Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
by Dr Rupert Sheldrake
Reproduced from The Skeptic Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 8-13 (2004)
The Skeptic editorial introduction:
Following David Marks' article on the subject of unseen staring and the ESP ability of pets (see The Skeptic 16.3), we now hear Rupert Sheldrake's radical views on these topics. Needless to say, Marks and Sheldrake vehemently disagree. For example, Sheldrake thinks that not only is the claim that people - and animals - can tell when they are being stared at by unseen others true, but that it may have an evolutionary basis, because prey animals that could detect when a predator is looking at them would have a better chance of survival than animals that did not. Do Sheldrake's and Marks' fundamental differences of opinion derive from the different disciplines they trained in? Is it possibly the case that Sheldrake is even more sceptical than the sceptics? Whatever the answers to these questions are, Sheldrake is certainly a stern iconoclast.
The Need For Open-Minded Scepticism:
A Reply to David Marks
David Marks' comments on my research on staring and on return-anticipating dogs are shortened versions of Chapters 8 and 9 of his book The Psychology of the Psychic (2000). They were outdated and misleading when they were first published, and three years later are even more so.
In his book Marks quantified his subjective estimate of the reality of various "paranormal" phenomena as "infinitesimally low" (p. 306). The chapters of his book resemble a series of show trials in which a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion; the only question is on what grounds the apparent evidence is to be condemned. He tells us he wrote the book "in the hope that the fantasies, fictions and figments of the paranormal, cleverly disguised as facts, will in future be seen for the impostors that they are" (p. 19).
Marks is a very unreliable guide to research in these areas. He treats the questions he writes about as irritating distractions from what he calls Urgent and Serious Problems, and is impatient with the factual details. He does not seem to have read the relevant papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, and disregards evidence that does fit in with his beliefs.
The sense of being stared at
As Marks pointed out, several surveys have shown that the majority of people claim to have detected when they were being stared at by unseen others. This is not an "exceptional experience", but appears to be quite common; it is not paranormal but normal, in the sense that happens quite commonly to ordinary people, and also to many species of animals (Sheldrake, 2003). I think its evolutionary basis may lie in relations between predators and prey. Prey animals that detect when a predator is staring and escape would tend to survive better than animals that did not.
My experiments on the sense of being stared at have given consistent positive and highly significant results, and have now been widely replicated. Anyone interested can try this simple experiment using the instructions on my web site ( www.sheldrake.org).
There is also a growing body of evidence from a parallel stream of research using closed circuit television (CCTV), that people can unconsciously detect when they are being looked at on a TV monitor by an observer in a remote location, as measured by changes in skin resistance. This work has replicated in several different labs (for a recent review, see Delanoy, 2001). I return to a discussion of some recent CCTV research below.
In my own tests, people work in pairs. One serves as the starer, the other as the subject. In a randomized series of trials, the starer either looks at the back of the neck of a subject, or looks away and thinks of something else. The subject then guesses whether he or she is being looked at. The subject is either right or wrong. By chance, 50 per cent of guesses would be correct.
In the looking trials, the scores are generally positive and highly significant, around 60 per cent correct, while in the not-looking trials they are at chance levels (Figure 1A). These results have been replicated in many trials in schools and universities (Sheldrake, 2002).
Similar results were obtained whether or not the subjects were given feedback (Sheldrake, 1998, 1999a, 2000a, 2001a) and also in trials conducted through closed windows and at distances up to 100m, eliminating auditory or olfactory cues (Sheldrake, 2000a). The same pattern of results was obtained using coin-tossing for randomization (Sheldrake, 1998, 1999a), and with randomized instruction sheets prepared in advance (Sheldrake, 1999a, 2000a, 2001a).
These results are consistent with the reality of a sense of being stared at. Such a sense would be expected to work when people are in fact being stared at. But it would not be expected to work in not-looking trials. We do not have a sense of NOT being stared at; subjects would just be guessing under these conditions; results at chance levels would be expected.
This pattern of results argues against explanations in terms of subtle cues or cheating, which would lead to an elevation of scores in BOTH types of trial. This pattern of results thus provides internal evidence against the subtle cue and cheating hypotheses.
Following methods similar to my own, Marks's colleague John Colwell and his associates (Colwell, Schröder & Sladen, 2000) obtained the same pattern of results that I and others have found (Figure 1B).
FIGURE 1. A. Results from staring trials conducted by Sheldrake and others in Europe and the United States (data from Table 5, Sheldrake, 1999a). There were 13,900 trials altogether; for the totals, p < 1 x 10-15. B. Results from staring trials conducted by Colwell et al. (data from Table 1, Colwell et al., 2000, for trials with feedback). There were 2,160 trials altogether; for the totals, p < 0.001.
Marks (2000) and Marks & Colwell (2000) were faced with the problem of explaining why these findings replicated my own. They speculated that subjects might have learned implicitly to recognize patterns in the randomized sequences used in their trials. These particular counterbalanced sequences were downloaded from the New Scientist web site, and were the same as some of those I used in some of my own trials. They proposed that because these sequences deviated from "structureless" randomizations, subjects who were given feedback could have learned implicitly to detect patterns in the sequences, thus enabling them to guess at above-chance levels. They announced their hypothesis as if it were a fact in the title of their article in the Skeptical Inquirer : "The psychic staring effect: An artifact of pseudo randomization."
This Marks-Colwell hypothesis is fatally flawed for four reasons:
1.Marks (2000) and Marks and Colwell (2000) were apparently unaware that their implicit learning hypothesis had already been refuted by thousands of trials involving structureless randomizations (Sheldrake, 1998, 1999). where implicit learning would have been impossible. In addition, a computerized staring experiment has been running at the New Metropolis Science Museum in Amsterdam since 1996, and more than 18,500 subjects have taken part. A program in the computer provides structureless randomizations for the sequence of looking and not-looking trials. The results are positive and astronomically significant statistically.
2.The implicit learning hypothesis has been refuted by thousands of trials with no feedback, with the usual pattern of positive and highly significant results (Sheldrake, 2000a). Implicit learning depends on feedback, and hence cannot explain these results.
3.. If implicit learning led to positive scores in looking trials, then it should also have done so in not-looking trials. But it did not (Figure 1). Why not? Marks did not mention this problem; perhaps he hoped his readers would not notice it.
4.In Colwell et al.'s experiment, the same subjects took part in nine successive 20-trial sessions with feedback. There was a statistically significant learning effect in successive sessions, but only in the looking trials, not in the not-looking trials. This is consistent with the subjects learning to detect stares more effectively. But such learning would not have been possible in the trials I conducted. Each subject was tested only once, in a single 20-trial session, and hence the learning hypothesis cannot account for the experimental data shown in Figure 1A.
In an attempt to support the implicit learning hypothesis, Colwell and his colleagues did a second experiment, with a different person doing the staring. This time they used "structureless" randomizations.
As they expected, the result was non-significant. Marks and Colwell jumped to the conclusion that this was due to the different randomization method. They did not mention the change of starer. In the first experiment the starer was a graduate student with a sympathetic interest in the sense of being stared at; in the second the starer was one of Colwell's colleagues.
Unfortunately, the design of this experiment was confounded. Two variables were changed at once: there was both a different randomization method, and a different starer.
This is no mere quibble. It is already known that starers differ in their effectiveness. In a series of tests on the sense of being stared at using closed circuit television, Richard Wiseman and Marilyn Schlitz (1997), Schlitz obtained statistically significant positive results, in accordance with her previous findings. By contrast, when Wiseman, a sceptic, conducted the experiments and served as starer, the results were not significant.
Such experimenter effects are not symmetrical. The failure of the subjects to detect Wiseman's stares implies only that Wiseman was an ineffective starer, or that his negative expectations, influenced the subjects' responses, or both. By contrast, the detection of Schlitz's stares by the participants implies the existence of an unexplained sensitivity to stares.
Wiseman's negative expectations influenced the way he looked at the subjects. He himself said that he found it "an enormously boring experience" and that in most of the trials he was "pretty passive about it" (Watt, Wiseman & Schlitz, 2002). In addition, he may have influenced the expectations of the subjects at the University of Hertfordshire, where he works. At the time of this experiment, he was already well-know nationally through many TV and radio appearances, and in addition was often featured in the local Hertfordshire media. Most, if not all, of the subjects must have known of his reputation as a leading media sceptic, and been aware of his negative expectations.
Finally, Marks nor Colwell has shown any interest in testing their implicit learning hypothesis, only in publicising it. They could have examined their own data to see if subjects really did score more positively after particular patterns occurred in the sequences of looking and not-looking trials. Apparently they have not done so. I asked Colwell for his data so that I could test their hypothesis myself. He refused to let me see them. I then asked Marks but he has not replied to my repeated requests.
I pointed out the fundamental problems with Marks's argument in the Skeptical Inquirer (Sheldrake, 2001b). He and Colwell responded by saying that the change of starer was "a complete red herring", and resorted to rhetorical blustering instead of reasoned argument (Marks and Colwell, 2001).
Now, two years later, Marks is recycling his original claims unchanged, in his usual polemical style. This is lazy propaganda, not science. A paper as sloppy as this would be rejected by any self-respecting peer-reviewed journal. I assume Marks works to higher standards in his own professional field.
Marks' account of research on return-anticipating dogs is equally misleading, and shows the same disregard for data that do not fit in with his beliefs.
Many pet owners claim that their dogs or cats know when a member of the family is returning and go to a door or window as if to wait for the person coming home. Sometimes the animals start waiting half an hour or more before the person arrives. These responses are said to occur even when people come home at unusual times, when no one at home knows when to expect them, and even when people travel in unfamiliar vehicles such as taxis (Sheldrake, 1999c).
I have carried out many trials with return-anticipating dogs, especially with Jaytee, a dog belonging to Pam Smart, in Ramsbottom, Lancashire. To start with, we recorded Jaytee's anticipatory behaviour on 100 occasions when Pam was absent for a wide range of times, some as short as an hour, others as long as long 12 hours. Jaytee anticipated her returns on 82 percent of these occasions, both with short and long absences (Sheldrake & Smart, 1998). He also anticipated her returns at least 10 minutes in advance when she was travelling in unfamiliar vehicles, such as taxis.
Subsequently, in a series of 100 videotaped trials, the place at which Jaytee waited by the window was filmed continuously on timecoded videotape throughout Pam's absences. These films were evaluated "blind" by independent scorers, who recorded all the times at which Jaytee was by the window. The data showed that he was waiting by the window very significantly more when Pam was on her way home from destinations at least 5 miles away than in the main period of her absence (Sheldrake & Smart, 2000a).
Marks suggested that the anticipatory behaviour of the Pam Smart's dog Jaytee could be explained by the dog learning when Pam could be expected home, and signalling accordingly. But if he had read our published papers he would have know that this hypothesis had already been refuted. Jaytee responded to Pam's homecomings after absences of very different durations. We tested for the possibility of learning effects by comparing Jaytee's behaviour after short, medium and long absences. His anticipatory behaviour was similar in all cases, ruling out the learning hypothesis (Sheldrake & Smart, 2000a, Figure 4).
Figure 4. The time courses of Jaytee's visits to the window during P.S.'s long, medium and short absences. The horizontal axis shows the series of 10-minute periods (p1, p2, etc.). The vertical axis shows the average number of seconds that Jaytee spent at the window in each 10-minute period.
Data for all 30 experiments are shown, as well as data for normal experiments after the exclusion of the seven noisy experiments. The last period shown on the graph represents the first 10 minutes of P.S.'s return journey (ret), the point for this is indicated by a filled circle of square. The bars show standard errors. When PS was returning in the short experiments in period 8, Jaytee was at the window a significantly higher proportion of the time than in period 8 of the medium and long duration experiments (by a factorial analysis of variance, p=0.004). Likewise, Jaytee spent a significantly higher proportion of the time at the window when Pam was on the way home in the medium experiments in period 11 than in period 11 of the long absences, when she would not be returning for more than another hour (p= 0.003).
Marks commented, "Why Sheldrake chose to use a pre-arranged bleep period that started between 80 and 170 minutes after PS had left is unclear." The reason was explained in the Methods section of the paper that Marks criticized but apparently did not read. There was an upper limit to how long these videotaped trial could run, owing to the duration of the videotapes themselves, which lasted for a maximum of 4 hours, using the long play setting on the camera. Nevertheless, within this limit, there was a wide variation in the times of Pam's absences, from 80 to 220 minutes.
The data Marks referred to (examined for him by John Colwell) were taken from a subset of 12 videotaped trials. In these data, there was no evidence for a learning effect. Readers can judge for themselves by looking at the results for all 12 trials (Figure 2, Sheldrake & Smart, 2000a).
Figure 2. The time courses form all 12 experiments in which P.S. came home at randomly selected times in response to being beeped. The ordinate shows the total number of seconds that Jaytee spent at the window in each 10-minute period, the abcissa the series of 10-minute periods defined in relation to the time at which P.S was beeped to come home. Data for all Jaytee's visits to the window, including irrelevant visits, are indicated by circles, and data from which irrelevant visits have been excluded are indicated by squares. The beep window is indicated by a line with two arrowheads, and this represents the period during which P.S could have received the signal to come home. Experiments with beeps in the first half of the beep window (early beeps) are on the left, and those with beeps in the second half of the beep window (late beeps) are on the right. The points for the 10-minute periods immediately following thebeep during which P.S was returning are indicated by filled circles or squares. The graphs show the duration of all Jaytee's visits to the window in each 10-minute period, both with and without the exclusion of irrelevant visits. In one of these experiments, Jaytee did not go to the window at all, but in all the others he was at the window for the highest proportion of the time when PS was on her way home.
We also tested the learning hypothesis in another way, by running a series of control trials in which Pam did not come home at all. According to Marks' hypothesis, Jaytee should have gone to wait at the window after a routine time had elapsed. He did not (Figure 5, Sheldrake & Smart, 2000a). Marks simply ignored this evidence, or did not take the trouble to read it.
Figure 5. Time sent by Jaytee by the window on evenngs when PS was not coming home. The first of the 30-10 minute periods was from 6:30 top 6:40p.m., the last form 9:50 to 10:00p.m. The figures shown are averages from 10 evenings. The bars show standard errors. Observations on Jaytee at PS's sister's house
Marks also based his case on a claim made by Richard Wiseman and his colleagues. At my invitation, Wiseman, Smith & Milton (1998) carried out four tests with Jaytee in 1995, using similar videotaped methods to my own.
In my own randomized tests, the dog was at the door an average of 4 per cent of the main period when his owner was absent, and 55 per cent during the first 10 minutes of her return journey (n = 12; p = 0.0001). In Wiseman et al.'s tests in the same location, which Marks thinks were better designed than ours, the respective figures were 4 per cent and 78 per cent (n = 3; p = 0.03) (Sheldrake, 1999b). Far from refuting the pattern of results that Smart and I observed, Wiseman et al. replicated it. But they wanted to debunk Jaytee's abilities. They ignored our data, and discarded most of their own to arrive at the conclusion they expected: Jaytee had failed their tests. They invented an arbitrary criterion by which to judge Jaytee. If he went briefly to the window before Pam set off for no apparent reason (as judged from the videotape), he had failed. These "failures" were part of the 4 per cent of the time Jaytee was at the window when Pam was absent. After these "failures", his waiting at the window when Pam was on the way home could be ignored, even though he was there for 78 per cent of the time.
Wiseman publicized this sceptical claim very widely through a press release, and in newspaper and TV interviews (Sheldrake, 1999b, 2000c; see also Wiseman, Smith & Milton, 2000). Marks repeated his claim uncritically, ignoring the actual data.
Jaytee is by no means unique. We have found similar patterns of return anticipation in other dogs. In a series of videotaped trials with a Rhodesian ridgeback, called Kane, the dog was at the window an average of 1 percent of the time during his owner's absence, and 26 percent of the time during the first 10 minutes of her homeward journey (n = 10, p = 0.0004; Sheldrake & Smart, 2000b).
I am a biologist, rather than a parapsychologist. I am convinced there is much we do not understand about living organisms. That is why I believe it is important to investigate phenomena such as the sense of being stared at and apparent telepathy in animals: we could learn more about animal nature and human nature by doing so. If forms of the sixth sense really exist, they are likely to have evolved in relation to biological needs, and to be widespread in the animal kingdom. To accept their existence would not involve the abandonment of science and reason, and the collapse of civilization as we know it; rather it would extend the scope of science and of evolutionary understanding.
By contrast, Marks claims that "a normal or 'N'-theory interpretation (NIE) has proved to be a perfectly adequate explanation making any form of paranormal or 'P'-theory interpretation (PIE) redundant or superfluous". But it is not enough merely to suggest an "NIE interpretation": such hypotheses need testing, and the ones Marks proposed have been refuted by the data. He is himself a good example of the "powerful effect of belief and selective attention".
Like Marks, I am a sceptic, but of a different kind. His scepticism is directed towards anything he regards as "paranormal", taking as normal that which lies within the limits of current scientific understanding. My scepticism is directed towards the assumption that we know enough to proclaim what is possible and what is not.
Colwell, J, Schröder, S, & Sladen, D. (2000) The ability to detect unseen staring: A literature review and empirical tests. British Journal of Psychology, 91, 71-85.
Delanoy. D. (2001) Anomalous psychophysiological responses to remote cognition: the DMILS studies. European Journal of Parapsychology, 16, 30-41.
Marks, D. (2000) The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd ed.) Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Marks, D. & Colwell, J. (2000) The psychic staring effect: An artifact of pseudo randomization. Skeptical Inquirer September/October, 41-9.
Marks, D. & Colwell, J. (2001) Fooling and falling into the feeling of being stared at. Skeptical Inquirer, March/April, 62-63.
Sheldrake, R. (1998) The sense of being stared at: Experiments in schools. Journal of the Society of Psychical Research, 62, 311-323.
Sheldrake, R. (1999a) The 'sense of being stared at' confirmed by simple experiments. Biology Forum, 92, 53-76.
Sheldrake, R. (1999b) Commentary on a paper by Wiseman, Smith and Milton on the 'psychic pet' phenomenon. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 63, 306-311.
Sheldrake, R. (1999c) Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. London: Hutchinson.
Sheldrake, R. (2000a) The 'sense of being stared at' does not depend on known sensory clues. Biology Forum, 93, 209-224.
Sheldrake, R. (2000b) The 'psychic pet' phenomenon. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 64, 126-128.
Sheldrake, R. (2001a) Experiments on the sense of being stared at: The elimination of possible artefacts. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 65, 122-137.
Sheldrake, R. (2001b) Research on the sense of being stared at Skeptical Inquirer, March/April, 58-61.
Sheldrake, R. (2002) Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (second edition). Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
Sheldrake, R. (2003) The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. London: Hutchinson.
Sheldrake, R. & Smart, P. (1998) A dog that seems to know when his owner is returning: Preliminary investigations. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 62, 220-232.
Sheldrake, R. & Smart, P. (2000a). A dog that seems to know when his owner is coming home: Videotaped experiments and observations. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14, 233-55.
Sheldrake, R. & Smart, P ( 2000b) Testing a return-anticipating dog, Kane. Anthrozoos, 13, 203-212.
Watt, C., Wiseman, R. & Schlitz, M. (2002) Tacit information in remote staring research: the Wiseman-Schlitz interviews. The Paranormal Review, 24, 18-25.
Wiseman, R. & Schlitz, M. (1997) Experimenter effects and the remote detection of staring. Journal of Parapsychology, 61, 197-207.
Wiseman, R., Smith, M. & Milton, J. (1998) Can animals detect when their owners are returning home? An experimental test of the 'psychic pet' phenomenon British Journal of Psychology, 89, 453-462.
Wiseman, R., Smith, M. & Milton, J. (2000) The 'psychic pet' phenomenon: A reply to Rupert Sheldrake. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 64, 46-49.
Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. is a biologist and author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and a Research Fellow of the Royal Society. His web site is www.sheldrake.org
The Telepathy Controversy at www.sheldrake.org
You've heard about water being turned into wine. But how about into gasoline?
After swindling 649 Christians out of 3.2 billion won ($2.8 million) by saying that with God's help they had created a machine that could convert water into fuel, two men were arrested and indicted yesterday by prosecutors. According to the authorities, the men, identified as Mr. Lee, 46, and Mr. Choi, 55, defrauded church members in Seoul, saying that the newly developed "water-energy technology" would make a fortune.
"We developed a machine that can use water instead of gasoline because of God," the two men told the churchgoers.
The prosecution said the two men demonstrated their technology in the churches. Each time, they first put liquefied petroleum gas into a small furnance and let the machine burn the gas for about 15 minutes.
They then stopped supplying gas and poured water into the machine, which appeared to continue burning, the prosecution said. The two men had actually installed solid fuel inside the furnance to make it appear that it could use water as fuel.
by Ko Ran, Min Seong-jae firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
A documentary on the Shroud of Turin suggests the cloth, a religious relic once believed to be the burial shroud of Christ, might be authentic, and some archaeologists are crying foul.
Experts have widely considered the 14-foot-long linen sheet, which has been kept since 1578 in a cathedral in Turin, Italy, a forgery since carbon-dating tests were performed in 1988. Those tests placed its origin at A.D.1300.
But Secrets of the Dead: Shroud of Christ (PBS, tonight, 8 ET/PT, check local listings), presents evidence that narrator Liev Schreiber says is "making it possible it was indeed the shroud of Christ":
• Textile historian Mechthild Flury-Lemberg suggests the cloth's weave resembles material from a first century A.D. ruin in Israel.
• Photographer Barrie Schwortz of 1978's Shroud of Turin Research Project says ultraviolet photos show that the carbon-dating sample came from an unrepresentative area of the shroud.
• University of Texas microbiologist Stephen Mattingly suggests that bacterial contamination screwed up the 1988 tests.
But experts expressed surprise that anyone considers the shroud anything more than a faked Renaissance relic.
"I am utterly unconvinced by these new charges," says Harvard's Joseph Greene. "They are not the results of serious scholarship."
Joe Zias of Hebrew University of Jerusalem calls the shroud indisputably a fake. "Not only is it a forgery, but it's a bad forgery."
Zias says the shroud depicts a man whose front measures 2 inches taller than his back and whose elongated hands and arms would indicate he was afflicted with gigantism if it were real.
Secrets of the Dead uses forensic science to examine historical mysteries. The show comes amid new interest in Jesus' life in the wake of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
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).
By Reed Williams / Daily Progress staff writer
April 25, 2004
She predicted President Reagan would be shot, assisted in the hunt for Laci Peterson and claims she can relive a murder through the eyes of a killer.
But when Noreen Renier took her first case 25 years ago, to help find a serial rapist in Staunton, she did not foresee a career as a psychic investigator, let alone one that would gain national attention.
In a way, the 67-year-old psychic's career has come full circle. She moved away from Ruckersville in the '80s and went on to assist in more than 400 police investigations, only to return in January to Central Virginia, where she has finished a book she started two decades ago.
By an eerie coincidence, or perhaps no coincidence at all, Renier has come back to the area at a time when another serial rapist is making headlines, one who has baffled Charlottesville police for seven years. Renier said she would help the police, free of charge.
"I do think it's apropos. An unsolved crime is waiting for me here," she said. "This guy really has been around long enough." Police Chief Timothy J. Longo said he would not rule out working with a psychic investigator.
At twilight on a recent evening, Renier was moving gently back and forth in a yellow rocking chair on the front porch of a log cabin she rents in the wooded hills of Free Union. She rattled merrily on about her career - recalling some of her most memorable cases, people she enjoyed working with, and stopping periodically to run inside for a transcript or other document but rarely finding it in good time.
"I can find an airplane thousands of miles away, but I can get lost in my own house," she joked.
Always beleaguered by skeptics, Renier started out as one herself. Incredulous, but equally intrigued by psychics, she set out to disprove them by mimicking their practices, she said. Around age 35, she started reading up on psychics and meditating. "Then things just started happening," she said.
Renier calls herself an armchair psychic. Early in her career, she would visit crime scenes and look for clues, but she found she was distracted by the energies of detectives and others around her.
These days, she performs most of her readings at home, often by phone. Holding an object that a victim or suspect has touched and going into a light trance, Renier says she can gain impressions about those involved in a crime and share them with a detective during one or more sessions.
She said she works best when she knows nothing about a case, because news accounts or other information can give her preconceived notions that distort her thinking.
Often, a victim's family member hires Renier and urges authorities to cooperate with her. Sometimes, police are reluctant to pay for a psychic, and many are embarrassed to admit it when they use one. Renier usually charges $650 for two sessions, which last between 45 and 90 minutes each. The average missing-person case requires two readings, she said. It just takes one for most homicide and rape investigations.
Renier used to feel intimidated by police and would fortify herself for a session with a glass of wine. She's no longer nervous around cops, but the old habit, the single glass of red wine, stuck with her.
Renier claims she can become the victim and even feel the pain of the killing: She has been stabbed multiple times in the head, shot with a shotgun, burned alive. That was the worst, being burned alive.
"I've been killed lots of bad ways," she said.
Asked whether she has foreseen her own end, she shivered and shied from the subject, saying, "I never think about my death." In her first police case, the one in Staunton in 1979, Renier gave clues to investigators seeking a masked serial rapist connected to five sexual assaults and suspected in several other attacks.
She visited one of the crime scenes and, according to Ronnie Whisman, a former investigator who worked the case, Renier correctly described how the rapist sneaked in and where he hid while waiting for his victim. Renier also said the rapist had a scar on his leg and drove a truck that went "round and round." As it turned out, the man who confessed to the crimes had a scar on his leg and drove a cement truck.
Whisman said that Renier, although far from solving the case, helped detectives by reinforcing their theories and easing their minds. Renier emphasizes that she is only an investigative tool. "We just looked at each other and said, darn, maybe we're doing something right," Whisman said. "I can't explain what she has. She has some type of … She's gotta have something. She knew stuff she wasn't supposed to know."
Renier has worked on numerous missing-person investigations as well. One of the most high profile of these was the case of Laci Peterson, who washed up on a California shore along with her unborn son. Authorities charged her husband, Scott, in the killings.
Scott Peterson's mother previously had hired Renier to find the missing woman. Renier was mailed a sweatshirt, but it appeared unworn and was no use to Renier. So Renier tried to call Peterson's mother but reached Scott instead. She explained she needed an object that had been well worn by Laci. Scott Peterson sent Renier a shoe, also barely worn, she said.
Ultimately, she used his handwriting on the addressed package to perform three readings, she said. She described a place where there was water, a bridge, flat rocks and a "fishy smell," she said, and sent transcripts of her readings to investigators. Renier takes credit for Laci Peterson's discovery. A spokesman for the Modesto Police Department in California declined to comment.
'If it works ...'
Her most recent case involved two missing sisters abducted by their mother, police believe, in Dickinson, N.D., last year. Their father hired Renier, and Investigator Rick Shirey of the Dickinson Police Department had no objections, as long the father paid for it.
Renier told Shirey she saw a fork in a river, an old factory or plant, a flat area with a few canyons, a cemetery. She saw the girls and their mother in a building, maybe a trailer, in a small community somewhere north of Texas. Police peppered that general area with posters of the missing girls.
It's too early to tell whether Renier's visions will be of any help. Shirey said he's skeptical but open-minded.
"You use search dogs. You don't actually see how they work, but all of a sudden they lead you to the right place," Shirey said. "It's something you can't see or quantify. But if it works, it's not something you can refute."
One of Renier's biggest detractors is Gary P. Posner, founder and executive director of the Tampa Bay Skeptics, a nonprofit group that critically examines paranormal claims. The organization has followed Renier's career, seeking to poke holes in many of her claims. In 1990, the group challenged her to prove she was psychic by taking a test. She could have won $1,000 if she passed.
"We'd be happy to share the Nobel Prize with her if she would succeed in the first experiment to prove that psychic power is genuine," Posner said sarcastically.
"Anyone claiming to be a psychic in my opinion is either fooling themselves," he said, "or they know better and they're just out to fool the public."
If Renier is a skeptic-turned-believer, Posner is her polar opposite. (Renier calls him her nemesis.) Posner said he once believed in the paranormal but gradually concluded that UFO fanatics had hoodwinked him.
In her defense, Renier said she refused to take the Tampa Bay Skeptics' test after someone warned her that the group meant to trick her.
Of Posner's remarks, Renier said: "That's calling me a fraud. Now that's nasty. That's not nice. Why doesn't he do something nice for mankind?"
Renier returned to Central Virginia because she loves the area and to find some peace. She hopes her book, "An Open Mind for Murder: From the Files of Psychic Investigator Noreen Renier," will hit the shelves in the next couple of months.
She said she would be happy to help with the local serial rapist investigation. The police, she said, have nothing to lose by giving her a chance. Renier has worked for the Charlottesville police before - in the early '80s, she assisted in the case of Katie Worsky, a 12-year-old who was murdered. Police never found her body, but a jury convicted a man of killing her based on other evidence.
The serial rapist
Now, Renier wants to turn her attention to the black serial rapist blamed for six attacks on women since 1997, and police have requested DNA samples from about 200 black men, some of whom were reported to resemble a composite sketch. This investigative tactic drew public cries of racial profiling, and Chief Longo earlier this month tightened the department's guidelines for deciding who is asked to be tested.
The department has used a behavioral profile and a geographic profile in the investigation, but never a psychic. Longo said, though, that he would consider using one after he meets with an FBI investigator who will take a fresh look at the case and make suggestions.
"I don't rule out any possibility that could be helpful in solving a criminal investigation," the chief said. And referring to some police officers' embarrassment about using psychics, he said, "I don't think you should be too proud to acknowledge you're reaching out and trying to access any information that could help you solve a case."
"Good for him," Renier said. "I'll be here."
Despite her powers, Renier said she is unaware whether Longo will seek her help.
"I never tune in to my future," she said and then paused. "Well, I do cheat if I'm really, really curious."
Contact Reed Williams at (434) 978-7263 or email@example.com.
Monday, April 26, 2004 Posted: 4:40 PM EDT (2040 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An expedition is being planned for this summer to the upper reaches of Turkey's Mount Ararat where organizers hope to prove an object nestled amid the snow and ice is Noah's Ark.
A joint U.S.-Turkish team of 10 explorers plans to make the arduous trek up Turkey's tallest mountain, at 17,820 feet, from July 15 to August 15, subject to the approval of the Turkish government, said Daniel P. McGivern, president of Shamrock- The Trinity Corporation of Honolulu, Hawaii.
The goal: to enter what they believe to be a mammoth structure some 45 feet high, 75 feet wide and up to 450 feet long that was exposed in part by last summer's heat wave in Europe.
"We are not excavating it. We are not taking any artifacts. We're going to photograph it and, God willing, you're all going to see it," McGivern said.
Explorers have long searched for an ark on the high slopes of Mount Ararat, where the biblical account of the Great Flood places it.
In 1957, Turkish air force pilots spotted a boat-shaped formation in Agri province. The government did not pursue the sighting, however. The entire area, including Mount Ararat, was off limits to foreigners because of Soviet complaints that explorers were U.S. spies.
That ban was lifted in 1982, and since then teams of explorers have visited the area but have been unable to substantiate any claim of an ark.
McGivern and Ahmet Ali Arslan, a Turkish mountain climber who grew up in a town near Mount Ararat, say satellite photos have helped them pinpoint a more exact location. Arslan will be leading the expedition.
The biblical account in the Book of Genesis says that after the great deluge, the ark came to rest on the mountain with Noah's family and a cargo of male and female pairs of every kind of animal.
Geologists say even though there is evidence of a flood in Mesopotamia in Sumerian times, it is not possible for a ship to make landfall at an altitude as high as Mount Ararat.
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press
PENSACOLA, Fla., April 29 — Robert and Schön Passmore took their children to Disney World last fall and left bitterly disappointed. As Christians who reject evolutionary theory, the family scoffed at the park's dinosaur attractions, which date the apatosaurus, brachiosaurus and the like to prehistoric times.
"My kids kept recognizing flaws in the presentation," said Mrs. Passmore, of Jackson, Ala. "You know — the whole `millions of years ago dinosaurs ruled the earth' thing."
So this week, the Passmores sought out a lower-profile Florida attraction: Dinosaur Adventure Land, a creationist theme park and museum here that beckons children to "find out the truth about dinosaurs" with games that roll science and religion into one big funfest with the message that Genesis, not science, tells the real story of the creation.
Kent Hovind, the minister who opened the park in 2001, said his aim was to spread the message of creationism through a fixture of mainstream America — the theme park — instead of pleading its case at academic conferences and in courtrooms.
Mr. Hovind, a former public school science teacher with his own ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, and a hectic lecture schedule, said he had opened Dinosaur Adventure Land to counter all the science centers and natural history museums that explain the evolution of life with Darwinian theory. There are dinosaur bone replicas, with accompanying explanations that God made dinosaurs on Day 6 of the creation as described in Genesis, 6,000 years ago. Among the products the park gift shop peddles are T-shirts with a small fish labeled "Darwin" getting gobbled by a bigger fish labeled "Truth."
"There are a lot of creationists that are really smart and debate the intellectuals, but the kids are bored after five minutes," said Mr. Hovind, who looks boyish at 51 and talks fast. "You're missing 98 percent of the population if you only go the intellectual route."
The theme park is just the latest approach to promoting creationism outside the usual school curriculum route, which Mr. Hovind and others see as important, but too limited and not sufficiently appealing to modern young families. Creationist groups are also promoting creationist vacations, including dinosaur digs in South Dakota, fossil-collecting trips in Australia and New Zealand, and tours of the Grand Canyon ("raft the canyon and learn how Noah's flood contributed to the formation").
Dan Johnson, an assistant manager of the park, said there were also creationism-themed cruises, with lectures on the subject amid swimming and shuffleboard.
A Kentucky creationist group called Answers in Genesis says it is building a 100,000-square-foot complex outside Cincinnati with a museum, classrooms, a planetarium and a special-effects theater where moviegoers can experience the flood and other events described in Genesis.
Ken Ham, the group's chief executive, said marketing surveys suggested that the complex would draw not just home-schooling families and other creationists, but mainstream church groups and curiosity seekers. Mr. Ham said a former Universal Studios art director was designing exhibits for the complex, including dioramas of Adam and Eve and a model of Noah's Ark. The complex will open in 2006 at the earliest, Mr. Ham said.
At Dinosaur Adventure Land, visitors can make their own Grand Canyon replica with sand and read a sign deriding textbooks for teaching that the Colorado River formed the canyon over millions of years: "This is clearly not possible. The top of the Grand Canyon is 4,000 feet higher than where the river enters the canyon! Rivers do not flow up hill!"
There is a movie depicting the creation, the flood and the fall of man, which fast-forwards from a lush Garden of Eden to a New York City traffic jam.
There are no mechanized rides at Dinosaur Adventure Land — no creationist-themed roller coasters, scramblers or even a ferris wheel — but instead, a simple discovery center and museum and about a dozen outdoor games, each of which has a "science lesson" and "spiritual lesson" posted nearby. A group of about 60 parents and home-schooled children who visited Wednesday, including the Passmores, spent all afternoon trying the games, which promote religious faith more than creationist tenets.
Take Jumpasaurus, which involves jumping on a trampoline while trying to throw a ball through a hoop as many times as possible in a minute. The science lesson: "You will use coordination in this game, which means you will be doing more than one thing at once." The spiritual lesson, according to Mr. Johnson: "You need to learn to be coordinated for Jesus Christ so you can get more things done for him."
Somewhat more creationist in approach is the Nerve-Wracking Ball: a bowling ball on a rope, dangling from a tall tree branch. A child stands before the ball, and then a park guide gives it a shove from a specific angle, so that it comes careering back at the child's face only to stop just in front of it. The child wins if he does not flinch, proving he has "faith in God's laws" — in this case, that a swinging object will never come back higher than the point from which it took off.
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which tracks creationist programs, said traditional creationists like Mr. Hovind had in fact given up on building intellectual credibility years ago.
"They have been going the grass-roots mainstream route for at least 20 years," she said. "So I'm not surprised they are the ones sponsoring group vacations and theme parks and things like that."
Dinosaur Adventure Land, tucked behind a highway lined with car dealerships in this metropolitan area of 425,000, sits next to Mr. Hovind's home and the offices of Creation Science Evangelism, which he said he founded in 1989. Mr. Hovind is well known in Pensacola, and even in a region where religious billboards almost outnumber commercial ones he is controversial. Escambia County sued him in 2000 after he refused to get a $50 permit before building his theme park, saying the government had no authority over a church.
Just last week Internal Revenue Service agents used a search warrant to remove financial documents from Mr. Hovind's home and offices, saying he was not paying taxes and had neither a business license nor tax-exempt status for his enterprises.
Mr. Hovind did not want to discuss the I.R.S. investigation, saying only, "I don't have any tax obligations."
The man who calls himself Dr. Dino is also controversial among creationists, some of whom say he discredits their movement with some of his pseudo-scientific claims. Mr. Hovind got into a dispute in 2002 with Answers in Genesis, when he took issue with an article it published called "Arguments We Think Creationists Should Not Use." One such argument was that footprints found in Texas proved that man and dinosaurs coexisted; Mr. Hovind said he considered the argument, now abandoned by many creationists, valid. Mr. Hovind said he gave 700 lectures a year and that 38,000 people had visited his park, at $7 a head. According to a map that invites visitors to pinpoint their hometown, most come from the Florida Panhandle and from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Rachel Painter, camp director at the Alpha Omega Institute, which runs several creationist family summer camps in Colorado, said creationist vacations had gained popularity as the number of Christian home-schooling families had grown. The institute started its camps 18 years ago with 4 families per session, she said, but now up to 18 attend each, and from more states.
Wade and Joan Killingsworth, who belong to a home-schooling coalition called Solid Rock Christian School, said they took their children to Colonial Williamsburg over spring break and came to Dinosaur Adventure Land because it was similarly educational. But they and the Passmores, who traveled from Alabama with eight minivans of like-minded families, said this type of road trip had far more to offer.
"We've been to museums, discovery centers, where you have to sit there and take the evolutionary stuff," Mr. Passmore said. "It feels good for them to finally hear it in a public place, something that reinforces their beliefs."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
By Anna Borzello
BBC correspondent in Lagos
Nigerian broadcasters are no longer allowed to show miracles on television in a way which are not "provable and believable", say the authorities. The National Broadcasting Commission says television stations which fail to abide by the ruling will be fined, and their equipment could be confiscated.
But no guidelines have been issued and broadcasters say they do not know how the new rules will be interpreted.
Nigerian TV is full of Pentecostal services which centre on miracles.
Many of the preachers claim to cure diseases, others to bring wealth and happiness.
But the question of how a miracle can be verified has not been answered.
Bunmi Cole, the NBC Lagos director told the BBC it would be up to each television station to decide whether or not a religious programme violated the ruling.
But the television stations are not happy with the arrangement.
Many broadcasters rely on revenue from Christian Pentecostal programmes.
Few would assume the power to judge whether or not a miracle is genuine.
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria is also concerned.
Its president Bishop Michael Okonkwo told the BBC that while there are some fake miracle workers at large, he did not believe it was the NBC's responsibility to legislate against them.
It is still not clear why the NBC decided to enforce a code which has until now been lying dormant in the law books.
However, Mrs Bunmi strongly denied a popular rumour that it was a part of a Muslim conspiracy to prevent Christians from stealing their members.
A hoax Web site that generated a flurry of publicity for the film Godsend last week is just one example of "creative marketing" designed to cut through the increasing noise of mass media. As more movies crowd into the multiplexes, and as the average marketing budget for a major-studio release tops $40 million, filmmakers are desperate to attract attention.
The Godsend site (godsendinstitute.org), which quietly popped up on the Internet a few weeks ago, touts the breakthrough medical procedures offered by the Godsend Institute, giving distraught parents the opportunity to clone a child lost to accident or disease. The site is professional in appearance, with photographs and testimonials of happy families with their cloned little ones. It was created as a rather elaborate marketing tool by Lions Gate Films for Godsend, the horror movie starring Robert De Niro that opened Friday.
In addition to Lions Gate's Godsend campaign, New Line Cinema last week took out ads in newspapers across the country on behalf of divorce attorney Audrey Woods, who urges prospective clients: "Let's work together and show that scumbag that you are not weak and fragile." The ad steers readers toward a Web site, katzcohenphelps.com.
Woods is the character played by Julianne Moore in Laws of Attraction, which also hit theaters Friday. But you'd have to read the fine print, or troll through the Web site, to get that.
"All this is a reaction to the fact that traditional media marketing is crumbling, just crumbling," says Jeff Hicks, president of the Miami-based advertising firm Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which recently designed an interactive Web site for Burger King that shows a person dressed in a chicken suit who acts out, à la amateur Web-cam porn, the instructions given to him/her/it by Web surfers who click on the site (subservientchicken.com).
Think this is stupid?
The BK chicken-porn site (the bird is dressed in a garter belt and stockings) has gotten 150 million hits, Hicks says.
"We're dealing with consumers who now have an absolute hair trigger for anything they don't find valuable, informative or entertaining," he says. "They're really quick to blow right past you."
Traditional advertising for movies is expensive. A quarter-page ad for a new film in the Los Angeles Times, for example, costs about $22,000. Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate, says it cost $10,000 for his team to build the Web pages for the Godsend Institute. The site has received hundreds of thousands of hits, plus hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from people who find the link (there's a toll-free number to call).
"We're outspent by the (major studios) by at least two to one," Ortenberg says, "and so we absolutely need to build a better marketing mousetrap."
Expect more virtual marketing. Ever since The Blair Witch Project went ballistic at the box office in 1999, based in part on an Internet campaign that described the scary movie as a documentary, Hollywood has been searching for ways to engage audiences with "reality" themes.
"Blair Witch worked because it happened when the Internet was new, when e-mail was this new thing, and not a threat. It was very, very clever and very, very good," says publicist Jeremy Walker, who worked with the Blair Witch folks and is promoting Godsend.
Will this stuff keep fooling people?
"It gets harder and harder," Walker acknowledges
Teeth Give Evidence Of Maturity
POSTED: 4:21 p.m. EDT April 29, 2004
Think your kids are growing up fast? Try this: A new study suggests Neanderthal children zoomed through adolescence and -- on average -- reached adulthood at age 15.
The finding, published in the current issue of the journal Nature, adds credence to the theory that Neanderthals were a unique species separate from modern humans. The time for humans to mature to adulthood grew longer as time went on.
The conclusions by researchers at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris were based on analysis of Neanderthal teeth.
Scientists examined growth patterns on the crowns of incisors and canines from 55 individual Neanderthals and compared them with corresponding patterns from early modern humans and ancestors to both groups.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press.
The subject is nothing if not controversial. On one television show an experienced detective insists that no psychic has ever helped his department solve a crime, while another broadcast features an equally experienced investigator who maintains that psychics are an occasionally valuable resource, citing examples from his own solved cases. Who is right? Is it a matter of science versus mysticism as some assert, or an issue of having an open mind as opposed to a closed one as others claims? Let's look at the evidence.
To Read the Entire Article Visit:
Joe Nickell is CSICOP's Senior Research Fellow. He is author of numerous investigative books, including Looking for a Miracle and Real-Life X-Files.
The New issues Are Here: Available at Newsstands and Mailboxes Near You (or visit us to order at www.csicop.org)
By Christian Oliver
TEHRAN: "Is Iran about to be invaded by little green men or are the Americans racing through the night sky in spaceships to spy on the Islamic Republic?
"Flying saucer fever has gripped Iran after dozens of sightings in the last few days. Fanciful cartoons of alien spacecraft have adorned the front pages...
"State television on Wednesday showed a sparkling white disc it said was filmed over Tehran on Tuesday night.
"More colorful Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) have been spotted beaming out green, red, blue and purple rays over the northern cities of Tabriz and Ardebil and in the Caspian Sea province of Golestan, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"Newspapers and agencies reported people rushing out into the streets in eight towns on Tuesday night to watch a bright extraterrestrial light dipping in and out of the clouds.
"An airforce officer in the Revolutionary Guards was quoted in the reformist Vagha-ye Etefaghiyeh daily saying Iran's Supreme National Security Council should investigate whether these visitors from afar had hostile intent.
"But Sa'dollah Nasiri-Qeydari, head of the Astronomical Society of Iran, told Reuters the stories were unfounded.
" "In my opinion, flying saucers do not exist," he said, insisting his telescopes would have picked up invaders from outer space.
" "The people who have seen these things are not experts - farmers, villagers and pilots," he added.
"He said what people reported was consistent with the planet Venus, whose intense light in its current position would be given different hues by being filtered through the atmosphere." --
ILLUMINATING THE DARK AGES. In the very early universe the so called "dark age" comes after the time of the first atoms---a moment when suddenly neutral atoms, mostly hydrogen, could form, allowing photons to stream freely, photons we now see as the microwave background---but before the first stars formed. But maybe this era needn't be so dark. Just as numerous finds of arts and crafts from the European dark ages have helped to enlighten us on what the sixth to the eleventh centuries were like, so too some bits of light from the cosmic dark ages might illuminate that epoch. Abraham Loeb and Matias Zaldarriaga of Harvard believe that the early, cold, neutral hydrogen can be made to speak, as it were. These atoms, in a redshift window of about 30 to 100, would be colder than the background radiation. The atoms would absorb photons and cause a deficit in the microwave background at cold hydrogen's characteristic wavelength of 21 centimeters. This absorption wavelength, in turn, would be stretched out, courtesy of the universal expansion of the universe, to a wavelength of 6-21 meters or so. Because the cosmic hydrogen is not uniform, the level of absorption varies across the sky and the microwave background would show anisotropies at these long wavelengths. These anisotropies could be sought using special radio interferometers. (Some efforts are already underway to see this kind of light: see http://www.lofar.org/ or www.skatelescope.org.) Just as microwave telescopes mapping the early sky see minute temperature variations, so the primordial hydrogen could also be mapped. This map might well show the influence of dark matter through its influence in shepherding early hydrogen. Interest in this hydrogen has been expressed before, but the Harvard proposal is the first to be specific about how to search for information imprinted in the dark-age atom distribution. (Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; text at www.aip.org/physnews/select; contact Abraham Loeb, firstname.lastname@example.org )
MAGNESIUM-DIBORIDE SUPERCONDUCTORS can tolerate twice the usual amount of magnetic field if you spike them with some carbon atoms. The main reason superconducting wires are used as the windings in magnets is not because they save energy, but because they can generate large magnetic fields by carrying large current densities without the resistive heating associated with ordinary copper wire, giving you a much more intense field for the same amount of volume employed in your MRI machine. MgB2 superconductors, which made their debut three years ago (see http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2001/split/530-2.html ), become superconducting at around 40 K, in a colder regime than for the ceramic superconductors (which can be bathed in liquid nitrogen), but much warmer than traditional metal superconductors (such as niobium-tin) which must be cooled in liquid helium. Some consider that the MgB2 materials (which can be chilled with refrigerators without the use of expensive liquid helium) might be advantageous in some applications where NbSn is presently used. For this to happen, the MgB2 materials need to be able to stand up to high fields and high current densities. At Iowa State, a new test of carbon-doped MgB2 shows that the critical field can now be doubled, up to a value of 32.5 Tesla; this is the field at which superconductivity in unadulterated MgB2 would be undone. This is now higher than the best value for NbSn. The researchers (contact Paul Canfield, email@example.com, 515-294-6270) would like MgB2 to tolerate even higher fields, and to enhance the critical current too. (Wilke et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; text at www.aip.org/physnews/select )
WHAT KIND OF FLUID IS QUARK-GLUON PLASMA (QGP)? The hot soup of free quarks and gluons that existed in the very early universe, and a state of matter that physicists have been trying to re-create amid high-energy nuclear collisions, QGP is actually not a superfluid, as Update 681 erroneously suggested. According to University of Washington physicist Laurence Yaffe (206-543-3902, firstname.lastname@example.org), QGP is actually a normal, conducting fluid. It has viscosity, eliminating it from the list of superfluids. It is somewhat electrically resistive, precluding it from being a superconductor. Yaffe and coworkers recently performed calculations of several QGP fluid properties from first principles (P. Arnold, G. D. Moore and L. G. Yaffe, Journal of High Energy Physics, 17 June 2003 and 14 February 2003). Still, observations of high-density quark matter produced thus far at Brookhaven's RHIC accelerator suggest that QGP might prove to be the most ideal regular fluid observed in nature, according to Ohio State nuclear theorist Ulrich Heinz (614-688-5363, email@example.com). The viscosity of the RHIC matter appears to be exceedingly low, and it redistributes its heat ("rethermalizes") extremely quickly. This near-ideal regular fluid behavior should greatly facilitate comparisons between theory and experimental observations of QGP, once its presence is confirmed at RHIC.
PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.
By ANDREW POLLACK
Published: April 30, 2004
As one treatment after another failed to beat back her lung cancer, Kate Robbins began writing her thoughts and feelings in journals to leave her children "something tangible that they could read and refer back to" after she died.
Then Mrs. Robbins, who lives in Concord, Mass., began taking a drug called Iressa. Her tumors began to melt away. Sixteen months later, while it is possible that the tumors will return, there is no sign of them.
Stories about such rescues from death's door have given hope to tens of thousands of cancer patients who have tried Iressa, made by the British company AstraZeneca. But, maddeningly, only about one in 10 of them benefit significantly. And doctors have been unable to predict which patients will win this rare reprieve.
Now two groups of scientists say they have the answer: The people who improve sharply have a genetic mutation in their tumors that makes their disease highly vulnerable to the drug.
The discovery represents a crack in the genetic armor of lung cancer, which kills about 160,000 Americans a year, more than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. It also points the way to what many experts say is the future of cancer care: drugs tailored for patients based on the genetics of their tumors.
"Previously lung cancer had been a more or less intractable disease," said Dr. Matthew Meyerson, an assistant professor of pathology at Harvard and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a leader of one of the research groups. "Now there's a subset that responds. This gives hope for new treatments."
The findings could allow doctors to better decide when and to whom to give Iressa. While Iressa is now approved for use after other drugs have failed, some doctors might try using it earlier for patients with the mutation, said Dr. Daniel A. Haber, director of the cancer center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
At the same time, patients without the mutation might forgo Iressa, saving them or the health care system $1,900 a month for a drug that is not likely to help them. Still, some of the researchers said that the findings were based on small samples and that clinical trials should be conducted before treatment practices were changed. In particular, they said, it will be hard to deny Iressa to a desperate patient without the mutation because the drug may still provide at least a little benefit.
"If you've got this mutation you should for sure get the drug," said Dr. Paul A. Bunn Jr., director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, who was not involved in the research. "The question then is what if you don't have this mutation? I don't think there's enough information to say you shouldn't get the drug."
At the moment, there is no commercial test for the mutation, though the scientists said they were exploring licensing the finding to testing companies. Since the mutations arise in the tumor and are not found in the patient's other genes, a tumor sample would be needed, either from surgery or a biopsy.
One research group found a mutation in all five of the tumors it checked from patients who had responded to the drug and in none from the four patients who had not responded. That study, led by scientists at Dana-Farber and Nagoya City University Medical School in Japan, was published online yesterday by the journal Science.
The other study found the mutations in the tumors of eight out of nine responders, including Mrs. Robbins, and in no tumors of seven nonresponders. That study, by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, was published online yesterday by The New England Journal of Medicine.
The mutations appear to be infrequent. The Dana-Farber group found them in only one of 61 tumors from the American patients it tested, but in 15 of 58 tumors, or 26 percent, from the Japanese patients. Pooling the samples from both countries, the mutation was found in 20 percent of the women and 9 percent of the men.
Iressa was approved for non-small-cell lung cancer, the most frequent kind, by the Food and Drug Administration last May. The drug, known generically as gefitinib, blocks the action of epidermal growth factor receptor, or E.G.F.R., a protein that spurs cells to grow.
The two research groups, which worked independently, found several different mutations in the E.G.F.R. gene that appear to make the tumor so heavily reliant on the protein for growth that blocking it delivers a stunning blow.
The findings could put Iressa in the same class of "targeted therapy" as Gleevec, a highly successful leukemia drug that works against a particular genetic abnormality.
But the findings may also hurt AstraZeneca by limiting use of Iressa to those with the mutation. Worldwide, 125,000 patients have taken Iressa; in the United States, 64,000 prescriptions for the drug have been written since it was approved.
Dr. Roman Perez-Soler, chairman of oncology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, said he was besieged this week by calls from Wall Street analysts as rumors of the upcoming papers began to spread.
"They are all very scared of this," Dr. Perez-Soler said. "They think this will shrink the market by 90 percent." He said he did not think that would happen yet.
The findings could also increase sales of Iressa if the same mutations are found in other types of cancer. But the Massachusetts General group said it had not found the mutation in other common cancers.
AstraZeneca said yesterday in a statement that the mutation seemed to explain tumor shrinkage, but that Iressa also helped other patients by stopping their tumors from growing or by reducing cancer symptoms. AstraZeneca's shares rose 67 cents to $47.39 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Mrs. Robbins, 46, who rarely writes in her journal anymore, called her response to the drug and the use of her tumor sample to help find the mutation "truly humbling and exhilarating at the same time."
House Members Petition President
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2004; Page A17
More than 200 members of the House of Representatives petitioned President Bush yesterday to loosen current rules governing medical research on human embryonic stem cells, saying the system he imposed nearly three years ago is stifling the promising field and delaying the development of cures.
The bipartisan push includes several of Bush's conservative supporters and is the latest effort by scientists, advocates for patients and others to place the controversial topic on the election-year agenda. Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has said he favors fewer restrictions on the research, which aims to turn the cells into treatments but has been rejected by some as unethical because five-day-old embryos are destroyed.
The Bush policy bars federal funding of research on any stem cells from embryos destroyed after Aug. 9, 2001, greatly limiting the number of cell colonies available to taxpayer-backed researchers.
In a brief statement yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president "continues to believe" the policy is adequate.
But advocates for patients have become increasingly outspoken amid evidence that American scientists may be surrendering the hot field to foreign researchers. They also note that every stem cell colony available under the Bush plan is contaminated with animal cells, making them less useful.
"As you know, embryonic stem cells have the potential to be used to treat and better understand deadly and disabling diseases that affect more than 100 million Americans, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and many others," reads the letter, signed by 206 members. "We would very much like to work with you to modify the current embryonic stem cell policy so that it provides this area of research the greatest opportunity to lead to the treatments and cures we are hoping for."
Although the letter does not propose specific changes, congressional leaders said they want funding for research on stem cells retrieved from spare frozen embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics.
"I'm pro-life. Been pro-life for 14 years. But this is an area in which we can save lives," said Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), who with Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) and Calvin M. Dooley (D-Calif.) spearheaded the effort to round up signers. About 36 Republicans did so, including antiabortion stalwart Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).
Cunningham choked up as he recalled a seriously ill young girl who approached him awhile ago and said, "You're the only person who can save my life." She died, he said. "The bottom line is, these cells are going to be thrown away" if they are not used for research.
Opponents of the research countered yesterday that other kinds of stem cells, which can be obtained harmlessly from adults, are at least as promising as embryonic cells -- an assertion that other scientists have called unfounded.
"Instead of throwing more federal dollars into embryonic stem cell research, the administration should expand its support for adult stem cell research -- research that is producing real results with real patients," said the Washington-based group Do No Harm.
Rep. David Joseph Weldon (R-Fla.), a doctor who has led previous House action against embryo research, concurred: "If this controversial research has all the promise its supporters claim, let the private sector fund it, because taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for what many think is unethical research."
A telephone survey of 802 people in 18 politically divided states, conducted last month by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Civil Society Institute in Newton, Mass., concluded that two out of three voters favor a change in the Bush plan.
"Even subgroups originally resistant to the idea, such as Evangelicals and Republicans, support stem cell research after hearing a description of the process and the potential of the research, despite the explicit recognition of the embryo destruction required," said Guy Molyneaux, a senior vice president with Hart.
Other surveys done for opponents have found less support.
Actress Mary Tyler Moore, who helps the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation promote embryonic stem cell work, appeared at a news conference yesterday with several congressional signers of the Bush letter.
"Like President Bush, I am pro-life," she said. But spare embryos should be used to help others, she said, "rather than discarded as medical waste."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Don R. Patton, Ph.D.
Present The Illustrated Lecture
What Is Creation Science?
Creation Science is usually defined by the media as the Genesis account of creation - what is normally taught in the Sunday School classroom. The charge is continually repeated but it is not true. Creation science is scientific evidence, not religious dogma. Both creation and evolution have profound religious, philosophical implications, yet, both may be investigated scientifically.
Chief Justice Rienquist and Justice Scalla pointed out that creation science involved the study of biology, paleontology, genetics, astronomy, astrophysics, probability analysis and biochemistry.
Many have difficulty imagining scientific evidence for creation, perhaps because it is zealously censored from our classrooms. The truth is, there is a great deal of such evidence. Come and see a general overview for yourself.
Also, Dr. Patton will present an update on the continuing battle over Texas Biology textbooks.
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX
Tuesday, May 4th, 7:30 PM
By Michael Castleman -- Publication Date: Mar/Apr 2004
Summary: PT examines whether treating illnesses with homeopathy is simply unconventional nonsense or a medicinal cure thatis here to stay.
In 1994, NASA computer scientist Amy Lansky of Portola Valley, California, began wondering about her two-year-old son. Max knew the alphabet and could beat adults at memory games, but he barely spoke and, despite normal hearing, didn't seem to understand language. At preschool he was a loner. His main form of communication was poking people with his finger. Eventually, school officials urged Lansky to have him evaluated. The diagnosis: autism, a neurological and behavioral disorder for which there is no known remedy.
But Lansky refused to believe Max was untreatable. Her search for an answer led her to homeopathy, an 18th-century healing art now enjoying renewed popularity because of Americans' growing interest in alternative medicine. Homeopathy involves treating illnesses with such extreme dilutions of herbs, animal substances and chemical compounds that frequently not one molecule of the diluted substance is left in the solution. Homeopathy defies the known laws of science, not to mention common sense. But rigorous studies show it just may work.
In a German trial, a homeopathic treatment for vertigo outperformed the pharmaceutical remedy; at Harvard, subjects with mild brain injury showed significantly greater improvement with a homeopathic treatment than with a placebo. And homeopathic remedies have been found to augment conventional treatments, as well. In the case of infectious diarrhea, a University of Washington study found that children given the standard rehydration fluid containing water, sugar and salt, plus a homeopathic remedy, recovered after two and a half days—a day and and a half earlier than those who received just the rehydration fluid.
"I believe new science will explain how homeopathy works," says Ellen Feingold, a Wilmington, Delaware, pediatrician who left conventional medicine to practice homeopathy. "But research is not my concern. I want to heal patients. As an M.D., I mostly suppressed symptoms. Now I truly heal people." "Critics of homeopathy say that because its mechanism of action can't be explained, it can't possibly work," says Michael Carlston, a Santa Rosa, California, physician who has combined mainstream medicine and homeopathy for 30 years. "But that's hypocritical. Aspirin was used for 90 years before its efficacy was explained—and no doctors shunned it."
Shortly after her son's diagnosis, Lansky found a magazine article on alternative treatments for childhood behavioral problems.
Lansky's acupuncturist referred her to homeopath John Melnychuk. He did not perform a physical exam, nor did he order diagnostic tests. He just asked questions, including many that M.D.s would consider irrelevant. He explored Max's milk craving, his fitful sleep, the bluish tint in the whites of his eyes and his restlessness, intensity, sweetness, stubbornness and perfectionism. Then, using reference books, he looked for substances that produce the same effects in healthy people. This is the fundamental principle of homeopathy, the Law of Similars. It's the idea that illness can be cured by substances—plant, animal or mineral—that evoke the same symptoms in those who are well. Melnychuk decided to give Max Carcinosin, a treatment made from—of all things—an infinitesimal amount of human cancer tissue.
"There are two types of homeopathic remedies," Melnychuk explains. "Some treat symptoms; For example, arnica works well for muscle strains. Then there are 'constitutional' remedies, ones that have to be matched to the patient's personality. Max seemed to fit the Carcinosin profile, which includes symptoms of perfectionism, restlessness, sleep difficulties and milk cravings." However, Melnychuk cautions, not every autistic child should receive Carcinosin. "You have to tailor the remedy to the patient's unique traits."
Lansky mixed a little Carcinosin in water and gave Max a teaspoon each morning. Within two days, she noticed subtle changes: "Max's speech improved, and he seemed more socially aware." In the next two months the trend toward improvement continued.
Maybe It's Doing Nothing
Homeopathy developed during the late 18th century, a time when physicians knew little about disease. They treated most illnesses by bleeding patients and administering powerful laxatives. Such treatments were called "heroic measures," but the heroism was entirely on the part of patients, many of whom suffered more from these interventions than from their illnesses.
One 18th-century German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, became so disgusted with heroic medicine that he closed his practice. But Hahnemann did not exactly reject conventional medicine. He was impressed with cinchona, the South American tree bark that was the first effective treatment for malaria. In 1790, Hahnemann ingested cinchona and became cold, achy, anxious and thirsty—all symptoms of malaria. That experience led him to postulate his Law of Similars.
Hahnemann tested hundreds of substances on himself—plants, animal parts and chemical compounds, including salt, zinc, gold and marigold flowers—cataloging their effects. Eventually, he reopened his practice but prescribed only homeopathic medicines.
Homeopathy was controversial from the outset because of Hahnemann's other postulate, the Law of Potentization, which holds that homeopathic medicines grow stronger as they became more dilute. Critics howl at the law. Homeopathy is "absurd," argues William Sampson, a clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University. "It is bankrupt in theory and practice."
"There is no basis for believing that homeopathy has any effect," says Robert Baratz, president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, in Peabody, Massachusetts. "Homeopathy is a magnet for untrustworthy practitioners who pose a threat to public safety. It's quackery."
Maybe homeopathy involves treatment with nothing. If true, it's still an improvement over 18th-century heroic medicine—even if patients get little more than water.
By the late 19th century, conventional medicine had moved away from heroic measures. As they disappeared, the medical opposition led by homeopaths lost steam. The discovery of antibiotics and other modern drugs further strengthened conventional medicine at homeopathy's expense. While homeopathy remained popular in Europe, there were fewer than 100 homeopaths in the U.S. by the early 1970s. Critics dismissed homeopathic treatment as placebo.
Placebos have no direct impact on the body. But when given to treat almost any illness—from colds to serious conditions—about one-third of recipients report benefits. "Placebos work as well as they do because of the mind's ability to affect the body," says Brown University psychiatrist Walter Brown. Many studies have shown that when a doctor offers any treatment, people expect it will help, and that expectation itself can aid healing. Also, through a mind-body mechanism not entirely understood, placebos trigger the release of endorphins, the body's mood-elevating, pain-relieving compounds. "Improvement in patients receiving homeopathy is simply a placebo effect," Sampson says.
But studies consistently yield conflicting reports. British researchers are divided as to the power of arnica, often prescribed by homeopaths for musculoskeletal pain. Patients who received arnica after wrist surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome reported significantly less pain than did those in a placebo group; yet patients with other joint conditions had no such luck (among 58 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, the placebo group reported significantly greater pain relief).
In 1991, Dutch epidemiologists analyzed 105 studies of homeopathic treatment from 1966 to 1990, most from French and German medical journals. Eighty-one studies found patients had benefited from homeopathy, prompting the Dutch researchers to conclude that "the evidence is to a large extent positive. [It] would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as treatment for certain conditions." A 1997 German analysis of 89 studies agreed that homeopathy is often significantly more beneficial than the use of placebos.
Ambiguous as the evidence is, in recent years homeopathy has enjoyed renewed popularity in the U.S., coinciding with Americans' ambivalence about mainstream medicine.
One-half to two-thirds of Americans have used alternative therapies, and Americans visit alternative practitioners more often than they visit conventional practitioners—some 600 million consultations a year. They now spend $30 billion a year on alternative therapies, according to a recent report in Newsweek, and have as much confidence in alternative practitioners as they do in M.D.s, according to a study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Americans have not lost confidence in physicians—they've just expanded their view of what's medically helpful, believing that the combination of mainstream and alternative medicine will provide the best results. "The renewed interest in homeopathy," explains Dana Ullman, author of eight books on the subject, "is part of the groundswell of interest Americans have shown for all the alternative therapies. People are not satisfied with conventional medicine."
Homeopathy is not the only alternative therapy conventional medicine can't fully explain. The energy pathways deemed fundamental to acupuncture don't correspond to any known structures in the body, but a 1998 National Institutes of Health report concluded, "The data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies."
Nonetheless, homeopathy is nowhere near as accepted as acupuncture. The latest Harvard report on Americans' use of alternative therapies shows that homeopathy accounts for less than 0.5 percent of alternative-practitioner visits. Recently, University of Maryland researchers surveyed coverage for alternative therapies by six major managed-care plans—five covered chiropractic, four covered acupuncture, none covered homeopathy. "Homeopathy," Ullman says, "is the Rodney Dangerfield of alternative therapies: It gets no respect."
Amy Lansky didn't care that homeopathy is one of America's least accepted alternative therapies. After nine months of homeopathic treatment, Max was a different child: talkative, active, sociable and popular. Under Melnychuk's guidance, Lansky gradually decreased his dose of Carcinosin, eventually discontinuing it. Max continued to improve. By age five, he was virtually indistinguishable from any other kid. "He now sees Melnychuk maybe twice a year," says Lansky. "As far as I'm concerned, he's cured."
Max's experience led Lansky to quit her job and study homeopathy full-time. Last fall, she hung out a shingle. "As a scientist," she explains, "I recognize that homeopathy is implausible. But I've seen it cure my son."
San Francisco-based writer Michael Castleman is the author of 12 consumer health books, including Nature's Cures (Rodale Press, 1995).
Commentary by Brian Cherry
April 28, 2004
Who's your daddy? It is exactly this sort of question that results in slapped faces and restraining orders if the query is made in a bar. When this question was posed to the State School Board of Ohio and framed in the context of human origins it sparked national debates and threats of lawsuits. The board was tasked with making the decision on whether or not students can be presented with an alternative to the theory of evolution. The alternative in question is the theory of intelligent design.
Despite the fact that a number of reputable scientists support this theory with credible scientific evidence, it didn't stop proponents of evolution to immediately yell that this is a breach of contemporary view of the second amendment that separates church and state. The shrill call for a constitutional foul came forth because the theory of intelligent design concludes that we are the products of a higher intelligence. This higher intelligence is never named or given bias towards a particular religion. Supporters of intelligent design simply put forth the evidence without making a presumption on what deity is responsible. That is where the problem lies for evolutionists. Any theory that not only suggests that we are the product of a creation but can also back it up in a credible manner is a threat to them. If we are seeking scientific truth, why would people in the scientific community be afraid of an open dialogue on a theory that can be supported with at least as much evidence as evolution? When you strip away the venire of science the answer becomes clear. By definition evolution is now a religion and any idea that challenges their belief system must be eliminated.
The dictionary defines religion as "A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices". This is not really helpful unless you also know how this same dictionary defines the word, religious. Religious is defined by Webster's as "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity". It is in this meaning of the word religious that we find evolutions true self. Evolution manifests the two most important points that qualify it as a religion. These are a devotion to an ultimate reality (as well as a deity, though they wont admit it), and faith.
Those who are dedicated to evolution hide their faith by pretending their belief is deeply rooted in science. When you break down the fossil evidence though, you find some interesting things.
Dr. Leaky started much of the uproar when he found his famous missing link, Lucy. In the end his find turned out to be a mosaic of at least two different species of extinct ape.
Eugene Dubois was a Dutch scientist and devotee of Charles Darwin. During a dig on the island of Java, he discovered the first fossils of a Pithecanthropus erectus. This find was later nicknamed "Java man". Dubois became very protective of his find and only allowed access of the bones to a very small circle of people. After several decades of stonewalling and intense pressure to compare his fossils against finds of extinct mammals that had also been unearthed in Java, Dubois finally admitted that his Pithecanthropus erectus was actually the remains of an ancient Gibbon. In the end all Dubois managed to do was conclusively prove that Gibbons exist. This fact didn't come as a surprise to anyone, especially the Gibbons, who had to come to grips with their existential status centuries ago.
Piltdown man was a complete skull that finally proved the link between man and ape. It had characteristics of both. For fifty years this was the transitional fossil evolutionists threw in the face of anyone who doubted them. Piltdown man was their Rosetta stone. Well it was until somebody took a close look at it and discovered it was the skull of a modern human with an ape's jaw attached to it. The pranksters had also stained it to make it look old. The crime here is not the prank but the failure of evolutionists to put their discoveries under the standards of scrutiny that they demand from any competing theory. It took fifty years to discover their ultimate evidence was a clumsy fraud.
We can go on and on. The fossil tooth that was used as the basis of another missing link, Nebraska man, turned out to be the tooth of an extinct pig. Teeth found in Sumatra that was once again hailed as a Pithecanthropus erectus were proven to be from an Orangutan. The entire theory was eventually dealt a sharp blow when the Neandertal man, the only fossil of an ape/human ancestor that was recent enough to extract DNA from came back as not even remotely human.
Once the Neandertal was conclusively and scientifically proved to be a species other then human in 1997, the theory of evolution had to be adjusted. The Neandertal's were a branch from a common ancestor we have. Just like monkeys. Who is this common ancestor? Nobody knows. Where is the fossil? There isn't one. How do they know there is a common ancestor then? Because they believe that someday someone will find the evidence they are looking for. Considering how much of the physical evidence has been discredited and how far one has to intellectually reach to make the connection between ape and man with no evidence, one would have to conclude that evolution is based on faith.
So what do we need for something to be a religion? We need faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity. Well evolutionists have faith by the bushel. In fact considering how much of the physical evidence has been discredited and how far one has to intellectually reach to make the connection between ape and man, one would have to conclude that it actually takes more faith to believe in evolution then it does in a creator.
The ultimate reality they are so devoted to is the progression of man through millions of years of mutation and happenstance. Without a Supreme Being as our creator and man at the top of the world food chain, this leaves one candidate for their God. It is man.
Evolution, by definition, is a religion. In science fraud is common and hoaxes are just an unfortunate part of the territory. This theory persists though even when it most conclusive bits of evidence fall under the category of scientific fraud and childish pranks. In many cases they have avoided scrutiny of their own evidence. The academic version of "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain". This brings us back to Ohio. Have you ever known a theory that had its own legal team to protect it?
I'm not saying evolution is wrong, nor am I endorsing creationism. I am saying that evolution does not have enough evidence to make it conclusive. Even its founder Charles Darwin stated that "When we descend to details, we cannot prove that one species has changed". Darwin stating that there is no evidence for evolution is the equivalent of Moses admitting that he went to the mountain to see the burning bush, but found nothing up there but a Starbucks.
Evolution is a religion that has not yet found its Jesus. They need that piece of physical evidence that serves as their savior and absolute justification of their faith. Until then they will try to use the legal loophole of "Separation of Church and State" to silence a credible competing theory, and continue to propagate itself by making sure it is the only voice students hear. The irony is that they themselves fall under the second amendment ban on religion in State institutions. It is about time somebody called them on it.
By JENNY JOHNSON Staff Reporter
The Darby School Board race has boiled down to two tickets, Gina Schallenberger and Robert House versus Bob Wetsteon and Eric Abrahamsen. Signs from both camps decorate most corners and yards in Darby.
DARBY - Driving south on U.S. 93 the signs start appearing near the Lake Como turnoff. By Main Street in Darby, nearly every house and business is marked by a controversy that has rocked the small town.
Red and white campaign signs spell out the division in townsfolk and the stark contrast in political views that will shake out at the May 4 election.
Of the six school board trustee elections in Ravalli County, Darby's is the most heated, with candidates and their supporters spending more dollars to sway votes than in any other district. Half-page ads in the newspaper, bulk mailings and signs separate the four candidates into two different camps - Gina Schallenberger and Robert House or Bob Wetsteon and Eric Abrahamsen.
The two pairs are on opposite sides of the controversial objective origins science policy that the school board approved on first reading and received criticism for on the grounds of its constitutionality and merits.
For Wetsteon and Abrahamsen, their campaign is simple: "Fix this mess." They refer to threatened lawsuits, an existing lawsuit and general unrest the community has experienced since the objective origins policy was introduced in December.
Schallenberger and House, however, staunchly believe in local control of school policy and support the policy that calls for teachers to offer criticisms of evolution but doesn't offer up creationism or any other origin theory as an alternative.
Schallenberger said in an ad printed in Tuesday's Ravalli Republic that giving control to the state "does a disservice to the parents of our students who elected and entrusted us, with their most prized and esteemed gifts, their children."
The Wetsteon-Abrahamsen signs popped up before the candidate forum, and the Schallenberger-House signs - made from recycled "Rob Natelson for Governor" campaign signs - appeared Friday in greater numbers.
The hurried erection of the Schallenberger-House signs were without the required disclaimer until this week. Officials at the state Commissioner of Political Practice's office advised Montana Advocates for True Science to comply with state ethics law and a typed message was affixed with tape to each sign.
The recently created organization paid for the signs and ads, according to the disclaimer.
"This issue has divided the community," said Rita Wilcox. "But it just goes to show that we all care - one way or the other. And the way to move forward will be at the election when all of this might go away or we'll deal with the consequences."
While the board voted 3-2 in favor of the policy earlier this year, a second reading hasn't been scheduled. And a change in the make-up of the board could quash the policy before it sees the light of day.
Incumbents Wetsteon and Schallenberger voted on opposite sides of the policy and vow to maintain their stands. They are joined by Abrahamsen and House, respectively, who both lost bids to the board last year.
Ultimately, it will be up to the 2,152 registered voters to move the policy forward or kill it.
Trustees heard three nights of public comment before the policy's adoption, much of which centered on the appeal to teach Genesis in school, a standard long outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some signs in Darby reflect the religious undertones linked to the policy.
"Be not misled. Read the policy before you vote," one sign reads. On the other side it reads, "A big mess started when Darwin entered the classroom."
While the sign on property,owned by Darby Town Marshal Larry Rose goes so far as to criticize evolution, the written policy doesn't.
"Everybody's going to have their own opinion," Darby resident Mike Wolfe said.
The issue moves north
After last week's candidate forum for Hamilton School Board trustees, it's clear that the objective origins issue is also important to Hamilton voters.
And now with the withdrawal of Bill LaCroix from the race, Hamilton's race is looking a lot like the one in Darby - four candidates, two seats and two camps on the issue of objective origins.
About half of the questions at the candidate forum were related to the controversial policy. Harris Himes and Cary Monaco, both ministers running for their first terms on the school board, support the policy, while Lori Holly and Ingrid Sutherland said they would vote against such a policy.
And LaCroix made his exit from the race for the school board to "narrow the choices for two people who don't want issues like creationism brought to the Hamilton School District."
Hamilton's election is visually about the three levies on the ballot, with yellow signs in yards and in car windows. But the election will be an indication of how Hamilton will deal with the objective origins policy, which officials predict is upcoming.
Reporter Jenny Johnson can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
PC-SPES banned due to contamination, but researchers hope to study it again
A herbal concoction tested against prostate cancer with great fanfare until it was banned in North America may yet make a comeback.
Researchers have reported hearing of new investors negotiating for the eight-herb formula -- called PC-SPES -- in hopes of putting the health supplement back on the market.
In February 2002, Health Canada warned Canadians not to use the supplement because an analysis by the California Department of Health Services found PC-SPES contained the active ingredient for the prescription drug warfarin, a powerful blood thinner that could cause serious health effects if not taken under medical supervision.
Health Canada said the manufacturer, U.S.-based BotanicLab, was recalling PC-SPES and a related product called SPES that was contaminated with another prescription drug.
But Dr. Stephen Straus, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., says there are now groups attempting to collect the herbs and standardize them for testing.
Straus says independent researchers are ready to start testing a re-introduced product, and that his centre has promised to support new trials of PC-SPES but can't begin until a clean product is available.
David Sadava, a professor of biology at Claremont University in California, is one of the researchers waiting for suitable material to test.
He says he knows of several groups of PC-SPES supporters in the U.S. intent on developing a new product with the same formula, including men with advanced prostate cancer who had significant responses to the original product. "I keep hearing they are trying to get these tested for contaminants sometime this year."
These supporters, who have tried copycat products such as Equiguard and PC-CURE, are desperate, Sadava says.
Data from his lab suggest that PC-SPES may also help treat lung cancer, and that the herbs themselves, rather than the contaminants, are responsible for the anticancer effect.
He says the herbs turn on genes that activate a process called programmed cell death in prostate and lung tumour cells.
Our reporter cracks us up with stories of laughter therapy
MUMBAI, INDIA—As soon as we enter the park we hear it: "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaa!"
About 20 or so people are laughing in synch, arms in the air, hands quivering. Their laughs echo off the high-rises and into the sea.
This is what we have come for. I've spent five days in Mumbai — a city where you have to make your own tourist attractions — and on my last day here I'm determined to check out what even its practitioners consider a bizarre institution: group laughter therapy.
Not knowing entirely what to expect, along with two friends, I approach the group. We are being passed by joggers, people walking their dogs in the early daylight hours at Priyadarshani Park, in the wealthy Malabar Hill district of India's largest city.
When we're 10 feet from the crowd, the apparent leader calls us over. I agree, while my friends stay back and watch. After asking my name, the leader announces enthusiastically: "We must welcome Mr. Ariel with spontaneous laughter!" The group erupts in hollers and hoots, no longer in unison. With my eyes closed, I could imagine geese. I half-heartedly join in. A few of the group members, amid manic laughter, high-five me. I'm the youngest in the crowd, and I feel foolish. Off to the side, my friends are giggling.
We do a warm-up exercise — to stretch the muscles of the face, the leader explains, and awaken the vocal chords and diaphragm. "Ha ha ha! Ho ho ho!" Hands in the air, raising the roof, then down to the ground.
I'm self-conscious at first. Within seconds, as I hear myself laughing and realize how ridiculous it sounds, it comes more naturally. I'm laughing for real — even as I follow directions of exactly how I'm supposed to be doing it. My throat starts off with a few tentative "ha-has," soon my gut kicks in, adding volume and depth. The others are egging me on, flailing their arms in the air as they holler at twice my decibel level.
It's an absurd scene. That's exactly why it works so well. There are few things in this world funnier than two dozen grown men and women laughing at nothing in rhythmic unison. And not just ordinary laughter, but no-holds-barred, uninhibited convulsions. It's a familiar sight in parks across the city, every sunrise. In Mumbai, where long working hours, rampant air pollution and nightmarish traffic jams are the status quo, humour is a matter of survival. Even if it is forced.
Dozens of laughter therapy clubs have sprung up here over the past decade since the first in 1995. Since then, chapters have formed in other cities throughout India and have slowly emerged in parts of Europe and North America. A Toronto club launched last November, followed by ones in Ottawa and Guelph.
Some differentiate between as many as 30 kinds of laughter:
The Mobile: Pretend to hold cellphone to ear and laugh obnoxiously into it.
The Office: Keep mouth closed and laugh politely in cascading notes. "Hmm hm m hmm hmm."
The Politician: Hold up hand in the "okay" sign, smile broadly and laugh with confidence.
The Joker: Open mouth in a wide smile and laugh silently.
Others include the hot laugh, shy laugh, the argument, greeting, appreciation, and the humming laugh. Some are more interactive, resembling improv games, such as "the chopstick," in which you chuckle apologetically as you pluck imaginary dumplings from other people's imaginary bowls.
The whole range of laughter makes up the daily routine. Also called laughter yoga, it's meant to relieve stress, by building up pleasure-making endorphins naturally produced in the brain.
"The basic philosophy is that when you laugh, your body and mind are together," says Kishore Kuvavala, 57, group leader of the Priyadarshani laughter club. "In any act when your body and mind are together you relieve your thoughts, you relieve your stress, you relieve your tension. ... For any psychosomatic illnesses, the laughter works a miracle."
Of all alternative therapies, laughter has to be one of the least controversial. You don't need to take any pills, keep a strict diet or fast. But observers debate the benefits. At best, it relieves stress, boosting the body's immune system and increasing overall mental and physical well-being. At worst, the effect is negligible.
One of the inadvertent effects of laughter therapy could be that it makes comedy obsolete. Who needs to sit through hours of hit-and-miss at Yuk-Yuk's when you can eliminate the middleman?
This is not as far-fetched as it may seem. The first World Laughter Day was in 1998, when more than 10,000 people gathered at a racetrack in Mumbai, and united in synchronized laughs. Jerry Seinfeld would kill for that crowd — and he wouldn't have to tell a single joke. The next World Laughter Day is May 2. Toronto's nascent club will host a much smaller crowd for a laughter potluck at the Withrow Park clubhouse from 3 to 6 p.m. at 725 Logan Ave. http://www.laughter (see yogaontario.org for more.)
The practice, started on a whim by a doctor of alternative medicine, has struck a chord. In Toronto, followers speak the familiar language of alternative therapy.
"Our members are reporting great benefits in terms of better health, greater joy and well-being," says one of the local founders, Shiv Sud.
In Mumbai, a similar refrain:
"In 14 years I have not taken a single pill, I have not taken any syrup for my treatment," said Kuvavala after that morning session. "I have been performing this (laughter), I have been performing club therapy, I have been performing urine therapy."
"Urine therapy?" I ask. You don't want to know. Yes, out of all the alternative treatments out there, I'll stick with laughing.
Ariel Teplitsky is the Star's
Saturday entertainment editor.