NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 October 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Joyce Jillson, 58; Astrologer Who Said She Advised Reagans


By Myrna Oliver, Times Staff Writer

Joyce Jillson, the syndicated astrologer who once said she provided horoscopes for President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, has died. She was 58.

Jillson died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications from kidney disease, her former husband, Joseph Gallagher, said Tuesday.

As an actress, she appeared on Broadway in "The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd" and on television's racy "Peyton Place." Jillson later styled herself as the "Hollywood Astrologer," saying she decided such show business milestones as advising George Lucas to open his genre-launching "Star Wars" on May 27, 1977.

Her syndicated astrology column appears in about 200 newspapers, including The Times.

Jillson earned worldwide publicity in May 1988 when she said that the Reagans regularly consulted astrologers and said she visited the White House after the assassination attempt on the president in 1981. She also said she made charts that determined George Bush was the best choice for Reagan's running mate in 1980.

At the time, the first lady's spokeswoman acknowledged that Nancy Reagan often consulted "a friend that does astrology" in Los Angeles to seek reassurance of her husband's safety. But the White House denied that the president and his wife consulted or even knew Jillson. Then-White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater dismissed her as a publicity seeker.

Jillson claimed among her corporate clients 20th Century Fox, Ford Motor Co. and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Her astrology column has appeared in The Times since the death of horoscope icon Sydney Omarr in January 2003. The feature originally was syndicated by the Chicago Tribune — which, like The Times, is owned by Tribune Co. — but it is currently handled by Creators Syndicate.

Jillson was born in Cranston, R.I., and began studying astrology at age 8, advising classmates on such adolescent quandaries as whether they should become cheerleaders. She attended Boston University on an opera scholarship and in the 1960s enjoyed a modest acting career in New York and Los Angeles.

In addition to "Peyton Place," she landed guest roles in such series as "Columbo," "Lou Grant" and "Police Woman." But her real forte proved to be television talk shows, and she appeared frequently on "Good Morning America," "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee," "The Tonight Show" and "The Merv Griffin Show." She also discussed astrology on her own syndicated "The Joyce Jillson Show."

Jillson said the subjects she was most often asked to chart were "love and money" — when or if a woman would marry, when a company should launch an initial public offering of stock or fire a chief executive.

She published several books, including "Joyce Jillson's Lifesigns," "Real Women Don't Pump Gas" and "The Fine Art of Flirting." Gallagher said Jillson had also completed two books that have not yet been published: "Dog Astrology" and "Astrology for Cats."

Jillson is survived by her mother, Beatrice H. Twitchell.

USA to put Indian homeopathy cancer cure protocol to trial


Health India Kolkata, Oct 4 : The National Cancer Institute (NCI) of USA today said it was looking at collaborating with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for multi-centric trials of a homeopathic cancer cure protocol developed by a city-based homeopath duo, making it the first such alternative medicine to be tested by the coveted global body.

Dr Jeffrey White, Director of the the office of Cancer Complimentary and Alternative Medicine of NCI told a press meet here that they were in talks with AIIMS for simultaneous trials of the protocol in USA and India.

"We will soon appoint collaborators in India and the USA to oversee the process and gather data on the patients undergoing the cancer cure protocol at the clinic of Kolkata-based homeopath P Banerji, whose case presentations to the NCI were found to be very impressive," White said.

Though AIIMS had been dabbling with yoga and dietary anti-oxidants to test their anti-cancer efficacy, this would be the first time that the premier national medical research body tests a homeopathic formulation for the purpose, he said.

White would hold a high level meeting with AIIMS authorities on Thursday and finalise the modalities of the collborative project.

"The project is pending clearance of the ethics committee of AIIMS as also a nod from the Indian Council of Medical Research. But going by the response, we are hopeful of the collaboration happening within the next four months," he said.

The project, he said would begin by next April, he said.

The protocol, developed by the homeopath-duo P Banerji and his son Pratip Banerji caught NCI's attention a couple of years back after the clinic reported 'significant tumour regression' in a number of lung cancer cases. PTI

Professors wrestle question: creation, evolution


Published , October 01, 2004, 06:00:01 AM EDT

More than 200 people crammed themselves into a classroom to hear a discussion on one of the oldest but still hottest philosophical debates -- creationism versus evolution.

Members of the audience sat and stood out of the doors as University science professors Wyatt Anderson and Henry Schaefer argued about the validity of evolutionary theory Thursday afternoon at the Student Learning Center.

The theory of evolution -- that species evolved through natural selection -- was published in naturalist Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" in 1859.

Anderson, former dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences whose specialty is genetics, supported the evolutionary side of the debate.

Schaefer, who currently works in computational quantum chemistry, has written more than 900 scientific publications and teaches a seven-week freshman seminar titled "Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?"

The discussion was moderated by Betty Jean Craige, a University comparative literature professor and director of the Center for Humanities and Arts -- the organization that sponsored the event.

In the 10-minute introductory presentation each panelist was allowed, Schaefer said he adopted the creationist position after accepting Jesus Christ and subsequently began "taking reservations about the evolutionary theory."

"I grew up in an environment that accepted evolution not just as a good theory but a sacred truth," he said.

He posed the question, "Is evolution a good theory?"

He then explained the theory of evolution does a "good job of categorizing and systemizing" the earth's fossil record, but the topic covers too broad an area for the theory to be valid.

Anderson responded, saying evolutionary biology is a science that works like other sciences -- it involves finding hypotheses, conducting experiments and collecting data.

"Darwin defined evolution as descent with modification, which is still acceptable, and natural selection is a mechanism of evolution," Anderson said. "Evolution has led to better study of human origins, which originated in Africa," he said.

The discussion, which lasted about an hour-and-a-half, hit on one aspect of evolutionary theory more than once -- the amount of time it took for the understood gradual process of evolution to occur.

Schaefer said the fossil record, once closed, will show some stages of evolution occurred much more rapidly than the theory suggests.

Anderson attributed inconsistencies in rapid versus gradual stages of the evolutionary process to conditions in the environment either hindering or encouraging the speed of the progression.

Schaefer said he would like to see more discussion of evolution in the classrooms but a balance of emphasis on the theory's weaknesses as well as its strengths.

Anderson said this area of discussion in science is less cut-and-dry and more personal.

"It's not just about science -- we are talking about an area of science that bears on people's beliefs," he said. "(Schaefer) is a wonderful person and a wonderful scientist; we just happen to disagree."

Craige said she chose this topic because it will continue to be a point of debate that students will encounter.

"I believe students in science and students in humanities struggle with this issue and have discussions in the classroom," she said. "It is important for students to see that brilliant academic scholars can disagree profoundly with each other and appreciate each other."

© 2004 The Red and Black Publishing CO., INC

Creationists Vs. Darwinists


When it comes to achieving STP, financial technology workers and thinkers fall into two recognizable camps.

History has taught us excellent lessons, many of which are often found to be applicable in totally unforeseen areas. Reverend William Sparrow could hardly have anticipated that his words "Seek the truth; come whence it may/lead where it will, cost what it may" would have relevance to the STP debate in the securities industry of the 21st century. Making optimum use of the true information, from whatever source, is clearly what we seek, although in a commercial environment, unlike in theology, the luxury of unrestricted cost doesn't exist.

The famous words were originally applied to the great creationism vs. evolution debate of the 19th century. Now, a similar polarization is threatening the two main approaches to improving securities operational efficiency—namely, inputting data correctly in the first place, and improving ways of automating the exception handling. As proponents for each method pull in different directions, there is the danger that one will cover up failings in the other.

On one side there are the "creationists" who doggedly pursue perfection by attempting to establish a regime that will provide the golden event or transaction upon conception. They argue that all reference data must be standardized and accepted by all involved parties. Facing them across the debating table the "Darwinists" (maybe "Fatalists" would be a better name), who accept that there will never be a perfect world and that problems will always occur. The rationale here is to provide ultimate adaptability and automated exception routing. To put it more colloquially: ""do not care how we got here or who put us here; we simply need to decide what we have to do, based on what we know, in order to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Divide and Be Conquered

For any great movement, touting a new approach often depends on generating lively debate and sharing views without allowing the formation of factions. Again, history can teach us something here. Listed on one Web site, there are over 30 different Creationist groups ranging from Evolutionary Creationism and Creationist Darwinism to Young-Earth Creationists. The latter adamantly argue that our world was created just 6,000 years ago. This is definitely a minority view, but that does not necessarily make it wrong. For many years, for example, scientists agreed that the world was a solid sphere only to admit their mistake later when tectonic plates were discovered. Because of faction rivalry, more time and effort is spent in defense of, say, the fossil record, than in emphasizing the strengths of one's own arguments.

The Creationists within today's securities industry are certainly more ambitious in trying to tackle the problem at its source. However, the challenge of getting the myriad industry bodies to work together via a committee, organizational body or a proposed new standard, is fraught with difficulties and has little precedent for success. Instrument identification data, for example, comes in a variety of species such as ISIN, SEDOL and RIC, all of which are recognized within the industry. Some of these are not exchange-specific and there are frequent inconsistencies between ID codes, even within the same organization. Additional instrument-static data, such as terms and ratings, are also subject to inconsistencies and we do not need to point out the need for a universal standard for corporate actions, price and settlement instruction details. By more readily accepting that we do not live in a perfect world, Darwinists are more able to tolerate alternative theories and focus on positive suggestions in order to make that beautiful purse.

Another problem for Creationists is not introducing a program of reform, but trying to enforce it. There are plenty of industry bodies—ANNA, SMPG, ISITC and the European Securities Forum, to name but four—but the only bodies who could impose change are at a national level and their influence effectively disappears in the cross-border environment. Messaging changes, in terms of standards and technology, will similarly only become significant once everyone can be convinced that their business partners are doing it in the same way. All forms of Creationism in the end rely on the universe being created by a supernatural being. Unfortunately, the securities industry, however well-meaning, will never be blessed by such a player, so other "Darwinian" methods need to be found.

The Reference Data Gene Pool

One strong argument in favor of Creationism is the fact that it is not possible to select traits that are not already in the genes of the species. For example, a dog breeder uses "selection" to "create" puppies that have particularly long legs or saggy eyes. Scientists are making rapid progress in defining the exact contents of the biological gene pool. Fortunately, in the world of financial transactions, the pool is already totally transparent, in that all the constituents are readily identifiable, even if getting hold of them from certain sources is not always easy.

Irreducible Complexity

Darwin did not provide all the answers to the questions of how we have evolved into the "ultimate beings." He readily admitted that his theory would break down if it could be shown that any complex organism existed that could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications-in other words, was not "irreducibly complex." This has always been a tempting point of attack for Creationists.

So, can it be argued that a securities transaction reaches this level of complexity? Creationists assert that 30 percent of failing trades are due to inaccurate reference data. Another statistic that typifies the problem even more clearly is that more than 50 percent of organizations hold counter-party data across 10 or more systems in their organizations. These are just some of the arguments that bodies like the Reference Data User Group are hoping will generate sufficient support across the industry to empower change. However, their point that to be interpreted correctly by a machine, each element of reference data requires a unique business definition and must be presented in a standard code, certainly brings them into conflict with general Darwinist theories. These propose systems that are more than capable of cross-referencing business definitions and even inferring them based upon previous events.

Darwinists, on the other hand, are limited by the fact that they are already aiming at an imperfect goal. Their goal is to catch exceptions as early as possible in order to minimize operational impact, but they certainly cannot attempt to address them before data is captured. The Darwinists progress in smaller steps with organic change and improvement that can respond to very localized-or even individual-improvements in information or technology, to intelligently interpret any data conflicts or mismatches. Each of these improvements clearly undermines the ideal of getting things right from the beginning.

So, which side is responsible for finding the answer? The answer is, of course, both. Creationists soar high in the clouds, Darwinists are happy to eat off the pickings. Why not get both to eat off, or at least sit at, the same table? The same survival techniques deployed by the latter could certainly be used to create better data enrichment and cross-referencing on input, rather than waiting in vain for a universal standard. Often, the biggest problem is recognizing that there actually is a problem.

Robert Harris is securities business manager for City Networks, a London-based financial solutions provider.

by Robert Harris

© Incisive Media Investments Ltd 2004

School District Debates Adopting Darwin-Debunking Text


By Jim Brown
October 1, 2004

(AgapePress) - A Pennsylvania school district is embroiled in a controversy over a book that espouses the theory of intelligent design.

The Dover School Board could decide as early as Monday on whether to approve the use of the book Of Pandas and People: the Central Question of Biological Origins to supplement a ninth-grade biology textbook. Published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics in 1989, the book explores the controversy that has been growing around evolution and neo-Darwinian theory over the past several decades and proposes an alternative, which the authors termed "intelligent design."

Members of the science faculty and others who oppose the idea of using Of Pandas and People view it as an attempt to proselytize students who do not believe in God. However, the school district's curriculum chairman, Bill Buckingham, says adding the book will simply provide a balanced presentation that allows students not only to learn about Darwin's theories on the origins of species, but also to hear about the possibility that some of Darwin's suppositions -- including the idea that human beings evolved from apes -- were wrong.

Buckingham does not understand the fierce opposition to the supplement. "Why people are so afraid of this book I don't know," he says. "In the book, there's no mention of any particular god, the Bible's not mentioned, creation isn't mentioned. It just mentions that there is a possibility we were designed by something of intelligence."

Some science teachers in the Dover School District argue that adopting Of Pandas and People for classroom use would amount to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the public school district. However, Buckingham says the book would simply allow both sides of the evolution debate to be heard.

The district curriculum chairman notes, "A lot of top biologists in this country who were more or less teethed on Darwin's theory of evolution, after they got out of college and through doing their own work, have found so many holes in Darwin's theory that, in my mind, it perpetrates a fraud on the taxpayers of any school district and the students who attend there, not to give the balanced view of intelligent design and Darwin's theory."

Also, Buckingham adds, such a balanced view should not hesitate to point out the numerous scientifically documented problems and fallacies of evolutionary theory.

The Dover School Board could decide as early as Monday on whether to incorporate Of Pandas and People into the district's biology curriculum. Buckingham is confident that the pro-intelligent design book will be approved. He says he has the five favorable votes needed from the nine-member school board as well as the support of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center and the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.

© 2004 AgapePress

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Why we want to believe psychics


Speaking with a long-departed loved one may be the result of fear or suggestion rather than genuine spirit contact, research suggests.

UK psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman looked at controlled "séance" experiments.

He found many ways that people strive to interpret a medium's comments to apply to themselves, whether the facts are accurate or not.

Mediums may also tailor readings by picking up on subtle clues like what we wear, he said.

He will recreate a Victorian séance at the Dana Centre in London on Thursday.

Professor Wiseman said there were several strategies that might underlie an "apparently" accurate reading by a medium.

He said people tended to believe very general, sweeping statements applied to themselves directly when they wanted to.

"I think the mediums are fairly sincere, but the person is reading a lot into what are fairly ambiguous comments," he said.

He said often people who went to mediums were seeking reassurance or help for a stressful period of change in their lives such as a recent bereavement.

"We want to believe that the statement is true, that it applies to us. So we tend to buy into it."

Seeking answers

An example is if the medium said "The spirits are talking about the younger woman who has passed away", this could refer to a young child, a teenager or even someone who had died in their forties.

The degree to which a client thinks through these alternative interpretations would then influence whether they believe the statement applies accurately to them.

He said people tended to remember the "hits" - the things said by the medium which matched their own needs - and ignore the "misses".

It is not only the person going for the reading who influences the outcomes.

He said mediums might be able to unconsciously gain and react to information from things like how the client is dressed and how they respond to the medium's questions.

Professor Wiseman set up a controlled séance with five subjects and mediums and found no evidence of genuine psychic ability.

Faking it

He presented this research, which has been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, at a convention of the Parapsychological Association in Vienna in August.

In a hoax earlier this year on live TV, Illusionist Derren Brown convinced people he was contacting the deceased using a ouija board.

Brown said he wanted to encourage people to question séances.

Professor Wiseman said he did not think most mediums were tricksters, but he said because people did seek their help for bereavement issues this could be good or bad.

A spokeswoman from Cruse Bereavement Care said: "When people are bereaved they feel very isolated, very lonely and very questioning, and they will make their way towards areas where they think they might find answers.

"That's a perfectly understandable thing to do, but amongst those people who appear to provide help and support or answers there will be people who are perhaps not so benign in their intentions.

"Therefore, it's important for bereaved people to be very cautious and very careful where they seek support."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/09/22 23:29:17 GMT


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Text compromise in Dover


'Pandas' book on shelf -- but not in curriculum on biology

By HEIDI BERNHARD-BUBB For The York Dispatch

The Dover Area School District will offer high school biology classes a textbook that presents a theory other than evolution, but it will not be a required part of the curriculum.

The "Of Pandas and People" text will be available to students or teachers who want to use it as a reference in biology class, particularly during the discussion of evolution, said Superintendent Richard Nilsen.

The book, originally published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics in 1989, presents the theory of intelligent design, which states that some higher being caused life to begin somehow, and disputes the science behind Darwin's theory of evolution.

Because it is not a required part of the curriculum it did not require a board vote for use in the classroom, only the superintendent's approval.

Nilsen compared the use of the book to the use of maps in a classroom.

Fifty copies of the book are being donated to the district by an anonymous group of Dover residents for use in two high school biology classes, said board president Alan Bonsell. The cost of the books is approximately $1,000.

"Of Pandas and People" has been part of an ongoing debate in Dover, in which some board members and residents have fought to include intelligent design as part of the biology curriculum as an alternative theory to evolution.

Board divided on textbook: It took two votes after a heated discussion in August for a divided school board to approve a new biology textbook, the 2004 edition of "Prentice Hall Biology." That book had offended some board members because it teaches evolution without reference to creationism.

Board member William Buckingham, who first objected the biology text, proposed the purchase "Of Pandas and People," saying it would balance the theory of evolution.

May dodge issue: The decision to include the textbook in the classroom without making it a required part of the curriculum may sidestep the broader issue of separation of church and state that is also at the center of the debate.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the teaching of creationism in public school as a violation of the separation of church and state. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Education high school science standards require the teaching of evolution.

The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the district would be inviting a lawsuit if it chose a textbook that teaches creationism.

Robert Boston, a spokesperson for Americans United, said he sees no distinction between creationism and intelligent design.

"Intelligent design is just the latest name for creationism and an attempt to secularize creationism," he said this morning. "It's been called a lot of different names -- the theory of abrupt appearance, the theory of creation science. ... Intelligent design is just the latest attempt to put a scientific dress on a pseudo-scientific theory. The best analogue I can think of is putting an astrology book in an astronomy classroom."

The issue of church and state is less obvious with a book like "Of Pandas and People" because the issue of creationism has been secularized, Boston said. "It's bad science, but I am not sure if bad science is unconstitutional."

Still, he doesn't rule out that a legal challenge could be made over including the book in the classroom, even as a reference or supplemental text. The courts may look at motivation: Is it the board's intention to convince students that there is a religious explanation for existence? A challenge could be made based on that issue, Boston said.

In response to Americans United, the Thomas More Law Center, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., offered to represent the district without charge if a suit was filed. The center describes itself as "a national public interest law firm with a three-part mission to: defend the religious freedom of Christians; restore time-honored family values; and protect the sanctity of human life."

Residents' opinions differ: Residents present at last night's board meeting had opposing views on the district's decision on the text.

Ron Short and Eric Riddle said they supported the district's decision. Short said that he would like to see the district teach intelligent design side by side in the curriculum with evolution, but he said that it was a good place to start. He added that the district should not be intimidated by "interlopers outside of the district" who would seek to keep the book or intelligent design theory out of the school district.

Riddle, who homeschools his children, said he believed that this was a step in the right direction. "Hopefully, some students will pick up this book and see what a lie evolution really is," he added.

However, other residents were concerned.

Former school board member Barrie Callahan said the book could get the district into a costly lawsuit.

And Lonnie Langione, also a former school board member, wanted to be sure that the school district would not require teachers to use "Of Pandas and People."

He also asked if the district would provide any additional training needed to aid the teachers in using the book, stating that most teachers had extensive schooling in teaching biology, but not intelligent design theory.

Nilsen said that any additional training would be provided if the teachers requested it.

-- Reach Heidi Bernhard-Bubb at 854-1575 or news@yorkdispatch.com .

Girl 'bleeds' stones from eyes, nose, ears


Indo-Asian News Service
Ranchi, October 5

Stones have been oozing out of the ears, eyes and nose of a schoolgirl in this Jharkhand capital, puzzling doctors who say they have never seen anything like it before.

Savitri, a Class 7 student from Hazaribagh district, first complained of stones coming out of her nose in April this year. But things have worsened dramatically since Sept 30 and stones have started coming out from her ears, nose and eyes.

The young girl, who is presently undergoing treatment at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Science (RIMS), said "For the last week, things have been really bad. It is most excruciating when it comes out of the corner of the eye."

Doctors are clearly baffled.

"The stones have been sent for medical tests. I have not seen or heard about stones coming out from eyes before," said Dr Chandrakant of RIMS.

Added Dr Ragho Sharan, ENT specialist at RIMS "In some cases, stones have come out from the nose and the ear of some people. But this is the first time I have even heard of stones coming out of the eyes."

"Stones are formed due to the high level of calcium in the body. But they are generally found in the gall bladder and kidney," he explained.

RIMS is planning to set up a medical board to probe the extraordinary case of a girl who is otherwise normal in every other way.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Televangelist Agrees to Cancer Surgery

Flamboyant Gene Scott, who relied on faith healing, says his disease is now 'out of control.'


By TERESA WATANABE Times Staff Writer

Gene Scott, a flamboyant televangelist who previously relied on faith healing to cure his prostate cancer, announced he would undergo surgery Monday at UCLA Medical Center, saying his disease had run "out of control."

A statement by three of his organizations said the 75-year-old preacher had discovered this month that a "golf ball-sized cancer" had spread to his bladder from his prostate, where cancer was first diagnosed four years ago. The statement said Scott would also undergo radiation treatment and chemotherapy, which could prolong his life for two years.

The spread of cancer "comes as a sobering shock to this religious leader who advocates faith healing" instead of regular medical care, said the statement by his Los Angeles University Cathedral, University Broadcast Systems and Wescott Center. Scott made the announcement of his impending surgery on his global telecast Sunday.

A spokeswoman for UCLA Medical Center could not confirm Scott's surgery, saying no patient had checked in under his name. Calls to Scott's toll-free message line were not returned.

Scott — a blunt-talking, cigar-chomping preacher who claims 15,000 Los Angeles congregants and a worldwide satellite television audience — planned to return to his regular broadcast this Sunday. Scott has never dissuaded followers from receiving medical treatment, saying only that he wanted to "give God the first shot" be-fore resorting to traditional , medical care.

Scientific Method Man


Gordon Rugg cracked the 400-year-old mystery of the Voynich manuscript.

By Joseph D'AgnesePage

Two years ago, an Englishman named Gordon Rugg slipped back in time. Night after night he spread his papers on the kitchen table once his children had gone to bed. Working on faux parchment with a steel-nibbed calligraphic pen, he scribbled a strange, unidentifiable, vaguely medieval script. Transliterated into the Roman alphabet, some of the words read: "qopchedy qokedydy qokoloky qokeedy qokedy shedy." As he wrote, he struggled to get inside the mind of the person who had first scrawled this incomprehensible text some 400 years ago.

By day, Rugg, a 48-year-old psychologist, teaches in the computer science department of Keele University, near Manchester, England. By night, as an intellectual exercise, he has been researching one of the world's great oddities: the Voynich manuscript, a hand-lettered book written in an unknown code that has frustrated cryptographers since its discovery in an Italian villa in 1912. How impregnable is the Voynich? During World War II, US Army code breakers - the guys who blew away Nazi ciphers - grappled with the manuscript in their spare time and came up empty. Since then, decoding the book's contents has become an obsession for geeks and puzzle nuts everywhere.

Then came Rugg. In three months, he cooked up the most persuasive explanation yet for the 234-page text: Sorry, folks, there is no code - it's a hoax! Lifelong Voynichologists were impressed with his reasoning and proofs, even if they were a little chagrined. "The Voynich is such a challenge," says Rugg, "such a social activity. But then along comes someone who says 'Oh, it's just a lot of meaningless gibberish.' It's as if we're all surfers, and the sea has dried up."

When the news of Rugg's breakthrough was published last winter, everyone missed the bigger story. Rugg cracked the Voynich not because he was smarter, but because he focused on what everyone else had missed. Then again, this came naturally to Rugg: He has made a career out of studying how experts acquire knowledge yet screw up nevertheless. In 1996, he and his colleagues developed a rigorous method for peering over the shoulders of experts - doctors, software engineers, pilots, physicists - watching how they work and think, testing their logic, and uncovering ways to help them solve problems.

Rugg calls it the verifier approach, and the Voynich was its first major test. If Rugg gets his way, verifiers will revolutionize the scientific method and help solve other seemingly unsolvable mysteries, such as the origins of the universe or the cause of Alzheimer's disease.

Rugg was hardly the first to dream of cracking the Voynich. Ever since the manuscript resurfaced - bookseller Wilfrid Voynich bought it from Italian Jesuits 92 years ago - a stream of formidable scholars have pored over it. Some make pilgrimages to Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where the volume resides. Others download JPEGs of the pages, which are available free on the Web.

Rugg saw something different and special about the manuscript: It would make a perfect beta test for the verifier approach. As he read about the Voynich and began applying his method - amassing knowledge about a problem and assessing the kinds of expertise applied so far are steps one and two - he saw that no one had seriously explored the idea that the book was a grand hoax. As Philip Neal, one of the world's leading Voynichologists, says, "It has been argued - I used to argue myself - that the phonetic structure was beyond the powers of a 16th-century forger to create, so that the text must be a real language or an unknown type of cipher."

Since none of the experts thought a hoax was plausible, no one had looked very hard for a hoax solution. To compound the problem, many Voynichologists were specialists: linguists, cryptographers, mathematicians, medievalists, and literary scholars. But the ideal Voynich expert - a code-breaking, medieval-savvy hoaxologist - probably didn't exist. And the resulting gap had allowed a major problem to go unsolved for the better part of a century.

This "expertise gap" is rife in academia, but few recognize it, let alone know how to correct for it. It starts with the best of intentions. Institutions want top-notch people, so they offer incentives to attract and groom experts. Young grad students learn early that if they want to carve out a niche, they must confine their interests to a narrow field. It's not enough to work in spinal cord regeneration; it must be stem cell-based solutions to the problem. That's great if a researcher just happens to stumble on a perfect stem cell cure. But as specialists get further from their core expertise, the possible solutions - what's been tried, what hasn't, what was never properly examined, what ought to be tried again - get even more elusive.

With the verifier approach, Rugg begins by asking experts to draw a mental map of their field. From there, he stitches together many maps to form an atlas of the universe of knowledge on the subject. "You look for an area of overlap that doesn't contain much detail," he says. "If it turns out there's an adjoining area which everyone thinks is someone else's territory, then that's a potential gap."

So here's Rugg, studying the Voynich on his own and asking himself: If I were living in the 16th century and wanted to make a book that looked mysterious but was really gibberish, how could I do it cheaply and easily? He deliberately searched for low tech tools capable of generating text that seemed random. In his reading, he came across an encoding device called the Cardan Grille, first described in 1550 by Girolamo Cardano. (See "How to Create an 'Indecipherable' Manuscript")

Using such an encoder, Rugg figures it would take a smart fraudster an hour or two to write an entire page. A Voynich-size book might take about three or four months to create with illustrations. The time and effort would definitely be worth it: In the Elizabethan era, Rudolph II, the Holy Roman emperor, became fascinated with the beautifully wrought manuscript (he believed it was the work of 13th-century philosopher Roger Bacon) and paid 600 gold ducats for it - about $30,000 today.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Teach both sides of science story


Monday, September 20, 2004

Good for the York Sunday News for "An evolving controversy" (Sept. 5), which presented both sides of the evolution/creation issue. But if the York Sunday News feels that it should address this issue, should not schools also address this issue?

Take a different issue in science. For example, the use of nuclear reactors. Do teachers teach one-sidedly that nuclear reactors are extremely dangerous creators of toxic waste? Or is nuclear fission exalted as the perfect source of energy? No, both sides of the issue are taught, with arguments for and against nuclear energy. Or consider a history lesson on Napoleon. What teacher would tell the students of Napoleon's beneficial reforms of French government and neglect to say that Napoleon seized control of France and tried to take over Europe? To teach any subject, the teacher and class must consider more than one side of the subject.

Also, creationism cannot be dismissed as nonscience. If God created the universe, scientific evidence must exist supporting the idea that God created the universe. In the same way, evolution could not have occurred without leaving scientific evidence that evolution occurred. Since creationism is science, creation must be taught alongside evolution. Studies of actual findings by scientists should accompany a class on the subject.

If scientists have truly proved that evolution is true, then the scientists should reveal their surely perfect argument for evolution. Because scientists lack such an argument, creation remains a scientific possibility worthy of research and of study in the classroom.


Discuss science, religion, theater at nature center


By now, most who follow the world of local theater know Tennessee Repertory Theatre is putting on a production of Inherit the Wind, a fictionalized dramatization of the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., in which the issue of evolution vs. creationism took center stage.

What may not be common knowledge is that the public is invited to take part in a free discussion dubbed ''Science and Religion: Why Tennessee's Monkey Trial Still Speaks to Us.'' It's set for 5:30 to 7 p.m. tomorrow at Warner Parks Nature Center.

Panelists are David Alford, artistic director for The Rep; Judge Bill Koch, of the Tennessee Court of Appeals; Mark McEntire, associate professor of religion at Belmont University; and Wesley Roberts, who teaches ecology and environmental science at Hillsboro High School. Keith McLusky will moderate. Each panelist will give a brief statement about their perspective on the trial, the play and the discussion's title statement, followed by questions from audience members.

The event is part of Tennessee Performing Art Center's ''Know Before You Go'' series, created to enhance audience members' experiences of TPAC performances.

Warner Nature Center is at 7311 Hwy. 100. The play will continue through Saturday at TPAC. For tickets to the play, call 255-2787 or go to www.ticketmaster.com. For more information on the discussion, go to www.tnrep.org.

Evelyn Atzlinger, Staff Writer

Alternative Medicine, Homeopathic & Herbal Remedies Info Big Part of New "Independent" Vitamin Website


A new website containing extensive information on alternative medicine, vitamins, homeopathic and herbal remedies launched today on the Internet. The site, at www.MyVitaminGuide.com, contains one of the largest searchable databases of dietary supplement information available on the web. "The objective of MyVitaminGuide.com is to be an unbiased provider of very comprehensive information. Our vitamin database is impressive and so is our natural health care information." says Sam Knoll, the site's creator. "We also provide detailed information on over 370 commonly used herbal remedies, including American, European, Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs.

Virginia Beach, VA (PRWEB) October 12, 2004 -- A new website containing extensive information on alternative medicine, vitamins, homeopathic and herbal remedies launched today on the Internet. The site, at www.MyVitaminGuide.com, contains one of the largest searchable databases of dietary supplement information available on the web.

"The objective of MyVitaminGuide.com is to be an unbiased provider of very comprehensive information. Our vitamin database is impressive and so is our natural health care information. Our Homeopathy section, for example, contains hundreds of suggested homeopathic remedies for conditions ranging from the common cold, to bee stings, to rashes, and much more," says Sam Knoll, the site's creator. "We also provide detailed information on over 370 commonly used herbal remedies, including American, European, Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs."

Knoll, President of Healthex Corporation, spent more than six months and thousands of dollars assembling MyVitaminGuide.com. He started the project after watching consumers struggle with confusion about taking vitamins and other supplements. By designing the site to provide information only, Knoll says consumers can expect unbiased advice.

A main component of MyVitaminGuide.com is its comprehensive Brands Database. For the first time ever, consumers will be able to see direct comparisons between well known brands and private label "house brands" from most major retailers and health food stores including outlets such as General Nutrition Center, Vitamin Shoppe, Walgreen, Whole Foods Market, and independent health food stores.

Using the Brands Database, members of the website can easily compare the kind of supplement, the type of pill (for example, capsule or tablet), package size, suggested retail price, recommended usage, and resulting cost per day. The site also offers a proprietary EZ Cost Calculator so consumers can instantly calculate their cost per day for vitamins they find on the web or in a store.

In addition to its Brands Database and cost calculator, MyVitaminGuide.com offers weekly and monthly newsletters written by medical professionals, a searchable database of information about vitamins, herbal and homeopathic remedies, "health concerns" such as heart disease and diabetes, a recipe database, and a "Safetychecker" that identifies potential interactions between dietary supplements, common prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.

To maintain its independent and unbiased status, MyVitaminGuide.com will be supported by its members and does not accept any outside advertising, nor does it sell vitamins or other supplements. The website is found at www.MyVitaminGuide.com on the Internet..

About Sam Knoll, Founder of MyVitaminGuide.com Sam Knoll is a vitamin industry expert with more than 20 years experience. In the early 1980's, Mr. Knoll founded Home Health Products, one of the largest direct marketers and FDA-approved manufacturers of natural healthcare products in the US. He sold the company in the late 1990's. He is the author of "How To Buy Vitamins," an e-book provided free to all members of MyVitaminGuide.com.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Science and religion… together?


Santa Paula News
Published on: September 17, 2004

The latest research points toward "The Case for a Creator."

Take a look around. The mountains. The oceans. The planets. The stars. All creatures great and small. They came from somewhere, right? The question is: Can an intellectual person find convincing evidence to point to a God of creation?

Lee Strobel, a former legal affairs editor for the Chicago Tribune, uses the latest scientific studies and discoveries to help make "The Case for a Creator" – live via satellite. This special program will be shown live at Heritage Valley Christian Fellowship.

"My original road to atheism was paved by science," Strobel says. "But ironically, so was my later journey to God."

Heritage Valley Christian Fellowship is presenting, live via satellite, "The Case for a Creator" on Sunday, September 26 at 3 p.m. and a rebroadcast at 5 p.m.

"I probed six different scientific disciplines – cosmology, physics, astronomy, biochemistry, biology, and consciousness – to see whether they point toward or away from the existence of an intelligent designer," Strobel says. "When I opened my mind to the possibility of an explanation beyond naturalism, I found that intelligent design most clearly accounted for the evidence of science and outstripped every other theory."

Joining Strobel on the broadcast are Stephen C. Meyer, Ph.D., the director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discover Institute in Seattle, and author and speaker Mark Mitelberg. They will also answer questions from viewers.

Heritage Valley Christian Fellowship is located at the corner of Santa Paula and Mill Streets, 241 N. Mill Street. For more information call 525-2814 or visit www.hvcf.org.

Alternative Medicine
Memory Codes for Inner Change


By Louise Valentine
The Epoch Times

Sep 19, 2004

The aim of this alternative medicine column is to make known alternative resources of a practical nature that would, if used, enhance our quality of life. Health is very valuable and needs each individual to take responsibility for his own. In China healthy people are given awards as well as sick people who become well. Many Falun Dafa practitioners won such awards before their persecution started in 1999.

Taking supplements and herbs can often give a boost to the immune system and strengthen the tissues, but if one does this and still has a bad temper, is depressed, smokes pot, hates someone or is in a compromised situation, is that health?

Self-knowledge is a most useful tool. Here is a way to get some insight into oneself without the judgmental component. This method is getting to know and use your sub-modalities. Sub-modalities are a part of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), a type of psychological therapy whose practitioners believe the Universe to be a benevolent place, and that behind our actions is a benevolent intent, which may be need adjusted, thus the need for therapy. Everyone codes his or her memory with sub-modalities: pictures, sounds, sensations, tastes and smells. In order to sample what is meant, bring up a memory of someone you like. Do you see them in color, moving, still, hear their voice, have any smell or taste experience with this memory? The sensory-based words you use in your description are the sub modalities. Here are a few examples:

Visuals: Color, bright, dull, gray, large, small, close up, clear, panoramic Auditory: Loud, musical, roaring, high or low pitch Touch: Smooth, hot, moist, painful, hard Taste or smell: Any kind of taste or smell

Think of a pleasant experience. How do you code that? Play with it to make it even more enjoyable. Perhaps it can be brightened up, or put in motion. If you feel you are watching from a distance, put yourself in the middle of it Notice whether any of the changes enhance your feelings.

Unpleasant experiences whose teaching uses have been exhausted, yet are still remembered with unwarranted clarity can be shrunk in the mind's eye until they are barely perceptible or disappear. They can be run as a movie with you looking at them from a seat in the audience. Experiment with size, color to get the emotional effect you want. If there is someone unpleasant speaking in a reprimanding voice, make the voice sound like Donald Duck or high pitched like someone who has breathed helium. They may even become funny.

Connirae Andreas, a well known Nelper (NLP therapist) and author had mastitis after the birth of her 2nd child, for which she did not want to take antibiotics.1 She knew her body could heal the flu, so she looked inside to see what pictures meant healing and being healthy. When she thought of herself with the breast infection, she was grey and lying still. She used her healing sub modalities – color, enlarging the picture, motion-getting out of bed, standing up, looking well, to trigger her immune system.

Sub modality work needs to be repeated until the underlying negative feeling is changed. Outcomes need to be ecological, that is, cause no harm. Sub modalities are good for changing fears and personal relationships. Find the modalities for the positive memory first. If you are afraid of your boss, find the sub modalities for someone you do not fear, then substitute the positive modalities until the negative ones disappear, and the thought of your boss is no longer fearful.

Sub-modalities are one of many ways to change your mind for better health.

1. Andreas, C. and S. "Heart of the Mind" Real People Press, 1989

Copyright 2004 - The Epoch Times

Alternative health care on the rise


By: Diana Lewis

Staff Writer

More Americans are using alternatives medicines to treat health problems

There's an old saying that, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." But recent studies show more and more people believe that yoga, herbs and even prayer can do the same job.

An increasing number of Americans are using alternatives medicines to treat health problems ranging from headaches and depression to cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses, according to a recent government study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

The survey, part of a larger national health survey done periodically by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used personal interviews with more than 31,000 adults across the country on their use of 27 types of alternative therapies not considered part of conventional medicine in the United States.

Dr. Stephen Straus, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, Md., said people were asked if they had ever used or had used within the past year 10 types of treatment provided by experts. The treatments included acupuncture and chiropractic, as well as 17 other therapies that can be self-administered, such as herbal botanical supplements, special diets and megavitamins.

The survey can't tell to what extent people used alternative treatment exclusively rather than alongside traditional care, although most experts think people tend to blend their health care, Straus said. Richard Nahin, the center's senior adviser for the survey, said the results underscore that "some remedies can be unsafe when used inappropriately or with conventional medicines, and people who use complementary and alternative medical products have to be sure to tell their health-care providers what they're doing."

The results for use of some natural products was particularly interesting, with 40 percent of those who used any such products taking Echinacea, mainly for colds, and 21 percent using ginkgo biloba, Nahin said. Interestingly, more than 6 percent were using kava kava, a Polynesian shrub extract often taken for anxiety, despite warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it can be toxic to the liver.

Straus noted the center has a number of studies continuing about the safety and effectiveness of several popular herbal products, and that as results of those studies are released in the next several years, it will be possible to see if scientific evidence has any impact on the popularity of those products when the next survey is done in 2007.

A woman's journey

Madison Township resident Marion Gray owns and operates Natural Remi-Teas, a combination tea and coffeehouse and health products store. The genesis of her interest in natural remedies was in the diagnosis 20 years ago of a condition in which her body's auto-immune system attacks the thyroid, Gray said.

For 17 years, she took the prescription drug Synthroid without question.

Three years ago, when she was "tired of being tired," Gray began a journey of discovery into her own disease, and was shocked at what she didn't know.

She then took her amassed research to her doctor and discussed it with him. First, she told the doctor that she wanted to switch her medication to Armour, instead of Synthroid. Armour is a "natural" prescription drug, made from the ground thyroids of pigs.

She also told her doctor she was going to "stop doing things that were working against my thyroid," such as ingesting fluoride and chlorine. "Then I started drinking Yerba Mat tea, which helps the immune system," Gray said.

Gray describes Yerba Mat tea as a "complete food source," that gives the "wake-me-up" of coffee without the addictive caffeine.

As she started feeling better, people she knew became interested in the use of "natural" teas and substances.

Gray's store opened in summer 2001. Since then, she has spent a lot of time educating her clientele on how to use natural products to complement their traditional medical treatment.

"Why does it have to be one or the other?" Gray asked. "A customer will say, 'Oh, so I don't have to take my prescription anymore?' and I say, "No, no. Don't go against your doctor. Work with your doctor.' Some people call me an alternative, but I don't consider myself alternative. I go to the doctor. I take my prescriptions, I drink my tea and eat chia seeds."

On a wing and a prayer

In the survey, prayer was the No. 1 CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) used by respondents in the prior year.

The Rev. Jim Ekensten, director of Healing Rooms of Ashtabula, laughs at the designation of prayer as a "complement" to traditional medical treatment.

"We like to think we're the 'primary care physicians,' " Ekensten said. "We feel doctors are a complement to our belief. God created doctors, and they work hand in hand (with God). They always will."

Ekensten is not a physician.

Survey numbers show 43 percent of those surveyed said they used prayer specifically for their own health in the past 12 months. Twenty-four percent used prayer by others for their own health, and 9.6 percent of respondents participated in a prayer group for their own health.

The next CAM on the list - natural products - was used by 18.9 percent of respondents, followed by deep breathing exercises, 11.6 percent; meditation, 7.6 percent; chiropractic care, 7.5 percent; yoga, 5.1 percent; massage, 5 percent; and diet-based therapies, 3.5 percent.

Ekensten said the Park Avenue location attracts believers and nonbelievers looking for help. All are welcome, he said.

"It's a step of faith just walking through the door," he said.

"We've been open since December 2003, and we've prayed for between 125 and 150 people. People from as far away as Erie (Pa.) have driven here to have us pray for them."

Although Ekensten counts healing in mind and spirit in those numbers, physical healing also is a large part of the ministry. Ekensten said his group has three cases in which local doctors have diagnosed someone with a condition, which apparently disappeared after prayer at Healing Rooms.

On the initial form people fill out before being prayed for at Healing Rooms, they are specifically asked if they are under a doctor's care.

Insurance pays, selectively

According to statistics from the Hyattsville, Md.-based U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. public's use of CAM increased substantially during the 1990s. This high rate of use translates into large out-of-pocket expenditures on CAM.

It has been estimated that the U.S. public spent $36 billion to $47 billion on CAM therapies in 1997 alone.

Of this amount, $12.2 billion to $19.6 billion was paid out of pocket for the services of professional CAM health-care providers such as chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists.

These fees are more than the public paid out of pocket for all hospitalizations in 1997 and about half that paid for all out-of-pocket physician services.

According to the survey, 8 percent of those polled said they used chiropractic. Terry Davis, administrator for Lake Chiropractic in Willowick, said 20 years ago, chiropractic services were not covered by insurances.

Today, 99 percent of patients at the clinic are indeed covered by insurance. "But I know a lot of clinics who are all cash businesses because they are tired of fighting with insurance companies," Davis said.

Tammy Roesch, of Roesch's Natural Foods in Geneva Township, said insurance prescription cards can be somewhat of a trap.

"They're like welfare: It keeps people in the system, and they never look elsewhere for help," said Roesch, a master herbalist and "old-fashioned Seventh-day Adventist" who worships at home.

As with most practitioners of alternative medical care, Roesch warns anyone who takes her advice that she is not a doctor.

"I tell them I can only tell them what I would do and what has helped my customers," she said. "I tell them first to go to their doctor and tell them you want to try this. If the doctor says, 'Absolutely not,' I would tell them to try a different doctor."

Roesch said she has many doctors who send their patients to her for different natural herbs.

Success story

Sherrie Janz of Madison Township used to go to the doctor just about every week. "Even with health insurance, our medical bills were astronomical," Janz said.

Janz has multiple medical problems, including asthma and allergies that required daily medication.

Janz spoke with her doctor about taking an herbal alternative to inhalers and pills. She did so with his approval, and has improved to the point of not needing the prescriptions.

"My doctor said, 'Wow, that's great. Just be careful,' " Janz said. Janz said she takes advantage of conventional and alternative medical care. "I just stopped going to the doctor for every stupid thing," she said. "I'd rather spend $10 for a natural product than pay the $15 (insurance) co-pay at the doctor's office. But if my arm's broke, I'm going to the doctor."

A doctor's view

Dr. Laura Bailey, board certified in internal medicine, is in a group practice within Lake Hospital System, in Willoughby.

Bailey's main concern with alternative treatments is that patients often don't think it's necessary to tell their physician what they are taking.

"I had one patient who had fairly significant asthma that no medication would improve," Bailey said. "Finally, we sat down with her and looked at everything she was taking, and found out she was taking Echinacea."

Once the patient stopped taking the herbal treatment, Bailey said she was able to cut back her asthma prescriptions by more than half.

Echinacea use by some patients does seem to reduce the length of a cold, Bailey said. But those who have a sensitivity to ragweed can cause more problems than it solves.

"Natural isn't always better. Poison ivy is natural," Bailey said. Another example of interaction concerns St. John's wort, which is often used to treat mild depression.

"But it does react with birth control pills," Bailey said. There have been at least 20 documented cases of pregnancies caused when the "natural" herb lessened the effectiveness of the prescription drug.

Communication between doctor and patient is key to making sure that using "natural" substances is safe.

FDA approval needed

Bailey also noted she is concerned that none of the herbal products available is subject to control by the FDA.

In a study by Consumers Union, the Yonkers, N.Y.-based company that publishes Consumer Reports, it was discovered that random samples of herbal treatments indicated that the concentration of the actual substance varied widely, from 0 percent to 150 percent of what the bottle says is in it, Bailey said.

"That is the concern of a lot of doctors," she said. "As you know, if you plant tomatoes, one year, you may have 100, and the next year, maybe 30. The concentration of the substance will be different."

Bailey said she prefers to work with her patients who want to take herbal supplements. She also would like to see more studies conducted on the products.

What about prayer?

Asked about the No. 1 "alternative medicine" cited in the NCCAM study - prayer - Bailey said that is a highly personal approach but it definitely "has a place."

But has she seen prayer work with her own eyes?

"I've seen lots of people live through things that they had no right to live through," Bailey replied. "I couldn't rule it out."

Results of the survey are available at the center's Web site: www.nccam.nih.gov. Scripps Howard News Service contributed to this story.

©The News-Herald 2004

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Fuel suspected deep inside Earth


Studies suggest heat under crust may not destroy methane gas

Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Oceans of fossil fuel-like gases and fluids, enough to support a high-tech society for many millennia to come, might exist far deeper inside the Earth than we've ever drilled before, researchers speculate.

Since the mid-19th century, a small but enthusiastic minority of scientists have argued that petroleum and other fuels are formed by purely chemical, or abiogenic, processes hundreds of miles inside Earth. An early champion was the great Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev, pioneer of the periodic table that hangs on the wall of virtually every high school chemistry classroom.

But most experts scoff at the idea. According to traditional theory, fossil fuels -- energy-rich, carbon-based molecules -- are formed over millions of years by biological processes, the disintegration of primeval plants and animals into smelly or gunky hydrocarbons like methane and petroleum. Such biogenic fossil fuels exist fairly close to Earth's surface, in reservoirs such as the oil fields of the Middle East.

One objection to the theory of abiogenic fuels is that they'd quickly disintegrate in the extreme heat and pressure hundreds of miles beneath the surface.

But now, experiments and computer modeling by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and elsewhere appear to have removed this objection. The team was led by geophysicist Henry P. Scott of Indiana University in South Bend, Ind. Their experiments show that methane gas can remain chemically stable at pressures and temperatures similar to those some 120 to 180 miles beneath the surface, the scientists reported in Monday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists demonstrated this in a Washington, D.C., laboratory by creating a micro-simulation of the presumed mineral composition of the deep Earth inside a high-pressure device called a diamond anvil cell. The device squeezes iron oxide, calcium carbonate and water together at pressures many thousands of times the pressure of Earth's atmosphere. The scientists heat the mixture with a laser up to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, about one-fourth as hot as the surface of the Sun.

In those conditions, they found that methane gas remained stable for periods ranging from minutes to hours. On this basis, Livermore members of the team calculated that the methane "could be stable for millions of years," said Laurence Fried of Livermore.

The article's authors are Scott, of Indiana; Russell Hemley and Ho-kwang Mao of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C.; Dudley Herschbach of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry; and Fried, Michael Howard and Sorin Bastea of Lawrence Livermore.

In the next few months, the Livermore scientists plan to investigate whether petroleum could also be stable hundreds of miles deep, said Fried, Livermore's group leader in chemistry under extreme conditions.

Deep methane reserves "could be a virtually inexhaustible source of energy for future generations," said the lab's official press statement Monday.

The best-known champion of the idea of deep fossil-like fuels was Cornell University physicist Tommy Gold, who died in June at age 84. Most scientists rejected his claims, partly because deep drill-holes had failed to recover impressive amounts of methane and partly because Gold had a reputation for defending unorthodox ideas.

The notion's allure is acknowledged in the opening sentence of a statement from Carnegie Institution: "In an era of rising oil and gas prices, the possibility that there are untapped reserves is enticing. Since the first U.S. oil well hit pay dirt in 1859, commercially viable wells of oil and gas commonly have been drilled no deeper than 3 to 5 miles into Earth's crust. These experiments point to the possibility of an inorganic source of hydrocarbons at great depth in the Earth," more than 100 miles deep.

Environmental groups reacted warily to the news. Kert Davies of Greenpeace USA in Washington stressed the last thing the world needs is an even more abundant source of "global warming" gases than are already being burned in the world's cars and factories.

"The distant prospect of new methane reserves shouldn't for a moment divert us from developing nonpolluting, renewable energy sources," said Daniel Hinerfeld of the Natural Resources Defense Council branch office in Santa Monica.

In any event, Hinerfeld said, "at current rates of consumption, we're going to need alternative forms of energy long before these hypothetical reserves are accessible."

The scientific team leader, Scott, also cautioned that their findings offer no quick cure for high gas prices or wars fought in oil-rich regions: "These results in no way alleviate the immediate problems we face regarding our natural resources. ... We are far from a solution to our limited energy supply, but each piece of information we can obtain will help guide future research."

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

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism
by Matt Young, Taner Edis

Editorial Reviews

About the Author
Matt Young is the author of No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe. He is a retired physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and now teaches physics at the Colorado School of Mines. Taner Edis is an assistant professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and the author of The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science.

Book Description
Is Darwinian evolution established fact, or a dogma ready to be overtaken by the next scientific revolution? The intelligent design movement argues the latter.

Why Intelligent Design Fails assembles a team of physicists, biologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and archaeologists to examine intelligent design from a scientific perspective. They consistently find grandiose claims without merit.

Contributors take intelligent design's two most famous claims––irreducible complexity and information-based arguments––and show that neither challenges Darwinian evolution. They also discuss thermodynamics and self-organization; the ways human design is actually identified in fields such as forensic archaeology; how research in machine intelligence indicates that intelligence itself is the product of chance and necessity; and cosmological fine-tuning arguments.

Intelligent design turns out to be a scientific mistake, but also a useful contrast highlighting the amazing power of Darwinian thinking and the wonders of a complex world without design.

Turmoil at Amazon over anti-creationist book

Edis and Young touch a nerve

How to tell you're doing something right (clue #43)

Taner Edis and Matt Young must have scored a major nerve ending with the creationists. They are pouncing on the Amazon reviews to drive down the book's score. It's not hard to see who the players are. Read on.

All Customer Reviews
Average Customer Review: [three stars out of 5]

Write an online review and share your thoughts with other customers.

Questions for colleagues & critiquers, September 17, 2004 [one star]


Dr. Will Samson (Livermore, CA) - See all my reviews

Quite a collection of essays and through research. Kudos for the hard work. But...

1)How do chance and necessity, individually or in concert, account for non-chanced, unnecessary beings like human or wren? If nothing and neither of these species were ultimately necessitated, then whence the existence of chance & necessity?

2)How do chance and necessity, when somehow(?) reproduced experimentally in the lab, produce cumulatively increasing specified organized useful information that produce intelligibility? Doesn't the experimenter act as Intelligent Moderator in the creation of the test, what data will be admitted, how it will be selected and evaluated compared to a predetermined, premeditated benchmark of feedback-derived standards of utility?

3)Doesn't intelligent testing render 'Unintelligent natural chance-necessity selection' theoretically untestable, or at the very least skewed to fit the intelligent tester's interference and inferencing in natural processes?

4)How does Variation in Vacuo produce Vertical and Horizontal Integration, both Inorganic and Organic? When did Universe-al Occupancy check in to Absolute Vacancy?

5)When did Randomness become capable of anything other than itself, i.e. non-random order and assemblage of even the first sub-atomic particle of matter/energy/space/time? Why/how did 'Proto-Partnering' or 'Primordial Pairing' arise pre-BigBang or even after?

6)"Likelihood" is bandied about so much, yet it is not specifically or consistently defined throughout the text. How can such a subjective, untestable, statistical variable factor be of such overwhelming criticality in the anti-ID argument? Can't anyone argue from their own notion of "Likelihood" to either Anthropic or Pteric principles - everything was designed and intended to create a Terrarium for man or bird as Magnum Opus of the Designer? Can suggesting hypothetical universes with, say, Silicon-based vs. Carbon-based lifeforms win the "Likelihood" argument statistically or scientifically?

7)That that is is. Religion is. Philosophy is. Metaphysics is. Just like Science is. All are humankind realities. But it is Science that claims exclusive domain of TRUTH, FACTUALITY. If Science is one of many end processes of natural selection via chance and necessity from Randomness/Meaninglessness, what makes it think it is 'more real' or 'really really real' compared to its contemporary competitors in the realm of the human mind and senses? Didn't the same process and same sort of mind conceive and methodize/systematize Religion, Philosophy, Metaphysics, etc.?

If any friendly reviewer out there can offer cogent answers to these questions, you will have proven yourself a worthy opponent in the Origins interchange. If only this book had, it would have spared itself this and other contrary reviews!

This book was worth one star for its sheer boldness and attempt at parrying ID's lunging thrusts. Again many thanks to the authors for their diligent efforts at stimulating critical thinking about important issues.

Intelligent Demonstration of ID's Failure, September 17, 2004 [five stars]


John Forester (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews

WIDF is a collection of essays by experts in each of the relevant subjects raised by Behe and Dembski (and a few others of lesser note), each essay providing rigorous criticism of one or more of the ID claims. Indeed, I was rather amazed at the shallowness of the ID claims, once they were explained (often in the claimant's own words, no less).

The most blatant example of this lack of depth is in the discussion of the micro and macro evolution confusion. An ID claim (not given as either Behe's or Dembski's) that evolution exists but proceeded only from some small number of types of organism (all animal, apparently vegetable evolution is ignored) that were created by god. Just stating this is so blatantly absurd that it is difficult to understand how anyone could make it with a straight face. If evolution has proceeded from those types, then it is equally valid to conclude that evolution led to those types, unless there is some solid evidence that those types were created out of nothing at some point in time. For which, of course, there is no evidence.

Behe's basic claim of the existence of irreducible complexity (that must have been designed) is thoroughly disproved by two demonstrations. One is that irreducible complexity is an illogical concept, admittedly a theoretical matter. The other is the empirical demonstration of evolutionary paths by which his supposedly irreducibly complex systems probably developed. In this I learned a new word, exaptation, for a concept which I already understood. Exaptation is the process of applying an existing system with an existing function to serve a new function.

More attention is paid to Dembski's theories, because they are more complex than Behe's. The essayists don't quite say this, but to me it seems pretty clear that Dembski can't overcome his devotion to a teleological universe. Much of his argument, all that about the archer hitting a pre-specified target, can be summarized as arguing that because man (the target) is an extremely unlikely outcome of the evolutionary process, then man must have been designed, along with all the other animals and plants. Well, while it is certainly correct that if man had not occurred we wouldn't be here discussing the problem, no reasonable evolution theorist maintains that man was pre-ordained, but is just a product of chance and necessity that has happened to occur, and didn't occur except after a very long, tortuous, and unlikely process with many developments and extinctions along the way. Dembski's claim that natural processes cannot increase information is disproved by demonstration of operations based on chance and necessity that do increase information. Chance is required, to provide the variation that allows for the increase in information, even though many variations do not. Dembski's No Free Lunch claim is disproved as being irrelevant to real situations. The NFL claim states that no evolutionary process can do better than random chance; therefore, since random chance has no real probability, in the existing life of the universe, of producing even simple animals, life must be the product of design. Dembski misstates or misunderstands the NFL claim. It is true only when all the results of all possible environments are summed. However, that is never the case; any organism faces only one environment at any time, and with only one environment, an evolutionary process, based on both chance and necessity, is likely to do better than random chance. Lastly, a bit of attention is paid to the anthropic principle, that since we exist the universe must have been designed to make it possible for us to exist. Sounds loony to me, just stating it. If the universe were different, we wouldn't exist and wouldn't be able to argue these fine points. So what? To say that the purpose of the universe is to allow us to debate such concepts is about as loony as one can get. But Vince Stenger offers other theoretical universes with slightly different physical constants that could be about as likely to have living beings somewhere in them as is ours.

All in all, this collection of essays offers a wider variety of expertise and consideration than I thought existed about the ID question, stated clearly and concisely. Well worth reading.

I should state that this kind of subject has a particular fascination for me, not only for its intrinsic merit that has fascinated me since youth, but because of my present concerns. I find myself operating in a discipline (Or should I say "operating in an undisciplined controversy"?) that is very similar. In this, my opponents operate according to faith in concepts for which there is not only no evidence but which are contradicted by the evidence that is known. They, on the other hand, accuse my side in the same way that the ID advocates accuse materialists, of operating with a systematic and dogmatic exclusion of their beliefs.

Opining needs more Refining to be sure there's no Designing, September 17, 2004 [one star]


Sergio Montoya (Madrid, Espana) - See all my reviews

As a graduate student immersed in the sciences, I am also investigating the reality of natural philosophy and natural religion. This book was assigned reading and I for one appreciate its solid engagement with relevant material from the purely scientific standpoint. But as philosophy teaches, you cannot do science or any valid inquiry in a vacuum. What is the hardest for myself to accept from these experts in their respective fields is how they can go from critique to pronouncement in one short book when for thousands of years, Old Creationism and now New Creationism have been dominant in the philosophies of man, especially outside of the Modern Western Cultures. To now authoritatively conclude once for ever and for all intents and purposes seek to settle the matter and end discussion by opining: CASE CLOSED! does a disservice to the very nature of natural science and natural philosophy and yes natural metaphysics and religion. Perhaps this book needs to widen its horizons and expand its verticality to all three axes of x,y,z coordinates and venture beyond the W on the compass. Western darwinism-blinders can miss a lot!

Everyone, scientist or not, has a religion of one form or another and everyone has a philosophy by which they come to view and interpret the world of data input. In my feeling, this book fails to address that paramount of issues: HOW do you see and screen and judge the data and above all WHY? It always comes around back to the philosophic or religious "protective goggles" worn in one's sensory/mental/spiritual laboratory. It's all about the apparatus engaged in both mind and heart that is brought to bear on observation and conclusion.

I realize based on these scientists' considered opinions that more refining is needed and at least a few more books and years added to 40-50 centuries of civilization before anyone can claim sureness there's no Designing going on. The only thing demonstrable to my scientific and philosophic training and discipline with this book is the greater need for more demonstration of how and why religion, philosophy and Intelligent Designism (whether proven true or not) naturally selected into real factuality of man's existence.

9/15/04 Editorial: Pandora's book


There was a time when ideological forces would swoop down on proposed Texas textbooks and pick at them like carcasses in the sun.

Since 1995, to the benefit of Texas schoolchildren, all those forces could do was circle in the air or sit on the ledge hoping for their luck to turn.

Right now the chairman of the State Board of Education is seeking to change that luck. Geraldine Miller asked the Senate Education Committee recently to restore the board's power to control textbook content.

Miller says this is all about accuracy and not political spin. That may well be the case in her own mind. But others on the board want to get back to the business of sanitizing books that might have unflattering passages about the American experience or which give too much weight to matters like evolution and evolving gender roles.

Currently a textbook panel makes recommendations to the board, and the board holds hearings based on factual matters and whether books adhere to essential elements set by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

As an indicator of what some political forces want, state Rep. Charlie Howard, a Sugar Land Republican, proposed a bill to give the board the power to edit textbooks outright. This is a scary proposition. Texas is the nation's second-largest purchaser of textbooks, and what it buys ends up influencing what is read in the nation's classrooms.

Even under the guise of ascertaining "accuracy" as set forth by the law, controlling conservatives on the board have managed to impose ideology. The publisher of one environmental science book acceded to conservatives' complaints and deleted a sentence about global warming and the role of rain forests.

At the time Rep. Howard proposed his bill, one science textbook publisher told the Galveston County News , "I hope the bill doesn't pass. With the SBOE editing, it is 100 percent political."

Indeed, even within the restrictions set by the state, the board has engaged in political mischief in the textbook process. Two years ago it approved content changes made to a social studies textbook after the deadline date — an indication of behind-the-scenes shenanigans by individual members to control what goes in the books.

One member, Fredericksburg's Dan Montgomery, said this violated the intent of the law, which was "placing textbook content decisions at the local level where they belong."

There is good reason to buffer textbooks from voracious ideologues who are more interested in their political agenda than in getting accurate and useful learning materials before Texas' schoolchildren.

Turmoil over textbooks


Posted on Thu, Sep. 16, 2004

By Jackie Burrell


Textbook criticism comes in waves in California.

The books are too expensive, too heavy, too politically correct -- or not enough. Publishers are out to make a buck; school districts aren't spending their money wisely; a little legislation will fix everything.

Missing from this ocean of debate is a picture of California's role as overseer and how state regulations have driven up costs.

"The state does not have confidence in (local districts) to make proper choices," said Stanford professor Michael Kirst, a member of the state board of education from 1975 to 1981. "Big Brother has to come in and select the textbooks."

With 12 percent of the U.S. textbook market, California has exercised its considerable buying power not to negotiate prices but to dictate content. The result is that a few dozen politicians and education experts determine what children read and how much taxpayers spend on the books. The Reagan years saw state-approved science books that touted creationism, Kirst said, while the same books were banned by Jerry Brown's administration.

"It's a fundamental political issue: What knowledge is most worth knowing, and who should decide that?" Kirst said. "In California, we've decided the state."

This summer, the Legislature approved bills that could bring a measure of local control to textbook selection and rein in textbook prices. Both are now awaiting the governor's approval or veto. The bills may help, or they may add a layer to a convoluted process. Either way, they are a first stab, and two of several pieces of legislation publishers spent $800,000 lobbying for or against in 2003-04.

The current state of affairs began with good intentions.

The rules

Back when Dick and Jane ruled the reading groups, textbook adoption was designed to maximize local district choice. Schools could choose from as many as eight different textbooks in each subject. But quality and content ran the gamut, and competition was fierce.

"Publishers took liberties," said state curriculum frameworks administrator Don Kairott. "They were dangling goodies."

Regulations were tightened, and by the mid-'90s, the push was on to align textbooks and exams to the new, comprehensive curriculum standards. The state mandated that every student have state-approved, standards-based textbooks in every core subject -- English, math, science, social studies -- before a school could purchase nonstate-approved books.

"Standards, instructional materials, assessments all had to sing from the same hymnal," said Scott Hill, chief policy adviser to Delaine Eastin when she was state schools chief. "The standards said, 'Not everyone can play here, guys.'"

The resulting process is not for the meek. Nor for the small, independent publisher. The dozens of publishers that initially express interest in producing a particular book may dwindle to two or three by the time the approval process winds down.

Take, for example, the state's 2003 call for new history books, which publishers are now in the process of answering. In May of 2003, 26 textbook honchos descended upon a Sacramento conference room for the publishers' briefing. Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, all the big guys were there.

Between developing content, printing samples and presenting the proposed final product, it costs at least $20 million to play the textbook game. California's massive English/language arts "adoption" in 2002 cost Houghton Mifflin $100 million.

"I call it gambling -- scary gambling -- to make that investment on a shifting field, three years out," said Houghton Mifflin vice president Maureen DiMarco, California's former secretary of education. "We ante up to play in the game with no guarantee."

But this is not blackjack. There are detailed curriculum frameworks and criteria, and the major publishers understand there are certain things California won't accept. The state's Education Code prohibits mention of any matter that reflects "adversely" on any race, gender or occupation, for example. Textbooks also must encourage thrift and fire prevention. Jujubes are banned and Fritos forbidden.

"You have to say five boxes of granola," said Stephen Driesler, director of the Association of American Publishers.

An entire unwritten code underlies the textbook industry, Diane Ravitch writes in "The Language Police." In the K-8 textbook world, Africa has no AIDS and stereotypes are forbidden. African Americans don't live in urban environments. Native Americans don't carry papooses or ride pintos -- and thundering herds of bison are out.

After the briefing, the publishers returned to their home offices with marching orders for writers, photographers and artists. Over the following 18 months, each company crafts a sample textbook and all the ancillary materials -- workbooks, teacher and English language learner editions, wall maps and CDs -- that will become "the program family."

The advisors

Back at the state department of education, recruiting is under way for two advisory panels. One consists of history professors and similar experts. The other combines curriculum experts and educators like Clovis Unified history teacher Rob Darrow, who served on the 1998 social studies panel.

"What was amazing to me is how much money the publishers put into meeting the criteria," said Darrow. "It's a huge investment in the state of California."

Despite the lack of pay and the hundreds of hours involved, Darrow can't wait to do it again, even the part where he listened to publisher presentations.

"You know that old adage, the book speaks for itself? Well, it didn't quite work that way," Darrow said.

Only one publisher submitted middle school history books to the 1998 panel. And intense controversy later erupted over Houghton Mifflin's "Message of Ancient Days" and "Across the Centuries" when it turned out Islamic culture chapters blurred the lines between religious belief and historical facts.

"The size of our state, there's such diverse need: Personally, I believe the more adopted texts, the better," Darrow said.

When the vast array of English books in 2002 whittled down to McGraw-Hill's carefully scripted "Open Court" and Houghton Mifflin's more open-ended option, some districts felt they had no options at all.

"Lafayette decided 'Open Court' was something they didn't even want to look at; it was too restrictive," said Lafayette curriculum director Maggie MacIsaac.

While the panel of professors and field experts examine content, the teachers' committee looks at every aspect of the books, from content to accessibility, ensuring that every state criterion is met.

But the state's criteria are so specific that there is little deliberation during these panels' deliberations, said Darrow.

"Everyone agreed," he said. "The real challenge was to agree on the wording of (our) reviews."

"When you only have four or five publishers controlling 75 percent of the market and you've built up the criteria so only they can compete, you're simply not going to get true competition," said Hill, the former state policy adviser. "It really does limit the opportunity to get the best outcome for students and schools."

The price tag

By this time next year, a third group of people, the state's appointed curriculum commission, will be reading the other two panels' reviews for that seventh-grade history textbook. Then legal and compliance teams will comb the book for errors and social content problems.

If the current price-capping legislation, authored by Joseph Canciamilla, D-Pittsburg, fails, no one will discuss price at any point during the deliberations. The price tags are already drafted, of course. Publishers must declare their list and package prices by June 15. But neither the curriculum commission nor the state board of education, which ultimately approves the adoptions, takes cost into consideration.

"Right now, we're not getting enough money to pay for new adoptions. Science books, math books are $60. We got $28," said Gary McHenry, superintendent for Mt. Diablo Unified.

Even if textbook funding increases for 2004-05, McHenry still worries about paying for the district's 10,000 new history textbooks. Its algebra books alone could cost $600,000.

And if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the price-capping bill, which takes effect in 2007, its impact could be limited because it doesn't say how to set maximum prices. Driesler said it is modeled after a similar clause in the Texas Education Code, which sets a cap by averaging publishers' list prices.

"I do not believe that (our law) saves the state money," said Robert Leos, Texas' textbook administration director. "I do believe it is an effective tool for forecasting expenses."

Between the legal examination, the various content evaluations and public comment process, publishers will have invested hundreds of days in tweaking text, fixing photos of helmet-less bicyclists or children swimming without lifevests -- both no-nos in the Ed Code -- and lobbying commission members.

While politicians seethe over pricing, publishers and education analysts blame the state's arcane process for high prices. Guy Houston, R-Livermore, called AB 2455 "naive."

"Just saying we're going to cap the price doesn't face the reality of the market. Smaller publishers will be pushed out," he said. "We'd all like the price of a gallon of milk to be lower, but just saying it doesn't solve the problem."

Into the classroom

When the state board of education finally approves a program family, that launches the local adoption process. The publishing reps fan out to every district, bearing samples and charm but not many options.

"The state cuts down our choices, and your (publishing) rep is your rep," said Orinda curriculum director Lisa Bissell. "They just tell us what the price is. There's not a whole lot of shopping around."

Lafayette's MacIsaac compared it to buying a car -- if there were only one dealership in the business.

"It really narrows your ability to look at materials, though on the flip side of that, you know that someone else has reviewed those materials and you hope that they have identified materials that would be beneficial to teachers and students," said Christine Williams, assistant superintendent of educational services for San Ramon Unified. "But in some years there has only been one book to look at and that feels a little too narrow."

Beyond the standards, officials also try to meet specific needs in their community. They want community diversity to be reflected in the texts and they may prefer that skills are presented in one sequence rather than another. And they say top-quality books may simply be expensive.

"We want the best instructional materials for our students that we could possibly get," Williams said. "And if they cost more, they cost more."

It takes an additional six months to a year before local school boards actually choose a book. Legislation authored by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, could reverse the approval process by allowing districts to recommend textbooks to the state, though still following all the state criteria. The bill, SB 1380, is opposed by the textbook industry and supported by a range of education groups.

Finally, the history books arrive and children turn the crisp, inviting pages. They sign their names inside the front covers, carefully wrap the colorful, glossy books in brown paper-- the book cover of choice for generations of Californians -- and chuck them in their backpacks.

Another textbook cycle begins.

Staff writers Danielle Samaniego, Eric Louie, Melissa Moy and Liz Tascio contributed to this story.
Reach Jackie Burrell at 925-977-8568 jburrell@cctimes.com.

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