NTS LogoSkeptical News for 6 May 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, May 06, 2005

Darwin's Legacy


Posted by Mark Schannon on May 05, 2005 07:05 PM (See all posts by Mark Schannon)
Filed under: Culture, Culture/Tech: Humor and Satire, Culture/Tech: Religion

The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments: King James Version, Black Imitation Leather
Book from National Publishing Company
Release date: 01 January, 2000

God called me last night.

There's no easier way to put it, especially for you atheistic, devil-worshiping, socialist America haters out there.

God did call me. And boy, was He pissed.

"What's so tough to understand about 'intelligent design'," he fumed. "What, do those Darwinidiots think I'm not intelligent?"

"No, sir," I said quickly. It's not a good thing to piss off the Lord even if you do have to wonder about things like famine, Ebola, mosquitoes, and Cheeze Whiz.

"Then what is it?" he demanded, which was a little surprising since he's supposed to be the omniscient one, and I'm just a lowly human he's chosen to harass.

"Well," I started, "it's that those Darwin folks think that "intelligent design" is just a front for the Creationists to sneak religion back into the classroom."

Long pause. When God thinks, it can take a long time. He's also omnipresent, so he's got a lot of ground to cover.

"Creationism," he snorted. "You mean those people who believe that drivel Bishop Ussher pushed that I created the world 4000 years ago?"

"Sort of, sir," I said.

"Gadfry Daniels," he shouted, which is the closet you'll get to hearing God swear. He's got to be pretty careful about what he says. For example, if he says, "Damn them," then woe to those to whom he was referring. Like it's a lifetime in hell with no chance of parole.

"I thought 'intelligent design' just integrated My work into Darwinian theory," He said.

"No, that's not exactly what they mean, sir. They claim that evolution is just a theory."

"Just a theory," He thundered, shattering most of the windows in my house. I didn't mind, because He's real good about fixing things He's broken when He gets angry. Sometimes, He even apologizes. And when He forgets, there's always the Archangels to come along and mop up after Him.

"Don't those Creationist dimwits realize what 'theory' means in science?" He continued. "In scientific terms, a 'theory' is a unifying concept that's been tested and reaffirmed. It's not a guess or a hypothesis."

"Well, sir," I offered, "maybe the Creationists don't know that."

"Well go and tell them," He ordered.

"Yes sir, but, you see, I'm not sure they'll listen to me."

He fretted and fumed and made angry God-like noises, which, when you think about it, are the only kind of noises he could make, although, as God, he probably could make any kind of noise he wanted.

"Well, tell them I told you they're bonkers," he said.

"They'll just call me a lackey of the left-wing anti-religion conspiracy and won't believe me," I said.

He sighed, and, I have to tell you, when God sighs, it could just break your heart.

"All this effort to create an intelligent species, and this is what emerges?" He said with great sadness. I was crying openly. It's tough to cope with a sad Lord of the Universe. "People who'll treat a book like gospel that's been translated so many times into so many versions, the only truths left there are the simple ones. Like the 20 commandments."

"Um...sir, I think you mean the 10 commandments."

"What? Oh, right, Moses dropped that second tablet on the way down the mountain. My fault. The things were just too heavy. Anyway, those 10 are enough. And Jesus' sermon on the mount. He never talked about Creationism. He didn't care. It wasn't important. What's wrong with these people."

Well, I could go on, because the Lord certainly went on long enough. But a word to the wise to those folks trying to sneak Creationism into the schoolroom - God ain't on your side. He thinks you're all idiots.

Now don't blame me. I'm just the messenger.

Analysis: Evolution dispute continues


By Les Kjos

Miami, FL, May. 5 (UPI) -- Eighty years after the "Monkey Trial" over evolution, the debate over teaching creationism in schools rages on with a hearing in Kansas, criticism of elective classes in Texas and concern just about everywhere.

The Kansas hearing that began in Topeka Thursday is getting all the headlines, but the issue is national and is not expected to go away -- ever.

The Kansas hearing is being held by the state Board of Education and will run through Saturday and then resume next Thursday.

Three members of the board, all of whom have doubts about parts of evolution theory, will hear testimony from witnesses on both sides although some science groups are boycotting the meeting.

The committee will report to the full education board, which is expected to approve new science standards next month.

The American Association of the Advancement of Science has called the hearings an attack on science and an effort to discredit it.

Other states also have disputes over the validity of evolution vs. creationism or "intelligent design."

In Texas, the Legislature is considering a bill that would give the conservative Board of Education more say over the content of textbooks, and the textbook battle is what this is all about.

The acceptance of textbooks will come up in about 20 states over the next three years.

In Pennsylvania, the Dover School Board requires the concept of intelligent design to be taught to ninth-grade biology classes. A lawsuit challenging the course based on separation of church and state is expected to go to trial in September.

The Legislature is also considering a bill allowing schools to teach intelligent design.

A federal judge in Atlanta has declared unconstitutional a sticker containing a disclaimer that evolution is not a fact but only a theory in Cobb County, Ga. The school board intends to appeal.

The Georgia sticker 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."

In Arkansas, a similar sticker on high school textbooks is under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is demanding they be removed.

The Ohio Board of Education has approved a curriculum that teaches students that the investigation of the theory of evolution is a continuing enterprise.

There is a case in California federal court in which parents claimed their civil rights were denied when a school district near Sacramento voted against a proposal to require schools to teach the flaws of the theory of evolution.

In Kansas, the Board of Education's 25-member Science Education Standards Committee has provided a recommendation to the full board on how science should be taught.

A minority group of eight members of the committee has issued its own report.

The hearings this week are being held by the conservative members. Their report says evolution teaches "an unpredictable and unguided natural process that has no discernible direction or goal. It also assumes that life arose from an unguided natural process."

The majority report said evolution is a "scientific explanation for the history of the diversification of organisms from common ancestors."

The defenders of the Darwin theory concede that boycotting the hearing will give their opponents free rein, but they hope to keep the publicity level as low as possible. There is, however, expected to be testimony supporting the teaching of evolution.

There are two categories of opponents to Darwinism. One is the religious segment that supports the biblical account that God created the world in six days. The Supreme Court outlawed that approach in a 1987 decision striking down a Louisiana law that evolution could be taught only if creationism was also in the curriculum.

An Arkansas law also was eliminated by that ruling, based on the First Amendment.

In an earlier ruling 40 years ago, the court allowed "study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program or education."

Those favoring the intelligent-design concept say the process of creating life was too complex to be accomplished by chance. Their opponents call the idea Creationism Lite and argue that natural selection is not random but an observable and verifiable process to fine-tune variations in species to fit with their environment.

Under creationism, the Earth by implication is 10,000 years old or younger. More than 95 percent of all scientists believe in evolution, and nearly all of them think the earth may be billions of years old.

A Canadian group, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, which promotes freedom of religion and separation of church and state, said the battle is being fought in U.S. public schools.

It says protestant religious schools generally teach creation science and Roman Catholic schools teach evolution.

It contends that the concept of separation of church and state forbids schools to teach that one religion is superior to any other religion or that religion is superior to a secular life.

(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

Copyright 2005 United Press International

GOP group wants schools to teach about creationism


PHIL GARBER, Managing Editor 05/05/2005

Managing CHESTER – Members of the Chester Republican Club say area students should be taught about creationist and related theories about the origins of the universe because Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is flawed and unproven.

The group hopes the West Morris school district will consider changing its curriculum to at least give as much credence to creationist and related theories as it does to the theory of evolution.

But school officials said the Darwin theory is most accepted by scientists and educators and that creationism has no scientific basis and will not be introduced into the curriculum.

Leading the GOP effort are the Rev. Scott Hoffman and Michael Pelletier, two members of the club's, four-person steering committee. Others on the steering committee are farmer Kurt Alstede and William Asdal.

The club hosted a forum on Tuesday, April 26, on the topic of "What are they teaching in the schools about the origins of life." About 10 people attended, as Hoffman discussed creationism and Pelletier talked about a theory known as "intelligent design."

Lindsay Asdal, a student at Mendham High School student and daughter of GOP club member William Asdal, discussed the way the topic is addressed in classes. Three other Mendham High School students also attended.

Pelletier said the consensus at the meeting was that the school should expand the curriculum regarding the origins of life.

"The general consensus was that creationism might run afoul of the First Amendment were it taught in schools, but intelligent design should have a place in curricula, if only to lead students to ponder questions for which science currently has no answer," Pelletier said.

"I think the panelists made a strong case that, while evolution might explain development within species, it could not account for the origins of life or differentiation into species," he said.

National surveys have shown a significant percentage of Americans do not believe in the evolutionary theory.

More than a dozen states are currently engaged in debates over the teaching of evolution in schools.

Proposed legislation in Texas would allow for creationism to be taught alongside evolution while in Kansas, the state Board of Education has scheduled six days of courtroom-style hearings to begin today, Thursday. More than two dozen witnesses will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution.

Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859 in his book, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection." The controversial theory was the subject of a 1925 trial in Tennessee in which teacher John Thomas Scopes was accused of violating a ban against teaching evolution. The trial was later made into the award-winning film, "Inherit the Wind."

Pelletier said the Republican club has about 20 members and has hosted forums on other topics, such as abortion and public school funding.

Its next program will focus on the Highlands law and will be at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 31, at the Chester library.

The Beginning

The theories of creationism and intelligent design both say that a force is responsible for all of creation. They differ largely in the names given to the creative force; one calls it God and the other refers to it as the creative force.

Darwin's theories regarding natural selection and evolution are taught in public schools. Darwin's principal concept was that humans evolved from more basic life forms.

Believers in creationism and intelligent design say man did not evolve from lower life forms but rather was formed as man. Creationists believe that God created the world in seven days and also created Adam and Eve as the first humans.

"Evolution is still being taught as the theory to explain the origins of life and it is bad science," said Hoffman, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Chester. "Evolution is being taught as the only theory with scientific evidence to prove it and it is absolutely not true."

Hoffman, who described himself as an evangelical, said he believes in the creationist theory. He said the evolution theory is valid within species but that there has been no evidence to show inter-species evolution.

"Nothing connects any species with ever changing from one species to another," said Hoffman.

He said the intelligent design concept is not contradictory to the creationism theory.

"Intelligent design removes the ethical or moral component associated with God," said Hoffman.

The pastor said many scientists believe in intelligent design and that he is confident that ultimately science will prove the existence of God.

Hoffman said the schools don't teach the intelligent design theory because it ultimately leads to discussions over a creator.

"The reason evolution is still in the school system is that once you move to discuss intelligent design, you almost invariably move to creation," said Hoffman. "In an effort to stay away from it, you teach bad science."

Hoffman also said that once intelligent design is taught, it will lead to discussion on other subjects that involve the reasons for creation and the role of God.

"Once you come to grips with a creator, you have to accept that there is more to it than that he simply created the universe and disappeared," said Hoffman. "Every Judeo-Christian group should be speaking up for creationism."

"The educational community has chosen to ignore the scientific community because they fear the religious community," said Hoffman. "I'm not saying to teach my faith; just to teach the best science."

Pelletier, who described himself as a conservative Republican and a Catholic, said intelligent design is a "non-Biblical higher power concept."

"There is some force behind the universe that may not be Yahweh. It's a bit more abstract and gets away form Yahway and Jesus," Pelletier said.

Pelletier said intelligent design does not conflict with the evolutionary theory because "Darwin's concern was with differentiation of the species rather than where it all began."

Pelletier said Darwin's ideas form a "very plausible theory." He said the strongest flaw is that there have been no definitive missing link found to show a direct connection between humans and apes.

"Even Darwin acknowledged significant gaps in his theory," Pelletier said. "We haven't found any missing links at all and that is troubling."

Pelletier said he first began to explore intelligent design last year after reading about efforts to include it in the curriculum at a Pennsylvania school.

Pelletier said the theory of creationism is "a little extreme" and that it would be difficult for a public schools system to teach creationism without violating the separation between church and state.

"Intelligent design should be taught in the schools," Pelletier said.

Lindsay Asdal, 17, said in an interview that she has only been taught the theory of evolution, natural selection and adaptation in school. She said there was brief discussion in the seventh grade about creationism as one theory for the origins of life.

But Asdal said the curriculum largely veers away from discussions about the origins of life.

"I'm a creationist," said Asdal. "I believe in the seven-day Biblical account of creation."

She said the schools should either teach about both creationism and evolution or should teach neither.

Harry Bullock, chairman of the science department for the West Morris Regional Board of Education, said in past years there have been occasional calls to include creationism in science classes. But Bullock said Darwin's theories are taught because they are the best science.

"The evidence is pretty overwhelming for evolution," he said. "We teach science but I have had students adamantly opposed to hearing about evolution."

According to Bullock, the creation theory cannot be scientifically tested and it therefore, can't be called a science.

"Faith is not science," he said.

Bullock said researchers in recent years have been able to track biochemical pathways to give strong evidence of links between species. He said he instructs students that it is "pretty much impossible" that any species came to life, fully-developed without evolving.

Bullock said current scientific theories can explain how life evolved but not how it began.

"The problems in explaining the first life forms are enormous," Bullock said. "The rest of evolution is explainable."

Bullock said he does not broach the religious aspects of how the first life was formed because of the separation between church and state and because of his own beliefs.

"I am of the opinion that there is no explanation" for the formation of the first life forms, Bullock said.

He said he refers students to other writings, in particular, to a book "Panspermia," written by genetic pioneer Francis Crick, who worked along with James Watson. In the book, Crick writes of "the virtual impossibility of forming life from non-living molecules."

But Bullock said the scientists and those who believe in a religious explanation have more in common than they differ.

"The irony is that if you are a biochemist and look at evolution from non-living to the first cells, you have just as much faith that it will be explained as those who say it won't be explained outside of the realm of intelligent design," said Bullock. "I'm not convinced that one argument of the other will ever win."

Anthony DiBattista, director of curriculum for the district, said creationism is not included in either the N.J. State Core Curriculum Standards, the International Baccalaureate or the college Boards Advance Placement guidelines.

©Recorder Newspapers 2005

Kansas Board Holds Evolution Hearings


Friday, May 06, 2005 5:01 p.m. ET
By JOHN HANNA Associated Press Writer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- As a State Board of Education subcommittee heard more testimony Friday on how evolution should be taught in Kansas classrooms, one member acknowledged that she hadn't read all of an evolution-friendly draft of science standards proposed by educators.

Kathy Martin of Clay Center made the comment while attempting to reassure a witness who said he hadn't read the entire proposal, just parts of it. Russell Carlson, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor at the University of Georgia, said he had reviewed an alternate proposal from intelligent design advocates.

"I've not read it word for word myself," Martin said of the other proposal, eliciting groans of disbelief from a few members of the audience.

The board expects to consider changes in June in how Kansas students are tested statewide on science. The three-member subcommittee began hearings Thursday, and will hear more testimony Saturday and again next Thursday.

"It's intellectually stimulating," said board Chairman Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, one of the three presiding members. "It's good information."

Similar battles have occurred in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the past few years.

The Kansas board has sought to avoid comparisons of its hearings with the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., in which teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating a law against teaching evolution. But the hearings resemble a trial, with attorneys managing each side's case.

In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education, with a conservative majority _ which included Abrams _ deleted most references to evolution in the science standards. The next election led to a less conservative board, which adopted the current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn before graduating high school.

Last year, conservatives captured a majority again, and many scientists fear the board will adopt revisions supported by intelligent design advocates. The conservative majority includes the three subcommittee members, Abrams; Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, and Connie Morris, of St. Francis.

Intelligent design advocates said they only want to expose students to more criticism of evolution, giving them a more balanced picture of the theory attributed to 19th Century British scientist Charles Darwin.

"The way Darwinian evolution is usually presented is that the evidence is overwhelming, and there is no controversy about it," said Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design research. "That's clearly not the case."

Intelligent design advocates question evolutionary science that says change in one species can lead to new species and that different species have common ancestors.

Intelligent design says some features in the natural world _ because they are complex and well-ordered _ are best explained by an intelligent cause.

None of the changes intelligent design advocates have proposed in the standards mention their ideas. But other scientists scoff at the notion that the board isn't being pushed to endorse intelligent design.

"The only things that exist in intelligent design literature are criticisms of evolution," said Keith Miller, a research assistant professor in geology at Kansas State University. "Who are the people they are bringing here to speak? Advocates of intelligent design."

Viewing the hearings as rigged against evolution, national and state science groups are boycotting, so no scientist is expected to testify against the intelligent design advocates' case.

Instead, they planned news conferences at the Statehouse. On display for the first one Thursday night was a wheel barrow and two crates full of copies of scientific journals _ to suggest evolution is well-documented.

On the Net:

State Board of Education: http://www.ksbe.state.ks.us

Kansas Citizens for Science: http://www.kcfs.org

Discovery Institute: http://www.discovery.org

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press.

Scientists, teachers fight for evolution


Friday, May 6, 2005

Trade groups, which also oppose teaching intelligent design theory in schools, focus on Kansas hearings.

By Peter Slevin / Washington Post

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Alarmed by proposals to change how evolution is taught, scientists and teachers are mobilizing to fight back, asserting that educational standards are being threatened by what they consider a stealth campaign to return creationism to public schools.

This week's battle is focused on Kansas where State Board of Education hearings began Thursday on evolution and intelligent design, a carefully marketed theory that challenges accepted understandings of the Earth's origins in favor of the idea that a creator played a guiding role.

Scientists warn that introducing challenges to evolution in the schools would weaken education, harm the economy and, as one paleontologist put it, open Kansas to ridicule as "the hayseed state." Science organizations are boycotting the hearings, but plan to offer daily critiques.

Teachers and trade groups around the country are working to build e-mail lists, lobby lawmakers and educate the public about the perceived perils of intelligent design. Lawyers are examining prospects for court challenges. Evolution's defenders would love to repeat the success of nuclear physicist Marshall Berman, who led a counterattack after winning a seat on the New Mexico education board.

The activism marks a tactical shift for scientists and educators who dismissed intelligent design as little more than a fad of the religious right, only to see the concept gain favor and media attention. Where experts previously treated the issue as a hyper-rational debate over evidence they consider beyond dispute, they are learning what their opponents long knew.

"It's a political battle. Education and evolution are hot-button items," said Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science. "Some scientists are starting to understand that this is a serious threat."

One goal is to show how few scientists around the world doubt evolutionary theory.

The Discovery Institute, the strongest voice behind intelligent design, at one point gathered the names of 356 scientists who questioned evolution. In response, the National Center for Science Education located 543 scientists named Steve -- including a few Stephanies -- who declared the evidence "overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry."

The science education center was created to fight the dilution of evolutionary theory. With an annual budget of about $700,000, the operation serves as a clearinghouse for worried teachers and citizen groups. Executive director Eugenie C. Scott rides the circuit, debating intelligent design proponents and giving speeches in what has become a growth industry.

"We know a phenomenal amount about evolution," Scott told hundreds of science teachers in Dallas recently. "The science in creationism is terrible."

Evolution opponents, who tend to be better funded, include the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that spends more than $1 million a year for research and multimedia efforts.

Jews eye 'intelligent design' hearings


By Jen Stone, Staff Writer May 06, 2005

Both Kansas rabbis and the Jewish community's church-state watchdogs are looking askance as the state Board of Education holds hearings this week in Topeka over whether to add "intelligent design" to school science curricula about human origins, alongside the theory of evolution.

While there is probably no local rabbi who would deny the supernatural origin of the universe, and of humans, as depicted in the Torah, neither do they wish to see it taught in the public schools.

Rabbi David Fine of the Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner said his thoughts on the debate are best summed up quoting Alan Mittleman, director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary:

"It doesn't seem to me that intelligent design theory really lives up to scientific standards. Having said that, I don't think science is the ultimate explanation of our world. Science is an elaborate conceptual game, but it's not the only game."

"I believe in intelligent design," said Rabbi Mark Levin of the Reform Congregation Beth Torah. "But it isn't science; it's theology." The rabbi said he believes in a divine intelligence behind the creation of the world and its natural laws.

And yet he sees the attempt to introduce the notion of "intelligent design" into schools as one that breaches the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

"It is clearly objectionable to teach theology as though it is science," said Rabbi Levin, "because ... it misinforms children and introduces religious faith into the public school system under the guise of science."

Morris B. Margolies, who is rabbi emeritus at Congregation Beth Shalom, said that intelligent design is "simply a phony renaming of creationism that has fallen out of favor even with some creationists, because they feel very susceptible to attack right now."

To him, Darwin's "illuminations" are no more subject to debate than Newton's Laws.

"There are too many of these diversions that are being exploited by people in power," Rabbi Margolies said. "They would rather have the press talk about Terry Schiavo than their own policies."

"I refuse to lend credibility to this pack of fanatics, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, who would deny what is clearly proven. ... As long as this administration, in its mendacity and its evil, remains in power, these fanatics who are re-arguing the Scopes Trial are going to be listened to."

Official stance

Judy Hellman, special projects coordinator of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee, said the local agency follows the AJCommittee's national position on the issue.

That group has issued "a clear statement to which we subscribe: creationism or creation science is not a scientific theory but a matter of religious faith," she said. It opposes laws mandating creation science's instruction alongside the theory of evolution.

A briefing paper from AJCommittee notes the group does not oppose reference to "creationism as a religious belief in elective courses, for example on comparative religion, at an age-appropriate level."

"Including that kind of teaching is very harmful to our students," said Hellman, "and is a great harm to our science curriculum. Our students need the best science courses available, because those are exactly the skills being required today."

Hellman said the current controversy shows what is at stake in school board races, both local and statewide, and she urged Jewish Americans to educate themselves and participate.

'Teaching atheism'

Which is not to say all Jewish Kansans oppose the introduction of "intelligent design" into the school science curriculum. Richard Nadler, the Republican political operative and vice president of the Access Communications Group whose caustic manner recently got him booted from KCPT TV's "Ruckus" panel show, says Darwin is bunk.

"Neo-Darwinism is a theory of macroevolution by random mutation and natural selection," Nadler said. "The fact that people believe it's a cornerstone of science is absolute rubbish."

While he identifies himself as an Orthodox Jew, Nadler delights in taking on scientific and political orthodoxies.

"I am challenging natural selection as a science," he said. "The biological universe is much better defined as a created thing than as a random thing."

He asserted that recent bio-technological advances are pointing to an intelligent creator.

"Gene mapping was the death of everything that you and I learned about evolution in school," Nadler said. Advancements in the field of genetics, he said, are leading to the conclusion that man "did not descend from the Neanderthal or the great ape."

And Nadler holds to the view, often expressed on the American political right, that to exclude divine theories of human origin from school science curricula is, itself, discriminatory.

"The notion that church and state should be separated to the extent that the notion of a creator couldn't be mentioned in schools I find utterly repugnant," Nadler said. "It's tantamount to teaching atheism."

Nadler waved away any concern by Jewish parents that their children might be taught a Christian-inflected view of creation in future Kansas science classrooms.

"I'm a private-school advocate," he said. "If you are concerned that Jewish kids are going to be educated in non-Jewish ways, send them to a Jewish school."

©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2005

Echoes of Scopes Trial heard in 'intelligent design' hearing


Kansas panel eyeing school science change
By Nina J. Easton, Globe Staff | May 6, 2005

TOPEKA, Kan. -- The state's board of education yesterday kicked off a spirited four-day hearing on proposed changes to school science standards that could determine how evolution is taught to the children of Kansas -- five years after voters rebelled against a state school board that had sided with creationists.

Employing a courtroom format similar to the famed 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennessee that pitted creationists against evolutionists, the dispute seemed similar -- only this time evolution's critics insist science, not religion, is their motivation.

Instead of relying on pens, these lawyers used PowerPoint projections in an auditiorium packed with local residents and journalists from around the world. The ''jury" consisted of three school board members who had already made up their minds -- a veterinarian, an elementary school teacher, and a former preschool operator. All three continued to make clear, as they have in the past, their personal doubts about evolutionary theory.

Yesterday's witnesses studiously avoided references to God and Christianity, flaunted their scientific credentials, and tossed around words like ''reasoned," ''empirical," and ''peer review" as they touted intelligent design theory. Intelligent design, a relatively new twist to criticisms of evolution, posits that certain aspects of the universe -- particularly the origins of life -- are too complex to explain through natural causes, and that scientists should be willing to attribute mysteries to an ''intelligent designer." Critics say the theory is just creationism dressed up as science.

The proposed change to school standards ''does not introduce religion. It does not introduce creationism," insisted William S. Harris, a professor of medicine credited with groundbreaking research on fish oil's role in combating heart disease and cofounder of a Kansas group, the Intelligent Design Network.

Scientists opposing changes to state standards boycotted the hearing, saying the session was rigged to showcase intelligent design theory. Harry McDonald, a retired biology teacher and president of Kansas Citizens for Science, called the hearings a ''farce."

''These are whiney people who haven't done good science on this issue," he said in an interview. ''They haven't gotten their work accepted through peer review, and so they go crying to the school board."

Intelligent design advocates are actively promoting teaching their critiques of evolutionary theory in at least 16 states besides Kansas, though in yesterday's hearings they stressed they do not argue in favor of forcing the teaching of their own theory. They point to public opinion polls indicating that only a third of Americans believe Darwin's theories are supported by the evidence.

Opponents say intelligent design is stripped of references to God so as not to cross legal lines set in 1987 when the Supreme Court outlawed the teaching of creation science.

While mainstream scientists are refusing to send witnesses to the Topeka hearings, they tapped one of the Midwest's top civil rights lawyers, Pedro Irigonegaray, to question proponents of the intelligent design. In cross-examinations, Irigonegaray made the case that Kansas teachers and students already have the right to criticize and debate both evolution and intelligent design, that intelligent design advocates had religious motivations, and that reliance on intelligent design risked thwarting scientific inquiry.

The proposed changes, which are being promoted by a three-person school board subcommittee that was not part of the original revision process, would inject language into statewide standards that are critical of macroevolution theory, which refers to evolutionary changes that can result in new species.

Intelligent design advocates say they embrace microevolution -- evolutionary changes within a species. They also want students exposed to evidence challenging Darwin's theory that human and animals share ancestry, and arguments that the origins of life cannot be reduced to chemical reactions.

Both sides agree that the current school standards do not address origins of life, do allow intelligent design to be discussed, and do not refer to evolution as random or ''unguided."

In 1999, a Kansas school board controlled by religious conservatives voted to downplay the importance of evolution in the standards. The following year, voters recast the school board with moderates back in control.

In media briefings conducted outside yesterday's ''courtroom," science groups questioned the religious motivations of witnesses appearing on behalf of intelligent design.

Harris, the day's first witness, acknowledged his ''designer" would be ''the God of the Bible" and that his interest in school standards dates back to 1999, when antievolutionists were more openly called creationists. He also said that reading ''between the lines," the standards embraced atheism and naturalism.

Ginkgo May Ease Some Attention Problems in MS


Larger Studies Needed, Researcher Cautions

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Medical News Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
on Friday, May 06, 2005

May 6, 2005 -- New research shows that ginkgo biloba may help ease attention problems related to multiple sclerosismultiple sclerosis (MS).

Ginkgo biloba is derived from the leaves of the ginkgo tree. It's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years for various ailments.

Several studies suggest it improves mental function and protects nerves in some patients with Alzheimer's disease. This new study shows that ginkgo biloba may help people with multiple sclerosis.ginkgo biloba may help people with multiple sclerosis.

A small, brief study "suggests that ginkgo biloba may be effective in improving attention in MS patients with cognitive dysfunction," write the researchers, who included Jesus Lovera, MD, of Oregon Health & Science University's neurology department.

However, ginkgo needs to be tested in much larger trials, says Lovera, in a news release.

"The study suggests that for cognitive problems, it may only help a certain group of patients," he says, adding that ginkgo's safety and efficacy also need to be examined. "We need to study this further."

The findings were presented in Miami Beach, Fla., at the American Academy of Neurology's 57th Annual Meeting.

Study's Findings

A total of 39 people took part in the study. All had been diagnosed with MS and had some impairment in learning, memory, or speed of information processing.

First, participants took several tests on mental function skills. Then they were assigned to take a placebo or ginkgo biloba (120 milligrams twice daily) for three months. After that, they took the tests again.

The ginkgo group outperformed the placebo group on one -- but not all -- of the tests.

That task -- called the "Stroop test" -- had several steps. First, people were shown colored boxes and asked to name the color of each box. Next, they were instructed to read color names printed in ink of a different color (such as "green" written in red ink). The test takes advantage of our ability to read words more quickly and automatically than we can name colors.

Lastly, they described the ink used for each word.

Time Improved

The ginkgo group shaved four seconds off their time on the Stroop test, a 13% decrease compared with their performance prior to starting ginkgo. The placebo group's time remained unchanged.

Note for Supplement Takers

The researchers don't recommend or reject ginkgo. Their study was designed as an initial test, not the final word on the topic.

People considering any dietary or herbal supplements should do their homework and talk with their health care providers, says the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

"Take charge of your health by being an informed consumer," says the NCCAM's web site. That's good advice with any type of medical treatment.

Tell your doctor about any supplements (including vitamins) you take so that he or she can work to avoid harmful drug interactions.

SOURCES: American Academy of Neurology 57th Annual Meeting, Miami Beach, Fla., April 9-16, 2005. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, "Are You Considering Using Complementary and Alternative Medicine?"

© 2005 WebMD Inc In Kansas, Darwinism Goes on Trial Once More http://us.f603.mail.yahoo.com/ym/login?.rand=bl70n2u2av0c0

May 6, 2005


TOPEKA, Kan., May 5 - Six years after Kansas ignited a national debate over the teaching of evolution, the state is poised to push through new science standards this summer requiring that Darwin's theory be challenged in the classroom.

In the first of three daylong hearings being referred to here as a direct descendant of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee, a parade of Ph.D.'s testified Thursday about the flaws they saw in mainstream science's explanation of the origins of life. It was one part biology lesson, one part political theater, and the biggest stage yet for the emerging movement known as intelligent design, which posits that life's complexity cannot be explained without a supernatural creator.

Darwin's defenders are refusing to testify at the hearings, which were called by the State Board of Education's conservative majority. But their lawyer forcefully cross-examined the other side's experts, pushing them to acknowledge that nothing in the current standards prevented discussion of challenges to evolution, and peppering them with queries both profound and personal.

"Do the standards state anywhere that science, evolution, is in any way in conflict with belief in God?" the lawyer, Pedro Irigonegaray, asked William S. Harris, a chemist who helped write the proposed changes.

When a later witness, Jonathan Wells, said he enjoyed being in the minority on such a controversial topic, Mr. Irigonegaray retorted, "More than being right?"

If the board adopts the new standards, as expected, in June, Kansas would join Ohio, which took a similar step in 2002, in mandating students be taught that there is controversy over evolution. Legislators in Alabama and Georgia have introduced bills this season to allow teachers to challenge Darwin in class, and the battle over evolution is simmering on the local level in 20 states.

While the proposed standards for Kansas do not specifically mention intelligent design - and many of its supporters prefer to avoid any discussion of it - critics contend they would open the door not just for those teachings, but to creationism, which holds to the Genesis account of God as the architect of the universe.

For Kansas, the debate is déjà vu: the last time the state standards were under review, in 1999, conservatives on the school board ignored their expert panel and deleted virtually any reference to evolution, only to be ousted in the next election.

But over the next few years anti-evolution forces regained the seats. And now, the board's 6-to-4 anti-evolution majority plans to embrace 20 suggestions promoted by advocates of intelligent design and are using this week's showcase to help persuade the public. "I was hoping these hearings would help me have some good hard evidence that I could repeat," Connie Morris, an anti-evolution board member, said in thanking one witness.

Sighing was Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, a physics teacher who took an unpaid day off from Hays High School to attend the hearings. "Kansas has been through this before," she said. "I'm really tired of going to conferences and being laughed at because I'm from Kansas."

The proposed changes to the state's science standards would edit everything from the introduction to notes advising teachers on specific benchmarks for individual grades. Perhaps the most significant shift would be in the very definition of science - instead of "seeking natural explanations for what we observe around us," the new standards would describe it as a "continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena."

Local school districts devise curriculums in Kansas, as in most other states, but the standards provide a template by outlining what will be covered on the statewide science tests, given every other year in grades 4, 7 and 10.

Even as they described their own questioning of evolution as triggered by religious conversion, the experts testifying Thursday avoided mention of a divine creator, instead painting their position as simply one of open-mindedness, arguing that Darwinism had become a dangerous dogma.

"There is no science without criticism," said Charles Thaxton, a chemist and co-author of the 1984 book "The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories."

"Any science that weathers the criticism and survives is a better theory for it," Mr. Thaxton said.

But the debate was as much about religion and politics as science and education, with Mr. Irigonegaray pressing witnesses to find mentions of the theories they were denouncing, like humanism and naturalism, in the standards, and asking whether they believed all scientists were atheists. He largely ignored their detailed briefings to ask each man if he believed Homo sapiens descended from pre-hominids (most said no) and how old he thought earth was (most agreed on 4.5 billion years.)

"These people are going to obfuscate about these definitions," complained Jack Krebs, vice president of the pro-evolution Kansas Citizens for Science, whose members filled many of the 180 auditorium seats not taken by journalists, who came from as far away as France. "They have created a straw man. They are trying to make science stand for atheism, so they can fight atheism."

Convened 80 years, to the day, after John Scopes was arrested for teaching Darwin's theory to his Dayton, Tenn., high school class, the hearings were cut back from six days when the evolutionists decided not to present witnesses.

Beaming from a laptop to a wide screen, the scientists showed textbook pictures of chicken, turtle and human embryos to try to undermine the notion that all species had a common ancestry. Diagrams of complex RNA molecules were offered as evidence of a designed universe. Dr. Harris displayed a brochure for his Intelligent Design Network, which is based in Kansas, depicting a legal scale with "design" and "evolution" on each side and the words "religion" and "naturalism" crossed out in favor of "Scientific Method."

"You can infer design just by examining something, without knowing anything about where it came from," Dr. Harris said, offering as an example "The Gods Must be Crazy," a film in which Africans marvel at a Coke bottle that turns up in the desert. "I don't know who did it, I don't know how it was done, I don't know why it was done, I don't have to know any of that to know that it was designed."

Across the street, where the evolutionists tried to entice reporters with sandwiches and snacks, Bob Bowden, an agricultural researcher at Kansas State University, denounced the hearings as a "kangaroo court."

"When the power shifted on that board, we knew on that day that we lost," said Dr. Bowden, who has children in the 7th and 12th grades. "It's bogus."

But Linda Holloway, a member of the 1999 state board that dumped evolution, said the mainstream scientists' failure to participate in the hearings signaled that "they're afraid to be cross-examined, they're afraid to defend their theory."

Erika Heikl, 16, one of 14 students from Bishop Seabury Academy, a Christian school in Lawrence, Kan., who attended the hearings, said she believed in evolution - and that the standards should be changed to include its detractors.

"Your views won't change just from being taught that," Erika said. "You'll understand it more."


Myth About Japan Blood Types Under Attack

Associated Press Writer

May 5, 2005, 2:05 PM EDT

TOKYO -- To many Japanese, the key to their personality lies not in their stars but in their blood type. Type A's, they believe, are perfectionists and make good accountants; Type B's are sociable but selfish.

Now one of Japan's favorite pop beliefs is running into accusations of abuse and discrimination, with critics saying it is being used to assign jobs, match couples, even pigeonhole schoolchildren.

Irate scientists are attacking the theory in books and Web pages. Magazines are examining the debate in articles with titles like, "Don't bully Type B."

The debunkers point out that blood type is determined by the proteins in the blood -- hardly a determinant of character. "It's mere superstition," says Tatsuya Sato, associate professor of psychology at Ritsumeikan University. "Linking blood type and personality is not only unscientific, it's wrong."

Ryoichi Kikuchi of the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization, says his watchdog group has fielded hundreds of complaints.

"Viewers are now complaining about their children being bullied at school, couples breaking up and bosses treating underlings unfairly -- all because of blood type prejudice," he said.

Newspaper polls show only 20 percent of Japanese say they're convinced that blood type influences personality. But the theory, imported from its Nazi supporters and adopted by Tokyo's militarist government in the 1930s, is wildly popular nonetheless. It is also widespread in South Korea.

Blood type personality analysis appears regularly in Japanese women's magazines. Last year alone, more than 50 television shows dwelled on the subject. Matchmaking agencies offer blood type compatibility tests.

It is considered perfectly acceptable to ask a person's blood type and make it public. Blood types are listed in Japan's "Who's Who in Politics and Government." Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is an A, though his permed hair, in-your-face political style and fondness for pop music hardly fit the accountant stereotype.

Japanese television recently showed children at the Oi Nursery School in Saitama, just outside Tokyo, being divided into four groups according to blood type to compare how they eat snacks, clean garbage or take off their shoes at the door. The school declined a request for comment.

The theory has been around for decades, but its dark past is little known.

The discovery of blood types in 1901 was one of the greatest advances in medical history, but the breakthrough was then perverted by the Nazis to claim the superiority of Germans -- mostly types A and O -- over Jews, Asians and others with a larger proportion of type B blood.

The theory reached Japan in a 1927 psychologist's report, and the militarist government of the time commissioned a study aimed at breeding better soldiers.

The craze faded in the 1930s as its unscientific basis became evident. But it was revived in the 1970s with a book by Masahiko Nomi, an advocate and broadcaster with no medical background.

About 40 percent of Japanese are type A, 30 percent are O, 20 percent are B and 10 percent are AB. O's are said to be decisive and curious, while AB's are supposedly complex and suited for research and art.

The late Nomi's son, Toshikata, heads a private group called the Human Science ABO Center and stands by the theory. He says it's not intended to rank people and should be only used to make the best of one's talent and smooth out relationships.

"A, B and O blood classification is an effective, common indicator that can judge human beings regardless of race and religion," he said.

Sakumi Itabashi doesn't buy it. A liberal arts professor and author of "The Myth of Fortunetelling," he blames the craze on a national passion for efficiency and order.

"People want to find a rule in everything, including personality, because that makes things more predictable and they feel more secure," he said.


WHAT'S NEW Friday, May 06, 2005


State Board of Education Hearings on teaching evolution in Kansas schools began yesterday in Topeka. A string of PhD witnesses proved that a PhD is not an inoculation against foolishness. One of the first was Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. A graduate of Unification Theological Seminary, Wells was "chosen" by Sun Myung Moon to enter a PhD program. He was inspired to, "devote my life to destroying Darwinism." Wells went on to earn a PhD in Theology from Yale and a PhD in Biology from UC Berkeley. Another witness against evolution is Mustafa Akyol, the spokesman for a fundamentalist Muslim organization in Istanbul that intimidates teachers into giving the Genesis account of creation. Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, one of the science organizations boycotting the hearings, complained that, "they are trying to make science stand for atheism." Of course that's what they're trying to do, but it's also true that many scientists are atheists. After all, we assume that events have natural causes. As we learn more about causes, God's domain keeps shrinking, or at least moving, like God's Little Acre in the Erskine Calwell novel. I leave the extrapolation to the reader.


Yesterday was also the 54th annual National Day of Prayer. In an East Room ceremony, President Bush said, "Freedom is our birthright because the Creator wrote it into our common human nature." Sigh. He went on to say "we celebrate the freedom to pray as you wish, or not at all." Oh good. On Capitol Hill, Tom DeLay (R-TX), speaking from his soapbox in the Cannon House Office Building, called for spending, "less time on our soapboxes and more time on our knees."


Last week, WN pointed out that media stories about a UCLA neutron generator were, uh, uninformed. High-energy deuterium ions strike a deuterium-loaded target. Now and then you get d-d fusion, as Rutherford did in 1934. The new wrinkle is a pyroelectric crystal to generate the accelerating voltage. The Economist on April 30 totally mangled the story, referring to it as cold fusion in an editorial (it's VERY hot fusion). The story speaks of "energy from crystals" (groan), and winds up with Dr. McCoy on Star Trek.


Presented by the Heinz Family Foundation since 1994, the $250,000 prizes recognize individual achievement across a spectrum of activity. Of the six recipients of this year's award, two served as president of the APS. Sidney Drell of Stanford was APS president in 1986. A theorist and arms control advisor, he received the award for contributions in the "Public Policy" category. Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT was APS president in 1984, formerly at MIT, scientist, researcher, educator and trailblazer for women in the sciences was the recipient in the category of "Technology, the Economy and Employment." It was a joy to have worked for them both.


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

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Faith in the Departed


A recent Beliefnet survey reveals that there are people of many religious traditions who believe they 'see dead people.'

By Lisa Schneider

Jamie Foxx talks to his late grandmother. The most poignant (and reportedly the most TIVO'd) moment of this year's Academy Awards ceremony was when the Oscar winner expressed gratitude for his grandmother's formative teachings and explained that even though she's passed on, "she still talks to me now—only now she talks to me in my dreams." Before walking off the stage he told the audience of 42.1 million viewers that he couldn't wait to get to sleep that night because "we got a lot to talk about."

Many Beliefnet readers also seem to have a lot to say to their deceased loved ones. In a recent online Beliefnet survey, 10,000 people answered detailed questions about how they communicate, or do not communicate, with the dead. A striking 69% of respondents indicated that they have attempted to talk to the dead, and many believe they've succeeded in making contact.

Our survey asked our readers if they had ever consulted a medium or psychic (21% said yes), used a Ouija board (28%), or participated in a séance (14%). But the vast majority said they attempted to communicate with loved ones directly without resorting to outside help—through prayer and meditation (63%) and speaking to them aloud or in their minds (69%). A final question, "Have you ever felt as if a dead person was trying to communicate with you?" elicited more than 3,800 essay responses. The testimonials detail everything from the spirit of a dead cat appearing in a woman's lap to a deceased son giving his mother one last hug in a dream. Others used the essay space to submit a simple, emphatic "No"—often in all capital letters, with multiple exclamation points.

But the skeptics were greatly outnumbered. Clearly, most people in this survey audience indicated that they reach across a divide to dead loved ones as a matter of course. Their stories and experiences, whether you credit them or not, reveal a vast and varied landscape of beliefs that warrants a closer look.

What It Feels Like

What's it like to contact the dead? Here's how some of our users describe their experiences:

"It's like chills going up your spine. It's like someone's in the room with you and they're watching you, but you can't really see them."

"I feel a rush of cold air, something will brush against my neck."

"It's more like a voice in my head—when I ask for guidance from angels, guardians, and guides, I sometimes hear the answer in my head. Or I simply feel their presence and know they are working on my behalf."

"They appear before me like a hologram in my mind, meaning they aren't in the air space in front of me. Then we converse, like the living. No big deal."

"After losing my best friend to a sudden, accidental death, I dreamed of him. I saw him as clear as I did in life... that visit from him came to give me great peace and comfort."

"My brother who was killed in a car accident often visited me by sitting in the passenger seat of my truck for several years after. Sometimes he would just be there, other times he would send comforting 'hugs' in my head."

What the Dead Have to Say

Jamie Foxx notwithstanding, Hollywood tends to depict close encounters with the dead as very scary or at least somewhat creepy: witness the ghostly twin girls in "The Shining," visions of corpses in "Sixth Sense," and the girl in the well in "The Ring." But most of those responding to the Beliefnet survey seemed to consider contact with the dead a comforting part of their lives, and only 2.4% classified their experiences "negative."

Although presumably most people do not confer about how these things happen—receiving messages from the dead is rarely cocktail or water-cooler conversation—we found a surprising number of common themes. Many respondents believe passed loved ones were watching over or protecting them, assuring the living that they're O.K., or delivering a final message. One respondent writes of her son, who died when he was just three weeks old, "Suddenly I had this feeling that my baby son had entered the room and that he had come to say goodbye. It was a very real experience, leaving me tearful and shaky."

Although several people write about being visited by spirits they don't recognize, the overwhelming majority of people see visions of loved ones whom they are mourning. Carol Staudacher, a grief counselor and the author of "A Time To Grieve," believes these experiences can be very therapeutic. "The most important qualities of these visitations are that they most often offer sustenance to the survivor and provide a unique peace that cannot be achieved in any other context or with any other person.

The heartfelt essays of our readers offer compelling evidence that connecting with the dead can have a powerful impact on those dealing with a significant loss. For example, a mother coping with the suicide of her son writes about how the paramedics would not allow her to hug him before they took his body away: "About three or four months after he died, I met him in my dreams and told him I didn't think I was going to make it. That regret of not just doing it, instead of listening to someone else, was killing me. He replied 'I'm here now, Mom. Hug me now.' So I did and kissed him on the top of the head. I truly believe that experience helped me to continue on my healing journey."

John Edward, the psychic medium famous for his "Crossing Over" television show, told us that his clients, who go to him with the express purpose of contacting the dead, are seeking "answers about consciousness after death," and want to believe that "their loved ones are still a part of their lives." Indeed, many of our survey-takers cited messages along the lines of "I never left you, I'll always be with you."

Other deceased loved ones have advice for those they've left behind: "My mother came to me in a dream. All she did was point her finger at me and say, 'Quit smoking!'" Some respondents received messages particularly when they were going through a rough time in their lives, like one who wrote, "When I am troubled or stressed they communicate through dreams to point me in the right direction." One person said he hears voices in his head saying "Stop" or "Watch it" that have helped him avoid car accidents. And the ghost of one woman's mother-in-law continues to give her recipes from the afterlife.

However, not all messages from beyond the grave are helpful or comforting. One woman writes of recurring visits from people who died in a nightclub fire in her town. For weeks she would awaken to the smell of smoke and hear voices. "I am scared to let them talk or show themselves to me so I usually tell them to go away," she says. "They try to have me feel what it was like to burn to death alive. I have seen visions of this and it is terrifying."

Still other visitations offer glimpses of an afterlife. A deceased aunt has told her niece she is "with Jesus and he is handsome." Another voice from the spirit world describes death as "a freeing and amazing experience." A departed father has a more ambivalent message for his son: "Being dead takes some getting used to, but you'll like it."

Signs From Beyond the Grave

People who believe they communicate with the dead recount many different ways of contact, but we found many common experiences—ranging from feeling soft breezes in a windowless room to hearing clanging pots and pans coming out of nowhere. Among the most frequently cited phenomena involves a variety of smells: Dad's cigarette smoke, Mom's rose-scented perfume, even Grandma's Ben Gay wafting through a room long after any traces should have faded. Most people found these smells reassuring. As one respondent wrote, " I have been in my house and have been suddenly surrounded by the smell of my late mother's perfume as if to let me know she was near me and watching over me."

Some people find evidence of lost loved ones' presence in seemingly mundane incidents—finding coins on the street or in odd places, a grandfather's favorite bird perching on a windowsill, a butterfly alighting on their shoulder, or "lost" items appearing out of the blue. Certainly one person's coincidence is another's message from the beyond. On a visit to the grave of her best friend, one woman writes about her "check engine" light suddenly blinking, noting that it had never lit up before and that she has no problems with her car. She said, "I felt it was an acknowledgement that I was there and he knew."

By far, the most common point of contact is through dreams. Ninety-two percent of respondents indicate they have dreamed about dead people—and though we can't be sure how many think these visions were actual souls or spirits trying to communicate, many respondents did share stories of dream visits they believed were real.

Many people were visited in dreams by loved ones who wanted to say goodbye. One respondent nodded off in class before hearing the voice of her grandmother, who told her "She was sorry that I could not be with her, but she had to go now." When she woke up she was called to the principal's office—not for sleeping in class—but to receive the message that her grandmother had just died.

John Edward believes that dreams are the most accessible way for the dead to reach us, where "the mind becomes the playground of the soul." In other cases, the kitchen (or the bedroom, or the living room) becomes the playground for mischievous spirits that make themselves known via objects misplaced, toys playing by themselves, and electrical hijinks. A whopping 56% of respondents claim to have experienced paranormal activity. One wrote that after her mother died, "The TV and stereo would turn on during the night or early morning. Randomly. Even when unplugged." Another person thought he heard the garbled voice of his dead father in the house alarm box, and had the distinct feeling that it was "from the depths of somewhere."


The religious group most likely to talk to the dead was the Wiccans, while those who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" came in a close second. Among Christians we found some of the most passionate responses—both for and vehemently against the whole idea of communicating with the dead. However, respondents of all faiths represented in the survey shared stories of supernatural encounters, and even among the atheists/agnostics, we found such testimonials.


There was no consensus among Christians about what to make of contact with the dead. While some seemed to consider communication with the dead "evil" or "a dangerous occult activity" (10.4%—higher than any other faith) and generally wouldn't touch a ghost with a 10-foot Ouija board, 50% classified their experiences as positive, and many indicated that they felt profound comfort in supernatural interaction, sometimes deeming the ability to communicate with the dead a "privilege" or a "gift from God."

Of those who dismissed the idea altogether, many alluded to scripture, and in particular, referred to 2 Corinthians 5:8: "The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," wrote one respondent. In other words, once you're dead, your spirit is with God and not roaming around the earth spooking (or comforting) your living relatives. Others believe that if loved ones do seem to appear, it's actually the devil in disguise: "Satan does use familiar spirits to make us think the dead 'speak' with us. But it is simply a way to try to move us away from our close relationship with God."

Many other Christians seemed to consider their encounters with the dead deeply spiritual experiences: "I have seen saints or passed-on loved ones in the spirit when I am praying. I feel this is a gift from God to encourage, exhort, or comfort through the Holy Spirit when I am missing them, or need assurance I am not alone. I know I always have Jesus, but it helps." Another person wrote that God sends angels to the living to "remind us of our dead loved ones."

After the death of her best friend, another Christian "asked for a sign" and then felt someone touch her in a dream: "It was as if the hand of God had touched me. It felt like pure love. I awoke and I could still feel the hand still patting my head. The feeling was of love and awe. Joy flooded my body and soul and removed some of the darkness of her death."

Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims

Most faiths had their skeptics, although the reasons for doubt differed. Overall, 12.8% believe "the dead cannot communicate with the living in any way," and 23.7% aren't sure if it's possible. In response to the essay question, "Have you ever felt as if a dead person was trying to communicate with you?" there were hundreds of answers saying "no" or "never" and some along the lines of "Don't be ridiculous" and "Only poor, deluded folks fall for it."

In a virtual tie for least likely to have "felt the presence of a dead person" were Muslims (38%) and those who consider themselves atheist or agnostic (37%)—compared to 68% of respondents overall. But even among these groups, people wrote in with detailed and often moving stories of contact with the dead.

One Muslim wrote of spirits or guardians who come to him to "give me strength when I am weak," and believes "These spirits were once humans whose occupations were Muslim sheikhs and healers." Another Muslim objected to the idea of communication altogether: "We should allow them to live in their world with calm and only pray for them."

Of those who checked off "atheist/agnostic" for faith, 46% believe "the dead cannot communicate in any way"—a number much higher than any other faith. But others indicated that they have felt the presence of the dead and 33% have used to a Ouija board to attempt to make contact. One writes of an apparition that appears to him during crises: "An angel type vision appears in my eyes when closed; she is near a waterfall and helps me think of a solution or way to get help."

Jewish respondents were more likely than those of any other faith to check "I don't know" in response to whether communication with the dead is possible (39%), Hindus were next at 31.3%, and then Buddhists (28.8%). Nevertheless, respondents from all three groups related stories of supernatural communication.

One Jewish respondent wrote that after death, "the soul returns to G-d and exists in another dimension not perceivable by flesh humanity." Another, who explained, "I am not a psychic. I am just a simple Jewish Rabbi," said that the dead appeared to him in dreams requesting he "help them transition to the afterlife more easily."

One Buddhist wrote of contact through dreams and "physical pushes" that often guided his direction. But another found the notion not worthy of attention: "Talking to the dead takes one's mind away from the true nature of human suffering."

A Hindu reader, whose religion incorporates the belief in reincarnation, believes the spirit of her daughter was reborn in her son. " I know she is reborn to me because my little son gives me the feeling always that he is her."


Wiccans in the survey seem to have the closest relationship with the dead. They are most likely to believe "The souls of the dead protect the living as angels or spirit guides" (62%), and 70% of them believe they have "spoken with the spirit of someone who has died"—compared with 25% of respondents overall.

Two wrote about incidents that occurred during Samhain (Oct. 31, a Wiccan holiday that focuses on honoring the dead). One woman, whose mother died when she was a child, said she saw her mother during a ritual, 31 years after her death. "I looked up and noticed that the Moon was shining brightly, and there was a beautiful double ring, or halo around it. I felt as if my mother was there holding me in her arms, and gently weeping for the lost relationship that we might have shared if she had lived."

"Spiritual But Not Religious"

Respondents who don't identify with any one particular faith and consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" comprised, after Christians, the largest group, making up 18.4% of respondents overall. They were more likely than the average respondent to have "seen a sign from one who has died" (73% compared with 57% of all survey-takers) and to have contacted a psychic or medium to contact the dead (37% compared with 21% overall). One wrote "It is as normal to me as talking to a living person," and another said "it's just a part of my life."

Their experiences were overwhelmingly positive. One writes, "I was asleep one night after my mother died and having a rough time. I woke up with a feeling like when someone brushes your hair back. I responded with 'Thank You Mom,' because somehow I knew it was her." Another "spiritual but not religious" person writes that her deceased brother often appears out of the corner of her eye in the passenger seat of her pickup truck. She considers his visits "a special treat."

Is contact with the dead something many people wish for? Our survey said yes--and revealed a certain wistfulness among those who hadn't succeeded. One user, in response to whether she'd ever communicated with a dead person, wrote, "Never. I wish."

Perhaps she is setting the bar too high. Of those who believe the dead have contacted them not all think the experience has to come in the form of visitations or poltergeist-type activity. Others believe that there is a more subtle connection that the living can tap into—if they are open to it. One respondent writes: "I believe the communication between the living and the dead may be as simple as hearing your answer in the words of the next song you hear, words on a billboard, in a newspaper, or the utterances of a stranger on the street. We only need to listen and look for the answers and not expect to hear the exact 'voice' of a person who has passed on."

Lisa Schneider is a Beliefnet editor.

Debating Darwinism


Starting today, the Kansas Board of Education will begin a six-day debate on the state's science standards, specifically the teaching of Darwinian evolution. On one side there will be about two dozen skeptics of Darwinism and proponents of an alternative theory of evolution known as intelligent design. And on the other side there will be a trial lawyer, Pedro Irigonegaray, who has volunteered to defend Darwin.

If this seems one-sided, that's because the Darwinian scientists have chosen to boycott the debate, which is surprising since Darwinian theory is still the accepted standard within the scientific community. Their reason for doing so, at least according to Mr. Irigonegaray, is that "[t]o debate evolution is similar to debating whether the earth is round. It is an absurd proposition." But that's not entirely fair. Nearly 400 scientists have signed a statement of dissent from Darwin's theory. Moreover, Darwinian skeptics and ID theorists don't question evolution, at least as it's understood as species changing over time.

The fact is that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is not infallible. It hasn't been since Darwin himself acknowledged that gaps in the fossil record could eventually undermine his theory of common descent. One of those gaps occurs right before the Cambrian Explosion -- a biological "big bang" that happened about 530 million years ago. Scientists have been unable to uncover clear precursors to the huge amount of new species that arose from the explosion. Their failure has led many to wonder if all life forms indeed branched off from a common ancestor, as Darwin theorized.

Of course, to explain anomalies like the Cambrian Explosion requires a little imagination -- hence the theory of intelligent design. Put simply, ID theory rejects the role that random mutations play in evolution. To account for evolutionary change, and as a way of making sense of life systems so complex that randomness couldn't possibly account for it all, ID theorists prefer the notion that an "intelligent cause" guides change. It is on this point that ID theory departs so dramatically from Darwin.

It is also why Darwinists reject ID scientists as a bunch of creationists. Again, this is unfair -- but also beyond the scope of the Kansas debate. The scientists joining the debate in Topeka aren't necessarily interested in replacing Darwin with ID theory, and certainly not with the Biblical account of creation. For them, Darwin's theory is so riddled with holes that to teach it to students unquestioningly is a disservice and inimical to the definition of science.

And it is just this legitimate scientific debate that Darwinists refuse to have. "The defense of Darwin's theory ... has fallen into the hands of biologists who believe in suppressing criticism when possible and ignoring it when not," wrote David Berlinski recently in the Wichita Eagle. Mr. Berlinski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is widely recognized as a leading Darwinian skeptic. He continues, "It is not a strategy calculated to induce confidence in the scientific method." It also doesn't help our students.

Scientific Steves back evolution


Posted on Thu, May. 05, 2005

Yes, scientists do have a sense of humor, even when it comes to doubters of evolution.

Consider Project Steve, a tongue-in-cheek effort to counter claims that there is growing skepticism about evolution in the scientific community.

Project Steve was launched after the Discovery Institute published a statement of dissent from Darwinian evolution that was signed by nearly 400 scientists. The Seattle-based organization supports changing Kansas science curriculum to include criticisms of evolution.

The National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which defends teaching evolution in public schools, responded with a statement of its own that there is no serious scientific doubt evolution occurred.

Only scientists named Steve have been allowed to sign it. The name was chosen in honor of the late Harvard paleontologist and evolution theorist Stephen Jay Gould.

About 560 scientists have signed the statement, including the noted physicist Stephen Hawking, and Steven Weinberg and Steven Chu, the only Nobel Prize winners named Steve.

— Alan Bavley/The Star

Representatives on both sides discuss views


May 05, 2005


Witnesses for the minority report in the State Board of Education science hearings that begin today in Topeka vow not to argue for intelligent design, a theory that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of life.

"The arching message to be made by Discovery Institute fellows and others is that there are valid scientific criticisms of the Darwinian theory," said John West, senior fellow for the institute, a leading research facility on intelligent design based in Seattle. "Students should also hear about some dissenting views in science."

West said Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require teaching intelligent design through science standards or local school districts.

"The point is to teach more about Darwin's theory of evolution. This represents a change from the last time around when the effort was to deemphasize evolution. Now we advocate teaching more, including criticisms already raised in peer scientific literature."

A majority of the 24 pro-ID witnesses assembled for this week's hearings are scientists, West said, undermining the argument of opponents who say there are no scientists who question Darwin's theory. He mentioned biology professors from the University of Wisconsin and Lehigh and a professor of genetics from Cornell University who are in favor of teaching scientific criticisms of the theory.

Giuseppe Sermonti, from Italy, a genetics professor and editor of one of the oldest biology journals in world, will testify. He once wrote, "Darwinism is the politically correct of science."

"These people are not supposed to exist, according to the other side," West said. "In fact, there are scientists, including biologists at mainstream universities, who question evolution and think students should know all about this."

West said the minority report does not require science curriculum to focus on intelligent design.

"It is not even on the table. They just don't think students are learning enough about evolution. When a Georgia superintendent tried to eliminate evolution in January 2004, Discovery Institute publicly criticized her, saying it was the wrong approach, and urged her not to do that," he said.

Intelligent design helps explain life, West said,

"Some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process like natural selection and random mutation," he said. "The primary argument for intelligent design is that there are two things we know: First, from our own experience in the natural world, we know that intelligent causes are sufficient to explain highly ordered complexity, a bird's nest, for instance. On the negative side, we know that chance and necessity are not capable of explaining highly ordered complexity."

Who is the designer?

West said he did not know.


Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray will represent the majority of the Science Standards Writing Committee at the State Board of Education hearing May 12 in Topeka.

"I represent those men and women who determined that theology should not be part of science," Irigonegaray said by phone last week. "The standards written by the committee majority are being challenged by the minority because they wish to introduce intelligent design into the science standards. Our position is, theology and science are not mutually exclusive but should be taught separately."

Irigonegaray said he would not debate evolution in the hearings. Rather, he will emphasize legal issues involved in bringing theology into the science classroom.

He predicted the State Board of Education risks spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses by adopting minority proposals that would incorporate ID theology into the state's science standards.

"There is nothing wrong with students talking about and studying different forms of theology," he said. "There also is nothing wrong with individuals having intelligent design beliefs. But in a science course, it is imperative that we provide natural explanations for what is around us. And we do that through the scientific process. Experiments are run, papers are written and judged by fellow scientists.

"When someone suggests that in science, children should be taught that there is a supernatural action involved, the question arises, what is the design and who is the designer? When we start down that path we run into serious difficulties with separation of church and state."

Teaching children non-scientific ideas as if they were science is intellectually dishonest and will confuse children about the difference between, and the limits of, science, Irigonegaray said.

The two are not incompatible but should be kept apart, he said.

"Theology is a very private, deeply personal experience with one's God. Science is the understanding of the natural phenomenon that surrounds us so we can develop medicine, cure diseases, predict tornadoes coming, understand how the eye works, and understand what medicines are good and not good for us," he said. "Both play very significant roles in our lives. We need to protect the right of every citizen to their faith and the rights of our children to be taught science and not theology."

Given that conservatives hold a majority on the Board of Education and that the hearing committee is composed of three conservative members, Irigonegaray said intelligent design has the upper hand.

"I have no doubt that the deck is stacked against us when we walk in. But I am even more sure of the fact that the majority opinion that I represent is right because it's not based on bias, prejudice, theology, politics or money. It's based on the most solid of scientific knowledge," Irigonegaray said.

Gary Conrad, Kansas State University biology professor, volunteered last month to testify for evolution, despite the boycott. Irigonegaray said Monday that he would not call witnesses to defend the majority's draft 2 proposal.

Irigonegaray said he had refused to accept a penny for his participation. Intelligent design supporters are spending tax dollars, he said.

"Kansas taxpayers are helping to finance the expenses involved in bringing 24 witnesses for the minority from the world's intelligent design movement," he said.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Irigonegaray came here at age 12.

"Having lost my home country, I'm particularly aware of the importance of living in a country where there is a separation of church and state," he said. "We have a Bill of Rights and can speak our minds without fear. We need to protect that very, very carefully."

Sue Gamble, Shawnee, a moderate Republican board member, said she will not go to the hearings, which she called "a publicity stunt for the intelligent design movement, completely unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer funds."

©The Johnson County Sun 2005

Teachers, Scientists Vow to Fight Challenge to Evolution


Creationists Seek Curriculum Change; Kan. Education Hearings Open Today

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2005; Page A03

TOPEKA, Kan., May 4 -- Alarmed by proposals to change how evolution is taught, scientists and teachers are mobilizing to fight back, asserting that educational standards are being threatened by what they consider a stealth campaign to return creationism to public schools.

This week's battle is focused on Kansas, where State Board of Education hearings begin Thursday on evolution and intelligent design, a carefully marketed theory that challenges accepted understandings of Earth's origins in favor of the idea that a creator played a guiding role.

In Kansas, teacher Lisa Volland, center, works with her biology honors class at Topeka West High School. (By Orlin Wagner -- Associated Press) Scientists warn that introducing challenges to evolution in the public school curriculum would weaken education, harm the economy and, as one paleontologist put it, open Kansas to ridicule as "the hayseed state." Science organizations are boycotting the hearings but plan to offer daily critiques.

Teachers and trade groups around the country are working to build e-mail lists, lobby lawmakers and educate the public about the perceived perils of intelligent design. Lawyers are examining prospects for court challenges. Evolution's defenders would love to repeat the success of nuclear physicist Marshall Berman, who led a counterattack after winning a seat on the New Mexico education board.

The activism marks a tactical shift for scientists and educators who dismissed intelligent design as little more than a fad of the religious right, only to see the concept gain favor and media attention. Where experts previously treated the issue as a hyper-rational debate over evidence they consider beyond dispute, they are learning what their opponents long knew.

"It's a political battle. Education and evolution are hot-button items," said Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science. "Some scientists are starting to understand that this is a serious threat."

Krebs and like-minded people are looking for ways to mobilize adherents and persuade the public. "Partly because scientists like to talk to themselves and not the public, the word's not getting out," said Peter Folger, outreach director at the American Geophysical Union.

One goal is to show how few scientists around the world doubt evolutionary theory.

The Discovery Institute, the strongest voice behind intelligent design, at one point gathered the names of 356 scientists who questioned evolution. In response, the National Center for Science Education located 543 scientists named Steve -- including a few Stephanies -- who declared the evidence "overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry."

The NCSE was created to fight the dilution of evolutionary theory. With an annual budget of about $700,000, the California-based operation serves as a clearinghouse for worried teachers and citizen groups. Its Web site is stocked with news bulletins and teaching guides. Executive director Eugenie C. Scott rides the circuit, debating intelligent design proponents and giving speeches in what has become a growth industry.

"We know a phenomenal amount about evolution," Scott told hundreds of science teachers in Dallas last month. "The science in creationism is terrible."

Scott's opponents, who tend to be better funded, include the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that spends more than $1 million a year for research and multimedia efforts. Others are Liberty University in Virginia and Answers in Genesis, a Kentucky organization.

The science organizations concede that the anti-evolution forces have a catchier message. "Teach the controversy" and "Evolution is a theory, not a fact," resonate with many Americans who tell pollsters that God -- working alone or with evolutionary theory -- shaped the world. Discovery Institute geophysicist Stephen C. Meyer calls efforts to change standards "an academic freedom proposal."

"Intelligent design has no scientific credibility, but they very effectively market a controversy," said Steven B. Case, head of the Kansas science standards committee. "They speak well in sound bites. 'Intelligent design' is a good one. They never specify a designer."

"They appeal to this very nice social science notion of things: 'Oh, just give the kids the information and they'll decide.' There isn't a scientific debate and there's nothing for the kids to weigh. They say there's a controversy. We say there's not. So they say, 'See, we told you there's a controversy.' You get into these ridiculous rhetorical games."

Scientists have used tools including carbon dating and genomic maps to demonstrate how evolution works. Although pieces are missing, experts in such fields as paleontology, molecular biology and biochemistry consider the evidence undeniable. To critics who dismiss evolution as a "theory," scientists reply that a theory, in scientific parlance, is a unifying concept -- such as gravity or electricity -- repeatedly tested and affirmed.

Evolution's foes are united in suspicion of evolution's explanatory power even if they differ about how the world developed. Some favor the biblical version that God made Earth several thousand years ago. Others assert that science and evolutionary theory are simply inadequate to explain life's complexity.

"Allow criticism of Darwinian evolution. Definitely let kids know about biases and assumptions that can affect interpretations," said researcher and Kansas science standards committee member William Harris. He believes God "played a role at some defined point."

The NCSE is tracking challenges in nearly 20 states. The debate is often over wording.

At the national level, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) demonstrated political savvy envied by scientists when he proposed an addition to the No Child Left Behind education bill in 2001: "Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions."

The measure seemed innocuous enough and a "sense of the Senate" action passed 91 to 8. Only later did science groups conclude that Santorum, working with the Discovery Institute, sought to create an opening in how evolution would be taught.

"When it was first introduced, we didn't really understand it. He did it at the eleventh hour, and we didn't know it was coming," said Jodi L. Peterson, legislative director of the National Science Teachers Association. Her group and others mobilized to quash it, but the language remained in the bill's nonbinding conference report.

In Albuquerque, Berman, a Sandia National Laboratories physicist, noted his opponents' determination in 1998 after the New Mexico education board removed evolution from its teaching standards. Appalled, he ran for office and helped reverse the decision, but the issue was soon back. Evolution's foes, he said, "interpreted any statement . . . as an opening to teach intelligent design."

In one closely fought duel, the Minnesota House last year agreed to place a benchmark in the life science section of the state standards saying that students must understand how new evidence and technology "can challenge portions or entire accepted theories and models, including but not limited to cell theory, theory of evolution and germ theory of disease."

Opponents forced a compromise in which the language was removed from life science and included in a section on the history of science. State officials and the NCSE's Scott said each side got enough to declare victory.

Here in Kansas, where the fight has raged for six years, the evolution forces won a round this year when a 26-member science standards committee refused to open the teaching of evolution to contrary views, which the majority considered unscientific. Steve Abrams, leader of the state board's conservative majority, then said the board intended to change the standards anyway, as the law allows.

He scheduled four days of courtroom-style hearings that will be boycotted by Kansas scientists, along with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general science organization and publisher of the journal Science. The AAAS said the hearings "will most likely serve to confuse the public."

Scientists tested several arguments at an April 21 meeting in Lawrence, playing off the state decision to spend at least $500 million to develop the bioscience industry. They predicted that a change in the curriculum would cripple state firms in the exceedingly competitive bioscience field, holding back the Kansas economy.

Paleontologist Leonard Krishtalka called intelligent design "nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo." He said the adoption of new standards would hurt the University of Kansas's ability to recruit faculty and students.

"There's a great deal of hesitancy. They don't see this as a nurturing academic environment for themselves or their kids," said Krishtalka, director of the university's Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center. "It is ridiculous to backtrack to the 1700s and subvert our education to superstition and religion."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Carnivore or herbivore?


Newly discovered dinosaur called 'evolution caught in the act' of dietary shift
David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Fossil bones of a new tribe of feathered dinosaurs that died by the hundreds 125 million years ago are giving scientists fresh insights into the evolution of the lineage from fierce carnivores to placid plant-eaters.

A mass graveyard on the side of a Utah mesa, where more than 1,700 bones have already been discovered, also shows the vast range of the dinosaur world so long ago, when the drifting continents of Asia and America were linked together as a single land mass, scientists say.

After three years of digging, a team of University of Utah paleontologists announced the discovery of the bizarre dinosaur species Wednesday during a telephone news conference and in a report being published today in the journal Nature.

It was "evolution caught in the act," said Scott Sampson, chief curator of the University's Museum of Natural History as he described the birdlike creature, barely more than 3 feet tall at the hip as an adult and 12 feet long from snout to tail.

"An amazing evolutionary transition," said James Kirkland, state paleontologist at the Utah Geological Survey.

Formally named Falcarius utahensis -- for "Utah sickle-maker" because of its sharp, curved 4-inch claws -- the creature had ancestors that were relatives of the voracious meat-eating velociraptors of movie fame, Sampson said. Yet Falcarius is also a primitive early member of the dinosaur group known as therizinosaurs, some of which may have dined on fish as well as plants.

The therizinosaurs are widely known from fossil beds in China, but the Utah fossils are the first of the group ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere, a surprising indication of their wide range. And whether the Utah creatures were still eating meat or had given it up in favor of plants -- or perhaps were eating both -- is unknown, Sampson said.

However, he said, "With Falcarius, we have actual fossil evidence of a major dietary shift, certainly the best example documented among dinosaurs. This little beast is a missing link between small-bodied predatory dinosaurs and the highly specialized and bizarre plant-eating therizinosaurs."

The legs clearly were beginning to change from swift-running, prey- chasing limbs to ones bulky enough to carry a larger body, Sampson said.

The teeth show evolutionary changes, too, he noted, from the sharply serrated shapes needed for cutting meat to broader, leaf-like shapes that were better for shredding leaves. And the gut was changing, expanding to a size big enough for fermenting plants to make them digestible.

But the feathers on Falcarius were really "proto-feathers," said Lindsay E. Zanno, a Utah graduate student and member of the excavation team. "The feathers obviously did not evolve for flight. They may have existed at first for regulating heat, or as mating signals, or as camouflage."

Just how the dinosaur form changed from predator to plant-eater still poses a mystery, Sampson said, and speculating about the problem "means working outside the realm of science."

But Falcarius, clearly descended from meat eaters, may well have emerged on the scene when the environment was changing, too -- from a landscape dominated by ferns and pines to the advent of flowering plants on a large scale, Sampson said.

"Here was a new edible resource to be exploited," he said, "an open ecological niche, perhaps, that may have made Falcarius become a devoted vegetarian."

To Kevin Padian, a leading paleontologist at UC Berkeley, the Utah discovery is highly significant -- both for providing fresh evidence of the transition from meat-eating to plant-eating in the dinosaur lineage, and for demonstrating the geographical spread of the life forms on what have at times been widely separated continents.

From the presence of Falcarius fossils in Utah, however, it now seems clear that the varied therizinosaur species was spread across both Asia and North America at a time when the two continents were joined and the beasts and their descendants could migrate far and wide.

"It shows an evolutionary connection of life between the continents," Padian said. "There was lots of back and forth, and it's been a two-way street, so the more you look, the more you find."

The dinosaur site was excavated and tunneled on the side of a mesa near the south central Utah town of Green River, and it has already yielded enough bones to account for hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies.

But its rich trove, which Kirkland found in 2001, might never have been discovered at all if it hadn't been for a confessed criminal.

A professional fossil dealer in Moab named Lawrence Walker had sold some bones from the site to a Denver collector, Kirkland recalled, and when Kirkland was introduced to the dealer in 1999, he told Walker how important they were.

"Once he figured out he had a new dinosaur, he realized scientists should be working the site," Kirkland said. "His conscience led him to get his stuff to me."

It was illegal to dig at the site without a permit, however, and Walker was indicted in November 2002. He pleaded guilty, served five months in prison and paid a $15,000 fine.

Kirkland, Sampson, Zanno and all their colleagues are properly permitted -- and they're still digging on the mesa.

Link from meat eaters to vegetarians

A newly found dinosaur in Utah, called Falcarius utahensis, may show the transition from meat-eating to feathered, plant-eating dinosaurs.


Earliest known member of plant-eaters called therizinosaurs

Dimensions: Length: 12 feet from snout to tip of tail

Height: 3 feet tall at the hip

Reach: 5 feet

Claws: 4 inches

Earth's shifting tectonic plates mean the continents were arranged differently 125 million years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean basin had not yet opened. Utah's location is shown, along with an arrow indicating that the similar age of therizinosaur dinosaurs in China and Utah - including the newly discovered Falcarius utahensis - mean the creatures may have migrated from Utah through Europe to Asia, or vice versa.

Source: Nature, University of Utah

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

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Psychic detective


The paranormal business is booming, from mediums charging up to £100 a session, to psychic fairs to the proliferation of supernatural programmes which have even reversed the fortunes of some lagging TV channels. But why are we so obsessed with the afterlife and knowing about the future? Vicky Allan meets four Scottish psychics and ponders our attitude to the dead - and the living

ALL I really could remember of Sylvanus Reed was the office at the back of the house with the old black phone and the sprawling desk and the faded sepia photograph on the wall of a man in shorts, taken while he was fighting in the First World War in Iraq. I knew he built that office.

He built that house and he built his own small building business from nothing.

I knew by the time he died he was a short, rounded, bald man, though I didn't even remember what he died of. I was five years old. He was my grandfather.

These last few weeks, I have learned a lot that was probably true about him, and a lot that was not true. My journey into the world of Sylvanus Reed started with the psychic on the phone who told me I had a man with me, an old man from the maternal side of the family. Fastidious was the word he used for him. "A clean and fastidious man." I put this to my mother.

"No. That's not him. He was a mess. There was only one seat in the living room he was allowed to sit in because he always came in so dirty." The psychic, I inform her, told me I had got my own fastidious cleanliness habits from him.

My mother looks at my dust-caked floor. "Maybe you did." These days, it is almost as common to talk about going to see a psychic as it is to talk about going to church. A survey conducted in 2003 found that more people now believe in the paranormal than in God. The official mainstream acceptance of each, however, does not reflect this. One is considered a belief system, the other mere superstition, a strange lunacy of the credulous, the trash end of spirituality. On television, programmes like Colin Fry's The Sixth Sense, a show in which one man communicates the words of the dead to an audience, are preceded by the message, "This programme is for entertainment only. Different opinions exist as to the true nature of clairaudiants and clairvoyants." Yet Christianity and mediumship share many of the same basic beliefs - that there is an afterlife and that our spirit continues after death. They respond to the same desires, seduce us with the same promise.

Psychics and mediums have made a recent shift into the mainstream. Perhaps they were always there, lurking in the background of conventional religion.

Now psychic fairs, events like the one taking place in Glasgow next weekend, have replaced the fairground caravan as a venue for tarot-card reading. The television studio stands in for the spiritualist meeting hall or Victorian parlour room. Perhaps the biggest sign of the popularity of mediumship, is the success of Living TV, which doubled its audience when it introduced its Paranormal Zone and has now become one of the most watched channels on satellite television. It is mediumship-based shows such as Most Haunted, John Edwards Crossing Over, and Colin Fry's Sixth Sense, that are reminding us how much we like the idea that the dead live on. Many are cashing in on the trend. This February, Vince Stanzione, CEO of TV Commerce, launched Your Destiny TV, an interactive psychic channel on Sky Digital. He recalls how he was looking for an interactive concept that would work on live television. "Obviously the telephone line services have been around for a long time and it was the next step on. It was an idea I'd had for a while." So successful have these shows been that there is now even a BBC Three spoof, High Spirits With Shirley Ghostman. Chris French, professional sceptic and lecturer in anomalistic psychology at Goldsmith's College, was invited to appear on this and he was told he was being filmed talking to a psychic for a documentary on spirituality. "Shirley kept saying things like, 'I feel your pain. I feel your shame. From your back she did look very like your wife.' I got quite angry at this point, not realising this was a spoof. It just shows what you can get away with. A good cold reader and a good psychic will fool more people than a poor cold reader or a poor psychic, but you have to be really terrible for everyone to say that you're just rubbish."

Not everyone, of course, who tunes in to paranormal shows, necessarily believes. Watching either Edwards or Fry, the immediate impression is that the shows are over-edited, and that a great deal of psychic misfires have ended up on the cutting room floor. There are, however, those who do believe - enough to want a reading themselves. But how do they work out who to go to? It is, of course possible to look a few numbers up in the yellow pages, but most names in the psychic world develop by word of mouth. I chose to visit four Scottish psychics who have developed some credibility within the field. I should probably start by saying I'm fairly sceptical, but then, who isn't? Each of the four psychics I interviewed told me they were also sceptical. "I'm quite a sceptical person," confirms Katie Coutts, who writes a column for the Sun. "I need to see it myself to believe it."

"Nobody can be more sceptical than I am," says Gordon Smith, also known as the psychic barber. "But you try making this up in front of 5000 people." "I'm a typical Aquarian. I'm a sceptic," says Seonaid Peat, who works in Livingston under the name of Francesca. As psychology lecturer Chris French says, "That's a standard kind of line and when you think about it what else could they say? They're not going to say, 'Me? I'm really gullible'." I begin my trail. Scottish psychic Katie Coutts tells me that I can't record my reading because it will interfere with what she is picking up from the spirits. From her home near Dundee she conducts readings for £85 a time. She was, she says, the first psychic to have her own column in a newspaper, and it has been running in the Sun for just over ten years. She is now in the process of launching her own psychic magazine.

She receives many approaches by letter. "I'm fat, fed-up and divorced," said one she received recently. "Five years ago I was fat, fed-up and divorced. In ten years' time I will be fat, fed-up and divorced." The job, she says, is a bit like being a psychic therapist. She does not aim to tell a person's fortune, but to extract as much information from them as possible and then tell them what they should be doing. She tries this on me and I immediately get the feeling that her advice is no better or worse than I could get from any stranger at a bus stop. The most interesting thing she tells me is that I have been abused or was an abuser in my past life. I feel we are fumbling around blindly. Perhaps my problems are not exciting enough for a Katie Coutts reading. On to the next one. I have a man and a dog with me, Margaret Solis says mid-way through an explanation of what a clairvoyant really is, and already I assume it is Sylvanus Reed. I almost want it to be him. But this man is a tall man.

He died of a brain haemorrhage. He is a Taurus. None of my grandparents were Taurus. Solis is the full package. If you want the woman with the crystal ball and wind chimes, the modern-day equivalent of a Gypsy Rose Lee, then this is it. She is also very funny. Her clairvoyant nights, performed in front of a group of several hundred people, each paying £20 a time, to have the opportunity to come up and ask a question, are half-comedy act half-reading. As for my own reading, edited highlights include: "I think your last eight years have been complete and total shit." "I actually see you around Lancashire. Way back around another time. If you went to Lancashire, you would get feelings." "He's got a slight accent. He might be from here but I don't think so. You don't really like British men anyway. They don't work out for you. Try another country." Solis had her big revelation about her psychic powers while she was living in Spain. Before that she'd had glimmerings of powers; as a child she saw her dead grandmother in a wheelchair. She has also done tarot readings for friends, but never really took it seriously. Solis grew up in Dennistoun in the east end of Glasgow, the daughter of a Protestant, and throughout her childhood thought she would never leave the area. Yet somehow, she ended up in Barcelona with a splitting headache that wouldn't go away. "I was in denial," she says.

She went to see a group of healers. "These three women were illiterate; they didn't know how to read or write, they only knew how to heal. I walked in and I was sitting there waiting. I said 'My head's worse'. I said, 'I can't stay'. All of a sudden the doors opened and the three women came out.

They looked at me and said, 'You with the light round your head, we've been waiting on you. Come in.' The middle one came over and she said, 'Get into that room. Do you know who your guide is?' I said, 'He looks like a priest or something but he hasn't got a collar'. She said, 'It's St Anthony of Padua. He's come with you and he told us you were coming'."

For me she delivers a little of the love and career routine:

MS: Does he travel?

VA: To be honest I wouldn't say there's a single man in my life.

MS: See the last man, did he travel?

VA: Maybe just in his mind.

MS: Has there been a Virgo in your life?

VA: No.

MS: Right, you wait for Virgo and the sign of Cancer and you've to stop spending on your credit card as well. A session with Solis costs £70 a time. Number three: Seonaid Peat. When Peat first contacted her husband Jamie, it was through a personal ad on the internet. When the email from him arrived, she almost didn't open it. When she did, she replied, "I'm going to pre-empt you right now. I'm one of these people who, as my children put it, speak to the dead. Having said that, I might hear funny voices, but when I'm out in company I don't speak to imaginary people."

Peat is an elegant, slender woman with a gentle, whispered voice. She orders a wine then takes me through to a small dining room in the Livingston hotel where she is conducting her readings on a Friday night. She also does readings in the powder room of Club Earth, one weekend a month. Her manner is warm and intimate. If I ever were to go to a genuine psychic, I suspect it would be her. Even in telling her childhood tales, she seems strangely genuine It was only, she says, in early puberty, she had a series of nightmares over the course of a week, that her parents realised that there was anything strange happening with her.

"I dreamt about a really bad accident. Every night for a week I woke up screaming. It felt as if I was there. It sounds horrible, I felt as though I was splashed with the blood. I could feel it, I could smell it." At the end of the week, a soldier who had borrowed a jeep crashed on the single-track road near their home and died.

These days, she says she still hears voices. Walking down the street she might catch a name or a vision as she passes someone by. What do they sound like? "They sound just like you or me. I'm never quite sure whether they're in my head or just beside my head, but it's there. I hear them and it's a bit like watching a television screen. I get an impression of them."

Halfway through doing a tarot card reading for me she gets one such impression. While staring at the hermit card she starts to smile. "And with that," she says, "I'm getting a man." Sylvanus Reed again?

My fourth psychic won't give me a reading. Gordon Smith says he reserves that work for people who need it and are referred to him through spiritualist organisations, people who are bereaved and desperately need to contact the other side. He does not charge for these sessions, though I suspect he does make a comfortable living from his books and columns in the Daily Record. We meet in his barber shop on Byres Road. Again, I am struck by his seeming honesty. Smith grew up one of a family of five children, whose mother always said she didn't have time for church. It was in the spiritualist church, however, through a Mrs Primrose, that he first learned his craft. He is one of the few mediums that Chris French seems to be genuinely mystified by. They met on Richard and Judy. "He is impressive. I don't think that what he's doing is cold-reading. I don't know what he is doing. He's either a brilliant con artist or he's the real thing," says French.

We talk about death. Smith has recently been writing a book on the subject. Perhaps, I propose, the reason that mediums are so popular is because, in our culture, we are so bad at dealing with death. "It's just this complete horrendous fear," he says. "I have a good insight into people's reactions to death. Doing this, you do get a good insight into how some turn their life around and how some are held by death. And the thing is to try to get it through to them that they are holding themselves back, nobody else is.

One of the strongest points is to remember the person's life rather than get stuck on their death."

The conventional explanation for what psychics are doing is that it is a form of cold-reading, either conscious if they are fraudulent, or sub-conscious if they are genuine. Cold-reading is the speaking of general truths that might be applicable to almost anyone alongside acute observations made about the person's age, dress and body language.

Chris French believes this is what happens in most psychic readings. "One of the interesting things about it, is it depends on how willing you are as a listener to play the game. That's the huge difference between the believers and the sceptics - they are biased in the opposite direction.

If I see a psychic, I'm going to concentrate really hard on those things that were wide of the mark and any that do fit I'm going to dismiss as pretty obvious. The true believer is willing to forgive such a lot," says French. Bryan McIntosh sits in a café in Edinburgh and tells me he is going to do his Mme Za Za routine on the waitress. I have known McIntosh for just over a year. He is a clever, self-educated man with a hundred-mile-an-hour mind, who made a lot of money, invested in property and now works for a youth charity. People say he is psychic. His girlfriend says this, his sister says it. He says he often guesses the exact date of people's birthdays, though he got mine wrong. But McIntosh says he is not a psychic. He is just reading the signs. "When I am analysing you there are literally hundreds and thousands of things that are happening instantly and I'm just registering them subconsciously. But the ones I am registering consciously I can pinpoint."

Ruth, our waitress, walks over to take our order. She is dark haired, tanned and attractive. McIntosh asks if he can ask a few questions. He uses his favourite device, one that he has practised on me many times. "Tell me what you had for breakfast."

"I've actually not had breakfast yet."

"What did you have for your tea last night?"

"Last night for dinner? Oh, I had ... honestly? I had a salad with honey-smoked salmon flakes and pitta bread."

Ruth goes to take her next order.

"Now," says McIntosh. "You can tell a lot about Ruth from the way she structured her sentences. She was very clear and precise. She is linear.

She was quite self-composed. She never made any inquiry." Language is McIntosh's obsession. He reads the other signs: the clothes, the posture, the hand gestures, but it's the way we speak, he believes, that reveals most. "Language is always crucial because it is the thing that can be least hidden. You can wear Armani, Versace, all the emblems of power, but you will always give yourself away. Most psychics are charlatans but un-self-conscious charlatans because they believe their residual self-image. A lot of the things I do seem like a gift. It appears like a gift, but it isn't a gift. It is just because it is a technique that has been honed and polished so much."

McIntosh likes to self-mythologise. This is a very different sort of self-mythologising from that of the psychic, almost Derren Brown-like in its elevation of the powers of human observation. He is, however, no conjurer or illusionist. When Ruth returns to our table, he asks her when she is going back to Australia (there had been no mention of this earlier).

She says she is going to Sydney. Later, he tells her that she is a creative person and that she likes to wear silver bracelets all the way up her wrist. She agrees. He tells her that she is a risk-taker. "Ruth loves beautiful things," he says. "Actually, I just said that to someone. I really love beautiful things. Oh, now I am scared. I'm very scared." There is undoubtedly something seductive about psychic readings. I give the transcripts of my sessions with the psychics to my mother and ask her to mark them for accuracy. She sits with her sisters and they indulge in a session of family folklore. They enjoy it. "It felt," said my mother, "like a mystery we had to solve." My mother is not a superstitious woman and yet she was drawn into this psychic vortex. In particular, she felt Seonaid Peat's reading was "much more right than not". Peat had identified my grandfather as a mason, and my mother as a member of the Order of the Eastern Star. She said he had a message for my brother who was thinking of studying law and that it was the right decision. There were other statements, too, some wide of the mark, some accurate. I learned more about my family through discussing this than I had in years of dinner table stories. The end result is not so much that I feel my grandfather with me, but that I now know my grandfather better. Sylvanus Reed was one of three brothers and two sisters. He was a sentimental man. He liked his machinery and filled the garage with bits of engines. He was always on the phone at tea-time and it drove my grandmother mad. He was not fastidious or clean.

24 April 2005

Evolution education update: Texas legislation opens the door, Norman Newell dies, "intelligent design" on campus?

Legislation in Texas would open the door to teaching creationism and banning evolution, according to its sponsor. The eminent paleontologist Norman D. Newell is dead at the age of 96. And Nature examines interest in "intelligent design" on college campuses.


The sponsor of a bill in the Texas legislature recently stated that the bill, if enacted, would enable the Texas state board of education to ensure that creationism was taught alongside evolution or to remove evolution segments from science textbooks. "Some of our books right now only teach evolution, [but] if you're going to teach one, you ought to teach both," Representative Charlie Howard (R-Sugar Land) told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Evolution is a theory. ... It is a theory, it's not a fact. There is no fact for evolution, none. ... Why are we teaching a theory, when we have [another] position -- creation -- that the majority of the people in this country believe?"

House Bill 220, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives on December 14, 2004, would, if enacted, amend the state's education code to require that textbooks approved by the state be free from factual errors, "including errors of commission or omission related to viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy on major issues, as determined by the State Board of Education," and satisfy general textbook content standards to be defined by the board. The bill would thus restore the Texas Board of Education's ability to micromanage the content of textbooks, which was stripped from it by the legislature in 1995. HB 220 is presently pending in the House Public Education Committee. Similar bills presently in the Texas legislature include House Bill 973 and House Bill 2534, according to the Star-Telegram, although neither of those bills seems to have been publicly linked to issues involving evolution education.

Kathy Miller, the president of the watchdog Texas Freedom Network, commented, "If this bill passes, we will see a diluting of history and science, a narrowing of perspectives and a removal of factual information if it doesn't fit with the personal political and religious beliefs of the majority of state board members." Steven Schafersman, the president of Texas Citizens for Science, predicted that the bill "would return Texas to its Dark Ages of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Texas State Board of Education routinely forced publishers to change textbook content or rejected the books for adoption and use in Texas public schools based on 'viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy' as determined by individual powerful Board members."

To read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's article, visit:

For the Texas Freedom Network's reaction to HB 220, visit:

For Texas Citizens for Science's reaction to HB 220, visit:


The eminent paleontologist Norman D. Newell died on April 18, 2005, at the age of 96, in Leonia, New Jersey. Born in 1909 in Chicago, Newell received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kansas and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He taught at the University of Wisconsin until 1945, when he joined the staff of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He also taught at Columbia University, where his students included Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. He was president of the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1949 and president of the Paleontological Society in 1960 and 1961, and in 2004 he was named a Legendary Geoscientist by the American Geological Institute. Newell is often credited as one of the first scientists to call attention to the importance of mass extinctions in the history of life; Eldredge described him as "a voice crying in the wilderness" when he began his work on mass extinctions in the 1950s.

In Creation and Evolution: Myth or Reality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982; New York: Praeger, 1985), Newell turned his attention to creationism. Through fourteen glittering chapters, he carefully explained the scientific evidence for evolution on behalf of "those whose scientific background is not adequate to withstand the high-pressure methods and the misleading arguments posed by the creationists," emphasizing especially the paleontological evidence, on which he was a leading expert. "The fact that evolution has taken place in the past and is continuing around us still cannot be refuted by any logical arguments," he wrote. "It is the how and why of evolution that are certainly matters for scientific and philosophical discussion." George Gaylord Simpson wrote, "I think I have never read a book, even among my own in the past, with which I agreed more closely," and Stephen Jay Gould commented, "Creationism, that narrowly sectarian dogma now masquerading as a 'science,' is no match for Dr. Newell's analysis."

To read the obituary for Newell in The New York Times, visit:

To read a profile of Newell in the January 2005 issue of Geotimes, visit:


In its April 28, 2005, issue, Nature carries a feature news story by Geoff Brumfiel that examines interest in "intelligent design" among college students, focusing especially on clubs organized under the auspices of the San Diego-based Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, such as the George Mason University chapter of the IDEA Center, headed by young-earth creationist Salvador Cordova. A sidebar quotes Robert T. Pennock as recommending that scientists decline invitations to debate "intelligent design" at such clubs, with NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott adding that "it's appropriate for scientists to meet with students and educate them about what the real science is saying," as the University of Oklahoma's Victor Hutchison and his colleagues have done.

Although a sidebar is devoted to discussing attempts to teach "intelligent design" at the university level, Brumfiel emphasizes that "Most scientists overwhelmingly reject the concept of intelligent design," later adding, "The political goals associated with intelligent design lead many scientists to reject it outright as little more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo," and quotes Bruce Alberts, the president of the National Academy of Science, as saying, "Its proponents say that scientific knowledge is incomplete and that there's no way to bridge the gap except for an intelligent designer, which is sort of saying that science should stop trying to find explanations for things." Noting that "Christian fundamentalist groups have seized on ["intelligent design"] as a possible way to force creationism back into the classroom," the article claims, "For intelligent-design researchers who would like to see the concept peer-reviewed and accepted by the scientific community, the politics are frustrating, and potentially dangerous."

As far as college students are concerned, Brumfiel suggests, part of the appeal of "intelligent design" derives from the attitudes that students bring with them; the results of Gallup polls revealing a correlation between acceptance of evolution and level of education are cited. Also relevant, argues Kansas State University's Keith Miller, himself an evangelical Christian, is a common crisis of faith among religious students interested in science: "They've so identified their faith with a particular view of what creation means, that it becomes an all-or-nothing kind of thing," he told Nature. "I do think intelligent design offers an alternative, although I would argue it's not a good one."

Toward its conclusion, the article returns to NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott to sum up the issues: "Scott, who is perhaps the nation's most high-profile Darwinist, is frustrated by the scientific community's inability to grapple with the issue. 'The point here is that Americans don't want to be told that God had nothing to do with it," she says. "And that's the way the intelligent-design people present evolution.' Scientists need to do a better job of explaining that science makes no attempt to describe the supernatural and so has no inherent conflict with religion, she argues. 'College professors need to be very aware of how they talk about things such as purpose, chance, cause and design,' she says. 'You should still be sensitive to the kids in your class.'"

The editors of Nature also weighed in on the issue. Offering advice reminiscent of Scott's, they wrote: "Scientists would do better to offer some constructive thoughts of their own. For religious scientists, this may involve taking the time to talk to students about how they personally reconcile their beliefs with their research. Secular researchers should talk to others in order to understand how faiths have come to terms with science. All scientists whose classes are faced with such concerns should familiarize themselves with some basic arguments as to why evolution, cosmology and geology are not competing with religion. When they walk into the lecture hall, they should be prepared to talk about what science can and cannot do, and how it fits in with different religious beliefs."

To read Brumfiel's article, visit:

To read Nature's editorial, visit:

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.


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

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism is now available: http://www.ncseweb.org/evc


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear Brian Thomas Present:

Conservation Ethics Based on Evolution?

Brian Thomas has a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology from Stephen F. Austin State University. He teaches high school and college Biology at Ovilla Christian School located about 20 miles south of Dallas in Ovilla, Texas. He also serves as Research Assistant and staff writer for the Creation Evidence Museum

In The Future of Life, Pulitzer Prize winner and environmentalist E.O. Wilson argues that our evolutionary heritage forms the best foundation for ecological conservation. M. Thomas will demonstrate why his arguments are not reasonable. Also, see mind-boggling irreducible complexity in ecological systems.

Bunky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2126 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, May 3rd, 7:30 PM

Oil industry funding study to contradict cancer claims


April 29, 2005, 5:32PM

Research will analyze effects of benzene on workers in China

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Concerned that research linking benzene to cancer could lead to expensive and strict controls on the petroleum industry, five major oil companies are funding a multimillion-dollar study to counter the findings, documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle show.

The study, launched in 2001 in Shanghai, China, with as much as $27 million from BP, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell Chemical, will analyze benzene's effects on the blood and bone marrow, and its ability to cause cancer in workers.

The research is expected to be completed in 2007, according to the American Petroleum Institute, which is overseeing the funding group.

But in depositions, proposals to oil companies and other documents collected by a Houston law firm in unrelated lawsuits and provided to the Chronicle, the results of the study already have been predicted.

And while the actual data may be years away, the conclusions are expected to contradict earlier research linking low- and mid-levels of benzene to cancers and other blood diseases — findings that could spawn tighter regulations.

"The proposed research is an investigation ... to respond to allegations from a nationwide study of benzene exposed workers," read a proposal sent to Craig Parker, manager of toxicology and product safety for Marathon Oil Corp.

For years, benzene has been known as a human carcinogen associated with leukemia, though there is disagreement about what level and what length of time a worker has to be exposed to contract cancer. In 1997, new research conducted by the National Cancer Institute in Shanghai provided evidence that workers exposed to average levels of benzene had a risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma more than four times greater than the general population.

Soon after, industry experts started visiting China to map out a follow-up study.

Financial consequences

Oil companies have a vested interest in such results because of the financial consequences. If lower levels of benzene are shown to cause disease, the concentration allowed in the workplace, in gasoline, or in communities could be lowered.

Among the concerns identified in the consortium's pitch for funding in the late 1990s were increased litigation, more stringent cleanup standards and the reformulation of gasoline. Benzene is a natural component of gasoline.

"Every time somebody regulates benzene, it has an impact on gasoline production," said Gerhard Raabe, a toxicologist who, as an employee of Mobil Oil and chair of a petroleum institute committee, visited various companies seeking funding in the late 1990s. His comments were part of a deposition taken by attorney Lance Lubel in 2004.

"There is a whole bunch of business reasons (for) getting a good scientific answer as to what ... are the risks," he said.

The proposal received by Marathon Oil stated that the benzene research was expected to provide scientific support for the lack of a leukemia risk to the general population, evidence that current occupational exposure limits do not create a significant risk to workers and proof that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma could not be caused by benzene exposure.

Otto Wong, one of the investigators in the industry-funded Shanghai study, said he had no preconceived ideas of the study's results. "That's not my wording," said Wong, who works for Applied Health Sciences, Inc., in San Mateo, Calif. His firm, along with Fudan University in Shanghai and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, is in charge of the research.

"The obvious reason (we are doing the study) is to learn more about benzene and other chemicals in the development of leukemia and other diseases," he said.

However, Wong said he had opinions about what he might find based on previous research.

"I do know benzene and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma quite well, and there is one study that says there is an association, and all other studies say no," Wong said. "Based on what we do know, we do have some opinion, we have some idea of what the situation will be, but no one can predict how a particular study will turn out."

According to a draft copy of the agreement with the companies funding the research, the data will be shared with an oversight committee, and that group can decide to terminate the study if two-thirds of the participating companies agree.

Parts of study questioned

Jonathan Ward, a toxicologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston who studies the effects of another industrial chemical, 1,3-butadiene, on workers' genes, said some parts of the study appeared scientifically inappropriate.

It seems to me that "they are selling this study to whoever is going to pay for it, and are promising a result in advance," Ward said.

At least one company — Dow Chemical Co. — decided not to contribute to the study.

In a deposition taken in July 2004, James J. Collins, the head of epidemiology for the company, said he told Dow management that the study's design could generate a statistical bias in terms of risk.

Collins, however, said he was unsure whether his viewpoints influenced the company's decision.

Officials with Dow could not be reached for comment Thursday night. A spokesman for Exxon Mobil said he could not comment on a document produced by another company that he had not seen.

New data being generated

The American Petroleum Institute overseeing the industrial consortium released the following statement Thursday: "The investigators conducting the study have full control over the study design, research, and all interpretations and conclusions that may be drawn from the data when the study is completed."

In the meantime, science continues to generate more information about the effects of benzene. Just last year, a paper published in Science showed for the first time that benzene had toxic effects on blood cells at 1 part per million — the level workers in the United States are allowed to be exposed to over an eight-hour workday. Workers in China are exposed to much higher levels.

"We need and would like to see other studies to see if we get the same results," said Luoping Zhang, one of the paper's authors and a public health specialist at the University of California at Berkeley. "We have no objection if industry has money to support another study, we want to see if they can reproduce the same results."


Kids Given Home Remedies Don't get Shots


Apr 30, 2005, 18:10 GMT

EDMONTON, Alberta (UPI) -- A Canadian study finds that children who have been treated with alternative therapies are less likely to have been vaccinated.

Researchers from the the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto, McMaster University and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine studied the charts of 482 children at a naturopathic clinic.They found that 35 percent of the children had already been treated with alternative therapies and 8.9 percent had not been vaccinated against common childhood diseases like measles and mumps.

Younger parents, parents attracted by alternative medicine and parents doubtful about the safety of vaccines were more likely to have unvaccinated children.

Dr. Sunita Vohra, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, said that many pediatricians do not realize how widely alternative therapies are used.Conversely, parents do not realize the importance of telling doctors about alternative treatments.

"There is an assumption that 'natural equals safe,' and if it's safe, why should I tell the doctor about it," Vohra said."But anything that can have an effect, can have a side effect."

The study was published in the March issue of Pediatrics.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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