NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 June 2007

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The evolution of a paleontologist


By Sara Lippincott
Originally published June 3, 2007

The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould died of lung cancer five years ago, at age 60. On the first of what will surely be a string of future Gould celebrations, his longtime publisher, W.W. Norton, has issued The Richness of Life, an anthology of his writings, drawn from his more than 20 books, most of them compiled from numerous essays and magazine pieces - 300 columns in Natural History magazine alone.

The commemoration of a mere fifth anniversary might seem slight excuse for publishing such a wrapup were it not for the high degree of public interest in questions that occupied Gould for nearly his entire life. (He took up paleontology at age 5, when he first clapped eyes on the skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex lording it over the dinosaur exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History.) Not since the Scopes trial in 1925 has there been such a concerted attack on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Gould, on the faculty of Harvard from 1967 until his death, was a great champion of that theory. What is less appreciated, perhaps, is that he was also one of its leading critics - albeit also a committed foe of the proponents of intelligent design (who, back when he was in the thick of the battle, were known as creationists).

In his quarrels with such ultra- or neo-Darwinists as Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith, Gould insisted that Darwinian evolution should be seen not as a gradual process operating at the level of the individual, or even the gene, and resulting in greater and greater complexity but, instead, as a process driven at multiple levels, full of "contingency" (accident) and characterized by long periods of species stability "punctuated" by periods of hectic speciation. He was occasionally accused of trumpeting straw-man arguments, since neo-Darwinists do not tend to see evolution as either purposeful or unfailingly steady; nevertheless, the temptation to recognize some sort of consistent, bottom-up push toward creatures of increasing sophistication is widespread.

"The conventional view" of evolution, Gould told a PBS interviewer in 1996, "is more a result of what Western culture makes us want to think than what actually happened in the history of life. Darwin's theory of natural selection doesn't make any reference to ... increasing complexity. It's only a theory about adaptation. ... There are as many ways to adapt to local environments by becoming less complex as by getting more complex. ... Life began 3.5 billion years ago, necessarily about as simple as it could be, [and] as life expanded, every once in a while you get something more complex, because that's the only direction open." Earth, he added, is primarily "a bacterial planet."

Whether or not you choose to wallow in the essential insignificance of the human species, you cannot help but glory in Gould's strong, clear, engaging prose, of which there are many examples in The Richness of Life. "Human paleontology," he notes, "shares a peculiar trait with such disparate subjects as theology and extraterrestrial biology: It contains more practitioners than objects for study." In the book's opening essay, he writes of lying in bed at night as a boy and pondering such imponderables as "How could time begin?" and "How could space end?" His embrace of evolutionary biology came about, he says, because "[e]ternity and infinity lie too far from the unavoidable standard of our own bodies to secure our comprehension; but life's continuity stands right at the outer border of ultimate fascination: just close enough for intelligibility by the measure of our bodily size and earthly time, but sufficiently far away to inspire maximal awe."

Perhaps the book's most famous essay, which Gould wrote with his Harvard colleague Richard Lewontin, is "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm," in which the authors illustrate the higgledy-piggledy nature of adaptation. Spandrels are "the tapering triangular spaces formed by the intersection of two rounded arches at right angles" and often depict episodes in the lives of various saints. But they are not there to tell us about the saints; they are there to hold up the roof. They are a structural necessity - "byproducts of mounting a dome on rounded arches" - that has been adapted to quite a different purpose. They are full of meaning, and so are we. But, say Gould and Lewontin, we are fundamentally architectural.

The Richness of Life has been divided by Steven Rose, its editor, into seven sections, beginning with "Autobiography" (wherein Gould discusses his Queens boyhood, an early bout with cancer and his fascination with baseball) and ending with a section titled "Religion," in which he attempts, not altogether successfully, to wrestle that red-hot subject to the ground by granting it the status of a "non-overlapping magisterium," alongside of but having no truck with science. "I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving, concordat between our magisteria," he wrote. "If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions residing properly within the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insights into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution." But he also lets fly at the "Munchkins" on the Kansas Board of Education who voted in 1999 to remove evolution from the state's science curriculum.

In his foreword, Gould's good friend Oliver Sacks, besides telling us that Gould liked to sing and memorized the entire output of Gilbert and Sullivan, notes that he published The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, his "magnum opus," in the last year of his life. "Steve felt he had been a fortunate man," Sacks writes. "Many people feel that they were born at the wrong time. Not so Steve. He felt that the timing, for him, could not have been better."

Sara Lippincott writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Evolution: A moral poison, and intolerant cult


Date published: 6/3/2007

A religious cult that requires human sacrifice is behind the Virginia Tech murder spree. Like all cults, it demands unquestioning loyalty of its followers. There is no room for discussion of other ideas, even though its own "holy books" must be revised every few years because the old ones are proved wrong.

This religion is evolution. It uses bad science to promote its goals. There is only hypothesis and speculation that relies on wildly interpreted fossil and mineral evidence. It says man is simply another animal that through random chance and freak mutations has moved to the top of the food chain.

The "microbes to man" theory of evolution is based on survival of the fittest. The traits of the most fit animals produce more animals with those traits, while the weaker animals are weeded out, leaving only the best to survive.

Another tenet of this cult is moral relativism. They believe there is no absolute truth or source of right and wrong. Each person must determine what is right or wrong for himself. Our schools teach this every day.

Now we have millions of people who believe that humans are just another animal. When one of these believers has a weapon, he is the "fittest" animal in most situations. Couple this with the belief in moral relativism where only that person can decide what is right and wrong for himself, and we have a prescription for mayhem.

Evil is a real agent in this world even though many deny it exists. Evil will use the members of this religious cult every time it can.

Some ask how can there be a loving God if tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech are allowed to occur. A better question might be how many more of these cult members would have committed mass murder if a loving God was not at work in this world?

Rick Morrow Spotsylvania Evolution giveth ... http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/zia_haider_rahman/2007/06/evolution_giveth.html

If religious belief is innate then not even the reasoned arguments of antitheists like Richard Dawkins can succeed in talking us out of it.

Zia Haider Rahman

It's open season on theism with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, among others, baying for the blood of believers everywhere. Apart from their dreary hostility, these religion-bashers evidently share a particular notion of how people come to believe and how people might be dissuaded.

The godless brethren presumably have aspirations to convert the religious and not just preach to fellow atheists. They assume that renouncing faith can be achieved by the same means as rejecting a view about, say, the validity of British government policy in Iraq. Read a book or an article, think about it, and let go of your delusions.

But how people renounce faith is likely to follow a pattern similar to acceptance of faith. Neither acceptance nor renunciation come exclusively, if at all, from the weighing of evidence and arguments. Human beings are endowed with an instinct for religion, as the American geneticist Dean Hamer, among many others, has argued. While the criticisms of religion operate chiefly on the social and political level (see how faith causes wars and so on), the appeal of faith is on the level of individual experience, necessarily expressive of the genetic impulses of the person, and also of human weakness against the vicissitudes of life.

A few years ago a friend of mine, a young Jew, died. His friends and family gathered in a north London cemetery on a misty winter morning. While we waited, a member of the congregation approached us offering a skullcap but apologising for having only one to spare. I reached out, grasping for it. One of the huddled group of friends joked that I'd probably feel warmer. "No," I replied, fixing the tiny cap on my head, "I feel less naked before God." To my ears here and now, my response sounds a little pompous, but at the time it was an immediate reaction, unmediated by reflection. It came from the gut. I am not a Jew. I cannot even describe myself as a religious person. But on that cold morning what seized me was something primal.

What must be apparent to anyone with any sensibility of the frailty of human beings (this might exclude Dawkins) is that faith can help in times of distress. Life is hard for many people, and very hard for everyone because of death. In the face of suffering, the Dawkins Brigade have little more to offer than their seething hostilities.

Criticisms of Dawkins and other atheists are of two kinds. The first kind, the province of those with a religious bent, is simply that religious beliefs are true, not false. Those who hold this view, such as Inayat Bunglawala, must reject Dawkins' claim that the case for religion is felled by the sword of reason, either because they believe that adequate counter-arguments are available or because they reject the relevance of reason in determining the case for faith, which brings them to the second kind of criticism, advanced even by atheists such as Martin Kettle. This second criticism asserts that Dawkins is stepping outside the realm of science and addressing questions of meaning and purpose, which are questions that science cannot answer. Arguably, the second criticism is not in a distinct category: one rationale for holding this position is to clear the way for a theistic perspective.

I don't know about the first but the second criticism is unfair. Rather than straying outside their terrain, antitheists are telling us that our craving for purpose and meaning is itself the seed of our rational downfall. The question is futile to begin with, they say. The world of the scientific materialist is not inhabited by such questions. Evolution itself is utterly bereft of design, purpose and meaning; its engine is undirected, random mutation. The materialist worldview is that of matter alone, with no place for anything else, so that even the notion of free will - the cornerstone of questions of meaning and purpose - is to them laughable. In their world, free will is an egotistical fancy, "a trick of perspective", as the philosopher John Gray described it. (Indeed, evolutionists demolish free will by arguing that our attribution of free will to others is itself only a genetic adaptation that helps us as social animals seeking to influence other humans to do things for us.)

The antitheist paints a dismal world, which may yet be accurate, but his or her mission of conversion is doomed. In the final analysis, it is by the reckoning of his own creed - of humans as creatures of evolution - that Dawkins is found to be ineffectual. Humans are disposed with a religious instinct. What else explains our elaborate burial rituals all the way from cavemen who could barely walk to modern humans who can fly?

If the impulse for religion is in our bones, then the antitheists' angry rebukes today will leave no enduring impression. What comes with the wind, goes with the rain. For whatever the religious instinct is, whether it is a blessing of natural selection or a mischievous spandrel, each new generation, for generations to come, will be born with the instinct intact. And since our genes are so selfish that they don't care a whit for the wisdom of Dawkins, the religious instinct will persist until evolution, not Richard Dawkins, takes us in another direction.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Truth about Research Grants, Gonzalez and ISU


As evidence has mounted that intelligent design played a role in the denial of tenure to gifted astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University, efforts to distract attention from that fact have also increased. The latest salvo is a one-sided article in today's Des Moines Register that implies that inadequate research funding must have been the key factor. Reading like it was produced by ISU's press office, the article distorts Gonzalez's actual research funding as well as the published standards at Iowa State. The article follows unfounded speculation at various websites and blogs where some people have falsely claimed that Gonzalez had no research funding at the time he was at ISU. Here are the facts:

1. As we have reported previously, outside research funding is not a published criterion for earning tenure in Dr. Gonzalez's department. Indeed, it isn't even mentioned in the departmental standards for tenure and promotion. So if this factor was considered key in his tenure denial, Gonzalez's department was applying a criterion outside of its own stated standards. (The primary standard according to the departmental policy on tenure and promotion is peer-reviewed publications, and 15 articles are "ordinarily" supposed to "demonstrate excellence sufficient to lead to a national or international reputation." Dr. Gonzalez has 68 peer-reviewed publications, or 350% more than the departmental standard. Twenty-one of these articles were published since 2002, the year after Dr. Gonzalez arrived at ISU.)

2. Contrary to some reports, Dr. Gonzalez did receive outside grant funding during his time at ISU:

From 2001-2004, Dr. Gonzalez was a Co-Investigator on a NASA Astrobiology Institute grant for "Habitable Planets and the Evolution of Biological Complexity" (his part of the grant for this time period was $64,000).

From 2000-2003, Dr. Gonzalez received a $58,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation. This grant was awarded as part of a competitive, peer-reviewed grant process, and his winning grant proposal had been peer-reviewed by a number of distinguished astronomers and scientists.

Earlier in 2007, Dr. Gonzalez was awarded a 5-year research grant for his work in observational astronomy from Discovery Institute (worth $50,000).

3. Using selective figures provided by ISU, the Register implies that one was expected to bring in an average of $1.3 million in grant funding to get tenure in Dr. Gonzalez's department. Again, there is nothing in the departmental standards about this, and it is hard to know how accurate or comparable this figure is without seeing the specific data for all of the astronomers in the department, and without seeing comparable data from other departments at ISU. Unfortunately, ISU has thus far stonewalled efforts to get grant and publications data for those considered for tenure during the past several years. On May 16 Discovery Institute filed a public documents request for the grant and publication data of those considered for tenure in Dr. Gonzalez's department since 1997 and for faculty in other departments considered for tenure since 2002. Thus far the university has provided no data in response to these requests, nor as of today has it responded to repeated requests about when the materials will be provided.

It is worth pointing out again that 91% of ISU faculty considered for tenure this year received it. Did they all receive more than a million dollars in grants order to get tenure? Did they all exceed by 350% their departmental standards for publications? We are trying to find out, but ISU apparently doesn't want people to know the answers to these questions.

Posted by John West on June 1, 2007 10:58 AM | Permalink

And the Lord didst create idiots, and lo he saw it was terrible...


Go By Ian O'Doherty Monday June 04 2007

It's quite charming, really, in a sort of half-baked, deranged, fundamentalist and potentially dangerous manner.

Last week saw the eagerly awaited unveiling of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, and the man we can thank for its inception - the famously mad anti-evolutionist Ken Ham, President of the 'Answers In Genesis' lobby group - was happy to trumpet that the museum would finally provide irrefutable proof that evolution is a lie and that "the Book of Genesis is true from the first word to the last".

It's an absurd notion which, even more absurdly, is now being given more credence than any time in living memory. In fact, the theory of creationism - or Intelligent Design - has even been mooted as a rational belief by several columnists in this newspaper.

It's worrying that in 2007, people who make the Flat Earth Society look like pinnacles of rational thought feel comfortable, not only publicly stating their belief in the Creation myth, but in mocking those who, through a process of scientific deduction and knowledge, have figured out that perhaps the best way to judge the age of the world is not to go to the Bible and count all the names backwards (the so called "Ussher Chronology").

Yet 40% of Americans are comfortable in admitting that they don't believe in evolution, while an even more worrying 15% say they don't want to believe in evolution, as if scientific proof is something you pick and mix, like some sort of political ideal. Let's put it this way: you might not like the idea of gravity, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

But such logic is lost on Ham, who says that America's lowest moment was the infamous Scopes trial in 1925, when creationism was debunked in the courts, and that: "It was the first time the Bible was ridiculed by the media in America, and that was a downward turning point for Christendom. We are going to undo all of that here at the Creation Museum.

"We are going to answer the questions Bryan (the lawyer who defended evolution in the Scopes case) wasn't prepared to, and show that belief in every word of the Bible can be defended by modern science."

Normally, the idea that a book of fairy tales as muddled, meandering and frankly stupid as the Bible is scientifically exact and proper could safely be laughed out of any rational debate. But these days rational debate has become muddied by a well-funded and deliberately obtuse lobby which insistently claims that both evolution and creationism are simply two equal and competing theories, and that both of should be given equal consideration.

And it's not just mad men like Ham and his acolytes who believe this. In fact, if that were the case, we could simply dismiss them with a shrug of the shoulders and a laugh at their expense.

But in Britain, one of Blair's legacies is the huge increase in 'faith schools', where children are taught that the earth was created in six days, while the National Academy of Sciences in America has issued dire warnings about the future of American scientific progress if the notion of creationism is taught to American schoolchildren as scientific theory, rather than the myth it so obviously is.

Not surprisingly, old Sour Kraut himself, Pope Benedict, denounces evolution as "a new religion", and rather charmingly accuses those scientists and rationalists who believe in it as "dangerously blinkered" which, coming from a Catholic pope who was once in the Hitler Youth, is probably something of a compliment.

But apart from the obvious worry that such utter rubbish is currently being awarded a level of credence few of us ever thought possible, the Creation Museum does contain some unintentionally amusing things.

For instance, did you know that man co-existed happily with dinosaurs in the pre-Flood years and that all dinosaurs were harmless vegetarians? Did you know that in the pre-Flood years, no plants had thorns? In fact, God added thorns to plants in the years after the Flood, to prick the fingers of the chosen people.

So, there you have it - Godzilla was more like Barney the Dinosaur and the supreme creator of the Universe is actually a cunning prankster who invented thorns on plants because he wanted Jews to cut themselves while they were picking roses. Or something.

Either way, I'm off to Kentucky for my holidays, because while the Museum itself sounds rubbish, can you imagine how delightfully bonkers the people who visit it will be?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Study skills class linked to Scientology


Educators say school benefiting

By CHARLES LUSSIER Advocate staff report

Published: May 29, 2007

Although created by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, a study skills class at Prescott Middle School has impressed initially skeptical local educators who say they see no evidence of religious instruction, but do see profound changes in the children who participate.

"The kids have benefited from the interaction with the trained tutors in positive ways," said Bob Stockwell, chief academic officer for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

"I'm all for anything that gives these kids success, and these kids are experiencing success," said Roxson Welch, a highly regarded former teacher and now an adviser to Mayor-President Kip Holden.

A May 20 story in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times raised questions about the possible religious content and the academic value of the studies skills class, known as Applied Scholastics.

The story prominently featured Prescott Middle School in Baton Rouge, which adopted the class 16 months ago, soon after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

David Touretzky, a research professor from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is perhaps the harshest critic of the program.

On Glenn Beck's CNN show Wednesday, Touretzky admitted the course doesn't actively convert children to Scientology. Instead, he described it as "covert instruction in the Scientology religion," introducing underlying concepts that create familiarity with Scientology.

"What they're trying to do is gain a foothold for Scientology in civilized society," he said.

None of the people interviewed for this story, however, have observed anything religious about the program at Prescott Middle, even covert. This reporter, though unaware of the Scientology connection, visited one of the classes last year and noticed nothing religious in the instruction.

According to Scientology literature, Hubbard developed the study techniques now used at Prescott to help the followers of his young religion learn its intricacies and unfamiliar technology — churchgoers still use them. Hubbard, however, decided the techniques were the answer to the problems of education in general.

In 1972, Scientologists started the nonprofit Applied Scholastics as a secular initiative to bring his techniques into schools. In 2001 Applied Scholastics began a major expansion. It reports now that it has licensed the program with 738 different educational entities around the world, including public schools in at least 13 states.

Several prominent celebrity Scientologists, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta and singer Isaac Hayes, credit the study technique with improving their own academic skills.

In the wake of Katrina, Hayes and Travolta were two of the many celebrities who visited Baton Rouge offering help. Bennetta Slaughter, chief executive officer of Applied Scholastics International and a Scientologist herself, said Hayes talked up the program with Holden.

Hayes thought Baton Rouge might benefit from the course, which is taught at her alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tenn.

Holden had a school in mind: Prescott Middle.

The low-performing school had recently revamped itself to stave off a takeover by the Louisiana Department of Education. In spring 2005, Elida Bera was named principal. She hired an almost completely new staff and instituted an ambitious set of changes.

Bera said Holden called her in fall 2005. Bera took a look. In her reading, she saw that Hubbard had created the techniques.

"I'm leery about that," Bera said. "I'm 100 percent Catholic."

Applied Scholastics representatives, however, assured her that the program steered clear of religion.

The Scientology connection, however, was not well known in the parish school system. Stockwell, the system's chief academic officer, said he learned of the connection only after it had begun. He said the main attraction was the price, free.

"The fact that it's related to Scientology is probably fascinating to a lot of people, but it was not our focus or concern," Stockwell said.

In January 2006, Bera placed about 140 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the program. The other students in those grades took a separate, school system-approved study skills course.

By May, when results from last year's eighth-grade LEAP test arrived, all 20 eighth-graders in the pilot had passed. The passage rate for the rest of the eighth-grade was 77 percent.

Applied Scholastics had a big advantage over the school system studies skill program: a small pupil-teacher ratio of no more than five to one.

Bera, however, said that small classes don't automatically translate into better results.

"If those teachers are not trained with working with a small group, they would do the same things they would if they were working with a large group," Bera said.

Another early skeptic was Southern University physics professor Diola Bagayoko. Founder of the Timbuktu Institute, a summer ACT prep course, Bagayoko had already formed a partnership with Prescott, where he helped train teachers and improve parental involvement.

Bagayoko said he did a lot of homework, reading a copy of the curriculum and several books provided by Applied Scholastics. Applied Scholastics is based on the idea that there are three barriers to learning: lack of mass, too steep a gradient and words not understood or wrongly understood.

Although the terminology is unique, Bagayoko saw in these concepts ideas widely used in education, and ones he had written about himself in academic papers.

In practice, he says, he's been impressed. The tutors are well trained, the students are closely monitored and students can't move on until they've mastered the material, he said.

"The origin of the material is not going to be a stumbling block for me to save the lives of thousands," he said.

Applied Scholastics has thus far eschewed recognition in academia, particularly getting its results published in education journals. Bagayoko, however, said Applied Scholastic representatives have ample data for educators to evaluate them.

"It's rooted in the most solid and established ideas of teaching and learning," he said.

Bagayoko now plans to train Southern students in the study techniques, so they can tutor children at nearby Southern Laboratory School.

Bera has added the program to her budget and hopes to locate tutors for next year. In the meantime, she's still examining this year's Louisiana Educational Assessment Program results to see how Applied Scholastics students did, but said other in-house tests show strong growth.

Stockwell said those results may decide whether the school system continues or perhaps expands the program.

Applied Scholastics CEO Slaughter said she hopes Baton Rouge leaders will soon run the program on their own.

"The most efficient method is to hand it over to the people there on the ground," she said.


Genes shed light on fish fingers


By Rebecca Morelle Science reporter, BBC News

A genetic study has shed light on the mystery of how fish made the move from water to land millions of years ago.

Previous research had suggested that fish had made an abrupt genetic jump to acquire land-friendly limbs.

But a US team has now shown this event was not an evolutionary novelty and the transition was far more gradual.

The study, published in the journal Nature, follows the recent discovery of a fossil described as showing the "missing link" between fins and limbs.

In 2004, the fossilised remains of the Tiktaalik roseae revealed an animal with fins that were equipped for a life in the water but also for support on land.

The crocodile-like creature, which lived about 380 million years ago, was said to "blur the distinctions" between land- and water-dwelling animals.

Overnight transformation

Marcus Davis, lead researcher of the paper and a scientist at the University of Chicago, said: "The Tiktaalik and other recent fossil finds suggested to us that the structures that really make land animals unique - hands and feet and fingers and toes - just didn't appear out of nowhere."

However, he said, this was in contrast to evidence seen in previous genetic studies, which suggested an abrupt transition from fins to limbs.

These studies focussed on the Hox genes, which play a vital role in limb development.

Scientists had looked at the expression of the genes in the developing limbs of land animals (tetrapods) and the developing fins of zebrafish, which are often used in embryological studies.

Dr Davis said: "In tetrapods, these studies showed that there were these two separate phases of Hox genes that turn on within the developing appendage. Early in the development there is the first phase, and then there is a second very characteristic phase which plays a role in where fingers and toes form.

"But if you look at a zebrafish during development, it has the first phase, but it doesn't have this second hallmark phase.

"Based on this, the hypothesis was that the second phase of Hox expression must be a developmental and evolutionary novelty that correlated with the origin of hands and feet."


However, Dr Davis and his colleagues decided to repeat the studies - but this time using paddlefish, which have a fin pattern similar to primitive fish.

He said: "We found a very clear second phase in their fins - and this tells us that the second key phase of Hox-expression is in fact a much more ancient pattern of development.

"It seems that some fish have always had this genetic toolkit to modify their fins - it just seems like tetrapods have modified it in this unique and elaborate way."

The reason why some of these primitive fish went on to become land-living animals while others remained in the water was most probably influenced by their environment, explained Dr Davis.

A change to the ecosystem from deep water to shallow streams may have driven some fish to make use of their genetic limb-building capability.

Dr Davis said the study was also interesting because it revealed that zebrafish were the "weirdos of the bunch".

He said: "They have done something very unique - they appear to have lost the second phase of Hox expression altogether."

Jennifer Clack, professor of vertebrate palaeontology at Cambridge University, said: "This is a really big step forward. I think we are going to find a number of similar patterns emerging in other fish in the future."

Magnetic healing: An alternative cure


Last Updated on May 31, 2007, 12:00 am

With all sorts of treatments out there, Maore Ithula explores magnotherapy and those who use it.

Nelson Oluoch

Until four months ago Ms Jane W. Allan used to suffer from many age related problems like arthritis and backaches.

The 55-year-old preacher claims to be free of these maladies since she started wearing a bracelet fitted with magnets.

She says: "My face was also wrinkled but as you can see am looking much younger."

Allan is among an increasing number of Kenyans who wear some unique and expensive jewellery for medical reasons rather than glamour.

Seventy two-year-old Josephine Wambui claims to have been suffering from asthma for decades. But she claims the disease is now under control since she started wearing a magnetic bracelet.

She claims to have also regained the strength of standing for many hours or walking longer distances without her joints giving way.

Both ladies (patients) are also selling the metal gadgets through network marketing.

Most alternative medical remedies are curious in many ways. But, magnetic therapy is perhaps the strangest of all.

Pseudoscientific form of alternative medicine

Some of the bracelets used in magnotherapy

To prevent or cure diseases, you are advised to wear a thingamajig fitted with several pieces of magnets. It could be a wristwatch, bracelet, anklet or a necklace.

Nelson Oluoch, who introduced this treatment in the country in September last year, says thousands of such wares have been sold.

"To remain healthy or recover from a disease, you need to wear just one of the pieces," he says.

Oluoch is a founder member of the local sales branch of Amega Global Llc, which makes and sells the unique metal products. The manufacturer is based in Singapore.

But what is magnetic therapy? The web defines magnet therapy, or magnetic therapy as a pseudoscientific form of alternative medicine based on the concept that certain medical disorders can be effectively treated by exposure to magnetic fields.

Some believe that magnetic fields emanating from permanent magnets placed close to the body can cause bones to heal faster, relieve pain, and perform other forms of healing to the body.

How does magnetic therapy work?

Practitioners claim that magnets can cure joint disorders and back problems.

But Oluoch takes the powers of magnetic therapy a notch higher. He says using magnets, chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, gouts and a few others can be prevented and managed where they already exist.

Says he: "This method is a one stop medical treatment. Wearing a magnet will keep away all diseases by enhancing the body's immunity. If you are under medication, the healing process will be faster with a magnet on any part of your body."

But how does magnetic therapy work? Oluoch observes that all body and mind functions are controlled by electromagnetic fields.

The fields, he says, are produced by the movement of charged electro-chemicals (ions) within the body and usually the blood stream.

A healthy organ or tissue is usually negatively charged while an injured one is positively charged.

"The pain and inflammation in an injury happens when the affected area is invaded by positively charged ions. Magnetic therapy therefore seeks to restore this electromagnetic field balance to the normal status-negatively charged," he says.

Enhanced transfer of oxygen to the injury site

A magnetic field, he argues, helps to relax blood capillary walls and surrounding tissues that are strained by the invasion of positively charged ions, thus allowing for increased blood flow.

This way, there is an enhanced transfer of oxygen and nutrients to the injury site while toxins are carried away.

When Inspiration sought testimonies from patients who have benefited from this remedy, it was established that beneficiaries also double up as sellers of the items.

"This is because we sell the magnets through network marketing," says Oluoch.

Network marketing is also called multi-level marketing (MLM) strategy.

This is a method of marketing products and services, whose value mainly is often over-exaggerated or questionable, through independent representatives who refer customers to the company.

First used by the Chinese 4,000 years ago

Actually, it is a pyramid scheme in another form. Both schemes are not legal or illegal. The only difference between the two is that when an MLM collapses, victims are left stuck with worthless items while in pure pyramid schemes you lose the full 'investment.'

Nevertheless the Internet posts that magnetic therapy was first used by the Chinese 4,000 years ago. Many cultures, like the Greeks, Egyptians and Europeans have used magnets ostensibly to relieve pain and other symptoms. However, the size and weight of the magnets existing during that time, made them clumsy to use.

Today, stronger magnetic materials have led to a surge of modern day magnetic therapy. Since the 1960s, studies in the United States have shown use of magnetic therapy has been on a steady increase.

Japan and many eastern European countries have conducted hundreds of studies for over 30 years.

Prohibitive cost

But if these metals really have any therapeutic value, the common man may not benefit from magnetic treatment because of its prohibitive cost.

The cheapest magnet on MLM sale is a bracelet that goes for Sh12, 575. Necklaces and anklets go for about Sh17, 000 while a wristwatch is the most dear costing a whopping Sh19,000.

Still Oluoch feels, these prices are pocket friendly because the metals last a lifetime 'if thieves are kept at bay.' Oluoch warns that a magnet placed on the body can have undesirable effects, if the alignment of the poles is not correct.

Says he: "Because to remain healthy or to recover from an existing condition, positively charged ions should be kept away, the north pole (positive) side of the magnet should be outside while the negative faces the body."

This way, he says, a magnet repels all positively charged ions in the atmosphere.

On the other hand, the negative side facing the body neutralises the positive ions in the body.

Is the remedy safe?

One ornament is enough to create a positively charged magnetic field around you to keep away all positive ions from the atmosphere.

Oluoch thinks modern technology is emitting too many positively charged ions into the atmosphere.

The treatment has no known side effects and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a formal statement confirming that static magnetic fields pose no health risks.

No complications have been reported with its proper use. But there are certain conditions where magnet therapy should not be used, such as if you are wearing a pacemaker, defibrillator, insulin pump or any other implanted electro-medical device or if you are pregnant.

WHO standards

The strength of a magnetic field is measured in gauss. However, some unscrupulous manufacturers tend to exaggerate the strength of their products.

Oluoch says WHO standards require that no human should wear a magnet whose strength exceeds 20,000 gauss.

Manufacturers are required to engrave these details on each product.

Of course this requirement is again subject to abuse because there is no way an ordinary consumer can ascertain the strength of a magnet.

And how fast the therapy works depends on the condition and its severity.

Oluoch says some people will get well in a day or two while others will be well in hours or minutes. Chronic ailments will take a little longer.

Additional information from www.therionresearch.com

Behe's Dreadful New Book: A Review of "The Edge of Evolution"


Posted on: May 31, 2007 12:24 PM, by Mark C. Chu-Carroll

I've gotten my hands on a review copy of Michael Behe's new book, "The Edge of Evolution". The shortest version of a review is: Bad science, bad math, and bad theology, all wrapped up in a pretty little package.

As people who've followed his writings, lectures, and court appearances know, Behe is pretty much a perfect example of the ignoramus who makes a bad argument, and then puts his fingers in his ears and shouts "La la la, I can't hear you" whenever anyone refutes it. He still harps on his "irreducible complexity" nonsense, despite the fact that pretty much every aspect of it has been thoroughly refuted. (The entire concept of IC is a pile of rubbish; the entire argument about IC is based on the idea that evolution is a strictly additive process, which is not true; there are numerous examples of observed evolution of IC systems, both in biology and in evolutionary algorithms. But none of these facts makes a bit of difference: like the energizer bunny of ignorance, he just keeps going, and going...)

Anyway, the new book is based on what comes down to a mathematical argument - a mathematical argument that I've specifically refuted on this blog numerous times. I'm not mentioning that because I expect Behe to read GM/BM and consider it as a serious source for his research; even if I were an expert in the subject (which I'm not), a blog is not a citable source for real research. But I mention it because the error is so simple, so fundamental, and so bleeding obvious that even a non-expert can explain what's wrong with it in a spare five minutes - but Behe, who apparently spent several years writing this book still can't see the problem. (In fact, one of the papers that he cites as support for this ridiculous theory contains the refutation!)

Behe's argument is that what's commonly referred to as the theory of evolution is actually made up of three parts:

This is already poor stuff - the muddled version of his explanation of common descent; his presentation of a shallow tautological form of natural selection; and his ignorance of any source of genetic diversity other that mutation.

As soon as he gets through that muddled explanation, he starts to launch his attack in earnest. And it's a sad attempt:

In the past hundred years science has advanced enormously; what do the results of modern science show? In brief, the evidence for common descent seems compelling. The results of modern DNA sequencing experiments, undreamed of by nineteenth-century scientists like Charles Darwin, show that some distantly related organisms share apparently arbitrary features of their genes that seem to have no explanation other than that they were inherited from a distant common ancestor. Second, that random mutation paired with natural selection can modify life in important ways. Third, however, there is strong evidence that random mutation is extremely limited. Now that we know the sequences of many genomes, now that we know how mutations occur, and how often, we can explore the possibilities and limits of random mutation with some degree of precision--for the first time since Darwin proposed his theory.

This is a careful verbatim quote from his book. What I found astonishing here is that he asserts his conclusions in this paragraph as settled fact, without even attempting to cite any evidence. It's typical, but pathetic. It's not like he doesn't use citations and footnotes through the book - he sometimes insert supportive citations of completely trivial things. But this incredible statement: that "there is strong evidence that random mutation is extremely limited", he doesn't even attempt to support.

The rest of the book focuses an this alleged problem: that random mutation is somehow constrained, and can't produce the necessary changes to explain the diversity of life.

The part of the book that is most annoying to me, and thus the part that I'll focus the rest of this review on, is chapter three, "The Mathematical Limits of Darwinism". This is, basically, the real heart of the book, and for obvious reasons, it seriously ticks me off. Behe's math is atrociously bad, pig-ignorant garbage - but he presents it seriously, as if it's a real argument, and as if he has the slightest clue what he's talking about.

The basic argument in this chapter is the good old "fitness landscape" argument. And Behe makes the classic mistakes. His entire argument really comes down to the following points:

  1. Evolution can be modeled in terms of a static, unchanging fitness landscape.
  2. The fitness landscape is a smooth, surface made up of hills and valleys, where a local minimum or maximum in any dimension is a local minimum or maximum in all dimensions.
  3. The fitness function mapping from a genome to a point of the fitness landscape is monotonically increasing.
  4. The fitness function is smoothly continuous, with infinitessimally small changes (single-point base chanages) mapping to infinitessimally small changes in position on the fitness landscape.

Of course, Behe doesn't phrase it like that; in fact, I doubt that he even understands that he's making those assumptions: His grasp of math is extremely shallow, and his mathematical reasoning is glib at best.

First, I'll repeat what I've said in the past about what's wrong with each of these assumptions. Then I'll put out a couple of examples in the text of how Behe attemps to refute these criticisms, and show what's wrong with them.

Behe uses these assumptions about the fitness landscape, and the search process which is his model of evolution, to build his argument. He frequently talks about how things can get trapped at a local maximum. By Behe's reasoning, once a species reaches a local maximum of a fitness landscape, that's the end of any process of change in that species. When he talks about a limit of what can be done by mutation+selection, that's what he's talking about: the idea that local maxima are traps.

This is one of the oldest canards of the IDists: the mis-modeling of evolution as a search process over a static landscape. The problems with this are quite simple:

First, It assumes that the fitness landscape is fundamentally low-dimensional. If the fitness landscape truly has many independent dimensions, then there are very few (if any) true local maxima. To assume that local maxima are common requires assuming that when moving through one dimension brings you to a local maximum, moving through any other dimension will also bring you to a local maximum at the same point - which is really another way of saying that the dimensions are not independent - they all reach maxima and minima at the same places.

The idea of local maxima and minima being common comes from thinking of things in terms of low-dimensional surfaces. A fitness landscape with two variables forms a three dimensional graph - and in three dimensions, we do frequently see things like hills and valleys. But that's because a local minima is the result of an interaction between only two variables. In a landscape with 100 dimensions, you don't expect to see such uniformity. You may reach a local maxima in one dimension - but by switching direction, you can find another uphill slope to climb; and when that reaches a maximum, you can find an uphill slope in some other direction. High dimensionality means that there are numerous directions that you can move within the landscape; and a maximum means that there's no level or uphill slope in any direction.

(As an interesting aside, IDists, when they're quoting Dembski, like to talk about the No Free Lunch theorems. The NFL theorems are based on the idea that landscapes really aren't smooth - that they don't have uniform properties that permit a search strategy to work. Behe's argument totally contradicts that - the kinds of landscapes that must be considered to make NFL work totally devastate Behe's idea. )

Second, Behe assumes that the landscape can't change. If it's a local maximum today, it's a local maximum tomorrow. The reason that he needs this is obvious: if todays local maximum can stop being a maximum, then it's not any kind of a barrier. The argument requires that the landscape never change.

This is the biggest problem with the whole idea of modeling evolution as search over a fitness landscape: landscape search generally assumes a static landscape. But this doesn't match reality at all. Just consider a simple example. Suppose you've got a local maximum in the landscape, and that that maximum represents a fitness point for a plant-eater: that point represents an adaptation to a diet that's based on some kind of vegetation, and a behavior that protects it from predation. Because it's a maximum, things that get anywhere near it end up climbing the slope to that maximum. The local maximum becomes a clustering point for plant-eating species. The fact of that clustering means that the population at that point is going to grow.

The growing population means that you'll be creating another fitness point on the landscape: a point for a predator. That point didn't exist before: when there wasn't a population of plant-eaters for a predator to consume, there would be no advantage to evolving to fit the niche of eating the creatures that eat the vegetation; once there is a population of plant-eaters there, then you've got a new fitness point.

The growing population also means that the fitness of that point may start to decline: too much competition for the resources. Too many creatures trying to eat the same limited food source.

This is the reality of the "fitness landscape": the landscape is shaped from the species that inhabit it; as the species change, the landscape changes. Those traps that Behe keeps talking about only exist if the landscape doesn't change. But the only way that the landscape doesn't change is if the species in it don't change. The moment any species starts climbing a hill in the fitness landscape, the landscape must change to describe the new circumstances.

Third, Behe, as in his IC gibberish, insists on a monotonically increasing fitness function, and he insists on mutation behaving as a continuous function. According to Behe, the only changes are changes that produce an immediate increase in fitness. So if you're at a local maximum, there's no way to escape it, because you can't go downhill. There are two problems here: one is that it's possible for a species to become less fit; the other is the continuity assumption.

With respect to that first issue, it's possible in many circumstances, for a population to become less fit. When a species is not under strong selective pressure, it's possible for numerous neutral or even slightly negative mutations to accumulate in the population. There's nothing in reality preventing that: mildly negative mutations do occur in reality. In Behe's model, that means that in reality, evolution isn't a strict hill-climber; crossing a valley to get to a higher fitness summit is not impossible.

The second part if this is a huge problem for Behe's argument. Behe wants to be able to argue that local maxima are traps. A local maxima is only a trap for a search process if the search has certain strict limitations: the search needs to behave as an almost continuous function. This is a bit messy, because we're straddling the line between continuous math and discrete math here. But the idea is that Behe's model is that there's a function from a species genome to a point in the fitness landscape; and that mutation makes an small change to the genome, and that that small change to the genome must correspond to a proportionately small change in the mapped location on the landscape. So mutations can only produce small changes; and small changes can only result in small motions on the landscape. That means that the evolutionary search process can't jump valleys in the landscape.

The problem is, that doesn't correspond to reality. There are times when a small change can have a huge impact. The classic textbook example of this is the Panda's thumb: a very small genetic change caused a change in the developmental process in the wrist of the panda, which produced what is effectively an extra thumb. The genetic change that produced this is tiny; the effect is huge. This is not an unusual thing: small changes can have huge effects. But small changes with large impacts totally blow Behe's argument out of the water: they mean that Behe's barriers aren't barriers at all.

So Behe's argument fails miserably, because it's built on a pile of obviously invalid, long-discredited assumptions. And yet he builds his entire book around them - and just acts as if the assumptions were obviously correct, and no one has ever refuted them. Even when the sources that he cites contradict him, he acts as if there's nothing wrong: he cites several papers about modeling evolution with a fitness landscape that specifically discuss the dimensionality issues, and then in the same paragraph as the citation, talks about the fitness landscape as a surface in three dimensions. The only explanation I can find for his is that he really doesn't understand most of the math that he's talking about. (I don't think that Behe is above deliberately lying; but I think he's smart enough that he wouldn't cite things that contradict him so blatantly if he understood what they really said.)

Behe isn't entirely ignorant of the criticisms of the landscape arguments - he does devote some space to arguing around them. Anyone care to guess what kind of argument he uses? Anyone?

What's the favorite bullshit mathematical argument of creationist assholes worldwide? Why big numbers, of course! He starts to slap together some sloppy probabilities to argue how unlikely it is for a mutation to jump valleys in a fitness landscape. He goes through a really sloppy argument about how unlikely it is for malaria to evolve chloroquine resistance, arguing that the odds of evolved resistance are one it 1020. Now, when you realize that each person infected with Malaria has billions of malaria cells in their bodies, and that number starts to not look so scary anymore: billions of cells reproducing daily in millions of individuals, which has been going on for decades of chloroquine use, and you start to realize that that's not such a big number after all. But even so - it's a deliberately inflated number, relying on things like the monotonicity assumption, and the assumption that resistance is all-or-nothing. But even with those sleazy assumptions, that number just isn't compelling when it comes to malaria. So, he tries to take the inflated malaria number, and wave his hands around by applying it to human beings, because we reproduce so slowly compared to malaria:

If all of these huge numbers make your head spin, think of it this way. The likelihood that Homo sapiens achieved any single mutation of the kind required for malaria to become resistant to chloro- quine--not the easiest mutation, to be sure, but still only a shift of two amino acids--the likelihood that such a mutation could arise just once in the entire course of the human lineage in the past ten million years, is minuscule--of the same order as, say, the likelihood of you personally winning the Powerball lottery by buying a single ticket.

What's particularly astonishing about this is that even this rotten argument - taking an artifically inflated probability number based on the peculiarities of the biochemistry of one specific organism, and applying it to a completely different organism (waving hands furiously to try to distract from the fact that it's just nonsensical to cross that way), contains its own refutation. Yes, perhaps the odds of this happening are similar to the odds of winning at powerball. But the fact is someone wins the powerball lottery. He wants to pretend that it's unlikely by pointing at you specifically, and saying that it's like you winning the lottery. But in fact, the power of evolution is that it doesn't just try one thing. It's not a process of one mutation, wait and see if it works out and fixes in the population; it's not a process with a predetermined destination. It's a process of countless mutations happening at the some time - some propagate, some don't - and if any of them work, then they take over. The real chance of evolution producing something are like the chances of someone winning the lottery. The chances of them producing humanity taken a priori are like the chances of you winning the lottery; but since humanity was not a predestined result, the chances of the evolutionary sweepstakes producing something is like the chances of someone winning the lottery - i.e., virtually inevitable.

Finally, I said that not just is Behe's book bad science and bad math, but it's bad theology. Behe claims to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God. But at the same time, his entire book is based on the argument that God created life on earth, and got it all going using an evolutionary process. But then, according to Behe, over and over again, his creation was woefully inadequate of facing the actual challenges that it would face, and so his all-powerful creator needs to constantly intervene, and tweak things in order to make them work. His God is a buffoon - a bumbling fool who isn't capable of creating worlds in a way that works. Reading his book, I'm actually shocked that he's a religious person: he's clearly never bothered to think through his beliefs, and what his theories say about them. Again and again, reading the book, I kept finding myself saying two things: "How can this guy call himself a scientist, when he argues so sloppily?", and "How can this guy be religious when he apparently believes that his creator isn't capable of getting anything right?" Following Behe's argument, it seems like it should be impossible for Behe's god to have done the things Behe claims that he did, because they're too hard for such a bumbler.

I'm sure that that aspect of Behe's book isn't deliberate. But it's typical: he seems to be incapable of actually really thinking about an argument in any way deeper than asking "Does this agree with my conclusion?"; and even then, he doesn't seem capable of recognizing when an argument doesn't support his conclusion. It's really appalling. Frankly, I'm really shocked that this guy ever managed to get tenure anywhere - judging by his writing, he's not particularly bright; he's a remarkably disorganized and muddled thinker; and he's incapable of comprehending or responding to arguments made by other researchers.

(Note: several typos: a missing "not", a missing "resistance", and "got" for "god", "lest" for "less" were corrected in the above. That's what I get for trying to write in short bursts while waiting for builds.)

Evolution Exposed ... A Review


by Rob Hood
May 31, 2007 01:57 PM EST

Every so often a news publication refuting evolution grabs my attention. With all of the fuss over two new creation museums, one in Kentucky, and one in Canada, exposing the myths and vital flaws in the theory of evolution has been a prime learning objective for me lately.

One of the best books I have read so far on the subject of creation science exposing the myths of evolution tells all by its very name: Evolution Exposed by Roger Patterson. Personally, I am a financial supporter of Answers in Genesis (AIG) which is a prominent global Creation ministry who opened the 60,000 square foot $27 million dollar museum in Kentucky on May 28, 2007. I first learned of this wonderfully detailed book through AIG and decided to purchase it and have had no regrets. AIG actually offers a boxed set of 30 of these books for the sole purpose of distribution among students who have been taught the falsehoods of evolution in high school or college or are about to enter such a course. This would also make a great book for parents to buy for a child about to enter the ninth grade where evolution is taught in Biology (in some schools.

The fact of the matter is that evolution has no real scientific evidence, is not testable in a lab environment, cannot be studied through today's nature, and has a growing list of scientists who are denying evolution and are accepting Intelligent Design which is not the same as Biblical creationism as some seem to believe.

I personally recommend parents to buy four of these books each : one for themselves, one for their children, one for their church library, and one for a friend. I also recommend donating one of these books to any local public library as well as the local school library.

The book includes great references, charts, graphs, and much more vital information that I have never really heard of through other similar books. The book itself is semi-technical which means that a 9th grade Biology student should have not have too many problems comprehending the information even though I believe may have been written for a higher level of education. Nevertheless, I recommend any parent who calls themselves a born again Christian to take a serious look at what their children are being indoctrinated with in the public school system and buy this book to expose the myths of an unproven and sorely outdated idea called evolution. I also encourage church officials to take a look at this book as well as other Answers in Genesis materials as possible learning materials for church group studies and Sunday School studies. The subject in itself makes for great conversation and debate.

Evolution Exposed by Roger Patterson http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/Evolution-Exposed,4579,224.aspx


Answers in Genesis http://www.answersingenesis.org

Institute for Creation Research http://www.icr.org

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science http://www.booksamillion.com/ncom/books?id=3768217752432&isbn=089526031X

New Alberta museum defends creation, opposes evolution http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/may/07053002.html

Over 500 PhD Scientists Proclaim Their Doubts About Darwin's Theory http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/feb/06022204.html

Ranks of Renowned Scientists Doubting Darwin's Theory on the Rise - 700 Now on Public List http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2007/feb/07021402.html

Creationist Museum opens in Kentucky http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0529creation-museum0529.html

Museum opens to defend Biblical account of creation http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/05/museum_opens_to_defend_biblica.php

Crowds wowed by Creation Museum grand opening http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/05/crowds_wowed_by_creation_museu.php

Protesters wish to silence the creation story http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/05/protestors_turn_out_for_openin.php

Creation Museum Planetarium shows young universe http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/05/creation_museum_planetarium_sh.php


Rob Hood grew up in rural Mississippi and was rooted in the doctrine of the Southern Baptist Convention and its teachings of Biblical right and wrong, accountability to a higher authority, and the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was a participant in Bible Drill for nine years, a Southern Baptist Convention program devoted to educating children and youth with scriptures from the Bible for use in everyday life situations. He graduated from Holmes Community College in Grenada, Mississippi with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Electronics Technology and is currently employed as an Electronics Technician with HAM radio equipment manufacturer. He is also a Federal Communications Commission licensed Technician Class HAM radio operator and lives in North Mississippi.

Mr. Hood is also the author of Issues That Matter : America's Moral Battleground and a columnist for six of the news/commentary sites of the Move Off Network at http://www.moveoff.net and also runs his own site and his own blog. You can check out Rob Hood's blog at http://robhood.us ( click on blog ). Check out his regular site at http://www.standfortruthonline.com .

Issues That Matter: America's Moral Battleground by Rob Hood http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?&isbn=0-595-35667-2

What Sam Brownback thinks about evolution


Posted on: May 31, 2007 11:51 AM, by MarkH In today's NYT

It's softer than the outright denial of evolution that was assumed when he raised his hand at the debate, and certainly doesn't sound like young-earth creationism. It seems to be intelligent design creationism without explicitly mentioning intelligent design - although some keywords are present. He, of course, uses many of the classic denialist arguments.

For instance:

We have a classic divide-and-conquer tactic of asserting that because there is some dispute over different evolutionary theories, there is room for doubt. I consider this a goal-post moving argument - you can't believe in any science until there is absolutely no conflict within a scientific field.

If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory -- like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations -- go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

Denial of macroevolution:

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species.

Evolution means we're dirty apes:

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man's essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos.

And finally, an atheist materialistic conspiracy theory (mixed with impossible-to-prove assertions):

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man's origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.



What Scientologists aren't telling you about their detox program (and how much it's costing you)

By John DeSio

"I'm not here converting these men and women to Scientology. And I've got to tell you something—I've been a Scientologist 20 years. In Sacramento I, more than any other Scientologist, got new people into Scientology, me personally. I'm very good at converting people, if I want to." Jim Woodworth is the director of the New York Rescue Workers' Detoxification Project, and he is bristling at the suggestion that his program is an arm of the Church of Scientology. He insists that his group is totally secular, stating that a look at his tax returns and a discussion with any of the close to 800 men and women he has treated will bear that out. His mission at the program, also known as Downtown Medical, is to help sick rescue workers—not to make new Scientologists. "My purpose here is the purpose that I stated, to restore the quality of life to the rescue workers. It's not a religious purpose."

Those rescue workers I spoke with back up Woodworth's statements. No patient who participated in the detoxification program offered by Downtown Medical said they were confronted with Scientology, or its beliefs, at any time. In 2003, Downtown Medical, a clinic promoting a program designed to remove impurities from the body through a regimen of sweat and vitamins, opened for business. The project, which focuses solely on those rescue workers who served at Ground Zero after 9/11, is based on the writings of Church of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and project leaders publicly acknowledge that Hubbard's book, Clear Body, Clear Mind, acts as the de facto handbook for the program. Though many past supporters of the program such as the City of New York's largest firefighters' union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, backed off once they learned of Downtown Medical's ties to Scientology, others have been more than willing to openly show their support, starting with former Manhattan City Council Member Margarita Lopez.

During her 2005 run for Manhattan borough president, it was revealed that Lopez helped steer $630,000 in city funding to Downtown Medical. Following that, she received over $100,000 in campaign contributions from Scientology associates and the scorn of Mayor Bloomberg. The mayor openly chastised Lopez, who appears in a promotional video touting the program, for her connection to Downtown Medical. Since then, other elected officials have been happy to stand up for the benefits of the detoxification program, despite Bloomberg's continued objections. Council Member Hiram Monserrate of Queens announced his support for the program in April, declaring that he had gone through the detox regimen himself. Monserrate even introduced a bill to declare April 19 "L. Ron Hubbard Day" in advance of a Manhattan fundraiser for the program hosted by Scientologist, actor and Downtown Medical co-founder Tom Cruise, which raised $1.3 million. Another Queens City Council Member, Joseph Addabbo, attended the fundraiser and said the critics of Downtown Medical were out of line. This program helps rescue workers, Addabbo said, and that should be the top priority.

At least one elected official had no idea he was considered a supporter of the program until he was contacted for this story. On the front page of Downtown Medical's website appears a quote from Michael Balboni, a former Republican state senator from Long Island and current deputy secretary for Public Security to Governor Eliot Spitzer, which states that the results of the detoxification program are "the ultimate victory over the effects the terrorists hoped to achieve." A Google search for the quote finds it only on Downtown Medical's website and a search in the much more thorough Lexis-Nexis newspaper archive does not turn up the quote at all. Balboni does not know how it got there and does not even remember saying it, not just as an endorsement of Downtown Medical but in any context. "I have no idea where they got that quote from," said Balboni when asked about it, noting that he met with a few supporters of the program a few years ago to discuss the potential opening of a similar clinic in his district. Balboni said that if participants in the program felt better upon its completion, then that was good for them. That said, he is not a supporter and will ask Downtown Medical to remove his remark from its website. "It's certainly not an endorsement of the program."

Woodworth supplied a number of letters of endorsement, from elected officials and union leaders alike, offering their support for the program. One letter, written in 2004, is from Senator Chuck Schumer, though Schumer's office has indicated that the senator no longer supports the program. But the only endorsement Woodworth or anyone associated with Downtown Medical cares about is the approval of its patients, and those patients I spoke with were adamant that the program cured their ills.

"I came into it very skeptical," said Steve Mona, a retired NYPD lieutenant who worked at Ground Zero from September 11 clear through December 2001. Mona said that he was prepared to leave the program immediately if he was confronted with Scientology or pressured to convert. That never happened. "Twenty-six days later, I was a different person—not just physically but mentally. No bullshit." Mona says that today he sleeps better, he is losing weight and he has an overall better feeling about life in general. And Scientology has nothing to do with it. "The bottom line is, I know about as much about Scientology now as I did when I started the program." And Downtown Medical's Scientology connections don't mean a thing to Mona. "I wouldn't care if these guys are Satan worshippers, as long as part of the deal wasn't worshipping Satan. They made me well."

The toxins and particle matter released into the air on 9/11 have become a major cause for elected officials in New York, most notably Senator Hillary Clinton, who have charged that the Bush administration and the Environmental Protection Agency did not do enough to keep rescue workers safe in the weeks and months following 9/11 and have not done enough since to deal with their health issues stemming from their work at Ground Zero. For officials like Lopez, Monserrate and Addabbo, Downtown Medical is just what rescue workers like Mona need. But the program is not without its detractors.

Since the detoxification program was first launched, the bulk of its criticism has been linked to top supporter and fundraiser actor Tom Cruise, who has exhibited some bizarre behavior since he began to openly preach the benefits of Scientology several years ago. From jumping up and down on Oprah's couch to the constant rumors that he has virtually enslaved his wife, actress Katie Holmes, into the Church of Scientology, every move Cruise has made in recent years has been tied to Scientology and dubbed "wacky" by the media at large. Therefore, Cruise's pet detoxification program must also be wacky.

Hubbard's detoxification program, which Scientologists refer to as the "purification rundown," requires an individual to ingest a vitamin cocktail and cooking oil, run on a treadmill and sweat heavily in a sauna with temperatures ranging from 140 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for about a month. If Downtown Medical is to be believed, that combination is a miracle cure for many ailments. "Patients have had black paste coming out of their pores in the sauna," states Woodworth on the site. "Their sweat has stained towels purple, blue, orange, yellow and black. They have reported bowel movements that are blue, or green, or that have smelled like smoke—despite the fact that they had not been at a fire scene for months." A picture of a program participant holding a purple stained towel in his hands appears in a slideshow on their website, and program administrators say they have other similar photos available. Shards of glass have leaked from the pores of detox participants, according to the website. And accounts of the program's benefits, written by rescue workers who served at Ground Zero, cover the site.

The Detox Myth

Woodworth's concern is the truth about the project, beyond Cruise's involvement and the negative perception of the Church of Scientology that the media has mostly focused on. But an examination of the records and discussions with experts findsa program lacking full scientific testing, that has been booted out of other cities, that uses potentially dangerous amounts of vitamins and that Hubbard himself admitted was not medicine, among other concerns. Multiple experts in the field of toxicology from across the country were contacted for this story. Eleven replied, though some asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. Of those 11, not one would vouch for the program's effectiveness or would recommend it to patients, often calling it "dangerous" or "quackery."

The casework that would appear to support detoxification as legitimate medicine appears in multiple places—including Clear Body, Clear Mind—on Downtown Medical's website; on the website of Downtown Medical's parent group, the International Academy of Detoxification Specialists; and in a third volume written by Hubbard called "The Purification Rundown Series," published as part of The Technical Bulletins of Dianetics and Scientology, a collection of letters known to Scientologists as Hubbard Communications Office Bulletins, or HCOBs.

Clear Body, Clear Mind is vague. Though the book does offer vitamin recipes and is a suitable overall primer to Hubbard's detoxification program, it is filled with anonymous anecdotal evidence about the apparent positive results of the purification rundown. The foreward to the book is written by Dr. David Root and James Barnes, both members of Downtown Medical's advisory board, and in it they recount a handful of case studies that purport to show the effectiveness of detoxification. They highlight the cases of soldiers returning from the first Iraq war treated for Gulf War Syndrome, Vietnam veterans exposed to the chemical "Agent Orange" and Kazakhstan citizens exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl disaster. Similar statements are made by Hubbard in the HCOBs. All patients show incredible signs of improvement, of course.

When reviewed, the studies that recount this great success do not meet the basic standards for scientific research that a high school student would be forced to follow in freshman biology. Sample sizes are extremely small, and research is conducted by parties with a vested interest in the program's success. The same is true for the research specifically dedicated to the work of Downtown Medical. One study linked to the program's website is authored by seven individuals, four of whom are directly associated with Downtown Medical, either through its advisory board or as an employee. That study indicates improvements in seven men who participated in the purification rundown, but notes that the sample size is too limited to make a real judgment of its effectiveness. As for the bias of the authors, in a written response Root declared that it is perfectly reasonable for anyone interested in a particular area of study to research that area, and that independence is provided through publication in "peer-reviewed" medical journals. Several doctors consulted for this story said that no credible, peer-reviewed medical journal has ever published a truly peer-reviewed study of the purification rundown.

Other studies of larger groups of detox participants rely on subjective symptoms to make the case that the purification rundown works. A July 2004 outcome summary posted on Downtown Medical's website lists improvements in 286 patients, noting that thyroid function had improved and cholesterol levels had dropped in many participants. However, it points to numerous other indicators of program success that would be more difficult to measure—such as improvement in the areas of joint pain, fatigue, impaired memory, irritability and eye irritation. Fatigue can be cured by going to bed earlier, and irritability can simply mean having a stressful day at work. The outcome summary even counts a decrease in alcohol consumption as a benefit of the program, even though that could mean going down from six to five beers a night or just deciding to stop drinking on your own, something alcoholics do everyday with meetings, minus vitamins and a schvitz.

Another study, authored by Root and two others associated with the project and attached to Downtown Medical's 2005 tax return, mentions improvements in other subjective symptoms as a sign of the program's benefit. According to that study, which examined 484 program participants, 100 percent of patients reported improvement in both "subjective symptoms" and "perception of health." It also found that participants in the purification rundown "found considerable reduction in days of work missed on the start of the detoxification program, as well as reduced concerns about forced retirement." It even claims that detoxification has the potential to raise your IQ level by almost four points, a modest number considering the official Church of Scientology website boasts that the purification rundown can raise one's IQ by up to 15 points. A decrease in subjective symptoms is a perfectly legitimate way to measure program success, according to Dr. Phyllis Gelb, a physician with Downtown Medical. "Many program participants—who have not slept for years, who are depressed, fearful, lethargic and unstable—have generally undergone multiple tests and been told there is 'nothing wrong.' Given that the means do not exist to identify a cause of their suffering, there [sic] subjective statements may be the only measure of success," wrote Gelb in a written response.

Two major problems, aside from the bias of the authors and the reliance on subjectivity, exist in each detoxification study, the first being the utter lack of any control group to balance the testing. In that high school science class, one might have put together a project examining the effects of cigarette smoke on the growth of a fern. One fern would face a barrage of nicotine while another would sit far away from the smoke for the same period of time, and growth would be measured at the conclusion. For a more adult example you might look at drug companies, which test the effectiveness of every drug by giving one group of subjects what amounts to a sugar pill. Not a single available study of the purification rundown includes such a control group, and no groups are ever present in the work published by Downtown Medical.

Woodworth admits that he has no control study. He has a study prepared, written and ready to go but he does not have the funding required to move it forward. Root, on the other hand, says there is no need for such a study. He and his researchers know the purification rundown works, and therefore there is no need to force the placebo on anyone. Scientific methods need not be followed. "As regards controls, it is not possible to give one group a sugar pill and ask another group to exercise, sauna and take vitamins without making it obvious that the 'control' group is not receiving the same therapy. It has been most practical to use participants as their own control—i.e., to monitor their condition over a period of time prior to program start," wrote Root.

But time is a major reason a control group would be needed to study the detoxification program's effectiveness, since over time the body will naturally detoxify itself without the help of a vitamin cocktail and a sauna session. Human beings naturally release chemicals from their bodies all the time through an ancient process known as going to the toilet. If you took an antibiotic today, it would naturally work its way out of your body. That's why drugs are usually prescribed for a number of days, in order to keep the levels of that drug high enough to be effective. The same would be true of radiation. If you are exposed to radiation today, the amount of radiation in your body 30 days from now would be lower.

That's not the byproduct of the Hubbard method, that's just the way things work. Proponents of the purification method argue that toxins can stay in the body forever unless you take your vitamin shake and sit in the heat, but such claims cannot be taken seriously without measuring the time such toxins take to leave the body unassisted. Just drinking a lot of water can clean out your system all by itself. It is also worth noting that different chemicals take different amounts of time to leave the body naturally, yet Downtown Medical's research tends to treat toxins as an interchangeable soup. The study attached to the tax return does not even bother to mention before and after levels of toxins whatsoever.

"It's a total myth," said Stephen M. Pittel, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist and a toxicology expert based in California. With more than 30 years of experience in the study of toxicology and substance abuse research, Pittel said he sees no merit in the purification rundown at all. Detoxification takes place naturally, said Pittel, and all doctors can and should do is either treat the symptoms of detoxification through medication or gradually wean individuals away from the toxins. "It takes place all by itself. You don't have to do anything for the body to detoxify itself. There's nothing that does anything to hasten the detoxification process." Pittel noted that the Hubbard method is largely based on the notion that toxins can be stored indefinitely in human fat tissue and that the purification rundown can force those toxins out of the body, a statement Pittel said is false. The only thing that can force toxins out of fat tissue is very strenuous exercise, and even then the reduction would be miniscule, said Pittel. "A sauna's just not going to do it."

Niacin Does the Trick

In the absence of a control group, serious studies have been conducted on the main element in the program's vitamin cocktail, and they find it has the potential to destroy your body and possibly even kill you. The "wonder drug" in Hubbard's detoxification method is not a drug at all. Instead, Hubbard relies on a concoction of vitamins dominated by niacin, which he states in Clear Body, Clear Mind can have "startling" and "beneficial" effects. In the book, Hubbard recommends that individuals who start the purification rundown can begin at 100 mg of niacin and work their way towards higher levels. Hubbard advises that at the final stage of detoxification, program participants should be given up to 5,000 mg of niacin.

Taking niacin in such high amounts can be, to put it lightly, extremely hazardous to one's health, according to Dr. Manoj K. Mittal, a fellow in Emergency Medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. In a case study that appeared in April's edition of the Annals of Emergency Medicine, Mittal reported on two adults and two adolescents who suffered serious side effects from taking large amounts of niacin as a vitamin supplement. Both adult patients suffered skin irritation, while both adolescents had potentially fatal reactions to niacin—including liver toxicity and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as well as nausea, vomiting and dizziness. One of the teens even experienced heart palpitations. All four patients recovered after treatment.

Such side effects are given little mention in Hubbard's writings, and in fact appear to be misrepresented as good things. In Clear Body, Clear Mind, Hubbard writes that the skin irritation, a result of niacin toxicity, is the result of radiation or old sunburns being expelled, or "run out" of the body through the detoxification process. Other symptoms of niacin overdose are written off as the reoccurrences of previous injuries or sicknesses "running out" of the body. Side effects, such as nausea, are blamed on a salt imbalance or a lack of commitment to the program. Gout, another side effect of niacin toxicity, is blamed on drinking rancid cooking oil provided by the program, and those who have the symptoms of gout are advised to "consult a qualified medical practitioner."

The recommended daily dosage of niacin according to Mittal is just about 15 mg, a number significantly lower than that recommended by Hubbard. Mittal, who was not asked to evaluate the purification rundown for this story, began to look into the problem of niacin overdose after examining a patient who ingested niacin hoping to capitalize on the vitamin's ever-growing urban legend appeal as an effective masking agent for an employer's drug test. A Google search for "niacin" and "pass urine drug test" yielded 84,600 results, according to Mittal's research. While programs like Downtown Medical promote niacin as a way to clean the body, the conventional wisdom is that niacin works to only hide those impurities and, according to Mittal, is not even effective at that task.

"Because niacin is known to affect metabolic processes, there is a completely unfounded notion that it can rapidly clear the body of drugs such as cannabis and cocaine. However, not only is niacin ineffective for this purpose, it is also dangerous when taken in large amounts," said Mittal, who came across at least one case where a niacin abuser required a liver transplant after high doses of the vitamin destroyed the organ.

Downtown Medical advisory board member and attorney Robert Amidon, in a written response to questions, said that there have been no adverse side effects in his program from niacin overdose since his vitamin regimen calls for immediate-release rather than sustained-release niacin. The latter has been associated with the more severe consequences of niacin overdose such as liver failure. However, doctors and other research indicate that immediate-release niacin, like that used in the purification rundown, can also be harmful to the liver and that the other side effects are no happy byproducts of detoxification.

"If you give people this much niacin, science has shown that those are the symptoms of niacin toxicity," said Saeed A. Jortani, Ph.D., the director of the forensic toxicology laboratory at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine of the University of Louisville. Jortani added that the purification rundown is "dangerous," and that no amount of faith could transform those side effects into a positive. He also pointed out that other vitamins used in the program, such as Vitamin A and calcium, can also be toxic when misused over the long haul. "Your body doesn't see religion when it comes to an overdose."

The link between niacin and drug use goes beyond just tricking your employer to think you are clean. In Clear Body, Clear Mind, Hubbard devotes numerous passages to the purification rundown's ability to clean the body of drug-related toxins, and the detoxification plan has been used for decades by Narconon, a drug rehabilitation program with strong ties to Scientology, one that many critics of the Church see as nothing more than a way for Scientology to recruit weakened drug addicts into their faith. "Narconon is Scientology," said David S. Touretzky, a free-speech activist, research professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and a longtime critic of the Church of Scientology. "Narconon's practices are exactly Scientology practices."

Scientology on the Attack

Touretzky's criticism of the Church of Scientology has placed him squarely on the Church's enemies list. He maintains a website, Stop Narconon, that documents media mentions of the drug treatment program. Narconon is supported by numerous prominent Scientologists. Last week, John Travolta and his wife, fellow Scientologist and actress Kelly Preston, held a fundraiser for Narconon's affiliate in Hawaii. Actress and Scientologist Kirstie Alley is a public spokesperson for the program, and Cruise has also stated his support in the past.

Criticism of Touretzky has even invaded the world of the New York Press. In late April, several items were posted to our blog regarding Downtown Medical and the Cruise fundraiser, including one defense of the program. Touretzky sent us a response which was posted in full. Two days later, the New York Press website was hacked, and an anonymous person placed a pro-Downtown Medical, anti-Touretzky item on the site. After a short time, the item was removed.

After Woodworth found the Touretzky item on the New York Press blog, he accused the newspaper of "doing his bidding" and demanded that we consider criticisms posted about Touretzky at Religious Freedom Watch, a website that is almost universally regarded as a Scientology front group designed to attack the Church's critics. Woodworth specifically pointed to items on the website that note Touretzky hosts bomb-making instructions on his own website and accusing him of being a racist. "If you quote this guy as an expert, I want you to put in exactly who this guy is," said Woodworth.

Bomb-making instructions do appear on Touretzky's website, along with an explanation that he has hosted them as a protest of the arrest and conviction of Sherman Austin, the owner and operator of anarchist website RaisetheFist.com, who was arrested for publishing the information on that site several years ago. Touretzky explains that he now hosts the information to "facilitate public scrutiny of the law under which Austin was charged" and to shine a light on First Amendment issues raised by the case. The professor even points to other resources on bomb-making, available through Amazon.com, Wikipedia or even CNN's website, that have not led to the arrest of their creators as a contrast to the Austin case.

As for the racism charge, the information hosted at Religious Freedom Watch could not be found at any other credible source. A Google search found only reposts of the information, and a Lexis-Nexis search found even less. Therefore, the racism charge was deemed useless and unfounded. "It's the same thing since the beginning of the cult," said Touretzky. "They attack their enemies relentlessly in the hope that people will shut up and go away. But in the age of the Internet, it doesn't work so well."

Between tax filings and Lopez's sizeable grant, Downtown Medical has received more than $900,000 in taxpayer funding since it opened in 2003. These numbers are disgusting, according to Queens City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr., who has been a vocal critic of Scientology and Downtown Medical since April. Vallone has openly called Scientology a cult, and feels that government funding should never be used to fund Downtown Medical. "It's an obscenely rich cult, and it could easily fund the program itself," said Vallone, who added that government funding helps Downtown Medical and Scientology achieve false legitimacy.

Narconon & the Scientology Scam

While the New York version of the purification rundown gets some government funding, Narconon, which uses virtually the same detoxification procedure as Downtown Medical, couldn't give their program away in California. Narconon had offered drug counseling and rehabilitation programs to California's public schools free of charge since at least 1991, and had eventually presented the program to 39 school districts across the state. In 2004, when criticism of both Narconon and its connections to Scientology began to intensify, the San Francisco school district turned to an independent party, the San Francisco Medical Society, to evaluate the merits of Narconon. Those merits could not be found.

In a September 2004 letter to school district officials Steve Heilig, director of health and education for the San Francisco Medical Society, confirmed what critics had been alleging for years: Narconon is not science. In his letter, Heilig wrote that he and five others who evaluated the Narconon curriculum found it "often exemplifies the outdated, non-evidence-based and sometimes factually inaccurate approach, which has not served students well for decades."

Heilig's letter set in motion a chain of events, and by February 2005 California's education department recommended that all public schools reject Narconon as unscientific, a claim that was unanimously backed the next month by the California Medical Association. In an email, Heilig noted that nothing has changed his mind about Narconon and its lack of scientific merit. "We have seen no evidence or reason to change our opinion that Narconon uses 'science' not accepted by any reputable medical and drug experts," wrote Heilig, who noted that Downtown Medical's program is not a carbon copy of Narconon, but is "founded on similar 'principles.'" Amidon wrote that Narconon and Downtown Medical are totally independent of one another and that he is in no position to speak for another organization. In contrast, Root appears in a brand new, Scientology-funded and produced documentary designed to attack the BBC. In it, he espouses the benefits of Narconon.

The connections between Downtown Medical and Narconon, as well as other organizations with strong ties to the Church of Scientology, are fairly apparent. Three of the organization's advisory board members list their experience with Narconon in their biographies, while other board members list their associations with either the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE) or the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education (FASE). Narconon is managed under the watchful eye of ABLE, which Touretzky states was founded to create a buffer between the Church of Scientology and its "public benefit" organizations, which had been run directly by the Church of Scientology in previous years. FASE was outed as a Scientology front group by Robert Vaughn Young, a former Church spokesperson turned anti-Scientology crusader, prior to his death in 2003.

Both FASE and ABLE are paid by Downtown Medical for their support of the purification program. According to Downtown Medical's most recent tax return, GASE received $215,166 from the program from 2004 through 2005 for its help in founding the detox project, as part of an agreement that specifies a payment to FASE based on the overall budget of the program. ABLE has a more direct payment plan with Downtown Medical. According to the tax filing, Downtown Medical pays the Association 5 percent of every contribution it receives "in exchange for certain management, program and funding support."

Amidon disputes the notion that any significant amount of money is paid by Downtown Medical to either ABLE or FASE, writing off the payments as the cost of doing business. "The Project has outsourced work from time to time as a more efficient means of accomplishing its goals. This work has included fundraising campaigns, writing grant proposals, or establishing outcome monitoring guidelines, and other administrative support services. These services were outsourced, at a fraction of what they would otherwise cost," wrote Amidon.

Downtown Medical, though doing business in NYC, is officially registered as the International Academy of Detoxification Specialists, based in Los Angeles. According to information supplied to the non-profit clearinghouse, GuideStar, the group's mission is to conduct and support research into Hubbard's detoxification method "to address the effects of environmental chemical contamination, occupational exposures and drug abuse." Its address is almost identical to that of FASE, which occupies an adjoining suite in the same Wilshire Boulevard office building.

Though its corporation papers were later amended to remove references to the Scientology founder, when FASE was founded in California in 1981 its paperwork explicitly stated that the group's mission was to "promote the works of L. Ron Hubbard."

The Church of Scientology can be hostile when you publish their text. In 1995, the Church sued the Washington Post and two of its reporters after they published excerpts of the Church's "operating thetan" manuals. Despite the potential threat of lawsuits, a direct quote from Clear Body, Clear Mind is probably the best way to sum up exactly why the purification rundown should not be considered medicine. "The Purification program cannot be construed as a recommendation of medical treatment or medication. It is not professed to be physical or medical treatment nor is any such claim made. There are no medical recommendations or claims for the Purification program or for any of the vitamin or mineral regimens described in this book." That quote appears on the book's copyright page. The book that serves as the bible of the Hubbard method, the book that Downtown Medical is basing medical treatments on, admits right upfront that the purification rundown is not medicine, nor should anyone think it is.

A similar statement is written in the HCOB, and there Hubbard even advises that anyone administering the detoxification have the patient sign a waiver noting that the program is not a medical treatment. In their forward to Clear Body, Clear Mind, Root and Barnes write that Hubbard never intended for the purification rundown to have any medical use. The process was purely a spiritual one. When asked today why any doctor would see medical value in the program when even its creator did not, Root responds thusly: "I can speak to this from my position as a board certified occupational medicine specialist. The problem of body burden is enormous for those in my field—one of the major medical challenges to emerge in the 20th century. The benefits of the elements of the program—exercise, sauna bathing, vitamin and mineral supplements—are well understood by caregivers. Nearly three decades of clinical experience have shown that the program brings relief to those affected by chemicals and is non-invasive and safe." In the HCOBs Hubbard goes out of his way to link the purification rundown to spirituality, stating that toxins are preventing humans from becoming good Scientologists through negative stimulation. Hubbard also writes that the purification rundown should be followed by auditing, a process that purports to unearth memories in an individual from this life and past lives and is a major step in becoming a Scientologist. Amidon wrote that the program is entirely secular and that auditing does not take place at Downtown Medical.

Touretzky said he is not surprised that supporters of the purification rundown would try to hold both positions on the medical value of the program. "This is classic Scientology: They try to have everything both ways. And so they fill their writings with 'Scientific' sounding jargon, and then turn around and say, 'They can't touch us for practicing medicine, this is truly spiritual,'" he said.

People who do have medical degrees, people not associated with Downtown Medical, were extremely harsh in their comments. One physician called the purification rundown "at best 'snake oil' quackery." Another said it's likely "a load of nonsense." However, one physician, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he would be willing to accept the program as legitimate medicine if valid research was conducted and the resulting data supported the project. But today that data does not exist, and the purification rundown does not work.

"It's nice to have sauna treatments," said the doctor, "but I don't believe any science exists to support this."

"That's a disgrace," said Vallone when informed of the total amount of government funding that Downtown Medical has taken in over the years. This week, Vallone sent a letter to John Carmichael, president of New York's branch of the Church, declaring that he has concerns about Scientology's "troubling history" and adding that the Church should fund Downtown Medical if it so believes in the project, not the taxpayers. That lack of science should also mean a lack of government funding, he said, and he's hopeful his colleagues will come around. "No responsible elected official would ever back this," said Vallone. "We should not be conferring legitimacy on a cult."

Scientology Front Group Misrepresents NYPress, Touretzky

http://www.nypress.com/blogx/display_blog.cfm?bid=45633548 Thursday, May 31, 2007

Religious Freedom Watch (RFW) has just put up an item on its website charging that in my New York Detox piece Scientology critic Dave Touretzky (left) could not defend himself from charges that he is a racist, but simply stated that the charges are untrue because they cannot be found via a Lexis-Nexis search. The RFW item can be found here.

RFW is almost universally regarded as a front group for the Church of Scientology and devotes a considerable amount of its website to attacking Touretzky. For my piece, I was asked by an official with the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Program to look at RFW's entries on Touretzky and consider them before I used him as a source. I did (the process is outlined in the piece).

In the current RFW entry, the group states that Touretzky did not deny that he is a racist, but only pointed to the Lexis-Nexis search as proof he is not. That is not true. I found the racism charge to lack credibility, since the charge only appears on the RFW website and in reposts. In Lexis-Nexis the charges only appeared twice: once in a press release issued by "Speak Up For Diversity," also considered a Scientology front group, and in an article that was a rewrite of the original press release. As for his alleged racism Touretzky did, in fact, deny he was a racist. But since the evidence charging that he was a racist is so flimsy in the first place it was not even worth bringing up.

The lack of evidence on this was based on my own research, not simply Touretzky's own statements. He actually never once mentioned Lexis-Nexis. And in the piece it is crystal clear that the lack of credibility on RFW's charges comes from my own research.

At best, RFW is misrepresenting my piece. At worst, they are outright lying about it.

UPDATE: The RFW link appears to be a bit screwy, so here's a screenshot of the item.

Posted by John DeSio at 1:53 PM

Letter: Evolution proponent responds


Published: Jun 2, 2007

In response to a letter on evolution vs. creationism, I want to clarify some points from the other side of the fence.

For starters, I do not believe in creationism in any form; my point of views falls to the side of evolution.

My first point of order is the comment on how evolutionary biology tries to make creationism out to be nonsense without any proof of the matter. First it is important to understand what is defined as "nonsense": a language, conduct or idea that is absurd or contrary to good sense. Creation theory tries to invoke shadowy figures that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities to reach its conclusion: the origin of where we came from.

Creationists criticize evolution by saying it can't account for life as we know it or explain the operations of something as complex as the eye, but then offer the only alternative as it being designed by an unidentified intelligence.

To me, this is nonsense, as biology has vindicated Darwin: Researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics.

The origin of life remains a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry.

The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed these transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling. Scientists frequently rely upon indirect evidence today. Although they cannot see subatomic particles, for example, it doesn't mean their conclusions are any less certain.

Another quote from the creationist opinion is that evolution cannot explain the development of new species. This is just incorrect and demonstrates the creationists' fundamental lack of knowledge of evolution and their tendency to simply dismiss evidence thereof. Look up the model called allopatry that was developed by Ernest Mayr of Harvard University for an evolutionary explanation for the development of new species.

Time and time again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can ward off ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed insurmountable: the nature of light, the cause of disease, how the brain works.

If we could get into a time machine and travel a mere 50 years into the future, we would be astounded by the developments of science, all while religion will ultimately be in the same place, serving no useful explanation that holds merit for our origin.

Magic words and imagination alone cannot substitute for the checks and balances of the scientific method.

Jay Lamm
Musician and museum employee
Denham Springs

Evolution Theory in Tatters


LONDON, June 2--Scientists have found that humans' ability to walk upright developed from ancestors foraging for food in forest tree tops and not from walking on all fours on open land.

The study challenges the belief that humans evolved from chimp-like creatures.

It was traditionally thought that humans became upright walkers in a slow process which had its origins in 'knuckle-walking' - movement on all fours - just as chimpanzees and gorillas walk today.

It was believed that this developed once human ancestors moved out of the forests into the savannahs of East Africa.

But a study at the University of Liverpool into the behavior of the orangutan has now suggested that knuckle-walking evolved quite recently in chimpanzees and gorillas.

It found that walking on two legs - assisted by the support of tree branches - is an older trait and evolved from tree walking.

The study suggests that walking on two legs was always a feature of great-ape behavior and human ancestors never passed through a knuckle-walking phase.

Skeletons of early human ancestors show a combination of short legs and long arms, which are adaptations for moving amongst tree tops, with hindlimbs adapted for walking on two legs.

To understand why bipedalism - walking on two legs - would be necessary for the tree-living ancestors of humans, scientists studied the movement of the Sumatran orangutan.

It appears that they use bipedalism to forage for food from small branches of tree tops, and to cross directly from tree top to tree top.

$300,000 Alberta museum has anti-evolution stance


BIG VALLEY, ALTA. (Jun 2, 2007)

Creationism and evolution will square off again when Canada's first permanent creation museum opens in June. The Big Valley Creation Science Museum is filled with displays of fossils and model DNA strands supporting a literal interpretation of the Bible, and opposing evolution.

"When you look at it, you can see which faith fits the facts, because both sides are faiths,'' said museum owner Harry Nibourg, who said he grew interested in creationism after watching videos and reading books on the subject.

The museum will have cost him about $300,000 by the time it opens.

"Without having been there and without seeing it, I don't want to criticize,'' said Andrew Newman, a paleontologist and acting director at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller.

"I'm not sure that there is as much focus on science as there is on theology in this museum.''

Nibourg insists that his museum is based more on science than theology and says there are more scientific theories than Bible references in the displays. He said he has offered to debate many scientists, but most of them have refused.

"They've got the right to be wrong,'' he said. "They don't have a leg to stand on and they're hoping to evolve one.'' What is intelligent design? http://www.buzzle.com/articles/140085.html

The theory of intelligent design says that life is so complex that it must have been designed by a higher intelligent being, and not evolved by natural selection - as Charles Darwin argued and the vast majority of scientists now believe. Followers argue that the scientific community is not as convinced by evolution as we are led to believe, and urge that we should be more critical in our consideration of evolution.

Is there any scientific evidence for intelligent design?


Is there any scientific evidence for evolution?

There's an HIV strain mutating as you read this, there's a fossil record going back millions of years - where do you want to start?

So why do intelligent people believe in intelligent design?

Many Christians and Muslims see the theory of evolution as undermining belief in God - a view militant atheists, like Richard Dawkins, the bestselling British biologist, and the American philosopher Daniel Dennett, are also keen to promote. On the other hand there are plenty of distinguished scientists who believe in God - Lord Winston or the late Stephen Jay Gould, for instance. The mainstream churches, including the Catholic church and the Church of England accept evolution.

There is also a widespread misunderstanding that the process of evolution is somehow random and "God doesn't play dice". Mutation of genes is random, but there is nothing random about the operation of natural selection - if an organism isn't fit for purpose, it doesn't survive.

Is intelligent design another name for creationism?

Intelligent design does share a number of similarities with creationism, and the phrase appears in several examples of creationist literature. They both argue that evolution is unable to account for the vast array of species, and both promote the concept of a designer.

There are differences. First, intelligent design accepts that the earth is millions of years old, not adhering to the creationist, biblically derived argument that the earth was created some 6,000 years ago.

But this was not enough to convince a court in Pennsylvania that intelligent design was scientific as opposed to a religious belief, and in 2005 schools in the town of Dover were banned from teaching it.

Intelligent design accepts that species do undergo small amounts of change, whereas creationists believe that all forms of life were created in their current form at the time of the earth's creation. However intelligent design claims that these changes are the result of a guiding hand, not the result of random genetic mutations and natural selection.

Is intelligent design taught in UK schools?

There were accusations that creationism and intelligent design were being taught in academies funded by the Christian philanthropist Sir Peter Vardy, although the schools denied this.

Earlier this year the government - prompted by revelations in the Guardian - stepped in to forbid the use of teaching materials advocating intelligent design circulated by a group called Truth in Science.

However intelligent design and creationism can be discussed in religious education lessons or under the heading of history of science. This is what the Church of England's head of education, the Rev Jan Ainsworth, is apparently advocating.

What does flying spaghetti have to do with any of this?

A recent development has been the growth of so-called Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, a satirical "religion" created by Bobby Henderson, a physics graduate of Oregon State University. He wrote to the Kansas Board of Education in June 2005 alerting them to the many people who believe that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe, and demanding that science lessons be split three-ways: "One third time for intelligent design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence."

Henderson's point is that the concept of a Flying Spaghetti Monster is every bit as rational a concept as intelligent design. He has received sympathetic responses from members of the board who also oppose intelligent design, as well as attracting overwhelming support from "followers" all over the world.

By Guardian Unlimited © Copyright Guardian Newspapers 2006 Published: 6/2/2007