NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 October 2005

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Monday, October 17, 2005

Brown biology professor argues against intelligent design

http://www.bw.lehigh.edu/story.asp?ID=18988

By Larissa Staszkiw News Writer Online 10/16/2005

Intelligent design is not testable and therefore cannot be regarded as scientific, Brown University biology professor Kenneth Miller said Wednesday in Packard Lab.

Miller is the leading witness for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller et al. v. the Dover Area School District case, which arose because of a dispute between parents and the school board about whether science teachers should teach a lesson about intelligent design.

"One of the things I tried to point out to the judge is that evolution is a hard-working theory that is constantly tested and examined," said Miller, who has written several high school and college biology text books. "And it is tested again and again. It has passed every test."

Miller explained some of the arguments he made during the trial in which he supports the parents of Dover students, who believe that intelligent design should be kept out of science curriculum because the theory supports the idea of a creator such as God.

The lecture, "Darwin's Genome: Answering the Challenge of Intelligent Design" sought to explain the debate between intelligent design and evolution and why this topic has recently been the subject of debate.

Miller said he is critical of intelligent design becoming a part of science curriculum in schools. In an age where separation of church and state is protected by the constitution, the theory of intelligent design is merely another form of creationism, he said.

Miller said evolution has been tested scientifically and used the example of a pseudo gene, a gene that is loaded with molecular errors, to support his argument. He said the same molecular error is shared between three organisms: humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. This common error means that these three organisms are also common ancestors, he said.

Miller explained gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans all have 48 chromosomes, while humans have 46.

"What should have happened is that the two chromosomes in the ancestor belong together so one of our chromosomes should have resulted from the fusion of a primate chromosome," Miller said. "Therefore evolution makes a testable prediction, and if it doesn't fit this prediction you can throw it out. It's wrong, we don't have common descent."

However, the prediction was correct: human chromosome number two resulted from the fusing of primate chromosomes twelve and thirteen.

"Darwin's genome passes the test," Miller said.

Miller said he is a religious man and isn't trying to deny God's existence, but he argues that science should be based on purely testable facts.

Beginnings with intelligent design

http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2005/10/14/65634

October 17, 2005 Rate this Article

The cause of the universe can be no lesser in qualities than those found in it.

By Kazmer Ujvarosy

The principle of causality stipulates that whatever is in the effect must be in the cause — i.e., no cause can produce an effect superior to itself, or give more than what it has. This principle has never been falsified, and serves as the foundation of science. Intelligent design theory passes that test by positing that the complexity of life is the result of an intelligent cause. On the other hand, the simple common ancestor proposed by Charles Darwin fails because no simple cause can yield anything more complex than itself. Otherwise the extra complexity would have to come from nothing, which is contrary to reason, and consequently contrary to science. The principle of causality tells us that trying to derive the richness of life from a simple beginning, as Darwin did, deludes. We are trying to get from a simple cause what it does not have, greater complexity. If a simple beginning could in fact cause greater complexity than itself, then it would invalidate the cause-and-effect relationship.

Knowing that complexity's evolution from any kind of inferior cause is irrational; we must propose that the initial cause of the universe can be no lesser in qualities than the qualities we find in the universe. Thus this logical inference from a complex effect to a cause no lesser in complexity than the effect itself points in the direction of an agent that we may call the parent seed, common ancestor, or cosmic genotype of the phenotype universe.

The existing most advanced form of intelligence constitutes the cosmic system's input and output and because we have no knowledge of a more advanced form of intelligence, the inference is rational that human intelligence generated the universe for the production of human intelligence in its own image. Thus, whereas Darwin asserts common descent from a simple beginning, the theory of cosmic development posits common descent from the highest form of intelligence that exists. As we have no confirmable evidence that intelligence superior to human intelligence exists, we are constrained to propose that human intelligence generated the universe, pending the discovery of a superior non-human intelligence.

Kazmer Ujvarosy works for Frontline Science. Please send comments to letters@mndaily.com

Intelligent Design On An Another Planet?

http://theseoultimes.com/ST/?url=/ST/db/read.php?idx=2303

Special Contribution By Babu G. Ranganathan

The Creation

Imagine finding a planet where robots are programmed so that they can make other robots just like themselves from raw materials.

Now, imagine an alien visitor coming to the planet and, after many years of studying these robots, coming to the conclusion that since science can explain how these robots work and function there's no reason to believe that there was an ultimate intelligent designer behind them.

The analogy above certainly is not perfect but it is sufficient to reveal the fallacious thinking of those who attack intelligent design behind life and the universe.

Chance physical processes can produce some level of order but it is not rational to believe that the highest levels of order in life and the universe are by chance. For example, amino acids have been shown to be able to come into being by chance but not more complex structures such as proteins which require for amino acids to be in a precise sequence. A single cell has millions of proteins.

If the cell evolved it would have had to be all at once. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years to become complete because it would be highly unstable and quickly disintegrate in the open environment.

The great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle has said that the probability of the sequence of molecules in the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is equivalent to a tornado going through a junk yard of airplane parts and assembling a 747 Jumbo Jet!

What if we should find evidence of life on Mars? Wouldn't that prove evolution? No. It wouldn't be proof that such life had evolved from non-living matter by chance natural processes. And even if we did find evidence of life on Mars it would have most likely have come from our very own planet - Earth! In the Earth's past there was powerful volcanic activity which could have easily spewed dirt containing microbes into outer space which eventually could have reached Mars. A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions exactly this possibility.

Contrary to popular belief, scientists have never created life in the laboratory. What scientists have done is genetically alter or engineer already existing forms of life, and by doing this scientists have been able to produce new forms of life. However, they did not produce these new life forms from non-living matter. Even if scientists ever do produce life from non-living matter it won't be by chance so it still wouldn't help support any argument for evolution.

Those advocating the teaching of intelligent design are not demanding that Darwinian theory no longer be taught. Rather, the advocates of intelligent design want the merits of both theories taught side by side when the issue of origins is covered in science classes and textbooks. This is only fair.

Science cannot prove we are here by either design (creation) or by chance (evolution), but students should have full information available to decide which position science best supports.

An organization of highly qualified scientists, The Institute for Creation Research has published some excellent books supporting faith in intelligent design for life and the universe.

The above story was contributed by Mr. Babu G. Ranganathan. Mr. Ranganathan has B.A. degree in Bible and Biology from Bob Jones University. He has also had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis Who's Who In The East for his writings on religion and science. For details visit www.religionscience.com

Intelligent Design a Research Tool

http://www.freelancenews.com/opinion/contentview.asp?c=170516

Monday, October 17, 2005

Editor,

Even with all the national news about Intelligent Design (ID), many are still getting it wrong. Previously, I cautioned against the bad thinking of the Straw Man fallacy (reshaping your antagonist's argument into something foolish, then mocking it). In one response, Bob Cheslow said ID slips in religion because it uses the term 'design.' He then discusses the 'designers' of archaeology's artifacts, of forensic science's criminal actions, of modern human inventions and even of the intelligence on radio signals sought by SETI. Mr. Cheslow claims that ID offers that 'a God-like being miraculously created life.' His comments reflect a common, but wrong, understanding of ID. See Cory Finch's and Dale Morejon's comments for other recent examples.

First, ID never seeks to explain the designer, by character or intention. That is beyond the scope of a scientific tool. ID seeks to identify designed entities - not their designers - so we can more effectively pursue such endeavors as medical research, endangered species, genetic engineering and disease control.

Further, ID makes no a priori claim that anything is designed. I pointed out previously that ID simply provides a research methodology to distinguish between events which are constrained to a single outcome by natural law (necessity), those which occur randomly from a set of outcomes with calculable probabilities (chance) and those which exhibit specified complexity - something that neither necessity nor chance can produce (design). The ID process has no more proclivity for selecting design than a microscope does for revealing ribosomes and mitochondria in a living cell or than a radio telescope does for detecting microwaves in a particular region of the sky. These are tools, nothing more.

Turning again to William Dembski (The Design Revolution) for clarification: "Creation is always about the source of being of the world. Intelligent Design is about arrangements of preexisting materials that point to a designing intelligence. Creation and intelligent design are therefore quite different. One can have creation without intelligent design and intelligent design without creation."

So why is there such a strong reaction by Darwinists in attacking ID as a deceptive tactic for pushing religion? Dembski once more: "I submit that the preoccupation by critics of intelligent design with theology results not from intelligent design being inherently theological. Instead, it results from critics having built their own theology (or anti-theology, as the case may be) on a foundation of Darwinism. Intelligent design challenges that foundation, so critics reflexively assume that intelligent design must be inherently theological and have a theological agenda." Thus, to those who have a theology built on Darwinism, any concept (or tool) which challenges that wholesale acceptance of Darwinism appears religious. As Dembski points out, simply because Darwinism has theological implications doesn't make Darwinism a theological enterprise. The Big Bang model of origins also has theological implications, as does SETI. But these are not, therefore, theological enterprises. Why should ID be treated any differently?

What, then, is the justification for excluding ID from the tool bag of our thinking students?

Edward Huston, Hollister

Defense readies its case in 'intelligent design' trial

http://www.wlns.com/Global/story.asp?S=3986890&nav=0RbQ

HARRISBURG, Pa. The Ann Arbor (Michigan)-based Thomas More Law Center is representing a Pennsylvania school district in a federal trial over whether intelligent design should be introduced in public school science classes.

Lawyers for the Dover Area School Board were to begin presenting their case today. They will defend the decision a year ago to require students to hear a statement on intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution.

Eight families are suing to have intelligent design removed from the curriculum. They contend the policy violates constitutional separation of church and state.

The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

Discovery Institute Tells Dover Judge: Teaching About Intelligent Design Is Constitutional

http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/10-17-2005/0004170875&EDATE=

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, the Discovery Institute, the nation's leading think tank researching intelligent design, filed an Amicus Curiae (i.e. "Friend of the Court") brief in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case urging the judge to rule that it is not unconstitutional to teach about the scientific theory of intelligent design. The filing of the brief coincides with the beginning of the defense offered by the Dover School Board, which has required students to be notified about the existence of the theory of intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinian theory.

"The ACLU is claiming that no matter how carefully intelligent design is presented, and no matter what good educational reasons there might be for teaching it, doing so is just plain illegal and we think that's nonsense," said David DeWolf, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and a law professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

Discovery Institute opposes efforts to mandate intelligent design as misguided, but it supports the right of teachers and students to voluntarily discuss intelligent design.

"The ACLU's heavy-handed effort to ban all teaching about intelligent design is a blatant attempt at censorship," said Casey Luskin, a program officer in public policy and legal affairs at the Institute."

Discovery Institute's Brief reviews the constitutional law regarding the establishment clause, which is broken up into questions about whether the school board's actions have a secular purpose and whether they have a neutral effect on religion.

According to the Brief, there are many secular purposes for teaching students about intelligent design including informing students about competing scientific theories of biological origins, helping students to better understand the contrasting theory of neo-Darwinism, and enhancing critical thinking skills.

The Brief also answers the ACLU's claim that intelligent design is not a scientific theory, and as a result its primary effect is to advance religion. As the Brief explains, "there is every good reason to regard the theory of intelligent design as a scientific theory, and thus, the primary effect of informing students about it is to improve science education."

DeWolf further noted that: "The inclusion of alternative scientific theories was clearly authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court Edwards v. Aguillard."

The Brief is available on line at the Discovery Institute website, http://www.discovery.org. Regular reporting of developments in the trial and commentary by Discovery Institute Fellows is available at http://www.evolutionnews.org.

SOURCE Discovery Institute
Web Site: http://www.discovery.org http://www.evolutionnews.org

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Copyright © 1996-2005 PR Newswire Association LLC.
A United Business Media company.

Flat-Earth logic in the rush to teach intelligent design

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/editorial/outlook/3398971

Oct. 16, 2005, 8:33PM

By ELLEN GOODMAN

I was a bit late getting my ticket to Antarctica, so I missed the first flight of controversy over the March of the Penguins. I am still trying to figure out how the sleeper hit of the season, an astonishing documentary about the life and times of the emperor penguin, turned into another case study in the culture wars.

First, the right claimed the penguins as paragons of family values. The editor of National Review actually praised them as "the really ideal example of monogamy." Then a popular religious magazine suggested that the 3-foot-tall birds made a pretty strong case for "intelligent design."

Alas, in the family values department, the penguin profile is a little mixed. The emperors and empresses are monogamous for a year before they turn with equal devotion to the next partner. Let's also remember the two male penguins in a New York zoo who famously raised one donated egg. And the fact that when the two dads lost their home, they broke up and one went straight.

As for intelligent design, penguin males balance an egg on their feet through months of an Antarctic winter. If that is intelligent design, the Big Guy has quite the sense of humor. Under natural selection, at least they would have a shot at evolving a lifestyle that doesn't require 70-mile marches to and from the food supply.

Still, this anthropomorphic battle has me waddling all over the terrain where science is a fighting word.

In the Grand Canyon, for example, you can actually sign up for "alternative" rafting trips. One paddles with geology and sees a space created over 550 million years by shifting faults. Another looks through what the leader calls "biblical glasses" and sees a place carved 4,500 years ago by the Flood.

In the lab, scientists who put evolution through its paces have just completed mapping the chimpanzee genome that is only 4 percent different from our own. Yet on the day I Googled this news, it was located on a Web site with a sponsor ad for the opposition: "Evolution vs. Christianity. Uncomplicated Bible Answers."

This is nothing compared to struggles in the courtroom in Dover, Pa., where the trek of expert witnesses is lasting longer than the march of the penguins. There, a jury is being asked to decide whether the school board can force biology teachers to read a disclaimer on evolution that offers intelligent design as an alternative.

There's now little doubt that the school board members saw "intelligent design" as a way to get religion into science class. Nor is there much doubt that intelligent design is just gussied-up creationism.

As Brown University's Kenneth Miller said in the courtroom, " 'intelligent design' is not a testable theory in any sense and as such it is not accepted by the scientific community." It isn't science. Yet two-thirds of Americans think we should "teach the controversy."

All in all, most scientists believe that teaching "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution is like teaching the flat-Earth theory as an alternative to the round. But as science pollster Jon Miller of Northwestern will tell you, one in every five Americans believes the sun revolves around the Earth.

For those of us who would "teach the controversy" in the science class where it belongs — political science — the sorry part is that the creationists set up a false dichotomy between science and religion. They also create a false portrait of our place in the universe.

In one of Miller's recent surveys, 75 percent of people agreed that animals adapted and evolved over time. But 65 percent believed that humans were created as whole persons by God and didn't evolve. The root of the conflict, says Miller, "is the human exclusiveness, the desire for humans to be unique."

Many who seem quite capable of anthropomorphizing a 3-foot creature are unwilling to see themselves as part of the same tree of life. They are perfectly willing to believe that we are little lower than the angels, but reluctant to believe that we're little higher than the apes.

I suspect we'll look back with astonishment to a time when both the president of the United States and the Senate majority leader — a doctor — wanted the pseudo taught with the science. But some of the greatest issues of our time — from stem cells to global warming — depend on scientific understanding. And that's an understanding easily sacrificed in the culture wars.

When the right wing made the penguin their paragon, a Hollywood producer sighed, "They're just birds."

Beware. Now, the same filmmakers are working on a new movie about the relationship between a young girl and a fox. I don't even want to think about it.

Goodman is a columnist for the Boston Globe. (ellengoodman@globe.com).

'Intelligent Design' Defense Opens

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/10/17/national/main950231.shtml

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 17, 2005

(AP) A biochemistry professor who is a leading advocate of "intelligent design" testified Monday that evolution alone can't explain complex biological processes and he believes God is behind them.

Lehigh University Professor Michael Behe was the first witness called by a school board that is requiring students to hear a statement about the intelligent design concept in biology class. Lawyers for the Dover Area School Board began presenting their case Monday in the landmark federal trial, which could decide whether it can be mentioned in public school science classes as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

Behe, whose work includes a 1996 best-seller called "Darwin's Black Box," said students should be taught evolution because it's widely used in science and that "any well-educated student should understand it."

Behe, however, argues that evolution cannot fully explain the biological complexities of life, suggesting the work of an intelligent force.

The intelligent design theory does not name the designer, although Behe, a Roman Catholic, testified he personally believes it to be God.

"I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors," he said.

The school board is defending its decision a year ago to require students to hear a statement on intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information.

Behe contributed to "Of Pandas and People," writing a section about blood-clotting. He told a federal judge Monday that in the book, he made a scientific argument that blood-clotting "is poorly explained by Darwinian processes but well explained by design."

Eight families sued to have intelligent design removed from the biology curriculum, contending the policy essentially promotes the Bible's view of creation and therefore violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Mainstream scientists have rejected intelligent design as scientifically untested and contend that its supporters focus on attacking evolutionary theory rather than providing evidence for design.

Behe, who was expected to remain on the stand throughout the day Monday, compared the outcry over intelligent design to the early criticism of the big-bang theory some 70 years ago. "Many people thought it had philosophical and even theological implications that they did not like," he said.

Lehigh's biology department sought to distance itself from Behe in August, posting a statement on its Web site that says the faculty "are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory." He earned tenure at Lehigh before becoming a proponent, which lets him express his views without the threat of losing his job.

The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.

The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The school district is being represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.

©MMV The Associated Press.

Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy

http://www.csicop.org/bib/693

Malcolm Gaskill
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/GASWIT.html

2005, Harvard University Press; 384p., illustrations
occult:history, religion:history, satanism:history

A history of the witch hunting that occurred in the eastern counties of England in 1645-47, focusing on witchhunter Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne. By that time, it was hard to get a guilty verdict in witch trials, as courts sensibly found that instead of sorcery, there had been fraud or some natural medical explanation. Public fear and suspicion of witches was unabated, and became linked in people's minds with suspicion of Catholics, and with political and economic crises. The stage was thus set for Hopkins and Stearne to show their stuff. They were gentlemen (barely) who knew a little law and a little religion, but were fired by an evangelical Protestantism to rid their nation of sin. Hopkins and Stearne were entrepreneurs who found a need and filled it; they were hired consultants, who, when communities suspected witches, would ride in, find the court- presentable evidence in the cases, and then allow justice to begin. Hopkins and Stearne's spree was short-lived; the most important reason was not a boom in rationality but simply an acknowledgement of economics. Communities had to pay for the witchfinders' services, and for the jailing of the witches, and their trials and their eventual hangings. The witches, always poor folk, had no resources from which to pull costs by fines. Gaskill makes the point that torturous interrogations could bring forth confessions that were untrue and even preposterous; he does not mention that it is only sensible that evidence collected by similar means by interrogators currently under federal hire is just as suspect. More broadly, he points out that the tragedy he covers is not isolated; superstition, often cloaked in religion, has resulted in recent deaths of "witches" in India and Africa. We are not much different from the British all those centuries ago, nor from contemporary Indians and Africans. We are anxious and vulnerable, and it is not hard to imagine that a rise in fundamentalist beliefs combined with a reduction in peace and prosperity may start the hunt again.

[ Reviewed by Rob Hardy, robhardy@earthlink.net ]

Visit the full bibliography at http://www.csicop.org/bibliography/ Please consider submitting an entry yourself.

Taner Edis, SKEPTIC bibliographer


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Debate at UCSC weighs evolution vs. intelligent design

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2005/October/16/local/stories/09local.htm

October 16, 2005

By CHANDRA SHEKHAR
SENTINEL CORRESPONDENT
The evolution debate is itself evolving.

In 1925, a Tennessee school teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. Eighty years later, evolution is well-established in school curricula, but some are now asking "Should intelligent design be taught in the schools?"

A recent decision by a school board in Dover, Pa, to give intelligent design equal status with evolution has reopened this thorny argument.

In a civil two-hour debate this past week at UC Santa Cruz, four experts with widely varying viewpoints presented the issue to more than 200 people at the Stevenson Event Center

Evolution is the theory — widely accepted by scientists — that life on earth emerged through natural selection. Central to evolution is a "tree of life," tracing all living organisms — humans included — back to a single common ancestor.

"Evolution through natural selection is the most plausible explanation for where we are today," said David W. Deamer, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC.

This view, however, is shared only by 26 percent of Americans, according to a recent Pew Poll of 2,000 adults, while 42 percent believe in creationism — the Christian concept that living beings have always existed in their present form. Another 18 percent believe in evolution guided by a supreme being.

Intelligent design maintains that only a supreme being could have created the complex life forms we see today.

"If you are going to believe in intelligent design, you can't just pick a pretty molecule," Deamer said, referring to a chemical that powers living cells. "You should also think about molecules that are not so pretty," like the AIDS virus.

"That is not very intelligent design," he said.

According to Deamer, intelligent design — since it cannot be tested — does not qualify as a scientific theory.

"Evolutionary theory was born in the theological cradle," countered Paul A. Nelson from the Discovery Institute, a organization promoting intelligent design. He pointed out that Darwin himself referred to a Creator in his landmark book on evolution, "The Origin of Species."

Nelson denounced evolution as a dogma, not a scientific theory. "Everyone learns it and most people don't believe in it," he said.

While intelligent design and evolution have their usual supporters — devout Christians on one side and scientists on the other — there are some with nuanced viewpoints.

A self-proclaimed atheist, law professor Robert D'Agostino of the John Marshall Law School in Atlanta believes that both evolution and intelligent design rely on unproven inferences. "I am resisting the agenda from both sides by saying 'let the chips fall where they may,' " he said.

And in case one assumed a devout Christian would automatically favor intelligent design in school curricula, Methodist minister Darrell Darling was at the UCSC debate to prove otherwise.

Intelligent design, he said, has "been introduced through the back door of public education by those who have been frustrated in their attempts to carry Genesis creation theory through the front door."

Reactions from the audience were mixed.

Susan Bentley of the Veritas Forum, a religious organization that sponsored the debate, was pleased with the discussion. "These issues should be debated without fear of reprisals or marginalization," she said.

Frank Williams of Defend Science, a Berkeley group opposing political and religious interference in science, was less impressed. "This is a well-crafted attempt to undermine evolution," he said.

Contact Chandra Shekhar at tdunlap@santacruzsentinel.com.

Copyright © 1999-2005 Santa Cruz Sentinel. Intelligent design advocates plot course http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051015/FEAT05/510150393/1023

October 15, 2005
By Paul Nussbaum
Knight Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA — The advocates of "intelligent design," spotlighted in the current courtroom battle over the teaching of evolution in Dover, Pa., have much larger goals than biology textbooks.

They hope to discredit Darwin's theory as part of a bigger push to restore faith to a more central role in American life. "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions," says a strategy document written in 1999 by the Seattle think tank at the forefront of the movement.

The authors said they seek "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."

Intelligent-design advocates have focused publicly on "teaching the controversy," urging that students be taught about weaknesses in evolutionary theory. The 1999 strategy document, though, goes well beyond that.

That "wedge document," outlining a five-year plan for promoting intelligent design and attacking evolution, has figured prominently in the trial now under way in federal court in Harrisburg, Pa.

Eleven parents sued the Dover school board over a requirement to introduce intelligent design to high school biology students as an alternative to evolutionary theory.

"The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. ... We are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source," wrote the authors of the strategy plan for the Center for Science and Culture, an arm of the Discovery Institute and the leader of the effort to promote intelligent design.

"That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a wedge that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points."

The center and the Discovery Institute, financed primarily by Christian philanthropists and foundations, have succeeded in putting evolutionary theory on the hot seat in many school districts and state legislatures.

Its critics, including civil libertarians and the nation's science organizations, say intelligent design is not science, but creationism in a new guise.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that public schools could not teach creationism in science classrooms because it unconstitutionally promoted a particular religious viewpoint.

UFO-spotters tell tales of the extra-terrestrial

Wed Oct 5, 2005 1:18 AM BST

By Jude Webber

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - One minute Jonathan Reed was hiking with his golden retriever in a forest in Seattle. The next, his pet was being torn apart by a "grey" -- an alien being with an elongated head, smelling of rotting fruit.

A scene from a sci-fi film? No, maintains Reed, a former child-developmental psychologist who says he took the alien home and lived with it for nine days in which it communicated via telepathy and was able to pull thoughts from his mind.

Reed and others -- including Uruguayan Rafael Ulloa who says aliens in spaceships spirited away people from New York's twin towers in the September 11, 2001, attacks -- gather in Lima this week for a world extra-terrestrial congress.

Peru has long been a mecca for mystics and there have been abundant reports of flying saucers, especially over the southern town of Chilca. Some locals reckon aliens imbued mud springs there with special curative and fertility powers.

The congress, organised by the Alfa y Omega group that believes a fleet of UFOs will fly to Earth at the end of the world and Christ could use one for his second coming, during its October 6-9 run will pore over photos and grainy films of bright flashes and spooky shapes they say point to alien life forms.

Retired U.S. air force Lt. Col Donald Ware, 69, told a news conference on Tuesday his first contact with aliens was in 1953, when he saw seven spacecraft flying over Washington, D.C.

He spotted no signs of extra-terrestrial life during his service, but said he had seen alien craft eight times since retiring in 1982.

'DETECTING THE VISITORS'

Seeing isn't always believing. Wendelle Stevens, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said he believed in aliens after having investigated 100 cases, despite never having seen any himself.

Stevens, thought to have the largest archive of photographs of alleged UFOs in the world, says he worked from 1947-49 in Alaska with B-29 planes fitted with special scientific instruments to "detect the visitors."

His work there began the year the U.S. military is believed by some to have hushed up two purported crashes of alien spacecraft within a month. The Air Force denies the stories.

Stevens, who said he did not believe in aliens before his work, said it was his job to debrief the crews of the B-29s and recounted how "the radio frequency spectrum went completely haywire ... and the temperature in the airplane increased. (The crew) looked out and there's a disc next door," he said.

He said the crew shot photographs with four different types of camera, but the military suppressed the pictures. No Air Force spokespersons could immediately comment on his remarks.

One of the most unusual testimonies comes from Reed on his 1996 experience with the alien he came to call Freddie.

Reed, who says he has a bracelet belonging to the extra-terrestrial, said Freddie had skin "almost like that of a pig." It breathed and had red blood, but did not speak. Tests showed he had 46 chromosomes, like humans, but 9 were different and resembled those of dolphins and sea turtles, Reed added.

Aliens enthusiasts and UFO spotters are used to raised eyebrows, ridicule and worse. Reed says he was shot after his alien encounter and blames a "government faction which doesn't want this information out".

But his close encounter with the alien with slanting eyes and a slit mouth "proved to me we are living in a much bigger universe," he said.

http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=oddlyEnoughNews&storyID=2005-10-05T001857Z_01_KWA501064_RTRIDST_0_OUKOE-UK-PERU-UFOS.XML

Life is a cup of tea

http://www.economist.com/World/na/displayStory.cfm?story_id=4488706

Evolution and intelligent design

Oct 6th 2005 | HARRISBURG
From The Economist print edition

How should evolution be taught in schools? This being America, judges will decide

HALF of all Americans either don't know or don't believe that living creatures evolved. And now a Pennsylvania school board is trying to keep its pupils ignorant. It is the kind of story about America that makes secular Europeans chortle smugly before turning to the horoscope page. Yet it is more complex than it appears.

In Harrisburg a trial began last week that many are comparing to the Scopes "monkey" trial of 1925, when a Tennessee teacher was prosecuted for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Now the gag is on the other mouth. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that teaching creationism in public-school science classes was an unconstitutional blurring of church and state. But those who think Darwinism unGodly have fought back.

Last year, the school board in Dover, a small rural school district near Harrisburg, mandated a brief disclaimer before pupils are taught about evolution. They are to be told that "The theory [of evolution] is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence." And that if they wish to investigate the alternative theory of "intelligent design", they should consult a book called "Of Pandas and People" in the school library.

Eleven parents, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, two lobby groups, are suing to have the disclaimer dropped. Intelligent design, they say, is merely a clever repackaging of creationism, and as such belongs in a sermon, not a science class.

The school board's defence is that intelligent design is science, not religion. It is a new theory, which holds that present-day organisms are too complex to have evolved by the accumulation of random mutations, and must have been shaped by some intelligent entity. Unlike old-style creationism, it does not explicitly mention God. It also accepts that the earth is billions of years old and uses more sophisticated arguments to poke holes in Darwinism.

Almost all biologists, however, think it is bunk. Kenneth Miller, the author of a popular biology textbook and the plaintiffs' first witness, said that, to his knowledge, every major American scientific organisation with a view on the subject supported the theory of evolution and dismissed the notion of intelligent design. As for "Of Pandas and People", he pronounced that the book was "inaccurate and downright false in every section".

The plaintiffs have carefully called expert witnesses who believe not only in the separation of church and state but also in God. Mr Miller is a practising Roman Catholic. So is John Haught, a theology professor who testified on September 30th that life is like a cup of tea.

To illustrate the difference between scientific and religious "levels of understanding", Mr Haught asked a simple question. What causes a kettle to boil? One could answer, he said, that it is the rapid vibration of water molecules. Or that it is because one has asked one's spouse to switch on the stove. Or that it is "because I want a cup of tea." None of these explanations conflicts with the others. In the same way, belief in evolution is compatible with religious faith: an omnipotent God could have created a universe in which life subsequently evolved.

It makes no sense, argued the professor, to confuse the study of molecular movements by bringing in the "I want tea" explanation. That, he argued, is what the proponents of intelligent design are trying to do when they seek to air their theory—which he called "appalling theology"—in science classes.

Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. Intelligent designers deny that this is why they attack it, but this week the court was told by one critic that the authors of "Of Pandas and People" had culled explicitly creationist language from early drafts after the Supreme Court barred creationism from science classes.

In the Dover case, intelligent design appears to have found unusually clueless champions. If the plaintiffs' testimony is accurate, members of the school board made no effort until recently to hide their religious agenda. For years, they expressed pious horror at the idea of apes evolving into men and tried to make science teachers teach old-fashioned creationism. (The board members in question deny, or claim not to remember, having made remarks along these lines at public meetings.)

Intelligent design's more sophisticated proponents, such as the Discovery Institute in Seattle, are too polite to say they hate to see their ideas championed by such clods. They should not be surprised, however. America's schools are far more democratic than those in most other countries. School districts are tiny—there are 501 in Pennsylvania alone—and school boards are directly elected. In a country where 65% of people think that creationism and evolution should be taught side by side, some boards inevitably agree, and seize upon intelligent design as the closest approximation they think they can get away with. But they may not be able to get away with it for long. If the case is appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, intelligent design could be labelled religious and barred from biology classes nationwide.

Penguins under pressure win Ig Nobel for physicists

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,3605,1586951,00.html

· Spoof prizes handed out in 10 research areas
· Artificial dog testicles win prize for medicine

Alok Jha, science correspondent
Friday October 7, 2005
The Guardian

Ever wondered how far a penguin can fire waste from its anus? Or whether humans can swim faster in water or in sugar syrup? Perhaps even what frogs smell like when they are stressed?

Answers to these burning questions were among the 10 areas of work celebrated at the Ig Nobel prizes at Harvard University last night. The awards, a spoof on the Nobel prizes announced earlier this week, are given for research which "cannot or should not be reproduced".

Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and the man behind the awards, said they "honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think".

Top billing went to the award for fluid dynamics, shared by Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of the International University Bremen and Jozsef Gal of Lorand Eotvos University in Hungary "for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin".

In a videotaped acceptance speech, Dr Meyer-Rochow said the research had started in 1993 when he led the first (and, so far, only) Jamaican expedition to the Antarctic. Years later, while showing a group of students pictures of the faeces-lined nests where penguins lived, he was asked how the displays were created. "They get up, move to the edge of the nest, turn around, bend over and shoot," he said.

"The student who had asked the question, she blushed. The audience chuckled and we got the idea to calculate what pressure is produced by a penguin's pooh." On hand to award the prizes were a collection of real Nobel laureates - Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), William Lipscomb (chemistry, 1976), Sheldon Glashow (physics,1979), Robert Wilson (physics, 1978) - who greeted the winners with handshakes and trumpet blasts.

The medicine prize went to Greg Miller of Missouri for his invention of Neuticles - artificial replacement testicles for dogs which come in a range of sizes. Neuticles allow your pet to "retain his natural look, self-esteem and aids in the trauma associated with neutering", says the company's website.

Brian Gettelfinger and Edward Cussler turned up wearing tiny swimming trunks to claim this year's chemistry prize. They had tackled a subject that even Isaac Newton tried, but failed, to get to the bottom of, namely, would people be able to swim faster in water or in a sticky syrup? (Turns out you can swim just as fast in either liquid). The physics prize went to history's most patient team of scientists, who have watched congealed tar drip through a funnel for almost 78 years. The ceremony ended with the traditional paper plane throwing competition, but there was one change: the man usually responsible for sweeping up the planes from the stage, Harvard physicist Roy Glauber, was absent, having been awarded this year's Nobel prize for physics on Tuesday.

Dr Abrahams said the Ig Nobels were meant to poke fun at the frustration faced by scientists in their daily work.

"Their job is to try and make sense of things that nobody else can make any sense of," he said. "Persistence is a big part of it but having a sense of humour about constant failure is a terrifically useful thing in that line of work." He ended the ceremony with the traditional call to researchers around the world: "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize tonight - and especially if you did - better luck next year."

The winners

Physics: John Mainstone and the late Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland, for an experiment that began in the year 1927, in which a glob of congealed black tar has been slowly dripping through a funnel at a rate of around one drop every nine years.

Medicine: Greg A Miller of Missouri for inventing Neuticles - artificial replacement testicles for dogs

Literature: The internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for using email to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters, each of whom requires just a small amount of money so as to obtain access to the great wealth they will share with you.

Peace: Claire Rind and Peter Simmons of Newcastle University for electrically monitoring the activity of a locust's brain cell while it was watching selected highlights from the film Star Wars.

Biology: An international team of scientists and perfumiers for smelling and cataloguing the peculiar odours produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed.

Economics: Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, thus ensuring that people get out of bed, theoretically adding many productive hours to the work day.

Nutrition: Yoshiro Nakamats of Tokyo for photographing and then analysing every meal he has eaten over 34 years.

Chemistry: Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota and Brian Gettelfinger of the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, for settling the scientific question: can people swim faster in syrup or in water?

Agricultural history: James Watson of Massey University, New Zealand, for his scholarly study, The Significance of Mr Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers.

Fluid dynamics: Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University Bremen, Germany, and the University of Oulu, Finland; and Jozsef Gal of Lorand Eotvos University, Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh - Calculations on Avian Defecation.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Evolution education update: Antievolutionism bad for business in Kansas; The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial on tour; Kitzmiller coverage continues

The Kansas City Star reports that antievolutionism is likely to be bad for business in Kansas, while a drama closely based on the Scopes trial is touring across the country. And a reminder about sources of information -- and misinformation -- about the trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover, which continues to attract journalistic attention across the country and around the word.

ANTIEVOLUTIONISM BAD FOR BUSINESS IN KANSAS

In the Kansas City Star (October 9, 2005), Jason Gertzen and Diane Stafford report that Kansas's reputation as a state officially hostile to evolution education is having discernible effects on recruitment efforts at universities and in the burgeoning biotechnology industry. "Some business leaders and economic development recruiters in the region say ... the region has acquired an 'anti-science' label in some key professions, fueled by the evolution debate in Kansas and efforts in Kansas and Missouri to impose restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research," they write. For example:

* "We have become a bit of a punch line ... We just tend to get lumped in there as the stereotypical conservative, backward-thinking area," said Blake Schreck, the president of the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce.

* "When I go to national meetings, people start to buzz about Kansas and 'intelligent design.' When people begin to laugh at you, that is worse than if they disagree with you, and that is what is beginning to happen," said James L. Spigarelli, the president and chief executive officer of the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City.

* "People can't believe we'd go backward and lose our standing in the scientific world. ... scientists like to be around other scientists. If the feeling they get is that in this community they can't explore, they can't be curious, maybe they won't come here," said Thomas Giarla, the former president of JRH Biosciences (now SAFC Biosciences).

Gertzen and Stafford acknowledge that the previous debacle over evolution in Kansas in 1999 appeared to have little economic effect, "perhaps because a slate of newly elected board members quickly reversed the previous board's action. As a result, many in the science community at the time wrote it off as a temporary blip." While it is difficult to compile economic data to prove that the region's economy would suffer from the state board of education's expected decision to adopt a set of science standards in which evolution is systematically impugned, they reported, Kansas City economist Sheldon Stahl characterized the idea as not far-fetched.

To read "'Anti-science' label may repel scientists" in the Kansas City Star, visit: http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/12854747.htm

THE GREAT TENNESSEE MONKEY TRIAL ON TOUR

L.A. Theatre Works's drama The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial, based on the original transcripts from the Scopes trial, is now on a twenty-three city tour, playing at major universities, colleges, and civic performing arts centers across the country. With a script by Peter Goodchild, the play was originally broadcast by LATW in 1992; the current production, directed by Gordon Hunt, commemorates the eightieth anniversary of the Scopes trial.

Reviewing the play in the Wall Street Journal (October 1, 2005), the critic Terry Teachout (who recently wrote a biography of H. L. Mencken, The Skeptic (HarperCollins, 2002)) commented, "the trial itself is heard as it happened, and is all the more dramatic for being true. ... while I doubt it'll change many minds in Harrisburg [where the trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover is being conducted], or anywhere else, it still makes for a thought-provoking show."

Varying from locale to locale, the cast will include such actors as Edward Asner, Tom Bosley, Mike Farrell, James Cromwell, Marsha Mason, Richard Dreyfuss, Eric Stoltz, Sharon Gless, Alfred Molina, Michael Learned, and John de Lancie. At each stop, LATW's producing director told The New York Times (October 12, 2005), the local National Public Radio affiliate will record and broadcast the performance and any locally arranged discussion.

For information on the play from LATW, visit: http://www.latw.org/about/article.aspx?index=3

For Teachout's review (PDF), visit: http://www.latw.org/downloads/Sightings-TerryTeachout.pdf

For The New York Times's story, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/12/theater/12monk

KITZMILLER COVERAGE CONTINUES

The trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first legal challenge to the constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools, began in a federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on September 26, 2005. The media is out in force, so much so that a summary of the extensive coverage is practically impossible. Instead, please browse through the following resources, all of which are replete with links, summaries, and information -- or misinformation: caveat lector.

For official information about the trial from the court itself, visit: http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller.htm

For information about the case from NCSE, including audio reports from NCSE staff and trial transcripts, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/kitzmiller

For information about the case from the ACLU and Americans United, visit:
http://www.aclu.org/evolution
http://www.au.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issues_evolution

For coverage in the local press, visit:
http://www.ydr.com/news/doverbiology/
http://www.yorkdispatch.com/

For extensive blog coverage of the trial, visit The Panda's Thumb, the York Daily Record's Mike Argento, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and (with its own distinctive perspective) "Evolution News & Views," hosted by the Discovery Institute:
http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/09/waterloo_in_dov.html
http://www.yorkblog.com/archives/argentos_front_stoop/index.html
http://aclupa.blogspot.com/
http://www.evolutionnews.org/

If you wish to subscribe, please send:

subscribe ncse-news your@email.com

again in the body of an e-mail to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.

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

Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

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

Parents, Scientists Testify in Court on Major Flaws in "Intelligent Design"

http://www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=19246&c=139

October 13, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Advocates Motivated by Religion, Not Science, Say Witnesses

HARRISBURG, PA -- The plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first legal challenge to teaching "intelligent design," are expected to wrap up their case by early next week. Eleven parents filed the federal lawsuit against the Dover Area School Board arguing that presenting "intelligent design" in public school science classrooms violates students' religious liberty. The parents are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

The lawsuit challenges a controversial decision made in October 2004 by the Dover Area School Board to require biology teachers to present "intelligent design" as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution. "Intelligent design" is an assertion that an intelligent, supernatural entity has intervened in the history of life. Witnesses have demonstrated that such an assertion is inherently a religious argument that falls outside the realm of science.

While the trial has frequently been dubbed Scopes Two, attorneys representing the parents say comparisons to McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education and Edwards v. Aguillard are more accurate. In McLean, a federal judge ruled that "creation science" did not qualify as a scientific theory, striking down Arkansas' law requiring equal time for "creation science" and evolution. In Edwards, the Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring that creation science be taught with evolution was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion.

The defense, which is led by the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm, has repeatedly denied any connection between creationism and "intelligent design." However, the testimony of Barbara Forrest, Ph.D., an expert on "intelligent design" and co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, undermined such claims. Forrest traced the development of Of Pandas and People, an "intelligent design"-focused textbook that is at the center of the Kitzmiller case. Comparing drafts of the textbook received after attorneys subpoenaed the book's authors, Forrest showed that the publishers simply replaced the word "creationism" with the phrase "intelligent design" after the Supreme Court decision in Edwards.

"Creationism means a number of things," Forrest testified. "First and foremost it means rejection of evolutionary theory in favor of special creation by a supernatural deity. It also involves a rejection of the established methodologies of science, and this is all for religious reason."

Forrest also noted that "intelligent design" proponents hope to discredit evolution as part of a bigger push to give religion a more central role in American life. A strategy document written in 1999 by the Discovery Institute, the organization at the forefront of this movement, states, "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Expert witness John Haught, a theology professor at Georgetown University, reinforced the religious nature of "intelligent design."

"In my view, the way in which 'intelligent design' is used in the discourse that's in dispute, it does entail an essentially biblical and specifically Christian view of the world," Haught said.

The parents who brought the lawsuit testified that they witnessed such religious motivations expressed by members of the Dover Area School Board when they voted to promote "intelligent design." One of the parents, Beth Eveland, said, "I remember [Dover School Board member] Bill Buckingham saying, '2,000 years ago someone died on a cross. Isn't someone going to take a stand for him?'"

Casey Brown, who served on the school board with her husband, resigned after the contentious vote to adopt "intelligent design." During her testimony, Brown said that she and her husband were called atheists for opposing the instruction of religious belief in science classes, and the board president told her she "would be going to hell."

Ignoring such statements so far, the defense continues to assert that "intelligent design" is rooted in science, frequently citing Dr. Michael Behe's work. However, expert witness Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University, said that Behe's attempts to negate evolutionary theory does not demonstrate positive evidence for "intelligent design."

"'Intelligent design' is not a testable theory and as such is not generally accepted by the scientific community," said Miller.

Christy Rehm, another parent represented in the lawsuit, echoed this sentiment. "'Intelligent design' is not a scientific concept. It's a religious concept. And because I don't subscribe to that particular brand of religion, I feel that I and my daughter, my family, are being ridiculed, and my daughter feels the pressure," testified Rehm. "I reserve the right to teach my child about religion. And I have faith in myself and in my husband and in my pastor to do that, not the school system."

In addition to Forrest, Haught and Miller, expert witnesses for the plaintiffs included Robert T. Pennock , Ph.D., an associate professor of science and technology at Michigan State University; Brian Alters, Ph.D., an associate professor of education at McGill University; and Kevin Padian, Ph.D., a professor of integrative biology at University of California, Berkeley and curator of the university's Museum of Paleontology.

The trial has sparked a national debate prompting school districts, elected officials, academics and religious leaders to publicly oppose teaching "intelligent design" in the science classroom. In a recent statement, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell said that the introduction of "intelligent design" in natural science courses "would be a blow to the integrity of education in California." Similarly, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said the governor believes that "intelligent design" should not be taught in science classes in public schools.

Kitzmiller v. Dover is being argued in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The defense is expected to start its case early next week. The trial is scheduled to end on November 4. For more information on the case, visit www.aclu.org/evolution.

A web log with daily updates on the case is available at aclupa.blogspot.com/.

In addition, Dr. Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, is this week's guest blogger at TPMCafe: www.tpmcafe.com/section/tableforone. Dr. Gunn will be discussing the Dover case and the public debate over "intelligent design" and evolution.

Scientists hit back at Dover video

http://ydr.com/story/doverbiology/89603/

Dover board member urged teachers to watch 'Icons of Evolution' to learn about flaws in Darwin's theory.

By LAURI LEBO
Daily Record/Sunday News
Friday, October 14, 2005

At the end of the 2004 school year, Bill Buckingham, then a member of the Dover Area School Board, wanted science teachers to know about what he suspected were flaws in evolutionary theory.

So he asked an administrator to give the teachers a videotape produced by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, according to court testimony Wednesday.

The pro-intelligent-design organization touts as one of its leading resources "Icons of Evolution," a book written by one of its senior fellows, Jonathan Wells.

The tape has featured prominently in the school board's First Amendment battle over intelligent design, which resumes today in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg. The teachers watched it, as they were instructed. But that didn't keep them from opposing the school board's decision to include the concept of intelligent design in the district's biology curriculum.

The videotape, based on Wells' book of the same name, points to what it says is the "growing scientific controversy over Darwin," raising questions about Galapagos finches, among other "false icons" used to teach children about evolution.

But while Buckingham may have considered the work illustrative of gaps in evolutionary theory, scientists say it is inaccurate and misleading.

One of the work's chief critics, Kevin Padian, a biologist and Museum of Paleontology curator at the University of California-Berkeley, takes the stand today. While Padian's testimony will focus on a different pro- intelligent-design work, the textbook "Of Pandas and People," he previously wrote about "Icons."

In a 2002 review in "The Quarterly Review of Biology," he and Alan Gishlick, a paleontologist, wrote that the book version of "Icons of Evolution" distorts facts through omission of key information.

The title of the review is "The Talented Mr. Wells," and the two scientists write that "Icons" "can scarcely be considered a work of scholarly integrity."

"Wells's book is aimed at a public that is largely ignorant of scientific issues, and it is being marketed aggressively," they wrote.

Discovery's Web site offers a free copy of the DVD to people who want to become members of the organization.

Other scientists have also written unflattering critiques of Wells' work. In the analyses, one of the arguments cited as being the most "poorly conceived" is regarding his conclusions on Darwin's finches, a group of 13 closely-related bird species on the Galapagos Islands.

The finches played a role in the formulation of Darwin's theory, illustrating how Darwin concluded natural selection could lead to continued changes over time until the birds eventually evolved into different species.

While Wells acknowledges the finches are a great example of natural selection at work, he argues that the small changes witnessed through environmental adaptation don't make a case for macroevolution, the change from one species to another.

He points to a mid-1990s study in which, during periods of drought, the finches' beaks became bigger from season to season, adapting to the tougher nuts that grew on the island.

But he discounts natural selection by saying that when the rains return, the beaks tend to grow smaller again, or more varied, from generation to generation. The result is that there has been no "net" evolution, he says. Rather, the changes are "washed out," he says, because the beak sizes oscillate back and forth depending on the amount of rain over the years.

But his critics point out that Wells fails to mention that in a sustained drought, the beak size would remain large as the finches adapted to their new environment.

"It is not unreasonable to extrapolate that if just a couple of years of drought can have that significant an effect on beak size, then extended droughts could cause such variations to become fixed in a population, and lead to speciation," Gishlick wrote in a piece for the National Center for Science Education.

But Wells said Thursday that his assertion is correct and if the drought continued, macroevolution could still not occur.

"All the birds would have died," Wells said. "Period. End of story. No evidence."

NCCAM Expands Research Centers Program with Three Centers of Excellence and Two International Centers

http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/oct2005/nccam-14.htm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Friday, October 14, 2005

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) announces funding of three centers of excellence and two international centers for the study of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). With these new awards NCCAM, a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), continues to enhance CAM research capacity by funding centers at leading U.S. institutions and by establishing new global partnerships.

Three of the five new centers will explore therapies used in traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and Chinese herbal mixtures. The other two centers will study a type of energy medicine (millimeter wave therapy) and botanical therapies used by traditional healers in Africa.

"We are excited by the addition of these centers to our research program and the unique collaborations and approaches they bring to studies of CAM practices," said Stephen E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM Director. "All five centers will strengthen our research portfolio for major health problems — HIV/AIDS, arthritis, asthma, and pain. Plus, the new international centers will conduct basic and clinical studies of promising CAM interventions drawn from traditional medicine indigenous to the locations of international partners."

Centers of Excellence for Research on CAM

The three new Centers of Excellence provide 5 years of support for experienced researchers at some of the Nation's leading universities. These researchers apply cutting-edge technologies to identify the potential benefits and underlying mechanisms of CAM practices. The three new centers and their first year funding totals are:

Center for Arthritis and Traditional Chinese Medicine; $1,197,651
Principal Investigator: Brian Berman, M.D.
Institution: University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD

This center will study traditional Chinese medicine approaches — acupuncture and herbs — for the treatment of arthritis. Researchers will conduct a clinical trial of an 11-herb Chinese formula (known as HLXL) for osteoarthritis of the knee; assess acupuncture's effect on inflammatory pain in an animal model; and study the efficacy of HLXL in an animal model of autoimmune arthritis.

Center for Chinese Herbal Therapy; $1,144,274
Principal Investigator: Xiu-Min Li, M.D.
Institution: Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY

Center researchers will investigate a three-herb Chinese formula (known as ASHMI) as a therapy for allergic asthma. Studies of the herbal formula will look at mechanism of action in an animal model, characterize the herbs' active components, and investigate the formula's use in asthma patients.

Center for Mechanisms Underlying Millimeter Wave Therapy; $1,025,895
Principal Investigator: Marvin Ziskin, M.D.
Institution: Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA

This center will study the mechanisms of action of millimeter wave therapy (use of low-intensity millimeter wavelength electromagnetic waves) for a variety of diseases and conditions, as well as looking at the therapy's use in animal models of chronic neuropathic pain and pruritis (itching).

International Centers for Research on CAM

The International Centers for Research on CAM are the outgrowth of planning grants awarded by NCCAM to 11 international teams in 2003. These teams had 2 years to develop a research collaboration and infrastructure that could compete for 4-year centers grants. The recipients of these international centers grants will now carry out research on CAM and traditional medicine practices in countries where the practices are indigenous. These partnerships between researchers in U.S. and foreign institutions will address whether the traditional practices can aid in health care locally and globally and build CAM research capacity internationally. Co-funders for these centers include NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements, Office of AIDS Research, and Fogarty International Center. In addition, the National Cancer Institute will fund a third international center.

The two NCCAM recipients and their first year funding totals are:

Functional Bowel Disorders in Chinese Medicine; $807,253
Principal Investigator: Brian Berman, M.D
Partner Institutions: University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD; Chinese University of Hong Kong, China; University of Illinois, Chicago, IL; University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia

This center will conduct multidisciplinary research on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practices — acupuncture and herbs — for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Researchers will study effects of acupuncture and a TCM herbal preparation in an animal model of IBS and conduct a preliminary study of the herbal preparation with IBS patients.

The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies: HIV/AIDS, Secondary Infections and Immune Modulation; $1,100,000
Principal Investigator: William Folk, Ph.D.
Partner Institutions: University of Missouri, Columbia, MO; University of the Western Cape, Bellville, Republic of South Africa; along with University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Cape Town, and the South African Medical Research Council

This center will study the safety and efficacy of traditional African plant-based therapies already in wide-spread use for HIV/AIDS and some of its secondary infections. Researchers will conduct a small clinical trial using sutherlandia (Lessertia frutescens) in adults with HIV and conduct preclinical and clinical research with African wormwood (Artemisia afra), which is used by traditional healers for treatment of many conditions seen in people with HIV/AIDS.

The National Cancer Institute will fund the:

International Center of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Cancer
Principal Investigator: Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D.
Partner Institutions: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX; Fudan University Cancer Hospital, Shanghai, China

This center will conduct preclinical and clinical studies of TCM approaches — herbs, acupuncture, and qi gong — for treating cancer and its symptoms, as well as treatment-related side effects.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's mission is to explore complementary and alternative medical practices in the context of rigorous science, train CAM researchers, and disseminate authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov. NCCAM is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

Scientific Inquiry on Trial in Pennsylvania

http://www.earnedmedia.org/ceai1013.htm

To: National List

Contact: Hilary Clay Hicks, Media Relations for Christian Educators Association International, 626-821-9532, hillyboy@altrionet.com

PASADENA, Ca., Oct. 13 /Christian Wire Service/ -- Eleven parents from the Dover School District in south central Pennsylvania, represented by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, are asking the courts to halt schools from teaching students the Theory of Intelligent Design, claiming that the board is trying to bring religion into the classroom and that Intelligent Design is not valid science.

"The ACLU and its minions have a full court press underway to misrepresent Intelligent Design Theory, not to mention misrepresenting the Theory of Evolution," says Finn Laursen, Executive Director of Christian Educators Association International. "They are in fact attempting to stifle scientific inquiry because of their misplaced hostility toward religion."

"The case against the Dover School District is the first case to test the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution in public school classrooms," says Laursen. About a year ago the district revised its science curriculum to make students aware of some of the problems in the Theory of Evolution and be introduced to the Theory of Intelligent Design. The trial began September 26.

"They claim the policy violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause," says Laursen. "Armed with a 1987 Supreme Court decision declaring that teaching 'Creationism' in public schools is a violation of the Establishment Clause, the ACLU argued that Intelligent Design is Creationism repackaged.

However, some experts contend that understanding of the facts has changed, since many recent scientific discoveries do not support Darwin's ideas, conceived over 150 years ago. A new breed of scientists now respect a theory that suggests a master designer at work in the universe due in part to the irreducible complexity of the universe.

"I applaud the board for having the courage to expose its students to this issue," says Laursen. "A well-rounded education should include more than one theory. A theory is by its very nature conjecture and should not be enshrined as orthodoxy. Those married to the Theory of Evolution are simply closed to genuine scientific inquiry and disingenuous about their agenda."

"I find it refreshing that this board encourages critical thinking rather than insist on reflexive allegiance to a theory. Teaching the controversy is good education. I am not shocked to again see the ACLU and its allies, self proclaimed defenders of freedom, opposing academic freedom and promoting censorship. We at CEAI encourage teachers to teach both theories. We also believe that Intelligent Design will ultimately prevail in the marketplace of ideas."

The Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor Michigan is defending the District on the basis that the case is about freedom of education and is not a religious issue.

Finn Laursen is the Executive Director of the Christian Educators Association International, est. 1953.

To interview Mr. Laursen, call Hilary Clay Hicks at 626-821-9532.

Issuers of news releases and not the Christian Communication Network are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content. Terms and conditions, including restrictions on redistribution, apply.
Copyright © 1999-2005 Christian Communication Network.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has a standard for teaching science that includes evolution and excludes mention of alternate religious theories.

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=15380971&BRD=1597&PAG=461&dept_id=188818&rfi=6

A Dover school district shook the standard when it mandated that science teachers read a four-paragraph statement addressing intelligent design before evolution lessons.

Although many doubt that the much-publicized hearings in Harrisburg involving the school will change the standard, Main Line school districts are waiting to see what the fallout will be when the court finally rules. However, Haverford is only school district to address intelligent design in a board meeting. Lower Merion, Radnor, Tredyffrin/Easttown and Great Valley have yet to discuss possible changes. Public reaction might heat up as the Dover hearing gains its own heat in the media.

Dr. Sheila Vance, professor at Villanova Law School, predicts that the debate will become more controversial no matter what the court decides.

"If the court supports the school district, you'll see other school districts passing similar types of mandates," she said. "It would likely have to find that intelligent design is a scientific theory."

Under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, teachers are not permitted to promote religion in public school.

The legislature and the PDE would have to reconsider the science standard, she noted.

On the other hand, if the court decides for the parents who opposed bringing the issue to the classroom, the court would have to hold that intelligent design supports religion, as in creationism, said Vance.

"I think whatever happens in this case, we'll see more of everything," added Vance. She predicted that more school districts in Pennsylvania and other states will take up the intelligent design cause. The movement is a strong one, she said.

If the schools began teaching the idea, what would the lessons look like?

According to Dr. Todd Moody, philosophy professor at Saint Joseph's University, "There are some scientists that believe certain features of living things look like they were designed, that they have a complexity that could only be because an intelligent being designed them."

Moody believes that intelligent design and evolution could possibly go hand in hand in the classroom because the theory "tells you nothing about who designed it, why or anything else."

He said the theory is based on probability, similar to archeology.

Intelligent design isn't necessarily biblical, he asserted. "I think a lot of students would find it interesting and engaging to address the controversy," he said. But Moody doesn't agree with mandated statements without the option of further discussion, as was the case in Dover.

And the curriculum would have to be watched to make sure that religion doesn't sneak in to lessons.

Science programs at Lower Merion, Haverford, Radnor, Tredyffrin/Easttown and Great Valley school districts have remained standard for as long as teachers can remember.

Evolution is a PDE-required section within the science curriculum that should be taught by 10th grade, according to the last science standard draft in 2002. Evolution instruction includes information about fossil records, mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, inherited traits, Earth's development and survival vs. extinction.

PDE allows student exemption from certain lessons if parents disagree with the teaching for religious reasons. Main Line schools deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis. Parents have disagreed with lessons involving dissection, AIDS, certain novels as well as evolution, according to local superintendents.

Haverford Superintendent David Van Winkle said that the intelligent design issue has been brought up at board meetings. He's also received letters from the public. The opinions of educators as well as the public have been in line with his own educational philosophy: "I think intelligent design should be taught in a comparative religion class or philosophy class," he said.

The theory does not have a place in the science classroom because it's not a testable theory like evolution. He said he doesn't have an issue with discussing intelligent design as long as it's in the right setting.

Lower Merion Superintendent Jamie Savedoff holds a similar philosophy as Van Winkle. "If we were to have a discussion like that," Savedoff said of intelligent design, "it would be in the humanities.

"Intelligent design or creationism is faith-based, and it belongs in a philosophy debate or humanities programs."

Lower Merion currently offers philosophy and comparative religion courses that can address the theory, but don't promote any certain idea, he said.

If intelligent design becomes fair play in science classrooms, Savedoff said, "From my perspective as a superintendent, that's not something I would recommend."

Savedoff noted that the issue has not come up at board meetings.

Radnor Superintendent Gary Cooper maintained, "We teach only scientific theory. We leave the religious theory to parents."

Like Lower Merion, Radnor offers courses outside of science, such as a bioethics class, to address theories that oppose evolution. He stressed that students are free to ask questions, and teachers will answer without crossing the line into promoting a religion.

Cooper said he was surprised that he hasn't yet received a letter about the Dover hearings from parents, nor has the board discussed the possible consequences of the case.

Tredyffrin/Easttown Curriculum Director Mary Lou Folts said that teachers tell students that evolution is one theory, and that is what they'll be studying in the science class.

"We believe students should question, and we want them to question," she said, but T/E adheres to the standard science practices. Superintendent Daniel Waters said that the school board has not discussed intelligent design in board meetings, and if the Dover hearings invoke statewide change, the school district has a process for revising the curriculum.

Great Valley Superintendent Rita Jones agreed that intelligent design is not science because "those who believe in intelligent design have that as a belief system."

She said that teachers try to honor students who disagree with evolution, but do not incorporate that thinking into teaching. She noted that any curriculum change following the Dover hearing would depend on what the PDE decides.

School districts and citizens can only watch and wait to see if one school in York County invokes drastic change in educational institutions.

©Main Line Life 2005

Selling futures

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/living/articles/2005/10/15/selling_futures

A skeptic puts her fate in the hands of 5 Salem psychics

By Pat Washburn, Globe Correspondent | October 15, 2005

SALEM -- This time of year, a spooky gloom descends over New England, and legends of ghosts and witches draw the curious to Salem. Those who took part in the witch trials of the 1690s would be horrified to learn that their history has sparked a thriving trade in things scary and mystical, ranging from new age shops to ''museums" of pirates, witches, and ghosts.

High season for these shops and tourist attractions is October, when visitors by the carload and busload haunt the downtown, looking for everything from Halloween decorations to the answers to life's big questions, available from a variety of psychics, card readers, aura photographers, and palmists.

Nearly every store with any connection to the spiritual or metaphysical realm -- and there are many of these in Salem -- has one or more readers, usually inhabiting a back room. (Salem's Psychic Studio is an exception; while owner Diana McKanas has a few items for sale in her tastefully appointed storefront, her primary purpose is to give readings.) Sometimes the reader is the owner, selling crystals and jewelry one minute, pondering the mysteries of a client's life the next.

This fall, having celebrated a birthday ending in a zero, I found myself among their clients. I sought advice from five of the psychic readers of Salem, each of whom had a different approach and different tools. None of them had met me before, and I asked for general perspectives on my life rather than any specifics. I identified myself as a reporter, but the only other information I gave was that available from my appearance -- for instance, I wear a wedding ring, so no one predicted a hot new romance for me. None of the Salem readers tried any ''fortune teller" tricks, such as telling me I was cursed or trying to get extra money from me. Some of their insights were surprisingly similar. Each of them told me some things you might assume anyone would want to hear, and each told me one or two things that challenged my skepticism.

Barbara Szafranski

Title: Spiritual counselor

Alternate career: Gift shop owner, accountant

Base of operations: Angelica of the Angels, 7 Central St.

Canine assistant: Sheba, an elderly German shepherd

Cost of a half-hour reading: $50, plus $2 for a cassette tape of the experience

Money: ''Money may be tight right now, but within 10 to 11 months it should ease off. I see your husband getting a raise or a bonus." (Probably not. He has the worst boss of all -- himself!)

Relationships: ''You have a good relationship, but he knows when to shut his mouth." (Honey? You can open it now, honest.)

Career: ''You're going up to the top. I don't think you even have to plan it. . . . There's going to be a part in the newspaper that's going to come up, not like Dear Abby, but more like fighting for women's rights and against the war." (Again with the editorials!)

Health: ''You need a little bit more exercise. You've been sitting too much." (Not hard to deduce, given my figure!)

Nice to hear: Through psychic contact, she informed me that my late mother approves of my choice of hair color.

Freakily accurate: ''Does the name Alice mean anything to you?" (My sister is named Alice.)

Useful information: ''Within three to six months, I see some kind of leak in the bathroom, where the shower is."

Szafranski also gave me a photograph of my aura. Apparently I am a Yellow, which means I am warm, playful, and charming.

Christian Day

Title: Witch

Alternate career: Co-organizer of Salem's Festival of the Dead, where participants pay up to $150 to attend occult-themed entertainments

Base of operations: The Magic Parlor, 213 Essex St.

Cost of a half-hour reading: $40

Money: ''In the next six months, something crazy will happen. There'll be money problems, but you'll pull yourself out of it." (Great.)

Relationships: ''You're in a roller-coaster relationship. Your husband is very emotional, very psychic." (He's very good at guessing when I want chocolate.)

Career: ''You'd make a great editorialist." (From your lips to my editor's ears.)

Health: ''I see a lung condition, some kind of pollutant, nothing major." (I did have a lung illness eight years ago.)

Nice to hear: ''You're editor in chief material."

Freakily accurate: ''I see the loss of a father. . . . It put a wedge in a lot of things. I see depression, emptiness." (My father-in-law died in January, leaving a messy situation.)

Beverly Andersen

Title: Trance channel

Base of operations: Pyramid Books, 214 Derby St.

Cost of a half-hour reading: $40, plus $2 for a cassette tape of the experience

Money: ''Coming into a better cycle around the fall of 2006, heading into 2007." (I hate waiting, don't you?)

Relationship: ''You can trust this [marriage]. . . . There's a richness in spontaneity, and both of you forget that sometimes." Also reveals that my husband and I were married in a previous life, but perished in a Mississippi River steamboat explosion. (I do have a weird fear of submarines.)

Career: ''I see you, within three years, writing about this millennium, about the paradigm changes that are happening, kind of an Art Buchwald kind of writing." (Another vote for the editorial section!) ''You have somebody in your workplace who's just silly and eases the pressure."

Health: My husband is ''the Energizer Bunny," but I need to watch out for stress on my heart. She suggests breathing exercises, and does one with me.

Nice to hear: ''There's no flies on you. You have your own gifts of intuition. You really need to allow yourself more hope."

Freakily accurate: ''I see a major shift for you around [ages] 15 to 17, and another around 32 or 33." (My mom died when I was 15, and I began dating my husband at 32.) Predicts another one three years from now.

Diana McKanas

Title: Psychic

Alternate career: Lecturer, TV personality

Base of operations: Salem Psychic Center, 77 Wharf St.

Canine assistant: Misty, a Shih Tzu with a pink bow in her hair

Cost of a half-hour reading: $60

Money: ''Financially the outcome looks pretty nice. You will be bringing in extra income. . . . I also see cutting back spending." (Drat, I hate that last part.)

Relationship: Based on the numerology outcome of my husband's birth date, ''he sounds like a sweetheart." (He is.)

Career: ''You're comfortable, well-liked, you do a good job." (I hope so!)

Health: ''I see high blood pressure." (I'm on medication for it.)

Nice to hear: ''You're independent, strong-willed, stubborn, with a lot of leadership capabilities." (Great, great . . . stubborn? Who, me?)

Freakily accurate: ''Your husband needs to take better care of himself. . . . His shoulders hurt from pressure at work."

Sylvia

Title: Psychic

Alternate career: Psychotherapist (she reserves her last name for this practice, using only her first name for readings)

Base of operations: The Goddess' Treasure Chest, 173 Essex St.

Canine assistant: Spirit, a cream-colored cocker spaniel

Cost of a reading: $30 for a quick but thorough reading. ''I won't need a half-hour," she said, and she didn't.

Money: ''You need to appreciate the good things you have. . . . Money will be coming your way."

Relationship: ''Listen to your instincts. . . . You need to take control." (Darling, I have an instinct that I need more jewelry.)

Career: ''Right now people are getting on your nerves. You need to stay detached." (Working on it.)

Health: ''You're OK; you're not going to die this year." (Thanks!) ''You'll be going to a doctor, dentist, something connected with bones. Within seven to 10 months this will be better."

Freakily accurate. ''You're worrying unnecessarily. . . . Your main problem is in your own head." (Sad but true.) Also gave an accurate analysis of my sister's job hunt.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

The E-Meter: Still Crazy After all These Years

http://www.medgadget.com/archives/2005/09/the_tom_cruise.html

Friday, September 30, 2005

Filed under: the good old days...

We were very excited when rumors surfaced about a series of lectures from Tom Cruise, free on the web, about scientology and psychiatry. At last, we thought, a chance to glimpse the non-evidence-based innards of Hollywood's favorite pasttime, without paying exorbitant fees (and yes, I'm talking about Scientology, not psychiatry):

Continuing his vigorous advocacy for Scientology's solutions to mental health problems, Tom Cruise will deliver a series of four lectures on topics related to "The Modern Science of Mental Health" beginning next month....

The first lecture, set for October 15, is titled "How Psychiatry Invented Schizophrenia, and What Scientologists Can Do About It".

The second lecture, tentatively scheduled for October 22, is on "Handling Sexual Dis-Orientation: Out of the Closet and Into the Auditing Room".

The topic of the third lecture, in early November, will be "Diagnosis and Treatment of So-Called Clinical Depression with the Hubbard Mark Super VII Quantum Electropsychometer".

Well, the Tom Cruise Lecture Series may be a hoax, but we were intrigued by the electropsychometer and found it's a real gadget (if not actually a medical device):

"The E-meter is a skin galvanometer, similar to those used in giving lie detector tests. The subject or "preclear" holds in his hands two tin soup cans, which are linked to the electrical apparatus. A needle on the apparatus registers changes in the electrical resistance of the subject's skin. The auditor asks questions of the subject, and the movement of the needle is apparently used as a check of the emotional reaction to the questions. According to complex rules and procedures set out in Scientology publications, the auditor can interpret the movements of the needle after certain prescribed questions are asked, and use them in diagnosing the mental and spiritual condition of the subject."

Early government inquires into the E-meter revealed some limitations:

These experts also explained that the machine was not really a measure of skin resistance at all, but partially a reading of how firmly the individual was grasping the can; if the person squeezed the can, there was more contact, and apparent skin resistance would drop. If he held the cans loosely, the apparent skin resistance would simply increase.

Scientologists, on the other hand, claim that the E-meter is so sensitive that it will react not only when a person is holding onto it, but also when it is placed on a tomato -- garden variety that is. While some people would view this as an argument against the meter, Scientologists feel that this proves its validity and that it also supports their hypothesis that plants have feelings like humans.

And now, the E-meter's status is not unlike that of pro wrestling: everyone agrees it's not real, but interested parties go through the motions for their own reasons:

The US Food & Drug Administration raided Scientology on January 4, 1963 and seized hundreds of E-meters as illegal medical devices. The incident is described in Jon Atack's book, A Piece of Blue Sky, and in this essay by Stephen Barrett, M.D. Since that time, meters have been required to carry a disclaimer stating that they are purely a religious artifact...

This subsequent court decision says in part: "As a matter of formal doctrine, the Church professes to have abandoned any contention that there is a scientific basis for claiming cures resulting from E-meter use..."



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