NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 September 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Narconon Banned From San Francisco Schools


August 30, 2004

After a review by school health officials found scientific inaccuracies in its teaching, the Narconon Drug Prevention and Education Program, which has ties to the Church of Scientology, has been banned from San Francisco classrooms -- the fourth school district to ban the program.

Four other California school districts, including Los Angeles, have already removed the Narconon program from their classrooms, because they found that the program introduces students to teachings of the Church of Scientology without their knowledge.

San Francisco Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman banned the program after a review found its teaching were not "100 percent accurate." "We are going to withhold the opportunity for Narconon to be in our schools," said Ackerman, who has requested an outside scientific appraisal of the program.

The Narconon program has been used in at least 34 other California school districts. State School Superintendent Jack O'Connell has ordered his own evaluation of the program, which is due in October.

Ackerman began to take a closer look at the program after a report in The San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Narconon's classroom lectures reflected Scientology's beliefs that drug residues remain indefinitely in body fat and cause recurring flashbacks and drug cravings, a claim not supported by scientific research.

In Iraq, a Quest to Rebuild One More Broken Edifice: Science


August 31, 2004


BAGHDAD, Iraq - An ancient fan rattles away in a window as chemical fumes waft by rotting laboratory benches and corroding racks of tubes. A young graduate student, Farah Yassien, perspires in the oppressive afternoon heat as she labors over an experiment involving the drip, drip, drip of benzene and hexane.

This is a chemical engineering laboratory at Baghdad University, the most respected institution of higher education in Iraq. And striding through the ruined lab is Dr. Hussain Shahristani, an Iraqi nuclear physicist, who in a nation of impossible dreams and broken infrastructure may have picked the most quixotic task of all. He hopes to restore Iraqi science to its former pre-eminence in the Middle East, and he has founded an Iraqi National Academy of Sciences to help him do so.

Unlike the well-financed, prestigious academies of the West, Dr. Shahristani's has only 16 members, about half of them foreigners, and no budget to speak of. The academy members have no regular meeting place and at present huddle in an office at a university computer center. They have been largely ignored by both Iraqi and American officials, who presumably feel that they have more pressing problems. Furthermore, Iraqi research labs, like this one, are a crumbling, looted, odoriferous mess.

The most unlikely element in Dr. Shahristani's quest may be his decision to undertake it in the first place. He came within a hair's breadth of being named prime minister of Iraq last spring. He was tortured by Saddam Hussein's government for refusing to work on an atomic bomb and spent 12 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, before escaping during the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

Born in 1942 and educated in London and Toronto as well as Iraq, Dr. Shahristani often draws comparisons to Andrei Sakharov, the Russian physicist who was persecuted in the former Soviet Union for his outspoken views on human rights during the cold war. A Shiite Muslim, he is said to be close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric.

He has a strong commitment to democratic rule and pulls few punches on any topic.

Jammed in the back of a car with no air-conditioning as he rushed to an appointment after the visit to the lab, he said there was little hope of quelling the continuing violence in Iraq without free and fair elections, planned for early next year. So far, he said, average Iraqis see the American-installed government here as just another unrepresentative regime and therefore they have no incentive to act against insurgents.

"If they mess up the election, then the country is down the drain," he said. "Because, quite frankly, I think the Iraqi people have been too patient."

Dr. Shahristani briefly became the top contender for interim prime minister of Iraq in May, when it was leaked to journalists that he was favored by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy to Iraq, as a nonpolitical compromise choice. He withdrew because of opposition by various Iraqi political parties, but he did not rule out running in democratic elections.

"I will try to avoid it, as I did the first nomination," he said, but added that if he construed it as a personal duty, as defined by his Islamic faith, then he would run.

For now, Dr. Shahristani, with the help of a handful of Iraqi, American and British colleagues, is trying to resurrect a scientific establishment that once pursued illicit weapons - weapons the United States suspected were still under development before the recent invasion. Instead, by the time of the American-led invasion of Iraq last year to remove Mr. Hussein, that establishment turned out to be a crushed remnant of what it had been in the 1960's, 70's and 80's.

"The state of the science today is just abominable," said Dr. Farouk El-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University and a board member at the Arab Science and Technology Foundation, which participated in a major assessment of Iraqi science in June. "It is shameful. You cannot add to today's knowledge a penny if your state is like that."

Decades of authoritarian rule have left Iraqi science in even worse shape than meets the eye. Many scientists here have lost the ability to generate fresh ideas independently and then seek money to carry out the research.

"The whole science structure in the previous regime was based on isolating groups of scientists and telling them exactly what to do, without access to outside scientific groups," Dr. Shahristani said in an interview at his home in Baghdad.

"For people who have been brought up in such a system," he added, "it would be very difficult to say, 'O.K., you decide.' ''

Some analysts are harsher, suggesting that many Iraqi scientists are proving to be incapable of responding to the leadership of Dr. Shahristani and a few other academics and researchers.

"There doesn't seem to be the kind of motivation that you'd expect," said Stuart Schwartzstein, an official at the American Embassy in Baghdad who is an adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology. "There still seems to be a sense that they're waiting for orders to come down from on high, with the requisite resources. And that's probably not going to happen."

But a more democratic form of leadership is just what Dr. Shahristani hopes his academy will provide. He would also like to see the organization help restore the country's shattered medical infrastructure, address enormous pollution problems - some left over from the nuclear and biological weapons programs of the 1980's - and establish an ethical framework for scientific research.

"We wanted to be sure that science was never again misused in Iraq," he said.

As the United States pours billions of dollars into reconstruction projects, there are other reasons to nurture scientists, engineers and medical researchers, said Irving Lerch, an American physicist and human rights advocate who has pressed for quicker action. "We've got to give that country the intellectual capacity to rebuild itself," he said. "If we want Iraq to be dependent on the United States for its security, for its rebuilding, for its life, then all we have to do is continue what we're doing."

By the early 1950's, the University of Baghdad had asserted itself as Iraq's leading institution of higher learning, according to an assessment by the Arab Science and Technology Foundation, based in the United Arab Emirates, and by Sandia National Laboratories in the United States. During that time, Iraqi-born scientists with degrees from Britain, the United States, France, Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere streamed back to their homeland, invigorating academic fields from physics to economics.

New universities and about 80 technical institutes were established in the 1960's and 70's, and Iraq's technical infrastructure was the envy of the Middle East, Dr. El-Baz said.

But then there was the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which cost Iraq an estimated $100 billion. By the 1991 gulf war, most major research institutes had been shuttered or severely damaged. Scientists were drafted into the Iraqi Army and many died, or their careers languished. Economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 made it impossible even to stock the labs where scientists remained.

After the invasion last year, almost everything that was left was gutted. "On many campuses, every computer, light fixture, every stick of furniture, ceiling fans, doors, windows, in short everything of value was looted and then followed by devastating fires," a team of visiting university presidents from the United States wrote in a report last year for financial and educational advisers at the Coalition Provisional Authority, since dissolved.

Attempts by the American occupation authorities to remedy some of the damage were delayed by the worsening security situation.

Last November, Dr. Shahristani and his colleagues, including people like Mosa Aziz al-Mosawe, the president of Baghdad University, formally established the academy in a ceremony at the Royal Society in London.

There could hardly have been anyone in Iraq whose credentials, both moral and scientific, were better suited for making the proposition a success. It was in July 1980 when Barazan Tikriti, Mr. Hussein's half-brother and the head of the secret police, visited Dr. Shahristani as he lay on the floor, partly paralyzed after being tortured. Mr. Tikriti informed Dr. Shahristani that it was every man's duty to serve his country, and that anyone who did not had no right to be alive. Then he urged Dr. Shahristani to work on the Iraqi atomic bomb program.

In one of scientific history's great acts of defiance, Dr. Shahristani said he served his country better by not working on the bomb. In the interview at his home, he said he feared Mr. Hussein would end up using an atomic weapon against his own people.

Dr. Shahristani remained in prison for the next decade and managed to remain very much the scientist. Worried that Mr. Hussein would use chemical weaponry and harm the inmates where he was confined as the first gulf war approached, he taught them how to improvise gas masks with wet rags and charcoal. When the inmates began asking visiting family members for chunks of charcoal, prison officials suspected an effort to make a strange sort of bomb and began an investigation.

But once again there was no bomb, and Dr. Shahristani escaped. On the strength of his remarkable reputation, he formed the national academy and quickly secured a promise from the Baghdad municipal government for the academy to occupy a modest three-story building at 6 Haifa Street if he could raise the money to renovate its looted interior.

Then things started to go wrong. He managed to raise the money, only to be told by the Baghdad authorities that the building had been given to the Iraqi National Olympic Committee, which already had a headquarters building.

Both the city's real estate department and the chairman of the Olympic committee, Ahmed A. al-Samarrai, said the committee simply got its paperwork in first. The building is to become an Olympic museum, Mr. Samarrai said.

Dr. Shahristani asserts that the real estate department conspired with the Olympic committee to secure the building.

Finally, in May, Mr. Schwartzstein, of the United States Embassy, tried to secure the right to take over one of the hundreds of government-owned buildings controlled by the occupation authority.

But the Americans took until July to process the request, and then an Iraqi claimed ownership, saying Mr. Hussein's government had wrongfully appropriated the property. So that building, too, slipped out of the academy's hands.

Ms. Yassien, the student at the Baghdad University lab, is forced to buy chemicals for her own experiments. She goes to a market called Bab al-Muadham and often sees other students trolling for bargains.

The professors at the university, she said, "can't do anything for us."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Man makes path from patient to healer

Posted on Tue, Aug. 31, 2004 Los Angeles Times

By Hilary E. MacGregor

Evan Ross lost one eye to cancer at age 2, and then nearly lost the other.

Then, 22 years later, doctors told him he had cancer again. This time it was a tumor in his brain. And this time they told him he would die.

Ross had moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey to follow his dream – to work in the music industry. He was working as a record producer when he started getting severe headaches, experiencing shortness of breath and twitching. His therapist told him he was having panic attacks.

The strange symptoms persisted. He grew weak on his left side. He had trouble keeping food down. One day he passed out on the bathroom floor.

He went to the doctor. They scanned his head, and by the time he got home there was a message on his telephone answering machine.

"You appear to have a rather large mass in your head," he recalls the doctor telling him when he called back. "?'It appears to be a glioma.' I didn't even know what a glioma was."

The mass in Ross' head turned out to be a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme – a common and highly malignant type of brain tumor. Like many people who battle cancer, the experience would change his life. But it also would change his career. Ten years later, Ross has left his job in the music industry and is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of oriental medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, helping patients not unlike himself.

Today, cancer-free for eight years, he works closely with teams of doctors in the hospital, visiting patients in the ICU, rehab unit and cancer wards. He sees about 80 patients a week, many of them cancer patients, and about three in four of them are referred by medical doctors.

A decade ago, integrative medicine was little more than talk at most medical centers. But according to a 2003 survey by the American Hospital Association, 17 percent of hospitals offer complementary and alternative medicine, CAM, services.

Ross' ties with top medical doctors at a prestigious hospital give him a badge of legitimacy in a world often unequipped to assess the effectiveness of alternative medicine therapies or the qualifications of its practitioners.

"It definitely makes a difference having him here at Cedars," says Dr. Edward Wolin, an oncologist at the hospital's Comprehensive Cancer Center who refers patients to Ross. "He has staff privileges. He is able to come to the hospital room, if the person is an inpatient, and he is able to give acupuncture at the hospital. He is treated as part of the medical team. It is a unique relationship with someone in the acupuncture field."

But it is Ross' first-hand experience with cancer, it seems, that makes him even rarer.

Ross' tumor was the size of a lemon, in a part of the brain – the right frontal lobe – that controls movement on the left side of his body.

"I didn't believe I was going to die," Ross says. "From the beginning – I have an entry in my journal – I believed it was about learning a set of lessons. I believed it was destined to happen. And I welcomed it as a challenge."

In May 1995, he underwent a 10-hour surgery at the University of California San Francisco during which doctors were able to remove only 50 percent of his tumor. Doctors told his family he would be paralyzed on one side and that after the surgery he would be treated with chemotherapy. But the doctors told him it was unlikely treatment would save his life.

Ross is 35. He is matter-of-fact, almost clinical, when he talks about his battle with cancer. So his detours into topics of spirituality feel all the more unexpected. He frequently draws on his personal story to inspire patients, so that at times it begins to feel like a spiel. But as he tells his tale again, his professional veneer cracks.

"It's hard to talk about this," he says.

Ross spent three weeks researching conventional cancer treatments on the Internet, and many non-conventional ones, too. Even while undergoing chemo and other standard treatments, he went on a macrobiotic diet and meditated twice daily. He tried acupuncture, took nutritional supplements, practiced Qigong and was treated with ayurvedic herbs. He kept a journal, to allow his subconscious to speak to him and teach him lessons. He saw a shaman and consulted with a Jewish mystic.

"There is a danger in thinking of it as alternative medicine, because it implies one kind of medicine or the other. Both types of medicine have to be used together."

Dr. Michael Lill, the medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center and director of the blood and marrow transplant program, says that perspective is part of what makes Ross an asset.

"He is careful to still send people for conventional therapies, rather than trying to do everything himself," Lill says.

Ross believes his diet and alternative therapies enabled him to withstand high doses of chemo, and endure two stem cell transplants with few side effects. He considered his illness a spiritual journey and reflected deeply on his disease.

After his battle with cancer, Ross knew he wanted a change in his life.

"After the cancer I was afraid," he says. "I was scared that once (the disease) was gone I would forget all the lessons it had taught me, and I would go back to being the person I was before I was sick."

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Creationist article stirs debate


Oakland, CA, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- A paper by a creationist group, published in a little-known scientific journal, is creating concern among evolutionary biologists.

The small journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, published in its June issue a paper scientists say erroneously critiques the theory of evolution. The paper was authored by Stephen Meyer, project director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, a proponent of "intelligent design" based in Seattle.

The Oakland, Calif.,-based National Center for Science Education, a staunch defender of the teaching of evolution in schools, said it "has already heard from a number of members of the Biological Society of Washington ... who are concerned about the reputation of the society and its journal after the publication of such a piece of substandard work in the apparent service of a non-scientific ideology."

Intelligent design supporters believe living creatures show patterns of design that are evidence of a creator. ID backers also have sought to weaken the teaching of evolution in schools.

Although the claims of Discovery Institute's CSC have been rebuffed by the scientific community at large, the group has sought to get papers published in scientific journals.

Copyright 2004 United Press International

Figuring out the very nature of nature


UC lab heads groundbreaking genome work

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Monday, August 30, 2004

In his lab at UC Berkeley, evolutionary biologist Brent Mishler has spent a research lifetime studying a single group of obscure green mosses known, among other attributes, for their resistance to drought.

They can withstand the kind of total desiccation that would kill virtually all other plants and shrivel their individual cells to death -- and that quality has earned them a place in a new genome-sequencing effort at the Joint Genome Institute, a UC Berkeley facility in Walnut Creek sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In virtually everything alive, from giant redwoods to the smallest microbes, determining the sequence of chemicals in the total genetic material lets scientists tease out the specific genes that control each organism's heredity -- revealing both evolutionary history and the paths their descendants may take as they adapt to changing environments.

And scientists at the institute operate more than 100 high-tech machines that can automatically map out that information, showing the varied arrays of chemical bases that make up the fundamental units of all the genes in nature shaped in the famed double helix of DNA.

Last week, after a detailed review by international experts, the Genome Institute agreed to dedicate its priceless machines to nearly 25 different gene-sequencing projects -- all, according to Director Edward Rubin, himself a noted geneticist, "representing major contributions to ground-breaking science."

Each new project, he said, "will help us understand more completely how nature works."

Indeed, when scientists completed the first working draft of the human genome four years ago, discovering in the process that all human heredity is governed by fewer than 35,000 individual genes in the vast string of the genome's 3 billion chemical base pairs, they began a revolution some say will prove akin to the works of Copernicus, Darwin and Freud.

It took 10 years for the Human Genome Project to complete the first working draft of all the chemical bases that contain our genes. Today, the institute's sequencing machines can speed the work immeasurably, and with its annual budget of $50 million from the Energy Department, Rubin expects his teams to sequence the 15 billion base pairs involved in its 23 new projects within the next year. It will take only a few days to determine the sequence of some tiny organisms with only a few genes, while others will require weeks to determine their details.

The business of gene sequencing -- though far from routine and still highly complex -- is providing a vital look at the very nature of nature. Unraveling nature's genetic codes can bring fresh understanding of the roots of disease, dramatic new insights into evolution's pathways since the first emergence of life on Earth, and unbounded prospects for new drugs to attack many intractable human disorders.

The focus of the gene detectives is exploring how organisms came to be --

and the institute's new work will range from examining the evolutionary relationships of microbes that make up half of all life on the planet to the striking genetic links between underwater worms and land-dwelling spiders. Studying long-evolved adaptations to hostile environments may also result in practical uses.

The moss called Physcomitrella patens, for example, "is becoming the new lab rat for plant scientists," Mishler noted in a recent interview.

The moss contains only half a billion chemical bases, but it holds all the genes necessary for it to have evolved and thrived for more than 450 million years.

"Because the genomes of only a few plants -- like rice, corn and the flowering weedy mustard called Arabidopsis -- have been sequenced so far, determining the sequence of our moss genome could help tell us how it evolved, " he said, "and tell us which gene or combination of genes is responsible for its extraordinary resistance to drought."

Finding that specific constellation of genes will be "a triumph for international plant science," Mishler said -- and not least because it could enable scientists to exploit the moss genes for their drought resistance and engineer them into other vital crop plants that now require copious water supplies.

The result, Mishler believes, could be new varieties of food plants that could flourish in the world's most arid, famine-prone regions.

The scientists will be exploring other realms, too. Remember "The African Queen," when Humphrey Bogart emerged from a reed-choked river plastered with revolting leeches while his doughty spinster companion, Katharine Hepburn, pulled them off his naked back with lashings of salt?

That leech's relative, Helobdella robusta, is one of the organisms in line for gene sequencing. It deserves far more credit that it's given, said David Weisblad, a UC Berkeley developmental biologist, who speaks highly of the tribe.

"Leeches are regarded by some with a mixture of horror and disgust so intense as to preclude their consideration as objects for biological investigation," he said. "But in fact, leech embryos are quite beautiful and are well suited for cellular and molecular analyses of embryonic development."

Leeches are segmented worms, yet as worms they bear obscure evolutionary links to apparently unrelated animals like the arachnids -- spiders, ticks, mites and scorpions.

Now, Weisblad and his colleagues are about to learn the entire genetic sequence of the leech's 300 million base pairs -- about one-tenth the size of the human genome.

"They and the arachnids must have a common evolutionary ancestor," said Weisblad, who has been studying the early development of leech embryos for more than 30 years along with Marty Shankland, a zoologist at the University of Texas at Austin.

Their goal is to understand just how the body plans of widely different animals evolved, and understanding their genetic relationships is a key.

"Determining the genome of the Helobdella leech is of fundamental importance in understanding how the body plans of all organisms have been organized," Weisblad said, "and how small genetic changes have given rise to such gross differences as those between our leeches and fruit flies, for example. That divergence must have begun more than 600 million years ago."

The Genome Institute also will be studying a tiny single-celled creature far down the microcosmic scale -- a microbe called Spironucleus vortens, so ancient it must have emerged some 2 billion to 3 billion years ago along with many of the earliest life forms on Earth.

Spironucleus is by far the oldest known example of the eukaryotes, a family of organisms that contain a true nucleus (unlike the prokaryotes, which have no nucleus in their cells), and as such has drawn detailed studies by Scott Dawson, a molecular biologist in the UC Berkeley laboratory of William Cande.

The eukaryotes are the true climbers on the tree of life, for they include everything from amoebas and bacteria as well as the spirochetes that cause diseases as diverse as syphilis and strep throat, to algae and fungi and jellyfish, insects, dinosaurs, monkeys and humans.

Spironucleus vortens -- a parasite infecting certain species of fish, and a cousin of the intestinal parasite Giardia that infects humans and is one of the most common causes of water-borne diseases in the world -- is an oddball among the eurakyotes, as it carries two nuclei that appear to spin around each other inside the cell, Dawson says.

Determining the sequence of the 12 million base pairs in Spironucleus and ultimately sorting out its genes and their functions will provide powerful clues to its long course of evolution, Dawson said.

That will help reveal how close or distant its relationship is to all the world's other eukaryotes, from its disease-causing cousins to its far more distant relatives, including the ones called humans. Understanding the genetics of Spironucleus, the most ancient of its tribe, could well lead to a new understanding of the genes that cause disease in its microbial cousins -- a first step toward neutralizing their lethal power.

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



Posted on Mon, Aug. 30, 2004

Concerning the ongoing debate on whether the Genesis account of creation should be taught along with science in our schools, the first question a scientist would ask a person who presented this "intelligent design" account as an explanation of the Earth and universe as we know it would be: This sounds like an eyewitness account. Who was present to record the daily events as well as God's statements and even his thoughts?

As a devout atheist, I would appreciate an explanation on who recorded this "event" and how this record was preserved. The biblical explanation is dreams, visions, miracles or faith. Creation fails the very first question: Who gathered this information, and how did they accomplish this truly amazing feat?


Antievolutionists are backward only in the sense that we look back to the Bible for insight to understanding the hard, scientific evidence before us. Creationists and evolutionists examine the same evidence, but their perspectives are diametric opposites. Creationists look through biblical lenses, humbly and uncompromisingly trusting God to reveal truth. Staunch evolutionists, on the other hand, arrogantly dismiss God as irrelevant or nonexistent, and rely solely upon their own ever-changing speculations in a vain cosmological quest.


Monday, August 30, 2004

Ephedra substitute - Seville orange may have risks



Posted By: News-Medical in Medical Research News
Published: Friday, 27-Aug-2004
People taking "ephedra-free" weight loss products that contain the herb Citrus aurantium, or Seville orange, may be doing more harm to their body than good, according to a new review published by Georgetown University Medical Center researchers.

The review, published in the September issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine, found that no reliable scientific evidence supports the use of C. aurantium for losing weight. More importantly, high doses of the herb, which contains synephrine, may not be safe. Synephrine can cause hypertension, and C. aurantium also interacts with drugs in a manner similar to grapefruit juice.

"C. aurantium has many of the same potential deleterious cardiovascular effects as ephedra, and it also potentially affects the metabolism of other drugs," said Adam Myers, PhD, professor of physiology and co-author of the review. "The public and the medical community should be concerned about the growing use of C. aurantium without adequate data on safety and efficacy."

Since the banning of ephedra-containing products by the Food and Drug Administration, a new wave of "ephedra-free" herbal weight loss preparations has surfaced. Many of these products contain C. aurantium, a small, sour citrus used to flavor Curacao, Cointreau, and Triple Sec. CA has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat digestive problems.

Among the points highlighted in their review, Myers and co-author Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, associate professor of Physiology, discuss that C. aurantium, like grapefruit, contain flavonoids that affect drug metabolism and can increase blood levels of drugs, thus increasing side effects.

"The effects on drug-metabolizing systems are not identical. C. aurantium juice, but not grapefruit, increased levels of indinavir, a drug used to treat AIDS. Grapefruit juice, but not C. aurantium juice, increased cyclosporine levels. Both citruses increased levels of felodipine, a calcium channel drug used to treat high blood pressure," said Myers who directs the first Master's degree-granting graduate level program in Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States.

"Potential drug interactions could be serious," states Fugh-Berman, author of the 5-Minute Herbs and Dietary Supplement Consult (Lippincott Williams and Wilkins 2002). "Anyone who is taking daily medication should consult a physician before combining it with the use of C. aurantium. This and other herbal weight loss products should not be considered safe simply because they are available over-the-counter. The best way to lose weight is through exercise and diet."

Myers and Fugh-Berman encourage much more research on the effects of C. aurantium. As part of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Master's Program they help guide at Georgetown, Myers, Fugh-Berman, and their colleagues are focused on training scientists to address the research gaps in CAM, educating health care practicioners on the benefits and risks of CAM, and promoting critical, interdisciplinary thinking. The second year of this pioneering graduate biomedical program has enrolled double the students as the first year of the program, demonstrating a sincere and growing interest in exploring the science behind CAM and helping to fill in missing data to determine the safest recommendations for consumers.


Evolution Challenged in Georgia School Debate


Kate Sweeney
29 Aug 2004, 00:29 UTC

Earlier this year, Georgia's Secretary of Education, Kathy Cox, unleashed a national controversy when she announced the state's new science curriculum. The course of study would not mention the term evolution, which she called a "controversial buzzword." Many conservative religious groups reject the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest and have called on public schools to teach the Biblical story of creation in science classes. Amid the uproar that followed her announcement, Secretary Cox rescinded the decision. But the debate continues in Georgia's schools. One place the controversy still looms large is Cobb County, home to an ongoing lawsuit over evolution.

It's a simple scientific concept, and perhaps one of the most complex issues in culturally conservative parts of the nation. And nearly eight decades after a teacher in Tennessee went on trial for talking to his class about Darwin's ideas, talk of evolution has taken center-stage in Georgia's public classrooms. Two years ago, the School Board of Cobb County, near Atlanta, voted to place a sticker in the county's science textbooks.

"The disclaimer says, 'This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered,'" says attorney Michael Manely who represents a parent group from Cobb County, which has sued the school board, demanding the disclaimer be removed. The group says the county is trying to force religion into the schools.

Cobb County education officials deny that claim, but with countless theories about everything from galaxy formation to cell communication - Mr. Manely is skeptical. "There are well over 5,000 theories that I'm familiar with. So of these 5,000 possible scientific theories: Why has the school board chosen to disclaim only evolution?"

Cobb County Schools declined to comment on the matter, but others were happy to speak out.

"Well, I think the sticker is appropriate," says Barrett Duke, the Vice-President for Public Policy of the Southern Baptist Convention. "I think it's appropriate for students to understand that evolution is a theory; It is not fact."

Mainstream scientists, however, do recognize evolution as a fact, based on fossil records and other biological evidence. They reject the concept put forward by one group of evolution opponents, known as Intelligent Design Theory. Its underlying premise is: if there's a creation, there must be a creator.

For Sarah Pallas, a science professor at Georgia State University, Intelligent Design is not so much a competing theory as a distraction. "I liken these groups, such as Discovery Institute, to schoolyard bullies that are pushing their way to the head of the line," she says. "They don't do laboratory science. They don't spend their millions in private donations on test-tubes or DNA analysis machines, they spend it on their PR machines, pushing on uneducated school board members, to get their ideas into the classroom."

The Discovery Institute, the conservative think-tank behind Intelligent Design, says it does not endorse the theory's inclusion in school curriculum, only the presentation of "scientific weaknesses" it sees in Darwinian evolution.

But there is a moral imperative for conservative groups to get involved in public education matters, according to Graham Walker, a theology professor at Mercer University. He points to what some see as a lack of moral foundation in today's public schools. "We have not provided a basis the way the old 17th and 18th century schooling systems provided it: Whereby you would discuss: 'How should I live?'"

Moreover, the upsurge in the evolution controversy comes as conservative religious groups like the Southern Baptist Convention are facing a more palpable crisis: Barrett Duke says, they're losing followers. "There's no question that many Christian young people are going out to public school and they're coming out much different than their parents had expected them to come out!"

The SBC says that by the time they are 18 years old, nearly 90-percent of the children raised in evangelical homes have left the church, never to return. The attrition problem has Southern Baptist leaders so concerned that earlier this year, prominent members of the church asked their national convention to consider a resolution that would have called on Southern Baptist parents to remove their children from the nation's public schools.

Georgia State science professor Sarah Pallas agrees that U.S. public schools are in real trouble but for exactly the opposite reason than that voiced by the Southern Baptists: not discussing scientific topics like evolution is leading to a decline in test scores and the quality of education and economic potential. "We are losing out on our dominance in this area, in science and technology, and the top scientists, the top-notch discoveries, are now not located in this country anymore, they're located overseas. This is going to be a real economic cost to the state, and to the nation," she says.

But those fears are not shared by conservative Christian leaders like Barrett Duke. "For those of us who believe that God really did create the world," he says, "it seems to me that it would be appropriate to at least give a nod in God's direction!"

Earlier this summer, the State Education Board adopted science curriculum standards based on the goals recommended by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As classes resume in Georgia, public schools will be held to those standards, which include the teaching of evolution and its related concepts.

The case regarding the disclaimer stickers in Cobb County could go to trial as soon as October.

New Age magazine's publishers are ready to enlighten you


August 29, 2004


For 25 years, Guy and Jeanne Spiro have been ushering in the Age of Aquarius one reader at a time.

From their vantage point at the Monthly Aspectarian, the monthly New Age magazine they publish from modest offices in Morton Grove, the Spiros have watched beliefs and practices once considered pretty "out there" become part of mainstream Americana.

"A lot of things that were laughed at 25 years ago are now pretty commonplace," Jeanne Spiro says. "Chiropractors were pretty much laughed at, and now everyone goes when their back hurts."

When Guy Spiro first picked up a book about yoga at age 17 back in 1969, it was revolutionary, at least to a kid raised in a fundamentalist Christian home in Oklahoma and Illinois.

No longer laughing matters

"And now, you can't swing a dead cat and not hit a yoga class," he says, laughing, as Indian fusion music flows from a CD playing on his office computer. "It's unbelievable -- libraries, park districts, churches having yoga classes.

"You run into people who, 10 years ago you couldn't have paid them $500 to read a book about meditation and now they come up to you and want to draw you a picture of their spirit guide named Zantar. It's just unbelievable how it's changed," he says.

The Aspectarian, which takes its name from the astrological "aspects," or signs, began as a double-sided single-sheet astrological forecast printed on legal-sized goldenrod paper back in September 1979. Today, it's an 87-page newsprint magazine with a circulation of about 35,000. Most copies are given away for free at bookstores, shops and restaurants throughout the Chicago area.

Guy Spiro still writes his "astro-weather" column -- the forecast for Friday cautioned folks in the Midwest to be on the lookout for "erratic behavior" and "the nutcases who will be out and about" because of a bad combination of cosmic energies, apparently.

The Aspectarian also includes interviews with authors and spiritual teachers, movie reviews, articles about alternative medicine, cultural commentaries, and plenty of advertisements for all manner of New Age goods and services.

Massage therapists, vegetarian restaurants, hypnotherapists, astrologists and occult bookstores are regular advertisers. Their business provides nearly all the income for the Aspectarian, Guy Spiro says.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, advertising revenue plummeted about 25 percent. But demand for the New Age magazine has remained constant -- no surprise considering the world is in the middle of an age change, he says.

Changing mind-set

"Every 2,000 to 2,200 years, you have these huge shifts that occur and where we are is right in the middle," Spiro says, explaining that the world is moving out of the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius, and shifting from a mind-set of "surrender" to "personal responsibility."

"People who don't see a new age are really missing the forest for the trees because you're living in it," says Spiro, 52, who has a learned, if laid-back demeanor and bears an eerie resemblance to the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

"Just to keep up with popular culture -- just to keep up with what's on cable -- you're forced to process so much information that people are being dragged kicking and screaming into a state of semi-enlightenment," he says. "Consciousness is being changed radically."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Perendev is Tooling Up for Magnetic Motor Mass Production in Europe


All-magnet motor poised to be first to reach market. German manufacturer licensed to manufacture 20 kw unit for Europe and Russia. Estimated cost for first units: $8500 Euros.

by Sterling D. Allan
Copyright © 2004
Pure Energy Systems News


For centuries, inventors have been claiming to come up with magnetic motor designs that use nothing more than the power of permanent magnets for the motive force; and for the same amount of time, mainstream science has responded that this is impossible. "It has been proven mathematically that no combination of permanent magnets in any arrangement will generate power." [1]

History tells us that what has been proven in many people's back yards and garages does not always coincide with mathematics of the day.

Refusing to be daunted by what he considers to be petty dogmas of academic science, inventor Michael J. Brady of Johannesburg not only claims to have produced such a device, but reports that his company, Perendev Power Developments Pty (Ltd) is now in process of manufacturing it on a large scale for markets in Europe, Russia, and Australia.

Perendev's new website was published recently at Perendev-Power.com with the assertion that they have achieved the milestone of producing "the world's first fuelless magnetic engine."

Other inventors who claim to have built working all-magnetic motors would take exception to the Perendev claim to being the first, as stated on the site. Brady mentioned that he had noticed some inaccuracies on the wording on the site and that he would be addressing them.

What is yet to be attained by anyone is a market-ready device. If Perendev continues on the track claimed on its site, it could achieve that distinction, and set the hitherto balking scientists community into motion to come up with theories of why it works.

Brady estimates that the first units will sell for around $8500 Euros, but that the price will decrease as volume sales increase.

The site features video footage of an earlier prototype running as well as computer simulations of the newer designs. The prototype video is not skeptic proof, as it does not do a walk-around during acceleration. Brady has been promising another video that would do a walk around before, during, and after motor engagement and acceleration followed by disengagement and deceleration.

A page about the motor says that the motor works "by focusing the magnetic field, the angles of the magnets and a special method of shielding." Also, "the motor does not require external power to start up." Brady reports that tests run have shown no diminution of magnet strength over period of motor operation, which was two months in one instance.

As the stators become engaged, the three rotors with off-set magnet alignment begin to spin. The speed is controlled by a governor. Without the speed control, the device would accelerate to destruction.

Brady also states that a 4 megawatt unit is plausible with this design, and has been rendered in conceptual blue print form.

A German company has licensed the manufacturing and marketing rights for all of Europe and Russia, excluding the U.K., and is in process of tooling up to begin mass production. Two other groups are in process of negotiating licensing terms with from Perendev. One is in the U.K., for rights to manufacture and market in the U.K., and the other is in Australia, for rights down under.

Brady brought a prototype to the Germans in mid March, and said they have been testing it since that time. The prototype has been undergoing testing by TÜV, a German consumer quality control agency.

The name of the German company will be revealed when they have finished tooling up and are ready to begin production, which Brady estimates will take place in a month or two. He said that these units will be consumer ready for application in home use, pending the stamp of approval from TUFF. Brady also plans to allow German television crews to document the device for public view.

Twenty kilowatts is adequate to handle the peak load of most homes. Ran continuously at that rate, the excess produced during average use, which is five percent of peak use, could be sold to the grid for a quick return on investment. It will put out quite a bit more than twenty kilowatts, said Brady. "That is what it is rated to produce continuously."

In May he reported to have tested the unit with a larger alternator rated at 60 kw "with very little degrading of the motor's performance."

Brady has been churning on this idea for thirty years, and actively developing it for approximately the last five.

"We've been through hell -- no money coming from anywhere -- but we made it through." A German citizen working in South Africa for a Hollywood project came and talked to them and told them, "Let's put that behind us and move forward."


- June 29, 2004 phone interview with Mike Brady.
- Visit by author to Johannesburg to meet Brady in December 2002.
- Three years of regular contact with the inventor.

Quote 1: posted to MXLO discussion group; June 30, 2004, just prior to the posting of this news article. The person making the statement calls himself ali bali gumba. He has not yet come forward with his real name though requested to do so.

Perendev Power's Official Website (page quicktime video functions take a long time to work, be patient. The above images)

Perendev's Prior Website

List of Magnetic Motor Claims by Various Inventors

TÜV Rheinland Group documents the safety and quality of new and existing products, systems and services


Q. Did the author of this paper, Sterling Allan, see the magnetic motor work?
A. "I did not see a working prototype. I saw the prototype as it came fresh from the machine shop and helped assemble it, but we were not able to tune it while there. The video is of the unit we worked on."

More silliness from the anti-environmentalist brigades (Ed.)

New Findings Show Earth is Not Getting Warmer; Studies Also Show Climate Models Break from Reality Says NCPA Scholar


8/12/2004 10:18:00 AM

To: National Desk, Science and Environment reporters

Contact: Sean Tuffnell of the National Center for Policy Analysis,
800-859-1154 or stuffnell@ncpa.org

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Contrary to popular myth the Earth is not warming significantly, according to new research published last month in Geophysical Research Letters by scientists with the universities of Rochester and Virginia.

The reports note two important findings that run counter to the view that human activity is causing catastrophic global warming.

"It's been known for some time that satellites and surface thermometers give different temperature trends," said one of the reports' co-authors Prof. S. Fred Singer, president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). "We now have independent confirmation that the satellite results are correct and that the climate is not warming." Prof. Singer, an adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) is also a former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service.

Proponents of global warming theory have long pointed to thermometer measurements at the Earth's surface as proof that the Earth is warming. Other scientists have pointed to balloon and satellite readings of temperatures in the Earth's lower atmosphere that show no significant warming. The scientists from the universities of Rochester and Virginia employed a new, independent way of determining the temperature, using historic meteorological climate data to construct temperature values for each grid cell of the Earth at an equivalent height of two meters. This analysis agreed with the satellite and balloon measurements, establishing that the disparity is close to the surface and mainly in the tropics.

In another report, the Rochester/Virginia scientists found that the computer climate models used to assert that the introduction of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere is causing the Earth to warm, and that the effect increases with altitude becoming twice as strong at about three miles up, are in stark contrast to the actual data of the past quarter-century. Comparing the results from the three commonly cited climate models with four independent observational data sets, the scientists found that the models all showed temperatures increasing with altitude, while the actual observations showed the opposite occurred.

"If the global climate is not warming, why all the fuss?" asked Singer. "The whole issue of controlling CO2 emissions is moot."

The NCPA is an internationally known nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute with offices in Dallas and Washington, D.C., that advocates private solutions to public policy problems. NCPA depends on the contributions of individuals, corporations and foundations that share its mission. The NCPA accepts no government grants.


/© 2004 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

Settling Global Warming Science


By Patrick J. Michaels, S. Fred Singer and David H. Douglass

How many times have we heard from Al Gore and assorted European politicians that "the science is settled" on global warming? In other words, it's "time for action." Climate change is, as recently stated by Hans Blix, former U.N. Chief for weapons detection in Iraq, the most important issue of our time, far more dangerous than people flying fuel-laden aircraft into skyscrapers or threatening to detonate backpack nukes in Baltimore Harbor.

Well, the science may now be settled, but not in the way Gore and Blix would have us believe. Three bombshell papers have just hit the refereed literature that knock the stuffing out of Blix's position and that the United Nations and its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC states repeatedly that 1) we have reliable temperature records showing how much the planet has warmed in the last century; and 2) computer projections of future climate, while not perfect, simulate the observed behavior of the past so well that they serve as a reliable guide for the future. Therefore, they say, we need to limit carbon dioxide emissions (i.e., energy use) right now, despite the expense and despite the fact that the cost of these restrictions will fall almost all on the United States, gravely harming the world's economic engine while exerting no detectable change on climate in the foreseeable future.

The IPCC claims to have carefully corrected the temperature records for the well-known problem of local ("urban," as opposed to global) warming. But this has always troubled serious scientists, because the way the U.N. checks for artificial warming makes it virtually impossible to detect in recent decades -- the same period in which our cities have undergone the most growth and sprawl.

The surface temperature record shows a warming rate of about 0.17°C (0.31°F) per decade since 1979. However, there are two other records, one from satellites, and one from weather balloons that tell a different story. Neither annual satellite nor balloon trends differ significantly from zero since the start of the satellite record in 1979. These records reflect temperatures in what is called the lower atmosphere, or the region between roughly 5,000 and 30,000 feet.

Four years ago, a distinguished panel of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded that a real disparity exists between the reported surface warming and the temperature trends measured in the atmosphere above. Since then, many investigators have tried to explain the cause of the disparity while others have denied its existence.

So, which record is right, the U.N. surface record showing the larger warming or the other two? There's another record, from seven feet above the ground, derived from balloon data that has recently been released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In two research papers in the July 9 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, two of us (Douglass and Singer) compared it for correspondence with the surface record and the lower atmosphere histories. The odd-record-out turns out to be the U.N.'s hot surface history.

This is a double kill, both on the U.N.'s temperature records and its vaunted climate models. That's because the models generally predict an increased warming rate with height (outside of local polar regions). Neither the satellite nor the balloon records can find it. When this was noted in the first satellite paper published in 1990, some scientists objected that the record, which began in 1979, was too short. Now we have a quarter-century of concurrent balloon and satellite data, both screaming that the UN's climate models have failed, as well as indicating that its surface record is simply too hot.

If the models are wrong as one goes up in the atmosphere, then any correspondence between them and surface temperatures is either pretty lucky or the product of some unspecified "adjustment." Getting the vertical distribution of temperature wrong means that everything dependent upon that -- precipitation and cloudiness, as examples -- must be wrong. Obviously, the amount of cloud in the air determines the day's high temperature as well as whether or not it rains.

As bad as things have gone for the IPCC and its ideologues, it gets worse, much, much worse.

After four years of one of the most rigorous peer reviews ever, Canadian Ross McKitrick and another of us (Michaels) published a paper searching for "economic" signals in the temperature record. McKitrick, an economist, was initially piqued by what several climatologists had noted as a curiosity in both the U.N. and satellite records: statistically speaking, the greater the GDP of a nation, the more it warms. The research showed that somewhere around one-half of the warming in the U.N. surface record was explained by economic factors, which can be changes in land use, quality of instrumentation, or upkeep of records. This worldwide study added fuel to a fire started a year earlier by the University of Maryland's Eugenia Kalnay, who calculated a similar 50 percent bias due to economic factors in the U.S. records.

So, to all who worry about global warming, to all who think that people threatening to blow up millions to get their political way is no big deal by comparison, chill out. The science is settled. The "skeptics" -- the strange name applied to those whose work shows the planet isn't coming to an end -- have won.

Patrick Michaels, senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of the forthcoming book, "Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media." Fred Singer is emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. David Douglass is professor of physics at the University of Rochester.

Origin of life might be alien, research suggests

By Chiu Yu-Tzu
Friday, Aug 27, 2004,Page 2

Kwok Sun, Academia Sinica researcher

The delivery of organic compounds from stars to the solar system might have played an important role in the origin of life on Earth, an Academia Sinica researcher said yesterday.

In a review article published in British science journal Nature yesterday, author Kwok Sun (³¢·s), the director and distinguished research fellow of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, summarized the evidence collected from recent infrared astronomy satellites showing that old stars can form complex organic compounds.

"No one had expected that complex organic compounds could be created in stars. In fact, theoretically, we still do not understand how it is possible," Kwok told the Taipei Times.

"But from our observations we have no doubt that these compounds are being made [in stars], and made on very short time lines," he added.

Given the availability of complex organic compounds in early Earth, life on the planet could have an easier start than previously believed. Kwok said that these organic compounds were probably incorporated in Earth during the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

Using the technique of infrared spectroscopy, Kwok found that a chemical synthesis can occur rapidly in stars. In the research paper, Kwok argued that over a period of only several thousand years, small organic molecules with aliphatic structures are shown to have evolved into large, complex aromatic molecules. Since only a few thousand years are needed, differing levels of infrared spectra give the most direct evidence of a chemical synthesis in stars. Kwok said that most of these results were obtained from observations using the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory satellites.

In the 1950s, many scientists were tasked with finding the origin of life. Around the world, the scientific community was examining what kind of environment would be needed to allow life to begin. Since the Miller-Urey experiment in 1953, most scientists have held the view that life on Earth was created from simple inorganic molecules. With a suitable energy source, such as lightning, and a hospitable environment, such as oceans, complex organic molecules such as sugars and amino acids are thought to have originated from methane, hydrogen, and ammonia. These organic molecules then formed what is believed to be the basis of life as we know it today.

However, in the past couple years, there has been a shift in the opinion of the scientific community that external delivery (for example, a collision by a meteorite into the earth) played a larger role in the origin of life than previously thought, Kwok said.

"Instead of life being created spontaneously from simple inorganic compounds, it now seems that the Earth had the advantage of having more complex ingredients at the starting point," Kwok said.

Kwok's main research interests have been old stars and infrared spectroscopy. The conclusions were made possible by comparing astronomical infrared spectroscopy with the laboratory analysis of meteorites, performed by scientists at the Washington University at St. Louis in the US.

"Clearly this is not the whole solution to the problem of origin of life or the existence of extraterrestrial life, but it does represent one small step in our understanding of how life began on Earth and how unique life is in the Galaxy," Kwok said.


Software says evolution evolved

Issue 79, August 2004

A computer simulation designed by scientists at Rice University, US, suggests that not only has life evolved, but that it has evolved to evolve. Michael Deem, Professor of Bioengineering and of Physics and Astronomy, and David Earl, his post-doctoral research fellow, created the simulation to test the idea that evolvability -- the likelihood of genetic mutation -- is a trait that can itself be favoured or disfavoured through the process of natural selection.

The program recorded how much and how rapidly proteins mutated as a result of external changes in their environment. As the scientists ramped up the frequency and severity of environmental changes they saw an increased likelihood of survival among proteins that mutated more frequently.

'Selection for evolvability would help explain a growing body of experimental results including the evolution of drug resistance in bacteria [and] the fact that some immune system cells mutate much more rapidly than other cells in our bodies,' said Deem.

To date, the possibility that evolvability is subject to natural selection has been rejected by many biologists. This is partly because for evolution to act upon the mechanism that causes evolution, a basic scientific principle -- that an event cannot precede its own cause -- would be violated.

But Deem and Earl say that causal violations need not occur, arguing that the ability to reorder genes or to cause large-scale genetic change are themselves genetic traits that are subject to selection like any others.

Their results have interesting implications for a number of observations within evolutionary biology that were previously considered evolutionary accidents, but which may in fact be explained by selection for evolvability. 'The implication is that the drugs we have developed to fight invading pathogens also confer selective pressure on the evolvability of the pathogens themselves,' Earl said. 'In drug design, it is important to consider this and to look for ways to minimize or counteract this driving force for drug resistence.' The results of the study appear in the August 10 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. See also http://www.rice.edu

Dudley Cates Jr. has two passions: beer and crop circles.


Now, he's married the two in a business.

Cates, 36, of Southampton, is a former ski instructor, ex-taxi driver and one-time writer who is selling a local brew called Crop Circle Beer. The drink stems from his six-year fascination with crop circles, the mysterious shapes, some circular, that began appearing in English grain fields in the 1970s. The main ingredient in his beer is barley from those plots.

"There's something very interesting as yet unexplained going on in those fields," Cates said.

Some people believe crop circles are tangible proof that superior extraterrestrial intelligence is at work in our world, others believe there is a paranormal aspect to their appearance, and some say they are nothing but grand hoaxes.

Whatever the cause, Cates saw the effect.

"Crop circles carry an aura of mystery," said Cates, who grew up in Locust Valley and who first became intrigued with the legends behind the designs while living in Aspen, Colo. "I thought to myself, this phenomenon is real."

Also, said Cates, "I love beer."

Cates has been trying to develop a commercial beer for four years, starting with a microbrewery in Northern California and later at a Hartford brew pub. A partnership dispute and his inability to find someone to bottle the California brew put a quick end to that venture. The Hartford beer, a pale ale brewed with leftover malt from the California attempt, garnered little interest.

Cates said he is hopeful the third time is the charm.

Now, Blue Point Brewing Co. in Patchogue is brewing his beer, this time an English-style golden amber ale using the crop-circle grain.

As for merging his interests, Cates said, "Most people think it's very intriguing. People in the beer business think I'm crazy."

One local brewer thought otherwise.

"It was a great idea," said Blue Point brewmaster and co-owner Mark Burford, who produces 40 barrels of Crop Circle Beer at a time. A barrel contains 31 gallons.

Cates and Blue Point bought eight tons of Crop Circle Optic pale malt from Warminster Maltings in Wiltshire, England. The malt is made from barley grown in the fields of Wiltshire farmer Tim Carson.

"I know it's really good stuff to make beer," said Burford, noting that he extracts more fermentable sugars and flavors from the Crop Circle malt than from the malts he usually uses. That also gives the beer more alcohol, 6.7 percent, compared with about 4 percent in most brews.

Burford is interested only in the beer, not the myths.

"I leave the magical end to him," Burford said.

And the marketing. Cates is selling the beer and mostly delivering it himself in a white step van. It hasn't been easy.

"It's slow going," Cates said. "I get nothing but glowing rejections: 'The beer's great, we love it. No thanks.'"

"It has potential," said Joseph Marino, whose American Beer Distributing Co. in Brooklyn makes sure the beer gets delivered to bars in New York City.

For now, Cates' beer is available only on draft at a handful of bars in the Hamptons, in Manhattan and at one Long Island beer retailer, Shoreline Beverage in Huntington, which sells it in gallon jugs to go. Shoreline owner Stuart Haimes said he sold out a 15.5-gal. keg, one gallon at a time, in two weeks.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Physics News Update 698

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 698 August 26, 2004 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein

THE WORLD'S SMALLEST ATOMIC CLOCK, about the size of a rice grain, is built around a microcell about 1 cubic mm in volume filled with cesium atoms. It draws only about 30 mA of current from a 2.5 V battery. Atomic clocks are the best timekeepers because they are able to convert the high-precision information contained in the light emitted by alkali atoms (the light emerging from an atomic transition from one energy level to another can be measured to an uncertainty of better than a part in a billion) into a usable standard for defining the second. The new miniature clock has a precision of 3.5 x 10^-10. What this means is that events can be timed with an uncertainty of about one part in 3 billion. Scientists at NIST in Boulder, Colorado make atomic clocks that are far more precise---the F-1 clock is good to about one part in 10 trillion---but this requires a huge table-top's worth of equipment. The mini version being reported now should eventually reach a stability of about 10^-11, some 10,000 times better than any quartz oscillator clock of equivalent size and power. How will this new cheap, tiny, low-power, high-precision MEMS clock be used? In satellites, GPS receivers, networked computer CPU's, possibly in cell phones. (Knappe et al., Applied Physics Letters, 30 August 2004; contact John Kitching, kitching@boulder.nist.gov, 303-497-3328; for an explanation of precision and accuracy, see www.boulder.nist.gov/timefreq/general/about.html)

OPTICAL FUNNEL FOR FOCUSING COLD ATOMS. A new experiment at the Tokyo Institute of Technology uses evanescent light to focus cold atoms and output as a beam. Evanescent light is the faint optical field (a sort of aura of light stuck on a material) that is found on the material surface when a laser beam reflects away from the material via "total internal reflection." In this case, the focusing effect occurs when a hollow laser beam moving upwards splays outward around a funnel-shaped piece of glass. The light, shone downward and covering the inner edge of this funnel, helps to repel and cool a blob of atoms held and chilled in a magneto-optical trap (MOT) and falling slightly under the force of gravity. Evanescent light has been used before to guide atoms through a hollow optical fiber (see http://www.aip.org/pnu/1996/split/pnu272-2.htm), but in the Tokyo work there are new features: high flux intensity, low temperature, and small beam diameter. The funnel focuses an atom swarm about 2 mm wide is forced to collimate down to the size of the funnel's exit hole, which in the experiment was 200 microns, for a net focusing factor of 100 (see figure at www.aip.org/png). Furthermore, a micron-sized hole is now being tested, which should result in a focusing factor of a million, and a beam flux intensity of some 10^15 atoms/cm^2-s. Akifumi Takamiazwa (Akifumi.Takamizawa@physik.uni-muenchen.de) says that he and his colleagues hope to make a nanometer-sized funnel as small as atomic de Broglie wavelength and use it eventually for single-atom manipulation, perhaps for processes in which one atom can transfer one bit of information. (Takamizawa et al., Applied Physics Letters, 6 September 2004; see http://uuu.ae.titech.ac.jp/research-e.html and http://www.coe21-pni.titech.ac.jp/eng/task/index.htm)

SUPERPROTONIC TRANSITIONS. Electrons are the charge carriers in most electronic transactions. Sometimes, in semiconductors, holes, the moving voids recently vacated by an electron, constitute a usable current flow. But positive ions can also act as an important current. Lead-acid batteries in cars are a prominent application of this principle. A particularly interesting phenomenon in this regard is the "superprotonic" transition, an effect discovered in the 1980s by Russian scientists, in which the proton conductivity jumps by several orders of magnitude at a certain temperature, when a structural rearrangement of some of the molecular oxyamion groups (such as SO4) occurs. Sossina M. Haile and her colleagues at Caltech (smhaile@caltech.edu, 626-395-2958) have performed new experiments which have expanded the roster of superprotonic materials, or cleared up past mysteries. For example, they have cleared up any doubt that the solid-form acid CsH2PO4, whose chemistry and conducting properties are especially promising as a candidate for the electrolyte in fuel cells, can undergo the superprotonic transition. The new results were reported at last month's meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in Chicago ( http://www.hwi.buffalo.edu/ACA/; see also http://addis.caltech.edu/)

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

Evolution education update: ID in the spotlight?

A paper by Stephen C. Meyer, Project Director of the Discovery Institute's Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture, recently appeared in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (2004; 117 [2]: 213-239). PBSW is a small legitimate scientific journal, specializing mainly in taxonomical articles. But Meyer's "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories" is a review article (as opposed to a research article) arguing, in usual "intelligent design" fashion, against the sufficiency of evolutionary processes to account for life's history and diversity. The article is supposed to be available shortly on the Discovery Institute's web site: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2177

The crew at the Panda's Thumb blog has already posted a preliminary critique of the paper, under the title "Meyer's Hopeful Monster":

The critique identifies a large number of errors, confusions, and omissions in the paper, concluding: "There is nothing wrong with challenging conventional wisdom -- continuing challenge is a core feature of science. But challengers should at least be aware of, read, cite, and specifically rebut the actual data that supports conventional wisdom, not merely construct a rhetorical edifice out of omission of relevant facts, selective quoting, bad analogies, knocking down strawmen, and tendentious interpretations. Unless and until the 'intelligent design' movement does this, they are not seriously in the game. They're not even playing the same sport."

NCSE has already heard from a number of members of the Biological Society of Washington (which has about 250 members in all), who are concerned about the reputation of the society and its journal after the publication of such a piece of substandard work in the apparent service of a non-scientific ideology.

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


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

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

Evolution vs. Creation
Old debate heating up again with new ideas, arguments


By Melanie B. Smith
DAILY Religion Writer
msmith@decaturdaily.com · 340-2468

Debate over human origins dominated the intersection of science and religion for years.

Then, other news edged it out in talk about science going amok or making progress, depending on one's viewpoint. The birth of Dolly the cloned sheep and research using stem cells from aborted fetuses, for instance, grabbed attention.

The quandaries raised in these issues remain unsettled, but the old evolution debate has ebbed back, too. Some new streams of thought are adding to the deluge of arguments.

Proponents of intelligent design, the concept that highly complex organs and organisms require the work of an intelligent designer, are getting hearings and selling books. One book by law school professor Phillip Johnson, "Darwin on Trial," was a bestseller in Christian markets. Christianity Today said in its latest issue that Johnson and other intelligent design supporters challenged "the Darwinian establishment head on" and stirred up issues anew.

Renewed interest in debating evolution means that people like Brad Harrub of Apologetics Press in Montgomery are seeing an upswing in requests to speak about "origins of life."

'Fighting for beliefs'

Many people want to hear someone "fight for the Bible," said Harrub, who spoke on two Wednesdays this month at Beltline Church of Christ.

Harrub's employer is a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending "New Testament Christianity."

But Harrub isn't a preacher. He's a neuroscientist who earned a doctor of philosophy degree in anatomy and neurobiology from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. He's a member of the Society for Neuroscience, and earned a scholarship and a grant from the Neuroscience Centers for Excellence.

Harrub said listeners he encounters are eager to hear a Christian who can use science to defend biblical teachings.

"I think many come out because they are tired of atheists and evolutionists always having their say," he said.

Others who attend his presentations come because they fear for the souls of their children and grandchildren, who often abandon their faith as they are inundated with evolution teaching, he said.

But Harrub said most interest today in countering evolution stems from what he sees as a divide in the United States about God and the Bible. He said people who don't believe in God "or who don't obey him" have done a good job eradicating public references to belief.

"Many Christians are finally waking up, realizing we are going to have to arm ourselves with the facts, whether it be science or theology. Otherwise, atheists will win the battle."

Harrub said he's thankful for what intelligent-design supporters, who include some well-qualified scientists, have done to raise issues. He doesn't like that they don't present God as the designer.

Christians losing?

Gary Hill, minister of education at Beltline Church of Christ, said many of the 400 to 425 people attending each "Christian Evidences" session were concerned parents. He said many parents, though educated, need help to counter evolution's ideas for their children.

Hill said the public tends to only hear about evolution, "unless churches are presenting the other side."

Steve Harris, a Decatur pharmacist and the parent of three teens, said he was glad his children could hear more about creationism.

"It's something I believe as fact, but is scoffed at in a lot of science books," he said.

New publications

Renewed interest in both debunking and defending evolution is prompting new books and articles from many perspectives.

Among those on the anti-evolution side is one co-authored by Harrub last year, "The Truth About Human Origins." More than 500 pages long, it argues, for instance, that complex distinctives like human consciousness mean that man could not have evolved.

Another new book is by Dr. Timothy Johnson, a physician and medical reporter for ABC-TV.

His "Finding God in the Questions" opens with Johnson pondering whether it makes intellectual sense "to believe that our world is designed by a creator God rather than completely the result of chance."

He concludes that it does make sense. Among his arguments is that evolution minus God cannot say how living cells developed from nonliving chemicals, an argument that Harrub and others make.

Reconciling efforts

Another recent book from a different religious perspective is "Finding Darwin's God" by Brown University biologist Ken Miller.

Miller grew up Roman Catholic and is an apologist for evolutionary biology.

He said in an interview with Science & Theology News he has no problem reconciling evolution with his Christian faith.

More recent books seeking to harmonize some of the ideas of religion and evolution include: "God After Darwin" by John Haught. Science & Theology News said it explores how traditional Darwinian evolution can be brought within the framework of Orthodox Christian understanding. "The Genesis Question" by Hugh Ross. This updated edition looks at current scientific theories and interpretations of Genesis.

But acrimony, not conciliation, seems to characterize the current debate all the way around. The intelligent-design backers and "creationists" dispute each other as well as the Darwinists.

All sides have both been guilty of mudslinging, said Christianity Today.

"What's needed most right now is a step back from the fray, a reorienting," wrote Editor at Large John Wilson.

But Wilson said there are no signs the debate is cooling.

Beltline Church of Christ will take on the topic again in a January 2005 series, Hill said.

201 1st Ave. SE
P.O. Box 2213
Decatur, Ala. 35609
(256) 353-4612


Friday, August 27, 2004




August 24, 2004 -- THE celebs, the magic water — now, a possible health craze.

Manhattan doctor Raphael Kellman has a new book about the healing powers of Madonna's favorite mystical practice — and it doesn't include wearing a red bracelet.

"Matrix Healing: Discover Your Greatest Health Potential Through the Power of Kabbalah," has a simple message: Be nice. You'll feel better.

Kellman says negative emotions such as greed and hostility have a damaging effect on our bodies, just like stress and anger. Positive feelings including generosity, love and forgiveness can repair that damage, he contends in the book, out next Tuesday from Random House's Harmony imprint.

"Studies show that the immune system improves when you are compassionate and giving," says the internist and head of the Kellman Center for Progressive Medicine in Midtown.

One of his patients was dying of cancer before he gave away almost all of his money to charity. Now he's in remission and doing fine, Kellmam reports.

"When you give to others, not just in an effort to perpetuate your ego, you activate a healing energy within yourself," he explains.

If the idea of giving away your money to beat cancer sounds a bit like the old Catholic trick of buying indulgences to pay your way out of purgatory, remember modern medicine has long accepted that stress and anger cause the levels of certain hormones in our bodies, particulary cortisol, to rise, weakening our immune systems and even contributing to weight gain.

"What Dr. Kellman is doing is tapping into an inner source of hope and motivation," says Dr. Zebulon Taintor, vice chairman of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

"And to the degree with which he is successful with that, I wish him well. If people believe something will work, that can be very helpful. The placebo effect has been scientifically shown to be real, though not long-lasting."

Still, says Taintor, "There are a lot of wonderful anecdotal recovery stories. You never know what all the factors were, and it could possibly be dangerous encouraging people to donate all their belongings."

Closer to Truth (PBS)


Closer to Truth: Science, Meaning and the Future brings together leading scientists, scholars and artists to debate latest discoveries and their impact on the human condition. Series creator Robert Lawrence Kuhn hosts a series of spontaneous and intimate conversations with some of the world's most esteemed experts that combine leading-edge science and informed intuition to address the fundamental issues of our times. Closer to Truth is an inside opportunity to witness how the pioneers in humanity's quest for greater understanding chart their expedition into the unknown, journeys that are marked by a rigorous pursuit of truth, a readiness to challenge current belief, a willingness to overturn dogma, an open-minded exploration of inferences and implications, and a tough-minded reliance on critical thinking. Topics cluster in four categories: Brain & Mind, Biology & Medicine, Cosmos & Universe, and Science & Our World.

Is Science Fiction Science?
Science Fiction enables scientific creativity to break free, unrestricted by the laws of nature as we know them, and allows contemporary issues to be explored in radically different environments than the normal trappings. By definition, Science Fiction is a genre that creates alternate scenarios and then watches them play out.


Michael Crichton
Author, Producer, Director

David Brin, Ph.D.
Author, Physicist

Octavia E. Butler
Author, MacArthur Fellow

Can We Believe in Both Science and Religion?
Science and Religion have long been considered adversaries on the battlefield of grand worldviews because at the most fundamental level they both claim to do much the same thing: provide deep insight into the nature of the world around us and give a profound sense of our place or purpose in the universe. Science is founded on empiricism and analysis; religion on revelation and faith -- and some say they exist in such different spheres that they neither contradict nor interact.


Muzaffar Iqbal Ph.D.
President/Founder: Center for Islam & Science

Nancey Murphy Ph.D., Th.D.
Professor, Fuller Theological Seminary

Michael Shermer Ph.D.
President, The Skeptics Society, Author, Publisher

How Does the Autistic Brain Work?
Crammed into our craniums, the three-pound human brain may be the most complex matter in the universe. And scientists are learning more about how it works by investigating how it doesn't work. A 13 year-old young man named Tito Mukhopadhyay may be the Rosetta stone for autism, revealing what it feels like to be autistic.


Eric Courchesne, Ph.D.
Prof. Neuroscience, UC San Diego

Portia Iversen
Cure Autism Now Foundation

Tito Mukhopadhyay
Autistic Youth, Author, Poet

Soma Mukhopadhyay
Teacher, Mother

Erin Schuman, Ph.D.
Assoc. Prof. Biology, Caltech

Terrence Sejnowski, Ph.D.
Dir., Computational Biology lab, Salk Institute

How Weird is the Cosmos?
The Cosmos is weirder that we think. It's so weird that four experts can only sit around and laugh as they outdo each other in trading stories about amazing findings and discoveries.


Roger Blandford Ph.D.
Theoretical Astrophysics, Caltech

David Goodstein Ph.D.
Vice Provost, Caltech, Prof. of Physics & Applied Physics

Alan Guth Ph.D.
Physics, MIT

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D.
Astrophysicist, Director, Hayden Planetarium

Microbes -- Friend or Foe?
Bacteria become resistant to our antibiotics. Viruses evolve with blinding speed. Prions may lurk in our meat. Anthrax is put into our mail. Stranger yet, could microbes be causing other illnesses, like cancers and heart attacks?


Agnes Day, Ph.D.
Assoc. Prof. Howard University

Paul Ewald , Ph.D.
Prof. Biology, U. Kentucky

Alice S. Huang, Ph.D.
Microbiologist, Sr. Councilor, External Relations, Caltech

Lucy Shapiro, Ph.D.
Cell biologist, Dir. Beckman Ctr. for Molecular & Genetic Med., Stanford

Our expert panel votes for the top 10 sci-fi films


1. Blade Runner (1982) Dir: Ridley Scott
Whether you prefer the original theatrical version (with a bored-sounding narration and without the famed unicorn scenes) or the director's cut of a few years later (sans narration and unicorn duly re-inserted), Blade Runner was the runaway favourite in our poll.

The story revolves around Harrison Ford's policeman, Rick Deckard, and his hunt for four cloned humanoids, known as replicants, in a dystopian version of Los Angeles. Replicants have been deemed illegal and Deckard is a blade runner, a specialist in exterminating them.

The film is loosely based on Philip K Dick's short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? "Blade Runner is the best movie ever made," says Stephen Minger, stem cell biologist at King's College London. "It was so far ahead of its time and the whole premise of the story - what is it to be human and who are we, where we come from? It's the age-old questions."

It also discusses consciousness with an attempt to formulate a way to tell a human from a machine. The Voight-Kampff empathy test is used by the police in the film to identify the replicants - who have memories implanted and are programmed with artificial emotions. "The Voight-Kampff empathy test is not far away from the sort of thing that cognitive neuroscientists are actually doing today," says Chris Frith of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College, London.

Debates rage on whether Deckard himself is a replicant. Ridley Scott says that he is artificial, but Harrison Ford argues that during filming Scott told him Deckard was human. Whatever the answer, it is a worthy winner also because of the quality of the film-making: Vangelis' brooding score, Rutger Hauer's replicant's seminal "I've seen things..." speech and that shot of the future LA cityscape, which kicks off the story.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Dir: Stanley Kubrick
A very close second, this mystifying story came out of a collaboration between Kubrick and science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke. It achieved enormous fame for its then revolutionary special effects.

Spacecraft consultants Frederick Ordway and Harry Lange, who had worked for Nasa, persuaded companies such as Boeing and IBM to supply prototypes and technical documents for use in the film. Astronauts visiting the set at Borehamwood referred to it as "Nasa East".

Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at Edinburgh, praises 2001 for "the brilliance of the simulations - still never done better despite all the modern computer graphics. The brilliance of using Brazilian tapirs as 'prehistoric animals'. The brilliance of the cut from the stick as club, to the space shuttle. Kubrick declaring that once tool use begins - the rest is inevitable. Hal: the first of the super computers with its honeyed East-Coast-Establishment voice."

3. Star Wars (1977)/Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The first two films of the original Star Wars trilogy make it onto the list probably for reasons of nostalgia rather than science.

Essentially westerns set in space, they both cover the universal themes of good versus evil while making lead actors Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher spit out mind-boggling technospeak on a regular basis. There is also an element of mysticism (which some say sets them apart from the rest of science fiction), with the idea of an all-pervading "force" that can be harnessed by certain people for good or evil.

The epic saga revolves around the battle between the all-enslaving Empire (led by the Emperor, a force-wielding maniac and his part-human part-machine henchman Darth Vader) and a small band of rebels.

Its use of science is sketchy at best - light-speed travel is dealt with by the use of a "hyperspace" where the normal laws of physics don't seem to apply and force-wielding Jedi fight with theoretically impossible lightsabers - but the emphasis here is certainly not on answering the problems of the human condition. Two of the first blockbusters, they also started the franchises for toys, games and replicas that no science fiction film can do without nowadays.

4. Alien (1979) Dir: Ridley Scott
Remembered for the iconic scene of an infant creature bursting bloodily through John Hurt's chest, but Alien was about much more. An interstellar mining vessel takes onboard a lifeform with concentrated acid for blood and two sets of jaws, which then messily dispatches the crew.

Praised for the gothic set design and Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of reluctant hero Ellen Ripley, it is notable for its underlying themes of motherhood, penetration and birth. But for UCL space physiologist Kevin Fong it's the mundanity of the crew's lifestyle that makes it stand out.

"For the first time we got the idea that, in the far-flung future, people who live and work in space might be a bunch of Average Joe slobs sitting around with leftover pizza, smoking and playing cards to pass the time," he says. "It captures much of what long duration space flight is about now: dirty, sweaty and claustrophobic with long periods of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror."

5. Solaris (1972) Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
Remade by Steven Soderbergh in 2002, but the original still holds a fascination for fans of the novel by Stanislaw Lem. A psychologist travels to a base on a remote planet to replace a mysteriously deceased scientist. There he encounters the secretive survivors - and his dead wife. Reality is supplanted by the increasingly attractive alternative of the planet's alien intelligence.

"The 1972 Solaris is perhaps the only film to address the limits of science set by our constrained human perceptions, categories and tendency to anthropomorphise," says Gregory Benford, professor of physics at University of California, Irvine and author of Timescape. "That it is also a compelling, tragic drama, not a mere illustrated lecture, makes it even more important."

6. Terminator (1984)/T2: Judgment day (1991) Dir: James Cameron
Robots from 2029 send a relentless cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to 1980s Los Angeles to assassinate the mother of a future human rebel. One of a few films to deal with problems of time travel, such as the grandfather paradox: if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather, you wouldn't exist so wouldn't be able to travel back in time to...

The sequel featured another cyborg made of shapeshifting metal. "Despite the incoherent fictional science, it is a perfect piece of film-making in its genre, which I would call 'action movie' rather than 'sci-fi movie' if it were not for the fact that there are very few, if any, movies that genuinely deserve to be called sci-fi," says David Deutsch, quantum physicist at Oxford.

7. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Dir: Robert Wise
Set amid the cold war paranoia of postwar America, a flying saucer lands in Washington DC and a humanoid alien, Klaatu emerges, accompanied by his robot, Gort.

Klaatu (who pronounces: "I'm impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it") tries to convince the world's leaders - and when they won't listen, scientists - to stop the rush toward mutual destruction.

It is cited by Beagle 2 project leader Colin Pillinger as one of his favourite sci-fi films. "During the showing, the cinema manager pulled a classic Orson Welles stunt and stopped the film to announce that a spaceship had landed."

8. War of the Worlds (1953) Dir: Byron Haskin
Famously adapted for radio by Orson Welles, HG Wells' tale of a Martian invasion of Earth became another cold war movie.

"The idea that there could be life that's developed in completely other circumstances in a completely different world which you would never recognise. That's a very appealing idea," says Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, California.

9. The Matrix (1999) Dir: Andy & Larry Wachowski
Cod philosophy, fetish clothing and incredibly cool special effects combined in 1999 for a fresh take on man-made artificial intelligence enslaving the planet.

The science behind the fiction is conspicuously absent, being replaced with the permanently befuddled Keanu Reeves stumbling around being confused by nonsense about spoons, and jumping off buildings. Tak Mak, a cell biologist at University of Toronto, doesn't think this matters: "It's good old-fashioned entertainment value ... Future bad guys fighting future good guys."

10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Dir: Steven Spielberg
"We are not alone", declared the poster and this tale of Richard Dreyfus' escalating obsession with alien visitors against a backdrop of a secretive, omniscient government agency has provided the core of science fiction ever since.

"While it is highly unlikely that 'they' will rock up in a vehicle that looks like a giant, inverted Christmas tree or make their presence known by doing Jean Michel Jarre impressions on a cosmic synthesiser, Close Encounters is for me still the classiest alien visitation story in celluloid history," says UCL's Kevin Fong.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Astronomers find possible rocky planet


Earth-like orb spins too close to its star to be habitable

Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer

Thursday, August 26, 2004

What might be the first known "Earth-like" planet orbiting a star like our own sun has been reported by European astronomers.

The discovery, if verified by further observations, unveils "a new class of planets" and points to a fresh stage of astronomical research, one that is profoundly relevant to the quest for extraterrestrial life, said Alan Boss of Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C.

That stage is one about which science-fiction buffs have long dreamed: the detection of faraway planets that, like Earth, are relatively small, rocky bodies where plants and creatures might evolve.

"It looks to me like the first discovery of an extrasolar terrestrial- type planet!!" said an excited e-mail message to The Chronicle from Boss, who was not involved in the discovery but is one of the world's leading authorities on planetary formation. An extrasolar planet orbits a star other than our sun.

The planet is too small to be seen directly. The discovery, made by Nuno C. Santos of Portugal and 15 colleagues from France, Switzerland and Chile, was hastened by the development of a sophisticated new telescope that detects slight shifts in the star's motions as it is nudged back and forth by the tiny planet's gravitational pull.

Their find is suspected of being a rocky body that, like Earth, has an iron core. Although perhaps up to 14 times as massive as Earth, it is by far the smallest known planet yet seen that orbits a yellow, "G"-type star similar to our sun.

Another leading expert, Timothy Brown of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., called Wednesday's news "really exciting. The people that do this (research) are among the best anywhere. ... The evidence (for a rocky planet) looks persuasive."

Inevitably, laypeople ask astronomers whether new extrasolar planets supply evidence for the possibility of alien life, Brown noted with a chuckle. Astronomers have long assumed that life, if it exists elsewhere, almost certainly evolved on a rocky surface like Earth's.

"Previously we had no idea whether rocky planets could be found elsewhere, " Brown said in a phone interview. "This (new discovery) is now evidence that they can be, so it's got to be good (news) for the idea that there's life someplace else."

However, don't place any bets on the likelihood that this particular planet is inhabited: It's so close to its parent star -- much closer than Mercury, the innermost planet of our solar system, is to the sun -- that the surface temperature must exceed 1,000 degrees. The parent star is Mu Arae, which is 50 light years (300 trillion miles) from Earth.

Rather, the discovery underlines the scientific importance of looking for other rocky planets that are placed at more temperate distances from their parent stars. NASA is developing a space-based telescope, Kepler, that will seek such planets; European scientists are developing their own version of such a mission, dubbed Corot.

The relatively small mass of the new planet is significant because in our solar system, the smallest planets are rocky bodies -- Earth, where we know life exists, as well Mars, where scientists speculate conditions once might have supported life -- while the largest worlds, such as Jupiter and Saturn, are giant spheres of gas with small solid cores.

Among scientists who seek extraterrestrial life, G-type stars -- like our sun and Mu Arae -- are presently regarded as the best candidates to illumine inhabited planets. The reason is admittedly simplistic: We live in a G-type system, and at the moment we're the only known life forms in the universe. The designation refers to a class of stars like our sun that are yellowish and have surface temperatures of approximately 10,000 degrees.

Wednesday's discovery -- made at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile -- triggered a buzz of e-mail excitement in the astronomical world. Within hours, astronomers ballyhooed the news at an online site devoted to the Mu Arae system: www.solstation.com/stars2/mu-arae.htm. (Click on the words "planetary and potentially habitable zone orbits" to see a simple movie that shows the motions of two previously discovered giant planets in the same neighborhood. The green line shows the star's possible "habitable zone" where life might survive.)

The Santos team detected the planet -- which is far smaller than its parent star -- by observing subtle shifts in the spectrum of light from the star as the planet orbited it and gravitationally tugged it backward and forward, subtly altering the stellar velocity. It's excruciatingly difficult science, like trying to observe a fruit fly nudging an elephant one way or another.

"The discovery is indeed very exciting and pushes the detection limit for extrasolar planets down by a factor of 3 in mass, an impressive feat," said Guillermo Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in an e-mail to The Chronicle. "This is a tribute to the hard work of the (Santos) team, who have produced a superb instrument ... capable of measuring the velocities of bright stars with an unprecedented accuracy."

Torres added: "The minimum mass of this new planet is tantalizingly close to the mass of the Earth, and for the first time brings these discoveries (of extrasolar planets) into the realm of rocky planets like our own (Earth)."

The Santos team's scientific report has been submitted for possible publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Over the last decade, more than 100 new planets orbiting distant stars have been reporters by numerous astronomers. Up until now, they've been far too massive to be regarded as Earth-like objects -- for example, they've been "gas giants" similar to the monster planets Jupiter and Saturn in our own solar system. Jupiter and Saturn are veiled in atmospheres thousands of miles thick and are far too cold to support Earth-like life, experts say.

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

©2004 San Francisco Chronicle

U.S. report on warming puts blame on humans White House shifts view on the causes of greenhouse gases


Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times
Thursday, August 26, 2004

A new report to Congress focuses on federal research indicating that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the only likely explanation for global warming over the past three decades, a striking shift in the way the Bush administration has portrayed the science of climate change.

In delivering the report to Congress on Wednesday, an administration official, James Mahoney, said it reflected "the best possible scientific information" on climate change. Previously, President Bush and other officials had stressed uncertainties in understanding the causes and consequences of warming as a reason for rejecting binding restrictions on heat-trapping gases.

The report is among those submitted regularly to Congress as a summary of recent and planned federal research on shifting global conditions of all sorts. It also says the accumulating emissions pose newly identified risks to farmers, citing studies showing that carbon dioxide promotes the growth of invasive weeds much more than it stimulates crops and that it reduces the nutritional value of some rangeland grasses.

American and international panels of experts concluded as early as 2001 that smokestack and tailpipe discharges of heat-trapping gases were the most likely cause of recent global warming. But the White House had disputed those conclusions.

The last time the administration issued a document suggesting that global warming had a human cause and posed big risks was in June 2002, in a submission to the United Nations under a climate treaty. Bush distanced himself from it, saying it was something "put out by the bureaucracy."

That may be harder to do this time. The new report -- online at www.climatescience.gov -- is accompanied by a letter signed by Bush's secretaries of energy and commerce and by his science adviser.

The White House declined Wednesday to explain the change in emphasis, referring reporters to Mahoney, the assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and the director of government climate research.

In an interview, he said the report was mainly an update on the overall climate research program and was not intended to be a conclusive "state of the science" summary of the administration's thinking. A series of 21 reports is promised on particular issues in coming years, he said, and the studies on climate models, agriculture and other subjects mentioned in the new report are "significant but not definitive."

Still, the report was disputed by some groups that oppose restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions and have attacked research that blames dangerous warming on humans.

Myron Ebell of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute said the report was "another indication that the administration continues to be incoherent in its global warming policies."

At the same time, the report did not please environmental groups, which have repeatedly criticized Bush for opposing efforts to require restrictions on the gases linked to global warming, though he has gradually come around to the position that warming is at least partly caused by emissions.

"The Bush administration on the one hand isn't doing anything about the problem but on the other hand can't deny the growing science behind global warming," said Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation.

The studies in the report that point to a human cause for recent warming all involved supercomputer simulations of climate, which have increased in power over the past several years.

The latest analysis, done at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found that natural shifts in the output of the sun and other factors were responsible for the warming from 1900 to 1950 but could not explain the sharp and continuing rise since 1970.

The report's section on agriculture focused on several studies in which fields and grasslands were exposed to double concentrations of carbon dioxide, with growth patterns in plants shifting in ways that could harm yields.

In such conditions, the report said, plots of short-grass prairie in northeastern Colorado contained less of the nutrient nitrogen and were less digestible than plots that grew with no extra carbon dioxide.

"In another experiment, increased CO2 stimulated the growth of five of the most important species of invasive weeds, more than any other plant species yet studied,rdquo the report said. This suggests that some weeds could become bigger problems as CO2 increases.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

From Shaman to Scientist: Essays on Humanity's Search for Spirits

$40.00 Paper 0-8108-5054-0 September 2004 286pp

"Highly recommended reading for academic researchers, students of the subject, and those working in the media."—John Maltby, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Leicester, UK

"Ghosts have haunted us from time immemorial. Rationalistic criticism casts them as the poster children of superstitious credulity, yet we still refuse to outgrow them. This persistence under fire has even begun to win a new and more respectful look at these old friends, these shadows in the dark and things that go bump in the night. If few scholars are convinced that ghosts mean the soul survives death, many now regard belief in ghosts as a significant and intriguing subject with cultural and psychological causes worthy of serious study. Any effort to reckon with belief in ghosts must also reckon with prior efforts. They are numerous and reflect hopes and prejudices, fashions and agendas more often than dispassionate scholarship, leaving behind a clutter of confusion for subsequent scholars to overstep. A new book raises a welcome light among the midnight corners of ghostly belief and leads readers through a grand tour of this perennial subject. From Shaman to Scientist collects articles exploring the mystery of ghosts in both breadth and depth. The book illuminates the cultural history of ghosts and the effort of the living to understand them, how they function as the subject of narratives and how old ideas meld with new technology to create a popular current form of "techno-mysticism." Questions of where belief in ghosts originates find an intriguing answer in shamanism, an archaic relationship between mortals and the spirit world that seems to provide a template throughout history. Asking why these beliefs persist in stubborn defiance of rational skepticism leads to the prospect that innate cognitive structures sustain ghostly experiences as phenomenal realities, whatever their ontological nature may be.

The contributors to this book respect the complexity of ghost belief in history and culture even as they advance our understanding along sound scholarly lines. And if the writers are willing to allow now and then that there is still something mysterious about a fine ghostly encounter, well, let us be grateful that they are not ashamed to join in the spirit of the occasion.

"—Thomas E. Bullard, Ph.D., Indiana University, Bloomington Campus

Magnets May Not Really Work for Pain


Wed Aug 25,11:24 AM ET

By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Natural magnets, believed by many to ease pain, may actually do little to that effect, new research reports.

A U.S. investigator found that magnets did not appear to affect the nerve fibers that transmit information about touch to the spinal cord, which tend to be much more sensitive to stimulation than the nerves that transmit pain signals.

So if these highly sensitive touch nerves aren't affected by magnets, "it would be a miracle" if magnets could influence the less sensitive pain nerves, Dr. David W. Garrison told Reuters Health.

These results, which appear in the American Journal of Pain Management, suggest that it would be "seemingly farfetched that (magnets) are doing something to alleviate pain," he said.

In an interview, Garrison noted that many people believe that magnetic fields -- which clearly affect bird migration, for example -- could also have effects on the human body. Some argue that magnets might ease pain by increasing blood flow or blocking nerve impulses that carry pain information, he said.

To test whether these theories are correct, Garrison asked 49 healthy volunteers to wear either a magnet or a dummy magnet over the median nerve, leading to their wrist. The researcher, based at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, then tested participants' perception of touch.

During one experiment, Garrison touched their fingers with two different points very close together, slowly moving them apart, and asked the subjects to tell him when they could feel two distinct points. The researcher also touched participants very lightly with one point, and participants told him when they could feel the point for the first time.

This information is transmitted by nerve fibers associated with touch, Garrison explained, which are much more sensitive than nerves that convey pain information. When people wore magnets, they didn't perceive the two points or the single point any sooner or later, suggesting that the magnets did not influence the touch nerve cells, he said.

Magnets "didn't change the physiology of the neurons that bring the information in," he said.

And if magnets did not affect touch nerve cells, they likely could not affect nerve cells associated with pain, he concluded.

However, these findings do not necessarily mean that people get no relief from their pain by wearing magnets, Garrison added. Many magnet-wearers may simply benefit from the placebo effect, in which people who are given an inactive drug or therapy experience an improvement in their symptoms.

In addition, Garrison said that magnets may ease pain through so-called "gating."

When people feel pain in their wrists from carpal tunnel syndrome, the researcher explained, nerve cells are sending that pain information to the spinal cord. However, if people wear a bracelet that contains a magnet to ease the pain, the pressure from the bracelet will activate other nerves that transmit information about touch to the spinal cord, and these nerves will start to compete with the pain nerve signals, limiting the amount of pain information reaching the brain.

This theory also helps explain why rubbing a painful spot can often make it feel better, Garrison added.

SOURCE: American Journal of Pain Management, July 2004.

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