Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
December 29, 2004 ::
Tom Cruise may not be a "Top Gun" any more, but the actor has become the top cheerleader for the Church of Scientology and he recently received a medal for it.
Mr. Cruise was awarded the so-called "Freedom Medal of Valor" according to this month's issue of International Scientology News.
Pictured with the gaudy gold medal embedded with diamonds hanging around his neck the film star that has never won an Oscar looks happy.
Photos of Tom Cruise receiving his award and subsequently being saluted by Scientology's supreme leader David Miscavige can be seen on the Web site of Dave Touretzsky, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
The medal award ceremony though, actually took place in Great Britain two months ago.
The current headline reads, "Advancing Scientology on a Fully Epic Scale."
And the Scientology news article goes on gushing about Tom Cruise's "mission accomplishments" as follows:
"Spearheading LRH [L. Ron Hubbard] Purification tech into the heart of human disaster," which is a nod to the actor's efforts in New York City regarding controversial "detoxification clinics."
"Changing the face of education at national levels," seemingly a reference to Cruise promoting Scientology's "study tech."
"Eradicating the very thought of psychiatry," Cruise shocked the public when he told one reporter that "psychiatry should be outlawed."
The tally counted by Scientology for Tom Cruise reads rather impressively.
He has reached "250 million people" with "study tech."
"50 million people" with his warnings about the "evil of psychiatry."
The Hollywood star has reportedly touted the religion "across 90 nations."
And a purported "5,000 people hear his word of Scientology – every hour," the publication claims.
"Every minute, of every hour-someone reaches for LRH technology…simply because they know Tom Cruise is a Scientologist," says International Scientology News.
But is that a good thing considering the troubled history of this church, which after all has been called a "cult"?
Maybe Cruise is "Tom Terrific" for Scientologists, but to many of the church's alleged victims and critics he is more like a "cult recruiter."
Scientology has eight Operating Thetan or OT levels and Mr. Cruise has almost made it to the top. He reportedly is now an "OT VI" and in the process of becoming an "OT VII."
But moving up the OT levels can be quite expensive, a journey many of his religious brethren cannot easily afford.
However, within the luxurious, cocoon-like and pampered existence of celebrity Scientologists this doesn't seem to cause much concern.
"I think it's a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist," Cruise told those gathered at the award ceremony.
"That's what drives me," he said. "I know that we have an opportunity to really help for the first time, effectively change people's lives and I am dedicated to that. I'm absolutely, uncompromisingly dedicated to that."
Other sources have been somewhat less sanguine in their assesment of Scientology.
Time Magazine called the organization the "Cult of Greed… a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner."
But Mr. Cruise apparently doesn't care. After all he's got his medal.
[Posted by Rick Ross at 01:03 PM][Link]
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Roy G. Miles
Miles, of Roanoke, is retired from Virginia Western Community College, where he was professor of geology.
Linda Whitlock recently wrote a commentary headlined "Intelligent design merits equal time with evolution" (Dec. 17). It would take more than an entire issue of The Roanoke Times to present the vast amount of evidence for evolution, which ranges across biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, paleontology and even physics.
Evolution is a theory (in the scientific sense) based on more than a century and a half of accumulated evidence - evidence that continues to grow and be detailed by myriad modern researchers. The hypothesis of intelligent design is a hopeful belief in search of evidence. Books written by proponents such as William Dembski are full of complex explanations, abstruse statistics and impressive sounding terms like "irreducible complexity."
However, if one seriously examines the argument for intelligent design, it boils down to this: Ignore all the positive evidence for evolution. Focus only on any biological aspects that have not yet been explained. If the origin and/or development of a biological process has not yet been explained by science, (e.g., certain molecular biological processes) then it must have been created by someone or something.
For example, it is said that 14 factors are required for the clotting of blood. Science apparently has not yet been able to explain how these factors evolved. Therefore, according to the creationists, because all 14 of these have to be present they could not have evolved gradually. Voila! They had to be created - all at the same time.
Let's be rational. Much of the evidence of evolution is preserved in the fossil record. Almost all fossils consist of hard parts (shells, bones) or impressions in soft sediments. Is it likely that there would be a fossil record of blood? Changes involving soft tissue, let alone fluids, are most unlikely to be preserved.
Whitlock states that "the scientific community now insists that legitimate scientific inquiry must begin with the premise that the natural world is all that exists," perhaps implying that scientists don't believe in God - a common misconception of creationists. Many scientists are very religious, but the point is that the exclusion of the supernatural is a necessity of scientific investigation.
For example, suppose that a suspect's blood has been found at the scene of a murder. Would a jury believe the argument that some of the victim's DNA was magically transformed into that of the suspect? Scientific investigations must exclude supernatural effects. How could a new cancer drug be developed if magic or the supernatural were invoked to explain certain observations? I would emphasize that this does not mean that scientists exclude God in their personal lives, but that science rests on the observable, the facts.
I would like to make clear that many specifics of the theory of evolution have not yet been explained, and this gives rise to differences of opinion among scientists. But they all believe in the basic concept of natural selection; they are only arguing details.
Reasonable refutation or explanation could be given to many other comments of Whitlock's, but I will quote just one more. She says, "Regardless of which faith scientists start from, however, they should, as Antony Flew has done, '[f]ollow the evidence, wherever it leads.'"
I couldn't agree more, because there is no evidence for intelligent design. It is based solely on gaps in the record or as yet unexplained aspects of evolution, human physiology, molecular biology, etc. No experiments are done using the hypothesis of intelligent design. No drugs or other products have been developed from application of the concept.
The accumulation of countless observations and facts has resulted in the development and confirmation of the theory of evolution. Intelligent design is the reverse. It is based on a belief in search of evidence. It is not science and therefore should not be taught as part of a science class.
© Copyright 2004
Thursday, December 30, 2004
By WALT WILLIAMS, Chronicle Staff Writer
Two proposed bills would tackle the debate over teaching evolution from both sides of the issue, with one bill giving schools more authority to teach alternatives to evolution while the other would reaffirm the state's support for the scientific theory.
Both were inspired by a situation in Darby where the local school board voted in an "objective origins" policy critics claimed would have snuck a variant of creationism into science classrooms. They will be taken up by the Montana Legislature when lawmakers convene next year.
Sen. Ken Toole, D-Helena, is sponsoring a resolution reaffirming the state's commitment to separation of church and state and to teaching valid scientific principles, which in his mind rules out creationism.
On the other side, Rep. Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, has introduced a bill that would give schools more leeway to teach "intelligent design" in science classrooms.
In an e-mail response to a request for an interview, Koopman said that few people realize that the scientific evidence disputing evolution is just as strong as the evidence supporting it.
"The only time religious bias becomes a factor is when people try to ban scientific data that supports intelligent design, because they insist that only an atheistic model of origins should be taught," he wrote.
Intelligent design posits that life is too complex to have evolved through the natural processes of evolution.
Critics contend that intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in disguise, something its proponents deny. They say that intelligent design, unlike Biblical-based creationism, doesn't say who or what the intelligent designer is and therefore isn't religion.
It's an important distinction because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that creationism is religion and can't be taught as science in public schools.
Toole sees intelligent design as only the latest version of creationism.
"It is, I think, a rather clever way to try to get around the fact they're promoting a Biblical interpretation of history," he said.
The issue came to a head in Darby earlier this year when the school board there adopted a policy that would have allowed the teaching of intelligent design. Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch said at the time the district risked losing some funding for adopting the policy.
In the end, voters in Darby voted in a new school board that rescinded the policy, but not before the story became national news.
Toole said that in recent years Christian fundamentalist groups have been trying to force creationism on schools across the country.
He points to Kansas, where the state school board erased the mention of evolution from its science standards in 1999. More recently, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district for requiring the teaching of intelligent design.
Koopman is just as worried about the state forcing its standards on local school boards, saying he wants "to put an end to the kind of heavy-handed bureaucratic meddling that recently occurred at the Darby schools."
Toole's bill also contains a provision reaffirming the right of local school districts to adopt science curriculums, given those curriculums are based on valid scientific principals.
Walt Williams is at firstname.lastname@example.org
Story last updated at 11:39 p.m. Thursday, December 30, 2004
By JOHN HANNA
The Associated Press
TOPEKA - A committee assigned to rewrite state science standards has postponed public hearings on its proposals so it can address concerns raised by members of the State Board of Education about teaching evolution.
The committee had planned four hearings next month on standards that would continue to describe evolution as one of a few key scientific concepts students must understand, which the existing standards do. Hearings will now be in February, said Steve Case, the committee's co-chairman, on Wednesday.
The committee presented proposed standards to the Board of Education earlier this month. But some board members criticized their effort, questioning whether the committee had properly considered views about teaching creationism or other ideas alongside evolution.
Also, eight of the 26 committee members presented proposed changes designed to expose students to information that is critical of evolution. They told the board they wanted to spur critical analysis to avoid turning evolution "into a dogma."
Case said his committee already was scheduled to meet again Jan. 27, so postponing the public hearings a month seemed the best way to deal with board members' concerns.
In 1999, the board approved standards that removed most references to evolution, leading to international criticism. Two years later, after an election, a new board majority approved the current evolution-friendly standards.
State law requires academic standards, which are used to develop statewide tests for students, to be updated periodically.
For two years, the board has been split 5-5 between conservatives and other members, who are comfortable with the science committee's work. Conservatives gained a 6-4 majority in this year's elections; that majority takes office in January.
The conservatives contend students should learn about disagreements on topics such as how the Earth was formed and the development of humans.
Besides creationism, which holds life and the Earth were created by God from nothing, other theories include intelligent design, a secular form of creationism that argues the Earth was created by a series of intelligent events, not random chance. Evolution says that species change in response to environmental and genetic factors over the course of many generations.
Board member John Bacon, an Olathe Republican who has questioned the committee's work, said he is pleased the committee is delaying its public hearings.
"I think it's a wise move," he said. "I think they were trying to rush things too much."
Board member Sue Gamble, who supported the current evolution-friendly standards, said she's not concerned about the delay. She said the proposal of the eight dissenting committee members should be reviewed - believing they wouldn't stand up to scientific scrutiny.
"It would be really helpful if somebody was challenging their language," Gamble said.
December 30, 2004
Recently I saw some news segments that featured debate on whether the teaching of Intelligent Design, should be curriculum taught along side of evolution in public school science classes. The individual taking the side of evolution was cornered at one point, regarding the origin of matter itself. He repeated the often heard mantra that the universe and corresponding matter composing it simply have always existed. What a classic example of "blind religious faith," I thought, particularly for someone who persists in characterizing the issue as science versus faith.
The first time that I heard the concept of evolution presented as a religion or philosophy, I snickered at the audacity of such a proposition. But the more I have taken notice of how the arguments are made, the more I see the religious aspects of the evolutionary position.
Let's draw an imperfect, but illustrative analogy to the position of the atheist above. Suppose I come home from work one day noticing that my neighbor's long grass has been cut. I say to my wife that my neighbor must have cut the grass with his lawnmower. My wife demurs, saying that the grass cut itself. Are these equivalently sufficient explanations as to how the lawn was cut? In one case we have a purposeful and intelligent agent, using a specific means to accomplish a goal. In the other case, you have an inanimate object acted upon itself without purpose. And notice that the explanation of the neighbor cutting the grass with his lawnmower is meaningful, without any discussion of where the neighbor, lawnmower or the grass came from. In like manner, saying that matter has always existed, is not an equivalent argument to saying that the universe was created by God.
Another canard employed in this debate, is that evolution is "scientific," whereas ID is religious mythology. But does evolution itself qualify as a scientific theory, or like Creationism, is it a metaphysical theory? Anyone who has taken an introductory class in the Philosophy of Science, knows a few basic tenets regarding scientific inquiry. First of all, only observational or naturalistic evidence is accepted. If the inquirer asks a how or why question, then develops a hypothesis, it must be testable, and thus subject to falsification before it can move beyond that point. In which respects can any evolutionary theory meet this test? The evolutionist who says that the "fact"of evolution proves the non-existence of God, must derive such information outside the parameters of empirical scientific methods — a realm that he claims contains no meaningful truth. Thus, such a claim is that of religious dogmatism. Any masonry regardless of its ornate design or quality composition cannot be stacked four feet in mid air without a solid foundation. Those who claim evolutionary theories can do away with the need for God are attempting to do just that philosophically speaking.
There is also a question of evidence. No evidence is neutral in the sense that it requires no interpretations. Interpretations themselves depend on the assumptions of the interpreter. This, at least in part, accounts for discrepancies of opinion in those who say there are no transitional forms in the fossil record, and those who claim there are many. It seems curious though, that some evolutionists and non-theists, such as Stephen J. Gould and Francis Crick, were not comfortable with the classical Darwinian paradigm of gradual changes via natural selection. Both came up with theories of origin, which made the need for intermediate types a non factor. Why would that be expedient if it were not essential?
But there are logical dilemmas that must be accounted for in any cogent philosophical analysis of theory formation. In Gould's model of "punctuated equilibrium," we see evolution happening in fits and starts, rather than more gradually. But if adaptations of the species by natural selection (survival of the fittest), to environmental changes, are the catalyst of classic Darwinian theory, what mechanism propels change in Gould's paradigm? Imagine a group of engineers with the task of making motor vehicles more fuel efficient. They agree that by removing the engine, they will make the vehicle lighter and more aerodynamic, thus accomplishing the objective. But do you suppose that by closing the hood, they can hide the fact, or convince anyone, that the vehicle can be propelled with the energy source removed?
In Crick's theory, we see the formation of intelligence on earth as a function of a more progression race from outer space (directed panspermia). But this assertion results in an infinite regress that does nothing to eliminate the need for God as the initial uncaused cause. How can Crick's hypothesis be seen as anything more than a non-theistic version of blind religious faith? Here we see brilliant men willing to run a fool's errand on a treadmill suspended over a quicksand pit. And for what reason — to rationalize away the existence of God?
Of course I will get many angry replies to what I have said so far. I will be told that I misrepresented these ideas; that I am an idiot; or that my ignorance is neglecting the details and the technical nomenclature of these propositions. And that is generally the way the argument is debated. Either you believe in evolution by default, or else there is no place for you at the table of credibility. There is no objective forum to convey honest skepticism without banishment.
We must also denounce the farce of objectivity. Science is supposed to take you where the evidence leads, and must have a patina of skepticism about it. Yet how many evolutionists are rooting for the universe to be a specific way, namely without an ultimate purpose or meaning. I have noted in previous editorials, statements by either Gould, professor Nagel, and Aldous Huxley, that are steeped in this sort of bias. That is religion and not science.
I don't believe ID is necessarily science, in the way science has been defined in this piece. ID simply asks the question of whether the data can be best understood according to the presumption that the universe was generated through spontaneous creation. We ought to conduct an investigation to find out. Both evolution and ID are metaphysical theories. If academic freedom is paramount, where one treads, the other should be allowed to follow.
BOZEMAN -- Two state lawmakers have drafted bills tackling the debate over teaching evolution, one giving schools more authority to teach alternatives and the other reaffirming the state's support for the Darwinian theory.
Both were driven by curriculum changes in Darby schools earlier this year that mandates the discussion of "intelligent design" theory in science classes.
Sen. Ken Toole, D-Helena, is sponsoring a resolution that would reaffirm the state's commitment to separation of church and state and to teaching valid scientific principles, which in his mind would rule out creationism.
On the other side of the spectrum, Rep. Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, has introduced a bill that would give schools more leeway to teach intelligent design and other alternatives to evolution in the classroom.
In an e-mail response to a request for an interview, Koopman said few people realize that the scientific evidence disputing evolution is just as strong as the evidence supporting it.
"The only time religious bias becomes a factor is when people try to ban scientific data that supports intelligent design, because they insist that only an atheistic model of origins should be taught," he wrote.
The theory of creationism states that life and the Earth were created by God from nothing, while intelligent design, a secular form of creationism, argues the Earth was created by a series of intelligent events, not random chance. Evolution says that species change in response to environmental and genetic factors over the course of many generations.
Critics contend intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in disguise, but proponents say the theory isn't religious because it doesn't state who or what the intelligent designer is. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that creationism is religion and cannot be taught as science in public schools. Toole sees intelligent design as the latest version of creationism.
"It is, I think, a rather clever way to try to get around the fact that they're promoting a Biblical interpretation of history," he said. Koopman is worried the state is forcing its standards on local school boards, saying he wants "to put an end to the kind of heavy-handed bureaucratic meddling that recently occurred at the Darby schools."
Copyright © 2004 Associated Press.
Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprise
From Stephen Wagner,
Your Guide to Paranormal Phenomena.
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It's a weird world we live in, and 2004 was not a disappointment when it comes to reports of paranormal phenomena. It's difficult coming up with the "top ten" events among the many ghost reports, monster sightings, psychic experiences and other mysteries of the unexplained, but here, in no particular order, are ten of the most interesting.
1. Ghostly Discoveries
The Psychic and the Ghost of a Murdered Girl – The Wheatsheaf pub in West Boldon, England had a history of ghostly activity: chairs and utensils moving about of their own accord, and even an occasional shove of the pub's staff by unseen hands. Psychic Suzanne Hadwin came to investigate as part of a psychic charity event and got more than she bargained for. She said she sensed as many as 37 spirits in the pub, but in particular tuned in to the ghost of a six-year-old girl named Jessica Ann Hargreaves.
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Hadwin said little Jessica told her she had been raped and strangled to death in 1908, and her body stuffed in the pub's fireplace; she said her body was still in the pub. Now a psychic can tell any story and it can be difficult to verify it. However, in this case, a bit of digging was done in the wall where the pub's old fireplace used to be. Sure enough, a lock of hair, a heel of a shoe and fragments of clothing from a little girl were found – just where Jessica's ghost said they would be. (Full story.)
2. Haunted Places
Ghosts at a Courthouse Set Off the Security System – It's one thing to sense a ghost or even claim to see a vaporous apparition. Those can easily be dismissed as works of the imagination. But high-tech security systems don't have imaginations – they react to whatever is in front of them. So when motion-detecting cameras at Mendocino County Courthouse in Ukiah, California clicked on for no earthly reason, they confirmed what the janitorial staff had long known: the place is haunted. The janitors had experience with a ghost they've named George, a female ghost in dress and heels, and a spirit that like to take control of an elevator. In late March, 2004, however, the courthouse's new security system, designed to click on when they sense motion, caught an anomalous mist that moved back and forth across the lower hallway. The unknown entity even partially obscured a light. Pretty convincing evidence. (Full story.)
3. Bigfoot Encounters
Woman Surprises a Skunk Ape – Large, hairy ape-like creatures have been reported in every state of the U.S. In the Pacific northwest it's called Sasquatch. In places like Ohio it's known as Bigfoot. But in Florida and a few other southern states, the tall, upright walking hominid is called the Skunk Ape. A highly credible sighting of the Skunk Ape was reported in August by Jennifer Ward as she was driving home with her children on a dark rural road. It was crouching in a ditch, but as she slowed her car to see it better, the creature stood to its full six- to eight-foot height. "When he saw me, he was as surprised as I was," Ward told the newspapers. She described it as being covered almost completely with dark hair about two inches long, white areas around the eyes, and full lips that had the color and texture of the pad on a dog's paw. This kind of detail is most compelling and is good evidence that there really are unknown creatures out there. (Full story.)
4. Lake Monsters
Ogopogo Caught on Video - The Loch Ness Monster in Scotland gets most of the publicity, but the U.S. and Canada have their own versions of prehistoric-like lake monsters. There's Champ in Lake Champlain, and in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia is a similar creature that has been sighted numerous times over many decades, and it's known as the Ogopogo Monster. Sightings nowadays are rare, and rarer still are photographs and video. But on August 9, John Caruso and his family were vacationing on a rented houseboat on the picturesque lake when they spotted a long, writhing shape in the water. Caruso grabbed his video camera and taped about 15 minutes of footage, part of which shows a long dark hump rising above the lake's surface. He estimated the creature to be about 45 feet long! (Full story.)
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5. Weird Creatures
The Mutant Beastie - Strange, unidentified creatures seemed to pop up in various places in the summer of 2004. The one that grabbed most of the headlines, however, were weird dog-like creatures in Texas. But these weren't just sightings. The authorities had actual bodies of the creatures, which for many weeks remained unidentified. The hairless, gray-skinned animals kind of looked like dogs, kind of like coyotes, but not really. They were so unusual that veterinarians and zoologists seeing the bodies of the animals first hand (they had been shot by ranchers) could not identify them. Speculation among some was that this was the mysterious Chupacabras. Finally, a DNA test was conducted, which determined that genetically they were coyotes, but probably were suffering from some extreme form of mange. Even those tests didn't answer all of the questions, however. The animal's lower jaw was abnormal – so abnormal, in fact, that experts guessed that it would have been almost impossible for it to eat. (Full story.)
6. Living Dinosaurs
Dino Hunt – What creature could be more spectacular than a living, breathing dinosaur? No, not the computer-generated dinos from Jurassic Park – I'm talking about real dinosaurs... alive... today! Impossible, you say? There have been reported sightings of pterodactyls in the U.S. going back 100 years or more, and alleged stories of large sauropods in the African Congo. In May, residents of the volcanic island province of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea claimed to have sighted a grey-skinned, nine-foot-tall dinosaur-like creature with a head like a dog and a tail like a crocodile, and "as fat as a 900-litre water tank." They said it lived in a marsh near the the provincial capital, Kokopo. The local mayor sent out a police force armed with M-16s and shotguns. Unfortunately, no trace of the creature was found. (Full story.)
7. Earth Mysteries
Stones from the Heavens - Most of us can deal just fine with heavy rain, snow, sleet – even hail. But what do you do when you're pelted with stones falling from the sky? A family in Limpopo, South Africa fell victim to this strange phenomenon in May. Incredibly, this is not the first such case of stones falling on an area – even on specific individuals – for hours, even weeks at a time. This past May, Joyce Lambani finally had to summon the police after her house had been rained upon by stones virtually every night for a month. The skeptical police came to observe, and sure enough they saw it, too. "We've been watching the house every night since Monday and have also seen the stones falling from the sky above the house," one of the policeman said. Their investigation could find no culprit or any logical explanation for the phenomenon. (Full story.)
8. Human Mysteries
Stones from Her Eyes - If you think stones raining from the sky are unusual, how about when they drop out of a girl's eyes? In October, a 15-year-old girl from Jharkhand, India was taken to a hospital because tiny stones were emerging from the corners of her eyes. The doctors admitted they had never seen anything like it and were at a loss to explain it. Before the stones dropped out, the girl reported terrible headaches (as you can imagine). Oh yes, the stones also appeared out of her ears and nose as well. "Stones from the eyes is a strange phenomenon as this has not even found mention in medical literature," one of the doctors said. (Full story.)
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9. Religious Mysteries
Weeping Icons – 2004 saw its fair share of religious statues and paintings that weep and bleed. Every year, dozens of such incidents are reported around the world. Many are assumed to be faked and churches rarely assert that they might be genuine miracles. Without fail, however, hundreds or even thousands of the faithful (and curiosity seekers) flock to the icons to see for themselves. One such "miracle" took place in St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church near Cleveland, Ohio. Church members reported that an icon of the Virgin Mary on the altar began weeping an oily substance on a Saturday afternoon. A priest who has been at the parish for more than 30 years called the phenomenon a sign from God. And it wasn't that church's first such miracle. Back in 1990, an icon of Jesus appeared to be weeping. (Full story.)
10. Lost Worlds
Atlantis Found – Again – Every year or so, an explorer claims to have finally, definitively discovered the ruins of the lost continent of Atlantis. Claims have been made for the Celtic shelf, Ireland, the Bahamas, off the coast of Cuba and even Antarctica. In November, when American researcher Robert Sarmast said he had really found it this time, on the Mediterranean Sea floor between Cyprus and Syria, his claim made headlines around the world. His team said their sonar equipment detected evidence of large, apparently manmade structures, including two straight walls on a hill stretching for more than a mile. The configuration, they said, matches accounts of the great city as described by Plato more than 2,000 years ago. Further expeditions to the site, the team hopes, will prove it once and for all. (Full story.)
The Top Paranormal Events of 2001
The Top Paranormal Events of 2002
The Top Paranormal Events of 2003
When one debates creationists (admittedly a questionable, yet often very satisfying, habit), one is bound to run up against the infamous Piltdown forgery. This is the case of an alleged missing link between humans and so-called lower primates, that was found in England (near Piltdown, in fact) and announced to the world on December 18, 1912. The announcement was made by Arthur Smith Woodward, a paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History, and Charles Dawson, a local amateur paleontologist, the actual discoverer of the fossils. The problem is-as creadonists never tire to point out-that the "Dawn Man of Piltdown" (scientific name Eoanthropus dawsoni, in honor of its discoverer) turned out to be a fake. Moreover, it took scientists four decades to find out! see what happens when one takes the doctrine of evolution on faith, as one's secular religion? QED.
Many scientists are rather embarrassed by the Piltdown debacle, somehow managing to feel guilty and indirectly responsible for whatever goes wrong in their chosen profession.
And yet, as I shall endeavor to explain, Piltdown should be presented in all introductory biology textbooks as a perfect example of how science actually works! Let us briefly see how the hoax unfolded. A complete and engaging version of the story can be found in the 1955 classic, The Piltdown Forgery by J.S. Weiner (one of the scientists who eventually uncovered the truth), recently re-issued by Oxford University Press with a new introduction and afterword.
Before Piltdown, very little of the human fossil record was known. When Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, he had to rely largely on comparative data from other living species of primates, for only the clearly almost-human Neanderthals were known to paleontologists. A few years before Piltdown, however, two important discoveries were made: that of Java man in 1891 and Heidelberg man in 1907, neither of which were very ancient. When a significantly older set of prehuman remains was allegedly found at Piltdown, the scientific world was simply ready for the discovery. It was what practitioners in the field had expected, something that surely the perpetrator of the hoax knew very well.
Supposed evidence of Piltdown man was found on more than one occasion at two separate sites: fragments of skulls, of a lower jaw, and even of stone tools associated with the "culture" of these predawn men. While there were skeptics from the beginning, the hoax was simply too elaborate and cunningly put together to raise the suspicion of a significant number of paleontologists. National pride probably also played a role in a professional establishment that at the time was dominated by British scientists, with the British Museum being the epicenter of all the activities surrounding the study of the Piltdown fossils.
Yet suspicions about the authenticity of Eoanthropus dawsoni grew, until a group of researchers, including Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, Kenneth Oakley, and Joe Weiner, applied stringent chemical tests to the remains, demonstrating that the "fossils" had been planted and chemically altered to make them seem appropriately ancient: the Dawn Man was nothing but a perfectly ordinary human skull paired up with a somewhat unusually small jaw from an orangutan. What Weiner and colleagues couldn't say for sure was who carried out the hoax, although a strong case was then made by Weiner in his 1955 book that the perpetrator was none other than Dawson himself. [See also review of Miles Russell, Piltdown Man, on p. 50.]
Be that as it may, what does this story tell us about how science works? Well, on the negative side, it is painfully clear that science depends on an assumption of honesty on the part of its practitioners. Peer review is focused on uncovering methodological or reasoning errors, not possible frauds. But since science is, after all, a human activity, egos, money, and the search for glory- however brief-are still to be reckoned with. As Piltdown and other forgeries have shown, scientists are continuously open to the possibility of someone fooling them by not playing by the rules of the game.
On the other hand, science is a social activity unlike any other that human beings engage in: it is a game of discovery played against a powerful but neutral opponent, nature itself. And nature cannot be fooled, at least not for long. The reason suspicions kept mounting about the true origin of the Piltdown remains was that the more paleontologists uncovered about human evolution, the less Dawn Man seem to fit with the rest of the puzzle. In a sense, the very factor that made the acceptance of Eoanthropus dawsoni so fast in the beginning-because it seemed to be the much sought-after "missing link" in human evolution-was also the reason why, four decades later, scientists kept pursuing the possibility that it was not genuine after all. While four decades of delay may seem an inordinate amount of time, they are but the blink of an eye when compared to the history of the human quest for knowledge. Moreover, it is important to note that it was scientists who uncovered the hoax, not creationists, which is both an immense credit to the self- correcting nature of science and yet another indication that creationism is only a religious doctrine with no power of discovery.
This is, then, why Piltdown-far from being an embarrassment- should be prominently featured in biology textbooks: it is an example of how the nature of science is not that of a steady, linear march toward the Truth but rather of a tortuous road, often characterized by dead ends and U-turns, yet ultimately progressing toward a better, if tentative, understanding of the natural world.
Massimo Pigliucci is a professor of evolutionary biology at SUNY- Stony Brook, and the author of Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism and the Nature of Science. His essays can be found at www.rationallyspeaking.org.
Copyright The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (SCICOP) Jan/Feb 2005
Source: Skeptical Inquirer, The Cult calls off 'hot water training' after death ABC News Online Monday, January 3, 2005
A Japanese cult behind a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway will end a ritual in which followers spend long hours in scalding water after a sect member died in a bathtub.
Wakashio Togashi, 45, who had been a senior member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, was found dead in the bathtub at another Aum follower's house in Tokyo on Saturday, a police spokesman said.
Togashi had served seven years in prison for helping build a plant to produce Nazi-invented sarin gas used by the cult in several attacks.
"We found that he drowned to death, but the group suspects that he died from an accident while going through hot water training," the spokesman said.
Members of the doomsday cult are supposed to soak for long hours in water at temperatures of about 50 degrees Celsius.
The cult, which was renamed Aleph in 2000, said in a statement: "We have imposed a total ban on hot water training from now on."
The Aum Supreme Cult was founded in 1984 combining Buddhist and Hindu mysticism with apocalyptic visions.
The sect spread sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in March 1995, killing 12 people and injuring thousands in an apparent bid to ward off a police raid.
Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth sect, was sentenced to death in February for crimes including the subway attack.
He is appealing against the sentence but his lawyers have tried unsuccessfully to suspend the hearing arguing that the guru is no longer psychologically sound.
In October, four breakaway members of the cult were arrested for allegedly battering a woman to death with bamboo sticks in a Tokyo apartment in an exercise meant to rid her of bad karma.
BY HARIATI AZIZAN
THE miracle stories have become popular urban myths. Dying cancer patients cured after a change in diet, or mysterious diseases vanishing after a transformation in lifestyle.
When all hope is gone and pharmaceutical drugs don't work anymore, alternative medicine becomes the last resort for many sufferers. And as more and more "conventional" doctors accept complementary medical practices, alternative medicine finds itself growing into an increasingly respected strand in the medical field.
However, what many people don't realise is that alternative medicine is actually steeped in science, says Yam Cher Seng, an alternative medical practitioner at Biolife.
"When we talk about how a certain food is aggravating a certain health condition, it is actually based on science," she explains.
In a consultation, a lot of probing is done into one's medical and biological history to identify the problem.
Yam, who has been in the field for more than 20 years, says that studies show 90% of human ailments are related to diet and lifestyle.
Alternative medicine is based on diet, from traditional Chinese andAyuverdic to homeopathy, naturopathy and herbalist.
"That is why in alternative medicine,treatment, the patient's dietary habits and lifestyle are analysed. We believe that specific food can cause harm to individual persons due to our genetic make-up."
What does a nutritional practitioner do?
A nutritional practitioner looks at a person's dietary habits to search for an alternative "cure".
He or she will analyse a person's diet to explain his health concerns or medical symptoms, and then, through food, help the patient recover from certain ailments, thereby enhancing health and well-being.
The approach taken is holistic.
The idea is to plan a diet which supplies all the nutrients they lack.
What qualifications or requisites are essential for the job?
In Malaysia, there are no professional accreditations for alternative medicine but many become a member of the Society of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is self-regulated.
To become a nutritional practitioner, one needs to have a background in science.
I hold a degree in pharmacy, but because of my interest in alternative medicine, I decided to go to the British College of Nutrition and Health (BCNH) to attain my postgraduate diploma.
The course takes about three to five years to complete and includes "housemanship" which requires you to get a temporary license and take on life case studies. I advise those who are interested in this field to pursue a science or a science-related degree before taking up this course.
BCNH is trying to get accreditation to upgrade its diploma course to a full degree programme. However, the individual must also be interested in health, and believe that food and lifestyle affects our health and wellbeing.
What kind of personality will be suitable for the job?
This field is no money-spinner, so the person must be really interested in health and food. (Yam charges RM30 per session or consultation). He or she must also want to help people and motivate them to take charge of their health.
Describe a typical day at work.
I conduct training for pharmacists and others in the field, give talks to organisations and write in local newspapers (she has a weekly column), so I only see one patient a week.
Many people don't realise how much work goes into the consultation.
First, I will ask the patient to keep a five-day journal of his or her dietary habits. This is part of a detailed survey that we run on patients to ascertain their medical history and lifestyle.
Then it takes another two days to go through the case and understand the symptoms. Everything is evidence based. When we talk about how a certain kind of food is aggravating a certain health condition, it is based on science and facts.
From the information, we come up with a dietary programme to help the patient.
After a one-and a-half hour session with the patient, we recommend a new diet and have a follow-up session four weeks later.
What's the best and worst part of your work?
The best part is when your patient appreciates your help. When they come back to say that what you suggested worked, it feels really rewarding.
Actually, it is not so difficult as most of the people who come and see me are those who have already consulted their doctors and seen no results, and they really want to give traditional medicine a try.
So, they usually take our advice seriously.
The worst part is when you have patients who do not heed your suggestions. They come for a session, they listen to you, say "Yes, yes, yes" but when they see you in the follow-up session, they give you 1001 excuses why they did not do what they were supposed to have done.
You try to help these people but they are not willing to help themselves. You feel that your time has been wasted.
What are the career prospects?
The career prospects are good. Many GPs (general practitioners) are now aware of how important alternative medicine is and are interested in working together to help patients. In the United Kingdom where alternative medicine is more recognised, the consultation fees are £80 to £100 per hour.
By LAURI LEBO
Daily Record/Sunday News
Sunday, January 2, 2005
The attorney for the Dover Area School District said no one will be teaching intelligent design.
But lawyers for the 11 parents suing the district said they'd still like to get that on the record from the people who fought to get the concept in the science curriculum.
The entire statement on the subject of intelligent design in next semester's ninth-grade biology class will take about a minute, said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing the district.
And because intelligent design — the concept that life is too complex to have evolved through natural selection, and therefore must have been created by an intelligent designer — is only "mentioned," Thompson said; it's not being "taught."
But while Thompson said the wording is clear, attorneys for the parents suing the district think otherwise.
Eric Rothschild, an attorney with the Pepper Hamilton law firm that is representing the plaintiffs, says he doesn't yet know what will be taught when the class reaches its chapter on evolution. So plaintiffs' lawyers have scheduled depositions Monday for Supt. Richard Nilsen and three of the school board members — Sheila Harkins, Alan Bonsell and Bill Buckingham.
Rothschild said he hopes the depositions will help lawyers glean what the board's intentions were when it passed the curriculum revision in October.
Part of the argument is over the exact meaning of the wording of the new science curriculum, which states students will be "made aware" of alternative theories to evolution, including intelligent design.
A news release issued last month by Dover's administration states that intelligent design will not be taught. Instead, teachers are to read a prepared statement and note that students can read "Of Pandas and People," a book about the concept.
The news release goes on to state that Nilsen "has directed that no teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board's, religious beliefs."
In the meantime, teachers also say they're still not sure how they're supposed to comply with the board's decision. Bertha Spahr, who heads the district's science department, said last month that a problem could occur after the statement is read to the students. Once this topic is introduced, Miller said, she wonders how many questions will be asked.
The directive leaves teachers feeling caught between the school board and the First Amendment's prohibition of government establishment of religion, Spahr said at the time.
Reach Lauri Lebo at 771-2092 or email@example.com.
But both sides agree all the hoopla is 'kind of dumb'
By LAURI LEBO
Daily Record/Sunday News
Sunday, January 2, 2005
Talk to students, and many of them will tell you the furor over intelligent design is all a little silly.
After all, it's just one class period.
Actually, not even a whole class period, Corey Miller said.
He figures 40, 45 minutes.
That's about the amount of time he spent learning about evolution when he took the mandatory biology class last year at Dover Area High School.
He and a friend, Brett Elicker, remember studying natural selection, as well as, they think, the concept of "fight or flight." But they say they have little other recollection of the class. So the two sophomores think there is nothing wrong with learning alternatives to what Miller calls "the philosophy of evolution."
"It's something that's still not proven," he said, sitting at a pizza shop across from his high school.
Elicker identifies himself as a Christian and believes in the biblical account of creation, but Miller says he's not particularly religious and doesn't go to church. Despite their differences, the two 16-year-olds say the controversy is just about presenting alternative views.
Until the school board made the decision to revamp the district's science curriculum in October — requiring the inclusion of intelligent design in biology class — the two friends didn't think much about evolution.
But since then, they have been following each new development in the case closely.
Intelligent design is the concept that life is too complex to have evolved randomly through natural selection and, therefore, must have been created by an intelligent designer. In December, 11 parents filed suit against the district. The suit argues that intelligent design is essentially about religion and has no place in science class.
Elicker doesn't think intelligent design conflicts with the First Amendment's guarantee of government's neutrality toward religion, since it encompasses all faiths, he said, "except for atheism."
And it was while reading about the debate that Miller began to think that, perhaps, evolutionists didn't have it all figured out. He would like to know where the transitional fossils are that show animals with both wing and arm, beak and mouth.
While the two friends find the subject interesting, among other students, it's become a joke.
Amanda Patterson, 17, and her best friend, Mike Helmick, 17, say Dover's now famous across the country.
Playing video games at the West Manchester Mall last week, Helmick said he never paid much attention in biology class "because it doesn't interest me."
And even though everyone else seems to be talking about it, Patterson said teachers aren't allowed to discuss the issue with students.
Still, Helmick thinks intelligent design can fit just fine into a scientific discussion of evolution.
Patterson, however, is not so sure.
"I think it might violate the separation of church and state," she said.
Both students said they believe in natural selection, but draw the line that humans evolved from other primates.
So for them, intelligent design makes sense.
"We're so complex we couldn't have been created by any scientific explanation," Patterson said.
Ninth grader Kandy Kline, 15, took the semester-long biology class this fall and is just completing it now. She said Charles Darwin's name never even came up.
Overall, she thinks the whole debate is "kind of dumb" and too much has been made of it.
"If they want to learn about creationism, they should be able to do so in an elective class," Kline said.
Her boyfriend, Brian Borror, 14, who is also in the ninth grade, will take the class starting this month. While he realizes he is at the center of the fray, he looks forward to learning about both evolution and intelligent design.
Reach Lauri Lebo at 771-2092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
While some Dover Area High School students think too much has been made of whether intelligent design will be taught in biology class, some college students disagree.
Last month, a group of Dover graduates, home for the holidays, attended a school board meeting to speak out against the curriculum revision.
Some say it's embarrassing to pick up a newspaper and read about the issue occurring in their hometown.
Penn State University sophomore Eric White said a friend e-mailed him a Philadelphia Inquirer story about Dover with a note that said, "I think this is where you went to school."
The article was about how Dover is believed to be the first school district in the country to require the teaching of intelligent design.
"It kind of makes you proud," White said sarcastically.
Posted on Fri, Dec. 31, 2004
ALLEN G. BREED
WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. - When Katherine Bibeau's body arrived at the morgue, she was covered in large, purplish-black bruises, almost as if she had been beaten to death.
But this was no beating. Coroner Gary Watts attributed Bibeau's massive internal bleeding to the unconventional treatment she sought for her multiple sclerosis: an intravenous infusion of hydrogen peroxide - the same first-aid kit standby that's used to clean cuts and scrapes.
Watts concluded that the hydrogen peroxide administered by Dr. James Shortt produced bubbles in Bibeau's bloodstream that started her on a fatal spiral into multiple organ failure and cardiac arrest.
On the line of his report asking for "manner of death," Watts wrote one word: "Homicide."
That launched a criminal investigation into Bibeau's death and that of at least one other patient who received Shortt's hydrogen peroxide infusions. It's also sent shockwaves through the world of alternative medicine, a world of herbs and elixirs where Shortt is seen as a hero, a role model - anything but a killer.
Shortt's defenders say tens of thousands of patients in this country safely receive and benefit from hydrogen peroxide infusions each year. They defy critics to find any case where someone has died from a properly administered treatment - although health officials view any internal use of hydrogen peroxide as improper.
Fellow practitioners say Bibeau was taking at least two government-approved drugs whose known side effects could just as easily have explained the circumstances of her death. Yet they say authorities rushed to blame Shortt's treatment, because it was something foreign, unorthodox, outside the realm of "big Pharma."
"There is a war," says Dr. Robert Rowen, a leading proponent of hydrogen peroxide and other "oxidative" remedies. "The guys with inferior chemicals that simply suppress symptoms are losing because their wares, their potions, their snake oil only covers up symptoms."
On the latest battlefield in that war, Shortt, a self-described "longevity physician," is fighting to keep his medical license - and possibly his freedom.
"I might be the world's greatest lunatic," he says, but "I'm not going to do anything to my patients that I think might hurt them."
A classically trained MD who practiced family medicine for years in Wisconsin, Shortt was as skeptical as anyone until 1992, when he says hydrogen peroxide guru Dr. Charles Farr helped him save a lupus patient's blackened toes from amputation.
"It's nothing like patient success to make a believer out of you," says Shortt, who moved to sunnier South Carolina in 1996.
And he is a believer. He says he has administered as many as 1,800 hydrogen peroxide treatments to patients from as far away as Europe, and has seen people in the midst of severe asthma attacks "go from gray to pink" during an infusion.
At the root of hydrogen peroxide's purported power is the same action that makes it foam when placed on a cut.
Proponents of oxidative or hyperoxygenation" therapy believe many diseases - including cancer and HIV - can be linked to oxygen deficiency. They say that infusion or even ingestion of substances such as hydrogen peroxide, ozone and germanium sesquioxide deliver an "oxidative burst" that can kill cancer cells and viruses, and boost the immune system.
Rowen, president of the International Oxidative Medicine Association, estimates as many as 200 physicians nationwide administer more than 100,000 hydrogen peroxide infusions annually.
Shortt's clinic, Health Dimensions, occupies the front suite of a squat brick building across the road from an airport, between a steel fabrication shop and a furniture outlet.
On a recent brisk day, patients occupied two of the dozen black leather chaises arranged in a spacious lounge off the waiting room. They watched videos as IV bags of yellowish and clear liquid emptied slowly into veins in their left hands.
Shortt says many of his patients come to him when "conventional" medicine has run its course.
"We go to work from this point where you're hopeless," the 58-year-old said in a recent telephone interview. "And we have to use methods that aren't in standard usage."
But critics argue that not only are these treatments ineffective, they can be dangerous.
Health experts say injecting hydrogen peroxide directly into the bloodstream can cause convulsions, acute anemia and deadly gas emboli. A 1991 article in the "Journal of Emergency Nursing" blamed the death of a 39-year-old cancer patient on such "cancer quackery."
The American Cancer Society concedes the use of hydrogen peroxide on certain tumors "remains an area for responsible research." But the organization says there is "no scientific basis for the regimens utilized by the oxymedicine promoters."
Physicians in Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee have had their licenses suspended or revoked for giving patients intravenous hydrogen peroxide, but enforcement only comes when someone complains.
Multiple sclerosis is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. Shortt claims the hydrogen peroxide treatment has had some success in such cases, and he thought 53-year-old medical lab technician Katherine Bibeau was a good candidate.
While the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe MS is the result of the body attacking the fatty tissue that helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses.
The mother of two from Cottage Grove, Minn., was diagnosed with the neuromuscular disease in 2001 and was already having trouble walking.
The avid knitter, gardener and baker - who was described by her husband, David, as "June Cleaver with an attitude" - was a breast cancer survivor. She had long believed that diet and supplements could enhance the benefits of mainstream medications.
So when confronted with a degenerative and incurable disease, she embarked on an intensive - and open-minded - search for ways to combat it.
That search led her to Shortt.
"Hydrogen peroxide would be very good to kill whatever's in there," Shortt told her in a February phone call, according to a transcript of the taped consultation. "Because, right now, we don't know what it is."
March 9, she sat in one of those comfortable leather chairs in West Columbia as a 0.03 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide coursed through her veins. That first treatment lasted 90 minutes.
Afterward, Bibeau complained of abdominal pain and nausea, according to a federal lawsuit the family filed against Shortt. Two days later, the suit contends, she returned to Shortt's clinic extremely weak, with bruising at the infusion site and severe vaginal bleeding.
The lawsuit alleges that Shortt ignored these clear signs of "acute hemolytic crisis" and failed to order a blood work-up for Bibeau, or to refer her to another physician. (Shortt, while acknowledging that hydrogen peroxide therapy can destroy red blood cells after repeated treatments, denies those allegations.)
By the time she arrived at the emergency room on March 12, Bibeau was in multiple-organ failure. Two days later, she was dead.
In July, a second patient of Shortt's - Michael Bate, a 66-year-old retired engineer with advanced prostate cancer - died.
Bate had been receiving hydrogen peroxide infusions and was allegedly told by Shortt how to obtain and use the banned drug Laetrile. Shortt also prescribed testosterone cream for Bate - a treatment which some say may actually stimulate prostate tumors.
In September, armed state and federal officers raided Shortt's office and confiscated his files. Later that month, the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners asked an administrative law judge for an emergency suspension of Shortt's license.
Seeking support, Shortt traveled to the October conference of the International Oxidative Medicine Association in Atlanta to present the Bibeau case. The group developed the regimens Shortt used, and he considered its board a jury of his peers.
The group, of which Rowen is president, found that Shortt had followed its "well-established" protocols. Rowen says any oxygen bubbles released from such a heavily diluted solution, infused at such a slow rate, would have been absorbed into the blood almost immediately.
In the group's position paper, Rowen instead zeroed in on two FDA-approved drugs that Bibeau had previously been prescribed: the MS drug Copaxone and Tegretol, which is used to treat seizure disorders.
Rowen noted that among Copaxone's listed side effects are "metorrhagia (profuse uterine bleeding), thrombosis, bruising, clotting problems, and infections." An Internet site dedicated to Tegretol warns of "easy bruising, or reddish or purplish spots on the skin" as possible "signs of a blood disorder brought on by the drug."
Rowen says it is "more than reasonable to conclude" that the interaction of these two drugs was "the proximate cause of this death."
Shortt says he knew of no reason his treatment would react negatively with the drugs Bibeau was taking. He did not suggest she drop those medications because he didn't feel it was his "privilege" to question her previous doctors who are "quote, experts in their fields."
Israeli drug company Teva Pharmaceuticals, maker of Copaxone, told The Associated Press that its drug had been "extensively studied and tested clinically ... and has proven safe and effective." Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Tegretol's Swiss-based manufacturer, declined to comment.
Richland County forensic pathologist Clay Nichols says Bibeau had been on both drugs for more than a year "with no adverse effects." Coroner Watts stands by his conclusions.
"I don't think he meant to kill her," Watts says. "I'm just saying ... she died as a result of his infusing her with something he shouldn't have infused her with."
In late November, the administrative law judge found that the medical board had violated its own procedures and refused to suspend Shortt's license. She noted that Shortt had voluntarily ceased the infusions.
The board has scheduled a Jan. 21 hearing to revisit Shortt's case. Prosecutors refused to say whether he would be criminally charged, but Nichols says deaths beyond Bibeau's and Bate's are being investigated.
Shortt says the negative publicity and his inability to offer the infusions have cost him 70 percent of his practice. Some of his remaining patients have formed Citizens for Health Freedom in South Carolina to support him and to lobby for changes to make state law friendlier to alternative treatments.
One of Shortt's patients, Melvin Sapp, says the doctor brought him back from the brink of lung transplant surgery. He says Shortt is the victim of a conspiracy by the medical-pharmaceutical establishment to protect the status quo.
"Anything else, they're going to prosecute, persecute and destroy," says the 46-year-old preacher from Sumter.
Pathologist Nichols wonders how many hydrogen peroxide deaths might have been dismissed as the results of a patient's terminal illness. He says Shortt and his ilk are charlatans and predators.
"To me," he says, "this is nothing more than selling hope to the hopeless."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Allen G. Breed is the AP's Southeast regional writer, based in Raleigh, N.C.
Posted on Sat, Jan. 01, 2005
By Michael Powell
The Washington Post
DOVER - "God or Darwin?" Lark Myers, a blond, 45-year-old gift shop owner, frames the question and answers it.
"I definitely would prefer to believe that God created me than that I'm 50th cousin to a silverback ape," she said. "What's wrong with wanting our children to hear about all the holes in the theory of evolution?"
Charles Darwin, squeeze over. The school board in this small town in central Pennsylvania has voted to make the theory of evolution share a seat with another theory: God probably designed us.
If it survives a legal test, this school district of about 2,800 children could become the first in the country to require that high school science teachers at least mention the "intelligent design" theory. This theory holds that human biology and evolution are so complex as to require the creative hand of an intelligent force.
"The school board has taken the measured step of making students aware that there are other viewpoints on the evolution of species," said Richard Thompson, of the Thomas More Law Center, which represents the board and describes its overall mission as defending "the religious freedom of Christians."
Board members have been less guarded, and their comments go well beyond intelligent design theory. William Buckingham, the board's curriculum chairman, explained at a meeting last June that Jesus died on the cross and "someone has to take a stand" for him.
"If the Bible is right, God created us," said John Rowand, an Assemblies of God pastor and a newly appointed school board member. "If God did it, it's history and it's also science."
This strikes some parents and teachers, not to mention most evolutionary biologists, as loopy science. Eleven parents have joined the American Civil Liberties Union and filed suit in federal court in Harrisburg seeking to block mention of intelligent design in high school biology, arguing it is religious belief dressed in the cloth of science.
"It's not science, it's a theocratic idea," said Bryan Rehm, a former science teacher in Dover and a father of four. "We don't have enough time for science in the classroom as it is -- this is just inappropriate."
This is a battle fought in many corners of the country. In Charles County, Md., school board members recently suggested discarding biology textbooks "biased toward evolution." In Cobb County, in suburban Atlanta, the local school board ordered that stickers be placed inside the front covers of science textbooks stating: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact." State education boards in Ohio and Kansas have wrestled with this issue as well.
Of late, conservative school boards have launched a counteroffensive, often marching under an intelligent design banner. This theory has lingered on the margins of mainstream scientific discourse with just enough intellectual heft to force its way into some discussions of evolutionary theory.
Intelligent design posits that the human cell, among other organisms, is too finely tuned to have developed by chance. "The human cell is irreducibly complex -- what we find in the cell is stuff that looks strongly like it was designed by an intelligence," said Michael Behe, a biology professor at Lehigh University and leading advocate of intelligent design.
Behe acknowledges this theory might lead one to postulate the existence of a supernatural force, such as God. But he said this is unknown and rejects those who would portray him as a creationist. "Our starting point is from science, not from scripture," Behe said.
Few biologists buy that. There is, they say, a central evolutionary theory embraced by mainstream scientists worldwide: That life on Earth has evolved over billions of years and in fits and starts from one-celled organisms to modern humans. That this theory is pockmarked with unexplained gaps, and subject to debate, is how science is crafted.
"People have an impatience about science," said Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist and author of the biology textbook used in Dover. "They think it's this practical process that explains how everything works, but that's the least interesting part.
Even today many residents are not sure how Dover, a former farm hamlet become a bedroom community for York and Harrisburg, came to occupy the ramparts in a century-long war over Darwin's theories.
In the 18th century, an erudite French shopkeeper settled in this valley and gave the name Voltaire to his village. German and English settlers, a local history notes, soon discovered that Voltaire was "a French atheist" and "a disbeliever in revealed theology" and changed the town's name.
Dover's modern politics are resolutely Republican -- President Bush polled 65 percent of the vote here -- and its cultural values are Christian, with an evangelical tinge. To drive its rolling back roads is to count dozens of churches, from Lutheran to United Church of Christ, Baptist, Pentecostal and Assemblies of God.
Many here speak of a personal relationship with Christ, and of their antipathy to evolutionary theory (A Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution). Steve Farrell, a friendly man and owner of a landscaping business, talked of Darwin and God in the Giant shopping center parking lot.
"We are teaching our children a theory that most of us don't believe in." He shook his head. "I don't think God creates everything on day-to-day basis, like the color of the sky. But I do believe that he created Adam and Eve -- instantly."
Back in the town center, Norma Botterbusch talks about the controversy in her jewelry store, which has been a fixture here for 40 years. "We are a very lenient town," she said. "But why should a minority get to file a lawsuit and dictate school policy? Most of our kids already know who created them."
The evolution revolution in Dover began as a dispute about property taxes. The previous school board spent too much money and a conservative group swept them out. Last June, board member Buckingham criticized a new biology textbook as "laced with Darwinism." He added, according to the ACLU's lawsuit, that "our country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such."
Neither Buckingham, the board president or the school superintendent responded to requests for interviews.
In October, the Dover school board passed this motion: "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. Note: Origins of Life is not taught."
Several board members resigned in protest. When the remaining board members chose replacements, they subjected certain candidates to withering questions. "I was asked if I was a liberal or conservative, and if I was a child abuser," recalled Rehm, who was known as an outspoken opponent of intelligent design.
In the end, the York Daily Record reported that the board picked a fundamentalist preacher, a home-schooler who does not send his children to public school for religious reasons, and two more who in effect pledged to support the board.
Dover's evolution policy has left many teachers deeply uncomfortable. One science teacher noted that he avoids talking about the origins of life. "We don't do the monkeys-to-man controversy," he said. "It's just not worth the trouble."
The Discovery Institute in Seattle, which is regarded as a leader in intelligent-design theory, also opposes the Dover school board's policy in part because it seems to take three steps into old-fashioned creationism. "This theory needs to be debated in the scientific sphere," said Paul West, a senior fellow. "It's much too soon to require anyone to teach it in high school."
Miller, the Brown University biologist and textbook author, hopes the day it is taught in high school never arrives. "It's very clear that intelligent design has become a stalking horse," Miller said. "If these school boards had their druthers, they would teach Noah's flood and the 6,000-year-old design of the Earth.
"My fear is that they are making real headway in the popular imagination."
Bill Buckingham missed a meeting appointing legal defense for the district.
By JOSEPH MALDONADO
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Friday, December 31, 2004
Dover Area School Board member Bill Buckingham, who headed the board's push to have intelligent design included in the district's science curriculum and then missed three board meetings — including the one at which the school board appointed a legal team to defend a lawsuit over the new policy — is back on the scene.
"All I can tell you is that I had to take care of some personal business," he said Thursday.
Before he left in early December, he said, representatives from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., advised him not to say where he was going or what the personal matters pertained to.
On Dec. 20, without Buckingham present, the board voted to appoint the Thomas More center to defend it against a lawsuit filed on behalf of 11 parents in the district who do not want intelligent design to be taught in Dover Area biology classes.
More than a week ago, Thomas More center president Richard Thompson said he wanted to get in touch with Buckingham but didn't know where to find him.
Buckingham said he'll attend the board's meeting Monday.
"I hope I haven't given the impression that I have been ducking the issues or hiding," he said.
Buckingham said he is ready for the district's day in court.
"It has always been my contention that this board hasn't done anything wrong," he said. "So let's get on with it."
Attorneys for parents who are suing the district have said they want to depose Buckingham to help them determine whether to file a request for a temporary restraining order in hopes of preventing intelligent design from being taught this semester in ninth-grade biology class. That could occur as early as Jan. 13.
Monday, former board president Alan Bonsell, current president Sheila Harkins and district Supt. Richard Nilsen are scheduled to give legal depositions on the issue.
Intelligent design suggests that life was created by a designer, which critics say equates to a deity or god. They argue that teaching the theory violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
"We do not want to teach religion," said Buckingham, who is chairman of the curriculum committee. "That's not what this is about."
Former board president Alan Bonsell reiterated what he has said since the curriculum change.
"The board simply wants to provide an alternative, scientific theory of how the world works," he said. "And intelligent design is science."
Neither Buckingham nor Bonsell would say any more about the curriculum
change on the advice of their lawyers.
December 23, 2004
by Joe Mariani
Intelligent design is the latest euphemism for Creationism -- the religious view of the origin of life -- with a veneer of science. It's being touted as an "alternative view" to evolution. No matter what you call it, however, it's the same sort of bad science as "runaway global warming caused by human industry." Neither is based on solid evidence. In both cases, at some point, you stop doing science and start preaching faith.
Science is all about proof and testing. Scientific method entails coming up with a hypothesis to explain an event or process, then testing that hypothesis to see whether it works. If it does, it becomes a theory -- a working explanation with the weight of evidence to support it. If you cannot disprove a theory, you may have discovered a fact. If the hypothesis can be disproved, it must be discarded and a new explanation postulated, and so on. Faith, by definition, is a belief in something that cannot be proved. If you CAN prove it, then you destroy it -- it becomes fact. There's no longer any merit or moral benefit to belief in it, any more than there's a moral benefit to belief in gravity, or spiritual merit to the belief that airplanes can fly.
This is the main difference between evolution and intelligent design. One can be tested by scientific method, while the other relies upon a premise that's impossible to prove as an essential component of its structure. Intelligent design is not science. It's religion; it's philosophy. One is asked to assume the existence of God -- something that cannot be proven -- as a given, in order to accept the hypothesis. If anything, intelligent design is an improvement on religious teachings, bringing them more in line with modern science.
Science, properly done, is like millions of people putting together a massive, massive jigsaw puzzle when no one's quite sure what the end product should look like. Some pieces, like the corners, are fairly obvious. From those you can work along the edges and make intelligent guesses towards the middle. Sometimes you get several pieces that seem to fit together, but you're not sure where in the overall puzzle they should go. Sometimes you put pieces down where you think they belong, only to move them as you work closer to them and find that they don't fit quite where you first thought. Sometimes the work of others forces your pieces to move or break apart, or vice-versa. Naturally, there are people who want to interpret the pattern the pieces are forming to push their own view of the overall design. The pieces themselves, though, are unchanged by all this -- they are exactly what they are.
Proponents of intelligent design demand that it be given equal time in the classroom with evolution, which is solidly based on good science. The Dover school district in Pennsylvania, for instance, has mandated that it be so taught. Should children learn that sensationalist non-science is the same as real science? Teachers with a left-wing agenda cause children enough harm when they "teach" that American industry is causing global warming, even going so far as to bring second graders to New York City to march in a protest against oil drilling and logging. (It's rather ironic that they traveled in buses and made paper signs to do this.) We should be striving to teach children how to do proper science in search of the truth (whatever it is), not pushing any kind of faith-based bad science on them in schools. At best, it should be mentioned, but not taught. "Some people believe that human industry causes more warming of the Earth than the system can handle, but that cannot be proven," would be perfectly accurate. So would, "Some people believe that the complexity of Nature requires a Creator to have designed it, but that cannot be proven." On the other hand, should astronomy students be taught astrology, on the basis that "Some people think everything we do is controlled by the movements of the stars and planets?"
Creationists like to point out the astronomer Fred Hoyle's calculation that the odds of a cell spontaneously assembling by chance are 10 to the 40,000th power to one, but that's exceptionally misleading. DNA never assembled spontaneously or by chance alone, but by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology operating over billions of years under intense competition. Nevertheless, this is often the primary "reason" given to discount evolution and scientific method in favor of teaching "science" based on faith.
Evolution is something we can see by its everyday results. Put simply, evolution means, "that which works, prospers." Proof of artificial selection is everywhere, from dogs to horses to flowers -- all of which are bred to our specifications, and breed true. It's human evolution by natural selection that some people object to, as they feel it objectifies and denigrates human beings. Quite the contrary -- the idea that our intelligence and self-awareness have caused us to become among the most successful (certainly the most powerful) forms of life on Earth is awe-inspiring and uplifting. The concept that we arose from the smallest and simplest forms of life, over a mind-numbing span of time and against all the odds, is humbling. Was it chance, was it designed, or is intelligence the ultimate survival tool, inevitable given the competition for resources? We can't know the answer for certain until we have the chance to study other worlds, and any life we may find on them.
Any person who wishes to can choose to believe that the hand of God guided the evolution of mankind. The fact that it can neither be proved nor disproved is what makes it good religion, bad science, and something that should be taught in philosophy, not science classes.
Joe Mariani is a computer consultant born and raised in New Jersey. He lives in Pennsylvania, where the gun laws are less restrictive and taxes are lower. Joe always thought of himself as politically neutral until he saw how far left the left had really gone after 9/11. His essays and links to articles are available at http://guardian.blogdrive.com/.
POSTED: 11:47 am EST December 23, 2004
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Attorneys for a school district that is requiring students to learn about alternatives to the theory of evolution said the concept of "intelligent design" will not be taught in biology class next month.
Lawyer Robert Muise, representing the Dover Area School District, told a federal judge in Harrisburg a temporary restraining order to stop the new curriculum from being implemented would be unnecessary.
The school board voted in October to include intelligent design in the ninth-grade science curriculum, in what is believed to be the first such requirement in the country. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some higher power.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of parents who say intelligent design is a more secular form of creationism -- a biblical-based view that may violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
In the period from 1998 to the summer of 2001, he produced research papers at an average of one every eight days, together with a total of 20 collaborators - the most prominent of whom were Bertram Batlogg and Christian Kloc. A blazing superstar of physics had been launched (see "Organic research goes into overdrive" Physics World January 2001 p9).
Then the wheels started to come off. Late the next year, Schön announced that he and his collaborators had produced a single-molecule transistor - the logical end point of Moore's law, which, crudely, says that the number of transistors that can be crammed onto a computer chip grows exponentially. The news triggered the beginning of an unsuspension of disbelief. Anomalies were pointed out. The data were too perfect, different experiments had identical noise, and so on. This May, Bell Labs appointed a committee, chaired by Malcolm Beasley of Stanford University, to investigate. The committee's report was released to the public, as promised, on 25 September.
The report detailed some 24 specific allegations that the committee had investigated, and found that scientific misconduct by Schön had occurred in at least 16 of them. Schön had done all of his experiments alone, he kept no laboratory notebooks, all his raw data files had been erased from his computer, and all of his original samples had been destroyed or discarded. With only the slightest of misgivings, the report exonerated all of Schön's collaborators. Schön was immediately fired by Bell Labs.
Source (edited): http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/15/11/2
Schön acknowledged that the data was incorrect in many of these papers. He claims that the substitutions could have occurred by honest mistake. He admits to falsifying some data but states he did so to show more convincing evidence for behaviour that he observed. He continues to maintain that his experiments worked, and that molecular-sized transistors are possible using the techniques he used. Experimenters at Delft University of Technology and the Thomas J. Watson Research Center have since performed experiments similar to Schön's. They did not obtain similar results.
He was deprived of his doctoral degree by the University of Konstanz in June 2004.
Source (edited): http://www.e-paranoids.com/j/ja/jan_hendrik_schoen.html
LOS ANGELES -- Scientists say you shouldn't worry, but there is a small chance that an asteroid could hit Earth 25 years from now.
The asteroid is about the length of four football fields and has just received a rating of "two" on a 10-point scale that predicts impact.
Until now, no asteroid has received a rating higher than one.
But scientists stressed that more data could easily downgrade that rating. Overall, they said it is unlikely that the asteroid could hit.
If it does crash into Earth, though, the impact would be serious -- potentially creating a tsunami in the ocean or heavy damage on the ground.
But, scientists insisted the mathematical chances it will hit are small.
One said the odds are 300-in-1 against it.
The superstitious may find reason to fear.
If the asteroid hits, it would be on April 13, 2029 -- a Friday, the 13th.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
December 24, 2004
From Ian MacKinnon in Jerusalem
AN ISRAELI collector of antiquities who stunned the world with a find that he said was the burial container of Jesus' "brother", James, is to be charged with forgery.
Justice Ministry officials said last night that Oded Golan would be indicted next week on a range of charges that would include forgery over an inscription on the stone container that carried the script in Aramaic reading: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".
Six others are also to be charged.
The discovery of the ossuary in October 2002 was hailed as one of the great archaeological discoveries of the age as it demonstrated a physical connection between the modern world and the Bible.
But suspicions were raised after experts were not given sufficient time to examine the ossuary properly before it was put on public display.
Closer inspection of the 50cm (20in) by 27cm (11in) container showed that the first section of the inscription was straight while the second section, "brother of Jesus", was crooked.
Israel's Antiquities Authority has concluded that the markings on the burial box, which dates from about 2,000 years ago when they were common, was an elaborate hoax. Part of the carving cut through the patina.
A documentary broadcast on Israeli television this year described Mr Golan as a talented confidence trickster who made millions of pounds selling forged antiquities to gullible buyers around the world.
Yoni Pagis, the deputy head of the Jerusalem fraud squad, told the film-makers that the fraud involved "dozens of items (produced) in co-operation with a number of people over a period of many years. It's a real Pandora's box. The scale is huge."
Mr Golan declined to comment but said he would discuss the issue later. He has previously denied having any connection with forgeries.