NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 January 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, January 10, 2004

False God


January 10, 2004
By Andrew Sarchus

Since the early years of the Reagan Administration, members of the "religious Right" have performed as the shock troops of the Republican party's conservative base. They turn out the vote from hundreds of church congregations, particularly in the South and West. So-called "evangelicals" constitute the fastest-growing segment of the Christian faith, and people identifying themselves as evangelicals vote overwhelmingly for Republican candidates and GOP-backed voter initiatives. While most American mainline churches opposed the Bush Administration's rush to war in Iraq, the religious Right lined up solidly behind the hardliners. Christian conservative rank-and-file members clog talk radio and letters to the editor with denunciations of "Godless" liberal plans concerning the environment, education, taxes, and the Middle East.

While religious Conservatives enjoy thinking it is they who control the destiny of the Republican Party, the truth is that GOP leaders are using the religious Right as electoral cannon-fodder. The GOP power structure will pander endlessly for votes of middle-class Conservative Christians even as its policies rob them of their economic and social future. In truth, the religious Right worships a false God, a God created by Republican leaders to extract votes in return for…a mess of pottage.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined the term "cheap grace" to describe a condition where personal sacrifice is not required in order for one to follow Christ's teachings. The Republican leaders have spun this idea for the religious Right so that the personal sacrifice shall always be from someone else. Republican "cheap grace" manifests itself in the Congressional vote against "Partial Birth" Abortion, ardently supported by Conservative Christians. In effect, criminalizing this procedure poses no financial or moral burden on the religious Right—the burden falls on the poor women who lose their right to privacy and the sanctity of their own bodies. Likewise, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush invoked "cheap grace" in their recent unseemly rush to "protect" the life of a woman with no cognitive functions. The woman's family, not the politicians or their voter base, must bear the continuing burden of keeping her alive in a persistent vegetative state.

After three years of ruinous deficits, the damage done to the economy by GW Bush and his ideological team is obvious to everyone. Most members of the religious Right have failed to benefit (along with the majority of middle and lower-class Americans) from any tax cuts or "economic recovery". Many religious conservatives are numbered among the nearly three million unemployed Americans. Yet Conservative Christians cling to false beliefs such as Bush being "appointed by God" to lead the USA in a time of great crises. Pat Robertson declaimed on his 700 Club that God has told him George Bush will win re-election in a "blowout", and the shock troops lapped it up. Why is this so? Perhaps the acceptance of such ludicrous eschatology has its roots in the religious Right's long- running battle against scientific facts that conflict with the "literal" Bible account of Creation. As countless debates about Evolution vs. Creationism have demonstrated, when historical evidence refutes the creationist argument, Creationists declare that the evidence itself is suspect, that God deliberately deceives us about nature. The recent flap over creationist books sold in the Grand Canyon National Park Bookstore is indicative of the deep antiscientific bias of Christian fundamentalists. Debates of this sort hark back to the Inquisition, if not the Dark Ages.

The political ambitions of the Christian Right have been obvious since Ronald Reagan began courting its constituents in the early 1970's. One key objective of the movement seems to be to define Christianity's central figure in terms that can be satisfied only by GOP stalwarts. Cal Thomas, a loyal pundit and armor-bearer for the Christian Right, recently penned a column dealing with the Democratic Presidential Candidates (chiefly Howard Dean) and their attempts to cope with the perceived "God gap" vis-ŕ-vis the GOP. Gov. Dean was interviewed by The Boston Globe concerning his religious beliefs and said he was "a committed believer" in Jesus Christ. Dean then explained that Jesus sought out those people who were "left behind" and "fought against the self-righteousness of people who had everything." Gov. Dean's comments about Christ are well-supported by each of the four Gospels. In summing up his beliefs, Dean said that Jesus "set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years…"

Cal Thomas pounces on this last statement like Torquemada on a suspected heretic. Sooo, Thomas poses to his readers, the good Governor apparently regards Christ as a mere "example" of a great teacher, but not (perhaps) as the Savior and the Son of God! Having previously noted that Dean's wife is Jewish and her faith takes "a distinctly different view of Jesus", Thomas steps away and leaves his reader to infer that Gov. Dean is, at best, a "political opportunist" out to "bamboozle" the religious who may have the temerity to consider voting Democratic.

I believe we may expect many more attacks of this sort by the Christian Right on the religious sincerity of Democratic candidates. When confronted with the solid Biblical example of Christ's ministry, the arrogant, rich, and self-righteous persons who now control the Republican Party must inwardly cringe. Thus the litmus test suggested by Cal Thomas: what counts is whether the politician publicly says Jesus is Divine—not whether the politician believes in following what Jesus said, did, or taught. GOPers from Bush to Sen. Frist to John Ashcroft are quick to proclaim their belief in Christ's Divinity. However, today's Republican leaders ignore the words of the Apostle Paul and Thomas a Kempis, who wrote at great length about Christians living their lives in imitation of Christ—in humility, honesty, truthfulness, and compassion--all traits conspicuously missing from GOP leaders. In the canon of Republican Leadership, publicly stating that one believes in God and Christ trumps any efforts by "others" to follow Christ's teachings. This ploy works with the shock troops of Christian fundamentalists, even when GOP policies work against their social, environmental, and economic interests.

As a devout Christian and a United Methodist, I conclude this essay with a paraphrase of The Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines: I am ashamed that George W. Bush is a member of my denomination. The current leaders of the GOP are little more than modern-day money changers in the temple of our Republic. The Christian Right, blind to the hypocrisies of these leaders, will no doubt continue to support the GOP and its false God. Will the rest of us—the majority of those of all faiths—be able to join together and drive the Republicans from power in November?

Deep rift over creationism grows from book about Grand Canyon

Friday, January 09, 2004, 12:00 A.M. Pacific

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times

How old is the Grand Canyon? Most scientists agree with the version that Grand Canyon National Park rangers tell visitors: that the 10-mile chasm in northern Arizona was carved by the Colorado River 5 million to 6 million years ago.

Now, however, a book in the park's bookstores since last summer tells another story. "Grand Canyon: A Different View," by veteran Colorado River guide Tom Vail, asserts that the canyon was formed by the Old Testament flood, the one Noah's Ark survived, and can be no older than a few thousand years.

The book includes essays from creationist scientists and theologians. Vail wrote in the introduction, "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. 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 a few thousand years old."

Reaction to the book has been sharply divided. The American Geological Institute and seven geo-science organizations sent letters to the park and to agency officials calling for the book to be removed. In part to appease some outraged Canyon employees, the book was moved from the natural-sciences section to the inspirational-reading section of park bookstores.

"I've had reactions from the staff all over the board on it," Deputy Superintendent Kate Cannon said. "There were certainly people on the interpretive staff that were upset by it. Respect of visitors' views is imperative, but we do urge our interpreters to give scientifically correct information."

Park Service spokesman David Barna, based in Washington, D.C., said each park determines which products are sold in its bookstores and gift shops. The creationist book at the Grand Canyon was unanimously approved by a panel of park and gift-shop personnel.

But the book's status at the park is still in question. Grand Canyon Superintendent Joe Alston has sought guidance from Park Service headquarters in Washington.

Meanwhile, the book has sold out and is being reordered.

The flap highlights what officials say is a problem for the national-park system: how to respect visitors' spiritual views that may directly contradict the agency's accepted scientific presentations and maintain the necessary division of church and state.

"We struggle. Creationism versus science is a big issue at some places," said Deanne Adams, the Park Service's chief of interpretation for the Pacific Region.

Adams said the questions arise most often at Western parks where geology is often highlighted, and singled out John Day Fossil Beds Monument in Oregon as a place where scientifically determined dates have been challenged.

"We like to acknowledge that there are different viewpoints, but we have to stick with the science. That's our training," Adams said. She said there is no federal guideline for how to answer religious inquiries. "Every fundamentalist or Christian group has a take on how they interpret the Bible. They are entitled to believe whatever they believe. It's not our job to change their minds."

The Park Service last summer ordered the reinstatement of three plaques bearing Bible verses that were erected at Grand Canyon National Park in 1970 by a group called the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Alston called for their removal last summer after a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Barna said Park Service Deputy Director Donald Murphy overruled Alston because he and the agency's regional attorney were not sufficiently well-versed in constitutional law.

"We contend that our superintendent knows a lot about wilderness protection but not enough about separation of church and state," Barna said.

Critics say that by condoning religious material in the park, the federal government is endorsing a particular spiritual point of view.

"The Bush administration appears to be sponsoring a program of faith-based parks," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "Any time a question arises, the professionals and lawyers are reversed and being told to respect the displays of religious symbols. We believe the actions by these officials violate their oath of office to defend the Constitution."

Some scholars, however, say they have no objection to books that offer religious interpretations of the parks, providing they are not marketed as science.

Historian Stephen Pyne, whose book, "How the Canyon Became Grand," is also on sale in the park's bookstores, said he doesn't mind if Vail's book is sold at the park, as long as it's not displayed in the science section.

"I have not read the book, but I'm familiar with the genre," Pyne said. "I think the Park Service would be remiss if it did not explain that there is not an agreed-upon story about the canyon, that there are conflicting stories. But science assumes it was not formed by a great flood or divine intervention. What this creationists' group is looking for is some sort of validation by the Park Service. There's an agenda there."

Not so, says an official of the organization that published Vail's book, the San Diego-based Institute for Creation Research.

"We have a secular presentation at the Grand Canyon, and we don't want to suppress other ways of thinking," said Steven Austin, who heads ICR's geology department and worked with Vail on the book. "But there needs to be room for more than one interpretation. It is appropriate to discuss theology to express a creationist view. As long as all sides are presented, I don't see any problem with it."

Vail could not be reached for comment.

George Billingsley, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has been studying the Grand Canyon for 36 years and said scientists never have agreed about the exact age of the canyon, although most concur that the oldest formations are nearly 2 billion years old. A scientific symposium held in 2000 to resolve the question of how the canyon was formed dissolved in acrimony and adjourned without consensus, he said.

As for the creationist theory, Billingsley said, "If someone presented that theory to me, I'd say you gotta have proof. You have to have some kind of mechanism to show what you say happened. I don't know how to argue with someone like that.

"But as far as putting the book in the bookstore, that's fine. That's the freedoms we have. Everyone has to make up their own mind. You could put a book in there that says alien beings created the canyon. The more ideas you have out, the better."



The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 668 January 9, 2004 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

LARGE GALAXIES FORMED SURPRISINGLY EARLY, a new study finds. You'd expect that a census of the farthest, earliest galaxies would feature a lot of smaller, hotter, younger, bluer galaxies, perhaps in the act of smashing into and coalescing with their neighbors. But a new survey made using the 8-meter Hawaii telescope of the Gemini Observatory shows rather that at only a comparatively short time after the big bang the universe was already well furnished with large, reddish, mature elliptical galaxies. The Gemini Deep Deep Survey (GDDS) trawled the poorly patrolled "Redshift Desert" region of cosmic history, the epoch roughly 3 to 6 billion years since the big bang and found instead what team member Roberto Abraham (University of Toronto) calls a "Redshift Dessert"---plenty of massive old galaxies where you'd expect few. Abraham and his colleagues reported the results at this week's meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Atlanta.

Patrick McCarthy (Carnegie Institution) said that what the survey shows is that at a point only 4 billion years into the life of the universe there were already galaxies up to 3 billion years old. This leaves very little time for the assembly of something as big as an elliptical galaxy. Furthermore, the galaxies in the survey possess a plentiful stock of heavier "metal" atoms, the kind that would have to be cooked up in repeated cycles of star birth and supernova. To put the question in term of galaxy demographics: how could there be so many senior citizens so early? According to Roberto Abraham, all of this should make theorists sweat.

LARGE SCALE STRUCTURES IN THE EARLY UNIVERSE are also larger than expected. Like the presence of surprisingly early mature galaxies at a redshift of about 2 (see the item above) another result at the AAS meeting suggests that the standard cosmological model---or at least that part of it devoted to galaxy formation---is in need of revision. A group of astronomers using the Blanco Telescope of the Inter-American Observatory in Chile and the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Australia reported seeing a grouping of 37 galaxies, all at a redshift close to 2.38, spread 300 million light years across the sky. Povilas Palunas (University of Texas) said that this constitutes the largest observed structure in the distant universe. According to models that simulate how the hot diffuse matter of the infant cosmos distilled into a web of knots and filaments, such an immense agglomeration should not have arisen so quickly.

The statistical case for saying that this sampling of bright galaxies (fainter galaxies could not be seen) is truly a coherent structure and not just a chance juxtaposition can be expressed as a probability with 1000-to-1 odds, a likelihood obtained by looking not at the specific arrangement of galaxies themselves but at the daunting amount of void between the galaxies. Gerard Williger (Johns Hopkins) said that he and his colleagues would naturally like next to sample adjoining volumes of deep space in order to test the proposition that the hasty filimentation of matter seen in this initial data set (the observed galaxies lie in the southern constellation "Grus") is not an isolated incident (www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2004/filament.html).

NEGATIVELY MISBEHAVING MUONS bolster earlier evidence of new physics beyond the standard model, though further experimental and theoretical work may be needed to confirm this possibility. At Brookhaven National Laboratory's "g-2" experiments, an international collaboration has been studying the decay of the muon, a heavy cousin of the electron, by measuring the muon's magnetic moment, a quantity that describes the strength with which the particle interacts with magnetic fields. In 2001, researchers studied positively charged muons and found a discrepancy between the experimental value and the predictions of the standard model (see Update 524), though the discrepancy was later reduced after researchers discovered an error in the theory. Yesterday, researchers reported measurements on negatively charged muons that matched the precision of the previously reported positive muon results. Combining the data on positive and negative muons, the researchers find a disagreement between the experiments and the standard model of as much as 2.8 standard deviations, about the same level of discrepancy that was originally reported in 2001 before the theory error was discovered. (For a discussion of the meaning of "standard deviation" and statistical significance in general, see this past Update item: http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2001/split/566-2.html.)

What would cause this discrepancy? Perhaps the muon's magnetic moment is being influenced by hypothesized but yet-undiscovered "supersymmetric" particles (with names such as "squarks") that are not included in the standard model. However, further work may be needed to check and refine the very difficult theoretical calculations on the muon's magnetic moment. Unfortunately, additional experiments at Brookhaven are out of the question for the moment, as the project's funding has ended. However, experiment spokesman Lee Roberts of Boston University says that the new results are prompting his group to write a new proposal for continuing their experimental tests, and future accelerator experiments, such as those at the upcoming Large Hadron Collider in Europe, will search for supersymmetric particles. (More information at http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2004/bnlpr010804.htm)

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.

Friday, January 09, 2003

Subatomic Tracking Finds Clues to the Unseen Universe

January 9, 2004


An experiment that tracks subtle motions of subatomic particles called muons has found tantalizing evidence for a vast shadow universe of normally unseen matter existing side by side with ours, scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory said yesterday.

The significance of the findings has been thrown into doubt by a series of mathematical errors and theoretical disagreements by physicists around the world who have been weighing the evidence for what would, if correct, rank as one of the greatest discoveries in science.

The Brookhaven "g minus 2" experiment has produced extraordinarily minute observations of the gyrating muons. In a dispiriting turn for the experimenters, though, the theoretical predictions of how encounters with ordinary matter should affect the dance of the particles have come into doubt. Only through differences between the expected and observed behavior of the muons (pronounced MEW-ahnz) could the existence of new matter be inferred.

"If you could believe the theory value was stable and reliable, you'd say, `Hey, there's no question,' " said Thomas B. Kirk, associate director for high energy and nuclear physics at Brookhaven. "But the theory situation is still not under control. It's just maddening to me."

The existence of the new matter is predicted by an unconfirmed theory called supersymmetry. According to the theory, every known particle in the universe from the electron to the neutrino has a counterpart that has eluded detection. Some versions of the theory suggest that "dark matter," a substance that seems to outweigh ordinary matter in the cosmos, actually consists of tremendous swarms of supersymmetric particles that waft through space.

The test at Brookhaven, at Upton on Long Island, involved a multinational team of scientists. It works something like the high school experiment called Brownian motion, which long ago provided evidence for the atomic structure of ordinary matter. When seen through a microscope, dust motes in liquids jitter about, because they are repeatedly struck by otherwise invisible atoms and molecules.

Physicists know that seemingly empty space is populated by a kind of fizz of particles that flit into and out of existence. The muons, charged particles that are heavier cousins of electrons, gyrate like tops in a powerful magnetic field in a vacuum chamber. Like the dust motes, the muons encounter the other particles and gyrate differently as a result.

The new Brookhaven group studied four billion spinning muons with negative electrical charges. The findings seem to agree with the group's earlier examination of positive muons, suggesting to some scientists that the shadow universe of supersymmetry may have been dimly sighted.

Gordon Kane, a particle physicist at the University of Michigan, said that he believed the disagreements were close to being resolved and that the experiment should continue to collect data. If the anomalous readings continue, Dr. Kane said, "you would have the first true, absolutely firm evidence for new physics."

In another misfortune for the g minus 2 group, the experiment has not received financing from the Energy Department to continue the work. The results presented yesterday emerged from extensive figures collected in 2001. Physicists in the experiment said they would renew their proposal to continue the work.

"When you get a discrepancy at this level, the usual procedure is to keep making careful measurements and answer the unanswered questions," said Lee Roberts, a physicist at Boston University and the group spokesman. "We will write a proposal that will say what we expect we can do."

So far, financing has gone instead to machines that have a hope of seeing the new particles directly, said Robin Staffin, associate director for high-energy physics in the science office of the Energy Department. Dr. Staffin cited the American contribution to the Large Hadron Collider, a powerful particle accelerator in Geneva scheduled to begin running in 2007.

Dr. Staffin called the new results "a very interesting indication of the new physics beyond the Standard Model," the theory that physicists use to describe ordinary matter. But he was noncommittal on whether the new findings would prompt a reconsideration on financing.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:


Bush Plans To Call for Settlement on Moon

Manned Mars Mission Is Longer-Term Goal

By Mike Allen and Kathy Sawyer

Washington Post Staff Writers

Friday, January 9, 2004; Page A01

President Bush will announce plans next week to establish a permanent human settlement on the moon and to set a goal of eventually sending Americans to Mars, administration sources said last night.

The sources said Bush will announce a new "human exploration" agenda in Washington on Wednesday, six days ahead of the final State of the Union address of his term and just as his reelection campaign moves from the planning stage to its public phase.

The plans grew out of a White House group that was assigned to examine the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on Feb. 1, throwing the future of the space program into doubt.

Officials were unwilling to provide cost figures or details and would say only that Bush will direct the government to immediately begin research and development to establish a human presence or base on the moon, with the goal of having that lead to a manned mission to Mars. That endeavor could be a decade or more away, the officials said.

The last humans on the moon, the crew of Apollo 17, landed in 1972.

Even advocates within the administration said the new project is sure to be a difficult sell on Capitol Hill because of the huge costs at a time when the administration is projecting mammoth deficits for years to come, and had promised to cut the shortfall in half over the next five years.

Another objection is likely to be that the existing human space flight program is still struggling to recover from the shuttle accident. The shuttle fleet is grounded until at least September and is unable to resupply the U.S.-led international space station, which is currently relying on Russian vehicles and operating with a caretaker crew of two instead of the usual three. However, some space analysts have suggested that the very extent of the program's troubles may have helped generate a consensus around the notion that only a dramatic remedy would save it.

NASA's budget this year is about $15 billion, and officials there have been told to expect an increase in the budget the president will send to Congress in February.

Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, proposed a sustained commitment to human exploration of the solar system -- with a return to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars -- in 1989, on the 20th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon. NASA came up with a budget-busting cost estimate of $400 billion, which sank the project.

The United States currently lacks the scientific and technical foundation required to send humans to Mars, and scientists still find it daunting just to land a robot there safely, as the events of the past week have shown.

Any new moon or Mars mission would take years to develop, scientists said.

Advocates of a return to the moon, already successfully conquered, have argued that a lunar initiative would be useful scientifically and envision the moon as a base for developing technologies and rehearsing the dispatch of humans to a much more distant and isolated landing zone on Mars.

With the Saturn 5 moon rockets, now spread across the land as museum pieces, astronauts could reach the moon in about three days, while a trip to Mars could take six months or more. Any worthwhile lunar initiative would require the development of a substantial rocket, some analysts have suggested.

Sources involved in the discussions said Bush and his advisers view the new plans for human space travel as a way to unify the country behind a gigantic common purpose at a time when relations between the parties are strained and polls show that Americans are closely divided on many issues.

"It's going back to being a uniter, not a divider," a presidential adviser said, echoing language from Bush's previous campaign, "and trying to rally people emotionally around a great national purpose."

Another official involved in the discussions used similar language, saying that some of Bush's aides want him to have a "Kennedy moment" -- a reference to President John F. Kennedy's call in 1961 for the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.

"It's a national unifying thing, it's a world unifying thing," this official said.

The sources said Bush aides also view the initiative as a huge jobs program, and one that will stimulate business in the many parts of the country where space and military contractors are located.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



from Associated Press

Pasadena, Calif. - An attempt to clear the Spirit rover's air bags from its path to the Mars surface has failed, and engineers are working on a last- ditch shot at removing the obstacle before choosing a more difficult route, NASA said yesterday.

Two sections of the air bags partially block the ramp that the six-wheeled robot would follow if it rolled straight off its lander. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory consider that the safest route for the golf-cart-sized rover to follow.

They fear the puffed-up sections of the air bags, woven of a polymer fiber stronger than steel, could snag on the rover's solar panels or robotic arm during the 10-foot roll to the ground. The air bags were used to cushion the rover's landing last week.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



from The New York Times

An experiment that tracks subtle motions of subatomic particles called muons has found tantalizing evidence for a vast shadow universe of normally unseen matter existing side by side with ours, scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory said yesterday.

The significance of the findings has been thrown into doubt by a series of mathematical errors and theoretical disagreements by physicists around the world who have been weighing the evidence for what would, if correct, rank as one of the greatest discoveries in science.

The Brookhaven "g minus 2" experiment has produced extraordinarily minute observations of the gyrating muons. In a dispiriting turn for the experimenters, though, the theoretical predictions of how encounters with ordinary matter should affect the dance of the particles have come into doubt. Only through differences between the expected and observed behavior of the muons (pronounced MEW-ahnz) could the existence of new matter be inferred.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



from The Los Angeles Times

Salmon raised in ocean feedlots, the main source of supply for American consumers, contains such high levels of PCBs, dioxins and other toxic chemicals that people should not eat it more than once a month, according to an extensive study reported today in the journal Science.

The study, which has triggered heated protests from the industry, focused on commercially raised salmon in both the Atlantic and Pacific. It found roughly 10 times more PCBs, dioxins and pesticide residues in farmed salmon than in the wild variety. The amount of contamination exceeded some federal guidelines, although officials of the Food and Drug Administration said that the levels of PCBs detected in the fish are not high enough to justify the limit on consumption.

Researchers say the culprit is salmon feed: pellets of ground up small fish, which are rich in fish oil, that help farmed salmon grow fat fast but also contain concentrated amounts of pesticide residues and industrial byproducts that have spread widely in the environment.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



from The Associated Press

The nation's flu outbreak has killed 93 children so far this season but appears to be on the decline, federal health officials said Thursday.

The government said flu is now widespread in 38 states, down from 42 last month. Colorado, which was one of the first states hit hard, dropped from the list of those with the worst outbreaks.

"We are cautiously optimistic that, at least in some parts of the country, influenza may have peaked," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "But there is still plenty of flu out there."

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



from The New York Times

A team of California geneticists has found that many of the world's peoples are genetically adapted to the cold because their ancestors lived in northern climates during the Ice Age. The genetic change affects basic body metabolism and may influence susceptibility to disease and to the risks of the calorie-laden modern diet.

The finding also breaks ground in showing that the human population has continued to adapt to forces of natural selection since the dispersal from its ancestral homeland in Africa some 50,000 years ago.

The genetic adaptation to cold is still carried by many Northern Europeans, East Asians and American Indians, most of whose ancestors once lived in Siberia. But it is absent from peoples native to Africa, a difference that the California team, led by Dr. Douglas C. Wallace of the University of California, Irvine, suggest could contribute to the greater burden of certain diseases in the African-American population.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



from The San Francisco Chronicle

More than a century after Sigmund Freud's ideas first stirred controversy, they've won partial support from Stanford University laboratory experiments involving technology that was unimaginable in his time.

One of Freud's key claims was that humans "repress" unpleasant memories. Such memories continue to lurk within the brain, and they occasionally resurface in disguised form -- say, in the eerie symbolism of dreams or in embarrassing "slips of the tongue," he argued. But skeptics have questioned whether such repression really occurs.

Now, using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or "fMRI" for short, researchers have caught human brain tissue in the act of suppressing simple memories in the form of paired words. The scientists report the findings in today's issue of the journal Science.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



from The San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists have found striking evidence of a three-year cycle of earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault, a development that might lead to the first practical short-term earthquake forecasting in central California.

The new research, which one expert called a tour de force of geoscience, suggests that the next peak of the cycle is likely to come late this year.

But don't panic.

In an interview Thursday, one of the study's two authors, geophysicist Robert Nadeau of the UC Berkeley Seismographic Laboratory, emphasized that he was not formally forecasting an imminent surge in either small or large quakes. He said it would take further research to confirm if the cycles are real and, if so, how they work.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:


Thursday, January 08, 2003

Orbiter Photographs Viking 1 and Pathfinder Landers on Mars' Surface

By Robert Roy Britt

Senior Science Writer posted: 01:20 pm ET 07 January 2004

Scientists have used an orbiting Mars craft to photograph robotic landers that have been sitting dormant on the surface of the red planet since their missions ended.

Using a newly developed trick, the researchers imaged Mars Pathfinder, which in 1997 thrilled earthlings with its photographs and the wandering science exploits of its Sojourner rover. Pathfinder appears as a dark dot near a rock that scientists named Yogi during the mission.

The Viking 1 lander from 1976 is also visible, as a bright dot in a separate image.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:


Major Bigfoot Expedition Seeking Participation From Corporate Sponsors and Journalists

REDWOOD CITY, CA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 01/07/2004 -- "The only way to prove that some kind of Bigfoot creature exists is to put together a big time expedition to capture and study one," according to Bigfoot explorer, C. Thomas Biscardi of Redwood City, California. Biscardi is currently putting together that expedition now and is inviting journalists and corporate sponsors to participate in his "American Bigfoot Expedition," set to launch in the spring or early summer of 2004.

"'The American Bigfoot Expedition' will be both a commercial and scientific expedition and we will also offer the rights to televise it," according to Biscardi, who has lengthy credentials when it comes to searching for Bigfoot.

Biscardi's first search for Bigfoot was documented in 1973 and then he produced a documentary film in 1981, "In the Shadow of Bigfoot."

The timing of this current expedition was prompted by the recent sighting and news reports of an "albino" Bigfoot. Biscardi has seen and has a photo of a baby Bigfoot with white fur. This creature is not necessarily an albino, but it does have white fur. The photo was taken by tracker, Peggy Marx. The encounter happened while Marx and Biscardi were driving along a logging road in the Shasta area of northern California. Marx was doing some advance planning for a bear hunting trip when they ran across the signs and scent of Bigfoot.

A photo from that encounter can currently be seen at www.barrows.com/bigfoot.html. (The barrows.com website site is the site of the advertising and public relations agency that is helping Biscardi coordinate the corporate participation and the initial media relations for this expedition.)

For the rest of the article click on the following link:


Wednesday, January 07, 2003

Essay: In Search for Life on Mars, Machines Can Boldly Go Where Humans Can't

January 6, 2004


With dwindling hope, scientists with the European Space Agency have awaited a nine-note musical message, much like the sound I hear on my daughter's cellphone when it receives a call.

Hearing this tune, written by a British band, Blur, would signal that the British-built Beagle 2 spacecraft landed safely on Mars two weeks ago and could begin experiments to detect trace signatures of past or present microbial life.

Whether or not the tiny Beagle 2 survived its dangerous descent to the Martian surface, the Spirit, a robotic craft launched by NASA, landed safely on the planet over the weekend and began transmitting photographs of the surface within hours. A sister NASA rover, the Opportunity, will try to land this month.

The rovers are to travel several hundred feet a day in search of evidence that liquid water once flowed on Mars.

Humanity has been fascinated by the possibility that life may have existed on Mars, our closest planetary neighbor, for as long as telescopes have allowed us to peer at its red surface. At the end of the 19th century, the American astronomer Percival Lowell detected what he was certain were "canals" on Mars that reflected an advanced industrial society.

While we now know that this was merely an optical illusion because of the limited resolution of the available observation instruments, Lowell's statements prompted generations of books and movies speculating on Martian invasions of Earth.

The fascination with the possibility that life once existed on Mars is not restricted to literature and the movies.

Scientists recognize that the climate of the barren planet was once quite different, with a denser, warmer atmosphere, as well as the possibility that liquid water may have flowed on its surface. Seven years ago, analysis of a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica set scientists abuzz with the claimed discovery of fossilized evidence of microscopic life forms.

Although most scientists now view that evidence as suspect, the idea that some ancient life may have existed on Mars remains plausible. Indeed, given that the Martian rock being analyzed was found on Earth makes it clear that material is regularly exchanged between the planets. For all we know, life on one planet may have "seeded" life on another at some time.

In spite of the tantalizing idea that life might be found on Mars, mounting a successful mission there to resolve this mystery is not so easy. Of the 11 attempted landings on Mars, only 4 have been successful up to now.

Space travel remains a difficult and expensive activity. But the excitement surrounding the current European and American landings makes it clear that the scientific questions that they may answer inspire a host of people. The activity also makes clear a fact that most scientists keep trying to underscore, that the best, most exciting and cheapest science involves unmanned spacecraft.

Even after only a 35 percent success rate thus far, the 11 missions to Mars have in total cost probably less than 1 percent of the projected cost of sending astronauts to Mars. Moreover, a lost robotic spacecraft is replaceable. An astronaut isn't.

As President Bush and NASA try to re-examine how to revitalize America's manned-space program, now is the time to face up to various truths about human space travel from scientific and human perspectives.

First, basically all that we learn from sending humans into space is how humans can survive in space. The International Space Station, orbiting several hundred miles above Earth, is not only boring, but it is also expensive.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:



By MICHAEL STARR - New York Post

January 6, 2004 -- UNIVERSAL has cancelled the syndicated version of "Crossing Over with John Edward" after three low-rated seasons. The show, hosted by renowned Long Island psychic John Edward, will wrap up its run at the end of this season.

New episodes will continue to air until then.

"We're very proud that 'Crossing Over' has been renewed for three seasons without the benefit of having its own station group - not an easy task in today's fragmented sales environment," said Steve Rosenberg, president of Universal Domestic Television.

"We knew 'Crossing Over' was special from the time it began on the SCI FI Channel . . . and the long waiting list for tickets told us there was an appetite for it."

"Crossing Over" began on the SCI FI Channel, where it continues to air, but never quite found its niche after branching out into daytime syndication.

It aired on Ch. 2 during its first season, switched over to Ch. 5 and currently airs from 2 to 3 p.m. on Ch. 9.

On the show, Edward, who's also a best-selling author, puts people in touch with beloved ones who've "crossed over," or passed away.

More than witches in Salem, Mass.

SALEM, Massachusetts (AP) --A witch flies on the side of this city's police cruisers, swoops past the local paper's masthead and leads Salem High into battle as its mascot. This is undeniably the "Witch City," even if not all residents are comfortable about renown rooted in the evil of the Salem witch trials of 1692.

But some wonder if it's time for Salem to expand its reputation beyond witch hysteria, and the kitschy spook industry that's grown up around it.

Now, tourism leaders have hired a marketing consultant, the first step in a campaign to retool the city's image by focusing on its significant, but lesser known, cultural assets.

For the rest of the article click on the following link:


Monday, January 05, 2003

Hundreds see fireballs fall from sky in Spain

MADRID, Spain (Reuters) --Hundreds of witnesses reported seeing fireballs cross the skies of northern Spain on Sunday in what authorities said may have been a disintegrating meteorite, Spanish radio said.

The bright flashes were spotted at around 6 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) in a swathe across the northern half of Spain, from the eastern city of Valencia to the northwestern pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela.

In some cases, objects were reported to have fallen to earth.

"I left the house at around 12 minutes to six. I heard a big explosion, like an earth tremor, and a white cloud of smoke formed around a nearby mountain which took a long time to disappear," a local official from the northern region of Palencia told the radio.

Civil Guard officials told the radio an object had plunged from the skies in the northern province of Leon.

Spain's civil aviation authority ruled out the possibility of a plane crash.

Jose Angel Docobo, director of the University of Santiago's observatory, said the phenomenon could have been caused by a rock orbiting the sun which had collided with Earth.


Saturday, January 3, 2004

Rover touches down on Mars

By Richard Stenger


Sunday, January 4, 2004 Posted: 12:05 AM EST (0505 GMT)

PASADENA, California (CNN) -- A NASA robotic explorer touched down on the red planet Saturday night, sending a signal home that it survived the risky descent through the Martian atmosphere and bouncing landing.

The $400 million rover Spirit, designed to conduct unprecedented geologic and photographic surveys on the Martian surface, transmitted a simple hello to Earth within minutes after landing, which took place just after 11:30 p.m. ET.

The golf cart-sized Spirit went through what NASA assistant administrator Ed Weiler characterized as "six minutes from hell" -- the time it took to enter the Martian atmosphere, descend and land in Gusev Crater.

During the descent, Spirit deployed parachutes and fire retrorockets to decelerate. Seconds before impact, it inflated a protective cocoon of airbags.

A series of bounces and rolls probably sent the robot about four stories high and more than a mile from its landing spot, according to mission control scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

For the rest of article, click on the following link:


Friday, January 2, 2004

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back:

Bob's Predictions for 2004

By Robert X. Cringely

JANUARY 1, 2004

As promised last week, here are my predictions for 2004. But first, let's take a look back at how well I did in 2003. Years ago, a reader complained that I didn't follow up on my prognostications, and I realized he was right. People in my position make bold predictions and then hope they are forgotten. Ever since then, I've fessed-up to what I got right and wrong, and I'm probably still the only columnist anywhere who does so.

A year ago, I wrote that HP/Compaq would continue its long slide to oblivion, and if you look underneath the corporate numbers, you'll see I was correct. The promised synergies have been minimal, growth nonexistent, and the companies are several billion dollars behind where they would have been had they remained separate.

I predicted that Dell would continue to grow at the expense of its competitors, and would become by far the largest maker of personal computers. I was right.

I wrote that Linux would continue to give Microsoft fits (that's true) and that Microsoft would be forced to compete on quality. This latter part is hard to call because Microsoft CLAIMS to be competing on quality, but I think that's still more marketing than reality. Overall though, I think I got this one correct.

I said that Sun would decline further, generally because of the success of Linux. There is no doubt that this was correct.

Here is one I got wrong. I predicted that China would standardize on Linux running on MIPS hardware. I still think the software side of this is coming since China, Japan and Korea have committed to joint development of a non-Microsoft operating system, but I was clearly over-optimistic in terms of timing. I tend to do that. On the hardware side, I was flat-out wrong. I figured the Chinese MIPS-compatible Dragon chip would become the standard, but didn't take into account its lower performance compared to Intel and AMD.

I was wrong, too, in my prediction that Microsoft would force Intel to adopt AMD's 64-bit Opteron instructions. I'll point out, however, that Microsoft and AMD continue to work more closely on 64-bit development than do Microsoft and Intel.

I correctly predicted the Mac G5 computer line and correctly predicted that V.92 modem development would stall, but that nobody would care.

I predicted that Microsoft's Palladium security plan, now called Trustworthy Computing, would be distrusted and stall. That looks right to me.

I predicted the rise of spam as a major headache (true) and said that Congress would pass more laws infringing our civil rights. This latter part is especially true if you take into account the recent expansion of FBI powers, quietly passed on a voice vote and signed into law by President Bush as a rider to the 2004 intelligence appropriations bill -- a bill that, because it involves classified activities, is not subject to public hearings. This sneaky act effectively passed the widely denounced Patriot Act II before anyone noticed.

I wrote that Hollywood would come up with new digital rights management schemes that would be promptly broken and that 802.11a wireless networking would be overtaken by 802.11g. Right both times.

While I was correct that there wouldn't be a significant act of high-tech terrorism in 2003 I was wrong in my mysterious prediction of a new electronic way to foment social change. I just never got around to doing it myself (that was the plan), so I'll have to accept that I was wrong.

And finally, I correctly predicted a rise of web log aggregators and search engines. And for those of you who keep asking for my RSS feed, it can be found in the links that go with this column. The final score for last year's column was three wrong out of 15 for a score of 80 percent correct, which is slightly above my historical average of 70 percent. Maybe I was just vaguer in 2003 than I had been in earlier years. The more vague the predictions, the more likely they are to not be wrong, you know.

Now for this year's predictions, which come in no particular order. Given the global readership of this column, I'm sorry if the predictions seem too America-centric, but that's the way it goes.

1) It will happen late in the year, but Microsoft will make a bold run for video game leadership. Sony and Nintendo have both chosen IBM's Cell Processor for their next-generation game consoles. This is a processor that does not yet exist and for which nobody can fathom how to write games. While the two Japanese companies scratch their heads, Microsoft will be trying to make inroads with game developers and introduce its own next-generation machine. In the long run, though, Microsoft won't succeed in taking the gaming lead.

2) We still won't see a big example of cyber-terrorism simply because nobody has figured out how to actually kill people that way. When it comes to terrorism, all that matters are body counts. We will, however, see dramatic growth in cyber-extortion and plain old theft.

3) Despite new anti-spam laws, we'll still be plagued with unsolicited commercial messages, especially using Internet Messaging protocols. Look for new and unenforceable laws in this area, too. As for old fashioned spam, it will continue to cram our inboxes, making a good business for third-party anti-spam products and services while making e-mail pretty much useless for reliable communication. Microsoft will see opportunity here and propose new protocols to replace SMTP and POP3. They may even offer those protocols as Open Source, but there will be a catch. With Microsoft there always is.

4) Continuing the security theme, look for lots of software companies to abandon support for old products and platforms. From their perspective, they already have your money, so continuing support is just a cost center for them. And if they stop support, you just may replace that old computer or application with something new, generating additional software sales opportunities. This means Microsoft giving up support for old OS variants and hardware, but it also means the same from security companies like Network Associates and Symantec. More and more old machines will become vulnerable, and there may appear a new kind of attack using just antiquated personal computers. Never underestimate the power of a Pentium-90 with a grudge to settle.

5) The SCO debacle has created a crisis within the Linux community. They pretend that it hasn't, but it has. This will come to a head in 2004 with either the development of a new organizational structure for Linux or the start of its demise. Linux has to grow or die, and the direction it takes will be determined in 2004.

6) As for SCO, they'll continue to make noise until the middle of the year, at which point the legal case will implode and the company will give up. By that time, the company executives, insiders, and major investors will have all sold their positions at a handsome profit. This was never more than a stock scam, pushing the price of SCO shares up by more than 15 times. The clever part is how they used a legal case to make public claims that would have caused serious regulatory problems in any other context. We'll see more of this ploy in the future.

7) 2004 will be a crucial year for streaming media. First, there is the Burst.com case against Microsoft. Burst will win unless Microsoft settles first, which I think will happen. If Microsoft buys Burst or takes an exclusive Burst license, it could mean the end for Real and Apple, both of which also are infringing Burst patents. Someone is going to come out of this a big winner. I just don't know who it is.

8) In the U.S., 2004 will see the start of the very digital convergence predicted by Al Gore back in 1996. Old Al was only eight years too early. What will drive this convergence is consolidation within industry segments and increased competition between industry segments. Comcast will continue to suck-up other companies, as will SBC and Verizon. Every cable TV company will move toward offering telephone service, and telephone companies will try to respond by offering greater broadband content, whatever that means. Clearly, the advantage here lies with the cable companies, but that is just for now. And don't forget the electric utilities, which will slowly start to roll out their own data offerings late in the year. This is really a 2005 story, but it will start in 2004.

9) The U.S. IT industry will see some real growth except for Hewlett- Packard and Sun, which will continue their declines. Dell will start to compete in new market segments and those might drive some of their low end products (MP3 players, especially, but also possibly TVs) into the retail channel. Dell service and support will suffer, but the company will still do well.

10) Cisco will not only maintain its leadership in networking, they'll make big inroads into managed storage against companies like EMC.

11) WiFi will be bigger than ever, of course, but progress and service will both be spotty. What's needed is a new business model for WiFi aggregation. I will offer that model in this space next week. Some smart company might just take it up and kick butt.

12) Wal-Mart's entry into the music download business changes everything, and will undoubtedly take the leadership away from Apple. This wouldn't bother Apple if Wal-Mart would support its file standards so Wal-Mart music can play on iPods, but that won't happen. In order to compete for what really counts (iPod sales, not music downloads), Apple MIGHT start to support other file formats. No guarantee on that. What IS guaranteed is that Apple will introduce a cheaper iPod using flash memory instead of a hard drive. Oh, and for next Christmas expect a video iPod, which is essentially a hard drive with a dedicated DV encoder/decoder and a FireWire interface. You'll be able to record video direct to the hard drive then edit from that same drive, completely eliminating tape. The logical follow-on from Apple would be a complete QuickTime video camera, but I don't see that until 2005.

13) No Apple G6 in 2004, and the company won't sell nearly as many G5s as it hopes.

14) IT outsourcing, as covered ad nauseum in this column, will become a political issue in the 2004 U.S. Presidential campaign. Whichever candidate comes out in opposition to outsourcing will have the advantage. And they'll be correct, though the extent of real damage to the U.S. economy and IT industry won't be apparent to those bozos for several more years. As for the touchscreen voting scandal, nothing will be resolved or improved. Don't get me started.

15) Microsoft will open its wallet here and in Europe, settling a ton of lawsuits, paying billions of dollars, but though the money will flow, no lessons will be learned on any side. Nor will Bill Gates achieve this year his dream of winning a Nobel Peace Prize. I am not making this up.

All told, 2004 looks to be a year of modest recovery, but little real technical advancement.

Come back in 365 more days and see how I did.


Australia 'facing hotter future'

By Phil Mercer

BBC correspondent in Sydney

There is a warning that Australia faces a future of higher temperatures, more severe droughts and raging bushfires, as well as major outbreaks of tropical diseases.

These gloomy predictions are made in a new government report on climate change over the next 70 years.

The findings will add to pressure on Prime Minister John Howard over his decision not to sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases.

The report by Australia's leading climate scientists gives a devastating assessment of what future generations can expect.

It is predicted the country will be hotter, more prone to drought and severe storms.

The study has claimed average annual temperatures will rise by up to six degrees by 2070.

Tropical disease

There is more bad news. Climate change caused by global warming will, say the authors of the study, put great pressure on water resources, while the Great Barrier Reef could be threatened by the bleaching of coral.

On top of all that, there is the prospect of more outbreaks of tropical diseases such as dengue and Ross River Fever.

In what could be interpreted as a criticism of the government's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the report has said any reduction in greenhouse gases would help Australia avoid the most damaging aspects of a changing climate.

Prime Minister John Howard has refused to ratify the global agreement, claiming it would cost jobs and damage industry and would be meaningless without the support of the United States, which has also rejected it.

The government has established an action plan to ensure Australia continues to cut damaging emissions without compromising its economic development.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Red panties bring you love

ANI[ FRIDAY, JANUARY 02, 2004 04:24:51 PM ]

WASHINGTON: Mexicans have a strong belief that fortune and good luck in the New Year depends on the colour of your underpants.

The origin of this tradition is obscure and is followed mostly by women. It dictates that when the clock strikes 12 for the New Year, people wanting love should be in red underwear and those wanting money should be in yellow ones.

Interestingly, sales staff has said that that the desire for love has apparently outraced the need for money despite the fact that the country is in financial dire straits.

However, people wanting both money and love equally wore double pairs of red and yellow underwear.


Thursday, January 1, 2004

Earth changes its spin, baffles scientists

Thursday, January 1, 2004 Posted: 10:16 AM EST (1516 GMT)

BOULDER, Colorado (AP) -- In a phenomenon that has scientists puzzled, the Earth is right on schedule for a fifth straight year.

Experts agree that the rate at which the Earth travels through space has slowed ever so slightly for millennia. To make the world's official time agree with where the Earth actually is in space, scientists in 1972 started adding an extra "leap second" on the last day of the year.

For 28 years, scientists repeated the procedure. But in 1999, they discovered the Earth was no longer lagging behind.

At the National Institute for Science and Technology in Boulder, spokesman Fred McGehan said most scientists agree the Earth's orbit around the sun has been gradually slowing for millennia. But he said they don't have a good explanation for why it's suddenly on schedule.

Possible explanations include the tides, weather and changes in the Earth's core, he said.

The leap second was an unexpected consequence of the 1955 invention of the atomic clock, which use the electromagnetic radiation emanated by Cesium atoms to measure time. It is extremely reliable.

Atomic-based Coordinated Universal Time was implemented in 1972, superseding the astronomically determined Greenwich Mean Time.

Leap seconds can be a big deal, affecting everything from communication, navigation and air traffic control systems to the computers that link global financial markets.


Too good to be true

January 1, 2004

Fifty years after Piltdown man was exposed as an outrageous fraud, Tim Radford selects his all-time favourite science scams.

1. The Piltdown man

The Piltdown fraud — exposed as a hoax 50 years ago — was neither the most wicked scientific fraud ever carried out nor the silliest, but to this day remains the one that everybody has heard about.

Eoanthropus dawsoni, or Piltdown man, was found in a gravel pit at Piltdown in Sussex, south-west England, in 1912 by Charles Dawson. For 40 years Piltdown man, with his huge, humanoid skull and ape-like jaw, remained on display in what is now the Natural History Museum in London as an example of the elusive "missing link" between humanity and its primate ancestors.

On November 21, 1953, however, scientists pronounced it a crude forgery, the marriage of a modern human skull and an orangutan's jaw, and decided that the entire package of fossil fragments at Piltdown — which included a ludicrous prehistoric cricket bat — had been planted by someone.

The world of palaeontology went pink, and the conspiracy theorists went ape. There was no shortage of potential suspects, and for the next five decades, they were named. The cast of potential pranksters in this anthropological whodunnit included enthusiastic amateurs, passionate professionals and disinterested jokers.

Theorists have even pointed the finger at a Jesuit priest — Pere Teilhard de Chardin, who posthumously became a New Age guru — and the begetter of Sherlock Holmes himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who in 1912 composed his own paleontological thriller, The Lost World .

"Piltdown matters for a number of reasons," says Chris Stringer, the museum's head of human origins. "One is that it is still an unsolved mystery: we don't know for sure who did it, how they did it, why they did it. Those mysteries remain. I think we have gone a long way towards building up the true story, but we haven't got the whole story yet."

What is certain is that everything found in the gravel pit was fraudulently placed, and by an expert. "When you do a dig anywhere, most of the stuff you find is little flakes of bones and you don't know what the hell it is and you can't identify it. In Piltdown, every single fossil was diagnostic of a species and they were all small, so they were all bits that would fit in someone's pocket, or trouser turn-up or whatever. So someone had the knowledge to say: how much of a rhino tooth do I need to show it is a rhino?" says Stringer.

There have been several scandals involving planted evidence. Fossil fraud is a lucrative business. "We get people coming into the museum with supposed Homo erectus skulls they have bought from a trader in Java," says Stringer. "They are carved out of fossil elephant bones, and they are beautifully done. People carve them and sell them for $500, and we have to say: 'it is a fake, I am sorry'."

2. The amazing Tasaday tribe

In 1971 Manuel Elizalde, a Philippine government minister, discovered a small Stone Age tribe living in utter isolation on the island of Mindanao. The Tasaday spoke a strange language, gathered wild food, used stone tools, lived in caves, wore leaves for clothes, and settled matters by gentle persuasion. They made love, not war, and became icons of innocence; reminders of a vanished Eden. They also made the television news headlines, the cover of National Geographic , were the subject of a bestselling book, and were visited by Charles A. Lindbergh and Gina Lollobrigida. Anthropologists tried to get a more sustained look, but President Ferdinand Marcos declared a 45,000-acre (18,210-hectare) Tasaday reserve and closed it to all visitors.

After Marcos was deposed in 1986, two journalists got in and found that the Tasaday lived in houses, traded smoked meat with local farmers, wore Levi's T-shirts and spoke a recognisable local dialect. The Tasadays explained that they had only moved into caves, donned leaves and performed for cameras under pressure from Elizalde — who had fled the country in 1983, along with millions from a foundation set up to protect the Tasaday. Elizalde died in 1997.

3. A crop of circles

They appeared overnight in fields in southern England in the 1970s, and spread over the world — and over acres of summer newsprint.

Observers talked of balls of light and high-pitched noises over fields of wheat, and experts reached for their favourite "scientific" theories. One group favoured tornado-like vortices in the air, another suggested "directed plasma" while a third argued that ley lines focused a vital geomagnetic current through the earth.

Intelligent aliens were invoked, along with top-secret military experiments and gaseous toxins from below the soil. Some people claimed that the circles revealed mysterious scientific formulae or religious symbols, others that they had healing powers.

Then, in 1991, a pair of hoaxers confessed and showed the press exactly how they created their crop circles. Some buffs were not convinced, however, and still continue to invoke strange forces.

4. The great IQ scandal

Sir Cyril Burt, professor of psychology at University College, London, used studies of twins to prove that IQ was mostly inherited. It was the largest study of its kind, so even those who rejected his explanation accepted his figures.

After Burt's death in 1971, researchers were shocked to find that some of the key research into IQ was fraudulent.

"The numbers left behind by Professor Burt are simply not worthy of our current scientific attention," said one. Argument continues about the extent of the fraud, but some people claim he not only invented some of the data but even the names of his research assistants. Even today, the argument over how much of IQ is down to genes, and how much to nurture, remains open. 5. Red faces at Bell Labs

Jan Henrik Schon, a young researcher at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, had five papers published in Nature and seven in the journal Science between 1998 and 2001, dealing with advanced aspects of electronics. The discoveries were abstruse, but he was seen by his peers as a rising star.

In 2002, a committee found that he had made up his results on at least 16 occasions, publicly embarrassing his colleagues, his employer and the editorial staff of both the journals that accepted his results.

Schon, who by then was still only 32, said: "I have to admit that I made various mistakes in my scientific work, which I deeply regret." Nature also reported him as adding in a statement: "I truly believe that the reported scientific effects are real, exciting and worth working for." He would say no more.

6. The alien corpse at Roswell

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is real, though we haven't found them and (probably) they haven't found us. But the fixation with UFOs and alien abductors reached new heights with the television screening of what is claimed to be a film of an autopsy on an alien that died when a flying saucer crashed in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico.

In 1995, the US Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal challenged almost everything about the black-and-white sequence — the age of the film, the photographer's military status, the injuries to the alien and the way closeups of alien organs went out of focus.

"The film has all the earmarks of an obvious hoax," said an investigator.

7. The signature of God

In 1726, Johann Beringer of Wurzburg in Germany published details of fossils found outside the Bavarian town. These included lizards in their skin, birds with beaks and eyes, spiders with their webs, and frogs copulating.

Other stones bore the Hebrew letters YHVH, for Jehovah, or God. He believed them to be natural products of the "plastic power" of the inorganic world, and said so in a book.

Alas, they had been planted fraudulently by spiteful colleagues. The legend is that Beringer impoverished himself trying to buy back all copies of his book, and the finds became known as lugensteine, or "lying stones".

8. Something for nothing

Cars that run on water, and fusion machines that generate more energy than they use are staples of inventors' fantasies. They pop up all the time. Charles Redheffer raised large sums of money in Philadelphia with a perpetual motion machine and then took it to New York in 1813, where hundreds of people paid a dollar each to see it.

It did, indeed, seem to keep itself turning. In the end, sceptics removed some wooden strips to find a cat-gut belt drive, which went through a wall to an attic where an old man was turning a crank.

But the dream continues. In 1984, CBS News in the US featured the "energy machine" of Joe Newman, who declared: "Put one in your home and you'll never have to pay another electric bill." People the world over are still getting bills.

9. Soviet spring of Trofim Lysenko

Lysenko was an agricultural researcher who in 1929 claimed to have invented "vernalisation". He chilled and soaked winter wheat, planted it alongside spring wheat, and reported that he got a better harvest. In fact, vernalisation was an old peasant technique, and Lysenko's experiment was based on one field of wheat, in one season, on his father's farm.

He also claimed that acquired characteristics could be inherited by the next generation — as if parents who go in for weightlifting could be sure of children with big biceps and six-pack abs. This evolutionary heresy is still known as Lysenkoism.

Joseph Stalin liked practical peasants who promised success, and the state bureaucracy wanted immediate improvement in Soviet agriculture — why wait for a five-year plan? — so Lysenko came to dominate Soviet biology. His theories were preposterous but he remained director of the Institute of Agricultural Genetics until February 1965, when an expert committee finally exposed a long career of false data and distorted science.

10. The krypton factor In 1999, a triumphant team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California bombarded lead with high-energy krypton particles and announced that they had found the super-heavy element 116 and, for good measure, element 118 as well.

The US secretary of energy, Bill Richardson, called it "this stunning discovery, which opens the door to further insights into the structure of the atomic nucleus ..."

By 2002, both discoveries had been withdrawn and a physicist, Victor Ninov, had been fired for falsifying data that provided the base for the claims.

"In the end, nature is the checker," said one of the laboratory's directors. "Experiments have to be reproducible."

- Guardian http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/12/31/1072546583012.html

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Bad luck prompts tourist to return glass to sacred temple


A German tourist who took a piece of decorative glass he found at Thailand's most sacred shrine has sent it back after two years of bad luck.

The tourist, who identified himself only as Juergen Z in his letter, claimed a tour guide suggested he keep the fragment from Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Chakrarot Chitrabongs, permanent secretary at the Thai Culture Ministry, told the The Nation newspaper that the hapless tourist mailed the glass fragment to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

He said the 2.5 centimetre-long green, polygon-shaped shard was believed to have broken off an old pavilion at the temple.

Juergen Z claimed he prayed for "permission" from the Emerald Buddha before taking the fragment but it has brought him nothing but bad luck.

"Since returning to his country, Juergen suffered bad luck both in his personal and work life," Chakrarot quoted the letter as saying. "It was just like a curse. Previously such things had never happened to him."

The tourist was advised by a Thai friend to return the glass fragment.

"He said he felt remorseful for his ignorance, and he urged the TAT to put the glass back into its place," Chakrarot said.

Story filed: 13:38 Tuesday 2nd December 2003

Witch doctor killed despite bulletproof talisman

A traditional doctor in central Nigeria has been shot dead by a patient who was testing the potency of an anti-bullet charm the herbalist had prepared for him, police said on Wednesday. Ashi Terfa died when patient Umaa Akor fired a gun at his head two weeks ago in south-central Benue state, police spokesperson Bode Fakeye said.

"Akor went for an insurance against bullets and contacted Terfa to prepare it for him," he said.

"To confirm its efficacy, the herbalist tied the charm around his neck and insisted that Akor should fire a gun at him. The experiment proved fatal for the herbalist and his skull was shattered," he added. "He died immediately".

Fakeye said the suspect had appeared in court for culpable homicide, but had been release on bail.

"The motive to kill could not be established against the suspect since the herbalist asked him to shoot to test the charm," he added.

The belief in withcraft and charms is rife in Africa.

Story courtesy of News24


The Phony Mogul Balloon Trajectory


How a debunker scientist "cooked the books" to support his pet theory

Copyright 2002 by David Rudiak

Last updated on: December 10, 2003


Charles Moore, one of the original Project Mogul balloon engineers, started out as a fairly objective party when it came to the Roswell incident, dating back to original interviews around 1980. But sometime in the 1990s, he cast his lot with the debunkers. Moore seems to have become firmly convinced that the lost Project Mogul Flight #4 balloon train, launched June 4, 1947 from Alamogordo Army Air Field, must have been what rancher Mack Brazel found crashed on his ranch about 85 miles NNE of the launch site and reported as a crashed flying disk. Thus Flight #4, in Moore's mind, is definitely the solution to the Roswell mystery.

In 1995, prompted by weather records supplied to him by Roswell researcher Kevin Randle, Moore attempted to recreate a possible trajectory for Flight #4. N.M. skeptic Dave Thomas in the July 1995 Skeptical Inquirer stated triumphantly:

Moore's analysis indicates that after Flight 4 lifted off from Alamogordo, it probably ascended while traveling northeast (toward Arabela), then turned toward the northwest during its passage through the stratosphere, and then descended back to earth in a generally northeast direction. Moore's calculated balloon path is quite consistent with a landing at the Foster ranch, approximately 85 miles northeast of the Alamogordo launch site and 60 miles northwest of Roswell.

(My response to Thomas' recent attack on me in a 2003 Skeptical Inquirer article can be read here.)

Another skeptic in a review of Moore's book, UFO Crash at Roswell, The Genesis of a Modern Myth, cowritten with Benson Saler and Charles Ziegler wrote:

Moore meticulously calculates the probable path of this balloon, based on the known weather of the time and the flights of later, better tracked balloons. This path ends --- surprise! --- at the Foster ranch, 75 miles from Roswell, where the debris which started the whole thing was recovered.

So according to this skeptic's spin, Moore's path to the Foster ranch was both "the probable" one and "meticulously calculated" by Moore.

Similarly, Roswell debunker and Moore promoter Karl Pflock put the following propagandistic spin on the story in his 2001 book Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe (Appendix G):

"Utilizing U.S. Weather Bureau winds-aloft records and data from ...Mogul service Flights 5 and 6, Professor C. B. Moore reconstructed the likely course followed by Flight 4 on its way into history as the Roswell 'crashed saucer.' ...While Professor Moore is careful to explain that the reconstructed Flight 4 route is only a possible track, he and a number of colleagues who have examined the data and Moore's calculations have no doubt that the weather conditions do not preclude Flight 4 as the 'culprit' and in fact positively allow for it."

Focus: Ufology in mysticism

( 2003-12-12 11:17) (China Daily HK Edition)

UFOs, flying saucers and ET conjure up images from Hollywood films and blurred photos in tabloid newspapers. But a number of true believers in China, many of them highly educated, see merit in exploring unidentified flying objects and alien encounters scientifically.

Meng Zhaoguo, a 35-year-old tree grower from Wuchang City in Heilongjiang Province, can still vividly describe the Steven Spielberg-type scenario he claims to have witnessed nearly 10 years ago: As he sat in a huge white, gleaming spaceship, a tall creature with a large head and eyes like light bulbs and clad in an inflated seamless rubber suit perched on a metal sheet that hovered in the air. In a metallic-tinged voice, this interplanetary visitor communicated with a man via a television-like screen, predicting a collision between a comet and Jupiter.

As sensational as it sounds, Meng insists he was taken aboard the ship a month after being shocked by some sort of waves emitted by a silver-coloured object on a mountain he and some other villagers attempted to approach in June 1994.

Such accounts have served to shroud ufology - the study of UFOs - in a kind of mysticism, a word often used when referring to the subject.

The Chinese public first learned about UFOs in 1978, when leading State newspaper the People's Daily ran an article about the phenomenon. Although many accounts of UFO sightings have appeared in the media in the ensuing two decades, the voices of doubt are as strong as people's curiosity.

But despite the cynicism, more than 40 ufology associations across the country have registered some 5,000 believers, not including academicians interested in UFOs. With no State funding and little private sponsorship, the community feels discriminated against and excluded from mainstream scientific circles.

The sceptics's main demand seems simple enough, but satisfying it is harder: Show me the evidence. A photo or video footage, which can be easily fabricated, is not sufficient. They want to see a real object, a flying saucer, something of a mission impossible for ufologists.

Describing ufologists as Rmantics, Sima Nan, a popular science writer and a leading figure in the country's fight against pseudo-science, says the most important thing in scientific research is to base a study on concrete evidence and avoid subjectivism. Those who alleged to have seen UFOs or had extraterrestrial (ET) encounters, be they an innocent child, sincere woman or down-to-earth farmer or a retired cadre, all lack hard evidence to prove their claims via objective and scientific methods.

"Research work based mostly on imagination is not research at all, "says the writer, adding that the standard telescopes and hand-held video cameras commonly used by ufologists cannot meet the stringent demands of scientific research.

Ufologists, however, believe their research to be as significant as the country's space exploration programme, even if it is not currently being taken seriously. If space exploration includes the search for alien civilizations, they argue, UFO research can serve to supplement it.

Tian Daojun, a professor at the Nanjing University of Aviation and Aeronautics, says that human fantasy is not totally meaningless in scientific research, as some UFO sceptics assume, pointing out that the fanciful notions of human beings did eventually put a man on the moon.

The numerous UFO sightings reported should never be ignored or denied, Tian says. Any information gleaned about the way alien spacecraft function might serve to upgrade scientific research, resulting in breakthroughs in aviation and aeronautics technologies on Earth.

But what upsets UFO researchers most is the suggestion that UFOs are nothing but mythology and ufology is just a new form of pseudo-science.

Ji Jianmin, a UFO enthusiast in Feixiang County in northern China's Hebei Province, dismisses such assertions as too opinionated and unfriendly to UFO researchers and criticizes detractors for their own unscientific approach to the subject.

Ji, a former high school art teacher who currently runs a nameplate design service, became interested in UFOs in the 1980s. He firmly believes in the existence of civilizations on other planets as well as the potential for a kind of psychic connection between residents of Earth and aliens.

A graduate from a local vocational teacher training college, Ji admits that his education falls short of arming him to study UFOs scientifically. But, he adds:" that does not necessarily mean I'mnot qualified to do my part. When it comes to UFO research, everyone is a primary-school pupil, from fans with scant education to established experts in various scientific fields."

The controversy surrounding UFOs is very natural, so long as each side does not force its ideas on the other, according to Wu Jialu, a Shanghai aircraft expert.

Wu also finds it natural for people to become interested in the mysteries of the universe. It's quite nice that people care about things outside their immediate world, as it shows a willingness to expand their vision, and the exploration of the unknown is, after all, both interesting and important. Even within the UFO community, ufologists differ in their approaches to research, although they all consider alien spacecraft and intelligence to be at the very heart of their research.

One school tends to focus on the more practical aspects. Some, like Wu, expect to get inspiration by contemplating the mechanics of alien spacecraft as a means of improving Earth aircraft or even spaceships. Others, including Su Congbo, a seismologist in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province, are interested in finding out whether there is a connection between UFOs and natural phenomena such as earthquakes.

Beijing-based ufologist Zhang Jingping stands for yet another school of thought in his persistent attempts to prove the existence not only of UFOs but also of alien civilizations.

Zhang, the 30-something owner of an advertising firm who considers ufology his real career, has put a great deal of energy into investigating UFO encounters. A graduate of the Beijing University of Aviation and Aeronautics (BUAA), Zhang says he has no doubt that visitors from other planets have had a considerable amount of contact with people on Earth. Not one to shrink from the courage of his convictions, he even named his advertising company Flying Saucer.

In early September, Zhang invited police technicians and psychologists to subject Meng Zhaoguo to a lie detector test and hypnosis experiments in Beijing. The test results, he says, prove that Meng was telling the truth. Zhang also believes the scars Meng bears from the incident, which doctors said could not possibly have been caused by common injuries or surgery, serve as further evidence of his ET encounter.

But Liu Daoye, a retired expert on national defence based in Nanjing, capital of eastern China's Jiangsu Province, contends that a belief cannot be based on something that cannot be explained, such as the scars Meng says were inflicted during his alien adventure. However exciting the reports of UFO witnesses and however sensational the claims of encounters with ETs may be, Liu says, ufologists must base their studies on serious research and concrete evidence to avoid misleading the public.

"I believe in the probability of intelligent life on other planets, but I doubt such beings have ever travelled to Earth," he says. "To date, no one who has claimed to have encountered an ET can produce concrete evidence, so advocating their existence can only lead UFO research towards mysticism." He says that while the reports of experiences similar to Meng's are not necessarily lies, they are more likely the result of some sort of optical illusion.

Zhang does argue, however, that UFO research should not be fettered by the limitations of modern science and technology. "We need new conceptions in UFO research, as current science and technology theory also need improving." Cao Lixing, a postgraduate student majoring in computer science at BUAA, says proving the existence of UFOs or flying saucers is important to advancing serious study. "As long as the existence of such phenomena remains unproven, UFO research will never escape the bounds of scepticism," he says.

The young man became interested in UFO research after listening to a lecture Zhang and Meng gave in late September. He also accompanied Zhang to Qinhuangdao, a northern coastal city in Hebei, in early October to look for the landing site of a flying saucer in another alleged ET encounter.

Cao says he appreciates Zhang's enthusiasm and devotion, but admits that it is hard for the average person, himself included, to believe any ET story unless they have such an experience themselves.

A farmer with only five years's schooling, Meng Zhaoguo says he had never heard the term "UFO" before researchers visited him after his story was reported.

After his experience, Meng was sought out by some locals hoping he could cure their diseases, as they reckoned his encounter might have given him special powers. Meng says he refused their entreaties. And more business-minded people wanted to advertise Meng as an attraction to encourage tourism to the region.

Acknowledging the overwhelming doubt he sees in people's eyes when he recalls the incident, the farmer, who has participated in more than 100 interviews with the media and researchers, says that UFOs and ufology, which were originally unknown to him, have disrupted his life and made him feel uneasy.

"But ufologists still take great interest in Meng's UFO encounter nine years on. they hope there will be a conclusion to the UFO phenomenon as soon as possible; only then will I feel released," sighs Meng.


State psychics offer insights for year ahead

By Tim Cigelske
Associated Press
December 26, 2003

Anne Marie, a psychic and the owner of Sands of Time bookshop in Milwaukee, predicts that another major scandal will break out next year.

"It will touch an awfully lot of people," she said. "Will they recover? They always do. I could give you more detail but I'm not going to."

Anne Marie had another prediction that may be more frightening than fraud. State residents have placed more than 1.1 million numbers on the telemarketing do-not-call list, but Anne Marie doesn't expect that to stop telemarketers.

"Good God, they're everywhere," she said. "I don't see how we can get rid of them."

If there's anything more annoying to Wisconsin residents than telemarketers, it's taxes. Sandra Rae Geib had more bad news about that.

The Fond du Lac fortune teller said angels told her that property taxes will soar in 2004.

"I'm getting like 10 percent or more," she said. "Up to 20 percent. Maybe in the 15 percent range. That's a lot, isn't it?"

In sports, 2003 marked the 11th straight losing season for the Brewers, who also lost their brightest star in Richie Sexson and further alienated fans by parting ways with popular team president Ulice Payne Jr.

Yet Sylvia Bright-Green, who calls herself the Uncanny Granny, thinks the team's luck will finally turn around next season.

"I think they're going to have a winning season," she said. "I go with the first thought that flashes into my mind. I guess I just trust the spirit."

Bright-Green warned, though, that the spirits are sometimes fickle.

"I can say this now," she said. "But in an hour or so the forces could change."

Many psychics agreed that Democratic front-runner Howard Dean will carry the state in Wisconsin's high-profile early presidential primary in February.

"I don't think anyone else is even close," Ring said. "I happen to be a Dean supporter, but that's not what I'm going on. I'm going on an intuitive sense." MILWAUKEE - In 2004, scandal will surface, the Brewers will have a winning season and flying saucer technology will be unveiled in Oshkosh.


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

"We're going to see some difficulties, but we're going to rally past them," Madison medium Ken-Adi Ring said.

That description sounds a lot like 2003, when scandal soiled the state's clean government image and dogged millionaire money managers.

Strong Mutual Funds founder Richard S. Strong made national headlines for alleged improper trading, while authorities continued corruption investigations in the State Capitol and in Milwaukee's City Hall.

Psychics also see more strange events in Wisconsin next year.

In 2003, weirdness stalked Wisconsin as pet prairie dogs spread monkeypox, a baseball player slugged an Italian sausage mascot and the fortunes of Milwaukee's Great Circus Parade rose and fell faster than those of former Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl.

State officials confirmed 13 cases of the monkeypox virus, former Pittsburgh Pirate Randall Simon was fined $432 for toppling the Brewers mascot and the Great Circus Parade's funding was uncertain.

But those events will look normal if Ring, the Madison psychic, is right about flying saucers. Look for them at Oshkosh's annual Experimental Aircraft Association convention, he said.

"I see a new invention that will be profoundly revealing where aviation is going," he said. "It will be a shift in aerodynamic technology."

Elsewhere in sports, Wisconsin fans celebrated old highs and mourned new lows in 2003, from Marquette University's Final Four appearance - the university's first since 1977 - to the first NFL playoff loss ever for the Packers at Lambeau Field.

The overriding question during a roller-coaster season for the Packers was Brett Favre's retirement.

Chris Paltz, a tarot card reader at Appleton's Window of Light, said No. 4 will be back in '04. Shortly after Paltz made her prediction, Favre confirmed her belief.

"He has this idea that he's still pretty young," she said. "He's pretty full of himself, but quarterbacks need to be."

Published: 8:46 AM 12/26/03


Monday, December 29, 2003

Author attempts to debunk angels, other 'strange beliefs'


By Elisabeth Sherwin/Enterprise staff writer

Longtime Davis resident Robert Todd Carroll has staked out an unpopular position -- he doesn't believe in angels.

Forget all those sweet stories that abound during the holidays featuring celestial helpers performing miracles -- changing tires for stranded motorists in snowstorms, finding lost children in shopping malls, providing envelopes of cash for hungry families at lonely diners -- and in each case, disappearing without a trace.

No, Virginia, there are no angels. But then Carroll doesn't believe Jesus Christ is the son of God, either. He doesn't have anything against people who do believe, it's just not his leap of faith.

Carroll, 58, has written a book debunking angels, New Age religions, scientology, Jeane Dixon, creationism and everything in between in "The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions and Dangerous Delusions" (John Wiley, 2003, $19.95).

Carroll is the head of the philosophy department at Sacramento City College, where he has taught students to be critical thinkers for 26 years.

And that means teaching students not to believe in angels, bodiless immortal spirits.

"Since angels are invisible but capable of taking on visible forms, it is understandable that there have been many 'sightings,' " Carroll says. "Literally anything could be an angel and any experience could be an angel-experience.

"The existence of angels cannot be disproved. The down side of this tidy picture is that angels cannot be proved to exist, either. Everything that could be an angel could be something else. Every experience that could be due to an angel could be due to something else. Belief in angels, angel sightings and angel experiences is entirely a matter of faith."

Carroll grew up in the San Diego area and was raised Catholic. He attended the University of Notre Dame and, as he puts it, received a very good Catholic education. He even entered the seminary for a short time. But he left the seminary in 1965 and finished his doctorate back in California.

"By that time, 1974, I was married and had two daughters," he says.

His job search brought him to Northern California. He and his family have been living in Davis since 1977.

Carroll teaches philosophy at Sacramento City College and next year will be teaching a new course on critical thinking about the paranormal and the occult.

"We try to encourage students not just to learn philosophers' names and dates but how to think critically, logically," he says. He also is the author of an earlier book called "Becoming a Critical Thinker."

He credits publication of his latest book, the dictionary, to Davis Community Network, which helped him set up his own Web site (www.skeptic.com) in 1994. A San Francisco agent saw the Web site and the pseudo-science articles that Carroll posted online and offered to represent him.

Carroll says his journey of discovery and self-realization took him from Catholicism to Eastern religions with stops in between.

"The more I studied, the more in-depth I thought about religious ideas, the more false and absurd they seemed to me until I got to the position where I actually started to agree with some of the philosophers I'd read like (the existentialist Soren) Kirkegaard," he says.

"Kirkegaard made a point of saying these beliefs in things like gods becoming men or virgins giving birth -- which of course now can happen but at one time was thought to be miraculous -- these defy logic, defy rationality and you have to make a leap of faith to accept them, you can't possibly prove them by any rational means.

"It became apparent to me that he (Kirkegaard) was right, but if you are going to take a leap of faith you can go in any direction you want and you really have no more justification for going one way (believing) than the other way (not believing) so it came to a point where I just found no reasons for belief ... just nothing that could be put forth to attract me," Carroll says.

He now calls Christianity "a nice myth."

It obviously makes people happy to know that someone has saved them, he says. And he thinks there was a historical figure named Jesus, but beyond that, no.

Yet he says he has great respect for the many believers out there in the world, not just Christians and religious folks, but those who believe in past lives, alternative universes and new ways of thinking about thinking.

"They are very creative and intelligent people," he says.

The charlatans that really irritate Carroll are those who take advantage of people's deep grief and claim to speak for the dead and those who cause harm by, for instance, not providing medical treatment to those who need it.

Carroll knows that he won't change a lot of minds with his book but he has some free advice for the New Age seekers who come to his Web site eager to do battle and defend the psychic hotline.

"You ought to just spend about $30 to take a critical thinking course at a community college," he says. "You'll learn a lot more, it will be a lot more useful and it will be much less expensive than what you're going to spend for the hocus-pocus New Age program you're about to engage in."

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at gizmo@dcn.org

Sunday, December 28, 2003

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Repentant Healer Confesses of Connection with Devil


12/29/2003 15:52

Can people become healers just having paid money for a certificate? Former healer and extrasensory individual Mikhail Kokotinsky tells a really scary story. As it turns out, people will not get rid of vampirism even if they feel fagged out and give up attending extrasensory people or those who claim themselves to be magicians. Such healers may fasten some ray to their patients to exhaust energy from people; this provokes extreme fatigue and may even result in death.

-Mikhail, tell us please how you became a healer.

Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, experienced occultism, magic and parapsychology boom in the early 1990s. At that period I worked as a school teacher. Once, I saw an appliance called Bion was used to check the strength of power with ordinary people in the street. After that examination I realized that I had some healing talent. I joined special courses, then was granted a diploma of a bioenergetics operator, a specialist working with subtle energies that cannot be registered by ordinary devices. I studied a program on realization of biological energy and on raising people's sensory capabilities. Bulgarian healer Ivan Jotov shared his experience with us at the lessons.

-How did you apply the knowledge obtained at the course?

We came to the head physician of a polyclinic in Kiev and offered to cooperate. As far as the man believed neither in God or devil or extrasensory men, he immediately demanded to present evidence proving the extrasensory capabilities. A conference of medical experts was immediately summoned where several patients were also present. We knew nothing of the people and their medical histories, however we managed to define their diagnoses correctly and even characterized some diseases in detail. Soon after the consultation, together with other specialists who finished the special course we were allowed to receive patients in the polyclinics. The decision to let us have medical practice was agreed with high medicine authorities of course.

- Tell us how exactly you worked to heal people.

We resorted to speech and hypnosis, we influenced people's subconsciousness. We designed a special device to determine if people's biological space was injured. I could tell people about those diseases they had suffered being children; I felt some mysterious voice whispered this sort of information in my ears. That made me feel a peculiar person and flattered my self-esteem. It was our responsibility to tell patients that after such sČances they must go to church and confess.

-You did good by sending people to church.

This is what I thought myself at that time. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I came to church to confess and replenish my energy resources. Today, I can meet such people in Kiev-Pechora Lavra sometimes. They not only pray but also touch the walls and the columns of the monastery to replenish their energy sources. Fortunately, they do not pose any danger for other people in the Orthodox Church.

-Could you see other people's aura?

Aura is a grayish envelope resembling oval luminescence. The size and the form of aura depend upon the state of health of some particular man. If some organ is diseased, aura is injured in that area where it closely approaches the organ. Injuries of this kind can be closed with no contact massage. Sensitive hands of an extrasensory man emit energy thus restoring people's aura and improving their health even within a long range. I conducted phone consultations and patients felt the touch of my fingers.

-Do you think that anyone may become an extrasensory person?

It is not only desire that people need to become extrasensory persons. Only people with strong energy space and capable of influencing other people may become extrasensory individuals. Unfortunately, today people can obtain diplomas with money. When I attended the courses, one of the students wanted to revenge himself upon other people and to put his knowledge to evil ends. As a rule, "healers" of this sort use their licenses granted by the Health Care Ministry to cheat people out of their money.

- Does the Health Care Ministry realize the danger that extrasensory individuals may cause?

align=justify>As far as the Ministry felt helpless to cope with many diseases, it allowed alternative medicine to try and cure these ailments; that in its turn gave rise to training of a large number of certified extrasensory experts. In fact, these extrasensory individuals are spiritual descendants of sorcerers and witches, the ones who were so severely persecuted by the Inquisition. The official medicine has not yet formed a general view of the nature and the origin of mental (neuropsychic) diseases. Russian Academician Krapivin studied activity of the human brain and arrived at the following depressing conclusion: "It is believed that meditation is good for people's health as it reduces the breathing rhythm, the rate of plasma lactate in blood and causes myocardial relaxation. This unusual condition is believed to be the best relaxation. However, closer examination of electroencephalograms reveals that it is not relaxation at all, but unusual and strange condition of the human brain; this is dangerous mobilization of brain resources and the physiological strength of the brain." Orthodox psychiatrists this very condition opens up the soul"s inner side and lets occult people in.

- Why does it happen that in need people are inclined to appeal to extrasensory individuals rather than to priests?

They appeal to extrasensory men in hope for immediate recovery; people want to get rid of some bad luck in a moment, but not after years of prayers and confessions. When a man attends sČances of extrasensory individuals they have no idea that the good and the evil forces have started a violent struggle for his soul. I made sure of it when I saw the negative of a picture taken during christening of a baby; a light-struck silhouette of the baby's guardian angel could be perfectly seen over the font. The invisible parallel world does exist no matter whether we believe in it or not. It has been defined that this world is more densely populated than our traditional world; it consists of the super-intellect, the world of good and evil spirits and the subtle world of souls. Human eyes can perceive just abnormal phenomena of one of these worlds, poltergeist or UFO for instance.

-When did you realize the danger of your healing activity?

Once I asked a priest to give his blessing to my sČances, but the latter refused. I was told my activity was pure Satanism. That made me start thinking if people could become healers just having paid money for a certificate.

- May it be the Satan that gives people the talent of healing other men?

The Satan aims at ruining our souls by creating the vision of bodily healing. This is the reason why extrasensory individuals conduct evil spirits and turn into spiritual vampires. SČances of such "healers" leave people extremely weak and exhausted. This sorcery directed against the God's and the man's will. I noticed several times that my patients felt bad, especially during reading prayers. They went incredibly mad when I sent them to Kiev-Pechora Lavra. That suggested me that I was doing something wrong. Later, my extrasensory teacher told me that activity of healers was illegal, as the church did not bless it. Soon after that I started attending the Sunday school.

-May an extrasensory person put an evil eye off somebody, to protect from witches or black magicians?

The devil is the father for all of them. In this case we speak not of relieving the evil eye, but rather of strengthening people's trust in devil' servants working hard to involve more victims in Satanism. Sorcerers may sometimes act under the guise of Protestant preachers who use the Bible for their personal ends. Unlike in this country, extrasensory individuals and sorcerers in the West can be called to account for their activity and even fined. The maximal compensation for damage to people's health may reach $1.5 million in the US, $0.7 million in Canada and $0.3 million in Australia.

- What are your recommendations those who want to become secured against the injurious influence of such healers?

I always warn people against attending sČances of this sort; but if you come there accidentally, do not look into the eyes of a healer. Otherwise you may fall under the effect of hypnosis and lose control. This is important that people with stronger inner worlds have safer protection from the evil forces in crowded places.

The interview was conducted by Valentin Kovalsky

Read the original in Russian: http://society.pravda.ru/society/2003/8/81/336/15539_celiteli.html
(Translated by: Maria Gousseva)

Give 'em enough rope


Peter Lamont has conjured up a magical read in his history of an unstoppable hoax, The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick

Michael Holland
Sunday December 28, 2003
The Observer

The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick
by Peter Lamont

In shape and symmetry, there is something of Dava Sobel about Peter Lamont's engagingly idiosyncratic book. But unlike Ms Sobel, who used all too corporeal men and women to refract her version of historical reality, Dr Lamont, as befits a practising magician, uses illusion, or rather the illusion of an illusion, to refract his.

In essence, Lamont entertains us with lessons in how history can be invented. Using the example of the fabled Indian rope trick, Lamont aims to show, and largely succeeds, how people will believe a thing is true, despite all rational evidence to the contrary, indeed despite outright denials of its existence, if it is repeated that it is true often enough.

Peter Lamont is a research fellow at Edinburgh University looking into the history, theory and performance of magic, so the choice of his subject is not so surprising. For the purposes of his book, all his premises are derived from the description of the Indian rope trick given in an article published on 8 August 1890 in the Chicago Daily Tribune.

It goes like this: 'The fakir drew from under his knee a ball of grey twine. Taking the loose end between his teeth, he, with a quick upward motion, tossed the ball into the air. Instead of coming back to him, it kept on going up and up until out of sight and there remained only the long swaying end... [A] boy about six-years-old... walked over to the twine and began climbing up it... the boy disappeared when he had reached a point 30 or 40ft from the ground... a moment later, the twine disappeared.'

This purported to be an eye-witness account of the trick given by a couple of American travellers returning from the mysterious Orient. Within a few months, however, the editor of the Tribune was forced to come clean and admit that not only was the account bogus but that the travellers did not even exist.

Too late. By then, the account had been reprinted in newspapers and journals around the world and the denial scarcely caused a ripple. Over the next half century, the story of the rope trick gathered momentum and, more to the point, wonderful embellishments. By the mid-1930s, other 'eye-witnesses' reported seeing the 'fakir' pick up a knife and scramble up the 'rope' after the boy. After a while, bloody limbs, a torso and, finally, a head would drop to the ground, followed by the fakir who would reassemble the pieces and the original boy would spring smiling back to life.

With each new account receiving graphic treatment in the popular (and more arcane) prints, millions believed in the trick, while thousands more tried to explain it. But they were all completely and absolutely wrong. The trick was not even an illusion; it simply did not and had never existed.

Such mass credulity is rarely created in a vacuum and the real joy of Lamont's book lies in his scholarship of the flamboyant music-hall magic acts which flourished in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their popularity sprung, inter alia, from a visceral reaction to the brutish rationalism of the Industrial Revolution and from the opening up of insular Britain to the arts and artefacts of its increasingly large empire.

Before dismissing another age as irredeemably gullible, Lamont reminds us of the continuing fascination with the East. From yogis to yoga and new-age crystals, it still colours our thoughts, often with as little basis as belief in the Indian rope trick.

There's very little wrong with this beguiling book apart from a few small solecisms, such as this one about a Magic Circle challenge to perform the trick: 'By the end of 1934... [e]ven the BBC had taken an interest in the Karachi challenge, though they had not regarded it as good television. Instead, it was featured on a popular radio programme.' BBC TV began its service from Alexandra Palace in 1936.

Slightly frustrating was the absence of explanations for much of the magicianship mentioned in the text, but perhaps one shouldn't be mystified. Dr Lamont is a past president of the Edinburgh Magic Circle. No surprise, then, that he has conjured a rather magical read.

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