NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 April 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, April 14, 2005

In My Backyard


Creationism in California

Eugenie C. Scott

In November 2004, a school district in Cobb County, Georgia, pasted an antievolution disclaimer into its biology textbooks. The disclaimer read, in part, "Evolution is theory, not fact," meaning that evolution was speculation, rather than a foundational idea of science.

Evolution, after all, is the idea that the universe has had a history: that stars, galaxies, planets and living things have changed through time, and that living things have a genealogical relationship. Although scientists argue about the details of how evolution occurred, none argue over whether evolution took place. That a school board felt it had to make an antievolution gesture just seems so nineteenth century. Many Californians chalked up this example of the persistent creationism/evolution controversy to the fact that it happened in, well, Georgia. They were no doubt thinking, I'm glad this problem is not in my backyard.

But alas, no. California has had its share of creationism/evolution clashes too.

The state is in fact the home of the largest creationism organization in the country, the Institute for Creation Research, based in Santee, east of San Diego. And, lest northern Californians start feeling smug, two of the leaders of the Intelligent Design (ID) creationism movement have connections with the University of California, Berkeley. Retired Boalt Hall law professor Phillip Johnson is a chief architect of the ID political and rhetorical approach, and Jonathan Wells, author of the best-selling antievolution screed Icons of Evolution, received his PhD from the university's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. ID up-and-comer Jed Macosko, now in the department of physics at Wake Forest University, also did postgraduate work in Berkeley, where he taught a class (which, gratefully, did not carry science credit) called "Evidence for Design in Nature."

At the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), we monitor the creationism/evolution controversy and provide information and advice to those who want to keep evolution in classrooms and creationism out. Over the years we have seen school board candidates run on creationist platforms. We have seen textbooks declared to contain "too much evolution," or rejected because they don't "balance" the teaching of evolution with teachings from the Bible. We have had calls from teachers wondering what to do about the instructor down the hall who refuses to teach evolution, or who brings personal religious views into the classroom. And we have had calls from students complaining about teachers openly proselytizing during class time.

Local school districts are where most curriculum decisions are made. Because our center has had considerable experience advising school boards and parents on creationism/evolution issues, we receive many calls about school boards that want to limit the teaching of evolution in some way, including passing "theory not fact" policies such as were recently the issue in Georgia. Parents often pressure board members to add intelligent design to curricula, while some ministers invited to school assemblies use the opportunity to gain converts to creationism.

Charter schools, freed from some bureaucratic constraints, sometimes try to stretch the science curriculum to include creationism. Problems don't occur only at schools: informal science centers like zoos, science museums, aquaria, and national parks are also sites where evolution gets questioned. Visitors may protest evolution being presented without qualifiers ("some scientists believe") or argue against the presentation of the Earth's age as ancient.

These incidents occur across the country, not just in Bible belt areas. They are more likely to arise in small towns and suburbs than large urban settings: problems in California occur more frequently in places like Hemet, Vista, Morgan Hill, San Juan Capistrano, Chester, and Weed, than in San Diego or San Francisco. Small towns and suburbs are naturally more homogeneous. If that homogeneity includes a sizeable degree of religious and political conservatism, the environment is ripe for the eruption of a creationism/evolution controversy. Battles are usually triggered by events such as science textbook adoptions, the writing or revision of state science education standards, and school board elections.

During the early decades of the 20th century, creationists made it a crime to teach evolution. In 1925, the statute's legitimacy was tested when John Scopes was tried in Dayton, Tennessee for defying the law. Scopes lost, the laws stayed on the books, and publishers swiftly eliminated evolution from high school textbooks. It returned in the 1960s thanks to a movement to reform science education. In 1968 the Supreme Court struck down antievolution laws-which weren't being enforced anyway-and the teaching of evolution brought forth a new form of antievolutionism, "creation science."

Creation science proposes that the universe appeared all at once in its present form a few thousand years ago, and that this biblical literalist view is supported by scientific data. No substantial change in astronomical or biological phenomena has taken place since then, they say. The face of the Earth was shaped by a real Noah's Flood, which deposited all the sedimentary deposits in the world, carved the Grand Canyon, pushed up the Rockies and the Himalayas, and gouged out the oceans.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, so-called "equal time" legislation was introduced in at least 24 states-including California-that would require the teaching of "creation science" if evolution were taught. The argument was that if creationism could be made scientific, it deserved to be taught in the public schools.

Conservative Christians, whose theology requires some degree of biblical literalism, are the driving force behind American antievolutionism. They make up a substantial number of Americans: polls estimate religious conservatives comprise anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the population. However, the majority of American Christians belong to denominations rejecting biblical literalism. Catholics, according to official doctrine, believe that God created through evolution, while mainstream Protestants accept some variants of this idea.

Because no empirical evidence supports such views, creation science concentrates instead on the supposed shortcomings of evolutionary science. Evolution didn't happen, they claim, because the second law of thermodynamics supposedly prevents natural phenomena from becoming more complex over time. This law is used to argue against the universe originating in the "Big Bang," the evolution of complex life, and the development of biological diversity. Gaps in the fossil record are regularly trotted out, while the gradual transitions in the fossils of birds, whales, humans, and many other animals are ignored. Natural selection, based on random variation of genetic material and adaptive differential reproduction, is said to be too weak a mechanism to account for complexity. Any argument against evolution is considered evidence in support of creationism.

Creation science literature presents the teaching of both creation science and evolution as good pedagogy. Teach the students both views, and let them decide, they urge. But science is not a democratic process. All theories are not created equal. Science, in fact, is highly discriminatory. It discards explanations that don't work. The idea that everything appeared all at one time in its present form was rejected as science even before Darwin. It is not good pedagogy to teach students erroneous information: it wastes time, and confuses students as to the scientific consensus.

The "fairness" argument has been extremely successful for antievolutionists. Fairness and equal time deservedly are important American cultural values, and most Americans respond favorably to them. Many citizens do not realize that these otherwise valuable sentiments are irrelevant to decisions about what to teach in the science classroom. If there were other scientific theories explaining what evolution explains, scientists would be teaching them.

Efforts to mandate the teaching of creation science were brought to a halt by the Supreme Court's 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision concerning a Louisiana equal time law. The court declared creation science to be a religious idea and that advocating it would unconstitutionally promote religion in the public schools. Creation science as a legal strategy was over, although creation science as a social movement has continued to grow and spread.

Since then, a new strategy known as "Intelligent Design" has come into being. It grew out of the Edwards decision itself, which noted that it was legal to teach "scientific alternatives to evolution." Proponents of ID proclaimed it to be one such alternative.

Unlike creation science, ID makes no fact claims about the origins of the universe, or the history of Earth, or of life on Earth. Instead, it proposes that some things in nature are too complex to have been formed from natural causes and therefore must have been produced by "an intelligence." Some structures showing an unexpectedly high level of organization (e.g., the first life forms, or cellular structures such as the flagella of bacteria) are inferred to be too complex for chance to have brought them about.

Of course, no evolutionary biologist ascribes the bacterial flagellum or other complex structures to the chance assembly of parts: natural selection is a mechanism that can generate complexity, and there may be other mechanisms not yet discovered. This last brings up another problem with ID: most scientists appreciate that we do not yet understand everything there is to know about the natural world. But if a natural cause for something is not known (indeed, there is no scientific consensus on the origin of life, or the evolutionary assembly of the bacterial flagellum) it's not helpful to throw up one's hands and say, "I don't know! God must have done it!" The scientific approach would be to say, "I don't know, yet," and keep looking.

ID does not identify the "intelligent agent" and nothing is said about how or when or with what this agent created life. This "creationism lite" makes no claims about the origin of Grand Canyon by Noah's Flood, or a 10,000-year-old Earth. This avoids immediate rejection by the scholarly community, and accommodates a wide variety of antievolutionists, including biblical literalist/young Earth supporters as well as more moderate Christians. But most ID literature merely asserts the failure of evolution to explain complexity, and makes no attempt to provide an alternative model. It is a variant of the creation science maxim that "evidence against evolution is evidence for creationism."

In recent years, the main think tank of ID, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, has shifted to advocating that "evidence against evolution," or EAE, be taught rather than ID. It's a tacit admission that there is no evidence for their position. Perhaps ID proponents began to realize that design implies a designer, an agent, and that judges would figure out pretty quickly that the intended agent was God. Once proposals for teaching ID were recognized as a back door way of teaching "God did it," the Center realized, such policies would be declared unconstitutional. Better to convince students that evolution didn't occur and let them conclude that the only reasonable explanation left is creation by God.

The history of creationism has followed a pattern. First, creationists attempted to ban evolution, then to teach creation science, next to teach ID, and now, most commonly, they lobby to teach EAE. The creationism/evolution controversy that occurred in the northern California community of Roseville during 2004 is a microcosm of this history.

Roseville is a community of about 92,000 people about 20 miles from Sacramento. For several years a school board split between moderates and conservatives has argued over evolution, sex education, and other hot educational issues. In 2001, one school board member proposed requiring the teaching of creation science. In a letter to the community she wrote, "I believe God has given us these scientists and this information at this time to use for this exact purpose."

In June 2003, the Roseville district was choosing a textbook for high school biology courses. One local citizen, Larry Caldwell, protested that the book favored by teachers took a "one-sided" approach to teaching evolution. Like all commercial textbooks, the Holt, Rinehart, and Winston textbook includes evolution but no creationist or antievolution content. Caldwell said that the textbook did not invite students to "think critically" about the subject of evolution and offered a stack of supplemental books and videotapes that would redress the book's deficiencies. These were an odd mixture of ID and creation science: DVDs promoted by the Discovery Institute; a young-earth creationist book, Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Safarti; and the Jehovah's Witness book Life: How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or Creation? Thanks to its free distribution, this book is probably the most widely-circulated creation science book in the country.

District teachers strongly opposed all these materials. The board, even with a 4-1 antievolutionist majority, found it difficult to mandate their use over strong educator objection, but they persevered. At the next meeting, they declared that the creationist materials would be "recommended" but not required, and that each school could decide whether or not to use them. This was to provide an opportunity for creationist parents to lobby teachers and administrators. The board also organized an "information session" for teachers on the supplementary materials led by Caldwell and ID supporter Cornelius Hunter, a local engineer and author of several religiously-oriented antievolution books.

The polite but unconvinced teachers suggested the supplementary materials be sent to scientists at the University of California, Davis, California State University, Sacramento, and Brigham Young University (one of the school board members is a Mormon) to review the materials and Caldwell's analysis of the Holt textbook.

The scientists' reports unanimously declared Caldwell's supplementary materials unscientific. His comments about evolution in the textbook analysis did not express professional scientists' view of evolution. One scientist wrote of Caldwell's "gross misunderstanding of the nature of science." Another, in exasperation, wrote, "... consider that the thousands of us who practice evolutionary biology daily might just not be such blind fools as to miss the 'flaws' that Hunter thinks are fatal to what we do." The most "positive" comment from the scientists' critiques was that one of the ID videos might have some educational value as "a tongue-in-cheek example of weak argumentative strategy and pseudo science." The school district administration agreed not to adopt the materials.

But the district administration's rejection was not the same as rejection by its board of education. Caldwell filed a complaint against the district and claimed that the adoption of the Holt textbook did not follow the rules because parent input in the process was inadequate. He also proposed that the board consider a policy he drew up, which he called the "Quality Science Education" policy, which was an EAE approach couched in the language of critical thinking. Quoting the California State Board of Education Policy on the Teaching of Natural Sciences (1989), it read, in part,

...because "nothing in science or in any other field of knowledge shall be taught dogmatically [and] scientific theories are constantly subject to testing, modification, and refutation as new evidence and new ideas emerge" teachers in the Roseville Joint Union High School District are expected to help students analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the theory of evolution.

Months passed while the board studied the issue, heard citizen commentary, and repeatedly postponed the vote. Letters to the editors of regional newspapers appeared in abundance. Citizens complained that the board was spending too much time and money on creationism, and not addressing bread and butter issues such as funding and class size. Twenty-eight of the 32 science teachers in the district signed a petition against this policy and a sister proposal to set up antievolution centers in libraries. The board, apparently exhausted from the almost year-long struggle, voted three to two against the policy.

In the November 2004 elections, one of the antievolution incumbents was voted out of office and two new members were elected. The board shifted its focus to what they considered more pressing issues. Creationism in Roseville seemed, finally, to be a dead issue.

But in January of 2005, Larry Caldwell sued the district and certain administrators for not providing him due process. A district teacher sighed, "here we go again."

Meanwhile, back in Cobb County, Georgia, parents angry at the inclusion of the textbook disclaimer sued and won the first round in Federal District court. The school board has appealed the decision. And in Dover, Pennsylvania, parents sued their school board over its policy requiring the teaching of ID and EAE (worded as "gaps/problems in Darwin's theory").

Although California is on the cutting edge of scientific research, proponents of teaching creationism in the public schools are nonetheless banging on the doors. Even in the Bay Area, we have small towns and suburbs with substantial minorities of religious conservatives who do not like evolution. If a parent asks a teacher, "you aren't going to teach evolution, are you?" the teacher may decide-because the curriculum is overstuffed with topics anyway-that it is easier to not get around to teaching evolution.

Antievolutionists recently ran for school boards in Castro Valley and Modesto. California is not immune to creationism and antievolutionism-it is in our backyard.

Eugenie C. Scott is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, which actively supports the teaching of evolution in schools and fights a constant battle against the dark side.

DNA study of human migration


National Geographic and IBM investigate spread of prehistoric peoples around world
Benjamin Pimentel, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

With a swab of cheek tissue and $100, you may be able to help scientists figure out how humans spread out across the earth.

IBM Corp. and the National Geographic Society will announce a project today to collect at least 100,000 DNA samples from people all over the globe to trace the routes of human migration.

The five-year project intends to create "the largest and most comprehensive public database of anthropological genetic information," the two groups said. It also is expected to boost Big Blue's profile in the multibillion-dollar life sciences technology market.

But some scientists say the project could reignite questions on the use of technology in studying human history, race and genetics.

Scientists have long tried to use genetic analysis and computer technology to probe the history of humankind and to determine how specific populations and communities emerged. But some critics have raised questions about ethical and cultural issues surrounding the collection of data from specific indigenous groups. Others point to privacy concerns surrounding the collection of DNA.

Despite those concerns, the IBM effort, dubbed the Genographic Project, could create the largest DNA record of humankind. Its findings, for instance, could help explain some of humans' epic migrations, such as the theory that people from Africa left the continent and followed the coasts of Arabia, India and Southeast Asia to Australia more than 50,000 years ago.

In an unusual move, scientists are allowing anyone to join the study by buying a "Participation Kit." Participants will use a plastic stick to scrape mucous membrane cells from the inside of a cheek and mail the tissue to National Geographic. The kit costs $99.95 plus shipping and handling.

"What we're trying to do is use genetics as a tool to infer details about our species, the human journey," said population geneticist Spencer Wells, who serves as National Geographic's explorer-in-residence. "Obviously, there's a huge amount of data that will be generated in the course of this project."

The project aims to "fill in the gaps in our knowledge of human history," Wells added in a statement. It will be spearheaded by 10 scientists from different research institutions such as the Laboratory of Human Population Genetics in Moscow, the Center for Excellence in Genomic Sciences in India and the Center for Genome Information at the University of Cincinnati.

In addition to IBM and National Geographic, the project is being financed by the Waitt Family Foundation, a charitable organization based in La Jolla (San Diego County). The scientists involved will collect DNA samples from different indigenous populations and transmit the data to National Geographic, which will use an IBM computer system to analyze the information.

Proceeds from the individual, $100 participation fees will help finance future research.

IBM and National Geographic also plan to put up an online museum with extensive information on human history, genetics, migration and history.

For Big Blue, the project is intended to raise the company's profile as a provider of technology to research institutions, both academic and governmental. Life Sciences is projected to grow into a $34 billion market by 2007, said IBM spokesman Jay Cadmus, citing industry figures.

IBM biologist Ajay Royyuru, senior manager of the company's Computational Biology Center, said, "We see this project as a fairly unique opportunity for us to apply technology on a very large scale. Projects like this don't come along very often."

The IBM-National Geographic project follows an earlier effort to collect genetic materials to study the history and patterns of human diversity.

Called the Human Genome Diversity Project, the international effort was financed by private foundations and government agencies. One of the project's leaders, Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford University, also serves on the advisory board of the IBM-National Geographic project.

The earlier project, which was conducted in the early 1990s, collected 1, 064 genetic samples from 52 populations around the world. The data are housed at the Center for the Study of Polymorphism in Paris and have been used by nonprofit research laboratories.

Marc Feldman, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University who was involved in the Human Genome Diversity Project, said the IBM-National Geographic partnership could give scientists "a better picture of the routes that migration took.

"We might be able to get a better estimate of the time at which migrations happened," he added.

Esteban Gonzalez Burchard, an assistant professor at the UCSF School of Medicine, also praised the involvement of IBM in the effort.

"I'm glad that private industry and a reputable agency like National Geographic have the motivation to take this one," said Burchard, who is also co-director of UCSF's DNA Banking Facility.

"What has been lacking in the genetics field is the full-scale analysis of the entire world," he added.

But Feldman said the IBM project must make clear how samples would be collected and how the information from the project would be used.

He cited the controversy that surrounded the Human Genome Diversity Project after some groups questioned its motives.

Some critics were worried that the DNA samples would be used for commercial purposes, while some populations, such as tribal groups in the United States and Australia, cited religious and cultural reasons in refusing to participate.

"Many American tribes indicated that they have no interest in providing information about their history because they know already," Feldman said. "They don't need biologists and anthropologists to tell them the history of their populations. ... A number of indigenous groups felt they would be exploited again."

Feldman said he was also worried about having individuals submit samples on their own. "I think that's a bad idea," he said, citing the need for scientific precision in obtaining samples.

Burchard of UCSF also questioned the use of data from people who pay to take part in the project. "You think some poor Indian in Guatemala is going to pay a hundred bucks to participate?" he asked.

Feldman echoed this point. "How do you get people in Central Asia and Central Africa to participate? You are going to have a biased view of the world."

IBM said having individuals submit samples on their own was only a component of the project and was aimed at boosting public awareness of the research effort.

The research team plans to work with different populations to persuade them to participate, Royyuru said. But unlike the Human Genome Diversity Project, the IBM-National Geographic research is focused on migration, not race.

"This is not an exercise in classifying people as this or that," he said. "This is an exercise in understanding your ancestors' history. It is the journey, really."

On the reliability of samples submitted by individuals, Royyuru said there was nothing complicated about using the stick in the kit to take a sample and then mailing it in.

"It's like brushing your teeth," he said.

But he conceded that some participants might submit material that might not be reliable, citing the experience of a private DNA analysis firm that is taking part in the project.

The Arizona firm had received a sample that seemed unusual. But the scientists easily solved the puzzle, Royyuru said.

"Someone had swabbed their dog," he said.

E-mail Benjamin Pimentel at bpimentel@sfchronicle.com.

Omnium Finis Imminet

NBC's Revelations, and other signs of the coming apocalypse.
By Dana Stevens
Posted Wednesday, April 13, 2005, at 10:48 AM PT

David Seltzer, the writer of The Omen and writer/creator of the new NBC series Revelations (premiering tonight at 9 p.m. ET) warned in a recent interview that "with all the geological-social-political events lining up with what the Book of Revelation says are the End of Days, it is time to start taking it seriously." Scanning the pop-cultural news of recent weeks and­scarier yet­that of weeks to come, it's clear that Seltzer's on to something: As the show's tag line trumpets, Omnium Finis Imminet­the end of all things is near. In fact, Revelations may be not only a freely fictionalized interpretation of the impending apocalypse, but one of its symptoms. Here are some links to portents of the coming rapture, as described by the Book of Revelation (New Oxford Annotated Edition):

5:11-13­ "Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne […] they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice. […] Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and under the sea, and all that is in them, singing …"

9:3-4­ "Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of the scorpions on the earth. They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads."

9:6­ "And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them."

13:2-4­ "And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast […] and they worshiped the beast, saying, 'Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?' "

17:1-5­ "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk […] The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations … and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: 'Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth's abominations.' "

And finally, most chillingly of all:

12:1-5­ "A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out with birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. […] Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron."

I was going to end with the words that close the Book of Revelation: "The one who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' " But to glance at the entertainment news, it looks like He's already here.

Dana Stevens is Slate's television critic. Write her at surfergirl@thehighsign.net .

Article URL: http://slate.msn.com/id/2116693/

Researcher sheds light on ghostwriting in medical journals

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-04/gumc-rsl041205.php Public release date: 14-Apr-2005

Contact: Amy DeMaria
Georgetown University Medical Center

(Washington, DC) -- In a commentary titled "The Corporate Coauthor" published online by the Journal of General Internal Medicine on April 14, Adriane Fugh-Berman M.D., adjunct associate professor of physiology and biophysics at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, recounts her experience of being asked to "author" a ghost-written article funded by a pharmaceutical company. Fugh-Berman declined, and penned a commentary about her experience for JGIM instead. "The pharmaceutical industry relies on ghost-written publications in peer-reviewed journals as part of their marketing plans," said Fugh-Berman. "Physicians rely on information in the medical literature to make treatment decisions, so hidden sponsorship of articles—and lectures at medical conferences—is not only unethical, but can compromise patient care."

In her commentary, Dr. Fugh-Berman reports that she was approached by a medical education company working for a well-known pharmaceutical manufacturer. The company asked her to lend her name as "author" to a completed manuscript that reviewed herb-warfarin interactions. The pharmaceutical manufacturer was developing a competitor to warfarin and had apparently commissioned the article to highlight problems with warfarin.

Fugh-Berman says that the true sponsorship of articles is often fuzzy because pharmaceutical companies hire medical education companies to act as intermediaries with researchers. She says that the current voluntary standards for declaring conflicts of interest to readers of medical journals and audiences at medical conferences are inadequate, and that a public database detailing physicians' and researchers' conflicts of interest is needed.

The full commentary, as it appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, is available here.

Dr. Fugh-Berman, a general practitioner who is the author of a reference text, The 5-Minute Herb and Dietary Supplement Consult (Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins 2003), teaches in the Georgetown University School of Medicine's complementary and alternative medicine master's degree program. Based in the department of physiology and biophysics, it is the first degree-granting master's program in complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. Dr. Fugh-Berman's research focuses on herbs and dietary supplements, women's health, the assessment of benefits and risks in alternative medicine and conventional medicine, and influences on physician prescribing. She has published articles in medical journals including The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, Reproductive Toxicology, and Experimental Biology and Medicine.

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through our partnership with MedStar Health). Our mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis—or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, and the world renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Ephedra Ban


By Mark Thiessen Associated Press Thursday, April 14, 2005; 3:01 PM

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge Thursday struck down the FDA ban on ephedra, the once-popular weight-loss aid that was yanked from the market after it was linked to dozens of deaths.

Park City-based Nutraceutical Corp. and its subsidiary Solaray had challenged the Food and Drug Administration's ban in federal court.

Supplements that included ephedra have been widely used for weight loss and bodybuilding, but have been linked to 155 deaths, including that of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler. The FDA ordered the substance off the market in April 2004.

Nutraceutical claimed in its lawsuit filed last May that ephedra "has been safely consumed" for hundreds of years.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell's ruling, written Wednesday and announced Thursday, overturns the ban, sends the matter back to the FDA "for further rulemaking consistent with the court's opinion" and keeps the agency from enforcement action against the companies.

FDA officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Company President Bruce Hough said the decision is about "protecting the public's access to safe and effective dietary supplements."

Scientific conference falls for gibberish prank

ABC NEWS ONLINE Friday, April 15, 2005. 8:19am (AEST)

A bunch of computer-generated gibberish masquerading as an academic paper has been accepted at a scientific conference in a victory for pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Jeremy Stribling said that he and two fellow MIT graduate students questioned the standards of some academic conferences, so they wrote a computer program to generate research papers complete with nonsensical text, charts and diagrams.

The trio submitted two of the randomly assembled papers to the World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), scheduled to be held July 10-13 in Orlando, Florida.

To their surprise, one of the papers - "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy" - was accepted for presentation.

The prank recalled a 1996 hoax in which New York University physicist Alan Sokal succeeded in getting an entire paper with a mix of truths, falsehoods, non sequiturs and otherwise meaningless mumbo-jumbo published in the journal Social Text.

Mr Stribling said he and his colleagues only learned about the Social Text affair after submitting their paper.

"Rooter" features such mind-bending gems as: "the model for our heuristic consists of four independent components: simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the study of reinforcement learning" and "We implemented our scatter/gather I/O server in Simula-67, augmented with opportunistically pipelined extensions". See:


Are cult apologists buying up domain names on the Internet to mislead the public?


CounterCOG.com, a domain name once devoted to archiving critical information about the so-called "Children of God" now known as "The Family," seems to have been co-opted by cult apologists.

It appears this shift of purpose took place about two years ago during March of 2003, but only recently came to the attention of CultNews.

According to records held within the "Way Back Machine," an Internet database with "40 billion Web pages" archived from 1996 to just a few months ago, some time after February of 2003 and beginning in March 2003 the domain name went from a resource of critical information about COG to an entry point for apology.

The site then announced; "Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts 'cult' and 'sect' are employed in popular discourse." And that the new page would "seek to promote religious tolerance and…not carry implicit negative stereotypes."

"Negative stereotypes" apparently means posting personal testimonies, research, news stories and/or court documents that note the destructive nature of groups that have been called "cults."

Entering www.countercog.com now takes visitors to "Academic Research 2K," which uses "politically correct" euphemisms to describe destructive cults such as "minority religion" and/or "new religious movement" (NRM).

The Web page features links to The Family Web site, once the focus of criticism at CounterCOG.com and other purported "cult" sites such as Rev. Moon's Unification Church and the Church of Scientology.

These Internet destinations are listed under the heading "Information on Religious Movements."

Links to additional resources often called "cult apologists," such as CESNUR run by Massimo Introvigne of Italy, the "Religious Freedom Page" originally launched by a now deceased professor Jeffrey Hadden and a Canadian database known as "Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance," which is essentially the brainchild of Bruce Robinson a former chemical company employee and self-professed agnostic.

These pages come under the heading of "scholarly works."

Professor Hadden was an academic once quite friendly with Rev. Moon and recommended by Scientology as a "religious resource."

But Mr. Robinson admits "that few if any of our authors have theological degrees. We feel that a formal theological degree would be counter-productive" and that "theological training is not needed for our work."

Well, so much for the "scholarly" standing of works at his site.

Mr. Introvigne, like his former colleague Professor Hadden, has been criticized for working closely with groups called "cults"

In fact, Scientology may be the common thread that runs through the current so-called "counter-COG" Web page.

Because rather than testimonies from those exploited by COG, a controversial group often called a "sex cult," visitors will instead see links to friends of Scientology along with one link specifically to that organization's own database.

This makeover is reminiscent of the radical shift of purpose that took place when the Cult Awareness Network was reportedly taken over by Scientology in 1996.

A Scientologist bought CAN's name, files and even its phone number. Now when you call the "new CAN" the phone is likely to be answered by a Scientologist.

Peter Vincent of Chicago, Illinois bought the domain name "countercog.com."

Mr. Vincent was contacted by CultNews for comment, but did not respond.

Note: For genuine counter COG information see the following Web sites:


Moving On.org

The Magic Green Shirt

[Posted by Rick Ross at 12:00 PM]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Science blog to focus on intelligent design


Apr 13, 2005
By Staff

SEATTLE (BP)--Intelligent design is the subject of a new science blog to explore the growing evidence for purpose and design in the universe and in earth's life systems.

"There is a great lack of understanding about intelligent design," said Jay Richards, vice president and senior fellow with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. "The national debate about intelligent design, as well as the criticisms of theories such as Neo-Darwinism, has gotten very heated. We hope our blog will infuse the debate with more light and less heat.

"The public deserves to hear from ID theorists directly, without the mainstream media filter, which usually distorts the nature of the debate and the evidence that's inspiring the debate," Richards said.

The blog, named Intelligent Design The Future, is online at www.idthefuture.com.

The blog will involve multiple contributors among the nation's leading intelligent design scientists and theorists, including biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers Stephen Meyer and Jay Richards, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells; science writer Jonathan Witt; and Richards at the Discovery Institute.

Items at the blog will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design rather than its implications in such arenas as education or public policy, Richards said.

"This is the first time that the public has had a chance to read all in one place the leading design scientists' thoughts on current scientific news and issues," he noted. "The contributors represent different academic disciplines and often have different interests, so IDthefuture.com will be eclectic and keep people coming back."

Most posts will be brief, providing editorial comment and links to relevant articles and discussions, Richards said.

"We will alert readers to recent articles that bear on design in the universe," he said. "And we will speak directly on current events as they relate to intelligent design, materialism, reductionism and other related intellectual issues."


Dembski: Intelligent design offers alternative to Darwinism


Apr 13, 2005
By David Roach

LOUSIVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Intelligent design has generated controversy because it deals with issues at the core of the current debate between secularists and people with a Christian worldview, said William Dembski, one of the ID movement's leading thinkers.

"These issues of intelligent design and creation really cut to the heart of worldviews, what we are about, how we're putting life together and what's ultimately meaningful, what morality is based on," Dembski said in speaking on "Darwinism and the Church: a Conversation on Design and Cultural Engagement" at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dembski currently is associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University in Texas but will join Southern Seminary's faculty in June as the Carl F.H. Henry Professor of Science and Theology. Dembski and other proponents of intelligent design theory contend that some features of the natural world are best explained as the products of an intelligent cause rather than naturalistic evolution.

Addressing a forum sponsored by the seminary's Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, Dembski said he looks forward to serving at the Louisville, Ky., campus because of Southern's willingness to sponsor intelligent design research as a legitimate scientific enterprise -- an attitude that some Christian colleges and universities do not share because they believe embracing intelligent design will compromise their status in the academic world.

"Even many Christians who have been raised and indoctrinated in a secular mindset ... will say, 'Look, we're just going to have to accept the science of the day and try to make our peace with it theologically,'" Dembski said. "And there is no peace theologically ... ultimately with this view [Darwinian evolution]. But they accept it. And so, this idea of intelligent design becomes very threatening."

Intelligent design's first goal is to demonstrate the inadequacy of Darwinian evolution as an explanation of the origin of the universe, Dembski said. One of the chief methods of accomplishing this, he said, is to demonstrate the weakness of the scientific evidence presented in support of Darwinian evolution in many school classrooms.

"Evolutionary theory is in such a weak position that it shouldn't be taught at all ... in this grand global sense," Dembski said. "If you want to say natural selection operates in accounting for antibiotic resistance in bacteria, you can make a case there. But if you are going to try to say that's how you get bacteria, insects, all this in the first place, that's a huge extrapolation. The [Darwinian] theory doesn't support that."

After offering a critique of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design proposes alternative theories about the origin of the universe, Dembski said. These theories argue that a designer must have fashioned the complex biological and physical mechanisms humans observe in the world, he said.

As the data supporting intelligent design increases, some members of the secular scientific community have changed their minds and considered the possibility of an intelligent designer for the first time, Dembski said, noting that several researchers from major universities have contacted him and expressed a desire to conduct intelligent design research.

"I think the other side is worried," Dembski said. "And they are right to be worried because I think the ideas are on our side."

Although much of the scientific community views intelligent design with disdain, Dembski said that in popular culture as many as 90 percent of Americans "are favorably disposed" to the idea.

Because naturalism has influenced a variety of fields such as science, philosophy, business and economics, Christians must be prepared to combat the naturalistic worldview in every arena of life, Dembski said. Especially effective, he said, is using intelligent design to challenge the basic assumptions of naturalism and Darwinian evolution.

"I like to get back to the axioms, to the basics. If you can get at the taproot, at the thing that's really fundamental, then I think all these superstructures, the whole house of cards will come down," Dembski said. "Intelligent design is pressing that you can't get [the design of the universe] without intelligence."


Church claims to answer life issues


Organization finds sponsor, free speech on UC campus

By Ashely Jones and Tonya Brooks
Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

It's a rising trend among Hollywood stars such, as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kelly Preston. Now the religious group known as the Church of Scientology has made its mark on the Univesity of Cincinnati's campus.

You may have seen people in yellow shirts inside Zimmer auditorium or under the big yellow tent on McMicken Commons offering "Free Stress Tests." This is their way of recruiting college students to become members of their religious organization.

According to the Church of Scientology's Web site, www.scientology.org, L. Ron Hubbard founded the religion in 1954 and it has grown to "more than 3,200 churches, missions and groups in 154 countries."

The site defines Scientology as, "an applied religious philosophy," that is based on the motto, "Only those things which one finds true for himself are true."

T.J. Hensley is a local volunteer minister who works on McMicken Commons. "It would be great if we could get together a group of students to become volunteer ministers," he said.

Hensley explained that the certification procedure consists of reading a book of scriptures called The Way to Happiness, by Hubbard, and then taking a test.

One of the main principles of Scientology is learning to eliminate stress in one's life through the practice of Dianetics.

The purpose of the stress test being offered is to discover the "reactive mind - the hidden part of your mind that stores all painful experiences and then uses them against you," according to www.dianetics.com.

"The stress test, known as an audit, is designed to show us which areas of your life cause you the most stress. Once we identify those hidden stress points, we can figure out what areas need to be focused on to help you better function in society," Hensley said.

A device known as an "E-meter" (electropsyschometer), made of two metal cans attached to a gauge administers the stress test.

Ministers ask participants to sit down and hold one of the metal cans in each hand. The administrator sets the gauges so the needle is in the middle. The administrator asks participants a series of questions and told to think about words that the test administrator says, such as "Family," "Work," "School" and "Relationship."

Assessments are then completed depending on individual participants' reactions to the words.

The Church of Scientology is no stranger to controversy; in May 1991, Time Magazine published a special report calling Scientology "The Cult of Greed" and referred to the church's fundraising activities as a ruthless global scam. The courts dismissed a prolonged lawsuit filed by the Church of Scientology in 2001.

Nonetheless, controversy itself does not keep an organization from promoting its beliefs on campus.

Although the Church of Scientology is not a registered student group, Assistant Director of Student Affairs Rich Robles said, "Any organization can obtain permission to recruit on campus if they are sponsored by a current registered student organization."

Administrative Support Specialist Kathleen Armontrout said, "The Church of Scientology is currently being sponsored by Tau Kappa Epsilon and has the spot inside of Zimmer Auditorium reserved every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until June 9."

Armontrout also said, "The McMicken Commons area is the one spot on campus that is considered a free speech area in which anyone can distribute information without approval from campus scheduling."

Geoff Bullock, vice president of Tau Kappa Epsilon, said a former fraternity president, Kurt Hensley, originally sponsored Scientology in return for a portion of their campus book sales. Bullock said that Hensley is still listed as the sponsoring fraternity member.

"They come to a meeting once a year and hand out books," said Bullock. "Then they say 'Can you continue to sponsor us?'"

Bullock said that he thought Scientology was a weight loss or stress relief organization.

The local Church of Scientology branch is located at 215 West 4th St., in Downtown Cincinnati and offers Sunday service every week at 10:45 a.m.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005



How dimes defeated polio

Americans contributed what they could to put an end to a deadly disease, and Dr. Salk and his team met the challenge

By Peter Gorner
Tribune science reporter
Published April 12, 2005

It was a celebration worth remembering 50 years later. Throughout the nation on April 12, 1955, church bells rang out, kids were let out of school, people danced in the streets.

"Polio routed!" newspaper headlines screamed. "Salk's vaccine works!"

The trust of American people, chipping in a dime at a time, had been placed in medical research, and they had been repaid in full measure. Summers no longer would be times of terror. Parents slept a little easier that night.

Because of the ferocious dedication of Dr. Jonas E. Salk and his team, who challenged the scientific establishment and invented a workable vaccine based on a killed virus, the most notorious 20th Century disease before AIDS would become just a memory in the United States.

It's hard to imagine an era when people had more confidence that science would solve their problems if everybody did his part. Polio--a major childhood crippler and killer--was the first disease to be attacked and publicized in ways we now take for granted.

Poster children appeared for the first time; celebrities rushed to do public service announcements.

"This is a great American story. Everybody had a stake in it," said Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan who directs the Center for the History of Medicine. "Parents gave freely to the March of Dimes, a private charity, to pay for the research. They were clamoring to get their kids in experimental trials--polio could paralyze or kill you, but they were completely confident that Salk's vaccine would be safe."

Polymyelitis, known as polio, is the inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord. Its clinical symptoms are varied--fever, malaise, drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation or sore throat in various combinations--and the infection may last from 2 to 10 days.

The more serious forms of the disease produce stiffness and pain in the back and neck and occasionally paralysis of some parts of the body--usually temporary, although its effects can be lifelong.

Type 1 polio is the most common paralytic type. Type 2 is milder and often without symptoms. Type 3 is the lethal version that paralyzed breathing and formerly killed an estimated 1,000 people a year in the U.S.

Few diseases more fearsome

Few diseases were capable of rousing more fear. Almost every summer--when the virus would spread from child to child--brought terrible images of children struggling to walk or hospital wards lined with rows of youngsters trapped in mechanical respiratory contraptions known as iron lungs.

The international news conference held on April 12, 1955, in Ann Arbor, Mich., took place on the 10th anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a polio victim who in 1938 created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. That organization, later known as the March of Dimes, supported research as well as care and treatment for the thousands of afflicted children.

The event quickly was turned into a media circus by hundreds of print and broadcast journalists. It even was broadcast closed-circuit to 54,000 doctors across the U.S.

The topic was completion of the largest controlled-field trial in the history of medicine.

"The trial was a model of ethical and logical perfection, and the lead researcher, the distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Francis, was on the high wire in the big top," said Markel, who recently wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine as part of an appreciation of Francis and his colleagues at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

"If he'd made a mistake, it would have been disastrous."

During World War II, Francis and Salk had developed a killed-virus vaccine that continues to be used against influenza. When Salk was recruited by the University of Pittsburgh, he sought March of Dimes funding and set about determining the different types of polio viruses and experimenting with vaccines made from virus killed by formalin, or 37 percent formaldehyde.

By the winter of 1952, the Salk team had discovered reliable methods to kill the virus while preserving its ability to induce protective antibodies. After experiments with monkeys proved successful, the team was ready to start trial inoculations on humans.

Monumental trial

Sponsored by the March of Dimes, a monumental double-blind experiment began. Led by Francis, it involved 1.8 million schoolchildren from 15,000 schools, 44 state departments of health and 150,000 volunteers, and it was paid for by 100 million ordinary Americans who wanted polio vanquished.

The trial was a model of scientific objectivity and excellence in the days when data had to be processed using IBM punch cards and primitive computers, historians have noted.

About 440,000 children age 6 to 9 received the vaccine (and a lollipop reward), 210,000 received dummy injections and 1.2 million were observed and served as controls.

"The trial at the time cost $7.5 million. Today, it would cost $3 billion--roughly the entire market for vaccines in the U.S.," said Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of infectious diseases for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

However, things worked beautifully, largely because of Francis.

"Tommy Francis was real icon of research," said neurologist and researcher Howard L. Lipton, of Northwestern University. "His importance in conducting a correct trial cannot be underestimated. There were other trials in the '30s, and they were real failures. People thought you'd never be able to immunize against polio."

Francis felt sure of his results. He stepped up to the podium and declared the Salk vaccine, "safe, effective and potent."

He further explained the Salk vaccine was 60 to 70 percent effective in preventing infection with Type 1 polio virus, the most prevalent strain, and at least 90 percent effective against Types 2 and 3.

Salk, however, believed he had created the perfect vaccine, and when his time came to speak he waited patiently for the applause to wash over him. Then he declared that the failures encountered in the trial were due to a mercury-based antiseptic called Merthiolate that had been added to vaccine batches against Salk's wishes.

Too agitated to even mention and give credit to the colleagues who had worked with him at Pitt, Salk attacked the accuracy of Francis' findings, according to Markel. Without Merthiolate, Salk contended, the polio vaccine should be 100 percent effective.

Salk's comments and his failure to recognize his team would haunt him for the rest of his career.

Backstage, Francis was heard to scold his former student: "What the hell did you have to say that for? You're in no position to claim 100 percent effectiveness. What's the matter with you?"

It later turned out that Salk had been right about the Merthiolate.

Outburst in character

The outburst was not out of character for Salk, according to Dr. Julius S. Youngner, Salk's top lieutenant and at 84 the only surviving scientist from Salk's core research team.

"Jonas Salk was a brilliant guy, a great organizer, somebody who could charm the birds out of the trees. But he wasn't very generous with colleagues," said Youngner, who went on to have a long and honored career in virology and is now a professor emeritus of molecular genetics and biochemistry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"Salk loved the glowing and basking in celebrity--he just loved it," Youngner said. "But he never made room for the others. He had 50 years to do something about it, and he never did. It hurt him in the scientific community."

Despite being lionized by the public, Salk never was elected by his peers to the National Academy of Sciences. He never won the Nobel Prize or the Lasker and never received an NIH grant.

After the University of Michigan announcement, six pharmaceutical companies were licensed to produce the vaccine. By the end of 1955, an estimated 10 million children in five countries had been immunized.

Chicago was one of the first cities in the U.S. to introduce the Salk vaccine after it was judged safe and effective, offering free polio shots in cooperation with the Chicago Medical Society and Chicago Board of Health.

Facing warning signs of an approaching polio epidemic in 1956, physicians gave mass inoculations just about anywhere the space could be found: "in vacant stores, garages, street corners and the backs of trucks and in park fieldhouses," city historians noted.

57,000 cases in 1952

In 1952, more than 57,000 cases were recorded, the worst polio epidemic in U.S. history, according to the University of Pittsburgh. By 1960, the number had dropped to 2,525. By 1965, when an oral vaccine based on weakened live polio virus and developed by Salk's rival, Dr. Albert Sabin, was widely used in the U.S., there were 61 reported cases.

The last naturally acquired case of polo in the U.S. occurred in 1979.

Polio remains a threat in Asia and Africa, where international health officials are trying to stamp it out. The virus is considered endemic in Nigeria, Niger, Egypt, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

On Tuesday, the University of Michigan news conference will be re-enacted as part of celebrations honoring the Salk vaccine, which also include a Smithsonian exhibit titled "Whatever Happened to Polio?"

In La Jolla, Calif., Salk Research Institute president and CEO Richard A. Murphy noted Salk never profited from the vaccine he spent eight years developing. "Thanks to Jonas Salk, there are millions of people alive and well today," he said.

The day after the announcement from the University of Michigan, the Tribune published an editorial. "Dr. Salk and the others who played a part in the victory have earned the gratitude of generations of children," it said. "A shadow has been lifted from them."

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

Intelligent Design Bill Introduced in Pennsylvania Legislature


In the continuing debate on creation and evolution, two Pennsylvania legislators have introduced a bill in the state House to allow the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

Tuesday, Apr. 12, 2005 Posted: 12:18:19AM EST

In the continuing debate on creation and evolution, two Pennsylvania legislators have introduced a bill in the state House to allow the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

Representative Thomas Creighton (R-Lancaster) introduced the bill on March 16, co-sponsored by representatives Dennis Leh (R-Berks) and Samuel Rohrer (R-Berks).

The bill states that local school boards may teach the theory of intelligent design in "any school instruction concerning the theories of the origin of man and the Earth, which includes the theory commonly known as evolution."

The proposed legislation is at the heart of a federal lawsuit which has gained national attention. Last October, the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania approved a policy to teach intelligent design along with evolution in ninth-grade biology classes.

Eight families, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, charged the school district with violation of the separation between church and state. They argued that intelligent design is merely a secular form of creationism.

The Dover Area School District asserts that the policy is meant to address alternative theories to the origin of life.

Creighton's proposed bill brings the issue into the state legislature. The bill was recommended to the House Education Committee on the same day it was proposed, but as of yet, a hearing has not been scheduled.

The bill's sponsors expect a hearing before the legislative session ends on June 30.

Susan Wang

Parents argue over intelligent design


For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sporting red and white buttons supporting the Dover Area School board at Monday night's meeting, Gina Myers and Wendy Bowers read a statement from a petition backing the board's October decision to include a statement about intelligent design in the ninth-grade biology classes.

The statement said, in part, that the 280 signers were glad the board introduced something that suggests "intelligent causes, rather than random chance provides, a better explanation for the complex biological systems of life."

The pair said the board should be commended for exposing evolution's gaps and problems.

But after the meeting, resident Steve Stough, who is against intelligent design's being taught in the classroom, challenged at least three theory supporters, asking them to describe specifically the gaps and problems they believe exist in the evolution theory.

"If you can't do that, then you're just repeating what someone else told you to say," Stough said.

Myers said her biggest problem was evolution's inability to explain how biological chemistry appeared from nothing.

Stough replied that real science is always in the process of trying to decipher life's mysteries through scientific tests. He said that the concept of a designer was a matter of faith and that intelligent design had nothing at all to do with science.

Listening from a distance, Tammy Kitzmiller said she was irritated that defenders of intelligent design do so under the assumption that it encourages a greater level of critical thinking in the classroom.

"But the superintendent reads a statement saying ID exists and leaves the classroom," she said. "The kids aren't even allowed to discuss the theory or ask questions. How does that inspire critical thinking if you can't even talk about it in class?"

The theory of intelligent design suggests that life is too complicated to have evolved on its own and must have been created by a supernatural designer.

Dover Biology

· Parents argue over intelligent design (Apr 12, 2005)
· Rep backs intelligent design (Apr 9, 2005)
· Behe to speak on ID (Apr 6, 2005)
· Dover to review donated books (Mar 20, 2005)
· Furor breathes new life into aging 'Pandas' (Mar 13, 2005)

Backward Evolution


By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, April 12, 2005; Page A21

Behold the giant Galapagos tortoise! It weighs several hundred pounds, lives God-only-knows how long and on the day a couple of weeks ago when I was on the Galapagos Islands, could not be beholden at all. The tortoise we wanted to see, Lonesome George, so-called because he is apparently the last of his subspecies, was in hiding. In a sense, that's appropriate, because almost half of the United States cannot see any of the Galapagos for what they are: the home office of evolution. This is where Charles Darwin got his bright idea.

The archipelago, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, is where birds and reptiles have evolved in almost total isolation; species that exist there can be found nowhere else. Darwin, visiting the Galapagos in 1835, was stunned by what he saw and evolved a theory to explain it all: natural selection. More recently, a pair of Princeton University scientists examined the finches on just one of the islands and noted how their beaks evolved to suit climatic conditions. A book by Jonathan Weiner about their findings, "The Beak of the Finch," won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. It is now clear that in some cases evolution moves with surprising speed.

It is odd to amble around the Galapagos and see the handiwork of evolution yet at the same time bear in mind that many Americans do not accept evolution at all. It is belittled as a mere "theory," which is a misunderstanding of the scientific term, and even in some places where it is grudgingly accepted, it is supposed to share the curriculum with creationism, as if that is an alternative theory. It is, of course, just a fancy term for the creation according to Genesis, a matter of religious belief and not scientific theory or fact. It can have its place, but not in the science curriculum.

The fight over evolution is an odd and sad one. There is nothing about Darwinian theory that cannot be ascribed to God -- Darwin himself referred to "the Creator" in his "The Origin of Species" -- and back when I was in college and studying evolution, my teacher began the semester by saying, behold the world of God or behold something else: It is entirely up to you. Yet, 19 states are considering proposals that would require schools to question evolution, which are nothing less than proposals to inject religion into the curriculum. But why stop there? Why not introduce such skepticism into astronomy and have the sun revolve around the earth or have the earth stand still? These are questions that Clarence Darrow put to William Jennings Bryan at the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Amazingly, they still linger.

They do so not just because, as Darwin himself conceded, there are holes in the theory of evolution but because of an evolving political weakness in which intellectual honesty counts for less and less. Thus, you have political leaders from George Bush on down refusing to say whether they put any stock in evolution or believe, as apparently they think they should, that it is an affront to and assault on religion. Back in 1999 Bush was asked whether he was "a creationist," and he responded by not responding: "I believe children ought to be exposed to different theories about how the world started." In other words, it's all the same: evolution, creationism and maybe something else from another religious tradition. This proves you can go to Yale University and learn nothing -- not about evolution, mind you, but about intellectual integrity.

The assault on evolution -- some Imax theaters, mostly in the South, will not show a film that makes brief references to evolution -- is an assault not just on science but on thinking and truth and skepticism. Proponents of creationism demand that you stop thinking and instead accept religious dogma. Galileo, who fought this fight, put it this way: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect, has intended us to forgo their use."

"There is a grandeur in this view of life," Darwin wrote about his theory. The line is quoted by Ian McEwan in his new novel, "Saturday." He has his protagonist, Henry Perowne, repeat the phrase and mull it into a virtual religious doctrine. "What better creation myth?" he thinks. "An unimaginable sweep of time," he goes on, his mind hurrying through eons of change until more recent times when human beings appear with "morality, love, art, cities -- and the unprecedented bonus of this story happening to be demonstrably true."

Behold it.


"Blinding New Evidence!"


April 12, 2005

Posted by Carl Zimmer

I have a weakness common to many bloggers--I like to check my site meter to see who's coming to my blog, and from where. Often I wind up discovering intriguing sites run by people whose interests run along the same lines as mine, such as evolutionary biology. Today, however I was surprised to see a lot of traffic coming from Answers in Genesis, a creationist web site.

First off, greetings to all visitors who come through the link. I hope you find some interesting things here.

I decided to investigate the source of the link, and the results were interesting. It turns out that today Answers in Genesis put a new page up in which a writer attacks a recent post of mine about HIV. I explained how recent research on a virulent new strain of the virus relied on evolutionary biology to investigate its origins, and how understanding natural selection helps scientists put together strategies for vaccines, antiviral treatments, and other ways to fight the disease. And I pointed out that creationism appears nowhere in this research, providing no help in understanding this particularly nasty aspect of the natural world.

Answers in Genesis takes pity on me for not having come to them for enlightenment. "Had Zimmer checked this website first, he would have known that far from creationists ducking for cover at this 'blinding new evidence' (as his article, especially its title, implies), we wrote an article years ago Has AIDS evolved which, in principle, raised and dealt with the points his piece makes."

It's important to address some of the erroneous claims raised in the piece, but it's not easy because they are mixed together with non sequiturs and other distractions. "Blinding new evidence"--quote unquote? Do those words appear in my blog? No. Does the writer attribute them elsewhere in his piece to someone else? No. He's just putting quotation marks up arbitrarily.

And then there's the claim that the piece he refers to raised and dealt with my points "in principle." The HIV research I'm discussing was published in 2005. The piece in Answers in Genesis came out in 1990. Did the folks at Answers in Genesis know then that this paper on HIV would be coming out in fifteen years? Could they foretell its contents so well that they could explain how creationism would actually guide the research? Again, no.

What Answers in Genesis actually said in 1990 was this: when scientists observe evolutionary change in viruses such as HIV, they have not found proof that viruses evolved into people. "Viruses can have no evolutionary relationship to any other form, and so whatever may have happened to say, the AIDS virus, has no relevance to the supposed history of truly living organisms in any case," Answers in Genesis claims.

To those who find this claim impressive, I would point out a couple things.

First of all, it evades the actual point of my post, which was that scientists who are working on HIV and other pathogens do not base any of their work on creationism of any flavor, including intelligent design. You can look in medical journals all you want, but it's just not there. Mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, and the adaption to new host species are what's there. (See my follow-up post for some research on the deep history of HIV.)

Second of all, it's just flat-out wrong to say that "viruses have no evolutionary relationship to any other form." Scientists have documented many cases in which the DNA in viruses and the DNA in a bacteria, animal, or some other organisms show an evolutionary link. In some cases, viruses have permanently patched themselves into host genomes, including our own. In other cases, viruses appear to have evolved from a segment of DNA from some organism, having acquired mutations that allow them to break free and infect other hosts. In still other cases, the viruses have grabbed host genes along the way, turning into a veritable genetic mosaic. Viruses appear to have been present since the earliest stages of life on Earth and may have given rise to some of our most important celular machinery. A quick search of the scientific literature brings up a wealth of papers addressing the intimate role of viruses in our evolution--here are just a few gems:

Viruses as the source of new genes in bacteria

A catepillar virus that evolved from the wasps that parasitize catepillars.

A look at the entire range of viruses, and a discussion of how viruses may have preceded cellular life.

Another look at how viruses have been inserting themselves in genomes since the origin of cellular life.

An analysis that indicates that some of the most essential enzymes in our cells come from viruses.

A leading evolutionary biologist writes: "I suggest here that DNA and DNA replication mechanisms appeared first in the virus world before being transferred into cellular organisms."

I heartily suggest that people read the Answers in Genesis piece on viruses--not for any scientific enlightenment, but as an example of the bait-and-switch tactics and omission of evidence that's necessary to create the impression that there has to be some "blinding" line dividing small and large scale evolutionary change. (Quotation marks mine!)

Category: Evolution

Hungry Hyaena on April 12, 2005 10:36 PM writes...
Excellent points regarding the all too familiar "bait-and-switch tactics." Most media-friendly debates are broken records nowadays.

Unfortunately, I imagine those who disagree with your perspective are unlikely to follow the links you provide. As fascinating and exciting as the "poisonous partnership" between parasitoid wasps and the polydnaviruses residing within them may seem to folks like myself, it will "prove" little to those who believe "viruses have no evolutionary to any other form."

(In the interest of space and time, I won't even get started on the baffling absurdity of believing anything exists without a relationship to its environment, whether you accept evolution or not.)

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Zimmer vs. Wieland from Pharyngula Compare these two: Carl Wieland of Answers in Genesis vs. Carl Zimmer. It's no contest. Zimmer refers to the scientific literature and accurately describes recent advances in AIDS research, while the creationist evades the key points, makes up fal... [Read More]

Tracked on April 12, 2005 10:35 PM

Zimmer vs. Wieland from The Panda's Thumb Compare these two: Carl Wieland of Answers in Genesis vs. Carl Zimmer. It's no contest. Zimmer refers to the scientific literature and accurately describes recent advances in AIDS research, while the creationist evades the key points, makes up false as... [Read More]

Tracked on April 12, 2005 10:38 PM

Alternative medicine attracts older Americans, study


4/12/2005 - Over-50s are bigger users of alternative medicine than other age groups, with 71 percent saying they turned to at least one of six forms (herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractor, massage therapy, breathing exercises or meditation) in 2000, according to a study at Ohio State University.

"The percentage of older adults who used alternative medicine was higher than I expected," said author Gong-Soog Hong.

More than one third of all US adults use complementary and alternative medicine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2002 National Health Interview Survey. Almost 20 percent of these take natural products, such as herbs or other botanicals.

Hong and colleagues used data from the NIH-funded 2000 Health and Retirement Survey, carried out at the University of Michigan.

They found that alternative medicine is particularly prevalent among people who described themselves as in poor health, 64 percent of whom said they used some form that they considered preventative or curative.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they had tried alternative therapies because they were not satisfied with the mainstream healthcare they were receiving.

According to Gong the figures are cause for some concern:

"Many types of alternative medicine have not been tested for safety and effectiveness, and yet a large majority of older adults are using them. This tells us there is a serious need for more consumer education."

Unlike other areas of alternative medicine however, the herbal industry has taken a number of steps to ensure the safety and efficacy of products. Industry associations such as the American Herbal Products Association (APHA) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) have been working closely with the FDA to bring about full implementation of DSHEA, the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, especially with regard to new dietary ingredients.

Last week the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Office of Dietary Supplements announced that they were providing five university-based dietary supplement research centers with millions of dollars in funding over the next five years to further our knowledge of their mechanisms and phytochemical constituents.

University of Minnesota's College of Pharmacy has also set up a new Center for Dietary Supplement Safety to collect, analyze and disseminate information about the safety of dietary supplements marketed in the US.

The center attracted the praise of industry body the CRN, which said it believes the move "will help rebuild consumer confidence in the safety of supplement products".

However Hong said believes more effort should be made across the board:

"More scientific research is needed to examine the safety and effectiveness of alternative medicines, especially about possible interaction effects when they are used along with prescription drugs".

Recognizing the need for further research into why older adults are using alternative medicine, Hong is currently working on a new study that will take a more comprehensive look at the type and frequency of alternative medicines people are using.

The latest statistics from the US Census Bureau show that 45 and 64 year-olds are America's largest age group, making up 23.6 percent of the population. People aged 65 and over make up 12.4 percent.

Monday, April 11, 2005

New high school at center of Eastern race


Article Last Updated: Monday, April 11, 2005 - 11:05:00 AM EST

Two candidates vie for board seat

By JAMES McGINNIS For The York Dispatch

Doug Caldwell and Kathleen Clark agree that proposed property tax reform, plans to build a new high school and improvements to the curriculum are the main issues facing the Eastern York School District.

Both are vying for a seat on the Eastern York School Board in the May 17 primary. The seat carries a four-year term and is one of four on the board that represents Region 1 of the district. Incumbent Steven Jeffrey chose not to seek re-election.

Caldwell and Clark have both crossfiled as Republicans and Democrats.

Caldwell, 35, is president of River Valley Landscapes on Nursery Road in Lower Windsor Township. Although he was appointed to a two-year term on the board in January 2004, Caldwell is choosing to run for the open four-year seat.

Clark, 49, is coordinator of the academic department of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. In addition to her bid for the four-year seat, she is running a write-in campaign for the two-year seat being vacated by Caldwell at the end of the year. No candidates have launched formal campaigns.

Children influenced decision: Caldwell said he is satisfied with the current board and wants to continue working on issues like constructing a new high school, reforming taxes and improving the curriculum. Caldwell also said that he wants to ensure that his two daughters, who attend Canadochly Elementary School, continue to receive a quality education.

"I'm running to continue the organization I started with," he said.

Clark also cited her children as the main influence in her decision to run for the school board. Her children are older than Caldwell's, however; her son is currently in 12th grade at the high school, and her daughter is a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle.

"I think I'll bring a lot of experience to the district," Clark said. "My two children attended the district and I have time to give back to the community now."

"I have a longer-term perspective (than Caldwell)," Clark said, "with children having been in elementary, middle and high school," she said.

Support high school: Both candidates support the district's plans to build a new high school on land that was once part of the Todd Farm, on the corner of Cool Creek and Knight's View roads across from the existing high school as long as the costs do not exceed the budget.

"We need to make sure that the district has a responsible tax level and stays within the boundaries of the budget," Caldwell said. "Budgets must be reasonable and responsible."

Clark said the district's biggest challenge is building a school that will comfortably accommodate the student body for the foreseeable future but does not exceed the budget.

Both candidates also expressed strong reservations about the Act 72 reforms proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell last year that would legalize slot machines to provide an alternative source of funding for school districts. Supporters of the bill say that it would allow districts to lower property taxes.

Disagree on performance: One issue where the candidates disagreed involved PSSA scores and academic performance.

Caldwell said the district should continue to improve that quality of its curriculum so students perform better on the PSSA tests.

"I think there is room for improvement," he said. "We are still trying to find a good way to improve test scores and academic performance."

Clark said she supports strengthening the curriculum but disagrees with Caldwell about the scores on the PSSA test.

"That is very positive for Eastern York. The teachers are doing a heroic job."

Clark instead blamed the lack of sufficient funds to implement the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation for any curriculum deficiencies. She said the district lacks the funds to fully implement the requirements of the programs because of the absence of industry in the region and must pressure the state and federal legislatures to eliminate any unfunded mandates.

Clark said the state should consider consolidating school districts as a possible solution.

"There are too many school districts in Pennsylvania," she said. "It's a very inefficient use of school funds."

She said consolidation, including one that might involve Eastern School District, would have to be sensitive to the needs of the community.

Caldwell said he did not have an opinion on consolidation.

Science or philosophy: The candidates also disagreed over whether intelligent design or creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the curriculum.

Caldwell said that he favors teaching evolution as well as creationism and intelligent design in the district's science classes.

"I think the kids should be exposed to all theories," he said. "Evolution is a theory, as is creation."

Although she agreed that intelligent design and creationism could be taught in schools, Clark said that such discussions should be limited to religion or philosophy courses, while evolution should be taught in science classes.

"Evolution is accepted scientific theory," she said.

-- Reach James McGinnis at 854-1575 or news@yorkdispatch.com.

Fight for evolution


Published: April 11 2005 03:00 | Last updated: April 11 2005 03:00

As the religious right strengthens its hold on US politics, the threat to teaching about evolution grows. The revival of creationism is a serious concern for the National Science Teachers Association. In a recent survey of 1,050 teachers, 30 per cent said they felt pressure to include creationism - sometimes disguised as "intelligent design" - in their lessons.

Further, in a disturbing sign that the assault on rational science is moving from schools to public education in a wider sense, some science centres and museums in southern states have refused to show big-screen Imax films that refer to evolution. They are boycotting titles such as Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, which suggests that life might have begun more than 3bn years ago under similar conditions to superheated vents on the ocean floor today.

Until recently, scientific organisations had rather neglected the creationist threat. Fortunately, their attitudes are changing. The powerful American Association for the Advancement of Science has written to 410 public science and technology centres urging them to resist censorship, following the example of the Forth Worth Museum of Science and History, which reversed an earlier decision not to show Volcanoes of the Deep Sea.

Although scientists elsewhere tend to think of creationism as an American problem, Alan Leshner, AAAS's chief executive, is right to point out that the US is not alone in the struggle. Success in North Carolina or Texas encourages creationists around the world. For example, Brazil's fast-growing evangelical protestant population is becoming more aggressive in its fight against evolution teaching.

In Britain, there is little controversy over the way science is taught in mainstream state and independent schools. But there are concerns that the government's "city academy" programme, designed to bring in private and charitable funds to transform failing schools, could be a vehicle for creationist teaching.

The Emmanuel Schools Foundation endowed by Sir Peter Vardy, a Christian fundamentalist, is supporting academies in the north of England at which students are "taught to consider opposing theories [evolution and creation] and come to their own reasoned conclusions".

Opposition to creationist teaching should not be seen as an attack on religion. Many individual scientists are religious, but few need to invoke rational design by a creator to account for the amazing array of life on earth.

We must reject firmly the creationists' argument that evolution and intelligent design are alternative scientific theories that should be given equal attention. On some questions - the earth is round, Nazis were responsible for a holocaust, HIV causes Aids - there is a consensus of academic opinion. As last week's events in Rome have shown, faith plays a vital role in modern life. But its place is not in science lessons.

Reviving age-old debate: Evolution vs. creationism



By Evan Brandt


Two Berks County legislators are co-sponsors of a bill introduced to the General Assembly that would allow public schools to teach creationism alongside evolution.

State Rep. Dennis Leh, R-130th Dist., is a co-sponsor of House Bill No. 1007, which would give local school boards the ability to include "the theory of intelligent design" in "any school instruction concerning the theories of the origin of man and the Earth, which includes the theory commonly known as evolution."

Leh said he co-sponsored the legislation because, "I'm a creationist. I'm not embarrassed to say that. I believe the Earth and the universe were created by an intelligent design. And I'll go further than that, I believe they were created by God."

The two-page bill, House Bill 1007, was introduced March 16 by state Rep. Thomas Creighton, a Republican representing Lancaster County's 37th District. It was referred to the house education committee the same day.

Berks County state Rep. Samuel Rohrer, R-128th Dist., is another area legislator who has signed on as a co-sponsor.

He also sits on the House education committee and chairs the sub-committee on basic education and said "we'll definitely be doing a hearing on this."

Daylin Leach, a Democrat representing Montgomery County's 149th District, also sits on the education committee and said "I would be surprised if this were ever brought up" adding "I'm certain the governor would never sign such a bill."

Also on the education committee is state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist, who serves as the committee's secretary.

Quigley said he has not yet read the bill and has seen no indication that it will soon be considered by the education committee.

"We haven't had any hearings or heard any feedback on the committee," said Quigley.

Whether or not the bill gets voted out of committee or is brought to the floor for a vote will be up the committee's chairman, Jess Stairs, R-59th Dist., and the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives, Quigley said.

The current legislative session ends June 30. The next meeting of the education committee is scheduled for April 12 with another following it the next day and House Bill 1007 does not appear on the agenda for either meeting, according to Quigley.

Rohrer said a hearing might occur in May or June, but "definitely before September." Whether or not the hearing is restricted to Harrisburg or held elsewhere in the commonwealth "will depend on how much interest there is in it."

While unsure of the bill's procedural chances for overall approval, Quigley said he has no problems with the general thrust of the bill.

"As far as I'm concerned, this goes with the idea of local control," Quigley said.

"Really, the primary concern of the school board should be curriculum and this would give them the choice about whether or not to include this in their curriculum," he said.

Leach disagrees.

"I am adamantly opposed to this bill," Leach said. "I assume they're talking about teaching this in science class and not in religion class and that is totally inappropriate. I think we should teach science in science class."

Leach said "evolution is not at all controversial in the scientific community. We don't have all the answers, but we know the Earth is not 6,000 years old."

Calling his colleagues "sincere but misguided," Leach said "evolution is a theory, but a theory is not a hunch. It is what science believes based on all the available evidence. Gravity is a theory but I don't see anybody questioning that."

By contrast, Rohrer said he has been contacted by several college professors, including a chemistry and physics professor from Slippery Rock University, urging their quiet support for the bill.

"They told me there is compelling evidence in scientific circles" for intelligent design "and that many scientists would support this bill if they were not afraid of damaging their scientific reputations or being ostracized by their peers," Rohrer said.

Leh said, "I have yet to see definitive evidence establishing evolution as a fact. As far as I'm concerned, it takes more faith to believe in evolution than intelligent design."

"Intelligent design" is a phrase that has become common in Pennsylvania headlines in recent months.

When York County's Dover Area School Board voted 6-3 last October to mandate that students be made aware of "intelligent design" as an alternative theory to evolution, it attracted national attention, as well as a well as a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The ACLU's position is that "intelligent design" is a more secular form of religious creationism and therefore violates the concept of the separation of church and state.

Dover officials have said they will monitor lessons "to make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion."

Rohrer said he could not speak for the motivations of the bill's sponsor, "but from my perspective, my support for this bill was definitely stimulated by the situation over in Dover.

The bill includes a section reading "this section shall not be construed as being adverse to any decision which has been rendered by an appellate court."

Leh, who said he thinks the bill has the support of about 20 legislators that he can think of, said creationism was pushed off the curriculum plate after the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925.

In that trial -- known to many through the 1960 classic film "Inherit the Wind" starring Spencer Tracy -- biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in Dayton High School in Tennessee.

Tennessee had specifically outlawed teaching evolution over creationism in a bill signed into law earlier that year.

Scopes was recruited by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought out a teacher willing to challenge the law in court by defying it.

Scopes was defended by Clarence Darrow and prosecuted by William Jennings Bryan, who had campaigned against Darwinian theory two years earlier calling it a "law of hate" and Biblical creation theory a "law of love."

Scopes was found guilty by a jury that deliberated for nine minutes.

He was fined $100.

"As a result of that trial, (evolution and creationism) were supposed to be taught side by side, but creationism was squeezed out," said Leh. "We're just trying to get it back to a level playing field."

©The Mercury 2005

Scientists protest bill over skeleton



April 11, 2005

WASHINGTON - Scientists hoping to study the ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man are protesting legislation they say could block their efforts.

They say a two-word amendment to a bill on American Indians would allow federally recognized tribes to claim ancient remains even if they cannot prove a link to a current tribe.

Scientists fear that the bill, if enacted, could end up overturning a federal appeals court ruling that allows them to study the 9,300-year-old skeleton, one of the oldest ever found in North America.

The skeleton was discovered in 1996 along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash., and has been the focus of a bitter nine-year fight.

The scientists successfully opposed a similar bill in the last Congress sponsored by then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Campbell retired in January, but the bill has been revived in this Congress by the panel's new chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"What they are trying to do is to change the statute so that it comes up with the absurd result that tribes can now claim skeletons to which they have no cultural connection," said Alan Schneider, a Portland, Ore., attorney for the scientists.

It is far from certain what tribe, if any, Kennewick Man would be assigned to, Schneider said: "He may not even be Indian at all."

The skeleton was found to have some Caucasian features, suggesting groups other than Asians may have migrated to the continents thousands of years ago.

Rob Roy Smith, an attorney for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, said the bill would apply to future archaeological finds and would strengthen the case of tribes across the country that want to claim and bury ancient remains.

"This is a congressional effort to right a wrong ... that was identified through the Kennewick Man case," Smith said, but it would not affect the case itself. The disputed bones are being stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Four Northwest tribes - the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Colville - had claimed they were entitled to the ancient bones under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The tribes wanted the bones reburied without any scientific studies.

"The Ghost Hunter, True Tales of Ghosts and Hauntings"

EX.C.E.L Campus Activities is sponsoring one of the World's leading experts on Ghosts and Psychic Experience, Loyd Auerbach.

The lecture will be held on Wednesday, April 20, at 7:30 pm in the Activities Building Lone Star Theater, 500 W. Nedderman Drive, Arlington, Texas.

Mr. Auerbach will talk about the actual methods and tools of ghost hunting and tell stories about some of his more exciting and perplexing hunts.

Director of The Office of Paranormal Investigations
President of the California Society for Psychical Study
Professor at JFK University
Master's Degree in Parapsychology
Author of four books
Member of the Psychic Entertainers Association
Appearances on Oprah, Larry King Live, The Today Show, Unsolved Mysteries

Tickets will be on sale at the door beginning at 6pm.

Free for UTA students with Mav ID
Non-UTA Students with ID $3.00
UTA Faculty and Staff $3.00
General Public $6.00

For more information, please call 817-272-2963 or visit our website at www.uta.edu/stuact/excel.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


In February http://www.aps.org/WN/WN05/wn022505.cfm, WN commented on a session at this year's AAAS meeting in Washington DC devoted to the proposition that science and religion are "non-overlapping magisteria." But at Texas A&M they see it a little differently: the Trotter Prize is awarded for "illuminating the connection between science and religion." How better to illustrate the overlap than to give the award this year to one of the nation's top pseudoscientists, Dr. William Demski, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, often regarded as the leading intelligent- design theorist. The Intelligent-Design movement seeks to portray intelligent-design as science. However, by resorting to a supernatural explanation it clearly belongs in some other magisteria.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.aps.org/WN

A quick evolution of ruffled feathers

College presidents, Intel CEO challenged on Darwinism and the teaching of science at a media roundtable

April 6, 2005

How do you make a room of university presidents squirm?

Ply them with salmon and sirloin steak and then serve up the political hot potato of teaching evolution at the high school level.

In a wide-ranging and sometimes heated dinner discussion among media representatives, Intel chief executive Craig Barrett and the presidents of eight major research universities, nearly everyone agreed that science in the United States is losing ground to foreign competitors. Many in attendance at the Science Coalition's yearly media roundtable, held at The Penn Club in Manhattan on Monday, cited fast-charging China and India as important new players, and bemoaned a lack of funding for basic research at home. And several attendees blasted the nation's K-12 science education as woefully inadequate.

"It stinks," Barrett said. He and several university presidents, however, dismissed suggestions that efforts to push evolution out of high school classrooms or to label it unproven may be linked to science's declining fortunes. And a question asking whether the presidents would affirm their support of the scientific theory produced evident discomfort.

National Public Radio correspondent Ira Flatow told the group it was "the elephant in the room," but University of Kentucky president Lee T. Todd Jr. said the evolution question was a "red herring," a sentiment Barrett echoed.

"I can speak up for evolution, but that's because I'm the grateful resident of a blue state," said Stony Brook University president Shirley Strum Kenny. "I might feel differently if I lived in another part of the country where my funding was threatened."

Others bristled at suggestions that they were ducking the issue. "First of all, I am a practicing scientist," said University of Texas at Austin president Larry Faulkner, a chemist. "Secondly, I am a believer in the theory of evolution."

He decried the "near- absence" of science in K-6 education as the real issue behind the nation's scientific slide. Evolutionary theory, he said, has never come up for debate or entered into the university's discussions with other schools during his seven years at the helm. Arizona State University president Michael Crow said the issue hasn't appeared "at any time, at any level" during his nearly three-year tenure.

Eugenie Scott, of the pro- evolution National Center for Science Education, said in a phone interview that university presidents, like many politicians, often step gingerly in an area that crystallizes tension between religion and science.

"Universities are funded by legislatures and by alumni, and those are two constituencies that you want to keep happy," she said, adding, "They'd rather walk on hot coals than talk about something like this."

After Monday's dessert, though, Kenny expressed surprise at the unease: "If a university president doesn't speak out," she said, "who will?"


Physics News Update 726

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 726 April 7, 2005 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein
THE SMALLEST ELECTRIC MOTOR in the world, devised by physicists at UC Berkeley, is based on the shuttling of atoms between two metal droplets---one large and one small---residing on the back of a carbon nanotube. An electric current transmitted through the nanotube causes atoms to move from the big to the small droplet. In effect, potential energy is being stored in the smaller droplet in the form of surface tension. Eventually the smaller drop grows so much that the two droplets touch. Then the accumulated energy is suddenly discharged as the larger droplet reabsorbs its atoms through the newly created hydrodynamic channel. This device constitutes a "relaxation oscillator" with an adjustable operating frequency. If the oscillator is attached to a mechanical linkage, it acts as a motor and can be used to move a MEMS device in inchworm fashion (movie: physics.berkeley.edu/research/zettl/projects/Relax_pics.html). The peak pulsed power is 20 microwatts. Considering that the device is less than 200 nm on a side, the power density works out to about 100 million times that of the 225 hp V6 engine in a Toyota Camry. Chris Regan (bcregan@berkeley.edu), a member of Alex Zettl's group at Berkeley, reported these and related results at the recent APS meeting in Los Angeles and in the 21 March 2005 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

A SINGLE-PROTEIN WET BIOTRANSISTOR has been devised by physicists at the INFM-S3 Center in Modena, Italy. Metalloproteins help to shuttle electrons among molecules, a necessary task for powering such life-critical functions as respiration, photosynthesis, and enzyme reactions. To do this the protein bristles with side chains where binding can be achieved. Why not harness all this functionality normally used for keeping an organism alive for performing digital information processing? Paolo Facci (p.facci@unimo.it, 39-059-205-5654) and his colleagues use a particular bacterial protein called azurin in a strategic position between two gold electrodes, which act as the source and drain of a transistor. A third electrode, acting as the gate, enables the centrally located azurin to allow the passage of an electrical current (see figure at www.aip.org/png). The whole process takes place in a wet environment, the first time a single-protein bio-transistor has been operated in this way. Facci believes that with the addition of bio-inorganic electrodes, his bio-transistor could be implemented in various wet situations, such as serving in brain-machine interfaces or for sensing cellular events. (Alessandrini et al., Applied Physics Letters, 4 April, 2005 ) USING THE LHC TO STUDY HIGH ENERGY DENSITY PHYSICS? The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be the most powerful particle accelerator around when, according to the plans, it will start operating in the year 2007. Each of its two 7-TeV proton beams will consist of 2808 bunches and each bunch will contain about 100 billion protons, for a total energy of 362 megajoules, enough to melt 500 kg of copper. What if one of these full-power beams were to accidentally strike a solid surface, such as a beam pipe or a magnet? To study this possibility, scientists have now simulated the material damage the beam would cause. (In the case of an actual emergency, the beam is extracted and led to a special beam dump.) The computer study showed, first of all, that the proton beam could penetrate as much as 30 m of solid copper, the equivalent of two of LHC's giant superconducting magnets. It is also indicated that the beam penetrating through a solid material would not merely bore a hole but would create a potent plasma with a high density (10 percent of solid density) and low temperature (about 10 eV). Such plasmas are known as strongly coupled plasmas. One way of studying such plasmas would therefore be to deliberately send the LHC beam into a solid target to directly induce states of high-energy-density (HED) in matter, without using shock compression. This is a novel technique and could be potentially a very efficient method to study this venerable subject. (Tahir et al., Physical Review Letters, upcoming article; contact Naeem Tahir of the GSI Laboratory in Darmstadt, n.tahir@gsi.de)

*********** PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

Heinz sides with science


By David M. Brown
Friday, April 8, 2005

Teresa Heinz has chimed in on the debate over whether evolution should be taught in high schools to explain life on Earth, as opposed to religious concepts such as creationism. She came down on the side of teaching evolution, saying that in no way conflicts with her personal religious faith.

"I believe God did create us, and that evolution was his tool. I see no contradiction at all between science and religion -- none," she said during a speech Thursday night at an event in Pittsburgh.

"The purpose of science is to teach science and not religion," she added.

Heinz, a Roman Catholic, said only God "could create such a complex and beautiful thing" as life.

"I'm glad to be back in Pittsburgh," she said. "It's an honor always to be working in Pittsburgh."

She and her husband, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., used the Pittsburgh region as a key staging area in Kerry's presidential bid as the Democratic nominee against President Bush.

Heinz, chairwoman of the Howard Heinz Endowment and the Heinz Family Philanthropies, gave the keynote address kicking off "Pittsburgh 2005: Health and the Environment," a three-day conference in Shadyside.

The event, held at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, is a regional meeting of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment in Pennsylvania.

The issue of teaching evolution in public schools, long a subject of contention, heated up again in October when a school board in a rural southcentral Pennsylvania community, Dover, mandated the teaching of "intelligent design."

The concept holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by an unspecified higher power. Critics called the change in the ninth-grade biology curriculum a veiled attempt to require public schoolchildren to learn creationism, a biblical-based view that credits the origin of the species to God.

Schools typically teach evolution, the theory that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years.

Heinz told about 300 participants at the conference that just as scientists are attacked when they offer evidence of global climate changes, teachers and school board members are being intimidated for teaching evolution.

"This abandonment of science is happening...without any fanfare at all," she said.

David M. Brown can be reached at dbrown@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5614.

How Dante beat Galileo to law of motion by 300 years


Tim Radford, science editor
Thursday April 7, 2005
The Guardian

The poet Dante Alighieri knew about modern physics as well as sophisticated rhyme. Some 300 years ahead of Galileo, the great poet of hell, purgatory and heaven described a physical law of motion now known as Galilean invariance, an Italian physicist reports today.

Galileo's principle says the laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference. That is, someone moving at uniform speed observes the same experimental results as someone not moving at all. This principle became one of the foundations of the science built up by Newton and others.

But, writing in the journal Nature, Leonardo Ricci, of the University of Trento, northern Italy, says Dante spotted the same thing early in the 14th century. He did not pursue the logic but did describe it in canto 17 of his epic work Inferno.

In this canto, Dante and his guide, Virgil, descend from one circle of eternal torment to another by climbing on the back of the winged monster Geryon. In what is thought to be the first description of the sensation of flying, Dante is aware only of the air and the monster below him.

In a translation by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the canto runs:

Onward he goeth, swimming slowly, slowly

Wheels and descends, but I perceive it only

By wind upon my face and from below.

The lines reveal a remarkable intuition. "The observer Dante can imagine himself in a frame that a contemporary physicist would define, with a fair approximation, as inertial," Dr Ricci said.

Dante understood that such a wide spiral flight would be felt as motion in a straight line. But also, "Dante asserts that, aside from the effect of the wind, his sensation of flying was not dissimilar from being at rest ... this invariance [agrees] with the concept expressed by Galileo ... It seems Dante was well ahead of his time with regard to views about the laws of nature held in the middle ages."

· What did you think of this article? Mail your responses to life@guardian.co.uk and include your name and address.

A Paleopuzzle: Chomping With No Chompers



Published: April 7, 2005

The toothless skull of an early human ancestor discovered in the Caucasus may attest to evolution's oldest known example of compassion for the elderly and handicapped, scientists report today.

Other experts agreed that the discovery was significant, but cautioned that it might be a stretch to interpret the fossil as evidence of compassion.

The well-preserved skull, found in Georgia, belonged to a male Homo erectus about 40 years old. All his teeth, except the left canine, were missing. Regrowth of bone indicated that the man had been toothless for at least two years before he died at what was then an old age. (The discoverers call him the "old man.")

In their report today, in the journal Nature, the discovery team said the 1.77-million-year-old skull "raises questions about alternative subsistence strategies in early Homo." Specifically, how could the man have survived that long, unable to chew the food of a meat-eating society?

In interviews and in the current issue of National Geographic, the paleoanthropologists said caring companions might have helped the toothless man by finding soft plant food and hammering raw meat with stone tools so he could "gum" his dinner. If so, they said, this was evidence of a kind of compassion that had been absent in the ancestral fossil record before the Neanderthals 60,000 years ago.

Dr. David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian State Museum in Tbilisi, led the team that made the discovery, at Dmanisi, a site that has already yielded several skulls and skeletons that are the oldest clear evidence of human ancestors living outside Africa.

Dr. G. Philip Rightmire of Binghamton University in upstate New York, a team member who specializes in Homo erectus, said in an interview that the old man might have been able to take care of himself by cracking bones for the marrow and even softening pieces of meat with stone hammers. But the loss of teeth, signifying either disease or advanced age or both, suggested that he might have needed help.

"The old man is indeed a very interesting specimen," said Dr. Susan C. Anton of New York University, who has conducted research at the Dmanisi site but was not involved in the current report. "It makes the Georgian collection particularly important for looking at variability in populations, and especially for age variability."

But Dr. Anton, an editor of The Journal of Human Evolution, said that "going from the clear biological signals of tooth loss before death to provisioning, compassion and care of the individual by others in the group is something of a leap." She cited examples of toothless chimpanzees surviving without assistance.

"Did this hominid have to do things slightly differently than others in their group?" Dr. Anton said. "Yes. Did that mean that the others were providing care or food or compassion? There's no way to know. But it wouldn't be my first inference."

Paleoanthropologists and archaeologists plan to return to Dmanisi in June to resume excavations, financed in part by the National Geographic Society. Dr. Rightmire said the team planned to widen research to detailed examinations of bones below the skulls, especially those of arms and legs.

More Evidence of Skull's Link to Humans


Remains Believed To Be From Earliest Known Ancestor

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page A03

Scientists who three years ago discovered a nearly complete 7 million-year-old skull in central Africa have dug up additional evidence supporting the conclusion that the skull belonged to the earliest known human ancestor.

The new findings -- two jaw bones and an upper premolar tooth -- lend credence to the proposition that the creature was probably among the first hominid, or human-like, primates to live after humans and chimpanzees diverged from each other a little more than 7 million years ago.

Researchers said the new fossils, along with a sophisticated computer reconstruction of the previously discovered skull, solidify the remains' stature as among the most important paleological finds of the past several decades. Together they paint a picture of an ancestral primate with a chimpanzee-sized body and brain but a face and teeth more like those of modern humans.

The new work also offers tantalizing clues that this extremely early human, Sahelanthropus tchadensis, may have already been walking upright -- though a definitive answer to that important question will probably have to await the discovery of a leg or hip bone.

The fresh findings are "very cool," said John G. Fleagle, a distinguished professor of anatomical science at Stony Brook University in New York. For scientists who have been questioning whether S. tchadensis was really an early human or belonged on the branch of the family tree that led to modern apes instead, the new evidence "clearly follows the hominids, and pulls away from the chimps and gorillas," Fleagle said.

The initial find of the skull, along with two lower jaw fragments and three teeth, was reported in July 2002 by Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers in France and his colleagues. They found the fossil remains in Chad's Djurab Desert, about 1,500 miles west of Kenya's Rift Valley, where so many fossils of early humans have been found.

Though dry today, the Djurab region was home to a large lake and rich biological diversity several million years ago, as evidenced by the plentiful fossil remains of ancient hippopotami, elephants, antelopes, crocodiles and rodents. Dating methods place those fossils as about a million years older than the 6 million-year-old remains of an early human unearthed in 2001 in Ethiopia, which were then the oldest such bones ever found.

The Chad skull, believed to be of a male primate who has been nicknamed Toumai (a Goran language name that means "hope of life"), was described three years ago as probably more human than ape, with a low bony brow and a flattened face that had a snout less prominent than in chimpanzees. But in part because the skull was partially crushed, questions lingered.

Foremost among several tentative lines of evidence for Toumai being a hominid is his canine tooth, which is far shorter than the prominent canines sported by all apes, both today and in the past. The newly discovered premolar tooth is also more human than ape, the team noted in a report published today in the journal Nature.

But equally compelling, scientists said, is a computer-assisted reconstruction of the skull described in an accompanying Nature article.

That aspect of the work, led by Christoph P.E. Zollikofer and Marcia S. Ponce de Leon of the University of Zurich-Irchel in Switzerland, started with a CAT scan of the skull, which had become deformed during its 7 million-year-old interment. It looks as though it had been squeezed centrally from both ears, with the right side of the cranium shifting upward and the left pushed downward. "The thing was sort of squashed and unlike anything that had been seen before, so you could only say so much about it," Fleagle said.

With a detailed three-dimensional X-ray image in hand from the CAT scan, the team was able to move the pieces around -- on a computer monitor -- until they lined up and fit together in what appears to have been their original form. That image reveals a skull wider than initially anticipated, with round eye sockets that look more human than ape. The relatively vertical face and other cranial and dental features "support the conclusion that Sahelanthropus is a hominid," the team concluded.

In addition to fitting all the pieces together, the researchers did an experiment: They tried to get the virtual pieces to fit into the general outline of a hominid skull, and also tried to get them to fit into an outline of a 3-D ape skull.

In the first case, the pieces fit together almost perfectly. In the second, there were overlaps and gaps -- evidence that the reconstruction was correct.

"The digital restoration is excellent," said anthropologist Tim D. White of the University of California. "The original interpretation [that Toumai was a hominid] is probably correct."

The researchers offer preliminary evidence that Toumai may have walked upright. Most compelling, the reconstruction of the skull suggests the cranium lined up vertically with the neck and spine, as in modern humans. By contrast, animals that walk on all fours, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, keep their heads turned upward to keep their faces perpendicular to the ground.

But there is not enough preserved anatomy to settle that question definitively, the team concluded. Also unknown is whether Toumai's offspring survived the thousands of millennia to become modern humans or died out, as many early human lines may have done.

In that case, the actual forebear of today's humans may remain unknown.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Taking on Darwin


Posted on Sat, Apr. 09, 2005

'Intelligent design' challenges theory of evolution

By Mark I. Pinksy


Scanning a pastors' newsletter, the Rev. John Thompson saw the notice about a national conference on "intelligent design" -- a theory of the Earth's creation favored by religious conservatives. The Baptist minister had followed developments in this latest battle against teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in public schools, and he was intrigued.

Supporters of intelligent design argue that life on Earth is too complex and intricate to be the result of a random act of nature. While they do not dispute that observable, short-term evolution exists, they believe some greater force designed and set the evolutionary process in motion.

Their approach differs from creationism, which adheres to the Bible's six-day account of Earth's origin.

When Thompson inquired about the conference, organizers told him the strategy session was not open to the public. However, the group was looking for a site for the gathering, and the host minister would certainly be welcome. Thompson promptly volunteered his small Apopka, Fla., congregation, Plymouth Baptist Church, and the offer was accepted.

"We're a small church on the edge of Apopka," he marveled. "We have never taken up a hot national issue."

And so, in a little Baptist church off a dirt road, about 30 scholars earlier this year outlined the latest evidence in their assault on Darwin, whose On the Origin of Species, they say, has become the secular, scientific equivalent of Holy Writ, immune from criticism.

An idea evolves

"In the history of the universe, there is not enough time for events to occur that would achieve the organizational complexity of living things," says Charles Thaxton, a conference attendee and a scholar credited with pioneering intelligent design. "In terms of mathematics, it's such a remote possibility that no competent scholar would adopt randomness."

Recently, physicist Charles Townes, who shared the Nobel Prize for developing the laser and who is also a supporter of intelligent design, was awarded the $1.5 million Templeton Prize for scientific research in spiritual matters. In 1966, the former University of California, Berkeley, professor wrote a paper for the IBM journal Think, called "The Convergence of Science and Religion." In the article, Townes wrote, "Understanding the order in the universe and understanding the purpose in the universe are not identical, but they are also not very far apart."

Intelligent design emerged as a religious force in the United States in the mid-1980s, but the concept itself is much older. In the 18th century, a British clergyman named William Paley suggested that the complex world was like a watch found in a field -- logically, it had to have been made by someone.

Some of America's Founding Fathers, who called themselves deists, adopted the concept. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin referred to the creator of the universe as "Providence," the "Grand Designer" and the "Great Clockmaker." But deism did not require a literal, biblical creation out of Genesis. Instead, a higher power made the clock, set it in motion and then let it run.

Tom Woodward, author of Darwinism Under the Microscope: How Recent Scientific Evidence Points to Divine Design, says deists and supporters of intelligent design are "generally in the same ballpark."

Labels and battles

Scattered skirmishes are being fought over intelligent design and evolution throughout the country.

In 2004, the school board in the rural, south central Pennsylvania community of Dover voted to mandate the teaching of intelligent design, a move challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Intelligent-design proponents suffered a defeat Jan. 13 when a U.S. District Court judge ordered the anti-evolution stickers removed from Cobb County, Ga., science books. The stickers read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." While that ruling is being appealed, other supporters of the stickers are urging the Kansas state board of education to mandate them.

"I think it needs to go beyond a sticker," says Thompson, echoing the presentations at the conference.

Intelligent design "is more than a label in books," says Thaxton, co-author of The Mystery of Life's Origin. "It is trying to make people aware that there is a legitimate critique of Darwinism."

Many prominent scientists disagree.

For one thing, intelligent design "is unprovable," Richard Dawkins of Oxford University says via e-mail, and "that is the least of its problems."

"The main problem is it doesn't explain anything because it leaves the designer unexplained," says Dawkins, author of The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. "You are left in exactly the same position of ignorance and lack of understanding as you started out with. ... Intelligent design explains precisely nothing, zero, zilch."

Although the fight over intelligent design has been erratic so far, the scientific evidence presented in the Apopka church's social hall impressed Thompson and a handful of his parishioners who were allowed to observe.

The origin of life has "got to be something more intelligent than just what came out of the mud," says Faye Hull, a church member who volunteered at the conference. "Scientists and religious leaders should get together to talk about this."

For the most part, the controversy over intelligent design is being thrashed out on the opinion and letters pages of newspapers, and in magazines. The November 2004 issue of National Geographic asked on its cover, "Was Darwin wrong?" Inside, it read: "NO. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming."

Thompson admits the debate is largely a war of words. But it's an improvement from the past, he says, when anyone who challenged the evolutionary origin of the world would be considered "an absolute idiot, or insane, or a religious fanatic."

Some critics of intelligent design call it "creationism in a tuxedo," a Trojan horse for those who want the biblical account of the Earth's six-day origin to be taught in public schools as a plausible alternative to evolution.

Thompson and other congregation members say they are creationists, but they acknowledge that many -- perhaps most -- adherents of intelligent design are not.

What are they arguing about?

The issue is how life on Earth was created.

Intelligent design: Supporters believe that life on Earth is too-intricate to result from a random process of nature. They agree that-short-term evolution exists, but-believe a greater force started the evolutionary process.

Creationism: Supporters believe the Earth was created by God in six days as set forth in the Bible.

Darwinists: Supporters think that plants and animals developed from early forms in nature and natural selection determines which survive.

Bills would shield schools from church-state disputes


Saturday, April 09, 2005
Of The Patriot-News

Nothing in state law prevents schools from posting the national motto "In God We Trust," proponents of that idea said. Instead, it is fear of being sued.

The same goes for teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, supporters said. Intelligent design is being taught in the Dover Area School District in York County and a group of parents have filed a federal lawsuit.

Because of the litigation threat, some state lawmakers are backing legislation to protect school officials who choose to jump into the murky waters that critics said violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Rep. Thomas Creighton, R-Manheim, is sponsoring a bill that would allow "In God We Trust" to be posted in a school. He and others also are backing a bill that would allow schools to require teaching intelligent design.

Neither bill would force schools to take action, and neither comes at the request of a school district, Creighton said. Both bills sit in a subcommittee of the House Education Committee.

"The public school code doesn't deal with either of these. It doesn't say schools can and it doesn't say schools can't," he said. "This says yes, they may."

Introducing bills to reinforce authority that school boards already have should not be necessary, said Rep. Samuel Rohrer, R-Berks, a co-sponsor of Creighton's bills. But in this instance, "given the litigious nature of at least one organization that puts the fear into a lot of people's lives, we feel it's highly appropriate."

Critics said Creighton is trying to advance a conservative agenda in public schools.

Creighton called them atheists who are "closed-minded" and get scared "when you mention God."

His "In God We Trust" bill, is co-sponsored by a dozen other Republicans and three Democrats. The bill states that the motto is a key ingredient of gaining a "proper understanding of United States history and government."

Five states have passed laws since 2001 dealing with posting the motto in public schools, said Mike Griffith of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

Virginia and Mississippi require that it appear somewhere in school. Oklahoma mandates it in all classrooms and the auditorium. Alabama recommends it. North Dakota allows it.

Larry Frankel, legislative director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill fails to acknowledge that "not everybody who believes in God has the same concept in mind, much less does it account for those from religions with different relationships to God or who even think it's appropriate to use God in this manner."

Still, he said it is of lesser concern than Creighton's proposal to allow the teaching of intelligent design.

The theory on the origin of life suggests gaps exist in Darwin's theory of evolution and that the complexity of the universe and of living things are evidence of a higher power.

Creighton's bill would allow school boards to include instruction about this theory as part of the discussion on the origin of man and Earth. But it would prohibit teachers from stressing "any particular denominational, sectarian or religious belief." It is co-sponsored by 10 other Republicans and one Democrat.

He introduced the bill as a result of the federal lawsuit that parents filed against Dover Area School District over its school board's decision to require intelligent design to be taught in science class.

The parents, represented by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the board's decision unconstitutionally endorses a religious belief. The case is scheduled for a trial this fall.

"No school district ought to have to go through the headaches and cost and the challenge of their legislative authority that Dover has had to go through," Rohrer said.

Since August 2003, Ohio, New Mexico and Minnesota have adopted policies that require schools to critically analyze the theory of evolution, Griffith said.

Frankel said intelligent design is a "sham" for teaching religion, and the courts have ruled religion has no place in the science classroom.

JAN MURPHY: 232-0668 or jmurphy@patriot-news.com

Scientologists push mental health law


Opponents say the legislation takes advantage of lingering stigma and will deter parents from seeking help for their children.
By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
Published April 9, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Legislation backed by an offshoot of the Church of Scientology aims to discourage public school students from seeking mental health services.

The measure would require schools to tell parents that any mental health treatment would be part of a student's permanent record, which is true only in limited cases now.

It also would require school officials to tell parents that no medical test can diagnose mental illness, they can refuse psychological screening and that students can't be barred from school activities if they refuse treatment.

The bills (HB209 and SB1766) are being pushed by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, or CCHR, established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology to carry out its mental health mission. Scientologists oppose psychiatry and other mental health services.

The legislation is being fought by several mental health organizations, including the state Office of Suicide Prevention.

The sponsors, Tampa Republican Sen. Victor Crist and Miami Beach Republican Rep. Gustavo Barreiro, were guest speakers recently at Scientology's anniversary celebration. Crist touted the bill at the event and Barreiro gave the church an award for its volunteer efforts during last summer's hurricanes.

Barreiro acknowledged that the Scientology group approached him about sponsoring the bill and wrote parts it. But he said he's sponsoring the bill because he believes in it.

"The path of least resistance is to medicate rather than find creative ways to help kids," Barreiro said. "What is the worst case scenario if this bill passes? We move toward the middle and medicate less."

Said Crist: "Parents ultimately need to have control over their children's medications."

That an arm of the church, once so controversial that politicians avoided being associated with it, is advancing legislation to further one of its main tenets is a testament to the success of Scientology's recent campaign to change its image.

Mary Panton, the CCHR member lobbying for the bill, said parents should worry that their children are labeled mentally ill.

"Parents aren't told that when you accept that label it follows you for the rest of your life," Panton said. "All we want is for the parents to have the full picture."

But opponents say the bill could dissuade some parents from seeking treatment for a child with mental illness.

Mental illness is noted in student records only if the school is involved in treatment or the illness requires special education, according to the state Department of Education.

Opponents say the bill's backers are taking advantage of the lingering shame over mental illness to further an anti-psychiatry agenda.

"No matter how far we have come in understanding depression as a biochemical disease, there is still a certain amount of shame attached to it," said Donna Sicilian, supervisor for social services for the Pinellas County School District. "Bills like these, particularly with the wording that was chosen, perpetuate that."

Sicilian, president of the Florida Association of School Social Workers, said many students need some kind of mental health service, such as counseling during divorce.

The House bill would require schools to include any mental illness diagnosis - including depression and schizophrenia - in a student's permanent record, regardless of whether the student needs special education classes to manage the disorder.

The Senate bill, which would prohibit school officials from making any mental referrals, appears stalled.

Barreiro has been lauded by the Church of Scientology for standing up against what it calls human rights abuses promulgated by psychiatrists.

But, like the church, Barreiro says he is skeptical of the way mental disorders are diagnosed through the observation of symptoms rather than medical tests.

"It isn't like you can take a blood test. ... This is so subjective," Barreiro said.

Barreiro said physical problems are often ignored, leading to the overuse of psychotropic drugs.

The legislation has caught the eye of Jim McDonough, who heads the state's offices of drug control and suicide prevention.

Since speaking out against the bill in committee meetings, McDonough has been bombarded by public records requests from Scientologists asking for proof of his statement that mental illness is a biochemical disorder.

McDonough agrees that some prescription drugs - including anti-anxiety and antipsychotic drugs - are over-prescribed. But his greatest concern, McDonough said, is in ensuring that potentially suicidal teenagers have access to the mental health services.

Teenagers need to understand that mental illness is a disease that can be treated, McDonough said.

"I do resist the abuse of prescription drugs and the unmedical use of psychotropic drugs, but I absolutely believe in the medical basis of mental illness," McDonough said.

[Last modified April 9, 2005, 07:10:29]

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