NTS LogoSkeptical News for 24 July 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, July 24, 2004

New book: Why Intelligent Design Fails

From: Taner Edis edis@truman.edu

I want to announce my new book, Why Intelligent Design Fails, co-edited with Matt Young.

You may get the book for ~$32 including shipping by buying it from the publisher on-line (see below); the cost at Amazon and Barnes and Noble is $39.95. I'm hoping you will recommend that your local library and your university library order the book. Please feel free to forward this message (or pass on the URL for the book, http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/books/id/) to anyone you like.

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism

Edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis


Buy directly from Rutgers University Press on-line and get a 20 % discount and free shipping (see below).

"This book is a readable and devastating scientific analysis of intelligent design creationism. . . .unlike ID's proponents, these authors have done the real science that deflates the claims of intelligent design. Their work deserves the respect of everyone with a say in what is taught in public school science classes."
-- Barbara Forrest, co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design

"A terrific book that explores, fairly and openly, whether proponents of ID have any scientifically valid gadgets in their toolbox at all. . . .accessibly written throughout and an invaluable aid to teachers and scientists."
-- Kevin Padian, Professor and Curator, University of California, Berkeley, and President, National Center for Science Education

"'Intelligent-design theory' makes extravagant claims, but refuses to come up with even a small fraction of the evidence needed to sustain them. Why Intelligent Design Fails brings together clear and devastating arguments by true scientists, which will convince perceptive and fair-minded readers that 'intelligent design' belongs to the history of propaganda, not to the achievements of science."
-- Norman Levitt, Author of Prometheus Bedeviled: Science and the Contradictions of Contemporary Culture

Is Darwinian evolution established fact, or a dogma ready to be overtaken by the next scientific revolution? Today, a comparatively sophisticated group of Darwin-deniers have coalesced in the "intelligent-design" movement, arguing that the molecular machines in cells cannot be assembled by natural selection, and that the information in our universe cannot be generated by mindless processes. They have even claimed to detect design in complex structures by rigorous mathematical means.

In Why Intelligent Design Fails, a team of scientists call on their expertise in physics, biology, computer science, and archaeology to examine intelligent design. They take design claims at face value, without attempting to rule out the hypothesis of a designed universe just because of its supernatural overtones. They consistently find grandiose claims with no scientific merit. The questions intelligent-design advocates raise have largely already been answered, or else mainstream scientists have been making excellent progress on them with a Darwinian, naturalistic approach.

After an overview of intelligent design and its intellectual context, Why Intelligent Design Fails moves on to biological claims concerning common descent, and the arguments of Michael Behe. Contributors show how the notion of "irreducible complexity" does not challenge Darwinian evolution, explaining how mainstream science comfortably accounts for examples of biochemistry, bacterial flagella, and bird wings.

Intelligent-design advocates, however, have ambitions beyond overturning Darwinian thinking in biology. So the authors examine the information-based arguments of William Dembski. They discuss thermodynamics and self-organization, the ways human design is actually identified in fields such as forensic archaeology, how real complexity theory thoroughly undermines Dembski's notions, how research in machine intelligence indicates that intelligence itself is the product of chance and necessity, and the misunderstandings of the no-free-lunch theorems propagated by Dembski. The book closes with an investigation of cosmological fine-tuning arguments said to show that the universe was designed for humans, and reflections on the place of the intelligent-design movement at the fringes of mainstream science.

Intelligent design turns out to be a complete scientific mistake, but also a useful contrast highlighting the amazing power of Darwinian thinking and the wonder of a world filled with complexity without design.

The chapters are authored by Taner Edis, Matt Young, Gert Korthof, David Ussery, Ian Musgrave, Alan Gishlick, Niall Shanks, Istvan Karsai, Gary Hurd, Jeffrey Shallit, Wesley Elsberry, Mark Perakh, and Victor Stenger.

Buy at a 20 % discount and get free shipping from Rutgers University Press by ordering on-line! (note 4 underline characters)

Preface http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/books/id/preface.html

Reviews http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/books/id/reviews/

ISBN: 0-8135-3433-X 240 pp., illustrated with figures and tables.

Matt Young http://www.mines.edu/~mmyoung is the author of No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe http://www.1stBooks.com/bookview/5559. He is a former physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and now teaches physics at the Colorado School of Mines. Taner Edis http://www2.truman.edu/~edis/ is an assistant professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and the author of The Ghost in the Universe: God in the Light of Modern Science



Where's the other side of the story on Scientology?


Letters to the Editor
Published July 22, 2004

Re: Scientology's town, July 18, and Striving for mainstream, building connections, July 19.

What a sad day indeed when we see an award-winning paper like the St. Petersburg Times stoop to serving as a PR brochure for Scientology.

Where are the crack teams of investigative journalists who actually dig up the facts?

This series of articles on Scientology reflects simply the glossed-over pablum put out by this group and nothing more. One would only need visit their Web site to get the same warmed-over bunch of bunk. Why bother having a reporter regurgitate the church's own PR?

Where is the story about the "Lisa Clause," that was uncovered this past year, which the Times failed to cover? Major media elsewhere covered this heinous contract guaranteeing that Scientologists should expect the same treatment as Lisa McPherson, except now they will not be able to take legal action against their "church."

Where is the investigative report about the "church's" heavy use of private investigators to follow and harass former members in order to assure their silence?

Where is the coverage about Scientology's front groups, like Narconon, being exposed as a scam in headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle and covered by nationwide media? Every major news outlet in the country covered that story and the Times was conspicuous by its silence. Now your paper runs this puff piece glorifying this group with no mention of any of these recent hard news stories?

So many questions need to be answered by your paper before any of your readers will take you seriously ever again. Unless, of course, you expect us to buy the fact that a cult's takeover of a town is a warm fuzzy event that should be accepted with a shrug and a smile while you avoid reporting the other side of the story.

-- Patricia Greenway, Tampa

Everyone's town
Re: Scientology's town.

Thank you for the article in the Sunday paper. Truly, Clearwater is everyone's town. People in Clearwater are invited to the same Wednesday night talks of the Business Expansion Club by Marc DeEulio where they can learn how to better flourish and prosper, be able to buy property, open stores in Clearwater or accomplish whatever their own purposes dictate.

Scientology is a game where everyone wins. The end result is a town that is everyone's town, for everyone is making it and creating it to be a sane, safe, happy place to live.

-- Elyse Van Breemen, Clearwater

We're seeing the end of Clearwater
Re: Scientology.

"Overwhelming" is the first word that comes to mind when I read the articles about Scientology. But when I let what I read sink in, the words "shock and awe" are perhaps more appropriate. Also "unbelievable" and "sadness."

Overwhelming because that is what the cult wants to do, to overwhelm us with their presence. To shock and awe the community into thinking that no matter how we feel, it is too late to do anything about it. The intimidation factor is high. Sadness because we are seeing the end of Clearwater that the citizens have loved, and unbelievable because the officials have given in and let it happen. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

A few Scientologists have contacted me over the years because of a few letters I have written, and I told some of them that they are very good at what they do. They have accomplished what no other, that I am aware of, cult/business/organization has accomplished. To be legitimate in the eyes of the public and to be able to continue with their goals, which are to make as much money as possible and expansion.

They want taxpayer money for their programs such as Narconon, which is not approved by the AMA or FDA. In fact the AMA says it may even be harmful. They want to get at our kids with their teachings and "counseling" methods. The only good things the cult does is for public relations to benefit themselves in the form of recruiting more victims to increase its financial base. Real churches to not deprive people of their services if they do not get "donations." Thousands of dollars for training and auditing? Does that sound like a church?

The cult's goal was for Clearwater to be known as the first Scientology city in the world. Well, they've succeeded. Too bad. It is up to the citizens to decide if this is a good thing or not. Let them have downtown; they own it anyway. No more tax dollars for the cult's benefit. Let the politicians grovel for votes. Relocate to a new area for the citizens of Clearwater to invest in and enjoy.

-- David Rodman, Dunedin

Negative responses expected

Seeing a feature story on Scientology's hold on Clearwater made me think of one thing and one thing alone last Sunday: How many letters will the newspaper publish in the coming days that border on bigotry?

-- John Fontana, Palm Harbor

Creating their own private retreat
Re: Scientology's town.

I would like to start this letter by applauding Susan Latvala, Pinellas County commissioner, for officially changing the city of Clearwater to "Scientology City." Oh yes, it is there in black and white on page 10A in Part 1 of the never-ending saga of "As this city turns itty bitty."

I try to find humor in most things, but this is a subject I have gone to great lengths to research and have been increasingly convinced of Scientology's unredeeming qualities. I call them, the good, the bad and the ugly. Now depending on which side of the issue you are on, those adjectives cover both of us. This two-part article only reinforces my stance that the Scientologist organization has in fact, slowly but surely, taken over a community's epicenter and turned it into a corporate retreat.

Why in the world would a "church" buy so much property in any city's limits while claiming tax-exempt status? Who then pays for the shortfall from this tax exemption to the city?

Multiple choice: A) The attorneys, private investigators and public relations directors hired by Scientology to "safe point" and/or squelch the free speech of "suppressive persons" (nonbelievers). B) The droves of followers who visit this city to seek spiritual enlightenment. C) The taxpaying citizens of soon-to-be-renamed "Suckerville." I am guessing you all choose (C) because that is the correct answer.

If any of you out there have been following this issue over the years, you too have heard the same story from the Scientologists about how they are not buying up our town and how they want to be part of our community. Tact-101: Do not buy property in the city limits totaling more than $100-million and say you're not infringing on the community as a whole.

The fact that they have done this is of absolutely no surprise to anyone who would take the time to understand what it is they are all about. Why not buy county property? This way the tax burden is spread evenly. I am not saying the organization should not be allowed to express their "religious views." What I am saying is stop turning a community into a private retreat of your own.

My other favorite tidbits in the article are the lists of elected officials who actively participate and condone the activities of Scientology. Simply put, I have just completed my do-not-vote-for list for the next election. Hopefully, we can live together in this community, but as it stands someone is truly not playing a "fair game." Look it up.

-- P. Hodges, Clearwater

Look beyond "let's be friends'
Re: Scientology's town.

Robert Farley's "fluff" piece in the Sunday Times was a bit of a shock. Yes, for the most part, the information reported on the affects of the Scientology influx into the city of Clearwater were accurate. However, the overall "let's be friends" feel to the piece was a bit much. It's one thing to have local government officials roll over for this organization, but the St. Petersburg Times too?

There is a worldly wealth of information out there about Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Information that portrays a much darker and sinister organization. One recommended Internet site is

I would hope that future articles by the Times will more accurately present the complete history of the Church of Scientology - good and bad.

-- Steve Jenks, Largo

Buildings are a facade

Your front page articles on Scientology describe Scientologists getting chills on seeing the monster building Scientology built to dominate downtown Clearwater. If Scientologists get chills, you can't imagine what I experience. My husband spent eight years against this cult fighting for the family of Lisa McPherson, who was killed at the Fort Harrison Hotel. Rather than defend itself on the merits, for eight years it continuously attacked my husband professionally and personally, which took an emotional toll on my family.

These face-saving buildings, old and new, simply hide the real work of the cult. When the hotel is made open to the public, I wonder who will be the first to stay in Cabana Room 174, where Lisa suffered for the last 17 days of her life, while Scientology proclaimed she was there for "rest and relaxation."

Scientology now is the same as it was for the past 50 years. Don't be fooled by the way they "influence" politicians or its expensive new "church" facade. If you cross them simply by exposing the truth or expressing your opinion, you are then a target.

-- Lauren Dandar, St. Petersburg

A Clearwater encounter

I arrived in Florida in May. The first day I was here I rode my bike on the Pinellas Trail to St. Petersburg. The next day I decided to ride north, but I got lost.

The trail takes a sharp left at Drew Street and then a right in the middle of the block. I missed the sign for the right turn. When I got to the bay, I knew I was lost.

I saw the entrance to what appeared to be a large resort hotel on my right and a security guard standing on the hotel steps across the parking lot. I decided to ride over and ask him for directions.

As soon as I entered the grounds, everyone stopped and stared. I immediately knew I was unwelcome there. I stopped and dismounted. As the guard approached, he smiled. Thank God!

Almost immediately he recognized that I posed no security threat. I was just a poor old soul on a bike who was lost. He set me straight, and I was soon back on the trail heading home. But I couldn't help wondering: Who were all those people, what had I done to offend them and why were they all dressed in blue?

-- Bill Grab, Largo

Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times

Seismic research yields surprises Big Ones play prime role in easing strain


- David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
Friday, July 23, 2004

Long-buried evidence of earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault is providing scientists with surprising new insights about how big quakes affect the seismic hazards all Californians face.

A team of scientists digging trenches across an area of the San Andreas where major quakes have struck over many years now find it's the rare Big Ones, rather than the more frequent flurries of smaller temblors, that relieve most of the strain building up beneath California's unstable ground.

For years a CalTech seismology team led by geologist Kerry Sieh (pronounced "see") has been trenching across the San Andreas west of Bakersfield in a region called the Carrizo Plain. Now the group reports discovering evidence of six major earthquakes that abruptly diverted the course of streams and gullies by 20 feet or more over hundreds of years.

Twisted gullies

Digging through ancient sediments that have buried watercourses along Wallace Creek, 120 miles north of Los Angeles, Sieh and his former student Jing Liu, of the French Geophysics Institute in Paris, found fresh remains of the violent 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake, which struck with a magnitude of 7.9 just northwest of Parkfield in Monterey County and ruptured the ground southward for 225 miles.

Those remains showed that gullies downstream from Wallace Creek were twisted and offset by nearly 26 feet under the force of the quake, while earlier major quakes had distorted the course of other gullies by 24 feet or more, the scientists reported.

Taken together, Sieh and his colleagues say, each of five major ruptures of the ground along the San Andreas must have relieved at least 95 percent of the seismic strain that had built up inside the fault.

Relieving the pressure

Until now, many experts had believed that most of the strain that constantly builds up inside faults like the San Andreas is relieved little by little, through flurries of hundreds of smaller quakes with magnitudes as little as 3 or even smaller.

That's not so, say Kerry and his colleagues.

"So much for any notion that the section of the San Andreas nearest Los Angeles might relieve its stored strains by a flurry of hundreds of small earthquakes," Sieh said in a comment e-mailed from Indonesia, where he is studying that island nation's most recent destructive quakes.

The Sieh report is published in the current issue of Geology, the journal of the Geological Society of America.

Impact on Bay Area

Ross Stein and David Schwartz, geophysicists with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, agreed that Sieh's work holds importance for understanding the seismic behavior of the San Andreas in Northern California - - and particularly in the Bay Area, where the Hayward, Calaveras and Rodgers Creek faults also hold their own potential for disaster.

More trenching across the Bay Area's faults are needed to uncover the extent to which past major quakes have offset streambeds and add information on the frequency of those Big Ones, they said.

That might also help improve the precision of probability estimates for future major Bay Area quakes. The most recent probability estimates, issued five years ago by the Geological Survey and a large group of federal, state and university experts, set the odds at 70 percent that a 6.7 magnitude quake will strike somewhere in the Bay Area by 2030.

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

Page A - 2
URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/07/23/MNGDH7R6RT23.DTL

2004 San Francisco Chronicle

Evolution education update: Novelties abound

Novelties abound: a new Voice for Evolution, a new book on "intelligent design," and a new, glowing, review of another.


NCSE is pleased to announce a further addition to Voices for Evolution: a statement from the Association of Southeastern Biologists, reading in part: "[S]ince neither creationism nor intelligent design is a scientific endeavor, we oppose any attempts to insert them into the science curricula of any public schools. While religion has played and continues to play a significant role in many people's lives, and in schools' curricula, we object to any attempts to insert religious dogma, such as creationism or intelligent design, into science classes. Furthermore, we strongly oppose attempts to undermine or compromise the teaching of evolution, whether by eliminating the word 'evolution' from state science standards, requiring textbook disclaimers that misleadingly describe evolution as 'merely' a theory, or by encouraging scientifically unwarranted criticism of evolution under the guise of 'analysis,' 'objectivity,' 'balance,' or 'teaching the controversy.' Such tactics are clearly intended to leave the false impression that evolution is scientifically precarious and will thus deprive students of a sound scientific education."

For the full statement,visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=2 then click on Statements from Scientific and Scholarly Organizations, and then click on Association of Southeastern Biologists. And be sure to visit the ASB's web site: http://www.asb.appstate.edu/


In Why Intelligent Design Fails, edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis, a team of scientists call on their expertise in physics, biology, computer science, and archaeology to examine intelligent design. (The chapters are authored by Taner Edis, Matt Young, Gert Korthof, David Ussery, Ian Musgrave, Alan Gishlick, Niall Shanks, Istvan Karsai, Gary Hurd, Jeffrey Shallit, Wesley Elsberry, Mark Perakh, and Victor Stenger. Many of the authors are members of NCSE, and two -- Gishlick and Elsberry -- are NCSE staff.) They take design claims at face value, without attempting to rule out the hypothesis of a designed universe just because of its supernatural overtones. They consistently find grandiose claims with no scientific merit. Intelligent design turns out to be a complete scientific mistake, but also a useful contrast highlighting the amazing power of Darwinian thinking and the wonder of a world filled with complexity without design. NCSE President Kevin Padian describes Why Intelligent Design Fails as "[a] terrific book that explores, fairly and openly, whether proponents of ID have any scientifically valid gadgets in their toolbox at all. ... Accessibly written throughout and an invaluable aid to teachers and scientists."

To purchase Why Intelligent Design Fails directly from Rutgers University Press at a 20% discount, visit: http://press-nt.rutgers.edu/acatalog/____1147.html


Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross's Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004) received a glowing review from Karl Giberson, writing in Science & Theology News, for which it was the Editor's Choice of the July/August 2004 issue. Giberson writes, "Philosopher Barbara Forrest and biologist Paul R. Gross have joined forces to produce a remarkable analysis of the intelligent design movement. ... Their carefully documented account is the first full-length treatment of the political agenda of what Phillip Johnson, the acknowledged leader of ID, has called the 'Wedge.' ... Creationism's Trojan Horse, in the course of more than 300 well-documented pages, does exactly what the authors set out to do: uncover a sophisticated, well-funded, religiously driven program to get evolution out of the public schools. ... Creationism's Trojan Horse is an aggressive, but scholarly, polemic. Forrest and Gross' rhetoric makes it clear where they stand and they miss no opportunity to heap ridicule on the Wedge, all the while considering it with utmost seriousness."

For the full review in Science & Theology News, visit: http://www.stnews.org/books_id_0704.html

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


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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available.

Inquiring minds at center want science and reason to rule


Associated Press Writer

July 22, 2004, 6:06 PM EDT

AMHERST, N.Y. _ Display cases at the Center for Inquiry hold snake oil and other murky cure-alls, fortune-telling tools and a bug-eyed alien in repose, as it might have looked after its spaceship crash on a Roswell, N.M., farm in 1947.

Intriguing mysteries to some, to the center they are something else: byproducts of a public too willing to turn a blind eye to science.

For years the center and its determined hoax-busters have taken on crop circles and ghost sightings _ any and all things paranormal.

But equally important as proving what isn't true, chairman Paul Kurtz says, is proving what is. That's why, as the center undertakes a major four-year expansion, there is a special focus on getting the public to get science.

"The United States is the leading scientific and technological power on the planet, with amazing breakthroughs, yet the general public is basically illiterate about science," said Kurtz, 78, founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and the Council for Secular Humanism, both housed at the Center for Inquiry.

The dangers go beyond a tendency to fall for urban legends and Internet chain letters. More serious, Kurtz believes, is a willingness to embrace unproven alternative medical treatments and to reject advances like embryonic stem cell research, opposed by many on religious grounds.

"We're concerned with cultivating an appreciation for the scientific outlook," said Kurtz, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University at Buffalo. "I think the United States may very well fall behind in this kind of scientific race."

Kurtz, his 60 employees and a who's who of fellows that have included Carl Sagan, Betty Friedan and Andrei Sakharov, follow a motto of applying reason and science to all areas of human life.

Nothing is off limits: The center is about to launch the Journal for the Scientific Examination of Religion. More than a dozen other journals and magazines are already being published, with titles like the Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry and The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.

Neil Young, 20, was at the center this week, taking a class on the ethics and politics of punishment, forgiveness and reconciliation.

"There's no aspect of life in which critical thinking is not beneficial," said Young, an intern at the Center for Inquiry's Los Angeles location, one of a dozen far-flung branches that also include New York City and Florida, Germany, Mexico, Nepal and Nigeria.

Does he think the center can succeed with its "Science and the Public" efforts and interpret science for the masses?

"It's a laudable goal," said Young, while acknowledging it may be an uphill battle. "I mean, there are a lot of places where people actually want to teach creationism instead of evolution."

The center hopes to raise $26 million in the next four years to add on to its suburban Buffalo world headquarters.

Kurtz believes CSICOP's work, begun in 1976, has contributed to a real drop in belief in the paranormal.

South of Buffalo, at the spiritualist community Lily Dale, where resident psychics draw thousands of visitors for readings and advice each year, the center's work is taken in stride.

"We always welcome people to question because by questioning we're able to educate," Lily Dale President Sue Glasier said. "We believe in free will so people come with open minds and they come searching."

For Kurtz, what he calls the "planetary community" offers enough excitement - the exploration of galaxies, medical advances and emerging technologies. No need for science fiction or fantasy here.

"Who needs Harry Potter?" Kurtz laughs. "The world itself is really unbelievably enticing and mysterious and exhilarating when you investigate it."

On the Net:

Center for Inquiry: www.centerforinquiry.net

Copyright 2004, The Associated Press

World is 6,000 to 10,000 years old


Friday, July 23, 2004

I am writing in response to Randy Blymire's poor knowledge of what the Bible really says regarding creation. It is unfortunate that those who are not born-again Christians will never clearly understand what is written in the Bible. Only when someone becomes a Christian will it make sense.

First, let me say that creationism is not a myth, but a factual account of our history. God created this world between 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, not a million years ago. He sent his son to this world to sacrifice his life so that those of us who believe in and accept him will have an eternal home with him. This is all documented in the nonfiction best-seller, the Bible.

Second, Mr. Blymire, the Scripture you quoted as man being created before the animals is incorrect. If you reread Genesis 1, you will see it explains what God created, the animals and then the man. If you reread Genesis 2, you will see that it explains how the man was created in a more detailed account.

I feel that creationism alone should be taught in all schools, but since this will probably not happen then why not teach it together with evolution and let the students have a choice to believe what they want? Why is everyone so afraid of allowing this?

Jesus loves everybody after all, he created us. Jesus wants us all to be with him in eternity, but it is a personal choice, so if you do not choose to accept him as your personal savior then there is no hope for you. If you choose to accept Jesus into your earthly life, then you will have an eternal heavenly life with him.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

Call for freely available science


Current models for publishing science are "unsatisfactory", according to a report issued by the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee.

The report says the government has failed to act on the issue "in a coherent manner", and calls for radical changes in the publishing process.

It wants publicly funded research to be made freely available online by means of archived digital information banks.

At present, access is limited to those who can afford costly journal fees.

These subscriptions have risen dramatically in recent years, and amount to several hundred pounds a year for some titles.

But static or decreasing budgets for libraries mean many public reading institutions cannot afford to renew their subscriptions.

Raising standards

The MPs' report criticises some of the giants in scientific publishing, such as Reed Elsevier, for charging too much for their journals.

It advises the government to consider allocating funds to universities and other organisations to create online repositories where their research can be stored, and viewed by the public free of charge.

MPs also praised the new "open access" method of publishing, in which the costs of publication are met by the authors of the research, rather than the readers.

This could mean greater levels of scientific literacy amongst the general public, and a career boost for those academics involved, according to Professor Ian Gibson, chairman of the committee.

"The developing world would love this too, because they have to access this kind of scientific information as they build up their science and technology front," he told the BBC.

Issues of concern

However, "author pays" schemes have led to concerns that not-for-profit organisations, which rely on the revenue generated from their journal subscriptions, would struggle to keep themselves afloat.

There are also fears that research integrity could be compromised.

"We feel that there could be a conflict between the model that charges authors whose papers have been accepted, and the quality of material being accepted," said Arie Jongen, the chief executive officer of Science & Technology at Elsevier.

"Potentially, you could reduce your standards, accept more papers, and get more revenue."

But Vitek Tracz, chairman of the open-access pioneers Current Science Group, said of the report: "This is the point of no return; it is now time for the publishing model to change."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/07/20 18:10:56 GMT


Antarctic rock trapped atmosphere on Mars, scientists say


David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Scientists hunting for meteorites on the frozen glaciers of Antarctica have discovered a wrinkled black rock they say could only have originated from Mars -- quite probably blasted from the surface by an asteroid that crashed onto that planet millions of years ago.

The find could resurrect a major controversy that erupted eight years ago when a NASA research team contended that another Martian meteorite bore distinct evidence of fossil microbes. The dispute hasn't completely subsided.

The latest Martian object -- containing trapped samples of the Martian atmosphere -- was found in December in the Miller Range of the Transantarctic Mountains, about 466 miles from the South Pole, by a field party of explorers from Case Western Reserve University. Their expedition, called the U.S. Antarctic Meteorite Program, is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Smithsonian Institution.

As soon as a specialized group of experts had determined the rock's nature and origin, the find was reported Tuesday on the Internet, so scientists all over the world could request tiny samples of the meteorite to examine in their own laboratories. The rock has been dubbed MIL03346, for the Miller Range where it was found.

The Martian meteorite that caused the scientific furor in 1996 was named ALH 84001, for Antarctica's Allan Hills, where it originally had been discovered in 1884. In August 1996, David S. McKay and his colleagues at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston made the striking claim that chemical and microscopic signs of microbe-shaped objects inside the meteorite proved that life -- at least once -- must have existed on Mars.

When the news broke worldwide, President Bill Clinton was moved to declare: "If this discovery is confirmed, it will surely be one of the most stunning insights into our universe that science has ever uncovered."

By now, however, the scientific community is virtually unanimous in rejecting McKay's claims, insisting there are plenty of nonbiological ways that the strange shapes and chemistry of the Allen Hills meteorite could have fooled the McKay team.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, however, McKay told The Chronicle he is "extremely excited by the discovery" of the new Antarctic meteorite and is already preparing his application for a sample of the rock to seek more evidence of ancient Martian life.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History who have examined the new-found meteorite say it weighs about a pound and a half and appears to be a black crystalline material dotted with many small pits known as vugs -- the same sort of tiny pockmarks that one of the Mars rovers has found in the Martian rock that rover scientists are calling El Capitan.

The new-found Martian meteorite is one of a class of meteorites called Nakhlites, named for the site in Egypt where the first such rock was found in 1911. It appears to be a chunk of volcanic rock, perhaps as young as 1.5 billion years old.

Ralph Harvey, a geology professor at Case Western Reserve who heads the Antarctic meteorite hunters, said MIL03346 bears many signs proving it originated on the Martian surface, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Among them, he said in an interview, are its distinctive chemistry, including its ratio of manganese and iron and its ratio of hydrogen and deuterium, hydrogen's heavy isotope, that are typical of those elements on Mars.

But the clincher is that glassy bits of the meteorite contain tiny trapped samples of the Martian atmosphere itself, whose unique composition was firmly established by instruments aboard the two Mars Viking spacecraft that landed on the Red Planet in 1976. No other planet in the solar system contains precisely the same atmosphere, and that same gas has been found inside the Miller Range meteorite, Harvey said.

Harvey is one of the many scientists who has strongly contested the McKay group's insistence that the Allen Hills meteorite contained fossil microbes, and as he described the Miller Range rock, he insisted:

"There won't be any creepy-crawlies in this one either!"

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

U.S. Justice agency won't appeal Kennewick Man case


A spokesman says it will not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision backing scientific study
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The U.S. Justice Department has ended its fight over the remains of Kennewick Man, clearing the way for a group of scientists to study the 9,300-year-old skeleton.

Blain Rethmeier, a Justice Department spokesman, said Tuesday that the agency would not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 8-year-old case. In making the decision, the Justice Department joined Northwest tribes, which last week decided against appealing. The deadline for an appeal passed Monday.

In February, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of eight anthropologists who had sued the federal government in 1996 seeking to study the remains. The judges backed an earlier decision by Magistrate John Jelderks of the U.S. District Court in Portland.

Rob Roy Smith, a Seattle attorney who had represented the Umatilla, Nez Perce, Colville and Yakama tribes before the appeals court, said last week they had decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Umatilla's board of trustees voted Monday not to appeal, but said they would work with other tribes to amend the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which had been the focus of the lawsuit.

Armand Minthorn, a board member and former chairman of the law's national advisory committee, said the law "needs to be strengthened so that it fulfills Congress' original intent, which was to protect tribal burials and return sacred items to the tribes."

Minthorn also said the tribe also will try to protect "the Ancient One as best we can from repetitive destructive testing."

Alan L. Schneider, a Portland attorney representing the scientists, said his clients will be negotiating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the details of a study of Kennewick Man, which is being stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

The skeleton, about 85 percent complete, was found on the banks of the Columbia River on July 31, 1996. The eight anthropologists sued the Corps of Engineers after the agency decided to give the skeleton to the coalition of tribes for burial.

Richard L. Hill: 503-221-8238; richardhill@news.oregonian.com

Copyright 2004 Oregon Live.

Cosmologist Hawking Loses Black Hole Bet

[Readers: Contrast this with creationism. Ed.]


By Peter Griffiths

DUBLIN, Ireland (Reuters) - Cosmologist Stephen Hawking lost one of the most famous bets in scientific history Wednesday after he rejected the 1975 black hole theory that helped make his name.

The best-selling author of "A Brief History of Time" conceded that American physicist John Preskill was right to doubt his theory and gave him a baseball book as a prize.

"I am now ready to concede the bet," said Hawking, 62. "I offered him an encyclopedia of cricket, but John wouldn't be persuaded of (its) superiority."

Hawking, who has a crippling muscle disease and is confined to a wheelchair, accepted the bet in 1997 when Preskill refused to accept black holes permanently destroy everything they suck up.

For over 200 years, scientists have puzzled over black holes, which form when stars burn all their fuel and collapse, creating a huge gravitational pull.

Hawking now believes some material oozes out of them over billions of years through tiny irregularities in their surface.

He gave brief details of his U-turn last week and expanded on them at a conference in Dublin after making a last-minute request to speak.

"I always hoped that when Stephen conceded, there would be a witness -- this really exceeds my expectations," said Preskill, pointing at the banks of TV cameras in the packed auditorium.

He said he would miss the years of debate provided by the so-called "black hole information paradox," over whether material can escape.

Others said they would wait for Hawking's new theory to be published before making up their minds.

"This looks to me, on the face of it, to be a lovely argument," said Kip Thorne, a colleague of Preskill at the California Institute of Technology. "But I haven't seen all the details."

Hawking said his reworked theory ruled out his earlier belief that people could some day use black holes to travel to other universes.

"I am sorry to disappoint science fiction fans," he said through his distinctive computerized voicebox. "But if you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe but in a mangled form."

Hawking, a father of three and Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at 21 and told he had only a few years to live.

He defied doctors and went on to sell 10 million copies of his study of the universe, "A Brief History of Time."

He cemented his popular image with guest appearances on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Simpsons."

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Palm Reader Fails to Foretell Own Arrest


KENNER, La. - A palm reader arrested last week on allegations of trying to steal $5,000 from a Slidell woman has been accused of swindling $37,000 from a Kenner woman.

The second woman called police after reading of the arrest of Lecia Urich, also known as "Sister Jackson," police said Monday. Urich's attorney has contacted police to discuss her surrender, said Capt. Steve Caraway, a police spokesman.

Caraway said the customer, an 87-year-old woman, stopped with a relative at Urich's parlor in Kenner, which has a sign featuring a red hand, and asked for a palm reading several weeks ago.

Urich allegedly told the woman that she needed to have her money cleansed to shake a curse and offered to do it. The money was never returned, Caraway said.

In the other case, Slidell police accused Urich, also known as Lecia Myles, of trying to swindle a woman who asked for a palm reading at the Lacombe Crab Festival on July 5.

Police said the woman called them after Urich told her that she was under a curse and officers set up a sting operation at her business. Urich showed up with a banana and a bag of dirt and told the woman that she would bury the money to cleanse it, police said.

But as police were closing in, Urich gave the woman her money back and left. She was later booked with attempted theft and freed on $5,000 bond.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.timespicayune.com

Designer defends controversial prayer study


By Kimberly Roots

A California man whose name is on both a federal fraud indictment and a 2001 prayer study under review told Science & Theology News the two have nothing to do with each other.

The man, Daniel Wirth, 45, pled guilty in May to taking part in a conspiracy in which his friend Josepf Steven Horvath -- under the false identity of John Wayne Truelove, which Wirth created -- paid Wirth and others millions of dollars for alleged computer consulting for the former cable company Adelphia.

Wirth maintains that the work was performed and that the fees he received — which totalled more than $1 million — were legitimate.

Also legitimate, he said, are the results of a prayer study he published in 2001 with two Columbia University physicians. Following Wirth’s indictment, skeptical members of the medical community have called for an inquiry into the research.

In an exclusive interview last month, Wirth spoke with Science & Theology News about the "smear campaign" he said has discredited his work and left him feeling at times suicidal.

"The critics have used my situation to attack the whole field," he said. "I really think that is so unjust, but there’s nothing I can do about that."

Headlines in 2001

Tethered to his Capitola, Calif. home by an electronic bracelet around his ankle, Wirth is on modified house arrest while awaiting a Sept. 15 sentencing hearing. (Horvath remains in custody awaiting trial in Pennsylvania, where he is also charged with burning down his home.) He said he stands by his work, including a study of intercessory — or "distant" — prayer in which about 100 women at a Korean in vitro fertilization clinic were prayed for by Christian groups and had double the pregnancy rate of women who were not prayed for. The women were not told if someone was praying for them or not.

The results of the study, published in the September 2001 issue of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, were heralded by some as the most concrete evidence to date that prayer could affect health. Although Wirth holds a master’s degree in parapsychology and a law degree, the study’s punch came from its two other participants and their esteemed affiliation: Drs. Kwang Cha and Rogerio Lobo of Columbia University.

Wirth said he met Cha at a conference between 1999 and 2000, but couldn’t recall the name of the conference when asked. The two men talked about prayer studies, Wirth said, and soon Wirth was designing a study to be carried out in a fertility clinic Cha ran in Seoul. Lobo signed on later to review the results.

"It’s a really great design from a strictly experimental perspective," Wirth said. "The rotational aspect of different prayer groups, not so much the number, but the intensity of the prayer groups, is crucial — creating almost what I like to term a ‘radiant field effect,’ a continual, nonstop, around-the-clock prayer effect."

Slipping through the cracks or changing the standards?

That same design, however, raised the first red flags for some of the study’s critics. Among them is Dr. Bruce Flamm, an obstetrician at the University of California, Irvine, who has written about the study for Web sites including Skeptic.com.

"The methods section was hopelessly flawed," Flamm said. "There were various levels of intertwining groups praying for all types of different outcomes. It just became bewildering."

He added that if Cha, Lobo and Wirth did achieve the results reported, "they would have written one of the most important papers in the history of medicine."

Flamm said he contacted the journal, Wirth, Cha and Lobo with his questions. He said a representative from the journal told him that there would be no corrections published, although the article was removed from its Web site in early June. The journal’s managing editor, Donna Kessel, and Lobo did not return numerous calls for comment. Attempts to reach Cha, who has left Columbia and runs fertility clinics in Los Angeles and Seoul, were unsuccessful.

Wirth said he, Cha and Lobo shopped the study to larger publications like The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, but were turned down because of the subject matter.

"They said, ‘Great design, not of interest to our readers,’" Wirth said. "There wasn’t much we could do about that."

Both The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association declined to comment, citing their publications’ policies of confidentiality regarding rejected articles.

"How in the world did this study make it through peer review in a peer-reviewed medical journal?" Flamm asked.

The question taps into one of the most basic tenets of scientific research: reproducibility. If other scientists can’t replicate results, a study is generally considered suspect. But Wirth rejects that idea.

"I don’t think the standard of reproducibility should be the gold standard," he said, and "intangibles" make prayer study "a tough field. Due to the nature of the phenomenon, we’re going to get varying effects."

He added: "I’m almost at the other end, where I’ve come to the realization that we’re not going to be able to show these effects all the time, and that’s okay. That still can’t negate the profound effect that love and compassion have in people’s lives." Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach, dean of the faculty of medicine at Columbia, told The Scientist last month that a university committee will examine the research and may take action.

The 2001 study was one of Wirth’s several forays into prayer research. In 1990, he conducted an alternative medicine experiment in which subjects received minor wounds on their shoulders; some received therapeutic touch and others did not. One of the "physicians" involved in the study, according to a federal indictment, was Dr. James Royce — an alias for Horvath, who was later convicted on the charge of unlawful human experimentation in Palo Alto, Calif.

According to the federal indictment, Wirth and Horvath met at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, Calif., a small adult-education school. As a graduate student, Horvath was also associated with Wirth’s study in which healers worked with salamanders whose limbs had been amputated in an effort to see how quickly they grew back.

"He participated, helping us set up tanks and keep the salamanders alive. I didn’t see any problem with including him in the mix," Wirth said. "The critics played it up as though he were involved in the study, like it was some ghoulish, perverse, weird, warped exploration."

William Arbuckle III, Wirth’s lawyer, said Horvath’s role in Wirth’s work led the government to believe the two men had a longstanding history of fraud.

On the other hand, "I think it just proves they were friends," Arbuckle said.

A different kind of radiating effect

Wirth called himself a "lightning rod" that critics of prayer studies have used to attack the field as a whole. Other researchers, including Science & Theology News’ editor-in-chief Harold G. Koenig and Georgetown University internist Dale Matthews, have said they worry about the study’s impact on the rest of prayer research.

"These studies are difficult to do, particularly in a field that is already clouded with some suspicion from mainstream science," said Matthews, whose in-person prayer study featured an intercessory component that showed no effect. "More studies need to be done, but obviously studies need to be done in the best scientific tradition."

Wirth said he hopes to continue to work in the field, but acknowledges that few people will want his name associated with their research. His recent attempts to contact Cha and Lobo have gone unanswered, and he said he relies on the support of friends and family to sustain him until his sentencing hearing Sept. 14. He faces up to five years in prison, fewer if the judge determines that his Adelphia contracts were valid.

"I’ve always taken a kind of pioneering, maverick perspective," he said. "But now I’m going to have to work behind the scenes, sharing what I know."

Kimberly Roots is associate editor of Science & Theology News. Editorial interns Dana Goblaskas and Jennifer Woods contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used in this report.

Do you have an opinion on this story? Send your thoughts to letters@stnews.org.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Striving for mainstream, building new connections


A local lawyer and political consultant are hired to help break down barriers for Scientology.

By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published July 19, 2004

It was a sticky decision and everyone in the room knew it.

Bennetta Slaughter, the charismatic businesswoman whose tireless committee work had impressed so many, was being nominated to the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

"Do we really want one on the board?" several asked.

By "one" they meant: a Scientologist.

Board members worried that the chamber's rank and file might quit in protest. One member had resigned in a huff two years earlier when chamber leader Ed Armstrong, a lawyer, took on the Church of Scientology as a client.

After several tense moments, one board member spoke up - Armstrong.

"Think about what you're thinking in your heart," he pleaded, his words still recalled vividly by chamber president Mike Meidel.

"Think if there is a legitimate reason for opposing her or if it's only because of religion. Think about that."

Armstrong, who is not a Scientologist, reminded his board colleagues - 44 of Clearwater's business elite - that the IRS had granted Scientology tax-exempt status in 1993. This was 2001.

Vote your conscience, he urged.

Slaughter was voted in handily. No chamber members defected. Now, so many Scientologists are active in the chamber, their church ties no longer are openly questioned, Meidel said.

For the Church of Scientology, it was yet another step in its long march toward acceptance in Clearwater. It also was another successful negotiation by the deft Armstrong, a noted real estate lawyer who, along with former political consultant Mary Repper, opened many doors for the church.

Hired as consultants, the pair worked independently and often behind the scenes, using their connections and influence to help Scientologists forge relationships with political and business leaders.

Increasingly, members of the long embattled and mistrusted Scientology community are finding a place at the table.

Some of the credit goes to a little-known Scientology public relations strategy called "safe pointing."

And some goes to Armstrong and Repper, who helped make it happen.

The Armstrong method

The church's first hire was Armstrong, one of Clearwater's favorite sons.

Once a star pitcher at Clearwater and Dunedin high schools, Armstrong earned a full ride to the University of Maryland, and after law school at Vanderbilt returned to his hometown. He became much more than a successful real estate lawyer. His deep connections and political savvy put him on the speed dial of office holders at Clearwater City Hall and the Pinellas Courthouse.

When Scientology hired Armstrong and his firm, Johnson Blakely Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns, one of the most respected in Clearwater, in 1999, the church recognized it was hiring "a local institution," church spokesman Ben Shaw recalls.

"It brings a degree of respectability if you are seen to be a friend of those people," Shaw said. "Ed is well connected. I think that does go a long way."

The community raised a collective eyebrow, knowing Armstrong could deliver access to many of the most powerful people in Pinellas.

Armstrong, 47, shrugs. "That's why most of my clients hire me," he says.

Former Clearwater Assistant City Manager Bob Keller puts it this way: "I think Ed Armstrong has done two things. He turned parts of the relationship between the church and the city into a business deal. He would make sure the church was dealt with fairly and squarely. No. 2, he makes it (interacting with Scientologists) acceptable among the opinion leaders. "If Ed could do it, so can I.' "

Armstrong didn't come cheap. The church will say only that it pays him his standard rate, which other lawyers put at about $400 an hour.

His behind-the-scenes work is part of the "safe pointing" strategy. Wooing opinion leaders is a community relations tactic outlined by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Shaw describes a "safe point" as "an environment where one is known and understood and where friendly relationships have been established with the community and thus one is "safe' to conduct one's affairs free from prejudice and misunderstanding."

An epitomizing event was the church party on Jan. 26, 2002, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Fort Harrison Hotel. The guest list was a who's who of Pinellas' political and power elite. Since then, politicians have been much more comfortable attending various church events.

State Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and state Sens. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and Dennis Jones of Seminole sat through a seminar last fall about a Hubbard-inspired crime and drug rehabilitation project.

Fasano, City Council member Hoyt Hamilton and Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne helped kick off the church's Christmas-themed Winter Wonderland last December. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judges Linda Allan and Linda Babb toured, and later praised, the Narconon drug treatment program based on Hubbard teachings.

Political candidates quickly learn that Scientologists can be willing campaign contributors and represent a sizable voter bloc.

Civic leaders have found Scientologists to be not only joiners but big spenders on charitable causes.

The church was one of 30 "gold level" contributors pledging at least $200,000 to Tampa's failed bid to land the 2012 Olympics. Last year, the church paid $50,000 to become a charter member of - and the only church in - the Tampa Bay Partnership.

Individual Scientologists contributed to Clearwater's YMCA, new public library and Marine Aquarium.

Scientologists run blood drives, participate in Paint Your Heart Out and participate on boards such as the Clearwater Jazz Holiday and Citizens for a Better Clearwater.

It's time, Armstrong says, for folks to become more accepting.

"I think the community needs to be more tolerant of people with different racial, religious beliefs and lifestyle choices," he said. "I think there is bigotry in the city against the Church of Scientology."

The matchmaker

As Madonna's Material Girl blared, state Rep. Kim Berfield of Clearwater made a splashy entrance in a black ensemble. She strutted down the runway, stopped and twirled.

Minutes later, Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, modeling a hot pink party dress and a feather boa, posed before groupings of tables.

The event: a $50-a-plate fashion show organized by the Clearwater Community Volunteers, a nonprofit organization founded by Scientologists. It raised $19,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs and the church's Winter Wonderland.

Other models included the wives of Clearwater Vice Mayor Frank Hibbard, Chief Pinellas Sheriff's Deputy Jim Coats and Pinellas Public Defender Robert Dillinger.

Out came Repper in a black dress, dancing to Hot Stuff. The mastermind of scores of successful political campaigns on both sides of the bay, Repper retired from that work last year and was hired by the church as a community relations consultant.

Many have wondered, as Clearwater's Scientology community grew: Have Scientologists been elected to public office?

The answer is no.

But as the fashion show attests, there are plenty of powerful politicians Scientologists can rely on.

And often Repper was the matchmaker.

For more than two decades, Repper, 61, of Clearwater, was the go-to campaign chair for many politicians. She led the campaigns of most Clearwater City Council members and Pinellas county commissioners, many judges, the Pinellas sheriff, public defender and supervisor of elections. She estimates having run more than 100 campaigns.

For years, she had this advice for clients when it came to the Church of Scientology: Stay away. Political suicide.

Repper's epiphany came years ago after a Scientologist friend related how frustrated and confused she was by the hostility in the community toward the church.

Repper, an advocate for such causes as women's rights, felt like a hypocrite. She began telling candidates, "If you feel okay with it (support from Scientologists) you should do it."

The church had solicited her services for years, but she saw a potential conflict of interest while actively running campaigns.

For years, Scientologists have opposed and supported candidates, especially in Clearwater. Mayor Brian Aungst remembers meeting with church member Slaughter in 1999 during his campaign to unseat then-Mayor Rita Garvey, an outspoken church critic. Aungst said Slaughter told him she could galvanize Scientologists to support him and raise as much as $60,000. But Aungst declined, noting that a previous mayoral candidate lost to Garvey after it was revealed he had heavy support from Scientologists.

"I said . . . the idea is to get elected not to see how much money you can raise and get defeated," Aungst said.

Vice Mayor Hibbard recalls having to choose between Slaughter and his pastor, Bill Anderson of Calvary Baptist Church, a longtime critic of Scientology. Both ended up on his host committee. One had to go. He sided with his pastor. Slaughter was angry, he said, when he broke the news.

Scientologists no longer are the strangest of bedfellows, Repper and others say. Nor is it such a political liability to take money from them. Many candidates do, she says.

Latvala, one of the first and most prominent political leaders to attend church events, says that while a stigma still surrounds the church, Scientologists have proven to be good community citizens.

"They get the credit," Latvala said, "whether people want to give it to them or not, for beautifying and redeveloping some very ugly areas."

In the past year, Repper has used Scientology's celebrities to form bonds. She hosted dinner parties with Tom Cruise and an array of elected officials including Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. And she arranged for John Travolta to visit Tampa's Italian Club.

What does all this "safe pointing" accomplish?

"It is helpful to have people who will take your phone call," Repper explains.

- Staff writer Jennifer Farrell contributed to this report. Robert Farley can be reached at 727 445-4159 or farley@sptimes.com

Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times

My search for the 'secret' Scientology vault


Eureka Times-Standard

By James Tressler The Times-Standard

Monday, July 19, 2004 -

There's an old Humboldt County map hanging in the newsroom that has intrigued me ever since I came to work for the paper.

Actually not so much the map, but a spot on the map near Petrolia someone marked "Secret Scientology Vault." Like most people, my only knowledge of scientology is that supposedly celebs like Tom Cruise and John Travolta dabble in it.

But did the vault actually exist, or was it just an old newsroom prank? If so, why would it be on some remote hill in Humboldt County?

Turns out it does -- and, not to burst the bubble -- it's really not that much of a secret after all.

My search started, the way all quests do nowadays, with Google. Using the key words "Scientology vault Humboldt County," I yielded about seven entries. One that caught my eye was an Associated Press article dated fall 1992 -- "Neighbors suspicious of Scientology's Steel Vault." The article was written around the time the vault was being permitted.

Subsequent queries confirmed that the vault sits on a huge ranch owned by the Church of Spiritual Technology. Because of security concerns voiced by church spokeswoman Jane McNairn, I won't disclose exactly where the property is located.

Valued at more than $8 million, the vault was built to store the writings of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, author of books such as "Dianetics." Hubbard, also a science fiction writer, once reportedly said, "If you want to get rich, invent a religion."

The pipe-shaped vault is as wide and high as the cabin of a Boeing 747, but more than 140 feet longer than one of the jumbo jets. The vault was designed to last 1,000 years and withstand any act short of a direct hit by a nuclear bomb.

Inside the vault the writings of Hubbard are preserved on a specially treated paper designed to last a millennium, while his lectures are stored on gold-plated compact discs.

"It was very interesting -- obviously a well-engineered and thought-out facility," said Sheriff Gary Philp, one of the few people who's actually been inside the vault. Philp was invited by the church a few years back to tour the vault, an invitation Philp said the church made in part to dispel rumors that anything illegal or sinister was happening on the property.

"It's fascinating," Philp said. "A lot of work went into preserving the items they want kept there."

Armed with a map, a pack of smokes and a digital camera, I headed out this past week in search of the "secret" vault, filled with excitement as if I were looking for the treasure of the Sierra Madre, or perhaps the Dead Sea scrolls.

The hour-long drive took me out to the Lost Coast, that misty, roaming land that looks like an abandoned set from "Lord of the Rings." I arrived in Petrolia and, hoping for help, went into the general store. The clerk, a sunny-dispositioned woman named Trish, dropped her polite smile when I asked directions.

"That's a private road," she said.

I laid my cards out, explaining who I was and what I wanted. After a few minutes, she took my name and number and said she'd pass it along to the church's caretaker, who lives on the property.

I suspected the call would never come -- and it never did. So I went out myself and -- to make a long story short -- eventually found the property. Not the vault itself, which is located somewhere deep within the 3,600-acre ranch. Freedom of the press doesn't give me the right to trespass. So I had to settle for driving up to the gate and taking a desultory picture of the "No Trespassing" sign.

Driving back to Eureka, I was disappointed. True, I'd found the vault, or at least its general location. As I drove, I waited for deep or profound thoughts to come into my head, answers to questions, as if I'd been on a quest for the Holy Grail or something. But no thoughts came into my head, except a fragment of an old song, "Never wonder why everyone's dead/never wonder about the voices in your head/Never try to understand the terrible face of summer."

Looking back, I had to be a bit stupid, or at least careless, to even look for the place. The Lost Coast doesn't get its nickname for nothing. It's a wild, mostly uninhabited place. Help could be hard to find if the car broke down on one of its lonely stretches.

When I was driving down one back road in search of the place, it occurred to me that I could be lost and wandering unawares onto some private pot grow in the hills, where some guy with a gun is waiting to blow my head off. It was a frightening moment.

So if you've got a notion to grab some buddies and a six-pack and go browsing the bushes with the ridiculous idea of running into Tom Cruise leading some backwoods ceremony, I can only tell you this -- it's a long way to go for very little.

Science and Reason Are Taking a Back Seat to Entertainment


July 2004

Dear Friends of the Skeptical Inquirer and the Center for Inquiry:

Now more then ever, our shared defense of science, reason, and freedom of inquiry is in danger!

Just when we started to feel we had made real progress in challenging pseudoscience and paranormal claims, we find ourselves countering disinformation such as the depiction of the Shroud or Turin in the recent PBS series Secrets of the Dead. This series ignored the massive amount of compelling evidence that our own Joe Nickell compiled (Skeptical Inquirer July/August 2004). Is it a coincidence that this came shortly after the release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ?

Or what about last year's Solano, California, crop circles case--where even after four teenagers admitted to the hoax, the media, working with a pro-paranormal organization, claimed that these crop circles were too sophisticated to have been done by the teen hoaxers. A press release put out by CSICOP challenged the claims calling them "blatant mystery mongering." If CSICOP was not here to challenge these claims, we ask, "who else"?

One of the most appalling examples of media bias happens regularly on the "Larry King Live" show on CNN, where King, who has won many journalism awards, uses irresponsible presentation of paranormal topics such as the ability to speak to the dead - just to increase the show's ratings. When Paul Kurtz and Joe Nickell brought this imbalanced reporting to the producer's attention the response was, "Everybody knows it's entertainment." We doubt that!

These are only three examples of the work that goes on every day at CSICOP and the Center for Inquiry. As you know, it takes ongoing support through our subscriptions and our donors to allow us to be on the forefront of the most current issues. Although we are proud of our successes, our work seems to be constantly tested by new pseudoscience claims publicized by the media. Combine the influence of the media in our daily lives with the decline of science education in the United States, and you find a public that is vulnerable to superstitions and faulty logic, and is lacking in the ability to think critically. This environment makes our work even more important! Please consider a donation today.

CSICOP has hosted many events such as the upcoming World Skeptics Congress "Solving Mysteries" in Venice, Italy in October 2004 and the increasingly popular "Skeptics Toolbox" at the University of Oregon in August. (Check out our website - http://ga1.org/ct/b7Lj5hF1N1GJ/ - for more information). Our educational outreach activities are expanding through our developing Centers for Inquiry throughout the United States and in places like Peru, Argentina, and Africa where people are eager to learn about the skeptical movement. Our new Spanish language magazine for science and skepticism Pensar (To Think) is now being sold on newsstands in both Argentina and Costa Rica.

Web-based learning is an important component in our public education mission. Science teachers and the public can get resources and teaching tools at http://ga1.org/ct/bpLj5hF1N1GD/, http://ga1.org/ct/bdLj5hF1N1G-/, and http://ga1.org/ct/61Lj5hF1N1GK/, a virtual skeptical museum of the paranormal.

The trend towards suppressing the freedom to inquire is increasing. CFI and CSICOP are tackling vital issues on many fronts. But as you can well imagine, it takes resources to continue the battle. A drop in operational support imperils the activities of the Center for Inquiry. A year ago we embarked on a very ambitious $26.25 million four year New Future Fund campaign. Fifteen months into that drive we are short of reaching even one fourth of that goal. If you have given, please consider more. If you are thinking about giving, please give now. And if you have not thought about donating, please consider it seriously.

Thank you!

Barry Karr
Executive Director for the Center for Inquiry and CSICOP

Monday, July 19, 2004

Scientology's town


As Scientologists launch unprecedented expansion, downtown Clearwater's identity is at stake. A two-part special report

By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published July 18, 2004

CLEARWATER - The room is packed with computer consultants, real estate agents, home financing professionals, Web site designers, accountants, hairstylists, artists, interior designers.

All based in Clearwater. All Scientologists.

Guest speaker Mark DeEulio bursts in.

"How are you doing?" he booms.

"Great!" comes an enthusiastic chorus.

"Who could use more money?" DeEulio teases.

Without pause, he launches into the basics of financial planning - as taught by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

It is the weekly meeting of the Clearwater chapter of the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises, business people using Hubbard's business techniques. Akin to a chamber of commerce for Scientologists, WISE members network, recruit employees, share business tips and hear lectures on topics such as marketing.

And they refine ideas for new businesses for downtown Clearwater.

For Scientologists, opening a business is "just as natural . . . as taking a shower and putting their shoes on," said WISE's Tampa Bay area president, Bud Reichel.

In Clearwater, the shoes fit especially well.

Scientologists now own more than 200 shops, restaurants, service outlets and small businesses in and around Clearwater's downtown. Many employ fellow Scientologists. WISE's Clearwater membership stands at 687, more than triple what it was five years ago.

More growth is coming. Scientologists will open twice as many businesses in the next five years, Reichel predicts. As many as 900 condos and townhouses are to be developed downtown, mostly by Scientologists.

A group of Scientologists from Mexico plans a project that could bring hundreds of condos to prime downtown property bought last year for $9.8-million.

Just two blocks away, a Scientologist will break ground this summer on a 146-unit, 15-story condo tower. Church members also will build dozens of townhomes downtown.

For Clearwater, it's an unprecedented wave of private-sector investment by entrepreneurial Scientologists. And it's taking root alongside the numerous high-profile properties of the expansion-minded Church of Scientology, which since 1976 has made Clearwater its worldwide spiritual headquarters.

Already the largest property owner downtown, the church next year will open its $50-million Flag Building, sitting on a full city block across from the church's Clearwater icon, the Fort Harrison Hotel.

About 6,850 Scientology followers have moved to the Clearwater area, joining the church's 1,400 uniformed employees. It's a community that has grown 20 percent per year in the past decade, according to church tallies.

Business expansion. New housing. Population growth. Scientologists have emerged as leading stakeholders in a tired downtown.

After 28 years, Scientologists are on the brink of creating what amounts to a Scientology city in Clearwater's downtown core.

'It's their town'

Church officials scoff at the suggestion that they have a formal plan to dominate Clearwater. They insist they want diversity.

"I don't see any shift in balance," said church spokesman Ben Shaw. He called the church's growth natural.

As for Scientology overwhelming the downtown mix, Shaw said, "I don't know that that will happen any time in the near future."

But Scientologists don't plan to slow down, Shaw said.

In a series of rare interviews, Scientologists spoke candidly, and excitedly, with the St. Petersburg Times about their business plans and how other church members, drawn by a new comfort level in Clearwater, will expand the Scientology community.

"You can't separate Salt Lake City and the Mormons, and you can't separate Clearwater and Scientology," said Ray Cassano, a Scientologist whose 146-unit downtown condo tower will rise next door to the historic post office. "We may be a bigger presence here because Clearwater is a smaller city."

Many agree.

"It's their town," said lawyer Lou Kwall, whose downtown office afforded a front row seat to watch the church evolve through the decades. "The reality is Scientology is much more in charge of downtown Clearwater than anyone ever anticipated it would be."

Here's the critical question, Kwall said: "Are people like me going to stay in downtown Clearwater or will they be run off by an overwhelming number of Scientologists?" Kwall, for one, says he's staying.

Also critical is Clearwater's bridge to the beach. Once the new Memorial Causeway is finished, it will divert traffic from the commercial core. Many see downtown heading in one of two directions. It could ride the wave of New Urbanism and become another Hyde Park, or it could become a Scientology campus.

"We'll have Clearwater Beach, Scientology City and Countryside," said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala. She is one of a growing number of politicians who are friendly to the church, but a one-dimensional downtown, she says, is "not a good mix."

A Scientology identity would dismay many in Clearwater, where a crush of uniformed church staffers walk the streets and often are targets of whispers and jokes. The church's own research last year determined that many in Pinellas consider Scientology a cult, mysterious and secretive. Most also said they know little about the church, other than John Travolta is a member.

In Clearwater, branding someone a Scientologist is "how people in the old guard of the city slander you," says Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst. He and his wife at times have needed to fend off rumors that they are Scientologists.

Aungst, a public supporter of many church programs and efforts, thinks talk of a Scientology-dominated downtown is overblown.

"If the church wanted to be dominant, they could buy the whole city up right now," Aungst said. "They're not that stupid. If they try to make this L. Ron Hubbard Town with some kind of a big theme, it'll be a disaster. And they know that, because people will not accept that."

An architect signs on

Clearwater architect Steve Klar doesn't know how they got his name, but a few years ago church officials called to see if he was interested in designing an expansion of Scientology's waterfront Sandcastle retreat, which offers advanced church counseling.

What would people think if he took the job?

At the first meeting with church officials, he took the direct approach.

"I'm nervous about this," he told them. "Quite frankly, your PR sucks. If I believe everything I read in the newspaper, I shouldn't be here."

He ran through a list of questions. They patiently answered.

Then they had questions for him.

"Any of your employees have a DUI? Any of them have a drug habit? Can I have your driver's license number to run a background check on you?"

Klar took the job, and has since developed a good working relationship. He is the architect of record for the massive new Flag Building.

Having lived and worked in downtown Clearwater for 20 years, Klar says it comes down to this: "Today, if you are downtown, who else are you going to work for?"

1,000 a year follow Flag

Aside from the few shops selling Hubbard texts and those with his likeness on the walls, businesses owned by Scientologists look like any other.

But in the heart of downtown - the four blocks of Cleveland Street, between Osceola and Myrtle avenues - 25 percent of the 106 licensed businesses are owned by Scientologists, according to WISE. Dozens of other Scientologist-owned (and property tax-paying) businesses are within walking distance.

That roster of commercial activity, along with the church's many properties and functions, creates an economic engine producing financial opportunities for Scientologists and non-Scientologists alike.

Scientologist Dwight Matheny's ArtGlass Studios on Missouri Avenue has eight employees; half are Scientologists. He moved to Clearwater from Atlanta eight years ago to be closer to Flag, shorthand for "Flag Service Organization," the church's official name in Clearwater.

Every year, almost 1,000 Scientologists make the same decision. They find a community with Scientology schools, business groups and charities, Boy Scout troops and running clubs.

"People are more comfortable associating with people who have similar interests," said Matheny, 50. "There's a whole (Scientology) community here."

Matheny took a pioneering step for Scientology when downtown property owners elected him to the Downtown Development Board, which promotes a more vibrant and active downtown. He is now chairman of the seven-member board.

Scientologists are members of 98 civic organizations and clubs, church representatives proudly point out.

Matheny grew his business using Hubbard's business principles, which address everything from employee relations to customer service and management. Hubbard preached exhaustive market research, and Scientologists constantly survey customers about wants and needs. A Scientologist business owner also will display charts of staffer performance. On a wall of Matheny's shop is a Hubbard-conceived business organizational chart - complete with titles, responsibilities, department and overall goals.

He echoes the call for a diverse business mix downtown. But if non-Scientologists don't step forward, Matheny said, downtown surely will become more Scientology-influenced by default.

The business environment for Scientologists has improved, Matheny said, because the city government and civic leaders softened their attitudes toward the church.

Not long ago, he said, "the city wanted nothing to do with the church, and the church wanted nothing to do with the city."

From the beginning, Clearwater had a strained relationship with the mysterious and sometimes feared Scientologists. In late 1975, the church covertly bought the then-vacant Fort Harrison Hotel under an assumed name. Then, in 1977, church documents seized by the FBI in Washington and Los Angeles revealed a plan to "take control" of Clearwater.

Scientology officials also had plotted, the documents showed, to discredit their Clearwater "enemies" - political figures, local police and newspaper editors and reporters.

In 1982, the city government held hearings to explore allegations that the church was a cult. The church cried "witch hunt."

The hearings led to a city ordinance regulating solicitations by charities, but the courts later tossed it out, saying it showed "a widespread political movement . . . intent on driving Scientology from Clearwater."

The 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who in her last 17 days was cared for by church staffers, again put the church on the defensive. Criminal charges were pursued against the church but were later dropped. A much-publicized wrongful-death suit made headlines for seven years until it was settled in May.

Until just a few years ago, city police routinely gave new city officials two-hour briefings summarizing its 14-year investigation into the church, which resulted in no charges.

The healing power of time, plus many community efforts by Scientologists, have made relationships with City Hall and numerous politicians comfortable.

But that feeling has not carried through to the general population.

"They don't know that (the stereotype) has been burst," Matheny said. "The question is: When does the public find out, now or 10 years from now?"

One of the fruits of the church's working relationship with the city sits at Fort Harrison Avenue and Cleveland Street: Starbucks.

One of the few national chains with an outlet downtown, Starbucks was recruited by a tag team of church and city officials. The deal was sealed once the church agreed that Starbucks could sell coffee at the Fort Harrison Hotel. Starbucks opened, to much fanfare, in a building owned by a Scientologist.

Increasingly, downtown business people appreciate Scientology's catalytic efforts.

"If they moved out, this place would be a ghost town," said Traci Walters, owner of Oceans Funding.

Instead of ignoring Scientologists, as many tried to do for decades, Walters courted them. She advertised in a shopper popular with believers. And she made a point to hire a Scientologist. At one point, most of her business consisted of Scientologists who were getting mortgages or refinancing them.

Walters has this message: "Get on the bandwagon!"

Many have.

Parachute into some Scientologist-owned companies - from health stores to call centers to computer software firms - and you will find non-Scientologists working for Scientologists.

Richard Ghazarian's New Port Richey neighbors gasped when he took a job at Event Management Services, a downtown Clearwater ad agency owned by Scientologists and run according to Hubbard business principles.

Working according to Hubbard's teachings has its quirks. Office walls are lined with graphs and charts tracking daily and weekly progress.

No one, he said, has tried to convert him.

"What's the big deal?" Ghazarian told his neighbors. "They put on their clothes the same way I do. There are no secret meetings with hoods."

The housing juggernaut

Elias Jafif made a fortune in Mexico developing shopping centers and upscale golf communities. His Casa Club Bosquereal is a small city - 10,000 homes and, he boasts, the biggest clubhouse in the world.

The grandson of a Lebanese Jew, Jafif was born into one of Mexico City's industrial families, manufacturers of textiles, shoes and lingerie. He became a Scientologist as a young man after hearing about it from his then-girlfriend.

His first trip to Clearwater was in 1977. Downtown seemed in decline. Spooky even. His most lasting memory is of mannequins without wigs in aging downtown store windows.

Now, Jafif, 50, views it as a place to spend millions. Last year, he and his investment partners, all Scientologists, snapped up downtown Clearwater's nine-story AmSouth Bank building and 3 surrounding acres.

A part-time Clearwater resident, he bought the property to build condos. While still on the drawing board, his project could be the biggest in Clearwater history.

It is one of six substantial housing projects proposed for downtown by entrepreneurial Scientologists.

This club of developers will create hundreds of dwelling units in a range of prices. Many of their buyers, most of them acknowledge, will be Scientologists.

Jafif said his condos, with first floor retail, will be high end with Mediterranean Revival architecture.

Less pricey will be the condos being built just down Cleveland Street by Ray Cassano and partners. It will be the first major development in years to bring residents with disposable income to downtown. Units will go for $200,000 to $499,000.

In an ironic twist, the same city government that years ago was cold to Scientologists now is assisting Cassano. The city is selling him a parking lot and agreeing to pay him a higher price later in exchange for Cassano building public parking.

"It used to be we just got along," Cassano said of the city and Scientologists. "Now we're friends."

So far, Scientologists have reserved about a quarter of his units, he said.

On downtown's eastern flank, Bud Reichel, the WISE president, is part of a development group building 47 lofts. Price tag: $229,000 to $251,000. Scientologists are a prime target market, Reichel said.

Next door, Scientologist William Lazarony recently opened his 18-unit Laura Street Townhomes, the first townhouse complex downtown. He said it is "irrelevant" how many were purchased by Scientologists.

On downtown's northern edge, Scientologists plan two more projects. Ben Kugler has filed plans for 24 units immediately north of Scientology's Osceola Inn, a cushy lodge for visiting Scientologists. Gerald Ellenburg, the Starbucks landlord, talks of building a $20-million condominium tower with 25 units just north of the church's Sandcastle religious retreat.

Only one downtown housing project is being built by a non-Scientologist. Sarasota developer Bruce Balk completed 15 of 100 planned units before encountering delays.

Clearwater power broker Lee Arnold, chief executive of Colliers Arnold real estate, says he intends to build a high-rise on land he owns next to Jafif's project, but has submitted no plans to the city.

The impending housing boom, certain to attract more Scientologists, likely translates into more dollars for church coffers, and the community as a whole.

Scientologists do not tithe, but they pay for services. "Donations" for some introductory courses start at $35, but a two-year training program can cost $22,000. "Auditing" services range from $200 for a week of beginning Dianetics to thousands for the most advanced sessions.

In their daily lives, Scientologists often seek out other Scientologists, whether shopping for a haircut or a house. But they also spend money with non-Scientologists.

A St. Louis consultant estimated that Scientologists spend $80.5-million locally each year. Scientologists' median household income was found to be $58,000, 64 percent higher than the Clearwater area.

One handsome portfolio

The church owns 21 buildings and about a dozen vacant lots in Clearwater, a portfolio valued for tax purposes at $46-million. It's in the midst of an unprecedented $160-million spending spree downtown.

The crown jewel will be its Mediterranean Revival Flag Building, nearly finished on the outside but still raw inside and more than a year away from occupancy.

It will feature a ground-floor Scientology museum open to the public. On upper floors will be 300 rooms for Scientology's core practice of auditing. A dining hall with seating for 1,140 and two full kitchens will be in the basement.

To staff it, the church will bring to Clearwater 1,200 more members of its loyal Sea Org, the group who dedicate their lives to church service, wear uniforms and live in church housing.

Some of that extra staff will move into the 13-story Oak Cove apartments, just a few steps west of the Fort Harrison Hotel. The church bought it in late 2001 for $5-million and will spend $1.5-million renovating it this year.

Most Sea Org members live in the Hacienda Gardens apartments on N Saturn Avenue about 3 miles from downtown. They are shuttled to the church's downtown properties daily by full-sized buses emblazoned in big letters: Flag.

Scientology's 10 Flag buses and eight cargo-sized vans circle downtown streets daily. The busy fleet achieves an overwhelming presence.

But soon, Scientology will have an even larger profile.

This year, the church says, it will begin building a $3.5-million, three-level parking garage southeast of the Flag Building. It will sit just north of the church's $4-million power plant, built in the same Mediterranean Revival style.

Major renovations also are to begin on the Fort Harrison, which will get two redecorated restaurants and a conference center available to the public.

Then another major project will launch: a $40-million auditorium seating 3,600 on church-owned land immediately south of the Flag Building.

That cluster - the Flag Building, Fort Harrison, auditorium, staff high-rise and parking garage - if it's all built, will give Scientology a multiblock campus immediately north and east of the Pinellas County Courthouse.

The church paid property taxes of $605,488 last year, making it downtown's largest taxpayer, even with about two-thirds of its holdings tax exempt. Church property used for religious purposes, such as counseling, is tax exempt. Properties or portions of properties not used for religious purposes, such as restaurants and hotel rooms, are taxed.

When Scientology opens its immense Flag Building, it largely will be off the tax rolls. But the Fort Harrison then will be converted fully to a hotel and will be taxed.

William Miller, a professor at the University of Utah College of Architecture & Planning, has seen the psychological impact of Mormon buildings in Salt Lake City.

Massive buildings awe and intimidate, he said. Religions build them to convey power and impact.

Scientology's Flag Building "is a direct reflection of where the church is now and where it sees itself going," he said. "It's a reflection of their growing position in the world."

Many other sight lines in downtown Clearwater already are filled by properties and ventures owned by Scientologists.

Consider downtown's prime intersection, Fort Harrison Avenue and Cleveland Street.

It's Scientology on nearly every corner.

The two-story Weisman building, built in 1926 and renovated in 2000 by Scientologist Gerald Ellenburg, is home to Starbucks.

Across the street are two church properties, both former Clearwater institutions. The five-story Coachman building, dating from 1917, is a Scientology training center. The venerable Bank of Clearwater, the city's oldest bank, is church meeting rooms and a cafeteria. Screens cover street-level windows of both buildings, preventing passers-by from seeing inside.

The Scientology brand also is associated with a dozen downtown church offshoots such as Criminon, for former criminals, and the activist Citizens Commission on Human Rights. A handful of private schools using Hubbard educational techniques are near downtown, offering preschool through 12th grade.

"Architecturally, if you look down the hill onto the downtown from Court Street at Greenwood Avenue west," said Mike Sanders, Clearwater's leading historian, "today's skyline is dominated by Scientology buildings."

Some feel squeezed.

"As time goes on, I feel more and more surrounded," said the Rev. Max Sigman of Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church, next door to the Fort Harrison.

Leaders of Calvary Baptist Church say Scientology's purchases boxed them in.

"I am concerned that Clearwater, Fla., has become synonymous with being a mecca for Scientologists," said Jim Underwood, a deacon at Calvary Baptist, which is moving after more than 100 years from its downtown home to eastern Clearwater.

"Salt Lake City is the center of the universe for Mormons. That's what Clearwater has become for Scientologists," Underwood said. "As far as overall impact, I don't think it provides a healthy environment for businesses or tourists or the community at large."

A Scientology publication once listed a church goal for 2000 as: "Clearwater known as the first Scientology city in the world."

Church members and officials interviewed for this story insist they never heard of such a goal, or any plans to achieve it.

Flag's aim has never been to develop a large community of believers in Clearwater, said Shaw, the church spokesman, but rather to act as the spiritual mecca where visitors can receive the highest levels of Scientology training. In fact, unlike in Tampa, where church staffers try to recruit strangers on the street, Flag has tried very little recruiting in Clearwater.

As a result, few locals have become members.

Randy Poletz is an exception.

Poletz is a Clearwater boy. Belcher Elementary. Clearwater High. He never knew what to make of the uniformed church employees who showed up in his hometown. Odd, for sure, he said.

His opinion changed when he served with Scientologist Bennetta Slaughter as a board member for the city's annual Jazz Holiday.

"She was a bright, shining light," Poletz said. "She was cool. She was real and true with her emotions. She was not phony. She spoke of getting things done."

He approached her after a board meeting.

"I hear you're a Scientologist," he began. "I want to go to lunch sometime with you to talk about it."

They did lunch. And, in time, Poletz converted.

Poletz, 49, manager of a custom flooring store downtown, now spends lunch breaks taking Scientology courses and says they have improved his life.

Some of his longtime friends were afraid for him. But more and more, he finds, people no longer have a problem with it. In turn, he said, Clearwater is becoming a more attractive place for Scientologists to move to.

"In five years, I think you're going to see triple the amount of Scientologists here," Poletz said.

Downtown will sport more Scientology offshoots, he predicts, such as the Narconon drug program and the literacy effort Applied Scholastics.

"Scientology is going to be huge here."

Cold war thaws

The IRS's 1993 ruling that granted Scientology tax-exempt status was a turning point both for the church and for Clearwater. Scientology embarked on an ambitious capital campaign here.

"The late 1990s is when I really felt a change," said spokesman Shaw. "There was a willingness on the part of city people to talk with us about planning issues and to accept our contributions."

City attorney Pam Akin credits the thawing to a series of meetings between Los Angeles-based church leader David Miscavige and former City Manager Mike Roberto.

"We really had a very hostile kind of environment," Akin said, describing it this way: "How can we ignore them and make them go away?"

Roberto, who declined to be interviewed, enlisted the church as a partner in downtown improvement efforts.

"I think it was an airing that needed to happen," Akin said. "To me it's just the gradual normalizing of relationships over time."

Lips are sealed

It doesn't happen often anymore: someone with power speaking out against Scientology.

Former City Council member Whitney Gray tried it last year and learned a difficult lesson.

The Times quoted Gray, who disapproved of the church sending brochures promoting downtown to national retailers. "If it looks to the public like the Church of Scientology is building downtown, people won't come," she said.

Soon, her phone started ringing.

Most callers, she said, were longtime residents who said, "Thank you for bringing up the subject."

But Scientologists called too. They told her: "You hurt my feelings. You set us back."

At the city's next meeting, Gray took the floor, her voice cracking. Her earlier comments, she said, were not her sentiments, but a summary of what she had heard from others.

When a reporter approached her afterward, Gray dissolved into tears.

Pressed for an explanation days later, Gray said only: "The situation is dicey enough. Comments like that don't help."

Watching, worrying

City Council members are in a bind.

They want to save a downtown that has circled the drain for decades. But voters have thwarted them in recent years and, perhaps unknowingly, made it easier for Scientologists to press forward.

The city's plan, sometimes indelicately called "solution by dilution," goes like this: Get voters to approve public improvements. Private development then will follow, making Scientology less defining.

But twice in three years, voters rejected city proposals.

City leaders are frustrated. And worried.

Council member Frank Hibbard, who hopes to be the next mayor, says he knows that many residents don't want to spend tax dollars downtown because it would benefit Scientologists. But, he adds, Clearwater can't afford to give up.

"The city's got to be the leader," he said. "The question is, where do our citizens want to go?"

Ironically, the voters' refusals appear to have created back-door opportunities for Scientologists.

Matheny, the owner of the stained glass shop, explains: "People who opposed the (2000 downtown improvement) referendum, they thought it would make it so Scientology was less in the downtown. The truth is, the opposite took place. It left the door open for anyone else who wanted to come into the downtown."

The door for Scientology could open even wider when the new Memorial Causeway Bridge to Clearwater Beach is completed.

It will route away from downtown the thousands of beachgoers who have idled along Cleveland for three-quarters of a century.

Will new developers be lured in after the traffic clears out?

Or will even more businesses give up and move out, leaving only Scientologists?

"The timing we have right now is probably the best opportunity we've had in 25 years for downtown redevelopment," Council member Hoyt Hamilton said. "The opportunity was probably available years ago but was not seized, so I think the window has presented itself again.

"If we miss the window this time, it may not come back."

Hibbard's view is just as urgent: "There's a good chance it will turn around. But there's also a chance it won't."

Into the vacuum

WISE's Reichel has lived in Korea, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Italy.

He moved to Clearwater five years ago to be near Flag. He decided it would be the last stop on his life's world tour, even though he thought it a "sad" place.

Now, he sees opportunity. He's a man on a mission: to see Clearwater become the envy of other cities.

Right now, it's a "vacuum of serious magnitude," Reichel said. Soon, investors will capitalize. Many will be Scientologists.

Following Hubbard's business formula, they will conceive ideas, survey to confirm the market, then pull the trigger.

"We are impelled to do it," Reichel said. "We know how."

Staff writer Jennifer Farrell contributed to this report. Robert Farley can be reached at 727 445-4159 or farley@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 18, 2004, 08:45:32]

About Scientology


By Times Staff Writer
Published July 18, 2004

Scientology, which means "knowing how to know," is a religion based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). The first church was established in Los Angeles in 1954, and today there are more than 4,300 Scientology churches, missions and groups around the world. Scientology teaches that a person is an immortal spiritual being (called a "thetan" from the Greek letter "theta," meaning "spirit"), who has a body and a mind and lives on from lifetime to lifetime. Scientologists believe that the "reactive mind" (the portion that works on a totally stimulus-response basis, not under the control of the individual) commands one's awareness, purposes, thoughts, body and action. Through spiritual counseling called "auditing," Scientologists believe they can reduce and ultimately erase the power of the reactive mind, a source of irrationality, fears and nightmares. Its eradication achieves the State of Clear and brings to view the individual. Scientologists think this is a landmark step in the full discovery of one's true nature and in ultimately achieving full spiritual awareness and freedom.


Scientologists recognize marriage as a part of the second of eight dynamics of existence. The second dynamic includes all creative activity, including sex, procreation and child rearing. The Scientology marriage ceremony is traditional and addresses a union between a man and a woman.


As described in Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, abortion and attempted abortion can traumatize the mother and unborn child physically and spiritually. Abortion is therefore rare among Scientologists, recognizing that even the fetus may have already been occupied by a spiritual being. In some instances, abortion might be chosen of health concerns of the mother or other personal factors.

Birth control

Procreation and child rearing are considered part of one of the eight dynamics of existence. Couples are free to decide the size of their families, and do so by determining the greatest good across the dynamics. Personal and social circumstances, profession and income are part of this decision, as with members of any faith.


Scientologists believe the thetan (spirit) has lived lifetime after lifetime. An individual experiences in his next lifetime the civilization he had a part in creating today. With this knowledge comes more responsibility to help make that tomorrow a good one to return to.

Supreme being

Scientology affirms the existence of a Supreme Being, although its dogma is unique and does not include the worship of one. Scientologists believe that only through total spiritual enlightenment can one then truly discover and understand the Supreme Being.

Female and/or married ministers

The ministry is open to both men and women, married or unmarried. As people are spiritual beings, the gender of a minister is not an issue.


1-billion - Years of service pledged to the church by Sea Org members

20-million - Dianetics books sold since published in 1950

$605,488 - Pinellas property taxes paid by the church last year

15,000 - Scientologists traveling to Clearwater each year

4,378 - Scientology churches, missions and groups worldwide

$750 - Most expensive room rate for visiting Scientologists, the penthouse at the Osceola Inn (Osceola's regular rooms: $65)

155 - Countries with Scientology churches and organizations

106 - Drug and alcohol rehab centers using L. Ron Hubbard technology

$75 - Weekly salary earned by Sea Org members (church provides meals, lodging, clothes, medical care and transportation)

5 - Scientology-related informational programs airing four to five times each week in Pinellas on Brighthouse and Knology public access channels.


The founder of Scientology was born Lafayette Ronald Hubbard in Tilden, Neb., on March 13, 1911. According to church biographies, Hubbard traveled extensively through Asia as a teenager and studied Eastern religions and philosophies. He later served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II and went on to become a prolific and popular science fiction writer. His best known work is the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which was published in May 1950 and became a nationwide bestseller. His writings on Dianetics and Scientology inspired Scientologists to form the first Church of Scientology in Los Angeles in 1954. He also wrote on the subjects of education, business management, drug rehabilitation, morals and art. Hubbard died of a stroke on Jan. 24, 1986, at a central California ranch where he had been living in seclusion for several years.

[Last modified July 18, 2004, 06:27:10]

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