NTS LogoSkeptical News for 13 May 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The dangers of detox diets


By Emily Smith

AFTER a Christmas or Easter break the inevitable cry of "I'm detoxing" is heard around the Western world with people signing up for a two-day or two-week diet designed to fix all the ills of a long weekend or lifetime of poor diet and pollutants.

But is detoxing really as effective or safe as commonly believed?

Dietitians have been fighting the misconceptions surrounding detox diets for years and say that not only are the diets ineffective but they can also be dangerous.

Tania Ferraretto is a privately practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

Dr Ferraretto sees a dozen people a year after Christmas who have been on detox diets and says that while increasing fruit and vegetable intake is desirable for most people, short-term diets will not affect long-term health.

"They usually come to see me because the diet is not working or having the effects they expected," she says.

"I recently saw a woman, she was in her 30s ,and wanted to lose weight and started on a restricted diet of fruit and vegetables.

"When she came to me, saying that the diet was not working, she displayed the classic symptoms: tiredness and lethargy, constipation and bad breath."

But Ferraretto says while these are relatively mild symptoms, if a diet involves restricted food intake over a long period more serious conditions can develop, varying from bowel and respiratory problems to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Many detox diets also prescribe copious amounts of water that can, in extreme cases, result in water toxicity, or hyponatraemia; when sodium levels and other body salts, or electrolytes, in the blood are too dilute.

The dangers of hyponatraemia and detoxing were seen in a case in Britain last year when The Times reported a 23-year-old man going into a coma for four days after a 21-day detox diet of fruit, vegetables, juice and water.

The lack of sodium combined with at least five litres of water a day caused his sodium levels to drop and his brain to swell.

It is easy to see how detoxing can look attractive, in theory. Most detox diets assert that too much of the wrong sorts of food, a polluted environment, and unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking contribute to a build-up of poisonous substances in the body.

According to the theories, by adhering to a diet of "pure" foods you will purge yourself of poisons and undo the damage wreaked on your health.

The purported solution commonly involves drinking two litres or more of water, accompanied by fruit or vegetable juice and unlimited consumption of raw fruit and vegetables.

Meat, dairy and starches such as bread or pasta are usually recommended in small amounts or excluded all together.

However, recent US trials of detox plans at the University of Southern California found that none of the prominent detox diets, including a version of the popular liver-cleansing diet and the fruit-juice diet, lived up to the claims that they would purge environmental toxins over and above what the body does naturally.

Clare Collins, a consultant dietitian from the University of Newcastle, says that while there is merit in encouraging people to increase their fruit and vegetable intake, the misconception is that excluding food groups will give the body a rest, or that the body even needs a rest.

"Your body detoxes naturally all the time through the liver and the kidneys," Dr Collins says.

"And reducing your food intake is not going to speed up the process or compensate for bad foods, and may, in fact, end up doing more harm than good."

The irony, Collins explains, is that the fasting can actually slow down the rate of the natural elimination of toxins by the body.

Lowering energy consumption slows down metabolism and reducing or eliminating protein, found in meat and fish, can slow the function of the liver.

"This is why the physical symptoms of a long-term detox diet are very similar to someone undertaking a fast."

The physical symptoms of a fast can include headaches, constipation and bad breath – a result of your body burning muscle.

Many advocates of detoxification diets believe these symptoms are signs that the body is detoxing, purging itself of poisons – a theory Collins refutes.

"Some religions use fasting as part of their spiritual practice, and over short periods this is fairly safe."

But while these spiritual fasts – such as Ramadan in Islam and the Jewish Yom Kippur, allow food to be consumed at certain times with followers "planning" their intake to avoid hunger – most detox programs advocate 48 hours to seven days of a strict dietary regimen, with some recommending up to 21 days of restricted eating.

Collins says the most extreme example of a spiritual detox in Australia is the now infamous Breatharian diet, where a Brisbane woman died after a week of "consuming" nothing but air.

Lani Morris believed that the black bile she was coughing was a result of the physical and spiritual cleansing of the 21-day initiation diet that advocated no food or water for a week and then two weeks of nothing but orange juice.

Morris, 53, died on July 1, 1999, suffering from pneumonia, dehydration, kidney failure and stroke.

"Once someone is in a fasting state it can become difficult for them to think rationally," Collins says.

"Your electrolytes become disturbed and you stop thinking rationally; you are easy to control."

People who fast for prolonged periods also face a higher risk of what Collins calls the "refeeding syndrome".

"If you have fasting for a long period of time, you can't start eating normally because your cell content is disturbed. If you try and ingest huge amounts of calories you can die," Collins says.

Ferraretto agrees with Collins that the psychology of a detox diet can appeal to people who are already vulnerable to control issues surrounding food, and that when taken to the extreme – such as in the case of the Breatharian diet – detox diets can become eating disorders.

The high availability of various detox diets, from books, magazines and the Internet to alternative medicine practitioners, means people who are vulnerable to eating disorders can attach themselves to a diet as a way of controlling their relationship with food.

Earlier this year Ferraretto treated a 15-year-old girl who started on a detox diet of fruit and vegetables but, after the two-week period of the diet was up, found herself unable to go back to eating normal food.

By the time she saw Ferraretto, she was exhibiting the physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa, had vitamin deficiencies, couldn't concentrate at school and her hair had started to fall out.

"She was already vulnerable, and was prescribed this diet by a natural medicine practitioner," Ferraretto says.

This is a story familiar to Anna Harvey, a support worker in Adelaide for the Eating Disorder Association, who has seen eating disorder patients subscribing to bizarre detoxification diets.

She recently met a young girl who had restricted herself to a diet of offal – animal brains and kidneys – for six weeks after being prescribed it by a naturopath to rehabilitate supposed deficiencies.

"When this girl came to us she could hardly leave the house and although she hated what she was eating, she couldn't stand to eat anything else," Harvey says.

But while the length and content of detox diets varies dramatically, is there any evidence that the basic detox diet consisting of a fruit and vegetable "overload" will help you at all?

Trent Watson is a nutritionist from the University of Newcastle studying the effects of anti-oxidants on the performance of athletes.

"A fruit and vegetable binge will fill your body with anti-oxidants, but how much good that is going to do you is very questionable," Watson says.

His research has focused on the comparison between anti-oxidants found naturally in vegetables and those in vitamin supplements, and their effectiveness in fighting free radicals, oxidants naturally produced by the body, especially when exercising or in times of stress.

Watson found that excess consumption of double the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables helped athletes when they were in training, and producing more free radicals, but had no extra beneficial effect when they were at rest.

"The detox diet operates under the same quick-fix philosophy as vitamin tablets," he says.

"And whole fruit and vegetables provide anti-oxidants in the best quantities and combinations possible, and these need to be ingested regularly, five serves every day.

"Having 10 serves a day for a week, and then eating none for a week, is not the answer."

Watson warns against the idea that anti-oxidants can be made up through vitamin supplements and says these quick-fix solutions can end up harming the body.

A study from the US National Cancer Institute in 1994 published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the effects of beta carotene, a well-known anti-oxidant with cancer-fighting properties, on the incidence of lung cancer in men.

One group of men were put on a balanced diet high in fruit and vegetables high in beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A, found in orange foods such as carrot and sweet potato.

The next group was given beta-carotene supplements and the final group was given a placebo.

Not only did the group with the fruit and vegetable intake get a lower incidence of cancer, but the group taking the supplements had a higher incidence of cancer than the placebo group and the trial had to be terminated.

"Concentrating anti-oxidants in a tablet do not give you the same benefits as fruit and vegetables because you need the other vitamins found in the vegetable to get the benefits of the anti-oxidant."

Watson says that so far his research has confirmed that fruit and vegetables seem to have the anti-oxidants in the right amount and balance for your body, but that eating a diet of just fruit and vegetables can be as ineffective as not eating them at all.

"Fruit and vegetables need to be part of a balanced diet," he says.

"The anti-oxidants won't work as well if your metabolism has dropped, because you are not eating adequate amounts of carbohydrate and protein needed to process the vitamins."

Watson and the dietitian association advocate long-term eating plans that incorporate the five food groups, with at least five serves of vegetables (two cups) and two pieces of fruit a day.

Most people can make some improvements by increasing their intake of fruit and vegetables.

The last National Nutrition Survey, taken in 1995, showed that Australians are only consuming half the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables.

Ferraretto claims that people need to understand that food is not going to detoxify the body and should stop seeking answers in ready-made solutions.

"Many of the claims made by the now famous liver-cleansing diet are fairly unsubstantiated," she says.

"Your liver, like the rest of your body, does its job best when you are eating a balanced diet, including carbohydrates and protein."

Collins says the celebrity status of many detox diets – such as the orange food diet and the raw food diet – create misconceptions that many foods such as meat and dairy are loaded with toxins.

For many people, it is easy to believe that "toxins" are responsible for feeling sluggish or for being overweight.

"Our food supply in the Western world is quite safe. And fruit and vegetables also contain bac teria that need to be broken down by the body," she says.

"Most detoxifying diets rest on the myth that you are somehow flushing the system, and you have to wonder why people feel the need to do that.

"While the minerals and vitamins in fruit and vegetables are undeniably good for you, they cannot do a better job of cleansing the system than your liver and your kidneys."

Watson feels that while fad diets capture people's attention, if only for a short time, it is healthy eating that needs a marketing makeover.

"People are bored with the concept of a balanced diet, but so far it is the only one that has been shown to make a real impact on long-term health," he says.

"Nutrition isn't rocket science."

New Chinese, Western medicine push


May 7, 2004 - 6:07PM

Orthodox Western and traditional Chinese medical practitioners need to learn to work together to tackle the world's emerging health issues, surgeons were told.

Rising antibiotic resistance, outbreaks such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the growing prevalence of lifestyle-driven chronic and degenerative diseases made it increasingly necessary to merge the different approaches to medicine, Hong Kong researcher Professor Shew Ping Chow told a surgeons' conference in Melbourne.

"Cancer, degenerative disease and the like are more and more prevalent and more than half of the patients seen at any modern clinic do not fit into the traditional Western idea of disease," Prof Chow said.

"We're not meeting patients' expectations and many of them are turning to alternative medicine.

"Patient and the environment have to be considered together."

Medicine was facing a paradigm shift, he said, as the link between disease cause and effect became blurred by lifestyle and environmental factors, and patients took more control of their own healthcare.

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"Traditional Chinese medicine has received a lot of attention recently, but before we jump into it we should not throw away the baby with the bathwater," Prof Chow said.

"We should understand a bit more about it and its interaction with Western medicine."

During the recent SARS outbreak, Prof Chow said Hong Kong doctors attacked the new virus from Western and traditional Chinese medical perspectives.

"We didn't know what was going to happen but we had to try it out," he said.

"We were dealing with something we didn't know about, and we found that those people who were given Chinese herbal medicine had a much lower rate of contracting the disease, including among the doctors who were working with SARS patients." In the face of new disease outbreaks, medicine should be viewed not only as a science, but also as an art, Prof Chow added.

"When we're faced with new health issues and disease patterns, very frequently evidence-based (Western) approaches are not enough and art-like (Chinese) approaches need to be employed," he said.

"If the alternative medicine is effective, then we later have to examine why it worked, using an evidence-based approach."

© 2004 AAP

Alternative Medicine Therapy Now Being Tested for Heart Disease


07 May 2004

CHICAGO -- Rush University Medical Center is enrolling patients in a study that tests whether chelation therapy is a safe treatment for patients who have had a heart attack and whether it prevents second heart attacks in these patients.

Chelation therapy, as practiced today, involves the intravenous infusion of disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), combined with high dose antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements. The combination of calcium, zinc, cadmium, manganese, iron and copper may reduce artery-clogging calcium deposits.

Chelation was used in the 1930s and 40s to treat lead poisoning, but it still has widespread following by people who use complementary and alternative therapies. More than one million patients have received 20 million infusions over the last year, according to complementary and alternative medicine estimates.

Case studies published between the 1950s and 1990s demonstrated that chelation may be an effective therapy for heart disease, but very few randomized, placebo-controlled studies have been done on chelation, said Dr. Michael Davidson, director of Preventive Cardiology at Rush University Medical Center.

The Rush study, called Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT), is a five-year randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial designed to test the effects of chelation and high dose antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplementation versus a low dose regimen. To qualify, patients must be over the age of 50 and have had a documented a heart attack more than six weeks prior to enrollment. Patients who have had chelation therapy within the last five years or have a history of allergic reaction to chelation therapy are not eligible.

Once enrolled in the study, patients will receive 30 weekly infusions of either the chelation solution or placebo, followed by 10 additional infusion sessions that will be scheduled every other week and either the high dose or low dose vitamin regimen

To enroll, call 888-644-6226.

Contact: Chris Martin or John Pontarelli
Phone: (312) 942-7820 or (312) 942-5579
Email: cmartin@rsh.netor jpontare@rush.edu

South Africans look to healers


Treatment: From traditional medicine, the country seeks answers to such health problems as AIDS.
By John Murphy
Originally published May 9, 2004

ORANGE FARM, South Africa - Alice Motsie believes a cure for AIDS may be on the middle shelf of her refrigerator, beside a slab of butter and a liter of milk.

This is where Motsie, a traditional healer, keeps a stainless steel decanter containing a murky-brown brew of African potato, herbs, roots and bark, which she says has cured dozens of her patients of AIDS, as well as keeping her a fit-looking 55.

"It's powerful," Motsie says, pouring herself a glass of the mixture before knocking it back like a shot of whiskey.

Just over a decade ago, Motsie would have been dismissed as a quack or a witch by South Africa's apartheid government. But black-ruled South Africa is looking to the country's 200,000 traditional healers like Motsie for answers to pressing health problems.

"Traditional medicine is ceasing to be an obscure practice. ... This rare discipline is fast becoming a name to be reckoned with in our struggles to fight diseases and ensure the health of our people," Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, South Africa's minister of health, said a month ago.

According to the ministry, 80 percent of South African's 45 million people use traditional medicine. For many, it is the most readily available form of treatment. Here in Orange Farm, a black township about 25 miles southwest of Johannesburg, there are three physicians for the community of about 20,000 people but more than 200 traditional healers.

Traditional health care - a secretive practice involving bone throwers, herb and medicinal plant dealers, and ancestor worship, whose practitioners are not tested and do not receive degrees - exists alongside the continent's most advanced medical system.

Three hundred years of colonialism and white rule drove traditional medicine underground, giving its practitioners a reputation as backward, unscrupulous charlatans. But the South African government says that time is over.

None of the healers' AIDS remedies have faced laboratory tests. Nor is it clear whether patients who have been "cured" of AIDS were tested for HIV. But even skeptics acknowledge that traditional medicine, deeply intertwined in African culture and belief systems, is an important part of medical care for the millions of people who believe in it.

That is why the government believes that healers' claims are worth investigating and that their practices deserve proper recognition. In March, the ministry announced that it plans to spend $1 million to investigate claims that traditional healers had found cures for the disease.

A bill being debated by Parliament would register and regulate healers, allowing them to be reimbursed by health insurance companies for their services, just as doctors are. It would also force employers to recognize medical certificates issued by traditional healers for workers seeking sick leave.

The city of Johannesburg has literally brought traditional healers in from the cold. After more than three decades huddled in the shadows of a highway overpass hawking roots, herbs, bark, animal parts and other supplies, the city's traditional medicine dealers are now housed in a gleaming market complex complete with private consultation rooms.

The country's 200,000 healers are also seen as the first line of defense against the spread of AIDS. With deep knowledge of their communities and the respect of citizens, traditional healers could work with doctors, referring patients with serious illnesses to hospitals and assisting patients in taking anti-AIDS drugs.

The South African Medical Association, which represents about 16,000 doctors, welcomes the government's promotion of traditional medicine as a way to create cooperation and trust between doctors and healers, who have long looked at one another with mistrust.

"They should know what we are, and we should know what they are," says Dr. Kgosi Letlape, head of the South African Medical Association.

But critics worry that the government's embrace of traditional medicines in the fight against AIDS will add to the public's confusion about the government's AIDS policies.

Tshabalala-Msimang, the health minister, has expressed skepticism of anti-AIDS drugs, calling them poison. After protests by AIDS activists, the government reluctantly agreed to begin distributing the drugs to the public, but many critics doubt the government's commitment to the program.

Before the national elections last month, opposition parties criticized Tshabalala-Msimang for suggesting that traditional medicines could eventually replace anti-AIDS drugs. She was also ridiculed for advising AIDS sufferers to consume a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and garlic to stay healthy.

Letlape, of the medical association, says it is not a remedy he would recommend to his patients.

Like all traditional healers' claims, the minister's remedy should be scientifically tested to prove whether it is effective, says Dan Mkhize, a psychiatrist and head of the Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Center at the University of Natal.

"HIV/AIDS is a big problem, and we should attack it from all angles. We must try whatever we can," Mkhize said.

Like Western doctors, traditional healers should be subject to government regulation to prevent unscrupulous conduct and unproven medical claims, Mkhize adds.

Motsie says she would welcome such oversight. She hopes it would mean government grants for traditional healers, allowing them to open clinics with examination rooms.

For now, her waiting room is a collection of chairs in her back yard beside a laundry line. In her closet-sized office, she has a side table with a telephone and a jar of porcupine quills, which she uses as needles. Colorful beads and necklaces, which she says have healing powers, hang from a nail on the wall. Stacked on all three sides of the room are coffee cans, burlap bags and jars filled with fragrant roots, barks, powders and plants - cures, she says, for hundreds of ailments, including rashes, hypertension, cancer and AIDS.

Motsie will say nothing about the ingredients.

She does say, however, that she creates her medicines through her knowledge of local plants, training with other healers and inspiration from ancestors.

Mostie acknowledges that she has no understanding of what AIDS is or how it works, but her AIDS medicine, she maintains, rinses the disease from the body and blood. She believes it is a valid cure.

"You drink it two or three times a day for six months. Once your blood is clean and you are eating good food, you'll be healthy," Motsie said.

If anyone questions her claim, Motsie points to her many patients, including Abednego Masina, 36, who says he was diagnosed with AIDS in 2002. After going to a hospital and not feeling better, he sought help from traditional healers, eventually getting referred to Motsie, who treated him with her secret tonic.

"I'm no longer sweating. I no longer have a headache because of African medicine," said Masina, a thin man with a woolen hat pulled over his head. He cannot say he has been cured of AIDS, however, because he has not returned to a hospital to verify whether he is still infected with the virus that causes the disease. Nor does he plan to find out. Masina would prefer to stay away from hospitals. Traditional healers, he says, are better for him.

"Our grandfathers used the same medicine and stayed alive. Let me go to my African doctor because I'm African."

Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun

Alternative medicine finds a home, role at Masonicare


By Christopher Symington, Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — It's one of the oldest forms of therapy, but one that could be finding new popularity in the medical field, some say.

It already has found popularity at the Masonic Healthcare Center.

Since January, members of the public, patients at the hospital and even doctors, have taken advantage of Dr. Artemis Morris' holistic therapy, a treatment incorporating natural methods, acupuncture and massage therapy, designed to treat the mind, body and spirit.

Morris, who studied naturopathic and holistic therapy in Seattle, had a practice in Wallingford that caught the attention of administrators at Masonicare. In January, Morris moved her practice to the hospital, while maintaining another in Milford.

On Wednesday, Morris gave a demonstration at the hospital's Community Health Fair, and spoke about how diet, progressive relaxation and other methods can be highly effective in treating certain disorders and health problems.

"The emphasis is on treating the individual and treating them naturally," Morris said.

Those who seek Morris' treatment, begin with a physical exam not unlike others, but one designed to determine how best to treat a particular patient and problem. Morris deals largely with women's health issues, digestive and stress-related disorders, and pain management. Her methods have even been successful in treating infertility in some cases, she said.

Morris said she is excited about working out of the hospital, and feels that she can learn, as well as teach, just by being around other doctors and a variety of patients.

"It's nice to be in a place that has a lot of resources," she said. "A lot of people are interested in how holistic medicine can benefit them, and there's a lot of knowledge here."

Dr. Ronald J. Schwartz, medical director for the Masonic Healthcare Center, said traditional medicine was not helping him with a consistent and nagging shoulder pain. Since he began receiving treatment from Morris, though, the pain has largely subsided.

The kind of treatment Morris specializes in, Schwartz said, is becoming more and more accepted in the field.

"Natural medicine has been around longer than any other type of medicine," he said. "But the wellness programs, especially alternative types of programs, are important to a lot of people and they're being increasingly recognized."

Although Morris is technically a tenant of the hospital, working independently, Schwartz said her very presence is proof that the hospital is embracing and promoting her methods. It also helps the hospital to appeal to a broader group of patients, he said.

"We're hoping to continue and grow programs similar to this, and to grow in the community," Schwartz said. "We want to be a center of excellence and this helps branch that out by taking advantage of a new dimension."


(203) 317-2227

Safety & Efficacy of Alternative Rx for Urologic Conditions


Medical News

Contact Information
Available for logged-in reporters only
New studies exploring different complimentary and alternative medicine therapies to treat urologic conditions will be the focus of a press briefing during the AUA Annual Scientific Meeting on May 10.

Newswise -- New studies exploring different complimentary and alternative medicine therapies to treat urologic conditions will be the focus of a press briefing during the AUA Annual Scientific Meeting on May 10, 2004 at 11 a.m. in the San Francisco Moscone Center. The session will be moderated by Mark M. Moyad, MD, MPH, a spokesperson for the AUA and senior research associate at the University of Michigan. Featured research will include:

Some Herbal Products for Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Contaminated With Pharmacologic ED Treatments: Study found that some products touted as β€˜herbal’ ED treatments are contaminated with a pharmacologic agent (phosphodiesterase inhibitors), an active ingredient in drugs prescribed to treat ED. Therefore, any efficacy these herbal products have could be due to the pharmacologic agent rather than the herbal components. This contamination is a concern given potential drug interactions that could occur.

Treatment with Saw Palmetto Effective For Men with Bladder Outlet Obstruction (BOO): Study showed that treatment with saw palmetto slowed progression rates of BOO in men with mild symptoms, compared to patients on watchful waiting and a group on placebo. Results indicate that phytotherapy may be an option for patients with BOO to improve symptoms, flow rates, quality of life and to reduce the risk of progression.

Internet Sites Unsafe for Purchase of Herbal ED Remedies: Study confirms that sites selling herbal ED treatments are unsafe and unreliable. Many sites fail to list contraindications (64%) and drug side effects (79%), and only 21% of sites have medically trained personnel providing information. One of the most common ingredients identified in the study, gingko biloba, has been known to cause bleeding disorders and serous side effects, but most sites referred to ingredients as β€˜harmless.’

Soy Dietary Supplement Slows Risk of Recurrent Prostate Cancer Following Curative Treatment: This preliminary study sought to determine the effectiveness of a soy supplement to slow progression of minimal recurrent prostate cancer in patients identified as having a rising prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Patients had previously undergone either radical prostatectomy or radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Results show that the soy supplement was able to delay PSA progression significantly.

Alpha-Blocker Superior to Phytotherapy for Treatment of Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms/Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (LUTS/BPH): A German study examined the efficacy of phytotheraphy verses antibiotic therapy for LUTS/BPH. Phytotherapy is a commonly chosen treatment option by patients in Germany, despite the lack of proven efficacy. The study found that patients who responded poorly to phytotherapy and switched to alpha-blocker therapy experienced a marked improvement and increased quality of life, further supporting use of drug therapy over phytotherapy for this condition.

"For some urologic diseases and conditions, alternative medicine, herbal remedies or lifestyle changes may be warranted if existing research supports it," said Dr. Moyad. "However, patients should be cautioned to pursue these treatments under the care and supervision of a physician who can monitor progress, and can prescribe an alternate course of action if the alternative therapy is not effective."

Full abstracts are available online at http://www.aua2004.org/annualmeeting/pressroom/featured_research.cfm.

About the American Urological Association
Founded in 1902 and headquartered outside Baltimore, MD, the AUA is the preeminent professional organization for urologists. The AUA pursues its mission of fostering the highest standards of urologic care by carrying out a wide variety of programs for its members. The AUA also offers http://UrologyHealth.org, a patient education resource developed by member experts.

Degree helps build field of herbalists


Program: As the herbal products industry grows, Tai Sophia Institute in Howard County will arm graduates with a master's degree in botanical healing.

By Jackie Powder

Sun Staff

Originally published May 10, 2004

The eight-member inaugural class in the botanical healing program at Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts near Columbia will graduate next month, armed with master's degrees and three years' worth of knowledge in the therapeutic use of herbs.

They also know human anatomy, botany and chemistry, and how botanical remedies interact with conventional pharmaceuticals.

But it's unclear where these qualifications will take the trained herbalists as they strike out on their own in the burgeoning natural products industry with hopes of finding work as clinicians, researchers and educators.

While botanical therapy is considered an alternative medicine -- and sometimes a fringe one -- the field is undergoing a transformation as its use becomes more widespread and major medical schools conduct studies in herbal medicine.

Tai Sophia's three-year botanical healing program is the school's response to the explosive growth in the $4 billion herbal products industry.

With an education that combines hard-core science and ancient herbal traditions, students at the school say they are uniquely positioned to bring sorely needed skills and legitimacy to the field.

"I see this as the coming of age of botanical medicine," said student Kolleen Gowans, who spent 20 years as a communications manager with the International Monetary Fund before entering the Tai Sophia program in September 2002.

"I think this program fills an important role in bridging the gap between conventional medicine," she said.

Gowans, who lives in Alexandria, Va., is looking into opening a coffee shop where customers can order herb-infused smoothies as well as herbal consultations.

A classmate plans to have a small clinical practice and consult for manufacturers of herbal supplements. Another student wants to integrate botanical medicine with a veterinary practice.

The image of the aging hippie who grows herbs in the garden doesn't apply here. The soon-to-be graduates include midlife career changers from the corporate and technology worlds and recent college graduates with science backgrounds.

Dr. Adrian F. Dobs, director of the 4-year-old Johns Hopkins Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and a professor of oncology, said she envisions students from a program like Tai Sophia's working in partnership with conventional health care providers.

"Patients are using herbal therapies in increasing numbers, and we medical doctors need to have a much better understanding about what these are, whether they are helpful or harmful," said Dobs.

Best known for its 20-year-old acupuncture school, Tai Sophia launched its botanical healing program in September 2001.

Little guidance

After several years of booming sales in herbal products, consumers could go to health food stores in malls to pick up treatments for depression, sexual dysfunction or obesity. But they received little, if any, guidance about brand quality or side effects.

It was against this backdrop that Tai Sophia officials turned to British herb authority Simon Mills to develop a rigorous science-based botanical medicine program that would prepare herbalists to fill an information void in the field.

With accreditation from the Maryland Higher Education Commission, it is the country's only graduate degree program in herbal medicine.

"There are store clerks deciding what products people should take," said Kevin Spelman, a member of the program faculty. "My experience here is that doctors are really hungry for good quality information about herbs."

'Set a standard'

In addition to its academic program, Tai Sophia is developing internal practice standards that include minimum education requirements, consent forms and guarantees of the quality of herbal products used at the school.

"This program will set a standard for the industry," said Robert M. Duggan, president of Tai Sophia Institute.

Dobs, of Hopkins, said she supports the creation of more programs on botanical medicine in part to ensure that practitioners are aware of dangerous interactions that can occur when herbs are mixed with prescription drugs.

"There's a fair amount of data that a fair amount of these products interfere with metabolism and blood levels," she said. "We need to understand the potential benefits and potential risks."

The Tai Sophia students are completing the program at a time when herbal supplements are under increasing scrutiny. In December, the Food and Drug Administration banned the weight-loss aid ephedra, and the agency has identified 12 supplements that have been linked to serious side effects.

"We want to train people to a level where they can help others be informed of the right choices," Spelman said.

While the Tai Sophia students seek to carve out a role for herbalists in mainstream medicine, they're committed to preserving the defining philosophies of the practice.

Natural healing

Practitioners of herbalism use plants to support the body's natural healing capacity rather than prescribing medications to treat symptoms. The focus is on prevention by recognizing "patterns"-- such as headaches, digestive problems and stress -- and finding an herbal remedy to return the body to its normal state of balance.

"We don't say, 'Take two aspirin,'" said student Peg Cushman, who plans to set up an herbal practice in Maine. "Each individual is unique and will get a recommendation -- it may be in a blender formula, may be in a tincture, or it may be in a capsule."

"We support the natural inclination of the body to heal," said Cushman, a former nurse and health care administrator, "whereas in conventional medicine we're more likely to fix something that the body isn't doing."

Not doctors

Herbalists don't prescribe; they recommend or suggest. They see clients, not patients.

"We have to avoid the impression that we're practicing medicine," said Donna Lyle, a self-described computer geek who worked in information systems for 23 years before beginning her study of botanical medicine.

The program also addresses how students should handle situations they're unsure of.

"We're trained to say, 'This is something you need to go to a doctor about,'" Lyle said.

Tai Sophia officials say they're pleased with the program's growth. The second and third classes have 17 and 22 students, respectively, with more health care professionals entering the program.

Meanwhile, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is involved in several research programs on complementary and alternative medicine, funded by a $7.8 million federal grant.

"I think there will be a greater role for complementary and alternative medicine," Dobs said. "But it will take some time for these degrees to be fully recognized."

Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun

NIH Conflict Findings Left Out


Ethics panel's final report did not detail all permissive practices, agency documents show.

By David Willman, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A blue-ribbon panel that examined conflict of interest at the National Institutes of Health found permissive practices that were not detailed in its final report last week, internal agency documents show.

The documents also show that top aides to NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni were allowed to review and comment privately on the panel's draft findings.

Congressional investigators have expressed interest in the circumstances surrounding compilation of the report, issued Thursday. The next day, the chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa), wrote to Zerhouni, seeking "all records relating to the minutes and records of closed sessions of the Blue Ribbon Panel, as well as all drafts of the report."

Greenwood, whose letter was co-signed by the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), said the information from the NIH would aid in "understanding the basis for the panel's observations and findings." Greenwood's subcommittee plans to question Zerhouni and other NIH officials about conflict-of-interest matters at hearings today and next week.

The NIH is the nation's premier agency for medical research, spending $27.9 billion this year. Zerhouni appointed the panel after articles in the Los Angeles Times in December documented hundreds of payments by drug companies to NIH scientists, totaling millions of dollars, and reported that more than 94% of the agency's top-paid employees were not required to publicly disclose outside income.

The panel recommended that top agency officials — totaling scores of management positions — be banned from accepting payments of any kind from drug companies. The panel also said that all NIH employees should be prohibited from accepting company stock or stock options as compensation.

On the other hand, the panel said that a majority of NIH scientists should be allowed to accept fees or other income from industry, and that those payments in many instances need not be publicly disclosed.

The internal documents show that the panel was concerned about how little is known about the extent of financial ties between drug companies and NIH personnel. According to minutes of a closed-door meeting in early April, the panel "was surprised to learn that many people do not disclose at all. The panel thinks there needs to be an internal review that picks up significant financial interests."

One panelist, Dorothy K. Robinson, who also is general counsel at Yale University, said that, generally, NIH's "rules on conflict of interest are really too narrowly defined." The rules, she said, employ "very tight words or phrases of art and do not capture appearances that are quite problematic." An NIH document reciting Robinson's comments was obtained by The Times.

Another panelist, Stephen D. Potts, a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, encouraged his colleagues to recommend wider public financial disclosure. In an e-mail on March 18 he said, "I learned at OGE that sunshine is the best disinfectant and saves taxpayer dollars because less will have to be spent to identify violators. The press and the public do a remarkably good job."

Potts added that The Times articles "did expose abuses and, if the conduct described cannot be sanctioned under existing rules, the rules should be amended to proscribe the conduct."

Zerhouni has called repeatedly over the last five months for greater "transparency" in the NIH's handling of conflict of interest. He appointed the panel to recommend any policy changes it deemed necessary. But the panel's proceedings were carried out mostly behind closed doors.

The panel met privately at NIH offices in Bethesda, Md., on seven occasions, from March 1 through April 28. It convened meetings during parts of four days that were open to the public.

Directors of some NIH research centers or institutes voiced concern about whether information they provided to the panel could be subjected to public release, according to the internal documents. Moreover, Zerhouni's top subordinates were given opportunities to privately review and comment upon the committee's draft recommendations, the internal documents show. The drafts were circulated by scientific policy advisors within Zerhouni's office, whom he had assigned to assist the panel.

A spokesman for Zerhouni, John Burklow, said that the director's staff "only provided information as requested" to the panel. "They asked us to review the report for accuracy," Burklow said.

One of Zerhouni's top aides, Dr. Michael M. Gottesman, told the panel that the NIH's scientific mission could be undermined if all agency scientists were banned from paid consulting for drug companies. "I addressed the general issue of what might be lost to the NIH and the public if all NIH scientists were not allowed to consult with private industry and academia," Gottesman said in an interview.

The internal documents show that Gottesman, the NIH deputy director in charge of the agency's in-house, or "intramural" research, clashed with a high-level colleague, Dr. Raynard S. Kington, a physician-administrator who also holds the title of deputy director and whom Zerhouni assigned in January to take charge of a range of NIH ethics policies.

On April 22, Kington wrote in an e-mail to Gottesman and four other officials that he feared the panel members did not understand that in some institutes and centers at the NIH "there is not a bright line" between those involved with intramural research and those involved with outside, "extramural" research.

For instance, the in-house scientists at the NIH help decide whether they and the agency participate in cooperative research projects with various drug companies. Because of their government roles, the scientists also are well positioned to advise, for pay, universities or other outside research entities interested in NIH grants.

"I think (and I think many outside people would agree) that our IM [intramural] scientists should not consult with universities and other institutions that are funded by us," Kington said.

Gottesman responded by e-mail, telling Kington and the other officials — each of whom assisted the panel in preparing the report — "I must respectfully disagree."

In its final report, the panel disregarded Kington's advice, saying that if the in-house scientists are not directly involved in dispensing NIH research grants, they should be allowed to consult with universities receiving those awards.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Author Says Science Supports Biblical Creation Story


By Allie Martin
May 12, 2004

(AgapePress) - According to a recent survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, most Americans believe science can prove that the universe has always existed and more than 43 percent believe scientists can prove life exists on other planets. But one Christian author and proponent of "intelligent design" says he is not surprised such outdated scientific ideas dominate American thinking.

Lee Strobel is a former atheist, a Yale Law School graduate, and a journalist who has written a series of books encouraging people to investigate science's latest data -- facts that he says point toward an intelligent designer.

"The evidence of science does support what the Bible tells us. As one nano-scientist, James Tour of Rice University, told me: 'The more you study science, the more it points you toward God,'" Strobel says.

The author's newest book is called The Case For a Creator: a Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God (Zondervan, 2004). In it, he encourages educators, parents, and students to examine science's current findings instead of just giving in to long-held naturalistic views.

"It's very important, especially with young people, to be able to present them with the positive evidence that points toward the existence of a creator. They're going to be hearing a lot in school to challenge that," Strobel says.

But the author contends that the most up-to-date scientific data available is "very persuasive" and "builds a very powerful cumulative case" for the theory of intelligent design. "The evidence from a variety of scientific disciplines from discoveries over the last 50 years points powerfully towards the existence of a creator," he says.

Strobel feels most believers are not well equipped to defend their faith. Through The Case for a Creator, he attempts to address this problem by bringing the expertise of scholars, major origins researchers, and theistic philosophers to bear on many common questions about science and the biblical account of creation.

© 2004 AgapePress

Mexican Air Force pilots film unidentified objects


Wednesday, May 12, 2004 Posted: 8:10 AM EDT (1210 GMT)

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Mexican Air Force pilots filmed 11 unidentified objects in the skies over southern Campeche state, a Defense Department spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

A videotape made widely available to the news media on Tuesday shows the bright objects, some sharp points of light and others like large headlights, moving rapidly in what appears to be a late-evening sky.

The lights were filmed on March 5 by pilots using infrared equipment. They appeared to be flying at an altitude of about 3,500 meters (11,480 feet), and allegedly surrounded the Air Force jet as it conducted routine anti-drug trafficking vigilance in Campeche. Only three of the objects showed up on the plane's radar.

"Was I afraid? Yes. A little afraid because we were facing something that had never happened before," said radar operator Lt. German Marin in a taped interview made public Tuesday.

"I couldn't say what it was ... but I think they're completely real," added Lt. Mario Adrian Vazquez, the infrared equipment operator. Vazquez insisted that there was no way to alter the recorded images.

The plane's captain, Maj. Magdaleno Castanon, said the military jets chased the lights "and I believe they could feel we were pursuing them."

When the jets stopped following the objects, they disappeared, he said.

A Mexican Defense Department spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the videotape was filmed by members of the Mexican Air Force. The spokesman declined to comment further and spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

The video was first aired on national television Monday night then again at a news conference Tuesday by Jaime Maussan, a Mexican investigator who has dedicated the past 10 years to studying UFOs.

"This is historic news," Maussan told reporters. "Hundreds of videos (of UFOs) exist, but none had the backing of the armed forces of any country. ... The armed forces don't perpetuate frauds."

Maussan said Secretary of Defense Gen. Ricardo Vega Garcia gave him the video on April 22.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.

Telling Stories
Life in a Swing State: Ohio Schools Pick God over Darwin


By Jim Decker
May 10, 2004

Second in a series.

I'm not saying Ohio is flooded with walking zombies who are unable to pass the seventh grade. But this state is on the verge of being overwhelmed with a religious cleansing of our youth.

Recently, the Ohio Board of Education voted to allow the theory of Intelligent Design (ID) to be taught in public schools. ID is a "science" that preaches an alternative to evolution. A huge proponent of ID, The Discovery Institute (whose Web site's design is eerily similar to The Heaven's Gate Web site) has posted this definition:

"The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

Loosely translated, there is a god and He's ultimately responsible for everything you encounter. Advancements that have helped species to evolve – such as the giraffe's neck, the porcupine's quills, the turtle's shell – were all designed by an intelligent creator. Natural selection and chance are just cogs in the big machine. Even events that have had a huge impact on our planet such as the Big Bang, earthquakes, and Pamela Anderson's implants are all pre-conceived notions.

Basically, Ohioans are looking at a movement that wants to discredit natural selection and replace it with a theory that involves a creator. Does that sound vaguely familiar to anyone? We went through this, oh, about 80 years ago with a little something called the Scopes Monkey Trial. So here we are, the better part of a century later, and we've actually regressed as a culture. These are the reasons why people are fighting to have the Ten Commandments taken out of courthouses and lobbying to have "under god" taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance. The religious right goes too far with trying to control what everyone else should think and say.

Perhaps you think I'm exaggerating. The original ID lesson plan actually had links on its site to Christian conservative Web sites promoting their religion. Where are the links for the Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews? How come their god can't be the intelligent designer? Then there are the Muslims, Sikhs, Mormons, and Scientologists. I'm not religious, but if there's going to be any preaching in the classrooms, I want equal time for every belief (including the agnostics and atheists).

Eventually those links were removed, but shouldn't some red flags have gone up? The fact they were there in the first place should suggest that there's an ulterior motive behind the movement. Unfortunately, the school board failed to recognize this, and ID is on its way to an Ohio public school near you.

Creationists – uh, I mean supporters of ID – are trying a new approach to getting their message to the children. They're offering their methodology as an "alternative" to evolution. They're not trying to ban natural selection from the classroom (yet); they merely want to debate the two theories. Evolution is going up against Intelligent Design, a theory that is untested, unproven, and thoroughly unremarkable. This seems ridiculous. It's not that I don't have confidence in the principles of evolution – I'm more concerned that the challenger has a hidden agenda behind the discussion.

Copyright © 1998-2004 The Simon.com

Former education official explores impact of religion on public education in Montana


By JENNY JOHNSON Staff Reporter

Speaking on the religious influences in public schools, former state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Keenan will make a presentation in Hamilton Tuesday.

According to sponsors of the event, Keenan's analysis of the religious right's campaign against public education is essential in understanding what's happening in communities across the state and Montana Legislature.

Issues of religion in public education have especially hit home in the Bitterroot with the initial approval of an "objective origins" science policy in Darby after hours of public comment that focused around the policy opening the gates for teaching religion in the classroom.

Titled "The Religious Right and Public Schools: Banned Books, Suspect Science and Privatization Schemes," the speech will touch on a national movement of the religious right to move into public education, according to John Schneeberger of the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance, co-sponsor of the event. Hamilton and Darby school districts have directly dealt with pushes to ban books and introduce suspect science in the classroom in recent years, he said.

"We're trying to provide an educational background to what people are experiencing here," Schneeberger said.

Keenan will speak at the First Presbyterian Church in Hamilton at 7 p.m. The speech is free and open to the public.

"We can see the attack on public education by the religious right on many fronts," said Christine Kaufmann of the Montana Human Rights Network, a sponsor along with the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance. "There are attempts to base science curriculum on biblical creationism, to implement medically-inaccurate sexuality education, to ban any positive or neutral comments on gay rights, to take funding from public education through voucher schemes and to field school board candidates who support these issues."

Kaufmann said these developments are part of a nationwide campaign, and Keenan will explain the national dynamics.

Currently, Keenan is the director of education policy for People for the American Way, an organization dedicated to supporting democratic institutions and values, according to its Web site.

"(Keenan) is a tireless advocate for public education," Kaufmann said. "There is no better person to explain how public education forms the bedrock of American democracy and why we need to promote, defend and fund it."

Reporter Jenny Johnson can be reached at 363-3300 or jjohnson@ravallirepublic.com Alternative medicine Jay Leno: "Some of America's biggest HMOs are now offering alternative medicine programs. You know, I thought an HMO was an alternative to medicine, wasn't it? 'Come on, walk it off. You're fine.'"


Fears for homeopathic hospital


A unique Glasgow hospital is under threat because of budget cuts, according to doctors.

Greater Glasgow Health Board is considering closing the in-patient wards at Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital as part of savings totalling £58m.

The hospital has been praised as a role model for combining conventional and alternative medicine within the NHS.

Doctors at the hospital said the move to help fund a modernisation programme would be a false economy.

The basic principle of homeopathy is that like cures like.

The treatment claims that an ailment can be cured by small quantities of substances which produce the same symptoms.

Modernisation drive

The Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital's cutting edge design is being used as a model for the new west of Scotland cancer centre.

It also leads the way in combining conventional medicine with homeopathy, claiming to be the only homeopathic unit in the UK to have in-patient beds, where the most complex of cases can be managed.

But Greater Glasgow Health Board said they may have to be closed in order to fund a large modernisation programme.

Doctors at the hospital believe that for many patients homeopathic treatments are the only alternative to expensive drugs, repeated GP visits and emergency admissions.

Dr David Reilly, lead consultant physician at the hospital, told BBC Radio Scotland that the hospital has already made "significant contributions" to cuts in the last five years.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/05/11 05:42:37 GMT


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Indian charged with cooking up research


Chandra's studies on nutrition have statistical errors and improbable research methods, say experts


NEW YORK, MAY 10: An Indian scientist is in the eye of a storm after scientific journals and three prominent US scientists raised questions about the validity of his findings.

Dr Ranjit Kumar Chandra, internationally known for his contributions to the field of nutrition, is facing claims that data in his widely reported study of a nutritional supplement's effects on thinking and memory in the elderly, have no real value, The New York Times reported.

Experts questioned Chandra's findings, saying the study published in September 2001 in Nutrition, has statistical irregularities and inconsistencies, and is characterised by improbable research methods.

The study purported to demonstrate striking cognitive benefits for people over 65 who took a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement that Dr Chandra formulated and has since patented, said The New York Times. He licensed the rights to the supplement to the Javaan Corporation, founded by his daughter, Amrita Chandra Gagnon. The company, in Somerville, Mass, sells the supplement as Javaan 50.

Late last year, in response to objections raised by three independent scientists, Nutrition's editor Dr. Michael Meguid published an editorial acknowledging that Dr. Chandra's paper had serious statistical flaws. In an e-mail interview to The New York Times, Dr Meguid said he was unaware that it had been rejected by British Medical Journal. Dr Richard Smith, editor of BMJ, said scientists who reviewed the paper wondered if the study had actually been done.

Contacted in Gurgaon, India, where he now lives, Chandra said, ''Anyone with different views should repeat the study and see for themselves whether my findings can be confirmed or not.''

Interestingly, when officials at Memorial University of Newfoundland — where Chandra worked for 27 years — asked to examine the raw data, Chandra said they had mysteriously disappeared when the university moved his office. A university spokesman denied any mishandling of Chandra's papers.

One of three scientists who disputed Dr. Chandra's published results, Dr. Saul Sternberg, an experimental psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, said he found ''statistical anomalies and inconsistencies, measurements that were impossibly large.''

Another, Dr. Seth Roberts, who studies learning and memory at the University of California, Berkeley, said he found the reported effects unbelievable. ''The statistics were not just implausible,'' Dr. Roberts said, ''they were impossible.'' Dr. Kenneth Carpenter, an emeritus professor of nutrition at Berkeley, also disputed his findings.

Mystic to purge Russian parliament


A Siberian mystic has reportedly been hired by MPs to purge the Russian parliament of evil spirits attracted by the "negative energy" of angry debates.

Shaman and mystic Toizin Bergenov said he would arrive in Moscow in June "when the spirit of the sun is extremely powerful".

He will be trying to "rid parliament of dark spirits and save the Russian parliament and people who work there".

The last time the building was cleansed was in 1994 when it was purged by the Orthodox Church. Senior clergymen blessed the parliament building in "an act of purification".

This time round however, the MPs want to try an alternative therapy in the hope it will be longer lasting.

Russian news agency Interfax quotes a source as saying: "The shaman claims a lot of hatred has accumulated in the parliament building."

Therapeutic Touch

Bιla Scheiber and Carla Selby, eds.
2000, Prometheus; 360p.
paraphysics, psi, quackery, quackery:defense, quackery:history

Though somewhat dated now, this is still one of the most important skeptical resources for examining the claims of Therapeutic Touch (TT), an alternative healing method which has become popular in nursing. TT practitioners wave their hands over a patient in order to adjust human energy fields which are not recogniozed by mainstream science. In this volume, Scheiber and Selby have collected important articles on the subject. They include research supportive of TT, critical papers, historical background, and a look at the pseudophysics in TT "theory." Skeptical approaches get the most emphasis, naturally; the impression the volume conveys is that TT is nowhere near a scientifically valid practice.

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

See also:

The Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help or to Heal by Dolores Krieger

Therapeutic Touch As Transpersonal Healing by Dolores Krieger

Accepting Your Power to Heal: The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch by Dolores Krieger

Miracle Touch: A Complete Guide to Hands-On Therapies That Have the Amazing Ability to Heal by Debra Fulghum Bruce

The Spiritual Dimension of Therapeutic Touch by Dora Kunz, Dolores Krieger

Healing Touch: A Guide Book for Practitioners, 2nd edition by Dorothea Hover-Kramer, et al

Therapeutic Touch by JANET MACRAE

A Gift for Healing : How You Can Use Therapeutic Touch by Deborah Cowens

Therapeutic Touch Inner Workbook: Ventures in Transpersonal Healing by Delores Krieger, et al

Body Wisdom: Light Touch for Optimal Health by Sharon Weiselfish-Giammatteo, et al

Herbal Drug Is Embraced in Treating Malaria


May 10, 2004


After years of hesitation, world health agencies are racing to acquire 100 million doses of a Chinese herbal drug that has proved strikingly effective against malaria, one of the leading killers of the poor.

The drug, artemisinin (pronounced are-TEM-is-in-in), is a compound based on qinghaosu, or sweet wormwood. First isolated in 1965 by Chinese military researchers, it cut the death rate by 97 percent in a malaria epidemic in Vietnam in the early 1990's.

It is rapidly replacing quinine derivatives and later drugs against which the disease has evolved into resistant strains.

To protect artemisinin from the same fate, it will be given as part of multidrug cocktails.

Until recently, big donors like the United States and Britain had opposed its use on a wide scale, saying it was too expensive, had not been tested enough on children and was not needed in areas where other malaria drugs still worked.

Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, which procures drugs for the world's poorest countries, opposed its use during an Ethiopian epidemic last year, saying that there was too little supply and that switching drugs in mid-outbreak would cause confusion.

But now almost all donors, Unicef and the World Bank have embraced the drug. The new Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has given 11 countries grants to buy artemisinin and has instructed 34 others to drop requests for two older drugs — chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine — and switch to the new one.

"We want countries to move very rapidly to use it as a first-line treatment," said Dr. Vinand Nantulya, the fund's malaria adviser. The fund expects to spend $450 million on the drug over the next five years, he said.

The World Health Organization, a United Nations agency based in Geneva, estimates that 100 million doses will be needed by late 2005.

Malaria causes about 300 million illnesses a year, and at least 1 million deaths, 90 percent of them in Africa and most of them children under 5. Despite more than a century of eradication efforts, the disease is endemic from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to the Amazon Basin in Brazil, and is particularly severe across central Africa, from the cane fields of Mozambique to the oases of Somalia to the rubber plantations of Liberia.

Like many tropical disease drugs, artemisinin is a fruit of military research. Chinese scientists first isolated it in 1965 while seeking a new antimalarial treatment for Vietnamese troops fighting American forces, said Dr. Nelson Tan, medical director of Holley Pharmaceuticals, which makes the drug in Chongqing, China.

Another antimalarial drug still in use, mefloquine, was isolated at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 1963 for American troops in the same jungles. Under the name Lariam, it is still issued to troops and sold to travelers.

Artemisinin, which has no significant side effects, quickly reduces fevers and rapidly lowers blood-parasite levels, which can keep small outbreaks in mosquito-infested areas from becoming epidemics.

Two years ago, Dr. Dennis Carroll, a health adviser to the United States Agency for International Development, said artemisinin was "not ready for prime time." But on April 30 at a malaria conference at the Columbia University School of Public Health, he led a session on ways to induce farmers to plant more wormwood.

Dr. Carroll said that more evidence had emerged that the drug was safe and that older drugs were not working. Also, the creation of the Global Fund expedited grants for it.

Dr. Stewart Tyson, a health expert with the British Department for International Development, said his agency changed its opinion about the drug after its experience in Uganda, where resistance to older drugs had climbed to 31 percent in some areas in 2003 from 6 percent in 2000.

The price of artemisinin cocktails has fallen from $2 per treatment to 90 cents or less as more companies in China, India and Vietnam have begun making them. (Older drugs cost only 20 cents.) Novartis, the Swiss drug giant, sells its artemisinin-lumefantrine mix, Coartem, to poor countries for 10 cents less than it costs to make, a company official said. The same drug, under the name Riamet, is sold to European travelers for about $20.

As a plant material, artemisinin cannot be patented, said Dr. Allan Schapira, a policy specialist for the Roll Back Malaria campaign of the World Health Organization. Nor can the simple extraction process. Some synthetics, he said, are old and off patent, which public health officials like but pharmaceutical companies do not, because they make a larger profit from drugs on which they have patent monopolies.

No company has registered artemisinin in the United States, said Dr. Nick White, a professor of tropical medicine at Mahidol University in Thailand, because sales would be too small to justify the cost of seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Now, with more purchases, fears of a shortage that would push prices up are developing. The W.H.O. estimates that 100 million doses will be needed by late 2005, and the world now has only about a third of that.

Though it grows wild even in the United States, wormwood is cultivated only in China, Vietnam and pilot projects in Tanzania and India. It is planted in December and needs eight months to mature. Drug companies want firm orders from donors before they try to triple production.

Dr. Tan said he had seed banks ready to plant 62,000 acres, "but we need to pay farmers to give up other crops and arrange for fertilizer."

"Time is against us," he said.

Even if enough artemisinin can be made, obstacles will arise, experts warned. For example, Dr. Kopano Mukelabai, a malaria specialist at Unicef, said shopkeepers would have to be trained not to sell one or two pills to patients who lacked the money for a full course of 12.

And what Richard Allan, director of the Mentor Initiative, a public health group that fights malaria epidemics, called "the love of chloroquine" will have to be broken. That quinine derivative, in use since the 1950's, is now almost useless against parasites, but poor people still buy it because it is cheap and lowers fever as aspirin does.

Also, counterfeiting will become a problem. In Kenya in 1997, Mr. Allan said, he found 120 versions of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine for sale, "ranging from very good drugs to talcum powder." A recent study of artemisinin drugs in Asia "found that 38 percent were fakes," he said. "We can expect the same thing to happen in Africa."

He favors giving artemisinin away to remove the counterfeiters' profit motive.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Hoaxes, Myths, And Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking

Robert E. Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford
2003, Prometheus; 229p.
critical-thinking, psychology, UFO

By a sociologist and a skeptical investigator, Hoaxes concentrates on mass panics and exotic customs which appear "weird" as well as on hoaxes. Topics include alleged Martian panics started by radio broadcasts, Roswell, the mad gasser of Mattoon, the New England airship hoax, Malay *latah* behavior, genital-shrinking scares, medieval dancing manias, the Indian "monkey man" mania, and more. The book is valuable not only because it emphasizes critical thinking, but because it approaches its subject in a cross-cultural manner. This one of the relatively few skeptical books which gives cultural factors their due.

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/
Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Monday, May 10, 2004

Oriental medicine searches for a regional toehold


Acupuncture, herbal therapy still a novelty

By Amy Braun
Daily Star staff
Saturday, May 08, 2004

BEIRUT: The rows of framed diplomas and the jumble of magazines in the waiting room are familiar accoutrements of doctors' offices the world over. But interspersed with these are a few items distinguishing the space from your average general practitioner's domain. There are the large, flat stones with the words "harmony," "balance" and "long life" etched into their surfaces. There is the smattering of Chinese baubles. And the plastic head that stares blankly from where it is prominently displayed on the desk, 12 needles protruding from its ivory-colored scalp.

In this carefully cultivated atmosphere of tranquility, replete with steady white noise from a small rock fountain and the strains of nondescript new age music, Dr. Raffi Shememian practices a brand of medicine that has been raising debate and controversy since it rose in popularity throughout much of the world during the last century.

He is one of the relatively few practitioners of Oriental medicine in Lebanon, treating patients through such unorthodox methods as herbal remedies and acupuncture, which involves placing needles at designated points in the patient's body.

Oriental medicine, and alternative treatments in general, have not yet caught hold of the region's public as they have in Europe and the United States. However, more and more practitioners are putting out a shingle, hoping to bring to the Middle East what has already proved a lucrative business in the rest of the world.

In 1997, the last year for which statistics were available, US consumers spent $2.7 billion on alternative medical treatments, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The organization estimates that figure has since increased drastically. Europe has likewise proved a lucrative market for alternative treatments.

Yet in the Middle East, a region in which a long history of relying on traditional remedies would seem to make it more receptive to alternative medicine, there has so far been a shortage of both supply and demand.

"Since day one I have had difficulty marketing this medicine," said Shememian, who has been practicing in Lebanon for a year and a half, "It's like a newborn baby in the Middle East, though it has been around for over 3,000 years."

Among the difficulties facing the sector in general, according to the WHO's Traditional Medicine Strategy, released in 2002, is the "lack of sound scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of many of its therapies."

Indeed, proponents of this form of healthcare make ambitious claims that acupuncture can cure or relieve symptoms of everything from allergies and obesity to depression. While most of these claims are unsupported by anything more than anecdotal evidence, repeated studies indicate it is at least effective in alleviating chronic headaches. Researchers report those who underwent the treatment experienced less pain.

The relationship between so-called Western doctors and those who swear by Oriental medicine has been characterized more by competition than cooperation, with skepticism and accusations of charlatanism going in both directions, but Shememian is careful to point out that herbs and needles are not meant as replacements for modern medicine.

"This is complementary medicine," he said, "How could we forget the benefits of Western medicine? There is no perfection in either method."

In order for his chosen brand of healthcare to succeed in the region, he said, "we need people properly and professionally trained. Puncturing a body is not a joke." Regulation of the industry is virtually non-existent, and there are no training facilities in Lebanon, forcing would-be practitioners to study elsewhere.

Shememian sees the lack of precedent as an advantage: "Throughout history, people always look for a virgin market, and the Middle East is definitely a virgin market. We are just trying to work for the benefit of the human body."

Battista, family received free acupuncture


Treatments worth more than $8,000 were provided to Ronald Battista and his family by a doctor seeking full insurance coverage for the ancient Chinese healing art.

01:53 AM EDT on Saturday, May 8, 2004

Journal Staff Writer

Ronald A. Battista, the president of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, and members of his family received free acupuncture treatments from a Cranston doctor seeking full insurance coverage for acupuncture.

Dr. John J.K. Han, a Cranston acupuncturist, says that between 1999 and 2001 he treated Battista and his first wife, his father and his secretary, who later became his second wife.

In all, the four received 183 acupuncture treatments, according to Han's office records. At $65 for an initial visit and $45 for each subsequent visit, the treatments would have cost $8,315.

But Battista didn't pay for his 49 visits, his first wife Audrey's 60 visits or his father Ray's 47 visits, nor did they, according to Han and his secretary, Grace DeGuilio, who handles billings.

Han said he also gave 27 free treatments in 1999 to Patricia Grieco, Battista's secretary at Blue Cross. She married Battista in 2001 after the Blue Cross president's divorce in 2000.

A revised Blue Cross employee code of conduct released this week states that accepting something of value from a provider could pose a conflict of interest.

Michael Doyle, a Blue Cross spokesman, said that under the revised code, Battista would have been required to disclose the treatments and receive approval in advance.

Doyle said the company's lawyer, Judith A. Sullivan, determined, in response to The Journal's questions Wednesday, that Battista did not violate the code of conduct that existed at the time. Doyle would not release that code.

While Battista, his family members and his secretary were receiving the free treatments, Blue Cross lobbyists were fighting proposals at the State House to require insurance coverage for acupuncture.

Han, one of the pioneers of acupuncture in Rhode Island, said he offered to treat Battista in 1999. Han hoped to convince the leader of Rhode Island's dominant health insurer that acupuncture was a cost-effective way to heal patients and save Blue Cross millions of dollars on more expensive medical tests, drug treatments and surgeries.

But while Battista accepted the free treatments, and later wrote Han that he would recommend it to his family and friends, acupuncture advocates say that Blue Cross has continued to resist their efforts to make coverage more affordable and accessible to the average Rhode Islander.

"I'm so tired and frustrated," said Han. "Too many people are unable to take advantage of acupuncture."

Ron Battista had promised to work for better coverage of acupuncture, said Han. "But after treatment -- bonsai."

THE CIRCUMSTANCES that led Ron Battista to Han's acupuncture table are rooted in a medical debate that reaches back to the 1970s.

In 1973, Han emigrated from South Korea to the United States with his collection of 5,000 acupuncture needles, a degree from the Oriental Medical School in Seoul, and two trunks of books on the 4,000-year-old Chinese healing art.

Han took a job in the hydrotherapy department at Fuller Memorial Hospital, in South Attleboro, supervising the whirlpool bath. He practiced acupuncture on the side, but under Massachusetts law he had to be supervised by a physician.

Several of Han's patients were from Rhode Island, where a 1974 law allowed only licensed doctors to practice acupuncture, and then only for research purposes.

Despite widespread skepticism, especially from the medical establishment, acupuncture was gaining attention across America as a form of alternative medicine that could help people suffering from ailments ranging from back pain and arthritis to migraine headaches and gastrointestinal problems.

In Rhode Island, Han trooped up to the State House with a life-sized human dummy, illustrated with 365 "vital points" where needles could be inserted to regulate the flow and balance of energy in the body.

To prove that it was painless, he stuck needles in state legislators. At one hearing, he inserted a needle in the elbow of then-Senate Majority Leader John P. Hawkins, who declared that it didn't hurt. After hearings, Han said, he would be inundated with business cards and dinner invitations from state legislators seeking his help with a variety of complaints.

In 1978, despite objections from the medical community, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a law entitled "The Healing Art of Acupuncture," allowing acupuncturists to practice without a doctor's supervision.

The sponsor was an East Providence representative, Antonio SaoBento Jr., who praised Han for curing his tennis elbow. Han said that he had met another backer, House leader Matthew J. Smith, at dinner at SaoBento's house, where he treated Smith's wife for a sore knee.

In 1980, Han became the first doctor of acupuncture licensed to practice in Rhode Island. His License No. 1 hangs prominently in the waiting room of his Rhode Island Acupuncture Center, in a medical office building on Reservoir Avenue in Cranston.

But if acupuncture had become more accepted, it was still not covered by health insurance. In 1984, nearly 300 of Han's patients signed a petition asking Blue Cross to provide coverage for acupuncture.

By the late 1990s, another acupuncturist, Tadeusz Sztykowski, of East Providence, was pushing for a law requiring insurers to pay for acupuncture treatment. But lobbyists for Blue Cross and other health insurers opposed it.

After a bill requiring mandatory coverage failed in 1998, Sztykowski said he modified his approach in 1999. This time, he sought legislation that would require insurers to offer optional coverage, known as a rider. A rider is not as good as mandatory coverage, because it is not included in a standard policy; companies must pay extra.

Even so, as the 1999 session wore on, the bill's prospects for passage remained uncertain. Blue Cross and other insurance companies remained opposed, arguing in part that the law might encourage practitioners of other types of alternative medicine to seek insurance coverage as well.

In March, Han sent legislators a letter, along with a photo of his office wall, covered with correspondence from satisfied patients. When he received his license to practice acupuncture in 1980, he wrote, he discovered that treatment was not covered by health insurance -- a goal he had worked for ever since.

"Because of financial difficulties, too many people are unable to take advantage of acupuncture treatments," he wrote.

IN THE SPRING of 1999, Han also reached out to Battista at Blue Cross.

Han said he invited Battista and a small group of Blue Cross executives to his office. He showed them letters from patients describing how he had helped them with ailments after more conventional medical treatment had failed.

"How much is your company paying for a medical test?" he recalled asking Battista. "Five thousand dollars? Ten thousand? How much for an operation? Thirty thousand? Fifty thousand? . . . Please consider this for the sake of Blue Cross, the poor people, the taxpayers. We can stop wasting money."

Then Han said he told Battista, "Send me your employees, your family, relatives, friends -- yourself. I'll give you treatment, completely free, until you're cured. No charge. This is the best evidence."

A few weeks later, Battista's wife, Audrey, and his secretary, Grieco, both started treatment on the same day -- May 21, 1999.

On June 4, Battista's father, Ray, began treatment.

On June 7, Han and Sztykowski of the acupuncture association and others testified at a State House hearing in favor of the insurance bill, which Blue Cross opposed.

The bill passed, but Sztykowski said it was weakened to exclude individuals not covered by group plans -- and it still didn't require mandatory coverage.

Still, Han exulted. He said he hoped the new law would make acupuncture available to thousands of Rhode Islanders. But his joy was short-lived.

To qualify for coverage, a patient's employer had to purchase the optional acupuncture rider, and few did, according to Han and Sztykowski.

Sztykowski and Han said the State of Rhode Island bought the rider the first year it was offered, but then dropped it.

Even if a patient's company has the rider, Blue Cross pays for only 12 visits a year; Han and other acupuncturists say that more frequent treatments are required for serious ailments. Han said he urged Battista and Blue Cross to cover 3 visits a week for 15 weeks, or a total of 45 visits.

Since passage of the 1999 law, the state acupuncture association lobbied unsuccessfully from 2000 to 2003 for mandatory coverage.

One year, hoping to head off opposition from Blue Cross lobbyists, Sztykowski said he met with a Blue Cross executive, Lynn Urbani, and asked her to fund a study to demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture. He said she seemed receptive to his argument that more acupuncture treatment could help wean some patients off expensive drug treatments.

But Blue Cross turned him down, he said, saying there was no money available for a study.

THE 1999 LAW requiring insurers to offer employers an optional acupuncture rider took effect April 1, 2000.

On March 27, Ron Battista became a patient of Han's. Over the next four months, he received 49 treatments, the last on Aug. 3, 2000, according to Han's records.

Han says he avoided lobbying Battista during the Blue Cross president's acupuncture treatments. He hoped that the results of the treatment would speak for themselves.

"I didn't want to push him," said Han. "I didn't want him to feel obliged because he was receiving treatment. That wouldn't have been right, ethically."

In the fall of 2000, Blue Cross ran articles on Han and acupuncture in its "HealthCare Partners" magazine for subscribers and its "Partners in Quality" newsletter for doctors and providers.

The newsletter noted Han's claim of a 75-percent cure rate. It also described Han's dream of making acupuncture "affordable and accessible to every American" -- a dream that the article said had recently been realized in Rhode Island with passage of the insurance-rider law.

In January 2001, Battista wrote Han on his official Blue Cross stationery.

"I am writing this letter, albeit belatedly, to thank you for the treatments that I received at your office last year," Battista wrote. "While it's hard for me to ascertain whether my cardiac circulation has improved as the result of acupuncture, I do know that the treatments were rendered professionally and painlessly. Given some of my other health care experiences this alone was a benefit."

Battista went on to say that he believed that acupuncture has "significant therapeutic value" and "as a result [I] have counseled my family and friends as to its value."

The letter went up on Han's waiting-room wall, near an autographed photo of Hillary Rodham Clinton and similar letters from Audrey Battista, Ray Battista and Patricia Grieco.

Audrey Battista praised Han and wrote what an "eye opening experience this has been."

"I am so happy that my husband was introduced to you and I had the opportunity to be treated by you," she wrote. "Your dedication and commitment to your patients is outstanding and your dream for acupuncture treatments to be covered by health insurance companies in Rhode Island hopefully will happen in the near future."

Ray Battista, the Blue Cross president's father, wrote that Han's treatment had enabled him, at age 75, to resume an active lifestyle, including golf. "For those who question the merits of acupuncture," he wrote, "I assure you, you will be more than pleased with the outcome."

After the treatments ended, Han said, he gave up on his efforts to lobby Blue Cross. Today, at age 69, he says he is not angry with Battista, but he is frustrated that acupuncture has not won wider acceptance.

"How can I convince the public and the government and health insurers to open their eyes and their heart?" he said. "This is my dream."

THE NEWLY REVISED Blue Cross code of conduct warns against receiving something of value from a provider if it could create "the appearance of improper influence."

The code requires employees to disclose any potential conflicts, including the receipt of "a gift of value" that would violate company policy regarding "business courtesies."

"Our companies generally purchase products and services on the basis of price, quality and service," the policy states. "We expect our customers to purchase our products and services on the same basis."

Sztykowski said it was hypocritical for Battista to have accepted the free treatments when Blue Cross won't pay for more than 12 acupuncture treatments a year for its subscribers.

"Battista is having the good life in this state -- he doesn't even pay for acupuncture," said Sztykowski. "Of course [beyond the optional rider], neither does Blue Cross."

Blue Cross directors said yesterday that they were briefed during Thursday's meeting on the upcoming Journal story regarding Battista's acupuncture treatments.

Battista defended himself and declared that, in his view, it was "a nonissue," according to board chairman Frank Montanaro. Another board member, Kenneth M. Moffat, said Battista had never been asked to pay -- that "he had been asked by Dr. Han to offer himself up as a guinea pig, to try and lend some credibility to the benefits of acupuncture."

Doyle, the Blue Cross spokesman, declined to discuss the propriety of the Blue Cross president receiving free treatment from a provider.

"I'm not going to entertain that," said Doyle. "Ron Battista has moved on."

Mike Stanton can be reached at (401) 277-7724, or mstanton@projo.com

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Darwin back in Italy's schools


Science and education minister changes her mind on teaching evolutionary theory | By Rossella Lorenzi

Pressed by a petition signed by some of the country's top scientists, and inundated by thousands of protest E-mails and faxes, Italy's minister of education, universities, and research, Letizia Moratti, reconsidered on Wednesday evening (April 28) her position on the teaching of evolution, stating that the theory will be taught starting from primary school.

"The current school reform does not have rigid programs. It features national guidelines that establish the main teaching principles, allowing teachers to adapt the program according to the context and the pupils," Moratti said in a statement.

"It is absolutely false that the ministry banned the teaching of evolution theories in primary and secondary schools. The discussion of Darwin's theories will be included in the education of all students from 6 to 18 years, according to gradual teaching criteria," she said.

To reinforce her point, Moratti also appointed a committee specifically to provide guidelines for evolutionary theory teaching at various stages. Chaired by Nobel Laureate Rita Levi Montalcini, one of the top scientists who signed the protest petition, and featuring Nobel Laureate Carlo Rubbia, geneticist Roberto Colombo, and biologist Vittorio Sgaramella, the committee is Moratti's answer to the "controversies of the past few days."

"On my side, I will try to give space to different views about evolution. The most important thing is to give the appropriate importance to science in school programs, embracing broader views. I am happy to contribute. It is always a good idea to confront each other," Sgaramella told The Scientist.

Established by legislative decree on February 19, the new teaching programs for secondary schools made no mention of the history of human evolution, nor of the relationship between mankind and other species.

On April 23, some of the country's top scientists launched the petition through the daily La Repubblica to reintroduce the teaching among students aged 12 to 14. The document urged Moratti to "review the secondary schools programs and to rectify an oversight which is detrimental to the scientific culture of future generations."

Fearing the measure could pave the way for creationist teaching, more than 45,000 citizens joined the scientists in the appeal.

"Moratti proved to be an open-minded and very intelligent person. Not everybody is able to listen and then reconsider in a critical way his or her ideas and positions," Umberto Veronesi, director of the European Institute of Oncology in Milan and former health minister, who also signed the petition, wrote in La Repubblica.

Links for this article R. Lorenzi, "No evolution for Italian teens," The Scientist, April 28, 2004. http://www.biomedcentral.com/news/20040428/04

Letizia Moratti

Appeal: New School Programme Detrimental to Scientific Culture

Umberto Veronesi http://www.istruzione.it/rassegna/oggi/5hc7j.htm



Date : MAY 06, 2004

Astrology is Science, and is allowed to be taught in Indian Universities for degrees and research work for interested students. The Hon.'ble Supreme Court rejected the plea of scientists that Astrology should not be taught in Universities as a subject of science. The Full Bench accepted Astrology as Science and allowed the Universities for teaching and issuing degrees and research work in Astrology.

In a landmark judgement, a full bench comprising Justice S. Rajendra Babu and Justice G.P.Mathur dismissed a petition filed by scientists in the matter of P.M. Bhargava and others challenging an Andhra Pradesh High Court Order that Astrology is not science and should not be taught in the universities.

The petition was filed by the scientists against HRD Ministry, Govt. of India and University Grant Commission.

In this case, the HRD Ministry has been strong advocate of introduction of astrology as a course at the post graduation level and for providing platform to interested students in astrology to do research work.

Dr. Raj Baldev, who is a famous Cosmo Theorist, is also considered an authority in Astrology and occult sciences, was Intervener in this case and supported the plea of HRD Ministry, Govt. of India and the UGC. While tracing ancient history of Astronomy and Astrology, he gave all scientific reasons in his intervention application justifying how astrology is a complete science.

Along with his intervention, Dr. Raj Baldev had also filed the press clippings wherein he had predicted the fall and rise of three governments with exact time and date well in advance before their occurrences, even the indication of the name of the Prime Minister and how many alphabets he would carry with his name were also successfully predicted by him.

Dr. Raj Baldev is also known as Nosterdom of India and is also popular as 'swamy' due to his vision of analysing both astronomy and astrology outstandingly. He has the privilege of having the audience of many heads of State.

His predictions are so accurate that even 1999 predictions were carried by Australian Broadcasting Corporation and proudly released by them on Internet since they were remarkably perfect.

Dr. Raj Baldev was also consulted regularly by the close deputies of Saddam Hussein privately for their President and Saddam Hussein granted the special privilege to Dr. Raj Baldev for addressing Iraqi Parliament as the highest honor on behalf of his country, which included his best efforts in helping to end Iran-Iraq war by using the good offices of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India.

Dr. Raj Baldev is a multi-talented personality, he has recently written "Two Big Bangs Created the Universe" (Formed in Eternal Space) in which he has fully reconstructed the big bang theory. His forthcoming book is on MARS titled "Exploring Mars for Life".

Dr. Raj Baldev is the Chairman of SAROUL (Scientific Advance Research of Universe and Life). MIL

CDC Links Birth Defect Drop to Folic Acid-Fortified Foods



From Associated Press

May 7, 2004

ATLANTA — Severe brain and spinal birth defects have dropped 27% in the United States since the government in 1998 began requiring makers of cereal, pasta, bread and flour to fortify their foods with folic acid, health authorities reported Thursday.

Folic acid is known to reduce the risk of spina bifida and anencephaly, which are also called neural tube defects.

Before fortification, about 4,130 babies had such neural tube defects each year in the United States, and nearly 1,200 died.

After fortification, the yearly average dropped to about 3,000, with 840 deaths, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Spina bifida cases dropped 31%, and anencephaly cases fell 16%, the CDC said.

Early in pregnancy, the neural tube creates the brain, skull and spine.

In spina bifida, the neural tube fails to close properly at the lower end.

It can cause paralysis of the legs or result in the loss of bowel or bladder control.

Anencephaly is a fatal condition in which the brain never completely develops or is absent. It is caused by the failure of the neural tube to close at the upper end.

Since 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service has recommended that women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, whether through enriched foods or supplements or both.

Yet only 30% to 35% of women in this age group take folic acid supplements, said Jenny Williams, a CDC researcher. And only 37% of doctors tell women to do so, she added.

"We know that we could avert another 1,000 neural tube defects if all women of childbearing age consumed 400 micrograms of folic acid daily," Williams said.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

Spooky goings-on at couple's home


May 6, 2004 12:01

SPOOKY encounters are proving to be quite a mystery to a Great Yarmouth couple.

Yana and Eric Johnson, of Madden Avenue, have been living with strange spectral entities for several years now and have been visited by a whole range of mediums and paranormal investigators.

Mrs Johnson said: "We've been told so many different things and now we're just confused.

"We don't know exactly what they are. Someone told us they were my husband's ancestors.

"They look like balls of light and some of them have got wings or strands coming off them and they come up from the corner of the living room.

"But they're in every room. They're not aggressive. They just keep moving things and they follow us about and lay on my shoulders.

"They seem like they're playful but they're quite annoying."

Mrs Johnson said the couple had been filmed for a BBC TV programme yet to be aired called Living With Ghosts.

"We've had mediums round and we've been interviewed and lots of people had seen the spirits or whatever they are," she said.

The couple's three-bedroom council house dates back to the 1930s.

They have been living there for 15 years and first noticed that something spooky was going on when they left a camera running in a bedroom.

The couple said the ghostly encounters left them tired and meant people no longer wanted to visit them.

Mr and Mrs Johnson are the second couple in as many weeks to contact the Evening News and report spooky encounters.

Two weeks ago we told the story of 86-year-old pensioner Percy Blyth who had been seeing ghoulish apparitions at his Bradwell home.

Mr Blyth was fed up-with the appearances, which always seemed to happen at night in his bedroom.

Gorleston-based paranormal investigators Paranormal Dimensions is currently looking into the mystery at his home to see if they can come up with any explanations.

In Praise of Ray Hyman

James Alcock

The following remarks about Ray Hyman were delivered by York University psychology professor and CSICOP Executive Council member James Alcock in presenting Hyman the In Praise of Reason Award, CSICOP's highest honor, at the Saturday night awards banquet at the CSICOP Albuquerque conference "Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias" Oct. 23-26, 2003.

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario-admittedly an unlikely one:

A new super-psychic has burst onto the world stage. He has amazing powers that go far beyond mere "cutlery distortion" and telling people things about themselves that they already know.

This is a psychic whose powers apparently have already been tested in scientific experiments that produced highly statistically significant results.

This is a psychic who has already personally entertained many of the world's leaders, and impressed them with his powers.

Well, so far, this is not that different from what we have seen before perhaps, but now, suppose the following:

This psychic has offered to use his powers to negotiate a lasting peace amongst warring factions in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Kashmir. He has told members of the United Nations Security Council, who gave him a private audience, that by being able to read the minds of the leaders of the protagonists in the various conflicts, he will bring about better communication and better understanding of issues. He might even resort to altering the mindsets of recalcitrant leaders by means of psychokinesis, turning them into peace-seekers and compromisers. The members of the Security Council have become so convinced of his powers that they are about to name him Ambassador-At-Large and Chief Negotiator for World Peace.

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal is not amused by this news.

CSICOP and its supporters protest loudly, and finally we are informed by the Security Council that we may send an emissary-one person only-who will be allowed to evaluate the supporting research and to test the psychic directly, and then present his or her findings and conclusions directly to that world body.

Well, this is pretty important stuff-much more important than the usual CSICOP work. After all, if, as we suspect, this man is a phony, there is the likelihood of tremendous harm being done to the cause of world peace if he is allowed to mess about in these seemingly intractable conflicts.

Let's not quibble about the likelihood of such a scenario, but let's focus instead on what qualities we would want our emissary to possess in such a case.

I've made a list:

Since scientific evidence has been adduced to support claims of the psychic's powers, our emissary should be a scientist, preferably a social scientist, someone who knows how to conduct and evaluate research involving human subjects; someone who knows how to detect flaws and biases in such experiments.

We need an expert in statistics, since statistical analysis was part of the scientific support offered for the psychic's powers. We need an expert in the psychology of belief and deception, someone who knows all about how people can both deceive and be deceived.

We need someone with sound academic credentials, for credibility is going to be a very important if our emissary is to have an influence on the Security Council.

We need someone with expert knowledge of magic and mentalism, for if the psychic is using the magician/mentalist's craft, only someone experienced and knowledgeable in this craft will be able to detect this. As the saying goes, it takes a thief to catch a thief.

We need someone who is experienced in evaluating supposed psychics and the research adduced in their support. Without such experience, even a very good social scientist may overlook important sources of error and bias.

We need someone who has a track record for fairness, someone who has gained the respect of skeptics and believers alike, so that our emissary will not be seen as some sort of hit man for CSICOP and skepticism.

We need a good communicator. It is not enough just to be able to show that the psychic is not really psychic at all. We need someone who can cogently present the skeptical case in such a way as to have an impact on the members of the Security Council.

We need someone who does not antagonize others, someone whose personality and charm will ease the sting of whatever critical commentary he or she has to offer to the Security Council.

Well, that's quite a list, and one that is almost impossible to fill, one might think.

I know of only one person in the entire world-and believe me, I am not exaggerating here; I really mean it-who measures up to all these criteria. And he is in our midst tonight.

Let me tell you about Ray Hyman:

Ray earned his Ph.D. at Harvard University, where he then taught statistics, amongst other subjects. He is now Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon, where he taught for many years.

He is an expert in cognitive psychology.

He is an expert in statistical analysis.

He is an expert in research design as applied to the study of human subjects.

He is an expert in the study of deception and self-deception and has dedicated most of his professional career to the study of why people come to believe strange things, how they can be fooled, and how some people set out to fool them.

He has published books, book chapters, and over 200 articles that critically evaluate studies of the paranormal and related domains. His article on cold reading, so Paul Kurtz informs me, has generated more requests for reprints than any other article in the history of the Skeptical Inquirer.

He is an expert in magic and mentalism. Few people outside of magic circles are aware of just how accomplished he is as a magician/mentalist. Indeed, he started out by earning his living as a mentalist. He is also an accomplished inventor of magical effects and routines. He is highly respected by other magicians, and has had the rare honor of twice appearing on the cover of the Linking Ring, the monthly magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

He has a long and unparalleled history of investigating psychics. Some of this work has been for official agencies such as the United States Defense Department and the United States National Research Council. He knows personally all of the leading, and many of the not-so-leading, parapsychologists in the world, and is respected by virtually all of them.

He is, of course, a champion among skeptics, and one of the founders of CSICOP.

He is known above all for being fair-minded-so much so that on more than one occasion I have been approached by people at CSICOP conferences who have complained that he had gone soft on parapsychology. They believed that he had "gone soft" because, rather than taking a debunking stance as they had wanted, he had approached the topic of paranormal claims from the point of view of scientific objectivity.

In terms of personality, Ray is able to be highly critical of parapsychologists and psychics without antagonizing them. Indeed, no doubt every one of us who has talked with Ray knows of his warmth and charm, and knows as well that no matter how stupid or ill-informed our questions might be-and I've asked my share-he never makes us feel foolish for having asked. He is always patient in his explanations and never condescending.

Ray Hyman clearly meets all the criteria in my list. I can think of no other individual in the entire world who could do the same. The In Praise of Reason Award is CSICOP's highest honor, and is given to those rare individuals who have made truly outstanding contributions to the promotion of science and the defense of reason. Previous recipients include such stellar scientists and communicators as Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann, and our own outstanding editor, Ken Frazier.

Tonight, I take great personal pride in being able to present, on behalf of CSICOP, the In Praise of Reason Award to my friend and colleague Ray Hyman, from whom I-and I am sure all of us-continue to learn so much.

Congratulations, Ray.


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