NTS LogoSkeptical News for 18 August 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

'Data Quality' Law Is Nemesis Of Regulation


By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2004; Page A01

Second of three articles

Things were not looking good a few years ago for the makers of atrazine, America's second-leading weedkiller. The company was seeking approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the highly profitable product on the market. But scientists were finding it was disrupting hormones in wildlife -- in some cases turning frogs into bizarre creatures bearing both male and female sex organs.

Last October, concerns about the herbicide led the European Union to ban atrazine, starting in 2005. Yet that same month, after 10 years of contentious scientific review, the EPA decided to permit ongoing use in the United States with no new restrictions.

Herbicide approvals are complicated, and there is no one reason that atrazine passed regulatory muster in this country. But close observers give significant credit to a single sentence that was added to the EPA's final scientific assessment last year.

Hormone disruption, it read, cannot be considered a "legitimate regulatory endpoint at this time" -- that is, it is not an acceptable reason to restrict a chemical's use -- because the government had not settled on an officially accepted test for measuring such disruption.

Those words, which effectively rendered moot hundreds of pages of scientific evidence, were adopted by the EPA as a result of a petition filed by a Washington consultant working with atrazine's primary manufacturer, Syngenta Crop Protection. The petition was filed under the Data Quality Act, a little-known piece of legislation that, under President Bush's Office of Management and Budget, has become a potent tool for companies seeking to beat back regulation.

The Data Quality Act -- written by an industry lobbyist and slipped into a giant appropriations bill in 2000 without congressional discussion or debate -- is just two sentences directing the OMB to ensure that all information disseminated by the federal government is reliable. But the Bush administration's interpretation of those two sentences could tip the balance in regulatory disputes that weigh the interests of consumers and businesses.

John D. Graham, administrator of the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), who has directed implementation of the Data Quality Act, said the law will keep the federal government hewing to "sound science." He said the act, which allows people and companies to challenge government information they believe is inaccurate, is equally accessible to "a wide diversity of interests, both in the business community and in the consumer, environmental and conservation communities."

But many consumers, conservationists and worker advocates say the act is inherently biased in favor of industry. By demanding that government use only data that have achieved a rare level of certainty, these critics maintain, the act dismisses scientific information that in the past would have triggered tighter regulation.

A Washington Post analysis of government records indicates that in the first 20 months since the act was fully implemented, it has been used predominantly by industry. Setting aside the many Data Quality Act petitions filed to correct narrow typographical or factual errors in government publications or Web sites, the analysis found 39 petitions with potentially broad economic, policy or regulatory impact. Of those, 32 were filed by regulated industries, business or trade organizations or their lobbyists. Seven were filed by environmental or citizen groups. Some environmental groups are boycotting the act, adding to the imbalance in its use.

Among the petitions:

• The American Chemistry Council and others challenged data used by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as it sought to ban wood treated with heavy metals and arsenic in playground equipment.

• Logging groups challenged Forest Service calculations used to justify restrictions on timber harvests.

• Sugar interests challenged the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration over dietary recommendations to limit sugar intake.

• The Salt Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce challenged data that led the National Institutes of Health to recommend that people cut back on salt.

• The Nickel Development Institute and other nickel interests challenged a government report on the hazards of that metal.

• The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers petitioned the CPSC to retract data that ranked the risk of lint fires in various clothes dryers.

Environmental and consumer groups say the Data Quality Act fits into a larger Bush administration agenda. In the past six months, more than 4,000 scientists, including dozens of Nobel laureates and 11 winners of the National Medal of Science, have signed statements accusing the administration of politicizing science.

The White House's heavy editing of a key global-warming report, its efforts to emphasize abstinence rather than condoms in the war against AIDS and its alleged stacking of scientific advisory committees have drawn particular ire. But many scientists and public advocates believe that far more is at stake with the Data Quality Act.

From their perspective, the act is shifting the authority over the nation's science into the politicized environment of the OMB -- a change, they say, that will favor big business.

Cassini spacecraft detects 2 tiny moons orbiting Saturn


Newest discoveries puts known number of satellites at 33
- David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A camera aboard the Cassini spacecraft flying in orbit around Saturn has discovered two of the tiniest moons in the solar system -- one barely 2 miles in diameter and the other only a half-mile larger, astronomers reported Monday.

"You kind of feel a little like Christopher Columbus," said Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini-Huygens mission imaging team, "when you start discovering worlds -- even tiny worlds -- that have been around for so many billions of years."

Although the pair are true moons, they may in fact be the remains of much larger satellites that were shattered billions of years ago by impacts from comets as big as houses, Porco said in a phone interview.

And if that proves true, she said, it could indicate that huge numbers of comets were flying into the neighborhood of the solar system's outer planets when the planets were in their earliest days of formation.

As yet unnamed, the moons bring to 33 the number of known Saturnian satellites -- and scientists expect to find many more, said Torrence V. Johnson of the imaging team at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

To Johnson, the discovery is a surprise because he and his colleagues had expected to find such tiny moons close to Saturn's outermost rings, whose millions of brilliantly sunlit particles of ice are in effect moons in themselves.

But the two newfound moons are orbiting the giant ringed planet in a region much farther out -- between two of Saturn's much larger well-known moons, Mimas and Enceladus, both discovered in 1789 and each some 250 miles in diameter.

Cassini's camera -- no sharper than the telephoto instruments photographers use to cover football games, Johnson said -- picked out the faint objects, almost totally obscured by the planet's light, on June 1. The spacecraft was still more than 10 million miles from Saturn itself, a full month away from the climactic flight through the Saturnian rings that carried it into the first orbit of its four-year mission exploring one of the solar system's most exotic planetary systems.

"Saturn has always stood out as a singularly junky system, with its big, diffuse rings, the tiny moons that appear to shepherd the rings to keep them on their course and the icy particles between the rings," Johnson said. "So we can expect to find more oddball satellites there."

One of the two new moons is orbiting Saturn about 120,000 miles from the planet, and the other is about 131,000 miles out, the Cassini imaging team calculates.

Neither one appears as more than a pinpoint of faint light. For now, they are designated only as S/2004 S1 and S/2004 S2.

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

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URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/08/17/MNGCH8974R1.DTL

©2004 San Francisco Chronicle

Ice yields ancient 'plant matter'


Scientists drilling ice cores in Greenland have recovered what appear to be plant remains from nearly 3km (two miles) below the surface.

Team members said reddish clumps of material, found in the muddy ice in the cores, contain what appear to be pine needles or blades of grass.

If confirmed, it will be the first organic material to be recovered from a deep ice core drilling project.

Scientists think the material could be several million years old.

Several of the pieces look very much like blades of grass or pine needles James White, University of Colorado

The suspected plant material was recovered between the ice sheet and the bedrock at a drilling site in central Greenland, by a team belonging to the North Greenland Ice Core Project (NGrip).

"Several of the pieces look very much like blades of grass or pine needles," said Professor James White, a principal investigator on the NGrip project from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

They may date to before the ice sheet covered the island during the last Ice Age. Samples of the material will now be sent off to several laboratories for analysis.

Ancient relics

"There is a big possibility that this material is several million years old, from a time when trees covered Greenland," said Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen of the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute.

She added that, if the remains are indeed organic, their presence would suggest that the Greenland ice sheet formed very fast.

In summer 2003, the drilling team reached the bedrock at a depth of 3085m. Trapped gas in the cores could help researchers determine how the area's climate varied year on year over the past 123,000 years.

After reaching the bedrock, reddish water flooded the lowest 45m of the bore hole. At this site, the ice sheet is melting at the bottom due to high geothermal heat.

The water is running in channels in and under the ice, and is part of a sub-glacial system that may have been isolated from the surface for several million years.

Deep freeze

This year, the researchers returned to drill down into the reddish refrozen water and retrieved the ice cores with the suspected organic material. These ice cores also have a very high content of trapped gas.

Some of the project members even think there is a possibility exotic life forms might survive in this ice.

The cores are cylinders of ice four inches in diameter that have been drilled in the ice and brought to the surface in 3.5m (11.5 feet) lengths. The researchers work to recover the cores in subsurface trenches where temperatures frequently fall to minus 30C (-22F).

Each yearly record of ice can reveal past temperatures and precipitation levels, the content of ancient atmospheres and even evidence for the timing, direction and magnitude of distant storms, fires and volcanic eruptions.

NGrip is an international project with members from the US, Japan and Europe.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/08/17 12:18:02 GMT


Flying saucers in New Mexico? Governor rekindles Roswell


Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer

Ten years after the U.S. Air Force closed its books on the claim that a UFO crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947, a top Democratic Party figure wants to reopen the investigation into the cosmic legend.

Despite denials by federal officials, many UFO buffs cherish the notion that in early summer of 1947, a flying saucer crashed in rural Roswell, scattering alien bodies and saucer debris across the terrain.

Now Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who chaired the recent Democratic convention in Boston, says in his foreword to a new book that "the mystery surrounding this crash has never been adequately explained -- not by independent investigators, and not by the U.S. government. ... There are as many theories as there are official explanations.

"Clearly, it would help everyone if the U.S. government disclosed everything it knows," says Richardson, who served as Energy secretary under President Bill Clinton. "The American people can handle the truth -- no matter how bizarre or mundane. ... With full disclosure and our best scientific investigation, we should be able to find out what happened on that fateful day in July 1947."

The passage appears in a paperback titled "The Roswell Dig Diaries," published in collaboration with TV's SciFi Channel by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The "dig" of the title refers to an archaeological dig at the supposed crash site.

A Richardson aide, Billy Sparks, confirmed the governor's remarks. Richardson "is interested in either debunking the story or (encouraging) full disclosure" of any unreleased records on the case, Sparks said.

To the Air Force, though, there is no mystery -- and there hasn't been for a long time. In 1994, the Air Force published "Roswell Report: Case Closed, " which asserted that so-called saucer debris was, in fact, the ruins of an unusual type of military research balloon, which contained hypersensitive acoustic sensors designed to detect the rumble of any Soviet A-bomb tests. A subsequent investigation by the U.S. General Accounting Office was unable to locate any unreleased records on the case.

Hence, Richardson's foreword drew scorn from veteran UFO investigators and science popularizers.

"We're kind of disappointed in Richardson for perpetuating the mythology of that thing," said Dave Thomas, president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, a skeptics group in Albuquerque.

The grand old man of skeptical UFO investigators, Philip J. Klass, who has written for Aviation Week & Space Technology since 1952, said: "Gov. Richardson -- whom I previously admired -- is wrong about Roswell and too trusting of TV network promoters. After more than a third of a century of research, I have found no credible evidence of extraterrestrial visitors."

Andrew Fraknoi, a noted astronomy popularizer and critic of pseudoscience who teaches at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, called Richardson's foreword unbelievable.

"This continues to confirm that election or appointment to high office does not guarantee wisdom in all areas of human thought," he said.

But in a show of extraterrestrial bipartisanship, the executive director of the New Mexico Republican Party is taking Richardson's side. Greg Graves, a native of Roswell who suspects the crashed object was "something more than a weather balloon," wants to know what really happened in the Southwestern desert two years before his birth.

Still, Graves hopes the truth isn't disillusioning. That's because the saucer legend is so good for the local economy: "Thousands of people come to Roswell every year to visit the site and go to the museum. It's an incredible boon to the Roswell economy. Just think about 'X Files' and TV shows about Roswell.

"When I go around the country and tell people I was born in Roswell," he adds, "people ask: 'Do I think something crashed there?' "

E-mail Keay Davidson at kdavidson@sfchronicle.com.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Churchman jailed for exorcism death


Tuesday, August 17, 2004 Posted: 4:16 PM EDT (2016 GMT)

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) -- A church elder was sentenced to 21/2 years in prison Tuesday for abusing an 8-year-old autistic boy who died in what prosecutors called an exorcism at a storefront church.

Prosecutors say Ray Hemphill lay on Terrance Cottrell Jr.'s chest for at least an hour while trying to release "demons" from him, before the boy died August 22, 2003.

"It was your unreasonable and reckless conduct that caused this child to die," Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jean DiMotto told Hemphill.

Last month, a jury found Hemphill, 46, guilty of physical abuse of a child recklessly causing great bodily harm.

Hemphill's attorney had argued his client was trying to help the boy, and that Cottrell died after an overdose of medication.

The medical examiner ruled the boy died of suffocation.

Terrance died at the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith in Milwaukee, where Hemphill was a church elder and where the boy and his mother were members.

The judge also sentenced Hemphill to 71/2 years of extended supervision and ordered him to pay about $1,200 in restitution. He had faced a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.

Candidates must follow standard



Since this is an election year, North Carolinians will have the opportunity to help elect a president, elect a senator, all of our house members, and a plethora of state and local reps.

No doubt we constituents will hear what all of these candidates are going to do for us, our nation, our state, and our cities as well as the number of jobs they are going to help create. We will also hear the “hate Bush” and the “love Bush” crowd.

I have heard this kind of rhetoric for more years than I would care to remember, and I am sure that some even believe what they are saying. I pay little heed to such talk and promises!

What I am listening rather intently for are such things as:

1. Those candidates who are born-again Christians or faithful Jews.

2. Those candidates who are going to do their best to:

a. Get God and prayer back in the public schools.

b. Get the Ten Commandments back in the public square.

c. Get the murder of the unborn declared murder.

d. Get the Federal Marriage Amendment to our Constitution passed in the Congress.

e. Get the House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act passed into law.

f. Get the Constitution Restoration Act passed into law.

g. Get creationism taught in our public schools.

h. Get our elementary and secondary school students to daily recite the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a few minutes of Bible reading. Those students who do not wish to participate will be excused temporarily from the room.

i. Get the teaching of our nation’s Christian heritage, as laid down by our Founding Fathers, taught in the United States History Classes in our nation’s high schools.

j. Publicly oppose the ACLU, People for the American Way, and like ilk.

As Patrick Henry said in his “give me liberty or give me death” speech, “There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations ...” I believe this to be true, and I am looking for Christian and Jewish statesmen God has brought to the kingdom for just such a time as this.

For God and Country.
Ted Hayes

Q&A with J. Budziszewski


Defending his faith on campus

06:04 PM CDT on Friday, August 13, 2004

By ROBIN GALIANO RUSSELL / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

J. Budziszewski (pronounced Boo-jeh-SHEF-ski) is professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, where he specializes in researching natural law.

A self-described former atheist, he says he returned to Christianity after he drifted from faith during college. Among his passions, he said, are helping students realize that faith and reason are not mutually exclusive, and advising students on how to hold their own against worldviews that oppose Christianity.

His 1999 book, How to Stay Christian in College (Think Books, $13.99), sold more than 125,000 copies. It was re-released this year. A new book, Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students (Navpress Publishing Group, $9.99), is based on the columns he writes for www.boundless.org.

Special Contributor Robin Galiano Russell recently talked with the professor. Here are excerpts.

Question: Is there really a bias against Christian thinking on college campuses today?

Answer: There are a number of factors that contribute to this hostility. One is the myth that faith is opposite to reasoning, that an intelligent person cannot have faith, and that a person of faith cannot be intelligent.

There is also a dominance of certain philosophical views such as naturalism, that the material world is the only thing that's true, or postmodernism, that life is without meaning.

Often you find that students and even professors hold these views not because of a reasoned argument but because they've seen other people in their intellectual milieu hold them. You hear college professors say things like, "As we all know now," as if somehow this had been ascertained and proven.

Many academic nonbelievers are particularly hostile toward the faith they grew up with. They think they have had a "lucky escape." You almost get the feeling that it's ABC – anything but Christian. It's OK to be Hindu. It's OK to be Buddhist.

Question: You say that you lost your faith as a young adult. How did your college experience contribute to that?

Answer: It hastened it along. I became convinced I had seen through the Christian faith. I became much enamored of Nietzsche, the author of "God is dead."It was not until years later that I realized it was not the result of thinking through an argument.

Though we learn there's a difference between facts and opinions, the way this was taught to us in high school, the distinction was drawn incorrectly. Any moral value was considered an opinion, and anything to do with God came down on the side of opinion. In reality, a fact is an opinion which is true and for which there is good reason to believe.

Question: You write that there's more Christianity at some non-Christian schools than at some so-called Christian schools. Explain what you mean.

Answer: For many years, a genuine Christian culture was preserved at our institutions. Harvard used to be Christian. Princeton used to be Christian. The University of Chicago used to be Christian. No one would dream of calling them Christian now.

Scholars tend to be rather insecure people. They tend to be reassured by the opinion of peers. In order to get that good approval of peers, they're going to have to play by secular rules. There is a movement to go back to Christian roots, but it's not happening without opposition. Look at Baylor University.

But Christian students are coming out of the woodwork. Why shouldn't their arguments be taken as seriously as others? That's what the intellectual experience is all about.

Question: Where do you get your ideas for your Web columns aimed at college students?

Answer: A few are practically transcripts, others are purely fictional. They're questions that haven't come up but should have. It's a lot of fun. It had enough of a real feel to it that I began getting mail from students.

Question: What are some of the topics students ask about?

Answer: I expected more heavy questions about philosophy, but a far greater proportion of the letters are about relationship issues: "What's wrong with being gay?" or "I'm having sex – so what?" They're very confused about norms between the sexes. Their parents have told them that sex outside of marriage is wrong but they haven't been given any explanation as to why. They have a rule and the warnings about diseases, but they don't have the big picture of the design for human relationships.

I'm amazed at the number of questions about tolerance. Students say they are being called intolerant just for thinking there is a truth or for living their faith. Most don't know how to answer those charges.

Question: As a professor who is visible on campus as a Christian, what challenges do you face at a secular institution like the University of Texas?

Answer: As a Christian professor, you should expect to take some hits. You have to work twice as hard to demonstrate your intellectual worth. But there are Christians being killed for their faith around the world. Here we get sneers, we might wait longer to be promoted, you might not get tenure, and you're treated as if you're a little stranger.

A Christian professor has to be very careful not to put an illegitimate pressure on nonbelieving students. My aim is for everyone in my classroom to feel equally comfortable. I tell students up front about my Christian faith. I think that's intellectual honesty. But no one has to agree with me to be successful in my classes.

Question: You say that students need to be involved in church life while they're in college. Don't campus fellowship groups take care of their spiritual needs?

Answer: Most students don't even have that. Many students go off to college and have a solitary faith. It actually doesn't work that way. The church as a sacramental community connects students. They need to be in a real, live off-campus church. They need to be in touch with those who aren't facing the same issues as theirs.

Question: It seems like there's more that parents and youth ministers could be doing to prepare students for college. What would you tell them?

Answer: We need to have higher expectations of our teenagers. They have a higher intellectual capacity than we realize. People develop a hunger for what the meaning of everything is, and we starve that hunger because we see them being fidgety or battling hormones. If you teach them with confidence, with the intellectual level they've achieved, you can do a lot more teaching them than you think. And they eat it up.

Robin Galiano Russell, a Dallas freelance writer, can be reached at rrscribe@excite.com.

Evolution's 'Dictatorship' -- Student Struggles to Get Opposite Viewpoint Heard


Feature by Ed Vitagliano
August 16, 2004

(AgapePress) - Samuel Chen was a high school sophomore who believed in freedom of speech and the unfettered pursuit of knowledge. He thought his public high school did, too, but when it came to the subject of evolution -- well, now he's not so sure.

In October 2002, Chen began working to get Dr. Michael Behe, professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, to give a lecture at Emmaus High School in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.

Chen, who was co-chair of a student group that tries to stress the importance of objectivity on controversial issues, knew that Behe would be perfect, since the group was examining evolution as a topic. The author of Darwin's Black Box, a critique of the foundational underpinnings of evolution, Behe had presented his work and debated the subject in universities in the U.S. and England.

Behe agreed to come in February 2004 and give an after-school lecture entitled, "Evolution: Truth or Myth?" As the school year drew to a close in 2003, Chen had all the preliminaries nailed down: he had secured Behe's commitment, received approval from school officials, and reserved the school auditorium.

Then he found out just how entrenched Darwinist orthodoxy was in the science department at Emmaus. By the following August, Chen had entered into a six-month battle to preserve the Behe lecture.

As the struggle unfolded, it became obvious that those who opposed Behe coming to Emmaus didn't seem to care about his credentials. In addition to publishing over 35 articles in refereed biochemical journals, Darwin's Black Box was internationally reviewed in over 100 publications and named by National Review and World magazine as one of the 100 most important books of the 20th century.

Instead, it was Behe's rejection of Darwinism -- in favor of what is called "intelligent design" -- that drove opposition. According to the Discovery Institute, of which Behe is a fellow, this theory holds "that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

The head of the science department, John Hnatow, sent a statement to every faculty member in the school stressing that Emmaus held to the official policy of the National Science Teachers Association. That policy states: "There is no longer a debate among scientists about whether evolution has taken place."

It appeared there would be no debate at Emmaus, either. Some of the science teachers would not even allow Chen to address their classes and explain to students what Behe's lecture would be about.

Chen said various tactics were apparently used to undercut the event, including an attempt to cancel the lecture and fold the student organization without the knowledge of Chen and other members; requiring that the necessary funds for the lecture be raised much faster than for other student events; and moving the lecture from the auditorium to the school cafeteria.

One science teacher in particular, Carl Smartschan, seemed particularly riled about the upcoming lecture. Smartschan took it upon himself to talk to every teacher in the science department, insisting that intelligent design was "unscientific" and "scary stuff." He asked the principal to cancel the lecture, and then, when the principal refused, asked the faculty advisor for the student group to halt the lecture. Smartschan even approached Chen and demanded that the student organization pay to have an evolutionist come to lecture later in the year.

Smartschan's campaign to get the Behe lecture canceled was surprising to Chen because the event was scheduled after school, and not during class time, and was sponsored by a student group, not the school itself. Nevertheless, Chen persevered. The lecture was a success, attracting more than 500 people.

In the process, however, Chen's struggle took its toll. His health deteriorated over the course of the controversy, to the point where he collapsed three times in one month, including once at school. "My health has been totally junked," he told AFA Journal.

Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney and senior policy advisor for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy, is advising Chen on his options for the coming year. Fahling said, "Schools are not allowed to interfere with viewpoints with which they disagree, and schools cannot disrupt the right of the students to participate in the academic and intellectual life."

Despite the hardship, Chen said he would do it all over again because the issue is so important. "I feel that there's a dictatorship on academic freedom in our public schools now," he said, adding, "I refer to evolution education as a tyranny .... You can't challenge it in our schools. Kids have been thrown out of class for challenging it."

That tyranny can be intimidating to students. "Some of the students who support me are afraid to speak out, especially because they saw how the science department reacted," Chen said. "They have a fear of speaking out against it in their classes."

On the other hand, he added that some students "are now questioning evolution, some for the first time."

That may be the first step in the overthrow of Darwin's dictatorship.

Ed Vitagliano, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is news editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared in the August 2004 issue.

© 2004 AgapePress

Monday, August 16, 2004

Voodoo hexes fail to keep drug dealer out of prison


08:34 PM CDT on Sunday, August 15, 2004

Associated Press

It looks like prosecutors stuck it to the drug kingpin, rather than the other way around – despite the thousands of dollars he reportedly paid a voodoo priestess for protection.

All he was cracked up to be: John Timothy Cotton, 39, was convicted last week in Lafayette, La., on a federal charge of leading a continuing criminal enterprise. Prosecutors said he ran a Houston-based organization that netted an estimated $43 million in 10 years dealing crack cocaine in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kansas.

Time out: Mr. Cotton faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Voodoo woman: U.S. Attorney Donald Washington said Mr. Cotton and other members of the drug ring paid a voodoo priestess thousands of dollars for voodoo hexes against federal agents. "They paid what they called a spiritual adviser – what we would call a voodoo priestess – large amounts of money for blessings to protect their drug-trafficking business."

Satisfaction guaranteed? "If I were them, I would ask for my money back," the U.S. attorney said. Instead, it looks like more money will be flowing from Mr. Cotton's coffers.

Casting a prosecutorial spell: Prosecutors hope to recover $12 million in assets from Mr. Cotton and his wife under drug forfeiture laws. Agents made their first seizure Thursday: Mr. Cotton's Lincoln Navigator.




August 15, 2004 -- The managers of a Scientology-based detox program that's been free for those officially involved in the 9/11 rescue effort now want to offer the service to thousands of other Ground Zero victims — for $5,000 each.

Critics, however, are skeptical about whether the program works at all.

The clinic's advisory board, which includes Scientologists, doctors and rescue workers, is also pushing for a $1 million government grant to determine whether the program actually works.

The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project — partially funded by practicing Scientologist Tom Cruise — plans to open its third and fourth clinics next year in Staten Island and upstate in Orange County.

In addition, a new training facility at the group's Fulton Street clinic in downtown Manhattan would teach medics the project's controversial methods of removing toxins from the body.

Project spokesman Keith Miller said trained medics could supervise programs at their own practices — reaching office workers and residents sick from inhaling pollutants they were exposed to after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

The program has been offered free to city firefighters, police officers and other rescue workers. In addition, several Wall Street workers have already paid about $5,000 to participate.

The daily regimen involves drinking niacin, which reacts to chemicals in fat, running on a treadmill and then hitting the steam room for up to four hours. These activities release toxins stored in fat cells for years, says Dr. David Root, who has administered the program for more than 20 years.

Last week, however, toxicology experts said there was no scientific evidence that toxins can be dislodged from your body by any means.

"It sounds great and they mean well, but it just doesn't work," claimed University of Georgia professor Cham Dallas, who has studied toxins in humans for more than 20 years and is a leading expert in bioterrorism.

"This is just hocus-pocus," said Dr. Bob Hoffman of the New York City Poison Control Center. "For some people, sitting in a hot environment can be very dangerous."

But Root said temperatures are carefully regulated to ensure they are safe.

The Post toured the detoxification project's clinic in Williston Park, L.I. — opened last month by Cruise — and spoke to more than 30 of the 286 firefighters, EMT volunteers and downtown residents who have completed the program. They all said that their physical and mental health had improved.

"I have to say it saved me — it saved my marriage and my family," said Eric Brodin, 34, from Engine 50/Ladder 19 in the South Bronx. "I was angry all the time, and I couldn't sleep. I felt so sick. It only took me 16 days, and the transformation was amazing — I felt like a kid again."

Retired firefighter Andy Isolano, 32, echoed Brodin's co mments. "I was wheezing and had chronic asthma," he said. "When I signed up, I was skeptical, but . . . I cannot believe I don't have to take all that medicine any more."

FDNY deputy chief medical examiner Dr. David Prezant says his main concern is that many rescue workers are going off their medication without consulting their doctors before they start the program.

One retired firefighter, eager to start the program, passed out in a Queens Barnes & Noble after suffering an asthma attack. "They wanted me off my meds for 30 days before I started," said Robert McGuire, 37. "Two weeks into it I was by myself [in a store], my inhaler was in the car and I thought I was going to die.

"I was taken to the emergency room — it was really scary," he added. "I don't like being on so much medication, but I really can't live without it."

(The program's doctors deny they advised McGuire to go off his medication.)

Clinic spokesman Miller said his organization has twice asked the FDNY to help fund its research effort to test sweat and other excretions from patients for toxins — and have twice been refused.

Alternatives for Chronically Ill Pets


Some Vets Now Using Acupuncture, Herbs

By Pamela Oldham

Sunday, August 15, 2004; Page W08

For pet owners, perhaps the only thing worse than watching a beloved dog or cat suffer from chronic illness or disease -- especially when the animal is relatively young or otherwise sound -- is knowing there's nothing that can be done.

Betsy Hobbs-Monroe of Hamilton has experienced that feeling firsthand. In 1992, a herniated disk left her dachshund Rudy's hind legs paralyzed. Surgery was considered, but doctors had little hope that it would be successful. Hobbs-Monroe, a dog groomer at Leesburg Veterinary Hospital, prepared herself for what she believed was inevitable: Rudy, just 6 years old, would have to be put down.

But just before the dog was to be euthanized, she remembered hearing that veterinarian Janet McKim provided acupuncture treatment at the Middleburg Animal Hospital. Hobbs-Monroe, who had used acupuncture to treat her own medical conditions, wondered if alternative medicine might help her dog.

"Janet was just starting to do acupuncture then," Hobbs-Monroe recalled. "We didn't know if it was going to work, but she said Rudy seemed like a good candidate. So, she gave it a try."

Not only did Rudy walk again, she lived for seven more years.

Human patients and their doctors are often skeptical about the claims made by alternative medicine devotees. Indeed, positive outcomes in people are often dismissed as psychosomatic, reflective of the patient's strong belief that a particular "new age" treatment will work. However, veterinarians worldwide -- including those who teach at some of the most prestigious and respected veterinary medical schools in the United States -- have begun to embrace alternative medicine for pets. Acupuncture, herbal remedies, hydrotherapy and many other alternative treatments have been effective in treating animals.

Rudy's success with acupuncture led Hobbs-Monroe to rescue another dachshund, Mindy, who had also been scheduled to be euthanized because she was paralyzed from a herniated disc. The 3-year-old dog quickly learned to get around using a wheelchair cart. But Hobbs-Monroe's goal was more ambitious, and she sought McKim's help again.

"It was amazing to see the progression. First, toes began to wiggle, then her tail wagged," Hobbs-Monroe said.

Today, a little more than a year and a half later, the wheelchair cart is in storage. Mindy's favorite outdoor activity is chasing squirrels and terrorizing cats.

McKim, who graduated from Ohio State University's veterinary school in 1980, was frustrated by the limitations of traditional veterinary medicine to treat chronic illness in animals. After her sister reported gaining relief from a chronic medical condition using acupuncture, the veterinarian thought acupuncture might work for her patients, too. McKim sought specialized training in a rigorous program at the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in San Diego and was certified to perform acupuncture on animals in 1992. Continuing professional education is required to maintain her certification. She employs acupuncture and herbal remedies to complement -- not replace -- traditional treatment of chronic conditions, including cancer.

"I see a lot of dogs and cats with neurological and muscular-skeletal problems -- hip dysplasia, prolapsed disks and strokes," McKim said.

Her patients don't seem to mind the tiny needles, which are inserted two to three inches below the skin. Some animals move during treatment; others sleep. "There are certain 'points' that stimulate endorphins and I always include those, to help keep them quiet," she said.

Veterinary and human acupuncture techniques are virtually identical, McKim said, including the size of the needles, which are imported from Asia.

Local veterinarians often refer chronically ill patients to McKim and other alternative medicine practitioners in the area. Success stories are common. Veterinarian Pamela Grasso, who has been in practice for 13 years and works at Ashburn Farm Animal Hospital, said she sought training in Chinese medicine after seeing dramatic improvement in the patients she had referred to specialists.

"They'd come back, and I could see there was something to this. I decided I wanted to be able to help them like that, too," she said.

As an adjunct to traditional veterinary care, Grasso uses a variety of alternatives to treat seizures, kidney problems, arthritis and many other illnesses and conditions, including behavioral problems. In addition to acupuncture, she strongly believes in the ability of Chinese herb formulations to improve her patients' overall health.

"Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years," she said. "I use it as a complement to Western medicine, as a preventative and to treat chronic illness."

According to Grasso, Chinese herbal treatments are based on formulas comprised of several components -- rather than a single herb -- to overcome or alleviate symptoms. The herbal medication is commonly digested rather than applied, and is dispensed in capsules, tinctures, or other forms, depending on the animal's preference or tolerance level.

"I have an 18-year-old kitty who takes very tiny pills. I just roll them down," Grasso said.

Chiropractic medicine is also gaining popularity among veterinarians, as is animal massage. More than 8,000 new massage therapists from across the United States and 19 countries have been trained in equine and companion animal massage at the Equissage Inc., veterinary massage training facility in Round Hill since 1991. Founder Dee Schreiber said several Loudouners are enrolled in the program.

According to Schreiber, animals enjoy and benefit from deep tissue massage therapy because it enhances muscle tone, reduces inflammation and stimulates circulation. Massage also helps soothe and strengthen soft tissue involved in conditions such as hip dysplasia.

"Massage is preventative and curative," he said. "We know it helps as much for animals as it does for humans."

Some pet owners also say water therapy, an alternative medicine treatment first used successfully in equine medicine, has saved lives when all else failed.

Renee Austin and Tom Jones of Ashburn say hydrotherapy saved their Australian Shepherd, Zachary, while dramatically extending and improving the quality of his life. Zachary was a 6-month-old pup when Jones, a veterinarian who owns Ashburn Veterinary Hospital, adopted him.

According to Austin, Zachary and Jones were inseparable -- until the dog developed a degenerative neurological disorder that weakened the otherwise healthy animal's rear legs. Despite receiving the best veterinary care, Zachary's muscles gradually atrophied. By age 14, he was almost immobile.

"All we could think at the time was 'Oh my God, we'll have to put him down,' " Austin said. "But how could we do that when we have this physically and mentally able animal? We knew we had to do something for Zachary."

Jones and Austin took the dog to the Northern Virginia Animal Swim Center in Middleburg to try hydrotherapy. The center, built in 1976, originally was part of a private thoroughbred training facility used to condition horses for racing. After Roger Collins and Laura Hayward purchased the property in 1989, they opened the pool for public use and, believing canines might also benefit from swim therapy, welcomed dogs as well as horses.

Collins created swimming regimens to help speed post-operative recovery and developed low-impact aquatic training and fitness programs. After just two weeks of therapy, Zachary's muscles began to rebuild.

Swim therapy is used to alleviate -- but not cure -- a wide range of conditions, including hip dysplasia, spinal disk and nerve damage, arthritis, paralysis and muscle atrophy by safely strengthening muscles with virtually no pressure on the joints. Plus, the pool's warm water promotes flexibility, circulation and mobility.

Today, Zachary is 17 -- three years beyond the normal life expectancy for his breed. He swims twice a week, sometimes for an hour and a half. Walking is easier now, but the biggest benefit, according to Jones and Austin, is the energy boost their dog gains from swimming.

"It's been phenomenal," Jones said. "I knew the potential, but I didn't really know if it would work for Zachary. There's no doubt now."

Jones has referred patients to the center and says, for the most part, their experiences have been just as positive. Like other pet owners who have seen results from alternative medicine, Jones and Austin are thankful.

"I know we wouldn't have Zachary now if he hadn't started swimming," Austin said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Brazil Maps Coffee Genome to Create 'Super Beans' http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml?type=scienceNews&storyID=5928711§ion=news

Tue 10 August, 2004 23:30

By Andrew Hay

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil has created the world's first DNA map of the coffee plant to cut production costs and create beans that cater to the rich tastes of U.S. and European consumers, the country's government said on Tuesday.

After over two years of work, the world's biggest coffee grower is using the DNA map to create the world's biggest genetic data base on the plant. It contains information on the 200,000 DNA sequences, and 35,000 genes that create different aromas and caffeine levels in the beloved tropical bean.

Brazil, known for mass-market "junk" coffee, hopes to use the data to raise production of gourmet, organic and new caffeine-free beans within two years. It also plans to cut coffee prices in Brazil, the world's second-largest coffee consumer.

"We are going to create a super coffee that everyone can benefit from eventually," Brazilian Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues told reporters in Brasilia.

New genetically engineered plants could double coffee production per hectare, experts said, allowing Brazil to cut production costs by 20 percent.

Brazil's focus on cutting the cost of production, and raising the quality of beans comes after world growers have been plagued by low prices caused by overproduction.

Six Brazilian public institutions will have initial access to the genome database. They will apply findings to national coffee production.

In about five or six years the DNA database will be open to Brazil's private sector, and possibly to foreign companies, on payment of royalties for patented information, said Clayton Campanhola, head of Brazil's agricultural research agency Embrapa.

"This is going to redirect our production toward quality," said Campanhola, whose agency worked with Sao Paulo's research foundation (Fapesp) to carry out the six million reais ($1.98 million) DNA mapping project.

Brazil hopes to create high quality coffee trees that are more resistant to diseases and pests and can have a productive life of 30 years, instead of 15 years as is the case now.

While the project will create new varieties of coffee plants through cross pollination and other measures, it will not create genetically modified plants, said Jose Manuel Cabral, head of genetic resources at Embrapa.

Brazil is the last major agricultural exporter to ban the planting and sale of GMO crops and foods,

New genetically resistant plants could double coffee production per hectare from 15 sacks to 30 sacks, Embrapa said.

This would allow Brazil to cut production costs by 20 percent, and raise national production to 60 million sacks, without expansion of its current growing area, Embrapa said.

Researchers also see cost savings of between 50 and 100 percent on the 600 million reais a year Brazilian producers spend on 30,000 tons of chemical herbicides and pesticides that cause serious pollution problems.

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Haiman)


Religious Expression And The American Constitution
Franklyn S. Haiman
2003, Michigan State University Press; 272p.
creationism:history, education

Knowing something about the the separation of church and state is essential when creationism is concerned, as this principle is the main tool for keeping creationism out of public education in the United States. Haiman's complex story of the phrase "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" in the US Constitution is very useful in this regard. Supporters of a literal Genesis still chafe that creationism and a less-than-10,000-year-old Earth cannot be taught in public school science classes; the Court ruled that such instruction was religious, not scientific. It also struck down the concept that creationism must be taught whenever evolution was, in order to give intellectual balance; the ostensible attempt to "protect academic freedom" was held to be nothing but another effort to use governmental agents to advance religion. The Court has yet to decide on "Intelligent Design," which accepts an Earth billions of years old, and the change of species over those billions of years, but insists that some designer steps in to make particular parts happen.

[ Reviewed by Rob Hardy, robhardy@earthlink.com ]

Spirited challenge


An amateur ghost-busting kit for householders who suspect their home might be haunted is being tested prior to possible full-scale production.

The kit includes various instruments designed to help catch the paranormal presence.

It can also be linked to the internet, allowing homeowners to keep an eye out for ghostly goings-on while away from home.

Cable company Telewest Broadband has worked with a group of specialists in paranormal investigations to put together the kit, which is currently undergoing tests.

It includes motion and humidity detectors, a temperature monitor and electromagnetic meter to spot subtle changes in the room which could show a ghost is present.

A webcam connected to a computer automatically starts filming the room if any of the detectors are triggered.

Absent homeowners can check whether any abnormal activity has been reordered by connecting via a broadband internet connection.

Telewest Broadband said the kit would cost in the region of Ł150, including the monthly internet connection, if it went into production.

Chad Raube, director of internet services at Telewest Broadband, said: "The meeting of ghost hunting and modern technology is a fascinating combination.

"We are always looking at ways to bring the possibilities of broadband to life, and this fairly inexpensive kit could allow paranormal enthusiasts to join in at home."

Articles of Note

Special thanks to Robert Lewis and Greg Martinez

Panic at Nigerian 'killer calls'
BBC News

Nigerian mobile phone users have been anxiously checking who is calling them before answering them in recent days. A rumour has spread rapidly in the commercial capital, Lagos, that if one answers calls from certain "killer numbers" then one will die immediately. A BBC reporter says experts and mobile phone operators have been reassuring the public via the media that death cannot result from receiving a call.

The Sunday Telegraph
By Michael Leidig and Roya Nikkhah

Global warming has finally been explained: the Earth is getting hotter because the Sun is burning more brightly than at any time during the past 1,000 years, according to new research. A study by Swiss and German scientists suggests that increasing radiation from the sun is responsible for recent global climate changes.

Sunday Mail

SWEDES are going Nessie crazy - after tourist bosses claimed they hatched an egg taken from Loch Ness. Cheeky water bosses at the Gota Canal hope the 'son of Nessie' will lead to a tourist boom.They insist they were given the egg three years ago and it hatched recently.

The fellowship of the rings
By David Harrison

'It makes me chuckle sometimes," says John Lundberg, gazing across a wheat field in central England. "If somebody had said to me 10 years ago that today I'd be flying all over the world making crop circles for big companies and being paid for it, I'd have said they were mad."

Scotty may soon be able to beam us up
New Zealand News http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?reportID=1162626&storyID=3580087

Physicists are working at the far reaches of theoretical science but even their most difficult and abstract ideas can have practical applications, as SIMON COLLINS reports When Captain James Kirk wanted to get the Starship Enterprise to the other side of the galaxy he ordered engineer Montgomery Scott to change "warp factor", and the ship was away.

If aliens exist 'we'll know in 20 years'
Rhodri Clark, The Western Mail

ALIEN life will be discovered within 20 years or not at all, according to scientists who are scanning the skies for signs of intelligent life. Experts in California said yesterday they would need another two decades to finish analysing radio signals from 100 billion stars in the Milky Way.

Feeling Is Believing?
Alien Abductees Reveal How Emotion Can Cloud Reality
By Lee Dye, ABC News

July 21, 2004 â€" Researchers at Harvard University called on aliens from outer space to help them solve a problem that surfaces frequently in everything from therapeutic sessions to criminal trials, or even just chatting with a friend.

Sunspot Grows to 20 Times Size of Earth By Robert Roy Britt Senior Science Writer http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=96&ncid=753&e=10&u=/space/20040726/sc_space/sunspotgrowsto20timessizeofearth

A sunspot group aimed squarely at Earth has grown to 20 times the size of our planet and has the potential to unleash a major solar storm. The amorphous mix of spots, together called Number 652, has been rotating across the Sun and growing for several days. On Friday, it sat at the center of the solar disk.

German dig unearths dinosaur graveyard

BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- German scientists have unearthed the biggest collection of dinosaur fossils ever found in the country, including bones that could belong to previously unknown species, researchers said Wednesday.

Science as Metaphor
Where does Brian Greene stand in the pantheon of physicists?
By Amanda Schaffer

With his 1999 best seller The Elegant Universe, a NOVA special, and the recent release of a second book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, Columbia professor Brian Greene has become the closest thing that physics has to a pop star. A Harvard grad and former Rhodes scholar, lured in 1996 from a professorship at Cornell to a tenured position at Columbia, he has emerged as the chief ambassador of string theory, bringing cutting-edge work to the public in a series of TV appearances and lectures around the globe. His celebrity can be attributed to a widespread popular appetite for avant-garde science dressed in neat metaphorical packages: The universe is elegant; the cosmos is like a string symphony. Yet there is plenty to be suspicious of in Greene's unself-conscious romanticismâ€"his unnuanced use of terms like elegance and beautyâ€"and his teleological approach to the history of physics. Where, exactly, does he stand in the pantheon of physicists?

Ogre? Octopus? Blobologists Solve an Ancient Mystery
By WILLIAM J. BROAD New York Times

The world far beneath the waves has always been dark with menace. One sinister word for it, abyss - from the Greek, a ("without") byssos ("bottom") - perfectly evokes the dark infinities and the primal chaos. The deep is a blank slate for the expression of human fears and insecurities, an estuary for paranoia. And enough scary creatures abide in the depths to give credence to all that fear.

New book identifies Ireland as Atlantis

A new book investigating the myth of Atlantis says that the mythical land was actually the island of Ireland.

The claim is made by geologist Ulf Erlingsson in his book 'Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land', who is to visit Ireland on August 11 to 13.

In his book Erlingsson bases his evidence on Plato's desription of Atlantis which, according to Erlinsson, matches Ireland perfectly. Statistically, the scientist claims, the probability is over 99.98% that Plato was describing Ireland.

Fortune-Tellers Safe from Police Crackdown

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fortune-tellers of Los Angeles, relax. Your future is safe from unwanted government regulation. But you probably knew that anyway. Los Angeles police commissioners on Tuesday rejected a proposal to regulate the fortune-telling industry by requiring soothsayers, Tarot card readers, psychics and the like to obtain government licenses. The commission rejected the idea because issuing licenses would have the unintended effect of misleading consumers into believing that "these people are somehow qualified to practice their trade," Commissioner Rick Caruso said.

"Dead zone" spreads across Gulf of Mexico

HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) -- A huge "dead zone" of water so devoid of oxygen that sea life cannot live in it has spread across 5,800 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico this summer in what has become an annual occurrence caused by pollution. The extensive area of uninhabitable water may be contributing indirectly to an unusual spate of shark bites along the Texas coast, experts said.

Reuters August 5 2004
Witch doctors arrested in raid on fetish shrines

LAGOS, Nigeria (Reuters) -- "Nigerian police have arrested 30 witch doctors in a raid on fetish shrines in southeast Anambra state where over 50 decomposing bodies and 20 human skulls were discovered, a police spokesman said Thursday.

Revelation of the Nerds
The religion of stem-cell research.
By William Saletan
Posted Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004, at 4:11 PM

Article URL: http://slate.msn.com/id/2104983/

The hot new issue of 2004 was born in a lab dish. As Slate's Timothy Noah documented last week, "stem cells" were mentioned 20 times at the Democratic National Convention, more than unemployment and abortion combined. John Kerry is raising the issue at practically every campaign stop. Polls suggest it could attract enough independents and Republicans to decide the election. Pundits are amazed. How has science trumped politics, ideology, and religion as a campaign issue? I'll tell you how: Science has become political, ideological, and religious.

Explorers find UFO fragments in Tunguska meteorite area

Members of the scientific expedition of the Siberian state foundation Tunguska Space Phenomenon say they have managed to uncover blocks of an extraterrestrial technical device. The space body, which was later called the Tunguska meteorite, fell down on Earth on June 30th 1908, 65 kilometers off the Vanavara settlement, the Evenkiya republic. The first expedition to study the Tunguska meteorite was organized in 1927. Professor Leonid Kulik headed the mission. However, explorers have never managed to discover any fragments of the celestial body.

French doctor first to vet Lourdes "miracles"

LOURDES, France - French doctor Patrick Theillier is not your run-of-the-mill physicianinstead of diagnosing common colds and stomach ailments, he spends his days separating miracles from myth. Theillier is in charge of the Catholic church’s medical bureau in Lourdes, the “miracle” town in southwest France visited each year by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who pray for a cure from its blessed spring water.

Earth to E.T.: We're Waiting
By Joel Achenbach Washington Post Staff Writer http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48950-2004Aug7.html

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- They gotta be out there. We can find them if we figure out their frequency. It's a matter of looking in the right part of the spectrum, with the right kind of detector and the correct search algorithm. We are not alone; we're just momentarily a bit clueless.

Conspiracy Realities
by William F. Jasper

The Internet and talk radio abound with ridiculous rumors and falsehoods dealing with conspiracy. Yet, there are many examples of the real thing. According to New Age guru and spiritualist David Icke, our world is run by (and has been for thousands of years) a secret society of extra-terrestrial reptilians known as the Anunnaki. Mr. Icke, a former national spokesman for Britain’s radical Green Party, is a prolific author, whose books, videos and articles propagate a bizarre revisionist history of ancient civilizations, religions, world events, dynasties and famous people.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Russian Alien Spaceship Claims Raise Eyebrows, Skepticism


By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 12 August 2004
02:39 pm ET

An expedition of Russian researchers claims to have found evidence that an alien spaceship had something to do with a huge explosion over Siberia in 1908. Experts in asteroids and comets have long said the massive blast was caused by a space rock.

The new ET claim is "a rather stupid hoax," one scientist said today. And it's one with a rich history.

The latest claim was written up by news wires and was making the Internet rounds Thursday morning. According to Agence France Presse, the scientists say they've found "an extra-terrestrial device" that explains "one of the 20th Century's biggest scientific mysteries," a catastrophe that flattened some 800 square miles of Siberian forest in a region called Tunguska.

Various other news reports told of a "technical device" and "a large block made with metal." The researchers were said to chip a piece off for laboratory study.

Most scientists think the Siberian devastation was caused by a large meteorite which, instead of hitting the ground, exploded above the surface.

'Plan to uncover evidence'

The Russian research team is called the Tunguska Space Phenomenon foundation and is led by Yuri Labvin. He said in late July that an expedition to the scene would seek evidence that aliens were involved.

"We intend to uncover evidences that will prove the fact that it was not a meteorite that rammed the Earth, but a UFO," Labvin was quoted by the Russian newspaper Pravda on July 29.

"I'm afraid this is a rather stupid hoax," said Benny Peiser, a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. "The Russian team stupidly stated long before they went to Siberia that the main intention of their expedition was to find the remnants of an 'alien spaceship!' And bingo! A week later, that's what they claim to have found."

Peiser studies catastrophic events and related scientific processes and media reports. He runs an electronic newsletter, CCNet, which is among the most comprehensive running catalogues on the subject.

"It's a rather sad comment on the current state of the anything-goes attitudes among some 'science' correspondents that such blatant rubbish is being reported -- without the slightest hint of skepticism," Peiser told SPACE.com.

Longstanding mystery

Asteroid experts don't have all the answers for what happened at Tunguska. There were few witnesses in the remote region and the explosion left no crater.

The Tunguska event in 1908 flattened 800 square miles of Siberian forest -- and the object didn't even reach the ground. Astronomers say similar events will occur in the future, and one over a populated area would be devastating. But the available evidence, along with modern computer modeling and general knowledge of space rocks, leaves little doubt in most scientific minds as to what happened.

Author Roy Gallant spent 10 years investigating the scene of the event for his book, "Meteorite Hunter: The Search for Siberian Meteorite Craters" (McGraw-Hill, 2002).

In an interview with SPACE.com when the book was published, Gallant said scientists are gathering "accumulating evidence tending to support the notion that the exploding object was a comet nucleus. This is the collective opinion of most Russian investigators; although some say they cannot confidently rule out a stony asteroid."

Peiser said there is a "general consensus" among experts worldwide that the culprit was an exploding comet or asteroid.

"Not surprisingly, the blast did not leave any remains of the object intact," Peiser said. "However, researchers claim to have found evidence of increased levels of cosmic dust particles in Greenland ice cores which are dated to 1908 and which they link to the Tunguska event of the same year."

Longstanding speculation

Speculation about aliens and Tunguska go way back. And there is a reason: No other visitor from space -- natural or otherwise -- has had such a well-documented impact on daily life in modern history.

The explosion on June 30, 1908 was equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT.

"Witnesses twenty to forty miles from the impact point experienced a sudden thermal blast that could be felt through several layers of clothing," writes Jim Oberg in "UFOs & Outer Space Mysteries" (Donning Press, 1984). The blast was recorded as an earthquake at several weather stations in Siberia."

In Europe, it didn't get dark that night. People said they could read the newspaper by the light of the mysterious blast, Oberg reports. Telescope operators in America noticed degraded sky conditions for months.

No crater was found, and wild speculation ensued.

Enter sci-fi

Struck by the similarity of Tunguska and Hiroshima decades later, a science fiction writer named Kazantsev wrote a story in which the Tunguska blast was the exploding nuclear power plant of a spaceship from Mars, according to Oberg.

A few Russian scientists took up the cause and claimed to find various bits of evidence -- never substantiated -- for a civilized alien explanation. Oberg wrote in 1984 that even then, as evidence built for a natural cause, a handful of "spaceship buffs seem to have grown more desperate, but no less effective, in corralling the public's attention." He said annually some unsuspecting journalist would stumble on the claims and write about them, setting off a fresh round of public speculation.

On that front, little has changed since 1984.

Astronomer Philip Plait, author of the myth-debunking book Bad Astronomy (Wiley & Sons, 2002), agrees with Peiser that the Russian researchers intention for finding ET-evidence hurts their case.

"They are not undertaking a scientific expedition, that is, an unbiased investigation to see what happened," Plait said Thursday via e-mail. "They are going to try to prove their preconceived ideas. That's not science, that's religion. And it almost certainly means that they are more willing to ignore or play down any evidence that it was a comet or rock impact, while playing up anything they find consistent with their hypothesis."

Prove it

Whatever anyone believes, Plait points out that proof is what's important.

"I am not saying they didn't find an alien ship. I am saying that it's a) unlikely in the extreme, and b) they are predisposed to make such claims, which means we need to be very skeptical, even more so than usual in such cases. If they provide sufficient evidence, then scientists are obligated to investigate, of course. But given everything I've read, their evidence to even consider a non-natural cause is pretty weak."

Plait has even thought about what evidence might be necessary. A chunk of debris would help, but not just any sort of material.

"It would need a weird ratio of isotopes, for examples, or clear evidence of long duration space travel," he said. "Even then they must be careful; manmade space debris rains down on Earth all the time."

Plait, a naturally skeptical person, is willing to wait and see.

"Let's see what these guys bring back," he said. "In the end, it's not what they can claim but what they can support with factual evidence that counts. The burden of proof is clearly -- and heavily-- on them."

The Greatest Myths, Hoaxes & Mysteries in Astronomy and Space Science

Church Of Scientology Celebrity Centre International Hosts 35th Anniversary Gala


News Released: August 12, 2004

(PRLEAP.COM) HOLLYWOOD — The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International (http://www.celebritycentre.org) hosted its 35th Anniversary Gala in Hollywood, Saturday, August 7th. The guest list included many of the church's well known members, including Tom Cruise, Lisa Marie Presley, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Brandy, Sofia Milos, Jenna Elfman, Leah Remini, Catherine Bell, Priscilla Presley, Erika Christensen, Jason Lee, Anne Archer, Jennifer Aspen, Michelle Stafford, Lynsey Bartilson, Juliette Lewis, Marisol Nichols, and Ethan Suplee.

Speakers at this Gala included LA County Sheriff Lee Baca who acknowledged the Church of Scientology for being active at the forefront of conflict resolution.

A formal presentation was made by the United States Congress of a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in recognition of Celebrity Centre's 35th anniversary of humanitarian and voluntary contributions. This presentation was made on behalf of Congressman Brad Sherman (D. California) and Congress by Ileana Ross-Lehtinen.

The more than 1200 guests, including parishioners of the church, local and federal government officials and community leaders, were entertained at the outdoor celebration on the grounds of the Celebrity Centre by Beck, soul legend Isaac Hayes, jazz great Chick Corea and Academy Award nominated film composer Mark Isham.

Church officials say that the church's popularity in the arts mirrors its overall growth, with nearly 9 million members in over 150 countries. They say its rapid expansion is word-of-mouth driven, due to the religion's practical principles that are used to improve conditions in life.

The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre in Hollywood was founded in 1969. There are twelve Celebrity Centres located in cultural centers around the world including New York, Paris, Nashville, Las Vegas, Vienna and London.

In keeping with Scientology founder (http://www.lron.hubbard.org)L. Ron Hubbard's words from 1951, "A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists," these Celebrity Centres work with those whose broad visions for social enhancement are essential for positive progression of society. Celebrity Centres, like all Churches of Scientology worldwide, are open to the public.

Contact Information

Greg LaClaire
Church of Scientology Int
Email Church of Scientology Int

Paul Kurtz Talks to Time Out New York

The August 12-19 issue of Time Out New York--a leading weekly magazine on arts, culture and entertainment in New York City--features an interview of Center for Inquiry chairman Paul Kurtz on his thoughts about the paranormal, religion and need for more rational and critical thinking.

"Americans have always loved a good ghost story," writes James Cury, who interviewed Kurtz for Time Out. "We're suckers for paranormal explanations of the unexplainable."

Kurtz sees the classic paranormal topics, such as crop circles, ghosts and UFOs, as having "abated somewhat," while religiosity is on the rise. Kurtz discusses the need to critically examine religion and religious texts like the Bible and Koran. "Look, you can test claims empirically, whether they are rationally consistent, and you can make predictions. Why not apply them to many of these religious claims?"

"What bothers us mostly," says Kurtz, "is the flight from reason and science, and the reversion to primitive beliefs or irrational superstition -- I call it the transcendental temptation." Kurtz lays the blame for the lack of appreciation for science partly on the media, which often fails to give a scientific perspective to the public. He sees the persistent belief in creationism and widespread rejection of evolution as the result of "A failure of education, a failure of the media, a failure to criticize religion and a failure to develop public appreciation for science and reason."

Kurtz stresses that the mission of the Center for Inquiry is positive. "We are trying to provide the positive view that there are alternatives and that if you follow a kind of rationality, you can lead a good life."

Time Out NY Web site: http://www.timeoutny.com/ (interview not yet available online)



Robert L. Park Friday, 13 Jul 04 Washington, DC

Paul Gresser contributed to this week's issue of What's New.

This week, the 13-member federal advisory panel revising Dietary Guidelines for Americans held its final meeting in Washington. Responding to the currently fashionable low-carbohydrate diets, the panel flatly stated there is no value in using the glycemic index and recommended that to maintain weight calories consumed should not exceed calories expended. This of course is just the What's New "physics plan" http://www.aps.org/WN/WN00/wn022500.cfm the only diet plan endorsed by the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Evolution education update: Radio days

On August 9, 2004, Nick Matzke, NCSE Public Information Project Specialist, and Jack Krebs, Vice President of Kansas Citizens for Science, appeared on Mark Levine's Radio Inside Scoop. Krebs discussed the prospects for science education in Kansas in the wake of the imminent antievolutionist shift on that state's board of education, and Matzke reviewed the national situation as well as the motivations and tactics of the "intelligent design" movement. To hear the show, visit: http://radioinsidescoop.com/mt-posts-archive/000162.html (Note that there is about 75 seconds of music before the discussion starts.)

For reports on the situation in Kansas, visit KCFS's web site: http://www.kcfs.org as well as 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.

Pregnant by Jesus?

They're called "miracle babies" and for some childless couples in Britain, they're a dream come true. But doctors and Church of England officials are worried the babies aren't miracles at all, but either a shortcut adoption process or a baby-trafficking scheme.

Down a telephone line from Africa, Charles Nyeko hears the worry in his wife's voice. When she speaks to him from Kenya, where she went to have their "miracle baby", Miriam Nyeko sounds just awful.

"Miriam is in a terrible state, with no idea what will happen," the product designer, who lives in London, says. "We don't know what to think."

The Nyekos are the latest couple who claim to have had a miracle conception. Members of one of Britain's fastest-growing churches - the Gilbert Deya Ministries - they say their three-week old son is a "miracle from God."

But the Church of England and Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology are calling for an investigation into the so-called "miracle babies" being born to British women.

A BBC investigation looked into the births and discovered that the church's leader, Kenyan-born Gilbert Deya, prays over the childless women, and they are pronounced pregnant by Jesus.

Backstreets of Nairobi

The women then travel to Kenya where they apparently give birth in what are described as backstreet clinics in Nairobi.

Radio 4's Face the Facts discovered that one of the "miracle babies" has been taken into care after tests revealed that its DNA did not match either of its parents. Later, it was discovered the child's Kenyan birth certificate was a forgery.

"I believe in miracles, but I don't believe that people can have babies miraculously that have totally different DNA," says Dominic Walker, the Bishop of Monmouth. "I think it's very difficult when people are claiming something's a miracle when perhaps it's a criminal activity."

But Archbishop Deya - whose group has more than 36,000 members in Britain and which is building a #1 million church in south London - told the BBC that there was no explanation for the miracle babies. He said he wasn't surprised their DNA wasn't the same as their parents, as they came from God.

The Archbishop said he's seen post-menopausal women give birth, including a 56-year-old who has had 13 miracle babies over the past three years.

"The 'miracle babies' which are happening now in our ministry is beyond a human imagination, but it's not something that ... I can explain because they are of God and things of God cannot be explained by human beings," Archbishop Deya said.

"Unless somebody's blind, how can you say the woman is not pregnant?" he added. "We witness they are pregnant, they went to Kenya and they came with the babies, so we believe that where the tummy was big the baby has come out."

The ministry has 14 branches in Britain, as well as locations in Africa, Asia, and other parts of Europe, and Archbishop Deya has attracted the attention of authorities in the past.


He was investigated by the Church of England after conducting exorcisms on young children, but no action was taken.

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology echoes the Church of England's concerns, saying it's possible vulnerable people are being taken advantage of.

"Childless couples were very vulnerable and desperate that they would believe virtually anything," says consultant Patrick O'Brien, noting that medical evidence proved the women were not pregnant before the births.

"These are not miracle children, but someone else's children, and the authorities should find out whose."

But Charles Nyeko says the birth of his son, Daniel, is simply a gift from God.

"Now we have the proof - a miracle from God," he tells the programme. "We don't understand how it has happened. We are just grateful that it has. We have the son we so longed for and I am convinced that it is a miracle, a miracle I never thought I'd see in my lifetime."

But the couple is unsure that they'll be able to bring Daniel to Britain, as the Kenyan authorities are insisting on DNA testing to determine if he is the biological child of the Nyekos.

Along with the Metropolitan Police, the United Nations Children's Fund told Face the Facts that it will be launching an investigation into child exploitation and baby trafficking in Kenya in an attempt to get to the bottom of how babies born in Africa are being passed to foreign mothers.

"We want to know exactly what's happening," says Anna Miracow, a UN child protection officer. "What are the reasons, if it's happening, how are they being taken out, where are the loopholes?"

Face the Facts is broadcast on Radio 4 and is available via the BBC Radio Player (see internet links).

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/08/13 09:37:48 GMT

Friday, August 13, 2004

Center Devoted to the Public's Appreciation of Science Expands

Center For Inquiry Launches Campaign to Expand Successes as Educational and Research Organization

Amherst, N.Y.--The Center for Inquiry - Transnational is pleased to announce the $2.5 million expansion of its world headquarters in Amherst, NY. The expansion is part of the Center's new $26 million "New Future Fund Campaign."

"The Center for Inquiry is dedicated to extending reason, science, and free inquiry in every area of human interest, and in developing the public's understanding of the scientific outlook and the methods of science," said Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Center.

"There is a critical need for additional space. We plan on breaking ground in the fall with an expansion of our Amherst headquarters." The new headquarters will provide new offices, additional seminar and meeting rooms, and a major addition to its growing library.

The Center for Inquiry maintains three branch offices in the United States: Los Angeles, Tampa, and Rockefeller Center in New York City. The Center for Inquiry also has branches in Germany, France, Russia, Poland, Peru, Egypt, Nepal, Uganda, and Nigeria.

The Center for Inquiry is publisher of two popular magazines, Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer, in addition to scientific and scholarly journals such as Philo, The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, and The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. It has also launched new publications like the Spanish-language skeptics magazine Pensar (To Think) and is about to launch another new magazine, The Scientific Examination of Religion (edited by Professor R. Joseph Hoffmann). The combined circulation of the magazines, journals, and newsletters published at Center for Inquiry -seventeen in all - exceeds 110,000.

[Image] The Center for Inquiry is an umbrella organization that is home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, founded in 1976, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and other programs dedicated to the promotion of science and secular values.

One of the Center for Inquiry's newest endeavors has been the establishment of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. The Commission champions the importance of evidenced-based medicine and mental health practices and provides clinicians and the public unique resources to help distinguish effective from untested therapies.

As an educational and scientific organization, the Center for Inquiry has been remarkably effective. Through its media outreach efforts, the Center has provided experts for interviews on national TV and radio news programs such as "Dateline NBC" and ABC's "20/20," CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," "Paula Zahn Now," "Larry King Live," and NPR, where they address topics ranging from church-state separation to the proliferation of paranormal and irrational beliefs in society.

Center for Inquiry hosts several conferences around the world each year where scholars, scientists and journalists meet to discuss social issues such as the interface between religion and science.

Barry Karr, executive director of the Center for Inquiry, says that the Center has had "a dynamic, entrepreneurial approach." "We've been constantly expanding and adapting to economic conditions and the needs of supporters and subscribers," says Karr. "This has helped extend the organization's worldwide outreach and reputation."

[Image] Included are drawings of the proposed additions. The Center invites contributions to the building fund. Those interesting in making donations should contact Richard Hull at rhull@centerforinquiry.net or Sherry Rook at srook@centerforinquiry.net. Donations can also be made online at https://secure.ga3.org/05/CFI_New_Future_Fund.

The Center for Inquiry's Web site is located at www.centerforinquiry.net.

Press Contact: Kevin Christopher
Phone: 716-636-4869 x 218
E-mail: kchristopher@centerforinquiry.net

Visit the web address below to tell your friends about this. Teachers complain at head's exorcise regime http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_1052316.html?menu=news.quirkies

Teachers at a fundamentalist Christian school in Norway are complaining that the headmaster keeps trying to exorcise them.

The accusations were revealed in a report on the private Skjaergard's School by the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority.

Previously, the school was criticised by the same body for listing Jesus Christ as its executive manager, reports Nettavisen.

Three teachers, Borre Olsen, Ingunn Metveit Olsen and Kristin Ofsdahl Haga, say Pastor Glenn Rasmussen twice tried to free them from 'evil spirits' during working hours.

Borre Olsen said: "He led me to the end of the room, and there he grabbed around my stomach and started yelling loudly.

"He kept on for about 10 minutes, while I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there. I didn't feel possessed by evil spirits, and thought there are no limits to what you are going to experience in life."

Pastor Glenn Rasmussen has so far declined to comment. The school described the inspection report as "very subjective, one-sided and biased".

UFO Town Seeks Aid for Earthly Visitors


WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish town plans to ask the European Union (news - web sites) for the equivalent of $126 million to help it build facilities for hundreds of visitors lured by its mysterious crop circles, a local official said on Tuesday.

Crop circles -- areas in farmers' fields where grain has been flattened, often in complex interlocking patterns -- have been appearing in Wylatowo, western Poland, for four years.

The circles have drawn interest from UFO enthusiasts who believe they are made by alien spacecraft, while others dismiss them as hoaxes.

"We are drawing up a formal request -- we'd like to fix the sewer system and put up a campsite for visitors, both from Poland and from elsewhere in Europe," Wylatowo town councilor Tadeusz Filipczak told Reuters.

"I've got an exhibit for tourists set up in my place where they can come and ask questions -- I mean, you can't just send people out in the fields," he said.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Did aliens save planet in 1908?


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Russians say they have found spaceship debris

Posted: August 12, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com

Members of a Russian scientific team researching the site of the Tunguska meteorite crash of 1908 say they have found remnants of an extraterrestrial spacecraft, report a variety of Russian news agencies.

The object appeared to be a large metallic block, according to the reports. The researchers chipped off a piece of the object and will now test its composition.

One scientist said based on his calculations, the mass of the space object headed for Earth in 1908 was nearly 1 billion tons. He believes the meteorite was blasted by the spaceship at an altitude of 10 kilometers to prevent the destruction of all humanity on the planet.

"I am fully confident and I can make an official statement that we were saved by some forces of a superior civilization," Yuri Lavbin said. "They exploded this enormous meteorite that headed towards us with enormous speed," he said. Now this great object that caused the meteorite to explode is found at last. We will continue our research, he said.

Lavbin says that the results of this year's expedition give him hope that the Tunguska mystery will be solved before the phenomenon's 100th anniversary. To do this, Russian researchers plan another large-scale expedition to the Eastern Siberia.

The scientific team says the Tunguska event was an aerial explosion that occurred near the Tunguska River in Siberia June 30, 1908. The blast felled an estimated 60 million trees over 2,150-square kilometers. Local residents observed a huge fireball, almost as bright as the Sun, moving across the sky. A few minutes later, there was a flash that lit up half of the sky, followed by a shock wave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows up to 400 miles away.

The explosion registered at seismic stations across Eurasia, and produced fluctuations in atmospheric pressure strong enough to be detected by the recently invented barographs in Britain. Over the next few weeks, night skies over Europe and western Russia glowed brightly enough for people to read by. In the United States, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Mount Wilson Observatory observed a decrease in atmospheric transparency that lasted for several months.

The size of the blast was later estimated to be between 10 and 15 megatons. Until this year members of numerous expeditions have failed to find any remains of the object that caused the event.

IDing ID


Is "Intelligent Design" theory really "Creation Science" version 2.0? Not exactly, but the parallels are certainly suggestive.

Chris Mooney; August 9, 2004

The title of a recent book by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross says it all: Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design Theory. As these words suggest, those in the pro-evolution camp have often suggested that today's anti-evolutionist proponents of intelligent design theory share a familial resemblance with their earlier young earth creationist compatriots. At the same time, ID proponents centered at Seattle's Discovery Institute bristle at the "creationist" label. Meanwhile, the whole issue takes on an added urgency because ID proponents have increasingly adopted the political behavior once embraced by creationists of yore, meddling in educational battles at the local level and explicitly laying out a First Amendment legal strategy to achieve future successes. Court cases could lie in the near future, and those may hinge on defining "ID." So what gives?

As it turns out, ID is more or less like young earth creationism—and especially like "creation science"—depending on whether you choose to focus on its actual assertions or its strategic behavior. In substantive terms, ID differs quite significantly from the "creation science" movement that preceded it, and in ways that generally make its arguments stronger, or at least less risible. ID doesn't, for instance, deny the validity of radioisotope dating and assert the existence of a young Earth. Neither does it rely on the feverish nonsense of Flood Geology, claiming that a single Noachian deluge laid down the entire fossil record. More generally, whether out of strategic wariness or otherwise, ID proponents tend to shy away from espousing biblically literalist views in their literature and publications (though the religious motivations of many of ID's All Stars are well documented).

So substantively, we have to admit that ID differs significantly from "creation science." Since young earth creationists themselves frequently made arguments about the presence of design in living things, we might even say that ID represents "creation science" stripped of everything but design arguments (as well as various critiques of evolutionary theory). In fact, it has often been noted that ID verges on intellectual vacuity: At least young earth creationists had their own detailed account of how life on earth came into being.

Yet as far as its strategic behavior goes, ID actually appears to represent a kind of natural culmination of the "creation science" movement, which originated in the 1960s and 1970s for specific legal and educational reasons. When compared to "creation science" on a strategic level, it turns out that ID proceeds still further in the direction of PR-oriented pseudoscience and the denial of religious intentions in argument. In fact, we can detect many rudimentary elements of the current ID approach among earlier advocates of "creation science"—though ID has improved and perfected them.

Consider the history of American creationism. As the definitive book on the subject—Ronald Numbers' The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism—makes clear, over the last century the creationist movement showed a marked trend towards the appropriation of scientific trappings and the masking of outwardly religious forms of argumentation (at least in the versions of their theories that they wanted presented in public schools). From first to last, American creationism has been primarily motivated by fundamentalist religiosity. But though even early creationists like William Jennings Bryan—who joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1924—sometimes claimed to act scientifically, in the 1960s and 1970s the movement transformed.

With the publication of John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry Morris's The Genesis Flood in 1961, the formation of the Creation Research Society in 1963, and finally Morris's explicit adoption of the term "creation science" in the 1970s, creationism dramatically ramped up its scientific pretensions. Its proponents began to insist that you didn't have to believe in the Bible to see the evidence for creationism, and that students could be taught "creation science" without being preached to.

The approach represented a new strategy from the creationist perspective, and one that arose in response to previous a U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring religious bans on the teaching of evolution in public schools unconstitutional (something the state of Arkansas had tried to do). In the wake of this setback, creationists began to demand "equal time" for their views in science classes, which in turn necessitated a new campaign to present those views as strictly scientific. "'Scientific creationism' was just a sort of an add on to try to get in the public schools," Numbers told me during a recent phone conversation.

But insofar as "creation science" represented a legal strategy, it proved a dramatic failure. Creation science didn't mask its religious content enough, or prove its scientific bonafides in any meaningful way. It didn't really fool anybody who wasn't inclined to believe in it for religious reasons anyway. In the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard the U.S. Supreme Court essentially ruled that "creation science" amounted to religion masquerading as science, and therefore couldn't be taught in public school science classes.

But though "creation science" failed, what's intriguing for our current purposes are its tactics: recruit Ph.D.s to outfits like the Creation Research Society and Institution for Creation Research; claim repeatedly to be doing science; and—at least to some extent—keep religion offstage.

All of these attributes also manifest themselves in the intelligent design movement, where they're taken to a much higher level. ID has made significant inroads at major universities, and recruited a wide range of Ph.D.s to serve as fellows at Seattle's Discovery Institute. It claims—repeatedly—to represent a scientific innovation. Finally, when journalists attempt to probe the religious motivations of ID types, they're accused of engaging in ad hominems. ID advocates don't want to be judged on religious grounds, and they do a much better job than "creation scientists" of keeping religion out of their arguments, even if it may lie in their backgrounds and personal belief systems.

In all of these ways, ID represents a strategic upgrade of "creation science." In fact, it turns out that ID's "teach the controversy" program—which advocates instructing public school students in the alleged weaknesses in evolutionary theory, rather than in ID itself—appears to have originated with "creation scientists" as well. Following the Supreme Court's Edwards v. Aguillard decision, the Institute for Creation Research prepared an intriguing evaluation of what should come next. Among other points, the group noted that "school boards and teachers should be strongly encouraged at least to stress the scientific evidences and arguments against evolution in their classes…even if they don't wish to recognize these as evidences and arguments for creationism." As Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education has observed, this comment shows that "teach the controversy" was "pioneered in the wake of Edwards v. Aguillard."

So what can we conclude from this? First, it's incorrect to call ID proponents "creationists" if by that term we mean to suggest that they're members of the young earth creationist movement. That's simply not true; their arguments differ substantially. Granted, if we define "creationism" minus its historical baggage, and simply claim that it means "opposing the theory of evolution for religious reasons," then ID followers certainly fit the mold.

Either way, though, the bigger point is this: Because ID follows the basic strategy of "creation science," it may also suffer from the same weaknesses. Just like "creation science," ID has failed to convince working biologists of its scientific validity. If a case over ID ever reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, we can therefore expect that, just as in Edwards v. Aguillard, countless Nobel Laureates will sign an amicus brief in the case explaining that ID isn't scientifically credible.

Moreover, although ID has done a much better job of masking the religious elements of its approach, those elements have nevertheless been unearthed by journalists and authors critical of the movement. (See Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design Theory for details.) So even as ID has failed to successfully claim the mantle of science, it's also failed to successfully discard the mantle of religion. Once again, that's a legal liability.

So, in short, even though ID may not be young earth creationism, and may not be "creation science," it nevertheless seems doomed to recapitulate that prior movement's errors and failures. That doesn't necessarily prove that ID is like traditional creationism in any detailed way. Rather, it simply just goes to show that both are forms of religiously inspired anti-evolutionism, and will automatically have a near-impossible road to hoe thanks to the firm place of evolutionary theory in modern biology.



Posted on Wed, Aug. 11, 2004

Macroevolution not a scientific fact

Regarding Ted Kozicki's opinion on State Board of Education member Steve Abrams' remarks or beliefs about evolution, science standards and the scientific method ("Good science?" Aug. 7 Reader Views): He questioned the obvious empirical science, which was never an issue, only to disparage Mr. Abrams' credibility. Evolution or mutation within a species, also known as microevolution, has never been denied by Mr. Abrams, and he has never advocated the teaching of Christianity or any other religion in our public schools.

Mr. Abrams' references to evolution pertain to macroevolution or saltation (that all life-forms originated by descent from one species to another), which does not fit the scientific method and has never been empirically proved, ever. Mr. Abrams advocates that the teaching of "intelligent design" is just as credible as the theory of evolution (macroevolution). So by suppressing creationism and teaching the theory of evolution in public schools, students are misled into believing that macroevolution is fact.

What surprises me is that somebody who claims to have taught science in school does not understand the issue that Mr. Abrams was addressing.

Arkansas City

Ted Kozicki's attempt to debunk Steve Abrams' good science standards only demonstrated the need for Mr. Abrams' push for higher standards.

Disease resistance to antibiotics is an example of a decrease of genetic information from an originally larger pool of variation in genetic information. Evolution dogma requires an increase in genetic information among species, which has never been observed from mutations or adaptations. So this decrease in genetic information actually points to an originally larger created genetic pool being depleted.

For example, DDT gets rid of the mosquitoes that are not resistant, but the resistant mosquitoes survive and thus become the majority of the population. The population, though, has lost genes that were in the nonresistant mosquitoes. These micro-depleting changes are falsely called proof of evolution. That's like saying that if a business loses only a few dollars every year, in a hundred years it will net a profit. So the observed changes actually fit the creation/fall model of science.


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