Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Posted 13 October 2004
Intelligent Design Evolution Awareness club will host a lecture by Dr. Raymond G. Bohlin on "The Natural Limits to Evolutionary Change" at 7 p.m. at 116 Dale Hall. For more information, email email@example.com.
October 13, 2004
By Lucas Grundmeier
Daily Staff Writer
Reality is under no obligation to conform to human definitions.
That, a lecturer said Tuesday, is why scientists shouldn't be hasty to exclude theories -- such as intelligent design, an argument purporting that design by an external agent can be detected in nature -- from discussion and consideration.
"There are many people who argue that that kind of talk about a supernatural designer ... is forbidden in science," said Del Ratzsch, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, during an address at the Scheman Building. Organizers estimated about 200 people attended.
"The risk is putting artificial and perhaps arbitrary restrictions on science and then having reality not pay attention to those restrictions," he said.
Ratzsch's speech was based on the question, "Could Intelligent Design be Legitimate Science?" His conclusion was that intelligent design deserves attention in the scientific community as it competes with naturalistic evolution as a possible explanation for why things are the way they are.
He stipulated that he didn't mean he espoused the claims of intelligent design theorists.
"I don't think the design case has yet been convincingly made," Ratzsch said. "I think that design advocates have raised some intriguing issues."
Ratzsch said design is often a legitimate or even essential term in science in order to explain and then describe the world. Whether a thing was designed can be determined without knowing who -- or why or how -- did it, he said.
An explanation offered by some -- that science by definition rules out supernatural explanations -- is not satisfactory, Ratzsch said.
"No one has a completely defensible definition of science," he said.
Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, to give examples, Ratzsch said, argued against long-established theories and ultimately increased knowledge about the physical world -- and they did it following a scientific principle of following natural facts where they led.
"What happens if it turns out that nature looks like it was telling us there might be something to the whole design idea?" Ratzsch asked.
Allowing the concept of a designer that may be supernatural, he said, didn't necessarily mean scientific inquiry into tough questions would stop because investigators would start attributing unexplainable concepts to the supernatural.
"Design doesn't just pose risks. It also in this exact context has some positive features as well," he said, giving the example of making an absurd move in a chess game that forces an opponent into a furious search for the purpose or design behind the move.
Jonathan Shier, junior in philosophy, said he came to the lecture to hear a "professional" account of intelligent design.
He said Ratzsch's speech and responses to questions addressed the legitimacy of intelligent design "only in the broadest sense that it could possibly be a question we need to keep in our minds."
By Lucas Grundmeier
Daily Staff Writer
Not everybody agrees how or why the universe began.
True -- many scientists and academics have long since discredited biblical creationism, the belief that God created the world as described in Genesis, replacing it with evolution and the Big Bang.
However, another explanation, called "Intelligent Design," is slowly gaining proponents -- and opponents -- nationwide.
Members of the ISU community will have ample opportunity to select a side themselves this week. The validity of intelligent design arguments, from widely divergent perspectives, will be the topic of lectures Tuesday and Thursday.
Tuesday's lecture, by Del Ratzsch, professor of philosophy at the private Michigan school Calvin College, is sponsored by Areopagus. That organization, for faculty, staff and students, was created this year to promote scholarly discussion of Christianity and the relevance of the Christian worldview throughout the ISU community, said Randy Gabrielse, director of Areopagus. The lecture is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Benton Auditorium of the Scheman Building.
On Thursday, two ISU faculty members who have been long noted for their arguments against the teaching of creationism and against the existence of God will critique a 2004 intelligent design book by an ISU professor. That discussion will take place at 6:30 p.m. in 124 Ross Hall.
Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, co-wrote "The Privileged Planet." The book proposes that a correlation exists between the ability of Earth to sustain life and the breadth of scientific discoveries about the universe that can be made, with relative ease, from Earth -- a correlation between "habitability" and "measurability."
From there, Gonzalez and co-author Jay Richards, a philosopher and theologian at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, use the work of Ratzsch, Baylor's William Dembski and other well-known intelligent design theorists to infer that the correlation between habitability and measurability is the result of design.
"Once perceived, the thought creeps up quietly but insistently: The universe, whatever else it is, is designed for discovery," they write in the concluding chapter of "The Privileged Planet."
Gonzalez said the history of intelligent design began in the mid-1980s and has slowly gained credence ever since.
"We're in the middle, in my opinion, of literally the birth of a new movement," he said.
Gonzalez and his colleagues are careful to point out their research cannot say who is doing the intelligent design. It may be the Christian God, or it may not.
"A systematic way of detecting design in nature -- that's all it is," Gonzalez said. "It cannot identify the designer uniquely."
Hector Avalos, associate professor of religious studies, has debated the validity of creationism, the existence of God and Jesus' resurrection, among other topics, while at Iowa State. He said Gonzalez's work attempts to portray "a dressed-up version of Christian theology" as science.
"The premises are religious," said Avalos, one of the two men who will present arguments against Dembski and intelligent design Thursday evening. "You cannot use science to establish a religious conclusion."
John Patterson, professor emeritus of materials science and engineering, gained national fame in the 1980s for his public battles with creationists.
Patterson said supernatural explanations for phenomena have no place in science because history has proven those explanations "pathetic."
"The track record is completely one-sided," he said. "There has never been a case in the history of science in which a well-entrenched naturalistic theory [has been] thrown out."
Patterson, who has written a review of the book and will present a scientific critique of it and intelligent design on Thursday, said he enjoyed "The Privileged Planet."
"The book is rich with good science in it," he said.
But, he said, the intentions of many intelligent design theorists were clear.
"It is a religious apologetic disguised as science," he said.
Gonzalez said this common charge isn't true and reflects mistaken beliefs about science by its critics.
"They come from a specific philosophical point of view," he said. "Any explanation apart from law and chance is not permitted in science."
What he and Richards argue in the book and Ratzsch will say Tuesday is that categorically eliminating those explanations is a mistake.
Oct 13 2004
Madeleine Brindley, Western Mail
IT has been dismissed as medieval foolery and quackery, but what we today call complementary or alternative medicine has more than five millennia of history.
Until the advent of modern, orthodox medicine in the last century, these practices were the mainstay of healing around the world.
Complementary medicine is today regarded as a diverse collection of therapies and healing techniques which have at their heart a belief in the energy of the body and the idea of a harmony between the mind, body and spirit.
We may now think of these therapies as "unorthodox" in the face of the sheer weight of clinically proven and evidence-based orthodox medicine, but in many parts of the world they remain the dominant form of medical practice - in large parts of Asia, for example, Chinese medicine is the norm, whereas Western medicine is considered the alternative.
But as more people become aware of the limits of orthodox medicine in treating a number of complaints - particularly chronic diseases such as arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome, for which there is no prospect of cure, only a long-term drug regime - increasing numbers are turning to alternative therapies.
One person in five in the UK visits a complementary therapist every year and we spend more than £1bn a year on alternative treatments and over-the-counter herbs and remedies.
Complementary therapies and medicine has not suddenly become "sexy", but there has been a gradual shift in public opinion in the past two decades.
Prince Charles, a long-term user of homeopathy, has been at the heart of this sea-change, expounding its benefits for the past 20 years.
During his time as the president of the British Medical Association in 1982, appalled at the then £2bn-a-year NHS drug bill, he called on doctors to put an end to their "hostility to the unorthodox" and open their eyes to the existence of an alternative to the "objective, statistical, computerised approach to healing the sick".
"By concentrating on smaller and smaller fragments of the body, modern medicine perhaps loses sight of the patient as a whole human being and by reducing health to mechanical functioning it is no longer able to deal with the phenomenon of healing," he said.
And earlier this year, the Prince of Wales said, "It seems extraordinary to me that despite a recent poll indicating that 75% of people want complementary medicine available to all on the NHS, that very few such clinics exist.
"I am led to believe that 90% of complementary medicine is currently only available to those who can afford to pay for it."
But despite the fact complementary and alternative medicine is starting to be embraced by a large number of GPs as it becomes a highly regulated industry, the lack of clinical research into its effi-cacy remains a major barrier to general acceptance.
Dr Clive Wood, the former editor of the British Journal of Holistic Medicine, who is running a 10-week course about complementary medicine, said, "For everyone definitive piece of evidence that we have about the effectiveness of complementary therapies, there are 50 gaps."
And Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the British Medical Association, said, "We have been concentrating on evidence-based medicine for years, and it provides the best value for money. Much complementary medicine is not evidence-based or clinically proven, but anecdotal, and until it is, the BMA would find it difficult to support funding it at the expense of evidence-based, clinically-proven medicine."
Don't miss Health Wales every Monday for your weekly guide to alternative and complementary therapies.
Doing what comes naturally Acupuncture - An ancient system of healing developed over 1,000 years in China and other Eastern countries, which is based on detecting disharmonies within a person's body and mind, leading to treatment with fine needles being inserted into carefully chosen points.
Chiropractic - A profession specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions caused by the mechanical dysfunction of the joints and their effects on the nervous system. Chiropractors use their hands to adjust the spine and extremities to improve mobility and relieve pain.
Homeopathy - Works on the principle of similars to treat conditions. In the case of insomnia, instead of giving sufferers a drug to bring on sleep, a homeopath would use a minute dose of a substance such as coffee, which in large doses causes sleeplessness. Homeopathic remedies contain only minute traces of active ingredients to stimulate the body's healing power.
Reiki- A form of touch therapy, originally from Japan, in which the therapist uses both the laying on of hands and distant healing techniques. By laying their hands close to the parts of the body the therapists sense are emitting weak energy, they enable energy to start to flow through the therapist's hands to the patient.
Thursday October 7 2004 00:00 IST
AHMEDABAD: It has all the ingredients of a Harry Potter whodunit - was it a UFO or a spy device?
A group of Indian scientists here are pouring over a bunch of photographs they took in the northern Himalayas depicting a mystery object that could be either of the two but are nowhere near cracking the mystery.
"The object was about four feet in height with a red balloon and many white ones. It hovered around for about 45 minutes some 200 metres from us. We were curious to know more and took photographs," said Anil Kulkarni, a marine and water resources scientist with the city-based Space Application Centre (SAC) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
He was part of the team that spotted and photographed the object during a just-concluded study trip to the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, bordering China.
While camping in the Samudra Tapu glacier region, 14,500 feet above sea level, near Chandratal, Kulkarni saw the curious object at 7.00 a.m. Sep 27.
"There were balloons attached to this unusual object. It had 'legs' but we could not see the 'hands'. It was moving closer to the hilltop. The object started moving in our direction when we started walking towards it. But when our porters made a noise, it moved away towards the hilltop," he said.
The object remained stationary for about five minutes after reaching the hilltop, then moved away in another direction before it disappeared, he added.
"Interestingly when it was exposed to the sun, it turned black and in the shadow of the hill, it became white," the scientist said.
In all probability, he opined, it was not a balloon as it was moving against the wind.
It could also have been a spy device, a possibility that cannot be ruled out in a border region.
"It is too early to say whether it was an espionage device. The photographs
have been submitted to ISRO and only a detailed analysis by experts can tell
us what it was," Kulkarni felt.
Oct 5, 2004
By John Rice
MEXICO CITY - For decades, Federico Solorzano has gathered old bones from the shores of Mexico's largest lake ‹ bones he found and bones he was brought, bones of beasts and bones of men.
The longtime teacher of anthropology and paleontology had been sifting through his collection one day when he noticed some that didn't seem to fit: a mineral-darkened piece of brow ridge bone and a bit of jaw that didn't match any modern skulls.
But Mr. Solorzano found a perfect fit when he placed the brow against a model of the Old World's Tautavel Man, a member of the species Homo erectus, which many think was an ancestor of modern Homo sapiens.
The catch: Homo erectus is thought to have died out 100,000 to 200,000 years ago ‹ tens of thousands of years before humans or protohumans are thought to have reached the Americas.
And archaeologists have never found a trace of Homo erectus in the Americas.
"Most people sort of just shook their heads and have been baffled by it," said Robson Bonnichsen, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University.
"That doesn't mean it's not real. It just means there's not any comparative evidence."
Mr. Solorzano's find was described at a conference here last month that drew academics from Europe and the Americas to discuss new research on early man in the Americas.
That primitive brow ridge from Lake Chapala "is in a category by itself," Mr. Bonnichsen said.
It is so strange ‹ and so out of context ‹ that it largely has been ignored even as other discoveries are raising basic questions about the story of human beings in the Americas, such as when they arrived and where they came from.
Until recently, most archaeologists in the United States thought that the first Americans arrived about 13,500 years ago when a temporary land corridor opened across the Bering Strait.
The migrant Clovis people, named for a site near Clovis, N.M., apparently hunted mammoths and other large animals, leaving scatterings of finely worked spear tips and other tools across North America and, some argue, South America.
A sometimes vehement minority still holds to the "Clovis first" position. The evidence of what could have come before remains sparse, scattered and controversial. Archaeologists have proposed alternative routes to the Americas ‹ across the Pacific from Asia or Australia and across the Atlantic from Europe or Africa ‹ although most say a trip from northeast Asia is most likely, perhaps by people advancing along a frozen coast in small boats.
South American researchers say they have found numerous sites that are 10,000 to 15,000 years old and argue that Clovis people could not have migrated all the way to Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, so soon after the ice-free corridor opened from Asia to Alaska.
Argentine archaeologist Laura Miotti agrees that the settlers likely came from the north. But she and others say there are no Clovis-like finds in the part of Asia from which the migrants supposedly came, and they question why North American sites don't appear to be older than those in South America.
The evidence for earlier human habitation in the Americas, however scanty, is tantalizing. It includes:
A possible scraper splotched with blood more than 34,000 years ago at Monte Verde in Chile.
Possible stone tools at a site in Brazil that is 40,000 to 50,000 years old.
A not-yet-published report that dates human remains found near Puebla in central Mexico to as much as 28,000 years ago.
Most crucially, a majority of archaeologists are convinced that a second site at Monte Verde dates to at least 14,000 years ago ‹ about 500 years before the land bridge from Asia opened more than 9,000 miles to the north.
Yet, the early dates are often challenged.
A claim of 250,000-year-old human tools near Mexico's Valsequillo reservoir was widely laughed at in the 1970s, although other researchers are working at that site once again.
Clovis-first advocates suggest that the early dates reflect variations or errors in the still-developing technologies of dating old samples. They say natural breakage could account for some of what look like early tools and that the dating of others was likely confused, as when streams, floods or human beings mix new material with old.
As for human remains, only two teeth in Brazil seem to have been dated directly to clearly pre-Clovis times.
"If you are trying to break through a barrier that is well-established, you need well-documented, incontrovertible proof," said archaeologist Stuart Fiedel, author of a textbook on early Americans and a proponent of the Clovis-first model.
Both sides say new research on DNA and climate history supports their theories ‹ or at least fails to undermine them.
Mr. Solorzano's findings raise so many unanswerable questions that they have remained just a curiosity.
Mr. Solorzano, 83, is a respected researcher who has taught generations of university students in Guadalajara. His home office holds a cabinet full of bones ‹ some of them human ‹ topped by 14 realistic models of hominid skulls.
He says the brow bone raises "many questions, one of them being its great and amazing resemblance to primitive hominid forms whose presence in the Americas has not been generally accepted."
The few other scientists who have analyzed the bones closely agree that they look human ‹ not animal ‹ and are very, very old.
"They were definitely human," said Joel Irish, a specialist in bioarchaeology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
He suggested they could be from "a very primitive-looking modern human," but said they would be "very early."
Efforts to date the pieces using modern techniques have failed because of a lack of surviving tissue.
Most frustrating for archaeologists, who are accustomed to fussing over the tiniest details, is that nobody knows quite where the bone came from, or even when it was found. It apparently was picked up when drought exposed a large ring of the Chapala lake bed from 1947 to 1956.
Archaeologist Stanley Davis, then at Texas A&M, spent several seasons accompanying Mr. Solorzano on surveys of the region and said he located places that he would like to investigate further.
"It takes a lot of money. That's the reason I'm not down there working right now," he said by telephone.
Mr. Davis said other human bones in the Chapala area that are about 6,000 to 7,000 years old lack the mineralized darkness of age found in the brow and jaw pieces.
Mr. Davis said the area is interesting because the lake is very old and is a likely spot coast-hopping migrants traversed to come inland.
Yet relatively few people have investigated the area. Until recently, Mexican archaeologists tended to focus on the spectacular indigenous cultures of the Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs and others that arose in the past 3,000 years or so.
Mr. Davis said the Chapala-area finds included 12 scattered skulls of a long-extinct horse species. All have been smashed between the eyes. "Either we have a herd of very stupid horses ... or we have some other action responsible for their death. That action is probably human," he said, adding that the horses were likely 10,000 to 20,000 years old.
A cache of swamp-deer teeth included several that were grooved, apparently for use in a necklace, he said. A radiocarbon test showed one was about 20,000 years old.
"That tells us we may have something."
Jackson: 'I don't expect to convert everyone here'
YaShekia Smalls | Chief Reporter
October 07, 2004
G.C. Jackson of the East Tennessee Creation Science Association held up a computer CD Wednesday night at Pruis Hall and asked more than 250 students one question.
"What is information?" Jackson said.
Jackson, who earned his bachelor's degree in biology and his master's degrees in science education and environmental biology from George Mason University, compared information on a CD to the information in strands of DNA and challenged students to study its origin.
"Who put it there, and what's it doing there?" Jackson asked. "It always comes from a mind, from somebody else's mind."
Jackson, who became a creationist after years of being an evolutionist, said that DNA was a thought from the mind of God.
According to Nobel laureate David Baltimore, human genes are similar to those of fruit flies, worms and even plants, and humans descend from the same beginnings, Jackson said.
Jackson said many people believe in evolution because they don't believe in God and therefore criticize the view of creationism, or intelligent design.
"I don't expect to convert everyone here who believes in evolution to becom ing intelligent design believers," Jackson said. "What I do expect is that you'll leave here thinking that we're not dumb anymore."
According to a 1999 Gallop Organization poll by the Religious News Service, 40 percent of American adults believe humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life but that God guided the process, Jackson said.
He said that 47 percent of adults believe God created life in its present form within the last 10,000 years.
"Only 9 percent, however, believe humans developed over millions of years from less-advanced life forms, even though many people think this is the majority," he said.
Jackson said he hoped he helped students to think more critically about evolution and intelligent design.
"Truth should be discovered, not determined, by us," he said.
Sophomore Trent Walker, a biology and genetics major, said he attended the presentation because he wanted to hear the other side of the argument concerning evolution.
"Unfortunately, I felt that the doctor was a little biased in his information," Walker said. "He kind of generalized biologists and scientists in singling them out (to believe in) the theory of evolution. I feel like he didn't give it a fair chance; there was too much unsupported evidence."
Junior Rachel Dewitt said that she enjoyed the presentation and found it to be very convincing.
"I'm a Christian and believe in creationism and wanted to have some scientific evidence to back that up to refute evolution," Dewitt said.
Junior James Hueston, program coordinator, said Jackson uses current science discoveries to explain the newest discoveries and theories of mainstream creation scientists. Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored the event so students could hear a different point of view regarding the creation-evolution theory, he said.
"Since the area of science is so influential in our lives, the scientific evidence will unveil another possibility other than evolution," Hueston said.
Students can visit www.pointsoforigins.com to e-mail Jackson or find out more information.
© 2004 The Ball State Daily News
Posted on October 10, 2004
By BENEDICT CAREY
New York Times
In 2001, two researchers and a Columbia University fertility expert published a startling finding in a respected medical journal: women undergoing fertility treatment who had been prayed for by Christian groups were twice as likely to have a successful pregnancy as those who had not.
Three years later, after one of the researchers pleaded guilty to conspiracy in an unrelated business fraud, Columbia is investigating the study and the journal reportedly pulled the paper from its Web site.
No evidence of manipulation has yet surfaced, and the study's authors stand behind their data.
But the doubts about the study have added to the debate over a deeply controversial area of research: whether prayer can heal illness.
Critics express outrage that the federal government, which has contributed $2.3 million in financing over the last four years for prayer research, would spend taxpayer money to study something they say has nothing to do with science.
"Intercessory prayer presupposes some supernatural intervention that is by definition beyond the reach of science," said Dr. Richard J. McNally, a psychologist at Harvard. "It is just a nonstarter, in my opinion, a total waste of time and money."
Prayer researchers, many themselves believers in prayer's healing powers, say scientists do not need to know how a treatment or intervention works before testing it.
Dr. Richard Nahin, a senior adviser at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, said in an e-mail message that the studies were meant to answer practical questions, not religious ones.
"We only recently understood how aspirin worked, and the mechanisms of action of various antidepressants and general anesthetics remain under investigation," Dr. Nahin wrote.
He said a recent government study found that 45 percent of adults prayed specifically for health reasons, and suggested that many of them were poor people with limited access to care.
"It is a public health imperative to understand if this prayer offers them any benefit," Dr. Nahin wrote.
Some researchers also point out that praying for the relief of other people's suffering is a deeply human response to disease.
The 'Placebo Effect'
Since 2000, at least 10 studies of intercessory prayer have been carried out by researchers at institutions including the Mind/Body Medical Institute, a nonprofit clinic near Boston run by a Harvard-trained cardiologist, as well as Duke University and the University of Washington. Government financing of intercessory prayer research began in the mid-1990's and has continued under the Bush administration.
In one continuing study, financed by the National Institutes of Health and called "Placebo Effect in Distant Healing of Wounds," doctors at California Pacific Medical Center, a major hospital in San Francisco, inflict a tiny stab wound on the abdomens of women receiving breast reconstruction surgery, with their consent, and then determine whether the "focused intention" of a variety of healers speeds the wound's healing.
Two large trials of the effects of prayer on coronary health are currently under review at prominent medical journals.
Even those who defend prayer research concede that such studies are difficult. For one thing, no one knows what constitutes a "dose": some studies have tested a few prayers a day by individual healers, while others have had entire congregations pray together. Some have involved evangelical Christians; others have engaged rabbis, Buddhist and New Age healers, or some combination.
Another problem concerns the mechanism by which prayer might be supposed to work. Some researchers contend that prayer's effects - if they exist - have little to do with religion or the existence of God. Instead of divine intervention, they propose things like "subtle energies," "mind-to-mind communication" or "extra dimensions of space-time" - concepts that many scientists dismiss as nonsense. Others suggest that prayer may have a soothing effect that works like a placebo for believers who know they are being prayed for.
Either way, even many churchgoers are skeptical that prayer can be subjected to scientific scrutiny. For one thing, prayers vary in their purpose and content: some give praise, others petition for strength, many ask only that God's will be done. For another, not everyone sees God as one who does favors on request.
"There's no way to put God to the test, and that's exactly what you're doing when you design a study to see if God answers your prayers," said the Rev. Raymond J. Lawrence Jr., director of pastoral care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "This whole exercise cheapens religion, and promotes an infantile theology that God is out there ready to miraculously defy the laws of nature in answer to a prayer."
Prayer and Heart Disease
Proponents of prayer research often cite two large heart disease trials to justify further study of prayer's healing potential.
In one study, Dr. Randolph Byrd, a San Francisco cardiologist, had groups of born-again Christians pray for 192 of 393 patients being treated at the coronary care unit of San Francisco General Hospital. In 1988, Dr. Byrd reported in The Southern Medical Journal, a peer-reviewed publication of the Southern Medical Association, that the patients who were prayed for did better on several measures of health, including the need for drugs and breathing assistance.
At the end of the paper, Dr. Byrd wrote, "I thank God for responding to the many prayers made on behalf of the patients."
In the other study, of 990 heart disease patients, Dr. William S. Harris of St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and his colleagues reported in The Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999 that the patients who were prayed for by religious strangers did significantly better than the others on a measure of coronary health that included more than 30 factors. Dr. Harris, who was one of the authors of a paper arguing that Darwin's theory of evolution is speculative, concluded that his study supported Dr. Byrd's.
In the experiments, the researchers did not know until the study was completed which patients were being prayed for. But experts say the two studies suffer from a similar weakness: the authors measured so many variables that some were likely to come up positive by chance. In effect, statisticians say, this method is like asking the same question over and over until you get the answer you want.
"It's a weak measure," said Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia who has been critical of prayer research. "You're collecting 30 or 40 variables but can't even specify up front which ones" will be affected.
Dr. Harris corrected for this problem, experts say, but he then found significant differences between prayer and no-prayer groups only by using a formula that he and his colleagues had devised, and that no one else had ever validated. A swarm of letters to the journal challenged Dr. Harris's methods. One correspondent, a Dutch doctor, jokingly claimed that he could account for the results because he was clairvoyant. "I have subsequently used my telepathic powers to influence the course of the experimental group," he wrote.
Still, some religious leaders and practitioners of alternative medicine argue that because prayer is so common a response to illness, researchers have a responsibility to investigate it.
"We need to look at this with what I call open-minded skepticism," said Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, the lead investigator of the federally financed wound healing study and the director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, an alternative medicine research center near San Francisco.
Questions About Data
It was a former associate of Dr. Schlitz's, Dr. Elisabeth Targ, who first helped draw federal money into research on so-called distant healing. The daughter of Russell Targ, a physicist who studied extrasensory perception for government intelligence agencies in the 1970's, Dr. Targ made headlines with a 1998 study suggesting that prayers from assorted religious healers and shamans could protect AIDS patients from some complications related to the disease.
The findings, and Dr. Targ's reputation, helped win her two grants from the complementary and alternative medicine center at the National Institutes of Health - one for a larger study of distant healing among AIDS patients, another to test the effect of prayers by outside healers on the longevity of people with deadly brain tumors.
Both trials are continuing at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, which has a complementary medicine wing, but Dr. Targ is no longer running them. She herself died of brain cancer in 2002.
Shortly after Dr. Targ's death, her methods came under attack. An article in Wired magazine charged that she and her co-authors had massaged their data on AIDS to make the effects of prayer look better than they were.
Officials at California Pacific conducted an investigation of the study and concluded that the data had not been manipulated. Dr. John Astin, who is running the second AIDS study, said the biggest weakness of Dr. Targ's first trial was that it was too small to be conclusive.
But in a letter defending the study, the hospital's director of research also acknowledged that he could not tell for sure from the original medical records which patients had been prayed for and which had not been.
"Each subject's name, age and date of birth were blinded with what appears to be a black crayon," he wrote.
The quality of original data is also at the center of the controversy over the 2001 Columbia fertility study, which was reported by many newspapers including The New York Times. Dr. Kwang Cha, a Korean fertility specialist visiting the university, was the study's lead author. Daniel Wirth, a lawyer from California who had conducted research on alternative healing, was his principal research associate. In the spring of 1999, the two met at a Starbucks on the Upper West Side to exchange data, according to Dr. Cha, who provided details of the meeting through a colleague.
Dr. Cha had the pregnancy results with him, and Mr. Wirth had a roster of the women he said had been prayed for. The two had never shared the information before, and Dr. Cha was surprised enough by the results that he took them to a former mentor, Dr. Rogerio Lobo of Columbia, to make sure the study was done correctly.
In a recent interview, Dr. Lobo said that the study had come to him as a "fait accompli" and that he had interrogated Dr. Cha to make sure his study methods were sound. He decided they were and helped write the study.
"We had these results, we didn't believe them, we couldn't explain them, but we decided to put them out there," Dr. Lobo said.
In May, Mr. Wirth pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with a $2 million business fraud in Pennsylvania. He is awaiting sentencing.
Dr. Lobo said he had met Mr. Wirth but knew little about him or about his contributions to the study. He acknowledged that the data could have been manipulated, but said he did not know how.
"I didn't actually conduct the study, so I can't know for sure," Dr. Lobo said.
Mr. Wirth's lawyer, William Arbuckle, said his client was not available for comment.
'This Is No Routine Paper'
One study that many people believe could either bolster prayer research or dampen interest in the topic has been completed, but has not yet been published. Dr. Herbert Benson, the cardiologist who founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute, began the trial in the late 1990's with $2.4 million from the John Templeton Foundation, which supports research into spirituality. The Mind/Body Institute, according to its Web site, is a "scientific and educational organization dedicated to the study of mind/body interactions."
The study included some 1,800 volunteers, heart bypass patients at six hospitals. They were monitored according to strict medical guidelines and randomly assigned to be prayed for or not. One doctor who has seen a final version of the study said it was the most rigorous trial on the subject to date.
Other experts say they wonder whether the study will be published at all, and what is holding it up.
"He's got nothing, or we would have seen it by now," Dr. Sloan of Columbia said, referring to Dr. Benson.
In an interview at his office, Dr. Benson acknowledged that at least two medical journals had turned down the study after asking for revisions. He said that the study was currently under review at another journal and that talking about the results could jeopardize publication.
"This is no routine paper," he said. "What you're looking at obviously is not a typical intervention, not at all. We are at the interface of science and religion here, and there are boundary issues that you would not have for almost any other paper."
Dr. Benson, who has studied the links between spirituality and medicine for many years, declined to answer when asked if he himself believed in the effects of intercessory prayer, saying only that he believed in God.
"We know that praying for oneself can influence health, so that's what led us to this topic," he said.
If researchers are struggling to prove that intercessory prayer has benefits for health, at least one study hints that it could be harmful.
In a 1997 experiment involving 40 alcoholics in rehab, psychologists at the University of New Mexico found that although intercessory prayers did not have any effect on drinking patterns, the men and women in the study who knew they were being prayed for actually did worse.
"It's not clear what that means," said Dr. William Miller,
one of the study's authors.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Saturday, October 9, 2004. 10:09pm (AEST)
Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, today reiterated her claim that the AIDS virus was a deliberately created biological agent.
"Some say that AIDS came from the monkeys, and I doubt that because we have been living with monkeys (since) time immemorial, others say it was a curse from God, but I say it cannot be that.
"Us black people are dying more than any other people in this planet," Ms Maathai told a press conference in Nairobi a day after winning the prize for her work in human rights and reversing deforestation across Africa.
"It's true that there are some people who create agents to wipe out other people. If there were no such people, we could have not have invaded Iraq," she said.
"We invaded Iraq because we believed that Saddam Hussein had made, or was in the process of creating agents of biological warfare," said Ms Maathai.
"In fact it (the HIV virus) is created by a scientist for biological warfare," she added.
"Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious," Ms Maathai said.
Africa accounts for 25 million out of the estimated 38 million across the world infected with HIV, and the vast majority of infected Africans are women, according to UNAIDS estimates.
The United States on Friday congratulated Ms Maathai on winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but tempered its praise over her claims about AIDS.
"She said (HIV/AIDS) was invented as a bio-weapon in some laboratory in the West," a senior State Department official said.
"We don't agree with that."
The official pointed to a report of those comments published in August in
Kenya's daily Standard newspaper, in which Ms Maathai was quoted as saying
that HIV/AIDS was created by scientists for the purpose of mass
By Rachel Sylvester and Celia Hall
Greater use of complementary and alternative therapies on the NHS is to be encouraged by the Government despite concern from doctors about regulation and funding.
Stroke victim Michael Campbell receives electro acupuncture stimulation from Nick Johnson
Booklets, funded by the Department of Health and produced by Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, will be distributed to every GP surgery next month, describing a list of free therapies including osteopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy and homoeopathy.
Prince Charles, a long-term advocate of complementary and alternative medicines, was influential in persuading ministers of the benefits of such treatments. The Prime Minister is said to be particularly enthusiastic.
But doctors raised concerns yesterday about the money to pay for such treatments. They are also worried about safety and the lack of evidence on efficacy. Prof Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, said alternative medicines should "definitely" be available on the NHS - provided they had been proved to be effective and safe.
But he warned: "The worst thing we can do in the NHS is to introduce double standards. We have evidence-based medicine. Where there is evidence we introduce a new treatment, where there is none we don't. When there is no evidence, we throw it out.
"We should not be using therapies that are not demonstrably safe and efficient."
Dr Hamish Meldrum, the chairman of the GPs' committee at the British Medical Association, said: "Regulation of complementary medicines is at best imperfect and doctors must always be confident about the person they are referring a patient to."
He added: "There must be redress to a professional body if something goes wrong and complementary medicines have a very long way to go when it comes to regulation.
"If you are going to encourage this then you have to be able to ensure standards."
Dr Meldrum said money was another factor. "If taxpayers are expected to pay for this then they must know that they are getting value for money," he added.
The Department of Health confirmed that patients could now ask their GP to refer them, free of charge, to practitioners of any of the therapies.
"We want to give people choice and people want to see these treatments available on the NHS," a spokesman said. "Where they are judged to be clinically effective, then you will be able to get them on the NHS."
The spokesman added that paying for a course of acupuncture to treat severe headaches, for example, was cheaper than sending a patient for a brain scan.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.
Saturday, October 9, 2004
By MIKE LEWIS
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
SILVER LAKE -- So near the mountain, as close to the wrongheaded center of secular geology as a red-light-district preacher is to vice, the creationist admits he'd expected a little more business when Mount St. Helens began acting up.
For the past few days, the Seven Wonders Museum has been quiet as motorists -- Lloyd Anderson calls them "thrill seekers" -- speed east, right past his roadside marquee along state Route 504 on their way to see the mountain vent steam and ash.
"This is where they can get the truth," said the former pastor and now curator of the region's only museum devoted to creationist doctrine. "I wonder, are they really looking for true science when it comes to the historicity of the Earth?"
Founded in 1998, the two-room, 1,400-square-foot museum is Anderson's attempt to make a counterpoint to the visitors centers, bookstores, gift shops, eruption theaters and conventional geologists swarming around the country's most active volcano.
On the shelves in the museum, in a small, neat, main room, are DVDs and books by leading creation theorists with titles such as "Darwinism and Design" and "Scopes: Creationism on Trial." The newly completed den in the rear is for the slide shows Anderson gives to religious and homeschools that visit.
The centerpiece is the Seven Wonders display on the walls, with photos and text written by Anderson.
It shows in stages that the events after the 1980 eruption -- forests laid bare, new lakes -- demonstrate that evolution is the wacky idea, not creation.
St. Helens is proof positive, Anderson asserts, that the world was built just as the Bible says. Six 24- hour days. Notice the speed of the destruction, only hours to take down half a mountain. Look at the valleys carved in the Toutle Canyon, plowed in an afternoon.
"Gosh, I was hoping a reporter would stop by," the tall, smiling, gregarious Anderson said, walking forward quickly with his hand extended as a visitor approached his otherwise empty place. "You're talking to one of the most knowledgeable guys on the mountain."
Anderson is what is known as a "young-Earth creationist" -- people who largely interpret the Bible literally and who see the Earth as 6 ,000 to 10,000 years old. Yes, Noah's Ark existed. Yes, the flood covered the planet. Old-Earth creationists agree with evolutionary theory, that the world is 4.5 billion years old, but assert that God started the ball rolling.
A 69-year-old former Ballard resident, Anderson speaks emphatically and fast, marshaling details like soldiers on a forced march through each sentence.
Past conversations are recalled not only for content but for time. A 45-minute prayer session that led to the museum's start. A 95-minute phone call that told him how to begin.
Admission to the museum is free. If people ask, he'll drive with them to the mountain to show them how the sedimentary layers that formed quickly after the post-eruption mudflows match those in the Grand Canyon and didn't take millions of years to form, as "secular geologists claim."
He's off and running now. An avalanche of words connecting dinosaurs to DNA theory to tougher human diseases to a weakened planetary magnetic field to former President Reagan pauses only for a deep breath. Anderson is a man used to pushing his point to people who might not believe as strongly as he does.
People such as his own children, particularly his daughter, Michelle.
A Seattle resident who works in the finance department of Swedish Medical Center's Ballard branch, the 42-year-old said she's happy that in retirement, her mom and dad have found something meaningful and rewarding.
Although unsure of her own beliefs in a deity, she said she's "proud" of her father for following his faith so closely that he founded a museum.
"I'm happy for them," she said. "They love what they do."
Which is true, Anderson agrees. Although he despairs for those who don't believe as he does, he's convinced that God directed him to St. Helens for a reason: so he could be in a better place to show people that creationism makes sense. The 1980 eruption "was not a message of judgment, it was a message of instruction."
He points out that he and his wife bought their property -- their small home is attached to the Seven Wonders Museum -- the same year that the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument opened its Johnston Ridge Visitors Center.
"It just seems like the timing of God," he said, walking back out to the garage. "I'm sure we'll get busier."
P-I reporter Mike Lewis can be reached at 206-448-8140 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Send comments to email@example.com
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www.skeptic.com: Where Nothing is Certain... But We're Not Sure About That...
Science in the Bush Administration
"Political" Science--From the editors of Skeptic magazine
The Politicization Of Science in the Bush Administration:
Dylan Otto Krider
There's a war going on—and not just the one in Iraq. This conflict may not get as much media play, but it could have just as great an impact on our safety, national prestige, and long-term economic health. It is a war over the integrity of science itself, and the casualties are everywhere: career scientists and enforcement officials are resigning en masse from government agencies, citing an inability to do their jobs due to what they see as the ruthless politicization of science by the Bush administration. Bruce Boler, Marianne Horinko, Rich Biondi, J. P. Suarez and Eric Schaeffer are among those who have resigned from the EPA alone. In a letter to The New York Times, former EPA administrator Russell Train, who worked for both Nixon and Ford, wrote, "I can state categorically that there never was such White House intrusion into the business of the EPA during my tenure."1 Government meddling has reached such a level that European scientists are voicing concerns that Bush may not merely be undermining U.S. dominance in sciences, but global research as well.2
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently published the results of an investigation into the administration's misuse of science called "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," with a letter signed by over 60 leading scientists, including 20 Nobel Laureates. 3 President Bush's science adviser Dr. John Marburger III's response was hardly reassuring.4 Part of Marburger's defense was to use the common tactic to delay action by calling for "more research," while in other cases he used verbal sleight of hand to avoid addressing the actual charge. For instance, when the National Cancer Institute's web site was altered to suggest there was a link between abortion and breast cancer Marburger described the change as only a routine update. What actually troubled the UCS was that the findings of established science had been removed in favor of language that promoted the lonely crusade of Dr. Joel Brind.
For those unfamiliar with Dr. Brind, he discovered the supposed Abortion Breast Cancer link (or ABC as he calls it) after "making contact" with a local right-to-life group shortly after becoming a born-again Christian. "With a new belief in a meaningful universe," he explains, "I felt compelled to use science for its noblest, life-saving purpose."5 Despite the fact that Brind is completely at odds with his peers, the web site was updated with the following text:
[T]he possible relationship between abortion and breast cancer has been examined in over thirty published studies since 1957. Some studies have reported statistically significant evidence of an increased risk of breast cancer in women who have had abortions, while others have merely suggested an increased risk. Other studies have found no increase in risk among women who have had an interrupted pregnancy.6
After an outcry by members of Congress, the National Cancer Institute convened a three-day conference where experts reviewed the evidence, again concluding "[i]nduced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk," ranking the science as "well-established."7
To prove that he took the issue of global warming seriously, Marburger shamelessly cited a study that President Bush had commissioned from the National Academy of Sciences. The administration had asked the NAS to find "weaknesses" in climate science studies to justify their efforts to derail an international global warming treaty.8 When the commissioned report instead confirmed human-induced climate change and mentioned fossil fuels as a major culprit the EPA decided to replace the findings in its Report on the Environment with a discredited study funded by the American Petroleum Institute.9
Marburger also pesented an argument that was made by Spinsanity, a self-described government watchdog website, which pointed out that just because a "frustrated scientist" had leaked an EPA report on children's health to The Wall Street Journal, that did not prove there was a sinister intent to surpress it because bureaucratic delays in releasing information are common.10
But the fact that so many scientists and government workers have risked their jobs by leaking information to the media makes this explaination weaker than it might be. As an editorial in The New York Times concluded, Marburger's response is "little more than an attempt to put a positive spin on some flagrant examples of tailoring science to fit politics."11
Then there are those examples the UCS does not mention: the Corn Refiners Association and Sugar Association successfully lobbied Bush to pressure the World Health Organization to de-emphasize the importance of cutting sweets and eating fruits and vegetables in their anti-obesity guidelines.12 Two scientists were ejected from a bioethics council due to what they believed to be their views favoring embryo research.13 Data on hydraulic fracturing were altered so benzene levels met government standards after "feedback" from an industry source.14 Another study (sponsored by Florida developers) claiming wetlands cause pollution, was used by the EPA to justify replacing protected marshes with golf courses to improve "water quality."15
Nothing is so trivial that it escapes top administration advisor Karl Rove's insistence on staying "on message"—from forbidding NASA scientists to speak to the press about the global warming disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow,16 to letting National Park Service gift shops sell books with the "alternative view" that the Grand Canyon was formed in seven days.17
One need look no further than the USDA to see how compromised the research and enforcement environment has become. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman was a former food industry lawyer and lobbyist and her staff includes representatives of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and other industry groups. So it should be no surprise that shortly after a dairy cow from Canada tested positive for mad cow disease a senior scientist came forward alleging agency pressure to let Canadian beef into the U.S. before a study concluded it was safe.18 Nor should it shock us that whistleblowers accused an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service supervisor of insisting a cow exhibiting symptoms of the disease be sent to a rendering plant before a technician could perform the tests mandated by agency guidelines.19 But even the most cynical among us might be baffled by the almost cultish devotion to industry pandering exhibited when the USDA refused to give Creekstone Farms Premium Beef the kits it requested to voluntarily test its cattle so it could export to Japan because it might "create the impression that untested beef was not safe." Creekstone may very well go bankrupt as a result.20
Such reluctance only makes sense if the USDA fears that positive results are possible. Still, one hesitates to suggest the USDA is trying to sell as much tainted beef as possible before people start exhibiting symptoms. One hesitates slightly less so after learning that EPA staffers were also prevented from performing routine analysis of the economic and health consequences of proposed regulations governing mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. After all, it's a lot easier to suppress unfavorable scientific findings if there's nothing to suppress. But surely even they realize preventing an analysis of the consequences of our actions will not prevent those consequences from occurring. That's the rub. Science doesn't appear to factor into their reasoning at all. The tests might come up negative. They might come up positive. The meat is considered safe either way.
Debates over Bush's character usually devolve into familiar partisan arguments citing either his resoluteness in the face of widespread negative reaction as proof of his conviction, or the chasm between rhetoric and reality as evidence of Bush's disingenuous denial. Both could be true enough to have created an atmosphere that encourages government officials to practice outright deception to attain administration goals. To get an exemption from the Endangered Species Act the Pentagon simply changed a quote from an Army study saying government regulations "enhanced" training realism at Fort Stewart to "impaired."21 A Park Service brochure used a photo—supposedly taken in 1909—to prove that forests in the Sierra Nevadas were thinner before the implementation of "preventative thinning." The picture was actually a photo taken of a recently logged forest in Montana.
Such distortions seem always to be in the service of a crusade of true belief. Unquestionably Bush is a man of conviction. The problem is that Bush does not seem to arrive at these convictions through faulty human pursuits like science. He seems to suppose his knowledge comes from a higher source.
In the book The Price of Loyalty, Pulitzer prize-winning author Ron Suskind records former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's view that Bush based his decisions on "instinct," and left others to "ponder the intangibles that [drive] the president—from some sweeping, unspoken notion of how the world works; to a one-size-fits-all principle, such as 'I won't negotiate with myself;' to a squabble with a family member over breakfast."22 Former Bush terrorism czar Richard Clarke paints a similar picture of a White House staff inclined to ignore facts in favor of having truth "revealed" to them. Bush's own wife says, "George is not an overly introspective person. He has good instincts, and he goes with them. He doesn't need to evaluate and reevaluate a decision. He doesn't try to overthink. He likes action."23 Bush seems to value gut instinct over evidence, faith over fact, conviction over reality. He doesn't need science to know that our food is safe, that the Earth was created in seven days, or that Saddam Hussein was only seconds away from handing over nukes to al Qaeda. If studies say otherwise then agencies have to be reorganized, committees reshuffled, and data reinterpreted until they get it right.
When agencies that used to be tasked with providing objective analysis no longer inform policy, their only remaining value is in bolstering preconceived conclusions. The ultimate danger of this view of science-as-public relations can be seen in a recent proposal by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that would grant the administration greater control over peer review of "all major government rules, plans, proposed regulations and pronouncements."24 David Michaels of the Department of Energy complained, "It goes beyond just having the White House involved in picking industry favorites to evaluate government science. Under this proposal, the carefully crafted process used by the government to notify the public of an imminent danger is going to first have to be signed off by someone weighing the political hazards."25 After an outcry from scientists, the OMB seems to have scaled back the proposal from disastrous to merely horrifying, but if past behavior is any guide the administration will keep returning to the cookie jar until science is an empty vessel firmly under the direction of the White House press office.
The White House's inclination to mold facts to fit preconceived notions is crippling the government's decision making abilities in the areas of health, safety, environment, and more importantly, in the War on Terror. A opinion editorial written by conservative columnist Richard Hoagland shortly before the Iraq invasion illustrates how the White House allowed prejudices to influence pre-war intelligence: "Imagine that Saddam Hussein has been offering terrorist training and other lethal support to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda for years. You can't imagine that? Sign up over there. You can be a Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency," Hoagland chides before praising Bush for pressuring intelligence officers to reach the conclusions they were previously unwilling to make. "The 'politicization' accusation suggests that those who find Iraqi links to al Qaeda are primarily interested in currying favor with the Bush White House."26 As former Bush administration officia l J. Dilulio put it, "When policy analysis is just backfill, to back up a political maneuver, you'll get a lot of ooops."27
Astonishingly, even after intelligence lapses became known, conservative columnist David Brooks was calling for more political intrusion in the process: "For decades, the U.S. intelligence community has propagated the myth that it possesses analytical methods that must be insulated pristinely from the hurly-burly world of politics," he said. "What kind of scientific framework can explain the rage for suicide bombings, now sweeping the Middle East? …When it comes to understanding the world's thugs and menaces, I'd trust the first 40 names in James Carville's P.D.A. faster than I'd trust a conference-load of game theorists or risk-assessment officers."28 Never mind that those officers came ten times closer to assessing the actual situation in Iraq than the politicians who now interfere in the process like never before. But recognizing that would mean bringing evidence into the equation.
The troubles in Iraq are not so much proof of the failure of the neocon vision for democratizing the Middle East, as they are a reminder of the disastrous consequences of removing empiricism from deliberation. All the problems that have popped up in Iraq were predicted long ago—from troop strength to the resilience of the insurgents—and available to anyone who cared to look. The administration not only chose to look away but actively swept them under the rug. When CIA war games were discovered to be training personnel to deal with the eventuality of civil disorder after the fall of Baghdad, The Atlantic Monthly reported the Pentagon forbad representatives from the Defense Department from participating because "detailed thought about the postwar situation meant facing costs and potential problems."29 Our refusal to face reality hasn't been giving democracy much of a chance.
"Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue," George Will wrote recently. "Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice."30 Bush has finally met his match. The Universe is the one foe more steadfast than he is. It cannot be bullied or intimidated. The laws of physics know no compromise. This is a game of chicken Bush will lose. If he doesn't take his foot off the accelerator, then the only question is: how will we recover from the crash?
Dylan Otto Krider is a freelance writer with a BA in creative writing with minor in astronomy/physics from the University of Arizona, and an MFA in writing from Vermont College, Norwich University. He has written many articles for the Houston Press, Texas Magazine, Kenyon Review, Fiction Writer, Writer's Digest, and the Internet. His webpage can be found at www.dylanottokrider.com/index.htm
1. Letter to Editor from Russell E. Train, " When Politics Trumps
Science,"New York Times, June 21, 2003.
2. "Euros Concerned for US Science," The Scientist, Mar. 9, 2004.
3. "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," Union of Concerned Scientists, Mar. 2004.
4. Dr. John H. Marburger III, "Response to the Union of Concerned Scientists' February 2004 Document," Apr. 2, 2004.
5. Dr. Joel Brind, "Reading the Data", Physician Magazine, July/August 2000.
6. National Cancer Institute, Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer, Nov. 25, 2002.
7. National Cancer Institute, "Summary Report: Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer," Mar. 4, 2003.
8. "Moving Target on Policy Battlefield," Washington Post, May 2, 2002.
9. "Report by EPA Leaves out Data on Climate Change," New York Times, June 19, 2003.
10. "Letter from Concerned Scientists Not Exactly Scrupulous on Facts," Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 11, 2004.
11. "The Science Adviser's Rejoinder," New York Times Editorial Page, Apr. 10, 2004.
12. "Eating Away at Science," Mother Jones, May/June 2004.
13. "Bush Ejects Two From Bioethics Council," The Washington Post, Feb. 28, 2004.
14. "Research on Oil and Gas Practices," Politics & Science.
15. Resignation Statement of Bruce Boler, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility web site.
16. "NASA Curbs Comments on Ice Age Disaster Movie," New York Times, Apr. 25, 2004.
17. "Critics Say the Park Service is Letting Religion and Politics Affect its Policies," New York Times, Jan. 18, 2004.
18. "U.S. Scientist Tells of Pressure to Lift Ban on Food Imports," New York Times, Feb. 25, 2004.
19. "Calls for Federal Inquiry Over Untested Cow," New York Times, May 6, 2004.
20. "U.S. Won't Let Company Test All Its Cattle for Mad Cow," New York Times, Apr. 10, 2004.
21. David Brancaccio, Now, Apr. 23, 2004.
22. P. 165, Price of Loyalty.
23. "The Misunderestimated Man," Slate, May 7, 2004
24. "White House Seeks Control of Health, Safety," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 11, 2004.
26. Richard Hoagland, "CIA's New Old Iraq File", Washington Post, Oct. 20, 2002.
27. "Why Are These Men Laughing?" Esquire, Jan. 2003.
28. David Brooks, "The C.I.A: Method and Madness," New York Times, Feb. 3, 2004.
29. "Blind Into Baghdad," Atlantic Monthly, Jan./Feb. 2004.
30. George F. Will, "Time for Bush to See the Realities", Washington Post, May 4, 2004. ---------------------------------------------------------
From the editors of Skeptic magazine
What, specifically, has the Bush administration done that has so invoked the ire of a sizable portion of the scientific community? The statement prepared by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and signed by over 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates, 62 recipients of the National Medal of Science, and 127 members of the National Academy of Science, can be found at http://www.ucsusa.org/ along with the rebuttal by John H. Marburger III, the Director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, and a response to that rebuttal from UCS.
We are aware that the Union of Concerned Scientists has historically championed what many would consider to be left-leaning or liberal causes, and we are also sensitive to the fact that the political climate of this election year 2004 is an emotionally-charged one; nevertheless, either the Bush administration has taken actions to steer science in a direction parallel to its political agenda, or it has not. This is a factual question that can be answered with facts. The UCS documents are extensive, so the following are just highlights. Readers should check the facts for themselves.
Political Vetting of Scientists
In the spring of 2002, Richard Myers, Chair of the Department of Genetics at Stanford University and Director of Stanford's Human Genome Center, was nominated to serve on the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research. According to Myers, shortly thereafter he received a call from Secretary Tommy Thompson's office at the Department of Health and Human Services. After a brief review of Myers' scientific credentials (which are stellar), the Bush administration official began probing into Myers' political preferences. "She wanted to know what I thought about President Bush: did I like him, what did I think of the job he was doing," Myers said. He describes himself as "nonpolitical," yet he told the interviewer that:
I thought it was inappropriate to be asked these kinds of questions which led, I think, to an awkward situation for both of us. She said that she had been told that she needed to ask the questions and it appeared to me that she was reading from a prepared list. Because of her persistence, I tried to answer in the most nonspecific way possible. I talked about terrorism and the fact that it seemed that the attacks of September 11 had brought the country together. But there is no doubt that I felt the questions were an affront and highly inappropriate.
Soon after the interview, Richard Myers was denied the position. He appealed his case to Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome project and chair of the National Advisory Council, and Myers' nomination was approved.
Political Screening of Drugs
"Plan B" is an emergency contraceptive drug that consists of two high-dose pills that interfere with either ovulation or fertilization, or prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. The pills can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The drug was approved by the FDA in 1999, and in 2003 the FDA granted the drug over-the-counter status (which it has in 33 other countries), when over 70 scientific organizations, including the AMA, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the findings of a number of labs. In 2004, however, Steven Galson, Director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, overruled the advice of the agency's staff and two independent scientific advisory panels (who voted 23 to 4 to grant over-the-counter status) by declaring Plan B "not approvable" for nonprescription status.
Although Galson denies any political motive to his actions, there is no scientific reason why Plan B cannot be granted nonprescription status and, according to the UCS report, "FDA insiders also note that after the hearings on the matter late last year, conservative groups had mounted a political campaign to try to block the drug's approval" and that after the FDA received the recommendation of its scientific advisory committees to grant nonprescription status, "49 members of Congress wrote to President Bush urging White House involvement." It is well known that the Bush administration supports a policy of "abstinence only" when it comes to teenage sex, so such political machinations, although difficult to prove, are nevertheless apparent in this and other cases.
Bioethics or Biopolitics?
Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned the field of "bioethics" has grown dramatically. Given the current administration's stated objections to stem cell research, therapeutic and reproductive cloning, and other technologies deemed "unnatural" or "in disrespect of life," it may not be surprising that biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and bioethicist William May were dismissed from the President's Council on Bioethics. According to Blackburn, one of the nation's top cancer scientists, she and May were dismissed because they frequently disagreed with the administration's positions on biomedical research. For example, she was removed from the panel soon after she objected to a Council report on stem cell research. In an opinion editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine, Blackburn "recounted how the dissenting opinion she submitted, which she believes reflects the scientific consensus in America, was not included in the council's reports even though she had been told the report s would represent the views of all the council's members." According to the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, advisory bodies are required to be balanced, yet the removal of scientists in disagreement with an administration's stated position turns bioethics into biopolitics.
Permission to print, distribute, and post with proper citation and
acknowledgment. Copyright 2004 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society,
Skeptic magazine, e-Skeptic magazine. Opinions expressed are those of
the authors, and not necessarily those of the Skeptics Society, its
Board of Directors, or its members. Contact at www.skeptic.com and
STRENGTHENED STATEMENT FROM BSW
On October 4, 2004, the governing council of the Biological Society of Washington issued a new statement regarding the publication of a paper by "intelligent design" advocate and Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture director Stephen C. Meyer in the society's journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The new statement makes clear that if normal procedures had been followed, the article would not have been published. The statement reiterates that the journal will not publish a rebuttal, despite the request of BSW members, because the subject area of the article is outside of the traditional descriptive systematics for which the journal is known. In the new statement, the Council directly criticized the scientific quality of the article, saying that it "does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings", and emphasized that the decision to publish the article was made independently by the former editor, "intelligent design" advocate Richard von Sternberg.
To read the text of the statement, visit the Biological Society of Washington's web site: http://www.biolsocwash.org/
For NCSE's previous coverage, see: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2004/ZZ/331_id_paper_continues_to_attract__9_10_2004.asp
KUDOS FOR UE
The Understanding Evolution web site -- a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and National Center for Science Education intended to provide "one-stop shopping" for evolution education -- is a recipient of a 2004 Science and Technology Web Award, given by ScientificAmerican.com. The citation reads in part, "From explaining evolution basics to finding common ground between science and religion, the site's friendly layout (a fitting, clickable timeline presented on a chalkboard) deftly leads instructors through each step of the process, including lesson plans, projects and potential pitfalls. Teachers just choose their topics of interest and grade level and receive tailor-made lessons for their specific needs. Evo-curious surfers from outside academia will benefit from the impeccable curricula of this resource as well."
To read the citation, visit Scientific American's web site:
And don't forget to visit Understanding Evolution itself:
NEW TROLL BOOK
NCSE member Ray Troll was profiled in the September 26, 2004, issue of the Anchorage Daily News, following the publication of his new book, Rapture of the Deep: The Art of Ray Troll, with an introduction by Brad Matsen and commentary by Ray Troll himself, by the University of California Press in September 2004. "For more than two decades," writes his publisher, "Ray Troll has been luring, hooking, and landing fans around the world with his zany, irreverent, and often surreal art. ... Rapture of the Deep contains some of Troll's best-known art along with many images never before published. The book makes powerful connections between biological diversity, the evolution of life on earth, and the careless habits of people." The article describes not only his new book but his career to date, including such highlights as his book Planet Ocean and a subsequent museum installation "which included murals, tanks, an interactive computer, a tricked-out Volvo turned 'Evolvo' with a trilobite hood ornament and Charles Darwin at the wheel, a dance floor and an original soundtrack with various scientists poetic about life in the sea." Thanks to Troll's generosity, his illustrations adorn every issue of Reports of the NCSE.
To read the Anchorage Daily News's profile of Troll, visit:
And to buy his new book from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process),
Rapture of the Deep: The Art of Ray Troll
And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available
Some Teachers Decry List of Ideas as Attempt to Inject Christian Values Into Curriculum
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2004; Page C04
To Margaret Young, vice chairman of the Charles County Board of Education, the required reading lists in her Southern Maryland school system are teeming with "profanity and pornography, fornication and adultery."
Take, for example, "Dust Tracks on a Road," an autobiography by acclaimed American author Zora Neale Hurston. Young said the book contained "disgusting" scenes of "inappropriate" sexual conduct.
"I think parents would be appalled if they really read the books their kids were reading that were so filled with profanity and pornography," she said. "I rely on the school system to provide good wholesome reading for my children."
So when the Board of Education recently compiled a list of goals and suggestions for improving the school system, Young said she supported the recommendation that calls for "removing anything [from reading lists] that provides a neutral or positive view of immorality or foul language."
But this proposal, and others that recommend distributing Bibles in schools, removing science books "biased towards evolution" and teaching sexual education classes focused exclusively on abstinence, has upset those who fear some board members are attempting to impose personal religious and moral beliefs on the public schools.
"They're basically trying to skew the curriculum, to teach their own conservative Christian values," said Meg MacDonald, a representative from the Charles County Education Association.
Board members say the list of more than 100 goals and suggestions, compiled without names attached, was simply a brainstorming exercise to generate ideas and encourage discussion. None of the proposals has been approved or even considered for a vote. But some see the document, distributed last month, as evidence of a growing conservatism on the board.
One of the more controversial proposals was to invite Gideons International to hand out Bibles to students. The document recommended being "very specific about where, when and how the Bibles are to be offered" but did not provide any of those details.
"What they're proposing is clearly unconstitutional. It is a violation of separation of church and state under the First Amendment," said Stacey Mink, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. "This is something the ACLU is very concerned about."
The issue of Bible distribution has been litigated repeatedly. A 1993 U.S. Circuit Court case found it unconstitutional for Gideons to give Bibles to fifth-grade students in Indiana. In other states, schools have been allowed to designate a spot on their property where religious materials can be left and students can voluntarily browse them. In general, courts have taken a stronger stand against any religious material going to younger, more impressionable students, said Kevin McDowell, a general counsel with the Indiana Department of Education, who has studied the issue.
"The courts are pretty consistent," McDowell said. "Schools cannot look like they're promoting religion."
Mark Crawford, a Charles County school board member, said he wants to discuss the topic more before making a decision, but he said he believes Bibles could be beneficial for instilling morals and character.
"I think some people have been scared of the idea of separation of church and state to the point they . . . have become overly cautious," he said.
Crawford is part of the majority on the board that supports introducing the theory of creationism into the science curriculum. They argue that students need exposure to all theories about the origin of life so they can make educated decisions.
"I believe that if we are teaching evolution, we should have a section on creationism as well, and any other theory," board Chairman Kathy Levanduski said. "Let's motivate our kids to be creative thinkers."
John Krehbiel, a 10th-grade biology teacher at Westlake High School in Waldorf, said the recommendation to teach creationism in science is absurd.
"Supernatural beliefs simply don't belong in a science class," he said. "We deal with the scientific evidence available. If they bring this in to a science curriculum and want to talk about evidence, I'll rip it to shreds."
The list of moral and religious goals, which the board said it would begin discussing Oct. 12, has left some teachers "absolutely flabbergasted," said Leslie Schroeck, a guidance counselor at La Plata High School.
"Basically these people are telling you how you should be and, if you're not, you're a bad person," said Schroeck, who has two young daughters, one at Berry Elementary School in Waldorf. "If this is what they're going to do, I'll pull my kids out of school and teach them myself."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
By Mark Feeney, Globe Staff | September 29, 2004
John E. Mack, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Harvard Medical School professor whose research on purported extraterrestrial abductions generated widespread publicity and controversy, died Monday in an automobile accident in London. He was 74.
According to Will Bueche, of the John E. Mack Institute in Cambridge, Dr. Mack had been attending a conference in England on T.E. Lawrence. Lawrence is the subject of his psychoanalytic account, "A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence," which won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for biography. Dr. Mack was struck by a car while crossing the street. London police pronounced him dead on the scene.
"He was a restless, highly creative man who was many-sided," said Robert Jay Lifton, the psychiatrist and author, who was a longtime friend of Dr. Mack's. They worked together in the antinuclear movement, a longstanding concern of Dr. Mack's, and in the application of psychological approaches to the study of history.
"He was as sensitive to others' needs as anyone I've known," Lifton said in a telephone interview from his Cape Cod home.
A Cambridge resident, Dr. Mack founded the psychiatric department of Cambridge Hospital. He was certified as a practitioner of both child and adult psychoanalysis. His early research interests in psychology included dreams, nightmares, and teenage suicide.
In 1990, Dr. Mack began his research on people who say they have encountered extraterrestrials. He held that such encounters were real, though probably more spiritual than physical in character. His work drew widespread attention in 1994 with the publication of a best-selling book, "Abduction."
That year, Harvard Medical School appointed a special faculty committee to review Dr. Mack's clinical care and clinical investigation of his subjects. After a 15-month process, the committee declined to take any action against him.
Dr. Mack eventually interviewed some 200 individuals who said they had encounters with extraterrestrials. Although he was subjected to widespread ridicule because of his work, Dr. Mack saw it as a unique opportunity to study spiritual or transformational experience, a theme that ran through much of his earlier work.
"No one has been able to come up with a counter-formulation that explains what's going on," Dr. Mack said in a 1992 Globe interview in which he discussed his view of alien encounters. "But if people can't be convinced that this is real, that's OK. All I want is for people to be convinced that there's something going on here that is not explainable."
He published another book on the subject, "Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters," in 1999.
John Edward Mack was born on Oct. 4, 1929, in New York. His parents were Edward C. Mack and Ruth (Prince) Mack. He earned his bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1951 and his medical degree from Harvard in 1955. He was also a graduate of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.
Dr. Mack interned at Massachusetts General Hospital and did his residency at Massachusetts Mental Health Center. He served in the US Air Force from 1959 through 1961, rising to captain.
Joining the Harvard Medical School faculty in 1964, Dr. Mack became professor of psychiatry in 1972. In 1983, he founded the Center for Psychology and Social Change, which this year became the Mack Center. He published about 150 scholarly articles. Among the 11 books he wrote or collaborated on are "Nightmares and Human Conflict" (1970) and, with Holly Hickler, "Vivienne: The Life and Suicide of an Adolescent Girl" (1981).
In a 1994 Globe interview, Dr. Mack said, "I have this innocent confidence that if you do your work in a comprehensive and objective way, it stands on its own."
Dr. Mack and his wife, Sally (Stahl) Mack, divorced in 1995. He leaves a sister, Mary Lee Ingbar of Brookline; three sons, Daniel of Boulder, Colo., Kenneth of Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Tony, of Cambridge; and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Shirley MacLaine claims to have spent a previous life with her dog Terry in ancient Egypt.
The actress also says she's spotted a number of UFOs and has had contact with aliens.
She told German magazine Stern: "Terry and I have spent at least one previous life together in ancient Egypt. She was an animal god and I was a princess."
The 70-year-old actress, currently filming Otherwise Engaged with Jennifer Aniston, added: "I have had paranormal experiences and even contact with other life forms in China, Russia and Egypt.
"I saw a number of UFOs in Peru."
Posted Sept. 6, 2004
World Science Staff
Many ancient and modern cultures have creation myths involving flood legends similar to the Bible's story of Noah's Ark. Thinkers over the centuries, including Leonardo da Vinci, have debated whether the stories were true.
Detail of "The Flood" from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings, Rome, depicting the Bible's flood story. In the story, God sent a flood to cleanse Earth of man and his wickedness the Overcome by the wickedness. God spared only Noah and his family, instructing Noah to build an ark and to take on board a male and a female of every species of bird and beast. Ancient civilizations such as China, India, Russia, Babylonia, Wales, India, America, Peru, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, and Polynesia all have their own versions of a giant flood tale. In the past few years it has become popular to believe they were – that a primordial flood really happened. Recent studies claim to back up the notion scientifically; for instance, there are findings that a titanic flood created the Black Sea in the Middle East 7,500 years ago.
But a better explanation may exist, a physicist says.
Fossils of ancient fish and marine organisms are often found high in mountains, due to the movement of rocks through geologic processes. The physicist, Richard K. Jeck, says these fossils could have inspired people to believe the areas were once flooded.
"Fossils of marine organisms, especially shellfish like clams and other molluscs, and sometimes fish, can be found in relatively high elevations in many places around the world," wrote Jeck, who is also a research meteorologist at the Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center near Atlantic City, New Jersey. Jeck published this hypothesis in the June issue of the journal Antiquity.
The sea life fossils "are found throughout the Near East and countries bordering the Mediterranean," the area from which the Bible stories came, he wrote.
This "can explain why stories of a great flood are found in the folklore or legends of ancient peoples in diverse places around the globe," he wrote. "It is understandable that primitive peoples had no other conclusion to draw than that a deep flood, one like no other in their experience, must have put those seashells way up there. They did not know about mountain building and the geological processes that can raise fossil-bearing, sedimentary rock strata to great heights."
Jeck's ideas aren't likely to end the debate. The findings about the ancient Black Sea flood are widely accepted, for instance. Backing them up, archaeologists have found signs of human habitation hundreds of feet below the sea.
But there are problems with the claim that the Black Sea flood is the source of the Noah's ark flood story, Jeck wrote. For instance, the evidence for this flood says nothing about a rainstorm, which figures prominently in the Noah story.
In the story, God sent a flood to cleanse Earth of man and his wickedness the Overcome by the wickedness. God spared only Noah and his family, instructing Noah to build an ark and to take on board a male and a female of every species of bird and beast.
The hypothesis that the Black Sea flood is the source of the Noah's Ark story was proposed in the late 1990s by the Columbia University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman. Pitman and Ryan wrote that the flood was caused by a massive overflow of water from the Mediterranean Sea due to rising water levels at the end of the last Ice Age.
Its a shame we won't see stories like this in our public schools. (especially with all the "under God" fervor in the pledge). keep up the good work. -- frank
October 1998: First sign of problem when Tyrell slips in the shower and notices a lump on his leg.
November 1998: Doctors discover bone cancer in his leg.
December 1998: Court gives Saskatchewan Social Services Department authority over boy's health-care decisions. March 17, 1999: Hearing into whether Tyrell was competent to make an independent decision on his treatment or if he was acting under influence of his parents.
March 18: Judge finds Tyrell not competent to make his own medical decisions. Upholds earlier ruling allowing Saskatchewan government to make medical decisions on his behalf.
March 21: Family lawyer announces cancer spread to Tyrell's lungs. Saskatoon doctors say they can do nothing more.
March 23: Arrives at Tijuana clinic for month-long stay to try alternative treatment.
June 30: Dies in St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon.
Notes from funeral:
GRUENTHAL, Sask. - A light drizzle fell Saturday as 250 people packed a church in this tiny community to say goodbye to a boy who shunned conventional cancer treatment in favour of prayers and herbal remedies. Tears streamed down Tim Dueck's face as he recalled how his son dealt with the cancer that started in his knee and spread to his lungs.
People across Canada followed the case of the 13-year-old after Saskatchewan's Social Services Department went to court to take charge of his medical care. When told he needed chemotherapy and could lose his right leg to bone cancer, the reserved teen from Martensville, Sask., refused the treatment. His decision ignited a debate over who should decide what's best for children - the patients and their families or the state. Tyrell's family, who are fundamentalist Christians, believed prayer along with herbal and alternative remedies would cure Tyrell and kill the tumour in his leg.
The pastor of the Gruenthal Church...took to task those who opposed the family's wishes but said the Duecks were sustained by their faith.
He stated to the tearful congregation: "Medicine will end with death. The legal system stops with death. The news stories stop with death. But a family's love and a faith in a God that is impossible to lie to does not end with death."
Church-goers were moved by Gregory's words and often interjected with shouts of "Amen," and "Hallelujah."
Inside the church, a board was adorned with a jersey from the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and a hunting outfit - two of the teen's most treasured mementoes.
The Duecks said earlier this week they were at peace with their decision to pursue alternative treatment for Tyrell.
The courts intervened in Tyrell's treatment twice over the last seven months.
Both times judges decided to give Social Services the authority to determine his medical care but Tyrell balked. The department gave up its fight in late March when doctors in Saskatoon found the cancer had spread.
Within days, Tyrell was admitted to a alternative treatment clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. Treatments there range from the use of herbs, vitamins, and laetrile, an extract of apricot pits, to chemotherapy and radiation.
While Tyrell seemed to improve during his month-long stay at the clinic the family noticed his condition deteriorated within a week of returning home in April. He spent the last week of his life in palliative care.
Annapolis Valley Skeptic link]