NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 June 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Martin to update the law to stop struck-off doctors treating seriously ill



By Evelyn Ring

THE Government must update the law to ensure that struck-off doctors cannot offer dubious alternative treatments to patients who are seriously ill.

Health Minister Micheál Martin is considering how patients can be best protected after meeting relatives whose loved ones suffered after undergoing an alternative treatment for cancer at the East Clinic in Killaloe, Co Clare.

Some patients who received the therapy have since died and others claim it made their condition worse.

One of the doctors who ran the clinic, American William Porter, had already been struck off the medical register in California for gross negligence and the other, Dr Paschal Carmody, has been struck off by the Irish Medical Council for professional misconduct.

Mr Martin, who spent two hours with family members in Dublin on Thursday night, now intends to consider a number of options and will be meeting with them again.

While Mr Martin believes patients have been callously treated by the two doctors and that patients need to be protected against such people offering unethical and unacceptable treatment. But Mr Martin knows making sure alternative medicine is a safe choice for those who want it will not be easy.

Bernie Gallagher of Patient Focus, whose husband JJ died of cancer, after being treated by Dr Carmody and Dr Porter, said it was easier to practise alternative medicine than it was to open a sandwich bar.

Former member of Patient Focus and now chairman of the Diabetes Federation, Dr Tony O'Sullivan, said some form of regulation was needed for privat e clinics like the one run by Dr Carmody and Dr Porter.

At the very least, he said, there should be minimum standards set.

Dr O'Sullivan said planned amendments to the Medical Practitioners Act were made by Patient Focus three years ago and the heads of the bill had been ready for a year.

He said it now needed to be pushed on so it could be introduced before the end of this year and not the middle of next year, as Mr Martin intended.

Another couple told Mr Martin how they found tablets, prescribed by the East Clinic, hidden around their son's bedroom after he died from cancer at the age of 15.

"This is the kind of suffering this organised fraud is imposing on people who already had very serious illnesses and are most likely to die anyway," Dr O'Sullivan said.

The Irish Medical Council's head of professional standards and the council's legal advisor, William Kennedy, said they reacted as fast as they could when they received a complaint about Dr Carmody.

The first complaint about Dr Carmody's controversial treatments was received by the council two years ago, he pointed out.

"We have had three cutting-edge inquiries, plus we have been to the High Court and the Supreme Court, all in less than two years and he has been struck off. Is there somebody who can do that quicker?" Mr Kennedy asked.

Dr Carmody was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Darwin vs. divine design


Toronto author tackles unending conflict between science and religion, creationism and evolution Even among creationists, biblic

By Design Or By Chance:
The Growing Controversy On The Origins Of Life In The Universe

by Denyse O'Leary

Castle Quay, 368 pages, $21.95

"Of the three grand old men of the 19th century (or dead white males, depending on your point of view) who dominated the thinking of the 20th century — Marx, Freud and Darwin — only Darwin is left. Will he follow Marx and Freud into oblivion?"

By Design Or By Chance

Jerome Lawrence co-wrote 39 plays, a dozen of which made it to Broadway. When he died in March at age 88, only one was mentioned in the first line of every obituary: Inherit The Wind.

All these obits allowed that Inherit The Wind (first staged in 1955, then filmed in 1960) was "a fictionalized treatment of the Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, when a Tennessee teacher faced jail time for teaching evolution.

Just how fictional, few are aware. In her new book By Design Or By Chance? The Growing Controversy On The Origins Of Life In The Universe, Toronto journalist Denyse O'Leary sets the record straight:

"One Calvin College professor has been in the habit of giving out a prize — a coconut — to the student who spots the most historical errors in the movie, after taking his `Monkey Trial' course, which includes reading the trial transcript. Over 70 errors have been identified so far."

She calls Inherit The Wind "a propaganda movie" that "teaches no biology whatsoever. It does, however, teach contempt for evangelical Christians."

Such as Scopes prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, the play's backward, blustering preacher. The real Bryan was a political progressive, and one of the 20th century's most skilful orators. He certainly didn't believe the Earth was just 6,000 years old — neither did most Christians, then or now. (In one of the many asides that make her book worthwhile, O'Leary reveals that the devoutly Christian co-authors of the highly influential "Fundamentals" pamphlets of 1910 — from which today's "fundamentalists" take their name — were also accomplished scientists, and quite "comfortable with evolution.")

Like millions of Christians, they came to regret their enthusiasm as Darwin's theories were used to promote the sterilization, or even murder, of society's "unfit." Coincidentally or not, it was Darwin's cousin Francis Galton who coined the word "eugenics" to describe this movement. Notable proponents of eugenics included George Bernard Shaw, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who ruled in the forced sterilization case Buck v. Bell that "three generations of imbeciles are enough."

The truth about the ongoing conflict between science and religion, creationism and evolution, while more difficult to squeeze into a three-hour stage play, is far more interesting and complex. In By Design Or By Chance, readers meet evolutionists who question Darwin (and risk their careers), Intelligent Design-ers who believe the Earth is billions of years old, and suffer the wrath of fellow creationists (not all of whom are Christians, by the way). A number of unapologetically spiritual scientists provide some of the book's most memorable lines.

For instance, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arno Penzias, who helped uncover the theory of the Big Bang: "The best data we have (about the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole."

And Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project: "God decided to create a species with whom he could have fellowship. Who are we to say that evolution was a dumb way to do it? It was an incredibly elegant way to do it."

However, the opinions of his predecessors on the project are more typical of the reigning scientific establishment. James Watson, who co-discovered the DNA double helix with Francis Crick, has remarked blithely that, "every time you understand something, religion becomes less likely." Crick, writes O'Leary, "has acknowledged that a deep hostility towards religion is a prime motivator for his work."

So much for scientific, unbiased rationality.

"What makes the conflict between the creationists and the Darwinists so intense," O'Leary writes, "was the fact that, starting in Darwin's day, Darwinism functioned as something of a religion, competing for attention with the traditional religions." And as a religion, "Darwinism is intolerant," she continues. "The Darwinist assumes that what he believes is true," even though Darwin lived in the 19th century and naturally had no knowledge of genetics and biochemistry.

"Therefore, only evidence that supports Darwinism can be valid evidence. Those who propose other theories must be silenced, for the good of society."

Consider the case of Forrest Mims. He was up for the job of a lifetime back in 1989: writing the "Amateur Scientist" column for Scientific American. A widely published science writer, Mims also happened to be co-founder of MTIS, Inc., makers of the Altair 8800 microcomputer (the granddaddy of every PC ever made). Scientific American liked Mims résumé and portfolio. His initial columns for the journal were well received. Then suddenly, he was fired.

You see, Mims, a practising Christian, had been asked about his religious beliefs at his initial interview, and if he believed in the Darwinian theory of evolution. Mims said no. He never wrote a word about evolution in SciAm. Nevertheless, the editors dumped their new columnist, explaining (in a taped conversation) that "if word got out that Mims was a Christian, a `public relations nightmare' would ensue."

Well, it did. To Scientific American's surprise, Harper's and the Wall Street Journal "promptly dumped on the prestigious scientific magazine. Science organizations were not amused by the SciAm editors' antics either, and the magazine's conduct was censured."

Today, Mims doesn't give the controversy much thought. He went on to publish in Nature (one of the world's leading science journals) and later invented the hand-held ozone measurement instrument used by scientists around the world.

(For whatever reason, Broadway producers haven't exactly been vying for the rights to his story ...)

O'Leary's obvious sympathy for Mims and other religious scientists (Jewish, Muslim or Christian) doesn't prevent her from examining heated conflicts in the creationist camp, specifically between old-fashioned biblical literalists, and their science-minded Intelligent Design (ID) colleagues.

"ID theory started to take shape in the late 1970s, as an outcome of information theory. Faced with the enormous complexity of living things — for example, the fact that complete instruction for creating DNA would be as long as the DNA code itself — ID theorists argue it makes more sense to assume the information is a language. In other words, it is a product of design. This is the complete opposite of Darwinism."

But not all creationists welcome ID, which concerns itself with hard science, not proving the literal truth of this or that Bible story. Those who do risk "contaminating" ID with their support. O'Leary points out that one prominent backer of ID think-tank The Discovery Institute is California multi-millionaire Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. — who'd previously supported efforts to replace American law with the Ten Commandments.

O'Leary also ably presents the scientific findings (or lack thereof) on both sides, using easily digestible sidebars and timelines.

While the controversy is far from over, By Design Or By Chance provides a fair introduction to the arguments on all sides. As O'Leary points out, society is slowly undergoing a paradigm shift. We'd be well advised to bone up on the latest information, and fast:

"Now that we know much more about the universe and about life on Earth, a surprising thing has happened. Far from supporting an atheistic, meaningless universe, the evidence supports a universe that is bursting with design. Was it orchestrated by an omnipotent God? This evidence does not prove the Christian doctrine of God. But it makes belief in God a reasonable idea."

Kathy Shaidle has run the weblog RelapsedCatholic.com ( "where the religious rubber meets the pop culture road") since 2000.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Prayer-power IVF 'miracle' a multi-million-dollar fraud

Article adapted/edited. May 30, 2004.

The Observer

It was a miracle that created headlines around the world. Doctors at one of the world's top medical schools claimed to have scientifically proved the power of prayer.

Many Americans took the Columbia University research - announced in October 2001 after the terror attacks on New York and Washington - as a sign from God. It seemed to prove that praying helped infertile women to conceive.

But one of the study's authors is a conman obsessed with the paranormal who has admitted to a multi-million-dollar scam. Daniel Wirth, now under house arrest in California awaiting sentencing, has used a series of false identities for several decades, including that of a dead child.

Wirth is at the centre of a network of bizarre scientific research, often working with co-researcher Joseph Horvath. Horvath has pleaded guilty to fraud, has used a series of false names and is accused of burning down his house for insurance money.

Many scientists are now questioning how someone with Wirth's background was able to persuade Columbia University Medical Centre to unveil his research in such a high-profile way. They also want to know why it appeared in the respected Journal of Reproductive Medicine, whose vetting procedures are usually strict.

The study claimed to show that a woman's chances of conceiving through IVF treatment doubled when someone prayed for them. 'IVF is a very difficult procedure. Increasing the success rate by 100 per cent would be a huge breakthrough, a revolution,' said Flamm.

The study was based on an IVF programme in Korea. Prayer groups in the United States, Canada and Australia were shown anonymous pictures of women on the programme and asked to pray. The subjects were not told they were part of a study, but the results claimed to show that the group had double the success rate of a group not being prayed for.

The research listed three authors of the study: Daniel Wirth and two Columbia fertility specialists, Dr Kwang Cha and Dr Rogerio Lobo. Kwang Cha has since left Columbia and now helps to run fertility clinics in Los Angeles and Korea. Lobo is still at Columbia. Neither returned phone calls and emails requesting an interview. Wirth's lawyer, William Arbuckle, also failed to return The Observer's calls.

On 18 May, Wirth pleaded guilty to multi-million-dollar fraud charges against US cable telecommunications company Adelphia Communications. While working for Adelphia, Horvath had steered $2.1 million of contracts to Wirth. The pair now face up to five years in jail and up to $250,000 in fines.

FBI papers filed during the case also show that Wirth has used a series of false identities over the years. In the mid-1980s, Wirth used the name of John Wayne Truelove to obtain a passport and rent apartments in California. The real Truelove was a New York child who had died as an infant in 1959.

He also used the name of Rudy Wirth, who died in 1998, to establish an address in New York and claim social security benefits. It is not clear whether Wirth and Rudy Wirth were related.

It has emerged that Wirth has no medical qualifications. He graduated with a law degree and then took a master's in parapsychology at John F. Kennedy University in California, where he met Horvath.

Wirth and Horvath have co-authored numerous pieces of research claiming to prove paranormal activities. Many of them are linked to a body called Healing Sciences Research International, which Wirth heads. However, the institute appears to be only a mail box with no telephone number.

Horvath also has a long criminal history and has used many fake identities, including Joseph Hessler, a child who died in Connecticut in 1957. It was as Hessler that he was jailed for fraud in 1990. But it was as John Truelove - using the same false identity as Wirth - that he was arrested in 2002 for burning down his own bungalow in order to claim the insurance. Horvath has also pleaded guilty to practising medicine without a licence after posing as a doctor in California.

Columbia University would not comment on the Wirth case. Scientists are pressing Columbia and the Journal of Reproductive Medicine to disown the research. But the JRM still has the study on its website. Phone calls to the journal were not returned. Columbia removed the press release announcing the study from its online archive shortly after receiving requests from scientists for comment after the Wirth fraud charges. But the university has not officially commented, ignoring clarification requests from the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health.

For full article, go to:

Scientologists settle death suit


Terms of the unexpected settlement are confidential in the wrongful death suit brought by the estate of Lisa McPherson.

By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published May 29, 2004

A 7-year-old wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of Lisa McPherson against the Church of Scientology reached a surprise settlement this week, ending one of the most fiercely contested and enduring legal battles in Pinellas County history.

The out-of-court agreement ends the last remaining legal threat facing the church after the widely publicized 1995 death of McPherson, a Scientologist who died after 17 days in the care of church members in Clearwater.

Terms of the settlement, reached after several days of mediation in a St. Petersburg law office, were confidential.

"It's over," said church spokesman Ben Shaw. "We look forward to the future and carrying out our mission of helping people attain spiritual freedom."

Lawyer Luke Lirot, who helped Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar represent the McPherson estate in numerous legal cases spawned by the wrongful death lawsuit, said it was time to end the exhaustive and expensive legal battle.

"It was the best way to get these matters resolved and let everyone move on," Lirot said.

Dandar could not be reached for comment. He was attending to a sick relative, Lirot said.

The wrongful death lawsuit generated nightmarish publicity for the church. A lengthy trial promised international media attention.

That a settlement was reached Wednesday night was surprising, given the cavernous divide between the two sides.

Dandar had called past offers from the church "insulting." In one mediation meeting, the church offered $20,000. Dandar countered with $80-million.

Senior Judge Robert Beach insisted on the latest round of mediation before he would set a trial date, Lirot said.

"This time, I think everyone took a good hard look at the many variables in the case," Lirot said.

The two sides met for several days in the St. Petersburg law offices of mediator Michael Keane, Lirot said. Participants in the negotiations were kept to "the barest number possible," Lirot said:

For the Church of Scientology, it was Shaw, Clearwater lawyer Wally Pope and Washington D.C.-based lawyer Monique Yingling. For the McPherson estate, it was Lirot, Dandar and his brother, and McPherson's aunt, Dell Liebreich.

* * *

McPherson moved to Clearwater from Dallas in 1994 with her employer, AMC Publishing, a marketing firm operated and staffed largely by Scientologists. Like others at AMC, she wanted to be close to Scientology's spiritual headquarters in downtown.

A year later, McPherson, then 36, became "clear," a state in which a Scientologist is said to be free of inhibitions caused by painful memories in the subconscious.

Two months later, just blocks south of Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel, she was involved in a minor traffic accident. McPherson exited her sport utility vehicle, took off her clothes and told a paramedic, "I need help. I need to talk to someone."

Paramedics took her to nearby Morton Plant Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Soon, fellow church members showed up and told hospital staff they would care for McPherson. Scientologists oppose psychiatric treatments. McPherson signed out against a doctor's advice and was taken to the Fort Harrison, where she remained for 17 days.

Handwritten daily reports written by low-level Scientologists painted a sobering picture. McPherson fought with her caregivers, refused to eat, cried and broke things. She soiled herself and eventually grew too weak to stand.

Church records show McPherson received doses of chloral hydrate, a prescription sedative, and was given magnesium injections.

The records also say McPherson was cared for by a medical doctor who is not licensed in Florida but worked for the church. The doctor diagnosed her as septic, determined she needed antibiotics and drove her to the hospital, the records said.

The staffers' notes indicated McPherson's weight had dropped dramatically and, one staffer wrote, she "looked very sick and was breathing heavily."

Still, they drove her to a hospital in the next county so she could be seen by a doctor who is a Scientologist. The trip took 45 minutes. At the hospital, McPherson was not breathing and had no heartbeat. The Scientologist doctor pronounced her dead.

* * *

Nearly a year after her death, State Attorney Bernie McCabe charged the Church of Scientology with two felonies: practicing medicine without a license and abuse of a disabled adult.

Those charges were dropped in June 2000 after prosecutors blamed then-Medical Examiner Joan Wood for scuttling their case.

Wood initially said McPherson had died of complications from dehydration. In 2000, five years later, Wood said that after reviewing her findings she determined the death was accidental.

But the civil case, in which the burden of proof is easier to meet than in a criminal cases, endured. Filed in February 1997 on behalf of McPherson's estate by Dell Liebreich of Texas, it contended church staff members let McPherson become severely dehydrated and die.

As in the criminal case, Scientology hired a squadron of top-notch lawyers and committed exhaustive resources. It was a strategy designed to outlast Dandar, observers said.

The case was fought vigorously by both sides.

Over the years, Dandar expanded the case beyond simple negligence, alleging church leaders intentionally allowed McPherson to die to avoid a public relations flap. Going into the latest round of negotiations, the four remaining counts of the lawsuit alleged negligence, battery, infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.

The church contended Dandar restructured the case to undermine Scientology and its leadership, with the financial backing of millionaire Robert Minton, then the church's chief critic. Minton contributed more than $2-million to fund Dandar's efforts.

"This was like the banner of the whole anti-Scientology movement," Minton once said of the McPherson lawsuit. "Here was a chance to really nail Scientology."

In an astonishing reversal in April 2003, however, Minton took the witness stand for the church and accused Dandar of urging him to lie under oath, drawing up false court records and pushing him to drum up anti-Scientology publicity. Dandar contended Minton's testimony was extorted by the church.

Scientology leaders always denounced the lawsuit, calling it an assault funded by church haters. Their vigorous defense, they said, was needed to set the record straight.

"This settlement was reached four years ago when the medical examiner corrected the death certificate and found Lisa's death to have been accidental, caused by a sudden, unexpected pulmonary embolism," Shaw said.

* * *

The agreement comes as the church enjoys unprecedented growth in Clearwater.

To date, the church owns more than $50-million in Clearwater-area properties and is nearing completion of a $50-million Mediterranean Revival-style building nicknamed "Super Power." Additionally, the church now has 565 hotel rooms in and near downtown for visiting Scientologists who consider Clearwater their spiritual mecca.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said he was pleased with the settlement of such highly visible and controversial litigation, especially in light of the City Council's intent to bring redevelopment plans back before voters sometime next year.

The settlement reached this week was a "global settlement," Lirot said, meaning all of the many offshoot cases filed by the church against the McPherson estate and its attorneys also will go away.

"If nothing else, this will benefit the judicial system of Pinellas County," Lirot joked. "There were a lot of cases out there."

Lirot called the case a once-in-a-career experience, and said the settlement is "good news for both parties."

"Everyone involved gets to move on with their lives," Lirot said.

- Staff writer Jennifer Farrell contributed to this report.


1994: Lisa McPherson, a longtime Scientologist, moves from Dallas to Clearwater with her employer, AMC Publishing. The company is operated and staffed largely by Scientologists who want to be close to Scientology's spiritual headquarters downtown.

JUNE 1995: McPherson becomes mentally disturbed and receives a Scientology procedure called the "Introspection Rundown," in which a troubled person is placed in quiet, dark isolation. No one may speak within the person's hearing. The person is given vitamins and food and encouraged to rest. McPherson has trouble recovering, but later writes a letter praising church staffers for helping.

SEPTEMBER 1995: McPherson officially becomes "clear," a state in which a Scientologist is said to be free of inhibitions caused by painful memories in the subconscious. Over 13 years, McPherson has spent tens of thousands of dollars on Scientology counseling. She is 36.

NOV. 18, 1995: McPherson is involved in a minor traffic accident in Clearwater, after which she takes off her clothes and tells a paramedic: "I need help. I need to talk to someone." She says she's been doing "wrong things she didn't know were wrong." Paramedics take her to nearby Morton Plant Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, but a group of church members intervenes. McPherson signs out against a doctor's advice and is taken to Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater.

DEC. 5, 1995: McPherson has been in the care of Scientologists at the Fort Harrison for 17 days. On the evening of Dec. 5, Scientologists caring for her worry she has become seriously ill. They decide to drive her to a hospital in New Port Richey - a 45-minute trip - so she can be seen by Dr. David Minkoff, a Scientologist who works in the emergency room. At the hospital, McPherson is not breathing and has no heartbeat. She is gaunt, bruised and unkempt, according to records. Minkoff pronounces McPherson dead.

DEC. 6, 1995: Clearwater Police quietly begin to investigate. There is no local obituary and no public police report on McPherson's death. News of the case would not leak out until a year later.

DEC. 16, 1996: When the investigation becomes public, Scientology accuses Clearwater Police of harassing the church. The church's version of the death: McPherson checked into the Fort Harrison hotel for "rest and relaxation" and "suddenly fell ill."

JANUARY 1997: The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement join Clearwater Police in the investigation. Medical examiner Joan Wood tells reporters there is no way McPherson "suddenly fell ill."

FEB. 19, 1997: In Tampa, McPherson's relatives file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology.

JULY 9, 1997: New light is shed on the case when a judge allows the release of internal logs detailing how Scientologists cared for McPherson. The records differ significantly from the account church officials gave.

DEC. 15, 1997: Clearwater Police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement complete their investigation and recommend criminal charges in McPherson's death.

NOVEMBER 1998: After reviewing the case for 11 months, State Attorney Bernie McCabe charges the Church of Scientology with two felonies: practicing medicine without a license and abuse of a disabled adult.

NOVEMBER 1999: Wood agrees to reconsider her conclusions about McPherson's death.

JANUARY 2000: Robert Minton, a New England millionaire on a crusade to reform Scientology, opens a headquarters next to church property in Clearwater and calls his organization the Lisa McPherson Trust. Minton has financed the civil lawsuit against Scientology since 1997.

FEBRUARY 2000: Wood, after reviewing medical information provided by Scientology, changes McPherson's death certificate. She amends the manner of death from "undetermined" to "accident."

JUNE 7, 2000: His review complete, McCabe decides not to prosecute, noting that Wood's change of opinion undercuts the prosecution's effort to prove the criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt.

JULY 28, 2000: Hillsborough Circuit Judge James S. Moody Jr. orders the wrongful death lawsuit be transferred to Pinellas County.

NOVEMBER 2001: Minton announces the Lisa McPherson Trust is disbanding and closing its Clearwater headquarters.

APRIL 2002: In an astonishing reversal, Minton, who gave Ken Dandar, lawyer for the estate of Lisa McPherson, nearly $2-million to pursue the wrongful death suit, takes the stand for the church in its effort to remove Dandar from a case tied to the wrongful death suit.

JANUARY 2003: Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer rules the wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology should continue, and that Dandar can remain on the case.

MAY 2004: The estate of Lisa McPherson and the Church of Scientology reach a settlement. The terms are made confidential.

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]

Many turn to prayer for healing


By Jennifer Harper

Prayer is the most commonly used "alternative medicine," according to a survey of more than 31,000 adults released by the National Institutes of Health yesterday more popular than acupuncture, chiropractic care, yoga, vitamins and other complementary medical therapies.

The survey was conducted as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2002 National Health Interview Survey, which charts the nation's health behaviors.

According to NIH, prayer is considered a "mind-body therapy," a category that also includes biofeedback, meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis and even deep breathing exercises.

The survey also lists 20 other alternatives, including folk medicine, homeopathics, massage, naturopathy and ayurveda.

Prayer is the most popular of them all.

The survey showed that 55 percent of Americans have used "prayer for health reasons," 52 percent "prayed for their own health," 31 percent had asked others to pray for their health, 23 percent had prayed for health in a prayer group and 5 percent had used a healing ritual.

Overall, 75 percent have used complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) at some point.

The public may "not be getting relief from conventional medicine," said Richard Nahin of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of NIH, during a press conference yesterday.

These alternatives can be both complex and highly individualized, offering "treatment of the 'whole' person by addressing their physical, mental and spiritual attributes rather than focusing on a specific pathogenic process," the survey said.

"Over the years, we've concentrated on traditional medical treatment, but this new collection of CAM data taps into another dimension entirely," said Edward Sondik, director of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

"What we see is that a sizable percentage of the public puts their personal health in their own hands," he said.

Beyond prayer, Americans favor other alternatives.

"Natural products" such as echinacea or ginseng followed in popularity, used by 25 percent. Chiropractic care was next, used by 20 percent, along with deep breathing exercise (15 percent), meditation (10 percent), massage (9 percent), yoga (7 percent) and diet-based therapy (6 percent).

Back pain was the health woe most frequently treated with CAM, followed by colds, neck pain, joint pain, anxiety or depression, and arthritis.

The majority of CAM users 55 percent used alternatives combined with conventional medical treatments. Just more than half used them because they thought it would be "interesting" while 28 percent said they opted for alternatives after conventional methods failed. More than a quarter had tried CAM at the recommendation of a medical professional.

Just more than 13 percent said they tried CAM because conventional means were too expensive.

The researchers still advise the public to pursue "conventional treatments that are proven safe," said Dr. Stephen Straus, director of the NIH alternative medicine center.

"People are making individual decisions to neglect those therapies, and we have concerns about those choices," he said.

"Untested CAM therapies might have unanticipated negative results," the survey stated.

Navy calls in 'ghostbusters' to dockyard


By Richard Savill
(Filed: 31/05/2004)

An investigation into ghostly goings-on at the Royal Navy base at Devonport, Plymouth, has found signs of paranormal "activity", a psychic medium said yesterday.

The 10-strong team of "ghostbusters" spent Friday and Saturday nights examining activity in the dock's Hangman's Cell, the scene of numerous executions during the Napoleonic Wars.

They also investigated sightings of a girl's ghost seen playing in the Master Ropemaker's House. Researchers took in toys and set up objects, including a made-up bed, balls and marbles, to detect poltergeists.

The Navy invited the team in after decades of reports of strange sightings around the dockyard. Barbara Jones, a psychic medium, said: "There was definitely activity in the Hangman's Cell and we have got evidence of it." They did not see any ghosts but there were changes in temperature in the cell and they had "very good" photographic evidence.

Naval shipyard 'is haunted'


A Royal Navy shipyard has been confirmed as officially haunted after experts say they found traces of the paranormal in it.

Twenty officials from the Paranormal Research Organisation and the Society of Metaphysicians spent two nights at the Royal Navy dockyard in Devonport, Plymouth.

They were concentrating in particular on the Hangman's Cell and Master Ropemaker's House, two 17th century buildings which are to become a visitor centre, says the Daily Express.

Psychic medium Barbara Jones said: "There was definitely activity in the Hangman's Cell, and we have got evidence of it."

Generations of sailors have reported seeing ghosts of a small girl and a bearded mariner on the site.

The Navy did not pay for the study, but is awaiting a full report.

Scientists accused of cherry-picking


By Robert Matthews, in Oxford
June 1, 2004

Scientists are routinely singling out the results of clinical trials so they can present the findings they want, a study by academics at Oxford University shows.

The research, which assessed the published results of more than 100 scientific trials, also found that inconvenient findings were often not disclosed to the public. In several cases, the stated purpose of the trial was altered as it progressed so that acceptable findings, rather than inconvenient results, could be published.

The manipulation, which contravenes official guidelines on reporting medical research, was uncovered by academics at Oxford University, led by Dr An-Wen Chan, a researcher on clinical medicine. Dr Chan warned that the findings called into question the evidence-based approach to developing medicine, in which clinical trials are used to determine whether to introduce new treatments.

"The reporting of trial outcomes is not only frequently incomplete but also biased and inconsistent with protocols," the team said. "Published articles, as well as reviews that incorporate them, may therefore be unreliable and overestimate the benefits of an intervention."

Suspicion about the reliability of published medical research, which has been increasing for some time, has been prompted by concern over the influence of drug company funding.

A recent study at the Yale School of Medicine in the US showed 80 per cent of clinical trials backed by drug makers reported positive findings - compared with 50 per cent of those carried out by independent academics. Other studies have shown evidence of a bias against unclear trial results being published in academic journals, and of positive results being repeatedly published - giving the impression that a drug is far more effective than it really is.

The Oxford team's findings, which are published in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, are based on an assessment of the original paperwork from more than 100 trials of medical techniques ranging from drugs to surgical methods.

In almost two-thirds of these cases, the results omitted concerns over potential harmful effects. Crucial information was either downgraded in importance or omitted from the published report.

When contacted by the Oxford team, almost 90 per cent of the research teams denied they had failed to report everything, despite evidence to the contrary.

Dr Doug Altman, a professor of statistics in medicine at the Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford, and a member of the research team, said: "All trials should be published honestly and transparently, and this study shows neither is happening.

"The most worrying aspect is that over 50 per cent of the outcomes found by the trials weren't reported, and so can't be included in the reviews used to assess different treatments. This has serious implications for the reliability of the recommendations made to the National Health Service." Leading British authorities on medical research expressed dismay at the findings of the study.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said it agreed that researchers had a duty to reveal any changes made to the original trial design, and supported full disclosure - but only when the trials had been completed.

The Telegraph, London

Improved gas mileage?


Products make promises, but critics scoff

The Courier-Journal

In an era of $2-a-gallon gasoline, it was inevitable that devices and additives would emerge promising to make your gasoline dollar stretch further.

The Environmental Protection Agency, however, advises that buyers beware. The agency says it has tested more than 100 such gadgets over the past two decades, and the vast majority did not work. Some made things worse. A few gave marginal benefits, at best.

Available on the Internet and in some stores in the Louisville area, the products are marketed under such names as the Tornado and Fuel-Saver Pro. The zMax power system, not a device but a lubricant "cocktail," also says it enhances gas mileage.

"The modern automobile is a very sophisticated piece of machinery," said Chris Grundler, chief executive of EPA's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. "There are precise, computer-controlled fuel-injection systems. The idea that something you would bolt onto your air cleaner, or on your fuel line, would somehow improve this very sophisticated piece of technology really defies common sense."

The Tornado's Web site says the device "creates a swirling, fast-burn effect in the combustion chamber. ... This creates finer particles (atomized fuel), allowing better flame propagation and more complete combustion."

This "better fuel atomization" results in gas mileage increases of one to two miles per gallon, the Web site claims.

The Fuel Saver Pro claims it gets results using different technology, including magnets around the fuel line that rearrange gas molecules.

"If gasoline were magnetic, it would be great," Grundler quipped. Some product claims have been so outrageous that they have drawn the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, he added.

While the devices, many of which retail in the $69 to $90 range, have some fans, many people who know their way around cars are skeptics.

"I've been a mechanic all of my life, and all that stuff ... the magnets, the Tornado, the impellers ... they all have some kind of theory about atomizing fuel and breaking particles up into molecules," said Greg Reinacker, a past president of Louisville Street Rods, a classic car club.

"It takes 15.1 parts of air to fuel to work. I don't care how you push it, that's what it takes. That's the mixture."

Mike Winebrenner, owner of The Winning Formula, a Louisville auto repair shop, is also among the doubters. He advises drivers to keep their cars tuned to ensure the best gas mileage.

Driving sensibly — avoiding speeding, rapid acceleration and braking — can improve fuel economy 5 percent to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA. Using cruise control, replacing dirty air filters, keeping tires properly inflated and avoiding excessive idling are all steps recommended to improve gas mileage.

Winebrenner said he noticed the devices about two years ago, when he began seeing them on Internet sites and on spam e-mail.

"It was a quick eBay seller, something people used to like putting on there to sell," he said.

The zMax power system also has had its share of controversy. Last year, parent company Speedway Motorsports and Oil-Chem Research Corp., its manufacturer and distributor, settled with the FTC in a dispute over the product's claims. The companies agreed to pay up to $1 million in refunds without admitting liability.

ZMax declared victory in a press release, saying the settlement allowed it to continue making claims including its improvement of gas mileage. Its product retails for $39.99.

While many gasoline stretchers have bubbled under after getting no further than spam ads and Internet mail-order sites, a few devices are finding acceptance in mainstream retail.

NAPA and Pep Boys are among the auto-parts chain stores carrying the Tornado. AutoZone, PepBoys and Target are among retailers carrying the zMax product.

Jay Kim, the California entrepreneur behind the Tornado, says he's aware of the criticism, blaming not so much government and industry critics as "snake oil" products he says have given gasoline enhancers a bad name.

"Our product is sold through word-of-mouth," Kim said. "People try it, and they tell friends who tell their friends."

Because word-of-mouth works both ways, he said, "If the product was no good, we would be gone already."

Kim estimates he has sold just over 100,000 Tornados nationwide.

AAA does not endorse any of the devices. In Kentucky, the attorney general's office says it's aware of the gadgets but so far has received no consumer complaints.

As he battles the naysayers, the irrepressible Kim has won a few converts along the way. Ron Bell, a professor of automotive technology at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., said he has seen the Tornado hint at good results.

"I've checked out different devices over the years, and 99.9 percent of them were bunk," Bell said. One device worked but had too many negative side effects on the car's performance, he said.

A student touted the Tornado one day to a skeptical Bell.

"I told her it was all psychological – you spent the money, so it has to work," he said. He and his students began testing the product and found many cars got noticeable results with the Tornado — depending on the model.

Cars with "very small intake manifolds" showed the least improvement, Bell said. "Some of the real small cars, they're tuned to the max to get mileage anyway." Anecdotally, Bell said, owners of vehicles with larger engines, like V-8s, have reported from one to three miles-per-gallon improvements.

"This is seats-of-the-pants driving, nothing in the lab on scientific proof," Bell said.

Less impressed is the EPA. While the agency has not tested the Tornado itself, the company has provided test data to the agency, and the EPA has tested devices using similar technology.

The agency said none of the devices improved gas mileage, and that based on what it has seen of the Tornado's data, it has no reason to feel that product is an exception, the EPA's Grundler said.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Stupidity in the new age of anti-science


Tue 10 Feb 2004


SOME 3.7 million people claim to have been abducted by aliens. Only 11 per cent of Americans believe in evolution. Type "Flat Earth Society" into the Google search engine on the internet and you will have a choice of 466,000 sites. How did we get this stupid?

One explanation is that the aliens doing all that abducting have been removing people’s brains. Perhaps there is a UFO pathology laboratory hovering somewhere over Bonnybridge with the sum of our collective senses pickled in jars.

How else are we to explain the phenomenon of what the philosopher Roger Scruton describes as "reason on the retreat, both as an ideal and a reality"? It’s not just that we have become a nation of gullible, emotionally incontinent, deeply irrational sentimentalists. Nor that, where once we would have hidden our credulousness, we now proudly wear it on our distressed linen sleeves. It is the fact that this stupidity is officially sanctioned, pandered to and incorporated into our laws.

The latest example of this is the Human Tissues Bill currently going through Parliament. This bill is the government’s response to the organ retention outcry at Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital in Alder Hey five years ago. If it becomes law, the use for research purposes of tissue samples, blood and even urine specimens, without specific patient consent, will be illegal. The penalty for a doctor flouting that law will be up to three years in jail.

According to Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust, two of the biggest and best respected medical research organisations in the world, this bill could stifle advances in childhood leukaemia, cancer, SARS and AIDS. Already ten research projects on rare tumours in children have either folded or failed to start because of the difficulties in carrying out this kind of scientific research in the current hysterical climate. Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, believes that if this bill were effective now, the work that led to the discovery of genes responsible for the most common inherited form of breast cancer might not be possible. It could even be a criminal offence to try. The Royal College of Pathologists is extremely concerned about the situation and even the Medical Research Council, the government-funded organisation, has serious doubts about the bill.

So the government is rethinking this shoddily drafted piece of legislation which is likely to clog the system with yet more bureaucracy, restrict vital research and unwittingly criminalise doctors? Wrong. The government is pressing ahead. It is doing so because it is more worried about determined pressure groups which will resort to emotional blackmail than it is about stifling vital medical research.

There is no question that the guidelines surrounding organ retention needed to be overhauled after it became clear that the practice was widespread. Nor is there any doubt that a group of people who had already suffered the appalling tragedy of losing a child, were further upset when they discovered that some of their loved one’s organs had been retained without their knowledge. But the emotive language which has been used in relation to these cases is a scandal in itself. "We will never know how many were butchered for their organs," ran one tabloid headline. The children were referred to as "torn souls". An alien, reading the Daily Record while waiting for a passing human to abduct, could have been forgiven for believing Burke and Hare were on the loose.

The dangerous and insulting premise of the new legislation is that doctors, if not legislated against, will do unspeakable things to the rest of us. But even the one rogue pathologist who caused so much upset at Alder Hey was not killing people. He was saving lives.

Some of the bereaved have now formed themselves into the Nationwide Organ Retention Group. They have received apologies, explanations, a change in clinical practice, an ex-gratia offer of damages and will soon have a new law. But this is not enough. They now want compensation, despite the fact that this will haemorrhage vital funds from an already indebted NHS.

Their lawyer, the deliciously named Mervyn Fudge, says some of his clients have been unable to work because of the trauma they have suffered in discovering that body parts had been taken from relatives without permission. They will need compensation for loss of earnings as well as compensation for suffering.

Why is nobody prepared to stand up to these chancers? The reason is that the ultimate crime in these touchy-feely times is not ignorance or irrationality but lack of empathy. Politicians lack the courage to condemn this madness even when it means the potential for real harm to be done to those dependent on medical research for their health.

This cowardliness on the part of the authorities is being exploited by extreme groups opposed to all kinds of scientific progress, be it genetic modification, therapeutic cloning or animal testing. In the last few months they have scored several victories. Cambridge University has dropped its plans for a £32 million primate-research centre for the study of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s because of security fears. Colin Blakemore, head of the Medical Research Council was dropped as a potential candidate for an honour because of New Labour’s squeamishness about animal testing. Hunting and fur-farming have been banned by New Labour. The ease with which these lobby groups are able to infiltrate and influence government is alarming.

The rest of us may not be firebombing the homes of scientists, but we happily swallow all manner of genetically modified bunkum, be it "molecularly restructured" designer water at ÂŁ3 a bottle, or the latest scare story.

Previous generations had their superstitions, but they had a fundamental belief in the ability of science to improve their quality of life. They were proved right. Within three generations, life expectancy in Britain rose by 30 years. In the half century after the Second World War, infant mortality fell from 50 deaths per 1,000 births to fewer than six. For good measure, science threw in the internet, talking pictures and the self-cleaning oven.

Science equalled progress and was seen as an almost universally good thing. Our grandparents may have balked at seating 13 at the dinner table, but they would never have argued that teaching children about feng shui was as important as teaching them the second law of thermodynamics.

Now, in our age of unreason and anti-science, life expectancy is set to fall for the first time, the fate of tissue samples and diseased organs has become more important than the welfare of the living, and the government has announced that alternative treatments such as Indian ayurvedic medicine could be granted the same status as conventional medicine on the NHS. According to Francis Wheen’s brilliant new book, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World, the 36,000 general practitioners in this country are now outnumbered by the 50,000 purveyors of complementary and alternative medicine.

If that's what you want, fine. Just remember, while you are sitting under your pyramid reordering your charkas and rebalancing your energy flow, not to get cancer. And be careful not to venture too close to the edge of the world. You wouldn’t want to fall off now, would you?

This article:


Candidates say schools have right to question evolution


By WALT WILLIAMS Chronicle Staff Writer

Local school boards have the right to set curriculum in their own districts, even if that means teaching theories other than evolution in science classes, the two Republican candidates for state superintendent of schools say.

Candidates John Fuller of Kalispell and Bob Anderson of Fort Benton met in Bozeman this week for a forum sponsored by the Gallatin County Republican Women. Both are seeking their party's nomination for superintendent of public instruction, a job now held by Democrat Linda McCulloch.

The two men were asked what they thought about teaching creationism in public schools.

The issue has received a lot of attention ever since the Darby Board of Education voted in favor of an "objective origins" policy, which allows creationism and intelligent design to be taught in science classes there.

"The school board made a decision of what they wanted to teach in the schools and that's what our constitution says, that there is local control within our school system," said Anderson, who is both a school superintendent and an elementary school principal.

"I don't think the state superintendent has any business stepping into that," Anderson said.

The controversy in Darby made national news. McCulloch weighed in on the matter, telling reporters creationism wasn't based on science and warning the school district could lose its accreditation for adopting such a policy.

Fuller, a high school teacher, objected to the idea that Darby wanted to teach creationism, which is a philosophy that interprets Genesis as the literal truth about life's origins.

What Darby intended, he said, was to teach objective science in its schools, much like what the Ohio Board of Education recently did by adopting a policy allowing intelligent design to be taught in science classes.

"There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, but the superintendent of public instruction exceeded her authority," Fuller said. "She can't jerk accreditation."

Intelligent design is the belief that life is too complex to have come about without a designer. Its proponents make no claims about who or what the designer is, so they say their theory can't be construed as religious.

But intelligent design isn't accepted by the scientific community, and its advocates share ideological and financial ties to fundamentalist Christians who have long pushed for creationism in schools, as critics often point out.

Still, Fuller said the policy wasn't an attempt to sneak creationism into Darby classrooms.

"The teachers' union mounted a campaign and they lied, simple as that, about what was involved in that," he said.

It may be a moot point now. Voters in Darby recently voted out of office one of the school board members who approved the policy, giving the board a majority that's expected to overturn the decision.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

U.S. unlikely to ease stem-cell curbs soon, official says


0:17 AM 5/15/04
Karen Rivedal Wisconsin State Journal

The director of the National Institutes of Health said Friday he didn't expect easing of federal restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research soon, despite the promise the controversial science shows in curing many diseases.

"More (stem-cell) lines would always be better," Dr. Elias Zerhouni said. "(But) the policy is based on moral and ethical concerns of (President Bush) and those around him."

UW-Madison Provost Peter Spear said that was unfortunate. "The federal restrictions have limited research. We're one of the key research centers in the country for stem-cell work, and that decision impacts us."

Stem cells are the body's building blocks, blank-slate cells capable of becoming every tissue in the body. They hold promise both as tools to promote disease research and to replace diseased cells.

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal during a visit to UW-Madison to address graduates of the Medical School, Zerhouni did not dispute the healing potential of stem-cell research. That work is especially important at UW-Madison, where the field got a major boost by university researcher James Thomson, who in 1998 was the first to grow and sustain human embryonic cells in a lab.

But Zerhouni Friday said he couldn't recommend more federal funding for the creation of new stem-cell lines, which most scientists believe would speed the technology. Bush, who is Zerhouni's boss, decided in 2001 to limit federal funding for stem-cell research to the 78 lines then in existence - of which only a fraction are now scientifically viable.

(UW-Madison controls five of the original lines.)

Zerhouni said private funding, such as the money recently committed by Harvard University for new cell lines, must fill the gap until the nation reaches a consensus on the matter. Stem-cell research is opposed by those who believe the destruction of human embryos is akin to murder.

"We really need to explore all avenues to advance as fast as we can as effectively as we can, within the moral and ethical boundaries around the use of taxpayer dollars to do it," Zerhouni said. "I think it's good to have this debate, but it's not a scientific one. That's not something the NIH can decide."

But political pressure for more federally funded stem-cell lines is building.

Some 200 members of Congress this year sent the Republican president a bipartisan letter urging him to remove the federal restrictions, with a similar version being circulated in the U.S. Senate. The research also is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association and some prominent Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Nancy Reagan.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said Bush's opposition to more funding meant foreign countries would do the research, to the detriment of U.S. medicine. Stumping for John Kerry, Bush's Democratic opponent in the November election, Gephardt answered questions for Midwestern reporters in a telephone press conference while Bush was in Wisconsin giving a commencement address at Concordia University.

"It's another example of the extreme position that (Bush) takes on issues trying to hold onto his conservative base," Gephardt said. "We are the most advanced country in terms of medical treatment, but we are on the sidelines in what is the most promising area of research for finding the answers to horrible diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and diabetes."

Back at UW-Madison, which last year received about $200 million from the NIH for all types of research - or about half of all its federal research funds - administrators were more diplomatic.

WiCell Research Institute president Carl Gulbrandsen said people likely needed to wait until after the presidential election to see movement on stem-cell funding. If Bush wins, he may be more comfortable angering his religious-conservative base by changing his mind on the issue, Gulbrandsen said, and if Kerry wins, he has pledged already to relax the restrictions.

"We understand that there needs to be public debate about the ethics," agreed Martin Cadwallader, dean of UW-Madison's Graduate School. "We're just willing to hang with that and see it through."

Zerhouni on Friday also defended the NIH's decision to spend far more on adult stem- cell research, which doesn't require the destruction of embryos but also is generally considered not as useful as a potential disease-eradication tool. Last year, the split was about $250 million for the adult-cell research vs. $10 million for the embryonic form.

Zerhouni said the grant applications from researchers studying adult stem cells must have been judged by their peers to be more promising. He also said the federal government has been funding adult-cell research for 25 years, but the embryonic version only since 2001.

"NIH is a science agency that funds according to the quality and research importance of the applications," he said. "If there's exciting science in a field, we fund it."

Contact Karen Rivedal at krivedal@madison.com or 252-6106.

The Center For Inquiry Needs Your Help!

May 2004

Dear Friends:

Our shared defense of science, reason, and freedom of inquiry demands new approaches! The need for rational ethical alternatives is imperative.

These are difficult times for skeptics, secular humanists, and the practice of scientific medicine. As we face the following challenges, the need for CFI to grow becomes crucial!

Censorship of therapeutic stem cell research
Infusion of religious tenets into government
The threat of governmental bans on consensual private behaviors
Threats to prevent teaching evolution in schools
The epidemic of irrationalism, superstition, and fraud that is invading medicine and mental health practices
The need to have critical thinking taught in schools

Even with the current environment, we see many possibilities. The Center for Inquiry has global prospects emerging. As the trend towards suppressing the freedom to inquire continues, people are asking CFI leadership to tackle vital issues. CFI is responding with exponential growth. We are increasing our scale by opening up new branches in the United States and new affiliates internationally. We are expanding our scope to incorporate new areas of inquiry.

One year ago we embarked on a very ambitious $26.25 million New Future Fund campaign. With this campaign, we are indeed "reaching out to a new future." In our new vision for the future, scientific reasoning will prevail and skeptics and freethinkers will have a voice. The Center for Inquiry will play a key role in advocacy and public education. As you can well imagine, it takes resources to meet the demands placed upon us.

The Center for Inquiry urgently needs your help!

Our friends are familiar with the programs and publications (Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer) housed at the Center for Inquiry. For others who are just learning about CFI, please take a few minutes to look through our web site www.centerforinquiry.net and learn more about us. As you will see, we host regional and international conferences, a summer institute, seminars, and other educational experiences. We are excited about our recent affiliation with the State University of New York at Buffalo where we are developing a unique Master’s degree entitled “Science and the Public,” preparing graduate students for careers in science writing, media, public policy, research proposal evaluation, and monitoring research for compliance with scientific standards.

In the upcoming months, we will send you e-mails highlighting different aspects of our organization. You will learn about what we do, and how you can become involved, from the individuals who are dedicated to CFI. You will also learn that we are a surprisingly diverse organization. We are proud of the unique mission of the Center for Inquiry and continually amazed by the committed individuals who share our values.

With your help, CFI can continue to courageously promote science and reason. Please consider a one-time or ongoing donation to our shared vision for a new future.

Thank you!

Paul Kurtz Chairman

Prayer Study Flawed and Fraud


Columbia University prayer study author pleads guilty to felony charges

This important report from Skeptic Bruce L. Flamm, MD, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, Irvine, Bruceflamm@aol.com

In the horrible days following the destruction of the World Trade Center by Islamic zealots many Americans prayed for a miracle or a sign from God. Such a miracle apparently occurred and was widely documented in newspaper and magazine articles. On October 2, 2001 the New York Times reported that researchers at prestigious Columbia University in New York found that infertile women who were prayed for became pregnant twice as often as those who did not have people praying for them. The study's results were absolutely miraculous. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is the most advanced

form of infertility treatment currently available and represents the last hope for women with severe infertility. Therefore, any technique that could increase the efficacy of IVF by even a few percent would be a medical breakthrough. Yet the Columbia University study claimed to have demonstrated, in a carefully designed randomized controlled trial, that distant prayer by anonymous prayer groups increased the success rate of IVF by an astounding 100%. Days later an article published in newspapers around the nation stated that Rogerio Lobo, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia and the study's lead author, told Reuters Health that, "Essentially, there was a doubling of the pregnancy

rate in the group that was prayed for." ABC News medical editor and Good

Morning America commentator Dr. Timothy Johnson reported that, "A new study on the power of prayer over pregnancy reports surprising results; but many physicians remain skeptical."

The following facts related to the Columbia University prayer study confirm that those physicians who doubted the study's astounding results had extremely good reasons to be skeptical. It will be interesting to see if

ABC's Dr. Johnson, a medical doctor who also serves as an evangelical minister at the fundamentalist Community Covenant Church in West Peabody, Massachusetts, will report or ignore the following shocking information.

The study's three authors were Kwang Cha, Rogerio Lobo, and Daniel Wirth. Dr. Cha, has left Columbia University and refuses to return phone calls or letters about the report. Dr. Rogerio Lobo, identified by the New York Times and ABC News as the report's lead author, now claims to have not been involved with the study until after its completion and to have provided only, "editorial assistance". Dr. Lobo also refuses to return phone calls or letters about the study. If the report's lead author did not conduct the international prayer study, who did' The remaining author is a mysterious individual known as Daniel Wirth. Mr. Wirth has no medical degree but does have a long history of publishing studies on mysterious supernatural or paranormal phenomena. Many of these studies originated from an entity called, "Healing Sciences Research International" an organization that Mr. Wirth supposedly headed. This entity's only known address was apparently a Post Office Box in Orinda California. Wirth holds an MS degree is in the dubious field of "parapsychology" and also has a law degree.

In October 2002, Mr. Wirth, along with his former research associate Joseph Horvath also known as Joseph Hessler, was indicted by a federal grand jury. Both men were charged with bilking the troubled cable television provider Adelphia Communications Corporation out of $2.1 million by infiltrating the company, then having it pay for unauthorized consulting work. Police investigators discovered that Wirth is also known as John Wayne Truelove. FBI investigators revealed that Wirth first used the name of Truelove, a

New York child who died at age 5 in 1959, to obtain a passport in the mid-1980's. Wirth and his accomplice were charged with 13 counts of mail

fraud, 12 counts of interstate transportation of stolen money, making false statements on loan applications and five other counts of fraud. The federal grand jury concluded that the relationship between Wirth and Horvath extended back more than 20 years and involved more than $3.4 million in income and property obtained by using the names of children who died more than 40 years ago.

Incredibly, at the time of the indictment, Horvath was already in jail charged with arson for burning down his Pennsylvania house to collect insurance money. The FBI investigation revealed that Horvath had previously gone to prison after being convicted in a 1990 embezzlement and false identity case in California. Interestingly, the investigation also revealed that he had also once been arrested for posing as a doctor in California. It appears that the "doctor" who performed biopsies on human research subjects in Wirth's paranormal healing studies may have actually been Mr. Horvath impersonating a doctor. Horvath was a co-author on another of Wirth's bizarre studies in which salamander limbs were amputated and found to grow back more quickly when "healers" waived their hands over the wounds.

Both Wirth and Horvath initially plead innocent to the felony charges and over the next 18 months their trial was delayed six times. However, on May 18, 2004, just as the criminal trial of the United States v. Wirth & Horvath was finally about to begin, both men pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Apparently a plea

bargain had been made and many of the charges had been dropped. Wirth and Horvath will be sentenced in September and they each face a maximum of five years in federal prison.

In summary, one of the authors of the Columbia University prayer study has left the University and refuses to comment, another now claims to have not actually participated in the study and also refuses to comment, and another is on his way to federal prison for fraud. Fraud is the operative word here. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this entire sordid saga can be summed up in one question: How did a bizarre study claiming supernatural

results end up in a peer-reviewed medical journal? We may never know because the editors of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine also refuse to answer calls or respond to letters about this study. Worse yet, the entire study remains posted on their internet site and the public has been given no reason to doubt its validity. It must be emphasized that, in the entire history of modern science, no claim of any type of supernatural phenomena has ever been replicated under controlled conditions. The importance of this fact can not be over emphasized. One would think that medical journal editors would be keenly aware of this fact and therefore be highly skeptical of supernatural claims. In any case, the damage has been done.

The fact that a "miracle cure" study was deemed to be suitable for publication in a scientific journal automatically enhanced the study's credibility. Not surprisingly, the news media quickly disseminated the miraculous results.

In reality, the Columbia University prayer study was based on a bewildering study design and included many sources of error. I have already summarized many of the study's potential flaws in two critiques published in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. But worse than flaws, in light of all of the shocking information presented above, one must consider the sad possibility that the Columbia prayer study may never have been conducted at all. It remains to be seen if the news media will find the above information to be newsworthy.

Royal Navy calls 'ghostbusters' to 18th century base


By Richard Savill
(Filed: 28/05/2004)

A team of 20 "ghostbusters" is due to begin an investigation today at a Royal Navy base after decades of reports of paranormal activity.

Equipped with night vision cameras, sound recorders, dowsing rods, laser thermometers and detector sensors, the team will spend tonight and tomorrow night searching for evidence at the Devonport Naval Base in Plymouth, Devon.

The Royal Navy has invited the team in to try to "scientifically prove or disprove" whether the paranormal is at work. Reports of ghostly goings-on inside 18th century buildings at the South Yard have persisted for generations.

They include sightings of a young girl aged between five and 10, dressed in Victorian costume and seen playing with her toys in the Grade II-listed Master Ropemaker's House.

Naval security staff have seen lights going on and off in the house even though it has been empty for four years. A bearded 18th century sailor has also been seen.

Nearby, in the Hangman's Cell in the Ropery, where more than 100 men were executed, naval ratings have reportedly been unnerved by a "strange" atmosphere.

The Royal Navy has arranged the investigation in conjunction with the Society of Metaphysicians and Brunel University. The team includes mediums, psychics, historical researchers and sceptics.

It is believed to be the first time the Royal Navy has allowed such an investigation.

"It is not to say that we believe in it, but the investigation may put people's minds to rest," said a spokesman.

A report will be presented to the Royal Navy and made public.

Ian Addicoat, president of the Paranormal Research Organisation in Cornwall, who will accompany the team, said: "The Royal Navy would not normally allow us in, it's quite unique.

"If there are ghosts or strange occurrences we stand a great chance of finding out as we will be using scientific equipment, bringing our best investigators, and spending two nights in the active areas."

He added: "We will not have any preconceived views about what might be found. We are there to collect evidence. But with the history of the place, and the deaths that occurred there, it's got classic potential."



COLUMBUS, Ohio – People are not drawn to religion just because of a fear of death or any other single reason, according to a new comprehensive, psychological theory of religion.

There are actually 16 basic human psychological needs that motivate people to seek meaning through religion, said Steven Reiss, author of the new theory and professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University.

These basic human needs – which include honor, idealism, curiosity and acceptance – can explain why certain people are attracted to religion, why God images express psychologically opposite qualities, and the relationship between personality and religious experiences.

Previous psychologists tried to explain religion in terms of just one or two overarching psychological needs. The most common reason they cite is that people embrace religion because of a fear of death, as expressed in the saying 'there are no atheists in foxholes," Reiss said.

"But religion is multi-faceted – it can't be reduced to just one or two desires."

Reiss described his new theory – which he said may be the most comprehensive psychological theory of religion since Freud's work more than a century ago -- in the June issue of Zygon, a journal devoted to issues of science and religion.

"I don't think there has been a comprehensive theory of religion that was scientifically testable," he said.

The theory is based on his overall theory of human motivation, which he calls sensitivity theory. Sensitivity theory is explained in his 2000 book Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personalities (Tarcher Putnam).

Reiss said that each of the 16 basic desires outlined in the book influence the psychological appeal of religious behavior. The desires are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility.

In fact, Reiss has already done some initial research that suggests the desire for independence is a key psychological desire that separates religious and non-religious people. In a study published in 2000, Reiss found that religious people (the study included mostly Christians) expressed a strong desire for interdependence with others. Those who were not religious, however, showed a stronger need to be self-reliant and independent.

The study also showed that religious people valued honor more than non-religious people, which Reiss said suggests many people embrace religion to show loyalty to parents and ancestors.

In the Zygon paper, Reiss explains that every religious person balances their 16 basic human needs to fit their own personality.

"They embrace those aspects of religious imagery that express their strongest psychological needs and deepest personal values."

One example is the desire for curiosity, Reiss said. Religious intellectuals, who are high in curiosity, value a God who is knowable through reason, while doers, who have weak curiosity, may value a God that is knowable only through revelation.

"People who have a strong need for order should enjoy ritualized religious experiences, whereas those with a weak need for order may prefer more spontaneous expression of faith," he said.

"The prophecy that the weak will inherit the earth should appeal especially to people with a weak need for status, whereas the teaching that everybody is equal before God should appeal especially to people with a strong need for idealism."

If religion and personality are linked, religion must provide a range of images and symbols sufficiently diverse to appeal to all the different kinds of personalities in the human population, Reiss says. Religious imagery potentially accommodates everybody because in many instances the images and symbols are psychological opposites.

"How we value and balance the 16 psychological needs is what makes us an individual, and for every individual there are appealing religious images," he said.

"The values that guide a personality with a strong need for vindication are expressed by a God of wrath, or a war God, while the values that guide a personality with a weak need for vindication are expressed by a God of forgiveness."

"The values that guide a personality with a strong need to socialize are expressed by religious fellowship and festivals, while the values that guide a personality with a weak need to socialize are expressed by religious asceticism."

The need for acceptance makes meaningful images of God as a savior, while its opposite inspires the concept of original sin, according to Reiss. The need to eat motives some people to value abstinence and others to value sustenance.

"Because this theory can be tested scientifically, we can learn its strengths and weaknesses, and gradually improve it," Reiss said. "Eventually, we may understand better the psychological basis of religion."

Reiss emphasized that the theory addresses the psychology of religious experiences and has no implications for the validity or invalidity of religious beliefs.

Contact: Steven Reiss, (614) 292-2390; Reiss.7@osu.edu
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Friday, May 28, 2004

MIOS MEETING Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Brian Thomas Present:
Pests and Poisons:
Problematic or Pre-planned?

Bryan Thomas has a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology from Stephen F. Austin State University. He teaches high school and college Biology at Ovilla Christian School located about 20 miles south of Dallas in Ovilla, Texas. He also serves as Research Assistant at the Creation Evidence Museum.

Some people, including Charles Darwin, object to God because, "How could a loving God create viciously infective organisms?" He who offers these objections must answer some other tough questions. Several possibilities will be presented along with an overview of schistosomiasis, botulinum, and other pests, poisons, arthropods, thorns, viruses and creepy diseases. Come and hear this highly qualified biologist respond to these frequently made objections.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX
Tuesday, June 1st, 7:30 PM

More Americans seek out alternative medicine


May 28, 2004

BY LORI RACKL Health Reporter

More Americans are turning to herbs, meditation and other non-conventional care, often because they feel let down by mainstream medicine, a new survey says.

The government's survey, the most comprehensive look yet at the use of alternative medicine in this country, found more than a third of U.S. adults used such medicine in 2002. If prayer is included, 62 percent of American adults used alternative therapies.

Federal health officials said the survey's findings, released Thursday, seem to show the growing popularity of alternative medicine, but it's difficult to compare the results to past research because this poll was larger in size and scope.

Dr. Patrick Massey has seen the change firsthand. "Five years ago, I believe we had five physicians here who did any kind of alternative medicine. Now, we have somewhere between 45 and 50," said Massey, medical director of complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network in Elk Grove Village.

The survey showed prayer, deep-breathing, meditation, chiropractic care, yoga and massage are among the most commonly used alternative therapies. Roughly one in five adults also reported using "natural products." Echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba and garlic supplements were the most popular. Experts involved in the survey of 31,044 people, said the unchecked, widespread use of these products raises concerns.

"The public makes the assumption that because something is natural, it's safe," said Richard Nahin of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. "There's increasing research showing that when used inappropriately, these natural products can potentially be harmful."

Kava kava, for example, has been associated with liver disease. But that didn't stop more than 2.4 million Americans from using it 2002, according to the survey.

While more people are embracing alternative medicine, the poll revealed that only 12 percent of adults sought care from a licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioner.

"What we see is that a sizeable percentage of the public puts their personal health into their own hands," said Edward J. Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, which helped conduct the survey.

About 13 percent of people said they resorted to alternative medicine because conventional therapies were too expensive. Twenty-eight percent said they didn't think mainstream medicine could help.

"With a lot of chronic health problems, patients typically have tried every Western medicine option and still are having difficulty," said Dr. David Bilstrom, who incorporates alternative medicine into his practice at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. "The only thing left for them to try is complementary medicine."

That's the predicament Bernadine Kalinski, 68, found herself in after conventional medicine stopped easing the pain in her head, neck and shoulders. The Oak Forest woman now goes to Bilstrom for acupuncture.

"It feels like it's helping," Kalinski said. "I'd never done anything like this. But when you're in pain, you want any help you can get."

Biotech: A high-risk gamble


With $40 billion in net losses, industry generally is an unsafe bet for staid investors

By David P. Hamilton
The Wall Street Journal
Originally published May 31, 2004

NEW YORK -- Since the first biotechnology company went public a quarter-century ago, stock-market investors have put somewhere close to $100 billion into the industry.

The results so far: More than a hundred new drugs and vaccines, several hundred million people helped by biotech medicines -- and cumulative net losses of more than $40 billion for the industry's public companies.

Biotechnology, which harnesses the science of genetics to develop medicines, may yet turn into an engine of economic growth and cure deadly diseases. But it's hard to argue that it's a good investment. Not only has the biotech industry -- which contributes more than TK a year to Maryland's economy -- yielded negative financial returns for decades, it generally digs its hole deeper every year.

This often gets lost during periodic bursts of enthusiasm for biotech, one of which is under way right now.

After a three-year slump, biotech companies raised $1.5 billion from new stock offerings in the first quarter of 2004, almost three times the level of a year earlier.

The buzz surrounding these stocks reflects the unusual role that biotech has come to play in finance and medicine: a casino that sends capital to otherwise neglected high-risk corners of research -- and rewards a very few with huge paydays.

'The people's lottery'

Home runs in biotechnology are scarce, but they can be lucrative.

A $1,000 investment in Amgen Inc. at its initial offering in 1983 would now be worth almost $150,000. During a brief biotech-stock bubble in 1999 and 2000, a well-timed investment in unprofitable Human Genome Sciences Inc. in Rockville could have yielded an 11-fold return in just eight months.

The company's shares since have fallen almost 90 percent, to TK on Friday, and in 2003 it posted a net loss of more than $185 million.

"Biotechnology is the people's lottery," said Thomas Eadington, a medical-technology entrepreneur turned investor in Newport Beach, Calif. "It's like the ultimate roulette game. If you hit it, the returns are astronomical."

A few biotechnology companies have achieved undeniable success. Amgen, the most successful biotech to date, earned $2.3 billion in net profit last year. Its nearest rival, Genentech Inc., based in South San Francisco, Calif., earned $563 million.

Overall, however, publicly traded biotech companies in the United States posted a net loss of $3.2 billion in 2003, thanks to vast research and development spending. TK is Maryland's largest biotech firm, with TK. The biggest company in the Baltimore region is TK.

Splicing genes into bacteria

The biotech industry traces its origins to the mid-1970s, when Genentech created a scientific sensation by splicing genes into bacteria to produce human proteins. Since then, the term biotech generally has referred to such "genetic engineering."

Scientists insert a stretch of synthetic or human-derived DNA into living cells, which then interpret that genetic code and produce large amounts of a protein useful in treating diseases.

Enormous investments in biotech have made possible the industry's medical breakthroughs. These include proteins that help the blood clot -- a boon for hemophiliacs -- as well as new cancer drugs that take specific aim at tumor cells and gene-based diagnostic tests for the AIDS virus.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, based in Washington, counts more than 155 such advances approved by the Food and Drug Administration, 70 percent of them in just the past six years.

Many more failures

Every success, however, is accompanied by far more failures. Since it is almost impossible to tell which of the thousands of promising ideas will turn into a hit, the losers of the biotech lottery effectively finance the windfalls of the handful of lucky winners.

In other industries, much smaller losses have raised investors' hackles.

Shortly after his investment in USAir Group Inc. went south in the early 1990s, Warren E. Buffett famously castigated the airline industry for squandering investors' money and joked that capitalism would be better off if someone had shot down Wilbur Wright's first flight.

"The net return to owners from being in the entire airline industry, if you owned it all, and if you put up all this money, is less than zero," Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said at the time.

Overall, airlines accumulated a net loss of $5 billion from 1947 to 2003. Publicly traded biotechnology companies in the United States lost $41 billion from 1990 to 2003, according to Ernst & Young LLC.

Optimism remains high

Biotechnology research spending now consumes roughly $18 billion a year, more than the federal National Institutes of Health in Bethesda spends on heart disease, cancer and infectious disease, and close to two-thirds of the pharmaceutical industry's research spending. Taxpayers finance the NIH, while buyers of profitable prescription drugs pay for the billions that companies such as Merck & Co. and Pfizer Inc. plow into research.

The primary driver of biotechnology research, by contrast, is the apparently boundless optimism of investors. Biotech's mostly small, research-driven start-ups can spend years on basic-science studies before they even start testing a drug, yet investors nurture hopes of huge rewards far in the future.

The biotechnology industry also draws financial support from venture capitalists and drug-industry partners seeking access to promising experimental drugs. But in most years it raises far more from share offerings. Even venture-capital investments are tied to stock-market sentiment, since venture capitalists ultimately hope to take profits by publicly offering the shares of the start-ups they fund.

In 2003, U.S. biotechnology firms raised almost $4 billion by selling new stock issues to institutional and individual investors, according to Burrill & Co., a San Francisco investment bank that specializes in life sciences.

The same year, U.S. biotechs as a group managed to post almost that much in aggregate net losses. Only 12 of the 50 largest biotechs, measured by market capitalization, turned a profit in 2003.

Losses of $9.4 billion

Fourteen years ago, net losses at the 194 U.S. biotechs then listed publicly amounted to $900 million, according to Ernst's figures. In 2003, 314 public companies in the United States racked up total losses of $3.2 billion. That was better than the $9.4 billion total loss in 2002, when Ernst says merger- and restructuring-related accounting charges made losses unusually large.

S.G. Cowen Vice Chairman Stelios Papadopoulos, a biophysicist turned investment banker, has maintained an index of biotech stocks weighted by market capitalization since 1981, shortly after the first biotech companies went public.

Had it been possible to buy shares in his index back in January of that year, every dollar invested would have been worth $7.92 by the end of 2003.

By contrast, a dollar's worth of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1981, with dividends reinvested, would have grown to $20.78 over the same period. Sunk into 20-year Treasury bonds with the proceeds reinvested, that dollar would have been worth $11.94, according to Ibbotson Associates, a Chicago investment-research firm.

No biotech ever has paid a regular cash dividend, Dr. Papadopoulos said, although some occasionally have made one-time cash distributions. Such payments shouldn't affect the comparison, he said.

Almost a sixth of the more than 350 U.S. biotechs that have gone public over the past two decades either were bought out for pennies on the dollar, dissolved themselves or had filed for bankruptcy protection by the end of 2003.

Names that once raised hopes of medical miracles are now forgotten: Escagenetics, Advanced Tissue Sciences, ImmuLogic, Gliatech.

Smart Hero. Dumb Officials. Huge Sheet of Ice.



Published: May 27, 2004

"The Day After Tomorrow," a two-hour $125 million disaster — excuse me, I mean disaster movie — that opens nationwide on Friday, proposes an apocalypse that covers the Northern Hemisphere in a sheet of ice and snow. Hailstones resembling crystal paperweights pummel Tokyo, and furious tornadoes tear through Los Angeles, "erasing," as one quick-witted weatherman notes, "the Hollywood sign" (and also smashing the Capitol Records building). A wall of water courses up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, followed by a Russian containership, and then the whole thing freezes as a new ice age arrives.

The cause of this disaster, which unfolds over a few unlucky and very stressful days, is global warming. The hero is a scientist named Jack Hall, played by Dennis Quaid with a haunted look, a perpetually clenched jaw and visible discomfort at having to say movie-scientist things like "I think we've hit a critical desalinization point." A colleague murmurs thoughtfully, "That would explain the extreme weather." Well yes, come to think of it, I suppose it would.

Some environmental groups using the release of "The Day After Tomorrow" to raise awareness of global warming say in their publicity materials that the accuracy of the movie's science is beside the point. The conditions could take hundreds of years to develop, and it is the prerogative of movies to heighten, condense and extrapolate. But if the film is meant to prod anxieties about ecological catastrophe and to encourage political action in response, it seems unlikely to succeed. Not because the events it depicts seem implausible, but because they seem like no big deal.

"The Day After Tomorrow," directed by Roland Emmerich ("The Patriot," "Independence Day") traces its roots to the melodramatic calamity freak-outs of the early 1970's: films like "The Towering Inferno," "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Earthquake." The picture is most entertaining when it acknowledges the swaggering cheesiness of this tradition. Mr. Quaid, as the level-headed man of reason to whom nobody will listen until it's too late, walks credibly in the footsteps of Steve McQueen, Gene Hackman and Charlton Heston. It's not his best work, but if someone has to do the job, it might as well be him.

Jack, whose research provides the best available model for the sudden, gigantic storms that cover Europe, North America and Siberia, must contend not only with the intransigence of Washington bigwigs, but also with the disappearance of his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is in Manhattan on a school trip. Sam and some of his buddies (including Emily Rossum, who played Sean Penn's murdered daughter in "Mystic River") are holed up in the New York Public Library, burning its priceless holdings to keep warm as the ice age sets in.

Jack, after barking out dire warnings and I-told-you-so's to the vice president, sets off to rescue his son. Meanwhile some scientists in Scotland (including Adrian Lester and Ian Holm) philosophize about human destiny as they slowly freeze to death. Back in Washington Jack's former wife (Sela Ward) tends to a young cancer patient.

While the human drama plays out in quiet, predictable set pieces, the large-scale disaster is rendered through elephantine, and occasionally imaginative special effects. What is odd is how much of it seems to be played for laughs. Nothing cuts the tension of global destruction like a joke, I guess, though it is possible that the frequent guffaws at the screening I attended were evoked unintentionally. But I suspect they were not.

Even as he invites us to contemplate a topic of unimaginable gravity, Mr. Emmerich (who wrote the script with Jerry Nachmanoff) tries to keep the mood light. Mr. Gyllenhaal has a way of infusing even his most desperate lines with a hint of knowing sarcasm, and some early scenes of wreckage — especially the leveling of Hollywood, curiously enough — are played almost like slapstick.

There are also a few interesting glimmers of satire. Some are a bit obvious, like the villainous figure of the vice president (Kenneth Welsh), who shrugs off environmental concerns and who is clearly smarter and more powerful than the callow, out-of-it commander in chief. The sight of hordes of Americans wading across the Rio Grande into Mexico, on the other hand, has a piquant quality.

The ending of "The Day After Tomorrow" reminds you that the aim of disaster movies is not so much to raise alarm as to dispense comfort. In this one everybody (except the vice president), behaves remarkably well, even when overcome with panic. There is hardly a moment of venality, irrationality or selfishness, and at the end we are soothed by the smiling faces of survivors and the recitation of lessons learned.

As the theme song from "The Poseidon Adventure" promised, "There's got to be a morning after." Or as Susan Sontag put it, more cogently if less catchily, science fiction disaster films allow us to "participate in the fantasy of living through one's own death and more, the death of cities, the destruction of humanity itself." When she wrote those words, in the 1960's, that fantasy had a morbid, anxious edge. But in "The Day After Tomorrow" those dark shadows have been scrubbed away, and the glacierization of half of the world's inhabited land is contemplated with barely a hint of horror. In fact, it looks kind of cool.

"The Day After Tomorrow" is rated Pg-13. Millions of people die, but nobody swears, copulates, undresses or takes drugs.


Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Mr. Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff, based on a story by Mr. Emmerich; director of photography, Ueli Steiger; edited by David Brenner; music by Harald Kloser; production designer, Barry Chusid; produced by Mark Gordon and Mr. Emmerich; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 117 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Dennis Quad (Jack Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris), Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall), Austin Nichols (J. D.), Arjay Smith (Brian Parks), Tamlyn Tomita (Janet Tokada), Ian Holm (Terry Rapson), Kenneth Welsh (Vice President Becker) and Adrian Lester (Simon).

Surprises in first map of chimp chromosome


- David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
Thursday, May 27, 2004

An international team of scientists, seeking to track the course of human evolution and the ancient roots of genetic diseases, has completed the first highly accurate map of the genes in a single chimpanzee chromosome and compared them gene-by-gene with their human counterparts.

The result, the scientists say, reveals surprising differences between the species, even though they are the closest of relatives in the primate family.

The international team completed the first sequence of the genes in chimp chromosome pair No. 22, one of 24 chromosome pairs in the chimpanzee. That pair is the counterpart of chromosome 21 in the human array of 23 chromosome pairs.

The sequencing feat was accomplished by a consortium of scientists working at genetics centers in five nations headed by Yoshiyuki Sakaki and Asao Fujiyama of Japan's Genomics Sciences Center in Yokohama.

The group's report, with 45 co-authors representing hundreds of geneticists and technicians, is being published today in the scientific journal Nature.

Within a month or two, an American research consortium is expected to announce completion of the most accurate map of the entire chimp genome.

Chimp chromosome 22 contains 33.3 million chemical DNA units, known as bases. The report describes how they painstakingly determined the sequences of the DNA units with accuracy better than 99.99 percent. As the team compared the chimp DNA with the genetic material in human chromosome 21, the scientists found to their surprise that both species had both gained and lost thousands of stretches of DNA, although what caused those changes and what effect they might have had remain a mystery, they said.

Much of the work's value lies in providing clues to the nature and timing of the divergent evolution of the chimp and human lineages, according to Robert Waterston of the University of Washington, a leader in the completion of the Human Genome Project.

Despite their close relationship, chimps and humans vary greatly in their susceptibility to diseases and in their cognitive and language skills. The answers to when and how those differences arose should lie in the changes in their genes.

The chimp gene group was particularly interested in this chromosome, Sasaki said, because an extra copy of the human analogue, chromosome 21, is the cause of Down syndrome. Symptoms of Down syndrome have been reported in chimps, too.

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com.

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URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/05/27/MNGI26SACD1.DTL

©2004 San Francisco Chronicle

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