NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 May 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, May 26, 2006

Evolution education update: May 26, 2006

The decision in Selman v. Cobb County was vacated on appeal, and the case was remanded to the federal district court. Coincidentally, the New England Journal of Medicine reviews how antievolutionist strategies have evolved over the years to adapt to a changing legal landscape. And the mayor of New York City publicly denounces attempts to compromise evolution education.


The ruling in the appeal of Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al. -- the case in which a federal district court ruled that textbook stickers describing evolution as "a theory, not a fact" violate the First Amendment -- was issued by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on May 25, 2006. The three-judge panel vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case for further evidential proceedings. "[W]e leave it to the district court whether to start with an entirely clean slate and a completely new trial," the ruling states, "or to supplement, clarify, and flesh out the evidence that it has heard in the four days of bench trial already conducted."

After suggesting no fewer than eighteen factual issues for the district court to address, the appeal court's ruling emphasizes that "we want to make it clear that we do not intend to make any implicit rulings on any of the legal issues that arise from the facts once they are found on remand. We intend no holding on any of the legal premises that may have shaped the district court's conclusions on the three Lemon prongs. Mindful that in this area factual context is everything, we simply choose not to attempt to decide this case based on a less than complete record on appeal or fewer than all the facts."

What primarily concerned the appeals court about the district court's decision was the evidence introduced at trial concerning the adoption of the stickers by the Cobb County, Georgia, school board. The plaintiffs alleged, and the district court agreed, that a letter and a petition organized by a local creationist parent, Marjorie Rogers, affected the school board's decision to require the stickers. But, the appeals court states, "The evidence in the record before us does not establish that the Rogers letter was submitted to the board before it adopted the sticker. And the only petition in the record that resembles the one the court described came well after the board's action."

These concerns were prefigured during oral argument on December 15, 2005, when Judge Ed Carnes expressed concern about the timing of the petition. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (December 16, 2005), however, it reported on March 29, 2002, that Rogers told the board about her petition at its March 28, 2002, meeting, the same meeting at which the board promised that students would be told that evolution is a theory, not a fact. A few days later, a Journal-Constitution reporter "examined the petitions at the Cobb school system offices and took notes on names and phone numbers of some of the people who had signed."

For the court's ruling (PDF), visit:

For a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of previous events in Georgia, visit:


Featured in the May 25, 2006, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine is George J. Annas's article "Intelligent Judging -- Evolution in the Classroom and the Courtroom." Annas distinguishes three waves of activity seeking "to banish or marginalize the teaching of evolution" in the public schools: attempts to ban the teaching of evolution, attempts to teach "creation science" alongside evolution, and attempts to teach "intelligent design" alongside evolution.

After describing the decision in Kitzmiller v Dover, Annas comments, "Judge Jones's strong opinion concludes the third wave of antievolution teaching activity in the United States. Even though the opinion has no force as a binding precedent outside Pennsylvania, it is so well reasoned that it is likely to be persuasive to other judges around the country, and most state legislatures and school boards will probably be strongly influenced by it."

"In a country in which more than 50 percent of adults consistently tell pollsters that they believe God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years," he continues, "there will undoubtedly be a fourth wave that will feature yet another strategy to promote creationism by questioning evolution." He predicts, plausibly, "It looks as if this next wave will jettison the creationist and intelligent-design baggage and concentrate exclusively on a 'teach the controversy' strategy."

Annas is the Edward R. Utley Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights of Boston University School of Public Health, and Professor in the Boston University School of Medicine and School of Law. He is also the cofounder of Global Lawyers and Physicians, a transnational professional association of lawyers and physicians working together to promote human rights and health.

For "Intelligent Judging -- Evolution in the Classroom and the Courtroom," visit:


In a commencement address at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore on May 25, 2006, New York City's mayor Michael R. Bloomberg decried the political manipulation of science to further ideological ends, saying, "Today, we are seeing hundreds of years of scientific discovery being challenged by people who simply disregard facts that don't happen to agree with their agenda ... Some call it pseudoscience, others call it faith-based science, but when you notice where this negligence tends to take place, you might as well call it 'political science.'"

In that context, Bloomberg deplored ongoing controversies over evolution education in Kansas, Mississippi, and elsewhere: "It boggles the mind that nearly two centuries after Darwin, and 80 years after John Scopes was put on trial, the country is still debating the validity of evolution," adding, "This not only devalues science, it cheapens theology. As well as condemning these students to an inferior education, it ultimately hurts their professional opportunities." Intelligent design, he said, "is really just creationism by another name."

NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch commended Bloomberg for his defense of the teaching of evolution, telling the New York Sun (May 26, 2006), "It's not as though he's flying in the face of the established scientific consensus ... Bloomberg's view is at one with the National Academy of Sciences, which is the nation's most prestigious scientific organization. It is also [at] one with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with the Royal Society of London, and with dozens of other major scientific organizations."

For the story in the New York Sun, visit:

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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.


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

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

Scientists Tell Baptists Earth is 6,000 Years Old


Bob Allen 05-25-06

Nearly 1,000 Virginia Baptists gathered last Saturday for a day-long conference aimed a proving the Earth was created by God and is about 6,000 years old.

Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and First Baptist Church of Roanoke co-sponsored the "Thousands … Not Billions" conference, featuring creation scientists from the Institute for Creation Research in El Cajon, Calif.

"Even most Christians believe the Earth has been around for millions or even billions of years and that the Bible really isn't accurate when it talks about when God created the Earth," Larry Vardiman, professor of atmospheric science, told worshippers at Roanoke First Baptist the Sunday morning following the conference.

"Most Christians believe that God created, but they have a very fuzzy idea about how that was done and when it was done," Vardiman said in a sermon archived on the First Baptist Church Web site. "And after a while you begin to lose confidence in the Scriptures."

Established in 1970, the ICR conducts research, publication and teaching to challenge traditional science's interpretation that the universe is billions of years old and that life is the result of evolution.

"We believe God has raised up ICR to spearhead biblical Christianity's defense against the godless and compromising dogma of evolutionary humanism," the group says on its Web site. "Only by showing the scientific bankruptcy of evolution, while exalting Christ and the Bible, will Christians be successful in 'the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.'" (II Corinthians 10:4,5)

Counting the 77 genealogies in the Bible between Adam and Jesus, one ICR scientist told Saturday's conference, covered by the Roanoke Times, the Earth's age is about 6,000 years.

Conducting independent tests on rocks and coal, ICR scientists came up with a strikingly similar dating--6,000 years, plus or minus 2,000 years' margin of error.

Scientists traditionally date Zircon crystals, formed by molten rock, by the rate that uranium breaks down into lead. But they also contain helium, the ICR says, which is lighter than air and should have escaped into the atmosphere, just as helium escapes gradually from an inflated balloon, if the rocks are billions of years old.

The discovery of Carbon 14 in coal deposits, they also say, supports a young Earth. Used to date organic material as far back as 50,000 years, Carbon 14 should not be found in coal if it is the conventionally viewed 100 million years old. While most scientists view it as contamination, Vardiman said for him it is confirmation of the Genesis flood.

Vardiman said scientific confirmation of a young Earth "brings credibility to the Scriptures."

"It doesn't prove what God did," he said. "But what it does, it answers questions that many have, particularly those with a scientific bent, and have questions that they haven't got answered, which prevents them from accepting the Bible as God's word, and many, preventing them from accepting Christ as their Savior."

"We want to be able to help people have confidence in God's Word, that it can be taken at face value," he said.

Dawson Bailey, minister of education and adults at First Baptist Church of Roanoke, wrote an article publicizing the conference in the most recent church newsletter.

"As a parent of four daughters, three of which who are now enrolled in the public school system, I know that the Christian worldview has been nudged to the margins of intellectual acceptance," Bailey wrote. "Often as Christians, we are culturally and academically shamed when we stand for a biblical position of creation."

"Many people in our culture today have shaved off the sections of Scripture they prefer not to acknowledge," he continued. "They have created a God of comfort, or a God who fits within their personal preferences."

The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia Web site billed the conference as "a one-time only, must-attend event" for "church members, public school students, home schoolers or anyone interested in learning more about these historic breakthroughs revealing evidence of a young earth."

Robert Benne, director of Roanoke College's Center for Religion and Society, told the Roanoke newspaper the view advocated by the ICR scientists would "not be credible in most academic communities."

"They make a mistake and argue that the Bible is a book of science," he said.

Benne often speaks in churches, where he lists six perspectives ranging from young-earth creationism to neo-Darwinism that claims there is no God.

He said a person can be a Christian and believe one of the theories in between. "There's not just one view, there's not just two views," he said. "There are many different options that Christians take."

Mark McEntire, an assistant professor of religion at Belmont University, said genealogies in the Old and New Testaments are "stylized" to serve literary and theological purposes. Genealogies in Matthew and Luke do not agree, he said. Those differences are not errors, McEntire said, but literary devises.

Using genealogies to construct a timeline for dating the earth, McEntire said, "is a misrepresentation of their genre and purpose."

First Baptist Roanoke, Virginia's largest church west of Lynchburg, is currently between pastors. James Austin resigned last October after four years as senior minister.

Austin labored in the shadow of Charles Fuller, pastor of the church for nearly 40 years and a popular preacher and leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, who retired in 1999.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Eminent scientists slam alternative medicine


Tuesday, 23 May 2006 10:16

Thirteen top scientists, led by Professor Michael Baum, the emeritus professor of surgery at the University College London, have urged the trusts to end the use of "unproven or disproved treatments" on the NHS.

The warning is likely to come as an embarrassment to the Prince of Wales, a key proponent of alternative or complementary medicine who is today continuing his attempt to get the World Health Organisation to embrace it.

But the scientists have asked the chief executives of 476 acute and primary care trusts to "review practices in your own trust, and to join us in representing our concerns to the Department of Health (DoH) because we want patients to benefit from the best treatments available".

In the letter, revealed by the Times newspaper, the authors claim there are "two particular developments to which we would like to draw your attention".

"First, there is now overt promotion of homeopathy in parts of the NHS (including the NHS Direct website)," they write, claiming it is an "implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness".

They add: "Secondly, as you may know, there has been a concerted campaign to promote complementary and alternative medicine as a component of healthcare provision.

"Treatments covered by this definition include some which have not been tested as pharmaceutical products, but which are known to cause adverse effects, and others that have no demonstrable benefits. While medical practice must remain open to new discoveries for which there is convincing evidence, including any branded as 'alternative', it would be highly irresponsible to embrace any medicine as though it were a matter of principle."

The scientists go on to add that "at a time when the NHS is under intense [financial] pressure" it would be a better use of resources to concentrate on "treatments that are based on solid evidence".

"These are not trivial matters," they conclude.

"We urge you to take an early opportunity to review practice in your own trust with a view to ensuring that patients do not receive misleading information about the effectiveness of alternative medicines. We would also ask you to write to the DoH requesting evidence-based information for trusts and for patients with respect to alternative medicine."

Responding to the claims, a DoH spokeswoman said it was down to individual clinicians and trusts to decide whether to use complementary and alternative medicine.

"Patients rightly expect to have clear information about the range of treatments that are available to them, including complementary therapies," she said.

Conservative win: Court tosses out evolution ruling in Georgia


May 26, 2006 By Erin Roach Baptist Press

ATLANTA (BP)--A federal appeals court May 25 rejected a lower court ruling on the constitutionality of evolution disclaimers in the form of stickers in 35,000 textbooks in a Cobb County, Ga., school district, vacating the decision based on insufficient evidence.

The three-judge panel for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously concluded that the case needed to return to U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper because "unfilled gaps in the record" kept them from understanding how Cooper arrived at his decision in January 2005.

"Everyone agrees that some evidence presented to the district court has been omitted from the record on appeal, but the attorneys have not been able to identify what was omitted," Judge Ed Carnes wrote for the panel. "The problems presented by a record containing significant evidentiary gaps are compounded because at least some key findings of the district court are not supported by the evidence that is contained in the record."

Cooper had ruled that the stickers violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which calls for the separation of church and state, because, in Cooper's words, "an informed, reasonable observer" would "interpret the sticker to convey a message of endorsement of religion."

The school board complied with the trial judge's ruling, and school staff and students had scraped the stickers from all science textbooks while the matter was appealed.

Carnes left open the possibility that a new trial for the stickers may be needed -- an idea favored by many who support teaching the controversy surrounding evolution.

"We leave it to the district court whether to start with an entirely clean slate and a completely new trial or to supplement, clarify and flesh out the evidence that it has heard in the four days of bench trial already conducted," Carnes wrote.

Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Discovery Institute, a national think tank that regularly poses scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution, called the decision a victory and said new evidentiary hearings could completely change the trial court's original ruling against the school district.

"This is a major step towards a bigger victory for students, school districts and objective science education," he said in a news release May 25.

"A final ruling in this case will be at least as important, if not more important, than the Dover school district case last year," added Luskin, co-author of "Traipsing Into Evolution Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision." "Eventually it's likely that a decision will be handed down from this federal appellate court governing legal decisions in multiple states, whereas the Kitzmiller decision was from a trial court with no legal force outside of the parties in that local case."

Supporters of Intelligent Design -- which holds that living organisms are so complex they must have been designed by a higher, but unspecified, intelligence -- would have preferred that the court of appeals rule the stickers constitutional, but a second chance at a district trial gives them hope.

It's likely that after the district court rules again, the same appeals court will review the case a second time as well.

"No school should be in trouble for simply stating the facts. That's what schools are supposed to do," Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Joel Oster said. "Though we wish the appeals court would have ruled on the constitutional merits of the case without sending it back to the district court, we are pleased that the district court's ruling against the school district has been vacated."

Attorneys with ADF, a conservative legal alliance, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the textbook stickers case.

Schools in Cobb County had since 1995 torn chapters on evolution out of science textbooks in order to respect "the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens." But the school system adopted the use of the disclaimer stickers in 2002 when a new biology book contained a section on evolution too large to remove.

The stickers, which were placed inside the front pages of science textbooks, read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

The appeals court said the federal district court must determine whether the school board's placement of the stickers in books was "religiously neutral."


Bloomberg Criticizes Faith-based Science


BY JILL GARDINER - Staff Reporter of the Sun

May 26, 2006 URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/33432

By warning a graduating class of doctors to reject "faith-based science," Mr. Bloomberg yesterday signaled yet again that he plans to use his second term to take the national stage.

The mayor railed against letting "ideology get in the way of truth," and singled out creationism, global warming, and stem cell research as topics where science is under attack.

Mr. Bloomberg's views on these issues - and on other topics he's taken on over the last few months - barely register outside the five boroughs. But after winning re-election by a record margin, Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire, is becoming increasingly vocal and eager to address controversial topics.

"It boggles the mind that nearly two centuries after Darwin, and 80 years after John Scopes was put on trial, this country is still debating the validity of evolution," Mr. Bloomberg told graduating medical students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he earned his bachelor's degree.

Mr. Bloomberg combined two of his favorite topics, science and education, when he criticized school districts in Kansas and Mississippi that want to teach "intelligent design," the theory that human life cannot be explained solely by evolution. He said schools would be "condemning these students to an inferior education" by promoting faith over settled science.

In the last year alone, Mr. Bloomberg has donated $100 million to Johns Hopkins. According to a published report, much of that was to go to stem cell research. The Bloomberg name is plastered on buildings all over campus and the school of public health is named for the mayor outright, so it was no surprise that he was invited to speak.

Mr. Bloomberg, who does not have a formal medical background, spoke to the new doctors while an actual doctor who leads the National Institutes of Health, Elias Zerhouni, gave the commencement address to undergraduates.

Science is just the latest national topic Mr. Bloomberg has chimed in on. He has already staked out positions on gun control, immigration, and abortion over the past few months. With every speech he delivers on a national topic, he raises the specter that he is interested in higher office. He also distances himself from the Republican Party's conservative base.

The mayor's comments on the evolution versus intelligent design debate drew criticism from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates teaching evolution not as dogma, but as one scientific theory.

"I wish his science was as good as his humor," the institute's president, Bruce Chapman, said after reading a copy of Mr. Bloomberg's speech. "I don't believe in 'faith-based science,' but since when is it wrong to criticize a scientific theory based on evidence?"

A spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, had a similar take. "To raise fundamental and as-yet unanswered questions about nature does not devalue science. It ennobles it. Nor does it cheapen theology. On the contrary, it is its very essence."

The deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, Glenn Branch, commended Mr. Bloomberg and said he was in line with the scientific establishment, which has fought challenges to teaching human evolution as an authoritative theory in the classroom.

"It's not as though he's flying in the face of the established scientific consensus," Mr. Branch said. "Bloomberg's view is at one with the National Academy of Sciences, which is the nation's most prestigious scientific organization. It is also one with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with the Royal Society of London, and with dozens of other major scientific organizations."

In December, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional largely because it promotes religion. That case involved the Dover school system.

According to a transcript of the speech, Mr. Bloomberg criticized the federal government for restricting funding for new stem cell lines, saying the dried up funding options would put the burden for research squarely on the private sector.

"Was there anything more inappropriate than watching political science try to override medical science in the Terry Schiavo case?" he said. "I've always wondered which science those legislators who have created their own truths will pick when their families need life-saving medical treatment."

Just as Vice President Gore's movie about global warming is opening, Mr. Bloomberg warned students about the growing movement to debunk the reality of climate change.

There are, however, many who believe that there is no real evidence that human behavior has played a role in hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and other weather-related events and that environmental changes are simply cyclical.

A spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Aaron McLear, said: "While we remain supportive of Mayor Bloomberg, we recognize that we will not always agree on every issue."

Mr. Bloomberg has donated money to the national party and he had New York host the party's convention for the last presidential election.

The interim dean at Baruch College's school of public affairs, David Birdsell, said Mr. Bloomberg was clearly using his office as a bully pulpit on a national scale.

"If you look at what Bloomberg is calling attention to in this speech, it is clear that he is attacking national issues," Mr. Birdsell said.

"He certainly sounds like a person who at least during these remaining three years wants to use the mayoralty to shape a national conversation, if not a national candidacy," he said.

Film ponders the outcome of science-faith battle


When it come to evolution, everyone is entitled to their own opinion — but not their own facts

By M.Z. Ribalow (May 26, 2006)

GOING EXTINCT: In the culture war over evolution and intelligent design, is one theory destined to go extinct?

Flock of Dodos, a playful and consistently intriguing film examining the debate over intelligent design, is very much Randy Olson's take on the subject. He is not only the writer and director, but also the interviewer within the film. Consequently, this look at the subject is both illuminated and limited by his personal position. An evolutionary ecologist with a Harvard Ph.D., he cheerfully acknowledges that he approaches the issue from the hall of science, not the temple of faith. His conclusion is interesting: Many Americans don't believe in evolution because the scientific community is inept at communicating the fundamental truth that the scholarly U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once put so succinctly — that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.

Most of the scientists Olson interviews express frustration that some people readily dismiss the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution. "Intelligent Design is mendacity – evolution is a fact," observes a scientist who may well be aware that his vocabulary is likely to alienate the religiously devout anti-intellectuals he doesn't feel he should need to convince. Interspersing interviews and news footage with lively cartoon animation, Olson shows us that in public relations terms, evolutionists are a disaster because they are at heart disinclined to take seriously the arguments of the uninformed and the ignorant. "Scientists and professors are some of the worst communicators I know," comments a Kansas woman sympathetic to their cause.

Still, the champions of intelligent design consistently reveal the fundamental flaw of their argument: they are attempting to wrap blind faith in scientific clothing. The basis of faith is, of course, that it isn't provable; Dr. Steve Case of Kansas dryly observes that God in the Bible has nasty comments for those who suggest he prove himself, and Case quotes St. Augustine, in his confessions, saying that people of faith should not talk about science. Case also demolishes the argument that proof of ID is shown by "gaps" in scientific evidence (an argument that also troubles creationists for obvious reasons) by noting that such a "God is in the gaps" theory "is destructive; the more you learn, the smaller God gets" as the gaps continue to be filled in by new scientific discoveries.

The ID spokespeople consistently flail in the attempt to present their argument. Michael Behe, their leading scientific expert, keeps insisting that genetic design is so apparent that "we can see Mount Rushmore in the cells." Behe was the expert witness for the ID cause when a Pennsylvania school board attempted to mandate the introduction of intelligent design into classes with an argument that Judge John E. Jones (appointed by Bush) scathingly dismissed as "breathtaking inanity." A cardiologist presented as a scientific expert by the ID community admits he hasn't had enough background on evolution to discuss it. John Calvert, the lawyer who runs the Intelligent Design Network, insists on the existence of documentation that he himself can't find in the books on his own shelf. He says of DNA, "This is designed!" When Olson asks what the evidence for that is, he responds, "Because it looks designed!"

So why are these people taken seriously? Olson's theory is that they are nicer folks to hang out with, and lots of people would prefer their company to the contentious, occasionally overbearing scientists who openly regard them as ignorant yokels. This would seem to speak as much to the historical streak of anti-intellectualism in America as to the particular debate on evolution. Olson may personally like Connie Morris and Kathy Martin, two smiling and seemingly warm women on the Kansas School Board. But Morris, absent any scientific evidence, calls evolution "impossible" and "a fairy tale" and is the author of a book about herself modestly subtitled "One Woman's Rise to Nobility"; and Martin admits to not having read the scientific standards on which she was passing judgment (asked why she joined the school board, she answers "I don't know. It was something to do"). So when Thomas Givnish, an evolutionist with a Princeton Ph.D., says that sometimes "You have to stand up and say, You're an idiot!" to these people, he may be correct; but his approach seems unlikely to convert many of them to his point of view.

With a current administration openly hostile to scientific fact when it doesn't suit its political purposes, Givnish is shown to be shaken by the discovery that federal grants may not be awarded if an evolutionist seeking one uses the word "evolution" in his work. The film also reveals a major but hidden force at work on the issue: a place called The Discovery Institute, funded by wealthy but mysterious reactionaries who decline to be interviewed but who pour $5 million a year into well-organized attempts to portray evolution as "a controversy" instead of as demonstrable scientific fact (the institute's master chart, displayed in the film, also reveals plans to eliminate from society sex education and "dirty books").

So, the film ponders, who will become this generation's Dodos? Will extinction be the fate of those who insist religious revelation replace science, or rather of the irascible scientists unwilling to adapt in a struggle of socio-political Darwinism? In a world increasingly manipulated by simplistic slogans and talking points, scientists perhaps are, as one of them observes, "handicapped by their blind obsession with the truth."

M.Z. Ribalow has written numerous books and is artist-in-residence at Fordham University, in New York City, where he teaches film courses.


Robert L. Park Friday, 26 May 06 Washington, DC


President Bush in March nominated the director of the National Cancer Institute, Andrew von Eschenbach, a Bush family friend, to head the Food and Drug Administration. His qualifications? Like the last two FDA commissioners picked by Bush, von Eschenbach opposes Plan B, the emergency contraceptive or "morning-after" pill http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn090205.html , and for that matter, anything else that might reduce the incentive for abstinence, such as human papilloma virus vaccine. His move to FDA was cause for a celebration at NCI. A Washington newsletter, The Cancer Letter, ran a copy of the invitation: "$25 per person. Gift contributions also welcome." The party has been postponed (something about the law), but people at NCI seemed willing to pay just about anything to see the last of von Eschenbach.


The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), one of the countless independent, nonprofit, public policy research institutes in Washington, reported last week that the Pentagon will spend $30 billion on classified programs in FY 2007. Why? In a new book, Imaginary Weapon: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld, Sharon Weinberger peeks behind the curtain at hafnium bombs, "remote viewing," telepathy and all the rest and concludes secrecy is mostly to avoid rational oversight.


The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, another of the nonprofit public policy organizations based in Washington, has been airing two 60-second television spots in 14 cities across the nation this week. "Nonprofit" does not mean they don't keep cash in the freezer. Most of CEI's $3 million budget comes from oil companies, particularly ExxonMobil. CEI argues that we all have a responsibility to make as much CO2 as possible.


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

Protecting Bigfoot


A handful of imaginary species are protected by real laws
By Dan Rafter 23 May 2006

Dave Shealy has spent chunks of his life trudging through the muck of the Everglades' Big Cypress Swamp in search of a monster -- a hairy, 450-pound one that can stand seven feet tall and reeks of rotten eggs. Most people think Shealy's either crazy or a shameless publicity hound, but he couldn't care less. As the proud founder of the world's only skunk-ape research center, the inveterate tracker says he plans to study this elusive animal until the day he dies -- even if he never does get to see one up close. He's even called for the state of Florida to pass a law to make it illegal to hunt his apes.

Shealy may seem like an eccentric, but he's not alone in seeking protection for an animal that most think doesn't exist. Throughout the country -- and the world -- individuals, politicians, and organizations have fought to gain legal protection for imaginary monsters of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they've even been successful.

Why do people fight for such laws? In some cases, it's simply to attract tourists, to have an excuse to hold kitschy annual festivals and sell souvenirs. But in others, the laws are a serious effort by devoted, though perhaps deluded, individuals who want to protect something they have never seen.

Better Left Untouched

Shealy's Skunk Ape Research Headquarters is part of the Trail Lakes Campground in Ochopee, Fla. The campground, which he co-owns, is ideally situated for skunk-ape sighting, Shealy says. It butts against a wild area of thick trees, forbidding swamps, and dark waters that provide a perfect hiding place for the creatures, which are said to be as reclusive as their more famous brethren, the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot.

Most people, if they've heard of skunk apes at all, think the creatures are about as real as the tooth fairy. But that didn't stop one Florida state representative from trying to pass a law in the late 1970s -- twice -- to make it illegal to molest a skunk ape. Shealy is still disappointed that the proposal never passed. "Everyone thought the law was a joke. They shot it down," he says. "What harm would it have done to pass a law like that? Is the skunk ape in harm's way? Yes. No doubt about it."

Shealy estimates that eight or nine skunk apes roam the nearby swamp, and claims the beasts have lived quietly in the Everglades since the days when the Seminole tribe ruled the region. He believes the skunk apes actually helped the Seminoles in their frequent battles with the U.S. Army in the late 1830s and early 1840s -- something that explains why the military had so much trouble evicting the Seminoles from the area, he says.

"Florida is an interesting place, no doubt," Shealy says. "Park officials know that there are all sorts of things in the Everglades that aren't supposed to be there, things that are better left untouched. There have been exotic pets that have gotten away from their owners and taken hold. And that's just the beginning. Florida has a deep, deep history in evolution. We had dinosaurs here and the big animals, like the woolly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger. It's awfully easy to hide in the Everglades."

Floridians may have come up short in their quest for protection, but similar laws do exist elsewhere. In the 1980s, the states of Vermont and New York passed resolutions making it illegal to harm or molest in any way Champ, a serpent-like creature that some claim lives deep under the surface of their shared waterway, Lake Champlain. Port Henry, N.Y., officials are so proud of their monster that they hold "Champ Day" each summer, a festival in the monster's honor. T-shirts, as you can imagine, are sold.

Nessie? Champy? Whitey? Is that you?Peter Jewett, founder of a website devoted to Champ, is a dedicated fan. And while he's not naive enough to think that local officials actually believe Champ exists -- he believes the laws are simply intended to separate tourists from their dollars -- Jewett is glad that such mysterious monsters are getting at least some protection. "I think people wanted tourists in the lake hunting for Champ with their cameras," Jewett said. "I don't think they wanted hunters here with their guns."

A similar creature is protected in Arkansas, where, in 1973, the state Senate passed a resolution declaring portions of the White River a protected refuge for the fabled water monster Whitey. And in 1969, Washington's Skamania County Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance setting out a $10,000 fine and five years in prison for anyone who killed a Bigfoot in the county. Both are still on the books.

This trend isn't limited to the United States. There's the well-known obsession with Scotland's Loch Ness monster, of course. But perhaps the most amazing example is the case of the migoi in Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist country bordered by Tibet, China, and India.

The migoi is a version of the Yeti, or abominable snowman, with more quirks. Reported to stand eight feet tall, the reddish-brown creatures are said to walk backwards and even turn invisible to trick trackers. They have been part of the area's legends for centuries, and even show up in ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan texts. Generations of locals have reported sightings of the elusive beasts, though no one has ever captured one.

In 2001, the government of Bhutan created the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, 253 square miles of land designed to serve as protected habitat for the migoi. The preserve features other wildlife, too, including pandas, snow leopards, and tigers, but was created specifically for the mythical creature in their midst.

But What If ...

What would happen if a creature of Bigfoot's status really were discovered? Are there adequate federal or state laws to protect something like the skunk ape from fame-hungry poachers and hunters? It sounds goofy, but the question isn't actually all that far-fetched.

Nicole Paquette, director of legal and governmental affairs with the Sacramento-based Animal Protection Institute, which is dedicated to protecting animals across the globe, says that newly discovered species -- even ones as fantastical as sea monsters and skunk apes -- would more than likely be protected by the Endangered Species Act. Such animals, if they've managed to avoid detection even with an army of hunters trying desperately to find them, would certainly exist in small numbers, she says. They would then qualify as either threatened or endangered.

True believers always keep a lookout."We are seeing new animals being discovered these days," Paquette says. "It isn't that unusual anymore. They are finding different subspecies of animals, so it's not that far-fetched to worry about new animals needing protection. They are not monsters, just animals that have not yet been discovered."

The only problem may be timing. Under normal circumstances, when a new species is discovered in the U.S., its boosters have to petition the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to list it as protected. That process can be lengthy, and must include a public comment period. "Once listed, no one could hunt or kill these animals," Paquette says. "But up until they are listed, essentially, that animal has no protection."

Christine Nolin, branch chief for endangered species conservation with Fish and Wildlife, admits that the process of declaring a species endangered is lengthy. (It's especially laborious now, she says, with the department facing a large backlog.) But if a newly discovered creature is found to be facing an immediate threat -- and surely Bigfoot would qualify -- there is a provision for emergency protection. Under the rule, the agency has 240 days to finalize the creature's inclusion in the Endangered Species Act. During that time, the animal is protected as if it were endangered.

Tales From the Crypto

Loren Coleman, a Portland, Maine, cryptozoologist -- one who studies creatures that may not exist -- says he has mixed feelings about the laws protecting some of the country's legendary monsters. Too many, he says, are publicity ploys. But he recognizes that people do want to protect creatures that may exist but haven't yet been discovered, while others want to keep hunters and poachers out of wildlife areas. Both intentions are good, Coleman says, talking quickly as he rattles off facts about a subject he's spent the majority of his adult years studying. (His other specialty is suicides among baseball players.)

"Cryptozoology deals with monsters that have yet to be discovered," Coleman says. "But that doesn't mean that they don't exist. They usually just don't exist in as fantastical a nature as people think. The gorilla, you know, isn't a giant animal that squeezes native women to death. There are some serious individuals out there who feel that animals like Champ are really an endangered species that haven't yet been discovered. They want to protect them, and think that the best way is to pass laws protecting them before they're discovered. That's usually not the way we go about it, but it does seem to be a way to offer immediate protection."

Coleman isn't worried that a creature like Bigfoot would really face any serious danger if discovered. Proof of its existence would create loads of publicity, he says, and would undoubtedly spur federal and state officials to act quickly -- within 24 hours, Coleman predicts -- to enact protective legislation.

The actions of an adventurer, though, out to make a name for himself? There isn't much protection against that, even from Congress. That's why, back in the swampy Everglades, Shealy hopes his skunk apes one day receive the same consideration as Champ, Whitey, Bigfoot, and other legendary creatures.

He even has an idea of how simple the regulation should be: "I'd like a law passed that says if something out there looks like a man covered in hair, don't shoot it."

Dan Rafter lives in St. Charles, Ill., with his wife, son, and dog. Bigfoot, Champ, and skunk apes are all scared off by the high property taxes.

'Alien message' sparks tsunami panic


By Ahmed El Amraoui

Thursday 25 May 2006, 13:15 Makka Time, 10:15 GMT

Julien claims to have received the warning psychically

A website warning of a tsunami has spread panic in Morocco, despite the government's assertion that the alert was merely rumour - and the dubious nature of its source.

The Ufological Research Centre said on its website last week that a tsunami could hit the Atlantic after a comet passes close to earth on Thursday, May 25.

Eric Julien, author of La Science Des Extraterrestres (Science of Aliens), claimed that the impact of a comet fragment would trigger powerful volcanoes in the Atlantic and generate a giant tsunami that would be destructive across the coasts of several countries, including Morocco.

Julien, who claimed to have received the information psychically, said that waves up to 200 metres high will reach coastlines of countries bordering the Atlantic.

The alert caused fear and panic among Moroccan citizens, though the Moroccan meteorological office dismissed it on Monday as insignificant.

The Moroccan news agency MAP quoted Mustafa Janah, the head of the Meteorological Office, as saying the comet would pass earth at a distance of about 10 million kilometres.

Citing the US space agency, Nasa, he ruled out any risk of a tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean.

Janah also said that "the Ufological Research Centre does not have technical means" to observe this kind of phenomenon.

But despite all the assurances, many Moroccan coastal residents have abandoned their homes and moved to higher ground, anxiously awaiting May 25.

Memories remain of the tsunami that hit Asia in 2004 and left up to 232,000 people dead or missing across large parts of the continent.

Less well known, however, is the track record of Eric Julien who, according to the Morocco Times, claimed in May 2004 to have been abducted by aliens who wanted to teach him to drive UFOs.

An article purporting to be Eric Julien's warning is available here - http://exodus2006.com/cometfrags/Eric-Julien-25-MAY.htm - under a banner for the "Exopolitics Institute, political analysis and activism in extraterrestrial affairs".

Less sensational information and news about the comet is provided here - http://www.physorg.com/news67263241.html - in an article on PhysOrg.com from May 19. We sincerely apologize for the late posting of the following critical news item. Respectfully, we also extend our regrets to those of you who died because you did not receive this important message in time to take evasive action.
John Blanton
Web master

Former Space Camp Instructor Confirms His Prediction of Giant Tsunami in the Atlantic on Upcoming May 25

Friday May 19, 10:22 am ET

HOUSTON, May 19 /CNW/ - Eric Julien, former military air traffic controller, twin engine jet pilot and former instructor at astronaut Patrick Baudry's Space Camp -- Discovery Shuttle flight -- has written four articles covering the high probability of a giant tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean caused by the impact of a comet fragment near or on May 25.

Responding to NASA's press release stating the innocuousness of the fragmented comet 73P-SW3 with regards to the Earth, the French author of "The Science of the Extraterrestrials" indicates that numerous scientific data attest to a real danger as was laid out starting with his first article of early April, namely that a small-sized fragment, still unobservable and distant from the principal fragments, could hit the Atlantic Ocean, bringing about the awakening of the volcanoes of the mid-Atlantic ridge, with these being the origin of a possible tsunami with waves two hundred meters high.

Beyond the accumulated scientific data, Julien has drawn attention to the fact that FEMA, the American organization that deals with disasters -- c.f. the Katrina hurricane in Louisiana -- will proceed with a tsunami alert exercise between the 23rd and 25th of May, at the very same time that enormous human and logistical resources will be required for the giant tsunami he is announcing. He notes that such an exercise was scheduled for September 11, 2001 in New York, date of the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Julien declares that numerous prophecies, including those of Nostradamus, Mother Shipton and of the Bible Codes converge precisely towards this critical period of the end of May 2006. Likewise, a great number of persons have declared having experienced Atlantic tsunami dreams prior to his first press release.

The major preoccupation of a growing number of professionals is to preserve human lives by inviting the media to play their role in alerting the public at large. Julien declares: "the risk of planetary catastrophe merits that precautions proportional to the stakes be taken by the media and government authorities. The level of alert adopted by each of these could be appreciated in diverse fashions by the populations exposed to the risk."

Articles and maps of the areas at risk are available on http://www.savelivesinmay.com and http://www.savelivesinmayforum.com

For further information

http://www.savelivesinmay.com, Craig Boswell, 832-252-6406, craigboswell@gmail.com

Tropics are expanding, study finds


from the May 26, 2006 edition

Their widening - by an average 140 miles - could shift storm tracks, dry out southern Europe, and grow some deserts.

By Peter N. Spotts | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The tropics - the globe's most torrid climate belt - have widened during the past 27 years, expanding toward the poles by an average of about 140 miles, according to new research.

If the trend continues through the end of the century, it would drive rain-bearing storms toward higher latitudes, deprive heavily populated southern Europe of much-needed winter rain and snow, and expand the world's subtropical deserts, atmospheric scientists say.

"It's a big deal," notes Thomas Reichler, a University of Utah atmospheric scientist and a member of the research team, which reported its results in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Some aspects of the results are consistent with global-warming projections, team members note. If the cause does prove to be global warming, these results would represent the first direct satellite evidence of its impact on worldwide atmospheric circulation, says team leader Qiang Fu, a researcher at the University of Washington.

But some of their results also are strikingly at odds with the models, leaving the door ajar for other suspects.

Although tantalizing hints of the expansion of the tropics came from balloon-borne sensors, it took satellite temperature information to nail the full scope of the change. From 1979 to 2005, the highest temperature increases in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere, occurred in vast swaths centered on 30 degrees latitude. Meanwhile the steepest cooling in the next layer of atmosphere, the stratosphere, occurred in these same regions. The net effect, researchers say, has been to nudge the average paths of swift rivers of air known as the subtropical jet streams farther north and south. These paths mark the meteorological border between the tropics and temperate regions, and the landscape beneath these boundaries tend to be hot and dry.

These temperature patterns were a surprise. Climate models looking at the effects of global warming have captured the poleward migration of the jet streams. But models also suggested that "the tropics would almost behave like a slab," warming rapidly but fairly evenly between 35 degrees north and south, notes John Wallace, a University of Washington atmospheric scientist and another member of the team. Instead, the outer tropics are warming faster than the deep tropics.

"Are the models missing something?" he asks. "Or are we seeing something unrepresentative? Maybe the same thing won't happen over the next 25 years and the deep tropics will catch up."

Several team members are now focusing their efforts on uncovering the factors driving the apparent trend.

Several lines of evidence suggest that these patterns may be triggered by a long-term increase in sea-surface temperatures in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, says Ngar-Cheung Lau, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University.

Dr. Lau notes that the long-term shift uncovered by the new research mirrors a shorter-term change in circulation patterns that El Niños leave behind as they wane. One implication: If the ocean temperatures continue to rise and the tropics keep expanding, the results could weaken El Niño and strengthen its sister, La Niña, he says. That could be of particular interest for the US and countries that border the Caribbean; La Niñas tend to encourage the formation of Atlantic hurricanes.

Meanwhile, two independent studies also published Friday suggest that as greenhouse-gas emissions continue to increase, warming will probably reach as much as 2 degrees Centigrade higher than the current range of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees that United Nations reports suggest. The evidence comes from ice-core records of temperature and CO2 changes during the rise and fall of continental glaciers, notes Margaret Torn, with the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

In one of those studies, she and colleague John Harte used ice-core data from Antarctica along with climate models to estimate the amount of warming one can expect from additional carbon dioxide released from plants, soils, and the ocean.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Science Teachers Confront Intelligent Design


By Gloria Hillard Los Angeles 24 May 2006

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In classrooms across the country, science teachers are increasingly finding themselves on the front lines of the decades-long evolution wars, pitting accepted scientific explanations against biblical-based challengers. So when some 15,000 science teachers convened for their annual conference recently, many attended workshops designed to help them deal with the issue.

Amid all the lab gear and panel discussions at last month's annual National Science Teachers Association conference, one of the largest draws was a book signing.

Brown University Professor Ken Miller was autographing copies of the biology textbook he wrote with co-author Joe Levine. Known as 'the dragonfly book' from its iridescent cover photo, it's a popular classroom text. It was also the book at the center of a recent landmark 'evolution versus intelligent design' trial in Dover, a small Pennsylvania town. Miller explains, "Our book was the one the Dover teachers chose and the board of education in Dover objected to because it had too much evolution in it."

In the end, a federal judge ruled that 'intelligent design' could not be taught in science classes. Intelligent design holds that natural processes alone cannot explain the organization of life forms and the universe itself, and thus must be the work of a higher force. Advocates leave open the question of whether that force is God.

The Dover decision was a clear victory for Darwinism, but despite that legal precedent, Miller says the challenges to teaching evolution are ongoing. "I think this is an issue everywhere in the country."

And that's one reason science teachers from everywhere in the country were seeking answers to how to deal with the increasingly controversial issue. Patrick Grady admits, "That's usually the number one question students ask: ''What are you going to cover in evolution?'"

Grady is a biology teacher in Orange County California, where there's a large conservative Christian population. Many of those parents start off teaching their children at home, then switch to public high schools, where the kids are exposed to new ideas that challenge what they learned at home and in church. "As soon as you bring up the topic of evolution," Grady says, "they want to put a barrier or wall and they don't want to listen."

Dozens of teachers wanted to listen to Ken Miller. It was standing room only at his workshop, Darwin Denied: Teaching Evolution in a Climate of Controversy. Miller started with a brief history lesson and then set the stage for what they were up against today. Teachers took out their notebooks as he flashed popular anti-evolution websites on a large screen.

"This is from the 'Answers in Genesis' website," he told them. "It's probably the best compendium of anti-evolution information and propaganda that you will find." Miller also gave the teachers advice in how to respond to their students' questions, especially those that challenge the very basics of evolution -- from human origins to missing-link fossils.

Julie Bookman, a high school biology teacher for 15 years, found that information to be especially useful. "I do have students that ask those tough questions. They don't object to being taught natural selection and evolution, but they do ask the tough questions, so any help I can get with that is good."

For another teacher attending the workshop, it was the most basic theological questions from her young students that seemed the most problematic. "I lose them if I can't give them an answer about Adam and Eve," she laments, "I've just lost them and I've lost them for the next 3 weeks of my trying to get them to have an open mind about it."

Although his was clearly a like-minded audience, at the end of the day one of the most important concepts biology textbook author Ken Miller wanted teachers to take home with them was to be respectful of the religious belief of students. "I think religion and science, properly understood, complement each other by giving a complete worldview," he says. "Now you can be a great scientist without being a person of faith by acknowledging that both faith and reason are gifts from God and if properly understood, they ought not to be in conflict."

Evolution disturbs people, Miller says, because it concerns where we come from … and who we are today, and he expects it to continue to be a contentious issue at the intersection of science, religion and politics.

Discovery Institute Applauds Federal U.S. Appeals Court Decision to Throw Out Judge's Ruling Against Evolution Disclaimers on Textbooks


Press Release Source: Discovery Institute

Thursday May 25, 6:02 pm ET

ATLANTA, May 25 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has thrown out the trial court decision ruling that evolution disclaimers on science textbooks were unconstitutional.

In a unanimous decision the federal three-judge panel -- including both Democratic and Republican appointees -- stopped short of deciding the constitutionality of the stickers, and instead sent the case back to the trial court judge with instructions to hold more evidentiary hearings on the issue.

"This decision is a victory as it throws out the problematic ruling from the trial court," said Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Discovery Institute. "Essentially, the appellate judges found that some of the findings of the lower court were not substantiated by the evidence in the record, so now new evidentiary hearings must be held, which could completely change the trial court's original ruling against the school district."

"This is a major step towards a bigger victory for students, school districts, and objective science education," added Luskin.

The Cobb County School District had placed a sticker into biology textbooks explaining that the material on evolution "should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

"A final ruling in this case will be at least as important, if not more important, than the Dover school district case last year," added Luskin, a co-author of "Traipsing Into Evolution Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision." "Eventually it's likely that a decision will be handed down from this federal appellate court governing legal decisions in multiple states, whereas the Kitzmiller decision was from a trial court with no legal force outside of the parties in that local case."

Discovery Institute believes that school districts should have the right to require science teachers to inform students about both scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution. The Institute does not favor the mandatory inclusion of alternative scientific theories, such as intelligent design, and also does not favor the use of disclaimers, but instead recommends that school districts require teaching critical analysis of evolution.

For more information on the law and evolution read "Traipsing Into Evolution" or visit discovery.org/csc. For interviews contact Rob Crowther at rob@discovery.org, 206-292-0401 x107.

Source: Discovery Institute

Court keeps textbook 'theory' disclaimers alive



Vacates judge's ruling that stickers religious because Christians promoted them

Posted: May 25, 2006 7:10 p.m. Eastern

© 2006 WorldNetDaily.com

A federal appeals court yesterday vacated a lower-court decision that declared unconstitutional a Georgia county's science textbook stickers calling evolution a theory

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit criticized the district court for issuing its ruling against the stickers despite insufficient evidence and remanded the case back to the district court for new proceedings.

The stickers in the Cobb County textbooks informed students "evolution is a theory, not a fact."

Joel Oster, senior legal counsel or the Alliance Defense Fund, argued "no school should be in trouble for simply stating the facts."

"That's what schools are supposed to do," he said. "Though we wish the appeals court would have ruled on the constitutional merits of the case without sending it back to the district court, we are pleased that the district court's ruling against the school district has been vacated."

The 11th Circuit wrote: "The problems presented by a record containing significant evidentiary gaps are compounded because at least some key findings of the district court are not supported by the evidence that is contained in the record."

The full text of the court's ruling can be read here [PDF file.

The lower court judge agreed the stickers were not applied to the textbooks for a religious purpose and had no religious content.

But he regarded the stickers a violation of the so-called "separation of church and state," arguing many people were aware Christians supported the stickers.

ADF, in its friend-of-the-court brief, said the district court's analysis will "lead to absurd results."

The First Amendment's Establishment Clause – "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" – was "never meant to prohibit the passage of a secular law, for a secular purpose, simply because Christians actively lobbied for the law," ADF contended.

The sticker applied to each textbook read:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

The Cobb County school board placed the disclaimer on the books in 2002 after more than 2,000 parents complained the schools were not teaching about the controversy over evolution among scientists and not informing students of alternative theories.

After the 2004 trial, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael Manely, representing parents who sued the suburban Atlanta school district over the textbook labeling, contended the school board was "doing more than accommodating religion. They are promoting religious dogma to all students."

A biology textbook author testified in the trial, asserting the school was wrongly bringing religion into its teaching by questioning evolution, which he regarded as the foundation for much of modern science.

However, a specialist on the legal aspects of teaching evolution maintained the ACLU was twisting the case, making it an issue of motives and not evidence.

"Perceived motives are irrelevant," said Seth Cooper, an attorney with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture. "Whether a parent in the community might be religious certainly has no bearing on whether neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories are supported by scientific data. But such motives are also largely irrelevant to the issues being decided by the judge in this case."

The Discovery Institute has been the biggest promoter of "intelligent design," a theory that the complexity and order of the universe and mankind suggest the action of an intelligent cause rather than random chance, without attempting to identify that cause.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Charles joins alternative medicine row


Wednesday, 24th May 2006

PRINCE Charles has strongly defended the use of complementary medicine during a speech to the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

He praised ancient treatments like acupuncture and challenged each country to be more open-minded by adopting an "holistic" approach to medicine that also dealt with factors like housing, the environment and agriculture.

His comments were made as a group of British scientists urged NHS trusts to reject complementary medicine and use funds for treatments that are "based on solid evidence".

Charles told the delegates: "The proper mix of proven complementary, traditional and modern remedies, which emphasise the active participation of the patient can help to create a powerful healing force for our world."

He defended the use of complementary therapies and said research in Britain had shown 55 per cent of GPs were referring their patients to complementary practitioners.

"For the past 24 years I have argued that patients should be able to gain the benefit of the `best of both worlds' - complementary and orthodox as part of an integrated approach to healing.

"Many of today's complementary therapies are rooted in ancient traditions that intuitively understand the need to maintain balance and harmony with our minds, bodies and the natural world. Orthodox medicine has so much to learn from it."


The group of scientists, organised by Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London, said the funding of "unproven" treatments was unacceptable at a time when health trusts are struggling to balance their budgets.

But Charles said international studies had provided "increasingly robust evidence" that treatment such as acupuncture work, particularly for osteoarthritis.

"It can, according to evidence, also alleviate the nausea and vomiting that can be so debilitating for those taking anti-cancer drugs," he said.

"In the case of herbal applications such as St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which has been used since the time of the ancient Greeks, about 30 clinical trials have shown some positive effects in treating non-severe depression with a remarkably low incidence of side-effects.

"In our battle against the complex problems of chronic disease, we need to rediscover and reintegrate some of the knowledge and well-tried practices that have been accumulated over 1,000 years."

Should the NHS continue to provide complementary medicine? Have your say.

Audit demanded of alternative medicine referrals


No figure on how much NHS money is spent on non-conventional therapies

AccountancyAge.com, Accountancy Age, 24 May 2006

Following concerns raised by doctors over the rise in the use of 'unproven and disproved' treatments on the NHS, MPs have demanded an urgent audit of public funding of alternative medicine.

Phil Willis, chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, said the department had a duty to collect accurate information on the extent of NHS support for alternative therapies, The Times reported.

This follows the Department of Health admission that it had no idea how much of taxpayers' money was being spent on non-conventional therapies.

'It does not matter whether you support alternative medicine or you are a sceptic. The full figures need to be made public,' Willis said.

It is up to the discretion of individual clinicians and trusts to decide whether they refer a patient on to alternative or complimentary therapists.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

[When cousins marry]

Scientists reveal evolution of ancient whales


www.chinaview.cn 2006-05-23 15:30:42

LOS ANGELES, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Ancient whales, four-footed land animals like large modern dogs, evolved into graceful swimmers through a series of small genetic changes during their embryonic development, scientists said on Monday.

This finding, published in the May 22 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed the genetic basis behind one of the best-documented examples of evolutionary change in the fossil record.

The gradual shrinkage of the whales' hind limbs over 15 million years was the result of slowly accumulated genetic changes, which influenced the size of the limbs.

However, the actual loss of the hind limb occurred much further along in the evolutionary process, when a drastic change occurred to inactivate a gene essential for limb development, there searchers said.

This gene, called Sonic Hedgehog, functions during the first quarter of gestation in the embryonic period of the animals' development, before the fetal period. In limbed vertebrates, the gene is required for normal limbs to develop beyond the knee and elbow joints.

The researchers, led by Hans Thewissen at the Northeastern Ohio University, began by exploring the embryonic development of whales' cousins, the dolphins.

The dolphins are intriguing because for a brief time during development they do sprout hind limbs, which quickly vanish again as the embryos reach the second month in a gestation period that lasts about 12 months.

In most mammals, a series of genes is at work at different times, delicately interacting to form a limb with muscles, bones, and skin, the researchers explained.

"The genes are similar to the runners in a complex relay race, where a new runner cannot start without receiving a sign from a previous runner," Thewissen said.

In dolphins, the Sonic Hedgehog gene drops out early in the race, disrupting the genes that were about to follow it. That causes the entire relay to collapse, ultimately leading to the regression of the animals' hind limbs.

The whales' story is more complex, according to the researchers.

Between 41 million and 50 million years ago, whales' hind limbs did shrink greatly as the former land animals began a return to the sea.

But their legs showed no change in the basic arrangement and number of bones, which proved that Sonic Hedgehog gene was still functioning. Its loss must have come later.

The dramatic loss of Sonic Hedgehog expression was not the genetic change that drove hind limb loss in whales.

Instead, the researchers concluded, whales' hind limbs regressed over 15 million years via "Darwinian microevolution": a step-by-step process occurring through small changes in a number of genes relatively late in development. Enditem

Editor: Mo Hong'e

Prince defiant over alternative medicine after doctors' attack


Times Online May 23, 2006

By Jenny Booth and Mark Henderson

Doctors have criticised the Prince's initiatives on complementary medicine, but he stuck to his guns in a speech today

The Prince of Wales today issued an impassioned plea for alternative medicine to be given a bigger place in the mainstream, hours after a group of Britain's leading doctors issued their own appeal for the NHS to to stop paying for complementary therapies.

The Prince addressed the annual meeting of the World Health Organisation in Geneva, arguing that an integrated, holistic approach was the best way of tackling chronic disease, rather than a "dangerously fragmented" approach that relied just on what he called the bio-physical treatment model.

While not detracting from modern medicine, which he said had served humanity well, he criticised excessive reliance on it for upsetting natural harmony.

"I believe there is now a desperately urgent need to redress the fragile but vital balance between man and nature, through a more integrated approach where the best of the ancient is blended with the best of the modern, and I am convinced this is particularly vital when it comes to the collective health of people in all our countries," he told the WHO delegates from 192 nations.

But in a direct challenge to the Prince's campaign, 13 British doctors and scientists issued an open letter to NHS trusts that said public funding of "unproven or disproved treatments" such as homoeopathy and reflexology were unacceptable while huge deficits are forcing trusts to sack nurses and limit access to life-saving drugs.

The scientists, who include some of the most eminent names in British medicine, have written to the chief executives of all 476 acute and primary care trusts to demand that only evidence-based therapies are provided free to patients.

The letter criticises two of the Prince's flagship initiatives on complementary medicine: a government-funded patient guide prepared by his Foundation for Integrated Medicine, and the Smallwood report last year, which he commissioned to make a financial case for increasing NHS provision.

Both documents, it is claimed, give misleading information about scientific support for therapies such as homoeopathy, described as "an implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness".

The letter was organised by Michael Baum, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at University College London, and other supporters include six Fellows of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science, and Professor Edzard Ernst, of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, who holds the UK's first chair in complementary medicine.

The signatories include Sir James Black, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988, and Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Science, which represents Britain's leading clinical researchers.

The Prince did not fuel the row by referring to the letter in his speech to the WHO this afternoon. He did however stick to his guns, saying that increasing numbers of alternative therapies - including acupuncture for osteo-arthritis of the knee, the use of St John's Wort for mild depression - were being shown in clinical trials to have therapeutic effects.

And he singled out his Foundation for Integrated Medicine for praise, saying that for the last 11 years it had been the leading champion of the integrated approach to health treatment. This involved harnessing both modern and traditional therapies, looking at social and environmental influences, and empowering the patient by involving him in his own treatment, he said.

"I say that a mix of modern and traditional remedies that emphasises the participation of the patient can create a powerful healing force," said the Prince.

"It seems to be that in our ceaseless rush to modernise, many tried and tested methods which have shown themselves to be effective have been cast aside as old-fashioned or irrelevant to today's needs."

Professor Baum, a cancer specialist, said that he had organised the letter because of his "utter despair" at growing NHS acceptance of alternative treatments while drugs of proven effectiveness are being withheld.

"At a time when we are struggling to gain access for our patients to Herceptin, which is absolutely proven to extend survival in breast cancer, I find it appalling that the NHS should be funding a therapy like homoeopathy that is utterly bogus," he said.

He said that he was happy for the NHS to offer the treatments once research has proven them effective, such as acupuncture for pain relief, but that very few had reached the required standards. "If people want to spend their own money on it, fine, but it shouldn't be NHS money."

The Department of Health does not keep figures on the total NHS spending on alternative medicine, but Britain's total market is estimated at £1.6 billion.

The doctors' dismissal of homeopathy has drawn a heated response from practitioners who say anecdotal evidence from thousands of relieved patients cannot be ignored.

Professor George Lewith, from the Centre for Complementary and Integrated Medicine, said: "People are happy to pay for complementary medicines because it makes them feel better, even though they are only 10 per cent more effective than placebo. Maybe the 13 doctors have forgotten that the conventional treatments for asthma, depression and irritable bowel are also only about 10 per cent better than placebo."

But Dr Peter Canter, a research fellow in complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, called for more trialling of therapies, and warned that some treatments, including homeopathy, had already been proved ineffective over years of testing. He suggested that patients ignore the anecdotes and look for "sound scientific evidence" for and against treatments.

He said: "It's all very well reading anecdotes from 10 happy homeopathy patients. You don't hear from the 100 others who received absolutely no benefit."

Britons currently spend £130 million a year on complementary treatments, such as acupuncture, herbalism and reflexology.

Prince Charles touts alternative medicine


GENEVA, Switzerland, May 23 (UPI) -- Britain's Prince Charles Tuesday issued an impassioned plea for government funding of alternative medicine despite opposition by experts, reports said.

"I say that a mix of modern and traditional remedies that emphasizes the participation of the patient can create a powerful healing force," Prince Charles told delegates at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

"It seems to be that in our ceaseless rush to modernize, many tried and tested methods which have shown themselves to be effective have been cast aside as old-fashioned or irrelevant to today's needs," the Times of London reported of his remarks.

The proper mix of traditional and modern remedies with patient participation "can help to create a powerful healing force for our world," the London Telegraph reported of the Prince of Wales' comments.

While the British royal stuck to his guns despite opposition from 13 leading British scientists, he made no mention of their letter opposing National Health Service funding of alternative medicine.

© Copyright 2006 United Press International, Inc.

Experts challenge claims of Scientology's sweat-it-out treatment for addicts


Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2006

EDMONTON - A drug and alcohol treatment program backed by the controversial Church of Scientology is promising addicted Albertans an extraordinary 70-per-cent success rate.

The Narconon program is marketed as "100-per-cent natural," and prescribes intensive saunas, exercise and high doses of vitamins to cleanse the body of "radiation, drugs and toxins."

Advertisements for the Narconon program have appeared in recent months on Edmonton's CKUA radio and in weekly newspapers throughout the province.

Addiction experts and academics in Canada, the United States and Europe have long warned the Narconon program has no scientific basis for its claims.

University of Alberta sociologist Dr. Steve Kent said the program may serve another purpose.

"The program provides the Scientology organization with claims of socially beneficial programs," said Kent, a world-recognized expert in the Church of Scientology. "It provides some Scientologists with employment and it certainly provides the Scientology organization with income and a possible recruitment vehicle for new members."

Narconon spokesman Brad Melnychuk of Toronto insists the program has verified its results, and he said no attempt is made to use it to recruit new members to Scientology. He said rules are in place to ensure "vulnerable" drug- or alcohol-addicted individuals are not subjected to any pressure from Scientologists working for Narconon. He said only four or five per cent of the addicts who go through Narconon programs become Scientologists.

Melnychuk is the executive director of the Association for Better Living and Education Canada (ABLE Canada), a non-profit group that offers several programs, including Narconon, that are based on the teachings of the late American author L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

Scientology emphasizes self-improvement and rejects psychiatry and psychotherapy as inhumane pseudo-science. Believers hold that mental well-being can be achieved though "auditing," a process of discussing harmful unconscious memories of past trauma, including those in previous lives.

Begun by Hubbard in the 1950s, Scientology now boasts 5,200 churches, missions and groups worldwide, and operates drug rehabilitation and education programs through ABLE Canada, which incorporated in Calgary in March. Scientology boasts several Hollywood stars as members, including Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, who says the Narconon program saved her life.

Melnychuk said the full four-month program costs about $20,000. Albertans are referred to Narconon's residential facility in Trois Rivieres, Que., northeast of Montreal.

Since 2002, 37 Albertans have graduated from the program: 14 from Calgary, six from Edmonton and the remainder from rural Alberta. The most common drug addictions reported by Albertans were to crack cocaine and painkillers, Melnychuk said.

He said the program's 70-per-cent success rate is measured by graduates of the program who remain drug- and alcohol-free for two years.

Various independent assessments of Narconon's physiological claims have found they are not based on widely accepted medical and scientific evidence.

"These kinds of claims, if you're looking at them scientifically, have to be corroborated by data," said Dr. Tom Brown, a drug rehab researcher at McGill University in Montreal. "They have a lot of underlying assumptions that are not really borne out by the current state of scientific literature."

Narconon's claimed success rate of 70 per cent has also been questioned.

"Well-designed, well-implemented, well-managed, evidence-based programs will yield around a 30-per-cent reduction in use," said Dr. John Weekes, a senior research analyst with the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse in Ottawa, adding that drug addiction researchers would "freak out with elation" if they ever encountered a scientifically verified program that produced a success rate of 70 per cent.

"We are always hoping for something really high, but really high in this world realistically is about 30 per cent."

Melnychuk insists there are studies that prove Narconon's program not only works as claimed, but also produces the 70-per-cent success rate. He directed a Journal reporter to studies on the Narconon website, which prominently features a scientific advisory panel.

"Not all of them are Scientologists, but a lot of them either are or have close affiliations with the organization," the U of A's Kent said. He said there have been independent studies of the program, but they showed the success rate is very low.

Brown, the McGill researcher, said Narconon, while not scientifically substantiated, may be no worse than many other popular drug and alcohol rehab programs that are also not backed by science. He said an important element in the effectiveness of a rehab program is the addict's belief in the program.

"Treatments that are actively sought by clients and are valued by the client tend to be the most effective," he said.



Based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, the Narconon program claims drug residues remain indefinitely in body fat, causing people to experience repeated drug flashbacks and cravings.

The Narconon "New Life Detoxification Program" prescribes a regime of intensive saunas and exercise to sweat out from the body the residues that cause addiction. The physiological detoxification program is followed by several rehab programs for the addict's potential psychological problems, including the "Ups & Downs in Life Course" and "The Way to Happiness Course."

Narconon spokesman Brad Melnychuk said he has personally witnessed the effectiveness of the sauna program. "You can actually see the toxins come out," he said. "You see the colour of the skin change, you can test the sweat, put it under a microscope and see in fact that these toxins do come out and you can see the person change daily and get better."

Narconon has alcohol- and drug-rehabilitation centres throughout North America and Europe. One of the best known is Arrowhead in Oklahoma. Narconon applied to the state's board of mental health for certification. In a report, the board noted that most drugs are removed from the body through the liver, kidney and lungs. "Although minute quantities of some drugs may be found in sweat, the amount represents a small fraction of drug elimination," the board's report stated.

Source: Journal Staff, Edmonton

© The Edmonton Journal 2006

Scientologists Ready for 'Super Power'


Tuesday, May 23, 2006 2:17 p.m. EDT

Scientology is about to unveil a previously secret spiritual training program called Super Power that promises to heighten participants' powers of perception.

The bizarre program is being prepared for a rollout in a new building under construction in Clearwater, Fla.

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard taught that people have 57 "perceptics" that include not only the five senses, but also an ability to discern relative sizes, blood circulation, balance, compass direction, temperature, gravity and an "awareness of importance, unimportance," the St. Petersburg Times reports.

Super Power uses machines, apparatus and specially designed rooms to exercise these so-called perceptics. Former Scientology members told the Times that the machines include an antigravity simulator and a gyroscope-like device that spins a person around while blindfolded to improve perception of compass direction. A video screen that moves forward and backward while flashing images is used to improve a person's ability to identify subliminal messages, they said.

Hubbard promised that Super Power would improve perceptions and "put the person into a new realm of ability."

For years, details of Super Power training have been kept secret even from church members, and they haven't been revealed until a member paid to take the course.

Church spokesman Ben Shaw would not say how much the program will cost, but upper levels of Scientology training can run tens of thousands of dollars, according to the Times.

Shaw said 300 staff members are being trained to deliver Super Power, which will be ready to go when the new building is completed, probably in 2007.

Scientology's 57 "perceptics" include "endocrine states," "awareness of awareness," "cellular and bacterial position," "motion of self," "time track motion" and "awareness of not knowing."

Great tits challenge evolutionary theory


6 January 2005

A team of Oxford zoologists involved in the world's longest continuous bird population study have shed new light on the evolution of one of Britain's most common birds, the great tit. Researchers from the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology (EGI) at the University of Oxford have discovered that contrary to standard evolutionary theory, wild birds living only a short distance apart are evolving differently.

Evolutionary theory predicts that the diversity of local animal population depends on a balance between two factors: the diversifying effect of selection and the homogenising effect upon the gene pool of dispersal. According to this theory, dispersal amongst the animal population in a small area will cancel out genetic variation. The Oxford team's findings, published today in Nature, challenge this theory by demonstrating evolutionary differentiation amongst the great tit population of Wytham, Oxfordshire.

Researchers at the EGI have been studying great tits in Wytham, Oxfordshire, since 1947. For the purposes of this study, the researchers analysed the weight of nestlings at Wytham over a 36-year period. The team found that over time, birds in different parts of the same woodland had evolved in different directions, getting heavier in one part and lighter in another.

Professor Ben Sheldon, Luc Hoffmann Professor of Field Ornithology and Director of the EGI, led the study. He said: 'Our data show that dispersal of birds is not a random process, and that evolutionary differentiation can be rapid and can occur over surprisingly small spatial scales. Our findings have important implications for questions of scale of adaptation and speciation, and challenge the usual treatment of dispersal as a force opposing evolutionary differentiation.'

The researchers expect that their findings could apply to animals in many different situations. 'Human intervention has caused a mosaic of different habitats across the UK,' Professor Sheldon commented. 'This may lead to evolutionary differentiation within species, as animals with particular characteristics settle in the habitats that best suit them.'

For more information contact the Press Office on 01865 280528, or email press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

The paper, entitled 'Evolution driven by differential dispersal within a wild bird population' is published in Nature on 6 January 2005.

The Edward Grey Institute, established in 1938, is part of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford. It conducts research in behaviour, ecology, evolution and conservation of birds, with a strong emphasis on understanding organisms in their natural environments. For more information visit http://egizoosrv.zoo.ox.ac.uk/EGI/EGIhome.htm

Members of the EGI have been studying great tits in the woods at Wytham, Oxfordshire, since 1947. This is the longest continuous bird population study in the world. Studies of the great tit population at Wytham have allowed researchers to answer questions about the ecology and reproduction of wild birds, and to track the effects of climate change over time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition



The belief that God created the universe in six days is an unfounded superstition that both discredits religious faith and demeans science, the Vatican astronomer Guy J. Consolmagno SJ has declared.

Consolmagno, a Jesuit priest who in his scientific work has pioneered the field of gravitoelectrodynamics, described creationism, which proponents want taught in schools alongside or in place of evolution, as a "kind of paganism".

Far from being a Christian viewpoint, it harks back to primitive beliefs in "nature gods" who were held responsible for natural events, he commented.

He added that a "destructive myth" has developed in modern societies that religion and science are competing ideologies – and that this is fed by creationism, which scholars say is a distortion of the biblical texts it claims as its own.

Fr Consolmagno works in the Vatican observatory in Arizona. He is also curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy. In addition to his work in astronomy, he studied philosophy and theology at Loyola University, Chicago, and physics at the University of Chicago. He has spent several terms as a visiting scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Consolmagno, who spoke recently at the Glasgow Science Centre in the UK, argues that the distinctive Christian understanding of God's transcendence recognizes divine creativity in the unfolding of natural phenomena which had been previously attributed to vengeful gods.

He declares: "Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which [turns] God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not necessarily be a good thing to do."

Christian theologians, scientists, secular groups and those working on the conversation between religion and science are concerned about the spread of creationist ideology in the United States and now in some parts of Europe.

A recent Mori poll for the BBC found that only 48 per cent of the British population accept evolutionary theory; 39 per cent of people surveyed apparently preferred to put their faith in creationism or its cousin, 'Intelligent Design'. Over 40 per cent believed that the controversial theories like ID should be taught in school science lessons.

Commented Simon Barrow from the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia: "The poll seems to indicate a worrying level of confusion, and the churches are among those who have a clear responsibility to explain why creationist ideology is false – and how nature as understood by science is fruitfully related to the divine as understood from the experience of a historical religious community."

He adds: "The situation is not helped by the general media's failure to report that Christian scholarship is overwhelmingly opposed to creationism, to seek comment from experts in the theology-science interface, or to understand the use and misuse of biblical texts from an interpretative standpoint."

Barrow points out that theologians and scientific commentators who are religious believers were among those who gave decisive evidence at the recent landmark Pennsylvania court judgment in the US, which concluded that Intelligent Design has no legitimate place in the science classroom.

Along with senior bishops who wrote to Tony Blair about the issue back in 2002, the Archbishop of Canterbury is among those who have opposed the teaching of creationism in schools, describing it as "a category mistake" because it confuses the Christian understanding of the universe as divine gift with a specific theory of origins.

Canon John Hall, chief education spokesperson for the Church of England, has also backed the Archbishop's anti-creationist stance.

But both Christian and Muslim hard-liners are propagating creationism in the UK. A recent creationist conference in the north of England was reported in the Church Times, and during Islamic Awareness Week in February 2006, students at the Guy's Hospital site of King's College London were presented with leaflets attacking Darwinism.

There are concerns that creationism may be creeping into the school system via private trust-backed state schools sponsored by religious groups. But there is also opposition. The Rev Steve Chalke, chair of Oasis Community Learning, a charity that plans to open its first academy in Enfield in 2007 recently told the Independent newspaper: "Teaching six-day creationism in biology is mad. Genesis is a theological text, and anyone who puts creationism into biology lessons is mixing apples and pears."

In response to questions raised by the British Humanist Association, Jacqui Smith, schools minister until the latest cabinet reshuffle, drafted a statement saying that the only controversies that could be taught in science lessons are scientific ones, and that "creationism [and Intelligent Design] cannot be used as an example of a scientific controversy, as it has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations."

In March 2006 the Royal Society, Britain's oldest learned association for the natural sciences, declared: "Some may wish to explore the compatibility, or otherwise, of science with various beliefs, and they should be encouraged to do so. However, young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs."

Adds leading geneticist Professor Steve Jones: "Evolution is a central fact in biology. I am entirely unsympathetic to those who push creationism as an alternative scientific theory. It's astonishing that they have hijacked a place in the media."

Rise of Japanese cults


By Robert Pigott BBC's Religious Affairs Correspondent

If anyone in Japan is still unaware of the Armageddon poised to take place on Thursday, it won't be the fault of the Pana Wave Laboratory.

Police raid Pana Wave base on pretext of vehicle registration fraud

This cult organisation - one of many in Japan - has caught the nation's attention with its prediction that a close encounter with a 10th planet will set off earthquakes and tidal waves destroying most of humankind.

Pana Wave - and its bleak prognosis - might once have gone unnoticed.

But since the poison gas attack by another cult - Aum Shinrikyo - on the Tokyo subway in 1995, Japan has grown suspicious of their destructive power.

Pana Wave's bizarre progress across the country in a caravan of white vehicles (their steering wheels bandaged in white) has provided a captivating spectacle.

To protect themselves from electro-magnetic waves allegedly directed at them by Communist aggressors, members of Pana Wave drape themselves - and surrounding trees, bushes or crash barriers - in white fabric.

People - especially the young - are seeking alternative forms of security and spiritual fulfilment

Television crews, at first shunned, have been allowed to approach only when similarly garbed in white.

As so often with cults, this one has a powerful personality at its centre.

Yuko Chino is a former English teacher, aged 69 and in poor health, who has woven a personal philosophy out of Christianity, Buddhism and science fiction.

Another reason for heightened awareness of the plethora of cults is the trial of Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyo, reaching its culmination eight years after the group carried out the worst terrorist attack in Japan.

Twelve people were killed and 5,000 injured when members of the group released sarin gas on the subway system in Tokyo during a Monday rush hour.

Aum Shinrikyo - which had also preached that the world was coming to an end - was found to hold vast stores of the chemicals needed to make sarin.

Spiritual alternatives

Several explanations are offered to explain the growth in cults in Japan, but many trace them back to the loss of spiritual certainties taught before the war, and to the more recent economic decline that has eroded the confidence of a society that has measured its worth by work.

Some say the malaise has reached deep into society, with parents and teachers losing authority, and traditional moral values being undermined.

Cult leader on trial over Sarin gas attack on subway

In such an atmosphere people - especially the young - are seeking alternative forms of security and spiritual fulfilment.

The Japanese Government - which recently estimated that there could be more than 200,000 cults at large - says many have profit as their main motivation.

It may have had in mind groups such as Ho-no-hana Sampogyo, a so-called foot-cult led by "His Holiness" Hogen Fukunaga.

The organisation claimed to be able to tell people's fortunes in the soles of their feet. They might be told a short toe meant their foot was out of balance, and charged huge sums for getting the "powers of heaven" flowing.

These activities led eventually to legal claims against His Holiness by former members of the cult.

In other Western countries a hunger for spiritual exploration is not being met by established religions; in Japan their failure seems far greater. Japanese attend services which include Shinto, Buddhist and Christian rites, but stripped of much of their theology.

It's a weakness that has helped promote novel religions, which mix elements of several faiths and folk beliefs.

Even disillusioned former members of such groups will accept that they offered at least elements of truth.

The doomsday cults - which predict the end of the world or the creation of a new world order - are the most sinister, but the absurd, white-shrouded Pana Wavists may not gain even the distinction of being considered dangerous.

Of course, if the world does end on Thursday sceptics will face a position of unthinkable embarrassment.

NHS told to abandon alternative medicine


The Times May 23, 2006

By Mark Henderson, Science Editor

Top doctors say money should go to conventional treatment

A GROUP of Britain's leading doctors has urged every NHS trust to stop paying for alternative medicine and to use the money for conventional treatments.

Their appeal is a direct challenge to the Prince of Wales's outspoken campaign to widen access to complementary therapies.

Public funding of "unproven or disproved treatments" such as homoeopathy and reflexology, which are promoted by the Prince, is unacceptable while huge NHS deficits are forcing trusts to sack nurses and limit access to life-saving drugs, the doctors say.

The 13 scientists, who include some of the most eminent names in British medicine, have written to the chief executives of all 476 acute and primary care trusts to demand that only evidence-based therapies are provided free to patients.

Their letter, seen by The Times, has been sent as the Prince today steps up his crusade for increased provision of alternative treatments with a controversial speech to the World Health Organisation assembly in Geneva.

The Prince, who was yesterday given a lesson in crystal therapy while touring a complementary health unit in Merthyr Tydfil, will ask the WHO to embrace alternative therapies in the fight against serious disease. His views have outraged clinicians and researchers, who claim that many of the therapies that he advocates have been shown to be ineffective in trials or have never been properly tested.

The letter criticises two of his flagship initiatives on complementary medicine: a government-funded patient guide prepared by his Foundation for Integrated Medicine, and the Smallwood report last year, which he commissioned to make a financial case for increasing NHS provision.

Both documents, it is claimed, give misleading information about scientific support for therapies such as homoeo-pathy, described as "an implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness".

The letter's signatories include Sir James Black, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988, and Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Science, which represents Britain's leading clinical researchers.

It was organised by Michael Baum, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at University College London, and other supporters include six Fellows of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science, and Professor Edzard Ernst, of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, who holds the UK's first chair in complementary medicine.

The doctors ask trust chief executives to review their policies so that patients are given accurate information, and not to waste scarce resources on therapies that have not been shown to work by rigorous clinical trials.

They conclude: "At a time when the NHS is under intense pressure, patients, the public and the NHS are best served by using the available funds for treatments that are based on solid evidence."

Professor Baum, a cancer specialist, said that he had organised the letter because of his "utter despair" at growing NHS acceptance of alternative treatments while drugs of proven effectiveness are being withheld. "At a time when we are struggling to gain access for our patients to Herceptin, which is absolutely proven to extend survival in breast cancer, I find it appalling that the NHS should be funding a therapy like homoeopathy that is utterly bogus," he said.

He said that he was happy for the NHS to offer the treatments once research has proven them effective, such as acupuncture for pain relief, but that very few had reached the required standards.

"If people want to spend their own money on it, fine, but it shouldn't be NHS money."

The Department of Health does not keep figures on the total NHS spending on alternative medicine, but Britain's total market is estimated at £1.6 billion.

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