NTS LogoSkeptical News for 23 December 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, December 28, 2003


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 664 December 2, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

THE TOP PHYSICS STORIES OF 2003. The first three on our list concern the sharpening of our understanding of the big bang era, evidence for new quark groupings, and progress in manipulating quantum gases. At the largest size scale, new observations from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), the Sloan Digital Survey and other telescopes have reduced the uncertainties in the values of such cosmic parameters as the Hubble constant, the age of the universe, and the fractions of total energy vested in the form of dark and luminous matter (www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/624-1.html; www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/659-1.html ). Going to the opposite extreme, at the level of elementary matter, new data indicate that quarks needn't appear only in clumps of three (baryons) or two (mesons). Work at SLAC (US) and KEK (Japan) hint that quarks might also exist in "tetraquark" states (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/643-1.html), while experiments in Japan, the US, Russia, and elsewhere provide evidence for a "pentaquark" state (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/644-1.html ). The third top story concerns the creation of the first ever Bose Einstein condensate (BEC) consisting of paired-fermion-atom molecules. This work is potentially important because mastering the interactions between fermion atoms in the BEC state might provide insights into the nature of superconductivity and superfluids (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/663-1.html ). Other notable physics stories from the past year include the controversy over the use gravitational lensing of distant radio waves by Jupiter to measure the speed of gravity (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/620-1.html ); advances in the use of attosecond laser pulses in studying chemical reactions (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/625-1.html ); the use of microfluidics---essentially the science of fluids on a chip---in processing bio-particles such as blood cells and DNA molecules (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/627-1.html ); evidence for the focusing of light in left-handed materials, materials with a negative index of refraction, and vindication of earlier research in this area (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/628-1.html); first fusion reactions in Sandia's Z machine (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/632-1.html ); LIGO's first scientific publications report no gravity wave events but do succeed in establishing new upper limits on various wave production processes (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/632-2.html); building a laser based on a single atom at rest (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/654-1.html ); amphoteric refraction, both positive and negative refraction, in a single material (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/657-3.html ); and new work with photonic crystals, including the effects of shock waves (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/634-1.html) and energy shifting (http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/646-1.html).

RELATIVISTIC CHAOS. A new study shows that general relativity, a theory in which observers in different reference frames measure time differently, is not incompatible with chaos theory, in which events unfold in absolute time. Chaos is an ordinary word with lots of meanings. In physics, however, the meaning is more precise: a system---a weather system, say---is chaotic if a very slight change in initial conditions sends the system off into a very different history. How different? The degree to which a system is chaotic can be encapsulated in a parameter called the Lyapunov exponent: when it is positive the system is chaotic and to some extent unpredictable; for a negative value, the system becomes nonchaotic---a small perturbation will not radically change its history. What has worried physicists for many years was the fear that a shift in a frame of reference might so alter the time parameter as to change the Lyapunov exponent from null or negative to positive or vice versa. In other words, the change of frame would seem to make a chaotic system nonchaotic or vice versa. Now, the work of Adilson Motter of the Max Planck Institute for Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany lays this matter to rest. He shows (motter@mpipks-dresden.mpg.de, http://www.mpipks-dresden.mpg.de/~motter ) that over a wide range of conditions, a change of time parameter does not alter the Lyapunov exponent enough to change chaos in a system. Motter believes that this is good news since the equations of general relativity are nonlinear, as are those of chaotic systems, and many common situations described by general relativity, such as the motion of massive bodies near black holes or a nonuniform expansion of the universe at the time of the big bang ("mixmaster universe model,"see http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/1993/split/pnu158-3.htm ) are expected to be highly chaotic. (Physical Review Letters, 5 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.

Project Steve Update

Today seems like a good day to bring you up to date on Project Steve, NCSE's parody of the long-standing antievolutionist tradition of amassing lists of PhDs who doubt evolution. Why today? Because December 26 is, as it happens, St. Stephen's Day.

When the Steveometer hit 400, with the addition of Esteban Muldavin, we began work on a new version of our popular Project Steve t-shirt. We are now accepting orders, either on-line at:
or by mail or telephone. The shirts are 100% cotton, gold on navy, with the Project Steve statement on the front and a list of the 410 signatory Steves on the back. They are $13.00 each, plus 8.25% sales tax for California residents, plus $4.00 domestic shipping. (Overseas customers and those ordering more than one shirt should call or write for prices.) Allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

Best wishes for the holiday season,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

University teaches pet therapy

A course for people who want to psychoanalyse their pets has been launched by Edinburgh University.

Developed by the university's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, the Distance Learning Package in Companion Animal Behaviour comes on a £80 CD-Rom.

It gives training tips as well as advice on welfare and techniques for dealing with "problem behaviour".

Prior qualifications are not needed, students work at their own pace and gain a certificate by writing essays.

The university says the course covers everything from popular pets, dogs, cats and hamsters, to the more exotic, including parrots and iguanas.

Course organiser Dr Shirley Seaman said: "Many people own pets yet few owners understand much about why their pet behaves the way it does.

"This course will help explain the fundamentals of animal behaviour, how the behaviour of companion animals is affected by the environment in which they are kept and how this can lead to the development of behavioural problems."

Story from BBC NEWS:

The Trouble With Marvels: If It Sounds That Good, Will the Skeptical Buy It?



Published: December 22, 2003

It sounds almost too good to be true: relieve aches and pains with a simple sock or glove.

That is the claim that the partners of a new company, Hologenix, are making for clothing made from their proprietary Holofiber. They cite research and anecdotal evidence showing that people who wear the garments, be they professional athletes, weekend athletes or even diabetics plagued with poor circulation, recover more quickly from strenuous activities, keep warmer in cold climates, have increased stamina and in general, just feel good.

So why are Holofiber-laden items, some of which have been available for a couple of years, not flying off the shelves - especially during the holiday shopping season? "We know what we have is incredible, but the marketing is our challenge," said Robert Klein, an inventor of Holofiber and the chairman of Holofiber Enterprises, which owns 75 percent of Hologenix.

A challenge, indeed. For one thing, Holofiber is expensive. Hologenix executives refused to disclose Holofiber's price, but Anthony Mazzenga, the chairman of Wickers America, an underwear maker and one of the dozen or so manufacturers offering Holofiber items, said its cost was 10 times that of more conventional polyesters. Thus, Holofiber can drive the cost of a glove liner to $30 or a T-shirt to $75.

Neither Hologenix nor its manufacturing customers are forthcoming about sales. But no one claims the items are best sellers. And therein lies a cautionary tale for anyone trying to market a "scientific breakthrough'' item in an age when claims of "all new'' or "revolutionary'' fall on increasingly jaded ears.

"They need to do for Holofiber what Intel did for its chips, explain to people why a product with 'Holofiber inside' is by definition better,'' said Evan H. Wert, vice president for marketing at Superfeet Worldwide, which has added a line of custom-fit Holofiber items to its stable of orthotic inserts for shoes, called footbeds.

That may be no easy task, other customers concede. "Hologenix hasn't figured out a really good way to market it, and truthfully, we haven't come up with a whole lot of ideas for marketing it either,'' said James T. Gorman, an executive vice president of Callaway Golf Footwear, which is including Holofiber in some of its more expensive shoes.

It is not that the product is too new to be noticed. Holofiber has been available for nearly three years through Holofiber Enterprises, which last January formed Hologenix as a venture with the textile giant Wellman to step up production and marketing.

Wellman, which owns 25 percent of Hologenix, has spent more than $400,000 on marketing. It has advertised in some textile trade publications, taken booths at trade shows for outdoor retailers, and handed out sample products at the recent American Diabetes Association show in New York. It has hired Michellie Jones, the Australian Olympic triathlete, to endorse Holofiber, and it is helping some customers develop hangtags and promotional material for athletic braces, bandages and other items containing Holofiber.

While such steps might have been enough to promote, say, a new toothpaste, the people at Hologenix are finding themselves facing far bigger challenges.

For one thing, the technology behind Holofiber does not lend itself easily to sound bites. The fiber, which has a patent pending, is made from a blend of polyester and finely ground minerals and gemstones - Mr. Klein declines to say which ones. It supposedly works by channeling both ambient light and the energy a body generates in a way that increases the oxygen level of the blood flowing to the body parts it covers. Mr. Klein speaks of separating frequencies of light and activating the mitochondria in cells, but no one seems able to explain how socks, say, can receive light through shoes.

"You need a medical degree to figure it out,'' said Mr. Gorman of Callaway. A medical degree may not help - Dr. Lawrence Lavery, a podiatrist who is a professor at Texas A&M University, conducted studies indicating that diabetics could increase the oxygen levels in their blood as much as 12 percent by wearing Holofiber items. Yet even he is uncertain how the products work.

"They can't put it in layman's terms,'' he said.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

500 years later, Nostradamus is still king of the quatrains


Posted on Fri, Dec. 26, 2003

BY TIM ENGLE Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) - Nostradamus might've predicted you'd read this story.

Here it is the end of 2003, but for the seemingly all-knowing Renaissance man known as Nostradamus, this 12th month of the third year of the 21st century is not just another occasion for some devastating event.

Nah, December 2003 is party time for old Nosty: He's celebrating his 500th birthday this month. Or at least he would be if he hadn't died back in 1566.

He even predicted, some say, when and how he would die.

To the true believers, Nostradamus is the astrologer to end all astrologers. If you believe his devotees, Nostradamus correctly foresaw everything from the rise of Hitler to the 1986 space shuttle disaster to the horrific events of Sept. 11.

Then there are those who pooh-pooh all this: Nostradamus, they say, was a charlatan, a guy who predicted things only once they'd happened, because what he wrote was so nebulous, no one could make sense of it until after the event, when all became clear. Put another way, each of his 1,477 predictions are open to many interpretations, some of which actually come to pass.

Today, though, we're not going to do a lot of debating. We're here to celebrate and shed a little light on a man who has been a household name for nearly half a century (take that, Madonna!) and to whom more than 400 books and countless Web sites are devoted. We'll tell you a little about who Nostradamus was and a few things he predicted (including something about 2004) and let you take a stab at interpreting one of his visions. And if you'd like, you can even create your own Nostradamus-like prediction.


The man who would become Nostradamus was born Michel de Notredame (or Nostredame) in France, on Dec. 14, 1503. He made a name for himself as an innovative young physician caring for victims of the plague in southern France. Still, he lost his first wife and two children to the epidemic. He later married a wealthy widow and had six more children.

Nostradamus (his Latin name) later turned his attention to astrology, a popular field of interest. In 1555 he published the first edition of his book, the "Centuries," a collection of prophecies written as quatrains, four-line rhyming poems. Each "century" was 100 of these little poems. Centuries concerned itself mostly with calamitous events, including some that would befall important people like monarchs, in France and the rest of the world.

Nostradamus became famous as a prognosticator after predicting the way King Henry II of France would die. (More on that in a bit.) He was sought out for advice by Henry's widow, Catherine de Medici.

Later, King Charles IX appointed Nostradamus the royal physician.


Epic predictions about the future don't occur to you as you're eating your Mini-Wheats in the morning. So how did Nostradamus go about his mystical work?

John Hogue, who has written several books about Nostradamus, surmises that he would have fasted for three or four days and abstained from sex. Nighttime was the right time for gazing into the future.

"Before entering his secret study," Hogue writes in "The Essential Nostradamus," "he would bathe himself in consecrated water, don a simple robe and take up a laurel branch as his magic wand. He would enter a consecrated circle drawn in the centre of the wooden floor and perhaps illuminated by candles. ... Between deep inhalations of perfumed vapour he, like the oracle, chants magic incantations and feels the minute flame of divine fire penetrate his soul." It's thought that he would gaze into a bowl of water or a crystal ball.

There's more to the ritual, but that gives you a taste of it. After emerging from his trance at daybreak, Nostradamus would put his visions to paper, writing "with a pen made from the third feather of the right wing of a white male gosling," Hogue writes.

On the first rewrite, it's said, Nostradamus turned his prose into poetry, making sure the verses were not only cryptic but also not in any kind of sequence. Why write in code? Apparently to protect himself from those who might accuse him of practicing dark magic.


Nostradamians through the years have asserted that his first big success was his prediction about how King Henry II of France would die. Here's the quatrain, translated from French:

The young lion will overcome the older one

On the field of combat in a single battle:

He will pierce his eyes through a golden cage

Two wounds made one, then he dies a cruel death.

In June 1559 Henry II died after a joust_a sporting event that should have been blood-free_left him with two head injuries, including a large splinter that went through Henry's gilded visor into his eye. Both the king and his opponent wielded shields decorated with lions (some say); his rival was six years the king's junior.

Some believe that Nostradamus predicted the assassination of President John F. Kennedy:

The ancient task will be accomplished

From the roof, evil will fall on the great man.

They accuse a dead innocent of the deed

The guilty one is hidden in the mist.

Credible evidence suggests that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but conspiracy theorists can take comfort in knowing that Nostradamus fingered someone else. Or at least that's one interpretation.

A widely circulated e-mail following the World Trade Center attacks claimed Nostradamus saw that disaster coming, too. (At the time "Nostradamus" was the most sought-out phrase on Internet search engines.) The prophecy in the e-mail was a phony one, but it bore some resemblance to this Nostradamus quatrain:

At 45 degrees the sky will burn,

Fire approaches the great new city,

Immediately a huge, scattered flame leaps up,

When they want to have verification from the Normans.

The key here, apparently, is the number: New York City is at about 40 degrees latitude, close to 45. And of course "new city" is close to "New York City." But other identifying details seem to be missing.

Nostradamians also think he predicted Napoleon's rise to power, the success of Louis Pasteur, the French Revolution, the Great Fire of London, and man's walks on the moon, among other things.


Not everyone buys what Nostradamus was selling.

James Randi, a k a "The Amazing Randi," is himself a magician, but one who casts a skeptical eye at those who claim to have supernatural abilities. In one chapter of his 1990 book "The Mask of Nostradamus," Randi debunks in great detail 10 of the seer's most-discussed predictions. Two of the 10 quatrains concern Hitler. The chapter is subtitled "Evidence of Imagination Gone Wild."

For those who aspire to be the next Nostradamus, Randi also helpfully provides tips on how to be successful as a prophet. Rule 1: Make lots of predictions and hope that some come true. Rule 2: Be very vague and ambiguous. Rule 3: Use a lot of symbolism; be metaphorical. And so on.

Hitler, incidentally, is not the name Nostradamus used in his writings. It's "Hister," which Nostradamians say is an anagram for Hitler. Others point out that Hister was another name for part of the Danube River.

Skeptic's Dictionary (www.skepdic.com) opines that Nostradamus' prophecies "are muddled and obscure before the predicted event, but become crystal clear after the event has occurred."

"Let's just say Nostradamus did know any of this stuff," illusionist Penn Gillette said on a recent History Channel special. "To know it and to not give the information makes him the biggest evil that's ever lived." In other words, where were the Nostradamians on Sept. 10, 2001?

"Picking verses here and there more or less at random, they (devotees) have managed to read into Nostradamus's quatrains a whole range of past and future events to suit their particular fancies..." writes Peter Lemesurier in his book "Nostradamus: The Final Reckoning."

Yet another view is that Nostradamus was neither a prophet nor a con artist but merely a social commentator whose writings were veiled musings on his own times.


Yes, believe it or not, we've found a few Nostradamus predictions specifically for 2004. (At least that's when some Nostradamus experts think they will occur. Remember that figuring out when a Nosty prediction is to take place can be as difficult as deciding what his words actually mean.) This one comes from Ned Halley's book "The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus":

The terrible war being prepared in the West

Will be followed, one year later, by a plague

Of such virulence it spares neither young, old, nor animal

Blood, fire, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter in France.

It's not difficult to come up with an amateur interpretation of this (terrible war = Iraq; plague = flu), although the war is over (officially, anyway), and the flu is with us now, in 2003. Halley wrote that the event described would "more likely" take place in September 2004.

Nostradamus also predicts for 2004 severe earthquakes and tidal waves in Greece and Turkey (August) and the economic collapse of northern Italy and most of Western Europe (December), according to Lemesurier.


Here's another Nostradamus prediction, also from Halley's book. Try your hand at interpreting it.

They will joyfully celebrate the unhappy wedding

It will have an unfortunate end.

Husband and mother will scorn the new bride

With Phoebus dead, the daughter-in-law has an even worse fate.

According to Halley, this quatrain concerns the late Princess Diana, her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles and her death in a car crash in 1997. But who the heck is Phoebus?

You've got to be imaginative when you're interpreting Nostradamus. Halley writes that "Phoebus, in this context, must mean Dodi Fayed, Diana's Apollo."

Phoebus is another name for Apollo. Fayed also died in the crash.


So now that you've interpreted a Nostradamus quatrain, how about writing one of your own? It's simple: Four lines, 10-ish syllables each. And remember: Confusing is good. Symbolism: Good. Doomsday scenarios: Great.

We'll help you out. Just fill in the blanks and you can call yourself a prophet! This is based on an actual Nostradamus quatrain.

Having survived both

Demanding careers merge with faith, healing touch


By Scott Shepard
Memphis Business Journal

Dec. 29 — Kenneth Robinson is a doctor who treats bodies and souls. It's a joint effort with his wife, Marilynn Robinson.

As commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health and Human Services, he's the most non-political person in the cabinet of Gov. Phil Bredesen, filling one of the most politically charged positions in state government. He oversees health professionals across the state, while his domain takes in issues of bioterrorism, sexually transmitted disease and food vouchers for poor mothers.

Until he was invited to the job, Robinson was an associate dean and student adviser at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Today, he flies back and forth between Nashville and Memphis at least once a week; on the weekend he has to look after his other flock, as pastor of St. Andrew AME Church in South Memphis.

"Kenneth is completely unfazed by, and uninterested in, all the politics that swirl around him," says Marilynn Robinson. "He sees his work in Nashville the same as he sees his work at church. Kenneth does his best for the people in his care. He's the pastor of Tennessee."

During the week it's often Marilynn Robinson, as co-pastor of St. Andrew, who handles church business. If she's around. She's also senior vice president of Saint Francis Hospital. It's not uncommon for her to be in California, Dallas or Washington, D.C. during the week.

St. Andrew has become a catalyst for its neighborhood, spawning education and job programs, child care, home-ownership initiatives and even a charter school. With diabetes and high blood pressure particularly hard on blacks, a regular announcement during Sunday worship is about how much weight the women's health group has shed.

The church operates an alternative classroom for students expelled from Memphis City Schools, and through the Memphis Food Bank served 33,000 meals last year. Four church employees work within city schools on recreation programs for at-risk children.

The church bulletin lists 19 ordained and lay leaders charged with various ministries of St. Andrew; the church has 1,300 members and 53 employees. Between their careers and their church, the Robinsons perform the equivalent of at least four busy careers. And it very nearly didn't happen. The two were almost married in 1976, but broke up for three years before rediscovering one another in 1979. Now, after moves between Nashville, New York and Memphis -- plus twin daughters now in medical school in Boston -- they have something plenty of couples lack after 24 years together. They still like each other. They met while both were attending Harvard and she was dating his roommate. She was a sharp and self-assured native of the Bronx, Kenneth Robinson says, while he was a "stuck up, selfish guy from Nashville." "She didn't care much for me at first," he says. "Marilynn said she'd never marry a doctor or a preacher because they never had time for their family."

The summer after his first year of medical school, Kenneth Robinson had an altar call at church one Sunday and was compelled to become a preacher, while continuing to pursue a medical degree. He pulled a full schedule as a medical student while attending divinity school on weekends. The decision to become a family practice doctor grew out of many experiences, but in particular as a resident at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. It was there he watched Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis help drug addicts, often as they struggled with their own alcoholism.

"I chose not to be a subspecialist because I was always concerned about the whole person," he says. "That has extended into this interesting relationship with the ministry, in which I extend healing to the soul. You cannot treat just the physical manifestations of something, but you have to heal their soul." That's why 12-step programs are so effective, he says.

"I saw a lot of broken people," Kenneth Robinson says. "It's very hard to put lives back together from addiction, so I decided that as a preacher-physician I would devote my life to preventing addiction in young people."

Marilynn Robinson had a calling of her own. She expected to become a school teacher but in her first year decided on hospital administration. "I understood what the principal of a school does, and this is like being the principal of a hospital," she says. It was New Year's Eve 1978 that she called Kenneth Robinson and asked him out. They became engaged on Good Friday.

"He really convinced me," she says. "He was a doctor and had been in the ministry for three years, and it was very clear that he was able to handle both and still make me a priority."

For 10 years Kenneth Robinson practiced at Vanderbilt while pastoring Payne Chapel. Working with Meharry Medical College and the Metro Health Department, he created a partnership with East Middle School that became a national model for publicly funded faith-based social initiatives. He based that project, and all others since, on the basic concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous. It works, he says, because instead of fighting a problem, AA teaches people to accept their weaknesses and grow from there.

It was at Payne Chapel that he first met Bredesen, who was running for mayor of Nashville and wanted to introduce himself to the congregation. "Gov. Bredesen is an amazing pragmatist," he says. "He agrees with me that it isn't about the position, but about the outcome. What am I called to do?" 12 years ago, Marilynn Robinson received another call from God, this time to seek ordination. She prayed for confirmation that the call was real, in the form of three altar calls in the same day. On Easter Sunday a guest preacher made the first call, and then her husband did it again at the late service. After the final benediction, Kenneth Robinson asked people not to leave yet. He insisted that someone in the room was being called. That was the third time in one day.

Her ministry focus has tended toward women and couples. It takes the form of dealing with issues of health, substance abuse and sexual abuse. This spring she'll lead the 12th Annual Sisters Retreat, in which 500 women will gather.

"I've worked with Marilynn almost seven years and she's an eclectic mix of talents, " says Dave Archer, president and CEO of Saint Francis. "It ranges from Marilynn's political savvy to her faith-based component, not just at her church but the role she plays at the hospital." Marilynn Robinson oversees pastoral care at Saint Francis, as well as marketing and public relations. She's responsible for making clear the spiritual aspect of healing, Archer says.

"Because Marilynn is here and she understands the history of Saint Francis, there's a much more overt focus on faith as an integral part of healing," he says. The Robinsons say that holding it all together is an effort of faith, as well as good planning. No matter how hectic life is, dinner with the family, at home, is always a priority. Even if it means going back to work later. People in Nashville and at St. Andrew also know that Friday night is date night for the Robinsons, often dinner and a movie.

Their twin daughters, Maisha and Nuriya, are medical students at Tufts University. Their names are the Swahili words for life and light. "Those are two attributes of Jesus," Marilynn Robinson says. "We named them with meaning."

Even when the children were young, the Robinsons had another priority: They would take vacations alone, together, to renew their relationship. They've journeyed to Brazil, South Africa, Senegal and elsewhere. And when they returned, they got back to work.

"Lifting people up for the public good is what the Health Department is all about," Kenneth Robinson says. "I'm very much a pragmatist, and I use whatever opportunities I have -- an appointment or as a professor -- to bring resources into the community that I pastor."

Copyright 2003 American City Business Journals Inc.

Kenyan parliament to debate traditional medicine


Kimani Chege
24 December 2003
Source: SciDev.Net

[NAIROBI] Kenya is developing a national policy to promote traditional medicine that is intended to regulate a practice on which 80 per cent of its inhabitants depend for medical treatment.

A bill drawn up by the department of standards and regulatory services at the Ministry of Health Policy is due to be tabled soon in the National Assembly by the attorney general.

"Our goal is to help incorporate traditional knowledge into modern health care while still ensuring access to quality healthcare for all Kenyans," says Tom Mboya Okeyo, head of the department.

The government's proposals have already been widely discussed with traditional medical practitioners, herbalists, medical doctors and other health providers throughout the country, in a consultation process that has been taking place since 2001.

The development of the policy is in line with a commitment by the African Union to recognise the period 2001-2010 as a decade of traditional medicine. Kenya is seeking to catch up with Uganda and Tanzania, both of whose policies on traditional medicine are significantly more developed.

The proposed policy emphasizes the need for guidelines on the way that traditional medicine is practiced, as well as for practitioners to receive training in ways of preserving such knowledge, and to take part in research and development projects aimed at improving its effectiveness.

Under the policy, the government would launch an initiative bringing together different players in the industry to lead a campaign to boost recognition off the value of complementary and alternative medicine within Kenya's national health service.

The country's medical profession has given a cautious welcome to the draft law, expressing support for the recognition of traditional medicine, but warning that it continues to have reservations about the ethical basis on which some of such medicine is administered.

"Our stand on the use of tradition medicine has not changed," says James Nykal, the immediate past chair of the Kenyan Medical Association. He says that many traditional practitioners have been treating patients in a way that professional physicians consider unethical. "The bill is a move in the right direction, as it means that such practices will now be monitored."

Kenyan Lawyer Nelson Mutai says that that purpose of the bill is "to define traditional medicines and their role in health, as well as their impacts on social and economic lives both of the traditional healers as well as their patients".

The ministry of health has already promised to set up a register of medical practitioners. However such a move is likely to face major obstacles, as all applicants for registration must be able to produce a certificate of professional qualification and a valid work permit.

Furthermore although the bill outlining the new policy is due to be sent to the national assembly in the near future, its adoption is likely to be a slow process, as there are already many other bills – including the enactment of a new constitution – in the legislative pipeline in Nairobi.

Path led from science to faith The design is apparent to many


Bob Dewaay

Published December 27, 2003

I read with interest Gregory Korgeski's Dec. 13 counterpoint decrying creationism and fundamentalism. After learning that no "reputable" scientists endorse creationism, I learned that fundamentalists who take their sacred texts literally are dangerous to the well-being of society.

These arguments are self-serving in that they admit no evidence to the contrary. In Korgeski's thought, being a creationist makes you disreputable and being a fundamentalist makes you a likely menace to society.

I was raised in a church that taught that the Bible was mostly mythology, that there were no miracles, and that evolution was true. Seeing no need for religion, I left the church and took up the study of science.

As a chemical engineering student at Iowa State University I was required to study organic chemistry. I studied the complexity of molecules in the body that made life possible. That study convinced me that evolution was impossible and that life had to come from an intelligent designer.

The church led me away from belief in God and science led me to it. I became a Christian and began to study the Bible for myself. Now I am a "fundamentalist" preacher.

My fundamentalism means that as a Christian I am committed to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. These teachings are so rigorous that they show me my sins and failings. However, they offer forgiveness as a free gift of God's grace through what Christ did for me on the cross. But what about these "dangerous" fundamental teachings? Let me explain just a few of them to those who find us "fundamentalists" to be dangerous.

Jesus and his apostles taught us to not take revenge, but turn the other cheek when attacked (Matthew 5:39). Jesus taught his followers to pay their taxes (Matthew 22:17-21).

The apostle Paul taught all Christians to pray for their civil leaders, whoever they may be (1Timothy 2:1, 2).

Paul goes even further and warns Christians to be in submission to the civil authorities and that these authorities were sent by God for our good. He taught that if we do what is wrong, the civil authorities rightly punish us and are doing God's bidding in doing so (Romans 13:1-4).

Jesus warned his followers to not take up the sword to stop him from being wrongly arrested (Matthew 26:52).

As fundamentalist Christians we are taught to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10). We are to forgive those who wrong us, love our enemies, and even do good to evil men and thus emulate our Heavenly Father (Luke 6:35).

A literal understanding of these fundamental texts provides moral guidance and points us to our need for a savior. Those "Christians" who, in God's name, purposely disobey these teachings are poor fundamentalists indeed.

Back to Korgeski's article -- I wonder, given the lack of any authoritative text, the lack of a supreme "law giver," and the lack of any rational explanation of how moral guidance "evolved" from random processes, how Korgeski can take it upon himself to give his readers moral guidance. At least we fundamentalists have a source of moral guidance outside of the fickle "self."

Bob DeWaay is pastor of Twin City Fellowship in Minneapolis.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Jewish mysticism, vogue style


Friday, 26 December 2003

What do you get when you throw Judaism, Madonna, Inspiration oil, and fuzzy thinking into a box and give it a shake? The modern Kabbalah (1, 2) movement.

Today the San Francisco Chronicle took a critical look at two waves of resurgence of interest in Jewish mysticism, in 1997 and 2003 ("New interest in Jewish mysticism: Anxious times, celebrities ignite revival of Kabbalah"). This comes a mere ten days after the Chronicle reviewed the just-published first volume of Daniel Matt's new translation and commentary on The Zohar.

Here are a few quotes from today's effort (hyperlinks added):

Although the latest revival of interest dates back to 1997, when Madonna publicly embraced it, Kabbalah has reached new heights of popularity this year.

Kabbalah paraphernalia on the EBay auction site ranges from red string bracelets to ward off the evil eye — "Mystical Momma" is one of the bidders — to rare healing amulets from North Africa. And the Kabbalah Centre International chain is selling "Inspiration" oil, made with "pure Kabbalah water," for $10 a bottle.

"People have done the material [1, 2] thing," said Yossi Offenberg, program manager at the [San Francisco] Jewish Community Center. "But there's still emptiness. Kabbalah seems to be the right address." It's not the easiest address to find. Kabbalah is arcane, obscure and inaccessible. Daniel Matt's new translation of "The Zohar," Kabbalah's central text, has just been published. It is 482 pages, with more volumes to come.

"Kabbalah teaches that every single person is a divine spark in the world, " [Rabbi Shlomo] Zarchi said. "Every creation has worth. It can teach us who we are and what is the nature of a soul. Ultimately, Kabbalah is the wisdom of the divine. It deals with ideas that transcend our five senses. It gives us the terminology and wisdom to access divine energy." Numerology and astrology play a role in Kabbalah, since almost everything is symbolic of something else. "If it wasn't complicated, it wouldn't be the real thing," Zarchi said.

"I'm concerned about the idea someone can study Kabbalah apart from the rest of Jewish tradition," [Rabbi Yoel] Kahn [of Congregation Shir Shalom in San Francisco] said. "It's similar to the way pop culture discovers sweat lodges or meditation." Barry Mark, who just finished teaching a class at San Francisco State on the history of Kabbalah, said, "There's a sense its inaccessibility is what makes it so attractive."

Another force behind "Kabbalah nouveau," as Zarchi called it, has nothing to do with light or darkness and everything to do with Hollywood: the discipline's celebrity following includes [Madonna,] Britney Spears, Roseanne Barr, Courtney Love and Barbra Streisand. "Not everyone will say, 'I came to the Kabbalah class because Madonna or Britney Spears thinks it's cool.' One or two will say it, and there will be a muffled giggle," Zarchi said. "But 35 or 40 will be thinking the same thing."

Posted at 2:43:42 PM
Trackback URL: http://www.yale2000.org/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/176

Heroes and villains, famous and obscure


Friday, December 26, 2003


Sydney Omarr's Horoscope, Thursday, Jan. 2. Leo: "You will beat the odds, much to the astonishment of experts."

Sydney Omarr, Leo, astrologer to the stars, didn't beat the odds, as it turned out. He dictated that forecast three months earlier. It was the forecast for the day he died, at age 76.

Faith Flows Around Image Of Virgin Mary In Clearwater


By DAVID SOMMER dsommer@tampatrib.com
Published: Dec 25, 2003

CLEARWATER - For seven Christmas seasons, the faithful have been drawn to a former bank building on U.S. 19. But the massive crowds that flocked to see the image of the Virgin Mary upon its discovery in December 1996 have not returned in recent years.

Instead, a small but steady stream of faithful flows to the corner of Drew Street and U.S. 19 to lay flowers, say prayers and light candles in front of the 60-foot image that mimics the shape of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Catholic patroness of the Americas who left her image on the frock of a Mexican peasant in 1531.

``When I come here, it gives me happiness,'' Gennet Tekelhaimanot said this week as she visited what has become known as ``Our Lady of Clearwater.'' The Ethiopian immigrant credits the image with answering her prayers to help her mother recover from a stroke.

``My mom was sick, so I went to pray and I got an answer from God,'' Tekelhaimanot said. ``It is a miracle. God is good.''

Tony Cipolla said one visit to the Virgin Mary's image was enough to change his life.

En route from Pennsylvania to the Florida Keys, where he planned to retire, Cipolla said he made a detour to Clearwater after hearing about the Madonna image.

Now, Cipolla has retired to Pinellas Park and visits daily to help maintain the hundreds of candles and dozens of flower arrangements that adorn the side of the former bank building.

``That was a sign in itself,'' Cipolla said of his decision to retire here rather than in the Keys.

Long Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant, credits the Virgin Mary image with curing illnesses he and his wife, Phuc, suffered.

``This is faith healing,'' Nguyen said. ``We feel like we are blessed, and we come see her every day.''

Clara Yon, who lives in Miami but has relatives in Clearwater, said she makes it a point to visit the image ``every time we are passing through.''

``This was a parking lot for a bank, but now it's almost a church,'' Yon said.

Thousands Once Visited

The evolution of the Virgin Mary site has been gradual but dramatic.

Within days of the image's discovery by a bank customer, tens of thousands of people began flocking to the site. Nearby merchants began hawking T-shirts and trinkets, Clearwater police assigned a squad of officers to direct foot and vehicle traffic, and the city formed a Miracle Management Task Force to deal with the crush of unexpected visitors.

When the holiday season ended, police estimated that more than 400,000 people had visited the Virgin Mary image. The city had spent more than $40,000 on police overtime, a temporary signal light on Drew Street, and amenities such as portable toilet rental.

Meanwhile, visitors donated more than $30,000 that was distributed to local charities and All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Over the years, detractors contend the rainbow-tinted shape that suggests a stylized image of the Virgin Mary was nothing more than a water stain from an irrigation sprinkler that blew out its nozzle and showered the glass-paneled south side of the bank building.

But the image proved resilient.

In 1997, vandals sprayed the image with an acidic liquid, staining it badly and obscuring a large portion of the face and left shoulder. But a month later, a downpour washed away that stain and the image re- emerged.

The following year, the Cincinnati-based Shepherds of Christ Ministries began renting the building, which the bank had vacated. The group, which prays for Catholic priests, bought the property in December 2000, said Rosie Reed, the ministries' site leader.

Also in 1998, work began on a 21-foot-tall, 1 1/2-ton wooden crucifix that now dominates the shrine built around the glass image. Texas artisan Felix Avalos said God told him to take a giant cedar log to Clearwater and to carve the crucifix. It took Avalos 2 1/2 years to finish his work, which for that period of time stayed hidden behind a blue shroud.

It was unveiled in July 2001.

In A Word, `Cool'

Now, Shepherds of Christ Ministries stages a prayer service at 6:30 p.m. daily, Reed said. A prayer room is set up behind the image in the old bank building, and Reed's group sells religious items, prayer candles and on-the- spot framed photographs of visitors to raise money to pay the mortgage, she said.

On Monday, 12-year-old Chris Toney, vacationing from New York, paid a visit to the Virgin Mary image along with other family members.

``I heard all my family members talking about it and saying we should come and see it,'' Toney said. ``It's nice. Really cool.''

Reporter David Sommer can be reached at (727) 799-7413.

Psychics Forecast Wisconsin's 2004 Events


Prediction: Brewers Will Have Winning Season

POSTED: 9:16 a.m. EST December 26, 2003
UPDATED: 9:18 a.m. EST December 26, 2003

In 2004, scandal will surface, the Brewers will have a winning season and flying saucer technology will be unveiled in Oshkosh. Or maybe not.

Psychics, astrologers and other self-described clairvoyants have those and other cryptic forecasts for Wisconsin in the new year.

Madison medium Ken-Adi Ring says the state'll see some difficulties but manage to rally past them. That description sounds a lot like 2003, when scandal soiled the state's clean government image and dogged millionaire money managers.

Milwaukee psychic Anne Marie predicts another major scandal will break out next year. And Fond du Lac fortune teller Sandra Rae Geib has bad news about property taxes -- she says they'll soar.

Ring predicts scientists will unveil some U-F-O type technology at Oshkosh's annual Experimental Aircraft Association convention.

In sports, Sylvia Bright-Green thinks the Milwaukee Brewers' luck will finally turn around with a winning season next year.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Poisoning cases due to herbal brews show rise


Abu Dhabi |Barbara Bibbo', Staff Reporter | 25-12-2003

Cases of poisoning due to herbal drugs are raising concern among health authorities regarding their improper sale and usage.

Doctors in Sharjah and elsewhere said in recent weeks they have seen several cases of poisoning due to wrong administration of herbal medicines.

"A patient came with severe damage to the liver after he tried to treat hepatitis C using a Chinese herbal medicine," said Dr Sameh Fakhry, Gastroenterology and Hepatology Consultant at the Ministry of Interior's Medical Services.

"Many people take herbal medicines without seeking proper diagnosis."

Dr Sassan Behjat, Coordinator of Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicine Unit at the Ministry of Health (MoH), said herbal drugs could be toxic if they are not used properly.

"Herbs are not always safe, they can be very toxic if not used in the correct way. In addition they can inherit qualities, related to the method of cultivation and environment which remain unknown to the consumer."

He said responsibility for a proper use lies with patients, who should seek professional counselling. Herbal remedies and alternative medicine treatments in general should not be sold in pharmacies but at specialised centres.

"There are no specialised outlets for herbal, homeopathic, Chinese and other kinds of alternative medicine in the UAE. Alternative medicine products are often sold by pharmacists who are trained only in allopathic medicine and do not know how to help the consumer."

Dr Behjat suggested pharmacists should be trained in alternative medicine to provide proper counselling to customers. He said consumer rights protection, education of alternative medicine to professionals, production of quality and cost effective medicines was discussed last week in Italy during a meeting organised by the WHO and the Italian health authorities.

"Protection of consumers against misleading advertisement is one of the major challenges for health authorities today," said Dr Behjat, who chaired the event.

"The resurgence of interest in traditional and alternative medicine around the world is posing a major threat to consumers who are bombarded with advertising." He said the WHO meeting aimed to provide general principles on how to develop reliable information about traditional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (TM/CAM).

Another objective was to issue recommendations on how to promote and ensure proper use of safe and effective TM/CAM therapies. Its recommendations will be published in the coming weeks. "The document issued at the meeting will help the MoH implement its policies and promote proper use of TM/CAM.

"But we have to stress that in the Gulf region, the UAE is in the forefront with regards to regulation of this field. The MoH has involved the Directorate of Municipalities to regulate registration and sale of TM/CAM products in the UAE."

A place for creationism


Gregory Korgeski

Published December 13, 2003

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.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Cryptologists call mysterious manuscript a hoax


400-year-old Voynich manuscript and its mysterious language has stumped scholars for generations

Sunday, December 21, 2003
By Michael Woods, Post-Gazette National Bureau

An ancient sorcerer's recipe for potions and cures, straight out of a Harry Potter adventure? An unbreakable secret code? Some message from a lost civilization -- or another planet?

Those tantalizing explanations for the fabled Voynich manuscript -- sometimes termed "the world's most mysterious book" -- may give way to a more humdrum scenario.

British computer scientists have concluded that the so-called VM, which has stumped generations of scientists, is a scam concocted 400 years ago by an Elizabethan con artist to bilk a king.

In a new study, they describe how secret coding, or cryptographic, techniques available in the late 1500s could produce the VM's strange text. Although invented to change text into secret code, the methods also can be used to generate gibberish for a hoax.

"The hoax hypothesis is now a plausible explanation for the Voynich manuscript," Dr. Gordon Rugg said in an interview from Keele University in England. He headed the study and provided an advance copy of the report, which will be published in the January 2004 edition of "Cryptologia." Cyrptology researchers often announce new discoveries in the noted journal.

International experts on the VM both praised and criticized Rugg's conclusions. Some cited the need for follow-up studies to rule out other explanations for the VM's unique script, text, and images.

Now a prized holding in Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/), the VM reads like a book from Mars.

About 6-inches by 9-inches, it contains more than 230 pages written in neat, clear script in an unknown language. There's no punctuation or indication of sentences. Its parchment leaves and foldouts are richly illustrated with individually captioned watercolor images of apparent medicinal plants not found on Earth. Other images show apparent astrological signs or constellations of stars unknown to science; oddly proportioned naked women; and complex systems of plumbing-like tubes carrying liquids.

"We have no clear idea of its date, its author, its provenance, the meaning of its script, or even the meaning of its drawings," said Jim Gillogly, a former RAND Corporation researcher who administers a Web site (www.voynich.net) devoted to VM research.

The Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who reigned from 1576-1612, was the VM's first known owner. He bought it from an unknown seller for coins that contained more than 7 pounds of pure gold. Rare book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich bought it in Italy around 1912, and it later passed to another book dealer, Hans P. Kraus, who valued it at $160,000. Unable to find a buyer, Kraus donated the VM to Yale's rare book collection in 1969.

Yale describes the VM as a "scientific or magical text in an unidentified language." One hypothesis suggests that it was the coded personal notebook of a medieval alchemist. Those forebearers of the modern chemist tried to make a powder, called the "philosopher's stone," that would cure all illnesses, prolong life, and change lead into gold.

Others suggest that it was written in some lost language or secret code developed by 13th century scholar Roger Bacon.

The world's best code-breakers, however, have been unable to verifiably decipher a single word of the text. The VM's content likewise has befuddled linguists, botanists, mathematicians, astronomers, historians, astrologers, and crackpots for more than a century.

Rugg began research on the VM because he thought it could be the key to a more secure code.

"Codes are at the heart of modern security systems," he explained. "When I started work on this project, there was a real possibility that some Renaissance genius had invented a type of code which our best code breakers couldn't crack. That was too tantalizing a possibility to ignore."

Modern researchers have cracked every other early coding system within a few days, he noted.

David Kahn considered and rejected the hoax alternative in his 1976 book ("The Codebreakers") on secret communications.

"Is it, then, just a gigantic hoax, like the Cardiff giant or the Piltdown man?" Kahn asked of the VM. "The work is too well organized, too extensive, too homogeneous. Moreover, the words in the text recur, but in different combinations, just as in ordinary writing. Even if it was a hoax, there seems to be no point to having made it so long."

Rugg said most VM researches abandoned the hoax hypothesis years ago for exactly those reasons.

"The manuscript exhibits so much linguistic structure that a hoax appears to require almost as much sophistication as an unbreakable code," he explained. "It has been generally assumed that a hoax showing these features would take an enormous amount of time to generate, and would not be economically viable for a hoax perpetrated for financial gain, even if it was technically possible."

Rugg's study details how one person could have used 16th coding technology to generate the VM's entire text within two to three months. The illustrations could have been inserted quickly, as well. And the point may have been a swindle.

"It would have brought him a lot of money," Rugg said, noting the small fortune that Rudolph II shelled out. "There also may have been an element of vanity involved -- tricking the leading scholars of the day."

Rugg thinks the con artist probably was Edward Kelley, an Elizabethan adventurer involved in many dubious activities, who once worked with an associate to invent a language called Enochian. Kelley allegedly produced gold using alchemy, claimed to be clairvoyant, and once was imprisoned for fraud.

Gillogly, like several other VM researchers, described the hoax hypothesis as sound.

"I applaud his work," he said, noting that Rugg's coding approach did produce text similar to the VM. But Gillogly said it would take more evidence to clinch the case, such as using Rugg's technique to produce a specific page of the VM.

Others disagreed.

"To me, it is evident that Gordon Rugg has made his conclusions according to his beliefs and not on substantiated facts," said John Stojko, a New Jersey engineer who claims to have deciphered the VM almost 30 years ago.

Stojko's research concluded that the VM is not gibberish or secret code, but ancient writing in a script that marked humanity's transition from the picture writing of hieroglyphics to modern alphabets. His 1978 book ("Letters to God's Eye") offered a translation into English, depicting the VM as the saga of a religious or civil war in what now is the Ukraine.

(Michael Woods can be reached at
mwoods@nationalpress.com or 1-202-662-7072.)

Copyright ©1997-2002 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Evolution Report


This is a fast note to let you know that our Evolution Report #3 is just online.

It can be found at http://www.argentinaskeptics.com.ar/EvolutionReport03.pdf.

Evolution Report contains updated local and international news about creation and evolution.

We encourage you to broadcast Evolution Report to new potential readers.

Best regards,

Juan De Gennaro

And Happy New Year!!

University carves niche in alternative health care


Posted on Wed, Dec. 24, 2003

The Seattle Times

SEATTLE - (KRT) - On a foggy fall night down a University District alley, four students unloaded corpses from a blue van and passed them through a window into a makeshift dissection laboratory.

Student Walter Crinnion remembers that night in 1981 as if it were a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. He was helping prepare a lesson in basic anatomy at the fledgling naturopathic school that would become Bastyr University. Although doing nothing wrong, Bastyr did not want to draw attention to the donated cadavers after critics dismissed the founders as oddballs and lobbied against the school's efforts to join the state college system.

Today, staff members who once worked from a converted broom closet in Seattle can wander the university's 50-acre, wooded Kenmore campus, which is nestled within a waterfront park. Faculty landed $1.1 million in federal research grants this year and are helping advise the U.S. government on how to spend Medicare dollars.

This fall, the school announced plans to open a branch campus in California that eventually could double the student enrollment of 1,200. Leaders at Bastyr, already the largest and arguably most prestigious naturopathic school in the country, now talk about becoming a "world destination point" for alternative medicine.

Twenty-five years after opening, Bastyr is booming, fueled, in part, by growing consumer demand for alternative medicine and a rapid rise in available federal-grant money for research.

But as it grows, new challenges are emerging.

Conventional universities that once took pains to distance themselves from alternative medicine are now claiming a piece of the federal-grant pie, forcing Bastyr to fight or form partnerships with mainstream players to keep its niche. At the same time, critics are questioning Bastyr's science and ties to the booming dietary-supplement industry, and the school's own rigorous research has proved that at least one previously cherished alternative "cure" has no measurable effect.

Still, the private university has flourished in a state with some of the most liberal alternative-medicine regulations in the country.

Bastyr has become "very successful" nationally among the handful of alternative-medicine schools competing for grants and conducting research, said Richard Nahin, a senior adviser at the National Institutes of Health's Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Part of that success can be attributed to partnerships the school has formed with conventional schools such as the University of Washington, he said.

"I think the Northwest is philosophically attuned to natural medicine," said Joe Pizzorno Jr., the co-founder and driving force behind Bastyr, and its president for the first 22 years. He cites the region's natural beauty, outdoor lifestyle, independence of thought and even the number of medicinal plants that grow wild.

The 56-year-old naturopath leans over the deck of his Seattle home and points. Dandelions for use in herbal tinctures to help clean the liver. Stinging nettle for its antihistamine properties. Rose hip for Vitamin C and flavonoids. Saint Johnswort for depression.


Hundreds of herbs grow in Bastyr's distinctive herb garden. Tended by students, the herbs are clustered according to body functions: those that affect the heart, the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system and the female reproductive system. They are a central part of Bastyr's curriculum, which specializes in naturopathy, a system of medicine that emphasizes the importance of patients' total health and uses herbs to treat specific ailments.

The garden aside, Bastyr's campus looks much like any other institution of higher learning. Concrete columns mark the entrance while soberly institutional buildings lend the former St. Thomas Catholic seminary a conservative feel.

During one recent class, students peered through microscopes to identify and assess herbs. Students also use a nutritional kitchen and laboratory with a self-contained ventilation system to study HIV and other potentially contagious viruses.

Beyond the Kenmore campus, the school runs a Wallingford clinic that tallies 35,000 patient visits each year. Called the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the clinic is a training ground for students completing academic and residency requirements.

At the clinic's Chinese herbal dispensary, a supervisor pulls down glass jars filled with cicada husks, dried worms, magnesium and dozens of other exotic remedies. He carefully measures and mixes prescriptions that patients use to make tea or tinctures.

The naturopathy course begins with two years of fairly conventional anatomy, dissection and science before a final two years that includes clinical training and classes in homeopathy, physical medicine, Native American medicine and herbal medicine. This is followed by residency programs.

The average age of students is 32, and most already have completed an undergraduate degree at a conventional university. Graduate-degree programs cost $16,000 to $18,000 a year and attract students nationwide.

Nearly 80 percent of students in major programs are women, as are about 70 percent of patients who visit the Wallingford clinic.

"One of the things that differentiates natural medicine from conventional medicine is that we are more of a nurturing medicine," Pizzorno said. "Women have traditionally been nurturers in our culture."

Once they have completed degrees, students can apply for state licenses. Most naturopaths set up private practices and earn $35,000 to $100,000 annually.

Pizzorno, with a chemistry degree from California's Harvey Mudd College, was conducting research at the UW's School of Medicine and trying to find a cure for arthritis when a friend, who had suffered arthritis since her teenage years, made a remarkable recovery after visiting a naturopath.

Dumbfounded, Pizzorno visited the naturopath's clinic in 1971.

"In a few days, I saw these medically incurable diseases being cured by this fellow, using just lifestyle and herbs," Pizzorno said. "I became enamored with the whole thing."

The idea of bringing Eastern-rooted medicine to the West is not new to this generation. There were perhaps two dozen schools of alternative medicine throughout the country in the 1920s, but big strides in conventional medicine all but wiped them out.

By the 1970s, Seattle was home to the last significant naturopathic school in the country, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine. Pizzorno decided to attend. There he met renowned naturopathic healer John Bastyr, who died in 1995. When the National College moved to Portland in 1978, Pizzorno and three others decided to open their own school and name it after their mentor.

That year Bastyr opened in space - including the broom closet - rented from Seattle Central Community College. A plan to affiliate the school with the community-college system collapsed after medical and UW academic opponents successfully lobbied the state against it. Without government subsidies, tuition costs were more than double what students had expected.

"They told us they thought the school was going to fold because of the lack of funding," said Dean Howell, who was one of 31 students in that first-year class.

Remarkably, no students pulled out. Classmates included a former university chemistry lecturer, a flight attendant and a jazz pianist back from a seven-year spiritual journey in Asia, said Howell, who runs an alternative-therapy clinic in Bellevue, Wash.

Pizzorno's first goal at the new school was to get state accreditation to boost the school's credibility and enable students to get loans. But in the early 1980s, a leery college-accrediting agency changed the accreditation rules in a way that excluded Bastyr.

Under pressure from a sympathetic public and then-Gov. Booth Gardner, the agency relented; Bastyr was accredited in 1989. Since then, the Portland college and naturopathic schools in Arizona and Connecticut have been accredited. More success followed for Bastyr. Demand for alternative treatments increased after changes to state insurance laws in the 1990s allowed more patients to get reimbursed.

In 1993, Pizzorno was appointed to a federal advisory panel on dietary supplements, helping establish a stronger national presence for the university. Pizzorno later served on a White House commission that helped develop an alternative-medicine policy, and earlier this year, he and another naturopath were appointed to the Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee, charged with advising what medical services should be covered by Medicare.

In 1996, King County signed a contract with Bastyr to open a Kent clinic that was the nation's first government-run clinic offering alternative medicine alongside conventional cures.

Bastyr's rapid growth reflects the increasing demand for alternative therapies. In the past two years alone, the number of licensed naturopaths in Washington state jumped from 515 to 642, while acupuncturists went from 708 to 801 in just the past year. That compares with 14,500 medical doctors.

"Naturopaths are being looked at more and more as primary-care providers," said Holly Rawnsley, the naturopathic-program manager for the state Department of Health. "It's a growing profession."

Many patients say part of the appeal of visiting a naturopath is the amount of time and care given. A consultation often takes more than an hour and delves deep into the patient's diet, lifestyle and emotions. Many consider it a much more personal experience than visiting a medical doctor.

"The whole thing about Bastyr is that they acknowledge my life," said Joel Davis, one of the hundreds of HIV/AIDS patients who visit the Wallingford clinic each year. Davis uses natural therapies to help mitigate the effects of AZT and other conventional drugs.

Davis, who has lived with HIV for 20 years, visits Bastyr for consultations and acupuncture and to soak in peat baths, a therapy he believes helps bolster his immune system.

"If you have to have HIV, Seattle is the place to have it," Davis said. "Bastyr is a novelty in this country. It's one-stop shopping for CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) care. Unfortunately, it's a wonderful secret."

It's a secret that even UW medical students are discovering. Over the past few years, Bastyr and the UW have shared grants and knowledge. Some UW medical students attend summer classes at Bastyr, while others are involved in an alternative-medicine focus group.

"The reality is that we are getting engaged in a topic that is of great interest to patients," said Dr. John Coombs, an associate dean at the UW School of Medicine.

Congress established its alternative-medicine office within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 11 years ago, with an annual budget of $2 million. That has grown more than 50-fold, to $114 million this year. Most of the money is handed out for research and trials.

"We are trying to find out what is safe, what is effective, and for what conditions," said Anita Greene, a spokeswoman for the NIH alternative-medicine center.

Bastyr began searching for a natural cure for AIDS in 1988 with the Healing AIDS Research Project. The study helped launch one of the school's specialties: HIV/AIDS treatment and research. It also helped land Bastyr its first NIH grant of $840,000 in 1994 for a second study tracking 1,700 HIV/AIDS patients. That study found some patients benefited from using alternative therapies in conjunction with conventional drugs.

But the competition for NIH money is getting fiercer.

"Conventional schools have more capacity, more talent and more infrastructure," said Jane Guiltinan, a clinical professor at Bastyr. "Some of them saw the CAM budget get huge and said, `Wow, this is a place to get grant funding.' "

There are other challenges. A recent study Bastyr helped complete showed that children with colds get no measurable benefit from taking the herb Echinacea, calling into question earlier theories.

And Bastyr still attracts its share of critics. Some watchdog groups composed of conservative doctors - including Quackwatch and the National Council Against Health Fraud - have tried to block the appointment of Pizzorno and others to federal advisory agencies, though with little success. Stephen Barrett, a retired Pennsylvania psychiatrist who runs Quackwatch, said one of his concerns is that Bastyr influences students against immunization.

But Bastyr President Tom Shepherd, who ran mainstream hospitals for 28 years before taking over from Pizzorno, said the school has no position on immunization. "I have sat in on the classes on immunization, and they did present both sides of the issue," he said.

Such criticisms haven't slowed Bastyr. By 1999, student numbers had hit 1,000.

In the next few years, Shepherd said he hopes to raise $14 million to buy the Kenmore campus, which is still leased from the Catholic Archdiocese.

Owning the campus would allow Bastyr to begin construction on a new academic and research building, and to provide on-campus housing for 326 students by 2020.

The university also is scouting eight possible locations for a branch campus in California, after that state passed a law in September that made it the 13th in the country to license naturopaths.

Shepherd said he sees a day soon when the campus will attract people from all over the world for special training, seminars and summits on natural medicine.

"All the pieces are in place," he said.


Bastyr University

Year opened: 1978.

Student population: 31 in 1978; nearly 1,200 this year. About two-thirds from Pacific Northwest; about 60 international students.

Location: 50-acre campus within Kenmore's Saint Edward State Park.

Student-teacher ratio: About 15 to 1.

Annual budget: $24 million.

Major degrees offered: Doctorate in naturopathic medicine and Master/Doctorate in acupuncture and Oriental medicine; Bachelor/Master of Science in nutrition.

Soccer team: The Supernaturals.


© 2003, The Seattle Times.

Visit The Seattle Times Extra on the World Wide Web at http://www.seattletimes.com

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

SP gets wife killed for practising voodoo


PTI[ WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2003 06:20:18 AM ]

RAIPUR : Bijapur superintendent of police J S Batti was on Tuesday arrested by the Chhattisgarh police for allegedly killing his wife with the help of some people. He had accused his wife of practising witchcraft, the police said.

Batti feared that his wife Vimla was ''engaged in witchcraft to make him impotent'', according to the police.

Batti was arrested from Narharpur village in Kanker district on charges of conspiring and killing his wife.

He was sent to judicial custody, additional director general of police Rajeev Mathur said.

The police had recently arrested four persons — allegedly witch-doctors — for killing Vimla on the night of December 10 by strangulating her at her house at Mankeshari village near Kanker district, Mathur said.

Vimla, a teacher, was killed for allegedly practising witchcraft, Mathur said, adding, the four accused claimed that Batti was also involved in the crime.

Batti was then arrested on the basis of evidence found against him, Mathur added. According to Mathur, Batti admitted that he had sent the four 'witch-doctors' to his wife, ''but that was to remove the effect of witchcraft and not to kill her''.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Engineering Intelligent design in Darby schools


A debate is raging over proposed changes to the science curriculum at Darby High School—including a "critical look at origin science"—as education in Montana continues to evolve. Nobody wants to specify precisely what alternatives to evolution may be presented to tomorrow's schoolchildren, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to assume they will include a theory known as "intelligent design."

Intelligent design is a school of thought positing an intelligent designer of life and the universe, aka a creator. Adherents hold that the universe is put together with such sophistication that it could not have been created by chaos and chance; there must have been an engineer involved.

Proponents tout research by leading scientists. Opponents claim that science is not peer-reviewed.

The proposal was introduced to the Darby community by parent and ordained minister Curtis Brickley during a presentation to 200 people on Wednesday, Dec. 10, and seems to be gaining momentum; Brickley expects to present a policy plan to the school board on Jan. 5.

At press time, Brickley was unwilling to discuss exactly what recommendation he will make to the board at that meeting. He did say that he doesn't want a mandate to teach only intelligent design. Instead, he wants the theory juxtaposed against evolution in an effort to "teach origin science more objectively."

"They need to teach evolution more critically, and teach evidence that challenges the neo-Darwinian theory," Brickley said during a phone interview. "I believe it is worthy of every school district in the state and nation. If I can play a role, I'll be happy."

Intelligent design and creationism both implicate creators. But intelligent design doesn't require a single creation event, or attempt to answer the question of the creator's identity.

"Design theory doesn't seek to answer that question. That question can be carried out in philosophy and religion classes," Brickley said.

Brickley doesn't feel that the general public is prepared to properly debate the merits of intelligent design. "I try to avoid arguments because for 90 percent of the public, the dialogue is over their heads. I let the experts debate it and try to broker the information coming out of the intelligent design camp," Brickley said.

Challenges to evolutionary science curriculums gained national attention in 1999 when the Kansas school board voted to drop evolution from its science classes. After the subsequent ouster of three conservatives who had supported the move (and a school year in which Kansas found itself the butt of national comedy routines), the teaching of evolution was reinstated. More recently, Ohio has changed state science standards to allow the teaching of intelligent design, and other state schools boards—including those in Alabama, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—are challenging evolution's classroom supremacy.

Since Montana is a local control state, school boards have plenty of leeway in setting curriculum. In Darby, a simple majority of the five-person board has to vote for the policy change in two separate meetings for it to take effect, regardless of what the mainstream scientific community might think.

Darby school board member Doug Banks is all for the change. After Brickley's two-hour presentation, Banks feels that he has enough information to vote for the change.

"Textbooks don't acknowledge that science has refuted evolution," Banks said. "Students are reading textbooks that are totally false. The whole scientific community knows that it's false."

Since Brickley's presentation, a group called Ravalli County Citizens for Science has also formed. The group is composed of parents concerned and outraged over the proposed policy change.

"This is a politically and religiously motivated action that seeks to place a religious agenda ahead of the interests of students. Students will be less prepared for college if this policy affects them," parent and RCCS coordinator Rod Miner said.

In the 2002-2003 school year, Darby High School ranked in the 64th percentile nationally on standardized science tests.

Miner feels that in order for a theory to qualify for dissemination in public schools, it should first survive the rigors of scientific methodology.

"There is no scientific controversy here. There is a political controversy," Miner said. "What they are proposing is not real science. Supporters can't point to any studies or peer-reviewed articles. They're trying to bypass the process of developing sound theory." Miner and the rest of his group have announced a public meeting to discuss their reasons for continuing to teach evolution unalloyed. That meeting, scheduled for Jan. 21, will feature university scientists explaining the merits of evolution theory.

Miner says he's gotten word from School Board Chair Gina Schallenberger that the policy change will be tabled until the board and public have had a chance to hear from both sides.

RCCS is also considering the possibility of a lawsuit should the policy change come into effect.

"Some people are against this thing only because of a potential lawsuit which will cost the district money," Miner said.

To get a perspective from the mainstream scientific community, the Independent contacted the biological sciences department at the University of Montana.

"Evolution and intelligent design are not parallel alternatives," Associate Dean of Biological Sciences Don Christian said. "I don't think there are any hypotheses developed by intelligent design that can be tested by science."

Intelligent design focuses on structures and processes that proponents call irreducibly complex, Christian said. For example: how did winged creatures come to have such complex bone structures?

"It's an issue that's plagued evolutionary biologists for years. In the last year they've developed a revolutionary new view of partial wings that points clearly to the advantages of intermediate wings," Christian said.

The point is, Christian said, that some irreducibly complex structures haven't been studied thoroughly enough for evolution to explain, but the answers are out there and still coming in.

"We all have world views that include elements outside of science, and it doesn't mean they're any less valid," Christian said. "But it's not science."

Alternative Medicine and Your Child


Tue Dec 23, 7:00 PM ET


As you wander the aisles of your local health food store, you stumble on one that is full of bottles that look like they belong in the drug store. Looking up, you notice that the name of the aisle is Alternative Medicine.

Seeing the phrase "alternative medicine" might conjure up images of pungent herbal teas, poultices, chanting, or meditation. In fact, both herbal remedies and meditation, as well as dozens of other treatments, fall under the heading of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Although there is no strict definition of alternative medicine, it generally includes any healing practices that are not part of mainstream medicine - that means any practice that is not widely taught in medical schools or frequently used by doctors or in hospitals.

But the boundaries of alternative medicine in the United States are constantly changing as different types of care become more accepted by doctors and more requested by patients. A few practices (such as hypnosis) that were dismissed as nonsense 20 years ago are now considered helpful therapies in addition to traditional medicine. Can alternative medicine help your child?

Types of Alternative Care The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites) recognizes seven general areas of alternative care (some of which have been put through rigorous scientific testing, but many have not):

Alternative medical systems generally fall outside the conventional medical system of doctors and hospitals. They include acupuncture, the practice of stimulating points on the body (usually with a needle) to promote healing; traditional Oriental medicine, which focuses on diagnosing disturbances of energy in the body; homeopathy, treating health problems with very diluted substances; and community-based healers like midwives, herbalists, and practitioners of Native American medicine.

Herbal remedies include a wide range of plants used for medicine or nutrition. They are available in grocery stores, in health food stores, or through herbalists and are often in the form of teas, capsules, and extracts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) (FDA) does not regulate these substances. About one third of American adults regularly take some sort of herb, anything from a cup of chamomile tea to soothe nerves to echinacea to fight a cold.

Manual healing treats medical problems by manipulating and realigning body parts. Perhaps the most widely known method is chiropractic care, which focuses on the nervous system and adjusting the spinal cord. Other forms of manual healing include massage therapy; osteopathic medicine, which uses manipulation in addition to traditional medicine and surgical treatment; and healing touch, where practitioners place their hands on or near the patient's body to direct energy.

Making a change in diet or lifestyle is an area of alternative medicine that almost everyone has practiced at some time. Many people take supplements if their regular diet does not have enough vitamins or minerals. And people with chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes often change their diet (more whole grains and vegetables and less salt or processed sugar) or habits (regular exercise) to keep the problem in check. This is one of the most useful forms of alternative care because altering your diet and habits not only helps treat numerous diseases but can help prevent them as well. This area of alternative medicine is widely accepted in the traditional medicine model.

Mind-body control focuses on the mind's role in conditions that affect the body. Hypnosis, a sort of conscious sleep or trance, can help some people deal with addictions, pain, or anxiety, whereas treatments like psychotherapy, meditation, and yoga are used for relaxation. Many people also turn to support groups and prayer to cope with an illness or feel more connected to others.

Drugs and vaccines that have not yet been accepted by mainstream medicine are also considered alternative. Eventually, after extensive testing and approval by the FDA, some of these medications or vaccines may become regularly prescribed treatments.

Lastly, an emerging area of study looks at how changes in the body's electromagnetic fields can affect health. Bioelectromagnetics is based on the idea that electrical currents in all living organisms produce magnetic fields that extend beyond the body.

How Does It Differ From Traditional Medicine? Alternative therapy is frequently distinguished by its holistic methods, which means that the doctor or practitioner treats the "whole" person and not just the disease or condition. In alternative medicine, many practitioners address patients' emotional and spiritual needs as well. This "high touch" approach differs from the "high tech" practice of traditional medicine, which tends to concentrate on the physical side of illness.

Most alternative practices have not found their way into mainstream hospitals or doctors' offices, so you or your child's doctor may not be aware of them. However, new centers for integrative medicine offer a mix of traditional and alternative treatments. There, you might receive a prescription for pain medication (as you might get from a traditional health care provider) and massage therapy to treat a chronic back problem. Such centers usually employ both medical doctors and certified or licensed specialists in the various alternative therapies.

Despite the growth in the field, the majority of alternative therapies are not covered by medical insurance. This is largely because few scientific studies have been done to prove whether the treatments are effective (unlike traditional medicine, which relies heavily on studies). Rather, most alternative therapies are based on long-standing practice and word-of-mouth stories of success.

What Are the Risks?

The lack of scientific study means that some potential problems associated with alternative therapies may be difficult to identify. What's more, the studies that have been done used adults as test subjects; there is little research on the effects of alternative medicine on children. Although approaches such as prayer, massage, and lifestyle changes are generally considered safe complements to regular medical treatment, some therapies - particularly herbal remedies - might harbor risks.

Science In the News

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

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

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

In the News

Today's Headlines - December 23, 2003

from The San Francisco Chronicle

The damaging earthquake that struck the San Simeon region Monday was powerful but no more so than millions of similar quakes that have heaved Earth's crust upward over millions of years to build the entire Santa Lucia mountain range, the fabled cliffs of Big Sur, and even the hills on the western side of the San Francisco Peninsula, scientists say.

The magnitude-6.5 quake was far stronger than any on record in its immediate area, but it fractured a fault at a spot only 4.7 miles underground and was followed by an unusually swift succession of more than 60 aftershocks within an hour and a half -- eight of them with magnitudes of 4.0 or higher.

Unlike the familiar quakes that strike sideways along the San Andreas fault, these shallow quakes all appear to have struck on what scientists call a reverse or thrust fault, where one block of Earth's crust dips beneath the block on the fault's opposite side, thrusting it violently upward.

It is the same fault mechanism that caused the far more deadly 1994 Northridge quake in Los Angeles, the 1971 San Fernando quake and the 1983 Coalinga temblor.

from Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- NASA scientists say soot, mostly from diesel engines, is causing as much as a quarter of all observed global warming by reducing the ability of snow and ice to reflect sunlight.

Their findings on how soot affects reflective ability, known as albedo, raise new questions about human-caused climate change from the Arctic to the Alps.

"We suggest that soot contributes to near worldwide melting of ice that is usually attributed solely to global warming," National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists James Hansen and Larissa Nazarenko wrote in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

from The Washington Post

Earth is invading Mars again. Late on Christmas Eve, four years after the United States lost an entire generation of spacecraft bound for the Red Planet, the first of three landers is scheduled to bound onto the surface.

If all goes well, the invasion of the frigid Mars terrain will begin when Britain's pint-size Beagle 2 -- a disk not much more than three feet across -- settles just north of the equator. There, on a flat basin called Isidis Planitia, between the planet's younger northern plains and the ancient southern highlands, it is to stay put and prospect for direct evidence of organic molecules, possible signatures of past or present life.

Beagle 2, with its underdog spunk appeal, is to be followed within weeks by the much larger and more sophisticated U.S. landers Spirit and Opportunity, ferrying a pair of robotic field geologists the size of golf carts. In contrast to the stationary Beagle, they are designed to lumber across the planet's surface at about the pace of Galapagos turtles and examine the history of the planet's vanished water for evidence that it could have supported life.

from The Boston Globe

The most dramatic science news of the year came on a Saturday morning. It began with shaky images of contrails over Texas and reports that NASA had lost touch with the Space Shuttle Columbia. Soon it was clear that there was no hope: The craft and seven crew members were gone. The shuttle disaster on Feb. 1 was part of a year of depressing, and sometimes frightening, headlines. There was the SARS outbreak, which prompted serious discussions of using mandatory quarantines in this country. There was the brief and strange outbreak of monkeypox in the heartland. Other teams of researchers reported that the world's fish populations have crashed harder than anyone suspected, and that the whale slaughter was worse than we thought.

And scientists have been increasingly disturbed at signs that the Bush administration is willing to play politics with science -- packing independent panels with pro-industry experts, suppressing or changing reports on missile defense and the environment, and intimidating researchers investigating controversial topics.

Bush's Faith-Based National Parks


December 22, 2003

The view from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, smogged up as it is these days, still retains the power to prompt even the most secular of visitors into transcendentalist reveries as they cast theirs eyes toward Shiva's Temple and Wotan's Throne. Now tourists at the federal park in northern Arizona will be greeted with scriptural passages affixed to park signs to help interpret the religious experience of gazing into God's mighty chasm.

This autumn Donald Murphy, deputy director of the National Park Service, ordered three bronze plaques featuring quotes from Psalms 68:4, 66:4 and 104:24 placed on viewing platforms on the south rim of the Canyon. The plaques were made and donated by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Phoenix, who live in a convent called Cannan in the Desert. The convent was founded in 1963 by Mother Basilea, who visited the Sinai where said she conversed with the Supreme Deity about the moral decline of the western world.

The nuns' website warns that "avalanche of moral decay is upon us... our society is disintegrating." As evidence, the nuns point to the removal of Judge Roy Moore's monument to the 10 Commandments in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court and to the appearance of the Dalai Lama at the National Cathedral-"another illustration of how God's commandments are pushed aside, step by step. May Jesus help us and guard our hearts!"

At the urging of the sisters, Murphy overturned a decision to ban the plaques by the Park's superintendent, who contended the religious messages violated the US Constitution.

That's not all. Now, after soaking in the grandeur of the canyon, visitors can retire to the Park bookstore where they can browse through the diaries of John Wesley Powell, Edward Abbey's Down the River, historian Stephen Pyne's excellent How the Canyon Became Grand and numerous volumes on the geology of the canyon. After all, the Grand Canyon has long been viewed as a kind of living encyclopedia of geological forces, a layered history of the Earth that debunked fundamentalist dogma on the age of the earth. "Nowhere on the earth's surface, so far as we know, are the secrets of its structure revealed as here," wrote the great American geologist John Strong Newberry.

But starting this summer the Park's bookstore began offering a volume titled The Grand Canyon: a Different View. The view is indeed different. This book of lavish photographs and essays presents the creationist account of the origins of the great canyon of the Colorado River. The book is edited by Tom Vail, a river guide, who offers Christian float trips through the canyon. "For years, as a Colorado River guide I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary time scale of millions of years," Vail writes in the introduction to the book. "Then I met the Lord. Now, I have "a different view" of the Canyon, which, according to a biblical time scale, can't possibly be more than about a few thousand years old."

One of the contributors is creation "scientist" Dr. Gary Parker who observes: "Where did the Grand Canyon itself come from? The Flood may have stacked the rock like a giant layer cake, but what cut the cake? One thing is sure: the Colorado River did not do it."

Earlier this year, the Bush administration prevented park rangers from publishing a rebuttal to the book for use by interpretive staff and seasonal employees who are often confronted during tours by creationist zealots.

In southern California, a similar battle is raging over a Latin cross erected on the Sunrise Rocks in the Mojave National Preserve. Apparently, the cross was erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and has since become a site for sunrise Easter services and a meeting ground for Wise-Use ranchers associated with the Christian Identity movement.

In December 2000, Park Service managers agreed to remove the cross based on advice from the Justice Department that the icon violated the Constitution and Park Service regulations. But the Park Service backed down after Congressman Jerry Lewis, the right wing firebrand from San Diego, intervened. The ACLU sued the Park Service in March of 2001 and won an injunction. The Bush Administration appealed and the case remains pending before the Ninth Circuit.

Meanwhile, in the nation's capital the Park Service has bowed to pressure from the religious right to rewrite the history of protests on the national mall. Since 1995, the interpretive center at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington has shown an 8-minute long film depicting various demonstrations and gatherings at the monument, including anti-war protests, concerts and Martin Luther King's most famous speech. Last month, the Park Service bowed to demands from Christian groups to edit out footage of anti-Vietnam War protests and images of gay rights and pro-choice demonstrations. In a letter to the Park Service, the Christian groups charged that the film implied that "Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion 'rights' as well as feminism."

The Park Service HQ responded that they would edit the film to present a "more balanced" version. The new film will included footage of rallies by anti-abortion and Christian groups, such as the Promisekeepers, and shots of a pro-Gulf War demonstration. Neither of these events took place at the Lincoln Memorial.

"The Park Service leadership now caters exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups," says Jeff Ruch, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "The Bush Administration appears to be sponsoring a program of Faith-Based Parks."

What's next? Live reenactments of the witch trials at Salem National Historical Park, presided over by John Ashcroft?

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