NTS LogoSkeptical News for 9 March 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Tuesday, March 09, 2004

State education panel eyes plan for evolution/3-9

http://www.journal-news.com/news/newsfd/auto/feed/news/2004/03/08/1078803036.26609.5729.3434.html

By Laura A. Bischoff

COLUMBUS — A controversial evolution lesson plan is expected to be approved by the state Board of Education today, despite widespread opposition from scientists and university officials who say it contains creationism.

The 10th-grade biology lesson, "Critical Analysis of Evolution," has been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, Ohio Academy of Science, the American Society for Cell Biology and others as an attempt by creationists to undermine Ohio science education.

Critics say the lesson contains errors and misrepresentations, uses information from "intelligent design" Web sites and lifts concepts and inaccuracies from material published by intelligent design promoters.

Intelligent design is the idea that life is so complex a higher being must have had a hand in its creation. Critics — such as educators in Hamilton and Lakota school districts — say the concept should not be taught in science classes.

"Intelligent design — the concept that changes in species are guided by a higher spiritual intelligent power — should not be taught along side evolution in science curricula because it is not science," said Terry White, science instruction specialist for Hamilton City Schools. "To incorporate the intelligent design as science standards would mean students would have to be tested on the new Ohio Science Academic Content Standards and show proficiency in creationism and intelligent design ... Intelligent design is not written in the district's curriculum because it is not considered a science."

Similar thoughts were expressed by Rick Bateman, secondary curriculum director for the Lakota Local School District.

"We've taken the stance that these are science classes, and we deal with scientific issues in a scientific manner," he said. "We are not trying to alter their thinking when it comes to religious background. What we are trying to do is get them to understand what scientific theory means."

However, educators in other Butler County school districts offered a different perspective.

"We take the educational stance when we teach biology that there is more than one theory," said Bonnie Fitzharris, curriculum director for the Fairfield City School District. "So we include such things as Darwinism and creationism, and intelligent design would be one more theory.

"It's not for us to impose our beliefs upon the students, but to give them enough information so that they can form their own," she said.

Similar comments came from Peggy McClusky, Edgewood City Schools curriculum coordinator for secondary subjects.

"I can see where some people would feel we should do one thing or the other and I am not sure whether one point is more right than the other at this time," she said.

Some members of the state board dispute that the lesson plan advances the concept of intelligent design. The state board last month signaled its intent to adopt the plan and is scheduled to take a vote this morning. Department of Education staff suggested that the board consider some changes to the lesson.

Ohio was criticized two years ago when it considered including "intelligent design" in new science standards, on which proficiency and graduation tests are based. The concept did not make it into the standards, but as a compromise it was decided students would be taught that evolutionary theory continues to be critically analyzed. Now board members are in the middle of developing lesson plans to go along with the academic standards.

Florida State University law professor Steven Gey, a leading scholar on religious liberties and free speech, is expected to appear at the board meeting today and testify that it would be unconstitutional to teach the lesson plan in public schools.

"I think if a challenge is brought, I think it will be successful," Gey said.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a creation science plan in Louisiana, ruling that it was religion instead of science.

JournalNews reporter Linda Ebbing contributed to this report.

© 2004 Cox Newspapers, Inc.

Evolution lesson vote set

http://www.daytondailynews.com/localnews/content/localnews/daily/0309science.html

Critics say it allows creationism

By Laura A. Bischoff

Dayton Daily News

COLUMBUS | A controversial evolution lesson plan is expected to be approved by the state Board of Education today, despite widespread opposition from scientists and university officials who say it contains creationism.

The 10th-grade biology lesson, "Critical Analysis of Evolution," has been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, Ohio Academy of Science, the American Society for Cell Biology and others as an attempt by creationists to undermine Ohio science education. Critics say the lesson contains errors and misrepresentations, uses information from "intelligent design" Web sites and lifts concepts and inaccuracies from material published by intelligent design promoters.

Intelligent design is the idea that life is so complex a higher being must have had a hand in its creation. Critics say the concept should not be taught in science classes.

Some members of the state board dispute that the lesson plan advances the concept of intelligent design. In February, the state board signaled its intent to adopt the plan; a vote is scheduled this morning. Department of Education staff suggested that the board consider some changes to the lesson.

"Basically, it's changing a few words here or there," longtime board member Martha Wise said. "It is still unacceptable, still nonscience based."

But board member Deborah Owens-Fink, a marketing professor at University of Akron, who supports the lesson, said, "There are certain groups where the real issue is they don't want evolution to be critically analyzed."

Ohio was criticized two years ago when it considered including intelligent design in new science standards, on which proficiency and graduation tests are based. The concept did not make it into the standards, but as a compromise, it was decided students would be taught that evolutionary theory continues to be critically analyzed. Now board members are in the middle of developing lesson plans to go along with the academic standards.

Florida State University law professor Steven Gey, a leading scholar on religious liberties and free speech, is expected to appear at the board meeting today and testify that it would be unconstitutional to teach the lesson plan in public schools.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a creation science plan in Louisiana, ruling that it was religion instead of science.

Copyright © Cox Ohio Publishing

www.creationism.org

http://www.creationism.org/

Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

www.creationism.org ARTICLES

Thought-provoking articles about our ancient history and the importance of our creation in God's own image and fall from grace. Each new false religion of the post-Flood period has sought to detract from our Creator and from our responsibilities in this life; evolution's effect is no different and it (macro-evolution) continues to lack any scientific substance. Pray about this! And study as needed, especially since the media continues to report this issue inaccurately. Please study the plethora of Biblical and scientific knowledge standing squarely against this spiritual deception. [English Introduction] ...for other language Introductions, see Left sidebar.

BOOKS ON-LINE

Over two dozen Creation Science books! Now available to read and study. Some of these quality titles are completely FREE for you to download and copy for any educational purpose.

MP3 Teaching On-line Section

A variety of Creation Science Answers Download for convenience and ease of play. MP3 is a popular audio format - for use at home, in school or the office, or while traveling.

Creation Social Science & Humanities Society Quarterly Journal Archives

Over 300 articles - Research on all facets of Creation theory's impact in the social sciences: history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, linguistics, etc. Also many articles on scientific subjects and thought provoking editorials!

ANSWERS TO MY EVOLUTIONIST FRIENDS

I am working on a number of small books under the series title: Answers to my Evolutionist Friends. Can you find scientific inaccuracies that I should fix? Do you have other suggestions? Whether you believe in creation or evolution, your comments on the book I am currently writing, Proofs of Evolution Examined, are very welcome.

Does anyone know of any evidence for abiogenesis, the idea that a first living cell evolved from chemicals with no Creator involved? I wanted to compare the abundant evidence that life had an intelligent Creator with the evidence that life had no creator, but I can't because I can't find any valid evidence at all for a materialistic beginning for life.

Creation Resource Library

Hundreds of Creation Science videos available for FREE check-out. There is so much to learn - and even leading creationist speakers are still learning (often from each other!). Ellen will mail up to 3 videos at a time, requesting a prompt return. See web page section for details. This is an excellent service - and Ellen would love to hear from you and to help you learn more about Creation Science.

STUFF FOR KIDS!!!

Educational and fun learning materials for children of all ages! Children need to learn that they're not an evolutionary "accident" but that God created and loves them. Evolution in practice, historically speaking, always does the most damage to the weakest members of society. Why play fair? Why be honest? Because we were created for a purpose.

DRAGON IMAGES!

Lots of dragon/dinosaur images, included for educational purposes. Just look at these remains of pre-Flood dinosaur life mass buried only thousands of years ago, as verified by C14 dating. FREE to download and copy. 190 JPG images taken at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Their evolutionary texts included between the photos (with the usual "Rocks Dating Fossils" and "Fossils Dating Rocks" - circular reasoning!) along with a creationist interpretation of the fossil record, below all the free images.

SPACE - PLANET & STAR IMAGES

70 marvelous space images from NASA and other space agencies. These free images can be downloaded, copied, printed and re-distributed.

MOUNT ST. HELENS - 7 WONDERS MUSEUM

The 7 Wonders Creation Museum is an Information Center with Display Room and bookstore that demonstates how catastrophes rather than slow and gradual processes are primarily responsible for geological changes around the earth. At this museum, formations produced by Mount St. Helens during the '80's has become a key to better interpret the age of the earth and places like the Grand Canyon.

CREATION GEOLOGY IN RUSSIA - ARCTUR RESEARCH (IN RUSSIAN & ENGLISH)

The Lab is designed for investigations in geology and geochemistry on the base of mathematical modeling of geological processes. Since 1994, the Lab works are closely related to the studies on Flood sedimentology and elaboration of alternative methods of dating for geological events and objects.

CHRISTIAN CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND APOLOGETICS (MOSTLY IN RUSSIAN)

INTRODUCING the Truth to skeptics; STRENGTHENING the saints in their confidence in the Truth; EQUIPPING God's people to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for their hope.

EVOLUTION 101 - 25 Lessons (IN ENGLISH)

Creation by God supports every one of the laws and principles of science, as cited in these lessons. Evolution violates every one of them. Every so-called scientific fact in support of the general theory of (macro-)evolution from atheistic and anti-theistic scientists is not testable-repeatable.

Spiritual aspects of ecology

http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/03082004/news/4150.htm

By Joe Adler
jadler@seacoastonline.com

PORTSMOUTH - John Carroll told parishioners at Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday that students in his class on ecological philosophy at the University of New Hampshire either revere him for his beliefs or castigate him for destroying their sense of the mainstream world.

Carroll, a professor of environmental ethics, spoke following the Sunday worship service on the many connections between spirituality and environmental understanding. He said Christians should recognize the parallels between their religion and an appreciation of all natural things.

He also said some of his students have difficulty accepting that there's a wide distance between their 21st-century lives - inasmuch as they are influenced by the mass media, processed foods and the Internet - and ecology.

"I've received evaluations ranging from ones saying I'm 'God's gift to Creationism' to others who think I'm 'the devil incarnate,'" said Carroll.

He recounted the story of another professor, whose students became profoundly depressed when their studies of ecology revealed how little faith they had previously put into a recognition of the environment.

"What they had put their faith in - the mall and the techno-fix - that was all ruined," Carroll said. "They realized that they had put their faith into things that were smaller than they were. (The professor) asked, 'How do you put your faith into something that's bigger than yourselves?'"

In several publications, including "Christ the Ecologist," "The Greening of Faith" and "Embracing Earth: Catholic Approaches to Ecology," Carroll makes the argument that the earliest Christian teachings reflect a strong commitment to protecting the environment.

The commandment 'Love the neighbor' has evolved since slavery and the civil rights movement, he said, to encapsulate all peoples and all earthly things.

"But now that we accept all human beings, does it end there?" he said. "Is our neighbor in fact the Creation?"

In spirituality, like ecology, everything that goes around comes around, Carroll said.

"In both," he said, "there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you go back to the root of ecology and accept that, then you instantly see that it's not different from religion."

Ecological purity, said Carroll, can have real-world applications. When a parishioner asked him how towns should use open spaces purchased with public funds in the name of conservation, the professor suggested using them for growing local food provisions.

He added that Americans tend to put a low value on fresh food.

"We in America now spend less than 10 percent of our income on food," Carroll said. "Europeans, who have a higher standard living, will spend 18-23 percent of their incomes on food. They insist on using local and fresh ingredients."

Carroll acknowledged that an understanding of ecology is difficult in a world overtaken by capitalism, in which recent trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and those negotiated by the World Trade Organization are contributing to a "re-concentration of wealth."

It is hard to connect capitalism with religion and ecology because capitalism has no limits, he said.

"It's the accumulation of wealth that just grows and grows," said Carroll.

He added, however, that early free-market economists like Adam Smith saw that government could be used to limit capitalism.

Copyright © 2004 Seacoast Online

Did Ufo Bring Down Beagle?

http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=2623746

European scientists are examining an image of the Beagle 2 Mars lander, taken moments after it was spun off from its mother ship, that also shows an unidentified object.

The mysterious blot on the photograph is being scrutinised as one of several potential reasons for the failure of the mission β€" Europe’s first attempt to land a probe on the Red Planet.

Mission controllers told a London meeting that they were also considering the possibility that Beagle 2 simply crashed onto the surface of Mars because the atmosphere on the planet was less dense than expected.

Scientists said they are examining photographs of the landing site that show four bright spots, dubbed the ”string of pearls,” that might be Beagle 2’s remains.

Beagle 2 has not been heard from since it was ejected from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter in mid-December. The 143 pound probe gave no answering signal to scheduled attempts to contact it on Christmas Day and has remained stubbornly silent ever since.


Monday, March 08, 2004

Late lobbying unlikely to change vote on state evolution standards

http://www.marionstar.com/news/stories/20040307/localnews/32954.html

By LEO SHANE III
Star Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS -- Critics of the state Board of Education's new evolution curriculum hope to derail final approval of the document at the board's monthly meeting next week.

But they admit little has changed since last month, when the board overwhelmingly backed the lesson plan that they say includes intelligent design teachings.

"We're trying to get some signal, but we don't know what will happen," said Lynn Elfner, CEO of the Ohio Academy of Science. "We haven't had any feedback from the governor or anyone else."

In February the board voted 13-4 to give preliminary approval to the evolution curriculum, designed to be a classroom guideline for science teachers.

It includes a chapter titled "Critical analysis of evolution" which recommends 10th graders debate several common critiques of the theory.

Board member Martha Wise, who tried to have the chapter removed, said the arguments and examples used are those often put forth by proponents of intelligent design, the belief that a higher power played a role in the creation of all life.

"There's a reason to be upset here, because it's not science," she said. "(Intelligent design) is specifically faith-based."

But the majority of the board said the curriculum reflects compromise language worked out two years ago when science standards were drafted, after the board considered requiring intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution.

Supporters insist that, as written, the chapter has nothing to do with intelligent design, only critical thinking.

References to one specific intelligent design author have been removed from the curriculum's bibliography, and the chapter's preamble states it "does not mandate the teaching of intelligent design."

Board member Michael Cochran, head of the group's standards committee, said he will present the lesson plan to the board next Tuesday without any major revisions because no compelling arguments against the curriculum have been presented.

Board member Jennifer Stewart, who voted against the language last month, said the board hasn't taken enough time to review the concerns outlined by opponents. But she is optimistic that enough revisions have been made to the initial draft that she can vote for it this time.

But Wise said she and other opponents are still lobbying her colleagues to delay final approval and remove the critical analysis chapter. Neither she nor board member Virginia Jacobs, another opponent, was present for last month's vote.

"We only need four votes more, so we're trying to persuade people leading up to the meeting," she said. "There is no room for compromise."

Elfner echoed those comments.

"Our concern is that if this gets past the board it will be touted as a way to get a wedge into the system," he said. "We're not in the mood to compromise."

Elfner said faculty at Ohio State University and Case Western Reserve University have rallied against the curriculum, and he expects more academics to petition the board again next week.

He has also asked Gov. Bob Taft to step in and block passage of the curriculum. Taft so far has refused to get involved.

Wise said she thinks if the lesson plan is approved it will leave the board vulnerable to legal action on the basis the state is promoting teaching religion in its public schools.

"I'm ready to file a case myself," she said.

Originally published Sunday, March 7, 2004

Copyright ©2004 The Marion Star.

Ohio likely to put doubts into teaching of evolution

http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2004/03/07/loc_science07.html

Sunday, March 7, 2004

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

How did life begin? Did everything start with a big bang? Did God create the universe?

Questions like these have been at the center of controversy for nearly a century and Ohio is about to re-enter the debate.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Board of Education is expected to approve model science lessons - including a 10th-grade biology lesson with a critical look at the theory of evolution.

Most board members want to let students debate evolution in science classrooms.

The vote is attracting national attention, as Ohio public schools become the center of the debate on evolution versus "intelligent design."

Prominent organizations like the National Academy of Sciences have opposed the proposed curriculum. Endorsing the lesson plan are groups like the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit think tank. The institute's Center for Science and Culture challenges Darwinian evolution.

Ohio teachers have always been able to critically discuss evolution. But critics of the lesson plan say approval would make Ohio the first state to sanction public-school teaching of intelligent design, the theory that life is so complex that an intelligent being must have played a role in designing it.

Proponents say the lesson plan, which teachers would be expected but not required to follow next school year, simply allows a critical analysis of evolutionary theory.

"There are some people who are so worried about students inquiring as to how much we know and don't know about the theory of evolution that they would rather have students not question it," said state board member Deborah Owens Fink, an associate professor of marketing and international business at the University of Akron.

Scientists say they don't dispute the need for critical analysis of scientific theories. Rather, some say, this lesson plan sounds too much like creationism, a God-based concept about the creation of life that they say violates the separation of church and state when taught in public schools. They cite Web sites and book references on intelligent design that are incorporated in the lesson plan as resources.

"It's not based in science," said Lynn Elfner, chief executive officer of the Ohio Academy of Science. "The creationists would argue the words 'intelligent design' are not there and that's true, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's still a duck."

A national debate

Ohio is the latest state to spar over the teaching of evolution, the theory that all species descended from a common ancestor and that changes occur naturally and over time in life forms.

Science standards and curricula on evolution have drawn fire in recent years in New Mexico, Minnesota, West Virginia, Georgia and Kansas. Just last month, Georgia's top education official dropped plans to remove the word "evolution" from the state's academic standards.

Debate erupted here in 2002 as Ohio began developing new science standards, or concepts that students in grades K-12 are expected to know and be tested on.

People disagreed on how to teach evolution, with some pressing for the inclusion of intelligent design. The state board compromised in December 2002 by including critical analysis of evolution.

In February, the board stated its intent to approve a set of lessons teachers could use to teach the science concepts. The 13-4 vote came after fierce debate and testimony from opposing groups, including the Intelligent Design Network, a national non-profit organization, and the Ohio Academy of Science.

The disputed lesson plan includes suggestions on how to guide students to critically analyze evolution. One lesson suggests a lack of evidence of major evolutionary changes in the fossil record.

However, evolutionists do use fossils as evidence oftransformations of species. They say fossils of transitional forms, like the Archaeopteryx, a reptile-like bird, show how some living forms evolved from earlier forms.

As a way to critically analyze evolution, the lesson plan encourages teachers to suggest that the Archaeopteryx is not a transitional form and that the fossil record instead shows sudden appearances of new biological forms. Critics say that belief is consistent with creationism.

Ohio school board member G.R. "Sam" Schloemer of Wyoming said the 21-page lesson on critical analysis of evolution is based on creationism or intelligent design and doesn't belong in public schools.

"There is no scientific evidence to support" intelligent design and creationism, Schloemer said. "Until Gov. Bob Taft gets involved and tells his appointed board members to forget about this, we will have it here in Ohio.

"That's in contrast to the governors of West Virginia, Texas, and more recently within the last month, the governor of Georgia, who said we are going to teach evolution and we're not going to bring in pseudoscience."

Orest Holubec, Taft's spokesman, said the governor supports the science standards and trusts the board will approve a curriculum based on the standards.

Supporters of intelligent design say the lesson plan does not refer to intelligent design.

"These standards limit themselves to simply addressing criticisms of evolution and I think that's perfectly appropriate," said John Calvert of Shawnee Mission, Kan., managing director of the Intelligent Design Network.

To suggest that evolution is the undeniable explanation for the creation of life is wrong because evolutionary theory assumes an intelligent being did not create life, Calvert said.

"When you ask the question of where does life come from, that unavoidably impacts religion," he said.

But the critical analysis unfairly singles out evolution, which is steeped in evidence and has been tested, said Marc Cron, science department chair for Harrison High School in the Southwest Local School District.

"I think that infers an intelligent design agenda," he said. "Why only have a scientific debate over evolution. Why not over plate tectonics? Why not gravity?"

Debate in class

Some teachers are leery of the proposed lessons, while others say they will continue to address students' questions as they arise.

Bob McMillan, biology teacher at Mount Healthy High School, said he starts his evolution lessons every year telling students he will stick to his area of expertise.

"I feel ill-equipped to teach theories that are not scientific in nature," he said. "If you want to learn about creation, then you need to see a priest, a pastor, a minister or someone more qualified to speak about it."

However, he teaches evolution as a theory and encourages students to critically analyze the theory. He tells students that people have other beliefs on the origin of life, including creationism.

Down the hall from McMillan, Edward Hornsby Jr., a physical and earth sciences teacher - and Evangelical Christian - said he doesn't preach his beliefs to students.

"Students need to be able to choose for themselves. I'm here to inform them but I don't want to push my beliefs on another person," he said.

Hornsby encourages critical analysis of evolution in his classroom.

"I tell them (evolutionary) theory has evidence to support it, but it's not 100 percent fact," he said.

Rick White, an advanced placement biology teacher at Finneytown High School said, "Some of the people making decisions, even at the state level, don't have a clear idea of how science works. In science, theory is something we take very seriously. It has withstood some testing over time. Evolution fits that definition very nicely. There's a huge amount of data suggesting life forms do change over time."

Students have conflicting viewpoints.

"Evolution and intelligent design should both be taught, said Sydney Bostwick, 17, a Norwood High School junior. "It is up to the teachers to teach and inform the students, and it is up to the students to decide what they choose to believe.

"If you only teach evolution, then it's like nothing else exists and that isn't true. After all, science is always changing and what we believe now might not be true 10 years from now."

Other students think intelligent design and religion-based theories on the origin of life should not be allowed in science classrooms.

"The main difference between science and religion is that religion is based on faith and personal belief, while science is based on fact and theory," said Daniel Zimmer, 15, a freshman at Sycamore High School.

"Evolution should be taught in school because it is backed by science. Religion should not enter into it. Saying that you shouldn't teach evolution in school because your religion says differently is like saying that Shakespeare shouldn't be read in school because you disagree with his plot lines."

E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

Copyright 1995-2004. The Cincinnati Enquirer

Seminar to discuss creationism

http://www.springfieldnewssun.com/news/newsfd/auto/feed/news/2004/03/07/1078717452.26609.5851.3270.html

By SHAWN ANKROM News-Sun Staff Writer

URBANA — The "Case for Creation" will be offered by First Christian Church as a forum to address scientific and biblical evidence supporting a literal six-day creation of the universe.

The seminar, presented by the Institute for Creation Research, is scheduled from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 19, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 20, in the Grimes Center gymnasium at Urbana University, 579 College Way. Cost is $10 per person or $30 per family.

Henry Morris III, president of ICR, and Frank Sherwin, who specializes in parasitology, are the scheduled speakers.

Mike Stewart, minister at First Christian Church, said a retired high school science teacher brought the idea for the seminar to him about two years ago.

"Science has cast a lot of aspersions on the creation account ," said Stewart. "Most folks don't realize (evolution) is still just a theory. A lot of Christians' faith have been weakened by the continual bombardment from the scientific community."

Stewart hopes the "Case for Creation" will strengthen the faith of Christian people and help people "who don't yet know Jesus understand that they can trust all of his word."

The Institute for Creation Research holds that all things in the universe were created and made by God in six literal days as described in the Bible. The creation is "factual, historical and perspicuous, thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false," according to the ICR.

The physical universe of space, time, matter and energy has not always existed, according to the institute's tenets of scientific creationism, but "was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who alone has existed from eternity."

According to ICR, an estimated 92,000 people in 2003 attended ICR-sponsored or -staffed events covering the debate over creation and evolution.

For more information on the seminar, call First Christian Church at (937) 653-5144 or visit the ICR Web site at www.icr.org.


Sunday, March 07, 2004

Pre-Human Is Linked To Ape Line

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A31634-2004Mar4.html

Creature May Give Hint On Man-Chimp Ancestor

Reuters
Friday, March 5, 2004; Page A03

A 6 million-year-old creature that lacked sharp canine teeth for fighting may be the first pre-human to have branched off from the ape line, researchers said Thursday.

The short, small-brained creature may provide a good hint of what the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans looked like, the researchers said.

Fossil remains of the early hominid were found in Ethiopia three years ago, and it seemed to be a subspecies of a known pre-human, Ardipithecus ramidus. But the scientists found more teeth from a group of the hominids and reclassified it as a distinct species, which they named Ardipithecus kadabba.

"Ardipithecus kadabba may also represent the first species on the human branch of the family tree just after the evolutionary split between lines leading to modern chimpanzees and humans," said Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator and head of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, who led the study.

But David R. Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, questioned this interpretation in an accompanying commentary. Begun said there are too many uncertainties for the three groups of pre-human primates for them to be placed in the same genus. He said the issue can only be resolved with the discovery of more fossils.

His team's report, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science, suggests that the last common ancestor of chimps and humans had long canines used to fight -- something chimps have today, but not humans.

The researchers dug up fossils from at least five individuals who once lived in a wooded environment, now a dry, rocky area in the Afar rift of Ethiopia's Middle Awash region -- a rich source of pre-human remains.

They had enough to determine that it was an upright-standing hominid about the size of a chimpanzee that lived 5.2 million to 5.8 million years ago.

The six new teeth, found at the site in 2002, included an upper canine, premolars from both jaws, and upper molars.

"We see a lot of primitiveness in the teeth," Haile-Selassie said in a telephone interview.

One key characteristic is a self-sharpening function.

"The canine tooth comes across the outside face of the lower premolar and it sharpens that way," said Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley, who worked on the report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Seeking Life as We Know It

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-water5mar05,1,2593947.story?coll=la-news-science

To all appearances, it has to start with water -- but does it? What is the likelihood of an ammonia-based alien somewhere in space?

By K.C. Cole, Times Staff Writer

Albert Einstein once famously wondered whether God had a choice in how he created the universe. His unanswered question drives physics to this day.

The same question could be asked about the biological universe — especially now that the rover Opportunity has found signs of ancient standing water on Mars.

NASA's search for alien life is based on the strategy "follow the water," and for obvious reasons.

The only life we know is built on a scaffolding of carbon that floats in bags of water. Bacteria or brontosaurus, we're all made from the same basic recipe.

But did life have a choice? Could it have evolved from entirely different ingredients? In looking for water-based life in worlds beyond, are we making the mistake of peering into a mirror?

Why not life in ethanol? suggested Cornell University's Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel laureate in chemistry. Or ammonia?

"Now life in liquid ammonia, that would be colorful," said Hoffmann, explaining that metals can dissolve in ammonia, "giving bright blue solutions."

And why does the scaffolding have to be carbon?

Why not silicon, its neighbor on the periodic table of elements?

"We're so dumb about what life is because we only have one example," said astrobiologist Chris McKay of NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, near the Bay Area city of Mountain View. "It may be true that we sail through the universe and everything we find is carbon and water, but I would hesitate to conclude that based on the one example we have."

As a practical matter, NASA's strategy of following the water makes good sense.

"We don't know how to do anything better," McKay said. "We're too stupid to look for things if we don't know what they are."

At $820 million, the twin rover missions have to look at what's most likely. "If you had to bet, what would you bet on?" asked Stanford chemist Richard Zare.

Still, one has to wonder what else might be out there.

The search is complicated by the fact that scientists aren't even sure what life is exactly. Bizarre new species are discovered on Earth all the time in the most unlikely places.

"We even have trouble understanding what's alive and what's dead," Zare said. "People still wonder what a virus is."

All life as we know it is spun from carbon-based threads swimming in water solutions. Both carbon and water have unique — some say magical — properties. Indeed, physics and chemistry strongly suggest that life might not have had a choice.

Water is the most eccentric of liquids. "It's this elusive, magical, mystery molecule," said James Garvin, lead scientist for the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters in Washington.

On the face of it, water seems a rather silly molecule — two hydrogen atoms attached to an oxygen atom in a way that looks like the head of Mickey Mouse. Even children know its chemical formula: H2O.

But the bonds it forms with itself and other molecules are anything but ordinary.

Atoms normally bond by sharing the negatively charged electrons that buzz around their positively charged nuclei, like people sharing popcorn at a movie.

In water, the oxygen shares one electron with each of its hydrogens, leaving four extras. These clump together as "lone pairs" that can grab onto other molecules like prehensile feet.

At the same time, the two positive hydrogen nuclei stick out the other side like arms. The "feet" of one water molecule grab the "arms" of the other, forming abnormally strong networks. Where one water molecule goes, the others tend to follow. Thus, water can climb tall trees — hand over foot, as it were — in defiance of gravity, carrying nutrients from the soil to the leaves.

Chemists say they would expect water to be a gas at room temperature because it's made up of just a few light atoms. But the strong bonds make the molecules stick together in a liquid form.

Luckily, the bonds aren't so sticky that they form a viscous gel — something that Boston University physicist Eugene Stanley initially found perplexing. Water flows freely, he and others discovered, because water molecules stick to each other only briefly, let go, grab another partner — whirling an ever-changing cast of partners around in a molecular square dance.

The upshot is that water stays watery over a remarkable range of temperatures (32 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact).

This is a liquid bonanza for life, which seems to need some form of fluid to transport things from place to place. In solids, molecules stick together and can't go much of anywhere. In gases, the molecules don't get close enough to interact.

Water's unbalanced geometry — positive charges on one side, negative on the other — also gives it a distinctively schizophrenic personality (although chemists, like psychiatrists, prefer the term bipolar). This makes it an excellent solvent.

One side of a molecule grabs on to negative charges; the other side grabs the positive. This pulls most things apart, so water can dissolve almost anything. (If things didn't dissolve, they'd sink to the bottom, or rise to the top — not good for a free flow of chemical reactions.)

Why doesn't life just disintegrate altogether in water then? While water is one of the most strongly bipolar molecules, it is not the most reactive — meaning it can make things fall apart (dissolve) without changing their composition (react). So the parts can be endlessly rearranged.

And as it turns out, the few things water doesn't dissolve are equally important in assembling life's building blocks. Water hates fat. "It won't dissolve a spot of grease on my nice silk tie," Stanley said.

Water herds these hydrophobic (water-hating) and hydrophilic (water-loving) molecules into structures such as cells. The hydrophobes point away from each other, while the hydrophiles look inward. "It's like circling the wagons," McKay said.

Water, in other words, gives living things outsides and insides. The hostile outside is kept at bay, while inside, the proteins behind nearly all of life's mechanisms go about their business.

"You have 3,000 proteins, minimally, in every cell," said University of Massachusetts biologist Lynn Margulis, "and every reaction requires water. Everything else is negotiable."

What's the water doing with the proteins exactly? "Everything," Margulis said. "It's like a loom that you can do the weaving in. It's the matrix that's holding things in place. Nothing can go on without it."

The magical molecule does a whole lot more: For example, it absorbs heat slowly, and holds on to it for a long time. This stabilizes temperatures not only in the oceans, but also inside living things — which, lest we forget, are made mainly of water.

Finally, water expands when it freezes, contrary to nearly every other substance known. That's why ice floats, allowing it to form an insulating blanket on lakes and ponds for life beneath. Without it, fish would freeze before they hit the grocer's shelves.

Of course, it's hard to ignore one obvious reason life may depend on water. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Helium is the second, but it's inert — so standoffish it doesn't bond with other atoms at all. Oxygen comes third. Maybe life is made of water simply because it's there.

But some otherwise habitable worlds just don't have water. Are they out of luck?

Not necessarily. "Water's a wonderful molecule," McKay said, "but there are other wonderful molecules."

Ethanol, or grain alcohol, would probably work, concurred UCLA chemist Ken Houk. Proteins and nucleic acids are soluble in ethanol. But the liquid is rare in nature because the chemistry needed to produce it is complicated.

In contrast, water "is the easiest fluid to make," Garvin said.

As for ammonia (used in smelling salts), it's scarce on Earth, but "you could easily have an ocean of ammonia," Houk said. In fact, scientists speculate that Saturn's moon Titan could have such an ocean. Life could certainly exist at the cold temperatures at which ammonia is liquid (between minus 28 degrees and minus 108 degrees on Earth). Like water, ammonia is polar, and an excellent solvent.

Even if water does turn out to be the beverage of choice for quenching life's insatiable thirst, does that mean carbon has to be in the mix too?

Many scientists think it does.

"I feel more strongly about carbon than about water," said David Des Marais, an astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center.

Again, there's an abundance argument. Carbon is the fourth-most common element. And life grabs the ingredients at hand.

Carbon also has unique properties that allow it to form long chains and rings easily.

Think of carbon as a small atom with four Velcro (actually electronic) attachment points. One, two or three of these can form links with other atoms, giving carbon enormous versatility.

Almost anything can find a way to attach. So carbon just naturally makes the kinds of complex molecules life needs.

Like water, carbon is a Goldilocks substance: It forms strong, stable bonds, but not so strong that those bonds can't break off and attach to something else. "You have this kind of texture," Margulis said, "a range of properties that change in very subtle ways."

Carbon's closest competitor, silicon, is not so subtle. Sitting right below carbon on the periodic table of elements, it also has four attachment points, but it's heavier and has different chemical properties.

It can make long chains if you add oxygen, for example. But then everything it touches turns to stone. "It locks on to things, and folks, it's over," Zare said. "It's very hard to break the bonds. It's like rigor mortis." So virtually any attempt at metabolism as we know it would produce something solid.

Solid silicon compounds are already familiar — as rocks, glass, gels, bricks and, of course, medical implants.

Life seems to have ignored silicon, except here and there as structural material in rice, grasses and microscopic algae. How ironic, Hoffmann noted, that the silicon worlds we build ourselves (computers, electronics) now dominate our lives. "This is silicon's revenge!"

If there were such a thing as silicon life, it would have to be built on an entirely different biological model. It probably would be stiff — unable to breathe, for example, as we do.

"You'd have to give up not just carbon but the whole pattern," McKay said. "We live as bags of liquid. A better model [for silicon life] is more like computers, a rigid life form that gets its energy from some electrochemical means directly."

Just because we do our chemistry on the inside, he said, doesn't mean all life does. Silicon life might do its chemistry on the surface.

But if silicon life appeared on ancient Earth along with carbon life, as some speculate (rather wildly) that it might have, it wouldn't stand a chance from an evolutionary perspective.

"You might be able to make living things out of different materials," said UCLA planetary scientist David Paige. "But I'm comfortable with the idea that the life we are is the best that we could do given the constraints of our environment and the laws of physics and chemistry."

Those laws of physics and chemistry apply to the entire universe, so life elsewhere, Paige speculates, might well look familiar. "If we find a planet that's covered with water, the life forms are likely to look like fish, because there's a good reason fish look like fish and dolphins and submarines."

Of course, life can't spring from carbon and water alone.

At a minimum, life also needs some form of energy — the kind we use from the sun, or the heat of radioactive decay from deep inside the Earth, or tidal friction that comes from being a large moon (like Titan) orbiting a large planet.

Life, at its essence, is a mechanism for turning energy into order.

Many purely physical processes do that as well: Gravity herds stars into galaxies. The late Columbia University physicist Gerald Feinberg and New York University biochemist Robert Shapiro speculated that what they called "physical life" could exist in solid hydrogen, in neutron stars, even in interstellar clouds, living on the energy of radiation. This "radiant life" would consist of individual beings they called "radiobes."

"It may be difficult to think of such systems of being alive," they acknowledged in an article included in the collection "Extraterrestrials: Where Are They?" But our own biochemistry — based on proteins and nucleic acids — does little "to convey the wonders, such as elephants and Sequoia trees, that ultimately arise from it."

Would we recognize these alternative life forms if we saw them? Probably not.

"Our imagination is biased by what we're able to see," Paige said. "We can't be as clever as the universe. So we have to be careful."

One of the mistakes of the 1976 Viking missions to Mars, Paige said, was looking for life that was "too lifelike." Life, for example, that eats familiar kinds of food, thrives in similar environments.

Since that time, scientists have discovered bizarre new biological worlds of so-called extremophiles on Earth, thriving in places where life was thought to be impossible — such as boiling-hot vents at the bottom of the ocean, shut off from sunlight, subsisting on hydrogen sulfide.

These life forms (giant tube worms, for example) came as a complete surprise. Now, many scientists believe they may be our earliest ancestors.

More surprises are certainly in store. "We still don't understand how life works," Houk said. "It's utterly miraculous. Even though it's sitting there and staring us in the face, we don't understand it."

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

Safeguarding science

http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hsbios053695993mar05,0,859950.story

A new government panel will attempt to prevent research data from falling into the hands of terrorists

BY EARL LANE
WASHINGTON BUREAU

March 5, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is creating an advisory board to tighten security over biological research that could cure disease but also might be misused by terrorists or rogue states.

The board will advise all federal departments and agencies that fund so-called "dual use" research in the life sciences. Methods to study and manipulate genes also can be used, in the wrong hands, to increase the lethality of viruses or do other mischief, scientists say.

Tommy Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said the board will offer guidance to local institutional review boards that oversee federally funded research. The board, called the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, will work with scientists and journals on handling publication of potentially sensitive life sciences research.

"I am confident that this new board will help keep America safe and secure," Thompson said. The board, managed by the National Institutes of Health, will have up to 25 members appointed by Thompson. They will be experts in a range of fields. The board will have non-voting members from at least 15 federal agencies.

John H. Marburger III, the White House science adviser, said the board "is not intended to be a Big Brother board that watches and penalizes and passes judgment case by case."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the new board will help develop a code of conduct for all life scientists, including those in privately funded labs.

Scientists and policy makers have been grappling with the issue of biosecurity in the wake of the deadly anthrax-by-mail attacks in 2001. Research directly relevant to production of biological weapons is kept secret by the military. There also are federal rules on possession of certain pathogens, such as anthrax, that might be useful to terrorists.

There has been less agreement on whether there should be new restrictions on ill-defined "sensitive" information which, while not classified, might prove useful to terrorists.

The secrecy-vs.-openness debate has been spurred by laboratory developments, including a report in 2002 by Eckard Wimmer of Stony Brook University and colleagues on their synthesis of a version of polio virus using mail-order DNA. Last year, researchers at Saint Louis University created a more lethal mousepox virus, a close relative of smallpox.

In October, a committee of the non-profit National Research Council recommended an advisory board like the one announced yesterday.

Gerald Fink, a geneticist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and chairman of the committee, said he is encouraged by the Bush administration approach.

"It wasn't legislation, and it wasn't regulations," Fink said. "It was guidelines. It shows there was an effort to listen to scientists."

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

Exploring eco values in LDS faith

http://www.sltrib.com/2004/Mar/03062004/saturday/saturday.asp

By Rosemary Winters
The Salt Lake Tribune

"As members of the LDS Church, we have much to contribute in meeting the increasing challenges of environmental degradation in the world today." George Handley Humanities professor at BYU

Being an environmentalist in the LDS community sometimes makes David Osborn feel like Moroni, the last surviving Nephite in the Book of Mormon: "alone to tell the sad tale . . . and whether they will slay me, I know not."

Osborn was among more than 250 green-leaning members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who gathered recently at church-owned Brigham Young University for one of the first conferences ever devoted exclusively to the Mormonism's environmental ethics.

In a state where environmental conflicts are often framed as battles between "lawless Mormon rednecks and godless, liberal tree huggers," as organizer George Handley put it, Mormon environmentalists take bullets from both sides. It's easy to confuse the dominant religion with Utah's conservative political culture. But some Latter-day Saints are trying to debunk the notion that being a good Mormon means avoiding environmental protection and other "liberal" causes. They say the reputation church members have as being anti-environment is symptomatic of political values throughout the Intermountain West, not of the LDS faith.

Handley, a humanities professor at BYU, organized the symposium to discuss why Mormons, especially, should care about the environment. His idea was supported by co-organizers, Terry Ball, associate dean of religious education, and Steven Peck, an integrative biology professor. Last weekend, the two-day symposium, "Our Stewardship: Perspectives on Nature," attracted interest on campus and off. Of the 28 presenters, 11 were from out-of-state and and one came from out of the country. They included Paul Cox, an ethnobotanist and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to save a rain forest; Anne Rowley Berns, an attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency; and Osborn, a program officer with the United Nations Environment Programme who came from The Netherlands.

"As members of the LDS Church, we have much to contribute in meeting the increasing challenges of environmental degradation in the world today," Handley said in his opening remarks. "It has been perhaps equally obvious to many of us that we have not yet sufficiently tapped into the rich potential of our beliefs and practices in this regard." In the keynote address Friday night, Cox, a former BYU professor who directs the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii, laid out his case for a Mormon environmental ethic by discussing theories of the Creation. Creationism -- the belief that God created the Earth out of nothing in a seven-day period several thousand years ago -- is not consistent with LDS doctrine, he said.

To bolster his view, he used quotes from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to show that scientific evidence for geologic and evolutionary processes over eons of time does not contradict a belief that God created the Earth.

"It seems to me that we have a far greater responsibility to protect a planet and a creation that were carefully and lovingly nurtured over hundreds of millions of years than to a creation which was miraculously produced out of nothing in a seven-day period," Cox said.

He also distinguished LDS beliefs about the Millennium from those of other Christian faiths. Instead of believing that the Earth will be destroyed at the Second Coming, Latter-day Saints teach the Earth itself will become heaven. This belief, Cox said, indicates that humans have a responsibility in preparing the Earth to receive "its paradisiacal glory."

The Creation and the Millennium were recurring themes during Saturday's sessions. Presenters also spoke of the LDS belief that all organisms have souls and that nature is an avenue to connect with deity -- the religion has its roots in the belief that Joseph Smith spoke with God in a grove of trees.

"God recognizes that just as each of us requires an adequate and healthy diet, we also require a 'sacred grove' into which we can retreat and feel the proximity to God that only nature can provide," Osborn said.

Handley said he organized the conference partly because he has seen an overwhelming interest among his students in ecological issues, but has noticed that sometimes they struggle with the misperception that being an environmentalist is inconsistent with being a Latter-day Saint.

Sophie Hayes, a senior graduating from BYU in April, made copies of the symposium flier and passed it out to her friends when she learned of the event.

"I have never been more excited about anything at BYU," she said. "Mormons are starting to sense their environmental responsibilities, but gathering them together in a forum is very important."

Outside the Saturday sessions, student groups Ecoresponse and Y Recycle set up information tables to recruit new members. Noncampus groups, including the Glen Canyon Institute and the Utah Wind Power Campaign were also present to share materials. Kevin Emerson, who led a successful campaign at the University of Utah to add a $1 student fee to purchase wind power, said 12 students volunteered to push for wind power at BYU.

"As members of the LDS Church," Handley said, "we wish to join the conversation in our communities about the welfare of the physical environment because we understand that we have certain spiritual obligations to care for God's creations."

'UFO Magazine' Ceases Publication

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/UFORL/

Dear colleagues,

I am sad to announce the closure of the UK based publication UFO MAGAZINE owned by Quest Publications International Ltd. The closure of the magazine has been the sole decision of the company owner Mrs Christine Birdsall and the March 2004 issue is the last magazine to be published.

Since the sudden death of the magazine's founding editor Graham Birdsall in September 2003 I have been assisting UFO MAGAZINE'S editor Russel Callaghan on a voluntary basis. Russel and the rest of the staff at UFO MAGAZINE have worked extremely hard to keep the magazine afloat and all are extremely surprised and upset by the recent decisions made concerning the publication of the magazine by Christine Birdsall.

Many of you have helped with articles and news items and simply moral support since Graham's death and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your kind assistance.

Any enquiries concerning any aspect of UFO MAGAZINE should be put to Christine Birdsall and not myself or the staff of UFO MAGAZINE.

It's a sad day today and I'm only sorry for Graham Birdsall that this has happened.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Mantle.
[END]

Scientist Claims Proof Of Afterlife

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=387&ncid=387&e=11&u=/ibsys/20040304/lo_wews/2034134

Thu Mar 4, 9:12 AM ET

What happens after we die -- do we continue on or is this life the end?

Many of us hope there is an afterlife, and now some Arizona scientists say they have proof through their afterlife experiments.

There are many people who say they have died and come back to life. They claim to have experienced an afterlife, even if for only a short time.

Scientists at The University of Arizona have done extensive research, and say that they have the proof that when we die we continue to live beyond our physical bodies.

"Almost anyone who sees the data says there's something real here," said one of the researchers.

Allison Dubois is a spiritual medium, or someone thought to be able to communicate with the dead.

Christine Vettore was brought in for a reading with Dubois, who attempted to contact Vettore's dead relatives.

"I'm hopeful that there's an afterlife so I can see everybody I've lost already," said Vettore.

It doesn't take long -- within seconds, Dubois says Vettore's daughter is coming through.

It is a gift Dubois says she's had her whole life, but it comes with a lot of criticism.

"I think there are some people that are Charlatans, and with any profession there's going to be some bad apples, so I mean that just goes with the territory, so the ones that are accurate and are legitimate just have to prove themselves," said Dubois.

This reading is part of a science experiment -- Dr. Gary Schwartz, of the University of Arizona, is observing.

The Harvard-trained doctor looked for what he calls hits and misses, or the accuracy of the reading.

He's building on his hypothesis that there is life after death, and that mediums can talk to those who have died. After Vettore's daughter is contacted, Dubois contacted Vettore's brother and mother. She is able nail facts, giving details about the relations that she could not have known beforehand.

For instance, Dubois tells Vettore that her mother knows there's a carrot cake and a bowl of peanuts in her house.

"None of those things do I ever have in my house. I have those things in my house this month, carrot cake and peanuts, so that was weird," said Vettore.

The accuracy is amazing to Vettore, because she had never met or talked to Dubois before. She said Dubois was accurate in 80 to 90 percent of everything she said.

Skeptics say that Dubois is just guessing, but Schwartz says it is impossible for someone to guess and be that accurate.

For the past seven years, he has been testing mediums and other things tied to death, using science to explain what happens when we leave our physical bodies.

"Saying that this is against the grain with academia sort of puts it mildly," said Schwartz.

Schwartz has done multiple experiments under very controlled conditions. One of the most intriguing studies included five of the most respected mediums in the world, hooked up to monitors and computers.

In the experiment, 10 people were read by the five mediums. In lab conditions, a medium sat down with an individual and there would be a divider between them.

When that medium finished, the next would come in, until all five mediums had given a reading for the individual.

Schwartz and his staff would then compare the readings. They were astonished to find that in most cases, the mediums would bring through the same people and the same messages, with an 80-90 percent accuracy rate.

"There are so many people that are going to try to find holes in what we've done there is not a hole to find when we agree, or get a final protocol done," said Schwartz.

The scientists call their findings survival of consciousness -- meaning our physical bodies die, but we continue on.

The research continues with studies that include near-death survivors.

Schwartz says near-death experience research completely dovetails and supports what's coming from the mediums.

He says he will continue his research, and that the data doesn't lie.

"When you look at the totality of the data from our laboratory, the simplest explanation is actually that survival of consciousness is real," said Schwartz.


Saturday, March 06, 2004

Polio jabs a US plot, claim Nigerian Muslims

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1155223,00.html

Jeevan Vasagar
Wednesday February 25, 2004
The Guardian

A campaign to wipe out polio in Africa is being jeopardised by suspicions among Muslim leaders in Nigeria that the vaccination programme is an American plot to make Muslims infertile.

A boycott of the oral polio vaccine spread to two more Muslim-dominated states in northern Nigeria yesterday, after three states banned the vaccine campaign last year.

Some Muslim families have turned away vaccination teams even in states where the campaign has been allowed.

The rumours are believed to have originated from American websites promoting alternative medicine, and include claims that the vaccine contains anti-fertility drugs, can cause Aids, and is linked to mad cow disease.

The World Health Organisation and Unicef launched a massive polio immunisation drive this week which aims to inoculate 63 million children in 10 African countries against the virus.

WHO fears that the boycott will turn northern Nigeria into a breeding ground for polio, endangering public health across west and central Africa.

In recent months, an outbreak of polio in Kano, one of the Nigerian states which suspended immunisation, has spread the disease to seven neighbouring African countries where it had previously been eradicated.

Unicef's spokesman, Gerrit Beger, said: "Nigeria is the weakest link in the global campaign to stop the transmission of the polio virus.

"We are using the same vaccine in Nigeria that we use everywhere else in the world.

"It is saddening because this is a lost opportunity for children to be immunised. Any delay in immunisation is a threat to the health of children in Nigeria.

He said that the number of children contracting the virus has been reduced from 350,000 worldwide in 1988 to less than 1,000 last year.

But he warned: "By further delaying immunisation we risk reversing our gains."

Last August, the governor of Kano state suspended the polio campaign and set up a committee to investigate the infertility claims. In January the committee said they had found traces of the female hormone oestrogen that could affect fertility. Tests elsewhere have not found hormone contamination and experts insist the vaccine is safe.

Nigeria's Niger state allowed the vaccinations to start on Monday, but ordered them stopped at the end of the day.

A spokesman, Mahmud Abdullahi said: "Polio immunisation has become controversial. So to be on the safe side, the Niger state government has decided to suspend polio immunisation until we're reassured it's safe."

In Kaduna state, where the vaccine was banned last year, officials relented on Monday and allowed the programme to go ahead. Health workers chalked ticks on the houses of accepting families, and the letter R on the walls of those who refused.

Nigeria's federal government sent politicians, scientists and religious leaders abroad this month to observe how the vaccine is produced and tested. The results of this investigation are due to be published later this week.

Muslims in Nigeria have been wary of medical programmes after 1996 when families in Kano state accused the drug firm Pfizer of using an experimental meningitis treatment on patients without fully informing them of the risks.

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE EMBRACES CREATIONISM

http://www.ems.org/rls/2004/02/26/national_park_se.html Creationist Book Re-Ordered & Offered as "Natural History"; Geologists Rebuffed Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
Posted by: Public Employees for Envir. Responsibility - archive
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2004 at 10:16 AM

For Immediate Release: Thursday, February 26, 2004
Contact: Chas Offutt (202) 265-7337

Washington, DC — The leadership of the National Park Service is ignoring calls by its own senior scientists to withdraw approval for a creationist book now being sold in park facilities, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the book, which claims that the Grand Canyon is only 6,000 years old, has been re-ordered and is being marketed on the web as "natural history."

A review by Park Service geologists not only found the book wildly inaccurate but that its sale violated agency policies and undercut its scientific education programs. On January 25, David Shaver, the Chief of the Park Service's Geologic Resources Division sent a memo to Headquarters calling for removal of the book, concluding —

"Our review of …NPS policies and Grand Canyon: A Different View, lead us to conclude that this book: does not use accurate, professional and scholarly knowledge; is not based on science but a specific religious doctrine; does not further the public's understanding of the Grand Canyon's existence; does not further the mission of the National park Service…and finally, that this book should not have been approved for sale in NPS affiliated book sales."

This past summer, the Park Service initially approved Grand Canyon: A Different View, by Tom Vail, for sale in park bookstores and museums one week after Deputy Director Donald Murphy had ordered bronze plaques bearing Psalm verses replaced at Grand Canyon. Murphy also wrote a letter of apology to the plaques' sponsors, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. In August, the Grand Canyon National Park superintendent appealed to Headquarters, raising questions about the "appropriateness" of offering a book claiming that the central feature of the park developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. Despite the controversy, the top leadership of the Park Service has —

· Approved ordering hundreds more copies of a book and offering it for sale on the Grand Canyon Association's internet site as "natural history;"

· Blocked publication of guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis; and

· Stonewalled requests by the Grand Canyon superintendent, agency geologists and others for a ruling on whether the book violated Park Service rules.

"In order to avoid offending Christian fundamentalists, the National Park Service has been forced to adopt a position of geologic agnosticism," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Grand Canyon National Park no longer offers an official estimate of the age of the Canyon. "On the same basis that public schools do not approve creationist books as science textbooks, the National Park Service has no business promoting Christian ideology masquerading as science."

Regulation regulation regulation

http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/badscience/story/0,12980,1155986,00.html

Thursday February 26, 2004
The Guardian

· There are a few alternative therapists out there with plenty of time on their hands to do some extra reading. Reina Chavarria, a faith healer in Los Angeles, was this week sentenced to nine years in jail after her treatment of a man who came to her with eczema: she injected him with a mystery substance, he had a fit and promptly died. Not so much as an "I'm sorry" from Reina, who refused to give $250,000 compensation to the family - from her personal wealth of $1.5m (£800,000) - in return for three years off the sentence. A martyr to the cause? The injection contained anti-inflammatory drugs, so it looks like she might have put her faith in proper science after all: but then I guess faith is no substitute for knowledge.

· Meanwhile Reginald Fenn, a naturopath in Australia, is this week looking at a five-year stretch for killing an 18-day-old baby. He claimed herbal drops had cured her, so her parents cancelled an operation to repair her heart valve. She was dead less than a week later. Justice Newman said the sentence should act as a deterrent to other alternative practitioners. The full weight of the law would fall on them if similar tragedies followed their interventions. I suppose our battle is international. If anyone in government is interested in regulating this bizarre market do please let me know.

· Of course, that's not as easy as it sounds. Osteopaths, or "overpriced pony-tailed private physiotherapists with plenty of time for a nice cup of tea and a chat" as my friend Alex the physiotherapist knows them, became the first alternative therapists to be chartered in the UK in 1993. The battle almost tore the profession in half, with the squares in the General Council and Register of Osteopaths desperately trying to stay evidence-based and conventional, while their colleagues got all huffy about this missed opportunity to get the state's authority behind the idea that osteopathy - which proposes that diseases are caused by mechanical interference with nerves and the blood supply to organs - could be effective in a range of conditions, from asthma to painful periods. They recently hired a private detective firm to spy on their ex-friends in the GCRO as part of a legal case: nice. And their counsel? Carole Caplin's best mate, Cherie Booth QC. Don't hold your breath for regulation.

Please send your bad science to
bad.science@guardian.co.uk

Evolution education update: AL, MN, national

The latest news on evolution education in two states and nationally.

ALABAMA

House Bill 391, one of two antievolution bills in the Alabama legislature, was passed by the House Education Committee by a vote of 10-2 (with one abstention) on March 3. If enacted, HB 391 would provide teachers and instructors at public institutions "the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific, historical, theoretical, or evidentiary information pertaining to alternative theories or points of view on the subject of origins," and protection from penalties for teaching alternatives. The bill would also provide a student the right not to be penalized for holding "a particular position on origins, so long as the student demonstrates acceptable understanding of course materials." One of the legislators on the committee cited the likelihood of litigation over the bill as part of her reason to vote against it. For further information, see the story in the Montgomery Advertiser:

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/NEWS/StoryAlabamaGODBILLS04W.htm

MINNESOTA

On March 4, the proposed Minnesota science standards were approved by the House Education Policy Committee when it voted 18-12 to pass House file 2558. Most of the debate over HF 2558 centered on the contentious social science standards; according to the Saint Paul Pioneer-Press, the science standards "generated little discussion during the two-hour debate. The bill still has several committee stops before it reaches the House floor. The Senate Education Committee has not yet taken any votes on the science or social studies standards." As approved by the committee, the science standards apparently do not incorporate the minority report (submitted by a number of members of the science standards writing committee), which called for a variety of changes to present evolution's "weaknesses as well as its strengths." Inclusion of the minority report's recommendations was strongly urged by a variety of antievolutionist organizations. For further information, see the story in the Saint Paul Pioneer-Press:

http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/living/education/8109551.htm

NATIONAL

During an on-line colloquy about science policy in the Bush administration conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 5, John H. Marburger III, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, was asked about the Bush administration's scientific credibility in light of the president's reported skepticism about evolution. He replied, "Evolution is a cornerstone of modern biology," adding, "Much of the work supported by the National Institutes of Health depends heavily on the concepts of evolution. President Bush has supported the largest increases in the NIH budget in history." For a complete transcript, see The Chronicle of Higher Education:

http://chronicle.com/colloquylive/2004/03/science/

For more detail on these and other stories, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Sincerely,

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

Engineer wants 'intelligent design' taught in schools

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/News/Science+&+Medicine/F1D84C44D2FDBC5186256E4E0019F971?OpenDocument&Headline=Engineer+wants+%22intelligent+design%22+taught+in+schools

By Eli Kintisch
Of the Post-Dispatch
03/04/2004

Engineer Joe White ought to know an intelligent design when he sees one. By day, on the job at Boeing, White has worked on some of the world's best-built airplanes: the F-15, the F-18, and these days, the C-17 cargo jet.

By night, White looks for designs on a vastly different scale.

From his St. Charles home and at meetings of the Missouri Association for Creation, White has been preparing for years to convince the state that biological life itself shows evidence of an intelligent design. Now he wants to pass a law requiring Missouri teachers to teach the idea to public school students.

As chairman of a St. Charles group called Missourians for Excellence in Science Education, White is part of the latest wave of grass-roots efforts across the nation challenging curriculum that includes evolution.

Battles in Minnesota and Ohio are under way over how the subject should be handled. A number of states, including Missouri and Illinois, lack mention of the word "evolution" in their science standards; Georgia's school superintendent has said that the state government is considering removing the word. The bill that White wrote over the past three years would not replace evolution with God. Rather, it would mandate that curriculums add the teaching of intelligent design, a relatively new concept that amounts to an intellectual critique of evolution. Missouri's science standards are extremely general and do not mention evolution. Local school districts decide their own curriculums.

In White's mind, molecular wonders such as DNA could not have occurred through the natural processes of evolution.

"Here we have a complexity that is screaming intelligence," said White, 57, a slight man with neatly parted hair. Biological life and its complicated details, he said, "could not have come about by accident."

White faces an uphill battle. Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, has been vague about when she plans to give a committee hearing for the legislation, House Bill 911. It's possible the legislation could be tacked on as an 11th-hour amendment, but White and bill sponsor Dr. Robert Wayne Cooper, R-Camdenton, say they want a full debate. Even the nonprofit Discovery Institute in Seattle, which has supported challenges to evolution curriculums elsewhere, opposes legislation on intelligent design specifically.

Cooper, who introduced the legislation in December, acknowledges the long odds of the bill passing this year. He said he plans to continue to make the issue a priority for the future. He intends to survey teachers to get more input and could introduce a revised bill next term.

"We're looking at this for five years and 10 years," White said.

Cooper and White met last year after two other lawmakers, including White's own representative Tom Dempsey, R-St.Charles, declined to sponsor the bill.

Mainstream science vehemently opposes White and his allies. In 2002, the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that intelligent design had been shown to include "conceptual flaws in its formulation, a lack of credible scientific evidence, and misrepresentations of scientific facts." About 300 Missouri scientists signed a letter last month declaring that intelligent design "isn't science," adding that evolution was consistently shown through "observations of the contemporary and ancient natural world."

Thinkers through the ages, including Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, have argued that an examination of the universe suggests a plan or sentient creator. Theologian William Paley wrote in 1803 that in nature, "the marks of design are too strong not to point to an agent who planned and created life."

Central to Darwin's theory of evolution, first published comprehensively in 1859, was the concept that small changes to an organism could lead to intricate new structures through the force of natural selection. Intelligent design challenges the idea that such a natural process on its own could lead to the complex details of biology. Proponents of the idea update Paley's argument with modern molecular biology, arguing that the high-turbo motor that makes the tails on sperm cells spin, and the maze of neurons that comprise the brain could not be the results of natural selection.

More than a dozen proteins, for instance, make up the complex process of clotting blood. Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe says that system is too complex to have developed by evolution.

That's because organisms that have only partially evolved - say, with one or two clotting proteins in place - cannot compete with those that have not evolved at all, Behe argues.

One can only imply the "guidance of an intelligent agent," Behe wrote in 1996.

University of Missouri biochemist Frank Schmidt believes Behe is missing the evolutionary clues.

"In fact there are organisms that have partial blood clotting (processes) and they seem to clot their blood OK," Schmidt said.

Additionally, intelligent design thinkers question science's reliance on material evidence. White argues that astronomers search for intelligence in outer space - why not look for intelligence here on Earth?

"What intelligent design reduces to is 'Is there a God?'" said Washington University anthropologist Richard Smith. "That is not a scientific question."

As such, only a few scientists worldwide have published articles on intelligent design, none in long-standing biology journals with rigid publication standards.

"In a science class it's our obligation to teach what has been recognized by the science community," said Rebecca Litherland, former president of the Science Teachers of Missouri.

White says he just wants science education to "be more accurate and truthful."

In Missouri, White knows his opposition well. After beginning to study the intelligent design movement about five years ago, he consulted with engineers, constitutional lawyers and science teachers. Last summer he e-mailed a draft of the bill to a handful of the state's most prominent scientists for comments.

The researchers became suspicious fast. White was trying to "use the name of the university," Washington University physicist William Dickhoff said in an interview. "He just wanted to say he had input from evolutionary biologists," said Washington University biologist Allan Larson. "It was clear the whole thing was a hoax," he said. In one e-mail to the group, White complained of "mudslinging."

White incorporated few of the scientists' critiques in the final bill. But, he said of the exchange recently, "it's good to have negative input."

In addition to hostility from the academics, the proponents of the bill face the accusation that they are motivated by religion.

White won't comment on his religious convictions, or whether he believes that the Earth is older than 10,000 years. For two years he's been a dues-paying member of the Missouri Association for Creation.

"This bill is about science," said Dr. Cooper, who serves as president of Graceland Ministries in Camdenton. In an earlier interview, he said: "It's not that I don't believe in creationism."

According to the book, "Creationism's Trojan Horse," published this year by Oxford University press, many figures in the intelligent design movement have strong religious ties. Mathematician William A. Dembski, a leading philosopher in the movement, has invoked Christ and the New Testament in speeches. The Discovery Institute calls itself a "secular think tank." But an institute fund-raising document discovered in 1999 said it wanted to foster "science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

The institute has received funding from a number of religious groups, including the evangelist McClellan Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"Is this an effort to bring creationism into the schools? I think it is," said Litherland, the science teacher.

"I find it obnoxious that people's religious view should impugn their specific arguments," said Jay Richards, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

If the bill passes, though, courts may not agree. In Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 case considered a precedent on the issue, the Supreme Court found that a Louisiana law called the Creationism Act did not have a "secular purpose," largely because the court felt it was advancing a "particular religious doctrine."

White believes that HB911 would survive such scrutiny. He points out that the bill does not identify a creator behind the intelligent design found in biology. But Florida State University law professor Steven G. Gey warned that if legislators are shown to be communicating with a religious group, courts could rule that the bill had a nonsecular purpose.

Missouri House Bill 911 at a glance

Teachers would teach intelligent design: "The origin of life on earth is inferred to be the result of intelligence directed design and construction."

Science would be taught "in a truthful and objective manner about the physical universe without any preconceived philosophical demands concerning origins or destiny."

Events "previous to written history" would be taught as "theory or hypothesis."

The state commissioner of education would include intelligent design in standardized tests and develop supplemental material on the subject.

Source: Missouri House Bill 911

Reporter Eli Kintisch
E-mail: ekintisch@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 314-340-8250

Evolution is rooted in science

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/stories/20040305/opinion/16787.html

GUEST COLUMNIST

In recent weeks there have been several letters in The Times supposedly supporting the concept of "creationism" to explain the origin of life on earth. All these letters ignore the massive body of work and accumulated fossil record (hundreds of millions have been collected) by scientists in the fields of geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, biogeography, embryology and molecular biology over the past 200 plus years.

In 1799, engineer William Smith found that in undisturbed layers of rocks, fossils occurred in sequence with modern forums or species similar to those existing today appearing only in the uppermost layers. This sequence of fossils, primitive to modern fossils, holds true worldwide.

The oldest rocks at the bottom contained no fossils, then came simple sea organisms which gradually became more complex, culminating in vertebrate fishes some of which finally left the sea part time (amphibians) and other intermediate forms produced reptiles, birds, mammals and finally humans. Embyology shows that many diverse organisms share a similar sequence in their early development, indications they were present in a very early common ancestor of all these forms.

Geologists then began to develop the familiar listing of divisions of geologic time, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, etc. No exceptions have ever been found in this sequence of development such as a human fossil from the time of the dinosaurs.

This all began to make sense when in 1859 Charles Darwin published his "Origin of Species." The 'progress' shown by the fossils documented the grand pattern of evolution through long spans of time. Darwin used the term "decent with modification" which remains a good definition of the process today.

Since 1859 the young science of paleontology (study of prehistoric life from fossil remains) has blossomed. Paleontologists have searched the world for fossils and are continually filling in the so-called "missing links." All of the sciences listed above have made tremendous contributions to an understanding of how life on earth developed.

Fossils can now be dated with amazing accuracy by two methods based on the radioactive decay of associated elements or their half-life: Carbon-14 for material up to 70,000 years, and radiometric using various isotope series such as rubidium/ strontium for older fossils. Age estimates are usually crosschecked by using different isotope pairs so there is only a 1 percent chance of error.

Darwin explained evolution as the differential survival of organisms following their naturally occurring variations, which he termed "natural selection." Studies in genetics and molecular biology have since shown that changes (mutations) in the DNA of genes cause these hereditary variations which arise by chance.

If the mutation improves adaptation to the environment, say by giving a species longer or stronger legs to escape predators more effectively, that species is more likely to survive and pass on that gene.

Religious fundamentalists apparently claim that all fossils are of the same age and were somehow buried by some extraordinary catastrophe, usually the flood described in the Bible. Because fossils occur in different levels of rock, there would have to have been many such events.

Most ludicrous is how all the billions of creatures, dinosaurs, mammoths, giant crocs and sloths, huge flying reptiles, humans and all the other species that had inhabited the earth could live together at the same time.

Creationists now espouse an "intelligent design theory" which claims structural complexity such as DNA is proof God created organisms as they are today. Structures and processes claimed to be "irreducibly" complex are not necessarily so. Complex biochemical systems can be built up from simpler systems through natural selection. Jawless fishes have a simpler hemoglobin than do jawed fish, which in turn have a simpler hemoglobin than mammals.

The millions of fossils collected to date from all dated rock sequences have filled a great many of the gaps in the paleontological record. So many intermediate forms have already been discovered between fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and mammals and along the primate lines of decent that it is often difficult to identify when the transition occurs from one species to another.

We are even now experiencing evolution in the annual changes in flu viruses, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the evolution of mosquitoes resistant to insecticides. These are a few examples of the on-going evolutionary forces begun 3.5 billion years ago.

To increase credibility, I have drawn from the references below from the more than 5 million sources of information on evolution on the Internet: "Accuracy of Fossils and Dating Methods," Michael Benton, Ph.D in vertebrate paleontology (www.actionbioscience.org/ evolution/benton.html), and Evidence Supporting Biological Evolution, "Science and Creationism" a view from the National Academy of Sciences (www. nap.edu/html/creationism/evidence. html).

Jim Scharnagel is a resident of Gainesville.

Originally published Friday, March 5, 2004


Friday, March 05, 2004

Spinoza's Metaphysics and Modern Physics

http://www.spinoza.net/Articles/TSNVolume1/TSNVol1No7-11122000.htm

by Robert B. Zannelli

In recent times, that branch of philosophy known as metaphysics has fallen out of favor in the intellectual world. Philosophers such a Hume and Kant were able to demonstrate that much the earlier accepted metaphysical ideas were indeed written in sand. The dominant philosophic schools were logical positivism and pragmatism. These schools largely disregarded many of the metaphysical ideas and questions that were so important to earlier philosophic traditions.

Now it seems clear that this metaphysical skepticism has significant merit. No metaphysical system can ever make the claim that its assertions were beyond question based on logic. Many of the proposed systems ignored the need for empirical investigations to expand our understanding of nature. A far too great reliance was placed on "pure thought."

It is this author's contention that while these schools of philosophy provided a needed corrective to the excesses of earlier philosophic speculation they also succeeded in "throwing out the baby with the bath water." First, it is not reasonable to suppose that mankind will ignore what many still consider the most important questions because we have discovered we cannot be as certain as we thought we could be. Second, and in my view more importantly, modern physics has reached a level of knowledge where many of its concerns could be considered metaphysical. This is especially true of Quantum mechanics, which confronts physicist directly with many metaphysical questions. While it would be beyond the scope of this article to engage in an in depth look at Quantum mechanics I would like to touch on pertinent points which bear directly on the problem of physics and metaphysics.

Quantum mechanics are certainly a triumph of the human endeavor to understand the world we live in. It is by far the single most successful theory of modern science. It has revolutionized our ideas about the kind of Universe we live in. First, Quantum mechanics have destroyed the idea that a simplistic determinism rules the cosmos. We now know that the driving force of the, "laws of nature" are really the result of the overwhelming probability of the large number of entities involved on the macro scale. It would also be fair to say that we can accurately describe the probability of any physical event in the subatomic world even if we cannot define a specific outcome of such an event. This probability is every bit as determinate as the most classical physical theory. Also, on the macro level the large number of entities involved insures physics remains an accurate predictor of physical events. More importantly, for the purpose of this essay, modern Quantum mechanics are driving physics toward a theory of the ultimate unity of all physical phenomena. This quest which is the driving force of modern physics has, in this authors opinion, made the metaphysical system of Spinoza very pertinent for today's philosophy.

In Spinoza's metaphysical system all reality is considered to be a monistic whole. That is, every individual thing we can talk about is merely a finite modification of this underlying "substance." The reader should be cautioned here that when Spinoza talks about substance it would be incorrect to think in terms of a simple physical substance. Substance is merely the scholastic name for the underlying ground of being. On the other hand, physics tells us that the Universe is made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons may be further divided up into quarks. All these particles communicate with each other through the intermediary particles that produce the forces we experience in nature. We know of four main forces, gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, and weak nuclear force. All people have experienced the effects of gravity and electromagnetism directly while the strong and weak forces play a vital role in the nucleus of each atom. Weak bosons, gravitons, photons, and gluons mediate these forces. So the reader may ask, where is the unity you speak of? To answer that question we must look at some history.

The first non-gravitational forces man learned about were the electrostatic and magnetic forces. These would seem to be two separate and unrelated effects. However, in the Nineteenth century a brilliant physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, united these two apparently different forces in one theory. Some physicists consider this to be the first non-classical theory in physics. It was also the beginning of the great effort of unification.

In 1905 a little known patent clerk published a theory that would change the physics communities understanding of reality for all time. This theory was in large part inspired by the work of Maxwell, concerning the unification of magnetism and electrostatics. This patent clerk was Albert Einstein.

Also, it should be noted, that in the Twentieth century, physics added the weak force (responsible for radioactive decay) and the strong force (responsible for holding the nucleus together) to the list of forces that govern the Universe.

Albert Einstein went on to the highly successful gravitational theory of General Relativity and in the latter part of his life pursued the Holy Grail of ultimate unification, the unified field theory. In this effort, Einstein was unsuccessful. He made no effort to incorporate the strong and weak forces in his theory, because he didn't think Quantum mechanics was a fundamental theory. However mistaken Einstein's approach may have been, he was far ahead of his time in his quest for unification. Today, most particle physicists are on the same quest. Over time these unification theories have gone by the name of Supergravity, Supersymmetry and Superstring theory. While all of these theories are far from complete, they have made substantial progress toward unification. Recently the weak and electromagnetic forces have been unified in a convincing theory known as the electroweak theory. However, the most powerful theory of unification, Superstring theory, holds out the promise of the ultimate unification of all of reality.

To understand what this author feels is the connection between modern physics and Spinoza's metaphysical system we need to look a little closer at Spinoza's ideas. Spinoza's proposes that all reality may be thought of as unified into a single substance. In Spinoza's system this substance may be referred to equally correctly as Nature or God. Spinoza's use of the word God has very little connection to the Jewish, Christian or Islamic concept for this word. Further he goes on to divide Nature in Nature Naturans (Nature Naturing) and Nature Naturata (Nature Natured). Spinoza writes that nature has infinite attributes but finite man can only be aware of two attributes that he calls Thought and Extension. This is what we would call mind and matter in today's terminology. Further he goes on to say that every individual thing is simply a modification of this underlying substance. It must be made clear that mind and matter in Spinoza's system are no way two distinct modes. Rather every mode may be thought of as having a mental aspect and a physical aspect. For example if we have a stone we have the physical stone and we have the idea of the physical stone. It might be more accurate to say with regard to any mode we have a system of ideas associated with every mode as well as a system of physical entities associated with the same mode, all of which are just different manifestations of the given mode.

Now let us look at what Superstring theory has to say about reality. In Superstring theory all subatomic particles are made of what are called strings. However, it would be wrong to think of these strings as physical objects in the sense of an object that exist independently from its background. Rather, it would be more accurate to think of these strings as vibrations of the fabric of space-time itself. If all subatomic particles are made up of strings, which in turn make up all of reality, then what makes an electron different from a quark? It is the vibrational mode of the string that defines the difference. An electron and a quark are just different modes of the underlying reality that is space-time. This underlying substance, from which all manifestations of reality arise, has been called "Quantum stuff", by some physicists.

Brian Greene writes in his wonderful book "The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory", a book about Superstring theory:

Although each particle was viewed as elementary the kind of 'stuff' for example each embodied was thought to be different. Electron stuff for example had negative electric charge, while neutrino "stuff " had no electric charge. String theory alters this picture radically by declaring that the "stuff" of all matter and forces is the same. ...Differences between the particles arise because their respective strings undergo different resonate vibrational patterns.

Finally Spinoza's ideas concerning Nature Naturans and Nature Naturata seem to have relevance to our modern understanding of reality also. In the book "Quantum Philosophy" by the well known Physicist Roland Omnes of the University of Paris. The argument is made that the new discovery of the principle of Decoherence suggests that some philosophic ideas may be an accurate view of reality. The discussion of Decoherence is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that if Decoherence proves to be true it will eliminate many of the more occult ideas concerning Quantum mechanics. Omnes goes on to specifically talk about Nature Naturans and Nature Naturata. He comes to the conclusion that Nature Naturans may be equated with the concept of Logos in Greek philosophy. He further goes on to say that it would be useful to consider Nature Naturans as being manifest as Mathematics and Logic. More accurately, mathematics and logic may be thought of as the human representation of Nature Naturans. Likewise, science may be viewed as the human representation of Nature Naturata.

If these ideas are accepted, it will answer one of the most persistent problems in philosophy and science. What is mathematics and why is it so successful in describing reality?

Therefore I hope that the reader will agree that the profound ideas of Spinoza continue to have great relevance today. It is this author's opinion that while philosophy remains an ongoing enterprise with many questions to answer, the writings of a humble lens grinder who lived in Holland in the Seventeenth century continue to speak to us today.

Robert B. Zannelli
New York

Fighter pilot revealed as lord of the ring

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/03/03/nring03.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/03/03/ixhome.html

By David Sapsted
(Filed: 03/03/2004)

The mystery was solved last night over the cause of a two-mile, near perfect 'O' shape that appeared 30,000ft above East Anglia.

After a day when many people believed they had seen a UFO and when a local newspaper speculated that the ring was a halo created by the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals, the explanation turned out to be rather more prosaic.

The cause was an American air force F15 fighter jet. And it was on a training flight - not, as many people in the region had believed, involved in a stunt to publicise the 11 Oscars won by the latest Lord of the Rings film. Many thousands of people witnessed the formation of the ring - or rings, according to some accounts - late on Monday afternoon.

Mike Easton, 50, a chartered surveyor, photographed the phenomenon as it formed due west of his home at Blofield, Norfolk. "It was a nice sunset so I stuck my head out of the window and saw this amazing circle. It was pretty impressive," said Mr Easton.

Initially it was thought that a Tornado jet from RAF Marham, north Norfolk, or a Jaguar from RAF Coltishall, near Norwich, could have been responsible. But both bases said their aircraft were not involved.

Then, late yesterday, a USAF spokesman at Lakenheath, Suffolk, said one of its F15s was responsible while carrying out "a routine manoeuvre".

Lt Ed Ekpoudom said: "The pilot said he was just doing a manoeuvre at 33,000ft at around sunset when the conditions were conducive for a vapour trail to form. He is surprised to hear how it appeared from the ground."

Table-top fusion: NRI makes Sun in jar

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/535256.cms

Times of India, March 03, 2004

WASHINGTON: An Indian-born scientist and his team may have won a place in the sun by achieving nuclear fusion in a table-top experiment, leading to expectations that the world is on the cusp of a bounteous energy source. The scientific world is describing Dr Rusi Taleyarkhan's breakthrough, now revalidated after some initial skepticism, as "making the sun in a jar."

What he has essentially done is to slam together hydrogen atoms so fast and so forcefully that it produces temperatures of millions of degrees, and emits a flash of light and energy, in the same way as it happens with the sun and stars.

The process is known as nuclear fusion, and because it uses readily available elements like hydrogen – as opposed to nuclear fission which uses rare, complex, expensive, and dangerous matter such as uranium and plutonium – scientists have looked at it as a holy grail for cheap, limitless energy.

For years, scientists have conducted fusion experiments using expensive labs, reactors and equipment, and millions of dollars in funding, but team Taleyarekhan has reduced it to the desktop experiment called Sonofusion.

It costs less than $1 million and it uses the power of sound to create energy comparable to the inside of stars. In a phenomenon known as sonoluminiscence, a burst of ultrasound causes a bubble in a liquid to collapse and emit a flash of light. It is thought that the gases trapped in the collapsing bubbles could be heated to temperatures hot enough for fusion to occur.

Taleyarekhan and his team are reported to have achieved this to a degree that has gained credibility and impressed peers, many of who scoffed when the breakthrough was published in science magazine two years back.

"This time, the results and the believability has improved a billion times," Dr Taleyarekhan told this correspondent from his home in Tennessee, where he is a distinguished scientist at the Oakridge National Laboratory and a professor emeritus at Purdue University. He is also an alumnus of IIT Chennai.

The breakthrough was the toast of the scientific community on Tuesday after it appeared in the peer journal Physical Review E, and was announced by Purdue University.

More than 50 researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory validated the claim before it was released, Dr Taleyarekhan said, adding that no other manuscript in the history of Oakridge had been through such review.

Son of a prominent Parsi clan of Mumbai, Dr Taleyarkhan's larger family includes luminaries such as the late Bobby Talyarekhan, the famous radio broadcaster, and Homi Taleyarkhan, a former diplomat.

Nuclear fusion is not his only passion. As a group leader and programme manager in the Engineering and Technology Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of his more remarkable inventions is a rifle that can be adjusted so its user fires bullets at varying speeds.

The US government has shown great interest in the project because such a non-lethal weapon can be used effectively for peace-keeping, riot-control, and school security.

Related story in The New York Times:

Experts Say New Desktop Fusion Claims Seem More Credible
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/03/science/03FUSI.html

Using ultrasonic vibrations to shake a jar of liquid solvent the size of a large drink cup, the scientists say, they squeezed tiny gas bubbles in the liquid so quickly and violently that temperatures reached millions of degrees and some of the hydrogen atoms in the solvent molecules fused, producing a flash of light and energy.

Learn how to talk to the animals

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_881119.html?menu=news.quirkies

A Swiss woman is offering lessons on how to talk with animals for £360 a time.

Paloma Baertschi says her pet rabbit Spot taught her how to communicate with all animals.

Ms Baertshi, 38, from Moenchaltorf, near Zurich, said: "Animals communicate with us humans every day but we mostly we don't realise it.

"We often have the feeling that the dog or the cat needs or wants something but we don't know why we have that feeling.

"We should try to listen more to our inner voice because that's the voice animals use to communicate with us."

Ms Baertschi claims that she can teach anyone in only a few days to find a level of communication with their pets.

Seminars include two or three-day courses for beginners, advanced and professional communicators and cost up to £360.

She added: "Instructions on how to communicate telepathically with animals were given to me by my animal friend Spot.

"And he told me that humans should always welcome the animal and ask if it is willing to communicate. Wait for a reply which could be anything: a feeling, a word, a picture, a colour or simply emptiness."

Employees worry that workplaces cause cancer

http://www.courier-journal.com/business/news2004/02/09/biz-back-off09-10349.html

It's seldom so, but issue can be costly to address

By STEPHANIE ARMOUR USA TODAY

Something seemed terribly wrong on the 27th floor of the Vinson & Elkins law firm.

Employees kept getting diagnosed with cancer.

In three years, at least nine employees developed cancer — about one of 10 workers on that floor — and many feared something in the workplace, perhaps the air or water, was to blame.

About two years ago, the law firm brought in a slew of specialists to evaluate the building. What they discovered surprised many staffers: The office was safe. Despite perceptions, employees' cancer rates weren't abnormally high.

"We were just at that age when people start getting breast cancer," said Marilyn Roberts, 56, a legal assistant in the Houston office who was diagnosed with cancer. "It was very comforting to know the company took all the steps to investigate."

From small law offices to corporate giants such as IBM, companies are facing employee concerns that their workplace is causing cancer. But despite the anxiety and headline-grabbing cases, medical researchers rarely find the workplace to blame. Instead, years of costly research often yield inconclusive findings or wind up proving that the number of cancers was not unusually high at all.

"In occupational settings, by and large, reports about perceived cancer clusters do not end up identifying a definitive cause," said Allison Tepper, chief of the hazard evaluation and technical assistance branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Proof of cause and effect is so rare that Tepper isn't aware of a case outside of the industrial sector where cancers were caused by the work environment.

But that doesn't stop the concern. The national institute gets an average of 450 requests a year to investigate whether work environments are causing health problems such as cancer, and IBM is fending off lawsuits from nearly 300 current and former employees who believe their cancers developed because of chemicals used in manufacturing jobs.

For lawyers bringing such cases, it can be a struggle to show that workers got cancer on the job. For employers facing workers with such concerns, accusations can be devastating — leaving employees scared to come to work and companies facing millions of dollars in legal fees and health studies.

For some, the outcomes bring relief, but for others the ambiguity can frustrate employees who suspect that their employers — who often pay for the testing — are covering up the truth. Some lawyers representing workers say companies don't truly want to research why their employees are getting cancer because they fear what the results may be.

"I can't think of a situation where an employer has been sincerely interested. They don't want to take a look. They wish it would all go away," said Amanda Hawes, a lawyer in San Jose, Calif., representing workers with cancer.

But many employers say they take these cases seriously. "We decided that, even if it's uncomfortable, we're going to talk about cancer," said Mark Hanson, director of administration for Vinson & Elkins. "Nothing is hidden. When people are frightened, they can't perform."

Proving any cause and effect in workplaces such as offices is rare. There is more concern in industrial settings where employees may be exposed to more chemicals, but cases at industrial firms show how difficult it can be to make firm connections:

At General Electric, some workers had been concerned that they developed cancer because they worked with PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, before the chemical compounds were banned in the late 1970s. The chemicals, which were widely used in making electrical equipment, were banned because of health and environmental concerns.

But a 1999 study of more than 7,000 employees found that PCB-exposed employees actually had a lower rate of cancer deaths than the national average. A follow-up investigation last year supported the findings.

"There was no increase in a specific cancer, or cancer overall," said Renate Kimbrough, a scientist in Washington, D.C., who led the research.

In January, the results of an 18-month review of brain tumors among employees at chemical company Rohm and Haas found no significant links between employees' cancers and the workplace. Since 1963, 15 employees at a suburban Philadelphia site developed benign and malignant brain tumors. They include office workers at a research facility, chemists and lab workers.

"There was no association with workplace chemicals," said spokesman Syd Havely. "Among employees, there was a sense of relief."

After more than a dozen employees at an Amoco research center in Naperville, Ill., developed brain cancer, researchers found no connection to the workplace.

A follow-up three-year investigation was completed in 1999. With an excess of brain tumors found in scientists in one building, investigators determined it was possible — but not provable — that something in the workplace was to blame. They were unable to determine what caused the excess.

There are myriad reasons cancer remains such a bedeviling mystery. In many cases, the number of cancers may seem high, but a closer investigation reveals there is no statistical elevation.

And even if a higher number is found, the workplace isn't necessarily the culprit. A host of off-the-job exposures, lifestyle issues such as smoking or obesity, and genetics play a role in the development of cancer. That can make it almost impossible to pinpoint the job site as the cause.

The labor force is also aging, with more people working past 65. That means workplaces are seeing more instances of cancer. More than 17 million new cancer cases have been diagnosed since 1990, and more than 60 percent of cancers diagnosed in America are among people over 65. As cancer shows up more in the workplace, it's likely that cancer cluster concerns will increase.

"It used to be that the philosophy was, `It's God's will.' Now there's got to be a reason," said Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., who has researched environmental health issues. "People want an answer. They're very uncomfortable with the laws of probability."

It's also commonplace for health concerns to turn out to be false alarms. The debut of computers in the workplace touched off a flurry of debate, study and fear.

In 1980, a cluster of birth defects was found at the Toronto Star. That spurred government research, and today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most studies have not shown a relationship between the use of video terminals and birth defects or miscarriages.

But the concern is not imaginary: Some cancers and other health problems have been traced to occupational exposures.

A lung cancer is related to asbestos. Mineworkers exposed to uranium have developed lung cancer. Workers exposed to flavorings used in foods have developed severe lung damage. Benzene is linked to leukemia. Vinyl chloride is linked to liver cancer. Less than 2 percent of chemicals that are commercially used have been tested to see if they cause cancer, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says.

Lawyers representing IBM workers say their cases aren't false alarms, and legal experts say a verdict against IBM could unleash a string of other lawsuits against similar high-tech companies where the same, or similar, chemicals were used.

IBM declined to comment on any of the lawsuits or on the issue of dealing with employee concerns about health risks. Officials have denied in the past that any of the workers' health problems were linked to their jobs.

William DeProspo of Goshen, N.Y., represents more than 250 current and former workers who are suing IBM. The lawsuits allege that the company knew that chemicals workers came into contact with were dangerous. His clients include current and former workers, family members of employees who died, and children of those who worked at IBM.

According to the various lawsuits, children were born with such defects as spina bifida and no kneecaps, and employees have suffered a variety of cancers, including lymph-node cancer, blood cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.

DeProspo, a former New York City homicide prosecutor, has devoted seven years to the IBM lawsuit. Even so, he acknowledged that such cases can be tough to win.

"There are a lot of challenges. We have a host of scientists saying these chemicals cause cancer, and the other side will have the same quantity of experts who will say you can get cancer from crossing the road. But this isn't junk science. I think it's very, very believable."


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