NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 December 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, December 18, 2003



Broad-mindedness is a virtue when investigating extraordinary claims, but often they turn out to be pure bunk
By Michael Shermer

Those of us who practice skepticism for a living often find ourselves tiptoeing politely around the PC police, who think that all beliefs and opinions are equal. Thus, when asked, "Are you a debunker?" my initial instinct is to dissemble and mutter something about being an investigator, as if that will soften the blow. But what need, really, is there to assuage? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to debunk is to "remove the nonsense from; to expose false claims or pretensions." Bunk is slang for "humbug," and bunkum is "empty claptrap oratory." Here is some bunk that merits no brook.

Ear coning cleans your ears and mind. The idea is to lie down on your side with your head on a pillow. Then place a long, narrow, cylindrical cone of wax into your ear canal until a tight seal forms. Light the open end of the cone on fire. The negative pressure created will not only remove undesirable earwax, according to Coning Works in Sedona, Ariz., but also provide "spiritual opening and emotional clearing, realignment and cleansing of subtle energy flows, sharpening of mental functioning, vision, hearing, smell, taste and color perception." The technique "acts as a catalyst to clear out debris from nerve endings allowing for clear vibrational flow to corresponding areas of mind, body and spirit." Why pay $25 to $75 to have your ears cleaned by your doctor, asks another ear-cone seller, Wholistic Health Solutions, "when you can easily do it at home?"

Well, for starters, according to a 1996 study conducted by physicians at the Spokane [Wash.] Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic and published in the journal Laryngoscope, "Tympanometric measurements in an ear canal model demonstrated that ear candles do not produce negative pressure," and thus there was no removal of wax in the eight ears tested. Worse, a survey of 122 otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat docs) identified 21 ear injuries from ear coning. If one is inclined toward such self-mutilation (or a good chortle), however, I recommend a quick stop at the satirical buttcandle.com, which touts a "gentler alternative to laxatives, enemas and anti-flatulence pills" in the form of a carefully (and gently) placed hollow candle that when burning creates a vacuum that draws out impurities. Best of all, it's "100% soluble and septic-safe."

Laundry balls clean clothes. These spherical, toroidal or spiked balls contain no chemicals and yet are purportedly reusable indefinitely in the washing machine to clean, deodorize, sterilize, bleach and soften clothes. But they do not "ionize," "structure," "cluster" or "magnetize" water, as various manufacturers claim. They all work on the same principle: washing clothes in soapless warm water does have some cleansing effect, particularly for nongreasy garments mainly soiled by dust, dirt and sweat. But with laundry balls costing from $25 to $75, golf balls are just as effective and a lot cheaper.

A counterfeit pen can detect counterfeit bills. Containing tincture of iodine that reacts with the starch in recycled paper to create a black streak, the pen only works to catch counterfeiters who are brainless enough to use cheap paper, thus creating a false sense of security. Meanwhile clever counterfeiters who use high-quality fiber or linen paper containing no starch or whitening agents continue to fleece their marks. Merchants beware: after warning law-enforcement agencies--who ignored him--fellow skeptic James Randi periodically applies commercial spray starch on $50 and $100 bills for recirculation into the economy in the hopes that false pen positives will force the bunkum squads into action.

To "buncomize" is to "talk bunkum," and no one does this with a better vocabulary than pseudoscientists, who lace their hokum narratives with scientistic jargon. (One laundry ball manufacturer claims that it "works on 'Quantum Mechanics' (Physics), not chemistry, with a method called 'Structured Water Technology.'" Another uses "infra-red waves that change the molecular structure of the water.") To "do a bunk" is to "make an escape" or "to depart hurriedly," a wise move when skeptics arrive on the scene fully armed with steel-jacketed science and armor-piercing reason.

Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic (www.skeptic.com) and author of How We Believe and In Darwin's Shadow.

Third Round Awards are Announced Under Interagency Biodiversity Program


Bethesda, Maryland A consortium of Federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH)*, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announces 12 new awards under the third review cycle of the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) program. Support for this program will total approximately $5 million per year over the next five years, shared among NIH, NSF, and USDA. The Fogarty International Center, which led development of the program in 1993, administers and supports it with the co-sponsors.

The ICBG program has three main objectives: to uncover new knowledge that will lead to improved therapies, to enhance scientific capacity building in developing nations, and to promote knowledge and conservation of biodiversity through model public-private partnerships with developing countries.

In announcing the awards, FIC director Gerald T. Keusch, M.D. said "Natural products have formed the basis of over half of currently available medicinal therapies around the world. Recent advances in drug discovery science and botanicals evaluation, coupled with the rapid disappearance of organisms from which new medicines may be derived, make this work more important today than ever. "Furthermore," he added, "we see development of new and improved therapies from indigenous resources in a collaborative framework between U.S. and developing country institutions as an important component of the evolving picture of the global health research agenda including access to life saving medications."

James Rodman, program director in NSF's division of environmental biology, added that "since 1993, when NSF joined in the sponsorship of this innovative program, the ICBG projects have been productive and pioneering explorations around the world of the link between biodiversity, new therapeutic agents and indigenous economic development all in a climate of intense scrutiny since the Rio Convention on Biodiversity."

This round of awards will support 12 groups, each designed to identify new drugs through screening of flora and fauna while protecting biodiversity. The groups are consortia of public and private institutions, including universities, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and indigenous environmental and community groups.

Projects include the identification and characterization of chemical compounds derived from biological diversity that have potential as therapeutic agents for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, parasitic diseases, drug addiction, mental conditions, and heart disease, all of which are of concern to both developed and developing countries. Other important components include evaluation of traditional medicine practices, discovery of safe new agents for agricultural applications, conduct of biodiversity surveys and inventories, development of strategies to ensure sustainable yield of biodiversity-based therapies, and training and infrastructure support for host-country scientific institutions.

Intellectual property agreements are negotiated among participating institutions so that economic and other benefits from both the research process and products are equitably shared and accrue to local institutions and communities involved. Contributions from pharmaceutical and agroscience companies include screening for therapeutic potential, training opportunities, technology donations, financial support, and royalties from the sale of any product developed as a result of ICBG research.

FIC is the international component of the NIH. It promotes and supports scientific discovery internationally and mobilizes resources to reduce disparities in global health. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Press releases and other FIC-related materials are available at www.fic.nih.gov.

* National Cancer Institute, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Center for Research Resources, and Office of Dietary Supplements.

Award Highlights

ICBG awards include five comprehensive projects and seven planning grants. Comprehensive projects include the following:

Dr. William Gerwick in collaboration with Dr. Phyllis D. Coley and colleagues at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, building on a previous five-year ICBG award, are using ecological insight to build a sustainable bioprospecting program in Panama for discovery of both pharmaceutical and agricultural products from plants and marine algae in collaboration with Oregon State University, Panama's National Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation, the Nature Foundation of Panama, the University of Panama, Novartis Oncology, and Dow Agrosciences.

Dr. David G.I. Kingston of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, is collaborating in a third five-year ICBG to study tropical plants and marine organisms in Madagascar. The group includes Missouri Botanical Garden, Conservation International, the Madagascar National Centers for Pharmaceutical Research, for Environmental Research and for Oceanographic Research, as well as Eisai Pharmaceutical Research Institute and Dow Agrosciences. Dr. Djaja "Doel" Soejarto and colleagues from the University of Illinois at Chicago are leading a second five year program to integrate studies on biodiversity and the discovery pharmacological agents for AIDS, cancer, malaria and tuberculosis from tropical forest plants of Laos and Vietnam. Collaborating institutions include the National Center for Natural Sciences and Technology and Cuc-Phuong National Park in Vietnam, the Research Institute for Medicinal Plants in Laos, Purdue University, and Bristol Myers-Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute.

Dr. Louis Barrows and colleagues from the University of Utah are collaborating with several organizations in the U.S. and Papua New Guinea to assess forest and coral reef organisms of Papua New Guinea as sources of pharmaceutical and botanical therapies for local and global health needs. Partners in this project include the University of Papua New Guinea, National Forest Research Institute, and PNG Bionet of Papua New Guinea, the Smithsonian Institution, University of Miami, Nature Conservancy, Brigham Young University, and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Ilya Raskin and colleagues from Rutgers University lead a project focused on the plant, fungal and microbial biodiversity of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Other partners include the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Tashkent State Agrarian University and Kyrgyz Agricultural Research Institute, Eisai Research Institute, Diversa, and Phytomedics Inc.

Planning Grants have been awarded to the following groups:

Paul Cox and colleagues of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii is collaborating with the Samoan of Ministry of Trade and Tourism, the Kingdom of Tonga Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, University of California, Santa Cruz, Beth Israel (NY) Integrative Medicine Clinic, the AIDS ReSearch Alliance, Phenomenome Discoveries Inc, Anti-Cancer Inc., and Diversa Inc to explore plants, marine and micro organisms and develop sustainable production methods of a promising natural product anti-HIV agent. Jon Clardy of Harvard University is collaborating with the National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica (INBio) to explore poorly understood endophytic fungi and uncultured soil microbes of Costa Rica. Major therapeutic areas of interest include cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and malaria.

Michael Kron and colleagues from Michigan State University are working with several components of the University of the Philippines to document microbial community diversity in varied terrestrial and marine locations, and explore with the support of local indigenous communities, the therapeutic potential of natural products from documented and undocumented medicinal plants, invertebrates and microbes derived from areas throughout the Philippines.

Nicholas Oberlies and colleagues from Research Triangle Institute, in collaboration with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the University of North Carolina and Jordan University of Science and Technology, and the University of Jordan will examine the diversity and therapeutic potential of selected medicinal plants and bacteria of Jordan. Iwao Ojima and colleagues from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, are working with the Institute for Conservation of Tropical Environment, the University of Antananarivo, and the University of Fianarantsoa of Madagascar as well as the California Academy of Sciences, INDENA SpA, and the University of the Eastern Piedmont of Italy to explore plants and arthropods of Madagascar.

Larry Walker and colleagues from the National Center for Natural Products Research, with the National Institute of Undersea Science and Technology of the University of Mississippi are collaborating with Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory of the University of West Indies to research the biodiversity and therapeutic potential of marine coral reef organisms of Jamaica.

Mark Hay and colleagues of the Georgia Institute of Technology are collaborating with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of the South Pacific, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission of Fiji to examine plant, freshwater and marine coral reef organisms of Fiji to assess conservation priorities and discover new therapeutic agents.

Irene Edwards

Many prostate cancer patients use alternative medicine


Source: (University of Toronto, Public Affairs)
Wednesday, December 10, 2003

by Jessica Whiteside

TORONTO -- Dec. 9, 2003 -- Almost one-third of Ontario men with prostate cancer are using complementary or alternative medicine in addition to conventional cancer treatment, say researchers.

Lead author of the study, Professor Heather Boon of the University of Toronto says the numbers are a "wake-up call" to clinicians who may think elderly men (those most likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer) are less likely to use complementary medicine.

"Usually we see younger people and women as the most common users," said Boon, a member of the university's Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, "but clearly it's a phenomenon that's happening in all ages and all genders. Clinicians need to be aware of this and discuss it with their patients."

The study, published in the November issue of the journal Urology is based on a random sample survey of 696 Ontario men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The results showed that 29.8 per cent of respondents used complementary medicine. Some 26.5 per cent of those used natural health products, most commonly vitamin E, saw palmetto and selenium.

This finding raises concerns about the potential for adverse interactions, says Boon. For example, taking a product such as vitamin E - an antioxidant - might actually diminish the effectiveness of some conventional therapies because antioxidants may interfere with how some radiation therapy and chemotherapy work.

"For some of these products, it's not clear whether taking them at the same time as conventional therapy is a good idea or not," says Boon. "In most cases we don't have definitive evidence about whether they're bad or good." She noted that while saw palmetto, for example, may be useful in the management of benign enlarged prostate, it has not been proven effective against prostate cancer.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and included co-researchers from U of T, the University of Western Ontario, Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, University Health Network and the London Regional Cancer Centre.

Jessica Whiteside is a writer for the University of Toronto Public Affairs Department.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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


Today's Headlines - December 16, 2003

from The New York Times

Many American psychiatrists were taken by surprise last week when British drug regulators told doctors to stop writing prescriptions for all but one of a newer generation of antidepressant drugs to treat depressed children under 18.

Now the psychiatrists are trying to figure out how to advise the parents of the young patients who come to them for help. Some parents, the doctors say, are calling to ask if the drugs their children are taking are really safe.

"The news has certainly generated anxiety, concern and questions," said Dr. Flemming Graae, the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y.

For parents and psychiatrists alike, the issue is not an easy one to sort out.

from The New York Times

A replica of the Wright brothers' 1903 Flyer will try to take off at 10:35 a.m. tomorrow from the original site, 100 years to the minute after the original. If the wind is not too fast and not too slow, and everything else cooperates, the airplane will hop the same 120 feet, with President Bush and thousands of others gathered to watch on the beach at Kill Devil Hills, N.C.

Or, the replica may re-enact one of the Wright Brothers' crashes, as it did on Nov. 25. The organizers of the event have made clear that the airplane is barely flyable.

That is a good thing, said Seth Shulman, an aviation historian. "It is wonderful and lovely and appropriate that it's going to be difficult to do the re-enactment. What better way to commemorate what a risky proposition this was."

from Associated Press

STAR CITY, W.Va. -- Samir Shoukry works his way from the belly of the bridge to the slippery green rebar of its snow-covered back, talking about the 1,000-foot span over the Monongahela River as if it were alive. And in a sense, it is.

Though still unfinished, the Star City bridge is already loaded with 770 finely tuned sensors, 28 data-collection boxes and a central unit called the brain. Together, they make up what Shoukry says is the smartest bridge in the world.

"Smart" bridges and roads that communicate with their makers through built- in sensors are becoming more common as engineers worldwide try to determine whether long-held construction assumptions are correct or whether there are better ways to build. http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/7510862.htm

from The Baltimore Sun

When molecules of freshly ground coffee waft into your nose through a kitchen full of aromas, what makes you notice the coffee? And what, to the trained nose, suggests gourmet rather than canned, espresso rather than regular?

Though the complete answer might be years off, smell researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine say they've found an important clue: a communications system high in the nose that heightens the contrast between odors so the brain can make better sense of them.

Nerve bundles that capture particular scents relay their information to the brain, but not before negotiating with each other to decide what odors should be turned up and down, they said. The system evolved not simply to enhance our appreciation of aromas but, on the most basic level, to help animals survive in the wild.

from The Boston Globe

The way Ernest Hemingway had a drinking problem and Fyodor Dostoevsky had a gambling problem, Dr. Alice Flaherty, a Harvard neurologist, had a writing problem. During a severe bout of postpartum depression three years ago, she wrote so compulsively that the sight of a blank computer screen gave her a narcotic rush. Worried about damaging her family, Flaherty started taking a psychiatric drug to calm her mood swings -- and found that, although ideas still churned in her brain, she was no longer able to put them on paper. It was an excruciating case of writer's block. Thus begins her exploration of "hypergraphia" -- a term used by doctors to describe the overwhelming desire to write -- and its agonizing opposite.

In her new book, "The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block and the Creative Brain," Flaherty lays out all that neurology has discovered about the artist's brain, from the strange profusion of literary giants with temporal lobe epilepsy to the composer Dmitry Shostakovich's certainty that musical notes radiated from a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain.
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2003/12/16/writers_block_sign_of_deeper_problems Guest Opinion: Teach creation science and evolution http://www.montanaforum.com/rednews/2003/12/16/build/education/id-opinion.php?nnn=3


The article on intelligent design dated Dec. 9, 2003, poses the question of our origins. Your bias toward evolution and against our Creator is glaringly apparent. What intelligent design proponents are asking for is an opportunity to show what the scientific community is currently espousing.

Your article refers to the 1987 Supreme Court ruling as having "eliminated teaching creationism after the courts decided the Genesis version of where we came from was a violation of the church-and-state standards." This is not the case. Evolutionary biologist Michael Zimmerman, "Keep Guard up after Evolution Victory," Bioscience #37, Oct. 9, 1987, p. 636, stated, "The Supreme Court ruling did not, in any way, outlaw the teaching of 'creation science' in public school classrooms. Quite simply it ruled that, in the form taken by the Louisiana law, it is unconstitutional to demand equal time for this particular subject. 'Creation science' can still be brought into the classrooms, if and when teachers and administrators feel that it is appropriate. Numerous surveys have shown that teachers and administrators favor just this route. And, in fact, 'creation science' is being taught in classrooms throughout the country."

Another evolutionist, Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education, Berkeley, Calif., in Nature #329, 1987, p. 282, states, "The Supreme Court decision says only that the Louisiana law violates the Constitutional separation of church and state: It does not say that no one can teach scientific creationism and unfortunately, many individual teachers do. Some school districts even require 'equal time' for creation and evolution."

The Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This gives you the right to deny the Creator, who made you and gave you those rights, but it also grants the creationists the right to show evidence for his handiwork in his creation.

The knowledge base of science has grown at an exponential rate since the Scope's trial. Evolutionary theory has evolved itself from Darwin's "adaptation by use," through Neo-Darwinism's "adaptation through mutations," to today's "punctuated equilibrium" and its "hopeful monsters." The latter teaches giant mutations that appear all at once. This theory was developed because former evolutionary theories could not explain the total non-existence of transitional forms.

Why not allow both to be taught in our public schools? Show the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Let the students use critical thinking to weigh the evidence. I think that evolution is so weak that its defenders must censure intelligent design for fear of the truth. Let science be science, and experiment by considering all the facts. It is not fair to our children's development to limit their education. Aren't evolutionists exhibiting a double standard when they are intolerant of another viewpoint?

Andrew Larsen lives in Hamilton.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography


Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Michael Lewis

2003, W. W. Norton; 288p.
science:methodology, skepticism

Is a book on baseball inappropriate reading for the committed skeptic? Not at all. While Moneyball tells the story of the Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, its real message is that there is real value in questioning accepted beliefs and applying science to verify them. Beane is a follower of the theories of Bill James, who used to work as a "hermit scientist" but eventually built a following. Beane has used James's ideas to take the lowly A's and compete with the Yankees and Red Sox on a budget less than half of what those teams spend. In doing so, he has demonstrated that critical thinking has real value, even applied in such a non scientific realm as sports management. This book has a number of great stories that will entertain any baseball fan. But the skeptic will watch for Beane's application of science to his profession.

[ Reviewed by Stephen Sloan sloan@unb.ca ]

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

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Family Hopes Psychic Will Lead Them To Tabitha


Posted: 12/15/2003 8:49:00 PM
Updated: 12/15/2003 8:57:02 PM
By: Joe Fryer

The parents of Tabitha Tuders are flying to New York Tuesday morning. They hope a famous psychic will help them find their missing daughter.

Debra Tuders and her husband will appear on the Montel Williams Show.

They'll get the chance to talk to psychic Sylvia Browne. The Tuders hope the psychic will provide some clues about Tabitha's disappearance.

The 13-year-old girl disappeared from her East Nashville neighborhood in April.

Despite numerous searches, there has been no sign of Tabitha during the past eight months.

"I mean I want to know, if she can tell me where she's at or who has her. If she is gone, tell me where her body's at so I can go get her," Debra Tuders said.

The Montel Williams Show will be taped Wednesday. It should air sometime next week.

Psychic calls it on tuna haul


By Ed Zieralski

December 16, 2003

Before her 17-day fishing trip aboard the Excel, Jan Howard of Mission Viejo had it on good authority she was going to catch the biggest tuna of her life.

A psychic told her.

But this was no ordinary psychic. The prediction came from fellow angler Sally Vickers-Steinberg of Malibu.

Psychic channeling is Vickers-Steinberg's business; fishing is her pleasure. But, for Jan Howard, fishing is an obsession.

"Do you know the definition of sickness?" joked Howard's doting husband Mike, who once had to rent a truck to haul all the tuna his wife caught on one of these trips.

But Howard hadn't caught a 200-pound yellowfin before the trip on the Excel. She broke through that barrier in a big way on one unbelievable day by landing three yellowfin that each weighed more than 200 pounds. It's believed that no woman before had done that in the history of sportfishing. She kept 10 huge tuna for the trip, but after the third day, she joined many of the other anglers and released many that were under 185 pounds.

"She fished harder than the guys on this trip," said Excel Capt. Shawn Steward.

And that's saying something. The 18 anglers on the charter sponsored by Dennis Braid of Braid Tackle checked in yesterday with 35 yellowfin over 200 pounds, the most "cows" ever for the Excel and the most ever for a San Diego-based sport boat in Mexican waters.

Overall, 132 tuna topped 100 pounds or better.

"I don't think there's ever been this many big fish caught before like this," said Excel owner Bill Poole, the dean of captains and boat owners in the San Diego fleet.

The top fish was a fatty, a 307-pounder, caught by James McDaniels, 21, an Excel crewman who was strictly aboard this expedition as an angler. Kenny Cirks of Orange hauled in a 272-pound yellowfin. Delta pilot Tim Turis of Atlanta and Ger Steinberg each had four tuna over 200 pounds.

All but two of the anglers caught 200-pound tuna. Vickers-Steinberg landed her first, a 232-pounder. The Malibu visionary used her psychic powers to pick the dates for this trip for her husband, Ger Steinberg. She saw good fishing, and she saw her friend having an exceptional trip.

"I told Jan before the trip she was going to catch three or four really big tuna," Vickers-Steinberg said.

Jan Howard weighs just 116 pounds. She's a representative for Braid Tackle, and she credits the Braid stand-up gear for allowing her to fight such big tuna. Bill Poole said Howard is the strongest woman he has met, besides his wife Ingrid.

"I work out four days a week," Howard said. "But this kind of fishing is not possible without good stand-up gear."

Howard's tuna catches were exceptional, but the catch made by young McDaniels was just as historic. It's the fleet's second 300-pounder landed off the southern Baja coast this season. The American Angler checked the first in last month.

McDaniels, who is the son of Scott McDaniels, owner-captain of the Grande and owner of the Dominator, didn't get to celebrate his catch much. He said the fish would be filletted and steaked and given to friends. But as for him . . .

"I'm going back to work this afternoon on a seven-day trip," said McDaniels, who has run the Dominator for his father the last three years. Fishing star one day, grunt crewman the next.

Intelligent design presentation draws hundreds


Ravalli Republic

DARBY More than 200 people turned out for a presentation Wednesday about teaching an alternative to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Information presented by Darby parent Curtis Brickley struck a chord with many, but several people were concerned about the slippery slope of science interpretation based on the premise that there is a designer of the biological universe.

Brickley gave a two-hour, high-tech presentation on intelligent design, a biological origin theory that proposes that the intricate complexity of plants and animals is evidence that life could only be the work of an intelligent designer, not evolution. He's asked the Darby School Board to consider adding the ideas of intelligent design to its high school science curriculum, a step that would thrust Darby in the national spotlight of science education.

Since the John Scopes "Monkey" trial nearly 80 years ago, Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution has been the benchmark in public science education. In the last decade, intelligent design has gained the attention of scientists and others. While the assumption is that there is a designer of the biologically complex natural world, it stops short of declaring what or who that intelligent designer might be.

"Evolutionists don't deny the complexity of design," Brickley said.

He wants Darby to adopt what he calls an objective origins policy, changing science curriculum to include intelligent design alongside evolution theory.

Evolution theory, Brickley said, is unproved, and challenging commonly held perceptions is part of science.

"The controversy is between two different interpretations of the same science," he said.

Defenders of science standards say the idea of intelligent design is not a theory at all and has not been published as a notable theory basically the premise has no scientific backing. Intelligent design critics call it a subtle approach to insert religious belief into science instruction.

"It's fairly apparent that intelligent design points directly to God as a creator and that doesn't have any place in a science class," said John Schneeberger, coordinator of the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance. "They're using the trappings of science and inevitable problems and questions of evolution to get a foot in the door. Criticism of the theory of evolution does not translate into another theory."

Brickley said intelligent design doesn't go any deeper than looking at the information supporting evolution and countering the theory. His presentation pointed out the many advances in science since Darwin's "Origin of the Species" was published and many scientists in the multimedia presentation questioned the process of natural selection at the molecular level, including amino acids organizing into proteins with significant biological sequences, without the presence of a designer.

Darby parent Jay Peterson was suspicious of the intelligent design argument, despite finding the presentation compelling on a scientific level.

"There were some great points made," he said. "I just can't move away from evolution."

Peterson was particularly interested in the odds of biology organizing itself into meaningful ways that led to the evolution of man. Carl Sagan and other scientists were purported to have said that the odds of biology to accomplish what is the complex life on earth is one in 10 to the 200 billionth a statistically impossible scenario.

Marshall Bonnet, however, liked the idea because it could lead to the explanation of God's part in developing life.

Darby officials are consulting with Montana School Board Association attorneys to find out if the school district has any legal authority to add intelligent design to the curriculum.

Darby School Board Chairwoman Gina Schallenberger said she liked what she heard at the presentation, and fellow trustee Doug Banks said he fully supports adopting intelligent design in the school's science curriculum.

"It gives a focal point for our students to dive into science," he said. "I think high schoolers can handle discussing the intricacies of science theory just like they do in other subjects."

Banks said he expects the issue to appear on the Jan. 5 regular school board meeting.

Jenny Johnson can be reached at 363-3300 or by e-mail at jjohnson@ravallirepublic.com

Thursday, December 11, 2003

On the Net

Natural History magazine: Intelligent Design?

Intelligent Design Network

The Skeptics Dictionery: Intelligent Design

Origins: Philosophical theism and intelligent design resources

Professors: Intelligent design not science

Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center

AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory

Intelligent Design: Humans, cockroaches, and the Laws of Physics

Boston Review: Book Review of 'No Free Lunch'

A place for creationism


Gregory Korgeski

Published December 13, 2003 KORGESKI.CP1213

Things continue to evolve in the creationism debate. Dire warnings of God's wrath for resisting the theological party line are met, in the best Minnesota nice/invertebrate tradition, with "Gee, maybe we could teach a little creationism in biology... ."

It won't stand, this spineless compromise. Creationism could never survive long in the jungles of real science. But I have a compromise to suggest to the education committees. Teach creationism in science classes. But the science in which to teach it is not biology.

Biology uses rigorous, systematic methods, not selections from sacred texts, to build its theories. It gathers and sorts the relevant facts, from the structure of DNA to the shapes and locations of fossils to the way animals make it in the wild. Facts lead to theories that are constantly revised because of new facts and deeper understanding. That's science. Just the nasty, brutish facts.

Creationism is a refusal to acknowledge the facts. No reputable scientists consider creationism to be valid. Honest teachers won't lie about it.

But leaving it out of biology would leave much about creationism yet to study, and students should learn the whole story.

The proper place to teach students the story of creationism is in the social sciences: history, politics, sociology and psychology. The issue is not biology, but how religious fundamentalists undermine real science in order to spread their view of "truth."

Fundamentalism has appeared in many cultures. It is generally defined by: Literal interpretations of selected passages of "sacred texts" (the Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon, or even the writings of Karl Marx) that provide "all the answers" to questions in life.

The belief that one has a sacred mission to convert -- or otherwise suppress -- those who do not believe in the "one, true" way. It is called "fundamentalism" because of the notion that there is a "fundamental truth" that takes precedence above all other points of view. Usually, they state that God will punish communities if they don't believe what the fundamentalists believe.

Fundamentalists are increasingly powerful in American and Islamic culture, and their power has grave implications for the future of democracy. They thrive especially in religiously tolerant societies that sometimes don't take them seriously enough -- or develop articulate, robust responses to them -- until they have damaged those societies.

Fundamentalist thought, in various forms, has been a powerful influence for centuries. Some good, but much tragedy, has flowed from it.

Take the Crusades, essentially an outgrowth of a medieval fundamentalist Catholicism, that brought destruction and a still-enduring hatred of Christianity to much of the Middle East.

Of course, the Crusades were, in part, a response to Islamic fundamentalism's earlier conquests and sometimes brutal "conversions" in the Middle East and southern Europe.

Our students should know the history of the tortures of the Inquisition; they should be familiar with the religious persecutions of Catholics, Protestants, Puritans, Quakers, Jews and others in Europe and in colonial America; they should know the history of the genocidal side effects of "missionary" work on America's native peoples.

Students should certainly learn the great care our country's founders took to keep the new American republic from becoming a theocracy, and how the religious right works continually to undo those protections.

Students should learn that social scientific data contradict certain beliefs (and, one suspects, "hopes") of fundamentalists. While the latter have asserted (on issues such as the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, acceptance of female clergy, homosexual clergy or marriage, AIDS, abortion, etc.) that God will punish a people who "stray from his ways," in fact societies have often experienced immense suffering when they based policies of war and civil law on fundamentalist beliefs.

The data of social science show that the wrath of fundamentalists is far more horrible than the wrath of God. "My God, what did we do to those people?" is a grief-filled sentiment that is most often voiced by the descendents of fundamentalists, sometimes hundreds of years after their persecutions have ended.

One of the worst things that can happen to a people is to let fundamentalism become the dominant force shaping a society. "In God" we may trust, but not their god.

Gregory Korgeski, St. Paul, is a psychologist and writer.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Science In the News

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

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

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Today's Headlines - December 15, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

As NASA pursues unmanned missions throughout the solar system, the quest for signs of life on distant planets -- more likely in the past than in the present -- is gaining increased attention from space agency planners.

The problems are formidable: They must increase their understanding of how life originated and evolved on Earth; they must deduce the most likely places where water could have existed on planets like Mars; and they must develop new techniques for drilling many yards, and later many miles, beneath the surface of such planets.

Finally, the scientists must be scrupulously careful with every spacecraft and every tool that lands on any planet to make sure they do not carry microbes from Earth that would contaminate whatever extraterrestrial life might conceivably exist now or in the past.

from The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - They've sailed through searing solar flares and survived unexpected mechanical ticks. Now as an international fleet of robotic explorers closes on the Red Planet, the big question isn't what they'll find, but whether they'll land.

Delivering a spacecraft safely to Earth's nearest planetary neighbor is an engineering nightmare: Two-thirds of the 34 probes dispatched to Mars since 1960 have gone belly up.

"Some, including myself, call it the 'death planet,'" declares Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science.

from The Baltimore Sun

Eight days after arriving on the rock-strewn Martian plain of Chryse Planitia, Viking 1 sank its stainless steel claw scoop into the rust-tinted soil. It was 3:30 a.m. July 28, 1976. The first search for life on another world had begun.

But far from settling the question of extraterrestrial life, the expedition showed just how difficult it is to answer.

Viking's verdict: Mars is and always was dead. In the years since, however, scientists have questioned whether the spacecraft's instruments were sensitive enough. Others are bothered by baffling inconsistencies in the data it beamed back.

from The Baltimore Sun

Humor Activates Reward System in Brain, Study Says

Heard the one about the scientist and the brain scan? A new study shows that humor can activate a part of the brain's reward system...

Vega Might Have Planets Akin to our Solar System

Vega, the star from which Jodie Foster heard aliens in the movie Contact, may have planets like those in our solar system. No one has seen them, but scientists think they're possible because the star is surrounded by a faint, clumpy disk of dust - the raw material from which planets form...

Widespread Bighorn Killing Seen Affecting Rams' Horns

Big-game hunters in the Canadian Rockies have shot so many fine specimens of male bighorn sheep that the average length of the rams' horns has shrunk substantially - from 28 inches to 19 inches in 30 years, according to a new study...

Vitamin D Level a Factor in Pain, Researchers Find

Many people with nonspecific muscle and bone pain may have too little vitamin D, researchers at the University of Minnesota have found...

from Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- A new Washington University study suggests the environment around a cell can influence whether it becomes a cancerous tumor.

Previous studies have made a similar suggestion but researchers say the new study, led by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, provides clear evidence to support the theory.

Neurologist David H. Gutmann and his research team focused on a specific cancer that strikes children on the optic nerve, which connects the brain and the eyes.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Baughman Dispels The Myth of ADHD


Posted Jan. 28, 2002
By Kelly Patricia O Meara

Retired California neurologist Fred A. Baughman Jr. fired off a letter in January 2000 to U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in response to Satcher's Report on Mental Illness. "Having gone to medical school," Baughman wrote, "and studied pathology disease, then diagnosis you and I and all physicians know that the presence of any bona fide disease, like diabetes, cancer or epilepsy, is confirmed by an objective finding a physical or chemical abnormality. No demonstrable physical or chemical abnormality: no disease!

"You also know, I am sure," Baughman continued, "that there is no physical or chemical abnormality to be found in life, or at autopsy, in 'depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.' Why then are you telling the American people that 'mental illnesses' are 'physical' and that they are due to 'chemical disorders?'"

Baughman concluded his six-page letter to Satcher by saying that "your role in this deception and victimization is clear. Whether you are a physician so unscientific that you cannot read their [the American Psychiatric Association's] contrived, 'neurobiologic' literature and see the fraud, or whether you see it and choose to be an accomplice you should resign."

It is this direct, no-nonsense style that has made Baughman a pariah among the psychiatric and mental-health communities and a hero to families of children across America who believe they have been "victimized" by the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) label. The "disease," Baughman tells Insight, "is a total 100 percent fraud," and he has made it his personal "crusade" to bring an end to the ADHD diagnosis.

Insight: You've spent 35 years in private practice as an adult and child neurologist, diagnosing real diseases. What spurred your interest in the ADHD diagnosis?

Fred A. Baughman Jr.: Through the 1970s and 1980s the ADHD "epidemic" began to impact all of us, and the numbers of children being referred to me were increasing dramatically. I'd examine these kids to determine whether they did or did not have real diseases. After giving them thorough examinations, doing such tests as I deemed were necessary, I couldn't find anything wrong with them.

I was becoming more and more aware that something was afoot from the tone with which the diagnoses were being made in schools and by psychiatrists who were part of the school team. And never mind that I could find no scientific basis for the diagnosis. But here were pediatricians and school psychiatrists practicing mental health in ways that did not make sense. Principals and teachers would threaten that if I didn't diagnose ADHD they'd find someone who would. As a neurologist, I'm in the business of diagnosing real diseases, so this attitude on the part of people who should know better was very disturbing.

Personal Bio
Fred A. Baughman Jr.: The outspoken neurologist began his private practice in San Diego in 1975. Currently: Leading critic of chemistry-set psychiatry. Personal: Born Nov. 14, 1932, El Centro, Calif. Married with three children; three grandchildren. Education: B.S., New York University, 1955; M.D., adult and child neurology, New York University, 1960. Career accomplishments: American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 1968; fellow, American Academy of Neurology; medical adviser, National Right to Read Foundation; member, Academic Review Panel, Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ) Institute. Publications: "The Glioma-Polyosis Syndrome," New England Journal of Medicine, 1969; "Re-evaluation of CHANDS," Journal of Medical Genetics, 1979; "Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," Journal of the American Medical Association, 1995.

Insight: You are among a small number of physicians publicly to challenge the psychiatric community about this diagnosis. Why do you think so many doctors are diagnosing ADHD when they, too, must know there is no scientific data to support it?

FAB: Most physicians, like the public, have bought into the whole psychiatric line. The populace at large has been so brainwashed by this "tyranny of the experts" that they cannot bring themselves to believe things are other than what the psychiatric industry and the pharmaceutical companies tell them. The population has been told again and again that these "diseases" exist, despite the fact that there is no scientific proof to back up their claims.

People have been lied to so often that they can't disabuse themselves of the notion that these so-called diseases are chemical abnormalities of the brain. Psychiatry never has proved that ADHD, let alone depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], even exists. Yet this hasn't stopped doctors from diagnosing them. It simply was decided during the early days of psychopharmacology of psychiatric drugs that these were nice theories and they were fed to the public as fact.

Insight: With the diagnosis comes the "fix," the prescription pills that reportedly help control these diseases.

FAB: Yes, that's right, and like the unscientific diagnosis no one really knows how these drugs work on the brain. It's all just theory at this point.

But then this same psychiatric community says even depression is a disease resulting from a chemical imbalance. They also say that OCD is a disease with a known chemical abnormality of the brain. In neither case is there proof to support either claim. Through the years, though, they've gotten to fudging their line a bit, saying instead: "Well, it's a psychiatric disorder."

Insight: You've testified before Congress on this issue, and several of your papers on these matters have been published in medical journals. Recently you traveled to France to address a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of France as a counterweight to ADHD advocates. What kind of response did you get?

FAB: I was charged with presenting the argument against the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. I never expected it to go so well.

Three European psychiatrists presented the case for the ADHD diagnosis using the same old slide-show presentation, presumably showing brain atrophy in the patients diagnosed with ADHD.

I pointed out to them, as I've done numerous times here in the states, that all the patients in the slides whose brains showed atrophy also had been on stimulant therapy, so there was no way to know that the atrophy was not, in fact, caused by the drugs rather than the alleged brain disorder ADHD. A member of the council committee summarized what had transpired during the day and basically said they didn't believe what the psychiatrists had presented about ADHD that they were skeptical about the appropriateness of the drugs recommended for the diagnosis.

One of the psychiatrists was so intimidated by my argument that he threatened to leave the meeting. It was just amazing to see this guy get so frazzled. The council was terrific, and I couldn't have imagined so favorable a response. It was so unlike a typical U.S. response. I think the Europeans are trying to resist this whole ADHD business.

Insight: You set up a Website, www.adhdfraud.org, to help get information out to parents who have been impacted by the ADHD diagnosis. What kind of response are you getting from parents?

FAB: I hear from many families who have been victimized by this diagnosis. By the time they find me their eyes usually have been opened and they realize the fraud of the diagnosis. But they also realize how serious the diagnosis is for the child and the problems it can create for families.

On the other side of the coin, of course, are the perpetrators at the National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH] and the academic psychiatrists who put out the ADHD propaganda. These people also know who I am and try not to respond to the letters and papers I write. They don't want to see me at medical conferences and seminars because they know that I have the facts, take no prisoners and am willing to show that they are perpetrating a fraud. If they can keep the public in the dark about the facts of this alleged "disease" then science is beside the point.

I'd love to debate the surgeon general or anyone in the hierarchy of academic psychiatry, but I don't think any would agree. The surgeon general wouldn't even respond to the letter I wrote to him about his Report on Mental Illness, so I don't see him stepping up to the plate anytime soon.

Insight: You've testified in court for nearly two dozen families who were fighting the ADHD diagnosis. What should parents do when their child has been diagnosed?

FAB: People are being told in no uncertain terms that this "disease" exists and should be treated with drugs, so it's extremely difficult to get the truth out. The essential first step of the perpetrators is to label the child with ADHD. I've seen how these things turn out for those who try to go up against the system, and it is very sad. Before parents find themselves in a legal adversarial relationship with the school system and county officials, they should get their child out of that school and either homeschool them or put them into a parochial or private school. I tell parents with children caught up in this fraud that, for now, going against the system is a no-win situation.

Insight: What will it take to turn the establishment crowd on this issue?

FAB: I'm trying to expose the medical fraud and to get just and appropriate medical treatment for children when it is needed and, where it isn't required, I'm trying to get appropriate education, parenting, disciplining and training so these children can achieve self-control. They all certainly are capable of it.

We've got to do something because we're talking about 6 million to 8 million children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. This just can't wait.

Kelly Patricia O'Meara is an investigative reporter for Insight.

Was it a ghost or something in the beer?


Chichester people need not bother to turn to books for the traditional ghost story this Christmas a strange occurrence in a city pub has provided a new one.

It happened at the Coach and Horses, in St Pancras, shortly before 5pm on a Saturday.

Teacher Richard Marsden, of Victoria Avenue, Chichester, was watching football results on television and talking to the landlord, Colin McAndrew.

"I suddenly felt a cold breeze, as though a door had been opened, which it hadn't," said Mr Marsden.

"Then I saw a woman moving very quickly through the pub, holding a bundle which looked like a baby.

"She just disappeared at the other end of the pub, and it was over in seconds."

For the full story see the Chichester Observer on December 11.

11 December 2003

Abusive 'ghost' haunts elderly couple


NDTV Correspondent

Friday, December 12, 2003 (Kolkata):

In Kolkata, an elderly couple has gone to the police with the strangest complaint - they are hearing dismembered voices in their modest two-room flat.

The voice seems to be of a male and for the last fortnight, it has been abusing the couple off and on.

Neighbours confirm the ghostly business but the police is investigating the possibility of a hi-tech crime behind 'supernatural' affair.

Namita Dasgupta, the landlady, was cooking lunch on November 28 when she first heard the voice say, "Hey, you old woman," and went on to deliver a volley of abuse.

Since then, the voice has popped up three to four times a day and the abuse has grown worse. Last Saturday, the couple finally went to the police.

"When I go anywhere, I get the feeling someone's calling me from behind. When I turn to face it, the voice appears from behind. It seems to confuse me. I am going here and there. I don't know what to do," said Namita.

"In the mornings when I wake up, I am anxious. In fact today when I was going out, the voice said "Hey, old lady, where are you?" It never calls me, it's always for her," said Namita's husband Bimalendu Dasgupta.

Spooky presence

Initially, the couple got goose bumps. The voice seemed to know what was going on in the house, what was cooking for lunch or dinner and even the names of neighbours who dropped by.

But a group of rationalists that specialises in debunking superstition says a webcam is all that a prankster needs to pull off the 'ghost' trick.

"He can use a camera to see what going on. If fact now-a-days one can simply use a cordless camera," said Snehansu Roy, a rationalist.

The police is looking for a motive. And topping their list is an innovative attempt to get the elderly couple to vacate their flat or sell it cheap.

While ghosts are known to haunt houses, the ghost in the Dasgupta household just might be a hi-tech scamster in search of a real estate deal.

Saturday, December 13, 2003




December 4, 2003

I'M getting sick of the scare stories.

Recently TV newsmagazines (including mine) have done alarming reports on the danger of sharks, sandwiches, shoes, washing your hands too much, not washing your hands enough, coffee pots, breakfast, fruit, vegetables, your dry cleaning, dolls, cribs, crowds, day care, elevators, escalators, school buses, playgrounds, nail salons and shopping carts - and repeatedly on supposedly dangerous chemicals, like those used in rubber duckies.

We don't make these threats up; there's always some real news behind them. Some Americans are killed by coffee pots and escalators. But that doesn't mean we should trumpet the scares on national TV. When we frighten people about small risks, it makes it harder to focus on bigger threats, like smoking or driving drunk.

I've gotten good at fighting off the TV producers who want to do stories on say, exploding Bic lighters. I refer them to the "death list" posted on my office wall. It lists what kills people in America, and helps me point out that hot tap water and plastic bags are deadlier than what probably alarmed the producer: More Americans drown in toilets than are killed by Bic lighters. Since few producers want to do stories on toilets or plastic bags, the story usually goes away.

I have more trouble with chemical scares. When an environmental group says a common chemical causes cancer or birth defects, how do I know if it's a real threat, or nonsense? In the Spring of 2002, self-appointed consumer guardians claimed that acrylamides - chemicals formed in frying high-carbohydrate foods like potatoes - caused cancer.

This newspaper ran a headline that said "Crispy = Cancer." USA Today asked: "Can French fries give you cancer?"

When scares like that cross my desk, I often turn to the American Council on Science and Health. The scientists at ACSH were quickly able to put the hyperbole in perspective - noting that acrylamides could be detected in a wide range of foods, not just snacks like French fries (which are easier to make people feel guilty about). They noted that the fact that high dose exposure to acrylamides caused rodent tumors had no relevance in predicting human cancer risk.

Tonight, I join ACSH at its 25th anniversary celebration, where they will honor real scientists, like Dr. D. A. Henderson, who helped eradicate smallpox, thereby saving millions of lives, and Dr. Norman Borlaug, who won a Nobel Prize for inventing methods of increasing crop yields, thereby saving, by some estimates, a billion lives.

Somehow, the real scientists get less publicity than the activists.

Seldom (if ever) do the activists do the large-scale, statistical studies and number-crunching to see if the substances they're worried about really raise disease rates. Some of the big-name environmental groups that generate scares don't even claim to have scientists on their boards; they issue their "findings" straight to the media instead of going through peer review.

To many reporters, that doesn't matter: The activist group has some evidence of what sounds like a serious risk. They're usually accusing a rich corporation of poisoning innocent people. And that morality play makes good TV.

Distraught parents shout angry soundbites, such as "They don't care about my babies!" Science journals might put the risk in perspective, but they don't make good TV.

Reporters should spend more time consulting with the heads of respected university toxicology departments - and science-based groups - and less time chasing after the latest doomsday prediction or "natural" diet fad.

It often turns out that an idea that sounds like a hot controversy on the news is actually old hat to scientists, and long since discredited: saccharin as a danger to humans, electric and magnetic fields as a brain cancer cause, and on and on. Journalists have a duty to seek the truth, even when it isn't as terrifying as we might like.

Most foods and chemicals are safe, as ACSH has been saying for 25 years. That may not be good fodder for news broadcasts, but it's good news for the human race.

John Stossel is co-anchor, "ABC News 20/20" and author of "Give Me A Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Scam Artists, and Cheats and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media," due out early next year.

Evidence of earthlike planets


Planets with conditions capable of supporting advanced life could be common in the universe, it emerged today.

Astronomers who carried out 44 computer simulations of planet formation found that each produced one to four Earthlike worlds.

They included 11 potentially "habitable" planets about the same distance from their stars as the Earth is from the Sun.

The findings suggest that the science fiction image of a galaxy teeming with alien life may not be so far fetched.

Astronomer Sean Raymond, from the University of Washington in Seattle, said: "Our simulations show a tremendous variety of planets. You can have planets that are half the size of Earth and are very dry, like Mars, or you can have planets like Earth, or you can have planets three times bigger than Earth, with perhaps 10 times more water."

The simulations show that the amount of water on Earthlike planets could be greatly influenced by outer "gas giants" such as Jupiter.

"The more eccentric giant planet orbits result in drier terrestrial planets," said Mr Raymond, a doctoral student working with Dr Thomas Quinn from the University of Washington and Professor Jonathan Lunine from the University of Arizona.

"Conversely, more circular giant planet orbits mean wetter terrestrial planets."

In the case of our solar system, Jupiter's orbit is slightly elliptical. This could explain why 80% of Earth is covered by oceans rather than being bone dry or completely surrounded by water miles deep.

More than 100 giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn have been discovered orbiting other suns in about the past 10 years.

They are detected by the "wobble" their gravity imparts on their parent stars, and the effect this has on the light seen from Earth.

It is impossible to detect small rocky Earthlike planets with current technology. But if the computer models are correct, there could be planets like the Earth around a number of stars relatively close to the Sun.

A significant number are likely to be in the so-called "habitable zone" - the orbital corridor just the right distance from the star to allow liquid water to exist on a planet's surface.

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 8, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

Planet Earth behaves in mysterious ways. It bucks and heaves and shudders when earthquakes strike, its volcanic mountains erupt in fire and brimstone, and its continents and undersea slabs of thick crust float like giant rafts that grind and shove against each other across the globe.

Generations of scientists have tried to understand those mysterious and all- too-often deadly motions, but progress, the researchers admit, has been all too slow.

Now, scientists are undertaking the most ambitious effort yet to penetrate our planet's mysteries as they deploy thousands of sensitive seismic instruments across North America.

With this vast array, they hope to learn in the greatest possible detail just how and where earthquakes strike, how mountains form, how volcanoes erupt and how the entire continent moves.

from The Chicago Tribune

In the time it takes to read this paragraph, NASA officials say the Hubble Space Telescope will travel nearly 60 miles across the sky, gather some of the six CD-ROMs' worth of data it fills each day, and come that much closer to a fiery burial at sea.

Easily the space agency's celebrated science platform, Hubble can peer 13 billion light-years into the past and spot evidence of planets forming among far away stars.

Much of what astronomers have learned about the universe in the last 10 years came from the Hubble. Nevertheless, scientists and NASA administrators say it now orbits the Earth in uncertainty, speeding toward the end of its useful life.

As they debate the number of productive years Hubble has left, others have been tasked with finding a way of bringing the bus-sized, 24,500-pound hunk of 1970s construction down safely once that time comes.

from The Baltimore Sun

What do you call an adult female crustacean with a tiny computer strapped to its back?


Scientists hope the backpack-toting animals will provide crucial insights into the life cycle of the Chesapeake Bay's female blue crabs and a boost to a population struggling to rebound after decades of overharvesting.

Specifically, the robo-crabs are answering what seem like two simple questions: After female crabs mate in the upper Chesapeake Bay, when do they start heading south? And how do they travel?

from Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- It took them decades of hard work to win the Nobel prize. Explaining their research in less than an hour was nearly as difficult, the 2003 physics laureates said Monday.

"I wrote 10 books," said Vitaly L. Ginzburg of Russia, after his Nobel lecture at Stockholm University. "So for me to present everything in 45 minutes is very difficult."

By tradition, the Nobel prize winners must present their work to students in the Swedish capital before the Dec. 10 award ceremony. Hundreds of students packed the university's Aula Magna auditorium, hoping to catch a glimpse of the work behind the most prestigious awards in science.


Dr. An Tzu Yang, a mechanical engineer whose interpretation of a complex theory for studying motion aided scientists in fields like biomechanics and computer science, died on Nov. 21 in Woodland, Calif. He was 80.

He suffered from a number of medical problems, said his wife, Linda Tsao Yang.

Dr. Yang's doctoral dissertation, published while he was at Columbia University in the early 1960's, is often credited with modernizing the theory of screws that uses geometry to explain the forces acting on any solid object, like a car, as it moves through space.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Report: Earth's magnetic field fading


Slight chance of flipping magnetic poles

Friday, December 12, 2003 Posted: 9:45 AM EST (1445 GMT)

Harvard University

Goddard Space Flight Center

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The strength of the Earth's magnetic field has decreased 10 percent over the past 150 years, raising the remote possibility that it may collapse and later reverse, flipping the planet's poles for the first time in nearly a million years, scientists said.

At that rate of decline, the field could vanish altogether in 1,500 to 2,000 years, said Jeremy Bloxham of Harvard University.

Hundreds of years could pass before a flip-flopped field returned to where it was 780,000 years ago. But scientists at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union cautioned that scenario is an unlikely one.

"The chances are it will not," Bloxham said Thursday. "Reversals are a rare event."

Instead, the weakening, measured since 1845, could represent little more than an "excursion," or lull, which can last for hundreds of years, said John Tarduno of the University of Rochester.

Such a lull could still have significant effects, especially in regions where the weakening is most pronounced.

Over the southern Atlantic Ocean, a continued weakening of the magnetic field has diminished the shielding effect it has locally in protecting the Earth from the natural radiation that bombards our planet from space, scientists said.

As a result, satellites in low-Earth orbit are left vulnerable to that radiation as they pass over the region, known as the South Atlantic anomaly.

Among the satellites that have fallen prey to the harmful effects was a Danish satellite designed, ironically, to measure the Earth's magnetic field, Bloxham said.

The weakening -- if coupled with a subsequently large influx of radiation in the form of protons streaming from the sun -- can also affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, said Charles Jackman of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

That can lead to significant but temporary losses of atmospheric ozone, he said.

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 10, 2003

from The Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 9 -- The Bush administration and its allies struck a compromise here Tuesday with an alliance of Islamic and European governments that will enable the United States to resume campaigning next year to establish a global ban on human cloning.

The agreement effectively overturned a Nov. 6 recommendation by the U.N. General Assembly's legal committee to postpone debate on the controversial practice for two years. It provided the White House with a shot at promoting its case for the prohibition of cloning before the U.S. presidential elections.

In exchange for allowing the debate to resume next year, Costa Rica, the chair of the U.S.-backed anti-cloning coalition, dropped plans to press for a vote Tuesday on a U.N. resolution to immediately start drafting an international treaty prohibiting all forms of cloning.

from The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 9 Humans have altered the world's climate by generating heat-trapping gases since almost the beginning of civilization and even prevented the start of an ice age several thousand years ago, a scientist said on Tuesday.

Most scientists attribute a rise in global temperatures over the past century in part to emissions of carbon dioxide by human activities like driving cars and operating factories.

Dr. William Ruddiman, an emeritus professor at the University of Virginia, said at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union here that humans' effect on climate went back nearly 10,000 years to when people gave up hunting and gathering and began farming.

from The Richmond Times-Dispatch

An unusually strong earthquake rumbled throughout the state and beyond at 3:59 p.m. yesterday, startling millions of people but causing little damage.

The 4.5 magnitude earthquake's epicenter was in Powhatan County, about 15 miles southeast of Columbia and about 30 miles west of Richmond.

The 3-mile-deep quake was felt strongly from Raleigh, N.C., to Washington, D.C., and parts of nearby Maryland, a U.S. Geological Survey official reported. It was detected in at least 12 states, as far away as 450 miles from its epicenter, according to residents' reports to the USGS.

from The Washington Post

The Washington area appears on the U.S. Geological Survey's earthquake maps as a region excluded, existing in an unnamed gray area outside the boundaries of any defined seismic zone.

But as anyone who felt a rumble make its way north from central Virginia yesterday can attest, that doesn't mean the gray areas don't shake every now and then.

The seismic zone closest to the nation's capital stretches from Charlottesville to Richmond in central Virginia, where yesterday's quake was centered. Activity in that zone has generated seven detected earthquakes since 1991, according to scientists at the USGS. But yesterday's 4.5 magnitude quake was the strongest on record since a 4.8 magnitude quake shook the zone in 1875, they said.

from The Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, reversing an earlier decision to regulate all genetically altered animals, announced on Tuesday that it sees no need to scrutinize a tropical zebra fish bioengineered to glow red and headed for sale in pet stores next month.

A Texas-based company and a pair of tropical fish farms in Florida plan to market the trademarked GloFish beginning Jan. 5 in every state except California, which has banned all transgenic fish except in biomedical laboratories that can ensure the fish will not escape into the wild.

But the Food and Drug Administration said it had no concerns about the zebra fish, which is infused with a red fluorescent gene of a sea anemone, so that it seems to glow red under ultraviolet light.

Aliens Cause Global Warming


A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming. Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.

Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

Looking for Fremont


Since September, Doug Baker has spent thousands in a story of love and obsession



Doug Baker settled into a chair at the head of the dining room table and added up the figures. He could hardly believe the search had set him back $15,000.

"Fifteen grand?" he muttered.

He checked his figures again.

"Fifteen grand," he sighed. By the end of the week, he'd have to make another withdrawal from his retirement account. He pushed the grim numbers to the far end of the oval table, his back to the kitchen and the forlorn sight of a blue bowl sitting by itself on the floor. Just a glance at it triggered tears, and Baker had been crying daily since the night of Sept. 27 when Fremont vanished.


Valorie, Oakes' border-collie mix, tracked Fremont's scent to an isolated road on the way to Dodge State Park. The scent stopped right at the road. Oakes and Baker searched the woods, looking for Fremont's body, and checked with the few homeowners in the area to see whether a stray had turned up. Oakes concluded that Fremont had been abducted, and he put Baker in touch with animal psychics.

Baker hired all of them, paying between $55 and $100 a session. Each psychic claimed to have spoken with Fremont. One said someone had dragged Fremont into a car after putting something around his neck. Another said Fremont spoke to her, telling her that he saw a fence and the dogs were kept out of doors, sometimes in a kennel with a cover. Fremont told her, the psychic said, that the people holding him called him "Pal" and "Chief." He added that he missed his home.

But the psychics couldn't tell Baker where Fremont was.

Baker then turned to a white witch, a woman brought in to cast spells with candles, herbs and dream cards. She had given Baker two cards to put above his bed so he could tap into the spiritual world, where he'd connect with Fremont. Although Baker had a vision of an orange license plate, he'd never had a solid dream because, he said, his girlfriend kept waking him when she got up to go to the bathroom.

Oakes, who had worked on only one other case as long as Fremont's, suggested that Baker slow down and wait for a break. Baker pressed on. "I'll do whatever it takes to find him," he said. "This has become a full-time job."

Baker hired a fourth psychic and continued to rely on Oakes, asking the tracker to meet him at the spot where the scent ended along the road. He planned to drop off a placard and look for more clues.

While Baker waited for Oakes to arrive, he dug through files in his pickup. During the past few weeks, he's driven more than 2,000 miles looking for Fremont. In his files were copies of a letter he's sent to 400 veterinarians and plans to get space on billboards around the region.

"If he was dead, his body would turn up," Baker said. "If he was at a shelter, he'd be home by now. Harry's experience says that Fremont is alive."

Baker pulled out a file labeled "Urine Drops," read through it to see whether he needed to update anything.

"I went out and put my own urine in the area where Fremont was last seen," he explained. "He might smell my scent and then stay put."

Oakes pulled up and let Valorie out to stretch her legs. Baker hurried off to discuss the day's plan and catch up with Oakes, who had just arrived back in Portland. Days earlier, he'd been flown to Los Angeles where a Playboy Magazine Playmate -- January 1997 -- had paid him to look for her lost dog.

"A miniature pinscher," Oakes told Baker. "We went on the Malibu Canyon road and found the dog's footprints and the poop."

Baker looked puzzled.

"Miniature pinscher poop is discernable," Oakes explained. "It's tiny. Now, coyote poop is larger."

Baker held a piece of paper in his hand, anxious to get started on the search for Fremont. The new psychic said his dog had told her that the property where he was being held had junk on it. Baker wanted Oakes to drive around with him, looking for junk-filled yards. They climbed in their trucks and disappeared around a bend, Baker using his left hand to point out possible places to search.

Last Tuesday -- the 60th day since Fremont's disappearance -- Baker sat at the dining room table and added up the figures. The total tab had climbed to $20,000, and it was still growing. Oakes was still on the case, and Baker planned to hire yet another psychic.

"Frustrated, angry and scared," he said. "That's what I am. Just before Lisa got home, I was out on the porch crying. It just came over me."

Earlier in the day, Baker and Klein had talked with Geordie Duckler, a Portland attorney who specializes in the new and evolving area of animal law, as they finalized a suit to be filed against the dog sitter. The couple plans on asking for economic damages of $63,000 -- which they say covers the search costs and the loss of Baker's business because of the search -- and $100,000 for pain and suffering. Duckler says he is the only lawyer in Oregon who specializes in representing pet owners who've suffered a loss. He has 50 active cases of that sort, he says, and he has represented owners of exotic birds, a lynx and an alligator.

What Baker wants most is his pal.

"I want Fremont," he said. "As each day goes by, I think I'll never see him again. I try and brush that off and keep going. I don't want another dog."

Then he broke down in tears.

"I saved him once," he said, "and here I am trying to save him again."

Tom Hallman Jr.: 503- 221-8224; tomhallman@news. oregonian.com


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 665 December 10, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

LIGHT FROZEN IN A HALL OF ATOMIC MIRRORS. In a new experiment a pulse of light has been stopped without losing its optical energy. A few years ago, two different Harvard groups succeeded in slowing and then storing a pulse of light in atomic vapor. In that work the propagation of light pulses was halted by vesting the properties of incoming photons into the spin orientations of the atoms in the vapor. Thus light pulses had been stopped by ceasing to exist in the form of electromagnetic energy while ceding all of its signal qualities to the atomic vapor. Later they could be reconstituted into propagating light beams (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2001/split/521-1.html). Now, a new experiment, also conducted at Harvard, brings light to a halt but leaves the pulse intact as an optical entity. Mikhail Lukin and his colleagues begin as before by converting the incoming light pulse into a corresponding ensemble of spins in a vapor. But then something else is added: a pair of counter-propagating laser beams ease the pulse back into existence. But the control beams also serve to herd the atoms in just such a way as to cause them to act like a stack of mirrors. In this hall of atomic mirrors, the original pulse still exists as electromagnetic radiation, but it cannot move---it persists within a fixed stationary envelope. Thus the light pulse containing optical photons is literally frozen in space. It can be held and released into motion again on command. The present experimental work follows a theoretical proposal published last year in Physical Review Letters (89, 143602, 2003). Researchers believe that the new phenomenon that they demonstrated may be used to controllably localize, shape and guide stationary photonic pulses in three spatial dimensions. This can create ideal conditions for different light beams to interact or "talk" to each other since localized light electromagnetic energy can be held in one place for a relatively long time. Such techniques may enable nonlinear interactions between faint laser pulses that could be useful for processing light signals. For example, this process might serve in optical computing, where calculations are carried out not with electrons but with photons. Another ambitious goal would be to perform logic operations between individual photons in future quantum computers. But the researchers say that much further work is still needed to determine if the present work can aid of any of these applications.

For now, its just another step toward ultimate control of light. (Bajcsy, Zibrov, and Lukin, Nature, 11 December 2003.)

DO QUANTUM MEASUREMENTS CHANGE IF THE DETECTOR MOVES? For example, could a count of the number of photons in a burst of light depend on the location of the detector in an extreme gravitational field? These ideas, long pondered by physicists, might be verifiable in the lab, according to a new theory in which a Bose Einstein condensate (BEC) of cold atoms acts as a stand-in for the universal vacuum. The related notion that potential energy residing in the vacuum can influence the geometry of spacetime and thus the expansion of the cosmos could also be testable in a tabletop experiment here in Earth.

The pertinent phenomenon that would facilitate this line of research is called the Unruh-Davies effect, which suggests that a detector accelerating (not just moving at a constant speed but actually moving ever faster) through a vacuum will effectively encounter photons coming out of the vacuum. (A related phenomenon is the Gibbons-Hawking effect, in which photons, "Hawking radiation," can be detected in the gravitationally intense region of a black hole). In the Unruh effect the energy needed to turn virtual photons into real photons would be supplied by the accelerating detector itself. The detector would see the vacuum not as an empty space but as a thermal bath of photons. The same effect can disrupt quantum teleportation (see the Update from a few weeks ago---http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/660-2.html ). The "temperature" of this bath would be proportional to the detector's acceleration. Actually observing such a thermal bath (equivalent to an effective temperature of something like 10^-15 K for a detector acceleration one hundred thousand times more than that felt by us on the surface of the Earth) with any foreseeable manmade detector is close to impossible, but two physicists at the Leopold-Franzens-Universitaet in Innsbruck, Petr Fedichev (peter.fedichev@uibk.ac.at) and Uwe Fischer (uwe.fischer@uni-tuebingen.de), believe the effect could be probed by studying how sound waves ripple through BECs in the lab. The superfluid condensate of atoms would correspond to the vacuum and phonons would be analogous to photons moving through a curved space-time. Before the experiment can be performed, larger BECs than used so far will be needed, as well as sharper optical manipulation of atoms in the BEC. (Physical Review Letters, 12 December 2003)

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

Thursday, December 11, 2003



(John Titor News, Mailbag updated 12/2/03)

Although there is debate over the exact date it started, on November 02, 2000, a person calling themselves Timetravel_0, and later John Titor, started posting on a public forum that he was a time traveler from the year 2036.

One of the first things he did was post pictures of his time machine and its operations manual. As the weeks went by, more and more people began questioning him about why he was here, the physics of time travel and his thoughts about our time. He also posted on other forums including the old Art Bell site. In his posts John Titor entertained, angered, frightened and even belittled those who engaged him in conversation.

On March 24, 2001, John Titor told us he would be leaving our time and returning to 2036. After that, he was never heard from again. Speculation and investigation about who John Titor was and why he was online continues to this day.

Although it may be easy to dismiss all this as science fiction, most people who read his posts agree that there is something very haunting about John Titor and what he said. In addition, and open to more debate, he also made a series of predictions and comments that eerily seem to be coming true.

Unfortunately, I never spoke directly to John Titor but there are many out there who have and continue to wonder about their experience. As you get deeper into this site, you will find his posts, links to other sites about him, downloads and speculative information attributed to him after he left. I have taken the posts and organized them by date and subject. My editorial work is copyrighted but the unedited posts and the people who experienced it are in the public domain can be found on other sites listed inside.

As you read, please try to keep two things in mind:

1. John appeared to answer nearly every question that was asked of him over the 4-month period he was online. Because of that, many people neglected to read the previous posts and asked similar or exact questions he had already answered. It may offer a glimpse of what a time traveler goes through when having the same conversation again and again.

2. These posts were written before 9-11, the Columbia accident and the second Gulf War. Many people believe John may have known of these events and dropped clues without actually referring to them. It's also widely agreed that he made several predictions about future physics discoveries that have materialized as he stated.

I have included a guest book where you may leave your comments. I will endeavor to respond to any questions you have based on my work as well as to continue adding any relevant information and web links. Please check the guest book for news and developments.

I hope you enjoy your journey with John Titor.

- JTeditor@johntitor.com

Copyright 2003

Kangaroos of the Middle East


Dr. Richard Paley is a teacher of Divinity and Theobiology at Fellowship University

Article by Dr. Richard Paley

Like most people who have been indoctrinated by the secular media, your answer to this question will probably be:

"No, of course not! Kangaroos live only in Australia."

But is that really true? Let us think about this a little more deeply using a proper Biblical perspective. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of the Lord? ("Yes.")

Do you believe that the Lord brought the flood waters to the Earth and that all animals wherein the breath of life resided save those which Noah brought aboard his Ark were destroyed? ("Of course, that follows from your first question since the Bible tells us that this is what happened.")

Do you believe that kangaroos were amongst those animals aboard the Ark? ("Yes. Even though they were not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, they have the breath of life and so clearly two of them must have been aboard the Ark. How else would they be alive today?")

Do you believe that, after the flood waters asswaged, the Ark came to rest in the Middle East? ("Yes. The Bible says it came to rest on Mount Ararat, and while the exact location of Ararat might still be the subject of debate, it is clear from the later descriptions of Noah's generations that it must be somewhere in the Middle East.")

Do you believe that the animals aboard the Ark exited it from where it rested, and that they must have spent some period of time in the Middle East? ("Yes.

The Bible states that the animals went forth out of the Ark, and they must have spent time there either when taking up residence or in traversing the region to get somewhere else.")

So then, did kangaroos once live in the Middle East? ("It is clear that they must have. There is no other sound, Biblical explaination!")

As you can see, the logic is inescapable -- Kangaroos must have once lived in the Middle East. Any claim that they didn't must then be treated as refuted. But still there are questions that are left to be investigated. For instance: why are there no kangaroos left in the Middle East? how come we do not hear of kangaroos in the histories of the region? and how did the kangaroos get to Australia?

The Postdiluvian Earth:

Prior to and just after the Flood, the Earth's continents were joined in a super-continent today called Pangaea (Greek for "all Earth"). Evidence for this comes from the jig-saw shape of the continental plates as well as Biblical evidence. The Bible tells us that when God created the Earth it was without form (Gen 1:2), meaning that the land wasn't yet broken into distinct continents and was one amorphous mass. Also, God tells us that He gathered the waters under Heaven unto one place (Gen 1:9), meaning the single Ocean surrounding the super-continent. Animals leaving the Ark immediately after the Flood would have had easy access to migrate to all the lands of the Earth. (There is also an alternative theory that some kangaroos and other baramins destined for Australia "rafted" across the Tethys Sea on floating mats of vegetation ripped up by the Flood. However, this is still controversial.) Pangaea gradually started to break apart after the Flood, most likely due to the effects of rapid soaking and drying of the land.

First, let me point out that the word "kangaroo" was coined by the Australian Aborigines after both they and the kangaroos had migrated to the Australian continent (which, at the time, was still indirectly connected to the Middle East, see inset). The word "kangaroo" means "I don't know" in Aboriginese. The story goes that when the first modern Europeans arrived in Australia, they saw a large hopping animal and asked one of the natives what it was called. "Kangaroo (I don't know)," he responded. It is understandable that he couldn't name the animal since his people had lost all knowledge of their Biblical heritage and thus would not have known the name given to the animal by Adam (Gen 2:19). Obviously, the peoples of the Middle East would not have called these animals by the name "kangaroo", and so the naive assertion of Biblical skeptics that since the word "kangaroo" is absent from the ancient Middle East so too must the kangaroo be, is patently absurd.

That kangaroos are not mentioned in the Bible or in local histories or customs, either by name or description, is probably due to the great number of kinds of animals that were in the Ararat area at the time. What's a kangaroo or two among a great throng of pandas, elephants, velociraptors, and giraffes? It is also likely that the kangaroos only spent a relatively short time living in the Middle East, needing to leave with greater haste than other animals in order to reach their appointed destination before the breakup of Pangaea (see next section).

However, evidence of the kangaroo's migration through Europe can be found in the reports of satyrs. Satyrs, which many believe to have been strictly demonic in origin due to their goat like features, were actually a conflation of demons and kangaroos by the ignorant Pagan natives of Greece. The features of satyrs -- two-legged, upright stance with elongated metatarsi; hirsuteness; a tail; long, pointed ears or horns; long or bearded face -- closely coincide with the general kangaroo body form. The more goat-like features -- such as cloven feet -- attributed to satyrs were no doubt due to confusion in the wine-addled minds of Dionysian cultists between kangaroos and the demons that the cultists consorted with, which manifested in goatish forms.

For more on kangaroos, see:

Australia's Amazing Kangaroos and the Birth of Their Young (Creation Ex Nihilo magazine)

Answers About Kangaroos (ChristianAnswers.net)

Migration of Kangaroos & Other Marsupials:

Kangaroos were not the only marsupial kinds that once lived in the Middle East just after the Flood. In fact, they all did, along with all the other animal kinds that we see today. The current bio-distribution is due to migrations outward from Mount Ararat and subsequent local repopulations and micro-evolving (i.e. degenerating) inside of the kinds.

Why did marsupials all go to Australia? The Lord wanted the animals of the Ark to spread all over the Earth and repopulate it (Gen 8:19), but to have them all just spread willy-nilly would have caused chaos. Clearly, God must have guided groups of animals to assigned areas of the globe, thereby facilitating a quick and effecient repopulation. Marsupials were assigned Australia, and so that is where they went. They didn't stay in the Middle East because that area was assigned to other kinds. Why did the Lord choose Australia for all the marsupials? Only He can know His own mind on that subject. However, not all marsupials made it to Australia before it broke away from Pangaea around 2000 BC. The stragglers -- mainly the slow, dim-witted opossum kind -- can still be found in North and South America, bearing witness to the great postdiluvian marsupial migration. (Those unfortunate to have been stuck on Antarctica when it broke off and moved to the extreme South most likely froze to death.)

A naive question that a Biblical skeptic will often ask is: "How could Koalas have lived in the Middle East if there were no eucalyptus trees there?"

The answer to this is simple when we remember that the Lord's creations were created before the Fall and that their current physiological state is the result of the degeneration (due to the effects of entropy) of their original, more informationally-complex genes. In the Garden of Eden, koalas ate of all the trees (save the Tree of Knowledge, of course) not just eucalyptus trees. The two koalas who were aboard the Ark must have not yet degenerated to being only able to subsist on eucalyptus and this state of affairs must have happened after they migrated to Australia. Early Middle Eastern koalas would have been happy to munch away on figs or the like.

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 9, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON Two congressional leaders on Monday called upon the director of the National Institutes of Health to account for all payments that drug companies have made to researchers at the federal agency over the past four years.

The leaders Reps. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and James C. Greenwood (R- Pa.) said that their letter was in response to articles in Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times detailing millions of dollars in consulting fees and stock options paid by companies to NIH employees.

Tauzin is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Greenwood is chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

"The receipt of outside payments, even though approved, raises concerns about whether the integrity of NIH clinical research has been affected and whether the honor system used by NIH to [monitor] NIH scientists and other conflict-of-interest rules has been violated," the congressmen wrote.

from The San Francisco Chronicle

No sooner had the Galileo spacecraft fascinated the world by discovering an icy crust covering deep oceans on one of Jupiter's moons than scientists began planning a far more ambitious interplanetary voyage to see if the oceans harbor life.

It will take years and billions of dollars to build and fly their new mission, but the impact on humanity of discovering life beyond Earth would be incalculable. On Monday, a team of astronomers, geologists and astrobiologists described for the first time the spacecraft they envision and the flight plan they hope to follow.

Their report came at the opening of the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, where some 10,000 scientists have gathered for five days of technical sessions at the new Moscone West Center.

from The Boston Globe

More than 50 years ago, US Navy doctors stationed on the Pacific island of Guam found a shocking rate of an unknown neurodegenerative disease with the fatal progressive paralysis of Lou Gehrig's disease, the tremors of Parkinson's, and the forgetfulness of dementia.

Guam's indigenous Chamorro people were 50 times to 100 times more likely to suffer the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease and ALS, than populations just about anyplace else on the planet. In one village, more than a quarter of the adults who died between 1944 and 1953 were the victims of this mysterious combination of brain illnesses.

Hundreds of research papers since have investigated and dismissed a variety of suspected causes, including microbes, genes, mineral deficiencies and nerve toxins.

Now, a Hawaii-based research team thinks the answer may lie in the Chamorro's favorite entree: Flying fox bats boiled in coconut cream.

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