NTS LogoSkeptical News for 27 June 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Caffeine-free coffee tree is discovered


By Steve Connor

24 June 2004

A naturally caffeine-free coffee plant has been found growing wild in Ethiopia, heralding the prospect of a cup of freshly-ground arabica that will not keep you awake.

Scientists in Brazil have discovered three arabica coffee plants that do not produce caffeine in their leaves or beans among a batch of 6,000 wild specimens originally collected in the late 1980s.

The scientists believe the wild plants could be cultivated to produce their own caffeine-free beans, or could be cross-bred with other varieties of arabica coffee to introduce the natural caffeine-free trait into commercial crops.

About 10 per cent of the coffee consumed in the world is processed to remove caffeine, a natural chemical linked with heart palpitations, raised blood pressure, anxiety, tremors, gastrointestinal upsets and insomnia. But the decaffeination process also removes organic compounds that can affect coffee's taste and aroma.

The wild plants that lack caffeine were found by a team led by Paulo Mazzafera, professor of plant physiology in Brazil, whose study is published in the journal Nature. "We have discovered a naturally decaffeinated Coffea arabica plant from Ethiopia, a species normally recognised for the high quality of its beans," he said.

It is not known why coffee plants normally produce caffeine, which is also produced in the leaves of unrelated plant species such as tea and cocoa.

"We can find it in more than 60 species of plants in nature. We don't know why it's there, it does not seem to be a simple waste product of plant metabolism, nor does it protect against insect pests," Professor Massafera said.

The three decaffeinated coffee plants do not look any different from other arabica plants but chemical analysis reveals that the wild plants have a caffeine content of 0.06 per cent, which compares with a content of about 2 per cent in roasted coffee beans of ordinary plants and 0.03 per cent in processed decaffeinated coffee.

It is possible that the wild caffeine-free plants carry a genetic mutation that interferes with a natural enzyme called caffeine synthase, which is involved in producing caffeine.

British and Japanese scientists have been working on ways of ridding caffeine by genetically altering such genes but in the current anti-GM climate it was unlikely that consumers will accept such a product, Professor Massafera said.

"This wild plant produces a naturally decaffeinated coffee bean. It's a product for those who don't like GM organisms and who like the taste of non-decaffeinated coffee," he said.

The Brazilian team hopes to begin a cross-breeding programme between the wild arabica plant and local commercial varieties to produce a hybrid which gives a good crop of decaffeinated beans.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

No progress on LI cancer projects


Activists angered as research into possible environmental links lags


June 23, 2004, 8:48 PM EDT

A $4.9-million database from the National Cancer Institute that was supposed to be a groundbreaking tool to link pollution and breast cancer on Long Island is sitting unused, spurned by the scientists it is supposed to help.

Meanwhile, an unrelated study of an apparent breast cancer cluster in northwest Brookhaven Town is moving much slower than expected, almost four years after the state Department of Health said high breast cancer rates there during the mid-1990s almost certainly weren't due to chance.

The lack of progress on the two projects is angering activists because after more than a decade of disappointing research results, the database and Brookhaven study are the only major efforts left in what was once a phalanx of research into possible environmental causes of Long Island's above-average breast cancer rates.

Two earlier local studies, at a combined cost of more than $10 million, found no association between breast cancer and toxic chemicals and electrical fields, respectively. Others have similarly struck out with studies of pesticides and other pollutants.

In interviews, some activists who have agitated for environmental studies since the 1980s now say they've accepted that pollution may never be shown to be an important breast cancer cause locally. But they say they can't understand why the last two large projects left, both launched with plenty of hoopla, have made so little progress.

"It's absolutely abysmal. I'm very angry about it," said Barbara Balaban, a longtime activist who serves on a now-moribund public advisory board for the database project.

Just as angry are the anxious residents who have been awaiting for the Brookhaven study. They point out that the state identified the area as a breast cancer "hot spot" in 2000, and say the health department promised to move quickly on an in-depth investigation.

"They drew a great big bull's-eye on our community but have given us no information since. We need answers," said Sarah Anker of the Mount Sinai-based Community Health and Environmental Coalition.

The health department will host its second "open house" to update residents on the Brookhaven study June 29 at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m., but it is not expected to announce any results.

As Long Island's cancer activists have learned, frustration, high costs, slow pace and uncertain results are all part of the landscape of research into environmental causes of cancer.

That's especially true for breast cancer. The disease has such a long latency period -- as long as 20 years may pass from the disease's onset until a tumor is large enough to be diagnosed -- that it's extremely difficult to look back and isolate the cause.

In addition, there are so many suspects in the environment -- pesticides in food, contaminants in water and air pollutants, to name just a few -- that figuring out which one is to blame is almost impossible.

Despite the obstacles, environmental studies remain popular with some scientists and many activists. They note that all the known risk factors for breast cancer -- family history, early menstruation, and having children late in life, to name a few -- account for less than half of all breast cancer cases.

Advocates and some researchers argue that because studies on lab mice and factory workers suggest that high doses of some toxic chemicals can cause breast tumors, lower doses may be having the same effect on women in the general population whose genes make them particularly vulnerable.

Finally, advocates assert that local pollution may explain why breast cancer rates vary so much from place to place.

The politically powerful breast cancer movement got its start on Long Island in the 1980s when women learned that local breast cancer rates were significantly higher than the state and national averages. Federal scientists generally attribute the difference to the affluent suburban lifestyle, but activists assert that the environment is playing a role.

The most recent figures available from the state show that breast cancer rates among women in Nassau and Suffolk counties are about 11 percent higher than the statewide annual average of 131.5 cases per 100,000 women. Those rates are based on a five-year average from 1996 to 2000.

Under pressure from activists, Congress in 1993 ordered the cancer institute, a federal agency based in Bethesda, Md., to build a database known as the Long Island Geographical Information System, or GIS.

Its purpose was to do something for Long Island that had never been tried anywhere on such a large scale: to compile huge amounts of environmental data -- everything from gasoline spills to hazardous waste sites -- and load it onto a private corner of the Internet where interested researchers could apply for permission to use the data to investigate theories about potential environmental causes of breast cancer.

Researchers selected by the cancer institute would be able to use powerful statistical and mapping software to measure how closely various kinds of pollution matched up with the addresses of Long Islanders who have been diagnosed with breast or other cancers.

In effect, the GIS would be a much more sophisticated version of the hand-drawn "cancer maps" that grassroots groups in West Islip, Huntington, Babylon and many other communities had painstakingly constructed during the 1990s.

The GIS was finished in 2002, four years behind schedule. Institute officials spread the word in scientific publications and online discussion groups, and traveled to major conferences to describe the GIS' capabilities in poster presentations.

So far, though, not one scientist has expressed interest.

"Obviously, it's of great concern that we haven't gotten any interest yet, but we're not going to stop trying," said Dr. Deborah Winn, an epidemiologist at the institute and director of the GIS project.

Scientists who advised the institute on the development of the GIS say that while there are several reasons why some researchers might shy away from using it, they're amazed that not one has asked for access.

"I invested a lot of time in the Long Island GIS project early on, and I'm kind of shocked to hear they're not getting any response," said John R. Nuckols, an associate professor of environmental health at Colorado State University.

"I would have thought they would have had some takers by now, certainly," agreed Gerald Rushton, a University of Iowa geographer who chairs the institute's advisory board for the Long Island GIS.

They and other scientists pointed out that GIS is a relatively new tool which many cancer researchers are still reluctant to use.

Also, while the institute has greatly reduced research costs by compiling so much environmental and health data and making it available for free to approved researchers, scientists interested in using the GIS still need to get grants to pay for any extra expenses.

Activists, however, suggest the real problem is that the institute hasn't tried hard enough to market the GIS in the scientific community.

The cancer institute "is doing poorly on this," said Karen Miller, another advisory board member and president of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition. "We want to know whatever happened to this project so many people put so much time into creating?"

Activists had hoped grassroots groups would be able to use the GIS to do their own research, but the institute instead decided to limit access to approved professional researchers. The only information available to the public is an overview of the GIS on the Internet at www.healthgis-li.com.

Now, Balaban points out, the only people who want to use the GIS -- activists -- aren't allowed to do so. "The only people who are interested in it are the breast cancer advocates, so let them have it," she said.

Winn, however, said it would be too difficult to train non-professionals to use the GIS, and also to protect the confidentiality of cancer patients. Instead, she said, the institute will keep trying to attract professional researchers, and will reconvene the advisory board later this year to get ideas to market the project better.

Like the federal GIS, the state Health Department's cluster study of northwest Brookhaven owes its existence to the determined lobbying of Long Island's cancer activists.

In the mid-1990s, they began pushing the state Health Department to map cancer rates in individual communities, and in 2000 the state responded by releasing maps showing rates of the most common cancers in every ZIP code in New York.

Those maps were based on the number of cancer cases in each community between 1993 and 1997, and have not been updated since. They are still available in the "Cancer Mapping" section of the state health department's Web site at www.health.state.ny.us.

The maps showed only one area had breast cancer rates more than 50 percent higher than expected: the adjacent communities of Coram, Port Jefferson Station, Setauket, Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson and Sound Beach.

The state Health Commissioner, Antonia Novello, said the department would launch an investigation to try to determine whether environmental factors might be responsible for the elevated rates in the seven ZIP codes. Novello also said the department planned to issue maps of potential environmental "risk factors" for cancer, such as hazardous waste site and factory emissions, but said investigations of areas such as northwest Brookhaven would be a higher priority.

While Novello didn't say how long the state Brookhaven investigation would take, Mount Sinai's Anker, who became the leader of a grassroots group formed in response to the state's 2000 announcement, said no one ever told her the preliminary work would take more than four years.

In fact, the state still hasn't decided whether to launch its own epidemiological investigation of the communities, a project that might include extensive interviews of local women with breast cancer and air and water testing in homes.

Instead, four years after Novello's announcement, department officials are still evaluating existing environmental data collected by other government agencies to see if a full-blown study is warranted.

"The reason it's taking so long is we've had to compile and evaluate a large amount of data, that's the reason," said Claire Pospisil, a department spokeswoman.

Anker isn't satisfied. "All they're doing is collecting information. What they need to do is to come do their own, tests," she said. "We're in a state of limbo here. The state are the ones who said we have this problem, but they're moving at such as slow pace, and it's leaving residents feeling almost hopeless."

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

Mystery of the monkey virus


Loyola pathologist probes link to cancer, polio vaccine; feds say it's harmless

By Peter Gorner
Tribune science reporter
Published June 24, 2004

As controversy swirls about him, Loyola University pathologist Michele Carbone stays focused on his research, unraveling the secrets of a rogue monkey virus.

Simian virus 40, or SV-40, is a medical mystery looming at the borders of science's ability to determine the causes of cancer. It is at the center of a controversy now because so many people are potentially infected by the virus, which crossed over from monkeys to humans as a then-unknown contaminant of the polio vaccine.

The virus, the government said, is harmless. But it keeps showing up in human cancers, and some researchers say it may contribute to as many as 60,000 U.S. deaths a year.

Only a handful of viruses had been associated with human cancers, and none of them were simian in origin. But whether SV-40 is causing tumors or just is an innocent by-stander collected by them remains the critical, and heretofore unanswered, question.

To Carbone, the answer seems clear.

"The perfect little war machine," Carbone said of SV-40. "The most oncogenic [cancer-causing] virus we know of. I definitely wouldn't want it in my body."

SV-40 jumped the species barrier more than 40 years ago when it contaminated batches of Salk polio vaccine, which were grown on monkey kidney cells.

The virtual eradication of polio as a major childhood killer and crippler was one of the triumphs of public health. But today, as many as 12 million Baby Boomers who received polio inoculations may have SV-40 in their bodies, according to estimates.

Federal health officials insist there's no problem. Studies conducted since SV-40 was discovered in 1960 have found no increase in cancer among those who were vaccinated against polio as children.

"Over 98 million Americans received one or more doses of polio vaccine during the period (1955-1963) when some of the vaccine was contaminated with SV-40," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. "SV-40 has been found in certain types of human cancers, but it has not been determined that SV-40 causes these cancers. The majority of evidence suggests there is no causal relationship between receipt of SV-40-contaminated vaccine and cancer; however, some research results are conflicting and more studies are needed."

But Carbone has spearheaded a growing scientific consensus. His research -- supported by more than 70 confirmatory studies from 60 different laboratories worldwide -- indicates that SV-40 could be a factor that predisposes some people to develop tumors of the brain, bones, lymph glands and tissue that surrounds the lungs.

Interest in Carbone's work is being fueled by a new book, "The Virus and the Vaccine," by journalists Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher. Carbone is credited with the revitalization of interest in SV-40, and to him, the most important association is with mesothelioma, a particularly deadly form of lung cancer.

Carbone, 44, has been investigating SV-40 since the early 1990s when he was a young researcher at the National Cancer Institute testing how viruses could cause cancer in laboratory animals. He injected hamsters with SV-40. They kept developing cancer, dying within a few months from rare tumors called mesotheliomas that affect the cells lining the chest and lung.

"Mesotheliomas? Why would this virus cause this rare cancer and not cause cancers in all the other tissues that had been exposed to the virus through the bloodstream?" Carbone said. "I kept repeating the experiment. Same thing."

Here was a medical mystery worth investigating. For Carbone, the urge probably was inborn.

The son of a prominent orthopedic surgeon in Italy and the latest in a line of seven generations of physicians, Carbone grew up in the southern province of Calabria. He spent many hours in the family library poring over mysterious and lavishly illustrated medical texts -- some of them 300 years old -- that had been accumulated by his ancestors.

After graduating at the top of his class in 1984 from the University of Rome Medical School, Carbone was awarded a coveted National Institute of Health doctoral fellowship and began the painful trek for recognition as a research scientist.

His rise has been rapid -- honors include a knighthood from the Italian government -- but SV-40 research seems to provoke unusual hostility that probably would have crushed a less confident individual.

The main cancer associated with the virus, malignant mesothelioma, is found primarily in older men who have spent most of their working lives in plants manufacturing asbestos products. The disease was practically unknown until 1950. It kills about 3,000 Americans a year.

A paper published by Carbone and his colleagues in 1994 was the first to systematically isolate SV-40 in human mesotheliomas. The scientists proposed the virus might work in partnership with asbestos in susceptible individuals, somehow helping the mineral fiber cause cancer.

Carbone also noted that as many as half of the Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma each year have no history of asbestos exposure and suggested that perhaps SV-40 could cause cancer on its own.

And, Carbone felt compelled to point out, the increase in mesotheliomas over the last 30 years not only paralleled the expanding use of asbestos but also coincided with the inadvertent contamination of polio vaccine.

Such findings received a chilly reception from his superiors at NIH.

"I got the impression that this was something that people did not like to hear -- the polio vaccine could cause this cancer," Carbone said.

He emphasizes that most people who carry SV-40 in their cells won't develop cancer because a healthy immune system would destroy the virus.

"But if we knew this virus was responsible for cancer, that would mean we had a new treatment target for mesothelioma research -- a glimmer of hope. To me, that's the important point," said Carbone.

In a series of papers published from 1992 through 1996, Carbone showed that SV-40 inhibited the protective tumor suppressor genes called p53 and rB in human mesotheliomas.

Normally, the job of those genes is to prevent a cell from dividing uncontrollably, or to destroy it when it gets too damaged by mutations and could become cancerous.

Transforms cells

"But mesothelial cells are different from other cells. They have unusually high levels of p53. We found the virus replicates very slowly in them and doesn't kill the cells, but it transforms them," Carbone said.

The virus sets up the cell to become malignant, but then something else must happen to trigger cancer -- some co-carcinogen must occur.

In 1999, Carbone identified SV-40 genes and proteins in as many as 83 percent of human patients with mesothelioma. He pieced together the viral and cellular mechanisms that make such cells uniquely vulnerable to SV-40.

The study marked the first time that researchers had presented direct evidence that linked a long-forgotten source of polio vaccine contamination and a cancer that primarily affects people several decades later.

"We found that the monkey virus and asbestos fibers are co-carcinogens -- which seemed crazy when we discovered it," Carbone said. "What could be more different than an asbestos fiber and a monkey virus?

"Yet together they cause one of the deadliest of all human cancers." In other studies, Carbone and fellow researchers suggested SV-40 raises the risk of several rare cancers -- as well as for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the fifth most common malignancy in the U.S.

This cancer of the lymph system has confounded physicians by doubling in incidence over the last 30 years.

"There's no disagreement about the fact that this virus was massively transferred into humans from 1954 to 1963," Carbone said. "More often than not, viruses become more dangerous when they transfer species."

Animal viruses are trouble

"We've had millions of years to adapt and live in symbiosis with our own viruses. But as we have seen with HIV, Ebola, SARS, etc., animal viruses can cause big trouble."

Home base for Carbone is Loyola University's Medical School and Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center in Maywood, where his days are spent pursuing the quest -- in addition to performing autopsies, holding seminars and running off to teach karate classes (Carbone earned black belts in three martial arts).

Evenings are spent with his wife and young daughter in the family's 1893 Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park.Carbone realized early on that SV-40's relationship with cancer is probably not going to be cause and effect.

"I think it's a factor that contributes to the final event," he said.

"For instance, 94.6 percent of the people who work with asbestos all their lives don't get cancer. But what about those who do? Did they just have bad luck or were other factors contributing?"

SV-40 could be one factor. The other factor was discovered by Carbone and his team in three remote villages in Turkey where mesotheliomas are known to cause more than 50 percent of cancer deaths. Surrounding villages seem to be unaffected.

"What we found was that the disease was genetically transmitted. In certain households, everybody died of it. Next door, nobody did."

The researchers looked for SV-40, but couldn't find it. They looked for asbestos, but discovered it was a natural component of the volcanic soil and was found virtually everywhere. What could account for the uniquely high numbers of mesothelioma in the two villages?

"We implicated a building material called erionite, a mineral fiber like asbestos that was found in the lungs of several villagers.

"However, erionite also was common in the area and couldn't by itself account for the high incidence of mesotheliomas," Carbone said.

The scientists concentrated on the homes where entire families had died of the disease. "The houses of death," residents called them.

To gather genetic information about the haunted families, the team gradually pieced together a family pedigree of 526 people, consisting of 22 affected nuclear families with 87 children, 41 of whom had developed mesothelioma as adults.

In these families, mesothelioma is passed along via a dominant gene, Carbone discovered: One either inherits the deadly susceptibility or one escapes. Building materials may be a co-factor in genetically predisposed individuals.

"The power of this gene is so strong that we have a good chance to isolate it. I don't think the gene will be a curiosity limited to those unfortunate families in Turkey.

"Here, it's probably mutated because of the action of other carcinogens such as asbestos, radiation and SV-40."

However, prominent cancer researcher Dr. Nicholas J. Vogelzang, director of the Nevada Cancer Institute, said the evidence, though suggestive, does not prove SV-40 is causing trouble.

"Nobody knows why SV-40 genetic material is being detected in the cancers, but there have been no excess cancer rates," Vogelzang said.

"Does that mean it doesn't play a role? No. As scientists say, the absence of proof is not the proof of absence.

"But the steps from laboratory observations to public health policies are long and difficult. Ultimately, it comes down to very hard-core labor, slogging through medical records and doing the epidemiology."

But then Vogelzang paused.

"The only thing that worries me a bit is the increase in lymphomas."

Two years ago, Texas researchers linked SV-40 to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Baylor University's Dr. Janet Butel, leader of the team, has changed her attitude about the monkey virus. She became a convert.

"I believe that SV-40 is causing infections in humans today," said Butel, head of the department of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor.

She said she will not let 40 years of federal orthodoxy deter her. It takes a long time to change a paradigm, she said.

"But we know the role of HIV in Kaposi sarcoma. We know about human papilloma virus and cervical cancer. We know about hepatitis B and hepatitis C in liver cancer.

"I think SV-40 belongs on the list."

Right now, Carbone said his research is most relevant to SV-40 and mesothelioma, although broader implications for cancer are his aim.

"It looks very complicated -- SV-40, asbestos, your genetic predisposition," Carbone says. "But by uncovering these variables, we're creating new options for prevention and therapeutic approaches.

`Change one variable'

"We only have to change one variable -- screen for the gene, vaccinate against the virus, get rid of asbestos -- to dramatically affect the risk of cancer."

"Otherwise, we're paralyzed. We know that asbestos, for example, is going to cause cancer in 5 percent of us. Without having a clue about why that happens, we will be living in fear, watching each other's eyes.

"Who will get cancer? Will you? Will I?"

- - -

How the monkey virus could generate cancer cells

Recent research suggests that a person's exposure to a combination of simian virus 40 (SV-40) and asbestos could increase the risk of cancer. The body's immune system usually can detect SV-40 and kill the infected cell. But because asbestos impairs immune response, the infected cell is more likely to escape detection.

1. Simian virus (SV-40) enters a healthy cell. Simian virus, Chromosome, Healthy cell, Nucleus.

2. The virus begins to make its own proteins, which interfere with the healthy cell's proteins that balance growth. DETAIL -- Infected cell. Some viral proteins activate the cell's proteins that stimulate growth. Other viral proteins deactivate the proteins that prevent abnormal growth.

3. If asbestos is present, it activates another set of special proteins that stimulate rapid division of the malignant cell.

4. The resulting malignant cell continues producing more damaged cells and can develop into a tumor. Malignant cells.

Source: Dr. Michele Carbone, Loyola University Medical Center

Haeyoun Park and Phil Geib/Chicago Tribune

- - -

Questions about contamination

Blood tests can identify antibodies to SV-40, but at this time there is no way to tell if someone is infected by the virus and no recommended treatment, Michele Carbone said.

People who are concerned about polio vaccine contamination by SV-40 and their health may call the Food and Drug Administration at 800-835-4709. Carbone is willing to receive questions at his office via fax: 708-327-3238; or via e-mail: therma1@lumc.edu.

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

Mutation Found in 'Muscle Man' Toddler

[Was Hitler right, after all? ;-), ed.]


Associated Press Writer

June 24, 2004, 8:33 AM EDT

Somewhere in Germany is a baby Superman, born in Berlin with bulging arm and leg muscles. Not yet 5, he can hold seven-pound weights with arms extended, something many adults cannot do. He has muscles twice the size of other kids his age and half their body fat. DNA testing showed why: The boy has a genetic mutation that boosts muscle growth.

The discovery, reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, represents the first documented human case of such a mutation.

Many scientists believe the find could eventually lead to drugs for treating people with muscular dystrophy and other muscle-destroying conditions. And athletes would almost surely want to get their hands on such a drug and use it like steroids to bulk up.

The boy's mutant DNA segment was found to block production of a protein called myostatin that limits muscle growth. The news comes seven years after researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore created buff "mighty mice" by "turning off" the gene that directs cells to produce myostatin.

"Now we can say that myostatin acts the same way in humans as in animals," said the boy's physician, Dr. Markus Schuelke, a professor in the child neurology department at Charite/University Medical Center Berlin. "We can apply that knowledge to humans, including trial therapies for muscular dystrophy."

Given the huge potential market for such drugs, researchers at universities and pharmaceutical companies already are trying to find a way to limit the amount and activity of myostatin in the body. Wyeth has just begun human tests of a genetically engineered antibody designed to neutralize myostatin.

Dr. Lou Kunkel, director of the genomics program at Boston Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics and genetics at Harvard Medical School, said success is possible within several years.

"Just decreasing this protein by 20, 30, 50 percent can have a profound effect on muscle bulk," said Kunkel, who is among the doctors participating in the Wyeth research.

Muscular dystrophy is the world's most common genetic disease. There is no cure and the most common form, Duchenne's, usually kills before adulthood. The few treatments being tried to slow its progression have serious side effects.

Muscle wasting also is common in the elderly and patients with diseases such as cancer and AIDS.

"If you could find a way to block myostatin activity, you might slow the wasting process," said Dr. Se-Jin Lee, the Johns Hopkins professor whose team created the "mighty mice."

Lee said he believes a myostatin blocker also could suppress fat accumulation and thus thwart the development of diabetes. Lee and Johns Hopkins would receive royalties for any myostatin-blocking drug made by Wyeth.

Dr. Eric Hoffman, director of Children's National Medical Center's Research Center for Genetic Medicine, said he believes a muscular dystrophy cure will be found, but he is unsure whether it will be a myostatin-blocking drug, another treatment or a combination, because about a dozen genes have some effect on muscles.

He said a mystotatin-blocking drug could help other groups of people, including astronauts and others who lose muscle mass during long stints in zero gravity or when immobilized by illness or a broken limb.

Researchers would not disclose the German boy's identity but said he was born to a somewhat muscular mother, a 24-year-old former professional sprinter. Her brother and three other close male relatives all were unusually strong, with one of them a construction worker able to unload heavy curbstones by hand.

In the mother, one copy of the gene is mutated and the other is normal; the boy has two mutated copies. One almost definitely came from his father, but no information about him has been disclosed. The mutation is very rare in people.

The boy is healthy now, but doctors worry he could eventually suffer heart or other health problems.

In the past few years, scientists have seen great potential in myostatin-blocking strategies.

Internet marketers have been hawking "myostatin-blocking" supplements to bodybuilders, though doctors say the products are useless and perhaps dangerous.

Some researchers are trying to turn off the myostatin gene in chickens to produce more meat per bird. And several breeds of cattle have natural variations in the gene that, aided by selective breeding, give them far more muscle and less fat than other steer.

Cassini Orbiter Reveals Just What Saturn's Moon Is Made Of


By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer

The debate about the origin of Saturn's moon Phoebe is over. Although it may look like an asteroid, the tiny moon actually is an icy interloper from the fringes of the solar system, according to new results from NASA's Cassini orbiter.

Phoebe is "a frozen time capsule" from 4 billion years ago, "waiting for Cassini to come along and open it up," imaging scientist Torrence Johnson of Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Wednesday.

Scientists made their determination based on spectroscopic measurements of Phoebe taken when Cassini swooped to within 1,280 miles of the battered and beaten moon June 11.

"In two short weeks, we have added more to what we know about Phoebe than we had learned about it since it was discovered 100 years ago," project scientist Dennis Matson said.

The images and measurements taken during the fly-by indicate that Phoebe is lighter than rock but heavier than ice — similar in density to Neptune and its moon, Triton. That suggests Phoebe has the same origin as those bodies, in the Kuiper Belt on the edge of the solar system.

"We believe the [early] solar system was full of Phoebes," Johnson said. "As the big planets formed, that material was either swept into those planets or swept out of the solar system into the Kuiper Belt. Phoebe apparently stayed behind, trapped in orbit around the young Saturn."

Spectroscopic data indicate that Phoebe's surface is made of water ice, water-bearing minerals, carbon dioxide, possible clays and "primitive organic chemicals," said Roger N. Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver.

"We don't see carbon dioxide in the asteroid belt," said Bonnie Buratti, an instrument specialist at JPL. "That means [Phoebe] is definitely not an asteroid. Phoebe was formed beyond the orbit of Jupiter … in the Kuiper Belt."

Infrared measurements indicate Phoebe's surface is very cold, about minus 261 degrees Fahrenheit in sunlight, according to John Pearl of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. On the night side of the moon, the temperature drops to minus 325 degrees.

The relatively small change in temperature between night and day indicates that the surface is covered with a thin layer of ice or dust, he added.

The $3.3-billion Cassini spacecraft, launched in 1997, will fire its rocket next week to enter orbit around Saturn, where it will spend four years exploring the planet, its moons and rings. The craft also will launch the Huygens probe to the surface of Saturn's moon Titan in December.

UFO Witness "Deathbed Confession" Form


Larry Bryant, a researcher who has devoted much of his life to digging up information on the UFO coverup and forcing government disclosure, has asked me and other researchers to post the following on our Websites.

It is a "deathbed confession" form, intended for witnesses with personal knowledge of the coverup, but hesitant to come foreward publicly while they are still living. The idea is for witnesses to fill out the form with their experiences and have it notarized. Bryant would respect the anonymity of the witness, if desired, until after death.

Anyone with knowledge of such a witness can copy this form and give it to them to fill out. Ideally, a videotaped statement should also be made to accompany the notarized statement, plus any documentation the witness can provide of their statements.

UFO_Deathbed _form.doc You can click on the link at left to download the form in Microsoft Word DOC format.

        TO: Whom It May Concern 

        SUBJECT: Explanation of My Role in, or My Direct Evidence of, the U.S.
        Government's Coverup of the UFO Experience (and/or Any Personal UFO

        1. I, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _(Social Security No. _ _ _ _ _ _),

        a resident of [current address] _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

        _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, 
        do hereby confess to and publicly declare the following true story --
        recalled to be the best of my ability and delivered willfully, without
        coercion from anyone, and without expectation of any personal gain. To
        this notarized confession I append whatever relevant documentary
        evidence I may have acquired in the course of my involvement in, or
        knowledge of, the UFO coverup. I hereby release without restriction
        this entire account, and all its appended material, to the general
        public. In doing so, I make no claim of copyright, of monetary
        interest, or of personal privacy. My sole interest in tendering this
        confession seeks to set the record straight; to help compel the
        government to publicly account for what it knows, and when it knew it,
        about UFO reality; to encourage other UFO-coverup whistleblowers to come
        forward with the truth about this, the Ultimate Secret; and to unburden
        my conscience as to any complicity on my part in the government's having
        deceived the public. Upon this instrument's notarization, I authorize
        its contents to be shared with the proprietor of the Internet website of
        http://www.ufocity.com -- provided that the said proprietor abide by all
        requirements of anonymity, privacy protection, confidentiality, and
        timing that I may choose to set forth as a condition for the
        confession's public disclosure prior to my demise. 

        2. What follows on this page, and on any continuation pages, constitutes
        my narrative explanation: 
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        I, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , a notary public in the city/county of
        _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, do hereby certify that the above-
        signed person, known to me as _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _,
        appeared before me today and affixed his/her signature to this
        confession. Given under my hand on this _ _ _ _ day of _ _ _ _ _ _ , 
        _ _ _ _ _. 

        SIGNATURE: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

        DATE SIGNED: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

        My commission expires on: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ . 

        SEAL: _ _ _ _ _ _

Muslims flock to see fictitious Messiah

June 24, 2004

Hundreds of Muslims flocked to a hospital where an Internet site said the Messiah was being breast-fed by its resurrected mother, a spokesman for the institution said today.

Spread over the web, the story had it that there was a woman in the clinic who had given birth to the Messiah and who had died. She was later dug up and was still alive but her whole body was burned -- just her two breasts were unharmed. Allah ordered the woman to feed the child for 40 days and then die again.

The slight improbability of this tale did not dissuade those who wanted to believe it. The crowds arriving at the hospital were disappointed, however, to be told by guards that there was no such woman, and that they had been taken in by a hoax.


New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Burton & Grandy)


Magic, Mystery, And Science: The Occult in Western Civilization

Dan Burton and David Grandy

2004, Indiana University Press; xii+390p., illustrated
anti-science:defense, astrology, astrology:defense, astrology:history, newage:defense, newage:history, numerology, numerology:defense, occult, occult:defense, occult:history, paraphysics:defense, phrenology, psi:defense, psi:history, religion:history, UFO, UFO:defense, UFO:history

Skeptics will find much of this book irritating, but it is also informative and worth reading. The authors, a historian and a philosopher, give a sympathetic history of the Western occult tradition, contrasting it to scientific rationalism and orthodox religion alike. They present a lot of useful information in a very readable fashion at an introductory level. What is most important, they take care to express an occult point of view -- not as something stupid or false, but as something that made sense in its historical context, and which seems compelling to many today. The worst flaw of the book is that the authors have no clue about either the nature of science or the content of sciences such as contemporary physics. It portrays systems of thought as emanating from basic presuppositions. So if the occult tends to be rejected by science, they say this is due to non-evidential reasons. Nevertheless, if readers can ignore its silliness about modern science, this is a valuable book. Skeptics in particular need to better understand the attraction and internal logic of occult and new age views, which picture the universe as an organic, living whole permeated by mind and purpose. Magic, Mystery, and Science will help.

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

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Evolution education update: Alberts and Labov on teaching evolution

From: Glenn Branch branch@ncseweb.org

For your summer reading pleasure:

Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academies, and Jay Labov of the Center for Education at the National Research Council have written an article on "Teaching the Science of Evolution," which appears in the current issue of the journal Cell Biology Education.

Alberts and Labov write, "Cell and molecular biologists have provided some of the most compelling evidence to support the theory of evolution and should therefore be among those who raise their voices the loudest to support science curricula that help students understand the processes of evolution. As scientists, we also should make it our responsibility to present the evidence for biological evolution to all of our students, especially in introductory courses."

For the complete article, see:


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

Forthcoming in July 2004: Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism:

Thomas Gold, 84; Took Unorthodox Path to Scientific Discoveries


By Eric D. Tytell, Times Staff Writer

Thomas Gold, a renowned astronomer known for controversial theories on everything from the origin of the universe to the inner workings of the human ear, has died. He was 84.

Gold, professor emeritus of astronomy at Cornell University, died Tuesday at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y., after a long battle with heart disease.

Dedicated to pursuing his ideas wherever they took him, Gold ranged across fields as diverse as cosmology and astrophysics, lunar and terrestrial geology, and physiology and microbiology. Gold's colleagues were continually startled by his ability to propose outrageous theories that provoked intense discussion and new discoveries, and often proved to be right.

He is perhaps best known, though, for an idea that ultimately proved to be wrong, but nonetheless stimulated important research.

Working with astrophysicists Fred Hoyle and Hermann Bondi in the 1940s at Cambridge University, Gold developed an alternative to the Big Bang theory, proposing that the universe had no beginning or end, but rather expanded throughout time by continually creating new matter.

In the end, attempts to validate his theory led to its downfall and the acceptance of the Big Bang hypothesis. But along the way, scientists discovered how different chemical elements are formed in the centers of stars, a cornerstone of modern astrophysics.

Undeterred, Gold once said, "in choosing a hypothesis, there isn't any virtue in being timid."

Gold showed no timidity again in a 1968 explanation of pulsars.

Discovered that year, pulsars are objects in deep space that produce regular, repeating bursts of radio noise. Gold developed a theory that the objects were incredibly dense neutron stars spinning like tops. Like the light from a lighthouse, he explained, beams of radiation emitted from the stars' poles sweep in a circle, appearing to pulse on and off when the beam intersects with the Earth.

At the time, his theory was considered so ridiculous that he was not even allowed to present it at a conference. But observations of a pulsar in the Crab nebula showed that the pulses were slowing down, just as he had predicted, and the theory of pulsars as spinning neutron stars went on to universal acceptance.

Time proved Gold right again when he challenged the dogma on how the human ear distinguishes tones, one of his largest leaps across scientific disciplines. In the 1970s, after 30 years of dismissing him as a meddling outsider, audiologists discovered tiny resonating "hair cells" in the ear that proved his idea was correct.

"I enjoy shaking the scientific community by the neck," he once said.

After he retired from Cornell in 1986, he continued shaking, proposing his most controversial theory. Outlined in his 1998 book, "The Deep Hot Biosphere," the idea challenges the accepted wisdom of how oil and natural gas are formed and, along the way, proposes a new theory of the beginnings of life on Earth and potentially on other planets.

True to the name "fossil fuels," most geologists view oil and natural gas as fossils: the bodies of dead organisms, converted under heat and pressure into hydrocarbon fuels. They assert that the biological material they invariably find mixed in with the hydrocarbons confirms this view.

But Gold wasn't convinced. He proposed that the hydrocarbons were not biological, but rather were formed 4.5 billion years ago as the Earth congealed and were now percolating up through the crust.

This vision implies that fossil fuels are basically unlimited, if one drills deep enough, but also offers a striking view on the beginnings of life on Earth as a way to explain the biological material in fossil fuels.

The material, he asserted, comes from strange single-celled organisms called archaea that thrive deep below the Earth's surface by feeding on the hydrocarbons.

Most biologists believe archaea are a form of surface-dwelling life that evolved to tolerate the extreme conditions below the surface. Gold flipped that idea on its head, suggesting that all above-ground life is an offshoot of subterranean life forms.

If surface life evolved from subterranean archaea, then other planets in the solar system, such as Mars and Venus, could also be teeming with life, just below the surface where we can't see it.

Gold began subverting the dominant paradigm as a graduate student at the famed Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in England.

Born in Vienna, he fled Hitler to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees. World War II prevented him from continuing on to his doctorate; instead, he developed new radar systems for the British Admiralty.

After the war, Harvard hired Gold as a professor of astronomy, despite his lack of a doctorate, and he later moved to Cornell. He did not receive his degree from Cambridge until 1969, 11 years after he left England.

At Cornell, Gold served as director of the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, was chairman of the astronomy department, served as assistant vice president for research, and finally was the John L. Wetherill professor of astronomy.

"Gold epitomized Cornell's openness to offbeat geniuses," wrote science biographer Keay Davidson.

On campus, he was notoriously energetic in his scientific studies and athletically, often surprising younger colleagues by leaping up stairs two at a time, and by water-skiing, mountain climbing and even tightrope walking.

He is survived by his wife, Carvel; their daughter, Lauren; and three daughters and six grandchildren from his marriage to Merle Eleanor Tuberg.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Schools ban Scientology's anti-drug course


Posted on Fri, Jun. 25, 2004


LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles school officials are warning campuses not to use a drug prevention program linked to the Church of Scientology while California's schools chief has ordered an investigation to determine whether the anti-drug presentations are scientifically sound and free from the religion's influence.

The target of the district and state actions is Narconon, a drug prevention and rehabilitation program that bases its ideas partly on the controversial teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Narconon has conducted educational assemblies and classes, usually one session of about an hour each, in some schools in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities.

Narconon "presenters" tell students about the negative mental, emotional and physical effects of drugs (including theories on how they are stored and metabolized in body tissue and how drugs deplete vitamins and nutrients).

Narconon leaders said they offered the program free. Officials are investigating whether school funds were spent on lectures or related materials.

District officials said the lectures had been given at about 15 Los Angeles district schools, but they were uncertain which ones.

Similarly, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said his office had no way to know how many California schools played host to Narconon because individual teachers may have invited speakers without formal approval or records. Narconon leaders said presentations had been given at more than 350 California schools since 2000.

O'Connell expressed concern about the lectures after learning about Narconon's activities in some schools from a series of articles earlier this month in The San Francisco Chronicle. He asked his staff to evaluate the program, a probe that is expected to take several months.

"We want information disseminated in our schools to be factual, accurate and helpful," O'Connell said Wednesday. "We certainly don't want untested and unscientific theories presented as truthful."

Clark Carr, president of Hollywood-based Narconon International, said that school presentations were based on sound principles and that the program had no motive beyond wanting to keep youngsters off of drugs. He insisted the classes did not include any proselytizing for Scientology.

"If people had never heard of Mr. Hubbard, the lectures would still stand up, because they are based on real science," Carr said. "We don't use scare tactics. We come in with the straight facts. We're helping kids get off drugs. We've been doing it for a long time. We're going to continue doing it."

Carr said the organization approaches individual school health teachers or principals, informs them of the program and asks if they are interested in a presentation.

The Narconon program dates to the mid-1960s, when an Arizona prison inmate used Hubbard's teachings to battle his heroin addiction.

Inspired by Hubbard's belief that personal abilities can help people overcome their problems, William Benitez founded Narconon in 1966 and eventually helped spread the program with others influenced by Hubbard. Hubbard died in 1986.

Narconon later built on Hubbard's research into drug withdrawal and detoxification to establish rehabilitation procedures, including the use of vitamins and mineral supplements to ease symptoms and intensive sweating in saunas to reduce the residual effects of drug use, according to a Narconon Web site and interviews. The site provides links to several studies that the group says support Narconon's procedures.

Carr said that Narconon presenters deliver a narrow piece of the overall approach in their school lectures, focusing on prevention and leaving out information about rehabilitation techniques, such as sweating in saunas.

Narconon's educational programs are now one part of a vast enterprise that includes drug rehabilitation and treatment centers and a series of books and videos aimed at helping people live drug-free.

The debate over Narconon began after officials in the San Francisco Unified School District raised questions about the program's scientific validity and its presentations at more than two dozen schools there.

San Francisco officials sent Narconon Drug Prevention and Education Inc., a Narconon affiliate, a letter in February asking the Los Angeles-based group to clarify several aspects of its classroom presentations, including a statement that "all drugs are basically poisons."

In a written response, the group's director, Tony Bylsma, insisted that the statement was accurate based on "recognized and professional sources."

Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

White House Tries to Rein In Scientists

The administration orders vetting of experts on panels convened by the
U.N.'s health agency.
By Tom Hamburger
Times Staff Writer

June 26, 2004

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization, the leading international health and science agency.

A top official from the Health and Human Services Department in April asked the WHO to begin routing requests for participation in its meetings to the department's secretary for review, rather than directly invite individual scientists, as has long been the case.

Officials at the WHO, based in Geneva, Switzerland, have refused to implement the request, saying it could compromise the independence of international scientific deliberations. Denis G. Aitken, WHO assistant director-general, said Friday that he had been negotiating with Washington in an effort to reach a compromise.

The request is the latest instance in which the Bush administration has been accused of allowing politics to intrude into once-sacrosanct areas of scientific deliberation. It has been criticized for replacing highly regarded scientists with industry and political allies on advisory panels. A biologist who was at odds with the administration's position on stem-cell research was dismissed from a presidential advisory commission. This year, 60 prominent scientists accused the administration of "misrepresenting and suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes."


Teach both ideas in school biology class


Saturday, June 26, 2004

Last year in school, one of our teachers discussed with us the issue of separation of church and state. He told us that this law was originally created to avoid what had happened in Europe — the church led the country and had more actual power than the government itself. The separation of church and state was therefore not established to prevent the teaching of creationism in public schools and is highly misinterpreted today.

Both evolution and creationism are theories and thus both require a certain amount of faith. There is no substantial proof for either and therefore both need to be presented to give students a fair chance to decide for themselves. April Breneman said about the teaching of creationism in the Dover high school biology textbook that "not only would it influence students' choices about religion, it may, as Robert Bowman noted, insult non-Christian taxpayers by deeming their beliefs as unimportant." Not teaching, or at least not introducing, creationism may very well also influence their choices about religion. They have a right to know of every choice before they make the decision. What of the Christian taxpayers? Shall the Dover school board insult them by deeming their beliefs unimportant?

Both evolution and creationism should have equal time allotted to them since both are theories. Neither should be entirely disregarded. Because people did come to America to openly practice their religious beliefs, the Dover school board should allow Christians, as well as non-Christians, to do so.


Friday, June 25, 2004

A notion less than worldly


Posted on Fri, Jun. 25, 2004


You won't need an advanced degree in biology this time to fully understand the controversy brewing at the Kansas Board of Education.

Instead of evolution, moderates and conservatives are arguing over how history/government ought to be taught.

Now how could that be controversial? I'm not aware of two diametrically opposed theories of history, are you? And governments are what they are, correct?

Read on.

At this month's board meeting in Topeka, conservatives proposed narrowing the teaching of what we used to call civics.

And not surprisingly, Steve Abrams of Arkansas City is leading the charge. Abrams worked harder than other board members to diminish the role of evolution in the curriculum.

Now he wants to de-emphasize the study of international concerns so teachers can focus squarely on the study of U.S. and Kansas history.

Moderates say it's the wrong way to go, given the world's growing interdependence.

"In a sense, I'm picking a fight," board member Sue Gamble of Shawnee said.

It's true. Gamble did pick this fight by making public an issue that has had little media attention.

Now, I'll grant you the globalism-isolationism debate is nowhere near as sexy as the proposal to downplay evolution in favor of creationism.

However, it is indicative of the kind of disagreements and political posturing that have made the Kansas school board well worth watching since conservatives sought to gain control in the mid-1990s.

Abrams cannot see what the fuss is all about.

"I didn't know it was a sticking point," he said when I reached him by phone this week. "I just wanted to clarify the standards."

But critics say Abrams' suggested changes are not an attempt to "clarify" anything. To their way of thinking, he wants to reverse the key principles underlying the proposed 239-page history and government standards drafted by a panel of experts the board appointed.

For instance, the panel proposes that students understand "major economic concepts, issues and systems of the United States and other nations."

Abrams would change that to "major economic concepts, issues and systems, particularly emphasizing Kansas and the United States of America."

His other changes follow the same theme.

"I find it chilling," Gamble said.

Well, "chilling" may be overdoing it.

However, Abrams underplays what's at issue here by claiming all he's trying to do is ensure that American and Kansas history is covered thoroughly.

"There is a limited amount of (teaching) time," he said.

Yes, there is. But given the state of the world today, it doesn't seem like a waste of time teaching our kids that their country is but one on the planet. We do not live in a vacuum.

"We live in a global world," said board member Bill Wagnon, a history professor. "It would be a mistake to de-emphasize that."

Just like it would be a mistake for voters to minimize the importance of the school board races in the upcoming election. The potential exists for Abrams' faction to get the majority once again.

And I mention that because guess what comes after the history and government standards are revised?

It'll be time to revisit the science standards -- and evolution -- all over again.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call

(816) 234-7708 or send e-mail to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

Biology textbook stirs controversy in Quakertown


From The Morning Call -- June 25, 2004

School director raises issues with material that omits creationism.

By Steve Wartenberg Of The Morning Call

In the midst of a Quakertown Community School District board meeting filled with unanimous votes for athletic equipment contracts, minor building repairs and new hires, a minor controversy erupted over a textbook.

''The Darwin theory is written about in this book, and it is proven lies,'' School Director Linda Martin said Thursday night after she voted against the use of ''Biology: The Web of Life'' for the biology component of an integrated science class for high school juniors and seniors.

''This Earth is not millions of years old, and I can't handle our teachers teaching these lies,'' Martin added.

The six other board members voted for the book, and it will be used for the class starting in the fall. All seven board members approved ''Spelling Connections'' and ''World of Chemistry.''

''It's not controversial, it's a textbook, and it has the current theory,'' board President Philip Abramson said of the biology textbook, adding that the separation of church and state is a concern for the board.

Superintendent James Scanlon agreed.

''Some people have religious beliefs and believe we should be teaching ,'' Scanlon said. ''But in the public schools, we walk the fine line between church and state.''

Scanlon and Harry Morgan, assistant superintendent for elementary education/assessment, said the course was an elective students did not have to take.

''We're flexible and will work with parents and students,'' Morgan said. ''We have some students who opt out of portions of health class, and we would do the same for this.''

Martin said the book contained a lot of information about evolution, but not a single mention of creationism.

''There is another side, and we need to be teaching that,'' she said.

Morgan said the district does not have an official policy when it comes to the evolution versus creationism debate.

''That's something to be dealt with in the family,'' he said.

''Biology: The Web of Life'' was written by Eric Strauss, director of environmental studies at Boston College; and Marylin Lisowski, a professor in the college of education and professional studies at Eastern Illinois University.

It is being used by several high schools, including Point Pleasant Borough High School, Point Pleasant, N.J.; Irvington High School, Fremont, Calif.; and DeLaSalle High School, Minneapolis, Minn.



Copyright © 2004, The Morning Call

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Federal Court Orders Vale To Five-Year Sentence in Prison


by Jess Wisloski, Chronicle Correspondent June 24, 2004

Jason Vale, the Internet entrepreneur from Bellerose who has been incarcerated since last August on charges of illegal sales of apricot seeds as a cure for cancer, was sentenced last Friday at Brooklyn federal court to five years and three months in prison. Vale, 36, had built a modestly successful empire by selling his products as alternative medicine for cancer. He spammed over 20- million AOL customers (which landed him a separate fine of $1 million by AOL) and claimed his methods could cure "99.95 percent" of all cancer cases.

It was the spamming which initiated the FDA investigation, when AOL members complained about the excessive e-mails, not the drug itself. Much of his own argument during the sentencing came from the fact that the company had yet to receive a single complaint from users of its products.

The sentencing was expected by Vale's family members to only address the "criminal contempt" charges which Vale incurred after continuing the seed company even after he had been prohibited by court order.

His enterprise, even after his initial arrest four years ago, continued to do well after he was jailed. Instead of bringing company activity to a halt, the court contends that he continued the business through alias names and by enlisting the help of his family. Family members interviewed have claimed it was of their own volition.

The other, and more serious, charges in question were those of fraud, which could landed him up to 30 years in prison, instead, for sale of a product that was fraudulently marketed as a cure for cancer.

Vale looked more wan and thin than in pictures that still appear on the Seeds of Faith Web site (run for his defense fund) as a world championship arm-wrestler. Throughout the proceedings, he cast long glances toward his parents, siblings and extended family, who sat in the gallery.

Like many of his customers, Vale has also suffered from a cancerous tumor. He was diagnosed 10 years ago and resorted to alternative medicine when chemotherapy failed to reduce his tumor. What he discovered is what he now contends, even from behind bars, is a veritable miracle.

According to Vale, his tumor shrunk when he started ingesting apricot seeds and Laetrile. He found the "cure" while researching alternative medicine treatments after he was diagnosed and now believes it should be available to all cancer patients who so desire. The judge didn't agree.

There was some dispute over which guidelines for indictment to use at the hearing, as the prosecution and judge discussed the implications of sentencing the defendant with both the "vulnerable victim" or the "criminal contempt" guidelines, for violating his last court order to stop selling the seeds. This is despite the judge's decision at a hearing on May 6th, to not charge the defendant with fraud.

Much of the prosecution's success came down to semantics. Although Vale wasn't charged by the FDA for making fraudulent remarks or selling a faulty drug, in Judge John Gleeson's opinion fraud referred to faulty and unqualified statements, such as "99.95 percent effective," which he said Vale used knowing they were misleading. "While I believe you think it is a useful drug in prevention of cancer, I do not think you truly believed it was 99.95 percent effective," Judge Gleeson said.

Another point of contention was that although they had agreed to use the "vulnerable victim" guidelines (not the ones for "obstruction of justice"), Vale piped up that there were no victims since not one complaint arose from the thousands of orders they had filled.

Judge Gleeson argued that there were many complaints, even though those were from AOL members in regards to being "spammed" with his advertisements. Vale argued that they weren't harmed by the drug and felt it was an entirely different thing, but Judge Gleeson said, "That is harmful."

Vale plans to appeal, but in the meantime he requested transfer from jail in Valhalla to a penitentiary in Florida, which Judge Gleeson agreed to recommend. Outside the courtroom, his brother, Jared, sounded optimistic. "He's got a good attitude, obviously, given his little remarks," he said. "Regardless of what the judge says, everyone who knows Jason believes that he believes in this 1,000 percent regardless of whatever interpretation the judge may have."

On whether he thought the judgment was fair, Vale's brother was mostly relieved that it wasn't the maximum sentence of 30 years for fraud. "It was very good that they took off the table 200 some-odd months," which he said would help the family cope. "You go between 20 and 30 years to arguing between one and six, that's a lot easier on the family."

Vale's own tumor, which has gone untreated since his incarceration is another issue, to both Vale's family and the court's consideration. Judge Gleeson found, through a court-appointed doctor's evaluation, that he still had the tumor and the judge admitted it had set his mind at ease that Vale was at least honestly convinced of the apricot seeds' value.

Vale has announced that, despite the potential of the tumor creating a life sentence for him while he is incarcerated, he is refusing traditional methods of treatment and will not accept chemotherapy or removal of the tumor.

The only option for treatment, in his mind, is apricot seeds. Jared Vale believes Jason would die for this cause.

"It definitely grew. Significantly," Jared Vale said. "The doctor's test shows that. That was one of the reasons why the judge showed a little bit of understanding to Jason even though he called him a fraud."

Institute devoted to preserving theatrical past Best-known work of Ohio-born playwrights exemplifies its mission


Thursday, June 24, 2004

ThisWeek Staff Writer

Ohio-born playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee crafted an enduring classic in their 1955 drama "Inherit the Wind."

Ostensibly a dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., in which a high school teacher was charged with breaking state law for discussing Darwin's Theory of Evolution in his classroom, the play is still going strong nearly 50 years after its debut in Dallas on Jan. 10, 1955, and its opening on Broadway the following April 21.

"Since 'Inherit the Wind' first graced the Broadway stage, the play has been performed almost every night somewhere in the world," according to an exhaustive online study of the work by Lyndsey McCabe of the University of Virginia American Studies Program. "The immense popularity of the play, bordering on obsession, suggests that the issues Lawrence and Lee dramatized hit a nerve across social, regional and religious lines."

Fortunately or unfortunately, the nerve "Inherit the Wind" hits today isn't the one the writers were striving to hit when they were writing it, according to Alan Woods, director since 1979 of the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at Ohio State University.

Whenever and wherever the issue of creationism versus evolution is raised, the play is revived on high school stages and by community theatre groups, Woods said. And recently, out of curiosity, he conducted an Internet search using the title of the play for the key words.

The Web surfing turned up something like 120 sites, according to the director of the institute, dozens of them postings from fundamentalist Christians positively frosty over the perceived message of "Inherit the Wind" and attacking it for supposed historical inaccuracies.

An example from a 1997 article on the Web site "First Things, the Journal of Religion and Public Life" by Carol Iannone, then a teacher in New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study: "While 'Inherit the Wind' remains faithful to the broad outlines of the historical events it portrays, it flagrantly distorts the details, and neither the fictionalized names nor the cover of artistic license can excuse what amounts to an ideologically motivated hoax."

Those who rebuke Lawrence and Lee for being ardent supporters of Darwinism are missing the point altogether, or perhaps making it all over again, according to Woods.

"It was never a question about evolution," he said.

The playwrights thought controversy about teaching evolution was a thing of the past, the director of the institute indicated, a done deal. Lawrence and Lee began writing "Inherit the Wind" in 1950, employing the Scopes Monkey Trial as a metaphor for the intolerance and opposition to intellectual freedom exemplified by McCarthyism, according to Woods.

Joseph R. McCarthy burst upon the national scene that year. Waving his ever-escalating "lists of known communists" he claimed were in the U.S. State Department, the Army and especially Hollywood, the Wisconsin senator eventually saw his name become synonymous with "witch hunt."

McCarthy was pretty much a spent force by the time "Inherit the Wind" came out, but the authors remained concerned about the individual's right to freedom of thought.

That subsequent generations have embraced or rejected the work because of its seeming backing of evolution provides something of a microcosm for why the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute exists and what it does, director Woods pointed out.

"The play takes on a different meaning as time goes on," he said. "Good plays take on a kind of timelessness."

The institute, in part, helps preserve the original meaning of theatrical works, keeping them in their historical context.

"Even though the playwrights had a particular idea in mind and they used a particular reason, the play has had different resonance over the years," said Professor Nena L. Couch, curator of the research institute since 1986. "This is certainly true of Shakespeare. It keeps coming to us in our own lives and our own cultures.

"There's something that speaks over the centuries with Shakespeare, over the decades with Lawrence and Lee."

The play may be the thing, as Shakespeare suggested, but the playbill, the costumes, the set design, even the lighting scheme are all part and parcel of what makes up the theatrical experience, and these are all part and parcel of what makes up the collection at the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute.

Renamed for the two famous playwrights (see related story) in 1986, the institute was founded in 1951 as the Ohio State University Theatre Collection. Its creation "engaged researchers in more than 100 European museums and libraries to compile bibliographies of rare theatrical material unique to their institutions," according to the institute's Web site.

"From the researchers' contributions and his own surveys, (the late) Dr. John McDowell, the institute's founding director, built a collection of 450,000 frame microfilm archives of theatre history of the Western world, from Medieval to modern, unduplicated anywhere in the United States, containing copies of rare documents, prompt books, posters, playbills and costume and scene designs with especially strong holdings from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, England and the United States," the site continues.

Other major collections exist around the country, notably the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library, the Harvard Theatre Collection in the Nathan Marsh Pusey Library and the extensive holdings at the University of Texas.

OSU's institute, however, has one distinction not shared by these others, according to Woods.

"We are unique in that we combine the function of a research facility and a teaching facility," he said.

The institute is jointly administered by the Theatre Department and the Library.

"They work together," said curator Couch, who is on the library staff. "The events that we do are really built around the collections."

The materials at Harvard, for example, concentrate to some extent on ancient aspects of theater, while those at the Lawrence and Lee are more contemporary, she added.

"I think that we all realize that no one collection can collect it all," Couch said.

Compiled with the aid of researchers, the collection, which now occupies the entire 14th floor of Lincoln Tower, is today a boon to researchers, people like writer Hollis Alpert of Naples, Fla.

For his 1990 book "The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess: The Story of An American Classic," the one-time fiction editor of the New Yorker found not only a wealth of information on the 1935 opera by George and Ira Gershwin, but also dozens of photographs to illustrate his work.

"You can't imagine how much I owe to Nena Couch and Alan Woods," Alpert said in a telephone interview from his home on the Gulf Coast. "They compressed three months' work into 10 days. They were hospitable and of enormous help.

"I have one wonderful memory from there," Alpert continued. "Even though I never went to college, I love faculty lounges, faculty dining rooms. While I was there, they took me to one and it was so academic and wonderful, and everything was $3. I thought, 'This is a great.' "


'Inherit the Wind' graced stage, screen and tube


The March 1925 arrest in Dayton, Tenn., of high school teacher John T. Scopes set in motion events that have resonated through the American social and political scene ever since.

Scopes was accused of violating the Butler Act, which was passed earlier in the year and prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution in publicly funded schools. By some accounts, Scopes was recruited by the fledgling American Civil Liberties Union to provide a test case of the law in court.

The resulting highly publicized trial brought some of the major figures of the early 20th century to the small town, including famed attorney Clarence Darrow for the defense, three-time Democratic and Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan to assist in the prosecution and famed journalist H.L. Mencken, whose Baltimore Sun helped foot the legal bill for Scopes.

In the end, Scopes was found guilty and fined a mere $100, a somewhat anticlimactic outcome to a case that had riveted the nation. The Tennessee Supreme Court subsequently upheld the constitutionality of the Butler Act but acquitted Scopes on the technicality that the fine had been excessive.

The Butler Act was not repealed until 1967.

Bryan, possibly exhausted by the passions of his final courtroom battle, fell ill and died in Dayton.

When playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee decided to employ the trial as a springboard to comment on the McCarthyism of the early 1950s, they rechristened Dayton "heavenly Hillsboro," and also provided new names for all the principles.

Clarence Darrow, born in the tiny Ohio town of Kinsman, became Henry Drummond, retaining all the charm and antagonism of the original. Williams Jennings Bryan was called Matthew Harrison Brady, transformed into a bombastic egotist. The character based on Mencken was christened E.K. Hornbeck, and was so cynical he riled even Drummond. The accused was renamed Bertram Cates, shown as a man bewildered by his transformation from simple schoolteacher into national symbol, reviled and revered for his views.

The play "Inherit the Wind" opened on Broadway in April 1955.

Lawrence and Lee plucked the title from the Bible, using Proverbs, 11:16: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind ... "

Stage and screen actor Paul Muni had top billing as Drummond. Veteran character actor Ed Begley played Brady. A young Tony Randall appeared as Hornbeck and Archie Smith had the relatively minor role of Cates.

Director Stanley Kramer translated the play into an award-winning film in 1960.

Spencer Tracy, as Henry Drummond, won the Best Actor Oscar. Frederic March appeared as Matthew Harrison Brady and Gene Kelly as the scornful journalist E.K. Hornbeck. Dick York, later the first Darrin in the old ABC sitcom "Bewitched," played Bertram Cates.

Two television movies were also based on the Lawrence and Lee play.

A 1988 version featured Jason Robards as Drummond, Kirk Douglas as Brady, Darren McGavin as Hornbeck and Kyle Secor as Cates.

Most recently, in 1999, Jack Lemmon took a turn as Drummond with George C. Scott portraying Brady. Beau Bridges played Hornbeck and Tom Everett Scott appeared in the role of Cates.

Div class="subhed'>Collaboration lasted more than 50 years, produced 39 plays

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee were born three years and 23 miles apart, but it was not until they were both in New York City that they first met, and it was Broadway that their meeting would eventually set on its ear, time and again.

The two Ohio natives -- Lawrence was born in Cleveland in 1915, Lee in Elyria in 1918 -- teamed up to produce several significant theatrical successes, including "Inherit the Wind," "Auntie Mame" and its musical version "Mame," "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" and "First Monday in October."

In all, according to a New York Times obituary of Lawrence that appeared this past March 2, they wrote 39 plays together over the course of a partnership that lasted more than 50 years. An even dozen of their collaborations reached Broadway.

These plays have been translated into 32 languages and performed throughout the world, according to the Web site of Ohio State University's Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute, which was founded in 1951 and renamed for the pair in 1986.

Lawrence received his bachelor of arts degree from Ohio State in 1937. He also studied at UCLA, according to an obituary that appeared on April 19 in The Independent newspaper of London.

Lee was educated at Northwestern and Ohio Wesleyan universities.

The two met in New York City in 1942, according to The Times obituary. Lawrence was a writer for CBS Radio and Lee worked for the advertising agency Young and Rubicam. Their first collaboration was a radio play, "Inside a Kid's Head," which they wrote over lunch in Manhattan, the obituary states.

They both entered the Army in 1942, where they were co-founders of the Armed Forces Radio Service, according to the research institute site. When they returned to civilian life in 1945, the two began writing together for radio.

"After their first taste of Broadway, a musical called 'Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!' in 1948, they devoted themselves to the theatre," according to The Times.

Easily their most durable work was "Inherit the Wind," which used a fictionalized account of the Scopes Monkey Trail in Tennessee as a means of making a point about intellectual freedom.

"The play opened in 1955, 30 years after the trial took place, but its theme of defending independent thought in an oppressive atmosphere struck a chord," The Times obituary by Ben Sisario states.

"The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail," which used famed essayist Henry David Thoreau's refusal to pay taxes in 1846 in protest of the Mexican-American War as a means of portraying opposition to the War in Vietnam, had its premiere at Ohio State in 1970.

To this day, according to Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute director Alan Woods, the play is put on around the world whenever an unpopular war is being waged.

In 1990, Lee and Lawrence were named Fellows of the American Theatre during ceremonies at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., according to the institute Web site. That same year, their final collaboration, "Whisper in the Mind," was produced at Arizona State University.

Robert E. Lee died in Los Angeles on July 8, 1994.

Jerome Lawrence died this past Feb. 29 at his home in Malibu, Calif.

Although "Inherit the Wind" was inspired by the rise of McCarthyism in the early 1950s, it has since come to be considered a champion of teaching the theory of evolution.

In 1990, to mark co-author Lawrence's 75th birthday, a revival of the play was put on in the Thurber Theatre at OSU, according to Alan Woods.

During the first act, with Lawrence in the audience, members of the campus branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism, those fake-sword wielders who embrace days so bygone they are positively Medieval, were rehearsing below the auditorium, according to Woods.

The clanking of their swords "sounded like somebody was banging on support columns," the institute director recalled.

"Jerry was hard of hearing and heard 'creationists' when he was told that the noise was 'Society for Creative Anachronists.' He was delighted, and told the story for several years afterwards. Since he often said that the purpose of theatre was to 'sandpaper the soul' of the audience, to make people think and ponder points of social conflict, he was always pleased to get strong responses even if, in the case of 'Inherit the Wind,' the play's original purpose had little to do with evolution or reaction against teaching evolutionary theory."

Creating in a void


Jun 24th 2004
From The Economist print edition

Wealthy creationists are taking over failing state schools

ON ONE side is Britain's best-known atheist polemicist, in unlikely alliance with his media-savvy local bishop. On the other is a wealthy Christian businessman who does not believe in evolution; he's defended by the government. Their fight is prompted by "city academies". These new schools receive extra cash from government, typically a lump sum of £20m, with individuals, businesses and charities adding a further £2m and running the school. It sounds fine—but what if the sponsors are bonkers?

In the north-east of England, a charitable foundation backed by one of Britain's richest men, the fervently religious Sir Peter Vardy, is sponsoring a bunch of new schools. So far, these have done well: the education inspectorate gives them glowing reports; so do parents, who like the discipline, standards and pastoral care.

That has muffled secularists' fears. Revealingly, both existing Vardy schools exclude Harry Potter books from their libraries: that suggests a dash of bigotry. So does the teaching of evolution as only a theory, alongside the Bible's account of creation.

Now proposals to turn a school in Doncaster into a Vardy-backed academy have sparked renewed protest. Two hundred people demonstrated there last weekend. And in the Sunday Times, Richard Dawkins, a famously anti-clerical Oxford science professor, joined forces with Richard Harries, the bishop of Oxford, calling the Vardy schools' creationism "bad science", "lousy theology" and "blasphemy".

But behind this entertaining ding-dong is an argument about the whole of government's reform of secondary education. This wants to make schools more varied, better-run (including by outsiders), and free from the local state education bureaucracies—but all without disadvantaging the dim, the poor and the disturbed.

The school concerned, Northcliffe, has plenty of such problems. Its intake is "challenging", in education-speak. Fully 37% have "special needs"—typically behavioural and emotional problems. "Some have very difficult home backgrounds," says Tracy Morton, a parent and campaigner against the academy. "Their parents don't even register them for school—they just send them along on the first day of term."

Ms Morton is less worried about Christian fundamentalism than about the academy's approach to selection and discipline, and in particular how children from chaotic homes will fare under the new regime. The showpiece Vardy school, Emmanuel College in Gateshead, recruits from a large urban area. That means it can attract ambitious, diligent pupils from good homes. A local comprehensive like Northcliffe is very different.

The academy's backers insist that the new school will be non-selective, with no discrimination against those with special needs. They also point to King's Academy in Middlesborough, the second Vardy school, which has a diverse intake including a quarter with special needs, and maintains tough discipline without mass expulsions.

It is hard to imagine a more crucial test of the government's education policy. If a strongly-led new city academy can transform a really difficult school—and not just by shunting the worst children elsewhere—it hugely strengthens the argument for more diverse kinds of schools with outside management. But if not, the suspicion will grow that city academies' success is really down to loads more cash and hand-picked pupils.

Keep creationism out of science class


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Here's a portion of a letter from President Woodrow Wilson to a professor:

"May it not suffice for me to say in reply to your letter of August 25th, that, of course, like every other man of intelligence and education, I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should still be raised."

That was 1922. I wonder what his response would be now, 82 years later, upon seeing the comments of people around the nation, including those in the Dover school district.

It boggles my mind that people still perceive of evolution as not having a basis in fact. They see the word "theory" and somehow assume that it means "unproven." Actually, evolution has been a proven fact for decades; the mechanics of evolution is what is considered a "theory."

Creationism and its cousin, intelligent design, are devoid of scientific facts. Both assume knowledge that science cannot prove or disprove.

The scientific ignorance and the religious arrogance of the Dover school board members and the public quoted in news articles only go to show the true aims of these people. Indoctrination seems to be what they want, but they should only do so in their own homes or in their own churches. As doubtful as it seems, if they truly only desire to present religious viewpoints, those views should be in a comparative religion class along with every other religion and creation belief.

Regardless of their real intentions, a science classroom is not the place for theology. How much longer must we go before President Wilson would not be surprised?


WHO Issues Alternative Medicine Warning


June 23, 2004

The World Health Organization says the incidence of adverse drug reactions from 'alternative' and 'traditional' medicines have more than doubled in three years. The WHO is warning people worldwide that the use of these "largely unregulated", traditional, complementary and alternative medicines could cause serious harm.

Natural doesn't always mean safe, according to WHO. The use of alternative medicines is increasing in all countries, with 80 percent of developing country populations relying on these forms of medicine, according to WHO.

As the use of these alternative medicines increases, the number of reported adverse reactions increase. China reported close to 10,000 cases of adverse drug reactions in 2002, up from 4,000 between 1990 and 1999.

"WHO supports traditional and alternative medicines when these have demonstrated benefits for the patient and minimal risks," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO.

Dr LEE Jong-wook would like to see governments provide more information on alternative medicines to ensure the benefits and risks are known.

The WHO has released new guidelines to help advise consumers who do not inform their doctors they are using alternative medicines, which could cause serious adverse reactions.

The WHO said alternative medicines are not, "good for everybody all of the time".

Anxious Country Prays to Placate 'Sweating' Deity


Wed Jun 23,11:22 AM ET

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Priests offered special prayers as hundreds of devotees thronged a shrine in a remote Nepali village on Wednesday to appease a Hindu deity after its stone idol began "sweating," witnesses said.

"Sweating" of the deity at the temple in Dolakha, 140 km (90 miles) east of the capital, has in the past been followed by major political changes or tragedies in the world's only Hindu kingdom, villagers say.

"The prayers are to spare the country and the people from disasters or calamities," devotee Dambar Bahadur Shrestha told Reuters when reached by telephone.

The special prayers were offered after devotees saw a vaporous substance on the stone idol of the god Bhimeshwor, revered as Lord Shiva, third in the trinity of Hindu gods. Goats were also sacrificed as part of the prayers.

Nepali newspapers said the last time the Lord Bhimeshwor idol "sweated" was in January 2001, six months before Crown Prince Dipendra shot dead his father, King Birendra, and eight other royals before turning the gun on himself in a drunken rage.

The Himalayan country, which is also battling a bloody Maoist revolt, has since been mired in political turmoil.

The deity also reportedly sweated in 1932 before an earthquake killed thousands of people.

The Leiter Reports: Editorials, News, Updates


June 17, 2004

Ignorant Law Professors on the March

One of the embarrassing facts about the Intelligent Design scam is how many law professors are involved in it. Their leader is Philip Johnson, a scholarly mediocrity in his chosen field (criminal law), who found a new raison d'etre by campaigning against Darwin. As mathematician Jeffrey Shallitt puts it in an amusing review of one of Johnson's books:

"Imagine this: a law professor with no scientific training, after a mid-life crisis in which he became a fundamentalist Christian, announces that Newton's laws are wrong. Scientists only believe Newton's laws, he claims, because they have a prior commitment to 'naturalism'. The scientific evidence for Newton's laws is weak, he claims, and depends mostly on clever word games, where scientists first talk about motion of objects on the earth ('micromotion') and then extrapolate to the movements of the heavenly bodies ('macromotion'). We do not see objects on the earth moving about by themselves; any moving object is always the result of an intelligence that set that object in motion. The law professor writes books decrying Newtonism and discussing the social decay it leads to. He organizes conferences and develops a strategy for getting supernatural explanations for motion taught in science classes.

"Sound farfetched? Perhaps. But just change 'Newtonism' to 'Darwinism' and you've got the strange crusade of Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, exemplified in this silly and dishonest book.

"Looking for scientific evidence against evolution? You won't find it here (or anywhere else, for that matter). What you will find is the kind of rhetoric lawyers are skilled at: if the facts and law are against you, pound the table.

"You'll also find deep misunderstandings of the nature of science (which doesn't 'prove' its theories, as suggested on p. 42) and information (which, contrary to Johnson's claims on p. 73, can indeed be generated by physical processes).

"This book could be the basis for an easy and fun game called 'liar or fool'. Nearly every page offers a choice. When Johnson claims (p. 94) that 'We know that the Darwinian mechanism doesn't work and that complex biological systems never were put together by the accumulation of random mutations through natural selection', is it a lie or just stupidity? And who is the 'we', anyway? It certainly doesn't refer to people who actually study biology for a living, since 99% of them accept that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life as we see it today.

"When Johnson defines macroevolution as 'the vaguely described process that supposedly creates innovations such as new complex organs or body parts' (p. 57), is it a lie or just ignorance of the definition actually used by biologists?"

Or consider John Eastman, a conservative law professor at Chapman University in California, who decided to interject himself in to the Leiter/VanDyke debate, though without, rather clearly, doing any research in to this matter beyond what he "learned" [sic] from National Review On Line. He did so, bizarrely, on a listserve devoted to scholarly discussion of law and religion issues, in which serious scholars of the subject, such as Eugene Volokh (UCLA), Steven Gey (Florida State), and my colleagues Douglas Laycock and Lawrence Sager participate (which is how I learned of it).

Here is what Professor Eastman saw fit to write. And here is what I wrote to Professor Eastman in response (who didn't, shall we say, cope with it too well).

"Dear Professor Eastman:

"A colleague has forwarded to me your astonishing and irresponsible posting attacking me from the Law & Religion listserve. Your posting is astonishing on many levels:

"(1) You misrepresent as my 'key charge' what is in fact the conclusion of my critique of the Intelligent Design proponents, a critique which you nowhere reference or discuss. My detailed critique of Mr. VanDyke, which was the basis for my conclusion, is available by starting here--then follow the links therein.

"(2) You misquote the conclusion, as did National Review Online, which suggests that your only source for your smear job on me was the National Review. Is your practice to attack your professional colleagues based on reports by journalists? And are you aware that the author of the NRO article is one of Francis Beckwith's graduate students, though that is nowhere noted at the NRO site? Might that not warrant greater scholarly caution on your part in relying too heavily on his misrepresentation and selective representation of my views?

"(3) Why do you think a scholarly listserve devoted to law and religion issues is a forum in which to speculate about whether a professional colleague has defamed someone?

"(4) That you think the proponents of Intelligent Design have 'take[n] seriously Darwin's own methodology' suggests that you are spectacularly ignorant about the relevant science, and thus would do well to refrain from comment on these matters. As you are no doubt aware, the overwhelming majority of biologists, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and on and on, all reject your view of the matter.

"(5) Your reference to 'the tyrannical orthodoxy of the Darwinian crowd' confirms, I'm afraid, the suspicion that you are ignorant about the state of biological science. But let me pose this to you as a hypothetical. Suppose a Note appeared in the Harvard Law Review arguing that the constitution permits a state to enact a law that would bar Christian fundamentalists from serving as law professors; the author argues that this presents no Establishment or Free Exercise issues. The Note, by necessity, is shoddily documented, full of bold assertions, but inadequate support throughout. It is an incompetent piece of work; one might even call it a 'scholarly fraud.' (Let's suppose too, just for fun, that the Note is quickly picked up as ammunition by a political movement in dozens of states bent on barring Christian fundamentalists from serving as law professors).

"Suppose, in response, you called the Note incompetent and fraudulent in its scholarlship, and then others responded by mocking 'the tyrannical orthodoxy of the Religious Liberty crowd.' This would be an odd response, would it not, since views that are correct ought to be orthodox, and they ought to exercise the tyranny appropriate to truth, namely, a tyranny over falsehood and dishonesty. Of course, it would be odd, under those circumstances, to call it, pejoratively, 'tyranny' and 'orthodoxy,' would it not? But that is what you have done with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and the only explanation can be that you have no idea what the actual state of the relevant biological science is. In light of that, you might be better served by silence on these matters."

Philip Johnson might be well-served by the same advice. Alas...

On a tangential note, having perused the Law & Religion listserve now, I must confess I'm a bit perplexed why anyone serious sticks with it: it's not like Professor Chapman is the only not-very-bright ideologue running amok. For example, there is Professor Rick Duncan of the University of Nebraska College of Law, who apparently believes that every bit of pathological bigotry he endorses is legitimized by the fact that he has a religious justification for it. This led to an amusing exchange on the listserve, in which Professor Duncan responded to Professor Michael Newsome of Howard University in the following exchange:

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Duncan [mailto:nebraskalawprof at yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, April 09, 2004 11:23 AM
To: Law & Religion issues for Law Academics
Subject: RE: FYI An Interesting Case

--- Newsom Michael wrote:
> No, I didn't miss the point. The employee's religious beliefs prevent
> him from affirming the value of gay people. I call that homophobia.

It sounds like your ideological beliefs prevent you from affirming the value of Christians who believe that homsexuality is a serious moral disorder. I call that Christophobia and religious bigotry.

Rick Duncan


Professor Michael Newsom of Howard University then replied (Sun Apr 11 14:01:10 PDT 2004):

"Rick, you are so full of #@#$%!!!!! I am a Christian, but I don't buy into your right wing #!@#$%. (I also suspect that my Catholicism is something that you can't handle.) No one on this listserv is more ideological or bigoted than you are. Anybody who disagrees with your right wing views is a bigot. It's like the pot calling the kettle black. You are a hateful bigot and a disgrace!"


Professor Newsome later indicated that he had not intended to send this message to the entire listserve, but it strikes me as a fitting response.

Posted by Brian Leiter at June 17, 2004 10:34 AM

Farming origins gain 10,000 years


Humans made their first tentative steps towards farming 23,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.

Stone Age people in Israel collected the seeds of wild grasses some 10,000 years earlier than previously recognised, experts say.

These grasses included wild emmer wheat and barley, which were forerunners of the varieties grown today.

A US-Israeli team report their findings in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The evidence comes from a collection of 90,000 prehistoric plant remains dug up at Ohalo in the north of the country.

The Ohalo site was submerged in prehistoric times and left undisturbed until recent excavations by Ehud Weiss of Harvard University and his colleagues.

This low-oxygen environment beautifully preserved the charred plant remains deposited there in Stone Age times.

Archaeologists have also found huts, camp fires, a human grave and stone tools at the site.

Broad diet

Most of the evidence points to the Near East as the cradle of farming. Indeed, the principal plant foods eaten by the people at Ohalo appear to have been grasses, including the wild cereals emmer wheat and barley.

Grass remains also included a huge amount of small-grained wild grasses at Ohalo such as brome, foxtail and alkali grass. However, these small-grained wild grasses were to disappear from the human diet by about 13,000 ago.

Anthropologists think farming may have started when hunter-gatherer groups in South-West Asia were put under pressure by expanding human populations and a reduction in hunting territories.

This forced them to rely less heavily on hunting large hoofed animals like gazelle, fallow deer and wild cattle and broaden their diets to include small mammals, birds, fish and small grass seeds; the latter regarded as an essential first step towards agriculture.

These low-ranking foods are so-called because of the greater amount of work involved in catching them than the return from the food itself.

Investigations at Ohalo also show that the human diet was much broader during these Stone Age times than previously thought.

"We can say that such dietary breadth was never seen again in the Levant," the researchers write in their Proceedings paper.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/06/23 12:51:49 GMT


CSICOP Announcements: June 22, 2004

New "Science and the Media" Column

Evaluating the Impact of "The Day After Tomorrow": Can a Blockbuster Film Shape the Public's Understanding of a Science Controversy?


In his online column for this month, Matt Nisbet looks at the effects of Hollywood films on public opinion and science policy. Nisbet discusses the public relations wrangling between activists and corporate interests in reaction to films such as Jurassic Park and the recently released "The Day After Tomorrow." He then examines the issues of whether and to what extent scientists, politicians and the public are influenced by Hollywood blockbusters and their big-screen vision of science.

Matthew Nisbet (Ph.D., Cornell University) is assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at The Ohio State University. His research on the intersections between science, religion, media, and politics appears or is forthcoming in the journals Communication Research, the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Political Communication, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Science Communication.

A Call to Sponsor a Student at the Upcoming Skeptics Toolbox from Herb Masters

The Skeptics Toolbox
August 12-15, 2004
University of Oregon at Eugene

Dear Skeptics,

Over the last few years I have come to realize the importance of every Skeptic being able to talk about being a Skeptic. One of the absolute best resources for me to fine-tune my skills as a Skeptic is the Skeptics Toolbox in Oregon. We need to get more people versed in analyzing extraordinary claims and the extraordinary evidence that is often presented to support the claims.

I think that the Toolbox is a valuable resource that needs attendance by more people. To stimulate this I challenge the folks that return to the Toolbox to bring someone with them or to sponsor someone through a scholarship of some sort. I'm sure that CFI can find a student or Skeptic that could use some help to attend. I for one will bring one person with me next year or I will notify CFI by June that I will sponsor one person that they think will benefit from attending.

I hope that others who keep coming back will think about this and hopefully some will be able to make a similar commitment.

Peace and Pedals

Skeptically yours,

Herb Masters

- Learning from my blunders for over 50 years

For more information, visit http://ga1.org/ct/1dLj5hF1p7Rp/ or contact Barry Karr at skeptinq@aol.com.

To register visit: http://ga1.org/ct/17Lj5hF1p7RP/ or call 1-800-634-1610.

Visit the web address below to tell your friends about this.


If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal at:


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