NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 February 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Big bang busted in science class for high schools


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/13/04

When scientists learned last month that the word "evolution" had been removed from Georgia's proposed science curriculum for middle and high schools, some wondered what else might have been deleted.

Some feared that the big-bang theory — the dominant scientific theory about the origins of the universe — would be absent.

Their fears were well founded.

The big bang had been eliminated from the science curriculum, and lessons on plate tectonics had been scaled back.

Concepts like the big bang, evolution and plate tectonics can be controversial in some circles because they offer scientific explanations of how the world began that don't correspond with some religious beliefs about how God created the universe, Earth and humans.

Scientists say the concepts are key to understanding physics, chemistry and other natural sciences.

Sarah Pallas, associate professor in biology at Georgia State University, said the science portion of the proposed curriculum was "definitely written to be acceptable to biblical literalists. Any phrase that would upset a creationist is gone."

Raelian commemorate Giordano Bruno's assassination

Monday, 16 February 2004, 10:22 am
Press Release: Raelian Movement

The Raelian Movement commemorates the assassination of Giordano Bruno by a 'Planetary day of mourning' in his memory

The Raelian Movement, an atheist religion which founding dogma is the affirmation that all forms of life on Earth were created scientifically a very long time ago (thanks to a perfect mastering of genetic engineering) by extraterrestrial visitors, announces that it will organize on February 17, 2004 in Rome and in many countries around the world, demonstrations asking for the rehabilitation of Giordano Bruno.

On February 17, 1600, the philosopher and defrocked monk Giordano Bruno was sentenced to death at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church. He was then burnt alive at the 'Campo dei Fiori' in Rome.

The 'Holy Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition', then under the order of the Pope Clement VIII, had him imprisoned and the court of the Roman Inquisition initiated a trial against him for 'heresy', for he dared declare that the Universe was 'infinite' and even worse, suggest that some forms of life might exist outside the Earth. These ideas were considered totally 'heretic' and contrary to the Catholic doctrine.

Today, Giordano Bruno's hypotheses are revived and accepted since the discovery of planets outside our solar system and numerous research programs are trying to discover traces of extraterrestrial life.

Although the Church has rehabilitated, after centuries of wondering, other philosophers such as Galileo, Jan Hus and Savonarole, it has not yet found the courage to recognize its culpability for the assassination of Giordano Bruno, one of the great minds of his time, a philosopher welcomed by the European princes and long protected by Henri III, king of France.

For the launching of the campaign '2004, International Year of Atheism', the Italian Raelians will gather in the Italian capital and will pay homage to Giordano Bruno on the anniversary of his death; flowers will be deposited at the foot of the statue, erected in 1889 at the 'Campo dei Fiori' in Rome, while Raelians worldwide will gather also in their respective countries in his honor and in homage to freedom of thought.

We solemnly ask the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church to:

- ask for forgiveness, in the name of his Church, for the assassination of GIORDANO BRUNO, burnt at the stake.

- prove to the world that the repentance of his Church is not hypocritical, by accepting to 'uncanonize' cardinal Robert Bellarmin… who conducted the trials of Galileo and Giordano Bruno, and who was canonized in 1930 (here is a new opportunity to question the claim to infallibility of the popes…).

The 60,000 Raelians of the planet will ask people to sign petitions to request apologies from the Pope and to ask that the canonization of the cardinal who instructed the trial be nullified.


Professor Searches for Aliens


published on Monday, February 09, 2004

Crimson Staff Writer

Some professors like to communicate with students—others, with aliens. Physics and Electrical Engineering Professor Paul Horowitz '65 says he's convinced that communicating with extraterrestrial life will soon be within scientists' reach.

Horowitz, who has taught physics at Harvard since 1974, is a leading figure in the official Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)—a national project devoted to identifying intelligent life outside our galaxy, with hubs at Harvard and Princeton.

Lounging in his newly renovated office in Jefferson Lab, Horowitz says he is excited about the future of SETI and his own involvement in the search.

"We're basically asking how would we communicate with these intelligent life forms without going over to [visit] them on a rocket," Horowitz says.

And he quickly debunks the notion that extraterrestrial life is unworthy of academic investigation.

"They've found that at least 100 planets exist outside our solar system. What happened here [on Earth] is probably very typical," he says. "Somewhere, the magic happens that leads to self-reproducing organisms."

Horowitz says people first became interested in extraterrestrial life in the mid-19th century.

But he points to the discovery of the radio telescope in the 1960s, which he began working with in the 1970s, as the time when people realized communication over galactic distances might be possible.

The discovery, Horowitz says, seemed the perfect alternative to expensive space travel and past attempts to measure charged particles, which bend in magnetic fields such as those in space.

Beam Me Up

Recent developments, however, have demonstrated the superiority of optical laser SETI over radio—and Horowitz has helped pioneer this technology.

He explains that extraterrestrials are most likely contacting humans by aiming laser beams at receivers on earth. These beams, Horowitz believes, will illuminate their planet or star of origin to a level 5,000 times brighter than the sun.

"When a laser pulse is aimed from a certain star, the star illuminates for a moment so that we can see it," he explains. "We only do receiving."

Horowitz says that he and physics graduate student Andrew Howard use a complex optical telescope to search the night sky for such flashes of light. The telescope has sensitive light detectors at its focus and measures five feet across its bottom.

The actual optical telescope is operated by a team at the Oakridge Observatory in Harvard, Mass.

While Horowitz says he has detected some flashes, he has yet to confirm their extraterrestrial origin.

Horowitz says that he can currently only observe a limited number of targeted stars but looks forward to developing what will be called the All-Sky telescope within a year or so.

This telescope, which will be complete once a detector apparatus is installed, will be able to observe the entire sky—10,000 times more area than the team currently covers.

"We're only myopically looking at stars now," he says.

He anticipates the All-Sky will allow his team to investigate not only stars, but the spaces in between them where he suspects that advanced civilizations may roam between various stars and planets.

He adds that his research is focused on "calculation, not speculation" and brims over with enthusiasm for the optical SETI.

Light Years Away?

Howard and Horowitz work concurrently with researchers at Princeton who make simultaneous observations. Each team generates observational diagrams, including the stars observed, the number of observations made and the signals detected.

According to Howard, the teams' findings always match.

"Combined, the two results have never produced a false positive," he says.

Jill Tarter, the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute in California, calls the project with Princeton "very innovative and clever."

She describes the Sky Survey instrument Horowitz already uses as "typically Paul—typically creative and inventive."

To Horowitz, the future of SETI seems both daunting and enthralling.

"SETI hasn't succeeded yet, so it's clearly got a ways to go," he says.

Of the 20,000 observations his telescope has made, Horowitz says, no decidedly conclusive observations have been reached.

Still, he says that he and Howard are excited about the coming years.

"We like trying new and different things," he says.

Other astronomers, such as Dr. Joseph Lazio of the Naval Research Laboratory, are more skeptical of the project's short-term success, but affirm the significance of the study.

"Will we have success in the near future? Define 'near,'" he says. "In the next 100 years? Many astronomers are hoping that in the next 20 years, we'll be finding Earth-like planets."

Tarter also says she foresees some difficulties with Horowitz's All-Sky project, namely the unpredictable New England weather.

"Can you do something about the weather in Massachusetts?" she asks jokingly. "You need a lot of clear nights for the survey, and it's going to take a lot of time to get 100 clear nights."

Still, Tarter says she supports Horowitz's general project.

"All this UFO, alien abduction garbage attached to SETI [is] what makes money, what people find sexy," she says. "But the real SETI is a valid scientific exploration."

She reminds any naysayers of the project's monumental significance.

"We have this opportunity now to answer the age old question: are we alone? I feel very privileged to do something which might have some impact on society," she says.

Horowitz says it is that very possibility that motivates him to keep searching the sky each night.

"My long view is, it's not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when,'" he says. "We're gonna contact them someday."

—Staff writer Rebecca M. Milzoff can be reached at milzoff@fas.harvard.edu.

Christian organization offers schools legal help


By The Associated Press - 2/16/04

MISSOULA (AP) — A Christian legal defense organization is offering to defend the Darby School Board if it is sued over its newly adopted policy of including ''objective origins'' theory in science classes.

Lincoln attorney Bridgette Erickson will meet with the board on Feb. 24.

She is affiliated with the Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Ariz., which was founded by prominent Christian conservatives including James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association.

''I'll be letting the board know a little more about ADF and how it works,'' Erickson told the Missoulian newspaper by phone Friday. ''This is just preliminary discussion so they're more aware of ADF's services.

ADF's Web site includes this mission statement: ''The Alliance Defense Fund is a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values.''

The fund made an official offer to the board in a letter dated Feb. 2 to defend the new policy in state or federal court.

Erickson said she followed the Darby situation closely in news reports. She said she believes the proposal would, in general, survive a constitutional challenge, in part because the policy only ''encourages'' teachers to instruct students on criticisms of current scientific theory.

''If it were mandatory, then there might be something more to argue about,'' she said.

Critics of the new policy argued that ''objective origins'' is creationism under a different name and does not belong in science classes.

Darby minister Curtis Brickley, who proposed the curriculum change, and the three board members who voted for it say they have no religious motivations. They say ''objective origins'' is valid scientific criticism of evolutionary theory.

The school board's attorney, Elizabeth Kaleva, urged the members to submit any proposed curriculum change to the state Office of Public Instruction. Otherwise, she said, the district may have accreditation and funding problems because it will no longer be in line with state teaching standards.

Kaleva also told the board it opened up itself to a lawsuit if it passed a science curriculum that may blur the line between religion and science.

Despite Kaleva's recommendation, the board voted 3-2 in favor of ''objective origins.''

''That isn't science,'' state Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch said later. ''That's exactly what it's all about, is teaching creationism. It doesn't matter what you call it. Creationism is not a recognized science.''

She agreed that the school district runs the risk of violating the Montana Constitution and jeopardizing funding if it adopts a policy and curriculum that introduce creationism into science classes.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Assaults on evolution have evolved as well


Posted on Sun, Feb. 15, 2004


By Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott

Charles Darwin once wrote, only partly in jest, that ``it is like confessing a murder'' to admit to accepting evolution. So he would probably not have been surprised that even as we celebrated the 195th anniversary of his birth Thursday, his theory of evolution remains a matter of public -- though not scientific -- controversy.

The latest dust-up was in Georgia, where a proposed set of state science standards avoided mentioning evolution altogether. Kathy Cox, the state superintendent of schools, described evolution as ``a buzzword that causes a lot of negative reactions.'' But the reaction to the proposed omission of the e-word was overwhelmingly negative. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote, ``As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students.'' Cox hastily backpedaled, promising to restore evolution to the standards.

But Georgia is just one of several states, including Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Texas, where the study of evolution has recently been challenged. California is not immune; in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, a parent recently lobbied, unsuccessfully, for the addition of what he described as evidence against evolution to the high school science curriculum.

Those challenges join a long history of attacks on evolution that started as soon as the British naturalist went public with his thoughts.

Darwin was so sure evolution would disturb society that he hesitated for 20 years to publish his ideas, until he discovered that Alfred Russel Wallace had independently formulated the crucial insight that natural selection is largely responsible for evolution. A paper by the two scientists was delivered to a meeting of the Linnean Society in 1858, and Darwin's ``On the Origin of Species'' was published the next year.

Darwin's fears were spot on. Although the scientific community saw ``Origin of Species'' as a ground-breaking contribution, he was derided in the press, by religious leaders and even by some scientists. But over time, biologists and other scientists made discoveries that bolstered much of his work. Competing scientific theories were proven wrong or, like Mendelian genetics, were discovered to be compatible with Darwin's ideas. These days, almost all scientists accept evolution.

Fight never over

In the American classroom, however, the battle over evolution has never been definitively won. Evolution education seems to follow the path of a sine curve: Every time evolution appears to become firmly implanted in the schools, some religious groups revitalize campaigns to remove evolution from curricula and textbooks. Many anti-evolutionists, called creationists, argue that God made people pretty much as they are today.

Following the scientific consensus, evolution was included in virtually every high school biology textbook by the beginning of the 20th century. But that didn't last long. With the rise of organized fundamentalism around World War I, some state legislatures banned the teaching of evolution in public schools. The most famous statute was Tennessee's Butler Act, under which high school teacher John Thomas Scopes was successfully prosecuted in 1925.

The Scopes trial was a public-relations disaster for creationism. Its champion, William Jennings Bryan, underwent a humiliating examination by Clarence Darrow about his adherence to a literal reading of the Bible. Still, the trial exerted a chilling influence on science education. Under the pressure of legislation, administrative decree and public opinion, evolution quickly disappeared from textbooks and curricula in many states.

The tide turned in the late 1950s, when evolution started to return to curricula as part of a reform in science education spurred by the space race with the Soviet Union. State laws banning the teaching of evolution were gradually repealed. In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that laws banning the teaching of evolution were unconstitutional.

Biblical literalists reacted by pressuring teachers, school administrators and textbook publishers to provide ``equal time'' to creationism. In 1980, advocates of equal time got a boost from Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, who endorsed teaching creationism when evolution was taught.

But a series of court decisions, culminating in the 1987 Supreme Court case Edwards vs. Aguillard, was fatal to any ambition to have creationism taught in the public schools. That case challenged Louisiana's ``Creationism Act,'' which prohibited the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools except when it was accompanied by instruction in ``creation science.''

The court ruled that the law was ``designed either to promote the theory of creation science that embodies a particular religious tenet or to prohibit the teaching of a scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects'' -- a violation of the First Amendment.

Given those setbacks, creationists have taken a new tack, working to eliminate or at least undermine evolution's place in textbooks and curricula -- as they have been trying to do in Georgia. And their cause has gained strength in recent years.

Recent resurgence

Part of the recent upsurge in anti-evolutionism is due to the continuing activity of traditional creationists. Regarding the creation story of Genesis as perfectly accurate, these ``young Earth'' creationists have a detailed, though scientifically discredited, model of the universe's history.

They hold that the Earth is no more than 10,000 years old. In contrast, mainstream scientists agree that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, basing their estimate on a variety of sources, including radioisotope dating of rocks. These creationists also hold that the Earth was inundated by Noah's flood (which they claim carved the Grand Canyon in the process), and that all living things were created by God to reproduce ``after their kind'' -- meaning that humans could not have evolved from other species.

But the main reason for the surge of activity in the anti-evolution movement is that the traditional creationists have been joined by a new breed of creationists, rallying under the flag of ``intelligent design,'' sometimes called ``stealth creationism'' by its critics.

Advocates of intelligent design disavow any reliance on Genesis, claiming to be proceeding in a strictly scientific manner. Their central claim is that there are biological phenomena that are too complex to be explained by natural causes and therefore must be the products of an intelligent designer. Examples include the bacterial flagellum -- the whiplike structure used by some bacteria to propel themselves -- and the cascading sequence of chemical reactions that causes blood to clot. The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently described intelligent design as scientifically unwarranted.

Still, intelligent design is proving to be a popular way of repackaging anti-evolutionism, largely because it avoids presenting any detailed model of the history of the universe. It offers a ``big tent'' in which virtually all anti-evolutionists are welcome, regardless of their differing views about the age of the universe and the Earth, the historical nature of Noah's flood, and common descent. (Indeed, Islamic anti-evolutionists in Turkey have boarded the intelligent design bandwagon.)

Mindful of the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards, the advocates of intelligent design are careful to portray it as non-religious. Yet despite allusions to the possibility of extraterrestrial aliens or time travelers, it is clear that the intelligent designer is supposed to be God.

Theory's appeal

Like traditional young-Earth creationism, intelligent design appeals to those who worry about the religious implications of evolution. Yet many denominations -- including the Roman Catholic Church -- accommodate evolution, regarding it as the process through which God creates. The Presbyterian Church (USA), for example, recently declared, ``There is no contradiction between an evolutionary theory of human origins and the doctrine of God as Creator.''

For the moment, evolution receives reasonably good treatment in every secular high school biology textbook on the market. And as part of the national standards movement, most states have adopted science education standards that require the teaching of evolution. Yet, in the last few years, anti-evolution legislation was introduced in 15 states. Debates involving evolution's place in science standards or textbooks have surfaced in a comparable number of states, and any number of local school districts have experienced their own episodes of the controversy.

Such anti-evolutionist attempts to undermine evolution education have failed, by and large, thanks to the efforts of scientists, teachers, clergy, civil libertarians and parents concerned about the quality of science education. But with about 40 percent of Americans continuing to reject evolution for religious reasons, Darwin's legacy is anything but safe.

GLENN BRANCH and EUGENIE C. SCOTT are deputy director and executive director, respectively, of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, which supports the teaching of evolution. They wrote this article for Perspective.

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'Intelligent design' theory will be heard in classroom
By Leo Shane III
Columbus Bureau

The Issue

Theory that living organisms adapt and change over time.
Accepted as basis for mainstream biology.
Research frequently published in scientific journals.
Supported by the Ohio Academy of Science and National Science Foundation.
Course work upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Intelligent Design
Belief a higher power played a role in the creation of all life.
Differs from creationism, the belief in a biblical account of life.
Considered unable to be proven by scientific critics.
Supporters include the Discovery Institute and the Access Research Network.
Not reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gannett News Service

COLUMBUS -- After getting overwhelming support from the state Board of Education, evolution criticisms backed by religious groups will stay in the state's model curriculum for high school science classes.

By a 13-4 vote Tuesday, the board gave preliminary approval to the science mod- el teaching guide. It includes a chapter titled "Critical an- alysis of evolution" that recommends 10th-graders debate several common critiques of the theory.

Supporters of the curriculum insist the model has nothing to do with "intelligent design" -- the belief a higher power played a role in the creation of all life.

But opponents said the examples and arguments included -- things like missing links in the fossil record -- bear all the marks of intelligent design teachings, and accused board members of sneaking it into Ohio schools.

Bryan McClelland, a biology teacher at Ontario High School, said he has concerns about school boards mandating various aspects of curriculum.

"In a science classroom, we really need to be sure what we're teaching is science," he said.

Proponents of intelligent design pushed to have it included in the state's science guidelines in 2002, but compromised on language that required students to "investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Tim Berra, professor emeritus of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at The Ohio State University-Mansfield, said the effort was part of a bigger agenda.

" 'Intelligent design' is a buzzword for introducing a version of fundamentalist Christianity into school science classes," he said. "That's been their objective for some time and they're becoming more sophisticated about it."

But James Turner, a governor-appointed board member from Cincinnati, said the controversial chapter simply fulfills that analysis requirement.

"I reject the notion that these lessons advance the idea of intelligent design," he said. "There has been a lot of hyperbole about what we have done. They ignore that these are probably the most pro-evolution standards in the country."

Others on the board were not convinced.

"I support the science standards, but I simply cannot be sure this isn't an introduction to intelligent design," said board member Robin Hovis, an elected member from Millersburg. "So I'm hesitant to put the backing of the state board behind this."

Last Monday, references to Jonathan Wells' book "Icons of Evolution" were deleted from the model's bibliography after complaints about the authors' pro-intelligent design views were raised.

Tuesday, opponents pushed for further scaling back the chapter, while several supporters asked the board to expand the critical thinking lessons.

"The best way to handle disagreements in the classroom is to teach both sides of the issue," said Robert Lattimer, a chemist at Noveon Inc. who helped write the 2002 science standards. "In my view, too much material has been removed from this lesson."

Berra disagreed.

"To teach creationism is turning science on its head, saying we must accept as science something that cannot be scientifically tested. That leads nowhere," Berra said.

Members of the National Science Foundation and the Ohio Academy of Science opposed Tuesday's approval. Last week, board member Sam Schloemer, who represents Hamilton County, called for standards committee chairman Michael Cochran to resign for ignoring the scientific community in drafting the model.

After the vote he called for Gov. Bob Taft to use his influence to move the board members away from the "faulty curriculum."

"The governor has been mum on this for two years," he said. "He has got to take a position on this ... and get it out of our education."

Orest Holubec, spokesman for Taft, said the governor has no plans to intervene in the process. All eight of his appointed members voted in favor of the model curriculum.

"He has faith that the school board members will implement the curriculum based on the standards," Holubec said.

Final approval of the model curriculum will be voted on next month.

News Journal reporter David Benson contributed to this story.

Originally published Sunday, February 15, 2004

Copyright ©2004 News Journal.

How not to be a biotechnology center


Paul Melchior

Published February 15, 2004 MELCHIOR0215

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's recent push to make Minnesota a center for the biotechnology industry is wise and has enormous potential benefits for our region. However, a troubling dichotomy exists between this plan and two recent developments in Minnesota science education: a disturbing movement to allow a discussion of intelligent design (a form of creationism) into K-12 life science classrooms, and the progressively weakened funding for higher education.

Biotechnology is a highly varied field, but its primary focus is the gene. Altering existing genes and their subsequent products to suit our needs is the essence of this industry. It may appear that no relationship exists between this field and the study of evolution, but there is a direct link, and it is significant.

The very nature of genes and their ability to change is what is harnessed by both biotechnologists and Mother Nature. This genetic plasticity is the ultimate source of variation for populations, whether of bacteria or blue whales, as they respond to their environment -- as they evolve. Adding even the notion of creationism, intelligent design, or other untestable explanations of the physical world into the classroom as viable alternatives weakens students' fundamental understanding of science.

The final draft of the science standards contains no mention of intelligent design. However, the attachment of a minority report by its advocates, none of whom are biologists, shows surprising bias.

Can a high school student live without knowing the connection between molecular biology and evolutionary processes? Probably. However, preparing kids for college and future careers in biotechnology without an honest, fundamental education in biology is like training people who believe that the Earth is flat to be mariners. They'll sail just fine, but miss out on some potentially great discoveries.

Furthermore, during the process of fixing the financial woes of Minnesota, the people and their government need to make a choice about education spending. If students are to be prepared to compete for prized jobs in biotechnology, their higher education system must be funded both responsibly and robustly. Although MnSCU and the University of Minnesota systems both receive millions in state support, each has experienced painful funding reductions in recent years. People who scoff at the effects of such cuts may not understand the dynamics and costs of collegiate science education. The governor and Legislature can take a major step forward by seriously considering the recent recommendations of the Minnesota Bioscience Council, but the entire higher education system needs improved support as well.

Making Minnesota a national powerhouse for the biotechnology industry will provide high-paying jobs, better quality of life and great dividends far into the future. But it comes with a price.

Paul Melchior is a member of the Department of Biology faculty at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park.

© Copyright 2004 Star Tribune.

Struck dumb by the age of Aquarius


Andrew Crumey

Francis Wheen
Fourth Estate, Ł16.99

WHEN Ronald Reagan went to Geneva in 1985 for a summit conference with Mikhail Gorbachev, the US president was well prepared. The new Soviet leader's star chart had been analysed by San Francisco astrologer Joan Quigley, who later fixed the exact time when Reagan should sign the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. An aide leaked the story, but the American public's reaction was indifference. If most of the country believed in astrology, why shouldn't the president?

In a book that is both amusing and hair-raising, Francis Wheen charts the vertiginous rise of superstition, quackery and gobbledygook in every aspect of public life over the last few decades. His "short history of modern delusions" looks at the growth of self-help books, the dot.com bubble, and the spread of postmodernist mystification among academics who can no longer recognise reality unless the word is in ironic quote marks.

A thesis of sorts emerges, but more than anything, this is a book that is pure fun to read, unless you happen to subscribe to one of the many faiths - be it homeopathy, Lacanian psychoanalysis or supply-side economics - the author aims to debunk. Witty columnist and biographer of Karl Marx, Wheen delivers a well-earned slap in the face to whaffle-mongers everywhere.

To see how much the intellectual landscape has changed, consider the words of President Woodrow Wilson in 1922, asked what he thought about Darwinian evolution. "Of course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised."

Compare that with Tony Blair's reaction to news in 2002 that a state-funded school in north-east England was teaching creationism in biology lessons: "In the end, a more diverse school system will deliver better results for our children."

Blair's comment is unsurprising, because we live in an age when truth is regarded as a relative concept, and being judgmental about other people's belief systems is seen as a bad thing; though the judgmentalism implied by a term such as "bogus asylum seeker" is all right, perhaps because those people do not have a vote to cast.

Tony and Cherie Blair embraced a bit of New Age diversity while holidaying in Mexico in 2001, where they underwent a "Mayan rebirthing ritual". Smearing watermelon and papaya over each other in a perfumed mudbath, they made wishes for world peace that evidently went unanswered, since the September 11 attacks took place not long afterwards.

As Wheen notes, Mayan rebirthing is not yet available on the National Health; but the government did recruit a feng-shui consultant who advised that "introducing a water feature would reduce poverty".

The language of non-judgmentalism leads us to speak of "alternative" therapies alongside "conventional" medicine. But as Wheen says, quoting Richard Dawkins, "if a healing technique is shown to have curative properties in properly controlled double-blind trials, it ceases to be an alternative: it simply becomes medicine". And quoting the late John Diamond: "There isn't an 'alternative' physiology or anatomy or nervous system, any more than there's an alternative map of London which lets you get to Battersea from Chelsea without crossing the Thames."

In much the same category as feng-shui and mudbaths, Wheen places "think-tanks" such as Demos, whose project to "rebrand Britain", led by 23-year-old Mark Leonard, came up with the notorious and short-lived 'Cool Britannia'. Then there was the Third Way - a mysterious Holy Grail "somewhere between the Second Coming and the Fourth Dimension". After writing a pamphlet on it, Tony Blair "jetted off to New York on Concorde - the only acceptable method of transport for Tertiary Voyagers - to participate in a multilateral wonkfest on this fashionable but enigmatic catchphrase".

His host, Hillary Clinton, had already told the New York Times of her desire to find a "unified field theory of life" which would "tie together practically everything: the way we are, the way we were, the faults of man and the word of God... teenage mothers and foul-mouthed children and frightening drunks in the parks…"

One senses it was religion she was looking for, not politics. Indeed Wheen's most persuasive argument is that the marrying of politics and religion is a central feature of the post-war rise of the mumbo-jumbo culture.

The United States was founded on Enlightenment principles of secular rationalism. Thomas Jefferson's proudest achievement was a statute for religious freedom that would recognise the equal rights of "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and the Infidel of every denomination", within a state that promoted no single religion.

Since 1945, however, the United States has seen politics and religion come ever closer together, and the reason, Wheen argues, is the Cold War, which made America set itself up as a force of Christianity against communist atheism. "Congress added the words 'one nation under God' to the pledge of allegiance in 1954; 'In God we trust' became the nation's official motto two years later." Communism has gone, but now Islam is perceived as the enemy.

Enlightenment rationalism is alive and well in the United States - a nation generating more scientific and technological progress than any other on the planet - but is not particularly fashionable with an electorate among whom a large proportion believe that the Big Bang never happened, and that The X Files is based on fact.

At a presidential hustings in 1999, Republican hopefuls were asked which philosopher or thinker they most admired. Steve Forbes said John Locke; George W Bush said: "Christ, because he changed my heart."

His response is touching, but it touches the heart, not the head. Wheen's book is an extended tirade against our over-therapised culture in which feelings are valued above thought, to the extent that thought goes out of the window altogether. The hysteria following the death of Princess Diana, and the nonsense written about it, is one of many exhibits raised in evidence.

It is in his attacks on self-help culture that Wheen is at his most amusing; though his book's central and suspiciously neat claim that 1979 was a starting point for the current age of mumbo jumbo is undermined by his own evidence, one of the earliest compilers of uplifting platitudes for the masses having been Enlightenment icon Benjamin Franklin.

Nobody, it seems, is immune from spouting nonsense. But we can at least learn to recognise it when we see it. Wheen's book is an excellent primer for the perplexed.

Andrew Crumey is Scotland on Sunday's literary editor

Is your wife alive? 'I don't know, and I don't care'


Posted on Sat, Feb. 14, 2004



By Janet Patton


"We're going against the evil alien clones. ... I started with my wife."

Pat Hutchinson said he shot his wife, Fontaine, in the head yesterday because she, like most of the other people on the planet, had been taken over by alien clones.

About 4:30 p.m. -- about an hour after the shooting was reported -- the Herald-Leader accidentally reached Hutchinson by telephone. The shooting was first thought to be at a nearby house, and reporters were calling neighbors.

Once the reporter realized she had the suspect on the line, she kept him talking while an editor called police.

The conversation continued while the editor was put on hold. When an officer returned to the line and asked the Herald-Leader to end the call with Hutchinson, the reporter did.

Soon after, the reporter relayed the contents of the interview to police.

Hutchinson, 45, described the situation:

"I shot my wife, shot the paramedics, I shot at a cop but I think I missed him."

Asked whether his wife of 13 years, was alive, he said: "I don't know, and I don't care."

Hutchinson was barricaded at 8645 Adams Lane with Fontaine, 60.

"We can sit here a long time," he said.

He spoke calmly, but rambled, talking not only about clones but also about UFOs, aliens, cobras, "panther-lions," the CIA and a vast conspiracy.

As he watched police surround his house, he said he had "several" guns and was prepared to use them on anyone who made it past his "cobras and panther-lions."

"Me and God's creatures -- we're going to do the best we can with what we got to work with," Hutchinson said. "These police officers and these folks -- I got a feeling they're getting ready to die."

Asked to start at the beginning, he said, "At the end of World War II, a UFO crash-landed near the Russian border. ..."

Aliens "possess the upper echelons of our administration. There's only 735 true humans left in Lexington, less than 3 million left worldwide," he said.

Asked for the reason behind the shootings, Hutchinson said:

"A cobra came up to me on the farm and gave me a stick and said, 'God told me to give this to you.'"

"I control the tribe of the stick, about 250 panther-lions, thousands of cobras, " Hutchinson said.

He said that there would soon be other attacks.

"All hell's getting ready to break loose all over the place," he said. "It's Armageddon."

He denied that he had mental problems: "You think, 'this guy's a nut.' I'm not a nut."

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Evolution Critics Are Under Fire For Flaws in 'Intelligent Design'


Science Journal
by Sharon Begley

Even before Darwin, critics attacked the idea of biological evolution with one or another version of, "Evolve this!"

Whether they invoked a human, an eye, or the whip-like flagella that propel bacteria and sperm, the contention that natural processes of mutation and natural selection cannot explain the complexity of living things has been alive and well for 200 years.

Biologists used to just roll their eyes (and sometimes descend to name-calling) at all this. More recently, they've been joining with First Amendment groups to oppose moves to water down the teaching of evolution in classrooms.

But now they are firing back with science. Their target: a line of attack that has promised over the past decade to "smash through the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence to bring Darwin to the canvas once and for all," as cell biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University, Providence, R.I., puts it.

The latest flaps are over Georgia's proposal (withdrawn last week) to eliminate the word "evolution" from science classes, and a Missouri bill requiring that biology curricula include a creationism off-shoot called "intelligent design."

This new antievolution argument evolved (no irony intended) from the belief that living things are so complex they only could have been designed by an intelligent being.

For years, intelligent-design theory had been bogged down in what one wag calls "the argument from personal incredulity" ("I can't see how natural forces could produce this, so it must be the work of God"). Darwin's new foes, however, are smart enough to realize that just because most of us can't imagine how the sun can burn so hot for so long, it doesn't follow that God, not nuclear fusion, keeps the fires stoked.

In 1996, biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., therefore offered a stronger argument against evolution. Complex living structures, he argued in his book "Darwin's Black Box," possess "irreducible complexity." That is, they can't function until all their components are assembled, much as a mousetrap isn't much good until the base, spring, bar and all the rest are connected.

Moreover, the individual parts of complex structures supposedly serve no function. Because evolution selects only the fittest innovations, useless ones vanish. The odds against a bunch of useless parts lying around at the same time and coming together by chance are astronomical, mathematician and evolution-critic William Dembski of Baylor University correctly notes.

But a funny thing happened when biologists started scrutinizing structures said to be irreducibly complex. Take the flagellum. It turns out that its base -- which Darwin's foes assert has no stand-alone function -- is made of the same necklace of proteins that compose a kind of syringe used by primitive microbes.

Called the type III secretory system, this microsyringe enables a bacterium to inject a toxin into its victim (this is how bubonic-plague bacteria kill). This component of the flagellum, then, could have been hanging around a very long time, conferring benefits on any organism that had it, ready to combine with other structures (which also perform functions in primitive living things) into a full-blown, functional flagellum.

"As an icon of antievolution, the flagellum has fallen," says Prof. Miller, a practicing Catholic. "If bits and pieces of a machine are useful for different functions, it means that natural selection could indeed produce elements of a biochemical machine for different purposes."

It's like discovering the mousetrap bar was a fine toothpick long before it got together with the other parts to kill rodents.

Components of other irreducibly complex structures and systems, it turns out, have functions, too. Humans, for instance, have a complex multipart biomachine that plays a key role in how cells produce energy.

Irreducibly complex? Maybe not. Two of the six proteins that make up the proton pump that produces energy are dead ringers for those in ancient bacteria. Evolution could have co-opted them when it was putting together the more complicated biochemical processes inside animals, including people.

Biologists have pinpointed the origins of only a few of the complex structures in humans and other higher organisms. Even in these cases, Prof. Behe argues, they have not explained, step by step, how simple systems could evolve into complex ones. But with discoveries like the microsyringe, Darwinians have cast serious doubt on the claim that it is impossible for evolution to shape any complex system.

In one of those strange-bedfellows moments, theologians are joining biologists in criticizing intelligent design. Biologist and Anglican priest Arthur Peacocke, for instance, argues that evolution is God's way of creating. George Coyne -- astronomer, Jesuit and director of the Vatican Observatory -- goes further. Invoking God to explain what we can't otherwise account for, he says, is "a kind of idolatry," because true faith should come from within and not because we can't fully explain the natural world.

The evolution wars show no sign of ending, but maybe they are starting to generate a little light as well as much heat.

• You can e-mail me at sciencejournal@wsj.com.

Updated February 13, 2004

Copyright © 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

The evolution debate in Ohio yet again?



Dayton Daily News
Friday, February 13, 2004

Ohioans may be having some difficulty figuring out just what the state Board of Education is up to on the subject of evolution. Some people are saying that the board's pending new lesson plans are an effort to promote the teaching of "intelligent design" over evolution. But the very people who are accused of making that effort insist that the guidelines are actually among the most pro-evolution in the country.

Citizens who are not in a position to read all the documentation — or interpret all the buzz words that only the fully initiated understand — might wonder where to turn.

Best to turn to the scientists. And not just individual scientists, but the organizations that are representative of scientists and that have people who have responsibility for looking into these matters fully.

The National Academy of Sciences has entered the debate, appalled at what the Board of Education is doing. The Ohio Academy of Sciences is also upset and says it will be contacting the governor, legislators and board members "so they understand the significance of what they're doing."

One thing is clear about the scientists: Their motives have to do with science, not religion. Their organizations are not dedicated to atheism or agnosticism or humanism. Their members are all over the lot religiously, as well as politically.

As a group, though, the scientists know the difference between science and theology.

A few people with scientific credentials speak up for creationism or intelligent design. But they are the rare scientists whose motives are clearly religious and political.

The state's policy on evolution should be to let individual science teachers decide for themselves whether and how to deal with the fact that some people reject the views of modern science. In dealing, for example, with questions that some students might pose about theories they have heard outside the classroom, teachers don't need any state guidelines. Such guidelines would be micro-management. Most teachers can be trusted to treat religious differences with respect.

State policy makers must be focused on bigger, broader issues. In that regard, it's time for the Board of Education to come to terms with the difference between science and religion, and to decide that what should be taught in science classes is science.

It's time for a dithering Gov. Bob Taft to speak up clearly in defense of that principle.

Absent political leadership, the Board of Education seems unable to dispose of this issue. The controversy keeps coming back. That needn't be. Other states have managed to dispose of it.

Ohio is getting a reputation in national education circles as benighted in this realm. That is not going to help in the recruitment of teachers.

So there is a state problem. It needs to be confronted by the state's leaders: not only the governor and those who would succeed him, but Ohio's U.S. senators. Being Republicans, they are in a position to calm some of the state's conservatives about whether their values are being trampled on.

But the governor's responsibility is greatest among statewide officials. He has pursued that responsibility. Now he has to accept it.

Copyright © 2004, Cox Ohio Publishing.

Intelligent design: The new 'big tent' for evolution's critics


Public release date: 14-Feb-2004

Contact: Ronald Numbers
University of Wisconsin-Madison

SEATTLE - Since the advent of Darwinism in the mid-19th century, a variety of movements have jousted for the intellectual high ground in the epic evolution versus creationism debate.

At one end of the spectrum reside the "naturalistic evolutionists" who argue that life neither requires nor benefits from a divine creator. At the other pole, "scientific creationists" compress the entire history of the cosmos into 6,000 years and insist that the heavens and Earth and all life arose in one six-day creation event. Somewhere in the middle, are "theistic evolutionists" who argue for a creator, but see no reason why God could not have made the world by means of evolution.

And in the last decade or so, yet another movement has forged a claim in the high-stakes contest for intellectual primacy in the apparently ceaseless battle over the origins of life. The newest combatants, known as "intelligent-design theorists," reject both theistic and naturalistic evolution and, instead, claim evidence of the hand of an unknown "intelligent designer" in the genesis of life.

But for Ron Numbers, the leading historian of the struggle between Darwinism and the anti-evolution movements of the past 140 years, intelligent design is simply the latest effort to create a "big tent for all people critical of evolution."

As he views it, there are significant differences between scientific creationism and intelligent design. First, adherents of intelligent design scrupulously avoid biblical arguments to undermine evolutionary theory and argue instead that the subcellular complexity of life demands a knowing designer. What's more, many who subscribe to intelligent design theory have no problem accepting the great antiquity of life on Earth.

"They do create some problems for people (strict creationists) who take the Bible seriously," says Numbers, a professor of history of science and medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "They argue that the emphasis of young Earth creationists has been divisive."

But those big differences notwithstanding, the intelligent design movement, like the more biblically oriented creationist movements, has the same ambitious agenda: to influence how science is taught in the nation's schools. In particular, they seek to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution - the dominant, unifying theory of modern biology - in public schools.

Despite friction between the two camps, strict creationists and intelligent design adherents have at times joined forces to advance their educational agenda, the most recent example in Georgia, where a proposal for middle and high school science classrooms calls for deemphasizing evolution.

Addressing scientists here today (Feb. 14) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Numbers gave historical context to the intelligent design movement, a movement that comes from no particular religious point of view, but nonetheless argues for a supernatural hand in the creation of life.

"They couldn't care less about Genesis, and it is big enough that it can even appeal to some Jews and Muslims," says Numbers. "Its appeal is the complex nature of the world."

At the root of intelligent design theory is that life, at its most basic biochemical level, is too complex to understand. That science has not unraveled many of the biochemical secrets of life is evidence that an "intelligent designer" has intervened, its theorists assert.

This argument, says Numbers, ups the antievolution ante by arguing that science itself must change to accommodate the things it cannot explain.

"They are claiming this is a scientific discovery, so it should be taught with other scientific claims in the schools," Numbers explains. "They are saying science should change its most fundamental rule, that science admits only naturalistic explanations.

"The intelligent design people are saying that if the goal of science is to discover the truth, why should scientists, a priori, reject the theory of intelligent design? There must be intelligent design in the face of irreducible complexity.

"They have made a tremendous splash," says Numbers. "They want to change the way science is done, but so far as I know, there has yet to appear an article in a scientific journal that makes this broader claim."

The odds that the intelligent design movement - even with some scientist subscribers - will change the way science is done are slim, Number asserts: "To change science, they'll need to convince the scientific community, and they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of doing that."

But the likelihood that intelligent design theory will make inroads into the public science classroom and into textbooks is good, Numbers believes.

"It is very likely to influence science teaching. Intelligent design doesn't talk about God explicitly, so in some cases it might pass legal muster. They're trying to get into the schools that way, and they may be successful, I think."

Scientists and other proponents of evolution, tend to conflate creationism and intelligent design. "They see intelligent design as little more than gussied up creationism, despite the significant differences," Numbers says.

Either way, the stakes in the classroom are too high, he argues, to ignore the intellectual arguments of intelligent design as an answer to evolution.


-- Terry Devitt 608-262-8282, trdevitt@wisc.edu

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Another Attempt to Deny Evolution


Published on Thursday, Ferbruary 12, 2004 by the San Diego Union-Tribune

by James O. Goldsborough

The state of Georgia last month ordered a ban on the word "evolution" from its science classrooms. The state school superintendent ordered the word removed from all textbooks.

Thanks to the intervention of former President Jimmy Carter, schools superintendent Kathy Cox, an elected official, was compelled to rescind her order. Charles Darwin's name can remain in Georgia textbooks, along with those of Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and others who have made their little contributions to our understanding of things.

One cannot help wonder what would have become of the schoolchildren of the modern state of Georgia if Carter did not happen to live there. We like to believe we have come a long way from that steamy Dayton, Tenn., courtroom in 1925, when America gave to a laughing world the so-called "monkey trial" of John Scopes. Scopes was a high school biology teacher charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution.

From the back hills of Tennessee and Georgia, to the plains of Kansas and the foothills of California (Vista), the common complaint against evolution is that it's "only a theory." So said the Kansas Board of Education when it banned the teaching of evolution in Kansas schools in 1999, arguing it was no more "provable" than creationism, the Bible's story of how human life was created.

In each of these cases – Georgia, 2004; Kansas, 1999; California, 1994; and Tennessee, 1925 – individuals denying the facts of science sought to deny them to schoolchildren as well. Misunderstanding that religion and science occupy separate places in our lives – one dealing with facts, the other with beliefs – they made them into antagonists.

One doesn't normally think of modern Georgia as a backwater. But when an elected superintendent of schools bans evolution because, she says, it's "a buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction," we have to wonder how far Georgia has come since Scopes.

Ask this: How did Cox's action differ from that of the Roman Inquisition, which demanded that Galileo recant his theory (from Copernicus) of the Earth's revolution around the sun? Revolution, said the Inquisition, didn't square with a literal interpretation of Scripture. For example, Joshua 10:13: "So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven;" and Isaiah 40:22: " ... the heavens stretched out as a curtain" above "the circle of the Earth."

Speaking, "as a Christian and a trained engineer and scientist," Carter accused Cox of "an attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students." He said the schools superintendent opened Georgia's education system to "nationwide ridicule." Carter got no support from Georgia's unenlightened governor, Sonny Perdue, who said it was up to Cox to make "these kinds of curriculum decisions."

Sorry, guv, it's not. When a statewide education system falls to the creationists, the governor has a responsibility to remind people we are not back in 1925, let alone the Inquisition's 1633. The modern state of Georgia has pretensions. The Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, bills itself as "one of the nation's top research universities, distinguished by its commitment to improving the human condition through advanced science and technology."

Georgia Tech would need to go out of state for its students if Cox had her way. Ignoring 150 years of advances in biology, Cox objected to evolution because, she said, people might think Georgia was "teaching the monkeys-to-man sort of thing."

Teaching biology without evolution, which Cox would have done, is like teaching physics without Newton or philosophy without Plato. You deny students the great intellectual frameworks for learning. Darwin called natural selection "the main means explaining the modification of species." More than a century later, Stephen Jay Gould called it, "the genealogical connection of all organisms."

The creationists lose these battles, but keep coming back. They must be watched. They keep their intentions private, then spring them on unsuspecting publics, as in Georgia. It took Kansans three years to replace their creationist school board. It took Vista voters almost as long.

The "it's only a theory" argument against evolution is rooted in ignorance. Once science is satisfied that observable evidence through controlled testing validates a hypothesis, it can label the conclusions theory or law, it doesn't matter. Newton's laws of motion are the basis for his theory of gravitation, though it could as easily be the other way around.

We may not like the idea that homo sapiens are here because our ancestors crawled out of some prehistoric slime and escaped predators (rather than popping into existence in Eden), but there is all that evidence for it.

The latest creationist trick is so-called "intelligent design." According to intelligent design, natural selection is insufficient to explain the DNA mutations necessary to create homo sapiens. God must have directed the process.

The answer to that is a simple: God may exist, who knows? But God isn't needed to explain natural selection. DNA mutations are quite capable of getting us out of the slime.

Children can learn about God in church. In schools, we teach science.

© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

Keep Bible out of biology


February 13, 2004

Phillip Johnson ("Life called 'intelligent design,'" Jan. 11), argues evolution is neither fact nor good theory. He asserts it is not supported by the evidence.

Significantly, his evidence has not met the standard to be published in established science journals. Also significant is that in 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court said there was not enough science in scientific creationism to permit it in biology class.

Many citizens of heaven want the book of Genesis used to explain creation to their children. They want the Ten Commandments to set a moral tone in their children's schools. Many also believe parents should be primarily responsible for the education of their children (editorial, Jan. 27).

So Christians and non-Christians alike should note that the U.S. Supreme Court determined last year that government does not establish religion (unconstitutional) when tax-supported vouchers are used to choose sectarian schools.

Johnson sympathizers might be better served organizing voucher movements to support their own schools instead of pushing the Bible into science classes of government-run schools.

With vouchers, parents could choose schools reflecting their own particular views of morality, the supernatural, or superstition, where intelligent design or bare midriffs might be well received or altogether excluded.

—James E. Green


Seminar aims to debunk evolution


Event will discuss fossil record, timelines

By CHARLES RUNNELLS, crunnells@news-press.com
Published by news-press.com on February 13, 2004

Bert Thompson wants to be the bucket of cold water that shocks people to their scientific senses.

Evolution is bunk, Thompson claims. And he said he has the evidence to back it up.

Thompson — a Christian biologist with a bachelor's degree from Abilene Christian University — will lay out much of that evidence this weekend during a three-day Cape Coral seminar.

Up to 2,100 people are expected to attend the seminar at Cape Coral High School's auditorium and later Cape Coral Church of Christ, organizers said.

"This is all science," Thompson said. "There's no religion in anything."

The debate between creationism — the idea that God created the universe — and the theory of evolution isn't anything new, Thompson said.

It's been around for more than a century, he said — most recently in a Georgia brouhaha over plans to delete the word "evolution" from Georgia's public school science curriculum.

Thompson said he's all for the public debate.

"It causes people to rethink," he said. "It's like a cold, wet rag in your face, and people go, 'Oh, I haven't really thought of that.'"

Thompson, 54, is executive director of Apologetics Press, a company that publishes science-based books and tracts on creationism. He's also an adjunct professor of Bible and Science at Southern Christian University in Montgomery, Ala., where he lives.

Thompson conducts about 40 seminars each year, he said. He is being paid by the Cape Coral Church of Christ to speak in Cape Coral, said organizer Laurence Coblentz.

His seminar this weekend will discuss everything from the second law of thermodynamics to the fossil record and the geological timeline — the notion that dinosaurs are separated from humans by 60 million years or so.

Understanding Evolution

The National Center for Science Education and the University of California Museum of Paleontology are pleased to announce that the Understanding Evolution web site: http://evolution.berkeley.edu is now live.

The Understanding Evolution web site -- written for teachers but accessible to the general public -- is intended to provide "one-stop shopping" for evolution education. The web site is rich in content, with sections on the nature of science, evolution itself, the different lines of evidence supporting evidence, evolution's relevance to everyday life, widespread misconceptions about evolution, and the history of evolutionary thought. There is also an extensive section especially for teachers, giving advice on teaching evolution, ideas for lesson plans, ways to avoid confusing students, and answering common student questions.

The Understanding Evolution web site is a collaborative project of the National Center for Science Education and the University of California Museum of Paleontology. It was funded by a grant to UCMP from the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Foundation. NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, Alan Gishlick, and Eric Meikle assisted in its production. Be sure to check it out!


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

Doctors, Priests Form Exorcism Commission


Fri February 13, 2004 08:09 AM ET

ROME (Reuters) - Faced with growing demand for exorcisms, Catholic Church leaders in the Italian city of Genoa have created a taskforce of doctors and priests to determine when the devil is at work and when psychiatric help is needed.

The team of three priests, one psychiatrist, one psychologist and one neurologist -- dubbed the "anti-Satan pool" by Italian media -- will work on a case-by-case basis, a local church official said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"They'll meet on a regular basis to determine when there has been a case of demonic possession and call for an exorcist, or problems better cared for by a psychologist," said the official, who asked not to be named.

For Catholics, exorcism is the casting out of what is believe d to be an evil spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands.

One of the church's leading exorcists praised the initiative, saying medical experts are needed to rule out mental problems before spiritual work can begin.

"I never accept anyone who arrives without a medical certificate," Father Gabriele Amorth told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The Genoa taskforce was created by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The official Catholic exorcism starts with prayers, the blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying of hands on the possessed, and the making of the sign of the cross.

It ends with the priest commanding the devil to leave the possessed person.

While the church does not often talk openly about exorcisms, Bertone said the need for them is there.

"It has become difficult to talk about Satan, but the signs of the devil are palpable," he told Corriere della Sera in comments published Thursday.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Why won't Kathy Cox tell motives for changes?


Colin Campbell - Staff
Thursday, February 12, 2004

First, state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox took the word "evolution" out of Georgia's proposed biology curriculum. She called it provocative and replaced it with "biological changes over time." She also argued that other theories of origin, such as "intelligent design," should be taught.

Then, after an uproar, she reinstated "evolution."

And then on Wednesday the Georgia Board of Education announced that it "expects the new Georgia curriculum to be world-class, beginning with full inclusion of the recognized national standards in each curriculum area." Cox seemed ready to go along, perhaps by reinstating all the other stuff about evolution she has removed.

But wait. Why the changes in the first place? The question demands an answer.

There were passages in the proposed curriculum, written by distinguished national scientific groups, that described the four-billion-year age of the Earth. Cox deleted them. The proposed curriculum discussed the slow development of today's life forms from one-cell organisms. That was removed as well. The proposed curriculum described natural selection. It got cut.

There were careful references to the importance of Darwin, to the apparent randomness of evolution, and more. All that vanished under Cox's care.

Yet she refuses to be questioned in detail about these changes, which she evidently made by big-footing her own biology committee.

On Tuesday I asked again for an interview, e-mailing her spokesman, Kirk Englehardt, that I wanted to ask Cox who, if anyone, had helped her change the curriculum in the first place. Also, "Where and when did Ms. Cox learn about 'intelligent design' [a religious explanation with scientific trappings] as an alternative theory worth teaching in Georgia's biology classes?"

Englehardt e-mailed back that "we are no longer doing interviews on this topic."

I asked for clarification. The response: "We are now focused on the topic of improving education in the state of Georgia."

I think an important elected official should be held to a higher standard of openness. What happened? Did creationists try to hijack our biology classes?

Remember, they've tried that in other places. In 2001, opponents of evolution helped persuade U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum to amend the administration's education bill so it would urge schools "where biological evolution is taught" to give other theories a say. The Senate passed the amendment, and creationists and proponents of intelligent design rejoiced. But many scientific groups objected, and the amendment failed in the House.

Most creationist attempts to downgrade evolution have been focused more at the state and local levels.

"Ever since the Supreme Court decided in 1987 that Louisiana could not constitutionally require teachers to give equal time to teaching creation science and evolution," Jay Wexler wrote last year in the Vanderbilt Law Review, "critics of evolution have adopted a variety of new strategies to change the way in which public schools present the subject. . . . These strategies have included teaching evolution as a 'theory' rather than as a fact, . . . teaching arguments against evolution, teaching the allegedly nontheistic theory of intelligent design instead of creationism, . . . [and] changing the word 'evolution' in state science standards to something less controversial. . . ."

These strategies are being tried in Georgia today. Why won't Kathy Cox tell us more?

Colin Campbell's column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.


Teach creation theory in public schools


I naively thought our small Montana schools were safeguarded from the evolution brainwashing. I was wrong. My 7-year-old asked one evening, "Mom, did you know that cave men come from apes?" "Excuse me?" Was my shocked response. He explained to me that he read about it in a book in our school's library. Being a believer in Jesus and Biblical authority, I explained that the book he read is based on one man's theory.

I agree my son should be taught about different scientific theories, but it's equally important to reiterate that these are theories, not facts. The theory of creation has as much validity as the theory of evolution. Some compelling evidence on this issue can be found on the Internet at sites like drdino.com.

I admire our local teachers and their dedication to teaching our kids. Unfortunately, thanks to organizations like the ACLU, our teachers and school administrators fear the repercussions that can be brought down upon them if they teach the creation theory. This isn't right.

I also admire folks like the Rev. Curtis Brickley of Darby who stand in defense of teaching the creation theory in our public schools. Keep up the charge, and I pray those of us who agree will join you in this battle.

Kay Braddock

Religion, science not interchangeable


Having just heard the news that creationism is to be included in the science curriculum in Darby, I must say that I was deeply shocked and appalled. That scientifically unfounded religious tradition is to be taught as a valid counterpoint to heavily researched, highly respected scientific theory is an outrage reminiscent of the persecution of Galileo for heresy on the grounds that the Bible says the sun revolves around the earth.

Regarding arguments for the inclusion of creationism, many center around claims that the unproven theory of evolution is taught as fact in public schools. While it's true enough that evolution has not been proven, I don't recall having ever been told by any teacher in any science class I've ever taken that evolution is fact. We were always instructed that evolution was theoretical and that theories are regularly disproven.

Other arguments dispute the validity of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. I hate to break the creationists' bubble here, but in the scientific world, natural selection and evolution are by no means synonymous. Darwin's work, while foundational, is hardly viewed as incontrovertible, and many of this theories have been disproven or invalidated by more modern evolutionary theorists, thus rendering the point on Darwin moot.

The last, and perhaps most disturbing, argument typically seen in the creationist arsenal centers on fairness. The claim is often made that the religious freedom of Christian children is being infringed upon because the schools aren't teaching the same things about our universe and its origins that their religion does. To this, I say that it is not the place of our government or its institutions (public school included) to teach religious tradition to our children. That right belongs, and should only belong, to those children's parents and their religious communities.

Religion and science are not interchangeable.

Aaron Thorpe

State panel backs disputed lesson, infuriates supporters of evolution



Scott Stephens
Plain Dealer Reporter

Columbus - The State Board of Education gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a 10th-grade biology lesson that scientists say could put "intelligent design" in Ohio classrooms.

Setting aside an impassioned plea from the National Academy of Sciences, the board voted 13-4 to declare its intent to adopt the "Critical Analysis of Evolution" lesson next month.

The academy warned that doing so would give a green light to teaching intelligent design, the idea that life is so complex that a higher being must have created it.

The disputed lesson plan has thrust Ohio back into the middle of a national fight over how to best teach the origins and development of life on Earth to public school children.

That fight is between supporters and critics of Charles Darwin's theory that life evolved through natural processes, a battle that has raged since the "monkey trial" of biology teacher John Scopes nearly 80 years ago.

"It's a sad day for science in Ohio," said Patricia Princehouse, who teaches biological evolution at Case Western Reserve University. "This opens up the reputation of Ohio scientists to ridicule nationally and internationally."

Board member James Turner of Cincinnati, who supported the lesson plan, said he believed some members of the scientific community were overreacting.

"I think this is a case of passion lacking perspective," he said.

"I reject the notion that this lesson somehow advances the notion of intelligent design or creationism," Turner said.

Princehouse and other scientists complained that much of the language in the lesson plan came from Jonathan Wells' "Icons of Evolution," a seminal text in the intelligent design movement. The board's standards committee Monday deleted the title of the book from the lesson plan's bibliography, but critics complained that Wells' ideas remained.

Princehouse and others vowed to fight the measure and predicted a court challenge if the lesson plan stands. The board will take a final vote on the measure next month, although changes to the lesson are possible through June.

Board member Martha Wise of Avon, who opposes the lesson plan, said support for the measure reflects a turnover on the board that has left it more conservative than the body that approved the state's science standards 14 months ago. Supporters of the lesson plan said it simply reflects the science standards the board adopted in December 2002, which called for students to examine criticisms of biological evolution. They also argue that Ohio's curriculum will include more arguments on behalf of evolution than standards in most other states.

"I wish intelligent design were in the lesson — then there would be something to complain about," said Robert Lattimer, a Hudson chemist and outspoken intelligent design supporter. "But it's simply not there."

Teachers are not required to use the model curriculum, but exams such as the state's new graduation test will test children on what the curriculum covers.

Debate about the lesson plan rose to such a fevered pitch this week that the board's president, Jennifer Sheets of Pomeroy, took the extraordinary step of admonishing her colleagues against attacking one another or members of the public.

Tempers continued to flare after the vote. Board member Sam Schloemer said Ohio Department of Education officials were pressured by intelligent design advocates on the board to make sure the writing team of educators and scientists came up with a lesson plan sympathetic to intelligent design. He called on Gov. Bob Taft to intervene.

"Senior level staff members at the Department of Education are ready to revolt," said Schloemer of Cincinnati. "They're totally embarrassed by this whole process. If the governor would call it off, it would be gone."

Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said the governor had no intention of getting involved in the board's work. "The governor has faith in the board members and expects they will approve curriculum based on the standards they adopted in 2002," he said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: sstephens@plaind.com, 216-999-4827

© 2004 The Plain Dealer

Ohio Board OKs Evolution Lesson Plans


Published Wednesday, February 11, 2004

AP Statehouse Correspondent

Opponents of the state school board's new lesson plans on evolution expect to lobby heavily for changes before a final board vote.

The state school board voted 13-4 on Tuesday in favor of lesson plans that some scientists say continue to contain inaccurate information about evolution. Proponents say the plans are some of the country's most rigorous in favor of evolution.

The state Board of Education's preliminary vote will be followed by a final vote next month. But changes could be made up to July 1.

The Ohio Academy of Sciences will contact Gov. Bob Taft, lawmakers and board members "so they understand the significance of what they did," said Lynn Elfner, the academy's chief executive.

Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote board president Jennifer Sheets on Monday to express concerns that parts of the alternative concept of "intelligent design" were being incorporated into the plans.

Intelligent design is the idea that life is so complex that it was designed by a non-specified power.

Districts could begin developing lessons from the plans this summer and begin teaching from the material this fall, said Bob Bowers, associate superintendent for curriculum and assessment for the Department of Education.

The plans are models that educators can follow, not mandates. But they contain basic information about evolution that students will be tested on next spring.

Ohio is developing lesson plans based on new standards for what students should know about a variety of core subjects. New achievement tests will be based on the standards.

Tuesday's board vote followed an unsuccessful attempt by some members to delay the plans and send them back to a board committee for more work.

Michael Cochran, an elected board member from suburban Columbus who voted for the plans, said nothing would be gained by additional study.

"People who see weaknesses in the lesson plan will still see weaknesses," said Cochran, co-chairman of the board's standards' committees. "People who see strengths, the strengths will still be there."

James Turner, a Taft appointee from Cincinnati, said the plans include some of the nation's best science standards.

"I reject the notion that the lessons advance the concept of intelligent design or creationism," Turner said. "I believe the lessons are some of the most pro-evolution in the United States."

Patricia Princehouse, an evolutionary biologist at Case Western Reserve University, said the standards include a number of errors linked to intelligent design, such as trying to define notions of "microevolution" and "macroevolution" as separate concepts.

At issue is whether processes that lead to a subspecies of animal could ultimately lead to an entirely new species, she said. Scientists believe the two concepts overlap, she said

The information is contained in a section involving a "critical analysis" of evolution, one of nine evolution lesson plans. Scientists don't oppose the information in the other eight plans, Princehouse said.

Taft, a Republican, will not get involved in the board's decision, spokesman Orest Holubec said Tuesday. Governors appoint six of the board's 18 members.

In December 2002, the board approved science standards that include the disclaimer that the standards do not require the teaching or testing of the alternate concept of "intelligent design."

Last modified: February 11. 2004 8:54AM

Copyright 2004 The Ledger

Scientists to lobby board on biology plan

State to change 10th-grade evolution lesson http://www.daytondailynews.com/localnews/content/localnews/daily/0211science.html

By Laura A. Bischoff
Dayton Daily News
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

COLUMBUS -- Scientists said they will pressure Ohio Board of Education members to change their minds about a controversial evolution lesson plan the board tentatively approved Tuesday.

The 10th-grade biology lesson, Critical Analysis of Evolution, contains factual errors, misrepresentations and creationism, and is likely to face a court challenge, said Patricia Princehouse, an evolutionary biology lecturer at Case Western Reserve University.

The lesson uses information from "intelligent design" Web sites and lifts concepts and inaccuracies from material published by intelligent design promoters, Princehouse and other critics said.

Intelligent design is the idea that life is so complex a higher being must have had a hand in its creation.

"The trail is clear. There is a religious motivation for this lesson and that will be challenged in court," she told the board.

The board voted 13-4 Tuesday on a resolution that it intends to adopt a group of science plans, including the controversial lesson, at its meeting in March. The board is in the process of adopting 160 science lessons, that it has grouped into five subsets. The subset with the evolution analysis was voted on Tuesday.

On Monday, a board committee removed two bibliography citations in the Critical Analysis of Evolution lesson — one because it was incorrect and another referencing the work of Jonathan Wells, a noted promoter of intelligent design.

Two scientists — Ted Scharf of Cincinnati and Richard Hoppe of Cleveland — said removing the citations is tantamount to plagiarism because the lesson now uses information without crediting its source.

Ohio made international headlines two years ago when it considered including intelligent design as part of the science standards, on which graduation and proficiency tests are based. The concept did not make it into the standards, but the board did adopt language that schools should teach that scientists continue to critically analyze evolution theory.

The controversy now seems to be whether intelligent design will be part of the model lesson plans written by state education officials for teachers' use.

Supporters of intelligent design said some scientists just don't want evolutionary theory subjected to criticism.

"I think it's going to be great for science. This lesson, in my opinion, has been misunderstood. I am very familiar with intelligent design and it just is not in there," said Robert Lattimer, an intelligent design proponent and a scientist who was on the standards writing team from two years ago.

Board member James Turner of Cincinnati said, "I reject the notion that these lessons somehow advance the concept of intelligent design or even creationism."

Turner said scientists criticizing the evolution lesson were resorting to hyperbole and then likened their passion on the issue to "teenagers in the backseat" who lack perspective.

Board member Deborah Owens-Fink, another intelligent design proponent, said she expects some scientists to exert tremendous political pressure on board members through Gov. Bob Taft, scientific associations and the media.

The lessons, which are supposed to guide teachers on how to cover Ohio's standards, are due to be adopted by June.

After the vote Tuesday, Princehouse said, "It's a sad day for science in Ohio, but I do remain hopeful that we'll come to a reasonable resolution."

Lynn Elfner, executive director of the Ohio Academy of Science, and Princehouse both are optimistic the board members will change the controversial lesson before its final adoption.

Already, the National Academy of Sciences sent a letter to board President Jennifer Sheets, detailing serious concerns with the lesson plan.

"Please understand that the National Academy of Sciences and, I would contend, the vast majority of scientists, are not asking people to choose between science and religion," wrote Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy. "What concerns us is that Intelligent Design is not scientific because its ultimate tenet that life on Earth is the result of the work of some intelligent being is scientifically untestable and therefore cannot be invalidated through scientific means."

Two local board members, John Griffin of West Carrollton and Carl Wick of Centerville, voted to approve the plans.

The four votes against the resolution were Robin Hovis of Millersburg, Cyrus Richardson Jr. of Bethel, G.R. "Sam" Schloemer of Cincinnati and Jennifer Stewart of Zanesville.

Universities vie for tool that shows brains at work


By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff, 2/10/2004

A brain scanner costs a couple of million dollars. It is so complex to run, it needs frequent babying by a physicist. And over the last several years, its power to watch the human mind at work has become so irresistibly seductive that psychology researchers from Cambridge to Berkeley are deciding they simply must have a "magnet."

It is as if, until these brain scanners arrived, psychologists were trying to figure out how a car works just by driving it around, said Nancy Kanwisher, a noted brain imager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Now, somebody says, `Hey, let's open the hood and look inside!' "

A scanner, formally known as a functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI machine, shows researchers the relative activity of different parts of the brain over time, allowing glimpses of what happens when a person, say, pictures his mother's face or attacks a moral dilemma. Already they are being used in surgery and are leading to new understandings of addiction, complex social behavior and psychiatric disorders.

And despite a scanner's price tag, it appears to be the gotta-have-it tool of the moment for psychologists who once contented themselves with rat mazes and push-buttons.

Harvard is currently talking about getting a scanner or two for its psychology department in William James Hall. Tufts is planning to include a research fMRI in an expanded new neuroscience center. Dartmouth jumped ahead in 2000 by putting one into its new brain building.

The number of published research papers using fMRI has increased exponentially from two in 1990 to 746 in 2001, by one count. Now, an estimated four fMRI papers per day are published in scientific journals.

Increasingly, researchers "are convinced -- or at the very least, their students are convinced -- that you have to have a magnet," said Dr. Bruce Rosen, director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Functional and Structural Biomedical Imaging in Charlestown. The center, shared by Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT, is the largest of its kind in the world, with nine research magnets -- but local researchers still want more.

MRI's are long familiar in general medicine as body scanners. But the "functional" variety can pick up blood flow changes in the brain that reflect changing patterns of activity inside.

In shedding new light on how the brain operates, fMRI's also promise to transform the profession of psychology, which has sometimes been derided as a quasi-science based more on touchy-feely talk than hard evidence.

"My bet is that in 100 years, the availability of these neuro-imaging techniques will be seen as the pivotal event that firmly established psychology as a natural science," said Harvard psychology professor Stephen Kosslyn.

In the dozen years that functional MRIs have been in use, they have brought new insights into basic brain functions like vision and language. More and more researchers also have begun using them to try to understand complex behavior like economic choices, and moral reasoning.

One study found that in white students who were not consciously racist, an area associated with fear "lit up" more when they were shown unfamiliar black faces than unfamiliar white faces. Other work is teasing out what happens in the brain during economic decision-making, with the goal of improving economic models. Soon, said John D. Van Horn of Dartmouth's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, fMRI will model patterns of thought "the way climatologists now do using atmospheric data to visualize the weather." Imaging has already revolutionized research on addiction by showing how addicts' brains differ from those of non-addicts, said Alan Leshner, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "You can talk about your brain on drugs forever, but if you can't show it to anybody, why would they believe you?"Some top medical centers use fMRI machines during surgery for brain tumors or epilepsy to pinpoint the important parts of a patient's brain that must be spared. Researchers say imaging is also expected to help improve psychiatric treatment by helping doctors divide broad diagnoses, like depression or schizophrenia, into smaller subcategories, each of which may have a treatment that works best.

Functional MRIs are only one of a handful of powerful imaging techniques, and they are far from perfect. Brain events happen in milliseconds, but the scanners are only capable of measuring blood flow changes, which take seconds.

The machines are also tricky to use, and require high-level computer power to derive and analyze images from the masses of data they take in. Critics also say some conclusions drawn from the data are more conjecture than fact, and that sometimes money spent on scans could be better spent on other research.

The scanners are expensive not only to buy but to run, costing about $500 to $1,000 an hour. But despite the cost and the criticism, General Electric, the market leader in sales of fMRI machines, said sales have climbed 10 to 15 percent per year for each of the last five years.Marcus E. Raichle, an imaging pioneer, reported in the Journal of Neuroscience in May that there are now 58 research-oriented magnet centers worldwide.Some researchers are wondering when scanning will reach a saturation point. But its appeal is hard to beat, said Jody Culham, a brain imaging specialist at the University of Western Ontario.

Sometimes, as she analyzes fMRI data, she says to herself, "Wow, I'm looking at someone's brain at work."

Carey Goldberg can be reached at goldberg@globe.com.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

Town Battles 'Demonic' Mystery Blazes


ROME (Reuters) - A Sicilian town is struggling to work out why dozens of household items from fridge-freezers to furniture keep mysteriously bursting into flame, terrifying locals and sparking theories of demonic intervention.

Since mid-January dozens of electrical goods and pieces of furniture have spontaneously gone up in flames, causing huge damage in Canneto di Caronia, a small town perched on the Mediterranean island's rocky coast.

"I've seen unplugged electrical cables burst into flames with my own eyes, but I just can't explain it," a local policeman who did not want to be named said Wednesday. "I've never seen anything like it."

Some fires have spread to engulf homes and police temporarily evacuated some 40 residents.

"There has been a sense of panic and people have been evacuated from their homes," said Salvatore Mezzopane, who works at the town hall. "We're trying to find the cause of the fires but there are no answers yet."

Italian utility Enel tried cutting power to the town after the first reports but the fires continued. With experts no closer to explaining the phenomenon, theories ranged from arson to a freak power surge or even the supernatural.

"I've seen things like this before," Catholic exorcist Gabriele Amorth told Italian daily Il Messagero. "Demons occupy a house and appear in electrical goods...Let's not forget that Satan and his followers have immense powers."

My Turn: Out of the Candlelight and Into the Spotlight


Once people find out about my psychic ability, they no longer want friendship, they want the future

Secret Psychic: Clairvoyant Rochelle Jewel Shapiro kept her occupation secret from all but her closest friends

By Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

Feb. 16 issue - I dreamed I was in Barnes & Noble, giving a reading of my very first novel, about a suburban psychic. The audience smiled expectantly, and as soon as I stopped reading, people rose from their seats. Whipping out my pen, I sat down at the table, ready to sign copies. But the crowd that rushed toward me held no books for me to sign. Instead, their hands were outstretched, grabbing for me. "We came to be read by you!" they shouted. I woke up in a cold sweat.

In a few months I'm supposed to go out and promote my novel. While I'm happy to talk to readers about plot and character, I dread being asked where I got my subject matter, how I did my research and whether I really believe in psychics.

The fact is, I do. My Russian grandmother, who called herself a healer, was psychic. One look into a woman's eyes and she could tell if she was pregnantâ€"and whether she was happy about it.

Bubbie suspected, even before I could talk, that I had her talent. When I was 4, I told everyone that my mother's cousin Bertie was coming on a ship from London. The next day my mother got a call from the docks. "It's Bertie! Come pick me up!" No invitation, no warning. When Bubbie heard, she told me, "You have my gift."

But as I got older, being psychic began to seem too Old World to me. I wanted to do something modern, so after college I wrote for a magazine and then taught middle school. But wherever I worked, my psychic abilities came with me. I knew too much about other people, and that caused pain and embarrassment to me and them. I was gossiping with a co-worker one day when I suddenly blurted out, "Congratulations! When is the baby due?" And then I saw a funny look on her face and knew she hadn't told anyone.

"How did you know?" she demanded.

"I don't remember," I lied.

A couple of days later, over lunch, I was moved to tell another co-worker, "I'm sure your father is going to be OK."

"What are you talking about?" he said. "My father is perfectly fine." An hour later he got a call that his father had been in a car accident and was in intensive care.

As it happened more and more, I had to admit to my colleagues that I was clairvoyant. Once I did, people no longer wanted friendshipâ€"they wanted the future. Finally I stopped resisting my calling and became a professional psychic, though one who was in hiding. For more than 25 years, I've given readings over the phone and told all but my closest friends that I make my living as a writer.

Keeping my occupation under wraps hasn't been easy. I was once coaxed into attending the wedding of a client who believed my reading had led her to her husband-to-be. "Only if I can be incognito," I told her.

"Of course," she said.

At the ceremony, I joyfully wept at having had a hand in the young couple's destiny. But during the toasts, the bride stood up, lifted her glass and said, "It was my psychic, Rochelle Shapiro, who brought Steve and me together." The photographer shone his lights on me. Guests rushed over as if I were the Viennese dessert table. "Will my son-in-law pass the bar exam this time?" one demanded. "Is my dead father around me?" another asked. "Can I take you to the track with me?" another said.

I was so unnerved that I would have left right away, but I had to stop at the ladies' room. "She's in here," I heard a woman say, seconds after I went in. "I recognize her shoes!"

"Where can I find a husband?" a woman called over the stall. "I'm next for the psychic," another woman argued. There was a crowd out there! "We should take numbers," I heard a man say. A man in the ladies' room! I had gone from being a phone psychic to a bathroom psychic.

I'm no longer surprised by how quickly people get carried away. Once, a woman I'll call Linda begged me to let her come to my house for a reading instead of doing it on the phone. "I need to be close to you when you contact my mother's spirit," she pleaded.

She sounded so distraught that I finally gave in, and after the reading, she looked so much happier that I considered working in person more often. She wanted to come back in two days, but I didn't have an appointment available for two weeks. "I'll just have to hold out," she sighed.

The next day, when I stepped out of my front door, Linda was standing there. "Mama!" she cried, and threw her arms around me as tight as a vise. After that, I couldn't help looking over my shoulder every time I left the house.

I don't want to use my ability to promote my writing career. I work by candlelight, not spotlight, and my gift might leave me if I abuse it. I want to use it to help people, not to sell books. I'll continue to give psychic readings, but I want to use my other gift, too, the one I practice in quiet when I'm aloneâ€"writing.

Shapiro lives in Great Neck, N.Y.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.

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