NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 December 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

NFL teams should hire psychics, and why, why, why are you punting?!


By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to NFL.com

(Gregg Easterbrook will contribute his column to NFL.com readers each week during the NFL season and also appear on NFL Network, providing commentary Tuesday nights on NFL Total Access. He is a senior editor of The New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. His latest book, The Progress Paradox, has been released this month by Random House.)

(Dec. 9, 2003) -- On Saturday, the Heisman Trophy winner will be announced, and it's sure to be exciting. Just bear this in mind: If John Heisman were alive today, there's no way he would be considered for his own award.

We Can Implant Entirely False Memories' Remember this!!!!!!!!


'We Can Implant Entirely False Memories'
Laura Spinney on our remembrance of things past...
The Guardian - UK 12-7-3

You were abducted by aliens, you saw Bugs Bunny at Disneyland, and then you went up in a balloon. Didn't you?

Alan Alda had nothing against hard-boiled eggs until last spring. Then the actor, better known as Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, paid a visit to the University of California, Irvine. In his new guise as host of a science series on American TV, he was exploring the subject of memory. The researchers showed him round, and afterwards took him for a picnic in the park. By the time he came to leave, he had developed a dislike of hard-boiled eggs based on a memory of having made himself sick on them as a child - something that never happened.

Alda was the unwitting guinea pig of Elizabeth Loftus, a UCI psychologist who has been obsessed with the subject of memory and its unreliability since Richard Nixon was sworn in as president. Early on in her research, she would invite people into her lab, show them simulated traffic accidents, feed them false information and leading questions, and find that they subsequently recalled details of the scene differently - a finding that has since been replicated hundreds of times.

More recently, she has come to believe that lab studies may underestimate people's suggestibility because, among other things, real life tends to be more emotionally arousing than simulations of it. So these days she takes her investigations outside the lab. In a study soon to be published, she and colleagues describe how a little misinformation led witnesses of a terrorist attack in Moscow in 1999 to recall seeing wounded animals nearby. Later, they were informed that there had been no animals. But before the debriefing, they even embellished the false memory with make-believe details, in one case testifying to seeing a bleeding cat lying in the dust.

"We can easily distort memories for the details of an event that you did experience," says Loftus. "And we can also go so far as to plant entirely false memories - we call them rich false memories because they are so detailed and so big."

She has persuaded people to adopt false but plausible memories - for instance, that at the age of five or six they had the distressing experience of being lost in a shopping mall - as well as implausible ones: memories of witnessing demonic possession, or an encounter with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. Bugs Bunny is a Warner Brothers character, and as the Los Angeles Times put it earlier this year, "The wascally Warner Bros. Wabbit would be awwested on sight", at Disney.

Elizabeth Loftus' research has obvious implications for the reliability of eyewitness testimony. And it was as a result of her findings that in 1994 she co-wrote her book, The Myth of Repressed Memory, and took a strong stand in the recovered memory debate of the 90s, for which she was reviled by those who claimed to have uncovered repressed memories of abuse - alien, sexual or otherwise.

The American Psychological Association (APA) now takes the line that most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them, and that it is rare (though not unheard of) that people forget such emotionally charged events and later recover them. But it states that, "Concerning the issue of a recovered versus a pseudomemory, like many questions in science, the final answer is yet to be known." And the debate simmers on. Several new lines of evidence suggest that the interaction between memory and emotion is more complex than was thought. Powerful emotions, it seems, can both reinforce and weaken real memories. We may be able to actively degrade painful memories. And false memories, once accepted, can themselves elicit strong emotions and thereby mimic real ones.

To try to tease apart these complex relationships, the psychologist Daniel Wright and his colleagues at the University of Sussex have been looking into what it is that makes some people more susceptible to false memories than others. On average, studies show that around a third of those subjected to the "misinformation effect" wholly or partially adopt a false memory, but it seems to depend on both the person and the memory. Alan Alda swallowed the hard-boiled egg story, to the extent that he declined to eat one at the UCI picnic, but he wasn't taken in by Bugs Bunny in Disneyland. In one study published last year, 50% of volunteers were persuaded they had taken a ride in a hot-air balloon when they had not. But when Kathy Pezdek of the Claremont Graduate University, California, tried to make people believe they had received a rectal enema, she met with almost universal resistance.

Amid all this variability, Wright's group did find one significant correla tion - though it was not dramatic: those who were more vulnerable to false memories also tended to suffer more frequent lapses in attention and memory. The trouble is, he says, "People who have been traumatised also tend to score higher on tests of lapses in memory." Their traumatic experiences may contribute to their forgetfulness, but their forgetfulness may lay them open to memory distortion - so true and false become harder to disentangle.

Among the symptoms suffered by victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are chilling flashbacks. But, says Michael Anderson of the University of Oregon, "People who suffer PTSD represent a very small fraction of the people who experience trauma. The great majority of people who experience trauma never develop PTSD and eventually are able to adapt in the face of these events." He argues that they do so by suppressing the memory, and that this suppression gradually erases it.

Two years ago, Anderson's group showed that people who deliberately try to keep a word out of their mind find it harder to recall later than if they had not suppressed it. Counter- intuitively, this form of forgetting seems more likely to occur when people are confronted by reminders of the very memory they want to avoid. Anderson says an extreme example of this might be a child who is forced to live with an abusing care-giver, and must put the memory of abuse to one side in order to interact with that care-giver. "If people continue to work at it, the amount of forgetting grows with repetition and time," he says.

At the annual meeting of the US Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans last month, Anderson's group presented new data on how this "motivated forgetting" might arise in the brain. When people tried to suppress memories for certain words while having their brains scanned in a magnetic resonance imaging machine, not only did the researchers see a dampening of activity in the hippocampus, a structure known to be critical for memory formation, but the frontal cortex was highly active. Since the frontal cortex is important for conscious control, they believe that neurons here may be suppressing the representation of the unwanted word in the hippocampus, and in the process impairing its memory.

However, Anderson admits that his experiments ignore the effect of a memory's emotional intensity on a person's ability to suppress it. And there is plenty of evidence that memory for emotionally charged events can be enhanced - albeit at a cost. Also last month, Bryan Strange of the Wellcome department of imaging neuroscience at University College London and colleagues showed that people were more likely to remember a word if it was emotionally arousing - "murder" or "scream", say - than if it was neutral. And the words most likely to be forgotten were neutral ones presented just before emotionally arousing ones. The effect was more pronounced in women than in men, and both the enhanced memory for the emotional word and the forgettability of the preceding neutral one could be reversed by dosing the volunteers in advance with the drug propranolol.

Propranolol, a commonly prescribed beta-blocker, interferes with the neurochemical pathway thought to be responsible for making emotionally arousing events more memorable - the beta-adrenergic system - and it has already been used experimentally in the treatment of patients with PTSD. In one study, published in October, Guillaume Vaiva of the University of Lille and colleagues offered prop- ranolol to victims of assault or motor accidents shortly after their traumatic experience, and then invited them back for psychological testing two months later. On their return, almost all the patients exhibited some symptoms associated with PTSD, but they were twice as severe among those who had not taken the drug.

The finding that propranolol can be effective at blocking memory when given after an event as well as before is important because, as Loftus explains, "In the real world you can't be there to exert your manipulations right at the time an event is happening, but you can get on the scene later." It has been proposed that propranolol should be offered to victims of rape as a standard measure to prevent them developing PTSD. But could it also be used to erase false memories - for instance, "recovered" memories of alien abduction - that nevertheless elicit all the physiological responses associated with harrowing, real memories?

Main English News site URL: http://english.pravda.ru/

Main Discussion Forum URL: http://engforum.pravda.ru/forumdisplay.php3?forumid=2

Evolution under fire? -- Part 7


Previous interviews: Kirk Durston | Denyse O'Leary | Ed Neeland | Laurence Tisdall | Denis Lamoureux | Ian Taylor

By David F. Dawes

IN THE FINAL installment of CC.com's series of interviews on evolutionary theory, we hear from George Pearce, head of the Creation Science Association of British Columbia (CSABC).

CanadianChristianity.com:: Does the general public realize the extent to which evolutionary theory is being severely critiqued by people with legitimate scientific and scholarly credentials? What is being done to increase this awareness?

George Pearce: I don't think the general public realizes the extent to which evolutionary theory is under attack.

There are many creation museums in existence, or being built by various people -- for example, Answers in Genesis in Kentucky; Carl Baugh in Texas; Kent Hovind in Florida; and Vance Nelson, whose home base is Red Deer, Alberta. Seminars are being held in churches around the world. Book tables are being set up at universities. Some debates are happening in universities.

CC.com: Creationists tend to agree that there is scientific evidence for 'micro-evolution,' the idea of variations within a specific species. But they contend that there is no concrete evidence for macro-evolution, the concept of transformation from one species into another. Are evolutionists simply afraid to admit this to the public -- and perhaps to themselves?

GP: I think that most scientists are aware of the lack of evidence for macro-evolution. Evolutionists are afraid to admit this to the public -- and probably to themselves.

Micro-evolution may be scientifically provable, but what is it really? The changes are so hopelessly 'micro' that it is an affront to intelligence to call it evolution. For example, National Geographic had an article entitled 'From Wolf to Woof.' It described the evolution of the domestic dog from wolves. The article admitted that there was no difference genetically between wolves and dogs and that a skeleton could not be distinguished as a wolf or a dog.

CC.com: Why does the scientific establishment (in a general sense) seem to be so determined to cling to evolutionary theory? How did this theory become so deeply entrenched as 'scientific' orthodoxy?

GP: Evolution makes it intellectually possible to be an atheist. Most of the outspoken evolutionists are also atheists. It seems to them that, if evolution is true, there is no need to have a creator. Being vocal and sounding scientific, they are able to convince others that evolution is viable.

People worship scientists -- and most people would like to live their lives without God. As Psalm 10:4 says: "The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts."

CC.com: Are a significant number of scientists now open to alternatives to evolutionary theory?

GP: A significant number of scientists are open to alternatives to Darwinian evolution, but not to six-day creation.

CC.com: Are a lot of schools and school boards showing increasing willingness to give a platform to origins theories other than evolution?

GP: No!

CC.com: To what extent has the Intelligent Design (ID) movement given added credibility to Creationist views?

GP: None.

CC.com: Is the ID movement making serious inroads into the scientific, educational and philosophical establishments?

GP: No. Most scientists view ID-ers as 'creationists in disguise.' A person who so much as questions evolution is branded at least a creationist -- or, at worst, a religious fanatic. I don't think much is happening with ID in Canada.

CC.com: Some critics have raised objections to the ID concept of origins. Also, some creationists have mixed feelings about this movement. What is your view of ID?

GP: ID is presenting excellent and compelling evidence for design. Creationists are making great use of this. The problem, as I see it, is that ID-ers will not openly and officially say who the Designer is. This has become an obvious problem recently -- since the Muslims are picking up on this and saying that ID is from the Koran, and that Allah is the designer.

CC.com: You may recall that politician Stockwell Day was publicly ridiculed sometime ago for his belief in Creation. What do you think this says about Canadian society, mass media, and the general public's view of origins?

GP: It says it all! As I was telling someone about creation and mentioned that I have a masters degree in science, he replied, "You should know better." Canadian society, mass media and the general public would rather do without Christianity -- i.e. Jesus Christ.

CC.com: Is belief in evolutionary theory crumbling, in a general sense? Can you speculate whether it will finally be publicly discredited -- and if so, whether you think that may happen in the near future?

GP: Belief in evolutionary theory is not crumbling. I don't think that the scientific community will ever be willing to discard evolutionary theory. They will criticize and actually reject Darwinian theory, but not evolution. Note that Philip Johnson writes against Darwinism. Michael Denton, author of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, has said that he wishes he had titled his book "Darwinism: A Theory in Crisis." The world is committed to evolution, and will continue to modify the theory to make it as acceptable as possible.

Notice that Darwin taught gradualism, i.e. that organisms gradually evolved. He expected that the fossils would be found to show all the intermediate steps. The lack of transitional fossils has not convinced scientists to reject evolution. Instead, Gould and Eldridge came up with the idea of 'punctuated equilibria,' in which evolution is supposed to have occurred by 'rapid' changes which involved no transitional forms.

CC.com: Can you share an anecdote involving an encounter you've had with someone who believes in the theory of evolution, and their response to creationist concepts and materials?

GP: A teacher in a very independent -- not Christian -- high school came to a CSABC book table, curious about the books we were displaying. I shared with him some of the data that Michael Denton uses to show that Darwinian evolution is in crisis. This teacher replied, "That is not very convincing."

I find that people don't want to know that there is evidence against evolution -- until the Holy Spirit prepares the heart.

Psychic imprisoned for fraud


By Dana Yates, Daily Journal staff

She should have known this was coming.

A San Mateo psychic was sentenced to two years in state prison Friday for bilking a customer out of $15,000.

"This obviously isn't what she predicted," said Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Janet Adams, 41, worked as a palm reader and psychic at a booth during last year's Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival. She met the 19-year-old victim and managed to talk her out of $15,000 to ward of her predictions of danger. Adams told the woman that her family was in danger and kept the woman coming back to protect them. She was arrested in April 2003 after the victim got suspicious.

Adams was on probation for taking excessive money from a San Mateo man in the same way last year. While she only received probation the first time around, Judge Craig Parson wasn't as lenient this time. He denied the defense's motion for her time to be served in San Mateo County Jail. Adams was also ordered to pay $22,000 back to the victim and the court, said Wagstaffe.

In both cases, Adams was charged with conducting business under false pretenses. She led people to believe something was true when it was not.

Adams faced up to five years in prison but the district attorney agreed to the two year sentence since she hasn't served time before, said Wagstaffe.

Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: dana@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor: letters@smdailyjournal.com.

Miracle healer heals himself at hospital


NT Bureau
Chennai, Dec 10:

His has been the most notable face among the Christian gospelers. He has presided over several thousand 'miracle healing' meetings wherein countless 'sufferers' have had their illness or afflictions, ranging from common cold to blindness, 'cured' through prayers.

But when it came to healing his own troublesome knee, D G S Dinakaran, the well-known evangelist in question, seems to have reposed faith with a team of doctors at a local hospital rather than hobble around and wait for divine help.

According to sources, Dinakaran, the most visible of gospelers with a slew of radio and TV shows to his credit, had been suffering from a chronic knee problem. The man, who exhorts the public to attend his healing and prayer meetings to get cured of their ailments, however has gone to a popular private hospital in Adayar to get his knee repaired.

Sources said Dinakaran underwent a knee replacement surgery, conducted by a team of top doctors, at the hospital yesterday afternoon. His faith in doctors seems to have done him good as he is said to be doing fine.

Dinakaran, who presides over the Christian gospel group Jesus Calls, along with his family members including his son Paul Dinakaran, has conducted several hundred faith healing meetings across the State and elsewhere too.

In many of these meetings, whose footages are regularly shown in almost all popular satellite channels, people are shown to get 'cured' of their handicaps and illness. There are also special prayers conducted for serious ailments. It is also said that money was also collected for these special prayers.

Obviously, tongues will start wagging over Dinakaran's choice for his own treatment. Perhaps there is a moral in the story: Thou shall not pray for thyself.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Big Spending Led to Suspicion of Scheme Targeting Ministries


By E. Scott Reckard, Times Staff Writer

The $2.3-million, 103-foot powerboat Gregory Setser bought in June was just a starter. The self-styled Christian investor told his yacht broker that he was prepared to drop $12 million for a 140-footer with a helipad and $30 million to restore a 300-foot yacht once owned by the shah of Iran.

So when the broker, Lee Racicot, visited Setser's office near Ontario International Airport on Nov. 19, he expected to walk out with two solid offers.

But as he stepped out of the elevator on the eighth floor, Racicot saw that IPIC International Inc.'s front door, normally bolted, was propped ajar with a book. Beyond it, the usually immaculate offices were strewn with papers, and a swarm of strangers fell silent as Racicot asked, "Who are you?"

"We control the company now," said a man in a black suit. "We're FBI."

The feds were bringing down the curtain on what prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission allege was an elaborate three-year scheme that fleeced evangelical Christians out of $160 million.

Using endorsements from Ralph E. Wilkerson, the former pastor of Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, and other prominent evangelists to lure victims, Setser touted can't-miss investments to ministries across the nation, according to authorities who arrested him and three members of his family Nov. 18.

"It appeared that Ralph Wilkerson was the lineman who opened up the hole that Greg Setser ran through," said David Middlebrook, an attorney with many evangelist clients who signed a statement, attached to an SEC lawsuit, describing his dealings with Setser. "I can't speak to what he knew or thought. I certainly would hope to believe he wouldn't have done it knowingly."

Wilkerson, 76, didn't return repeated calls.

IPIC is an abbreviation for International Product Investment Corp. In criminal charges and a civil lawsuit, federal prosecutors and regulators say Setser told his "partners" that God had blessed him with the ability to purchase or manufacture various goods — paint, metal garden decor, toys, bottled water, real estate, condoms — at low prices around the world.

The authorities say he claimed to have guaranteed buyers, often retailers like Costco Wholesale Inc., Mikasa Inc. and Pier 1 Imports Inc., already lined up, and wanted to share his good fortune with other Christians. The burly 6-footer told investors to expect returns of 25% to 50% in three to six months and bragged that only one deal in 10,000 failed, according to an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Dallas.

In reality, it was all a scam, the government says.

Allegations of Deceit

Setser, who claimed to be a former minister, had pleaded no contest to theft by check in Texas state court in 1993 and filed for bankruptcy protection later that year. The court dismissed his Chapter 13 petition four years later after he failed to make payments as agreed, according to the SEC. When he arrived in California touting IPIC three years ago, the agency says, he failed to mention those details about his past to investors.

Setser and his wife, Cynthia, both 47-year-old Rancho Cucamonga residents, are in jail pending a bail hearing set for Friday in federal court in Riverside. Their daughter-in-law, Charnelle Setser, 21, and Gregory Setser's sister, Deborah Setser, 38, both also from Rancho Cucamonga, were arrested on the same securities fraud and money laundering charges; they have been released on bail. A fifth defendant, T. Thomas Henschke, was arrested in Florida.

Setser's attorney, Philip K. Cohen of Los Angeles, declined to comment on details of the case beyond saying he was in discussions with federal prosecutors and SEC attorneys. Lawyers for the others didn't return phone calls.

Setser cut a noticeable swath as he promoted his investments, federal authorities said, calling them "joint ventures" to avoid having to register them as securities.

Employees of the building where IPIC rented space said Setser hired burly guards to protect himself and conducted "bug sweeps" of the offices for fear he was being secretly recorded. The building's manager, Michael Bates, said Setser sometimes arrived at work in a limousine followed by a "chase car" carrying his guards. IPIC officials were so worried about security that "we had to re-key the door to their suite," said Bates, who opened the door of the offices for federal investigators when they arrived.

IPIC supposedly had $700 million in annual sales, but a local operating division called Iron Garden Inc. appears unremarkable except for its location in a 100-year-old winery complex just north of the Ontario airport. Visible through the rusting metal windows of the small brick building recently were bowls of dusty-looking plastic fruit, a few painted walking sticks and several model sailing ships.

Across a lane, a small yard is filled with rusty metal gates, trellises, shelves and benches, apparently part of the garden decorations IPIC said it imported from North Africa.

A few miles away at a mobile home park in Montclair, Gregory Setser's mother, Eva Setser Smith, lay flat on her back recently, looking ill. Smith, who the SEC contends received at least $300,000 in fraudulent gains from IPIC, said her son's arrest "has to have been a mistake," adding that "his life was finally starting to come together."

"None of what they're saying is true," she said, declining further comment.

Until the morning when federal agents arrived with guns drawn, the Setsers had appeared friendly and unremarkable to neighbors — except for the new vehicles that appeared in their driveway every few months.

"We thought, 'Wow! They must be pretty successful,' " said Patrick Lopez, a 23-year-old college student who lives across the cul-de-sac from the couple's home in Rancho Cucamonga.

The two-story, dull pink tract house has newly installed granite kitchen countertops and a small pool and spa that were filled with debris one recent afternoon. Paint was peeling on a fence, an old tire sat in a concrete side yard and boxes of cereal and Christmas decorations had been left on tables at the back of the home.

If the Setsers led a quiet suburban home life, they apparently made up for it at work and play.

The SEC says Setser spent $1 million on a helicopter and $2.3 million on the yacht Shana. He arrived by chopper for one meeting with Racicot, the San Diego-based "mega-yacht" specialist for Fraser Yachts recalled.

With a three-member crew still aboard, the Shana is docked in Mexico, where the Setsers took delivery of it so they wouldn't have to pay California sales taxes, Racicot said. He added that Setser once asked him to recruit a crew of bodyguards from the ranks of former Navy Seal commandos.

Setser at one point offered to pay $4 million to buy an interest in a Gulfstream G3 private jet from televangelist Benny Hinn's church and touted investments in an African diamond mine he said was owned by President Bush's family, according to evidence filed by the SEC.

"He's a Burl Ives-type character, very disarming, jolly, overweight, with a kind of chuckle in his voice as he talks," said Middlebrook, an Irving, Texas, attorney whose clients include Hinn, a Texas-based faith healer; Marilyn Hickey Ministries in Denver; and Reinhard Bonnke's Christ for All Nations in Orlando, Fla., all of which had dealings with Setser.

"This is not a slick New Jersey Mafioso type, all bada-bing, bada-boom," Middlebrook said in a telephone interview. "He kept saying, 'I don't know exactly how it works — I just sell before I buy. That eliminates all the risk.' "

Church Connections

In his statement to the SEC, Middlebrook said he met Setser at a pastor's conference in Carrollton, Texas, where "Ralph Wilkerson, a well-known charismatic Christian minister, introduced Setser as a man who would change my life and the lives of my clients forever by making everyone rich."

Wilkerson and some other well-known ministers came out far ahead on their investments. According to an SEC analysis of IPIC's main accounts at Bank of America and Citizens Business Bank, Wilkerson turned a profit of nearly $150,000 on his dealings with Setser, while Millennium Missions, an enterprise headed by Wilkerson, came out ahead by more than $74,000.

Setser also had won the confidence of Bonnke, an evangelist who has crusaded extensively in Africa. Bonnke made $999,134 personally on his IPIC investments, while his Christ for All Nations recorded a gain of $984,315, according to the SEC analysis.

In a statement, Christ for All Nations said it learned of Setser from a former employee of its own: Henschke, the man arrested in Florida. Christ for All Nations said that for more than a year it checked and double-checked Setser's reputation, gradually increasing its investments after an initial deal proved profitable. Ultimately, it put Setser on its board.

He took part in just two board meetings "and gave a substantial gift to the ministry" before his arrest, according to the statement, which described the group as a victim.

"We want to do our part to help others who have suffered because of Mr. Setser's illegal actions," the organization said.

Many suffered considerably. According to the SEC, the Assemblies of God district for Northern California and Nevada lost more than $3 million, while a fund called Amber Enterprises, which pooled investments in IPIC on behalf of hundreds of small investors, lost more than $11 million.

The alleged scam began to crumble when Reece Bowling, a son-in-law of Marilyn Hickey who had invested with Setser, began to press him for details about his business and asked to see his audited financial statements.

Bowling told the SEC that Setser refused, saying he couldn't disclose things that might help competitors and adding that most of his business was conducted from Panama.

Bowling insisted on visiting Panama and recruited Middlebrook to help investigate. The men said they saw a small paint operation that appeared insufficient to make the large quantities Setser claimed to be selling, a large warehouse containing a single brick-making machine and a warehouse with a machine designed to produce plastic bottles, still in its factory wrapping.

"He was going to start something called the Living Water Bottling Co., so I asked him what his source was," Middlebrook recalled. "He said, 'That's the great thing. Don't tell anyone, but the quality of the water here is unbelievable. We're going to take it out of the tap and sell it as Panama spring water.' "

Middlebrook said he warned Setser that he could go to prison if he was deceiving investors, and late last summer traveled to Ontario to further check on his operation. Middlebrook said that at a restaurant during that visit, Cynthia Setser poured what appeared to be small diamonds from a velvet bag and said IPIC was able to buy gems wholesale in Africa, ship them to Israel for polishing and then sell them in the United States at a substantial profit.

According to the SEC suit, Cynthia Setser claimed the program involved "extraction of diamonds from mines purportedly owned by President George W. Bush's family in the Republic of the Congo." A White House official said, "There is no indication that the president knows this person."

Middleton said he advised his clients to demand their investments back immediately and has told them to segregate any "profits" pending the opportunity to return them to the court-appointed receiver for IPIC.

One of those clients was Hinn, who said Bonnke introduced him to Setser at a dinner in December 2002. Soon after, Hinn again met Setser, this time at Wilkerson's home in a gated community in Dana Point, where Hinn frequently visited during the Christmas holidays.

Setser subsequently attended a series of Benny Hinn Ministries events, and Hinn invested $300,000 in IPIC on Jan. 7, receiving $465,798.51 in return May 3. He reinvested $400,000 on June 9, he said in a statement, but withdrew those funds Aug. 22 without earning any profit because he was "uncomfortable with Mr. Setser and IPIC when he learned that a yacht and other luxury items had been purchased by them."

Since learning later about the federal investigation, Hinn "has been proactive" in cooperating with the authorities, he said in the statement.

"When I learned that Gregory Setser had misused the trust of ministers of the gospel, my heart was profoundly saddened by the potential damage this might bring to God's precious people and to many ministries," Hinn said.

"I am outraged that Gregory Setser would use the church for his own benefit."

Popular TV preachers


Posted on Wed, Dec. 03, 2003

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS - (KRT) - Joyce Meyer is one of America's best-known prosperity-gospel TV ministers - preachers who teach that personal wealth can be attained through a strong faith in God and a strict adherence to the Bible.

Following is an alphabetical list of a new wave of popular word-faith ministers who have used television to build large followings:

Juanita Bynum

Headquarters: Waycross, Ga.

Reach: Her program, "Weapons of Power," is seen worldwide on TBN; she holds conferences throughout the United States.

Wealth: No information available.

In the news: In April, Bynum married Thomas Wesley Weeks III in the palatial Regent Wall Street Hotel in New York City. The ceremony featured a wedding party of 80, a platinum-colored satin bridal gown with a bodice covered in Swarovski crystals and a 7.76-carat diamond ring.


Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Headquarters: Fort Worth, Texas

Reach: Ministry Web site says its TV show, "Believer's Voice of Victory," is seen by more than 76 million households on nearly 700 U.S. stations. Show also airs on about 135 international stations.

Wealth: A ministry official estimates the ministry's annual revenue at $70 million.

In the news: In June, the Copelands joined four other TV preachers who gathered around Oral Roberts, 85, considered the grandfather of the prosperity gospel, to pray for healing the ailing founder of the university that bears his name.


Jan and Paul Crouch

Headquarters: Costa Mesa, Calif.

Reach: The Crouches are owners of Trinity Broadcast Network, the world's largest Christian TV network. TBN reaches millions of viewers on more than 5,000 TV stations and 33 international satellites around the world.

Wealth: The Crouches and their son Paul Crouch Jr. said they earned a total of $855,000 last year. TBN's annual income exceeds $100 million a year, according to the Los Angeles Times. The ministry provides the Crouches a $10 million, 80-acre, eight-home ranch near Dallas and two Land Rovers that the Crouches drive. In 2001, the couple bought a $5 million oceanfront estate in Newport Beach, Calif.

In the news: The ministry recently purchased the Nashville, Tenn., home and estate of the late country music performer Conway Twitty and opened Trinity Music City USA as a tourist attraction there.


Creflo Dollar

Headquarters: College Park, Ga.

Reach: Dollar's "Changing Your World" TV program on TBN reaches 150 countries.

Wealth: The ministry's income is unavailable, but newspaper accounts say the ministry paid $18 million in cash for its new 8,000-seat World Changers Church International on the southern edge of Atlanta. Dollar drives a black Rolls-Royce and travels in a $5 million private jet.

In the news: Dollar's ministry became a focus of a court case involving boxer Evander Holyfield in 1999. The lawyer for Holyfield's ex-wife estimated that the fighter gave Dollar's ministry $7 million. Dollar refused to testify in the case.


Marilyn Hickey

Headquarters: Denver

Reach: Her TV show, "Today with Marilyn," on the TBN and Black Entertainment Television networks can be seen around the world. She has offices in England, South Africa and Australia and is on the board of Oral Roberts University.

Wealth: Her ministry occupies a 260,000-square-foot former shopping mall in Denver. No information on ministry or her personal wealth is available.

In the news: She has been dubbed the "fairy godmother of the word-faith movement" and "the mistress of mail-order madness," by the Texas-based Christian Sentinel, a ministry that monitors what it calls "religious deception." Hickey got the "mistress" name for her use of trinkets - blessed cornmeal, cloths, seeds and coins - sent out to followers to urge them to send in money.


Benny Hinn

Headquarters: Grapevine, Texas

Reach: Hinn's "This is Your Day" program is seen throughout the United States and in nearly 200 foreign countries.

Wealth: The ministry took in $60 million in 2001. A news story earlier this year in the Colorado Springs Gazette said annual income now exceeds $90 million. Hinn told CNN in 1997 that he drew an annual salary of $500,000 to $1 million a year. He has a $3.5 million home in the Los Angeles area and drives an $80,000 Mercedes-Benz G500.

In the news: A "Dateline" segment on NBC examined five of Hinn's faith-healing "miracles," showing that none of the people was cured and that one woman with lung cancer died nine months later.


Rodney Howard-Browne

Headquarters: The River at Tampa Bay, Tampa, Fla.

Reach: His live broadcasts from his River at Tampa Bay Church stream online on his Internet site www.revival.com and can be seen worldwide.

Wealth: He and his wife, Adonica, oversee his $16 million church, which they founded in 1996. The couple live in a six-bedroom, four-bath lakefront home on Cory Lake in northwest Tampa. The home includes a dock, spa, pool and gazebo.

In the news: Howard-Browne has called himself the "bartender of holy laughter." Holy laughter was a controversial movement that swept evangelical circles in the mid-1990s. He would walk on stage laughing uncontrollably. The congregation would begin laughing. Howard-Browne would sweep his arm toward the crowd. People would appear "drunk on the Holy Spirit" and slide out of their chairs or dance in the aisles.


T.D. Jakes

Headquarters: Dallas

Reach: Jakes' "The Potter's House" TV program is seen throughout the world on TBN and Black Entertainment Television. His ministry boasts more than 26,000 members. A rally at the Georgia Dome in 1999 drew more than 100,000 people.

Wealth: He has mansions in Charleston, W.Va., and Dallas.

In the news: Called the best preacher in America by Time Magazine In 2001.


Robert Tilton

Headquarters: Miami

Reach: He once ran his Farmers Branch Church in Dallas before scandal toppled it in the early 1990s. His show now airs on Black Entertainment Television and has a potential audience of 74 million homes.

Wealth: He is building a two-story home on a $1.39 million oceanfront lot on an island in Biscayne Bay off Miami Beach, and his ministry owns a 50-foot yacht. His ministry takes in about $24 million a year.

In the news: Tilton is rebounding after his ministry collapsed in scandal a decade ago amid news reports that prayer requests he said he personally prayed over were found in a trash bin after the money, food stamps and rings had been removed.


Randy and Paula White

Headquarters: The Without Walls International Church, Tampa, Fla.

Reach: The "Paula White Today" TV show can be seen worldwide on TBN and Black Entertainment Television. The ministry's Operation Explosion travels into public housing complexes with "rolling theatre-style pink trucks" to share Christianity in a Nickelodeon-type program for underprivileged children.

Wealth: The Whites live in a $2.1 million, 8,000-square-foot home facing Tampa Bay. Their ministry owns a jet airplane, a Cadillac Escalade and a Mercedes-Benz sedan.

In the news: Paula White calls Joyce Meyer her mentor; Meyer visited their church in September


© 2003, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Visit the Post-Dispatch on the World Wide Web at http://www.stltoday.com

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Pilgrims in Italy flock to see "weeping statue"


Thu Dec 4, 8:44 AM ET

ROME (Reuters) - Faithful and curious have flocked to a town in southern Italy after reports that a bronze statue of a saint is weeping blood.

Local officials in the southern town of Brancaleone said a red liquid was seen coming out of the eyelids of a life-size statue of Padre Pio, a mystic monk who died in 1968 at the age of 81 and was made a saint last year.

The town's deputy mayor, Gentile Scaramozzino, said tests showed there was some kind of blood in the liquid that stained the statue and the pavement in a town square on Wednesday.

Further tests were being carried out to determine if it was human or animal blood.

While local Catholic Church officials urged the faithful to be cautious about what some people were calling a miracle and others a hoax, Scaramozzino said the town was getting ready to provide hospitality services for pilgrims.

A national consumer protection group warned against a possible hoax, saying devotees of Padre Pio had been swindled in the past. "Let's be careful before shouting 'miracle'," the Codacons consumer group said in a statement.

During his life, Padre Pio had the stigmata -- bleeding wounds in the hands and feet similar to those of Christ. Scientists could not explain the wounds.

This godman predicts your financial future


Krittivas Mukherjee (IANS)
Kolkata, December 9

His long flowing saffron robe, the strings of religious beads and his calm mien give middle-aged Arunangshu Lahiri the air of a spiritual guru.

But Lahiri is not just another enlightened godman holding forth on spiritualism and religion.

Rather, the portly, clean-shaven man deals in a trade that could not be further removed from the domain of gods and goddesses.

Lahiri is a personal fund manager. The garb of a 'baba', or a godman, is what he calls effective brand imaging.

"There are various types of godmen. We have this baba, that baba. Fortune-tellers call themselves babas.

"I help people with investment in shares with my market predictions. So what's wrong if I call myself Share Baba?" asks the bespectacled man.

He says he wanted to be as true to the image of a sage as possible.

"I wanted to even shave off my head, but my wife and son wouldn't allow me to do so," Share Baba says with an impish smile.

Share Baba, despite the incongruity, doesn't evoke any sense of ridicule among his clients.

"People earn high returns with my help in tracking their shares," says Share Baba, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta.

Seated at his cubby hole stall at a finance and investment fair, Share Baba attracts a good number of business inquiries.

First, people are drawn because of Lahiri's "effective brand imaging", or godman avatar.

"Once they come in, they find that it is all serious business," he says.

Share Baba, who held several top management jobs before deciding to try his hand at consulting, has a computer in his stall and he frequently clicks on the mouse to track stocks.

"I tell people how to make money from the capital market. I sell investment ideas," he says.

He also sells short-term courses on how to make money from the stock market.

"I have courses for beginners and traders. Stock buying is not gambling, so one has to know the market well."

The computer-savvy baba's free advice is: "Don't be scared by risks, but invest in the capital market because there is a huge return waiting to be picked up."

Where did we come from?:


Darby meeting to discuss teaching intelligent design
By JENNY JOHNSON Staff Reporter

Nearly 80 years after the John Scopes "Monkey" trial helped established Darwin's theory of evolution as the benchmark in public science education, a theory known as intelligent design is clamoring for recognition across the country.

There's a town meeting scheduled in Darby Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the junior high gym to discuss the merits of teaching the concept.

And Darby is no exception. Public education science standards have long eliminated teaching creationism after the courts decided the Genesis version of where we came from was a violation of church-and-state standards. But supporters of the intelligent design theory argue education standards should include language saying that Darwin's theory of evolution remains unproved and is challenged by other theories.

Curriculum adopted by the Montana Board of Public Education - and school districts within the state - teaches Darwin's theory, but no others. And the Leave No Child Behind act adopted by President Bush calls for academic standards that include arguments both for and against evolution.

A community committee looking at Darby's curriculum and instruction last year identified intelligent design theory as a top priority for planning. Wednesday, a town meeting about the theory and how it can be integrated into science curriculum will be held at the Darby Junior High gym at 6:30 p.m.

"The meeting is all about teaching origin science objectively," said Curtis Brickley, an intelligent design supporter who will be presenting the power-point presentation Wednesday. "There is controversy in the scientific community. The discovery of evolution doesn't explain the complexity of the design."

Launched in 1991 by a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, intelligent design theory basically proposes that the intricate complexity of plants and animals is evidence that life could only be the work of an intelligent designer, not evolution. The theory stops short of declaring what or who that intelligent designer might be.

"What we're asking is to teach the evidence for and against evolution," Brickley said. Brickley runs a ministry and has two children coming into the Darby School District.

Brickley argues that restricting science academic standards to evolution theory censors information from students and in order to teach objective, science-based curriculum, schools must offer other theories.

"Challenging commonly held perceptions is part of science," he said. "Let's teach our students to think critically."

U.S. courts have clearly established the teaching of creationism is illegal in public schools. Until 1987, public schools could teach multiple theories about where we came from - a religiously charged question. But in a 7-2 Supreme Court decision, creationism was deemed to violate the Establishment Clause.

Ohio education officials one year ago included various science theories, including intelligent design, in public school curriculum.

An attorney from the Montana School Boards Association advised Darby school officials that they shouldn't adopt curriculum that isn't in line with state standards. The school district is providing the gym space for the meeting but isn't sponsoring informational presentation.

Defenders of the science standards counter that intelligent design has no scientific backing and should not be included in academic standards. Critics of the theory have called it a subtle approach to insert religious belief into science instruction.

Brickley says that the push to teach intelligent design theory isn't a God issue, but an academic issue. He also asserts that school districts have the right to establish curriculum.

"It's a science-versus-science controversy," he said.

Reporter Jenny Johnson can be reached at 363-3300 or jjohnson@ravallirepublic.com

Monday, December 08, 2003

Magician Shares His Skepticism In College Appearance

By Alan Gallagher

[Editor's Note: This article was written as a requirement for a journalism class at SUNY Oswego by a student. Publication in a local news outlet is part of the requirement. Any views in the article are the author's own.]

SUNY Oswego college students were mystified last Wednesday when author, international magician, and paranormal investigator James Randi did a presentation on modern skepticism and magic.

He began in front of the podium on stage and adjusted the microphone in front of him. Fixing his glasses, he began to tell his audience a little bit about himself, and what he does for a living. His voice was muffled, but audible through the speakers. The audience made no comment.

But he had us all fooled. Within the first 5 minutes of speaking, Randi illustrated to the audience one simple fact that would be a prevalent theme throughout his presentation: assumptions rule our lives. The frames on his face had no lenses, and the microphone in front of him wasn't turned on. He had used a ruse. He stood in front of the microphone to make us assume he was using it. He instead was using a simple radio microphone on his chest. He wore frames to make us assume they had lenses.

It is these things that Randi says we take for granted. They are assumptions that we pass off as fact because they're almost always true. This is the nature of skepticism that Randi advocates.

Randi is a professional skeptic. He currently makes a living investigating the paranormal and debunking many self proclaimed "miracle workers." Randi is offering a $1 million reward to anyone who can prove evidence of paranormal activity. All they need to do is pass one of his straightforward tests. Prove to him, on his terms that paranormal activity exists, and the million dollars is there for the taking.

Randi is a vehement opponent to "Faith Healers," televangelists who claim to use the power of God to heal the sick and cure the diseased. Randi believes that ideas such as these; along with psychic readings, and "cold readings," (TV's John Edwards comes to mind) are dangerous and harmful practices. They do society little to no good. He has made it one of his life goals to debunk these "Charlatans," as he calls them.

He ended the presentation with two magic tricks. He didn't reveal the secret to either. One trick involved a card prediction. Another was a telepathic reading in which he correctly stated what word on a piece of paper a woman in the audience was looking at.

He left his audience, asking "What are the chances of me getting those answers correct?" He answered the question himself finally, "one hundred percent." He explained that, because it was a trick, he knew how it would turn out. If you know the answers to a test, you'll get a perfect score. Magic is the same way. The point is that you're supposed to be skeptical of the things you take for granted and never accept them as universally true.

You can reach his website at www.randi.org

To date, no one has passed the million-dollar test.


Cosmic Controller?


Hans-Jurgen Hirschanger says he can move cosmic bodies by request

Published Tuesday, November 18, 2003
by Ashley Harrell

Hans-Jurgen Hirschganger says he has telekinetic abilities that enable him to move stars.

He simply folds his hands behind his head, focuses on the stars, and enters a trance of deep concentration. He then asks that the stars move a little to the left, and then to the right, and according to a select group of people, the stars comply.

The karate instructor from Frankfurt, Germany, said he selects dim stars because brighter stars are more difficult to manipulate.

"I tell him go left, and go right," said Hirschganger, 49, who also says he can also move stars by request over the telephone.

According to Hirschganger's translator Dirk Friedrich, the powerful man wills the stars "out of orbit" and moves them between 5 and 10 diameter lengths of the star, which is plainly visible from Earth.

"As the stars are in the orbit, they move like the earth and the sun in special positions," said Friedrich. "He is able to move them outside of those positions."

The alleged repositioning of the stars does not affect earth or the rest of the galaxy, according to Hirschganger, who merely performs the cosmic adjustments as a novelty.

"He wouldn't do it if it had consequences," said Friedrich. "When he says stop, they will go back to the old positions."

Last Friday Hirschganger was given an opportunity to prove himself. He traveled overseas to the James Randi Educational Foundation in South Florida to put his star-shifting abilities to the test.

The foundation, dedicated to providing reliable information about paranormal claims, offers one million dollars to anyone who can show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power under observable conditions.

Founder James Randi, who travels the world giving lectures on paranormal claims, said he has tested hundreds of cases in the eight years the foundation has be open, but this was the first attempted star-moving.

Randi, 75, helps design the protocol for testing the supernatural powers, which must be acceptable to the applicant. Hirschganger's test involved video taping a cluster of stars from the Buehler Planetarium at Broward Community College as he moved one prearranged star. Several independent observers then viewed the tapes on a giant screen and were asked to identify which, if any, of the stars moved. After the completion of the test, Hirschganger was confident that the stars had moved, but the viewers thought differently.

"It failed completely, as expected," said Randi, who called Hirschganger "exceedingly naïve, with no notion of how the world really works." But the man isn't taking that as a final answer. Through the translator, he explained that 20 years ago he discovered his extraordinary abilities while training to be the world champion in karate.

He was running every day to get in shape, sometimes in the rain, and he noticed that he always came down with a cold on the days after he ran in the rain, said Friedrich.

Frustrated by this setback in his training, Hirschganger said he started concentrating on the clouds releasing the rain, and asked that they vacate the sky above his head. To his satisfaction, the rain stopped.

This made Hirschganger wonder what else he could relocate, and soon enough, he had harnessed his power to move celestial bodies, he said.

Insisting that the lens used to capture the movements of the star was too small, Hirschganger traveled back to the United States last week for another chance, but he's not going to get it.

"This is one of the sillier claims that we've had," said Randi. "I won't entertain any further testing of him. We've got too many important things to do."

The million-dollar prize has yet to be claimed.




The NRA has long used John Lott's work, "More Guns, Less Crime" to push for enactment of concealed handgun laws (CCW) that force police to let almost anyone carry a concealed handgun in public. But as more scholarly researchers examine Lott's work, serious questions about Lott's findings, and even his personal credibility, are emerging.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Thomas: Standards should treat evolution honestly


Chris L. Thomas

Published November 30, 2003

If input from the public and outside experts is going to be ignored, why solicit it in the first place?

That's the question Minnesotans should be asking themselves as the drafting of Minnesota's new science standards draws to a close.

Over the past few months, Minnesota's Department of Education has invited extensive public input on a draft of the standards. In response, large numbers of Minnesotans have testified at public hearings or sent in written comments raising questions about how the theory of evolution should be covered.

The overwhelming majority of those comments have criticized the one-sided and inaccurate way Charles Darwin's theory is presented in the draft standards. A University of Minnesota scientist appointed by the state to evaluate the scientific accuracy of the draft standards has made the same point.

Unfortunately, the committee in charge of developing the standards appears to be ignoring all of this input, essentially derailing the public process set up to create the new standards.

In a recent op-ed, Jamie Crandall of the Science Standards Committee tried to justify the committee's refusal to incorporate public input by mischaracterizing what the debate is about. According to Crandall, the issue is whether the theory of intelligent design is included in the standards. That's false.

It is true that some scientists who are critical of Darwin's theory favor an emerging scientific theory known as intelligent design. This new theory is based upon scientific evidence, not religious doctrine. For example, biochemist Michael Behe builds a strong case for design based on a scientific analysis of miniature motors and complex circuits discovered in living cells.

However, most of those seeking more accurate coverage of evolutionary theory in the standards are not asking for intelligent design to be inserted in the standards. Instead, they are simply asking that students learn about all of the evidence about Darwin's theory, not just evidence that happens to support it. After all, that's how science works.

Peer-reviewed science literature now documents the existence of many problems with current evolutionary theory and with its presentation in school textbooks.

For instance, while Darwin's theory purported to explain how life could have grown gradually more complex starting from one or a few simple forms, it did not explain or attempt to explain how life originated. Chemical evolutionary theory (which does try to explain the origin of life) has recently encountered severe scientific criticisms. Yet if the draft standards aren't revised, Minnesota students won't have to learn anything about these scientific debates over the origin of life.

During the coming week, a committee will be meeting to produce a final draft of the science standards. In their deliberations, committee members should remember that they have an obligation to represent the concerns of all the citizens of Minnesota, not just the most dogmatic defenders of Darwin's theory.

They would also do well to recall Darwin's famous words in making their decision: "A fair result can only be obtained by balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

If the committee fails to discharge its duty to seriously consider public and professional input, then the governor and the Legislature will have an obligation to ensure that this input is incorporated before the standards are finally approved next February.

Chris L. Thomas is a research scientist in the Twin Cities; Seth L. Cooper is a lawyer with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

© Copyright 2003
Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Reading, writing, and scripture?


Supreme Court case could legalize public funding of religious study

There's a particular image that conveys sharply, for Americans, the soul-deadening oppression of what life was like under the Taliban, or continues to be like in any Muslim theocracy. It's the notion of dozens of school-aged kids, bundled into a primitive classroom, given no education other than hour upon hour of monotonous repetition of the Koran.

That approach to public education may well be on the verge of being ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case with which such a ruling might come is that of Joshua Davey, a Spokane student who in 1999 was awarded a $1,125 scholarship from the state of Washington to help cover the costs of his college education. Davey met all of the state's criteria for eligibility: he was enrolled in college, he finished in the top 10% of his high school class, and his family had less than 135% of the state's median income.

Except that he was enrolled in Northwest College -- an accredited, private, Assembly of God-run college in Kirkland, Washington. And one of his majors was in theology, with the intent of training to be a pastor.

Davey was disqualified, under a provision in Washington's state constitution that bars public aid to students studying religion. Davey sued. If there is any sense at all among the nine Supreme Court justices, Davey will win -- because having the state pick and choose the allowable content in a student's curriculum should be no more constitutional than having the state choose allowable speech. And, in fact, this same Supreme Court already ruled -- in a 2001 case from upstate New York -- that school districts cannot bar religious student groups from using public facilities after hours based solely on the groups' content or sponsorship.

The case appears, at least on the surface, to be a slam dunk for Davey. But if he wins, all -- well, you know -- will break loose. For want of a thousand dollar scholarship, the whole secular kingdom could be lost.

That's because constitutional prohibitions on public aid for religious instruction are the law in 37 states. These so-called "Blaine Amendments," enacted in the late 1800s by Protestants fearful of public funding of Catholic schools, set a higher bar on separation of church and state than the current federal system does. And they have been a significant barrier to the enactment of voucher systems, wherein public money for education is given to families either through the funding of public schools or through reimbursing families for the costs of sending their kids elsewhere -- like to a religious private school.

Davey's case does not undermine public education directly. But there is nothing in the federal constitution that guarantees public education itself -- let alone what the content should be. Each is a product of generations of public policy decisions based on the idea that a broadly well-educated populace is so in the public's interest that it's worth taxing ourselves to pay for it. The first public school in America was established in Boston in 1635; defining "well-educated" has been giving headaches to school board members ever since.

Our nearly 400-year-old public consensus on the value of education is in no danger. But what Davey's case calls into question is the same debate beneath controversies like the teaching of creationism, incorporation of explicitly religious values (like "life begins at conception") into public law, or the posting of the Ten Commandments in a public space. Can our government pay for the costs of an institution that promotes religion, or promotes a religious belief? Can a ban on the state's promotion of religion include banning the freedom of an individual -- say, a teacher, paid indirectly by the state -- to say what she or he likes to a class? Say, teaching scripture?

If it can -- and recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings are moving in this direction -- the next question becomes whether government should be allowing, or encouraging, or mandating, such business. This is the slippery slope that leads to theocracies, and, as the pitch steepens, to fundamentalist tyrannies run by the Talibans or Ayatollahs of the world. The percentage of people in the United States who profess religious belief is higher than that of any other Western democracy -- comparable, in fact, to many Islamic countries. Were the decision as to whether religion should be a part of the state's agenda left to politicians, administrators, or a popular vote, the outcome could easily change from generation to generation.

There's no reason to believe, if Joshua Davey wins his case, that there will be a sudden rush to religious public instruction in America, and thence on to compulsory worship. But there's also no reason to believe that if they have the freedom to do so, in 30 years, a new generation couldn't decide differently.

As a result of his case, Davey himself set aside his religious studies.

He's now in Harvard Law School.

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines - December 3, 2003

from The Baltimore Sun

Two of the nation's top climate scientists say there's no longer any doubt that human activities are changing the Earth's atmosphere and its climate, and that our children and grandchildren will inherit the consequences.

Writing in tomorrow's edition of the journal Science, Thomas R. Karl and Kevin E. Trenberth say researchers remain uncertain about the precise course of climate change from here. That change has already "exceeded the bounds of natural variability. ... We are entering the unknown."

Karl is director of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Trenberth heads the climate analysis section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Their article in Science is part of the journal's "State of the Planet" series. A footnote states their conclusions are their own, and not those of the federal government.

from Newsday

Washington -- With the first of a pair of American robotic rovers scheduled to land on Mars in a month, NASA officials and project leaders said Tuesday they are hopeful of success but mindful of past failures at Mars.

Both spacecraft are doing well as they approach the Red Planet, but Edward Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science, said Mars "has been a most daunting destination. Some, including myself, have called it the 'death planet'" because of the record of lost missions over the years.

About two-thirds of the robotic missions to Mars have failed, Weiler said. According to a NASA tally, Russia has tried to send spacecraft to orbit or land on the planet 16 times, with only two partial successes. A Japanese spacecraft bound for a Mars encounter later this month is in trouble and may not achieve orbit.

from The Christian Science Monitor

PASADENA CA – The Milky Way Galaxy, home to our Sun and a few hundred billion other stars, is definitely a place to be proud of. As galaxies go, it's one of the larger ones, and, although opinions are sure to vary, it is also one of the loveliest.

Galaxies come in many different shapes: some are spherical, some are sort of blobby and disorganized, and some are disk-shaped, with elegant spiral arms of young stars radiating out from their centers. We belong to this last class, the so-called "grand design" spiral galaxies, which seem almost too beautiful to believe. But the Milky Way, of course, is only one of countless billions of other galaxies that we know about, and astronomers recently got a pretty big surprise when they tried to figure out how the Milky Way fits into the larger scheme of things.

Take a fairly basic question: what is the closest galaxy to our own? A lot of people might say the Andromeda Galaxy, which is, in fact, the closest large spiral to us, about two million light years away. Andromeda is so close, in fact, that it is gravitationally bound to the Milky Way, and is one of the only galaxies in the sky that is moving toward us.

Crop Circle Debate Going Around In Solano County


3:00 pm PT, Friday, Dec 5, 2003

By Bay City News Service

FAIRFIELD, CA - The ongoing debate about the true source of crop circles was revived in Fairfield this week when a team of investigators asserted that four teenagers who claimed they made the circles in a wheat field last June could not have pulled it off.

Investigators with Psi Applications claimed at a news conference on Wednesday the circles in Larry Balestra's 80-acre wheat field off Suisun Valley Road were too geometrically perfect to be the handiwork of mere humans and that 'some other, perhaps anomalous source' was responsible. Steve Moreno, a residential contractor who is president and director of Psi Applications, suggested plasma or perhaps microwave energy was behind the phenomenon.

That drew a rebuttal from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal which called Psi Applications' assertions 'blatant mystery mongering' and the boys' story 'plausible.'

'Far from disproving the teenagers' claims the self-styled crop circle experts have merely made up mysteries for some sensationalistic publicity, employing faulty logic and pseudo-science,' said CSICOP researcher Joe Nickell.

'There is no credible scientific evidence that aliens, microwave energies, wind vortexes, or other mechanisms are responsible for crop circles - only pranksters,' Nickell said.

CSICOP says its researchers, including Nickell, have duplicated crop circles using stalk 'stomping boards' with ropes that serve as handles, and that hoaxers have admitted making crop circles in England and elsewhere. SCICOP debunks the theory the circles are made from plasma vortices or space aliens.

In August 2002 a team of three from CSICOP made two crop circles with the stomping boards in an oat field in Steuben County, New York where the film 'Signs' was filmed.

The film is about a former cleric turned farmer who finds crop circles in his fields. The handiwork is of extra-terrestrial origin and the farmer and his son engage in combat with aliens who invade their home.

Moreno and his investigators didn't say Fairfield's crop circles were made by aliens. But they said the four teenagers who said they made them on June 27 because they were bored didn't do it.

One of the teens then told a local newspaper, in effect, that's our story and we're sticking to it. He and his friends decided to try making the crop circles after watching a show about them on The Discovery Channel and they're willing to duplicate the feat, Casey Brossard said.

'We want to interview them, in person or by phone,' Moreno said on Thursday. 'There are a few very key questions we can ask that should resolve things.

'We're not out to fry or demean them,' Moreno said.

Moreno said the boys have not yet agreed to be interviewed by Psi Applications.

Recreating the crop circles would have to wait until June when the wheat grows again. CSICOP says that from mid-May to August wheat is naturally pliable enabling wheat stalks to be bent but not broken when flattened.

Advocates of a non-human source of the circles say hoaxers wouldn't be able to trample down the grain without breaking the stalks.

Moreno and his team said Wednesday they found statistically significant elongation of the growth nodes of wheat samples taken within the circles and that that is a criterion to tell the difference between hoaxed and real crop circles.

'In experiments conducted over the years, only microwave energies have duplicated the effects shown in growth nodes of formation samples,' Psi Applications concluded.

CSICOP said those experiments have not been independently replicated by qualified scientists dong 'double-blind' studies and following stringent scientific protocols.

Right Wing Taking Aim at Science

Posted on Wed, Dec. 03, 2003

Alan I. Leshner is chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The moralizers are trying to muck with U.S. science again.

A flurry of activity over the last few weeks has followed the effort of the Traditional Values Coalition, a right-wing religious group, to call into question almost 200 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants focusing on behavioral and social aspects of issues such as sexuality, HIV/AIDS transmission, and drug abuse.

This incident could have been written off as noise by a fringe group had it not come almost on the heels of the near-passage in the House of Representatives last July of what came to be known as the "Toomey Amendment," after its author, Rep. Patrick Toomey (R., Pa.). By a vote of 212-210, the House just missed defunding four NIH research grants on sexual behavior that had already been through rigorous scientific peer review and approval by NIH Institute National Advisory Councils.

This is not the first time the scientific enterprise has been threatened by political or ideological intervention, nor will it be the last. Many of us recall, for example, Sen. William Proxmire's grandstanding "Golden Fleece Awards" in the 1970s and 1980s. They were passed out with much media fanfare to research projects with titles Proxmire considered silly, and which were therefore ridiculed as a frivolous waste of the taxpayer's money.

Of course, the Golden Fleece "awardees" often turned out later to be important and useful projects. One example is the study of the physical characteristics of flight attendants. The study ultimately led to the development of life-saving safety belt configurations for them.

We are not concerned that Congress wishes to exert oversight over the U.S. research agenda and research priorities. That is its job, and we want our representatives to do it well. We also believe that the scientific community should be fully accountable to the public, because much science is publicly funded and the public is the ultimate beneficiary of our work. By nature, science is an open enterprise that invites examination and criticism - and more often than not, it is actually strengthened by public scrutiny. Oversight bolsters public confidence in the scientific enterprise and provides incentives for scientists to interact with the public, explain the importance of their research, and spread an ethic of intellectual curiosity and critical thinking that helps make our society more innovative and dynamic.

On occasions like the present one, however, healthy scrutiny gives way to irresponsible attack. The recent assaults on science were not directed at broad research questions or national research priorities. Instead, they were aimed at imposing ideology and religious doctrine on the awarding of individual research grants, intervening in and thereby subverting the scientific peer review system that has served both science and national needs so well.

The moral judges who are doing this don't like the fact that HIV is spread through sexual contact, and they believe that drug addicts have made bad personal choices that have led to addiction. Is their disapproval of these behaviors a justification for stifling research on the diseases that result? Do they suppose that some form of national denial will make these problems go away? Regardless of personal feelings about the etiology of these illnesses, we need to understand their causes and transmission patterns if we are ever to get a handle on some of society's most pervasive public health problems.

Whenever science is attacked on ideological grounds, its integrity and usefulness are threatened. Society cannot afford for moralistic dogma to replace scientific judgment when the public's welfare is at stake. We have all been heartened in the last few weeks by the responses of many scientific and academic organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and by the protests of many people who have written in the popular press to defend science.

But rising up in protest as a community after the fact can protect us only for a while. Retaining control of the integrity of our enterprise requires that we engage more regularly and broadly with the public. We should make our objectives and strategies more transparent to our fellow citizens, and we must expand our efforts to educate both policymakers and the broader public about how science works. Science has served society well in tackling some of the world's greatest problems - but only as long as it has evaded capture by narrow-minded interests.

Contact Alan I. Leshner at aleshner@aaas.org.


Sci Fi Channel-backed researcher sues NASA over UFO files


The Associated Press
December 06, 2003

A researcher backed by cable television's Sci Fi Channel plans to sue NASA for records she contends the agency has of a UFO that reportedly crash landed and was recovered by government workers in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1965.

The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the lawsuit to be filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Leslie Kean, a San Rafael, Calif., investigative reporter backed by the cable channel and a group called the Coalition for Freedom of Information.

"Our lawsuit is aimed at getting NASA to tell the public what it knew and when it knew it," said Ed Rothschild, a lobbyist the Sci Fi Channel hired from the Washington firm PodestaMattoon, who is also identified as CFI's executive director. Former President Clinton's one-time chief of staff John Podesta, whose brother is a principal in the lobbying firm, has supported the cable channel's effort to declassify the documents.

Bob Jacobs, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said he was unaware of the lawsuit and could not comment.

Tuesday's filing will mark the 38th anniversary of the Kecksburg UFO incident, which occurred Dec. 9, 1965, in the unincorporated hamlet about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Witnesses described a "fireball" in the evening sky, and a metallic, acorn-shaped object about 12 to 15 feet high and 8 to 12 feet in diameter that landed in the woods, according to media accounts in the Tribune-Review of Greensburg and other outlets at the time.

Military personnel quickly surrounded the site, removed the object, threatened residents who tried to inquire about it, and left _ later calling the object a "meteor," according to media accounts.

James Romansky, 57, of Derry Township, was then a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter. He told The Associated Press on Friday that he was among those who drove to the landing site.

"Now, I'm prepared for a smashed-up airplane ... and I'm thinking, 'What in the hell is this?' I'm looking for wings, propellers, motors, a fuselage _ but there's none of that," Romansky said. "There's no rivet marks on it, no weld marks on it, no windows, no doors _ no possible way of getting in and out of this thing that I seen.

"There was writing on it, but not writing that you or I could understand. I always referred to it as something like the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. There was dots and dashes and circles," Romansky said.

The cable network announced in June that it was backing the effort to research the Kecksburg incident in promoting a documentary, "Out of the Blue," which examined various UFO reports.

"This should have been done a long time ago," Romansky said. "The United States government has given us a snow job for the last God knows when. I can't understand it for the life of me. They can't come out and say it's nothing because I was 10, 20 feet away from it."

Sci Fi Channel officials said they're looking for an explanation of what occurred. They're also looking for viewers.

A November 2002 documentary on the suspected 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico, was the highest-rated special in the network's 11-year history. It was seen by nearly 2.4 million people, or about 2 1/2 times Sci Fi's usual prime-time audience.

The lawsuit contends NASA has thwarted Kean's efforts to retrieve official files on the incident by sending her irrelevant information or nothing in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

"Despite our serious effort to uncover the facts, NASA still refuses to provide the public with any information," said Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer. "We are hopeful that our legal system will help us find out what really happened in the woods outside Kecksburg."

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Never Mind the Dianetics, Here's the Kiddie Scientologists


by Daniel Mufson
December 3 - 9, 2003

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant does to L. Ron Hubbard what The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui did to Adolf Hitler: It reduces him to ridiculous, contemptible proportions. By casting actors aged between eight and 12, writer Kyle Jarrow and director Alex Timbers (otherwise known as Les Freres Corbusier) accentuate the puerile absurdity of Scientology's tenets as well as the childlike naïveté of those who believe such nonsense. Learning of Hubbard's theory about Thetan spirits banished to earth by galactic ruler Xenu, we become ever more convinced that the subject matter is perfectly suited to the realms of pre-pubescent rationality. Just as Ui doesn't explain the complex phenomenon of the Third Reich, Scientology Pageant doesn't probe the psychology of cults; instead, both demystify subjects whose appeal stems in no small part from the mystique their acolytes have attributed to them.

Transcending gimmickry, the use of a young cast doesn't make Scientology Pageant a one-gag play. Clocking in at just under an hour, the script - a musical satire version of a saint's play - punches its points home quickly. Timbers has wisely counseled the kids to avoid too much irony, aware that the material generates its own comic absurdity without nudges or winks. The children, garbed in the outer-space-alien equivalent of togas, generate a respectable ensemble chemistry. In the end, they even manage to hint at the reservoir of misery that leads people to seek solace in Scientology or other sects. Standing under umbrellas outside the theater on 42nd Street, the boys and girls, still in their togas, stare dead-eyed through a window at the audience as we hear a recording of them singing- "Just don't ask questions, and everything is clear."

Study Finds Crop Circles Were Not a Hoax


Posted: December 3, 2003 at 8:58 a.m.

FAIRFIELD (BCN) -- A five-month study has concluded that the mysterious crop circles that appeared in a Solano County wheat field in June were not the work of four teenage boys who claimed they made them as a hoax.

Steve Moreno of Psi Applications, a group that describes itself as researchers of paranormal, UFO and metaphysical phenomena, will discuss the results of the group's investigation at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Fairfield.

The investigation concludes the "hoax was a hoax."

"We've concluded that it's highly unlikely that four teenage boys could have made the large, complex crop circle that appeared on June 28 in Larry Balestra's field. The scientific data, and our ongoing investigation, tend to point towards some other, perhaps anomalous, unknown source," founder and director Moreno said on Psi Applications' Web site.

"The physical changes in the wheat stalks can't be duplicated. It's a phenomenon," Moreno said Tuesday evening. He suggested a form of energy, possibly plasma energy, caused the crop circle formations.

The four teenagers allegedly claimed they made the circles but could not take responsibility for them because three of them are on probation and didn't want to get in trouble with police.

They also reportedly said they made the circles using boards and rope on a moonlit night, but there was a new moon on June 29, meaning there would have been virtually no moonlight on June 27.

Psi Applications investigators also claim local law enforcement officers did not give much credence to the boys' story.

The investigation found statistically significant differences in the elongation of growth nodes of wheat samples taken within and without the crop circle formations.

"Only microwave energies have duplicated the effects shown in the growth nodes of formation samples," Moreno said.

A ball of light also was reported above the main formation on June 27. Balls of light have previously been reported, photographed and videotaped hovering over crop circles elsewhere, investigators say.

(Copyright 2003, Bay City News. All Rights Reserved.)

Crustacean Fossil Is First Undoubted Male


-Report Thu December 4, 2003 02:43 PM ET

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A fossil crustacean whose scientific name is "swimmer with a large penis" is the earliest clear example of a male animal, British researchers reported on Thursday.

The 425 million-year-old ancestor of modern water fleas, found in rocks in Britain, is unusually well-preserved, allowing scientists to see it had gills and an advanced circulatory system.

It shows that ostracodes -- extremely common water-dwelling creatures -- have evolved little in hundreds of millions of years, said David Siveter of the University of Leicester.

He and colleagues named it Colymbosathon ecplecticos, which means "swimmer with a large penis."

Siveter, in a telephone interview, said the 0.2-inch creature probably lived on marine shelves, about 500 to 650 feet deep.

"This crustacean clearly could swim," said Siveter.

And there was another striking feature, he added.

"It is certainly the oldest penis in the world, that's for certain."

He said fossils as old as 520 million years show dimorphism -- differences in anatomy seen between males and females. But there has been contention over which examples may be female and which male.

"In this case we clearly have a male," he said.

The fossil, preserved in volcanic ash, is so intact that the gut and even the anus can be clearly seen.

"It was probably a ... scavenger and predator," the researchers wrote in Friday's issue of the journal Science. Other clues suggest the crustacean also had a heart and an integrated circulatory system, they said, with the first firm evidence of gills in such an old species.

Siveter said thousands of species of ostracods, the most common arthropod in the fossil record, exist around the world today. They are shrimplike animals with a two-part protective shell and can be found in ponds, lakes, rivers and seas.

The 425 million-year-old animal lived in what is called the Silurian period, when the first land plants appeared but when algae still dominated the seas. Fish were beginning to evolve.

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography


Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth
Wayne R. Besen
2003, The Haworth Press, 311p.

faith-healing, fraud, newage, pseudoscience, psychology,
psychology:history, psychology:methodology, quackery,
quackery:philosophy, religion, religion:history, religion:sociology,
science:methodology, science:philosophy, skepticism,
skepticism:methodology, superstition

Besen provides a comprehensive examination of the present "ex-gay" or "former homosexual" movement promoted by quack therapists and the religious and political right wing. He traces the history of homosexuality as a mental illness, its removal from the DSM, the founding of groups such as Exodus International, NARTH, and Homosexuals Anonymous, and so-called "reparative therapy" intended to change a homosexual orientation to heterosexual. According to Besen, the organized groups consist of disgraced psychiatrists, psychologists, and untrained individuals who are using a questionable and/or harmful collection of new age, fundamentalist, spiritualist, and homophobic, stereotypic and archaic psychoanalytic "therapies" to attempt to change gay people into straight people. These therapies include aversion therapy (with either electric shocks or rubber bands), exorcism/deliverance ministry, spirit warfare, regression therapy, intrauterine experiences/fetal trauma resolution (similar to CO$ engrams), non-sexual touching (different from therapeutic touch), masculinizing men by playing football, feminizing women by applying makeup, isolation from friends and family, compulsive prayer/meditation/visualization, inner child work, inner healing, repressed memories, bioenergetics, and family constellations. These practices are a travesty of mental health care. Besen points out that deepnding on whom they speak to, these quacks claim to keep no statistics on their success rates or have a 40-99% success rate on converting gays to straights. In reality, Besen writes, they have no success because sexual orientation is innate and cannot be altered. Besen then uncovers the political motives underlying the organized groups; the results are very disturbing. This entire book should alarm anyone who cares about honest mental health practice and basic human decency. Quackwatch should be interested in investigating alleged "reparative therapy" for itself.

[ Reviewed by Saffron Monsoon, smonsoon@yahoo.com ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

64 Die in Congo From Anti-Sorcery Potion


By Associated Press

December 4, 2003, 11:17 PM EST

KINSHASA, Congo -- Congo health officials on Thursday were investigating the poison deaths of 64 people, allegedly from a potion used to ward off evil spirits.

The Roman Catholic priest who allegedly administered the drink fled the village of Bosobe early last week after people started falling ill, Health Minister Yagi Sitolo told The Associated Press.

"It was some sort of oily substance, which was given to supposedly deliver them" from the spirits, Sitolo said of the potion.

Health officials have opened an investigation, he said.

No other information, including details on the priest and his whereabouts, was available from the remote region, 300 miles northeast of Congo's capital, Kinshasa.

Many of Congo's 59 million inhabitants mix indigenous beliefs with those introduced by organized religions, such as Christianity and Islam.

Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press

Phone scam warning exposed as hoax


By Tim Richardson

Posted: 04/12/2003 at 15:21 GMT

An email warning people to beware of a phone scam that could cost them £20 a minute is a hoax.

The email warns people about receiving a recorded message which tells them they've won a prize, and then asks them to press '9' to hear further details.

Warns the email: "If 9 is pressed, this connects you to a premium line that bills in the region of £20 per minute. Once you dial 9 and connect, even if you disconnect immediately, the call will stay connected for a minimum of 5 minutes (£100).

"If you stay connected, after 11 minutes a recorded message asks you to key in your postcode and house number. After a further 2 minutes callers receive the following message:

"'Sorry, you are not one of the lucky winners.'

"After this the line disconnects," the email says.

Not only are phone owners tricked into running up bills of up to £260, the email adds that BT is "relatively powerless to stop the calls".

A spokesman for the UK's dominant fixed line telco said he'd received a number of calls on the subject.

"It's a hoax, technically impossible, an urban myth," he said. ®

Abuses of Skepticism


Doubting is a powerful tool, but it can definitely be taken too far.

Chris Mooney; Decmeber 5, 2003

An old debunker's adage goes (in various iterations), "You can never be too skeptical." Lately, largely because of my run-ins with "skeptics" of evolution, I've become increasingly convinced that this slogan is fundamentally flawed. Consider, for example, what happens when a predisposition towards skepticism leads one to doubt a consensus view in the scientific community, or to pooh-pooh a possibility that many leading scientists consider highly likely. The skeptical impulse may be valuable, but taken to extremes, it can lose its usefulness and even lead to perverse outcomes.

Contacting the North Texas Skeptics
The North Texas Skeptics
P. O. Box 111794
Carrollton, TX 75011-1794
214-335-9248 Skeptics Hotline (current information)

Current News  News Back Issues

What's New | Search | Newsletter | Fact Sheets
NTS Home Page
Copyright (C) 1987 - 2008 by the North Texas Skeptics.