NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 July 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, July 01, 2005

Which Alternative Treatments Work? Consumer Reports' Survey of 34,000 Readers Finds Hands-on Treatments Most Successful


Distribution Source : U.S. Newswire

Date : Thursday, June 30, 2005

To: National Desk, Consumer and Health Reporters

Contact: Joan E. Quinn, 914-378-2436, jquinn@consumer.org or Gene Lomoriello, 914-378-2417, glomoriello@consumer.org

YONKERS, N.Y., June 30 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Alternative medicine is no longer truly alternative. A Consumer Reports survey of more than 34,000 readers reveals that many people have tried it, and more and more doctors are recommending it.

Readers gave the highest marks to hands-on treatments, which worked better than conventional treatments for conditions such as back pain and arthritis. Chiropractic was ranked ahead of all conventional treatments, including prescription drugs, by readers with back pain. (Readers said it also provided relief for neck pain, but neck manipulation can be risky and is not recommended by CR.) Deep-tissue massage was found to be especially effective in treating osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. While readers suffering from back pain deemed acupuncture and acupressure less effective than chiropractic and massage, one-fourth of readers who had tried these therapies said they helped them feel much better. Of all the hands-on alternative therapies, acupuncture has the most scientific support.

Readers also reported good results for exercise, not only for conditions such as back pain, but also for allergies and other respiratory ills, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, insomnia, and prostate problems. Those results are consistent with a broad range of clinical studies of treatments for all of these conditions except allergies and respiratory ailments.

On the other hand, well-known, heavily promoted herbal treatments such as echinacea, St. John's wort, saw palmetto, melatonin, and glucosamine and chondroitin didn't work as well for readers. Readers reported that alternative treatments were far less effective than prescription drugs for eight conditions: anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insomnia, prostate problems, and respiratory problems. Interpreting these results of the reader survey is somewhat difficult because the U.S. regulates alternative and conventional medicines differently. Federal laws ensure that a bottle of prescription or over-the-counter pills contains the amount and kind of medicine stated on the label, and dosages are standardized, but no such standards apply to dietary supplements. Moreover, there are no standard recommended dosages.

Treating symptoms of menopause

A separate Consumer Reports survey of 10,042 women who had gone through menopause or were experiencing it found that a large minority of women have turned from hormone replacement, which can be risky, to black cohosh, soy supplements, and vitamin E for relief from hot flashes. However, those alternatives were far less effective. Sixty percent of respondents who took estrogen plus progestin said it helped them feel much better, as did 53 percent of those who took estrogen by itself. The botanicals scored far lower. Black cohosh was typical. It helped 17 percent of women feel much better, but 51 percent said it did nothing at all. Some, but not all, studies have found that black cohosh is modestly helpful against hot flashes and night sweats. However, its long-term safety has not been studied. Most studies of soy supplements have suggested that they're not very helpful, and breast-cancer patients should talk with their doctor before taking large amounts of soy. For other supplements, studies show little or no evidence of benefit.

For specific, free advice on how to choose an alternative treatment, visit ConsumerReports.org during the month of July. In general, CR recommends the following:

-- Ask your doctor. Many doctors will refer patients to preferred alternative practitioners. And your doctor may be able to steer you away from potentially hazardous alternative treatments.

-- Do your own research. Objective online references include the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (nccam.nih.gov), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health; Medline Plus (medlineplus.gov), for plain-language medical information; and Consumer Reports Medical Guide (ConsumerReportsMedicalGuide.org), which rates treatments, including alternative treatments, for several dozen common conditions. It costs $24 per year or $4.95 per month; the others are free.

-- Consult other reliable sources. If your doctor doesn't have a referral list of practitioners, check with a local hospital or medical school. You can also turn to national professional organizations, many of which have geographic search functions on their Web sites.

-- Check your health plan. Many cover some alternative therapies.

-- Check the practitioner's credentials. Make sure your practitioner has the proper license, if applicable, or check for membership in professional associations, which require minimum levels of education and experience. Some also make practitioners pass an exam.

The August 2005 issue of Consumer Reports is on sale now wherever magazines are sold. To subscribe, call 1-800-765-1845.


/© 2005 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Debate That Does Not End


'The most widely publicized misdemeanor case in American history' went to trial 80 years ago this month in Dayton, Tenn.

Related Stories
• Scientists take evolution fight online
• Fossils could fill gaps in human evolution
• Extinction: 'Superpredator' Attack! (In 10 Million Years.)
• Evolutionary arms race documented
• Wildlife finds NASA's Arctic telescope

By George F. Will

July 4 issue - John Scopes attended high school in Salem, Ill., where his commencement speaker was the town's most famous native son, William Jennings Bryan. Their paths would cross again.

Eighty years ago Scopes, 24, a high-school football coach and general-science teacher, attended a meeting in Robinson's drugstore in Dayton, Tenn. There, to the satisfaction of community leaders who thought that what was to come would be good for business, Scopes agreed to become the defendant in a trial testing Tennessee's law against teaching ''any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals."

So began ''the most widely publicized misdemeanor case in American history." That is Edward J. Larson's description of the ''monkey trial" in his 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning ''Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion." With that debate again at a rolling boil, that book by Larson, professor of history and law at the University of Georgia, demonstrates that the trial pitted a modernism with unpleasant dimensions against a religious fundamentalism that believed, not without reason, that it was faithful to progressive values.

By 1925, many Christian geologists were comfortable with the fact that Earth has a long geologic history. They saw God immanent in the dynamic of appearance and disappearance of life forms. What most distressed some Christians was not the fact of evolution but the postulated mechanism—a nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw randomness that erased God's purposefulness and benevolence.

Since the publication of Charles Darwin's ''Origin of Species" in 1859, religiously motivated critics of the theory of evolution by natural selection had stressed the supposed failure of paleontology to supply the ''missing link" that would establish continuity in the descent of man.

Darwinism did not ignite a culture war until the 1920s, when high-school education became common in the rural South, where Christian fundamentalism was strong. When school seemed to threaten children's souls, fundamentalists sought and found a champion in Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential nominee and star of the prosecution team in Scopes's trial.

Scopes's defense, led by Clarence Darrow, stressed individual rights—academic freedom. The prosecution stressed the community's right to control the curriculum of public schools. As a young man, Bryan had been a force for progressivism understood as, Larson says, a ''sunny faith in the curative power of majoritarian reforms," such as popular election of U.S. senators. So the vocabulary of progressivism served Bryan's argument that the issue was not what should be taught, but who should decide.

He, like many anti-evolutionists, believed that the idea of natural selection fueled merciless social Darwinism in domestic policies and militarism and imperialism among nations, justifying the survival of the fittest nations or races, and their dominion over lesser breeds. Modernists considered World War I a progressive crusade. Bryan resigned in protest as President Wilson's secretary of State.

Many scientists at the time were, Larson says, receptive to the idea that we could channel human evolution through selective breeding. Some believed that acquired human characteristics could be inherited, hence improvement of the human race could be engineered. And many evolutionary biologists embraced eugenics. By 1935, 35 states had laws compelling the sexual segregation and sterilization of people considered unfit—the mentally ill and retarded, habitual criminals and epileptics.

Today's proponents of "intelligent design" theory are doing nothing novel when they say the complexity of nature is more plausibly explained by postulating a designing mind—a.k.a. God—than by natural adaptation and selection. By 1925, Larson's book notes, ''Christian apologists had long regarded the intricate design of the eye as a 'cure for atheism'."

The problem with intelligent-design theory is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is not a scientific but a creedal tenet—a matter of faith, unsuited to a public school's science curriculum.

The Dayton jurors were eager to get on with their lives—''The peach crop will soon be coming in," one said—and did not even sit down before deciding that Scopes was guilty. But Bryan did not believe penalties should be attached to anti-evolution laws—''We are not dealing with a criminal class"—and offered to pay Scopes's $100 fine.

Bryan died five days after the trial. Scopes left to study geology—how fitting—at the University of Chicago and became a petroleum engineer. The argument about science, religion, the rights of communities' majorities and academic freedom rolled on, but not everywhere. When an anti-evolution bill was introduced in the Rhode Island Legislature, it was referred to the Committee on Fish and Game.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Science In Plain English


Eos, Vol. 86, No. 26, 28 June 2005

I write inspired by Fred Spilhaus's Eos editorial (Speaking Up For Science, 86(24), 14 June 2005, p. 225). I have recently had a front-row seat (at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution) from which to observe the skillful packaging and energetic marketing of a fundamentally religious view of cosmology as science. (Yes, I have seen the film The Privileged Planet.) However, my subject is communication, and what follows is my personal opinion. I confess: I have many times crossed out the word "believe" in a scientific manuscript and noted, "Science is not a belief system." I hope my victim will become just angry enough with me to remember in the future that a scientist may "conclude" anything the data support but not "believe" it. Why? "Believing" something can mean that one has a firm religious faith in it. This makes the scientist vulnerable to those who wish to define "materialistic science" as a religious belief, and thus aids advocates of alternate "theories" to those of modern evolutionary biology. The gifted science writers I have collaborated with in Smithsonian projects proceed from a simple truth: Words are powerful, so each one must be used thoughtfully. Even simple words can mean different things. Online dictionaries are sobering, because they sample how modern writers and speakers use the English language. Most scientists would probably agree with the Compact Oxford English Dictionary that "science" is "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." However, the American Heritage Dictionary notes that "science" is "methodological activity, discipline, or study, e.g., I've got packing a suitcase down to a science"; and a Merriam-Webster definition of "science" is "a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study, e.g., the science of theology." It is obvious from this "unscientific survey" that if scientists wish to market evolutionary bioscience and geoscience to a broader audience, we must begin by marketing "science" itself. Scientists know there are not two competing "theories" of evolution, and that the disciplines of philosophy or religion - not science - speculate that we are "miraculously" on a "privileged planet" for doing science. However, we may not express ourselves well enough for nonscientists to make these distinctions as readily as we do. We must write and speak about science, place engaging educational materials into the intellectual marketplace of the Internet, and most urgently, explain why intelligent design (ID) is not science - and do so in clearly defined terms. -SORENA SVEA SORENSEN, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D. C.

Keeping Pseudoscience Out of AGU Meetings


Eos, Vol. 86, No. 26, 28 June 2005

I found the editorial, "Speaking Up For Science" (Eos, 86,(24), 14 June 2005, p. 225) disturbing, but not for the reasons you intended. The Smithsonian made a mistake, but nowhere do you discuss its efforts to correct that. More troublesome to me as a member of AGU [American Geophysical Union] is the blatant hypocrisy contained in the editorial. How many posters or presentations have been made at AGU meetings in the last 10-20 years that support creationism, intelligent design, or other forms of pseudo-science, such as the so-called "face" on Mars? Before calling on members to complain to the Smithsonian's Board of Regents about a film that is closed to the public, AGU needs to first look within itself and decide how it is going to fix its own problems. It is easy to get angry about something you have read in the newspapers and go after another organization, but the real challenge is correcting what you are guilty of yourself. - ROBERT A. CRADDOCK, Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Speaking Up For Science


Eos, Vol. 86, No. 24, 14 June 2005

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. is planning to show a film, "A Privileged Planet" that promotes creationism in the form of "intelligent design." The film is based on the book by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, both affiliated with the Discovery Institute, which advocates including "intelligent design" in U.S. public school science classes. By associating with the Discovery Institute, the Smithsonian Institution will associate science with creationism and damage its credibility. The film is slated for airing on 23 June, unless the Smithsonian comes to its senses. Why is this important? Because the film promotes a long term strategy of the Discovery Institute (http://www.discovery.org/csc/) to replace "materialistic science" with "intelligent design." The film fosters the idea that science should include the supernatural. This is unacceptable. AGU's position is clear, creationism is not science and AGU opposes all efforts to promote creationism as science (The full text of the AGU position statement can be found at: http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/positions/ evolution.shtml). After a 28 May article in the New York Times, the museum took a positive step and withdrew its cosponsorship and refunded the Discovery Institute's $16,000, on the grounds that it "determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution's scientific research." But it still plans to show the film, and it is unlikely that disclaimers, explanations, or excuses will prevent proponents of "intelligent design" from claiming legitimacy from their association with the Smithsonian Institute. It is analogous to the way creationists used the opportunity afforded by the presentation of posters at AGU's Fall Meeting in 2003 (http://www.icr.org/research/misc/aguconference.html). In the film, several scientists are interviewed, and their interviews are weaved into interviews with "intelligent design" advocates, who talk about an ultimate meaning for our universe. The film's point is to raise the idea that the universe was designed for intelligent beings like humans, and further, that it was designed for us to discover things about it. That is legitimate as a philosophical or religious viewpoint, but it is not science. This is an opportunity for you to express your point of view to members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents (http://www.si.edu/ about/people.htm). The film is also being offered to PBS stations. If you notice that your local station puts it on the schedule, you may also want to contact it. It is important for each of us as scientists to speak up in the defense of the integrity of science. -FRED SPILHAUS, Executive Director

Penn. Lawmakers Weigh Testimony in Intelligent Design Debate


By Jim Brown
June 29, 2005

(AgapePress) - In Pennsylvania, experts on both sides have had their say in a debate over whether public schools should teach "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution. A state House subcommittee heard testimony last week on a bill that would allow local school boards to mandate that science lessons include intelligent design.

Proponents of intelligent design, or ID, study objects in nature and consider empirical evidence in an attempt to isolate what they consider to be signs of intelligence -- physical properties that necessitate design. The concept of ID holds that the complexity of the universe is such that it must have been created by an intelligent guiding force.

One of the sponsors of the intelligent design bill, Representative Dennis Leh, feels school children need to be taught an alternative to evolution to ensure they are receiving a balanced science education. School children "need to realize that evolution is only a theory. It's not backed by sound science," he says, "and there are many, many scientists -- [including] bio-scientists and physicists – who do not believe in evolution."

Critics of the legislation claim ID theory is a secular form of Bible-based creationism. Leh admits that he would prefer to see children taught that the universe and everything in it were created and did not evolve out of primordial slime.

"Personally, I am a creationist," the Pennsylvania lawmaker says. "I don't hide that, and I certainly don't apologize for it. I think it takes far more faith to believe in evolution -- that things just appeared out of nothing -- than [to believe] they were created by an intelligent Creator, in the Christian sense."

But although he is personally convinced that all life and nature were created by "the one true God" and that evolution is a false theory, Leh says he and other supporters of the intelligent design bill "believe that these two teachings should be taught at least side by side." However, the future of the legislation that would permit state schools to teach ID along with evolution is currently uncertain.

Pennsylvania's Dover Area School District is scheduled to go to trial this fall over accusations that the school board members violated the so-called "separation of church and state" when they required the teaching of intelligent design.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
© 2005 AgapePress

What's so intelligent about this design?


David P. Barash
June 30, 2005 BARASH0630

Last update: June 29, 2005 at 7:06 PM

In 1829, Francis Henry Egerton, the eighth Earl of Bridgewater, bequeathed 8,000 pounds sterling to the Royal Society of London to pay for publication of works on "the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as Manifested in the Creation."

The resulting "Bridgewater Treatises," published from 1833 to 1840, were classic statements of "natural theology," seeking to show God's existence by examining the natural world's "perfection."

Current believers in creationism, masquerading in its barely disguised incarnation, "intelligent design," argue similarly, claiming that only a designer could generate such complex, perfect wonders. But the living world is shot through with imperfection. Unless one wants to attribute either incompetence or sheer malevolence to such a designer, this imperfection points incontrovertibly to a natural, rather than a divine, process, one in which living things evolved.

Consider the human body. Ask yourself, if you were designing the optimum exit for a fetus, would you engineer a route that passes through the narrow confines of the pelvic bones? Childbirth is not only painful in our species but downright dangerous and sometimes lethal, owing to a baby's head being too large for the mother's birth canal.

Anyone glancing at a skeleton can see immediately that there is plenty of room for even the most stubbornly large-brained, misoriented fetus to be easily delivered anywhere in that vast, non-bony region below the ribs. (In fact, this is precisely the route obstetricians follow when performing a Caesarean section.)

Why would evolution neglect the simple, straightforward solution? Because human beings are four-legged mammals by history. Our ancestors carried their spines parallel to the ground; it was only with our evolved upright posture that the pelvic girdle had to be rotated (and thereby narrowed), making a tight fit out of what for other mammals is nearly always an easy passage.

An engineer who designed such a system from scratch would be fired, but evolution didn't have the luxury of intelligent design.

It could be argued that the dangers and discomforts of childbirth were intelligently, albeit vengefully, planned, given Genesis' account of God's judgment upon Eve: As punishment for Eve's disobedience in Eden, "in pain you shall bring forth children."

On to men. It is simply deplorable that the prostate gland is so close to the urinary system that (the common) enlargement of the former impinges awkwardly on the latter. In addition, as human testicles descended -- both in evolution and in embryology -- the vas deferens (which carries sperm) became looped around the ureter (which carries urine from kidneys to bladder), resulting in an altogether illogical arrangement that would never have occurred if, like a minimally competent designer, natural selection could have anticipated the situation.

There's much more that the supposed designer botched: ill-constructed knee joints that wear out, a lower back that's prone to pain, an inverted exit of the optic nerve via the retina, resulting in a blind spot. And what about the theological implications? If God is the designer, and we are created in his image, does that mean he has back problems, too?

The point is that these and other incongruities testify to the contingent, unplanned, entirely natural nature of natural selection. We are profoundly imperfect, cobbled together rather then designed. And in these imperfections reside some of the best arguments for our equally profound natural-ness.

David P. Barash, a University of Washington psychology professor and coauthor of "Madame Bovary's Ovaries," wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

Evolution has science on its side


June 29, 2005

This is a response to letters by William Reed, Angelo Tillas, and Thomas Prindiville, who all commented on my letter about Darwin and evolution. Reed has a misconception of how evolution works when he says that the "incredible design around us [could not have come] about by random undirected processes."

Biochemists have learned how primitive nucleic acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating and self-sustaining units. While chance does play a part in evolution, natural selection harnesses nonrandom changes by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (non-adaptive) ones. Structures that appear to be designed, but which were directed by natural, chemical processes, can develop in a surprisingly short amount of time.

One important tenet of evolution is that a new species originates when a small subpopulation of that species becomes isolated, acquires new traits by genetic changes, and diverges fairly quickly from the original species. Although it is statistically unlikely that many fossils of these transitional forms will be found, several hundred have been discovered. The archaeopteryx, which has a few bird characteristics and several reptilian ones (it had teeth), is one example. The precursors of whales had four legs and walked on land. Primates and humans have been traced back to a kind of arboreal squirrel that existed 70 million years ago.

Tillas hypes the book, "A Case for the Creator" by Lee Strobel. His approach is to interview "authorities." Virtually all of the doctorate-level people that he chose are members of the Discovery Institute, a pro-creationist/"intelligent design" group. One member, Dr. Jonathan Wells, a molecular and cell biologist, claims that the idea that all life evolved from a single ancestor "is a very, very shaky hypothesis." That would be big news to most biologists, paleontologists, microbiologists and geneticists if it were true.

Even Dr. Michael Behe, who is quoted extensively by IDers to support their cause, states in his book, "Darwin's Black Box:" "I find the idea of common descent … fairly convincing and have no particular reason to doubt it."

Others Strobel interviewed do not appear to be qualified or competent to talk about biology and evolution. Tillas quotes Stephen Meyer: "Scientists know less today than they did 50 years ago about the origins." That Tillas believes this absurd statement explains much about the contents of his letter. I encourage him to read some books about evolution written by evolutionists. One particularly good one is "Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea," by Carl Zimmer.

Prindiville believes that ID is a valid, alternative theory to evolution. However, ID cannot explain vestigial features, like organs that are of little or no use to modern organisms. Evolution understands them as remnants of earlier life forms from which the organisms evolved. Moreover, there are many anatomical features in organisms that do not show efficient designs that one would expect from an intelligent designer. Instead, they testify to the forces of nature that produce designs that work, which are not necessarily the best designs. An intelligent designer would create only successful species. However, more than 99 percent of all species that have existed on earth are now extinct. Evolution explains extinctions as the failure of a species to compete in the struggle for food or to adapt to a changing environment.

Those of us "who support evolution" do not "have a degree of religious fervor in its defense" (Prindiville) because there is nothing to defend. Evolution explains a vast array of observations about organisms and is supported by the large majority of scientists in the world today. Creationists and IDers fail to meet even the most fundamental elements of rational inquiry because they resort to invoking the supernatural when they are unable to solve a mystery. In the final analysis, then, creationism and ID are religious beliefs masquerading as science.

John Klimenok


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Intelligent design theory in classroom draws mixed reaction


Bucks County Courier Times

Local school board members willing to weigh in on the "intelligent design" debate see both pros and cons to the possibility of allowing the theory to be taught in public schools.

The intelligent design theory suggests that an unspecified guiding force must have created the universe because it is so complex.

Neshaminy school board President Rick Eccles said he doesn't have a problem with the theory being included in science courses where the theory of evolution is already taught.

"Education is about learning and growing," Eccles said. "There's nothing wrong with the students discussing and exploring different theories before they decide what to believe."

But Council Rock school board member Bernadette Heenan sees reason to be concerned with implementing the concept in public schools.

"You have to have a strong tie to religious beliefs [to agree with the theory]. I think it somehow encroaches on the separation of religion and public schools. To mandate it as a curriculum could, and would, be somewhat problematic," Heenan said.

The issue is the subject of a federal lawsuit against the Dover Area School District. The suit alleges the school board violated the constitutional separation of church and state when it voted last year to have intelligent design taught in ninth-grade biology class.

A proposal to allow school boards to incorporate the theory into district science curriculum is working its way through the state Legislature. State Rep. Paul Clymer, R-145, of Bucks County and about a dozen other state House members introduced the measure in March.

The bill stipulates that teachers cannot "stress any particular denominational, sectarian or religious belief" while teaching the theory.

The state House's subcommittee on basic education heard testimony for and against the concept last week during a hearing.

Supporters told lawmakers that intelligent design has no religious underpinnings. Critics argue that the theory is a variation of creationism, the Bible-based view that suggests God is the creator of life.

The next step in the legislative process is for the subcommittee to decide if it should recommend that the full education committee consider the intelligent design proposal, according to a state house spokeswoman.

No timetable has been set for that decision to be made.

Council Rock Superintendent Mark Klein said he's taking a "wait and see approach" to the issue playing out in Harrisburg.

"We'll watch it carefully," Klein said. He added that should the proposal become a more realistic possibility, he and other district administrators would examine the theory and determine what it would take to implement it before making a recommendation to Council Rock's school board.

Pennsbury spokesman Elliott Alexander said officials in his school district are taking a similar approach.

But even if the measure is approved in Harrisburg, it is likely to be challenged in the courts, Alexander said.

"It could be years before districts are expected to comply," the Pennsbury spokesman said.

Private religious schools, like the Calvary Christian School in Falls, do not need permission from the state to inject God into their teachings about science and the universe.

"We share with our kids that God made the universe," said Linda Thiboldeaux, assistant director at the school that serves students in kindergarten through eighth-grade.

Thiboldeaux suggests the intelligent design model does not allow teachers to give students a complete explanation of how the world came to be.

"We don't have to leave it vague. We are able to go right to the Book of Genesis [in the Old Testament of the Bible]. We are able to say who did it. We are able to be specific about it," Thiboldeaux said.

Clymer represents Durham, East and West Rockhill, Haycock, Milford, Perkasie, Quakertown, Richland, Richlandtown, Riegelsville, Sellersville, Springfield, Telford and Trumbauersville.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1007

Amending the act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), entitled "An act relating to the public school system, including certain provisions applicable as well to private and parochial schools; amending, revising, consolidating and changing the laws relating thereto," providing for the teaching of theories on the origin of man and earth. The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:

Section 1. The act of act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known as the Public School Code of 1949, is amended by adding a section to read:

Section 1516.2. Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and Earth.

[a] In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the origin of man and the earth which includes the theory commonly known as evolution, a board of school directors may include, as a portion of such instruction, the theory of intelligent design. Upon approval of the board of school directors, any teacher may use supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design.

[b] When providing supporting evidence on the theory of intelligent design, no teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational, sectarian or religious belief.

[c] This section shall not be construed as being adverse to any decision which has been rendered by an appellate court.

Section 2. This act shall be retroactive to July 1, 2005.

Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2005, or immediately, whichever is later.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Joan Hellyer can be reached at 215-322-9714 or jhellyer@phillyBurbs.com.

'Intelligent Design' belongs in church and not in biology classes


By MORTON KONDRACKE, Newspaper Enterprise Association
June 26, 2005

"Intelligent Design" (ID), the religious alternative to Darwinism, ought to be taught in schools — Sunday schools and high-school social studies or history classes.

But in biology classes? No way.

In about 20 states — most notably, right now, before the Kansas Board of Education — conservative Christians are trying to demand "equal time" for ID and evolution as the explanation for how life developed on Earth.

But ID isn't science. Its concepts can't be independently verified. In essence, ID holds that living organisms are so complex that they couldn't be the product of blind natural forces, but had to be the work of a Designer — or, at least, a designer.

The scientific problem is this: There is no way to locate actual evidence of a designer, be it small "d" or big "D." Proponents of ID, including some sophisticated scientists, point to holes in Darwinian explanations for the development of life and say that only "intelligent design" can fill the gap. But that's not proof of design.

Kansas' conservative-dominated board of education seems to be on the verge of changing its state standards for science education by removing evolution as the preferred concept for students to learn in biology and creating a toss-up with ID.

In 2001, when Congress considered President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., tried to mandate that challenges to Darwinism be included in school curricula. He got a favorable vote in the Senate, but the provision didn't make it into the final law.

Charles Darwin transformed science in 1859 and set off a political and philosophical storm that hasn't stopped by arguing in "The Origin of Species" that life forms have evolved by a process of random genetic mutations and the added (and cruel) process of "natural selection" whereby only the fittest mutants survived and reproduced.

It's essentially a God-less theory, and religious conservatives have been at war with it ever since, most famously in the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial in Tennessee that pitted lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan against each other.

Technically, the conservative side won the court battle — biology teacher John Scopes was fined $100 for teaching evolution — but Darwin triumphed almost everywhere else. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice struck down laws requiring the teaching of biblical creationism as breaching the barrier between church and state.

It's remarkable that, despite the preference for evolution in school curricula and overwhelming scientific evidence, polls consistently show that at least a plurality of adults — sometimes a majority — still hold the creationist belief that God created humans within the past 10,000 years.

In a 2004 CBS poll, only 27 percent supported the belief — one that has been endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church — that humans evolved from lesser species, but that God guided the process. And only 13 percent believe in pure Darwinism — that humans evolved without divine intervention.

Sixty-five percent of those polled said that both creationism and evolution should be taught in schools. Fully 37 percent favored teaching creationism instead of evolution.

Scientific critics of ID gibe that it's "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" or "creationism with God remaining anonymous," but that's not true.

Leading ID theorists — they are organized through the Seattle-based Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute — have long since abandoned "young Earth" biblical literalism, accepting scientific evidence that the Earth is billions of years old.

In fact, even though it receives much of its funding from religious conservatives, ID doesn't totally dismiss evolution or claim that the "intelligence" behind the universe is divine.

This constitutes such a retreat from old-line creationism that some commentators have said that the American scientific community should pocket the victory and, instead of turning their backs on ID as beneath debate, engage its advocates and prove them wrong.

In fact, that's happened to some extent — among other places, in a printed 2002 debate in Natural History magazine in which establishment scientists pretty well refuted the contentions of leading ID scientists Michael Behe, a Lehigh University biochemist, and William Dembski, a mathematician and theologian at Baylor University, that the complexity of cells and organisms implied "design" and a "designer."

As Brown University biology professor Kenneth Miller wrote, "If Behe wishes to suggest that the intricacies of nature, life and the universe reveal a world of meaning and purpose consistent with a divine intelligence, his point is philosophical, not scientific. It is a philosophical view, incidentally, that I share. However, to support that view, one should not find it necessary to pretend that we know less than we really do about the evolution of living systems."

A valuable primer on the proofs of Darwinism was published by National Geographic magazine in November 2004 ("Was Darwin Wrong? No."), arguing that evolutionary theory is sustained by numerous lines of inquiry from fossil studies through the microbiology of infectious diseases.

The ability of various microbes — bacteria like staphylococcus and viruses like HIV — to quickly develop immunity to the medicines invented to combat them is evolution in real time, according to writer David Quammen.

Personally, I think that high-school students ought to be taught about disputes between religion and science, but in a history class that covers the suppression of Galileo and the battles over Darwin.

They also ought to be taught that no one knows for sure what caused life to originate on Earth or what caused the creation of the universe. I favor the religious view of this, but there's a secular view that students should know about too.

But as to the "how" of biology — the science — schools should teach the best evidence available, which is evolutionary theory. That's especially true when a majority of Americans still think the world is only 10,000 years old.

Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.

False science


June 26, 2005

PROPONENTS OF the intelligent design concept contend that life is so complex and the earth so perfectly positioned to sustain it that a great designer must be responsible. There's not a bit of sound science in their thinking, but proponents have managed to enlist the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in legitimizing these notions. The Smithsonian, a symbol of the federal government's commitment to advancing knowledge, should fend off any more attempts to infiltrate this quasi-religious doctrine into its scientific work.

The article does not make much of a scientific argument. The ''Cambrian explosion," as it's called, lasted millions of years, plenty of time for evolution to work. Evolution has been a mainstay of the biological sciences since Charles Darwin first propounded the theory in 1859 because it has consistently provided convincing explanations of natural phenomena. Darwin's theory may not yet completely explain the Cambrian explosion, but that does not invalidate evolution -- it merely invites further research. Intelligent design, on the other hand, does not advance scientific inquiry. Evolution does not disprove the existence of a god or gods, nor does it bar a belief in intelligent design, as long as it is considered a philosophical concept, not a scientific theory.

Publication of the article caused great controversy among scientists. Sternberg, who was a research fellow at the Museum of Natural History, contends that, because he agreed to publish the article, the museum discriminated against him on religious grounds by denying him research facilities and otherwise making his life uncomfortable. His complaint is now before the US Office of Special Counsel. A museum spokesman denies that any discrimination occurred.

Discrimination is wrong, if it took place, and the complaint ought to be investigated, but, in the meantime, aided by an article on The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, the right wing has made the Sternberg case a minor cause celebre. By linking a museum fellow to intelligent design, the Sternberg case gives this unscientific concept a whiff of Smithsonian respectability.

Intelligent design got another museum boost Thursday night when the Discovery Institute hosted an invitation-only showing of ''The Privileged Planet" at the museum. This film contends that the life-sustaining position of Earth in its galaxy suggests the hand of an intelligent designer. The museum was supposed to be a cosponsor of the event in exchange for a payment of $16,000, but it refunded the money and took its name off the program when a furor erupted among scientists.

The push to make intelligent design respectable is part of a campaign to have it taught in public schools alongside evolution. The Discovery Institute is trying to increase the respectability of the theory by attaching it to legitimate scientific enterprises, such as the proceedings of the Biological Society and the Smithsonian.

The Museum of Natural History gets 70 percent of its funding from the federal government, which may explain why it allowed ''The Privileged Planet" to be shown amid the furor over the Sternberg case. Having gotten wind of the Sternberg case, US Representative Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, is considering holding hearings on the back-and-forth over the film. He has demanded all relevant documents from the museum. As chairman of a subcommittee of the House panel that oversees the Smithsonian, he's within his rights to examine activities of the museum, but he should not use the controversies over von Sternberg and the movie as pretexts to lend the authority of Congress to intelligent design. Congress needs to focus on expanding scientific knowledge in the United States, not on worrying about dead-end, unscientific theories.

Intelligent design has an audience among Americans because many are ignorant of biology. The National Museum of Natural History, as the public face of the biological sciences for the Smithsonian, could help remedy that by mounting exhibits that emphasize the importance and validity of evolution for the study of life on earth. Education ought to separate fake from true science.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

Monday, June 27, 2005

It's a fake


By Tom Barton

TREVOR - The rest of the field remains undisturbed, but at the top of a rise about halfway into the field the wheat stalks have been bent horizontal in an elaborate and delicate counterclockwise, swirled pattern.

There are no signs that the grain has been stripped, there's no damage to the stalks and there are no tracks leading to the pattern.

So what could have used such force to push the stalks over in such a delicate and elaborate manner? Was this a man-made design? Or is this crop circle part of some extraterrestrial activity here in Wisconsin? These are the questions Jeff Wilson and his four-man team of investigators drove from Ohio to answer, and which he's spent the last 10 years researching.

One in five crop circles are hoaxes, said Wilson, director of the Independent Crop Circle Researcher's Association.

Unfortunately, he and the other ICCRA researchers just spent the last nine hours on a hoax.

They began the day taking aerial photos and making visual observations of the crop formation from 2,000 feet up in a small plane.

"From the air it looks pretty bad; it looked pretty rough," Wilson said. "It showed indications of crop circles we've seen in the past which were man-made." While the aerial observation was doubtful, the team remained optimistic.

"But that's just an observation from 2,000 feet up. I've been in some that looked bad, but turned out to be genuine," said Roger Sugden, ICCRA investigator and professional aerial photographer from Fort Wayne, Ind.

There were, however, clear indications that the circle was man-made.

Instead of falling or flowing around standing objects, such as rocks, all the stocks pointed to or lay over the objects.

"You got a serrated edge here, Roger," Wilson yelled to Sugden as he moved on to the outside of the circle.

"As you push stuff down with a board, the wheat goes flat in one direction, so when you try to make a turn, you end up with an edge that's saw-toothed or serrated," Wilson said as he and Sugden continued to walk around the circle. "But, this is all preliminary, we really can't make a determination until we take some measurements."

The team used a gamma scout Geiger counter to measure background radiation levels around the field and in the crop circle, as well as electromagnetic and broadband field detectors to monitor the levels of electromagnetic, microwave and radio emissions.

"You need to measure the energy around the field. There's energy that takes it down. There are readings that these crop circles produce and you need to measure that," said Dr. Chuck Leitzau, ICCRA investigator and a teacher in the Detroit public school system.

It wouldn't take a lot of measurements, though, to tip the team off that the crop circle was a not left by extraterrestrials.

"I found a pole hole," ICCRA investigator Delsey Knoechelman yelled from the middle of the circle.

"They used string," she said pointing out to Wilson the measurements and patterns used to make the formation from the pole.

Other pole holes were found and the team noticed foot-size paths of bent wheat where they determined some persons had repositioned themselves in order to create the almost 113-foot circle, and its 58- and 52-foot inner circles.

While the finding was disappointing, Wilson said the investigation was worth it.

"That's part of the chances we have to go through, We do this all of our pockets. But if we didn't come out here and make an evaluation, how would we know?" he said.

For Mary Sutherland, an investigator with Burlington UFO and Paranormal, who learned of the circle earlier this week in an e-mail and called Wilson and his team to investigate, the victory is in having busted the hoaxsters.

"We are professionals. Our purpose is to provide the truth to the people," she said. "I'd love to see it as a real one, but a hoax is a hoax. We do this because there are ones out there that aren't a hoax. This is why you have professionals come in and do this, so they don't pull a fast one on us."

Wilson said today's investigation, and other like it will hopefully deter future hoaxsters.

"It's a learning experience for us. This allows us to compare against ones that aren't a hoax. It helps us educate people on what a hoax looks like," he said. "Once we have a pattern we are able to see and measure, perhaps the amount of hoaxing will decrease. What's the point when you know people can tell the difference?" Skepticism aside, Wilson and Sutherland said they believe crop circles are marks left by extraterrestrials.

"Everyone has an opinion, but we have hard evidence to back up our opinion," Wilson said. "Everyone else just has an opinion and there's a difference."

New entry for SKEPTIC Bibliography (Gerard: Glozel)


Glozel: Bones of Contention

Alice Gerard
2005, iUniverse, 293p.

The Glozel artifacts, assumed by most mainstream archaeologists to be fake, are the subject of this book. The author, while believing they are genuine, at least isn't wedded to a neolithic explanation. The second half of the book reports the test results, which show mostly medieval dates. The first half discusses the fighting between the "believers" and "unbelievers", and the infighting amongst the "believers." I lost hope that anything would be decided by page 2, where the author states that the French Minister of Culture would not allow any more excavation, and Emile Fradin, who holds a lot of the surviving artifacts, refused to allow any more testing (later in the book, we learn that he is unhappy with the medieval dates, preferring to believe Dr. Morlet's original neolithic theory). There seems to be a "believer" bias to the book, and while the author states that she cannot find any way for fraud to have been executed, it is also quite clear that if she had pursued the possibility of fraud too hard, she would have lost what little cooperation she was able to get, but the bias isn't too heavy-handed. Some of the artifacts were thought by the author to possibly date back to Gallo-Roman times, but that medieval glassmaking and modern field clearing reheated them and changed their thermoluminescence dates. However, more evidence and testing is necessary for this to be persuasive, along with a good map showing how close the medieval kiln was to the artifacts with the assumed changed dates. I did start to question her judgement when I read her statement that Barry Fell was a genius at deciphering paleographic texts. The book concludes with the author's rebuttal of some fraud claims, her theory on the site and its history, and a nice bibliography of references, including many by those who think the whole Glozel story is a fraud.

[ Reviewed by Tom Kirby, kirby@uii.com ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/

Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer

Kansans polled on origin of life


Posted on Sun, Jun. 26, 2005

Most are against focus on evolution


The Kansas City Star

The conservative stance that the Kansas Board of Education has taken on evolution has drawn national attention. But a new poll shows that its position might not be that different from that of the general public.

Evolution defenders questioned the findings of the poll, done this month for The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle. But state board Chairman Steve Abrams said the poll confirms what he has been saying all along.

"There is a difference of opinion out there and it's not just in the scientific community," said Abrams, who is leading the effort to introduce more criticism of evolution into the science classroom.

"It substantiates what we are trying to do."

The poll found:

When asked which direction the board should take, 31 percent said it should require that theories other than evolution be offered; 24 percent said criticism of evolution should be allowed; 25 percent said only evolution should be taught; and 20 percent were not sure.

When asked which best described their view on the origin of life, 39 percent said creationism; 26 percent said evolution; 16 percent said intelligent design; and 19 percent said other.

The national media has zoomed in on Kansas as the board debates whether it should go further than any state in adopting science standards that are friendly to intelligent design, the idea that some aspects of the universe are too complex to be explained by natural causes alone. Most scientists believe intelligent design is veiled creationism and that Kansas will take a big step backward if the board adopts the change. Proponents of intelligent design would see it as a victory.

The board is bitterly divided. But conservative Republicans have a 6-4 majority, and so far they favor the change. A vote is expected in August or September.

The poll of 625 registered voters was conducted June 14 to 16 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

State board member Sue Gamble of Shawnee, an evolution defender, said the results do not surprise her.

"We have so woefully undereducated people about science and they now have been pulled in so many ways about the issue that they are just totally confused," Gamble said. In addition, she and evolution defender Jack Krebs said, the poll questions are not well-framed and do "a poor job of assessing the issues."

Disagreeing with that assessment were Abrams and Brian Sandefur, a member of the board of Intelligent Design Network Inc. of Shawnee Mission.

"To be blunt, those questions aren't all that hard to understand," Abrams said. And everyone can nitpick over poll questions, Sandefur said.

"They keep saying they haven't done a good job of teaching it or explaining to people what it is all about," Sandefur said, "but at some point — and a lot of people are at this point — they are saying: 'Maybe this theory doesn't explain as much as they say it does.' "

Gamble said intelligent design proponents who are calling for "more criticism" are attacking evolution so they can bring religious ideas into the classroom. In addition, Krebs said, scientists have been critically analyzing evolution for 150 years.

Gamble and Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, pointed out that the vast majority of scientists do not look at evolution as a theory on the origin of life. Yet it was one of the choices respondents were given when asked to describe their view of the origin of life.

"All science says is once life started it has changed over time," Gamble said. "There is absolutely nothing in science that says how life started. They (the other side) love to talk about primordial soup. You tell me where in the science standards that is mentioned. It is not."

And Krebs said he would like to know which other "theories" respondents want taught. Intelligent design is not a scientific theory, he said. And the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the teaching of creationism in science classes.

The poll results, he said, are "just a hodgepodge of percentages that don't mean very much."

Sandefur said he thinks the results clearly support standards that would call for more criticism of evolution. If one assumes the group that would require other theories also would support criticism, he said, the results are significant.

Schools do not take a critical approach to teaching evolution now, he said, adding: "We present evolutionary theory through rose-colored glasses."

He said that while evolution defenders claim intelligent design is masked creationism, that is not true.

Brad Coker, managing director of the polling firm that conducted the Kansas survey, said he did not understand why evolution defenders were complaining about the questions. The average Kansas voter understands the issue, he said, and changing a few words in a question would not have changed anyone's mind.

Poll respondent Michael Harmelink of Lenexa, a real estate agent, said he didn't see any problem with students learning about all theories in science classes.

"All of them take a leap of faith at some time," Harmelink said. Just learning about a theory should not cross the line between separation of church and state, he said.

Valarie Fennell of Kansas City, Kan., who is retired, said she believes in the Genesis account. She, too, thinks students should hear all sides of the evolution debate.

The attitudes of those two seem to fall in line with a Gallup Poll that found that Americans are permissive on the issue. That poll, conducted in March, asked Americans whether they would be upset if public schools in their communities taught creationism — "the idea that human beings were created by God in their present form and did not evolve from other species of animals." A majority, 76 percent, said they would not be upset if creationism were taught in their schools, while 22 percent said they would be upset.

Linda K. Johnson of Shawnee, however, who retired from the special-education and mental-health fields, counts herself as one who would be upset if any theory other than evolution were taught.

She said she believes a higher power created the world but that science classes should be limited to scientific theory. Evolution is the only sound scientific theory of how life evolved, she said.

Kansas gained national attention in 1999, when the state board adopted science standards that downplayed evolution. That stance was reversed when a new board was elected.

Neither Abrams nor Gamble think board members will be affected by poll results.

"Are we supposed to base our decisions on sticking our finger in the wind?" Abrams asked.

Gamble said the board has the six votes it needs to do what it wants to do. The poll will not affect the outcome, "except maybe to make them feel empowered because it appears to agree with them."

Valarie Fennell

Kansas City, Kan.

Supports creationism

"I'm a Christian. I believe in the Bible. I don't believe we evolved from monkeys. … I know we can't have religion in school, but ... students need to learn about all aspects. Teaching only evolution in public school is just as bad as teaching only creationism in private schools."

Go to Kansas City.com for more on the debate over evolution.

Robert Barton


Supports intelligent design

"Creationism is an oversimplification because there are too many examples or instances of where the world is older than 6,000 years. … And evolution is a flawed theory. The human body and the animals ... are just too complex to have been an accident."

Linda K. Johnson


Supports evolution

"Intelligent design is religion, and so is creationism. … I have friends all over the country. We are the laughingstock, going backward, and the Kansas students will just — if this continues and it does change — they won't be prepared to compete."

Tulsa Zoo add Creationism display


TULSA, Okla. | June 27, 2005 8:11:17 AM IST

City officials say the Tulsa Zoo must place a creationism display near an existing exhibit of evolutionary science.

The zoo's governing body voted 3 to 1 this month to require the creationism display, pointing to other zoo displays that show elements of Hinduism, pantheism, American Indian and New Age relgions.

The zoo opened Pandora's Box, zoo board member Dan Hicks told the Dallas Morning News, by bringing in other religious material.

Supporters of the decision see it as an issue of fairness and a victory over forces they claim are working to stamp Christianity from American life, the newspaper said.

Board member Dale McNamara, who voted against the display, said religion does not belong in the zoo.

I just feel there are times and places for religion and there are times and places for science, he told the newspaper.

Sydney Butler, head of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, said zoos and aquariums are products of their own communities.

The mores and beliefs of those communities will naturally seep their way into and be reflected by a cultural institution like a zoo, said Butler.


Hong Kong Disneyland Consulted Feng Shui Experts During Construction


June 26, 2005 1:56 p.m. EST

Hector Duarte Jr. - All Headline News Staff Reporter

Hong Kong (AHN) - According to a company spokeswoman, Walt Disney officials consulted feng shui experts before building Hong Kong Disneyland.

Disney tilted the park several degrees and set up "no fire zones" in kitchens, to maintain a balance of the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth throughout the park.

Feng Shui is the belief that harmonious energy and better fortune can be obtained through the correct positioning of furniture and other objects.

The park's facing water with a mountainous back drop and its Sept. 12 opening date were also suggested by feng shui specialists.

HK Disneyland spokeswoman Esther Wong said, "It's cultural considerations. All the food and language in the park must follow the habits and tastes of our consumers and future guests."

The attempt to cater to local tastes ran Disney into some trouble recently. The park had plans to serve the Chinese delicacy, shark fin soup. Needless to say, said plans were dropped after environmentalists protested the park would be contributing to the extinction of sharks.

Hong Kong Disneyland is a joint venture between the Walt Disney Company and the Hong Kong government, with local taxpayers swallowing most of the construction costs.

Missionary man


Tom Cruise has become a top proselytizer for Scientology. Is it because of a new private conviction, or a new public role for the church itself?

Editor's note: This is the first of a four-part series chronicling the suddenly higher profile of the Church of Scientology.

By James Verini

June 27, 2005 | In the course of just a few months, Tom Cruise has made an astounding public leap: He has transformed himself from one of the world's biggest movie stars into one of the oddest. It's not just his sudden romance with and engagement to actress Katie Holmes, which has not yet managed to shake the air of improbability. There is also the matter of Cruise's sudden outspokenness about, and even proselytizing for, the controversial Church of Scientology, to which he's belonged for roughly 20 years.

Regarding the romance -- who can explain love? It's a mystery, particularly in Hollywood, and we're unlikely to ever get the particulars about Cruise and Holmes. But the buzz in some Scientology circles is that Cruise may have reached one of the highest echelons of the Church of Scientology. While not a lot is known about this level, known cryptically as OT-VII, Scientology observers say that attaining it could explain Cruise's behavior in recent months.

And that behavior has been mesmerizing: from putting up Scientology tents on movie sets to blasting Brooke Shields for using antidepressants, to promoting the church's drug-treatment programs and, generally, to hectoring anyone who challenges him. On Friday's "Today" show, after gentle prodding from Matt Lauer, he scolded, "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do." Even his romance with Holmes has had a public Scientology veneer; Holmes has announced that she is taking Scientology courses and has added a new member to her entourage: a Scientology advisor who reportedly tells everyone she's Holmes' best friend.

According to experts and the church's own literature, OT-VII ("OT" stands for Operating Thetan, "thetan" being the Scientology term for soul) is the penultimate tier in the church's spiritual hierarchy -- the exact details of which are fiercely guarded and forbidden to be discussed even among top members. It is where a Scientologist learns how to become free of the mortal confines of the body and is let into the last of the mysteries of the cosmology developed by the church's longtime leader, science fiction novelist and "Dianetics" author L. Ron Hubbard. This cosmology also famously holds that humans bear the noxious traces of an annihilated alien civilization that was brought to Earth by an intergalactic warlord millions of years ago.

Lee Anne De Vette, Cruise's publicist and sister, refused requests to comment for this article. And when asked about Cruise, Ed Parkin, vice president of cultural affairs for the Church of Scientology, said only, "We do not discuss the personal religious experiences of our members with the press." Parkin also would not confirm or deny details of the OT teachings. Responding to questions about them, he wrote: "Scientology, which means 'knowing how to know,' is a religion based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). Scientology addresses people as immortal spiritual beings. It gives them tools they can apply to their lives to improve conditions."

But one Scientologist who left the church in 2003 after 30 years -- and who had reached the OT-VII level and become a member of the church's governing Sea Org -- said it was his understanding that Cruise was very near completing, if he had not already completed, the OT-VII level. The former Scientologist would speak to Salon only on the condition of anonymity.

A current Scientologist who has reached the level OT-V, and who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that considering the amount of time Cruise has been in the church, an OT-VII status seems probable. And Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta who has published articles on Scientology and Hollywood, also said that Cruise's behavior strongly suggests OT-VII.

Cruise is acting as though he "feels he's more in control over his environment and can convince more people to look into the organization," Kent said. "In the high OT levels one supposedly gains the skills to master one's universe. One is removing countless entities that have been holding people back. Cruise feels that he has freed himself from thousands of errant thetans, and he seems to be in a kind of euphoria he hasn't experienced before."

J. Gordon Melton, the author of "The Church of Scientology" and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif., confirmed the details of the OT teachings. "It's basically a variation of the Gnostic myth about souls falling into matter and the encumbrances that come with that," Melton said. "In the OTs, you're finding out that you're a thetan, that you've come into bodies before. Part of what you're trying to learn is exteriorization -- how to get out of your body. You also learn that you carry a lot of encumbrances from past lives."

Melton, however, said that he did not believe public outspokenness about the church necessarily indicates a particular rank. The eight OT levels form the last and highest order in the intricate hierarchy Hubbard developed beginning in 1950, when his "Dianetics" was published. He named the hierarchy "the Bridge to Total Freedom." Scientologists can only enter OT once they've gone "Clear," meaning they have passed through the lower orders of the church and been shown that their personal inhibitions and flaws are the result of innumerable traumatic experiences built up over trillions of years of reincarnation.

A Scientologist becomes "Clear" by taking multiple courses and through copious "auditing," a process in which they are counseled and encouraged by a more advanced church member to relive past traumas, with the help of an E-Meter, a device that Scientologists claim monitors brain activity. Before they're allowed to continue on to OT, a rigorous screening process and background check are conducted, according to Melton and others. Reaching the highest OT levels usually takes from a decade to three decades, the current and former Scientologists say. Lower estimates for the total cost of this are around $30,000, but some people claim to have spent several hundred thousand dollars. The current Scientology member tells Salon he pays several thousand dollars a year for the services.

That's a small investment if you're Tom Cruise, who now demands $20 million per movie, or some of the other marquee names affiliated with the church, including actors John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley and Jason Lee, musicians Beck, Lisa Marie Presley and Chick Corea, and Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren. Celebrity Scientologists, like other Scientologists, do not publicly reveal their rank. But despite their vagueness on the subject, celebrities play a crucial role in the church's image and its marketing of itself. According to Kent, beginning in the 1960s L. Ron Hubbard issued explicit directives for the church to recruit celebrities.

"There was a whole series of policies that talked about celebrities as opinion-makers," Kent said. "He suggested to get celebrities on their way up or their way down. To get them on the way up meant, if they became famous, they might attribute their success to Scientology. On the way down meant if their careers get saved they could do the same."

Also, said S. Scott Bartchy, director of the Center for the Study of Religion at UCLA, "They're looking for high-profile people to say positive things about them, because they are so eager to be considered a legitimate religion, and because of all the problems they're having abroad." Germany, for example. And academics apparently have their own appeal: Bartchy said that high-ranking Scientologists had approached him and sent him materials in an attempt to "woo" him. (When asked about this, Parkin wrote Salon: "Professor Bartchy has told us that he gets many questions from students about Scientology and that he was happy to receive the information we have provided to help him answer them. I think you are mischaracterizing what, if anything, he may have told you to put your own spin on it. Professor Bartchy has always been very cordial with the people from the Church with whom he has spoken.")

Cruise, who is 42, has been a member of the church since around the time of Hubbard's death in 1986. (His first marriage, from 1987 to 1990, was to actress Mimi Rogers, also a Scientologist. His second marriage, from 1990 to 2001, was to Nicole Kidman, who is not a Scientologist.) Until recently, however, he almost never discussed his membership publicly.

That started to change a few years ago, when Cruise co-sponsored a Scientology detoxification center near ground zero in Manhattan. Last year, he had a Scientology tent set up on the set of "War of the Worlds." He began openly boosting Narconon, the church's drug rehabilitation program. And then last December, he was presented with the Freedom Medal of Honor by David Miscavige, chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, one of the church's elite committees and, according to Melton and others, Hubbard's hand-chosen successor.

This spring, Cruise kicked things into high gear. He Zorba-ed Oprah's couch, and then he worried about his "Endless Love" costar Brooke Shields' mental health, criticizing her publicized use of antidepressants to battle postpartum depression and implying they might have caused her career to decline (Scientologists strongly oppose the use of antidepressants and other behavior-modifying drugs). He plopped a Details reporter on the back of his futuristic new motorcycle and sped her to three different Scientology facilities, where he extolled the faith -- for six hours. In an interview he and Steven Spielberg gave to the German paper Der Spiegel in April, Cruise defended Scientology, saying: "I'm a helper. For instance, I myself have helped hundreds of people get off drugs. In Scientology, we have the only successful drug rehabilitation program in the world."

Then he burst into full Tom Joad mode: "If someone wants to get off drugs, I can help them," he declared to the interviewer. "If someone wants to learn how to read, I can help them. If someone doesn't want to be a criminal anymore, I can give them tools that can better their life. You have no idea how many people want to know what Scientology is."

When he was asked by Entertainment Weekly this month why he'd suddenly become so vocal, he insisted: "What choice do I have?" Then he declared: "People are being electric-shocked. Kids are being drugged. People are dying." In the same interview he supported the Scientology claim that psychiatry is a "Nazi science" and advanced several erroneous myths, which the E.W. editors helpfully pointed out in brackets:

"Jung was an editor for the Nazi papers during World War II. [According to Aryeh Maidenbaum, the director of the New York Center for Jungian Studies, this is not true.] Look at the experimentation the Nazis did with electric shock and drugging. Look at the drug methadone. That was originally called Adolophine. It was named after Adolf Hitler. [According to the Dictionary of Drugs and Medications, among other sources, this is an urban legend.]"

Cruise may now feel free to counsel others with a rare degree of authority. But sadly, Holmes may not be able to benefit much: The church forbids its OTs, even celebrities like Cruise, to discuss what they're learning with lower members. Indeed, OTs are not allowed to discuss their secret knowledge even with each other.

Asked why he couldn't discuss the details of OT teachings with anyone, including his peers, the current Scientologist said: "It's confidential. And that's the way that Mr. Hubbard wanted it. They're not ready for it."

The church claims that it has as many as 10 million members worldwide, but critics have suggested the actual number is far less. Melton said that the number of OT-VIIs and OT-VIIIs is in the hundreds. After years of study and introspection, achieving OT is supposed to create the kind of euphoria Kent referred to.

"The OT levels improve a person's life," said the current OT-V Scientologist, who did not want to be named. "All I know is I went through it and it changed my life dramatically. There is so much 'case'" -- a Scientology term meaning, essentially, mental blockage -- "a person has. Reactivity, aberration, things that are not you. The Bridge gets rid of all that stuff. I have the ability to show love to anyone -- from presidents down to bums. I can show love for anyone because I admire that being."

OTs are also warned that any vacillation from the courses and auditing can be dangerous. "Beginning with OT-III, you're taught that if you don't follow the prescribed steps precisely, you could become very sick," said the former OT-VII member. He stressed that he was not a critic of the church but had left because of personal differences.

Adding to all that stress is a series of very heavy theological revelations that begin with OT-III. The central creation story, according to Melton, Bartchy, Kent and the former member, is this: About 75 million years ago, a nefarious intergalactic warlord called Xenu rounded up the inhabitants of numerous planets, killed them, and brought them to Earth, then set off a chain reaction of cataclysmic volcanoes (the volcano pictured on the "Dianetics" cover was Hubbard's favorite symbol for the notion of breakthrough and self-actualization), which dispersed their thetans into the atmosphere. These thetans now fester inside the bodies of all humans. They are to be located in specific body parts and summoned out.

"Part of the problem is how literally that is to be understood," Melton said. "There are those who take it quite literally and those who don't take it literally at all." Then there is the problem of the church's alleged treatment of OTs who have attempted to abandon the faith. Celebrity or not, an apostate Cruise might run into trouble.

"I doubt that Travolta or the other celebrities know what I know from people of how they're treated when they try to leave," Bartchy said. "What is probably told to the celebrities is that these are just very disgruntled people who aren't to be taken seriously."

Melton said only, "If you were a high-ranking member and simply said, 'I'm quitting, bye,' they look on you with a certain amount of animosity."

How does the church respond to such criticism? "I am aware that a small cadre of anti-religious extremists are trying to generate hostility against Scientology by disseminating lies about it," Parkin wrote in response to questions about the OT teachings and church policy. "This little group of insignificant people are the only ones in the world who are obsessed with extracting and altering out of context bits of esoteric data about Scientology and using it to create prejudice against Scientology through reporters such as yourself who buy into their agenda."

If all of this is not too much to bear for Holmes or others contemplating Scientology as a religious choice -- as it seems not to have been for Cruise -- the process, at his level anyway, may prove quite enjoyable. According to "What Is Scientology?" a book put out by Bridge Publications, the church's lucrative publishing arm, part or all of OT-VII and OT-VIII must be performed in the church's headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., or aboard the Freewinds, a ship that houses parts of the church's upper management. Happily, the weather makes up for the deprivations of sea life: The Freewinds is usually docked off the Caribbean island of Curaçao.

But should either of them decide to leave Scientology one day, Cruise and Holmes may also find themselves in a contractual bind. Scientologists are strongly encouraged to sign covenants of faith. And these aren't contracts for the uncommitted; according to Melton, Kent and the current Scientologist, the most fervent covenant -- which is common -- has a duration of 1 billion years.

Darwinist Group Settles Intelligent Design Proponent's Libel Suit


By Jim Brown
June 27, 2005

(AgapePress) - Darwinists are issuing a partial retraction for publishing an article that erroneously accused a Christian proponent of intelligent design theory of, among other things, submitting two creation science books to his local district for use in biology classes and also of having "a gross misunderstanding of science."

Two months ago, California parent Larry Caldwell filed a libel lawsuit against the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and its leader over an article that appeared in a publication called California Wild: the Magazine of the California Academy of Sciences. In the suit, which was filed in April, Caldwell alleged that the article written by NCSE executive director Eugenie Scott contained numerous factual misstatements. Also, he claimed the article libeled him in order to discredit him in his efforts to promote his proposed "Quality Science Education" policy, a plan to include teaching about some of the scientific weaknesses of the Darwin's theory of evolution in high school biology classes.

Following settlement negotiations, the Academy agreed to remove Scott's article from the Internet and to publish instead a long letter by Caldwell, correcting factual inaccuracies in the article. The magazine will also publish a letter by Scott, in which she corrects some of her factual misstatements.

Caldwell says although the California Academy of Sciences, the publisher of California Wild, was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, he is pleased with the actions of the Academy officials. "I'm satisfied with them," he notes, "because they at least gave me a fair opportunity to correct the record, and at least we had the author correcting some of the misstatements."

Still, the Christian parent is bothered by at least one aspect of the dispute with Scott and the NCSE. "The only thing is, it's a shame it took a lawsuit to get the author, in particular, to acknowledge the truth," he says. "Unfortunately, that organization has a long history of making false statements about other people in the evolution debate."

That is one reason why Caldwell intends to allow his suit against the NCSE and Scott to continue. "We just want to help encourage them to stick to the truth in the debate," he says, "because this is too important to rely on science fiction, as I've dubbed it."

Scott has now admitted the falseness of her allegation that a science expert purportedly said Caldwell had a "gross misunderstanding of science." She will also retract her claim that the Roseville high school board purportedly passed a resolution "recommending" that "creationist" materials be used in science classes.

Caldwell says he is pleased that the California Academy of Sciences and California Wild have shown the professional integrity to remove "this libelous article" from the Internet, and to give him an opportunity to set the record straight on his Quality Science Education policy.

Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.

© 2005 AgapePress

Sticking pins in homeopathy


By Benny Mozes

Sylvia Millecam, a successful Dutch actress and comedienne, died of breast cancer at age 45, about two years after her diagnosis was made. Throughout her illness, she opted to be treated with alternative medicine rather than conventional scientific medicine. Statistics indicate that had she received the latter type of treatment, her chances of living beyond two years would have been higher than 95 percent.

Despite the dramatic achievements of scientific medicine, the use of alternative medicine in the Western world is soaring. Contrary to the prevailing view, there are increasing reports that many alternative therapists are not presenting themselves as a complement to conventional medicine, but rather as a substitute for it.

Some had hoped that a scientific examination of alternative practices would lead to a change in this trend. But after two decades of collecting empirical data about the effectiveness of alternative treatment methods, one can say that this expectation has been disappointed. What has happened instead, is that these experiments have sparked an important discussion about the limits of the scientific method, as well as doubts about its credibility.

Anyone who cares deeply about the welfare of human beings must observe these processes with great concern. The way to alter the course and fortify the hegemony of scientific medicine is to keep those with vested interests away from the scientists and to renew and strengthen the therapeutic ritual - listening, understanding and genuine dialogue - in conventional medicine.

Fashionable alternative

Alternative medicine is a collection of treatment methods that are offered to people as a cure for their illness and suffering, without their safety and effectiveness having undergone an exacting study according to the criteria of scientific medicine. The "basket" of alternative treatments includes a highly varied group of theories and practices, which are sometimes divided into a number of main categories: alternative medicine systems (homeopathy, acupuncture, etc.); treatments with a biological basis (natural substances, various diets, megavitamins, etc.); therapies that involve bodily manipulation (chiropractics, various kinds of massages); and mind-body therapies (meditation, hypnosis, yoga, prayer).

In an editorial that accompanied two articles about the unexpected biological activity of alternative herbal remedies, Marcia Angell and Jerome Kassirer, editors of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, described the difference between conventional and alternative medicine: "It is time for the scientific community to stop giving alternative medicine a free ride. There cannot be two kinds of medicine - conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work."

Nevertheless, the use of alternative medicine is rapidly growing. A comprehensive survey of 13,044 people, conducted in 2002 and published about a year ago in the United States, indicated that 62 percent of Americans received therapy in one branch of alternative medicine in the year prior to the survey.

In 1997, David Eisenberg of Harvard University published a comprehensive survey on the extent of the use of alternative medicine in America. He found that the number of visits to alternative healers rose from 427 million in 1990 to 629 million in 1997 - more than the total number of visits to conventional physicians. All in all, Americans spent $27 billion on alternative medical services, a figure similar to the amount spent on conventional medical services.

With the market economy being the motivating force behind today's health industry, the medical establishment has recognized the economic potential of alternative medicine. Many hospitals are opening institutes devoted to the various types of alternative medicine, and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are offering expanded policies that include alternative medicine.

More than 60 percent of family doctors referred patients to alternative medical services at least once in the year preceding the survey, and 38 percent did so in the month preceding the survey. The American federal government allocates tens of millions of dollars a year to research related to alternative medicine. The decision-makers have chosen to ignore the possibility that this trend might end up blurring the public's perception of the fundamental distinction between the two approaches.

Uproar in Holland

While there is an internal division between the various branches of alternative medicine and complementary medicine, the general perception is that all types of alternative medicine constitute a supplement to scientific medicine - not a substitute. Politicians and the medical establishment use this argument to bestow legitimacy on the broad support they give to alternative medicine. Nonetheless, there is growing evidence that this is not really the case.

Not long ago, there was a public debate in Holland on the subject, prompted by an investigation into the circumstances of the death of Sylvia Millecam, who had been referred to a surgeon for a biopsy of a lump in her breast. She chose to go instead to an electro-acupuncturist who assured her that she was healthy. After a delay of eight months, a conventional physician diagnosed breast cancer and proposed that she undergo a mastectomy and chemotherapy. She refused and instead sought treatment from many alternative therapists. 28 doctors and institutions were involved in Millecam's treatment. Some of them dismissed the diagnosis of breast cancer outright. She was treated with a wide range of methods, including anti-cancer cell therapy, halotherapy (also known as salt therapy), psychological approaches and so on. She died two years later.

A recently published study found that the survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 is about 95 percent after two years, 85 percent after five years, and 70 percent after 15 years.

In addition to a recommendation that disciplinary measures be taken and criminal charges be brought against some of those involved in the Millecam case, the authors of the report also proposed that Dutch legislators amend the existing law to require from now on that all those who work in alternative medicine be registered and that their activity be subject to oversight. They also recommended that a law be enacted stating that only a certified physician is permitted to make or change a medical diagnosis.

Apart from extreme cases like this that raise public consciousness about dangerous practices whose true extent is unknown, other public data also clearly illustrate the fierce competition being waged by alternative medicine against conventional medicine. At a time when there is a grave shortage in the resources allocated to scientific medical services, people are spending a fortune on alternative treatments. If just part of this money went to fund medical services that have been scientifically proved, the ability to provide vital services to needy populations and to expand scientific research and technological development would be dramatically increased.

As already noted, the medical establishment prefers to hide its head in the sand, as long as it can share in some of the income that originates with alternative medicine. In the past decades, as part of the attempt to grant legitimacy to this field, we have seen an effort to examine its various branches using scientific tools. And it appears that this tendency is causing a further erosion of the status of scientific medicine.

Homeopathy put to the test

Homeopathy was created in the late 18th century by Samuel Hahnemann. In an attempt to test the effects of the Cinchona plant, which was touted as a treatment for malaria, Hahnemann took a number of doses of the plant extract even though he was not ill with the disease. He found that the symptoms he experienced were surprisingly similar to the symptoms of malaria.

This finding led Hahnemann to formulate the "similarity principle," which lies at the basis of the homeopathic method. According to this principle, chemical preparations whose ingestion causes symptoms similar to those that appear in certain illnesses have the potential to cure patients of these illnesses. With the aim of reducing the toxicity of the preparations to a minimum, while preserving their curative potential, Hahnemann proposed that the active ingredient be "diluted" as much as possible. In the absence of suitable scientific knowledge, the progenitors of the method diluted the solutions to such a degree that the concoctions they sold as remedies did not include even a single molecule of the active ingredient. This tradition has been preserved to this day.

Homeopathy as a holistic system ignores the achievements of many generations of biological research that are based on the reductionist method. This method says that the way to develop effective healing methods is through a deep understanding of the components that make up the whole person at different levels: molecular, cellular, tissue and organ. The dilution principle contradicts basic physical laws (such as the law of mass preservation) that have been proved in thousands of experiments in different and complex systems. Still, there have been numerous attempts to validate the homeopathic method on the basis of the scientific method's principles.

In June 1988, the important scientific journal Nature published an article that caused a major uproar. A group of scientists led by Jacques Benveniste of the University of Paris, in collaboration with other laboratories (in Rehovot, Milan and Toronto), reported that in their experimental environment, a solution was able to preserve the biological activity of antibodies that were in it even when it no longer contained a single molecule of a single antibody.

At the end of the article a paragraph appeared under the heading, "Editorial reservation," that said: "Readers of this article may share the incredulity of the many referees who have commented on several versions of it during the past several months. The essence of the result is that an aqueous solution of an antibody retains its ability to evoke a biological response even when diluted to such an extent that there is a negligible chance of there being a single molecule in any sample. There is no physical basis for such an activity. With the kind collaboration of Prof. Benveniste, Nature has therefore arranged for independent investigators to observe repetitions of the experiments. A report of this investigation will appear shortly."

In an editorial entitled "When to believe the unbelievable?" the editors wrote: "Benveniste's observations, on the other hand, are startling not merely because they point to a novel phenomenon, but because they strike at the roots of two centuries of observation and rationalization of physical phenomena. Where, for example, would elementary principles such as the Law of Mass Action be if Benveniste is proved correct? The principle of restraint which applies is simply that, when an unexpected observation requires that a substantial part of our intellectual heritage should be thrown away, it is prudent to ask more carefully than usual whether the observation may be correct."

The investigating team's report and Benveniste's response that was published four weeks later are both fascinating documents, depicting a laboratory located in the western suburbs of Paris that serves as the setting for a major drama.

Benveniste backs down

The composition of the team of investigators sent by the journal was somewhat odd: In addition to John Maddox, the editor of Nature, it included a professional magician, James Randi, and Walter Stewart, a respected investigator of scientific fraud. Not one of them had training in the laboratory's field of work. Nonetheless, their report indicates that during the week they spent in Paris, they went about their tasks quite diligently.

It did not take long for the team to find that two senior members of Benveniste's research team were receiving their salaries from a company that markets homeopathic drugs. In going over the records, the investigators were surprised to discover that the experiments conducted in the lab had not always confirmed the premise that the activity of the antibody was also preserved in the solution that did not contain it. The "unsuccessful" experiments were not included in the article, and there was not sufficient justification for this omission.

After observing four experiments, the members of the team concluded that the cell counts, on whose basis the results of the experiment were determined, were done by scientists who were aware of the level of dilution of the solution. Therefore, there was a concern that the result of the count was influenced by their expectations and their strong desire to corroborate the premise of the research.

So, the members of the team initiated three new experiments. This time, the samples were coded and the people counting the cells did not know the dilution level of the solution. The matching codes to the samples were revealed on the last day the investigating team was in Paris. And the results were unequivocal: The antibody was not active in the samples in which it was not present.

The bottles of Champagne that had been readied for the farewell meeting remained unopened and the atmosphere was tense. In light of the results of the last experiments, the team gave Benveniste three options: withdraw the article, write a clear disavowal of its findings or publish a response to the team's report that would be published in full. Benveniste chose the third option.

The report was published under a stinging headline: "High-Dilution Experiments a Delusion." In response, Benveniste harshly criticized the members of the team, describing them as amateurs in terms of their training. He disparaged the level of their arguments and claimed to have found numerous inaccuracies in their report. Indignant, he accused the inspection team of witch-hunting and McCarthyism. Benveniste called on the scientific community not to allow inspectors into laboratories and to return to the good old method by which one lab seeks to substantiate the findings of another lab by independently reproducing the results using an equivalent experimental system.

Five years later, an article responding to Benveniste's call was finally published in Nature. Unfortunately for him, the results did not meet his expectations. A team from the pharmacology department of the University of London repeated Benveniste's experiments, but were unable to reproduce the results, and reported that their findings did not support the claims of the French team.

The attempt to give homeopathy validity also spilled over into another arena: controlled clinical experiments.

In the past two decades, numerous clinical studies have purported to examine the effect of homeopathy on various illnesses. Four different groups systematically summarized these studies. Despite many reservations about the quality of the studies, and about the possibility of biases that cannot be measured, the researchers found that homeopathy has a positive effect.

But empirical findings such as these, which stand in total contradiction to established theories, are not sufficient to alter our current understanding of reality. Therefore, the positive findings in the clinical experiments arouse skepticism among many both inside and outside the scientific community.

God is put to the test

Long-distance healing has been described as "a conscious spiritual activity directed at benefiting the physical or emotional welfare of another person." Long-distance healing by means of prayer essentially involves asking God or some other supreme power to intervene in the condition of a specific individual or patient. This is the most popular method of alternative medicine in the Western world. In England, there are 14,000 long-distance healers. A controlled clinical study published in 1998 in one of the less prestigious medical journal made big waves. 40 AIDS patients in an advanced stage of the disease were randomly divided into two groups: a control group and an experimental group that was given "long-distance healing" for 10 weeks. The long-distance healing was done by healers of various types and traditions who were scattered around the United States and never met the patients they were supposed to be healing. Six months later, the group that received long-distance healing was found to have a lower incidence of AIDS-related illnesses, fewer doctor visits and fewer hospitalizations. Their illness was less severe. And their mood was better.

Anyone who wanted to believe that this was simply an esoteric, anecdotal and basically meaningless study was soon proved wrong. In 1999, a leading medical journal published a study that examined the effect of prayer on patients hospitalized in the cardiac ICU. A group of 990 patients was randomly divided into two subgroups: The patients in the control group received the standard treatment and the patients in the experimental group received the standard treatment plus long-distance healing. Without their knowledge, another person was asked to pray for their recovery.

The researchers reported that the mortality rate in the two groups was identical, but the clinical progress of those who received long-distance healing involved fewer serious complications. The difference in the amount and severity of complications between the two groups was statistically clear.

After a lengthy concerted effort, more than 100 studies examining the effects of long-distance healing were found in the medical literature. After sifting out the studies that did not meet basic methodological standards, 23 studies remained, covering 2,774 patients: 13 of them (57 percent) found a positive effect; nine found no effect and one found a negative effect.

The intensive debate that followed the publication of these studies focused mainly on the questions asked by the research. The basic claim made by the healers was that it was not the effect of prayer on disease that was tested, but rather God's intervention in response to human mediation, with divine intervention being statistically measured.

Putting a question of this sort to the scientific test seems like a dubious proposition. Is it logical to assume that God will act in accordance with the laws of probability? According to the great monotheistic religions, God is not bound by the laws of nature, and certainly not by the laws of probability. Moreover, the great religions attribute unlimited powers to God. He is omnipotent. Is it reasonable to assume that God needs the prodding of prayers in order to ensure the well-being of people whose welfare he cares about?

There are people who have drawn encouragement from the (even partial) success of scientific experiments that appear to corroborate the power of the Creator and they propose to continue to advance and to look at the effects of the various components of ritual prayer: i.e., quantity, type, form, duration, frequency, degree of fervor, number of people praying at one time, the type of belief held by the person praying or the patient. For example, it would be interesting to test the premise that the effect of five people praying for two minutes is identical to the effect of two people praying for five minutes. Some suggest using such a method to test what is the "correct" faith - by examining whether the prayer of a Christian for a Jew has more effect than the prayer of a Jew for a Christian.

But many are troubled by the acceptance of these studies, feeling that the idea that the efficacy of long-distance healing can be proved through clinical experiments actually calls into question the credibility of such experiments.

A survey published in the most recent issue of Nature indicates that at least one out of three scientists in America who receives a government-funded grant is too forgiving of inaccuracies and is not averse to "rounding out the corners" in his or her scientific work. Approximately 15 percent admitted that they had omitted data from a study and 27 percent admitted that they had not preserved the data properly. Such "inaccuracies" could easily transform a negative result into a positive one. The scientific method is based on a broad system of rules that determine the way in which it is possible to obtain reliable evidence and the way in which reliable evidence becomes a scientific truth. The achievements of science and the public's trust are dependent in large part on the degree of commitment that scientists have to strictly upholding these rules. Wild competition between scientists and the deep involvement of vested interests in scientific research have dealt a serious blow - some would even call it a mortal blow - to the integrity of the scientific community.

Ritual and healing

Up until the mid-20th century, medical practice was based on the fundamental premise of ergo propter hoc - the attribution of a certain effect exclusively to the action that preceded it chronologically. This is one of the most common errors in human thinking. The penetration of the scientific method into clinical medicine derives from the understanding that the juxtaposition of an action and an effect cannot serve as decisive proof of a causal relation between them. Reality is more complex than that: There are many variables in the system and their influence may be more important than that of the action that was intended to alter the reality. The objective of the controlled clinical experiment is to distinguish between the effect of the drug and the effects of other factors that could cause changes in the patient's condition.

The successes of alternative medicine are based on the faulty thinking inherent in ergo propter hoc: The improvement in the patient's condition in homeopathy or prayers to the Creator is attributed to "therapy," while its source almost certainly lies in other influential factors such as natural healing and therapeutic ritual. Bear in mind: Nearly every treatment for the flu (whether with antibiotics or homeopathy) will be an apparent success simply because in the vast majority of cases, the body itself overcomes the illness.

The therapeutic ritual, which includes listening, conveying information and expressions of empathy and understanding, may lead to a change in the patient's opinions, expectations, beliefs and mental state. Despite its importance, studies show that in most cases the effect of therapeutic ritual is of limited duration and becomes smaller and less significant in inverse proportion to the severity of the illness.

Nevertheless, it appears that the human need for the therapeutic ritual, despite its limited effect, is a very basic, perhaps primeval one. Therefore, many people are ready to make every effort to satisfy this need, even if it sometimes means forgoing other tools that could bring them much benefit in the long run. In other words, patients turn their backs on conventional medicine and seek out alternative medicine in part because only it satisfies their deep need for a sympathetic ear and acknowledgment of their physical and emotional distress.

Unfortunately, the physicians who apply the achievements of scientific medicine had almost completely abandoned the therapeutic ritual - sometimes because of their work conditions (the number of patients they are required to see within a certain period of time), and sometimes because of their belief that the effective tools they possess enable them to function as technicians.

Anyone who cares deeply about human welfare must view the growth of alternative medicine and the erosion of the status of conventional medicine with great concern. Initial attempts to protect scientific research from the taint of vested interests and repeated calls from leaders of the medical establishment to strengthen the therapeutic ritual attest that in the strongholds of scientific medicine, there is also a sense that the foundations are shaking.

Benny Mozes is a physician, researcher and a lecturer on health policy.

Despite Government Efforts Alternative Medicine Thrives in Saudi Arabia


By Majid al Kinani

Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Across Saudi Arabia, the sick and chronically ill are increasingly turning to alternative medicine and using unsanctioned methods such as Chinese acupuncture. This is especially the case with serious illnesses, diabetes, bone fractures, and back pain. With clinics all over the Kingdom, especially in Mecca , alternative doctors are estimated to earn up to 1300 $ US per day (around 5000 Saudi Riyals).

Nima, who uses alternative medicine and sees patients at a makeshift clinic at her home in Jeddah, says she resorts to "Chinese medicine and acupuncture. It's popular and not dangerous". On the other hand, Dr. Yassir al Ghamdi, the Director of the Health Affairs Authority, in Mecca , indicates that the government "does not allow these 'doctors' to practice medicine. They are unlicensed" before adding "Those who use acupuncture need a separate license to practice after they submit their qualification to the Saudi Authority for Health Specialization." Only then, al Ghamdi reveals, are they allowed to register "according to clause 15/5 L in Article 3 of the Private Health Institutions Statute and allowed to practice."

Yet, despite the recent popularity of alternative medicine, the government lacks figures on the number of doctors that currently practice inside the Kingdom, with al Ghamdi confirming that "the number of those discovered and arrested recently in unknown." He warns citizens to "beware at all times and report unlicensed doctors who only peddle lies and diseases."

In other areas in the Kingdom, such as the region of al Baha, alternative medicine is thriving because, in the words off al Ghamdi, "Confidence in hospitals is at an all time low. A large number prefer alternative medicine, because they believe it is less dangerous." He says the "The extensive King Fahd hospital in al Baha is thought, by some, to be the worst in the region! Imagine what their opinion of other medical centers is!"

Some retailers are also selling unlicensed medicines in a blatant violation of the law. These remedies and potions are, in most cases, advertised in non-official newspaper and media outlets. Dr. Moahmmed al Hanafi, who works for a pharmaceutical company indicates these medicines are very popular, despite the dangers inherent in many of them. He is surprised "how any one can promote them or use them" and finds it hard to believe "relevant government authorities and agencies remain silent on the issue." In fact, the Saudi Ministry of Health warned of the misuse of alternative medicine but never took any concrete action. This paved the way for those seeking a quick profit to begin practicing without having to worry of government action.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Celebrities are giving Scientology exposure


Saturday, June 25, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

By Seattle Times news services

They've been everywhere, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, sharing their love and, soon, their religion.

Holmes, who was raised a Catholic, will reportedly join the Church of Scientology, which considers psychiatry and drugs for treating mental illnesses as being at cross purposes with spirituality.

Cruise, 42, has been a vocal member of the church, crediting it with helping him overcome dyslexia. He has spoken out publicly about his religion in recent interviews promoting his new film "War of the Worlds," which opens Wednesday.

In one interview, he called Brooke Shields misguided for taking antidepressants for postpartum depression. An interview that aired yesterday on NBC's "Today" show became heated when host Matt Lauer mentioned that criticism of her.

"You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do," Cruise said. Lauer asked Cruise about the effects of Ritalin in treating attention deficit disorder, to which Cruise responded:

"If you start talking about chemical imbalance, you have to evaluate and read the research papers on how they came up with these theories ... that's what I've done."

Church of Scientology primer

Founded by: Science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote the 1950 nonfiction book "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Modern Health."

Basic tenets: Prime among them is that man is basically good, a spiritual being whose salvation depends upon himself, his relationship with his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe. Scientology also holds that man's existence spans more than one life and that man has abilities well beyond what he normally realizes.

Origins: Scientology began as Dianetics, described as a systematic way to alleviate unwanted emotions, irrational fears and psychosomatic illnesses. Dianetics holds that such ailments are brought about by destructive imprints of past experiences called "engrams" that accumulate in one's unconscious. Hubbard devised a method said to dissipate such imprints.

Number of adherents: Its official Web site says Scientology is followed by "millions of people the world over" and claims more than 5,100 churches, missions and groups in 156 countries.

Church structure: The mother church is headquartered in Los Angeles, but each individual church is separately incorporated. The church also has "Celebrity Centres," organizations geared to provide Scientology services to such believers. The largest is in Hollywood.

Sources: Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions; Church of Scientology Web site (www.scientology.org); Macon Telegraph/Knight Ridder Newspapers

Holmes, 26, has told reporters she's excited about the religion and is taking classes in Scientology.

But to say she's converting is wrong, said Mike Klagenberg, the director of special affairs for the church in Sacramento, Calif. "There is no conversion process in Scientology."

Klagenberg said he's both a Christian and a Scientologist, and that "you don't have to give something up to become a Scientologist. We have people of all denominations study with us."

All the recent publicity surrounding Cruise and Holmes has been a mixed blessing for the church, he said. The good part is that people are inquiring about the faith. The bad part is that "there are a lot of misperceptions."

Klagenberg says he's especially bothered by the "Free Katie" T-shirts being sold by a Web site that describes itself as "the movement to liberate Katie, a young, gifted actress held captive by forces we may never understand."

"This is not a cult," he said of Scientology. "That's prejudice and all it does is promote an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred."

Klagenberg, who has been a member since 1991, describes Scientology as an applied religious philosophy that helps believers in everyday life.

Followers in Hollywood include John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Jenna Elfman and Lisa Marie Presley.

The church has long been considered controversial. Critics say it is a sect that expects huge donations from members. And Shields and others were critical of Cruise's comments about postpartum depression.

But Klagenberg agrees with Cruise, saying the church is against drug use and psychiatry. "We know there are better ways," he says. "People need to educate themselves about the religion."

That's what Katie Holmes says she's going to do.

Compiled from The Associated Press and The New York Times.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

Angry Cruise defends Scientology bar on drugs


June 26, 2005

John Harlow, Los Angeles

THE actor Tom Cruise has added to a growing reputation for eccentricity after a heated row on American television over his support for the Church of Scientology.

Cruise, 42 — whose new film, War of the Worlds, had its London premiere last week — rounded on Matt Lauer, genial host of NBC's Today programme, when the subject of their interview turned to the controversial religion and the prospect of his fiancée Katie Holmes, 26, being converted.

"Scientology is something that you don't understand," declared Cruise. "It is a religion. Because it's dealing with the spirit. You as a spiritual being."

The interview became more combative when he was asked about a public reprimand that he gave recently to Brooke Shields, the actress, for taking antidepressants rather than vitamins when she was diagnosed with postnatal depression.

Founded by L Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer, in the 1950s, Scientology — which claims more than 8m members worldwide — teaches that psychiatry is "Nazi science" and that its medicines are all about mind control.

When Lauer said that many people had been helped by such drugs, Cruise dropped his famous smile and declared: "You are glib. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."

Although such pronouncements have raised Cruise's profile in the run-up to the release of the £100m film, there are signs that they may encourage some people to stay away.

According to a poll published last Friday by the MSNBC TV channel, 69% of viewers said Cruise was "just plain wrong" on the role of doctors and the use of drugs to alleviate mental distress.

Some 61% of Entertainment Weekly magazine's readers, meanwhile, said they did not like the new ebullient Cruise as much as the quietly controlled superstar of yesteryear. And 41% said they would not go to see his new film — as against 34% who said they would.

Until recently Cruise — who has reached the status in Scientology comparable with that of a senior Church of England figure privy to its inner secrets — followed the advice of Pat Kingsley, his veteran public relations adviser, to stay "engagingly mysterious" about his beliefs. Then Cruise sacked Kingsley and decided to start promoting his faith loudly.

Last week it was widely reported that when he was preparing to shoot Mission Impossible 3, due to start filming later this year, he tried — unsuccessfully — to convert his potential co-star Scarlett Johansson to Scientology.

On the War of the Worlds set Cruise paid for a "cappuccino tent" where crews could ask for an "assist" or interview, with Scientologists dishing out the coffee.

Cruise said that he felt "liberated" talking about such issues and dismissed scepticism about his three-month romance. In another part of the NBC interview he told Lauer: "I have never worried about what other people think and what other people say. I am really happy. I can't restrain myself."

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