NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 May 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Is Darwinism dying?

By David F. Dawes

THE THEORY of evolution may be in big trouble, according to no less an authority than Charles Darwin.

"If it could be demonstrated," he once wrote, "that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, excessive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

The breaking down has begun, according to many critics of evolutionary theory -- who are more convinced than ever that Darwin's concept is destined for the slag heap of humanity's failed ideas.

In recent years, science has made great strides in understanding the immense intricacies of various organisms. "Inside every human cell sits a tiny encoded DNA coil five-thousandths of a millimeter in diameter -- which, if unfolded, would be one meter long," writes Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based non-profit education foundation. "Even Bill Gates has observed: 'DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created.'"

"Darwin knew nothing of these things," says Toronto-based Denyse O'Leary, author of the soon-to-be-published By Design or By Chance? "He was a clever man, but he had no idea what he was talking about. He lived and died before these wonders came to light."

Bible under fire

Since the 1859 publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species, biblical creationism has been under fire and losing ground -- a process that escalated dramatically with the colorful 1925 Scopes 'Monkey Trial.'

Most creationists now generally accept what they call 'micro-evolution' -- physical changes evolving within a single species -- as scientifically provable. However, they reject the Darwinian concept of 'macro-evolution' -- transformation from one species into another -- and its underlying assumption that life on earth has developed through a random, unguided process of countless small mutations over millions of years.

At one time in North America, it was against the law to teach the theory of evolution. Now it is broadly unacceptable to teach, as scientific theory, anything but evolution as an explanation for the origins of the world and its inhabitants.

Evolution has become unquestioned scientific orthodoxy. In the process, attempts to link life's origins with anything beyond material causes have been written off as 'religious' -- and therefore, scientifically invalid.

But some observers believe evolutionary theory is on the defensive -- and slowly on the way out. The Intelligent Design (ID) movement is the chief weapon in this new offensive against Darwinism.

ID advocates generally do not address the Bible's creation account. Instead, they muster persuasive scientific arguments that the universe is intricately designed. The obvious implication is that, where there is a design, there is a transcendent Designer.

Irreducible complexity

One of the crucial ID concepts is "irreducible complexity." Biochemist Michael Behe introduced the theory in a key ID book, Darwin's Black Box. Behe states that an irreducibly complex biological system, such as the human cell, is made up of well-matched and interdependent parts. To function properly, all the parts must be present at the same time, fully-formed and in the right combination. ID argues that it is impossible for the separate parts to develop in isolation from each other, accumulating their essential characteristics one by one over a period of time, and then accidentally fuse together as a perfectly working organism.

Darwinian evolution is increasingly being called into question because of ideas like irreducible complexity. Over the past two decades books promoting ID -- by authors such as Behe, Phillip Johnson, Jonathan Wells, Michael Denton and William Dembski -- have created a sensation in Christian intellectual circles.

While ID has had its greatest impact in the U.S., Canadian evangelicals are becoming increasingly aware of its significance.

Ed Neeland, associate professor of chemistry at Okanagan University in Kelowna, expresses exasperation toward die-hard evolutionists who refuse to consider the design alternative. He compares them to detectives whose preconceived notions blind them to clear evidence. Even as they view a body that has been tied up and shot in the back, they are already convinced that the gunshot somehow caused itself.

"They will say that we don't understand how ropes can self-cut to length and self-knot . . . or how a bullet could be created without intelligent design and fired... But if you give us enough time, we will solve these problems." At what point, Neeland asks, "do you face the obvious and admit that the death was designed?"

"I think there's an increasing skepticism that's got the Darwinist community thoroughly alarmed," says Mark Hartwig, editor of Focus on the Family's Teachers in Focus magazine. "The reaction to the ID movement's success has been shrill, and marked by denial, intimidation and ad hominem [attacks]."

ID proponents believe they have struck a nerve in the body of evolutionary theory. Indeed, some observers believe that ID concepts have done more to discredit Darwinism -- and provide an alternative to it -- than most traditional creationist arguments.

Some creationists forcefully disagree. "The average Canadian has never heard of ID," says David Herbert, chairman of the London, Ontario-based Citizens Concerned about Education and Origins. He believes it is more effective to challenge the thinking of high school teachers by offering presentations that examine the underlying philosophical assumptions of both evolution and creationism. ID, he maintains, "is seen as an elitist, ivory tower thing. How much of it is filtering down into school boards and textbooks? I don't think it's made any impact in Canada. And I don't think it will."

Bad science?

"ID is just plain bad science," asserts Denis Lamoureux, an assistant professor of science and religion at St. Joseph's College in Alberta, who considers himself an "evolutionary creationist." An evangelical Christian, he has debated proponents of ID, such as Phillip Johnson. "I have known -- and have been friends with -- the main leaders since 1994, and I have yet to see a theory of origins outlined. If they are going to inspire a scientific revolution and usher in 'theistic science,' then they need to present a theory . . . ID anti-evolutionism is theologically motivated."

Ken Ham, president of Answers In Genesis, an organization which promotes the idea that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, believes that ID proponents are only "adding some kind of intelligence to evolution, but it's still a secular viewpoint. They're not giving evidence of who the designer is. Speaking philosophically, their creator has to be an ogre, whose creation is full of mistakes, death and disease." ID advocates, he concludes, are "doomed to failure because they have no biblical perspective."

Ham's assertion "is a gross misrepresentation of ID," contends Kirk Durston, national director of the Ontario-based New Scholars Society, a Campus Crusade for Christ ministry made up of faculty members from Canadian universities. "I know many people involved in the ID movement who are young-earth creationists."

Not all creationists dislike ID, and some welcome its contribution to the battle against evolution. Ian Taylor is a Kingston, Ontario-based author who produces the internationally broadcast Creation Moments radio series. He believes ID "has had great impact in stirring the minds of people towards alternatives to godless evolution."

ID appeals to Christians who are uncomfortable with a literalist reading of Genesis. Believers who have stood in the middle ground of the debate, uncomfortable with both traditional creationism and the claims of Darwinism may feel that they can finally be a part of the creation/evolution debate, specifically because of the Intelligent Design movement.

Golden opportunity

Some creationists are missing a golden opportunity to support a key means of challenging evolution, according to Laurence Tisdall, president of the Creation Science Association of Quebec. "ID, instead of evolution or creation, is what should be presented in science classes, because it represents the limit of what observable science can tell us."

ID's low profile in this country is changing. Canadian evangelical Grant Jeffrey has released Creation: Remarkable Evidence of God's Design; late last year, he spoke on the topic several times on the 100 Huntley Street broadcast. An interview with Michael Behe was featured on Vision TV's Test of Faith.

More significantly, there is also a growing interest in the academic community. "I know quite a few university professors who are in the biological sciences, and who believe that ID was involved in some way," says Campus Crusade's Durston. "Very few of them, however, would want that to become public knowledge."

Durston has given ID presentations in both Canadian and American universities. "No significant objections to the evidence I present are being raised in these venues. I never bash Darwinism. I simply show them the positive evidence for ID. And it goes over very well indeed."

The Canadian secondary school system is more resistant, according to Durston. But there are opportunities to share the ID message. Last spring a pro-evolution teacher invited him to make presentations at two Grade 13 biology classes. "The teacher was enthusiastic, and he would like to have me back again this year." Some critics of Darwinism are convinced that evolutionary theory is crumbling. Others believe that evolution is still too deeply entrenched to be disavowed. "I can provide you with a list of more than 450 individuals," says Tisdall, "who have been refused their PhD because they were creationists."

Every major university "has a whole faculty devoted to evolutionary biology," says Herbert. "There are jobs, textbooks and big money involved. There's a tremendous vested interest."

While evangelicals, especially in the face of ID's progress, may find this intransigence mystifying, O'Leary maintains that Darwinian evolutionists "simply [need] to believe that there is no design. There is a huge investment in this sort of thing in our society. Many people simply cannot afford to see the design. They keep looking for chance, and it isn't there."

Darwin argued that something which cannot adapt to changing times and conditions simply cannot survive. That very thing may eventually happen to his theory of evolution.

Days are numbered

Mark Hartwig believes evolution's days are numbered. "Over 300 scientists have signed a public statement voicing skepticism about Darwinism, and urging schools to encourage a careful examination of the evidence. I think that's the tip of a good-sized iceberg."

If he is right, the implications are potentially staggering. If a significant enough portion of the scientific establishment accepts the design concept, it would involve rethinking everything from biology to evolutionary psychology. Hence, evolutionists will likely fight tenaciously to preserve their dominance in the educational establishment.

Evolutionary theory "is definitely in trouble in almost every discipline. It has every earmark of a religion in decline," says Creation Moments' Taylor. Some scientists "are feeling the winds of change and beginning to venture out beyond their constraining paradigm." However, he adds: "I do not think that evolution will ever be totally discredited, anymore than I believe that all men will accept Christ and creation."

O'Leary predicts that the design concept "will be restored as a normal part of our understanding of the universe, just as it was before Darwinism appeared." Evolution, she maintains, "will be seen as, in part, a function of design. That, of course, leads inevitably to talk about God in biology. That's okay, really. Physicists have been doing it for decades. It didn't stop them from doing good science."

ID activists believe good science can be the grounds upon which creationists challenge their local school boards to include ID in science curriculums. Mark Hartwig says this strategy has had some success in the United States. He maintains there is "enormous public support for teaching alternative scientific theories."

American ID proponents are also considering legal challenges to evolution-only public education in their country. Francis J. Beckwith, author of Law, Darwinism and Public Education, asserts that a statute allowing ID teaching could be justified because allowing only evolutionary teaching is tantamount to "advocating, aiding, fostering and promoting irreligion, which . . . is constitutionally forbidden." He adds that it could also be legally argued that students should be exposed to "reputable scholarship that critiques evolution," and that "an ID statute protects the academic freedom of teachers and students."

Meanwhile, those who believe in ID also believe that their numbers will continue to swell; and Canadian proponents are watching the movement in the United States with interest.

"It is just so interesting that it's going to prove irresistible to scientists who aren't hardcore naturalists," says Mark Hartwig. "If ID becomes accepted as a legitimate scientific approach "the effects will be revolutionary -- and will lend great credibility to Christian thinking as a whole."

CSICOP Online Column: Science and the Media

From: Barry Karr SkeptInq@AOL.COM

Understanding What the American Public Really Thinks About Stem Cell and Cloning Research

Matthew Nisbet

Few science and technology-related issues have sparked as much survey attention in the U.S. as the controversy over stem cell and therapeutic cloning research. Interest groups, advocates, and policymakers on both sides of the debate have taken advantage of poll results to support their claims that the public backs their preferred policy outcomes, and the competing camps have staged ongoing public communication campaigns in an effort to shape public opinion. Journalists have also highlighted the results of these surveys, using poll figures to complement their coverage of "who is ahead and who is behind" in the competition to decide stem cell and cloning-related policy.

To Read the Entire Column Visit:


Over the last year or so we have been taking a poll of people subscribing to the Skeptical Inquirer via the internet asking how they heard about us. One of the most popular responses was that they heard about us from a family member or friend.

We certainly appreciate the help our readers have given us in spreading the word. And, of course, this has given us an idea. Perhaps you can recommend to us some people you think might be interested in the Skeptical Inquirer and the efforts of CSICOP. We will send them a sample issue and information on us (while supplies last) along with a note stating that you, our reader, recommended this person to us.

We are doing all that we can to grow the skeptical movement and we hope we can count on your support.

Please e-mail at: skeptinq@aol.com

Barry Karr

PS: I am almost fully aware what I am letting myself in for here with this offer, so bear with me, it may take some time to get issues out to people.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Change in Evolution Policy Dies, but Debate Goes on in Roseville


A proposal that would have changed the way biology teachers in Roseville high hchools teach evolution died before trustees Tuesday night. However, the debate remains very much alive.

The proposal, called the "Quality Science Education Policy," was made by Granite Bay parent Larry Caldwell. Trustee Kelly Lafferty made a motion to approve it, but that motion was not seconded.

Debate continued for three hours, however, and at 11 p.m., trustee Dean Forman offered an amended version of the policy which the board will take up at a future meeting.

Over the winter, Caldwell introduced a series of materials that challenge the legitimacy of the theory of evolution. Teachers looked at them and sent them to universities for review, but in the end rejected them for use in the classroom. The material included a series of videos called "Icons of Evolution, which is sold by a group that promotes the concepts of creationism and intelligent design.

Those who endorse creationism believe that a diety created the Universe and all life on Earth. Many creationists subscribe to a literal interpretation of the story of the creation in the book of Genesis. Those who back the theory of intelligent design believe that God or some other sentient being was responsible for the origin of the universe and has guided the development of life on Earth.

Caldwell said it is not his mission to get the Bible into classrooms and voiced his support for the doctrine of separation of church and state. However, he said he believes there is evidence that refutes evolution and he wants it taught in biology classes.

Under Forman's compromise, teachers would present arguments against evolution, but they could use whatever materials they choose. School libraries would also be required to devote a section to materials that argue against evolution.

Story last updated Wednesday, May 05, 2004 - 5:04 PM

It's business as usual for struck-off Killaloe doctor


by Mary Earls

A PATIENT lobby group has raised concerns over the fact that struck off doctors are still able to

practice alternative medicine, and it has now written to the Minister for Health requesting an urgent change in legislation.

Patient Focus is particularly distressed over the fact that Killaloe doctor, Paschal Carmody is still offering alternative treatments at the town's East Clinic, despite being found guilty of professional misconduct following a full inquiry by the Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Committee.

This recommendation was also upheld by the High Court recently, when he was formally struck off the medical register as a GP.

But because Mr Carmody has a thriving business as an alternative medicine practitioner, Contd. from pg 1.

it's still business as usual for the doctor who was the subject of numerous complaints from former patients and families of patients.

Spokesperson for Patient Focus, Sheila O'Connor told the Limerick Post that Mr Carmody offered "false hope to people with terminal cancer by using alternative medicines," and charged up to 20,000 euro per treatment.

The Fitness to Practice Committee began its probe last July, and afterwards the Council decided to go to the High Court to have Dr Carmody's name temporarily suspended from the medical register. The Council can seek such an order where it is satisfied that it would be in the public interest to do so.

Mr Carmody was also restricted by the High Court from practising photodynamic therapy (PDT), which is a newly-recognised treatment for certain superficial cancers.

A subsequent investigation by RTE's 'Prime Time' claimed that Dr Carmody had offered photodynamic therapy to people who were suffering from late stage cancer, irrespective of where the cancer was. However this type of therapy is only recommended in the treatment of cancer located in certain parts of the body, such as the skin.

The County Clare wife of one of Dr Carmody's former patients, told the Limerick Post that she has personally written a letter to Minister Micheál Martin, asking for an urgent change in current legislation regarding medical practices. The Minister replied that he was at an "advanced stage" in reviewing this.

"The medical council were examining a complaint concerning Dr Carmody as far back as 1994, and they even put sanctions on him for unauthorised tablets. Stricter controls need to be brought in, and it is the inaction on behalf of the Government that has allowed this man to practice despite numerous complaints," said the concerned woman who preferred not to be identified.

She explained that Dr Carmody was also working with a Dr William Howard Porter in the East Clinic, who was struck off as a Ophthalmologist in America for gross negligence but who still continued to offer alternative treatments in Ireland.

"Dr Carmody now lives in a palatial mansion on about 300 acres in fashionable Killaloe, which he earned off the back of unfortunate people who came to him for cancer treatments," said the woman.

In addition Dr Paschal Carmody, of Tinarana House, Ogonnelloe, Killaloe, was fined over 9,000euro at Killaloe District Court in January 2003 after pleading guilty to 12 charges relating to the manufacture and supply of unauthorised medicines, including St John's Wort and dehydroepiandrosteron, which is an anabolic steroid, between November 1999 and June 2000. This prosecution was brought by the Irish Medicines Board.

One website for international clinics offering alternative cancer treatments, including Dr Carmody's comes under the heading "the fountain of youth".

And the service of oxygen therapy is also offered by Dr Carmody online.

The spokesperson for Patient Focus, Ms O'Connor, added that the doctor "gave terminally ill cancer patients false hope, and when you are dying you are willing to try anything".

Local doctors studying chelation




For years, using chelation to treat heart disease has been pretty much an act of faith.

The intravenous process, which removes heavy metals and minerals from the blood, has long had a following among practitioners of alternative medicine who say its cleansing abilities work on arteries, too.

But mainstream doctors have rarely put stock in the treatment because there's only sparse scientific evidence that it helps treat heart disease, the leading cause of death for American men and women.

"Chelation, so far, has been a little like religion: either you believe in it or you don't," said Randy Hartman, a cardiologist at the Heart & Vascular Center of Sarasota.

Now the largest study of its kind -- the "Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy," or TACT -- is being launched to end the debate.

The Heart & Vascular Center and Bradenton's Integrated Healing Arts recently joined the five-year, $30 million project, which is being funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The clinical trial will involve nearly 2,400 patients at more than 100 research sites nationwide. The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved chelation as a treatment for lead poisoning and toxicity from other heavy metals, but the federal agency hasn't approved it for coronary artery disease.

Hartman, the principal TACT investigator at the Sarasota research site, says he doesn't have a pat answer for patients asking if chelation would help them.

Like most board-certified cardiologists, he prescribes traditional treatments: controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol with medication and lifestyle changes such as eating well, exercising and quitting smoking.

More severe cases are treated with angioplasty or bypass surgery.

"This is something that needs to be studied so we can finally get some definitive answers," Hartman said. "Does it help, who does it help and in what way does it help?"

Many have tried it

More than 800,000 Americans have undergone chelation therapy in the last 40 years, most of them for cardiovascular disease, says the American College of Advancement in Medicine.

The therapy involves an intravenous treatment using ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid, a synthetic amino acid. TACT patients sit, generally in a recliner, for three hours at a stretch while receiving the infusion.

Evidence on how well chelation works remains largely anecdotal because of the size and scope of chelation studies to date.

The next-largest one conducted in Denmark a few years ago had only 153 patients, said Gervasio A. Lamas, director of cardiovascular research and academic affairs at Mount Sinai Medical Center-Miami Heart Institute in Miami Beach.

Lamas wrote the NIH proposal for TACT, which was approved in 2002, and he's the study's chairman.

Earlier clinical trials gave doctors little reason to support chelation because they failed to show significant differences between those heart disease patients who tried the therapy compared with those who didn't, he said.

Even alternative medicine practitioners, who are generally much more enthusiastic about chelation, found the same studies inconclusive because the numbers of patients involved were so small.

"I don't think there is significant evidence for or against chelation," said Lamas, a cardiologist who doesn't use the therapy at his practice. "I think there is a swirling controversy about something on which there is little data. There is not enough data for a clinician to make a decision."

TACT will enroll 2,372 patients who are 50 or older, have had a heart attack, but no chelation, within the last five years.

They cannot have smoked within the last three months or have had heart surgery within the last six months.

Half will be randomly selected to receive a standardized chelation solution; the rest will get a placebo. It's a double-blind study in which neither the patients nor the doctors will know who is getting the placebo and who is getting the treatment.

Patients will undergo a series of 40 infusions -- the first 30 are weekly -- and take vitamin supplements. They will be monitored until the end of the study to gauge chelation's clinical benefits or side effects.

The study will end in the spring of 2008, five years after the first patient was enrolled.

"Whatever the results, you can't deny them," Lamas said. "The study is well-designed and it has enough patients in it so that whatever we get will have to be taken into account by all cardiology and alternative medicine, whether it is positive or negative."

Cooperation from the alternative medical community was essential to the project because its members are the most familiar with chelation, Lamas said.

"They feel that they have been practicing a treatment that has benefited thousands of patients, that conventional medicine refuses to recognize what is obvious to them."

Some are convinced

Jeff Morrison, one of four chiropractors at Bradenton's Integrated Healing Arts, fits that bill. As site coordinator for TACT, he's sure the study will prove what he says he's known all along.

"I think it's going to show that chelation therapy is very efficient for cardiovascular disease. I don't think it's going to replace any current treatments out there, but it will add a very important tool for cardiovascular diseases," he said. "It will open a whole new treatment. … It will save a lot of lives."

Chelation has been used since 1998 at Morrison's practice, a multidisciplinary operation that also has massage therapists, physical therapists, an acupuncturist and a hypnotherapist.

There, chelation is used mostly to treat patients with cardiovascular disease.

To a lesser extent, it's given to people with heavy metal toxicity, which manifests itself in such symptoms as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Reluctance by doctors to use chelation may be partly fueled by their desire to perform more profitable operations, Morrison said. Insurance usually only pays for chelation for lead poisoning or toxicity. It typically costs others from $80 to $120 for a single infusion.

Chelation is free to patients in the study.

Eighty-two TACT sites nationwide are considered "activated," including 15 in Florida. About 170 patients have enrolled across the country.

Integrated Healing Arts has one signed up and the Heart & Vascular Center has six.

That includes Sarasota's Frank Laudano, an active 70-year-old retiree who's had two heart attacks and one angioplasty. Other treatments, such as strapping inflatable cuffs to his body to increase blood flow, helped him feel stronger for a while.

Laudano got his first infusion nearly two weeks ago.

"My heart is such that I'm not a good candidate for open heart surgery," he said. "I'm a strong believer that it will work. If it doesn't work, I have the satisfaction of contributing to medical science, and other people may benefit.

"It may be my children."

Last modified: May 06. 2004 12:00AM

Creation and evolution at Grand Canyon


A debate about the age and geological history of the Grand Canyon has escalated into a national issue in the USA after a creationist book was put on sale in the attraction's official bookshop.

The book, Grand Canyon: A Different View, by a local trail guide, Tom Vail, claims that years of erosion had nothing to do with the canyon's creation. Rather, its shape should be attributed to the Old Testament flood — meaning that it is only a few thousand years old.

The book's presence in the bookshop has created a rumpus between creation-ists and evolutionists.

Geologists estimate that the 217-mile canyon in Arizona was fashioned by the Colorado river some five to six million years ago and contains some of the oldest exposed rocks on Earth.

According to a report in The Guardian newspaper, Mr Vail writes: 'For years, as a Colorado river guide, I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary timescale of millions of years. Then I met the Lord. Now I have a different view of the canyon, which according to a biblical timescale can't possibly be more than a few thousand years old'.

The claim has prompted the American Geological Institute and seven scientific bodies to flood the National Park Service with complaints calling for the book to be removed from the shop.

The book has sold out but is being reordered, and its display has been moved from the natural sciences section to 'inspirational reading'.

Deanne Adams, the Park Service's chief of interpretation for the Pacific region, told The Los Angeles Times: 'We struggle. Creationism versus science is a big issue at some places. We like to acknowledge that there are different viewpoints, but we have to stick with the science. That's our training'.

The Grand Canyon superintendent is seeking advice from the National Park Service headquarters in Washington.

Montana's Would-be Governor Demands Equality For Creationism


By Jim Brown
May 5, 2004

(AgapePress) - A candidate for governor of Montana is voicing support for the teaching of creationism in public schools.

The Darby School Board recently adopted an "objective origins" science policy that allows criticisms of the theory of evolution to be taught in district schools. It is a move that has generated increasing discussion in Montana over the creation/evolution debate.

Former state senator Ken Miller, who is now seeking the governorship of Montana, believes teaching of creation in the classroom should be basic and should not include biblical scripture verses. He feels it is important that information about creationism be presented scientifically so that students and their parents can make a fully informed comparison between it and Darwinism.

"If we're going to present the theory of evolution," Miller says, "then we also need to present the theory of creationism and then allow both of them to be presented to the children. And then they with their parents [can] decide what they believe to be true and what they want in their lives."

But on the other hand, the gubernatorial candidate says, "If we don't want creation at all, even the mention of God, we need to take evolution and Darwinism out of the schools also." Miller believes the two opposing theories of life's origins should receive equal treatment in the school curriculum, whatever the school board decides that treatment is to be.

Another Republican candidate for governor, former state senator Tom Keating, also supports the teaching of creationism in Montana schools.

© 2004 AgapePress

Discovery Pushes Back Date of 'Classic' Maya



Published: May 5, 2004

A discovery of monumental carved masks and elaborate jade ritual objects in 2,000-year-old ruins of a city in Guatemala is raising serious questions about the chronology of the enigmatic Mayan civilization. In many respects, the city appeared to be ahead of its time.

The leader of excavations there, Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said yesterday that the city, Cival, appeared to have been one of the earliest and largest in what is generally regarded as the preclassic period. But it has been found to have all the hallmarks of a classic Mayan city: kings, complex iconography, grand palaces, polychrome ceramics and writing.

"It's pretty clear that 'preclassic' is a misnomer," Dr. Estrada-Belli said in a telephone interview. But he added, "It may be too late to change the names" in the established framework of Maya history.

Archaeologists have long dated the start of the classic Mayan civilization at A.D. 250, which had seemed to be the time of the earliest written inscriptions in city plazas and temples. The period ended around 900 with the mysterious collapse of the largest Mayan cities in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and parts of Mexico. The postclassic period of general decline continued until the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century.

The preclassic period may have begun as early as 2000 B.C. Cival reached its prime about 150 B.C. and was abandoned shortly before A.D. 100.

The new findings from Cival were announced by the National Geographic Society, which was a supporter of the research. Besides the two huge stucco masks, the discoveries included 120 pieces of polished jade, a ceremonial center that spanned a half mile and an inscribed stone slab dating to 300 B.C.

It is perhaps the earliest such monument ever found in the Mayan lowlands, Dr. Estrada-Belli said.

Other archaeologists not involved in the research said they were amazed by the size of the city but not surprised to learn that the preclassic Maya were capable of such advanced architecture, art and other classic-type culture.

Previous discoveries had already overturned the former model of the preclassic Maya as a culture of simple farming villages, Dr. David Webster, a Pennsylvania State University archaeologist, wrote in his book "The Fall of the Ancient Maya" (Thames & Hudson, 2002).

The ruins of El Mirador, also in Guatemala, have revealed a preclassic city with a highly developed culture as early as 500 B.C., a pyramid that rivaled in size those of Egypt and a population that may have reached 100,000. Cival may have had 10,000 inhabitants at its peak.

Two years ago a Harvard researcher, Dr. William Saturno, discovered a 1,900-year-old mural at San Bartolo, Guatemala, that experts hailed as a masterpiece and as fine as any wall painting ever found in Mayan ruins.

Dr. Ian Graham, a Harvard archaeologist who specializes in Maya inscriptions, said he accepted the interpretation of the Cival discovery because it seemed to corroborate other evidence of an unexpected flowering of preclassic culture.

"Extraordinary things are emerging from preclassic sites," he said. "They are simply mind-boggling."

Dr. Graham said that when he mapped the Cival site two decades ago, the jungle concealed all but some outlines of the stone buildings and pyramids that once stood there. The central plaza appeared to have been less than half the size of what has now been uncovered.

The Harvard team did not linger for extensive excavations.

Dr. Estrada-Belli's painstaking investigation began paying off with spectacular results a year ago. He was inspecting a dank tunnel in the main pyramid. Reaching into a fissure in the wall, his hand met a piece of carved stucco. Later, he saw before him the mask of an anthropomorphic face, 15 feet by 9 feet, with snake fangs in its squared mouth.

"The mask's preservation is astounding," Dr. Estrada-Belli said in a statement about the discoveries.

Last week, the archaeologist said, a second mask, apparently identical, was excavated from the same pyramid. The second mask is made of carved stone overlaid with thick plaster. Its eyes appear to be adorned with corn husks, suggesting the Mayan maize deity.

A study of ceramics associated with the mask, Dr. Estrada-Belli said, indicated that the two artifacts were part of the backdrop for elaborate rituals in about 150 B.C., plus or minus 100 years.

Other evidence suggested that Cival was occupied as early as 600 B.C. and that the broad plaza was being used for important ceremonies and ritual offerings by 500 B.C. The central axis of the main buildings and the plaza is oriented to sunrise at the equinox, presumably for solar rituals associated with the agricultural cycle.

The remains of a hastily erected defensive wall around the city attest to Cival's probable fate. Overwhelmed by an invading enemy, the city was abandoned, apparently for good.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

The latest news on evolution education from Alabama and Montana.


On April 29, 2004, the Alabama state House Education Committee passed SB 336 out of committee by a vote of 9-1, and placed it on the calendar for the full House. The bill, entitled the "Academic Freedom Act," aims to give public school teachers "the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific, historical, theoretical, or evidentiary information pertaining to alternative theories or points of view on the subject of origins."

One of the sponsors of the House version of the bill, Rep. Jim Carns, was quoted in March as saying with reference to the bill's provisions, "Evolution is one theory, creation is an alternative theory."

For news updates as well as legal and educational analyses of SB 336, see the web site of Alabama Citizens for Science: http://www.alscience.org/


After the May 4, 2004, school board election in Darby, Montana, the proposed "objective origins" policy is likely to be dead in the water. The policy, approved by the Darby school board in a preliminary vote of 3-2, encourages teachers to help their students "analyze scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the theory of evolution." The controversy in Darby received national attention when it was featured in a story in The New York Times in late February and again when it was featured in a story on National Public Radio in early May. Turnout in the election was unprecedentedly high, due in part to the dispute over "the objective origins" policy. Preliminary results indicate that incumbent Bob Wetzsteon and hopeful Eric Abrahamsen have won by almost a 2 to 1 margin. Both men oppose the "objective origins" policy, meaning that it is unlikely that the newly constituted board will adopt it.

For coverage in the Missoulian, see: http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2004/05/05/news/mtregional/news06.txt

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


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

Forthcoming in July 2004: Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism: http://greenwood.com/books/BookDetail.asp?dept_id=1&sku=GR2122

419ers crack cold fusion


By Lester Haines
Published Wednesday 5th May 2004 11:53 GMT

Since they already have a man in space, it should come as no surprise that our old mates from Lagos have pulled off an even more impressive feat - cold fusion. Well, it was actually the brilliant Nigerian physicist Koffi Abacha, who sadly died in the obligatory mysterious plane crash.

However, his work looks promising, and for just $10,000 you can buy yourself into the energy revolution. Read on:

From: Barrister Bernard Akume
Akume Inneh Law Firm
Legal Practitioners
10, Adelabu Street
Surulere, Lagos
Contact: Barrister Bernard Akume
Tel: +234-80-23222528
Fax: 1 309 423 4393

Email: bakume@1stcounsel.com

Confidential Proposal/Investment Assistance for Cold Fusion Energy Device.

Greetings to you in the name of the most high God, from my beloved country Nigeria. I am sorry and I solicit your permission into your privacy. I am Barrister Bernard Akume, lawyer to the late Dr. Koffi Abacha, a brilliant Nigerian physicist.

My former client, late Dr. Koffi Abacha, died in a mysterious plane crash in the year 1994 on the way to a scientific conference to make an announcement of the utmost importance to mankind. He was planning to present a paper regarding his extensive work on cold fusion. It is said the cold fusion device he had developed, produced 10-times more energy than the energy source that fed into it. The device was about the size of a steamer trunk.

Dr. Stanley Pons and Professor Martin Fleischman of Southampton University in the UK consulted the late Dr. Abacha regarding their ongoing cold fusion experiments. While enroute to the Paris scientific conference, the plane carrying Dr. Koffi Abacha mysteriously exploded over the ocean. Without the wise Dr. Abachas guidance, Dr. Pons and Professor Fleischman made no further progress in their cold fusion research.

Upon the death of my former client and unknown to his colleagues, two trunk boxes came into my possession. One trunk box contains some type of energy producing device. The late Doctor called it his cold fusion fuel cell. The second trunk box contains thousands of pages of scientific papers and notes. The trunk boxes had been placed in storage, for safe keeping, at a Lagos security storage firm in 1994 just before the late Dr. Abacha left on his ill fated flight to Paris.

The security storage firm does not know the actual content of the trunk boxes. My client and I told them that the boxes contain old African artifacts to be delivered to a client outside the country via Air Courier Services. For now it is only you and I that is having knowledge of this wonderful invention.

The only assistance I require from you is to help me send these trunks out of Nigeria and receive these trunk boxes in either Sydney, London or New York, depending on your country of agreement. Once these trunk boxes are out of Nigeria, I shall seek your advice in obtaining a local patent in your name and licensing the device to investors.

I need $ 10,000 U.S. dollars to pay past due storage fees, freight charges, and possible bribes to local customs officers.

Once this device is licensed, the resulting funds shall be disbursed accordingly as follows: 25-percent for the recipient (you) from the total sum. 2-percent for the courier officer in the country where you shall receive the trunk boxes. 5-percent set aside from the entire sum for expenses incurred by both parties in due course of executing this transaction (home and abroad). 68-percent for me. If you are not satisfied with the percentage sharing of the fund feel free to let me know. In compliance with this you are to immediately forward to me by mail the following: Your full names and address Confidential telephone and fax numbers.

With this information I will immediately commence all necessary documentation for a successful shipment of the first trunk box to your country of choice as all the modalities have already been worked out by me. I will also give you full details of this whole transaction which I have already perfected in due course.

Please note that you are to treat this with utmost confidentiality willing or not willing to assist me in this transaction as nobody knows about this invention and I am still an active lawyer in this country.


Remain blessed in the name of GOD.

Yours faithfully, Barrister Bernard Akume

Email: bakume@1stcounsel.com

FDA cracks down on 'carb-blocker' makers


By Shelley Davis

LAWRENCEVILLE — A pill that prevents your body from absorbing starches can be mighty tempting to bagel-lovers during the current low-carb diet craze. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently cracked down on the products, saying manufacturers can't make claims such as, "Eat all you want! Block the starch and lose Weight," without backing them up with reliable scientific evidence. Most dietitians say the carb-blockers, which first surfaced in the 1970s, are as much of a crock now as they were then. But a few doctors are standing behind an ingredient included in many starch neutralizing products — Phase 2, a concentrated white bean extract. A study recently published in the Alternative Medicine Review, a peer-reviewed medical journal, said when used in conjunction with a sensible diet and exercise, "Phase 2 may complement a healthy weight-loss program." In an eight-week study on the substance, people using Phase 2 lost an average of almost 4 pounds compared with the placebo group, which lost an average of 1.65 pounds.

Phase 2 is an ingredient in weight-loss supplements such as Starch Blocker, Starch Away and Carb Cutters, said Dr. Steven Rosenblatt, a Los Angeles physician who wrote a book called "Starch Blocker Diet." He said that as the extract goes through the stomach it blocks an enzyme, alpha amylase, that cuts up starch into easily digestible sugar. The starches can pass through the body without being absorbed.

"It's not a magic pill. It's not a license to overeat," Rosenblatt said. "But if you take it with your meals and eat a moderate diet, now for the first time you can include carbs."

When combined with exercise, he said the starch-blocker forces the body to burn stored body fat. "Most of our exercise gets through this morning's bagel," he said. "Obesity is an epidemic in this country and we have to use all the tools we can find." Rosenblatt claims the product is not a stimulant and has no negative side effects.

Lori Ferme, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said many of the studies claiming Phase 2 is effective weren't published in peer-reviewed journals and were conducted on rats, not humans.

"There's no real proof that this stuff works," she said. FDA spokeswoman Kim Rawlings wouldn't comment on Phase 2 specifically, but said half of the 16 dietary supplement distributors targeted in April's crackdown have removed or changed the claims they used to make on the products.

The products are unsafe because they encourage people they can eat whatever they want, make no lifestyle changes and still lose weight, she said.

Numbers that conceal secrets


D. Murali

CHANGE is happening at such fast pace that it is accepted that you need to run faster to remain in the same place. "Some things never change," writes John D. Barrow, in his book The Constants of Nature, published by Vintage Books (www.vintagebooks.com).

"Despite the concatenation of chaotically unpredictable movements of atoms and molecules, our experience is of a world that possesses a deep-laid consistency and continuity," states the preface of the book that is about `the numbers that encode the deepest secrets of the universe'.

If you've ever wondered how standards of measurement originated, the authors answers that they were `entirely parochial and anthropometric.' Meaning, "lengths were derived from the length of the king's arm or the span of his hand". That anatomy played a major role is evident from the common `foot'. "The nautical unit of length, the fathom, was the largest distance-unit defined from the human anatomy, and was defined as the maximum distance between the fingertips of a man with both hands outstretched horizontally to the side."

Can you count on numbers to be lucky? "What lies at the root of numerology is a belief that there is something intrinsically meaningful about the numbers themselves," writes Barrow. Pythagoras was fascinated by `amicable' numbers — "two numbers are called `amicable' if the sum of the divisors of the first number is equal to the second number, and vice versa." There was also "a piece of numerological alternative medicine to cure malaria": "Take seven pickles from seven palm trees, seven chips from seven beams, seven nails from seven bridges, seven ashes from seven ovens, seven scoops of earth from seven door sockets, seven pieces of pitch from seven ships, seven handfuls of cumin, and seven hairs from the beard of an old dog, and tie them to the neck-hole of the shirt with a white twisted cord."

Are you looking for the magic formula to pass CA?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

BREAKPOINT: Darwin's doubters: Changing paradigms, intelligently


Published May 6, 2004

Intelligent design is the argument by scientists that the world shows clear signs that it was designed and is not simply the result of random evolution.

This is one of the biggest cultural shifts in recent history, especially now with school boards across the country debating this very question and affirming the need to teach both sides of this controversy.

How did this come about? It's been developing for years, and a new book recounts the intelligent design movement's history.

Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design, written by rhetorical historian Thomas Woodward, tells the stories of four founders of the intelligent design movement—Michael Denton, Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski—and how they used brilliant rhetorical strategy to break down Darwinism.

Woodward notes that his reason for writing the history is that it nurtures "the health of science itself and ... the civic health of American society." What's at stake, you see, is no less than "supreme cultural authority," says Woodward. At the heart of the origin debates is "our notions ... of what it means to be human."

The motivation for these four founders of the design movement to instigate this "reformation within science" is a passion for intellectual truth-telling. "Design sees itself," writes Woodward, "as ... doing its best to restore epistemic integrity."

Woodward begins with biochemist Michael Denton. Denton set the tone, purpose, and value of the fight against Darwinism in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.

Next he examines legal scholar Phillip Johnson, this year's Wilberforce Award recipient. Phil Johnson began reading Darwin and realized two things: the immense cultural implications if the Darwinian worldview was proved false and, as a result of his legal training, just how easy it was to prove it false. Johnson put Darwin on trial and forced Darwinians in the academy onto the defensive.

Woodward then turns to biologist Michael Behe, author of the "anti-Darwinist bomb," Darwin's Black Box. When Behe read Denton's book, he experienced "the greatest intellectual shock of his life." For years, Behe believed in Darwin's empirical proof because he had been taught it throughout his education. Behe's "conversion," so to speak, caused him to rethink biochemical systems, and he coined the term irreducible complexity to describe systems that would cease to work if any part was missing.

Finally Woodward comes to mathematician, philosopher, and theologian William Dembski. Dembski has discovered that telling the truth is never wrong, but sometimes it is costly, and that Christian institutions themselves are not immune from Darwinian stranglehold on truth. Even fellow colleagues at Baylor University have worked to "shut down" Dembski's dissent.

Woodward makes it clear that telling the truth never hurts the Christian cause. Intelligent Design's purpose isn't to stop good scientific practices. Instead the goal is to open the stifling Darwinian atmosphere to new possibilities.

Doubts about Darwin is an exciting history lesson. While there are "no truces in view," says Woodward, these fighters are working toward intellectual freedom. And their stories can inspire you as you face your school board, colleagues, or biology professors.

Copyright © 2004 Prison Fellowship

Famous Bigfoot videos revealed as long held lie


Many people have seen the pictures of Bigfoot before, but after this story you may look at a famous Bigfoot video in a whole new light.

Deep in the forests of the Northwest lives a legend some say will never die.

When a Washington family revealed they used sandals to fool everyone that Bigfoot was real, they thought the Northwest legend would fade.

So far it hasn't and the Bigfoot lore lives on.

In the past two years believers continue to uncover evidence the creature exists even through the creators of Bigfoot came forward with new evidence, suggesting the Bigfoot story is just that.

Some believers said they have seen Bigfoot, "they were big feet from what I've heard from child hood these giant apes," said Bigfoot researcher Todd Neiss.

"I've heard one, I found foot prints and of course I smelled one," said Zoologist Dr. Henner Fahrenbach.

"I seen it with my own two eyes this creature exists, it's not a belief it's a fact," said Bigfoot eyewitness Terry Reams.

Believers have collected casts of footprints, photographs of the creature relaxing, and eating a deer.

They also cite a famous film that is almost enough to make bona fide Bigfoot believers out of anyone.

However the facts behind Bigfoot have been fizzling the last couple of years.

Michael and Dale Lee Wallace squashed Sasquatch stories by revealing a Bigfoot sandal in 2002 that was used to make big prints in the forest.

"These things (sandals) were a lot thicker. They got a lot of great use. (laughs) It was a lot of fun," said Michael.

Back in 1958, Ray Wallace used those same sandals to make Bigfoot prints around his road building equipment in northern California.

Some said he did it for fun, others believe he used them to scare off would be vandals.

For whatever reason, Ray is credited with paving the trail to the name Bigfoot.

"Looking through the scrap book, he saved any article that had anything to do with Bigfoot," said Ray's son Michael.

News reports from the 1950's tell of Bigfoot tracks showing up nearly everywhere the Wallace's worked.

While some knew of Wallace's prank, few believed that Bigfoot was just a hairy hoax.

"We tell people about it but they wouldn't believe it. We told them it was all fake but they just wouldn't believe that," said Ray's nephew Dale Lee Wallace.

So the Wallace's decided to shed more light on what they call the Bigfoot lie.

They did that by showing KATU reel to reel films that Ray took of something or someone who looked like Bigfoot. "This (film) is basically Bigfoot 'the early years' when dad was experimenting. He was basically putting somebody in a suit," said Michael.

In one film 'Bigfoot' is seen catching fish, holding rocks, and shaking trees. Another video shows Bigfoot eating a deer.

"He was having fun, with what started out in 1958 as a prank just sort of snowballed, so he just jumped on board with everybody else and just went for it," said Michael.

While Ray continued to fake films and footprints, his son said his father never told anyone Bigfoot was a hoax.

But shortly after his father's death, his son found a pair of big hands.

"These were the original Bigfoot hands," said Michael.

Since the hands used in the Bigfoot films have turned up, who was wearing his big feet?

Meet Mrs. Bigfoot; "Yeah, I had em on," said Ray's wife Elna Wallace.

"It was hot and I about suffocated. Then I said hurry up and get that picture taken because if somebody comes up over that hill and sees me, they'll kill me," said Elna. "They'll shoot me for sure, that's Bigfoot and we'll make money off of that."

Struggles in science


Arizona educators revisit controversy over evolution

Pat Kossan
The Arizona Republic
May. 2, 2004 12 :00 AM

Teaching science is back on the classroom agenda, and along with it comes the debate over teaching the theory of evolution.

Scientists say it is not the kind of argument Arizona should be engaging in if it wants to attract national attention as a hub of biotechnology research.

Dozens of scientists and teachers are poring over Arizona's science standards, which haven't been updated since 1998. The exercise is an important one because it is meant to prepare students for a new statewide AIMS science test by 2008.

But revisiting the standards has reopened the controversy over how to teach evolution without stepping on beliefs that God, or even several Gods, created the world and human beings.

Scientists say the evolution theory that started with Charles Darwin's monkey-to-man premise and the fossil record of an old and evolving planet is the same one that is at work when researchers learn how bacteria evolve into drug-resistant strains. It is even at work when a new type of dog is created through selective breeding.

Scientists said the most recent draft of Arizona's new science standards oversimplified and explained incorrectly the evolution theory. The language so alarmed Arizona State University President Michael Crow that he sent a letter to state schools chief Tom Horne to express what he and his faculty called serious reservations.

"Strong, rigorous life- science standards are particularly critical in light of Arizona's efforts to build strength in the biosciences and related industries," Crow wrote in an April 22 letter to Horne.

The standards have been rewritten to address Crow's concerns, but some scientists still fear the standards are too vague.

Specifically, the latest draft of the standards did not include requirements to teach how evolution provides a scientific explanation for the fossil record of ancient life forms. It also did not demonstrate an understanding of the theory of evolution by natural selection, or explain how the descent from common ancestors produced today's diversity of organisms.

Clear standards

Jane Maienschein, who directs ASU's Center for Biology and Society, helped write the 1998 state science standards that gained national recognition as one of the best in the country. Maienschein said without clear standards that provide teachers with step-by-step guidance in teaching evolution, Arizona students won't get proper grounding in the theory and everything that builds on it.

Arizona standards teach that all science is theory, that scientific theories change as we learn more, and that they should always be questioned and challenged in order to make advances. Singling out evolution as a theory that needs to be questioned and refuted is not only unnecessary but "sneaking creationism in by stealth and effectively dumbing down the standards," Maienschein said.

"We're trying to build a big biotech presence in this state, and we're not going to have the workforce, the brain power and understanding if we don't teach our kids in the best possible way," she said.

Bethany Lewis is legislative analyst for the Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy, a Christian group, and wants Arizona teachers to be directed to "test, modify or refute the evolution theory."

"We are Christians. We believe in God and believe there is a designer behind the natural world we look at," said Lewis, who fears some people want to replace religion with science.

'Intelligent design'

Lewis said her organization is not asking the state to teach creationism. It wants teachers to engage students in discussion of "intelligent design."

Intelligent design theory is being promoted nationally by Christian organizations and some states. It maintains that a close examination of nature shows it was designed by a "pre-existing intelligence."

Jeffery DelVisco, researcher for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called intelligent design a more marketable way of promoting creationism. Bringing "intelligent design" into classrooms is being pushed around the country, but especially in Washington, D.C.'s halls of power, he said. "It's a steamroller and is gaining some strength," DelVisco said.

Meanwhile, some science teachers who are also people of faith struggle with their classroom objectives.

Willie Longreed is a Stanford University-trained scientist who teaches at Tuba City High School and also believes in the traditional Navajo religion, which says that many Gods, called The Holy People, created the world and humans.

Longreed also is a member of the committee that's working on the latest set of science standards. He calls evolution theory the crux of the biological sciences, and every day walks among its evidence of fossils, ancient footprints and the timeline found in stratified rocks.

Longreed calls science "observation," which he teaches in the classroom, and his faith "all assumption," which he "tiptoes around" when teaching. As for his personal peace, Longreed said he has found a balance between the two, having faith in The Holy People but also having faith in antibiotics, which the theory of evolution helped to produce.

Said Longreed: "You have to hear both sides of the issue and fit yourself in."

Reach the reporter at pat.kossan@arizonarepublic.com

Darwin's heroes: a dabbler and a rogue


Posted on Sun, May. 02, 2004

By Roger Moore


IF AMERICA'S bumpers, with their fish insignias -- fish with feet, fish eating fish with feet -- are any indication, Charles Darwin is still a lightning rod for controversy more than a century after his death. School boards still feud over evolution and the resurgent faith-not-science creationism. Ministers still take potshots at him from the pulpit.

But as embattled as he remains as a figure, his theories have, on the whole, held. So maybe it's time to start looking at how Darwin-the-theorist evolved. And a great place to start would be with the books he took with him on his fateful voyage aboard the Beagle in 1831: Books on natural history, as it was understood at the time, on competing theories of geology, on geography and every other "-ology" under the sun sailed with Darwin. And from those, and the firsthand observations he made, came "The Origin of Species."

Two of Darwin's great influences are the subject of new biographies out last month. The writings and science of these earlier scientists were on Darwin's bookshelves on the Beagle as he sailed into history.

Alexander von Humboldt was the greatest scientist-adventurer of all time. He was a Byronic figure -- rich, dashing, curious, brave and possibly gay. He explored Latin America in the early 1800s, setting the stage for scientific, cultural and even political revolutions. Gerard Helferich's "Humboldt's Cosmos" is as lively and eye-opening as the man himself. The world's newspapers trumpeted his discoveries and travels, and when he died, he was mourned all over the world.

A smattering

But within decades, this great scientific generalist, a man whose interests spanned meteorology, geology, geography, astronomy, biology and the social sciences, was all but forgotten. In an age when scientists were still shackled to biblical interpretation of such nonbiblical questions as the age of the Earth, Humboldt tipped the scales in the favor of scientific truths.

Humboldt settled the debate over whose theories on the creation of the Earth were the most valid and was the first European to celebrate American Indian civilizations and cultures. His writings about slavery and Spanish and Catholic repression of native populations planted the seeds of Simon Bolivar's South American revolutions. But he was supplanted by scientists in every field where he dabbled. And as specialization took over the sciences, all that was left are the many towns and counties named for him, and the famous Pacific current that bears his name. Helferich's delightful book should rectify that.

Although it is no surprise that works by Humboldt were in Darwin's Beagle library, it may come as a shock that the fellow who inspired both Humboldt, and in turn, Darwin, was of somewhat more dubious repute. William Dampier, as the title of Diana and Michael Preston's splendid new biography sums up, was an "explorer, naturalist and buccaneer." Indiana Jones had nothing on the widely traveled Dampier, a 17th century contemporary of Captain Kidd who used his shore leave from various pirate voyages to write grand travelogues full of insights on the natural world.

For a pirate, Dampier was big on the scientific method, a man who only related things he had seen with his own eyes, and carefully noted what was mere hearsay from others.

"When analyzing information, he was careful to compare and contrast experiences in different locations," the Prestons write. He relayed observations about the geography, flora and fauna of widely separated parts of the world and speculated on why creatures and plants were different, or similar.

Meticulous rascal

The book is full of admiration for Dampier, and leaves the reader with the same feeling. Amid all his piratical misadventures -- he was rarely successful as a buccaneer -- Dampier took scrupulous notes, which he saved from all manner of peril.

He circled the globe, and became so respected as a naturalist that he undertook the first English exploration of Australia, predating Captain Cook by decades.

It's no wonder that the dashing rogue Dampier caught the fancy of the young Daniel Defoe -- who based Robinson Crusoe on events from Dampier's adventures -- and a generation of pirate-crazy English. The Prestons point out that the marvel of his life was that Dampier was a good enough scientist to inspire and command the respect of the later giants of science.

As much as Humboldt deserves to have his reputation revived, it is Dampier's life that truly captures the flavor of a time when a scientist had to be many things -- including, it would seem, a bit of a pirate.

An Interview with Ben Bova


By: Leslie Mullen

Ben Bova is best known for his imaginative science fiction novels, such as "Mars," "Jupiter" and "Saturn," where humans of the future travel to these planets and sometimes discover new life forms. In his newest book, "Faint Echoes, Distant Stars: The Science and Politics of Finding Life Beyond Earth," Bova again touches on the possibility of alien life. His book provides an overview of the current science of astrobiology, examining recent discoveries and suggesting what they could mean for the search for life elsewhere. Bova also discusses the politics and personalities that so often influence the direction and future of science. In this exclusive interview with Astrobiology Magazine, Bova shares his thoughts about astrobiology, space travel, and the discoveries of the future.

Astrobiology Magazine (AM): Why did you decide to write a book about the scientific field of astrobiology?

Ben Bova (BB): About five years ago, when I was invited to attend the first NASA-sponsored conference on astrobiology, I found the subject so intriguing that I immediately began to plan writing a book about it.

AM: You say that Jupiter may be the most likely place to find extraterrestrial life, since the planet has organics, water and energy. Yet Jupiter is rarely seen as a likely place for life by most astrobiologists. Do you have any thoughts about what sort of creatures could exist there?

BB: Most scientists ignore Jupiter because of the enormous difficulties of exploring the planet. However, in my novel "Jupiter" I postulated a biosphere that included airborne species below the Jovian cloud deck, and gigantic aquatic species in the planet-wide ocean that girdles Jupiter.

AM: In your book, you say there are interest groups who are afraid of what astrobiologists might find, so they are working to block the search for alien life. Do you think it likely that astrobiologists might open some Pandora's Box that we would later regret, and that is reason enough to NOT look for life elsewhere?

BB: I think such fears are exaggerated. As I pointed out in "Faint Echoes, Distant Stars," we can use the International Space Station or a dedicated space station as an isolation laboratory in which to study samples returned from other worlds, without fear of contaminating the Earth. We have more to fear, I believe, from fundamentalist religionists who worry that astrobiological research flies in the face of their biblically revealed truths. And, of course, there are the Yahoos in Congress and elsewhere who chopped SETI out of the federal budget.

AM: NASA missions and studies often are at the mercy of politics. As you note in your book, missions must continually fight budget battles in order to survive from inception to launch. Do you think President Bush's call to go back to the moon and then send a man to Mars is likely to survive over time?

BB: I believe it will survive, mainly because President Bush has already allocated funding to the program. The battle will be over how large and how fast the program can be. If President Nixon had proposed such a program in 1972, we could have been conducting this interview on Mars today.

AM: But do you think, given the proper political backing, we would have been able to overcome the technological obstacles and health hazards of establishing a base on Mars within that time frame?

BB: I don't see the technological obstacles and health hazards as being tremendous problems for Mars missions. Humans have lived in space for more than a year aboard the Mir space station. With incremental improvements in existing technology, we could go to Mars in an open-loop life support mode, sending re-supply vehicles ahead of the crewed mission. Radiation shielding will be needed for solar storms, of course. By rotating the spacecraft to give artificial gravity, the problems of long-term weightlessness can be averted. Of course, a closed-loop life support system would be preferable, although the practical answer might be a partially closed, partially open loop.

AM: One of the problems facing long-term space travel is propulsion. NASA's Project Prometheus is studying the possibility of using nuclear fission-based systems for space missions of long-duration. As you note, nuclear propulsion is a very controversial topic; where do you stand on this issue?

BB: Nuclear power is the safest method yet devised for generating electricity, by any measure you care to apply. Fossil fuels pollute the atmosphere and contribute to greenhouse warming. Hundreds of coal miners are killed every year. Oil tankers pollute the oceans. Gas lines explode. Even with Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, nuclear energy is far safer. No one was even injured in the Three Mile Island incident. Nuclear propulsion for deep space missions makes sense.

AM: Toward the end of your book, you predict that within a decade, we will discover extraterrestrial life, and we also will create life in the lab from nonliving chemicals. What do you think would be the repercussions of these advances?

BB: Shock and awe, at first, among the general population. Then, as they see that the world is not coming to an end, they will gradually accept the idea that we are not alone in the universe. For scientists, the great question will be to determine if extraterrestrial life comes from the same origin as our own, or has arisen independently.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Complimentary Therapies Gain Popularity http://www.wytv.com/news/features/1/708272.html

Len Rome's Local Health

Physicians used to shy away from the idea of what we call complimentary therapies, but that's changing.

After all, Americans are trying these therapies in record numbers.

Daily supplements, acupuncture, therapeutic massages. They're all available in the valley and they're all growing in popularity.

"The way I look at it...you can be preventive or you can end up paying for it in the long run," says Eriyah Flynn, who takes herbal supplements.

Doctors might write a prescription for a sore back...but also tell their patients about an herbal remedy that might work just as well.

"Part of the value of being able to do that is you allow them to get by on a very cost effective manner, but it's also available when I'm not available," says Dr. Glen Auckerman of the Ohio State Medical Center.

Alternative medicine can include the 6,000 year old practice of yoga. St. Joseph's Hospital in Warren offers classes for its employees and the public.

You, too can learn concentration and perseverance and some have said it's the best medicine they've tried for hypertension and stress.

As complementary medic ine becomes more accepted, more health insurance companies are covering these therapies. Check with your provider.

Warm Climate's Effects Striking in West


By ANGIE WAGNER, Associated Press Writer

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Just outside this mountain town, where the acres of ponderosa pine turn into a Christmas green blur, Tom Whitham eyes the weary, struggling forest.

Death is everywhere. Their limbs bare and bark brittle, the trees quickly turn this forest into an aching reminder of the devastation of drought and a massive bark beetle infestation.

Whitham pulls his pickup truck over and gestures to the dead trees -- 75 percent in this area alone.

Forget talk of global warming and speculation of what it might do in 50 years, or 100. Here and across the West, climate change already is happening. Temperatures are warmer, ocean levels are rising, the snowpack is dwindling and melting earlier, flowers bloom earlier, mountain glaciers are disappearing and a six-year drought is killing trees by the millions.

Most scientists agree humans are to blame for at least part of that warming trend, but to what degree?

"That's the $64,000 question," said Whitham, a regents' professor of biology at Northern Arizona University. "If we aren't causing it, we're certainly contributing to it. Humans can take a drought and make it even worse."

* __

The West is unique in that it depends so heavily on snowpack -- melting snow provides three-fourths of the water in streams. Over the past 35 years, temperatures across the region have inched up 1 to 3 degrees, causing the snow to melt as much as three weeks earlier, said Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist for the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, Nev.

Lilac and honeysuckle bloom up to 10 days earlier. Warmer temperatures lead to a huge surge in woody plants that thrive in warm, wet conditions. Glaciers are retreating, roads are buckling in Alaska and shifting some supports on the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Already-low reservoirs are called upon to water fields and quench thirst for longer and longer periods after the seasonal snowpack is gone.

"The West has become habitated because of the ability to store and have a reliable water supply," said Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist who studies climate for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Simply the temperature effect is going to put a much greater strain on water availability."

Bennie Hodges of the Pershing County Water Conservation District in rural Nevada, said the drought has forced him to allot farmers such a meager amount of water that they can only farm a fraction of their land. The county's only reservoir is at 17 percent capacity.

"We're in tough shape here. Is it global warming? I don't know," Hodges said. "When you're in the desert, the wet and dry cycles come and go. I ask myself many times, 'Are we having global warming?' What do we do? We just try to get through."

Many scientists blame greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and ozone for causing global warming because the pollutants tend to trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere. But some contend the warming is just natural climate variability and humans have nothing to do with it.

Environmentalists preach conservation, especially with an uncertain snowpack and peak runoff occurring earlier. If that continues, "you would have a real problem that the current reservoir systems aren't designed to deal with," said Daniel Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center.

"It's sort of like a cancer," he said. "We still have an opportunity to avoid the most severe consequences, but we have to act now."

* __

Mike Wagner saw it coming. He predicted a beetle outbreak years ago in northern Arizona when he saw how abundant older trees were in overcrowded forests. When the drought began, the beetles were ready. By 2002, trees weakened by drought were unable to fend off the beetles, and they were soon overcome. Tens of millions of trees across the West have been killed at a rate never seen before.

"Absolutely unprecedented," said Wagner, a regents' professor of forest entomology at Northern Arizona. "We've never had these conditions before, never had that combination."

Scientists expect another devastating beetle outbreak this year.

Warmer temperatures only help the beetles reproduce more quickly, leading to more lost trees. Some types of beetles that used to propagate two generations in a year now can produce three.

"This is all due to temperature," said Barbara Bentz, a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service who is studying bark beetles. "Two or three degrees is enough to do it."

Outside Cody, Wyo., an entire forest has been killed by the drought and beetles.

"It used to be a nice spruce forest," said Kurt Allen, a Forest Service entomologist. "It's gone now. You're not going to get those conditions back for 200 or 300 years. We're really not going to have what a lot of people would consider a forest."

Already, warmer temperatures have allowed the mountain pine beetle to be more successful in attacking high elevation pines, Bentz said.

"What we're seeing is consistent with what we expect to happen under global warming," said Evan Mills, scientist at the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "We will expect more beetle infestation, more drought, more wildfires."

* __

Not everyone subscribes to the global warming theory. Frontiers of Freedom, a Washington, D.C. public policy group, doesn't believe humans have anything to do with the gradual warming of the Earth.

"These things happen. That's just the way nature has always been," said George Landrith, president of Frontiers of Freedom. "Variability has always existed. There's nothing new about that."

Landrith dismisses global warming as politically motivated.

"It's about making energy scarce and expensive," he said.

Jeff Kueter, executive director of the George C. Marshall Institute, another public policy group, said more research needs to be done because there is too much uncertainty about global warming and the role humans play in it.

"We don't buy into alarmists' speculation of what's going to happen in the future," he said. "There's so much we don't know about how the climate system operates."

* __

In a meadow near Crested Butte, Colo., wildflowers of purple, red, white and blue pop out under three electric heaters. Tourists flock to these lush meadows -- dubbed the wildflower capital of Colorado -- but John Harte is looking at the world 50 years from now, when it could be 4 degrees warmer.

For 14 years, Harte, an environmental science professor at the University of California-Berkeley, has artificially heated wildflowers and documented what warmer temperatures can do to them.

He has seen firsthand the Rocky Mountain snow melt earlier, felt the temperature warm, the soil dry and watched his wildflowers bloom earlier.

"We're projecting, from these experiments, there's going to be a tremendous decline in the abundance of the flowers," he said. "You think of meadows strewn with gorgeous flowers. Many of those flowering plants are going to be decimated."

Scientists say continued warming across the West will mean a smaller snowpack that could affect ecosystems that depend on stream flows and water temperature. Soils and vegetation will be drier, increasing fire risk and prolonging the fire season. Plants and trees will be able to grow at higher elevations, threatening ski resorts. Sea levels will continue to rise, putting beaches and cities at risk.

In Flagstaff, home to the world's largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest, Tom Whitham wonders how much more devastation the drought and beetles will cause, and to what extent humans will contribute to it.

"The thing that would make me really sad is if this were human caused," he said, glancing at the bare trees towering over his pickup truck. "If you lose a 200-year-old forest, you can't get it back."

* __

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Angie Wagner is the AP's Western regional writer, based in Las Vegas.

No Cicadas on Ice


Biologists Theorize That 13- and 17-Year Broods Evolved to Survive Climatic Changes
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2004; Page A08

Evolution has shown living things a thousand ways to save themselves.

The leopard gecko's tail pulls off, leaving the cat clutching nature's version of the tear-away jersey. The female pea crab Pinnotheres, unsatisfied with her own shell, spends its life inside an oyster. The bacterium Thermotoga maritima grows in water just below boiling temperature, an environmental niche into which most organisms won't dip a toe.

Few strategies, however, are as strange and unlikely as the one periodical cicadas found.

These large, ungainly insects in the genus Magicicada spend either 13 or 17 years underground, then emerge nearly simultaneously in densities that can exceed 1 million per acre. Their few weeks of life in the open air are spent molting, calling for a mate (in the case of the buzzing males), copulating and depositing eggs in nests made in gashed twigs (in the case of the diligent females).

They do little to defend themselves. They fly poorly, don't fight and taste great. In the parlance of animal behavior, cicadas are "predator foolhardy" -- they are always available for lunch. Birds consume them in the greatest numbers, but many other animals get in on the act. Squirrels, dogs, cats, turtles, fish and spiders all eat cicadas, which for a few weeks are the protein equivalent of manna from heaven.

Eventually, though, everyone gets full -- and there are still billions of cicadas alive. This is the survival strategy known as "predator satiation." It is a passive strategy that depends almost entirely on timing. If too few cicadas emerge, or if they come out over an extended period of time, they are likely to be wiped out by predators. If this occurs before they find a mate and create a new generation to carry their genes forward, they will eventually disappear completely.

Most species of cicada have life cycles between two and eight years, with a fair amount of variability. If five years is the dominant length, for example, many members of a population may come out in four years -- or not until the sixth.

Of course, this isn't apparent to the casual observer. That's because in most places a person hears cicadas -- often more than one species -- every summer. A fraction of the population reaches maturity and emerges every year, making the insects annual, not periodical.

Unlike Magicicada, these other species survive by strategies more clever than simply waiting for predators to get sated. For example, the large dog-day cicadas of the Deep South "are very fast, powerful flyers -- that's how they get away from the birds," said David Marshall, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut. On the other hand, many small species survive by being so well-camouflaged that "you can't see them even when they're a foot from your head," he said.

The periodical cicadas about to emerge here once shared a common ancestor with these insects. But a lot has happened since then. They have lengthened their life cycles and evolved into geographically distinct "broods" in which all members are on the same developmental schedule. They have also settled on specific life-cycle lengths, either 13 or 17 years. Both of those are large prime numbers, which means they can be divided only by themselves and 1.

How and why did this happen?

As with many questions about natural selection, nobody can say for certain. The crucial events lie in the deep past; we have only the finished product. However, knowledge of the conditions in which the traits evolved, and logical reasoning, suggest a scenario.

Biologists believe that periodical cicadas evolved during the Pleistocene Epoch, which began about 1.8 million years ago. It was a time when glaciers repeatedly advanced and retreated, and the climate of eastern North America was alternately -- and somewhat unpredictably -- warm and cool.

Members of the genus Magicicada -- the periodical cicadas -- require prolonged temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit to fly, copulate and lay eggs. The region where they evolved -- the southern edge of glaciation -- had many summers that simply weren't that warm. Cicadas that emerged in those summers would have died before they could produce offspring.

It turns out that for reasons of mathematical probability, a good strategy for avoiding randomly cold summers is to stay underground for as long as possible. The less often a brood comes up, the less often it encounters a killing summer.

The ancestors of periodical cicadas didn't somehow choose to stay underground for longer periods. However, in those ancient cicada populations were individuals that because of existing genes or new mutations were destined to develop more slowly and emerge a year or two later than their brethren. In an era of sporadically cold summers, those insects were more likely to survive -- and pass on their slow-development genes to their offspring.

Randel T. Cox of the University of Memphis and C.E. Carlton of the University of Arkansas calculated the odds of survival of populations of cicadas of different life-cycle lengths over a 1,500-year period in which 1 of every 50 summers was fatally cold. Cicadas with six-year life cycles had a 4 percent chance of surviving. Those with an 11-year cycle had a 51 percent chance. Those with a 17-year cycle had a 96 percent chance.

Each time the glaciers arrived, the ice wiped out the cicadas in the northernmost regions of eastern North America, where Magicicada was evolving. But the populations south of each "glacial maximum" would have survived and kept evolving. Over millions of years of advancing and retreating ice, genes leading to long life cycles would have been favored. They would have been "enriched" in the gene pool until ultimately they became the norm.

But why 13 or 17 years? Life cycles that long are mathematically more likely to have survived the Pleistocene era than shorter ones, but that doesn't explain the benefit of a prime number.

It turns out that if an area contains populations of cicadas with different life-cycle lengths, broods with long cycles that are high prime numbers will share summers less often with other broods. But why is that an advantage?

When broods with different cycle lengths emerge at the same time, some members will interbreed. Their offspring will be hybrids, carrying a mixture of genes. If the precise timing of a cicada's life cycle is produced by the interaction of several genes, then getting those genes from two different populations might change the interaction. That might affect the length of the life cycle.

If the offspring of 11-year and six-year cicadas are cicadas of a third cycle length -- say, nine years -- then the number of insects emerging on either parent's schedule in the next generation will decrease. That, in turn, will diminish the strength-in-numbers survival strategy on which all Magicicada species depend.

Cicadas with 13- and 17-year life cycles emerge less often with other broods than do the ones whose cycles are non-prime numbers. For example, when a brood with a 14-year life cycle emerges, it will share the summer with two-year and seven-year broods, with which it will interbreed and produce mongrel offspring. A 16-year brood will share a mating season with two-, four- and eight-year broods, and an even more diverse group of hybrids will result.

In contrast, when 13- and 17-year broods are out, they share the season only with broods having short life cycles (such as one, two or three years) -- and life cycles that short presumably couldn't survive the Pleistocene climate. The net result was that 13- or 17-year cicadas didn't have their genes "diluted" by hybridization -- except every 221 years, when they were out together in the few places where they shared the same turf.

Of course, periodical species didn't pick 13 and 17 as their magic numbers. As with all evolutionary processes, choice played no part.

What happened, instead, was that broods of other cycle lengths simply became extinct. They emerged in a cold summer and failed to reproduce, or they emerged in insufficient numbers and were eliminated by predators. What remained were the broods mathematically most likely to make it across the Pleistocene minefield -- 13 and 17. Furthermore, in those populations synchronicity was essential. Individuals whose timing was off just a little -- ones that emerged a year early or late -- were extirpated. But their brethren whose genes endowed them with perfect timing generation after generation, survived.

Various versions of this scheme of evolution have been proposed by several researchers, including Cox, Carlton and a Japanese researcher named Jin Yoshimura. But did it actually happen?

There is indirect evidence it did in today's geographic distribution of the two populations of periodical cicadas.

The 17-year broods today lie north of the 13-year broods. The border between them follows a well-known S-shaped line from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Plains. It sweeps south of most of the Appalachian Mountains and then turns north as far as southern Illinois before turning again and passing south of the Ozarks. It divides eastern North America into two zones -- one with long, harsh winters to the north, and the other with mild, shorter winters to the south.

This line marks the northern and southern ranges of various plant and animal species, or the border between subspecies with different markings, size and behavior. The life-cycle lengths of cicadas follow this same climate contour -- and strongly suggest that temperature played a crucial role in determining the life-cycle length of the periodical cicadas.

Still, Earth has other places whose ecological history is much like that of eastern North America. Why did periodical cicadas evolve only here?

"This," said Randel Cox, "is a vexing question."

"I don't have an answer to that," said David Marshall.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company



WHEN CHARLES DARWIN published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in November 1859, the book aroused huge controversy and in the process also became a best-seller. All forms of life had evolved from previously existing species, argued Darwin. Species evolved because naturally occurring variability made some individuals better suited to their environment; they therefore prospered while less favoured forms went extinct in the struggle for existence, a process Darwin termed "natural selection." By implication, humankind was no longer separate from beasts and had indeed evolved from apes. More importantly, natural selection proceeded by chance and did not require a beneficent Creator to oversee it. Inevitably, much of the opposition came from the Church. But by the time Darwin died in 1882, his theory of evolution had become so widely accepted that he was buried at Westminster Abbey, just a few feet from the grave of Isaac Newton.

The momentous discoveries that have revolutionised biology in the years since then only served to confirm the tenets of evolution. The common genetic code is evidence that all life on Earth shares a common ancestry. Indeed, the vast amount of genome sequence information that has become available for widely differing organisms is prompting scientists to look at what the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) might have been like. The hand of evolution is also clearly visible in that man shares genes (and associated chemical pathways) not just with apes, but even with bacteria. Scientists explore gene regulation in fruit flies, ageing in worms, and chemical activity in the brain of mice; they know their discoveries could unravel similar processes in humans. Of course, the evolutionary processes that created humankind might also be its undoing. Some scientists have remarked that the ends of chromosomes shorten as they are passed on from one generation to the next, and that this could lead to the weakening and possibly even extinction of the human race over thousands of generations.

Strangely, it is in the United States — the hub for much of the world's frontline research in biology and its application in biotechnology — that there has been sustained public resistance to evolution and specifically to the teaching of evolution in schools. The issue of whether it was constitutional to ban the teaching of evolution in schools surfaced during "The Monkey Trial" in 1925 when a high school biology teacher in Tennessee, John Scopes, faced charges of illegally teaching the theory of evolution. Despite acceptance of evolution among scientists, demands to limit the teaching of evolution in schools and allow `creationism' to be taught as well have continued to receive considerable public support in many parts of the United States. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism was religion and therefore could not be taught in science classes, the anti-evolution movement countered with the notion of `intelligent design'. Proponents of this over-the-top doctrine use popular misconceptions about science in order to appear to attack evolution on scientific grounds. They argue that complex living systems could not have been created by natural laws and chance alone. It is a measure of their success that proposals to encourage the teaching of creationism and intelligent design have, according to a recent report in the journal Science, been advanced since 2001 in 37 of the 50 American States. But there is a larger issue too in this clash between science and religious obscurantism. At the Scopes trial, denouncing efforts to make the teaching of evolution a crime, America's most famous defence lawyer of the time, Clarence Darrow, thundered: "Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding." Unfortunately, that is still true today.

Death by lobby group


By ANNA PATTY Health Reporter

May 5, 2004

WOMEN with breast cancer are being pressured into using New Age remedies that condemn them to death.

A leading Sydney surgeon yesterday hit out at lobby groups who were talking cancer sufferers into quitting hospital treatment in favour of alternative medicine.

And he warned that only traditional medicine held any hope of curing the disease.

Dr Paul Crea, cancer surgeon at St Vincent's Hospital, said: "There is no alternative therapy to cure a breast cancer. Women can think there is if they like, but they end up dead."

More than 4000 NSW women are stricken by breast cancer each year. Nearly 900 of those die.

However, an increasing number are turning their backs on surgery and radiation treatment to pursue New Age remedies such as herbal breast packs designed to absorb toxins and vitamin treatments, often delaying life-saving treatment until it was too late.

Others are opting to have more conservative surgery than they need, such as the removal of a cancerous lump instead of the entire breast.

Richard Kefford, Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital, said women were risking their lives by putting their faith in "mumbo jumbo".

"There's concern at patients who have presented with delayed diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer as a result of the use of ineffective alternative therapies," he said.

Doctors at Westmead Hospital have identified some women whose cancer went from treatable to untreatable because they had turned to alternative therapies.

The findings of their research will be presented to an American Society of Oncology meeting on May 28.

"I feel a deep responsibility to get women the best result and life expectancy," Dr Crea said.

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