NTS LogoSkeptical News for 29 February 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Carl Zimmer on Creationist Rhetorical Tricks

January 23, 2004

Advances in Deception

If you'd like an example of the latest rhetorical tricks being used by antievolutionists, you can't do better than this press release issued today from the Discovery Institute. The Minnesota legistlature has to choose between two drafts of state science standards written by a committee. A minority of the committee wrote the second draft, which requires that "weaknesses" of evolution be taught. The Discovery Institute (a well-funded cryptocreationist outfit) is trying to mess with biology class, as it has in states across the country.

DI would like to convince us that science is like politics--that there is a middle ground, surrounded on either side by the radical fringe. And DI would also like you to believe that they occupy that middle ground. Seth Cooper of DI tells us that legislators have the chance to let students learn about evolution "fully and fairly," rather than being "held hostage to the demands of extremes on either side of the debate."

So, on one side, we have those who would "like religious views to be presented in biology class," and on the other hand we have people who recognize that evolution is as well established a scientific theory as the germ theory of disease or the theory of quantum physics. In the middle, we have the Discovery Institute, which supports requiring "students to be able to distinguish between changes existing within species (microevolution) and the emergence of new species and changes above the species level (macroevolution)."

Let's look at this bogus spectrum again. I wonder who exactly wants religion taught in biology classes. Is the Discovery Institute selling out other creationists? Of course not. The oldtime "Creation Scientists" of yore never claimed to teach religion in biology class. They had "scientific" proof that a flood created all geological features a few thousand years ago and had no need to open their bible. For them, biology class simply provided an account of the world that they could feel comfortable with. If the Discovery Institute really is so set against the demands of this extreme, then they should work as hard against Young Earth Creationists as they do against science standards. I see no evidence of this. In fact, Young Earth creationists have been happily embraced as fellows at the Discovery Institute.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the other "extreme" that accepts evolution as a well-established but dynamic part of biology. Let's see who we've got here. Dozens of leading organizations of scientists. The authors of thousands of papers published in peer-reviewed journals. When scientists involved in the Human Genome Project offer insights into how a common ancestor gave rise to fruit flies, vinegar worms, and ourselves, apparently they are giving themselves away as extremists.

Then comes an outright lie.

"Cooper added that the minority report followed guidance from Education Commissioner Cheri Yecke, who had encouraged the standards committee to look to guidelines set down by Congress in the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress urged states to present 'the full range of scientific views" on controversial topics "such as biological evolution.'

"Last fall, Commissioner Yecke received a letter from Congress stressing that this guidance in the No Child Left Behind Act Conference Report was the official position of Congress on science education. The letter was signed by Minnesota Congressman John Kline and Congressman John Boehner, chairman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee."

You would never guess from this passage that the wording about evolution was cut out of the act before it became a bill. It is not Congress's official position.

Finally, the press release ends by urging Minnesota to "teach the controversy." The Discovery Institute would like to pretend that their specious claims are actually part of a scientific controversy. If that were true, then you'd expect them publishing new findings in Cell or The Journal of Biochemistry, and being invited to give talks at major scientific venues like the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. Instead, they whine with their bogus claims of censorship. Having been unable to make a dent in the scientific arena, they create a political controversy, through which they hope to get from high schools what they can't get from real science: credibility.

Pharyngula is a good place to see how things develop in Minnesota (Its author is a Univeristy of Minnesota biologist). I hope that they can marshall the same spirited grass-roots opposition to this nonsense that has emerged in other states like Texas and Ohio and Kansas.

Update 8PM: PZ Meyers reports on Pharyngula that the first day of committee hearings today on the science standards featured a Young Earth creationist blaming evolution for venereal disease. I await a press release from the forces of moderation at the Discovery Institute, attacking this extremist. And wait, and wait, and wait....


Minnesota's Opportunity to Improve Teaching of Evolution and Avoid Extremes Should Not Be Missed, Says Discovery Institute


Press Release
Source: Discovery Institute

Friday January 23, 6:05 am ET

MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- The Minnesota legislature has an historic opportunity to improve the teaching of evolution in Minnesota's schools as it begins to hold hearings this week and next on new state science standards, according to the Discovery Institute. The Institute is the nation's leading think-tank dealing with challenges to Darwinian evolution and science education standards.

"Legislators will decide whether Minnesota students get to learn about evolution fully and fairly, or whether their science education will be held hostage to the demands of extremes on either side of the debate," said Seth Cooper from the Institute.

"Some defenders of Darwin's theory are insisting that students be prevented from learning about any scientific problems with the theory, while some critics would like religious views to be presented in biology classes," Cooper added. "Both views reflects poor science, and if either extreme wins, students and teachers will lose. Fortunately, there is another option: Teach evolution, but teach it fully, including coverage of some of its scientific weaknesses."

According to Cooper, the legislature faces a clear choice on how evolution is covered in the science standards because the science standards writing committee submitted two different drafts of benchmarks dealing with evolution. The legislature will now have to choose whether to adopt the majority draft or the minority draft produced by the writing committee.

"The bad news is that the majority draft doesn't require that students learn the scientific weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory as well as its strengths," said Cooper. "Some members of the committee seem to have decided to pick and choose which parts of evolution they felt students needed to learn, and which parts could just be ignored."

"The good news is that four members of the writing committee, including the committee chair, filed a minority report that proposes improvements to two existing benchmarks in order to make sure that students will learn about some of the scientific criticisms being made of parts of modern evolutionary theory. The minority report is based on sound science and represents a moderate path between the extremes of this debate."

The first benchmark improvement proposed by the minority report requires students to be able to distinguish between changes existing within species (microevolution) and the emergence of new species and changes above the species level (macroevolution). The second would require students to be able to describe "how scientists continue to critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Cooper added that the minority report followed guidance from Education Commissioner Cheri Yecke, who had encouraged the standards committee to look to guidelines set down by Congress in the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress urged states to present "the full range of scientific views" on controversial topics "such as biological evolution."

Last fall, Commissioner Yecke received a letter from Congress stressing that this guidance in the No Child Left Behind Act Conference Report was the official position of Congress on science education. The letter was signed by Minnesota Congressman John Kline and Congressman John Boehner, chairman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The minority report also followed input from the overwhelming majority of citizens who testified at several public hearings last fall and asked that the standards require coverage of the scientific criticisms of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as well as its strengths. Contrary to Minnesota law, the science standards committee's majority gave no indication that it even considered such input in formulating the standards. Finally, the minority report addressed some of the concerns raised by one of the state's official expert reviewers of the science standards, University of Minnesota scientist Dr. Christopher Macosko. Macosko criticized an earlier draft of the science standards for ignoring the scientific weaknesses of Darwin's theory.

"The debate over how best to teach evolution has devolved into an either-or argument that threatens science education in our schools," said Cooper. "But there is another approach laid out in the minority report --teach the scientific controversy. Instead of pretending there is no debate over Darwin's theory we should use it to further educate students about the scientific controversy surrounding evolutionary theory."

If you'd like to speak with a spokesperson for Discovery Institute contact Rob Crowther at +1-206-292-0401, ext. 107, or by e-mail at rob@discovery.org.

About the Center for Science and Culture

Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture is the nation's leading think tank and research center dealing with challenges to Darwinian evolution and science education standards. Visit the Center online: www.discovery.org/csc/.

About Discovery Institute

Discovery Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, public-policy, think tank which promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Current projects include work in technology, science and culture, the economy, education choice, regional transportation, and the bi-national region of "Cascadia." Visit Discovery online: www.discovery.org.

The Grand Canyon and the Age of the Earth

Dr. Ray Bohlin

Raymond G. Bohlin is executive director of Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a 1997-98 and 2000 Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. He can be reached via e-mail at rbohlin@probe.org.

The Age of the Earth and Genesis 1

How old is the earth? How long has this planet been here? Ask most Christians this question and you will likely receive a quick, self-assured answer. All would be well if you could count on receiving the same answer! However, some will very quickly tell you that the earth was created during creation week and can be no more than six to ten thousand years old. Other Christians will tell you, with just as much confidence, that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. This is no minor discrepancy! What adds even more to the confusion is the fact that you can find both opinions within conservative evangelical circles. You can even find both opinions within the ranks of the few Christian geologists with Ph.D.s! Let me assure you that this is just as confusing for me as it is for you.

The age of the earth is a question both of biblical interpretation and scientific investigation. Unfortunately, neither Christian conservative Old Testament scholars nor Christian scientists are in universal agreement. This topic covers a broad spectrum of issues so I am going to try and narrow the focus of the discussion. I will first briefly discuss the biblical aspects of the question, then move on to geology, the flood, and the Grand Canyon.

First, how do the "young-earth" and "old-earth" positions view the Scriptures? Let me emphasize right at the start that both young- earth and old-earth creationists bring a reverent and submissive attitude to Genesis. The difference is a matter of interpretation. Well-known young-earth creationists Henry Morris, Duane Gish, and Steve Austin, from the Institute for Creation Research, interpret the days of Genesis 1 as literal 24-hours days, the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 as consecutive or nearly consecutive generations, and the flood as a universal, catastrophic event. This leaves little room for much more than ten to thirty thousand years as the true age of the earth.

Old earth creationists such as astronomer Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe see the days of Genesis as long periods of time, perhaps even millions of years. Genesis 1, then, describes the unfolding of God's creation through vast periods of time. God still does the work, it is still a miracle, but it takes a lot longer than seven days. The flood of Noah necessarily becomes a local event with little impact on world-wide geology. Other old-earth creationists simply suggest that what is communicated in Genesis 1 is a literary form of the ancient Near East describing a perfect creation. Genesis 1 was never intended to communicate history, at least in their view. Personally, my sympathies lie with a Genesis interpretation that is historical, literal, and with 24-hour days in the recent past. But the testimony of science, God's natural revelation, is often difficult to correlate with this view. The earth has many layers of sediments thousands of feet thick. How could one year-long catastrophe account for all this sediment? The answers may surprise you!

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is almost three hundred miles long, a mile deep, and four to twelve miles across. One's first view of the Grand Canyon is a humbling experience. You truly have to see it to believe it. I was mesmerized and could hardly contain my excitement when I caught my first glimpse of the canyon. I was there to partake in a six-day geology hike into the canyon with the Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth creationist organization. ICR believes that the strata, the layers of rock in the Grand Canyon, were primarily formed during Noah's flood perhaps only five thousand years ago. Most geologists, including Christian old-earth creationists, believe that the strata were laid down over hundreds of millions of years. What better way, then, to equip myself for the study of the earth's age, than to spend nine days around the Grand Canyon (six of them in it) with ICR geologist, physicists, and biologists. ICR has been conducting these tours for over ten years, so everything runs extremely well. Though I was a member of a hiking group, they also sponsored a group going down the Colorado River in rafts and a group touring the whole area by bus. All were accompanied by ICR scientists. Each day we received mini-lectures from the leaders as we broke for lunch or at points of interest along the trail. Topics included the sudden appearance of fossils, the complexity of the earliest canyon fossils such as the trilobites, the age of the earth's magnetic fields, the role of continental drift in the onset of the flood, where does the ice age fit into a young-earth model, water- canopy theories, carbon-14 dating, and the dating of the Grand Canyon basalts (rock layers derived from ancient lava flows).

We examined many evidences for rapid formation of rock layers, which is essential to the young-earth model. We spent nearly two hours at the Great Unconformity between the Tapeats Sandstone, which is dated at about 500 million years old, and the Hakatai Shale, which is dated at about 1.5 billion years old. These two formations were formed nearly one billion years apart in time, yet one lies right on top of the other. Nearly a billion years is missing between them! The night before entering the canyon for the hike, I wrote these words in my journal:

If these strata are the result of Noah's flood and the canyon carved soon afterward, the canyon stands as a might testament to God's power, judgment, and grace. Even if not, what a wonderful world our Lord has sculpted for us to inhabit. His love is bigger than I can grasp, bigger--infinitely bigger--than even the Grand Canyon!

Evidence of Noah's Flood in the Grand Canyon

One of the more obvious formations in the Grand Canyon is the Coconino Sandstone. This prominent formation is found only a few hundred feet below the rim of the canyon and forms one of the many cliffs in the canyon. Its distinctive yellow cream color makes it look like a thick layer of icing between two cake layers.

Evolutionary geologists have described this sandstone as originating from an ancient desert. Remnants of sand dunes can be seen in many outcrops of the formation in a phenomenon called cross-bedding. There are many footprints found in this sandstone that have been interpreted as lizards scurrying across the desert.

These footprints would seem to pose a major challenge to young- earth geologists who need to explain this formation in the context of Noah's flood. Since there are many flood-associated layers both above and below this sandstone, there is no time for a desert to form in the middle of Noah's flood. Recent investigations, however, have revealed that the cross-bedding can be due to underwater sand dunes and that some footprints are actually better explained by amphibians moving across sandy-bottomed shallow water. Perhaps this formation can be explained by sand deposited under water.

This explanation does not entirely solve the young-earth geologists' problem, because it is still difficult to determine where the amphibians came from and how they could be crawling around in shallow waters on top of sediments that would have to be deposited halfway through a world-wide catastrophic flood. But let's go on to another flood evidence. Earlier, I mentioned the Great Unconformity. This can be observed throughout the Grand Canyon where the Tapeats Sandstone, a Cambrian formation estimated to be 570 million years old, rests on top of any one of a number of Precambrian strata ranging from one to two billion years old.

Our group observed a location in the Unconformity where the time gap between the two layers is estimated to be one billion years. It is very unusual, even for evolutionary geology, for two layers from periods so far apart, in this case one billion years, to be right on top of one another. It is hard to imagine that no sediments were deposited in this region for over a billion years! Evolutionary geologists believe that the upper sandstone was deposited over hundreds of thousands of years in a marine environment. However, we observed large rocks and boulders from a neighboring formation mixed into the bottom few feet of the Tapeats Sandstone. This indicates tremendous wave violence capable of tearing off these large rocks and transporting them over a mile before being buried. This surely fits the description of a flood rather than slow deposition. We spent nearly two hours at this location and we were all quite impressed with the clear evidence of catastrophic origin of the Tapeats Sandstone.

That the Coconino Sandstone likely had a water-deposited origin and that the Tapeats Sandstone was laid down in a great cataclysm are necessary elements for a young-earth flood geology scenario for the Grand Canyon.

The Erosion and Formation of the Grand Canyon

Perhaps one of the most interesting questions about the Grand Canyon is how it was cut out of rock in the first place. The answer to this question has a lot to do with how old the canyon is supposed to be. The puzzling factor about the Grand Canyon is that the Colorado River cuts directly through an uplifted region called the Kaibab Upwarp. Normally a river would be expected to flow towards lower elevation, but the Colorado has cut right through an elevated region rather than going around it.

The explanation you will still find in the National Park literature is that the Colorado began to cut the Grand Canyon as much as 70 million years ago, before the region was lifted up. As the uplift occurred, the Colorado maintained its level by cutting through the rock layers as they were lifted up. Thus the Grand Canyon was cut slowly over 70 million years! In recent years, however, evolutionary geologists as well as old-earth creationists have abandoned this scenario because it just isn't supported by the evidence. A major reason is that even at the present rate of erosion in the Grand Canyon, it would take as little as 71,000 years to erode the amount of rock currently missing from the Grand Canyon. Also, all of the sediment that would have to be eroded away during 70 million years has not been located. And lastly, evolutionists' own radiometric dates of some of the surrounding formations indicate that the Colorado River has been in its present location for less than five million years.

Some old-earth geologists have tentatively adopted a new theory that requires a few rather strange twists. This theory suggests that the Colorado River flowed through the area of the Grand Canyon only recently. The Colorado originally was forced in the opposite direction of its current flow by the Kaibab Upwarp and actually flowed southeast toward the Gulf of Mexico. This ancestral Colorado River may have occupied the course of what is now the Little Colorado River, only in the opposite direction of its current course.

This theory further suggests that about five million years ago a westward-flowing stream began to erode, upstream or towards the east, over what is today the Grand Canyon, through the Upwarp and capturing the ancestral Colorado River! If this sounds a little fantastic to you, you're probably right. In a recent volume on the Grand Canyon, a geologist, while maintaining this theory to be solid, admits a lack of hard data and that what evidence there is, is circumstantial. Into this controversy step the young-earth creationists, who need to explain how the Grand Canyon was formed, strata and all, in less than 5,000 years. They suggest, quite reasonably I think, that the canyon was formed when the Kaibab Upwarp acted as a dam for three lakes occupying much of Utah, Colorado, and northern Arizona. These lakes catastrophically broke through the Upwarp, and the Grand Canyon was cut out of solid rock by the drainage of these lakes through this breach in the dam. A small canyon was formed this way recently as a result of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Grand Coulee in Washington state was formed when an ice dam broke at the end of the Ice Age. This breached-dam theory answers a lot of questions the old-earth theories do not, and it needs to be considered.

Uncertainties of Dating the Grand Canyon

I have noted that old-earth creationists believe that the Grand Canyon strata were formed over hundreds of millions of years and that the canyon itself was carved out in less than five million years. Young-earth creationists, on the other hand, believe that the strata of the canyon were formed as a result of Noah's flood and that the canyon was carved out catastrophically less than five thousand years ago. A critical question to ask is, how can we know how old the rocks in the Grand Canyon really are? The usual solution is to date the rocks by radiometric dating methods, which are supposed to be capable of dating rocks billions of years old. Rocks of volcanic origin are the best ones to use in dating rocks this way, since radiometric elements are plentiful in them. The Grand Canyon has volcanic rocks near the bottom and at the top. ICR has been involved in a project over the last several years to date these volcanic rocks. Their results not only call into question the age of the Grand Canyon but also the reliability of radiometric dating.

The youngest rocks in the Grand Canyon are recognized by all to be volcanic rocks in western Grand Canyon that flowed from the top of and into the canyon. The oldest rocks that have been dated are volcanic rocks called the Cardenas Basalt, a Precambrian formation near the bottom of the canyon. The rubidium- strontium method, however, has dated the Cardenas basalt at one billion years and the lava flow on top of the canyon at 1.3 billion years. This is clearly impossible! Rocks on the bottom of the canyon are 300 million years younger than very recent rocks on the very top of the canyon! These dates were obtained by ICR from samples they sent to several independent dating labs. Something is amiss, either in the interpretation of the rocks, the dating methods, or both.

As we have seen, ICR scientists have come a long way in showing that many of the Grand Canyon strata could have formed rapidly, that erosion of the canyon by the Colorado River has not been going on for tens of millions of years, and that there are significant problems with the dating of the canyon.

However, there are still significant questions that remain to be answered if the young-earth model is to be taken seriously by old- earth geologists. For example, why are there no vertebrates among the fossils of the ocean floor communities of the Grand Canyon strata when vertebrates inhabit today's ocean floors? How did the many different kinds of sediments in the Grand Canyon (limestones, sandstones, shales, mudstones, siltstones, etc.) find their way to Northern Arizona as a result of one catastrophe and become so neatly stratified with little mixing? I raise these questions only to indicate that there is much work to be done. I also want you to realize that when someone asks me whether the flood of Noah created the Grand Canyon, I have to say that I don't know. And that's okay! The creation was a real historical event, Adam and Eve were real people, and the flood of Noah was real history as well. But finding the physical signs of these events can be tricky business. We need to encourage scientific investigation from both a young-and old-earth perspective because the testimony of God's word and His revelation from nature will ultimately be in harmony. It may just be hard to discern what that harmony is right now.

1993 Probe Ministries International


Austin, Steve, Ed. Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe (Field Study Tour Guidebook). Santee, Calif.: Institute for Creation Research, 1992.

Beus, Stanley S., and Michael Morales, Eds. Grand Canyon Geology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Youngblood, Ronald, ed. The Genesis Debate. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986.

For information about the ICR Grand Canyon tour, write to:
Grand Canyon Adventure
Institute for Creation Research
P.O. Box 2667
El Cajon, CA 92021
or call (619) 448-0900

Probe Ministries International 2002

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to reclaim the primacy of Christian thought and values in Western culture through media, education, and literature. In seeking to accomplish this mission, Probe provides perspective on the integration of the academic disciplines and historic Christianity.

In addition, Probe acts as a clearing house, communicating the results of its research to the church and society at large.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by writing to:

Probe Ministries
1900 Firman Drive, Suite 100
Richardson, TX 75081
(972) 480-0240 FAX (972) 644-9664

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Prince Urges More Alternative Medicine on NHS


Sat 28 Feb 2004

By PA News Reporter

The Prince of Wales today called for far more alternative medicine to be available on the Health Service.

The Prince, long a supporter of homeopathic and similar remedies, believes they may hold the key to stemming the growing number of people afflicted by allergies.

Writing in today's Guardian he says: "Clearly, something dramatic is happening. The rising trends in allergy seen in developing countries, as they adopt our western habits, point strongly to factors in the way we live."

The paper says Charles wrote the article in response to its story earlier this month warning that half of Europe would suffer from some type of allergy by 2015.

He says: "It seems extraordinary to me that despite a recent poll indicating that 75% of people want complementary medicine available to all on the NHS, that very few such clinics exist.

"I am led to believe that 90% of complementary medicine is currently only available to those who can afford to pay for it."

Charles cites big increases in conditions such as asthma and peanut allergies as an increasing cause for concern.

"In the UK 34% of 13 to 14-year-olds now have active asthma, the highest prevalence in the world," he writes, adding that he believes modern lifestyles are the most likely explanation.

"Factors associated with Western society, such as overeating, lack of exercise and an obsession with hygiene, as well as our exposure to a myriad of chemicals from products whose effects we are only just learning about, are conspiring to weaken our defence against the environment."

Latest News:


When placebos do harm


If you think those side effects you're feeling are a result of your medication ... you may be wrong


February 23, 2004

SEATTLE -- While researchers have tried to understand why some patients feel better after receiving a sham pill, a placebo, rather than an active drug, relatively little attention has been paid to the placebo's evil twin: the nocebo.

Dr. Arthur Barsky, a professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, said recently the nocebo effect occurs when patients experience negative symptoms, such as headache, fatigue and dizziness, after taking an inert substance they believe is an active drug.

A placebo, Latin for "I will please," is often given to one group of subjects in a clinical trial as a way to judge the true benefit of the active medication being given to a second group of patients. The sham pill itself can sometimes produce improvement in symptoms for reasons that are still largely a mystery.

A placebo control group is important in a clinical trial, according to Barsky, because it allows the researchers to determine how much of the overall improvement in a group of patients is due to the biological action of the drug compared with the effects of the placebo. In randomized clinical trials, neither the treating doctors nor the patients are told who gets the active drug and who gets the dummy pill.

The nocebo effect

While the potentially beneficial effects of placebos have been discussed widely, Barsky said, an analysis he and several colleagues did in 2002 found that about one-quarter of patients taking placebos in research studies reported adverse side effects. When the patients were actively questioned, the incidence of complaints was even higher - as much as 71 percent in one study.

When a sham pill provokes a negative reaction it is called a nocebo, Latin for "I will harm." The nocebo effect is not trivial, Barsky said, and may help explain some side effects that are experienced by people who are taking active medications.

"Clinically, it's a very important issue," he said during a meeting here of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In one typical study of an active drug, Barsky said, 11 percent of side effects were clearly related to the biological action of the drug; 69 percent were possibly or probably related to that action; and 20 percent were not related. Those unrelated side effects tend to be vague and nonspecific, he said, much like the nonspecific symptoms that have been reported by patients receiving a sham pill.

Barsky notes there is a reservoir of ill-defined distress in the healthy. "Most of us have symptoms all the time," he said, mild infirmities such as headache, fatigue and drowsiness. He argues that patients can seize on such symptoms and misattribute them to the drug they are taking. Similarly, adverse side effects associated with a dummy pill also may be drawn from the reservoir of bodily symptoms that a patient now can attribute to a presumed agent.

The expectations game

The nonspecific side effects can have serious consequences, Barsky said. In controlled studies, they can be serious enough to cause some people to drop out of the trial. Also, patients receiving a placebo who feel side effects may conclude they are on the active drug. That can increase expectation they are going to get better. The result, he said, will be to diminish the treatment effect of the drug. The gap in response between the drug and placebo will be narrowed, he said.

Expectations and prior experiences can help account for the nocebo effect, Barsky said. Patients who expect distressing side effects before taking a medication are more likely to report having them.

The research literature also suggests that patients with characteristics such as anxiety, depression and a heightened awareness of their bodies also are more likely to develop side effects to an active drug or to experience nocebo symptoms.

Even the color matters

Even the physical characteristics of the pill itself, such as the size, color and shape, may influence symptoms, according to Barsky. In one study, volunteers taking blue placebos reported more drowsiness than those taking pink placebos.

Although the term nocebo was used in a medical report as far back as 1961, the effect is little studied, according to Barsky. Doctors should be aware, he said, that troublesome side effects reported by patients may not necessarily result from the pharmacological action of the drug.

Physicians and researchers should ask whether patients have had prior bad experiences with drugs or consider themselves especially sensitive to drugs. Patients should be reassured that the side effects, while bothersome, are not medically dangerous.

Copyright 2004, Newsday, Inc.

MIOS MEETING Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

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Startling Proofs: Does God Really Exist?

It is the demand of every skeptic. Prove to me that God exists.” Of course, making a decision to accept the Gospel of Christ is a matter of faith. But, as this shocking video shows, the evidence of a superior being is a matter of fact. New discoveries in science, creation, archaeology are all convincing even the most determined skeptics to take a second look. YOU BE THE JUDGE! In this fast-moving docu-drama you'll see the startling new evidences that prove God exists! Then do one simple thing. Judge the evidence for yourself.

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Tuesday, March 2nd, 7:30 PM

Evolution education update: Oklahoma

On February 24, House Bill 2194 was passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a vote of 96-0. As originally introduced on February 2, HB 2194 required textbook publishers to furnish the State Textbook Committee with electronic files for the production of Braille versions of textbooks in conformance with U.S. Department of Education standards. On February 23, the bill was amended to include a new section that requires all textbooks that discuss evolution to include a long disclaimer, virtually identical to one previously proposed in Oklahoma in 2001 and 2003 and in use in Alabama from 1996 to 2001.

The proposed disclaimer describes evolution as "a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things" and "the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things." It also states that "No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be reconsidered as theory, not fact."

Bill Graves (R-Oklahoma City), who proposed the disclaimer amendment to HB 2194, was quoted by reporter Sean Murphy in the Claremore Daily Progress as objecting to textbooks that portray evolution as a scientific fact. "I think it's very important for children to know ... If they just believe that they came from some slime in a swamp that's a whole lot different from being created in the image of God."

HB 2194 is now being considered by the Oklahoma Senate Committee on Education.

For further information, see the Claremont Daily Progress:
or the longer story on NCSE's web site:


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

Friday, February 27, 2004

Miraculous Vision Of The Clairvoyant Without Sight


Feb 27 2004

By Sandra Chapman Sharon Neill has the rare gift of being able to `see' what others cannot.

Yet the 36-year-old clairvoyant from Glengormley has been blind from birth. A professional counsellor, she is reaching super-star status. This is her remarkable story.

THE sighted may regard blindness as a total handicap. That is, until they meet Sharon Neill.

Six weeks in an incubator after a premature birth destroyed her eyesight and because her mother had other children and needed to work, Sharon was brought up by doting grandparents and aunts at Sydenham, Belfast.

Today as a leading clairvoyant she's in demand all over the United Kingdom and Ireland. She has just finished an English tour and is heading to Dublin for her next shows.

Sharon was just five-years-old when sometimes in the middle of the night she would be awakened by people 'talking' to her.

It was unintelligible as the words were too adult for her to understand and it used to give her nightmares. Yet she knows now these were people she describes as 'trying to connect with me'.

And these 'people' are with her still. She 'consults' them whenever she needs them.

There are eight of them, of different ages, who remain on 'another level' and it is through them that she helps others.

They don't contact her. She contacts them when she wants to know anything and she finds them very useful if she's in a strange hotel and cannot find something.

The rest of us would call them guardian angels or spirits, people who have left this world as we know it. One, she says, is a doctor of 45 who was killed in a road accident while going to see a patient in Bristol. One is just 20.

The famous consult her for readings. In fact, her work gives hope and comfort to many people.

And she says that the 'gift' is in all of us. She says: "I cannot explain it. I don't think anyone could. It's beyond explanation. I believe everyone has guides or helpers working with them even if they are not aware of it.

"I know that some people can see them; some people can connect with them the way I do.

"I use this psychic gift to help others." When she was 13 her grandmother died. Five years or so later when Sharon was at a college for the blind and terribly worried about her exams her grandmother she says spoke to her: "I clearly heard her say to me 'you know you are going to get a Bplus'.

"I thought I was hearing things, that it was just exam stress, but that's exactly what I got.

"Though I had never seen my grandmother while she was alive I was able to tell my family exactly what she looked like.

"When I was younger and at school I would pick up bits of information from the voices about other pupils, information I couldn't possibly have known any other way.

"When I was 13 I came into school one morning and enquired of a friend about the well-being of her brother.

"She wanted to know how I'd known he had taken an overdose over the weekend.

"I was a day pupil and I couldn't have known otherwise. There were to be many incidents like that over the years."

She was never frightened of those who communicated with her: "When I was growing up I thought everyone had these experiences.

"I used to think, in fact, the voices were of other people around me whom I couldn't see because of my blindness.

"I was quite young when I accepted them totally.

"Eventually word got around to people who wanted to know about specific things and it snowballed from there. I decided to train as a counsellor and I'm very careful what I tell people.

"I won't tell them bad news and when it comes to death, well no-one can predict if someone will die or when they will die. I won't diagnose illness because I'm not qualified.

"I've done many interviews for magazines and newpapers in the past year and I've just finished a tour of events in England.

"While I'm on stage I cannot see my audience but my 'voices' will tell me to talk to someone specifically, that there is a message for them.

"Or else the audience member will ask me something which I try to answer for them.

"I insist on small audiences so that I can pass on as many messages to them as possible."

Sharon lives simply and is remarkably proficient with the technology she uses to help run what is essentially a business.

She is booked up for private readings months ahead and charges only a nominal amount.

If she can't do a reading for them she doesn't charge them. A lot of people who consult her have lost loved ones and want to contact them and she says it's a great thrill to be able to help them.

"I'm dedicated to this work I do, it's so rewarding for me but I never would have believed it would get as big as this. I knew nothing about mediums in my childhood.

"When I was younger I never for a minute imagined I'd be doing stage shows or be on television. It's a career to me and I love it.''

Marriage and motherhood are not on her agenda: "I couldn't give a full commitment to this work if I was married.

"This is my spiritual fulfilment. I want no other job but this one."

* Sharon's next public appearances will be from 2-14 March at The Spirit in Abbey Street, Dublin.

Tickets are available through Ticket Master. She also hopes to do an event in Belfast later this year.

She can be contacted through her website, www.sharoneill.com.

Cancer Patients Likelier to Use Alternative Medicine


TUESDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDayNews) -- Cancer patients are twice as likely to turn to acupuncture and herbal therapy as people suffering from other diseases are, claims a new study of alternative medicine use.

In fact, alternative medicine accounted for an average of $500 worth of therapy a year among cancer patients in Washington state, which requires insurers to pay for nontraditional treatments.

"A substantial number of people in our region are using naturopathic medicine," says study co-author Dr. William Lafferty, an associate professor of public health at the University of Washington. "This may deserve some additional investigation to see exactly what people are getting from those forms of treatment that they aren't getting elsewhere."

While patients and conventional doctors appear to accept alternative medicine more than ever before, they aren't approved by all insurance companies, making it difficult for researchers to study them. In Washington state, however, a 1995 law requires insurers to cover visits to licensed alternative medicine providers, such as massage therapists, acupuncturists, and naturopathic doctors, Lafferty says. Chiropractors were covered under previous laws.

In the new study, Lafferty and colleagues analyzed the medical claims of 357,709 Washington patients. The findings appear in the April 1 issue of Cancer.

The researchers found cancer patients were twice as likely to turn to naturopathy -- herbal medicine -- and acupuncture. Patients treated with chemotherapy, those with blood or bone cancer, and those with spreading cancer were most likely to turn to naturopaths and acupuncturists, as were women as a whole.

The sicker patients may have been trying "to get help with the toxicity of cancer itself as well as from conventional treatments," Lafferty says.

On average, alternative medicine accounted for 2 percent -- or $500 -- of the average $25,000 annual medical costs per cancer patient. Cancer patients were less likely than other patients to go to chiropractors and about as likely to turn to massage therapy.

Lafferty says the fact that 12 percent of female chemotherapy patients saw a naturopathic physician highlights the importance of full communication between health providers.

"If you're going to get naturopathic care, you should tell your [conventional] care providers that you're doing that," he says. "The same would be true for other forms of care like chiropractic and acupuncture. The more you share with all your health-care providers, the better service and outcome you're going to get."

Some insurance companies try to guarantee that communication takes place. At the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan in the Mid-Atlantic states, for example, conventional physicians work directly with alternative therapists, says Dr. Lydia S. Segal, service chief for integrative medicine.

Among other things, the alternative practitioners recommend meditation, guided imagery, acupuncture, acupressure, and massage, she says. Also, "we judiciously, cautiously review the diets [of cancer patients] and recommend supplements and herbs on a case-by-case basis," she says. "But we do not recommend using alternatives in place of traditional cancer therapy."

More information

To learn more about alternative medicine, try the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. For more on cancer treatments, visit the American Cancer Society.

What would Jesus teach?


Darby weighs the consequences of "Intelligent Design"

Religiously motivated questioning of evolution isn't considered textbook science yet, at least not in Darby's educational curriculum. But on March 8, the five-member school board will make the heavy decision of what subject matter to offer in science classes to the next generation of students.

The first reading of the proposed policy change produced three days of public comment and resulted in a 32 decision from the board that has divided the community. As Darby gears up for a final reading of the policy changes, talk around town doesn't stray far from the topic.

It's core conversation in the teachers' lunchroom. Girls' basketball games have morphed into strategy sessions for parents and teachers. There's even a curious New York Times reporter holed up in Bud & Shirley's Motel.

Most important for the school is the rumor awash around the south end of the Bitterroot that as many as 30 families may want to yank their children from the Darby school system if the proposal passes. Aware of what could prove a financially (the school receives about $5,000 per student each year) and emotionally devastating blow to the system, school staff are wary of the school board bulling ahead with an "Intelligent Design" curriculum without understanding the ramifications of its actions.

"I've heard there are as many as 30 families thinking of taking their kids out of the district," junior high and high school science teacher Karen Hedges said. "That breaks my heart. We have a good school. On top of losing good kids, that's a lot of money. Then we'll lose staff."

Elementary Principal Doug Mann is upset with the prospect of Darby driving students from its district. Many of the families considering the move have kids in the elementary school.

"That could be potentially quite devastating to our funding," Mann said. "I'm not happy about it at all. We need to proceed with a lot more caution. There are a lot of unforeseen impacts that could occur."

Hedges doesn't want people to be "hasty" (the Hamilton school district has already begun fielding calls from comparison-shopping Darby parents) because the process isn't over yet. Even if the second reading passes, the makeup of the board could change before any new policy is implemented. On May 4, the community will re-elect the seats currently occupied by Bob Wetzsteon, who voted against the policy change, and chair Gina Schallenberger, who voted for it.

"Some of our board members aren't acting in the best interest of the school," Hedges said. "I think they're acting out of religious conviction to do the right thing, and that's a powerful motivator."

Hedges and a group of educators from the school recently began circulating a petition against the policy change amongst the staff, with the intention of presenting it to the school board at the second reading. In two days they've gotten 30 signatures from a staff of around 70.

Specifically, the board's proposed policy encourages teachers to "help students assess evidence for and against theories, to analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the Theory of Evolution, by giving examples of scientific innovation or discovery challenging commonly held perceptions."

Minister Curtis Brickley originally presented the notion to Darby with a presentation that detailed the highly controversial origin theory of "Intelligent Design," called "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" by skeptics. Though Brickley and the board have backed away from any language including the hot-button words "Intelligent Design," no curriculum to accompany the policy change has yet been made public, and may include such radical origin theories.

"They're putting the cart before the horse," opponent and board member Mary Lovejoy said. "How can you pass a policy without knowing what sort of curriculum they intend to propose?"

Aware of the issue's potential to set precedent for the rest of the state and country, both sides of the controversy have drawn national experts into the debate. While a flurry of activity to pry evolutionary theory from the cornerstone of science curriculums currently exists across the nation, the actions under consideration in Darby are considered pioneering.

Many think that the school board's move is fueled by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization committed to implementing such educational policy changes. To help combat the proposed policy, concerned parents have looked to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in Oakland, a group committed to fighting those changes.

The Darby school board has also received a commitment from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a lawyer to defend the board should it be sued. ADF's mission is to facilitate "the spread of Gospel." Lovejoy calls such work "litigation for the Lord." A meeting was scheduled for last Tuesday, just after the Independent's deadline, for the board to hear its options from the ADF councilor, Lincoln's Bridgett Erickson.

"Darby may just be the test case," NCSE Network Project Director Skip Evans said. "If this is really about science, why is a religious organization involved in it? There's much more at stake than teaching evolution. This is about winning souls."

While ADF will not charge a fee to represent the board, Darby, should it lose a legal challenge, will be liable for any claims, costs, opposing attorney's fees or expenses awarded by the court, ADF said in a letter. In a region that's not exactly tax-happy, the board may have to levy a tax to pay for such an outcome.

Seth Cooper, a member of the legal affairs team at the Discovery Institute, said, "We oppose any sort of push into the courts with this thing. We feel confident, based on court precedent, that it is constitutional to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory. Some might challenge that assertion, in which case we'll stand up for the defendants. But, that's not what it's about for us."

For students, however, the debate is about an education that will let them hit the ground running in college science courses. As of press time, a student walkout protest was being planned by senior Aaron Lebowitz for the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Contact the reporter: jmahan@misoulanews.com

Paleontology museum launches new Web site on evolution


By Robert Sanders, Media Relations | 26 February 2004

BERKELEY The debut this month of a new University of California, Berkeley, Web site devoted to evolution provides a much-needed resource for teachers as schools across the nation are being challenged to kick evolution out of the classroom or pair it with instruction in non-scientific alternatives, such as "intelligent design."

The "Understanding Evolution" Web site (evolution.berkeley.edu), funded by the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and created jointly by UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education, went online in early February. It debuted just as Georgia's Superintendent of Education advocated eliminating the evolution "buzzword" from the state science curriculum and the Ohio state Board of Education voted to include some aspects of intelligent design in lesson plans about evolution.

For teachers caught up in the imbroglio, or those who just want to brush up on their understanding of the theory or find an engaging lesson plan for their students, the Web site is the place to go.

"Many K-12 teachers don't have a strong science background, so there is some discomfort in teaching evolution, which is perceived by some as controversial," said Judy Scotchmoor, director of education and public programs at the UC Museum of Paleontology and a 25-year veteran of 7th and 8th grade science classrooms. "We provide a comfort zone. Teachers can use this Web site to increase their confidence level so they can teach evolution enthusiastically in the classroom."

One Tennessee science teacher who stumbled on the new site e-mailed the museum with his praise. "Your gorgeous, content-rich site absolutely knocked my socks off! Don't know who the genius was who knew exactly what middle-schoolers would be interested in while learning real science, but I am totally impressed! The content is superb and the graphics beyond belief."

Scotchmoor and UC Berkeley integrative biology professors David Lindberg and Roy Caldwell worked closely with six teachers and numerous graduate students to assemble a site that would be "a one-stop shop" for teachers, and eventually students and the general public, on the theory of evolution.

"We're dealing with evolution as a science and how it fits into today's society," said Lindberg, who also is chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Integrative Biology. "We see and read about evolution in action all the time, but we don't often think about it."

The site is replete with practical examples of how evolution impacts our daily lives, including lesson plans about bunny breeding, the problem of antibiotic resistance in disease organisms, and the conservation and breeding of endangered species.

"To understand why we have to get a yearly flu shot, or why we need to manage rainbow trout and steelhead populations together, you have to understand evolution," Lindberg said.

One of those who worked on the project, Al Janulaw, an elementary and middle school science teacher for 32 years, thinks that many teachers are reluctant to teach evolution and, as a result, present it as just one explanation among many for change over time.

"When I look out at my middle school students, I tell them that this is the history of life on Earth, but I think it's common for other teachers to be more wishy-washy about it," said Janulaw, the immediate past-president of California Science Teachers Association and co-director of the North Bay Science Project located at Sonoma State University. "The intent of this Web site is to give teachers a background understanding of evolution, opening the door by giving them strategies for teaching and responding to misconceptions and roadblocks."

Lindberg noted that the site avoids a defensive or confrontational attitude toward those who do not accept evolution. Suggestions on dealing with religious or other objections are offered in a respectful way in a section called "Overcoming Roadblocks." Nevertheless, the site is clear that "There are no alternative scientific theories to account for the observations explained by evolutionary theory."

The heart of the site is Evolution 101, which can serve as a primer to evolutionary theory or an intensive course in the nitty gritty details of speciation, micro- and macroevolution, and ongoing research into how evolution happens.

"This is what every science teacher should know about evolution," Scotchmoor said. "There are textbooks that cover the process, but we put it all in there, including discussions about the nature of science and the history of evolutionary thought, which has built on itself from the 1700s to today."

"Textbook publishers must market to many states, so you're going to get common-denominator coverage of evolution," Lindberg said. "We deal with evolution as a science."

Anna Thanukos, who recently received her Ph.D. in science and math education from UC Berkeley and who drafted most of Evolution 101 over the past two years, said that it "provides context for teachers. Even if teachers plan to discuss only the tip of the iceberg of evolution, to teach effectively they need to understand all parts of the iceberg."

One of the knottiest issues the site's creators dealt with was how to define evolution. Even Lindberg and Caldwell, the scientists on the development team, initially couldn't agree on a definition. After many brainstorming sessions, they finally agreed on a concise and compact definition: descent with modification, both in the short run, as gene frequency changes from generation to generation (microevolution), and over many generations, leading to new species (macroevolution).

This definition distinguishes evolution from mere "changes with time" - a phrase Georgia wanted to substitute for evolution - and emphasizes a central theme of the theory of evolution, that we all share common ancestors, Scotchmoor said.

One of the "coolest" parts of the site, according to Thanukos, is the ability to search for lessons aimed at various grades. A second grade teacher, for example, can find 18 lessons that teach some aspect of evolution, from simple exercises that get kids to use their senses to explore the natural world to elementary displays of the concept of geologic time and extinction.

More than 900 teachers across the country are now part of the evaluation process as the development team continues to improve the Web site. HHMI's funding was primarily to build on the teacher site to develop companion sites for kids and for the public. In doing so, the team is experimenting with evolution comic books (one is titled "Survival of the Sneakiest"), the first of perhaps hundreds of personal stories about ongoing research on evolution, more online lesson modules for teachers, and video and Flash graphics to enhance the photos and cartoons now illustrating the site.

"This site is a long-term investment," Lindberg said. "We believe firmly that the way to ensure that evolution is taught in schools is to give teachers the resources, information and activities that they need to do a good job teaching evolution. This is a proactive stance, not reactive."

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), praised the efforts of Scotchmoor and her collaborators. For Scott, the evolution Web site offers an alternative to fighting the constant anti-evolution flare-ups around the country - in seven states, at last count.

"What we do at NCSE is hand out fire extinguishers to help people address anti-evolution issues," Scott said. "But what we'd really like to do is cut the brush. If people just understand what evolution is, and that nothing bad happens when their children learn evolution, then hopefully we won't have so much controversy."

Comments? E-mail newscenter@pa.urel.berkeley.edu
Copyright UC Regents

Physicist Puts the Odds of God at 2-to-1


c.2004 Newhouse News Service

Stephen Unwin calculates the probability that God exists at 67 percent.

The idea of math favoring God by a 2-to-1 ratio is cheeky. So is the subtitle to Unwin's new book, "A Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth," a flourish from Crown Forum's marketing department that makes the author wince.

But Unwin -- a witty physicist who has spent his career calculating probabilities -- thinks there is real merit in his figuring.

"There is something to annoy everyone in that number," Unwin told a Cleveland bookstore audience recently. "I've found a great number of people don't value uncertainty. Some tell me" -- he knitted his brow -- "that they don't appreciate my number and they know my address."

Despite inflamed camps of atheists and deists who assign probabilities of zero or 100 percent to the Creator, the book is coming out in paperback this fall. And Unwin's travels have taught him that many people privately occupy a murky middle. A Harris poll last October found that 12 percent of Catholics, 8 percent of Protestants and 25 percent of Jews don't buy the existence of God.

"That alone tells us that belief systems are pretty strange things," Unwin said.

As a scientist who earned a doctorate in quantum gravity from the University of Manchester in England, Unwin likes numbers. "If you have a hammer, you tend to see every problem in terms of a nail," he said jokingly in an interview. "As a theoretical physicist, my bias is to want to work the numbers in some way. Answering a problem otherwise seems like working with a numberless bank statement, trivial and insubstantial."

In his day job, Unwin runs a consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio, figuring the odds of nuclear-power-plant disasters and the likelihood of complex equipment failures. A key tool is called the Bayesian theorem, a way to represent uncertainty in an equation.

Boldly, Unwin plugs evidence of God into this theorem. He points out, for instance, that giving money to the homeless with no thought of reciprocal reward is evidence of good -- and good is more likely to occur if God is in the universe. At another point, Unwin weighs natural disasters -- such as earthquakes, tornadoes and cancer -- to swing the equation against the probability of God. After six sets of evidence consideration -- ranging from the existence of evil to the case for miracles -- the probability comes out at 67.

For those who want to run their own version and set their own probabilities, his book includes a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for individual tabulation.

"This book is very bad news for anyone planning a career in Evil," writes Rob Grant, co-creator of the "Red Dwarf" television series, in his book blurb. "Engaging, witty, concise and clear, Dr. Unwin's book achieves two impossible things: It makes Theology and Probability Theory accessible to humans."

One of the best things about the book is its humor. It seems the theoretical physicist can barely resist a joke.

"Is it realistic that the awesome machinery of probabilistic mathematics be used to power a concept so fluffy and blond as degrees of belief?" Unwin writes. "In the Bayesian world, this is precisely what a probability represents: a degree of belief or level of confidence that a proposition is true.

"You cannot, for example, vote for, say, a particular scientific or mathematical theory from a point of utter ignorance the way you can vote for, say, a presidential candidate. So rather than relying smugly on the fact of the broad applications of Bayesian methods as justification for our use of them, let's consider their pros and cons a little further -- and then proceed smugly."

The Rev. Dr. Richard Wing, pastor of First Community Church in Columbus, said Unwin's ideas have had an enthusiastic reception at home.

"I've got a highly educated congregation," Wing said. "Ninety-five percent are college-educated. We've got guys here working on chaos theory. We aren't afraid of the questions."

Unwin, born 47 years ago in Manchester, England, was stunned by the religious expression, even aggression, he found in America when he moved here in 1984, first as a minor diplomat, then to work for Batelle Corp. in Columbus.

Some of Unwin's most ferocious critics have been proponents of Intelligent Design, demanding to know why it is absent from Unwin's equations. The author looks at the arguments and concludes that religion and science best occupy separate planes.

"To plagiarize and adapt from the best," Unwin writes, "render unto the physical world those things that are physical and render unto God those things that are God's."

Working the Bayesian theorem into his own spiritual life gives Unwin the pleasure that comes from clarity. It also helps when he calculates 40 years more of Sunday church attendance. It adds up to about 3,000 hours of one's life.

Unwin measures his personal sense of God at around 95 percent certainty. The 28 percent improvement over the mathematical probability is what Unwin calls his faith.

Feb. 26, 2004

(Karen R. Long is a reporter for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. She can be contacted at klong@plaind.com.)

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Look into my eyes

By Andrew Taylor
February 27, 2004

The stage psychic has long been due a serve - even if that wasn't David Sant's primary objective.

Where: Sydney Opera House Studio, Circular Quay
When: Tuesday to March 6
How much: $28/$22
Bookings: 9250 7777

Actor David Sant is adamant that Mindbender is not a send-up of stage psychics. He says that would have taken more intelligence than he and his fellow performers in British physical theatre company Peepolykus can muster.

"Only intelligent people take the piss," he says. "We're just three idiots trying to make a show about psychics but not doing a very good job of it."

Um, and you want us to pay for your backyard theatrics?

"Oh no, we're not amateurs," says Sant, quickly correcting himself. "We're professionals when it comes to acting stupid."

Like the school nerd worried about failing an exam, Sant's alleged stupidity should be taken with a grain of salt. Only a skilled actor could portray someone as slimy as Michael Santos, a stage psychic who falsely claims he can control minds, without making him look like an idiot.

Sant says he can see why an audience might dislike his character: "He's an egocentric liar with an overinflated sense of his own abilities. But what stage psychic isn't?"

Far from parodying fork-bending psychics, Mindbender is Peepolykus's affectionate depiction of a figure Sant says is really just a harmless entertainer.

"Of course, someone who tells you they can put you in touch with your dead granny if you pay 100 ($240) is probably ripping you off," he says. "But it's your choice to pay them."

Given Santos's incompetence, it's definitely a case of "buyer beware".

"Santos believes he has a connection with the other side," says Sant. "Unfortunately, he can't understand his contacts, Mr and Mrs Wonton, because they speak Chinese."

Even "the world's worst audience plant", Raymond, played by John Nicholson, cannot make Santos's act any more convincing. Yet surrounded by sycophants including his twin brother, Colin (Vince Henderson), Santos comes to believe in his own lies.

"He's certainly not the only entertainer to suffer delusions about his self-worth," says Sant.

A lifetime of fraud and failed stunts might not have dented Santos's ego, but a last-ditch attempt to impress a sceptical audience leaves him with far greater health problems to fear.

"Moving objects and bending things is too easy for Santos," says Sant.

"He wants to control his own body. So he announces that he is going to stop his heart using only the power of his mind, and then start it again just before he dies."

However, this time he goes one trick too far.

"Santos builds his act around pretending," says Sant. "He's always playing with death, which pisses off the angels of death. So they decide to teach him a lesson by letting him die."

Making Santos a martyr allows Peepolykus ("people like us") to introduce some very offbeat characters, including the cigar-chomping, sequinned baseball cap-wearing angels

of death, who grant him a last half-hour to finish the show.

As befits a Latin lothario, Santos uses this time wisely, venturing into the audience to charm its female members. His creator encourages audience participation at this point: "I hope the women fall for him ... and me."

Santos also provides snapshots of his early gypsy life as he seeks forgiveness from his parents, for besmirching the family name, and from his childhood friend, a dancing bear.

"Santos feels remorse towards the bear [which] his parents gave to a zoo once it was too old to perform," says Sant. "Especially because it was on the bear's furry palms that he learnt palmistry."

The angels of death eventually return, determined to wrestle Santos's soul from his body. Soulless or not, Santos's ego remains as big as ever. "I'm a mind bender/I'll get inside your head," he sings, in a gripping finale. "I'm a mind bender/I'll get inside your wife."

Originally conceived as a TV series, Mindbender premiered at the University of Warwick last year, where Sant says he quickly realised the psychic's death was the most interesting part of the show. It later played a sell-out season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with critics praising the show's blend of slapstick and absurd humour.

Unlike his character, Sant says Peepolykus aspire to nothing more than making audiences laugh.

"Text-based theatre can be alienating," he says. "We want to perform for everybody, like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy used to do."

Including real-life psychics?

"We had a blind medium from Ireland who watched the show," says Sant. "She said she really enjoyed it. I guess she fell for Santos's Latin charms."

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/02/26/1077676874424.html

Attorneys muster at school board meeting


By JENNY JOHNSON Staff Reporter

Community members and parents Tuesday questioned the board and attorneys present about how the policy could affect the district.

"Darby could be the test case nationally for intelligent design, if that is indeed where the board is going with this policy," said Elizabeth Kaleva, attorney with the Montana School Boards Association who provides advice to school boards across the state.

Wednesday, the board prepared for potential litigation by retaining an attorney affiliated with the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious organization devoted to keeping "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," according to its Web site.

Bridgett Erickson of Lincoln told trustees that the policy as adopted is legally defensible.

"This policy issue is on the cutting edge of modern education," she said.

Erickson, who is also a school board trustee in Lincoln, was referred to the board by the Alliance Defense Fund, which will pay her fees to defend the school should it be sued over the policy. Erickson offered her services pro bono beyond what the alliance would support.

Kaleva, who advised trustees against the policy adoption before approving a supporting curriculum through state channels, asked the board to keep in mind that if the policy was challenged on constitutional merits, a judge would look at the motives behind its adoption.

"If you're challenged in state or federal court, you'll be asked to defend your motives as completely free of religious motives," she said. "And that's hard to do with an organization like ADF defending you."

Erickson said the organization she's affiliated with is composed of lawyers, not ministers, and assured the board that it was committed to defending the district based on religious freedom.

"ADF wants to assure you that the government doesn't have the right to tell you to adopt or not adopt a certain ideology," Erickson said. "There are higher goals involved here - that is the defense of religious freedom."

While several trustees said they wanted to adopt the policy to better the school's science curriculum when they voted 3-2 on the policy's first reading, they have yet to say what curriculum would support the policy.

Kaleva said there is no way to get around the religious implications in the policy and intelligent design theory.

"I don't know anything about science or I wouldn't have become a lawyer," she said. "But there are obvious religious undertones in the comments you've received on the policy you've adopted. Is that intent of the policy, or are we all going down the wrong road?"

"I don't know that the trustees don't want to make this a test case," Darby resident Marty Stromberg said. "They haven't been clear about their intent."

A lawsuit over the policy's constitutional merit could cost Darby anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000, Erickson said. And the school board association, which serves as general council to Montana school board, does not want to defend the school board in such an action, Kaleva said.

But Erickson said between her and the Alliance Defense Fund, Darby would be defended for free. As a graduate student of school administration, she also offered her services to help the district develop a curriculum in support of the policy.

"The curriculum development is key," board Chairwoman Gina Schallenberger said. "It needs to show what the board has in mind. I think that it's important to have help from someone who supports the board's position."

Trustees Mary Lovejoy and Bob Wetzsteon voted against retaining Erickson. Knowing the motion would pass with the votes of Schallenberger, Elisabeth Bender and Doug Banks, Wetzsteon made the motion to retain Erickson.

"I'll make the motion," he said. "Let's end this misery."

Wetzsteon confirmed Tuesday that he plans to run for re-election. Schallenberger's seat is also up for grabs. With the two seats available, voters could tip the scales on this issue at the ballot box.

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

Objecting to 'origins': Darby student protest highlights concern over new policy


By JENNY JOHNSON Staff Reporter

After the Darby School Board Tuesday made another move in the process of adopting an objective origins policy, students came out to express their opposition.

About one-third of the high school's 170 students Wednesday walked out of school 15 minutes before the bell rang and assembled between U.S. 93 and school property in protest of the school board's decisions to question evolution.

Carrying signs criticizing the newly adopted policy, students walked the sidewalk and drew honks and yells from passers-by hoping school officials and trustees would take heed.

"Students really care what's going on in the school," said senior Aaron Lebowitz, who organized the protest. "(The school board) has been on their own track and haven't really listened to us."

Students were joined by one teacher and a handful of community members in their protest.

"The verbalization to the public has been from the school board but not the students and teachers," high school teacher Nathan Mentzer said.

Nearly 40 Darby High School students got permission from their parents to check out of school early and walked out expressing discontent of school board actions.

Trustees last month adopted a policy that calls for teachers to question evolution. The policy was brought to the board based on the idea to teach intelligent design theory - a biological origins theory that assumes there is a designer of the biological world but stops short of saying who or what that designer is.

Critics claim the theory is a guise to introduce creation science in the classroom.

"Over the past few weeks, students have discussed the issue at length and formed opinions about intelligent design," Lebowitz said.

One sign read, "Creationism in a cheap tuxedo." And others called on people to go to church for creationism.

Lebowitz walked down the row of students asking individuals why they were there. Students strongly voiced concern about creationism being in science class and encouraged people to vote in the upcoming school board election.

Currently, students touch on evolution in life science class in seventh grade and then again in 10th-grade biology.

"But evolution is not shoved down our throats," he said. "I was pretty disturbed by the ignorance of our community about what we're really being taught."

Lebowitz carried a sign that read, "Strike against preaching pseudo science," and said he would have taken the risk of disciplinary action if his parents didn't let him check out of school.

After Tuesday's meeting Lebowitz and others made signs for the protest Wednesday. Two hours into the meeting, a flyer circulated calling for people to show up to oppose the objective origins policy. And show up they did.

Besides most of the high school student body, parents and community members came to the elementary parking lot in support of the protest and shared information.

CWRU scientist threatens court fight if state approves biology lesson plan



Scott Stephens
Plain Dealer Reporter

A Case Western Reserve University scientist says he will go to court if the State Board of Education approves a 10th-grade biology lesson plan he claims will give teachers a green light to teach "intelligent design."

"I'm going to ask the ACLU to take action," Case physicist Lawrence Krauss said at a news conference yesterday at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "It's not just a scientific question. It's become an interesting legal question."

Krauss has been a leading opponent of the plan, appearing in debates and writing widely against it.

Krauss' comments were endorsed by Florida State University law professor Steven Gey, a leading authority on religious liberties and free speech.

Gey, who will speak at 7:30 tonight at Case's Strosacker Auditorium, said he believes the les son plan, "Critical Analysis of Evolution," is a descendent of "creation science."

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 struck down creation science on the grounds that it was a religion rather than a science. Critics say the Ohio lesson is largely based on the tenets of intelligent design- the idea that life is so complex that a higher being must have created it.

"This plan is not only bad science - it is illegal," Gey said.

Backers of the lesson plan said it simply complies with the state's 2002 academic standards that urge schools to examine criticisms of evolution.

A law professor associated with the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design think tank in Seattle, said the lesson plan in question doesn't mention intelligent design. Even if it did, the high court ruled schools can teach alternative academic theories, he said.

"I hope they do science better than they practice law," said Gonzaga University professor David DeWolf. "First, they're wrong about the facts. Additionally, they don't seem to understand the law."

Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the ACLU of Ohio, said lawyers from his office are monitoring the debate and doing research to determine what - if anything - the group should do. "We're taking a keen interest in what's going on," Daniels said.

The State Board of Education tentatively approved the lesson plan last month. A final vote is scheduled for March 9.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Academy of Science formally asked Gov. Bob Taft to urge the board to eliminate the lesson plan.

Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said the governor had not yet read the letter.

"The governor supports the standards that were passed at the end of 2002, and he trusts that the school board members will pass a model curriculum based on those strict standards," Holubec said. "That's the work of the board, and the governor trusts they will do it well."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

sstephens@plaind.com, 216-999-4827

2004 The Plain Dealer.

Charles Darwin, Rawlings, and the NRC?


A response to Paa Kwesi Plange: Gye Nyame Concord. (Feature article published on Ghana Home Page, February 22, 2004)

Dear Paa Kwesi:

I have read your feature article entitled, "JJ's Day At NRC And Matters Arising" (Ghana Home Page, Feb 22, 2004) and while I find the political discussion interesting, I am writing in response to your references to Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

The entire section of your article that relates Darwin's theory to modern human politics and racism is completely wrong and demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of Darwin's work on your part. My guess is that you are neither a student of biology nor a person who understands scientific reasoning. In fact, I suspect that your misrepresentation of Darwin has a basis in religious fundamentalism that places evolution as diametrically opposed to "creation theory" as the basis of life on this planet.

I will not debate evolution versus creationism with you because it is difficult for people with limited knowledge of biology to appreciate the true wonders of life and the beauty of Darwin's theory. I simply want to clarify some issues related to Darwin's work and refute some of your wild claims and associations. First, please understand that Darwin's theory, while applicable to humans, was derived mainly from the study of other biological forms. To refer to Darwin's work as "inherently racist" suggests that Darwin's scientific work was aimed at explaining differences in human beings. Far from it, Darwin's work sought to explain the origin of the tremendous variety of living organisms on earth. His conclusions, based on his theory of Natural Selection, simply stated that species of living organisms were not independently created but descended from other species. It is this notion that religious people who believe in "creation" find conceptually unacceptable.

The theory of Natural Selection as the driving force behind evolution IS STILL scientifically the most acceptable explanation for the origins of biologic diversity on earth. It has been supported by fossil evidence as well as molecular analyses of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) from various species. It is incorrect therefore, Mr. Plange, to refer to Darwin's work as "theory of evolution which was considered a major scientific leap at the time". Today, Darwin's theory is still the best explanation for why 99% of the DNA of the chimpanzee is identical to that of humans. This does not mean we are chimpanzees; it simply means that the differences between chimpanzees and humans are due largely to only 1% of our genes, the molecular instructions in that determine form and function of biologic organisms. It also supports the theory that the human derived from the chimpanzee species!

Your attribution of human brutality and racism to Darwin's theory is a reflection of the distortion of Darwin's ideas by bad people who, like the devils who cite the scripture to suit their purpose, use the theory of evolution as the justification for their evil deeds. Within the theory of Natural Selection is the concept of "Survival of the Fittest". This concept has been misunderstood by many people and exploited by misguided humans as the bases for many cruel acts. In some cultures, severely deformed but otherwise viable newborn babies are either killed or allowed to die unfed. In other situations, one group of humans has subjugated another group of humans simply because of perceived differences. These human practices are not as justifiable by Darwin's theory as they are by simple economics or political exploitation. The truth is that almost all the common perceived differences between modern humans offer no better survival advantage. Whether you are short or tall, thin-lipped or thick-lipped, straight-haired or curly-haired, brown-eyed or blue-eyed, French-speaking or Fante-speaking, you are just as fit to survive on this earth as is another human being.

It is interesting to me that in the examples of human brutality you cited, you chose mostly those that did not involve all Africans. Inter-human brutality requires no Darwin for explanation or justification. When teenage Sierra Leoneans were chopping off the hands of fellow countrymen because of perceived political/ethnic differences, were these teenagers citing Darwin's theory? When Hutus hacked hundreds of thousands of Tutsis to death in Rwanda, was the theory of evolution their guiding principle? Why do you believe that Hitler's turning of Germans against their Jewish neighbors is somehow different from these African brutal acts and is somehow guided by Darwin's theory?

In Africa today, many people believe that there is something superior about a human being who is lighter skinned than one who is darker skinned. Even many dark-skinned people believe in their own assumed inferiority. Even though the bases for this misperception are mostly political, economic, and technological, many people on either side of the "skin-color line" attribute the differences they see to biology. This black-white misperception has nothing to do with the theory of evolution. Humans, despite all of our perceived differences, form ONLY ONE SPECIES. Darwin's theory did not seek to explain the differences between Jew and German, Hutu and Tutsi, capitalist and communist, or Christian and Muslim. No, Darwin's theory tries to explain the differences between orange and lime, coconut and cocoa, frog and fish, dog and cat, horse and donkey, and yes, between chimpanzee and human.

I don't know any Holy Scriptures that teach believers to kill others for their different beliefs or for their refusal to believe in one religion or another. However, the same human history you cite is replete with hundreds of stories of religious humans slaughtering others while citing Holy Scriptures to defend their atrocities. Just as I cannot accept that God will send one group of his children to murder another group, I cannot blame the scripture for its misrepresentation by zealots. White racists (mostly Bible-toting Christians) who cite Darwin's theory as the source of their hatred for black people are just as wrong as any religious people who cite their "Holy" Scriptures as the justification for waging "Holy Wars". It is not the scripture that is to blame but the folly of man. Similarly, it is not Darwin's theory that should bear the blame for the stupidity and brutality of the Ku Klux Klan, Hitler, or Idi Amin.

The theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin in his seminal paper, Origin of Species, does not address human racial differences. Was Darwin personally racist? Many articles have been written on this aspect of the life of a man who lived in the 1830s. It is fair to say that most serious analysts have concluded that a son of parents who were abolitionists (of slavery of Africans), Darwin was not a racist. Certainly, his study of plants and animals had nothing to do with man's inhumanity to man.

The effort of you and other religious fundamentalists to discredit the scientific work of Darwin only exposes your limited appreciation of the beauty and complexity of nature and the life that we all enjoy on this lonely planet, spinning as it bathes in the energy flowing from the sun. Now, Paa Kwesi Plange, what has Darwin got to do with Rawlings and the National Reconciliation Commission?

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Source: Ohene-Frempong, Kwaku Professor M.D.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Students Sue OU For Religious Discrimination



Funds For Alternative Publication Denied By Student Board

POSTED: 4:59 PM CST February 23, 2004

NORMAN, Okla. -- Two students have sued the University of Oklahoma, claiming the school discriminated against them by refusing to fund a Christian newspaper.

The students claim the budget committee chair of the University of Oklahoma Student Association told them their request for funding the Beacon OU newspaper was rejected "because it is religious propaganda and takes a stance on many issues," according to the lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City.

Students may approach the association with requests to fund organizations. The funding for the student organizations comes from a $5.15 per credit hour student-activity fee collected by the university.

According to the lawsuit, the student association's 2004 handbook prohibits use of funds for "religious services of any nature."

The students, represented by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, claim the university is restricting their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion and the press. They also claim the university violated their constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and freedom of association.

"The university's policy specifically discriminates against religious speech," Kevin Theriot, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney for ADF, said in a statement. "This is viewpoint discrimination; it's censorship and it's unconstitutional."

Theriot said the U.S. Supreme Court has already set precedent for the case in a 1995 ruling that the University of Virginia violated constitutional free-speech rights by refusing funding for a student-run Christian magazine.

"When are universities going to return to being bastions of free speech instead of ramparts of censorship?" Theriot said. "Universities are supposed to be forums for the free exchange of ideas, not swamps of free speech suppression."

The university's legal counsel, Joe Harroz, was not in his office Monday afternoon and did not immediately return a phone message left by the Associated Press. University spokesman Jarrod Shouse said he could not comment on a pending legal matter.

The students, Ricky Thomas and James Wickett, claim in the lawsuit that another student publication, The Undercurrent, that deals with alternative viewpoints was allocated $4,750.

The Beacon OU group was granted $150, which was earmarked for the group's plan to show films on evolution and creationism, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit requests the university's regulations be overturned and unspecified damages be awarded to the students.

The lawsuit names as defendants David Boren, the university's president, and the members of the university's Board of Regents.

The Regents review the student association's budget and approve the outlined funding.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press.

European Skeptics Congress: With Alt-Med's Rising Popularity, Health Issues High on Agenda


Wendy M. Grossman

Skeptics worldwide have many common issues: the increasing acceptance of so-called "alternative" medicine (often called alt-med in Europe), the popularity of pseudoscientific beliefs like astrology and life after death, and the lack of public understanding of science. But each country's skeptics also have issues peculiar to that country. Germany has its Earth Rays, the U.S. has Therapeutic Touch, and the United Kingdom has its seemingly never-ending affair with spiritualism. At the September 2003 European Skeptics Congress, in London, these national variations were much on display, with speakers from all over Europe and the United States.

In 1985, when the last London CSICOP conference took place, it was still possible for the British skeptics to regard America with some superiority in these matters. Alien abductions, for example, was a mad belief Britons were far too sophisticated to embrace. Or creationism: clearly one of those backward American obsessions borne of our country's religious exuberance. Americans, the argument goes, are gullible and credulous, embracing any new fad that comes along-sort of the way U.S. Northeasterners think of Californians.

In 2003, though, alien abductees appeared regularly on British daytime talk shows, and creationism is on the rise. Just as in America, corporate funding is playing a greater part in academic research, and the level of science education among the general public is dropping. Where the U.S. may be concerned with the millions who have no health insurance, in Europe access to alt-med is often portrayed as a matter of consumer choice and egalitarianism. Why should only the rich and famous be able to afford homeopathy? Few public figures in Europe are as vigorous in opposing questionable health claims as the late British journalist John Diamond, who concluded during his four-and-a-half-year death of cancer that there was no such thing as alternative therapies. "There are only," he wrote in the British magazine The Skeptic, "therapies that work and therapies that don't."

It is because of these trends that more than a full day's worth of the conference was devoted to health issues.

Edzard Ernst, who kicked off the first day with a survey of alt-med research, put it only slightly differently: "In God we trust; all others must have data." Kimball C. Atwood, who spoke the next day, disagreed with Ernst-not about Ernst's contention that the evidence is poor quality but about the value of doing that research in the first place. Atwood believes we should be looking more closely at what he calls "prior probability." If a particular treatment violates everything we know about a scientific field, and the evidence is of poor quality that has not improved over a long period of time, then trials, he thinks, are pointless. Some of his examples, however, seemed uncomfortably dismissive. If all the positive research on a particular treatment comes from a single country, does that mean we should discount it? Atwood held that yes, we should.

One of Atwood's key criteria for alt-med (that the data should be getting better over time as we learn to produce the right conditions and if they don't there likely is no reality there) resonated with presentations by Ray Hyman and Robert Morris, each of whom surveyed decades of the heartbreak of psi in his own way. After a century of psychical research, we seem no nearer to finding proof.

The most startling presentation was Dylan Evans's discussion of the placebo effect, based on his 2003 book The Belief Effect. This is a phenomenon I first read about in a New Yorker article by the medical writer Berton Rouech when I was about thirteen. Is nothing sacred? Panned in Nature, the next week The Belief Effect was chosen as book of the month by the Royal Society of Medicine. Surveying a lot of results from experimental studies in pain units, meta-analyses, and other projects, Evans was only able to find evidence for the placebo effect in reducing pain, nausea (sometimes), swelling, stomach ulcers, depression (not as effective), and anxiety (some evidence). Conditions for which he believes there is no good evidence include cancer, schizophrenia, and most medical conditions. The jury is out, he said, on Parkinson's, asthma, and heart disease. The alarming bit of his research, however, was the discovery that virtually all the GPs he asked in a telephone survey said they would not be surprised to learn that the placebo effect could cure cancer. These days, it is very common for GPs in Europe to believe in or recommend alt-med, and scientific rationalism seems to be deserting many parts of the medical profession.

That is one reason Willem Betz, professor of family medicine at the University of Brussels, and a key member of the Belgian skeptics group, has relentlessly battled efforts to exempt alt-med from effectiveness and safety controls within the European Union. His presentation covered much of this effort. One important selling point for alt-med in Europe is consumer choice: alt-med is popular. Betz points out that consumer surveys bolstering this claim are easy to construct if you phrase the questions correctly. Betz himself would have to answer "yes" to a question that asked if he had ever used homeopathy; the fact that it was thirty years ago would not be registered.

Even so, it's clear that psychology does play an important role in many illnesses. Leslie Walker, professor of rehabilitation at the University of Hull, discussed clinical trials looking at the value of psychological approaches to the care and management of cancer patients. At the very least, he thinks, it's worth considering how we can prevent or at least ameliorate the anxiety and depression that many cancer patients experience. So far, relaxation and imagery show no signs of improving the clinical or pathological response to chemotherapy. However, the size of the tumor and the amount of mood disturbance at the beginning of treatment did act as predictors of the patient's response: both are bad news.

Michael Heap, the conference organizer on behalf of Britain's Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE), deliberately made an effort to include some less obvious topics and more controversial points of view. Australian psychologist Dorothy Rowe, for example, talked about whether there is a physical basis for mental illness. Few seemed to agree with her conclusions or approach, just as few agreed with Tom Stafford, who argued that creationism should be taught in British schools as a way of teaching children how to evaluate and critique bad science.

Other less standard skeptical fare included several entertaining discussions of alternative history, both human and linguistic. Lee Keener, of the University of Northern British Columbia, investigated Egyptian pseudohistory as a way of testing what kind of contribution an amateur can make to science. Michael Brass analyzed the claims of Michael Cremo, author of Forbidden Archeology. And, probably the most fun, Mark Newbrook detailed his online encounters with linguistics nuts. One interesting facet is the Sommer Institute of Linguistics, whose mission is to translate the Bible into all human languages. Newbrook notes that these creationists are doing valuable work on analyzing languages, writing dictionaries, and even devising writing systems in some cases. The good linguistic work they do, he points out, can be put to use translating atheist or skeptical tracts into those languages.

Probably the most heartening thing about the conference, if you've been following European skepticism since the late 1980s, is that there's now so much of it. Many of the skeptical groups were founded in the late 1980s; they certainly didn't appear at the last London conference. The biggest difference about this conference, in fact, was the diverse national origins of the speakers and attendees. The first day's session, for example, had speakers from Germany, Belgium, Australia, and Britain (although, sadly, still almost no women).

Even so, as Richard Wiseman said on the final day, the problem for skeptics is that while we're trying to produce careful, replicable analysis the world is changing around us. People have little time to read and their attention must be caught instantly or they move on. The tools we have for using the Internet make it extremely easy to shut out viewpoints that we disagree with, admitting only information and viewpoints that reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. At the 1985 conference Karl Sabbagh called this the "ratchet effect," still a very good way to think about it.

Wiseman is probably an example of what skeptical organizations need to become to adapt to this new world. Instead, he said, of being reactive, showing in a shirt and tie as the necessary tag to dispute whatever the dubious claim is, we should be making our own news and finding creative ways to involve people in the fun of skepticism. Both he and Chris French, who surveyed the work his Anomalous Psychology unit is doing at Goldsmith's College, are making significant contributions along these lines. If skepticism is to be seen as more than a negative attitude, we need to make it the star of the show.

Ohio Academy of Sciences Criticized for Scare Tactics on Evolution


Tuesday February 24, 12:05 pm ET

SEATTLE, Feb. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- The leadership of the Ohio Academy of Sciences (OAS) was sharply criticized today by Discovery Institute for trying to censor Ohio's new science curriculum on evolution through a campaign of fear and innuendo.

"The OAS leadership's scare campaign is more science fiction than science," said Bruce Chapman, President of Discovery Institute, the nation's leading think tank dealing with scientific challenges to neo-Darwinism.

Chapman was responding to a letter sent Monday to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft by OAS President Robert Heath. Heath urged Taft to pressure members of the Ohio State Board of Education to kill a model lesson plan on the "Critical Analysis of Evolution."

Heath alleged that adopting the lesson plan would result in the teaching of "creationism or Intelligent Design," and further claimed that the lesson plan was part of a plot by "fundamentalist Christian organizations" and supporters of intelligent design theory "to inject fundamentalist Christian beliefs into education."

Those charges were refuted by Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "The lesson plan does not even mention creationism. And the only time it cites intelligent design is in the following disclaimer reprinted directly from Ohio's science standards: 'The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.'"

"Only in an Orwellian world could a statement about NOT mandating intelligent design be turned into the exact opposite," added West.

West urged reporters and citizens to read the lesson plan for themselves rather than rely on spin by the leadership of the OAS.

"Contrary to the OAS, the real focus of the lesson plan is to teach students more about evolution, including criticisms made in peer-reviewed science journals over major parts of evolutionary theory," said West.

For example, said West, the lesson plan has students explore debates over the fossil record and investigate different scientific views about whether microevolutionary processes (such as the development of anti-biotic resistance in bacteria) lead to macroevolution.

Regarding the OAS's hysterical claim that the lesson plan is part of a fundamentalist plot, West added: "What will OAS leaders claim next? That the lesson plan is pushed by people who want to burn witches? Such scare-tactics only serve to discredit the OAS leadership."

Source: Discovery Institute

Dino egg cry at fossil site


Ahmedabad, Feb. 24: Was it another rajasaurus [Image] narmadensis India's first dinosaur waiting to be born? People in and around Raioli village, 19 km from Balasinore, are sensitised to leftovers of the Jurassic age as they have seen several such fossils, said Kheda district collector Tara Mukundan, who has informed the state archaeological department about the find.

The skull of rajasaurus was re-constructed from two pieces of bones found last year near Raioli, one of the three world-famous sites for dinosaur fossils.

Experts are yet to reach Balasinore, 85 km from Ahmedabad. They are expected tomorrow.

The collector said those who have seen similar fossils in Raioli say it resembles dinosaur eggs found earlier. The greyish fossilised egg, weighing four to five kg, has an uneven surface not very thick.

Until the experts arrive, the egg will remain in the custody of BSNL. An armed constable has been posted at the telecom giant's office at Balasinore.

Two years ago, experts had suggested after inspection that there could be dinosaur fossils scattered over the entire region, not just in Raioli. The egg found on Sunday is a vindication of their claim.

The state government believes the Jurassic site is suited for development of a dinosaur fossil park.

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