NTS LogoSkeptical News for 12 April 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, April 12, 2004

Cancer boy's parents win 'amputation' fight


By Michael Leidig in Munich
(Filed: 11/04/2004)

A couple who lost custody of their young son to social services after insisting that his bone cancer was treated by using alternative medicine last week won a lengthy legal battle to get him back.

Dominik Feld, 9, became a cause celebre in Germany after his parents, Josef and Anke, defied a leading oncologist's advice that their son's right leg should be amputated if they wanted to save his life and stop the disease spreading.

When the specialist, Dr Heribert Jurgens, also warned that Dominik had a less than one-in-five chance of survival with chemotherapy, the Felds decided to pursue "cell therapy" treatment instead, involving high doses of vitamins and minerals.

Perturbed, Dr Jurgens tipped off officials from Germany's social services, who decided that the Felds were not acting in Dominik's best interests. In November 2003, they obtained a court order to remove the boy from his parents' custody. The order prompted a heated debate in Germany over parental rights, particularly as Dominik's cancer seemed to improve while he was receiving the cell therapy treatment.

While the Felds, from Siegen in central Germany, appealed against the decision, protesters staged rallies outside the high court in Koblenz each time a hearing was set. A family petition attracted more than 30,000 signatures. Donations from supporters helped to fund their appeal and temporary injunctions brought by the Felds to ensure that the cell therapy continued.

During the five-month legal tussle, which culminated in last week's victory in the high court, Dominik remained in hospital, officially in the care of social services. The amputation was postponed.

Last week Mrs Feld, 38, said "We are delighted - but the best gift of all will be when Dominik finally returns to full health. We are not against conventional medicine, nor in favour of unproven alternative medicine, but when there are medically proven alternatives from qualified professionals, we believe it is the right and duty of parents to choose what they want for their child," she said.

"The conventional treatment we were offered had a less than 20 per cent chance of success and as a result we had no alternative but to look for something that would give our son a better chance of survival."

Mr Feld, 41, a mechanical engineer, said: "The whole family is delighted about the court decision. Dominik had his ninth birthday on Monday and this was the best birthday and Easter present we could have hoped for.

"We have had the catheters removed that were used for chemotherapy this week. We won't need them any more, although the cell therapy is continuing."

The Felds, who also have four daughters aged five to 17, realised that Dominik was ill in September 2002. "The bottom fell out of our world," said Mrs Feld. "He had been playing football and fell badly and hurt his leg. When we took him to hospital they thought it was broken and put his leg in a cast. He was in a lot of pain and when he was examined in more detail they discovered the cancer."

Dr Jurgens, a specialist at Munster University Hospital, claimed that the osteosarcoma in Dominik's right leg was too advanced for treatment to be worthwhile, and insisted that only amputation would save his life. Dr Jurgens also said that the cancer had spread to his lungs and that strong doses of chemotherapy were necessary.

The Felds agreed to the chemotherapy but watched their son grow progressively weaker and his weight fall to just 35lb.

Seeking a second opinion, they heard about a method pioneered by Matthias Rath, an alternative health "guru" who is a qualified doctor but prefers to promote natural cures for his patients. In this treatment, cancerous tissues could be removed from bone marrow - avoiding the need for amputation - and the cell therapy substituted for chemotherapy.

Mrs Feld said that they were just in time to stop the amputation. "We looked everywhere for an alternative and it was only at the last minute, with hours to go before the operation, that we were told a hospital in Munich believed they could operate to remove the tumour and save the leg," she said. "That was in December 2002.

"We allowed him to continue on chemotherapy but stopped it in May last year. After allowing him to regain his strength, we started him on the cell therapy in June."

The Felds later received a letter from social services warning them that Munster University felt that Dominik was not being treated properly. Their right to care for their son was subsequently removed.

Dr Rath, who helped the Felds with their "Save Dominik" campaign, maintains that under his care the boy's condition has improved.

"The X-ray CT [computed tomography] images of Dominik's lungs speak for themselves," Dr Rath said.

"The lung metastases present one year ago have completely vanished. It is, therefore, clear that cancer is curable by natural means."

He said he had no doubt that Dominik would beat his cancer if his parents agreed to their son continuing the cell therapy.

Dr Jurgens, however, has served Dr Rath with a court order barring him from calling him a "drug industry lackey" and dismissed Dr Rath's claims that Dominik's health has improved.

"The truth of the matter is that a patient appears to be doing better when in fact the cancer is spreading. It is simply that the symptoms appear to have ameliorated somewhat," he said.

"But that does not change the long-term prognosis, nor does it mean that therapy ought to be set aside."

The family remains optimistic. Dominik says he feels better when treated with cell therapy and wants to carry on with it. His parents point out that the cancer removed from Dominik's leg during surgery has not returned.

"We are not capable of seeing the future, but we are very optimistic," said Mr Feld.

"There are no traces of the cancer in his lungs and although there are still cancer cells in his blood, they are no longer active. From now on it's just a question of waiting - and of hope."

14 December 2003: 'Too stupid' parents get their daughters back after seven years

Previous story: Russian agents held in Qatar face death penalty Next story: Anger as overseas homebuyers 'colonise' Cape Town

Universitätsklinikum Münster [in German]

British Complementary Medicine Association

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004

Doctors to warn patients of using alternative drugs


11 April 2004


Doctors will be forced to warn patients of the dangers of alternative medicines amid concern at their growing use. In new Medical Council guidelines, GPs will be required to inform patients of the dangers of using unconventional treatments. The chief concern for medical professionals is that conventional prescription medication can react badly with natural cures, endangering patients. It follows the case of Hamilton doctor Richard Gorringe, a GP who also used alternative treatments, who has been struck off and fined $100,000 for his unorthodox care - including prayer - for two patients.

Medical professionals also warn many alternative treatments are untested and have yet to produce accepted evidence they benefit patients. Researchers have already identified the danger of mixing the drug warfarin, which prevents blood clots, with alternative medicines including garlic, ginkgo biloba and St John's wort.

Patients are warned not to combine the two treatments. Overseas studies have also found a third of 260 Asian medicines analysed contained undeclared heavy metals or pharmaceuticals, which can interfere with prescription drugs.

Even established treatments such as acupuncture - and less common treatment such as herbs, homeopathy, therapeutic massage and oriental medicine - are included in the Medical Council's suggested new guidelines.

The rules coincide with a website launched last week by the Health Ministry which aims to debunk myths about unconventional medicine. The site assesses alternative treatments and reviews and trials of their effectiveness.

The guidelines state: "The council does not support any form of unconventional medicine."

"Patient safety must be the primary focus of doctors providing a health service to patients.

"The use of any form of treatment or therapy that has no basis or grounds for its use, has little or no evidentiary benefit to patients and has no conventional support will not be endorsed or accepted by council as an appropriate standard of care by doctors."

Medical Council chief executive Sue Ineson said the new guidelines reinforced rules drawn up five years ago and reflected the "huge scale" of alternative treatments now available.

"There are more and more of these treatments popping up which is why we say doctors need to be careful.

"In some cases we're talking about treatments that cannot be justified by patient benefit or scientific evidence."

But chief executive of Charter of Health Practitioners Patrick Fahy - which represents 80% of alternative medicine practitioners - said the Medical Council was out of touch.

Gorringe was not a member of the umbrella organisation.

Fahy said suggestions "unconventional" medicine had no grounds for use or scientific merit were "totally erroneous". "There is reams of evidence, they need to open their closed minds and look!

"(This) once again serves to prove that whoever drafted this document does not read their own medical journals and peer review." The charter, which represents 9500 members and 76 organisations, objected to the labels "complementary" and "alternative" medicine and preferred the term traditional medicine.

"This is their terminology . . . this certainly is not ours and certainly not the public's," Fahy said.

Medical Association chairwoman Tricia Briscoe said good doctors were already aware of the dangers posed by prescribing drugs to patients also taking so-called "natural" medicines.

It was unfortunate but necessary that the onus fell on doctors to inform patients about alternative medicine they did not recommend or provide. "People spend an amazing amount of money on alternative therapy that doesn't have any evidence before they finally come and see me," Briscoe said. "And GPs are a whole lot cheaper than the other methods they're trying.

"There's a big business in treatments regarded as 'natural', which always intrigues me because I don't think there's anything natural about swallowing tablets."

Scientists seek God, too, through inquiry


By Richard Sloan

for The News-Sentinel

Posted on Fri, Apr. 09, 2004

Guest Column -- Rebuttal

In response to James Snyder's letter of March 24, in which he argued in support of creationism, I ask Snyder: Know you not that even an atheist scientist is truer to God and closer to God than you? Your deity is but a false graven image put up on an altar in your own mind. It is the god you sought, and therefore the god you found.

The true scientist seeks truth, and in it he finds God, though he recognizes it not as God. Seek and ye shall find. But you have to seek the right thing. Seek religion and you find religion. Ask for religion and you receive it. But religion and God are not the same. Truth alone can bring you to God. The true scientist seeks truth, asks truth and knocks on the door of truth. He may not recognize God when he sees him, but he will see God more truly than you do.

God's word is in all the world around you, not just in that dinky little Bible over which you obsess. God revealed to men of science that the Earth revolves around the Sun. But religion taught otherwise, so religion persecuted, prosecuted and even executed God's chosen messenger. Darwin sought, asked and knocked. To him was given God's scheme of evolution. Darwin explained it as best he could. His words are just as inspired as those of Moses. They do not have to be perfect to contribute to man's evolving knowledge of the one and only true God. Nor was evolution any new idea. It is really only based on cause and effect over time.

God's revelations to man need not conform with your beliefs. Man may be mortal and his abilities limited, his accuracy flawed at times, but many of those changing ideas you mock and scorn are the pearls of mankind's ever-evolving knowledge of the true God, a God whose face you fear to even look upon.

God is never-changing in some respects and ever-changing in other respects. The Old Testament God is angry, wrathful and vengeful, while the New Testament God is loving and forgiving. Which one is your never-changing God?

As to the contrived intelligent design issue, the intelligence is in understanding God's design, not in the making of it. If you were to genuinely seek that understanding, you might acquire some of that intelligence. The design is the simple result of cause and effect over time, in accord with the laws God set in place, for out of chaos he created order, and of that order comes cause and effect. In true evolution, there is no such thing as an accident. Don't besmirch man's efforts to piece together the greatest of all jigsaw puzzles just because it does not look like what your religion teaches.

Richard D. Sloan is a resident of Fort Wayne.

Bend doctor to study new heart disease treatment


Published: April 8, 2004

By Lily Raff

The Bulletin

Chris Hatlestad, a Bend doctor, was the only Oregon physician selected last month to contribute to a national study on using a treatment for lead poisoning to help patients with heart disease.

The 5-year, $30 million Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy was launched last September by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The project aims to measure the safety and effectiveness of chelation therapy — a commonly prescribed treatment for lead poisoning — in patients with coronary artery disease.

This study is not Hatlestad's first foray into chelation therapy research.

For almost a year now, Hatlestad has been conducting a local study with St. Charles Medical Center-Bend, testing a theory of how chelation therapy actually works.

Chelation therapy is a method of removing certain metals and minerals from the blood. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe, effective treatment for heavy metal toxicity, such as lead poisoning. It has not been approved as a treatment for heart disease.

Hatlestad, a primary care physician who specializes in a combination of conventional and alternative treatments, offers the therapy to patients with heavy metal poisoning and to those with coronary artery disease.

It is legal to prescribe an approved medication or treatment for unapproved uses, Hatlestad said.

For example, doctors frequently prescribe certain types of anti-depressants as pain medication, Hatlestad said, even though they are approved by the FDA as anti-depressants only, and not for treating pain.

Hatlestad said, so far, all he has is anecdotal evidence to support the chelation treatment.

"I've seen people with vascular disease who have had symptomatic relief by doing chelation therapy," Hatlestad said. "We want to try to legitimize chelation therapy or disprove it."

Hatlestad's approach to medicine is visible all over his private practice, which, at first glance, looks like any doctor's office near St. Charles Medical Center-Bend.

But Hatlestad, 43, walks around in casual clothing and no lab coat.

He slips off his shoes and pads around in socks. His dog, Panik, quietly stretches out on the floor of his office. On the shelves above his desk, medical dictionaries are stacked next to books like "Accu-Yoga" and "Healing with Whole Foods."

The NIH study will involve 2,372 patients at more than 100 research sites across the country. It is more than 20 times larger than any previous study of the treatment, according to NIH.

Dr. Stephen Straus, director of the NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, said in a statement that the study was necessary because chelation therapy is widely prescribed to treat heart disease, yet little research has been done on its safety or effectiveness.

Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease and the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, according to NIH.

Coronary arteries are the vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood into the heart. In a patient with the disease, these vessels become blocked by a fatty substance called plaque. As plaque builds, the arteries become narrower, allowing less blood to reach the heart.

If too little oxygen reaches the heart, the patient could experience chest pain or a heart attack. In a heart attack, oxygen deprivation actually causes part of the heart muscle to die. If a large portion of the heart is affected, it can cause chronic heart failure or death.

According to NIH, a person with the disease may exhibit symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, cold sweats or nausea.

Scientists are still learning about what causes the disease, Hatlestad said. Certain factors are known to increase the risk of the disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes and a family history of the disease.

"The important thing is that vascular disease has several risk factors involved, and they're probably not the same from one patient to the next," Hatlestad said. "So you and I could eat the same things and have the same blood pressure, but still have different risk factors."

"Those could involve genetics, or they could have to do with different environmental conditions that we are exposed to," he continued.

"If you are taking birth control pills, for example, that could affect your B-vitamin status, and that could affect your risk for heart disease."

In chelation therapy, a patient receives an intravenous transfusion of ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid (EDTA). This substance speeds up the removal of heavy metals and minerals such as lead, iron, copper and calcium from the blood.

EDTA binds to elements in the blood, and the elements are then excreted in the patient's urine or feces.

Doctors are still not sure exactly how chelation therapy works, but they have several theories, Hatlestad said. The NIH study aims to help doctors understand if — not how — the treatment works.

Answering the other question comprises the goal of a local study, currently being conducted on 20 patients in Central Oregon. Participants in that study suffer from coronary artery disease and have been undergoing chelation therapy for almost a year, Hatlestad said.

Before they started the treatment, each patient underwent a scanning process to determine how much plaque had built up in their arteries.

After they have completed a year of treatment, they will be re-scanned, and the results will be compared, he said.

That study is designed to test one theory that chelation therapy works by removing calcium — a main component of the plaque that blocks arteries. In that theory, it would essentially clean out the arteries and reduce symptoms, Hatlestad said.

Chelation therapy was first used in the 1940s for the treatment of heavy metal poisoning, and in the 1950s for the treatment of coronary artery disease, Hatlestad said.

According to Hatlestad, the therapy has only a few minor side effects, including dizziness and fatigue for about a day following the transfusion.

"But it's been pretty controversial," he added. "And there haven't been very many good studies on it."

Participants in the NIH study will be randomly assigned to one of two groups.

One will receive a standardized chelation solution. One will receive a placebo solution. Those two groups will also be randomly divided to receive high or low dose vitamin and mineral supplements.

The effectiveness of the supplements, as part of the chelation therapy, is also a topic of study, Hatlestad said.

Each participant will receive 30 weekly infusions, followed by 10 bimonthly infusions, he said. All patients enrolled will be followed until the end of the study, to observe any significant clinical benefits or side effects.

Hatlestad said he expects to enroll 20 or 30 local patients in the study. Participants must be over 50 years old, and must have had a heart attack. If selected to participate, they will receive one year of free treatment.

Hatlestad said he currently administers chelation therapy to between 60 and 80 patients. He said that some of his patients with coronary artery disease have experienced a return of symptoms after completing chelation therapy.

"What we don't know is, would it have happened sooner without the chelation therapy? Would it have happened anyway? And that's why we're doing this study, to try to answer those questions," he said.

Lily Raff can be reached at 541-617-7836 or lraff@bendbulletin.com.

The Bulletin is published daily in Bend, Oregon by Western Communications, Inc.

Regulation for Dummies
Is the FDA necessary?


Todd Seavey

Protecting America's Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation, by Philip J. Hilts, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 397 pages, $26.95

Should the law be fashioned for stupid people?

That's not a question Protecting America's Health asks explicitly -- and the author, New York Times science writer Philip J. Hilts, no doubt would object to characterizing millions of American consumers as stupid. But it is a question that must be mulled by free market advocates, against whom Hilts explicitly directs his polemic in defense of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the regulations it issues.

It is tempting for free market advocates to say that the FDA could be eliminated outright -- replaced by nothing at all -- so that customers could work out for themselves, or with the help of advice columns and ratings services, which products were dangerous or ineffective. A few idiots might opt for deadly medicine or adulterated food on the rare occasions when businesses were shortsighted enough to sell such things, but that possibility should not stand in the way of experimentation by the rest of us. Or so the argument goes.

In contrast to this position -- which we might sum up as "Buyer beware, bonehead!" -- Hilts makes the case that whether it seems like wise business practice or not, completely unregulated food and drug companies will tend, if history is any guide, to get away with any corner cutting and exaggeration they can and even the occasional negligent homicide. No one sets out to kill the customer, of course, but there is a powerful temptation to downplay the likelihood that your product will kill people once you've invested a fortune in putting it on the market, especially if it takes close attention to statistics to notice the deaths.

If it is only uninformed morons who are at risk in a laissez-faire environment, one must conclude that there were an awful lot of morons in the 19th century (and that we may not be that much wiser today). As Hilts describes it, the late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time when the newfound ease of production, transportation, and advertising made it possible to deceive masses of anonymous consumers who would not long have tolerated such lies from their relatives and neighbors. "In chocolate, chemists found ground-up soap, beans, and peas," he writes. "To flour was added chalk, clay, or plaster of paris...In examining brown sugar, researchers often found that a substantial portion of it was the carcasses of lice, together with some living ones."

Hilts calls the period "the grand era of the quack remedy" and describes the highly profitable sale of patent medicines that did nothing at all -- or, in some cases, did serious harm -- with their ingredients kept secret from both doctors and patients. Fines for mislabeling were small. In 1906 the maker of a lethal potion touted as a headache cure, called Cuforhedake Brane-Fude, was one of the first to be prosecuted under new laws requiring honest labeling of foods and drugs. After making about $2 million on the product, killing scores of customers, and being fined $700, the maker of Brane-Fude was, in the words of the chief of the government's Bureau of Chemistry, "just $1,999,300 ahead." Advertising of that day routinely described opiates and colored water as elixirs capable of curing cancer, syphilis, arthritis, and other ailments.

As if subconsciously influenced by the muckraking journalists of that era, Hilts rails against the greed of the trusts and combinations that foisted their shoddy wares on a duped populace. One almost expects to find plutocrats and fat cats in the index. Hilts describes the Progressive attitudes of Teddy Roosevelt with approval and fawningly portrays modern-day anti-corporate activists such as Ralph Nader and Sidney Wolfe as "people who work to solve public problems with fact-gathering and no motive of personal gain." But even if you dismiss Hilts' politics, you're left with the historical facts he describes and the question of how to keep such things from happening again.

By the mid-20th century, the Bureau of Chemistry had grown into the FDA, and residual industry objections to regulation were becoming the stuff of parody. Hilts quotes a sarcastic article from a New Deal-era issue of The Nation saying that food and drug laws challenge "the sacred right of freeborn Americans to advertise and sell horse liniment as a remedy for tuberculosis...his God-given right to advertise and sell extract of horsetail weed as a cure for diabetes."

In the 1940s and '50s, there gradually developed the modern two-step performed by the FDA and drug companies, in which the companies must gear their production processes from the very beginning to the eventual necessity of proving their products' efficacy and safety to the FDA. One interesting lesson of Protecting America's Health is that, rather than being merely a bureaucratic imposition on scientific progress, the FDA was arguably the co-inventor of the clinical trial process, which involves statistically comparing a large group of patients who are given a new treatment to a control group of patients who are not. This is the process on which modern medicine founds most of its claims.

It is not unreasonable to argue that companies making scientific claims ought to have scientific evidence to back them up, and clinical trials are the best means we have yet devised for getting that evidence. It is no coincidence that many of the FDA's harshest critics -- aside from those who object to regulation on principle -- are adherents of "alternative" medical methods that would never withstand the scrutiny of carefully constructed clinical trials, such as most herbal remedies and virtually all "homeopathic" ones. Many of the alternative medicine adherents argue against the very idea of clinical trials, saying that biology varies so much from individual to individual that no meaningful conclusions can be drawn about a remedy from impersonal trials on large numbers of people.

Even if we were to conclude that clinical trials are grievously flawed, though, it is unclear why we should embrace mere anecdote or the word of the local Chinese herbalist -- heavily influenced by subjective impressions, placebo effects, and poor number crunching -- as a superior guide to truth. Hilts is particularly critical of the 1994 law that enabled makers of vitamins and herbal supplements to do an end run around the FDA by claiming their products are mere food, not medicine, despite the fact that their products' labels are replete with health claims and their sales presumably are largely a function of consumers' belief in these claims.

Mainstream pharmaceutical companies, by contrast, today are largely the product of a weeding process that resulted from the FDA's mid-century imposition of scientific standards and clinical trials. Far from burdening countless useful products in order to stop only one or two disastrously harmful drugs, the mid-century culling of drugs that were based on groundless, unscientific claims caused most drugs of that time to be discarded as useless or redundant. As Hilts says, changes in that period "weeded out the brutal, the stupid, and the needless." Although not as dangerous or as preposterously promoted as the patent remedies of the 19th century, the drug business of a half-century ago still contained much that was ineffective or of dubious value. To the extent that the FDA has helped winnow the mainstream drug market down to scientifically proven treatments, it has been a help rather than hindrance.

Unfortunately, the FDA does not always function properly, and Hilts has little interest in dwelling on the negatives. Biotech has faced particularly unreasonable FDA hurdles in recent years. Henry I. Miller, a former FDA official who is now a director of the anti-junk science group I work for, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), notes in an article on ACSH's Web site that the FDA's approval process seems to be getting slower, despite laws intended to streamline it. "In the early '80s," he writes, "FDA review of human insulin and human growth hormone had lasted only months -- five and eleven, respectively," but "FDA officials reviewed the application for [biotech firm] Calgene's long-shelf-life tomato for two years before completing the process."

Worse, Miller notes, the FDA routinely denies approval to successful products already used in Europe, holding up use in the U.S. of items ranging from injectable antibiotics for resistant pathogens to a vaccine against meningitis. Economists calculate that the number of people who have died or suffered while waiting for useful drugs to be approved by the FDA may outnumber those saved by keeping bad drugs off the market. In a 2000 review of economists' reports on the FDA, Santa Clara University economist Daniel B. Klein reported that he was unable to find a single one who felt the agency approved drugs quickly enough. He found economists' opinions on what to do with the FDA "ranging in degrees from gradual decontrol to outright abolition of the agency."

Hilts addresses some individual examples of FDA foot dragging, showing that the body count in each case has been exaggerated by the agency's critics. But he does not grapple with the larger theoretical argument that the FDA may cost more lives than it saves (though he does debunk some of the most commonly cited examples of blocked miracle treatments). In a lesser offense against economics, Hilts places the cost of FDA regulation at a mere $3 or $4 per citizen each year, an estimate that reflects only the agency's budget, not the immense regulatory costs it shifts onto companies by requiring them to do clinical trials, let alone the costs in terms of drugs delayed or blocked.

It is not merely the use of exotic, experimental new drugs that the FDA stymies. It also forbids companies to promote "off-label" uses of drugs -- that is, demonstrably beneficial, even life-saving, uses for which a drug was not originally intended and for which it has not yet been approved by the FDA. As journalist James Bovard notes on the ACSH Web site, a 1994 British Medical Journal article estimated that some 10,000 American lives could be saved each year if more people were aware that daily aspirin use can lower the risk of heart attack. "Yet the FDA has prohibited such notices," Bovard writes. "And since no company has a patent on aspirin, no company has the incentive to spend the tens of millions of dollars for clinical trials and other tests necessary to satisfy the agency."

While it is worth calculating the number of people who have died while awaiting the FDA's approval of new treatments, we cannot merely tote up those numbers and weigh them against the handful of people killed by thalidomide and other bad drugs. To be fair, we must instead ask, as Hilts implicitly does, what the pharmaceutical industry would look like in the absence of the scientific discipline the FDA has imposed. We cannot assume that only the beneficial medicines we now know would be marketed, or that the disasters would be limited to the ones we have already seen. In the ambiguous realms of science and marketing, even mostly well-meaning companies will tend to err on the side of puffery and concealment of blunders.

Many of the harshest economic criticisms of the FDA are built on economist Sam Peltzman's 1973 study that showed fewer new drugs created in recent decades than in the early-to-mid 20th century. But Peltzman's study did little to adjust for the countless redundant or little-improved medications that were touted as new miracle drugs in the old days. Nor did Peltzman adequately take into account the inevitably slowed pace of fundamental pharmaceutical breakthroughs. Hence the apparent lag in progress that Peltzman's simple graphs depicted does not tell the whole story.

Think of the FDA, when it functions properly, not merely as a hobbling bureaucracy but as anti-fraud law applied to food and medicine. The question is how to tease out the FDA's useful functions -- preventing fraud and injury -- while eliminating its more burdensome regulatory functions. Instead of prior approval of drugs, might we simply have harsh legal penalties and financial compensation of victims after the fact when things go awry? Perhaps the FDA could be replaced with private mechanisms, probably involving a much more active role for trial lawyers, a solution almost as unacceptable to free marketeers as regulatory agencies but at least a private and decentralized one. (What does private, decentralized retaliation against widespread fraud and injury look like if not a class action suit?) Or perhaps the FDA could be replaced by something akin to a supersized Underwriters Laboratories, the private product testing organization supported by manufacturers that want its famous "UL" stamp of approval.

Just as we cannot know exactly what the modern food and drug market would look like without FDA oversight -- neither what new horrors nor what currently stymied innovations it might bring -- we cannot know for sure what the FDA might have looked like had it evolved differently. Early on, its primary legal function, as Hilts explains, was to guarantee safety rather than to ensure efficacy. Its failure to do the former contributed, in typical government fashion, to the expansion of its power and the adoption of its sweeping powers of pre-market approval and its right to certify that drugs are effective -- a costly hurdle for drug manufacturers, whose research and development costs are nowadays largely a function of the need to please the FDA.

Might new opportunities for innovation be opened up simply by eliminating this guarantor-of-efficacy role? Let the FDA, some successor organization, or the civil justice system punish those who do harm or sell dangerous goods, but leave the market to judge what works and what doesn't.

That sounds like a freedom-respecting solution, but there is a complication: Just as the anti-fraud role of the FDA bled into the efficacy-proving role historically, the two functions can be difficult to separate in principle. A drug that is marketed as a memory enhancer or heart strengthener, with a tiny fig-leaf disclaimer saying its vaunted powers do not have the imprimatur of the FDA, can do significant harm without inflicting direct thalidomide-style damage by leading people to avoid more effective treatment or simply by causing them to spend their money in vain. Since few people deliberately spend their money on ineffective products, almost everyone who purchases a scientifically unproven medication, such as most of the alternative remedies, vitamins, and dietary supplements for sale in the average health store, is arguably being defrauded.

But is that a matter for a federal bureaucracy or simply for the courts? Where one comes down on that question will hinge in part on how savvy one thinks the general public is, relative to scientific experts (such as the ones who end up working for the FDA), about evaluating medical claims. To anyone acquainted with the general public's track record, the case for the bureaucracy looks surprisingly strong.

Such questions are beyond the scope of Hilts' book. His argument proceeds more on historical than theoretical grounds, and as a result he sometimes glosses over important ideas in a way that weakens his case. Despite devoting several chapters to the regulatory battles of the last few decades, he only briefly mentions the high-dose lab tests on rodents that are the main means of labeling substances "carcinogens" these days. The so-called Delaney Clause of the 1958 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act gave the FDA the absurd responsibility of eliminating any trace whatsoever of chemicals capable of causing cancer in lab animals. But roughly half the chemicals in the world, natural or man-made, can induce cancer in lab animals in high enough doses, and that is not in itself good evidence of a human health threat. To many scientists who criticize the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, the exaggerated claims made for rodent tests are a primary example of regulatory excess.

Yet Hilts touts the removal of numerous "carcinogens" from the food supply as unvarnished victories for the FDA. He uncritically repeats claims that the sweetener saccharin was a potential human carcinogen that deserved to be banned in the 1970s, although later research suggests that the biological mechanisms that made it carcinogenic in rodents are not present in humans. Hilts also at times makes the common journalistic error of telling us about deaths associated with a product without telling us the normal background rate of deaths of that sort, information we need to have some idea how much the product worsened things, if at all.

Still, the book presents enough compelling horror stories to convince even the skeptical reader that there have been menaces and mishaps out there for the FDA to fight. Among other things, Hilts discusses painkillers that destroy liver function; the soft-pedaling of scientists' warnings about severe side effects; the antibiotic chloramphenicol, which was only reluctantly and half-heartedly recalled by its manufacturer even after the company learned the drug caused a fatal blood disorder; and heart medications that quietly killed more people than they saved, even while the FDA was criticized for not approving them fast enough.

The FDA could be radically improved or even supplanted, but it would be wrong to think that the agency's inefficiency or its inherently coercive nature prove it is performing no useful functions or providing no useful scientific information. The FDA, for complex historical reasons, has become a locus of scientific standards and a repository of expertise that should not be discarded. It has helped shape the achievements of pharmaceutical companies and by extension mainstream medicine in a process of give and take as important as the shaping of business by laws against theft.

One sad conclusion you have to draw from Hilts' book is that if you sell almost anything as a cure-all, lots of people will fall for it. To get back to my opening question: Shouldn't the law step in on behalf of the stupid as readily as it would on behalf of a genius who is duped by a brilliant, elaborate scam? Before you say no, you will at least have to contend with the disturbing picture Hilts paints of the days before the FDA as we know it. There is no avoiding some sort of legal constraint on food and drug sales, unless we want a modern version of the 19th-century free-for-all that poured mislabeled opium and disguised wood chips down the gullets of the ignorant. That's not freedom. That's fraud.

Todd Seavey edits HealthFactsAndFears. com for the American Council on Science and Health. He is writing a book titled Conservatism for Punks.

Metaphysics goes mainstream


Regular folks flock to psychics, but are they tapping into truth?

The Courier-Journal

Louisville psychic Marilyn Gaddie often is asked to handicap the Kentucky Derby and has told fortunes aboard the Star of Louisville. She claims an 85 percent accuracy rate.

Among the dated predictions on her Web site, www.heaven-knows.com, is a foiled terrorist plot on the Eiffel Tower in 1994.

"One day, I was walking down the hall of my house and I saw the Eiffel Tower blow up in front of my eyes," says the 61-year-old soothsayer and former president of the Astrological Society of Kentucky. "I called one of my friends, so if anything happened I would have told somebody.

"Then several weeks later, I went to a New Year's Eve party, and one of the guests said, 'Well, what do you think? Somebody was trying blow up the Eiffel Tower, but they stopped it.' I hadn't seen the news. But I was constantly getting images on terrorists attacks, and right after 9/11, all the television programs were on about how similar this plot to blow up the Eiffel Tower was."

Believe it, or not.

More and more people are taking such prognostications to heart, increasing the popularity of psychics, advisers, healers, mediums, herbalists and clairvoyants.

Hundreds of people flock to psychic fairs at area hotels. When 23-year-old Heather Teague was kidnapped near Evansville, Ind., in 1995, the family sought help from psychic Sharon Gresham in a futile police search. Even WHAS radio personality Francene Cucinello joked last year that it might take a psychic to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

In 2002, the Oasis Center, a school of metaphysics that teaches psychic development, dream interpretation, astrology, meditation and other esoteric subjects, opened in the Crescent Hill neighborhood.

One of its instructors, a 40-year-old Bardstown, Ky., clairvoyant named Fanell, reputedly speaks to the dead, and comes highly recommended by satisfied customers such as Anita Perryman, a retired Jefferson County Public School teacher.

Perryman said Fanell channeled her aunt, Hazel Peters, within the last 18 months.

"I went in for a 30-minute session, and what he did that made me know that it was real was that she said, 'Tell my daughters that I'll be at the wedding this weekend and that everybody will be in white.'

"Well, I didn't know that there was a wedding that weekend involving my cousins," Perryman said. "Afterwards, they called me to say that Aunt Hazel had been right. Everybody was in white, even the mother of the bride."

Kente International, the African arts boutique in the Highlands that boasts an upscale, sophisticated clientele, recently began offering appointments with Okomfo Enyo, a priest and mystic in the Akan religion of Ghana.

"A lot of our customers were requesting it. They want their fortunes told. They're asking for tarot card readings," said Musa Uthman, who owns the boutique with his wife, Lisa. "And I'm not surprised. There are so many things happening now that people don't understand, and they're searching. They want to know what's in store for them. They want to understand the mysteries of life, because they know there's something more."

That's only human. We've been trying to predict the future for eons. But occult practices once associated with carnival sideshows seem to be going legit.

Featured guests on CNN's "Larry King Live" can be Secretary of State Colin Powell one night and psychic Sylvia Browne the next. Popular movies such as "The Sixth Sense," "The Gift" and "Minority Report" increasingly explore paranormal themes.

And individuals often looked up to as role models are setting the example.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer; author Norman Mailer's wife, Norris Church, and Mia Tyler, daughter of Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, have attempted to channel dead relatives through medium John Edward, according to Edward's 2003 book, "After Life" (Hay House).

Edward also is host of a popular cable show, "Crossing Over," on which he talks to audience members' dead relatives. "A lot of this would probably not make a '60 Minutes' feature, but Larry King has more air time and can afford to be more divergent," said Michael Cunningham, a social psychologist at the University of Louisville. "There's an expanding number of cable channels, more time to fill, and therefore more diverse points of view are represented.

"As a result of greater exposure, things become a bit more known and a bit more accepted."

There are skeptics aplenty, such as James Randi, a Florida-based magician who wrote "The Truth About Uri Geller" (Prometheus Books), debunking Geller's ability to bend objects with his mind or divine the contents of sealed envelopes as simply magic tricks.

Through the James Randi Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes critical thinking about the paranormal, he's offered $1million to anyone who demonstrates supernatural powers in a controlled setting and supervised by third-party experts.

And it's hard to find instances of Edward or other spiritualists contacting missing or dead people who would seem strongly motivated to apprise living relatives of their whereabouts.

Wouldn't that be a cakewalk for the psychically gifted? Wouldn't victims of unsolved murders want to comfort grieving family members and bring their assailants to justice?

"It depends on whether they've transferred over into the spirit world," clairvoyant Fanell said. "Sometimes they stay earthbound, which is what we call 'ghosts.' I can't remotely pick up ghosts. Second, if they do transform all the way into the spirit realm, they immediately forgive the person that killed them. You can't assume that the person wants justice done, or even if they want their remains found.

"I'll give you a prime example," Fanell said. "James Van Praagh (a famous medium) did a session to channel Nicole Brown Simpson, and she basically said, let it go."

For every doubter, there's a believer like Wendy Wilson asserting the veracity of supernatural claims.

A practicing Christian who is skeptical of the occult, Wilson said that Enyo, the Akan priest, helped alert her to fibroid tumors that Wilson eventually had removed surgically.

Wilson, a 35-year-old bank manager in Louisville, met Enyo at the home of her boss's neighbors. Enyo pulled out her tarot cards and asked if Wilson would like a reading.

"I thought it would be a fun thing to do," Wilson said, recalling that Enyo told Wilson about her love life, her finances and her future — even correctly describing a man she later met.

"She asked me, 'What are you worried about? You're concerned about something,'" Wilson said.

Enyo grabbed her stomach, and said, "I feel something in your stomach. Something's not right," Wilson recalled. "I don't know if it's your kidneys, but it's in the middle part of your body."

"My eyes got big," Wilson said, "because I think I was starting to get sick then. Prior to the reading I wasn't feeling that well, but thought it was just female stuff, weird stomach problems, and was putting it off.

"I would have gone to the doctor eventually, but she helped me."

Nearly everyone has intuitive powers — it's why you may think of someone the instant before he or she calls on the phone — that can be developed to uncanny levels with discipline and training, all the psychics interviewed said.

But most practicing psychics are said to be gifted and variously ascribed powers of telepathy, faith healing, communion with the dead and spirit possession, during which some supposedly regurgitate a luminous substance called ectoplasm that materializes into ghosts.

"Everything I do is guided by God," said Fanell, the 40-year-old Bardstown clairvoyant and spiritual medium. "I had a very powerful awakening in November of 1995 where God came to me. I had been cleaning my apartment, and I went to take a bath. The bathroom temperature dropped to where I could see my breath, but I felt all this warmth.

"When I got out of the bathroom, my whole bedroom was lit up in a brilliant light, and I felt myself in the presence of God. So I asked, 'Are you God?' And a voice answered, 'I am neither male nor female, but I am the entity that you recognize as God. I've always been by your side.' I asked, 'Why me? Why now?' And he told me, 'Why not?'

"He asked me to do his work and, at the time, I didn't know what that meant. But when the energy left the room, I found myself able to pick up people's thoughts."

More typical are abilities developed over time, pursued in years of metaphysical study and practice, and often supplemented with a college degree in a respectable field.

Louise Hancock, 66 and a Chandler, Ind.-based reader and intuitive, said psychic ability ran like an inheritance in the female line of the family, compelling her to devote over 40 years to developing her skills and studying religion, philosophy and metaphysics. For the past 15 years, she's organized psychic fairs in nine states.

Enyo, the Akan priest, holds a master's in social work and has studied under religious prefects in Ghana, partly following her grandmother's example.

"She did a lot of work with herbs; she was a psychic; she could do healing and readings, interpreted dreams," said Enyo, 48. "She would always burn her hair, never threw it away because someone could get your hair and work spells on you.

" I can't explain it, but I've always had this gift to see an imbalance in bodily energy — high heat energy or low cold energy, just by running my hands across a person's energy field."

That ability can have a scientific explanation, according to Victoria Snelling, a chiropractor who studied holistic medicine at the London School of Homeopathy and now runs an alternative healing clinic in Louisville.

"Quantum physics describes waves of particle-matter, matter at the subatomic level — that the next instant, it's energy," she said. "It slips back and forth (between subatomic matter and energy). It's almost the interpretation of the observer that determines whether it's matter or energy.

"So what we once thought of as very mysterious are actually things that are very real and very measurable. There is information we receive from the body that an onlooker would almost assume you had to be psychic.

"But it's not psychic; it's actually science."

Psychic Marilyn Gaddie drew a blank on who would win the NCAA Tournament and foresaw the obvious about Iraq — "I don't think we're going to get out of there soon" — but for the upcoming presidential elections, she predicted a curse.

"All I've gotten so far, based more on astrology, is that the United States chart is showing change where the leader is concerned, so if Bush is re-elected, he won't remain in office or he makes a 180-degree turn," Gaddie said.

President Bush, she said, "was elected under astrological aspects that indicate he won't stay in office: He was elected in 2000 — a zero-numbered year — and under the conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter," which happens every 20 years.

"Every president that was elected under these circumstances was assassinated or died in office — Garfield, Lincoln, Kennedy — except Ronald Reagan, who had an assassination attempt and survived. But the year Reagan was elected, there was something different: He was elected in 1980; Libra ruled, which is mental; and it is well-known now that Ronald Reagan's mind was leaving office before he did," Gaddie explained.

"Bush was elected under an Earth sign, and the chart for this year of his life is under ... the planet Mars, which is the war planet — what's interesting is that he's got this plan to go to Mars — and if he gets re-elected, he's actually extending his chances to die in office."

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Nigerian in Houston convicted of e-mail scam


Victims lost $400,000

10:42 AM CST on Tuesday, February 10, 2004

From 11 News Staff Reports

HOUSTON -- A federal jury has convicted a Nigerian national living in Houston of conspiracy and 13 counts of wire fraud.

Ambrose Kizito Agwuibe is also in the country illegally.

The 43-year old was on trial for almost three days on charges he defrauded Americans by sending them e-mails in which he claimed he needed help getting a box containing $22 million dollars through U.S. Customs.

The scheme involved telling victims they could get 15 percent of the money if they would take procession of the box and pay for shipping costs, handling fees and other expenses.

In all, United States Attorney Michael Shelby says victims all over the country were cheated out of more than $400,000.

A co-conspirator, Patrick Omu, pled guilty in September 2003 for his part in the e-mail scheme and will be sentenced on May 7, 2004.

Both men face a maximum of five years in prison for conspiracy and 20 years in prison for each wire fraud conviction.

Judge David Hittner will sentence Ambrose Kizito Agwuibe on April 30.

Reports of sea monster are not easily dismissed

LARRY HALL Feb 11, 2004

Whatever its source, fear can paralyze. One Richmond woman was more paralyzed by fear of ridicule than by fear of the unknown. But she overcame her reluctance and talked about what she had seen.

The Feb. 9, 1994, Times-Dispatch included a staff-written report about a scientific study of Scotland's Loch Ness and its legendary monster. The article recalled sightings of Virginia's own maritime monster, a serpentine animal spotted in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries during the late 1970s and early 1980s and nicknamed Chessie.

In 1980, a Richmond resident saw the peripatetic creature in the Appomattox River near Hopewell, farther inland than previously reported. The woman had gone to Hopewell with her husband for dinner at the Harbor Light Restaurant, beside the river.

The Richmonder's sighting occurred in March, but she did not talk about it until months later, after reports of other sightings had been published in The Times-Dispatch. She wrote an anonymous letter to the newspaper in response to a June report about an encounter on the Potomac River.

This is part of what the restaurant patron wrote:

"I got out of my car and looked up the Appomattox River. . . . Something caught my eye. . . . We watched as it got nearer. . . . It had a . . . long, undulating body."

She added that she had not said anything "for fear of being ridiculed."

When excerpts of her unsigned letter appeared in The Times-Dispatch in mid-November 1980, the Richmonder wrote to the newspaper again, this time revealing her identity. She told her complete story in an interview published in The Times-Dispatch later that month.

She said she had the opportunity to study Chessie for several minutes. Before the creature had traveled too far down the river, the woman went inside the restaurant and announced in a voice loud enough for all to hear, "Look outside, the Loch Ness monster is going down the river." No one in the Harbor Light responded.

After her rebuff, the Richmonder decided to keep silent, only confiding in a few close friends. But other reports surfaced and made her change her mind.

She said the creature was "the most fascinating thing I ever saw. What irks me is that I couldn't generate any interest. No one would get up and look."

The Richmonder's description of a dark, snakelike body with a reptilian head matched those from sightings near the bay. Thus far, the creature had eluded cameras, but that changed in 1982.

Robert Frew, a Maryland businessman, was celebrating Memorial Day with friends and family at his home on the bay. About 7:30 p.m., he saw Chessie. Frew rushed to get his camera and managed to videotape the creature for about three minutes.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution agreed to examine the tape. The panel called Frew's tape "intriguing" and concluded: "The usual explanations of partially submerged logs, a string of birds or marine animals, optical illusion, etc., seem inappropriate for the dark, elongated, animate object."

Chessie sightings around the bay region continued sporadically, but nothing major developed until a possible explanation for the mystery surfaced in the Appomattox and James rivers during the late 1980s.

In the summer of 1987, an unusual creature tentatively identified as an errant manatee was seen by several people in the Appomattox River near Hopewell. There was another possible sighting in the James River near Richmond about the same time.

The manatee is a gentle, aquatic mammal, 8 to 14 feet in length. It resembles a very large, fat seal, or a walrus without tusks, and lives in warm, tropical coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries officials felt the description of the animal matched that of a manatee, but a Virginia Institute of Marine Science researcher said it was unlikely a manatee would voluntarily venture into waters this far north.

Then, in 1994 and 1995, a male manatee, which had wandered far from his home near Florida, was positively identified as it traversed the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The docile beast was outfitted with a tracking device and christened Chessie, in honor of the bay's elusive sea serpent. With the manatee's seasonal presence in more northern waters confirmed, reports of the bay's mysterious serpent dramatically diminished in frequency.

But some of the earlier accounts, including the 1980 sighting by a Richmond woman, are not easily dismissed. Maryland resident Clyde Taylor and his daughter Carol said they saw the creature in 1982 from a distance of 10 feet as it swam in less than 2 feet of clear water. They said it resembled a 30-foot snake, something that looks very different from a corpulent, 10-foot manatee.

Larry Hall is a Times-Dispatch librarian/researcher. Contact him at (804)
649-6076 or lhall@timesdispatch.com.


THE SUNDAY PERSPECTIVES: Still on the theory of evolution

Sunday, April 11, 2004

It must be remarked that two major problems persistently bothered Darwin regarding his theory. The first one was the age of the earth. In the nineteenth century, the highest estimated age of the earth was about forty million years. Darwin and several other naturalists at that time realised, correctly, that the estimated number of years was inadequate to accommodate the gradual changes entailed by evolutionary processes.

The second difficulty was about how to account in details for the causative factors responsible for the manner organisms inherited characteristics from their parents. Darwin's theory failed to present indepth scientific explanation of the mechanisms for the generation of variations in animals and plants. Darwin simply took variations as an empirical fact, and suggested that alterations in the climate, food, and other environmental factors, especially those which affected the reproductive organs, were responsible for variations in plants and animals.

Unknown to Darwin, Gregor Mendel a monk at Brno was experimenting upon the crossing of sweet garden pea in his monastery garden from around 1857 to 1868. At the end of his researches, Mendel was able to discover some of the fundamental principles of genetics which would have cleared up a host of difficulties that confronted Darwin. Mendel's work has become paradigmatic in modern genetics; it provided the basis for the breakthroughs in the subject witnessed in the twentieth century.

Regarding the age of the earth, there is a consensus by scientists that the earth came into being 4.5 billion yeas ago as part of the evolution of the solar system. Many scientists believe that 4.5. billion years are adequate for the occurrence of the evolutionary processes which generated the various species of plants and animals found on earth. But they disagree about the actual mechanisms that led to the emergence of life in the first place. Majority of scientists think that life might have arisen by spontaneous physical and chemical effects, and that similar processes could also have taken place in other planets apart from the earth. The work of A. I. Oparin in the early 1920s was highly acclaimed as hammering the final nail in the coffin of creationism, supported by the claim that all of life (and death) spring from natural causes.

Over time, the theory of evolution has undergone profound modifications in the light of new developments in biological (and allied) sciences. However, one can distil the following assumptions as characteristic of neo-Darwinism: (a) the great variety of life forms on earth originate from very few forms, probably even from a single organism. This suggests there is an evolutionary tree, an evolutionary history. (b) the process of evolution can be explained by: (i) heredity: the offsprings reproduce the parent organisms more or less faithfully (ii) variations: there are (perhaps among others) "small" variations, the most important of which are the accidental and hereditary mutations (c) natural selection: there are several mechanisms by which not only variations but the entire hereditary material is controlled by elimination.

Included in these are processes which permit only minute mutations to spread; big mutations are in general unviable and, thus, fail to survive the struggle for survival (d) although variations in some sense – the presence of different competitors – are for obvious reasons antecedent to selection, it is possible that variability – the scope of variation is controlled by selection, for instance, with respect to both the frequency and size of variation. A gene theory of heredity and variation may even accommodate special genes that control the variability of other genes. If the above is granted, then there is a hierarchy, or complicated interaction structures and mechanisms.

Several criticisms have been marshalled against the theory ever since the publication of The Origin of Species. The fundamental criticism apart from the one drawing attention to the pancity of the purported "missing links" in evolutionary development is the argument that the probability of the basic building blocks of life, that is, the amino acids and enzymes, combining in the right proportion to generate even the simplest living organism is so slight, so negligible that the idea should be completely discountenanced. Now, it is on the question of how life originated that the theory of evolution falters. But it is possible that future developments in science may lead to a satisfactory evolutionary explanation of the origin of life.

Some scientists, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, for example, have argued that some of the basic ingredients for life on earth were generated elsewhere in the universe. This hypothesis, as interesting as it seems, merely shifts the problem of life's origin to another place without really solving it.

At any rate, once life is presupposed, the situational logic implicit in Darwin's theory becomes a very powerful explanatory tool to account for the gradualness in the way organisms change over time. As a theory, the power of Darwinism lies not in its satisfactory explanation of how life began, but in providing a theoretical framework within which particular explanations of a variety of phenomena have been articulated, explanations many of which are independently testable. Contrary to the claims in certain quarters that the theory of evolution is utterly untestable and, hence, unfalsifiable, there are many scientifically corroborated tests of the theory. To cite a classic example: the British biologist H.B.D. Kettlewell investigated the peppered moth Bison butelaria, a speckled form of which was common in his country before the Industrial Revolution and continues to predominate in the countryside. Melanic variants (with black colouring) became increasingly common in urbanized areas.

What explains the relative frequency of the two forms near cities? One possibility is that industrial pollutants kill the lichens that normally grow on tree trunks where peppered moth often rests. Once the lichens are gone, the tree trunks become uniformly dark. The speckled moth are less visible than the melanic ones against a lichen covered back, but the melanic varieties are camouflaged against the uniformly dark trunks. The explanation then is that the increased frequency of the melanic type of the moth in industrialized areas is due to decreased visibility against uniformly dark tree trunks.

Obviously, better camouflage is a selective advantage because it reduces the risk of predation. During his study, Kettlewell discovered that a greater percentage of the speckled moth than that of the melanic variety were missing, due to the fact that they were more easily seen and eaten while resting on the tree trunks by robins and hedge-sparrows. Further research showed that greater fertility amongst melanic moths in industrial areas is not responsible for the observed disparity in the relative frequency of the two varieties.

Those who dismiss the theory of evolution on account of religion disallow themselves from benefiting from the exciting possibilities opened up by the theory. Many of those criticizing the theory are ignoramuses, several others are afraid that if the theory is correct, it would destroy religion. All the same, the theory is not as bad as some creationist scientists would make us believe.

Some of these scientists accept other theories in science which are on the same logical footing as the theory of evolution, only that the former do not contradict the teachings of religion. Darwinian theory, like many other widely accepted scientific theories, has been independently confirmed in a striking number of cases, and can be provisionally accepted as supplying the best explanation available at the moment even in areas where it is not directly and independently testable.

Creationists pretend that the insuperable difficulties about the existence of God and how such a being can create a world such as ours do not matter or that they are inconsequential when compared with the problems associated with evolutionary theory. I am convinced that the theory of evolution is superior to creationism because whereas creationism purports to give a final and divinely inspired explanation about the origin of life, the theory of evolution encourages the renewing of the question, thereby promoting the search for more knowledge about the most intriguing phenomena in the universe – the phenomenon of life.

Dog was dragged behind an ATV

reporter 04/10/2004

A pet psychic has been called into the case of Shadow, the Lincoln-area dog dragged behind an all-terrain vehicle and burned with cigarettes late last month. The dog survived and is recuperating from her injuries.

Meanwhile, the reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the animal-abuse case was raised to $10,000 Friday, with the Humane Society of the United States pitching in an additional $2,500 toward the steadily growing fund.

"That'll buy somebody a new car," said animal lover Crystal Shear, of near Milton.

Shear has followed Shadow's story in the news and contacted pet psychic Diane Roadcap to see whether the psychic could help. Roadcap lives in Springfield, Va., but also has a summer house in Lewes and has given psychic readings at animal-related events in the area.

"I know some people who would say, 'Yeah, right,' " Shear said of the psychic. "But it's amazing the things she tells you that she couldn't have known."

Shear said she contacted Rob Wolhar's family, who adopted Shadow from the Milton Animal Rescue League, to suggest they send a photo of the dog to Roadcap so she could work with the image to help determine who abused their pet.

"We're curious what will come of it. It's worth a try," said Angela Frabizzio, Wolhar's fiancée, who has heard from Roadcap with a message.

"She gave us a call yesterday and said she had a feeling it was somebody between the ages of 14 and 17," said Frabizzio, alluding to the animal abuser.

full story:


Don't Listen to Those Pesky Scientists

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@AOL.COM

Why science adviser John Marburger's defense of the Bush administration's science policies fails.

Chris Mooney; April 8, 2004

Well, John Marburger has gone and done it. In an action that will probably come to define his tenure as presidential science adviser, he's released a detailed report attempting to debunk highly publicized charges by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) that Bush administration has systematically abused science. Marburger's report is labeled a "Response to Congress," so I doubt we've heard the last of this matter.

As I've argued previously, Marburger had little chance of succeeding in this attempted rebuttal. And sure enough, now that we can read the document that his office has produced, it clearly leaves a great deal to be desired.

To Read more of this column visit: www.csicop.org and


PBS "Secrets of the Dead" Buries the Truth About Turin Shroud

From Barry Karr SkeptInq@AOL.COM

Friday, April 9, 2004

Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

Although science and scholarship have demonstrated that the Shroud of Turin is a medieval fake, die-hard shroud enthusiasts continue to claim otherwise. Just in time for Easter 2004 viewing, a PBS television documentary that aired Wednesday, April 7, gave them a forum to state their conviction that the image on the cloth is a first-century picture--miraculous or otherwise--of Jesus' crucified body.

As part of the Secrets of the Dead series, the "Shroud of Christ?" presentation was a study in pseudoscience, faulty logic, and the suppression of historical facts. Omitted were mention of the contrary gospel evidence, the reported forger's confession, and the microanalytical analyses that showed the "blood" and "body" images were rendered in tempera paint. Unsubstantiated claims were presented as fact, and the radiocarbon results--which dated the cloth to the time of the forger's confession--were treated in straw-man fashion: presented as virtually the sole impediment to authenticity.

Knowledgeable skeptics were avoided. Instead, viewers were subjected to the astonishingly absurd notion of an art historian named Nicholas Allen that the image was "the world's first photograph." (The technique was supposedly invented to make a fake shroud and then conveniently lost for subsequent centuries!)

The intellectual incompetence or outright dishonesty of the show's producers is matched only by that of the PBS executives who foisted it on a credulous Easter-season audience.

The following facts are an antidote to that scientific and historical revisionism:

- The shroud contradicts the Gospel of John, which describes multiple cloths (including a separate "napkin" over the face), as well as "an hundred pound weight" of burial spices--not a trace of which appears on the cloth.

- No examples of the shroud linen's complex herringbone twill weave date from the first century, when burial cloths tended to be of plain weave in any case.

- The shroud has no known history prior to the mid-fourteenth century, when it turned up in the possession of a man who never explained how he had obtained the most holy relic in Christendom.

- The earliest written record of the shroud is a bishop's report to Pope Clement VII, dated 1389, stating that it originated as part of a faith-healing scheme, with "pretended miracles" being staged to defraud credulous pilgrims.

- The bishop's report also stated that a predecessor had "discovered the fraud and how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it" (emphasis added).

- Although, as St.Augustine lamented in the fourth century, Jesus' appearance was completely unknown, the shroud image follows the conventional artistic likeness.

- The physique is unnaturally elongated (like figures in Gothic art), and there is a lack of wrap-around distortions that would be expected if the cloth had enclosed an actual three-dimensional object like a human body. The hair hangs as for a standing, rather than reclining figure, and the imprint of a bloody foot is incompatible with the outstretched leg to which it belongs.

- The alleged blood stains are unnaturally picture-like. Instead of matting the hair, for instance, they run in rivulets on the outside of the locks. Also, dried "blood" (as on the arms) has been implausibly transferred to the cloth. The blood remains bright red, unlike genuine blood that blackens with age.

- In 1973, internationally known forensic serologists subjected the "blood" to a battery of tests-for chemical properties, species, blood grouping, etc. The substance lacked the properties of blood, instead containing suspicious, reddish granules.

- Subsequently, the distinguished microanalyst Walter McCrone identified the "blood" as red ocher and vermilion tempera paint and concluded that the entire image had been painted.

- In 1988, the shroud cloth was radiocarbon dated by three different laboratories (at Zurich, Oxford, and the University of Arizona). The results were in close agreement and yield a date range of A.D.1260-1390, about the time of the reported forger's confession.

Defenders of the shroud's authenticity have rationalizations for each damning piece of evidence. For example, they assert that microbial contamination might have altered the radiocarbon date, although for an error of thirteen centuries, there would have to be twice as much contamination by weight as the cloth itself! Beginning with the desired answer, they work backward to the evidence, picking and choosing and-all too often-engaging in pseudoscience.

In contrast, the scientific approach allows the preponderance of evidence to lead to a conclusion: the shroud is the work of a medieval artisan. The various pieces of the puzzle effectively interlock and corroborate each other. In the words of Catholic historian, Ulysse Chevalier, who brought to light the documentary evidence of the Shroud's medieval origin, "The history of the shroud constitutes a protracted violation so often condemned by our holy books: justice and truth." []

For more information on the Shroud of Turin and other allegedly miraculous images of Jesus of Nazareth, visit the new "Miraculous Self-Portraits of Jesus?" Feature Exhibit on the Skeptiseum (www.skeptiseum.org).

Joe Nickell, Ph.D. is CSICOP's Senior Research Fellow and an expert on the Shroud of Turin. He is author of Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (Prometheus 1983, 1998) and numerous articles, including "Blooming 'Shroud' Claims" (Skeptical Inquirer, Nov./Dec. 1999) and "Pollens on the 'Shroud': A Study in Deception" (Skeptical Inquirer Summer 1994).

Baffling 'demon' fires flare up again


Coastal town evacuated, electricity shut off but mystery unsolved

Posted: April 10, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com

A series of mysterious spontaneous fires some blame on demons have flared up again in a small Sicilian village.

The 39 residents of Canneto di Caronia were evacuated from the coastal town in January after regional authorities declared an emergency.

The fires have broken out in the residents' furniture and electrical devices – everything from refrigerators and televisions to washing machines and cell phones.

Electricity to the village has been cut off, but after a brief respite last month, the almost daily fires are back, reports Reuters.

Scientists, engineers, police and "ghostbusters" have searched far and wide for clues, but Mayor Pedro Spinnato says, "We're working in the dark. We don't have a single lead so far."

Spinnato added, according to Reuters, "Every time some new scientist comes to town, they arrive thinking the whole thing has been invented or that they're going to solve the mystery in two minutes. They've all been wrong."

Residents decided with the local priest, Don Antonio Cipriani, to allow the scientists to examine the fires, but a Catholic exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, told the Italian newspaper Il Messagero, "I've seen things like this before."

"Demons occupy a house and appear in electrical goods," he said. "... Let's not forget that Satan and his followers have immense powers."

In cases of demon behavior, the Vatican expert said, "it is normal for domestic appliances to be involved and for demons [to] make their presence known via electricity."

Reuters said the head of the Committee for the Control of Paranormal Claims has ruled out demons or poltergeists for the time being.

"The fact that the phenomenon occurs only when there are people present makes it hard to believe that it is a natural, or even supernatural phenomenon," the committee's Massimo Polidoro said. "But we don't exclude further investigation if things aren't eventually explained."

Spinnato, the mayor, is sounding desperate for an answer, according to Reuters.

"Someone wrote to us saying the solution was to sacrifice a black goat and collect its blood," he said. "At some point, that's going to start looking like a good idea."


What's New

From Robert Park at http://www.aps.org/WN/index.cfm


Among the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted, the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act exempted suppliers of natural supplements from the need to prove safety, efficacy, or purity http://www.aps.org/WN/WN02/wn081602.cfm . The FDA can take a supplement off the market if it's found to be harmful, but has succeeded in doing so only one time, after a celebrity died http://www.aps.org/WN/WN04/wn010204.cfm . In a new report, the Institute of Medicine urges that the law be changed to improve the process. But the supplement industry wields enormous power; a bill to expand the FDA's authority is stalled in conference.


Two months ago, a group of 60 very prominent scientists charged the administration with manipulating the science advisory process http://www.aps.org/WN/WN04/wn022004.cfm . The response of the White House was to eject two advocates of stem cell research from the Council on Bioethics. John Marburger, OSTP Director, was given the task of belittling the statement of the scientists http://www.aps.org/WN/WN04/wn030504.cfm . Last Friday, Marburger issued a detailed rebuttal of the scientists' statement, but there will surely be a rebuttal to the rebuttal. On climate change, for example, the scientists charged that the Bush administration consistently sought to mislead the public on the scientific consensus that human activity has led to warming. In denying this, Marburger quotes the President's Rose Garden speech in which he acknowledged that human activity has resulted in an increase in CO2 concentrations. But in fact, he refrained from making the connection between CO2 concentration and warming.

Too much spirit kills sorcerer


From correspondents in Colombo, Sri Lanka
April 10, 2004

A SRI Lankan magician killed himself during a black magic ritual to harness evil forces after he was overwhelmed by the spirits he had drunk, rather than those he was trying to cast spells on, a press report said today.

The 71-year-old man had used his full force to dash a coconut on the ground as part of the ritual on behalf of a customer, but lost his balance and ended up hooked on the trident, a weapon of Hindu gods, the Sinhalese-language Lankadeepa said.

The paper quoted the victim's son as saying he had been drunk at the time.

Doctors said his death last week was due to excessive bleeding and shock.

Agence France-Presse

Friday, April 09, 2004

Shroud of Turin remains cloaked in uncertainty

"Secrets of the Dead" implies that we may never know if Jesus actually was wrapped in the cloth



The Shroud of Turin has been the subject of several fascinating but frustrating documentaries. Add tonight's episode of "Secrets of the Dead" to the list.

The surprise here is that it is a chapter in the PBS series that has featured so many amazing stories, including how the Zulus were able to erase the Thin Red Line at Isandhlwana, what really destroyed the Hindenburg and who really were the first Europeans in America.

Each "Secrets" program ends with a firm answer and a sense that an old or even ancient question has been answered,

Not so with "Shroud of Christ?" The question of whether it is the cloth that wrapped Jesus is nowhere near an answer, and the script implies that we will never know. But it also leaves the sense that more analysis and lab work could supply a better answer than we have now.

The shroud is a cloth that showed up circa 1350 bearing the imprint of a man from head to toe, front and back, as if it had been folded over the corpse of a man who had been flogged and crucified with nails. The image is faint but clear enough that the shroud has been venerated for centuries. In the late 1800s a photographer shot it and discovered that his glass negative seemed to be a positive slide. The impression on the shroud appeared to be a negative image.

"Shroud" summarizes the cloth's history and updates us on the continuing analysis and research. The shroud has been on display at times for long periods, but it has been shut away under guard for long periods. Systematic scientific study was prevented until less than a quarter century ago. When a sample from a corner of the shroud was carbon dated in 1988, the results showed that the cloth originated in about 1290 at the earliest. Some true believers were devastated.

Later studies indicate that the shroud could be about 2,000 years old, but they require setting aside the carbon dating. Anyway, a corner was the wrong place to sample, some say. Various substances absorbed through fingerprints and other soilings could have skewed the carbon dating test. Meanwhile, various properties of the shroud suggest that it is indeed 2,000 years old.

"Shroud" does not deal with several issues, including the charge that the group formally analyzing the shroud squeezed out scientists who did not favor a decision that the shroud was genuinely Christ's winding sheet. Nor does it get into the frauds of Dmitri Kouznetsov in trying to "save the shroud" in the late '90s, as reported in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Several of those working on the shroud project candidly favor the case that the shroud was Christ's winding sheet.

But even a scientist who believes the shroud is genuine will put it no more strongly than that. He tells the camera he believes it is real but also believes it can never be proved conclusively. Others say they feel they have proved that the cloth is 2,000 years old and that the carbon dating has become irrelevant. Nothing in the documentary suggests that a sample will be taken from a better part of the shroud for another carbon dating test. Obviously, shroud custodians don't want the relic snipped to pieces. Even so, another carbon dating seems required.

Theories of how the image was created run the gamut. One researcher explains why it could be a photograph and how it could have been made in the 1300s. Another believes that the image was created when Christ rose from the dead and ascended through the cloth. Clearly, more study is needed.

Why? Another program or series could be devoted to that question. Any scientific riddle should be solved, if possible. But few are as heavily freighted with emotion as this.

The shroud can be seen as a battlefield on which science and religion clash and yet must coexist. Some of the faithful yearn for science to prove that Christ lay in this cloth. Some skeptics would like science to prove that the shroud is a quaint artifact or fraud concocted in the late 1200s.

In the end, though, it's hard to believe that a guaranteed final answer would affect faith much. Faith is, after all, a willingness to believe what can't be proved. No agnostic is likely to fall in worship should the shroud be proved genuine. And no believer is likely to abandon religion simply because of a Middle Ages prankster.

Ted Mahar: 503-221-8228; tedmahar@news.oregonian.com.

Runestone takes some more lumps


Peg Meier, Star Tribune
April 8, 2004

Scholars who believe the Kensington Runestone is a 19th-century prank -- and not concrete evidence that Norsemen beat Columbus to America by 100-plus years -- say they have found the smoking gun to prove it.

The latest in the century-old Minnesota controversy came in documents written in 1885 by an 18-year-old Swedish tailor named Edward Larsson. He sometimes wrote in runes -- an ancient Scandinavian language that differs from the English alphabet. But Larsson's runes were not the usual runes used over the centuries.

The scholars contend that parts of his documents seem to be written in a secret runic alphabet used by tradesmen in Sweden in the late 1800s, rather like codes that tramps have used over time to leave secret messages for each other.

Swedish linguists happened upon Larsson's documents recently and found that his writing corresponds to pieces of the Kensington Runestone inscription. They say that the journeymen's code did not exist in medieval times, when the Kensington Runestone is purported to have been carved.

"My opinion is this once again nails down the case against the Kensington Runestone," said Michael Michlovic, professor of anthropology and chairman of the Department of Anthropology and Earth Science at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

"This new evidence is really devastating. It comes unexpectedly and from a collection of old letters that have nothing to do with the Kensington Runestone."

The Runestone's origin has been hotly debated in Minnesota and beyond since 1898. It was then that a Swedish-American farmer named Olof Ohman said he found a large stone tablet wrapped in the roots of a poplar tree. The tree was in his farm field at Kensington, near Alexandria, Minn. A runic inscription on the stone describes a massacre of 10 members of an exploration party of Swedes and Norwegians in central Minnesota in the year 1362.

For more than a century, nonbelievers in the inscription's authenticity have said Ohman or his friends carved it as a joke on scholars.

Meanwhile, advocates insist that the Runestone proves that Nordic explorers were in west-central Minnesota in 1362.

Believers in the stone's authenticity say the new evidence doesn't harm their case. Scott Wolter is a St. Paul geologist who has extensively studied the stone. The inscription has weathered for more than 200 years, his research shows, and therefore the stone could not have been carved by jokesters in the late 1800s. Wolter said the skeptics' reliance on the Larsson documents is "another example of people making snap decisions. They've made up their minds and went looking for evidence for it."

The missing link?

The Kensington Runestone was displayed at a museum in Stockholm, Sweden, last fall and examined there by scholars.

Meanwhile, Tryggve Skold of Finland, a retired professor of Scandinavian languages who had studied Larsson's papers, heard a radio interview about the Runestone. Intrigued, he compared Larsson's runes with those on the Kensington stone.

"The resemblance was striking," said Henrik Williams, a runic specialist in Sweden, in an e-mail making the rounds among Runestone skeptics.

Williams previously had been on the fence about whether the Runestone was really carved by Norsemen. The odd runes had puzzled him. In his assessment, he stated that earlier he repeatedly had ruled out the likelihood of finding a missing link to explain them. "Boy, was I wrong," he wrote, insisting the missing link surfaced in the Larsson papers.

Following the journeyman system of the time, Larsson had walked around Sweden to train with master tailors. He was a musician, and most of his papers were handwritten music scores, but he also left books, letters, farm documents and pictures. The runes are his copies of alphabets -- worksheets more than letters. His family donated the collection to a Swedish linguistics and folklore institute.

Quite a showpiece

To Williams, it is inconceivable that the runes on the rock in Minnesota could have survived in Sweden for 500 years with little variation; languages live and change over time. However, Williams said, it is very likely that some kind of secret runes were known in the late 1800s both to Larsson and to Ohman and other Swedish immigrants to Minnesota.

Williams wrote that he can't say for sure who carved the Kensington stone, but claimed it certainly wasn't created in the 1300s.

To Williams, Alexandria may no longer bill itself as "the birthplace of America," but the Runestone Museum in Alexandria "still possesses a remarkable showpiece. ... Although I personally have to admit a certain feeling of loss at the realization that the mystery of the Kensington Runestone is solved, I am also glad to have learned so much in the process and to have gotten to know so many nice people. I realize that not everyone will be convinced we have reached the solution, but in my mind this matter is resolved."

To Michael Michlovic at MSU Moorhead, the charm of the Runestone remains. He finds it incredible that Ohman, a largely self-taught immigrant, created a hoax that has lived for almost 106 years.

While he has no doubts the rock was carved in the 1800s, not the 1300s, Michlovic guesses that believers won't give up.

"Proof has been established before," he said. In 1977, it was revealed that a friend of Ohman's announced on his deathbed in the 1920s that the inscription was a hoax. "That didn't convince people," Michlovic said. And two years ago a book by the Smithsonian Institution forthrightly stated that the Runestone is "universally considered a hoax by scholars today."

Stay tuned, Michlovic said. There's bound to be more coming.

In cloning debate, a compromise

from the April 08, 2004 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0408/p14s01-stct.html

By Gregory M. Lamb | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

While the United States debates whether marriage is limited to one man and one woman, a presidential panel has waded into an equally controversial area with a reasonable-sounding proposal.

Procreation should be limited the same way: to a sperm and an egg.

By spelling it out in a report last week, the President's Council on Bioethics has offered liberals and conservatives a potential way out in their contentious debate over human cloning and research.

Its ban on reproductive cloning would appease religious conservatives somewhat. But by not extending the ban to include cloning research, the proposal could also win over scientists and other supporters of medical research. The recommendation from the panel, appointed by President Bush, who opposes all forms of human cloning, comes as a surprise to many.

"One can say, at the very least, that [council members have made] a distinction between two types of cloning," says Dr. Laurie Zoloth, professor of medical humanities and bioethics and religion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "And that's a positive element of this report - that one type [of cloning] should be banned now and that one type shouldn't."

That separation represents something of a milestone. For years, cloning has pitted religious conservatives against medical researchers. Conservatives view all human embryos as life and, thus, oppose research that destroys them. Medical researchers, on the other hand, see the stem cells that embryos provide as promising avenues to cure some of humanity's most intractable diseases.

That debate has stalled a political solution. Measures to ban cloning for the purpose of human reproduction have passed the US House but remain bottled up in the Senate. In many respects, the deadlock resembles the political stalemate over in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

"The federal government and Congress hate getting anywhere near this area [IVF]," says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "As soon as they do, they find themselves immersed in the abortion wars. And that's why for 20 years, they haven't [regulated the field]."

The new proposal may break the impasse because a ban on cloning for human reproduction enjoys wide support across the political spectrum and from scientists. In calling for it, the council for the first time separates the issue from a ban on so-called therapeutic cloning, which aims to use embryonic stem cells - very early-stage human embryos - for medical research. The report does not endorse therapeutic cloning, noting that the council members themselves differ strongly on the subject. But, significantly, it remains silent.

The report also calls for a ban on the use of embryos more than 10 to 14 days old, implicitly acknowledging the existence of embryonic stem-cell research, which typically involves embryos no more than five or six days old. "It's a concession I'm surprised to see them make," Dr. Caplan says. "The 14-day discussion may signal the start of a reconsideration of the [council's] stem-cell policy."

It's an important recognition that "something biological happens" at the 14-day point, which biologists recognize as the time when an embryo must either be implanted in a womb or frozen, or it will die, adds Dr. Jane Maienschein, director of the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University in Tempe. That seems to represent a "softening" of the position of those on the council who see the embryo as a human life from its outset, she says.

The ban on reproductive cloning appears as a recommendation in a report on IVF - so-called test-tube babies - issued April 1.

More than 1 million children have been born using IVF techniques in the 25 years since the technology has been in general use. The council's report suggests legislation to ban certain IVF techniques as new reproductive technologies and possibilities come onto the horizon.

It calls for federally funded studies to better determine the long-term health and development of children born using "assisted reproductive technologies," and to study the health and well-being of women who bear these children. It also calls for better data about the costs and success rates of infertility clinics and for stronger oversight by professional societies of doctors and scientists involved in the field.

The council was created in January 2002 by President Bush to advise government and the public about the ethical issues raised by biotech research.

"We view this report as a first step in a continuing national conversation," said Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of the council, in a statement accompanying the report. Though members have "strongly held yet divergent views" on issues the council confronts, Dr. Kass says, "this report demonstrates that ... practical ways forward can be found, even while serious disagreements remain."

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, a cell biologist at the University of California at San Francisco, was one of two members of the 18-member council dismissed by the White House earlier this year after serving for two years.

She subsequently issued a strong condemnation of the council's workings, and, in particular, its failure to endorse embryonic stem-cell research. In a Washington Post essay, she described the appointment of three new council members as representing "a loss of balance in the council, both professionally and philosophically" and "a hardening and narrowing of views" among its members. Dr. Blackburn declined to comment on the new report.

While Caplan applauds the council's call for regulation of IVF, he faults it for not advocating the creation of an "oversight board" to administer the needed research and regulations. Without enforcement, he says, "these calls for bans are going nowhere."

"I think things are changing in that debate" over stem-cell research, Caplan adds, noting growing interest in therapeutic stem-cell research.

Last month, a Harvard University biologist, Douglas Melton, announced he would make available to researchers 17 new embryonic stem-cell lines - free of charge - that go beyond the limited number authorized for use by the federal government, disqualifying his research from federal funding.

Harvard is also establishing a privately funded stem-cell institute. Last week, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston announced that an anonymous donor had given it $25 million to boost its embryonic stem-cell research program. And states such as New Jersey are expressing a willingness to fund stem-cell research as well.

"Maybe the council realizes that in terms of realpolitik that's the way things are going," Caplan says, "although they've been absolutely opposed up to this point." It may realize "this could easily turn into a campaign issue, with Kerry saying I want research, and Bush saying I don't," he says. "And that's a position I don't think Bush wants to be in on this one."

In one of several personal statements accompanying the council report, a group of five members struck a sanguine tone: "We believe that this language provides a way for Congress to ban reproductive cloning while agreeing to disagree on the question of cloning for biomedical research," they said.

Copyright © 2004 The Christian Science Monitor

State's rice farmers fear biotech incursion

Proposal for genetically engineered crop could threaten lucrative foreign markets

Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2004
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle


Delevan, Colusa County -- Joe Carrancho isn't particularly fond of environmentalists or their rules that he feels have made it harder for him to be a rice farmer over the past 40 years. He's a duck-hunting, self-made immigrant with a photo of President Bush by his desk, and he wants to be left alone to farm.

But with a Sacramento biotechnology company proposing to plant the nation's first commercial crop that's genetically engineered to produce a medicine, Carrancho and others like him in the Davis-to-Chico rice belt are standing with the environmentalists.

The 61-year-old with the catcher's-mitt hands worries that if California becomes the latest battleground in the nation's war over genetically modified organisms, the only loser will be the state's $500 million rice market.

To farmers who live at the mercy of nature and the world markets, the problem with genetically engineered rice has less to do with its science and more with its public perception. And if a batch of conventional rice is found to contain the genetically engineered variety by mistake, some foreign markets could shun California rice.

Carrancho said he and environmentalists "may be apart on some issues, but on this one we're together."

California exports 40 percent of its rice to Japan, which has among the world's strictest policies regarding genetically engineered food. And even though the rice grown by the Sacramento company, Ventria Bioscience, would be required to be planted far from California's rice belt, milled in separate facilities and trucked in separate vehicles, Carrancho doesn't want to take the risk that that all those regulations will be lost in translation.

"If the Japanese have the perception -- underline perception -- that our rice has (genetically modified organisms) in it, then we're done," said Carrancho, a past president of the Rice Producers of California. "You can put a bullet in our head."

Ventria Bioscience wants to grow a rice plant with a seed that contains human proteins usually found in breast milk and tears; the company has been testing the product in small plots for several years. The proteins developed in the seed of a rice plant could be used to create a medicine used to combat anemia and diarrhea, among the world's leading causes of death for children under 5.

Because plants can replicate the proteins 30 times cheaper than traditional laboratory methods, Ventria officials contend that genetically engineered rice could go a long way toward creating affordable medicines to combat the worldwide health problem.

Last week, a California Rice Commission advisory panel narrowly approved a protocol for growing what's been dubbed "pharm rice" in 10 Southern California counties from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. California's secretary of agriculture has until May 1 to approve an emergency request by Ventria Bioscience to plant the rice in time for this year.

A state Agricultural Department spokesman said the agency could make a decision within days, but the company still must receive federal approval before proceeding. While farmers in Northern California's rice belt will begin planting in the next few weeks, seeding can begin as late as this summer in the warmer southern regions.

But passions around genetically engineered rice are boiling. Sitting in the office near his farm this week, Carrancho read aloud parts of the protocol that were developed over the past year. He shook his head.

"This is probably the most stringent protocol I've ever seen," he conceded. "And it's not enough."

The worst-case scenario, for Carrancho and the rest of the state's 2,200 rice farmers, is that Japan goes elsewhere for its rice imports.

On Wednesday, Tsutomu Matsumoto, Japan's consul in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry, told The Chronicle in a written statement: "Concerning California's (genetically engineered) rice production issue, Japanese consumers have a serious concern in regards to food safety. For this reason, Japanese rice retailers' association and consumer groups plan to submit a public comment to the California Department of Food and Agriculture" within a few days.

Rice farmers such as Greg Massa, a Colusa County grower who has a master's degree in biology, doesn't believe there's a legitimate scientific reason for the rush to approve the genetically engineered crop. He's not opposed to such rice just because of the public perception; he's worried about the science of growing pharmaceutical products in farm crops.

"Why not take more time to examine this?" Massa said, "because there is absolutely no benefit to anyone to rush into this."

But some California farmers don't have a big problem with genetically engineered rice. Charley Matthews, a third-generation rice farmer around Yuba City, initially was wary of the proposal when he reviewed it as a member of the Rice Commission's advisory panel.

"What changed my mind was that it would be grown hundreds of miles away," Matthews said. If the proposal is approved, he said, "you will get a market reaction. Now, we just have to explain it to all of our customers."

And to a lot of farmers, too. Ronald Lee, president of the Rice Producers of California, wants to hold town meetings so more farmers can learn about the issue, especially since two other companies are readying proposals to bring genetically engineered rice to California, perhaps by next year.

"There's a learning curve here for producers," said Lee, who farms in Colusa County. "Some have some knowledge. Some have very little. We're entering new territory here."

Much of the scientific questions differ over how easily the genetically engineered seed could be spread -- and possibly contaminate non-genetically engineered rice. Rice is a self-pollinating plant, so its seed is less likely to be spread as widely as say, corn.

Ventria officials said such "outcrossing" wouldn't happen over more than 30 feet. Opponents point to studies that say contamination from other genetically engineered crops is already widespread.

The dispute is causing some to wonder why Ventria is asking for an emergency status on its proposal. The company did not respond to requests for an interview.

"What is the emergency that this has to be done immediately?" asked Jane Rissler, a senior staff scientist and deputy director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.

She wants to see several "third-party" scientists examine the proposal instead of those on the Rice Commission advisory board. "This is too important, too precedent-setting, to rush through without more public input," she said.

Ventria Bioscience officials have said previously that the months that the Rice Commission panel, composed of farmers, academics and industry representatives, spent in developing the protocol provided ample public input.

"There has been an exhaustive process to keep the two kinds of rice separate," said Ann Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the California Rice Commission.

E-mail Joe Garofoli at jgarofoli@sfchronicle.com.

©2004 San Francisco Chronicle

Evolution Website Encourages Promotion of 'Religious Darwinism'


By Jim Brown
April 7, 2004

(AgapePress) - A Seattle-based think tank is expressing outrage over an effort to promote "religious Darwinism" in public schools.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the University of California Museum of Paleontology have spent nearly half-a-million dollars in federal money to create a website to help teachers better teach the theory of evolution. Part of that website, called "Understanding Evolution," encourages teachers to explicitly use religion to endorse evolution.

Dr. John West with the Discovery Institute is hopeful the government will investigate the function and funding of the website because, in his opinion, it is unconstitutional.

"This is clearly a violation of existing precedents dealing with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," West says. "The government isn't supposed to be promoting theology, let alone in the science classroom. You can have an objective and neutral discussion of religious beliefs, but that's not what they're advocating here."

West wonders what the use of religion as an approach to teaching evolution has to do with science education. "What business is it of the government to tell students what their religious beliefs about evolution should be?" he asks.

"It's one thing to teach the science of evolution, but to use tax funds to encourage teachers to use religion to endorse evolution? This website actually contains a link to 16 pages of theological statements endorsing evolution, including one from the United Church of Christ "

West says the NCSE once advocated that teachers send out their biology students to interview local ministers to show them that most ministers think evolution is okay.

Evolution Disclaimer Causes Ruckus
Meanwhile, a federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit against a Georgia school district's practice of posting disclaimers inside science textbooks saying evolution is "a theory, not a fact." In ordering the suit to go to trial, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper said the Cobb County schools' disclaimer could have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.

An attorney for the parents who filed the suit told Associated Press they are "very excited" about the ruling. The lawsuit argues that the disclaimer restricts the teaching of evolution, promotes and requires the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions.

The theory of evolution -- accepted by most scientists -- says evidence shows current species of life evolved over time from earlier forms and that natural selection determines which species survive. Creationism credits the origin of species to God.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution.

© 2004 AgapePress

For Agape Press info. contact editor@agapepress.org

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