a group of scientists from NASA announced they had found evidence of life on Mars. Their evidence, an alleged Martian meteorite, was vaulted to center stage, and everyone from CNN to Nightline ran special programs with interviews and video footage of the scientists and their prized specimen. President Clinton was so excited by the announcement that he praised the U.S. space program and took the opportunity to establish a bipartisan space summit headed up by Vice President Al Gore to study the future of U.S. space research. Aren't we already doing that?

Anyway, clearly this announcement took the country by storm. Some of the scientists were embarrassingly gushing about how significant these findings were. The media frenzy was prompted by the early release of an article from the journal Science, the premier scientific journal in the U.S. The article was due out the following week, but Science decided to release it early because it had leaked out.

Here's what the excitement was about. A group of scientists had studied a meteorite that had been found in the ice of Antarctica. Previously, it had been determined that this meteorite had originated on Mars by studying the gaseous content of glass-like components of the meteor. The gas composition matched very well the atmosphere of Mars. This conclusion seems reasonable.

So, they presumed they had a meteor from Mars. Next they looked for evidence of life on and in the crevices of the meteor. They found two types of molecules that can form as a result of life processes, carbonates and complex molecules called polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs. They also found shapes in the rock that resembled those of known microfossils on Earth. Microfossils are fossils of one-celled organisms which are rather tricky to interpret.

Well, what does this mean? Obviously, the NASA scientists felt the things just mentioned provided ample evidence to conclude that life once existed on Mars. However, the chemical signs could all be due to processes that have nothing to do with life, and the supposed microfossils are 100 times smaller than any such fossil found on Earth. Other groups that studied this same meteorite concluded that either the temperature of formation of the chemicals was far too high to allow life (over 700 degrees C) or that other chemical signals for life were absent. John Kerridge, a planetary scientist from the University of California at San Diego, said, "The conclusion is at best premature and more probably wrong." But listen to the concluding statement in the paper in Science:

Although there are alternative explanations for each of these phenomena taken individually, when they are considered collectively, particularly in view of their spatial association, we conclude that they are evidence for primitive life on Mars.{1}

In plain English, there are reasonable non-life explanations for each of the evidences presented, but we just think that they mean there is life on Mars. The evidence is very equivocal and was challenged by many other scientists, but the media did not report that as fully. But maybe they are right! In fact, there is one simple explanation that is consistently ignored by media and scientists alike. If there really is, or has been, life on Mars, what could that possibly mean for evolution, and more importantly, does it somehow refute creation? We'll look at that next.

What Would Life on Mars Mean?

Because of the recent announcement of signs of life on Mars, many people were encouraged in their belief that we are not alone in the universe. These signs are far from certain and probably wrong, but if it's true, what would these results mean to evolutionists? Moreover, is there any reason for Christians to fear confirmation of life on Mars?

Let us assume, then, for the moment that the evidence from this Martian meteorite is legitimate evidence for life on Mars--life that at some point in the past actually existed on Mars. What would it mean?

For evolutionists the evidence is perceived as confirmation that life actually arises from non-life by purely chemical processes. In addition, evolutionists draw the conclusion that life must be able to evolve very easily since it did so on two adjacent planets in the same solar system. Therefore, even though origin of life research is actually at a standstill, such a discovery seemingly confirms the notion that some chemical evolution scenario must work. I will address this assumption later.

On the other hand, some have stated that if there is life on Mars, creationism has been dealt a death blow. They rationalize that since (1) we now know that life can evolve just about anywhere, and (2) the Bible never speaks of life anywhere but on Earth, the Bible is, therefore, unreliable. Besides, they reason, why would God create life on a planet with no humans? However, since the Bible is absolutely silent on the subject of extra-terrestrial life, we can make no predictions about its possibility. God is certainly free to create life on planets other than Earth if He chooses.

Getting back to the evolutionists' glee at the possibility of life evolving on other planets, the real question is whether this is the proper conclusion if life is indeed found on Mars? The simple answer, inexplicably avoided by the media, is NO! The simplest answer to the possible discovery of life on Mars is that the so-called "Martian life" actually came from Earth!

Think about it this way. The meteorite that was found is supposed to have existed on Mars previously. How did it get to Earth? Well, it is hypothesized that a large meteorite crashed into Mars throwing up lots of debris into space, some of which finds its way to Earth and at least a few of which are found by Earthlings. If you are thinking with me, you now realize that the same scenario could have been played out on Earth.

Evolutionists suggest that the Earth was under heavy meteor bombardment until at least 3.8 billion years ago--about the time they say life appeared on Earth. Christian astronomer Hugh Ross states it this way:

Meteorites large enough to make a crater greater than 60 miles across will cause Earth rocks to escape Earth's gravity. Out of 1,000 such rocks ejected, 291 strike Venus, 20 go to Mercury, 17 hit Mars, 14 make it to Jupiter, and 1 goes all the way to Saturn. Traveling the distance with these rocks will be many varieties of Earth life.{2}

Ross also documents that many forms of microscopic life are quite capable of surviving such a journey. All this is quite well known in the scientific community, but I have not seen it mentioned once in any public discussion. I believe the reason is that the possibility of life having evolved on Mars is too juicy to pass up.

The Improbability of Life Elsewhere in the Universe

I would like to address the amazing optimism of so many that the universe is teeming with life. No doubt this is fueled by the tremendous success of such science fiction works as Star Wars and Star Trek which eloquently present the reasonableness of a universe pregnant with intelligent life forms.

Inherent within this optimism is the evolutionary assumption that if life evolved here, certainly we should not arrogantly suppose that life could not have evolved elsewhere in the universe. And if life in general exists in the universe, then, of course, there must be intelligent life out there as well.

This is the basic assumption of the SETI program, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. This is the program, now privately funded instead of federally funded, that searches space for radio waves emanating from another planet that would indicate the presence of intelligent life. But is such a hope realistic? Is there a justifiable reason for suspecting that planets suitable to life exist elsewhere in the universe?

Over the last two decades scientists have begun tabulating many characteristics of our universe, galaxy, solar system, and planet that appear to have been finely-tuned for life to exist. Christian astronomer and apologist, Dr. Hugh Ross documents all these characteristics in his book Creator and the Cosmos,{3} and is constantly updating them. In the book's third edition (2001), Ross documents 35 characteristics of the universe and 66 characteristics of our galaxy, solar system, and planet that are finely-tuned for life to exist.

Some examples include the size, temperature, and brightness of our sun, the size, chemical composition, and stable orbit of Earth. The fact that we have one moon and not none or two or three. The distance of the Earth from the sun, the tilt of the earth's axis, the speed of the earth's rotation, the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun. If any of these factors were different by even a few percent, the ability of Earth to sustain life would be severely compromised. Recently it has been noted that even the presence of Jupiter and Saturn serve to stabilize the orbit of Earth. Without these two large planets present exactly where they are, the Earth would be knocked out of its present near circular orbit into an elliptical one causing higher temperature differences between seasons and subjecting Earth to greater meteor interference. Neither condition is hospitable to the continuing presence of life.

Ross has further calculated the probabilities of all these factors coming together by natural processes alone to be 1 in 10-166; that's a decimal point followed by 165 zeroes and then a one. A very liberal estimate of how many planets there may be, though we have only documented less than 100, is 1022 or 10 billion trillion planets, one for every star in the universe. Combining these two probabilities tells us that there are 10-144 planets in the entire universe that could support life. Obviously this is far less than one; therefore, by natural processes alone, we shouldn't even be here--let alone some kind of alien life form.

So unless God created life elsewhere, we are alone, and for the materialistic evolutionist, this is a frightening thought.

Problems with Chemical Evolution on Earth

The statistics given above mean that we are really alone in the universe and that there is no hope of finding intelligent civilizations as in the television program Star Trek. While it means there is no one out there to threaten our survival, there is also no one out there to save us from our own mistakes.

This observation highlights why I believe the scientific community and the media became so excited about the possibilities of life on Mars. Efforts to determine how life could have evolved from non-living matter have been so fraught with problems that it makes the possibility of life elsewhere extremely remote. But if it could be proved that life evolved elsewhere, then it would demonstrate that life springs up rather easily, and we just haven't found the right trick here on Earth to prove it. But this just leapfrogs the problem.

But is the evolution of life from non-living chemicals really that impossible? The difficulties fall into three categories, the Chemical Problem, the Thermodynamic Problem, and the Informational Problem. These issues are presented comprehensively in a book by Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen titled The Mystery of Life's Origin{4} and in a chapter in the edited volume by J. P. Moreland, The Creation Hypothesis.{5}

Chemical Problems are illustrated by the difficulty in synthesizing even the simplest building block molecules necessary for life from inorganic precursors. Amino acids, sugars, and the bases for the important nucleotide molecules that make up DNA and RNA were all thought to be easily synthesized in an early Earth atmosphere of ammonia, methane, water vapor, and hydrogen. But further experiments showed this scenario to be unrealistic. Ammonia and methane would have been short-lived in this atmosphere; the multiple energy sources available would have destroyed the necessary molecules and water would have broken apart into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen was scrupulously avoided in all prebiotic scenarios because it would have poisoned all the necessary reactions.

Thermodynamic Problems arise from the difficulty in assembling all these complex molecules that would have been floating around in some prebiotic soup into a highly organized and complex cell. To accomplish the task of achieving specified complexity in life's molecules such as DNA and proteins, the availability of raw energy for millions of years is not enough. All systems where specified complexity is produced from simple components requires an energy conversion mechanism to channel the energy in the right direction to accomplish the necessary work. Without photosynthesis, there is no such mechanism in the prebiotic Earth.

The Informational Problem shows that there is no way to account for the origin of the genetic code, which is a language, without intelligent input. Informational codes require intelligent preprogramming. No evolutionary mechanism can accomplish this. Life requires intelligence.

So you can see why evolutionists would get excited about the possibility of finding evolved life elsewhere. It's because life is seemingly impossible to evolve here. So, if it did happen elsewhere, maybe our experiments are just missing something.

Independence Day, The Movie

In the movie Independence Day, an alien battle force swoops down on Earth with the intention of destroying the human race, sucking the planet dry of all available resources and then moving on to some other unlucky civilization in the galaxy. But, those indomitable humans aided by good old American ingenuity outsmart those dull-witted aliens and Earth is saved. The story has been told many times, but perhaps never as well or never with such great special effects. The movie was a huge success.

But why are we continually fascinated by the possibility of alien cultures? The movie gave the clear impression that there must be great numbers of intelligent civilizations out there in the universe. This notion has become widely accepted in our culture.

Few recognize that the supposed existence of alien civilizations is based on evolutionary assumptions. The science fiction of Star Trek and the Star Wars begins with evolution. As I've stated earlier, evolutionists simply rationalize that since life evolved here with no outside interference, the universe must be pregnant with life. Astronomer Carl Sagan put it this way after he had reviewed the so-called success of early Earth chemical evolution experiments:

Nothing in such experiments is unique to the earth. The initial gases, and the energy sources, are common throughout the Cosmos. Chemical reactions like those in our laboratory vessels may be responsible for the organic matter in interstellar space and the amino acids found in meteorites. Some similar chemistry must have occurred on a billion other worlds in the Milky Way Galaxy. The molecules of life fill the Cosmos.{6}

Sagan strongly suggests that the probabilities and chemistry of the universe dictate that life is ubiquitous in the galaxy. But as I stated earlier, the odds overwhelmingly dictate that our planet is the only one suitable for life in the universe. And the chemistry on Earth also indicates that life is extremely hard to come by. The probability of life simply based on chance occurrences is admitted by many evolutionists to be remote indeed. Many are now suggesting that life is inevitable because there are yet undiscovered laws of nature that automatically lead to complex life forms. In other words, the deck of cards is fixed. Listen to Nobel Laureate and biochemist, Christian de Duve:

We are being dealt thirteen spades not once but thousands of times in succession! This is utterly impossible, unless the deck is doctored. What this doctoring implies with respect to the assembly of the first cell is that most of the steps involved must have had a very high likelihood of taking place under the prevailing conditions. Make them even moderately improbable and the process must abort, however many times it is initiated, because of the very number of successive steps involved. In other words, contrary to Monod's affirmation, the universe was--and presumably still is--pregnant with life.{7}

The only problem with de Duve's suggestion is that we know of no natural processes that will lead automatically to the complexity of life. Everything we know of life leads to the opposite conclusion. Life is not a product of chance or necessity. Life is a product of intelligence.

Without Divine interference we are alone in the universe and without Christ we are--and should be--terrified. The gospel is as relevant as ever.


1.Science, 16 August 1996, 273:924-30. 2.Creator and the Cosmos, NavPress, 2001, p. 210. 3.Ibid., pp. 145-199. 4.Lewis and Stanley, 1984. 5.InterVarsity Press, 1994, pp. 173-210. 6.Cosmos, Random House, 1980, p. 40. 7.Vital Dust, Basic Books, 1995, p. 9.

2002 Probe Ministries

About the Author

Raymond G. Bohlin is executive director of Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a 1997-98 and 2000 Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. He can be reached via e-mail at rbohlin@probe.org.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3 1/2 minute daily radio program, our extensive Web site at www.probe.org, and the ProbeCenter at the University of Texas at Austin.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries
1900 Firman Drive, Suite 100
Richardson, TX 75081
(972) 480-0240 FAX(972) 644-9664

Sunday, November 02, 2003

9th Annual Austin Big Night of Comedy

Join Us!

Join Texas Freedom Network members in Austin on November 20th for the 9th Annual Big Night of Comedy and Silent Auction. To sponsor the event, or to buy tickets, please email Kirk Rice at kirk@tfn.org or call 512-322-0545.

Donate Silent Auction Items!

Do you have an item or service you'd like to donate to the Silent Auction? We're especially looking for airline tickets, original art, jewelry, celebrity autographs, and vacation property. If you can contribute, please contact Katrina Mendiola at katrina@tfn.org.

Thank you for supporting the Texas Freedom Network.

Should evolution be taught in high school science classes?


Last Updated: October 27, 2003, 05:35:20 AM PST

Editor's note: Ted Dickason, a candidate for Modesto City Schools board of trustees, has stated that he believes evolution and creationism should be taught side by side in high school science classes. This position has generated substantial debate in the community, including this article opposing the teaching of creationism in schools and the two letters to the editor to the right supporting creationism and/or Dickason.

At the recent League of Women Voters' forum for the Modesto City Schools board, a candidate advocated teaching intelligent design (ID) in science classes. Intelligent design is the belief that life is too complex to have developed without an intelligent designer.

While this claim may be true, it is a religious or philosophical belief because it invokes causes not investigable by science.

Any voter wanting to avoid imposing more economic hardship on the Modesto City Schools should avoid candidates espousing ID in science classes. The California Science Content Standards (www.cde.ca.gov/standards/science/biology.html) make it clear that evolution is to be taught in ninth through 12th grades, but not creationism. Any California school board that recommends teaching creationism in science classes invites lawsuits by concerned parents and science education groups.

Why can't we balance science classes by teaching intelligent design and evolution "side by side," as one candidate suggested? When U.S. school boards have tried to teach scientific creationism, courts have struck them down.

For example, in the 1987 Edwards vs. Aguillard case, the U.S. Supreme Court found it illegal for Louisiana to require equal time for creationism whenever evolution is taught in science classrooms. For more cases, see "Eight Significant Court Decisions" at www.ncseweb.org/article.asp.

The problem is that biblical creationism is not science, no matter what it is called. Furthermore, it is not the only nonscientific alternative to evolution. For true balance, one would need to give equal time to the Mewuk story of how Coyote created man, plus more than a hundred other creation stories. (See, for example, Raymond Van Over, "Sun Songs: Creation Myths From Around the World.") These stories are delicious reading, but they must compete for time in social studies classes, not science classes.

Most mainstream American churches are not threatened by the concepts of biological evolution.

M. Matsumura's "Voices for Evolution" has reprinted excerpts from Jewish, Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, Methodist and Presbyterian official documents that view evolution as compatible with their religions.

Concerned parents should examine the issue broadly before voting for a candidate who espouses creationism or intelligent design in science classes. There is a truly vast literature on the subject; a good place to start is the National Center for Science Education (www.natcenscied.org).

The spiritual needs of our students are very important, as several candidates have pointed out. A student certainly has a free speech right to be respected if they express their belief that biological evolution does not occur. But it should be made clear that such belief is religion, not science. Let us keep religious education in Modesto's synagogues, churches, temples, mosques and private schools, and out of public school science classes.

Anderson is a professor of biology at Modesto Junior College.

Board of Ed members sued over science textbook

Posted on Fri, Oct. 31, 2003


By Matt Frazier
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

DALLAS - The State Board of Education violated the First Amendment in 2001 when it refused to place an environmental science book on the state's approved list, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Dallas.

Textbook author Daniel Chiras and two Dallas high school students sued several former and present board members, contending that 10 of the 15 members in 2001 turned down the book because they disagreed with its viewpoints on environmental and economic issues.

Chiras is suing to recover money he says he would have made through sales. He also wants to get his book on the state's approved list.

"What should be a simple process of checking a book to see if it meets state requirements has spun out of control into a process of censorship by an outside political force," Chiras said. "It robs students of an enriching, intellectual experience which would help them become more productive and thoughtful citizens."

David Bradley, one of the board members being sued, said the case has nothing to do with free speech.

He said the board rejected the textbook because it was filled with errors. He remembers an aerial photo of a housing development that contained a caption explaining how development causes great harm to the Earth. He recalled another example in which a dam in Asia was described as a destructive development that destroys vegetation and natural habitat.

"They portrayed the American economy in a negative light, and I only saw things as being in a positive light," said Bradley, a real estate developer in Beaumont. "This will never make it to trial, and the attorney general will discredit their case, I'm confident."

The case has far-reaching effects because Texas' education board serves as a "gatekeeper" for textbook adoption across the country. Texas is the nation's second-largest buyer of textbooks, and books sold in the state are often marketed by publishers nationwide.

State law allows board members to reject only books that are poorly made, contain factual errors or fail to follow state curriculum.

Chiras' book, Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future, has been used by top universities for more than two decades and has passed the state board's fact checkers. It presents a viewpoint that mankind must handle the planet and its resources more carefully to keep from ruining the environment.

When the book went before the state board for adoption in 2001, several individuals and organizations attacked it as being anti-Christian, anti-free enterprise and anti-American.

The board voted 10-5, without explanation, not to allow the book on the state's approved list. But individual members, including the former board president, Grace Shore, said the text did not accurately reflect the viewpoints of Texans and did not accurately reflect the oil and gas industry, according to the suit.

The decision was "blatant censorship," said Adele P. Kimmel, staff lawyer with national public interest law firm Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.

It and Dallas law firm Baron & Budd are representing Chiras.

"Grace Shore is part owner in an oil and gas company and she was looking for a book that represented the corporate agenda," Kimmel said. "She voted for books that represented that agenda and voted against the ones that did not."

The lawyers found two environmental science students at the Talented and Gifted Magnet High School in Dallas to join the suit.

Seniors Lillian Pollack, 18, and Julia McLouth, 17, said they got involved in the suit because they were interested in politics and because they felt their education was slighted by the board's decision.

"The fact that my education, or what it could have been, was taken away from me because of somebody's political views, that angers me," Pollack said. "Politics should not have anything to do with education."

Other board members named in the suit are board Chairwoman Geraldine Miller, Don McLeroy and Cynthia Thornton.

This Report Includes Information From the Associated Press.

Matt Frazier, (817) 390-7957 mfrazier@star-telegram.com

Biology book fight unrelenting


Are texts full of errors, as some contend, or is censorship the issue?

10:18 PM CST on Thursday, October 30, 2003

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN Critics of proposed biology textbooks for Texas students said Thursday some previous "errors" in the books have been corrected but insisted there is still "a lot of work to be done" in their coverage of evolution.

A week before the State Board of Education considers adoption of the textbooks, the Discovery Institute, a national research organization, said it will ask the board to demand more changes from publishers, including a listing of the flaws in the theory of evolution.

But a Texas-based group aligned with science educators praised publishers for not giving in to demands by conservatives who they say want to "censor" content of the books and their explanation of how animal and plant species evolved over millions of years.

"In keeping with their commitment to provide students with the best possible science education, biology textbook publishers have stood up to political pressure," said Samantha Smoot, president of the Texas Freedom Network.

"We applaud publishers for doing what's right for Texas kids, despite the demands of far-right interest groups."

Ms. Smoot said her organization and other groups such as Texas Citizens for Science will fight a "last-ditch campaign next week to force the rewrite or rejection" of the biology books. She said the Discovery Institute, social conservatives and creationists are behind the effort.

The State Board of Education will vote on the biology books next Thursday and Friday. The books will be distributed to schools in fall 2004.

John West, associate director of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, said publishers made "some modest progress" in correcting errors pointed out this year by his group and other critics. Revisions to the books were made public by publishers this week.

"For months the publishers said there were no errors, but now, lo and behold, they have made some changes," he said, citing as an example the decision of two publishers to drop diagrams of the so-called Haeckel's embryos. The group criticized the long-used illustrations as overstating similarities of the embryos of humans and other animal species.

"They have made about 20 corrections that are substantive, but there is still a lot of work to be done," Dr. West said. "There are still a number of false factual claims."

He said there has been "little progress" in covering the weaknesses in the theory of evolution, something that he noted is required by state law. The law provides that students be exposed to scientific evidence that supports and challenges existing scientific theories.

"We will be seeking more changes in the textbooks," Dr. West said.

Rhetoric has intensified since the first public hearing on the textbooks in July. Publishers have been required to cover evolution in science books since 1991.

Because of its status as one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas exerts influence on publishers and the content of their books, which are marketed across the nation. Only California buys more textbooks in the $4 billion-a-year market.

Critics of the biology books have directed their attacks at alleged errors in the materials. The presence of errors is an important concept in textbook selection in Texas because under existing law, board of education members may reject a book only if it has factual errors, does not cover the curriculum or is manufactured poorly.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science and a college educator, has accused critics of the books of trying to water down coverage of evolution so they can eventually pressure publishers to include religious-based explanations for the origin of life.

His primary criticisms have been directed at the Discovery Institute, which he calls a "creationist organization."

The institute promotes "intelligent design," which holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an unknown "intelligent cause" rather than by undirected processes such as natural selection and random mutation key components of theory of evolution.

Dr. West and other Discovery Institute leaders, however, respond that they have never asked that intelligent design be taught in Texas schools.

"The Discovery Institute is not asking that intelligent design be included in textbooks or the curriculum," Dr. West said, arguing that intelligent design "is a scientific theory and not a religious belief."

E-mail tstutz@dallasnews.com

Newton Project Release (3.02) 30 October 2003


The Newton Project is proud to announce the most extensive publication of Newton's personal and theological material that has ever taken place. The latest release, consisting of about two hundred thousand words of text and nearly a thousand images, brings together substantial amounts of previously unpublished Newton material from a number of major scholarly institutions in Europe and the US.

With the Newton Project Release 3.02 full or partial transcriptions from six early notebooks are now available, including two items that Newton began to annotate in his adolescence. These, the Trinity College personal notebook http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/trinity_notebook_w.xml and the

Fitzwilliam Museum notebook http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/fitzwilliam_notebook_w.xml, contain gems such as all the financial incomings and outgoings from his period as a student, and the famous list of all the sins he had ever committed up to 1662. Another stunning document (the Pierpont Morgan notebook http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/pierpontmorgan_notebook_w.xml ) contains early jottings from contemporary practical manuals, and betrays the textual sources for much of Newton's early mechanical prowess. As with the Cambridge University Library texts mentioned in the following paragraph, we are currently negotiating for funding to place high quality colour images of the mss alongside the transcriptions.

Equally remarkable are the notes from a different notebook at Trinity College that he entitled 'Certain Philosophical Questions' (CUL Add. Ms. 3996 http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/cul3996a_w.xml and http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/cul3996b_w.xml ). These detail the earliest beginnings of his work on optics and the theory of matter, leading to his momentous discovery that white light is heterogeneously composed of more basic primary rays, each with its own specific index of refraction. Coupled with a slightly later essay from another notebook at Cambridge University Library (CUL Add. Ms. 3975 http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/cul3975_w.xml ), the texts contain accounts of early experiments on vision in which he pushed various implements (such as a toothpick, a piece of brass and his own finger) right to the back of his eye-socket, in order to test how colour vision takes place. For good measure, we have added images of all of Newton's printed optical correspondence from the 1670s Philosophical Transactions, alongside transcriptions of the same correspondence.

The amount of text made available in the release of theological texts has meant that we have divided them up, as in the case of Keynes 5, into separate files. The theological notebook, now at King's College, Cambridge (the first file is http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/keynes002a_w.xml ), dates from a slightly later period than the other notebooks, but provides an extraordinary window into the genesis of Newton's deeply heretical theological views. The astonishing version of 'Paradoxical Questions' from the William Andrews Clark Library in Los Angeles (the first file is http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/web_keynes/clarka1_w.xml ) tells of how the true religion was extirpated by the Catholic Church in the fourth century after Christ, and gives ample evidence of Newton's views of deviant sexual and religious practices. These are the most substantial Newton theological documents ever published.

Finally, the Newton Project presents all the Newton-related private papers (http://www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk/featured.html ) of the great economist John Maynard Keynes, who bought nearly all the alchemical and personal papers of Newton after they were sold at Sotheby's in July 1936. Not only do they show Keynes's own magnanimity in acquiring these texts for the nation, but they also reveal the sources he used to compile his paper 'Newton the Man', which drew attention to the extent of Newton's alchemical interests and which was first published in 1946.

We would be grateful for any constructive comments about the content and structure of the site.

Rob Iliffe
Editorial Director
The Newton Project


Archaeology's great hoax


Sunday, October 26, 2003
By Pat Shellenbarger
The Grand Rapids Press

In a storeroom of the Michigan Historical Museum, state archaeologist John Halsey examined the newly acquired artifacts purported to be the remnants of an ancient Middle Eastern civilization that settled in Michigan thousands of years ago.

He pointed to the pictures engraved on slate tablets, telling stories from the Old Testament.

Here's God directing Adam to the Garden of Eden. Here's Eve. Here's the apple tree. Here's God banishing them from the Garden. Here's Moses with the Ten Commandments. And here's a scene depicting the crucifixion of Christ.

But, wait a minute, how did that get in there?

"If you're going to tell an Old Testament story," Halsey said, "Jesus shouldn't be there."

It's one of many indications the so-called "Michigan Relics," once hailed as the greatest archaeological discoveries since Pompeii, are fakes.

"It's the physical evidence of the largest archaeological fraud in the state's history," Halsey said, then, on further reflection, he added: "It is arguably the largest archaeological fraud ever in this country, and the longest running."

More than a century after the first relics were discovered, some people still believe them to be authentic. Some influential members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) once considered them evidence of the church's connection to a Near Eastern culture in ancient America. The Mormon Church for decades kept a large collection of the artifacts in its Salt Lake City museum, but never formally claimed them to be genuine.

This past summer, after scholars examined the relics and declared them fakes, the church donated the 797 objects to the Michigan Historical Museum, which plans to exhibit them beginning next month.

James Scotford claimed he found the first relic -- a large clay casket -- while digging a post hole on a Montcalm County farm in October 1890. He hurried into the nearby village of Wyman to announce his discovery, touching off a frenzy of digging all over the Lower Peninsula.

Over the next 30 years, thousands more artifacts -- tiny caskets, amulets, tools, smoking pipes and tablets -- were found, including some in Kent County. The items were made of clay, copper and slate, and most bore the mark "IH/," which some interpreted as a tribal signature or a mystic symbol. Some thought it was a variation on IHS, the ancient Hebrew symbol for Jehovah.

A syndicate was formed in Stanton to corner the market and sell the items to the highest bidder, perhaps the Smithsonian Institution.

Oddly, nearly all were found when Scotford, a former magician and sleight-of-hand expert, was present.

Almost from the beginning, skeptics cast doubt on the finds, among them University of Michigan Latin Professor Francis Kelsey who in 1892 called them forgeries. He noted the inscriptions on some of the relics appeared to be a "horrible mixture" of ancient alphabets, such as hieroglyphics and cuneiform, and spelled nothing.

The clay tablets appeared to have been molded on a machine-sawed board, Kelsey said.

But the relics had their vocal promoters, chief among them Daniel Soper, a former Michigan Secretary of State, forced to resign because of corruption. In the early 1900s, Soper teamed with Scotford to sell the objects. They enlisted the support of the Rev. James Savage, priest at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Detroit.

Historians and archaeologists today believe Savage, who became the most avid collector, was not privy to the scam, but was duped to give the finds credibility. Savage believed the artifacts were left by the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel or a colony of ancient Jews. He became an easy mark for Soper and Scotford, Halsey said, because the artifacts confirmed his religious beliefs.

"They were very clever in who they picked as their marks," Halsey said.

Typically, Scotford and Soper would invite prominent members of a community -- a postmaster, a wealthy farmer, a sheriff -- to accompany them on their digs. Scotford would point out a likely place to dig, and, when an object was found, which it inevitably was, he would invite his guest to remove it from the ground. Those accompanying Scotford and Soper were asked to sign affidavits, attesting the items were authentic, because they saw them removed from the ground.

The finds soon drew worldwide attention from those who believed and those who didn't. Publications from The New York Times to The Nation reported on the controversy surrounding the finds.

Soper and Scotford were incensed when anyone questioned the objects' authenticity, and tried to discredit their critics.

When some experts said the unfired clay objects would quickly dissolve in Michigan's damp soil, the pair uncovered fired clay objects. When some said the slate tablets showed the marks of modern saws, chisels and files, Scotford and Soper unearthed crude saws, chisels and files fashioned from copper. When some questioned what happened to the makers of the relics, a tablet surfaced depicting a battle with Indians.

Over time, the story behind the finds changed. Some said the relics were the work of Egyptian Coptics. Some speculated they were the charms of wandering Japanese Buddhist monks.

Notably, wherever Scotford went, more artifacts were found. When he moved to Detroit, pieces were unearthed in Southeast Michigan. Eventually, relics were found in 16 Michigan counties, all baring the IH/ imprint.

Halsey and other modern archaeologists believe Scotford and his sons were making the relics, and Soper was marketing them. Some neighbors complained the pounding coming from Scotford's shop kept them awake at night. In 1911, Scotford's stepdaughter signed an affidavit saying she saw her stepfather making the relics, but she insisted the statement remain secret until after her mother's death.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, some still believe the relics prove foreigners settled here centuries before Columbus sailed.

"To call them an outright fraud is a big mistake by the archaeological professionals," said Wayne May, a self-described "armchair archaeologist" and publisher of the Ancient American, a Wisconsin-based magazine dedicated to the proposition that overseas visitors arrived here long before Columbus.

May conceded some of the Michigan Relics may be fake, but "I believe there's a lot of pieces that are not fraudulent," he said, reached while leading a tour of Ohio burial mounds. "Some day something's going to give, and it's going to prove there were (foreign) people here long before Columbus."

Savage died still believing the Michigan Relics were genuine. He bequeathed his large collection to Notre Dame University. In 1960, a pair of Mormon missionaries found the collection there, and Notre Dame gladly donated it to the church.

In 1977, the church asked Richard Stamps, an Oakland University archaeology professor and practicing Mormon, to examine the relics. Stamps concurred with the conclusions of earlier scholars the relics were fakes. The copper relics, he said, were made from ordinary commercial copper stock, not hammered copper ore. The copper had been treated with chemicals to produce the green patina of aged copper, Stamps said.

The slate tablets appeared to have been cut using the English measuring system of inches and feet and were too smooth and uniform to have been fashioned by an ancient civilization, he said. The slate apparently came from quarries on the New York-Vermont border, he said, and may have been scavenged from a Detroit slate yard.

In 1998-99, Stamps again studied the relics in the Mormon collection and again pronounced them fakes in an article published in 2001 in BYU Studies, a Latter-Day Saint journal.

"Poor Father Savage. I feel so sorry for this Catholic father," Stamps said. "I think Scotford was cranking these things out and slipping them into the ground, and I think Savage didn't have a clue. I think he (Scotford) probably had some sleight-of-hand technique."

Last June, Stamps visited the Slate Valley Museum on the New York-Vermont border and asked workers there to examine several of the relics. The workers could identify the specific quarry each piece came from and what it originally was made to be: a window sill, a shingle or other construction pieces. But one trapezoidal tablet still puzzled Stamps. In the next room, he looked at a display of items made from slate, including a laundry tub. On closer examination, he noticed the end pieces of the tub were trapezoids, exactly matching the tablet.

"It was obvious," Stamps said. "That was a buzz for me."

Through Stamps, the Mormon Church decided to donate its collection to the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. It arrived there recently, and workers began preparing the Michigan Relics for an exhibit opening Nov. 15 and running through Aug. 15.

"We thought it was such an important collection historically," Halsey said, "and, since Michigan was the setting of all the finds, that this is where it belonged."

He added that "we're fully cognizant that no matter what we do, people are going to believe in them."

It may be significant that no more relics were found after Scotford died in the 1920s. Soper eventually moved to Chattanooga, and both men went to their graves insisting the objects were authentic.

Ironically, they had wanted the aura of legitimacy that a museum exhibit would give their finds -- although not one portraying them as the greatest archaeological con men in American history.

"They'd call us cowards and scoundrels," said Steve Ostrander, preparing the items for display, to which Halsey added: "They'd be after our jobs."

2003 Grand Rapids Press

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