NTS LogoSkeptical News for 9 March 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Thursday, March 09, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: Satellite Sleuth Closes in on Noah's Ark Mystery

http://www.livescience.com/history/060309_the_ark.html

By Leonard David LiveScience Senior Writer

posted: 09 March 2006 06:30 am ET

High on Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey, there is a baffling mountainside "anomaly," a feature that one researcher claims may be something of biblical proportions.

Images taken by aircraft, intelligence-gathering satellites and commercial remote-sensing spacecraft are fueling an intensive study of the intriguing oddity. But whether the anomaly is some geological quirk of nature, playful shadows, a human-made structure of some sort, or simply nothing at all—that remains to be seen.

Whatever it is, the anomaly of interest rests at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters) on the northwest corner of Mt. Ararat, and is nearly submerged in glacial ice. It would be easy to call it merely a strange rock formation.

But at least one man wonders if it could be the remains of Noah's Ark—a vessel said to have been built to save people and selected animals from the Great Flood, the 40 days and 40 nights of deluge as detailed in the Book of Genesis.

The Genesis blueprint of the Ark detailed the structure as 6:1 length to width ratio (300 cubits by 50 cubits). The anomaly, as viewed by satellite, is close to that 6:1 proportion.

Newfound optimism

Identifying the Ararat anomaly has been a 13-year-long quest of Porcher Taylor, an associate professor in paralegal studies at the University of Richmond's School of Continuing Studies in Virginia.

Taylor has been a national security analyst for more than 30 years, also serving as a senior associate for five years at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

"I've got new found optimism ... as far as my continuing push to have the intelligence community declassify some of the more definitive-type imagery," Taylor told SPACE.com/LiveScience. He points to a "new and significant development," a high-resolution image taken by DigitalGlobe's impressive QuickBird satellite and shown here publicly for the first time [alternate version with no annotation].

"I'm calling this my satellite archeology project," Taylor said. It's an effort that has now included use of QuickBird, GeoEye's Ikonos spacecraft, Canada's Radarsat 1, as well as declassified aerial and satellite images taken by the various U.S. intelligence agencies.

Making the mountain transparent

Taylor said his goal is straightforward: Combining this imagery to make the Ararat anomaly transparent to the public, as well as to the discerning, dispassionate eyes of scientists, imagery analysts, and other experts.

"I had no preconceived notions or agendas when I began this in 1993 as to what I was looking for," Taylor said.

As for the saga of Noah's Ark, he is quick to note that there are those who say it is fable while some take it as truth.

Nevertheless, the anomaly may not be a ridge line of ice, snow and possibly rock, but an artificial ridge line, Taylor said. "I maintain that if it is the remains of something manmade and potentially nautical, then it's potentially something of biblical proportions."

While chiding the intelligence communities to release more of their closely guarded satellite imagery, Taylor said that soon-to-fly commercial remote sensing spacecraft are sure to help his archeological undertaking.

"We've got three new birds that are going up. I'm using all my clout, rapport and lobbying to, hopefully, have them at least fly calibration runs over Mt. Ararat," Taylor said. Those images would make the mountain even more transparent, he said.

Will it float?

Meanwhile, Taylor has an ever-expanding network of experts to help tease out the truth about the anomaly.

For example, satellite imagery analyst Rod Franz of SunTek Media Group/RiteImage, Inc., located in Henderson, Nevada, has taken a look at imagery provided by Taylor of the Ararat anomaly and carried out additional analysis of the area. As director of training for the firm, Franz sharpened his skills by serving nearly 25 years as a military intelligence imagery analyst.

For the anomaly assessment, the same software tools used for studying government and commercial remote sensing data were employed, Franz told SPACE.com/LiveScience. Ground distances and scales of the anomaly were determined. That software also has the ability to adjust brightness, haze, sharpness, contrast and other factors of the area of interest, he said.

"Along with many other image manipulation functions ... I also used the pseudo-color function trying to determine if I could detect anything under the ice and snow," Franz said.

The face of the anomaly measured 1,015 feet (309 meters) across, Franz said. "I also found the shape of the anomaly appears to fit on a circle. I am not sure what this means, if anything, but I find it curious."

Given that length, Taylor pointed out, the anomaly dwarfs the Titanic and Bismarck in size, and equals the size of the largest modern aircraft carrier. That analysis would seem to call into question whether the anomaly is a wooden ship and raises a key question: If a boat were truly that huge, would it float?

There are also experts in remote sensing who offer a skeptical view.

"Image interpretation is an art," said Farouk El-Baz, Director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing.

"One has to be familiar with Sun lighting effects on the shape of observed features," El-Baz said. "Very slight changes in slope modify shadow shapes that affect the interpretations. Up to this time, all the images I have seen can be interpreted as natural landforms. The feature that has been interpreted as the 'Ararat Anomaly' is to me a ledge of rock in partial shadow, with varied thickness of snow and ice cover.

Visual truth serum

Thanks to more satellite imagery in the offing, as well as other studies underway, Taylor said his remote archeological research is on the upswing.

There is an ultimate end-game. That is, on-the-spot ground truth ... and Taylor hopes his research findings will catalyze a top-notch expedition to the area. "It is whatever it is," he said.

But for now, satellite remote sensing to carry out archeological "digs" from space will fill in for an in-the-field expedition.

Just a few weeks ago, for example, NASA scientists utilizing space- and aircraft-based remote sensing hardware and techniques uncovered Maya ruins hidden in the rainforests of Central America for more than 1,000 years.

"For explorers, imagery from GeoEye's Ikonos satellite married with Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite data has become as indispensable as water and freeze dried food for any expedition. One does not want to leave home without it," said Mark Brender, GeoEye Vice President for communications and marketing, headquartered in Dulles, Virginia.

For researchers, imagery from space like those provided by GeoEye provides "the ultimate high shot" and a contextual view you could never get from observations on the ground or even from a plane, Brender told SPACE.com/LiveScience. "It's visual truth serum."

Board votes down evolution analysis Recommendation to 'critically analyze' theory rejected

http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/03/09/teaching.evolution.ap/index.html

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AP) -- The state Board of Education on Wednesday rejected a state panel's proposal to change high school standards on evolution by calling on students to "critically analyze" the theory.

Science teachers had complained that although critical analysis is part of all science, the wording was really a backdoor attempt to force educators to teach religious-based alternatives. In a 10-6 vote, board members agreed.

The Education Oversight Committee, a school reform panel made up of lawmakers, teachers, parents and other community members, recommended the change last month. Panel member Senator Mike Fair, R-Greenville, has said it was intended to introduce students to challenges to evolutionary theory.

Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat, has called the effort "a ploy to confuse the issue of evolution so that ultimately evolution won't be taught."

Officials disagreed over the effect of the vote.

Education department officials say the vote leaves previous science standards adopted in 2002 in place. But Representative Bob Walker, R-Landrum, said both the Education Oversight Committee and the Board of Education must agree on new standards.

Walker suggested state lawmakers might vote to change the evolution curriculum through legislation.

Around the country, attempts to introduce public school students to alternatives to evolution such as "intelligent design" have largely failed. Intelligent design holds that life is so complex it must have had a creator, an idea supporters of evolutionary theory say is simply creationism stripped of religious references.

In December, a federal judge barred the school system in Dover, Pennsylvania, from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. But critics of evolution got a boost in November when the Kansas Board of Education adopted standards that treat evolution as a flawed theory.

Proponents of creationism and defenders of Darwinism seek recruits in new territory

http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i27/27a01401.htm

On the Front Lines in the War Over Evolution
Related materials
Text: An open letter concerning religion and science

By RICHARD MONASTERSKY

In a packed IMAX theater in St. Louis last month, a middle-school teacher took the stage and lectured some of the leaders in the American scientific establishment. In a friendly but commanding style honed by three decades in the classroom, Linda K. Froschauer told scientists that it was time for them to get involved in elementary and secondary education.

"Go home. Identify science teachers in your own neighborhood. Offer to help them," she said. "Go to the board of education and speak up."

It was a call to arms for American scientists, meant to recruit new troops for the escalating war against creationism and its spinoff doctrine, intelligent design. As president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association, Ms. Froschauer had joined the all-afternoon symposium to rally more support for the teachers who are on the front lines in the war over evolution.

The gathering was only one of five sessions devoted to that conflict at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That number is one sign of a growing movement across the country that is drawing academic scientists into action, after decades during which they basically ignored religious threats to science education.

Eugenie C. Scott sees that trend every time she looks at her calendar. A former anthropology professor, Ms. Scott is executive director of the National Center for Science Education and a leading voice against creationism. She has spoken at the AAAS meeting several times and is a regular at gatherings of evolutionary scientists. But for the first time, she has been invited in the past year to speak at meetings on astronomy, biochemistry, human genetics, and microbiology. She has also started receiving requests from medical schools.

National organizations such as the AAAS and the National Academy of Sciences have often championed the teaching of evolution, but there has been far less activity at the grass-roots level. "What is new is that it's finally trickling down," says Ms. Scott. "These scientists are saying, I've got to do something."

The supporters of intelligent design suffered a high-profile legal defeat in December, when a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the concept was inherently religious and therefore could not be introduced into a public high school as an alternative to evolution. But the conflict is hardly winding down. In fact, new fronts are opening up as both sides expand into different terrain, looking for tactical advantages and fresh troops.

The intelligent-design camp is forging ties with academics in neuroscience, medicine, and other fields. At the same time, scientists who defend evolution are linking up with nonscientists to broaden their support.

"We need to reach out not only to other scientists but to the clergy, as well as to our friends who are nonscientists," says Irving W. Wainer, a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health, who organized one of the other symposia at the AAAS meeting on the continuing battle between evolution and creationism.

In the Trenches

Until recently, Mr. Wainer was content to follow that war from the safety of his laboratory. But two years ago, a friend handed him a copy of the now famous "wedge" document from the Discovery Institute, the leading force behind the intelligent-design movement.

The document, written in the late 1990s, describes a strategy to topple what it calls the "materialism" of modern science — that scientists seek to explain nature in terms of natural processes instead of allowing for supernatural forces. That materialism has "infected virtually every area of our culture," according to the Discovery Institute, which formulated the wedge strategy to "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

The document, which spells out specific goals to transform society as a whole, led Mr. Wainer to conclude that the evolution controversy had shifted from a debate about science and religion into a political battle. The Discovery Institute, he says, "has been extremely effective, and that's very frightening."

Mr. Wainer did what academics normally do when faced with a challenge: organize a conference to talk about it. When he first started planning the symposium, he rounded up the usual suspects — standard-bearers from universities and other organizations that have long championed the teaching of evolution. But as he spoke to more people, he began thinking that the symposium — and the whole defense of science — had to broaden its base.

So he invited Warren M. Eshbach, a minister and adjunct faculty member at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Mr. Eshbach has a son who teaches biology at Dover High School, in Pennsylvania, the focus of the recent court case.

The Dover-area school board decided in late 2004 to require ninth-grade biology teachers to read a statement to students emphasizing gaps in evolutionary theory and informing students about intelligent design. Several parents sued the board over that policy, and U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled in December that the board's actions violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

In his decision, the judge said, "in making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

Mr. Eshbach warned the audience at the AAAS meeting that "Dover is not unique," and that these battles are happening all over the country.

He argued for a dialogue between scientists and religious leaders. "I'm not saying we have to kiss, but to get to know each other."

Toward that goal, Mr. Wainer announced the creation of the Alliance for Science, an advocacy organization that includes scientists, clergy members, businesspeople, and educators. By reaching out to nonscientists, the new organization seeks to build support for more federal financing of science and science education. "There are a lot of segments of society that would be willing, and anxious, to see support for science," says Mr. Wainer, who is the chair of the alliance.

Evolution's Bully Pulpit

Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, recently found supporters numbering in the thousands in the Christian religious community. Mr. Zimmerman leads an effort that to date has gathered 10,300 members of the clergy to sign a letter supporting the teaching of evolution.

For Mr. Zimmerman, the letter project marked a return to the battle after a decade-long furlough. Early in his career, when he was a professor of biology at Oberlin College in the 1980s, Mr. Zimmerman had been active in writing and organizing to defend the teaching of evolution. But by the mid-1990s, he had burned out, and subsequently decided to focus on his day job as a dean at Oshkosh.

He was drawn back into the fight when he learned that the town of Grantsburg, Wis., passed a law in 2004 restricting the teaching of evolution. Mr. Zimmerman organized deans from across Wisconsin to sign letters critical of Grantsburg's decision. Next he recruited biology professors and religious-studies professors. Then came anthropologists and geologists. But the effort did not move the Grantsburg board. "The response was, These are just academics," says Mr. Zimmerman.

In past evolution conflicts around the country, Mr. Zimmerman had always advised people to involve the clergy. In the Grantsburg case, he says, "I finally realized that I needed to do what I'd been telling everyone else to do."

A friend who is a minister wrote a letter and sent it around to other ministers. Eventually, they collected 200 signatures from clergy in Wisconsin, which carried far more weight than the voices of academics. The school board backed down and adopted a less restrictive policy, says Mr. Zimmerman.

At the same time, however, the case in Dover was attracting national attention. Mr. Zimmerman saw a news report in which an evolution foe argued that people had to chose between evolution and religion. "That so angered me because evolution has nothing to do with religion," says Mr. Zimmerman.

He and his friends started sending the clergy letter out nationally and eventually gathered more than 10,000 signatures. "I wanted to demonstrate to the American people that the dichotomy that was set before them was a false one," he says. "They didn't have to choose. They could be perfectly religious — or not — and still accept modern science and evolution."

Once they reached the 10,000-signature goal, Mr. Zimmerman's group looked for a way to publicize the letter. They decided this year to create a national holiday, called Evolution Sunday, on February 12 — the 197th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Across the country, 464 congregations staged activities, such as sermons, classes, or discussion groups, that focused on science and religion.

The event was an effort to "elevate the national debate on this topic, instead of having people just shout at each other, You're going to hell," says Mr. Zimmerman.

The Discovery Institute, however, discounts the clergy letter. "Religion is irrelevant to the issue," says Robert L. Crowther II, director of communications for the institute. The beliefs of clergy members, he says, do not alter the evidence for intelligent design in DNA and biological cells.

Chalkboard Talk

Defenders of evolution are also trying to raise the level of discussion in classrooms in middle schools and high schools.

The AAAS invited science teachers from the St. Louis area to the afternoon symposium where Ms. Froschauer, of the National Science Teachers Association, spoke.

The event started with a movie, projected onto the giant IMAX screen, that celebrated science teachers who have been fighting for evolution education in the face of pressure from their school boards and administrators. After that, teachers from Dover High School and from Cobb County, in Georgia — the site of another legal battle over evolution — were introduced and given a standing ovation by the audience.

Aside from the recent legal battles, educators point to several other signs troubling them about evolutionary education in the United States. For example, in a study published last year, Randy Moore, a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, reported that 20 percent of the biology teachers he surveyed in Minnesota include creationism in their classes and believe that it is scientifically valid.

Last year Ms. Froschauer's organization polled more than 1,000 science teachers, asking whether they felt pressure to teach alternatives to evolution. About 30 percent reported that they did get pressure, mainly from parents and students.

Seeking fresh news from the front lines, the AAAS asked the St. Louis teachers in the audience for their top concerns and instantly tallied their responses using electronic counters. The 134 teachers who answered wanted help resisting the pressure to teach creationism or play down evolution. The single biggest response was a request for talking points to deal with students' concerns.

Teachers also said they had trouble framing the evolution issue for religious students, and that their knowledge of evolution was rusty.

Universities and colleges must shoulder some of the blame, says Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

In an earlier session at the meeting, Mr. Wheeler said many science teachers don't receive adequate training in evolutionary science. "During their four-year experience on your campus, they didn't get the material they needed to be prepared to teach," says Mr. Wheeler.

Brainpower

Despite their legal setback in the Pennsylvania trial, opponents of evolution remain committed to advancing their cause. There are more than a dozen bills pending across the nation that challenge the teaching of evolution or mandate instruction in intelligent design in public schools.

In Georgia the Cobb County School District is appealing the decision of a federal district judge last year ordering the district to remove warning stickers from biology textbooks. The stickers said that "evolution is a theory, not a fact," and they urged students to think critically about evolution.

The intelligent-design movement is spreading to higher education, with some colleges offering courses on the topic and clubs sprouting up on different campuses. The Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center, in San Diego, has 24 chapters at colleges and universities across the United States, including Cornell and the University of California at Berkeley.

The supporters of intelligent design are also moving beyond evolution to other areas of research that might mesh well with their guiding philosophy of a creative entity that manifests itself in nature. As its long-term goal, the Discovery Institute has vowed to push what it calls design theory beyond biology and cosmology into such fields as psychology, ethics, philosophy, and the fine arts.

At the AAAS meeting, James A. Murray, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Central Arkansas, reported on several signs that the neurosciences could emerge as a major battleground soon. The conflict is brewing because most scientists who study the brain are convinced the mind is produced entirely by neural activity, and that there is no metaphysical component to the mind.

In fact, while many religious leaders see no discord between evolution and theology, Mr. Murray wonders whether the direction of neuroscience research will prove unpalatable to religious people. "There is more of a concern that with neuroscience, there may not be as much room for compatibility," he said in an interview. "It could be considered threatening to religious beliefs for people who believe in a soul."

AN OPEN LETTER CONCERNING RELIGION AND SCIENCE

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible — the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark — convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God's loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

http://chronicle.com
Section: Research & Publishing
Volume 52, Issue 27, Page A14

Copyright © 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Text of foreword written Pa. Sen. Rick Santorum

http://www.timesleader.com/mld/timesleader/14042508.htm

Posted on Wed, Mar. 08, 2006

Associated Press

The following is the text of the foreword written by Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for the book "Darwin's Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement."

This volume celebrates Phillip Johnson's leadership in the intelligent design (ID) movement. Scholars who have known Phil best and worked with him most closely assembled in April 2004 at Biola University to present him with a collection of papers in his honor. I wish I could have been there to offer my congratulations and thanks in person. Instead, I have the privilege of writing this brief foreword from Washington.

Since the publication of "Darwin on Trial" more than ten years ago, Phillip Johnson has provided extraordinary leadership for an extraordinary cause, namely, to rid science of false philosophy. The importance of the cause is clear: what could be more important than showing that only a shallow, partisan understanding of science supports the false philosophy of materialist reductionism with its thoroughly unscientific denial of formal and final causes in nature and its repudiation of the first cause of all being? As the decline of true science has been a major factor in the decline of Western culture, so too the renewal of science will play a big part in cultural renewal.

Johnson's extraordinary leadership also is clear: rather than fall into the trap of building a cult of personality around himself and his own considerable intellectual talents, he has instead helped raise up and promote a whole group of intellectual leaders in the cause of scientific renewal. This kind of selfless Christian leadership is a shining example to us all, young and old.

Speaking of the young, I personally wish to commend Phil for the great help he has given me in my efforts to inject a renewed and unbiased understanding of science and its practice into the curricula of our public schools. There is much more for us to do, but working with Phil's colleagues at Seattle's Discovery Institute, we have begun the difficult fight for removing the stranglehold of philosophical materialism on textbook science.

Phil, I congratulate and praise you for your tireless work to return science to a sure philosophical grounding in the nature of things as they really are. Please know that during your Biola celebration, I was with you and your colleagues in spirit. As much as I was delighted when I first heard about this celebration in your honor, I am again delighted now that the proceedings from that celebration have appeared in book form.

Changes in evolution curriculum rejected

http://greenvilleonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060309/NEWS01/603090325

Foes call move illegal; some say lawmakers or courts will have to resolve impasse

Published: Thursday, March 9, 2006 - 6:00 am

By Ron Barnett STAFF WRITER
rbarnett@greenvillenews.com

The state Board of Education on Wednesday voted down a proposed revision to the state biology standards that would have required students to study the work of scientists who attempt to poke holes in the theory of evolution.

But opponents questioned the legality of the move.

The Department of Education said the vote means the current standards, which teach evolution only, will remain in place. State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, and Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, said they will ask the state attorney general to give his opinion on that.

State law requires that the Education Oversight Committee, of which both Upstate Republicans are members, also must approve the standards, they said. That committee had proposed inserting language in the standard calling for students "to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory" using "data from a variety of scientific sources."

Attorney General Henry McMaster has issued an opinion that the state can't continue using the current standards without the EOC's approval.

The controversy has left school districts in the lurch on planning next year's curriculum.

"We can't do anything until we know what the state's going to want us to teach because that's what we teach," said Lynn Talton, science consultant for Greenville County Schools.

Donald Anadu, a biology professor at South Carolina State University, said subjecting evolution to scrutiny in the classroom is a good thing.

"It helps them to think and develop their mind," he said.

He said there is ample evidence that species change and evolve over time -- but not from one species into another.

"Some people are convinced that it happened, but they have no proof," he said. "You cannot go back and perform any experiment to show that this is true, that life started from one cell."

Phillip Shoopman, a member of the state Board of Education from Greer, said the unprecedented impasse could throw the question into the courts, or to the General Assembly to resolve.

"We've created a situation where two bodies have to agree for something to work, and the two bodies are not agreeing," he said.

Shoopman voted in favor of changing the standard as the EOC had recommended.

Joe Isaac, chairman of the board, felt strongly enough about the issue that he asked that his vote be recorded, even though the chairman normally votes only in case of a tie. He sided with the majority in what was officially counted as a 10-6 vote.

"I just thought that we would be creating some serious problems for our state if we used the wording as presented by the EOC," he said.

The EOC voted 10-2 last month to ask the board to change the standard. The EOC can't change standards by itself.

The vast majority of scientists say evolution is the basis for understanding biology, although a few are espousing the theory of intelligent design, which says random mutation and natural selection alone can't account for the diversity of life.

A federal court last year ruled that intelligent design, which leads to the conclusion that there is an intelligent designer, is religion, not science.

But sentiment in favor of "critical analysis" is in the majority in at least one body of the General Assembly. Walker submitted a letter to the Board of Education signed by 67 of the 124 members of the House supporting the EOC's position that students should scrutinize the validity of evolution.

"The broad cross-section of able men and women who serve on the EOC have chosen wisely, deliberated at length, and spoken clearly. We add our affirmation without reservation," the letter states.

"Some of the stuff that (Darwin) expounded to years ago has been disproven," Walker said. "We know that there's things out there that children need to know that's not so in evolution."

Fair hasn't polled the Senate but believes the majority in that body agrees with the EOC.

One change in the standards already has been approved by both the Board of Education and the EOC, which Fair said could make them more palatable. It requires that students learn how scientists analyze evolutionary theory.

"Somebody has to blink on this, and I suspect that we will," he said of the EOC.

"It clearly is not in the students' best interest for us to allow a stalemate to occur."

But he said legislation opening the way to teaching what he calls scientific alternatives to evolution will resurface next year.

"I think with this interest nationwide it's going to happen," he said.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Magnets: How effective is the latest NHS treatment?

http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article349778.ece

Cherie Blair is a fan - and now they're available on the NHS. But Jeremy Laurance wonders whether magnets really can treat everything from period pains to backache and insomnia

Published: 07 March 2006

Professional sceptics of alternative medicine got their comeuppance last week with the disclosure that magnet therapy, said to be favoured by Cherie Blair, was to be made available on the NHS. Magnets have been used as a remedy for centuries, and widely marketed in Britain for over a decade, but this was a seal of scientific approval.

You can buy a magnetic hairbrush said to stimulate hair growth, a magnetic mask to reduce wrinkles, magnetic insoles to boost energy, and magnetic jewellery to ward off arthritis. Some researchers claim to have shown that magnets can ease period pains, lift depression and cure aching joints. Separate studies at Harvard University, in the US, and the Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth, even found that wearing a magnetic sleeve eased the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Magnets' healing powers are said to have enthused Cleopatra, and current users are reported to include Bill Clinton and Sir Anthony Hopkins. But when the NHS includes a product in the Drug Tariff, you have to sit up and take notice. Since last week, a device called the 4UlcerCare - a strap containing four magnets that is wrapped around the leg - has been available on prescription from GPs. Its maker, the Bristol-based firm Magnopulse, claims that it speeds the healing of leg ulcers and prevents their recurrence.

The announcement has created excitement in the world of alternative medicine. Every purveyor of magnetic devices has been pumping out press releases and advertisements, hoping to capitalise on the new development. Lilias Curtin, one-time therapist to Cherie Blair, sent a poster-sized announcement to newspapers last week declaring her "sincere belief that, in the next five to 10 years, magnets will be seen in first-aid boxes". Kleshna, a maker of magnet jewellery, claimed in another release that magnets created "a whirlpool effect to the iron in our blood to get it pumping round much faster than usual".

People may scoff at the idea that the lumps of metal used for sticking notes on to the fridge have healing properties, but, presumably, those who control the NHS purse know what they are paying for. And anyone who doubts that magnets have physical effects on the body need only try an experiment conducted at the Institute of Neurology in London. Ask Professor Tom Rothwell to wave a magnetic wand over the left side of your head, and watch your right arm jump involuntarily. The excitation of the neuronal pathways that this demonstrates suggests, according to Professor Rothwell, that the technique might be useful in the rehabilitation of stroke victims. A trial of transmagnetic stimulation of the brain in stroke-sufferers is soon to begin.

This does not prove that magnetic necklaces have medicinal effects. But after 10 years of making and selling magnetic devices such as the 4Ulcer-Care leg wrap, Derek Price, the 64-year-old founder of Magno-pulse, is convinced that they work. Having had initial success on his dog, Kiri, who suffered from arthritis; and then on his own arthritic ankle, Price sent the leg wraps to four local surgeries to be tried on patients. To his surprise, word came back that they were helping to heal ulcers. A trial was run on 28 patients in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridge by the London GP Nyjon Eccles, and the results published in the Journal of Wound Care in February 2005. A second telephone survey found that 211 of 289 patients who used the device had not had a recurrence of their ulcer for at least a year, Price says.

Whether this was what convinced the NHS Prescription Pricing Authority to include it in the Drug Tariff is hard to tell. No one was available from the authority to comment last week, and a spokesman for the Department of Health could throw no light on what evidence is required before a product can be included in the Drug Tariff. "It is for the GP to decide whether a listed product is suitable for the treatment of individual patients," he said.

The leg-ulcer wrap is worn just below the knee, above the calf muscle. It does not come into direct contact with the ulcer, which is covered by its own dressing. It is believed that the magnets stimulate the circulation but it is not known how. Leg ulcers tend to occur in the elderly and those with poor circulation such as diabetics. Their treatment costs the NHS at least £300m a year. The cost to the NHS of the leg-ulcer wrap is £13.80 - about half the retail price of £29 - and Price claims that it could save £150m a year on conventional treatment and nurses' time.

Other experts are sceptical. Professor Edzard Ernst, head of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said that he was puzzled by the NHS decision. "As far as I can see, there hasn't yet been enough research to prove that these magnets help people with ulcers. You need more than a study on 20-odd people to have a compelling case."

More powerful electromagnets could help to heal tissue injuries, and are used in hospitals elsewhere in Europe, but that was different, he said. His own study of small magnets on arthritis sufferers had failed to yield compelling results. "There is a huge market out there and lots of money is being made, but the evidence is far from convincing."

In January, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, in California, published a paper in the British Medical Journal that cast doubt on the therapeutic use of magnets. "Patients should be advised that magnet therapy has no proven benefits. If they insist on using a magnetic device, they could be advised to buy the cheapest - this will alleviate the pain in their wallet," they wrote.

That could be good advice for the NHS.

Jeremy Laurance is health editor of 'The Independent'

Magnets: do they really work?

* The origins of magnet therapy can be traced back to ancient Egypt, but they became popular in the West in the 1990s. Around five million Americans were using magnets in 2001.

* Magnets are said to help with arthritis, aches and pains, circulation problems, migraine, backache, period pain and sleep problems.

* Magnets used for therapy are the size of a 50p piece and eight-10 times stronger than fridge magnets.

* At the University of Virginia, in the US, researchers concluded that magnet therapy reduced the intensity of pain from fibromyalgia - a rheumatoid disorder - enough to be "clinically meaningful".

* At Harvard University, patients with osteoarthritis were given magnetic "sleeves" for their knees, which they wore six hours a day for six weeks. The researchers found that the beneficial effects kicked in after four hours, with a sevenfold difference between those who had the magnetic sleeve and those who had a sham device.

* For a study at the University of Washington, researchers put a magnet on the shoulder of patients who had suffered chronic pain for years. After the magnet had been on the shoulder for one hour, pain levels halved.

* A study published in the British Medical Journal in January concluded that there was no evidence that magnet therapy worked, and warned magnet users that they were being exploited.

Professional sceptics of alternative medicine got their comeuppance last week with the disclosure that magnet therapy, said to be favoured by Cherie Blair, was to be made available on the NHS. Magnets have been used as a remedy for centuries, and widely marketed in Britain for over a decade, but this was a seal of scientific approval.

You can buy a magnetic hairbrush said to stimulate hair growth, a magnetic mask to reduce wrinkles, magnetic insoles to boost energy, and magnetic jewellery to ward off arthritis. Some researchers claim to have shown that magnets can ease period pains, lift depression and cure aching joints. Separate studies at Harvard University, in the US, and the Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth, even found that wearing a magnetic sleeve eased the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Magnets' healing powers are said to have enthused Cleopatra, and current users are reported to include Bill Clinton and Sir Anthony Hopkins. But when the NHS includes a product in the Drug Tariff, you have to sit up and take notice. Since last week, a device called the 4UlcerCare - a strap containing four magnets that is wrapped around the leg - has been available on prescription from GPs. Its maker, the Bristol-based firm Magnopulse, claims that it speeds the healing of leg ulcers and prevents their recurrence.

The announcement has created excitement in the world of alternative medicine. Every purveyor of magnetic devices has been pumping out press releases and advertisements, hoping to capitalise on the new development. Lilias Curtin, one-time therapist to Cherie Blair, sent a poster-sized announcement to newspapers last week declaring her "sincere belief that, in the next five to 10 years, magnets will be seen in first-aid boxes". Kleshna, a maker of magnet jewellery, claimed in another release that magnets created "a whirlpool effect to the iron in our blood to get it pumping round much faster than usual".

People may scoff at the idea that the lumps of metal used for sticking notes on to the fridge have healing properties, but, presumably, those who control the NHS purse know what they are paying for. And anyone who doubts that magnets have physical effects on the body need only try an experiment conducted at the Institute of Neurology in London. Ask Professor Tom Rothwell to wave a magnetic wand over the left side of your head, and watch your right arm jump involuntarily. The excitation of the neuronal pathways that this demonstrates suggests, according to Professor Rothwell, that the technique might be useful in the rehabilitation of stroke victims. A trial of transmagnetic stimulation of the brain in stroke-sufferers is soon to begin.

This does not prove that magnetic necklaces have medicinal effects. But after 10 years of making and selling magnetic devices such as the 4Ulcer-Care leg wrap, Derek Price, the 64-year-old founder of Magno-pulse, is convinced that they work. Having had initial success on his dog, Kiri, who suffered from arthritis; and then on his own arthritic ankle, Price sent the leg wraps to four local surgeries to be tried on patients. To his surprise, word came back that they were helping to heal ulcers. A trial was run on 28 patients in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridge by the London GP Nyjon Eccles, and the results published in the Journal of Wound Care in February 2005. A second telephone survey found that 211 of 289 patients who used the device had not had a recurrence of their ulcer for at least a year, Price says.

Whether this was what convinced the NHS Prescription Pricing Authority to include it in the Drug Tariff is hard to tell. No one was available from the authority to comment last week, and a spokesman for the Department of Health could throw no light on what evidence is required before a product can be included in the Drug Tariff. "It is for the GP to decide whether a listed product is suitable for the treatment of individual patients," he said. The leg-ulcer wrap is worn just below the knee, above the calf muscle. It does not come into direct contact with the ulcer, which is covered by its own dressing. It is believed that the magnets stimulate the circulation but it is not known how. Leg ulcers tend to occur in the elderly and those with poor circulation such as diabetics. Their treatment costs the NHS at least £300m a year. The cost to the NHS of the leg-ulcer wrap is £13.80 - about half the retail price of £29 - and Price claims that it could save £150m a year on conventional treatment and nurses' time.

Other experts are sceptical. Professor Edzard Ernst, head of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said that he was puzzled by the NHS decision. "As far as I can see, there hasn't yet been enough research to prove that these magnets help people with ulcers. You need more than a study on 20-odd people to have a compelling case."

More powerful electromagnets could help to heal tissue injuries, and are used in hospitals elsewhere in Europe, but that was different, he said. His own study of small magnets on arthritis sufferers had failed to yield compelling results. "There is a huge market out there and lots of money is being made, but the evidence is far from convincing."

In January, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, in California, published a paper in the British Medical Journal that cast doubt on the therapeutic use of magnets. "Patients should be advised that magnet therapy has no proven benefits. If they insist on using a magnetic device, they could be advised to buy the cheapest - this will alleviate the pain in their wallet," they wrote.

That could be good advice for the NHS.

Jeremy Laurance is health editor of 'The Independent'

Magnets: do they really work?

* The origins of magnet therapy can be traced back to ancient Egypt, but they became popular in the West in the 1990s. Around five million Americans were using magnets in 2001.

* Magnets are said to help with arthritis, aches and pains, circulation problems, migraine, backache, period pain and sleep problems.

* Magnets used for therapy are the size of a 50p piece and eight-10 times stronger than fridge magnets.

* At the University of Virginia, in the US, researchers concluded that magnet therapy reduced the intensity of pain from fibromyalgia - a rheumatoid disorder - enough to be "clinically meaningful".

* At Harvard University, patients with osteoarthritis were given magnetic "sleeves" for their knees, which they wore six hours a day for six weeks. The researchers found that the beneficial effects kicked in after four hours, with a sevenfold difference between those who had the magnetic sleeve and those who had a sham device.

* For a study at the University of Washington, researchers put a magnet on the shoulder of patients who had suffered chronic pain for years. After the magnet had been on the shoulder for one hour, pain levels halved.

* A study published in the British Medical Journal in January concluded that there was no evidence that magnet therapy worked, and warned magnet users that they were being exploited.

University to Investigate Fusion Study

By KENNETH CHANG

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/08/science/08fusion.html

Purdue University has opened an investigation into "extremely serious" concerns regarding the research of a professor who said he had produced nuclear fusion in a tabletop experiment, the university announced yesterday.

Fusion is the process the sun uses to produce heat and light, and scientists led by Rusi P. Taleyarkhan, a professor of nuclear engineering at Purdue, said they were able to achieve the same feat by blasting a container of liquid solvent with strong ultrasonic vibrations.

The vibrations, they said, collapsed tiny gas bubbles in the liquid, heating them to millions of degrees, hot enough to initiate fusion. If true, the phenomenon, often called sonofusion or bubble fusion, could have far-reaching applications, including the generation of energy.

The research first appeared in 2002 in the journal Science, but controversy had erupted even before publication. Dr. Taleyarkhan, then a senior scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, reported the detection of neutrons, which are the telltale signs of fusion, but two other scientists at Oak Ridge, using their own detectors, said they saw no signs of neutrons.

Dr. Taleyarkhan, who joined the Purdue faculty in 2003, and his colleagues have published two additional papers in major physics journals, amid the continuing skepticism of other scientists. No other scientists have been able to reproduce the findings.

The university began a review of the research and the accusations last week, Sally Mason, the university provost, said in a statement. "The research claims involved are very significant," Dr. Mason said, "and the concerns expressed are extremely serious."

Dr. Mason said that the review was being conducted by Purdue's Office of the Vice President of Research and that the results would be announced publicly.

Dr. Taleyarkhan did not return phone calls or respond to an e-mail message seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Brian Naranjo, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, said his analysis of data from the last scientific paper that was published by Dr. Taleyarkhan's group showed a chance of less than one in 10 million that the emission pattern could have been generated by fusion.

Instead, Mr. Naranjo said that the pattern of particles seen in the experiment much more closely matched that given off by californium, a radioactive element that is used in Dr. Taleyarkhan's laboratory. With $350,000 from the Defense Department, Seth J. Putterman, a professor of physics at U.C.L.A. and the thesis adviser to Mr. Naranjo, has tried to build a replica of Dr. Taleyarkhan's apparatus and has not seen any signs of fusion.

Dr. Putterman said he told Dr. Taleyarkhan of the calculations last week on a visit to Purdue. "He didn't have any clear answers," Dr. Putterman said. "From my perspective, his answers were not satisfactory."

Californium is present in Dr. Taleyarkhan's laboratory, stored in a closet about 15 feet from the experiment — close enough to generate the results reported in Dr. Taleyarkhan's paper if it had been stored improperly.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

Still Evolving, Human Genes Tell New Story

By NICHOLAS WADE

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/07/science/07evolve.html

Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.

The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.

Many of these instances of selection may reflect the pressures that came to bear as people abandoned their hunting and gathering way of life for settlement and agriculture, a transition well under way in Europe and East Asia some 5,000 years ago.

Under natural selection, beneficial genes become more common in a population as their owners have more progeny.

Three populations were studied, Africans, East Asians and Europeans. In each, a mostly different set of genes had been favored by natural selection. The selected genes, which affect skin color, hair texture and bone structure, may underlie the present-day differences in racial appearance.

The study of selected genes may help reconstruct many crucial events in the human past. It may also help physical anthropologists explain why people over the world have such a variety of distinctive appearances, even though their genes are on the whole similar, said Dr. Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project of the National Geographic Society.

The finding adds substantially to the evidence that human evolution did not grind to a halt in the distant past, as is tacitly assumed by many social scientists. Even evolutionary psychologists, who interpret human behavior in terms of what the brain evolved to do, hold that the work of natural selection in shaping the human mind was completed in the pre-agricultural past, more than 10,000 years ago.

"There is ample evidence that selection has been a major driving point in our evolution during the last 10,000 years, and there is no reason to suppose that it has stopped," said Jonathan Pritchard, a population geneticist at the University of Chicago who headed the study.

Dr. Pritchard and his colleagues, Benjamin Voight, Sridhar Kudaravalli and Xiaoquan Wen, report their findings in today's issue of PLOS-Biology.

Their data is based on DNA changes in three populations gathered by the HapMap project, which built on the decoding of the human genome in 2003. The data, though collected to help identify variant genes that contribute to disease, also give evidence of evolutionary change.

The fingerprints of natural selection in DNA are hard to recognize. Just a handful of recently selected genes have previously been identified, like those that confer resistance to malaria or the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, an adaptation common in Northern Europeans whose ancestors thrived on cattle milk.

But the authors of the HapMap study released last October found many other regions where selection seemed to have occurred, as did an analysis published in December by Robert K. Moysis of the University of California, Irvine.

Dr. Pritchard's scan of the human genome differs from the previous two because he has developed a statistical test to identify just genes that have started to spread through populations in recent millennia and have not yet become universal, as many advantageous genes eventually do.

The selected genes he has detected fall into a handful of functional categories, as might be expected if people were adapting to specific changes in their environment. Some are genes involved in digesting particular foods like the lactose-digesting gene common in Europeans. Some are genes that mediate taste and smell as well as detoxify plant poisons, perhaps signaling a shift in diet from wild foods to domesticated plants and animals.

Dr. Pritchard estimates that the average point at which the selected genes started to become more common under the pressure of natural selection is 10,800 years ago in the African population and 6,600 years ago in the Asian and European populations.

Dr. Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford, said that it was hard to correlate the specific gene changes in the three populations with events in the archaeological record, but that the timing and nature of the changes in the East Asians and Europeans seemed compatible with the shift to agriculture. Rice farming became widespread in China 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, and agriculture reached Europe from the Near East around the same time.

Skeletons similar in form to modern Chinese are hard to find before that period, Dr. Klein said, and there are few European skeletons older than 10,000 years that look like modern Europeans.

That suggests that a change in bone structure occurred in the two populations, perhaps in connection with the shift to agriculture. Dr. Pritchard's team found that several genes associated with embryonic development of the bones had been under selection in East Asians and Europeans, and these could be another sign of the forager-to-farmer transition, Dr. Klein said.

Dr. Wells, of the National Geographic Society, said Dr. Pritchard's results were fascinating and would help anthropologists explain the immense diversity of human populations even though their genes are generally similar. The relative handful of selected genes that Dr. Pritchard's study has pinpointed may hold the answer, he said, adding, "Each gene has a story of some pressure we adapted to."

Dr. Wells is gathering DNA from across the globe to map in finer detail the genetic variation brought to light by the HapMap project.

Dr. Pritchard's list of selected genes also includes five that affect skin color. The selected versions of the genes occur solely in Europeans and are presumably responsible for pale skin. Anthropologists have generally assumed that the first modern humans to arrive in Europe some 45,000 years ago had the dark skin of their African origins, but soon acquired the paler skin needed to admit sunlight for vitamin D synthesis.

The finding of five skin genes selected 6,600 years ago could imply that Europeans acquired their pale skin much more recently. Or, the selected genes may have been a reinforcement of a process established earlier, Dr. Pritchard said.

The five genes show no sign of selective pressure in East Asians.

Because Chinese and Japanese are also pale, Dr. Pritchard said, evolution must have accomplished the same goal in those populations by working through different genes or by changing the same genes — but many thousands of years before, so that the signal of selection is no longer visible to the new test.

Dr. Pritchard also detected selection at work in brain genes, including a group known as microcephaly genes because, when disrupted, they cause people to be born with unusually small brains.

Dr. Bruce Lahn, also of the University of Chicago, theorizes that successive changes in the microcephaly genes may have enabled the brain to enlarge in primate evolution, a process that may have continued in the recent human past.

Last September, Dr. Lahn reported that one microcephaly gene had recently changed in Europeans and another in Europeans and Asians. He predicted that other brain genes would be found to have changed in other populations.

Dr. Pritchard's test did not detect a signal of selection in Dr. Lahn's two genes, but that may just reflect limitations of the test, he and Dr. Lahn said. Dr. Pritchard found one microcephaly gene that had been selected for in Africans and another in Europeans and East Asians. Another brain gene, SNTG1, was under heavy selection in all three populations.

"It seems like a really interesting gene, given our results, but there doesn't seem to be that much known about exactly what it's doing to the brain," Dr. Pritchard said.

Dr. Wells said that it was not surprising the brain had continued to evolve along with other types of genes, but that nothing could be inferred about the nature of the selective pressure until the function of the selected genes was understood.

The four populations analyzed in the HapMap project are the Yoruba of Nigeria, Han Chinese from Beijing, Japanese from Tokyo and a French collection of Utah families of European descent. The populations are assumed to be typical of sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Europe, but the representation, though presumably good enough for medical studies, may not be exact.

Dr. Pritchard's test for selection rests on the fact that an advantageous mutation is inherited along with its gene and a large block of DNA in which the gene sits. If the improved gene spreads quickly, the DNA region that includes it will become less diverse across a population because so many people now carry the same sequence of DNA units at that location.

Dr. Pritchard's test measures the difference in DNA diversity between those who carry a new gene and those who do not, and a significantly lesser diversity is taken as a sign of selection. The difference disappears when the improved gene has swept through the entire population, as eventually happens, so the test picks up only new gene variants on their way to becoming universal.

The selected genes turned out to be quite different from one racial group to another. Dr. Pritchard's test identified 206 regions of the genome that are under selection in the Yorubans, 185 regions in East Asians and 188 in Europeans. The few overlaps between races concern genes that could have been spread by migration or else be instances of independent evolution, Dr. Pritchard said.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Debate may evolve in Brevard schools

http://www.floridatoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060305/NEWS01/603050320

Selection of new science textbooks could trigger creation controversy

BY JAMES DEAN FLORIDA TODAY

Martin Smouse tries to keep his doubts about evolution to himself when teaching sixth-graders at Cape View Elementary in Cape Canaveral.

But when he thought his daughter's teacher pushed Darwin's theory too aggressively last year, he felt he needed to assert his views as a parent.

"Think about those things in nature that truly prove there was a design how it was created," he wrote in an e-mail to his daughter's teacher at Edgewood Jr./Sr. High on Merritt Island. "How can you look at nature and think it happened by accident(?)"

The same question has pushed the idea of "intelligent design" to the forefront of renewed challenges to evolution in school districts and courtrooms across the country.

The theory, which says that some living things are too complex to have evolved randomly and likely were guided by an intelligent entity, hasn't established itself in Brevard Public Schools aside from occasional concerns from students or parents about evolution.

Last week, a Brevard Public Schools committee unanimously recommended to the school board an edition of a new biology textbook that omits the original version's reference to intelligent design.

But as the state approaches a review of its science standards this summer, observers of evolution battles said theywouldn't be surprised if the controversies playing out in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and other states shift to Florida.

"That's the question -- will there be a problem or won't there be?" said Wesley Elsberry, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which defends evolution instruction.

Political leaders from President Bush to Gov. Jeb Bush have said they support teaching alternative ideas about the origin of life.

But critics of intelligent design argue it is a repackaged version of creationism that isn't supported by scientific evidence and doesn't belong in science classes.

In December, a federal judge reached that conclusion in the theory's first major legal test, calling it "a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory" in a ruling against the school board in Dover, Pa.

Skirting the issue

Brevard's public school classrooms and textbooks teach concepts fundamental to evolutionary theory, such as change over time, the fossil record and natural selection.

If asked by parents concerned about evolution, the district provides a position paper explaining that the curriculum is aligned with state standards, U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the recommendations of major science organizations.

"Many people hold strong religious beliefs and simultaneously accept evolution," the paper notes.

But the state's science standards never mention the "e-word," an omission that earned them a failing grade in a recent national study.

"The superficiality of the treatment of evolutionary biology alone justifies the grade 'F,'" said the Fordham Foundation report, which failed 14 other states.

Personal beliefs aside

Gov. Bush has said the state should encourage "the vigorous discussion of varying viewpoints in our classrooms."

But it was his hiring of Cheri Pierson Yecke as chancellor of K-12 education last summer that fueled vigorous speculation about whether the state would push for challenges to evolution, including intelligent design.

In her previous job as Minnesota's education commissioner, some participants in that state's review of science standards said Yecke tried to weaken language on evolution -- a charge she denied.

In a recent interview, Yecke said her personal beliefs -- supportive of biblical creation, according to news reports -- were "irrelevant," and that Florida would design standards based on input from educators, national experts and parents.

"The focus is going to be on rigorous science standards and ensuring that kids meet the realities of the 21st century," she said.

By the book

The Dover school board wanted teachers to read a statement about gaps in the theory of evolution. The statement also recommended a textbook "Of Pandas and People" as a guide to intelligent design.

That book isn't on a state-approved list from which Florida districts select most textbooks. But one offering -- "Biology: The Dynamics of Life," published by Glencoe -- included a page introducing intelligent design at the end of a chapter on "The History of Life."

That page drew enough scrutiny from several Florida districts that the publisher offered to sell the book without it, and that's the version Brevard's committee of 23 teachers and parents recommended.

"I don't think anyone really objected to the statement, but I don't think they thought it really belonged in a science textbook," said Ginger Davis, the district's secondary science resource teacher.

Committee members said there was little debate on the topic. Overall, members were more concerned about the books' alignment with FCAT testing and support materials than about evolution.

Class debate

That's disappointing to Smouse, who calls himself a born-again Christian, and other parents who find the existing curriculum hostile to their beliefs and want room for alternatives to evolution.

"It's not proven, it's a theory," Smouse said. "Yet kids are taught to believe it's a fact. It's the only thing they have to go by."

Another parent, Li Ching Linkous, whose son, William, is a junior at Merritt Island High, agreed that students should learn different views about the origin of life.

"I think intelligent design should be introduced, too, and let kids make the choice," she said.

William Linkous said it's not uncommon for Christian students at school to voice objections about evolution to teachers.

"That happens plenty," he said.

But, he added: "It doesn't get hostile or anything. Teachers handle it very professionally."

Edgewood Jr./Sr. High science teacher Bill Hausmann, a 35-year veteran, replied to Smouse's e-mail that theories try to explain observable facts. Theories, he wrote, "are not meant to be believed, but rather studied, tested and refined. That is the essence of science."

In an interview, he said: "I always tell my students, you can believe anything you want. Scientists want to see repeatable experimentation that shows trends and patterns."

Not the place

Even a leading proponent of intelligent design, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, doesn't encourage school boards to force the idea on districts.

"We've opposed any effort to require or mandate the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom," said spokesman Rob Crowther. "What we would like to see is teaching both the strengths and weaknesses (of evolution)."

But several Brevard School Board members say the intelligent design debate is either a state issue or one that doesn't belong in public school science classes.

"In my faith, I believe it is God who created the universe," said board chairman Robert Jordan. "Should that be taught as an option in the school system? I don't think so. To me, this is something families should deal with, and not public schools."

Contact Dean at 242-3617 or jdean@flatoday.net

Ann Arbor law firm fights to dethrone Darwin

http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060305/NEWS34/60305022/-1/NEWS

Article published Sunday, March 5, 2006

By JENNI LAIDMAN BLADE SCIENCE WRITER

ANN ARBOR — Visitors to this law office are greeted by a life-size portrait of a saint. Beside the saint is a head-and-shoulders statue of Jesus carrying the cross up Golgotha. As the visitor walks down the hall, he may be tempted to dip a finger in the holy water fountain he encounters there.

But the fountain is empty at the moment. No time to fill it. People here are too busy fighting a holy war of sorts — a war to rescue the American culture.

Tucked into the sprawling Domino Farms complex are the offices of the Thomas More Law Center. It was created in 1999 by former Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson, and Thomas Monaghan, founder of Dominos Pizza, and a philanthropist for conservative Catholic causes. A $500,000 donation by Mr. Monaghan gave the center its start. The patron saint of lawyers, depicted in the reception area portrait, gave the center its name.

This is the home of the lawyers who unsuccessfully defended the Dover, Pa., Board of Education when it was sued for promoting intelligent design in its science classes. The eight attorneys employed by the More center, including two in California and one in Washington, D.C., are quickly becoming leaders in the fight to dethrone Darwin in the science classroom and make a place for intelligent design.

Intelligent design is the notion that some things in nature are too complex to have evolved. It is only one of the socially conservative causes that the Thomas More center champions. The center also opposes abortion, homosexuality, assisted suicide, and the use of human embryos to derive stem cells. It has been active in the fight for public displays of the Ten Commandments and nativity scenes.

Behind its legal actions is the belief by its president and chief counsel Thompson that Christianity is under siege from all quarters, but especially from the federal courts, the American Civil Liberties Union, and what Mr. Thompson calls the "homosexual lobby."

The ACLU and the courts are "basically cleansing America of religion and particularly Christianity," Mr. Thompson says. "It's almost like a genocide. It's a sophisticated genocide."

In a nation where more than 80 percent of the citizens are Christians, and politicians from the president on down publicly and regularly invoke the name of God, that seems a strange claim.

Mr. Thompson responds: Don't "look at the words so much, but look at the actions."

Focus on the banning of "nativity scenes, the cross, prayer in schools, bible reading in schools, moments of silence, prayers at football games — it's a very militant attempt to surgically remove religion from the public square and turn us into an atheistic society," Mr. Thompson says.

"That is a silly caricature of what is really going on," says Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

"I think that kind of language about a culture war is itself harmful, and is stoking the flames," Mr. Gunn says. "We need to understand the real issues underlying the debate.... There are serious issues here. To characterize this as good versus evil is living in a cartoon."

But Mr. Thompson is convinced that the war is on, and he wants to do battle in what he says is its most important arena: the public schools.

"The humanists say, we've got your children in the public school system and we're going to teach them the way we want to teach them.… That's why you get sex-education classes the way you have them. A lot of schools get involved in teaching them about pornography. That's why you get the theory of evolution being taught," he says.

"It's all changing the minds of students."

That's why he sides with those who would teach intelligent design in science class.

Although he has never taken a biology class — "I didn't want to cut up frogs" — Mr. Thompson can discuss the details of the intelligent design claim.

Mr. Thompson says that evolution has gone beyond the bounds of science into religion.

"If you say … evolution is unplanned and undirected, then you basically says there is no God," he says.

"The biology text books that the public school systems were purchasing and using were going beyond the science and into religion," Mr. Thompson says. "That's where we had a big problem."

In his formulation, the Thomas More Law Center becomes the defender of those who want to keep religion out of the schools.

In fact, people in the sciences say, evolution mentions no planner because science is incompetent to rule on the existence of God. It can only conduct tests based on natural laws, and while many people who accept evolution believe fervently in a creator, they cannot subject the creator to scientific analysis. It is outside of science.

"Science cannot address questions of morality, of creators, of supernatural things," says Wayne Carley, the executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers in Reston, Va.

"That's the difficulty. Evolution is silent on the God question," he says.

Because intelligent design posits a designer, an assertion that could never be tested, it is a religious belief and has no place in a science class, Mr. Carley says.

But Mr. Thompson says it is the theory of evolution students need to be protected from. That's why he defended the Dover Board of Education.

He's not at all discouraged by the loss of that case, or the scathing opinion issued by the judge who heard it. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Jones III blamed the More center for encouraging the school district's adoption of intelligent design.

"An ill-informed faction of a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on [intelligent design]," the judge wrote "in combination, drove the board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy."

The judge went on to call the board's decision to promote intelligent design a "breathtaking inanity."

Mr. Thompson remains positive: "We have to remember the Scopes trial ultimately brought evolution into the mainstream" he says.

Michigan next battleground

He is looking for his next battle on the evolution front. It may take place in the Gull Lake School District near Kalamazoo, Mich.

Gull Lake is a district of 3,000 students 150 miles northwest of Toledo. Dawn Wendzel teaches seventh-grade science there. Eight years ago, her class never discussed evolution.

When Michigan added questions about evolution to its standardized exam, Gull Lake had to alter its curriculum. Evolution was added to seventh-grade science.

Ms. Wendzel, and the other seventh-grade science teacher, Julie Olson, are Christians. Ms. Olson could not be reached for this story. Ms. Wendzel says she was raised Baptist, where she learned a creationist interpretation of life's beginnings. Creationism is based on literal adherence to the book of Genesis in the bible. It insists on a world created in six days. It counts the Earth as about 6,000 years old. Ms. Wendzel was even taught dinosaurs never existed, although many creationist today teach they co-existed with man.

In college, her creationist outlook took a beating.

"When you get to college and you see the evidence because there are fossils, and you were taught dinosaurs didn't exist, then you're, 'Whoa!'"

In the 1980s she reconciled her religious beliefs — she attends a nondenominational Bible-based church — with what she was taught. For her, intelligent design was a plausible way to put God into biology.

With that as her foundation, Ms. Wendzel and Ms. Olson studied how they would approach the topic of evolution in their classrooms. They came up with the text book Of Pandas and People, — the same book used in Dover, Pa. — and suggested it be adopted as a supplemental text. The school board OK'd it, and accepted the proposed curriculum, which included a "teach the controversy" approach.

In 2004, a parent complained.

The school district responded by conducting an in-service training on evolution. At that training, Ms. Wendzel says, they were told that teaching any theory other than evolution was illegal.

The two seventh-grade teachers approached the superintendent and the curriculum director saying they should be allowed to teach challenges to evolution.

They were told no.

The teachers wrote to parents. They wrote to the school board. They cited a letter from Gov. Jennifer Granholm's office that says the Michigan education standards used the word theories — plural — in reference to teaching evolution. They cited the No Child Left Behind Act, which also endorses instruction on more than one theory.

"They weren't real happy with us," Ms. Wendzel says.

As the end of last school year approached, Ms. Wendzel waited for permission to teach what she sees as challenges to evolution.

"Finally, three days before I got ready to teach my unit in May, the superintendent took me aside, told me there are challenges to evolution, told me it would be OK to share those challenges in the classroom."

Which is what she did, even though the superintendent still has not delivered that permission in writing, as she requested.

If the permission is withdrawn, Ms. Wendzel says she and Ms. Olson are prepared to take the issue to court. If they do so, it will be with the help of attorneys of the Thomas More Law Center.

When Ms. Wendzel began looking for legal advice a year ago, Mr. Thompson called her back the next day.

"He called me from the airport, I think, between two stops. He spent about a half hour plus on the phone with me." They've since met in person.

For Mr. Thompson, the decision was easy: "We want to be in the fight."

Disagreement between organizations

One might think that opponents of evolution everywhere would celebrate this kind of dedication.

One would be wrong.

In fact, when Mr. Thompson decided to defend the Dover intelligent design policy, he angered the group most associated with intelligent design: the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Seattle.

"We were incredibly frustrated by arrogance and bad legal judgment of goading the [Dover] school district to keep a policy that the main organization supporting intelligent design was opposed to," says John West, the associate director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

The Thomas More Center acted "in the face of opposition from the group that actually represents most of the scientists who work on intelligent design.''

As far as defending the Gull Lake teachers, Mr. West says: "That is another lousy legal case."

In fact, these two prominent supporters of intelligent design couldn't be much more at odds.

Mr. Thompson says the Discovery Institute bailed out on the Dover Board of Education when three of its experts refused to testify at the last minute, after the deadline for recruiting witnesses had passed.

But Mr. West says the whole thing was the More Center's fault. Mr. Thompson wouldn't let Discovery Institute fellows have separate legal representation.

The Discovery Institute has never advocated the teaching of intelligent design, and told theDover board to drop its policy, Mr. West says. It participated in the trial only reluctantly.

"We were in a bind," Mr. West says. "Our ideals were on trial even though it was a policy we didn't support."Mr. Thompson says the Discovery Institute's strategy is to dodge a fight as soon as one appears imminent.

"The moment there's a conflict they will back away … they come up with some sort of compromise." But in Dover "they got some school board members that didn't want compromise." Compromise is clearly not what the Thomas More center is about.

There was no single moment that turned Richard Thompson into a take-no-prisoners cultural crusader. Rather it was a series of moments when, as Oakland County prosecutor, he pressed charges against Jack Kevorkian for physician-assisted suicide. Mr. Thompson not only lost those cases, he lost his job as prosecutor as well when voters turned him out of office. The pathologist was not successfully prosecuted until 1999.

The public acceptance of physician-assisted suicide was not an aberration, Mr. Thompson decided. It was sign.

"Our culture was moving in the wrong direction."

He was not a Catholic then. He described himself as a "couch potato Christian," the kind of guy who went to church on Christmas and Easter. But his investigation into suicide led him to Catholicism, and when he lost his job as prosecutor, he joined

Mr. Monaghan and the More center was created.

Mr. Thompson's goal now is to do what he must to win the culture war, no matter the defeats he endures in the process.

It's a stance that led him to criticize a group that seems an obvious ally: the National Right to Life Committee. Mr. Thompson says that group is too cautious in its opposition to Roe vs. Wade, avoiding any measure that might lose in the courts. Right to Life did not respond to requests for an interview.

"Our position is, it's been 33 years, 45 million babies have been aborted. How can you say the time is not right?," Mr. More says.

"We don't make it a standard whether we're going to win or lose," he says. "We make it a standard that this is the fight to be in."

Hooked on Online Psychics

By ALEX WILLIAMS

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/05/fashion/sundaystyles/05PSYCHIC.html

FOR Sarah Lassez — a winsome actress who has appeared in more than 20 movies, alongside actors like Matthew Modine, Rose McGowan and Dennis Hopper — the seemingly inevitable Hollywood bout with addiction she experienced a few years ago was accompanied by the usual handmaidens of a habit: career uncertainty, romantic turbulence and nagging fears of future obscurity. At her darkest moments it cost her $1,000 a month, more than her rent. But perhaps worst of all was the effect her addiction had on those around her.

It made them want to burst out laughing.

"If they didn't laugh out loud, you could tell they were repressing it," said Ms. Lassez, who points out that she was addicted not to drugs or alcohol, but to psychics. "It does sound silly."

Over the last 10 years this graduate of New York University, daughter of two computer scientists and otherwise rational adult in her 30's found herself spending more money on the services of tarot readers, palmists, clairvoyants and clairaudients (they hear voices) than some young actors spend on their cars. She paid one woman to read the sediment swirls at the bottom of a cup of Greek coffee.

But most costly, she said, were the countless psychics on Web sites like Keen.com, Kasamba.com, and Asknow.com. They are always available, at all hours of the night, utterly anonymous. At her worst, Ms. Lassez would call six in a day. Her life was unraveling at $4.99 a minute.

"I never considered myself to have an addictive personality," she said. "I never even had a problem with cigarettes or caffeine. But it literally felt like a high."

Now recovered — sort of — Ms. Lassez has taken on an unlikely second career: patron saint to other "psychic addicts," who she said are numerous, if largely silent because of shame. She has started an online support group, www.psychicjunkie.net, to help others like herself and has completed "Psychic Junkie: A Memoir," written with Gian Sardar, chronicling her struggle. Simon Spotlight Entertainment is to publish the book, which was originally written as a self-help book, in July.

But while Ms. Lassez might be the most visible person to go public with her struggle she is not, psychics and self-described addicts say, the only one suffering from it. The impulse to consult the paranormal for guidance in life can, like gambling fever, strike people of any level of education, intelligence or social status. It can become a form of faith healing for people suffering anxiety, particularly in professions like acting, where the swings of fortune can be sudden, mystifying and sometimes cruel.

As Ms. Lassez recounted, the gratification gained by calling psychics —she would find her prophesied dark-eyed man, she would win a Golden Globe — was instant. "You call them, hear what you want to hear," she said. "I would instantly feel good, for a few minutes, maybe a few hours."

She added, "I lost my mind," sounding a bit perplexed herself.

If psychic addiction is a budding epidemic, Ms. Lassez is well out in front of the scientific curve in exploring it, said John W. Welte, a psychologist and senior research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Dr. Welte said he had never heard of any research on the subject or of the subject itself.

Still, he did not discount the possibility that one could develop the same patterns of emotional dependence on the supernatural as others develop with behavioral addictions like gambling: overpowering urges to chase a brief but powerful high, followed by increasing tolerance, thus the need for the subject to increase the dose continually to get the same effect.

"I'm generally skeptical of weird addictions," Dr. Welte said, but "if someone is pressing on, even though they suffer from severe negative consequences, that is clearly addictive behavior."

Others who say they have suffered from the affliction consider the consequences negative. Cheryl Hardy, a corporate communications executive in Austin, Tex., recalls being so overcome with career anxiety on her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania a decade ago that she "maxed out" her credit cards paying telephone psychics for job advice.

"Panic is what makes you pick up the phone," Ms. Hardy, 33, said. "You go right down the list, calling all the psychics until you find the person who's going to tell you the magic words."

Dona Murphy of Lake Bluff, Ill., said she similarly ran up thousands of dollars in debt when working as a corporate personnel executive in 2002, trying to fill a spiritual hole in her life. "Often, what you need is not a reading," Ms. Murphy, 48, said. "There is something in there you are not getting: intellectually, emotionally, in terms of social stimulation. At that point you're in trouble."

For those who develop an unhealthy dependency on mediums, Ms. Lassez said, important decisions are changed, and fundamental assumptions of self are altered. Take the time that a psychic foresaw Ms. Lassez's marrying the star of a popular television show, which she declined to name out of tact. (She found that actor "particularly unattractive and untalented.") Undaunted, Ms. Lassez set about studying pictures of him and watching him on television to nudge her destiny along.

But while the problem is rarely discussed, it is common in psychic circles, several psychic readers and their clients said.

"The addiction problem is huge, and it's getting worse," said Pamela Fletcher, an aura reader in Abita Springs, La., who runs her business through six Web sites.

Online is where the real action is. Few sites require any proof of qualification, Ms. Fletcher said. With a splashy home page and a few grandiose promises — "I will help you with all problems," promises Psychic Troy, a reader listed on Keen.com — psychics can build a national clientele.

Ms. Lassez's first taste of the paranormal came a decade ago on location for a film in Detroit, when — on a whim — she dropped in on a tarot reader to get her mind off a breakup and an argument on the set. The psychic spread out 10 cards on the kitchen table in a Celtic cross, a standard tarot pattern. The 10th card, which supposedly augurs the subject's future, was the Star. To any young actress the meaning would be clear. By the time she left Detroit, she had her own tarot deck.

Ms. Lassez acknowledged that most people's embarrassment about the behavior keeps them even from disclosing it, let alone seeking help. She said she found it absurd that a belief system so at odds with critical thinking could gain so strong a pull in her life. "I really believed in it, even though most of the predictions weren't coming true," she said.

In her willingness to suspend disbelief Ms. Lassez is not alone, even among educated and intelligent people, psychologists said. James Alcock, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, who has studied the belief in the paranormal, considers himself a confirmed skeptic but pointed out, "If you look at the Gallup polls, the majority of people believe in the paranormal."

Most people, he explained, particularly those with any religious training at all, are raised to live under two different belief systems: the rational, which governs most decisions in life, and the transcendental, which guides matters of spirituality and faith. Therefore for some people it is only a small leap to let their transcendental impulses creep into their daily affairs, especially when anxiety over career, finances or romance is involved. Faith, in whatever form it takes, Dr. Alcock said, can provide great comfort, even a sense of empowerment. People who feel they have the stars on their side often feel an edge over mere mortals.

"We all have pockets of irrationality," he said, "and those pockets tend to be activated at times we're motivated by greed or fear."

Greed and fear pretty much describe the state of mind within the entertainment business. So just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there would appear to be few skeptics in Hollywood.

"It's the level of uncertainty," said Justeane Kenzer, a clairvoyant in Hollywood, who charges $200 for a 30-minute session. She said that actors tend to be heavy users of psychic services. "Becoming an actor is like playing the lottery."

Ms. Kenzer said she had done readings for more than one cast member of "Desperate Housewives," including Eva Longoria, and that consulting psychics is something of an open secret in Hollywood.

"L.A. is full of control freaks," she said. "Everyone just wants to know how their thing is going to turn out."

For Ms. Lassez her reliance on clairvoyants only increased as she evolved from being a potential next-big-thing ingιnue with a William Morris agent into a struggling actress and then at one point to a low- level marketing employee at an Internet company. Eventually she hit bottom and went to a therapist, who suggested she attend a 12-step program. "The problem was there weren't any 12-step programs that were appropriate," she said.

Ms. Lassez finally made the decision to get clean, she said, when she stumbled onto a message board on Yahoo moderated by devotees of psychics. There she read tales of dozens of people who had troubles like hers. She began reaching out to them, mostly online, sharing stories. Those stories involved tens of thousands of dollars of debt and postponement of career and romantic decisions, waiting on predictions that were never going to come true.

So after a long and painful recovery she now wants to spread the word. "It's not like I'm proud of it," she said of her addiction, but "if I can stand here and laugh at myself about it, it has to help."

Besides, things in her life are much better now. She has been reborn as a something of an indie-movie queen. She has three films pending release, including "Mad Cowgirl," a surrealist slasher cum kung fu movie, in which she stars.

Still, Hollywood being Hollywood, she never knows when the winning streak will end. Speaking from her home in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, she admitted to the occasional relapse. She never did throw away her tarot cards. "Those cards," she said, "are probably sitting on my bed right now."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Bush cuts carry consequences for science, experts say

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2006-03-02-nasa-budget-harm_x.htm

Posted 3/2/2006 11:32 PM

By Larry Wheeler, Florida Today

WASHINGTON — Spending cuts President Bush proposed for NASA science projects will cause far more harm than the administration has acknowledged, top scientists warned a congressional panel Thursday.

If it passes, the Bush budget will turn out the lights on a whole generation of young scientists and researchers, said Joseph Taylor Jr., a Princeton University physics professor.

"These budget cuts ... will be disproportionately felt by the younger members of the (science) community — the assistant professors, post-doctoral trainees, and graduate students," said Taylor, co-chairman of the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey for Astrophysics.

The Bush administration budget request provides $3.1 billion less for science through 2010 than was promised in last year's spending request.

Much of the burden would fall on smaller, low-cost missions that conduct experiments in astronomy, Earth science, physics and other fields.

Also cut significantly would be funding for scientists to do research on data already collected by National Aeronautics and Space Administration missions.

Both categories are important sources of funding for academic scientists and their students.

NASA leaders said the funding shift was necessary to pay for the space shuttle's final missions before scheduled retirement of the three remaining orbiters in four years.

"We're trying to maintain a balance," said Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate.

Cleave reminded lawmakers that approximately 30% of NASA's budget would remain devoted to science pursuits under the Bush proposal, as it is now.

The cuts NASA and White House managers plan could usher in a dark new age for some aspects of American science, other experts told the House Science Committee.

For example, the NASA proposed budget cuts would delay the Europa Orbiter mission, a robotic observer designed to answer tantalizing questions about one of Jupiter's most interesting moons.

"For the first time in four decades, there will be no solar system flagship mission at all," said Wesley Huntress Jr., director of the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "For science, we will remain ignorant that much longer of Europa's deep ocean and the potential for life within it."

In order to reverse the science cuts proposed in the Bush budget, Congress would have to shift money from elsewhere in NASA's annual spending plan or take the funding from another federal agency's budget.

Given the tight budget climate on Capitol Hill, that will be a difficult task, said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y, chairman of the House Science Committee.

Two years ago, President Bush unveiled his exploration initiative and promised "a robust science program" at NASA, said Rep. Bart Gordon, of Tennessee, the senior Democrat on the committee.

"As we now know, that's not what happened," Gordon said.

Geneticists trace original organism

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1722531,00.html

Ian Sample, science correspondent Friday March 3, 2006 The Guardian

Geneticists have drawn up the most accurate tree of life yet and pinpointed what they believe to be the organism from which all other life on Earth evolved.

Scientists construct tree of life "maps" to show how different organisms evolved over millennia, and split into the myriad species that have emerged on Earth. But previous versions have been beset with uncertainties, not least because microbes near the bottom of the tree swap DNA, making them hard to classify.

The new tree uses genetics to work out for certain where on the tree different organisms should be. In creating it, the researchers were able to cast back to see what lay at the bottom of the evolutionary tree, an organism dubbed the "last universal common ancestor" from which all other life sprung.

The researchers found that our oldest ancestor was very similar to disease-causing bugs of today. It lived in a much hotter environment, had a single membrane to keep it intact, and falls into the same group of well-known pathogens, Bacillus, Listeria, Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, Clostridium and Streptococcus. The tree will help researchers classify unnamed organisms and reveal how they evolved.

"It's the first time all three domains of life have been brought together," said Francesca Ciccarelli of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. "You can compare the speed of evolution of different organisms and you can easily see that the pathogens evolve very fast, which makes sense because they have to adapt to the host's defences."

Dr Ciccarelli and her team created the tree by first identifying 36 genes that are common to species in each of the three categories of life: bacteria, single celled organisms called archaea and the eukaryotes, which includes multi-celled organisms such as animals, plants and fungi.

By combining the set of common genes with information from the genomes of 191 fully sequenced species, the researchers were able to work out precisely how one species was related to another, they report in the journal Science today.

Evolution education update: March 3, 2006

A busy week! There's not one, but two, antievolution bills in Maryland. But the second of Mississippi's antievolution bills died in committee, while Utah's antievolution bill was defeated. In Kansas, a local school district voted to reject the flawed state standards adopted in November 2005. And Judge Jones, who presided over Kitzmiller v. Dover, discusses the case with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

THE OTHER MARYLAND ANTIEVOLUTION BILL

House Bill 1228, introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates on February 10, 2006, would, if enacted, require the state board of education to "prohibit the teaching or the discussion of the theory of intelligent design" in science classes and prohibit it from "requiring the teaching or discussion of the theory of intelligent design in any class." But there's a catch: HB 1228 would also require the board to "permit the teaching or discussion of the theory of intelligent design in humanities or philosophy classes" and moreover require it to develop and disseminate instructional materials for that purpose.

"While there is arguably a place for 'intelligent design' to be discussed in public school classrooms," commented NCSE executive director Eugenie C. Scott, "Marylanders would do well to be wary of the bill. Teaching 'intelligent design' as if it were scientifically credible is pedagogically inappropriate and constitutionally problematic, whether it's in a science class, a philosophy class, or a home ec class." Scott cited the recent case Hurst v. Newman, in which parents in Lebec, California, challenged the teaching of a four-week elective course on "Philosophy of Design."

In Lebec, a teacher sought to teach creationism as well as scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution under the rubric of philosophy. It was not until a lawsuit was actually filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State that the school district conceded that the class was inappropriate, agreeing to end the class and never to offer it again. Scott, who provided an expert witness declaration in Hurst v. Newman, warns that, if enacted, HB 1228 is likely to spawn cases like Lebec throughout Maryland.

The lead sponsor of HB 1228 is Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-District 10), who subsequently introduced HB 1531. Based on antievolution legislation previously introduced in Alabama, HB 1531 aims to "expressly protect the right of teachers identified by the United States Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard ... to present scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories; and [to] expressly protect the right of students to hold a position on any views." Unlike HB 1228, HB 1531 explicitly characterizes "intelligent design" as a scientific view.

For the text of HB 1228 (PDF), visit:
http://mlis.state.md.us/2006rs/bills/hb/hb1228f.pdf

For NCSE's story about HB 1531, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/MD/636_antievolution_legislation_in_m_2_21_2006.asp

For NCSE's coverage of Hurst v. Newman and Scott's declaration (PDF), visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/CA/841_california_parents_sue_school__1_11_2006.asp
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/CA/642_settlement_in_emhurst_v_new_1_17_2006.asp
http://www2.ncseweb.org/hurst/Scott_expert_witness_declaration-20060110.pdf

BOTH ANTIEVOLUTION BILLS IN MISSISSIPPI NOW DEAD

Senate Bill 2427 is listed on the Mississippi legislature's website as having died on committee on February 28, 2006. The bill, which was passed by the Senate on February 6, 2006, would have ensured that "[n]o local school board, school superintendent or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the issue of flaws or problems which may exist in Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and the existence of other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, the Intelligent Design explanation of the origin of life." The other antievolution bill in Mississippi, House Bill 953, died in committee on January 31, 2006.

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Mississippi, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=MS

ANTIEVOLUTION BILL IN UTAH DEFEATED

Senate Bill 96 was defeated by a 48-26 vote in the Utah House of Representatives on February 27, 2006. The bill was the culmination of about half a year's worth of public antievolution statements by Senator Chris Buttars (R-District 10), beginning with his announcement of plans to introduce legislation calling for the teaching of "divine design" -- "Divine design," he told the Salt Lake Tribune (June 3, 2005), "doesn't preach religion ... The only people who will be upset about this are atheists." As introduced, however, SB 96 was silent about "divine design"; instead, it directed the state board of education to emphasize the existence of disagreement among scientists with regard to "any theory regarding the origins of life, or the origins or present state of the human race." Despite opposition from the state's scientific and educational communities, protests from the ACLU of Utah and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and critical editorials in the state's leading newspapers, a revised version of the bill was passed by the Utah Senate on January 23, 2006, by a 16-12 vote.

SB 96 then went to the House of Representatives Committee on Education, where it underwent further revision; in particular, the directive to the state board of education to emphasize the existence of disagreement among scientists with regard to "any theory regarding the origins of life, or the origins or present state of the human race" was replaced with a directive to "stress that no scientific theory, hypothesis, or instruction regarding the origins of life or the origins of species has been indisputably proven." The new revision of the bill was narrowly passed by the Committee on Education on February 8, 2006. Then on February 27, 2006, Representative Stephen Urquhart (R-District 75) amended the bill's text, leaving only "The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction." The gutted bill was then defeated, the Salt Lake Tribune explains (February 27, 2006), "to stop the Senate from having the ability to revive the issue." Buttars told the Tribune that it was "doubtful" that he would propose a similar bill in the future.

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Utah, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=UT

LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT REJECTS KANSAS'S ANTIEVOLUTION STANDARDS

The Manhattan-Ogden school district (USD 383) became the first local school district in Kansas to reject the state science standards adopted by the Kansas state board of education in November 2005. At its meeting on February 15, 2006, the USD 383 board of education voted 6-0 to adopt a resolution that endorses the original writing committee's description of science as "a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us."

The resolution continues, "The Science Standards that use this definition will be used in science curricula in all appropriate USD 383 K-12 science courses. USD 383 does not support the redefinition of science included in the Science Standards passed by the Kansas State Board of Education on November 8, 2005; this document changed the definition of science to allow non-natural (including supernatural) explanations of natural phenomena."

In rejecting the standards, USD 383 joins a host of critics, including a group of 38 Nobel laureates, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the committee that wrote the original standards, and the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science.

The resolution was originally proposed to the board on February 1, 2006, by over 150 science, mathematics, and engineering faculty and staff at Kansas State University, who argued that adopting the redefinition of science contained in the adopted version of the state science standards would not only affect the quality of science education in USD 383 but also threaten the efforts of the university and of local business to recruit highly qualified professionals.

In addition, the proponents of the resolution argued, "The changes made to the science standards are based on the utterly false belief that evolutionary science, and the scientific method itself, is based on an atheistic philosophy. Promoting this false conflict between science and faith erects unnecessary barriers to student learning, discourages many students from pursuing careers in the sciences, and perpetuates public misunderstandings of the nature and conclusions of science."

USD 383 superintendent Bob Shannon told the Kansas State Collegian (February 16, 2006) that it is unlikely that the adoption of the resolution will have any financial or legal ramifications for the district. Board member Beth Tatarko added that in fact accepting the state standards might be financially and legally precarious, citing the outcome of Kitzmiller v. Dover: "If we had someone in our district teaching Intelligent Design right now, those costs would come back to us."

Mike Herman, a Kansas State University biology professor who originally presented the board with the resolution, told the Collegian, "The board made a bold move tonight by accepting and approving the resolution." Expressing his hope that other school districts across Kansas will follow in the steps of USD 383, he added, "It's important for the students of Manhattan, and it could be important for the state of Kansas in the end."

For the story in the Kansas State Collegian, visit:
http://kstatecollegian.com/article.php?a=8960

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kansas, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=KS

JUDGE JONES SPEAKS

In a brief interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer (February 26, 2006), Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over the trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover, discussed the outcome of the case. A few highlights:

* The controversial part of the ruling was whether intelligent design is in fact science. Lost in the post-decision debate was that both sides, plaintiffs and defense, asked me to rule on that issue.

* I wanted [the opinion] to stand as a primer so that folks on both sides of the issue could read it, understand the way the debate is framed, see the testimony in support and against the various positions ... and what is heartening to me is that it's now evident that it's being used in that way ...

* To my mind ... it would be a dreadful waste of judicial resources, legal resources, taxpayer money ... to replicate this trial someplace else. That's not to say it won't be, but I suspect it may not be ...

The interview was conducted on February 14, 2006, before Jones delivered a talk at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia's new Mt. Airy School of Religion, the Inquirer noted.

For the interview in the Philadelphia Inquirer, visit:
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/editorial/13961518.htm

For NCSE's resources on Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit:
http://www2.ncseweb.org/wp/?page_id=5

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

Lt. governor hopefuls debate intelligent design

http://www.dailyherald.com/politics/ele_story.asp?id=161984

By Stacy St. Clair Daily Herald Staff Writer

Posted Thursday, March 02, 2006

If there's such a thing as intelligent design, a higher power made sure the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor had different views on it.

Sandy Wegman thinks it should be taught at home.

Steve Rauschenberger has no problem including it in science curriculum.

And Joe Birkett says it should be taught only in religion or philosophy classes.

The trio aired their differences at a debate Wednesday sponsored by the City Club of Chicago. The issue exploded onto the national forefront last year when a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania high school from teaching the creationism theory in biology class as an alternative to evolution.

Birkett, of Wheaton, and Rauschenberger, of Elgin, agree each school district should be allowed to decide whether to teach intelligent design. Their running mates — Riverside's Judy Baar Topinka and Chicago's Ron Gidwitz, respectively — share that view.

The lieutenant governor hopefuls differ, however, on where to teach the concept, which holds that living organisms are so complex, a higher power must have created them.

If school systems opt to include intelligent design, Rauschenberger, a state senator, says it should be taught in science class as a viable explanation for how the universe began. He describes past scientific errors — such as the now-disproved belief that dinosaurs were cold-blooded lizards — as a reason for offering different views.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with science curriculum discussing alternatives to evolution," he said. "Evolution is not an immutable force, nor is it fully understood."

Birkett, the DuPage County state's attorney, said he supports Topinka's stance that intelligent design should be taught only in religion or philosophy classes.

"This is an area where we are in agreement, although I am a conservative on many, many issues," Birkett said. "I do not believe the teaching of intelligent design should be available to science classes."

Following the debate, Birkett, a practicing Catholic, observed the first day of Lent by having a priest in the audience mark his forehead with ashes. Though Birkett supports limitations on where the theory is taught, he says he does believe in intelligent design.

"I believe in God," he said. "I have faith and I've never doubted that we have a supreme being."

Candidate Sandy Wegman, the Kane County recorder who lives in Elgin, attended the debate but was not invited to participate. She said afterward that she does not support teaching intelligent design in public schools.

"If parents want to teach (the theory) to their children, that's their option," she said.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Intelligent design language tossed out

http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060215/NEWS04/602150455/-1/NEWS

Article published Wednesday, February 15, 2006

SCIENCE CURRICULUM
Ohio board votes to rework section

By JIM PROVANCE BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - In an abrupt turnaround yesterday, the Ohio Board of Education voted 11-4 to send back to the drawing board controversial language in its science curriculum that critics charged sets up a debate between evolution and creationism in the classroom.

Faced with threats of litigation and Gov. Bob Taft's recent suggestion that the 10th-grade life sciences lesson plan be submitted to legal review, several board members changed position and voted to eliminate the language.

Robin Hovis, a board member from Millersburg, argued that Ohio could not afford to wait for a legal opinion in the wake of December's federal court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional the curriculum in a Dover, Pa., school district that mandated the teaching of "intelligent design."

"It's on the shelf as a model lesson plan, and we put it there," Mr. Hovis said. "We lay a Dover trap for schools if we leave it on the shelf."

The concept of intelligent design generally holds that the creation of life on Earth was too complex to have occurred by happenstance and that some unnamed guiding hand had to be involved.

Critics have charged that intelligent design is creationism in disguise, and has no place in science class next to Charles Darwin's widely accepted theory that life evolved over a long period of time from a single-cell organism.

"I don't understand why the scientific community is so afraid of this," said Michael Cochran, a board member from Blacklick who voted to keep the language.

"They control the classrooms," he said. "They control the curriculum. They control the textbooks. Why are they so afraid? That has always puzzled me."

The board voted to remove the language from both the broad standards spelling out what students are expected to learn as well as the specific, optional lesson plan spelling out how it could work in the classroom.

A board committee will later recommend new language to take its place.

The move came as the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Toledo Public Schools demanding that the district stop teaching the concept in science class.

"The scientific community has, time and again, largely refuted purported evidence supporting intelligent design," said Ohio ACLU Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso, of Toledo. "By continuing to allow teachers to implement intelligent design into the science curriculum, educators are misinforming Ohio's children on the fundamental principles of science."

Patricia Princehouse, an evolution biology lecturer at Case Western Reserve University, said the board's action leaves schools that continue to discuss intelligent design in science class without the legal cover afforded by state-sanctioned standards.

"If teachers come in tomorrow and teach this material, they are not aligned with the standards, and they are in violation of the U.S. Constitution," she said.

The board approved the broader science standards in 2002 that, for the first time, mentioned the word "evolution." But they also mentioned the words "intelligent design" for the first time, albeit in a parenthetical phrase stating that the requirement that students "critically analyze" evolutionary theory does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.

"In saying it does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design, it kind of throws intelligent design in everybody's face," said board member Stephen Millett from Columbus.

Last month, the board voted 9-8 to keep the language.

The motion to remove the language was made by Martha Wise, an elected board member from Avon whose district includes Toledo. She was joined from northwest Ohio by Lou Ann Harold of Ada.

But board chairman, Sue Westendorf of Bowling Green, opposed the motion. At-large member Emerson J. Ross, Jr., of Toledo, who supported the curriculum in February, left the meeting before the vote was taken because of an apparent timing conflict.

"Most people want students to learn the evidence critical of Darwinism, as well as the evidence that supports it, rather than just teaching Darwin's theory as if it were sacred dogma," aid John G. West, associate director of the Discovery Institute, a conservative, Seattle-based think tank that supported the lesson plan.

Contact Jim Provance at:
jprovance@theblade.com
or 614-221-0496.

Mainstream Media Continue to Mislead the Public About Criticisms of Darwinian Evolution

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/03/mainstream_media_continue_to_m.html

Recent news articles on various aspects of the overall debate over evolution and intelligent design continue to highlight the fact that many in the media are falling for the false claims of Darwinists.

In Ohio, in Utah , in Wisconsin , in South Carolina , and elsewhere Darwinists are claiming that any criticism of Darwin's theory is the same as intelligent design. (Christian Schwabe , Lynn Margulis and other staunchly anti-ID scientists would be quite surprised to learn their strident criticisms of Darwinian evolution have turned them into ID proponents.)

The Darwinists say it, and for some reason reporters just accept it without any questioning. This leads to other reporters reading the same thing and then turning around and confirming it in their own articles.

For instance, Richard Monastersky at the Chronicle of Higher Education contacted us this week and asked this question:

With Kitzmiller, Ohio, and now Utah, there have been several legal and political defeats for ID. Am I correct in assuming that the Discovery Institute is not abandoning its support for ID? If so, where do you go from here?

And I answered:

This just isn't true. You are mistaken in telling people that Ohio or Utah were about intelligent design. That is factually wrong. Ohio was very clearly NOT about intelligent design, contrary to the bogus claims of the rabid Darwinists that sought to mislead the public and the policy makers there. I hope you do not misreport this important fact. Teaching students both the evidence for and against Darwinian evolution is NOT the same as teaching the theory of intelligent design. In Ohio the standards called for students to critically analyse Darwinian evolution. In Utah, the proposal was basically a disclaimer to students that there are unresolved problems in evolution and that scientists disagree over what this means. Discovery has never favored disclaimers, either in the classroom or on textbooks. Instead of telling students there is a problem with Darwinian evolution, show them what the problems are. The scientific literature is full of unresolved issues and challenging problems for Darwinian evolution, and we think students should be learning about that. If a tenth grade student can understand evidence that supports Darwin's theory, they certainly can understand the evidence that challenges it.

It's too bad that whenever attempts to teach both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution come up, there is a howl of protest from the Darwin only lobby that bullies schools and legislatures into shutting down the discussion.

It will be interesting to see how much –if any-- of that will appear in the Chronicle when the story comes out.

Still, this is the perfect example of how misinformation spreads. I hope that reporters who read this site will ask about the difference between criticism of Darwinian evolution and advocating a completely separate theory such as intelligent design. It's important that the public understand that these are two very different things, contrary to what Darwinists are now claiming.

Posted by Robert Crowther on March 2, 2006 12:04 PM | Permalink

Who's Afraid of Darwin?

http://www.alternet.org/wiretap/33038/

By Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed. Posted March 3, 2006.

Turns out many clergy members are not -- they see no conflict between belief in God and studying evolution in schools. Tools

A national group -- organized by a dean in Wisconsin -- is seeking to spread the word: Many members of the clergy see no conflict between their faith and the teaching of evolution.

The Clergy Letter Project -- which now has 10,000 signatories from Christian clergy, including many theologians or others who work at religious colleges -- announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that it would be joining with groups of scientists to back the Alliance for Science, which will oppose attempts to teach creationism and intelligent design, and will push for more federal spending on science and technology.

The letter and the new group are part of an expanding effort by scientists to go on the offensive against groups that challenge evolution using arguments that have been widely discredited by researchers. The statement that the clergy signed is a strongly worded defense of evolution -- and in particular of the idea that there is any conflict between belief in God and study of evolution.

"We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist," the letter says. "We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator."

The letter was organized by Michael Zimmerman, an evolutionary biologist who is dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

The idea behind the letter, he said in an interview Monday, is to confront head on the way anti-evolution groups and people are trying to gain support. Zimmerman said he was watching a news show one night and realized that the argument being put forth by some fundamentalist leaders was, "You have to choose. You can choose evolution and go to hell or you can choose faith."

Of that idea, Zimmerman said, "it's a ridiculous position," but it is also influential. "Americans are a religious people," he said. "That was a false dichotomy, but if you give Americans that choice, they will pick religion."

At the time, Zimmerman was in the middle of a fight -- ultimately successful -- against a Wisconsin school district's attempts to change its curriculum to favor intelligent design over evolution. Zimmerman had been involved in similar fights in Ohio in the 1980s, when he taught at Oberlin College, and said that was where he first came to believe in the importance of clergy in defending science. And not just clergy, but Christian clergy. "That's where the attacks are coming from," he said, explaining that he politely turned down requests from Jewish and Muslim clergy to sign his letter because he feared that their inclusion might undercut the argument that scientists need to make.

Toward that end, he also doesn't discuss his own religious views or those of scientists, except to say that there are researchers of all faiths and no faith.

"There isn't any real debate in science about evolution," Zimmerman said. But religious people are bombarded with "shrill false attacks" on evolution and need to know that so many people of faith endorse evolution. "We're trying to elevate the quality of debate in this country," he said.

"The focus is that 10,000 Christian clergy are confident that modern science and particularly evolutionary biology has nothing to scare them and they are fully comfortable with the principles of modern science," he said. Opponents of evolution, he added "are incredibly dangerous to higher education and American society."

Rob Crowther, director of communications for the Discovery Institute, the group that has organized much of the intelligent design movement, scoffed at the new campaign on behalf of evolution. Crowther said that intelligent design supporters see the issue as "purely a scientific debate" so the views of clergy members are irrelevant. "Can you imagine if the Discovery Institute issued a list of clergy opposing Darwinism?" he asked.

The views of clergy "don't make any difference," he said. "We don't think there is anything religious at all to the theory of intelligent design."

Zimmerman said that argument is part of the problem -- and why scientists need the clout of clergy to fight back. "They are trying to extend science from an explanation of the natural world to something beyond that -- by including the supernatural. If you include everything in science, you have included nothing in science."

Friday, March 03, 2006

WHAT'S NEW

Robert L. Park Friday, 3 Mar 06 Washington, DC

GLUCOSAMINE AND CHONDROITIN: INEFFECTIVE FOR ARTHRITIS PAIN?

We got a lot of mail last week about our comment on these popular dietary supplements. Based on an NIH-funded trial, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, WN characterized G-C as "ineffective" for osteoarthritis knee pain. The study reported that: "Overall, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate were not significantly better than a placebo in reducing knee pain by 20 percent." The double-blind trial was placebo controlled, and celecoxib (Celebrex) was used as a positive control. The problem is that the 1583 patients in the trial were divided into subsets based on severity of pain. Although it was ineffective overall, indignant WN readers pointed out that for the moderate-to-severe subset G-C "provided statistically significant pain relief compared to a placebo." Statisticians groaned: by dividing the cohort into subgroups, the outcome for a specific subset can usually be altered by fiddling with the boundaries. The bottom line in the NEJM study, incidentally, is the ubiquitous report ending, "continued research is needed to establish efficacy."

WE FEEL YOUR PAIN: WHAT'S NEW DOES A STUDY OF THE BOTTOM LINE.

Much of the e-mail about G-C was anecdotal. Not just from people who used it themselves, but also those who had treated dogs, cats and horses with it(vets love G-C, and point out that pets don't respond to placebos). "The plural of anecdote," someone said, "is data." Although anecdotes are not blind; we decided to see what the data might tell us about What's New. First we divided the messages into subgroups. The groups ranged from,"He's just guessing," to "Park is a liar and must be getting paid under the table by Pfizer." We're still fiddling with the boundaries.

GLOBAL MELTING: MEASUREMENTS SHOW IT HAPPENING TOP TO BOTTOM.

Two weeks ago, WN commented on satellite data showing glaciers in Greenland rapidly turning into ocean. Today, Science published satellite measurements showing rapid melting at the other end. It had been expected that increased snowfall due to warming would cause the Antarctic ice sheet to gain mass. Meanwhile, Joseph Taylor, 1993 Physics Nobel, told the House Science Committee that small science missions are being cut to feed the shuttle and ISS.

DOVER EFFECT: EVEN IN UTAH, ANTI-DARWIN LEGISLATION FLOPS.

Utah is one of the most conservative states in the nation, but on Monday, legislation favoring intelligent design lost. Alas, I'm sure the Discovery Institute will be able to find a new gimmick.

ACUPUNCTURE: IT DOESN'T MATTER WHERE YOU STICK THE NEEDLE.

According to an article in Lancet Neurology, German researchers found that Chinese acupuncture worked about as well as drugs in treating arthritis, but so did sham acupuncture, in which the needle is inserted in the wrong place. WN has been saying this for years http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN04/wn122304.html.

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

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

Door- to-door religion in Dover

http://www.yorkdispatch.com/searchresults/ci_3554815

Article Last Updated: 02/28/2006 11:57 AM EST

Anti-evolution group plans visit

CHRISTINA KAUFFMAN The York Dispatch

A group of evangelists is planning to go door to door to preach to the Dover area community March 8-10, priming residents for an anti-evolution presentation it will hold the next week.

Michael Marcavage, director of the Philadelphia-based evangelistic group Repent America, said he and about a dozen other members of his group are also planning to distribute Gospel literature to Dover Area High School students before and after school "and engag(e) in maybe some discussions outside the high school with students."

Marcavage said his group's outreach was spurred by school officials' decision not to allow Repent America, a religious group, to hang advertisements in the high school, where creationist speaker Kent Hovind will present a seminar March 17 and 18.

"We're using alternative methods to communicate to the Dover area and the students because of some of the barriers that have been put in place by the school officials," Marcavage said.

Dover Area School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Nilsen said the advertisement ban has been district policy "forever."

"It's an outside organization. We don't advertise anybody that rents our facilities," Nilsen said. "We've never advertised outside organizations including ballet functions, cheerleading competitions or any other organization that has rented our facilities."

The school board voted in January against waiving $1,117.50 in rental fees for the high school auditorium where the seminar is to be held.

"If (Repent America) wants to rent the school, then they may," said Bernadette Reinking, president of the Dover Area School Board.

Expect mixed reception: Although some Dover residents might be thrilled to answer their front door and find Marcavage standing on the stoop, others won't share the enthusiasm.

But Marcavage said he's aware of that.

"The message wasn't taken very well when Jesus and the disciples spoke the truth," he said. "However, we must follow in his footsteps."

He said the group will lecture and evangelize with informational signs, "open-air" preaching, door-to-door ministry and Gospel literature distribution.

"We welcome public debate, whether it's in the streets or inside the walls of the classroom," he said. "Most of the time that Jesus and the disciples spoke was publicly and in the streets, and that's where we want to be."

Though members of the group have been arrested by police at other outings, Marcavage said he wants to assure the people of Dover that the group is peaceful.

"We believe in loving our neighbor as ourself," he said. "We are certainly a peaceful group."

Arrested in Philadelphia: Repent America made headlines in 2004 when Marcavage and several other protesters were arrested during a Philadelphia gay-pride event and charged under the state's hate crimes law.

Event-goers said the protesters were disrupting the event, intimidating people and shouting epithets through bullhorns.

Marcavage counters that the gay-pride event was held to "celebrate the sin of homosexuality."

"We went there as Christians to love our neighbor as thyself, to give them the hope of Jesus Christ."

But, he said, a "militant mob of homosexuals" caused a confrontation.

"At no time did the police ever state that we were violent," he said.

Marcavage and other protesters were each facing up to 47 years in prison, but a judge dismissed the case.

He said his group is not "hateful."

"The definition of hate, you have to look at that," he said. "We're opposed to hating any person. But we love them enough to tell them the truth. The Bible shows again and again the most loving thing we can do is go to our neighbor with the truth whether or not they want to hear it."

"Truth is hate to those who hate the truth."

Recently, Marcavage's group was threatened with arrest for protesting abortion at an entrance to the Super Bowl stadium in Detroit; Marcavage said he's preparing to file a federal lawsuit against Detroit police for shutting down the group's demonstration.

The Rev. Jim Grove, the Loganville pastor most noted for his graphic anti-abortion float in York City's Halloween parade, has been helping Repent America spread word about its presentation, Marcavage said.

Calls Dover 'ground zero': Marcavage said he chose to come to Dover because it's "ground zero" of the battle over intelligent design, a movement that says living things are so complicated they had to have been created by a higher being, that life is too complex to have developed by the method described by biologist Charles Darwin.

Marcavage said the group is coming to Dover to "confront the lie of evolution" and "shed light on God as creator."

Like Repent America, other Christian groups who believe in a literal teaching of the Bible's creation story have said their God is the creator. They have been pushing for creationism to be included in public school science classes.

In 2004, a former Dover school board passed a policy to include intelligent design in science classes. Some parents argued that intelligent design is religious. They sued the district and, last December, a federal judge overwhelmingly sided with the parents.

About the seminar

Repent America, a Philadelphia-based evangelistic organization, is holding a two-day creationism seminar in the Dover Area High School auditorium, 46 W. Canal St., Dover.

The event is at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, and 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 18. It is free and open to the public.

-- Reach Christina Kauff man at 505-5434 or ckauf fman@yorkdispatch.com.

Dover needs some benign indifference

http://www.yorkdispatch.com/viewpoints/editorial/ci_3558358

Article Last Updated: 03/01/2006 11:17 AM EST

Seems Dover is in for it again.

A Philadelphia-based group of zealous Christians out to convert the world to their literal view of the Bible has designated the Dover area community as "ground zero" in its battle against the "lie of evolution."

OK. It's a free country. Seems this group of quite ardent proselytizers operating under the banner of Repent America are out of sorts over the Dover Area School District board's decision not to allow them to display their wares -- advertisements to a "creation" seminar -- in the district's high school.

What's more, according to Repent America director Michael Marcavage, the group's attorney is looking into arrangements with the school district over renting the high school auditorium where the group's "seminar" is scheduled to be presented March 17 and 18.

The use of an attorney is part-and-parcel for Repent America, which has more cases pending in state and local courts for their public demonstrations against homosexuality and abortion than you can shake a protest sign at.

Watch out, Dover. Not only will they be bending your ear during a door-to-door campaign touting the "truths" of religion against the "unproven" facts of evolution -- it's almost certain they'll be looking for any excuse to file a legal action somewhere to keep their profile high.

It was similar zealotry among members of the Dover school board that led to the federal lawsuit by local parents -- and that resulted in the $1 million in damages after a U.S. District Court judge found the board members' actions unconstitutional.

Those Dover area folks who thought things were somewhat settled and were looking forward to less public scrutiny need to remember: fanaticism, religious or political, abhors normalcy.

It is now your lot to deal with another challenge, a group called Repent America, hungry for headlines under the guise of "debate" and "religious truth" -- and indifferent to the feelings of you and your neighbors.

A little benign indifference here will go a long way.


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