NTS LogoSkeptical News for 24 March 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Narconon program: truth in drug education is relative


By Curran Dobson
Published: Monday, March 21, 2005

According to an anti-drug program taught in Sacramento, California's public school system called Narconon Drug Prevention and Education, drugs produce a colored ooze as they exit the body. This anti-drug program also states that drugs can be sweated out in high temperatures, such as in a sauna, and can also store themselves in a person's body fat and cause repeated flashbacks of previous highs.

Narconon is a secular program based on the research and writings of L. Ron Hubbard, who also founded the Scientology religion, but the program has been criticized for teaching students a variety of inaccuracies about drug abuse. Other misinformation included incorrectly explaining that the amount of a drug that a person took determined whether the drug acted as a depressant or a stimulant. Some proponents even described drugs as ruining a person's creativity and dulling a person's senses.

While this anti-drug program has been removed from the public school system in Sacramento, I have to question why it was ever permitted to run in the first place. Didn't the superintendent of the school district review the proposed material and the syllabus before initiating it? I understand that the school may have thought any drug prevention and education program was better than no program; however, I have to disagree. While teaching these inaccuracies would promote a negative response to drug abuse among the students, it is not appropriate to send students the wrong messages.

Students should be taught the accurate facts about drug abuse and be allowed to deduce from the correct information the dangers and problems with taking drugs. I believe that telling students what prolonged cocaine use can truly do to your body is much scarier and more effective than having them believe that a green ooze will suddenly emanate from their pores hours after sniffing a line of coke. Colored ooze may seem frightening; however, it is a ridiculous claim to make in a world where most teenagers have previously been exposed to drugs prior to entering the classroom.

Many high-school students may already know that there is a difference between depressants and stimulants, a difference other than the amount of a drug that you take. When a student is exposed to a supposed fact that they know to be untrue, they may discredit the rest of the information presented to them as false as well. This underscores the purpose of having any drug prevention program at all.

Members of the Sacramento public school system may have thought that hiring a group of people to teach students anything about drug prevention was better than students knowing nothing about drugs. However, in this case, teaching a student inaccuracies about something as serious as drug abuse can have serious ramifications. Students may wind up discrediting information they learn about drug abuse from their schools or elders if they are exposed to information so blatantly untrue. While it is important for students to become knowledgeable about drug prevention and abuse, they will not benefit at all if they are taught lies.

Evolution debate is political


The Kansas evolution debate is about politics, not science. And a March 14 Washington Post article on the activists behind the anti-evolution movement only underscored the point.

The article noted the efforts under way in 19 states, including Kansas, to inject doubts about the validity of evolution into state science standards.

Far from being some popular groundswell, these efforts are part of a carefully crafted campaign by a few well-financed, well-organized groups that see an opportunity to advance a conservative religious agenda.

Among the usual suspects involved in these disputes: Seattle's Discovery Institute, a quasi-scientific think tank that advocates intelligent design; the Kansas City-based Intelligent Design Network; and preachers such as the Rev. Terry Fox of Wichita's Immanuel Baptist Church, who was quoted in the article.

Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute told The Post that, despite some disagreements among these groups, they have agreed to put aside differences to work on a common short-term goal: discrediting evolution.

Instead of arguing head-on for the teaching of creationism (which they realize would never fly constitutionally), the activists' compromise strategy is to raise enough doubts about evolution in the public mind that school boards will eventually feel pressured to allow classroom discussion of alternative "theories" (read: various versions of creationism).

By that time, they hope to have perfected their own theories.

"The strategy this time is not to go for the whole enchilada," Mr. Fox told The Post. "We're trying to be a little more subtle."

Subtlety has never been their strong suit, but give the anti-evolutionists credit: They have shrewdly framed the debate as one of "intellectual freedom" and open debate -- who could be against that?

But in unguarded moments, the groups make brazenly clear what their long-term goal is: Installing some form of creationism as the standard in science classes.

"Creationism's going to be our big battle," Mr. Fox was quoted as saying. "We're hoping that Kansas will be the model, and we're in it for the long haul."

Fortunately, real scientists are also in this for the long haul, as are Kansans who care about the political independence and intellectual integrity of our schools.

For the editorial board, Randy Scholfield

Doll mistaken for alien


A burnt rubber doll was mistaken for a badly injured alien and taken to a hospital in Brazil.

It happened after people in Aracruz found a burnt 'body' on the ground after seeing a fireball fall from the sky.

A police spokesman told Terra Noticias Populares: "Many people were terrified thinking that an alien invasion was taking place.

"They thought the doll was a burnt ET and more than 50 people called the station."

The 'alien' was taken to the local hospital where doctors soon confirmed it was a burnt rubber doll.

A hospital spokesman said: "It was obviously a practical joke but we wonder who would do that in such a small and quiet town."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Carley: Science-creationism debate eludes finality


By Burton Carley
March 22, 2005

Bio info: Rev. Burton Carley is senior minister at First Unitarian Church.

Many Biblical scholars date Genesis to the time of the exile of the Hebrew people in Babylon where the natives of that foreign culture, their masters, taught a creation story that was radically different from their own. This was not what they wanted their children to learn in school, so they gathered the oral tradition and put down in writing their own account of how things began -- the Genesis.

Such stories were for centuries the only way a people could answer the question of where they came from. Then something happened that changed everything: Science developed as a reliable way of understanding what the universe is made of (facts) and how things work (theory).

About 50 percent of the American public -- the creationists -- say they accept the origin of our species from Genesis rather than scientific theory. In our neck of the woods, creationism has recently taken the form of the proposal of a Shelby County School Board member to place stickers on the county's high school biology textbooks.

The sticker would state: "This textbook contains material on 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."

The sticker suggests that religious stories about human beginnings are science and worthy of equal consideration as a subject in science class.

Of course, there is a huge difficulty in promoting creationism as "science." In fact, this got a hearing before the Supreme Court, and it lost. But let's reverse the tables. I wonder what the creationists would think about demanding in the name of fairness the teaching of evolution along with the reading of Genesis in church school?

I wonder what they would think about putting the exact same sticker in the Bible. Let's say the opening chapter of Genesis.

At issue is how "fairness" applies in a public school science classroom when the subject to be introduced does not meet the standards of scientific validity. At the heart of the matter is not fairness but the perceived incompatibility of evolution with a particular interpretation of Christian theology.

The real debate is not between religion and secularism, atheism and theism, or faith and science. It is really a conversation about two different theologies. At issue is not what is better science, creationism or evolution, but rather if it is a literal or a metaphorical reading that creates a better religion.

I read Genesis and hear in these stories the importance of human stewardship toward our natural world, how we are essentially social and relational creatures, and when the bonds of covenant are broken things go wrong. I can see in them how the world and the universe are good but not perfect. I can hear about how at the heart of the human condition is the tension between freedom and responsibility.

I read science and know that there are indeed "miracles" beyond my imagination, and that creation is not something that happened in the past but whirls and swirls within and without me every day.

I can sense how I am related to all of life and called to walk on Earth as if it were holy ground. I can bow down in awe before the spectacle and beauty of life, and protest the sin of our waste and pollution.

Of course, that is not science but my poetic and theological response to Genesis and evolution. Both science and religion at their best teach us humility, for no scientific theory or religious narrative will ever be final. The universe and God are so vast, marvelous and changing, so beyond our total knowing that the horizon is always retreating faster than our advance. All dreams of finality are a sin against God and science.

Paul R. Gross letter: Creationism has no place in serious study of science


The Forum
Published Tuesday, March
22, 2005

A round the United States, the debate over evolution in public schools is again incendiary.

The new critics of evolution promote alternative "theories" claimed to deserve the same study in science classes as the evidence-based modern science of evolution. However, the main current competitor, "intelligent design theory," is far from suitable for such a purpose. School systems should examine the facts before giving intelligent design and similar creationisms time in science class.

Any reading of the literature of intelligent design makes it immediately clear that it is just an argument from incredulity, not a theory in any ordinary sense. The claim is that Darwinian processes cannot account for the history and diversity of life because life shows evidence of complex design, and that Darwinian processes could not produce design without "intelligent" input. Ergo, presumably, there must be, or must have been, an intelligent designing agent. Nevermind who. For this claim there is, so far, zero evidence.

By contrast, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Modern biology, not just "Darwinian natural selection," is a vast body of interwoven observation, experiment and theory, the product of tens of thousands of scientists active over 150 years. Their product is, precisely, evidence: that the design in living things arises in the course of natural processes.

The description of those processes is not just a theory. There are hundreds of cases of evolutionary change observed in progress and dozens of observed speciations, with mechanisms perfectly clear. That the results of such changes over eons of time - at least 3.5 billion years - include complex molecular machinery is no surprise, except to those trying to manufacture belief in a world conspiracy of scientists against faith, or to scientific illiterates.

There is no scientific evidence for intelligent agency behind biological design. But evidence for the making of designs by natural processes is as strong as any scientific evidence we have - in any field of science.

Advocates of intelligent design, such as the Discovery Institute in Seattle, have been selling the same specious anti-evolution argument as if it were valid science for more than a decade. They have convinced not a single widely recognized evolutionary biologist. Yet they prate of "scientists" agreeing with them.

Only the naive, or those indifferent to the rules of serious scientific inquiry, are convinced. Children ought not to be misled about what is good science and what is not.

Gross is university professor of life sciences emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of a forthcoming Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report on science standards in the states. He wrote this commentary for the Baltimore Sun.

Bill would decriminalize alternative health practices


Posted: 03/22
From: Business Courier

A group of Republicans and alternative medicine providers came together Tuesday to introduce a bill to decriminalize alternative medicine in Ohio.

The bill, known as the Consumer Health Freedom Act, would allow alternative medical providers to practice as long as they provide full disclosure to patients.

Under the existing law, alternative health-care providers can face fifth-degree felony charges for the unlicensed practice of medicine, according to the Ohio State Medical Board's Web site. The board does license massage therapists and acupuncturists, however.

"Each of us is responsible for our own health and possesses our own body wisdom," said Rep. Linda Reidelbach, R-Columbus. "If someone wants and needs to seek complementary or alternative health-care services, those services should be accessible."

The bill entered the Ohio House with 23 sponsors, all Republicans. Reidelbach said she sponsored the bill because she supports alternative health care and because it limits government regulation.

The House bill would apply to a variety of alternative health disciplines, including herbalism, nutrition counseling, traditional Chinese medicine, reiki, which is a healing-touch practice, and Ayurveda, an ancient form of medicine practiced in India.

Alternative medical providers would have to provide each patient with a consent form detailing the exact services they can provide and the theories on which theyare based. The form would state that alternative health-care practitioners are not licensed by the state.

Under the bill, alternative health-care providers would be barred from prescribing drugs, injecting clients and performing surgery. They would also not be allowed to tell patients to ignore advice given by licensed medical doctors.

Licensed medical doctors aren't planning to support the proposal, said Tom Maglione, senior director of government relations for the Ohio State Medical Association.

Although the association hasn't reviewed the bill, it worries about unlicensed doctors. After all, Maglione said the state doesn't allow unlicensed engineers to build bridges.

"Then, in the end, the person who really loses is the patient," Maglione said.

The state medical board also worries about unlicensed practitioners, said Executive Director Tom Dilling.

When the board finds out about alternative health practitioners, it usually does an investigation and sends a cease-and-desist letter. It can refer cases to local prosecutors for criminal charges.

But Western medicine doesn't always have the answers, said Pam Popper, founder and executive director of the Wellness Forum, a group supporting the bill. Popper cited the large numbers of deaths caused by pharmaceuticals such as Vioxx.

"We certainly can understand why someone with arthritis would be looking for other alternatives," Popper said.

Four other states have passed similar acts, Popper said: California, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Idaho. Medical boards in those states leave most alternative practitioners alone, although they have haven't been shy about shutting down harmful practitioners.

"When the boards can no longer go after people for just being there, they're free to go after those who are doing something wrong," Popper said.

Alternative medicine practices are becoming more common, Reidelbach said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates 74.1 percent of Americans have used alternative health practices. Ohio State University Medical Center told Business First in February it is setting up a Center for Integrative Medicine, which would bring together many alternative specialties.

Tony Goins

Tom Cruise Mixing Business and Church

March 22, 2005


LOS ANGELES, March 21 - Actors use their power in Hollywood to various ends. Some demand money. Some want to name a director or veto a co-star. Lately, doing business with Tom Cruise, one of Hollywood's most bankable actors, means a bow in the direction of his religion, the Church of Scientology.

Increasingly public about his long association with Scientology, Mr. Cruise a few weeks ago invited film executives involved in distributing his summer movie, "The War of the Worlds," on a four-hour tour of three different Scientology facilities in Los Angeles. About 20 managers from United International Pictures, which is distributing the Steven Spielberg-directed film abroad for Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks SKG, took him up on the offer in late January. That required some of the executives to extend their stay for a day, according to several who took part.

Andrew Cripps, president of United International Pictures, said the tour was useful because the news media often asks about Mr. Cruise's religious beliefs. "Genuinely, there is an interest level among our managers who have to field questions, to understand and learn more about it," he said. Mr. Cripps said no one was forced to attend, though at least one executive who took the tour - who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared repercussions at work - said the visit was regarded by some as an unwelcome business obligation.

The encounter came after Mr. Cruise had sponsored a "Scientology tent," offering what his spokeswoman, Lee Anne De Vette, called "assists" - a kind of massage administered by volunteer ministers - along with religious literature, on the "War of the Worlds" set. Also, the star had recently sent out a holiday greeting that included Scientological precepts on a plastic plaque. Notwithstanding Mel Gibson's very public declaration of faith with his "Passion of the Christ," Hollywood insiders typically shy away from open discussion of their religious beliefs. But Ms. De Vette, who is Mr. Cruise's sister, said he had been inviting colleagues to learn more about his religion in order to combat what he viewed as prejudice against a group that some critics have branded an exploitative cult.

Scientology has not been recognized as a religion in many European nations and remains under federal surveillance in Germany, where it is regarded as a dangerous sect. Adherents say Scientology is a method of counseling and courses that helps individuals break free from negative emotions and lead more rewarding lives.

"It's lack of understanding that breeds bigotry," said Ms. De Vette in discussing the United International Pictures session, which followed a similar tour for the company's executives in Brussels last year during the release of Mr. Cruise's "Collateral." "We're being asked questions about the religion, and he said, 'Rather than me stand here and explain it,' " he would organize a formal tour.

Ms. De Vette added that Mr. Cruise hoped to have the same kind of tour for American-based Hollywood executives. "He would like to do the same thing over here," she said. "A lot of it, frankly, is time. If we can find the time to do it, he would like to do it."

Ms. De Vette is herself a member of the church. She replaced Mr. Cruise's long-time publicist Pat Kingsley, a powerful Hollywood veteran, in 2004.

Founded in 1954 by the science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology has long had a close connection with celebrity. Contending that artists "are a cut above man" - according to a church Web site, www.celebritycentre.org - Hubbard said, "He who can truly communicate to others is a higher being who builds new worlds."

The church has celebrity centers in several cities where actors and other famous figures come to study and meet. ( John Travolta and Kirstie Alley are among the best-known Hollywood adherents.) At the centers, according to the Web site, they are promised "the best in service and care, for those are the people who are sculpting the present into the future." (And Mr. Travolta in 2000 starred in a widely ridiculed pet project, "Battlefield Earth," a space-invasion story based on a novel of the same title by Hubbard.)

In the last several years, Mr. Cruise has spoken more freely about Scientology in his many interviews promoting various films. And, increasingly, executives who do business with him have found themselves spending time at church facilities.

Thus, top managers from Paramount, which has backed many of Mr. Cruise's films, including the "Mission: Impossible" series, and from the Creative Artists Agency, which has long represented the star, have graced one of his tables at an annual gala in the group's Hollywood center. Last August, Sherry Lansing, at the time Paramount's chairwoman, and Donald De Line, that studio's production chief, attended the organization's 35th anniversary celebration.

A spokeswoman for the studio declined to discuss the executives' encounters with Scientology. But Mr. Cripps of United International Pictures, who attended both the Brussels and Los Angeles tours, acknowledged that he still was not quite sure what the religion is all about.

"I think religion is a really personal thing," he said. "I admire the work that they do in terms of their programs, that was an eye-opener to me. But what it actually means to be a Scientologist, I don't think I fully understand."


Acupuncture has won medical acceptance

By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff | March 22, 2005


I lie down on the table at Wellspace Inc. in Cambridge, sighing in grateful anticipation as my longtime acupuncturist, Jen Forrest Evans, goes to work. Some days, she gently pokes needles into my chronically tight lower back. Other days, she focuses on my pesky sinuses. Still other days -- the best ones -- the goal is a general tune-up of my Qi (pronounced ''chee"), the Chinese term for vital (and sometimes, not vital enough) energy.

This ancient Chinese technique of sticking needles into the skin to relieve pain, nausea and many other ills never fails to make me feel better -- more mellow and more energized. I used to think this lovely state was mostly due to the placebo effect.

But a growing body of evidence -- brain scans, ultrasound and other techniques -- now shows that acupuncture triggers direct, measurable effects on the body, including perhaps activation of precisely the regions of the brain that would be predicted by ancient Chinese theory. This is potentially good news for the millions of Americans now scrambling for pain relief in the wake of conflicting government recommendations on painkillers Vioxx and Celebrex.

At the University of California at Irvine, researchers have shown that when a needle is placed in a point on the side of the foot that Chinese theorists associate with vision, sure enough, the visual cortex in the brain ''lights up" on functional magnetic resonance imaging scans, though the cause and effect are not totally clear.

Neuroscientist Seung-Schik Yoo of Brigham and Women's Hospital has shown that when a needle is placed in a point called pericardium 6 on the wrist, known in Chinese medicine as a sensitive point for nausea, the part of the brain that controls the vestibular system (which affects balance and nausea) lights up on scans.

While much about acupuncture remains mysterious, at least to Westerners, a great deal is becoming clearer, thanks to an explosion of studies using Western scientific techniques.

''The quality and amount of research being conducted now on acupuncture is improving greatly," said Peter Wayne, director of research at the New England School of Acupuncture, which has received $3.2 million in federal grants to study acupuncture.

Acupuncture, an extraordinarily safe technique, has been used so far by 8.2 million Americans, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a government agency. Some insurers also now pay for acupuncture.

More than 40 clinical trials have shown that acupuncture reduces nausea following chemotherapy or surgery, said Ted Kaptchuk, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who is also a doctor of Chinese medicine.

The data on chronic pain and headache are somewhat mixed, but acupuncture clearly helps with dental pain, Kaptchuk said. A recent, randomized, controlled study of 570 people with osteoarthritis of the knee showed that real acupuncture, as opposed to a fake form used as a control, reduced pain and increased function by about 30 percent.

''This is roughly the same effect size" as with ibuprofen-type drugs, said Dr. Brian Berman, the study leader and director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. At the moment, Berman recommends that patients use acupuncture with, not instead of, pain medications, though it may help reduce the amount of medication needed.

But perhaps the most intriguing scientific question is not whether acupuncture works but how.

In acupuncture theory, there are 360 major points in the skin that lie along the 12 major channels, or meridians, in the body, through which the Qi energy flows. In Western terms, the acupuncture points correspond to areas of decreased electrical resistance on the skin.

Since the 1970s, Western researchers have known that one of the ways acupuncture works is by releasing endorphins, the body's natural painkillers.

Acupuncture seems to calm precisely the part of the brain that controls the emotional response to pain, said Dr. Kathleen K. S. Hui, a neuroscientist at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, which has a $5 million federal grant to study acupuncture's effects on the brain. Her brain-scan studies show decreased activation in deeper brain structures in the limbic system, which governs emotions and other physiological functions.

Researchers also have shown that acupuncture boosts levels of serotonin, which is often deficient in depression, and lowers levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, which are often elevated in stress and pain.

Precisely how signals travel from acupuncture points to the brain is still a matter of some debate. Most researchers, Hui among them, believe that electrical signals travel along nerve tracts that branch off from the brain stem to the limbic system.

Others, like Dr. Helene Langevin, a neurologist at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, believe signals may pass also along the 12 major acupuncture ''meridians" that run through the body.

For years, Western scientists doubted the existence of these meridians. But, in a series of studies using ultrasound, Langevin has found evidence that the meridians lie along the sheets of connective tissue that surround organs. By analyzing meridians in the arm of a cadaver, Langevin said she discovered ''that 80 percent of the acupuncture points coincided to where the major connective tissue plane was. We also did a statistical analysis -- this was not due to chance."

The bottom line? At long last, Western scientists are beginning to show, by their standards, just what Chinese acupuncturists have been saying for millennia: That the effects of acupuncture are real. And that, at least for certain problems and to some degree, acupuncture can help relieve pain and suffering.

Judy Foreman is a freelance columnist who can be contacted at foreman@globe.com.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Monday, March 21, 2005

Creationists take their fight to the really big screen


US row forces southern Imax cinemas to shun films on evolution

Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday March 20, 2005
The Observer

They are the epitome of safe family entertainment, renowned for lavish animations, exquisitely filmed scenes of natural grandeur and utterly tame scripts. But Imax films have suddenly found themselves catapulted into controversy, thanks to their occasional use of the dreaded E-word: evolution. In several US states, Imax cinemas - including some at science museums - are refusing to show movies that mention the subject or suggest that Earth's origins do not conform with biblical descriptions.

Films include Cosmic Voyage, an animated journey through the universe; Galapagos, a documentary about the islands where Darwin made some of his most important observations; and Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish near ocean vents.

In most southern states, theatre officials found recent test screenings of several of these films triggered accusations from viewers that the films were blasphemous.

Carol Murray, marketing director of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in Texas, said audience members who had watched Volcanoes had commented 'I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact', or 'I don't agree with their presentation of human existence.'

As a result, the science museum had decided not to screen the film. 'If it is not going to draw a crowd and it is going to create controversy, from a marketing point of view, I cannot make a recommendation,' Murray told the New York Times yesterday.

Superficially, the decision affects only a dozen or so cinemas. But it could have a profound knock-on effect across the world because of the high cost of producing Imax films.

They require special cameras and expensive projectors. The economics of Imax film-making are therefore very tight, and the actions of these southern Imax cinemas will only exacerbate the problem. It is expected that producers will be far less likely to make films that could offend fundamentalists, as the loss of venues in the southern states could be enough to turn profit to loss.

'It is going to be hard for our film-makers to continue to make unfettered documentaries when they know that 10 per cent of the market will reject them,' said Joe DeAmicis, vice-president of the California Science Centre in Los Angeles.

This point was emphasised by Bayley Silleck, who wrote and directed Cosmic Voyage. Many institutions across America were coming under pressure about issues relating to natural selection. 'They have to be extremely careful as to how they present anything relating to evolution,' he said.

A spokesman for the Science Museum in London described the development as worrying: 'It is a very tight market in the Imax business and we would be extremely disappointed if this sort of pressure led to a narrowing of the market for popular Imax films. These films are very popular with families.'

The decision has also dismayed James Cameron, the Hollywood director who made the Imax film Aliens of the Deep and who was one of the producers of Volcanoes. He said he was 'surprised and somewhat offended' that people were sensitive to the references to evolution in Volcanoes.

He also revealed that objections had been made to parts of Aliens of the Deep, but these had remained in the final cut. 'It seems to be a new phenomenon, obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science,' he said.

Deep in the oceans, where it's dark and hot, primitive life teems


Scientists discover vast populations of organisms
David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Monday, March 21, 2005

Deep beneath the oceans of the world, in the cold and dark where sunlight never penetrates, scientists are discovering that deep clefts in half- molten rock are teeming with life -- vast populations of primitive microscopic organisms that thrive on the intense heat, obtain their energy from chemicals alone, and provide food for other creatures higher up the sea's food chain.

Down there, great slabs of the Earth's crust are heaving and splitting apart. Viscous rock thrusts up from the mantle beneath to create networks of conduits where seawater circulates at brutally hot temperatures.

In some places, undersea volcanoes spurt lava onto the sea floor from the crests of long ridges that mark the crustal gaps, or "spreading centers" as they're called. Scientists have only recently found that hillsides in the abyss miles from the spreading centers also vent volcanic heat -- and harbor wide varieties of microbes.

Elsewhere on the ocean bottom, where volcanism plays no role, other chemical and geologic processes produce hot-water vents that countless generations of primitive microorganisms may have called home for billions of years.

The most fascinating of the microbes are known as archaea, a class that can thrive in the most extreme of temperatures and that is believed to be the most primitive of all living things -- perhaps the very first living organisms on Earth. Archaean fossils have been found in ancient landforms that some scientists date as far back as 3.8 billion years ago, which means that they may have appeared barely a billion years after the planet was formed.

Those organisms, the scientists believe, may provide clues to the kinds of life that might once have existed on Mars, when that planet could have been warm and wet and hospitable, or on Europa, the intriguing moon of Jupiter, whose thick ice crust covers a vast ocean where the deep waters could be heated by radioactive elements near the planet's core.

Rachel Haymon, a marine geologist at UC Santa Barbara, and her colleagues have been exploring the hydrothermal vents of a long chain of mid-ocean ridges called the East Pacific Rise for more than a decade. Heat-loving microbes there, called hyperthermophiles, can resist temperatures as high as 750 degrees Fahrenheit at the small, "black smoker" volcanoes.

Diving in the deep submersible Alvin, Haymon and her husband, marine geophysicist Ken C. Macdonald, have discovered that the tall, "abyssal hills" on the flanks of the ridge also spurt high-temperature water -- triggered by bursts of seismic activity -- and spew masses of microbial life from rocks as old as a million years.

The submerged midocean ridges snake around the entire globe for more than 40,000 miles. According to Haymon, the abyssal hills her team is exploring are the dominant landforms of the entire planet. She and Macdonald have explored only two sites so far aboard Alvin, both of which lie about 25 miles from the axis of their ridge line on the East Pacific Rise, and they hope to find many more on future dives.

From the evidence they have found, and in a report they published in the current issue of the journal Geology, they are convinced that the hills hold an entire world of life just beneath the sea floor in the crust's uppermost layer. They have already discovered some of that life:

Using Alvin's long suction tube that they call their "slurp gun," Haymon recalled in an interview last week, she and Macdonald were sucking up one patch of what looked like mud from the hot rock one day when Macdonald looked closely and cried out, "Hey, it's alive!"

And indeed it was: a waving mat of organisms, all stuck close together like the nap on a quality carpet.

Back in their laboratory on the UC Santa Barbara campus, Christopher Ehrhardt, a graduate student on the team, has analyzed the living "mud," sequenced its DNA, and discovered no fewer than four different orders of archaea -- which in turn must include uncountable numbers of different species.

"What if all those ridge flanks hold an entire biosphere beneath their surfaces?" Haymon wondered. "We're rich in speculation, but we think those processes have been going on forever, and they may well have been where the earliest forms of life emerged on the planet billions of years ago -- and perhaps on other planets too."

More than 4,000 miles east of where Haymon's team works, another team of deep-sea scientists is coming to similar conclusions.

In a recent issue of the journal Science, Deborah Kelley of the University of Washington and her colleagues reported details of their discoveries at a site they call "Lost City," describing a complex ecosystem with primitive archaea at its base, thriving in the hot water with only hydrogen and methane for energy.

Life at Lost City seems less diverse than it is around the black smokers of the world's hydrothermal vents, Kelley said in an interview, "but it just shows that however these organisms can make a living, they will."

"Our thought," she said, "is that even during the time the early Earth had just formed, there were oceans interacting with seawater, and life could have been emerging even then -- and perhaps on other planets, too."

Lost City -- a fantastic stone forest of feathery spires and serpentine towers, with at least one as tall as an 18-story building -- lies on the broad Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which snakes upward from north of Antarctica almost to volcanic Iceland.

Kelley and her colleagues have sampled it with Alvin and pictured it with an unmanned submarine mapping vehicle called the Autonomous Benthic Explorer.

It rises atop a huge underwater mountain, nearly 20,000 feet high above the sea bottom, and its white rock formations fume with hydrothermal activity from their tops and sides. Pores in the rocks are awash with mats of heat- loving archaea and bacteria that provide food for higher organisms -- but for reasons as yet unclear, those animals are far less diverse than they are around the volcanic black smokers.

And at Lost City, according to Kelley, the source of heat is not the volcanic activity of the black smokers. Instead, cold seawater mixes with the viscous mantle rock to yield heat, hydrogen and methane in a purely chemical reaction as it generates temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit -- an ideal and nourishing environment for the heat-loving archaea.

Yet John A. Baross, a University of Washington marine microbiologist and a co-author of the Kelley team's paper in Science, said that to his surprise he found only a single order of archaean life at Lost City -- metabolically versatile microbes in a class called Methanosarcinales that seem able to not only live on methane but also to produce it, he said.

That unique microbial talent "makes it even more difficult to infer what's going on in their lives, because they may be separate from all the other archaea we know about," Baross said.

Lost City's archaea live at a relatively modest warmth of 194 degrees Fahrenheit, he said, and thrive in a highly alkaline environment -- the kind of alkalinity found in the caustic compounds used to drain clogged sinks.

"But these ancient metabolizers fit very nicely into what the environment of the early Earth was like," Baross said, "and they could have existed as far back as 3.5 billion years ago."

In a commentary on the Kelley team's report, Antje Boetius of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology said formations like Lost City "may have been some of the oldest habitats for microbial life on Earth."

Understanding their unique life forms, he said, has "important implications ... for understanding microbial habitats on Earth and beyond."

E-mail David Perlman at dperlman@sfchronicle.com.

Mobile Phones for Kids Raise Concerns

March 20, 2005



Filed at 1:48 p.m. ET

SEATTLE (AP) -- Parents should think twice before giving in to a middle-schooler's demands for a cell phone, some scientists say, because potential long-term health risks remain unclear.

Researchers have speculated for more than 10 years that the electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phones may damage DNA and cause benign brain tumors, said Henry Lai, a bioengineering professor at the University of Washington.

``We don't know very much about the health effects of cell phone use on kids, but there are speculations,'' Lai said.

In Britain, the chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board advised in January that parents should not give mobile phones to children age 8 or younger as a precaution against the potential harm of radiation from the devices.

When you use a cell phone, 70 to 80 percent of the energy emitted from the antenna is absorbed by the head, Lai said.

Last week, a federal appeals court in Maryland reinstated five class-action lawsuits claiming that the cell phone industry has failed to protect consumers from unsafe levels of radiation.

Several research studies have pointed to the potential impacts of long-term absorption of cell phone-emitted radiation but little of the research has focused on the children.

Lai said he was concerned about the impact on children because young skulls are thinner and the growing brain may be more susceptible to radiation.

He also said that because brain tumors usually take 30-40 years to develop, children who use cell phones from their teen years onward would have a longer period of time to see a cumulative impact.

``We don't know if kids are really more susceptible,'' Lai said, but he encourages everyone to use a headset to keep the antenna away from the brain, ``even if they're not cool.''

Most research on the subject has stopped in the United States except for some work supported by the cell phone industry, he added. Independent studies continue in Europe.

A Swedish study published in October suggested that people who use a cell phone for at least 10 years might increase their risk of developing a rare benign tumor along a nerve on the side of the head where they hold the phone.

The study's subjects had been using cell phones for at least 10 years, nearly all analog models that emit more electromagnetic radiation than the digital models now on the market.

Digital phones emit radiation in pulses; the older analog varieties emit continuous waves. Since cell phones exploded in popularity in the late 1990s, most of those sold used digital technology.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press

Wedging Creationism into the Academy


Proponents of a controversial theory struggle to gain purchase within academia. A case study of the quest for academic legitimacy.

By Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch

In 1999, William Dembski became director of the newly established Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University, thanks to the support of Baylor's president Robert Sloan. The center was, as Dembski observed, "the first intelligent design think tank at a research university." As such, it fulfilled a crucial objective of the "intelligent design" movement, which aims to discredit the evolutionary sciences and to promote the notion that scientific evidence exists for intelligent design in nature.

Calling themselves "the Wedge," adherents of the movement are avidly pursuing a twenty-year plan to convince the public that intelligent design is "an accepted alternative in the sciences" and to promote "the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science." The sobriquet "the Wedge" reflects movement leader Phillip Johnson's desire to insert "the thin edge of a wedge" into "the ruling philosophy of modern culture." For Johnson, a retired professor of law from the University of California, Berkeley, the Christian gospel is what will follow the thin edge.

The group's plan, outlined in a manifesto informally called the "Wedge Document," involves cultivating "potential academic allies," initiating "direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science," and holding "challenge conferences in significant academic settings" in order to "draw scientific materialists into open debate with design theorists." Once ensconced at Baylor, a Baptist university known for its excellent science departments, Dembski was in a perfect position to advance the Wedge.

From its beginning, however, the Polanyi Center was embroiled in controversy. Baylor faculty members complained that Sloan behaved autocratically in establishing the center without soliciting their advice and consent. Moreover, especially in the science departments, faculty expressed dismay over the center's association with intelligent design, which they regarded as a thinly disguised form of creationism, likely to damage the reputation of Baylor's science and medical programs. A review committee Sloan appointed to address faculty concerns reached a conciliatory but lukewarm solution: the center was to be renamed, reconstituted within Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning, and supervised by a faculty advisory committee.

In a press release, however, Dembski publicly celebrated what he called the committee's "unqualified affirmation" of intelligent design, gloating that his opponents "have met their Waterloo." Outraged, the faculty protested, and Sloan asked Dembski to withdraw his remarks. In a second press release, Dembski refused, accusing the administration of "intellectual McCarthyism" and Sloan himself of "the utmost of bad faith." He was removed as the center's director.

Despite this debacle, it is evident that the Wedge still envisions Baylor as a base for in-telligent design. Dembski remains as an asso-ciate research professor, although he is slated to begin a new position at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in June 2005. His Polanyi Center associate Bruce Gordon remains as acting director of the Baylor Center for Science, Philosophy, and Religion. Baylor also hired two additional members of the Wedge, mechanical engineering professor Walter Bradley and philosopher Francis J. Beckwith.

Shortly after his appointment as associate director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor, Beckwith was involved in a controversy of his own, when twenty-nine members of the Dawson family complained that Beckwith's views on church-state separation rendered him inappropriate for the post. Particularly troublesome to them was his affiliation with the Discovery Institute, the institutional home of intelligent design, which they described as promoting "the latest version of creationist theory."

Smoke Without Fire

As the Dawson family recognized, intelligent design is the latest face of the antievolution movement, formerly dominated by "young-earth" creationists. Committed to a literal reading of the biblical book of Genesis, such creationists believe that the earth is about ten thousand years old, that species of living things were specially and separately created by God, and that speciation is possible only within biblical "kinds." Intelligent design, however, is not officially committed to such a literal reading of Genesis; in their assaults on evolution, Johnson and Dembski prefer instead to invoke the mystic language of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word." Learning from the repeated failures of young-earth creationism, subscribers to intelligent design—who include a handful of young-earth creationists—seek to distance themselves from the public image of creationism as a sectarian and retrogressive pseudoscience. They thus take no official stand on the age of the earth, common descent, and the possibility of macroevolution.

What they insist on is the bankruptcy of mainstream evolutionary science. The idea is to unite antievolutionists under the noncommittal banner of "mere creation" (consciously echoing popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis's "mere Christianity"), affirming their common belief in God as creator while avoiding discussion of divisive details. They want to defer doctrinal disputes, such as those involving the age of the earth, until the public is convinced that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution. Indeed, according to the Wedge's repeated announcements, intelligent design is on the cutting edge of science.

Its most conspicuous feature, however, is its scientific sterility. The Wedge's most notable attempts to provide a case for intelligent design appear in books for the general reader, such as Dembski's Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology and Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. The few university presses (such as Cambridge and Michigan State) that have published intelligent design books classify them as philosophy, rhetoric, or public affairs, not science. There are no peer-reviewed studies supporting intelligent design in the scientific research literature. The scientific community as a whole is unimpressed and unconvinced, and intelligent design's credentials as a scientific research program appear negligible. Indeed, Dembski himself recently conceded that "the scientific research part" of intelligent design is now "lagging behind" its success in influencing popular opinion. So the Wedge needs another way to persuade education policy makers that intelligent design is academically respectable.

Thanks in part to the Wedge's academic networking, a fair number of academics with religious and political convictions similar to those of Wedge advocates support intelligent design, even if they are not necessarily active proponents. Many—such as Robert Kaita of Princeton, Henry Schaefer III of the University of Georgia, Robert Koons and J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas at Austin, and Guillermo Gonzalez of Iowa State—are fellows of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC), the main institutional home of intelligent design. Prominent academics who, although not officially associated with the CSC, sympathize with the Wedge's aims include Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame, Huston Smith of Syracuse, and Frank Tipler of Tulane. And efforts are under way to recruit students to the cause: according to the "Wedge Document," what intelligent design needs is "an initially small and relatively young group of scientists . . . able to do creative work at the pressure points." In a 1999 interview with Communiqué, a quarterly journal for Christian artists and writers, Johnson advised such students to "keep your head down while you're getting your PhD."

What are the academic supporters of intelligent design doing to advance its cause? Significantly, they are not teaching it in mainstream science courses, despite Behe's declaration that it "must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science." Access Research Network, a Wedge auxiliary, lists only two "[intelligent design] colleges": Oklahoma Baptist University (home to CSC fellow Michael Newton Keas) and Biola University (formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and home to CSC fellows William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, and John Mark Reynolds).

On the rare occasions when intelligent design is taught as science in mainstream academia, it appears in venues not subject to the same scrutiny as regular courses: honors seminars, independent study, continuing education, not-for-credit minicourses, and interdisciplinary—especially science-and-religion—courses. Science faculty are typically not thrilled. For example, an honors course at the University of New Mexico in which intelligent design was treated respectfully was reclassified as a humanities course after the science faculty protested that students in the class were presented with material that they were not equipped to evaluate on its scientific merits, such as they were.

Conference or Congregation?

Despite the scientific sterility of intelligent design, its proponents regularly hold conferences, usually on campuses, with a view to establishing contact with sympathetic faculty and students. Early conferences, such as the Wedge's 1996 "Mere Creation" conference at Biola, were essentially "in-house" meetings of those eager to found a new antievolution movement with a broader appeal than young-earth creationism. In his introduction to the conference proceedings, published in 1998 as Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design, Dembski describes the purpose of the conference asformulating "a theory of creation that puts Christians in the strongest possible position to defeat the common enemy of creation." He added that "mere creation is a golden opportunity for a new generation of Christian scholars." The list of contributors to Mere Creation is a veritable who's who of the Wedge.

The "Nature of Nature" conference, held in 2000 at Baylor under the auspices of the Polanyi Center, purported to be "an interdisciplinary conference on the role of naturalism in science." Although "naturalism" refers to a number of distinct positions in a variety of disciplines, it means only one thing to the Wedge: the enemy. (In Mere Creation, Dembski describes "mere creation" as "a theory of creation aimed specifically at defeating naturalism and its consequences," a definition that describes intelligent design as well.)

The Wedge lost no time in appropriating the prestige of the conference attendees (including two Nobel laureates) to advertise intelligent design and its crusade against naturalism. In Christianity Today, a magazine devoted to news and culture from an evangelical perspective, CSC fellow Nancy Pearcey boasted, "These scientists' willingness even to address such questions, alongside design proponents such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, gives enormous credibility to the [intelligent design] movement."

Like the "Nature of Nature" conference, "Design and Its Critics," held in 2000 at Concordia University, featured presentations by both proponents and opponents of intelligent design. At subsequent conferences, however—such as those held at Yale and the University of San Francisco—only proponents of intelligent design spoke. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the settings for these conferences were chosen not only for convenience but also for their aura of academic legitimacy. Commenting on the Yale conference, for example, a student auxiliary of the Access Research Network gushed, "Basically, the conference, beside being a statement (after all we were meeting at Yale University), proved to be very promising." (Emphasis in original.) Yet such conferences are typically not sponsored by the universities at which they are held but by associated religious organizations—at Yale, a ministry calling itself the Rivendell Institute for Christian Thought and Learning.

Although intelligent design conferences will probably continue to be held under such auspices on campuses across the country, recent gatherings have returned to the sectarian institutions that nurture the movement. Two major conferences—"Research and Progress in Intelligent Design" (RAPID), held in 2002, and "ID and the Future of Science," held in April 2004—were hosted by Biola, which is increasingly invested in intelligent design. Perhaps unable to find a suitable academic venue, the organizers of "Dispelling the Myth of Darwinism" held the June 2004 event at a North Carolina church; the speakers included both intelligent design stalwarts such as Behe and unreconstructed young-earth creationists such as John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research.

The Culture Wars

In his keynote address to the RAPID conference, William Dembski described intelligent design's "dual role as a constructive scientific project and as a means for cultural renaissance." (Emphasis added.) Reflecting a similar revivalist spirit, the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture had been the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture until 2002. Explaining the name change, a spokesperson for the CSC unconvincingly insisted that the old name was simply too long. Significantly, however, the change followed hard on the heels of accusations that the center's real interest was not science but reforming culture along lines favored by conservative Christians.

Such accusations appear extremely plausible, not only in the absence of any scientific research supporting intelligent design, but also in light of Phillip Johnson's claim that "Darwinian evolution is not primarily im-portant as a scientific theory but as a culturally dominant creation story. . . . When there is radical disagreement in a commonwealth about the creation story, the stage is set for intense conflict, the kind . . . known as 'culture war.'" Similarly, the "Wedge Document" states that the goals of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (as it then was) were to "defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

For Johnson, the Wedge is waging a Kulturkampf: "We're trying to go into enemy territory . . . [to] blow up the ammunition dump. What is their ammunition dump in this metaphor? It is their version of creation." The battlefield extends to politics, and the Discovery Institute is politically connected: its president, Bruce Chapman, held positions in the federal government during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and U.S. Representatives John Boehner, Steve Chabot, and Mark Souder and Senators Judd Gregg and Rick Santorum have expressed sympathy for intelligent design. Indeed, Santorum proposed a symbolic "sense of the Senate" amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that tendentiously described evolution as controversial.

Although a vestige of the Santorum language appeared in the conference report, the amendment itself was not included in the legislation that President George W. Bush signed as the No Child Left Behind Act. But proponents of intelligent design and creationists generally construed it as a victory anyway. When the CSC involved itself in a 2003 controversy over the selection of Texas science textbooks, Santorum, Gregg, and Boehner wrote a letter to Bruce Chapman—on congressional stationery—echoing the CSC's interpretation of the amendment. The letter designates Santorum as the amendment's author, but Johnson asserts in his 2002 book, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate, that he actually drafted it. Yet he earlier told a reporter, "We definitely aren't looking for some legislation to support our views, or anything like that."

The Wedge's political activity, if successful, could have serious repercussions for academic scientists. In his book Icons of Evolution, CSC fellow Jonathan Wells accuses evolutionary scientists of systematically misrepresenting the evidence for evolution, echoing Johnson's quip, "When our leading scientists have to resort to the sort of distortion that would land a stock promoter in jail, you know they are in trouble." Wells urges his readers to challenge federal funding of evolutionary biology: "If you object to supporting dogmatic Darwinists that misrepresent the truth to keep themselves in power . . . call for congressional hearings on the way federal money is distributed" by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He also warns college and university alumni, "Voluntary donations by college graduates to their alma maters often go to departments that indoctrinate students in Darwinism rather than show them the real evidence."

The main battlefield for intelligent design's culture war, however, is the public schools. Wedge proponents are already preparing for the inevitable legal clash over the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design. In the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that teaching "creation science" in the public schools is a form of religious advocacy and is thus prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Wedge advocates therefore strive to distinguish intelligent design from creationism in the hope that it will survive constitutional scrutiny. The fact that three members of the Supreme Court—Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas—have ex-pressed dissatisfaction with the Edwards decision is doubtless a source of encouragement.

Meanwhile, despite token concessions by Dembski and Johnson that intelligent design should prove its worth to the scientific community before it enters science classrooms in public schools, and despite the professed qualms of a fewintelligent design advocates, there is steady activity aimed at introducing the concept into the public school science curricula—or, failing that, of presenting "evidence against evolution," which is essentially the traditional creationist litany of supposed errors in mainstream science.

In disputes about teaching evolution in school districts across the country, intelligent design literature is now employed indiscriminately along with that of young-earth creationists. At the state level, intelligent design proponents have lobbied diligently to undermine the place of evolution in state science education standards. They consistently failed—until March 2004, when the Ohio Board of Education approved a creationist lesson plan for its new science curriculum. The lesson, "Critical Analysis of Evolution," written by intelligent design proponents, reflects a small but exploitable concession to creationists in the new science standards, which require students to learn how scientists "critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." Ohio may now become the Wedge's long-sought legal test case.

Abuse of Academia

In such episodes, intelligent design proponents have flaunted their academic credentials and affiliations for all they are worth—or beyond. They frequently mention the ultimate scientific accolade, the Nobel Prize, in connection with Henry F. Schaefer, who in addition to being a self-described progressive creationist and CSC fellow is a distinguished chemist at the University of Georgia. Needlessly inflating his reputation, the Discovery Institute refers to him as a five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize, even though the only source for this claim seems to be an undocumented assertion in U.S. News & World Report. (According to the Nobel Foundation, nominations remain confidential for fifty years.)

Dembski also gratuitously invokes the laurels, boasting of his correspondence with a Nobel laureate, bragging that one of his books was published in a series whose editors include a Nobel laureate, and exulting that the publisher of the intelligent design book The Mystery of Life's Origin also published books by eight Nobel laureates. In contrast, during the Edwards case, seventy-two Nobel laureates endorsed an amicus brief that noted that the "evolutionary history of organisms has been as extensively tested and as thoroughly corroborated as any biological concept."

Academic credentials and affiliations were also used opportunistically in 2001, when the Discovery Institute purchased advertisements in three national publications—the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and the Weekly Standard—to proclaim the adherence of about a hundred scientists to a statement reading, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the com-plexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwi-nian theory should be encouraged." Such statements commonly note the institutional affiliations of signatories for purposes of identification. But this statement strategically listed either the institution that granted a signatory's PhD or the institutions with which the individual is presently affiliated. Thus the institutions listed for Raymond G. Bohlin, Fazale Rana, and Jonathan Wells, for example, were the University of Texas, Ohio University, and the University of California, Berkeley, where they earned their degrees, rather than their current affiliations: Probe Ministries for Bohlin, the Reasons to Believe ministry for Rana, and the CSC for Wells. During controversies over evolution education in Georgia, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas, similar lists of local scientists were circulated.

It is easy for the public, unacquainted with academic life, to suppose that the existence of a handful of scientists who reject evolution means that there is a legitimate scientific controversy about evolution. In a tongue-in-cheek response to statements such as the Discovery Institute's, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) released a statement in February 2003, reading in part, "It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools." The cream of the jest was that only scientists named Steve—or cognates such as Steven, Stephen, Stephanie, Esteban, and so on—were allowed to sign. ("Steve" was chosen to honor the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.) About 1 percent of the U.S. population possess such a first name, so each signatory represents about a hundred scientists. By November 2004, the NCSE's "Steve-o-meter" read 515.

Less whimsically, during the controversy over the Ohio science education standards, researchers at the University of Cincinnati's Internet Public Opinion Laboratory conducted a poll of science professors at four-year public and private colleges in Ohio. Of the 460 respondents, 90 percent said that there was no scientific evidence at all for intelligent design; 93 percent said that they were unaware of "any scientifically valid evidence or an [alternative] scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution"; and a nearly unanimous 97 percent said that they did not use intelligent design in their own research. Included among those surveyed were faculty at such fundamentalist schools as Cedarville University, which accepts a statement of faith according to which "by definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record." If the pollsters had excluded professors with such a dogmatic commitment to biblical inerrancy, the results would have been even closer to unanimity.

Over thirty years ago, the great geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution," and his words continue to ring true today. Biologists, and scientists generally, know that evolutionary biology continues to thrive, despite constant claims by its ideological opponents that it is a "theory in crisis." Insofar as biologists are aware of intelligent design, they generally regard it as they do young-earth creationism: negligible at best, a nuisance at worst. But unlike young-earth creationism, intelligent design maintains a not inconsiderable base within academia, whose members seemingly exploit their academic standing to promote the concept as intellectually respectable while shirking the task of producing a scientifically compelling case for it. To be sure, academic supporters of intelligent design enjoy, and should enjoy, the same degree of academic freedom conferred on the professoriate in general. But academic freedom is no excuse for misleading students about the scientific legitimacy of a view overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community. In short, the academic supporters of intelligent design are enjoying, in the familiar phrase, power without responsibility. It is a trend that their colleagues ought to be aware of, worry about, and help to resist.

Barbara Forrest is professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and author, with Paul R. Gross, of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, published in 2004. Glenn Branch is deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science that defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Utah's non-war over evolution


It's taught — but probably not believed

Copyright 2005 Deseret Morning News

By Elaine Jarvik
Deseret Morning News

Anxious e-mails have been filling Karlene Bauer's inbox this school year — messages about Cobb County, Ga., and Dover, Pa., and all the other places where people are up in arms over the teaching of evolution. Bauer, who teaches at Jordan High School and is on a listserv of AP biology teachers across the country, says she's happy to be in Utah, where Darwin's 146-year-old theory is currently making neither waves nor headlines.

One might suppose, given that Utahns tend to be both conservative and religious, that evolution would be a contentious topic in Utah's schools; but yet another legislative session has passed with no mention of Charles Darwin. And Brett Moulding can count on his fingers the number of anti-evolution phone calls he's gotten in the past 10 years, first as science education specialist and then as curriculum director for the Utah State Office of Education.

As Murray high biology teacher Steve Scheidell says, "It's not a thing to panic about here."

That may be because not all biology teachers in Utah tackle the touchiest part of evolutionary theory: how humans came to be. And Utah students often don't believe what they've been taught anyway, because they've learned something different from teachers in LDS Church seminary classes.

As a whole, Utahns tend to be conflicted about the intersection of evolution and public education. A Dan Jones Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted last week found that 64 percent of Utahns think evolution should be taught in biology classes — and 70 percent think creationism, "Intelligent Design" and other belief systems should be taught there too.

It is this desire for equal class time for Darwin and "alternative theories" that has set off the latest battles in America's 80-year-old evolution wars, whose most famous early skirmish was the 1925 trial and conviction (later overturned) of Tennessee teacher John Scopes, who tried to teach evolutionary theory. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Louisiana law requiring equal treatment of evolution and "creation science" was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, but that has hardly been the end of the friction.

The National Center for Science Education, a pro-evolution organization based in California, reports that eight state legislatures have considered evolution bills this year; and there have been "33 incidents of significant anti-evolution activity in local communities in 15 states." In many of these cases, anti-evolutionists are pulling out the "academic freedom" card, arguing that their First Amendment rights are being trampled if alternative theories aren't discussed in the classroom. In Dover, Pa., the school board voted in January that biology students must learn about alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution, a decision that is now being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This winter a federal judge ruled that the school board in Cobb County, Ga., must remove stickers — "evolution is a theory, not a fact" — that the board had previously ordered placed on all high school biology textbooks. The school board is now appealing that order. Kansas, whose state school board had ordered evolution removed from the curriculum in 1999 then reinstated it in 2001, is now revisiting the issue, with an anti-evolution majority now on the school board. In state legislatures like Montana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, bills were introduced this year that would mandate that teachers include "alternative theories" to evolution, or would allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Some of the bills failed to get out of committee, some are still in play.

Darwin's theory was first articulated in "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life." There is scientific evidence, wrote Darwin, that the variety and complexity of life on Earth are the result of two processes acting in concert — random mutation and natural selection.

Although most random mutations are harmful to an organisms's chances of survival and reproduction, there is occasionally a random mutation that is helpful; natural selection is the process of harmful mutations dying out and helpful mutations being passed on to future generations, eventually producing new species. Humans, too, according to Darwin, evolved in this way, and can thus trace their ancestry all the way back to primitive life forms.

Utah's "science standards" require that public school biology students "understand that biological diversity is a result of evolutionary processes." Students, for example, must be able to "cite evidence that supports biological evolution over time (e.g., geologic and fossil records, chemical mechanisms, DNA structural similarities, homologous and vestigial structures)" and "identify the role of mutation and recombination in evolution."

The standards do not mention human evolution in particular, an omission that earned Utah a B rating in a 2000 survey of state science standards conducted for the Fordham Foundation.

Utah biology teachers don't have to talk about human origins, but they can if they want to — and many do. But some teachers, says Jordan High biology teacher Bauer, "avoid the leap that we have a common ancestor." Bauer herself shies away from the topic, because human evolution "is when people really bristle. That's when kids immediately forget everything else they've learned."

Professor Duane Jeffery, a professor of biology at Brigham Young University, estimates that "probably 90 percent of people who are LDS think the church is against evolution. But they don't get upset about it being taught in public schools." The reason, he says, is the church seminary system, which provides junior high and high school students with a class period of religious instruction during school hours.

"Most parents feel their religion is being take care of in seminary," Jeffery says. Conservative gadfly Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, sees it this way: "Utah's children, for the most part are taught by their parents that evolution is not correct science. The parents feel more control because they know they're teaching their children the truth at home."

That truth, she says, is that "you are a child of God," a phrase that Mormons learn from the time they can talk, she says. "It's a year or two of learning about evolution vs. a lifetime of hearing that you are a child of God. Evolution just doesn't win out."

According to Randy Hall, assistant superintendent of the LDS Church Educational System, seminary teachers are told to refer to church statements included in what is known as the "BYU packet," a collection of four official statements on evolution made between 1909 and 1992. The statements are somewhat vague but do include sentences such as "Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes," and "Adam is the primal parent of our race." The packet does not include more clearly anti-evolution — and oft-quoted — unofficial statements such as those made by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1988.

"We ask our teachers not to go beyond those (official) statements," Hall says, "because then it gets into private interpretation, and that could as easily be misunderstood as understood."

Seminary teachers, on the other hand, may be interpreting the statements more narrowly. As one seminary teacher told the Deseret Morning News, "the position we're told to take is the one the church takes: that man does not come from lower forms of life." That's the message Woods Cross High School sophomore Isaac Wood has taken away from his seminary class this year. Wood also takes 10th-grade biology, where he has learned about evolution. "That's just what Darwin thought," he has concluded, "and that's great. but it's not what I believe. I'll study it if I have to to get a good grade." But human evolution, he says, is "bogus." BYU's Jeffery thinks Mormons misunderstand his church's take on evolution. In the foreword to "Evolution and Mormonism," he writes, "Many people believe that if we are the spirit children of God, then our physical bodies must be unique. They believe that if our bodies are in any way related to those of other animals, such a relationship is in some way degrading. We see a striking parallel between this belief and the medieval concept that if humans are the center of God's creation then Earth must be the center of the universe."

He also points to a 1910 statement from the church First Presidency in which divinely directed evolution was included as an apparently acceptable possibility for the origin of life. Evolution, as described by Darwin, does not require a God or some other "designer." But it doesn't rule out God or another creator, either. Darwin himself, in "Origin of Species," wrote: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one. . . ." Darwin, who identified himself as an agnostic, added the phrase "by the Creator" in the second edition.

There are many pro-evolutionists, including many evolutionary biologists, who also believe that God had a hand in the process, Jeffery says. In 1996, Pope John Paul II delivered a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences saying that "fresh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis." Utahns are almost evenly divided on the question of whether Darwin's theory is compatible with a belief in God: 44 percent of respondents in the Dan Jones Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll believe the two are compatible, 47 percent don't.

While discussions of God's possible role — either setting in motion the process of evolution, or creating humans from scratch — should take place, they don't belong in science class, says USOE curriculum director Moulding. "Religion is a very different way of knowing. It relies on faith." The science of evolution, on the other hand, "is a mechanism that explains the observed, empirical evidence," he says.

Creationists, who believe that the Bible, read literally, is an accurate description of how life began, have tried for years to include God in science class. The current attacks on the teaching of evolution add a new twist, an idea called "Intelligent Design."

Intelligent Design's most vocal and organized defenders are concentrated at Seattle's nonprofit Discovery Institute, which takes pains to separate the movement from not only Creationism but religion as a whole. When the Deseret Morning News first contacted the Institute, spokesperson Rob Crowther worried about an Intelligent Design story appearing in the newspaper's religion section.

"We approach it as strictly a scientific topic," he said.

The crux of the ID argument is twofold: that the scientific evidence supporting Darwinian evolution contains flaws and is still open to debate, and that nature is full of evidence showing that there was and is a "designer" at work.

"We don't seek to answer who the designer is," says Crowther. "Just that there is empirical evidence of design in nature." The designer might be an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, for example, or it could be God, explains Guillermo Gonzalez, an Intelligent Design proponent who is assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State University. Intelligent Design doesn't start with the assumptions that Creationism does, he says. "But the implications could be religious."

One evidence of a designer, say Intelligent Design scientists such as Lehigh University professor of biological sciences Michael J. Behe, is the concept of "irreducible complexity." Natural selection, he writes, "can only choose among systems that are already working, so the existence in nature of irreducibly complex biological systems poses a powerful challenge to Darwinian theory." Examples, he says, are the human eye and the flagella of bacteria — both, he says, are systems made up of parts that couldn't exist on their own and therefore did not evolve.

Not true, say evolutionary scientists, who argue that the precursor parts of the flagellum and eye could have been favored by natural selection.

"If Behe wishes to suggest that the intricacies of nature, life and the universe reveal a world of meaning and purpose consistent with a divine intelligence," writes Brown University biology professor Kenneth R. Miller in Natural History Magazine, "his point is philosophical, not scientific. It is a philosophical point of view, incidentally, that I share." But the hypothesis of Intelligent Design, he says, "is overwhelmingly contradicted by the scientific evidence." There is no scientific controversy over evolution, argue these scientists. And to detractors who argue that "evolution is just a theory," they point out that in science "theory" does not mean hunch. "A theory in science," says BYU biology assistant professor Marta Adair, "is not like your theory about why BYU has a lousy basketball team. A theory in science means something nobody has been able to disprove."

Evolutionary biologists argue that DNA research, particularly in the past two decades — including sequencing work that shows how much DNA is shared by animals and plants — is evidence that all life shares a common ancestry. Human DNA and chimpanzee DNA are at least 98.6 percent identical, notes Utah Valley State College biology professor Richard Tolman.

"Gene technology is the best evidence we have of human evolution," adds East High biology teacher Laurence Burton. But not all his students can square this information with what they've learned in seminary. "I think they say 'Yeah, I can see that.' But beliefs are so powerful."

Utah biology teachers are quick to point out that they aren't trying to "convert" students to Darwin. "They're saying it's the best explanation that science has to offer," says Larry Madden, science coordinator for the Salt Lake City school district and president of the Utah Science Teachers Association.

But to Utah Eagle Forum's Ruzicka, that still sounds like "brainwashing." Parents have become too complacent about the teaching of evolution in Utah schools, she says. "We need to make sure the children of Utah hear both sides" in biology class.

The Eagle Forum has been preoccupied with other issues but now plans to tackle evolution, she says. Which may mean that Karlene Bauer's e-mail inbox may soon be full of messages about Utah.

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com

Evidence abounds for intelligent design


Paul Gross' grumpy lecture, Keep creationism out of science class (March 11), reminds me of the contempt that was spewed upon Alfred Wegener and geologist Harry Hess at Princeton, as the theory of plate tectonics was being developed.

We are told that "only the naive, or those indifferent to the rules of serious scientific inquiry" are convinced of intelligent design. What a nifty way to instantly marginalize the thousands of prodesign scientists, working and teaching in our colleges and universities! Off we go to Gross' Gulag of Incompetence.

Gross' most assertive sound-bite, "There is no scientific evidence for intelligent agency behind biological design," is simply intellectually ludicrous - perhaps the most flagrantly false statement I have ever seen printed in the Times.

Evidences for design abound in every branch of biology, but three areas make neo-Darwinists blush: embryology, chemical evolution studies, and fossils of the Cambrian explosion (where dozens of complex body plans burst into existence out of nowhere). Yet, the most powerful evidence is in molecular machines and systems of horrendous, unexpected complexity. Our cells are chock full of such systems whose step-by-step evolution is overwhelmingly implausible.

To say that IDers use "incredulity" as a standard is laughable. Gross, a professional ID-smasher, knows better. Design theorist William Dembski takes every system that is suggested to have been "designed" and first submits it to a statistical-logical "filter" that can positively detect intelligent agency, only after "law" and "chance" have been ruled out. Who published Dembski's "filter" in one of its most prestigious, peer-reviewed book series? Cambridge University Press. Were the Cambridge reviewers having a moment of "credulity"? Not likely.

While completing my Ph.D. research at the University of South Florida on the history of the intelligent design movement - now in print as Doubts about Darwin (Baker, 2003) - I found it helpful to chat with evolutionary biologists about arguments for design. Some were hostile (like Gross) but others were much more open. One very renowned paleontologist who welcomes the ID challenge, told me he loved a video of biologist Michael Behe, presenting his "molecular-complexity" case for intelligent design at Princeton. "I admire his courage in presenting his case before a hostile audience," said this legendary scientist. "I look forward to the day when design will be considered fairly in the university world." Gross' rhetoric has one simple goal: to make sure that day never arrives.

-- Thomas E. Woodward, Dunedin

Evolution is compatible with religion


Re: Keep creationism out of science class.

This article discusses two connected subjects: teaching in the schools and the essential question about the relation between science and religion. On the second subject, my answer is: evolution - yes; intelligent design that we see in nature - yes.

The idea of evolution is compatible with religion. The Bible tells us that God gradually created the world and, lastly, human beings. To take literally that six days in the Bible represent six days of our calendar is only an assumption. God's time is not our time. We can understand six days as six long periods of time. To my best knowledge, the large majority of scientists who are religious (and my impression is that the majority of scientists are religious) accept the idea that God creates through evolution, too.

The idea that science indicates the existence of a design in nature arose among cosmologists in their description of the first moments of the universe after the big bang. The fine tuning of the physical constants that later made it possible for life to develop just cannot be overlooked. As Mark Demiansky, cosmologist and astrophysicist said, "Somebody had to tune it very precisely... I think there are clearly religious implications."

Like others, I see the cosmic evolution in different domains: inorganic evolution of matter that has led to formation of galaxies, stars and planets, then a biological evolution on Earth, then a spiritual evolution of human beings toward love and God.

Science motivates our belief in God. Science and religion are complementary. I am sorry when I hear that people from science and religion attack or ignore each other. There is no fence between them.

Claims of Invalid "Shroud" Radiocarbon Date Cut from Whole Cloth

Joe Nickell (http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/shroud.html#author)

Longtime Shroud of Turin devotee Ray Rogers, a retired research chemist, now admits there is the equivalent of a watercolor paint on the alleged burial cloth of Jesus. By tortuous logic and selective evidence, however, he uses the coloration to claim the "shroud" image was not the work of a medieval artist (Rogers 2004, 2005). Rogers follows many other shroud defenders in attempting to discredit the medieval date given by radiocarbon testing (Nickell 1998, 150–151).

In a paper published in Thermochimica Acta, Rogers (2005) claims that earlier carbon-14 dating tests—which proved the linen was produced between 1260 and 1390 (Damon et al. 1989)—were invalid because they were conducted on a sample taken from a medieval patch. "The radiocarbon sample has completely different chemical properties than the main part of the shroud relic," Rogers told BBC News ("Turin" 2005).

In fact, the radiocarbon sample (a small piece cut from the "main body of the shroud" [Damon 1988, 612]) was destroyed by the testing. Rogers (2005) relied on two little threads allegedly left over from the sampling, [1] (http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/shroud.html#notes) ] together with segments taken from an adjacent area in 1973. He cites pro-authenticity researchers who guessed that the carbon-14 sample came from a "rewoven area" of repair—"As unlikely as it seems," Rogers admitted to one news source (Lorenzi 2005). Indeed, textile experts specifically made efforts to select a site for taking the radiocarbon sample that was away from patches and seams (Damon et al. 1989, 611–612).

To Read More of This Column Visit: www.csicop.org (http://www.csicop.org) and http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/shroud.html (http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/shroud.html) Also on CSCOP.org Creation Watch http://www.csicop.org/creationwatch/ (http://www.csicop.org/creationwatch/) CSICOP Proudly launches a new website to track and monitor developments in the Creation vs. Evolution debate and the Intelligent Design movement. The site features links to news items from the popular press, as well as articles and commentaries from the Skeptical Inquirer magazine, information on courses in evolution, and links to websites defending evolution. We will also bring you a regular column by Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education (www.ncseweb.org); and frequent commentary by web blogger Jason Rosenhouse from his site:

Coming Soon!

An exclusive column by Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (www.ncseweb.org (http://www.ncseweb.org/) )

Schools urged to drop antidrug program


Scientology-linked teachings inaccurate, superintendent says
Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

State Superintendent Jack O'Connell urged all California schools on Tuesday to drop the Narconon antidrug education program after a new state evaluation concluded that its curriculum offers inaccurate and unscientific information.

"We'll get a letter out to every school district today, saying this program is filled with inaccuracies and does not reflect widespread medical and factual evidence," O'Connell said of Narconon Drug Prevention & Education, a free program with ties to the Church of Scientology.

O'Connell requested the independent evaluation in July after The Chronicle reported in June that Narconon introduced students to some beliefs and methods of Scientology without their knowledge.

The stories reported that Narconon's instruction rests, in part, on church beliefs that drug residues remain indefinitely in body fat, causing people to experience repeated drug flashbacks and cravings. Some teachers also reported that Narconon instructors taught their students that drug residues can be sweated out in saunas and that colored ooze is produced when drugs exit the body.

Scientology correspondence obtained by The Chronicle said Narconon's instruction is delivered in language purged of most church parlance, but includes "all the Scientology and Dianetics Handbook basics."

Narconon classroom instructors made presentations in at least 39 California school districts since 2000, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

San Francisco and Los Angeles schools banned Narconon after The Chronicle reports appeared. Narconon had had unfettered access to San Francisco classrooms from 1991 until last summer.

"Now we need to get a memo out to schools saying that because of the state superintendent's recommendation, which concurs with the San Francisco finding, schools are not to be using Narconon," said Trish Bascom, director of school health programs for the San Francisco schools.

The report, funded by the state and released today by the Hayward-based California Healthy Kids Resource Center, did not evaluate whether Narconon crossed the church-state line in public schools.

Instead, five medical doctors and nine school health education specialists evaluated Narconon for scientific accuracy and how well its teaching methods might help students avoid taking drugs.

Information provided to students by Narconon "does not reflect accurate, widely accepted medical and scientific evidence," the researchers said. "Some information is misleading because it is overstated or does not distinguish between drug use and abuse."

The report offered these examples of Narconon's inaccuracies:

-- Drugs burn up vitamins and nutrients.

-- Drug-activated vitamin deficiency results in pain.

-- Marijuana-induced, rapid vitamin and nutrient loss causes food cravings known as "munchies."

-- Small amounts of drugs stored in fat are released at a later time (and) cause the person to re-experience the drug effect and desire to use again.

Examples of "misleading statements" include the ideas that the amount of a drug taken determines whether it acts as a stimulant or sedative, and that drugs "ruin creativity and dull senses."

The report also criticized Narconon for using ex-addicts to make its presentations.

"Authorizing ex-addicts to teach drug prevention in schools may tacitly reinforce student perceptions that drug use really isn't risky," the researchers said.

And they found fault with Narconon for making no distinction between what presenters tell young children versus teenagers; lecturing to students without giving them a chance to practice drug-refusal skills; suggesting to students that drug-taking is more widespread than it is; and using scare tactics, such as telling students that too much caffeine can kill.

"Narconon is proud that throughout our nearly 40 years of service we have been able to help millions of youth worldwide to turn away from drug experimentation and a life on drugs," Narconon's president, Clark Carr, said after reading the report.

"We are always open to suggestions how we can achieve even better results. Narconon staff will continue to do everything they can to help youth learn true information about drugs so they can make informed choices."

Carr was reached by phone in Hawaii, where he said he had been invited to introduce Narconon to classrooms there.

Hawaii state school officials had already contacted their California counterparts, O'Connell said, to ask about the report's findings.

The one positive nod researchers gave Narconon was that it could be entertaining. The report quotes from a Narconon script advising presenters to tell kids that "People don't decide to become addicted to a drug. Nobody goes home at the end of a a school day and says, 'What am I going to do tonight? Wash my bicycle ... and become a drug addict.' "

That kind of engaging approach is what got biology teacher Gary Sninsky of Gardenia High in the Los Angeles Unified School District to invite Narconon presenters to his class year after year. He was among many teachers who said they were disappointed when their district banned the antidrug program.

"I was impressed by their ability to hold a passel of teenagers' attention," Sninsky said Tuesday, adding that he just assumed what Narconon presenters said was accurate.

Deborah Wood, executive director of the California Healthy Kids Resource Center, said inaccurate programs should not be permitted in classrooms even if they are free to cash-strapped schools and entertaining to glazed-eyed students.

"Ask instead if that would be appropriate for a math or science class," Wood suggested. "The standards need to be the same when we're talking about valuable instructional time."

In his letter advising district superintendents not to allow Narconon in their classrooms, O'Connell wrote: "Fortunately, many programs are available to schools that have evidence of efficacy in preventing violence or drug use."

The new state report will be available on the Web at www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/at/research.asp.

E-mail Nanette Asimov at nasimov@sfchronicle.com

What Narconon tells students


Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Narconon's school program sends students a strong anti-drug message about alcohol, tobacco and marijuana in grades three to 12 and about harder drugs in the upper grades.

The program's instructors tell kids that drugs are poison. But here are some other things they tell kids about addiction, which the medical experts interviewed by The Chronicle rejected as not scientifically based:

-- Drugs -- including ecstasy, LSD and marijuana -- accumulate indefinitely in body fat, where they cause recurring drug cravings for months or years.

-- Drugs in fat cause flashbacks even years after the user quits.

-- The vitamin niacin pulls drugs from fat, and saunas sweat them from the body.

-- Colored ooze is produced when drugs exit the body.

Tony Bylsma, director of Narconon's education program and a Scientologist, recently asked ninth-graders at Centennial High in Compton (Los Angeles County) to imagine a boy who had smoked pot for years. "Fat stores up energy," Bylsma told the students. "But what else is his fat storing up?"

"THC!" cried the class, naming marijuana's active ingredient.

"Right!" Bylsma said. "THC can stay in your fat for years. Now he goes three months without smoking weed. He feels great. But is he really off drugs? Not really. He's still a walking baggy of marijuana -- enough to make him feel like getting stoned. ... At our Narconon rehab centers, we devote a lot of time to cleaning this out of the body."

Narconon's global network of drug treatment centers gives out high doses of niacin and sends people into saunas for long intervals over several hours in the belief that this will flush drugs from the body.

"If something is locked up in your fat, the niacin releases it into your circulation," said Clark Carr, president of Narconon International and a Scientologist. The sauna then "sweats the drugs out."

Eliminating drug residue -- "Purification'' -- is believed by Scientologists to protect the mind and allow one to reach an enlightened state of "clear."

Scientologists believe the mind is made up of three-dimensional images of personal experiences called "mental image pictures." Certain pictures of pain and loss become "scrambled" by drug residue in fat. Scrambled pictures cannot be erased, a removal that is essential for going clear.

The idea that drugs scramble mental pictures, wreak havoc in fat or can be sweated out in saunas is unique to Scientology -- and Narconon. Drug experts interviewed by The Chronicle said they knew of no scientific evidence to validate such claims.

While drug residue can be found in body fat for days or weeks, there is no evidence that they cause flashbacks or cravings, said Dr. Peter Banys, director of substance abuse programs at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco. Drs. David Smith of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, Neal Benowitz of UCSF and Timmen Cermak, medical director of the Henry Ohlhoff treatment program in San Francisco agreed.

"In all my reading and attendance at conferences on chemical dependence, I have never heard any evidence for a mechanism for flashbacks," said Cermak, who wrote "Marijuana: What's a Parent to Believe?" in 2003. He said a likely explanation for what some people experience as a flashback is "because of the confluence of many associative clues" -- much like deja vu.

The experts said research shows that marijuana and many other psychoactive drugs (including LSD, ecstasy, Valium and opiates) create the sense of being high by mimicking neurotransmitters, the brain's chemicals. Traveling across nerves in the brain, neurotransmitters inspire thoughts, memories, emotions, hunger and other activity.

Some drugs stimulate nerves much more than neurotransmitters can. Some cause a release of extra neurotransmitters, and some block the nerve's ability to receive the chemicals altogether, the doctors said. Thoughts, memories and emotions are affected, as is hunger, which is why marijuana causes the munchies, the doctors agreed.

Cermak said the idea that this activity occurs in fat reflects "a general lack of knowledge about the physiology of getting high."

Carr steered medical questions to Narconon's medical expert, Dr. David Root, who practices occupational medicine in Sacramento and runs a "Hubbard detoxification program" from his office. Root defended the drugs-in-fat view of addiction.

"These metabolic products do store in the fat and do cause problems later on. One of the reasons I feel this way is that we are literally reducing the body's burden (through niacin and sauna). They no longer feel bad or have flashbacks," said Root, who said he is not a Scientologist but a Presbyterian elder.

He explained that during a sauna, drugs and other poisons "come out through the skin in the form of sebaceous, or fatty, sweat. This material is frequently visible and drips or is rubbed off on towels. It may be black, brown, blue, green, yellow and occasionally red. Most is washed off in the shower ... and so is not seen."

In Hubbard's Scientology text "Clear Body, Clear Mind," published in 1979, one case study is about a woman exposed to toxic chemicals on the job. Her doctor was Root, who refers her to Hubbard for Purification "under his care."

"Four days into the program, she reported 'black junk' coming from her pores that resembled water she used at work," Root says on page 173. "This outpouring of this black, oily material continued throughout the program though in lesser and lesser amounts until she was done."

Benowitz, head of clinical pharmacology at UCSF, said what Root described is "not biologically possible. Sweat glands excrete watery substances, not oil. "

Asked in an interview if there are scientific studies to support Purification, Root said, "I'm not sure I can say that."

But Narconon officials provided a list of 61 journal articles they said supported their view, including three by Root describing his methods. Some were from such well-known publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association ("Human tissue burdens of halogenated aromatic chemicals in Michigan," 1982). The most recent was from 1990 in Clinical Ecology ("Thermal chamber depuration: A perspective on man in the sauna"). The oldest was from 1713 on "remedies that have the power of setting the spirits and blood mass in motion and of provoking sweat."

Carr said his own experience supports the flashback claim. "I did acid when I was at Stanford in '67, '68," he said. "I did the sauna in '79. In the sauna, I got the munchies, and I got the giggles. This was a little something that was left."

Benowitz of UCSF called the idea of sweating out drugs and re- experiencing their effects "very amusing."

"The concentration of drugs in sweat varies very much from drug to drug," he said. "There's very little THC in sweat. If a drug is water soluble, you'll find it in higher concentrations in sweat. But not years later. That's ridiculous. Very amusing."

Smith of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic said such claims were "not scientifically based."

Yet Narconon uses those ideas in drug presentations to thousands of students and teachers.

"If you have toxins in your body, you want to sweat it out," said Reid Russell, a health teacher who has hosted Narconon about twice a year for five years at Lincoln High.

At Bravo High in Los Angeles, a public school for students interested in medicine, health teacher Jon Hyde said he and the future doctors and nurses in his class have learned a lot from Narconon.

"They have to put people in saunas for hours so they sweat. It's the only way to get the toxins out," Hyde said. "There was this one guy who was on several types of drugs. When he did the sauna, all this stuff just came out. The floor was all black. It's from the drugs."

In San Francisco schools, Narconon speaker Nathan Johnson has done lectures in schools since 1991. He often performs a demonstration in which he drops some tea leaves into corn oil, where they remain suspended. He drops other tea leaves into water, where they float to the surface.

Like tea leaves, "most drugs are fat-soluble," said Johnson, a Scientologist. "That was one of the things Hubbard's research showed. THC stays indefinitely in the fat."

Johnson's demonstration does show that tea leaves react differently to oil than to water. But it does not show how long tea, marijuana or THC stays in body fat.

Teachers may love Narconon, but in Los Angeles, some school district officials do not.

"Think about it: A kid will say, 'Wow, I'll go to a sauna and exercise, and no one will know if I've been using or not,' " said Lee Saltz, a drug counselor in the district.

Saltz said teachers invite Narconon into classrooms despite a recommendation by the district that the program not be used.

One Los Angeles teacher who was skeptical about the information found that banning Narconon was easier said than done.

"Although it was a great presentation, I decided not to have (Bylsma) back," said Peter Senick of Manual Arts High. "I didn't know if it was scientifically based."

But Narconon lobbied, sending student testimonials -- including one from a kid who said he decided against taking drugs after hearing the presentation in Senick's class.

"If this is the effect they had on one kid," Senick told himself, "then who am I to be so uppity that one little fact is not right?"

He invited Bylsma back.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Germany's Highest Administrative Court Rules against Bavarian Ministry of the Interior in Scientology Human Rights Case


On the day Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber meets with politicians in California to promote his State, a Scientologist in Germany has won a major religious discrimination ruling against the Bavarian government in Germany's highest administrative court.

The Federal Supreme Court's ruling marks a precedent against the German state most frequently cited by the US State Department when criticizing Germany in its international human rights and religious freedom reports for discriminating against members of German Churches of Scientology.

The Court found that the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior (MOI) violated Mr. Christian Winkler's constitutional rights by relaying to his employers, the City of Munich, that he is a member of the Church of Scientology Munich. As a result of the MOI's action, Mr. Winkler was instructed by the City to disavow in writing any association with the Scientology religion as a condition for his continued employment, by signing a declaration similar to forms used by former regimes against persecuted minority faiths.

Mr. Winkler refused and filed suit, winning a permanent injunction against the City in October 2000. He also brought a separate action against the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior over the MOI's violation of his privacy rights.

"The ruling is historic because it brings the most religiously intolerant state in Western Europe â€" Bavaria â€" back under the German Constitution," said Leisa Goodman, Human Rights Director of the Church of Scientology International. "It condemns Stoiber's government and his Minister of Interior, Beckstein, for trampling the civil rights of a Bavarian citizen solely because of his religious beliefs and practices."

During a hearing yesterday, the Federal Court pointed out that the MOI's action raised serious constitutional issues, threatening Mr. Winkler's ability to make a living and thereby survive in Germany. The Court criticized the Bavarian Administrative Appeals Court in Munich for readily agreeing to toss aside fundamental constitutional rights. The Court held that officials of the state are not allowed to exchange personal data with impunity, as the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior had essentially argued. Furthermore, Mr. Winkler had done nothing that would justify the Ministry's action in violating his basic rights.

The Scientology religion was established in Germany in 1969. Today there are Churches of Scientology in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Munich and Stuttgart and smaller organizations, known as Missions, throughout the country.

Evolution at Work (and creationism nowhere in sight)


March 18, 2005
Posted by Carl Zimmer

You may have heard last month's news about an aggressive form of HIV that had public health officials in New York scared out of their professional gourds. They isolated the virus from a single man, and reported that it was resistant to anti-HIV drugs and drove its victim into full-blown AIDS in a manner of months, rather than the normal period of a few years. Skeptics wondered whether all the hoopla was necessary or useful. The virus might not turn out to be all that unusual, some said; perhaps the man's immune system had some peculiar twist that gave the course of his disease such a devastating arc. But everyone did agree that the final judgment would have to wait until the scientists started publishing their research.

Today the first data came out in the Lancet. One of the figures jumped out at me, and I've reproduced it here. The scientists drew the evolutionary tree of this new strain. Its branch is marked here as "index case." The researchers compared the sequence of one its genes to sequences from other HIV strains, looking to see how closely related it was to them. The length of the branches shows how different the genetic sequences are from one another. The tree shows that this is not a case of contamination from some other well-known strain. Instead, this new strain sticks way out on its own. The researchers say that they're now working their way through a major database of HIV strains maintained at Los Alamost to find a closer relative.

This tree is a road map for future research on this new strain. It will allow scientists to pinpoint the evolutionary changes caused by natural selection or other factors that made this strain so resistant to anti-HIV drugs. Scientists will also be able to rely on evolutionary studies of other viruses. Often drug-resistant pathogens have to pay a reproductive cost for their ability to withstand attack from our medicines. Under normal conditions, they reproduce more slowly than resistant strains. But scientists have also found that pathogens can then undergo new mutations that compensate for this handicap and make them as nasty as their resistant counterparts. It's possible that the new strain has undergone compensatory mutations, which might make it such a threat.

So here we have evolutionary trees and natural selection at the very core of a vitally important area of medical research. Yet we are told again and again by op-ed columnists and certain members of boards of education that evolution is nothing but an evil religion and that creationism of one flavor or another is the future of science. You'd expect then that Intelligent Design or some other form of creationism would help reveal something new about this HIV. But it has not. That should count for something.


Jim Bendewald on March 18, 2005 03:39 PM writes...

As a creationist I would like to clarify a few of Carl Zimmer's misunderstandings. Zimmer implies that creationists would have a problem with a virus mutating and changing. This is not true. In fact, all of the scientific observations that Zimmer mentions fit well in the concept of "kinds" described in the Bible. The Bible states that God created after their kind; not every breed of cow or elephant were created, rather God simply created elephants and cows. Natural selection, mutations, genetic drift all help to explain the various changes within kinds that make up what we commonly call breeds. Creationists use the same laboratory science as evolutionists do but when the science turns to philosophy then our conclusions are much different.

For evolution to be shown to be true the virus needs to mutate to something beyond a virus. With viruses and bacteria reproducing as often as they do and with millions of studies around the world there ought to be some evidence of organisms going beyond their "kind"!

Creationists have evidence for creation that is logical, realistic and plentiful. While evolutionists insist their theory is beyond dispute, ordinary people are waking up to see the evolutionist emperor really is wearing no clothes. The following are two examples of evidence for creation.

First, the Bible states that God created out of nothing ("ex nilo") fully formed and fully functional creatures as the fossil record reveals. Design is evident in all of creation. As it can be seen that an arrowhead was designed, compared to a random broken rock; it is evidence that a mountain lion was designed. Evolutionists claim this is an example of "scientists can't explain it, so God did it". On the contrary. Just as a designed building implies a designer, the design of life implies the magnificent designer--God.

Second, wherever one observes information, whether in a book, on a sign or from the words "I love you" in the sand, one intuitively knows the information came from an intelligent source. Information is far too complex to come from a natural source like wind or water erosion. DNA is known to be a long string of assembly instructions for building an entire organism, animal or person. The amount of code in DNA for even the simplest life form, bacteria, would fill entire sets of encyclopedias. Since information is always from an author; logically, the code in DNA is from the magnificent author--God.

While evolutionists provide rhetoric that evolution is true they really have very little evidence. Evolutionists misrepresent and distort the creationist view while claiming that any change within a kind is evidence for evolution. In reality, changes within kinds better represent the creationist view. If evolution is true, reveal to us laboratory evidence for upward changes that go beyond a virus, bacteria or any other kind of organism.

Jim Bendewald is a co-author of Evolution Shot Full of Holes and developed the CD-ROM program Evidence the Bible is the True. www.evidencepress.com

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Carl Zimmer on March 18, 2005 04:03 PM writes...

A few questions for Jim Bendewald:

1. Is there an example of medical findings published in peer-reviewed journals in which the research was explicitly guided by creationism?

2. I gather from your comment that all viruses are a "kind," as are elephants and cows. But why should HIV, which infects certain immune cells be the same kind as viruses that only infect nerve cells or stomach cells? Certainly they would seem just as different as cows are from elephants.

3. If HIV is in fact its own "kind," then how do all branches of HIV branch off within the tree of chmipanzee simian immunodeficiency viruses? Evolutionary biology gives a clear answer: they evolved from chimpanzees SIV ancestors. What answer do you have?

4. Let's say that viruses are all a "kind," because they all share certain similarities. Then how does one explain the recently discovered mimivirus, which shows some features of a virus and some features of a prokaryote?

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Charles Winder on March 18, 2005 05:02 PM writes...

Jim Bendewald:

Please list all of the "kinds," as revealed to you in the Bible. Surely you must have some criterion for delimiting these entities other than "dogs go 'woof' and cats go 'meow.'"

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Brian Regal on March 18, 2005 05:15 PM writes...

Mr. Bendewald makes the same spurious argument many creationists make of using engineering analogs to explain how evolution dosen't work. They point to a mousetrap, pocket watch,an airplane or in this case a building. Machines only change thier form if a human agency does it for them. Living organisms do not behave like machines. This approach is an attempt to convince people that if living things do change they must have, like a machine, had help. Also, allowing for natural selection to alter the kinds smacks of backsliding in the face of overwhelming evidence that evolution works just the way biologists say it does. This approach was being used back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Alfred Russel Wallace and St. George Jackson Mivart who wanted to account for the mind by God but the body by evolution.

Brian Regal is the author of Henry Fairfield Osborn: Race and the Search for the Origins of Man (Ashgate, 2002) and Human Evolution: A Guide to the Debates (ABC-CLIO, 2004).

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Tim F on March 18, 2005 05:28 PM writes...

You could call me a meta-creationist. Rather than evolving naturally from legitimate predecessors, I believe that creationism was created intact by a mediocre intelligence to act as a bulwark against other aspects of social change that it both hates and fears. Proof of my theory can be found in creationism working perfectly as a means of driving people away from rational thought and towards superstition while offering nothing whatsoever in terms of practical benefits. It runs against logic that folks would evolve a worldview that walls them off from progress in science and medicine. Conversely, mediocre intelligences atop gilded thrones have every reason to be threatened by the same sorts of progress.

One thing to learn from recorded history is that trends always follow the money. That's why economists make such mind-boggling bloggers: they're the ones best-equipped to explain complicated things. Even when they're wrong they sound pretty compelling. Anyhow, with regards to creationism following the money points inexorably to my theory (hypothesis? bah!) of meta-creationism.

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Gary Samaniego on March 18, 2005 05:58 PM writes...

Carl Zimmer seems to be under the misconception that science is the realm of those who deny the existence of God while those who believe in God are anti-science morons (no he didn't say that but he comes across that way). He would do well to study the history of science, and specifically how Christianity contributed to the foundations of science in the Middle Ages. He might also want to note that many scientific theories and discoveries were first proposed (made) by deeply religious people.

For example, an Austrian Monk, Gregor Mendel, first came up with the basic theory of heredity; Louis Pasteur requires no explanation other then to say he was a very devout Catholic; Saint Augustine supported the theory of evolution (as do many Catholics) but not necessarily Darwinism which is now under attack even from many scientists; the Belgian mathematician and Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre first put forth the theory of the Big Bang which was rejected or ignored by most scientists of the time (1930's); Galileo was also a very devout Catholic as was Copernicus; etc., etc.

Mr. Zimmer also seems to completely misunderstand the general idea of creation. Using the generally accepted modern definition of creationism, i.e. a strict literal interpretation of the bible, seems to be Mr. Zimmer's only point of reference. This is a minority view in the Christian world. However, speaking as a member of the oldest Christian Church (I'm a Catholic) I can say that this way of interpreting the bible has never been required; nor has it even been emphasized most of the time.

Finally, Mr. Zimmer heralds the evolutionary discovery of the HIV mutating as if it proves Darwinism! Darwinism predicts the mutation of one species to another; this is a far cry from what Mr. Zimmer describes in his article. When the HIV virus mutates into an amoeba, or some other completely distinct living thing (i.e. macro-evolution), then Mr. Zimmer will have something to point to as evidence for Darwinism. So far all he has done is show that microevolution is occurring, and that is something even the most fundamentalist Biblical Creationist has always accepted anyway.

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Jim Bendewald on March 18, 2005 05:59 PM writes...

In regard to Zimmers questions:

1. Thank you for responding to my review so quickly. Concerning your first question (or charge) I wish to remind you of your misunderstanding that creation science in the laboratory is no different than from a secular scientist. The research, study, procedures etc. would be the same. The differences come into play with extrapolations about "evolution" and other philosophy based questions.

Concerning why there are so few articles from creationists in peer reviewed journals I will quote from an article I wrote entitled Time for a Reality Check. "A third reality check is that proponents of evolution claim that creationists are trying to bypass the normal peer review process. In reality, papers in favor of creation submitted to peer-review journals are almost always rejected outright. Those who think that the secular scientific process is objective need to keep reading. To illustrate, do a Web search on 'Richard Sternberg,' the previous managing editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a peer-reviewed journal from the Smithsonian Institute. Sternberg, an evolutionist who holds two Ph.D.'s, approved for publication an article by Stephen Meyer in favor of intelligent design. This paper created a huge sensation and the response include articles written by scientists around the world blasting Sternberg. With his career all but shattered, what would other managing editors of peer-reviewed journals do with papers in favor of creation or intelligent design?"

As a return challenge to you: reveal peer-reviewed compelling empirical evidence of vertical evolution, not changes within a kind.

2. In all of my research I have only seen that viruses remain viruses though there are many different viruses. Can you provide evidence for viruses evolving to the point where they no longer need a host or contain both RNA and DNA? That would be vertical evolution.

To learn more about kinds I suggest you research Baraminology.

3. Again your question assumes that creation science is different than other science in the laboratory. Creationists would give the same clear answer. The source of the virus is not the question. Its migration from chimpanzees to humans is another example of change within a kind not vertical evolution!

4. The point remains: a virus remains a virus, bacteria remain bacteria. In fact all creatures share features of other kinds of creatures. Elephants have skin, bones, heart and so do cows.

If the mimivirus was such a slam dunk issue in favor of evolution we would see it in our faces on every pro-evolutionary magazine. The problem is the mimivirus is still a virus.

I appreciate your willingness to ask these questions. I have your Evolution book. You are an excellent writer.

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Sunil Patel on March 18, 2005 06:05 PM writes...

Wow, that's one hell of an index case. Scary.

Since information is always from an author; logically, the code in DNA is from the magnificent author--God.

That doesn't follow. Information isn't always from an author. The fact that the sun is shining tells me it is day. Who authored the information "The sun is shining"?

DNA is information, sure, but it doesn't have to be authored by an external source.

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APCA Accepting Nominations for Crypto Awards


The American Primate Conservation Alliance is accepting nominations to recognize excellence in the field of cryptozoology. The awards will be given at the Fourth Annual Southern Crypto Conference.

(PRWEB) March 3, 2005 -- The American Primate Conservation Alliance and Project: Zoo Quest have announced that they are accepting nominations for the Crypto Awards. The awards will be given at the Fourth Annual Southern Crypto Conference, Saturday June 18, 2005 in Conroe, Texas at the Lone Star Expo Center.

The APCA welcomes applicants and nominations in the following categories:

Category 1: Youth Conservationist of the Year. This award is to bring recognition to upcoming cryptozoologists under the age of 21. The APCA prefers candidates who are very active in the field or have made an important contribution to the pursuit of mysterious animals.

Category 2: Crypto Steward of the Year This award recognizes experts who are dedicated to fieldwork and are willing to share their findings in order to solve the mysteries.

Category 3: Crypto Finding of the Year The winner of this award will have found a new discovery in the field of cryptozoology.

Category 4: Crypto Web Site of the Year The Internet has provided the medium for a renaissance of cryptozoology. This award is to recognize excellence among the plethora of crypto sites worldwide.

Former Crypto Award winners include, Bob Gimlin – Crypto Steward, M.K. Davis – Crypto Finding, and Lane Hullar – Youth Conservationist.

Please send nominations to e-mail protected from spam bots or to Project: Zoo Quest, 101 Broad St. Orange, TX 77630.

Chester Moore, the American Primate Conservation Alliance and Project: Zoo Quest are dedicated to wildlife conservation and education. Funds raised from the annual conference as well as from all future projects will go directly to habitat conservation and education projects that will benefit youth.

For more information about the American Primate Conservation Alliance, Project: Zoo Quest, or the Fourth Annual Southern Crypto Conference, please visit www.cryptokeeper.com and www.paranormal.com.

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