Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Published Sunday, February 20, 2005
Proposed revisions to the biology curriculum have a thinly veiled goal of institutionalizing unverifiable interpretations of the natural world in our schools. It is inappropriate to introduce this non-scientific view in science classrooms.
Science has well-defined properties that distinguish it as a uniquely effective method for understanding our natural and physical world. Science uses empirical evidence to explain observations and to develop, test and validate predictions.
Validation is central to science; if predictions can't be verified with empirical evidence, the hypothesis used to make the prediction is discarded. Intelligent design isn't verifiable, is not science, and shouldn't be taught in science classes.
The proposed changes attempt to define science as a religion and to open the door to include intelligent design as a part of the curriculum. Science isn't a religion and religion isn't science. Science and religion are simply different, but not exclusive, approaches to viewing and interpreting different aspects of the world. A person can be religious and be a scientist, but they can't use religion to do science.
We offer four specific examples of statements made in the proposed changes that not only draw conclusions without evidence, but also contradict overwhelming evidence to the contrary. These illustrate the non-scientific approach being taken to modifying the science education standards for the state.
• One of the most problematic, confusing, and false statements is the claim that "The order of the nucleotide sequences within the gene is not dictated by any known chemical or physical law."
Scientists have documented many evolutionary adaptations and the nucleotide sequences (the organization of the DNA that directs heredity) responsible for them.
Small changes in sequences governed by physical and chemical laws, under the influence of biological processes, are called microevolution. Examples of such changes include antibiotic resistance, adaptations to high and low temperature environments, production of specific proteins, domestic plant and animal breeding and changes in resistance and infectivity by viral and bacterial diseases. This proposed change to the Kansas Science Standard directly contradicts microevolution, which is readily observable and widely accepted.
• Another incorrect proposed indicator states, "Whether microevolution can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is not clear."
There is extensive evidence supporting a scientific view of how complex organs and body plans evolved. All complex biochemical and organ systems are simple variants of those found in related organisms.
To say that something is "irreducibly complex" means nothing to scientists, since many previously intractable events (e.g., the movement of stars and planets in the sky) were eventually explained by science. Biologists are explaining ever more biological complexity.
• Yet another incorrect set of indicator statements is "The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by: i. Discrepancies in the molecular evidence (e.g. differences in relatedness inferred from sequence studies of different proteins) previously thought to support that view, ii. A fossil record that shows sudden bursts of increased complexity (the Cambrian Explosion), long periods of stasis and the absence of transitional forms rather than steady gradual increases in complexity, and iii. Studies that show animals follow different rather than identical early stages of embryological development."
First, molecular evidence has solidified, not contradicted, the view of life as arising from a common ancestor. Second, stasis, bursts of complexity, and gradual change are not at odds with evolution. Steven J. Gould, a prominent evolutionary scientist, proposed the idea of variable rates of species formation but also worked tirelessly to educate the public about how evolution is sufficient to explain diversity and the fossil record.
Third, developmental biology has made tremendous strides in describing embryonic development and has greatly enhanced our understanding of evolutionary relationships among species.
For example, the 1995 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for work on a common set of genes (including HOX genes) that influence development and body plans of creatures as diverse as sea anemones, fruit flies and humans. Small changes in these genes can result in vastly different body plans. Developmental biologists are rapidly increasing their understanding of animal development, and nothing they have found contradicts evolution.
• "Chemical evolutionary theory has encountered a number of difficulties, including: i. A lack of empirical evidence for a "primordial soup" or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere; ii. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems, and the formation of proto-cells."
Increasing evidence on formation of organic compounds that are the building blocks of life under conditions found on early earth is accumulating in the most rigorous international scientific journals. Scientific (testable) explanations are available for the genetic code, the sequences of information (see discussion above) and the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information.
These explanations help us to combat serious human diseases and increase agricultural productivity. The explosion of new molecular information on entire genomes of widely divergent organisms (particularly the human genome project) in no way contradicts evolution, nor does it support an alternative explanation for the origin of diversity such as "intelligent design."
An overwhelming majority of biologists agree that evolution is the best explanation of the diversity of life on earth. The predictions of evolution have withstood extensive scientific tests over the past 150 years. Since no scientific observations have contradicted the fundamental tenants of evolution, it has been elevated to the status of a "scientific theory," with the same measure of validation as the Theory of Gravity.
The minority who dispute the validity and utility of evolution as a tool for understanding the natural world must document in a scientifically valid manner that an alternative view can better explain the world. As it stands, "intelligent design" makes no predictions, has no testable hypotheses and thus doesn't qualify as a scientific principle that merits inclusion in the science curriculum of any public school.
It shouldn't be included as an adhesive sticker or a loose-leaf addition to existing science texts. Many of the proposed changes fail as legitimate science, requiring that these also be rejected in favor of recommendations proposed by the original science task force.
The flawed view of science that is being promoted will haunt our children as they prepare to attend college or seek jobs in medicine, agriculture and bioscience, and make decisions about their own children's health. Our state is prepared to invest millions of dollars to promote Kansas as a new epicenter of bioscience and biomedical research. How can we attract bioscience corporations to our state and top scientists to our universities when we advocate an uneducated and unscientific approach to teaching the foundations of science and biotechnology?
The proposed standards that are sympathetic to intelligent design are misguided, unscientific, will harm our children and our economy, and should not be adopted.
Walter Dodds, Ph.D, professor, email@example.com
Abigail Conrad, Ph.D, associate professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary W. Conrad, Ph.D, professor, email@example.com
Carolyn Ferguson, Ph.D, assistant professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Gido, Ph.D, assistant professor, email@example.com
Loretta Johnson, Ph.D, associate professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald W. Kaufman, Ph.D, professor, email@example.com
Glennis Kaufman, Ph.D, research assistant professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Judith Roe, Ph.D, assistant professor, email@example.com
Ruth Welti, Ph.D, associate professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Samantha Wisely, Ph.D, assistant professor, email@example.com
Anthony Joern, Ph.D, professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Timothy H. Parker, Ph.D, research assistant professor, email@example.com
A. Lorena Passarelli, Ph.D, assistant professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rollie Clem, Ph.D, associate professor, email@example.com
Michael Herman, Ph.D, associate professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Susan Brown, Ph.D, associate professor, email@example.com
Dr. John Blair, Ph.D, professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Sylvia Mora, Ph.D, assistant professor, email@example.com
© Copyright 2005 CJOnline
Posted on Sun, Feb. 20, 2005
BY JOSH FUNK
The Wichita Eagle
The debate over how evolution should be taught has reached into nearly every state since Kansas grappled with it in 1999.
Small-town school boards, state boards of education and legislatures in 43 states have struggled with the argument that evolution is a flawed theory that must be tempered with criticism in the classroom.
Most eventually reject that argument, but some -- like the Cobb County, Ga., school board or the state of Ohio -- endorse some version of it.
Several key factors have helped make challenges to evolution more common:
• A small group of scientists set up shop in 1996 at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank in Seattle to research and promote intelligent design and encourage criticism of evolution.
• The Intelligent Design Network -- based in Johnson County, Kan., and led by John Calvert -- helped spread the arguments for intelligent design and supported grassroots concern about evolution. Calvert has also advised states and school districts on evolution policies.
• The terms of the current debate over evolution are based partly on a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Louisiana law mandating equal consideration of creationism and evolution in schools. The court suggested schools might be able to teach about alternative theories to evolution if they didn't endorse a particular theory and if the theory weren't based in religion.
• The No Child Left Behind law, passed in 2002, requires states to give annual science tests by spring 2008. That forces states to adopt or revise science standards spelling out what should be taught, creating more opportunities to debate the subject.
• Local politics foster the debate, particularly when conservatives control the decision-making body as they do on the Kansas State Board of Education.
Over the past year, evolution battles in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia have attracted the most attention.
But the spotlight will be on Kansas over the next several months as the state board completes its scheduled review of the science standards.
"At this point, I think everybody is waiting to see what our state board will do and what will happen to the testing and curriculum program," said Paul Getto, a policy specialist with the Kansas Association of School Boards.
The state board revived the debate in Kansas this year as part of a scheduled review of science standards, rekindling memories of the 1999 debate when the board voted to de-emphasize evolution in the standards.
Voters elected a moderate majority to the board in 2000, and evolution was restored to the standards and the Kansas science test.
The standards describe what students are expected to know at each grade and what they will be tested on. The standards do not control what is taught because that is a local decision, said Kathy Toelkes, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. The incentive to follow state standards is that the state tests are based on the standards.
Philosophy professor Barbara Forrest, who has written a book on the intelligent design movement and its tactics, said Kansas' 1999 debate was important because it marked the first time the Discovery Institute's scientists played an active role and because it was when the Intelligent Design Network was founded.
"It's not unique at all," said Forrest, who is a proponent of evolution and a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. "Kansas was just the first high-profile case. Ohio was the second."
Calvert influenced both Kansas' and Ohio's science standards.
He joined the 1999 Kansas debate in the middle of the process. He suggested several changes to remove what he calls the institutional bias in favor of evolution and to promote critical discussion.
Most of those changes weren't adopted, but Calvert founded the Intelligent Design Network in September 1999 and started planning public conferences about evolution.
The network has sponsored five conferences, titled "Darwin, Design and Democracy," since 2000, each time attracting people from several states.
Six months after the first conference, one of the attendees from Ohio was appointed to the committee writing that state's science standards and called Calvert for help.
"We migrated to Ohio and worked with them awhile to great result," Calvert said.
In spring 2002, Ohio's state board adopted standards that expect students to explain how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.
A year ago, Ohio's board also approved a model lesson plan to help teachers explain the shortcomings of evolution.
The Georgia experience
The Intelligent Design Network now has state chapters in New Mexico and Minnesota, and Calvert has advised parents and boards in several other parts of the country, including Cobb County, Ga.
He said a parent from that district called him in 2002 for advice on new science textbooks the district was considering.
Calvert told the parent what to look for: explanations that treat evolution as fact and don't explain what the theory is based on.
The parent gathered about 3,000 signatures. Ultimately the Cobb County board decided to include a disclaimer sticker in new science texts stating that evolution is a theory and not a fact.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that those stickers had to be removed because they represented an establishment of religion.
Officials with the Cobb County district are appealing the ruling and declined to comment on the stickers. As for Kansas, some change in the way state standards describe evolution is considered likely with conservatives controlling six of the 10 seats on the State Board of Education.
Several conservative board members have called for more critical analysis of evolution in the state's classrooms.
They, and Calvert, say teaching students about some of the criticisms of evolution would only promote open discussion.
But evolution proponents, such as Glenn Branch with the National Center for Science Education, say that represents a clear challenge to Darwin's theory, which is the only scientific theory critics mention.
There are gaps and problems in a number of scientific theories, Branch said. That's why scientists keep doing research and experiments.
Even though Branch and Calvert disagree over what some of the terms of the debate mean, they'll readily agree on one point: The debate isn't likely to end any time soon.
Reach Josh Funk at 268-6573 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 22, 2005
Advertising - operation big fat lie
While there are some restrictions on what information and claims can be included on labels, and many reputable supplement manufacturers who abide by the rules, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials have described a proliferation of unfounded and exaggerated claims for food supplements. This is especially true in the area of weight loss. Not surprising when you consider that the global obesity market has an estimated market potential of $3.7 billion by 2008. We have all seen the ads for products that "eliminate cravings", "control appetite" and let you "eat what you like and lose weight". To help counter this, the FTC has launched a campaign to help consumers' spot claims that almost always signal a diet rip-off. Weighing the Evidence in Diet Ads warns consumers to steer clear of diet pills, patches, creams, or other products that offer quick weight loss without diet or exercise; that claim to block the absorption of fat, calories, or carbohydrates; or that promise that consumers can eat all they want of high-calorie foods and still lose weight.
In an innovative approach the FTC has also launched a new "teaser" web site to reach consumers surfing online for weight-loss products and it's certainly worth a look. At first glance, the site appears to advertise a new pill promising to help consumers "Lose up to 10 pounds per week - with no sweat, no starvation!" When consumers try to purchase the product, they learn that the ad is actually a consumer education piece posted to warn consumers about diet rip-offs.
Natural VIOXX alternative
Arthritis is another area that has been targeted by the food supplement industry and it's an area that's worth an estimated $2 billion a year. Many individuals will swear by natural products to relieve their symptoms. Food supplements such as simple honey and vinegar mixtures, mussel extract, desiccated liver pills, shark cartilage and CMO (cetylmyristoleate) all have their supporters.
With the public loss of confidence in the FDA's ability to protect the consumer that resulted from recent controversies over the COX-2 inhibitor VIOXX, many more arthritis sufferers are looking to food supplements to treat their condition. Purveyors of so-called natural remedies have quickly stepped in to fill the void resulting from the VIOXX withdrawal. A plethora of products is now available that claim to be natural anti-inflammatory and COX-2 inhibitors. These products are marketed as "non-prescription, organic, all natural COX-2 inhibitors". One such product contains green tea, turmeric and ginger in addition to holy basil, rosemary, oregano, scutellaria, Chinese goldthread and barberry. While the manufacturers claim to have "extensively researched the herbal pharmacopoeia and international medical databases and discovered that the following time-tested herbs, properly extracted and blended in the correct proportions, contain at least eight phytonutrients that may safely and significantly support a healthy inflammation response" they stay within the law by use of a disclaimer that states that the product is not intended to "diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease". The distinction to the consumer may not always be apparent - especially when the alternatives are limited.
Many people take dietary supplements based on word-of-mouth recommendations and assume that every bottle of product X will be as safe an effective as the next, irrespective of manufacturer, supplier or storage conditions. Oftentimes, the reality is very different.
But they're natural so they're safe!
While it may seem reassuring to treat medical conditions with naturally occurring food supplements, often the supplements for sale are not as natural as you might think. Rather than being extracted from a natural organic source, economic pressures mean that most commercially available vitamins are chemically synthesized. The synthesized form seldom matches exactly what nature formulates. Synthetic vitamins often have a molecular structure which is the mirror image of the natural vitamin it is trying to replicate. So it may not be accepted by the cells in the way a natural vitamin is, rendering it useless or potentially harmful. Additionally the synthetic product does not contain the traces of natural catalysts which are often essential to the effectiveness of the substance.
Even when a product is extracted from natural sources, traces of the solvents used in the extraction process are difficult to eliminate and currently no standards exists for what is an "acceptable" residue level, and no checks are made by FDA or independent laboratories.
But the label says it's safe!
The purity of food supplements also presents a problem with great variation between manufacturers. In the area of sports medicine, doctors are increasingly finding that supplements labeled as being "safe for use by athletes" are in fact contaminated with prohibited substances such as nandrolone and testosterone as well as their precursor compounds. When one batch is tested and found to be free of steroid compounds or stimulants, another may indeed be contaminated. There have also been reports that some tablets from a single bottle are contaminated with steroids while others from the same bottle are "clean."
This is of great concern because many consumers use these products without consulting a health care professional and are often reluctant to discuss the use of these products even after a problem occurs. There is an additional danger for professional athletes, namely that the dietary supplements they take might cause them to fail a doping test.
Want some ephedra? Have a cup of tea!
Under the provisions of DSHEA, it is the manufacturer who is responsible for ensuring that its dietary supplement products are safe before they are marketed. Unlike drug products, manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are not currently required by law to record, investigate or forward to FDA any reports they receive of injuries or illnesses that may be related to the use of their products. Once the product is marketed, FDA has the responsibility for showing that a dietary supplement is "unsafe," before it can take action to restrict the product's use or removal from the marketplace. Unfortunately, last year, the FDA had to take just such action.
Dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine) had been extensively promoted for aiding weight control and boosting sports performance and energy. This situation with ephedra illustrates the confusing regulatory status of dietary supplements. When chemically synthesized, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are regulated by the FDA as drugs, whereas dietary supplements that contain ephedra, also called ma huang escaped such regulation. Following extensive investigation, the FDA determined that ephedra presented an unreasonable risk of illness or injury being linked to significant adverse health effects, including heart attack and stroke. On April 12, 2004, a final rule went into effect prohibiting the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids (ephedra). However, to confuse matters further the scope of the rule does not pertain to traditional Chinese herbal remedies and doesn't apply to products like herbal teas that are regulated as conventional foods.
Not everyone was happy with the FDA ruling, claiming that the real problem was that the FDA did not mandate proper labeling of ephedra, such as per-dose and per-day limits, contraindications and appropriate usage and that they did not enforce the law to ensure that ephedra products were not spiked with chemical ephedrine, which makes a food supplement adulterated and illegal.
Federally funded supplements
In 1992, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created an Office of Alternative Medicine and allocated initial funding of $2 million. This year, the now-named National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has a budget of $120 million to study what works and what doesn't. NCCAM is supporting several clinical trials to test whether botanicals hold up to their claims. Other researchers are developing techniques to assess quality and consistency, whilst others are investigating the power of dietary supplements to fight off specific diseases. Clearly alternative medicine is going mainstream! With soaring consumer demand for food supplements, there is an economic advantage for the pharmaceutical and medical community to provide safe and effective products to the consumer. The industry should also feel an obligation to use the expertise and knowledge of scientific inquiry that it has developed (such as unbiased randomized and placebo-controlled studies) to separate the fact from the fantasy.
Safer than drugs
Advocates of dietary supplements will tell you that they are much safer than FDA approved drugs and perhaps they are right. Estimates of individuals that die from prescription drugs are over 100,000 every year, whereas since 1993, there are just over 100 deaths linked to food supplement use. But the truth is we really don't know. Extensive testing of prescription drugs provides a detailed risk profile but systematic research has never been done for dietary supplements. Interactions between prescription drugs and supplements also needs to be investigated. What we do know is that the public want to be in control of their health care decisions and many are looking for alternatives to what is being provided by the pharmaceutical industry. The public also have the right to make informed choices and accurate information should be available on a products purity, effectiveness and safety regardless of the origin.
Public safety and health freedom
In addition, a mass of research on the nutrient status of adults in western countries tell us that most people's dietary intake falls considerably short of providing the optimal intake of nutrients. I challenge each of you to look at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans published by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) last month and compare it with your diet. My guess is that most of us will fall short of the guidelines. All individuals need to have the opportunity to safely supplement their diet with safe and effective supplements.
In choosing a supplement under the present system, the most prudent advice that can be given is caveat emptor. As consumers I believe we are entitled to a better system and as members of the pharmaceutical community I believe we have a responsibility to meet the demand for safe and effective supplements. Is the goal of public safety and health freedom really unobtainable?
Dietary Supplements: A Framework for Evaluating Safety
Dietary Supplements and the Older Consumer
Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry
Vitamin Supplements and 'Healthy Diets'
UK FSA out of step with available research
"Miracle" Health Claims - Add a Dose of Skepticism
Studies: alternative meds need to be tested
Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States
The Intelligent Design & Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club at the University of Texas at Dallas is hosting an Intelligent Design Symposium (Saturday, March 26th). For more details, please visit http://www.utdallas.edu/orgs/idea/symposium2005.
Feel free to spread the word.
Wilston - IDEA Club President
Name of event: Intelligent Design Symposium
Presented by: IDEA (Intelligent Design & Evolution Awareness) Club at UT Dallas
Description: This event will be a symposium on the theory of Intelligent Design. Speakers include: Ray Bohlin, of Probe Ministries, Paul Nelson, of the University of Chicago, Bruce Gordon, of Baylor University, and Bill Dembski, of Baylor University.
Date of event:
Start date: March 26, 2005
End date: March 26, 2005
Time of event:
Session starts: 12:00 PM
Session ends: 6:00 PM
University of Texas at Dallas
800 West Campbell Rd.
Richardson, TX 75080
Admission price of the event:
Public: (Symposium Only): $15.00 Per Person - Prepay Only
Public: (Lunch Banquet & Symposium): $25.00 Per Person - Prepay Only
UT Dallas Faculty, Staff & Students: (Symposium Only): Free w/ ID
UT Dallas Faculty, Staff & Students: (Lunch Banquet & Symposium): $10.00 - Prepay Only
Walk-In Registration: $20.00 (cash only) - Applies to Public Only
Web site: http://www.utdallas.edu/orgs/idea/symposium2005
Saturday, March 26th
12:00PM - 1:00PM
Location: SU 2.512 - Student Union - Regency Rooms
Note: You must prepay to attend the luncheon. This will be a great opportunity to meet with the speakers.
1:15PM - 6:00PM
Location: HH 2.402 - Hoblitzelle Hall - Auditorium
Note: Doors to the Karl Hoblitzelle Hall building will be open by 12:30PM for early seating and walk-in registration.
1:15 PM – Symposium Starts w/ Introduction of Panelists
1:25 PM – First Lecture (Paul Nelson)
2:10 PM – Second Lecture (Ray Bohlin)
2:55 PM – 30 Minute Break & Q/A Session (Nelson & Bohlin Only)
3:25 PM – Third Lecture (Bruce Gordon)
4:10 PM – Fourth Lecture (Bill Dembski)
4:55 PM – 1HR Q/A Session (Bohlin, Gordon, & Dembski Only)
6:00 PM – Symposium Ends
Paul Nelson - Intelligent Design and the Cambrian Explosion
Ray Bohlin - Natural Limits to Biological Change
Bruce Gordon - The Incompatibility of Metaphysical Naturalism with Quantum Theory
Note: All lectures will be 45 minutes long.
SHENANIGANS IN KANSAS
In the wake of the November 2004 elections in Kansas, antievolutionists gained the majority of seats on the state board of education, and they are now using their 6-4 majority to try to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards, which are undergoing revision. A first draft of the revised standards was submitted to the board in December 2004, and approved, despite complaints that the opinions of antievolutionists were ignored. Efforts to incorporate a "minority report" written with the aid of a local "intelligent design" organization were unsuccessful. The draft standards were then discussed (and continue to be discussed) at packed public hearings at four venues, as well as in letters to the editors, op-ed pieces, and editorials in newspapers and on radio and television stations across the state. Now a new series of actions apparently intended to bolster the antievolutionist faction on the board is causing concern.
On February 9, 2005, citing "significant disagreement" in the science curriculum writing committee over "issues that seem to be of legal and scientific substance, particularly with respect to the issue of the definition of science and the issue of origins and evolution" and claiming that "the controversy appears to mirror a controversy within the legal and scientific communities about these issues," the board adopted a proposal to establish a web site to receive comments about the draft standards and the "minority report" version, and to establish a committee of board members "to conduct hearings to investigate the merits of the two opposing views." Only antievolutionist board members voted in favor, and only antievolutionist members were appointed to the hearing committee. According to the Wichita Eagle, the committee "will meet with scientists who support evolution and scientists who support the competing concept of intelligent design," which prompted moderate board member Carol Rupe to say, "This is very disconcerting, and I'm very opposed to it."
Also on February 9, the Associated Press reported that Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, meeting with members of the state board of education, offered to defend the board if it were to require evolution warning labels to be placed in biology textbooks. Kline told the AP that he thought such labels were reasonable, even in light of the recent decision in federal court that the warning labels used in Cobb County, Georgia, were unconstitutional. The board members were divided about the idea: conservative Iris Van Meter reportedly favored it, but conservative Kathy Martin said that the decision should be left to local school districts. Overshadowing the idea was concern about whether the meeting violated the state's Open Meeting Act. Kline held two meetings with three conservative members of the board each, in what appeared to some to be a transparent attempt to evade the act's provisions. Six media organizations demanded that the members who met with Kline "provide details on what occurred at those meetings, admit they violated the state open meetings law and promise not to do it again."
And a nonbinding resolution introduced in the Kansas House of Representatives on February 15, 2005, also seems intended to provide support for the antievolutionists on the state board education. House Resolution 6018, sponsored by Representative Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), would, if enacted, urge "the State Board of Education and public schools within the state to (a) prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science and (b), where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), provide curriculum that will help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." The language of HR 6018 is modeled on the so-called Santorum Amendment, written by "intelligent design" proponent Phillip Johnson and stripped from the No Child Left Behind Act; of the eight antievolutionist bills introduced in state legislatures in the current legislative session, all but one contain such language.
For the Wichita Eagle's story about the board's resolution, visit:
To read and comment on the draft standards and the "minority report"
For the Lawrence Journal-World's story about the warning label proposal, visit:
For the text of HR 6018, visit:
For Kansas Citizens for Science's press release on these shenanigans, visit:
AWARD FOR DALRYMPLE
The noted geologist and NCSE Supporter G. Brent Dalrymple was named a 2005 National Medal of Science Laureate, in an announcement made on February 14, 2005, by President Bush. The medals will be awarded at a White House ceremony on March 14, 2005. The National Medal of Science is the nation's highest honor for scientific achievement. Dalrymple worked for the U.S. Geological Survey for 31 years, helping to establish the foundations for plate tectonics and performing fundamental research on the origin and age of the earth and moon, and then taught at Oregon State University, where he also served as Dean of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences before retiring in 2001. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Author of numerous scientific papers, he also wrote two books on geochronology: The Age of the Earth (Stanford University Press, 1991), and Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies: The Age of Earth and Its Cosmic Surroundings (Stanford University Press, 2004).
As the Corvallis, Oregon, Gazette-Times noted in its story on the award, Dalrymple "has also been a passionate advocate for science-based teachings in schools and has worked to keep creationism out of textbooks." As a scientific expert on the age of the earth, he was a key expert witness in the 1981 court case McLean v. Arkansas, which resulted in the overturning of an Arkansas law that gave "equal time" for creationism. Of his testimony, fellow witness Michael Ruse wrote (in "A philosopher's day in court," in Science and Creationism, ed. Ashley Montagu [Oxford University Press, 1984]): "My sense was that Dalrymple was so good and so firm that he rather broke the back of the State's case. He had checked all of the Creationist arguments and showed in devastating detail the trail of misquotations, computational errors, out-of-date references, and sheer blind stupidity which allows the Creationists to assign the earth an age of 6000 years. After Dalrymple, the State seemed far less ready to tangle with witnesses."
To read the story in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, visit:
To buy Dalrymple's Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies (and benefit NCSE in the
THE BEEBE DISCLAIMER
On February 10, 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that the Beebe School District in Beebe, Arkansas, agreed to remove warning labels from its science textbooks which describe evolution as "a controversial theory" and refer to an "intelligent designer" as a possible explanation of the origin of life. But now, according to a story in The Leader, the Beebe school board has decided not to do so: instead, the board will wait for the outcome of Selman v. Cobb County, a federal case challenging the constitutionality of a similar disclaimer in use in Cobb County, Georgia. Although the Cobb County warning label was ruled unconstitutional, the school board there decided to appeal. The Beebe school board is also reportedly seeking the aid of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal organization founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. A staff attorney at the ACLU of Arkansas commented, "The ACLU of Arkansas will be surprised and disappointed if the Beebe School Board does not fulfill the terms of the agreement by its attorney, Paul Blume, who has advised us twice privately and once through the media that the School Board intends to remove the stickers at the end of the school year. Mr. Blume has promised to send us a letter confirming that this will be done. Obviously, we will have no choice but to engage in extremely expensive litigation if the School Board does not follow through with its original agreement."
For the story in The Leader, visit:
For NCSE's previous story, including the complete text of the Beebe
evolution warning label, 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.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc
POSTED: 4:03 pm EST February 18, 2005
DOVER, Pa. -- Potential school board candidates are lining up to run in the York County primary race, which likely will have as a key campaign issue the debate over teaching "intelligent design."
Physics teacher Bryan Rehm is among the candidates backed by a new citizens group called Dover Citizens Actively Reviewing Educational Strategies. The group is registering as a political action committee.
Rehm is one of 11 who sued the Dover Area School District for including intelligent design in its ninth-grade biology curriculum. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex, an unspecified guiding force must have created it.
The lawsuit argues that intelligent design is merely a secular variation of creationism and that teaching it in public schools violates the separation of church and state. The Dover Area School Board has said it wants to present alternative views to evolution.
Seven of the nine school board seats will be on the May 17 primary ballot.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
Posted on Sat, Feb. 19, 2005
Lake Quivira's John Calvert emerges as an intelligent design expert and advocate
By EDIE HALL The Kansas City Star
For the first 30 years of his life, John Calvert was a self-proclaimed agnostic.
He considered the Bible's teachings a sort of "fairy tale," and instead relied on human reason to explain the world around him.
Then, at age 37, he "hit a wall."
Now, the 64-year-old Lake Quivira man is a Christian and sought-after expert in the theory of intelligent design and whether it has a place in public education.
Intelligent design is an inference that certain features of nature are better explained by an intelligent cause instead of a physical cause. It is controversial because of its religious implications.
Calvert, who practiced corporate finance and business litigation law with Lathrop and Gage L.C. in Kansas City for 32 years, retired four years ago to turn his attention to the science standards in public schools.
Calvert has been actively involved in the debate in nine states besides Kansas — from California to North Carolina and Minnesota to New Mexico.
In 2002, Calvert and other intelligent design supporters persuaded the Ohio Board of Education to change their science standards to require students to analyze certain aspects of evolution.
He also has been called to discuss the topic in the national arena on National Public Radio.
Calvert said he enjoys being in the spotlight only to the extent that it allows him to promote his message.
Calvert currently serves as the attorney for eight of the 26 people who make up a committee revising state science standards.
The group of eight submitted a proposal to the Kansas Board of Education recommending that, among other things, the definition of science be changed to allow more than just a naturalistic definition of science.
Hitting the wall
After graduating from college with a geology degree and spending two years in the Army, Calvert went into the legal field.
He became a successful lawyer, and life appeared to be going as he had planned.
But when an unwanted divorce swept away his foundation, Calvert said he had to re-examine his purpose in life.
"The divorce had the affect of really tearing down all the different goals I'd been working toward," Calvert said. "My family just disintegrated, so at this point I had to start asking, ‘what is the meaning of life?' Human reason will take you quite a ways, but at some point it's not enough."
Calvert said it was reason that led him to Christianity, although he explored other religions.
"The logic of it just blew me away, particularly in the New Testament — the gospels," he said.
A genuine relationship
Calvert's second wife, Trudy, said she admires her husband for changing his life at an older age than most.
"It makes me realize how genuine his relationship (with God) is from watching that process, and that enhances our relationship," she said.
Maurice O'Sullivan, who works in trust and estates tax and executive compensation at Lathrop and Gage, has known Calvert since 1968. He was also around to see the life changes Calvert made.
"John is probably one of the most intelligent people I think I've ever seen, and an absolutely brilliant lawyer," O'Sullivan said. "He's really an absolutely wonderful human being."
A worthy adversary
Even those who disagree with Calvert express respect for him.
John Staver, a Kansas State University professor and director of the university's Center of Science Education, is an evolutionist.
Staver served on a panel with Calvert in 2002 where different theories of the origin of the universe were discussed. Staver also serves on the committee that is revising Kansas science standards and has discussed the opposing theories with Calvert at committee meetings, which are open to the public.
"He's a gentleman — a really nice guy," Staver said. "He argues his points reasonably well. He hasn't convinced me, but he tends to be very effective as a speaker. I don't agree with him at all, but I enjoy our discussions."
Discovering a design
It was Calvert's love for science and the law, and a newfound belief in God that led him to be a proponent for intelligent design.
"In the late '70s, early '80s, I read an article about DNA," Calvert said. "It was just beginning to be understood at that time, and I thought, ‘This is really an incredible design.' "
Calvert began to look for scientific papers about design in nature and found what he called an "unwritten rule" that scientists generally don't accept design in nature because of its religious implications.
"This kind of unstated bias are what we try to make sure doesn't happen in securities law," said Calvert. "We try not to have any hidden assumptions because if you do — you have Enron."
Calvert said "design detection," or how to recognize if an event happened by accident or was purposefully caused, is used in other sciences including anthropology, forensic science and arson investigation.
He believes it should also be allowed in origins science.
That belief, Calvert said, led himself and others to found Intelligent Design Network Inc., a non profit organization that wants public schools to allow the question "where do we come from" to be answered without philosophic or religious bias.
In his corner
Trudy Calvert said she supports her husband's work, although she doesn't take an active role in the intelligent design debate.
"I think people really support and admire him for doing that which he feels strong about - for taking a stand," she said.
O'Sullivan said Calvert's work ethic and "excellent" judgment could win favor with most people.
"He has a tremendous ability to analyze very complex problems and come up with a series of solutions that comply with the law but that show a good deal of a sense of practicality," O'Sullivan said.
Calvert gives himself less credit than others do, though.
"I'm very persistent, very patient," Calvert said. "I'm not a great eloquent speaker, and I'm not really smart. I'm just a hard worker.
"And I have a logical mind."
And Calvert applies his logic to more than origins science - he applies it to his life.
"I really do think we are designs - made for a purpose," he said. "Purpose is a huge issue - where do you get your purpose from. I think that relationships are absolutely key. I think our purpose is to build good relationships."
Calvert said his most important worldly relationship is with Trudy, followed by his children and grandchildren.
And although Calvert said it's sometimes difficult to keep priorities in order, others think he's done a good job so far in life.
"There are certain people in the world that you simply recognize that this is a truly good and fine person," O'Sullivan said. "That probably is John's greatest characteristic."
To reach Edie Hall, call (816) 234-7725 or e-mail email@example.com.
By Rich Barlow | February 19, 2005
The cultural storm over ''intelligent design" has generated a squall over Cambridge and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or CfA.
Intelligent design is the theory that the universe follows a precise, purposeful blueprint that is not fully explained by evolution, and that perhaps is the work of a divine draftsman. On March 1, Sir John Polkinghorne, a physicist and Anglican priest who believes in both evolution and God, is to talk at a private dinner/discussion at the CfA on Garden Street.
Given that in some parts of the country, religious believers are using intelligent design as a battering ram against the teaching of evolution in schools, some CfA scientists worry that this is a dangerous topic to broach. Others fear that by mentioning ''Smithsonian" on the invitation, the organizers might have left the inaccurate impression that the center is sponsoring the event.
''The announcement seems to imply that the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is in some way hosting this event, which is not true, and which is not appropriate for a federal organization," astronomer Lee Hartmann, who is traveling abroad, said by e-mail. The CfA is a collaboration between the Smithsonian and Harvard observatories.
But Owen Gingerich, another astronomer who is chairman of the Polkinghorne event, said the dispute is a supernova in a teapot.
Harvard owns the property and allows other groups to hold events there, including Alcoholics Anonymous, he said. The Polkinghorne event is a private, invitation-only affair; and Polkinghorne believes in both evolution and a purposefulness to existence.
The dinner/talk is ''simply a venue to bring together a group of faculty members at MIT and Harvard and other institutions around here . . . who have interest in these types of questions," Gingerich said. The sponsor, he said, is the Roundtable on Science, Art and Religion, an Amherst-based group of professors and a few chaplains who support dialogue between Christians and academics on science and religion.
The Rev. David Thom, the coordinator of the Roundtable, said he explored several locations for the Polkinghorne event. The CfA, which offered its building for free, was chosen ''based on access and parking, and what we'd have to pay for rent."
Most of the roughly 50 invitees are scientists, with a smattering of other disciplines, including a few scholars from Harvard Divinity School, said Thom.
Those on both sides acknowledge the incendiary national backdrop to Polkinghorne's visit. Some school districts mandate the teaching of alternatives to Darwinism, and in others, some teachers avoid the subject, The New York Times reported.
This is not the first time the issue has riled the CfA. Last year, a forum called ''Fitness of the Cosmos for Life: Biochemistry and Fine-Tuning" stirred similar concern. That forum was sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, which promotes communication between science and religion.
''Such fine-tuning might require some kind of intelligent design or creator," said Hartmann. ''But once you've appealed to the creator, you're done with science; you can explain any and everything, which means you are at a dead end."
''People are entitled to their personal religious/philosophical views," Hartmann wrote. ''But these kinds of meetings are misused by activists in this country to suggest that there is a real scientific debate about whether evolution occurs, and therefore to reduce or eliminate the teaching of evolution and natural selection."
Gingerich, a Christian, shares that last concern.
''I believe in intelligent design, lower case I and D," he told National Public Radio earlier this month. ''And I do have a problem with Intelligent Design, capital I and capital D, because it's being sold as a political movement, as if somehow it's an alternative to Darwinian evolution."
''Evolution is today an unfinished theory, and there are definitely many details it doesn't answer. But I just don't think that's grounds for dismissing it."
A key difference between intelligent design advocates and Darwinians is that the latter contend that natural selection and random mutations over time created life in all its complexity. Intelligent designers say such complexity suggests a conscious design rather that randomness.
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© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.
Posted on Sat, Feb. 19, 2005
Least expensive option uses nutrition, herbs, homeopathy treatment
Bounce is his name, personality is his game. The dapper orange cat purrs like an engine and rolls his head in any open hand.
He loves to stand in the middle of computer keyboards and is particularly fond of the escape key.
``He's a shelter cat,'' said Dr. Holly Troche, pronounced Tro-key. The 29-year-old Norton veterinarian sure knows how to pick them. ``He was socialized early,'' as though that explains him.
Bounce hooked Troche with a paw when she was trolling for a cat of her own at the Medina County Animal Shelter, where she volunteers some of her precious personal time.
``I had heard orange cats are friendly,'' she said. ``He jumped out and away we went.''
Her workweek is spent at Creekside Animal Clinic, where she offers patients like Bounce a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to what ails them. Holistic medicine is not a stranger in the night and does not necessarily preclude Western medicine. Let's use Bounce as an example and let's say he has been limping.
``Western medicine traditionally says your leg hurts, let's treat your leg,'' she said. ``If you look from a holistic view, you ask why does his leg hurt. Is the spine out of balance and does that put more stress on the leg?... You're looking at the whole individual.''
The holistic approach is gentle, minimally invasive and seeks the root source of the pathology, according to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at www.ahvma.org. The holistic approach is the least expensive and most efficacious of treatments, according to Carvel Tiekert, executive director.
Holistic practitioners typically inquire about genetics or parentage, nutrition, hygiene and stress factors and cast a wide net where treatment is concerned. They might borrow from herbal medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy or rehabilitation and so on.
Alternative medicine is a largely untapped resource for pet owners, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. In its 2002 Pet Owner Survey of nearly 1,300 respondents, only 19 percent have tried massage; 9 percent, herbal remedies; and 4 percent, homeopathic; with fewer than 2 percent sampling from other modalities. Those numbers rose in 2003-2004, but are still small, probably because the majority of vets still practice traditional Western medicine.
``What's out there for people is out there for animals,'' said Troche, a 2001 graduate of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. So far she has eked out sufficient time from her busy schedule to get specialized training in herbal medicine, rehabilitation and physical therapy and plans to continue down the line. Her medicine is evolving.
As a result, Troche has been able to offer sufferers of chronic disease, such as cancer, alternative, more livable courses of treatment.
``Sometimes people will elect not to do conventional chemo or drug therapy. Holistic may or may not be a better option,'' depending on the case, said Troche. ``There's no way to predict the outcome, but a lot of people have been happy with the quality of the dog's life.''
One such person is Paula Moran, executive director of the Summit County Historical Society. Her dog Frasier, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, has multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, rare in animals and very nasty. He was diagnosed in August.
``Conventional therapy usually involves chemo with a mixed success rate,'' said Troche.
Not only is there a problem with the bone marrow, but also with side effects that include lesions in the spine, clotting problems and possible heart failure. The dog was on death's doorstep.
A team of vets recommended, in part, a course of chemotherapy.
``I said hold the phone,'' said Moran. ``I watched my mother go through this. I really wasn't sure I was willing to do this to the favorite animal of my life. I have a little bit of background in alternative medicine and a belief in its potential for healing. I started doing some research.''
She ended up in Troche's office at the Creekside Animal Clinic. Troche is one of the veterinarians at the clinic.
The two of them decided to put Frasier on a raw diet, which is easier for the animal to break down than processed foods. They harnessed the healing power of homeopathy. ``It's basically diluted extracts that help to rebalance the bodies' energies,'' said Troche. ``They are very specific in how they work. It's a bizarre concept so it's hard to find a good definition.''
The medicines change depending on the symptoms. ``Arsenicum album is our medicine of choice and very effective for sneezing blood,'' said Moran. ``Usually within 24 hours of dosing, he stops.''
Herbs reduce toxins
They gave Frasier antioxidant vitamins to reduce toxins in his system and support the body's immune system. ``He's on a couple of herbs,'' said Troche, ``dandelion to clear the body of toxins and milk thistle to support the liver. He also gets a weekly energy treatment of Reiki.... It rebalances the body's energies.'' Reiki is a whole new topic that we'll take a look at in a separate story soon.
``Frasier looks good,'' said Troche. ``He's bright. He's perky. He was shaking like a leaf when he first got here. He is acting like a puppy at home. He's exceeding our expectations. We didn't give him much promise when he was first diagnosed.''
``We humans put up all these road blocks, but animals don't do that,'' said Moran. ``When I took him to the regular vet after the diagnostics were done, I thought I'd have him for 24 hours. He could hardly walk. He was in extreme pain. When you have a Chessie that's expressing pain, you know it's bad.''
Moran figures the dog has already lived three months past expectations. ``He will walk a mile or two. He plays, jumps, chases cats -- and I have eight of them. He's enjoying the final phase of his life,'' she said. ``Everybody I talk to without exception has said they'd never do chemo again.''
When Moran looks back on this episode of her life, ``I will know in my heart that I was proactive and I took control. I went to the ends of the Earth to save him.... Troche will not say to you, this is what you should do. She will show you what your options are. As the pet parent, it's your decision.
``I'm really devoted to my regular vet. He even gave me his home phone number. But when I called him back to tell him about these alternative ideas, he said he was uncomfortable with it. But I'm not gonna change what works.''
Connie Bloom shares your passion for pets. You can reach her at 330-996-3568 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
By JIM HOLT
Recently a school district in rural Pennsylvania officially recognized a supposed alternative to Darwinism. In a one-minute statement read by an administrator, ninth-grade biology students were told that evolution was not a fact and were encouraged to explore a different explanation of life called intelligent design. What is intelligent design? Its proponents maintain that living creatures are just too intricate to have arisen by evolution. Throughout the natural world, they say, there is evidence of deliberate design. Is it not reasonable, then, to infer the existence of an intelligent designer? To evade the charge that intelligent design is a religious theory -- creationism dressed up as science -- its advocates make no explicit claims about who or what this designer might be. But students will presumably get the desired point. As one Pennsylvania teacher observed: ''The first question they will ask is: 'Well, who's the designer? Do you mean God?'''
From a scientific perspective, one of the most frustrating things about intelligent design is that (unlike Darwinism) it is virtually impossible to test. Old-fashioned biblical creationism at least risked making some hard factual claims -- that the earth was created before the sun, for example. Intelligent design, by contrast, leaves the purposes of the designer wholly mysterious. Presumably any pattern of data in the natural world is consistent with his/her/its existence.
But if we can't infer anything about the design from the designer, maybe we can go the other way. What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.
Such disregard for economy can be found throughout the natural order. Perhaps 99 percent of the species that have existed have died out. Darwinism has no problem with this, because random variation will inevitably produce both fit and unfit individuals. But what sort of designer would have fashioned creatures so out of sync with their environments that they were doomed to extinction?
The gravest imperfections in nature, though, are moral ones. Consider how humans and other animals are intermittently tortured by pain throughout their lives, especially near the end. Our pain mechanism may have been designed to serve as a warning signal to protect our bodies from damage, but in the majority of diseases -- cancer, for instance, or coronary thrombosis -- the signal comes too late to do much good, and the horrible suffering that ensues is completely useless.
And why should the human reproductive system be so shoddily designed? Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception. Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity. Owing to faulty reproductive design, it would seem that the population of limbo must be at least twice that of heaven and hell combined.
It is hard to avoid the inference that a designer responsible for such imperfections must have been lacking some divine trait -- benevolence or omnipotence or omniscience, or perhaps all three. But what if the designer did not style each species individually? What if he/she/it merely fashioned the primal cell and then let evolution produce the rest, kinks and all? That is what the biologist and intelligent-design proponent Michael J. Behe has suggested. Behe says that the little protein machines in the cell are too sophisticated to have arisen by mutation -- an opinion that his scientific peers overwhelmingly do not share. Whether or not he is correct, his version of intelligent design implies a curious sort of designer, one who seeded the earth with elaborately contrived protein structures and then absconded, leaving the rest to blind chance.
One beauty of Darwinism is the intellectual freedom it allows. As the arch-evolutionist Richard Dawkins has observed, ''Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.'' But Darwinism permits you to be an intellectually fulfilled theist, too. That is why Pope John Paul II was comfortable declaring that evolution has been ''proven true'' and that ''truth cannot contradict truth.'' If God created the universe wholesale rather than retail -- endowing it from the start with an evolutionary algorithm that progressively teased complexity out of chaos -- then imperfections in nature would be a necessary part of a beautiful process.
Of course proponents of intelligent design are careful not to use the G-word, because, as they claim, theirs is not a religiously based theory. So biology students can be forgiven for wondering whether the mysterious designer they're told about might not be the biblical God after all, but rather some very advanced yet mischievous or blundering intelligence -- extraterrestrial scientists, say. The important thing, as the Pennsylvania school administrator reminded them, is ''to keep an open mind.''
Jim Holt is a frequent contributor to the magazine.
DEEP in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.
At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.
But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.
The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.
Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers.
'It's Earth-shattering stuff,' says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon.
'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.' Dr Nelson's investigations, called the Global Consciousness Project, were originally hosted by Princeton University and are centred on one of the most extraordinary experiments of all time. Its aim is to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can all tap into without realising.
And machines like the Edinburgh black box have thrown up a tantalising possibility: that scientists may have unwittingly discovered a way of predicting the future.
Although many would consider the project's aims to be little more than fools' gold, it has still attracted a roster of 75 respected scientists from 41 different nations. Researchers from Princeton - where Einstein spent much of his career - work alongside scientists from universities in Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. The project is also the most rigorous and longest-running investigation ever into the potential powers of the paranormal.
'Very often paranormal phenomena evaporate if you study them for long enough,' says physicist Dick Bierman of the University of Amsterdam. 'But this is not happening with the Global Consciousness Project. The effect is real. The only dispute is about what it means.' The project has its roots in the extraordinary work of Professor Robert Jahn of Princeton University during the late 1970s. He was one of the first modern scientists to take paranormal phenomena seriously. Intrigued by such things as telepathy, telekinesis - the supposed psychic power to move objects without the use of physical force - and extrasensory perception, he was determined to study the phenomena using the most up-to-date technology available.
One of these new technologies was a humble-looking black box known was a Random Event Generator (REG). This used computer technology to generate two numbers - a one and a zero - in a totally random sequence, rather like an electronic coin-flipper.
The pattern of ones and noughts - 'heads' and 'tails' as it were - could then be printed out as a graph. The laws of chance dictate that the generators should churn out equal numbers of ones and zeros - which would be represented by a nearly flat line on the graph. Any deviation from this equal number shows up as a gently rising curve.
During the late 1970s, Prof Jahn decided to investigate whether the power of human thought alone could interfere in some way with the machine's usual readings. He hauled strangers off the street and asked them to concentrate their minds on his number generator. In effect, he was asking them to try to make it flip more heads than tails.
It was a preposterous idea at the time. The results, however, were stunning and have never been satisfactorily explained.
Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their minds could influence the machine and produce significant fluctuations on the graph, 'forcing it' to produce unequal numbers of 'heads' or 'tails'.
According to all of the known laws of science, this should not have happened - but it did. And it kept on happening.
Dr Nelson, also working at Princeton University, then extended Prof Jahn's work by taking random number machines to group meditations, which were very popular in America at the time. Again, the results were eyepopping. The groups were collectively able to cause dramatic shifts in the patterns of numbers.
From then on, Dr Nelson was hooked.
Using the internet, he connected up 40 random event generators from all over the world to his laboratory computer in Princeton. These ran constantly, day in day out, generating millions of different pieces of data. Most of the time, the resulting graph on his computer looked more or less like a flat line.
But then on September 6, 1997, something quite extraordinary happened: the graph shot upwards, recording a sudden and massive shift in the number sequence as his machines around the world started reporting huge deviations from the norm. The day was of historic importance for another reason, too.
For it was the same day that an estimated one billion people around the world watched the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales at Westminster Abbey.
Dr Nelson was convinced that the two events must be related in some way.
Could he have detected a totally new phenomena? Could the concentrated emotional outpouring of millions of people be able to influence the output of his REGs. If so, how?
Dr Nelson was at a loss to explain it.
So, in 1998, he gathered together scientists from all over the world to analyse his findings. They, too, were stumped and resolved to extend and deepen the work of Prof Jahn and Dr Nelson. The Global Consciousness Project was born.
Since then, the project has expanded massively. A total of 65 Eggs (as the generators have been named) in 41 countries have now been recruited to act as the 'eyes' of the project.
And the results have been startling and inexplicable in equal measure.
For during the course of the experiment, the Eggs have 'sensed' a whole series of major world events as they were happening, from the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia to the Kursk submarine tragedy to America's hung election of 2000.
The Eggs also regularly detect huge global celebrations, such as New Year's Eve.
But the project threw up its greatest enigma on September 11, 2001.
As the world stood still and watched the horror of the terrorist attacks unfold across New York, something strange was happening to the Eggs.
Not only had they registered the attacks as they actually happened, but the characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers had begun four hours before the two planes even hit the Twin Towers.
They had, it appeared, detected that an event of historic importance was about to take place before the terrorists had even boarded their fateful flights. The implications, not least for the West's security services who constantly monitor electronic 'chatter', are clearly enormous.
'I knew then that we had a great deal of work ahead of us,' says Dr Nelson.
What could be happening? Was it a freak occurrence, perhaps?
Apparently not. For in the closing weeks of December last year, the machines went wild once more.
Twenty-four hours later, an earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean triggered the tsunami which devastated South-East Asia, and claimed the lives of an estimated quarter of a million people.
So could the Global Consciousness Project really be forecasting the future?
Cynics will quite rightly point out that there is always some global event that could be used to 'explain' the times when the Egg machines behaved erratically. After all, our world is full of wars, disasters and terrorist outrages, as well as the occasional global celebration. Are the scientists simply trying too hard to detect patterns in their raw data?
The team behind the project insist not. They claim that by using rigorous scientific techniques and powerful mathematics it is possible to exclude any such random connections.
'We're perfectly willing to discover that we've made mistakes,' says Dr Nelson. 'But we haven't been able to find any, and neither has anyone else.
Our data shows clearly that the chances of getting these results by fluke are one million to one against.
That's hugely significant.' But many remain sceptical.
Professor Chris French, a psychologist and noted sceptic at Goldsmiths College in London, says: 'The Global Consciousness Project has generated some very intriguing results that cannot be readily dismissed. I'm involved in similar work to see if we get the same results. We haven't managed to do so yet but it's only an early experiment. The jury's still out.' Strange as it may seem, though, there's nothing in the laws of physics that precludes the possibility of foreseeing the future.
It is possible - in theory - that time may not just move forwards but backwards, too. And if time ebbs and flows like the tides in the sea, it might just be possible to foretell major world events. We would, in effect, be 'remembering' things that had taken place in our future.
'There's plenty of evidence that time may run backwards,' says Prof Bierman at the University of Amsterdam.
'And if it's possible for it to happen in physics, then it can happen in our minds, too.' In other words, Prof Bierman believes that we are all capable of looking into the future, if only we could tap into the hidden power of our minds. And there is a tantalising body of evidence to support this theory.
Dr John Hartwell, working at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, was the first to uncover evidence that people could sense the future. In the mid-1970s he hooked people up to hospital scanning machines so that he could study their brainwave patterns.
He began by showing them a sequence of provocative cartoon drawings.
When the pictures were shown, the machines registered the subject's brainwaves as they reacted strongly to the images before them. This was to be expected.
Far less easy to explain was the fact that in many cases, these dramatic patterns began to register a few seconds before each of the pictures were even flashed up.
It was as though Dr Hartwell's case studies were somehow seeing into the future, and detecting when the next shocking image would be shown next.
It was extraordinary - and seemingly inexplicable.
But it was to be another 15 years before anyone else took Dr Hartwell's work further when Dean Radin, a researcher working in America, connected people up to a machine that measured their skin's resistance to electricity. This is known to fluctuate in tandem with our moods - indeed, it's this principle that underlies many lie detectors.
Radin repeated Dr Hartwell's 'image response' experiments while measuring skin resistance. Again, people began reacting a few seconds before they were shown the provocative pictures. This was clearly impossible, or so he thought, so he kept on repeating the experiments. And he kept getting the same results.
'I didn't believe it either,' says Prof Bierman. 'So I also repeated the experiment myself and got the same results. I was shocked. After this I started to think more deeply about the nature of time.' To make matters even more intriguing, Prof Bierman says that other mainstream labs have now produced similar results but are yet to go public.
'They don't want to be ridiculed so they won't release their findings,' he says. 'So I'm trying to persuade all of them to release their results at the same time. That would at least spread the ridicule a little more thinly!' If Prof Bierman is right, though, then the experiments are no laughing matter.
They might help provide a solid scientific grounding for such strange phenomena as 'deja vu', intuition and a host of other curiosities that we have all experienced from time to time.
They may also open up a far more interesting possibility - that one day we might be able to enhance psychic powers using machines that can 'tune in' to our subconscious mind, machines like the little black box in Edinburgh.
Just as we have built mechanical engines to replace muscle power, could we one day build a device to enhance and interpret our hidden psychic abilities?
Dr Nelson is optimistic - but not for the short term. 'We may be able to predict that a major world event is going to happen. But we won't know exactly what will happen or where it's going to happen,' he says.
'Put it this way - we haven't yet got a machine we could sell to the CIA.'
But for Dr Nelson, talk of such psychic machines - with the potential to detect global catastrophes or terrorist outrages - is of far less importance than the implications of his work in terms of the human race.
For what his experiments appear to demonstrate is that while we may all operate as individuals, we also appear to share something far, far greater - a global consciousness. Some might call it the mind of God.
'We're taught to be individualistic monsters,' he says. 'We're driven by society to separate ourselves from each other. That's not right.
We may be connected together far more intimately than we realise.'
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Global Consciousness Project
Story from REDNOVA NEWS:
Published: 2005/02/11 00:00:00 CST
© Rednova 2004
February 18, 2005
WASHINGTON – For the first time, scientists have linked the world's warming oceans to a rise in greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other industry.
The research was conducted by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California. It showed that temperature readings in the oceans during the past 40 years matched computer models simulating how higher levels of human-generated greenhouse gases were expected to heat the oceans.
"We were stunned by the degree of similarity between the observations and the models," said Tim Barnett, a marine physicist who wrote the study with fellow Scripps scientist David Pierce.
Barnett spoke yesterday at a briefing coordinated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is holding its annual meeting this week in Washington, D.C.
"It's really undeniable that global warming is going on, whether you see it in the ocean or in the ecosystems," he said. "There's really a gazillion places to look for it."
The rise in ocean temperatures has varied around the world, but none of the increases can be explained by fluctuations in energy output from the sun, Barnett said. Some scientists have said the sun can drive climate changes at least as much as greenhouse gases.
However, the close match between actual temperature readings and what the computer models predicted rules out any other cause for warming oceans, Barnett said. It also suggests that the models are powerful tools for predicting how increases in carbon dioxide might change the global environment, he added.
Oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of Earth's surface, are the major regulators of climate. Average global temperatures have risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit during the past century, and scientists estimate that the oceans have absorbed about 90 percent of that heat.
Put another way, the oceans have sucked up enough heat energy during the past 40 years to power California for the next 200,000 years, Barnett said.
Warmer oceans are expected to have a profound impact on the global environment, said Barnett, who plans to publish his findings soon.
Drought would be the most immediate and lasting change for San Diegans and the rest of the western United States. Severe water shortages are looming large in some nations that rely exclusively on snow packs and glaciers for water, such as Peru and certain regions of China, Barnett said.
While many of the world's temperate zones receive less rain and snow, precipitation is shifting to the higher latitudes – toward the North and South poles, said Ruth Curry, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Melting snow and ice in the Arctic are adding fresh water to the North Atlantic, a situation that could disrupt the flow of warm water from the tropics to the north.
This "conveyer belt" brings cold and salty water from the Arctic to the south and moves warm water from the tropics to the north. A slowdown or shutdown of this circulation could drastically change the world's climate.
For the U.S. Northeast and northern Europe, continued global warming could lead to a deep freeze, scientists have said.
Scientists aren't sure whether the current ocean warming might slow or halt the conveyer belt. But they're worried by such changes as an accumulation of fresh water in the northern seas and a drop in salinity in currents that feed the conveyor belt.
"These are the first steps that would constitute a movement toward a slowdown or shutdown of the ocean conveyer," Curry said. "The system is moving in that direction."
Other changes are afoot.
Rising temperatures are damaging ecosystems for birds that travel to the Arctic. In 1997, warming waters spawned a bloom of phytoplankton called coccolithofore, obscuring fish that a bird called the short-tailed shearwater feeds on, said Sharon Smith, a researcher at the University of Miami. Smith is studying how a warming Arctic is changing life for plants and animals there.
The result: Hundreds of thousands of the birds starved to death in 1997 and for several years afterward.
Ricardo Letelier, a researcher at Oregon State University, has seen evidence for an even more ominous change.
By warming the ocean's waters, rising levels of greenhouse gases might be disrupting the ability of oceans to continue absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Marine organisms that form calcium carbonate shells help the oceans absorb carbon in atmospheric carbon dioxide. When those animals die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and carry the carbon with them. Scientists have observed that changes in ocean temperature can upset the productivity of these creatures.
Faced with such negative consequences, governments should think seriously about reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, said Barnett, the Scripps scientist.
"I think it's a good time for the nations that are not now a part of Kyoto to re-evaluate their positions," said Barnett in reference to the international agreement that sets limits on greenhouse gases. The protocol, which the United States did not sign, went into effect Wednesday.
Bruce Lieberman: (619) 293-2836; firstname.lastname@example.org
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Now this is cool . There's a network of machines -- "Eggs" -- that seems to indicate when major world events (that is, those with strong emotional impact), are about to occur. This is not science fiction.
The Global Consciousness Project , based in Princeton but coordinated from sites around the world, cannot explain its results. Here's an excerpt from the article that shows the strange sort of thing they're dealing with:
But the project threw up its greatest enigma on September 11, 2001.
As the world stood still and watched the horror of the terrorist attacks unfold across New York, something strange was happening to the Eggs.
Not only had they registered the attacks as they actually happened, but the characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers had begun four hours before the two planes even hit the Twin Towers.
They had, it appeared, detected that an event of historic importance was about to take place before the terrorists had even boarded their fateful flights. The implications, not least for the West's security services who constantly monitor electronic 'chatter', are clearly enormous.
posted by Rod Dreher @ Feb 14, 6:14 PM
Friday, February 18, 2005
By CANDICE WILLIAMS
BETHLEHEM -- Evolution might not be able to explain the complex inner structure of cells, a leading biological sciences professor said Thursday.
A packed house at Lehigh University's Linderman Library listened to Professor Michael J. Behe present challenging questions that put Charles Darwin's theory of evolution under the microscope.
Behe is a leading proponent of the theory of intelligent design, which holds that some higher power or guiding force created life. Intelligent design opponents say it is just another name for creationism, or the idea that God created and directs the march of species.
Behe is a tenured Lehigh biochemist who wrote a provocative 1996 best seller titled "Darwin's Black Box."
In his hour-long lecture, followed by another hour-long question-and-answer period, Behe, a Catholic, asked students to consider alternative theories before finding one to support or refute their personal beliefs about evolution.
In his book, Behe suggests the complexity of a cell, with all its unique working parts, may be the creation of an intelligent design -- not an accident of chemistry and physics.
Citing the drama of such biological wonders as the way blood clots, Behe said all of a cell's functions must work in unison for a cell to be effective.
"Can such complexities as a cell be a freak of nature or the product of intelligent design?" Behe asked. "Evolution explains some things. But nothing explains the elegant structures of a cell."
Behe's theories have raised the ire of many in the scientific community who have continued to stand steadfast by all of Darwin's research. Behe defended his research by highlighting several of his critics and then countering their criticisms with his own research.
Behe said he would not refute or disagree with much of Darwin's research or some of Darwin's theory. However, Behe suggests the study of evolution has been blown wide open by recent advances in molecular science, including the discovery of DNA.
Current research will fuel the debate for years to come, he said.
Copyright 2005 NJ.com.
[World News]: MEMPHIS, Feb. 17 : A Memphis, Tenn., school board member, who helped set up a Bible class in county schools, now wants a creation message to be included in biology textbooks.
Wyatt Bunker, who believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God, says he's concerned students are being taught only scientific theories such as evolution and the Big Bang, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
He is seeking support of fellow board members to place a sticker on textbooks, saying in part: "There are many scientific and religious theories about the nature and diversity of living things. All theories should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
Board members, however, deferred action this week. But Bunker said several members are dismayed that no state-approved texts teach the religious creationism approach along with scientific theories.
Copyright 2005 by United Press International
posted: February 18, 2005
The column entitled "Christian Right fuels negative political discourse" (CT, Feb. 16) unfortunately perpetuates the very object of its complaint — intolerance of differing opinions. I took issue most particularly with the reference to creationists and the movement to let students know of the existence of various theories of the origin of the Earth, as with the stickers on science textbooks in Georgia schools.
Contrary to the author's claim, creationism is not "a theory with no evidence or plausibility," nor a "test to see how much influence swinging a presidential election earns." In situations where evolution is taught as the only rational theory of origins, students fail to learn that evolution is an imperfect attempt to predict what may have happened in the unobserved past. Scientists interpret current evidences through their ideological framework, usually from a humanistic worldview or one in which the possibility of a supernatural creator or God is not considered. Using the very same scientific observations, many highly qualified scientists today see them as evidences for a young earth and an intelligent creator.
Intrinsically, a theory on the origin of man and the universe cannot be scientifically proven, because no one observed the events directly. No such theory is purely scientific or purely religious (as some evolutionists would like us to believe), but rather they are both a manifestation of the worldviews of human beings, whether they involve the existence of God or not.
Students should be allowed to interpret the evidence for evolution themselves and should be made aware of its flaws and alternatives. A sticker disclaimer is a ridiculously inadequate attempt at presenting the possibility of differing points of view on evolution. If we really want to be tolerant of other views, let's actively present and discuss them. Creationism should not be suppressed into silence today in the same way that evolution was decades ago; instead, school science courses ought to openly examine both theories.
©2004 by the Collegiate Times
Posted on Fri, Feb. 18, 2005
Many scientific truths 'just' theories
To those who argue that creationism should be taught in the schools because evolution is "just" a theory, scientist David Quammen points out that the notion that the Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa (Copernicus, 1543) is also a theory. Continental drift, the existence and structure of atoms and electricity (no one has ever seen electrons) are theories.
Why are there so many anti-evolutionists? Honest confusion and ignorance among millions of adults is a large part of the reason. Many have never had a biology class or paid attention when they did take a class. Scriptural literalists do a good job promoting their agenda. Darwin showed how natural selection happened by examples of such things as snakes carrying rudiments of tiny legs, certain flightless beetles with wings that never open, and even human males with nipples.
As Quammen puts it so succinctly, "The evidence for evolution is overwhelming." Just a theory? Much of what we know to be the truth today are theories.
Discuss creationism, but not in science class
I found the article "Evolution: textbook argument (Jan. 30)" by Krista J. Stockman interesting for the critical point it did not identify: Creationism and intelligent design are not science. For something to be science it must have an empirical base. There must be evidence in nature supporting it, and it must be open to being modified or rejected.
The way the terms "fact," "theory" and "proof" are used in science is different from the way people use the terms in everyday life. People often use the term "theory" to mean any idea that might be valid, such as, "My theory for why gasoline prices are high is that the gas companies are trying to increase their profits." In science, a theory is an explanatory framework that has empirical support.
People often talk about the evolutionary framework as "just a theory," as if that relegates it to the status of an unsupported hunch or guess. Interestingly, people seldom talk about the theory of relativity or atomic theory as "just theories." This difference exists despite the fact that the latter theories have as much empirical support as evolutionary theory.
The theory of evolution is a well-thought-out scientific framework with strong empirical support.
In contrast, neither creationism nor intelligent design is a scientific theory. To be a scientific explanation, they must contain a specific natural mechanism for the process(es) they are trying to explain and have empirical data supporting that mechanism. In addition, to be scientific they must be open to being overturned. What evidence found in nature would the proponents of these ideas accept as showing that their idea is wrong? If they cannot cite specific natural evidence, their ideas cannot be accepted as science.
I am not arguing to exclude consideration of creationism or intelligent design from discussion in school, but the science classroom is not the place for it.