NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 December 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, December 10, 2004

Battle over God in U.S. history class

Cupertino teacher sues to tell role of Christianity
- Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Steven Williams wants to teach his fifth-graders at a Cupertino public school all about Christianity's role in America's founding -- an effort that has opened a blue state-red state divide smack in the middle of the blue Bay Area.

Williams, a self-described "orthodox Christian," ran afoul of school administrators -- and several parents of his students at Stevens Creek Elementary School -- when he backed up his contention that religion was central to the Founding Fathers by passing out historical documents to supplement the district-approved curriculum.

Williams complained that state-approved textbooks contain scant mention of how much Christianity meant to early America. So he handed out William Penn's Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, in which Penn wrote, "Government seems to me a part of religion itself, a thing sacred in its institution and end."

Williams also passed out a list of religious clauses in state constitutions such as Delaware's -- which in 1776 required officeholders to "profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son."

Then there was George Washington's prayer journal. And as an example of a modern-day presidential proclamation, Williams distributed President Bush's statement on National Prayer Day 2004, in which he said, "Prayer is an opportunity to praise God for His mighty works."

Some parents said Williams crossed the line into evangelizing, and they complained.

"My daughter came home one day and said, 'Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day,' " said Mike Zimmers, whose daughter was Williams' student last year and began complaining on the second day of school. "She's adored every teacher she had until then."

In May, Williams said, school Principal Patricia Vidmar began reviewing all his lesson plans and supplemental handouts in advance -- something he said doesn't happen to other teachers.

Last month, Williams filed suit in federal court in Oakland claiming that administrators were "systematically rejecting" any reference to God or Christianity in his handouts. Williams said his speech and academic freedom had been restricted "because of its religious content and viewpoint."

The debate over Williams' methods has electrified the evangelical and conservative network that helped return Bush to the White House last month.

One result: The normally placid school district, in a town where Bush got only 33 percent of the vote Nov. 2, has been bombarded by 3,000 e-mails and 350 phone calls. At least one police officer has been patrolling Stevens Creek School in recent days.

With many critics saying they heard that the school district is "banning the Declaration of Independence," and a few choice e-mails suggesting that "all of you in the school district can burn in hell," Cupertino's spokesman, Jeffrey Nishihara, somewhat exasperated, said, "The district has not stopped teaching about the Declaration of Independence."

The district denied all the claims in Williams' suit, and said it looks forward to explaining its side in court. Williams, who has taught in the district for eight years, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Some parents, the district's defenders, and civil liberties groups say the suit is an attempt by the Christian right to remake the nation's history. Although parents say Williams "is a nice guy," they say he's created an intimidating atmosphere for students who may be too young to contradict their teacher.

"This is the same thing that people have been trying to do for 200 years. The only difference now is that they're well funded, media savvy and litigious," said Ivory Madison, who has done legal analysis for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It's a shame that our tax dollars have to be used for a school district to defend the Constitution."

The fiery issue will be fanned again tonight. Williams is scheduled to appear on the Fox News cable show "Hannity and Colmes" when the show films at De Anza College.

Supporters hope his case will rekindle a national debate that has long simmered in conservative circles: When is it appropriate to mention God in the classroom?

"What next? Perhaps some school official will try and rule that the Constitution is unconstitutional," the conservative National Lawyers Association said in its condemnation of "this rogue school principal."

The 2,700-member Missouri-based organization, which dubs itself "an alternative to the American Bar Association" and has supported the Boy Scouts in discrimination cases brought against the youth group, will probably file a brief on behalf of Williams, said CEO Mario Mandina.

"We heard from a number of our members who said, 'This is the last straw,' " Mandina said.

Williams is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, the legal organization that has filed litigation opposing same-sex marriage in several states, including California.

Conservatives lump Williams' case with others they feel aim to strip religious references, specifically Christian ones, from the culture. They put it in the same category as the effort to take the words "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"It's a real infringement on traditional American culture," said KSFO-AM talk show host Barbara Simpson.

Ralph Otte's Los Gatos American Legion Post passed a resolution Monday night in support of Williams. The issue struck a nerve with members, who wear "For God and Country" on their caps.

"People were saying, 'For Pete's sake, don't let them get away with it,' " said Otte, an 82-year-old World War II veteran and longtime teacher. "Guys are ready to put on their caps and show up wherever they're needed."

But critics say Williams is taking religion out of context.

One of his handouts is titled, "What Great Leaders Have Said About the Bible." It quotes nine U.S. presidents singing the praises of the Bible, followed by a quote from Jesus Christ.

"It's just out of context," said Madison. "You're putting these presidents in the same context as Jesus."

Some parents at Stevens Creek School say conservative media outlets have twisted the story to make the district look silly. Plus, they feel that Williams has crossed a line -- one that fifth-graders may be too naive to know has been breached.

"This is not about teaching history, this is about indoctrination," said Armineh Noravian, whose child was formerly in one of Williams' classes.

In a school district where 45 languages are spoken, Noravian asked, "what would happen if someone whose religion is not a majority religion would be doing this? It isn't OK (for a teacher) to make a kid feel like he isn't like you."

Dorothy Pickler informally requested that her fifth-grade child not have Williams as a teacher this year.

"Because what he's doing isn't teaching history," she said. "If you were teaching at a church school, that would be great. But he isn't."

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URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/12/08/CHRISTIAN.TMP

Evolution education update: disclaimers in the Times, developments in Dover, and panda-monium

A special Wednesday evolution education update, since the media remains abuzz over the creationism/evolution controversy. Today: Colin Purrington gives us something to chuckle over; the controversy in the Dover (Pennsylvania) Area School District is unabated; and we unveil a new set of resources on the "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People. More to come on Friday!


The op-ed page of The New York Times for December 5, 2004, features a hilarious chart of "The Descent of Dissent" by Swarthmore biology professor Colin B. Purrington and graphic designer Felix Sockwell. Based on Purrington's web page satirizing textbook evolution disclaimers of the sort used in Alabama and Cobb County, Georgia, the chart entertainingly plots the course of further possible disclaimers.

To see the "op-chart" in the Times, visit:

For Purrington's web page of textbook disclaimers, visit:


The brouhaha in Dover, Pennsylvania, over the "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People and the passage of a policy requiring the teaching of intelligent design, continues. On December 6, 2004, a third member of the Dover Area School Board -- Angie Yingling -- offered her resignation over the policy. According to the York Daily Record, Yingling "said that after thinking about it, she regrets voting Oct. 18 to add intelligent design to the student curriculum. But she said she did so because many on the board pressured her by accusing her of being an atheist and un-Christian." According to the York Dispatch, Yingling told the board, "We've got our point across to the local, state and national levels," continuing, "It's wrong, I think it's wrong, and you know it's wrong; it's against state and federal law, and you know it." Yingling's resignation is not final until accepted by the board, and she is reportedly reconsidering her decision at the request of school district administrators.

Meanwhile, on December 6, 2004, the York Dispatch published an op-ed column by Paul R. Gross and Barbara Forrest, authors of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. In "School boards shouldn't compete in creationists' self-serving game," Gross and Forrest announced that "Dover is the leading contender in the world series of scientific nonsense. What puts Dover ahead is that its board has become the first in the country to explicitly mandate the teaching of both 'intelligent design' and evolution in its biology curriculum." They go on to argue that intelligent design, far from being good science, is a scientifically bankrupt and religiously motivated assault on evolution.

For NCSE's extended coverage of developments in Dover, visit:

And to read Gross and Forrest's op-ed in the York Dispatch, visit:


Front and center in Dover is the "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People (first edition 1989; second edition 1993). At first certain members of the Dover Area School Board sought to adopt it as a supplementary text for biology classes; then sixty copies were anonymously donated as "reference material" to be placed in the biology classrooms. Prompted by its prominence in the Dover controversy, NCSE's Nicholas Matzke valiantly took on the project of digitizing and organizing NCSE's copious reviews of and materials related to Of Pandas and People. In his introduction, Matzke observes that "all of the basic arguments of ["intelligent design"] are found in essentially modern form ... . The textbook came first, and the 'research' to support it came many years later. Thus, if ID ever does succeed, it will be the first movement in the history of science that began in a high school textbook and then 'filtered up' to acceptance by the scientific research community."

For NCSE's resources on Of Pandas and People, visit:

Thanks for reading! 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.


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

Eugenie C. Scott's target=_top>Evolution vs. Creationism is now available:

Bacteria, Ulcers, and Ostracism?


H. Pylori and the Making of a Myth

Medicine's purported ostracism of the discovery of H. pylori has achieved a mythological quality. But it isn't true. After appropriate initial scientific skepticism, the hypothesis was accepted right on schedule.

Kimball C. Atwood IV

In the September/October 2003 Skeptical Inquirer, I wrote an article critical of the research agenda of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) (Atwood 2003). Subsequently, reader Myra Jones argued in a letter to the editor that "we as skeptics should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because the NCCAM has funded bad science doesn't mean that . . . some alternative medicine might not have valid claims. Many practices now accepted were once thought crazy by the medical mainstream" (Jones 2004). Part of my reply to her was this: "For example, which practices? Initial skepticism of any new claim is an appropriate part of the scientific approach. . . . Other than that, I challenge Ms. Jones to name a single example, since the era of scientific medicine began in the second half of the nineteenth century, of a correct claim that faced dogmatic, closed-minded rejection by the 'medical mainstream' for any significant amount of time" (Atwood 2004).

College biologists blast Dover


York College faculty members said the 'intelligent design' decision goes against science.

Daily Record/Sunday News
Wednesday, December 8, 2004

York College's biology professors have entered the fray surrounding "intelligent design" and are now protesting its required teaching in Dover Area High School biology classes.

A letter to the York Daily Record/Sunday News signed by 12 members of the college's biology department states that the decision by the Dover Area School Board to require the teaching of intelligent design "reflects a genuine lack of knowledge about the data supporting evolution by natural selection."

In October, the school board became the first in the country to require the concept to be taught in science class in addition to evolution.

Intelligent design is the concept that life is too complex to have occurred randomly and therefore must have had been "designed" by a divine creator.

Karl Kleiner, one of the professors who signed the letter, said the letter represents the first time members of the college biology department have spoken collectively in this fashion.

He said members of the department felt a professional obligation to speak up since the issue has been raised in their own back yard.

"We've seen this time and again, these attacks on biology curricula across the country," he said.

While York College itself has not taken a stance on the issue, the biologists have academic freedom to speak out, he said.

"But I don't think we're rocking the boat here," he added.

Dover Area School Board President Alan Bonsell and William Buckingham, the board member who was the chief architect of the curriculum change, couldn't be reached for comment.

Kleiner said two members of the department declined to sign the letter. Elizabeth Hodgson, a lab coordinator who teaches general biology, declined to comment on her reasons for not signing it. Bruce Smith, a biology and botany professor, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Kleiner said the issue was something about which both he and Brad Rehnberg, another York College biology professor, felt strongly, especially because it involves the mixing of religion with fact-based science.

"Individuals are altering the science curriculum who do not have a place at the table," Kleiner said. "They are not scientists.

"This is the world according to them."

The letter states that the board decision "reflects a profound misunderstanding of the scientific process, and an equally profound disregard for the science educators and students in the Dover School District."

The issue has divided the school board and garnered attention across the country. The American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is expected to file a lawsuit on behalf of school district residents.

On Monday night, Angie Yingling resigned from the Dover Area school board, saying she was pressured to support the curriculum change.

Reach Lauri Lebo at 771-2092 or llebo@ydr.com.

Wisconsin board revises policy on teaching creationism


By The Associated Press

GRANTSBURG, Wis. — A new policy of teaching about the evolution of species has been changed to clarify that it won't include classroom lessons in public schools on religious explanations, such as creationism.

As approved by the school board on a 6-1 vote Dec. 6, the policy should ease concerns that the schools would be teaching creationism or the theory of intelligent design as alternatives to evolution, Superintendent Joni Burgin said.

"We wanted to make sure that it was clear that this is a 'teach-the-controversy-about-evolution' approach with scientific data," Burgin said. "It's not creationism. It's not intelligent design. It's science."

The Grantsburg district drew widespread attention with its approval earlier this school year of a policy that called for teaching scientific theories and also evidence other than evolution.

That move raised concerns among some that the policy opened the gates for religious teachings in school. Several U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that creationism is based on faith, not science.

The new policy, which takes effect immediately, reads: "Students are expected to analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

It adds: "Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design."

Amy DeLong, a pastor at Grantsburg's United Methodist Church, opposed the original policy and said her concerns have been addressed in the revised version.

But she said it makes her nervous that the Discovery Institute, a national pro-intelligent-design group, issued a news release praising the new policy. And she said she wondered who would determine what evidence is scientific.

The issue has been very divisive, she added.

"From my perspective, it's just hard to see people who disagreed with the district's original policy lose friendships or lose business for speaking out," she said. "I think it's tragic in a community of this size."

Meanwhile, a Dover, Pa., school board member who voted for requiring the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in high school biology classes resigned after failing to get the board to reconsider its vote.

"It's wrong, it's all wrong," said Angie Yingling, who announced her resignation from the Dover Area School Board at a board meeting Dec. 6.

Yingling was among the majority who voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 to mandate intelligent design, a concept that attributes the universe's complexity to the work of an undefined intelligent force. Dover is believed to be the first school district in the nation to impose such a requirement, which critics call a veiled form of the biblical notion of creationism.

Two of the dissenting board members, Carol Brown and her husband, Jeff Brown, resigned in protest after the vote.

At the Dec. 6 board meeting, Yingling made a motion calling for the board to revisit the decision — saying changes were needed to avoid lawsuits over the policy — but no one seconded the motion.

"We've got our point across to the local, state and national levels," Yingling said. "But taxpayers have told me they can't afford any lawsuits over this."

Yingling said that when she voted for the policy, she merely wanted the high school to be able to use an intelligent-design textbook, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, as a reference book.

"I feel as though I've been misled throughout this whole thing," she said.

Board President Sheila Harkins, who also voted for the curriculum change, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.


Wisconsin city allows teaching of creationism
In Atlanta, lawsuit targets textbook disclaimer stickers calling evolution 'theory, not fact.' 11.08.04


Pennsylvania school district adds 'intelligent design'
'Creationism in a cheap tuxedo,' one critic calls idea now mandated to be taught alongside Darwinian evolution in biology classes. 11.12.04

Darwin under fire (again): Intelligent design vs. evolution
By Charles C. Haynes Anti-evolutionists see 'design' theory as next hope for changing science education in public schools. 12.05.04

Scientology's volunteers get frosty reception at fire scene


December 9, 2004


As fire raged inside the LaSalle Bank building, a band of serious-looking young adults in yellow jackets hustled past the police tape toward the action.

Their coats bore the words "Volunteer Minister." But these weren't your standard chaplains -- like the five Catholic, Jewish and Protestant clerics already on the scene.

The volunteer ministers are members of the Church of Scientology, a religious group founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and perhaps best known for celebrity followers such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise. Some critics -- including the German government, which views it not as a religion but a money-making scheme -- insist Scientology is a cult.

This was the first time the group's ministers responded in an organized fashion to a fire in Chicago -- and it probably won't be their last, even though their debut didn't go over too well with the Chicago Fire Department's chaplain corps.

"I threw 'em out," said one chaplain. "If they want to minister to the people on the sidelines, that's great . . . but they were standing in the triage and treatment area and they were making total chaos in there.

"We can't have untrained people at a time when things are very chaotic and you need a sense of order," he said. "Fire and police chaplains are trained in how to do this."

Mary Ann Ahmad, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in Chicago, was told by her people that the volunteers were looking for someone in charge "to find out what was needed and wanted, and they were told, 'It's dangerous for people in here, so go outside.' "

If Scientology volunteers need special training, "they're totally willing," Ahmad said, adding Scientologists were at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks.

David Klarich, one of the Scientologists at Monday night's blaze, said the church is planning on regularly showing up at fires and other disasters in the region to offer an "assist" -- special techniques they use to aid the injured or traumatized.

A Chicago Fire Department spokesman was unaware of the situation but said he'd look into it.

Letter: Book backs Creationism


David Rossie's Dec 3 column, about the article on textbook warnings that evolution is just a theory, makes fun of the woman from Georgia because she believed in a Creation date of 6,000 years. Rossie also scoffs at the late Irish Bishop James Ussher.

However, she was right about the timeline and Ussher was no amateur. He was a real journalist with incredible detail and research in his book The Annals of the World. He got the date as Sunday, Oct. 23, 4004 B.C., by comparing lunar calenders with known history points and with scripture (authored by the only one who was here back then) for exact dates and days of the week.

This can be checked in the book of Genesis, which clearly gives the ages of the first 20 generations from Adam to Abraham and is close to the current Jewish calendar year.



Thursday, December 09, 2004

Famous Atheist Now Believes in God


One of World's Leading Atheists Now Believes in God, More or Less, Based on Scientific Evidence

NEW YORK Dec 9, 2004 — A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article "Theology and Falsification," based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.

Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates.

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"

The video draws from a New York discussion last May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese's Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland's University of St. Andrews.

The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote.

The letter commended arguments in Schroeder's "The Hidden Face of God" and "The Wonder of the World" by Varghese, an Eastern Rite Catholic layman.

This week, Flew finished writing the first formal account of his new outlook for the introduction to a new edition of his "God and Philosophy," scheduled for release next year by Prometheus Press.

Prometheus specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic www.infidels.org Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a "minimal God" and believes in no afterlife.

Flew's "name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up," Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew's reversal, "apart from curiosity, I don't think it's like a big deal."

Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.

A Methodist minister's son, Flew became an atheist at 15.

Early in his career, he argued that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were right to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything at all.

Another landmark was his 1984 "The Presumption of Atheism," playing off the presumption of innocence in criminal law. Flew said the debate over God must begin by presuming atheism, putting the burden of proof on those arguing that God exists.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.

String Theory, at 20, Explains It All (or Not)


December 7, 2004

ASPEN, Colo. - They all laughed 20 years ago.

It was then that a physicist named John Schwarz jumped up on the stage during a cabaret at the physics center here and began babbling about having discovered a theory that could explain everything. By prearrangement men in white suits swooped in and carried away Dr. Schwarz, then a little-known researcher at the California Institute of Technology.

Only a few of the laughing audience members knew that Dr. Schwarz was not entirely joking. He and his collaborator, Dr. Michael Green, now at Cambridge University, had just finished a calculation that would change the way physics was done. They had shown that it was possible for the first time to write down a single equation that could explain all the laws of physics, all the forces of nature - the proverbial "theory of everything" that could be written on a T-shirt.

And so emerged into the limelight a strange new concept of nature, called string theory, so named because it depicts the basic constituents of the universe as tiny wriggling strings, not point particles.

"That was our first public announcement," Dr. Schwarz said recently.

By uniting all the forces, string theory had the potential of achieving the goal that Einstein sought without success for half his life and that has embodied the dreams of every physicist since then. If true, it could be used like a searchlight to illuminate some of the deepest mysteries physicists can imagine, like the origin of space and time in the Big Bang and the putative death of space and time at the infinitely dense centers of black holes.

In the last 20 years, string theory has become a major branch of physics. Physicists and mathematicians conversant in strings are courted and recruited like star quarterbacks by universities eager to establish their research credentials. String theory has been celebrated and explained in best-selling books like "The Elegant Universe," by Dr. Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia University, and even on popular television shows.

Last summer in Aspen, Dr. Schwarz and Dr. Green (of Cambridge) cut a cake decorated with "20th Anniversary of the First Revolution Started in Aspen," as they and other theorists celebrated the anniversary of their big breakthrough. But even as they ate cake and drank wine, the string theorists admitted that after 20 years, they still did not know how to test string theory, or even what it meant.

As a result, the goal of explaining all the features of the modern world is as far away as ever, they say. And some physicists outside the string theory camp are growing restive. At another meeting, at the Aspen Institute for Humanities, only a few days before the string commemoration, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, called string theory "a colossal failure."

String theorists agree that it has been a long, strange trip, but they still have faith that they will complete the journey.

"Twenty years ago no one would have correctly predicted how string theory has since developed," said Dr. Andrew Strominger of Harvard. "There is disappointment that despite all our efforts, experimental verification or disproof still seems far away. On the other hand, the depth and beauty of the subject, and the way it has reached out, influenced and connected other areas of physics and mathematics, is beyond the wildest imaginations of 20 years ago."

In a way, the story of string theory and of the physicists who have followed its siren song for two decades is like a novel that begins with the classic "what if?"

What if the basic constituents of nature and matter were not little points, as had been presumed since the time of the Greeks? What if the seeds of reality were rather teeny tiny wiggly little bits of string? And what appear to be different particles like electrons and quarks merely correspond to different ways for the strings to vibrate, different notes on God's guitar?

It sounds simple, but that small change led physicists into a mathematical labyrinth, in which they describe themselves as wandering, "exploring almost like experimentalists," in the words of Dr. David Gross of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, Calif.

String theory, the Italian physicist Dr. Daniele Amati once said, was a piece of 21st-century physics that had fallen by accident into the 20th century.

And, so the joke went, would require 22nd-century mathematics to solve.

Dr. Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., described it this way: "String theory is not like anything else ever discovered. It is an incredible panoply of ideas about math and physics, so vast, so rich you could say almost anything about it."

The string revolution had its roots in a quixotic effort in the 1970's to understand the so-called "strong" force that binds quarks into particles like protons and neutrons. Why were individual quarks never seen in nature? Perhaps because they were on the ends of strings, said physicists, following up on work by Dr. Gabriele Veneziano of CERN, the European research consortium.

That would explain why you cannot have a single quark - you cannot have a string with only one end. Strings seduced many physicists with their mathematical elegance, but they had some problems, like requiring 26 dimensions and a plethora of mysterious particles that did not seem to have anything to do with quarks or the strong force.

When accelerator experiments supported an alternative theory of quark behavior known as quantum chromodynamics, most physicists consigned strings to the dustbin of history.

But some theorists thought the mathematics of strings was too beautiful to die.

In 1974 Dr. Schwarz and Dr. Joel Scherk from the École Normale Supérieure in France noticed that one of the mysterious particles predicted by string theory had the properties predicted for the graviton, the particle that would be responsible for transmitting gravity in a quantum theory of gravity, if such a theory existed.

Without even trying, they realized, string theory had crossed the biggest gulf in physics. Physicists had been stuck for decades trying to reconcile the quirky rules known as quantum mechanics, which govern atomic behavior, with Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity shapes the cosmos.

That meant that if string theory was right, it was not just a theory of the strong force; it was a theory of all forces.

"I was immediately convinced this was worth devoting my life to," Dr. Schwarz recalled "It's been my life work ever since."

It was another 10 years before Dr. Schwarz and Dr. Green (Dr. Scherk died in 1980) finally hit pay dirt. They showed that it was possible to write down a string theory of everything that was not only mathematically consistent but also free of certain absurdities, like the violation of cause and effect, that had plagued earlier quantum gravity calculations.

In the summer and fall of 1984, as word of the achievement spread, physicists around the world left what they were doing and stormed their blackboards, visions of the Einsteinian grail of a unified theory dancing in their heads.

"Although much work remains to be done there seem to be no insuperable obstacles to deriving all of known physics," one set of physicists, known as the Princeton string quartet, wrote about a particularly promising model known as heterotic strings. (The quartet consisted of Dr. Gross; Dr. Jeffrey Harvey and Dr. Emil Martinec, both at the University of Chicago; and Dr. Ryan M. Rohm, now at the University of North Carolina.)

The Music of Strings

String theory is certainly one of the most musical explanations ever offered for nature, but it is not for the untrained ear. For one thing, the modern version of the theory decreed that there are 10 dimensions of space and time.

To explain to ordinary mortals why the world appears to have only four dimensions - one of time and three of space -string theorists adopted a notion first bruited by the German mathematicians Theodor Kaluza and Oskar Klein in 1926. The extra six dimensions, they said, go around in sub-submicroscopic loops, so tiny that people cannot see them or store old National Geographics in them.

A simple example, the story goes, is a garden hose. Seen from afar, it is a simple line across the grass, but up close it has a circular cross section. An ant on the hose can go around it as well as travel along its length. To envision the world as seen by string theory, one only has to imagine a tiny, tiny six-dimensional ball at every point in space-time

But that was only the beginning. In 1995, Dr. Witten showed that what had been five different versions of string theory seemed to be related. He argued that they were all different manifestations of a shadowy, as-yet-undefined entity he called "M theory," with "M" standing for mother, matrix, magic, mystery, membrane or even murky.

In M-theory, the universe has 11 dimensions - 10 of space and one of time, and it consists not just of strings but also of more extended membranes of various dimension, known generically as "branes."

This new theory has liberated the imaginations of cosmologists. Our own universe, some theorists suggest, may be a four-dimensional brane floating in some higher-dimensional space, like a bubble in a fish tank, perhaps with other branes - parallel universes - nearby. Collisions or other interactions between the branes might have touched off the Big Bang that started our own cosmic clock ticking or could produce the dark energy that now seems to be accelerating the expansion of the universe, they say.

Toting Up the Scorecard

One of string theory's biggest triumphs has come in the study of black holes. In Einstein's general relativity, these objects are bottomless pits in space-time, voraciously swallowing everything, even light, that gets too close, but in string theory they are a dense tangle of strings and membranes.

In a prodigious calculation in 1995, Dr. Strominger and Dr. Cumrun Vafa, both of Harvard, were able to calculate the information content of a black hole, matching a famous result obtained by Dr. Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University using more indirect means in 1973. Their calculation is viewed by many people as the most important result yet in string theory, Dr. Greene said.

Another success, Dr. Greene and others said, was the discovery that the shape, or topology, of space, is not fixed but can change, according to string theory. Space can even rip and tear.

But the scorecard is mixed when it comes to other areas of physics. So far, for example, string theory has had little to say about what might have happened at the instant of the Big Bang..

Moreover, the theory seems to have too many solutions. One of the biggest dreams that physicists had for the so-called theory of everything was that it would specify a unique prescription of nature, one in which God had no choice, as Einstein once put it, about details like the number of dimensions or the relative masses of elementary particles.

But recently theorists have estimated that there could be at least 10100 different solutions to the string equations, corresponding to different ways of folding up the extra dimensions and filling them with fields - gazillions of different possible universes.

Some theorists, including Dr. Witten, hold fast to the Einsteinian dream, hoping that a unique answer to the string equations will emerge when they finally figure out what all this 21st-century physics is trying to tell them about the world.

But that day is still far away.

"We don't know what the deep principle in string theory is," Dr. Witten said.

For most of the 20th century, progress in particle physics was driven by the search for symmetries - patterns or relationships that remain the same when we swap left for right, travel across the galaxy or imagine running time in reverse.

For years physicists have looked for the origins of string theory in some sort of deep and esoteric symmetry, but string theory has turned out to be weirder than that.

Recently it has painted a picture of nature as a kind of hologram. In the holographic images often seen on bank cards, the illusion of three dimensions is created on a two-dimensional surface. Likewise string theory suggests that in nature all the information about what is happening inside some volume of space is somehow encoded on its outer boundary, according to work by several theorists, including Dr. Juan Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study and Dr. Raphael Bousso of the University of California, Berkeley.

Just how and why a three-dimensional reality can spring from just two dimensions, or four dimensions can unfold from three, is as baffling to people like Dr. Witten as it probably is to someone reading about it in a newspaper.

In effect, as Dr. Witten put it, an extra dimension of space can mysteriously appear out of "nothing."

The lesson, he said, may be that time and space are only illusions or approximations, emerging somehow from something more primitive and fundamental about nature, the way protons and neutrons are built of quarks.

The real secret of string theory, he said, will probably not be new symmetries, but rather a novel prescription for constructing space-time.

"It's a new aspect of the theory," Dr. Witten said. "Whether we are getting closer to the deep principle, I don't know."

As he put it in a talk in October, "It's plausible that we will someday understand string theory."

Tangled in Strings

Critics of string theory, meanwhile, have been keeping their own scorecard. The most glaring omission is the lack of any experimental evidence for strings or even a single experimental prediction that could prove string theory wrong - the acid test of the scientific process.

Strings are generally presumed to be so small that "stringy" effects should show up only when particles are smashed together at prohibitive energies, roughly 1019 billion electron volts. That is orders of magnitude beyond the capability of any particle accelerator that will ever be built on earth. Dr. Harvey of Chicago said he sometimes woke up thinking, What am I doing spending my whole career on something that can't be tested experimentally?

This disparity between theoretical speculation and testable reality has led some critics to suggest that string theory is as much philosophy as science, and that it has diverted the attention and energy of a generation of physicists from other perhaps more worthy pursuits. Others say the theory itself is still too vague and that some promising ideas have not been proved rigorously enough yet.

Dr. Krauss said, "We bemoan the fact that Einstein spent the last 30 years of his life on a fruitless quest, but we think it's fine if a thousand theorists spend 30 years of their prime on the same quest."

The Other Quantum Gravity

String theory's biggest triumph is still its first one, unifying Einstein's lordly gravity that curves the cosmos and the quantum pinball game of chance that lives inside it.

"Whatever else it is or is not," Dr. Harvey said in Aspen, "string theory is a theory of quantum gravity that gives sensible answers."

That is no small success, but it may not be unique.

String theory has a host of lesser known rivals for the mantle of quantum gravity, in particular a concept called, loop quantum gravity, which arose from work by Dr. Abhay Ashtekar of Penn State and has been carried forward by Dr. Carlo Rovelli of the University of Marseille and Dr. Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, among others.

Unlike string theory, loop gravity makes no pretensions toward being a theory of everything. It is only a theory of gravity, space and time, arising from the applications of quantum principles to the equations of Einstein's general relativity. The adherents of string theory and of loop gravity have a kind of Microsoft-Apple kind of rivalry, with the former garnering a vast majority of university jobs and publicity.

Dr. Witten said that string theory had a tendency to absorb the ideas of its critics and rivals. This could happen with loop gravity. Dr. Vafa; his Harvard colleagues, Dr. Sergei Gukov and Dr. Andrew Neitzke; and Dr. Robbert Dijkgraaf of the University of Amsterdam report in a recent paper that they have found a connection between simplified versions of string and loop gravity.

"If it exists," Dr. Vafa said of loop gravity, "it should be part of string theory."

Looking for a Cosmic Connection

Some theorists have bent their energies recently toward investigating models in which strings could make an observable mark on the sky or in experiments in particle accelerators.

"They all require us to be lucky," said Dr. Joe Polchinski of the Kavli Institute.

For example the thrashing about of strings in the early moments of time could leave fine lumps in a haze of radio waves filling the sky and thought to be the remains of the Big Bang. These might be detectable by the Planck satellite being built by the European Space Agency for a 2007 launching date, said Dr. Greene.

According to some models, Dr. Polchinski has suggested, some strings could be stretched from their normal submicroscopic lengths to become as big as galaxies or more during a brief cosmic spurt known as inflation, thought to have happened a fraction of a second after the universe was born.

If everything works out, he said, there will be loops of string in the sky as big as galaxies. Other strings could stretch all the way across the observable universe. The strings, under enormous tension and moving near the speed of light, would wiggle and snap, rippling space-time like a tablecloth with gravitational waves.

"It would be like a whip hundreds of light-years long," Dr. Polchinski said.

The signal from these snapping strings, if they exist, should be detectable by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, which began science observations two years ago, operated by a multinational collaboration led by Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Another chance for a clue will come in 2007 when the Large Hadron Collider is turned on at CERN in Geneva and starts colliding protons with seven trillion volts of energy apiece. In one version of the theory - admittedly a long shot - such collisions could create black holes or particles disappearing into the hidden dimensions.

Everybody's favorite candidate for what the collider will find is a phenomenon called supersymmetry, which is crucial to string theory. It posits the existence of a whole set of ghostlike elementary particles yet to be discovered. Theorists say they have reason to believe that the lightest of these particles, which have fanciful names like photinos, squarks and selectrons, should have a mass-energy within the range of the collider.

String theory naturally incorporates supersymmetry, but so do many other theories. Its discovery would not clinch the case for strings, but even Dr. Krauss of Case Western admits that the existence of supersymmetry would be a boon for string theory.

And what if supersymmetric particles are not discovered at the new collider? Their absence would strain the faith, a bit, but few theorists say they would give up.

"It would certainly be a big blow to our chances of understanding string theory in the near future," Dr. Witten said.

Beginnings and Endings

At the end of the Aspen celebration talk turned to the prospect of verification of string theory. Summing up the long march toward acceptance of the theory, Dr. Stephen Shenker, a pioneer string theorist at Stanford, quoted Winston Churchill:

"This is not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning."

Dr. Shenker said it would be great to find out that string theory was right.

From the audience Dr. Greene piped up, "Wouldn't it be great either way?"

"Are you kidding me, Brian?" Dr. Shenker responded. "How many years have you sweated on this?"

But if string theory is wrong, Dr. Greene argued, wouldn't it be good to know so physics could move on? "Don't you want to know?" he asked.

Dr. Shenker amended his remarks. "It would be great to have an answer," he said, adding, "It would be even better if it's the right one."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

When Bats and Humans Were One and the Same



Published: December 7, 2004

Scientists have used computer analysis to read evolution backward and reconstruct a large part of the genome of an 80-million-year-old mammal. This tiny shrewlike creature was the common ancestor of humans and other living mammals as diverse as horses, bats, tigers and whales.

Actual DNA molecules cannot survive such lengths of time. Mammal fossils from this period are extremely rare. But by tracking the course of mammalian evolution, scientists can pinpoint when a common ancestor existed and what, in general terms, it was like.

By comparing the differences between the genetic material of living mammals, the researchers have now produced what they say is a highly accurate reconstruction of a section of the ancient creature's genetic sequence.

Other scientists have used similar methods to reconstruct individual genes. But the latest study, published in the December issue of Genome Research, presents a far longer sequence. A typical gene may contain a few thousand nucleotides, the fundamental units of DNA. The new sequence spans 1.1 million nucleotides.

The authors of the study hope to use the same methods to reconstruct the entire sequence of this early mammal's genome over the next few years.

These results may inspire visions of "Jurassic Park," with scientists using DNA to bring long-vanished creatures back to life.

"It's a fascinating challenge, but it's far beyond our capability at this point," said a co-author, Dr. David Haussler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

For now, Dr. Haussler and his colleagues have only the sequence of this reconstructed DNA, not the molecule itself.

The main value of the sequence will lie in uncovering some of the crucial steps that led from these early mammals to humans today.

"It's exciting to say something about what this ancestor looked like," said Dr. Rasmus Nielsen, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Copenhagen who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Haussler and his colleagues created a computer program that could use the DNA sequences of living mammals to reconstruct the sequence of their common ancestor. The process is akin to comparing medieval manuscripts, each with its own set of typographical errors, to reconstruct the original text. Instead of typographical errors, the computer program analyzed the mutations in the DNA of living mammals. By reversing those mutations, the program uncovers what the researchers believe is the original code.

Before they used the program to reconstruct the ancestral sequence, the scientists first carried out a series of statistical tests to see how confident they could be in their program. They created mock sequences of ancestral DNA that they allowed to mutate along several evolutionary branches. From those mutated sequences, the program came up with its best estimate of the ancestral DNA.

After repeated trials, the scientists found that the program had a 98.5 percent accuracy rate - much higher than they had hoped.

"It was a pleasant and beautiful surprise," Dr. Haussler said.

Other researchers familiar with the study agree. "We were all quite surprised in the great confidence you could have," Dr. Nielsen said.

The scientists then used the program to reconstruct the sequence of a large chunk of DNA called the CFTR locus, which has been sequenced in a wide range of mammals. The CFTR locus is named for one of the 10 genes it contains, the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene. Mutations of it have been linked to cystic fibrosis.

The scientists compared the locus in 19 species of mammals, including humans, cats and hedgehogs. Previous studies on mammal DNA indicated that the common ancestor of these species lived 80 million years ago.

The analysis showed that this common ancestor had DNA much more like our own than some of its other descendants, judging by the reconstruction.

The researchers found, for example, that 25 percent of the ancestral CFTR locus has been lost or altered in humans.

These changes were minor compared with the ones for other mammals. About 55 percent of the ancestral CFTR locus has been lost or altered in rodents.

Dr. Haussler and his colleagues are analyzing CFTR loci from a total of 37 mammal species, and they are beginning to reconstruct the entire genome of the ancestral mammal. They hope to finish in four years.

The only way to know what this ancient DNA did is to bring it back to life. It might be possible to insert the ancestral version of the CFTR locus into mice to see what proteins are produced.

"This is an expensive project, but not undoable," Dr. Haussler said.

Such experiments would allow researchers to glean clues about the brains of these early mammals, their ability to see colors, their metabolism and other important aspects of their biology.

Dr. Haussler is less sanguine about using an entire genome to "retrovolve" an 80 million-year-old mammal. "We're a long way from actually creating a living animal from a genome," he said.

Dr. Haussler said he was more excited at the prospect of reconstructing an entire series of extinct genomes like those of the common ancestor of all primates and the common ancestor of all apes.

"At each stage," he said, "you'll see the key events that were instrumental in defining our lineage. It's the kind of thing you dream about when you think about human evolution."

Bush Administration Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Ten Commandments Displays


White House Plugs 10 Commandments Displays
The Associated Press
Dec. 8, 2004

- The Bush administration on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to allow Ten Commandments displays on government property, adding a federal view on a major church-state case that justices will deal with early next year.

The government has weighed in before in religion cases at the high court, including one earlier this year that challenged the words "under God" in the classroom recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The government supported a California school district in that case. Now, it is backing two Kentucky counties that had framed copies of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued McCreary and Pulaski counties, claiming the displays were an unconstitutional promotion of religion. The group won.

Justices will hear arguments, probably in February, in the counties' appeal and in a second case involving a Texas homeless man who wants a 6-foot granite monument removed from the state Capitol grounds.

The administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, Paul Clement, told justices in Wednesday's filing that Ten Commandments displays are common around the nation and in the court's own building, the Capitol and national monuments.

"Reproductions and representations of the Ten Commandments have been commonly employed across the country to symbolize both the rule of law itself, as well as the role of religion in the development of American law," Clement wrote.

Clement said the displays are important in educating people "about the nation's history and celebrating its heritage."

The Supreme Court banned the posting of Ten Commandments in public schools in 1980.

Clement argued that courthouses are different from schools and often have "historic symbols of law."

Douglas Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor and former legal counsel to President Reagan and the first President Bush, said that the government had been expected to file arguments in the case. "It would have been politically untenable and legally timid if the government's chief court litigator had not done so," he said.

The case is McCreary County v. ACLU, 03-1693.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

When Information Access Is So Easy, Truth Can Be Elusive


The Associated Press
Published: Dec 7, 2004

EDITOR'S NOTE - This is the fourth installment in a five-part series looking at a generation of young people who've grown up with the Internet, how they use it and how it has influenced them.

AP Internet Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Go to Google, search and scroll results, click and copy.

When students do research online these days, many educators worry, those are often about the only steps they take. If they can avoid a trip to the library at all, many students gladly will.

Young people may know that just because information is plentiful online doesn't mean it's reliable, yet their perceptions of what's trustworthy frequently differ from their elders' - sparking a larger debate about what constitutes truth in the Internet age.

Georgia Tech professor Amy Bruckman tried to force students to leave their computers by requiring at least one book for a September class project.

She wasn't prepared for the response: "Someone raised their hand and asked, "Excuse me, where would I get a book?'"

While the answer might just have been a smart aleck's bid for laughs, Bruckman and other educators grapple daily with the challenge of ensuring their students have good skills for discerning the truth. Professors and librarians say many come to college without any such skills, and quite a few leave without having acquired them.

Alex Halavais, professor of informatics at the University at Buffalo, said students are so accustomed to instant information that "the idea of spending an hour or two to find that good source is foreign to them."

In a study on research habits, Wellesley College researchers Panagiotis Metaxas and Leah Graham found that fewer than 2 percent of students in one Wellesley computer science class bothered to use non-Internet sources to answer all six test questions.

And many students failed to check out multiple sources. For instance, 63 percent of students asked to list Microsoft Corp.'s top innovations only visited the company's Web site in search of the answer.

It's a paradox to some that so many young Americans can be so accepting of online information whose origin is unclear.

"Skepticism ... is part of their lives, yet they tend to believe things fairly readily because it appears on the Internet," said Roger Casey, who studies youths and pop culture at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

One concern is commercial influence online; some search engines run ads and accept payments to include sites in their indexes, with varying degree of disclosure.

"If I'm going to go to the library, chances are somebody hasn't paid a librarian 100 bucks to point me to a particular book," said Beau Brendler, director of the Consumer Reports WebWatch.

Another potential minefield is the growing phenomenon of collaborative information assembly. The credentials of the people writing grass-roots Web journals and a committee-written encyclopedia called Wikipedia are often unclear. Nevertheless, some Internet users believe that such resources can collectively portray events more accurately than any single gatekeeper.

In many ways, the greater diversity of information is healthy.

Paul Duguid, co-author of "The Social Life of Information," points out that no longer, in most of the United States, can school textbooks get away with one-sided views.

Even South Texas College of Law professor Tracy McGaugh finds her curriculum challenged as students can quickly discover how other professors teach the same material.

But as students come to trust resources that may be correct only part of the time, the extent of the downside is not yet fully known.

Some believe the challenge of determining whom and what to believe amid the information flood is bound to influence the political views, medical decisions, financial investments and other key aspects of this budding generation's life.

Accuracy can be crucial when lives and property are at stake - and older generations certainly don't have any particular claim to it.

In 2000, a prescribed burn calculated using incorrect information online spread to a wildfire that left more than 400 families homeless in Los Alamos, N.M.

Adults who should know better get duped, too.

Georgia Tech professor Colin Potts said he recently received by e-mail a photograph said to be a 1954 projection of what a home computer would look like in 2004. Instead of the small boxes we know of today, the image shows a giant contraption that resembles an airplane cockpit with a large steering wheel.

"I thought this was hilarious and filed it away in a scrapbook for my lecture next semester on the perils of technology forecasting," Potts said. "I also forwarded it to several people. Unfortunately, as another colleague informed me by e-mail a few minutes later, it's a hoax."

Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, said many older Internet users, familiar with the editorial review that books and newspapers go through, may assume incorrectly that Web sites also undergo such reviews.

Youths, many of whom have created Web sites themselves, tend to know better.

In the end, it's just a matter of adjusting to how information gets around now that the Internet has revolutionized communication.

Every new medium has its challenges, said Paul Saffo, a director at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., yet society adapts.

Referring to the 1903 Western "The Great Train Robbery," Saffo said audience members "actually ducked when the train came out on the screen. Today you won't even raise an eyebrow."

AP-ES-12-07-04 1342EST

Fresh Challenges in the Old Debate Over Evolution


By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2004; Page A14

David Jackson's life straddles all the fault lines in the battle over the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Jackson is a professor of science education at the University of Georgia's College of Education in Athens. He believes to his core that science has proved valid Charles Darwin's theory of how life on Earth developed from a common ancestry and why life has such diversity.

"The truth is that the majority of Americans would be happy to see an alternative [to evolution] come into the curriculum," says Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

About half the students he teaches to become middle school science instructors -- and to teach evolution themselves -- believe that God created the Earth 6,000 years ago, he said. Scientist friends tell him not to teach those students because anyone with those beliefs "shouldn't teach." But he tells them it is his job to make sure that his students understand evolution, not believe it.

"Most of the scientists on my campus think I'm totally crazy," Jackson said.

The thickets through which Jackson wades are emblematic of the continuing controversy over the teaching of evolution. Eighty years after John T. Scopes, a high school biology teacher, was charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution in Tennessee, the social and intellectual values that imbued that trial with such meaning continue to stir emotions, prompting challenges in school boards and state legislatures, courthouses and schoolrooms.

About 40 states are dealing with some sort of challenge this year to the teaching of evolution at the state level, local level or both, said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.

For example, a federal judge in Atlanta is expected to rule soon on a suit filed on behalf of six parents in Cobb County -- Jackson's part of the country -- who objected to a disclaimer the school board affixed to ninth-grade biology textbooks. It says, in part: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

It got plenty of headlines, as have other challenges. Drawing less attention are the people caught in the middle: students who are not learning the lessons they need to understand the world.

"The science classroom has become the battleground," said legal scholar Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center in Arlington. "Because we are paralyzed by this debate, the decisions are not often made on the basis of what is good for science education. They are made on the basis of what might win in court, or political considerations, or sometimes religious considerations."

The vast majority of scientists agree that evolution is a proven major unifying concept in science and should be not only included in science education in kindergarten through 12th grade but also better imbedded in school standards. Many scientists grow infuriated at evolution challenges by people they believe are trying to infuse religion into a strictly scientific process.

At the classroom level, many scientists say, evolution is too often taught as its own unit when it should be the guiding foundation for everything that happens in biology. "We could describe orchid shapes, but it's much more accurate and much more interesting to recognize that orchids and insects that pollinate them co-evolved," said William McComas, director of the Program to Advance Science Education at the University of Southern California.

Teachers don't teach that way for several reasons, he and other educators and scientists agreed.

Many don't fully understand the complicated process of evolution because of deficiencies in their own education. And some feel intimidated by their communities, which may not support evolution, according to the National Science Teachers Association. A national Gallup poll taken last month showed that 35 percent of the respondents believe that evolution is well-supported by the evidence, 35 percent said it is not and 29 percent said they didn't know enough to reply; 1 percent did not reply.

Wes McCoy, chairman of the Science Department at North Cobb High School in Cobb County, Ga., sees those numbers and says they prove that evolution is widely misunderstood.

"The parents and school board members I have spoken to who oppose the teaching of evolution seem to have little understanding of what evolution means," he said. "I believe it is my duty as a native of this town, and as a product of the schools in which I now teach, to discuss with them what we mean by evolution and why it is so vital to teach."

Haynes, of the Freedom Forum, sees those numbers and says it might be time for the scientific community to take a new approach to the challenges to evolution.

"The truth is that the majority of Americans would be happy to see an alternative [to evolution] come into the curriculum," he said. "And the scientific community knows this. They haven't won the popular battle."

The strongest challenge to evolution, he said, may be from advocates of "intelligent design," a hypothesis that suggests an "intelligent cause" for some features of the natural world, rather than an undirected cause, such as natural selection.

Advocates of this approach -- including John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle -- don't say what that cause is. Scientists believe it is a circuitous way of injecting God into the debate and is a form of creation science, which holds that God is responsible for life's development and diversity.

"Intelligent design is the contender that has the most chance of making inroads in the curriculum," Haynes said. "At the very least, intelligent design advocates are reframing the debate and are pushing public education to say we should be teaching alternatives."

That's what Margaret Young wants to do in Charles County. Young, vice chairman of the Charles school board, said she wants the panel to debate adding intelligent design to the curriculum. "Science is not stagnant," she said. "What we do need to do is open the debate."

Jackson agrees with Haynes that simply ignoring the controversy in class doesn't help anyone.

"It is legally and educationally inappropriate to present religious ideas as though they are scientific ideas," he said. "But I would not argue that you should pretend religion doesn't exist."

So, for the past 10 years, he has taught his students about evolution and the Supreme Court decisions that have said it is unconstitutional to teach creationism as a science. Then he asks them all to tell him -- anonymously in an essay -- what they think. Most, even those who are "young earth creationists" and believe that God created the Earth 6,000 years ago, have given what he calls thoughtful answers about how they would present the material in class. Only a few have refused, saying "it would be morally wrong to write anything that was in any way sympathetic to any other point of view," he said.

Intelligent Design?


Are the graduates of Michigan's public schools equipped with the know-how to perform well in workplace? There are grounds for serious doubt, whether you listen to businessmen or scholars.

For example, Lee Lynam, vice president for labor relations at Meijer headquarters in Grand Rapids, says employees just out of high school often lack the ability to think through a task or solve a problem on their own. "They have to be told what to do," she says, adding that the typical high school graduate as an entry-level employee "has a large problem understanding what business is all about. They don't engage with the customer. They lack the ability to process information."

At Kmart in Detroit, Karen Fauls, assistant human resources manager, says that the company looks for and tests entry-level employees, often fresh from school, for "common sense and reliability." This includes the "ability to adapt to new situations and work efficiently with others, and solve problems, which many don't seem to have."

Jeff Patulski, president of Amptec, a Free Soil-based firm that makes electronic circuit board assemblies, echoes Fauls's and Lynam's sentiments: "We have to spend weeks training new employees who just don't have the skills or ability to follow instructions."

The "skills" that these employers described are keys to workplace success — and are, in fact, basic components of intelligence.

Consider a recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a scholarly periodical published by the American Psychological Association. In the course of assessing the impact of IQ on personal health,[1] author Linda S. Gottfredson quotes a description of intelligence endorsed by 52 experts in the field: "Intelligence … involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking 'smarts.' Rather it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings — 'catching on,' 'making sense' of things, or 'figuring out' what to do."

Gottfredson notes that intelligence "affects job performance primarily indirectly by promoting faster and more effective learning of essential job knowledge during both training and experience on the job." She adds, however, "Higher levels of [intelligence] in the workplace also enhance job performance directly when jobs require workers to solve novel problems, plan, make decisions, and the like," with "increasingly large direct effects when jobs are less routinized or less closely supervised. …"

No doubt individuals possess varying levels of innate intelligence, but schools are supposed to cultivate it, not leave the task to employers. Businesses' and universities' complaints on this score are longstanding, and Michigan's efforts to redress the problem have not borne fruit.

A classic example is the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, which children take at different grade levels as they progress through school. The test measures knowledge of content standards developed by state educators, and the state-sponsored exam is meant to encourage all Michigan public schools to make sure students develop basic knowledge and skills.

But as Williamston School Superintendent Joel Raddatz notes, the MEAP "lacks the ability to test conceptional thinking and literacy that could be attained if students were, say, given several questions and had to elaborate on answering them in a blue book."

Why the effectiveness of MEAP is flawed was pointed out by Hillsdale College Professor Gary Wolfram in an op-ed for the Spring 2000 Michigan Education Report. Wolfram, a former member of the Michigan Board of Education, explained that the public school system "is actually a political system that itself determines what is taught, how it is taught, and how well it is taught, without much reference to the needs and desires of the parent and kids who use the system." This, observed Wolfram, is merely one of "several reasons why the MEAP is of questionable effectiveness when it comes to weighing how successfully school districts are meeting the needs of students."

Thus, MEAP exams do not provide effective avenues for entrepreneurs or parents to determine what the children learn. Nor do they necessarily measure intellectual characteristics most sought by employers.

As a consequence, schools can find it easy to graduate students with substandard learning and skills. Gottfredson, for instance, notes that "educational level [such as a 12th grade education] is a fallible guide to any particular individual's literacy level because education through high school represents only years of exposure to learning, not actual accomplishment." Remedial instruction is required by between 30 percent and 90 percent of all U.S. community college students, according to the Center for Community College Policy.

Big changes in Michigan's school systems are a must if the typical public school graduate is going to be anywhere near prepared for the needs of the workforce — especially a workforce called upon to meet the increasingly specialized and demanding jobs of the 21st Century.

Tait Trussell is an award-winning writer who collaborates on occasional projects with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

[1] "Intelligence: Is It the Epidemiologists' Elusive 'Fundamental Cause' of Social Class Inequalities in Health?" by Linda S. Gottfredson, January 2004 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 86, No. 1).

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Copyright © 2004 Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Another Dover school board member quits


Article Last Updated: Tuesday, December 07, 2004 - 11:00:54 AM EST

She says she was misled on intelligent design; now fears lawsuit

By HEIDI BERNHAD-BUBB For The York Dispatch

A third Dover Area school board member resigned last night over the inclusion of intelligent design theory in the biology curriculum.

Angie Zeigler-Yingling, one of six members who voted to include the controversial teachings in October, said she had changed her mind mostly because she believes the district will be sued and that it will burden the taxpayers.

Zeigler-Yingling made a motion to revisit the curriculum and said she was asking for a second only to put her vote on record. But no one seconded the motion.

"You've gotten your point across to the community, to the county and to the whole nation," she said to the board. "It's wrong, I think it's wrong, and you know it's wrong; it's against state and federal law, and you know it."

Change brought national attention: The Dover board set off a firestorm of controversy that has gained national attention when it added the following wording to the curriculum: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to Intelligent Design. The Origins of Life is not taught."

Proponents say intelligent design is a legitimate alternative to the theory of evolution; it says life is too complex to be explained by an undirected process, such as natural selection, and must have been created by an "intelligent agent."

Critics say the intelligent agent is God, and intelligent design is a veiled attempt to bring creationism -- and religion -- into schools. They argue it is not a legitimate scientific theory and should not be given equal weight with the theory of evolution, which is well-tested and supported by evidence.

A group of Dover residents has retained the legal services of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has put together a legal team that includes Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton.

The ACLU has not yet decided to file a lawsuit, with legal director Witold Walczak saying that the organization is still researching the matter; however, representatives have said that they may make a move before January, when the new curriculum is to be implemented.

Free legal aid in defense of the curriculum has been offered by the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based law firm dedicated to defending the re- ligious freedom of Christians and the sanctity of life.

Unclear what 'free aid' covers: However, Zeigler-Yingling and several former board members have said the district has no written contract with the firm. It is unclear whether the firm would pay for legal costs no matter the outcome of a suit and to what extent those services would cover.

After the meeting, Zeigler-Yingling said she would have stayed on the board if anyone had given her the courtesy of a second and a chance to put her opinion and vote on record.

She said she "absolutely regretted" her vote for the curriculum change in October and felt she had been misled by other board members about what the changes meant. Board members Jeff and Casey Brown quit in October, also disturbed by the curriculum change.

No opposing view: Some audience members said they understood Zeigler-Yingling's position, but urged her to reconsider.

"There is no longer an opposing view on the board, and they will just vote in another person who supports their agenda," said resident Cyndi Sneath.

Jeff Brown said he and Zeigler-Yingling could have stayed on the board to put in a minority opinion, but no one would have listened.

"They have accused us of not being team players, but if you disagree with them and don't do exactly what they want, you are off the team anyways," he said.

Bill Miller, Dover Area Education Association representative, said that "it was unfortunate that there was no second (to Zeigler-Yingling's motion) because the discussion had merit and the union's and science department's position had not changed."

Miller said the science department does not know how to answer student questions that may arise and wants specific direction from the board and administration.

"We don't want to be the ones making decisions and answering the questions," said Miller, who said the science department would take no part in developing answers.

Zeigler-Yingling's term would have ended next year. Her position will be the fifth open in the past six weeks. In addition to the Browns' resignations, two members quit to move away.

New members Sherrie Leber, Ronald Short, the Rev. Edward Rowand and Eric Riddle were chosen from among 13 candidates last month.

To fill Zeigler-Yingling's position, the board will have to seek candidates who will serve a one-year term, but can run for election next year when there are three two-year terms and four four-year terms on the ballot.

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

Local board member who voted for 'intelligent design' resigns


12/7/2004, 11:38 a.m. ET
The Associated Press

DOVER, Pa. (AP) — A school board member who voted for requiring the teaching of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in high school biology classes resigned after failing to get the board to reconsider its vote.

"It's wrong, it's all wrong," said Angie Yingling, who announced her resignation from the Dover Area School Board at a board meeting Monday.

Yingling was among the majority who voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 to mandate "intelligent design," a concept that attributes the universe's complexity to the work of an undefined intelligent force. Dover is believed to be the first school district in the nation to impose such a requirement, which critics call a veiled form of the Biblical notion of creationism.

Two of the dissenting board members, Carol Brown and her husband, Jeff Brown, resigned in protest after the vote.

At Monday's board meeting, Yingling made a motion calling for the board to revisit the decision — saying changes were needed to avoid lawsuits over the policy — but no one seconded the motion.

"We've got our point across to the local, state and national levels," Yingling said. "But taxpayers have told me they can't afford any lawsuits over this."

Yingling said that when she voted for the policy, she merely wanted the high school to be able to use an intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins," as a reference book.

"I feel as though I've been misled throughout this whole thing," she said.

Board President Sheila Harkins, who also voted for the curriculum change, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Tuesday.

Russian State Duma Kicks Scientologists out of Parliamentary Building


Created: 07.12.2004 18:16 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 18:16 MSK


State Duma deputies dispersed an exhibit organized by the Church of Scientology in Russia's central parliamentary building on Tuesday.

The exhibit, entitled "Law, Society and Psychiatry", was organized in the parliamentary building in Moscow by the Russian branch of the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights, a group set up in the United States by the Church of Scientology.

The exhibit was only on display for 25 minutes before it was broken up by angry Duma deputies, the Interfax news agency reported.

Initially, the exhibit was approved by a Duma committee on civil legislation, as the Citizen's Commission does not advertise itself as a Church of Scientology branch.

The church, which speaks out against the use of traditional psychiatry, is widely seen as a cult in Russia.

The Health Ministry ordered Scientologists, reportedly counseling victims of a September hostage-taking, out of Beslan.

Epilepsy, Alternative Medicine May Not Mix


Some Products May Be Risky When Taken With Epilepsy Treatments

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Medical News
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
on Monday, December 06, 2004

Dec. 6, 2004 -- Many people with epilepsy use complementary and alternative medical products, but some of those items may conflict with traditional epilepsy treatments.

Such products can include vitamin/mineral supplements as well as herbal and natural products. They're available over the counter and are widely used for a variety of health concerns.

However, those products aren't necessarily proven remedies and may have unwanted side effects. To be on the safe side, patients are encouraged to tell their doctors about any products they're taking.

But that doesn't always happen, as a recent survey of 187 people with epilepsy (or their caregivers) showed. The survey was conducted by Marie Plunkett and colleagues from the University of California at San Francisco. They reported their findings in New Orleans at the American Epilepsy Society's annual meeting.

More than half (56%) reported using some sort of complementary or alternative medical product. But only 68% of those patients had let their doctors know about it.

They would probably be surprised to learn that some complementary and alternative medicine products might cause an increase in seizures or affect the metabolism of seizure medication. "Over one quarter of these persons used products containing ingredients with the potential to either increase the occurrence of seizures or alter hepatic drug clearance [liver metabolism]," say the researchers.

Almost 14% of complementary and alternative users took products containing ingredients that had the potential to increase seizure occurrence. Those ingredients include ephedra, ginseng, evening primrose, and ginkgo, the researchers report.

In addition, almost a fifth of complementary and alternative medicine users took products that could interfere with the metabolism of their epilepsy medication. St. John's wort, echinacea, and garlic might affect liver enzymes that influence the body's response to medicine, say the researchers.

Vitamin/mineral supplements were the most popular products, with 83 users in the survey group. Those products weren't flagged by the researchers for possible epilepsy interactions.

Most people said they took complementary and alternative products to improve general health, supplement their diet, or follow their doctor's recommendations. Only six patients said they used complementary and alternative medicine specifically to improve their epilepsy or to counteract side effects from their epilepsy medications.

No life-threatening events due to complementary and alternative medicine were reported in the survey. Patients using those products weren't more likely to have frequent seizures or negative side effects from their antiepileptic drugs.

Still, there is reason for caution, say the researchers. They call for more studies to weigh the risks and benefits of complementary and alternative medicine for people with epilepsy.

SOURCE: American Epilepsy Society's 58th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Dec. 3-7, 2004.

Teach creationism, evolution together


Bernard Diaz
Pembroke Pines
Posted December 7 2004

With respect to science and the Darwinian theory of evolution (re "If it's supernatural, it's just not science"), are we citizens, and the field of science and inquiry more interested in truth or the status quo?

Natural science, as most students should know, is predicated upon making sound judgments and hypotheses based on empirical data or evidence. In terms of the critical and life-altering question of the existence of God and the origins of life and our species, empirical data cannot by definition test the theories of supernatural origins or macro-evolution.

God, creation and evolution cannot be proven or disproven by natural science. However, only one theory can be fundamentally true as they are in direct opposition to each other. If we are in the search for truth, instead of the status quo, then the question should be evolution or theism or intelligent design, "Where does the existing evidence point"?

Thus, both competing theories should be presented side by side and classifed as such, as a growing number of states would like to do, and as Florida should as well.

John Lennon's encounter with aliens


December 7, 2004, 11:47:25

John Lennon once had an encounter with aliens, according to physic Uri Geller.

The legendary Beatle, who was murdered in 1980, told Uri he was visited by extra-terrestrials when he was in bed with wife Yoko Ono in 1975.

He explained to Uri, who told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper: "I was asleep in my bed, with Yoko in the Dakota Building.

And suddenly, I wasn't asleep. There was this blazing light, shining through the door.

It was like someone was out there with searchlights, or the apartment was on fire.

"I leapt out of bed and there were four people. They were little, bug-like creatures, with big bug eyes and little bug mouths and they were scuttling at me like roaches."

Lennon insisted he wasn't on drugs and definitely saw the 'aliens'.

He added: "I wasn't high. I've been high a lot of times, and I never saw anything on LSD that was as weird as those f***in' bugs. "I wasn't dreaming and I wasn't tripping."

Lennon also claimed the beings had given him a metal, egg-like object before they left, which he gave to Geller, saying: "It's too weird.

If it's my ticket to another planet, I don't want to go there."

In Wisconsin, Local School Board Adopts Improved Policy Endorsing the Teaching of Evolution, Not Creationism


Press Release
Source: Discovery Institute

Tuesday December 7, 10:39 am ET

MADISON, Wis., Dec. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- After weeks of public debate, by a vote of 6-1 the school board of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, adopted a revised policy on the teaching of evolution at a special meeting on December 6, which states that "Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory."

The new policy makes clear that the school board is not authorizing the teaching of either creationism or the scientific theory of intelligent design.

"Students are the real winners here, because now they will be able to study all the relevant scientific evidence relating to evolutionary theory, not just a skewed selection of the evidence," said Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

"This revised policy eliminates any ambiguity in earlier versions and makes clear that the new policy is focused on science, not religion," added attorney Seth Cooper, also with Discovery Institute.

The Center for Science and Culture is the nation's leading think-tank supporting teaching students more about evolution, including peer-reviewed scientific criticisms of the theory.

The full text of the policy adopted by the school board in Grantsburg reads: "Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design."

The adoption of the Grantsburg policy follows a number of similar actions in other states earlier in 2004. In March, the Ohio State Board of Education adopted a statewide model lesson plan on the "critical analysis of evolution." In May, the Minnesota legislature enacted a science standard requiring students to be able "to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including... [the] theory of evolution...."

Cooper noted that there are now hundreds of scientists who are raising criticisms of modern evolutionary theory, also known as "neo-Darwinism."

"If scientists can debate neo-Darwinism on scientific grounds," he asked, "what's wrong with students learning about some of these debates in biology class?"

About Discovery Institute

Discovery Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, public-policy, think tank which promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Current projects include: technology, the economy, science and culture, regional transportation, and the bi-national region of "Cascadia."

Source: Discovery Institute

BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change


Science, Vol 306, Issue 5702, 1686 , 3 December 2004
[DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618]

Naomi Oreskes

Policy-makers and the media, particularly in the United States, frequently assert that climate science is highly uncertain. Some have used this as an argument against adopting strong measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, while discussing a major U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on the risks of climate change, then-EPA administrator Christine Whitman argued, "As [the report] went through review, there was less consensus on the science and conclusions on climate change" (1). Some corporations whose revenues might be adversely affected by controls on carbon dioxide emissions have also alleged major uncertainties in the science (2). Such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. This is not the case.

The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC's purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature (3). In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: "Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents ... that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" [p. 21 in (4)].

IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. For example, the National Academy of Sciences report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, begins: "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise" [p. 1 in (5)]. The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and answers yes: "The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue" [p. 3 in (5)].

Others agree. The American Meteorological Society (6), the American Geophysical Union (7), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling (8).

The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies' members. Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions. That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords "climate change" (9).

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts, developing methods, or studying paleoclimatic change might believe that current climate change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point.

This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the public statements of their professional societies. Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.

The scientific consensus might, of course, be wrong. If the history of science teaches anything, it is humility, and no one can be faulted for failing to act on what is not known. But our grandchildren will surely blame us if they find that we understood the reality of anthropogenic climate change and failed to do anything about it.

Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have repeatedly tried to make this clear. It is time for the rest of us to listen.

References and Notes

1.A. C. Revkin, K. Q. Seelye, New York Times, 19 June 2003, A1.
2.S. van den Hove, M. Le Menestrel, H.-C. de Bettignies, Climate Policy 2 (1), 3 (2003).
3.See www.ipcc.ch/about/about.htm.
4.J. J. McCarthy et al., Eds., Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2001).
5.National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Science of Climate Change, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions (National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2001).
6.American Meteorological Society, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 84, 508 (2003).
7.American Geophysical Union, Eos 84 (51), 574 (2003).
8.See www.ourplanet.com/aaas/pages/atmos02.html.
9.The first year for which the database consistently published abstracts was 1993. Some abstracts were deleted from our analysis because, although the authors had put "climate change" in their key words, the paper was not about climate change.
10.This essay is excerpted from the 2004 George Sarton Memorial Lecture, "Consensus in science: How do we know we're not wrong," presented at the AAAS meeting on 13 February 2004. I am grateful to AAAS and the History of Science Society for their support of this lectureship; to my research assistants S. Luis and G. Law; and to D. C. Agnew, K. Belitz, J. R. Fleming, M. T. Greene, H. Leifert, and R. C. J. Somerville for helpful discussions.


The author is in the Department of History and Science Studies Program, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA. E-mail: noreskes@ucsd.edu

My night of terror in a haunted house

Nov 20 2004


By Duncan Gibbons

"A night of terror" is how a man described the time he spent in what is said to be one of Warwickshire's most haunted houses.

Michael Chapman was one of 10 people who spent the night at Shrieves House Barn, in Sheep Street, Stratford.

The 500-year-old building, now home to Falstaffs Experience museum, is said to be a hotbed of paranormal activity.

Mr Chapman, 48, a fine art expert from a village near Stratford, said the ancient building soon revealed its dark secrets.

Volunteers reported feeling dizzy, sick and breathless, and felt icy chills and pains.

He said one woman suffered bruising after being hit on the head by a mystery object and others watched as a picture moved to and fro on the wall.

A photo was taken which is said to show the ghost of an eight-year-old girl who wanders the medieval hallways.

Mr Chapman and his daughter Melissa, 17, were the only two people brave enough to last the whole night - but it is a night they will not forget.

"We were total sceptics. I always thought the dead will never hurt you but now I am not so sure. We felt icy cold, saw flashing lights and I could smell burning - there was a fire here once in which people died.

"I am the most level-headed person there is - but there are things in there that left me thinking perhaps there is more to this world. Even the mediums had to leave.

"I don't believe in heaven and hell but I have to say it's got me guessing. It's a very spooky place." Melissa, a student, said: "I was one of those people who thought this life is all we have - now I am open-minded about everything.

"Something was pulling and shaking me on the night and things have been happening to me since I left. I was at college and someone kicked the chair from under me but there was nobody there. I've also felt a presence at home and in the car."

Other members of the group who stayed in the house at Halloween also said strange events had happened to them afterwards.

Dave Matthews, a white witch and owner of Could It Be Magic, in Shrieves Walk, said he returned to his shop at 3am to find it icy cold. He reports hearing mysterious footsteps and seeing objects being moved around. He then felt a sharp pain in his arm and believes he was followed by an evil spirit.

Another member of the group said she returned home to find the cupboard doors in her kitchen opening and closing and the contents on the floor.

Steve Devey, who owns the museum, said: "We are astounded but not surprised at the level of unexplained paranormal activity."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Ayurveda to be Introduced in U.S. Medical Curriculum


Special to India-West

For the first time, Ayurveda will be taught as an accredited course in U.S. medical schools, with Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut Medical School already expressing readiness and a host of other schools lined up. An 11-hour course, taught by Ayurveda experts flown in from India, is all set to open new vistas for Ayurveda in the U.S. as medical students are taught how it can help with some of the intractable chronic diseases that frustrate Western medicine.

The razzle-dazzle of state-of-the-art surgery or latest wonder drugs from biotech firms notwithstanding, more Americans are becoming aware of the limits of Western medicine, particularly when it comes to providing long-standing relief to chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension or skin ailments.

So whether it's acupuncture or shiatsu massage, an interest in alternative medicine is no longer a New Age, California thing-more and more mainstream Americans are looking into answers that alternative medicine can provide.

The place of Ayurveda-the ancient Indian art of healing-in this pantheon of alternative medical schools is a bit unclear. That's about to change, with the introduction of Ayurveda into the U.S. medical curriculum, the result of sustained efforts by Indian American community activist Dr. Navin Shah. Shah, a Maryland-based urologist, is spearheading a three-pronged approach that could open the door in the U.S. to Ayurvedic health practices.

The full story appears in the print edition of India-West. To subscribe, click on the Subscribe link on the India-West Web site or email info@indiawest.com.

Science manipulates Darwin's theory of evolution


By Murvale H. Moore Jr./ CNC Columnist
Thursday, December 2, 2004

The current flap over the Christian Right's efforts to introduce the teaching of Creationism into public schools to supplant environmentalism upsets me. To me, the essence of both positions is very simple. People who accept creationism support its validity by saying that the universe is too magnificent to have happened by accident. Thus, they make the leap of faith that, "In the beginning" God (who happened by accident, I guess) created it. I find that no easier to "understand" than the concept that a gigantic chemistry set was the beginning and slowly became the universe as we know it today. In other words, I think that man will never know how it all began. Nevertheless, I think the more we understand how the process works, the better we can avoid becoming yet another extinct species. I believe that our present abuse of the planet (through misapplication of our limited understanding of science) has us on a path to extinction - eventually. Moreover, our prayers and continual beseeching, "God bless America," are not going to slow the process one bit.

ACLU sues school board over 'creation' stickers


By CE Staff Reporter

ATLANTA, Ga. — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a Georgia school district for discrimination saying that its science textbook stickers promote religion and creationism.

The stickers, used by the Cobb County school district, tells students that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." The sticker also tells students that the material on evolution should be approached with "an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." The ACLU maintains that the disclaimer, which makes no mention of creationism or religion, promotes the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions.

Cobb County school officials adopted the disclaimer in 2002 after a sizable group of parents criticized its science textbooks for presenting the theory of evolution as fact. More than 2,000 people signed a petition opposing the biology textbooks because they did not discuss alternative theories, including creationism. The school system struck a compromise by approving the stickers, which informed students that evolution is merely a theory. The school board also approved a policy that "under no circumstances" should a school employee teach personal religious beliefs.

Despite the fact that the sticker doesn't mention religion, a small group of parents banded together to sue the school system, saying the board was implicitly endorsing religion. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the parents, and a trial began Nov. 8.

A lawyer for the school district, Linwood Gunn, said it was silly to consider the stickers a promotion of religion.

"It doesn't say anything about faith. It doesn't say anything about religion," he told the court.

The parent who led a petition drive that pushed for the stickers, Marjorie Rogers, testified that the stickers were needed because science books discriminate against people who believe men were created by God, not through evolution.

"My problem is that only Darwinian evolution is presented. None of the criticism is presented," Rogers said.

EP News
Published by Keener Communications Group, December 2004

Sect Took Out Loans Ahead of 'Doomsday'


Dec 6, 2:20 PM (ET)


EPHRAIM, Utah (AP) - For more than a decade, a 9,000-member polygamist sect that believed civilization was about to end was borrowing money like there was no tomorrow.

Members of the sect - a renegade Mormon splinter group called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - took out one loan after another from the small-town Bank of Ephraim for business ventures that would prove highly speculative, even half-baked.

One loan went toward a watermelon farm, but not a single melon was ever planted and the bank had to foreclose on the farm. Another loan was taken out by a business that planned to convert military barracks into motels and housing. The venture, in which the church was a partner, collapsed when the barracks were found to have lead paint, asbestos and other hazards. Still another loan was made to a construction company that so underbid municipal sewer and street contracts it was unable to pay for materials, let alone labor. The bank had to write off that loan, too.

Ultimately, the bad loans - along with the embezzlement of nearly $5 million by the bank's head cashier - would lead to the collapse of the 99-year-old bank. Regulators shut it down in June at a cost of millions to shareholders and ordinary depositors who had nothing to do with the sect.

A bank failure was "the last thing in my mind," said Chevrolet dealer Ron Greene, who lost about $100,000. "I thought of it as the Rock of Gibraltar."

The Bank of Ephraim had profited for many years from higher-interest loans to the sect, whose members live in the twin cities of Hildale and Colorado City astride the Utah-Arizona state line. But eventually the bank "got in too deep," investing heavily in increasingly risky ventures with sect members who "didn't have much to lose," Utah Banking Supervisor Jim Thomas said.

"They were locked into a community that is - not normal," Thomas said.

Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are a jumble of unfinished houses on dirt streets, where residents follow a strict pioneer-style dress code of long dresses, high collars and long hair for the women, and plain white shirts and dark trousers for the men. The men take multiple wives, producing dozens of children who supply cheap labor for business.

The insular sect is run by the reclusive Warren Jeffs, who lives in a compound surrounded by a 10-foot wall. Jeffs, 48, demands total obedience from his flock, and his church takes a share of business profits from members. He is buying ranches in Colorado and Tex as for what authorities believe may be an exodus.

Jeffs does not grant interviews, and an attorney for the church, Rodney Parker, did not return calls for comment.

Keith Church, who joined the bank as president in 2000, said that after it failed, he learned from several people in the business community that sect members had taken a secret oath in 2000 to borrow as much money as they could to prepare for the day that civilization - along with the financial markets - collapsed.

Sect members who wanted to take out loans from the bank were allowed to put up a dubious form of collateral: their rights to use church land for business purposes.

At one point, the amount of money borrowed by members of the sect amounted to around $18 million, or about 90 percent of the institution's loan portfolio - three times higher than what prudent bank management dictates, regulators said. According to the state, an embezzlement scheme by cashier Randy K. McArthur finally pushed the bank over the edge. He pleaded guilty in September to bank fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

Investigators blamed the loan losses on poor business decisions, not outright fraud.

Church said he puts much of the blame for the bank's failure on a lack of aggressive oversight by regulators. He said he was trying to clean up the mess by calling in bad loans and lining up investors when the state shut the place down.

Many of the bank's customers accused regulators of tolerating the loans until the coming of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics ushered in a renewed crackdown by Utah law enforcement on polygamists.

With the collapse, 13 of 30 bank employees lost their jobs and pensions, and some must sell their houses. The bank's failure also left 50 uninsured depositors, including turkey farmers, the Chevy dealer and a state college, with a combined $3.6 million in losses. Many were small-business owners who learned too late that deposits over $100,000 are uninsured.

At Moroni Feed Co., which sells the Norbest brand of turkey, a $250,000 loss "comes right out of the pocket" of 65 family farms already struggling because of depressed prices, cooperative President David P. Bailey said.

"It's gone - our retirement," said Terrie Green, co-owner with her husband of Central Utah Title Co., a real estate title service. They lost $84,000.

Small-business owners mourned the passing of a friendly bank that gave them easy terms.

Ernest "Gus" Augustus, who opened a new restaurant on Main Street here, no longer has a $15,000 line of credit and said "you can't get a dime" out of other Utah banks.


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